9 reasons to visit Sri Lanka when Covid passes

While deciding for a tropical beach holiday with a mix of culture and adventure sometime around J’s birthday thats in November, the choices were varied that year! We often face such dilemmas, and perhaps its most often the flight tickets which plays the veto. In the current scenario however, it will be wise to stay home, and avoid all leisure travel until the world can get a free pass from the deadly corona virus that has got every country by the horn.

The calling of a neighbouring country that topped the Best Country to visit in 2019 by Lonely Planet was hard to ignore. It was an easy choice too given the budget constraints and its proximity to India.

We spent 10 days in the island nation and explored what we could fit in our itinerary, that only left us craving for more. If you are intrigued by the vast natural beauty, improved tourism and cultural diversity of this once war torn country, here is everything you need to know!

  1. It has a 1340 KM long coastline!

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Imagine the sheer number of pristine beaches that you could explore, for kilometres on foot! When in Sri Lanka, explore white sand beaches of Ahangama with stilt fishermen or walk along the beautiful coastline of Tangalle, take surfing lessons at Arugam Bay or Hikkaduwa, have a romantic wedding shoot at Hambantota or hit the eastern coast for the gorgeous Trincomalee, beaches are plenty in this country!

2. Ancient history and Buddhism

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Meditating Buddha at Aluviharaya Temple, Matale

Buddhism is in the heart of Sri Lanka while sharing a cohabited religious space with Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. It is the oldest Buddhist country with India being wiped off of Buddhism virtually, and preserves the most original and pure form of Buddhism – the “Theravada tradition”. Ancient stupas and ruins conform to this and you as a traveller can find a million pieces of Buddhist tradition strewn across the width of Sri Lanka. The country has been constantly warred since centuries due to it’s vulnerable geography and it’s richness in natural resources inviting invasion by colonists and kings and traders. However, it managed to preserve deep roots to Buddhism alongside other religions. In fact, it was at the Aluviharaya Rock Temple in Matale where the revered Pali Canon (sacred scriptures with teachings of Buddha) was inscribed for the first time in history. 70% of the population are Buddhist in Sri Lanka and you will find it to be a peaceful, disciplined way of life with the locals. We could not squeeze in a visit to the Cultural Triangle apart from a visit to Sigiriya, which only gives The Moonchasers more reason to go back!

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Gate to the Rock temple

3. Strict Laws

If you are planning on going on a ‘let loose’ trip, better be in the city and more touristy locations than venturing into the local side of Sri Lanka. The nation is very strict against any form of drug abuse and if you are caught with even a wee bit of marijuana, you can be in serious trouble. Travellers sporting tattoos of Buddha, remember to cover them up because you will be disrespecting their religious faith when in Sri Lanka. And that, causes even more trouble, including deportation.

4. Food

This is the part I was looking forward to writing the most!

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Food is delectable, gorgeous and flavorful in Sri Lanka. Indians may find some similarity with the style of dishes but the taste buds are in for a surprise! Europeans and Americans might find the food a bit spicy but for Australians who have travelled to Asia before, its a treat. Bananas are there in every meal as dessert, you can have a choice of vegetables that taste brilliant or meat (chicken/pork/fish/duck). Vegans too will find wonderful appetite here inland. Some of the places like Nuwara Eliya and other remote locations may not be fancy but if you grow a taste for egg hoppers and sambhal, you will have a great time.

5. Transport

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World’s most scenic train ride – Kandy to Ella

Traffic is generous outside the cities and the roads are scenic, so if you are driving through, remember to have your DL along with an IDP and a permit from the Colombo RTO. Local transport is extremely cheap and effective. You can take buses to most places, and where not be sure that the train will take you. For booking tickets you can check at any station and get it yourself. For big groups, booking through an agent will be better however avoid paying exorbitant rates for the same.

6. Ceylon tea

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Damro Tea Factory – Nuwara Eliya

Tea was brought to the island country by the Portuguese and British colonists from China and since then it has been a flourishing industry. The famous Ceylon Tea is grown, processed and packed in tea estates and factories spread around the Knuckles Mountain range and has high aromatic taste. A visit to a tea factory is a must if you have a nose for varieties of tea. Till today, the little town of Nuwara Eliya wears the hat of a British Tea Colony and is called ‘Little England’ by the locals. You can pack a bag of flavoured teas, BOP tea and silver leaf tea on your way back home if you like. There are about 15 other varieties to choose from.

7. Natural reserves and wildlife

Sri Lanka houses and protects 26 national parks covering 5734 square kms! Its basically the size of Norfolk in England.  The most prominent finds will be peacocks and so many of them, the junglefowl and elephants. If you are out in the sun you will find plenty of land monitors lurking about in search of warmth and food. On a good day one can spot a majestic Srilankan leopard or a rare sighted sloth bear.

While traveling to Srilanka keep separate budget and time for jungle safaris as you can get lucky or spend hours in the jungle looking for game. The jungle camps are steeply priced than normal accommodations, more so due to the remote locations and challenges of over tourism. For wildlife enthusiasts and jungle lovers it is a paradise though as there are special camps that allow you to stay inside the core area even at night. We experienced luxury glamping with Ruhunu Safari Camping and would highly recommend their services for anyone wanting to spend time in the wild.

9.  Shortcuts for a 10 day trip

It is a great idea to travel locally using trains and buses or ride a tuktuk on your journey. If you are on budget, restrict the number of stops you’ll make and pick places which can act as a base for multiple activities. This way you’ll spend less time in commute and more in exploring. Set aside a day to enjoy the world’s most scenic train route between Kandy to Ella. Smart travellers hop on at Peridaniya station to avoid crowds and travel in second or third class as tickets are mostly available. Do not listen to guides who try to tell you otherwise. The most scenic part is actually between Hatton and Haputale, two perfectly pretty mountain hamlets that could be worth a visit. Here are some shortcuts we found helpful on our trip, hope you find them useful!

