#MyGrationSW : Why This Brave Woman Lives Alone In A Forest in Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand?

THE DENSE FORESTS OF ADJOINING villages of Peora, Nolikan and Sonapani in

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Terraced Farm of Kamla ji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar

Mukteshwar look deserted and lonely from a distance. Once you start to see through the dense foliage, you discover it is teaming with life. It is populated with birds, butterflies, reptiles, wild animals and humans who chose to call it home. As I took an evening walk in the forest with Manvendra, who runs the Leela Orchards, Sonapani home-stay in Mukteshwar, he educated me about a brave lady who lives all by herself in the middle of a dense, dark forest. Engrossed in his tales, I kept my eyes and ears alert for any sign of wildlife around the trail. After few minutes, we arrived at a makeshift gate to a lone white building in the distance. The gate was nothing but horizontal wooden logs loosely hooked on to vertical wooden poles. It was not meant to ward off humans but animals. The animals who rob her kitchen garden of fruits and vegetables she so painstakingly grows with help of laborers. This is apparently a big deterrent to most farmers in the Mukteshwar and nearby Ramgarh area. The white house was locked when we entered the lawns. Its architecture was a mix of modern architecture and traditional architecture of the region. In Uttarakhand, ‘Bakuli’ refers to the group of house, mostly of the same family. As the family grows, more addition to the existing building is done generation wise. Cattle are always tied in the ground floor room. This particular house was not a Bakuli since the next generation chose to stay in the glitzy capital of India, New Delhi.

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A Mix of modern and traditional architecture of Uttarakhand, isolated home of Kamlaji near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar.

Himalayan Spangle, a beautiful butterfly, clung fiercely to its pupa on a tree in front of the house. Much like the lady we had come to meet. She refuses to leave this place despite all the adversity. I would soon know why she still clings to this house in the middle of nowhere.

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Himalayan Spangle holding on to a pupa. In Front of Kamlaji’s house. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

जड़ाऊ को अभी भगाया, बंदरो ने भी परेशान कर रखा है…..” (I have just shooed away the Swamp Deers aka Barasingha. The monkeys have been troubling me too.) The meditation of the Himalayan Spangle was disturbed by her coarse voice, unadulterated and unmeasured. Her name is Mrs. Kamla Pandey. She was delighted to see Manvendra, who is also a family friend. Kamlaji and Manvendra are neighbours and co- owned a dog. The dog lived upto an astonishing age of 18 years.

Ever since her husband, Late Shri Narayan Dutt Pandey, former sub inspector in New Delhi police breathed his last, she has resolved to stay all by herself at this isolated house in the middle of a dense forest, rife with wild animals. Danger from wildlife, lack of human interactions, irregular electricity supply and the challenges in keeping the soil of her farm fertile and grow organic vegetables and fruits has not deterred her. She has been living here alone since past 7 years. Sometimes her brother, who lives in a village nearby, pays her a visit.

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Natural Water Spring used for irrigation and daily use of Kamlaji. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

She cooks food by herself. She has to walk for 3 plus kilometers to catch sporadic public transport to main town near the Sathkol Ashram. She sources grocery supplies from village vendor who sometime visits her and from a shop near the Ashram gate.

बस ऐसे ही बगीचे में घूमना फिरना….मजदूरो को देखना…चाय पानी देना…यहाँ पे बगीचा है….मकान है मेरा….मैं कैसे रहूँ यहाँ…..?” (Just roaming around my garden, checking up on the laborers, giving them tea and snacks…..Here is where is my house, my garden….How can I leave this place?), She replied with a sunshine smile when I asked, “What do you do here all day?”

She showed me around her sprawling terraced farm which she called bageecha (garden). It was abundant with pink and white flowers. In March the hills of Uttarakhand burst with a riot of colours, thanks to the flowering season.  From Mid May to July, these flowers will give way to abundant fruits like khubani (Apricot), aadu (peach), plum, apple, pear. Nearby a tree was drooping with the weight of tens of jamer. It looked like an Orange, but I was told it is so bitter that its consumption harms teeth. It is used like a lemon, in chutneys and pickles. The apples trees were pruned to encourage new growth which is good for the health of the tree and the fruits. The dark brown, leafless branches of the tree made it look like it is dead. In reality, the tree was just gearing up for the upcoming fruiting season. I uncovered a plastic sheet to see spring water flowing under the ground. This is the natural irrigation source for farming in the area. Some of the beds in the farm were dug up. She told us, she pays laborers to dig up the soil.  It helps in keeping the soil fertile otherwise it becomes hard and unfit for farming.

Kamlaji showed us around with a big smile and vivaciousness which is difficult to match up to. Her enthusiasm for life and positivity belied the challenges that she faces in her routine life. Before shifting here, she lived in Delhi for many years with her husband and kids. Her kids still live in New Delhi and following the footsteps of their father, they serve in police too. Her kids visit her at this place in summer.

“Do you ever miss New Delhi?” I ask

“याद आती है पर क्या करें ? मजबूरी है…यहाँ छोड़ दें तो फिर बर्बादी है न…..क्यूँ? ” (Yes, at times I do miss Mumbai. But if I abandon this land, it will all be destroyed. No?)

Whenever she misses her former life in New Delhi, she visits her children and live with them for around 3 months.

“पर अब अच्छा लगता है यहाँ भी……परदूशन नहीं है …हवा अच्छी है…अक्टूबर में फिर जाउंगी दिल्ली तीन महीने के लिए…..” (Now I like it here…There is no pollution….the air is fresh…In October I will visit New Delhi again for 3 months.)

Note: It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGrationSW series on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

The view from my #SoulWindow is BRAVO!

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Kamlaji at her isolated home in a forest. Near Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

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LEELA ORCHARDS HOME-STAY, SONAPANI AT MUKTESHWAR: WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI IN BUDGET!

A VACATION AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY AT SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR is a perfect weekend break from Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. It was such a great last minute decision to stop at this lovely home-stay in Mukteshwar. On recommendation by a friend I stayed here for 2 days clubbed with a satisfying trip to Nainital and Ramgarh. It was drizzling when I reached. (I visited in 1st week of March.) The next day it was a pleasant sunny weather.

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The 4 rooms of Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sonapani, Mukteshawar in Uttarakhand. You can view Almora and the snow capped mountains from here. If lucky then rainbow as well.

Unfortunately I have stayed in only few home stays despite having traveling to more than 150 destinations since 2008. My lovely experience at Leela Orchards is pushing me into trying more home stays in future. This wonderful property, which overlooks Himalayan range is managed by the cheerful Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother. It was such a memorable evening sitting with the family, sipping tea and talking about many interesting topics as bonfire warmed us. I learnt so much after this interaction. He educated me about the interesting details of local lifestyle and the centuries old temples in the vicinity.

