India

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in India.

The Indian Lifestyle Will Make You Feel Special

With more than half a million people of Indian origin living in London, it’s possible to taste the entire subcontinent without ever leaving the UK. On Shared City’s Tour & Thali, local guide Nidhi introduces the Gujarati community along Wembley’s Baling Road, visiting an intricately carved Hindu temple as well as sari and spice shops. Stops for street food and a thali meal are included. Get a double helping of Indian cuisine by spending the next day with home chef Monisha, who in nearby Hounslow teaches cookery classes ranging from South Indian vegetarian dishes to mastering the art of a good dosa.

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

Wembley Central Shopping Centre

  • ARRIVE – Wembley Central and Hounslow West are the nearest stations for the tour and cooking class. Both connect to London’s major stations and airports.
  • STAY – Brook Green Hotel is less than half an hour by tube from Hounslow West.

 

art-village-karjat

Be Creative in Karjat – Maharashtra

A FINE BALANCE

“It needs to be centred” Ganga Kakadia says repeatedly. Centring, in this moment, refers to keeping the clay in the middle of the potter’s wheel, without wobbling. It’s a touch-and-go technique: if you try to mould the clay too hard, it collapses, and, if you don’t put any pressure at all, nothing happens. “Don’t think about the end, because things could go wrong at any point, and you need to be okay with that,” says Ganga. It’s easy to apply everything she’s saying about pottery to life as well. And just like in life, when you get it right, an almost overwhelming sense of liberation takes over.

karjat

Art Village – Karjat

Painter, illustrator and writer Ganga, along with her husband Kunal and a motley group of theatre folk, filmmakers, sculptors, architects and other artistes, has set up the Art Village in Karjat on family-owned property.

It’s meant to be a space for artistes and art enthusiasts, but the Earth Stay programme allows non-artists to live here and reap the benefits of this place too.

You know you’ve reached the right place as you roll up on the gravelled driveway and see a cluster of well- designed thatched mud homes, which have a low carbon footprint.

It’s a lesson in sustainable architecture, ideal for the sense of slow living that permeates the property. The living area of this “village” comprises three cottages, with walls made from sun-dried bricks, and roofs thatched by a team of female artisans from Bhuj. But the room’s true beauty lies in the outdoor bathroom quadrangle. A vertical garden with overflowing spider plants is the first thing you’ll see.

art-village-cottages

The mud cottages were designed by Bhuj-based Kiran Vaghela, who specialises in sustainable architecture

The loos have their own art installations – colourful recycled Corona bottles hang from the ceiling in one, while cut-outs of graphic art advocating feminist ideas adorn another.

Don’t spend all your time in the room though, as the outdoors is just as lovely. There’s a bed full of giant, happy-making sunflowers, with a ceramic mushroom totem pole erupting from between them. Stroll to the on-site nursery that brims with 40-year-old bonsai trees, orchids and ferns of every shape and size. It’s a horticulturist’s dream one that has been tended to by Ganga’s mother over decades.

 art-installation

The property is littered with art installations, like these assemblage artworks by Kunal Naik in the recreation area

There’s also lots of scope for cosying up with a book in a corner of the recreation area. If you don’t have your own, choose one from the property’s beautifully- illustrated books, or delve into its stock of art supplies to create your own masterpiece. Or, if any of the artistes are around, ask for a lowdown on their art -you could find yourself with pottery abilities you’d never known of before.

In the evenings, the staff at the village sets up a campfire (free). Plan in advance to barbecue chicken (they’ll help), and download a stargazing app to make the most of the clear night skies away from the city.

The property is close to trekking trails, so, if you don’t want to be lethargic, ask for a guide.

Stomp on giant dried-up leaves, stay away from the thorny barks of young silk cotton trees that would fit right into a horror film, and spot orange leopard butterflies.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll realise Art Village is a work in progress. “That’s one of the cons of being an artist,” says Ganga, “Work is never quite finished.” Still, with a steady stream of ideas and a go-with-the-flow approach, there’s a lot that Art Village gets right.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

Closest metro: Mumbai (55km) is two-and-a-half I to three hours away by road, depending on traffic.
Closest airport: Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (64km) is well connected i to other cities. Spicejet, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways, Air India and Vistara fly to Mumbai from most major Indian cities.
Closest railhead: Karjat Railway Station (8km; KJT). Take the 11007 Deccan Express (leaves CSTM 7am, arrives KJT 8.43am) and return by the 11008 Deccan Express (leaves KJT 5.30pm, arrives CSTM 7.35pm). Local trains also run between Mumbai and Karjat. Autorickshaws ply from the station to the property.

