Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart 2016 : here is what is in store this October!

I have always been fascinated by Madhya Pradesh as a destination. I went on a road trip to Madhya Pradesh with my parents as a small kid. I still have a very faint memory of how wide eyed I was when I saw the raw and exotic landscapes en route. Perhaps that memory still fascinates me. Or perhaps the enticing Madhya Pradesh Tourism ads lure me. Not to forget, the brief trip I made last year to Jabalpur, Bhedaghat and Bandhavgarh national park also left me with the hunger to explore more of this untamed state of India. Madhya Pradesh will always be special to me because I saw my first tiger in wild in M. P. I could not click the picture of tiger as he vanished in a hurry but a cab driver allowed me to use the picture he clicked.

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The Tiger we saw but could not click. This was shot by the driver of a jeep. He was taking care of this camera of a Photographer. He allowed us to use this picture. 

I was delighted when Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board sent me an invite to attend the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart (MPTM), 2016 organized by Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC). The event will be held from 14th to 16th October in Bhopal, a city I always wanted to visit but could not. This year is the 3rd edition of the travel mart. The venue is Hotel Lake View Ashok in Bhopal. Just what I wanted! A nice place to stare at the lake for hours as I dig into my food!

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My Friend Mayuri Mandal Sen  posing near the massive Dhuandhar falls.

The mart will be inaugurated by Honourable Chief Minister Shri. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, along with other dignitaries from Madhya Pradesh and special invitees from other states. I am excited to meet the many representatives of top exhibitors from Madhya Pradesh’s Wildlife sector, hotels, Destination Management Companies, Conference venues, Car Rentals, Tour Operators, Heritage Hotels, and Wildlife Parks etc at The B2B Exhibition at MPTM.

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Delights of Bandhavgarh!

The main aim of the mart is to promote tourism in Madhya Pradesh around the year with a focus on domestic and inbound travelers to M.P. The show will provide a platform to the participants who can have one to one business meetings. I am sure the environment will be conducive to such interactions. The exhibitor, buyer and visitor are going to benefit with such interactions. As a travel blogger, I am looking forward to meeting the people who would like to collaborate with me on projects. Thanks to the mart, exhibitors, buyers, media and other visitors will get an opportunity to network, meet and share expertise with professionals who want to educate themselves about various products.

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Me, so happy, after sighting a tiger!

I think, with right infrastructure, Madhya Pradesh has the potential to be a world-class destination for Wildlife, Nature, Heritage, Pilgrimage, Adventure & MICE. It will not be an over statement to call M.P. the ‘Africa of India’. The state is teeming with wildlife and one can avail some truly world class and luxurious stay options in its wildlife reserves. What is even more exciting is that post the 3 day Mart, we will be taken on familiarization trips across the state. The Fam Trip Itineraries are so tempting that it is difficult to choose between them. I mean how do you choose just two destinations out of Bandhavgarh, Satpura, Orchcha, Khajuraho, Pench, Kanha, the works? My vote goes for Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi, the hill station of M.P. mainly because I find these two destinations offbeat and attractive.

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We came across these while returning from Bandhavgarh. Road trips are fun for sure!

I still vividly remember the massive Dhuandhar waterfall I saw near Bhedaghat. The marble rocks of Bhedaghat, was not like something I had seen before. I would also like to go back to Bandhavgarh National Park someday to spot more tigers or to just soak in the beauty of the forest.

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Me at Dhuandhaar Waterfall. (Pic : Sudeep Sen)

It is getting a bit difficult for me to wait for October. Maybe I should just get back to watching the cool videos produced by Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board. Or plan how can I use my time productively in Bhopal. I hope I am able to see some of the many famous mosques of Bhopal and explore it’s exciting food options. Though, I am not too keen on bumping into Soorma Bhopali (that hilarious character from the blockbuster Sholay) I belong to the ‘City of Nawabs’, Lucknow and looking forward to see how this other ‘City of Nawab’ welcomes me.

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A local singing Bhajan aka devotional songs at Dhuandhar waterfalls.

