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The Tranquility of Kumarakom

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From Vivanta by Taj Malabar to Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom you can take a boat. Close to an hour either way, we decided to opt for a drive considering we were doing a backwaters boat trip the same evening.I’m glad we took the drive because it was wonderful to see Aditya’s photograph featured on one of the small shops we passed. Part of an old Peter England campaign, he was smiling down at us! Super cool!

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Great start to the day , the day was going to get even better. In the midst of a slice of green heaven the Vivanta by Taj Kumarakom almost merges in with the surroundings. Small quaint cottages banks of Vembanad Lake , private sit outs, bicycles to get you around the property…this property bring s you back to nature but still keeps in mind the luxury needs of it’s guests.We were welcomed in by Prince the F & B Director who we’d previously met when we had stayed at the Vivanta by Taj Maldives. We were famished , so grabbed a quick bite and headed to our rooms. The property is enormous so I’d recommend borrowing a bicycle from their bicycle shed and traveling around the property whenever you need to. It’s fun, it’s relaxing and you get to explore the entire property.

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Our cottage was beautifully furnished and tastefully decorated. With  a massive bedroom, lovely sit out and even an outdoor shower- ‘luxury rustic’ became the way I defined the hotel and my room.

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A quick nap later we were off on a gorgeous cruise amidst the backwater. The mangrove plants had made it difficult for the boat to come to the hotel so we took the boat from just across the hotel and marveled at the expanse of the lake which merged into the sea while the sun set.

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Prince knows me and penchant for romantic dinners and so a table was set with a special menu created just for Aditya and I on the banks of the lake where we could listen to some live music and eat undisturbed surrounded by just gorgeous swaying palms and listening to the fish as they leapt about in the lake below… The dinner was superb. The chef here is EXCELLENT so definitely come prepared with an appetite! The food is marvelous!

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The lake is lit at night thanks to the local Kerala women who are hired by the hotel to light up the lake at sunset…With gorgeous divas the lake looks so auspicious and divine in the night as you walk by the banks!

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The following morning after cycling to breakfast we fed some of the ducks and watched as the turtles came to feed on the banks of the lake. I fed a few and I must confess I had never really thought of turtles as hungry or greedy! Cute, very greedy and very friendly…this was a wonderful experience.

Our trip to Kumarakom was short, romantic and an idyllic relaxing getaway. Far away from the madness and noise of the city we found peace, calm, cycles and ducks 🙂 and had the perfect short break!

Cost-:$300 onwards but remember with very limited rooms… book well in advance… They tend to ALWAYS be full up !

Best Times to Travel-: November to February has great weather… we did Valentines day at Kumarakom and we had a pleasant, slightly chilly evening! Perfect!

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The Taj Mahal , New Delhi

The writing has been a bit spotty because of lots of travel…. lots of travel is lots of fun and with so much to see- traveling to Delhi and then all the way down to the backwaters in Kerala but that’s always good! A little bit of travel makes for some very fun posts…!

So it was a work trip to Delhi and a stay at one of my favourite haunts The Taj Mahal Hotel , New Delhi. Standing proudly on 1 Mansingh Road, this hotel has a prestigious location and incredible history and the perfect address!

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Walk in to a bustling lobby and don’t be surprised by well known politicians, business men, Indian sport stars… all sitting, working, talking and eating… The lobby cafe, the emperor’s Lounge looking out into the gorgeous , manicured lawns is always bustling, always beautiful and always very, very busy!

The Taj Mansingh as some of us like to call the hotel, had several familiar faces and it was a while after getting in that I was finally able to go up after greeting all those I knew. The rooms are slowly getting renovated and this is my only grouse with the hotel. The hotel, steeped with history and yet beautifully modern has some of the most terribly dated rooms unless ofcourse you get upgraded to a suite or one of the renovated Club rooms! The rest of the rooms need an upgrade- NOW!

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Machan’s the coffee shop has great food! Across the board, the food is tasty, filling and well-priced! With a huge buffet for lunch you’ll always notice that Machan is pretty full, with plenty of regulars! Also with all the staff dressed in Safari clothing, and regular food festivals and tasting happening at the restaurant it always makes for an interesting meal!

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But my favourite has to be Varq- the Indian fine dining restaurant. Re-inventing some of our favourite dishes, these dishes are lighter than Indian food usually is without compromising on taste! Plated portions for one, interesting twists with the mains and desserts- this has got to be one of my favourite Indian restaurants pan India- a definite MUST EAT AT!

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Wasabi once again is fabulous and chic for japanese food lovers… All in all the F& B in this hotel is simply SUPERB!

An Olympic size pool makes for great exercise after some fabulous Delhi food and this being just a short trip- it’s time to go back home and then off to Kerala…

Delhi beckons soon but this time I plan to try out one of the newer hotels which I have had my eye on for a while…! Which one? Well… keep reading! 🙂

Best Time To Travel-: Actually NOW! February and March are relatively cool and you don’t want to be in Delhi for the hot, hot summer or the very chilly winter. July – October also make for a beautiful monsoons moving into perfect , beautiful evenings where all the greenery in Delhi just seems to magically come alive!

Cost-:$400 onwards. But remember UPGRADED ROOMS- else you’ll get an incredible back ache with the hard as nails mattresses!

NEXT WEEK- KERALA AND LOTS AND LOTS OF FABULOUS PHOTOGRAPHS! 🙂

Koh samuing!

 

As you know (if you’ve read any of these blogs or any of my personal blogs at my website…BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL!

