Romance of #thepinkcity #jaipur in #rajasthan

For two years I’d wanted to attend the #JaipurLiteraryFestival. Ironically, when I lived in Delhi, I was so busy with my job that I couldn’t make the time to go there. Only after I moved back to Goa I was able to have the mind space to plan a trip there. My Jaipur visit was part of a long-held dream of wanting to visit the Pink city anyway. So, it made sense to couple my visit with a literary-festival-author-talk binge. I’d been to Jodhpur years before, but again, for work. And everyone knows a work visit isn’t quite the same as a holiday visit. There’s a different kind of focus.

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At Jaipur Lit fest 2015

I booked a room with a heater (it was a cold, windy January in the Rajasthan desert at the time) in an old haveli that was kept together by a few family members and some strutting peacocks. They were all over the place, the peacocks, that is.

The literary festival itself was fun, though packed full of people. I managed to get a seat to most events I wanted to attend and learned about a few new authors that sounded interesting. I listened to Jeet Thayil interview Will Self, heard Hanif Kureishi talk about his writing, watched a fascinating presentation by Simon Singh about the show The Simpsons and where all the mathematical principles presented in the show come from (the show’s writers are all Ivy League graduates in Maths), heard ex-president Abdul Kalam speak to a packed audience that almost caused a stampede. I saw travel writer, Mark Tully, and Welsh novelist, Sarah Waters, strolling around the grounds and attended the launch of Granta’s ‘India’ edition, presented by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan books.

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Simon Singh’s presentation on Maths in The Simpsons at JLF

I took two days out to rent a cab for a tour of the city and saw these gorgeous highlights, in photo form below:

Hawa Mahal (the palace of winds): 

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Amber Fort:

Exterior views –

Interior views –

Jaipur city Palace:

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If you have time to only see one thing in Jaipur, its the Four Seasons doors at the City palace.  Pay the entry fee and wander deep into the palace till you find the courtyard with the four doors.  You’ve got to get close-up to each one to spot the unique detailing and vibrant colouring of each one, that tells a story of its own.  These photos below barely do it justice.

Blue Pottery:  

Ok, I openly admit that I have a fetish for Blue (and Iznik) pottery.  I spent a couple of hours at the place below buying soapfishes, coaster tiles, bowls and toothbrush holders.

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The Albert Hall museum (state museum of Rajasthan): 

They had a LOT of beautiful objects that I whisked past due to limited time, including an armoury with medieval weapons and lots of interesting earthenware.  There was a floor of fascinating folios from a version of The Panchatantra that I loved.

And I spent an entire afternoon at the Anokhi showroom, buying ethnic wear in print block patterns (yes, yes, another thing I have a fetish for!) and stocking up on their gorgeous blank diaries.

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Block print pattern journals from Anokhi

Visited Jaipur in Jan 2015

#Coconut Naan on #Palolem beach

Yes, I live in Goa but I have no sensible reason why it has taken me this long to visit Palolem beach. I visited in January 2017 thanks to a friend dropping by Goa from abroad, and him wanting to hire a cab to check out the beach for a day. It was a lo-ong ride from Benaulim to Palolem, even with a taxi driver who drove like he was a Grand Prix racer. We got there by 11am with a plan to just find a café/restaurant, plant ourselves and chill. beach access full of desperate entrepreneurs desperate for business. ‘Do you want dolphin watching?’ asked one. ‘Boatman?’ asked another at my elbow until I said No firmly enough for him to get the point.   Everyone needed business now that money flow was improving too slowly after the country’s recklessness of demonetisation.

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Colourful cabanas among the coconut trees

Right away, as I started to walk the slight curve of the shoreline, past the line of restaurants and colourful cabanas lining the sandy beach edge, I fell in love with the beach’s unique features. The sand was different here – flatter close to the edge, even though it wasn’t wet and fluffier the further it got away from the water’s edge. It was a different texture and colour too, to Benaulim beach sand; less coarse, almost flakier and more golden. In the distance, I could see a lump of rock, rising out of the water, forming a nice little cove to hide behind if you were in the water swimming or in a kayak. That was another thing, you could hire kayaks and go out onto the water for a short jaunt. We strolled through the sand until we found a restaurant called ‘Blue’ with cover that opened onto the beach but was still deep enough in the shade to keep us cool.

