Half a Week in the Hills… Ooty!

My parents and I had a layover of about a couple of hours before our connecting flight to Coimbatore. Sitting at Chennai airport at 8am flooded back the memories of the last year. This was certainly one of the most exciting moments ever – being my last family trip as a student, I was had been looking forward to it. I had spent the Indigo flight from Mumbai working on one of my class assignments, and was glad that it was on the verge of completion.

Waiting for the boarding announcement we pondered about the course of action for the day. We planned to get to Udagamandalam (or should I say Ooty) from Coimbatore, and were brainstorming about how to get there. I was an advocate of renting a car – it would give us a good deal of flexibility while travelling, and would feel like the road trips we used to take when my sister and I were kids. My parents were more interested in hiring the services of a driver, as it would give my dad an opportunity to sit back and relax. After a brief discussion, we agreed on renting a Hyundai i20 from Zoomcars for the next 3 days and made the payment en route to the aero-bridge.

Having finished the remainder of my assignment during the connecting Indigo flight, I was relieved. It was heartening to see the coconut plantations from the airplane window as we began our descent at Coimbatore. A little while later we were greeted by the tropical South-Indian weather as we made our way to the baggage claim. Since the Zoomcars request processing time is approximately three hours (we had booked the vehicle at 9am), we found ourselves with a little less than two hours to kill. My sister joined us in the meantime, and we had a short breakfast comprising of ready-to-eat noodles and ice-creams from the general store outside the airport. Little did we know about the adventures that lay ahead of us!

After getting picked up by the Zoomcars representative, we headed to their nearest depot. Having completed all the formalities, we found ourselves driving to the Adiyogi Statue twenty minutes later. We had been looking forward to visiting since we saw the unveiling ceremony on TV, and our trip to Ooty was the best opportunity we could possibly think of. Google Maps had become our best friend, as the hour-long journey to the statue was really eventful – we found ourselves passing by fields of coconut trees, and small patches of land blooming with yellow and orange marigolds. A couple of bridges and a few narrow roads later, we found ourselves at the entrance of the parking lot.

adiyogi2

The Adiyogi looked majestic – the peace, coolness and serenity one feels after regularly practising yoga was clearly visible on His face, and definitely was a stark contrast to the punishing Coimbatore afternoon. We spent some time there, and after a pradakshina of the statue we were ready to head to the next place on our itinerary – a restaurant before beginning the journey to Ooty.

adiyogi

Getting the car out of the parking spot was certainly the most hilarious part of the trip. The gearbox of the car was slightly different from the ones dad had driven previously. Contrary to most other cars, the reverse was the leftmost gear, and one needed to press a button to activate it. Ignorant of the fact, we found it impossible to get the car out of the parking lot – it kept going ahead when we wanted to take a reverse! Ultimately mom, sis and I got off and pushed the car behind while dad kept it in neutral gear. We got stuck behind a vehicle and it was impossible to get out without reversing the vehicle – and that was when we decided to approach the driver of one of the vehicles parked there (who had been confusedly observing us ever since we began pushing the car). He found it difficult to contain his smile as he helped us out. I am sure those 5 minutes were the most entertaining minutes of his day, and that he must have laughed his heart out once we left. The next hour and a half was spent in searching for a decent restaurant that was not too crowded. The day being declared a bandh didn’t help us at all – we couldn’t find one restaurant that was open! We ultimately gave up on the idea of lunch by 4.15pm.

The journey to Ooty was by far the most memorable road trip I have had yet. And the fact that we rented a vehicle (and not hired one with a driver) made the experience so much better. From cruising on the well maintained roads to trying to find an inexistent road and retracing our path by about 4-5km, we experienced it all. We discovered during this experience that the people in the small towns here feel really happy to help others out – never before had I seen anybody so enthusiastic about guiding us towards our destination, be it a lady carrying vegetables home or a pan-shop entrepreneur! Our ascent to Ooty finally began at about 5.45pm after we finally found a small restaurant where we stopped for tea. I dreaded the ghat section because I was really prone to carsickness as a teen – however this time was something different. We rolled down the windows and took in the freshest air possible, sang along with the songs on the phone, cracked jokes, enjoyed the beautiful scenery outside, observed the fluffy clouds, looked out for monkeys, and finally witnessed the sun take the rest of the day off. The most interesting part of this journey was seeing the buses travel up and down the slope – for a bus, the speed at which the drivers drove was just insane, and the way they navigated at the blind turns was nothing less than a work of art. By the time we reached the Club Mahindra Derby Green Resort, it was dark. We missed a couple of turns and ended up adding an additional half hour to the duration of our journey.

I always look forward to staying at Club Mahindra – I love every bit of the experience, especially their hospitality (they go to extra lengths to ensure that our stay is comfortable) and the amazing food. On arrival we were greeted with hot towels, honey herbal tea, and sandalwood paste. The slightly-sweet hot tea complemented the chilly Ooty evening, and the untimely rain helped in quickening our journey from the reception to the 1-bedroom apartment (which also had a kitchenette!). The bandh interestingly proved to be beneficial for us – our room got upgraded owing to the fact that one of the guests cancelled at the last moment! We had a hearty dinner at restaurant Ascot. We were spoilt for choice when it came to dinner, as there was every cuisine we could possibly want. With minds full of eventful experiences, and tummies full of amazing food, we finally retired to our mini-apartment for the evening.

As there were no 1-bedroom apartments available for the next day, we were allotted a couple of hotel units (it’s essentially room + bathroom). We explored the area a bit in the morning before the amazing continental breakfast at Ascot. We reached the clubhouse after a bit of a climb and discovered a number of hidden gems there, including a 6-player Carrom board. The pencil sketches made by the previous guests were really interesting – it was almost homely.

We were torn between going for a trek nearby and attending the salsa class at the club – interestingly we ended up doing neither. We spent the afternoons chatting in our rooms, playing card games and relishing on the delicious alphonso mangoes that we carried with us from home. We were serious mango-vores, having consumed mangoes on almost every day of our stay.