I seem to be planning from one birthday to the next and over the years , the planning has become more focussed towards experiences and travels as opposed to gifts and cake- a much more expensive albeit satisfying change!

So last year, the husband decided to surprise me. I am almost impossible to surprise especially over birthdays because my birthday antenna quickly notices any whispering, hush-hush planning or slight change in schedules but Aditya had convinced me that we were going to have a quiet, family birthday and later there’d be a surprise. Now I have to say I think my antenna was slightly less active because he had mentioned key words like ‘birthday’ and ‘surprise’ so I knew there was something planned and I expected it later…by then I was sure I’d know what it was!

Imagine my surprise when 2 days before my birthday I was told at lunch that we’d have to hurry back to pack. We were leaving tonight to THAILAND and to Koh Samui!To get Koh samui we took a flight to Bangkok and then connected to the island. I have to say , now after flying Thai Airways on multiple occasions- whereas the flights to an from India (Business Class) are rather old and quite uncomfortable; the short flight to Koh samui had fully reclinable seats, fabulous movie options and delicious food. I have now stopped flying Thai (unless ofcourse I’m visiting an island!)!

So in less then 24 hours of my knowing about the surprise, bright and early the following morning I was in Koh Samui. We were staying at the W Retreat, part of the Starwood Group of Hotels and a Category 6 on the SPG Scale! This is one of the highest categories of SPG Hotels and it was supposed to be indulgent luxury. Young, fun and decadent, this hotel was the perfect choice for this quick getaway.

The hotel was a 10 minute drive from the small airport and we entered the hotel excitedly. Though most hotels have wonderful web pages with photographs photoshopped to perfection- nothing can beat this magnificent lobby with it’s gorgeous water body claiming pride of place welcoming you to serenity, luxury and calm! With such a wonderful welcome , I couldn’t wait to see the rooms. Our suite was huge(yes I love my pampering) with a magnificent bathroom, jacuzzi tub et all!We also had a beautiful pool attached which was much, much larger than the usual plunge pools. All this and a private sit out , actually sleep out and we had our own private entrance to the beach!

The rooms were perfect and after an overnight flight, we collapsed on to our day beds for a quick power nap so we’d be ready to bring in the birthday with a renewed energy!

The W is fabulous. Once we woke up and made ourselves a nespresso cappucino (my favourite! and in our room!), we wandered for a walk. The staff then pointed us to the just refilled snack freezer which apparently all W hotels have. They’d just filled in some chocolate ice cream and told us it was fabulous! This is how we discovered the W treat freezer. With cokes and ice creams, there are treat freezers , every few rooms for guests to snack on free of charge any time, all the time- another fun W tradition!

And it was time to enjoy some quick Tapas and drinks at sip and take a quick, much needed plunge in the sea!

A short break later, we dressed up for birthday eve and headed to the W lounge where you are ensconced in tables in between the beautiful lobby pool that we saw earlier. Hidden away in between water and the night, this perfect setting was the most beautiful way to bring in my birthday. Cocktails done we headed to the Kitchen Table for some food. The W only has two dining options but 3 bars…so the focus is more on light eats and tapas and some very heady cocktails!

Exhausted we headed back to the room where a cake was waiting to be cut…. Singing and champagne later we settled in for a very restful night after all the heady travel excitement!

The next day we woke up refreshed and charged.We were only here for the birthday and so we decided to enjoy the calm and luxury of the hotel! I would have loved to have visited the Big Buddha but with such a short trip, we decided to spend our time snorkeling,  If you do visit the Big Buddha, you must also go to Wat Plai Laem another active temple surrounded by a lake which is apparently teeming with fish. If you make a donation, you get a bag of food to feed the fish!

Dress conservatively if you wish to visit a temple to not offend tradition and religious customs!

Else step out of your hotel and there are bars and pubs every step of the way… for a night of partying and revelry- nothing beats an island!

For us however it was spa-ing, pampering and a feast of contemporary Japanese at the elegant Namu. With a private dining hall just for us and a specially created menu by the chef and my husband we had a warm , relaxed evening- the perfect start to an incredibly fulfilling year!

Price Factor-: Rooms are between $200- $300! But choose well…remember to get beach front hotels and my sincere recommendation is to try the W!

Best Times To Travel-: March to August. Then remember to take your diving gear along. Koh samui has some incredible diving sites….if you’re not a diver….maybe Koh Samui is a good place to learn! 🙂

 

 

Balinese adventures!

It was the end of the year and I had let the year win. Exhausted, fed up and trudging along at a miserable pace- the year showed no signs of ending. It was on one such a week where Aditya asked me what my plans were for the next week. Life had become so routine that I recited my daily schedule in a single breath. “Not really,” he said. My Dad and him had taken my life in their very able hands and planned a perfect break-ation!

So it was off to Bali. I had never been to Indonesia before and was very, very excited. We arrived in Bali and checked in to luxurious  Melia Bali in the Exclusive Nusa Dua. Nusa Dua is home to luxury hotel properties and Melia Bali was a magnificently beautiful hotel with a private beach and gorgeous lagoon pool that was so, so inviting! Now Nusa Dua is more serene and is rather private so it is a bit cut away from all the action and madness of Bali but we had come here for a break and it was absolutely perfect for us! Ubud , in the hills is also wonderfully luxurious and relaxing but I’m a beach girl and Nusa Dua was PERFECT for us!