One cold coffee later and out came my laptop so that I could scratch my itch to get some long overdue writing done. My friend donned his bathing suit and disappeared into the water for a couple of hours. Before he melted into the Arabian Sea, he mentioned that when he’d visited Palolem before, he’d noticed that the beach was split into informal enclaves. To the left of the beach entrance was where the Russians hung out. Menus were in Russian; so were signboards. To the right, where we were sitting at that moment, was the British and Israeli part of the beach. After my friend left for his swim, a few families sat down a short distance away, occasionally looking up from their phone screens to discuss what they’d like to order from the menu. They were speaking a language I couldn’t comprehend and I realized that they were speaking Hebrew. I turned to the back of the menu and there it was, staring me in the face – the entire menu translated into Hebrew.

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And what a fabulous menu it was – Indian, Continental and Chinese staples were there, but I spotted the occasional oddity that I’d never seen before on any shack or restaurant menu in the Benaulim area. Coconut naan bread jumped out at me. I’d never heard of it before, let alone tried it. I ordered a plate along with a rum and coke. A hot steaming platter of over-fresh naan sprinkled with shredded coconut arrived. As I chewed the doughy bread, shots of coconut flavor overtook the gentle heat of fluffy carbs and made my tongue ecstatic. I ordered another bread basket when my friend returned to the table and got him to try some. He ordered a third one! We basically spent a couple of hours filling up on fresh coconut naan bread and drinks until our stomachs rebelled against the lack of protein and veg in our system. We ordered a few other menu items which turned out to be less impressive and it was sunset all too quickly. We had a couple of sundowners to celebrate a wonderful day out and the joy of being alive and on a beach, sharing the pleasure of each other’s company.

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Coconut naan

Stepping out in Ahmedabad

At the end of 2016 I had to do a couple of short trips to Ahmedabad for some personal work and while I was there, decided to cross a couple of items off my perenially growing travel bucket-list: Sabarmati Ashram and the Adalaj stepwell.

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Gandhiji’s wooden sandals and Eyewear in a glass display at Sabarmati Ashram

Sabarmati Ashram: The Ashram is an open air, free entry museum along the Sabarmati river with nothing but a few bare essentials that belonged to Gandhi on display – his spectacles, a walking stick, some chappals and a spinning chakra.  That’s about it.  You get to walk around his house and courtyard and get a sense of where and how he lived.  The open air museum just built next to it is a nice structure full of opinionated propagandist writing about Gandhi posed in the form of leading questions – with the answers provided.  I’ve never before seen such a blatant display of biased historical information that is looking to preserve its established hero in formaldehyde.  Oh well, at least I’ve been there now.

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The Adalaj stepwell entrance

Adalaj stepwell: This was my first visit to a stepwell anywhere in India and I didn’t regret it for one moment.   I took a cab there to the village of Adalaj, about 30minutes by Uber just outside the main city centre, and back. It didn’t take more than an hour to walk around the fantastic structure full of ornate details painstakingly carved into every pillar and post.  It was around the time of the Diwali holidays so there was quite a mob of people milling around in the late afternoon.  Go in the early morning when I suppose its quieter.  The stepwell’s beauty lies in its carved details as well as the slightly asymmetrical architecture that cuts deep into the earth’s bowels.

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At the top of the stepwell stairs

Monumental love in #agra

I first visited Agra on a family holiday when I was 7 years old and too young to appreciate it.  On a work trip to Agra in 2013, the conference hosts planned a trip to Agra and I got to re-visit the place with a fresh perspective and adult eyes.  I could finally appreciate the intricate marble carvings and the ornate enameled work. That time the Diana bench wasn’t there because she hadn’t yet visited with Prince Charles and made that infamously iconic photo of her sitting alone, head bent, on the bench in front of the Taj Mahal.  It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions there – that bench.

Take a heritage walk in Hauz Khas village

Visitors to Delhi won’t have any idea about the existence of Hauz Khas village and the historic 14th and 15th century buildings that dot the place unless they live in South Delhi.  Go here one evening and you’ll see students and musicians sprawled across the building’s crumbling balconies and walkways, locals strolling around the man-made water tank and pigeons roosting in every nook and cranny of these ancient protected ruins.  Drop in for chai or coffee at one of the charming cafes in the village, after your walk.  I was lucky that I lived just across Deer Park in Safdarjung Enclave and got the chance to pop into this lovely space quite often.