We decided to explore the different delights Ooty had to offer us, and began with the Botanical Garden. We couldn’t even park the car the first time we went there owing to a HUGE group of  100+ people who had come to visit the garden. The next day was a similar story – we managed to get a parking spot, but couldn’t enter the park as the system was down. We gave up after waiting for more than half an hour in queue. We passed through the Tibetan market on the way back to the car park. Spotting an Ibaco icecream outlet brought the biggest smile to my face – I frequented it a lot during my stay in Chennai, and finally found an opportunity to share the amazing experience with my parents and sister. I made them the best possible ice-cream I could fathom, and we finally left the parlour feeling really full.

On the second-last day we wanted to experience breakfast at a restaurant called “The Earl’s Secret” in Ooty. Although the hotel “King’s Cliff” to which the restaurant is attached is at an enviable location, our experience was less than satisfactory. There was no coordination among the staff – we were told on phone that there would be a buffet (and even quoted the per-head price beforehand), there was none.

Dejected, we ended up going to the other Club Mahindra property: Danish Villa, where we enjoyed a nice buffet. The last night at the Club was the most eventful one – we enjoyed watching Herbie Fully Loaded and Impractical Jokers while savouring a pizza. The three days flew past us pretty quick – I only realized how much we had enjoyed only when our stay came to an end.

reception.jpeg

The Reception

The day of our departure was another eventful one. Google Maps gave us a hard time – it showed us inexistent routes and we spent a good amount of time getting back to the normal road after being stuck somewhere uphill. We decided to stick to the advice of the local people until we reached the base of the hills. Having committed to returning the car at 10am, and did everything possible to reach the Zoomcar depot in time.

Google Maps bestowed upon us its benevolence this time, showing us routes with really smooth roads and negligible traffic. We made it to the depot in the nick of time and proceeded to have breakfast at a restaurant called Sree Annapurna near the airport after completing the formalities. Besides being affordable, the food was just amazing – the Thayir-wada (dahi wada) was the easily the star of the day, and the filter coffee was the most amazing one.

flight1.jpeg

The flight back home was interesting too. We had a three-hour long layover scheduled in Hyderabad, where we bumped into one of my cousins and his family. Coincidentally they were booked on the same flight as us, just ten rows ahead. We chatted for a while, discussing about our experiences since the last time we met (on Diwali last year), and how my cousin Yash seems to grow a couple of inches every time I meet him! Our trip to Ooty has certainly been one of the best memories of this year yet. From last minute bookings to weird Google Maps experiences, we had it all. A special thanks to the staff at Club Mahindra for making our experience amazing.

Well, for those who intend to plan a similar trip, here are some pointers that might help –

  • If you plan to go from Coimbatore to Ooty, I would highly recommend renting a vehicle if you don’t have one. We found Zoomcars to be a very good deal for approximately ₹6,500– A Hyundai i20 Elite for 70 hours and 350km (over which we would be charged ₹12/km). The fuel was included in the package as well. BTW the airport pick-up and drop service is available
  • Speaking of renting a car, ensure that you take photos of the car from all sides to make a note of any prior damage the car has withstood and share the photos with the representative.
  • Although we loved visiting the Adiyogi, it would be best if one visits the place after approximately a year or two. A lot of landscaping is going on at present, and once complete, the experience will be something different altogether.
  • Do research about the bandhs well in advance. We travelled through a number of towns, and not a single restaurant or shop was open until 5 in the evening. Carry enough food just in case.
  • Plan in advance, especially for Club Mahindra (unless you are a Violet Card holder). We were really fortunate to find a place at such short notice. The food there is just amazing, albeit slightly expensive.
  • Carry adequate warm clothes. It is always cool there. We experienced that summer afternoons in Ooty have weather comparable to Mumbai evenings in winters. Preferably carry umbrellas for the sudden untimely rain.
  • The Derby Green property of Club Mahindra overlooks the Race Course and has a number of activities for the guests. Make sure you experience at least a few of them. Avoid visiting the property in winters – it is really cold. The staff there mentioned that the guests hardly ever come out of their rooms during winter.
  • The Tibetan Market in Ooty has great fruits, if you are interested. Chocolates are also available nearby. And if you haven’t already, do give Ibaco ice-creams a try. I just love the experience.
  • Google Maps is not highly accurate in the hilly regions. Asking the local people for directions could be more helpful. We had at least three occasions where the Maps pointed us to inexistent roads.
  • On a lighter note, if you are a mangovore like us, avoid having mangoes before a road trip on an empty stomach.

Sun, Sea and Sand… Ganapatipule

Every year we come up with interesting ideas for Avva’s birthday gift – a couple of years ago, all of us grandkids had collaborated and made a video, which was played during the birthday celebrations. This year we took it a step further and organized a get-together at Ganapatipule, a small beach-town in coastal Maharashtra. Considering that almost all my uncles and aunts would be there, we had booked seven rooms (almost two complete villas) for the weekend at Abhishek Beach Resort and Spa.

The pristine beach and the sparkling clean blue water is the icing of the cake that makes Ganapatipule special. The place is the home to a 4000-year old swayambhu Ganapati temple and is thronged by thousands of devotees every year.

Day 1: 3rd February 2017

Dad and I began our journey from home at approximately 6.20am – our train Mandovi Express was scheduled to depart from Dadar Station at 7.25am. After having a plate of poha at the nearby Shree Krishna restaurant, we reached the platform at about 7am, only to find that the train was running approximately half an hour late. When the train finally arrived we boarded our coach and settled down in our seats.

