Posts Tagged With: india travel blog

Fort Kochi’s Old World Charm

Rustic. Quaint. Charming. These are some words that describe Fort Kochi. Fort Kochi is a historic area within the city of Cochin. This is one of the hottest tourist spots of Kerala. What makes this place unique is its European flavour. Portuguese, Dutch and British ruled this town at different points of time and left some bit of their respective cultures here. Their influence can be seen in the form of churches, synagogues, museum palaces, English named inns and cemeteries. The town is speckled with lots of old, ornate architecture along with modern fashionable eating joints and boutiques.

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A colonial style building at Burgar Street

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A homestay – A concept  that is very popular in Fort Kochi

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A typical street in Fort Kochi

When you roam around the streets of Fort Kochi, expect to see lots of bohemian dressed foreigners. Fort Kochi receives lots of foreigners every year. Which is why, they have juxtaposed contemporary facilities with old-India charm. Stylish cafes like Kashi Art Cafe & Tea Pot are new fashioned yet rustic, giving foreigners comfort as well as taste of Indianism.

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kashi art cafe menu

It is very easy to spend 2 days, at the least, in Fort Kochi. There is Mattancherry area that has the Dutch Palace and Jewish Synagogue. Roam around Kunnumpuram, Princess Street or Burgar Street and you will find lots of cute cafes and vintage shops. And then there is Beach Road where one can see Thakur House, St. Francis church, Dutch Cemetery and Chinese Fishing Nets.

It was unfortunate that my friends and I could spend barely one day there.

The whole town is pretty much walkable. That is how you can enjoy the town completely. Walk towards Mattancherry through narrow shopping lanes and the fragrance of fresh spices being ground will overwhelm you. Walk around Mahatma Gandhi Beach and see locals having fun. Walk around St. Francis Church and see huge Dutch bungalows now converted into clubhouses and hotels.

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Jewtown, Mattancherry

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Santa Cruz Basilica

Make a list of famous spots you want to see, for sure, but do spare some time for just loitering around – having a drink or two at a fancy cafe, window shopping at those cute shops or gazing at interesting wall art.

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This post has also been published here.

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Categories: India, Photography, South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Summing Up 2012

If Divya from Tipsy from the Trip hadn’t have tagged me, I would never have thought of doing a retrospection. Now that the year has ended and most of my exploring and blogging has happened in 2012, I am excited to write about it.

Towards the end of 2011, I moved to Vadodara and life changed. Vadodara, also known as the Cultural Capital of Gujarat, has a rich history and lots of architecture, festivals and the like happening throughout the year. To top it all, I made a wonderful friend, M, who was equally enthusiastic and accompanied me for all silly/risky/vague explorations, most of which turned out to be fruitful. With her, I have seen the best architecture in and near Baroda, had some excellent food, met some great people and did lots of shopping.

I travelled a lot – in India, outside India and within my city. I bought a SLR, experimented more with photography and zeroed down on my niche – old architecture and food.

I have recently moved to the US post marriage and there is no old architecture here to photograph! This is a clean concrete city and I will not get rustic elements here. Let’s see how my blog transforms, going forward.

As of now, here is my 2012 round up.

1. Most beautiful post: Champaner – Date with heritage.

I have not taken better pictures with a Point & Shoot. Champaner deserves more credit and attention that it currently gets.

2. Most popular post: Dhundhiraj Ganpati Temple

This beautiful, historic temple is special. It was my last expedition in Baroda during my last days there. This was a mystery temple which when finally found gave us immense happiness. The temple is hidden from localites and it made me happy to be telling about it to the world. This post also got the maximum comments.

3. Most helpful post: Hazira Maqbara

Many localites don’t know about this grand Mughal structure in Baroda and this post made them aware of it. I hope, more people will now visit and appreciate this beauty!

4. Most controversial post: None yet!

5. A post whose success surprised me: Magic of doors and windows

I wrote this long ago. The photos aren’t great and I didn’t know giving effects back then. People liked the pics a lot!

6. A post that did not get the attention it deserved: Back to you

I thought the photos were pretty cute!

7. A post I am proud of: Tambekar Wada or Sevasi Stepwell?!

Can’t decide!

These are great historic monuments that hardly anyone knows of. I think I did my favourite city proud by visiting, taking good pictures and writing about them so that people get impressed and visit!

