Midnight Munchies at Manek Chowk

My family is known for last minute plans, and last minute changes to plans, in fact, till the moment we’re not in the car headed to our destination, I refuse to take the trip seriously. 😛 I may sound like I’m cribbing but I love this spontaneous travel, one minute I’m walking out of my physics tuition and the next I’m in a car, off to celebrate Holi with my aunt in Shantiniketan, or one minute I’m at the factory and the next, I’m off to Mount Abu for a long drive, who does not love that? One such incident happened last month. Mr D and I were visiting Ahmedabad and were generally having a pretty good time, it was a lovely Saturday night, we sitting around chatting and watching trashy serials when Dad suddenly decided we should go out for dinner. This was at 10.30 at night. Loud discussions ensued with each person trying to provide their own suggestions, Maa won out in the end and we decided to go to Manek Chowk, mostly because it was waaaay too late to go anywhere else.

Jewelry market by day, street food market by night.. This place is a superhero.. :p

Jewelry market by day, street food market by night.. This place is a superhero.. :p

Now, Manek Chowk is not your regular market. It is a three in one market, it is a vegetable market early in the morning, a jewellery market till sundown and from 9pm onwards, it is a food lover’s delight. Tiny stalls selling all sorts of delicious food crop all over this not very big chowk, (market square in English). It is located in the Old City of Ahmedabad, quite close to the railway station. It is surrounded by pols, those cluster of houses that are characteristic of Ahmedabad.

People of all religions share a common eating space

People of all religions share a common eating space

Despite being Amdavadis for over a decade, no one in my family had ever visited Manek Chowk before and thus had no idea where it was actually located but since we are modern day travellers, out came the smartphones and Google Maps were as seriously consulted as any star chart in the olden days. Thus directed by our friendly GPS we drove past deserted neighbourhoods and shops and stopped at a particularly dark and for the moment deserted square. For a few minutes we had a good laugh, thinking that all that driving was for no good and that the stalls were shut down for the night, then we decided to ask the paanwala and he told us that the place we’re looking for was in the next gully. We edged the car another meter and looked to our left, and lo and behold! A bustling market square, teeming with humanity met our eyes. Satisfied by the fact that we were after all in the right place, we hurriedly parked our car and made our way to the stalls. Initial inquiries disappointed us when we found out that the stalls sold exclusively vegetarian food, but we very bravely decided to dig in anyway.

Mmmmmm.. Utterly butterly delicious!!

Mmmmmm.. Utterly butterly delicious!!

If you have ever been to Newton Food Center in Singapore, you will have a fair idea of how things work, you basically sit at the tables and the select the stall from where you want your food, and they’ll deliver it to your table, the payment is done after your meal is over. It was 12 at night, but the place was still as active as if it was 7 or 8 in the evening. People thronged the tables and rich, poor, young, old and what was really heartening to see in a communally sensitive city like Ahmedabad, Hindus and Muslims, all sat beside each other, united by food. We quickly placed our order for pao bhaji, Gwalior dosas and a gobhi manchurian.

Fafdas frying on an open fire

Fafdas frying on an open fire

The food soon arrived and what we saw will make any cardiologist faint with horror, huge slabs of butter decorated our food like garnish. Mr D did not know whether to feel horrified or excited. My brother and I exchanged delighted looks, if there is no non-vegetarian food to be had, we might as well compensate with butter we decided and dug in. The food was delicious. I do not know whether it was the excessive application of butter, (the stalls were advertising their use of only Amul butter to cook the food) or the actual skill of the cook made it so good, it was soooo delicious.

Chowmein? Woh kya hota hai sahib?

Chowmein? Woh kya hota hai sahib?

The first round of food over, we decided to try a little more food. My Dad called over one of the stall guys and asked for a plate of chow mein, only have him give us a rather puzzled look and a statement that they did not serve chow mein, in fact they had never heard of such a thing before, in return, we also scratched our heads as the people on the table beside us were inhaling copious amounts of the aforementioned dish. When we brought this to light the server said, “Aaah! Noodles! To yeh boliye na sahab!” and promptly ran off to get our order. The noodles arrived, duly decorated with the customary slab of butter and along with that our other order of tawa pulao. Both the dishes were really good, with the noodles being pronounced the clear winner of the evening. Meal over, we called for our bill, which came to some eight hundred rupees for 5 people, very very cheap for the amount of food we had consumed. Strangely, none of felt very full or queasy, as it usually happens after a very large meal and I am happy report that we felt no gastrointestinal discomfort the next day either, even Mr. D, whose stomach rebels at the slightest opportunity.

