Kochi : Spicy Malabar city

Kochi also known as Cochin is situated on the south-west of India in the state of Kerala. Kochi is a port city and attracted a lot of trade from all over the world during the 15th and 16th century specially for its spices. But today it attracts people for its rich cultural heritage and scenic beauty.

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We reached Kochi in the evening just in time to catch the sunset over the tranquil backwaters. Like other tourists we boarded a ferry which took us around, while the guide told us about the city and it’s heritage. But we hardly paid attention as we just sat back and enjoyed the cool evening breeze.

Cochin is famous for spices and had a lot of shops which offered plethora of options for the same. We bought the famous banana chips fried in coconut oil to take home along with the spices.

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We got up all excited to roam around and headed to the Kochi fort. The minute you arrive you feel like a magnet drawing in all the hawkers in the vicinity. There are numerous shops selling different wares. The entire market is covered by the large green trees, which adds to the beauty of the place.

Just a few steps will lead you to the Chinese nets which adorn the coastline. If you are in for it, you can try your hand at fishing using the nets for a small fee. We did and definitely enjoyed it.

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We paid a visit to the Mattancherry palace which is an old palace which is now turned into a museum exhibiting various murals, paintings,antique furniture, etc. which gives a peek into the life of former royals and aristocratic families of Kerala.

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Close to the palace lies the oldest Jewish settlement in India. Although Jew town now houses a few Jewish families it was a thriving Jewish town with over 250 Jews living here. Most of the Jews have left but the streets still has street signs written in Hebrew, a few Jewish houses and of-course the Paradesi synagogue. This synagogue is the oldest functioning synagogue in the commonwealth nations. Tourist are allowed inside the synagogue but its closed on the sabbath. This is a street shoppers paradise. There are a lot of small shops on either side of the road. The antique shops interested me the most with a range of antiques to buy from.

20190104_142834-collage842586607.jpgAfter having a quick lunch we wandered around the streets of Kochi and admired the architecture and street art. We made our way to the Indo Portuguese Museum which is near the Bishop’s house.

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The Indo Portuguese Museum has the only surviving part of the former Kochi fort after which this part of the city is named. Most of the fort structure was destroyed in floods and battles, this part is preserved and kept for public viewing.

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The highlight of the trip was the Kathakali dance. We went in early and watched the artists do their transformation from men into pretty damsel, protective husband and cruel king, right in front of our eyes. All with the aid of elaborate makeup and colourful costume. The performance was awes inspiring. the performance was so powerful that it made us forget the bitter experience we had before the start of the dance by myriad tourist and instagramers who took so many photos and videos and blocked everyone else from enjoying the moment, even after repeated requests from the rest of the audience.

Whether its for the cultural value, the scenic backwaters or just the food Kochi is lovely. It’s very close to Munnar and Alappuzha (or Alleppey). I loved every bit of the Kochi and i bet you would too.

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Malvan: Where fish and adventure meet each other

I have always loved the sea and all that comes with it like food, waves, seashells, sunsets, water-sports. Although I come from a coastal state surprisingly I had never done any water-sports, so this time we decided that it was time to take it up and have a trip to Malvan. Malvan is situated on the western coast of Maharashtra towards the Goan border.

We started our journey from Goa to Malvan early in the morning at around 6 a.m. keeping in mind that the water sports in Malvan start by 9:30 a.m. Its fun to drive on empty roads with golden rice fields and coconut groves on either side.

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We crossed lovely rivers, palm groves, hills and even clouds as we paved our way from one coastal state to another. As we reached Malvan we were welcomed by a narrow road, kids cycling around with big smiles on their faces.

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We drove our car on the beach to go to the car parking point which was on the beach as well. This was amusing for me as I had never seen cars being driven on a beach before. We drove the car between the fishing boats and the sea. Overtaking handcarts and even Bullock carts on the way.

After we met our contact at the Dandi beach in Tarkali we decided to complete the water sports for day one and leave scuba and snorkeling for day two, as we were late. We had to head to our accommodation for a quick change of clothes for the water-sports.

Unfortunately our car just wouldn’t start. May be because of the long journey or a battery problem. Since the dashboard lights were still up we decided to try and start the car in an alternate way. My husband sat in the drivers seat trying to start the car, while the rest of us pushed the car as fast as we could till it started. Thankfully it wasn’t long before the car started. A great start to an adventurous weekend.