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I picked up some artefacts made from the soft marble near Bhedaghat

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#MyGration Series : Of studying under tree, the bell bottom era and small town stories of 60s and 70s!

This is the first in the series of  Instagram series called #MyGration stories where I talk to people and chronicle the circumstances that led to their migration from one place to another. And other emotional nothings! My instagram link given at the end. I share longer version here. Starting the series with my father Mr. Aniruddha Singh, a retired officer from U.P. Electricity Board.

Featured pic : Not a smoker, my dad dressed up like this perhaps under influence of Hippie culture! Its one of my favourite picture.It was shot on 21st march, 1974

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My dad at Shanti Van, New Delhi. 11th November, 1980

My dad was born in Baansgaon, a village known for its Shrinet Rajpoots near Gorakhpur. I thought he lived here for a better part but during the interview I was surprised to discover that he hardly ever lived here. My grandfather (since he already had a job in Basti) moved to Basti soon after my dad was born. He is youngest of all three brothers. He fondly remembers studying under a tree in a school near Kateshwar Park for at least 2 years. Later, the makeshift school got a tin shade to fight nature’s elements till at least for the next 3 years. Gradually, they got a permanent building till 6th to 8th standard, albeit with an unplastered floor. He and his friends often used to sleep on the mud floor of the school waiting for a Guruji (teacher) who used to take their extra classes for free from 9p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

Surprised, I asked, “Why free?”

“So that we could perform better.”

Some lesson here, for our money hungry coaching institutes. My dad even gave up a scholarship voluntarily for a lesser privileged child.

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Me (in lap), my dad, brother and my mother in Baansgaon

Mats made up of ‘taat’ torn rags, ‘sutli’ (rope) etc was used to sit. Some students even brought their own quilt and blanket during the winters. For high school, around the year 1966, he moved to a bigger building, Government Inter College.

He chuckles when I ask, “Did you sleep on mat here too.”

“Haha, No, It was a grand building! A proper one! ”

Later in the fashionable 70s, the family moved to Gorakhpur and he started wearing Bell Bottom pants. He did his B.E. (Electrical) from Madan Mohan Malviya University Of Technology from Gorakhpur. On a 10 month training he moved between Roorkie, Saharanpur and Dehradoon. Then job took him to Varanasi (I was born here), Lucknow, Kanpur, Allahabad, Kayamganj, Kannauj, (back to) Lucknow, Sitapur and Mainpuri. He and my mother are now settled in Lucknow. The job spanned 33 years, 1 month (he insists). June 1978 to July 2011, the figures are on his fingertips, no ‘ummm’ here.

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Me, my mother, elder brother and bell bottoms.

Today, when he looks back, he finds most connected to Basti although it has been decades that he has visited the small town. He yearns to go back to Basti and see his home, meet old neighbours, visit his school and maybe even give a special class. This tops his list of ‘to do’, now that he is retired. After doing this interview, I am planning one such trip in winters this year. With Baansgaon, he has had no real connection as such. This surprised me as I always thought otherwise. He hardly lived there. Thus he is more emotionally attached to Basti, where he spent 15 years during growing up. Our family belongs to Shrinet Rajpoots (aka Kshatriya /Thakur). I was shocked to learn that originally I am a ‘pahadi’ (people from mountains). Our ancestors belonged to Srinagar, Pauri Garhwal, Uttarakhand (formerly Uttar Pradesh). The entire clan migrated to Baansgaon after a social upheaval. Today Baansgaon is known for its Srinet Rajpoot. There were total of 6 places (called Cheh gawaan), the clan migrated to, including Deoria. The grand migration was led by Shri Madan Maniyaar Singh You can find many schools and colleges after his name in Baansgaon and Gorakhpur.

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Shanti Van. 11th January, 1980

Today, in his comfortable home in Lucknow, he misses his time in Basti. Those were his most carefree days. “I used to return to home only to eat and then vanish again to play outdoors with other kids” Though, his dream place remains Lucknow. He doesn’t want to migrate to any other city now.

