Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Experiences (travel and otherwise) of 2014

2014 began with a bang.  I partied with my girlfriends, till the wee hours of 1st January 2014. Thereafter, the rest of the day was spent in bed, battling hangover.  Like each year, I made some resolutions and as I look back now, I broke most of them (that’s the norm right?). 

The one that stayed is the back bone of my blog.  Any guesses? – Right! It’s wanderlust! I vowed to make 2014 a year packed with exploring new places, getting out of my comfort zone, experiencing new things in Mumbai (the city I call home) and of course capturing memories through my lens!

Here's a quick round-up:

Participating in Mumbai Marathon as part of CSR at EY [January 2014]

I have never liked running, not even during my competitive lawn tennis days.  But watching Mumbai Marathon, year on year, made me re-think my decision.  I wanted to be part of the spirit of Mumbai.  

Soon enough I enrolled for the 6km dream run, which let me tell you is akin to a big carnival.  You find huge groups of people representing their respective workplaces (like EY!),people from various NGO's, celebrities getting some TRPs, people in whacky attires.  The Dream run also show cases performances by several bands/ dance groups on the Marine Drive stretch.

While I ran about 4 kms as the initial 2km stretch was almost claustrophobic with fellow dream-runners, however just being a part of a Marathon was overwhelming.  I do endeavor to run a 10km Marathon someday. 

Taking Pride in witnessing the first Republic Day Parade at Marine Drive, Mumbai [January 2014]

Having lived half a decade in the New Delhi, I used to look forward to seeing Republic Day Parade live at along Rajpath.  Delhi, being the capital city was the only city to host this parade, until 2014, when Mumbaikars hosted a Republic Day parade in the stunning backdrop of Queen's necklace i.e. Marine Drive stretch. 

Mumbaikars thronged the Marine drive stretch in large numbers.  Mumbai police did a great job with crowd management.  The parade participants ranged from the 3 armed forces, police forces to many representative schools.  Indeed a delight to see Mumbai shrouded in patriotism!  

Betting on race horses at Great Indian Derby [Feb 2014]
See more here

I associate derby with women in pretty hats and men with fat wallets.  While I didn't see those glorious hats, I did see men betting Lille maniacs.  Just for fun I bet on two races and lost badly!  Perhaps, no beginners luck :| But the experience of watching Derby was amazing, especially when the mood at the race course was so electric!

Sun, sand, heritage, casinos, night markets and more in Goa! [March 2014]

I must admit, I live a overnight train/ bus ride from Goa, but never got an opportunity to visit Goa.  I chanced upon a colleagues plan and did all the touristy things in Goa - exploring the churches, beaches, sampling goan delicacies, clubbing, etc.  I even met an old friend who works and lives in Goa and took me to some awesome chilling hide-outs!

On my next trip to Goa, whenever that is, I plan to do non-touristy things!

Neon theme Bachelorette and a Church wedding [April 2014]

The first friend from college to get married!! Karen's wedding was a great opportunity for me to reconnect with college friends and be a part of a big fat Indian-Catholic wedding!  While the nuptials in the Church were emotional, the after-party was grand, with lots of wine and dancing!

We even threw a crazy 'neon theme' bachelorette for her, with props, scandalous games and crazy gifts!

Fountains made me emotional, Aamby Valley [May 2014]

During EY off-site in Aamby Valley and watching the beautifully choreographed fountains I got very emotional, especially to the song 'yeh haseen vadiyaan'.  It was truly a culmination of AR Rahma's tune and the surreal fountains.

 A mammoth Himalayan trek (Roopkund) [June 2014]

I never dreamt I could complete a grueling 8-day trek to Himalayas.  This time accompanied by two of my closest friends from work and with lot of determination, we made it to Loharjung, Uttarakhand - our base camp for the trek.

Over the next 8 days we walked through beautiful and varied landscape, stayed in tents and bonded over post trek playing card sessions.  The living conditions were tough, the weather was harsh, but I had my goal in sight - finishing the trek, or at least giving it my best shot!

On 6 June 2014, I sumitted this skeleton lake, 15,696 ft above sea level along with my best buddies (who did not give up!!) to look at the vast expanse of snow clad mountains and a killer view!  The icicng on the cake was celebrating my friends b'day at that elevation!!

