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Friday, October 31, 2014

Traditional Vegetarian Food Trails of Mumbai

I am a foodie and a vegetarian. Sounds like a tough combination to pull off, but I have been managing to get lucky so far. I am more interested in the traditional foods than the foods that have become the norm these days. Everything about our original and traditional foods appeal to me – their cooking, their smell, their presentation and of course their taste.

Tasting Traditional Foods of Mumbai
In all my travels across India, I have been trying to explore such traditional food trails. So far, I have explored the traditional food circuits of Bangalore, Chennai, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Amritsar, Kolkata and Hyderabad. For some reason, I had kept missing Mumbai even though I knew of its immensely big, popular and proud food circuit. This was one trail that I definitely wanted to sample. Hence, I planned a short 2 day trip to Mumbai just to experience its traditional foods. The idea was to meet friends and enjoy simple, authentic, iconic and delicious Mumbai food.

Delicious Kothimber Wadi
There were many places that I could check out, but then I did not have the luxury of time. In my 2 days, I did a mixed bag of iconic places and off beat places within close range from each other. This logic helped me sample some very special Mumbai food while not wasting too much time traveling from place to place. And the credit for chalking out the plan goes to my close friend and cousin brother, both of whom are Mumbaikars.

Super Delicious Bharli Wangi
Here is how my gastronomic journey went. From Thalipith to Misal Pav, Pav Bhaji to Bun Maska, Akkruti Roti to Vada Pav, Kala Khatta to Irani Chai, Apple Butter Tea to Sugarcane Juice, Gujarati Thali to Sabudana Vada and from Falooda to Chilli Ice Cream, I had it all. It was simply a epic treat for my palate and an absolute reward for all the running I had done preceding to this 2 day foodie journey. For your assistance, I have mentioned all the restaurant names or eating zones, the area in which they are located and a link to their zomato page where available. This will help you trace these foodie trails easily.

Thalipith at Prakash, Dadar
Let the treat begin…

Kanda Poha at Home
I got a taste of Mumbai even before I stepped out of home. It all started with some nice spicy Kanda Poha, a perfect breakfast snack to start off my Mumbai foodie trip.

Prakash Restaurant – Dadar

Sabudana Wada, Sabudana Khichdi, Thalipith and Batata Wada at Prakash
Prakash was possibly the best beginning I could have had to my gastronomical food journey. This iconic place has such delicious Maharashtrian food that it took me 3 hours and many kilometers of walking before I could even swallow a tiny morsel of food. The place is tiny and located in the heart of Dadar, but the food is totally delicious.

Solkadhi at Prakash
While I tried nearly everything on their menu, I absolutely loved their Misal, Bharli Wangi (Oh! This was deliciously out of the world), Thalipith, Kothimber Wadi (Deep Fried, but who cares!) and Sabudana Wada. Piyush and Solkadh were great to beat the Mumbai heat, but you need to acquire a taste for them, else you might not take a liking to it.

Shree Thaker Bhojanalay – Kalbadevi

Gujarati Thali at Thaker Bhojanalay
Be warned! This is not the place you should go to if your appetite is less. The food here is fit for the truly hungry and the ones with a super appetite. Coz the food keeps coming here till you pass out because of eating or because of tiredness. But, it is definitely a grand Gujarati treat in Mumbai. Where do I start? The Dal Halwa or the Kheer, the Bajra Roti, Jowar Roti or Missi Roti, the Pakodas or the Cheese Roll or the Kadi, they were all out of the world. The vegetables were normal. Nothing special about them, but simple and good. The biriyani and kichdi is also good here. Again, go here only if you can manage 3 meals in one meal.

Bachelorr’s – Charni Road

Iconic Bachelorr's for juice and ice cream
This iconic juice and ice cream shop is a part of Mumbai’s iconic food circuit. The who’s who of Mumbai visit this roadside shop in the evenings and late nights to sample its delicious juices and ice creams. Their specialty here is the custard apple ice cream. Personally, I think their green chill ice cream is worth trying at least once. It is an unique combination of chilli flavor and an ice cream, a rare combination.

Chowpatty Khau Galli – Chowpatty
Opposite Bachelorr’s lies the Chowpatty Khau Galli that is extremely popular in the evening hours. Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji, Misal Pav, Bombay Sandwich, Bhel Puri, Juices and much more are the craze here. This is cheap street food and an ideal way to calm your pre-dinner hunger while soaking in the gentle sea breeze.

Cannon - Churchgate

Pav Bhaji at Cannon, Churchgate
Ideally, Mumbai’s best pav bhaji is made at Sardars, but since Sardars was a bit far away, I opted for Cannon’s Pav Bhaji, which is like the second best in the city. Located bang outside of the Churchgate station, this place is easy to find.

Alu Wadi
Their pav bhaji is nice, but I really liked their Alu Wadis served with spicy hot chutney.

Khala Khatta - Churchgate
Rich and refeshing fruit juice with dry fruits
This is possibly the most refreshing cold drink to have on a hot Mumbai afternoon. Located beside Cannon Pav Bhaji, this is a small shop that sells Kala Khatta and other popular cool drinks. One of my favorite drinks from Mumbai.

