Explore Alappuzha, my most favourite place in the world

Alappuzha or Alleppey is a popular tourist destination and is aptly known as the Venetian Capital of Kerala. Lush paddy fields, Arabian sea and house boats in backwaters, attracts tourists from India and abroad thorughout the year.

Alappuzha has many small water ways and canals, which are connected by bridges. So the landmarks are usually the names of the bridges and, there are upto even 4 bridges connecting a parallel road.

I am lucky to be born and bought up in this beautiful place and with this post, I intend to take you on a journey to explore the beautispots of Alappuzha.

Light House

The iconic red and white light house is one of the oldest of its kind. The light house service was started in 1862 and eventhough Allppey is no longer the busiest trade centers, the light house is still in great condition. Wooden spiral staircase leads to the top and offers a stunning view of the beach on one side and the lush green town behind.

Alleppey light house in a stamp

There is also a small museum near the entrance, where the instruments and lenses which were earlier used in the light house, are displayed. Entry fee is 20Rs.

Thanneermukkom Bund

A bund is a barrier constructed to prevent the salt water of the sea, from entering the low lands and paddy fields. It is fun to spend an evening here, sipping hot tea from small stalls next to the road, across the Vembanad lake.

Also this is the best place to buy fresh karimeen or Pearl spot fish, at a bargain price. By the way Karimeen pollichatu, or pearl spot fried enclosed in a masala filled banana leaf, is a must try delicacy.

Pathiramanal

PC: trodly

Pathiramanal (Sands of  night) is an islet in Vembanad lake. It takes around 5-10min boat ride from the main land, to reach this green wilderness.

Eventhough it is famous for bird watching, one has to be really lucky to spot them, as the walkable path covers only  a very small area. There is nothing much to do here apart from just walking amidst the thick foliage and spending some solitary time on the lake bank.

Info Time : Alappuzha is the one district in Kerala with no forest.

Mullakkal Temple

Mullakkal Rajarajeshwari temple is about 500 years old and the main deity is Goddess Rajeshwari, residing in the central shrine.  Other deities surrounds the main shrine. The premise houses many plants, ancient trees and a pond at the back. This temple is also a great example of traditional kerala temple architecture. Spending an evening in this serene atmosphere, listening to the leaves of the ancient banyan tree fluttering to the music of idakka from the evening ritual refreshes and rejuvinates the mind like nothin else.

Mullakkal Chirappu

If you ask me, the best time to visit Alleppey and is in December. The famous Mullakkal Chirappu, which is a festival associated with the temple, takes place then. The entire town will be decorated with special multicolored lighting installations of dieties and it looks spectacular at night.

The roads will be closed for vehicles, to accomodate the crowd on foot, and street vendors selling colorful jewelry, toys and snacks. All you need to do is just stand in the road and the crowd will slowly push you forward.

There will be special rituals in  the temple, procession of 9 caparisoned elephants and cultural and music shows. Beach fest and flower shows are also some of the attractions. The spectacular display of fireworks on the last day, marks the end of the festival.

Alappuzha Beach

I am not a beach person but I find the sunsets in Alleppey beach, so stunning. A multitude of colors in the sky from violet to pink and yellow to red, paints silvery flames in the evening sea.

As a child I used to frequently visit the beach with my grandpa and we used to collect sea shells from under the deteroriating iron pillars of the pier. We used to run after tiny crabs and catch the slow ones, before they get a chance to hide under the sand. A visit to the Vijaya Park next to the beach, and a snack from The Indian Coffee House (Mutton cutlet and mutton omlete are a must try) marks the end of a beach evening.

Kuttanadu

Kuttanadu or the rice bowl of Kerala is where most of the paddy cultivation happens. The most peculiar feature of Kuttanadu is that the land in which the farming is carried out can be upto 3m below the sea level.

Enough of the facts. Exploring Kuttanadu in a vallam (small wooden canoe) throught the narrow water channels along the paddy fields, is a great experience. When we went boating last time, we could spot kids goofing around in small motor canoes, racing with each other. You can see the daily life of villagers up close while slowly moving along the waves of the lake.

If you are on a budget, you can take the public boat service from Alleppey and tour around many nearby places for under 50Rs.

Krishnapuram Palace

Located in Kayamkulam town in Alappuzha district, this palace displays one of the largest mural paintings of its kind, ‘Gajendra Moksham’. I visited this palace many years ago and I distinctly remember the beautiful architecture of the palace which involved lot of wood work, and the large pond with stone stairs leading to it. This palace was built by Marthandavarma Raja of Travancore. Now maintained by the Archaeology department of Kerala, the palace exhibits the belongings of the royalty.

Other places to visit are the Andhakaranazhi beach and Ravi Karunakaran museum, both of which Iam yet to visit.

Hope you liked the post. Do comment on your experience in Alleppey incase you already visited the place.

An evening at the Pushkar festival

Pushkar fest is one of the largest livestock fares in the world and we couldn’t complete our Rajasthan trip without visiting this colorful cultural mela.

This was our last day at Jaipur and we were planning to explore Amrapali showroom at MI road, before heading to Pushkar via Ajmer. While bidding adieu, the owner of the Vimal heritage, a very sweet and beautiful lady, asked us to check out Chameli bazar instead. According to her, while Amrapali is exhorbitant in pricing, this one on the other hand has many affordable alternatives.

by the beautiful indoor pool area

Chameliwala market

An arch saying ‘Chameliwala market’ and a small lane leading inside, is the entrance to the silver abode. This can be easily missed eventhough it is on the roadside. Since it was early, most of the shops were closed. here mostly wholesale sales takes place and so window shoppers are ignored, unlike at the Johari bazar. An array of tiny shops, displaying gorgeous handcrafted silver jewelry peeped at us through the glass windows. I went inside one of the shops called Rathi Silvers. This one had all kinds of silver pieces from tribal to enamel works, contemporary pieces to traditional jhumkas. I bought a pair of beautiful studs with blue enamel work.

Blue enamel silver studs

The people in Jaipur are ery helpful and homely. An old man, one of the staff at the shop phoned his friend in Kerala and had us talk to him, when he came to know that we are Keralites.

On the way back, we stopped at the lassiwala shop at MI road, but found it no match for the thick creamy gulab flavoured lassi we had at Johari bazaar.