The trek taught me that there 'ain't no mountain high enough' if you have the perseverance.  The trek was also a classic example of importance of a team.  But the biggest take away for me was the reassurance that I'm blessed with friends who'll stay by my side, no matter what!

Closer home – monsoon trek to Prabalgad with work colleagues [August 2014]

Let me be honest, one Roopkund trek was enough for 2014 and as much as I did not want to do another trek, the charm of a monsoon trek in western ghats was too tempting.

This time, with colleagues from EY, we sumitted Prabalgad, but not without the glitches.  It poured cats and dogs, the trail was flooded, some colleagues got injured (including me - minor vertigo)  which also set us back considerably.  Ultimately, we descended with the help of villagers (lesson - always carry torch, even if its a day trek!!) at 9.30 PM.

While the trek is lovely, starting early is the key to ensure one descends before dark.  It's funny, now that I look back, this was my only experience with night-trek - and no I did not enjoy it!  What's the point of trek if you can't enjoy the views?! Do you agree?

Travelling in unreserved ladies boogie as part of impromptu, girls only trip, to Coastal Karnataka[August 2014]

Read all about it here

Girls only, totally impromptu trip! This was like a stepping stone for my ambitious year-end travel plans.  This trip made me loosen up and go with the flow.  Because some of the best journeys are unplanned!!  

Feeling a rush at Aquamagica, Lonavla [October 2014]

Classic setting, water-park, friends, stay over.  Can we even go wrong?

While all rides are not yet functional, the crowd is good (thanks to a slightly high entry fee).  Perfect for winters day out if you don't have a plan for the year-end!

Visiting family in Delhi for Diwali [October 2014]

Staying with family for 10 days is a luxury for me!  It's when I can do as I please and be pampered.  Diwali was just that.

Side trips to Old Delhi (eating at the original Kareem's!) and Qutub Minar [October 2014]

Read More about the architectural and gastronomic pleasures at Old here

From sunset to sunrise in a beach shack at Madh Island [December 2014]

After a cousins wedding at Vasai, we decided to unwind with beers, sound of waves and conversations by the beach.  Our stay at Madh was comfortable and the weather was lovely.  I'm sure you'd agree looking at the photos below!  

December in Thailand!!

I start out with the Christmas party at Koh Phagnan, followed by dive course at Koh Tao and usher in the new year at Koh Samui. Next I heard to Phuket, Siem Reap and Bangkok.  

I'll post about it in detail once I'm back/ from the road. 

PS - I have some exciting travel plans in 2015.  Stay tuned!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Coastal Karnataka - What, when, how & stay, eat, damages?!

What?  – a power packed weekend!

My limited brush with Coastal Karnataka was during an impromptu girl’s trip to Murudeshwar, Jog Falls and Gokarna.  This time around we had 3 days to squeeze in a quick trip in monsoon (15th August weekend).  While the relentless rains in Western India isn’t my favourite time to travel, but it was too tempting to let go off a long weekend.  During a coffee break at work, we were looking at pictures of Jog waterfalls (2nd highest drop waterfall in India) and we instantly decided we wanted to see it in person. 

Our destination for the weekend was decided!!!!!

When? - in full-blown Indian monsoon!

There is no best season to visit any place.  Sometimes lean season is the best to beat the crowd and get budget deals. However, it has its own woes, especially weather not holding up.

We had zeroed in on 3 destinations in Coastal Karnataka – temple town of Murudeshwar (can be visited all year round), Jog waterfalls (Best during or just post monsoon), Gokarna (best time to visit is from Oct to March).  Because the highlight of our trip was jog waterfall, monsoon was a good time to visit.  Also, we were ready to be at the mercy of rain God’s for the duration of our visit!

Unfortunately for us, due to mediocre rain until August, Jog falls was half as majestic as I have seen it in photos.  Murudeshwar was overcast and we had our good moments in Gokarna.  However, if you have a choice, I’d recommend visiting Murudeshwar and Jog falls in monsoon, followed up by a visit to Dudhsagar waterfalls, near Goa.  Gokarna would be better post October when the skies are blue and trail for half-moon trek not slippery!   

