It may still be a bad time to talk about travel as India has emerged from the second COVID-19 wave only two months’ back. However, there is a post idea that has been on our minds for weeks now & we felt this would be the perfect time to write it down.
So, we have travelled to 21 states & 6 union territories of India. Not all of them for sightseeing but nonetheless… & something or the other has always caught our eye!
Now, even in states, a lot changes between districts. Thus, this is not a generalization but just an account of the things we have experienced & liked about a place.
So, here we go with what we like about…
P visited Andhra Pradesh as a child. The memories are faint but if we had to choose, it would be the beaches of Vishakhapatnam.
What to say about the state that has been home? Yet, Biharis’ zeal to achieve stands out spectacularly.
The planned sectors & the bungalows… Retiring here would not be a bad idea!
Limited exposure that too in childhood & not from a sightseeing POV
Dadra Nagar Haveli and Daman Diu
We have been to Daman. Loved its laidback vibe. Also, what we coined “poor (wo)man’s Goa”!
Moti Daman Fort
Heritage, history, more heritage, more history!
The lush greenery & the intimidating Arabian Sea during monsoon
The far Himachal of Lahaul, Spiti & Kinnaur… the dangerous Hindustan – Tibet Road… the friendliness of locals…
Jammu & Kashmir
Without a doubt, the valleys. & The dried berries & fruits!
Limited exposure not from a sightseeing POV
The backwaters! (Yes! Unknown compared to the Kerala ones but quite pretty.)
How we can go from hills to seas in less than five hours! & The Malabar cuisine.
Between Karnataka & Kerala can be a competition for the best backwaters. We weren’t complaining though…
The sheer grit of the locals! It is a difficult terrain to live in; yet we never found a single person without a smile!
That fact that it is SO underrated! It has everything – hills, water bodies, geographical formations, indigenous cultures, heritage – & yet it is not the first name that pops up when we speak of ‘Incredible India’.
The Western Ghat undoubtedly! & Konkani food!!
A pink sky on the Western Ghats
P visited Odisha as a child. But she remembers the Chilka Lake vividly…
Favourite beach town in all of India! Great food, colourful buildings, heritage, & max – chill vibe!
Mustard fields. Sarson ka saag & makke ki roti. & Harmandir Sahib.
The difference between Garhwal & Kumaon. The omnipresence of rhododendrons.
The romanticism. Many movies & series are made with WB as the backdrop. & The outcome is nothing short of beautiful…
There is still a lot to be seen. We hope to cover at least all the states & union territories in our lifetime even if we are unable to see them in entirety. Frankly, one lifetime is inadequate to experience all of Incredible India!
We had been to Churu earlier. When we were drawing up our itinerary for the Rajasthan road trip, we knew we had to include another Shekhawati town. Mandawa was our fourth & last destination.
We left our Jodhpur hotel after breakfast. Jodhpur to Mandawa was close to 330 KMS. We did not halt anywhere except when needed. The road was terrible; it affected our mood negatively. But we found our solace in spotting birds along the way. We managed to click an Indian Roller & a Black Drongo.
Here is a blogpost on Mandawa.
We were at our hotel in Mandawa by early evening. Tired from our journey, we sat under a tree & sipped on steaming masala chai. Then, we were out sightseeing. Our hotel provided us with a guide who took us around the town.
It is not just Marwar & Mewar that are rich with history; Shekhawati has its fair share too. The region is unique. Shekhawati towns are full of havelis that once were homes to rich business families. The businessmen constructed their havelis & baolis with painting on the walls, called frescoes.
The region reminds of cultural amalgamations with fresco themes ranging from Hindu motifs to Rajasthani women to Europeans wearing hats. Religion is an extremely common fresco theme. Scenes depicting Lord Krishna, His childhood antics, His Leela with Radha etc. are found commonly in the frescoes.
On the other hand, when the Mandawa merchants returned from their Europe travels, they would get these frescoes made to give an idea to the local populace about life abroad.
Today, the havelis lay abandoned as the business families are now settled in Kolkata & Mumbai. A few havelis have been converted into hotels. A few others have been restored with caretakers allowing sightseers to visit. Sadly, we saw only a few caretakers take active interest in care taking.
Sightseeing is now the only way to ensure that the havelis do not remain abandoned. But, even with sightseeing, most havelis need TLC. We wished the owners would take charge. We call all Agarwal’s, Birla’s, Chokhanis, Goenkas, Jhunjhunuwalas, Ladias, Nemanis, Saraf’s to please restore their ancestral residences in Shekhawati.
A little love, a little renovation & a whole lot of old-world charm.
Now, there are no specific sightseeing ‘spots’ in Mandawa though Chokhani Haveli, Ladia Haveli & Saraf Haveli are a few of the splendid ones. The havelis are located close to each other & in narrow alleys. The best way to see the town is on foot.
So just walk around the town & see the havelis & the frescoes. You can enter a few of the havelis to see brightly colored rooms.
Our first stop was a water well. Mandawa & its surrounding areas have several open & tube wells, highlighting the scarcity of water in this region. We could imagine the importance of the wells by seeing how beautifully the well was constructed.
Next, we explored the havelis. We discovered something new at every turn.
At one haveli, a bright green & yellow door caught our eyes. The door was a tourist magnet; it gave us decor goals. We saw more such beautiful doors.
Given that many havelis are neglected by their owners, it was heartening to see Saraf Haveli in good shape. It is a great example of Shekhawati art.
At one haveli, we came across evidence of Mandawa’s trading past. The town was once important, lying on the route between Delhi and Gujarat, and China and the Middle East. How did a Burmah-Shell Oil Storage & Distributing Co. of India Ltd. board find its way here?
An enterprising caretaker had taken to selling goods (which we believed come from the haveli) to tourists.
The Kedar Mal Ladia Haveli is called ‘Golden Haveli’. It has a golden painted room which was a result of competitions to build the most opulent Havelis. Even the main gate leading inside is grand. It is fair to call the Golden Haveli a one-room museum.