  • Take a cab outside the airport in Negombo, negotiate. If headed to Colombo city, don’t pay more than 600 LKR.
  • Do not ask questions about the war, they don’t appreciate you meddling with their terrible past. Militants are employed as helps, cooks, tuktuk drivers in search of a living. It may upset them.
  • Cover your knees and elbows when entering a sacred temple. The Buddhists are not staunch or violent but it’s great to respect their way to earn theirs while you are in their country.
  • You will save a lot of money traveling by buses and trains. Its a tad bit time taking but if you are interested in exploring the country, take that time out and enjoy the ride.
  • World Heritage Sites and protected monuments do not allow drone photography so be sure to check your airspace before flying. We managed to fly early morning at Sigiriya but did so from a great distance from the gates.
  • Research well because it can be overwhelming. We felt we didn’t see 30% of Sri Lanka in 10 days, traveling like maniacs everyday. Prioritise your kind of places and have a great time.
  • While you cant fit everything in an itinerary, for your first visit, do not miss out on Sigiriya Rock, Ella train, willowing tea estates and waterfalls, Portuguese lighthouses and pristine waters on the southern coast and the fort city of Galle. Couple it with beautiful mix of modern and traditional architecture in Colombo and great coffee, you have yourself a very inviting vacation in Sri Lanka!

Watch our Sri Lanka in 5 minute video to know what we are talking about:

Best heritage stay near Mumbai-Pune: Fort JadhavGADH

“A concerted effort to preserve our heritage is a vital link to our cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational and economic legacies – all of the things that quite literally make us who we are.” – Unknown

Wondering why the heavy quote?

If we have to explain our connection to our heritage, every small and big events that happened to our collective culture, this quote kind of summed it up. Historically seen, most modern cultures have emerged from times of bloodshed, conquest and battles. During those events, many buildings of historic and military importance were built and destroyed. Over hundreds of years, civilisations of the world have tried to preserve and prevent further destruction of these marks of our history. UNESCO and Archaeological Societies have and continued to work towards the preservation of monuments, forts, castles, churches, temples, mosques of historical value. But when you look at a culturally rich nation like India which has had influences from the north, south, west and far east, it is incredibly difficult to locate, protect and preserve every single monument of importance. Some of these properties are flourishing today as resorts, museums, places of interest thanks to private interest.

In this blog, we will take you on a journey through 300 years of history and experience of the grandiose of the Maratha regime at Fort JadhavGADH – Maharashtra’s only Fort Heritage hotel. Located 2 hr drive away from Mumbai in the Saswad region of Pune, this hotel provides one with the luxury, comfort and beauty of the Sahyadri Mountains (The western ghats of India).

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The story of Fort JadhavGADH starts from the man who himself was as strong in mind and body as the stone structure he created. Pilaji Jadhavrao, the then Maratha General who built this fort. But before we take you to Fort JadhavGadh, lets dig a little deeper into its history.

In 1707, Chhatrapati Shahuji, the grandson of the great Chhatrapati Shivaji, was released after 21 years of imprisonment by the Mughal ruler Shahjahan. The Mughals still controlled the Maratha region but were losing some ground because of Aurangzeb’s death. It was during this time that Shahuji thought of a comprehensive plan. His ultimate goal was to bring back the lost glory of the Maratha empire and recapture the region from the Mughals. He was also an excellent judge of characters. Therefore, he appointed a select group of loyal men, to spread far and wide across the region and recharge the quiescent emotions of the people.

It was this select group of men of honor that Pilaji Jadhavrao was a part of. With a keen focus on the mission assigned to him, Pilaji lost no time in gathering able men across Jadhavgadhi and Saswad area and to train them to fight for the victory of the Marathas. Power of the mind or the sword, whichever instrument seemed more befitting for use at a particular situation, Pilaji used most assuredly. It was through the heroic efforts of men like Pilaji Jadhavrao that Chhatrapati Shahuji finally sat on the throne of the Maratha empire. Pilaji Jadhavrao breathed his last in 1784 after leading a long and fulfilling life of a true patriot, serving the Marathas till the very end.

Why are we telling you this?

Because the Fort at JadhavGadh played a crucial role in forming the resistance and fighting the Mughals. Today, this property rolls up as a quaint, exclusive heritage stay experience for the peace seeker from nearby modern cities. It is also the closest heritage stay experience you can take your expat friend to, to experience the essence of Indian heritage and hospitality.

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Th entrance darwaza

Our stay in Fort JadhavGADH brought us a step closer to the beautiful Maratha history, with a touch of exuberant hospitality. Located on a lone mountain, just 40 Kms ahead of Pune, this place ticks all the boxes for the perfect stay away in luxury for a relaxed holiday.

The eccentricity in the small things catches one’s attention from the moment you walk in. The sound of royalty greets you as soon as you enter Fort JadhavGADH, as you are greeted by the Mavlas (soldiers during the period of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj) who play the tutari and guests are welcomed with a traditional tilak on the forehead.  Quirk is everywhere here. The General Manager is called Killedar (Fort Manager), the manager at the reception is called ‘Swagat Kaksha Vyavasthapak’ (One who manages guest reception), and the swimming pool in the fort hotel is called ‘Kund’. The Chhajja is the quaint all-day dining, Kholis are the rooms.  The Pilaji Darwaza, Maha Darwaza, Gadhicha Darwaza, Kund Darwaza, Purandar Darwaza, rock stairways, they all tell a story.

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Kholis or standard double rooms

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Sunset over fort walls at Fort JadhavGadh

You would be amazed to know that they continue to maintain an in house Art museum where ancient Maratha artefacts, handicrafts are kept for visitors to see. You are guided by an audiobook (we felt its a really thoughtful idea) where you can learn about each of the items and mentionable places within the premises.

A total of 58 rooms comprising of Royal Suites, Darbari Suites, Varsha Suites, Hill View Dalaan, Chaavni’s, & Kholi’s, Neem Forest Cottages, are spread across the fort’s three wings – making it an ideal luxury destination near Pune. The interiors are a mix of old-world charm and contemporary luxuries making it an ideal holiday resort near Mumbai. Fort JadhavGADH welcomes you to experience a regal retreat at our luxurious suites, cottages and tented rooms at one of the best resorts near Pune.

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That guys blows the horn when you walk in!

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Window seats for you, Monsieur!

A leisurely visit to Fort JadhavGadh with your friends or family is quite ideal.  The poolside is at the top of the fort and has the best vibes ever with that ancient neem tree in the courtyard. The Spa is decently equipped but makes up for that with their professional service and the pool view. All in all, a very pleasant and x=cozy property with the right mix of modernity and heritage.