I have always enjoyed daytime train rides. Half the fun lies in savouring the tasty food while enjoying the beautiful journey outside – be it the food that mom packs from home or that from the pantry car. Speaking of food, I learnt a pretty valuable tip from my train journey – having one’s coach near the pantry car is one of the biggest boons. The food served is always hot and tasty. The pantry car offered a varied breakfast and lunch menu. We spent most of our time eating – the scalding hot tomato soup with breadsticks has been the trademark of every train journey ever! The vegetable cutlets with bread and butter were pretty much filling. The gulab-jamun seller tried his level best to improve his sales – he even began with offers such as buy-four-get-one-free. The part I enjoyed the most about the journey was relishing the watermelon (which I mistook for papaya owing to its orange hue) with my dad. Our coach had a couple of kids – one of whom was on the berth right next to ours. Although a wee bit naughty, the young boy was playful and fun to be around. We disembarked at Ratnagiri and proceeded to find a mode of transport to Ganapatipule, and finally settled on an auto-rickshaw. We picked up a couple kilos of Totapuri mangoes on the way to the resort.

on the way.jpg

The Scenery en route

The journey by rickshaw took us about 45 minutes, and we were treated to the scenic beauty of the beach. The last time I had visited the region was over ten years ago and thus couldn’t recollect much about it.

evening

This time though, I was bowled away by the shining golden sand and the deep blue sea that merged with the sky in the distance. It was very difficult to point where one ended and the other began – it was as unreal as any image in the game Bejeweled 3. The hills and the greenery only added to the natural charm of the place.

hotel.jpg

Our Villa at the resort

We reached the resort and were given the keys to one of the villas (the reservation for the other one was done in my uncle’s name and they were yet to arrive). The villas were fairly decent – each of them had 4 rooms (two of which were on the ground floor) and a kitchenette. Almost all the rooms had a balcony with ample space to enjoy the mornings and evenings. There also was an access to the beach, although from the main road which was a short distance away. All in all, this place was pretty good choice. Once settled in one of the rooms, we had a quick lunch. Soon after, we left to explore the place a bit.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A couple of hours later, I was ecstatic to see everyone as the cars pulled into the resort, and was the most thrilled to meet Avva. After completing the check-in formalities, we moved to the rooms and freshened up before proceeding to the Ganapatipule Temple.

We saw the MTDC Resort as we reached the temple. The resort has the best location possible – its entrance faces the main gate of the temple. We found the temple to be almost empty, save us and a couple of other families. This was completely uncharacteristic, as the temple was almost always bustling with devotees. I guess it was owing to the fact that it was a Friday evening. After registering for the Sankalpa Pooja for the following morning, we sat down for a little while in the seating area for the devotees. My mom and aunts joined me in singing a couple of songs – singing in the temple was an amazing experience. The icing of the cake was that Avva sang the song “Shree Gananatha” with us. As we walked towards the exit, the pundits at the temple told us that the song was beautiful and that they enjoyed it J We sat outside the temple, before our cars arrived, enjoying the beauty of the decorative lights – they beautified the temple so much in the evenings.

We proceeded to have dinner after we reached the resort. The dinner was a pretty eventful one – as we were twelve of us, we were seated in groups of six at neighbouring tables. After eating roti-subzi, we ordered for a dish of curd-rice at both the tables. Interestingly both the plates were poles apart in appearance and taste. While the one on my table had curd rice with bit of yellow tadka, the curd rice on the other table looked a lot more visually appealing as it had a LOT of red tadka. Intrigued, we tasted a bit of both the dishes, and the red tadka dish was pretty sweet. We called the person who had been waiting on us, and he too seemed baffled at first. He asked one question – “Kaunsa wala aapko pasand aaya?” which translates to “which one did you all like?” Although he offered to bring another plate that was prepared properly, we declined as we were too full. He assured us that he would personally supervise the preparation of curd rice for the remainder of our stay.

Day 2: 4th February 2017

temple entrance.jpg

The main entrance of the Temple

The day began with us getting ready in a hurry and rushing to the temple. By 7.30am we all were at the temple and waiting for the Pooja. The Sankalpa Pooja for us was scheduled at 8am, and the breakfast buffet at the hotel closed at 10. We worried if we would be able to make it in time for breakfast. My cousin Nandan and his wife Sayali were supposed to join us for the Pooja. However, as their bus to Ganapatipule got delayed and we were unable to contact them, we requested the priest to postpone their Pooja to the next day.

After the Pooja we went for the pradakshina (circumambulation) of the hill at the base of which the temple is located. The 1km walk took us a little more time than usual, as we stopped to have coffee. Finally, once all of us had completed the pradakshina, we went back to the resort for breakfast, where Nandan and Sayali met us.

The breakfast was pretty good – in addition to the South-Indian breakfast spread, they stocked upma and poha, in addition to the fruits, egg preparations, cornflakes, tea and coffee. Sayali and I chatted at the deck overlooking the sea. I spent the next hour trying to check the status of our tickets for the return journey in Mandovi Express. As the waitlist status didn’t improve, we booked a set of Rajdhani tickets under Tatkal quota and cancelled the old ones. While most of us went to the spa after that, Nandan, Sayali and I went to the game room and spent a considerable amount of time playing Table Tennis. Even though Sayali and I teamed up Nandan defeated us pretty easily about four times, after which we moved on to play Carrom. By then our uncles and aunts joined us at the game room and challenged each other to chess. By the end of the next couple of hours all of us enjoyed a game of pool as well (although we weren’t exactly playing by the rules 😛 ). We finally went to have lunch at the restaurant, at the end of which we ordered curd-rice again (Yup…that’s what South Indians do). Fortunately it was perfect this time.

beach1.jpg

The evening was the most remarkable one – we spent most of it at the beach. Ganapatipule has the most perfect beach ever – the perfect golden sand that shimmers a bit, and water so pellucid that one can see their feet clearly even in the ever-so-slightly warm knee-deep water. Basically for beach-lovers, it’s the place to go. Although I had no intention of getting my capris wet (and tried keeping them dry for as long as I could), the sea had other plans. With a couple of huge waves I ended up getting my capris completely drenched and concluded that resisting the sea was futile. In the next two hours we did a lot of fun stuff – we all held hands while standing in thigh-deep water facing the beach, so that the waves hitting us take us by surprise. By now, we all were drenched from head to toe. Nandan, Sayali and I ventured into waist deep water and enjoyed the waves for a while, splashing water at each other like a bunch of 12-year-olds. For a very brief while, I felt like I was transported back to one of my favourite childhood memories.