A form of stained glass greeted us. This was another exquisite part of the Shekhawati havelis. Belgian Glass was embedded in the doors. We saw scenes from Indian scriptures come alive on the walls. Little gold remains on the golden room frescoes, but colors make the room lively.
The ‘gold’ paint has peeled off in places. But it gave us an idea how the room would have looked when it was intact.
In a few havelis, the frescoes date back to the 18th century. & naturally, these transported us to the days of yore. Mandawa is 360 degrees of art. Decoration exists on every conceivable part of the walls. Do not forget to look up as even the underside of arches have art on them. The attention to detail is astounding.
Ceiling frescoes seemed like carpets above our heads. How did people manage to paint entire tapestries on the ceiling? The outer walls have fine decoration. The inner walls are equally attractive.
An interesting bit is that only the rooms in which visitors were entertained were painted. The private quarters would be kept plain.
If architecture/ art/ heritage/ history interest you, you will enjoy the havelis & kothis. The lapse of time has not taken away the grandeur. We were out of words to keep describing the frescoes. Each stood out in its own way.
After the visual extravaganza, back at our hotel, we found tourists gazing at frescoes & restoration here. We lounged by the pool enjoying a local shisha & ended the day with a homely dinner.
It was time to head home but only after a hearty breakfast at our hotel. Mandawa to NCR was ~290 KMS. We halted at Indulgence, Manesar for lunch. It is a food court having multiple restaurants inside its campus. Even though the campus is big, the parking is inadequate. We had to park on the side of the road itself, which is not ideal as NH8 is a heavy – traffic, high – speed highway.
Having said this, the inside is made quite well. There are food joints for every kind of palate. It is a family – friendly place. Washrooms are available & were clean. We filled our stomachs at Berco’s, Burger King & Giani’s.
Painted havelis & carts pulled by miniature donkeys were just a couple of sights that made Shekhawati a tourist’s paradise. The entire Rajasthan road trip was about experiencing calm in different ways. Every time we visit small cities, life magically seems to become simpler.
After an art & heritage filled road trip, we knew we would sleep easy for some time to come. Before the travel bug infected us again.
After the bumpy ride, our accommodation in Mandawa sprang a surprise on us. Knowing that it is a small town, we were not expecting much in terms of hotel quality. But our minds were blown off by the Mandawa Kothi. Everywhere we looked, we saw art.
We thanked God for the person who decided to restore this century – old ‘Kothi’. It would have been heartbreaking to lose such art. This boutique hotel has old world charm coupled with modern amenities. Living in places that echo with history is always an enchanting experience. By staying at Mandawa Kothi for a night, we became a part of its history.
Walking under its arched gates was memorable. We had to cross three gates/ doors to get to the main living area. (We love how old houses had the concept of multiple sections.) Mandawa has been a favored location for Bollywood. A gate in the Mandawa Kothi featured in a prominent scene in the movie Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
The parking is right in front of the entrance. Mandawa Kothi has just six rooms but all have been carefully restored & upgraded with modern amenities. Our room was beautiful & spacious. There seemed to be just a handful of young men managing the hotel but ever so efficiently.
Sad, we stayed only for a night; wish we had more time at Mandawa Kothi! It felt like a home away from home.
Getting to Mandawa
You can easily do a long weekend road trip from Delhi NCR.
A train to Churu is available from Delhi. Churu to Mandawa can then be done by bus/ cab.
Make your way to Mandawa between November & February. You will not be disappointed.
If you visit Mandawa in winter, do remember the nights can be cold. Do not forget your woolens.
Take a guide with you for the fresco sightseeing as s/ he will be able to point out details you would not notice otherwise.
Living in Delhi NCR, a trip to Rajasthan becomes almost compulsory every winter. In the past, we’ve made short trips to Churu, to Jaipur, to Kishangarh, to Pushkar, to Ranthambhore, & to Sariska.
However, in 2019, we decided to do a proper, week long road trip of the desert state, flitting from place to place. Why a Rajasthan road trip you ask? Well, where else can you get a combination of culture, heritage, history, good food, an arid landscape, & tonnes of color?
We’d nine days to spare around Republic Day. We also have a principle of not driving more than 300 kilometers in a day. We feel it’s an optimal distance – covering fair ground, not too tiring, & gives scope to sight see on the way.
With these points in mind, we chose the route of NCR – Jaipur – Udaipur – Jodhpur – Mandawa – NCR. A few of these places were repetitive for us, but we’d not visited these as a couple. So, our itinerary looked something like this –
Saturday, 26 January 2019 – NCR to Jaipur (289 KMS)
We left on time, had brunch in Behror (146 KMS), & were in Jaipur by afternoon. A cup of tea later, we were out shopping & dining. Overnight in Jaipur.
Sunday, 27 January 2019 – Jaipur & Amer sightseeing
After breakfast, we visited City Palace & Jantar Mantar, strolled through Johari Bazar to reach Hawa Mahal & Laxmi Mishthan Bhandaar (where we’d lunch), & then to Amer (8 KMS from Jaipur) for seeing the fort and the light & sound show.
Back to Jaipur for dinner & overnight stay.
Monday, 28 January 2019 – Jaipur to Udaipur (391 KMS)
We began after breakfast & halted at Kishangarh (102 KMS) to buy marble products in its famed marble market. We’d made an exception today & chosen ~400 KMS. So, today was going to be a long drive. We stopped for lunch at a dhaba in Kishanpura.
We were crossing Nathdwara (248 KMS from Kishangarh) in the evening when we spontaneously took a break to visit Shrinathji. We finally reached Udaipur by late evening. After refreshing, we headed out for dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.
Tuesday, 29 January 2019 – Udaipur sightseeing
Done with breakfast, we visited City Palace Museum, Jagdish Mandir & Bagore Ki Haveli. We ate lunch at a lakefront, rooftop restaurant. We made our way to Chetak Smarak & were back in time for sunset watching at The Sunset Terrace.
We ended the night with the light & sound show at the City Palace, & then dinner. Overnight in Udaipur.
