Jani Jermans – Travel Diaries

June 10, 2022

UAE – The Royal Experience

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:25 pm

About UAE:

The Arabic name for UAE is al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabīyah al-Muttaḥidah which is referred as United Arab Emirates in English. The sovereign absolute monarchy is a federation of seven emirates consisting of Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.

I was always been apprehensive to travel to Middle Eastern Countries due to their stricter laws and other restrictions in the country. I also have realized that it’s due to limited news that media shares which is not encouraging either. But on a positive note, I have a lot of respect for these countries, because they have stricter laws which in turn has lesser crimes, which we miss in our country. We are improving now but we still have a long way to go… Many times, when I read the crimes committed in our country, there is one thing always comes to mind, I wish we had their laws so that lot of innocent lives would have been saved. I can only pray we have more stricter laws and lesser crimes in our country.

Just to make me more confident before I decided to travel, I also spoke to few friends who live in UAE and they had only positive news to share about the country and I also read about certain dos and dont’s of the country before I leave. I understand that we need to respect the locals laws, traditions and cultures and there is no two way about it. So when IBTM accepted my application to attend the conference in Abu Dhabi, I thought this is the best opportunity to explore the place as well post conference. As usual, I asked Sur if he can accompany me but I was refused point blank by him. He had few reasons:-

Reason No 1: We were not married at that time, he thought he will get arrested being with me.

Reason No 2: He has the habit of holding my hands while walking and he said he will get arrested for the same while sightseeing in UAE.

To add to my woes, there was two news that we read at that time:

News No 1: There was an expat who went for a medical check-up and found out she was pregnant at the hospital and she was unmarried. She got arrested as it’s against the local law. Her partner was also an expat living in UAE. Her mother was all over the news, begging to release her daughter and she wanted her daughter and unborn grandkid to be safe in her own country. She was pleading that daughter will get out of UAE immediately if she is released from jail but no one could reach out to her. I hear once you are in their jail, you disappear and no one could reach you.

News No 2: There was a couple who checked into a particular hotel and when the hotel staff suspected something fishy, they barged into their room and found out they were having sex and they were unmarried. So they were sent straight to Jail.

These 2 news clippings were reason No . 3 for Sur, to reject my request, to accompany me to UAE  and he was trying to convince me how bad it is. So I couldn’t push him as I completely understood, so I had to do my SOLO travel which is something I don’t prefer as I can never travel alone.


You can apply through the below website for getting a visit visa. However, you can get a visa on arrival (VOA) for a maximum stay of 14 days provided you have any USA visas that’s valid and your passport is valid for at six months from the date of arrival into the UAE.


Since I already had a valid USA visa, I could go for VOA. Then I wanted to be sure that I could travel as my visa was on the old passport since I couldn’t take any risk with UAE. So I reached out to the consulate directly over email. After few mail exchanges, they confirmed I could travel as long as I carried both passports, which anyway I would because I need to show them the visa. I was grateful to the embassy staff for being so prompt and helpful as you do not get such speedy response from many of the consulates.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We were booked in Etihad Airways and of course, this is also one of the best airlines in the world. After flying various airlines, I have realized the Middle Eastern carriers, stand tall in their hospitality. That’s why I end up blindly booking these airlines, because I know their hospitality would be excellent. After enjoying it’s in-flight hospitality, I landed in Abu Dhabi. I found the immigration officers being so young and they were pretty quick with the process. I took less than 5 to 10 minutes to finish the formalities and got my VOA stamped. I got picked up by the conference organizing committee team and were welcomed in another iconic hotel Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. That’s the  luxury hotel and I already felt like a royal in Abu Dhabi when I entered. We had such a smooth check in and got into the room. It was a beautiful room, with a huge bathroom, where there was a bathtub overlooking the glass windows with amazing beach and skyline view and I immediately had to share the photos to Sur and make him jealous for missing out such a wow experience. Then I wanted a coffee but the machine looked so sophisticated that I didn’t know how to operate it. This had a sealed coffee sachet and I did try one and I failed and by then I was missing my coffee quota for the day as well. After much hesitation I did take courage to ask the housekeeping staff for help, unfortunately she didn’t know either  as she was very new. I felt pretty embarrassed, thinking I was the only one who didn’t know how to operate this one. After my failure in getting my coffee, I had to take the mixed nuts from the mini bar and have to be content with that. Even though I didn’t enjoy those nuts but that kind of distracted me from the coffee craving. Being the luxury property, those nuts were too expensive, anyway that was not a surprise as I was expecting that. By the way, Later I learnt to operate this machine in Spain, which had a similar one and of course Sur was there to figure it out. I always felt handicapped without him during my travel. God I love him that he fits right into my incomplete puzzle. I always thank God for him every day.

Since I had a little time to catch up with my bestie, who was working in Abu Dhabi, I called him to come over to the hotel. He reached and we went to the Pool bar. It was fun catching up with him. We also enjoyed  the bar food and drinks. By evening, he had to leave as he had work next day and I went straight to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great breakfast buffet spread, I headed for the conference which was at the same hotel. UAE surprised me and even the IBTM, about how they managed the entire pre and post conference in details. The first thing, that surprised me was the registration fee, which was the cheapest among all the international conference fees that I attended. Comparing to others, it was almost nil. Then our mandatory supplier’s meeting which is usually 30 meetings for 3 days, which is in between various talks, and used to be a little hectic. Here they had only half of the mandatory requirement and half part of it was discovery day to explore the city. So this conference was more relaxing, had lot of time to network, do a bit of sightseeing and time to enjoy the delicious spreads which was very encouraging. Hats off to the organizing committee of IBTM Arabia.

The First day, we just had only the meetings for the first half, along with it, had a destination presentation of Ras Al Khaimah which was very interesting as they had recently opened a longest zip liner in the world beating Puerto Rico. Immediately the next question to the Tourism team was can we get the tickets, since I only loved the zip liner out of all the adventure ones. But unfortunately it was completely booked for the next 3-6 months. So we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t experience the thrill of it. Then there was a royal buffet which got served in the Mezzoon Ballroom and after such a heavy and great lunch it was difficult to sit for few more meetings.

Then, it was a discovery day to visit Yas Marina circuit situated in Yas Island, enroute we enjoyed the nice drive with the panoramic view of Abu Dhabi. This is the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and it is the second Formula one Track in the Middle East after Bahrain. We had a venue tour, where they had taken us to the race control room, the pit, the media center, VIP area, pit support garages and the Podium. For our live experience there were few drivers practising at that time as well. So we spent some time admiring them. Then we went to the podium, posed for few photos and felt like champions. I don’t think I would have visited this place if not for IBTM. Also we could partake in go karting, drag racing, pit stop challenge. I just admired everything as an audience and I was enjoying looking at others enjoying the moments.

Then we headed to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which is a mostly indoors amusement park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It is the first Ferrari-branded theme park and has the record for the largest space frame structure ever built. Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster, is also located here. Being VIPs there, we were offered one free ride of Formula Rossa, but I declined as I am not big fan of rides as I get headaches. Many of them were scolding me, that how did I refuse such a golden opportunity but I had to just smile and say Sorry. It has more than 10 rides and unfortunately I refused to get into any. I found few companions like me in the group who also didn’t do much rides, so joined with them, had some snacks, admired the souvenir shops and we left.

We were then dropped back to Yas Vicerory – Skylite for a welcome reception. After another royal experience we were dropped back to the hotel and I crashed for the night.

Day 3: After another great breakfast spread, headed to travel supplier’s meetings, amazing lunch and then meetings and then it was time for another discovery in the capital. We headed to Louvre Abu Dhabi. It is an art and civilization museum and located on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. It is approximately 24,000 square metres in size, with 8,000 square metres of galleries, making it the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. After interesting experience at the museum, we headed to the Gala Evening, white themed party at Beach Rotana. It was in the open garden and it was quite an entertainment with music, food, networking and memorable experiences. Then we were dropped back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: After a great breakfast, meetings, lunch and back to meetings. After that we had a Sunset Farewell Cocktails by the Pool at the hotel. Had a great fun and then crashed for the night.

Day 5:  After breakfast, had to pack and check out. I waited for my friend who was working in Dubai to pick me up as he was kind enough to take me out for a sightseeing in Dubai. So I had to stay near Dubai. He had booked me in Crystal Plaza Hotel in Sharjah which would be convenient to go around for the next few days. We had an amazing drive from Abu Dhabi and then late evening headed to the hotel. It was a hotel mostly run by the Malayalis, so I felt I was in India rather than in UAE. When I checked the menu, you would be surprised what I found out, it was rice and Kerala Fish Curry and I felt at home immediately. I ordered the same thing every time I ordered the room service during my stay. Another surprise was I just had a 500 ml drinking water bottle in the room and everything else was over charged and I was like, that wouldn’t be enough for me. So I had to ask them if there was any shop close by since I needed more water, the hotel staffs were helpful in guiding me a grocery shop close by, owned by another Indian who spoke Hindi. I immediately went and got a 5 litre can. That saved my stay for the next few days and I knew where to get it if I was short of water. The grocery owner was very sweet and helpful and after a quick chat, I headed back to the room with much relief. Ordered my usual staple order through room service, enjoyed the Kerala homely meal and crashed for the night.

Day 6: I had a lovely Kerala breakfast and as I was waiting for my friend to pick me up to start my sightseeing. Then I heard a knock and he was at my door. I got panicked and I am like, who allowed you to come to the room. He laughed and asked me to just relax. Since he wanted to have a tea before we head out, I ordered the same. After few minutes, we got our tea and as we were trying to finish and leave the room, we heard there was another knock. It was a housekeeping staff, checking on us. Since he saw us standing and found us walking near the door, he left without saying. So my worst fear came true. So I told my friend, I don’t want any trouble in the country, so next day I told him to stay down when he comes to pick me up and promised him to get his tea and the smoke outside the hotel. He did laugh but understood me after seeing how uncomfortable I was after the knock on my door.

After that weird experience, we headed for a sightseeing to Ras Al Khaimah. He asked me, why Sur didn’t accompany me, I was narrating him all the reasons that Sur had told me along with the news that we read. He just laughed and he said Dubai is a city with lot of expats, yes, there are local laws which needs to be respected, otherwise he agreed that there is no issue and it’s a good place. I also clarified with him on the news that we read about, first being lady found pregnant without marriage, he did say, it might be true as it’s against the law. 2nd news about a the couple having caught in sex, he said he was not sure, as he read a different news where, they arrested that couple because they were found to be carrying drugs. So the news that we hear mostly, are completely not true.

I was waiting to inform Sur about the same in the evening when I trouble him for the daily late-night call, as I was missing him. First you cannot use WhatsApp since there is restrictions in UAE for that, so we had to make the international calls, even that roaming didn’t have a good network. So Sur had to call the hotel room landline. It was very frustrating with calls getting disconnected time to time, and finally Sur surrendered saying, next time he is accompanying me as that was easier than making these phone calls every day which was more frustrating. Not allowing WhatsApp calls was a let-down in UAE.

It was a long drive to Ras al Khaimah. It was a dry place but was a hilly terrain and was a beautiful drive so we just enjoyed the drive, that also took us to the residential area as well and it was very different from the high rise buildings in Dubai. We went around, the zipline which is called Jebel Jais Flight which allows thrill-seekers to soar from the country’s largest mountain peak for nearly three minutes, suspended while gliding through rocky terrain. Measuring 1.76 miles long, this zipline stretches longer than 28 football fields, and crushes the former record holder in Puerto Rico by almost 2,000 feet. We were just enjoying the view of the people going in the zipline, it looked scary though. Then we found a shop near the parking and we found a tea shop, the owner was from Pakistan. He guessed we were from India, we got the tea, started chatting with him for some time and then left from there after such a hearty conversation. At the end of the day people are good, no matter which country they are from. I wished we had better relations with Pakistan provided they didn’t support the people who intend to harm the country and people. I heard the country is so beautiful but losing out on all the tourism and revenue for the country because of evil activities by few, affecting majority of the innocent people and am sure the innocent and good hearted people of Pakistan, might also be wishing the same for their country. My prayers for the country, that they work on improving relationship with India by eradicating the evil people/group, who destroy the peace of the country and the innocent people. Then we headed back to Dubai and I had to visit my friend’s family and kids. Spent some time with them, then I got dropped back to the hotel, had my homely food at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After the breakfast, I headed down to the lobby waiting for my friend. Had his usual tea and then we headed for a sightseeing in Dubai. We went to the Dubai Mall, went around looking at various high end shops. It also has Aquarium & Underwater Zoo in the mall itself, so as you walk through the mall, you can see the sharks through the glass and it was amazing. So we didn’t go inside and then headed to the food court for lunch. The food options were great and one of my best dessert that I tasted here was Kunafa at my friend’s insistence. Kanafeh (Kunafa) is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded filo pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. He said I should try that. I still salivate at the thought of it even today and I haven’t found yet here in Bangalore. Even though once for a dinner at Hyatt, MG Road, Bangalore, there was kunafah, am sorry it was nowhere close to that. I am still waiting if I can get the same here in Bangalore. I haven’t succeeded yet. Once I did try to ask my friends to get it when they visited Dubai, unfortunately they got something else. I wanna go to Dubai, at least to taste that Kunafa again. After such an unforgettable dessert experience, we drove again. We passed through Burj Al Khalifa, Dubai Frame etc.  Since we were short of time, we didn’t get down to go into those places. My friend being a perfect guide was pointing me every iconic buildings in the city and explaining about it as he drove me along.

Then we headed to the souk, for perfumes as he was raving about the oil-based perfume. He insisted I should visit them. So we headed off to the souk. Here they have the oil-based perfumes of David Off and many other known perfumes. The advantage with the oil based was, it stays longer in your body against the water based ones, which is usually we get to buy in the perfume stores. Once you select the perfumes that you want to pick up, they have 15 to 30 ml small bottles where they pour and give you. I could just stay there forever, inhaling those amazing scents. That is the only thing I was ok to shop, since I just love those amazing scents. So we picked up quite a lot of bottles with different brands and then headed to find a t-shirt for Sur. We picked up more perfumes from another shop and then headed back. There were gold, dry fruits, nuts and many beautiful things. Then we headed to a famous dry fruits store, picked up some dates, dry fruits and fruit candies. If you love shopping, this is the perfect place.

I also heard that you need to be careful here. There are people inviting you on the street to buy their stuffs and they take you to a shady place/hidden place, in that case please don’t go as it might be fake products. However, if you are going directly to an open shop, then you are good to go. I was reminded of Sex and the city 2 and the tips when they travelled to Abu Dhabi. Do respect the local customs in terms of dressing, that would always make your stay pleasant. But you have nothing to worry about safety as hardly anyone dares to do any crimes as the laws are pretty stringent.

After such an amazing experience, I had a quick dinner at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 8: Had another Indian breakfast and then packed my luggage and was time to head out to the airport. My friend already had instructed me that there was a pickup point in Dubai for Etihad Airlines, so I needn’t go all the way to Abu Dhabi. So hotel had helped me with a cab, reached the airport lounge in Dubai and checked in there itself. It was such a smooth experience and then I was waiting for the bus. Then we boarded the bus, reached the airport and bid adieu to UAE. The warm hospitality of Etihad Airlines, came to an end as I landed in Bangalore. My appreciation and love to the airlines.

So my fearful UAE trip came to an end, but I came with an enriching experience and lots of respect for the country. Yes, you need to respect the local culture, there is no two way about it. But they have the best legal system, because no one messes with it, since they know they can’t escape from the law. The stringent law keeps the country clean, crime rates low and everyone does their job ethically and at their best. I just wish, we have the same legal system to ensure the guilty is punished and doesn’t go scot free just because they are from a powerful/influential family and also the judicial process is faster and not goes on and on and on and never ending……..

UAE, am coming again with Sur, so that I can explore more, this time he is not scared because we are married now. I can still make fun of him on this………Let’s defeat this Covid soon, so that we can travel again and in the meantime start appreciating the little things in life, be thankful to all the best friends who shaped your life  and be grateful for all the opportunities that we are blessed with every day….Until then Stay Safe…..

An Awesome Spain

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:25 pm

About Spain: It’s a country on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula with diverse geography and cultures. Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is defined by Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical modernist landmarks like the Sagrada Família church. It is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, which is also known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Família church and other modernist landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudí dot the city.

When IBTM had a conference in Barcelona, I thought I should go as Europe was always in my bucket list of travel. Then I realized that we had initially planned to go to Lakshadweep as Sur wanted me to do the PADI course which I had wanted to do after my Thailand snorkelling trip where I felt I needed to do diving course so that I could join Sur. So, I asked Sur to choose between these two places, as Barcelona conference was scheduled at the same time that we planned Lakshadweep. As expected, Sur chose Barcelona as he said Lakshadweep we can do it later. So I registered and got accepted and we planned our trip to Spain.


There are two consulates in India, namely New Delhi and Mumbai and it comes with Jurisdiction.

Mumbai: All four South Indian States, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Maharashtra, Pondicherry, and Gujarat.

New Delhi: Remaining states and Union territories fall under this jurisdiction.

BLS International accepts the applications on behalf of the embassy and they are present in most of the cities. Do check the close by office in your own state and then you can submit the application to them.

Document Checklist:

Do check the BLS link (https://india.blsspainvisa.com/) for more details and check for latest updates before filing the application. Sample checklist is mentioned below

  Visa Application Form: Form to be filled in blue pen and with the original signature from the applicant

Photographs: 2 recent photographs as per the specific requirement attached (do refer the link mentioned above)

Cover Letter from the Applicant: Attach the letter with the purpose of travel, dates of travel and with complete itinerary

HR letter from the company:

Company Letter: Letter should Confirm your approved leaves and employment details.

Company Id proof: Recommended.

Invitation Letter: If you are invited by the local entity, do get the letter in Spanish and English

   Hotel Booking: Do attach the hotel confirmation with complete payment done prior for the entire stay.

Flight Details: Confirmed flight booking to be attached.

Tour Itinerary: Give the day wise itinerary.

    Travel Insurance: It has to be issued by the approved Insurance companies, the link mentioned above will give you all the details and as per EU guidelines, minimum coverage of 100,000 USD to be there for at least 30 days .

Sworn Declaration for travel insurance signed by applicant: Attached

Salary Slip: Last 6 months of salary slips to be attached

Bank Statement: Last one-year bank statement in original (with bank seal and signature) to be attached

Income Tax Returns: Last 3-year IT returns to be attached

Pan Card Copy: To be attached

BLS Authorization Form: To be signed and attached

Passport Details: Passport copies of all pages including the old ones to be attached

Marriage Certificate: In case, spouse is accompanying

  Birth certificate: In case child is accompanying

Note: All the documents must be in English like marriage or birth certificate, in case it’s not in English do get the certificate issued in English before filing. In case your trip expenses are split by your spouse, then you need to ensure to share all the documents mentioned above for your spouse as well.

Travel itinerary:

Day 1: We had our early morning flight with Air France and after just over an hour layover in Paris, we landed in Barcelona in the afternoon.

