Sunday, January 31, 2016

Land of Stories - Rajasthan

There was a time where ad jingles used to be so addictive that they were stuck with us for weeks. For me, that trend had died down with Idea Cellular’s number jingle. But there is a new jingle that struck a chord with me and has been playing over and over again in my head for the last couple of weeks. Travel junkies in love with history and culture – you should have already guessed it! Anyways, because it is on a loop in my brain, here it is:

Maati baandhe painjanee,
Bangdi pehne baadli,
Aedo dedo baavdo,
Ghod-mathod baavdi…

Yes! I am in awe of the new Rajasthan Tourism campaign. Rajasthan is a land of stories, a land of history, a land of colours and a land of diversity – but to a lot of people it was just about camels, deserts and a couple of very well-known forts. But now the tourism board seems determined to let you know a lot more about this beautiful state of India; and guess what, it is seeking to show you Rajasthan from the eyes of people like you! Confused?

Rajasthan tourism campaign is all about showing you your ‘Sthan’ now – the way you see Rajasthan’s wonders. Right from the logo – which by the way is one of the most creative tourism logos I have ever seen, (created by Ogilvy & Mather - the same geniuses who had come up with Hindustan Ka Dil Dekho campaign for Madhya Pradesh) – it is all about your perspective but showing you the popular and the offbeat at the same time. The logo is an imagery of two camels sitting back to back with two birds hovering on the top – camel, something people relate to with Rajasthan but birds, how many really know about the rich ecological hotspots for bird watching in Rajasthan? The logo also gives you a second perspective of a Rajasthani man with the typical moustache and raised eyebrows – maybe the new face of Rajashthan Tourism, seems like it right?

Anyways for more information about the revamped structure visit their SITE, and trust me you won’t be disappointed. For now I have some Vaisakhisthan (Okay not being a narcissist, I swear) ideas and places; some seen some yet to explore.

Even walls tell you stories

Rajasthani way of story telling
Rajasthan for me is a Land of Stories: From the brave Rajput kings, to their daring queens. Even during the campaign launch Vasundhara Raje had said that Rajasthan is not just about the desert and Palaces. It is much, much more. Every nook of Rajasthan has a story, and I totally agree with her.

The famous Hawa Mahal
Victory Tower at Chittor
Rajasthan to me is also about the excellence of Architecture: Did you know Jaisamand Lake near Udaipur is the second largest artificial lake in the Asia and was actually created in the 17th century! Kumbhalgarh fort wall is only second to the Great Wall of China in the world, in terms of length. The Keerti Stambh and the Vijay Stambh in Chittor were one of the earliest pillar wonders of the world that stand strong and beautiful till date. Dilwara Temples in Mount Abu are adorned with such intricate marble work that leave you spellbound and with praises of the old craftsmen. The much studied about ventilation system of Hawa Mahal and its sophisticated design. And admit it the brilliance of Amer and Mehrangarh Fort and the beauty of Jal Mahals (Palaces in water) in Udaipur and Jaipur appeal to tourists and travelers alike. I love Rajasthan for it is the perfect place to appreciate art skills of India of the ancient days.

Majestic Amer Fort

Rajasthan to me is about wondering at Nature: Ranthambore and Keoladeo Ghana National Park or like it was called, Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, tell you the so called desert land has forests right? But if you thought this was it – let me tell you, you are in for a surprise at Abu, Alwar and Kumbhalgarh too because apart from the well-known architectural delight, these places are home to a large number of wild animals and birds, and goes without saying, these places are forested. Rajasthan has about 14 recognized sanctuaries but at the same time it is also the place where Thar marks the Indian map.

The max wildlife I have explored in Rajasthan yet
Rajasthan also has a way with Food – In Udaipur and didn’t eat at Natraj – Crime! Even I was afraid of committing this crime and literally hogged at this place like a glutton, and this is coming from a non-foodie so imagine (Best Rajasthani Thali Ever). Apart from that, ghewar, dal baati and Ajmeri kachori in gadha – well that is what people call it) – well get the point, when in Rajasthan go traditional atleast in case of food!