Sugarcane Thela Gaadi near Fashion Street
Iconic Bombay Sandwich
This is a non-descript thela gaadi located on fashion street and next to the large maidan entrance. The sugarcane juice for some reason was really top class here. I would really recommend this gaadi wala if you can locate him.

Khau Galli - Churchgate
Khau Galli, Churchgate, Mumbai
Initially, we were supposed to do the Ghatkopar Khau Galli, but later zeroed in on the one at Churchgate. This is a street with eateries on both sides. Be it Bombay Sandwich, Frankie Rolls, Juices, Pav Bhaji and other popular street options. A definite must-do on the Mumbai street food trail.

Tea Centre - Churchgate

Apple Butter Tea at Tea Centre
Apple Butter Tea. This is the specialty here and a truly refreshing experience. The tea and snacks are great here, but what is even better is the price. You can get great pot of teas in an air conditioned environment and in the middle of the city for about 150 rupees. Now, that is a great deal in my mind. This place was not on my radar initially, but we chanced upon this place as we needed a respite from Mumbai’s heat while we were exploring the Churchgate area.

Kyani and Co – Marine Lines

Parsi Akkruti toast at Kyani and Co
Great Parsi food and Mumbai go hand in hand. No Mumbai food trail is complete without tasting some of their iconic Parsi food. Running operations since 1904, Kyani and Co is an iconic Parsi food outlet that is located in the busy Marine Lines area of Mumbai.

Parsi cookies at Kyani and Co
While the food is not necessarily vegetarian here (In fact, they serve great meat dishes), they have some great vegetarian options that are worth trying. If you eat eggs like me, I would recommend the Parsi Akkruti on toast. In my 33 years, I have never head better eggs, butter and toast. The Bun Maska and Irani chai is one of the most favorite snacks on the menu here.

Iconic Bun Maska at Kyani and Co
The Mava Cake and the Cherry cold Parsi custard were 2 desserts that I liked. Their menu is huge and would require at least 20 visits to sample all of them. They also make some great cookies and cakes that make for great takeaways.

Baadshah – Crawford Market

Falooda at Baadshah, Mumbai
Like Prakash was a great start to my Mumbai food trip, the falooda at Baadshah was a fitting end. The Baadshahi Falooda with the Malai Kulfi was so good that I indulged (some of you can say sinned) in one more of this very high calorie dessert. And while we were eating the Falooda, the only sound that came from our mouth was Mmphhh! Mmphh!!

Baadshahi Falooda with Malai Kulfi in it
Really top class Falooda it was.

Custard Apple and Green Chilli Ice cream are famous at Bachelorr's
I know that I just scratched the surface with this short food trail of Mumbai, but my experience was so good and so rich that I am very excited about planning another one and this time hopefully for a longer time. Till then, 3 cheers to Mumbai’s traditional food trails!!

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque: Stunning Monument of Worship

This mosque is one of Oman’s most iconic places. It is a great architectural marvel and also their most important place of worship. This is the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque located in Muscat, the capital of Oman. Apart from being an important place of worship, this place has several credits to it.

Beautiful Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman 
It houses the world’s second largest single-piece hand woven carpet. Made in Iran and weighing at 21 tons, this carpet took 4 years to prepare. This mosque is also home to the second largest chandelier in the world. This was made in Germany.

Beautiful Chandelier inside Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque of Muscat, Oman 
Sandstone was brought in from the state of Rajasthan in India. Teak wood was brought in from Burma (Myanmar). Other raw materials were procured from all over the globe. Specialist workers were brought from all across the world to build this mosque. And all this was the vision of one man, Sultan Qaboos, the Sultan of Oman.

Glass and wooden work inside the female prayer room of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat
You can get a good feel of this opulence and attention to detail as you make your way through the corridors and prayer halls of this beautiful mosque. On my visit here, I simply remained astounded at this stunning architectural wonder where people pray.

Front View of the main chamber of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman
The best thing about this mosque is the sheer feeling of peace it induces. You can gape in wonder for hours at the intricate work on its walls, pillars, doors and much more. Apart from being tastefully designed, the mosque offers a great setting with comfortable carpets, water and air-conditioning for its people to pray. I really liked this aspect about the mosque.

Bismillah Al Rahman Al Rahim
On regular days, all tourists are allowed into the mosque. The only exception to the rule are religious festival days when only Muslims are allowed. However, all tourists are required to wear clothes that cover that hands and legs completely. Women also are required to wear a head scarf.

Arch work inside the men's prayer room of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman 
The mosque is located somewhere in between the old city of Muscat and the airport. Hence, if you are staying near Mutrah Fort, you might need to take a taxi commute of 20 minutes to reach here.

Arabic Clock 
Whether you are visiting Muscat for a short weekend trip or you are on a long holiday to Oman, do make sure that you spend at least 2-3 hours in this mosque exploring its different corners and making a connection with its spirituality.