The hospitality of Air France was good. Once we landed we hired a cab to go to IBIS Styles Barcelona City Bogatell, this is a budget hotel and weather was little cold as we visited in the month of November. We had a smooth check in and went to the room. Once we freshened up, we came down for lunch, they didn’t have much option, but we ordered some omelette and enjoyed the coffee and went around in the evening for a walk close by. We went to Ciutadella Park which was close by. The 70-acre grounds has the Parliament of Catalonia, lot of official buildings, beautiful garden, fountain, statues, trees with lots and lots of oranges. I was so tempted to pluck the oranges, which is always a fun activity in India specially with the tamarind trees on the roadside but I had to control myself as we were in a different country. We found lot of birds specially parrots and people were feeding and they were quite used with the people as they were not scared and stayed for their food until they were full.

Then we headed to my favourite place in the city which is the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum) where it was all about chocolates. We picked up few chocolates and few which had 90% cocoa for Sur’s dad as he wanted to get the maximum cocoa one, later when he tasted he realized he should stick to 50 or 60% as it was too bitter. The best one here is the hot chocolate, I could drink every time and not get tired of that as it was not very sweet which I liked about. Every time I passed this place I was nagging Sur for a hot chocolate. If you love chocolates, this is a place which you shouldn’t miss. After enjoying my best find in Barcelona, we stopped at a nearby restaurant for dinner, enjoyed some great food along with wine. We found that none of the wine in Barcelona was bad. In fact each one was better than the last and we ended up finishing a bottle for almost every meal. Then walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great breakfast of breads, pastries, cheese, eggs and juice, we headed to We Barcelona office for the Barcelona Walking Tour with Eco Boat & Helicopter Ride. The best thing that we found for sightseeing is this company called We Barcelona, after the first trip which we found through Trip Advisor, we didn’t look for other tour operators and we booked all the sightseeing tours for the remaining days with them. They were the best and all that you need to do was to go to the pickup point wherever they ask you depending on the trip that you book. Since I had Sur with me, we had taken metros for most of the places as for me it would have been difficult without him. The hotel also had the metro station close by so that helped with all our logistics.

This is to experience Barcelona by land, sea and sir. So we first started exploring by land and did a walking tour by visiting the Gothic Quarter and were listening to the Catalonia stories and their history.

The charming Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, has narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalonian restaurants. There is also the Cathedral of Barcelona and street arts. After that we walked to the Church of Sant Felip Neri in the Gothic Quarter (The romantic, slightly faded church is an unmissable corner of the Gothic Quarter and in the evening you can see people gathered with friends and family for a evening get together for fun, laughter and music ). We then proceeded to Plaça de Sant Jaume (square at the center of the Old City of Barcelona and the administrative heart of both the city and surrounding Catalonia) and went and saw the Town Hall and Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia (Government of Catalonia, is the institutional system by which Catalonia politically organizes its self-government). We explored the Jewish quarter and passed by the Santa Maria del Pi (it is a 15th-century Gothic church).

After visiting Spain I realized that walking is the best way of seeing Europe, as it’s so beautiful that you need to explore it by foot wherever possible.

Then we went for a boat ride at Port Vell and enjoyed the cold breeze of the Mediterranean Sea, it was so beautiful.  We visited The Columbus Monument, which is a 60 m tall monument to Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona in honor of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas and then went to the heliport where our sky adventure began. That was one beautiful short ride over Port Vell and the beautiful beaches and view from above was spectacular. The trip ended there but we had a quick bite near the port and then went near the pier.

It was all sea gulls which were huge and then headed to Aquarium Barcelona, which had a collection of 11,000 animals representing 450 species.

After the Aquarium visit we headed in the evening for Barcelona old town walking tour with Flamenco Show and Tapas Tour through We Barcelona. We had a guide who was Catalonian so, as we were walking to the place, she took us through the gothic quarters and old town and explained more in detail which was an eye opener. So we kind of repeated the morning walk tour once again in the evening but didn’t complain as the guide was so passionate about her culture and history, we were glued to her listening to every detail of it. After the walking tour we headed for a flamenco show which was spectacular. After a bit of snacks and drinks, we went to an outside restaurant to try the authentic Tapas in a near by pub. Tapas are bite sized snacks and it was quite interesting in a crowded pub. After enjoying those we walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Even though we were walking late in the night, never felt scared as we felt very safe in the city.

Day 3: After a great breakfast, we left for Montserrat Monastery visit and Natural Park Hiking with Railway from Barcelona through We Barcelona. It was a little longer ride from the city and then we reached Montserrat. It is a mountain rising over 4000 ft. into the air from Barcelona. We went to the church and then we rode the funicular railway to a scenic viewpoint, and took a nature walk in Montserrat Park while returning. It was a mini hike and enjoyed very bit of it and found lot of thyme and Rose Mary plants on the way. It was very exciting and beautiful and then returned back to the monastery. Since it was a Sunday we had the weekend market as well with varieties of home made cheese and everything tasted delicious. So we picked up lots of cheese and a dessert wine from the monastery and left. Enjoyed every minute of the drive and we returned back to the hotel. In the evening, we went around closeby, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had to check out of this hotel and had to check in at Ohla Eixample which was booked by the conference organizing team. It was one of the best hotels and had an amazing hospitality. We just dozed off and woke up in the evening and was hungry. Sur decided to step out for lunch and I didn’t have a patience to walk to much, so we found a Michelin star restaurant diagonally opposite to the hotel where we were staying and Sur said the review was good. So we went inside. I had never been to a Michelin Star and this was my first time. Once we entered, we realized we were not dressed appropriately as everyone at the restaurant was in formals and I was wearing a track pants and T-shirt and Sur was in jeans and T-shirt. I was the most under dressed and I was embarrassed. Since I was hungry, we quickly found a corner, had a quick meal and left. The food was great but the quantity was less and I  didn’t have the patience to order more as I was already embarrassed with my dress code.

Sur found it difficult to get his veg food as we tried to customize a non veg food and that was a disaster, since he didn’t like the veg options from the menu. I learnt few lessons on that day. 1. Never enter a Michelin star restaurant in casuals. 2. If you are really hungry and need more quantity of food and then this is not the place. 3. Don’t try to customize the food, it has to be original. After the embarrassing situation at the Michelin star restaurant, we went back to the room, ordered some more snacks as I was still hungry and crashed for the night.

Day 5: The day was busy with back to back meetings and appointments at Fira Gran Via Barcelona which was the convention centre. We were picked up by bus as it was far from the hotel where we stayed. While I was at the conference, Sur was enjoying the hospitality at the hotel. Once I was done with the conference, we both went to the seafood restaurant at the hotel for dinner. As usual I enjoyed but Sur didn’t have much option being a vegetarian and the customized one was not very great. Then we returned to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 6: Another busy day with meetings and appointments and then evening we had a IBTM world club night Opium Barcelona which was fun after a tiring day. I headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: While I headed for the final day of conference, Sur checked out and checked back in to IBIS styles where we stayed earlier pre conference days. So he was busy with that and then came to the venue to pick me up in the evening as I didn’t know the way to reach back. We went around nearby and found a grocery store, picked up more cheese, wine (even the local wines were great) for our consumption as we became addicted to the good wines of Barcelona. Then we grabbed the dinner at a close by restaurant along with more good wine and then crashed for the night.

Day 8: After a good breakfast we headed for the winery and cava (sparkling wine) tour of Pere Ventura. Here we found combination of modernity and tradition in which the company takes pride and first time I enjoyed the sparkling wine (Cava). The winery is located on the outskirts of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, in a lovely home reminiscent of an old farmhouse. The underground cellars with vaulted galleries looked breath-taking. We also got to enjoy wine tasting and every single wine was great. Then we were dropped back to the pick up point where we went around to see Gaudi architecture. Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, sui generis style. I have never seen such a fantastic creative work till today, I was in awe of the buildings. After admiring the greatest architecture and creative work, we went around for a night walk for some time, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 9: Had another delicious breakfast and headed for Girona and Costa Brava tour with Explore Catalunya. After a long drive, we reached Girona. Girona is a city in Spain’s north-eastern Catalonia region, beside the River Onyar. We had a time for ourselves to explore on our own and enjoyed the medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter (Barri Vell) and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress. Landscaped gardens line the Passeig Arqueològic, a walkway following the Old Quarter’s medieval walls, which include watchtowers with sweeping views, I felt I was in Great wall of China. Few scenes from Game of Thrones were also shot in Girona. After enjoying the cathedral and architecture, we went to the shopping place to pick up some souvenirs. Then we headed to Costa Brava. This is a coastal region of Catalonia in north-eastern Spain and the town was almost empty as it was off season. Sur was complaining that next time I need to take him during summer and not winter. We enjoyed the beach to ourselves as hardly any shops/restaurants were open due to off season.

We had lunch at Tony’s restaurant and our guide suggested that I try the Paella which I have been wanting to try but was not sure where. Paella is a Spanish rice and is one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. Since this is not a veg dish, Sur settled for some salads as he had very limited option. After enjoying the places and food we headed to the hotel. We crashed after dinner as we had an early morning flight to catch the next day.

Day 10: We had to wake up early and head to the airport and the hotel helped us to book the cab. We reached the Barcelona Airport but no shops were open as it was too early for the day. Then we boarded Air France, had a stop over in Paris. We did a bit of shopping and then boarded for Bangalore. Landed in Bangalore after a good hospitality from Air France. The awesome Spain visit came to end but this was never enough as we could visit only Barcelona and not the other cities. It’s so beautiful that you need more time to enjoy the beauty, architecture of the country and even then, it would be never enough.

Here is to more visits to Spain and Europe, until then Stay Safe……….


Unexplored Bangladesh

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:24 pm

About Bangladesh:
People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the eighth-most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 162 million people. Bangladesh shares land borders with India to the west, north, and east, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south.
I had visited this country a decade back and am sure it might be different right now, so this is like going back to my memory lane a decade back.
Visa fee is gratis for Indian nationals and you can visit the below link for all the details

Travel Itinerary:
Day 1: This was the peak of Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways days and my first choice always had been Kingfisher, however I didn’t have flight availability for the same dates as I had to reroute from Chennai-Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata-Chennai. I had to settle with Jet since that was the only option available with these routes. I enjoyed the Jet Airways hospitality and landed in Delhi. I had to come to Delhi since my passport had to be picked up from here since my visa for Bangladesh was submitted from the capital and I didn’t have time to wait for the passport to be couriered to Chennai. My employer, being one of the diplomatic missions, they got their visas easily, so I didn’t go through any glitches myself. At that time getting Bangladesh visa was a bit complicated so being employed with the embassy came as an advantage. I went to the office directly and met the Delhi team, exchanged pleasantries, picked up my passport, went for an amazing lunch at the cafeteria and it was time to go to airport for my next flight. I got a cab and was on my way to airport and then I get a message saying flight is delayed. I didn’t want to go to airport so early and I was confused. My cab driver was an old Sardar and he was extremely friendly. When he asked me what time was my flight and when I told him, its been delayed, even without me asking he volunteered to take me around New Delhi and he tried to show the important places. I was happy enjoying the places from the cab and he became my official tour guide as I was new to the city. Finally after an hour or two, it was time to go to the airport and the cab driver dropped me back to the airport. I thanked him, went to the airport and again there was a delay. Finally by midnight my flight took off and landed in Kolkata. A decade back, Kolkata airport didn’t look that great and I had to spent the night at the airport since the connecting flight to Dhaka delayed due to fog until the next day. It was not at all a pleasant experience and the food choices were bad. Somehow managed the night at the airport with much difficulty. (FYI – Recently I did travel to Kolkata and of course the airport looked far better than I experienced at that time. That’s a welcoming news for Kolkata Airport)
Day 2: After much delay finally the flight took off to Dhaka from Kolkata. Again due to fog they couldn’t land in Dhaka as the visibility was low. After hovering for more than hour or two we landed in Dhaka. I got picked up by the office staff and I was asked to stay in the company guest house. It was a huge house and had multiple floors. I was given an entire floor to myself. I heard the hotels were very few in Dhaka that’s why most of the companies get an independent house for their employees to stay for their short visits. For me that was my first experience being all alone at a huge place and I had no idea how to operate any of the things in that house. Number one, it was too huge and I was scared, staying alone and was waking up often to ensure that I locked all the doors and was scared in the dark to go from one room to another. Then trying to use the household items, at that time I didn’t know how to operate the washing machine, coffee maker etc. I wish we had you tube popular at that time. I felt disabled not knowing anything since the house had everything equipped but I couldn’t operate anything and anyway it didn’t matter much as I didn’t know how to cook. I also had a help who was coming to the house while we were at office and made sure everything was cleaned, my clothes were washed and dried. First day I was in a shock after seeing my clothes washed and ironed and then I realized it was the help. I never met her so I had to thank her in spirit.

Travelling in January, the weather was biting cold and I didn’t have any more patience to take the help of my colleagues who were staying in different floors, however when it came to the heater in the room, I had to ask someone for help since that was lifeline and my colleague was happy to help. The office was opposite to the building that we were staying and it had restaurant and bar attached to it. So I went for the dinner and after a quick meal, I rushed to the room as it was too cold for me stay out at the restaurant and I crashed for the night

Day 3-7: I went for the breakfast at our office restaurant and the staffs were mostly from West Bengal, so they could speak Hindi. When they knew I was from India, they immediately started chatting and for the next few days they became my friends since all my meals were at the restaurant and they also had an amazing food.
Then went and met my office colleagues, had a wonderful time knowing and learning from them. They were extremely friendly and very helpful. That week had been amazing and productive. Even though I was alone, I felt at home whether it was at office or at the restaurant. There are the two places that I visited for the whole of that week. I didn’t know how time flew but that was one memorable and productive week.

Day 8: It was time to pack and leave for the airport. On the way I saw the local buses which I felt like they should have ben in a garage as they looked very old and almost it had to be discarded. Also I got to know that due to the geographic location of this country, it bears the brunt of the natural calamity every year which also hampers the country’s development. That was the sard irony, but I wished I had explored the city which I didn’t as I was travelling alone. Finally we reached the airport and the driver came all the way till the immigration and until I got out of the immigration, he didn’t leave. I even asked him why was he wasting his time accompanying me as it was waste of time for him and he said, since I was a single lady travelling alone, some of the immigration officers might be a little nasty, so he was trying to protect me. So I was enjoying the VIP treatment as he had the permission to come all the way to the Immigration. Finally my flight took off and landed in Kolkata and then my flight back to Chennai and landed to my city.
I wish I could travel now as this country is still unexplored and it’s already added in my bucket list
Until then Stay Safe and Happy Deepavali/Diwali…..

Blissful Experience at Varu Island Resort, Maldives

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:23 pm

During the Covid time, Sur and myself missed the most is travelling. When my friend Ajay from Kaia Tourism (He can be reached at ajay.anand@kaiatourism.com) told us about Maldives and he had got a good deal, we decided instantly to go ahead for Sur’s 40th birthday. Even though both of us were not really comfortable to travel at this time, we just took a risk of going for it and am glad we did that.

About Maldives:

Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is a small archipelagic state in South Asia, situated in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometres from the Asian continent’s mainland. Maldives translates to Garland of Islands in some of the southern Indian languages, and which is what you will find there. The white sand and turquoise color of the sea/ocean is truly breathtaking. Even though I have heard about Maldives and it’s beauty, it was not in my immediate bucket list of travel but I am glad that we took a risk in this Covid time and thanks to the Maldives Govt and its people in controlling the covid cases and opening up the borders soon. Their efforts are commendable in ensuring all the safety protocols are followed and in keeping the covid cases under control to ensure others could visit their beautiful country. Hats off to them. If you need a break from all the Covid stress, now you know where to head to…You are in safe hands in Maldives and am sure you will thank me later.

Covid Guidelines:

Before travelling to Maldives:

  • PCR Negative certificate valid within 72 hours of departure (Would recommed to reach out to a good hospital when ever you undertake international travel. Manipal Hospital gives the report within 24 hours and they were excellent in their service)
  • Fill up the health declaration form of Maldives (https://imuga.immigration.gov.mv/ethd/create) within 24 hours of departure and have the copy of the same

Before returning from Maldives:

  • Fill up the health declaration form of Maldives (https://imuga.immigration.gov.mv/ethd/create) again within 24 hours of departure and have the copy of the same.
  •  Fill up the self declaration form of India before boarding the flight (https://www.newdelhiairport.in/airsuvidha/apho-registration), without which you would not be allowed to board the flight


I heard this is the only country providing visa on arrival to all the countries free of cost. So why do you wait? Just ensure you have your boarding pass, passport valid for at least for 6 months and PCR Negative certicate. Voila, you get your on arrival visa from 30 to 90 days.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: Travelling from Bangalore to Malé, you don’t feel like you are doing an international trip. It’s just 2 hours of flight time and as you start to enjoy the ocean and it’s turquoise color, you had already landed Velana International Airport to the beautiful country of Maldives .

The immigration process was a breeze and once the visa on arrival stamp was done, we exited the airport. We were picked up by the Varu team at the airport, then we waited for other guests to join and headed to the speedboat which almost took 40-45 minutes to reach the Varu Island Resort.

We were greeted by the staffs as we got out of the speedboat, headed to the reception, had a welcome champagne, finished the check-in formalities, prebooked the activities for Diving/snorkelling, Sunset/Star gazing cruise and received the pre booking details of other specialty restaurants and then we were escorted to our rooms.

We had booked the watervilla and it was superb. We just lazed around for the day and went to Charcoal (Pool Bar) for a high tea and snacks as we were hungry by then since we missed the lunch. Then we lazed around in the beautiful villa in the late afternoon. It was time for dinner and had to go to Lime and Chili restaurant (multi cuisine restaurant). We were not hungry, so had a quick bite and then returned to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a sumptious breakfast at Lime and Chili, went for a swim near our water villa. Then we headed for a quick lunch and then rested. We had to cancel the sunset cruise booked at 5 PM as we were lazy to step out and went back to sleep. We had to force ourselves to go for Dinner as we had a booking at Kaage (Maldivian Cuisine). It was Sur’s 40th birthday and initially I offered him to change it as he is a vegetarian and I knew the Maldivian cuisine is incomplete without Tuna, he wanted to go ahead. So we entered the restaurant after a nice walk around, we were offered screwpine fruit juice shot as a welcome drink, which I thought I would miss since we were not exploring the capital other than the resort island where we usually get this fruit. Then we were given Feyli, which is black or dark blue wrap-around which has a border at the bottom with different types of stripes. With the evolution, the original black lines have been replaced by gold and silver as well. Then we headed to the room to watch the video, about Maldives and it’s history, which was very interesting. I didn’t know cowrie shells were used as a currency once. After enjoying the video, we sat for dinner. I enjoyed the authentic Maldivian cuisine which is mainly Tuna and other sea foods and Sur had to settle with the vegetarian version. It was interesting people could make so many fish snacks out of Tuna like samosa , rolls etc which was a pleasant surprise since all I knew was various fish curries, being a coastal girl myself. I had a great time trying out the authentic local dishes and I was impressed. Then staff had got a nice chocolate cake to celebrate Sur’s birthday. Since he is not a huge fan of chocolate, I had to eat his cake and it was yummy. Then we went around for a nice walk and then headed to our villa. Sur had a lovely surprise awaiting where the staffs had decorated the bed with happy birthday message using coconut leaves and rice petals. It was so beautiful and am glad he had a great 40th birthday with such amazing staffs around to make his day all the more special. We didn’t feel of removing the decoration so soon, so we sat out on the deck for sometime enjoying the stars, and then had to come back to the bed to crash for the night.