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The living room of my ground floor ‘suite’ at Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sonapani, Mukteshwar (Uttarakhand)

ACTIVITIES AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

The LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY makes you lazy. The nice weather, breath taking views right from the balcony of the room and the cozy rooms make you want to just sit and laze around. On the other hand, there are so many interesting things to do near the property that you will end up extracting yourself from the cozy bed. I spent much of the time exploring the pretty villages Peora, Nolikan and Kafura. The path to these villages was gorgeous. It was easy up and down hike lined with pine trees and white, pink and red flowers of fruits. I went in the month of March and in every direction I set my eyes there was a riot of color since it’s the flowering season.  I also walked in the jungle area behind the home stay and met a brave spunky lady who lives all alone in the middle of the jungle.

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Village walk in Kafura, Poera and Nolikan is possible near Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

If you choose you can cook your own food at “Heere ki khan” using firewood and chulha (Traditional mud oven). Nature walk, birdwatching is also recommended here. You don’t even need to go anywhere. Just keep your eyes peeled and you will see exotic birds right outside your room. I was amazed to see a flock of gorgeous White Crested Laughing Thrush. Himalayan Spangle, Wild cock, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Blue Capped Redstart, Himalayan Bulbul, Green Backed Tit, Black headed Jay, Barn Swallow are some of the other birds I spotted.

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This was my favourite part of the rooms at Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar. I would sit and eat Maggi here, looking at the misty mountains. Or read a book.

One can also visit NGO Chirag and NGO Aarohi in Peora village. If you are fit, I would recommend an 8 kms long trek from Leela Orchards Sonapani to Mukteshwar temple. Visit to ancient Kapeelshwar Temple on river bed side is also a must. It is near a primary school. You can donate money and books to the school, if you wish. Within 40 kms of range, you can visit Jageshwar Temple, Chitai Temple, Sun Temple (In Almora), Kasar Devi Temple and Binsar.

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En route my walk to Kafura and Peora Village near Leela Orchards Home Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

THE ROOMS AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

The rooms are large and cozy. True to its genre, the rooms exude a home like warmth. I told them it is like staying at a relative’s house. The wood paneling was soothing to the eyes. There are a total of 4 rooms in the home stay. 2 rooms are on the first floor while 2 rooms are in the ground floor. I stayed in the ground floor. The moment I entered the room, I took a pause in the drawing room before rushing to see the bed room. The drawing room delights with its thoughtfully done up furniture placement. 3 large windows overlooked the verdant valley and the distant mountains of Almora and others. Cushioned seats lined the windows. I would fold my legs on the couch, pull a blanket, slurp on my Maggi Noodles and hot tea while enjoying the misty views from the comfort of my room. It sure felt like home, though in an exotic location. At other times, I would sit by the window and read one of the many travel magazines so thoughtfully kept by the owners on a writing table nearby.

The attached bedroom is large. The bed is King Size and is cozy. It has large windows and wood paneling. The charging points are next to the table. There is no dearth of cupboards and almirahs in the drawing room as well as the bedroom. When I entered the door of the attached bathroom, I was dumbfounded for 2 minutes. It was so huge that I was comparing its size to my first flat in Mumbai (I stayed in Mumbai from 2008 to 2015). Manvendra told me the same, “Travelers from Mumbai often tell me my entire flat is the size of this washroom.”

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Views of Almora during my village walk/trek in Poera and Nolikan near Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

When I checked out the upper rooms, I found them equally good if a bit smaller. The drawing room disappeared. The size of room and washroom was a bit smaller. But it’s still great for 2-3 people. (Extra beds are available). The washroom has a back door about which Manvendra told me, “Guests love to open this door while brushing their teeth and shaving. It offers them views of the mountains.” The reduced indoor space is compensated with even more grander views of the valley below. There is ample space in the large terrace and I am sure it serves as a perfect private space for families and friends. I also took the stairs to the rooftop in the night. Almora city was all lit. The lights made the city look like a giant glittery fish. As if the construction on hills was done to make it look like a fish.

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Manvendra at Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

HOW DID SONA PANI GET ITS NAME? THE FAMILY HAS AN INTERESTING TALE TO TELL:

Leela Orchard Sonapani has an old natural spring in the middle of the property. The area is named Sona Pani (Literal meaning: Gold water) because of the perceived medicinal properties of the natural spring water. The folklore has it that during the British Raj era, some British army officers from a cantonment nearby tasted the water while crossing the ridge. Impressed with the quality of the water, during much of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, ponies and horses were employed to supply the water from this natural spring to the British officers of the nearest army garrison which was Almora.

Captain Kushal Singh Barathokey was one of those officers. He was a much feted soldier of the 3rd Queen Alexandria’s Gurkha rifles. Upon his retirement, the British asked him to select land of his choice. Of all the land Captain Barathokey chose this particular land and christened it ‘Sonapani Estate’. The subsequent generations took care of the land. Manvendra sure is a deserving inheritor of the land.

The dining room of Leela Orchards Sonapani is decorated with the many hats collected from India and other countries. It is the part of the collection of Manvendra’s father. The home-stay was a vision of Manvendra’s father. He may not be around but his legacy lives through the property.

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Delicious Steamed Rice, Bhat Ki Dal, Saag, Badi at Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand. I also ate maduwe ki roti with ghee and jaggery.

THE FOOD AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

Me along-with Manvendra, his mother and his cute cat sat together next to a bonfire in the

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How about dining al fresco, next to an earthen oven. At Leela Orchards, Sonapani, Mukteshwar

night. We talked for hours, losing track of time. Manvendra is the go to person if you want to learn about the local culture. Despite his young age, he had answers to all my questions. We sat at the canopied open area just outside the kitchen and the dining hall. The family, staff and the pet cat stay in this part of the resort. The conversations were followed by a delicious home cooked dinner including hot maduwe ki roti, smeared with ghee (Clarified butter) and jaggery. On the next day, I demanded to eat more local meals. I was served delicious bhat ki dal, mixed green leaves saag, home-made pickles, fruit chutney (I over ate) and badi in a mildly spicy curry. It was a very satisfying meal which left me begging for more. There is a large kitchen garden near the home-stay where the family grows vegetables, fruits and more. You feel the difference in the food since it is all organic. It’s enriching experiences such as these which keep me motivated to travel. The warmth of the family has made this trip special.

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My room in Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

The home-stay promotes treks, long walks and communing with nature, none of which makes you guilty of adding carbon footprints. I was also delighted to see bottles of filtered water and not mineral water bottles which generate plastic. All the food that you eat is pesticide food and organic. Little initiatives like these go a long way in creating a better planet. I request that if you go there, please pack all the plastic which you generated and bring it back to the city and dispose. I myself collected all the chips and wafers packets which I brought along and stashed them in my bag. It is always good to clean your own mess.

