Thailand 2019: Phuket and Phi Phi islands

Covid-19 is still having a free rein in 2020 and so the travel-deprived moi shall be content with memories of past holidays. My recent-most trip is almost a year ago, to Thailand with the hubby’s extended family, thanks to Banti mama. I find myself back in time on my second day in beautiful Phuket, continuing on from my last post (Thailand November 2019: Phuket).

The highlight of Phuket is the stunning coastline and the islands just off its coast. This day, we had a pre-booked tour to the well-known Phi -Phi islands. Ideally we would have chosen to stay a couple of nights instead of just doing a day trip like we did this time, well you learn something every day! Fortunately for all the older people in our group, we were booked on a huge boat and not a small long-tailed boat or speed boat, which had been a pain for the poor seniors. After waking up unreasonably early and driving almost an hour to the pier, we stood waiting for the boat to be loaded for another hour. Needless to say, we were (as in Krabi Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour), completely disgusted by the tour operators; all except Babu masi, who utilized the time to shop. (In retrospect, it might have been the smarter thing to do)

Ever-smiling Babu masi spent the wait time fruitfully

When we finally boarded the boat, we were even more disappointed to find our seats in the lowest cabin area that had tiny cubby-hole windows way above seat level. There goes the view! “Thomas Cook never again,” was everyone’s furious decision!

The ride to the islands is 2 hours and the airconditioning in the claustrophobic cabin ( unthinkable today!) was the only saving grace. Oh and the “Gujju” food bag! With no food service on board, we thanked our lucky stars for our smart vision in carrying the food bag everywhere (and for finding it at Bangkok airport!). Once you are stuffed silly, even a dull ride can seem less painful! Of course, there are mobile phones to while away the time.

Kids can always entertain themselves. Look at the bored/ sleeping adults behind!
The hubby needed no device, the kids had a blast playing with him and jumping over him!

However, even mobiles, running and jumping about could get boring and after some time with no beautiful sea scape to wow us, everyone slid into a slumber.

Finally, they allowed us to go onto the deck and there was a mad scramble to get out into the sunshine.

Karst islands rising from the deep blue sea and the stunning clear blue skies ensured that we never went back down
Banti mama enjoyed a chilled beer while the kids had icecream

If you travel by speedboat to the Phi Phi islands, you can get off at the island where the Leonardo diCaprio starrer “The Beach” was filmed, but the big boat tour only takes you to an island where you can snorkel and then on to the Phi Phi islands themselves. So a bunch of us and the 2 teens got onto another boat to snorkel while the senior citizens and the kids went onto Phi Phi directly.

It was my first time snorkeling and I really enjoyed it. Not having carried an underwater camera casing, I have no pictures but this is something I have to do again for sure. It was fascinating to see the pretty yellow and black striped fish and marvel at a rare blue one, and fun to be bobbing in the ocean, trying to stay within the ropes.

Tiny fish in the clear waters off the pier at Phi Phi

Phi Phi island is quite large, very crowded and touristy. And yet, it has a certain charm to it. Maybe it’s the beautiful color of the waters, the delicious food available, or just the chilled island vibe, but I felt that this would be a lovely place to stay at, especially after day trippers like us were gone.

Banti mama loved this island

Our tour included lunch at the main beach area, so we rushed through the market without stopping and had a very average lunch (the only 2 bad meals on the trip were those included in the tour). It probably was for the best as we quickly wolfed down the food and dove in to the best beach I swam in on this trip. White sands and clear blue waters, absolute bliss!

Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy our seaside bliss, as we had to head back pretty soon. We walked back through the market place, grabbing some slush and icecream on the way, wishing we’d stayed here instead of at the mainland. On the boat ride back, the seniors and kids had a bit of shut-eye, but we had a great time on the deck in the blazing sun, watching the beautiful scenery rush by.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law getting very tanned on the deck

Back at the hotel, we roamed around our hotel area, making a mental note of places to eat at. We were surprised to see the large numbers of massage parlors in the area, and a little doubtful about what exactly was on offer. We finally decided to actually see for ourselves instead of slandering them without evidence & dived into one. I am happy to report that I had the best foot massage ever and nothing else happened. At least I think so, as I fell asleep!

While in Phuket, one must sample the nightlife, and so we headed off with our younger cousins to Bangla road, the neon lit, pedestrian-only vibrant center of night life in Patong Bay area. The party here is not only in the bars, but all along the road. The long day caught up with us, and we, the older lot needed to call it a day by midnight, which is actually when the ‘day’ begins in Bangla.

Since the last 4 days had been crazily hectic, we decided to just rest the next day and have really no plan but local sight seeing. The kids were desperate to swim, so they leapt into the hotel’s tiny pool, while we walked around our hotel and then headed for a long lazy lunch.

We simply took over the entire restaurant!
Beloved food of our teens

That evening, we planned to visit the local beach that was a mere 1.5 km walk from our hotel. As we set off, we were pleasantly surprised to come across the Phuket Patong Bay parade, with beautifully decorated floats and people dancing in their local costumes.

The kids joined in the parade and merrily danced along. The rest of us walked ahead to the beach to catch the sunset, the only sunset we saw at the beach on this trip.

My sister-in-law loved the chilled coconut water at the beach

As it grew dark, the floats lit up, and the dancers put up quite a show for us. This unplanned evening turned out to be the most fun filled evening for us!

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law posed with the prettiest lady in the parade

My niece spotted a Starbucks, and dived in. Kids and their fads! FYI, back in India, my house is 500m from a Starbucks! So much for trying the local cuisine, the curse of globalisation! All in all, it was worth getting in simply to enjoy some air-conditioning actually.

I loved these pretty wooden lamps

The entire beachfront ahead was lined by beautifully decorated shacks, selling drinks and a huge variety of food. But we already had our share of overpriced corporate cake & coffee so we could only gawk at it!

Filled to the brim, we walked back to our hotel. The next day, we had an early morning flight to Bangkok. Phuket turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable place. Food was outstanding and despite the long distances, this large peninsula had enough to keep everyone entertained. And I slept happily, dreaming of this gorgeous sunset.

P.S. Many many thanks to Yogesh Shenoy for editing my very lacklustre post and making it a post worth a read.

Thailand November 2019: Phuket

September 2020 is when I thought I would be able to take my postponed North Italy trip. Of course, I’ve been living in fool’s paradise with hopes that just cannot materialize. With all plans of travel in 2020 dashed, it’s nice to revisit a wonderful, unplanned and unexpected trip to Thailand almost a year ago, courtesy hubby’s uncle and aunt, Banti mama and Renu masi. I’ve already relived the Krabi trip in previous posts, it’s time to move onto Phuket.

On the third day of our trip, we woke up early (again) for the long 4 hour drive to Phuket. I didn’t know the 2 places were so far apart, and was lucky that I had enough music stored on my phone to keep me company as we drove past groves of trees with no water in sight. Tired by the early morning, everyone else fell asleep but Coldplay managed to keep me up till we finally reached Phuket and planned a long day of sightseeing before reaching the hotel.

As always, included city tours are boring, with visits meant to lure the unsuspecting occasional traveler to overpriced lousy stores and over-touristy destinations from where the drivers get kickbacks. Luckily, we had our own list of places to visit that the kids would enjoy and were spared half of the unwanted destinations that the guide tried to make us visit. After a slow (but delicious) Punjabi lunch at a “dhaba” styled restaurant run by a Sardarji, we went straight to Tiger kingdom.

I really hate the idea of drugging an animal for letting kids and adults pose with them, but we had little kids with us who were too young to understand such concepts and were all charged up about touching a real tiger. Surprisingly, our teens were just as charged up and despite my entreaties, joined the kids in the tiger cub “meet and greet”.

