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.
I have visited The Imperial Delhi so many times as a blogger that I have lost count! If I am in town and if they are doing an event I love to go.
There is a warmth about the place that makes it unique. I visited the place yesterday for the event ‘Clash of the Titans’ at the Daniell’s Tavern Restaurant.
The titans of the event are Chef Ved Prakash and Chef Mirza Munnawar Baig. Chef Mirza represents the Lucknavi taste and Chef Ved the taste of Purani Dilli! Together they create magic both for vegetarians and non-vegetarians. This is a special event which will go on till November 24. Contrary to its name, Daniell’s Tavern is the Indian Restaurant at The Imperial!
I was invited for lunch and it was a lavish affair! It started with thandai which is a refreshing drink. The starters for vegetarians consisted of Dhai Anjeer Ke Kebab, Teen Mirchi ka Paneer Tikka and Chukandar Aur Ramdana Ki Tikki. It is difficult for me to pick a favorite among the three, for me it is a tie between Dahi Anjeer Ke Kebab and Chukandar Aur Ramdana ki Tikki. Dahi Ke Kebab would straight melt in my mouth.
All the above was from Chef Mirza’s kitchen. The main course was Subz Dum Biryani. The rotis I tried were Ulta tawa ka paratha and Sheermal. For me this itself was more than enough but then there were Chef Ved’s specialties waiting to be savored.
His Subz Badam ka Shorba was amazing, I am going to look for the recipe to do something like it at home, I liked the flavors so much! His starters for vegetarians were Parda Paneer, Raseelay Kum Kum and Subz ka Panchmel. The Dal Dhungari was from his kitchen and once again I so want to know the recipe!
Both the chefs presented an outstanding affair! It was a heavy and satisfying meal! I can’t remember when I ate so much and with such relish! Playing tennis along with my daughter has its benefits! I am no longer scared of having a rich meal occasionally!
However, my favorite part of a meal are desserts and they were from Chef Ved’s kitchen! There was Rasmalai, Bharwan Gulab Jamun, Khoya Jalebi with Shahi Tukda! I tried it all in small portions! My favorite was the Shai Tukda!
And to top it all they gave me Meetha Paan as I walked off for home! I savored it after dinner at home. There are no photos of the pan, I ate it all.
You can try the dishes from the heart of Hindustan and relish the authentic flavors of Dilli and Lucknow with Clash of The Titans at Daniell’s Tavern.
Venue: Daniell’s Tavern, The Imperial New Delhi
Meal for two : INR 6000 + taxes without alcohol
On from 17th November – 24th November 2018
Time: 6:30pm-11:45pm; only for Dinner
PS. I was invited as a blogger by the Imperial Hotel for the event.
It is that time of the year again when my sister Alka and I plan our vacation together in November. It also means applying for visas. I thought we were going to Belgrade till it was time to book the tickets. Try as I might, I could not get a reasonably priced ticket to Belgrade. I gave up in desperation and tried anywhere in the world! And up came Paris with Kuwait Airways at a decent price. That is how we ended up planning a November trip to Paris.
I am no stranger to Schengen Visas, I applied 3 times last year itself; first with Czech Republic then Spain and lastly with Hungary. So, by now I am used to the documentation required for the Schengen Countries.
Filling Up the Form and Collecting the Documents
It was a pleasure to apply with France. The first good bit is that they let you fill the form online. You do need to create an account on the official website. Once you complete it, they mail the document to the email you provide while creating the account. There is a provision of creating a group application too. I created a group application for two.
Once I completed the form, I could see the list of required documents. It is the usual bank statement, income tax return for 3 years, travel insurance up to a certain value, etc.
I now write my cover letter with great care. I also point out my travel blogging credentials and number of countries I have visited. I am not sure if it helps even one bit, but I try to make my case strongly.
Getting an Appointment
After filling up the form I thought I would get directed to the VFS website for appointment but in my case it did not happen. I the called the VFS helpline number but it was a public holiday. I could make an appointment via the IVR but I did not get any SMS or email.
I called the VFS helpline the next day, which was a working day and my appointment was sorted out for the coming Friday at 9.15 am.
