And so before you know it…we’d hit number 7! The seventh anniversary dawned upon us and with my focus being the many shows we’re doing and traveling with this year, and with a show on the night before my anniversary ; we couldn’t really get away (MUCH AS I’D LOVED TO HAVE!)….But if you can’t get away from the city well then you should make a small get away IN your city and so that’s what we did!
On the Anniversary we checked in to the Spanish Suite at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Straight from our wedding, Aditya and I had checked in to the Taj, and readied ourselves for the grand reception the next day! The Taj Mumbai also played host to my sister’s engagement, my parent’s marriage my in-laws marriage as well! So naturally, but naturally we’d want to check in to what can only be described, as almost a second home to us! My brilliant sister, Nikhila had pulled out all the stops to make this the best most memorable anniversary ever and she never fails to amaze us! The Spanish Suite is known for a beautiful , old chandelier and the beautiful romantic hues of the room. With a glorious view of the Gateway of India…. it was the perfect backdrop to my small afternoon plan of reaffirming our vows! Since we were home, this one time , on our anniversary I thought of doing a small reaffirmation of vows with just family. For me that would make my day just perfect!
We checked in and were thoroughly surprised(I spent a good 15 minutes running from room to room) to see all the many, many photographs that had been strategically placed of us. It was like the room had been specially kept just for us! We quickly changed and headed to the pool for some sun and i was delighted when almost every staff member greeted me by name and wished me Happy Anniversary. It’s true what they say about the legendary service at the Taj.
Lunch was at my favourite restaurant in the world 🙂 Souk and then after more sunbathing; we rushed back to the room for me to soak in warm romantic bath that had been prepared. And then before we knew it family had arrived and Nikhila , my sister who had been ordained online performed a quick ceremony and our anniversary was celebrated with champagne toasts and tons of laughter!
And then it was off to Sea Lounge for the fabulous High Tea! The Sea Lounge has the best high tea in Mumbai . with sandwiches, and chats, pastries and savory items; this is a fabulously filling meal and it was a wonderful evening spent chatting, laughing, reminiscing and relaxing!
The family then left and much as I couldn’t eat another morsel, Aditya insisted that we at least go to the lounge and have a drink! Now it was just the 2 of us and we headed to the lounge where they had prepared a special cake just to celebrate our anniversary!
I was too exhausted at the end of the day to eat another morsel; so after sitting in the lounge for a bit , it was room service and an extremely comfortable bed for me!!!
Surprise! Surprise! Chef Hemanth Oberoi, the Grand Executive Chef at The Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai, as well as corporate chef for the entire Taj chain of hotels; and most importantly the man who designed the menu for my wedding -had sent to our room ; not one, not two- BUT THREE GIGANTIC CHOCOLATE CAKES! Now we had THREE PLUS ONE FROM EARLIER!!!! 🙂
I awoke on Sunday to a fabulous breakfast in bed. Capuccino’s , croissants and juices… I felt thoroughly pampered. Off for a nice , long relaxing swim and then we ended up at lunch at Masala Kraft , the Indian restaurant!They knew all my favourites and had brought them even before I placed my order!
And then post a cup of coffee; it was time to go home… Though this was a very, very short break- I came home feeling refreshed, energized and still in vacation mode…!
Anniversary or no anniversary – I think I’d like to do this every 3 months or so! Wot say Aditya? 🙂
It was time to explore…Back to Delhi but now to try out a new hotel ( or a new hotel for me!) so I decided to try another favourite hotel chain the SPG (Starwood Preferred Guests) Property. Now you’ll remember i’ve had some wonderful trips with SPG in the past- In Naka Island, In Athens and even in Amsterdam to name a few but hadn’t really stayed in any SPG property in India…so it was definitely time for me to try one out!
We were checked in at the Westin Gurgaon and I upgraded myself to a Royal Suite… After all I love a bit of luxury, even if it was a work trip… I thought I might as well indulge myself a little. The lobby was kind of disappointing- cold and aloof ,I was a little worried as to what my room might be like.