Some day, they will realise their folly, till then, they will be happy with this memory
Delicious mango slush with mangoes while waiting for the kids

Any trip with kids has to have enough for them to do and Thailand certainly provided enough. Straight from Tiger kingdom, we went to Dolphin bay to see a seal and dolphin show. Even with my anti-animal torture sentiments, I loved the show. Dolphins are my favorite sea animals and it’s relieving to see how much their trainers love them, even while making them perform in ways they really shouldn’t be doing.

The highlight of the show was when we could actually touch the dolphins. Having never gotten close to a dolphin, I was the first to rush ahead this time and was shocked by how rubbery their skins were and still amazed by the beauty of these graceful sea animals. Sigh! I really don’t have the right to talk about kids’ folly!

From there, we were whisked away to a temple, only to have our teens groan away at that thought. However, Thai temples are beautiful and peaceful and we enjoyed posing outside and inside the temple.

I was impressed by the photography skill of the driver, who captured all of us with the temple
Ask nicely and y’all will be blessed!

Like all Buddhist temples, the architecture was ornate and detailed, but not a shade on those in Bangkok. We climbed up all the levels to the terrace with a beautiful view of the huge Buddha statue on top of a hill and the surroundings.

Banti mama and Renu masi really enjoyed the temples

It wasn’t just humans and drugged animals who posed nicely for us that day, some animals were naturally forth-coming for their turn on my lens.

It was getting late and dark as we left, but our driver was keen on taking us a viewpoint over Phuket bay, so we drove and drove up a long winding slope to reach a beautiful terrace with a great view.

As we watched the sun set and the city light up, the exhaustion of the day finally caught up with us. Having emptied out the Gujju snack bag, we drove to the hotel past glittering streets and high end boutiques. After some rest, we indulged in some street food (the best street food of the teen’s life, she’s drooling even as I type) and visited a night market for some unique food options.

Tiny tables lined the market
I have never seen so much sea food at one spread

Our teens went off with the hubby’s younger cousins, one of whom was once a chef in a 5 star hotel, to try local cuisine. And did their horizons broaden! For a change, my daughter stayed off pizza and pasta and tried something different, including even octopus and clams!

My sister-in-law and I, much less adventurous and vegetarian, had a blast sampling the exotic fruits and desserts available.

Ice creams and slushes made using delicious fresh fruit

Having had such a hectic but exciting day, we were happy to crash into bed early as we had another long day ahead of us, a full day trip to the famed Phi Phi islands. However, the exhaustion of writing has crept up on me just as the exhaustion after that long first day at Phuket, and so, the story will continue on yet another “locked down” day.

Thailand November 2019: Krabi 4 island tour

There are some places that one describes as impossibly beautiful, and they stay fixed in one’s mind as impossibly beautiful forever. For me, one of them is Krabi, more specifically, its islands. The soft golden sands with stunningly clear turquoise-green waters and deep blue skies have captured my heart. I have always loved beaches, but Krabi’s beaches are a class apart and I would love to go back.

It was our second day at Krabi and of the unexpected trip to Thailand courtesy the hubby’s uncle and aunt Banti mama and Renu masi (Thailand November 2019). We had to wake up ridiculously early (for a holiday) to go on the pre-booked 4 island tour. Thanks to the rain, we had rested enough the previous day and could wake up on time for a scrumptious breakfast and head off on time, sleepy but very excited.

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A sneak peek of the day ahead, shimmering through a gap in the trees

It is a different matter that once we were unceremoniously dumped by the car driver at the meeting point, there was no one to meet. We went to the waterfront, to the few shacks around, then back to the drop-off point, but found no one. Banti mama struggled to call the local travel agent, who didn’t take the calls. After more than half an hour of getting frustrated, we met someone who told us to wait near the waters.

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Everyone was grinning at having found the tour organisers

Happy to find a point of contact, we walked right back to the beachfront, cheerfully stood under the trees, admiring the waters and wondering how there was no one around, while the kids shrieked for beach toys. As their mother went back towards the road for the toys, she noticed a large gang of people and approached them to ask about our tour guide. It turned out that we should have been waiting right there, by the road, instead of being misguided by one of their own people!

As we trudged the long walk back, the tour guide actually yelled at us for having wandered off and making everyone late. That was the last straw, considering that we had reached way before anyone else.

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However, it was impossible to stay angry for too long, as the tour group was led by an extremely entertaining woman. She proceeded to “orient” us for the better part of an hour. She had us in splits, not because she was funny, but because she was really silly. We could only thank our stars that she was not our boat guide.

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Traditional long tailed boats

We set off almost 3 hours after reaching the beach from where the tour started, and it was very hot by then. Still, we were very excited as we approached the line up of long tailed boats, till we struggled to clamber in. Note to all elderly and physically challenged travelers, approach these boats with caution. You need to wade into thigh deep water and hoist yourself over the edge to get in. Luckily, with a lot of effort, all 18 of us managed to get in safe and sound and settled in, and then we set off.

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This neat orientation took half an hour to set up and was undone in 5 minutes!

Soon, the beach was a tiny speck on the horizon and beautiful blue-green waters surrounded us. A gentle breeze blew into the boats, cooling those of us not covered by the shade. Fortunately, the Gujju food bag had made its way onto the boat too, and we cheerfully chomped on theplas and chili pickle, interspersed with biscuits.

Once your tummies are full, everything appears more beautiful. The sea appeared greener, the skies bluer and the sun seemed sunnier!

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Even the clouds seemed, well, cloudier.

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Even the grins were toothier!

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Happily, we leaned over the side of the boat and let our fingers trail in the water. The kids squealed as the spray flew over their faces, and we had to hold them down as they jumped about. Tall karst islands protruded from the waters, some with entertaining shapes.

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Soon, it was time to reach our first island of the 4 island tour, Phranang Cave on Railey island. As we moved in, we could see that this part of the island was packed with people and boats. Our driver expertly maneuvered between 2 boats, and hurriedly 2 adults, 3 kids and 1 teen jumped out and ran onto the beach. Before any more of us could hop out, the waves started tossing our boat towards the neighboring one. Our driver struggled to control the rocking boat and we to keep our balance. Unable to secure a safe docking spot, he finally moved away, planning to dock a little ahead.

But he hadn’t accounted for a new set of boats coming in. Before we could reach the shore, the landing area was full and we had no way to get off. Feeling panic stricken about being separated from our group, we considered jumping into the water and swimming to the shore, but the driver and guide wouldn’t allow us. Finally the boat had to back away, turn around some rocks in the water and stop on a part of the island far away from the rest of our family.

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We spent a lot of time just trying to get to the shore

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My sisters-in-law at the tail of the boat

The guide told us that we could only spend half an hour here as he had wasted a good chunk of the allotted time trying to get the boat to the shore. My mother-in-law waited back in the boat as it was a huge struggle for her to get on and off (actually she spent the entire day on the boat till the tour was over).

We rushed to find our children, who had thoroughly enjoyed playing on the soft sands and the clean waters. They dragged us into the waters for a good swim.

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The only picture I took with my SLR on this day. I shouldn’t have carried it at all

We had so much fun in the water that we didn’t want to leave this island, despite the scorching heat. But time was short, and leave we had to, so we clambered back onto the boat, to get to the next island, Chicken island.

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The boat pauses at the place where the chicken’s head is best seen

While the name got everyone hungrier, this island had no beach to land on. There was a small cove at one edge where snorkeling could be done. Our younger cousins cheerfully hopped into the deep green-blue waters, but the in-laws were too frightened to allow us (and mainly our teens) to get into the waters, so we couldn’t experience that.