How? - Indian railway loyalist

It was just me and a girlfriend travelling and we decided to be loyal to Indian railways, mainly for the affordable tickets as the airfares to Mangalore were over the roof and also for the safety.

Mumbai to Murudeshwar

In order to ensure minimum loss of time, we took Matsyagandha Express (LTT, Mumbai) to Murudeshwar [departs at 3:20 PM and revised arrival at 4:08 AM– when we travelled the train arrived at 5.45 AM].  

We did a mistake by looking 2AC and had to do with half a sitting berth as only one of our ticket status had moved to RAC.  Lesson learnt, for such an impromptu trip, always book sleeper class (best option!) or third AC (if you cannot tolerate sleeper class) as the ticket roasters move faster as higher cancellations are expected.  Another option would be to book ticket upto Mangalore (last destination of Matsyagandha) as chances of confirmed ticket are higher as final destination has higher number of reserved seats, unlike smaller transit stations.

Alternatively, one can fly to Mangalore and take a bus to Murudeshwar

Murudeshwar to Jog (day trip)

I love budget travel, but not at the loss of comfort.  I know it’s a paradox, but we managed quite well.
We arrived in Murudeshwar all geared up to change 2 buses to reach jog falls [Murudeshwar to Honnavar and then on buses on Jog falls route heading to Banaglore/ Mangalore and costing us about INR 150-200].  But having slept so little in the train we changed our mind and called up a local taxi guy.  One day trip to Jog falls in a 4-seater costs about INR 2,000, while an 8-9 seater costs about 2,500.  

We decided to take our chances and share a taxi (one way) to Jog falls with another group of 6 friends who (luckily for us!) needed a one-way taxi to Jog falls (they had booked KTDC accommodation at Jog Falls). 

While our costs were taken care of (about INR 500 per person), but we did get into major disagreements with the group.  Jog falls has two look out points, one next to KTDC resort and one on the opposite side (some 3 kms towards Murudeshwar).  The group wanted to visit the second view point but wanted us to drop then back.  In the bargain, we agreed, but that set us back by 2 hours and we barely managed to be back at Murudeshwar post sunset. [Tip: When travelling with random groups, pre-agree on halts/ cost sharing, in consultation with driver, to avoid bad blood]

Murudeshwar to Gokarna

Passenger train (which runs between Mangalore and Madgaon, Goa) is by far the cheapest and fastest mode of transport from Murudeshwar to Gokarna.   

The train arrives at Murudeshwar at 9:07 AM as per revised timings (ours was to arrive at 9:58 AM but was delayed by 45 mins) and reaches Gokarna at 10:10 AM as per revised timings (we were scheduled to reach at 11:10 AM).  

The ticket was a mere INR 120 while the picturesque train journey was priceless! Enroute we passed through Manki, Honnavar and Kumta towns to arrive at sleepy station of Gokarna, a good 7 kms off the main city!

Gokarna to Mumbai

While we had wait-listed tickets from Gokarna to Mumbai in Matsyagandha express, our luck ran out and we were stranded on Sunday morning with options running out.  Buses were full (VRL travels/ SRS travels) and taking a bus to Goa and a night train was too hectic/ tickets were unavailable.  Here again, had we booked a ticket from Mangalore to Mumbai, we might have got an RAC, who knows!
Ultimately we decided to travel in ladies unreserved boogie (last boogie of the train).  All we had to do was pay INR 300 and wait/ reserve our seat.  The train was fairly crowded until Madgaon, but the beautiful landscape and chit-chatting with local women kept me occupied.  Luckily I got a place to sleep (top wooden berth) and thereafter the journey was quite comfortable – my back doesn’t agree with that statement though!


Kamat Residency, Murudeshwar

At such short notice, almost all sea-facing accommodation options were booked.  Hence, on a friend’s recommendation, we booked an AC room at Kamat residency (on the temple main road) for INR 1,000.  The room was basic, but even as two girls staying alone, we did not feel unsafe. 

Sanskruti Resort

While our first choice of accommodation was undoubtedly Namaste Café (Om Beach), we ultimately settled for cottage at a fairly new resort called Sanskruti resort

The resort was a splurge for INR 5,000 a night.  However, the property, though very small, is very beautiful.  The cottages are nestled around a two section swimming pool.  The serve buffet meals and aspire to have a bar license soon.  Each room looks out to the swimming pool and is equipped with a huge bed, A/C, flat screen TV, toiletries and smells wonderful, thanks to some great room freshners. 

