My American trip- where I drank coffee, talked to strangers and practiced gluttony :)

When my husband and I got our tourist visas approved at the Mumbai consulate, after the long wait and application process, all I could think of was not that I was going to visit the US, but that I was finally going to get to hang out with two of my favorite people in the world- my little sister and my best friend 🙂

So bags packed, out of offices set, we left for our super long onward air journey to Atlanta, where my sister stays. Since I’m the traveler in question here, a travel journey cannot be complete unless its met with unnecessary hurdles on the way- so this time, it was separate middle seats for my husband and me, a grueling and scary stop over and pre immigration check at Abu Dhabi airport, and a flight glitch on the last leg at Dallas, delaying our arrival at Atlanta by a night..sigh. The silver lining was, we got a free hotel stay for the night at the Mariott at Dallas from the airline folks, and free breakfast coupons at the airport, which we promptly redeemed..hehheeh

We finally reached Atlanta around 11 am Saturday morning on 3rd May ’15, where my sister came to pick us up- that was our first Uber ride there. Now here’s the thing I really liked about the Uber concept in America, its quite different than how it is in India, coz although the people driving us are drivers, they treat you more like friends or strangers they’d like to know a little better, than passengers, who just need to pay them. And it’s not creepy 🙂 I think I learnt more about the different people I met along all our Uber rides, about the American way of life, than I would have, by just sight seeing. There were so many stories with different angles of lives- mothers, students, expats who have migrated to America, that I’ll probably put up another blog just about the stories I learnt from them, maybe in my Diary blog 🙂 But I did enjoy all the Uber rides throughout my trip there and totally recommend it to other single travelers who like to talk to strangers 🙂

So, once home, we didn’t do much, other than catch up and head off to catch the latest Fast n Furious movie (which was really lame), but the theatre experience, with those beer holders and reclining chairs was pretty cool, I thought. We had an early dinner, or supper if you want to call it that, at this cute Mexican place called ‘Noche’, with amazing food- here’s a glimpse of what we ate 😉

That done, the three of us (my sister, husband and I) went pub hopping at the Buckhead area in Atlanta to get a feel of the night life there. We went to a couple of places, danced like no one was watching, drank a few, ate a little and head banged to a local band playing and basically had a swell time! Finally, we went for a late night waffle treat to waffle house and wrapped up the night 🙂

Day 2, we went out for a late brunch to place called ‘Nook’, which is near Piedmont park, hogged on food again, and then worked off our heavy lunch with a long walk at Piedmont park in the sun. I wished that I had more time there, so I could’ve experienced how it was to run in that park too, but maybe another time. This was the day, I also became the proud owner of a brand new apple Mac air, that I funded myself! woo hoo!

We recharged with some yummy cold coffee at this cute little popular coffee joint called ‘Caribou coffee’, where I had a hazelnut iced latte, walked back home, packed and left for the airport again for the next destination- Vegas!! woo hoo! We had quite a comfortable flight journey with Delta to Vegas, and reached late at night, an checked in at this amazing hotel & Casino- Monte Carlo. So, to be frank, I wasn’t personally excited about Vegas (I know, most of you would think, what?!!! who isn’t excited about Vegas?!)- but well, I don’t enjoy gambling since I have a pretty shitty luck, I’m not single or having a bachelorette party, and I can’t drink too much- but boy, when we entered ‘the Strip’- as they call it, the lights just took my breath away! There was so much energy everywhere, even that late in the night, that I realized, no wonder people never sleep here! Lol! So I changed my mind and decided that I did like Vegas after all 🙂

Day 3 – We woke up pretty early in the morning, since my sister had booked us all into a day trip to Grand Canyon! I was so excited! The bus reached bang on time, and we set off with this funny tour guide informing us about Vegas’s history and stuff on the way. The bus stopped first at Hoover dam, where we got off and took some pictures, and more importantly- breakfast, and made another stop at the Chevron petrol pump where I went to the loo and we all got ourselves the much needed coffee! So before I tell you about my adventure at the Canyons, I have to mention how cool the loo situation here is! So everyone I’ve traveled with knows of my bladder situation, but here, that wasn’t such a major problem, since they have really good and clean toilets almost every half an hour or hour away! So pee away to glory, my friends! hehe..

Funny thing though, instead of the sunshine we were expecting, it got completely overcast and started pouring when we reached the Canyons! And we just weren’t prepared for the cold there! We had to wait a long time for the rains to subside, so we could go on our helicopter ride of the Canyons, but I must say, the wait was totally worth it! Firstly, it was my first ever helicopter ride, and secondly, the view was just magnificent from up there! And my sister and I got front seats too!

We spent some time on a boat ride on the river the canyon sorrounded and had quite a lot of laughs with this African couple who were with us, while we were trying to take care of a Spanish lady who could’t speak English and wanted to take a lot of selfies! hehe We had the most delicious lunch of pulled pork and mashed potatoes and veggies at Guano point cafe, which gave us the spectacular view of the canyon (but it was really freezing, so we actually didn’t linger)

We reached back at the hotel, changed and freshened up and headed off to party Vegas style! Well, we walked through Bellagio and Ceasar’s Palace, took the train from Monte Carlo, saw the famous fountains in front of Bellagio, and settled for the evening at a Mexican restaurant. We didn’t last long though, I realized Im too old to party Vegas style, and I didn’t see the point of gambling, so I retired early , while my sister kept going at those blackjack tables 🙂

Day 4 – We had the biggest brunch ever, at our hotel- I think it must have lasted for 3 hours, and it was a complete example of gluttony, but what the heck, Vegas isn’t called the sin city for nothing! hehe..we freshened up and walked around a bit for shopping, and had a few beers and food at a cafe at the MGM Grand. My sister booked us all into this Cirque Du Soleil show called ‘Ka’ for the evening, and I have to tell you, I had never seen something like this before in my life!! the show was mesmerising and so were the costumes, the music, the stage and the theatre! I loved it and would recommend it to anyone who is visiting Vegas 🙂 We hopped on to a sports bar at the MGM after the show, and drank and ate some more and then danced away in our room back at the hotel, until the security had to tell us ‘to keep it down ma’am’..hehehe

Day 5- Was our time to say good bye to Vegas, and collect the car onwards for our road trip from Vegas to San Francisco, with a stop over at Santa Barbara. So, it was a hassle free collection of our Ford from the rental store, we settled in with my husband behind the wheels and started off our GPS to head out of the city. The view was mostly arid and desert like, with a lot of shrubs and Joshua trees, but with the music, it was really exciting! We stopped over a while later for lunch at a casino, and had another filling brunch buffet! I can’t imagine how much I have eaten so far on this trip!LOL

I do have to mention in short about our driving adventure on the way to our stopover to the night, where my little sister took the wheels, and this is where I mention, she just got her license and this was her first time driving on the highway! We got a lot of stares and thought maybe the Americans look at people in other cars like Indians do as well, when I was told they don’t do that normally, unless they want to give stink eye to the shitty driver in the car! Lol..she also managed to take the car onto the wrong lane and swerve back into the right lane, giving the guy behind us a near heart attack..oops! But luckily God was on our side that day and we reached our stop over for the night- Santa Barbara without any major hassles.

We checked into this really cute motel called -Orange Inn (yeah it did have an orange tree, hence the name, a no brainer that one;)), changed and headed out to have dinner.

My sister booked another Uber, and I just love the Uber concept in America. You get to ride in different cars, with decent people and mostly locals who can give you the best suggestions on places to eat, drink, dance, see at the place and are so nice, friendly and chatty! So our Uber driver for that night was a middle aged lady who had lived in Santa Barbara all her life, and she suggested us to go to this seafood place called Brosby brothers, by the wharf. The food, service and ambience of the place was just amazing! I would recommend this place for dinner to anyone who is visiting Santa Barbara 🙂

Day 6 – We woke up bright and walked around in the town and stopped by this amazing breakfast place called Tupelo Junction. We ordered freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly brewed pots of coffee, sandwiches, eggs to order, waffles and what not! Yes, US has been my gateway to gluttony, and I’m just half way through my trip yet! loved this place, and again recommended. After breakfast we walked around this beautiful town and did a lot of shopping as well!

Finally, we wrapped up from our motel and started the drive onwards to San Francisco, which was our next destination. The drive from Santa Barabara to SFO is beautiful in its own way, since here the landscape changes from the previous sandy dessert and beach side, to lofty green hills, and plains laced with vineyards. The air gets chilly too and we had to go through an entire stretch of road where it suddenly started pouring and there was a hailstorm, and all this while my sister was driving!! Talk about stress driving! It was scary and funny at the same time, but totally worth it, since it was our own little adventure 😀

However, I must say, entering SFO was a nightmare, since the highway had crazy traffic, quite similar to how it is in India, just more managed. I guess it might be since it was a weekday and evening, but from the highway to our hotel, it took us almost an hour. We had our hotel booked near the airport, and after checking in, we headed off to look for a good place to have dinner and drinks at, since we had heard so much about the food and drink scene at SFO. So, a friend of my sister’s recommended us to check this place out called- Alembic. So with great expectations, three hungry souls went to this place, it was bustling with people and we were quickly ushered to a table. Now, although we love to eat, we’re not the sort of experimental food people as such, and when we saw their menu, we were stumped! Everything on their menu was exotic! We weren’t sure what to order that we could really eat and fill our tummies, but since we were so hungry, we settled on some of the safer sounding options- the squid ink pasta, bone marrow spread with bread, cheese platter and a pork dish. Well, I’m not sure my review or feedback here would do justice to the place really, so let’s just say, we weren’t too much into the food, and will probably not go back there just for dinner:) The cocktails however, were amazing and quite innovative!:)

Day 7- After a really disappointing breakfast spread at the SFO hotel, we got ready and booked an uber to take us to the Golden Gate bridge. It was quite huge and interesting, but we literally spent just about 15 minutes clicking pictures at this place, since, you got it- we were hungry again for lunch! So we hailed another Uber and went to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch and spending our afternoon:)

We went to lunch at Pier 39, at Fog Harbor Fish House. The restaurant was amazing, and we had a direct view of the ocean, and Alcatraz prison, but who wanted to look at that when the most delicious seafood was in front of us to be devoured! So amidst the three of us, we finished a whole lot of fish and prawns and mashed potato..lol!

Lunch done, we walked around the pier and stop by at a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor for dessert. The place was so sunny and colorful and bright, that eating my amazing ice cream seemed like the best treat in the world!

Our ice creams done, we booked a boat ride that would take us under the golden gate bridge and around the famous Alcatraz prison. It was nice and sunny initially, so we wanted to stay on the deck to get a good view, but as soon as the boat started, it was clear, us Indians from the tropical weather would not be able to brave the cold SFO winds! so we decided to put on our hoodies and alternate between the deck and the cabin inside..hehe

After the amazing boat ride, we went on to stroll about at the wharf and check out the many shops and farmers markets there. I just loved the colors and buzz of this place! It was so lively and the shops – I think I must have bought something from every little shop we visited there! Yeah, touristy me..hehe, from little sea themed trinkets, to funky socks, to magnets, to fruits, coffee and tiny sugar and cinnamon coated donuts, to posters and hoodies, I don’t think I left anything out! I think I really loved this place in whatever we saw of SFO in those two days 🙂

After an afternoon well spent, what else was there to do, but head out to mission district and check out the pubs again! So we started with a small german bar, had a few german beers each and something to eat, then went on to two other bars, and tried different sorts of wine and beers. We were quite full quite early, but from the looks of it, SFO night life seemed really happening. We were too full and too tired from our day’s adventure, so we couldn’t extend the night, but it was a good evening nevertheless 🙂

Day 8- So this was the day when the three of us were to head out in our separate directions. I was to head off to Seattle to meet my best friend, my husband head off to Belgium for some business and my sister had her holidays over, so it was back to Atlanta and work for her, until I was back from Seattle. I had an early morning flight with Delta (I like their flights for domestic travel in US I think), and the flight was quite uneventful. The view while our plane was descending was so beautiful- mountains and green trees surrounded by water. I was really excited to see Seattle:) Once I landed, my best friend Bunny and her husband picked me up, and we dropped my bags at their place (they live at downtown, which made it awesome for a tourist like me!), and went off to have brunch at a cafe called Bronte. Good coffee (Seattle is really famous for its depressing weather, grunge rock, legal weed and awesome coffee by the way) and good breakfast with lots of conversation and catching up. My perfect beginning to the day:)

Brunch done, they took me on a drive to a place called ‘Deception Pass’ and all along the drive was so beautiful! The roads were lined with Pine trees all along and it felt like christmas all the time. And Seattle was sunny and really green when I reached there. After reaching Deception Pass, we walked down towards under the bridge, where there was an opening like a rocky beach with logs, near the water body where you could sit and basically chill and admire the beautiful sights around you:) I loved the place.