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Bharti Sodhi, who came up with the brilliant family tee shirts

It was a very still part of the ocean, sheltered away by the island, with very beautiful shades of water.

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Once the snorkelers were safely back in, we headed off to the next island, the Tup island. This island is connected to another by a sand bank that you can walk on when the tide is out. I had really hoped that we would be there at such a time, but that was not the case. Instead there was enough water to stand in, and the sand below made it a gorgeous shade of green.

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We got off the boat directly into the warm waters

We spent a lot of time in this shallow stretch of paradise. The kids had picked up the snorkeling gear and were practicing with it.

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What fabulous shades of color are these waters!

The rest of us swam about, marveled at this place or just floated along.

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The hubby’s favorite island

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Print-worthy vistas

Had we not been on the tour, we wouldn’t have left this place, we loved it so much. But we were on a tight time frame and we really had to move onto the next stop.

Did I forget, lunch was calling?

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Our last stop was Poda island (lunch island for me), where we disembarked and rushed for food, turning our backs to the alluring sea. Lunch, however, was a terrible disappointment. After standing in a huge line, we got some over cooked unsalted vegetables and mushy glass noodles. It was basically food for a fussy toddler and we ate to fill some bit of the crying stomachs, but really hated it. So, we wasted as little time as possible on lunch and rushed to the sea instead.

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We just sat and stared at this view

Before we could swim to our heart’s fill, we were called to the boats as the waters tend to get choppy in the evenings. We hopped from boat to boat as there was no ladder on ours, feeling very happy indeed that my mother-in-law had stayed back on the boat. Here, we had a wonderful surprise, finally something to eat to our heart’s content, delicious fruit!

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Needless to say, we wiped out the boat’s entire stock of fruit in seconds. The long ride back, the full stomachs, and the exhaustion of the day caught up with us and nearly everyone slept off.

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We were very tired once we got back at the hotel, so we made good use of the pool (and its cafe) to recover and catch up with dinner and slept soon as we had an early morning drive to Phuket the next day.

We had had a wonderful albeit short time in Krabi. I would certainly call it the best part of my Thailand trip and would love to go back. However, I wouldn’t take the 4 island tour again and wouldn’t recommend it either to anyone. The islands are doable on their own and its better to choose the island and amount of time you have there rather than be at the whims and fancies of Thai tour operators.

Yet, nothing, not even the mass tourism of Thailand, can detract one from the abundant natural beauty of Krabi and that’s why I loved it. And till I go back, this is what my dreams will be made of.

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Thailand November 2019

Some holidays are unplanned, unaccounted for and served on a platter. You have to be lucky to get one of those, and lucky we surely were when the hubby’s uncle decided to plan a holiday for the extended family to (hold your breath) Thailand for his 60th birthday. Thank you Banti mama and Renu masi!

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2019-2020 was the year of minimal travel as the teen was in grade 10 and behaving as though she were giving the IAS or CA exam (the toughest Indian exams). We had already enjoyed a small trip to the golden beaches of Tarkarli (Tarkarli-May 2019) and a wonderful holiday in Bangalore with my sister and adorable niece in May of this year. I was busy researching destinations for the long holidays post-Grade 10 exams and having the hubby reject them all (sad face). That’s when Banti mama’s 60th birthday party got shifted from a Lonavala farm house to Goa to Phuket and Krabi. Great jump I say!

Banti mama plans trips at 10x the pace I plan them. He promptly hired Thomas Cook for a 5N Phuket and Krabi package and added 2 extra nights in Bangkok for good measure and booked the tickets before we could even get our heads around the idea. Leaves were sanctioned and the teen coaxed and cajoled to miss her precious classes. The Thomas Cook UK collapse certainly added a big set of flutters, but of course it all worked out.

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It only helped that I had colored my hair blue and teal a month ago for my 45th birthday. I was all set for Thailand! Frantic thepla and Gujarati and Punjabi snack shopping, and desperate downloading of songs and movies on mobiles took us to D-day where 14 adults, 2 teenagers and 3 kids assembled in matching tee shirts (courtesy Bharti Sodhi) at Mumbai airport.

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We had a stopover at Bangkok airport, where we walked almost 2 km and stood in a crazily long queue for visa on arrival and then another long walk and queue for security check before the domestic flight to Krabi. In all the sleepy haze and mayhem, we forgot the food bag at the counter and only remembered it at the gate, when we were very hungry.

Luckily, Gujju food bags have a sense of belonging and stay true to their owners. We rushed back to security, retrieved the bag and hogged and hogged before the flight. While on it, the teens and the kids were too excited to sleep, but the adults merrily caught their 40 winks.

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Beautiful palm trees at Krabi

 

We loved Krabi best of all the places we visited. If I ever go back to Thailand, I will spend a full week relaxing in Krabi. Lovely beaches, clear waters and great food are all a direct flight away from Mumbai. However,I have no idea when that will happen, given the current mess the world is in and the many other places yet unticked on my bucket list.

Krabi airport is a long drive from the beachfront, but the lovely hotel with its huge rooms and pool livened us all up.

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My coffee terrace

 

We freshened up and headed for a quick lunch, planning an afternoon trip to climb a thousand steps to the tiger cave temple with a great view. Hungry as could be, we ate and ate, while it suddenly started pouring, effectively cancelling all plans for the hike. I was so relieved as I wasn’t sure that I could climb a thousand steps!

The long walk back to the hotel in the now-gentle drizzle was very enjoyable, past the market area. We had fun peeking into the tiny shops with their charming wares.

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While the older people enjoyed an afternoon of shut-eye, the rest of had a great swim in the huge pool and delicious French fries, pizzas and cocktails.

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Too tired to walk to the beach, with a long day ahead of us the next day, we relaxed in the pool till night, where we headed to a night market right beside our hotel.

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I love quaint market places with their myriad artefacts, wares and food. The different colors and smells, the hustle and bustle, all appeal to me. If there’s a night market where I am visiting, I will land up there. Luckily for me, this one was too close to miss and all of us went to see what was on display.

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The hubby’s aunts, Babu masi and Renu masi, are great fun and super enthusiastic

This tiny market was filled with stalls of tacky clothes, handbags, jewelry and souvenirs to carry home. As always, I was too busy clicking pictures to even pick up a fridge magnet for my sister, who loves them. That ended up as a repetitive pattern on this trip.

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7 aonang night market (16)s

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There were lots of food stalls with small tables laid out and we wandered through all, hoping to finish dinner here itself. Sadly, most of the food was seafood, and most of us were vegetarians. There was even a Bavarian beer garden here and that was tempting for a few in the group but they held on for now!

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Sushi

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I have never seen fruits look more delicious!

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Even though there was no food of our choice, there is always the universal favorite – icecream! A couple of cold stone ice-creams and delicious fruit slushes later, we headed off to the main Aonang beachfront for dinner at a multicuisine restaurant so that everyone could have food of their own different tastes.

The signboard was enticement enough and those that had held off earlier gave in now!

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Banti mama with the love of his life

With a heavy meal in our tummies we walked back slowly, listening to the waves lap along the beach, deciding that we’d wake up early the next morning to walk along the shore at dawn.

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Needless to say, only two people went on that walk, Banti mama and me! Used to the solitude (Did I leave Banti mama behind? I really don’t remember!), I enjoyed the fresh breeze and the sun lighting up the entire beach.

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What a great place for breakfast. Sadly, nothing was open

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Cute knick knacks outside a public restroom

 

Having started the day on a happy note, I headed back to the hotel for a delicious breakfast and later, headed off to the waterfront to some of the most gorgeous beaches I have ever been to, as part of the 4 island tour. But that tour deserves a full separate post, so here I sign off, happily dreaming of turquoise waters and golden sands.

