Travel Category

Travel in the Covid 19 era - Wildflower Hall , Mashobra ( near Shimla)

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First trip out of Delhi since Covid changed life for all of us, and I must say, we couldn’t have chosen a better place to go to. Set among Pine and Deodhar trees at an altitude of about 2600 meters above sea level, a perfect getaway from the heat, dust and pollution of Delhi. 

At first we were rather apprehensive about traveling in Covid times, concerned about cleanliness and safety, but within a few minutes of getting to Wildflower Hall, we actually realised that we felt a lot safer there than we did in Delhi. The new normal, rigorously followed by the hotel, started with the car being sanitised prior to entering, our luggage being sanitised prior to entering, our temperature being checked prior to entering, staff all wearing masks and face shields, rooms sanitised daily etc . 

The experience was only slightly different to normal, with menus being QR codes, the walk through the lobby being with masks, but other than that it was like old times, and very very good with the legendary Oberoi hospitality.

The short 4 day trip has actually given us the confidence to be traveling (at least within India for the moment) again, and has also served the purpose of reaffirming my thoughts , that it’s the good, safe, professionally managed hotels and resorts that will see recovery earlier than the others. Travel is something ingrained in our DNA and it’s bound to bounce back, and safe travel is what everyone is going to be looking for, at least for the near future. 


Popular Hollywood Movies with India as a Backdrop

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India has fascinated travelers since centuries. Be it the history, heritage, culture or other charms, the country is matchless for its incredible experiences. While the Covid-19 Pandemic has kept you to the safety of your homes, there is no reason for you to not enjoy the charms of India. Here’s how you can experience India at the safety of your home; there are a number of popular Hollywood movies that has India has a backdrop and has intricately captured its charm. The fabled land has so much to offer that visitors are left in awe of the sights, experiences, cuisines, adventure, hospitality and more for a lifetime. The love for the country is shared by many movies and filmmakers.

So, if you are missing India and would like to experience the feeling, here’s a list of movies

     1. Octopussy

The classic James Bond movie is shot at the Lake Palace in Udaipur. The beautiful Taj property makes for the perfect setting for the thriller spy movie. If you haven’t been to the ‘City of Lakes’ Udaipur or not actually had a stay in the Lake Palace, this movie is exactly a good look into the luxuries that the royal city of Rajasthan has to offer. The floating lake palace has been covered in its entire grandeur and with the movie you can actually relive the royal splendor.

             2. The Jungle Book

Inspired from the book of same name, this blockbuster movie is an all time favorite. The movie and the books are inspired from the jungles of Pench and the lush wilderness of Central India. If you have not been on a wildlife safari in the jungles of India, this movie will take you on a wild adventure. There is the wild child raised by the wolves, the pack of loving wolves, the severe panther, the loving black bear and the dangerous Royal Bengal Tiger. Relive India and its exotic greenery along with the thrilling adventure.

     3.The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

A sweet and memorable movie of discovering India, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel captures the journey of travelers that make their home in the country. With the movie explore the labyrinthine of fascinating bazaars, opulent palaces and historic sights of the colorful ‘Pink City’ Jaipur and the romantic ‘City of Lakes’ Udaipur. A showcase of quintessential India at its best, this movie is a memory to cherish as are the sights you must be waiting to explore.

     4. The Darjeeling Limited

Based on the plot of a journey across India, The Darjeeling Limited is more of a photo album of the charms of India. Covering various landscapes from the desert to the mountains of the Himalayas, ancient temples to the fascinating luxury train ride, with the movie embark on a journey of India that teaches you, inspires you and makes you fall in love.

     5. The Dark Knight Rises

While this movie is not based in India, it shows a glimpse of the Mehrangarh Fort looming over the Thar Desert. The popular movie shows a scene where the magnificent fortress of Rajasthan in all its glory. And, even that glimpse fascinates you to explore India.

6. Slumdog Millionaire

Probably one of the best Hollywood movies to have shot in India, Slumdog Millionaire is a must watch to enjoy the charms of India. In the movie India, especially Mumbai is painted as a canvas for adventure, aspirations and dreams. The exciting pace of the movie is just a glimpse of the thrills of Mumbai.

Slumdog Millionaire

While there are aplenty of Hollywood movies with India as a backdrop, this is the list that you can watch anytime and enjoy the quintessential charms of India.


Amritsar Revisited

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A few weeks ago, the visit of one of my Aussie friends in India gave me the opportunity to revisit Amritsar, the city of the Golden Temple. Located northwest of Delhi, just a few miles from India’s border with Pakistan, access to Amritsar has improved rapidly in the last couple of years. The Shatabdi trains connecting Delhi with Amritsar is around 6 hours have of course been there for years, but it’s air connectivity that has actually made Amritsar lot more accessible. With frequent daily flights from Delhi as well as from Mumbai, almost all major airlines operate to Amritsar now.