For more of the action and fun head to Kuta. Kuta also has several hotels, but none of them have their own beaches. It is also a more touristy part of Bali and so much as I loved hanging out in Kuta during the day, I absolutely loved heading back to my beautiful paradise in Nusa Dua to have romantic dinners on the beach with my husband! Kuta has great shopping and drinking and bargains! It is very touristy, always bustling and always fun.

Nusa Dua was quiet, relaxing and the perfect unwind.

Indonesia is a Hindu Country. They are so proud about the culture, the religion and their temples, it’s hard not to be proud of how well preserved the culture is. Furniture is made on shops along the road and is amazingly cheap , hardy and perfectly crafted. However shipping is often a problem and most of the local artisans would rather have you take responsibility for the shipping entirely and as a tourist with very few days in a country- that’s often not something you can do. Next time I go back, I’ll research the shipping plans better; so I can pick up some amazing furniture or a beautifully crafted Lord Ganesha!

Obviously in Bali , it’s all about the sea.  So after a quick city tour we were in the sea and racing each other till we couldn’t see land any more!

And then we discovered white water rafting. We were picked up with 3 other couples and taken to the Ayung River and then we had to walk down ridiculously steep steps. A quick change and even quicker set of instructions later we were off on  our own learning how to deal with the rapids and weaving our way through the river. At one point, we were allowed to get off and swim and the cool water after a hard bit of rowing was so refreshing we didn’t want to get out! After the rowing, you are taken for a quick bite to eat and something to drink and packed into the bus again and sent back to the hotel. What I really loved was a group of Japanese tourists who had used the river as a treasure hunt-team building experience. Different teams would rush to points on a map and pick up clues. Fun, exhilarating and a huge team building experience and suddenly I wished we had come with the whole family. Nothing like a good , fun competition to make a fun day even better!

Bali is beautiful, unspoiled and serene. It’s the perfect quick getaway from Singapore or Malaysia and a place I definitely must go back to! The sun shone brighter in Bali. My smile was bigger in Bali and I relaxed so completely in Bali!

Best Times To Travel- RIGHT NOW! ALWAYS ! ANY TIME! But on a more serious note…May to October is the best time to travel to Bali. Bali is always warm….so pack lots of shorts and lots of swimwear.

Price Factor-:  $300 a night for a good hotel! But check the fine print. Several don’t have private beaches/ all the facilities you’d like! So choose well!

IMPORTANT NOTE-: ONE DOLLAR is approximately 9500 INDONESIAN RUPIAH. SO WHEN YOU’RE TIPPING, DON’T BE STINGY WITH THE TIPS AND EXPECT A SMILE AFTER TIPPING SOMEONE 10/20 RUPIAH! THAT ISN’T MORE THAN A FEW CENTS!

ALSO A COKE BOTTLE IS APPROXIMATELY 20,000 RUPIAH! 

Splendide Roma (Day One Travels)

To do justice to glorious Roma can never take just a single post so bear with me while I go on and on for a bit and then still dream of going back and exploring some more! I’m going to break my trip in Roma up by days , but promise that each post will be completely and totally unique. I also know the next time I go there will be completely different too because that’s what Roma celebrates- the more you see- the more you learn. The more you think you’ve seen it all , the more you’ll be surprised! Roma is a treasure trove for travel enthusiasts and it was one of my creates travel adventures ever!

The Rome trip had been in planning for a while. I had dreamt of the romance of Rome and it’s splendor and to be able to stay in Rome on my birthday (which I did btw), was easily the most special celebration ever!!!

So after a perfect stay in Florence we were up and out early to glorious Rome. Now we were told several times to watch our luggage, watch for crooks, pickpockets etc – but I have to say we did NOT have one single bad experience! The train ride was a quick one 1 hr. 23 minutes and we were in Rome!

This post will only cover Day 1 or the eve of my SUPERB BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION…so you’ll have to keep coming back to see some incredible photographs and hear more about this marvelous city!

Here we stayed at the Spanish Steps at the very quaint Hotel Splendide Royal part of the Small Luxury Hotels. Now I was a little worried about this hotel, what with all my expectations having been so built up in Capri and me not really loving that hotel. But here my worried were unfounded. The Small Luxury Hotels got this very cute hotel just right and it was pretty, charming and very central! Our room had been upgraded to a suite and we had a wonderful sitting room and a charming bedroom and my only complaint was that you got lost in all the reds and golds of the room! It was not very well lit and I often couldn’t find something especially if it by chance fell on the plush carpet or the wonderfully soft, uber plush bed cover! I wish there were more lights in the room! The hotel also has the Mirabelle Restaurant, said to be one of the finest in the city! But best of all is the fact that you’re walking distance form the famous shopping at Via Venetto and the marvelous Spanish Steps.

We checked in and then we were out to explore! The Spanish Steps were a 3 minute walk and the day was perfect. We were on top of the Spanish Steps which made walking down easy and fun! The 138 step climb with shopping later in the day proved to be a little less fun! The Spanish Steps are filled with tourists , young couples and lots of life! Couples hang out on the steps and watch the world go by. Tourists use the steps for fabulous photographs and often a much needed rest stop.  The Steps start from the Piazza Trinità dei Monti dominated by the Trinità dei Montichurch at the top and lead to  the Piazza di Spagna at the base. We had a quick bite to eat at the wonderful , highly recommended Canova Cafe and the most glorious cappuccino and then it was off to walk towards the Trevi fountain!