WHERE TO STAY

Art Village: This recently opened property offers an Earth Stay programme for guests. Stay options here comprise three well-designed cottages, with two rooms in every cottage. Each room can accommodate four guests. Rooms are basic and not air-conditioned. Art Village shares space with Tooth Mountain Farms and Nursery, a cosy farmstay, which has a lap pool and a manmade lake.

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Rooms are basic but comfortable

On weekdays, guests at the village are permitted to use the pool. There are plans for film screenings, a library, hammam and meditation space in the future.

WHERE TO EAT

Earth Café: This is the Art Village’s kitchen and dining area. The kitchen staff is made up of locals from the neighbouring village, so expect home­- made food. Lunch and dinner generally sees a vegetarian spread with dishes like baingan bharta or chhole, along with dal, rice, yoghurt, rods and salad. Come tea-time, a flask of hot chai and biscuits stands ready on the counter.

The kitchen is open to guests – remember to replenish what you use. The market at Chowk Village offers fresh produce, as well as chicken and fish that you can ask the kitchen to barbecue for a pre-dinner snack.

kaziranga-national-park

The Beautiful Wilderness of Kaziranga National Park, Assam

RIVERSIDE RENDEZVOUS

Lodge

noun

  • a small house at the gates of a park or in the grounds of a large house.
  • a small, makeshift or crude shelter

or habitation, as of boughs, poles, skins, earth, or rough boards; cabin or hut.

Don’t make the mistake of calling Diphlu River Lodge (DRL) a resort, especially not when Mr Roy, the General Manager, is around. You’ll be quickly reprimanded for it. It is a lodge. They’re quite particular about such things, and all the better for it. It’s not much to look at – the cabins are largely bamboo, with thatched roofs, and the gazebo overlooks quite a small pond. But don’t let that fool you. They’ve got a good thing going.

diphlu-river-lodge

The generous use of bamboo extends to the dining area as well

Spend some time here and you’ll see.

Now, Kaziranga is very popular with tourists. In fact, it would be safe to say that it’s put Northeast India on the world tourist map. So, it’s no surprise that hotels and resorts of all shapes, sizes and budgets have sprung up like mushrooms in the monsoon. And they’re pulling out all the stops to grab eyeballs. Imagine a place in the middle of all this din that decides not to put up even a basic signboard at the entrance. That’s DRL for you. Although locating it is quite easy using Google Maps, it’s pointless unless you have a reservation. You can’t just drop in for a cup of tea, and that’s something you’ll appreciate immensely when you’re a guest there, like being on an island of solitude in the middle of mayhem.

gazebo

The gazebo overlooking the lily pond is ideal for an evening cuppa

The secret is service: unobtrusive and efficient. Perhaps it’s a skill they perfected when the Duchess of Cambridge was a guest, or maybe Kate came because they’d gotten it down pat. Even regular things like the turn-down service are made a bit better because of the attention to detail. No tea bags and milk powder in the rooms, here. There’s real milk in the mini fridge, and three types of tea leaves to choose from. But perhaps the best bit is that they only have one type of tariff, and it includes everything (see Where to Stay). Although it might seem like a tad much at first glance, it includes meals, safaris, guide fees, and even camera charges, which works out to be quite reasonable.

The property is on the banks of the Diphlu River, which runs along the southern border of Kaziranga, and its residents can often be spotted from the lodge. Large flocks of bar-headed geese can be seen feeding on the grassy banks of the river; rhinos, too, are known to make an appearance.

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Rhino sightings are practically a given a Kaziranga National Park

But that’s no surprise considering the sheer density of wildlife in Kaziranga, which is what makes it such a big draw for wildlife enthusiasts. The alluvial flood plains of the Brahmaputra River feed a thriving ecosystem, and the greater one-horned rhinoceros is an almost-guaranteed sighting on elephant or jeep safaris. Apart from these, a boat ride on the Brahmaputra for a chance sighting of the Gangetic dolphin also comes recommended.

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Indian Rollers are particularly brave, and pose happily for photos

Despite being situated along such a vibrant national park, it’s not just about the safaris at DRL. The folks here encourage you to try non-wildlife related activities, like tea garden visits and walks through rubber plantations, or just lazing back at the resort. As the evening sun bathes the mustard patch in a golden glow, and lilies tremble in the breeze, the gazebo becomes the best seat in the house at which to nurse your cup of tea till the stars come out.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE

Closest metro: Kolkata (1,148km)
Closest city: Guwahati (200km)
Closest airports: Salonibari Airport, Tezpu, is 68km away. Air India flies from Kolkata, with a stopover in Guwahati. But there are limited options to choose from. For more flexibility, fly into Guwahati. IndiGo, Jet Airways, Spicejet, Vistara, GoAir and Air India have daily, non-stop flights from Kolkata.

Diphlu River Lodge is a four-hour drive away.