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This old mansions is the ancestral property of the owners of Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

HOW TO REACH LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

  • I reached Bhatelia via bus (Rs.35) from Malla Ramgarh Bazar area. I started at 11:30 a.m. and reached 12:15 p.m. Just a little ahead of Bhatelia is Mukteshwar main market. Plenty of shared cars were available at Bhatelia.
  • I booked a reserved taxi to the home-stay on the spot for Rs. 500. If you take right just ahead of Mukteshwar Market, a check post of IVRI campus (Vet College) appears. As you drive from Bhatelia, you will arrive Sitla after 9 kms. The home-stay is 5 kms from Sitla. The Leela Orchards, Sonapani is 30 minutes away from Bhatelia by cab.
  • Landmark: Ask for Satkhol Himalayan Ashram anyone. There is a main gate to the ashram. After entering the gate, If you take the road on right hand side, you will reach the home-stay after 2 kms. It is the last construction in this direction. You can drive upto the home-stay. The roads are great through most of the journey except the last 2 kms. Tip: Public transport is available from the road outside the Ashram. The frequency is low. On return, I waited for the 2 p.m. direct bus to Bhowali which took me 2 hrs. From Bhowali, I took shared cab to Nainital and then to New Delhi. Bhowali to Nainital is 20 minutes and costs Rs.20 in shared cab. Nainital to New Delhi via Govt bus starts at 9 p.m. from Nainital bus stand and reaches 6 a.m. at Anand Vihar, New Delhi.

Alternatively, book a reserved taxi from Nainital/Haldwani/Almora/Kathgodam/Ramgarh. The home-stay also arranges pre booked taxi on demand.

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Village walk to Kafura Village near Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

WHAT IS THE COST OF ROOM AT LEELA ORCHARDS HOME STAY, SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR:

The pricing is reasonable and affordable since the tariff is inclusive of bed tea, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, all taxes for 2 pax. This makes it ideal for couples, family, friends and corporate trips. If you go dutch with a friend it is an even more economical option since the cost is split into two. It can’t get more affordable than this.

The view from my #SoulWindow is full of warmth!

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“Some people have the entire flat the size of this washroom in Mumbai.” The huge wash room of Leela Orchards Home-Stay, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

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GOLDEN CHARIOT: THE ONLY LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA. FIND OUT WHAT IT’S LIKE.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

THE SOUTHERN SPLENDOUR ROUTE OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, the luxury train of South India is irresistible. It covers the best of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Pondicherry in 7 nights and 8 days. The Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot starts from Bengaluru and covers destinations such as Chennai, Mahabalipuram aka Mammallapuram, Puducherry aka Pondicherry, Thanjavur, Trichy, Madurai, Kanyakumari, Kovalam, Alleypey and Kochi. When the Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation (KSTDC) invited me on a Media Trip to Golden Chariot, I instantly said yes. This was also the trip when I started traveling again after a break of few months because I was tired of traveling. I knew it would take something special to make me fall in love with travel again. I am glad I boarded the right train, the Golden Chariot. It is now one of my finest travel memories.

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View of a sleeper class from Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India. I love both!

Indian Railways has been my choice number one when it comes to the mode of transport. Trains are close to my heart. In some way or the other, trains have been a part of more than 90 % of my journeys. However, it was the first time I was traveling in a luxury train. I am a hotel management (IHM Lucknow) pass-out. During my industrial training in the palatial Taj Palace Hotel in New Delhi, I was awed by the Orient Express restaurant.

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The Bar Madira at Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

The theme of the restaurant was the famous luxury train of Europe. I would stare at it, mouth agape, imagining how the real Orient Express must have been like. Experiencing the Orient Express is a false dream since it has been discontinued. However, India has many luxury trains with impeccable service, food and delightful destinations to choose from. Southern Splendour of Golden Chariot is a clear winner because of the variety it offers in such short span of time. The train derives its name from the famous Stone Chariot in Hampi, a world heritage site in Karnataka.

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Indian and foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

We were welcomed with much fanfare at Hotel Taj West End, Bangalore. We were registered at a desk followed up by a high tea and power point presentation by Mr. Abhijay Verma, general manager. The evening was closed with a wonderful performance by trained classical dancers. The Thanjavur doll dance won my heart. It actually seemed like that the dolls and not humans were dancing.

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Dancers performing Thanjavur doll dance at Taj West End Bangalore. It was the opening ceremony of the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

As soon as we arrived at the Yeshwantpur Railway Station in Bengaluru, the music makers welcomed us with aplomb. Wearing impeccably white shirts and lungi (sarong), they passionately played the thavil, a drum hanging from their shoulder with a cloth locally called nadai. Their fingers were covered with thimble like finger caps. Made of rice flour or maida flour, the caps are called Koodu.The other man played Nadaswaram, a metallic pipe which flares up at the bottom like a bell.

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The bar Madira. Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

Both Thavil and Nadaswaram are ancient musical instruments of South India. These are widely used in weddings, temples and carnatic music. The women garlanded us as the curious crowd jumped from across the barrier to get a glimpse of the train interiors and its occupants. The theme of curious onlookers continued for the entire journey. People would get curious and excited every time the train passed through a destination or was parked at a station. On one of the day, I saw the railway attendants of another train requesting to catch a glimpse of the interiors of the Golden Chariot. Moments like these made me grateful that such an opportunity came my way. Moments like these gave me the epiphany that we are in the midst of something special and exclusive.

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MY FIRST REACTION: THE ENTRY TO THE GOLDEN CHARIOT VIA MADIRA BAR

I vividly remember my reaction as soon as I entered the Golden Chariot. We made our first entry in the Golden Chariot through the only bar of the train called Madira (Meaning alcohol). “Wow”, that was all I could manage as soon as I entered the bar Madira in the Golden Chariot. It took me a while to accept that the luxurious furnishings and the well stocked bar was indeed inside an Indian train. As if to calm our nerves we were served complimentary red wine and white wine.

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Me in the bar of Golden Chariot. Luxury Train Of South India. Pic by Ami Bhat

I couldn’t help but minutely notice each and every detail of the bar, smile never leaving my lips. It was something which I had never experienced before despite having traveled across more than 150 destinations in India and beyond since 2008. For the entire trip, Madira bar was our exit point for everyday sightseeing. The entire Golden Chariot train,. We discovered was nothing less than a palace. Be it the furniture, the furnishings, the carpeting, the food, the service or the facilities, everything matched the level of any 5 star property.

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Me in my room in the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

ROOMS OF GOLDEN CHARIOT, THE LUXURY TRAIN OF SOUTH INDIA!

I was curious to see the rooms. Each room had either twin beds or double beds. Interestingly, the décor of each coach of the Golden Chariot is designed differently. Christened after the famed dynasties of South India, viz. Yadukula, Hoysala, Adilshahi, Ganga, Chalukya, Vijayanagara, the décor of each room and coach reflected the architectural style of the respective era. The luxury train is managed by Mapple hotels. There are total 18 coaches with 11 passenger coaches boasting of well equipped private cabins (Rooms). Each room was appointed with a television.

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Madira bar, The Golden Chariot, luxury train.

Since cable TV is not possible due to the movement, we were given a choice of watching films on demand. Not a TV person, I used my leisure time reading the books on Karnataka and Mysore which were thoughtfully kept on the table near my bed. Some of the rooms had foldable berths which you can pull down if required; just like in regular trains. This means that upto 3 individuals can accommodate in some of the rooms.