I was very waylaid in my walk though because I kept finding these incredible boutiques with superbly priced clothing that I just had to , had to , had to have! So what would have been a 15 minute slow walk took us a couple of hours because of my insistence to explore small bylanes and small shops! The clothes however were beautiful, the weather perfect and this for me was the best way to explore Rome- leisurely and allowing a complete indulgence of your senses- because there is so much to smell, see, feel, touch and do!

The Trevi Fountain was glorious! I threw several coins in a fountain believing in the superstition that if you threw a coin in the Trevi fountain you will return! I do hope to go back several times and I wished hard hoping that the Fountain Gods would hear me!

Dinner was at a small cafe in the Theatre district and was absolutely perfect! But an early night Day 1 was almost done and the big birthday blow out was tomorrow! Surprises galore and a trip to Vatican City for a special Papal visit…. but more on that next week!

Till then Ciao!

Price Factor-: Between $ 300- $ 500 but book something CENTRAL …cos the only way to explore Roma is to do it by foot!

Best times to travel-: May- October

Living like a Maharaja in Udaipur!

So anyone who knows me at all…and all those who don’t know me but have read stuff that I’ve written- you’d probably know that it doesn’t take much for me to want to travel…I can make occasions out of almost anything and in my mind celebrations are occasions and are the perfect time to do something different, to travel, to explore, to dream and to make dreams come true!

It was the husband’s birthday last year and in true Divya-mystery style , I told him to take leave from work- ” I was going to kidnap him!” is what I said! And that’s totally what I planned! The Ultimate Kidnap! Nothing was bought via his Credit card.  Bookings were done on email and via the phone and Aditya who was delighted about the kidnapping stayed happily oblivious to all my intricate plans!

Now Aditya had only been very briefly to Rajasthan once when in school. It had been quick , short and unmemorable and he’d always talked of wanting to go back- to see the palaces. I have spent more than a few vacations in the Palaces of Rajasthan but this was a trip and a surprise I wanted to give him…so it was up to me to try and ensure that the trip catered to HIS very specific tastes  and so I went ahead and did my research! The Palace I chose was the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur.

The Taj Lake Palace has always been one of my favourite palaces. A white , carved beauty almost arising like a lotus from the lake- the Lake Palace was a palace used by the Royals for dancing, music and merriment. The Lake Palace stands proudly amidst Lake Pichola with the beautiful Aravalli range helping create the most picture-perfect backdrop!

The Royal WelcomeThe flights from Mumbai are limited and the one we took was rather early in the morning (3:30 or 4 am ish) so despite it being a short flight; both of us were quite exhausted! Udaipur airport is almost a shell structure with only basic facilities and I was happy to quickly get out!

All our exhaustion vanished the minute we stepped outside! A beautiful, heritage car had come to pick us up and Aditya was almost jumping in glee as he carefully examined the beautiful car! The car ride was full of  ‘I don’t believe it’s’….and  ‘What’s next?’s’ and before we knew it we were at the pier ready to take a boat to the fabulous Palace that stood gleaming majestically in the early rays of the morn!

The trip I had planned would be a trip fit for a King! After all my wonderful husband is my King and he deserves nothing less…so as we arrived we were ushered into one of the Palace suites! The suite was beautiful- a two level suite with all our bedroom windows overlooking the beautiful lake. The room was perfect- opulent , rich and comfortable and the minute our heads hit the bed we were off to sleep!A Palace in my palm!

But there had been much planning that had gone into this Celebration and so in a few hours I woke my husband to take him off for a special Spa session. Aditya loves spas, food, water and a relaxed break and I’m usually the total opposite- loving cities, noise, adventure and fun BUT this was Aditya’s celebrations and the plans were geared to him the time of his life! And the spa treatment did just that. With an outdoor spa bed overlooking the lake as the sun started setting, even I had to admit that there was no way that city noise could compete with the beautiful serenity of that moment! We relaxed. We talked. We de-stressed.

After some fabulous green tea, we grudgingly left the spa but started exploring the hotel. As soon as we found the beautiful pool we couldn’t hold ourselves back! We jumped in! A refreshing swim later- it was back to the room to dress for dinner!The Lily Pond

Now with the help of the hotel I had chosen some Unique Royal Dining Experiences for Aditya and me and our first was at the beautiful Lily Pond. A table had been set and our personal butler escorted us to our table where a musician regaled us with live music as we had traditional Rajasthani food sipping champagne under a beautiful moonlit sky! When we returned back to our room, our Butler had thoughtfully put out a cake, some more champagne and lit up the room so wonderfully – it must have taken him our entire dinner to have been able to make the room look so spectacular ! We cut Aditya’s birthday cake and finally called it a night!

Breakfast on the birthday morning was very special as well. I had pre-ordered breakfast and this was brought to a small garden outside our room and set up just for us! After a late night and with plenty of exciting plans today- this was a wonderful start for us!

Vintage TasteBreakfast over we headed back to the Pier where we had a Vintage car waiting to take us on a tour of the city. Stopping at a few select stores , we took a long break at a collection of the Maharaja’s cars. All restored. All spectacular. All drool worthy ! Now it was back to the hotel and a short heritage walk around the Palace. As that ended we were escorted back to the Upstairs spa ( my request after seeing how calm Aditya had been the previous day) and a new spa treatment. Equally relaxing and fabulous…this time we chose to just let the moment take control and slowly drifted off only to be awakened at the end of the treatment with warm tea.

