Saturday, February 27, 2010

Trip to the romantic city - Udaipur

Since I am on to travelogues, here’s a quick round-up on my trip to Udaipur recently. Udaipur is a quaint, little town in Rajasthan – no crowd, beautiful palaces, heritage hotels, no traffic, not too many places to go….what else can you ask for on a holiday!
Usually, people want to check out as many places in and around the city as possible; but we don’t get into that maddening urge to see anything and everything. A holiday is a holiday, so the most important thing is to slow down the pace, just go wherever you feel like, no plans, no hundred places to see. As a rule, we neither plan, nor attempt to check out all the ‘popular’ tourist places. We shortlist 2-3 places and take our time to go around those only.

Day 1We selected the hotel on our own. Just visited a couple of sites, read a few reviews and zeroed in on The Rampratap Palace, and it really looks exactly like it does in the pictures. It is a beautiful heritage hotel with excellent service, and just 25 rooms so there are never too many people around. I fell in love with this hotel, the moment I saw it. The structure is completely reminiscent of the old times, and the framed pictures of maharajahs, old advertisements, etc add to the aura.

We got a room in the first floor, which also had a quite decent balcony overlooking the road. Just outside our room, was the tiny restaurant that served breakfasts in the mornings – Continental and Indian. Outside the restaurants were lounging garden chairs and little lanterns. Right next to I,t was the hotel’s in-house shop of local items and also a spa. The spiralling stairs led to an open and spacious terrace, which had a fabulous view of around the hotel.

The first day, we hired a cab and selected a few places closer to our Hotel like Nehru park, Saheliyon ki baadi, which, everything said and done, are all parks. There is nothing to ‘see’ as such in these places, so we decided no more parks, and we straightaway went to the beautiful ‘City Palace’. What to say about this beautiful place, it just takes you back to many centuries ago. The Palace is huge and cameras are not allowed inside. We got a guide with us, so that he could tell us about the story around that palace. Apparently, a lot of movies or parts of movies have been shot in this palace like Guide, Hum Saath Saath Hain, a song from Hum Hain Rahi Pyaar Ke, etc, etc. There are old weapons too stacked in a room. Read all about City Palace here.

The Palace keeps hosting a lot of events and marriages. In fact, Udaipur had been in news for hosting Raveena Tandon’s marriage and Vikram Chatwal’s marriage. Now who’s Vikram Chatwal?! That’s the reason, I say, read PEOPLE or Page 3 more often, guys!
Well, anyways, I was so drawn to the place that I wanted to buy a book on the City Palace, and luckily there was a little shop within the palace. I bought a book called “Udaipur”. It has everything told by the guide to us and a lot of information about the city as well – about its festivals, generations of maharajas, etc.

That day we did a little bit of shopping in the local market and bought the usual batik print dress material, kurtas and the jaipuri razaai!

Our Hotel had a beautiful restaurant, located across the road. The hotel had their own collection of vintage cars on display. The combination of candle-lights, cool breeze, the heritage hotel in the background, made an extremely romantic setting. It was one of such moments, when you don’t think about anything and the moment stands still, which you would want to hold on in your memories forever!

Day 2
The second day, we visited the “Aapni Dhaani
, which is on the same platform as “Chowki Dhaani” and encapsulates games, culture and food of Rajasthan.
We also did a little bit of shopping of the rajasthani mojris. I bought 2 footwears – 1 in reddish leather and the other is quite colourful, but haven’t had chance to wear any of those in last so many days!
There is a Monsoon Palace at Sajjangarh, which is in the outskirts of Udaipur. It is not as big as the City Palace but is frequented by tourists to catch the mesmerising sunrises and sunsets!

There is a small cafeteria there to take a break while coming back to the city after watching the sunset.
Dinner again was at the beautiful restaurant of Rampratap hotel!

Day 3
We had an early morning flight for home. The airport is quite nice at Udaipur and not too many people boarding from there. We saw Dia Mirza, Priti Janghiani, Prachi Desai, Shweta Kwatra and Manav Gohil coming in to board the same flight for Mumbai. Apparently, there was some event the previous night.
It usually happens to me that whenever I see any celebrity (so to say), I don’t know what to do. I feel like staring at the person but feel embarrassed to do so! So, we checked in with all of them, without trying to stare too hard at them.

Overall, the trip was short yet memorable. Though a popular tourist place, yet Udaipur is still not such a hot spot. The quiet, little, laid back town is just the right place to spend some peaceful time. Hope I do get an opportunity to go back there again!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Goa again!

Yeah! Believe it or not, I’m just back from yet another trip to Goa! I hadn’t had a clue about this trip till last week but opportunity knocked in and I was asked to attend a Seminar in Goa, with another friend from office. I was not too keen because I had just got back from Goa and secondly, I am too homebound. I hate leaving my home for long period. Quite recently, we had been on a holiday in Goa. Succeeding week, my hubby went on another office incentive trip and hey, while he was still there, I got the news that I have to attend this seminar in the week after that.

