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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 Vivanta by Taj Malabar

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Set amidst luscious palms with a magnificent view of Cochin harbour is the glorious Vivanta by Taj Malabar. The heritage wing awaited us and in true Kerala fashion – without any fuss – we were shown to our room. Soon enough all the senior hotel members arrived- all to say hello to my father, a frequent visitor and suddenly after my Dad made the introductions- Aditya and I were also welcomed , in true Taj fashion , as family!

The rooms are modern, spacious and comfortable. The Heritage rooms with their gorgeous view of the bay and the balcony’s are easily the best rooms in the hotel! We quickly freshened up and headed to Pepper, the all day restaurant for lunch! The buffet was wonderful. I am not a fan of buffets, but this buffet had not only a wide selection but the taste of the different cuisines was also authentic- a refreshing change from buffets which often either have a limited selection , or only focus on one type of cuisine.

What I loved about this hotel was also their tea service which happened every evening where tea, cakes and some snacks were offered to all their guests on the lawn while you could watch the sun set in the bay. This is complimentary and from tasty, strong south Indian coffee, to coconut water, green tea and even the cappuccino – they give you your choice of beverage and always have some tasty snacks. after a long day of sightseeing this was always a high point in the evening!

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And then ofcourse there is the Jiva Spa. With it’s traditional Ayurvedic massages and services- this Jiva Spa looked after the wellness of the guest completely. A session was not just limited to an hour. The session consisted of a consultation with an Ayurvedic doctor, treatments, massages and a follow up. It is not surprising therefore that people from across the world come here for 10 and 15 days for weight loss and wellness Ayurvedic programs at the Jiva Spa.

With an eternity pool that almost dissolves in to the bay and in the midst of the swaying palm trees and silence of nature- it’s easy to get lost in the magnificence of Kerala, the beautiful serenity, the meditative calm and the glorious beauty of God’s own country.

It was good to be home.

Best Time To Travel-: Winter… else Kerala does get very hot during the summer… December , Jan and Feb are ideal unless of course you are like my husband and love watching the glorious Kerala monsoon in June and July where the trees come alive…. (but you can do little else!)

Cost-:$200 onwards. But remember HERITAGE ROOMS- and you MUST TRY THE JIVA SPA!

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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! 

A Venetian Romance

You haven’t known what romance is unless you’ve been to Venezia….you’ll never truly understand beauty unless you go there. I fell in love in Venezia– it was love at first sight and it was an affair I’ll never forget!

You get out of the train station and Venice is like no other city I have ever seen.Water everywhere and water taxis and Vaporettos waiting to take you to your destination! It was amazing, overwhelming and quite literally magical. You dream about the canals of Venice. You have seen pictures of gondola rides but nothing prepares you for the beautiful energy of Venice, the magical sunlight, the singing boatmen and the energy in the air! There are two stations in Venice and the one that is easier to get to your hotel from is Santa Lucia as this is in the historic centre of Venice as opposed to Venezia Mestre which is in the heart of the mainland.

Our hotel was about 20 minutes by water taxi (which we hired for just the 2 of us…to make our arrival even more special!). There are several Vaporettos (water buses) however that can be easily taken at the station as well.

Our hotel deserves an entire paragraph. The Luna Baglioni , a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, was undoubtedly the BEST HOTEL we stayed at in Italy! I guess they quite literally saved the best for last! a minutes walk away from St. Marks Square (Piazza San Marco) the Luna Baglioni is on the waterfront. It is right in the heart of Venice facing the San Marco Basin and the island of San Giorgio and was the perfect choice. Our room …oh my Goodness our room could inspire poets. With walk-in closets (yes more than one), a magnificent drawing room, a plush bedroom and 2 bathrooms ,we were ensconced in plush fabric and ultimate luxury . Then we saw our own private terrace. Over looking the water with some beautiful sun beds , this was easily the finest position to catch the most glorious of sunsets and suddenly I was sad because we were only in Venice for a night.

I will go back. I must go back and I would only stay at  The Luna Baglioni.