Cooling down with kulfi

Cooling down with kulfi

No meal is complete without dessert, or so off we went to hunt for some sweets. We did not have to look very far, the dessert stalls were on the outer periphery of the square. We decided to have kulfi faloodas from Asharfi Kulfi, a very well known Ahmedabad brand, that we were about to try for the first time. The kulfis did not disappoint, not too sweet, not too milky, the rose syrup just right, it was by far the best kulfi I’ve ever had. We left at around 12.30 and even at that time people were still coming in to eat.

This photo was taken at 12.30 am.. Clearly nobody is ready to go home just yet

This photo was taken at 12.30 am.. Clearly nobody is ready to go home just yet

If you’re ever in Ahmedabad and looking for some late night munchies, I would suggest this as the place to go, though if you’re hardcore non-vegetarian, there is this other place at Juhapura which I will review sometime in the future. So that’s it for me. Where do you go for your midnight munchies? Let me know in the comments!!

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A Long Monsoon Drive

I love August. It has the monsoons, my wedding and first date anniversary (on the same day) and more holidays than in other months. Lets see, Independence Day, Rakhi, Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi and if you’re lucky then Eid, if you’re super lucky then you get some pretty kickass long weekends, like this year, when due to Independence Day and Janmashtami we got 3 and in some lucky cases even 4 days off. Now I don’t know about you but I dread long weekends as much as I enjoy them. I like the extra day to just laze around, but dread the resultant crowds everywhere. So last week while I was mulling the upcoming weekend, I got a call from my parents, who gave me the best news ever! They were driving down from Ahmedabad with the bestest doggy in the whole world!! Yaaay! Needless to say, I was over the moon, more so because this was the first time His Royal Highness the Dog, (Not his real name) would be visiting Mumbai. Anyway, the long awaited weekend arrived and my parents along with HRH turned up, tired but pretty gung-ho. Intense discussions were held as to plans for the upcoming days with all of us unanimously rejecting a weekend spent mall-ratting around, at this point Maa decided that she would like to go to the Sula Vineyards and so the plans were made.

On our way to Nashik

On our way to Nashik

Nashik has long been known for its oranges and grapes and is fast catching up to be India’s primary wine producing region. The Sula Vineyards were set up in 1997 and started producing wines in 2000. It is by far the most well-known wine producer in India as of now.

The scenery right after we started on the ghats

The scenery right after we started on the ghats

Finally, Saturday morning dawned and off we went to down some wine and generally enjoy the ride there. Now, I’ve been living by the Nashik Highway for a good three years, but the funny part is that this was the first time I was actually taking it to go somewhere. At the beginning the road is nothing to write home about with traffic jams, potholes and what nots, but the road soon opens out and passes through some of the most gorgeous ghats I’ve seen. We stopped at Dara’s Dhaba for a hot piping breakfast of vada pao, dosa and upma. The tea was a little blah but the coffee had just the right combination of sweet and bitter. HRH the Dog also had a nice little walk and was most eager to figure out where the humans were taking him.

Where are we off to today hoomans?

Where are we off to today hoomans?

The travails of the city left behind, we soon approached the ghats section at Kasara and boy what a beautiful road! There were tiny monsoon waterfalls everywhere you looked and the views were to die for. All I wanted to do was to stop the car, get off and never leave. The monsoons does make everything look so magical. Even if you’re not a big wine buff, I would suggest you make the trip just for the ride on the ghats.

I read somewhere that sceneries should be breathgiving, not breathtaking, I am pretty sure that is true here

I read somewhere that sceneries should be breathgiving, not breathtaking, I am pretty sure that is true here

Three hours later we finally arrived at Sula, only to find hordes of vehicles headed the same way. Unwilling to get into a crowd we decided to head to the York Winery which is around 1.8 km from Sula. My cousin had been there earlier this year and had been raving about it ever since. We pulled into York and headed towards the tasting room, only to stop and gape at the beautiful vista in front of us. Acres of grapevines surround the property with the Gangapur Dam providing the backdrop. We spent a good 10-15 minutes just staring slack jawed at the view. Pulling ourselves out of the trance, we made our way upstairs where the tasting room was. We found the room pretty much empty and decided to do the 6 wines tasting but the gentlemen managing the bar said that they would not be able to conduct tasting as there were over-capacity. Disappointed, we ordered the rosé and some canapes only to be told that canapes were not available either, nevertheless, we got our wine and a bowl of complimentary chips and sat down to admire the view again. A good hour later, we decided to go grab some lunch at the restaurant, only to find that the nearly deserted restaurant of an hour back was now full to the brim with people and that the next table would be available after another hour. Unable to wait that long we decided to leave and grab some lunch at Nashik instead.