Highlights:

  1. Cozy rooms with fort elements like jharokha windows, chajjas to look out the valley
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The Maharaja Suite

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The Chajja in our balcony

2. Quaint, quiet surroundings

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When modernity meets heritage

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Enjoy looking up during your stay at Fort JadhavGadh

3. In house restaurant and coffee shop

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Chajja is your perfect place for a post breakkie read!

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Pruned hedges and a sprawling garden

4. Banquet and conference facilities

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Follow us to Fort JadhavGadh

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The Payatha restaurant houses quirky artefacts and an indoor lotus pond!

5. Mind blowing pool and spa area with cabanas

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Kund – our favourite place at the property

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Take a dip while you can!

6. Activities at Fort JadhavGADH:

Shivaji Martial Arts – DaanPatta

This is a 45 minute show that takes place at our royal lawns or at ‘Payatha’ at the backdrop of the fort wall.

Fort JadhavGADH is the only hotel of its kind with an in-house museum.
Fort JadhavGADH’s rooftop restaurant comes alive with ‘Ghazal or Musical Nights’ filling the air with a nostalgic ambience. Ghazal nights is on Saturday, while musical nights are on Sunday.
We enjoyed two lovely performances, one by a singer and one by an excellent flautist during our stay.
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Bathroom goals anyone?

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Chill and watch the clouds pass by

Heritage hotels are rare and expensive! Fort JadhavGadh is the perfect mix of heritage, luxury and modern amenities within your budget for a blissful holiday with friends or family. Cozy rooms, great food and superbly amazing pool side which will blow your mind away!
The Orchid Group of Hotels has some great offers on their membership plan. You can check it out here.

Disclaimer: The Moonchasers were invited by the property for a staycation. Reviews provided are from our own experience.

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Timeless Dharamshala at Blossoms Village Resort

What comes to your mind when someone says Dharamshala?

Well, if not for the gorgeous cricket stadium that is the apple of all Himachali’s eyes, Dharamshala-Mcleodganj is also home to H.H the Dalai Lama of Tibet. Yes you heard that right! In fact, this city is lovingly called ‘Dhasa’ – an acronym for Dharamshala and Lhasa since it houses the Central Tibetan Administration or the Tibetan Government in exile. Did we get your interest just about now?

Located well within 500 kms from NCR and about 200 kms from Amritsar, this is one of the favourite destinations for a weekend visit to the Himalayan foothills. Not just so, Mcleodganj brings a unique flavour of Tibetan culture in a modern Euro-American setup, right in the heart of an Indian shepherd’s village. The Tibetan settlement in this twin city has all the appeal of a meditation retreat to attract peace seeking travellers, who visit and most often end up staying for months.

We spent 4 days exploring the streets of Mcleodganj and learning about Tibetan arts in Dharamshala with our friend Nidhi from http://www.untravel.in Before we jump into the details, here is a quick list of things to do/places to visit from Dharamshala:

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Naddi Sunset Point: Magical Sunsets at Dharamshala

    1. HH Dalai Lama Temple Complex, Mcleodganj
    2. Namgyal Monastery
    3. Triund Trek
    4. St. John’s Church
    5. Kareri Lake Trek
    6. Dharamshala Cricket Stadium
    7. Norbulingka Institute of Tibetan Arts
    8. Pong Dam (Maharana Pratap Sagar)
    9. Masroor Rock Cut Temple
    10. Naddi Sunset Point
    11. Indrahar Pass Trek (opens seasonally)
    12. Kangra Valley paragliding

Now that looks like a long list so let us take you on a visual journey of our experience where we covered 50% of the items mentioned above.

Staying inside Dharamshala city was not going to be our choice since we prefer quaint, offbeat places. Blossoms Village Resort in Sidhpur, just on the edge of the main city was our home for this trip. We stayed in one of their luxury cottages and were blown by the hospitality and innovation that these guys bring to the table. Our room was elaborate and vintage, with ornate furniture and big wide windows. The old world charm reflects perfectly in the decor and the modern world peeks at you from a chic bathroom. Our little porch was beautifully adorned with pots and plants, bringing the garden outside right to our cottage.

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Luxury suite for two: Blossoms Village Resort

As we explored the property, the staff informed us of evening showers which are quite regular in Dharamshala. After a quick lunch at the in-house rooftop restaurant, The Cliff, we headed straight to the Norbulingka Institute.

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Explored Tibetan culture at Norbulingka Institute, Dharamshala

When you step into the Institute, be ready to be transported to a world of ancient art and culture. The big Buddha in the prayer hall called for some quite moments of contemplation before we walked around the institute, talking to various heads of departments for metal art, Thangka painting, Tibetan language studies and more. They also keep a spectacular collection of ancient Buddhist scriptures in a beautiful wooden room. The afternoon sun gladly guided us through this treasure trove of Tibetan culture.

Our hosts at Blossoms Village arranged for an epic barbecue night to follow at The Cliff restaurant afterwards. We drank the best cocktails and made merry with the other guests at the restaurant, one of them who runs the Cold Mountain Pottery Studio took us for a quick show around of the space. You can spot the items made at the studio if you drop by to the famous Illiteratti Cafe in McLeodganj.

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Romancing at cozy corners of The Cliff restaurant

CLiff Drink

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Secret Garden Restaurant at Blossoms Village Resort

Dharamshala has a timeless charm to its life. Days are bright and sunny most of the time while evening calls in clouds from the mountain ranges just behind, making for the best ever sunset hues in the sky. We idled on our second day and spent some quality time in our beautiful cottage. While breakfast was served in our suite, we took the morning to pay a visit to Illiteratti Cafe, followed by the HH Dalai Lama Temple complex in Mcleodganj. Sitting by the Dal lake on an overcast afternoon was followed by a bakery hunt in the streets of Mcleodganj. The locals are superb bakers and are so innovative in everything starting from their recipes, cafe decor and even packaging. At Woeser Bakery, a cute small hidden cafe under the stairs on a building, you’ll get your purchases in recycled packaging made from used milk cartons and such. We were late but made it just in time to grab the last piece of carrot cake that they are so famous for! We also went to Norling Cafe, a tiny home stye Tibetan Cafe and had the best mutton momos of our life! When it comes to food, Mcleodganj will never disappoint you with so much to offer.

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Mesmerising views of Dhauladhar range: Dharamshala

Our second evening was lit up with a music band performing at The Cliff back at Blossoms Village. What we loved most about this was they bring in local talent to entertain their guests and it sure adds a lot more value to your experience of traveling to Himachal.

