Travel Tales from India and Abroad - Striving to be India's Best Travel Blog
Mridula Dwivedi started blogging on 'Travel Tales from India' in June 2005. She renamed it Travel Tales from India & Abroad in 2016. Within a few months of the launch, her travel blog found a mention on both the BBC and The Guardian. She shares her travelling experience and photographs on her blog.
Chhavi and I had the pleasure to go for a staycation (on invitation) to Pullman Aerocity New Delhi for one night. After a while she told me, “this is the most stylish hotel I have come across!” I am always happy to spend time with the kid on holidays and staycations as she is a lot of fun. Pullman is located in Aerocity and is a good place for your rest and rejuvenation.
The Check In
The check in was a breeze for us, we went to the reception and after the usual formalities, we were on our way to the suite we were staying in. But before we went, Chhavi was quite taken in with the lights at the lobby. They reminded me of Changi a little.
We had a beautiful suite with a huge living area and a comfortable bedroom. But the highlight for Chhavi was the large bath tub. If she could have it her way, she would live for half a day just inside the tub!
She also loved the fact that there was a tennis featured chocolate waiting specially for her in the room! She has started playing tennis regularly and it delighted her immensely that the people at the hotel knew about it. A lot of credit to the hotel staff who went through my Instagram highlights and figured that out! It was special for me too.
We had a comfortable sleep in the room. From the bedroom I could see part of the airport but the soundproofing is good, I could barely ever hear the planes!
The Swimming Pool
There is a swimming pool within the hotel but we could not use it as it was too cold in February! But we would surely like to go back and enjoy the pool.
The Dining Options
There are many dining options at the Pullman. Our favorite was Honk Asian Restaurant where I ordered Phad Thai. We had Sushi and Dim sums before it. Chhavi thoroughly enjoyed her drink at the restaurant.
We also enjoyed a coffee roasting session at Café Pluck and later enjoyed a cup of coffee too! The breakfast was served at Pluck the restaurant and we had one lunch there too!
However, my most distinctive experience came at Pling with Kriti the master sommelier. Wine is something that doesn’t make much sense to me with each name vying to be more unpronounceable than the other! To me almost all wines taste good! So, I was not too sure what to expect in the wine tasting session with her. But she put me at ease from the word go and I actually enjoyed my session.
We went into great length about why we swirl the glass of wine, to why we sniff it and where does the aroma in the wine comes from! I had a great time.
It was Bonus Meeting My Student
It was great meeting my student Paramjeet at Pullman. He works nearby and dropped in to chat with Chhavi and me. It is always great catching up with my students! The seem to be more impressed with my travels rather than my teaching!
Overall Chhavi and I had a great time at Pullman New Delhi Aerocity Hotel! For Chhavi it is the most stylish hotel she has visited! I also realized that she has crossed that age when I used to be petrified she will break something when we went out! Kids grow up fast and they grow up only once! I should remember this more often and travel more with her!
PS. Chhavi and I were invited by the hotel to stay with them!
After a 5.00 am flight hardly anything can make me feel cheerful and awake till I catch up on sleep! But the traditional dance from Kandy that was performed on my arrival at Amari Galle not only woke me up, it send me diving for my camera!
Galle, Sri Lanka
Galle is a quaint little town on the Southeastern Coast of Sri Lanka, it is my good fortune that I have visited it thrice. And I can go back for more. So, when I was invited by Amari Galle for a trip I was happy to go back the third time. This was my second stay with Amari Group.
The Welcome Dance at the Lobby
The check-in for me was a breeze. I waited in the spacious lobby looking at the sea! In a few minutes I had my room keys.
All the rooms at Amari Galle face the sea! I Loved the pictures of the stilt farmers on the wall. The bathroom was extra special as it had wardrobe space, so I could mess up there to my heart’s content!
My Room at Amari Galle
I wold often go to the balcony to admire the view of the pool and the sea beyond. The evening room service would take care to replenish my tea and water bottles.
The Swimming Pool and the Beach
The Pool at Amari Galle
My first love are mountains but I enjoy water as well. I almost always try to check out the pool of a hotel! I quite liked the pool at Amari as it gives you a beautiful view of the sunset too.