We drove around a bit further after deception pass and stopped over for loo breaks and coffee and a bite at a sleepy local town probably near Seattle and Canadian border. Amazing coffee, cheese fondeau and chocolate mousse, we drove back to the ferry point, while listening to Beatles and took the ferry back. The ferry ride was so exciting, you had to drive your car into the ferry and park it there and could go and sit upstairs, buy refreshments and enjoy the view. Bunny told me, this is where they had shot that horse suicide scene from the Ring! Eerie! heheh Dinner was at a joint nearby, with some drinks to wrap up the night and a few drags of that very legal hindukush strain, that just made my day or night, or whatever- I was zoned out 😀

Day 9- This was a sunday and originally, my best friend Bunny had done a lot of research and we were supposed to have brunch at a seafood place at Pike place market, which is walking distance from their place and then head out to mount rainier or another pretty place. But obviously, when you have greedy, lazy and buzzed people as tourists, its tough to do much jam packed sight seeing, so somehow, between fish tacos and a yummy special margherita, her husband and I managed to convince our guide- Bunny to chuck the sight seeing plan and just spend the entire day pub hopping and talking! Which, according to me sounded like a really good plan! So, out first or should I say second stop was at an Irish bar, followed by JM cafe, where we pretty much stayed until the end of the night! We were joined in by other friends, and got chatting with fellow drunks and the guys serving us, who eventually had their shifts end, and joined us for drinks as well! I had a swell time, on those lemon drops! JM cafe is supposed to be one of the oldest bars that survived the Seattle fire in the 1800s, I was told..so I did visit a heritage place after all..lol

Day 10- Woke up in leisure, since my friends had to go to work on Monday morning, but gave me the keys, so I could explore Pike place market and just the downtown area in general at my own pace. I love doing that- getting to explore a place, even if its just a street, alone, at my own pace. Noticing people, the buildings, cafes, talking to strangers who might be willing to talk to me, basically doing whatever I want. So that morning, I stepped out to Pike place market, visited the famous Gum Wall (this I think is one of the grossest piece of wall art I have seen, by the way, since it involves actual chewing gum, which has been chewed and then stuck on the walls! weird art these people have), had mac and cheese at the oldest mac and cheese shop (which was heavenly by the way), spoke to some other fellow tourists, had chocolate at a chocolate shop, sipped on coffee, and bought some souvenirs and gifts. My highlight of this exploration however, was this old and used book store that I found, where I must have spent an hour just browsing through all the comments the readers had made on their recommendations and the variety of books and authors available there are dirt cheap rates, that I wasn’t even aware existed! I think I could live there and I wish they have more book shops like these in India, instead of the crosswords and the borders, where the helpers have to look up on their computers to tell you if a book is available or not. Sigh..I bought around 7 books from this shop and then spent another hour at a souvenir shop, not buying anything, but talking to the shopkeeper! He was really friendly and since there was no one else in the shop, we spent the entire hour talking about our countries, cultures, art, politics, philosophies and god knows what! It was super fun!:)

So, I met u with my friends for dinner again, and that was the end of my short and amazing Seattle trip. We went to a mexican place that night for dinner and I just loved Seattle! I would definitely like to visit here again and plan a trip further to Canada or Alaska. That would be heavenly! Another destination added to the never ending list of places to travel! sigh!

Day 11, 12 and 13 – Day 10 went away in just traveling back from Seattle to Atlanta and the last two days I just wanted to relax at home and hang out with my sister, so I wouldn’t be too tired on my long flight back to Mumbai. I loved US, and I get the appeal now. Other than the fact that two of my closest people live there (they can make any place worthwhile for me actually), the people we met- from the uber drivers, to restaurant owners or people serving us, or just in general, were mostly warm and welcoming and really talkative! It wouldn’t be difficult to do a trip alone here, if you have your trip and stay planned I think. So anyway, I have a visa that’s valid for 10 years, and I intend to use it to its fullest, since there is much more to see and many more hangouts with my friends and family to be planned:)

Total trip cost- 12K INR for the visas, 85K INR for the return flight tickets and approx 45K INR on food, drinks and shopping. We didn’t need to spend any money on stay or travel in US, courtesy friends and family 🙂

Stay- If you have friends or family, do plan to crash at their place, if its not an inconvenience to them:) Else, there are plenty budget motels and bed and breakfast places to choose from too. It helps to plan and book in advance

Places to visit- really depends on time and what’s on your list, but if you’re visiting any of the places above, worth checking out the places I’ve mentioned in my blog, at least for food and drinks too. You wouldn’t be dissappointed 🙂

Tip- Book Ubers- they’re safe. Talk to the locals and don’t buy souvenirs from the airports, they’re more expensive 🙂

Drink coffee!! I know the Australians and Europeans will say the American coffee sucks, but for the Indian who has mostly milky filter coffees as options, the make your own drip coffee there available at all petrol stations or rest stops, were a welcome change and addiction 😉

Vietnam- a pho-ntastic trip!

After an extremely nerve wrecking start (we found out the visa rules had changed, and we had only 4 hrs on a Friday to sort it out.. Thank god for money though, it does seem to sort the most impossible of problems!), to this long awaited vacation in vietnam, my husband and I arrived at the Hanoi airport in Vietnam on Saturday afternoon. It was a long queue at immigration, quite similar to India, but we made it eventually, found our cab that was arranged by our hotel and went about our way to the hotel. Since I’m an Indian, two things struck me immediately when we left the airport- 1) this place reminded me of India, a mix of Mumbai and Kolkata I think and 2) this was so different from India because poeple drive on the left side here! Lol

Ok so since I’ve come back to finish this travelogue after almost a week of returning back, I’ve decided to try a short and sweet day wise approach and just put pictures and some noteworthy (personally noteworthy, to be precise) facts in this😊

Day 1- Hanoi city

– stayed at this super nice hotel called ‘charming 2’ hotel with the best service ever!

– went to dinner at highway 4 and tried Vietnamese rice liquer called ‘son tinh’- food and alchohol both were amazing! Nice relaxing first day 😊

Day 2 – Mai chau

– left for this cute little Thai village in Vietnam ( yes that’s right!) in a cramped up bus, where we met a super active woman we named ‘energy’, made friends with a Vietnamese tourist called Thao and had a German guide called Nicholas for us ( since we were the only English speaking tourists onboard!)

– stopped at a place where they sold snake, scorpion and frog wine.. Yuckkkk

– had yummy lunch in a small village and then went cycling with the local village guide among paddy fields- heavenly! It was so beautiful! And very hot .. Hehe

– had a mighty fall while trying to go downhill on a muddy slope on my cycle.. Hehe, the result was two bruised legs for the rest of my trip

– returned back to Hanoi by dinner time, and had another amazing Vietnamese dinner with beer at An gnon, I think that’s what it was called 😊

Day 3 & 4- Halong bay- one of the six natural wonders of the world!

– left for halong bay in a coach full of foreigners, this was the first place I was in a country where Indians were rare! Lol, reached the jetty pickup place by noon, were led into our ship- galaxy cruise in a small boat and checked into our cute little cabin by lunch

– had amazing meals, and time on the boat cruise, talking to people from England, Poland, South Korea, New Zealand, Amsterdam and listening to all their stories and travel experiences over lunch, dinner and drinks on the deck.. It was a cool experience 😊 it was funny, coz the Korean couple spoke French better than English and were so cute!, the kiwi couple lady had backpacked in India alone in her early 20s! The girls from Amsterdam had never been stoned! The Brit couple had been to an Indian wedding, and we ran into them again later at Ho Chi Minh!

– we went cave exploring, it was amazing.. And there was a ‘wow’ factor there too.. Lol

– tried my hand at kayaking and decided that wasn’t for me, my husband was pretty annoyed at my lack of adventure though.. Hehe

– hiked up a mountain near a beach we docked at and then chilled at the beach reading a book.. Blissful!😊

– checked out finally the next day and reached back at Hanoi by evening, went to another nice little Vietnamese restaurant for dinner later, and found a cute little sheesha place nearby, where we had a sheesha and some coffee 😊

Day 5, 6, 7- Hoi An

– checked into a huge room after a really pretty drive from danang airport at hoi an and walked down to see the night market place, and grab dinner. Little did I know that we’d come upon a magical place along the water lit with lamps, without the discomfort of the noise and pollution that vehicles bring, since this place is doesn’t allow vehicles, except for bicycles! We found a cute little restaurant by the river, and I got drunk after ages! I think I danced my way back to the hotel that night, much to the embarrassment of my poor husband..heheh

– Next day, after another yummy hangover curing breakfast, we rented bicycles and cycled around the heritage village and got some lunch at a cute little cafe. Cycled back around 7 kms to the closest beach- An Bang, and it was amazing:) We got two beach chairs to lounge about in, while sipping on our drinks. We thought we’d have seafood by the beach for dinner, but didn’t find the places too much to our liking, and then my husband stepped on an ant hill- so we had to quickly ride back home, get some medicines for him and headed back again to the Heritage village by the stream to have dinner..hehe

– Checked out on the next day, after a lazy brunch again, back to Danang airport, for our final destination to Ho Chi Minh City 🙂 (or HCMC, or Saigon- whichever you prefer)

Day 7, 8 and 9

– Day 7 evening we checked into our hotel at HCMC, freshened up and headed out to explore, found the most amazing cold coffee just a few blocks away from our hotel, where we bumped into one of the british couple from our cruise at Ha Long Bay! what a small world eh?! They were leaving that night, and we exchanged notes, said sad goodbyes to the place and headed to our respective directions

– Walked down to another tourist place called Bitexco Financial tower, and on the way crossed so many tiny little coffee shops where youngsters were enjoying an evening with friends over some iced coffee or hot coffee. Made me smile and wonder, why aren’t we more like them? Why can’t young people hang out more at coffee places, instead of bars?:) Food for thought maybe..so back to the Bitexco tower- you can take a ticket and go right up to the most amazing view of the city! It was breathtaking! We took our time there, and had a beer at the rooftop bar, and then headed back to our hotel for dinner and an early night

– Day 8, we had breakfast at the hotel (which was a bit of a disappointment though, after all the yummy food we had eaten at the other hotels, but well, guess we were spoilt already:) so anyway, we headed off to see the Independence Palace, got our tickets and spent almost 2 hours inside! This place is totally recommended to history buffs, who just want to get a feel of the time during the Vietnam war, the kitchens, the hall, the bomb safe bunkers, old vintage cars, parts of the tank that maked the victory of the Vietnamese over the mighty Americans, and a free running war documentary, explaining all this. You could get a sense of how hated the American army was in Vietnam during this time, but times have changed now, and we’ve come a long way from that war- so it was good to see a lot of Vietnamese guides explaining the place to American tourists there

– That done, we stopped over for lunch at another cafe, and then rounded up our tour with a visit to the old post office there. I got excited and bought two post cards to send to my sister and my best friend, but I don’t know why, it never reached any of them..anyway, at least I had the excitement of sending postcards 🙂