Blossoms Village Resort offers superior, premium rooms, cottages and luxury suites (where we stayed in). You can make your booking here

We went in February so trekking was out of question (roads were blocked with snow). Our time in Dharamshala was spent with good people, great food and amazing hospitality. If you don’t mind spending a couple of days in peace, this might be just the perfect place for you!

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Organic farm living only 50 Kms from Mumbai

Arwa1Retirement is somehow supposed to be a scary thought, something to plan for years. We have seen our parents evolve post retirement and become avid travellers, at least from what they used to be! They even love going on hikes despite the age and failing health. Suppose we had it in our genes to start blogging and pick travel as our genre. It is true it wasn’t the plan, but from what its worth, let’s make retirement exciting !

Living a city life becomes imposing to so many, after spending years even! A somewhat similar concern drove the owners of Arwa Farms to think seriously about the land they owned in Dahanu. Situated amidst rice fields and sparse village huts, the sprawling landmass was waiting to be cultivated. Veteran photographer and journalist Fawzan Hussain decided to dig back into his family ancestory and bring back the profession of the great-grandfathers back to life. Yes, farming. Because not only does it provide you with chemical free, organically grown fruits, vegetables and cereals; it allows them to learn on the land everyday and produce fruits and vegetables to sustain life at the farm.

Cycle Area

We were invited to visit the property and understand how a completely organic farm works. Fawzan showed us the organic dung fertilizer that they make at the farm itself to be used on the produce. The range of items he cultivates at Arwa is simply fascinating. From papayas, mangoes, custard apples and sapota, cereals and paddy also finds space.

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Whats more! The farm can accommodate 14 guests at a time, making it an ideal destination for a calm family weekend getaway or even for groups of friends. Plastic is completely banned on the premises and Fawzan ensures the guests get the right vibe of being organic in the smallest details. The bathrooms have organic soaps and shampoo, kitchen sports clay pots and pans, plates and glasses sourced from the heart of Mumbai city, Dharavi.

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Spending a night under a skyful of stars sitting at the terrace having hot pakodas with him gave us an opportunity to experience the real farm life. The comfy beds and especially the one with the garden view was the boy’s absolute favourite for a night time stargazing. We are so thankful to the amazing staff at the kitchen who made delicious food, made from the fresh farm produce. An equally appetizing breakfast coupled with organic green tea refreshed us before the drive back home.

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If you are interested in learning how to farm, do visit this place. Fawzan also organises workshops and to introduce kids to the idea of farming and crop cutting seasonally. A seasonal visit may also allow you to grab a bagful of ripe mangoes to take back home! We brought back some organic stevia for our diabetic parents because whats better than an organic replacement of sugar, right?

You can book Arwa Farms on AirBnB  or Booking.com

Eco-friendly Grape County gives you a taste of luxury and beer in wine country Nashik

Grape County

What happens when an Architect comes across an intricately crafted space? I think they fall in love with their profession all over again!

This is what happened when we visited Grape County Eco Resorts in Trimbak, near wine country Nashik. On the lookout for eco-friendly stays around Mumbai, we found this Greenspaces initiative to exactly what we were looking for. Located just about 30 minute out of Nashik city, it is a quaintly crafted destination, perfect for mingling with the nature while enjoying a bit of luxury for your well deserved weekend getaway.

There is so much to say about the resort, which is spread across 150 acres, just adjacent to a vast area of reserved forest land. It is home to 35 different variety of birds and innumerable species of butterflies, in the specially built biodiversity park. Grape County is not just a hotel or resort; it is a getaway in itself. An artificially built lake, two large swimming pools overlooking the rolling meadows, multiple nature trails where you can spot a leopard print or two if lucky or come across a full grown Cobra (happened to us!) makes this place a treasure chest for bird watchers and naturalists.

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Staying true to their business, the property landscape was done by a famous design firm. One can take a bicycle ride or a pleasant evening stroll by the lake or have tea witnessing a gorgeous sunset from the watchtower!

 

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We however want to talk about the fantastic hospitality first! Grape County is an eco resort and eco living destination, bringing together nature enthusiasts from different cultures to relax and rejuvenate amidst wilderness.

The rooms are tastefully curated for the vast variety of travellers – Premium and Superior rooms best suited for couples and small families. The Suite rooms are huge, making for a spacious yet private space for groups of friends, groups of couples and big families! They also provide luxury tents for the nature lover in you, which can be accessed with a fun buggy ride inside the biodiversity park.

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Premium Room overlooking the lake

Our personal favourite will be the view from the humongous bathtub though! The small things that screams good hospitality are the little additions to the room amenities and decor. Organic toiletries, glass water bottles instead of plastic, solar powered light furnishings – you will get that feeling of being taken care of the moment you step into your abode here.

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Bathe with a view

Grape County is the country’s first star rated eco-resort, accredited by TERI. What makes it so?

The entire property makes their own power using the man made water reservoir, recycles 70% of everyday water used in the operation of the property, houses a biodiversity park to provide home to birds and butterflies and the company has planted 35000 trees after the property was built adjacent to the forest land. The forest and the property are separated by fences that you can cross only with a certified naturalist. Guess what! You can have a blissful sunset all by yourself while kayaking in the pleasant waters of the lake too!

 

We loved the food at Flambé restaurant, where you can not only taste a variety of food especially with the regular food specials the chefs bring in; but taste a wide variety of wine and craft beer. Surprising us with the range of sheer amazing beers from Great State Aleworks, Moonshine Meadery and WhiteOwl Brewery, they also invited us to the second edition of Oktobrew – a two day craft brew festival with music, shopping and camping under the stars! Who expected a beer festival in the typically known wine country!

As you all know we are big fans of craft brews and we think it is absolutely fantastic that Grape County is building a platform for Mumbai and Pune beer enthusiasts to experience new tastes while camping in the Nashik valleys. The 5 kickass bands that will be performing on October 20th and 21st are a big bonus to be there too!

We are giving away two passes on our Instagram page. Head there for your chance to experience a happening beer fest to celebrate Oktoberfest!

 

 

 

 

How to make the most out of your travels

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

The world today poses complex challenges to the average human being, more than what it used to be 10 or 20 years back perhaps. The constant need for staying connected to the world propagates through generations like a wildfire and we all are into it, all the time.  Traveling has opened up new avenues for those seeking clarity by untying themselves from the mundane, city life. In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, instant information sharing is standard practice, and traveling is a necessity to keep up with the lifestyle definition of a millennial.

