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

A VACATION AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME-STAY AT SONAPANI, MUKTESHWAR is a perfect weekend break from Delhi, Noida and Gurgaon. It is managed by the cheerful Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother. 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 Sonapani Home-Stay, 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 Sonapani is pushing me into trying more home stays in future. This wonderful property overlooks Himalayan range. 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 Sonapani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar (Uttarakhand)

ACTIVITIES AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, MUKTESHWAR:

The LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI 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 Sona Pani Home-stay, 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 Sona Pani Home-Stay, 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 Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand

THE ROOMS AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, 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.

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Manvendra Singh Barathokey and his mother at Leela Orchards Sonapani Home-stay, Mukteshwar. In far distance is their ancestral home. (Pic: Leela Orchards)

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 Sona Pani Home-Stay, 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 Sona Pani Home-Stay, 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.

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Captain Kushal Singh Barathokey. He gave Sona Pani its name. (Credit: Leela Orchards

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.

Manvendra’s grandmother, a housewife was a dynamic lady. There is an old family house near the Leela Orchards Sonapani home-stay. When this house was built, Sona Pani area was a dense forest frequented by fierce tigers. While the house was being built, she used to stand at the construction site, holding the rifle for the safety of workers. She used to say to workers, “If being a lady I can stand here with a rifle, what’s making you so scared to build a house here?” She used to come all the way from Almora to Sonapani on a horse for the construction of the house.

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Great Grandmother of Manvendra from Nepal. Leela Orchards Sona Pani, Mukteshwar (Pic credit: Leela Orchards)

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. Manvendra’s father Late Shri Dipendra Singh Barathokey was a businessman. The Leela Orchards was his brainchild. He may not be around but his legacy lives through the property. Manvendra’s father was born around the same time the ancestral home opposite the home-stay was built. He later named the home-stay after the name of Manvendra’s grandmother.

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

THE FOOD AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME STAY, 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 Sona Pani Home-Stay, Mukteshwar, Uttarakhand.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM AT LEELA ORCHARDS SONAPANI HOME-STAY, 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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Late Shree Dipendra Singh Barathokey with his pet dogs at Leela Orchards, Sona Pani in Mukteshwar

BEST TIME TO VISIT LEELA ORCHARDS, SONA PANI, MUKTESHWAR:

March and April: I went in March and the entire area was a surreal landscape. It is the flowering season and I could see rows of red, pink, white, yellow flowers in whichever direction I set my eyes on.

Mid May to July: It is fruit season. Expect trees laden with peach, apricots, apples and much more.

July and August: Monsoon is a great time to explore the rich flora and fauna of the area. I was shown some monsoon pictures which made me think of planning a visit again in monsoon.
September to January: Best season to see clear views of the Himalayan range is from

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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.

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Grandmother of Manvendra, Leela Orchards Sonapani home-stay, Mukteshwar is named after her by Manvendra’s father (Pic: Leela Orchards)

PLAN A VACATION. DISCOVER THESE PLACES NEAR LEELA ORCHARDS, SONA PANI, MUKTESHAWAR:

MYGRATION STORIES- WHY IS THIS BRAVE LADY LIVING ALONE IN A FOREST IN MUKTESHWAR

LUXURY WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI IN RAMGARH NEAR NAINITAL

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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The Himalayan Range as seen from Leela Orchards, Sona Pani, Mukteshwar (Credit: Leela Orchards)

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.

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.

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.

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!

PLAN A VACATION. DISCOVER THESE PLACES NEAR AAMARIRESORTS, RAMGARH, UTTARAKHAND:

MYGRATION STORIES- WHY IS THIS BRAVE LADY LIVING ALONE IN A FOREST IN MUKTESHWAR

LEELA ORCHARDS HOMESTAY IN MUKTESHWAR: PERFECT CHOICE OF WEEKEND BREAK FROM DELHI IN BUDGET

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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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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Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba- The Ultimate Luxury Experience in Aqaba!

BLOGGING HAS GIVEN ME opportunity to stay in some of the finest hotels and resorts. But often many luxury properties fail to touch your heart and forge a personal bond with you. The smaller properties and home stays are often the better bet.

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View from some of the rooms be like….

Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba is a rarity. Despite its huge size and a large number of staff, everything this resort does exudes warmth and friendliness. I interacted with many of the staff members and each one of them has attended to the guests with utmost care, willingness and a broad genuine smile.

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Its secluded pool!

One of the front office staff Naser Herzallah chatted with us for a long time even after his duty hours was over. When we asked him if we can visit his home for a deeper immersive cultural experience, he did not take even a second to invite us to his home. We could not visit his home due to lack of time.

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The friendly Filipino host Jonalyn Lagaspi at the restaurant.