Wednesday, 30 January 2019 – Udaipur to Jodhpur (253 KMS)
We started for Jodhpur after breakfast & a little before lunchtime, we were at Ranakpur (84 KMS). We visited the Jain temple & then lunched at Ranakpur itself. We were at our Jodhpur hotel by early evening. We just went out for dinner tonight.
Overnight in Jodhpur.
Thursday, 31 January 2019 – Jodhpur sightseeing
We began our day with a safari in the Guda Bishnoi village areas (24 KMS). The first half of the day was spent in visiting a traditional Bishnoi household & spotting wildlife in the surrounding areas. We returned to the city for lunch & then visited the Mehrangarh Fort.
The Fort visit was followed by a sun downer, a walk in the Sardar market, seeing Ghanta Ghar, & an early dinner consisting of local specialties. Overnight in Jodhpur.
Friday, 1 February 2019 – Jodhpur to Mandawa (320 KMS)
This stretch of the road was horrible. We reached Mandawa by afternoon & went for a walking tour of the town in the evening. Back to hotel for dinner & overnight stay.
Saturday, 2 February 2019 – Mandawa to NCR (275 KMS)
We’d kept this day open, thinking if we needed more time in Mandawa, we’ll stick around for a day more. But we managed to see a fair number of havelis on our first evening itself, & thus, decided to head home today.
Wondering why we’ve made such a brief post? 😀 It’s because we intend to write detailed posts for each of these four destinations. This blog post was to give an overview of how a week long road trip can be planned for Rajasthan.
Stay tuned for our post on Jaipur!
P. S. There can be endless variations of this road trip. E.g.
We hope Bali Basics turned out to be helpful to you. Now that you’ve figured out where you want to stay on your Bali holiday, we help you with the sights we saw in Bali & loved. The attractions below are tried & tested, & advocated (& not mentioned in any order of preference)!
Bali is, of course, all about beaches. So, it doesn’t really make sense for us to get into these. Nonetheless, we visited the Double Six, the Kayu Aya, & the Nusa Dua beaches.
Double Six Beach
In Seminyak, as a subset of
the Seminyak Beach, is the Double Six Beach. It is a relaxed one offering
umbrella rentals & a chill ambiance. Perfect for just sitting & watching
the activity happening around you & the Indian Ocean. The water wasn’t too
cold when we visited; so, one could opt for a dip.
Sunset is when the crowds start thronging in. Being on the west coast, the Double Six Beach offers stunning sunset views. The Beach is also home to La Plancha Bali, the beach bar that’s famous for its colorful parasols & beach bags.
Kayu Aya Beach
Kayu Aya Beach is a part of the Seminyak Beach. It is located behind Ku De Ta.
The beach is peaceful with quiet
activities available like body art & kite-flying. Or you can simply carry
your book & relax. The ocean was fairly calm when we visited; a few
splashed around in the water. There are a few restaurants nearby if hunger
However, at one spot, we saw
of stream of black water coming from inland & getting released into the
sea. Not good! We must keep our beaches & oceans squeaky clean.
Nusa Dua Beach
The Nusa Dua Beach is one of the public beaches in Nusa Dua. The general public can access this beach to try their hand at water sports. However, we found the prices to be expensive here. (Goa has better prices!) Having said that, the water sports facilities (changing rooms, toilets, waiting areas etc.) are well-developed at the Nusa Dua Beach.
Being on the east coast, you
can get magical sunrise views.
Our favorite bit! Bali is a treasure trove for those inclined towards culture, heritage & history. Dance, metalworking, & painting are just a few of its mainstays. Bali has had a Hindu influence from ancient times, which reflects in the scores of temples found on the island. In fact, Bali is called the island of a thousand temples.
Puri Saren Agung
The Puri Saren Agung is better
known as the Ubud Palace. The palace is in the heart of Ubud, with restaurants
all around it. The road that it is located on is busy; so, note that you will
not get a parking spot here.
The Puri Saren Agung is the residence of the royal family of Ubud. The architecture is preserved well & is worth gaping at. The rust & grey-colored buildings are set amidst a charming garden.
Entry is free; so, you can go
in & click photos. However, there is a lack of printed information in the
Palace, making it a guesswork for sightseers.
Satria Gatotkaca Statue
You can’t miss this statue. You’ll cross it once you’re on your way from the airport to your accommodation in Kuta/ Seminyak. The statue depicts Gatotkaca, the courageous son of Bheema (one of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata, the Hindu epic) & Hidimbi (a man eater who wanted to eat Bheema but, instead, fell in love with him).
Gatotkaca was powerful & had magical powers. He not only helped the Pandavas win the Kurukshetra war in the Mahabharata, but also sacrificed himself as a victim of Karna’s deadly weapon that could be used only once (which Karna was saving for Arjuna, Gatotkach’s uncle). Hence, he is regarded with respect in Hinduism.
(Bonus – You can find a Gatotkaca Temple & a Hidimbi Temple (both perhaps the only ones) in Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.)
Pura Tanah Lot is located on a rock formation called Tanah Lot. Tanah Lot itself means ‘ land in the sea ’ in Balinese. True to its name, the rock formation juts out into the sea, with azure water all around.
The Tanah Lot Temple is
ancient & a popular pilgrimage spot. The Temple is a 16th C
marvel, dedicated to Balinese sea gods (along with Hinduism influence). Thanks
to the setting, it has become a cultural & photography destination as well.
The Pura Tanah Lot is accessible during low tide when you can simply walk till it. The main temple is out of bounds for tourists but a small cave with ‘ holy water ‘ is accessible. The priests will expect you to donate & will give you a nasty look if you don’t.
There is another cave with a
‘holy snake’. Legend has it that venomous sea snakes guarded the Tanah Lot Temple
from evil spirits. You again need to make a donation to see & touch the
During a high tide, the Temple becomes inaccessible. Then, the Pura Penyawang, an onshore temple is used as an alternative. Don’t forget to visit the Pura Batu Bolong, a temple built on a rock formation, similar to the Pura Tanah Lot.