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Traveling does open up the horizons of our mind, by showing us differences of lands, cultures, practices and offerings. If only our kind was more cautious to inculcate more of nature in the standard definition of a city life, this need would have never arisen. However, it is the age of seeking the world, ticking places off the bucket list that proudly sits on your fridge door!

So what can one do to ensure that they make the most out of every travel experience, no matter 100 kms away or 10,000?

Here is what we have tried and tested in our journeys. Hoping it would help you gather the best of wherever you go and what ever you do!

Find your perspective: Each new place that you set foot on, has something to offer that is only yours. Most often we rely on the internet, friends who have visited to know what to do, where to go. Each traveller is unique just like the place. Find out your likes and to-do when traveling to a new destination, own it and embrace the explorer in you. That way, you will have a great story to tell back home.

Rajwada Corridor

Have an open mind: Whether it be the food, language, clothing, markets or the people, have an open mind. Don’t let preconceived notions cloud your choices. Try new things. If you like it, great! If you don’t, let it become an experience. Observe your surroundings and try to absorb the vibe, you don’t have to always act like the others are, but it never hurts to welcome new experiences!

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A bit of knowhow: The history and traditions of a destination adds to the richness of your holiday extravaganza. Reading a little on the history of the place you are visiting will help you assess the do’s and dont’s, understand why something is there or is popular. It will also help you feel less like a tourist and more at home.

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Best time to visit: It may so happen that you end up missing out on the best things to see, best activities to do if you land in a bad season, at a gorgeous destination. Off season travel comes cheaper, but assess your priorities well and ensure you get to see what you want. Don’t end up burning a hole in your pocket only to find everything closed or inaccessible in the off season. A bit of research on the best time to visit a place will also keep you safe from the perils of a treacherous winter or harsh summer or worse, monstrous monsoons!

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Idols of Gauri Mata and Isar Maharaj

Interact with the natives: The best way to explore a new place is by interacting with the locals. Always remember you are a tourist in their home land, and approaching the locals for help on local timings, places to see, best eateries etc. will help you make a regular plan into something extraordinary. Traveling is nothing without the essence of the lifestyle of a place, so try to get the best ideas by talking to friendly, approachable locals. What could go wrong by asking a few touristy questions. Right?

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Be immersive, don’t just be a tourist: Gather memories via curating your own experiences. It is very important to make yourself and others feel comfortable with your presence. Try everything and only then you will be able to share your experiences with friends and family back home. Exploring a place like its your home will not only save the environment, but also add unforgettable memories to your travel diary.

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Be responsible: Vacationing like a mad tourist, destroying property, harassing others and being rowdy will not go well and may land you in serious trouble. If you have the opportunity to see a place in all its glory, its only fair that others after you get to experience the beauty in the same way. Try to carry your own water, eco-friendly alternatives to plastic and always remember to pick up your trash and dump it in a bin.

Lastly, take pictures! Take as many as you want, capture videos of happenings and add them to your travel diary. A good photo speaks volumes about a destination. What better than visual memories to transport you back to the same spot when life seems all mundane, again!

Published on Nationalviews.com

Heritage travel and ecotourism comes together at Phaltan

Uncharted places that are not on the map as a designated tourist destination often show the potential of a unique experience. That is exactly what Jakson Inns has achieved for the almost forgotten Phaltan, located 110 kms from Pune.

A highway ride is common for Mumbaikars, usual destinations being Pune, Kaas Pathar, Lonavala, Goa, Ratnagiri coastal lines and more. On a roadtrip to nowhere in particular, Jakson Inns just happened to us for a stopover initially. Phaltan is one of those places where you may stop for a night before continuing your journey, but it gives you a neat, functional and enjoyable itinerary. Variety of experiences curated together by the hotel entices you to stay back.

What started as a journey in search of an offbeat experience, turned out to be a complete weekend getaway at a highway side hotel. May sound odd, but you need to read this article in full to know how The Moonchasers found a weekend, worthy of sharing with you as a recommendation.

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Satara district marks a historically and economically significant side of Maharashtra, also known for its forts, waterfalls and religious festivals. Lands that host major industrial facilities also caters to 60% of the states sugar production, thanks to sugarcane farming all around the plateaus. Only about a four hour drive from Mumbai, Phaltan is an amalgamation of sustainable energy with agriculture and history. From solar farms and windmills powering an entire industrial belt and a 3 star hotel, Jakson Hospitality brings a piece of ecotourism on its very premises spanning 6 acres.

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The property is a proud LEED Platinum Rated Building, harnessing its energy from natural resources. The hotel has 69 deluxe rooms, 4 suites, a contemporary bar, a vibrant multicuisine restaurant and a luxury spa. It also has a gorgeous pool and basketball court, and bicycles (We made good use of it for a midnight track race) suited for families. A full service gym is also open for guests.

Apart from providing a wholesome Malvani cuisine, the staff ensures you get a taste of the local culture. We were taken to a beautiful windmill farm to watch sunset over the plateaus sipping on an exquisite Sauvignon on the first day.  The giant machines start screeching and creaking to pick up speed with the evening breeze, adding a bit of charm to the whole setting. We also made a new friend at the table top!

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A barbecue night followed on the hotel grounds, prepared by the chefs on the spot. They went an extra mile to prepare a giant Khakhra for us (Baked thin crackers made of mat bean and wheat flour). Sumptuous food calls for a good end to an amazing day and we had a very comfortable room, again carefully and professionally serviced to get a good night’s sleep.

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Breakfast awaited us by the poolside on the second day. After gorging on mango shakes and masala omelettes, our destination was Thosegad Waterfalls. Maharashtra comes alive with the monsoon and this waterfall too shows its true beauty ripe with the rain water. However we had a fun time walking up to the lake and made a mental note of coming back here again in a couple of months as the rains intensify.

Stories of emperors, conquerors and rulers fascinate the reader. But what happens when you get to walk into the homes once inhabited by the characters from the pages of history books! An experience curated only by Jakson Inns that needs a special permission, made the highlight of the trip.