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After a quick change of clothes we were ready for some adrenaline rush, enjoying the water sports. We had taken a package which included parasailing, jet skiing, banana ride and two other couch based rides. My favourite was parasailing as others were short rides. I missed the water dip in parasailing but regretted it soon after I landed back on the boat. My advise would be to take the dip its totally worth the extra 200 Rs.

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After the water sports we had some quick refreshment from the local stalls and went for snorkeling against our previous decision of doing it on the second day. Actually our guide kind off tricked us in doing so by telling us that scuba and snorkeling might be cancelled if the will rain at night. Scared that we may lose both we decided to do snorkeling. Assured that we would still see the underwater corals and lot of fishes we finally gave in and went for snorkeling. It was a good experience but we hardly saw any fish. There were just 3 little yellow and black zebra striped fish.

We had a lovely lunch of Mackerel fish thali, the fish was very fresh and the curry was just lovely. Since we were in Malvan which along with Goa is notorious for being susegad, we went for our prized siesta.

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We got up just in time for the sunset over the Sindhudurg fort. You can just sit on the shore and enjoy the sunset over a cup of coffee or hot tea.

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During the low tide one can walk halfway towards the fort. The place is full of rocks which you can climb and sit. This is also a good point to view the lovely sunset.

Next we went to the Rock garden around Malvan Market. This is a really small garden where kids can play on the lawn or a swing set. You can skip this as it is not that special.

We then walked to a famous restaurant named “Athithi Bamboo”. I would recommend this one for really delicious and reasonably priced food. They offer a variety of thali’s like fish, veg, mutton, chicken,etc. I loved the food.

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Just before we went to sleep we went to the beach to find a myriad of fishing boats which had returned from the sea with their catch. The fisher-folk were busy separating the fish and cleaning their nets.

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The next day we had our breakfast with Steamed modaks(need to order the night before) and then headed for scuba diving. The entire experience was magical. We got to see some really big corals and a variety of fish. The underwater world is really beautiful. I was glad I had one thing off my bucket list.

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We paid a visit to the devbaug beach which is a meeting point of the river and the sea. There are a few resturants along the coast where one can just laze on a hammock and sip on Keri-panna or kokam sarbut. We bought some freshly fished Mackerels and headed back to Goa.

All in all Malvan is a lot like Goa in the 90’s. With its narrow roads, laterite compound walls and houses and fresh fish. It is as Susegad as Goa, People are ever smiling and helpful. But the highlight of the trip was the scuba diving experience. If you love water, head to tarkali before it gets spoilt by tourism and globalisation.

I have added our contact details for your perusal . Pravin Kubal :+91 8459137552

 

Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani

Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are hill stations just 3 hours from Pune city. They are both situated in the lush green Western ghats of Maharashtra. Both these hill stations are very close to each other and can be covered together. These are great options for the people from nearby places especially Pune.

The route to these hill stations is paved through ghats and fields of sugarcane, marigolds, tumeric and many different crops.

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During the monsoons clouds descend on the hill, making the road quite difficult to see yet mesmerizing. I have been here during the spring as well as monsoon and loved it both the times.

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Panchgani is famous for its lovely plateau called Tableland. This place has been used for shooting many Bollywood and Tollywood(South Indian) movies. During spring the entire plateau is full of flowers and looks like a never-ending green carpet. This fact is smartly used by the guides making you to rent their horses. They even give you a free 1 km test ride.

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There are 2 caves here known as the tiger cave and Pandawa cave. As the name suggests the former cave was home to a tiger many years ago, but deforestation and tourist influx in addition to other factors probably made the magnificent creature search for another home. The second cave however is believed to be used by the pandawas (Hindu mythology ) during their years in exile.

Both these caves are presently occupied by small restaurants selling tea, maggi and some earthen ware. I loved the sitting in the cave watching the green hilly forest sipping on the hot tea. Although it was sunny and hot outside the caves were very cool and gave a welcome respite from the heat.

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There are many vantage points to watch the lovely green hills which combine with the blue waters of the Dhom dam below to provide a captivating site.

Mahabaleshwar is famous for it’s strawberries. Mapro is perhaps the most famous agro business in Mahabaleshwar . Here one can get samples of their jams, frozen shakes, toffees and different snacks at the restaurant and tasting centre. The entire place is nicely decorated and kids love it here. Products from Malas are also sold here. I would recommend buying the ‘zero sugar Jamun jam’. It’s tasty and healthy, which makes it an excellent choice for diabetic people.

Other than Mapro there are a lot of strawberry farms where one gets fresh strawberry shakes and ice cream. If you are lucky the farm owners will allow you to pick some from their farm either for a fee or free. This is true especially towards the end of the harvest season.