Day 3: Had a late and an amazing breakfast, swam in the ocean, went for a lunch and then it was time to catch up for a nice massage. Sur had an amazing hot stone massage which was worth every penny. I opted the aromatherapy which was complimentary. Then we walked around the beach for some time and then it was time for the Indian Ocean Gala dinner near Lime and chili. It was the best dinner with lovely music and delicious food. If you are travelling, make sure you are there on Friday night so that you don’t miss this. There were lot of honeymooners who had a nice table arrangement done separately and it was beautiful. After some time, rain did spoil that. But staffs did their best to ensure they had a lovely time.

Day 4: We had to wake up early since we were going for the diving, so had an early and quick breakfast and headed for diving. Since Sur was certified he went for the diving at two different spots and I heard this was one of the best for diving and I settled for snorkelling. Unfortunately the water was so choppy and I felt very uncomfortable, so I had to withdraw and that was very disappointing. I heard it was so beautiful which I missed it. We returned and then headed to lunch at Nu restaurant (Mediterraean). The food was as usual great, staffs were amazing and service was excellent. We rested for awhile and then headed to Lime and Chili for another great dinner. We skipped the star gazing cruise since it was cloudy and crashed for the night.

Day 5: Had an early breakfast and we had to check out. So we packed everything and kept ready so that staffs can pick up the luggage and then we waited in the reception for our speedboat back to airport. Thankfully staffs took the tempearture and reminded of our health declaration form which needed to be filled, we didn’t realize it had to be filled before 24 hours departure as well. So we filled it quickly and then headed to the speedboat to the airport. After almost 40 minutes of drive, we reached the airport. We had to wait for sometime in the foodcourt, since the airport is small and we were not allowed to go in until the airline counter opened up. After half an hour, the counter opened and we went for a checkin. To our suprise the lines were not moving and people were standing there for a long time, we were puzzled why there was a delay and what’s making the checkin so slow. Finally when we reached the counter, we had to face the truth that our boarding passes would not be handed to us until, we fill the self declaration form in Air Suvidha portal, which almost no one did and that’s why it was taking so much time and is mandatory for people travelling to India. I was a little annoyed that why did the airline or cleartrip where we booked the flights didn’t mention about this in any of their communications so that we would have done it earlier and not wasted our time and also other fellow travelers who were in the queue. I had to appreciate the airline checkin staffs, who were very supportive and were patient enough to wait for us to fill the details. Finally we filled up, showed the confirmation and then airline staff handed over the boarding pass. Then we headed to immigration. It was a breeze as usual and once that was completed, we headed to the security, did a bit of shopping and waited in the food court. After a dry burger for lunch, inspite of ordering it with cheese, headed down to the gate for departure. We finally boarded after a slight delay and then it was announced that there is a flight delay again for half an hour. I just slept off in the flight, so I didn’t realize when it started taking off. After 2 hours we landed in Bangalore and then we were in for a lot of health checks, first they checked the self declaration form, then temperature check and then oxymeter check. Since we cleared all, we were allowed to go to the immigration counter. Then we picked up our luggage, did some shopping and as we were stepping out we were stopped for another check. It was for Covid tracking and after taking our passport details, we exited the airport and finally reached home after an hour.

That was one hell of a trip and travelling for the first time during Covid, it was all a learning experience. First of all I wanted to say a big thanks to Varu Island Resort Staffs who were so helpful, provided excellent hospitality and they were amazing. Special mention to their simplicity, that’s what I loved them for. They had a smile for everyone, ensured every one was attended to and were prompt to assist when needed. Even though, due to Covid, we couldn’t hop on to other islands or do any sightseeing, we had a great time as Varu staffs ensured we had fun and we didn’t miss out any. My admiration for the people of Maldives for their simplicity, their welcoming nature and their amazing work to ensure all the safety protocols are adhered during this Covid time so that we all remain covid free and have a great holiday break inspite of the covid situation. A big applause to them…

I know many of you might want to travel but a bit scared. It’s the right time to travel to Maldives and rest assured you are well taken care of and you would enjoy the place without worrying about Covid and people are so welcoming to anyone coming to their country and they are glad to host you and give you a memorable experience. Now this should be on your top priority. Happy Holidays……

Shukuriyaa Maldives…….



One hell of an adventure in United States of America

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:23 pm

About USA: The U.S. is a country of 50 states covering a vast swath of North America, with Alaska in the northwest and Hawaii extending the nation’s presence into the Pacific Ocean. Major Atlantic Coast cities are New York, a global finance and culture center, and capital Washington, DC. Midwestern metropolis Chicago is known for influential architecture and on the west coast, Los Angeles’ Hollywood is famed for filmmaking.

I could never forget my first trip to US, which was almost a decade back. I was a novice to International travel and I was not prepared and had very limited information in hand. So when one of my previous employers asked me to visit the US office for official work, I was happy to go and also was little worried as I was too scared to travel solo. But this turned to be a challenging and one hell of a solo adventure trip and it was also a great lesson.


You have to fill up the online form as mentioned below, take the appointment and then attend the interview in person. First there was bio metrics to be done at VFS office (Currently it’s OFC) and then you need to go to the consulate directly in Chennai (as per the jurisdiction). Since you cannot carry anything in hand while visiting consulate for interview, be prepared to visit only with the consular documents and then also getting fried under scorching sun outside the consulate as there are longer queues.

My interview went smooth and I was very excited when the officer said, your application is approved. Finally I was relieved once I received the visa. I received my visa within 3 days of my interview and I was ready to fly.


Travel itinerary:

Day 1: I was booked in Emirates and I fell in love with their service and was glad I flew that. After enjoying their hospitality, we landed in Dubai. Then we boarded a bigger and better flight from Dubai to New York and I didn’t know how quickly the time passed. Even before I realized, we landed in Newark Airport. Even though I flew longer flight for the first time, had a comfortable one because of Emirates. Since I was very paranoid travelling alone I ensured the cabs were prebooked so that I don’t get lost as my phone didn’t have any network. Landed in Newark Airport, got my taxi, drove for almost an hour to New Jersey and checked in to Best Western. The hotel was great. Had a smooth checkin and ordered the food from outside since hotel didn’t have one. When the food came I realized, the portion size of US was huge. So that was lesson number one to order as minimal as possible so that you don’t waste food. Enjoyed the delicious food and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After the breakfast, I asked the hotel staff for help in reaching my office. The reception lady said my office was on a walkable distance, so I decided to walk. When I stepped out, I realized that I failed to note down the address of my company in a notepad as I didn’t have wifi to check the address/map online. So after walking for almost 15 minutes, I had to come back to the hotel, get the address and walk back as I hardly found anyone to ask for directions. That was lesson number two. I did find difficult to locate the building as I didn’t find the company signboard outside. Somehow, I went inside the building after making sure the address is correct, verified with the reception lady and she guided me to our office. I was only relieved when I met my colleague. I was busy for the whole day with official meetings and discussions, then came back from work, had my dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 3: After a great breakfast (loved their omelette, one of the best omelettes I have ever tasted), went to the office and then I had to travel to the client location in NJ where most of our employees were based out of. I spent the whole day in answering their work permit related queries to our expat employees. After a fruitful day, came back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: After breakfast, headed to office. After training and paperwork, returned in the evening, met an attorney, went for dinner in another Indian restaurant which they wanted me to try and got dropped to the hotel and and crashed for the night.

Day 5: After the delicious breakfast, we went to the office and then had to travel to New York as we had an appointment with one of the travel partners. We finished the meeting and went to the café for a nice coffee. Since I love coffee, she wanted me to try espresso and I didn’t enjoy it. I realized I was more of Cappuccino fan than Espresso. We then went to Anjappar Restaurant (Indian Restaurant) for lunch, even though I told my colleagues, we try local, they wanted to try Indian. So I went along and it was really great. We then walked around the NY Street and my colleague became my city guide and she was explaining me to the important buildings around. Also I saw a small park which had Tulip flowers and I loved it. Then went to Times Square and I was disappointed as I was expecting some monument, then walked around near Empire State building. Then we had our early dinner in NY and went for a nice pizza for dinner which was recommended by my colleague. That was one of the yummiest pizzas I have tasted with lots of lots of cheese. After that I was dropped back to the hotel and I crashed for the night.

Day 6: Since It was a weekend, my colleague offered me to tag along with her while she was taking them for their weekend football practices. So I booked a cab and I ended up getting a limousine. I made sure I was not charged extra and then I realized I was lucky since no cars were available that weekend, they had to sent the limousine and I got a free upgrade from a small car to that. I enjoyed the drive and I couldn’t complain for the upgrade. I met my friend, her spouse and kids and then went for a shopping with them, then had our lunch at one of the shopping mall. It was a great place for shopping as I loved the quality of the clothes. Then I got dropped at the hotel. Towards evening, I took a little bit of courage, just to walk around alone and it was great. As it was getting darker, I rushed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After an amazing breakfast, I checked out and then headed to the airport for San Diego, California. Landed after more than 6 hours of flight. It was a beautiful city. Checked in to Holiday Inn Express and crashed for the night.

Day 8: After enjoying the breakfast, my colleague had picked me up to go to office. Met the colleagues, was busy with back-to-back meetings for the whole day. Came back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 9: After enjoying the breakfast headed to office, had meetings for the whole day. This office had a food court outside with various options for food, which was great. Then returned to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 10: After breakfast, went for a half day sightseeing to the city. I had booked with one of the local travel agents. The driver was our guide and we were three of us, a senior couple from Canada and myself. We went to Hotel del Coronado, also known as The Del and Hotel Del, which is a historic beachfront hotel in the city of Coronado, just across the San Diego Bay from San Diego, California. Then headed to USS Midway Museum is a historical naval aircraft carrier museum located in downtown San Diego, California at Navy Pier. The museum consists of the aircraft carrier Midway. The ship houses an extensive collection of aircraft, many of which were built in Southern California. There is a famous statue of sailor kissing a lady, which everyone was attracted to. Then we headed to San Diego Bay which is a natural harbor and deep-water port located in San Diego County, California near the U.S.–Mexico border. We had a picture with the whole group, spent a little time and then headed to the Balboa Park. Balboa Park (Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre historic urban cultural park in San Diego, California, United States. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo). Since we didn’t have much time, we did a quick tour and went to see the garden, orchid glass house which I was most interested. Then headed to La Jolla Cave (La Jolla Cove is a small, picturesque cove and beach that is surrounded by cliffs in La Jolla, San Diego, California. California sea lions can be found in the waters of the Cove and hauling out, temporarily leaving the water to rest on its beaches, cliffs, and bluffs. So we did go to the beach to see the Sea Gulls and Sea lions. That was really awesome experience. As we drove, we also came across few streets with the most beautiful house, each one was made in a very different architecture. That was a great experience and a quick half day tour to the city. Then I had to rush back to the airport to go to Dallas. After 2+ hours of flight landed in Dallas and checked in to holiday Inn Express and crashed for the night.

Day 11: After the breakfast went for meeting with the attorneys and then headed for lunch. After lunch, one of the attorneys dropped me back to our office. When I went there the office was closed. I didn’t realize the person who had the key was working from home that day and I was lost as I didn’t have phone to connect and didn’t know how to go back to the hotel. So I waited outside the office building for taxis and no one stopped. I waited for half an hour and I was growing restless. Finally I found a gentleman who was returning from a factory. I asked his help to use his phone, however when I told the hotel name, he said, I better walk, since they wouldn’t be able to reach me without a phone. So I started walking. He was there for half a distance then I had to take a right turn and he had to go straight. I thanked him and I left. I was still scared and nervous, walking alone. After 15 minutes of walk I found the hotel sign and I was relieved. Once I reached the hotel, was chatting with the reception lady for a while, had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 12: After breakfast, went to meet one of the employees, he took me around to meet his family. I was offered a tender coconut juice and I felt I was drinking a toddy. Then went to a good steak restaurant. Had a great time and then his wife decided to take me around for a shopping close by and then they dropped me back to the hotel and I crashed for the night

Day 13: After breakfast, had to say check out of the hotel and headed to the airport to board my return flight. Enjoyed the Emirates hospitality and reached Bangalore and this experience that I will never forget and it also taught me to be prepared for the next international trips.

I had a lovely time, inspite of me not having a phone network throughout the trip. This country has to be explored more as it has lot of things to offer.

Will see you soon….Until then stay safe all of you….




Mauritius – The Paradise Island

Filed under: International Travel — jani @ 11:22 pm

When we were trying to choose a country to travel in 2021, I was sure that it has to be from a African continent as I had not explored this continent. Due to Covid restrictions still in place, it made sense to pick up a beach destination and the first country came to our mind was Mauritius. So we reached out to Sailani Tours N Travels Limited. Mr. Muddasar had taken responsibility to ensure, we had the perfect itinerary. Unfortunately due to my exam schedules, it had to be postponed to 2022. With all the covid protocols, it did seem little stressful, however finally we made it to Mauritius, the Paradise Island..

About Mauritius: Mauritius officially the Republic of Mauritius, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar. It was uninhabited Island which was discovered initially by Arab Sailors, and later by Portuguese Sailors. Dutch took over possession initially, then French and finally British before the country got its independence. Owing to its geographic location and centuries of colonialism, the people of Mauritius are highly diverse in ethnicity, culture, language and faith. It is the only country in Africa where Hinduism is the most practised religion. Mauritius is highly ranked for democracy and for economic and political freedom. Mauritius is the only African country to be in the “very high” category on the Human Development Index. According to the World Bank, the country is classified as a high-income economy. Mauritius is also ranked as the most competitive, and one of the most developed economies in the African region. The country is a welfare state. The government provides free universal healthcare, free education up through the tertiary level and free public transportation for students, senior citizens, and the disabled. In 2019, Mauritius was ranked the most peaceful African country by the Global Peace Index.

Few points to note before travel:

  • Mauritius is visa on arrival for Indian Nationals. So there was no prior visa paperwork involved.
  • Next was RT-PCR which had to be taken 72 hours before departure and the report has to be Negative.
  • You also should not have been covid positive for the last 7-14 days prior travel.
  • Do ensure the swab collection time is also within 72 hours window and take it from one of the approved hospitals as per ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research) website.
  • The RT-PCR also should have the QR code in the certificate, do ensure that it has. Hospitals like Manipal meets the requirements and also it’s good to get a PCR from such private hospitals when you are planning for an international travel.
  • Do ensure the passport is valid for at least 6 months validity before undertaking the travel.
  • Try to book the hotels/resorts so that you need not wait more time at the airport when you land in Mauritius for additional RT-PCR /Antigen Tests.
  • All in one travel form – (https://safemauritius.govmu.org/), it’s an online form, it needs to be filled up before you board the flight, take a printout and carry it with you while traveling.
  • Get an International Travel Insurance with Covid coverage, make sure there is an addendum/letter mentioning that the insurance covers covid related treatments as well.
  • When you board the flight, the Air hostess does give you 2 cards to fill it up, one is immigration form (white card) and another health form (yellow card). If you have filled up all in one travel form then health form is not required to be filled up.

Day 1: Finally, the long wait of travelling to Mauritius was coming closer, Sur and myself boarded the flight to Mumbai as our flight to Mauritius was from there. We had boarded Vistara and in Bangalore check-in, the lady had asked for PCR. To travel to Mumbai, we need PCR/Vaccination certificate (2 doses). We showed our vaccination certificate and we were allowed to check in. We checked in, got our boarding passes, cleared the security, enjoyed the quick breakfast at the lounge and then boarded our flight. The Bangalore process was a breeze. After enjoying the Vistara hospitality, we landed in Mumbai.

Unfortunately, our flight to Mauritius was only in the evening. We had almost five hours to kill. We thought we will check into the hotel, but by mistake we had exited the transit hotel area and had come to international check in lounge, and we were informed that we couldn’t go back. So we dozed off at the airport for some time as we were very sleepy. Our laptop batteries were dying as I was working in between. Then we had to search for a place to charge it. Finally We found a place in one corner, which means we had to be awake as charge points and the seating chairs were little far. So we kept ourselves awake until the laptop charged and then I distracted myself with work as it was getting really bored to sit in the area waiting for boarding.

Finally Sur went to check if the Air Mauritius started boarding and for our surprise they had began by then. We had a sigh of relief and went to check in. In the check in, the staffs checked every single document, from the flight ticket, insurance, covid coverage, hotel confirmation, PCR, vaccination, All in one Travel Form etc. They ensured that we had all the documents in hand and then handed over the boarding pass.

Then we moved to the security. Surprisingly Immigration was after security in Mumbai. I felt like the process was moving like snail and it was getting crowded as every bag was being sent for additional check. We thanked God that we were there early and we were in no rush so we just stood there, finished our security and then we left. It was more than an hour just to clear the security.

Next was Immigration, even here the process was slow. Immigration officer was asking for all possible documents, he verified and then let us go. We spent another hour to clear the immigration. By the time we were out it was almost 2 hours and I have decided never again to board a flight from Mumbai unless I do not have any other alternative. We had travelled from Bangalore and Delhi and the process were quick and smooth. But Mumbai seemed very disappointing as the entire process was slow. In case you are catching your flight from Mumbai, please ensure to reach at least 4-5 hours earlier for international travel so that you have enough time in hand to clear all the process so that you do not miss your flights.

Since we had enough time, we thought of going to the lounge. We didn’t know there were 2 lounges in Mumbai, one was Adani lounge and another loyalty lounge. We realized Adani lounges are paid ones or by invitation pass holders only. So we then found the loyalty lounge which was in a corner of duty free shop. It had a very average service. We had a quick bite, charged our mobiles and laptops, finished some work and left for the gate to board the flight.

We reached the gate and there was another chaos. There was announcement to board as per seat numbers but no one at the gate enforced, nor anyone followed. When we realized we had to go back to the queue as process was being not followed, we just joined the long queue and then boarded the Air Mauritius flight.

This was our first time in Air Mauritius and the staffs were friendly and the experience was good. As usual I enjoyed the movies on board and enjoyed their hospitality. Then we figured out there were a group of construction staffs from L&T sat next to us and they couldn’t communicate/read/write in English. When Air Hostess handed over both forms to fill up, they asked us if we could fill up for them. So I volunteered to fill it up and got them signed. Also we realized, the Air hostess was finding a little difficult to communicate, so we both volunteered to help them with the translation to serve them the right food and drinks. It was a nice feeling to volunteer for my Indian brethren to help them with the translation to enjoy the airline hospitality and to enjoy a hassle-free flight.