2013 is an all new beginning. New country. New climate. New surroundings. Total new style!

And I am so looking forward to bringing my best out in this new year!

Categories: Travel | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

VarieTEA: A place for conversations. And tea.

After M told me about her VarieTEA experience, I decided I HAD to visit.

There was only one snag – I do not take tea. How could I experience a tea speciality place without actually consuming its offering?

So, I dragged some of my friends there a couple of times so that they could enjoy the tea (with or without their willingness) and I could enjoy the aura of the place.

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That’s what touched me about VarieTEA – its ambience. The neat wallpaper, the glossy wooden wall panels, the wooden mesh furniture and cute tea pots. This is why I wanted to visit VarieTea again and again – its antiqueness. Its small-town-ness. I have never been to Darjeeling or those quaint East Indian towns. But I can guess that their tea shops would look like this.

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VarieTEA offers all kinds of tea – hot and cold, with and without milk, fruit and flower flavoured, spicy and mild. I decided, even if I do not drink tea ever and am not inclined towards it, these flavoured teas wouldn’t harm. And anyway, I was curious to taste the Green Apple, Vanilla and Guava flavoured teas. Wouldn’t you be?

Rarely have I seen the place crowded. It is always scantily populated. The maximum I saw was on this Sunday late afternoon when around 6 tables were full. It was disappointing to see people coming here just for the sake of food, and not for conversations. Yes, they do have enough food to offer – pastas, buns, pizzas, sandwiches and shakes – but this clearly is no reason why one should be solely coming here. This place has actually much more to offer than just food. This joint is a facilitator for thinking, mulling or communicating.

So far, I have tried that Hot Chocolate drink and Vanilla Tea; both were amazing. The sandwiches and pizzas are presented well and were reasonably good. The teas are rated at around ‘Sixtea’ to ‘Ninetea’. The service can be slow, the untrained waiters can mix up orders but that’s ok when you come here with lot of time in hand.

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Come here on a quiet afternoon or a lazy Sunday morning. Bring your own book or leaf through the pages of the magazines kept in a corner. The TV is muted and music system is always turned low. It won’t disturb your reading or tête-à-tête. Ring the bell if you need something.

And who knows, the staff may just gift you a pack of one of their speciality teas. We got Peppermint Tea.

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Location: Jetalpur Road, Vadodara.

PS: I have heard that VarieTea, Baroda has closed down. (Added May ’14)

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, Photography, Restaurant Reviews, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Aurobindo Ashram, Vadodara

Aurobindo Ashram used to be the residence of spiritual guru and teacher, Shri Aurobindo when he was in Baroda in the capacity of Maharaja Sayajirao’s private secretary from 1894 to 1906. The bunglow, a grand red brick structure, is nestled between lovely gardens. The tall towers and white wooden windows give this bungalow old English feel.

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The ashram is open to anyone who would be interested in meditation, spirituality or Shri Aurobindo or The Mother. The Mother, originally known as Mirra Alfassa, was a disciple and collaborator of shri Aurobindo. She founded the ashram and Trust. Shri Aurobindo believed her to be the incarnation of Mother Divine and hence named her The Mother.

The premises are well maintained and clean. The ground floor consists of a library, the ashram office, an exhibition hall and a tiny shop selling natural products like soaps, honey, fragrance oils; products of medicinal value like massagers, medicines; incense sticks and books. A memorial stands beside the main bungalow.

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The meditation hall is on the first floor. I was expecting a single, huge meditation hall but was surprised to see a maze of several big and small inter-connected rooms. Nothing except peace and tranquillity existed there. There was a lone man there totally lost in another world, oblivious to our presence. Despite the heavy traffic outside, light noise of which managed to seep in, there was some kind of a peaceful vacuum inside these rooms. M, who is interested in spirituality, decided to come back here later for meditating.

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For those not interested in spirituality, the building itself is quite an enticement.

Their official website is http://www.auronivas.org/.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Photography, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

When Girls Decide To Travel

Even before I left for Singapore, M and I had been planning a Kerala trip. Crazy, isn’t it? But that’s how I want to be, travelling all the time. Staying at one place makes me restless. And anxious, like I am missing out on a lot by being at home. I must be out there to see all that is there.

So, how much ever my parents try to domesticize me, I don’t stay still; I wander. If not outside my city, then within. My camera and I want to be out of home, on the streets, among ageing monuments, among ignored ruins, among unexplored corners of the city all the time.

