Voyage to the Portuguese Colony

I have always loved Goa, even before I visited. One of those places you just belong to in your imagination. Last year, husband and I made a sudden plan to visit Goa in July since we were occupied with multiple things in the preceding months and were moving to the US in August. 

Continue reading

Out of the Blue – Endearing Bundi

IMG_20150216_165216116
Bundi is one place that took me by surprise and an amazing one at that! Tourism has been the focus of Rajasthan since long, but I had no clue that such tiny towns are frequented by British and French travelers in huge numbers. I, personally, had never heard of Bundi, so was curious to know the place after I read many snippets about it over the web.
Little know-how: Bundi is a small city in Rajasthan, situated 210 kilometers from Jaipur. Its famous for mural art, ornate forts, lakes and Baoris (step-wells). The famous writer, Rudyard Kipling, once stayed at Sukh Niwas Palace by the Jait Sagar Lake and his book Kim is inspired from Bundi.
IMG_20150216_141322736

First Glance of the City

 

I saw tiny blue-colored houses surrounded by the mountains with Bundi Palace prominently standing on one side. Atop the hill, you can see the walls of Taragarh Fort which runs through the city. 
After checking in Hotel Bundi Haveli, I set out to explore the Bundi Palace and Taragarh Fort on foot. Location-wise and otherwise too, the hotel was a good pick and I was quite glad to book the same.
I would recommend everyone to explore (some part, at least) the city on foot as its charming and you might stumble upon something unique! Though, next day I set out on car to wander as I had to leave early.
IMG_20150216_162032891
The city from Bundi palace

Why I totally adored Bundi and regretted staying there for just one day?!

  • First impressions always last, and the way we were welcomed at Hotel Bundi Haveli made us happy about our choice! Nothing grand happened, just the genuine smiles and caring attitude impressed us. The receptionist even handed us a map of Bundi and informed us about all the places we can visit along with directions. It was fun to use a physical map in this day & age.
    Apart from the service, we loved how beautifully the hotel was maintained. Its basically an old haveli, converted into a hotel.

DSC01578

  • While coming back from the Bundi Palace, I noticed a shop where an old man was busy with colors & brush outside and a lot of finished paintings in the tiny room inside. The man patiently showed me around his shop and talked about the painting techniques, colors and stories drawn.
His work was detailed, intricate and elaborate. I just loved how poised and calm this artist was and that he never pestered me to buy his paintings, just silently went back to his work when I left!
PhotoGrid_1424487370047 (1)

Murals at Chitrashala, Bundi Palace

 

  • The Food! I was surprised to find so many options for continental cuisine in Bundi when I did a Google search. I tried Out of the Blue for dinner and Lake View Restaurant for breakfast.
The pizza and pasta at Out of the Blue was one of the best I have ever had. What really makes this place truly incredible is the panoramic views it offers, of the city and lake. You just have to walk up a never ending flight of stairs to reach here. But, at the end of it you wouldn’t regret it.

IMG_20150216_212453040

Breakfast at the lake-view restaurant was another beautiful experience. We had banana pancake and cheese-tomato sandwich while sitting in front of the Naval Sagar Lake.DSC01596
This little boy was helping his parents serve as he had an off from school. We enjoyed our breakfast thoroughly which was fabulous.
  • There’s so much to see in Bundi from Bundi Palace, Chitrashala, Taragarh Fort, to the numerous Baoris & Lakes. I sat by the Jait Sagar Lake to understand how Kipling must have felt, spent hours to see the murals at Chitrashala, and walked down the stairs at Raniji ki baori to admire the architecture, yet wanted to see more!
Bundi was Lethal! I would visit again, and this time for a longer period. 

Drove to a Town Perched on Himalayas!