Then there was another worker who asked to fill his forms. We happily did, then we realized he didn’t have his work permit paper, I had asked him but he was showing the flight ticket and vaccination certificate. I had to tell him, he is missing his document and requested him to ask in the group as there were almost 8 workers in the group traveling together. I insisted that he gets his document, and he had no clue what document I am referring too. Then finally someone from the group showed the document in the phone where his name was present and then I had to brief him that he needs to show that document to the immigration when he lands. Finally, my broken Bengali came to help as most of them were from West Bengal. With Hindi and Bengali, somehow, I managed and we were glad that we could help them and that is always the best feeling in the world when you help someone without expecting anything in return.

A humble request to the HR team working on International Assignments/Deputations: Dear HR SPOCS, Our responsibility doesn’t end once we hand over the work paper or book a flight for an employee when they are chosen for an international project whether it’s for a white collar or blue-collar jobs. It’s our responsibility to ensure the employee knows what he needs to carry, do a travel briefing about the process involved when he boards a flight and documents needed to show at the immigration etc. It’s advisable that someone who can speak in English accompanies the group when no one is able to communicate in English, or at least there is a document which mentions all the details that immigration officer might have and add a local number in the destination country to verify/answer the details if the traveller is unable to communicate. Please note Immigration Officers cannot allow the traveller if they are not satisfied with the answers/right documents. Ensuring employee lands in the destination country without any hazzle is also our responsibility. Please make sure to brief every employee who travels on international locations. It would be a great help for your employees.

Just before landing, thought will use the rest room, but to my disappointment, the toilets were filthy and used tissues were all over on the floor, in the sink etc. I literally had to run away from there. Finally we landed to the beautiful Mauritius, went straight to immigration, it was a long queue, it went smoother and quick and then to the health officials. Since we were staying at the hotel/resort, we were let off immediately as others had more test at the airport and they had to wait. Then we picked up our luggage, converted some local currencies, found Mr. Vishwa who came to pick us up from the airport. We were chatting a little as he was speaking Hindi and he played nice old Hindi Songs for us. After almost an hour and half we finally reached the hotel.

By now it was early morning. As per the process, as soon as we land Antigen test had to be done at the hotel. The receptionist at Tarisa Resort took the test, we both were negative, so we were allowed to check in to our rooms. We were hungry, the hotel staffs already kept some bread and salad for dinner. To our disappointment the breads were too hard, even if I have to make a sandwich, I didn’t have energy to chew that hard bread and we were too tired to do that. Then for our disappointment the salad had egg plant. I am not sure who eats grilled egg plant, with the bread. We thought at least will have some extra butter and bread, but there was hardly little butter kept which was not enough for this hard bread. It was so disappointing to see such a pathetic dinner kept at the room. They had also forgotten to keep the cutlery. Even though we didn’t want to disturb the staff, we had to call the reception to send a butter knife at least. Finally we managed to have a bite of little bread with whatever butter we had and all other had to be wasted. We were not at all happy to waste the food but we couldn’t force ourselves to eat this dinner as well. We were too tired to complain and we just dozed off.

Day 2: We got up and rushed for a quick breakfast. They had bacons, chicken sausage sautéed with uncooked onions, pan cakes, omelettes and bread. I was looking for some healthy local breakfast options and I was quite disappointed they didn’t have any. Unfortunately, it was the same breakfast that we had the next 8 days, not a change even for a single dish. By now we realized it was a bad idea that we had pre paid for the dinner at this hotel. Unfortunately we didn’t find any other hotels close by, so we were left with no other option. Anyway we didn’t want to disappoint our day, we just had an omelette and croissant which was thankfully good and then we went to explore the city. We were picked by 11 AM by Mr. Ramveer, our guide for the entire stay in Mauritius.

Today we had explored North Island. First we were taken to Citadelle (Fort Adelaide) where the entry is free. This 19th-century military fortress features a walled courtyard & it has panoramic city views. It was a great place to get a great view. Then once we came down, we stopped in the small souvenir shop and then started our journey back.

Then we proceeded to Port Louis city tour. It was just a drive in, going through their Parliament, Supreme Court etc. Situated on the northwest coast, Port Louis is the business and administrative capital of Mauritius.

Then we visited the Marie Reine De La Paix Church, which is an open church located on the Signal Mountain with an amazing breath-taking view of Port-Louis and is a popular spot for prayers. It also overlooks the city and the sea. This monument was unveiled in 1940 and it was built to put Mauritians under the protection of the Virgin Mary in the context of the Second World War.  You also have few steps to climb to reach this church which has amazing garden surrounded by beautiful bougainvilleas.

Then we proceeded to Caudan Waterfront, a popular leisure and shopping place. It includes shops, banking facilities, casinos, cinemas, restaurants, a marina and a five star hotel. We entered to the shopping place, first we stopped to buy a Kuanfu Ripe Black Tea. It is produced on the volcanic island of Mauritius where the currents of the Indian Ocean brings the warm and humid subtropical marine climate, combined with the volcanic erupted soil creates the basic quality of Kuanfu Ripe Black Tea. Here they use an innovative technique to ferment the tea further for no less than 365 days. The Kuanfu Ripe Black Tea is a unique type of tea, which achieved a new height in the world due to its characteristics. The Kuanfu Ripe Black Tea soon allowed Mauritius to have a seat in the global tea market, especially in China.

Then we headed for some street shopping, we stopped for a tropical mixed fresh juice, which had papaya, passion fruit, watermelon, mangoes etc which was super delicious and then Sur had picked up a T-shirt. Since we were not very hungry we stopped at a café shop for a pastry and hot chocolate. That was very bad as well. So we just forced ourselves to finish it.

Then we went to Blue Penny Museum which was our last stop at Caudan waterfront. It’s a museum dedicated to history and art of Mauritius. The museum collection includes the 1847 Blue Penny and Red Penny stamps. It also has the love story of Paul and Virginie which is based on Bernardin de St-Pierre’s novel Paul et Virgini.  

Then we left for Jumbo Hypermarket. We needed to do some shopping as the hotel seems to be too stingy with toiletries. Usually I carry everything but this time I had forgotten to refill after our Meghalaya trip. Tarisa only gives you a bathing soap, towel and one litre of water for 2 people. So you need to buy more water bottles, shampoo, lotion, conditioner, tooth brush, tooth paste and anything else that you might need of. The hotel property is beautiful and was quite surprised about their stinginess even with the basic Amenities. So we bought all that we needed for the next one week of stay. We also picked up some wine, gin and lots of cheese for our snacks. Natural Sweet Rose’ from Robertson Winery had been my best pick up and we enjoyed so much that it was very difficult to put down the bottle without finishing it and we had to pick up one each for the next few days. We reached the hotel, enjoyed the wine that we bought and headed for Dinner. Once again that was a disappointment, for vegetarian, Sur had hardly any options and for myself the meat was too sweet with the sauce and a fried rice extremely dry. We had a bite and left the place as we couldn’t eat this dinner. Since we had cheese stoked up, that helped Sur a bit as I was too tired and dozed off. 

Day 3: We had the same breakfast and we started our journey to South Island. First we reached to Le Port Ship Model Factory and Showroom, where they build thousands of replicas of famous boats like Black Pearl etc.  They also have aircraft souvenirs of various airlines from different countries. They had souvenirs made out of Blue Marlin fish beaks and tails in original which was very impressive. Also there were other souvenirs like paintings, jewelleries and other gift items. It’s very difficult to leave this place without picking any as the entire shop was a work of art and it was worth shopping here.

Then we did drive in tour of Curepipe town which has lot of duty free items. This town lies at a higher elevation, often referred to as the “Central Plateau”. We passed through their municipality office and there were walk in blood donation came was happening. I was too tempted to go there but we were short of time to explore the place so I skipped.

Then we headed to Trou Aur Cerf which is an extinct volcanic crater where we could enjoy the lovely views of the crater and the plateau. We enjoyed the local ice cream there which had a passion fruit flavour for a change and it was good.

Then we headed to Grand Bassin, which has Ganga Talao (Sacred Lake), which is a crater lake situated in a secluded mountain area in the district of Savanne, deep in the heart of Mauritius and considered sacred for Hindus. This area has lot of various Hindu temples and we went near the lake, where people were offering their pujas, we said a prayer and we returned.

Then we headed to Mangal Mahadev which was close by. It is a 33 m tall sculpture of the Hindu god Shiva standing with his Trishula at the entrance of Ganga Talao. It is a replica of the Shiva statue in Sursagar lake in Vadodara, Gujarat in India and is the tallest statue in Mauritius. Then diagonally opposite side we had Maa Durga Statue. This statue is measured at 108 feet, 33 meters high, thus making it the tallest Durga Mata statue in the world.

Then we headed to La Vallée Des Couleurs (The Valley of Colours) Nature Park and refers to the colourful geological formation in the region, which provides exciting activities and attractions such as Quad Biking, Ziplines, Nepalese Bridge, Kart and Trekking. We booked a safari to go around the property, while we were waiting we tried the blue berry donut which was too sweet for me to handle. Then as our safari arrived, first we went to see the 23 coloured Earth. The origin of it dates back to millions of years after the volcanic eruption of the Bassin Blanc. It is a phenomenon arising from volcanic activity and mineral deposits; totally unique to this one beautiful spot on earth. There were also lot of small Guava fruits where the leaves looked very different and the staff said it was Chinese (small fruits) and French guava (bigger fruits) trees. He found one ripe Chinese guava for me and made me taste it. I was so happy and it tasted good.

Then we headed to Chamouze waterfall, they also have a zipline to view the waterfall to see it close. We enjoyed the view and then headed to Vacoas Waterfall. The name Vacoas actually refers to Pandanus utilis, the common screw pine which is found in Mauritius. The Vacoas plant previously being used to manufacture sugar bags. Today, the fresh Vacoas leaves have been used to make baskets, yarns, ropes and souvenirs while the dry leaves are disposed of as agricultural wastes. The products manufactured from these fibres are found to be of high strength, lasting and have a high service life. This dry leaves also been used for the hut roof as well. Then it was time to try the 3rd longest zipline in the world of 1.5 Km. Even though initially I closed my eyes, slowly I opened my eyes to enjoy the beautiful view and that was one you shouldn’t be missing out.

Then we wanted to try the Nepalese Bridge but were too tired and hungry to try that. So we skipped that and went to La Citronnelle Restaurant for lunch. I saw the Deer menu and immediately ordered the dish as I had tasted when I was a kid. It was like any other meat, didn’t feel much difference and it was made a little dry. While I enjoyed the rice, salad and deer meat and Sur ordered his pasta which was really good and he couldn’t finish as the quantity was so much. For dessert I requested for a coconut mousse and I enjoyed the very cold dessert. It was almost evening, so we headed back to see the important person in the park, which was a big tortoise, it’s more than 100-year-old and he was freely strolling around in the open park. He was enjoying his evening snack of grass, so without disturbing we went a little closer for the photograph and then we returned back to the hotel. We reached the hotel and dozed off as both of us were not at all interested to go for the dinner.

Day 4: After breakfast at the hotel, we headed to proceed for full day tour of Ile Aux Cerfs Island. First we went to the office of Aquasea Co Ltd and we booked for a under sea walk, speed boat ride to Ile Aux Cerfs Island, visit to waterfall from that Island and Parasailing. Later they cancelled saying it was too windy to do it. So he was little disappointed.

So we started for the Undersea walk. I was little nervous to do it. We had to do a 5-10 minutes boat ride and from there we went for the undersea walk. The staffs were vey supportive and gave all the instructions and they helped me with the initial hiccups as well. After few minutes, I finally felt confident and enjoyed the undersea walk. We could see we were surrounded by school of Sergeant Major Fish. We could also spot few False Eye Damsel Fish as well. As we started we also saw a hanuman statue on the sea bed and then after enjoying such amazing experience we returned back to the shore.

Then we headed to the fishing village of Trou d’Eau Douce to take the speed boat to Ile Aux Cerfs Island. We waited for the speed boat and then we got dropped at the island. There was another speedboat to see the waterfall and we had almost 45 minutes to kill so we decided to do Para Sailing as there they were doing. Sur insisted so I joined. So we had to take a boat ride of another 5 minutes to reach the platform and then we para sailed. It was an amazing experience and please do not miss out these adventures. Then it was time to rush to the speedboat for the waterfall visit. It was one hell of a ride and we enjoyed except the scorching sun as it was afternoon. As we went closer to the waterfall, we also spotted few monkeys and then we  enjoyed the view of the waterfall and we returned back to the Island.

Then we headed to the restaurant for buffet, Sur had a Margarita Pizza since vegetarian options were very limited. I went for the buffet as I had lot of options. I had fish ball soup, beef, chicken, sausages etc. Also ordered some drinks from Sands Bar which was opposite to the buffet restaurant.

Then we visited few souvenir shops around and by then it was 4 PM to catch the speedboat to get out of the Island. Our guide was waiting at the jetty and we got dropped to our hotel. We reached the room and crashed for the night as I was not interested to go for dinner. Sur decided to go down to try his luck and he was unsuccessful to find something interesting for the dinner with his very limited options.

Day 5: After breakfast at the hotel, we proceeded to Casela Natural Park which is one of the most popular leisure and attraction parks in Mauritius offering a variety of fun and thrilling activities.  It spans over 350 hectares and is divided into 5 zones, each with its own unique characteristic. The 5 zones are Thrill Mountain, Predator Kingdom, African Safari, Pangia Birds and Rides and World of Events. First we went to see the birds, they had Macaws, Parakeets, Love birds, Horn Bill, Turtle Doves, Bare faced Go Away birds, Silver pheasant, Fantail pigeon, Red and yellow barbet, Vulturine guineafowl, Red turtle dove, Javan sparrow, White java sparrow and many more. We also saw green iguanas, fruit bats, and macaques’ monkey.

Then we stopped for a juice of Alouda which is a Mauritian Milk Shake made with Milk, Agar-Agar, Sugar Syrup and Basil Seeds and I had tamarind juice. It was refreshing as I never drank a tamarind juice.

Then we went for the African Safari where we saw the Zebras, Ostriches, Impalas (they have such a beautiful horns), Kudus, Oryx, Nyalas, Waterbucks and Rhinos. We saw a zebra and few ostriches come near the safari vehicle to see what we were up to and it was nice to watch them too close. Then we saw the camel on the way before we took Big Cat safari. Kudos to the guide who explained so well, the trip was very informative. They have walking with lions option but we were under the assumption that these animals might be drugged to do all these activities so we skipped.

But the guide explained during the trip that, here the animals are not drugged and it was a relief to know. We also got to know that most of the Lions and tigers were born here, so as the animals learn to respond to the commands from the staff, Staffs in turn learn the body language of the big cats.  We also heard Lion is considered the king of the jungle as they stay in groups called Prides that makes them stronger comparing to Tigers, as tigers prefer to be left alone which makes them weaker than lions, even though physically tigers are more stronger than lions individually. Here onlythere were Bengal Tigers, which they got it from India and currently there are 10 of them, out of which six of them are born here in Mauritius. The interesting fact about lion is that they take a little time to react where tigers reactions/moods can change in seconds so they are very unpredictable. Since tigers grew here, they are used with humans and if we end of running away in fear in an emergency situation, the tiger tries to chase you to play with you as the running interests them, but they don’t realize their chase can be deadly to humans. So its better to stay away from big cats for your own safety.

Then we went to see Pigmy Hippo but we couldn’t spot it. We also had a ticket for Tulawaka which is the rollercoaster ride but we didn’t want to do that in the scorching sun. Then we saw other animals like Llama. This park also has animal feeding activity with some animals like camel, Ilama, Ziraffe etc.

Then we sat for a late lunch at blue bird restaurant. I had wild boar meat which was ok and Sur enjoyed the veg burger. Then we drove back to the hotel enjoying on the way, the sugar cane fields and Mauritus Fody which is a tiny bird with a bright orange color looked so beautiful. We reached the hotel, thought will go for the dinner today since staff was insiting me to come down as they wanted to give my delayed birthday cake and Sur decided to skip it. So I just had a soup and then hotel staff brought me a birthday cake since the initial plan was to visit Mauritius was for my birthday. Even though our trip got postponed, staff insisted that I cut the cake as they made it already. So I quickly cut it, had a mini bite, thanked them and gave back the cake for the staffs to enjoy and then I went and crashed for the night.

Day 6: We were informed there won’t be any activity today due to the cyclone Batsirai warning. So we woke up, had breakfast and were relaxing at the hotel. We went close to the beach and were doing birdwatching. Mauritius is a bird lover’s paradise as here there are quite a lot of beautiful birds and you don’t feel bored even if you are doing nothing. We spotted cute little Pic Pic bird (Mauritius Grey White Eye), Madagascar Turtle Dove, Zebra Dove, Indian Myna, Sparrow, Red whiskered Bulbul, Village Weaver, helmeted guineafowl, Malagasy Turtle dove and Red Fody. During our drive most of the trees had beautiful village weaver nests all around and it looked so beautiful to look into.

So first we had category 2 warning of cyclone which means water activities are banned. We were just praying that people of Mauritius stay safe from this cyclone and there should not be any causalities. Then we went for lunch but it was almost closing time, so we ordered veg pizza. It didn’t look appetizing as the base was big and cheese was less and all it had was potato, corn and all possible vegetables were added and it not at all tasted like pizza as the cheese was very minimal but it was ok. We forcefully finished that and went to the room. By now slowly there were heavy rain and wind.

It was also day to take our 2nd Antigen test. So we took the test at the hotel, and we were tested negative. We also had the healthcare representative coming to take PCR sample for our RT PCR test to be taken for our flight back to India.

By now the Class 3 cyclone had been announced and we were asked not to go near the beach and we were instructed to stay indoors. The catamaran cruise that was planned which is mostly snorkelling in different spots got cancelled due to cyclone warning. We both were back to work with the limited net connectivity due to the cyclone. Then evening we went for dinner and finally I had the best of meal where very dish was cooked to perfection. I enjoyed the Seafood specially Octopus, Fish, Beef, Duck etc. Sur only could have some salads due to his limited option. Finally I had the satisfaction of a good dinner and then we crashed for the night.

Day 7: We woke up and there was heavy rain and the visit to Aparvasi Ghat and Le Morne also had been postponed as the cyclone warning has been moved to Class 4 which means strictly we should stay indoors. So we were back to work. Since the lab could not open we informed Air Mauritius that we do not have PCR results so we had to postpone our travel dates as we were not allowed to board the flight without PCR. So we informed Muddasar to postpone our flights, then went back to work, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 8: As we woke up, we got to know that cyclone warning has been removed, however it was raining so we couldn’t step out. We also heard there was one casualty when the tree fell on a bus conductor while he stepped out for work. May his soul rest in peace. We also had poor connectivity as hotel network cable got damaged in the cyclone. So now we were trying to plan the activities that we missed as we extended our stay. We got to know water activities cannot be done as it would take some time for the sea to get back to normalcy, so we could do the Aparvasi Ghat and Le Morne activities for the next day. We also fixed our PCR sample collection and it was booked for the next day early morning. We then crashed for the night.

Day 9: We woke up early since we had to give the PCR sample, the Govt hospital staff was on time, gave the sample and then we went to freshen up. We had our breakfast and our guide was ready to pick us up to visit Aparvasi Ghat. This is the Immigration Depot which is a building complex located in Port Louis. It is the first British colony to receive indentured, or contracted, labour workforce from many countries and majority were from India to work on Sugar cane plantations. Respect to the government for building a memorial for them to remember the past history of the country. We couldn’t go inside as the water had come inside due to the cyclone. So we stayed at the reception and saw the photos of the first labour workforce and headed out.