Coloured patters on the inside walls of Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque dome 
Personally, I would love to return to this place. There is something about the carvings in the men’s prayer hall that have had me captivated!

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Victoria Terminus at Night

Just ambling along Mumbai’s old corridor can give you a great visual insight into its rich colonial past. In the day time, all those government buildings, bank offices, train stations, hotels and others stand tall in Mumbai’s humid weather. But, if you wish to see the true Mumbai treat, see these buildings in the night when they are beautifully lit up and when the weather is much more pleasant thanks to the gentle sea breeze that blows all around.

Night View of Victoria Terminus at Night
I got a good sight of this colonial past when I ambled past these colonial structures in the night time. In this picture is the beautifully lit up Victoria Terminus (now called Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus) that is popularly called as V.T. One of the main train stations of Mumbai, this building with its arches, domes and large clock is an iconic landmark of Mumbai. And it bedazzles everyone every night.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vegetarian Tibetan Food near Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu

Nepal has many interesting cuisines, which ranges from the vegetarian Daal Baat to the non-vegetarian Newari food to the extremely meat heavy mountain food from the Jomsom area. In between all of this, lies the delicious Tibetan food that is found in many pockets across the country. While they are heavy on beef, mutton and chicken, they have vegetarian options as well. On my recent visit to Kathmandu, I indulged in some of these vegetarian options at a traditional Tibetan restaurant near the Boudhanath Stupa.

Tibetan Food at a restaurant near Boudanath Stupa, Kathmandu
I tried the Vegetarian Thukpa (Gyathuk), Vegetarian Thenduk (a thicker soup), delicious T-Momos and the Tibetan butter tea. The Thukpa comes with lots of vegetable with stiff noodles in a mild broth, while the Thenduk comes with flat rice noodles in a spicy thick broth with lots of vegetables. Personally, I preferred the texture and taste of the Thenduk over the Thukpa. And the T-Momo (steamed and partially crispy rice bread) is an ideal way to enjoy these 2 soups. And to finish your meal, you can sign off with the salty Tibetan Butter tea or if you don’t like its taste, you can do with a nice cup of hot honey ginger lemon.

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Monday, October 27, 2014

Upcoming Travels: Backpacking to Turkey and Iran

The time has come for me to indulge in two of the oldest empires of the Middle East and two very beautiful countries (I haven’t been there as yet, but am saying this based on what I see, read and hear). This will be my first trip to Turkey and Iran and I plan to stay for roughly one month in each country. The idea is to stretch my visa as much as possible. The initial plan was to take the Trans-Asia express train from Ankara to Tehran, but because of unrest at the border, I have decided to fly this time around.

I have been planning this trip for a long while in my head and I am very happy that I am finally doing it. It took me a while to get the Iran visa, which needed a lot of work and ended up being my most expensive visa ever. Thankfully, the Turkey visa was straightforward. With the visas out of the way and the tickets done, I am all geared to fly into Constantipole and be closer to the erstwhile Roman, Byzantine, Latin and Ottoman empires.

I generally don’t make plans or itineraries, but I do have an idea of the geography that I am going to cover.

In Turkey it would be Istanbul, Cappadocia and Central Anatolia, Antalya and the Mediterranean Turkey,  Ephesus and the South Aegean, North Aegean and European Turkey.

And in Iran, it would be Tehran, Esfahan, Persepolis, Shiraz, Yazd, Western Iran for some cold mountain time and the Persian Gulf.

Since, I have time on hand, I will go with the flow and chalk out itineraries as it comes. I am very excited about exploring both these countries. I hope I will have lots of photographs, stories and experiences to share with you all. More to follow…

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Traveling with the Locals

The world of travel is evolving rapidly. These days, everyone wants a more local feel. Off-beat travel, local connections, travel like a local are some of the buzz words in the industry. Even I dig these buzz words as they help me make a better connection with my destination and thus make my journey more memorable and special. In simple words, this is the international social travel trend. A lot of my travel experiences were richer and in some cases possible because I traveled with a local. Traveling with such locals gave me a perspective and reach that I would not have found in my guide books, wikitravel or on online forums and definitely not by staying within the tourist district.

Eating with Locals
My first start with this trend long ago was with Couchsurfing where I met locals for coffee, lunch, dinner and sometimes even found a pad to crash at their place. I found great value in listening to their tips and suggestions. I still remember the helpful advice given to me by my Couchsurfing friend from Singapore and how I ended up doing totally cool off beat things in this city-country.

Then, in my days of travels, I made many friends from across the globe. We would offer each other free accommodation and the services of a personal guide (the friend) when we visit their country. I would always try and take up on this offer. While I definitely saved money on accommodation and it is always nice to catch up with a friend, I got to explore the strange city from a local’s perspective - A local who was born or lived most of his/her life there. Some of their tips cannot be found on my forum or book. And when you travel with such locals, you learn more about the local culture and definitely make more local friends. My trek to one of the top 10 active volcanoes in Indonesia was possible because I connected with my local Indonesian friend. I would have struggled to do it on my own.