Sunset by the Beach!
There is a beach beyond it but the hotel discourages swimming at the beach. But it is perfect for an evening stroll while the sun sets!
The Egg Hoppers
There are three options for dining at Amari- The Shoreline Beach Club, The Bommu Rooftop Bar and the Ahara Gourmet Gallery. The breakfast is served at Ahara and for me going to Sri Lanka means eating egg hoppers at every excuse! You will find then being freshly made at Ahara.
Curd and Treacle
I also discovered curd and treacle as a dessert for the first time. I liked it a lot. I also liked the fact that at Amari they take trouble to make a selection of vegetarian desserts available which are without eggs.
I do not look for Indian food when I travel abroad but if you are craving Indian food, the buffet has a big section on it. They have an exclusive Indian chef too.
The Breeze Spa
I had a one hour massage at Breeze the Spa at Amari! After cycling through the streets of Galle Fort it was a relaxing experience! What I also love about the spa is that the rooms face the sea!
There is plenty to do in Galle and its surrounding areas including the famous stilt fisherman of the region. Here you will find two from India too! The whole belt from Galle to Merrisa has fabulous beaches. You can look at some of them after you have finished exploring the Galle Fort area. And Amari is a good hotel to come back to after a hectic day of exploration!
The Lobby for Late Departure Hanging Out
They also have a lounge with showers for you to hang around if you have a late flight!
PS. I was invited as a travel blogger to Amari Galle.
I am a big fan of stepwells. When I realized that there is a stepwell, Tooriji ka Jhalra in the old city at Jodhpur, I decided to go.
The cab dropped me off at Ghanta Ghar or the clock tower. It was my first foray into the old city even though this was my second trip to Jodhpur.
Right at the Ghanta Ghar there are two legendary shops, Janta Sweets and Misrilal Hotel. Take your fill of Kachori, lassi, mirchi vada and the likes from these shops. Or like me, you can leave it for later.
Stops on the Way
I was walking straight to the Baori. But on the way there are street vendors selling all kind of knick knacks. I was stopped by a bangle seller and I ended up buying some for my daughter.
I next stopped at the Moon House Haveli which is home to popular Indian Brands like Andraab, Nicobar, Good Earth, Forest Essentials etc.
I was curious and went into Andraab declaring right at the door that I was only looking around. I was still welcome and I had a great chat about handicrafts, Pashmina and Kashmir. They have stunning designs at stunning prices.
I also had a great chat with the staff at Good Earth. I did not know that it was a Royal Enfield venture! The Dharamshala Tea Company which sells through Good Earth was doing a tea tasting session at the Haveli. I did end up buying tea for home!
Toorji Ka Jhalara
Toorji Ka Jhalra
The legend says that the stepwell was built by a queen, consort of Maharaja Abhaya Singh in 1740. But like many things in India it turned into a garbage dump in the modern times. Then came the JDH Restoration Project. JDH is the airport code for Jodhpur. You can read an account of JDH and restoration from the links.
Toorji Stepwell, Jodhpur
Then I ventured to the Tooriji Baoli and I was then immersed in taking pictures. The Baoli is popular both with the tourists and locals, all trying to find a good angle and a good picture! I even gate crashed a plandid at the baori.
The day was already turning hot in February. There were only a few locals and tourists hanging around. I have a feeling that the local youth still swims in the baori.
Cafes by the Jhalara
The Open House Cafe, Jodhpur
Then I headed to the Open House Cafe which is right next to the Tooriji Baoli. There are two actually, the other called the Stepwell Cafe. I liked the blues of the Open House and decided to give them a try. I can vouch that Maggi tastes great near a stepwell too!
Lassi, Kachoris and the Like
Mishrilal Hotel, Jodhpur
I then started my walk back to the Ghanta Ghar but I had enough time to visit Misrilal Hotel and have a mawa Kachori and Makhania Lassi. Both tasted divine and I was ready to head back to my cozy homestay Surya Kunj!
If you are visiting Jodhpur do not miss out on visiting Toorji ka Jhalra. I am told there are more stepwells in the city, so that information has been stored for the next visit.
Mumbai and I usually meet when I have to attend an event in the city. This trip was no different. I was attending OTM and I was staying at Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach. I was hosted as a blogger.
