The Year That Was – 2017

IMG_2960

Sunset over Agra, first time ever witnessing such a beautiful sunset in our own backyard

We’re at work, winding things down and even though it’s the end of the year, things still feel a bit crazy. Last working day before the holidays is finally over and we start feeling just a tinge of excitement. Back home, last minute packing and cleaning up the house has been accomplished. Next day early morning at 5:00am,  we are off in a Grab taxi to Changi airport. After the usual drill of checking in, immigration and security, we warm up at the sight of a beautiful sunrise while waiting at the gate. We take off and a couple of movies and a hot indian breakfast later, the plane has landed.

Every year for the last 5 years we have celebrated new year in India. It has become a custom of sorts. Every year we look forward to experiencing north indian winters and welcoming the next 365 days surrounded by family. The days between Christmas and New Year are spent meeting friends and family, gorging over home made meals, sipping endless cups of adrak chai, mom’s tomato soup and shelling peas.

2017 was no different. While, it takes a couple of days to get used to India and its ways, by the end of the trip we know we’ll be homesick.

IMG_3127

Mustard fields in bloom, a common sight during North Indian winters

What made this trip special? Well it was a lot of things, as it usually is. In the 10 days we were there, we managed :

  • 1 road trip – from Delhi – Agra – Delhi via the Yamuna Expressway
  • 5 family get togethers – 1 breakfast, 2 dinners, 1 evening tea and 1 BBQ on NYE. And oh the home made food was just so comforting. And there is just something special about BBQ-ing in winters that you’ll never experience in tropical weather
  • 2 friends get togethers – both on roop top terrace cafes. Winters and open air cafes? Add to the list of winter experiences we look forward to
  • 1 indian wedding – where we dressed up, clicked more than necessary amount of photographs, enjoyed the indian wedding scenes and needless to say – the food
  • 1 excursion to Wildlife SOS elephant sanctuary – an NGO which runs centers for rescued animals which you can visit, volunteer at and also make donations to. Check out their website here
  • Ate out on several occasions – from breaking the fast with Agra’s favourite breakfast, Bedhai Jalebi to enjoying South Indian food at Dasaprakash. From relishing north indian dhaba food to the popular indian street food … it was all a gastronomical adventure
  • Getting important stuff done – adult stuff like managing our finances and investment 😀
IMG_3225

Foggy morning in Agra, -8 degrees centigrade

We’ve come to realise how fortunate we have been – for friends, family and their love in our lives. Every time we leave from our house in India, we feel overwhelmed by how loving and selfless so many people around us are especially, our parents. Beyond that, we have travelled. As much as our working lives allowed us to. And it has been great!

Here is a recap of the Year That Was – 2017. Thanks for stopping by and hope you enjoyed the video

Happy Twenty Eighteen folks. Here’s wishing you the best of everything 🙂

Here is the Year That Was – 2016, just in case.

 

Give Agra 2 days, at least

If you are travelling all the way to Agra, you should give the town at least 2 days. Visiting The Taj Mahal could be the top of your agenda and understandably so, but there are more things you can do which are so worth it.

Here is our suggested itinerary.

Day 1: The Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Mohabbat the Taj show

The Taj Mahal on a december afternoon

The best time to visit the Taj is early morning as there are less crowds. It’s open from sunrise to sunset and there is no limit to the time you want to spend there once inside. See more info here

A lot has been said about this monument of love so we won’t elaborate but it is a beautiful structure so do queue up, go up-to the main platform and visit the tombs inside.

The Taj Mahal, up close

Once you’ve visited the taj, have your breakfast/lunch depending on the time you visit. Then head to Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This fort was built by Mughal ruler Akbar in red sandstone. It served as the royal residence as well as a military strategic base. The fort is well maintained so you will be able to admire the structure. You also get views of the taj from the fort. More info here

Inside Agra Fort

In the evening, catch a song and dance show called Mohabbat The Taj at Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center. A retelling of the story of emperor Shah Jahan and the love for his queen Mumtaz Mahal leading up to the construction of the Taj Mahal.

Kalakriti Cultural and Convention Center

Day 2: Fatehpur Sikri and Mehtab Bagh

Head to Fatehpur Sikri, the first planned city built by the Mughals and a UNESCO World Heritage site as well. It was also built by emperor Akbar and served as the Mughal capital for 10 years. It houses different buidings within the compounds so give the place at least 2 hours. It’s an hour drive away from Agra so plan accordingly. More info here

One of the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri

If you are yearning to get another unobstructed view of the Taj without the hassle of queuing up and getting inside the main compound, head to Mehtab Bagh where you get clear views of the monument. Best time to go would be the sunset which also gives a great photo opportunity.