– Day 9, we left back for Singapore

I simply loved Vietnam! I loved the vibe of the place and the genuine affection of the people there. It is quite like India in so many respects, yet so different, in terms of the peace and friendliness and openness that I saw and experienced in this place. I would recommend Vietnam to every traveler and would really like to go back there sometime in the future, if possible:)

Weekend trip to hong kong- of tall blocks and shiny malls

I chanced upon this pretty good deal on groupon one day for a 3D 2N trip to Hong Kong inclusive of flight, stay at a great hotel, half day sight seeing and transfer from the airport and booked two of these for my husband and me, since it was a good deal and it had visa on arrival 😊 so our bags packed for the weekend for a much needed break from the hectic schedule at work, we left for hongkong on Saturday morning from Singapore, on 23rd aug. After the usual smooth immigration at Singapore airport and shopping for books to read on the journey, we boarded Cathay pacific. Amazing flight, noisy kids, lunch on board and movies on the in flight entertainment, 3.5 hours later, we land at hongkong airport. To my pleasant surprise, the immigration and visa at hongkong is probably the cheapest ( coz it’s free!) and the least hassle free experience, they don’t even stamp your passport! That was pretty impressive😊 so we waited at the airport for our guide to pick us up and headed off to our hotel on the bus

 

 

I have to say, the view was quite similar to Singapore , yet quiet different with those hills on the backdrop of really high buildings. We checked in to our hotel by 3:30 pm and headed out to the streets in search of food, since we were hungry again! Now here’s the first mistake of the trip- if you don’t speak or can’t read Chinese, don’t venture out yourself, at least in he Kowloon area😊 we tried searchin for places to eat , but couldn’t figure out any of the signs, so we resigned to eat at a common bakery in a mall. I got really disheartened and we went back to our hotel to look for stuff to do in the evening. Luckily we found out that there was a harbour walk area just minutes away from our hotel and there was a space museum there too, where we decided to catch the next planetarium show since I love to watch those😊 but I guess luck wasn’t on our side, and after a good 20 min walk navigating through a sea of people and glittering shops, we were told that the tickets were sold off😞 nevertheless, the place there was really good and the harbour walk was the best part of the day! There we’re live performances going on at various places by street artists, we crossed by sea of stars, which is like an area with statues of famous Chinese actors, their footprints etc. the harbour was beautiful and we walked around there taking pictures amongst thronges of other people taking pictures until sunset..

Tired and thirsty, we headed off to temple street for dinner and drinks, and landed in this bridal house restaurant, with no idea how the food there would be.. We got seated in this booth which was totally private and it was pretty funny being there, just the two of us.. Hehe.. We ordered for beer and some starters and I ordered rice in white n tomato sauce, but we were really dissappointed with the food there. Even I couldn’t down any of my food, so that was a disaster of a dinner- we literally just had the beer there😊

Day 2

So since our adventurous ‘do it ourselves’ sightseeing was kind of disastrous the evening before, we decided to take the effort to wake up early and go for the half day sight seeing arranged by the groupon deal, which was totally worth it! We left our hotel at 7 am with another Singaporean couple and our guide- David, and headed straight to have dimsums breakfast at this famous hongkong joint. It was just superb, the custard bao n tarts, the fish n prawn dimsums, the rice cakes, green tea, everything was awesome! Breakfast done, we headed off to the first place on our list- bauhinia square. This place is named after the national flower of hongkong- bauhinia. It is said that the golden replica of the flower was given as a gift to the people of hongkong by the Chinese govt, to commemorate their freedom from the people’s republic of china. We took our usual pictures there, walked about a bit and headed off to the next destination.

Nest stop- Victoria peak, mid level. So at first glance, hongkong seems to have only buildings and some far off hills surrounding it, and this is one such hill, which is not so far off and is probably the most beautiful place to stay at in hongkong, which is why I think only the rich and famous poeple can afford villas and flats there. We saw jackie chan’s house there too! It was so dreamy! Sigh.. My husband and I imagined living in a house like that, waking up every morning to a view like that and being that rich. Luckily the day dreaming lasted for as long as our picture taking time there.. Hehe

On our way downhill towards our next stop, we were entertained by our guide and fellow travellers by stories of the feng shui master and his affair with the rich old woman, her downfall followed by his downfall..listening to their stories and mythology, we realised how similar Indian and Chinese cultures are really😊

We reached our next stop which was the Repluse bay ( no there is nothing repulsive about this place, on the contrary it was another beautiful place). This is one of the few beaches hongkong has, and is next to this Chinese temple which was used by pirates and sailors during old days and days when the British still ruled the country. It is said that the place is called Repluse bay, since when the local fishermen would pray to the god of sea, he would create conditions in that area that would ‘repulse’ any pirate ships 😊 although it was really hot and sunny, I loved the view and calm of this place and was sad to leave this place for our next destination..

Some time later, we were at our next stop, at Aberdeen, which is a small fishing village in hongkong. David, our guide mentioned to us that hongkong was originally a fishing island and the natives used to live in such fishing villages, on their boats and this is one of those few places in the new and shiny city which still gives tourists a glimpse of how it was in the bygone era😊 the funny thing was though, that although we were supposed to view the old fishing village, our boat ride started at the jetty which was laden with really expensive looking, swanky , probably private state of the art yatches! Lol! The boat ride was short and sweet, but I thought the fishing village was almost non existent, to be frank😊

By now, it was 12 already and since we’d has such an early breakfast, I started to get hungry again, but we still had some shops to go to, as part of the tour plan. So off we headed to our first shop- the jade jewellery mall. Now I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures here, but the most interesting part of this place was that we were ushered into this hall with only mirrors and doors and a few people in suits. They put some stickers on us and ushered us into another tiny room with chairs, posters of their gems, while

One of the suited ladies explained to is their jewellery making process and quality standards using a workflow of pictures! It was so impressive and easy to understand and remember! I was impressed! After our class was over, we were again lead through this mirrored walk way, like we were being led into some gangster place! Haha.. The doors finally opened and inside was a sea of prospective buyers glued to the multple variety of jewels and jewellery that were on display 😊 sadly, most of this was over our budget, so we just did some window shopping there and left to the next mall. Again, David took us to the gadget mall, where the entry was similar and the stuff was similar to what we already have or had no need for really.. So more window shopping and finally David took us to the lunch place! Thank you, said my tummy quitely😉

The lunch again was amazing for the amount of money we paid, there was rice, scrambled eggs, soy fish, tofu in garlic sauce, barbecue chicken, boiled cabbage and more green tea😊 we also had sweet red beans for dessert, which my husband didn’t like as much.. Heheh

With that our guided tour was over, but we still had more than half the day, so we decided to try the space meuseum show again, but sadly luck was not on our side again and the tickets were all sold out again. Now I also wanted to go and see the big Buddha there, so we decided instead of keeping this for the next day, we’ll just see him today. We took a cab to Lantau Island, reached the place in around 45 minutes and bought the ngong ping 360 package pass, which is more expensive than the regular pass, but it saves you the hassle of standing in a very long queue for the tickets in that sweltering heat, so is totally worth it if you can spend the extra money😊 we got into the cable car real quick and I have to say, that able car ride was so far the longest and the best cable car ride I’ve been in, so far! The view was breath taking as we kept going higher into the hills and the breeze was a relief in that afternoon heat😊

In about half n hour we reached Ngong ping, which is like a small makeshift hi see village created for tourism, sour rounding the bid Buddha statue and the monastery. We were thirsty and hungry again, so stopped by to have some ice creams first and then started our climb up to the big Buddha statue. I have to tell you that it was beautiful! I just find Budhism, their monasteries and all the Buddha statues and places around it really beautiful and peaceful- be it in Orissa, Ladakh, bodh gaya at Bihar in India, or big Buddha at hongkong, I love all of them 😊

We spent a good amount of time here, at the monastery, at the Buddha statue, watched a 4D show, had some coffee and bought a few souvenirs before heading back to the cable car for the ride back😊

Now here’s the thing, when you’re 31 and work in an IT company, you feel as old as a 50 year old, so by the time we reached back to our hotel, we had no strength left in our bodies and all our plans of going out drinking to catch the night life at hongkong went down the drain.. Heheh.. So we just showered, bought some ciders from the 7/11 shop downstairs, ordered in pizza and relaxed at the hotel that night itself😊

Final day

We woke up late Monday, and went to the hotel restaurant to have a leisurely breakfast, showered and checked out of the hotel. Since we didn’t want to do much after our really long day yesterday, so we just kept our luggage at the hotel concierge and went to a very swanky mall called ‘elements’ to watch a movie and have lunch. We saw this movie called Lucy in one of the best movie theatres I’ve been to! It was a good experience, followed by lunch at a Japanese restaurant, where we had more green tea and different types of udon dishes😊 we did some window shopping at the mall and then headed back to the hotel to be taxied back to the airport. The checkout was as smooth as the entry, and we were back at home in Singapore by midnight😊

Travel tips:

1. Travel to hongkong in autumn or winter, since we were told the weather gets cooler, else it was really hot even now

2. It isn’t a cheap city, so be prepared to spend😊 even without any shopping or drinking outside, I ended up spending around 800 Singapore dollars inclusive of everything- flight, hotel, sightseeing, food etc just for a weekend, which according to my standards is expensive

3. If you aren’t staying at the island, or can’t speak/read Chinese or don’t have friends to show you around, take a guided tour😊

4. I read later that one can hike and bike over some trails there too, which we couldn’t explore, so if you’re into those things then best to try that out and explore those options

1 day food adventure at Johor Bahru, Malaysia 😊

So, I got tired of spending my weekends alone watching tv at home and decided to sign up for one of these meet ups. And this one was a one day food and shopping adventure😊

So the night before I just couldn’t sleep out of excitement and obviously nervousness, so groggy eyes I woke up the next day and got ready, booked a cab and reached the pick up place by 7 am.. We started the day by awkwardly introducing ourselves to the other travelers in the group and the bus finally turned up half hr late and we began our journey. I made friends with a girl called Carla and she and I sat together and talked the way to immigration😊

Now I have to mention the immigration process here, coz for the non Singapore or non Malaysian people, it’s alsmot like a race against time! You’ll see all the expats get off the buses and literally run to get ahead in those serpentine queues, and is exactly what fran ( another Australian traveler with us) and I did.. And it was quite fun😊

Finally, we reached our destination at around 8:30 am and all of us were super hungry and ready to dive in! Our tour coordinator- David , showed us around and have us a small tour of all the places we could eat at and after buying some bread and curry puffs and banana cake from the local bakeries, we decided to group out and each group went ahead to the place they wanted to try breakfast at😊

I went ahead with a group to eat roasted duck and soup and it was just heavenly! The barbecue sauce that the duck was roasted in was something I had never had before! It was so delicious! We had our fill there amid banter and getting to know each other a bit more and headed off to our bus to get to our next eating destination.

Our next stop was near a village outside the city centre, but we reached there in just about 20 mins and I was having serious doubts about what I could eat so soon, since I was already feeling full! So again, our really friendly and caring leader, David have us a quick tour of the places to eat at, and since I already had my mind set at eating dim sums, I changed my original group and went ahead with a different group to the dim sum place. You couldn’t believe how crowded it was at 10 am on a sudsy morning already! We managed to get a table but I was having trouble figuring out what to order and how to order since everything was written in mandarin and the servers wouldn’t understand English. Luckily for me, my group people figured out my problem and helped me order and also share some of my food so I could try more stuff😊 that’s really nice isn’t it?! So I ordered my latest favourite char siew bao- which is like minced pork in that amazing barbecue sauce stuffed inside a cake like dim sum covering.. It’s just superb! We also tried a couple of other dimsums like prawn and rice cakes, and then decided to wrap it up with dessert at this really famous nonya restaurant😊

At the nonya place, all of us were dying to find out a place to relieve ourselves and it was funny since there was only one toilet which was at the back of the restaurant! It was really funny to see all the men and women stand in the queue, hold each other’s bags and take orders for each other while we waited for our turns! It was hilarious! Bladders relieved, I went back and just a ordered for a lemongrass drink since I was too full and didn’t want to over eat, while the others ordered some cucumber rolls , and the local Malaysian dessert cendol. I’ve already had this when I went to malacca, so I didn’t need to try it again😊 we stayed at this place for a little longer to cool off with the aircon and headed back again to the bus.