We had arranged for a cab to take us to Ajmer, followed by Pushkar and finally drop us back at Ajmer railway station, from where we would travel to Udaipur.

Ajmer

Since we were passing Ajmer, we decided to stop at the Ajmer Sharif Dargah, which is a shrine of the sufi saint  Moinuddin Chisti. It was listed as one of the top must visit places around. The lane leading to the shrine was packed with locals and tourists. No vehicles were allowed there so we had to park at the beginning of the road. Providing parking lot itself is a big business here and every other house has a paid garage for public parking. We need to bargain with the owners or else they will just quote 300-500 Rs for parking.

The Ajmer dargah

We started to the dargah by walk and we were followed by many auto drivers offering to take us till the shrine at “just” Rs 200. The shrine is just around 5min walk and you don’t need to hire a vehicle. I was wearing a dress that didn’t cover my ankle. I was offered a shawl for free at the entrance of the dargah, to cover my legs till the ankle. Also you will be expected to cover your head in certain areas inside.

Unlike the dargah in Bhuland Darwaza, this one was over crowded, noisy and buzzing with street vendors, guides and the homeless. It didnot have the peaceful and serene atmosphere I expected, which was disappointing. It might have been a holy place once, but now it’s more or less a bait to attract tourists. We didn’t spend much time inside at all and left in around 10min.

Pushkar

Pushkar fest : The fest happens every year in November, for a week around the full moon day. People from all parts of Rajasthan gather here to trade livestock as well as to take part in competitions which includes moustache competition, camel race and the voice of Pushkar (Pushkar’s version of American Idol) to name a few. Also this is considered as a very holy time and people come to visit the famous Brahma temple (the only one in the world) and to take a dip in the Pushkar lake to wash away all sins.

Waiting for the next safari

We reached Pushkar by around 4 pm and we left the cab and driver at the public parking ground. As we walked towards the mela ground, we could see the men, women and children clad in traditional Rajasthani attire getting down from buses and carts, heading to the mela. The evening sun was warm and we could see small tents scattered throughout the desert. On either side of the road, temporary stables were erected for horses and camels. From pure white albino horses to black stallions, the variety of breeds brought here are remarkable.

These beauties…

There were huge bulls and different breeds of cows brought for competitions as well as for sale from different parts of north India.

Mr Stubborn

There are many shops around that displays metal accessories with colorful pompoms and threads. But once you approach these, you will realize that these are the fineries for camels.

The camel jewery store

One can also shop for ornate daggers and swords here as well.

Dagger shop

There were two major mela grounds : one, Carnivalesque with many rides like the giant wheel, hot air balloons, giant swings, and the other ground is where the competitions and camel safari takes place.

Loud and colorful

Maha Aarti

We headed towards the ghat ofthe holy lake which is surrounded by temples on almost all sides.

Mandap

Devotees were climbing down the many stairs towards the river bank, where the evening aarthi was taking place.

devotees gathered for the maha aarti

The loud beaming voice of the pandit chating mantras in tune, hundreds of diyas lighted along the steps leading to the water, sweet fragrance of dhoop and agarbattis and the golden rays of setting sun gave us the most picturisque welcome.

The serene Pushkar

There are many shops selling decor items, agarbattis and funky attires along the roads leading to the ghat. We spotted a buepottery store here as well. Since my brother had asked for a blue bottery coffee mug (after we left the blue pottery store in Jaipur), we decided to buy it from here. To our surprise we found many new designs at cheaper rate.

Spotted this naughty one dressed up as Lord Shiva

Back in the ground, the voice of Pushkar had already started. A stage was set on one end of the ground. The competitors sang peppy Bollywood movie songs and the crowd cheered and applauded for the best ones.

My man was very interested in camel ride and felt that the single ride around the ground was too short. While we were enjoying the music, we could see the hot air balloon getting inflated at the other end of the ground. It would go up a few inches and will get pulled down and this would go on every few minutes. Initially we thought they were struggling to get it to rise, but later found out that this is all the hot air balloon fun one can experience for a few ten bucks.

There are quite a number of temporary shacks, setup as eateries, selling local delicacies.

Never say no to Jalebis

We tried the dal batti churma in one eatery close to the mela ground. After dinner we headed back to Ajmer railway station and spent the most boring 3 hours of the entire trip, in the  waiting room of the station. But the next day held the promise of a new city, the city of lakes.

NOTE: We missed all the competitions, as they happen in the mornings mostly.

The festivities are at its peak on the full moon day. So incase you are planning to spend just one day at the fest, plan it for then.

For safaris, camel rides or even shopping, the locals will quote double or triple the actual cost most of the time, as they can easily identify a tourist. So polish your bargaining skills and keep them handy.

Hope you enjoyed this post. Do let me know in the comments below.

Also check out:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City

Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Relax, shop and enjoy the colors of the city of lake

Relax, shop and enjoy the colors of the city of lake

From Jaipur, I took you to Agra and now I am taking you to Udaipur . We had stopped at the Pushkar fest for a day, but that story is for another day. I found the atmosphere of Udaipur very relaxing and slow paced, like in Hampi. Udaipur’s culture is strongly connected to the beautiful ghats and water bodies of the place .  We stayed for 3 and a half days here and rather than hustling around to visit all tourist attractions, we spent these last days of our 1 week trip, relaxing in the serene atmosphere.

We reached Udaipur early in the morning via train, after attending the Pushkar fest the previous night. The train was mostly occupied by locals who wore traditional Rajasthani attires.  It was great to see this cultural shift from Jaipur.  We were really tired and had missed a good night’s sleep. So we directly headed to Thamla Haveli, where we had booked our stay for the next 3 days. The haveli is an old but well maintained 3 storied building on the banks of Lake Pichola. But we were really disappointed when we saw the room. It was very small and cold,  with no ventilation and no opening for sunlight.  But we being too tired from the continuous travel,  just crashed in the bed and had a good sleep for the next 2 hours. Later we talked to the manager and luckily there was this one room available, with a lake view.  It was love at first sight.

It was spacious and beautiful with an ornate window, opening directly to the lake giving a great view of the Gangaur Ghat. The window area had a cozy cushion seating and an awesome view of the lake. The ambiance was accentuated by the tunes of traditional folk music from the opposite ghat. While tourists came from far and wide, to visit the ghat and enjoy boat rides, we could enjoy the beauty of the lake 24*7 for free.
This turned out to be my favourite spot for the days to come.