Taj Mahal in the backdrop from Mehtab Bagh

If you have an appetite for more architectural marvels, here are our suggestions:

Sikandra – the mausoleum of Akbar

Itmad-ut-Daula – a beautiful mausoleum made entirely of marble

A few other things to note:

  • When to visit: Best time to visit the town is in the months of Nov – Feb while Oct and Mar are passable. Besides, do not to visit on a Friday as most monuments are closed for public viewing
  • Getting around: Public transport is not great, best is to hire your own car rental with a driver. Trust us when we tell you, you don’t want to drive yourself in Agra if you are a foreigner.
  • Accommodation: Agra offers all types of accommodation – from 5-star hotels, airbnbs to budget stays. Look for a stay around Fatehabad Road as it’s closer to the monuments
  • Food is great in Agra, especially the north indian mughlai food. Think tikkas, kebabs and garlic naan.

And lastly, this city has been long neglected by the authorities even though it is rich in history and culture. So go with an open mindset, ignore some inconveniences and admire it for what it does offer.

Have a happy journey! 🙂

Taj Mahal compounds

 

Road Trippin continued

Jeep safari Ranthambore

Jeep safari Ranthambore

After Udaipur, we were headed to Sawai Madhopur also in the state of Rajasthan in India. The main motive for going all the way was to be able to do jeep safaris in the Ranthambore National Park, home of the Asian tigers!

After a point from Udaipur, the road quality deteriorates so the going can be quite slow. The roads also get narrower, poorly lit and quite isolated so its advisable to do the entire run in daylight.

Well we did have to cover some distance after the sky lost its color and it wasn’t the best drive we’d had. The drive further becoming treacherous with the invasion of dogs, cows and camels right in the middle of the highway. And a near miss from a head-on collision with a discarded piece of machinery carelessly left on the side of the road.

Packed up for the jeep safari

Packed up for the jeep safari

The place we stayed at was quite nice and after a piping hot dinner on a wintry night, we called it a day. The next day, in the wee hours of the morning, we mustered all our will power to go out in an open jeep exploring wildlife on a winter morning, in the middle of a jungle surrounded by hills. As we started out, we were chilled to the core but as the sun descended the weather became better and turned to a cool sunny that we actually enjoyed.

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

Jungle stopover at Ranthambore

We went for three safaris in three different forest zones. The zones are allocated based on availability as the authorities do not want to crowd certain areas only. Zones 1-4 are known for the best tiger spotting and its advisable to book these zones 3-4 months in advance. Online bookings are supposedly available which we weren’t aware of.

The safaris turned out to be pretty great. The early morning crisp air, the sunrises and the jungle terrain, plant and wildlife spotting, the interesting and at times amusing conversations with the jeep guides and drivers, stopovers in the middle of the jungle, and the unbelievable ease with which the 4×4 jeeps navigated through almost any ridge and depression of the stark jungle terrain.

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Spotted deer at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

Bird feeding at Ranthambore

For three days straight, we sloshed about in the jeep exploring the zones and always on high alert for any tiger trails. At the end of it all though, it was worth it as we did spot the elusiver tiger. Tigress actually. We considered ourselves lucky as there are only about 60 tigers in an area of 392 sq. km. On top of that tigers are known to be one of the most lazy animals. So that doesn’t help either. The hot and dry months (May-Jun) are said to be best for animal spotting in Ranthambore as the animals laze around the man-made water holes to beat the heat. Besides the big cats, there was a decent dash of other wildlife – deer, sambhars, boars, gazelle, neel gai, monkeys, bird species and plant varieties.

Tiger at Ranthambore

Tiger at Ranthambore

The third day, after our safari and a satiating breakfast of aloo poori, we bundled up once more and headed for our last road trip destination – Agra, where friends and family awaited us.

We reached Agra well in time that day, unwound and ate a lot over the next few days and enjoyed one of the most memorable New Year celebrations.

And did I mention the most delicious dhaba lunch we had on our way to Agra? Still makes my mouth water 😛

Road Trippin with my favorite allies

IMG_0923

Road Trip begins!

“Road trippin’ with my two favorite allies
Fully loaded we got snacks and supplies
It’s time to leave this town
It’s time to steal away …”

If you ask me about some of my epic road trips, this one will certainly qualify. You see every year I go back to India to visit friends and family and on every such occasion, I felt as if something was missing on these annual trips home. This year, I decided to add some spice to the days we spend in India and so emerged the idea of a 1,300km road trip from Mumbai to Agra!