Phaltan is known in history for being home to Sai Bai, Shivaji’s first wife as she hailed from this once prosperous taluka. Manmohan Rajwada, was named after Mudhoji Manmohan, who ruled the Phaltan State between 1860 to 1916. It was once the maternal home of Sambhaji Maharaj, son of the founder of the Maratha Empire.

An architectural delight, the Rajwada palace compound consists of the main residential building, an ancient Ram Mandir, spacious courtyards and long halls called chowks. The interiors reflect rich heritage design with intricate hand-carved wood work in the columns and arches. The rich colour palette in the paintings and tapestries across the palace exude a royal yet contemporary selection of art. All rooms open out onto a central courtyard, or a chowk, demonstrating a common feature of period Indian architecture, allowing air circulation for hot summers. It was an obvious delight for J for his love of symmetry and marvellous architecture. On the other hand, I was marvelling at it’s spaciousness and rich historic elegance which oozes out with every step you take within the premises. Every turn opens up to a corridor full of footprints of the Royal family of Phaltan.

All of this, coupled with a Maharashtrian chulha made lunch and a pomegranate plucking session where you can taste the sweetest fruits right on the field, we feel Jakson Inns has successfully merged the business of hospitality to boost the local economy as well. To understand the actual potential of rural tourism, eco tourism and farmland visits, it is a great way to spend a weekend here instead of just stopping over. The richness of experience makes itself a desirable destination. Where else can you get a private sunset sipping wine with your loved one, walk about vast pomegranate fields and sugarcane farms, go into the very rooms where once queens lived and feel the wind in your hair ?

This place is an inspiration for travellers seeking to do something new, know something more about a place and have a great time. In fact, MTDC has Phaltan listed as a heritage and eco-tourism destination.  Taste the perfect contemporary bohemian lifestyle with a touch of history at Phaltan. At the same time, enjoy sustainable hospitality with a comfortable stay for your next weekend getaway from Mumbai or Pune.

Note: The Rajwada stands as a private palace and is not a tourist spot, nor does it allow anyone to get inside other than guests of Jakson Inns.

Here is a video showing you all about Phaltan:

The Art of Travelling ft Travel Hacks

Your perfectly planned vacation sounds fancy on social media but when you pay huge sums for the same, or stay in a hotel where the facilities aren’t top notch, it’s not all that grand, right?

Be it the transaction fees, trip costs, hotel rates or beating hunger pangs after a long airport hauls, there are some unavoidable circumstances. But, every problem has a solution is what we firmly believe! Here’s a list of travel hacks which will help you travel better. Use them all, and promise yourself a hassle-free trip to your dream destination.

#1. Flight hacks

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Picture Source: Pixabay

  • Sign up for airline emails which will constantly keep you posted with the flight fares and the discount rates.
  • Try booking your tickets on Tuesdays or Thursdays for you might be lucky enough to get a dip of 10% on your ticket charges.
  • Travel during the shoulder season, i.e the month before or after the peak season. During this time, there’s a sure shot reduction of flight charges by 20% and this has been suggested by the experts at Pickyourtrail in one of their articles on travel hacks.
  • Enable private browsing whilst you are checking for the flight rates. This is done to prevent the travel sites from tracking your IP and increase the cost of the flight tickets.

#2. Pre Travel Hacks

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Image Source: Pixabay

  • Roll your clothes over folding. This occupies less space and gives you more room to keep other goods.
  • Pack your socks or other tiny items of clothing inside a rolled shirt or dress since they require very less surface area.
  • Carry a collapsible laundry bag.
  • Once you are done with packing, place a dryer sheet on top of the clothes since they prevent them from smelling odd and also keep them fresh.
  • Always scan your passport, important documents, itineraries and email them to yourself. By doing this, you’ll have a proof of everything in case of a theft or loss.
  • Call up your bank and intimate them on your foreign travel for, they wouldn’t hold you for any suspicious activities during your tenure in the international lands.
  • Mark all of your items of baggage as fragile. By doing so, your luggage will not only be safely handled but also be in the initial round of baggages sent out in the unit.

#3. During Travel

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Image Source: Pixabay

  • Carry your own water bottle so that you don’t have to search for snack spots or wash basins to quench your thirst whilst waiting for your airlines.
  • Hold your nose and blow out after the flight takes-off. This will clear your ear-block.
  • Carry a pen before you reach the customs section. Most of the flight assistants will not have them and you might have to wait for someone to lend you which in turns delays your process.
  • Press the button in the ring area of windows. You can tint the window glasses by doing so and this saves you from the morning bright light.

#4. On Arriving

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Image Source: Pixabay

  • If you want access to the local currency on arriving at the airport, head to the nearest ATM machine and withdraw cash. The international debit charges will be lower than the charges held by the currency exchange unit. More currency related tips can be found here!
  • Head to baggage claim as soon as possible. Waiting for baggage could be tedious, and waiting for it with an ample lot of crowd can never be entertaining.
  • If you have checked-in at the hotel, unpack only the essentials. Taking out all the clothes and making yourself feel home could be very pleasing but, it’s never an easy task to repack the commodities.
  • Check for the toiletries and neatness of the restroom before you start using it. If you find a dip in cleanliness, you can always ask for a reimbursement or reduction in the room rates.

Did you find these hacks useful? Let us know! 

You can visit PickYourTrail to plan an itinerary of your choice, hand picked and customized as per your need.

Would you like to add your travel hacks to this post? Help us expand it with your inputs in the comments!

Adventure trails in Durshet – a weekend exploring the lush Western Ghats

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Beautiful day at Durshet Forest Lodge

Monsoon is the time to be happy. In a dry state like Maharashtra, arrival of monsoons not only brings relief to the people, but also pulls off a curtain from the landscape, covering it with lush, rich greenery. Being city animals when all you want to do is appreciate nature, its vastness and its majestic expanse, what does one do?

You take a trip off the beaten track! Just as we did last weekend with Nature Trails Resorts in Durshet, a lesser known gem located at only 95 kms from Mumbai, in the Raigad district. The idea was to get out and explore something not so far, and Sterling Holidays came to our rescue. With a motto of #joyofdiscovery , the legacy of the renowned hospitality major comes at play through its modern approach to travel. We were joined by a bunch of new faces on our journey, each of them vibrant and full of interesting anecdotes about the joy of exploring.

We set out on a rainy Saturday morning from Mumbai and reached the Durshet property in about two hours. Welcomed by the lush backyard and luxury tents, we were utterly happy that we chose the right place. Vóila!