Then we left to Bagatelle Mall, which is the biggest mall in Mauritius and went to the Supermarket to pick up our favourite wine. Then we headed to Alexandra Falls View Point in Chamouny. Unfortunately path was closed as the tree had fallen on the way.

So we headed to Black River Gorges National Park, which has waterfall view point. It was an amazing view. After enjoying the scene we headed for the Rum tasting in Rhumarie De Chamarel. This is one of the rare distilleries still in activity to cultivate its own sugar cane. We paid the entrance ticket and then we waited for the English guide Mr. Giovanni and he explained the complete process and we had almost 12 rums to taste. Since I am not someone who enjoys rum shots, I just had a sip of each. The first rum was a cocktail mix called (Ti-Punch) which was really good. As it was time for lunch, we had it in their restaurant. I wanted to try the lobster but Sur gets scared of looking at the lobster, so I had to settle for Mix Grill which had Beef, Chicken and Fish which came with a nice salad, also I had ordered crab gratin which was too salty for my taste. Then to complete I had ordered Tiramisu and it was another great lunch. Sur ordered their Ti Punch and I had Virgin Pina Colada which was great as well. All that Sur had just 2 vegetarian options either rice with curried pickles or potato gnocci and he settled for gnocci. Sometimes I feel bad for his limited options but I am unable to help as it’s their own individual choice. I also feel you cannot be a true traveler if you cannot explore the local cuisines.

I just realized after visiting few countries like Mauritius and Vietnam, if you love travel and love to explore the world, it helps if you don’t have any food restrictions and be open to explore the local cuisines. I do understand, there is a mind block for the environment that we were brought up, foods that we were exposed to while growing up, religious sentiments etc. Even I had my own mind block to try some of the meats and even vegetables which I got exposed much later in life. I had to thank God for the supervisors who mentored me while growing up and they trained me, that I should be able to eat anything. They always said, if I refuse any local food it means I am insulting the locals. That was my turning point and slowly I opened myself to explore and give a try whether I like it or not. So that helped me to open my horizons to try new food around the world while traveling.

Then we headed to Le Morne Cultural Landscape, which is a rugged mountain that just sits into the Indian Ocean in the southwest of Mauritius was used as a shelter by runaway slaves, maroons, through the 18th and early years of the 19th centuries. Protected by the mountain’s isolated, wooded and almost inaccessible cliffs, the escaped slaves formed small settlements in the caves and on the summit of Le Morne. The oral traditions associated with the maroons, have made Le Morne a symbol of the slaves’ fight for freedom, their suffering, and their sacrifice, all of which have relevance to the countries from which the slaves came – the African mainland, Madagascar, India, and South-east Asia. Indeed, Mauritius, an important stopover in the eastern slave trade, also came to be known as the “Maroon republic” because of the large number of escaped slaves who lived on Le Morne Mountain.

Then we headed back home to pack our bags for our return for the next day. We followed up for the PCR results. Once we received we had to do the arrival formalities of India

Arrival Formalities:

  • Fill up the Self Declaration Form in Air Suvidha (https://www.newdelhiairport.in/airsuvidha/apho-registration), Upload the PCR, Vaccination certificate, passport copies, return flight including connecting flight details if any.
  • Once you submit you get a filled form with the reference number starting with SR
  • That document has to be shared to the airline a day prior as they also were following up for the same.
  • Also we need to pre book the RT-PCR at the city airport where we were landing in India and we need to share the confirmation to the airline staff.

We also got to know that we need to carry the filled self-declaration form as a hard copy, unfortunately our hotel couldn’t help due to connectivity issues. So finally airline helped with the same at the airport. We also needed to keep our PCR certificate and Vaccination certificate ready with us as well. Once we shared the details with the airline and got a confirmation from the airline staff, we went for the last night’s dinner at the hotel. Even though we were not hungry, we went to thank the staffs for their amazing hospitality. Then we reached the room, packed our bags and crashed for the night. 

Day 10: We had to wake up early as we had a morning flight for our return to Mumbai. Ramveer picked us and dropped us to the airport. We went for a check in, we were sent back to the airline counter as we couldn’t get the hard copy of the self-declaration form. Once we got it from the airline office at the airport, we checked in.  The airline staff ensured every single document was checked and we were not missing out any document. Then we cleared the immigration, security and went to the boarding gate. I was hungry, so we grabbed a burger at Burger King and we were looking for a currency exchange counter as Sur had withdrawn local currency but we couldn’t spend it due to the cyclone as we couldn’t step out, so we decided to convert it in India and went towards our boarding gate and then boarded our return flight. We enjoyed the airline hospitality and landed in Mumbai.

Thankfully arrival process seemed much better. First we decided to do Rapid PCR test, since we needed to catch our connecting flights as this result is provided in 45 minutes than the normal PCR which takes 8-10 hours. As we went to the counter we were informed that the travel partner had by mistake chosen Delhi lab instead of Mumbai, so we had to do a fresh appointment in Mumbai Airport and make the payment again.  We gave our Rapid PCR samples, cleared the Immigration, picked up for bags, cleared the customs and then we realized we had time to catch the Bangalore flight so Muddasar was on the job for preponing the flight as soon as we confirmed that our PCR result was negative.  We succeeded in booking Go Air, as that was the only flight available for Bangalore for the night. We booked a taxi from airport and went to Terminal 1.  Thankfully check in was open as we had extra baggage to be paid as well. The process was smooth, we checked in, cleared the security and went to the lounge. This lounge was way better comparing to the International loyalty lounge, enjoyed the steam rice with nice fish curry, which is my comfort food any time of the day. Sur had some Dhoklas and we headed to the gate for boarding. We Enjoyed the GoAir hospitality and landed in Bangalore. We picked up our bags, took an airport taxi and reached Home Sweet Home after such an amazing visit to the Paradise Island. Also do not forget to do another PCR on 8th day of arrival after a home quarantine of 7 days and the test result had to be uploaded in Air Suvedha as well.

First of all a big thank you to Muddasar from Sailani Tours, who is our Travel Partner. He had too many sleepless nights as our tickets were postponed, preponed and rescheduled. He had been a biggest support and kudos for his excellent customer service. Also thanks to the backend team, who was helping him to make our travel hassle free one.

Next a big thanks to our Guide Mr. Ramveer, he was a perfect gentleman and provided a great support through out our stay. Thanks to the local team in Mauritius who helped us in every possiblen way from ensuring the visits are done as planned, the antigen/PCR are scheduled as per the time.

Another big thanks to the staffs at Tarisa Resort, the hotel policy might be towards a stingy one, but the staffs are warm, hospitable and they made sure we had a great time. We had to pass on our special thanks to the housekeeping staff who had to travel during cyclone as she couldn’t skip her work inspite of the risk involved in stepping out. Lots of respect.

Another big thanks to the Air Mauritius Staff, they were so diligent in their work, warm, extremely helpful and hospitable. We loved it.

Another big thanks to the Govt of Mauritius, even though it felt a hazzle to take 2 antigen test after landing and PCR for onward and return, we realized this is just to keep the country people and travelers safe. The strict enforcement of masks, almost 80% population been fully vaccinated along with booster shots, you are a role model for other countries.  Lot of respect for your governance for the welfare of the people.

Last but not least a big thanks to the people of Mauritius. I was blown away by your warmth, self confidence, and the spirit of living life to the fullest each day no matter what challenge life threw. First time I felt I was not in a foreign country and felt at home. I admired the discipline on the road, never heard anyone honking. Everyone followed the rules, everyone was friendly. Even they tried to speak in Hindi, the moment they knew we were from India as most of them could speak Hindi. You were the perfect host and we feel privileged to enjoy your warmth and love.

I wish India removed Mauritius from at risk country list as almost 80% of their population has been fully vaccinated with booster shots. PCR for entry and 2 Antigen test and PCR for return, they are following strict protocols to ensure we are safe. I am not sure why this country is still classified as at risk.

Mauritius, this is truly a paradise Island and the experience has been being in paradise.

Please stay safe………….

Sikkim – The Mystic Beauty

Filed under: India — jani @ 11:17 pm

About Sikkim: Sikkim is a state in Northeast India, bordered by Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal. A part of the Eastern Himalaya, Sikkim is notable for its biodiversity, including alpine and subtropical climates, as well as being a host to Kangchenjunga, the highest peak in India and third highest on Earth. Sikkim’s capital and largest city is Gangtok. Sikkim is also home to glaciers and thousands of varieties of wildflowers.

It was time for another break after our exams and time to check out another north-eastern state and this time it was Sikkim. We were supposed to start on a Saturday, however as usual my exam got postponed to Sunday so had to miss those two days and we joined the group on the third day.

Day 1: Due to exam schedules, we couldn’t get any sleep and we did the last minute packing and we rushed to the airport early morning. It was unusually crowded in Bangalore before we boarded the flight and then finally we reached Bagdogra. The driver picked us up and we were on the way to Simtang, before we started to Dzongu as the remaining group members had reached there after they spent 2 days of the trip in Gangtok and they had indulged in shopping and cable car rides. It took 3-4 hours since it was raining as well. Since we were too tired and didn’t sleep for the last two 2 nights, we just dozed off. Driver took a short tea break as we didn’t want to step out and once he was back we were almost closer to Simtang.

Then we switched cabs which had permit to go to Dzongu. In the meantime, the other group members also were travelling from Gangtok to Dzongu in a different route. On the way it started raining heavily and had few landslides on the way. So we had a jam, had to wait for almost 45 minutes to clear one by one before we could continue our journey. This seems to be their daily situation for the people who live there, huge respect to them for the patience and discipline. No one tried to overtake, they all waited in line and once the debris were cleared from landslides, we continued our journey. Sometimes travelling to such places makes you introspect the luxuries that we take for granted which is available in the cities. My respect and love for these people grew and also it also makes you think that how much grateful that we need to be for all the luxuries that we enjoy in the city rather than complaining for little things.

Then we had to stop at Mangan checkpost to collect our ILPs (Inner Line Permit), this seems to be required in every region, so we had to pick up multiple ILPs throughout our journey while we travelled to different places in Sikkim. When we reached the Mangan checkpost, the cops said, our group had already picked up for us so we proceeded towards Dzongu. The paths were too narrow, it was too scary to drive on these roads due to rain as there were landslides, some of the roads had disappeared due to rain, sometimes we had to get out of the car as the road was too narrow and it could topple to Teesta river due to our weight which was flowing in full strength due to continuous rain. It also gave way for lot of rainfalls which we enjoyed on the way. We were also praying that we reach the destination at the earliest before it gets dark as these hilly terrains were very risky to drive in dark.

It was difficult to locate in google maps the Lepcha Home Stay which we were staying for the night as google map had no roads registered in the system so finally we called the homestay folks and they guided. Finally we found the homestay. Then when I had to pay the driver, I had offered few hundreds extra after seeing him drive through such hard terrains, that made him and myself happy. Then we reached the homestay and we met the other group members who had reached just half an hour before than us. Since it was still raining all that we could do was sit in the homestay. We were 8 of us plus the tour lead Santosh, so we were 9 of us who were part of this trip. We had Tasneem, her spouse Shabbir and her mother Rashida, then Chaitanya, Saniye, Neha, Santhosh, Sur and myself. We met each other and we introduced each other. It was nice to meet Tasneem whom we met earlier in Bhutan and of course Santosh, It’s always good to travel with him.

This homestay was run by a Lepcha family and we got served their authentic Lepcha cuisines. The Lepcha are among the indigenous peoples of the Indian state of Sikkim and Nepal, and number around 80,000. Many Lepcha are also found in western and southwestern Bhutan, Tibet, Darjeeling, the Province No. 1 of eastern Nepal, and in the hills of West Bengal.

We got the lunch which had cheese soup, it’s an acquired taste so I just took a sip and passed on to Sur who loves cheese and he seemed to enjoy that. We also had some fried rice which was good. After sometime they prepared tea and pakodas and then we also tasted the local Guava wine which was really good and then Santosh tried Tongba (Tongba is a Limbu millet-based alcoholic beverage found in the eastern mountainous region of Nepal and the neighbouring Darjeeling and Sikkim. It is the traditional and indigenous drink of the Limbu people as well as people of other Kirati communities and many other ethnic group of Nepal). It was served in a bamboo container and with a organic straw, you have to sip the drink and have to keep pouring hot water as the drink gets emptied. It was pretty interesting and we all tried a little.

Some of the group members ventured in the rain to go to the closeby monastery but we remained indoors as we wanted to avoid the leeches and the stairs to the monastery were slippery too. Then we joined for a dinner which was authentic Lepcha cuisine. They had dal, roti, chicken, one of the local fern Ningro that was cooked. We enjoyed the meal and then we chatted with Santosh and Chaitanya for sometime as we were staying in different block and then we dozed off.

Day 2: Woke up to a rainy day and I had an encounter with leech when I went for shower which was outside, somehow my mini perfume bottle helped to give the leech the scented burial (in the words of Santosh) for the leech so I didn’t have to donate my blood. But it was a bit annoying and worrying about leeches as we had to step out every time since the rest rooms were away.

Then we headed to our breakfast with dumpling soup and millet parathas which was ok and then we started our journey to Lachung. On the way we stopped near Toong bridge as it was closed for few hours for repair work, had a tea and maggi break, while the drivers had their brunch. We also picked up some local wines and watermelon flavoured breezer since I never found this in Bangalore. On the way we crossed the Theng tunnel which was amazing. Even though it was raining, we enjoyed the scenery inspite of jams, landslides due to heavy pouring of rain. The one thing evey roadside that you see is hydrangea flowers all over and with the variety of colors. That was so beautiful to watch.

Then we reached our next stop Wonderhill Inn in Lepchang. We also realized we didn’t pack enough for the cold weather and we had no other option than to manage somehow. Here it was not just raining and more colder, we also didn’t have power in the entire area and that continued even for the next day. Once we reached and refreshed ourselves in the cold water, we went in for a nice lunch. We had the best and tastiest food here. Most of them were Bengalis, the thali had a bit of Bengali influence. We had rice, potato vegetable made in a Bengali way, chicken curry and vegetarians had paneer and egg curry etc. We enjoyed the lunch and had to stay indoors as it was still raining. Chaitanya and Saniye went to closeby monastery in the rain however we remained indoors.

In the late evening, rain had stopped a little so we walked around to pick up the neck warmer and hats as it was too cold here, so we walked further and also I found Shaphaley When I saw this on the board I asked the lady what was it and she said it’s a non-veg and I may not eat, so I asked her to tell me which meat is that and she said it was Yak meat. So I told her that I will come back in the evening with Santosh to taste as I went with all the vegetarians. So after some time Santosh and myself went back to enjoy the Shaphaley ((Shabhaley, also known as sha phaley, is a Tibetan dish of bread stuffed with seasoned meat and cabbage, which is then fashioned into semi-circular or circular shapes and which according to regional variations is either deep fried) which was done with Yak meat and it was so delicious, so we ordered more and enjoyed the lemon tea post that. We also found Sikkim Old Gold, which is an Indian single malt made at the foot of the Himalayas. This is presented in a khukri-shaped (traditional Nepalese sword) bottle. we only picked up because of the shape of the bottle which was fascinating. Then we headed back to the room. Since there was no power and were not sure when will it be back, we got a candle in the room and then dozed off as others went for dinner, chatted and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: Thankfully we woke up to a sunny day for a change and we were glad that finally we could step out and do some sightseeing. We rented boots and jacket which came in handy as we were heading to Yumthang Valley and Zero point. Thankfully the neckwarmer, hats and handgloves that we purchased a day before helped a bit and we headed towards Yumthang Valley. It was at a distance of about 26 kilometers from Lachung.

Yumthang valley is situated at an altitude of nearly 11800 feet with the river Lachung Chu flowing through the valley and where the tree line ends and the cold desert starts. On the way there was a hot spring but we didn’t step out and also we saw beautiful Rhododendron flowers all over enhancing the beauty of the place. Even though this was not the season but still few bloomed, for us to see and we were glad for the picturesome view of those flowers everywhere. Then we stopped at Yumthang Valley, this was one of the best picturesome location and the water was freezing cold as those are from glaciers. There were Yaks all over and some of us took the pictures and then we headed to zero point.

Since Neha was not feeling well, she waited in the valley itself as we headed to Zero Point. This is Located at an altitude of 15000 ft, the place where Zero Point lies is known as Yume Samdong and it would take you around 1.5 hours to reach from Yumthang. The place is called Zero Point because this is where civilian road ends and civilians are not allowed to go beyond this point. I had a mild symptom of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). This happens as a result of reduced oxygen content in the blood, owing to low atmospheric pressure at high-altitude areas. If you feel a bit dizzy and lethargic at times or experience a mild or severe headache, these are symptoms of AMS. The driver suggested that when you step out of the car, don’t get down immediately and also don’t walk fast. So that helped me as I sat in the car for some time and slowly walked to the roadside stalls for a coffee, maggi and Rhododendron flowers wine. It was too cold to be out for a longer time, so I quickly got into the car and then we came down to Yumthang valley, went for a quick lunch break, did a bit of shopping for some warm clothes and then Neha joined us back as we headed back to the place where we were staying. Still there was no luck on the power and Santosh and myself went to taste the Shaphaley again and this time they had beef instead of Yak. We enjoyed and as we came down we saw slowly power was getting restored in some places. Finally little late night we got the power just before we dozed off for the night.

Day 4: Woke up to a beautiful Sunny morning, had a quick breakfast of aloo parathas, they were really good and then we headed to Gangtok. We had to hurry as we didn’t want to get stuck when the bridge closes for repair work for few hours, so we rushed and we made it just on time before the bridge closes. Then we checked in to Griffon’s Nest in Gangtok. By then we were hungry, since the chef was away for shopping, we had to step out for lunch. Neha had suggested we try Nimtho Restaurant for lunch as we were looking for authentic Sikkimese Thali. So we went to Mahatma Gandhi Marg Road and went to Nimtho. We ordered for Sikkimese Thali and Thakkali Thali (Thakkali is one of the ethnic communities of Nepal, so this is one of the Nepalese Thalis). Both of them were almost similar. It had rice, dal, vegetables, fermented soya vegetable and spicy chutneys.

Then we wanted to do some shopping in Lal Bazaar, which was closeby. Then we got to know Thursday is a holiday and none of the shops were open. So we did the shopping in Mahatma Gandhi Marg itself as they did have shopping places. After an hour of shopping, we went to a Baker’s Café which Saniye has been raving about which had the best Pancakes so we went for a coffee and pancakes. Their banana pancakes were good, I wanted to try the Kashmiri Kahwa as I heard this name very often. To my surprise it was almost like a green tea with dried rose petals, honey and saffron. Even though it was good but I would have skipped this for a nice coffee instead when I had pancakes for the side. Then we headed back to the room. We tried the local wines that we picked up in Lachung and tried the Sikkimese Whiskey and the watermelon flavoured breezer and then we headed back to sleep.