As you walk down to the Tanah
Lot Temple, you will cross Balinese souvenir shops & restaurants. We’d some
refreshing coconut water at one of the many stalls.
The Temple is located in
Beraban in Tabanan Regency.
Pura Luhur Uluwatu
Pura Luhur Uluwatu, another sea temple, is located on a cliff on the Indian Ocean, in Pecatu (Badung Regency). In Balinese, ulu means ‘ tip ’ & watu is ‘rock’. True to its name, the Uluwatu Temple is erected on the tip of a rock. The Temple construction year is disputed, but goes as far back as the 10th C.
It is dedicated to Lord Siva,
one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. Legend has it that the Pura Luhur Uluwatu guards
Bali from evil sea spirits. The Uluwatu Temple is accessible through a serpentine
pathway. Sightseers end up taking an hour or more to reach the Temple as they
can’t help halting at the numerous lookout points along the way.
It is surrounded by a forest with
monkeys (who are believed to guard the Pura Luhur Uluwatu against negative
influences). The Uluwatu Temple is scenic & a magnificent sunset spot. The
Sun dipping into the ocean is something you will remember for years. Thanks to
the setting, the Temple has become a splendid photography destination.
You need to cover your legs
while visiting it. Sarongs & sashes are available at the entrance. If
you’re wearing pants, you don’t need a sarong; a sash will do.
A Kecak & Fire Dance is performed every evening at a stage adjacent to the Pura Luhur Uluwatu, lasting an hour. The iconic Fire Dance was a high point of our trip. Against the sunset backdrop, the dance is magical. Dancers enact episodes from the Hindu epic, Ramayana. The background score is provided not by any instrument, but by the ‘chak’ sounds emanated by the performers.
We loved the Kecak & Fire
Dance from beginning till end. The chanting has stayed with us. The Ramayana
episodes were enacted well. Seeing one of our epics beautifully enacted stole our
hearts. Definitely recommended!
Go early if you want to see both the Pura Luhur Uluwatu & the Fire Dance. Or, even to get a good seat. Else, like us, you would have to sit on the floor & then have the inflamed husk coming toward you. Also, keep following the story in the pamphlet, else you’ll be lost if you don’t know the Ramayana.
At the cost of inviting sniggers, we state that Bali is a lot like India. That is, it’s something for everyone. (Of course, better weather. Of course, fewer people. Of course, smaller distances.) If you’re done with lounging on the beaches, or tired of visiting temples, you still have the option of soaking in nature.
We knew Bali was famous for its coffee. So, when we got a chance to taste different kinds of coffee, we jumped at it. Cantik Agriculture is a cooperative of local farmers. The coffee bean is processed traditionally. We sampled more than 10 types with each having a strikingly different flavor than the other. The tasting helped us decide which ones we wanted to buy.
We sampled the popular Coffee
Luwak, understood the process by which it’s made & saw the Luwak Civet from
whom this coffee comes. (At that point of time, we were unaware of the probable conditions the
Luwak Civet is kept in. Knowing better now, we would discourage our readers
from opting for the Coffee Luwak. Or, at least find a place where Coffee Luwak
is processed ethically.)
The farm had spices of
different kinds & a shop where you can buy all their produce. It was on the
expensive side but then, it’s once-in-a-lifetime!
Gunung Batur (also called
Kintamani volcano) is an active volcano located in Bangli Regency. We visited the
volcano at the time of sunset. The mist was settling in slowly, making the
picture look surreal.
It’s famous for its sunrise
trek, but we chose not to do it. The feedback we’d got was ‘the trek’s
difficult’. But even from afar, the Gunung Batur looks spectacular. & who
gets to see a volcano everyday anyway?
It got chilly at Mount Batur
when we visited in the evening; so, do carry something warm.
Adjacent to the Gunung Batur
is the Danau Batur. The Lake Batur is a crater lake, located along the Ring of
Fire of volcanic activity. The Lake is considered sacred by the Balinese. It is
possible can take a winding road down to the shore.
Danau Batur is a striking color, no matter what time of the day you see it at. As you stand at any of the lookout points, the crisp mountain air & the majestic, crescent-shaped Lake Batur will stun you.
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana
Mandala Suci Wenara Wana is a natural habitat of the Balinese Long-Tailed Monkey. The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary is a blessed site located in Ubud. We can summarize the Monkey Forest Ubud in one word – enchanting!
It was love at first sight for
us – lots of greenery & Long-Tailed Monkeys (also called macaques). The Monkeys
usually mind their own business but like they say for every living thing –
don’t provoke them. The Forest is beautiful. The moss-covered ruins are lovely.
The ruins are of Hindu temples (which are actually still in use).
While the Sanctuary is well preserved thanks to a community-based management program, signboards displaying the history & significance of the ruins will be beneficial for sightseers.
In the next post, we’ll bring you a few of our favorite places to drink/ eat in Bali. Till then, happy sightseeing!
Before we headed to Bali, we had a lot of confusion about its geography & location. Was it an island? Was it a part of Indonesia? How big was it? Blame it on ignorance. And, there’s no better antidote for ignorance than travel.
Once we’d been there, many contacted us when they were planning their own trip. We realized then that we’d not been alone in our confusion & ignorance. Everyone who reached out to us knew Bali was a place to visit, but how’s Bali further divided, which are the areas to stay in/ visit, no one had a clue.
It was almost déjà vu for us, for we’d been equally clueless. After helping a few folks with a better picture of how to place their Bali holiday, we thought we should just put it down in a blog post.
Indonesia is a country in Southeast Asia. It’s made
up of volcanic islands. Beaches & Komodo dragons are just two of the many
things Indonesia is known for. Out of the 18,000+ islands that this nation has,
the largest is Sumatra. (Technically, it’s New Guinea, but it doesn’t belong to
Bali is the 13th biggest, just about
1.14% the size of Sumatra. And yet, it’s made such a name for itself in the
travel world. Bali is a great way to remind ourselves that we mustn’t
underestimate anybody/ anything!