Our 4th stop was at the ksl shopping mall, where we did some window shopping and 4 of us ladies went ahead and got awesome foot massages from men for just 32 bucks! I kept thinking, wow, go women- a guy is actually touching a woman’s feet! Lol

Our next stop was again another mall, jusco tebrau city mall , where we did some more window shopping and had coffee and cake at Vivo pizza cafe, and talked to get to know each other a little more.. Great pastry😊 for just 20 bucks here.. Great conversation, also bought some tights and a ganjee for 50 bucks

Our 6th and final stop was at the street food market to have dinner. We also wanted to check out this famous night market that they have here, but sadly it opens only at 8 pm and we had to leave JB by 7:30 to reach back home on time, so we just walked around and I had some stuffed bread pakoda kind of thing for 1 buck at the street market since I wasn’t that hungry yet. The group split up again and I decided to head off by myself for a bit and just walk around the city and wrap up at the mall for dinner and a visit to the clean loo there😏

I finally stopped at a Mexican joint for dinner and ordered some tacos and a lychee fizz for myself for dinner😊 but I had hogged so much already that I couldn’t do justice to my dinner..

Nevertheless, dinner wrapped, tummies full and legs tired, we all headed back on to the bus and amidst more conversations, laughter and exchanged of promises to catch up on the next meet up, we crossed immigration, reached Singapore, got dropped home and I guess each one of us would’ve nicely snuggled nicely into beds to be ready to kick off the week😊

Live to eat! 😊

My first successful and dramatic solo trip!

I always wondered how it would be to travel alone and explore things at your own pace or not explore at all and go to a different place and vegetate without feeling guilty about it.. So I thought what better way to find out than try it out?

Therefore after a lot of erratic and confused planning, I saw myself at the woodlands interchange train station on Friday night. The immigration and customs were a smooth walk but my first shock came when I found out I had booked myself an overnight train ride in a seating only car! Well, there was no turning back and that was the first horrible part of my journey.. The train was lit up throughout the night and was so cold that me and some other first time travelers were freezing our minds off since we didn’t have the foresight to bring blankets like some of the local travelers had.. Hehe.. To top it all, the train was on time! So I reached the deserted station of Tampin at 5:30 am when even the sun doesn’t rise that early!  So this is when I decide to throw all caution to wind for a solo female traveler and take a scary looking taxi to my hotel hoping for a miracle early check in, since my check in wasn’t allowed until 2 pm! To add to this, there is no ATM or money changer at the station so travelers better carry their Malaysian ringgits from Singapore itself, if traveling by train..

Luckily for me, the cab driver turned out to be a nice bloke and dropped me safely at my hotel and didn’t even haggle when I paid him in Singapore dollars instead.. Then came my second hurdle when I found out that there was no way I could check in earlier since there were no available rooms before my check in! Luckily for me, the attendant at the hotel was really nice and friendly and he allowed me to crash at the lobby until any guests checked out and use the common loo to freshen up, have breakfast and coffee if I wanted to.. We chatted away for a few hours until sunrise and around 8 am lo behold! Some of the guests decided to check out early, so after a very nice breakfast at the hotel cafe, I managed to check in around 10 am and promptly went off to sleep 🙂

 

Finally rested and showered, I stepped out of my hotel in the afternoon like a woman on a mission.. Hehe.. I walked down to the only mall in the city to get some Malaysian ringgits first, that done, headed off to have a good meal to give me some energy and settled in for chicken and mushroom clay pot rice at the food court with coconut water and enjoyed my lunch watching a very old jack is chan Kung fu movie that was playing at the mall common area 🙂

Lunch done, I got a taxi where to my luck the driver turned out to be this extremely amicable fellow who was all too eager to make my touristy dreams come true 😉 so he drove me around first to the Portuguese settlement to a fort, where I practised my art of taking selfies, followed by a nice short walk to a place which resembled marine drive back in India. We wrapped up the Portuguese settlement with a visit to this beautiful mosque called salamat masjid Melaka, but what I enjoyed the most was sharing stories with my friendly cabbie really:)

My friendly cabbie finally dropped me at the Dutch heritage walk with a lot of advices and his business card! It was around 5 in the evening, but still quiet hot..but since I was already in high spirits, I dived right into part 2 of my exploration at the Dutch heritage walk. Started off with the remaining wall left of Porta de Santiago and a short climb up to the graveyard, followed by a very interesting walk towards the river quay area accompanied by throngs of other tourists and blaring music coming from these cute little colorful rickshaws!

I was a little late for most museums, but I didn’t feel like I missed much there.. However I did visit this naval maritime Meusuem along the river walk which had an interesting ship that everyone took pictures of. I also found some kind locals who saved me the torture of clicking selfies so I could act model for a change on a solo trip! Hehe .. Tired and hot, I finally decided to rest and watch the sunset along the river side before heading it again… It was just beautiful and so calming 🙂

So it was time to get to my next agenda which obviously would centre around food 😉 so I walked down to the famous jonker walk, which was as crowded as chandni chowk in India! Locals and tourists thronged the place while small vendors were lined up on either side of the street selling nick knacks, small eats, desserts, souvenirs and what not! I tried some local fried stuff that they were selling but guess it was a bad idea, since it was a bit too pungent tasting for me. I had to get rid of my thirst and that taste, so I tried out their local dessert called cendol, which was just superb!! It had crushed ice laced with coconut cream on top of sweet beans and semolina I think.. It was just super refreshing! I walked around a little more and lo and behold! Found a Hard Rock Cafe there!! Obviously my focus changed since good music and beer was all my brain was thinking if then 😉 I sat down at HRC, ordered myself a big pint of beer and chicken wings and settled in at the bar. The best part of being alone was that the bar tenders and waitresses there came in and have me company now and then and this young fellow called then asked me to attend re Easter mass celebration happen ending at a nearby church..but I thought and declined since my own religious ideas didn’t make me comfortable visiting the church after drinking.. So maybe another time:)

A little while later, since it was starting to get late and I was alone here, I decided to be sensible and responsible for a change and headed back to my hotel. I was still hungry and luckily for me found a nice little cafe called the elvis music cafe near my hotel where I stuffed myself with amazing chocolate cheesecake and ham and egg wraps! Yeah, people do call me porky pig at times too and I’m not surprised now.. Hehe

Finally my awesome and hectic day was over, I checked in back into

My room, showered, opened another beer for the night, watched some random local tv in my room and fell off to a much deserved and amazing sleep 🙂

The next day I woke up late and had another round of lazy breakfast but decided not to venture out again since I had already seen everything and it’s too hot in the day to enjoy any outdoor walk really.. So I lazed around in my hotel room and checked out just before lunch to have lunch at casa del rio resort.. That again was so relaxing 🙂 if you have the money, I would recommend staying here.. Coz the view and service is definitely worth it and it’s right in the heart of the city 🙂 I bought some source owes for myself to remind me of my first solo trip adventure and then boarded the bus at 4. The return bus journey was quite smooth, except for the very long time that it takes to clear the immigration at Singapore, so be prepared for at least a 6 hour journey back 🙂

So finally, travel tips:

Budget hotel booked via agoda cost 50 sgd per night- sunshine inn recommended, clean and very good service

Luxury hotel- definitely casa del rio

Train ticket- 50 sgd, recommend carrying warm clothes or blankets to combat the killer aircon!

Bus ticket- luxury coach 40 sgd

Total that I spent on tha trip- 200 sgd

Word of advice for solo travelers- just stay alert and careful, the people in general are friendly though 🙂 and definelty try the cendol! Hehe

The land where everyone is a millionaire- our trip to Bali😊

 

So after a long time and pretty quick and impromptu planning, Priyank and I managed to plan a short weekend trip to Bali with another couple friend of ours- chan and Snigs ..

The excitement before the trip was palpable.. It was Bali after all, we had heard so much about it and I obviously was hoping to find my ‘love’ in the city of eat -pray- love.. Hehe.. So day 1 of the trip started with an awesome start at Singapore airport, with amazing English breakfast.. Yeah we’re suckers for the standard eggs, sausages and hash brown breakfast😏 but then, it started going downhill from there, sadly.. Our flight with tiger air mandala got delayed by half n hour and it took us 3 hours to reach the airport at Bali, another 1.5 hours to clear immigration at Bali and then another 1.5 hours to reach our resort at ubud- puri bungs spa and resort .. Sigh!

But the sight of the resort was like a balm to our tired souls! Oh it was just beautiful! Words cannot describe the serenity of the place, but I think travellers alike could say the setting would resemble something of interior Kerala ( if you’re an Indian that is.. Hehe).. We checked in at around 7 pm, freshened up and headed to ubud centre for the much awaited Balinese food and beer 😉

So the last pic is the view from our resort, we had an amazing time at dinner, stuffed ourselves with Balinese style seafood and bintang, the local beer here😊 I realised that the food here is somehow not very exotic and very Indian tasting actually, with a little on the sweet peanut type of dominant taste. They have a lot of fried food and street food like nasi goreng which is fried rice really 😏 and the other major thing that we couldn’t get over is the money conversion here! I mean, we’re literally millionaires here! Lol.. Everything is in lacs or millions! It’s just crazy when we see the bills and then convert it to only realise that it’s not really that expensive.. Lol.. Bill here for a lunch where we spent 14 lacs apparently! Lol

So anyway, chan and Snigs joined us later in the night and we all promptly retired to our rooms for a much awaited good night’s sleep..

Day 2 began with an amazing English breakfast again at the resort restaurant overlooking one of the best views to have breakfast in.. We freshen up and headed towards Jimbaran bay for authentic seafood lunch. We reached there around 1 pm, totally hungry, but our hunger took a backseat when we saw the view at the beach! Sigh.. It was right out of a postcard..the bright shining sun, clear pristine water of the sea.. The color of coper sulphate,  and absolutely white sand with hardly any people around ( that could also be because it was just super sunny!) .. But the view was just magical, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it and here’s an attempt of mine to capture what I saw and want to remember 😊

It was here that we had our super expensive seafood lunch that I mentioned earlier about .. Fish, squid, prawns, lobster, mussels with Balinese sauce and garlic sauce and sticky rice and obviously our favourite bintang beers 🍻

We sat there in that sun under our umbrella for hours altogether, battling the sun just because we didn’t want to move away from that place, but we really needed to.. So around 3:30 pm, we left for Nusa dua beach to satiate the water sports demands of the rest of the group😊 at Nusa dua, since we reached very late most of the water sports like scooters, paragliding, snorkelling, diving had closed for the day.. So tip to fellow travellers looking for adventure sports, go early morning😊 we settled for the glass bottom boat ride and a trip to the turtle island which was totally worth it! The boat ride was speedy and windy and amazing, and the boys had a blast at turtle island posing with all sorts of strange animals and showing off😏 I obviously was super afraid and refrained to just being the photographer here.. Hehe

We got a dropped off following an amazing drive over the settling sun on this very very long bridge towards kuta beach. The plan was to actually party at the legendary kuta beach, but obviously all of us being old and tired already, couldn’t do much other than enjoy the sunset and retire for another round of very expensive dinner and drinks 😊

With the setting of the night, great live music, tasty cocktails playing with my tired senses, simple food for dinner, chatting with friends and the sweet sea breeze and the calming sound of the ocean made me feel relaxed and at peace with myself.. It’s just to relive this feeling that I keep wanting to go back to places to travel over and over again.. Away from the madding crowd😏

So day 3 now and the guys and Snigs were again jumping for more adventure sports, but since it was my last day here, I really wanted to take it easy and just relax.. So I went ahead and got myself an amazing Balinese spa at our resort.. The massage and the open view overlooking the valley.. So relaxing! After that the other three left off to do some white water rafting while I stayed back to loiter around the swimming pool for a few laps followed by a soak in the bath tub and a late and lazy lunch of Balinese fried rice and watermelon juice again😊

Post my leisurely dip in the pool followed by another dip and long shower in the bath tub, I ordered in a late and yummy lunch of nasi goreng ( Indonesian style fried rice) with watermelon juice and started off my blog while sitting at the porch of my room, listening to music😊 I felt pretty lazy eventually and promptly dozed off after a while, which is how the rest of the adventurous party found me😵

We left off again to Jimbaran bay for dinner in the evening and wrapped up our last night at beautiful Bali over local chicken sate, fried noodles, fruits and another local beer arken 😊🍻 the breeze was beautiful, the candle lot tables, groups of local people performing songs for your at your table, trying to serenade you as well as earn a living and a few dance performances by the beautiful Balinese women.. All in all heavenly. I realised then that I just didn’t want to go back and there was still so much to discover, specially the volcanoes and temples around ubud, that I thought maybe I could come back here again to finish off what I had begun?

