Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Sightseeing Trains in India

Palace On Wheels
Delhi-Jaipur-Jaisalmer-Jodhpur-Sawai Madhopur-Chittaurgarh-Udaipur-Agra
USP : Has and continues to set benchmarks in Luxury travel
Oct - March
$485/day/person (single)
$350/day/person (double)
$285/day/person (triple)
$395/day/person (single)
$295/day/person (double)
$240/day/person (triple)

Deccan Odyssey
USP : Comprehensive tour of Maharashtra
Oct - March
$485/day/person (single)
$350/day/person (double)
$285/day/person (triple)
$395/day/person (single)
$295/day/person (double)
$240/day/person (triple)

Royal Orient
USP: Walk into wildlife
Oct - March
2 berth
$350/day/person (single occupancy)
$200/day/person (sharing)

Fairy Queen
USP:Slice of history, Indias oldest train (1855 - oldest locomotive in
the world on a main line) departs from Delhi Cantt on 2nd & 4th Saturday
of every month.
Round Trip package (2 days) costs Rs.10,000. Foreigners must pay equal
amount in Dollars.

Costs include stay, food and travel. Alcoholic drinks extra.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

Try a cruise through God’s own country. Published 10 October Deccan Chronicle

Kerala is a much recommended holiday spot, & a Houseboat (Kettuvallam) cruise seemed like an experience worth trying.

Never having spent 24 hours on a boat before, we anxiously asked ‘Experienced’ travelers for feedback. This ranged from “trip of our lives” to “Booooring, once aboard, you are stuck, you can’t even walk out if you want to”. After our holiday, I belong to the “trip of our lives” faction.

Kettuvallams are huge, slow moving, exotic barges designed for sheer leisure trips. Formerly, used to ship rice and spices, a standard boat, can be 100ft long, & hold upto 30 tons. Made of 100’s of fine heavy-duty planks of jack-wood & held together by coir knots (not a single nail is used) this framework is then coated with a caustic black resin extracted from boiled cashew kernels and lasts for generations.

Houseboats are re-worked Kettuvallams, having all modern amenities like western style bathrooms, well equipped kitchens, sun decks and even AC’s in some cases.

So informed, we arrived at Allepy (Venice of the East) where we were introduced to our hosts - 2 boatmen & a cook. Welcomed with fresh coconut water & fruits, we set sail on a blissful journey. We passed through amazing networks of canals, paddy fields, swaying coconut palms, river front houses, coir laden boats & unending shades of green.

We passed through Kuttanad, one of few places in the World where Paddy is grown below sea level, Charava Bhavan – spiritual resort and Vembanad Lake – largest lake in Asia.

The Boat was anchored at noon, overlooking verdant fields. The cook served us a sumptuous lunch with 2 vegetables, sambhar and fish. For dinner, fish was substituted with chicken and for breakfast it was Idiappams with Egg Curry, all prepared onboard. We were told, guests often volunteered to prepare dinner themselves, but we preferred watching him deftly prepare Malyali delicacies.

Boats have to anchor from 7PM to 6AM so locals can cast their fishing nets. We settled down to watch the brilliant hues of sunset, relaxing to gentle lapping of water at the sides, chirping of birds, droning of insects and tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen. We lit lanterns when darkness fell, rather than use electric lights (solar powered). It gave us the feeling of being the only inhabitants of the planet. The little girl with us, delighted in feeding grains of rice to the fish that swam so close we could have caught them with our bare hands.

In a novel holiday experience, we slept by 9:30 PM and woke at 6:00. Totally relaxed and refreshed, we watched the sun rise over the water. When it started raining on the Lake, the droplets hitting the water surface erupted into little diamonds and we had to agree that Kerala is indeed “God’s Own Country.”

Fact File :
Travel :
Allepy is 2 hours drive from Cochin.
Cruises also originate from Kottayam, Kumarakom, Quilon, Trivandrum, Mallapuram, & Kasargod. It really doesn’t matter where you start or end your cruise from, it’s the unending beauty of the backwaters.
You can spend anywhere from 6 hours to 15 days on a houseboat. Season - October-March
Off Season - April - September

Must Not Miss :
Sunrise and Sunset on the Lake
Bay Island Driftwood museum if alighting at Kumarakom.
Definitely carry Mosquito Repellant for the evenings.

Costs :
Start from 5000 onwards for a single bedroom boat and 6000 onwards for a double bedroom boat per day (approx 22 hours) during off-season. Costs jump by about 2000 during season. Each bedroom has its individual attached bath. Costs include accomodation, welcome drink, 3 meals, tea/coffee. You can either carry your own soft drinks & water and chill it on board or purchase from the chef on board.