(Photos from 2013)

Eating your way through the Latin Quarter in Goa

Goa is great for a weekend getaway from Mumbai, Bangalore or Pune.  Foodies, walkers and history-lovers would love the Latin Quarter.  Whether you’re visiting to enjoy Christmas flavour and bring in the New Year here, or just want to immerse yourself in monsoon season, there’s never a bad time to visit especially if you’re fine staying in sheltered spaces during the hot summer months of April and May.  If you do drop in, here’s a bit of bite to tempt the foodies:

Food Discovery

On your Goa holiday, forget about the sun and sand, and stroll around Goa’s UNESCO World Heritage neighbourhood of Fontainhas and Sao Tome for a change.  It’s full of quaint, narrow alleyways and brightly painted houses oozing old world colonial charm.  Even if you aren’t a foodie, you’ll love the relaxing atmosphere and tranquility of the bye-lanes caught in the scents of curries cooking and fish frying as you get nearer to lunch-time.

Anantashram (see where to eat for all details), built in 1945 and one of the city’s oldest eateries, is the city’s answer to cheap and cheerful Goan fish thali (from Rs 120) served on communally shared formica tables by local waiters.  The thali comes with chapatis, one vegetable dish, a pickle, dried shrimp kismoor, rice, fish curry, fried fish like mackerel or king fish and sol kadi – a kokum digestive.  It’s excellent value for money and very popular. You’ll probably stand out, so don’t mind the curious stares from the office crowd regulars.  The kismoor alone is worth all the attention.

For something more upmarket, pop into Hotel Venite, just across the road, which has a sea-shell studded entrance and small wooden tables in old-style balconies overlooking the narrow street.  They serve continental food and the creamiest cold coffee (from Rs. 200) in town.  Order Goan favourites like the Chicken Cafreal (from Rs. 280), Stuffed crab (from Rs. 400), Goan pork chops (from Rs. 300) and Sausage chilly fry (from Rs. 250). Once you have the taste for Goan cuisne, take a short stroll down Rua Cunha Gonsalves and pop into the short alleyway entrance to Viva Panjim, where authentic Goan food meets Portuguese heritage home, complete with antique wood furniture.  Seafood lovers will relish the food here. The grilled kingfish (from Rs 300) is out of this world and the prawn curry (from Rs. 220) is so delicious the fragrant scent will have you salivating before your dish reaches the table.  This is the place to visit if you want to try other Goan specialities like Pork Cabidel or Prawn balchao, which are harder to find in Goan restaurants.

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Urban cafe

If you want to spend a few illicit hours hiding away from the world while digesting, in true siesta-style, then keep walking past Gitanjali art gallery to Urban cafe where you can head upstairs and collapse into the folds of a velvety soft couch.  Sip your choice of aromatic coffee (from Rs. 100) in the dim light and let the relaxing ambience lull you into a daydream. If you like your food with a side of art, visit the courtyard cafe Bodega at the heart of the Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts in Altinho.  It’s the perfect place for a leisurely breakfast or a late brunch, especially if you’re craving sumptious Eggs Benedict (from Rs 180) poached to perfection on a toasted muffin.  The silver-sprinkled, red velvet cupcakes (from Rs 70) are an unmissable treat to accompany your choice of Latte or Cappucino (from Rs 100).

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Cafe Bodega

One of the best things about Goa is the choice of excellent continental food you can find everywhere you go.  Barrels and Bones, on the street just under Maruti temple, is Goa’s answer to where to go if you want tasty steak, pork ribs or grilled meat of any kind set against a non-beach backdrop.  Evenings have musicians crooning to guitar music, setting the tone for a pleasant catch up with friends or that special someone. BBQ Mexican spiced pork chops (from Rs 450) have the perfect combination of savoury marinade combined with tarty sweetness from the pineapple lime salsa accompaniment. Remember to keep place in your tummy for dessert – the chocolate lava cake will put you into the perfect state of Goan holiday bliss.