The Octopussy Boat

Dressed to Impress

Now it was time for my HUGE SURPRISE and the reason why i had chosen we come to Udaipur! The Lake Palace owns and looks after the boat that was seen in the Bond movie Octopussy- the Gangaur! Aditya is a film buff and I knew it would be worth the extra expense to give him a birthday surprise he’d never have dreamed possible- dinner on the boat!The boat is kept in the middle of the lake and holds 10-20 guests but I booked it for just the 2 of us! A magnificent multi course meal on the lake had been booked while my Bond enjoyed the sunset, starters drinks and meal that I had pre-planned for him! The boat was decked exquisitely. With red carpets and 10 butlers , we were looked after like royalty. Both of us headed to the upper deck where a gadda (comfortable , padded mat) had been placed with cushions and we surveyed the whole city as it lay before us.

The City Palace

As drinks finished and the sun set, the boat had maneuvered around some ruins on the main land under the City Palace. Suddenly they came to life and were lit up with beautiful girls doing incredible dances among the ruins. Fabulous music, dances with fire and we felt like Maharjas (I too felt rather King-like!) watching courtesans dance as they might have done decades ago. This had been done especially for us and I was delighted when I saw Aditya’s happy surprise! The meal was served upstairs as we were so comfortable relaxing despite having seen a beautiful , intimate table set up downstairs on the boat. The food was a collection of kebabs, dals , biryanis and curries -each more delicious than the next, each more decadent than the next!

And then as the boat turned once again we saw the beautifully lit Mohan Mandir ( the temple island) and as it turned again Birthday fireworks erupted in the air once again especially for us! The excitement in the air was electric and we were really privileged to have been part of such a wonderful, well thought out experience. As dessert was served (once again a medley of all Aditya’s favourites) we wound down to live Indian music being played by our very own musicians on the boat (once again a special experience just for us!).

And then like a dream the evening ended and we floated back to our suite dreaming of the Rajasthani Royal past and grateful that we were able to have some of the experiences!

My husband felt like a King and I was proud to have been able to make him feel like that! Udaipur is the crown among Royal Rajasthani palaces and the Taj Lake Palace- the Kohinoor!

Price Factor-: Udaipur as a city is inexpensive for traditional Rajasthani handicrafts and materials. The hotels however are expensive and are traditionally between $320- $ 420 per night.

Best times to travel-: Dessert climes…so October thru to March is great to travel in though we had a wonderful time last July as well!

Cuddling lions in Sun City!

When you shoot for shows on television or get to shoot for or in a film, you often get to see places that are truly amazing and sometimes places that you never thought you’d actually visit! This is what happened when during the second season of ‘Making the Cut,’ we traveled to Sun City, South Africa!

Now Sun City is about 2 hours away from Johannesburg Airport. Jo’burg Airport is nothing to write home about. The Arrival area is simple, efficient, crowded and quick. After a long, night flight; knowing that I would be starting work as I arrived to the hotel, I grabbed a quick cup of coffee and headed into a waiting car.

The drive to Sun City was spectacular in it’s sparseness. There is almost nothing on the road, except for massive estates every few kilometers guarded fiercely with electric fences, high walls and FBI-worthy security. These estates are usually opposite huge hills which I was told were mineral deposits. The ride was otherwise unspectacular and the roads eerily empty in broad daylight! Jo’burg has a very high crime ratio and rape ratio and that  was the reason we were told! A very scary start indeed!

Luckily I had the very beautiful Celina Jaitly as company and we talked about the wonderful man in her life Peter (now her husband!) and a 2 hour trip didn’t seem so long after all- Thankfully girlish gossip can make time fly ;)!

We did pass a village with some makeshift houses made out of tarp and wood and saw ‘Doctor’ scribbled on what I had to assume was a room. This showed the  huge disparity between the rich and the poor and suddenly the high crime ratio seemed to make some sense. In India you see poverty and huts often, but the small village with its one room and burnt tires on a small patch of green was more poverty than even I had ever seen. The gaunt , young children standing at the edge of the road playing with a stick is a memory that will remain etched in our minds forever.

And then suddenly, as if from nowhere, gates- similar to those from the movie ‘Jurassic Park’ rose from the ground. An island , a mirage, a vision of great beauty stood in front of us! Welcome to a land of splendor and beauty! We were welcomed into Sun City, an oasis in the midst of what can only be described as nowhere!

Sun City has four Hotels- The Cabanas, the Cascades, Sun City Hotel and the Palace of the Lost City.

The Palace

Traveling through Sun City we passed beautiful fountains and entered Sun City Palace – The Palace of the Lost City. Walking through the domed lobby the best way to describe this hotel is opulent. Carved furnishings, large , magnificent chandeliers, gold and ornate pieces of art…it truly looked like a Palace! The shoot was starting in the evening…so I got down to work immediately and started exploring the grounds with my camera team to ensure we got the best possible locations for the shoot the following days!

What a spectacular hotel! With beautiful fountains, exquisite sculptures and even babbling brooks, exploring the hotel was truly wonderful. It had so many locations and we were truly spoiled for choice!

Playing around!

The crew, models and designers were staying at the  Cascades Hotel and in the Cabanas both 2 of the hotels part of Sun City.These hotels are younger and more casual but I know I would never have been happy except in the Palace! I am that kind of girl, after all!

There is also a lovely entertainment centre which can be approached via the Free shuttles which leave from the hotels on request. The entertainments centre has everything from Indian food, to fast food to a casino! Needless to say the models loved the Entertainment centre and if for any reason we couldn’t find one of them…that’s where they’d probably be!