I was busy hogging so couldn't click any pictures. Thank God a friend of mine clicked this recently. (Source)

And lastly, Rajasthan to me is about people, colour and culture: I still remember listening to the ektara players and nomad singers at Pushkar, their music so clear and so prominent in the chaos of the busy market. I still remember walking amidst the colourful traditional lanes of Johrai Bazar and Bapu Bazar in Jaipur with no sense of destination. I still remember the Ghumar dancers at city palace Udaipur. Yes, Rajasthan has kept its soul its culture alive to a great extent, atleast the best part of it and like most places, people and culture is what defines a place for me.
Traditional Meenakari Earings and Mojri types Chapal from Bapu Bazzar
So, how is your Sthan? Similar to mine or you have more experiences to share. Do let me know.

P.S. - All pics are personal unless source specified and yes these are not SLR clicks, but clicks from a sony cybershot 7.5 mpixel cam (old school)

City Palace Udaipur

Friday, January 22, 2016

Oman - An Arabian Wonderland

Ochre Yellow Landscape and Celeste Blue Waters of Oman 
If you guys are Bollywood buffs like me, you would remember how Making of Gerua was trending everywhere a couple of weeks back. I had never really seen making of any songs earlier so thanks to Gerua I started binge watching makings of Bollywood tracks and there I came across – Making of Jiya (Gunday). Okay are you guys wondering why I am talking about this suddenly? Jiya was shot in Musandam, Oman and so it transported me back to the Sultanate Dreamland!

If you have been following my blog regularly you would know about my Omani Love, if not, well no issues cause I am here to talk about it all over again. Oman is a travel destination in my bucket list and so when I saw the video of the song again I was lost in the rugged terrains of this Arabian wonder. Oman enjoys a prime spot in the Arabian Peninsula due to its geographical diversity and rich historical significance, and given the fact that this is the prime season the visit Oman and Muscat is holding the Muscat festival, I think the panorama of Sultanate of Oman is stuck in my travel wonderland for now. Anyways if you are puzzled with the thought – How can Oman be a travel destination? Here is my answer to your queries.

Terrains of Oman

Why Oman over other Arab Land Travel Destinations?
Dubai and UAE specially, have become a huge travel hub of the Middle East. But if you ask me, people who make their way to Dubai can definitely consider Oman as a cheaper, quieter, more natural and diverse option. While Dubai is known to be a shopping hub, famous for Jumeirah Beach, Al Burj and desert safari, you can get it all, except for the very expensive Al Burj, and much more in Oman.

Glimpse of one of the oldest markets in the world
Oman was a major trading port in the history of Asia and as mentioned in my last post about Oman, it was mistakenly considered a part of India and grew rapidly in trade. This led to a well-defined port network and the oldest market of wester Asia – Mutrah Souq. In this era of Malls, while Muscat flaunts huge malls with luxurious products, it also preserves the essence of olden days in Mutrah Souq- lanes of old mud houses adorned with Turkish lamps and metal works calling to you with enchanting fragrance of frankincense and spices. So Muscat is a perfect place to satiate your shopaholic alter ego. But if you have an eye for architecture, Muscat has a beautiful alternative to Al Burj for which you will not have to loosen you purse strings either.

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque (Source)
Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque is world famous for its modern architecture with typical Islamic aesthetics. Perfect blend of the new and the old can be seen in the vast structure. From white marble work to artistic handwoven carpets and huge, literally huge and exquisite chandeliers – this mosque has it all and you are allowed to explore and also get inquisitive. People there would happily answer your queries. No huge lines, peaceful ambience and architectural wonder that takes hours to covers – still thinking of Al Burj? And why just this mosque in Muscat, Oman owning to its ancient heritage, has a lot of forts to interest the history buffs in you. Oman is steeped in history and is the perfect blend of the modern and the traditional in every corner. Think about exploring Nizwa fort, Bahla fort and Castle of Jabreen. All made of mud or old rocks and sand and are brilliant examples of Arabic interiors. Get ready to be lost in the real world Agraba! Where else would you get that?

Forts of Oman - Still standing with the traditional built
Okay, too many man-made attractions? What about the natural wonders? Oman is blessed with expansive coastline which is known for its turquoise waters and diverse marine life! From Musandam to Sur, beaches and fjords make for a very unique experience for every nature lover. Musandam, which is actually a part of Oman but situated UAE is known for its dhow tours and playful dolphin experiences. Imagine, Khasab is also called the “Norway of Arabia”. Need I say more why you must visit this sea town if you are a sea baby? Sur on the other hand is known for the turtle beach aka Ras al Hadd where one can experience turtle watching during this season. Sur is also the home to world’s cutest sink hole, the Bimmah Sink hole. And if you ask me about Muscat, corniche and almost all beaches in and around Muscat are enough to make you wonder – is this a desert country?