IMG_20150405_105007960_HDR
Khurpa Tal. One of the many lakes in Uttrakhand, found this on our way back
This was one of the rare trips wherein I didn’t plan anything, packed my bags in 15 mins and hopped inside our car to reach a place I had never heard of. As much as I love planning my itinerary, I just couldn’t do it this time. It was a long weekend and I was occupied with work at office so couldn’t get time to plan in advance. I didn’t even get time to pack properly, so threw in whatever was handy and started our journey early in the morning.
Trivia about the place – Ramgarh is located in the Nainital district of Uttarakhand. If you travel from New Delhi, this town is 25 km ahead of Nainital. Standing at an average elevation of 1,158 meters or 4,980 feet, this little place was once the cantonment of the English Army (Like every other hill station in North India). Ramgarh is famous for its vast orchards which are adorned with peaches, apricots, apples and pears as well as ashrams established by Rabindra Nath Tagore and Narain Swami.
IMG_20150405_094839348_HDR
Since the trip was unplanned, we had to drive down (which I totally love) and figured out two routes to reach the place. One was through the main Nainital highway and the other one through Bazpur, Jim Corbett, Bhimtal etc. Nonetheless, the second route had scenic stretches so we chose that and it took us approximately 8-9 hours to reach. I would though recommend the main highway as the road condition is much better.
Ramgarh Retreat: After a long and beautiful drive, we reached our destination where we had booked a room at Ramgarh Retreat (Due to last minute planning, only this was available). This property is owned by an elderly couple from Delhi and was built few years back only. With a total of five rooms in this huge house, we were allotted one with a valley-facing sit-out area on first floor.
Ramgarh Retreat Pic - Trip Advisor
Ramgarh Retreat
Pic – Trip Advisor
The flawless service and hospitality of the owners and their helps was worth an applause. Throughout our holiday, we just relaxed and sat by our room’s huge window, which offered panoramic views of the valley. More so because there was no scope of venturing out as it rained continuously and heavily, bringing down the temperature to an uncomfortable level. Still, I was cherishing each and every moment in that house as we were the only guests at that time and received all the attention!
IMG_20150403_184559016
The room from our balcony
Food: We were served various delicacies such as Butter Chicken, Mutton, Dal, Paneer Bhurji, Vegetable Pakoras, Halwa etc. during our stay. The food was placed very neatly on the table and served well. Menu was pre-decided and I somehow liked it since I didn’t have to contemplate what to order. Coming to the taste of it, the cook turned even the simplest dishes like Dal into something magical and we just couldn’t stop complementing him!
IMG_20150403_184517447_HDR
The Dining cum Drawing Area. This portion had a fireplace too!
The house was decorated quite tastefully and was worth exploring in itself! With a lot of windows and lounges, the house is any book-lovers paradise. We were also shown the second floor which again had a very nice sit-out area and a better view of the valley.
IMG_20150403_184527460
Another portion of the house where you can sit and cherish the view!
What really took our breadth away was the moment we got up next morning and looked outside! The clouds were floating, dancing and hiding everywhere.

IMG_20150404_075615753

Some holidays are just meant to unwind….♠!

Visited – 3rd-5th April, 2015

Trip Cost – INR 12,000 (Approx.)

The Art Gallery of Rajasthan

As a traveler, I am always curious to visit unexplored regions to discover something unique. This time my research led me to Mahansar in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The whole region is brimming with old colorful havelis (mansions) decorated with eye-catching murals, built by rich traders during the 18th to 20th century. These murals depict mythological and historical events with images of Hindu Gods, Animals, Battlefields, Kings etc.
We drove (approx. 270 kms) from Noida, UP and reached our destination in about 6 hours. It took us longer than usual as we were lost in between and took a route with road work in progress. Otherwise, road conditions are very good and its advisable to know the exact route through web search before traveling. Those traveling from other cities can come to Jaipur by air or train and hire a taxi to reach Mahansar. The landscapes and highways leading to the region are totally worth a drive. At times, you witness massive green fields and then you suddenly come across barren & unwelcoming pieces of land, accompanied by the magnificent Aravali hills.
Enthralling view of the Aravali Range
Enthralling view of the Aravali Range
IMG_20150207_112101621
On the way
The Mahansar Fort
The Mahansar Fort
Some of the destinations (if you have interest in wall paintings & old havelis) one can explore in the Shekhawati region are Mandawa, Nawalgarh, Mahansar and Churu. I chose Mahansar because I could manage to book a stay at the fort itself. Although, the whole region has quite a few decent accommodation options.