We had skipped breakfast, so we decided to have lunch in the open rooftop dining area of the building. Almost all the eateries around the ghat are rooftop ones, to take maximum advantage of the lake view. The food was delicious and filling.

The best thing about this hotel was every major attraction is at a walkable distance and we didn’t spend anything on transportation.

The most beautiful aspect of Udaipur (through my eyes), is that it is beaming with art and music in every nook and corner.

Apart from the streets with every shop displaying miniature art and colorful embroidered fabrics, every common house has beautiful doors and windows of the bygones and the street walls are decorated with detailed paintings.

Now let me list down some places we visited over the course of our stay. On many days, we spent most of the evenings in the Ghat or just at the hotel, relaxing and taking in the beautiful view of boats in lake Pichola.

Bagore ki haveli:

This is a must visit place. It is located on the banks lake Pichola in Gangaur Ghat, which is just at a 10min walk from our hotel.

This restored haveli museum holds rooms that displays settings of the rooms of royalties. One room is full of puppets in colorful silk traditional clothes, in a courtroom setting.

Another one displays the entertainment room of kids with the real board games made of wood and ivory. The doors are adorned by stunning colored glass work.

Dharohar Dance Show:

Apart from the museum, what I enjoyed most is the cultural show at Bagore ki haveli, late in the evening. It was amazing, better than any performance we saw at Chokhi Dhani(read here) . The show is from 7pm to 8pm everyday and the ticket is just a nominal 60Rs for Indians.

You should reach the place early to get the ticket, as there is going to be a long queue. We were directed to a courtyard of the haveli, known as the Neem Chowk. There is a big Neem tree in the center of the courtyard and hence the name. This small open terrace was lit with terracotta diyas and had benches and cushion seating on the floor  on all three sides, so that the audience gets a very close view of the performance. You need to take a separate pass for filming or taking photos.

The show started with an introduction given by a beautiful lady, in both Hindi and English. This was followed by drum beats and instrumental folk music. Then one dance followed the next with puppet shows and a folk drama in between. The dancers were clad in very festive traditional ghagras ornate with embroidery and mirror work. The reflection of the diya lights against the golden laces and ornaments added to the ambiance. The traditional folk dances included:

> Gavri Dance, which was more of a dance drama. It depicted a fight between Goddess Amba and Demon Bhiamwal

> Terah Taal Dance, where dancers played a musical instrument tied to their feet and hands.

> Ghumar Dance, where dancers performed in circles.

And the highlight of the show and the show stopper was the Bhavai Dance. The dancer was over 70 years of age and she came in gracefully, carrying a clay pot on her head. On regular intervals, she would move towards a corner where a member of their team would add consequently smaller clay pots on top of the existing one. And as the dance progressed, the number of clay pots reached around 10 and the lady danced beautifully, while balancing all these pots effortlessly and handsfree. Towards the climax, she started dancing on the edge of a metal plate and later on a bed of sharp glass pieces. The audience sat breathlessly and applauded wildly once the performance was over.

This show under a moonlit sky, is the perfect way to imbibe the colorful culture of Rajasthan.

We didnot take the camera pass here, so I don’t have any pics of the performance.

City Palace:

We walked to the palace around 10 in the morning, before it started getting too crowded. It was just 10min walk from the haveli. We hired a guide here and he explained the history of Udaipur and the stories of various royals of the place.

The palace displays all the precious artifacts of the royal family and the palace grounds are great for a walk, after.


Ravanahatha player of Gangaur Ghat :

The lake front opposite to Thamla Haveli, is called Gangaur Ghat. In the evenings, the Ghat is a popular spot for tourists as well as the young crowd, as it provides a picturesque view of the lake, colored by orange waves. We sat on the steps leading to the lake, feeding pigeons and listening to the alluring folk music from the Ravanahatha.

Ravanahatha is an ancient stringed instrument and you can find men in traditional Rajasthani attire, playing this in popular tourist spots. He was playing the same tune over and over again, and it blended in with the whole serene setting. The man was also selling CDs of his songs. You will also find locals selling handmade beaded jewelry and other curios here.

Sunset point at Karni Mata Temple:

Another great spot for getting a panoramic view of the city, is to visit the Karni Mata Temple at Machla Hills. There is a rope way leading to the hill and since the temple is at its highest point, we could enjoy the beauty of lake Pichola and the city soaked in the evening light.

The construction work was going on in the temple. So we didn’t go in. We just spent the evening there till the moon came up and changed shades of the city.

Shopping:

All the lanes near Gangaur Ghat has rows of small shops selling miniature paintings, hand painted jewelry, colorful clothes and home decor items. But two major shopping places nearby are ‘Hathi Pol’ and ‘Bada Bazaar’. These are located at a walkable distance from our stay and you will find traditional rajasthani clothes, leheriya and bandhini fabrics, Juttis, bags etc.

One of the wholesale shops here, Leheriya Bandhej, sells lehengas, traditional bandhani dupattas, and chanderi kurti materials at steal away prices.  Another store next to this is Apsara (if I remember correctly) which has much more options.They only sell these in sets of three and hence makes great gifting option.

On our way back from hathipol, I came across an old shop called Ashok Delights, displaying a variety of colorful window hangings. I just walked in to take a look at them and found them very old and dusty. But to my surprise, the shop turned out to be a treasure trove of wooden curios, some even antique. The owner of the shop was very friendly and interactive.

From small tricky puzzle boxes to intricately painted miniature hanging gods to even cute wooden carved earrings and wooden flats called methiyadi; this shop reminded me of the wizard shops in diagon alley from Harry potter. You could spend a whole day exploring the items that are loosely stacked till the roof of this old family owned shop.

The next great find was a small shop displaying handpainted meenakari earrings and miniature paintings. The owner of the shop is a famous miniature artist and he takes painting classes to interested tourists. He will give you a sketch of the miniature painting of your choice, on a silk cloth and will teach you how to do the painting using natural plant based colors and tiny handmade brushes.

We also bought camel leather bound diaries made of handmade paper. These comes in many colors and embossed patterns.

Cafes and eateries:

Unlike Jaipur, every lane in Udaipur has atleast one cafe or eatery. It’s all mostly small family run businesses and mostly serves pizzas, sandwiches and beverages.