Coming on to the destination itself, of course, there is the Golden Temple, which without a doubt is one among the world's most beautiful places to visit, but Amritsar has a lot more too, and actually a lot of activities and options for tourists. 

Wagah Border

Our trip, after an early afternoon arrival, began with the sundown visit to the Wagah border, where every evening Indian and Pakistani soldiers participate in a colorful and elaborate closing of border gates/lowering of flags / changing of guards ceremony. Call it what you want, but it’s worth a visit. Both countries have constructed mini stadiums, and on this hot summer evening ( hot as is 42 c ) the Indian side had almost 5000 eager tourists, and the Pakistani side about 1000, all cheering their soldiers and dancing to patriotic songs. 

Post the noise, commotion and the cacophony of the Wagah border ceremony, visited the Golden Temple at twilight. The Temple looks magical as the lights come on and are certainly worth, not one, but two visits, one in the evening and the other early morning. It looks different in varying light conditions. With devotees quietly queuing up, religious songs (bhajans ) playing in the background, and the majestic Golden structure as the centerpiece, it’s an amazing experience.  

Golden Temple, Amritsar

But, the Amritsar of today, is a little more, or actually a lot more than just the Wagah Border and the Golden Temple. They’ve been a lot of improvements and changes in the last few years. The area around the Golden Temple is now a pedestrian-only walking street, with clean orderly shops selling local clothing, juttis ( Amritsari sandals ), local food, etc, and there is also ( In addition to the Jalianwala Bagh ) a newly commissioned Partition Museum , that takes the visitor through the history of India’s Independence struggle and the subsequent partition in 1947 . Certainly, a must-visit for everyone. Another great place we visited was the Gobindgarh Fort, located just a few minutes' drive from the Golden Temple. Opened for the public only recently, the Gobindgarh Fort was built in the 18th century, and it now houses a wonderful museum dedicated to the history of the State and the Rulers of Punjab.

Gobindgarh Fort

One of the things we wanted to do but didn’t manage to is the Food Tour of Amritsar. Amritsar has long been known as a foodie’s paradise, and its Amritsari Fish and Chole Bhatura, Stuffed Amritrari Kulcha, etc. are well known throughout India.  The Food tour sounded excellent and was tempting, particularly since it included stops at many of Amritsar’s landmark Dhaba’s ( roadside eateries), but unfortunately, in between doing everything else, we ran out of time for it.

In terms of accommodation and places to stay, the Taj Swarna ( opened about two years ago ) where we stayed, is certainly the best option in Amritsar, but there are plenty of other good hotels too, ranging from the modern Hyatt Amritsar to the homestay style Ranjit’s Svaasa.

As a conclusion, I would like to say, that Amritsar is certainly a well worth it two or three-day extension for anyone traveling to India.

 

 


Ladakh, India's Rooftop

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Just a 75-minute flight north of Delhi lies the region of Ladakh, India’s rooftop and a stark frozen desert. Technically a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, but the Ladakh region is far removed from anything Kashmiri, be it the topography, the culture, the way of life, the religious beliefs, and even the security issues that have haunted Kashmir for several years now. Ladakh is and has been an entirely safe area to travel too for all the years I can remember, with its wonderful peace-loving Buddhist residents. 

For years we’d thought of going to Ladakh, but for some reason or the other we’d been postponing it, but I’m glad we finally bit the bullet the summer. Ladakh exceeded our expectations several times over, and rates highly in our very own list of beautiful places to see in the world.
 

Monastery in Ladakh

Leh, the capital of the Ladakh region, and also the city with the region's only commercial airport, is a picturesque little town. The monasteries, monks and Buddhist way of life are very much visible everywhere as also the Tibetan influences. For years Leh lacked good modern hotels, but fortunately, those days are over now, with good quality modern hotels like the Grand Dragon and the Indus Valley being there. 

Leh and it’s surrounding areas have plenty to see and do, the Thiksey monastery, the Hall of Fame museum, the Shanti Stupa, the Gurudwara Pathar Sahib, etc. and the two days spent there, partly acclimatizing to the thin air with the low oxygen levels were well worth it. The local bazaar with its colorful small shops, Tibetan and Ladakhi food restaurants, all very interesting and very different from anything seen in the rest of India. Other interesting and worth visiting sites we visited were the Sangam, where the Indus and the Zanskar rivers meet, and the Magnetic Hill, where vehicles seem to be magically rolling upwards defying gravity. 
 

Hunder Sand Dunes, Ladakh

Our next stop was the Nubra Valley, with its stark desert landscape, about a 4-hour drive west of Leh. The drive from Leh to the Nubra Valley area took us through snow-capped mountains, with the Khardung La Pass, one of the highest motorable passes in the world, certainly being the highlight of the drive. 
 