WHERE TO STAY

Diphlu River Lodge: The lodge offers 12 cabins, all of which are built on stilts. Of these, eight are seperate and two cabins are semi-detached cottages.

Pick one of the four cabins that overlook the river, like Kate Middleton and Prince William did. The decor is unostentatious and rooms are large and well-appointed, with each opening into a small balcony. Beware of the jet sprays in the toilets, though. The force of the water is so high that a firm squeeze can cause a recoil almost like that of a small firearm.

WHERE TO EAT

All meals are served at The Machan restaurant in the common area.

The dining area opens out into two verandahs, one of which overlooks the Diphlu River. All meals are served buffet-style, with select items like omelettes and parathas  being prepared on demand. Usually every few days, one meal is a traditional Assamese spread.

madhya-pradesh

Time Traveling in Madhya Pradesh

MAHESHWAR

ahilya-bai-fort

Ahilya Bai Fort

A town on the banks of the River Narmada, Maheshwar has had spiritual significance since the time of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, as it is believed to be what was then called Mahishmati. Bursting with folklore, history and culture, its myths and tales are fascinating to listen to. The streets of Maheshwar are lined with colourful wooden houses with hanging balconies, a contrast to the old temple architecture.

This town, which sometimes feels like a miniature Varanasi, attracts sadhus, pilgrims and tourists to its ghats and temples, rich in tales dating back to the holiest era of Hinduism. The Ahilya Bai Fort, inside which the Holkar queen built a palace, is popular with visitors for the archaeological museum and the life-sized statue of Rani Ahilya Bai. It is also where you can find Maheshwari saris and fabric with their unique reversible borders.

UJJAIN

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Ram Ghat

The ancient city of Ujjain is steeped in history dating back over 5,000 years, and was once the capital of a big empire. It is home to one of the WJyotirlingas, and it is believed that the city has never faced destruction because Mahakal, the God of Destruction, resides here.

Ram Ghat is the most popular of Ujjain’s riverside ghats; it is where Lord Ram is believed to have performed his father’s last rites. The ghats are ethereal at dawn and dusk, with cymbals reverberating and candles floating on the waters of the River Shipra. Also visit ved Shala, a  complex observatory which has five structures used to track and observe celestial bodies and time. According to the Puranas, of the seven cities that can provide salvation, Avantika (as Ujjain is also referred to) is considered the most beneficial to visit.

MANDU

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Jahaz Mahal

Embellished with Afghan architecture amid grounds dotted with baobab trees that boast African descent, the majestic palaces and gateways of Mandu are quite out of the fables your grandparents told you.

Twelve darwazas wall the city – take a walk and delve into the history and era of kings. A 10th-century fortress retreat, Mandu has what is considered the biggest fort in India. A memorial to the love between Rani Roopmati and Sultan Baz Bahadur, Roopmati’s Pavilion,  perched on the edge of the plateau, overlooking the plain below is the most beautiful of them all. A ship made of stone and mortar, Jahaz Mahal looks as though it is about to set sail, paying witness to the golden age of Mandu as it floats over the lake. The Jami Masjid was inspired by the Great Mosque of Damascus and Hoshang Shah’s Tomb,  which went on to inspire the Taj Mahal, and is India’s first marble monument. Take a bicycle tour and explore the history of regal invasions, with tombs, forts, palaces and monuments that stand tribute to a bygone era.

INDORE

lal-baag-palace

Lal Baag Palace

With its lively bazaars and cosmopolitan culture, Indore is a commercial dynamo.

The indo-Gothic Gandhi Hall, earlier known as the King Edward Hall, is made of Seoni stones, and its domes are impressive, it hosts several exhibitions through the year and also has a temple, library and children’s park.

One of the most stunning buildings is the three­storeyed Lai Baag Palace,  on the outskirts of the town on the banks of the River Khan, which was built by Maharaja Shivaji Rao Holkar.

The central Museum showcases the history of the Holkar Dynasty, and houses a rare and admirable collection of Parmer scriptures, coins, armours and artifacts. A fine example of the grandeur of the Holkar Dynasty’s architecture, the Holkar Palace, or Rajwada, is two centuries old, and features imperial gardens, fountains and an artificial waterfall.

BURHANPUR

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Raja ki Chhatri

The town of Burhanpur, on the north bank of the River Tapti, has many significant monuments like Biwi ki Masjid, Badshahi Qila, Khooni Bhandar,

Raja ki Chhatri and the Jami Masjid. Raja ki Chhatri was constructed under Emperor Aurangzeb in memory of Raja Jai Singh, the then- commander of the Mughal force in the Deccan.