The next morning, the many Filipino girls at the Palm Court Restaurant & Terrace won our hearts with their attentive and friendly service. They anticipated our need and would leave no stones unturned to give us a memorable experience. The vibrant restaurant has an indoor dining option as well as an outdoor section.

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The al fresco restaurant

It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. I sampled only breakfast which comprised of a wide array of Middle Eastern and European cuisine. The live cooking made the ambiance lively.

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The friendly people who willingly posed for us at the al fresco dining!

Apart from the buffet, the restaurant also offers à la carte dining menu. The second day, I dined in the private dining room which was quieter and less packed. I particularly liked the youthful décor of the restaurant.

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Palm Court Restaurant and Terrace

My suite was huge and airy. Its windows and 2 terraces opened to sweeping views of the Aqaba city. Some of my co travelers got even better views of the ocean. Balcony was my favorite part where I would spend all my leisure time watching the city over a smoke. The bathtub helped me fight the tiredness, thanks to a busy day of travel. The sitting area was huge, none of which I could use due to lack of time. The suite even had a kitchen and a large refrigerator.

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The living room of my suite!

Where Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba wins is its attention to detail. It sure knows how to delight its guests. I was delighted to see a local craft on my bed. It was a gift to me from the resort along with the cookies and delicious dry fruits. Even the bathroom slippers in the hotel were not a bland white. It was colorful and depicted local art.

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My room. Notice the complimentary gift so thoughtfully presented!

The resort is so gorgeous that I couldn’t resist saving some time in the early morning for a property round. There is a bridge which connects the main building to another. This bridge is on the top of the road called King Hussein Street. It was very creatively used for an al fresco Jacuzzi pool. We arrived at the private beach of the hotel from where it offered many water sports. Ala’a Salman, one of the jovial staff took us on a tour. Though he knew little English but we communicated well between smiles and wallahs.

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Ala’a Salman with my co traveler and friend Arka Das.

He even showed us the border of neighboring countries from the hotel. He was another staff member who touched our heart and exceeded our expectations. I like the way people from different countries work here as a team. A co traveler told me his room was serviced by a very friendly attendant from Patna, Bihar! Who would have thought?

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Naser Herzallah was a delightful company. He talked to us for a long time even after his duty hours were over. Picture Credit: Naser Herzallah

Ms. Layali Nashashibi, Director of Communications and PR, herself showed us some of the ethnic decor of the resort and educated us about the history of Mövenpick chain and its core values.A brilliant and vivacious lady, she patiently answered all our questions and offered us the famous Mövenpick ice cream.

I have always valued human interactions more than the material comforts in a luxury property. Not all of them do it well. Very small percentage of luxury hotels get that right. Fortunately, Mövenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba is one of them.

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The private beach of the hotel

And oh, Don’t forget to eat the famous Mövenpick Ice Cream if you go there!

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Don’t forget to check out the ruins of an ancient city Ayla in front of the resort.

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AIR ARABIA- HOW TO TRAVEL TO JORDAN ON A BUDGET AND IN STYLE

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Me posing at the resort in Aqaba, Jordan. Behind me is Israel!

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The Palm Court & Terrace- All day dining!

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Me, faking it in the lobby of Movenpick Resort and Residences, Aqaba! (Pic: Arka Das)

NOTE: I was invited by Jordan Tourism Board to Jordan on a Press Trip

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People & Co: Live Rock Show, Stand Up Comedy and Great Food. New in Gurgaon!

Imagine a place where you can watch a Stand Up Comedy show, A live music jig and eat food exclusive to that restaurant. People & Co, the cool new hang out zone in the vibrant Cyber Hub of Gurgaon is the place to go to. It was hard for me to believe that it was a newly opened place. The food, the shows, the vibes made it feel like they are running this place for years now. They have a smaller version in Mumbai. The Gurgaon outlet impresses with its size and the variety of activities you can do here. It is divided in 3 sections – The Bar (Great place for music over some drinks!), the restaurant (a formal dining space) and a sound proof theatre (For Stand Up comedy shows, plays)

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The theater which hosts plays and stand up comedy shows daily.

I started my evening with the Comdey Show. We waited for the fun to begin in the auditorium as we nibbled on the finger foods over interesting mocktails (Pirated Cane – quirky and delicious twist to the humble sugarcane juice) and cocktails (12 O’ Clock – Coriander liquer, orange chunks and lime juice). The auditorium hosts plays and comic shows. It has a little bar from where you can order mocktails. You can ask any of the server to bring finger food and alcoholic beverages from another bar outside.

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The Bar

Stand Up Comedy which you want to continue for eternity.