There is also a fun complex called The Valley of the Waves where families can enjoy themselves being bombarded by waves! I’m not particularly crazy about the idea…but it always seemed full…so I guess it worked especially for kids!

The shoot was hard and long. The finale was in a beautiful amphitheater which had been used years earlier for the Miss World Contest and was absolutely spectacular. There was almost no time to enjoy the locations or relax till the shoot was over each day and by that time I had no energy to do more than fall in to bed! The evening our shoot ended I enjoyed a cappuccino on the terrace of the Tusk Bar while I watched a monkey sit on a nearby ledge waiting and hoping that we’d share more than just a cup of coffee!

That’s the thing with Sun City. There are so many monkeys and birds, it’s spectacular! We were told to keep our balconies shut because monkeys often entered rooms! And I must confess that one evening as I trudged back to my room I remember two monkeys gleefully helping themselves to the chocolates on the Housekeeping cart as the hotel staff was doing a turn down service for one of the rooms in the evening!

Crystal Court

The rooms are large and comfortable. Meals are served in the main restaurant downstairs in the Crystal Court which also serves a high tea or you can opt for an Italian dinner at the Villa del Palazzo. The high tea is good but the rest of the food unfortunately is not! It is bland and tasteless and for the first time I found myself missing just a simple tikka roll!

And so he walks...

Bobbing heads!

Walk on!

The shoot took us to the Cultural village which was fun and informative and to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve which is an experience I will never forget! Driving down the dusty road, we saw the bobbing heads of giraffes, the grazing zebras and the magnificent elephant! The African elephant is huge and causes a great amount of damage in the forest often knocking down everything in its path and we saw a herd grazing quite a distance away. I looked at them and then turned to Aditya and said-” he’s coming our way…Ganesha is coming

"He's Coming to us!"

our way.” And right on cue a magnificent , male elephant walked towards our van.  Still hundreds on metros away I kept my hand on the camera trigger and kept clicking- ” he’scoming to us…I know he is.” I said my prayers as the rest in the van slowly started moving to the other end. Whispers grew louder and then slowly people started screaming. I kept clicking and he kept coming forward. My Ganesha walked to me and to my position in the van, looked me straight in the eye and thenwithout causing any harm despite the screaming models in the background, slowly and magnificently walked away! This was the closest I came to God- I saw complete purity and innocence in the eyes of one of God’s most glorious of creatures. I was blessed!

Staring at Ganesha!

Watching your back!

We also got to see a pck of 3 rhinos each guarding each other’s back! It’s funny how animals are often more humans than humans are! Maybe we could learn a thing or two from them….instead of always having to watch our own backs! 😉

It was only after the shoot that I got a day to relax! And we packed that day in beautifully! Sun City has an International Golf Course and Aditya and I explored that via segway! I had never driven a segway before and I have to confess that I am easily one of the most unbalanced (in movement not in the head 😉 ) people in the world and though it took me a little while to grasp ; in about 30 minutes I was riding like a pro!

Bottle feeding!

And then it was on to the Pilanesberg Game reserve corner at the Lion Park, where we saw lions who had been abandoned by their pack at child birth or strayed away from their elders getting rehabilitated! Babies were still fed via bottle and as they grew older they learned to feed on carcasses and then were once again let into the wild where they would have to fight a male pack member to stake his claim in the jungle and create his own pack. A chance at freedom and a chance to rule the jungle the way they ruled our hearts!

Cuddling lions!

 

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Athena with love!

From the lazy,warmth of Santorini we were off to the beauty of Athens! At Athens, my husband had picked the fabulous hotel Grand Bretagne  knowing my love for Classic Luxury and the hotel was all that and more!

The lobby which it’s rich reds and golds reminded me of a palatial entrance and the quiet, discreet care they took with us during check-in was wonderful. If you stayed in the hotel you were not just treated as a VIP- you were VIP! There are very few hotels that have that level of sophistication though I have almost always faced in the older, grand hotels as compared to the newer chains! It’s nice being treated special even if you are just another guest on the roster and I loved that!

The rooms we had booked were Higher category rooms and were comfortable , spacious and had incredible views! Ours overlooked the busy Constitution Square and almost immediately- I was ready to start exploring. Afew hours of walking later- I was ready to take on the Acropolis! Aditya insisted however that we first take in an early night and leave the exploring to the following day, so we headed up to the GB Roof Garden to eat!

The name GB Roof Garden does not do the restaurant justice. With an outside and inside dining option, this restaurant is no cafe or roof garden- it is a fabulous restaurant with great food and directly overlooks the Acropolis. We dined outside obviously enjoying the slight nip in the air and loving the beautifully lit Acropolis in the distance! The food varied from Sushi to Greek food, to pastas and mains! I ate a fabulous fish dish and went to bed excited about what the new day would bring!

The hotel suggested we do a private tour of the sights of Athens. This was very wise. this gave us a taste of history and yet we were not forced to do at the pace dictated by tour operators! We could see what we wanted to see, do what we wanted to do and most importantly stay and take photographs at all the places we wanted to stop at! The morning started at the Acropolis and though the climb seems intimidating, it is actually done quite easily. It is entering the area where the Parthenon , (a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena) stands that’s hard! The crowds there jostle for space to take that one , perfect photograph and the guards try and keep people movingand there are almost no places at all where you can stop, take a breath and just marvel at these incredible structures! We were lucky we had come on a day where cruise ships had not docked and therefore though there were thousands of tourists, I am told that this wasn’t even half of what they usually go through on a daily basis! What I loved were the Greek dogs perched proudly on the steps guarding the entrance to the Parthenon almost like spirits of Greek warriors doing a great duty!