Burhanpur has a major tribal population that includes the Gond, Pardhan and Korku peoples to name a few. It hosts several cultural festivals, of which the Gotmat Mela is an exquisite and renowned example.

telangana-featured

The Wonders of Telangana

The region region achieved statehood after a prolonged struggle and is loom for its unique culture, dialect, cuisines and other aspects. Constituting a major part of Deccan plateau, Telangana has a pleasing climate, with abundant natural and water resources. The state is the gateway to Krishna and Godavari Rivers in South India and is considered the seed capital of India.

Telangana, the 29th and youngest state of India, formally recognised on June 2, 2014 is a treasure trove of tourist destinations. One of the largest states in South India, Telangana is known for its hospitality and multicultural and pluralistic society. Hyderabad, the capital city of this state is the fifth largest city in India and home to some of India’s best educational institutions, public sector and defence companies and a thriving global services sector and film industry. The state hosts of tourist destinations to cater all kind of travellers.

HYDERABAD

hyderabad

Hyderabad is the capital city of the Indian state of Telangana. The city is a hub for film industry, world-class public and private hospitals, central and state level research institutions, information technology industry, biotech, pharmacy industry and many public sector entities.

CHARMINAR:

charminar

Charminar a monument and a mosque, considered synonymous with the history of Hyderabad. It is a landmark monument of Hyderabad and it is believed that Mohammed Quli Qutub Shahi, the fifth sultan of the Qutub Shahi dynasty had built this monument to commemorate the end of a deadly plague menace that had gripped the city then. It is located near the banks of the river Musi.

GOLCONDA FORT:

GOLCONDA-FORT

Golconda Fort is located in the western part of Hyderabad city which occupies an area of three square kilometers, and is approximately 4.8 kilometers in length. It was initially a mud fort under the reign of the Raja of Warangal that was then fortified between 14th and 17th centuries by the Bahmani Sultans followed by the Qutub Shahi dynasty.

HUSSAINSAGAR LAKE:

HUSSAINSAGAR-LAKE

The boulevards of Hussain Sagar with its boulevards on a pleasant evening makes tourist enjoy the cool breeze smoothly caressing their senses welcoming them to this place. The tank bund is dotted with elegant statues of eminent historic personalities, which is the dam/embankment to the Hussain Saga; serves as the link between the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad.

goa-sports

Get Your Adrenaline Dose in Goa – India

Known for its beaches and susegado, Goa is also great if you want to get a bit of activity in. And the best part? There’s something for every level of fitness.

WHY GO?

For an adventurous break

WHAT IS THERE TO DO?

Adrenaline junkies can kayak through mangrove-fringed backwaters or dive off cliffs in Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. If taking a leap isn’t your thing, explore North Goa on a cycling tour or try your hand (sorry, body) at stand-up paddle boarding.

Activities

CANYONING

goa-CANYONING

A moderate-risk activity, canyoning involves trekking, abseiling, and making your way through open waters on the 3km-long Upper Sauri Canyoning trail at Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary with Goa Jungle Adventure. Just let go of your abseil and dive in at the end!

STAND-UP PADDLE BOARDING

STAND-UP PADDLE BOARDING-goa

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is simpler than traditional surfing, especially on gentle waters. And Otter’s Creek in Ashwem is perfect for this. In addition to SUP,

Vaayu Ocean Adventures (open Nov— May) also organises kite-surfing and lagoon excursions.

CYCLING

cycling-goa

Take a cycling tour of North Goa with Goa Nature Trails. The 15km trail will take you over gravelly tracks and jungle paths, tough-to-navigate slopes, as well as smooth city roads. There’s a pit-stop at the Aguada Fort to let you take in great views, and the tour ends at a restaurant.

KITE-SURFING

kite-surfing

Combining elements of surfing, paragliding and wake-boarding, kite-surfing sure is no piece of cake. But once you’ve perfected the art with Yogi Kiting at Morjim Beach, this extreme sport is bound to enthrall you.

KAYAKING

goa-KAYAKING

Gentler than sea kayaking, a kayaking trip on the Sal River backwaters with Goa Kayaking covers a 5km distance. You may spot egrets, kingfishers and cormorants on the way.

BOAT TRIP

john's-boat-tours

Take a boat trip with John’s Boat Tours on the Cumbarjua Canal to try and meet a few of the large croc population that hides in the mangrove-laden banks. There are a few avian species to be spotted too.

MINI GUIDE

Essentials

GETTING THERE

Goa’s Dabolim International Airport is very well connected to Indian cities. Air India, GoAir, IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Vistara fly to Goa from Mumbai and New Delhi.

WHEN TO GO

Tourist season begins in October and runs till April. This is the best time to visit if you want to truly make the most of the adventure activities Goa has to offer; a lot of them aren’t available through the monsoon.

Eat

SANTOSH BEACH RESTAURANT

SANTOSH-BEACH-RESTAURANT

Located on Turtle Beach, this simple establishment reportedly comes recommended by none other than celebrity chef Jamie Oliver! What you must try here is the seafood – ask for the catch of the day.