Whom to Contact :
For general information - There are more than a 100 houseboats at each location. You can negotiate a good deal at each location if its off-season (monsoons), but if you want to book ahead, you can contact any of the following operators.

Pulickattil Houseboats
Deshadan Operators
Soma House Boats
Marvel Tours

Friday, October 08, 2004

Jew Town in Kochi.  Posted by Hello

Misty Mountains of Iddukki Posted by Hello

Thekkady. Dont miss the reflection in the placid lake Posted by Hello

Thekkady, Early morning boat ride Posted by Hello

Sunset on backwaters Posted by Hello

Backwaters Posted by Hello

Backwaters Posted by Hello

Life on the waterways Posted by Hello

When the rain started to fall............ Posted by Hello

Heroine on the Houseboat Posted by Hello

St Andrews Church, Cochin. First Protestant Church in India Posted by Hello

Chinese Fishing Nets Posted by Hello

Chinese Fishing Nets in Fort Cochin Posted by Hello

One of the beautiful sunsets Posted by Hello

Kettuvallom of Taj Malabar, Cochin Posted by Hello

Kathakali performance in Fort Cochin Posted by Hello

Me n Vaarya at Houseboat in Allepy Posted by Hello

Houseboat in Allepy Posted by Hello

Monday, October 04, 2004

Pudding Club at the Three Ways House hotel. Mickleton, Britain

Tucked away in picturesque Cotswolds, the small town of Mickleton has worked like a sweet magnet as Britain’s pudding capital for 20 years. Set within the classic England of yesteryears, with rustic limestone buildings, stone villages and winding roads, Cotswolds has been scarcely altered since it was the centre of wool trade in the 14th and 15th centuries. It is this sense of preserving tradition that gave birth to the Pudding Club at the Three Ways House hotel.

From the very basic bread and butter concoction to the somewhat controversial Spotted Dick, the club was an outburst against the slow death of a dessert synonymous with all things English. Something that started off with a small group of pudding fanatics has now grown into a club that boasts of 600 full-time members and thousands of visitors from all over the world. The monthly meetings are heaven for anyone with a sweet tooth with its eat-as-much-as-you-can pudding spreads and occasional recipe swaps.

“It all started in 1985, during the days of a nouvelle cuisine raid on Britain when almost everything was factory-cooked and available in tiny portions. People from the village would gather at the hotel and often complain about the limp, frozen desserts served at the end of a great English meal.

“Instead of moaning about not being able to find the kind of pudding mum made, it was decided that one evening in the month would centre around just traditional puddings and that is where it all began,” recalls Peter Henderson, the chairman of the Pudding Club. From an informal fun evening, the club meetings became more and more regular over the years. The Three Ways House hotel itself has transformed into a pudding paradise with some of its 48 rooms being designed on pudding themes to provide a complete pudding package for visitors.

The club is open to anyone and everyone who loves the traditional English dessert and not just for members, who join by paying an annual fee of £23 and become pudding pals for life with a free pudding in the mail, newsletters and regular discounts. Besides the monthly meetings, the club hosts a Sunday buffet which is most popular with tourists.

It is impossible to mail a pudding overseas so they are compensated with other souvenirs. But basically anyone is welcome to come and join the food fun. We skip the appetiser and start off the evening with the main course followed up by seven traditional types of pudding for every member. It is not easy to get through them all but our record stands at 19 portions of puddings,” says Henderson, who took over the business along with partner Jill Coombe in 1995. He admits to being quite a foodie and loves the part where he has to “help eat the puddings.”

Mark Rowlandson is the head chef who is now an expert in the art of pudding-making. He gives lessons occasionally revealing, from his little red book, recipes passed down from generation to generation. The Sticky Toffee and Syrup Sponge seem to be all-time favourites. He laughs off the huge uproar over the renaming of Spotted Dick as Spotted Richard in some regions.

“We still call it Spotted Dick and it is among the traditional favourites at the Pudding Club. It is a great fun place to be on pudding nights and does get tedious at times but the excitement in the room makes up for it all,” says Rowlandson, who also has summer and winter Pudding Club books to hand out to the baking enthusiasts among the members.

Set in the heart of a region classified as “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty” by the British government and in between the little town of Mickleton and Chipping Camden, home to Cotswolds’ famous old Wool Market, and close to Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon, the Pudding Club revels in its reputation as temptation island.
“To be able to relish the English pud just as our grandfathers did is truly remarkable. And to think we would have lost this great treat to the new fitness fad and love for all things factory-made. “Our club saved it all from dying away,” says Henderson, whose very own favourite is the Jam Roly Poly

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Mangalore - What 2 do ? Where 2 Eat ?