Quit vining and enjoy the scenery!

Quit vining and enjoy the scenery!

On our way to Nashik, we crossed Sula once again and decided to drop in just to have a look. Thirty seconds later, we realised what a huge blunder we had committed, Sula was crowded and how! The narrow driveway, looked like Mumbai during rush hour, what with all the people headed to York for their lunch, loud music, which we could hear from the gate a good 300 meters away was being played and the place was frankly crawling with people. It looked like everything we wanted to escape from had landed up in the place we wanted to escape to. Undeterred, we made our way to the main building, where we were informed that the wine tasting would be in groups every hour but that they were booked for the next three hours, we were welcome to go upstairs to the bar and enjoy our wine and canapes or head out to their new French restaurant. We decided to do the former and climbed up a set of narrow stairs, made narrowed by the vast sea of humanity making its way down. The stairs opened out to a balcony overlooking the vineyard and the lake, it would have been the picture of bliss if not the crowd and the loud music which by then was starting to give me a headache. We quickly ordered some Chenin Blanc and a cheese platter. It was only later, after we’d drunk half the glass did we realise that we were handed the Sauvignon Blanc instead. The cheese platter was nice, but it was getting late in the day and we were getting to the point where we were getting hangry, so we decided to leave.

All I needed was a good book..

All I needed was a good book..

We stopped at a dhaba on the way back for some lunch and headed home. The drive back was as enchanting as the the drive there, especially when we saw this really amazing rock outcrop which looked like something out of a fairytale. All in all, a lovely drive but next time I think i will head out during the weekday for a better experience at the vineyards.

 

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When Armchair Travel Leads To Real Travel

This past weekend I had the chance to watch the pilot episode of Outlander, the new series based on the book of the same name by Diana Gabaldon. You can watch the trailer here. It is about this woman from the 1940s who gets transported back into 18th century Scotland while on her second honeymoon. She meets this Scottish rebel and as usual love follows and etc. I have just started the book to be honest and so far it is has been quite a fascinating read.

Outlander poster
image courtesy:outlandertvnews.com

What really caught my eye though, apart from the lead Sam Heughan, (Hellooooo handsome!) was the cinematography.

I’ll travel through time for that!!
image courtesy: digitalspy

The series is set in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness, so you can well imagine the gorgeous countryside on display.In fact, do yourself a favour and just watch it for the opening credits, you will thank me I’m sure.The only thought that came into my head was “Must.Travel.To.Scotland”.

This makes me really wonder about the effect of films and tv shows on travel. I’m a huge sucker for this scenario. 10 times out of 10 while watching a movie with gorgeous sceneries, I’ll elbow Mr. D and excitedly whisper, “We have to go there!!!” so much so that these days all I have to do is give him a poke and he will resignedly nod his head in assent. Poor thing, most wives shop for clothes and shoes, his wife scans travel websites.. 😛 This whole travel where the movie takes you is is not a new phenomenon by any stretch of reason. Gaggles of Indians have been travelling to Switzerland for their own Yash-Chopra-heroine-in-thin-chiffon-saree-in-the-middle-of-a-snow-field-moment, frostbite be damned. In fact, for a long time, abroad for Indians meant only London, Paris, USA (New York, LA and Las Vegas only) and of course Switzerland. Then Raj met Simran (gag!) on the Euro-Rail and what followed was best described by Minisha Laamba in Bachna Aae Haseeno.

Gimme that jacket!! I’m freezing!!

This is what happens every single time I see Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, I go online, plan my dream Spanish vacation, realise that I would probably have to sell a kidney to get the money to go there, (at my current financial condition) and then binge eat my feelings away.

This is what happens every time I see Zindagi Naa Milegi Dobara
image courtesy:replygifs.net

Thinking, “Ooooh So high fundu she is! Only talking about international locations!”? No no.. This happens in Indian locations as well. Chapora Fort for example, name sounds unfamiliar? How about Dil Chahta Hai Fort? You know, the one where all three of them are sitting on the ramparts of the fort and discussing life? I’m sure all of you must have wanted one vacation to Goa with your friends after watching that movie. Ladies, raise your hand if you’ve wanted to dance down the road to Rohtang Pass a la Geet from Jab We Met.

Forget driving!! I’m gonna dance to my destination!!

Not high enough? How about Ladakh? Where every Tom, Dick and Harry is headed to see the Ranchowala Lake aka Pangong Tso Lake? Don’t lie, I know you want to. Aunties and uncles, don’t be all “Tch! Tch! The young generation!” we all know your secret dream to be Shammi Kapoor and Sharmila Tagore in Kashmir Ki Kali.

