Friday, 14 March 2014

A FLOATING CARNIVAL : CRUISE VACATION

 When not working, which is more often that not, I spend time deciding where to travel next and to be true most of my efforts in recent past have been limited to finding the next cruise vacation. When most travellers would agree that there exists no such thing as a wholesome family holiday with the scales almost always tipping to one side, with you getting your decade's quota of popcorn in one Disneyland theme park visit or your kids finding themselves in the lap of an 'as strange as foreign' babysitter while you try to make a rush for that hip nightclub; the cruise lover in me would beg to differ. Pick a good reputed cruise liner and sit back to enjoy the loony, the noisy, the sultry, the seductive; from hip and happening to laid back and chillaxed experience of the Travelling Hotel, as I prefer to call it.

No hassle of working the luggage from place to place, no worry of arranging local transfers, a new destination each day and thrilling activities to keep the night young; throw in a selection of land excursions, onboard activities, extensive menu and endless shopping oppurtunities- the perfect recipe for a blockbuster holiday is for you to savour!!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Most cruise liners nowadays give you great offers and believe you me, if you have the time to visit the online site every other day, the deals are a steal, especially a month or so before the cruise dates, prices also vary according to the cruising dates. Me and my husband, now that we consider ourselves no less than cruise pros ( just 4-5 cruise voyages young) , even choose our cruise destination as per the bargain offered ; bartering our Scandinavian dream for an Alaskan adventure if the 'situation' so demands, for, once you have delved deep in the life and style of a cruiser, there is no looking back and shifting the destination seems no big a compromise. From rooms with a view,dramatic public spaces, custom crafted accents, and an effusive welcome all over the place to gigs, art auctions, scintillating performances, deep blue pools, jacuzzi and lounges and lavish buffet spread; you are spoilt for choice.


All the elements of a blissful holiday come together in perfect symphony; the atmosphere, the romance; days spent sauntering through the exotic locales the cruise docks at, evenings spent on dock sipping a drink as sunset scatters languid, lemony light over the bay and finally, unwinding under starry nights or maybe, if you are a night owl- in a swank bar onboard with melody and martinis filling you up. Life is a beach when you choose to cruise, dawdling around ancient civilizations,bizzare skyscrapers, serene islands and rustic countryside;phones off the hook,  going caving, snorkelling, getting up close to sea creatures, riding cheap trams and HOHO buses to your heart's content, ogling at vintage collectibles at chic stores or just getting a taste of local cuisine and craft and clicking numerous selfies before returning to the thrilling exciting flamboyant life of stellar casinos, swank bars and crazy parties onboard.

You can take a pick from the exotic Greek odysseys, Spanish escapes, crazy Caribbean beaches, exotic Norwegian Fjords, Magnificent Alaskan glaciers to spectacular Scottish destinations; nowadays there are Hobby Cruises on the platter too, what with an exclusive Knitting cruise, Exploring Nova for the self confessed geeks and intellectuals and a Culinary Wine and Delights cruise for the foodie in you. A cruise ship is not just another mode of transport , its another life, another world - A dream world which leaves that unique flavour of content contrasting with the lingering greed for another taste.






P.S. While cruise is a great way to take a holiday, combining a land tour with it seems a better option. We mostly take 2-3 days extra at the port of disembarkation and sometimes a stretch at the hop destination if the flight is via a new country. Some of the countries are better covered by cruise, like Greece while others like Spain would need a more exhaustive itinerary.

'Cruise Tours', which are a combination of land stays and cruise customised by the cruise companies, are a waste of time and money and totally avoidable while Shore excursions which are optional should be purchased once onboard. Sometimes you get a better deal onboard, at other times you discover that the shore excursion you opted for is meaningless or maybe not interesting enough. Then there could be those who would find other ways and means to explore the destinations in a cheaper and more personalised way.

Cruise life is big and extravagant but talk about the cabins.....your bath back home could well be bigger than the entire stateroom. So consider this. as you have to spend the rest of the week or two in structures similar to portacabins( ok! that's bit of an overstretching of facts but umm!). I suggest take a short 2-3 day sampler cruise before you get more adventurous and embark on a longer voyage.

At times the ship doesn't dock at the shore but is tendered, they take you to land by tender boats which is quite acceptable, though, the days when the docking shore is way away from the main city and they charge a mandatory transfer fee for that- that's when the whining starts and rightly so.

Packing light is not an option; one because you can't and second because there are formal evenings and 'Portrait Days' where you need to strut your stuff. So from crazy beach wear, breezy lounge wear to elegant evening dresses - you need them all. Don't forget  bold accessories, heirloom jewellery( champagne art auctions and you wanna go in Tees, huh!!), sandals and the works. All I can suggest is to pack nothing much for the poor husband, he is poor anyways!!. They have Tuxedos on rent but ask the rent and you can live in Hawaii for a year with that kind of money.