More people gave a thumbs-up to the plan and we were a group of 4 people journeying together. The first day, we started from Mumbai early morning and arrived at Vadodara around 1 pm where we stopped for lunch. As has been my tradition for the last three years, I make it a point to catch-up with some friends/ex-work colleagues in this city (which is very dear to me). We stopped at this nice place right on the highway and caught up on things over some delicious dhaba (roadside restaurant) food.

Recharged, we were now headed for our destination for the day – Udaipur! On and on we drove and finally reached around 8 pm cruising a good 750km in a single day. Phew! Our longest run in the entire journey. Thankfully, the roads are quite good and so we made good time. I would suggest through to start from Mumbai as early as possible, say around 4:30am to avoid truck traffic which starts around 6am.

Terrace overlooking Lake Pichola

From the terrace at night

Our stay here was in the old town of the city with a beautiful lake view from the terrace. As it was December, it was nice and chilly on the terrace. And with the city lights casting a nice glow, it all created a charming ambiance for our dinner. With some nice music wafting from one of our mobile phones we pounced on the steaming hot manchurian and flipped opened the drinks. The party had begun! 😉

An enjoyable evening and good night’s rest later, we were ready to go sight seeing the next morning. But not before a relaxed breakfast on the terrace again 🙂

View of the Lake Pichola from the terrace

View of the Lake Pichola from the terrace

Turned out, Udaipur is a lovely place. Especially, the City Palace which is really grand, breathtaking and well maintained. We spent a good amount of time here and later roamed around the lanes purchasing souvenirs and trinkets.

City Palace, Udaipur

City Palace, Udaipur

Spent from the touring around and already behind our schedule, we packed up and bade goodbye to the place wishing we could have stayed longer.

Of course the journey was embellished with dhaba food, inevitable and refreshing chai breaks, upbeat bollywood music with some Coldplay, OneDirection and Hotline Bling thrown in and random conversations. 🙂

Chai break!

Chai break! ❤

So far the road trip had turned out to be excellent but it wasn’t over yet. More on it, in the next post!

Without a care

IMG-20141226-WA0001

Foggy morning from the train, backdrop along the railway tracks, on the way to Agra

As promised, following-up from my previous post on the recent India visit …

I was in Vadodara for only 1.5 days but managed to squeeze in quite a bit in that whirlwind span. From there on, my next destination was Agra. That night I got on the train where I had pre-planned to join-in with some family members also travelling to the same place.

When it comes to train travel in India, I have a love-hate relationship with it. I hate it for the delays which are not so uncommon, the wait at the stations which are obviously not world-class standard and the loos in the coaches. But all food and beverages you can get to try on-board, the long conversations that you can have with total strangers (and when you get off, you feel as if you’ve known this person/people all this time and cannot help feel just a wee bit sad as you part your own ways) are a couple of aspects peculiar to Indian train travel and something that makes it thoroughly more enjoyable.

Capture

Wintry morning view from a moving train, on the way to Agra

In Agra, I was first hit by how cold it was! Actually, the freezing air was refreshing and I couldn’t help standing at the open doorway of our coach and feel the gusts of super chilly wind. The train was in fact delayed by an hour due to intermittent fog but one hour was still pretty okay considering some trains that were running several hours behind schedule. On the streets of Agra, I was again amazed at how little the place had changed … no signs of progress at all … same old crazy driving and honking, same old encroachments and what not. Keeping all these things aside though, its always heart-warming when you come back to your hometown. Especially, as you enter your neighborhood and then your galli (lane) and see your house nestled in just as it was when you were a kid and you are reminded of all the years you’ve spent there and that it still is, your home. And the warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you see your mom come out to greet you at the door and you yell and give her a hugsy ❤

20141228_104720

Our neighborhood on a chilly December morning

Co-incidentally, a cousin of mine was getting married here in Agra and we were all very excited for the event. Getting ready for the various functions was a big headache for me though – choosing the dress, checking if it fits well, getting it altered if it doesn’t, finding the right jewelry and accessories, the right footwear, deciding the hairstyle and make-up and then finally wearing the stuff and painting up your face and botching it up once in a while to your utter frustration and starting over again … phew! For some females, this is a carnival, a gala time they have getting all dolled up. But for me, I think it was too much of an effort and in the middle of winter when just changing clothes once becomes such a task. At the end of it though, I did manage to look okay, as best as I humanly could 😛

And we Indians like to shake a leg at our weddings. While some dances can be choreographed, nice performances, most of what we do is spontaneous. It’s not dance-dance per se but a series of random jigs and sways heavily inspired by bollywood. To some, it might seem utterly funny but for us its a lot of fun … go on watch some videos on YouTube to get an idea 😀