Pics above – Comic stars – (L to R) Raghav, Amit, Sumit

Soon, the lights went off, smoke fills the stage and appears a half asleep chap Sumit Anand, wearing a tee and pajama. He doesn’t even say anything but his dead pan face is enough to break the audience into hesitant giggles. And then he starts to interact with his audience, basically bullies them in a fun way! He didn’t really present an act but his hosting style was enough to crack you up. His spontaneity and the ease with which he pulled it off made me feel like I can be a stand up comedian too. I know it is easily said than done. First act was in Hindi by Amit Sharma. His ‘cute yet sinister’ face, ‘desi tadkas’ and style of speaking had the audience in splits! Most of his jokes bordered on self pity, self mock and what really goes on in the life of a married, middle class, Indian man. The show was closed by Raghav Mandava. The lean, unassuming 30 year old is one of the pioneers of Stand Up Comedy in India. He fluidly jumped from one topic to another in the manner only a veteran can. His was the most energetic act. The good part is they have live comedy show every day!

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People and Co. Stage opposite the bar!

The Livewire Rock performance

Post the show, we moved into the bar area outside and enjoyed the live rock show by the Gurgaon based band Klevoans. The energy of the performers was infectious and I couldn’t help getting glued to the seats like many others. Born in 2014, the other genres the band performs are Metal, Rock and Roll, Blues, Classic Rock, Progressive rock. Their style was unique and inimitable. No wonder, many passer byes stopped to have a look and enjoy the music they made. I hope to catch one of their shows again soon. Full marks to Iris Rose, Andrew Chyne, Jimmy, Ta Ran and Jatin for a livewire performance! Check out videos of their performance here.

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Klevoans regaling the audience!

The Fine Dining – Kokum Cocktail, anyone?

Post the music session, I went to the third space which is the fine dining area. I was mighty impressed with their main course menu. It’s short and no nonsense menu. I loved the subtle flavours of Pizza Romagna. Unconventional toppings like chargrilled artichokes, oven dried tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and baby spinach. Goat cheese along with mozzarella complimented the toppings. It was the first time I tasted goat cheese, soft and delicately flavoured. Hand churned basil pesto was used as a dressing.

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Pizza Romagna came in unusual shape – A delicious rectangle

The flavor was delicate and none of the ingredient overpowered the other. For the main course I had Potato Gnocchi. Gnocchi is one of my favourite Italian dish. Their version of dough was made up of potato and flour and caramelized for that extra zing. Served in a bed of sun dried tomatoes, saffron nage and peas, I loved the texture of the balls.  The melt in the mouth Gnocchi was good in portion size. The meal left us with no more capacity to eat more but how do you say no to Raspberry Cheesecake? Masterfully crafted, it came, topped with fresh berries and a fruit mix on the side. Memorable evenings must be concluded on a sweet note such as this. Full marks to the minimalistic and classy presentation!

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Potato Gnocchi

What makes the Food and beverage at ‘People And Co’ stand out is the freshness of ingredients and a recipe unique to this particular place. Impressed, I talked to Chef Abhishek Nair who has invented the recipes and designed the menu. “What we have tried to achieve here is use fresh, seasonal ingredients. We have a rotational menu which changes as per season. We have also tried to present the traditional Indian dishes in a contemporary way. The presentation also remains western in spite of the desi flavours of many of our menu items.” Nair has worked in leading restaurants before.

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Chef Abhishek Nair with his portrait in the fine dining area. How cool is that!

I was full otherwise I would have definitely sampled some interesting entrees such as  Kidney beans Erissery,Idiappam Aglio Olio & drumsticks relish; Kadai Ratatoullie with Country Cheese Gratin & Samak Rice Upma. Even Baigun Bhaja & Chhena malai Moussaka, sweet Bengal Gram With Green Pees filled Luchi sounded exciting. I wish I had enough space to sample these Indians dishes with a western twist. Many complete western dishes sounded appealing too. Salads like ‘Chili Roast Pears with Arugula & Blue Cheese’ and ‘Mainland Salad with Glass noodles & Tempura caviar’ tempted me. So did pastas like ‘Spinach, wild Mushrooms & Goat Cheese stuffed Crepe Canneloni, Cherry tomato Compote & Walnut Crumble.’

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Kokum based cocktail – marriage of traditional and contemporary tastes

Even the cocktails I tasted were unique and not something which I had tried before. Most of you know my love for all things Maharashtra. As I was scanning the beverages menu, my eyes were somehow stuck on a cocktail called ‘God’s Very Own’. What appealed to me was the use of Maharashtrian Kokum in it. I have never before seen a cocktail using kokum as base ingredient, let alone taste it. Blended with white rum, kaffir lime leaves and lime juice, it stood out and was my favourite out of all the 5-6 cocktails and mocktails I shoved down my throat that day!

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They added a twist to the humble sugarcane juice

The F & B manager Mohit Negi told me, “Even in our beverages we use fresh ingredients. We prefer using fresh fruits instead of syrups and squashes and that makes all the difference. Twisted Mule (Whiskey, Thai lemon grass, ginger & ginger ale) is one of our most popular cocktails.”