Before booking your next cruise trip, do a thorough research because the recent reports of Norovirus outbreak in 3 cruise liners do disturb a little. The problem though, has been only reported from the Caribbean circuit.




Saturday, 8 February 2014

SURAJKUND CRAFTS FAIR- INDIA IN A HEARTBEAT ( Photofeature )

Surajkund Crafts Fair- India In A Heartbeat

The 28th Surajkund International Crafts Fair is in full swing at Surajkund, NCR and true to its this year's theme state 'Goa' -its more vivacious, more colourful and with that extra zing. The yearly crafts mela started as a quixotic endeavour to promote the indigenous artisans of India, but over the years it has come to be more than just a showcase for India's rich handicrafts and adroit craftsmen; India comes alive every year at this festival of vibrant culturati,epicurean cuisine and kitshy crafts. The thatched huts, colourful festoons and flashy costume parades add to the quaint charm of the ethnic ambience recreated beautifully. Surajkund fair takes you places, reverberates with unparalleled flamboyance and vitality; it lures you, surprises you, satiates you because it mirrors the spirit and soul of India, it is quintessentially INDIA, with every nook and cranny exploding with riotous colours and exuberating with unbridled energy. The formidable replicas of monuments from around the country leave you awestruck and the richness of palette is seductive.Rich silks, gossamer shawls, intricate wood carvings and interesting home decor options leave you spoilt for choice and lip-smacking authentic flavours of traditional food, make you drool. Also on the platter are display kiosks of countries like Afghanistan, Srilanka, Tazakistan, Belarus with some interesting stuff. Visit Surajkund from 1-15 February to grab India in a nutshell, trust me I have been going for as long as I can remember and still can't get enough of it!!







Tuesday, 7 January 2014

WATERFALL SAFARI- LAVASA

"I don't really need much to enjoy a good holiday- just my family and the bare essentials"- Jean Reno


And so when someone suggested 'Lavasa' for summer holidays ( where on earth was that??), I caved in, for, everybody in the family, and the definition extends to some very dear friends, wanted to try someplace different, away from the melee of overzealous tourists and thronging holiday crowds.
Lavasa is a one of its kind, privately planned hill city sprouting up in the Mose Valley of Western Ghats, near Pune, India. This newest hill station on Indian map, spread across seven hills is touted to be an avataar of the Italian town Portofino. The vacation started right after we landed at the Pune airport and boarded our private mini bus. The lavish breakfast (read- fingerlickingly awsome!) over the din of excited jiber jaber at the hip German bakery set the bar high, the holiday jaunt was already looking promising enough.
Our road trip from Pune to Lavasa had all the right ingredients of a family blockbuster holiday; innumerable journey breaks, unlimited photo stops, unnecessary food binges and non-stop chitter chatter. Rain pattered down the silver clouds who had swilled more liquor than they could contain, as the road snaked through the kaleidoscopic vistas of lush mountains. And then we came across this breathtaking, picture postcardesque waterfall cascading down the glistening rocks. Then came yet another, bigger shower catapulting down like white foam on molten copper, therafter, the counting didn't stop.
The hotel was nice and comfortable; though we all chose to huddle up in one room for games, chit chat and tea. All plans made for the next two days were washed down as rains hammered relentlessly. We mostly remained indoors, gorging on savouries, singing songs and playing 'Dumb Charades'. The more adventurous of our lot, dared to take a plunge in the pool as well! The heavy downpour gave mini breaks when we could venture out, soft drizzle pecking our cheeks, to the beautiful lake front promenade lined with uberchic eateries.


The cobblestone paved boulevard was the epicenter of all activity. My son jumped in the tiny puddles with his little cousins, for once chucking his 'teenage airs' while we made small talk sitting under patio umbrellas, drenched wet yet warmed for the bonding moments. Lazy strolls along the quiet esplanade with the breeze (or was it the clouds??) caressing you and raindrops softly teasing, were threateningly addictive.The complete absence of shopping options kept the guys in good humor while we tried to feed the shopaholic in us by visiting the corner grocery store .  Riding the mini train, we discovered, was a totally fun way of getting around this idyllic small town nestled in the cocoon of lush green hills

Nature trails, water sports and musical fountain show are also on the Lavasa platter and so is a private club and spa, however, the rain drumroll didn't let us explore the options.No regrets though, because the company more than made up for it!