We opted Cafe Satori for dinner. This is a small cozy cafe run by a lady and her son. We ordered coffee and pizza. The food took quite a while to be served, and we spent the time reading books available here. The cafes around the ghat are not cheap but the food tastes homemade. The owner lady was interactive and friendly. After dinner we all sat together and chit-chatted for sometime.

I had my eyes on Cafe Edelweiss right from the time I read rave reviews on this German eatery, in Zomato. So the next day’s breakfast had to be here. This is also a bakery and had some chocolate brownies and pastries on display. We tried tea and pancakes from here. The crowd is mostly foreigners and the food was alright.

For a light dinner we opted for  smoothies from Cafe Greenwood.  Owned by a young couple, the place is small but nice.

Our best and most affordable find was Lotus cafe. Hidden in a quaint corner, this is an eatery with no frills. The service is great and the food is very tasty. And the best part is that this is the most pocket friendly restaurant, we came across here.

We left Udaipur with colorful memories and I hope I could share some of them with you. Do comment below if you liked the post and follow us on Instagram and Facebook for more content.

You might also be interested in:

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history
Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Day3 : The Majestic Taj

Blue and white

I took you through the colorful palaces and history of Jaipur in the last two travelogues. I am sure many of you would have already planned your Jaipur trip. And incase you would like to include visiting one of the Seven Wonders Of The World in your schedule, this post is for you.

Agra is about 238km from Jaipur, and having come this far, we couldn’t just leave without visiting the Taj Mahal. We asked our hotel owner to arrange a cab with a driver, for a one day trip to Agra and back.

We started at around 6am from Hotel Vimal Heritage on Monday. The morning was cool and pleasant. Our cab driver reached on time and we started our journey, excited to visit this grand structure.

There were barely any vehicles on the road, since it was early morning and the road mostly had farmlands on either side. We got passing glimpses of peacocks on the fences of the farms. The driver stopped at a road side restaurant, Motel Gangaur, for breakfast. It is the only building in the area and is brick red in colour). A part of the building is turned into a curio shop. If you see this hotel and you are extremely hungry, KEEP GOING. The prices are over the roof and the service is bad(Rs100 for a bowl of curd that comes with single paratha of Rs 150). We realized that car drivers usually stop at hotels that offers them commission or free meals if they bring them customers.

Our plan for the day was to go to Fatehpur Sikri first, then visit Taj and the Agra Fort. But our driver suggested that we will stop at Fatehpur Sikri on our way back and that it is better to stop at Agra Fort first.

Agra Fort:

We continued the journey and reached Agra Fort at around 11am. We hired a guide here and from him we came to know that only 25% of the fort is opened to public. The rest of the Fort is occupied by the Indian Army. Agra Fort is a UNESCO world heritage and is made of red sandstone.

I chose to wear this extremely light, cotton, hand block printed indigo dress with pockets.

Parts of the fort are made of marble with gem stone inlay work. But the sad part is that most of these has been looted and we only get to see the empty designs, which were once adorned by gold and semi precious stones. The fort is not as well maintained as the palaces and forts we visited in Jaipur.

You can make out the semi precious stones and the empty designs from which the stones were taken off.

The garden, The Anguri Bagh, is similar to the one in Amer fort with geometrically arranged patterns. Also this was once the venue for the famous Meena bazaar, the private markets organized for the queens and maids.

The ceiling in this picture looks very ornate right. But the sad part is that this is the empty designs left after the gold inlay work has been melted and looted off by British armies.

This fort also has a Sheesh Mahal or Mirror palace like the one we visited in Jaipur, but not open to the public.

At the top of the fort, we have the Musamman Burj, which is an octagonal tower with a courtyard facing the Taj Mahal. You can make out the domes of the Taj in the fog.

In the meeting area,there are two benches : one made of white marble for Shah Jahan and another made of black marble (onyx) for his son Aurangzeb.

Story Time:
Shah Jahan was kept on house arrest in this tower by Aurangzeb(not a bad deal considering how beautiful his chamber is, with an awesome view of Taj Mahal), and later he died here. One story is that, Auragzeb assassinated all his siblings for his greed for the throne. Shah Jahan wished to get another Taj constructed in black marble for himself, next to the white one and this posed a threat to the already deprecating wealth of the empire. Hence his son kept him under house arrest.

And according to another story (which according to our guide, is the true story), Aurangzeb kept Shajhan imprisoned, so that he will not have any more offsprings from his other wives and thereby pose a threat to his throne.



Here is something interesting
: In this arch you can see stars, that depict Christianity; lotus, that depicts Hinduism and the typical Mughal motif.

Taj Mahal

We got down at the parking lot available for Taj visitors. There were many electric autos waiting to take people to Taj. You will be surrounded by people claiming as guides offering to help you. They were quoting steep charges, so we decided to not hire any. We got into an electric auto and came to know that Taj is closed to public till around 1.30pm. So we were dropped off at the Khadi emporium in the premise. The products made and sold here includes mosquito repellent bed sheets made of natural bamboo fiber and banana fiber saris. We didn’t have plans to buy any of these and resumed towards Taj. On the way another guide approached us who quoted a reasonable price(I think it was 200 or 250 Rs), so we hired him.

We were baffled to see the humongous crowd and the long queue for the entry, even on a Monday. Our guide, took us to another entry gate at the back side of the Taj where the crowd was less. But the waiting time for security check was too long and it was another hour before we entered the compound. Now what can I say, I have never noticed the tiny humans in any of the online pictures of Taj and therefore never contemplated that the structure is so colossal. And let me tell you, hiring a guide is a good idea because we wouldn’t have known about this view and taken this video otherwise.

You have to leave your slippers outside in a counter and enter barefooted or wear the socks sold here to enter the tomb. We decided to go barefooted. It was sunny but not very hot. We followed the queue while taking in the beauty of the garden and the mausoleum. Apart from the floral motifs with precious stone inlay work, what showcases the craftsman ship at that era, are the verses of Quran framing each arch.

Eventhough it looks like painted calligraphy, each letter is carved out of black marble, and inlaid in white marble, even the smallest dot. The perfection of the craftsmanship is mind blowing. Also the size of the letters are bigger towards the top and what looks like parallel lines, are actually extending outwards. So when a person looks at it from the bottom, it gives the illusion of the letters being the same size as at the top as in the bottom, framed by parallel lines.