NATTI’S NATURALS

Natti’s Naturals is a retail store that also boasts an organic café. The food is all prepared fresh. If you’re a health food fiend, you’ll love the Veggie Salad Rice Bowl, a brown rice preparation that comes with a pumpkin hummus or a burnt aubergine dip.

PRANA CAFE

This eatery, located at Vaayu Village, serves healthy organic fare. Right from salads and crepes to sandwiches and curries, the menu features wholesome choices. The Jamaican Mango and Rum Curry comes recommended, as does the Raw Chocolate Mousse, which uses raw cacao, making the dish a healthy dessert option.

Sleep

vaayu-waterman's-village

Vaayu Waterman’s Village

Located in North Goa, Vaayu Waterman’s Village in Ashwem has air-conditioned cottages on offer, ideal for unwinding in after a day filled with activity.

If you’re looking for atmospheric accommodation in the capital, Panjim Inn in Fontainhas is a choice pick. A heritage mansion dating back to the 19th century, the property offers a total of 24 rooms. The staff is friendly and the service efficient.

La Mangrove is the perfect base from which to go canyoning in Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary. Just a few minutes away from Galgibag Beach (also known as Turtle Beach) towards the deep south of Goa, this eco-friendly property offers rooms in the form of classy teepees done up with minimalist wooden furniture. What’s better, it’s situated right by the river and offers absolute privacy.

the-deccan-odyssey

The Decan Odyssey – India

It’s been a miserable December .The Orient Express on its way to London has come to a sudden halt in the night, thanks to snowdrifts blocking the tracks somewhere in the Balkans. Everything is deathly silent. The next morning, detective Hercule Poirot is called upon, for, on that eerily quiet night, a murder was committed on the train. The killer is still on the train, and it’s Poirot’s job to find him. Fast forward to 2016. The Deccan Odyssey, a train not unlike the Orient Express, is thundering along on its eight-day Maharashtra Splendour journey across Maharashtra and Goa, with me aboard it. Poirot, however, is nowhere in sight, and neither is a murder mystery.

There’s just me, biting my nails as I read my copy of Murder on the Orient Express, trying to figure out how the moustachioed detective will pick the murderer out from among the passengers. Although these two events are taking place nearly a century apart, one thing remains the same. Once you’re on board, it’s almost like you’ve cast away the vagaries of real life and stepped into a fantasy world of self-indulgence. It was American industrialist George Mortimer Pullman who introduced the world to the hotel on wheels, in 1867. It didn’t take long for his idea to catch everyone’s fancy, and, before long, the era of luxury trains dawned. The first of its kind was the Orient Express, which began its maiden journey from Paris and travelled across Europe. In fact, it was aboard this grande dame of train travel that mystery novelist Agatha Christie was inspired her to write her most famous work.

India only caught on in 1984, with the introduction of the Palace on Wheels. However, today, the country boasts a fleet of luxury trains, each more opulent than the other, and all promising to take their guests back to the golden age of royalty. Although much younger than the Palace on Wheels, the Deccan Odyssey offers an experience that is equally quaint. Everything about my journey on the Deccan Odyssey, from the very start, breathes history. We’re at Mumbai’s imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CST), where a red carpet has been laid out for us. It was the British who brought the railways to India, with the country’s first train running along a 34km stretch from Mumbai to Thane in 1853.

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You’ll get a red carpet welcome at Chhaatrapati Shivaji Terminus in Mumbai

CST itself, a glorious Victoria  Gothic Revival structure, was completed more than three decades later, and continues to look as magnificent as it did a century ago. As soon as the train starts pulling into the station, a group of dancers assembles on the platform and perform the lezim, a Maharashtrian folk dance, to welcome us. Immediately, the cameras come out, eager to document the beginning of what we all know will be an epic journey. We’re spending eight days aboard the train, disembarking each day to experience a new place, beginning with Nashik, moving on to the stunning Ajanta and Ellora temples, then Kolhapur, followed by Goa and, finally, Ratnagiri, before heading back to Mumbai. The Deccan Odyssey is unlike anything else that runs on the tracks that exit Mumbai’s stations every day. With its polished metal and fresh purple-and-gold paintwork, this train turns heads —it’s the beauty pageant winner in a sea of plain Janes. Even on the inside, she’s a beauty—end-to-end carpeting, and , comfortable cabins, each equipped with a personal butler.