Tarkarli-May 2019

“Simla-Manali!” “Spiti valley!” “No, Kinnaur, its easier to get there and back,” “Noooooo, we should see Manali and Rohtang Pass,” “Oh no, Rohtang won’t have opened yet!” argued eight of us back and forth, while planning an impromptu May vacation (in end-April!). “Bali!” cried the husband, and we were enchanted, dreaming of endless sandy beaches and coconut trees and hammocks over clear blue waters, when the kid piped up, “We aren’t going anywhere, don’t you know that I have my boards next year?” “Next year,” I said, “not tomorrow.” “Nope, I am NOT going anywhere,” she insisted.

We kindly offered to leave her with her grandparents as we vacationed, while we furiously researched very different places. Finally it was clear that Bali was off the cards and Himachal Pradesh too crowded.

That’s how the gem of a “mini-Bali” was thought of, Tarkarli, a small beachside village on the Konkan coast, just north of Goa, rapidly becoming the scuba-diving destination of India. The trip was planned swiftly in one evening, hotels booked, drive itinerary planned and payments done before anyone could change their mind.

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That’s how we set off on a sunny weekday at 5 am to drive the 480 km to Tarkarli. On the way back, we planned to halt overnight at Kolhapur to break the journey, but the drive to Tarkarli was covered in 11 hours.

Mumbai-Kolhapur was a stunning drive, via the expressway in the dark, watching the sunrise over Lonavala ghat and breakfasting at the famed Sri Ram vadapav just ahead of Pune. The road continued as a well surfaced, wide dual carriageway ahead of Pune, curving gently and trucks jostled with us for space in the fast lane, making this a much more enjoyable drive than the expressway with it’s straight lanes and an 80-km speed limit. Gulmohar trees in full flower dotted the road, adding beautiful patches of color.

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Of course, it got hotter and hotter as we drove on and it was a relief to see the green sugarcane fields as we approached Kolhapur. Naturally, we slowed down to stop and enjoy a cold glass of sugarcane juice.

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Crossing Kolhapur, we veered off the national highway to a smaller state highway, taking care to take the road that led to the Gaganbawda ghat as it is a wider road with a gentle ghat. On the way, we drove on gorgeous tar-surfaced country roads with tall trees providing a totally canopied road.

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Reminiscent of the dark hedges of Game of Thrones? We drove a good distance on this stunning road before turning off towards villages and then the circuitous ghat.

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By the time we reached Tarkarli, we were terribly tired and sleepy, but keen on visiting the beach. So after a short rest, we scrambled up the steep sand bank opposite our hotel to walk a tiny distance to the beach.

steep climb up sand bank to beach

Our hotel was at a distance from the main beach access, so it was almost as though this section was only for us. We ran and jumped in the water and dug our feet into soft sands as good as any Goa beach with one-tenth the crowds.

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Tarkarli is known for water sports, scuba diving, snorkelling, dolphin sighting, a fort and numerous temples. Oh and for delicious Malwani cuisine. While the hubby thoroughly enjoyed the fish, I loved the ghavan-chatni and alu sabji.

The next day, we merrily headed to the close-by Deobagh beach for the water sports. Deobagh is a small tongue of land sandwiched between the Karli river and the Arabian sea. It certainly is pretty as a picture with a lot of small bungalows and beachfront homestays.

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I could have spent the whole trip lying on this hammock

The water sports here are on a tiny island in the Karli river, a long and narrow bit of sand smack in the middle of the river, to get to which, you need to board a tiny fishing boat.

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At the end of Deobaugh beach is the junction where the river drains into the sea. The still waters of the river meet the turbulent choppy waves of the Arabian sea, a distinction seen even more clearly from high up in the air.

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Note the different colors and the abrupt cessation of the waves

The water activities are an organised business with the touts hurriedly strapping you with life jackets and bundling you off on a series of activities that might not be very safe, but are great fun. The kids in particular loved the jet ski, but I spent most of my time on the ski screaming “slower, slower, please,” while the driver took me over bigger and bigger waves and almost turned me over into the water. It was when I got off, totally shaken and drenched, that he revealed that he had heard “faster, faster!”

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The best thing that we did that day was parasailing. We were taken on a small boat deep out in the choppy sea, where we struggled to get harnessed and then got thrown up into the air and flung down again in the sea and dragged along behind the boat, before being lifted off again into the air. Needless to say that I spent my time screaming loud enough to be heard on the boat. My brother-in-law was even more scared, he was desperate to be let down so he could get back to Mumbai and work!

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I must add that the few minutes that I was up in the air, I actually looked down to see the clear divide or “sangam” between river and sea and wished I had a Gopro to capture this beautiful view. Then they lowered us again, and I was back to screaming.

Exhausted and thrilled, we suddenly realised our hunger and hogged at a small Malwani home-made food restaurant that served the freshest food possible.

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In the evening, we just roamed about the area around our hotel and admired the tiny bungalows and the mango trees.

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charming tarkarli village (11)

Living opposite the beach necessitates dunking oneself in the pristine waters at least once a day, as part of our routine: breakfast, beach, lunch, siesta and an evening out. This evening, we set off to Sindhudurg Fort, Shivaji’s majestic fort off the Malwan coast. We had to park our cars right on the beach, making us hope we could return before the high tide set in!

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The slope and the close proximity of the water had us quite worried

We took a very unstable boat packed with people to the fort, which is entirely surrounded by water. It was very windy and our boat rocked vehemently on the waves and water splashed over us multiple times, prompting lots of Oohs and Aahs.

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Sindhudurg fort in the distance

The fort itself was a solidly built engineering marvel with outstanding views all around. Scuba diving is done in these waters off one edge off the fort.

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I was so entranced by this view that I didn’t notice a tiny step coming up and promptly fell onto the hard stone floor and tore my jeans and the skin beneath. Trust me to be clumsy at ground level! There went all my dreams of scuba diving and snorkelling. After cleaning up the wound, I struggled to walk into the fort and found myself at the base of steep steps leading to the walls of the fort.

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Climb, one must, even if limping and grimacing in pain. Was it worth it? Most certainly!

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India’s own Blackwater bay? Or am I still in a GOT stupor?

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It was very hot and some icecream and a windy rocky ride helped cool us down. I was thrilled to see some souvenir stalls at the exit, that reminded me of toys we’d buy as kids.

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I would have loved to shop but everyone left me behind when they saw me with the camera!

We proceeded to see the sunset at the nearby rock gardens. While waiting, we found a little ‘tapri’ selling delicious piping-hot chai and pakoras. After the best meal of an already gastronomic trip, we rested on the broad rocks at the edge of the sea. Rather, I rested, others tried stunts.

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Though it was very sunny, a cool breeze blew over the sea.

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Great sun flare, pic courtesy the hubby

But when the sun actually sank into the horizon, it was well worth the wait.

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On our last day, we went back to Deobagh beach, this time to walk along the sandy edge of the meeting point of the river and the sea.

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The man standing at the junction of river and sea

We walked happily in the cool waters, a gentle breeze blowing over us, the coconut trees nodding away in the distance and we felt that this was probably better than even Bali.

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We had had a very relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable mini vacation. We were actually happy that none of the initial plans materialised and would be happy to come back to Tarkarli in the winter season. Fingers crossed!

Uttarakhand 2018: Mussourie, the misty hill-station

Looking back, we did our short Uttarakhand trip in the correct ascending order, Haridwar (Uttarakhand 2018: The holy land of Haridwar), Rishikesh (Uttarakhand 2018: Rishikesh, the charming riverside town) and finally Mussourie. The hill station of Mussourie was certainly the best part of our trip. It was followed by a totally harrowing drive from Mussourie to Delhi, but it was very pleasant to meet my mother-in-law’s family and my bestie Kavita Mehta in Delhi.