Laid inside the chamber, are the false coffins of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan. The original coffins are at a lower level and is not open to public.

There was an old man inside the chamber who showed us the reflections from the precious stone inlay work, using a pen torch. He also called out our names loudly, to demonstrate the echo. The lattice work in single marble slabs are intricate and exquisite.

By the time we got out of the Taj premises, we were starving. But our guide wanted to take us to the famous Agra petha shop, before letting us go. So once you are walking out, you will see many small shops with people calling out to you for buying mini Taj replicas and Agra pethas. They sell the pethas for as less as 100Rs per box. But our guide said that these are not authentic and are made from bottle gourds/cucumber.

He took us to this very small shop in a corner where the shop keeper seemed quite uninterested in us. A boy in the shop started cutting out small pieces of the different flavored pethas from plain ones to mango, rose, butterscotch and even paan flavored ones for us to taste. The owner claimed that these were authentic and organic made from ash gourd and was priced at around 300-450 Rs per box depending on the flavor. We took a box of plain pethas which had rose water syrup.
Unlike the pethas I have tried in South India, which is too sweet with crusty sugar coating, these were mildly sweet and drenched in slightly sticky syrup.

Next we walked around looking for the restaurants we had short listed with the help of Zomato. But as it turns out most of these were closed by now and we had to settle for the first veg restaurant we saw around.

Buland Darwaza :

After our late lunch, we were not too sure that we can make it to the famous Fatehpur Sikri and Bhuland Darwaza on our way back to Jaipur. We reached the parking lot available in Fatehpur Sikri, at around 4.30pm and we knew that the ticket counter closes at 5pm. The autowalas around started quoting steep fares for just 1km and so we avoided them and started walking towards the place. Now when you do that, we prepared to have the guides and auto drivers follow and stalk you throughout negotiating for prices. Finally we caved and got into one auto that quoted the least and already 2 men claiming to be guides were sitting with the driver in front. One of the guys, who was a local with red betal covered mouth, offered to show us around. We asked him about the tickets and he said he will take care of it.

The auto took us till the steps of Buland Darwaza and left. There was no ticket counter around and we followed this guy inside through the gigantic gateway. Buland Darwaza is the highest gateway(42 steps leading to this 40m structure) in the world and is the main entrance to the palace. Passing the gateway we came to a courtyard with the tomb of Salim Chisti at its center, made of white marble.

Behind this, there is a courtyard full of tombstones.

The ‘so called’ guide took us to a silk shawl seller sitting next to the tomb, who wanted us to buy the shawls to place over the tomb so that our wishes comes true. We courteously dismissed the offer as these plain clothes were priced at Rs 1500 and above. People also tie strings at the latticed walls of the tomb for their wishes to come true. We did not go inside the tomb chambers. Instead we sat on the steps and listened to the beautiful sufi songs sung by a group of musicians, in the courtyard colored by the setting sun.

As it was getting late, we expressed our concern to the guide in getting tickets to visit the palace areas, but he again assured that he will take care of it and took us next to a house near the entrance of the gate where his family sold curios made of marble. We just looked around and didn’t buy anything. When we came out, he said that’s all there is to see and asked for his fee. Since we had already done our research on the area, we argued that he didn’t take us to the palace areas and other structures around. He then apologetically admitted that the ticket counter is already closed and we realized that he was trying to fool us by just taking us here and calling it a day. We payed him just half of what we had agreed on and returned back to the parking lot in an auto. So if you are planning to visit Fatehpur Sikri, reach here before 4 and visit the palace grounds first and then come to Buland Darwaza. Don’t let these fake guides fool you.

We started our journey back, tired but happy to have visited the Taj. The last thing on our check list was to try the famous Laal Maas from Jaipur. We had shortlisted two restaurants and finalized ‘The Spice Court’, as per the suggestion of our driver. He dropped us in front of this courtyard garden restaurant and we were lucky to get seats without having prior reservation.

The Laal Maas or the spicy red lamb curry was worth the wait. The lamb was cooked to perfection, that it almost melted in the mouth. The gravy was red but not too spicy and was the perfect accompaniment for hot rotis.

By the time we finished the dinner it was around 10.30pm and we had to wait for another 1 hour before we got an Ola Auto. All the autos we booked were beig canceled by the drivers after 15-20min. But finally we got one and reached back at the hotel nearing midnight. We crashed in the bed, hoping to wake up completely rested the next day.

Things to remember:

1. Incase you go with your hotel to make travel arrangements for you(Jaipur to Agra), make sure you directly approach the head of staff or in our case the owner herself. Because incase you ask a receptionist to arrange a cab(as we did at first), they will usually hire someone who will give them commission and the driver will quote a higher amount to cover this.
2. There are a lot of dhabas on the way to Agra. So ask your driver to stop at one of these, rather than going with his suggestion of restaurant.
3. Always stick to the plan and don’t let your drive decide where to stop first.
4. Don’t hire a guide at Fatehpur Sikri.
5. Do bargain with the auto walas before hiring any as they will come around for nominal rate if you stick to your price.
6. Don’t buy Agra pethas from the street vendors. Buy only from authentic shops.
7. Don’t hire a guide whose rate is more than 250Rs. They quote from Rs 1000 and will try to fool you. But will come around if you just walk away.
8. Travel light and always carry skincare wipes and water for quick refreshment.
9. Don’t forget sunscreen.
10. Have an itinerary planned out after reading travel blogs and videos. Having a preplanned list of things to do and restaurants to try always helps.

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Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City
Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Day2 : A walk through the art, architecture and history

Yet another day in Jaipur and today we are walking back in history. The Hotel Vimal Heritage, provided us with a complimentary breakfast buffet by the pool side. The spread included parathas, fruits and granola. After a hearty breakfast, we booked an ola auto and headed for Amer Fort.

The auto driver was friendly and courteous (just like every other person we met in this amazing city) and on the way the he showed us the famous Raj Mandir theatre in MI Road and the JalMahal palace. Also I spotted the blue pottery center but decided to stop there when we return.

Amer Fort:

We reached the fort and at the entrance, along the road, what you see first is the Maota lake. But at this time of the year, the water level has really lowered. On our way in, a man approached us and introduced himself as a government authorized guide. We were not really sure of getting a guide, but my husband being so interested in history, thought it would be good idea to hire him. This turned out to be the best decision of the day.