 





P.S. # Lavasa is a privately planned city in Maharashtra, India, spread over 7 hills and being built in a phased manner. Please check with authorised websites before booking a tour. Most of the present activity and hotels are centered around Dasve.
# It takes over two hours from Pune to Lavasa by road
# The best season to go is monsoons when the waterfalls arrive from nowhere, though, water sports may get affected if the rains are continuous. 
# A gaming arcade and a splashpool figure in the list of the limited activities the place has to offer.
# Absolutely no shopping options, shopaholics run the risk of bouts of depression.
# Recommended to only die-hard romantics or big boisterous groups, basically, to people who are in a happy space and just need to be in a happy place. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

THE MELTING POT-DELHI

This Valentine's Day, my husband took upon himself to take me to all my favourite haunts from then to now (and yes, it did include a jewellery store!). This trip down the memory lane began with our college campus, nostalgia gripped me and emotions threatened to choke as we revisited the vignettes of our story. It had been so many years since we had first sat on that parapet, watching a squirrel frolicking around the riotous purple of the blooming Jacranda. Nothing much had changed and yet, everything looked a little different, a lot stranger and totally, alien. Thus, began my reflections on the City of Cities-Delhi; the city steeped in Culture, History, Faith and Heritage and yet, so modern, so contemporary.
Through most of its history, Delhi has seen sundry socio-political upheavals; its been captured, ravaged, brutalised and then rebuilt several times and each time this remarkable city has emerged stronger, unflustered and more vibrant.
LIGHT AND SOUND SHOW OLD FORT

CRICKET FRENZY





QUTUB MINAR





MARATHON AT INDIA GATE 
Delhi may not be the first choice for the tourists but the traveller in you cannot ignore this smorgasbord of cultures; its a heady potpourri of culture, of romance; of spectacular ruins and vistas of greens, of epicurean delights and street food staples. Delhi as I know it, is not for the timorous traveller, teetering after city guide books and following GPS commands. If you truelly want to get lost in this mishmash of the kitshy and the aesthetic, come, amble along; be a lover of the foot notes and the foot paths and soon you will be embraced in its endearing warmth. The city will enamour you with its lively, over the top, often flashy, seldom subtle attitude. The Qutub Minar, Hauz Khas vistas, the  sprawling Lodhi Gardens and the formidable Red Fort would woo you; the veritable gastronomical delights on offer- from Paranthe Waali Gali, Bittoo Tikki Waala, Karim's to the suave amore' patios, aqua and b bars will lure you.
MOUTHWATERING STREET FOOD

CLUBBING
Shopping is seductive; take a pick from the chic boutiques in Hauz Khas, a bling binge at Lajpat Nagar or the luxe charm of premium malls like Select City Walk and DLF Promenade to bespoke Emporio.
WINDOW SHOPPING

MALLS
CURIOS
The lush greens that adorn the city scape, the tree lined walkways, the Ridge forest cover, the manicured gardens and parks -are all proof of a green breathing city.
SUN SHINING BRIGHT
The Lal Quila (Red Fort) ,India Gate, India Habitat Centre and Sirifort Auditorium crank up the cultural quotient of the vivacious city, these places through the years have become a platform for showcasing the stance, the stand and the intellect of people of Delhi.
SAVE THE GIRL CHILD CAMPAIGN
I am completely smitten by the city, so much in love with it that I am willing to forgive the endless traffic jams, the torturous BRT corridors ( be thankful that the deadly blue line era has given way to the practical Metroline); I am so inured to the dishevelled, unorganised layout that anything more orderly might begin to bother me.
Delhi is a city of many shades, many moods, it is always changing , forever evolving and yet rooted firmly to its rich heritage. Delhi is Eclectic, Eccentric and Electric; come prepared !!
ZESTY!!

SEEN HIM HERE FOR AS LONG AS I REMEMBER
TALISMAN TO SAVE FROM EVIL EYE!


P.S. # Delhi is historically made up of a cluster of cities and thus known as City of Cities. Even today the metropolitan Capital city of Delhi or the National Capital Territory along with its neighbouring urban regions have been given a special status of National Capital Region NCR.
# Delhi is world's second most populous cities.
# Delhi in ancient times is also said to have been the ruling seat of Pandavas of  the mythical Mahabharata, in the name of Indraprastha.
# The Archaelogical Survey of India recognizes 1200 heritage monuments in Delhi of which around 175 enjoy the status of National Heritage Monuments.
# 3 World Heritage Sites, The Qutub Minar, The Humayun Tomb and The Red Fort have been recognised in Delhi besides other monuments of interest like the India Gate, Jama Masjid, Akshardham Temple, Bahai Lotus Temple, Tughlakabad Fort etc.
# Delhi is the hub for tourists going to Jaipur, Agra,Gwalior, Udaipur, Shimla, Manali, Dharamshala or Leh and Ladakh.
# Delhi Haat in Delhi showcases the cultural diversity in terms of handicrafts, curios and food of India, serving as a one stop shop for tourists looking for  local souvenirs.

PHOTO CREDITS

DAN HERBERT
JEETENDER GUPTA