Playing a Local Game
I took on Airbnb with similar gusto. Their reach was better. They were safer and they offered me great value for money especially in more expensive cities across the world. With Airbnb, I always ended up staying away from touristy areas, which meant that I got to experience the city like a local. Staying with local families meant that I understood local culture, traditions, mannerisms very quickly, made an effort to pick up the language faster, got treated to some delicious home cooked meals and ended up getting some refreshingly special tips. My trip to Hong Kong and Taipei were especially special because of such local connections.

These days, this international social travel trend is spreading to more than just homestays. Today, you can eat with locals (a lip smacking home cooked meal in a home environment), tour off-beat spots with a local (Unseen landscapes, local markets, local pub crawl and more) and even indulge in local activities (Thai massage session, Balinese cooking classes and the likes). Withlocals.com is a great travel product that allows us travelers enjoy all of the above in a seamless and safe way. All they do is connect passionate locals with us travelers.

Traveling with Locals
These locals are ones who are passionate about their culture, their country, their food and want to be an ambassador for their country. Like Airbnb, Withlocals also has a verification mechanism that vets these locals through a detailed safety process and once they clear it, these locals are then connected with us travelers and tourists through the peer-to-peer marketplace. Thus, we travelers can easily connect with the locals and get to experience their culture, traditions, places and food from a different and unique perspective.

So far, they cover many countries in Asia – Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Philippines and Sri Lanka. They just entered into the Philippines market and are planning a launch into South India soon. So, if you are a passionate local who wants to meet interesting travelers, be an ambassador for India and want to make good money in the process, you should check them out and see if you want to become a host. And you can also look them up if you are a traveler who likes to follow in the steps of the latest international social travel trend.

I hope you find the above tips and platforms handy for your next trip, but this time with locals. Go on, explore the city the way the locals do and discover a totally cool type of travel.

The images in this post are courtesy of WithLocals.

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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Game of Chess with a Local

Sundays and travels occupy a special place in my life!

My favorite Sunday past time is being in a new country, chatting with up a local and getting closer to their culture. In my many Sundays of travel and through such interactions with the local citizens, I have tried to understand history, languages, food, culture, mannerisms, sports, music, movies and much more and I have always returned happy and enlightened.

Game of chess between a Nepali local and a Spanish tourist at Patan
In this photo, I saw a tourist from Spain playing a game of chess with a Nepali local at Patan. The game was interesting, but the local won hands down. After the tourist from Spain lost, I offered to play, had a decent game and ended up on the losing side. It was a bad day at the office for the tourists in terms of winning a game of chess, but a good one in terms of sharing many light and interesting moments with the lovely people of Nepal.

How do you like to spend your Sunday on your travels?

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Saturday, October 25, 2014

“The Tribune” features me

It gives me great pleasure to tell you all that I have been featured in “The Tribune”, one of the leading newspaper dailies in North India. In the edition that released today, they carry an article titled ‘The Blog Sphere’ where they talk about the world of blogging, how important it is in today’s world, where it is headed, why do people blog, what traction does one get from blogging and the likes. Basically, they are discussing the latest trends in the blogosphere.

Beontheroad.com featured on Tribune India

In this article, they mention me and my thoughts on the trends in the blogosphere under the ‘Travel Blog’ category. They even use my photograph in the article (Refer Muslim woman in Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi), but they have forgotten to give me the photo credits in the online version. Apparently, the print version has the credits. 

This article is not just about travel blogs, but the entire world of blogs. Hence, you will find other category of blogs here, which include creative, food, mother care and lifestyle.

BE ON THE ROAD Travel Blog featured on the Tribune
Have you read the article as yet? If not, you can read the online version here. It would be even better if you pick up a copy of ‘The Tribune’ newspaper and read the full article.

Thank you ‘The Tribune’ and Vibha Sharma for featuring me in this article.

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Friday, October 24, 2014

5 Hotel Casinos Sure to Blow Your Mind Away

Las Vegas is a labyrinth of luxury, overflowing with exciting hotels and casinos. Whether you're looking for old-school charm, over-the-top opulence, or an edgy feel, you can always find the right atmosphere in Vegas. These hotels will pamper you with luxurious rooms, and they offer some of the best gambling environments in Vegas.

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino

MGM Grand hotel and casino

Image via Flickr by Rob Young

The palatial MGM Grand is a self-contained vacation; you can spend a week within its walls and still not enjoy everything this larger-than-life resort has to offer. The Grand's mega-casino boasts roulette, war, craps, blackjack, more than 2500 poker and slot machines, and a non-smoking poker room. If you'd rather bet on sports or ponies, the MGM Grand offers a posh booking space. The hotel itself is a regal resort complex, with multiple pools, bars, and restaurants along with magnificent rooms. Of all of the amazing choices on the Las Vegas Strip, the MGM Grand might be one of the the best.

