For An Overdose of Royalty

They may be known for their stiff upper lip, but boy, show the English a tiara and it seems to turn them to mush.

The ‘Wedding of the Year’ saw about 18 million Britons tuned into the live broadcasts on their televisions, while an estimated 100,000 people packed into the grounds around Windsor Castle to catch a glimpse of the new favourite couple in town. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead reported a 40% boost in visitors in the weeks leading up to the wedding. Continue reading For An Overdose of Royalty

All The Royal Fuss

This article was published in The Hindu.

“Are you excited about Harry’s wedding?” asked my mum-in-law. Was Harry a family member I’d forgotten about? “Err sure, when is it again?” I was mocked mercilessly for my failure to be tuned into the Wedding of the Year. The British adoration of its royalty centuries post any real political power puzzles me.

On the eve of the big day, the Slough station car park had transformed into a giant Coachella-style ground complete with marquees, queue managers, massive LCD screens, food stalls and tens of security guards in high-vis jackets. The only train into Windsor & Eton Central station next to the castle, is from Slough, which is accessible from Central London. Continue reading All The Royal Fuss

An Immersive Farmstay, a Lesson in Entrepreneurship

“The corporate world suddenly stopped making sense.”

Menaka Ramanan tells me over a lunch of steaming rice, pachadi, aloo, rasam and appalam her mum has lovingly cooked for us. We’re sitting on the terrace of her family’s home in Wayanad, surrounded by farms untouched by commercialisation. I can hear birds that aren’t crows – unfamiliar to my ears. Her father comes in to check that we’ve eaten well and are comfortable.

Traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf
Traditional Kerala lunch served on a banana leaf

Continue reading An Immersive Farmstay, a Lesson in Entrepreneurship

The Best of Sri Lanka’s Stunning Southwest Coast

“This now looks like every other big city” was my first thought when we landed in Colombo. Over the last few years, the city’s cultural charms have slowly given way to modern skyscrapers and globalised aesthetics, at least in the financial and business districts. Perhaps appealing to investors and multinational businesses, its fading individuality makes the culture-traveller feel a tiny bit blue.

The Southwest coast of Sri Lanka offers an ideal break with plenty of interesting experiences. Here are 9 must-do things to add to your list for your next visit:

Walk Along Galle Face Green

1pm may not have been the best time, but the walk along the Galle Face in Colombo was one down memory lane. We started at the Kingsbury Hotel, and walked up to the Galle Face Hotel, checking out the old Parliament and the pelicans on Beira Lake en-route. Continue reading The Best of Sri Lanka’s Stunning Southwest Coast

The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

Are you embarrassed by your fellow-travellers? Do you cringe and step away to disassociate yourself from selfie-obsessed loud littering tourists? Do you groan at the sound of passengers unbuckling themselves from the shackles of the airplane seat-belt the second the wheels touch land? I do.

Why do people leave garbage at monuments? Why do we scribble on the walls? Why must we express our love for Mona and Shona and Ramesh on ancient structures? Nobody cares that you <3 Kishore, Laila!

This unsolicited marking of territory is no better than the apartment kitten I feed everyday, who has recently discovered he is a boy and must wee on my couch to announce his existence. He has been christened Lulu McSusuFace, and is not allowed inside my home anymore. Ah who am I kidding. Of course he is. Look at that moonji.

Lulu with his sisters

On this trip to Aurangabad, apart from the beautiful caves, I saw the following:

  • Morons climb up an ancient monument with their shoes on to get selfies, and then walk past the rest of the temples without even looking.
  • People scribble on the walls of the 2000 year old cave structures.
  • Families have a picnic in the lovely lawns, and then leave their garbage there.
  • Stone-carved goddesses with well-worn breasts and thighs because guess where people like to touch the statues the most.
  • Flash photography inside the dark caves that house the world-famous Ajanta paintings.
  • People scream at their kids to stand still for photographs inside the Buddhist shrines, while the serene chanting was in progress. 
  • People scratch the painted walls and then say “huh, it’s not very well maintained, the paint is coming off.”

If you plan a trip to Ajanta-Ellora, please do your bit to not destroy what remains of our heritage! Continue reading The Allure of Ellora & Ajanta

Listen: A New Way To See Chennai

Even before we learned about the Partition in history class at school, our grandparents told us tales – tales of heroism and cowardice, of homes left behind and acquaintances lost. They told us of the fear and the resentment, the times they felt their hearts in their throats.

We listened wide eyed and fascinated, to stories etched in their memories from 7 decades ago. These were history lessons sans facts and figures, but they stuck. I will never forget them – they help me see an entire generation of people in a new light.

I understand why they are the way they are. I understand why they hold on to some material possessions and see no value in others. I understand their warrior instinct, I see why they aren’t willing to let go of some prejudices. All thanks to their stories.

Storytrails

When someone asks us – how is work? The answer is usually along- oh it’s all right, you know, my boss is okay and I have a wonderful team. The highlight of my day is lunchtime as this colleague brings hot mum-cooked food and has to bring an extra dabba for the rest of us!

As opposed to – Work is good, my office has a 5 foot long desk and the A/C is not too cold. I do have to climb up 50 steps though, but can’t complain.

We share experiences through stories.

Surely then, every city and its history has fascinating stories too. Some partially true, some cooked up through the ages, some mythological, some factual.

Going strong for 11 years now, Storytrails has regaled thousands of visitors to Chennai with its stories. The company hosts walking tours in Chennai, Madurai and Pondicherry, with ‘storytellers’ who will entertain you with tidbits you can never find in a book or blog, or even from a travel guide looking to make his quick buck and be done with you ASAP.

406669_10151123285751504_2099349539_n

Audio Tours

A brand new venture, Storytrails has now forayed into audio tours, offering trails on an app. It has been a truly humbling experience learning about my city, and lending voice to these tales.