After getting back to the hotel and having a nice refreshing shower, we all went back to Saroja Auntie’s room for evening snacks – basically a potluck, as everyone had prepared and brought something sweet or savoury. The Totapuri mangoes added a different zing altogether to the menu. After we were done with snacks, Sayali and Nandan taught my aunts and me a new card game called “Big Fool” which we played until dinner time. I guess this is the only game that I know where eight people can comfortably play with a single deck of cards and still have a LOT of fun. After a simple dinner, we went back to our rooms. Nandan, Sayali and I played a few more rounds of Big Fool before retiring for the night. I don’t know if its technique or luck – Nandan defeated me and Sayali every single time without much of an effort!

Day 3: 5th February 2017

Our morning began by rushing to the temple. Nandan and Sayali were already there, waiting for their turn for Sankalpa Pooja. Like the day before, we went for a pradakshina of the hill, followed by the breakfast at the resort.

while leaving

While my grandma, uncles and aunts left soon after for my hometown, Nandan and Sayali had their bus scheduled for the evening. My parents and I had our Rajdhani Express scheduled to depart from Ratnagiri at 1.25pm. Having approximately an hour to spare before leaving for Ratnagiri, Nandan, Sayali and the three of us went to the beach from the access near the resort.

while leaving2

Although the steps to the beach were carved on the rocks, a bit of work was yet to be done. The trees lined the stairs on either side. The beach looked as inviting as it did the day before – the bright blue coloured sea and the clean shimmering golden sand. Although really tempted, we didn’t go in the waters as we were running out of time.

beach2.jpg

We could see the Ganapatipule temple a little far away. We decided to take a small walk before going back to the hotel to collect our luggage. The shore was full of tiny crabs not more than an inch in length which darted with such a speed that they appeared to hover across the sands. It was rather intriguing to see them suddenly disappear into the minute sand-caves. We retraced our steps to the resort and relished on a tender coconut as collected our luggage. We boarded our rickshaw to the Ratnagiri railway station after bidding adieu to Nandan and Sayali.

Here are a few tips and tricks that may help people planning a trip to Ganapatipule in the near future –

  • Ganapatipule is connected to other major towns and cities by road and rail. The road journey is considerably slow owing to the mountainous region – the 375km long journey from Mumbai takes approximately 9 hours. I find the 7-8 hour train journey relatively more comfortable – operated by Konkan Railways, the train route is very scenic, and showcases the beauty of the Konkan region. Ratnagiri is the closest station, and is connected to Mumbai by a number of trains. Here is the website of the town – http://www.ganapatipule.in
  • If you plan to take the train to Ratnagiri and then the rickshaw to Ganapatipule, negotiate for the fare in the beginning itself. The distance is approximately 30km usually the fare comes out to be approximately Rs.400-500.
  • The route to Ganapatipule from Ratnagiri goes almost parallel to the coastline, so the view outside is ensured to be a treat. Look out for raw totapuri mangoes en route.
  • If you are looking for a place closest to the beach and the temple, MTDC Resort is your best bet. However, the resort is almost always booked throughout the year. If you wish to stay at the resort it’s best to make reservations at least six months in advance
  • Speaking by personal experience, Abhishek Resort was a pretty pleasant experience as well. The place has a game room, and an entrance to the beach as well (although one needs to walk a bit to get there)
  • The timings of the temple are 5am to 9pm. If you are planning to go for a trip to Ganapatipule, it’s advisable to visit the temple on a weekday as it is less crowded.
  • The dress code for special Poojas at the temple is saree for the ladies and dhoti-shalya for the gentlemen. Men can change in the rooms near the temple. The pradakshina around the hill is about 1km long, and ends at the rear-entrance
  • Don’t forget to carry extra clothes for the beach – my suggestion would be to spend an entire evening there, as the beach is something that everyone will enjoy.
  • I would suggest against looking forward to buying alphonso mangoes during the mango season at Ratnagiri. Almost all the farmers enter into contracts with traders a long before the season begins. One can easily get MUCH better mangoes in Mumbai itself.

The Ahmedabad Wedding – Shaadi!

Day 2

Our plans of visiting the Sabarmati Riverfront were dashed as we woke up after it became too sunny. As all the ceremonies were planned for the evening, we were left with quite some free time. After a quick late breakfast at Apurvi’s the four of us left for the Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar.

It was during this visit that I understood how vibrant Gujarat really is. The entire experience was one of the smoothest I have had till date – every part of our journey was very comfortable, and we hardly faced any delays on the way. The traffic was well controlled, the roads neatly maintained, the roadsides lined with trees and the plants on the road dividers. We reached the temple rather quickly. We had anticipated a large crowd at the temple on account of it being a Sunday. Fortunately for us, it was a long weekend and it was pretty sunny at the time of our visit. We managed to reach the main temple without much of a wait.

The temple is dedicated to Bhagwan Swaminarayan and is the focal point of the 23 acre complex. It has been built using 6000 tonnes of pink sandstone. The fact that got me really intrigued is that it is constructed in accordance with the Vedic architectural principles – no iron or steel has been used anywhere in the temple. The beauty of the temple was mesmerizing – We felt a sense of calmness as soon as we entered. I really loved everything about the temple premises – the waterfalls, the well-manicured lawns, layout of the temple itself, the intricately carved pillars and walls. The temple was a treat for our eyes – quite literally, as we weren’t allowed any gadgets inside. We really wished though they had allowed us our cameras inside to allow us to capture and share the beauty with everyone else.

Another thing that I really admired about the temple was the food court area – it is really well planned and I remember my last experience there being great. This time we relished on ice-cream for a little while. As we were pressed for time we didn’t get an opportunity to visit the other attractions at the premises – the exhibition halls and the water show. We passed by the various cultural spots in Sahajanand Van on our way out. Looking at the sculptures reminded me of my childhood memories – being told stories of Dashavatar by my grandparents.