Caesar's Palace

Caesar's Palace
Image via Flickr by jimg944

The beautifully decorated, spacious casino at Caesar's Palace is a perennial favorite among serious gamblers. Multiple floors of games, machines, and tables means you'll never feel cramped and can always find some action. The space echoes the glamour and charm of a bygone era, when it was a favorite of stars like Humphrey Bogart and Frank Sinatra. Today, the Colosseum theater hosts modern stars like Rod Stewart and Celine Dion, and the Forum Shops offer some of the hottest shopping on the Strip.

Red Rock Casino, Resort and Spa

Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa

Image via Flickr by Bludgeoner86

More than 60 tables of blackjack, baccarat, poker, roulette and craps, along with 3,000 poker and slot machines, greet you in the earthy, wood-trimmed Red Rock Casino. Racing and sports fans will love the huge video wall, and a high-limit option is available for high-stakes gamblers. Non-smokers will appreciate the smoke-free poker and bingo areas. The hotel is reasonably priced, with a sparkling pool, restaurants, movie theaters and a brand new shopping plaza next door.

Bellagio Las Vegas

Bellagio Las Vegas

Image via Flickr by timparkinson

The Bellagio has been synonymous with over-the-top Vegas luxury since the resort opened in 1998. The dancing fountains in front of the building are a Vegas icon. Indoors, the hotel continues to cause jaws to drop, with its seasonal Conservatory and Botanical Garden display, and no fewer than five swimming pools. Everything from the restaurants to the poker room is first-class and utterly extravagant, and the casino looks like a Baroque palace.

Downtown Grand Las Vegas Hotel & Casino

Vegas Hotel and Casino

Image via Flickr by jdnx

The newest hotel in downtown Vegas is giving the established hot spots a run for their money. The Grand is decked out in a modern, edgy design that will appeal to young creatives and counterculture types who aren't into the usual Vegas old-school opulence but still want luxury. The industrial-chic casino space is massive, with 30 gaming tables, 600 slot machines, and a sports booking area, as well as a room for baccarat and Pai Gow poker.

Drew Carey once said, "Everything and anything you want to do, you can do in Las Vegas." These hotels let you make a date with Lady Luck and live like a high roller.

If live casinos are not your thing, then you can play online casino games and kindle your gambling spirit.

About the Author: Abigail Clark is an up-and-coming freelance writer. She graduated from The University of South Florida with a bachelors in marketing, minoring in journalism. When she isn’t up to her neck in coupons she is enjoying the outdoors fishing. She loves doing reviews for technology, home products and beauty products. If you would like her to do a review for you look her up on twitter @downtownabby17.

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Life in a Mumbai Local

Mumbai breathes and lives by its local trains. Locals say that a trip to Mumbai is not complete without indulging in the local experience. I have been to Mumbai many times, but never got the opportunity to try the Mumbai local. However, that changed on my recent trip to Mumbai and I ended up experiencing this mode of city traffic. This experience was pretty special as I felt closer to the Mumbai culture. And it was also a great way to beat the atrocious Mumbai traffic and still cover long distances.

Churchgate Station, Mumbai 
During peak hours, the train is packed all the way, especially the men’s compartments. And it is quite an experience to travel during the peak times. All you have to do is standard near the door and you will automatically get into the train. And if you wish to get down at a station, you need to make your way towards the door 2 stops before. If you make it to towards the door before by any chance, you will end up getting down from the train at one or two stops before your actual destination.

People from all walks of life can be seen in the local trains. People meet each other almost every day on the local and make friends here. They share sweets on the birth of a child, a wedding in the family, their kid securing a good rank in the exams, on festivals and for other important life events. They share stories together. In fact, the local trains act as an extension of the life of the Mumbaikars. I would definitely recommend you giving these locals a try at least once during your trip to Mumbai.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Prague: Your Winter Wonderland

There’s plenty one can say about Prague. It’s as pretty as Paris, as architecturally important as Barcelona, and as vibrant as Rio de Janeiro. There’s also plenty one can do there too.

Millions visit the Czech capital every year to sample the unrivalled Christmas traditions of Praguers. From the hustle and bustle of the Christmas markets to the special services that echo around this historic city, it’s truly a lifetime must.

It’s called “the most wonderful time of the year” and if you’re touching down at Vaclav Havel as the year draws to a close, here are a few ways to make it exactly that.

Celebrate St Nick

St Nick at Prague
Kicking the Christmas period off in true style is Mikulas Day on December 5, beginning a 20 day rundown to the big day.

Focusing around the Old Town Square, the action gets underway late afternoon when three figures slowly begin to make their way round the square. St Nicholas, the Angel, and the Devil, frighten the on looking children as they scuttle by.

The Santa figure visits each and every child making sure they’ve been good this year and if they haven’t then it’s into the Devil’s sack and straight to hell. Which is a shame, because there’s plenty more to be discovered in Prague over what is a magical season.

Experience Prague’s Entertainment

Entertainment at Prague
It’s no secret that Prague has a tremendous nightlife. Groups of friends arrive into the city in busloads every weekend to experience what the bars have to offer. And what they’re serving up is the best beer in the world. The Pivovarsky Klub, just a short walk from the main Hlavni Nadrazi station, has perhaps the finest selection in the city with over 240 bottles and six offerings on tap.