The photo everybody wants to click in Goa
image courtesy:http://blog.pulkitanand.com

If you think this is restricted to Bollywood only, you’re very much mistaken. New Zealand saw a 50% rise in tourism post the release of the Lord of the Rings, yours truly included.

Come on in for a second breakfast!!
image courtesy:wikipedia.com

And Game of Thrones fans, where do you think you’re going? Special tours have been set up in Northern Ireland to showcase the locations where the shooting for the iconic series has taken place. People are swarming to Dubrovnik aka King’s Landing to relive their own version of the show, hopefully with happier endings than that those of the poor souls in King’s Landing though.

Lose your head… With excitement!!
image courtesy:wikipedia.com

This side of the puddle, Sherlock fans are lining up in front of Speedy’s Cafe to get their fix of the ear-hatted detective, myself included. Mr D is now so very much used to my wails of, “But we can’t spend on that! We need to save for London!!!!!” That being a house, yes, I’d rather go to London to see the shooting locations of a fictional tv show than buy house, go figure.

Dammit Sherlock! What have we said about being on the rooftop? Not today!

Movies, they not only entertain, but they also inspire your next vacation!! Yaaaay!! Has this ever happened to you? Have you ever watched a movie or a tv series and had this gut clenching feeling that you have to visit that place? Are you frustrated because people in your life are unable to understand why you’re drawn to a certain place? Let me know in the comments.

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How To Make Honeymoon Planning (More or Less) Hassle free

So, the date is fixed, the relatives have been informed and the invites have been decided upon, you and your honey, are all set to be husband and wife. You’ll have the most awesome kickass wedding, which will be followed by the perfect ever after where you will never ever fight over the remote (Yeah right!). All that remains is that teeny little thing called honeymoon planning, which is driving you up the wall and into the arms of that bottle of wine you got for Christmas. He wants beach, you want mountains and both of you do not want to blow the bank balance. Relax! Take a deep breath! Go to the spa if you want to, and come back to read my tips on how plan your hassle free honeymoon.

And we'll never fight over the remote again.  Lol, JK, that remote is mine!

And we’ll never fight over the remote again. Lol, JK, that remote is mine!

Start planning early: Please for heaven’s sake do not wake up one morning a month before your wedding and say “Hey! We forgot to plan the honeymoon!” No! We do not let that happen, just like we do not go to bed with make-up on. Plan your honeymoon well in advance, three months minimum. If you plan to travel abroad, certain countries require you to apply for a visa a minimum of three months in advance, plus airline tickets maybe cheaper today than tomorrow, so get planning!

It is all about the money, honey: I cannot tell you how important this step is. Decide who is paying for it first, are you planning on paying for it together? Is it his/her wedding gift to you? Have your/his parents or some family member offered to sponsor you two? If someone is sponsoring, what is/are he/she/they sponsoring? Tickets only? Tickets and the hotel? The whole shebang? What is their budget? If both of you are paying for it together or either of you are paying by yourself, how do you plan to finance it? Break the fixed deposit? Take a loan? Save a certain amount each month? Make a budget and stick to it like you’ll stick by your man/woman. Whatever your budget, try to ensure that you have at least 10-20% in excess of it saved up, not to spend, but as extra caution money which you may use for emergencies (Shopping is not an emergency).

Aww! Look at that awesome boutique hotel! $500 a night! Whut???

Aww! Look at that awesome boutique hotel! $500 a night!!!! Whut???

How much time is forever? Let’s face it; unless you have a very lenient boss, you are not going get a month’s honeymoon time, so plan accordingly. Decide how much time you two can take off for your honeymoon and set the dates. Have a Hari Saadu type boss who thinks giving you time off for your wedding is good enough? Or maybe, your wedding is bang in middle of the holiday season and you do not want to see another person for the next week? Plan your honeymoon for a little later; after all, good things come to those who wait.

The world is your oyster: Now comes the bone of contention, where to go? Bring this topic up and guarantee, 8 times out of 10 the discussion will make you wonder why on earth are you marrying this idiot who thinks Lonavla is perfectly acceptable. Again, sit down, breathe, relax and keep the frying pan back in the kitchen where it belongs instead of bonking your significant other on the head with it. Have a calm discussion, list out the pros and cons of the places you both want to go. Research like crazy; make Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor and other travel websites your best friend. Read up on your destination; see if the weather is right for the time you plan to go (Mr. D and I had London planned for our May wedding, but had go back to the drawing board once we realised the wedding dates had to be shifted to August, since it would be quite warm there and I hate the heat.) Look for “shoulder seasons”, these are the periods between the low season and high season when the weather is like high season but the rates and crowds are much much low, prime example is Goa in early November. Remember, timing is everything, there is neither bravery nor beauty in being stuck in the Caribbean during hurricane season or in Paris for that matter, during the gloomy winter.