“Don’t you want to come to Noida and stay with us?”, I ask

“That would be a forced migration. I love my life in Lucknow!”

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Me in Benaras

This is based on a telephonic interview with my father. The interview gave me some perspective. It also helped me understand who I am and where I really belong to. It also humbled me and made me grateful for the privileges I have had ever since I was born.

It left me wondering what would have become of me, had my family stayed back in the mountains of Uttarakhand or say, Baansgaon,  a dusty nondescript village.

 Don’t you think you should be asking your father the same questions?

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Me in Lucknow

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The family looks like this now. (L to R) My Elder brother, father, Nephew, Mother, Sister in law and me, my pet dog. My niece is missing in the picture. Also another pet.

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When I visited the Bishnoi Village Where Superstar Salman Khan Allegedly Killed The Endangered Blackbucks!

India was awaiting justice for past 18 years for the endangered black bucks which Salman Khan allegedly slaughtered in Bishnoi Village. Predictably, Salman was acquitted of his charges today, just like his previous crimes. I am not saying I was physically present at each of his crime scenes. But when so many things go wrong (Beating women, run and hit, destroying people’s career, talking loosely about rape survivors and much more) you know there must be a reason for it. He can’t be a so-called ‘soft target’ all the time.

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The Bishnoi Women perform Pooja at the Temple built in memory of martyrs of Khejarli Massacre (Circa 1731). They sacrificed their lives to protect trees. This inspired Chipko Aandolan

I visited the Bishnoi village in Rajasthan in January, 2014. My guide showed me the exact place where Salman Khan killed the blackbucks. It was a deserted area with no humans in sight. The blackbucks and other antelopes and many migratory birds such as demoiselle cranes roam this area fearlessly. They know they are safe because no one dares harm them, thanks to the fierce protection by the Bishnoi people.

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Animals are a part of life in this area. I met a Rabari family in their home, behind Bishnoi colony. It is not easy to gain access to a Bishnoi family’s home

Bishnois are the community who can sacrifice their lives and even kill the culprit if even a single animal or tree is harmed. My guide told me “Salman came here on a jeep with a clear agenda of hunting the blackbucks. He did shoot two of them. Even though it was a deserted area, the sound of gunshots reached a lone ‘chaiwala tapri’ (Makeshift tea shop). Perhaps Salman did not see it coming, the chaiwalla was instantly alerted and came rushing towards the direction of the gunshot. One blackbuck was killed on the spot. Sensing trouble, Salman’s driver rushed the jeep through the jungle and not the single straight road for the fear of being spotted. The blackbuck, I am imagining ran away from him in the similar fashion to save his life.

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The Exact Place Where the Blackbuck and Chinkara was killed by Superstar Salman Khan. As told to me by the driver.

 

It was possible that if the Bishnois got hold of him, they would have given their justice on the spot, Salman or no Salman. Thankfully, I was told, the Bishnois did see Salman’s face. I was told the other deer who was half injured was soon rushed to the animal hospital by the Bishnois (who are poor and not that privileged to afford treatment of animals). My guide said the Bishnois have still not forgiven Salman Khan and would want to give him the strictest punishment possible. I did not have to try hard to sense the immense love and affection for the nature in Bishnois. Salman’s fans dismiss it with their lame excuses such as “It was just a deer” “He has been framed for being a celebrity” “Much ado about nothing” “So many people hunt” etc.

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The Guide told me this was the road which Salman took to run away. Being chased by villagers, he avoided the main road and passed through mud on the left to avoid being trapped. The ‘Crime Scene’ was on the right side. See pic above!

 

What they fail to see is the context. Even if it was not a celebrity involved, they would have fought for it. I was told about an incident happened in nearby Nokha village in Rajasthan. The Bishnois killed a hunter for killing a wild hare. This resulted in a riot and a 2 day ‘Bandh’ in the region. They take animal and plant conservation that seriously.