I do enjoy weddings because they are just an excuse for people to come together and have a great time. And the best part is that for 4-5 days, you can just forget about cooking at home and enjoy all the delicacies being prepared by the modest halwai (cook) at your venue. I mean I had so much gulab-jamun, I don’t even remember how many I had. When my dad brought out a bowl of steaming hot jamuns, it was just hard to resist. Don’t judge me people! :-/

Once the wedding was done, we had a NYE get together with family, a couple of coffee catch-ups and tea vendor visits with friends. There on, a fun road trip to New Delhi with friends (we always have to catch our flight from delhi as Agra does not have an airport … yet). In delhi, a fun evening at hauz-khas village and dinner at Rajinder da dhaba (dhaba food … drrooool) 😛

NYE, 2014 :-)

NYE, 2014 🙂

It was so great, the trip was great, the food was great and all the people were great! For a while, I forgot that I’m a grown-up, who has this job and responsibilities in life. There were enough moments to stand and stare, without a care. I guess everybody needs that once in a while. Don’t we?

Back in time

Sunset at Bandra Bandstand, Mumbai

Sunset at Bandra Bandstand, Mumbai

Happy 2015 everyone! Wishing you all the most awesome time of your lives as the year unfolds …

My first post of the year … here goes …

India will remain India! There maybe positive changes taking place backstage but daily existence is still frustrating no matter which part you live in. I desperately want things to change, people to change, certain systems to change as many of us do. I see people coming forward and trying to make a difference and I do hope certain movements are sustained till we see a remarkable difference. On the brighter side, there are quite a few positives here – travel, food, weddings, an open and accommodating culture to a large extent. These are all great but normality is still a struggle!  Such were my feelings when I visited India recently.

20141219_223354

Exit terminal at the new Mumbai airport

I first landed in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and was elated by the new airport but that was only short lived. I think the authorities gave too much importance to the aesthetics at the cost of planning and efficiency. While immigration was smooth, the rest of the process was just plain tedious! We easily spent 1 hour+ just to get out of the airport. Or maybe it was the holiday season or the fact that an A380 had landed, adding to the chaos. It remains to be seen when we travel next time if things have gone worse or better. Mumbai was good fun otherwise besides the nasty traffic snarls!

We visited bandra bandstand, a rocky shore where you can catch a good sunset and grab a coffee. We meant to go to the fort but it was unfortunately closed that day.

20141222_220319

A typical bombay sandwich

We gorged on all the food we could in the 4 days we had. It was an enormous joy to have all this Indian food we were craving! God bless all the people who fed us … really, it was all worth it even at the cost of an upset belly.

My next pit stop was Vadodara, a small but progressing city in Gujrat. I have developed an affinity to the place since I lived and worked here. Some of my best times have been in this city with some great buddies, some of whom still live there. I try to stop by and catch up with them whenever possible. As soon as I got off the train , I remember telling them, “I want to have Indian Chinese cuz all you get in SG is Chinese Chinese.” And so we did and it was the closest I think I have ever gotten to a foodgasm. More than that though, it was wonderful catching up with them and also going to the roadside tea vendor and having the ginger chai (adrak wali chai) ❤

I honestly felt like going back in time and reliving my days there … sigh! Where did the time fly … really?Where? It’s like ‘poof’! It was a hard to describe feeling. It was feeling nostalgic even though you were right at the place and with the people you were nostalgic about. You know what I mean? From Singapore to India, I had travelled back in time. And I don’t mean the 2.5 hours time difference.

The journey continues … more on it in the next post. Just some stuff about Indian train journeys, Indian weddings, clothes and more food …

Eating It Out @ Pondy

Sharing a post by ‘Mouthfuls from Jhakal’ on our trip to Pondicherry, India last year. Highlights some great places to eat.

Mouthfuls from Jhakal

My second half is bitten by the travel bug and more often than not, we try to hit the road. It’s a really good thing though cuz that means I get to try out even more avenues to eat:-p. I have been to Pondicherry twice and in no particular order, here is the list of eating joints I’ve tried:
  • 1.       Don Giovanni
  • 2.      Le Cafe
  • 3.       Sciro Pizza
  • 4.      Tantos
  • 5.      Baker Street
  • 6.       Bon Bakes
  • 7.      La Dupleix
  • 8.      L’ Orient
  • 9.      Promenade
  • 10.  Surguru

Sharing with all you lovely folks, my take on each of these:
Don Giovanni – yes the name sounds promising and it has its very own Italian chef preparing the food for you. However, the taste is mediocre. We ordered Greek Salad and Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli. The salad was mostly tomatoes while the…

View original post 508 more words