There was absolutely no need to worry. the Royal Suite is exquisite. With a large living room, complete with a sit down area , dining table and bar to entertain – it is MASSIVE! With a glorious view of the bustling Gurgaon below! Straight past our living room was a beautiful bedroom with the much talked about ‘Heavenly Bed!’ The Westin prides itself on their Heavenly beds and I must say after a fabulously restful night I can understand what the fuss is all about! The room was massive but still had the personal touches of a Nespresso coffee machine,a media centre and freshly baked cookies and savoury items that were sent to our room every few hours.
The pool is rather small but surrounded by lush greenery. Compared to the starkness of the Westin structure it is rather oasis like and therefore attractive. The spa is far too hidden and tucked away and was a bit too secluded and low lit for me ! 🙂
A couple of meetings and a rather hectic day later, I found myself in the Westin Lounge. A two level lounge, don’t sit on the second level. the food stations, servers are all on Level 1. The cocktail hour and snacks had everything from sushi to fried chicken more than made up for my long day! Ending it ensconced in a gloriously large bath tub with the perfect scented salts completely revived me and I was back to the lounge later that evening for a warm cup of green tea and some biscuits!
My one day trip to Delhi was made less hurried and a lot more fun with this quick luxury break and the Westin Gurgaon! Definitely one of my new favourites!
Cost-:Approximately $500 upwards… UPGRADE yourself especially if you have family or need a relaxing break ! Definitely worth it especially if you have work in Gurgaon…!
Best times to Travel-: September to November and February for cool weather. Delhi is awfully hot in Summer and bitterly cold in winter… I like the monsoon as well but with the traffic on the road, its fun watching the Delhi monsoon from inside a room rather than from outside!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
The next day it was an early start and off to Guruvayur Temple. The temple was a good 3 hours ( and a little extra ) away from our hotel and it was important that we got an early start.The presiding deity in the Garbhagraha (central shrine) is Mahavishnu and is supposed to be over 5000 years old! The temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna. The temple has an enormous following and is very holy and was one of the main reasons for my trip. The rules of the temple are strict.
- You must be Hindu
- Men must wear mundus and go bare chested.
- Women must wear skirts or saris or salwar kurtas
- No shoes or footwear is allowed
- No photographs allowed!( so the one below is off a website!)
The queues are enormous and the time you get to see the deity(the darshan) is very short. But with the amount of faith this temple has among devotees – the lines are never too long and the Darshan always special!
And then it was off to Thrissur where my father was born. My father had spent several years in Thrissur and our Tharavad (ancestral) house was in Thrissur. It was wonderful to relive some of his memories.
We got to see Ratnavilas a palace that my great-great grand mother – Parukutty Nethyar Amma built and lived in after her husband died! My mother had also visited and lived here after her marriage and i too had visited as a baby! Now unfortunately it had been sold to a hotel but even then you could see perfectly beautiful wooden staircases and gorgeous windows- remnants of an incredible time gone by! My parents spent time reminiscing about Ratnavilas and there were so many fun anecdotes and incredible memories- I wished that I’d been a little older when I’d visited just to share some of the history!
And then it was off to the Town Hall built by my great grandfather V.K. Aravindaksha Menon who was the second son of the Maharaja and Chief Engineer of Cochin State. The building from the outside seemed almost as good as new and we were very delighted.
The famous Vadakunnathan Temple is in the middle of the huge Thrissur Circle which has a diameter of a mile. The temple is very powerful and dedicated to Lord Shiva.The statue of Shiva is in the form of a huge lingam and is not visible. It is covered under a mound of ghee, formed by the daily prayers with ghee over the years. A devotee looking into the sanctum can now see only a 16-foot-high mound of ghee embellished with thirteen cascading crescents of gold and three serpent hoods at top. Legend says that Tipu Sultan while he was invading Cochin State tied his horse in front of this temple not heeding the curses and warnings of the priests. As he did so, news came to him that his capital of Srirangapatnam (near Mysore) had been invaded by the British. He left immediately heading back to Mysore and was killed in battle.
Driving thru Thrissur you cannot but help notice the statue of my Great great grandfather the Maharaja in the middle of a busy junction and despite the fact that there was no way I could get out from the car(the roads were that busy)- I kept clicking and clicking!