So here are my travel tips:

To do- if you’re into partying and water sports, it’s best to stay at kuta, but if you’re into spas and an experience of slow and cultural life, head off to ubud

Food- I personally didn’t find the food or street food very different from things I’ve already eaten or Indian street food, but it’s more on the fried stuff which is sweet with a taste of peanut.. So people allergic to peanut, be careful😊

Company- language could be a problem since the locals try hard to speak and understand English, but the locals generally are a friendly bunch I think.. However, I’m not sure how the place is for line travelers or just a bunch of friends, since I kind of felt the romantic honeymoon destination hype to act like a heavy rainy cloud to dampen my spirits since honeymoon was not on my agenda.. Hehe

Duration of stay- we stayed only for 3 days and I don’t think that’s enough.. Of course one can do a lot in 3 days, if you want your vacation to feel like an assignment, but I would’ve liked a few more days, maybe 5 days

Money spent- I ended up going over budget , mainly because we spent a lot on food and traveling by taxis back and forth from ubud to kuta almost daily, but my 3 day expense including flight, stay, travel inside Bali, food and activities came up to around 500 Singapore dollars

To heaven and back-is even a lifetime enough there?

I realized a few days back that other than dancing like I’m in a trance, traveling is what gives me peace and contentment, next. And of course I’m not talking about traveling to work, but travel which includes exploring new places, people and of course food 😉 And this is an account of yet another such travel to a destination we had marked as part of our earlier ‘places to visit in India’ checklist- Ladakh! Even now, 2 days after our return, sitting in my office cubicle, waiting for my next meeting, all I can think about is that place and how even 10 days seemed too little.. J

So, after a very hectic week (all IT guys working with an Indian IT company would know how difficult it is to get leaves approved for more than 3 days ;)), the day of departure finally arrived and was I glad or what?!!! To be frank, I was still a bit nervous, since I’ve started getting skeptical about getting too excited about anything these days, less it falls apart, and with all the news of bad weather and landslides, I decided not to get too excited until I actually set foot at Leh 😉 hehe. We left Pune on Friday, 6th July 2012 and flew to Delhi first. Reached Delhi at 3 am in the night (stupid Go Air flights) and had to leave again at 6 am to catch our morning flight to Srinagar. We (Pinks n me) met the remaining group – Nevielle and Lampu at the airport at Srinagar itself and after a very boring wait of 2 hours at the airport, finally hopped on to our cab and checked in at Feroz guest house (I have mentioned a breakdown of the rates at the end of this article). After freshening up, we left to check out Srinagar…Our driver and co driver (his cousin) were both Muslim guys and were absolutely amazing! They were funny and caring and very polite and ensured we had a great time sightseeing J So in Srinagar, we went to a few gardens – Chashmeshahi, etc., had lunch at Mughal darbar (definitely recommend the rista for meat lovers..Simply yumm), and ended it with a shikara ride over Dal lake at sunset. Our first night at Kashmir was a success, and we opened the bottle of Teachers and had a round each to commence the most important leg of our journey the next day-a 2 day road trip to Leh!
We made an early start for Leh on 7th July 2012 at 8:30 am, stopped over at a roadside dhaba at Gunderbal district on the way for a hot and much awaited breakfast of paratha, puri, chhole, maggi and tea (I did mention traveling for food earlier you see ;)).
Our tummies full, we set off towards Sonmarg, where we would be stopping for lunch later. The drive to Sonmarg was simply beautiful. The road was smooth and lined with ice topped mountains, green pine trees on one side and the flowing river on the other side..I knew we were on the right track to heaven then 😉

We reached Sonmarg at 12 pm and went on a horse (although mine looked more like a poor pony) ride along the glacier mountain. Personally, I think I would’ve preferred to walk up, since by the end of the ride my bum was bruised with the hard saddle and the upward walk on top of my poor old pony..sigh! L We did get some respite from those hard saddles in between, where we had the option of trekking up one of the dry glaciers..but me being me (by that I mean fat and not very fit..tee hee), I had gave up after 20 steps and chose to sit on another hard rock instead, while Pinks and Lampu trekked on. I do have to mention here that those 20 minutes on that rock (even with Neveille sitting beside me) was sooo peaceful. Neither of us could talk, there was no one to see for miles, no music, no cars, no people, just the sound of the running water and the wind to give us company and the sight of those majestic mountains to entertain us, and I was captivated. I was in peace…

We had lunch at Glacier house at Sonmarg of roti, chicken, daal and coffee and the food was decent, though not as good as the dhaba breakfast was J We left Sonmarg at 3:30 pm, but sadly got stuck in a very long traffic jam at Bartal for around 1.5 hours due to the Amarnath tourists. We somehow managed to cross the long line after requesting some of the army officers there, that we needed to cross Zozila on time to go onward to Leh. We were able to touch Drass (apparently the world’s second highest inhabited place) by 7:30 pm and stopped over there for pee break and some refreshing Kehwa (kashmiri tea).
Left Drass at 8 pm (by the way, amazingly, even at 8, the sun hadnt set there!) But then started one of the worst legs of our entire road trip-the road to Kargil. I know this sounds like a serious movie Title, and trust me, we could make a really serious movie with that terrain and 5 tired souls in the middle of nowhere. The road was awful, there was no light, it was getting colder by the minute, there were no rest stops and no vehicle in sight as well! This went on for 2 hours continuously and by the time we started nearing Kargil for our night stop, I think we all had our backs and bottoms broken and bruised. It was worse for Neveille and me, since he had suffered some sort of flea infection from that horse ride and I had bruised my bottom sitting on that hard saddle for so long. We reached Kargil at 10 pm at night and checked in at this really good hotel called Hotel Zojila. Lampu and I managed to stuff some food into our tummies (don’t even ask what we had, coz it’s just not worth mentioning) and then took showers, changed and dropped dead 😀

The next morning, finally rejuvenated from the amazing sleep, I went out to our hotel balcony and was instantly awestruck with the beauty in front of me. If we weren’t short of time and didn’t have a destination to go ahead to, I swear all I would’ve done that morning was to sit on the balcony, drink in the clear sky, the huge dessert mountains and the landscape around it, simply sipping some tea and probably with a smoke. Aaahhh..bliss! But we did have a journey to complete, so after having another good breakfast of eggs, toast, paratha, sabzi and tea, we headed out towards Leh at 8:20 am from Kargil. The journey from Kargil was so much better, the landscape changes every half an hour, there were huge mountains, barren lands, sometimes rocky mountains, sometimes mountains that looked like an old man, some patches of green and even purple and absolute blue clear sky.
When you’re traveling this road, there is no need for companionship, since even in a group where 3 of us love to talk, we were all quite, since we couldn’t imagine what we were seeing.. We reached Mulbek at 10:15 am, where there is a stone sculpted with Budhha’s picture. We stayed there for pee and tea break. Now I must tell you, that this was the first place I discovered the famous Ladakh toilets-what I started calling the Compost pits! Hehehe..dont get me wrong-they’re more hygienic than most of the public toilets Ive been to, are cleaner and don’t stink as much-since people manage to put in their crap right into the hole which is around 10 feet high from another floor. I think that is used as manure for the land later, no idea though 😀 We left after 10 minutes and touched Lamayuru at 12:20 pm. Most people stop here if not at Kargil or stop here for lunch, but we decided to go ahead to Khaltse, an army check point before entering Leh, where we stopped for Lunch. Although the view as usual was breathtaking, I must say, I was a bit disappointed with the lunch at Khaltse-we had simply rice, egg curry and raajma, but it was tasteless and very spicy. I also have to mention here, that I started having a slight headache from here, which I ignored thinking it must be due to the travel stress, but later came on to realize was a symptom of AMS , which is caused due to less oxygen in the air in very high altitudes.

We finally reached Leh (after frolicking around at Magnetic hill- which actually is an optical illusion where downhill looks like uphill) and checked in at our Army guest house-Alpha mess in the heart of Leh City at 5:30 pm. A point to note here is that our entire accommodation in and around Leh was arranged at Army places, where even civilians can stay at subsidized rates, if it has been booked by an army person on their behalf. And I have to say, it is a steal. I’ll mention the room rates later at the end of my blog. We had 2 huge rooms with ante rooms and attached bath with 24×7 running hot and cold water with TVs and what not! But even with all the facilities here, everyone in the group was itching to check out the city, the cafes and the market place in general. Sadly for me, my headache earlier had worsened and I took a disprin from my friends, thinking that would curb it, but in about half an hour it got even worse and I had to rush back to the guest room to rest. The in house doctor advised us not to take any more un prescribed medicines and avoid fatty and non vegetarian food for at least the 1st day at Leh, in order to acclimatize. I was ordered to sleep off the rest of the evening and the boys got me some yummy yak cheese momos for dinner, which I happily ate and fell asleep again J

The next day was planned to stay at Leh at take it easy, since it is recommended to do so in order to acclimatize, before we venture out to further heights. So we had our travel guy arrange for our Inner Line Permits for Pangong  and Hunder, while we decided to explore the quaint little town. My headache had vanished, but the breathlessness was still there. Anyway, we had our standard army mess breakfast of toast, eggs, butter, jam and coffee and relaxed indoors the first half. We went out for lunch to a nearby German Bakery, which later became our favorite place to eat 😉 We ordered Chicken Thukpa, Lafa, Snitzel with hummus and our favorite drink in Leh- ginger lemon honey tea..yum yumm! After lunch, we left to visit the nearby places around 4 pm and went to Shanti Stupa, Spituk Monastery, Hall of fame and kali mata mandir. The Monastery and mandir were right next to each other and there were more of those colorful flags there, which I found to be my favorite contrast to the barren land of Ladakh everywhere we went J We returned back to our guest house by 7:30 and decided to have dinner inside and an early night, since we had an early start the next day.