However, if it’s a classier evening you’re looking for then look no further than the Golden Prague Poker Casino at the Old Town’s opulent Hilton Hotel. It’s one of the finest places to play cards in the city, even welcoming the world’s best players in the Eureka Poker Tour, and is perfect for anyone wanting to put their glad-rags on and spend an evening enjoying the often hidden Czech glamour.

An Evening At The Opera

Prague Opera
Keeping with the glamour, Prague really has a lot to offer when it comes to the opera. It’s almost selfish in the way it continually showcases some of the world’s finest talents across its masterful venues.

This winter will welcome the Barber of Sevilla, Carmen, and Cosi fan tutte at the Theatre of Estates, National Theatre, and the incredible Prague State Opera, and if you’re lucky enough to sit in one of the boxes it really will be a trip to remember.

Toast Christmas In The Old Town

Christmas in Old Town of Prague
Although there’s likely only one place any tourist will be heading in Prague this Christmas – the Christmas Markets.

Known to locals as Vanocni trh, the streets come alive with the smells of smoked sausages and mulled wine with the echoes of laughter reverbing off every building in the Old Town. It makes for a magical atmosphere and will leave you feeling full on both food and that fabulous Czech beer.

The market has an eclectic array of stalls with everything from Trdelnik – a traditional hot sugar-coated cake – to wooden toys, to jewellery; perfect for perusing right up to Christmas and even Christmas Day!

See In Christmas At The Castle

Christmas at the Prague Castle
One of the most important parts of life at Christmas in Prague is Midnight Mass at the historic castle. However, with most valued traditions across the world you’d expect locals to be a little less welcoming towards tourists. Not in Prague. The service greets tourists of all creeds and cultures, creating a special atmosphere for one of Prague’s biggest days.

Hundreds make their way up the hill every Christmas Eve and come together to welcome in the season, and it’s the perfect way to end a fine experience in one of the world’s finest cities.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Making Sure Your Identity Is Safe While Relaxing On Vacation

Identity theft is an especially important worry for vacationers. Nobody wants to check into a hotel only to discover that their credit card has been rejected because a hacker has maxed out his or her card. It is an utterly helpless feeling that occurs all too often. However, it can be prevented. Here are several ways that hackers can steal your identity as well as some steps you can take to avoid such a catastrophe while vacationing.

Understand Why You Can Get Hacked

In the past, safeguarding money was as simple as preventing the theft of your wallet or purse and using money orders instead of cash. We don't live in such a simple world any longer. Today we have virtual pickpockets or hackers. These thieves are targeting much more than the contents of your wallet -- rather they want your identity. Since travelers often let their guard down on vacation, they are especially at risk.

The explanations for this unfortunate situation are straightforward. Consumers are oftentimes so negligent with their private data that they do not realize that they have had their credentials stolen. In fact, a large number of identity theft victims on vacation never even know where their identity was stolen.

Understand How You Get Hacked
How do thieves gain access to your private information? The vulnerabilities begin at home. A failure to notify the post office that you are traveling leads to an overflowing mailbox. Hackers take note of absent residents just the same as ordinary robbers. They see an opportunity to attack your wireless network in your absence, and they have plenty of time to gain access since they know you are gone for a while.

Another obvious way is via your smart devices. Tablets and phones allow you to take your home life with you when you travel. There is a danger in that. You are also bringing your banking and credit card information with you as well. If a thief gains access to your smart device, you have effectively provided them access to every bit of your private data. They will likely be able to access all of your financial records straight from your apps with little effort. 

Keep in mind that not every point of attack is due to complete carelessness, though. Do you leave your luggage and other personal items sitting around your hotel room? If so, you are entrusting not just hotel employees, but also underestimating thieves who understand the weaknesses in hotel security. By leaving your personal belongings in plain sight, you expose yourself to would-be hackers. In the past, a thief may have stolen your luggage, and you would have realized what had happened. Today, someone can flip through your documents, copy your information, and exit without you ever knowing. The damage, however, can be much more difficult to repair.

Understand How to Protect Yourself

Constant concerns regarding identity theft while traveling can stand in the way of having a good time while on vacation. Fortunately, there are a lot of relatively easy steps that can be taken to protect your family from identity theft. For starters, ask the post office to hold your mail before you leave. Hiding your extended absence is a strong first step.

Also, if you do not use passwords and passcodes on your smart devices, set them up prior to leaving on vacation. If you lose your device, you will be glad that you did. You should also consider purchasing an identity fraud protection plan that will alert you instantly if your personal information is being exploited.

Your Identity on Vacation

Ultimately, you shouldn't treat your hotel room like your home away from home. It isn't. You do not know the staff nor do you know how secure the building is. Since most hotel rooms offer in-room safes, get in the habit of using it for anything that would give hackers unauthorized access to your data.

Protecting yourself is an imperative. You spend most of the year anticipating vacation, after all -- why not spend a little extra time planning identity protection. You shouldn't have to feel sick about the fact that some anonymous thief could be taking all of your data, as well as your money. Simply follow the steps above to secure peace of mind on your next vacation.

