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