Submitting the Documents at the VFS Delhi on a Friday
Alka and I reached about half an hour before the time for our appointment. The France VFS Office is located at Shivaji Metro Station along with many other countries. It is a nice space with many restaurants. After having a cup of tea we headed inside to submit our documents. Our token number was 5 and after a few minutes of wait, we got up to submit the documents.
Our documents were complete and it did not take us much time to complete the formalities.
Paying the Visa Fee
This time I was carrying cash to pay the visa fee. When we were applying via Hungary last year the cash machines at the VFS were not working and I had to run out of the complex to an ATM to withdraw the cash. The VFS was not crowded in the morning and there were no queues at the visa fee counter.
We Did Not Need to Do the Bio-metric
As both Alka and I had done bio-metric last year, she for Hungary and I for Spain, we were not required to do it again. They are valid for 5 years.
Collecting the Visa on a Wednesday
Right from the day one we were getting SMS and email updates about our submissions. France does not charge anything extra for this facility which is a great thing.
To our surprise we got an update on Tuesday itself that our passports were ready for collection! This by far has been the quickest Schengen Visa I ever got as a normal applicant. We went to the VFS on Wednesday after 1.00 pm and happily collected our passports.
Both of us got multiple entry visas, and it was so fast. Applying via France has been my best Schengen Visa experience ever! We both are so excited for our upcoming Paris trip at the end of November.
There was a time when I used to trek once every year! But gradually I stopped for no particular reason. After a while I developed knee pain which now leaves me scared at the prospect of trekking. However, when I got to visit the Stolby Nature Reserve near Krasnoyarsk, Siberia I am glad I was able to keep up with it.
We boarded our Follow Up Siberia team bus and headed to the Stolby region which was not more than 20 minutes from the city center in Krasnoyarsk. The officers from the park greeted us at the gate. The official park bus dropped the group at the beginning of walking trail in the Stolby National Park.
Our Guide at Stolby- Svetlana
Our guide for the day was Sevtlana Yushkova who works in the IT department. She is an amateur rock climber herself. Even though we were listening to her via a translator she did capture our interest.
Solby is fascinating for every nature lover but it holds a special charm for rock climbers. The reserve is full of rock formations. The locals have given them interesting name. For example, one rock is Grandpa and the locals invented a whole family to keep Grandpa company.
Fallen Pine Cones
Svetlana told us that the park has its own rock climbing subculture known as Stolbist! The idea was to use only a rope while climbing! There are groups of climbers and they have their own cabins. Having a key to a group cabin gives a special sense of belonging!
A Siberian Chipmunk
For us casual visitors there were easy rocks to climb. I managed to climb the top of the Grandpa Rock. The view from the top is amazing.
One of the most famous rock formation is known as the Krasnoyarsk Pillar or the Feather. To me it was the most impressive of all that I saw. And I am sure I saw only a few.
The Sinner’s Rock
Svetlana (and Lucy who would translate for us) told us a fascinating story about the Rock of the Sinner. The legend is that if a sinner stood beneath the rock, it would fall! Apparently the wives of the initial climbers were insecure about the time spent by their husbands away from home. So the husbands said if they were cheating, the rock would fall on them! These days people go beneath the rock to make a wish.
There are Siberian Nuthatches all through the park which know no fear of human beings. They would pick nuts of people’s hands. I also saw many Siberian chipmunks going around the park.
It is easy to walk around the park as the routes are marked on the trees, yellow, purple and the blue. We took the blue route. If you are not into climbing, you would love the hikes.
Attack of the Bark Beetles on the Pine Trees
On the route we saw some pine trees that were going red. Svetlana explained that was due to attack of bug beetles. But the park has a policy of not interfering with nature.
Our group of Follow Up Siberia went on to climb up another rock formation while I decided to wait for them at the base. After a while their voices started fading and I was left alone with the nature. I think I had the park to myself for about 25 minutes. Maybe 4 other hikers crossed my path. I was sitting on a big flat stone and enjoying the solitude. It is only when I sit on big flat rocks, surrounded by the nature I am able to think with clarity about things that are of life shattering importance to me!