We passed by the riverfront on our journey back to our hotel, and got dressed for the wedding while listening to music. Once we were all dressed and ready, we left for the Cambay Grand Hotel. Cambay Grand was the location the “baraat” or the procession from the guy’s side is supposed to depart from. The wedding was to be held at the same place as the Sangeet ceremony. Just like the evening before, we reached the venue first and started clicking photos. We were all charged up and ready to go after we had the snacks.

baraat1.jpg

The chariot driving Anshul to the wedding arrived there in a short while. Attached to it were a couple of horses. As the groom’s sister, it was Apurvi’s duty to feed chana dal to the horses before the journey began. It was definitely a sight to behold – the horses put up a decent fight with Apurvi for the thaali and ate up the chana completely. The expression on Apurvi’s face was just priceless as she tried yanking the now-empty thaali away from the horses who weren’t just willing to let go!

As the time for the baraat’s departure inched closer, the lights on the chariot were lit. The band hired for the occasion got their own vehicle and started playing the songs. I have never seen Apurvi as happy as she was while dancing at the baraat – her energy level was insane, considering that she had barely slept in the past couple of days.

This was just the beginning of the evening – the baraat was led by the vehicle of the band, followed by the ‘baraatis’ or the wedding procession, and finally the chariot. Fireworks adorned the skies as the procession moved ahead. The departure of the baraat was one of the funniest incidents of the day. The band members confidently led the procession in the wrong direction. When the mistake was finally, realized the entire procession had to be turned around 1800. I am still amazed by the fact that they successfully managed to turn the chariot around without much trouble on a really narrow road. The rest of the journey was fun – we danced to the tunes.

naagin.jpg

Naagin Dance

The highlight of the baraat was the Naagin song – everyone went into Naagin (snake) mode and seemed to enjoy every bit of it. We bumped into the Pundit in the middle of our journey – he came out of nowhere on the bike, overtook us, and wasn’t seen again until the very end. The part of the baraat I enjoyed the most was dancing to the Jhingaat song towards the end – that song has the capability to lighten everything up.

baraat2.jpg

The baraat at the venue

We finally reached the club at about 8.30pm. The club was very beautifully decorated – elaborate rangolis made with flowers and candles lined the path to the mandap where the ceremony was to be held. The mandap itself was very beautiful – it was installed on the lawn and adorned with flowers. By the time we reached, the venue was filled with guests, and we felt lucky to get seats for ourselves close to the mandap. This was when the level of fun really peaked – Apurvi anticipated that Anshul’s shoes will be stolen by Bharvi’s cousins, and hence gave them to us for safekeeping. Running short of ideas, we hid the shoes under our seats and covered them with our dresses.

IMG-20170202-WA0016.jpg

The four of us did this exercise in rotations so that all of us could go and have something to eat. This went on for about four hours, at the end of which we were actually “praying” for someone to come and challenge us or try to steal it from us. We finally burst out laughing when we realized that we had been played, and that nobody was coming for the shoes.

Although Sree, Kriti and I had intentions of leaving early, we decided to stay as we had never witnessed a Gujarati wedding before. As it was getting late and we were getting drowsy, we told jokes and chatted to stay awake.

IMG-20170202-WA0011.jpg

As the photographers and videographers blocked our view completely, we decided to go and stand closer to the stage. During the “phere” ceremony, the bride and the groom go around the sacred fire seven times symbolizing the seven promises they make to each other in the beginning of their new journey together. The friends and family of the couple shower them with flower petals as they go around the couple. In our case, we began aiming rose petals at the couple initially. When we ran out of petals we aimed some marigolds at them. Then someone in the crowd even aimed a garland of marigolds at Anshul. I am sure that Anshul was pretty intimidated, especially by our gang – every time he came close to us, he instinctively shielded his face!

wedding.jpg

The Phere ceremony (and Anshul shielding his face from our marigold attack 😛 )

At the end of the last phera, he finally caught a marigold that one of his cousins aimed at him. He gave the flower to Bharvi, who aimed it back at the person who threw it. Bharvi is undoubtedly one of the swaggiest brides ever.

wedding1.jpg

The Lovely Couple

As the marriage ceremony came to an end, the couple sought blessings of the elders and proceeded to the final ceremony of the evening – Bidaai (farewell of the bride). We reached our hotel at about 3.30am and slept like logs.

Day 3

We packed up and checked out as early as we could. Loading the luggage in the car, we proceeded to Apurvi’s place for a late breakfast. En route to the railway station we stopped by at Farki’s to pick up some rabdi and at Induben Khakrawala to carry back some of the famous khakra delicacies – the dosa khakra is famed to be sensational. It was really sweet of Prerna and Apurvi came to drop us off as we boarded the Shatabdi Express back to Mumbai.

As we neared the Borivali station (where we planned to alight) we carried out an interesting “social experiment.” We were almost 20 minutes out and had pretty bulky suitcases placed on the luggage shelves overhead. We started unloading them one by one, hypothesizing that the exit would be crowded by the time we get there. We just wanted to see how the rest of the coach would respond to this innocent little act. We weren’t surprised by the result – the entire coach went into a frenzy, unloading the suitcases and making a dash for the exit. Our hypothesis did come true in the end – by the time we got the suitcases down, the exit was all blocked. I was intrigued by the ability of three girls to create a chaotic situation without as much as saying a word!

This experience was certainly one of a kind – never in my dreams did I think I would enjoy an event so much. A very special thanks to Apurvi and her parents for inviting us and making us feel right at home the entire time.

Based on my experiences here are a few tips and tricks which might help if you are planning on visiting Akshardham temple anytime soon–

  • The temple premises remain closed on Mondays, and this plan your visit accordingly.
  • No electronics are allowed inside the premises. You will need to deposit your cell phones and bags at the respective counters outside.
  • The security at the temple is pretty strict – avoid carrying any leather articles such as wallets or belts.
  • The food court is pretty amazing – it is spacious and well planned, and the food is tasty as well.
  • The water show is held in the evening at around 7.30pm. If you plan your visit well, you can easily spend the entire day at Akshardham

In case you missed it, here is the link to the Sangeet blog post

The Ahmedabad Wedding – Sangeet

Day 0

Ever since watching ‘Jab We Met’ (and a rather memorable incident about nine years ago) I have been slightly cautious about reaching the railway station on time. This time was no different – I had almost packed up everything and had a couple of hours to reach Mumbai Central for my 11.25pm Duronto Express to Ahmedabad Junction. The occasion of the weekend trip was the wedding of my classmate Apurvi’s brother. Stuffing whatever I could remember in my suitcase I rushed to finish the upma that my mother had served at the table. Although I suggested otherwise, my parents insisted on dropping me at the terminus themselves. My friends Sree and Kriti had reached almost an hour before I did and were already waiting for me in the coach with their parents. We chatted with their parents for a bit before the beginning of the journey. The journey was more of a mini-sleepover for us – we sat chatting about our college experiences, reminiscing the funniest and the lamest moments we have had yet. Our discussion about the kleptomaniac (on whom we based our own fictional version of Dhoom 4 😛 ) and a certain Gujarati classmate whose very name is enough to cause a laugh riot was enough to set the ball rolling. We finally decided to hit the sack at 3.30am, in order to have a little energy left in the morning.

