Saturday, February 21, 2009

My Mumbai-Kahandala & Lonavala Trip

I suppose out of all the trips we, as in my roommates and I, made, the trip to Mumbai was the most sane and well organized experience. Well before you begin thinking, oh! finally the girls learnt their lesson, think again! Old habits die hard:-) This trip was taken care by my dad to be more precise, his PA. After getting back to Hyd on Jan 4, 09, from our vacations, we decided to kick start the new year with the Mumbai trip. So, we left on Jan 8, 2009, by train. In train we met a fellow Googler, who travels almost every weekend, so we had a great time listening to his adventures and taking travel tips and destinations from him.

Day 1:

We reached Mumbai by 5 am in the morning and we had a staff car and 2 army men from my dad’s unit waiting to receive us. We stayed at an army mess at Santa Cruz and began our 4 day travel-cum- shopping extravaganza with a visit to the Gateway of India and the Taj hotel. We saw the Taj just after a month of the terror attack and relived all the sad memories, which we saw on news channels. Even after what the Taj, had witnessed it was magnificent and its glory to look at. From the Gateway Of India we took a steamer to the Elephanta caves, which is an island 1 hour away from Mumbai. It has a lot of ruins and caves. It was afternoon by the time we returned to Gateway Of India, we proceeded to an Army Infantry mess at Colaba, which was close by. After lunch, we went to the naval base, where we first saw a decommissioned ship called IMS Vikrant (IMS- Indian Museum Ship) as the name suggests it is a ship converted into a museum. The ship was enormous and all the equipment it carried was pretty exciting to view. After visiting the IMS Vikrant we came to the highlight of the trip, I am sure Saranya and Sruthi will agree with me when I say this, we went on board one of the coolest and the latest naval submarines. It was an experience of a lifetime for all of us. The submarine has lot of space restriction and the atmosphere is so suffocating that I cannot begin to imagine how the naval marines survive in such conditions for 120-150 days at a stretch protecting our nation and us. The submarine has 3 tiers. The naval men stay in 2 out of the 3 tiers, so when you get down to the 2nd and 3rd tier you go through this hollow pipe with close to 100 steps to climb from floor 2 and 3 upwards. It is so scary to climb the rung ladders!! After the awesome submarine experience we went onboard INS Godavari, which is one of the Indian Naval Fleet’s most advanced war ships, it was majestic and it carries the very effective Barrack missiles. By the time we finished with the naval fleet, it was evening and when we got back to our mess where we were staying it was 8 pm. The Mumbai traffic is crazy! You are stuck in jams for hours together. We ventured to meet my roommates friend who stays in Mumbai, that night, we thought we could take the train or the rick, but the people who were hosting us would not hear us. They sent us in an army vehicle with a back up vehicle for security with a guard carrying a rifle. Sru, Saru and me asked ourselves was the ammunition to protect us in the night or to protect the driver and co-driver from us :-P. We went to Hard Rock Café, which is at lower Parel and trust me this one @ Mumbai is huge and the ambience was awesome, it was super crowded as it was a Saturday, but never the less.

Day 2

We started this day with a little pilgrimage to the Sidhivinayak temple, the Mahalakshmi temple and the Haaji Ali. Later we went shopping in Bandra which was crazy! We picked up 14 pairs of footwear and quite a few bags. I’ ll let you in on a feedback though, the footwear bought @Mumbai sucked! We lost close to 7 footwear within 1 month. We saw this very interesting gola guy who called himself ‘Gogola’ and had a very cool marketing strategy (pics of this attached in the trip slide show) he has copied the Google search page on his push cart and rechristened it Gogola. We returned back to the mess where we stayed, later in the evening we went to the Inorbit mall which din’ t impress us much considering that we see only malls at Bangalore. Later we went for dinner to this really cool Chinese restaurant at Bandra and went for midnight coffee at the CCD in Band-stand. It is quite true when people say Mumbai never sleeps.