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Kavi, it was so great to meet Rajeev and you

However, I continue my story and trip from the day we left Rishikesh for a very winding and steep road from Dehradun to Mussourie. As we covered switchback after switchback, I found myself wishing I could have walked up instead. Yet, Mussourie was worth that crazy drive (Note to travellers: take Ondansetron and plenty of tic-tacs). As we drove through the mist that always surrounds Mussourie, we pulled down the windows and breathed in the crisp mountain air till we reached our charming hotel (brilliant choice by hubby again) with a great valley view.

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I could have sat for hours looking out of the window, but the best view was on the day we left when we finally saw a cloudless sky with the Himalayan peaks.

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My niece went crazy taking pictures here and some were simply outstanding.

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All Indian hill-stations are built on a similar theme, a central mall road with shops and gorgeous valley views. As we hadn’t shopped much on this trip, two mothers and two daughters set out promptly to explore the mall road and (naturally) shop in peace.

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We walked down the road through the mist that blew through us, hogged on ice-cream in the cold, dove in and out of shops, trying to buy clothes for us and the kids, but it proved tougher than we had thought. Finally we needed our mother-in-law’s precious help.

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We loved the mall road and strolling aimlessly along it. There were amazing murals and paintings on the sides and the dslr sure enjoyed itself.

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We walked past the cycle-rickshaw pullers who were calling out to us for a ride, till the site of the cable car which goes to the second-tallest point of Mussourie, Gun hill point. We chose not to go up as it was so misty that we wouldn’t have seen the valley at all and just roamed about, loving the mist covering the valley.

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Looking at the strollers available for rent.

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Amazed by the mist that suddenly obscured most of the view.

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Wishing we could move to a home like this.

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By now, hunger struck and we made our way to a gorgeous valley-facing café with delicious food (and hummus that our kids devoured so fast that I couldn’t even take a picture!)

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We sat there watching the sun set, enjoying the retro music and then stared at the lit up valley side.

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We walked back to library square, near our hotel, loving the last 2 days of the cold before we got back to Mumbai heat.

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It was quite chilly and we huddled up in our jackets while we had a great dinner at café library, our food haunt for the remaining meals and the kids’ favorite.

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The next day, we chose not to go to Kempty falls as they were quite far off, but merely roam about local Mussourie. I’d hoped to go to Landour, a twin colonial town, but we couldn’t squeeze it in and walked down the mall road to the cable car.

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A short ride took us to the highly commercialised plateau of Gunhill, with great views over the valley all around.

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Gorgeous Himalayan wildflowers grew up the hill and all along it.

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The kids had a blast shooting down balloons, my favorite game as a kid.

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Photo of the trip:

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In the evening, we drove a short distance to the unimaginatively named but lovingly created company garden. Flowers and fountains filled the garden and we spent a very relaxing evening roaming around.

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We spent our last evening strolling about on the mall road once again, loving the mist that seemed to hang in the air like a fluffy cloud.

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This evening, we caught the sunset in all its glory. We had thoroughly enjoyed our time in Mussourie and came back refreshed as could be and ever-ready to plan the next adventure.

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Uttarakhand 2018: Rishikesh, the charming riverside town

After Haridwar that I didn’t like at all, I had no expectations from our next halt Rishikesh. I was sure that it would be (yet another) dirty, holy, pilgrimage town. A town overrun by tourists searching for either inner peace or adventure. After all, the yoga capital is also a thrill capital and the starting point for many treks into the Himalayas. Boy, was I wrong! Rishikesh was infinitely more charming, chilled and loveable. It’s tough to say what exactly appealed to me about Rishikesh. Maybe the clean waters of the river Ganga that flow through the town, the green hills that surround it, the cleaner air (and town), the lesser crowds, maybe the relaxed time we had there, maybe the peaceful atmosphere. I don’t know. What I do know is that very surprisingly and unconsciously, I fell in love with Rishikesh.

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A harrowing drive over craters in the name of a road took us 20 km upstream of Haridwar to Rishikesh. The smart hubby had booked a simple and small hotel nestled amidst the mountains, with comfortable armchairs to enjoy a book and some coffee.

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Oh, and a small steep walk to a Baskin Robbins! Yum yum! That’s the first thing I saw while driving out of our hotel to the chaotic area around the Ram Jhula. A winding drive downhill through lush green trees took us to the main market area on either side of the Ganga. Instantly, we headed to the ghat. The first view of the clean flowing waters was mesmerizing.

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The water was clean enough to tempt all of us to dip our fingers and toes in it.

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We crossed over the pedestrian-only, cow and motorbike-also Ram Jhula.

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It surely was a struggle to cross the holy waters, what with cows, throngs of people and trident-weaving sadhus interspersed with motorbikes. Mayhem at its best!

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Safe on the other side, we enjoyed walking about the crowded markets, admiring the handicrafts and clothes on display.

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Narrow market streets lined by food and clothes shops

Loving the graffiti on the streets.

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Drooling over art pieces on display.

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And taking in the myriad smells of street food.

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Rishikesh has a plethora of vegetarian food options, ranging from enticing-appearing street food like kachoris, jalebis, fried potatoes to river-view cafes with international cuisine to gorgeous riverfront hotels far from the city. Needless to say, we gained a lot of weight on this trip!

As we walked on past the market, we came to the Parmarth Ashram right by the river. Rishikesh is as famous for its ashrams as yoga and Parmarth is one of the “Godliest”, as is the Ramdev Baba ashram outside the city. Though we didn’t stay at any ashram, I think it would add to the experience and would consider it whenever I visit Rishikesh next.

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A gorgeous Shiva statue sits perched in the flowing waters

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Railings with diyas line the river banks

The beautiful serene Ganga flowing through this hilly town created a very soothing feeling. Yet, walking along the Ganga in the cool evening breeze was not the best part of Rishikesh for me, the best bit was the Beatles Ashram.

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A ridiculously long walk till the far end from Ram Jhula, and a scramble up a rough pebbled path took us to the now derelict Maharishi Mahesh Yogi Ashram, where the Beatles had spent a year meditating and creating outstanding music. Quiet and deserted now, with only a handful of people braving the long walk, the atmosphere was beautiful.

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There were many meditation pods, laid out in rows. Somehow, they reminded me of a rishi’s hairdo.

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My brother-in-law meditating at Rishikesh…..transcendental?

The chirping of birds and crickets was all that broke the silence. Huge lengths of neglected paths stretched out ahead of us. The few buildings were totally run down, broken, almost falling apart. Some were labelled as the kitchen or the post office. A large complex had many photographs of the Beatles and the Maharishi and a small cafeteria looking out to a large green space.

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We walked ahead to a huge hall that was now decorated with graffiti on all the walls.

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My absolute favorite Beatle is John Lennon and my favorite song is Imagine so imagine my happiness seeing this.

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Okay, I’m still singing it.

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Weird painting that caught my eye lens

Our souls sated, the three of us walked back with a spring in our step. I’m so glad that my brother-in-law and the kid came with me to this unique place and loved it like I did and very grateful to my knee for cooperating.

We got back on time for the Ganga Arti at Parmarth Ashram, which was a huge let down. I also think we’d scored a hat trick with the Artis and this had been way too much.

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The Shiva statue is so calming

Exhausted by the long day, we crashed into bed and woke up comfortably late the next morning. I lazed about in the garden with a coffee and this great view.

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This day was supposed to be river rafting day, but the rafting season hadn’t yet begun, so we just went to the Laxman Jhula area and strolled about. This part had a rocky sand beach along the river.