Mahabaleshwar has its share of vantage points, echo point and Elphinston point are some of them. The Elephant point is a more famous one, where the rock is cut in such a way that it looks like the an elephants head.

The market in Mahabaleshwar has a wide range of fruits, vegetables and various articles made of bamboos.

Both these hill stations together form a lovely weekend getaway with their pleasant weather, breathtaking views and a lot of holiday resorts. So if you want to go away from the hustle and bustle of the city and breath the clean hilly air, head to Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.

Singapore: The Lion city

Singapore is an island city country, situated south of the Malay peninsula. The country lies 1° north of the equator which causes Singapore to have an equatorial climate. The fact that Singapore’s climate doesn’t vary a lot makes it have tourists throughout the year. Singapore is well connected, safe, cultural rich and very hygienic. Making Singapore an ideal tourist destination for solo and family travelers.

Gardens by the Bay:

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As the name suggests this is a garden overlooking the Singapore Strait. But this is no ordinary garden, the garden is spread over a large area containing greenhouses, super-trees which are vertical gardens, waterfront gardens and a sky-walk. The ‘Super-Trees’ or ‘Super-groove’ as these are called have a light and music show which is mesmerizing. The place gets really crowded during the show so my advise would be to go early especially if you would like to take a walk on the skywalk or eat at the restaurant placed on top of the ‘Super-tree’. If you just want to lie down and watch the show find a place at the bottom of the groove and enjoy yourself. This was my favourite part of the entire Singapore trip and I would recommend the show for all.

Marina Bay Sands hotel:

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The iconic Marina Bay Sands is a posh hotel at the north of the gardens and has a casino, a mall, two theaters and a convention centre. The resort has 3 towers who’s arthitechture is inspired by a deck of cards. The Mall inside the resorts has a small canal running inside it where one can catch a boat and enjoy a ride.

Merlin Park:

The Merlion is the official mascot of Singapore. The Merlion park is usually crowded with tourists. Merlion is a mythical creature which is has the head of the lion and the tail of the fish. The fish depicts Singapore’s origin from a small fishing village into the magnificent lion that it is today. Singapore means the city of lion(Singa).

The National orchid garden:

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The national Orchid garden of singapore is placed inside the Singapore botanical gardens. Singapore has a lot of gardens but the orchid garden is famous for housing more than 500 species of orchids. Some of these orchids are named after famous celebrities and politicians all over the world. If you absolutely love flowers specially orchid you have to go to this garden. If you are not a great fan of orchids and don’t want to pay the fees for it, then you could skip this part and enjoy the scenic Singapore botanical gardens, which is free and full of lush green trees.

Thian Hock Keng temple:

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Singapore has a lot of temples but I would recommend paying a visit to the Thian Hock Keng temple, which is Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple dedicated to Mazu, the sea goddess. The second temple would be the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.

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Singapore has tropical fruits which are not found in other regions, one such fruit is durian. Durian is notorious for is smell and strong taste. Tasting durian is a one in thousand chance as you find this fruit only in South East Asia. If you are game enough to try and taste an unique experience. I would recommend trying a durian.

The Sentosa Island is a perfect family trip resort. The resort is built on a man made island and has a lot of adventure rides, shows, hotels, panoramic views and sandy beaches.

Singapore is well connected from major Asian countries thanks to Air Asia’s affordable flights. All in all it is a modern country which is a great place for family or solo vacations.

Paris in 8 hours

The CDG airport in Paris is a popular transit location and if you have more than 8 hours to wait for your connecting flight in France, then you get a chance to explore the “city of love”. Paris has very good public transport system and one can explore the city by using the Paris metro, which is both fast and economic.

First thing to do once you are have done your immigration is to buy a metro ticket to the desired location or a day pass. I would recommend the later as you can take multiple journeys on this saving both time and money. There is a metro station at the CDG airport from where you can get your pass and the metro itself.

Eiffel tower:

The world renowned architectural marvel is worth your time. You can go on top of the tower which is quite time consuming or indulge in the tasty snacks from the few shops at the base of the structure. Either way the Eiffel tower is magnificent and a must see.

Notre-Dame de Paris:

The cathedral is a small walk from the metro station. It’s one of the best Gothic architectural masterpieces and is a part of many French novels like ‘The hunchback of Notre-Dame’. The cathedral is on the banks of the river Seine and looks beautiful.

There are lot of shops inside the airport where you can enjoy a drink in the roadside cafes. Try croissants, macaroons and others local dishes. Take in the scenery and most importantly enjoy yourself.