Being in my mid forties, there are times when I question my life choices! I wonder what will happen to me when I get too old to travel. At times I already feel too old, particularly on a fast paced FAM trip.
All my doubts vanished when I met the 91 year old travel inspiration, Elena Erkhova from Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. She is an Instagram sensation but she is even more sensational in real life. Right after meeting her, I told myself that the next time I started doubting my ability to travel, I would kick myself!
I had the pleasure of meeting Baba Lena as she is affectionately known, at the Yushin Brothers in Krasnoyarsk. I visited Krasnoyarsk with Follow Up Siberia after winning a seat in their second contest. It was wonderful evening where our hosts had arranged for us to meet various local people.
Baba Lena herself started traveling at the age of 83 “as she didn’t have the time or money to do so earlier.” (Quoted in the Moscow Times, do read the full article here). She has been extensively covered in the English media you just need to search her name.
It was a pleasure to hear Baba Lena talk. She had the floor in raptures with her stories though we got to understand her via our charming translator Lucy Dobrynina. One of her statements that stands out was “take everything from life, it is short!”
I went to greet Baba Lena after her talk and took a selfie with her. I generally don’t binge on selfies but I genuinely wanted one with her. We could not talk much because of the language barrier but the affection was unmistakable! She held my hands and asked which country I was from? I told her in English that she was an inspiration.
We had a group photo (first photo in this post) and then she climbed down the stairs with a young man who I presume to be her grand son (also seen in the selfie above)!
The next time you see me cribbing about my age, agility, capability to travel just remind me of this post! Meeting Baba Lena has been one incredible experience on the trip to Ktasnoyarsk, Siberia!
The length of the zip line at the Bobrovy Log Fun Park is about 760 meters (2490 feet) and the top speed is 88 kmph (55 mph). Four people can ride side by side and we all were from the Follow Up Siberia group! And you get to go up a ski lift to reach the Zip Riding point.
I did not approach the station with my heart thudding in my mouth as I have lived to tell the the tale in all my past encounters! I presumed this was not going to be any different! However, it was for the first time that I was trying to make a video on my GoPro as I was flying on the line!
I did strap the camera to my wrist just to be sure that it would not fall in the abyss below even by mistake. I did not find it unduly difficult to use the camera on the go!
I had no idea before I heard myself that I scream and laugh so much during the ride! I am glad that I had the presence of mind to do something with the camera! I think it is fun to get the experience on the video! Here is having many more such screaming experiences across the globe!
In the recent months I got a lot more request from sponsors for video content. Truth be told, videos terrify me. I am not comfortable speaking in them, I am not comfortable making them when I am at a destination.
But now that blogging and social media is my main source of income I end up paying attention to trends/change in trends! And videos seem to be in demand!
Now I could bury my head in the sand or I could do something about videos! Burying my head in the sand is my favorite strategy but this time I decided to experiment.
I get a lot of requests in direct messages for tips on blogging. People seem to have a romantic view of it. The one question that terrifies me is when youngsters ask me “how do I quit my job?”
That was my starting point. I made a quick video around it. I just kept the cell phone camera steady and spoke. It took me a while to realize that I can’t ramble given the attention span of people so I did end up shooting the video a few times. The question I was trying to answer was, so you want to quit your job?
Then for a while I buried my head in sand. But another sponsor came back with a request for a video and I was forced to shoot it! That gave me the push to shoot my second video. This time I had nothing to keep the camera steady.
Since I quit my job everyone tries to fit me into the “you quit your job to follow your passion” category. Unfortunately I do not fall into it that neatly. Anything in life is usually messy, including our decisions. So the second video is the take on “so you quit your job to follow your passion.”
This also quickly lets me know what I wish to talk about next, it is if I did not leave my job to follow my passion then why did I not go back to work? But that is a story for another day!
I have been so excited all of August because I won a place in the #FollowUpSiberia contest. I would be visiting Siberia later this month. Siberia to me is an exotic land, I never thought I would get a chance to visit it.
This also meant I needed to apply the Russian visa. A I live in NCR, IFS Delhi was the logical choice for me. In Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata you have the option of applying directly at the embassy with a lower fee but that option is not available at New Delhi as far as I know.