This time I was supposed to stay for two nights but it was not to be. My trip was cut short as I proceeded to Chennai and then Colombo on another blogging trip. I was staying in an sea facing suite right next to the Juhu Beach. I wish I could have stayed both the nights but my one night stand with Mumbai continues!
Novotel Mumbai Juhu Beach as the name suggests is right by the beach! From the swimming pool of the hotel you get a view of the ocean. The best bit about the trip was that my school friend Swati visited me at the hotel!
The check-in at the hotel was smooth for me as I arrived late in the evening after my event with Facebook Mumbai.
I loved my suite, the living room corner chair is the one to look out for. It gives you a fabulous view of the beach below and you can entertain yourself by people watching!
The bed was comfortable and the bathroom had a bath tub! I was told that the hotel has plans of refurbishing soon and it would be lovely to have a new look.
The breakfast at the Square had a large spread. Their fruit spread is particularly impressive. There are plenty of options both Indian and Continental options!
Dinner at Sampan
Sampan is the famous Chinese restaurant in the hotel. Being in Juhu I was told it is frequented by Bollywood stars. My dear friend Swati who lives in Mumbai joined me for dinner along with her son and husband.
We all agreed that we had an excellent dinner. The Head Chef Penpa Tsering was a bit disappointed when he realized 3 of us vegetarians but even then he served up a delicious meal for us.
My stay at the hotel was over way too soon. I didn’t even find time to walk by the beach which is such a pity.
But while I was waiting for the cab to arrive for my journey to Colombo, I got about 40 minutes in my room to laze around. It is then that I realized that the living room gets direct sunlight and if I would have stayed I could have seen the sunset right from the room.
I hope I will go back to the hotel after it is refurbished and I will get it to spend more time both at the hotel and in the city!
I discovered the fascinating village of Nirona on my third trip to Kutch in Gujarat. I admit I am not big on crafts. But Nirona changed that completely.
Our group visited 3 houses in the village, each specializing in a different craft. There was Mr. Husen’s home where they made copper bells, then we were drawn in the world of Rogan Art at the Khatri household. Our final stop was by the lacquer work done in the village.
Lunch at Pooja Tiffin Service at Nirona
But lunch came first. By the time we reached Nirona it was lunch time and we had a hearty local meal at the Pooja Tiffin Service. They serve food in the local home. I interacted with the women who cooked it.
It was the simple Indian fare of daal, sabzi, roti and rice but so delicious. I still remember the butter milk in particular. If you want to have food in Nirona do go to Pooja’s home for lunch or dinner.
The Copper Bells of Nirona
The Copper Bells of Nirona Kutch - YouTube
With our stomachs full we headed to the copper bells home of Mr. Husen. You can read a detailed account of the visit here. The most fascinating aspect of the bell making was the hammering of the bell to change its sound!
The Famous Rogan Art of Nirona
Our second stop was at the Khatri Household which is the custodian of the Rogan Art. They have trained others, but they are credited with bringing the art back from the brink of extinction. Mr Sumar Khatri (on the right in the picture below) guided us through the process of the Rogan Art.
Rogan means of oil, the word originates from Persian. The paint is made using castor oil and mixing it with natural colors. Then the panting on the fabric is done which is a time consuming process.
The work is sold only from the Khatri Home. Prime Minister Narendra Modi gifted the tree of life Rogan Art painting to the then President Barack Obama.
And yet the Khatri family goes so easy with their art. You can touch the work, model in it if you find the price too high. I bought a red stole which I could afford. I truly liked it too. But I modeled in a stole which was worth 10,000 Indian Rupees!
I asked if they accept cards to which they said there was an ATM near the house. The village got it after the visit of a high ranking bank official to Nirona!
Our last stop was at the household that does lacquer work. The gentleman who does it ended up in India after the 1971 war. They use the lacquer to decorate wooden pieces.
As we walked to our cabs through the dusty streets of Nirona I was left wondering at the wealth of the craft that resides in one small village of Kutch. It also left me thinking- how serious we are to preserve it?