 

A lovely day in Malacca/Melaka

Malacca is a beautiful city on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula. Malacca was under the occupation of British, Dutch and the Portuguese. People of different cultures like Malay, Chinese, Indian, Kristang, and Dutch Eurasian live here. This place is a perfect example that people can live together in harmony despite their religions or ethnicity.

Malacca is 3 hours away from Kaula Lumpur and Singapore and has regular buses from Melaka Sentral, which makes it a perfect weekend holiday for people from both these places. As soon as we arrived in Malacca we were greeted with boards of “Don’t mess with Melaka”, an innovative way to remind everyone not to litter the place and the lovely sea.

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The Dutch and Portuguese colonial history of the place is preserved in the red square and Bukit St. Paul. The ruins of the ST. Paul church which once held the remains of none other than St. Francis Xavier overlooks the Christ church which is an UNESCO Heritage site and attracts lot of tourists.

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Malacca has Portuguese settlement known as the Portuguese square where one can feast on Portuguese cuisine and lots of Sea food.

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Melaka Straits mosque is one of the most modern and beautiful mosques around the world. The mosque is located on a man made island and it seems as if it is floating over the Straits of Malacca.

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A walk by the Jonker street is treat to the eye. The street is filled with eateries, jewelry and clothes shops. Coming from a former Portuguese colony myself  I found some familiar food items like the “Putu Piring” which are basically steamed rice cakes with coconut Jaggery. These are called as “Godachi San’na” in Goa.  I was very excited and tried the “Putu” to make sure there were just as delicious as their Goan counterpart.

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Another local delicacy with same name is the “Dodol”. In Goa this is made of coconut milk and rice flour, interestingly Malacca has added its own local ingredients and fruits to make different forms of dodol like durian dodol.

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If you want to get in touch with your crazy self than try the decorated cycle rickshaws which are complete with light and music. These cycles have songs from every country which are played according to the passengers ethnicity. They instinctively played Bollywood songs when they came near us.

If the fancy cycles are not your type, fret not, there are lot of other choices. You can choose a cycle according to your group size.

Malacca has something for everybody may it be nature lovers, history buffs, foodies or just plain tourists. Spending just one day here made me fall in love with it. So pack your bags and head to Malacca.

Aurangabad: Historical weekend getaway.

Want to escape the routine and skip the city for the weekend but don’t know where to go? Look no further, Aurangabad is here. It is well connected to Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur by road, rail and air.

Things to do in Aurangabad:

Ellora caves:

The famed Ellora caves are just an hour drive from Aurangabad and 30mins from Daulatabad.

The caves open at 6 a.m. and stay open till 6 p.m. Going early will allow you to escape from the sun and the crowd. There are 34 caves in total. The caves are divided into three parts.
Caves 1 to 12 are the Buddhist caves, caves 13 to 29 are Hindu and 30 to 34 are Jain.

The entry and exit gates are in front of the cave 16 and rightly so. This is the biggest caves in Ellora. My suggestion is to start with cave 16 as the earlier you go in the less the crowd will be. This cave will take your maximum time. The cave has detailed carvings and has a Shiva temple in it.

After cave 16 you can either go cave by cave till cave 27 or directly to cave 27 to see Waghora waterfall. The other caves in this group have nothing special.

The caves 30 to 34 are a little ahead and worth the hike. If you don’t feel like walking come back to the entrance and take the free bus ferrying tourist directly to cave 30- 34.

These Jain caves are interconnected and have carvings of Mahavir Jain the founder of Jainism.

Take the bus back to Buddhist caves. Exploring every cave would be very time consuming. If you are short on time then I would recommend skipping the caves other than caves 2, 5, 10 and 12 among this group. Cave 10 is a temple with richly decorated facade.

Daulatabad fort:

The next stop in the daulatabad itinarary is the Deogiri/Daulatabad fort is en route to Aurangabad and is of historical importance. The fortress was considered to be invulnerable and remained so till it yielded to the enemy assault and passed into the hands of Sultan’s of Delhi.

Daulatabad was made the capital of India under the notorious sultan Muhammad Tughlak, for a brief moment. One is greeted by Chand Minar on the right side which was built to commemorate Kings victory over Daulatabad.

The fort has a dark corridor which acted as a maze and kept the enemy at bay. I recommend investing in a guided tour for this part.

Biwi ka Maqbara:

Popularly known as the Taj of the Deccan. The tomb was built by Aurangzeb and is the final resting place of his wife. The architecture is inspired by Taj Mahal.