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Views from my room in Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India

Since I had the room to myself, the child in me would hop on to the either of the twin beds. If the train moved in day, I would sit by the bed on the window side and admire the change in the beautiful sceneries of South India. Palm fringed landscapes, huge water bodies, charming huts, and mountains dominated the views from the train window. Scores of wind mills (at Aralvaymoli station near Kanyakumari) caught my attention. This is my favourite pastime every time I am in an Indian Train. However, doing it in a private room in an air conditioned luxurious train is something I will not forget in a lifetime. Most of the movement of train was during the night. On only few occasions did we get to see moving sceneries since most of the day was spent in sightseeing.

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My Room in the Yadukula Coach of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.
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Attached washroom in Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The washrooms are appointed with shaving kit, dental care, soaps, shampoo, conditioner, bath gel, moisturizer and slippers. Despite the tiny size of the washroom, space management has ensured that the rack to keep toileteries, shower area, W.C. and the washbasin are compartmentalized making the movement easy and swift. It was a weird feeling for me to have a hot shower in a moving train. The room has two large mirrors; one is in the washroom above washbasin and the other one is on the washroom door, towards the room side.

FACILITIES OF THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN:

A personalized room attendant is appointed in each coach. All one has to do is press the buzzer and the attendant will appear on your door, ready to serve you with a smile. Not much of a fussy traveler, I never used this facility but it’s a great idea to appoint each room with an attendant. It helps especially the elderly for anything they might need. The attendants sleep near the entrance of their respective coaches. Each coach is also appointed with a well stocked pantry. This is important because due to the layout of the linear palace, it takes time to reach the other coaches or restaurants and bar. Even luxury has its limitations! Also, I wished there was an individual temperature control panel in the room. In case a guest wanted to increase or decrease the temperature, he/she was required to use the buzzer and instruct the room attendant.

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Me with the room attendant of Yadukula coach. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Me at the sit out area, Golden Chariot. Luxury Train.

Some space is left at one end of each coach for a sit out area. 4 chairs and 2 tables are placed next to the door windows. The walls of the sit out area are decorated with South Indian elements such as dance themed face masks. The tables are stocked with fresh newspaper. Every day, there are announcements done in the train. The announcement reaches each corner of the train including rooms, washrooms and spa etc. There is a well appointed business centre as well. Laundry facility is available with a same day return policy. Besides a readily available first aid kit, a doctor on call is also available at each station. All coaches are open, not locked. All 4 doors have only one top latch provided for a quick escape during any emergency. All the services at the spa are chargeable. There are many therapies to choose from.They have a menu card for the same.

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The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halts at Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari. Scores of wind mills dotted the landscape.

The Madira Bar of The Golden Chariot: The bar at Golden Chariot is grand. Thanks to its well planned layout, rich furnishings and a lively ambiance, it was the most preferred place for all the passengers to have a conversation, sip wine, read books or socialize. Interactive events like live South Indian cooking demo was held in this area. The women also flocked to the bar to get their palms painted with Mehandi/Heena during an event. The best part: There is no closing time for the bar. The bar stays open till the last drink is ordered. The consumables at the bars are chargeable separately. But oh, there are happy hours as well.

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Chess and other pastimes at Madira Bar. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

THE RESTAURANTS AND FOOD AT THE GOLDEN CHARIOT, LUXURY TRAIN

There are 2 restaurants in the Golden Chariot. The food in Golden Chariot is so tasteful that I used to wait for my next meal every day. In fact the food and service in Golden Chariot is one of its highlights. Mr. Mahender Singh Rathore, food and beverage manager has been the part of the management ever since its inception. He personally takes care of the need of each guest. I talked to some foreign guests from Canada, Fiji and Ireland and they seemed delighted with the quality of the European cuisine and service on board. Every day, the breakfast and dinner was aboard the Golden Chariot Train. The lunch was served in the luxury hotels of the cities we visited. The breakfast aboard the Golden Chariot comprised of fresh fruits, juices and a choice of continental and Indian meals. I was impressed with the freshness of the food despite the change in its city every day. The executive chef Deepak Chaubey told me, “We source fresh ingredients every day. We have our tie ups at each station which facilitates it. Quality is never compromised.”

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Indian Food in the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

The breakfast and dinner in Golden Chariot also had a choice of continental food. Below are some of the dishes I stuffed my face with.

Breakfast (Indian) –Masala Dosa, Aaloo Paratha, Idli, Palak Poori, Khara and Kesari Bhath, Gobhi Paratha, Khara Pongal, Masala Vada, Poori Bhaji, Paneer Paratha, Shavige Bhath, Ajwaiini Poori.

Breakfast (Non Indian): Cheese platter with olive and crackers, Muffins, Croissants with assorted jams, honey and butter, Wheat Flakes, Corn Flakes, Oatmeal, Muesli, Seasonal Cut fruits, juices.

Beverages (Non Alcoholic) – Tea (Darjeeling/Masala/Earl Grey/English Breakfast/Green Tea), Coffee (South Indian Filter/Cappucino/Espresso/Latte), Hot Chocolate

Soups served were Mulligatawny Soup, Tamatar Dhaniya Shorba, Crème Dubarry, Mushroom and Barley Soup

Salads– Grilled pineapple and prunes salad, Creamy cucumber with cashew kernels, Crispy coleslaw, Three Bean Salad.

Entrée– Bouqueterie of vegetables and herbed potatoes, Basil Scented Vegetable Skewers, Grilled Mediterranean Vegetables with Fruit Salsa, Fettuccine Alfredo,

Indian– Manguluru Paneer Masala, Mysuru Brinjal Curry, Drumstick Ulli Sambhar, Zafarani Pulao, Lal Mirch Paratha, Mirch Bhutta Makhana, Kandhari Kofta, Hare Cholia Te Paneer, Khattey Aaloo, Tawa Paratha, Panchras dal, Jeera Rice, Tomato Raita, Palak Khumb, Paneer Lababdar, Kadi pakodi, Aloo Udaygiri, Kerala Parotta, Angoori Pulao

Dessert – Tender coconut soufflé, Gulab Jamun, Dharwadi Bendekai, Pineapple Strudels, Nariyal Til Sikkha, Tiramisu, Sheer Korma, Apple Cinnamon Pie, Zafrani Gajar aur Badam Kheer.

Pictures above- (Left to right) 1) Executive chef Mr. Deepak Chaubey; 2) Continental dish served in the Golden Chariot, luxury train.

The Staff and Service: The staff is courteous, very attentive and gives importance to the smallest of request from the guests.

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The Tour Map of Southern Splendour Golden Chariot

Below are the two routes of the Golden Chariot, the only luxury train of South India:

Golden Chariot Pride of South Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Chennai & Mammallapuram-Pondicherry-Thanjavur-Madurai-Trivandrum & Kovalam Beach-Kerala backwaters & Kochi-Bangalore

Southern Splendour Golden Chariot Brief Itinerary: Bangalore-Kabini-Mysore-Hassan-Hampi-Badami-Goa-Bangalore

I covered the Southern Splendour.

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Foreign guests at the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.

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The bus used for sights-seeing for guests of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train.

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Me in one of the restaurants of the Golden Chariot, the luxury train of South India.