Day 1

As the train slowed down before reaching Ahmedabad station, I was woken up by Kriti. We were warmly greeted by Apurvi and her dad as we alighted. After dragging our bags to the end of the station and packing them in the car. I surprised myself quite a bit – I had packed 2 extra sets of dresses (in case the need arose…) but had conveniently misread the weather report on google and not carried any warm clothes. I was practically shivering – what was I even thinking while wearing a sleeveless top anyway! It was really sweet of Kriti to lend me a shawl – I will never forget how contrastingly nice and warm it felt in comparison to the chilly Ahmedabad mornings. After picking up Apurvi’s brother we headed to Hotel Shrimad at Chandkheda, where we would be staying for the next couple of days. Our friend Krupa had flown in as well and joined us there.

The hotel stay was one of a kind – it was IN a mall! The very check-in process at the hotel was funny – after submitting our ID proofs we were asked to sign in to the register and provide a thumb print (god knows why!) With the luggage placed in the rooms, the five of us chatted a bit before deciding to rest for a while. In the process we (Apurvi included) missed out on the Haldi ceremony (It was only later in the evening that we got to know about the substitution of turmeric with Vicco Turmeric cream. It was certainly the most creative jugaad one could ever come up with!).

The elevators leading to the hotel were one of a kind as well – never before had I heard (or even imagined) of an elevator chiming “Thank You. Visit Again. You’re Welcome” with a slight Gujarati accent. Sree and I ended up taking the elevator almost every single time just for the heck of it. We finally went to Apurvi’s place for a rather late breakfast, and were greeted by her mom. I was left mesmerized by the environment and their hospitality – we practically felt at home. Apurvi’s mom is hands-down one of the coolest moms I have ever met – her knowledge of all the happenings in college is pretty much up-to-date, and I absolutely love her ability to make anybody laugh within seconds of meeting them. We were soon greeted by Anshul (Apurvi’s brother – the groom), who jokingly mentioned that he had heard *just a little* about us. Apurvi showed us around and told us about her childhood memories of her pets as we chatted in the balcony. Apurvi’s cousin Prerna also chatted with us for a while. After a rather awesome breakfast of Chhole Bhature, we headed back to our hotel rooms to freshen up and catch up on our sleep. We faced a rather intriguing event as we returned to our room – although I distinctly remembered switching off all the lights and taking the keys with me, the lights were somehow on. This made Sree and me wonder if there was some ghost lurking around waiting for us to leave.

The evening turned out to be eventful – Sree, Apurvi and I ended up wearing almost the same shade of pine green for the Sangeet ceremony. The function was arranged at the Sun and Step Club. Apurvi looked stunning in the mini-photoshoot we had before everyone else arrived (our group had been the first to reach there). It was a bit funny, as we had to go outside again so that we could be formally welcomed by the bride’s side. The bride Bharvi looked picture perfect in her navy blue dress.

sangeet.jpg

The highlight of the evening – the beautiful couple 😀

We all chatted a bit before the event actually began. The Sangeet ceremony was definitely a treat – in addition to the live orchestra, there were a number of dazzling dance performances put together by the relatives of the couple.

aunty.jpg

Apurvi’s Mum dancing to Sawaar Loon

Apurvi’s mom stole the show – the grace and finesse with which she danced to the slow and the fast beats, coupled with the choreography, simply blew our minds away. Even now when I listen to the song ‘Sawaar Loon’ I am instantly reminded of her performance.

The rest of the evening was pretty lively – people danced to the Garba tunes that the orchestra played. I shied away from Garba as I couldn’t really match up to the tempo or get the steps right. Krupa really seemed to enjoy the dance though – I guess Garba just runs in her veins. We all took to the dance floor after dinner in the last part of the evening, when Bollywood tunes were being played – that was definitely our turf! The air had suddenly become so charged – more than a hundred people dancing their heart out.

We danced till our legs were sore…we then waited a bit and danced some more. This was one dance event we all thoroughly enjoyed – we must have danced for almost a couple of hours. I kept dancing even though my leg was sprained a bit, and interestingly enough the pain just went away. Sree surprised us with her amazing Bollywood moves – we had no idea she danced so well! The funniest memories of the evening included being almost knocked over by Kriti and Apurvi as they played Phugadi, and dancing to the Marathi song Jhingaat – the expressions on our faces were just phenomenal! We chatted a bit with Apurvi’s mom before we left for our hotel rooms – the Sangeet definitely was a roaring success. We finally retired to our rooms at 12.30am, and drifted to slumberland in a matter of minutes.

Here is the link to the next part – the Shaadi blog post

Chennai Chronicles: The Long Weekend

11th August 2016, 10am: 1500+ tickets available from Chennai to Bengaluru on KSRTC site for 12th August night. My procrastinating mind chooses to wait until the evening to book the tickets for the long weekend (yup…bad decision).

11th August 2016, 4pm: 20 tickets available on KSRTC site, none of them matching the timing that suit me. It was only then that I realised that approximately one and a half thousand people beat me to booking a ticket in quite a short span of time. I dejectedly booked the tickets for the SRS Travels bus leaving on early on the morning of August 13th, wondering about the major part of the day that would be wasted travelling. To cheer myself up, I chose to watch the latest Hrithik Roshan starrer Mohenjo Daro with a flatmate the night before the departure (another bad decision…the movie turned out to be a colossal disappointment).