A quick bite and a lot of shopping later , we headed back towards the hotel happily tired and very nostalgic.
I know I wish I’d been born during the Maharaja’s time. I think I’d be a super Royal :)!
I had stayed in all the Taj properties in Chennai save for the Taj Club House. I’d been there for my cousin’s wedding prior to it’s opening ….but I’d never seen the rooms or the restaurants or the services so when I got the chance to travel to Chennai and stay at the the Taj Club House on Clubhouse road for a show (FourSome!) , minutes away from Chennai’s historic Mount Road…I jumped at the opportunity!
Modern, young and still looking spanking new…the hotel stands like an oasis pristine towering above Chennai’s noisy, busy roads below. You enter the lobby and immediately you seem cocooned and calm. On the left is a small coffee area with cakes and pastries.
The rooms are the most modern I’ve seen among the new Taj properties. Well spaced, comfortable and wonderfully in tune with a guest’s need, it’s easy to see why this hotel has so many long stay guests!
Go up to the swimming pool and enjoy taking laps across the pool after a quick exercise at the huge , very well equipped gym ; it’s wonderful to enjoy a quick cuppa and watch the city as it slowly starts winding down. Lights come on , the sun goes down and in this mad, mad ,frenetic metro you are left feeling a funny,warm sense of peace!
The Indian restaurant-Beyond Indus, in the lobby area is exceptional. Interesting kebabs, pre-plated indian meals made for a truly tasty and quite exotic meal..The food was light (unlike Indian food often is), perfectly spiced and truly delicious!
The Moroccan-Lebnanese restaurant on the rooftop, Kefi, is also interesting but not a patch on my favourite Lebanese restaurant back home in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace… SOUK!
But the ones that must be mentioned is the high energy bar Blend serving fun cocktails and fabulous tapas….A couple of years ago Chennai had no nightlife but I have to say Blend started rocking post 10:30 p.m. and continued rocking till the wee hours of the morning!
The fabulous Sunday brunch at the Club House (the 24 hour restaurant) was also sublime! Packed tables, live singing and more live stations than you could count- The Taj Club House easily has one of the best brunches I have ever seen and going by the turnout – you’d better get there early else you’ll never find space!
A newly opened Jiva Spa gives me one more reason to go back…
See you soon Chennai… see you soon Taj Club House!
It’s annoying I can’t find more photographs… this is definitely a property that deserves many, many photographs! :)…
Best Time To Travel-: November to February…else it does get very hot and muggy!
Cost-:$150- $200 a night…well worth it! Modern, fresh and yummy!
The Taj Deccan is primarily a business hotel with several long stay business guests and even more guests who keep coming back because of the personal attention they get from the staff who quite literally treat them like family!
We were off to yet another sojourn to Hyderabad for the final leg of our show FourSome which was being hosted by the Taj Deccan. We arrived to be personally greeted and given a warm, welcoming hug by the General Manager, Mrs Gahlot who I am lucky to know personally as a friend. Her eye for detail and care in terms of guest relations, quality of service is outstanding and she takes a personal interest in the well-being of every guest whether you are staying a single night or for several. You can often see her on her many, many rounds of the hotel- always smiling, never hesitating to stop and enquire whether you need anything at all!
The Taj Deccan rooms are old style- large ,spacious and comfortable and in preparation for a long few days, I plonked my suitcases down and got straight to work!
The lawns had been done up in the last year and were now divided in to the main lawns and the pool lawns and 2 functions could quite easily exist simultaneously .The beautifully manicured lawns were being done for a wedding the following day and our area was perfectly covered insulating the sound with a beautiful stage. All this was already set.
After a long drawn out tech meeting with our vendors it was time to visit Syn the Asian bar which serves the most interesting and delectable array of sushi. The chef is a master challenging your taste buds with sushi styles you’ve never heard of but which are so tasty you wish you could keep eating them!
The Taj Deccan also has an incredible Indian speciality restaurant called Spice Junxion. Drawing on it’s Hyderabadi and South Indian routes the Chef creates festivals, menus and dishes that are seasonal and incredibly mouthwatering!