The ruins I loved the best were that of the Amphitheatre- the Theatre of Herod Atticus. This space is still used for Greek theatre and was getting ready for a huge musical performance that night!

The ruins are kept with great amount of care and the locals talk about Greece’s past with so much deference and respect; you almost wish you could get transported into a time of great pomp and splendor, of wealth and beauty, of valor and tradition!

After this it was off to the old Olympic stadium and a couple of laps on the Olympic track! Needless to stay we were star runners ;)!

Then it was off to the Agora or the market place and to the Plaka which are lined with quaint cafes and lovely shops which sell fun tourist memorabilia!

It was there we let go of our guid so we could have a leisurely lunch! The Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch which was the entrance to the city were explored by us at our own pace! The museum was another treasure we discovered ourself. watching historians uncover the past hidden below the present structures of the city was truly fascinating. The fact that an entire city had been built over another city was unbelievable and the glass walkway to the museum was atop one of the recently excavated sites and had historians working on it while we explored treasure of a lost past!

Athens also has great shopping! From the latest gadgets and brands to incredible small local designer boutiques, Athens is a shoppers paradise! I bought an entire wardrobe here and would have gladly stayed on, given half a choice!

The people are warm and friendly and I remember wandering the Plaka in the middle of the evening searching for a restaurant we’d heard so much about and other smaller restaurant owners coming outside just to help us and point the way! Our taxi driver too was mortified he hadn’t taken us to the right address and refused to charge a fare on the entire journey saying that we were guests and he had inconvenienced us!

Athens is a city of culture and passion, a city of ruins and romance, of great beauty and of incredible stories! I heard a few and made of a few stories of my own here and I’d love to go back because Athens is like a great novel…every time you read it, the more you learn!

The Wonders of Kangaroo Island aka My Best Vacay ever (thus far)

Writing about memorable anniversaries would be incomplete without writing about my Anniversary last year where we did a spectacular tour of Australia. Most notable among the places we visited was Kangaroo Island native name Karta or Island of the Dead! Not a particularly exciting name, I really wasn’t initially looking forward to this particular leg of our trip! The hotel we were staying in was called Southern Ocean Lodge , another cause for serious concern. In India you NEVER stay in a Lodge….I mean it’s not even a hotel or a Guest House. A lodge here is a surefire recipe for YECH! I put up a fight but was too bogged down with work to really work on getting my way….A good thing I didn’t….This turned out to be my most memorable vacation ever and my favourite place in the world thus far!

To get to Kingscote, the only airport on Kangaroo Island you need to take a flight from Adelaide. The flight is barely 30 minutes and though you have a seat belt sign and an announcement saying you may move/ switch on electrical equipment when the sign goes off- it never really does go off and barely have you reached a cruising altitude you are on your way down.

The airport is small and basic and we were greeted by a car from the Lodge. The drive to the Lodge takes about 45 minutes but it often takes longer as you see Kangaroos crossing, wallabies in the middle of the road and ever so often and eagle swooping down and sitting poised in the centre of the road. This was where I first fell in love with the island. The island is straight out of a novel. With narrow roads ,shaded by beautiful, think, green foliage your car moves slowly towards an unknown destination. You see very few cars, several animals and have just a driver to keep you company as he explains the history behind the island. The drive reminded me of all the Agatha Christie novels I had read and suddenly I was more than intrigued to see our final destination!

The Southern Ocean Lodge is TRULY SPECTACULAR. Almost like a diamond placed on the edge of a cliff, when you walk in you are suddenly struck by the quiet fabulousness of the Hotel. It is beauty at its most natural best! The lobby has fabulous ceiling to floor windows which overlook the sea and the entire hotel is perfectly placed at the edge of a cliff. All of only 21 luxe suites the Lodge looks after each guest like they are family and our check in was warm and comfortable. It was like I was coming home!

And what a home! The rooms are spacious and large. Each room overlooks the sea and has the same huge bay windows as the lobby. When you book at Southern Ocean Lodge, you book ALL INCLUSIVE Luxury stays and the tasty treats included in our room were a delicious welcome!

All Inclusive has always been another thing that worried me. What if the tastes were different? What if the chef wasn’t good? How do you know you like the food? And are you paying too much extra for meals you may not even have!? These questions were unnecessary. The food at SOL is made from the finest local produce and from fresh salads to fresh cheeses and the tastiest of sea food; every imaginable choice was given to us! The chef at the Lodge is remarkable and every meal was a gastronomical delight! Also the special snacks that were in our room daily including the fabulous chocolates and brownies, ensured I’d never be able to look at food the same way again!

SOL organises itineraries for each guest and these are remarkably comprehensive and great fun to do! Right at the start of our stay we were given a personal itinerary and every day was packed with nature walks, trips and more Exclusive experiences! The trip to Seal Bay was easily my favourite. Being an animal lover, or even if you are not–watching seals in their natural habitat with their big brown eyes and floppy feet was the best way to spend a morning! Watching a baby cry to find his mother and then watching 4 mothers rush over was funny, delightful and so so touching!

The other must do trip is the Wonders of Kangaroo Island trip. A 4 hour trip , you get to see the Remarkable rocks, more seals and even spot some fabulous koalas in their natural habitat! A photographer’s dream, this is an exceptional tour! I’m not one for 4 hour tours but here I made the exception and I’m so delighted I did!