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I shot (with a camera) this blackbuck at the Tal Chappar Sanctuary in Rajasthan

After all, these are the same people, 363 of whom, who sacrificed their lives in order to save the trees in 1730.. Centuries later it inspired the ChipkoAndolan (More on that in a separate blog) The blind fans fail to understand the perspective sitting from their comfortable living rooms

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The whole village is a heaven for animals and birds. Guda lake nearby attracts migratory demoiselle cranes, blackbucks, chinkara etc. They know they are safe here. Tourists are not allowed access to the lake but can view from a distance. Thank God for the little mercies!

Here’s what I learnt from my visit to this amazing village

  1. Respect the region you are travelling to.
  2. Learn from the people of the region you are travelling to. May such local conservationists thrive and may the culprits be punished!
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The jeep I hired for the trip. At the crime scene.

People like Salman will continue to rise. The problem is not him but we who put him on a pedestal and fail to see his flaws because we are so attached and attracted to his on screen persona. The dichotomy of our society lies in the fact that we will talk about ‘culture’ and ‘values’ and will turn a socially dangerous person into a Demi God.

The view from my #SoulWindow is frustrating!

HERE IS A SMALL VIDEO I MADE ON BISHNOI WOMEN. CLICK HERE

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Me breaking papad with a local Bishnoi family in their home.

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What A Comic Show – Unique Comic Themed Restaurant in Delhi!

Growing up as a child in 1990s in North India, I was addicted to comic books. Diamond comic’s brand of wisecracks were my favorite. While entertaining us, the comics also ensured there was something for the kids to take back as a lesson. Pran, the most famous comic legend was a universal favorite. Who could forget that everytime Sabu gets angry, a volcano exploded somewhere far. And of course, Chacha Chowdhury’s brain always worked faster than a computer in an age when most didn’t even know what a computer was. I always wondered how Billu managed to see the world with all the excess hair hiding his eyes. And Pinki’s cool escapades always made you feel bad about your own childhood. Dhruv, Bankelal and Nagraj would make the boys want to grow up and be like them. Continue reading “What A Comic Show – Unique Comic Themed Restaurant in Delhi!”

Travelibro : A Useful app to record and plan your travel!

It’s very often that my friends and followers keep asking me itineraries of a place I have traveled to. In fact, I remember when I was not a blogger (but still a traveler) a friend of mine called me more than 10 times in a day to guide him on what to eat/see/do in Goa. He called me live from the destination. He was traveling with his girlfiend. Once he was done with one activity he would call me again for guidance on the next one. I was amused but I did help him out. And it did make his life easier.

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This is how my profile looks like in Travelibro

That said, it is of course impossible to do that all the time.  And it’s not always possible to pen down a detailed blog each time. In fact I wished at that time that I had a document ready to hand over to anyone who wanted to visit Goa. Since I have been to Goa 8 times till date, I used to receive queries on Goa very often.

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I made a itinerary on Jordan. This is me in Little Petra. (Pic by : Sudeshna)

I was delighted to come across the new app Travelibro. It’s a very useful App for those interested in travel (Who is not?).  Not only can you make itineraries but also make like minded friends here.

Here are 10 fab things this app allows you to do :

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Some of the itineraries I made
  • The app records live journey. Share your moments on the go.
  • Make your Travel itineraries on the website. You can mention activities day wise. It also includes Must do activities, Travel tips, detailed flow of the day, places to eat in and stay options. One can also set a budget and mark if suitable to travel with friends/family/spouse etc.
  • Even if you do not want to write itineraries you can explore from the thousands of readymade itineraries available in the app. This is very useful when you want to plan your travel. It’s easy to get information about destination on internet but readymade itineraries are hard to find.
  • Though it’s an India based app, but you can find information on destinations from across the world. Greece, Jordan, Nepal, Turkey, South Africa, you name it, the app has it.
  • You can also read detailed blogs by experts. For example there are blogs on Top 10 breakfast restaurants around the world, Digital tools to heighten the journey, Tips for apartment hunting in Madrid, Confessions of a Yogi, the works!
  • You can even book trips and compare the best deals to choose from.
  • You can register as a travel agent on the portal and even find top travel agents like Akbar Holidays, Rolandia Travels, Lifestyle journeys etc.
  • You can record your journey in real time. This helps in creating a timeline of your journey to be shared with friends and followers. You can also add Travel buddies to create shared journeys.
  • You can explore travel pictures and videos and make decisions regarding your next destination.
  • You can create a bucket list of the places you want to travel to. You can also mark a place as ‘want to go’ so that you remember a place for a future travel.
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From a performance in Fort Kochi. Check my profile on Travelibro to know more.