After munching on hot Misal, we set out on a tour of the property that extends till the edge of the river Amba to the back. Being a seasonal stream, the river bed was only awaiting a little more downpour and it will be flowing, making for a great kayaking experience, in a resort near Mumbai! Who could imagine that?

It was also Father’s day the very same weekend and we met a bunch of children playing around and excited to go on an adventure trip later in the afternoon. We played cricket under drizzling skies and bonded with them before our rappeling session. The fun fact of visiting here is that we came across a large variety of travellers. Families seeking a weekend getaway, a summer camp for kids, corporate groups and friends looking for an active weekend in the jungle and people like us, who never lets go of an opportunity for a little adrenaline boost!

The real joy of exploring is in being out there, and we did exactly that after lunch. We hiked across the property’s 15 acre forest to find a rope bridge – called Burma bridge. After a wobbly walk across the structure, a sudden downpour got us drenched from head to toe. Honestly, the feeling of being in a jungle and getting completely soaked is one of the best we can recommend to you. Next up was ziplining, a short but cute stretch and J and I both had quite fun jumping off in our wet clothes. Failure however was awaiting me at the Tarzan Swing down below. I promise i tried very hard to reach the edge of the trough but it was a slip of half an inch! Result? I ended up in the pool of water below and climbed back up completely wet, again! #ExploreNatureTrails

The boys went rappeling after that and managed to beat the average record by completing the task in just above 90 seconds. What can I say, J is born with mountain instincts, I suppose!

Durshet has a curious history with the richness of being a battleground in the time of the Maratha Empire. The rivers, the meadowing valleys and strange rock plateaus added to the significance of these jungles as an impregnable land during wrfare. Such charming history led the founder of Nature Trails, Mr. Hari Divekar to look at this piece of land as the ideal location for his adventure camp 20 years back. A strong history of being an ecological conservationist, closely associated with Dr. Salim Ali and the Bombay Natural History Society led Hari to try and preserve the essence of the natural terrains of the ghats, ideal for training children in adventure activities and physical training.

So whats so special about Durshet Forest Lodge?

  1. It is spread over 35 acres of forest land
  2. It has both budget and premium options for stay
  3. It has amazing adventure activities for beginners and if you like to spend your time trying out new things like ziplining, rappeling, rope climbing and more
  4. The food is authentic Maharastrian and delicious!
  5. You wont feel once that you are only 95 Kms away from Mumbai. Its lush!

Nature Trails has four properties in Durshet, Kolad, Dabhosa and Sajan respectively, all in Maharashtra. With their 20 year old hospitality and adventure travel expertise, they are now a part of the famous Sterling Holidays. This adds to the portfolio of stay options and the recent addition of luxury tents, which are by the way beautiful, comes as a welcome offering for those who don’t mind paying a few extra bucks for greater comfort. Let us also tell you, the views from the brand new pool at the property is a +1! We recommend Nature Trails for families and groups of friends looking for a taste of adventure, have a chill weekend or even a day trip (yes they have that option) in the lap of nature.

You can participate in the #LookWhosChilling contest by #LookWhosTalking and win exciting prizes. Click here for more information!

Check out our latest video for a full experience at Nature Trails Durshet:

You can check here for booking: www.naturetrails.in

For more pictures from the trip, you can always go to @dmoonchazers

Tell us your recommendations of #weekendgetaways near Mumbai in the comments to help us explore better!

Next up on the blog: Kundalika River Rafting Camp

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‘Travel Store’ by Snapdeal

We were looking for items for our ‘Travel essentials for women’ list when we came upon the Travel Store by Snapdeal! Honestly it cant get better. They are curating this awesome store with everything you will need when traveling, well almost!

snapdeal-new-logo-7591The recently launched Snapdeal travel store brings to all travel aficionados a handy list for travel necessities within a single window, helping customers buy with ease everything that they require for their vacation this summer. How awesome is that!

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Here is the list of travel must haves from Snapdeal to make your travel comfortable and entertaining. We will be adding to this list our recommendations of travel essentials.

  • Have you picked the right accessories?

Pack the right items for your travel. Travel pillows, eye masks, earplugs in different colors and patterns, to classy yet simple luggage and duffel bags. All available on Snapdeal a click away

  • Entertainment Quotient

To make your travel more fun, while allowing you to document your travel, click pictures and listen to music. The Snapdeal travel store has an extensive range of DSLR cameras, bluetooth speakers, rechargeable batteries, power banks to make your trip more memorable

  • Dress up & look your best:

Carry the most essential yet trendy clothing and look your best during your trip. Casual shirts, jackets, sweaters, boots, flip-flops, t-shirts, beachwear, dresses, pack all these are must-haves to for all travel goals

  • Road Trip:

Road trips are fun-filled journeys. To ensure customers are able to avoid exertion, Snapdeal has launched essential accessories such as car back rests, car inflatable beds, GPS device, tracking compass

  • Go Hiking:

For adventure trips like hiking, don’t forget to carry hiking boots, active wear, hiking tents, headlamps, rucksacks, sleeping bags to make it a hassle free yet thrilling journey of a lifetime.

Snapdeal Travel Store provides a one-stop destination to buy must have products for a vacation in mountains, beaches and more. So, think no more and head to the Snapdeal App available on your mobile from the comforts of your own home. For more details, visit – https://www.snapdeal.com/offers/travel-store

A colourful gathering – know Gangaur of Shahpura

Festivals in our country are quite plentiful. In all honesty, i find it quite appealing that the colours and variety of festivals across the states is the perfect representation of the abundance that nature and faith has given people for centuries. Talking about the diversity in festivals, one may instantly connect with Rajasthan – the land of history, conquest, beauty and hardships of life, architecture and valour, vigour and kingship.

Rajasthan is truly the land of festivals not because there are many, but because the strong character of every celebration. The colours, ambient mood, majestic locations make for gorgeous stock photography and experience while covering them. It has become one of the major triggers attracting a plethora of Instagrammers, Bloggers, content creators to come here. Tourism has flourished tremendously in the last decade or so.

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Since i lacked a good photo, borrowing one from the very talented Shivam Sharma of Udaipur (@shivam_photofactory – Instagram)

Following the lead, I managed to get myself invited by this year’s Gangaur Festival celebration at Shahpura Haveli, wee 65 kms from the pink city of Jaipur.