Nevertheless, what you gotta do is what you gotta do! Usually, when I had been reluctant in going on such trips, it has always turned out to be fun. So, I thought, let’s not think about it much, and just do it.

The journey to Goa was painful! I would say whoever thought that overnight buses are comfortable and most logical option, don’t know what they are talking about. It absolutely did not work for me! I had the most horrible experience of my life, and I’m still so much in pain because of that one journey!

Anyways, we reached Goa at 6.30 am, and checked into Hotel Mandovi. What can I say! The story goes that once this hotel was the pride of Panjim and even Lal Bahudar Shastri has stayed there during his visit. It is well located, facing the Mandovi River and the entire stretch of road around it, is a delight for any tourist or culture enthusiast. You just need to take a walk down the lane. There is the famous Ferry boats taking off from close by, the lanes are cosy and charming, reminiscent of old times with buildings of yesteryears lined up along the roads. There is Entertainment Society, Kala Kendra and a lot of branded stores too.

The first day we took a little time to get used to the fact that the hotel was not upto our expectations. My friend was keen on even trying to change the hotel, later in the day; but I was quite OK. The hotel obviously has seen better days, but the hospitality is good, bathrooms are good and location was perfect, since our seminar was at Goa Mariott, which is quite close. We did check out ‘Fidalgo’ in the evening but I did not find it too appealing. It is a typical modern hotel, and looks just like that. There is no charm. It could be anywhere in India. It is quite good but then it is not special. And yeah, though Mandovi definitely has seen better days, it still has that charm. I had no issues about it. It was cosy and comfortable!

The seminar used to stretch from 9 am till 6.30 pm during all three days. We used to rush back to the hotel, put on our sports shoes and quickly get off to do some shopping because shops in Goa get closed very, very early by any standards.

The first day, we strolled around the hotel, bought the usual dose of Kajus. Then my friend bought some cute, little clothes for her daughter, we bought a little bit of knick-knacks and settled for dinner at ‘Rajdhani’ (which is almost next to Mandovi Hotel). Filled with excruciating pain of last night’s journey and wearing heels for the whole day at seminar, I just wanted to doze off (which I did)!

The second day got a little better of us. We slipped into our shoes and walked down the lane to check out Mandovi market. I bought some wooden coasters (which I had been looking for quite sometime now) but it was surely overpriced. Bought it anyways. We also bought the cowboy hats for our husbands (now we really don’t know where they would wear it! Well, that’s what they need to figure out!) I also bought cute Hot Wheels car for my hubby (well, yeah, I collect books…he collects toy cars…big deal! To each, his own. ) We also bought Mario Miranda Postcards about Goan life from our Hotel bookshop. It is a set of 16 Black and white post cards, and absolutely adorable! I also bought a book on Goa lifestyle and culture, and a magnet with wooden auto rickshaw that said “Goa”. So we played “tourists” to the hilt. This time we settled for an open restaurant just opposite Hotel Mandovi called “Quarterdeck”. It is facing the sea and you can just look at the water for hours!
My friend was keen on the Ferry but I did not want to go so late in the night on our own. I admire her enthusiasm to try new things, but I’m a bit cautious by nature, so we gave it a miss.

The only thing which was missing from my list was a nice Mario Miranda Poster. I had seen one in BBC Good Homes, and I really wanted to get hold of one! I must say, I have been infinitely lucky in this one. By checking a lot from our local friends, we came to know that a retail store near our Hotel stocks those. That’s the reason I have no questions that there is God! We almost ran to the place after getting back from the last day at Seminar, I did not want to miss it after getting so close. I must say, the price was exorbitant, so we just settled for color Posters, which we can get framed later. At Rs 800 each, I think it was OK. I also loved a notebook there but I put it back looking at the price of Rs 600. They had truly interesting stuff.

I also had plans to strike a good deal for some handful of Archies comics with the raddiwallah, sitting next to our Hotel. I had seen Tinkle with him while crossing, but they were closed for Mahashivratri. Imagine!

Catching the return bus was another experience in itself. When at 8.45 pm, we reached the rickshaw stand to get a ride to catch the 9 o’clock bus, guess what! We were welcomed with no rickshaws!!! From somewhere, we located a private taxi, even had the guts to negotiate rates for the drop at that hour! I must confess, I was extremely scared of getting into that taxi. I am not the one to do something like this! But he did drop us to the place, only to see the back of our bus…………….leaving! I made quite a spectacle, running after the bus and even hitting on one side of the bus, but to no avail, the bus just wheezed off. I was totally aghast at what happened! We missed the bus! When I returned, there was another bus standing there. The driver checked with me, which bus were I looking for. I said, ‘sleeper’ and simultaneously realized that the one which was standing, actually was the Sleeper bus. See I did tell you, there is God! No doubts about that!

My friend had a great laugh at my expense but I really had no energy for finding another bus for our return journey! So, I was just happy to be in that bus! When we settled in, then did we see that it was 9 pm then, so that bus could not have been our bus anyways!