When I started researching for the visa application process for Russia from India, I was surprised at the light weight documentation required as compared to say Schengen or UK visa. Russian Embassy did not ask for my bank statement or income tax returns (ITR). I was actually so surprised that I thought I was missing out on something!
The one piece of document you do need to have is a tourist confirmation letter from a Russian travel agency. For me, my kind hosts in Russia provided the letter. There is a lot of information on the web on how to get such a letter. A scanned copy is fine.
You need to fill the visa application online and take a print of it. A valid passport and photos on a specific size are required. You can check documentation page to see the exact requirements. The visa fee is also clearly mentioned on the official site. Also, keep a photocopy of the first and last page of your passport.
Barahkhamba Road Metro Station
In Delhi the IFS Office is on the 8th floor in the Ashoka Estate Building next to the Barahkhamb Road Metro Station. Use Gate no 1 or 2 to exit, the building is between the two gates!
I prefer taking early morning appointments for applying visas as it is less crowded then. I got the 9.30 am slot and I took it. While I was leaving home I felt a little uneasy about the documents. But then I sternly told my self to stop second guessing myself, I had made a folder and thoroughly checked the documents required.
Ashoka Estate Building
I hailed an auto for a nearby metro station. After half a kilometer my source of unease became clear! I forgot to keep my passports! I requested the auto driver to turn back after explaining the situation! I told him I would pay him extra. He laughed at me and agreed to turn back. I was lucky I remembered it while I was still close to my home.
Russia will be the 28th country I will visit and this was a first, forgetting to keep my passports while going to apply for a visa! If you have older passports please do keep all of them for applying the visa.
IFS Russia in New Delhi
As I keep a lot of margin when I go for an important appointment I still reached the IFS office at 9.15 am, 15 minutes before my appointed time in spite of the unexpected detour.
There were a lot of travel agents inside the office with multiple passports. My turn came soon and the charming Russian lady who was at the counter could speak flawless Hindi!
She went through my documents and kept writing OK everywhere, till she scrutinized my form, she then exclaimed, “you have entered your passport number incorrectly!”
Now if you ask me my passport number I can recite it even in my sleep! What I did was, I reversed a few digits, like if it is 102, I entered 201 (these not the actual digits of my passport). Now this was my second blunder of the day!
But the lovely lady suggested me a way out, she said I could sit back, and try to edit the form on my phone, online. She said she would correct it herself if it was a minor error but it was not right for her to edit my passport number. I totally understood her point. I was actually surprised at how gently she treated me even after my blunder.
So I went back to the seating area and started on the task. I was using Chrome to edit, it would open my form but would not let me edit anything. I was about to give up, till someone asked me what was my problem? After listening to me, the kind travel agent asked me show him the form. After a look he told me, “you should be able to do it, I don’t know why it is not showing edit options on your phone, it is usually there.”
His statement boosted my confidence. I concluded it could be the browser. I quickly downloaded Firefox and lo and behold I was able to correct my form right there. By now the original lovely lady who could speak Hindi had gone away from the counter.
But there was another nice lady there now and soon it was my turn again! I explained her the case and she asked for the new file reference and my password. I gave it to her and there we were. She printed the form for me and accepted my application.
She told me to come back on 8th August (after 4 working days) to collect my passport. They do display the charges for sms, email and phone call notifications and this confused me once again. I asked if I needed a notification to which she replied, if you want I can set one. I quickly realized that I didn’t need it. It was so nice of them to tell me directly when I could collect my passport instead making me pay for the same!
So, I went back on 8th August and happily collected my passport with a brand new Russian Visa! This, when I almost made sure that I could not apply for it on the appointed date, first by forgetting my passports and then my entering my passport number incorrectly in the visa application form. I have never been to a visa facility which was this customer friendly! So a big thank you to the kind folks who work at IFS Russia’s New Delhi office.
I can’t tell you how excited I am to get the opportunity to visit Siberia. Follow Up Siberia is running their third contest right now. So do check it out. Who knows you might win a seat next.