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Google Maps

A celebration of spring and harvest, where women dress up in their best jewelry and garments to pray for good fortune and welfare of their husbands, Gangaur 2018 was a treat to the eyes and senses. A group of Instagrammers were invited to witness the grand celebration at the Haveli, which has resumed its pomp after long 40 years.

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Idols of Gauri Mata and Isar Maharaj

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Prayers offered by the women to the deities at Rawa Moti Mahal

There is a fascinating story behind the origin of the festival, just like any other religiously devotional stories. After Parvati won Lord Shiva’s heart through her unfailing devotion, she came back to her paternal home during Gangaur. She blessed her friends with marital bliss, which is what this festival signifies. The whole environment just came alive when the pious deities of Isar Maharaj & Gangaur Mata were regally taken around the streets, people were offering their prayers and devotion to the deities.

What I liked best was the fact that the women followed this celebrations so passionately, married or unmarried, to celebrate the piety of Gangaur Mata. Rani Ratnakumari Foundation, led by the honourable Rajmata Gunwant Kumari from the family of the erstwhile rulers of Shahpura for empowerment of women, brought back the festival to native Shahpura after a gap of 40 long years. 

We attended a beautiful procession carrying the idols which was organised by the Royal family. In a city teeming with tourists and photographers from everywhere, it passed through the vivid markets of the town, and not to sound boastful but had an amazing camaraderie of horses, camels, traditional folk dancers, brass bands from Punjab, lancers etc. We were told that Gangaur is celebrated across Rajasthan but it has a special meaning to the natives of Shahpura. This year, Rani Ratna Kumari Foundation had organised a much grand procession as compared to the celebrations Shahpura has seen. Cultural events and felicitation ceremony at Shahpura were held in association with Rajasthan Tourism. It was truly a festive paradise. Being my first ever in Rajasthan, gangaur has left a very colourful impression both on my mind and my Instagram feed!

The festival has a charm to itself, despite being celebrated largely with the women fasting for long periods. However, the reason for associating with this particular celebration was due to the great work done by the royal family through the Rani Ratna Kumari Foundation, fondly known as RRKF India.

They are working towards a holistic development in the economic condition of the villagers through job creation for the women. Initiated and supported by the erstwhile rulers of Shahpura, RRKF promises to provide aid and support to the women who in turn can benefit from the revenue generated for the education of their kids. I think it is a great initiative and this festival adds to the many colours of truly empowering the society. We would definitely go back to this celebration again to experience more of the tradition, would you? Tell us in the comments!

 

 

Misty mountains, rain and friends – Magical Wayanad

It was the monsoon of 2017, that time when Bombay got almost flooded, again, remember! We were all set for our trip to Bali, all the bookings being done well in advance. Traveling to a different country for the first time ever, the excitement, caution and pre-planning gave us a lot to think about. Yes, we do not have money to travel the world just as yet!
Joy helped chalk out the itinerary for 5 nights and 6 days. The brilliant part was we were doing so many things on different corners of the island paradise in so less time. But lets keep that for another story. This story is about an impromptu plan, a bunch of crazy friends in a car and Kerala in the monsoons.

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Cure to travel hangover- another trip!

We had two days left from the scheduled leaves after our return. To fill that up and cure the hangover from being mesmerised in Bali, which we were pretty sure we would, we had to plan something. It is almost impossible to head straight back home after such a long awaited trip!
So, we booked ourselves on another flight to Bengaluru the same night as our return. Crazy as it was, we did manage to come back home, drop beach bags and pick up the road trip packs, making it back to the Mumbai airport, well, just in time!.
My cousin picked us up from the Bengaluru airport on a Thursday morning, and we were joined by my school friend. We headed for Wayanad after stocking up for the road (the essentials of course and some beers).
Despite being in Bangalore for over three years, I had never really travelled to Kerala. Wayanad seemed like the best place to absorb the richness of the monsoon glory, starting our interaction  with Mallu Land.
Moving on, we had some epic moments on the way right from being refused toilet access at a local resort, asked to share our beers with some local boys taking a dip in the pond beside the highway, to hunting little town markets in search of smoking papers. We could find none after hours of wandering about.
The best part was when we reached our resort in Kalpatta, little outside the main town around 7 PM. The Manager, Mr. Sunil had called us  prior and told us we will have to park our car and take the resort jeep to reach our cottages. Little did we know what was in store for us all tired and jet lagged from back to back flights and a 6 hour drive. It was drizzling slightly.

A Jeep ride like never before!

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Upon taking a wild jeep ride (it felt like we were in the arms of Kong, who is climbing a mountain blind! No joke.) for straight 20 minutes in pitch dark blackness, pouring sky and the eerie sound of crickets, we reached the mountain top. Mr. Sunil of Marmalade Springs welcomed us with hot coffee from the estate and an invitation to dinner. We were the only guests that night so one can imagine the lovely Malayali cook to shower us with his culinary specialties. We stuffed ourselves to the brim because the food was yummier than anything I had had in the whole of South India! Forgot to take a picture. OOPS!
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Marmalade Springs Coffee Estate

The balcony of our cottages opened straight to the beautiful valley below, and we thoroughly enjoyed catching up on long lost conversations as a family for the night. Next morning started with sumptuous breakfast at the courtesy of Selva, who was thrilled to get double the amount of whatever we asked for. The view was simply breathtaking after all the rain from previous night. The lush was fresh and blooming, the mist was slowly clearing and the swans at the little pond were visibly unhappy with our arrival. It was the perfect setting for a great start to the day.
We headed out to explore a few monsoon musts after a curious and bumpy ride back to the bottom of the resort. It was only in daylight that we discovered the beautiful coffee estate surrounding us. Little coffee beans were hanging by the bunches on every bush. Sunil later explained that the coffee picking season will start in December and we must visit again to get a hands on experience of roasting and brewing the best of Nilgiri coffee!
We visited the Banasura Sagar Dam, hiked to Meenmutty and Soochipara waterfalls and got drenched in the fresh raging waters with almost all our camera gear. A speedboat  ride at the dam under the monsoon sky added a special memory to our archives. Having friends who will always jump around with you with the same energy is a powerful emotion. We are glad to have such people travel with us!

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The second part of this trip calls for a special treat. We have made a video for you all from the first day too! Stay tuned for updates!
Check out the photos below and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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