#MridulaGoesTo Rann Utsav Kutch - YouTube
However there is much more to Rann Utsav and Kutch. You can read more about it here. The video above gives a glimpse of my complete trip to Kutch.
I went back to Kutch in Gujarat for the third time in 2018. You may ask why do I keep going back to the same places? The answer is that I get to see only so much on one blogging trip and there is always more to explore on subsequent trips! My 2018 (and 2016) trip to the Rann Utsav was sponsored by the Gujarat Tourism Board!
This time I was staying in the Tent City at Dhordo and it was my first stay with them! The tent city is huge with a lot to do within the campus itself. When you book your stay in the tent city you can choose a 1, 2 or 3 night package. I was on the 3 night package but I did only some bits of the itinerary and customized the rest of it.
The Experience of Staying in the Tent City
The Tent City is a great place for families or large groups as everyone can be accommodated at one place and they can have a good time together. The area is divided into different clusters with the amenities located nearby. Each cluster is allocated a particular dining hall, where you can have all your meals. You will be given meal coupons at check-in, keep them safe.
There are shops and fun activities within the premises. The excursion to the Rann at sunrise and sunset are arranged. This year here were adventure activities within the premises. There are cultural programs at night.
I quote liked the shopping within the tent city premises. Kutch is another region which stirs the dominant shopper within me. I bought two shawls, dresses and stoles and narrowly missed buying a patchwork quilt!
I will add a word of caution about the charging points in the tent city, do take a good look as the charging points are temporary before you plug in your gadget. Avoid using the same socket as the room heater.
The Sunrise at White Rann
Both sunrise and sunset at White Rann are magical! At sunrise the place is less crowded though. At the sunrise I went up the watch tower to click my pictures! The camel carts also make for an interesting foreground for the pictures! It is cold in January in the mornings. So do wrap yourself well, or you would not enjoy the sunrise!
A Day Trip to Mandvi
Rann Utsav 2018 - YouTube
As the part of the 3 night itinerary there is a day trip to Mandvi included in the package.
It includes a visit to Shyam ji Krishna Verma Memorial, Vijay Vilas Palace, the private beach and the lunch at the beach.
For me the highlight was the private beach at Mandavi. I had about 2 hours there with just 30 odd people at the beach. I loved to relax and catch the sunset.
To know more about this part of my journey do watch the video. The video was made for me by a team of professionals working for Gujarat Tourism Board.
Will I Go Back Again?
I wold go back running to Kutch again if I get an opportunity because I am sure there is much more to explore than what I have been able to cram in my three trips!
PS. My trip to Kutch was sponsored by Gujarat Tourism Board
On a recent trip, a young PR professional introduced me to the term, plandid and it refuses to fade from my mind. You might turn back and ask “but what is a plandid or pladid travel photos?” I will come back to it in a minute. But before going any further let me clarify, I am a miserable flop at it!
I searched the net (only the first page of Google) and came up with some articles on plandid. The Urban Dictionary says- “When you plan to take a photo that is supposed to appear candid.”
And that hit me right between the eyes, it felt like all I see on Instagram (and other platforms too) are plandids! At times it feels like I am drowning in it. As I mostly look at travel photos, my observations are more about plandids in travel but I am sure they are everywhere, in food, in fashion and every other thing you can scroll on social media!
A post shared by Lena Caroline (@caroline.lena) on Jan 28, 2018 at 3:26pm PST
So how does one takes a plandid? Bustle.com has some advice
“So, how are you supposed to plan your best plandid? There appear to be a few main points. First, take approximately a million photos, so you’ll have more choices later. If your phone has a “burst” function, use it. Second, whether you’re going for “happy lady with salad” or “philosopher atop a mountain,” put on your best emoting face and aim it away from the camera. Finally, don’t take it too seriously, or you’ll ruin the whole casual vibe — a cardinal sin in this case.”
I cannot pose for one single photo properly, forget taking a million. But is this travel all about? Putting yourself looking candid against a great backdrop? How many times can I feel excited by the same look splashed all over my feed? If you scroll travel feeds and you will see a million variation of the same theme! And they do well engagement wise too.
I also happen to travel with some people who do this most of the time. The trip goes something like this and I am generalizing, it is not true for any one individual.