The clear pool of Bimmah Sink Hole
Talking about deserts - Wahiba Sands with its seemingly infinite Arabian Desert of sand dune and cloudless skies with shiny sun and bright full moon gives you an experience which is further enhanced by the tunes of Bedouin singers. What better way to dash the dunes and camp under a sparkling moon? And like every desert has an oasis, Oman has special oasis in forms of Wadis. Ochre yellow cliffs with aquamarine pools and lush green terraces are scattered all over Oman and are a pleasure to visit though the Khareef season till late February only. From the Snake Canyon aka Wadi Bimah to the gorgeous Wadi Bani Khalid and Wadi Shab, the Wadis of Oman are a must visit.

Snake Canyon Entrance
And when there are crazy networks of mountains present, there are bound to be caves in the area too. Lo! You have Jebel Shams - Lush green in summers, snowcapped in winters and Al Hoota caves at its base. Al Hoota cave network is one of the largest cave systems in the world but with only 5km long traversable area underground so far with a river which creates 3 large lakes, first of one with 800m length.

Colours of the Arabian Wonderland
Did I manage to answer your queries now? For now Oman falls under the offbeat wonderland list, so before it gets all commercialized and crowded like the other Arab destinations make sure you plans your trip to the Sultanate of Oman. Let me know if you agree with me on Oman or if you have an even more enchanting Arab jewel in your mind in the comments below cause I would love to go beyond the thousand and one stories of Arabia and see the best before it loses its essence to advent of modernity.

Offbeat still - Sultanate of Oman
P.S. – The best time to visit Oman is from November to February.
Thanks a ton to my Omani friends Mohit Rajadhyaksha and Franklin Patrao for so many amazing pictures of Oman.

And this post got featured in BlogAdda,s Tangy Tuesday Picks for 26th Jan. 2016.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

My Top Ten Instagram Posts of 2015

Okay Confession Time – I am an addict!

Before you people freak out, let me tell you I am the harmless kind of addict. I am an Instagram addict. Use of Instagram is no news to the social crazy tech savvy crowd, but I never really got a hang of Instagram until last year. And when I did, I didn’t feel like stopping at all. After one and a half years of regular instagramming I can solemnly swear I love it and I am addicted with no guilt. My day starts and ends with liking pictures, admiring creativity and the world and adding places to my bucket list.

I blog, I write, I click and I share – and guess what Instagram lets me do all that! A lot of people argue that Instagram is stealing away the authenticity of photography. I beg to differ. Yes, people do get a chance to use filters and modify the look of places but it is very easy to figure out if a pic is edited or not. For instance most of my pictures are unedited and that does not take away the charm of using Instagram. If anything, Instagram lets you connect to a wider audience with common likings and interests. So the point being – I enjoy sharing my travel stories on Instagram and today I would be sharing my top 10 Insta-Posts of 2015 here! (Yes I know I am a bit late, but it is still just January of 2016)

10. From the Ghats of Bramhaputra - Umananda Ghat, North Guwahati (unedited)

9. Tranquil chants of harmony - Global Pagoda, Mumbai

8. Solace in the rhythm of the falling rain - Lavasa.

7. Glowing flame of faith - During Durga Puja, Mumbai. (unedited)

6. The Vibrant Red of an Old Colony - Fontainhas, Panjim.

5. Symmetry and more - Fontainhas, Panjim.

4. Away from the light, day and life - Utan, Thane.

3. Just for faith and Hope - Pondicherry.

2. Ages seen and Unseen - City Palace, Udaipur.

1. Blue and Green Infinity - Alila Diwa, Majorda. (Unedited)

For the rest of my Instagram feed follow me at Hope you guys also discover and love instagram the way I did.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

10 Things to do in Melaka

When you have a blogger moment, guess the effect lingers for way more than you can think of. Guess my experiences in Malaysia will keep resurfacing in my blog from time to time. Reason - If you travel to a place that feels almost like home and is a history geek’s travel paradise with pinch of modern life and culture, the trip is got to be special. So here I am again, back with the Malaysia ‘Post Rain’ because I have so much to talk about this beautiful country!