The Kangaroos and Canapés is another wonderful way to spend the evening. Watching tens of wild kangaroos graze, stare and even box each other while we drank champagne and ate some fabulous food was a perfect end to a day at SOL!

The evenings have cocktails at the fire place and it was fun to meet with fellow guests, discuss sightings and tours and just generally bond! With such few guests and staff who address you by name every time it’s like joining a new family or just extending yours!

The suite we booked didn’t have a TV and the phone connections were terrible, at best! But cut off from the rest of the world, I have never felt so at peace and oddly enough so connected! I talked. I listened. I saw. I experience. I touched. I felt. I came alive!

My greatest trip ever!

 

Best Times To Travel-: October thru to March when the weather is a lil less chilly… tho honestly I would return ANY DAY, EVERY DAY IF I COULD!

Costs-: EXPENSIVE! $ 3000+ for 3 nights with all the experiences thrown in…! Kangaroos, wallabies, canapies… and a once in a lifetime vacation…!Worth it! YES!

The Anniversary

I am very much the romantic and love celebrating every milestone in my romantic life BUT MOST OF ALL I love that Anniversary’s are the PERFECT excuse to hop out of town and take a much needed mini lux vacay!

This year was our sixth anniversary and if there’s anything I’ve learnt in our 15 years of friendship/ 10 years of being together/ 6 years of marriage is that my husband is a beach boy! He’s happiest tanning and lounging and happy husband=lots more gifts for me!

So off we headed to a small Exclusive Private Resort off the coast of Phuket to Naka Island a wonderful property recently taken over from Six Senses by the Starwood Luxury Collection.

The trip to the Island started off rather iffy though. The car (a BMW 7 series… my husband loves to pamper me in style!) that we had booked did not turn up at the airport and we had to travel in a lovely (yet NOT the car chosen for us and smaller!) Mercedes. We later learned that the cars are outsourced by the Resort to a Private company. In fact there are several cases of incorrect cars at passenger pick ups and sometimes no cars at all. This CANNOT be an excuse for a Luxury Property and after an awful 2 am flight and over 8 hrs of traveling I made my annoyance apparent! The pier is approximately 10 minutes away by car. Once there the Outsourced company driver had no idea what to do with us and we had to fend for ourselves by picking up a much needed latte at the very well stocked cafe by the pier while the husband had a black coffee which woke him up so much- he picked up the phone and fired the Resort for their complete disorganization! An angry wife he has come to realise equals a difficult few days! Within a few minutes a boat pulled up and several people from Naka Island came to greet us. Their disorganization we later realised is because of the fact that the new management has recently taken over and everything is still in it’s teething stage!

A tough start…. but all would be forgiven soon!

The boat ride takes barely 5 minutes to the Island…so if you want some great snaps , you’d better start clicking immediately.

The island’s approach is magnificent and seconds after stepping on the island we were whisked away to the Gong on the mainland where they promise that  ‘any wish you make will come true!’ We both hit the gong with all our remaining strength and I wished and wished with all my heart!

Check in happens in your rooms. And my what rooms they are! The rooms are gigantic with a lovely cottage like feel. 1/3 of the room is indoors and the rest is outdoors including a beautiful outdoor jacuzzi and a fabulous rain shower! The husband had booked us the highest room category (save for the 6 person Presidential suite) which had private beach access and  your very own sunbathing sala among other amenities! The room pool was incredible but nothing can beat the Hotel’s main pool!

The hotel’s main pool is a 3 layer infinity pool. Tanning on your own beach chair in the middle of a pool of water is fabulous especially since you can walk barely a foot away and then jump into a pool to cool off after a great tan! The beach chairs are in Pool 1 which leads on to Pool 2 which leads on to Pool 3 so even if you have the Pool in your room you end up rushing to use the Big main pool just because it is so unique and much larger!

The Luxury Romance package was well worth the spend. With lazy breakfast in beds and quick swims in the sea ; we only left our rooms by the afternoon to tan some more in the main pool area!

The Resort has lots of activities. We signed up for Muay Thai- a thai boxing class and TBB- a leg work out and both were well instructed, well trained and kept us very busy and me very happy! The island is huge with the Resort occupying part of the Island and a local village occupying the rest. To get around from your sala you have bicycles and this very soon became one of the nicest, but fittest vacations we’d ever done! Between the swimming, the activities and the cycling….we were always ravenous! That was great though because the food ranging from burgers and fish and chips to Thai cuisine to sushi was across the board spectacular. Tasty, well portioned and beautifully seasoned…this trip was a Foodie’s delight!

From the in room dining, to the bar , to the main restaurants…we were always surpassed, always delighted!

To pamper ourselves on the anniversary we also tried the spa. The spa with its many treatments on offer was wonderful. Large- it was like walking into a hidden garden Nestled in between the resort but shaded by trees, it was like you walked up a forgotten path and were magically transported into an Enchanted garden. The treatments were very good but if a spa is supposed to make you forget about your daily worries and tensions and relax…well then this one did just that–I forgot for a few hours that I even lived on Earth….I was transported to a private, beautiful heaven- in short…I loved it!

The vacation finished too soon and despite I was going back via Bangkok to shop…I found myself wishing I could stay a bit longer on this personal paradise!

The trip back was perfect! The boat was wonderful, the car was just right….and I’m already planning a vacay back soon with the family ! My husband got this anniversary JUST RIGHT!

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