There will be a lady dressed in an most unfriendly gown for coach travel! But that gown will look splendid against the sea! I met someone who would change her dress at every pit stop in dodgy washrooms to get that plandid look! I know they work hard to get that particular look but is this why we travel? And is this what we need to go gaga over, again and again? On one trip after the plandids were done everyone went to a cafe, leaving the place completely unexplored! Talking to the locals, or curiosity about anything local is far far from the radar!
I am the last person to talk about authenticity and sanctity of travel because I will do all things touristy at the drop of a hat! But I can certainly talk about being bored and the plandid trend getting on my last nerves of sanity!
PS. The pictures 2 and 3 have been embedded from Instagram where the #plandid hashtag was used. They are good pictures! I don’t know the people in the photo, I have used it only because they are good pictures and they have used #plandid
PPS. It is me in the first and last picture! I fall in the #plandidfail category!
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is my happy place and there are many reasons for this. Before I go any further I have been invited to Narendra Bhawan as a blogger and before that to their sister concern Suryagarh as a blogger too. My association goes back to 2012 and I always go back for more!
Now that I am done with the disclaimers and associations let me go back to the hotel! I highly recommend Narendra Bhawan Bikaner and here is why.
Fabulous Property and Rooms
Narendra Bhawan Bikaner is the former residence of the last king of Bikaner Shri Narendra Singh ji. It has been turned into a fabulous property with imagination, love and care.
I have stayed in the prince room. The room size is huge yet it is cozy. The bathroom has all the right amenities! You will be comfortable in the room!
I am not a food person but Narendra Bhawan excells in presenting food experiences. It is difficult to choose one to recommend so I presenting the entire range to you.
The most unfamiliar for me was the blindfolded dinner! I had to touch everything and then eat! I initially was jittery thinking I will never get out without breaking something. But after a while I did fine! We were free to speak among us but the servers would not speak! It was quite an experience.
Then there was literary lunch where they have dishes inspired by famous books! They give you the booklet which has the relevant passages about the dish. They do an interpretation of the dish both for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This too was quite an experience.
Then there is museum dinner at Lakshmi Niwas Palace. The room itself is incredible. It was where King Ganga Singh ji would receive his guests. The walls of the room have gold engravings to the tune of about 50 KG. The menu served is adapted from a royal menu!
Then there is the outdoor sundowner/dinner which is a beauty to behold. You sit by a lake for sundowner followed by the dinner. As the darkness engulfs tiny lanterns and millions of stars give you company.
Then there is a regular coffee shop called ‘Mad Hatter’ and the regular restaurant Pearls and Chiffon! The breakfast can cater to traditional Bikaner fare to sumptuous chrrio!
Narendra Bhawan has two signature experiences the Royal Tour and the Merchant Tour.
The Royal Tour takes you through the history of Bikaner starting at the Rao Bika ki Tekri and ending with the museum lunch!
The merchant experience takes you through the glorious havelis and bazaars of Bikaner with a traditional lunch at a haveli!
Working with the Local Artisans and Businesses
Above all I like Narendra Bhawan because they work with local businesses and artists!
The welcome drink they serve, mine was bela sharbat is made by a 60 year old local business. They collaborate with the famous miniature artist Mahavir Swami ji. They also collaborate with usta art mastero Ajmal Usta ji.
And if I love them a little more, it is because of the people of Narendra Bhawan because where else would you find the general manager of the hotel working with the serving staff and clearing plates?
My daughter Chhavi and I recently went for a staycation at Karma Lakelands at Sector 80, Gurgaon. We were invited to the resort! The map picked up multiple locations for Karma Lakelands. But do not worry about it, pick up the Golf Course Location. Once you reach there, the security would direct you to the Klub House which is also the reception of the Chalets and the Villas.
Chhavi Cycling Around!
When you walk around the reception, one of the first things you would notice is the roof of the car park! It is made of solar panels! I quite like places which invest in clean energy and take other environmental measures. Rain water harvesting is another big thing on the campus!