Day 3

We left for Khandala and Lonavala, these are the two hills retreats about 2 hours from Mumbai situated en route to Pune. The roads are fabulous, it is an express highway and has loads of tunnels. We bought a lot of chikki and the famous fudges from Lonavala, then we went to visit the Tiger point which offers the topmost view of Khandala and Lonavala. Both these places have numerous farmhouses. We also visited the Lonavala lake and a park in Khandala. On our way back we went to the Walwahan dam, where the Tata power is manufactured. We had a picnic for lunch on the side of the highway which was great fun. We returned back to Mumbai by 4pm and went to the Chowpathi at Juhu for some chaat, pav bhaji and falooda. They were so tasty and really cheap! We decided to call it an early night and returned back by 8.30 pm. We couldn’t take an organized arrangement of getting food and vehicle at our disposal anytime, any longer, so me and Sruthi decided to take a walk around the place nad explore Mumbai in our style. Saru said that she was beat and dropped out. Sruthi and me came out and decided to fulfil our wish to travel by the local train. We went to the closest station, and decided to go to Colaba and visit Café Leopold. The train arrived at 10.20 and took 40 mins to reach Church Gate. We were so kicked about the local train, from there we took a taxi and gave him rough directions to Café Leopold, he initially did not know where it was but later, we navigated fine. Café Leo was an experience, it has not got the comfy sofas, music and classy ambience, but it has something in it, that attracts a lot of expats. People hang around in night clothes too. We shared a pasta and were amused by the tubes that people were drinking. They were 3 feet high jars with close to 5 litres of beer in them. It was 12 by the time we came out and tried to find a bus which would take us somewhere close to Santa Cruz, we walked till the bus stop, waited but ran out of luck. There was this old-lunatic-drunk man who was abusing us, so we decided to take the taxi. The taxi ride was one of the best experiences of the trip, the guy zipped through the city at top speed, the Marine drive looked beautiful. We reached our place in 20 mins which was super fast. Next day morning Sruthi and me got up to severe head aches and Saranya’s abuses that we ‘ditched’ her and went out in the train and to Café Leo, our only saving grace was that we bought a nice mug for her from there to pacify her.

Day 4

We did some more shopping and then came the came the nightmarish task of packing all our shopping, Sruthi the ‘5 mins pack all’ expert took over and helped us out. We boarded the night train to Hyd from the Mumbai CST which looked so pretty in the night. It again reminded us of the recent terror attacks and the shoot out.

To sum it up, the trip was well organized, without any glitches, however, it caused a big dent in our valets for the rest of the month due to the amount we shopped. I definitely have great memories of the trip and loads of pics. We had our quota of adventure too.

Monday, February 16, 2009


The trip to Hampi was in no way civilized enough to be called a ‘trip.’ Hence, I decided to call it an expedition. Hampi is 464 km from Hyderabad and is accessible by train from Hyderabad. The closest station is Hospet. The Kacheguda-Yeshwantpur Express goes via Hospet. My roommates and me decided to visit Hampi for an extended weekend ie. leave Hyd by Friday night and return on Tuesday morning. We took the 8.20 pm cab from office (which is in Kondapur) to Kacheguda (for all those who are not familiar with Hyd, the distance between my office and the station is 18-20 km and cuts along the heart of the city, so you can all imagine the traffic!) With great anxiety we reached the station at 9.10 pm when the scheduled departure time was 9.15 pm. To add to all this was the fact that our tickets were on a wait list. My roommate, Sruthi has a brilliant track record of convincing the TTR even when she has a waitlist of 200 still gets berth to sleep. But, when we reach the station we get the news that the train has been delayed by 2 hours due to the derailing of the Corommandel Express. Great! What a way to begin the trip. Sruthi kept saying all the way that it was Friday the thirteenth which is supposed to be extremely inauspicious. And trust me it lived up to Sruthi’s expectations. We went to a nearby restaurant and had dinner then Sruthi went and begged the TTR for berths. Guess what the TT gave us 4 berths till Guntakal which was supposed to come at 5 am in the morning. He said that when the train reaches Guntakal we need to go to the compartment S10 or S11 as these were the only compartments heading towards Hospet. The other part of the train was going to Bangalore. We slept well at night and get up at 5.15 am when the train was already at Guntakal and announcement was being made for its departure. We took our baggage ASAP and started running, trust me, it was at the other end of the train and the four of us were running with baggage and all, like mad people. We reached S10 when the train started to move. Then we waited near the loo as there were no seats available. Luckily a guy came and offered us his seat and we readily complied. We also took a small cat nap. Hospet, according to the fellow passengers was supposed to come by 10 am, so Sruthi and Saranya set off to brush their teeth by 9 in the morning. When Sandhya the least observant of all of us declared that a station had come and it was Hospet. We were like ha! It is only 9… and it happened to be the actual station. Again we took our bags, toothbrush paste and all and ran out. From Hospet, Hampi is around 13 Km. By rick it took us about 100 bucks for 4 people. When we reached Hampi we figured that auto can go only upto a certain point. We had already made bookings at the Shanti Guest House (reference was the internet and our colleagues at work.) Shanti Guest House is situated at the other bank of the Tungabhadra river. We needed to walk a kilometre to reach the river bank and then take a boat to reach the other end of the river. FYI, I am being too generous in calling it a river. It is just a stream with water 30 feet deep, yet swimming is prohibited. After crossing the river, our guest house happened to be the laaaaast in the row of a lot of guest houses. Luckily, the guest house did not disappoint. We got clean and pretty cottages. The highlight being, a hammock outside every hut, swinging in the hammock was bliss. There is close to 16 hours of power cut every day at Hampi. We immediately took a shower and set off as we needed to get back on this side of the river by 6 pm in the evening, as boats do not ‘legally’ ply after this time. But if we give like 50 bucks per person (for Indians) then they might consider ferrying us.