I visited the old and the new both in Malaysia. The grandeur and vibrancy of Kuala Lumpur is the heart of Malaysia for sure, but Melaka/Malacca is its soul. The first ruling Sultan of Malaysia was from Melaka and so was Hang Tuah – the most celebrated hero of the Malay history. Melaka was not only one of the most important ports of the world in past but it was the port that lured Merchants from Gujrat to Muscat to Japan to Spain. Post the Portuguese invasion, the Royal Palace was burnt down and since then Melaka has never had a sultan. With time Melaka has lost its elite status after being exploited time and again by different forces (read about it HERE), but its historical aura still is hypnotic to any traveler. Here are the 10 things one must do when in Melaka.

1.   Heritage Walk
Melaka is a UNESCO heritage city and heritage walk is a must when in Melaka. The walk starts from Independence Memorial next to which is Porta de Santiago - the only remaining part of the Portuguese Fort of Melaka. Then the climb to St. Paul’s hill leads to the first church of South East Asia and from there you reach the Dutch square (also called the Red Square or Stadthuys) with the British made Victoria Fountain. For the walk – Do Wake Early, cause the sun won’t have mercy on you later.

2.  Visit Flora de la Mar Maritime Museum
Flora de la Mar was a 16th century Portuguese Merchant ship that was lost to sea near Sumatra after its conquest of Melacca (the reason of the sinking is rumored to be overloading of the ship with goods from Melacca). A replica of the ship now stands in the city and has been made a museum that tells you tons about the port’s history.

3.  The Trishaw Ride
The best way to reach Flora de la Mar is to take a colourful trishaw from the Stadthuys. It is not like trishaws are not common in India, but to take a ride in a super decked up trishaw with joyous drivers and very loud Bollywood music –you do get the picture right? By the way, Salman Khan Songs are loved even in this Malay Town.

4.  Experience Royalty
Muzium Kebudayaan aka Melaka Sultanate Palace is a wooden replica of Sultan Mansur Shah’s 15th-century palace. It was constructed in 1985 based on accounts of Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) text and like the original Palace, this replica too is constructed without nails and supported with carved wooden pillars and features copper and zinc roof. The interior of the structure takes you back in time as it has palace furniture replicas, weapons, jewelry, traditional attires, paintings and installations that let you experience the Malay Royalty. One of the 8 chambers of the palace is dedicated to the tales of Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat.

5.  Walk the lazy lanes of China, set in Malaysia.
Jonker walk – officially recognized and set in 2010, is the oldest Chinese settlement of Melaka and as of today the most famous shopping center of the area too. The sleepy lanes bordered by traditional Peranakan and Chinese houses, Chinese temples, and cozy cafes, is a must visit! And yes shopping – need I say more? Weekdays the street goes into slumber by 5:30 in the evening, but weekends are when one can actually pull a night out there. The whole area beams up with life and Jonker Night Walk Market it the cheapest market with quality you wouldn’t want to miss.

6.  Feel the cultures
Next to Jonker, are Heeran street and Harmony street which if you do not visit when in Melaka, would be criminal! These two lanes are the true glimpse of Malaysia truly Asia. From a Mosque to Chinese temple to a Hindu temple in one lane, to a Perankan House Museum and Chinese House Shop in another, these lanes are the essence of the cultural diversity Malaysia flaunts. And for the European touch be sure to take the river cruise.

7.  Be a Bird
Menara Taming Sari is an 80M high tower with a moving, rotating glass cabin that gives a 360 deg. bird’s eye view of the whole town. And the panoramic view of the Straits of Melaka is the best part. The whole tower trip is totally worth the entry fees.

8.  Explore the straits of Melaka
Take the Duck Tower to explore the turquoise Straits of Melaka. Duck tour is a land water vehicle that was a war machine during the world wars but later was modified to let the visitors get close to the waters that are not ‘fit for a dip’ (that is what we were told and I am still wondering why cause the water is so Clear!)

9.  Have Indian Lunch on Banana Leaf
In Little India – another corner of the town – is a little restaurant called Selvam. This restaurant is neither air conditioned nor does it have the 5 star feel but still is listed as the best authentic restaurant of Melaka in tripadvisor. Guess that says plenty about the place. So if you love indian food be sure to have lunch here!

10. Shop till you drop!

Melaka has 2 Megamalls – Dataran Pahlawan and Makhota Parade, right next to each other and they are mega not only in variety but in size too. One would imagine a mall to have high end expensive stuff but don’t worry these have something for everyone just be sure your heels don’t bother you or visit with sport shoes on. To explore the malls it would take you 3 to 5 hours atleast 2:30 if you are not a shopping person at all. Lucky for me, my hotel was right next to Dataran Pahlawan Megamall so the 2 days in Melaka meant 2 visits to the malls!