 

13th August 2016:

Jumping out of the bed like a ninja on realizing that I overslept, I hurried to reach the Koyambedu bus stop in time. I turned out to be pretty lucky though, as I somehow managed to reach an entire hour before the departure. For a really badly planned trip, the day went pretty well – the lady sitting next to me was pretty good company and I honestly didn’t realize how the time passed. A few hours later I was greeted by the pleasantly cloudy and drizzly Bengaluru weather and my cousin who picked me up from Madiwala on his bike. After relishing the Dahi wada and puran poli, we treated ourselves to shopping at Commercial Street, followed by Chaat at Anand’s.

 

14th August 2016:

The second day was even more memorable than the first, as I got to enjoy an ice-cream at Creamstone Ice-creams after hogging on warm spicy momos with my brother. Seeing the ice-cream being prepared and served was an experience in itself – the ice-cream and the “toppings” were smashed together on an icy table and served in a bowl made of crunchy waffle. The Fresh-Fruit-and-Nuts ice-cream is definitely worth a shot, and tasted much better than I expected it to.

001

The remainder of the day was spent listening to old Hindi songs, chatting, and reading the eighth instalment of the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Although reading a play after so many years was a refreshing experience, I was slightly disappointed with the story.

 

15th August 2016:

My last day in Bengaluru was the best of all. It began with a bang – an impromptu plan to visit Nandhi Hills (Nandhibetta as they call it) at 4 in the morning! A 70km drive to watch the hills was one of the things I least imagined. Draped in warm clothing, my uncle, aunt, brother and I set out to see the sun rise over the misty hills. Expecting a deserted road, we were taken aback by the sheer number of people on bikes who set out to the hills at the same time as us. The business of the tea vendors was in full swing – the bikers would stop at a tea stall whenever it became too cold to ride.

1

We were greeted by freezing fresh air and the hills in a shroud of mist as we took the turn from the main road, not to mention acres of lush greenery. Nature was definitely at its best at 5.30am.

6Assuming that we would get to enjoy the sunrise from the top, we made our way to the entrance gate, tailing about thirty other cars. Too bad, we learnt that the place would be open to visitors only at 6am. After a decent amount of waiting our car moved past the gate, only to be reduced to a snail’s pace a couple of kilometres later. We ultimately ended up locking the car up and walking.

It was interesting to see many people choose something similar. We walked back to the car after half an hour of drenching ourselves in nature’s beauty and bounty and enjoying the misty coolness of the morning breeze. We made our way back to the city after a hurried breakfast at a restaurant at the base of the hill. We were welcomed by another huge set of people waiting for the gate to be opened again at the base – apparently the number of vehicles that visited the place as it opened was so huge that they had to close the gate until a considerable number of people came back down! By the time we reached back home, it was approximately 9.30am.

Spending a good chunk of the day catching up on some well-needed sleep, we watched movies such as Rangitaranga and Thithi. The evening was pretty much fun – I had been looking forward to the one thing I absolutely love Bengaluru for – Death By Chocolate (DBC) at Cornerhouse Ice-cream. Although it is the most tempting, fattening and indulgent thing possible, I love every bite of it – and my brother spares no occasion to spoil me. After another delicious plate of warm and mildly spicy momos we went back home to pack up. I really didn’t feel like leaving Bengaluru – it is practically my home, and I am surely in love with it.

The journey back to Chennai was a funny memory in itself. I had booked a semi-sleeper seat in the Airavat bus leaving at 11pm. My brother and aunt came to see me off. Fortunately we managed to reach Shanthinagar bus stop (the starting point of the journey) sufficiently before the departure time. There was one guy though, who didn’t know where exactly the bus was going to be, and thus called up the caretaker of the bus asking him for directions to the bus, and also to wait a little. Shanthinagar bus stop is a big place, and can get a little confusing at times (we ourselves took about 10 minutes to find the place!). Interestingly the frequency of his calls increased as the departure time neared. 4 calls in 7 minutes was enough to have the caretaker super-annoyed and everyone else in splits! The funniest part of the incident was when the passenger finally made it to the stop. Every person standing on the sidewalk but him knew his bus, and pointed it out together. Even the caretaker laughed out loud this time.

Getting a seat behind the driver was the highlight of my night-travel adventure. Although he had pulled the divider down so as to help us avoid the light glares, stray beams of light occasionally hit my eyes. I would often catch glimpses of the road ahead from the side. To my tired eyes everything appeared to be moving at an inhuman speed – almost as if the driver was playing a game of NFS. I don’t know when exactly I fell asleep, although I do know that falling asleep was a task in itself. The journey ended a few hours later as the bus pulled up to the stop at the Koyambedu Bus Terminal at Chennai, and I prepared myself for another adventure soon.

A Welcome Break (Part 3 of 3)

Here are the links to the previous parts of my Lonavala experience

https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/a-welcome-break/

https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2015/05/03/a-welcome-break-2/

Day 2

The second (and the last) day of our trip began at 7.30am. I found it really difficult to get out of the bed, as the comforter was too comforting. After being finally pulled outside by my sis, I decided to explore the area along with my parents and sister. We were joined by my grandpa for once nice long walk. The weather was just perfect and the flower shrubs lining the path just brightened up my day.

After spending a good portion of an hour walking, we decided to have breakfast. We were pleasantly surprised to find a toy train taking us there. It was a mini-bus with connecting compartments, the awesomest part of which was the fixed sunroof. It just gave the simple experience a completely different dimension.

21

We went to Ripples (the restaurant) for breakfast. We chose the breakfast-lunch combo owing to the pleasant experience we had in Coorg three years ago (I also realised that skipping dinner the night before may not have been my best decision).

The breakfast was as grand as I had expected it to be – it had a combination of Indian cuisine (poha, parathas and so on), traditional breakfast (eggs, cereal, cakes and a bunch of juices) and salads. It would have been perfect if they had waffles and pancakes with maple syrup (I wouldn’t mind Nutella either). If you plan to be there any time in the near future, don’t miss out on the cheese omelette. It was heavenly. Another couple of things which left me really intrigued were cucumber juice and pineapple chutney (Leave aside tasting, I hadn’t even heard of them before. They were definitely worth a try).