If you stay at Deccan- EAT THE FOOD!
The hotel is perched in the prestigious Banjara Hills. With shopping, business and nightclubs all just minutes away…enjoy a young and vibrant Hyderabadi night life!
I’m a sucker for staying at the Taj Deccan for 2 nights and then traveling to the Old city to the Taj Faluknama Palace for another 2!
How did the show go? …
Cost-:$150-$250 a night… a wonderfully placed hotel with INCREDIBLE FOOD!
Best Times To Travel-:October thru to February!
And it was off to Shanghai and to the J.W. Marriott at Shanghai’s hip Tomorrow Square minutes away from the heart of Shanghai’s commercial shopping districts in Puxi! Puxi (is the historic center of Shanghai. Puxi is distinguished from Pudong , which is separated from it by the Huangpu River. Despite the growing importance of Pudong Puxi remains Shanghai’s cultural, residential and commercial centre. The two are divided by the Huangpu river which you can ferry across if you’d like, take a metro over or cross via car/ taxi over the bridge (which we did!)
Standing 60 stories tall, you cannot miss this fabulous structure as you drive in to the city. I pointed the building out miles away and was delighted when the driver told us that this was our hotel! As you reach you are ushered in to an elevator which takes you to the 38th floor for check in! With sheet glass windows overlooking Shanghai, it made sense to have the check in , high above the city where you could see this glorious, bustling city as it After that we checked in to our room on an even higher floor of this magnificent structure!
A quick wash and change later we were headed to the world famous Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall , barely 10 minutes away on foot from the hotel! Nanjing Road, known, is flanked by hundreds of huge shopping centers, specialty stores and shops with unique Chinese characteristics and a long history.The 1033-metre-long “Pedestrian Walkway of Nanjing Road” houses the China’s key commercial shops and the colorfully glazed floor tiles, the fashionable stores flanking the street, the hustling and bustling crowd, the small, lovely sightseeing trains, all make for a fabulous way to shop a lot and see a little Chinese culture while you’re at it!
Shanghai is modern , fashionable , young and fun! High street brands and High couture are well represented in different parts of the city. The Chinese are fashionable and unafraid to take fashion risks, which invariably seem to pay off! You will see them mixing brands and couture with equal ease and Shanghai was easily one of the most fashionable cities! Of course, if you are looking, you can always find the fake bags and belts with impeccable stitching and almost no difference from the original! These are sold in small by-lanes in garage like warehouses. They are more than a bit shady and with language being such a difficulty any way, there was no way I was going to get conned into a garage with a bunch of men who I couldn’t communicate with! Power to the bunch of women I saw rushing in- oohing and aahing… I’d rather pay the extra yuan and not venture into any basements, thank you!
Oh and do keep a check for false currency. We changed our dollars at a reputed money changer and they realised they were giving us fakes and took it back! Scary but the fakes look super real tho’ you will get in to trouble if you try and pay with them!
And so in new designer ware , we were off to dinner to the ultra chic- ‘M on the Bund,’ The bund has a series of beautiful buildings lining the river. The ultra chic M with it’s european cuisine is a hit with locals, expats and well-read tourists , who’ve done their research (like us!). Fabulous food and wine and a view to die for… this was a perfect evening!
Shanghai for us, was about shopping, walking and just relaxing and that’s what we did! The next night we made reservations at one of the highest points of the city- Cloud 9 at the Grand Hyatt! The Grand Hyatt is all the way in Pudong and it was an experience by itself to going thru tunnels and then ending up on Nanpu Bridge. The hotel is intimidating with elevators taking you to the Lobby Level on the 54th floor and then ushering you in to another high speed elevator to take you to the 85th floor! The end result- the view is sublime! The food- tasty, light and flavorful! The experience – a MUST DO!
Once again remember Chinese names of places and hotels are different and language is a huge barrier – so wherever you travel- GET THE CHINESE NAME OF YOUR HOTEL AND STREET AND KEEP IT WITH YOU!
Best Times to Travel-: Mid september- mid November though we were there in October and it does get rather chilly in the evenings!
Cost-: $300- $500 at Peak season… my advice- STAY FIVE STAR!