The Nubra Valley area has plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, but for those not on a budget, the ultimate place to stay is, of course, the Ultimate Traveling Camp’s Chamba Camp. I’d have to say that the two days we spent at the Chamba camp were perhaps the best part of the trip. From the minute you arrive till the minute you depart, the service standards and the hospitality that you experience are a world apart. Luxurious tented accommodation, friendly smiling staff, gourmet cuisine, TUTC has really set the standards as far as glamping in India is concerned.

In the Nubra Valley area, there’s plenty to see and do ( provided of course that you can bring yourself to leave the luxurious surroundings of the camp ) with the Diskit Monastery just down the road , the Hunder sand dunes ( where we rode the two-humped camels ) and the remote village of Turtuk ( with a small museum run by the erstwhile Balti rulers of the area ), the village of Chang (the last village in India ) where a soldier from the Indian Army happily pointed out both, the Indian and the Pakistani border outposts to us, all this being within easy access of the Chamba camp.

Pangong Lake

Post two wonderful, relaxing, though adventurous days at the TUTC’s Chamba camp, our next stop was the Pangong Lake, at an altitude of over 4000 meters above sea level , this lake is huge , as in 134 kilometers long and about 5 kilometers wide at this widest point and extends from India to the Tibetan part of China. Words cannot describe the beautiful lake and its surrounds, truly magical in every way and certainly worth the long drive.

Happy Faces in Ladakh
 
With that, it was time to bid goodbye to Ladakh, a trip that we’ll remember for long, and a destination we’d like to return to, sooner rather than later.
 


Some Magical Moments At Mumbai’s Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

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And so before you could actually know it… we’d hit number 6! The sixth anniversary dawned upon us and this time I wanted to do something special for my beloved wife. I was scouting for a destination that offers a perfect combination of sun and sea along with a luxurious stay. Goa was the first place that cropped up into my mind, but one of my office colleagues suggested, "why don’t you celebrate your special day in Mumbai? ” I really liked his idea, because we had been to Goa several times and so I thought to give Mumbai, fondly called as the “City of Dreams” a shot. Without wasting too much time, I booked a stay in a Club Room at the ICONIC Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. BELIEVE ME! My anniversary was more unforgettable and mesmerizing that I could have ever imagined.

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai

On the day of our anniversary, we checked in to a luxurious Club room at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. While booking the hotel, I had told the staff to make some special decoration in our room and to my utter disbelief, what they did for us was truly out of this world. It was like the room had been specially kept just for us! Heart-shaped balloons and rose flowers were amazingly decorated on the walls. There was a huge greeting card and a bouquet of colorful flowers kept on the bed. We were truly delighted when almost every staff member wished us a Happy Anniversary. The Executive Chef of the hotel sent a big chocolate cake to our room. The hotel really lived up to its reputation of treating its guests like a GOD.

Well talking about the room, it seemed that we were in the fairyland. The room was very elegant and swanky. The decor was the state of the art that immediately captivated our attention. The colors of the room were tastefully chosen and replete with every facility that one could dream of. Our room offered the stunning view of the majestic Gateway of India and overlooked the large pool filled with crystal-clear water. The large bath tub in the glass-walled bathroom meant that we could knock out fatigue while watching our favorite movies on the large screen TV. We had lunch at the Souk restaurant, on the rooftop of the Tower Wing, with beautiful views of the Mumbai harbor, the Art District and the Gateway of India. The entrance to the restaurant itself is grand and will astonish you with its magnificent architecture. The restaurant has an amazing ambiance and decor. One word which can describe the taste of the food is SUPERB. From the moment you enter the restaurant and the time you leave, you are actually treated like a VIP. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal as well as the ambiance and clicked some great pictures too. It is simply heavenly! 

WOW!!! This was our reaction when we saw the Sea Lounge restaurant in the hotel. The restaurant has the best high tea in Mumbai, with an elaborate buffet spread of classic English delicacies and local Indian favorites. Surprise! Surprise! We saw the Bollywood Megastar Amitabh Bachchan enjoying a cup of tea at the same place. We were so delighted to see him and wasted no time to click some pictures with him. He made our day when he too wished us a Happy Anniversary. As we left the lounge, we were still in an awe of the superstar. And the next morning, after a cup of coffee, it was time to say goodbye to the hotel. We thanked the hotel staff for making our anniversary memorable.

Anniversary or no anniversary, I think, I would certainly like to stay at the Taj Mahal Hotel each time I travel to Mumbai!


Manish is an expert blogger at Trans India Holidays, he has been writing for the last half a decade. His passion for traveling made him a travelogue. Manish's dream is to explore every nook and corner of the country. When he is not on board, he pens down his experience through articles and blogs.