You can reach the fortress in elephant back or by walk. Since it is just about 10 min walk and also they use young elephants for the ride, I would suggest you walk just like we did. He started narrating the history, as we walked up the roads leading to the fort. We didn’t even realise that 10 min flew by,while we listened to the stories of the past, about the ambitious kings who built this fortress over generations and about the wars that happened in this very ground.

We entered the palace courtyard through the Suraj Pol(Sun gate. On the opposite side of this gate is the Chand Pol(Moon Gate).

The courtyard was very crowded because the upcoming Kangana Ranaut movie, about Rani Lakshmi Bhai, was getting filmed here. So there were several men, all clad in white rajasthani costumes, roaming around with fake weapons.

From the guide, we also came to know that many many movies has been filmed in the premises of the fort, including the last year’s hit Bajirao Mastani.

When you are in the first landing of the fort, there is a small temple. Attached on top of the temple doors, is a small idol of Lord Ganesha. This idol is carved from a single piece of red coral and I don’t think a coral of this size, can be found anywhere in the world now. Trust me, you wouldn’t notice this unless you have an informed guide.

Ganesh Pol:

The entry to the palaces of the Rajas is via a huge ornate three storied gate called, The Ganesh Pol .

This structure is absolutely stunning with intricate floral paintings, with a painting of lord Ganesh at its centre.

Sheesh Mahal:

We passed another courtyard, to reach the next main attraction, Sheesh Mahal or the Mirror Palace. As you can see, entry is not allowed inside the Mahal as renovation is going on. We could see artists working on the old paintings.

The king got this palace made for the queen, when she shared her wish to sleep under the stars. Queens were not allowed to sleep in the open. So the king (he is a romantic for sure), got this mahal made for her, so that it gives the effect of sleeping under the stars. The palace walls and ceilings has mirror mosaics and intricate precious stone designs. Our guide took out his mobile phone and waved the torch light, at the ceiling. We were spellbound by the beautiful reflection, these millions of tiny mirror pieces made.

If in the daylight it looks this stunning, I can only imagine how magical it would be, when the candle lights gets reflected on these million mirror pieces at night. Also the candle light reflection was a means to keep the room warm at night, in those times.

Here is a puzzle

Identify 7 designs in this flower.

Hint : Most of these are body parts of animals.

This Magic flower is from one of the pillars in the sheesh mahal, made of marble. You can identify lotus, fish tail, snake, scorpion, elephant trunk, a cob of corn and a lion’s tail. If a single flower holds such mysteries, imagine the jewels of craftsmanship hidden in this entire palace.

Sukh Niwas:

It is a hall used by kings and queens to relax, as the name suggests. There is a garden in front of the hall, shaped like the star mosaics in the sheesh mahal. Did I mention that our guide was an amazing photographer as well?

This hall has a channel that carries cold water for natural cooling effect. Elements like these, are what astounds us about the architecture. About how well these structures mingles with the nature. The rooms are constructed based on the direction of winds or rains, there will be copper pipes with holes which transmits water and create the effect of rain in courtyards, there will be rain water harvesting techniques and way to run it through the garden and then later recycled. The ancient architects were true artists and much ahead of us in terms of technology.

Inspite of not having motor vehicles or roads, these kings have made it possible to get colored mirrors, precious stones and marbles transported from across the globe. Imagine how much sweat and blood would have taken for getting a palace made.

OK back to the present. Here is a picture of the Kesar Kyaari(Saffron Garden) in the Maota lake(the one we saw from the road). It is said that the Raja tried growing saffron in this garden but it didn’t go well because of the hot climate.

Also from the topmost courtyard, we could see the only Mira-Krishna temple in the world, among the ruins of havelis in the old amer city.

Now let us talk about the most interesting part of the day : Shopping.

There are shops inside the Palace premises that sells rajai(cotton quilts), home decor items and clothes. We bought a beautiful royal blue quilt and silk cushion covers from here.

But mind you, these are not government emporium (eventhough the shop keepers claims so). The shops are given on lease to private vendors by the government. I suggest you don’t purchase anything from the palace, because now we are heading towards an exclusive and authentic shopping place in the old city.

The Best Place to Shop Authentic Rajasthani textiles, jewelry and everything else:

Our guide encouraged us to visit an emporium located a few minutes away from the fortress. To encourage local artisans and sell original products at very nominal rates, the government has provided free transportation to and from the emporium, which sounded great. So we got into a jeep and headed towards this emporium along with our guide.

We met an elderly man here who took us around the building. Each floor is literally a treasure trove. On the ground floor, he demonstrated the art of block printing using vegetable dyes and dyes made from semi precious stones. He showed us how the color changes from red to blue, when the dyed cloth is dipped in a salt solution. Then he took us to the jewelry section, where beautiful jewelry made of precious and semi precious stones set in silver were displayed. These jewelry comes with a gurantee and can be returned to the nearest Khadi shop in your city, and they assure a cash back.

I spend much time looking around, ogling at the huge precious stones and stunning strings of multicolored corals. Next we headed to the textile section. All the clothes sold here are dyed using natural colors and has hand block prints. From dupattas to intricate wall hangings, from saris to reversible jackets each piece is made by hand and is of high quality.

The next two floors had beautiful Rajasthani miniature paintings, camel leather footwears and a stunning display of the largest model of Taj Mahal in original marble, completely hand made. Another section showcased inlay work of semi precious stones, in small marble boxes. There is something for everyone here and this is a must visit place to enjoy the marvels, created by these gifted artisans.

We didn’t have the energy to walk anymore. So we were relieved to find a restaurant inside the same complex. We savoured on hot chole baturas and dal batti churma and was all set to explore more.

We took the free return trip, back to the fort gates. Our plan was to visit the nearby forts like Jaigarh and Nahargarh. But no Ola cabs were available and the local cabs and autos were quoting steep rates for less than 8km travel. So we waited for a while and got into a public a/c bus that was going in the direction we were heading to. The bus had a stop right at the foot of the road, leading to Jaigarh fort. But one elderly passenger suggested us to get down a little ahead near Jal Mahal, as it would be difficult to get transportation towards the fort gates from this stop. So we got down ahead as he suggested and saw him get down as well. He started following us for a while asking us to hire him as a guide. We didn’t see that coming! We ignored him and walked ahead.