Day 2 at Ladakh, I managed to do the almost impossible-get up at 6 am and be ready to leave by 7:30 am!! And I managed to keep up the performance for the rest of my trip at Ladakh as well!!! Wow..what all a beautiful place can make you do, you wonder right? 😉 So we left for Pangong Tso at 7:30 am and stopped in between at karu for breakfast. Had a heavy breakfast of alu paratha and raajma and of course, tea. They didn’t have any toilets at karu though, so I started to get in a bit of a discomfort trying to control my bladder until the next stop 😀 hehe Another 1 hour drive and at 10 am we stopped at an army base where I could finally let my bladder loose. I do have to digress here and mention that if you think the Army was only there for your protection, you were mistaken. Here at Ladakh, they almost play your host-making sure you are not only safe but have a comfortable and never to forget trip up there. They clear out roadblocks due to landslides, help you with directions, have free maggi and tea spots, and the cleanest toilets for women to use! Hats off to you Indian Army! Coming back to the journey, we reached Chang la pass at 11:30 am, had tea there and then finally reached Pangong Tso at 1 pm! Even from far, Pangong was a site to see! But before we could go any further, since we were on an army schedule, we had to stop for lunch-more raajma and chawal for lunch, but it was yummy. The army men gave me some garnets too-it seems the base was built on a place called ‘garnet hill’ famous for semi precious stone-garnet! Whew..and its all just lying out there in the open! Lol

We made our way to the lake after that, and well, words or even the pictures below are not enough to describe the beauty of this place. It was so peaceful and serene..and the best part was, you realize there is a place in India where there is no crowd! No noise! No filth and no traffic! You could just close your eyes and listen to the breeze and the lake actually! The lake in itself was blue like sapphire and one of the biggest salt water lakes in India. Surrounded by white sands and huge rocky mountains on the other side. Neveille just sat on the white sand for the entire time, like he was in a trance, Pinki and Lampu got busy trying to capture the beauty of the place with their cameras and I decided to remove my shoes and get my feet wet in the icy cold crystal clear lake water! Haha..We spent around 3 hours just walking around, sitting on the sand and watching the lake. You would think, what does one do there? Specially for people like us, who need some sort of entertainment all the time, who are used to the noise, people and getting bored at the drop of a hat, what does one do when you reach there? There are no restaurants near the lake, no washrooms, no music stations, no tv, no people to stare at..absolutely nothing except for that beautiful expanse of water. But even that gave us so much peace and contentment, it was a feeling that I never felt even when I thought I was having the time of my life with friends, dancing to loud music and drinking. This was an altogether different kind of high. I think Pangong was my favorite place in Ladakh. I wish we were allowed to camp there, that would have been just amazing! Imagine waking up early in the morning to that beautiful blue view..bliss! J

We finally left Pangong at 3:30 and checked in at another army guest house at Tangste. And oh my god, what can I tell you, my beautiful day just kept thrilling me more and more with more beauty! This guest house was again situated in some remote area, away from the village, right in front of a stream, surrounded by mountains and we had an entire cottage with a swing in the front to ourselves! The cottage was very modern with all the amenities you could think of, with two huge double bed rooms (the rooms even had an ante room, can you believe it!?), books to read, tv to watch, a lounge area, a dining area with alcohol and our own attendant to look after our food and other needs! Goodness..now this is what I call a vacation! 😉 So the attendant made us amazing cups of tea , which we had sitting outside until the sun set. Everyone went about doing their own thing, some went out for a walk, some decided to smoke by the river, while I settled down with one of the books there. We wrapped up the night with a hilarious game of 21 and poker and an amazingly well cooked vegetarian dinner.

The next morning we left by 8:30 am after a breakfast of paratha, alu and coffee. Wes topped on the way at the Hemis monastery (where we also had lunch, which was not that great, but would do), Thiksey monastery and Shey Palace. I really liked Thicksey monastery, since I had a very heart touching experience there. While we were exploring the monastery, I came across an elderly Tibetan duo- an old man with his mother. He had brought his mother for a Darshan there and once we greeted each other with the usual ‘Jhule’ (hello in ladakhi), he started talking to me. He spoke hindi and had such a happy disposition! And we found a connection too, when I told him I came from Pune and he mentioned his son worked in Bombay! What a small world. Afterwards, he offered me this white silk sloth, which Lampu explained to me is generally given by Buddhists as a sign of appreciation or a token of friendship . I was touched J (By the way, I also went to the toilets at all these places..heheh)  Reached back at our Leh guest house by 5:30 pm. Ventured out again at night for dinner and this time had dinner at this place called Wonderland café which was full of foreigners and had a very good ambience, but that’s where it ended. The food and service both were really bad, and since we were neither stoned nor high, it bothered us more than the other stoned foreigners there 😀

Day 4, we left our mess after a breakfast of toast and eggs by 9 am for Khardung La pass and Hunder. The roads to Khardung were much better for the first half of the journey than we had travelled so far. We stopped before the pass at an army check post for tea and as usual, for me to use the washroom. After an arduous drive for an hour, we finally reached Khardung La and it was laden with snow! And the best part of it all was it started snowing there!!!! This trip was just getting better and better for me! I saw snowfall for the first time in my 29 years! We totally lost control, specially Lampu and me, and started jumping about, played with the now, threw snowballs at other tourists and then got breathless with all that jumping and laughing! After half n hour, we were told to go, since its not advisable for normal people to stay at the pass for more than that, else they would fall ill from the height, cold and lack of oxygen. So we left Khardung at 11:40 am and reached Khardong village at 1 pm. Had lunch there of maggi and momos..what yummy maggi and what amazing momos…lip smacking! Pinki and I then peed in the open with the one shielding for the other..haha! Left for Hunder and after another amazing drive and games of antakshari and word games, we reached Hunder at 3 pm. Imagine seeing a snow capped mountain and a sand dune in the same day in a span of just hours! I had rolled in the snow earlier in the day and then I rolled in the sand later…what fun! I also did get a lot of sand in my pants though, but I didn’t really care at that time. The boys went on a camel ride on one of those double humped camels, while I clicked them.

We left the sand dunes and reached our guest house for the night at Partapur by 5:30 pm. Thankfully we reached there just in time, since after that it started pouring like mad there. This place was as good as the Tangste guest house in terms of the facilities, but the view wasn’t that great, plus it was raining. So we stayed indoors, watched Sita and Gita on TV, the boys had alcohol, while I finished my book in the other room. We had another yummy simple dinner and I had thought we would wish Pinki at 12, since it was his bday the next day, but the morons had had so much to drink, that we all crashed at 11 am itself J

On 14th July, Pinki’s 31st bday, we left Partapur at 9:30, after another yummy breakfast of alu parath and tea. Stopped by at Diskit monastery on the way, where Pinki and Lampu went inside, but Neveille and I preferred to stay outside and just sit and talk about random stuff. It felt so good though J
On our way back, we stopped over again at Khardung La, and had lunch of maggi and tea there. The trip was almost over, and we reached back at our guest house in Leh by 4:30 and just chilled out for a while. Lampu went and got a plum cake to cut for Pinki’s bday, and Neveille got him a Tshirt which said ‘I got Leh’d’..heeh (which by the way, I have snitched from him now ;)) We celebrated his bday indoors with a couple of drinks and went out for dinner later to a place called ‘Mintokling-apple garden’. Again, the place was pretty with apple trees and candles and lamps, but the food wasn’t that great.

Finally on our last day at Leh, we just walked around the city, picked up knick knacks for our friends and family and had another amazing breakfast at our favorite place-the second german bakery near our guest house. I had cheese and mushroom omelette with my favorite ginger honey lemon tea and we had another amazing lunch of oven baked thin crust pizzas at la Pizzeria.

We lulled away the afternoon at that place which had low lying cushions to sit on overlooking the Leh mountains…sigh! We were all quite and quite sad really, that we had to leave that beautiful place with its beautiful people and return to our so called action packed mundane lives. But all good things do come to an end right? We had an early dinner at the guest house and left the next morning at 6 am by flight from Leh to Delhi.

P.S.: Although we have managed to tick this off our list, Priyank and I have made a pact, that if we’re still alive and together when we grow old, we’re going to come back here again, but on bikes this time 😉 aha!

A wedding and an anniversary

A wedding and an anniversary – in God’s own country: Kerela!

One fine day, Pinki and I made a list utilizing the office resources of places we wanted to visit in India and the top two destinations on our list were at polar ends of the subcontinent – Leh in the north and Kerela in the south J

Luckily for us, cupid struck and two of our closest friends fell in love and decided to get married in Kerela! What better excuse to visit this beautiful place than to celebrate our second wedding anniversary (yeah, we managed to survive two years together! ;)) and a wedding?! So, as usual, Pinki the husband did all the research and booking and travel plans on how we’d make the most of the few days that we had in Kerela. All I did was day dream, until the day to travel arrived 😉

We left on 26th November 2011, Saturday morning..caught the Volvo to Mumbai and got a flight to Cochi. Reached Cochi at around 6 pm and our adventure began. Dad had arranged for our pick up and stay at the Naval guest house at Kochi. We were promptly picked up from the airport and dropped at our guest house. All during the way, we both had our cameras out (me with my tiny Canon and Pinki with his professional Canon DSLR..ahem), and tried to click in the Cochi city flavor and culture. We finally reached the guest house around 6 pm and simply loved the place! The rooms were spacious like a 5-star hotel and it was right facing the sea front! What more could’ve we asked for?!! And then we realized, we could’ve asked for an English speaking attendant 😉 hehe.. The care taker’s name was Jojoba..(not pronounced like ‘hohoba’ , by the way) and we had to communicate with him using our hands and expressions..so much for living in the 21st century..sigh!

So, we unpacked, freshened up a bit and head out in the car to the city center to try out some authentic south Indian dosas and idly and chutneys. Unfortunately for us, it started pouring by the time we reached the city centre, which made it almost impossible for us to walk around, since we had forgotten to get umbrellas for the journey L So we had to run to the nearest joint we could get and ate roast chicken with parotha there, which wasn’t too bad really. By then, the rain had slowed down a bit and we started walking around a bit more, still in search of the authentic dosa chutney combination. We found a restaurant finally in an alley way, and settled in-being the only two people to eat there that early in the night..hehe..and what do you know – the minute we ordered, the lights went out! I was really afraid initially, since we were alone there in a strange restaurant with no lights and scary looking men outside, but the fear turned into an interesting god given candle light dinner of authentic south Indian idlies after all! What luck! J

So interesting candle night dinner, and another short walk in the rain, a ride back along marine drive in the car, we were back at our guest house to crash-after all, our journey was yet to start! So we watched a couple of movies and snugly went off to sleep in the cozy room to the sound of rain and the ocean next door J

Early next morning, with a breakfast of bread, omlette and awesome filter coffee, our bags packed, we left in our hired cab around 10 am to Munnar. The ride to Munnar was an experience in itself, starting with palm trees when we leftcochin, to waterfalls, winding roads and beautiful ghats while nearing Munnar. We stopped on the way a few times for water, pee breaks and taking a few pictures at a waterfall (while I was busy hogging away on cut pineapples and banana chips ;)) We finally touched down at Munnar after a drive of around 6 hours and we thought we had entered heaven! The roads were smooth like butter, there were hardly any vehicles or people around, the clouds were hanging down on the road and everywhere you could just see green tea plantations or just green! We had booked our stay at this lovely homestay called ‘Reinberg’, so we checked in there. Now, before I move on to the better parts, a bit of a traveler’s distress here-it was after we reached Munnar that we were made aware of this weird logic of hired cars charging in Kerela – they don’t charge by the km per se, but charge double or to and fro to a destination. So if you’re planning to go fromCochin– Munnar- Allepey – Gurvayur-Cochin (which was our plan)- you had to shell out money forCochinto Munnar (to and fro), Munnar to Allepey (to and fro) and so on..even if you were actually not making those trips! Insane isn’t it! And with all the strikes happening in Munnar at that time, I think most of our travel expenses went on just paying the hired cabs! So I’d suggest either planning a journey so you can make most of it by train, or going in a group, so it’s not as painful on the pocket 😉

All right- back on lovely vacation track- so our room at the homestay was quite simple really, small room for 2 with an attach bath with geyser, blankets and a small TV. It overlooked the town below and had an outside table if you wanted to have your meals outside. They didn’t cook meals at home, so you have to ask the porter to get you something from the market, which is fine as well really J

So we dumped our bags in the room, freshened up and headed down to the town centre for lunch and to explore our trekking options nearby. Munnar town is a very small little place filled with shops that sell sweetmeats and banana chips or umbrellas or road side cafes (the Indian kinds and not the pretty European kinds ;)) and one can easily walk around the entire town in half an hour! You’ll also see a lot of tourists – either honeymooners or lonely trekkers or foreigners flocking the town. We settled to eat at a café which was packed and devoured the fish biryani, dosa and chicken curry and how can I forget – the masala chai J yummmm