Venice for us was about winding down, relaxing and just staying in the moment and if there’s one place you can do that…it’s Venice. We wandered the cobbled pathways, stopped in numerous cafes and shopped for Murano glass jewelry to my hearts content. Now most hotels will offer you a free boat ride to the Murano glass factory but as that would taken a few hours what with going there and back and then seeing the factory, we both felt our time would be better spent just enjoying Venice at our own leisure. The jewelry was beautiful though and I picked up some necklaces which I absolutely love. I loved climbing the little bridges and walking through every lane and bylane. Exploring new corners of Venice… every time you turned , you could create another picture perfect moment!

Piazza San Marco is glorious. The Piazza is dominated by the Church of St. Marks and a glorious ,old clock tower!  With lots of cafes, some of which have live artistic performances and with fabulous food- Venice is an explosion of your senses. There is beauty absolutely everywhere and inspiration in every step you take. I’d have loved to have visited the Doges Palace which stands so perfectly regal but we had no time and too mush to absorb! There’ll always be next time..that is one thing I’m sure of.

After a leisurely lunch and a warm cappuccino , we decided to enjoy a romantic gondola ride as the sun was setting. With a glass of champagne and a very musical boatman…we headed into the glorious canals of Venice. Hundreds of tourists , tens of gondolas and yet you felt like yours was the only story that mattered, the only ride that counted…Venice can do that to you. It can you feel special again and that’s what the gondola ride did… it made me feel special!

A beautiful sunset followed by a glorious sunrise, Venice is beautiful even when the world sleeps… I can see why realms of poetry and hundreds of sonnets has been written about this remarkable gem….

Here’s to another trip to Venice …

Best Times To Travel-:  May through to October – it’s summer and it’s wonderful…but prices also peak at this time!

Price Factor-:  EXPENSIVE!!! $400- $700 per night for a 5 star hotel and expect to pay at least 30-50% more on food, cappuccinos etc as compared to any other Italian city

The Rocking Reds of Ayers Rock/ Uluru!

Another remarkable trip was to Ayers rock, Uluru and to Longitude 131. With just 15 tents, with private sunrise and sunset views of Uluru,in the Kata Tjuta National Park this hotel is incredible! Part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, we had been wanting to see this beautiful hotel for a while!

I am proud to say several Australians haven’t yet been to Uluru. In the Northern Territory it looks nothing like the rest of Australia. No sun, surf and blue …here it’s red, hard and incredibly bright! I loved it!

Uluru is the traditional name of Ayers Rock and how the rock is known to the aboriginal people. It is near another remarkable rock structure called Kata Tjuta which is a collection of 36 variously-sized rock domes approximately 36km to the west of Uluru

To get to Ayers Rock, is a bit of a trek. You take a direct flight from Sydney to Uluru.Other cities take you to Alice springs after which you have to take a 45 minute flight to Uluru. The International Qantas Business class are fabulous , possibly one of the best in the world; but their domestic business class is nothing to right home about and after a long flight from India leaving at 10:30 am the previous day , we arrived at Uluru only at 12 p.m. the NEXT DAY. The Domestic flight seats had almost no recline , were small, hard and we were truly exhausted when we arrived!

The memorable part of our arrival however was being able to see Uluru from the plane….From a  vast emptiness of nothing rose a beautiful red rock glistening in the sunlight and a bit of our exhaustion, just a bit , slowly reduced! Voyages owns  all the resorts in Ayers Rock and you haveback packing grounds, dormitories, 3 and 5 star hotels and then you have LONGITUDE 131– the reason why we made the trip to Uluru in the first place. Aditya and I have always traveled to create remarkable experiences and incredible memories and this hotel had been on our MUST STAY list for a while! And it was worth it! The packages they offer are usually all inclusive with alcohol, meals and even tours included! These are most definitely worth it, because the food is fabulous and the tours are private and wonderful !

Luxury tents rising from the middle of nowhere,several feet of the ground with a sheet glass window facing the glorious rock….it was privacy and luxury at its best! We arrived I collapsed in the wonderfully oversized bed! Later we had lunch at the Dune House. From quick sandwiches to elaborate mains…the food was fabulous!