When a couple of friends decided to visit Mangalore, since Im not around, they ask, where do we get to eat ? what should I see?

Mangalore is a seaside town on the Konkan Coast. It is equally famous for its "Mangalore tiles" and Cashewnuts. Coffee and Pepper come in from nearby estates in coorg and Hassan. Mangalore Port handles a lot of cargo daily. The Mangalore refineries (MRPL)& Mangalore Chemicals & Fertilisers (MCF) have put Mangalore on the Industrial map. At last count, South Canara (of which Mangalore forms a major part) had more colleges than the entire USA. The Manipal Group is famous for its hospitals and forays into education and medicine.

Mangalore used to have pristine beaches until the advent of the ship breaking yard a couple of years ago. The beach attached to the Karnataka Regional Engineering College (KREC) at Suratkal (20 mins drive from mangalore) is one of the cleanest beaches around.

Thanneer bhavi near the port is one of the most easily accessible beaches from the town.

U can visit St Marys island near Malpe on a day trip (or half a day) Its just an island with the stones and mud having formed hexagons in the heat (I don’t know if u can understand what I mean by that) with nothing else on the island, so carry food and water.

In Mangalore :
Mangalore is a very small town. But definitely visit the St aloysius chapel on Light house hill. Its painted like the sistine chapel with frescoes on the walls n ceilings. Even if the main door isnt open the side door will be. ask any of the students who will b hanging around if u r around on a week day.

The managaldevi * Kadri temples with their silver doors are also worth visits.

Regarding where to eat....
Well I cant offer my mom's hospitality to each and everyone of the friends who ask for info on Mangalore. so I suggest the next best thing to home cooked food..... Restaurants that serve home styled cooking.

Best places to eat : Madhuvan's "village" on the road to the airport has these shacks (not 2 b confused with goan shacks which are actually on the beach) and serves amazing sea food. ask for the fresh catch of the day and check prices of the fresh stuff before ordering ((they dont put seasonal fish on the menu and u may b suprised when u c yr bill, they may charge u extra as they will recognise u as a non local unless u speak to them in konkani or tulu, which i presume u wont b able to but as long as u check before ordering u will be fine)

Mangala near Retreat House serves excellent fish curry meals and sea food and manglorean dishes at extremely reasonable rates. In the evenings they also dish out south indian style kebabs. He used to be slightly seedy but has gone in for a lot of renovation. We too pick up fish curries from here when mom doesnt have the time to cook. Pork is good too (not too sure if u eat pig meat, other than mangloreans n goans, not too many people do)

Theres a little kirana shop in the same complex as Jimmys supermarket who sells chilled coconut water/ chilled watermelon juice for 9 bucks a beer mug. Excellent on a hot afternoon and even better with a shot of bacardi white. the guy next door is trying to pile on to the originals business but go to the shop in the jimmys supermarket complex, he's on the left side before u enter.

Mausam near Don Bosco hall is also good for sea food, here definitely have the mussels masala fry. Royal darbar at 'bendore well' for biryani and muslim style cooking. There r a couple of places at thokkotu which r open air, individual shacks, good for sea food, but slightly out of the city. (do remeber city is very small)

Rooster on the YMCA road is good for parcelling Bunt style cooking. Chicken kori kachpu (with coconut - a dry dish) kori rotti and chicken curry. Ask them to add extra coconut milk in your dish, if u cant have very spicy food.

Woodlands is a drive-in thats ideal for breakfast or tea. Have dosas, idlis, goli bajje (mangalore speciality) They do offer meals of the strict brahmin vegetarian variety. The taj mahal cafes around the city are good. Try biscuit rotti (manglorean kachori) if u would like.

If chinese is what ur craving for, go to Hao ming or hao hao.

You have to have ice cream sundaes at either "ideals" or "pabbas". Simply amazing !!!!!

The 5 stars in Mangalore are the "taj Manjarun" and "Moti Mahal" (may b 4 star). Lots of new places have come up too and theres choice for every budget.

Have a good holiday.

Konkan Coast

Recently Ive had a couple of friends wanting to visit Mangalore some from as far away as Switzerland who plan to do the Konkan coast.

Below is a series of disjointed thoughts, partly in question answer form or no answer following. so ignore the non-existent flow. This here is written for the sole purpose of telling people. "Look up my blog!"
Gives an itinerary of coastal Karnataka. Ask them to mail u complete details.