WHERE TO STAY

Panjim Inn

The 37 room heritage hotel situated opposite Ourem Creek is  considered to be among the first colonial mansions built in Panjim. The hotel and the restaurant both contain colonial charm and atmosphere from the antique furniture to the old style hospitality (0832 222 6523; www.panjiminn.com; E-212, 31st January Road, Fontainhas, Panjim; from Rs. 2900).

La Maison Fontainhas:

This boutique hotel consists of 8 private rooms that blend traditional charm easily with modern luxury to create the perfect setting for a romantic holiday in the heart of the Latin Quarter (0832 223 5555; www.lamaisongoa.com; 5/158, Near St. Sebastian Chapel Fontainhas, Mala, Panjim; from Rs. 4500).

 Old Quarter Hostel:

It’s a backpacker’s hostel that is nevertheless very popular with trendy professionals thanks to good wi-fi connectivity, great breakfast coffee (linked to Urban Travel cafe) and comfortable digs.  Choose from AC or non-AC dorms, single room or double deluxe (0832 651 7606; http://www.thehostelcrowd.com/oldquarterhostel; 5/146, Rua 31 de Janeiro, Panjim; from Rs. 550).

 Hospedaria Abrigo de Botelho:

This 8 room, heritage guest house in the heart of Fontainhas comes with high ceilings, charming balconies and wooden interiors (0832 243 1084; www.hadbgoa.com; Rua De Natal, Fontainhas,, Panaji; from Rs. 2,100).

WHERE TO EAT

Anantarsham – 093252 52758;  31st January Road, Fontainhas; 12pm – 3pm, 7.30pm – 10pm

Hotel Venite – 0832 242 5537; Rua 31 de Janeiro, Fontainhas; 9am – 10.30pm

Viva Panjim – 0832 2422405; 178, 31st January Road, Behind Mary Immaculate High School, Fontainhas; 11.30am – 3.30pm, 7 to 11pm

Urban Travel cafe – 0832 651 7606; Rua 31 de Janeiro, Fontainhas; 8am – 8pm

Bodega – 0832 242 1315; 63/C-8 Sunaparanta Centre For The Arts, Altinho; 10am – 7pm

Barrels and Bones – 077740 78276; 49, Fontainhas, Near Maruti Temple, Fontainhas; 11am – 3.30pm, 7-11.30pm

 

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

Closest metro: Mumbai (590km)

Closest airport: Goa International Airport (25km from Panjim). SpiceJet, IndiGo, GoAir, Air India, JetKonnect and Jet Airways fly direct from Mumbai.

Closest railhead: Thivim Railway Station (THVM; 24km from Panjim). Take the daily 10111 Konkan Kanya Express from Mumbai’s CST. This is one of the most scenic train rides you can take in the country.

GETTING AROUND

The best option is to hire a car to travel around; hotels can arrange for taxis, airport pick-ups and railway station transfers.

MEDICAL AID

All hotel and B&B properties have a basic first-aid kit and doctor on call.  Ask at reception for the nearest clinic or hospital.

SHOPPING

Pick up bottles of Cazulo feni, Zantye cashewnut packets (original or roasted and salted) and Prawn balchao packed into airtight sachets from any decent grocery store. Facing Ourem creek is Sosa’s, Panjim’s boutique one-stop-shop for unique Indian fashion and accessories.  Velha Goa Galeria, next to Panjim Inn, has one-of-a-kind ceramics, vases and azulejos tiles that make classy souvenirs and gifts. Or for something less pricey, visit Marcos next to Viva Panjim which sells posters of Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda’s clever caricatures of local life. They’re really special.

WHAT TO PACK

Comfortable walking shoes, sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and don’t forget your swimsuit if you’re planning on heading to the beach.

CLEAN LOO GUIDE

Dabolim Airport, beach shacks and all restaurants have decent loos.

CHILD FRIENDLINESS

Unless your kid likes walking around a lot this isn’t the best place for them.  The city location means very few hotels have pools and you’re at least a twenty minute stroll from the nearest beach at Miramar.

GOOD TO KNOW

*Wi-fi is patchy and electricity dependent in hotels.

*No loud music after 10.30pm.

*Carry a multi-plug to charge up all your devices at once when there is power, and a power charger is a good idea too.