With so many advantages under one roof, I don’t see a reason why you should not use this platform to help make your travel plans effectively. Now that more and more people are traveling for pleasure, this portal comes handy.

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You name it, they have it.

As a travel blogger, I find it very easy and convenient to pass the link of itineraries to anyone who asks me. I have made itineraries on places like Bhutan, Nepal, Jordan and in India, Goa and Fort Kochi. So, if someone asks me about these destinations, I just give them the link. It makes my life easier and also that of my followers who take my travel advice seriously.

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Plan your holidays in 3 simple steps on Travelibro

THE VIEW FROM MY #SOULWINDOW IS USEFUL!

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A 3 day itinerary I made on North Goa. Check my profile on Travelibro to know more

You can check my itineraries on Travelibro here

Read the information packed blogs by Travelibro here

Any questions or comments? Leave them below in the comment box below. I will answer all of them.

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IIFA 2016 : A Bollywood Extravaganza in Madrid, Spain!

IIFA awards are one of the most awaited Bollywood awards of the year. What makes it stand out is its sheer grandeur and scale. Every year the award is celebrated in the best destinations across the world. It is never hosted in India but in international tourist hubs. It is a good strategy as it helps promote both Bollywood and the host destination.

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Me at the entrance of the venue!

I remember as a child I used to be excited about where the next IIFA awards is going to be held. Having travelled to some exotic as well as tried and tested destinations, IIFA 2016 will be held on 25th June, 2016 in Madrid over an elaborate 4 days event, marked with parties, songs, dancing, sightseeing and socializing. The events are scheduled between 23rd to 25th June.

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Anil Kapoor being his usual self!

Sitting on a couch and watching IIFA as a child, I never thought that one day I would be a travel blogger and will be invited to the press conference of the 17th edition at ITC Maurya, New Delhi. I joined the fun on 28th April, 2016 with my travel blogger and Bollywood blogger friends in tow.  The venue was just perfect and goes with the brand value of IIFA.

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Farhan Akhtar and Anil Kapoor listening attentively. Behind them are my travel blogger friends.

The stage was set and we were delighted just to sit right behind celebrated Bollywood actor Anil Kapoor and Actor/director/singer/writer/what not Farhan Akhtar. Farhan is the perfect choice for this year’s IIFA since his film ‘Zindagi na Milegi Dobara’ made Spain a household name in India. I think films help in big way in creating awareness and buzz around a destination even if it is already popular. Dressed in a fitting suit, Farhan was his usualm relaxed self while an ever enthusiastic Anil Kapoor was the party of the life with his signature style. He was so full of infectious energy and joie-de-vivre that he could put a 19 year old to shame.

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Anil Kapoor and Farhan Akhtar Lifting the cycles and our spirits!

Mr. Pankaj Munjal, Chairman and managing Director, Hero Cycles addressed the audience. He encouraged the audience to use cycles in their day to day life. This will help not only in adopting an eco friendly attitude but also a fitness routine. As an outdoor enthusiast, I see cycling as a great stress busting and calorie burning sport. He then invited Anil and Farhan on stage. The dynamic duo had the audience in splits when they pulled the Hero Cycles (Brand partner) up in the air. In fact Farhan Akhtar along with Shahid kapoor will host the awards this year. IIFA 2016b will boast of power packed, larger than life performances by mega stars such as Hrithik Roshan, Priyanka Chopra, Sonakshi Sinha,  Deepika Padukone etc. FICCI IIFA Global Business Forum will host Spanish and Indian Business leaders.

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Farhan Akhtar addressing the media.