A walk down an seemingly unending narrow corridor running through several coaches takes me to my cabin, which, although a tad tiny, has all the creature comforts I could possibly desire. The wood-panelled room has soft ambient lighting and a bed I want to sink into. But before I do that, I peek into my en suite bathroom (on a train, can you believe it?), where I find fresh towels that smell like the morning sun. I’ve now been permanently ruined for regular train travel.

deccan-odyssey-wood

The wood panelling, warm-lighting and plush beds in the cabins come together to form the perfect environment is which to catch some Zs

thanjavur-tamil-nadu

The Nowadays Cuisine of Thanjavur – Tamil Nadu, India

It’s believed that sambhar was first created in Thanjavur in the kitchens of the Marathas who ruled over the region for nearly two centuries. Sadly, none of the restaurants here seem to serve traditional Thanjavur Maratha food anymore, but everything else is so good, you won’t even mind.

ANBU MILK BAR

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The server at Anbu Milk Bar put on a show for you before handing you your glass of iassi

This blink-and-you-miss-it stall has been around for over 40 years. Come here in the morning and you’ll be greeted by a line of people standing in front of it. Wait and you’ll earn yourself a glass of thick, frothy ‘Bombay lassi‘. Return at night for the badam milk. The server scoops out a glassful of the fragrant stuff and makes a great show of pouring it into a glass, topping it off with a dollop of cream.

DHIVYA SWEETS

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Take a break from South Indian fare by digging into piping hot samosas at Dhivya Sweets

Dhivya Sweets might otherwise go unnoticed, but, come evening, you’ll find pretty much everyone returning from work heading straight here. While the 30-year-old eatery serves everything from sweets to packaged snacks, it’s the freshly-made fare that keeps people coming back  for more. Ask for the delicious masala sandwiches, or the piping-hot samosas. Don’t go too late – they run out pretty quick.

SAHANA

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You’ll need to settle in for a long nap after demolishing the thali at Sahana

The meals at this restaurant will have you asking for a second (or third) helping of rice. The thali comes with sambhar, vathal kuzhambu (berry curry), poriyal (dry veggies) and kootu (gravy veggies), among others. If you’re breaking for lunch, this is a good place at which to fuel up.

VASANTA BHAVAN

ghee-roast-dosa

The ghee roast dosa at Vasanta Bhavan comes recommended

This vegetarian restaurant is a Thanjavur institution. Enjoy a hearty South Indian breakfast- pick the masala dosa, with a flavourful potato filling, or the ghee roast dosa – fried to crispy perfection. The menu features North Indian and ‘Chindian’ dinner favourites too, but stick to southern staples.

SRI VENKATA LODGE

Reportedly one of South film star Sivaji Ganeshan’s favourite places at which to eat in town, this eatery does only vegetarian fare. The owner’s a friendly chap and will regale you with interesting tales if you show interest. Try the puli sadam (tamarind rice) in which the mustard-and-chilli tempering smoothly cuts the tanginess of the tamarind.

THILLANA

This upscale multi-cuisine restaurant inside the well-known Sangam Hotel has a good selection of South Indian dishes, but of the kind you won’t find gracing the menu of many eateries in the area. Try the meen poondu kozhambu, a delicately-flavoured Chettinad-style fish curry, or the Malabar chemmeen curry, which is a north Kerala specialty featuring prawn in a mildly-spiced coconut curry.

vallonne-vineyards

Vallonne Vineyards, Nashik, Maharashtra

More than just vines

You’re fascinated by the cherry red colour, and the gentle, tinkling sound of the liquid hitting the crystal, completely oblivious to the gleaming steel tanks around you. At Vallonne Vineyards, you sit mesmerised as wine is poured into a sparkling Bordeaux glass for you to sniff, swirl and roll around in your mouth. You can discover the flavours on your own or the person conducting the tasting can tell you whether the notes are fruity, floral, spicy, woody, or a combination. Either way, the hour-long tour and tasting at Vallonne Vineyards is a lot of fun.

On this getaway, you can learn about the journey of grapes from vine to bottle  and decipher the nuances of a dry or sweet wine from the people who do this for a living. Teetotallers needn’t worry — it’s perfectly acceptable to spit the wine out after a tasting. Should terms like ‘terroir’ and ‘Sauvignon Blanc’ not be a part of your vocabulary, no one will be surprised given that wine making in India is a recent phenomenon, which is why owners of wineries in Maharashtra and Karnataka offer familiarisation sessions.

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Each wine reveals its best aromas at a certain temperature

Even if wine appreciation is not the main agenda on this trip, your spirits will lift as soon as you come upon the property’s wide, open vistas. An undulating landscape of neatly-laid vineyards, untamed shrubbery and paddy  fields meets the Mukhne Dam reservoir, set against a backdrop of the Sahyadri mountain range. As you stand on a terrace abutting the onsite Malaka Spice restaurant, a pleasant breeze plays with your hair, setting off a cascade of ripples in the water and paddy fields, and causing the trees to sigh. Swifts glide in tight circles and dive in graceful movements resembling trapeze artistes. Soft music wafts from the restaurant speakers and you involuntarily smile as you drift into a happy space.