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Gargoyle from Patan Heritage Zone, Nepal

The word ‘gargoyle’, which finds its roots in the French word ‘gargouille’, can be found extensively in Hindu temple architecture. Used to aesthetically transport rain water for harvesting or for creating a beautiful environment near a temple pond, gargoyles can be found in both North and South Indian temples. In fact, you can also see them in the Hindu temples of Nepal.

Gargoyle at Patan Heritage Zone
I got to see them at the Patan heritage zone opposite the famous Krishna temple. Designed with Hindu gods, goddesses, real animals and mythological creatures, these beautiful aesthetic elements allow water to pour through it and thereby allowing devotees to wash their face, hands and feet before they make their way into the temples. Since this is drinking water, people also use this water for cooking and drinking.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Trip to India’s Deep South

When someone talks of India’s Deep South, people connect it either with Kanyakumari or Kerala. While both these places are extremely beautiful in their own right, I believe that there are other lesser discovered places in India’s deep South that offer fabulous getaways and that need a mention here.

Golden Paddyfields ready for harvest
Thankfully for me, I belong to a village in India’s deep South called Kallidaikurichi (which literally translates into ‘at the foot of the hills’) and hence have been able to explore most of these places at length over my many visits to this region. This region is home to a tiger reserve, the Western Ghats, perennial rivers (a rarity in Tamil Nadu), lots of old temples, rich agriculture, waterfalls, delicious food, unique cultures, great countryside and authentic villages across the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.

Scenic Karaiyar Dam
Below is a good preview of these places that I have explored many a time, but this time during the long Dussehra weekend, I took my friends along on a road trip to these lesser explored places in Tamil Nadu.

Karaiyar Dam, Seraiyar Dam and Vana Theertham Falls
Karaiyar
Tucked amidst the mountains and forests of the Western Ghats, Karaiyar and Seriyar dams are one of the oldest in the state and support huge hydro electric power plants.

Colorful boats at Karaiyar Dam
They also offer beautiful scenes of the mountains and many waterfalls around it.

Local vendor selling star fruit and cucumber at Karaiyar
A famous picnic spot for the locals, one can go on a boat ride, explore the remote Vana Theertham Falls, have a local fish meal, do birding or watch the antics of the Grey Langurs that roam this belt in abundant numbers.

Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve
Grey Langurs at Agastyar Falls
KMTR has to be one of the least known tiger reserves of India. As far as I know, this place is home to more than a 100 tigers, but the tourist infrastructure is very limited here. But, for some, that might offer true wildlife adventure.

Grey Langur - its tail is longer then its body
You can get your permissions from the forest office in Ambasamudram, stay at one of the forest bungalows deep in the jungle, go on a jungle trek with the forest guide and see wildlife closer than ever.

Metal bridge in the Agastyar forests
And the best part is that there are no polluting jeeps or abused elephants. This is nature at its very best. Lion tailed Macaques, Elephants, Tigers, peacock, Birds endemic to this region, Nilgiri Langur, Gaur, Leopard and Gray Langur are some of the wildlife seen here often.

Old Courtrallam Falls, Main Falls, Five Falls and other Waterfalls
The waterfall town of Courtrallam
The people of South Tamil Nadu and Kerala swear by these waterfalls. Seasonal in nature, these falls are at their prettiest best during the South West monsoon. Facilities have been made for tourists (separate male and female sections with steel bars for protection) to have a shower under these 50 to 100 foot walls of pounding water.

Colorful local fruit, but not so great tasting
It is believed that a bath under these waterfalls cures many ailments as the water passes through herbal forests. I can’t guarantee that, but can say that a good oil massage followed by 60 seconds under this waterfall, a heavy meal and a long sleep will make you feel like you have been re-born into this world.

Five Falls, Courtrallam
All these waterfalls again carry lots of water during the North East monsoon, but since the water is colder, only the adventurous go for a waterfall bath.

Old Courtrallam Falls
Chukku Kaapi after the waterfall bath is a must-have. If you wish, you can stay in hotels/homestays that are spread across this green region. Note: Try and avoid weekends and festival holidays as these falls will get crowded then with local tourists.

Kasi Viswanathar Temple from the Saaral City of Tenkasi
Kasi Visvanathar Temple Gopuram, Tenkasi
Known as the Kashi (Varanasi) of the South, Tenkasi is surrounded by the western ghats on three sides and is famous for its monsoon showers, which is locally referred to as the Saaral season. This city is known for its famous Kasi Viswanathar temple that boasts of the second highest gopuram in Tamil Nadu.

Natarajar at Kasi Visvanathar Temple, Tenkasi
It is one of those few Siva temples to have sannadhis for Shiva, Amman and Murugan. The special thing about this temple is the breeze as soon as you enter its main courtyard. The temple is beautiful and so are the traditional shops located around the temple.