In the words of Wiz Andre Timmins, director – Wizcraft International Entertainment Pvt. Ltd. , “2016 is an exciting year for IIFA to be hosted in Madrid as this year also marks the 60th anniversary celebrations of India and Spain diplomatic relations. The platform of IIFA helps enhance the celebrations with a dynamic and diverse exchange of art, film, culture, music, fashion and business culminating into a gift of opportunity to bring both countries even closer together. The IIFA event in Madrid is going to be a star studded affair with excitement and anticipation growing hugely among the industry and more fans to come to Spain in June. It will be a magical and memorable time for locals and visitors that will get to witness the stunning performances live on stage at the spectacular IFEMA – Feria de Madrid. As ever this year is set to be a bigger and better extravaganza of entertainment than ever before.”

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Anil Kapoor addressing the media.

Very well said! I can imagine the fun it is going to be with IIFA buzz taking Madrid by storm. It has been my dream to go to Spain ever since I heard from some friends that Spain is one of the best countries of Europe. My desire only strengthened after watching the picturesque visuals of Spain in the film ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.’ Though, I will not be physically present in Spain for IIFA, but I am sure I will be glued to my Television for its telecast on Colors TV.

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Mr. Raj Nayak addressing the media

Mr. Raj Nayak, CEO of Colors TV addressed the media, “ IIFA for Colors is not only a win win partnership but is also a social investment where we congregate the who’s who of film fratennity under one roof away from India and give the global citizens a glimpse of their favourite stars. With the beautiful Madrid as the venue for IIFA 2016, we are looking at close to 600 million viewers from across the globe to regale in this extraordinary celebration of the Indian Film Industry on the Colors Platform.”

THE VIEW FROM MY SOUL WINDOW IS AS ANIL KAPOOR SAYS, JHAKKAS!

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The gorgeous lobby of ITC Maurya

The event was wrapped post a sumptuous lunch at the ITC Maurya. The legendary hospitality giant is known for its irresistible food. It was the first time I sampled a buffet of ‘ambrosia’ from ITC. The food was so good that even the simplest of dishes had me begging for more. A perfect venue for a perfect pre Awards event! It was an afternoon well spent.

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Me at the event.

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My Travel Blogger Friends, Swati, Manjulika, Parnashree (L to R)

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Anim’ Arte Nam Van: It’s a Fun-fledged day at Nam Van Lakeside Plaza, Macao!

Imagine strolling by the lake side and admiring the beauty of nature! Sounds so serene and peaceful right? Now imagine a beautiful lakeside which gives you an experience extravaganza of creativity, dining, performances and leisure all at once. That is what Nam Van Lake has got in store for everyone.

Under the joint management of Cultural Affairs Bureau, the Sports Bureau, the Macao Government Tourism Office and the Institute of Tourism Studies, “Anim’ Arte Nam Van” will revamp and transform Nam Van Lakeside Plaza into a place like never before. Nam Van Lakeside is now a leisure hub with spectacular performances, creative activities and delicious dining options in the serene vicinity of lakeside.

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You can explore creativity by the lakeside as there are arrangements such as cultural and creative shop, arts pavilion, indoor craft and book market which open from 11am to 10pm. One can inculcate the art of doll making, puppet making and paper craft by the lakeside in the evening between 5pm and 10pm. There is also a graffiti display area that showcases graffiti talent. You can experiment your hand at these activities and turn your creative mode on. One can look forward to amazing leisure activities like pedal boating. You can choose between 2 and 4 seat pedal boat and enjoy the ride in the peaceful lakeside with friends or family between 11am to 6pm. After hours of enjoyment, one can head to IFT café at Nam Van Lake when hunger strikes to relish great munchies by the lakeside. The IFT café is open throughout the time that is, from 11am to 10pm. On the weekends, there are performances by the lakeside during the evening between 5pm to 10pm.

“Anim’ Arte Nam Van” is a project aims to provide residents and tourists with a diverse tourism experience, thereby enhancing Macao’s cultural tourism product offerings.

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