When in Uluru , you must make trips to see the rocks. On Day 1 , in the afternoon we explored the rock and the history behind it. There were several parables and tales about the rock. We were shown faces of the rock that looked uncannily like snakes and foot prints. These all formed part of the ancient aboriginal culture. They were all stories passed from generation to generation. The aboriginal folk still live in the area and have their own villages which remain undisturbed by tourists. The rock forms religious significance for them still and several festivals, rites of passage etc are still conducted at the rock. They also have several wild pet dogs and animals, so don’t be surprised if you see one wandering around while you are walking. They seem mighty busy and usually in a hurry to grab a drink of water , at one of the natural springs formed near the rock and rush back home. The rock also has a male and female side where only aboriginal men/ women are allowed . You are requested not to photograph the female side at any cost.  This is sacred land and it is asked that you respect the stories, respect the culture, respect the rock.

 We did the Mala Walk and Kantju Gorge. Now if you are leaving your room during the day to walk anywhere the one thing you will need is a fly mask! There are millions of tiny flies everywhere!!! the mask looked ridiculous to me on Day 1 and I didn’t carry it but after gobbling more than a few flies , one Day 2 I had both the fly-repellant lotion all over and the fly mask on at ALL TIMES! THIS IS NOT AN EXAGGERATION. Flies are a very real issue!

This is approximately 2 km. Here you see fine examples of Anangu rock art and you can experience the sheer vertical walls. This is an easy walk and with all the stories you here goes by too quickly. You also see the beautiful and peaceful Kantju Gorge.

After this we did the 1 km Kuniya walk. We saw the Mutitjulu waterhole, home of a wanampi, an ancestral water snake. Lots of interesting birds were spotted and we enjoyed some more caves with some wonderful rock art!

These walks give you a great idea on the history. We also noticed groups of people walking on the rock. There are treks up the face of the rock. However these are NOT ENCOURAGED. There are several signs asking you to respect the land and its people and not climb the rock. The signs are every 50 metres at some places and so despite the walk looking challenging and the view looking fabulous ; we both felt it was important to respect the aboriginal culture and not stamp on it!

There rare also base walks which are longer and started usually early in the morning as the sun gets pretty hot as they day progresses and the flies increase substantially!

For the sunset viewing of the rock we were taken to a beautiful point where you could quite literally see the rock change colour from reds, to oranges and browns and even a shade of

purple- this was quite remarkable. Hundreds of people gather for that one photograph and it was most definitely worth it!

They also do a morning sunrise viewing of the rock but honestly I couldn’t make out too much difference in the light in the morning or evening, so if given a choice just do the evening one!

What was fabulous about Longitude 131 was one of its experiences-Table 131° – Dining Under the Stars. Here they set up a beautifultable under the stars with a 3 course meal and a wonderful astronomer! Now I never really understood the wonder of the night sky till we sat down to that dinner! The sky is always romantic and beautiful but that night it came alive! we saw more stars than we ever seen in our lives! We learnt about galaxies and constellations and saw the Zodiac signs in the sky all over a couple of glasses of wine and an incredibly sumptuous meal! The piece-de-resistance was however when we moved to the Astronomers telescope and with just a bit magnification and my naked eye- I saw VENUS! The incredible planet with all her exquisite rings was blazing magnificently in the night sky! I’d always drawn Venus in school with the customary rings but to actually see the planet was an experience  I will never forget!!! The fly mask is not necessary in the evenings giving us even more cause to celebrate!

Ayers Rock just has Uluru with its wonderful stories and remarkable history but Longitude 131 was an experience in itself! The quiet splendor of the hotel and the remarkable calm of glorious Uluru made this the perfect break!

Price Factor-: Expensive ! $2000-$2200 for 2 nights! BUT IT’S ALL INCLUSIVE! Meals, tours and even alcohol is on the house!!!

Best times to travel-: April- September else it gets way too hot!

Breathing Underwater – the Maldives

It was an anniversary and yet another excuse to take off! The husband loves the sea and the surf and I love him so it was off to Maldives (my second trip) …his first!

The most amazing thing about Maldives is the landing. Surrounded by water on both sides , the runway is this narrow strip of land surrounded by an ocean of the mostbrilliant blue you will ever see! Despite the fact that the flight took off at an unearthly hour and I was almost running on no sleep for 2 days..when you see that beautiful blue…everything seems to look a whole lot brighter to you!