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“Follow me” says my sister-in-law

We settled for lunch at a beautifully located café over the Ganga. Poor service and very average food was the only way I could sum it up coupled with the distinct feeling that they didn’t want Indians.

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After a nice afternoon nap, we headed to Triveni ghat, 4 km downstream where three rivers are supposed to join. There’s a grand Arti here too, but we gave this one a miss. Thank the Lord Ganga Maa, otherwise I could have written a thesis on the Arti.

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The little village around the ghat was typically like Haridwar, ridiculously overcrowded, dirty and full of knick-knacks for sale.

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We got back quickly from Triveni ghat and went shopping in the dark, literally, as the electric supply had shut down, so a few shops with generator light was all we could shop at. A hurried shopping done, we had a very delicious dinner at Chotiwale by the Ganges and bid adieu to the river. The next day, we would leave for Mussourie.

Rishikesh turned out to be the surprise package of our trip. Somehow, the peacefulness of Rishikesh entered me and stayed there for a long time. Somehow, it calmed me, soothed me.

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You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

John Lennon, Imagine

Uttarakhand 2018: The holy land of Haridwar

It’s amusing that the next trip I took after Germany and Austria should be to the crowded, holy towns of India. Actually, more surprising than amusing. Had the hubby and I had our way, the Thapar clan would have been vacationing in Bali. Instead, divine intervention dictated that the entire Thapar clan took the toughest way to visit Haridwar, Rishikesh and Mussourie, as we flew via Delhi. Note to all those planning this trip: Please fly into Dehradun and hire a car from there to reduce the trauma of road travel through Uttar Pradesh, over roads meant only for bullock carts.

We reached Haridwar by early evening and checked into our well-priced, central hotel with delicious food and were stunned to see this painting outside our room.

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The classic view of Hallstatt in a tiny Haridwar hotel

My brother-in-law and I shared a hearty laugh and then a heartfelt sigh. We left soon for the Ganga Arti on the banks of the river (prayer for the holy river Ganges). Haridwar means Gateway to God and is a famous Hindu pilgrimage point, and the starting point for several “essential” Hindu pilgrimages. According to Hindu mythology, a few drops of “amrut” (nectar) fell right at Haridwar, at the banks of the river Ganga.

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We had to take a rickshaw to the ghats, the bathing area at the banks of the river, and were pleasantly surprised to find them all electric. Good move to reduce the carbon footprint! However, as we walked down from the rickshaw stand towards the ghats through the pedestrian-only zone, the dark clouds that were gathering just burst open and everyone rushed for cover.

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The only time we ever saw this area deserted

I suddenly understood what they meant by “the heavens opened up.” It poured like no tomorrow. Bombay rains were no match. We had tried to get into a tiny stall, but the surging numbers of people pushing and shoving their way through prevented me from getting in. I managed to hand over the camera bag (thankfully) to my father-in-law and the hubby, kid, brother-in-law and I headed out in the insane rain to look for shelter.

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We tried hiding under trees, bridges, lamp posts, but there was no shelter anywhere. We finally gave up and decided that we might as well head to the ghats and see the Arti as we were totally drenched. Wishing my glasses had vipers, we walked to the viewing platform in the middle of the river and had an uninterrupted view of the Arti as all the crowds were hiding under the bridge.

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The clanging of the bells, the musical Arti, the lashing rains, cold breeze and the swift-flowing Ganga, all added up to a magical experience. When the priests lit their multi-layer diyas simultaneously, one could believe in the Gods.

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We loved it so much that we could forget Bali. Well, almost. Okay, we couldn’t. We were sopping wet, muddy, dirty and frozen cold, and bereft of 4 members of our family, who we luckily managed to meet up with. I shouldn’t complain; my father-in-law had kept my camera bag dry and safe. Had it been with me, I would have needed a new camera.

We rushed back to the hotel, bathed and fell asleep. The next morning, we set off once more for the ghats, to see the madding crowds by day. The river, swollen by the previous night’s rains, flowed along at a terrific speed, carrying with it tons of fertile silt.

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People thronged the banks, offering money and flowers to the priests, dipping into the muddy waters, cleansing their souls.

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Beautiful flower-filled diyas to offer to Maa Ganga

 

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Family genealogies are recorded in such books and births and deaths are updated by devout Hindus

Of course, the shams can get to you, like the conmen trying to get you to feed the poor or donate for your family’s lineage, or the priests who double up as fortune-tellers, or worse, fortune-changers. Yet, there’s a charm to this organised mafia of religion, and that’s the honesty and intensity of human belief.

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The bow and arrow bridge across the river with the majestic Shiva statue behind

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We walked back slowly, trying to ignore the huge financial divide splayed out in front of us and the abject poverty and dirt around. The rains had left behind more muck and soon, I was desperate to get away, when I came upon this graffiti on a wall on the bank.

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Cheered up immensely by just imagining what the artist must have been thinking, we made our way to the cable car up to Mansadevi temple, high up on a mountain.

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Floral offerings

We walked about the tiny temple complex and bowed our heads to the deity and were promptly smacked, blessed by the priest. We went back down the cablecar, feeling lucky that we didn’t have to walk the entire distance up and down and admiring the beautiful bangles and necklaces on display.

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Not my type, but what lovely colors! We waited for our drivers and enjoyed some icecream.

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The original Thapar clan

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The add-ons

Just then sauntered by the cleanest pig I’ve ever seen in my life!

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Post-lunch and rest, we headed back to (where else?) Har-ki-Pauri once more. The most sacred of all ghats, standing for ‘footsteps of the Lord’, the site for the Ganga Arti, was a very different place than the previous day. Huge crowds swelled on both sides of the banks, the locals doing a good job of crowd control and money extraction.

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Brahma Kund, the place where the nectar supposedly fell, is the main site for the Ganga Arti

As the sun set and cast its last rays over the waters, the priests lit the tall diyas and the entire crowd sang the Arti in unison.

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As the darkness fell, more and more diyas were lit and the waterfront turned into a series of flames, reflected in the Ganga rushing along.

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It was our last night in Haridwar (thankfully) and we would leave the next day for Rishikesh. We wandered through the markets, eating sweets and snacks, enjoying the cool weather.

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For all the hype about Haridwar that it didn’t live up to, there’s a special something there, and that’s the beautiful river Ganga. Sometimes fast and furious, sometimes, slow and sedate, the river is the hub, the draw of the city. While it is the reason for the mess of Haridwar, it is also the saving grace.

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Germany Austria May 2018: A wonderful last day at Hellabrun zoo and Nymphenburg palace

All good things must come to an end. “But why mama, why?” asked the unhappy kid. “So that we can earn money for the next trip,” I unhelpfully answered. We were on the last day of our holiday and the very thought was depressing the two of us. But I was determined not to let it mar our last day.

The biggest worry for the day was where to go. The contenders were Nymphenburg palace (highest on my list), Munich zoo and Primark for shopping (highest priority for the kid). The hubby flatly refused one more palace, so we set off for the zoo.

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Hellabrun zoo is a long train ride from  Munich central station, so we left as soon as we could, especially because the penguin feeding time was 11 am and I was desperate to see that (it was past 10 am when we left!) We hurriedly walked/ ran to the zoo and then to the penguin enclosure which was at the far end of the zoo, without bothering to look at any of the animals on the way. “Relax Beejal, the penguins aren’t being flown out of Munich after their feeding,” admonished the hubby, but I was charged up.

Fortunately, we made it in time (the keeper was a bit delayed, thank God for the lack of the brilliant German efficiency here), and we could see loads of Emperor, Rockefeller and Humboldt penguins, waddling about on the ice.