We didn’t quite like the Jal Mahal area, as it was crowded with street vendors and not so nice public. We also didn’t want to go back to Jaigarh fort, unsure about getting cabs for returning to the hotel later in the evening. So we hired an auto to go to the shop I was most looking forward to visiting, The Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Center.

Jaipur Blue Pottery Art Center:

This store is easy to locate as it is the most colorful building, that stands out among the earthy hued buildings in Amer road. There are many blue pottery stores in Jaipur, but this one is the real deal.

The entrance is decorated with wall plates in various colors, but mostly blue and white. Mr Anil Doraya, a President award winner, for working towards reviving this art form and making it popular, welcomed us to his abode. He asked one of his students to give us an idea of the procedure of making these stunning pieces.

The ink blue color is imparted from cobalt oxide and the lighter blue shades, yellow, browns and greens are also derived from natural stones or plant dyes. The raw materials for the ceramic includes quartz, glass, rock salt, gum, sodium bicarbonate and fullers earth. He said that around 60-70% of the ceramic products breaks before it gets to the painting stage, which makes each piece very precious. Mr Anil Doraya has done much research and experimentation to discover more colors and shades that could be used in this art.

From small magnets to large pots and plates, from tiny buttons to soap dispensers and tea sets, this store will leave you in awe of the eye catching colours and patterns in everyday objects.

Bapu Bazar:

This is another famous shopping street near Johari bazar, where we stopped next, for a late evening walk. We were standing outside one shop and I noticed some unique block printed fabric inside. Unlike other vendors, who calls out from their shops forcing you to take a look, here there was even a board that said something like ‘only customers well informed of quality textiles are welcome’.


PC:Googleimages. A print similar to this was what I liked the most in their collection.

If you have heard of high end brands like Good Earth, Kilol and Jaypore, that sells very unique and stylish block printed attires for the modern woman, this shop is an affordable and equally good version of them. Incase you are interested, this is shop no: 106, called Jaipurwala (if I am not wrong), in one corner of the long row of shops in bapu bazar.

We promised to stop by again, another day incase we could spare some time, as the owner wanted us to take a look at their latest men’s clothing range, which would be available the next day. As stepped out of the shop, we were caught in the middle of a colorful and loud procession on the road by the Sikh community. We watched the festive displays and dancers for a while and returned back to our hotel in an Ola cab.

We got talking to the cab driver and told him about our plans to visit Agra. He quoted a much cheaper rate than the price we saw online and showed interest in taking us there. We took his number once we reached the hotel , incase we decided to accept his offer.

This was the most happening day of our travel, so far. We met some amazing people (we were so caught up talking to them about everything else, that we forgot to ask their names), had some scrumptious food and time travelled to the pages of some royal history.

PS: If you have a vehicle to travel around, you can plan to spend some time at Jaigarh and Nahargarh forts in the evening. The sunset from Nahargarh fort is highly recommended in many travel blogs.

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Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City

Travel in Style : Urby

I recently received a cutomised product that I was very much in need of, an elegant passport holder, from the brand called Urby.

Why you should check out this brand:

Incase you are someone who struggles to think of useful gifts for friends or family (especially for men), this site will spoil you for choices.

Check out the site : Urby

Urby is a direct-to-consumer, lifestyle and travel accessories brand. They design and manufacture essentials for an urban lifestyle using the most premium materials and finest craftsmanship.

About the brand:

I read about the brand and their story is quite interesting. We all know that premium brands always sells their products for atleast double the original price in India, as compared to USA or other foreign countries. Exactly why we all ask our aunts and uncles abroad to bring us laptops and other products. Sometimes even when we are ready to pay, we might have to compromise on the quality here. Urby was born to eliminate this gap, by selling directly to the customer, without any middlemen who just contributes to the price and nothing to the product.

What does the brand offer:

Premium quality products that are affordable. The products include travel accessories, wallets, pouches, passport holders, phone & watch cases, jewelry organizers etc. All their products come with a one-year, material and craftsmanship guarantee.

My take on the product :

The starting range of passport holders in the site is Rs 795, which I feel is quite reasonable for a premium quality product that can be used for a life time. The brand offers a wide range of colours and textures for their products. You can also get couples passport holders and kids variant with cute labels. There is also an option to customise with any text you want to get debossed in the product.

I received a white passport holder, customised with my name in gold letters. Here is the unboxing video.

The product comes in a drawstring cloth pouch, inside a black box with the brand name. There are 3 slots for cards, and another bigger one that can be used for currency or coins. There is a long side pocket on one side and one on the outer cover that will be useful to keep boarding pass or currency. The inside of the sleeves are lined with a velvet material. The passport slot is on the right side, and my passport fits snuggly in it.

Even with the cards and passport inside, the product is quite sleek and doesn’t bulge up. Also the sleeves are quite flexible and doesn’t create lines when bent. But I will have to use it for a while to give an honest opinion on its durability.

Incase you are someone who would leave this in your handbag with a million other things like pens without cap; I would strongly recommend you to go for darker colours. White for sure looks very nice, but might not stay white for long with me (:P). I made a tiny mark on it with a pen to find out if it can be wiped off with a wet tissue and I couldn’t.

What I liked the best about this brand is that, they have a wide range of lifestyle products that looks very high fashioned and classy, but are still affordable. And more importantly, these will make good gifts for your loved ones.

Also they offer free shipping and free returns.

Discount code just for my readers:

Urby is a direct to consumer brand with products at an amazing value. They don’t have a discount code box on the website. But for FOB readers, they have given this special offer.

Use the coupon code FLBEUTY17 to get 10% off on your Urby purchase.

You need to email this code to support@urby.in along with the names/links of products you would like to purchase. The support team will help you with the discount.

Day 1 : The grandeur of The Pink City

Jaipur has always fascinated me for it’s rich cultural, colours and heritage. It is the capital of Rajasthan and is also known as the Pink city. The city was painted Pink as a gesture of welcome to the Prince of Wales. Here is my travelogue, exploring Jaipur.


The Trip : Jaipur > Agra > Jaipur > Ajmer > Pushkar > Udaipur

Jaipur:

The best time to visit Jaipur is from October to March, as the climate gets less harsh around this time. Days are not unbearably hot and nights are quite cool and pleasant.