So, M, E and I planned this grand tour of Kerala way back in June. This is going to be our 3rd tour together and the next one after Ahmedabad. I didn’t think it was a necessity informing my poor parents and surprisingly, they took it well. After all, you have to learn to take difficulties in your stride and keep moving!

And how did the planning happen? We started with the intent to go to Munnar. How could we resist the rest of Kerala? And so, we enquired and researched. Searched whole day on internet, ignoring persistent phone calls and impatient peers, for gems of Kerala. It became a mission. The most important mission for us. And so, M found Wayanad. And I found Allepey. And E found Pondicherry. Let’s combine it all!, we said, our zesty female spirit refusing to stay calm. We looked at lavish eco resorts, gorgeous food and bright greenery covered in mist, greed rising within us. How could we miss on any of these? Let’s go! Let’s attack all these places! And why not add Coorg too!

Unable to keep our enthusiasm within ourselves, we decided to approach a local who would guide us on the route. And so, E’s colleague from Cunoor was approached. The gentleman that he is, he agreed to give us tips, without scoffing us, atleast on our faces and politely said Ladies, you are planning a quadrangle, which is impossible to cover in 5 days. When E chalked out the route on Google Maps, our intended route indeed was a quadrangle and I realised that our plan was indeed scoff-worthy. At least we gave him the pleasure of secretly sneering at us and talk about our famed sense of direction (or the lack of it).

We ladies were stuck; choosing has never been our forte, which explains the high number of seemingly similar looking shoes and everything else in our cupboards – we basically want everything! Keeping Cochin as a definite place, how do we choose just 2 out of the rest? Allepey is the true sense of Kerala – the Backwaters! I argued. And look at Wayanad. It is so beeaauuttiful, pointed out M. Pondicherry is a French colony! Which means beautiful architecture. I want to go there too! I confused things further. Munnar was forgotten, Coorg was pitched for.

E, always the mediator, suggested a poll. It is scientific and the most popular method of determining widely-held opinions. Even among 3 people. So we voted. Unfortunately, this method failed. M chose Coorg, I chose Allepey and E chose Pondicherry. Back to square one! Now, who will sacrifice?

All of us did in a way and moved a step further – the places were decided. Cochin, Munnar and Allepey. Feeling relief, we moved further to planning the rest of the trip, the most cumbersome of all, logistics. And could this have been done without further chaos? No way. E looked for budget, M looked for convenience and I looked for comfort. I exploded at the thought of a 26 hours train journey and E tried to fit in everything in 5 days. Our troubles only seemed to be increasing.

At last, we arrived at some common agreements and yay!, we were done with the next stage of our planning! We then spent lot many days looking at hotels – their prices, locations, pictures, and reviews, wore out our keyboards with lot of group chatting and managed to finalize on 3 awesome top class resorts that also fitted in our budget. Girl power, yippie!

Before you think that our planning was all chaos and no system, all confusion and no direction, and you are forever going to be forever entertained by our self-deprecating stories, let me show you how girls also plan. We planned each stage at a time – first the places, then the travel plan, then stay plan followed by travel bookings, hotel payments. The next will be daily itineraries and specifics (ie, what to see, eat, shop and do in each town). Responsibilities were divided – E did the travel bookings and I paid for hotels. A detailed sheet has been made listing payments made by each person for record and settling of accounts later on.

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Ha! You see, girls also do such meticulous work.

So far, so good. It’s time to load our company servers again, look at numerous confusing tourism and travel sites for days at work and decide what we want to do/eat/shop/see there.

Kerala, here we come!

Categories: South India, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 11 Comments

Tambekar Wada, Vadodara

I had wanted to visit Tambekar Wada since long. Searching on Google wasn’t helping because there was hardly anything written about it. Whatever little I got to know was enough to hype my curiosity and I dragged my friend M to it.

This historic monument is located in Raopura and looks like just another building or a big house from outside. Localities don’t even glace at it. This was clear after a young girl (of around 14) looked at M curiously and blurted out ‘Aunty, why are you clicking this building?’. She later joined us, along with 2 other girls, in looking around the house after exclaiming her surprise and ignorance about the mansion to the caretaker.

Entry in this Maratha mansion is free. Some years back, this ignored monument was taken over by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) after which several restoration works were done. A lot is still left to be done. It always feels sad to see unique historical monuments getting ignored and left to die.