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Pictures (Left to Right)- Spa, Gym and Aisle of the Golden Chariot. Please click to enlarge.

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Cooking demo by executive chef and team at Madira Bar, the Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Scenes from my window at The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India.
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Aralvaymoli near Kanyakumari is abundant of wind mills. The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India halted here for sometime.
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The view of Sleeper Class from one of the windows of The Golden Chariot, luxury train of South India. Both are dear to me.

P.S. The pictures featuring me clicked by Ami Bhat and Swati Jain. Rest of the pictures are clicked by me

AMARI RESORT AT RAMGARH NEAR NAINITAL IS THE PERFECT LUXURY BREAK FROM DELHI!

AAMARI RESORTS IN RAMGARH near Nainital is easily the best resort in the area. It is a perfect weekend break from Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon.  1 hour away from the touristy Nainital, Aamari resort at Ramgarh is a perfect abode away from the city life. When I planned a trip to Nainital, Ramgarh and Mukteshwar, I decided to make Aamari resort my base and explore the gems nearby.

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One of the 3 bed rooms at the Sky Villa in Aamari Resorts, Ramgarh

ACTIVITIES AT AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

I spent the last day just enjoying the property. There is so much you can do in the property. I walked around the property for some-time followed by a stroll on the road appreciating the fairy-tailish pink, white and red flowers which dominated the natural landscape. The rest of the day was spent at leisure in reading (No, I didn’t switch on the TV), enjoying the delicious food, siesta, indulging in sauna bath, the works!

On the first day, I booked a cab to Nainital and explored the usual and the offbeat places to see in Nainital, especially the houses where legendary Jim Corbett stayed. The second day was spent exploring the offbeat gem that Ramgarh is. I hiked near the hills of the resort to arrive at the ruins of a house where Nobel Laureate Rabindra Nath Tagore lived for some years and wrote part of his famous work Geetanjali. Just ahead of the Malla Ramgarh Bazaar, I walked at an adjacent pathway for some time and visited the house of noted Hindi writer Mahadevi Verma. There sure is something about hills and world famous writers! Aamari resort is blessed to be built on a hill where verses of Geetanjali still soulfully echo.

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My room (Room number 104) at Aamari Resort, Ramgarh

THE ROOMS AT AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

I stayed in room number 104. The moment I entered the room, I was awed by the sheer size of the room. The pool facing rooms at Aamari are huge and so is the King size bed. The mattress used in the bed is fluffy and comfortable. That, combined with a lovely weather ensured I get sound sleep during my 3 days stay in the resort. On one side of the bed was electric kettle and teabags, creamer etc placed atop a rack. On the other side is a writing table equipped with lights. The room comes with many lighting options to suit your mood.

There is a sofa, chair and central table at the sitting area next to a giant window which overlooks the pool, the property, glimpses of road and the valley along-with the mighty Himalayan ranges. This was my favourite part of the room. Just as you enter the room, there is a wardrobe with tall mirrors on the left hand side. A little ahead is the washroom. Again, the size and layout of the washroom is impressive. It also comes with different lighting option to suit the mood. (I preferred the dim lights). The wash basin area is large, leaving enough space for dressing up.  It was a pleasure to have a hot shower in the well stocked glass cubicle. The shower head was large and the water pressure was just right. The washroom was stocked with the usual suspects- soaps, shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer.

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The lovely sit out area outside my room at Aamari Resort. It is great secluded spot to soak in some winter sun or enjoy bonfire in night.

THE AAMARI RESORT, RAMGARH PROPERTY:

I arrived late night in the first week of March via a cab and slept in the comfortable bed post dinner. The next morning, I opened the huge window of my room and was delighted with the sight of snow capped Himalayan Ranges such as the mighty Trishul, Nanda Devi, Panchacholi and Nandakot. I chose to have the breakfast in my room by the window so that I could enjoy the stunning views with my meals. The room is equipped with mirrors at the entrance and at the writing table.

Just outside the room is a lovely sit out area where I enjoyed reading a book in the swing fashioned out of cane. As darkness fell, I used to sit here having conversations around bonfires. The property is sprawling. Its 22 luxurious rooms are spread across multi level. Some rooms are garden facing while some are pool facing. There is a set of room near the car parking which is accessed by a car and thus is ideal for elderly who might find it difficult to walk up the stairs to reach other rooms.

The property is landscaped thoughtfully. Colorful Beer and Vodka bottles hang from a tree near the reception area. The poolside area comes with 2 large round cane chairs which can seat many people. There is a sit out area opposite the pool where I enjoyed Hot Chocolate during nights. The large banquet hall and the spacious indoor restaurant are ideal for large groups. You will notice the theme of a Cruise Ship throughout the property including the restaurant.

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The ship themed restaurant at Aamari Resort, Ramgarh

THE DAZZLING SKY VILLA AT AAMARI RESORT, RAMGARH:

The 3 bedroom Sky Villa near the sunset point took my breath away. It is a little away from the main property of Aamari Resorts. Sky Villa is a separate bungalow managed by the property. It overlooks the gorgeous valley below and is accessed by either vehicle or a long walk. It has 3 bedrooms on 2 stories, outdoor sit out areas, courtyards, indoor sit out areas with top to bottom glass walls and a well equipped kitchen. It is a great place to spend time with family or a group of friends. I was awestruck with the villa and its location. It is close to the sunset point from where I had an amazing view of the distant mountains and valley bathed in golden light. A small hike from here takes you to a viewpoint from where you can have a bird’s eye view of the famous lake in Bhimtal.

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Food is delicious at Aamari Resort, Ramgarh. My favourite was Paneer Kali Mirch

THE FOOD AT AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

During my 3 days stay at Aamari Resorts, I ordered a variety of food. Tamara Khaas Kofta (Pistachio and Khoya Stuffed Dumplings in rich Tomato gravy) and Paneer Kali Mirch were my absolute favourite. I also enjoyed the pasta in red sauce. On most days I had hearty breakfast of Aaaloo ka Paratha, Gobhi ka paratha and Poori-Bhaji, all of them done to perfection.

That said, the Paneer Butter Masala could have been better. The vegetables au gratin was good except the distracting sweet chunks of pineapple at times. You may want to tell them to skip the pineapple if you choose to order it. The quantity of the food is good and one entrée is sufficient for 2 people.

OTHER FACILITIES AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

There are myriad activities one can do at Aamari Resorts. There are many trekking trails which in house experts take you to. These are easy routes. They also offer outdoor picnic options. One can also indulge in soft adventure sports like rappelling, rock climbing, archery, spider nest, flying fox and valley crossing. These are monitored and organized by in house experts. For the less adventurous kinds, indoor games like carom, chess is available. You can also play basketball, badminton and football. Just above the reception is the facility for steam and sauna bath.  You can also check out the nearby adobe houses, Gagar Temple, Fossil remains on the hills etc.

RESPONSIBLE LUXURY AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

I love the luxury properties like Aamari resorts which accept my request to replace the bottled mineral water with filtered water. It’s my little way to say no to generation of plastic. I also make it a point to reuse the towels the next day. If all of us start doing it, it helps us save a lot of water. I am glad Aamari Resorts promote that habit. I was impressed to know that Aamari Resorts hire local talent whom they train and nurture from scratch. Collective travel to reduce transport, trekking and walking are some of the means by which they strive to cut the carbon footprint of travelers.