Tummies full, we bought 2 umbrellas from the local market, since it was perpetually raining there and we had very conveniently forgotten to pack ours :-/ and set of to trek around the town a bit. Now in Munnar, you cant do much once the sun sets, since there aren’t any street lights or night life- so its best to spend most of your day trekking out so you can come back home by sun set and enjoy a quite and relaxing evening in your room either with some home made wine or filter coffee or masala chai – whatever your heart desires then 😉 We stuck to tea and coffee during the day and the amazing home made port wine to keep us warn at night 😉 So we walked a lot, walked when it didn’t rain, walked when it was pouring, walked through unknown territories, walked through the town and back and just walked! It was amazing and I had never had so much fun just walking! We came back to our homestay around sunset, visited a church nearby and settled in the evening with amazing dosa and wine for dinner-after all we had another big day planned ahead and needed to get all our strength back J

Although next morning was amazing, since it was chilly and raining and we gorged down on a yummy breakfast of bread, omlette, sausages and filter coffee, our porter gave us some very bad news. So there was a political tumult happening on the division of a river between Tamil Nadu and Kerela and people were protesting against who should be the rightful owner of the water (the stuff people fight over these days, really!) and due to this, there would be a two day strike in Munnar and neighboring areas, which meant no shops or public transport would be running from 6 am to 6 pm! But adventurous that we were feeling, we didn’t let that dampen our spirits and decided to take our porter’s suggestion of sight seeing the nearby areas in a shared auto! Yes you’re right – we braved the strike and went sight seeing in Munnar in an auto! Hahah! It actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since we felt like VIPs moving through absolutely empty streets and lanes and shops! So we covered a lot of places that day – walked and ran on the tea gardens, took lots of pictures, saw a big tree of bee hives, had maggi and masala chai at a small road side shop (which was just yummy by the way), went to a flower exhibition (just breath taking the amount and variety of flowers they had), visited a lake which was also an echo point and wrapped it all up with the blue mountains (no, not the one in Australia)- these mountains are famous for their wild deers and blue flowers that bloom once in 8 years I think, which give the mountains that color (unfortunately we could just see the deers, since we hadn’t gone during the bloom season), but it was still fun trekking along misty mountains.. J

We came back to our homestay, and our porter told us there were some kathakali shows happening in the town  -Kathakali is the state dance of Kerala and famous for their dancers using masks to enhance their facial expressions – it’s a very difficult dance form, not due to the dance moves per se, but due to the amount of practice and talent you need to control your eye and facial muscles to convey various emotions. So tourist mode that me and my husband were in, we decided to go for it- the show was for around 45 minutes, where they showed us an introductory round of different feelings first, and then enacted an entire play. The experience was beautiful and frightening at the same time and we were completely blown away by the talent these performers had!

We packed ourselves some more dosas and biryani for the night, ordered in some more port wine and prepared to leave at 2 am in the morning for Allepey. Now, it’s not necessary that you have to leave Munnar at this ungodly hour, but due to the strike, our porter warned us that all roads out of Munnar would be blocked from 6 am in the morning, and if we wanted to keep up with our plan, it would be best to leave early, so we would have crossed the border before the strike blocks were put in place. So sleepy eyed, husband and wife braved the cold rainy night with blaring malayalam music (our cabbie had to stay awake right? So he had rolled down the windows and blasting away his music) for the next 5 hours! Whew, talk about adventure…we reached Allepey in the wee hours of the morning and decided to freshen up at another homestay room until it was morning and we could get to our houseboat. So we were up and ready by 10 am, but unfortunately for us, the strike was there at Allepey too! Talk about bad luck..so since there were no autos or cars to take us to our houseboat, we had to piggy back behind two bikers with our luggage to be ferried to our houseboat! Interestingly, we weren’t the only ones who had to travel this way since we saw a lot of foreigners on bikes being ferried to their respective boats as well…I must say, these stupid strikes made our trip inconvenient, but adventurous at the same time 😉

We finally reached the houseboat Priyank had booked for us-so initially our plan was to spend the night at the houseboat, but we found out that our houseboat was one of the cheaper ones and wasn’t air conditioned, and they would dock at the pick up point bay during the night – now this bay was at a very dirty and congested place, with flies and mosquitoes around and even in winters it was very warm and sultry. So we decided to just go ahead with the day trip and cut our trip short a night earlier, so we could relax one night at Gurvayur (where our friend’s wedding was taking place and where they had arranged a very good accommodation for us).

So, we kept our bags in the houseboat and chugged away on to the beautiful Kerala backwaters to celebrate 2 years or being married-yes, our second anniversaryJ. We were given some soft drinks as welcome drink on the boat and were introduced to two old men – one the chef (and he seemed to be a very good chef with the recommendations we read and later with the food we tasted) and the other, our Captain and he called himself ‘the Captain’ too! Wonderful and friendly men they were, kept talking to us and giving us our space whenever we needed it. We just lounged away on the deck the entire time, taking in the peace, the quite and the beauty of the back waters – it was warm and breezy and very relaxing the entire time. We saw lots of other boats, mostly with either honeymooners or foreigners soaking in the sun, passed through villages on the waters, which reminded you of an Indian Venice, and saw a huge flock of baby ducklings being shepherded by fishermen for their eggs..they were just adorable! J

We stopped over around mid day at a local floating fish market where you can choose what seafood you want to eat for lunch, along with the usual fish fry and chicken and other vegetables – so we bought ourselves 4 big king prawns and god were they king size! So while our chef/cook was busy making us an amazing meal, our ‘Captain’ took us to this ayurvedic massage place so we could get a relaxing oil massage and build up an appetite as well 😉 Since we didn’t have a lot of time, at 400 per person, both of us got amazing back massages done and it just felt heavenly! I could’ve fallen asleep there! Finally, our lunch was ready and it with our ravenous appetite now, we devoured the yummy food and it was totally worth it! We set off again, and tried to digest our huge lunch by just lazing on the deck while the Captain navigated through wider areas in the back waters where the breeze was even better. At around 4ish, our wicked Captain felt like treating himself and us to the local alcohol – toddi..it’s similar to feni that you get inGoa, but made of fermented coconut water. Apparently, its best had when its freshly brewed and you can easily drink up an entire bottle since it actually tastes like pungent coconut water! But we didn’t want to risk our tummies, so we had a glass each, just to know what it tasted like, accompanied by our evening snacks of banana fry and fish fry..yes, food again, gluttons that we were 😉

Finally, our lovely day and anniversary was nearing an end, and we docked back at the bay around 5 pm. Our cab was ready to take us to our next destination – Guruvayur, where we would attend a typical Kerela-Andhra wedding of two of our close friends.

The trip to Guruvayur took us longer than the earlier road trips, and by the time we touched the town, it was almost 10:30 pm. I was tired and hungry and desperately longing for a nice air conditioned room to sleep and some good food to eat. Before I dive in further, a brief on Guruvayur – this is actually a religious destination in Kerala famous for its Guruvayurappan temple – an avatar of Lord Vishnu. The temple is very renowned in the South and people come here all through the year to take the blessings of the Lord. Marriages done here are given special blessings; hence, our friends couldn’t have chosen a better place to get married. This place is totally non vegetarian and tourists are advised to wear covered clothing to respect the Lord and his devotees present there. Coming back to my story, luckily for us, the hotel our friend had booked us into was just what we needed. The rooms were clean, spacious and air conditioned, the bathrooms were clean and very big and the service was good as well. The hotel had an in house restaurant which was luckily open when we went in, so we quickly ordered some idly and dosa and watermelon juice and finally relaxed. We went for a short walk to stretch our legs around the town and finally crashed on our lovely soft beds in the hotel.

Next morning, we woke up late, had breakfast, lazed around a bit in the hotel room finally headed off to our friend’s engagement ceremony after lunch. It was a usual ceremony, but was good to catch up with other friends there – weddings in Indiasomehow are always fun with all the colors and yummy food, as long as it’s not yours! Lol J After the ceremony and dinner, we walked back to the hotel again to get an early night, since the wedding next day was early in the morning. Next morning, we got ready in our ethnic wear and had a great time at the wedding. It was quite simple, but there were a lot of ceremonies which were quite different from an Oriya or North Indian wedding that I have attended. We had an amazing south Indian buffet for breakfast and totally stuffed ourselves! Since we had an early flight to catch fromCochin, we had to leave the wedding towards the end, and take a cab back toCochin. The ride back toCochin was quite short and we made in good time and reached the airport.

Finally, it was time to board our flight back to Mumbai and bid farewell to God’s own country –Kerala…

The Metallica Experience

THE METALLICA EXPERIENCE

WHEN: 30TH OCT 2011

WHERE: BANGALORE PALACE GROUNDS

WITH: PRIYANK, RICHI, SHAWN, DAHIYA AND PALASH

When I was depressed and suicidal in Delhi, during my unemployment period, I sat down one day in my dingy Malviya Nagar garage home and wrote down my bucket list to give me strength to get through that period. And one of the items on that list was to watch Metallica- Live in concert!

Almost 2 years down the line, I’m out of the most shitty period of my life and everything seems to be going smooth in my life for a change (except for this strange problem where I need to rush to the loo very often), that this chance finally came! And what do you know, we didn’t even have to plan or save enough money to go outside the country like we had expected, but the Gods came down right next door to our City!! India and that too Bangalore!! It was as if my dreams were going to be realized any time now, but the pessimist in me didn’t want to believe in anything good until it really happened.

So as expected, until the last minute, I was unsure if I’d actually get to see them sing for me…in front of me. It started with a delay in the tickets first, when we finally got it, we heard the awful news about how the crowd went berserk in Delhi where Metallica was supposed to open their performance to the F1 race, following which, they cancelled their concert in Delhi in lieu of safety concerns! So Priyank and I, with heavy and hopeful hearts, piled onto our train to Bangalore. The train performed its share of mishaps by running over a bull at night and having a short circuit, but we managed to reach Bangalore safe and on time! J

The time for ‘THE METALLICA EXPERIENCE’ was nearing with each passing minute and as we went in our hired car to the destination, on every mode of transport you could see- bus, auto, cars, bikes- all we saw were young people in Black-also going to the concert. Thankfully, we had the insight to eat a heavy lunch and reached the grounds at 4:30 pm…Gosh…Just seeing the swarm of people buzzing like black bees in search for their honey gave me goose bumps! It was totally chaotic and the crowd was suffocating me with their sheer number and zombie behavior induced by all the weed…But somehow, we managed to squeeze in through this buzzing crowd and got a spot quite close to the stage. Obviously, all was not be to be well, knowing me and my tantrums-so I started feeling the crowd coming upon me from every side, my heart started constricting and I thought I was going to be suffocated to death before seeing Metallica! I was in such a dilemma, I’d come to a concert for God’s sakes! There were going to be people and this is not a private show that Metallica was going to do just for me! But no matter what my brain said, my chicken heart wasn’t able to cope up. And that’s when I realized I had two amazing people to take care of me J My husband and my little sister stood beside me like rocks and even agreed to go a little further behind, so I’d get some breathing space! And all this without any complain..Just love both of them for being there that evening…

So, on came a Scottish band ‘Biffy Clyro’ to open for the Gods and gosh, some energy they had! They sounded a lot like Greenday, but they were amazing! And to top their energy, the rain Gods decided to give us a visit as well…so all the animals in the animal farm were given a healthy dose of water to wash out their tiredness for around an hour. We were all drenched, but were enjoyed every minute of it. Rain, weed, muddy grounds to walk on and music- we had our own little India Woodstock happening that evening! But Biffy left the crowd a bit too soon, and the crowd was left to the sound of their own cacophony for a good hour. Thankfully, Richi, Priyank, me and Dahiya had our own dose of lame jokes and snide remarks to pass and kept ourselves entertained and alive until the Gods arrived. But our torture wasn’t to end so soon- On comes this big fat bald American with a goatee urging the crowd to move back and make more space. He kept repeating, ‘Tonight our motto is –Safety First’ and we thought he might just take out a large condom to explain what he meant. Gosh, I must say, the Delhi guys managed to scare the shit out of these guys- for all their songs on darkness, fear and faith-unfortunately, My Metal Gods seemed a bit too human to me in those minutes, with their desperate plea for security. So, after a traumatizing hour listening to Mr. Safety First’s monotone, crowd – who had been standing in the slosh without food or water (in fear of losing their spots) with aching muscles, decided they had had enough and made sure that they complied with what this guy wanted, so we could just get on with the bloody concert! Haha!