We made all the bookings online, much ahead of the travel dates. We compared the prices listed in different sites and went with the most affordable option, near the areas we wanted to visit.

We reached Jaipur around 9 am. Our stay was booked at Hotel Vimal Heritage for 3 nights and it was around 14kms away, from the airport. So after much enquiries on the local transportation costs, we decided to book an Ola share as it was the cheapest option. The hotel turned out to be a house renovated into a haveli, with cordial staff and very beautiful decor.

The spacious room we got, was next to the indoor pool and had a wall full of colourful tinted glass work. Quite happy and excited so far. I will review the hotel in detailed in another post.

CITY PALACE Museum:

Timings: 9.00am to 5.00pm
Ticket cost : 190 Rs per person

Our first stop was at the city palace museum. This is just a part of the city palace, opened to public. The Palace itself is accessible to public but the entry fee is very steep. So we skipped that. The museum mostly displays the items used by the royal family, including silk attires with elaborate gold and silver detailing, weapons and chariots. The architecture is another highlight. It is a harmonious mix of both Mughal and Rajput architecture. Like the famous miniature paintings, the art work on doors, walls and ceilings are quite colorful.

The big courtyard of the palace, has 4 doorways depicting each season, which has elaborate and very detailed art work with all natural plant based paints.

These paints have successfully passed the test of time and leaves you in awe of the then artisans.The intricate hand drawn patterns and vibrant colors has to be seen in person, as no picture does true justice to the craftsmanship.

There was also a puppet show for the visitors in the courtyard.

Right outside the city palace, at a walkable distance is the Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal. But we hadn’t had breakfast and our stomachs were growling at this point. So we decided to first fill our tummy before exploring more. We booked ola again but the traffic was terrible and the driver was not able to find the location even after we waited for 20min. So we decided to walk to the famous Lakshmi Mishtan Bhandar (the only restaurant we could find nearby).This one was already on my list of must visit restaurants. It was quite a walk, but a very interesting one along the shops of Johari bazar.The shops extends along the walls of the city palace and Hawa mahal and are numbered with name and details in Hindi in the same template.

To our delight we found a lassi shop(again, a must visit) in a corner of the bazar, but decided to visit it after lunch. And just ahead we found the LMB restaurant. They had their famous thalis as well as alacarte items with rajasthani and punjabi dishes. We went with Kashmiri pulao, punjabi paneer masala and rotis. The food turned out to be very tasty and rich.

After the scrumptious lunch, we headed to the lassiwala and had the most yummy lassi I had ever tasted. Now, I have read reviews of lassiwala shops in many other areas of Jaipur but let me tell you, of all the places we tried lassi at, this was the best. It is served in a disposable madka (clay cup) and is topped with a block of thick malai(milk cream). You can understand how much we loved it, by the fact that we were getting lassis everytime we pass the shop while shopping in the bazaar.This is something I am going to miss for sure.

Hawa Mahal:

We walked back to hawa mahal, or the Palace of the winds and spend some time exploring the place. The palace is essentially a high screen wall built so that the women of the royal family could observe street festivals while unseen from the outside. The mahal looks stunning from the outside with its many tiny windows facing the street.

The mahal is 5 storys high and once can see the Jantar Mantar and City palce from the top. We explored the inside rooms but it didn’t look that well maintained like the city palace.

There was puppet show for kids, here as well. And I bought a puppet couple for 200 Rs. It was more of a gesture of encouragement to the puppeters. But later I found that the same puppets are sold for Rs 100 or less for a pair in Johari Bazar. So incase you would like to take home puppets, do bargain and buy from the street shops.Also the puppets you see here are not the ones with flexible joints. These are more of decor pieces, mostly aimed at attracting kids. We found the original puppets in Udaipur and that was priced at around 700Rs.

We spent some time in Johari bazaar asking prices of things and walking around enjoying the colorful textiles and traditional prints. We headed back to the hotel in an electric tuk-tuk or an open auto. I wouldn’t say this was the most comfortable option for long rides, but it was fun going at a slow pace, wriggling out of traffic jams and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the city in the evening. These electric vehicles are available in plenty here and takes you in groups to nearby areas at a very low fare.

Chokhi Dhani:

Our plan was to take rest and start to Chokhi Dhani later in the evening. Most of the people we talked to, had suggested this place. It is an ethnic resort, set like a Rajasthani village. There will be small huts or mud podiums for the cultural shows like folk dances, magic shows, music and other entertainments like camel and horse rides along with Rajasthani food. In addition to that there are shops selling local textiles, paintings and decor items. The cab ride from the hotel to the resort took around 45-1 hour, as we chose share cab.

To be frank, I didn’t feel it was worth the hype. Yes incase you don’t really explore the older city and cultural aspects of it, this is one place you can see it all in one go. There was this mehendi counter, where women clad in traditional Rajasthani attire was applying mehendi designs for free. The lady who applied it on my hand, did a terrible job and it looked like a mess.

By the time we started exploring the place, the dancers were just sitting around and chit chatting and not very enthusiastic to perform. Once the crowd starts gathering around, they started performing.

The camel ride (just few metres) was fun. Well, I didn’t feel so while having the ride, as I was holding on to my husband for dear life. He apparently enjoyed it and I guess must have felt like riding godzilla. As for the other amusements, magician sitting under a huge snake hood (who made objects disappear and pigeons appear out of nowhere); the hut where an old lady was cooking bajra rotis live in a chulha; and the general traditional settings were interesting.


The food was mediocre compared to the restaurant food and the street food. It was not particularly tasty but I guess people go there for the ambiance than for anything else.

So in case you are planning to go there, you must start early in the evening, so that you make the most of the visit and get to explore everything they offer.

It is quite far from the city, so incase you are dependent on uber or ola, it is better to start early.

We didn’t visit Jantar Mantar, the observatory. So if you have more time at hand, you can add that after City Palace.Also you can jam in, some shopping time at Johari Bazaar.

Jaipur, eventhough a very busy city with its malls and cafes(Cafe Coffee Day is present even inside palaces now), still holds its ancient charm and exquisite royalness. The sheer magnificence left me awestruck and craving for more. More on the travel coming soon.

Hope you liked the post. Do leave your comments.