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This 4 storey building was originally the house of Bhau Tambekar, the Diwan of Baroda during King’s rule. Two rooms on 2 storeys are open to visitors. The walls of these 2 airy rooms are covered in paintings and floral murals depicting scenes from Mahabharata & Ramayana, life of Lord Krishna and other Gods/Goddesses and English life scenes. Floral designs of plentiful variety line up the paintings thus acting as borders. The floral work, which is an art lover’s delight, when combined with wooden jaali work gives a very authentic and rustic look. Paintings of 2nd floor are in better condition than those of 1st floor.

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The young girl continued to astonish me. By looking at her, I could never have imagined she would speak such good English. ‘Can I ask you something? What will you do with these photos?’ she asked shyly. I said I will write about it and I regularly go to places and write on them. She was amazed. ‘Which other places have you seen here?’ I replied in English and Hindi. ‘Your Hindi is good!, she exclaimed. All this while, I realized, she had been thinking that I was a NRI. I also deciphered from this that not many Indians or localities have shown interest this monument.

This facility can be viewed on all days of the week. Photography is not allowed unless you take special permission from their office beforehand. The caretaker is friendly and will be glad to show you around.

Location: In the lane opposite the famous Dhuliram Pedawala, Raopura.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, India, Photography, Travel, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Berlin – II

(Written in Sept 2011)

Breakfast is probably the best thing that could have happened to me on this tour. There’s salami and bacon and different breads, jams, spreads, salads, fruits, croissants and cereals. I couldn’t decide what to take. I want to try out everything. For today, I chose brown bread, scrambled eggs, sausage, tomatoes and coffee. I spend good 30 minutes devouring the contents of my plate sitting by the window. I am one of the first few people to come down for breakfast. Breakfast starts at 6 30 am and I was there by 6 40 am. Reason being? I got up at 6 30 am Istanbul time (oh fish!) which is one hour ahead of Berlin time. Anyway, it was good in a way because I could eat peacefully, spend some time on the net and go out for a walk.

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I walked around the peaceful locality of our hotel in the chill. The streets are quite deserted and I pass only a few passers by going for work. I walk around fascinated and muster up enough courage to ask a pretty girl, standing by the road, to click a picture of me and she happily did so. One thing I have already fallen in love with is the cobblestone path. Europe has them everywhere. Different texture and pattern of cobblestone roads.

By the time I came back, the group had started assembling near the reception area and I saw everyone interacting with everyone else. Looks like people had got friendly with one another! I joined them.

We get into the coach and begin our city tour at 9 am. We met our German guide, Walter who took us to our first stop Charlottenburg Palace. It was a replica, of course. I loved the wrought iron gates and the carvings.

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We drive around Berlin and see the various important buildings like embassies, stock exchange, theatres and shopping complexes. We get too much of information by our German guide and I have difficulty retaining the things he tells us. Anyway, I let the feel and aura of the place sink in. We take some quick stops at the Holocaust Memorial, the World clock, Check point Charlie, where I buy a Berlin souvenir bag, Deutscher Dom, Konzerthaus and the the Berlin wall (the sight I was so badly waiting for). The paintings on the wall leave me gaping. Some paintings are dark and some are pleasant but all of them have messages written on them which reveal the painters’ frustration, bitterness and often, hope.

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One thing that had troubled me before the tour was getting my pictures captured. Who would click my pictures? And for this reason, I had carried a light, cheap tripod along with me. I left it in my bag when we left for the city tour. Every time we got off at a locale, everyone got busy with their families clicking each other’s snaps and I was left feeling awkward. Bengali Aunty did offer to click me and I agreed but it was still awkward and formal.

This is the day the Pope is in the city and there’s police everywhere. We manage to see the Brandenberg gate and Reinstag minutes before the police sealed the area and moved 100s of tourists away. It’s cloudy and cold and the wind makes moving around a bit difficult. Brandenburg is right opposite Hotel Avalon, which is the most expensive hotel of the city and is the hotel from whose room MJ had dangled a kid from the balcony.