This was ofcourse my list, you can explore beyond this list if you have time. Melaka is a laid back town that wouldn't disappoint your explorer alter ego I am sure.  

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Postcards from Imagica

It is 2016! 
Happy New Year everyone.

Another year of travel ended, leaving me with a bag full of experience and memories. Some I have already shared with you, some still waiting to be out of the bag. One such memory is what I want to share today – one that I never fathomed would happen, ever.

People usually have resolutions phase of the year in the first couple of months, I usually have them during the end of the year. Before the 2015 ended, I had decided to go to an adventure theme park – after being challenged by God knows how many friends of mine. If you think it is no big deal, wait for it – I am terribly scared of rides! Dead scared!! So yes it was a big dare to myself, and as luck would have it, I was invited to Adlabs Imagica near Mumbai for a FAM (Familiarization) trip for a day.

So straight to the postcards from my day at Imagica. But before that, Imagica has a surprise New Year gift for all people living in Mumbai. How many of you had procrastinated going to Imagica cause of transport issues as it is a bit far from the main city? Well guess what, Imagica has recently tied up with BEST! Now you have two BEST AC Buses from Churchgate and Borivali to reach Imagica.  

And now here are the reasons why you should visit Imagica

Yes this is Imagica

1.   Theme - It is all about Disney from the minute you enter. The Dream Magic castle with a pond full of lotuses; 3D walls with stories of Disney Princesses and little bit of magical touch to every corner. It is a mini Disney land which actually has tried to stay very different from Disney with a magical Indian flavour in the theme.

Snow white was a Disney princess after all!

Free fall in the water pool!
2.  Rides - As scared as I was, I did try out some rides including Nitro, Deep space, Mr India - the death ride and Rajasaurus River Adventure (An indoor ride which takes back the visitors to dinosaur age via a boat in on river which ends with an splashy inclined fall down to a water pool from a height of 20m). Love rides, you will not be disappointed even for a minute!

Nitro - sure it made me sick but OMG!!

Age old gates of Salimgarh, Beware!
3.  Shows and Theme Rides - This is for kids, grown ups and for people like me! Fun, themed and mildly scary ride of Salimgarh - the land of the death, into the cave of the forty thieves from Ali Baba and Chalis Chor, finding and fighting life forces in the Temple of Gods, travelling underwater will sleeping on ground during prince of the Dark water and admiring bird's eye view of the diversity of India in I for India. These were my favourite part of the theme park!

'Cause this is Arabia!
4.  The parade - With Belle and Cinderella inviting you and the dwarves to Imagica, the Imagica parade sure takes you though the theme of the park in a span of 15 mins. Dance, music, fun, and magic - define the parade which happens every evening at 5 near the magic lake. But in case you have plans of leaving early, the stunts and dance performers have impromptu shows around the park throughout the day.

Straight out of the books
5.  For Photo Crazy People - Yes, It is me after all. And I couldn't help but go click click around the place that is brilliantly decorated with dreamy lights and quirky decore.

As quirky as it can get, right?
Reasons why you might not want to visit Imagica:

Still not Disneyland!
I am not a PR agent for Imagica. 
Though I had a hell lot of fun there, with minor jolts of shock scare and motion sickness, I did realize some reason why you might not want to visit Imagica.
1.   Express ticket - Imagica entry does not guarantee comfortable rides without the hassle of queues. If you are an adrenaline junky and enjoy rides it is better to pay for the express ticket. But at the same time express ticket is nothing but a waste of money for people like me, who are extremely scared of rides, there aren’t many rides or shows to keep you occupied the whole day.
2.  Food - You are not allowed to carry anything inside the park and the food at Imagica eateries is slightly heavy on your pockets and not really tasty.
3.  Sun – Imagine standing in long queues with no shade at all during summers. Trust me it is not fun, especially when it is the tropical sun. Not scared of tanning completely, well you don’t need to worry a bit the.
4.  Diversity of rides – As the park is still new, it has a lot of new and exciting rides but fails in numbers, the shows seemed more than the rides at a point and some rides seemed like ‘just there for the sake of having something’ eg. The Cup and Saucer ride and the dashing boats.

The FAM Group of the day!
Nevertheless, thanks to Adlabs Imagica, Mumbaikars have a new weekend getaway and now with less worries about how to get there and back!