Only 8 hours of weak sunlight can make even Gay Paree, grey

Only 8 hours of weak sunlight can make even gay Paree, grey

At this point, you may go to a travel agency and ask them to take of the nitty gritties for you, you may even look at the package tour companies to help you out, but what I would suggest is that you do it on your own, there is nothing like sitting down together and dreaming of your honeymoon to take the wedding stress away. What Mr. D and I did at this point was that we went around to the various tours and travel operators and asked for rates and itineraries, we then set out to create our own itinerary with the help of the itineraries provided by the agents. Also, if you plan to visit a country, pick a maximum of two cities to spend your time in, anymore and you’ll be too busy travelling to actually enjoy the honeymoon. A word of advice, the rates are usually in USD and depend on the current rate going plus a small surcharge, so the prices will fluctuate from day to day. If you think that a minor fluctuation makes no difference think again, a rupee’s increase will make 1000 USD increase from 60k INR to 61k INR and the difference increases with the amount.

Tickets and other stuff: Armchair honeymoons are fine, but for real ones, tickets are needed. Book your tickets (train, plane, ship, bus, donkey cart, etc.) well in advance, scout for deals and see if you can convert those miles. The Internet is your friend; use it to research tickets and other options. Remember, the cheapest is not always the best option, neither is the most expensive one. Look at sites like Kayak.com, lastminute.com etc for cheap flights. It is cheaper to fly during the week than on the weekend and of course, holiday seasons brings its own surcharges. Many sites allow you to set a notification if the prices for a certain sector fall, so be sure to check that out as well. 

 

She's got a ticket to ride!

               She’s got a ticket to ride!

Hotel California: Bwahahaha!! Another bone of contention, he wants Fleabag Motel, you want Four Seasons or it could be the other way around, (it is in my case). If you want a bargain place to stay abroad, try to stay a little far from the city center, the rates will be cheaper there and if you get a hotel near the Metro then getting to the city will be easy peasy. Try emailing the hotel asking for their tariff plans and packages if they have any. Research, research and research again and read reviews, especially bad ones. Instead of looking at the room photos try finding out the size of the room, rooms in Europe are notoriously tiny, they’ll show you a room fit for a king on the Internet and give you one where you can either use the toilet or take a bath and the room feels claustrophobic with the two of you in it. A good hotel can make or break your holiday so be careful of what you choose. Mr D. and I had the hard luck of being stuck in Rotorua, New Zealand during a freak polar storm which wiped out the rest of our itinerary, we were fortunate that we’d booked an excellent hotel (entirely Mr. D’s discovery), which not only took care of our needs but the staff also gave us good advice for the best local places.

Look at it this way honey! More reason to cuddle!  Image courtesy: Getty Images

Look at it this way honey! More reason to cuddle!

Documents please: If you are travelling abroad, please ensure that your passport is not on the verge of expiry. Read visa guidelines carefully; ensure the forms are filled correctly and with truthful information. If your wedding cards are ready, please provide one if so required (We submitted a copy of both engagement and wedding cards to the New Zealand embassy). Photo details are available on the embassy websites and I would strongly advice you to read them.

So by now, your flights and hotels are booked, your passports have gone for the visas and you two are still together dreaming of the glorious future and you think my work is done, not yet my friend, there is work yet.

Stamps

Oooh!! Stamps!! I’m going to collect them like Pokemon!! 

Ek bima hona chahiye: Buy travel insurance, even if you think you don’t need it, especially if you think you don’t need it. We were very lucky that the polar storm did not disrupt our flight home and that there were no earthquakes in Christchurch while we were there, but you may not be, get smart, buy travel insurance.

All my bags are packed: Pack your honeymoon clothes in a separate bag or suitcase, if you plan to leave immediately after the wedding functions are over. Also, if you plan to take a carry-on and it is a long distance flight, I would suggest you pack a fresh change or clothes or at the very least, clean underwear. After 9 hours in a plane, even a change of underwear can make you feel fresh.

All my bags are (almost!) packed and I’m ready to go 

So now I’m done dispensing gyaan, feel free to add yours. Is there something you’d do differently? Or better? Or maybe these tips suck and you hate me? Let me know in the comments! 

All images courtesy of Getty Images.

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