Day 5: We woke up, had a bread toast and omelette and headed to Zuluk to explore the Eastern Sikkim. We waited for the permit to be picked up and then headed to Zuluk. On the way we stopped for a nice view and for a cup of coffee, however it was very foggy. So we took a coffee break and headed to Tsomgo Lake, also known as Tsongmo Lake or Changgu Lake, is a glacial lake in the East Sikkim at an elevation of 3,753 m. Apparently this lake remains frozen during the winter season. It was too cold and some of us felt slight dizzy due to AMS so we didn’t climb all the way for the view. We strolled around the lake, walking very slowly, that kind of helped to get acclaimed since the oxygen is less in these regions. Then we also wore a Sikkimese traditional costume for the photos, there were lot of Yak rides which I avoid as I don’t like to ride on animals.

Then we headed to Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple Memorial & temple honoring Indian army soldier, folk hero saint Baba Harbhajan Singh. Located between Nathula and Jelepla pass at an altitude of 13,123 ft, Baba Harbhajan Singh Temple is a unique destination mainly due to the legacy attached with it. It is believed that his spirit protects every soldier in the inhospitable high-altitude terrain of the Eastern Himalayas. He was a soldier of an Indian army. On October 4, 1968, while he was escorting a mule column from Tuku La, his battalion headquarters to Donguchui La, Harbhajan Singh suddenly slipped and fell and drowned in the glacier. Strong water current carried his body for about 2 kms from the site of the accident. He was searched with all efforts, but his body went missing. On the fifth day of his missing, his fellow roommate Pritam Singh had a dream, where Harbhajan Singh himself informed him of his tragic death and he also mentioned that his body is lying underneath the heap of snows. Harbhajan Singh also expressed the strong desire to have a samadhi made after him. However, Pritam Singh did not pay much importance to his dream. But later, when Harbhajan Singh’s body was discovered at the very place, which he had mentioned in the dream, all were taken aback. And, to honor his wish, a samadhi was built near Chhokya Chho at an elevation of around 4,000 meters, which gained popularity as the Old Baba Mandir. This samadhi is less visited by tourists. Visitors need to climb 50 stairs to reach the bunker, the site where the samadhi has been built. This was the place where Baba was posted during his service period in Indian army. It is further believed that during the event of a war between India and China, Baba would warn the Indian soldiers of any impending attack atleast three days in advance. It is said that he did continue to serve the nation even after his death. This folklore has been very popular not only among the Indian soldiers but also to the Chinese side as well. In fact during flag meetings between the two nations at Nathu La, the Chinese would set a chair aside in honour of Harbhajan Singh who has since come to be known as “Saint Baba”.

It is believed that Baba Harbhajan Singh guards the international boundary between India and China, over the last three decades and he is accomplishing this task alone. Even the Chinese army also confirms that they have noticed a human figure, guarding the border at night, riding on a horse. It is also said that Baba Harbhajan Singh foretells any dangerous activity on the border through the dreams of the fellow army men and safeguards the force.

The personal room of Baba is on the right side which harbours different essential articles for day to day use and a clean properly arranged bed. Even the tidy uniform and well-polished shoes are kept, according to the legend the boots became muddy by evening and the bed sheets were crumbled in the morning.

Baba Mandir The old one has been built at the site of the bunker, where Baba Harbhajan was posted during his tenure in the Indian Army. The new one has been built at close proximity from Changu Lake. The salary of Major Harbhajan Singh has not been stopped and he is also granted his annual leave.

I had read about this story when Indo-China tension started a year or two back. I had no clue that this was the place where the memorial was. I was so glad to have visited this place and my respect and love to all the army men who is guarding our borders at such difficult terrain.

There is canteen close to the mandir where Army runs the café, we chatted a bit with the soldiers. they come down here to do voluntary service in the café etc. They had served prasad (kesari) and that was delicious. Then we went to the café and enjoyed the maggi. They didn’t have power and still they were making our maggi and coffees in the stove. Also they informed they serve food like langar on Sundays, so he asked us to come. Unfortunately we were leaving that day. All our love and respect to soldiers for their sacrifice to guard the borders at such altitude and it was not at all a pleasant place to be there because of that altitude. I had to stay down due to AMS, slowly my body got used as I didn’t climb the stairs for the mandir upstairs. Looking at every soldier coming and giving a solute to Harbhajan Singh, you can’t explain that love and respect in words. Please go ahead and experience this place in person. Be prepared to carry enough warm clothes, including hand gloves, neck warmer and a really good jacket.

This was the most enriching experience in the entire trip. If you are in Sikkim please don’t miss out. This is not just his memorial, this is also a reminder to show gratitude to all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives in protecting the borders, not just the front line but every support staff involved in this.

Then we headed further close to Dolchem Pass which also had lot of flowers on the way, enjoyed the view and the cold weather which was not so pleasant and then we headed towards Zuluk. Zuluk was once a transit point to the historic Silk Route from Tibet to India. We wanted to stop near Thambi View point however it was so foggy so we didn’t. We were lucky we had couple of view points before that just before the fog started covering up. Then we headed to the homestay in Phadamchen. We were hungry so got nice tea and pakodas and then the group was playing cards while I got busy with work calls. We also were served the dinner early since we missed the lunch and it was delicious. We also had few leeches visiting Sur and Santosh while they stepped out as it had rained a bit. Sur escaped but Santosh was donating blood to leeches every time. Then Santosh, Chaitanya, Sur and myself chatted over a drink and then we hit our bed.

Day 6: We woke up to a foggy day, and then we headed to Siliguri. On the way we had the view of lot of birds like Asian barred Owlet, Himalayan Bluetail, Buff barred Warbler, Golden Bush Robin, Small Niltava, Pheasant and Oriental Turtle Dove. We didn’t stop much on the way and we reached Hotel Swatik Residency in Pradhan Nagar, Siliguri. We freshened up and came for lunch at their restaurant. Since it was little late, they had limited options. Santosh and myself enjoyed the chicken biryani and others had ordered their veg dishes and it was good. Then we headed out for a quick shopping. First we went to Hong Kong Market, it’s a good place for shopping and be prepared to bargain before you buy it. Then it looked like it was going to rain so we headed to Planet Mall but it had very few shops, we found Worth the Hype Café and we thought we will try something there. The food and Sangria were good and then we headed to Baisakhi Mela as we happened to notice this on the way. Even though Sur was not keen, since all others were excited to see what was there, he also joined us. They had lot of shopping stalls and food. We straight away went to Pani Puri stall, then tried chaat, then Sur, Chaitanya and Saniye went to almost all the rides. Neha and myself did a bit of shopping and then we enjoyed the Bombay Falooda. After that we all of us did little more shopping and then headed back to hotel. We went and crashed after having so much food at the mela.

Day 7: Woke up little early, It was time to leave for Bagdogra airport and then we were worried as we had a little extra baggage, somehow that got ignored and we were glad. We reached the airport, it was crowded as well, had a sandwich at the airport which was not very great and then it was time for boarding and we boarded the flight back to Bangalore. It was another great experience with Exotic Expeditions and all the credit goes to Santosh for all his efforts.

April 6, 2022

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Filed under: India — jani @ 12:20 pm

Hyderabad – City of Nizams & Pearls

Hyderabad is the capital of southern India’s Telangana state. Its historic sites include Golconda Fort, a former diamond-trading center that was once the Qutb Shahi dynastic capital. The Charminar, a 16th-century mosque whose 4 arches support towering minarets, is an old city landmark near the long-standing Laad Bazaar. Now this city has become a major center for the technology industry.

The city of Hyderabad is known for Nizams and pearls. There were 7 Nizams who ruled Hyderabad from 18-20th Century. Hyderabad was the largest and most prosperous among all the princely states. The famous mines of Golconda were the major source of wealth for the Nizams, with the Kingdom of Hyderabad being the only supplier of diamonds for the global market in the 18th century.

The last Nizam of Hyderabad state, Mir Osman Ali Khan crowned in 1911, had been the richest man in the world in his time. The Nizams developed the railway, introduced electricity, and developed roads, airways, irrigation and reservoirs; in fact, all major public buildings in Hyderabad City were built during his reign during the period of British rule in India. He pushed education, science, and establishment of Osmania University. Since the Nizams had their origin in Persia (now its Iran) Hyderabad’s food and culture had an influence of Persia. The Hyderabad city was the first city in Southern India to be electrified.

Day 1: It was time for a short break before we both get busy with another exam and crazy work schedule. The visit to Hyderabad had been cancelled earlier pre-covid time, when Sur fell ill just a night before our travel. So this visit had been pending and when we only could spare a few days for a vacation, my first thought was to visit Hyderabad. Like most of them, Sur also had the same question – What is there in Hyderabad? Most of them cannot think beyond biryani and pearls which Sur anyway is not interested. So finally I had to dig up a little research and tell him there is lot more than Biryani and Pearls. Then we finalized the itinerary and asked our travel partner, Sailani Tours to book Sitara Hotel in Ramoji Film City and Mr. Inayath (+91 9845085649) took care of the booking part of it and he also gave some inputs to plan the itinerary. Since it was a very short trip of 2 nights we thought we will stay at the same place even though Inayath recommended to stay in a city limit while doing city tour and stay in Sitara when we needed to do a Ramoji Film city Tour. However we didn’t want to move since the trip was too short. So we booked for 2 nights in Sitara. As we were planning the itinerary we realized we needed an extra day so we asked Inayath to extend another night at Sitara.

We were planning to start early morning but we were up late night the previous day due to work, so we couldn’t open our eyes in the morning. So we decided to sleep for few more hours and started our trip only in the early afternoon. It was almost 9 hours of drive and the roads were pretty good. We saved some time as we didn’t stop for lunch as were not hungry. Only in the evening, we needed to stretch our legs for a bit so we decided to take a break as it was tea time and we stopped in Sri Priya Darshini Family Restaurant, which was in NH 44, bypass, Bangalore – Hyderabad Highway. We ordered for some onion pakoras and tea. Sur got some energy drink, they took almost half an hour to get the snacks and when it came it was over fried almost at the verge of semi burnt stage. We informed the waiter, he obliged to replace but we didn’t have another half an hour to wait as we didn’t want reach the destination late night, so had the quick tea which was drinkable. Thankfully the waiter didn’t charge for the pakoras, paid the bill and started our journey back.

It was almost 9.30 PM that we reached the hotel Sitara after a beautiful drive in Nehru outer ring road. We checked in and went to the room, we had heard quite of lot about this hotel as it’s in Ramoji Film city. But it kind of didn’t meet our expectations. First of all rooms were not well maintained, you could see dirty sockets in the room and corridors. Also we were given the room, where there was an adjoint room and there was no sound proofing done to the room. We could hear literally every conversation the guests were having in the next room. They had a kid as well and so we couldn’t sleep due to the constant noises. But the service at the hotel and the food were good. Then we also found that Friday is a holiday in Hyderabad where all the monuments are closed so we had to change our itinerary to do the visit of Ramoji Film city on Friday.

We were slightly hungry, so we decided to order a chicken sandwich and Sur ordered a paneer pakora and fresh orange and pineapple juice. I asked the in Room Dining team not to toast the sandwich bread and make the sandwich in a plain bread. When I got the sandwich, Sur started laughing as I had toasted chicken sandwich and along with it came 2 plain sandwich breads and I was not sure what to do with it. We just laughed. We needed to plan for the next day tour. We found a Full Day Sightseeing Tour of Hyderabad through Trip Advisor, we booked it and then we dozed off.

Day 2: We had to wake up early, had a quick breakfast and then we had a car picking us up  from the hotel for the tour. The driver (Mr. Sashi – +91 9701988808) picked us up and then we started our city tour. On the way, we picked up our guide for the private city tour (Mr. Srinu Arvapalli – +91 9347239648/srinu_tourism@rediffmail.com).

First we visited the Golconda Fort. This was the place for Diamond mining until diamonds in Africa were discovered. This fort has 360 steps and it is another wonder that our country has. Lot of credit goes to the last Nizam – Mir Osman Ali Khan (7th Nizam) who inspite of being a Muslim was secular and every person in the state irrespective of religion loved him. The Nizam was the highest-ranking prince in India, and was one of only five princes entitled to a 21-gun salute, held the unique title of “Nizam”, and titled “His Exalted Highness”. When he died, his funeral procession was the biggest non-religious, non-political meeting of people in the history of India till that date and it was almost 1 million people came to pay their respects and it was a day of mourning. Respect and love to the Nizams who built this city and contributed for various welfare activities and worked for the upliftment of the people.

This fort also has Jagadamba temple which is very close to the oldest mosque which was used by the Nizams for prayer. Kancharla Gopanna, popularly known as Bhakta Ramadasu or Bhadrachala Ramadasu, was a 16th-century devotee of the Hindu god Rama, a saint-poet and a composer of Carnatic music and he was imprisoned for almost 12 years in the fort and later was released.

Then we headed to the The Qutub Shahi Tombs which is located in the Ibrahim Bagh, close to the famous Golconda Fort. They contain the tombs and mosques built by the various kings of the Qutub Shahi dynasty, some of them being renovated now. These are beautiful monuments which is a must visit.

Then it was time for a visit to Charminar, a city monument designed in the Qutub Shahi architectural style that’s known as one of the most famous sights in India. The Charminar constructed in 1591has become known globally as a symbol of Hyderabad and is listed among the most recognised structures in India. It has also been officially incorporated as the Emblem of Telangana for the state of Telangana.

Then we headed to taste the Iranian Chai at Nimrah Café & Bakery. We enjoyed the chai and the cookies which were different and were delicious. We picked up few assorted cookies and headed back to the car. There is Laad Bazaar or Choodi Bazaar is a very old market popular for bangles. It is located on one of the four main roads that branch out from the historic Charminar. Laad meaning lacquer is used to make bangles, on which artificial diamonds are studded. In this 1-kilometre (0.62 mi)-long shopping strip, most of the shops sell bangles, saris, wedding related items, and imitation jewelleries.

Our next stop was to Chowmahalla Palace (means 4 palaces) which is usually the ceremonial palace of the Nizams like coronation etc. Looking at the majestic palace gives an idea about the lifestyle of Nizams and their luxurious life.

Hyderabad is known for Biryanis and we were recommended the following places for an authentic biryani. Paradise Restaurant, Shadab Restaurant, Bahar café, Barwachi Biryani and Nayab Restaurant. Since we were not hungry during lunch or dinner hours we missed to taste from these places.

Then we headed to Ambica Pearls and Jewellers, Lower Tankbund Road for a pearl set before we got dropped back to the hotel. Since we were not hungry, we just ordered the sandwiches, had a quick bite and slept.

Day 3:  We had a good rest and delicious breakfast and started our work. We had booked Heritage Walk with HiTea at Falaknuma Palace from Trip Advisor in the afternoon. By afternoon Mr. Shashi had picked us up from the hotel and we left for Falaknuma Palace. Perched 2,000 feet above the city of Hyderabad is the Taj Falaknuma Palace which is a jewel amongst the clouds. Built in 1894, it is the former palace of the Nizam and richest man in the world at one time. Overlooking the twinkling City of Pearls, this enchanting palace hotel in Hyderabad exudes romance and grandeur that take one back to when the Nizam ruled Hyderabad. As you enter the palace, its all about Royalty and the historian who seems to have worked with one of the Nizams’s family, had explained about the history of the palace. We saw the place where Nizam used as an office, where you had the painting of the last Nizam. The speciality of this painting was when you look at the painting in any direction, you feel like the Nizam is looking at you. Then there is Durbar Hall where there are Belgium chandeliers which if you look at the mirror, you feel there is infinite number of chandeliers. Then we headed to the Jade Room which was a tea place for Nizams. It houses the massive 101-seater dining hall bedecked with Belgian chandeliers which is the longest dining table in the world. It has a paining of the menus from which the Nizam orders it. Then there is indoor games place, one of 2 biggest billiards table, hookah bar and beautiful gardens. It was a Royal splendour and elegance. Then we went to Celeste for high tea. Taj properties always have earned that respect for their excellent hospitality and this was the best experience and you were treated like royalty. Good that we didn’t have lunch as we were warned by our city guide the previous day, since there was lot of food. The staffs here treat you like royalty. We were served with the fresh juice and there were few varieties of mini sandwiches, one of them was pan flavoured, another had salmon and another chicken. There were tarts, muffins, macarons, mousse and cakes. Sur had the similar one with Vegetarian items. We were also served vada pav, chilli pakora, cheese balls and tava fish fry and Sur had veg cutlets. It was too much food, so we just tasted few and enjoyed the royal high tea experience. Then we realized we needed to enjoy this palace experience at least for a night so we asked Inayath to book for a night and so our stay got extended for another night. Finally we ended the high tea with a nice masala tea and Sur settled for lime soda.

Then we headed to Charminar to search for the perfume place as our city guide had recommended. There is a place called Hyderabad Perfumers in Pathergatti Road in Mir Chowk close to Charminar, we had a walk a kilometre from Charminar by foot as its way too crowded so driver said, its better to walk by foot. So we found the place picked up few attars from different scents and returned back.

Finally how can I forget the delicious and spicy Andhra pickles and Kandi Podi (gun powder – dry roasted lentils with other spices to give a nice aromatic fragrance and spiciness to eat with idly and dosa) and Pappu Podi (lentils powder – this powder is mixed with ghee and eaten with Idli or rice as well), so the guide recommended to go to Swagruha stores near LB Nagar and I picked up Gongura pickle (Sorrell Leaves), Tomato pickle, Red Chilli pickle, Kandi Podi and Pappu Podi. I was so happy to get the authentic pickles and powder and we got dropped at the hotel. We hit the bed and dozed off.

Day 4: We woke up after a good sleep, went for a quick breakfast and started our Ramoji Studio Tour. Ramoji Film City is an integrated film studio complex  and spread over 1,666 acres. it is the largest integrated film city in the world and as such has been certified by the Guinness World Records as the largest studio complex in the world. It was built by Telugu film producer Ramoji Rao in 1996. It is also a popular tourism and recreation centre, containing natural and artificial attractions including an amusement park. Here there are film sets, theme parks, amusement rides, etc The film city also has 6 hotels inside it, 47 sound stages and permanent sets ranging from railway stations to temples for film shoots. This film city also has the set used for the films Baahubali: The Beginning and Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, all the statues and props used in the films can be seen here.