Did you know, for example, that Chennai has one of the only 3 churches in the world, built on top of an Apostle’s remains? I sure as hell (sorry St. Thomas, I mean heck) didn’t!

I learned about Cenotaph Road, about King James’ new crown, the sparring sects of Christianity, the thieving British (but also the good ones like Annie Besant), the love-hate relationship between the English and the French that extended to Chennai as well. I learned about the mighty Pallavas and their mightier egos, that the Pancha Pandava Rathas have nothing to do with the Pandavas, and that Ganesha wasn’t part of Shiva’s family in South India for a long time!

If you live in Chennai, these trails are guaranteed to have you look at your own city from a fresh perspective. And if you’re a visitor, there really is no better way to learn!

Picture2

Download the app here, to walk (and listen to) the British Blueprints and Mamallapuram trails!

Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Ticket guy at Taj Mahal: You have to pay 1,000 rupees for the ticket madam.

Me: But….that’s the foreigners ticket price. The Indian ticket is 40 rupees.

Guy: Yes.

Me: But I’m Indian.

Guy: How do I know that? You look like you could be a foreigner.

Me: But…what? We’re literally the same race! What?!

Guy: Can you prove you are Indian?

Me: But… main Chennai mein rehti hoon, kaun si bhasha samajhte hain aap? Naan Chennai le indhu vandirukein. Tamil Nadu India le iruku, theriyuma ungalku?

Guy: Whatever. Can you prove you are an Indian citizen?

Me: I have a PAN card…

Guy: I need to see your passport.

Me: Who brings their passport to the Taj! I’ve left it in the hotel!

Guy: Have you got your Aadhaar Card?

Me: ….no?

Guy: In that case please pay 1,000 rupees for a foreigner ticket.

I had been up since 4am to catch the sunrise over the Taj Mahal, managed to wake a sleepy auto driver to take me there in the dark, got to the counter well before it opened, and was mighty proud to be the first in the Indian ladies queue. There are 4 queues – Indian men, Indian women, foreign men, foreign women. Besides me, there were some scruffy hippie Aussie tourists who looked like they had camped outside the Taj to be able to beat the morning lines. Continue reading Waking Up To The Taj Mahal

Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures

The city of Agra is perhaps one of the most visited by foreign tourists coming to “discover India.” From Delhi, the Gatimaan Express (the fastest in the country) gets you to Agra in about 100 minutes, serves a meal, and even has hostesses, as the public sector attempts to up their tourism game.

But as soon as you step in to what was once capital of the great Mughal empire, you see that it is utterly chaotic, underdeveloped, and a challenge to navigate. It is quite unfortunate that the divide between the rich architectural history, and the current state of affairs is so extreme.

Nevertheless, Agra has plenty for the tourist apart from the Taj Mahal, which will no doubt be the crowning glory of a trip to the city.

Fatehpur Sikri

To get here from Agra, we booked a cab online with Gozocabs. The driver was well-spoken and knew where he was going, although a little on the expensive side. On the drive there, we encountered groups of religious protesters carrying swords and chanting slogans. It freaked us out when the driver turned around to make sure our doors were locked. They didn’t seem interested in passersby though, but our heart rate took a while to come back down again. Continue reading Beyond The Taj – Agra’s Other Stunning Structures

In Pictures: Discovering Delhi

The capital city of Delhi is one of contradictions. It houses some of the greatest architectural accomplishments of the mighty Mughals and other Islamic rulers, and is yet one of the most congested, polluted cities I have been to. It’s got lavish malls and an excellent Metro system, and yet only areas of commercial and diplomatic importance are clean, green and well-maintained. For the history and architecture buff, there couldn’t be a better city in the country.

Getting around Delhi is super-easy, with the Delhi Metro Rail being efficient, well-connected, unbelievably cheap, and extremely helpful to outsiders. Uber and Ola help things even more, allowing you to discover the city’s jewels at your own pace.

Humayun’s Tomb

humanyuns tomb4
Humayun’s Tomb – constructed in memory of the great Emperor Humayun, commissioned by his grieving wife.
humanyuns tomb3
Humayun’s Tomb – the structure was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, which was followed by repair and restoration work.

Continue reading In Pictures: Discovering Delhi

Have 48 Hours? Go To Singapore

This article was published in Metro Plus, The Hindu

Living in Asia has its perks. The weather, the food, and most importantly, easy access to incredible travel destinations. Singapore has consistently been a favourite among couples, friends and families alike. The Singapore Tourism Board reported an incredible 12.4 million international visitors from January to September 2016.  817,000 of them were Indians.

The ease of travel and range of accommodation catering to different budgets makes Singapore a must-do destination, even if you have just 48 hours.

Arrive

Indigo, Scoot, Jet Airways and Air India Express operate budget flights from Chennai to Singapore (ranging from INR 13,000 to 16,000 return depending on when you book). Taking the 10pm flight will get you to Singapore at 4.40am local time. Check-in to your hotel and catch a few hours of sleep.


Day 1
8:30 am – Singapore Zoo

The zoo is well connected by buses or you can take a taxi from the nearest train station connected to your line. Hang out with free range orangutans and lemurs, feed the giraffes, watch the Komodo dragon, learn about tropical and polar critters, and walk through the fragile forest enclosures. You can pack your own lunch or go to the restaurants on site for a choice of Indian, Malaysian, Chinese and international food. The zoo also offers River Safaris and Night Safaris which we decided to skip to be able to tick more things off our list.

We then took the free bus shuttle to the Khatib MRT station, and made our way to HarbourFront Station.

10 - Free range orangutans singapore zoo Continue reading Have 48 Hours? Go To Singapore