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The tall commanding Emperor

I love penguins. They are my favorite birds. I love seeing these ataxic birds jump into the water and swim so gracefully. When the keeper picked up a penguin and cuddled him, I was so jealous and would have happily traded places.

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It was a wonderful experience, like watching ‘Happy feet’ live. We spent the bulk of our day here, and came back once again. Somehow after the penguins, I lost my steam and my interest slowly waned. The hubby was very irritated by my mad rush to the penguins and complained about how we’d not enjoyed the zoo because I was obsessed with seeing the penguins eat fish. “Hmmpphh,” I said, “the other animals aren’t being flown out of the zoo because I didn’t see them.”

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A snowy owl (looked so like Hedwig)

Of course, we patiently roamed about the entire zoo. There was a reasonable cloud cover and we had a good time. We saw a seal show that was in German and we couldn’t understand, but there’s no mistaking the love the trainers and the animals share.

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Awwwww!

Naturally, we were fascinated by the big cats, especially a growling tiger prowling about.

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A pair of lions was fast asleep as we walked by and admired the beautiful cats, when one suddenly woke up and looked us in the eye.

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The zoo had fairly large enclosures for the animals to move about in, but they could be a still larger. Though I do visit zoos, I feel that animals don’t deserve this kind of captivity. We wouldn’t like a world in which we were in some enclosure and a “higher” species was gawking at us.

On a happier note, there was a huge enclosure for the primates with swings and branches for them to enjoy, which they did whole-heartedly.

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Some primates are happy enough on land.

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A tropical rainforest enclosure intrigued us a lot. The atmosphere was hot and humid, and we were very much at home. We enjoyed listening to the chirping of the birds around us.

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By afternoon, I was in a rush to exit quickly as I wanted to see Nymphenburg palace before it closed. So, we rushed through the aquarium, shopped for soft toys and had lunch in a biergarten by the flamingos.

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Brew with a view

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We headed back to the hotel together post-lunch, as our Munich day ticket mandates our travelling together. By this time, stormy rain clouds had gathered and the sky was an ominous gray. The hubby refused to head out so I convinced the kid to come with me to Nymphenburg palace even though she was tired by all the morning walking.

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Much needed dessert on the last day of a great trip

A short tram ride took us to the gates of the summer palace of the Wittelsbach rulers. In the good-old-days, it took 2 hours from Munich by carriage, making it the perfect summer getaway for a ruler. It was raining heavily till then, but amazingly, the rain stopped just before we clambered out and walked the short distance along a canal to the long flat palace with buildings all around it and swans and geese curled up in corners at the sides.

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The stunning Nymphenburg palace on a stormy afternoon

Even as we approached, the sun burst through the dark clouds, momentarily brightening up the landscape.

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Buildings and gardens have been added on to the main palace over the years

It was truly breathtaking. The large green grounds with pretty flowers surrounding large water bodies reflecting the simple buildings made me admire the architect who had designed a home so well harmonized with nature. But this was just the prelude to the show. The magic of Nymphenburg unfolds as you see more of it.

We walked into the palace, put away our bags into lockers and set about seeing the palace interiors first as they would close in half an hour. We weren’t too keen on seeing too much of it as we’d already seen the opulent Residenz but that didn’t stop us from gawking at the beautifully designed stone hall with frescoes on the walls and ceilings featuring nymphs (naturally) and the flower goddess Diana.

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I would happily have lain down on the floor to admire this ceiling 

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My photography skills are too poor to capture this beauty. This hall has got to be seen, and we were happy to feast our eyes on it a second time before leaving. But now, we wanted to walk through a few of the rooms, and most importantly, the gallery of beauties.

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The Gallery of Beauties, with my own little beauty

So, the king made his queen a palace for bearing his heir, and then put up specially commissioned paintings of beautiful women chosen by him, in clothes and embellishments chosen by him. How sadistic can a man be!

 

We wandered through pretty rooms with glamorous chandeliers, liking this palace far more than the Residenz, for its compactness and relative simplicity. It felt like a palace one could live in.

DSC_4919Sure I’d love a canopied bed with a chandelier like that. But that’s not why I’d love to live in Nymphenburg. I fell in love with it for the palace grounds.

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The lawns and canals in the front of Nymphenburg palace, from the terrace of the palace

By the time we got our backpacks and set out to see the extensive park grounds of 200 acres at the back of the palace, the sun was out blazing away and no one could have identified this as the scene of a thunder storm an hour back.

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Geese were more at home here than tourists here as we gazed out at unending fields of green punctuated by canals and lakes. The large expanse in front of us was dotted by statues of Greek Gods and the kid, enlightened by “Percy Jackson”, had a blast running amongst them and naming them.

The amazing Nymphenburg park was increased in size over 200 years, and is now a huge forest-like space that would take an entire day to explore.

Screenshot (1)Sadly, we had barely a few hours and were already tired after a full day of walking at the zoo. Yet, we set off to explore at least one half of the park, intending to walk to the largest lake of the park, the Badenburg lake and then to see the waterfall cascades at the very end of the park. We certainly had taken no scale into account while chalking up this ambitious plan, nor the overpowering evening sun.

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Water bodies are the basis of the park, they fill every nook and corner of it. Small canals crossed by Venetian bridges, long canals you can take a gondola ride on and huge lakes that you can’t see the end of, all fill the park and add to its tremendous allure.

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A Venetian gondola in Germany, with a singing gondolier

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Geese with their goslings swam merrily along

Ever the explorer, the kid chose a path through the forest, instead of walking at the edge of the canal. Beautifully shaded, totally empty, surrounded by trees and the calls of birds, this was the most pleasant of all the walks we took.

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Rambling along, we were a tad concerned about finding the right path to the lake, when we came upon a fork in the road. Since we were on a small path unmarked on the map, we had to choose. Inspired by Frost, we chose the road less travelled and plodded on, to reach a clearing in the woods and a charming bridge over a little canal that opened out onto Badenburg lake.

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Thrilled, we pushed ahead and were delighted to see a few people milling about the periphery of a beautiful lake, with sunbeams dancing off the surface and charming geese for company.

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The monopteros at one edge of the Badenburg lake, that I couldn’t figure out any way to reach

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We sat there for a quite a while, stretching out our tired legs and enjoying our refreshed minds. It was so quiet that there was no need to intrude on the peace by conversation or shutter sound, we took a few pictures for memory and then, just sat quietly together.

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Reluctantly, we left this wonderful place of solace and walked on. By now, the kid was very tired and we couldn’t reach the end of the park. So we decided to cut across the forest and walk back along the central canal on the opposite side, coming upon a statue of Pan and his faithful satyr.

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The God of the wild would love this resting place for sure. As we crossed the central canal, we glanced at the reflection of the palace in the narrow canal and simultaneously went “Oooohhhh!”

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The only thing stopping us staring at this view was the hot sun and our own exhaustion. Truly, Nymphenburg deserves an entire day. We crossed over the canal to the other side to see the Pagodenburg lake, where the setting sun was casting its rays.

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We walked back to the palace halls, thrilled by the evening’s adventure and very glad that we’d stepped out in the storm.

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As we exited the palace and came out to the front lawns, we were struck by how different it looked without the dreary clouds and amazed by how the day had changed. It was as though Munich was giving us a fitting farewell.

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I noticed things I hadn’t seen before like the flowers and the cherubic statues.

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The swans reclaimed their places in the canals, no longer hiding their beaks under their wings, but proudly floating about.

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Tired, but very very happy, the two of us caught the tram back to our hotel and packed for the flight back the next day. We had had a terrific 14 days in Germany and Austria. Every day and every place we visited, we had loved. The hubby’s role in turning down the original plan of Italy must be applauded, as his terrific driving.