We had booked the star experience ticket which makes you to skip the queue for the rides and you travel in an AC car. We got picked up at 9.30 AM from the hotel lobby and got dropped near the ticket counter to pick up our tickets, star experience stickers, chocolate box, water bottle and coupons for the whole day tour. 9.45 AM is the studio opens with a beautiful welcome dance and then the team welcomes you a step further with another western dance to welcome you. Then we had a small act near cow boy set and we were given around 30 minutes to do rides. Since we were not into rides, we waited near the guide Mr. Kranthi for the day before we boarded the bus to the next destination. The guide was very helpful. Then we went to the butterfly park and birds park. First we enjoyed the butterfly park and then headed to birds park. It was so beautiful to see various birds from Crowned Cane, Waffled Crane, Hadada Ibis, Shoe bill, Ostrich, Horn Bill, Carolina Duck, Australian Shelduck, Mandarin Duck, White Mandarin Duck, Black Swan, Black Necked Swan, Whooper Swan, Trumpetor Swan, Lorikeets from Yellow Bibbed Lory, Red collared Lory, Green Naped Lory, Swainson Lory, Blue Crowned Pigeon, Eclectus Parrot, Lady Amherst Pheasant, Golden Phesant, Shamrock Macaw, Scarlet Macaw, Blue Gold Macaw, Green Winged Macaw, Blue throated Macaw, Military Macaw, Toco Toucan, Keel Billed Toucan, Channel Billed Toucan, Black Necked Aracari, Lady Ross’s Turaco, White Cheeked Turaco, Galah Cockatoo, Black Palm Cockatoo, Moluccan Cockatoo, Blue headed Pionus, Rubino Rosella, Blue Fronted Amazon, Barrabanda Parrot, Sun Parakeet, Branze Winged Parrot, Lilac Crowned Amazon and there were many more. Then we went to the cave, there were some historical artifacts of Gods were there. Then we had a shooting spot tour and Mr. Rao had such an amazing commentary as he took us through different spots used for shooting like airport, hospital, railway station, prison, European street, the spots where various movies were shot etc. It was hilarious and fun as the guide had excellent sense of humor to make us smile.  Also we got stopped near Golden Temple, Jaipur location sets etc. It was pretty interesting. Then we were taken to Bahubali Movie set. Apparently the director Mr. Rajamouli stayed in Ramoji for 600 days and the set is kept intact for the viewers. It was amazing to watch. Sur was getting bored since he doesn’t watch much of regional movies even though I was trying to explain as much as I can. Then we headed to Super Star Restaurant for a buffet and the food was really good. We always know Andhra Food/Telangana food it can’t go wrong as they are spicy which we both love. After the lunch we were supposed to have some shows but unfortunately I had a work call and had to return back to the hotel. So we informed the guide and we left. This is a perfect place for Children and also who enjoys the movies and loves to take selfies as you have enough beautiful spots for the same. So we returned back to the hotel, got back to work. We ordered some masala papads, it was good but was a little salty for our palate. Then we dozed off.

Day 5: We woke up a little late as we were free of work calls today, had a quick breakfast and were ready to check out. As we tried to open the door, some family entered the room with their key cards. Thankfully we were getting out but this was completely unacceptable as the team should not have given to other guests the room key card when the guests have not checked in. We had immediately escalated saying , it would have been worst, if a guest was in the shower or changing clothes. We informed the reception to be more careful next time and they apologized. We checked out, thanked for their hospitality and drove to Taj Falaknuma. After an hour drive we reached Taj. We parked the vehicle and from that gate we were taken in a horse carriage till the reception. That was a beautiful experience. As we entered, the staff took the picture and then there was another guard who accompanied us to the reception. It was how the Nizam’s were welcomed so they hotel tries to give a similar experience. As we climbed the stairs to the reception, there was a shower of rose petals. Then we entered the reception, they had everything ready and they just asked us to sign and we were also informed they had given us a free upgrade to Royal Suite Room. Then the staff explained the activities and then we reached the room. We were allotted Shah Jahan Suite and it was beautiful. We were prepared to get ourselves pampered for the day. Sur ordered for Dahi Kebab which was delicious. So we immediately booked their signature spa – Nawab-e-Khas (Regal Splendour) which is 2.5 hours session of steam, scrub, massage with a detox drink in between and after some fresh cut fruits and juice. It was good. By the time we finished we missed the palace tour which starts at 5 PM. Then we just roamed around the property enjoying the peacocks, there were almost 100 of them. Then we headed to the restaurant for the dinner. This time they recommended for a open door seating and we were happy to be seated there. Finally I wanted to taste the biryani which I missed it, so I ordered for the Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani and Sur ordered Chilli Garlic Naan with kofta curry. It was super delicious, ordered the tiramisu and I couldn’t have it as it was too sweet for my palate and local Rasmalai dish recommended by the staff which we both enjoyed. Then we rested in the royal suite, we were too tempted to extend then we realized we had work and we needed to be in Bangalore on Monday. So we just dozed off.

Day 6: Woke up to the noise of the birds and peacocks and then headed for the breakfast. I recommended Sur to try the Pesarattu (Dosa with Green Gram batter), even though I have tasted enough number of times while living in Andhra, here it was so thin and delicious and with 4 different chutneys (coconut, pineapple, tomato and garlic) it made all the more interesting. I wanted to try a local dish which I have not tried so the staff recommended paya and kheema paratha, even though it was good I regretted it because I am not a paratha fan so instead would have loved the dosa/idli better. As we entered the room we saw the staff brought a cake to say good bye but unfortunately we couldn’t even taste as we just came out from breakfast and we could have carried it for our journey but we didn’t have anything to carry. I did feel sorry that we couldn’t taste the chocolate cake but we completely appreciate the love and effort that went into and the gesture. While we checked out we also got a album stand with our photo with the horse carriage which they had taken the precious day. That was a sweet surprise. We just wished we had another night to spend, however if you are in Hyderabad please make sure to experience this Royal experience ad its worth every penny. We would recommend, at least minimum 2-3 nights to experience such beautiful experience.

With such beautiful experience we started our long journey back, since we didn’t stop for lunch, we could reach within 7.30 hours and during the last leg, we just stopped for a quick tea break in Apoorva Multi Cuisine Restaurant and it was good. Then we headed back home and finally we reached home sweet home after a long drive.

First credit is to our travel partner Mr. Inayath and the Sailani team for helping us with the trip

Then to the city tour guide Mr. Srinu, he was very helpful and would recommend for others. I have shared already his contact details.

Then Mr. Sashi, the driver who took us around and patiently been taking us to places wherever we needed to.

Sitara Team for their hospitality and support

Thanks to Trip Advisor through whom we booked the full day city tour and then hi tea at Taj. Everything was excellent.

Last but not the least to the Taj Falaknuma team, each time we stay in Taj, the respect and love for this group increases multifold. It was excellent in every sense, from the security, reception, F&B staff to each and everyone working there. Big kudos and thank you for giving us such a beautiful experience.

Whether its Telangana/Andhra, for me it’s always Andhra as I cannot differentiate these two, visiting this state always brings back old memories and it still is a 2nd home for me. I would always cherish the warmth and love of the people from this state always.

Love you and Keep smiling, Until we meet next time…………..


January 14, 2022

Thally – The Little England of Tamil Nadu

Filed under: India — jani @ 6:41 pm

About Thally:

Thally is a town in Denkanikottai Taluk in Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu, India. It is named as “Little England” by the British during their regime mostly due to its cool weather.

It was just a speedy getaway to spend the New Year night with close friends. So when one of the friends was planning to his friend’s farm house and he asked if anyone was willing to join for the new year, we all jumped in as it was just 2 hours drive from Bangalore and it was a perfect quick getaway. So Sumathi & her son, Vinodh & Sandhya, Shilpa & her 2 kids, Sur & myself along with my friend Suresh joined for the getaway.

We had an early start as Vinodh needed to go to the farmhouse to hand over the key, to tidy it up since it was left abandoned for some time and it was unused. We thought since it was a weekend, if we liked the place, will extend for another 2 nights so we packed extra for the same. So we started our drive and stopped on our way for a quick breakfast and headed to Thally. It was a nice drive and towards Thally the place had a perfect weather and it was great to drive. As we entered we saw there were quite a lot of Brick making plants and admired the greenery all around.

As we reached the place, we were in shock to see the rooms were dirty, toilets didn’t have door and it was disgusting. Literally we wanted to run away, but some of our friends joined later, so we had to wait for them, as they reached only late evening. Now we needed to distract ourselves from this place, so we decided step out for lunch. We found a Dhaba within a kilometre from the place that we stayed. We had a decent lunch and we came back.

The staffs were still not helpful as the place remained as dirty as ever. Since we knew there was no hope now, we just gave up on them and decided to enjoy the moments with the great friends around. So for some time, we killed it by walking around the property as it had lot of greenery around and for sometimes we tried playing badminton with the damaged cork as we didn’t have any other choice.

Later in the evening, we headed for the barbeque as the staffs arranged for it, thankfully that was great. As we started enjoying the food, the power went off and added to our disappointment, they didn’t even have a single candle or emergency light. We tried to use our mobile torch for some time and slowly everyone’s mobile’s battery was dying. Then we had to look for a place to sit until the midnight. Since none of the rooms were usable, we needed something to spread on the floor to sit it on it. Thankfully Sur had tarpaulin in the car, So that came in handy. We spread the tarpaulin and we all fitted ourselves in that. It was more than 3-4 hours and power still didn’t come back. Finally, Suresh had an idea, to use car lights. So he brought the car close to the hall, switched on the headlights and that helped us with some light.

We were just wishing that the power comes, at least to celebrate the new year. Thankfully just 15 minutes before midnight the light came as a ray of hope and we were overjoyed. So we wished everyone a happy new year, cut the cake and then started playing cards. We stayed till dawn as new card game taught by Vinodh was interesting. We also were waiting for the sun rise, to run away from this place as quick as possible.

Another interesting and disappointing thing was, this property had water fountains and swimming pool which looked beautiful in the night with the lights, but they were equally very dirty, filthy and full of algae. Now the staffs who were trying to add more water in the swimming pool forgot to turn off the pipe in the night, so the water started coming to the hall where we were sitting. This time Sumathi’s pet dog was unlucky as his bed became wet due to the overflow of water.

Another funny and scary incident was, there was one toilet which was near the hall for us to use for emergency, which had a rat in the room where this toilet was. Every time we needed to answer the nature call, we wished we didn’t see the rat and we tried our best to avoid going to the toilet itself.

As soon as the sun rose, we picked our things within few minutes and were ready to leave as we had not unpacked our bags in this place after seeing the situation here. So it made is easier to just get up and leave. Just before heading out, we had a quick photo session. As we were planning to leave there was a rat, getting drowned in the water fountain close to the entrance. Sandhya said it was the same rat which was in the room, even though we wished it was dead, we couldn’t see it getting drowned. She was too scared to touch the rat to help, nor Sur as he didn’t succeed as well. Finally I tried to save it with the dust pan which was lying around and am sure rat would have been overjoyed that we extended it’s life time before it was getting shortened. Then it was time to just get out from there.

After two hours of drive, finally it was a sigh of relief once we were back home. In spite of being the worst place, we had fun as we had an amazing group of friends. We knew all of us were annoyed and upset but we all together tried to forget that and created the best of memories for each other.

One hell of an adventurous New Year getaway came to an end, but it gave few biggest lessons for all of us.

  1. Whatever the shittiest situation is, you can still turn around and make it beautiful…
  2. It also matters most is whom you are with….
  3. Having good friends will make every negative emotions disappear.

We were glad that we had the best friends around and that’s all we needed to start the new year fresh and with best memories. Even though, this place was not even worth a penny but the FRIENDS made this new year every worth the visit with greatest of all memories.

Stay Safe…. Please get yourself vaccinated….

January 8, 2022

Mahabalipuram & Kanchipuram – Southern Treasures

Filed under: India — jani @ 10:02 pm

About Mahabalipuram:

Mahabalipuram, also known as Mamallapuram, is a town in Chengalpattu district in the south-eastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, best known for the UNESCO World Heritage Site of 7th- and 8th-century Hindu Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram. Mahabalipuram was one of two major port cities in the Pallva kingdom. The town was named after Pallava king Narasimhavarman I, who was also known as Mahabali. Along with economic prosperity, it became the site of a group of royal monuments, many carved out of the living rock. These are dated to the 7th and 8th centuries. Mahabalipuram is also known by other names such as Mamallapattana and Mamallapuram. The term ‘Mahabalipuram’ means city of ‘great power’.

Day 1: This was impromptu trip as we were looking for places for a very short trip as our international trip had to be postponed due to my exams which never happened and got cancelled at the last minute. Since Sur had not travelled to Mahabalipuram, we finalized this place. We were supposed to start early morning but we were too tired to wake up so early. So we started a little late around early noon.

We stopped at A2B (Adyar Ananda Bhavan) few kms from Bangalore for a brunch, enjoyed the Ghee Dosa (Ghee Roast), had a nice filter coffee and we were energized to start the drive. It was a good drive. In the evening, in Kanchipuram we stopped for another Ghee Dosa and Tea before reaching our place of stay. By evening we entered Mahabalipuram. The city had an entry fee, which was something new. We paid and headed to Chariot Beach Resort as this was recommended by our travel partner as it’s the 2nd best property in this town, First being Radisson. Our first choice had been Radisson which had the best reviews, but they had a wedding group so the rooms were not available for the first night. So we settled for the 2nd best.

We reached the resort little after 6 PM and we were in a great shock about the way we were welcomed as it’s expected in a 4 star category. There was no welcome drink, not even a glass of water provided and there was no valet service. Sur had gone to park his car by himself. Once we checked in one of the staffs came and handed over a garland made of small sea shells in our hands. I was like what is happening at this hotel, is it a 4 star or we ended up paying a 4 star resort cost to a lodge. Then we were escorted to the room which was in the first floor. As we climbed down the stairs, I was surprised a 4 star property which had such a dirty stairs as if it had never been cleaned. We both were looking at each other and we were scared what else awaited in this place. Then we entered the room, it had dirty linens, toilets had all the fittings rusted, one of the toilet roll handles came off. The sofa cushions were so stained and dirty, that we didn’t feel of sitting in those. I was feeling disgusted and angry that we had booked this shitty place. It was too late to take it up with the management and I just didn’t want to stay in this place ever. We just decided will manage for the night and will check out first thing in the morning. I wonder, did people who reviewed this place online, did they do it a decade back or did the management deleted all the negative reviews so the property showed 2nd best in the guest reviews. Being in the travel industry myself where you are little more understanding and sensitive towards the hospitality professional this was the height of shame and an example for the worst hospitality and the dirtiest resort that I have ever stayed.

Since it was frustrating to stay in the room, we headed out for a walk. The property is huge and has lot of greenery and you also have beach, which kind of made us to forget the frustrations. We sat for some time near the beach, enjoyed the nice breeze under the moon light and then headed for dinner.

We went to the buffet, it had more than an hour for closing the buffets. Still half of the items were not refilled, some of them had the items name display but it was empty. staffs were coming and checking but no one refilled the few items that were there in the name of buffet. After looking at very few items, I went and asked how much were they charging the buffet and they quoted a 4 star price even though there was hardly any items. I settled for a soup, rice and fish curry while Sur being vegetarian didn’t have much option and he ended up having a spoon of masala peanuts which was part of the salad section. It was a clear waste of money for Sur. Since rice and fish curry were my comfort food, even though I didn’t have more options, I had no complaints as I enjoyed it which tasted great. In the coastal town, I am sure, they can’t mess up the fish curry and I was glad they didn’t mess up that. Then we were back to the room, which was a hell, we just didn’t want to think more about and spoil our sleep, so we just crashed for the night.

Day 2: Morning we woke up, thought will have an early breakfast so that we get to see the sightseeing before the sun scorches us. Unfortunately, breakfast was not ready at 7 PM which is the time communicated by the staff. They said, it will take another hour since the manager was absent. So we had to wait and we killed the time by walking around the garden which looked good.

Finally the breakfast was ready. We entered the buffet area and we see that the door to the entrance was so dirty, you also could see some finger prints, which we could notice now during the day. During covid times, when we need to be extra cautious and more hygienic, we were sure you could get covid just by visiting this place. If any health inspectors visited this place, this would have been shut by now.

Table didn’t have knife along with other cutlery, Sur was asking the staff for the knife to butter the toast and the staff was confused for a second. Then Sur has to tell him how will I butter the toast, then he got the knife. Also the serving plates had dust on it and my quarter plate had a very small dead cockroach on it. I just wiped off the plate as we had just given up on these folks at the property. Sur had a watermelon juice, bread and omelette and I settled for some idli and coffee and then headed out to the room.

As we were packing our stuffs we had another surprise, we just noticed about the bed linen which had a big stain (looked like a old blood stain), and it was so disgusting looking at it and that was ultimate that I couldn’t keep my stuffs here for another hour. It’s all the more frustrating, that we were spending more money to stay in a high end resorts keeping in mind the covid situation, so that more care is taken in terms of hygiene but here was the total opposite. I had to call my travel partner immediately, send them all the room pictures and asked them to book us to Radisson as this was not worth for a penny to continue to stay here. By then F&B manager had got the cake which was a surprise from Sur who had ordered it the previous night as it was my birthday. I was in no mood to celebrate anything as I just felt of throwing that cake in the dustbin. We showed the F&B manager the broken fittings, rusting in the room, dirty linen, dirty sofa cushions etc and feedback about the buffet. He apologized and informed us that he will make sure the service will be improved. Then we realized he didn’t bring the knife to cut the cake, since I myself was no mood for the cake, I just took a little to taste with the fork that was there and we returned back the cake. Thankfully cake which had a straw berry flavour, tasted good. Then we headed out for sightseeing. This town is very small and we realized most of the sightseeing are close by and can be completed in a day if you have a good guide.

We headed to Five Rathas (Pancha Rathas) which is a monument complex at Mahabalipuram which was hardly 10 minutes drive from the resort. We were looking for a guide since these are historic places and we needed a professional guide. Mr. Balakrishna (+91 9176858037) came voluntarily asking us if we needed a guide and we were glad we found one. In Mahabalipuram, there were no physical entry tickets, we had to go to the Tamil Nadu Tourism website to purchase tickets online and had to show the QR code to the security, it was followed everywhere, which was impressive. We entered Five Rathas complex, Mr. Bala guided us inside the complex to explain the history behind it. Pancha Rathas is an example of monolithic Indian rock-cut architecture dating late 7th century. Each of the five monuments in the Pancha Rathas complex resembles a chariot (ratha), and each is carved over a single, long stone or monolith of granite. Though sometimes mistakenly referred to as temples, the structures were never consecrated because they were never completed following the death of Narasimhavarman I (630-680 AD, he is also called Mamalla meaning great warrior). The structures are named after the Pancha Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi, of epic Mahabharata fame. In order of their size, they include the Dharmaraja Ratha, Bhima Ratha, Arjuna Ratha, Nakula Sahadeva Ratha, and Draupadi Ratha. The first ratha that is located right by the entrance gate is Draupadi’s Ratha. It is shaped like a hut and is dedicated to the goddess Durga. Next comes Arjuna’s Ratha. This one has a small portico and carved pillar stones and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. There are no carvings inside this temple, but many are on the outside. Directly in front of Arjuna’s Ratha is the Nakula Sahadev Ratha. This ratha has some huge elephant sculptures included that are a huge draw for the Five Rathas. It is dedicated to the God of Rain, Lord Indra. The Bhima Ratha is huge. The pillars there do contain lion carvings even though the rathas as a whole is incomplete. The largest of the Five Rathas is the Dharamraja Yudhistar’s Ratha and it’s dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Then we headed to Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, this place has an Indias’s oldest lighthouse. It was built around 640 AD by Pallava king Mahendravarman I and it also has Olakaneeswara Temple which is dedicated to lord Siva. A granite roof was constructed atop the temple to keep the light from 1887 to 1900. Mahabalipuram was a busy port under the Pallavas as early as the 7th century AD. Bonfires were lit on rocks even at that time to aid the mariners. The British first used the temple atop the Mahishasuramardini cave as a light. When you climb the stairs to go to the cave, it has an amazing view of the Mahabalipuram town.