Agastyar Falls
Small town of Papanasam, the Thamarabarani river and the Papanasam Temple
I think this waterfall in full flow is the most picturesque waterfall in the country. A perennial waterfall that starts somewhere in the Agastyar range of the Western Ghats, its waters seed the birth of the Thamarabarani river. A mighty waterfall, its waters tumble in many tiers and at one of the smaller tiers, one can take a bath.

Papanasam Shiva Temple and Thamarbarani River

Thamarabarani river at Papanasam
Papanasam literally translates into ‘killing all your sins’. It is believed that people who take a bath in the Thamarabarani river here and then offer their prayers to Lord Shiva at the neighbouring Papanasam Shiva temple, their sins will all be washed away.

Thavil artisan at work
The place exudes beautiful village charm if you meander away from the main state highway and towards the canals and paddy fields.

The Villages– Its Temples, Food, Kannadigan Canal and Rural Life
Traditional houses of Kallidaikurichi
Kallidaikurichi is known for its Appalams. Pattamadai is known for its handmade mats. Each village in this belt has a special story. Many of them - Kallidaikurichi, Ambasamudram, Subramaniapuram, Cheranmahadevi and others have been featured in many Tamil films. These villages are home to ancient practices and community, beautiful village temples, special food, green paddy fields, the famous Kannadigan irrigation canals and lots of oomph when it comes to rural life.

Walking through the small lanes of Kallidaikurichi
Let’s take my village, Kallidaikurichi as an example. The day begins with a bath in the Thamarabarani. Only the old who cannot make the walk to the river take a bath at home. The rest of the village goes to the river. After the river bath, people offer prayers to the river and canal temples en route. What follows next is good food, hard work in the fields and shops and a relaxed day in the village.

Nagasvaram and Thavil - traditional musical instruments of the south
The pace of life here is slow, but everyone knows the other by name. Temples are places of local gathering and always attract people in huge droves. One day it is the Pilayar Koil. The other day is the Lakshmi pati koil and then it is the Shiva temple. There is something happening almost every day.

Traditional Artist group at Lakshmi Pati Temple, Kallidaikurichi
Festivals are celebrated with gusto. All houses have a thinnai (portico) where people sit, talk about everything and while away time. The roads have changed from mud roads to concrete roads. The mode of transport has changed from bullock carts to cars. But, in spite of all these changes, the feel and culture of the village still remains.

Manimuthar Falls, Manjolai Tea Estates and Kudrevatti
About 30 minutes from Kallidaikurichi and deep in the Manimuthar range of the Western Ghats lies the Manimuthar Dam and the Manimuthar Falls. A very scenic belt, it comes alive during the rains and peacock dances can be seen almost everywhere. A great local picnic spot, it is also a great place for birding and to take waterfall showers. It is always less crowded than Agastyar and Courtrallam.

At a local railway crossing
Above Manimuthar Falls, lies the private tea estates of Manjolai and the beautiful hills of Kudrevatti from where you can see Trivandrum on a clear day. If you wish to explore these places on your own, you need to take prior permission from the forest officer at Ambasamudram. If you take a local bus, you do not need these permits, but then, you won’t have time to explore these places as there is only one bus to Manjolai and back. All this region also comes under the purview of the Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.

Tirunelveli – Halwa, Eateries, Nellaiappar and Shopping  
Crowd at Iruttu Kadai Halwa - iconic halwa store of Tirunelveli
Last but the least is the district capital itself that is known all over India for its famous Halwa. And hence, most Tirunelveli trips begin at the Nellaiappar Temple and the Iruttu Kadai Halwa shop located opposite it. The Iruttu Kadai Halwa is an iconic Halwa shop that opens every day at 5 pm in the evening (They make Halwa during the day) and sell their entire produce in less than 60 minutes. You can see people make a huge beeline well in advance to buy some halwa for themselves.

Nellaiappar Temple gopuram
The large Nellaiappar temple is situated in the crowded old town of Tirunelveli and is surrounded by all iconic stores of Tamil Nadu, which include Pothys, RmKV, etc. All these iconic stores originated in this city.

Shopping at Pothys, Tirunelveli
Shopping for traditional wear here is an experience in itself. And seeing the crowds in these shops prior to popular festivals like Navratri and Diwali is a sight that can be matched by very few shopping establishments around the world.

Arasan Bakery, Tirunelveli
When it comes to food, you will have to try out the biscuits, rusks, macroons and other bakery products at Arasan, one of Tirunelveli’s oldest brands. And Janakiraman for a delicious plate of vegetarian meals.

How to reach this region:
Staring at the beautiful Western Ghats from Karaiyar Dam
The nearest airport is Tuticorin (70 kms), but the one with the most connectivity is Madurai (190 kms). Buses and trains connect Tirunelveli with most of Tamil Nadu, Trivandrum and Bangalore. Public transport is available in the form of local buses, but it is better to have your own mode of transport especially if you are looking to explore the villages and the remote waterfalls.

Spicy Star Fruit at Karaiyar
P.S. All the pictures in this post have been clicked by my mobile phone (Nexus 5) camera. #mobilephotography
 

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