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People and Co

In mocktails, while Innocent Mule (Ginger, lemongrass & lemon juice) was passable, People’s Shikanji was refreshing. However, though I prefer cocktails, I was not much impressed with the variety of mocktails on menu!  They need to introduce more mocktails for their teetotaler patrons.

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Raspberry cheesecake

What makes this place unique is its exceptional customer relations initiatives. GRE aka Guest Relation Executive is mostly a feature of 5 star properties so it was heartening to see People & Co taking their guests seriously. The suave GRE, Rajat talked to the guests and asked for their preference and likes/dislikes which will help them to have a better time. Even the head chef Abhishek and F & B Manager talk to the guests on a daily basis! The service is friendly and thankfully all the servers are attentive, quick and have sunshine smiles. A rarity these days! The décor is contemporary, minimalistic, classy and cheerful! Give me a reason why I should not go back to this place.

The view from my #SoulWindow is Oh So Good!

 

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Me and the wall with pictures of stand up comic actors

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Find out how Hollywood actress Jennifer Aniston makes a new friend on Emirates Flight!

Who doesn’t love the TV sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S.? I grew up watching it and even now I keep seeing its re runs. It never fails to crack me up. One of my favourite character was Rachel, played so well by Hollywood heartthrob Jennifer Aniston. Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning actress partners with Emirates for its product campaign! Hollywood actress par excellence, a director and producer Jennifer Aniston makes a return to the Emirates A380.

She makes a new friend, in a new global digital and TV advertising campaign for the world’s best airline*. The cool new ad is a follow up on the successful first Emirates-Jennifer Aniston ad launched last year. It was a much talked-about campaign and took no time in going viral. On the lines of the first light-hearted TVC, my favourite actress lends her unique personality, classic style, and that quintessential touch of humour (which never failed to crack me up), to put A380 in spotlight.

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The advertisement begins with Jennifer exiting her shower room. Jen was freshening up in the Shower Spa when she found the feisty young boy who whiled away his time playing in her Private Suite in the Emirates First Class cabin. Surprised, she remarks to the little boy, “Oh, can I help you Sir?” It is this inimitable style of her which has turned me into her fan for life! As they exchange banter, the two end up finding friendship. The two strike up a conversation. “My name is Jennifer but my friends call me Jen.” Jennifer tells him. “My name is Cooper but you can call me Coop!”, the kiddo retorts, perhaps oblivious to the star

that Jen is!  They build rapport strolling nonchalantly through Emirates’ Business Class cabin and Onboard Lounge, causing much curiosity to the co passengers, the audience is hooked to know what happens next.

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What happens next is heartwarming and warms up the cockles. While they were sitting and chatting on the stairs between the lower and upper decks of the aircraft, Cooper confesses to Jen about his dream of becoming a pilot – of ‘this plane’. “But this is the best plane Jen, So I only want to fly this very plane!” He innocently points to his model Emirates A380 aircraft.

As they walk up the aisle, Cooper reunited with his parents in Economy Class. The parents are taken aback when they see Jen. Jennifer swaps the seat with Cooper’s mother and enjoys Emirates’ ice inflight entertainment system with Cooper. Cooper’s mother is excited and makes the most of Jennifer’s Private Suite.

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Boutros Boutros, Emirates’ Divisional Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications, Marketing & Brand explained: “A year ago, when we launched our first ad featuring Jennifer Aniston, we were overwhelmed by what a social phenomenon it became. The humour resonated with audiences around the world, and the ad was viewed by millions of people, generating thousands of conversations. Fans of both Emirates and Jennifer loved her effortless charm and humour, and enjoyed a story that deviated from traditional airline advertising.

“We were overrun with requests to see Jennifer again. She has an enduring, universal appeal that is at once sophisticated, but also down to earth – a great match for our brand. This new ad perfectly captures the fun, spontaneity and glamour of flying on Emirates, and we are confident audiences will find it as memorable as the first.”

The TVC was directed by industry veteran and Oscar-nominee Bryan Buckley, who is acclaimed for his numerous Super Bowl ads. The script and creative concept was a collaboration between Buckley and Emirates’ in-house advertising team and produced in conjunction with the WPP Group.

The TVC can be viewed on the Emirates website or on the Emirates YouTubechannel, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram. Fans can join the conversation using the tag #JensBack.

Emirates has recently been awarded the 2016 Skytrax World Airline Awards and I can see why. As I was watching the TVC, my roving eyes got a glimpse of the insides of Emirates. Not only was the suite ultra luxurious but even the economy class looked like a must try in the advertisement. I harbored the dream of flying in Emirates one day and played the TVC one more time. The quintessential Jen fans will understand!

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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.