Finally, the clock struck and at 8 pm…THEY CAME!! METALLICA – James, Lars, Kirk and Rob- They came and we saw! I saw! Oh and what a sight it was! They sang – I heard, and Oh, what a sound it was! For a bunch of 50 year olds, I would salute their energy! They played and conquered and entertained the crazy crowd that we were for over 2 hours!!! They were relentless! Lars and Rob just stole the show with their antics…and I think I had a crush all over again on a 48 year old married man-James-Forgive me for my sins Oh God…but the way he sang, I just couldn’t take my eyes or ears off him. Kirk was the subdued chilled out guitarist who played like the Gods, but kept his feet and head on the ground..\m/..I had goose bumps the entire 2 hours and was so excited that I thought I peed in my pants, but I just wouldn’t want to move from there. They had me mesmerized and wanting for more-and by the looks of it, I wasn’t the only one who was cast under their spell! Lo and behold was a crowd of 50,000 high on weed and Metal, singing along with the Gods as if we were in an ashram and chanting our hymns together and asking for an encore so we don’t break the wall of surreal energy that has us in a trance…They played Creeping Death, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Fuel, Ride the Lightning, Fade to Black, Cyanide, The Memory Remains, Welcome Home (Sanitarium), Sad But True, All Nightmare Long, One, Master of Puppets, Blackened, Nothing Else Matters, Enter Sandman, Am I Evil, Battery, Seek and Destroy..Whew!!!

But like all great things, this had to come to an end as well-no matter how much we pleaded, we knew we were running out of energy and we definitely didn’t want our Gods to feel lousy after visiting us. We gave them a goodbye to remember and they gave us a show to remember…and as I walked out of that ground, in the darkness of the night, with an army of tired craving souls like me, each in his thoughts of the night- I couldn’t help thinking and smiling to myself- that I finally conquered and struck off one item from my bucket list- and Oh, what a feeling it was! J No regrets, no pain, just this strange sense of peace…

It’s been over 2 weeks since I’ve been back with Priyank, back to Pune and back to the grind..but we both seem to be living in that moment. I tried telling my friends what I felt that night-but words just weren’t enough, specially for the skeptics around me-but like Moulder, I know what I saw and what I experienced that night- the Truth and the Music! And I shall never forget that feeling…’ And the Memory Remains…..YEAH!!!! \m/’

My experiences at the ‘GYM’!

So, after a lot of prodding from my husband and friends and watching a certain bollywood damsel move her pancake flat belly like jelly, I finally agreed that it was high time I got into shape as well. And since I had no clue on how to do that by myself, other than dancing or rather jumping like a maniac to some hip hop and bollywood music, I decided to overcome my fear and made my New Year resolution to get back in shape and stay fit by going to the GYM!!

I know I know, you’d think, hey, I’ve heard of people having fear of the dark, fear of heights, fear of closed spaces, fear of creepy crawlies…but fear of the gym??? Man, this gal really is bonkers! But you’d realize my fear is very genuine once you enter a real gym…as if it were not enough to enter a room full of equipment which look like they’ll trample you and squeeze every bit of life from your body the minute you touch them, there are other aspects like your co-gym-people, who for some reason always are hotly dressed and already toned and make you feel like a weird fatso the minute you enter the gym! And finally, the keepers of this hell, the gym instructors! If you thought your project managers were evil, you need to meet one of these creatures to realize what evil really is…brr…they wait in anticipation of the next unworldly soul, the next weakling who is condemned to enter their territory and oh so stealthily, they’ll pounce on their prey with their smiling faces and chiseled bodies and before you realize, they’ve chalked up a plan for you over the next 3 weeks (I guess that’s how long it takes for one to die at the gym) to rip off your flesh and soul bit by bit…hiahahahahh (evil laugh)

Day1:

So, in spite of my ‘fear of the gym’ due to the obvious reasons stated above, I decided to put on a brave front and took one last look at the corridor leading to the gym, messaged my husband that I loved him, and entered the land of no return. As if on cue, a female ‘gym instructor’ came up to me and asked me if this was my first time at a gym (‘of course it’s my first time! I don’t think anyone survives the gym after the ‘first time’! I thought...). So, after getting my confirmation, she proceeded me to something that looked like a bicycle and tuned in a program for me and said, ‘keep pedaling at 30 and do not stop until the entire program is over’ (and she could have added, even if you think you’ll die halfway through this regime, do not stop). So I mustered all my strength and gave it my best shot…. (’Ha! I’m going to show it to her that I’m stronger than her…I’ll do this and walk away victorious! In fact, this isn’t that tough at all! I’m pedaling faster than 30! At this rate, my 15 minutes will be up in no time)…Pedal pedal pedal… (‘2 minutes gone’)…Pedal pedal pedal… (‘2.1 minutes gone…man, this bicycle clock must be slow…’), and then suddenly, the program changed! The pressure on the pedals increased and to my dismay, with every passing minute it just kept increasing! (‘Ahhh…so that was her evil plan…’), but even though my speed fell down to 21 now, I kept pedaling on that godamn thing and when I got off the machine at the end, my legs turned to jelly and I thought I’d lost my legs!! Unfortunately, even after seeing my fragile condition, the ‘Gym instructor’ did not relent and ordered me to run on another scary looking machine called the ‘treadmill’ for another 15 minutes! Thankfully, God was on my side that day, and she got distracted with another ‘meek looking victim’ and I ran towards the doors and escaped!!! Whew…Survived the first day!! But just as I was starting to jump in the air, ‘she’ called from behind saying ‘I’ve made a fitness regime for you and I’ll be expecting you to be here tomorrow sharp at 7..and do not try to miss tomorrow’s session or else today’s workout will have serious repercussions on your body’ (Shit! So, this is how they trap their prey…as if every muscle in my body wasn’t already in pain!)

Day 2:

I had a meeting which went on longer, no, umm, I’m not well (who am I kidding), umm..I just ate,..Cant gym right after that right?’..arrghhh..None of these excuses seemed good enough, plus everyone would laugh at me for chickening out on the second day itself! No, this won’t do…so halfheartedly, I trudged along back to the place of no-return. But lo and behold! What do I see when I enter the Gym-no instructor! Yep, that’s right! I felt like jumping up and down like a ping pong ball with joy and relief! I decided to make the most of my newfound freedom and checked out some of those machines from afar, did some perfunctory stretches and finally got on the bicycle and took my final revenge by setting the program to the easiest one and cycled away to glory! This was definitely a turning point towards my feelings for the Gym and I thought, maybe it’s not going to be that bad after all…little did I know, that this was just the devil smirking away in the corner, rubbing his hands in glee for what was to come the following day..

Day 3:

So happily, thinking about the previous day and oblivious to devil’s plans, I entered the dreaded Gym with a gusto I never knew, once I confirmed that the instructor was not there again! What luck! Just as I settled in to cycle at my ‘lazy speed program’, one pointy finger crept up from my right and like a flash reset the program to the hardest level!! I turned to see who would dare do that, and looked straight into the evil smiling eyes of my instructor! She was back and looked as menacing as ever! These devils, I tell you, they have the faces of angels and they smile at you like it’s you they’re helping, but only I know the truth behind those smiles and those words of encouragement…I was doomed. ‘So, we’ll start with 10 minutes of cycling today, and then I’ll teach you some other exercises to tone your body’, she said, her eyes gleaming. I wondered, ‘other exercises?! Here, at the gym? God knows what awaits me’…Finally, when I finished cycling on that monstrous cycle and my legs had gone back to being jelly, she got me out in the front, so that everyone on the god-awful Gym could look at me and take delight in my slow death.

‘Stand straight and put some distance between your legs, look up straight, suck in your tummy, don’t slouch! Ok, now slowly try and squat and push your bottom outwards…More! More! Yeah, that’s better, no, don’t push yourself in front…you’re doing it wrong again…Your bum should be jutting out! Yes, that’s better, now this is called SQUATS’ said the lady instructor in strict overtones. I felt like I was a monkey at a circus with her being my ring leader, plus it wasn’t helping that every time I would have to stick my bum out, I’d be conscious of all the other gym goers looking at my fat bum! Finally, my 20-20 sets were over, but the circus performance was far from getting over. ‘Now, the next exercise is called LUNGES. Put your right leg in front, further, further, further (‘She’s trying to split me apart! Nooo!’), Yes, now stand straight so that your left leg is stretching and the foot is lifted so that the heel is off the ground, yes better, chin up, chest out, bum out! Don’t slouch!! (‘I hope this exercise ends at just trying to balance in this weird pose, man!’) Hmm, that’ll do, now do the squatting exercise with this posture, your body weight should be on your right leg when you go down, but make sure that your knee is in line with your feet’, said the lady instructor (‘now, how the hell am I supposed to do that’??!) So she said I was supposed to do 20-20 sets each, but apparently I kept doing it wrong (‘duh! Anyone would do such an awful exercise incorrectly’) and I ended up doing 30-30 instead! Hmm, maybe she was a spy or a secret service agent before she became the gym instructor, because this sure as hell is a form of advance torture technique where they slyly devise to break your knee, every time you ‘lunge’ with your whole body weight on one knee, so you can’t run! After this and some more weird exercises, I thought I’d had enough and told her it was time for my bus. ‘Oh, so soon? But it’s only been half an hour! (‘As if that wasn’t enough to kill me already’) Ok, but before you leave, you need to do 5 minutes of stretching. (‘Great! More stretching??’) Ok, so hold you right leg from the toe and bring it back to touch your hip with your heel, while you’re standing and without bending your knee. And to balance, you can put out your left hand like you’re taking a pledge in the air’, She said. Oh god! So this is the final blow…if the physical torture doesn’t kill you, resort to mental torture, humiliate your victim and make them do things they’ll never forget. I felt like a standing superman (‘make it standing shaking superman, because I couldn’t balance, even with my arm out like that!’) and I could feel everyone laughing inwardly at this ridiculous stretching pose of mine! I felt like I’d gone 6 years back in time to my engineering ragging period where my seniors had taken great delight in making me put a hand out towards the sky and jump around like a retard pretending you were superman…Sigh! And I thought I had escaped tyranny.

But, like the previous days, I managed to survive, and somehow, by the end of the 3rd day, when I reached home and took a hot shower and settled down for dinner, I felt rejuvenated! I was completely awake, and had a pretty good appetite as well. I was quite surprised. Could it really be possible that what my husband and my friends said about the gym actually being a good thing be true? Could my tyrant of a lady instructor actually be working wonders on my muscle? If I continued this strictly, could I get a fabulous body like Angelina Jolie??? (‘Ok…Even I know the last wish is a bit farfetched ;)’). With all these questions in mind and a happy feeling, I fell asleep like a baby and didn’t have to fidget in bed for an hour to get to sleep that night…amazing!

3 Months Later:

What?! Going to the Gym? And me? Oh no, that place is cursed! It is actually the real hell with those instructors being the king and the queen of the ‘Gym-underworld’, waiting for unsuspecting, unhealthy victims like me, so that they can suck out every bit of life from us! I just won’t allow you to persuade me to sacrifice my life like this, even if it’s for free and even if you say you look and feel younger because of that place. I just won’t!! See what they’ve done to you now! You look like one of ‘them’ with your toned body and that pro-gym talk. How did they manage to change you? You and I were supposed to be the ‘anti-gym’ crusaders!’ complained my friend, who’d just joined our company and moved to our city and all I could do was smile all-knowingly. Wink!