While I must credit the hubby the most, there are those who are very important too. The kid was a great companion on this trip, interested in the history of the places, willing to step out and walk and walk, and play lots of Uno. My sister was very accommodating as she didn’t insist on my going to her place to visit her and my adorable niece (my only regret). And I can’t sign off without profusely thanking Yogesh Shenoy for planning my trip to the hilt and being the greatest support system. Nor can I forget the lovely Bavaria and Austria that made my trip so special. I hope to be back someday.

Auf wiedersehen Germany and Austria.

Germany May 2018: Munich Day 2: Cars, palaces and gardens; a day well spent

“3 days in Munich? What will you do there,” asked a friend. As it turned out, 3 days were barely enough. The vibrant city with oodles of old world charm has plenty to offer within the city itself, apart from day trips, all of which we had already visited. Munich turned out to be a city that we fell head over heels in love with. The old town had already enamored us the previous day (Germany May 2018: Munich, the charming Bavarian capital), this day, we chose to visit the BMW welt, Munich Residenz and English Garden.

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The BMW headquarters represents the cylinder head of the four-cylinder car engine

After buying a Munich inner city pass that would allow us to use the train and bus network, we set off to the Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) welt and were surprised to see a bunch of high school kids get off at the stop. I was amazed by their interests till I entered the welt and realised that they were there to play racing games on the free Xbox consoles. The kid didn’t get a chance to play till we were about to leave. We had a blast looking around at all the beemers on display and choosing the ones we would buy if we could. The kid, unsurprisingly chose a concept car.

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From here, we headed to the Munich Residenz, the seat of government and residence of the Bavarian royalty. We got off the U-bahn stop and turned into the palace gardens just behind the Residenz.

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Sadly, it was too hot to tour the gardens, so we turned to look at the Residenz.

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“Imposing building,” I thought, as I tried to push open the doors. “No, no, you can’t enter,” cried a man, “the entrance is all the way around.” ‘All the way around’ turned out to be a long way around. We walked into many courtyards, but couldn’t gain entry through any of those.

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We had to walk back almost half the way to Marienplatz, to a square called Max-Joseph-Platz square and then get in. The walk in the sun was very pleasing to the eyes, with architecture like this to feast the eyes on.

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We stashed away our backpacks and entered the first HUGE room, the Antiquarium (the room of Antiquities), built to house dozens of sculptures. By far the most beautiful of all the rooms, it was filled with just the right amount of art and sculpture.

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We walked from one end to the other and back, staring at the ceiling as much as at the walls, and stood at one end and saw how different it looked with a change of position.

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This grandest room of this grand palace was stunning and captured our attention for the longest time. However it turned into the benchmark that everything else didn’t quite live up to. 

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The paintings on the walls and ceilings were stunning

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Munich residenz is a huge palace, where bits and pieces have been added on by different rulers. It actually looks deceptively small from the outside. There were lots of museum personnel who politely showed you the way and very enthusiastically opened doors and gushed about the rooms ahead. It was clear that the palace employees loved their jobs and were very proud of their city. I found this very very impressive. As we walked through, a gentleman reminded us to go back to see the shell grotto, which was well worth the walk back.

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From here, we entered a huge gallery with fancy chandeliers and gilt portrait frames with paintings of the entire Wittelsbach clan. Apparently these had all been removed just before the bombing of WWII and hidden in bunkers. 

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The Ancestral Gallery

There were many others that hadn’t been salvaged, hence there were many rooms with empty portrait frames. The palace was filled with rooms of gold and gilt. Some rooms had color themes like deep red, cream, blue or even green.

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The wallpaper matched the furniture and sometimes, it was more garish than elegant, but grand it certainly was. However, after a while, we got tired of all the sparkle and were happy to see a relatively simple (and very pretty) chapel.

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Some things were very beautiful indeed like the intricate tapestries on the walls.

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And beautiful artwork on the ceilings.

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And intriguing paintings on the walls of subjects that would have been perfect for the surface anatomy class of college.

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And a desk that the kid said she’d love to use as a book reading table.

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After some time, we got terribly bored. We hadn’t taken the audio guide, so all the rooms looked the same after a while.

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Never ending opulent rooms

So, we left the minute we saw a shortcut to the exit. We didn’t even see the treasury or the theatre, both of which are supposed to be very beautiful. We swiftly caught a train to our hotel, hogged on a delicious meal and rested the entire afternoon.

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We were too hungry to click a picture before starting

The much-needed rest perked us up and we set off to the Odeonplatz once again, now to the English Garden. I’ve always loved large open green areas in cities and visit them on every trip, so naturally, the English Garden could be no exception. But I hadn’t bargained for this wonderful oasis. We just walked through the gardens behind the Residenz, crossed a busy road where cyclists crossed us at supersonic speeds and entered the green patch, where the world seemed to shut itself out. It was as though we were in a different Munich.

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Huge tree cover, many walking paths, benches all around and large open green spaces intersected by small streams characterised this wonderland. There was no street noise, it seemed more like a forest. We walked down a path and came upon a small rivulet.

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Swans and ducks swam in this little water body and the kid desperately wanted to take a little gosling home. Ducks walked about us fearlessly, well accustomed to human presence.

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There were large green spaces packed with people walking, jogging, playing with their kids or dogs, cycling or just enjoying the sun. It was amazing. It was only 6pm in the evening and everyone was free from work to relax. This is a good quality of life indeed. I can’t imagine going to a public garden at 6pm on a working day in Mumbai!

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We walked on, enjoying our leisurely stroll as suddenly came upon yet another stream rolling over some rocks.

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Part of a city? Unbelievable. We fell in love with this oasis. I only missed packing a picnic basket. The kid missed renting a bicycle and cycling about. “Next time,” I promised her.

 I was keen on finding the bit of the river where a one foot high wave is created and surfers plunge into the freezing waters for their bit of fun. This huge garden is unfortunately not very well-marked so it’s not easy to navigate, but we saw a surfer and asked him the directions. A lot more walking led us to a narrow width of water where we could see surfers in the water. Excited, we followed the path upstream.

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It was great fun to watch. There was a small stream 10 feet wide with waves at one place. On both sides of the stream in 2 very orderly rows, stood a line of surfers. They alternately jumped into the surf and rode the waves til they fell in and got swept away by the current.

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Surfing in the center of the city! That’s Munich. We looked about for the stream that was the source of the water but couldn’t locate it. It came out from under a bridge, on the other side of which was the city. It was amazing. On one side were cars and motorcycles and huge buildings and on three other a stream with surfers and a huge green garden.

We stood there for long and then finally moved on. We walked deeper into the garden where there were large lawns. I could see the Monopteros, a small Greek style pavilion high on the slope and headed there.

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The hubby and I struggled up the slope while the kid found a nice staircase and merrily climbed up. While standing at the pavilion, the whole garden sprawled out in front of us with the old town in the background.

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We sat there, recovering our breath and enjoying the view before heading back down.

 

Now we were tired and hungry, so we walked the short distance to the Chinese tower beer garden, to enjoy the perfect German meal.

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The kid read the menu and promptly refused, saying she wanted to get back to the Turkish eatery we’d eaten at the previous day, so we tried figuring out how to get back to Marienplatz without walking backwards, when we suddenly;y came upon a large road with a bus stop. The road goes through the center of the garden, and wisely, we walked no further and saw no more of the garden, but headed back in a bus.

We spent the evening at the old town, wishing time would stand still and the holiday get prolonged, but these things don’t happen. Yet, we had had a wonderful day at Munich and slept well, dreaming of tree covered paths and bridges over streams in the midst of a bustling city.

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