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Photographs at Malaka Spice offer a peek into Vallonne Vineyards’s journey

When your reverie is broken by the demands of your stomach, move back into the restaurant, lined with photos portraying the journey of Vallonne Vineyards and that of Malaka Spice. A postprandial walk around the property will take you past rows of vines where you can spot birds like red-wattled lapwing, robins and bulbuls foraging for insects. From December to February, you might even spot migratory ducks, kingfishers and other birds that are drawn to the cooler climes and water bodies during this time.

Unlike a day visit, a stay at Vallonne allows you to truly relax and enjoy a view that is undeniably captivating — so much so that it’s reproduced on some of the vineyard’s labels (one Japanese visitor came to these vineyards looking for the place he saw on a label). A mere 10-minute walk takes you to the edge of the reservoir where all you hear is the sounds of nature. Lose yourself in the rustic environs — pluck veggies or grapes in season, or milk a cow, or cycle around the property and stop at Upper Vaitarna Dam’s scenic catchment area to admire the imposing mountains, freshly-ploughed fields, and huts that are witness to a lifestyle very unlike your own. If you crave more action, Vallonne Vineyards has a tie-up with Drumstick Lagoon, so you can take a short drive (9.3km) for an invigorating dip in an infinity pool or pump up the adrenaline with adventure sports like rock climbing, ATV rides and more. The property plans to add a pool, eight more rooms, and a vino spa over the next year. A stay at a vineyard can, after all, be about much more than just vines.

WHERE TO STAY

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All the rooms come with private balconies and beautiful views

Vallonne Vineyards: Scenic views and peaceful environs lend Vallonne Vineyards the perfect aura to calm an overworked mind. The building itself seems unremarkable from the outside till you step into the guest rooms. Of the four rooms, two (Premium) offer views of the Mukhne Dam reservoir and Kavnai Peak, while the others (Regular) offer views of the lawns and countryside. Between the rooms is a spacious living area in which you can chill, browse through some of the magazines and books placed there, or have meals if the restaurant is occupied. Simple elegance defines the property’s decor, and original vintage posters of liquor advertisements remind you of its vineyard association. The rooms have air-conditioners, but no TVs or wi-fi.

WHERE TO EAT

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The grilled Veggies Javanese taste yummy with peanut sauce

There are no restaurants within walking distance, so the onsite Malaka Spice restaurant is your best bet here. It does a good Indian breakfast and decent Southeast Asian meals. The soups and starters have an upper hand over the main course. It exclusively serves Vallonne’s range of wines, sold by the bottle, not by the glass. The Tom Kha Soup and Top Hats served with peanut sauce are delicious. Do try the Roti Kanai, which pairs better with the curries than the slightly sweetish Rotijhala. The variety of curries is limited and a bit mild, so, if you prefer spicy food, do inform the chef while placing your order. The Choco Lava Cake is to die for. The service is good, but you need to allow time for the food to be prepared.

SHOPPING

Choose from white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, or reds like Syrah-Merlot or dessert wines like Vin De Passerillage.

CLEAN LOO GUIDE

The drive from Mumbai takes a little less than four hours. On the way down, stop for a loo break and tea or snacks at Food Hub off the Mumbai-Nashik highway. On the return journey, you can stop at Food Way on the same highway.

SAFETY

External roads are not well lit, so avoid walking outside the property at night. Shut doors and windows before it gets dark, else mosquitoes and bugs become uninvited guests in your room. As with any other place in a natural setting, snakes coexist with humans but no bite cases have been reported.

MEDICAL AID

A first-aid kit is available on the property. Minor medical ailments can be treated at a local clinic in Sanjegaon, 1.5km away. Serious cases are referred to Wockhardt Hospital in Nashik, 51km away.

CHILD-FRIENDLINESS

Guest rooms are reached via stairs and have balconies, so parents of toddlers need to be a little watchful. While there are no TVs, there is ample space for kids to play outdoor games, and badminton equipment is provided. Cycles are also available for guests’ use (free). If kids would rather stay put, there are board games. Bring books along though, as the collection here might not interest children.

GOOD TO KNOW

Visit between February and April for grape harvesting and wine production, while December to February is good for bird-watching. The property also hosts a grape-stomping event in the month of December (charges vary as per the amount of grapes used).

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Shopping in Jodhpur, Rajasthan – India

HEY, BIG SPENDER!