Mahansar

Our stay at Mahansar Fort was wonderful, solely due to the impeccable service provided by our hosts, Bhagwati and Seema Singh (owners of the fort). They took care of everything themselves and made sure that we felt comfortable. Food was also prepared by the hostess, all by herself, and I must mention that she specially included a non-veg delicacy in our dinner menu since we proclaimed our love for chicken while talking! Coming to the taste of it, I found the food simple and very homely.
IMG_20150207_153455252
Our Room
DSC01488

Wall Art

 

DSC01487
Indoor – The Dining Area where we had all our meals
Post lunch, we went out to explore the village which was a typical Indian village with various old temples and havelis. The nearby Mandawa region is also well-known for its havelis, so I would recommend others to explore the same. We stayed at the Fort for one night and completely enjoyed the hospitality of our royal hosts (Bhagwati Singh is a direct descendant of the Thakurs of Mahansar).
We were also offered some local wine by our host which I felt was infused with cardamom and had a strong flavor. Though we wanted to stay longer to see the famous havelis, we couldn’t do so this time. In fact, Bhagwati helps his guests in exploring the village and enlightens them with historical trivia about the place. I believe, had we stayed back we could have cherished the artwork. That gives me a reason to go back…♥
DSC01489
Closed out section of the Fort. In its days of glory, this Fort would have been mesmerizing. Though crumbling now, we could see how beautifully the interiors had been done.
DSC01481
That’s our car!The right portion belongs to another descendant who runs Narayan Niwas Castle Hotel
Earlier, I had no fascination for Rajasthan and now I keep scouting for more and more remote villages and forts. That’s the aura of Rajasthan, it just sweeps you off your feet. This time we ended our trip too soon, but in my next visit I would capture the artwork of old havelis for sure.
Visited – 6th Feb, 2015

To Savor Something Royal and Exquisite

Intrigued by the rich culture & history of India, I decided to scout for a non-commercial & secluded Fort near Delhi for a short trip. After multiple searches over the web, I was glad that I found Dadhikar Fort in Alwar (Rajasthan). This Fort was built in the 11th century by King Chand and is situated right in the middle of a village atop a small hill!
There are two routes to reach this Fort (I traveled from Noida, UP) once you reach Alwar, one through a village and another through the city. Luckily, Google Navigator took me through the village route and I could witness the rustic beauty of our country which we miss while rushing to work everyday. There were farms all across, kids eyeing us curiously, truckload of sheep baffled by the sudden invasion of a car in their territory, buffaloes enjoying sauna in man-made pools etc.
We saw a huge pool on our way and right across that we spotted Vijay Mandir, the private property of Alwar’s prince. The journey is always the best part about traveling, and is sweetened exponentially if the destination turns out to be equally mesmerizing.
The Village Pool
The Village Pool! Vijay Mandir was right across this water body
Drive to the Fort’s parking from its main gate was a little scary as its not concrete but nonetheless, the Fort’s owner has done a phenomenal job in taking you completely through the lifestyle of Emperors.  After we parked, we had to walk uphill inside the Fort to reach our room which was a Duplex suite (Mahavan) and their best, as per traveler reviews. The view from our room’s terrace was spectacular as we could see the whole village around us and felt protected by a hill behind the Fort.
We headed for lunch after check-in, a buffet served on table, since we were the only guests at that time. The spread was vegetarian, i.e paneer ki sabzi, dal, papad ki sabzi, baingan, pasta in white sauce and a dish made with corn. Apart from the corn dish, everything else was delicious. Similar was the dinner experience as far as taste is concerned, however the candle-lit terrace environment made the experience delightful.
That's where we had dinner
That’s where we had dinner
The Fort’s current owner has put considerable amount of effort in restoration, considering it was completely ruined when he bought it from the last descendant (Quick fact – He paid INR 50 lakh to acquire it). The walls are adorned with old pictures of the ruined Fort and how the work has been done.
fort view
Plantation and beautification has been done meticulously throughout the Fort. Explore it one weekend to live the lifestyle of Kings & Monarchs in the 11th century!
Moments to cherish –
  • They decide and choose different venues for lunch, dinner and breakfast everyday, so we could explore different parts of the Fort. And, the dinner was candle-lit on one of their terraces!
  • Service was in line with Rajasthan’s famous hospitality.
Areas of Improvement –
  • Very sadly, they don’t serve non-veg.
  • Should arrange folk performances (On weekends, they do arrange) on weekdays as well, considering they were quite occupied on a Tuesday.
Some tips that may come handy!
  • Take the village route to reach the fort. Its simply fun!
  • Go out and explore the nearby village.
That's where we were served High Tea
That’s where we were served High Tea
Visited – 21st Oct, 2014