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The separate 3 bed room Sky Villa is stuff dreams are made up of. Can’t afford? Go with friends and family and split the cost. It’s worth it!

HOW TO REACH AAMARI RESORTS, RAMGARH:

Just before the Malla Ramgarh Bazaar on the main Bhowali-Mukteshwar road, the Aamari Resorts is unmissable. Nestled in the Himalayan Heights Complex towards the right hand side of the road, it stands out thanks to its grandeur.  It is one hour away from Nainital. You can reach Nainital by bus. From Nainital, the taxi costs Rs.500 and takes 1 hour to reach. In case you reach in night, make sure you hire a reliable taxi. Chances are that after 7 or 8 p.m., on some stretches, you will be the only one driving on that road. Try to reach before sun set.  The cab driver charged me Rs.700 at 8 p.m. (Rs.200 from the usual Rs.500)

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The entrance to my room at Aamari Resorts, Ramgarh

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MY 10 FAVORITE PLACES TO SEE IN MUMBAI, INDIA!

I have many favourite places to see in Mumbai. Having stayed in Mumbai for 7 years, I spent many weekends exploring the city. Many of my local friends have told me that they don’t understand Mumbai the way I do. In fact, when I was still living in Mumbai, my visiting friends often requested me to show them the city  through my eyes. I enjoyed taking them to my favourite places. Now that I have shifted to Delhi, I still keep getting messages from friends and readers, requesting me to suggest best places to see in Mumbai. It is tough to write this blog because I love each and every place in Mumbai.

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Peace and tranquility at Banganga tank, Malabar Hills, Mumbai

South Mumbai: South Mumbai is my absolute favourite place to see in Mumbai. Some of my must do activities to do in So Bo (as the cool kids call it) are: Watching sunsets at Marine drive, admiring art deco heritage buildings, bingeing on Aram Vada pao and jumbo sugarcane juice, watching movies in heritage theatres, boozing at Mondegar, Leopold and Gokul, checking out the latest

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Fort area in South Mumbai near VT aka CST Station at 5 a.m.

exhibitions in Jehangir Art Gallery, taking a ferry ride to Elephanta Caves from Gateway of India, buying second hand books near Fashion Street, exploring parks of salubrious Malabar Hills, sitting peacefully by the quaint Banganga Tank and of course attending the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.  I used to spend most of my weekends here, just enjoying the many faces of this side of Mumbai. I am sure I have skipped some of the places in So Bo, because there are so many things I enjoyed doing here. I feel like writing a separate blog on So Bo.

 

Masjid: Near CST aka VT station, it is my annual haunt during the Ramadan period. I am a vegetarian still enjoy hunting for vegetarian dishes during the Ramadan period in Mohammed Ali Road, Masjid area. On regular days also, the area intrigues me. I have spent many days exploring the many heritage buildings, mosques and temples in the area. Not to forget, my personal bonding with the slum kids near Masjid station.

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Grafitti art outside the walls of people’s homes in Chapel Road, Bandra. Near Lilavati Hospital

Bandra: Breezy, arty and very chic, Bandra refreshes me every time I go there. Whether it is exploring the classy cafes or just enjoying a simple sweet corn on Bandstand promenade, Bandra has something for everyone. The views of Bandra Worli Sea Link are the highlight. The star houses are another attraction. I still remember the madness I witnessed when I saw Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan waving to his fans from his house Mannat on his birthday. The graffiti,heritage buildings and crosses add charm to the Chapel road.

Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Kanheri Caves: The ancient Kanheri Caves within the Sanjay Gandhi National Park awes me every time I am there. The SGNP is the place where I spent many mornings practising photography in my initial days. Needless to say, the SGNP is ethereal in monsoons. It is easily accessed via Kandivali and Borivali.

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Heritage Homes, Khotachiwadi, Mumbai

Santa Cruz: I love getting down at this and explore its quaint streets. I loved spending many evenings watching plays and spotting celebrities at the iconic Prithvi theatre. Before and after the play, I made it a point to stroll along the adjacent Juhu Beach. On two occasions, I waited for hours to see Mr. Amitabh Bachchan appear before his fans outside his house in Juhu.

Powai: I discovered Powai Lake and IIT Powai while I was learning photography. We were taken to the IIT campus to polish our skills. It was refreshing for me to discover a sprawling green expanse in a metropolis which is perennially space crunched. The lake had occupied my attention for a long time when I was there. And oh, also the warning board, “Don’t roam around in night. There are leopards around.”

Khotachiwadi: The old heritage houses near the fort area fascinated me. I made many visits just walking in the quaint lanes of this colony. What is special about this place is that all the homes are made up of wood. Many of the original houses have disappeared. Yet, many still stand strong, giving us a glimpse of the past.

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Flamingoes at Sewri, Mumbai

Bhaucha Dhakka: I would often board the first local train from my home in Navi Mumbai to Dockyard Road. Starting at 4 a.m., I would reach Bhaucha Dhakka by 5-6 a.m. The many fishermen would congregate here to sell the fish. The chaotic movement and the sheer quantity of marine life sold on streets amazed me.

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Early morning at Bhaucha Dhakka, Mumbai

Sewri: Sewri was my favourite haunt for watching the migratory Flamingoes every February. I would join a photography group and would welcome the faraway guests every winter along with other enthusiasts. The other places I found great for flamingo watching are Nerul and Sagar Vihar in Vashi, Navi Mumbai.

Vipassana Centre, Boriwali: The calm one experiences here is rare in a chaotic city like Mumbai. If I arrived here by ferry, the sights would catch my attention. Via road, the salt pans had my eyes peeled on the way. I can spend hours here, just doing nothing.

You too can enjoy these places the next time you are in Mumbai. Of course, there are many more places in Mumbai which are close to my heart. Maybe a sequel to this blog will follow soon.

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Ramadan Festivity, Mohammed Ali Road, Mumbai

Places to stay in Mumbai: Renaissance Hotel in Powai is an excellent choice for the well-heeled. Not only is its food famous but it also enjoys a great location. Situated opposite the serene Powai Lake, it is a calm haven away from the chaos of Mumbai.

Feeling nostalgic about Mumbai like me? Or just want to discover these places? Book your flight with Indian Airlines and make it happen!

 

RELATED BLOGS:

HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED THE 4 a.m. MUMBAI? IT IS MY FAVORITE MUMBAI!

GUDI PADWA – THE GRAND CARNIVAL OF MUMBAI CALLED SHOBHA YATRA!

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Attending Shobha Yatra during Gudi Padwa in Dombiwali is another favourite activity to do in Mumbai. Not including in the list because it is an annual event.

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Me eating Pao Bhaji at Churchgate Station at 5 a.m.

 

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHY 4 MONTHS OF NON STOP TRAVEL MADE ME HATE TRAVEL!