There is a modern lighthouse which is adjacent to the old one and is functional.  This was commissioned here in 1887. The lighthouse, with a circular masonry tower made of natural stone, became fully functional in 1904. There were also enough monkeys around the complex and as we exited out, we saw lot of stone carvings and we stopped at Manjula Art Gallery. The gentleman there who owns the gallery is also a professor there teaching Sculpture in Government College of Architecture and Sculpture. So he was explaining the stone carvings and sculptures done by interns and experts like him. There was a beautiful cobra carving done on a black stone, but we didn’t have space to buy that and that was a carving which doesn’t get out of my memory as it was so beautiful. In and around Mahabalipuram, you will see lot of stone sculptures from small ones to huge ones and that itself is a sight to behold and I thanked the gentleman for keeping the tradition alive and teaching the younger generation the old craft which is slowly dying out. We also saw few students sitting outside who were working on and we wished them luck. We picked out few souvenirs and stepped out from there.

We headed next to Arjuna’s penance. It is an enormous rock-cut relief, one of the largest in the whole world. It is also known by the name Descent of the Ganges, it is a giant open-air rock relief carved on two monolithic rock boulders. The legend depicted in the relief is the story of the descent of the sacred river Ganges to earth from the heavens led by Bhagiratha. The waters of the Ganges are believed to possess supernatural powers. The descent of the Ganges and Arjuna’s Penance are portrayed in stone at the Pallava heritage site. The sculptures carved in the natural fissure that divides the cliff not only depict a cosmic event of Ganges descending to earth (a popular narration and depiction in the iconography of Shiva) at the command of Shiva but also shows the event being watched by scores of gods, goddesses, mythical figurines of Kinnara, Gandharva, Apsara, Gana, Nagas, and also wild and domestic animals, all admiringly looking up at the scene. The total number of carvings are probably about 146.

Another prominent scene is that of a temple to the right of the cleft at the lower end of the panel. This temple is simple and small and has Vishnu as the deity carved within it. The temple roof is patterned on the style of Draupadi Ratha. A sage is seen sitting in front of the temple giving sermons to his students. In the seat below this scene, a lion in his den and below this a pair of deer are carved. A tortoise is shown next to the temple indicative of water in the near vicinity.

Then we headed to Krishna’s Butterball (Vaan Irai Kal meaning Stone of Sky God) which is a gigantic granite boulder resting on a short incline. The Pallava king Narasimhavarman (630–668 CE) also made a failed attempt to move the boulder. The Indian Tamil king Raja Raja Chola (985 and 1014 CE) was inspired by the balance of this massive stone boulder and it led to the creation of never-falling mud dolls called Tanjavur Bommai (Tanjore Dolls)  which having a half-spherical base tends to come back to its original position every time one tries to make it fall. In 1908, then-governor of the city Arthur Havelock made an attempt to use seven elephants to move the boulder from its position due to safety concerns, but with no success. This boulder seems to float and barely stand on a slope on top of 1.2-meter (4 ft) high plinth which is a naturally eroded hill and is said to have been at the same place for 1200 years. There is also a small temple enroute this boulder. We sought God’s blessings and headed out.

We headed to Shore temple (c. 725 AD) which is a complex of temples and shrines that overlooks the shore of the Bay of Bengal. It is a structural temple, built with blocks of granite, dating from the 8th century AD. At the time of its creation, the site was a busy port during the reign of Narasimhavarman II of the Pallava dynasty. It is one of the oldest structural (versus rock-cut) stone temples of South India. Marco Polo and the European merchants who came to Asia after him called the site Seven Pagodas. One of these is believed to be the Shore Temple and other six temples remain submerged in the sea. The tsunami also exposed some ancient rock sculptures of lions, elephants, and peacocks that used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period during the 7th and 8th centuries. The shore temple is one of the most popular temples in Mahabalipuram. Excavations in early 2000s have revealed new structures here under the sand. The temple is a combination of three shrines. The main shrine is dedicated to Shiva, as is the smaller second shrine. A small third shrine, between the two, is dedicated to a reclining Vishnu and may have had water channelled into the temple, entering the Vishnu shrine. The temple walls are surrounded by sculptures of Nandi.

Then we had to head back to the hotel to check out, by then our travel partner had escalated the issues to the management with the resort and they upgraded to the pool view cottage and they insisted they will ensure we get a better service. So we decided to stay and moved our things to the cottage and then we headed out for lunch. My favourite place for food was The Moonrakers, which is the best place for Seafood, this was the only reason I used to travel with friends to come to Mahabalipuram a decade back while working in Chennai. Since Sur cannot take the smell of sea food and smoke, I had to skip it which was a greatest disappointment. So we thought to try the lunch at Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay. We had an amazing time and now we know why this is one of the best resorts in Mahabalipuram for their excellent hospitality and service.

Then we headed back to our sightseeing to Tiger Cave, which is a rock-cut Hindu temple complex. It gets its name from the carvings of tiger heads on the mouth of a cave which forms a part of the complex and it also has a temple. We admired the carvings and then said a prayer and headed out to The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, which is a reptile zoo and herpetology research station. Unfortunately, it was closed on Monday so we had to skip that.

Then we headed to Dakshina Chitra (Picture of the South). It is a living-history museum dedicated to South Indian heritage and culture. It opened to the public on 14 December 1996, the museum was founded and is being managed by the Madras Craft Foundation (MCF). The MCF was established in 1984. Deborah Thiagarajan, an Indian art historian of American origin, governs the museum. The museum is built on 10 acres of land. Developed as a heritage village, Dakshina Chitra has an array of displays and relocated originals of dwellings depicting the life pattern of people in the states of southern India. The exhibits portray the architecture, art, folk performing-arts and craft of South Indian traditions. The amenities include a research unit, crafts bazaar, playground, an area to hold religious functions, stone workshop, and souvenir kiosks. This needs an entire day to go through each exhibits, since we reached an hour before closing, we had to quickly go through the place, picked up few local souvenirs and then headed out as everyone was shutting down the place.

Then we headed to India Sea Shell Museum which is open till 8 PM. Mr. Raja Mohammed, the brain behind this museum, devoted 33 years of his life and his hard earned money in accumulating sea shells from small to large and from the ordinary to the exotic and established this exclusive sea shell museum. It is the largest seashell museum in India and It houses over 40,000 specimens of rare and unique seashells and Minerals which offers visitors an amazing visual treat and a unique perspective on conchology. His idea was to unearth marine treasure of the world and share the knowledge so gained with the rest of the world. Hats off to him for his efforts and huge respect for his hard work and passion.

Then we headed back to the resort, this pool view cottage looked good, ordered room service for the dinner and then crashed for the night.

Day 3: We woke up, went for the breakfast. This time the staffs were extra hospitable as the F&B manager was there personally to make sure we got the better service. I ordered for Poori and Sur had a bread and Omelette. Finally ended the meal with nice filter coffee which was good and then headed to Kanchipuram which was a close by town famous for its temples. Our guide had recommended it the day before as we had an extra day for sightseeing. Kanchipuram, also known as Kanchi. It also called a city of Thousand Temples, is an ancient city in southern India’s Tamil Nadu state. Considered a holy pilgrimage site by Hindus, it is home to many temples. Our guide wanted us to visit the 5 famous temples here as that would take a whole day by itself.

First we headed to Varadharaja Perumal Temple which is a Hindu temple dedicated to Vishnu completed in 3rd Century. It is one of the Divya Desams, the 108 temples of Vishnu believed to have been visited by the 12 poet saints, or Alwars. This is one of the most sacred places for Vaishnavites. It seems to have taken almost 65 years to bult this.

This temple is also called Golden lizard temple. As per one of the legends, the disciples of sage Gautama were cursed to become lizards. They resided in the temple and were relieved of the curse by the divine grace of Vishnu. Two gold-silver plated lizards are seen in the ceiling of the temple, which has the auspicious power to lift all the lizard related doshas (curses) or any other doshas, as curses can cause negative impacts in one’s life. So on touching these lizards from head to tail, it is believed that all the doshas that you might have will be relieved.

As we entered the temple complex, On the left hand side, there is 100 pillars Mandapam which has sculptures depicting Ramayana and Mahabharata. It had taken almost 32 years to build, and each pillar is a masterpiece of art. One of the most famous architectural pieces in the temple is the huge stone chain sculpted in a single tone. It is a masterpiece of Vijayanagara architecture.

You also have a temple tank which is called Anantha Theertham in the temple complex. Atthi Varadaraja Perumal (Atthi Varadar), the 10 feet deity image, is made of the Atthi or the fig tree, and is stored in an underground chamber inside the temple tank which is called the Anantha Sarovaram/ Anantha Saras. It is brought out to worship for 48 days after every 40 years. It is worshipped in the Vasantha Mantapam, which located in the south-west corner of the temple. The Aththi Varadar is worshipped in sleeping posture (Kidantha Thirukkolam or Sayana Kolam) in the first 24 days, followed by standing position (Nindra Thirukkolam) in the next 24 days. The icon, which was the presiding deity earlier, was hidden in the 16th century to protect from invaders; however replaced by the current stone central icon when the wooden icon could not be traced. In 1709, the icon was accidentally rediscovered when the temple tank was emptied; thereafter the tradition of worshipping the deity once in 40 years was established.

Our 2nd temple visit to Ekambareswarar (Lord of Mango Tree) Temple (Ekambaranathar Temple) is a Hindu temple dedicated to the deity Shiva. This vast temple is one of the most ancient in India having been in existence since at least 600 CE and was built during Chola Dynasty. It is significant to the Hindu sect of Saivism as one of the temples associated with the five elements, the Pancha Bhoota Stalas (Five Shiva Temples), and specifically the element of earth, or Prithvi. Shiva is worshiped as Ekambareswarar or Ekambaranathar, and is represented by the lingam, with his idol referred to as Prithvi lingam. It has 108 lingas in different sizes. The temple complex covers 25 acres, and is one of the largest in India. It houses four gateway towers known as gopurams. The tallest is the southern tower, with 11 stories and a height of 192 ft, making it one of the tallest temple towers in India.

It also has the Sacred mango tree which is 3500 years old where Parvati, consort of Shiva did penance under this tree. At present the main trunk had been destroyed due to flood and after that four branches started growing from within. The mango fruit from each branch seems to taste different and devotees are not supposed to pluck the fruit or leaves from this tree unless it has fallen down as the tree is considered very sacred. Locals believe that if anyone whose marriage is not getting materialised or any couple who are childless, when they come and pray to this temple, their wish is granted within few months.

The temple celebrates dozens of festivals throughout the year. The most important of these is the Panguni (or Phalguni in devanagari) Brahmotsavam that lasts ten days during the Tamil month of Panguni, between March and April, concluding with the celebration of Kalyanotsavam. The festival is the most popular of all the temple festivals in Kanchipuram. On the concluding day, Kalyanotsavam (marriage festival) is held when the marriage of Ekambareswarar is enacted. During the day, many unmarried people get married irrespective of their caste along with the deity. The event is witnessed by thousands of people every year.

Our 3rd stop was The Kailasanathar temple (Lord of Kailasha), also referred to as the Kailasanatha temple, is a Pallava-era historic Hindu temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it is one of the oldest surviving monuments in Kanchipuram and also is in one of three “Kanchis”, the Shiva Kanchi; the other two Kanchis are, Vishnu Kanchi and Jain Kanchi.

Temple construction is credited to the Pallava dynasty, who had established their kingdom with Kanchipuram (also known as “Kanchi” or “Shiva Vishnu Kanchi”) as the capital city, considered one of the seven sacred cities under Hinduism. The temple was built around 700 CE with additions in the 8th- and restorations in later centuries. It is the first structural temple built in South India by Narasimhavarman II (Rajasimha), and who is also known as Rajasimha Pallaveswaram. His son, Mahendravarman III, completed the front façade and the gopuram (tower). According to local belief, the temple was a safe sanctuary for the rulers of the kingdom during wars. A secret tunnel, built by the kings, was used as an escape route and is still visible. It is believed that Raja Raja Chola I (985–1014 CE) visited the temple and drew inspiration from this temple to build the Brihadeeswara Temple. Unlike most other Dravidian temples, the Kailasanathar temple is constructed out of sand stone and slowly it is eroding which is sad. There is also small meditation cells around the inner complex walls which was used by Alwars to sit and meditate.

By then it was almost lunch time and temple shuts and opens only by 4 PM, hence we headed for the lunch. The guide recommended Star Biryani, I was not very eager to visit this place as this chain is known for Ambur Biryani which had been a disappointment when we visited Ambur. But guide insisted that this is the best place for lunch in Kanchipuram where we get the Non-Veg food so we went in. It was a great surprise as the food was too good. Even Sur enjoyed his Butter Naan and mushroom gravy. Our guide and myself enjoyed the chicken and mutton biryani with Mutton Sukka and fish fry. The Ambur biryani is usually very bland, so it had an accompaniment of brinjal (eggplant) semi gravy with raita (curd, onion and green chilies). That combo was super delicious and I overate. After a heavy lunch we needed to kill the time, so we had asked our guide to recommend good place to purchase Kanchivaram Silk Sarees as this place is famous for that as well.

These sarees are woven from pure mulberry silk thread. The pure mulberry silk and the Zari used in the making of Kanchipuram saris comes from South India. The mulberry silk is procured from Karnataka and woven in Kanchipuram. In a genuine Kanchipuram Silk Sari, body and border are woven separately and then interlocked together. The joint is woven so strongly that even if the saris tear, the border will not detach. That differentiates the kanchivaram silk saris from the others. Here the Saris are distinguished by their wide contrast borders. Temple borders, checks, stripes and floral (buttas) are traditional designs found on a Kanchipuram saris. The patterns and designs in the kanchipuram saris were inspired with images and scriptures in South Indian temples or natural features like leaves, birds and animals. These are saris with rich woven mundhi showing paintings of Raja Ravi Varma and epics of Mahabharata and Ramayana. Kanchipuram saris vary widely in cost depending upon the intricacy of work, colours, pattern, material used like zari (gold thread) etc. The silk is also known for its quality and craftsmanship, which has helped earn its name and its usually worn during special occasions like marriage etc…

Hand woven ones takes time as one saree takes 15 days to complete by hand. Due to huge demand, for commercial purposes its also  machine woven now. Since we wanted to get a hand woven one, our guide took us to Sri Varadha Silk House, they had hand weavers in house and the gentleman showed us where people were hand weaving the sarees. We picked up few and left for the next temple visit.

Our 4th temple stop was The Kamakshi Amman Temple which is an ancient Hindu Temple dedicated to Kamakshi, the ultimate Goddess Lalita Maha Tripura Sundari. The Meenakshi Temple in Madurai, the Akilandeswari temple in Thiruvanaikaval near Tiruchirappalli and this Kamakshi temple are the important centers of worship of Goddess, in the state of Tamil Nadu. The Temple was most probably built by Karikala Cholan and it took almost 65 years to build this temple.

The Image of the main Deity, Kamakshi, is seated in a majestic Padmasana, a yogic posture signifying peace and prosperity, instead of the traditional standing pose. Goddess holds a sugarcane bow and bunch of five flowers in the lower two of her arms and has a pasha (lasso), an ankusha (goad) in her upper two arms. There is also a parrot perched near the flower bunch. There are no other Goddess temples in the city of Kanchipuram, apart from this temple, which is unusual in a traditional city that has hundreds of traditional temples. Shakti Peethas are divine temples of Adiparashakti. The cause of the presence of Devi’s presence is due to the falling of body parts of the corpse of Sati Devi. The naval part of Sati Devi’s body is believed to have fallen here. There are 51 Shakti Peeth linking to the 51 alphabets in Sanskrit.

Our 5th temple stop was The Vaikunta Perumal Temple which is dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The temple is constructed in the Dravidian style of architecture. Vishnu is worshipped as Vaikunta Perumal and his consort Lakshmi as Anandavalli. The temple was originally built by Pallavan, with later additions from the Chola. The temple is known for the inscriptions indicating the democratic practises of electing representatives for the village bodies during the regime of Parantaka Chola (907–955 CE).

Vaikunta Perumal temple covers an area of about 0.5 acres. The sanctum houses the image of Vaikuntanatha in seated posture with Sridevi and Bhudevi on his either sides. There is an assembly hall 2,500 sq ft. The roof of the temple rests on the walls and there are no pillars. The inscriptions from the Chola period are made on the walls of the assembly hall. Kulothunga Chola is believed to have built the roof of the assembly hall that made it an assembly hall along with the temple. As per another view, the entire structure was originally an assembly hall and it collapsed during the regime of Kulothunga Chola. He rebuilt the assembly hall along with the temple housing the image of Vaikunta Perumal in it. Some of the inscriptions also read that the village was planned as per Agamic texts with the assembly hall in the centre of the village and the temples of the village built around it. The inscriptions of the temple indicate that the villagers requested the rulers to allow them to choose their own representatives. Parantaka Chola readily acceded to their demand and instituted the Kudavolai system (ballot) of democratically electing the village representatives. The rules of electing and the eligibility of the representatives and voters are described in detail in the inscriptions. The villagers assembled at a common place and wrote the name of their preferred representative in a palm leaf and put it in a pot. kudam in Tamil is pot and volai means the palm leaf, leading to the name of Kudavolai. Only people in pilgrimage or senescence were exempt from voting. The eligibility of the candidates were prescribed with minimum age, educational qualifications and property. There were strictures for the candidates should have built their house in their own property, should not be part of any other committee and be between 35 and 70 years of age. The voters had the right to call back their candidate for failing their duties. The inscriptions also specified strict punishments for the corrupt like disallowing their next seven generations to contest if found guilty. The institution was dismembered along with the ending of Chola regime during the 13th century. Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India was inspired by the system after paying a visit to the temple and insisted on improving Panchayat Raj, India’s system of local bodies in villages. This temple is also a place where people come to pray for long life.

That came to the end of our temple visits in Kanchipuram, I asked for a place to stop for a nice tea and we ended up back in the Sri Varadha Silk House, as they volunteered that they will make the best tea, so went again, picked up some samosas near by and we all along with their staffs and us enjoyed the tea. Then I found some sarees similar to Kerala saris which is made by the local women from a nearby town in Elampillai and they were selling it. We picked up one and thanked the staffs and we left.  We reached the resort, ordered some food and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We got up late and it was almost close to the buffet closing time for breakfast. So as usual most of the items were empty, somehow they got some pooris which I requested for, but it was cold and over fried, probably the left overs from their kitchen. Sur didn’t feel of having anything for breakfast. We checked out from the resort finally. On the way for lunch we stopped at Junior Kuppana, Sur settled for Ghee dosa with mushroom gravy and I ordered Non-Veg thali. It was great. We then headed back home with great memories and lots of lots of blessings from temple visits….

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