After a quick lunch, we leave for Potsdam to see the palace there. This small town is an hour away from Berlin and we drive down there. Potsdam has all the original palaces unlike Berlin which only has replicas. This town was destroyed in the Second World War when there was bombing over it and most people died because of the heat. It was later restored. Several original palaces are based here. The kings has made palace for various purposes of leisure – for self, for guests, for plants and for different seasons. Looks like they had a lot of money and time and resources to spare. I look around enthralled at the old walls with creepers, sidewalk cafes and small historical buildings. We visited the New Palace. There are several other beautiful palaces in Sanssouci Park and several of them were going through restoration work. I feel glad and impressed that the country takes so much care of their historical monuments.

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We return to Berlin and spend an hour in the shopping area in Kudamm amidst brands like Gucci, Porche, Benetton, Louis Vittion, Merc and Armani. I still can’t stop looking at all the well dressed people around me, whose aim in life seems to be sitting in cafes or roaming around the streets looking chic. We walk through cigarette smoke among the beautiful people feeling really content in this fantastic city.

I could hardly afford to buy anything, obviously – one of the disadvantages of coming from an under developed country. But yes, it was fun being a part of this crowd.

I have finally befriended the young guy (his correct age is 26) and 2 others in their twenties/thirties. This is going to be my gang for the next 10 days. We walk together into the lanes of Berlin after dinner till late night. We look at store displays and sigh that we are unable to buy anything. We pass stripping bars and beer bars and my guy companions look doe eyed at them. Fast cars pass us narrowly missing each other, the discipline and traffic rules totally forgotten.

Ah. This is how I have always wanted to travel. I’m loving each moment I’m spending on this part of Europe!

Categories: Europe, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Travel Begins In Your Backyard–Travel Quotes

A big obsessive travel fanatic that I am, I am always looking for an excuse to travel. I explore my surroundings very intimately and make sure I do not leave out even the tiniest speck unseen. And once I am convinced that I have seen everything, I am dying to go beyond the limited borders.

I love quotes. I am always on a lookout for simple, specific quotes that reinforce my belief in life and its philosophies.

I came across this beautifully presented travel quotes and I couldn’t help but put them in one place. I believe in each one of them.

                 

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PS: All pictures are from the net. Except the last one which has been created by me.

Categories: Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Bombay

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Bombay has become so crowded in the last 5 years that I cannot go back to living there. But still, Bombay revives my senses everytime I visit. It makes me sit back and smile and several times tsk-tsk at the filth and poverty. Bombay gives freedom and space to each person to rightfully be their own self. It makes you strong and mature. Many outsiders do not like this wild city. But I must say, Bombay grows on you. You fall in love with it ultimately. Every person must spend some time in Bombay and let its essence soak in.

Categories: Bombay / Mumbai | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Danny’s Coffee….. Now in Baroda !!

I vaguely remember M telling me last week about the newly opened Danny’s coffee shop on Jetalpur Road. Harried because of work pressure, I did not think about it because I really did not have energy for food adventures. I cajoled myself out on this hot windy Sunday morning to check out an exhibition on Jetalpur Road and M reminded me of Danny’s once I mentioned that I was hungry. She suspected that it was the same coffee joint we’d visited to in Ahmedabad. I pooh-poohed her notion saying – No way. That coffee shop was some shady joint famous only because it was a favourite of college kids (and subsequently due to the famous cold coffee). Not happening here!

The moment we stepped in and took in the plastic chairs and tables and the rough looking men, I got a feeling that she was right.

We ignored the sandwiches and other snacks on the menu and straightaway ordered for cold coffees. The moment of recognition was simultaneous – I read the text ‘Danny’s Coffee, Ahmedabad’ on the plastic cup and M felt it in the taste. It is indeed the same one.

We were too engrossed in our talks and did not notice things other than the bright graffiti on the wall behind and the cigarette smoke. We ultimately had 2 glasses each.

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I admit that though the cold coffee was good it wasn’t as yummy as it had been in Ahmedabad.

Nevertheless, Danny’s is a welcome addition to Baroda’s food line. I’d like to bring more friends here and introduce them to Danny’s Coffee.

This tiny shop is located at the back of the complex beside Pizza Inn (and Bathworld) on Jetalpur Road. It is open from 11:00 am to 11:00 pm.

Though I did enjoy having cold coffee on a windy Sunday noon in this empty, barely furnished joint, I’d like to see it swarming with college and school kids soon.

PS: Who wouldn’t love this wall art. Pictures added later on after a second visit in Aug 2012.

Categories: Gujarat Diaries, Vadodara | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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