An Underrated Quaint Gem

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds ~ Edward Abbey
Mountain lovers would probably understand the depth and beauty in this quote. Though the trails of Kasauli are not crooked and dangerous, they surely are worth exploring. More than once, I found myself glued to my resort’s sit-out area and ferried to another world with the magnificent mountains in front of my eyes. Something magical and mesmerizing was flowing along the wind with a tinge of tranquility. What a delightful experience….!!
Kasauli Church

Kasauli Church

The town was established as a Colonial Hill Station by Britishers and is predominantly a cantonment area. During our two day stay, I hopped across the town to see all the touristy places namely, Christ Church, Manki Point, Sunset Point, Mall Road and Baba Balakath Temple as I din’t wish to miss an inch of this beauty. Though in the end, one gets to witness the best views by just gazing at the silent mountains all across. For nature lovers and art enthusiasts, this place can bring the best out of you as well as enrich you in the most unimaginable way. For people who love to hog (mentioned since I am one), there’s not much to relish, just few cafes at the Mall road serving average food.
Ηow to reach: You can reach Kasauli by road, train or bus (I traveled from Delhi). The nearest railway station is Kalka from where you can board a taxi to Kasauli which takes around 1 hour to the hill. However, I would strongly recommend you to hit the road as driving on the newly constructed Himalayan expressway is a delight in itself. And, if you are flying to Delhi from somewhere, just hire a taxi to Kasauli.
Met these munchkins at our Homestay!

Met these munchkins at our Homestay

Àccommodation: We took a family suite (4 adults) in Mahal Farms Homestay, constructed recently, for which we paid INR 5,000/night. Considering the exorbitant hotel prices elsewhere, our homestay was quite reasonable and totally worth it as we were welcomed and served well throughout our stay. They provided in-house vegetarian North Indian cuisine prepared with fresh ingredients everyday, hence we were requested to order 1 hour in advance. To feed the omnivores, they offered non-veg cuisine as well through a tie-up with a famous hotel nearby. As far as service was concerned, they scored a Perfect 10! from my end.
The reservoir behind the trees supplies water to the Cantt. area!

The reservoir behind the trees supplies water to the Cantonment area!

Personally, I loved this small town perched at a height of 1,800 meters or 5,900 ft. There is not much to do but that’s how hills are, so relax and discover yourself. The place boasts of few other reasonably priced resorts serving decent food and an enthralling view of the valley. If you wish to unwind and leave behind the chaotic city life, pack your bags and head to this place. Go on and find your own trail in the woods which may not lead to any treasure but the journey in itself would suffice. What a pleasant and unexpected surprise one weekend!!
Traveled: April, 2014