TO TRAVEL NON STOP FOR 4 MONTHS NON STOP! That was my travel fantasy when I was still working in Navi Mumbai in a 9 to 5 corporate job (Fine, make that 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. job). Sitting at my desk all day, I would dream of packing my bags to never return. My day dreaming would be assaulted with more official excel sheets (some of which I used surreptitiously for making my travel plans for next few months). Circa 2016! As I mentioned in an earlier blog, 2016 was a magical year for me travel wise.

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Me at Tiger’s Nest Monastery aka Paro Taktsang

Thanks to my new freelance lifestyle, I had the freedom to realize my dream of traveling non-stop. I had accepted a bit too many professional invites for Press Trips and planned many of my personal travels as well. So from August 2016 to November 2016, it was non-stop travel for me for 4 months. Between this period, I showed up at my brother’s house (I was staying with him till then) only for few hours. I would be back home only to wash and change clothes, rest or deliver already delayed projects before starting my next travel. I remember before my Amazing Trip To Ladakh, I took a post midnight cab to home, picked fresh clothes, unpacked and packed my luggage again and leave before 5 a.m. to catch flight to Leh. Within those few hours, I crazily packed my bag, answered mails and even submitted assignments. As I was unpacking and packing I realized much of my room resembled a war zone. I wasted a lot of time to find my things. Because I had had no time to organize my life!

COMPLETE GUIDE TO PARO TAKTSANG AKA TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY IN BHUTAN

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Offbeat Bhutan : Cycling in Unseen Thimphu

Since November end to present day (February 2017), I have been declining Media Trips because I want to concentrate on my writing, earning and other pursuits in life.  I will start traveling again hopefully towards the end of February 2017. Till then, I just want to be at peace. I used my sabbatical from travel well to write more articles for print travel magazines and newspapers, to burn lot of food every day in my kitchen (I am a hopeless cook), play with my friend’s dog, catch up on movies and dining with my friends, organize my desk. I caught up with food festivals, film festivals, book fair and restaurant hopping in New Delhi too. I had spent quality time at 2 of my friend’s quiet homes and offices to write pending blogs. The month of December was most productive as I wrote around 20 blogs in December alone, most of it on Jordan and Bhutan etc. I also managed my finances and raised pending bills and earned more. I further augmented more wealth for me by landing up for assignments for me. On one of the days, I wrote 4 articles in a day! And oh, I caught up on a lot of sleep too. It was a creatively satisfying phase and I hope to repeat it again.

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Click to read about the mystery behind Penis paintings on walls of Bhutan near Chimi Lhakhang

I have realized that I can’t be location independent. I realized that my fantasy was just a fantasy! When I actually tried to live my fantasy of traveling non-stop, I ended up cancelling my own trips. After being on road and in air for so long, I had realized that I do like a base to come back to. (Coz बाबा को base पसंद है). I also realized that no matter how much I love travel, it is not the only thing I want to do. I was itching to read lots of books, even newspapers (I am known for reading 2 months old newspaper even when not traveling), catch up on Bollywood and world cinema (I saw 15 Iranian films in between), meet old friends, spend time with parents and nephews and nieces. On most of my travels in this period I carried books to read. Not even once did I get time to read those thanks to my packed schedules during travel. I talk to my parents in Lucknow daily on phone since 2008, when I left home. I had to request them to hang up because I was too tired (mentally) to even talk)

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I went to a remote village Sehore in Madhya Pradesh to see how Delhi girl Sanjana Kaushik is changing lives in rural India.

Even places like Ladakh, where I had planned 16 days trip started to make me restless. Even though it was my first time in Ladakh, I was constantly craving to get back home. This, when I don’t even like Delhi or Ghaziabad, my adopted home since 1 year! I realized I started to enjoy travel less and on every travel, after a few days, there were moments when I just wanted it to end right there. Perhaps if I was a newbie traveler, I would have still enjoyed it but after having traveled to more than 150 destinations in India since 2008, most of it solo travel in shoestring budgets, I was near saturation. I didn’t want to kill travel for me and since December 2016 I took a strict sabbatical from Travel. Not very long ago (Till just a few month ago), I used to crave for such a trip. From being Fired for travelling too much in 2015 to Tired of travelling too much in 2016, I had seen a paradigm shift in my travel aspirations within a year, a bit too fast. Henceforth, my focus this year onwards is to choose my official trips carefully.

  • I don’t want to travel for more than 10 days in a month.
  • I also want to travel more and more with parents, friends.
  • That said, I realized how much I crave to go back to my original Solo Travel Style. I did manage some amazing Solo Travel experiences last year. I hope to plan some epic solo travels for myself this year.
  • I want to choose my Press Trips more carefully. I should be charged up about the destination before committing.
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Taj Balloon Festival near Taj Mahal Agra was the highlight of my trips.

This break from travel was also important because I finally shifted to my own rented apartment in January 2017. When I shifted from Navi Mumbai to Ghaziabad to stay with my brother in November 2015, I knew I would move out within a year. But I was unable to even find time to go apartment hunting because I was hardly seen at home. Much of January was spent in organizing my life and cutting the clutter. From August 2017 to January 2017 (staying at 2 of my friend’s homes) I was literally living out of suitcases and backpacks wearing the same set of clothes over and again. It was fun and challenging but also cumbersome.

Before Ladakh in September, a Media Trip to Bhutan for 10 days happened to me in August. After enjoying Paro, Thimphu, Punakha and Haa Valley at leisure, I spent quality time with parents at Mussoorie and Landour.   September was marked with 16 days in Ladakh. After Ladakh, I made a solo trip to Mumbai, Bangalore and Agumbe, Ikkeri, Kaledi, Shimoga, Jog falls in Karnataka. It was a mix of flights, rickety buses and sleeper class trains. My train to Mumbai from Delhi was not even sleeper class. It was an overnight Chair Car journey in Gareeb Rath.  September was indeed my busiest month.

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Did you know about the Corn Village Bhutoli in Mussoorie? Mosaic Hotels helped me find!

By the time it was October, I had started cancelling my own travels. Never before had I stood at a railway platform with my backpack and cancelled my own tickets. As I sat in metro to Nizamuddin railway station, I was boggled by the amount of work pending. The horrific visions of messy desk and room nagged me further. Upon reaching, I just cancelled the sleeper class train ticket to Surat on my cellphone and returned back to home. I promised myself to travel to Surat next winter to sample the seasonal dishes Ponk and Oundhiyo. Never before in my life had I done something like this. I even cancelled my much awaited trip to Kolkata on Durga Pooja in October. I had wanted to do it since eons. When I was so close to realizing that dream, I cancelled the ticket myself because 1) I was tired and 2) I had so much of freelance work pending). Before this, I explored Madhya Pradesh (Satpura, Bhopal, Pachmarhi, Sanchi, Sehore and Bhimbhetka.) for 7 days. I also stayed at parents’ home in Lucknow for sometime during Diwali. I had plans to visit nearby Ayodhya, Faizabad and Varanasi but I was too tired and just wanted to chill at home and eat some comfort food made by mom. November was all about hot air balloon ride near Taj Mahal and a quick trip to Boat Festival in Goa. I almost said no to these 2 invites. But it was so tempting I had to go. This was the time when I started to slow down. In reality, my 4 month long non-stop travel thus had brief moments of rest at home, thanks to the cancellations.