Coming to Bali Now…
Bali is a province of
Indonesia, & is divided into regencies. Each regency has a capital.
The above map clears it out right away that it’s South Bali that has the most tourism. South is where the beaches are, along with the nightlife. As you travel north, the forests of Bali start emerging. But before that is the place where you get a taste of the culture of Bali. Further north are the regions you would visit if you’re keen to see volcanoes.
Okay, let’s take it one at a time.
Denpasar is the capital of Bali. The city can
easily be called the gateway to Bali due to its proximity to the Ngurah Rai
Denpasar has a close association with history.
In 1906, almost a thousand Balinese committed suicide to avoid surrendering to
the invading Dutch troops. The Taman Puputan square is a memorial for the
Balinese who laid down their lives.
Serangan is a part of Denpasar. It is an island
known for its turtles. Serangan is connected with the mainland by a road
There are numerous yacht operators here that
conduct day trips/ cruises.
Serangan is also home to the Serangan Beach (secluded).
Let’s begin traveling south from Denpasar. The first town you will hit is Seminyak, a suburb of Kuta in the Badung Regency. You can find luxury hotels, spas, high-end restaurants etc. here. Sunsets are a busy time here with bars offering sun-downers on the beaches.
This is also where you will find gorgeous villas for your accommodation needs. We stayed at a heavenly villa called Villa Teman Eden. It was love at first sight! The pool is the highlight but the rooms were spacious with all amenities available. The prettiest bathrooms! Fantastic location! (Also read our piece on our Airbnb experiences featuring Teman Eden.)
Seminyak is home to the Double Six Beach & the Kayu Aya Beach.
Moving further south, you will hit Kuta (Badung
Regency), the nightlife hub of Bali. At any time of the day or night, the
atmosphere here can only be called electric.
Kuta used to be a fishing village, but also one of the first to start developing for tourism. The Kuta Beach is the most well-known (& thus the most frequented). Being on the west coast, it’s a great spot for sunset watching (& sun-downers!).
You can find luxury resorts, clubs & the like located along the Kuta Beach. And, surfers! (Do you know that surfers massively helped in restarting tourism in Bali post the bombings?)
Sightseers prefer to stay at Kuta (or its suburb,
Seminyak) as this is where the action is! Consequently, a few of the best
accommodation options can be found here, specifically villas.
Kuta is home to the Satria Gatotkaca Statue &
the Waterbom Bali (water slides anyone?).
Further south is Jimbaran (Badung Regency), a
fishing village. Its Bay has calm waters.
Terrorism is an ugly part of the world today. In 2005, suicide bombers attacked a couple of popular restaurants in Jimbaran. But, the wonderful part about the world also is, it bounces back! Bali is a great example of that.
Jimbaran is lined with live seafood counter
restaurants. At these restaurants, you can select the live seafood you wish to
eat. It will be immediately prepared (generally grilled) & served.
If you’re seeking affordable accommodation
options, Jimbaran is the place to try.
We’re now at almost the south western end of
Bali. Pecatu (Badung Regency) is where you’ll find a hilly landscape. The hills
shield the beaches, making this area popular with nudists. Pecatu is also the
area that’s almost exclusively developed by the private sector.
Pecatu is home to the Uluwatu Temple (a
spiritual pillar of Bali) & the Suluban Beach (exotic!).
Let’s travel east from Pecatu to Nusa Dua (Badung Regency), the water sports area. On the southeast coast of Bali, the sandy beaches are a great backdrop for different water sports like banana boat, parasailing, sea walking & snorkeling.
A sub-district of Nusa Dua is Tanjung Benoa. A peninsula with beaches on three sides – dreamy enough?
Nusa Dua is home to the Nusa Dua Beach & the Museum Pasifika (all things artsy).
Start moving northwest now. Beyond Denpasar is Kerobokan
village (Badung Regency).
The Kerobokan Prison is the stuff legends are
made of. Thrill seekers find ways to spend a night in the prison, to experience
the notoriety first-hand. For the non-thrill seekers, there are night markets
Kerobokan is home to the Batu Belig Beach
(whattay calm) & the Petitenget Temple (wards off dark forest spirits).
Moving further northwest, & closer to the
west coast of Bali, you will arrive at Beraban, a village in the Tabanan
Beraban is home to the Tanah Lot Temple (you can’t not have seen a photo of this place) & the One Bali Agrowisata (chocolate & coffee plantation).
Let’s head a little northeast now & come to
Gianyar, the seat of the Gianyar regency. It is a town that has preserved its natural
& traditional heritage well. Once you’re done with the heritage
sightseeing, you can relax on the beach.
Gianyar is home to the Cantik Agriculture (coffee anyone?) & the Bali Bird Park (bird-watching alert).
In the Gianyar Regency itself, towards the northwest, is the cultural center of Bali, called Ubud. The town is located in the uplands. Anything that has to do with Balinese tradition can be found here.
Rain-forests and terraced rice paddies surround Ubud while Hindu temples form the main attractions of the town.
Ubud is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary (Balinese Long – Tailed Monkeys. Squee!) & the Puri Saren Palace (erstwhile official residence of the royal family).
Moving far north from Ubud, you will come to
Kintamani (Bangli Regency). You can view the Mount Batur from the village. It
is the place from where the breed ‘Kintamani dog’ (only official breed in Bali)
Kintamani is home to the Mount Batur (active
volcano) & the Lake Batur (crater lake located along the Ring of Fire of
Southeast of Bali is the island of Nusa Lembongan (Klungkung Regency). It is famous as a side destination for mainland Bali visitors. Nusa Lembongan is surrounded by coral reefs with white sand beaches. Day cruises from the mainland to the island are worth opting for.
Nusa Lembongan is home to the Devil’s Tear (cliff
jumping anyone?) & the Mangrove Forest (canoe ride).
With this, we end our short guide to the way Bali is structured from a sightseer’s viewpoint. By no means is this list exhaustive. We’ve tried to cover the areas that we’ve personally experienced.