For this trip we were staying at the Taj Coral Reef. The General Manager of the Taj Exotica in Goa had moved there and was a friend and in in true Taj fashion promised us a fabulously romantic anniversary and we’d always had a wonderful time at the Exotica…so we  thought …why not! That’s the thing with the Taj…employees are never just merely employees! They become friends and confidantes. They know your family. They remember their tastes. They remember birthdays and anniversaries. For a true taste of home even when you’re far away…there’s always the fabulous Taj and so there we went!

The Taj Coral Reef is just one among tens of superb luxury resorts in the Maldives and the next time I return, I will probably shift between the islands. I’d love to do the Banyan Tree, Six Senses , One and Only and for a taste of home try the Taj Exotica Maldives!

This was our quick break and one island would be more than sufficient , I was sure to give my husband the beach break that he needed and me the Anniversary celebrations that I loved!

We arrived at Male airport and within minutes we were whisked away by Luxury speedboat to the the Taj Coral reef! The speedboat takes approximately 45 minutes and on the way there we were both exhausted. We lay down on the sun bed and my next memory is arriving at the Island!

I had always wanted to stay in a water bungalow…one that is above water and so that is what we chose! My dream had always been to sit out at night and gaze in to the expanse of the ocean or venture out bravely for a moonlit swim or wake up and roll over into the ocean! I must confess I DID THEM ALL!

The bungalow was exquisite and the ladder from our room taking us into the lagoon which lead into the ocean was a wonderful idea and one that excited me the minute I reached!

Traveling most of the night, we quickly ordered some food at the beautiful and very comfortable Reef Bar and went back to our room to sleep!

After our first dip in the ocean and a quick cup of coffee in the evening we headed to the beach where much to our amazement Stingrays are hand fed by staff and guests everyevening as the sun sets at about 6 p.m.! Wearing plastic gloves, I nervously joined Aditya as he  fed the great beats with ease! I approached my first stingray who eagerly gobbled the food off the palm of my hand and even allowed me to pat it on the head as if thanking me for my efforts before it swam away! There were tens of them, all hungry, all greedy, all eager and this was an absolute treat! This was a once in a life time experience and I will always treasure it!

Dinner was at Open-The Grill with a fabulous Japanese chef showing off his incredible knife skills while we treated to the best Teppenyaki grill specialities- meats and vegetables alike! A wonderful evening with the GM and his family almost became a wonderful morning as we talked, caught up and just relaxed!

The Anniversary was special. The morning started with a knock on the door and a champagne breakfast in bed! The entire outside of our bungalow had been decorated with flowers and balloons and it seemed like everywhere we went on the island, they wished us on our special day! A fabulous start gave both of us the energy to once again ‘Take the Plunge’ and so we did! From the pier we jumped off into the ocean! Running on the pier and taking a leap into the clear blue water felt fabulous, freeing and incredible!

The thing with Maldives is fish are everywhere! When we jumped off the pier we often displaced entire schools of tiny fish on their way to feeding or shocked a big fish who was just swimming around! In the Maldives and at Coral Reef you are surrounded by the most beautiful fish- of varied colours and sizes and you can see them through the water which almost serves as a sheet of glass! You don’t need to snorkel to see the incredible marine life…it’s right there in front of you!

We are both avid snorkelers and divers and so by mid afternoon we headed to a nearby shipwreck to see more marine life and more coral! The coral in Maldives is every imaginable colour. The pinks are so pink. The yellows are cheerful and the blues and greens are subtle and melt in to the aquamarine waters! The ship wreck was fabulous,fantastic and fun but completely exhausting! For sunset we had a wonderful surprise. We were dropped on a sand patch/ small island that only reveals it self during low tide and so for a few hours in  a day you can sit in this small strip of land surrounded by water on all sides and just ‘BE.’

And at night it was a private moonlit dinner at a table set at the edge of the pier where during dessert we were able to spot a reef shark on it’s nightly hunt! Exhilarating, exciting and yet gloriously calm- that for me will always be Maldives!

Price Factor-: Maldives is expensive with Luxury Hotel rates looking to be between 500-800 dollars a night. Worth it? YES DEFINITELY especially if you’d like to explore the water… A kingdom more beautiful than earth by far , more colorful and infinitely quieter 😉

Best times to travel-: It is traditionally warm throughout the year.  But it may rain a bit between May and October….! The best time to travel, I believe however…is whenever you’d like to go!

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