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Alongwith Naropa Festival, I also attended the Ladakh Festival in Leh.

I don’t know if I will travel like this again (Though I still have some crazy travel plans) but for now I want to take it slow. Kudos to those travelers who spend months on road! Before this trip, the most I had travelled at a stretch was one month in Nepal in 2015 (Everest Base camp Trek and Kathmandu). I remember I was itching for a base even then.

It taught me that we should all understand what personality types we are and make travel plans which suit our personalities. I would love your views on this. Does the same thing happen to you as well or do you love living out of suitcases and backpacks? Do let me know in the comment section below.

This song from the Bollywood film Lootera sums up my current state of mind well.

ना उड़ने की इस दफा ठानी परिंदो ने भी वफा जानी. शिकायते मिटाने चली; सुबह बेदाग है!”

(“Having decided not to fly, even the birds learned to stay this time! I answered all the complaints; the morning is spotless now!”)

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I took some time off from Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart and went to see Sanchi Stupa. Mesmerised, I spent all day here.

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Spotting Gaur aka Bison and other wildlife at Satpura National Park, Madhya Pradesh

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DHANAK THE FILM- ROAD TRIP TO RURAL RAJASTHAN!

Dialogue from Dhanak, the film by Nagesh Kukunoor,

“अब हम साथ में धनक देखेंगे, रात वाला धनक!”

(Now we will see the rainbow together. The rainbow which appears in the night, that is!)

There are noisy big budget Bollywood films and then there are those Bollywood films which release without making much noise, touch the lives of those who appreciate good cinema and remain etched in their memory forever. I prefer the latter.

I went to watch Dhanak with zero expectations. After a sluggish beginning, the film surprised me with its riveting narrative and stellar performances by the kids. The film turned out to be a road movie (of a different kind!)

The story line is simple. A village girl fails her exams on purpose so that she can study with her visually impaired brother. The boy is a fan of Bollywood star Salman Khan while the girl is a fan of Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. Both are Bollywood megastars and apparently rivals. When news spreads that Shahrukh Khan is shooting in nearby Jaisalmer, the girl gets excited. The excitement is less of a fan girl excitement but of the hope that the megastar may help her cure her brother. Earlier in film, she sees him promoting eye donation on posters.

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Watch Dhanak, the film, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor on DVD. (Pic Credit: Drishyam Films)

What ensues is an epic road journey from the nondescript village (Dhani) near Jaitaran to the touristy Jaisalmer and beyond. Dhani (Remember Chowki Dhani?) are the cluster of huts in rural Rajasthan, the residents of which either belong to same caste or family tree or both. The opening sequences slowly revealed the life in a hut in distant Rajasthan through its characters. Sleeping under stars in desert (The quintessential Rajasthan Package for the urban) is an everyday reality here. I wanted to jump into the screen as the wicked aunt cooks Bajra Roti on a wood fired mud oven and the uncle smokes a hukkah.

The kids are rebellious and confidently embark on the journey in the ‘veerana’ (uninhabited lands) all by themselves. What happens next is very relatable to me as a traveler. I have always found the rural Rajasthan more charming than the Rajasthan one sees in brochures. The hospitality, the food, the people in Rajasthan just win your heart. I have found the roads in the hinterlands of Rajasthan to be baby bottom smooth as was also evident in the movie.

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Khichan in Rajasthan was the most memorable part of my road trip to Rural Rajasthan

Having exhausted all their water, the kid bump into a truck driver and ask him for water. Amused by their banter and boy’s dramatic “I am going to die soon.” (he repeats that almost every half an hour), the driver interrupts his siesta and offers them a ride till Garnia naka. He also offers them Amdavadi farsaan (Gujarat shares border with Rajasthan and the influences overlap). The scene was totally believable as I have experienced such goodness on the roads of Rajasthan.

Music and food are important to me when I travel. As they waited for a bus, a ‘saadi ka tractor’ (Tractor carrying wedding attendees) stops. The drunk man in tractor and the little boy indulge in magical jugalbandi. The silence of the desert was broken with the echoes of their mehendi rang lago’ It was melodious and smelt of Rajasthani soil.

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Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan. Why I love rural Rajasthan!

The man offers them a ride, food and an overnight stay. The next day, they leave for Jodhpur sitting atop a jeep. I remember hanging on to the rear of such jeeps in rural Gujarat and feared for my dear life. They end up in a God women ‘Mamtamayi’ Sheera mata’s darbar. The enticing smell of sheera (aka halwa) and poori (fried bread) tempts the boy and they end up missing the bus since they queued up for the food. I have missed some buses in rural and remote areas only so that I could eat more. At other times, I have almost missed my trains and buses because I tend to walk a bit far in search of interesting food during breaks.

TRAVEL GONE WRONG: WHEN I WAS STRANDED IN RURAL GUJARAT IN PITCH DARK

While walking from Lohawat to Jodhpur, they bump into an American. When the American starts singing “All I am saying is, let’s give love a chance” the kid spices it up with a rustic version of ‘damadar mast kalandar’.  It was one of my favourite moment of the film. The jugalbandi ended with the echo of a peacock in the background. In my road trip to rural Rajasthan, I was amused to see hundreds of peacocks on either sides of the road, sometimes even sitting on the paan shops.

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Camels at Pushkar Fair, Rajasthan

The kids meanwhile get kidnapped and then rescued by a ‘banjara’ (nomad) women. Good opportunity to weave in a kalbelia dance performance! The kidnap and rescue was a bit simplistic and so was Shah Rukh Khan rescuing the dehydrated duo later from the desert and sponsoring the boy’s eye operation.

The film ends with the boy getting his vision back and with this heart warming song :

ख्वाबों में अपने तू,

घुल कर खो जा रे

पलकों पे सपने

मल कर सो जा रे

होगी फिर महक तेरे हाथो में

और देखेगा धनक तू रातों में!

 (Get lost in your dreams,

Rub the dreams on your eyelids and go to sleep.

You will discover sweet smell in your hands then,

And you will see a rainbow in the night!)

 

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My picture of Om Banna Temple in rural Rajasthan. They worship motorcycle here! It was shown in the film Dhanak, directed by Nagesh Kukunoor.

Ecstatic to see the sand falling from his hand the boy says, “isn’t it all beautiful?” The sister says, “Yes, everything is beautiful!”

I have noted down the names of the village so that I can make a journey or maybe even follow their trail. The visuals in the film for sure made me want to take this road trip.

Their route (From what I could construct) was:

A dhani near Jaitaran – Lohawat – Jemla Bus Stop – Om Banna Temple – Jodhpur – Jaisalmer.

 

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Dhanak, the film is directed by Nagesh Kukunoor (Pic credit: Drishyam Films)

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Got any question/comments, ask in the comment section below so that it can benefit other readers.

Email me for collaboration: abhinav21@yahoo.com

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