Those who love to shop love Jodhpur. Antiques, handicrafts, fabrics, footwear — you name it, and Jodhpur will have it, probably tucked away in a restored haveli. What’s more, the city is simpatico to lazy shoppers. Nothing opens till about 11 am, so you can sleep in, enjoy another cup of masala chai and set forth, wallet quivering in anticipation. But, if you’re a morning person, or god help you, travelling with one, your best hope is The Museum Shop at Mehrangarh Fort, opening at 9am, and a must-see microcosm of Jodhpur’s many offerings. After a steep hike up Mehrangarh Fort, you’ll be ready for some calm contemplation over polo- themed T-shirts, clothing for women and kids, ittars, knick-knacks with Jodhpuri motifs, tea bags, eclectic books on Rajasthan, and bags and purses in native fabrics. There is also a small selection of paintings by local artists, and, on the way out, stalls selling handicrafts like block-printed and bandhini fabrics, and mojdis. Artisans at these stalls are rotated on a monthly basis, but are asked to keep their prices to a given range, so ask to see the fixed price sheet before making a purchase.

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Lalji Handicrafts is a second home for film stylists and set designers, with movies like Vanity Fair to its credit

Another must-visit is Lalji Handicrafts, an emporium of antiques and furniture. You can spend hours here just walking past myriad shelves of cigarette and other advertising posters, perfume bottles, enamel doorknobs and peacock-shaped handles, and even vintage buttons and postcards. The staff is helpful and honest about pointing out the differences between ‘antique’ and ‘reproduction’.

If your trip is a little longer, forego visiting the MV Spices outlet at the fort in favour of its outlet in the Clock Tower market area. Let the friendly owners offer you a tea-tasting session, tell you about the sourcing and grinding of their organic teas and spices, as well as the history of this family-run firm, while your senses are beguiled by the heady aromas of cloves, cinnamon and the pungent Mathania chillies, which are sold only in powder form; deeply red and almost oil-free.

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Mathania chillies are sold everywhere, but ground to a fine powder at MV Spices

Down the road from MV Spices is a place containing the secret behind that Jodhpuri swagger: India Tailors, purveyors of finely-crafted Jodhpuri polo breeches, jackets and more. They cater to customers as elite as the Jodhpur royals, with effortless, exact fits based on measurements alone. Happily, they are also open to custom-making Jodhpurs, and, thus, swagger, for women too.

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Sambhali Boutique’s washable, adorable stuffed toys are great for gifts

Of course, as unfairly as usual, women have more options in the Blue City. Like the Sambhali Boutique, where you’ll find clothes, bags, all made by underprivileged women and girls, trained and supported by the Sambhali Trust. Vibrant fabrics and careful stitching ensure that you’re doing some good to your closet and your karma.

Follow the winding road from Sambhali to Bibaji Churi Wale, one of the oldest bangle sellers here, where a charmingly irascible Bibaji, or Abdul Sattar, will help you choose bangles by colour, budget or style as generations of his family have done for the women of the Jodhpur royal family. Crystal, glass, lac, plastic and plain metal bangles abound in the shop, in every size possible.

You can explore Jodhpur’s other shopping areas, too — simply slather on some sunscreen, hike up your Jodhpurs, and swagger out.

WHERE TO STAY

Devi Bhawan: An oasis of calm situated near the airport, this hotel combining the virtues of heritage and modernity, and offers a swimming pool and tranquil lawns.

Haveli Inn Pal: This 18th-century haveli- turned-cosy hotel offers rooms with lovely views of the lake or fort. Stained-glass windows, traditional enamel furniture, red-tinged architecture and a central location make it an ideal place.

Ajit Bhawan: Originally built for the brother of the erstwhile Maharaja of jodhpur, Sir Ajit Singhji, this luxury hotel offers 20,000sqm of landscaped, imperial living style in its rooms, tents and suites.

WHERE TO EAT

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With glorious views of Mehrangarh Fort, an evening at Panorama 360 will revive you

Make a pit stop at Shahi Samosa to sample Jodhpuri delicacies like the onion and potato kachori or the mirchi bada.

Janta Sweet Home nearby is also known for its kachoris as well as desserts like jalebis and imartis.

For dinner, you have two great choices that offer fine views of the lit-up Mehrangarh Fort in the evening. Indique has an Indian and continental menu with a decent selection of cocktails and liquor. Panorama 360 in the same complex, but with a slightly better view due to its height, features a primarily Indian menu.

CLEAN LOO GUIDE

Jodhpur isn’t very large and you might not be too far from your hotel room at any point. However, nature is cruel and twisted thing. Places of interest like the fort have clean  loos and Sambhali Boutique offers restroom facilities, but do carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you – these are not easily available here.

MEDICAL AID

There is no dearth of good hospitals in bustling Jodhpur. Kamla Nagar Hospital comes recommended.

GOOD TO KNOW

Virasat Experiences offers the Bustling Bazaars of Jodhpur walk through Tripolia Bazaar, which also incorporates visits to block-printing and tie-dyeing workshops.