We took a rickshaw for local sightseeing as most of the bikes were already rented and we were very late. The rickshaw guy took 500 rupees for 5 hours and showed us all the places around Hampi.

a. Our first stop was the Ganesha temple set on top of a rock. The architecture is beautiful, but temples are in ruins, so do not expect pujaris and aarti etc.

b. Second stop was a twin rock where 2 sisters were cursed for speaking ill of Hampi and its hilly terrains.

c. We then went to the underground Siva temple. Which was exciting, as we had to waddle across in knee deep water.

d. Our next stop was the Lotus Mahal, the Clock Tower and the Elephant’s Stables.

e. On the way we also saw a Madhwa temple in ruins. It is extremely heart breaking to see such beautiful architecture being destructed this way.

f. We then visited the Hazar Rama temple. This was one of the most beautiful and well maintained temples at Hampi with very intricate architecture.

g. Our next halt was at the Mahanaavami Bidda (which looked like a huge top surface, at a great altitude, where we can get a view of the entire Hampi. )

h. After this we headed towards the Queens bath which was massive, but nothing really great about the place, except the pic of my 3 roomates pretending to be queens themselves J

i. Our final stop was at the Vittala temple which is around 7-8 Km from the main city and is extremely beautiful. It has the famous musical pillars. This temple has magnificent architecture and is well maintained. Here we could also see the ruins of the then bazaars.

It was 5 pm by then, so we decided to return back to the city as we had to cross the river before 6 pm. We crossed the river and decided to have an early dinner and call it a day as we had not had anything decent to eat. The food at this side sucked big time. Never ever eat this side is a statutory warning that I would like to issue. After an equally sad dinner we decided to call it a day and headed to the guest house. Hampi is the breeding ground for killer mosquitoes. I have gotten close to 30 mosquito bites all over me. DO NOT forget to carry a mosquito repellent.

The next day we got up 9 am and set off to do a little shopping on across the river. We sampled the food at the highly recommended Mango Tree Restaurant which is again civilizations away but the ambience and the food is worth the struggle. Trust me this is the only decent restaurant at Hampi. After a leisurely brunch, we did a little shopping, visited the Virupaksha temple which is situated on the banks of the river. Then we made a trip to Mango Tree for some tea and to pack dinner. We took the boat by 6 pm and came back to the guest house. I went to take a shower and came out, while searching for my comb, I saw my wallet and took out our return tickets and then came the mother of all shocks!! The ticket was booked by my office concierge for the same evening instead of Monday evening (the next day.) I came out of the cottage shouting like a mad woman. My roommates and I decided to pack and leave as we had no other go. Our bus to Hyd was at 8 pm from Hospet and it was already 6.30 pm. We rushed, packed all our stuff in 15 mins, checked out of the guest house and figured that the boat service had legally stopped by 6 pm. We pleaded with the owner and convinced her to ferry us for 50 bucks per person which at normal times was 10 rupees. We ran across the town to catch an auto. We convinced an auto guy to take us to Hospet for 100 bucks, it was pitch dark. But we made it to the travel agency with 15 minutes to spare. We had out dinner (packed at Mango Tree) while waiting for the bus. The bus journey was uneventful but not very comfortable. The roads are really bad and there were a lot of mosquitoes yet again, in spite of the air conditioning. Finally, we reached Hyd by 6 am in the morning, got home and ready for work. Thus, our 3 days long extended weekend trip got shortened to a 2 days weekend trip as luck would have it… As my roommates said, Hampi couldn’ t take us for another day and we too, wished too hard to get away too soon. As we say, all is well that ends well.

A few tips, opinions and suggestions that I would like to give are:

1. Take accommodation at the main side of the river and do not take the trouble of crossing the river as the timings are very limiting and even the food is pathetic on the other side.

2. I found Hampi extremely Foreign tourism centric (it is in the lines of Agra.) The locals only cater to their needs and have no interest in entertaining Indian tourists. Even the food is prepared to suit their tastes. We felt like strangers in our own house. Also, too much tourism development has made this place lose its mystic charm, which would have been unique.

3. Please carry enough Sunscreen lotion, carry hats (as the prices that they quote for low quality hats are humungously high.)

4. Carry an extremely comfortable pair of footwear as there is only one means to explore this place and that is through foot.

5. Wear cotton clothes as it tends to get very hot in the day even in the month of February.

6. Do not experiment too much with food as it boomerangs big time. Personal advice would be to stick to Mango tree itself.

7. Book your tickets well in advance. Also, you get rooms in most of the guest houses then and there so, there is no need to book rooms in advance.

ToTo sum it up… I loved this trip for the awesome pics that I took, the company and the adventures.. I can hate it for many reasons too…BUT will never be able to forget it!! After all it is the memories that matter at the end of the day :-)