Other Bali Basics…
Bali traffic is quite bad. We stayed at Seminyak, & chose to spend a day in Ubud. The traffic from Seminyak to Ubud was awful. This is the reason sightseers choose to break their stay into two places – Seminyak/ Kuta & Ubud.
Bali is economical for Indians. Except for the airline fares, all our expenses were similar or even less than what we would spend in, let’s say, Goa, on a similar kind of holiday.
In our next blog post, we’ll share our favorite Bali attractions.
For somebody who has grown up watching the nature &
wildlife channels on television, the Masai Mara National Reserve was a
must-have on the bucket list. Thus, when an ex-colleague, now working in
Nairobi, asked us to come over, specially as the migration season was on, we
did not have to think twice. It also meant that our planning & reservations
were being done at the last minute, implying fewer options and/ or higher
fares. But we knew we might not get a chance again anytime soon. Before we
could digest the fact that we were (finally) visiting the Masai Mara, we were
on a plane bound for Nairobi via Muscat.
Getting to the Mara from Nairobi is possible both by air & by road. We chose road as we have been lifelong believers of ‘the best way to see the country is by road’. But if you want to save time, you can choose the flight option. Tiny air crafts land on airstrips made inside the national reserve, giving a chance to see the vast land aerially. But, do note, as these are the small air crafts, there are luggage restrictions. Check before you book!
Within the reserve, as well as right on the periphery,
there are innumerable accommodation options available. The ones within have an
added advantage of the visitor being able to sleep amidst the wilderness, listening
to the wildlife sounds all night long. We chose a camp at the periphery, thanks
to, well, our last-minute booking. But we do not regret it, as our hearts were
full with all that we saw during the daytime. Speaking of accommodation, camps
are available in both luxury & mid segment, to suit all budgets.
With the details out of the way, let us come to the Masai Mara National Reserve itself. Imagine an unending stretch of land in front of you, with golden grass swaying in the breeze, a blue sky overhead, and here & there a spotting of acacia trees! Turn left, or right, or around, & the same vista greets you. The golden grass reminds you of wheat fields. The clouds twist & turn into different shapes. And a giraffe chomps on the thorny leaves of the acacia tree! Remembering our first sight of this vast grassland, & writing about it, still gives us Goosebumps!
So, Mara stands for ‘spotted land’ in the Masai language.
Rightly so, as the monotony of the flat savanna is broken by the spotting of
the flattop acacia trees. When the light is right, clouds cast their shadow on
the land, causing a spotting of a different kind. And when the migration is
underway, animals spot this gorgeous grassland.
Enough & more has been said about the Masai Mara. So, instead of the generic, we would like to share a few experiences we had.
A leopard had hunted a wildebeest & hung it on a tree for some leisurely eating later. As the day was too warm, the leopard had receded into the shade. When we chanced upon the carcass hanging from the tree, we noticed a White-Backed Vulture sitting next to it. Around the vulture flocked many Lilac-Breasted Rollers. But none of the birds touched the carcass. The birds were waiting for the leopard to finish eating the wildebeest. When pieces would fall on the ground, the vulture would snag its share. And when the carcass rots, the rollers would move in to eat the maggots. There could not be a better example of animals working on the principle of symbiosis.
The second realization for us was the ‘survival of the fittest’. Such an oft-used term, and still when we saw it being played out, it gave us chills. Once July begins, the Kenyan side of the Mara River becomes greener. Herbivores cross the crocodile-infested river and come over to the Mara to give their young ones a better chance at survival. This phenomenon is called The Great Migration. Now, imagine, a river teeming with brutal, hungry Nile Crocodiles. A herd of wildebeest anxiously stand on the edge of the river, debating whether or not to cross. The choices are being eaten by the crocodiles if they do, and death by starvation if they don’t. They take a chance & dash through the river. In the process, the slow and weak ones get snapped up by the crocodiles, & a few get caught in the stampede. But most cross! Nature eliminates the weak, & the fittest survive. Ruthless, but natural!
On a sunrise safari, we missed a hunt by a few minutes. A cheetah stood tall over a dying impala. Ideally, it should have sat down & feasted. But its ears were pricked up. The cheetah was, rightly, on high alert. A lioness had smelt the blood and was making her way towards the cheetah. The fastest animal in the world was no match for the Big Five member. It scooted, leaving its prey for the lioness. She staked claim on the impala, lapped up a little blood, but did not eat either. What was the matter? It turned out she was on a honeymoon, & was waiting for her mate to partake the food first. The king of the jungle walked in with a swagger, & dragged off the impala into the bushes. The lioness looked on, forlorn. At a distance, the cheetah rested its tired limbs, brooded over losing its meal, but glad to be alive! We had heard stories of the dominance of the Big Five; we now had one of our own.
There were so many more such eyeopeners. The ink may run dry, our national reserve stories would not. Stories of the Elephant calf mocking us, the Rhinoceros casually strolling on the path, the beautiful Zebras running along with our vehicle, the Giraffes cocking their ears at us, the Wildebeest walking in a straight line, the Ostrich looking for water, the Lion cubs cuddling, the uncountable varieties of birds posing readily for us, the Hippopotami sunbathing, the Agama Lizards darting around us, the Warthog hiding on seeing us, the East African Jackal being curious about us, five Cheetahs popping out of the grass when we expected only one…
If you have the time, try to go for all the kinds of game drives – sunrise, full day, & sunset. Each has a USP. E.g., the sunrise drive is the best time to catch the Big Cats in action. The sunset one is most suitable for seeing the raptors. We also chose a private vehicle, which meant we were the only ones in it. Sure, it was expensive, but we wanted an unhindered view of the savanna & the wildlife.
We like beings like these – bruised but not broken… Go Lioness!
Lastly, a visit to the reserve is incomplete without visiting the Masai village. You can meet the tribes people, understand their customs, see their distinctive outfits, buy traditional handmade beaded jewellery & participate in their traditional jumping dance. It is not something one can forget!