While the food has a lot of scope of improvement, the staff is very friendly and helpful.  We had specifically requested for a pick-up from station (Manager himself came to pick us up in his personal car!), early check-in (free of cost) and late check-out (free of cost).  They even arranged for auto for us to visit the beaches, and trust me the autowallas were very polite and non-intimidating.  Overall, a very relaxing stay at Sanskruti.  

And just before checking out, I did jump into the pool and got badly tanned! – True mark of a brilliant trip ;)



Murudeshwar is mainly a temple town with limited food options.  We ate a breakfast of idli/ dosa at Kamat Residency and dinner at multi-cuisine Naveen Beach Restaurant bang opposite the temple (the building structure almost hangs into the sea).

Jog Falls

There is only one restaurant here run by KTDC.  There is significant waiting and food choices are limited, south Indian thali/ idli/ dosa fare.  I tried the thali which was very filling.


We ate a buffet lunch and breakfast at Sanskruti resort, which was decently priced, but could do with some improvements.

We watched the sunset sipping beer at Namaste cafe (Om beach) and thereafter hogging on nutella pancakes and sandwiches.  

We met random travellers and spent some time getting to know them.  We loved the cafe so much we returned here for lunch next day as well!  

There is a shack called Paradise cafe at Kudle beach, but we didn't find it appealing enough.   


The trip cost us about INR 9,000 per person.  While it wasn't exactly a budget stay, but hey, girl's do need some pampering, right?! ;)  

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Golden temple, Amritsar

 “Peace is always beautiful – Walt Whitman”

Peace, a singular word which defines my Golden temple experience.  Known to be one of the most significant and holiest Gurudwara of the Sikhs, Golden temple or Harmandir Sahib, embodies equality and belief. 

I had a chance to visit Amritsar and hence the temple during Diwali.  We visited the temple after breakfast when the crowds had just started to trickle in.

My first glimpse of the temple was through the dwar right after I deposited my shoes and covered my head, both as a mark of respect.   It is best to dress modestly to respect the religious sentiments – long pants and covered head are must. 

The temple complex is built in sikh architectural style.  The main temple is surrounded by holy water on three side and glitters gold as the sunrays fall on it.  The reflection on the temple in the gently moving water is a sight to behold. 

We took a parikrama around the holy water on the cemented pathway admiring the complex from every angle.  Thereafter, we stood in the line to wait our turn to enter the main prayer hall.  After saying our prayers, I enjoyed the Prasad (piping hot rawa halwa made in desi ghee) which was being served to everyone at the exit.  We also brought some Prasad from the temple to relish later.

Just outside the main temple is a courtyard where a group of devotees were chanting prayers/ religious songs.  I sat here a while, enjoying the chants and the peace of this place.  

It was very evident that Sikhism not only preaches, but also practices equality.  No matter how rich or poor,  devotees volunteer in large numbers to serve the people  – be it at the shoe counter, helping with the langar, cleaning the temple complex etc.

Golden temple kitchen serves tea for devotees at all times.  Its kitchen also caters to 10,000 or more people daily in its langar, traditionally comprising of pulses, halwa and roti (main Prasad, which you need to accept with both hands).  I didn’t get a chance to enjoy the langar, but the tea was refreshing.     
Golden temple is significant not only for its architectural beauty, but also because it is here that the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy text of Sikhism, is present.  As part of the fervour and spirituality, this holy text is brought into the main temple each day to enable devotees to worship it – which, in itself is no short of a grand ceremony!     

I wasn’t content with one visit to the temple and came back again post dinner.  Lo, behold! – Golden temple at night is even more stunning.  

The crowds were minimal and the entire complex was much more serene.  It was almost as if the Golden temple was content to have attended to the devotees in its own characteristic style.

I must admit, I am not religious, but I was sold on to this stunning Gurudwara, the hospitality and devotion of the people and of course, the immense peace the place brought me. 

And I definitely have a reason to go back here, my langar is pending! 


Related Posts with Thumbnails