We spent the next hour after breakfast playing UNO in the room. It was fun (and later frustrating) to see my sister defeating me almost every time. After a couple of Table Tennis matches in the activity room, we decided to go enjoy at the pool. We were spoilt for choice as there were 3 pools – one overlooking the lake (where my sis and I had been the night before), another one under the shade of the trees, and another small pool. We decided to go to the one under the shade of the trees.

26

I knew I would be damned when it came to my internal exams, but the experience was well worth it. When we finally got out of the pool a couple of hours later, we realised the need to rush to Ripples if we wanted lunch. And after an amazing breakfast experience, I was all the more excited for lunch.

With every passing moment, the feeling of sadness came over me. We barely had a couple of hours to leave, although we had the room for another day. The uncertainty of the viva and the presentation started to get to me. Fortunately for me, the lunch managed to cheer me up. As we returned to our rooms one last time to pack up, I just didn’t feel like leaving. With a heavy heart my sis, mom and I walked to the reception.

Entrance to the spa

In conclusion I would specially like to thank the Club Mahindra Staff for such excellent and timely service. They were really courteous and went out of their way to make our stay pleasant. Special thanks to the driver Mr. Arvind, for excellent service.

Here are a few tips for those who plan to visit Club Mahindra Tungi Resort in the near future

  • This resort, being the closest one to Mumbai, is one of the most-favourites (as a good chunk of Mumbai population is seen in Lonavala-Khandala area during the summers). People who get reservations here are pretty lucky.
  • That being said, the minimum period for booking is 2 days. Ideally choose the weekdays, as getting a weekend reservation is both unlikely and not that comfortable (due to the crowd)
  • For people prone to motion sickness, it is advisable to have something like Avomine before the last 10km stretch to the resort.
  • Check-in time is around 2pm. Plan your trip accordingly.
  • Choose the rooms overlooking the lake. The view is better than the 1-BHKs
  • Carry mosquito repellent creams.
  • They have activities for people of every age group. Good place to visit with friends or family. For those who want to relax they even have a spa named Svaastha
  • They have daily organised treks, for which registration should be done at least a couple of hours in advance.
  • Carry some card games and swimsuit with you (and maybe a beach ball or something like that). It’s fun.
  • Lockers are available near the pool area.
  • They don’t have WiFi. In case you need to use the internet you have the option of using one in the activity area, or your good ol’ cellular data
  • The weather is fiery during the summers. Sunscreen lotion suggested
  • If you are coming from Pune-Satara side, keep an eye out for fresh fruits along the highway. You will enjoy them. Especially from November to April, figs are really good. We got great figs and guavas near the Prati Balaji Temple.
  • Lastly, alcoholic beverages are not served on the premises. I don’t think you are allowed either.

A Welcome Break (Part 2 of 3)

Here is the link to the previous part of this experience. https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2015/04/30/a-welcome-break/

Part 2: Club Mahindra Tungi Resort. Day 1

After leaving the Prati Balaji Temple near Narayanpur, we proceeded to our resort. Club Mahindra resorts are known for their aesthetic planning, and more importantly privacy due to seclusion from the busy areas. Club Mahindra Tungi Resort overlooks the picturesque Pavna Lake. Being the closest resort from Mumbai, getting a reservation at Tungi Resort on a short notice at the beginning of the peak season was nothing short of a miracle for me. The journey to the resort was quite pleasant, if we ignore the last 10km (if you are prone to motion sickness, be prepared for one hell of a ride).

The morning idlis at the Food Court didn’t satisfy us for long, and all of us were pretty hungry by the time we reached Lonavala. We chose to have lunch at Om Shiv Sagar Restaurant (a cozy local restaurant) over a big chain like Dominos, as the estimated wait period there during weekends is generally more than an hour. Anyway, the lunch there was decent and reasonably priced. We bought some chikki and chocolate almond fudge from Maganlal’s before beginning the final leg of our journey for the day. INS Shivaji is on the route to the resort, and the road until then was pretty decent. The bumpy part was the final 5km, which tested our patience. The sense of relief we felt as we pulled into the Club Mahindra premises was notable.

4

Our Keycards

Another thing that I really love about the Club Mahindra is the politeness of the staff. They are the most courteous staff I have ever known. Be it Coorg or Tungi, everybody greets you with a smile and goes out of the way to make you feel comfortable. We were welcomed with a glass of Tang on arrival at 4pm and the key-cards to our two rooms were handed to us in a matter of minutes. We were taken to our rooms in Golf Carts, and our luggage arrived shortly after. I was delighted to find out that our rooms looked really welcoming. I was happier to find out that the balcony attached to the room overlooked the lake. It was a really pleasant view and was totally worth the bumpy ride.

After resting and lazing around for an hour, we went out. My sister and I chose to explore the area a little to see what all facilities were available. We were not the least bit disappointed – there were quite a few activities. Apart from the daily treks, there were games like Table Tennis, Badminton, Football and Basketball. They also have a variety of board games. My sister and I began the evening with a game of Connect4, followed by Football with other kids. There was quite a lot to explore – they even had a small garden! Sitting on the see-saw made me feel like we were kids again.

The highlight of the evening was enjoying the sunset relaxing on the recliner by the pool overlooking the lake. As the sun set, the sounds of the birds chirping and the insects filled the air. As the sky faded from a bright blue to navy, we saw stars brighten it up. The soft lights on our way to the activity area only added to the beauty of the evening. My day of pleasant surprises was not over yet. I was excited to know that we had Karaoke there. After a not-so-delightful karaoke session (I wouldn’t really categorise my performance as a hit), I retired to the room for the evening. I decided to skip dinner to work on my upcoming viva and presentation, and chatted with a friend before having the most amazing slumber possible.

Here is the link to the next (and the last) part of the series –  https://nehaslife.wordpress.com/2015/05/05/a-welcome-break-3/