Ever since we returned, we have encouraged everyone,
specially those with kids, to go to the Masai Mara National Reserve. The
beautiful land can teach us a thousand lessons on why the environment must be
respected. The timelessness of the Masai Mara, the vastness of the grassland,
& the coexistence of different species – if these are not what dreams are
We have had a chance to visit China twice. Well, Hong Kong & Macau don’t really consider themselves China but the fact remains that they are the special administrative regions of China.
As an Indian (this may be true across nationalities too), China has been a fascinating, mysterious place. The most common thoughts that used to occur to us when we thought of China (& this holds for many more like us):
China has too many people.
The Chinese eat anything that walks.
An Indian will have a problem in finding edible food.
The language barrier is significant.
The major cities are heavily polluted.
The Chinese are rude & unfriendly.
The Chinese are xenophobic.
A few of these turned out to be canards while the rest got validated. Our observations are based on the three cities we visited – Macau, Hong Kong & Beijing. Thus, our sample size is small but hopefully not way off the mark.
So here goes what we detected and felt about China.
China Has Too Many People
Yes it does. It is next to impossible to go to a tourist attraction & expect to click a photograph with no people in the frame. At times, it is even impossible to see the attraction. A lot of travel blogs suggest reaching early which we did not manage to do. Perhaps that would have helped.
The ‘too many people’ manifests itself in the scramble for public transport too. Hailing a cab can be quite a task but using a subway is easy, cost-effective & we did not find it too crowded. We have seen worse in India 🙂
The Chinese Eat Anything That Walks
Not entirely true. The Chinese do eat a lot of meat but most of it is conventional stuff like chicken, beef, pork, seafood, fish, duck etc. At most mid-segment restaurants I visited, there was nothing that was repulsive to read or look at. Hint: dogs, insects, reptiles etc.
However, street markets and a type of restaurants called ‘hotpots’ had ‘interesting’ food available. All the horrors that were in the mind appeared in front of our eyes.
An Indian Will Have a Problem in Finding Edible Food
Partially true. There are adequate food options available, thanks to the presence of American, Italian, & even Indian restaurants. You can find vegetarian restaurants too. There are enough McDonald’s, Starbucks etc.
We had a lot of ready-to-eat food with us but gladly, we did not have to consume that. You can find Chinese dishes with conventional meats like chicken, fish & seafood. However, the Chinese dishes taste nothing like what we get in India.
India has its own brand of Chinese, fondly called tandoori Chinese, which is full of sauces and condiments. In comparison, authentic Chinese will appear bland to the Indian palate.
Also, we found a particular pungent smell in all Chinese dishes. Perhaps it was the use of fish sauce or oyster sauce. The smell was too overpowering for us to ignore. We minimized our intake of Chinese food consequently.
The Language Barrier Is Significant
Yes it is. 90% of the people we came across did not understand a single word in English. Even basic phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘hi’, ‘hello’ were alien to them. Surprisingly, this was the case in the hospitality sector too.
A few of the servers who waited on us did not understand English at all. The only English they understood & could say was ‘no English’! We had to point to the menu to order our drinks & dinners. & if we wanted any customization, God help us!
For cab drivers, we carried the Chinese names of our destinations. Thankfully, all of them could read Mandarin. This is a major variation from India. Here, even a rickshaw puller understands Basic English words/ phrases like ‘thank you’, ‘okay’, ‘hello’ etc.
Among the remaining 10%, the grasp of English was elementary at best though we are sure the situation would be different for the crowd that works for multinational corporations.
The Major Cities Are Heavily Polluted
Not true. At least not for an Indian. Compared to Delhi NCR, the air quality in both Beijing & Hong Kong was better, though there was a little bit of haze. For travelers coming from developed countries, this may be a worry & thus, as advised by the western travel blogs, it may make sense for them to carry masks.
Apart from the air, we found all the three cities to be impeccably clean. In Beijing, we observed the roads being washed twice a day. The garbage was collected almost on an hourly basis. There was no difference in people’s behavior though.
Like Indians, they continued to spit, throw garbage etc. at their whim & fancy. But the discipline of the sanitation department was exemplary.
The Chinese Are Rude & Unfriendly
Hem – haw! Yes, the Chinese appear to be rude because (i) they do not smile on seeing you (ii) they talk in a blunt, direct manner. I believe their way of talking stems from their language. As far as I understand, Mandarin does not have grammar & syntax.
It is more of words put together to make sense. So for a Chinese talking in English – s/ he processes what s/ he wants to say in Mandarin in her/ his head –> s/ he translates that to English in her/ his head –> s/ he speaks/ replies in English.
This makes their English also blunt & devoid of the niceties that we usually put into it. About the smiling bit, I agree they should do it more.
The Chinese Are Xenophobic
Assume you are not allowed to meet anybody all your life. You are confined to your house. You can interact only with your family members. Your family members do not step out either. You have a view of the outside world only through your window.
Then, suddenly, when you turn 25 years old, you are told you can step out & can even let outsiders enter your house. Will this affect your behavior towards the outside world? Sure it will. Through that narrow window, you had formed an image.
You are now being subjected to other images, a few of which contradict the earlier image & a few which validate. Would you not take time to absorb it all & adapt to it?
Apart from dispelling/ validating the above preconceived notions, I formed a few independent opinions too. Succinctly put:
Beijing is a cleaner, richer version of New Delhi.
The Chinese love big cars – Audi, BMW & Mercedes. These are almost every second car that you see on the road. But the Chinese have no qualms buying these big names secondhand. (This explains the ‘almost every second car’ bit.)
Hong Kong is the not – so – glamorous cousin of Singapore. Both are financial hubs filled with expats. But Hong Kong has a ‘China’ flavor to it.
The Chinese love to talk. They can yap all day long. Given the harshness of their language, this can sound quite jarring to the ears.
Chinese women/ girls love their bling. They can give the Rajouri aunties a run for their money any day.
Macau is not just a gambler’s paradise. It has a lot to keep culture & history lovers occupied too.
Since Hong Kong used to be a British colony, we were under the impression that the place would be full of English eateries. But, sadly, we did not find any place that served the quintessential British food. In fact, our food struggle was greater in Hong Kong than in Beijing.