Karma Lakelands, Gurgaon
The campus has a nine-hole golf course, luxury villas both for purchase and short stay and chalets for short stay. We stayed in a luxury villa. It had four bedrooms on two floors, two large living areas, kitchen and a lawn at the back. There was a swing at the front which Chhavi quite liked. The villa was decorated tastefully. Chhavi and I both enjoyed looking at the artworks, we were always discovering something new! The Villas would be suitable for large groups. The master bedroom of the villa has a bath tub with a Jacuzzi.
The Villa We Stayed At!
The Chalets are cosier. We looked around one of the chalets, it would make for an ideal place to relax for small families. Chhavi liked the hammocks around the Chalets and immediately parked herself in one of them! The chalets have been decorated with the same good taste as the villas. Depending on the group size, either can make for a good holiday.
The Klub House
The Klub Karma is the hub of the place. It is geared to supporting the golfers who come for the game, particularly on the weekends. It has a restaurant which procures a lot of food from the farm with the sprawling 300 acres campus. The restaurant is open till 10.30 at night.
There is a table tennis table next to the restaurant, On Kourse, you will also find a carom board in the same area. You can borrow a cycle at the hut and it was Chhavi’s favorite mode of transport during our stay. There are tennis and badminton courts too within the premises.
However, the animal farm and the trampoline was what Chhavi enjoyed most. She went around talking to the goats and cows. She also jumped to her heart’s content on the trampoline.
Farm Fresh Strawberries and Carrots!
There is a flower and vegetables nursery and it was a delight both for Chhavi and me to eat farm fresh carrots and strawberries. The campus is huge and serene. It s full of trees and vegetation. It makes for such a refreshing change from the dust filled Gurgaon.
As both Chhavi and I enjoy water a lot, we were mesmerized with the outdoor pool. It makes for beautiful reflections of the Klub House. Only in Jan it was too cold to get into the water.
There is an indoor pool and jacuzzi too. Chhavi enjoyed it as she packed her swimming costume, I had to sit out as I forgot to pack mine!
We had a fun filled stay. If you are looking for a relaxing yet active staycation, you should look at Karma Lakelands.
PS. I was invited along with my daughter for the staycation at Karma Lakelands!
I have a soft spot for Galle as I visited it with my nephew first! We were staying at Unawatuna and hopped over to Galle in 2013. Then meeting Sampath the cliff jumper from Galle in 2018 has added another fond memory to it!
So here I am at Galle again, writing this post as I wait for my other group members to walk back to our agreed upon meeting place. As it takes some time for a group to gather, I decide to utilize the time by writing. I am learning to work on the go!
When I visited before I didn’t notice Sampat. He says he has been diving since he was 10. Because I have jumped from a few cliffs (two to be precise ) my curiosity is piqued.
As I walk around I see no safe landing place! I feel even curiouser! There is a poster on the wall and the man sitting next to it looks like the man in the pictures!
I walk up to him and ask if he is the man? He beams and says yes. When I check the height of the wall, he says it is 12 meters. I tell him I have jumped from 10 but it was in the deep sea. I see no place to land here. He laughs again and says he can land! Then I ask- why why why?
Sampath the Cliff Jumper from Galle, Sri Lanka - YouTube
(Video by Faizan Patel, used and uploaded with his permission)
He laughs again and says it is his livelihood. If you want him to watch he charges 20 dollars. He added he is useful when people fall in or expensive gadgets take a tumble! There have already been 16 cases of people falling in. I asked if he has jumped today? He said yes as a high ranking military man visited and he wanted to see!
I walk away after clicking a picture of him! Then curiosity gets better of me, and I walk back to him. I ask if I can pay him in Indian Rupees? He agrees. I part with 1500 Indian Rupees and wait.
He requests people at the edge to clear a way for him. I am ready with my camera. It gets all over in a flash. He runs, flies and dives head first! I wish I could see it only with my eyes but I see it only through that square box of my viewfinder.
He surfaces and jumps from a shallower rock! Then he climbs the rock and comes back to the top.
Talking to Sampath the Cliff Jumper from Galle, Sri Lanka - YouTube
I give him a few moments and then the questions start. That interaction is on the video above.
I hug him and tell him to stay safe. As I walk off I wonder if I did the right thing? By paying him was I encouraging him to lead a dangerous life? I don’t know and I don’t judge him for the life he has chosen. I hope you won’t judge me for the choice I made.