Well, I would say, it was quite a trip. We did so much in such little time. Let’s see when I return to Goa again. By the way, we totally missed the Carnival, which begins today right in front of our Hotel. Such losers! And we also missed the Gala Dinner at Cita de Goa, since we had to catch the bus back.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Greatest Of All - GOA

It may appear like I am no more blogging here, but I’m very much ‘active’. I sew million of thoughts together hundreds of times, but they never got expressed into words. I have had a very hectic 3 months – work, travel, books, movies….I did it all…and ironically, what I did not do, is what I love the most…write!

Last couple of months have been good. First there was a quick vacation to the romantic city, Udaipur and last week, we went to Goa (finally!).

Goa is just 12 hours journey from Pune but it took us ages to plan one. I’m not a sea person, I love the hills. I hate frolicking in water. I would much rather, sit back and marvel at the expanse of green hills or beautiful, faraway mountains. But this trip was fun.

It was a family visit – cum – pleasure trip. One day was entirely dedicated to spending time with family there. On day 2, when finally we picked up our bags and left for our resort, we decided on taking Non-Stop local buses, rather than a taxi. Buses take longer routes and take you around the place, while taxi would drop you to the resort without bothering much about so-called sight-seeing.

It was fun to catch a bus after so long, and it did not really matter because the bus had only one final stop. I was enamoured by the brightly colored houses, along the way. From dark purple to deep pink, from bright yellow to bottle green, there were brightest of hues. There were quite a few quaint churches, as well. Unfortunately, I did not get opportunity to visit any church this time, but next time I would surely keep more time on hand.

The bus journey till Madgaon, and then yet another bus to Panjim were one of the most cherishable memories of Goa! Our place of stay ‘Colonia Santa Maria’ was yet another beautiful colonial style resort. It was just 2 minutes away from the Baga beach. The rooms were cozy and comfortable. I was amazed to see that 80% of the crowd was of foreign tourists.

We hired an Activa and rode to Calangute beach. We, atleast I, had not planned on any water sport. But just as we entered the beach, we were continuously hounded by those people. So, we finally decided to go for Parasailing. We were taken on a boat towards a Motor boat, which was already inside. We had to shift into the bigger motor boat. There we took turns to go up and fly. That is what Parasailing is all about!

Soaked in salty water, we decided to make way for our resort. In the evening, we took a stroll on the Baga beach and it was one of the most picture-perfect, romantic moments of life. You look at the sea and even at night the ambience is breath-taking with chairs and tables lined up along the sea with cute candle-lights! I always pictured Goa as a noisy, crowded place but all such moments made this trip worthwhile.

We went back to our room quite late. Not really wanting to go to the restaurant, we ordered Sandwiches and Tea for dinner at our room! Our room balcony overlooked the pavement and you could listen to the live music playing at the restaurant, so there was really no need to go there.

Next morning, we returned to enjoy the sun and to look at the mesmerizing beauty that is the Sea. So far, I had always associated beaches with noisy, cramming people, a lot of garbage and humidity. Goa was absolutely the opposite. Looking at the blue-green color of the sea, the short and high waves, everything was breath-taking and beautiful!

Our return trip was quite an adventure too. When we sat for dinner at 1.15 pm, our return tickets in Train were not confirmed. So, we were looking for bus tickets. The Sleeper, Semi-Sleepers were not available. The basic AC Volvos were charging 1400 bucks for a single ticket. We thought why don’t we hire a car, if it anyways will go upto Rs 3000. We got the shock of our lives when neither of the cabbies was ready to go below Rs 9000 for the trip. I even told them “we are from India only”. And suddenly, at about 1.40 pm, we came to know that our Train tickets were confirmed. We got our ordered food packed, called a cab and checked out from our room - all in a frenzy. The station at Vasco was about 1 hour away. Since we booked on sleeper, so that atleast we can get some confirmed tickets, so we had to bother about blankets as well. Finally, we reached station at 3 pm for the 3.10 pm train!

We had some interesting co-passengers. Since, those were foreign tourists’ quota seats, we had only foreigners as co-passengers. The one guy, who started with us from Vasco, was from Chili and has been traveling since last 1.5 years! From Greece to South America to entire Europe to India and then plan was to go to Nepal and few more countries. We asked the obvious question – “don’t you work?” He said, “I worked for 4 years, saved some money and started traveling.” Then we said, “so you must have saved a lot of money!”. He said, “the idea is to travel cheap. If you are careful in what you eat, where you stay and how you travel, then you can save a lot of money!” Great wisdom indeed, and I have seen this in a lot of foreign tourists who come to India.

As a culture, we don’t encourage traveling without proper plan, while these foreign travelers, just go on their own (many times alone) to explore unknown countries and unknown culture. Really inspiring indeed! I would not go on unknown excursions but I surely understood the advantage of traveling cheaper.

If I look at this Goa trip; since we booked tickets etc at the last moment, we spent 40% of all expenses only in traveling, another 30% in hotel room and rest all miscellaneous. Just 2 day trip! In fact, we stayed 1 day at home and only 1 day at the resort and ended up spending almost 14-15K!

Well, this is just our 5th trip in 2 years, and we are still learning. I want to travel across India and then, Europe ;-)