2) tree top accommodation near Bekal. Did you mean The Green Magic Nature Resort near Vythiri? If yes, do you know any similar tree house acc. somewhere between Mumbai and Cochin?, as the costs of the one in Vythiri is a bit above our budget, although I'd love to stay in this place. If there is no alternative we may anyway stay there.

These people offer some accomodation at Bekal. I don’t have their website, u will need to write to them and find out.
94470 10455
+91 4994 220 445 / 435 / 049
Near Bekal Fort.

We intend to travel as I mention before from Mumbai till Cochin, or if the time does not allow it (we have only 4 weeks), we will go back to Mumbai or Delhi from a town north of Cochin.
>I just visited Cochin. Other than the Fort Cochin area that can be
covered in a day, theres nothing much to c or do in the city. Its
beaches arent the type where u can laze on them for the most part. Also its an industrialised city so not really ideal for a lazy holiday. But when u go to Fort cochin to see the nets. Definitely visit Kashi art café for some excellent cakes and try the freshly caught and fried fish at the shacks around the nets if your stomach is willing.

As we dont have plenty of time, we would like to travel somehow mid-range in meaning of budget. Maybe some stretches with bus/train but also car with driver. We are not going to Goa, but having read and heard about Ganpatipule is a nice beach spot as well as north (as you mentioned) and south (Ullal beach) of Mangalore. Gokarna seems to me allready a traveller hangout with its good but maybe already also bad sides. More inland we are curious about Hampi and Mysore. Maybe you have us some tips/infos on similar typ of spots?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Genting Highlands, Published in Deccan Chronicle, Sunday Chronicle on 15 Aug 2004

After a whirlwind tour of the Petronas towers, KL tower, Kings palace and a lot of other trekking up and down to see the sites of Kuala Lampur, we decided it was time for some ‘Rest and Recreation. Genting Highlands was the perfect answer to our needs.

An hours drive from Kuala Lampur, it’s a popular weekend destination for the locals too and this is always a good sign. With 2 amusement parks, the world class ‘Casino De Genting’, the ‘Awana Golf and Country Resort’ and numerous hotels to suit every budget, there’s something here for everyone.

The approach into Genting, is via the Skyway cable car from Gohtong Jaya, the longest cable system in SE Asia and the fastest in the world. This 15 min ride covering 4 km, ferries 2000 passengers an hour. It gave us a panoramic view of the green valley below and our first sight of the highlands riddled with hotels and interspersed with roller coasters.

After checking into our rooms, we rushed to the amusement park, a haven for adventure seekers. There are rides to suit every level of risk takers. Our favorites were the Corkscrew which turns you upside down and the coaster which drops you into a water pool at its trough and takes you up again. There are also the more sedate rides for the risk averse.

After the exhilaration of these rides, we wound down at the indoor park which has video games, a space simulator and a 3D dome theatre among others. We purchased memorabilia from the souvenir shops here.

For night entertainment we could choose between the international dinner shows, the disco and the casino. Consensus moved us to the casino where we tried our hand at all the games including blackjack and baccarat. We were lucky enough to leave with more money than we entered with.

The next day we wandered around the ‘Malaysia First World hotel and plaza’ whose lobby is larger than a football field. Someone recommended the horse riding school, but being addicted to the roller coasters, we headed back to the amusement park.

The whole highlands are a maze of escalators and hotels, so it’s quite interesting just to walk around. You never know what you may chance upon: Sweet shops, chairs that massage you, pirates, jugglers or clowns.

There are a lot of Indians living in Malaysia, so don’t be surprised to hear the locals break into Tamil, Telugu or Hindi. Indian food is easily available and the local food tastes familiar. This combines to make Malaysia a good place to take a break.

Fact File :
Travel :
Genting Highlands is 50km away from Kuala Lumpur and can be reached in an hour by road. There are frequent buses that leave every hour from the Puduraya Bus Station. Genting also offers limousines, coaches and helicopter services for charter.

Weather :
At 2,000 meters above sea level, it’s quite cool in the evenings, so do carry a shawl or sweatshirt. Casino entry requires more formal attire than jeans and tees. Take appropriate clothing, unless you want to pay a bomb for a batik shirts.

Must Not Miss :
The Skyway Cable Ride from Gohtong Jaya to the highlands.
The corkscrew ride at the theme park.
The Casino. (Muslims are forbidden from entering, so are children below 18)

Published in Deccan Chronicle, Sunday Chronicle on 15 Aug 2004