The Chinese are enterprising. Every second home on the outskirts of Beijing housed a small-scale industry of sorts. From these small factories, they supply goods all across the world. Despite the language barrier, they have managed to trade with the entire world.
Not talking in financial terms, but India is still light years away from being a China. If we imbibe their discipline, we can think of competing with them.
Despite their population struggle, their infrastructure is top class. Better put, their infrastructure is managing to keep up with the population pressure. Perhaps they plan first, execute later.
China, as a whole, has a rich history but it is still a virgin territory for outsiders. Within themselves, they love their historical places, & they accord the respect that such places deserve.
The Chinese love their nightlife. The world may think otherwise due to their apparent serious nature but all the cities we visited had quite ‘happening’ entertainment options.
To summarize our sentiments, there is lots to be explored about China, in China. The expanse of the country ensures that a lifetime will be inadequate to do so. Each small region holds a story. We will be lucky if we get to discover at least a couple more…
For us, a holiday is not about rest and rejuvenation alone. At different points in time, it is about adventure, luxury, new experiences, new cultures, new food and discovering each other. One such place which gave a new experience was Kishangarh, Rajasthan, India.
Kishangarh is a big town divided into an old and a new segment. The new segment houses large marble companies with their factories, offices, and lots of small marble product retailers. This is the not-so-interesting side.
The real charm is in the old town of Kishangarh, which houses the Kishangarh fort and the Phool Mahal palace. It is about an hour before Pushkar when traveling from Delhi. Both Ajmer and Pushkar are at easy accessible distances.
We came to know about Kishangarh from the 2012 edition of Outlook Traveler. But when we mentioned it to people, they either did not know about it or dismissed it saying it has nothing.
It left us skeptical but not disheartened; skeptical because we were taking our parents along too. Nonetheless, we were determined to find out for ourselves. And, we are glad we did.
We started from Delhi fairly late, at about 9 AM. We got all the city traffic possible. The road from Gurgaon to Jaipur was quite bad too; there was construction going on. Diversions marked our route, making the roads even more congested.
Once we turned onto the Ajmer- Pushkar road, it was smooth sailing. Phool Mahal palace is available accurately on GPS. Within Kishangarh, we crossed the market to get to the palace. This added to our skepticism as the market was narrow, with a fair degree of hustle and bustle. One of the roads branched to take us to the palace.
Once we reached there, all our skepticism went flying out of the window. Located on one side of the Gond Talav (pond), made of yellow stone, and having the fort as its backdrop, the Phool Mahal is not your typical luxury heritage hotel. It is more of a budget heritage hotel, but with all the old-world charm intact.
Kishor, the caretaker, showed us our rooms, which were on the first floor and were pond-facing. Our parents’ room was in a theme of blue with large bay windows overlooking the lake. It had a bathroom the size of a flat in most metros.
Our room had a pastel shade, and was circular & small. But it got its beauty from the paintings done on the wall. These were the Kishangarh style of miniature paintings. We also had a small verandah which opened to the lake.
The fort and the palace are retained by the royal family of Kishangarh. The current king is His Highness Maharaja Brajraj Singh. He is the 20th king. Kishangarh was set up when the second son of the Jodhpur Maharaja came here and established his own kingdom. His name was Maharaja Kishen Singh, from which the town takes its name. And true to its name, the town follows Lord Krishna.
The Royal Kishangarh has two more heritage properties – Roopangarh about 25 kms away from Phool Mahal, and Kishangarh House in Mount Abu. The lounge on the ground floor had a wall full of portraits of the 20 kings to have ruled Kishangarh. The dining hall had the photographs of the current king and his family.
The staff was skeletal but hugely courteous. The Rajasthani hospitality was quite evident. Kishor was not just our go-to person; he was also our guide to the history of the palace and fort. He accommodated all our requests. Along with him, we had a server dedicated to us.
The palace grounds are quite big with a large parking, the main palace, gardens and smaller standalone structures. When we reached, the Gond Talav was covered with water hyacinths.
The story goes-the pond was used for water chestnut farming. Once, along with the seeds of the water chestnut plant, came a few branches and leaves of the water hyacinth plant. These took over the pond as Alexander had taken over the world. Efforts were made to remove these but given their stubbornness and parasitic nature, it had been futile.
The hyacinths were killing the pond. The lack of oxygen made the fish come to the surface. The pond had a dirty brown-grey color. But, but, but, we got a pleasant surprise when a gentle current made all the hyacinths drift into a corner of the pond. The pond then got a blue shimmer color. That was the sight that kept us company for almost a day and a half.
We hope the municipality took corrective action. It was just a matter of will, was it not? And not every pond would have catfish as large as an eagle’s wingspan.
Next in line for us was the visit to the fort. The entry fee was INR 200 per person. The tickets were available at the Phool Mahal reception. A guide escorted us and explained the doors, the spikes, the horse-drawn carriages, the treasury, the weapon storage area etc.
He then handed us over to ‘Mukhiya ji’ who was the priest in the temple inside the fort. The temple was dedicated to an avatar of Lord Krishna, Sri Nath ji but it could not be accessed by the public.
Mukhiya ji took us on a tour of the fort interior, which included many palaces. We just managed to cover the queen’s chambers after which we were exhausted. There is quite of bit of climbing that one needs to do, and it being Rajasthan, the Sun can be pretty strong. So try to go during the evening hours and do carry water with you.
It was heartwarming to see an intact fort which gave a glimpse of how the royalty lived many years ago. The fort also housed Studio Kishangarh which was the art initiative by the princess of Kishangarh. The Studio was striving to revive the old Kishangarh painting style. Worth a dekko!
Maintaining the fort would not be easy on the wallet, especially without a private/ public funding; a fort without a regular tourist inflow, it must be the pride of the royal family, and their memories that have kept this going.
His Highness was doing a pretty good job. Our only regrets – (1) We could not explore the fort in full due to its size and our paucity of time; and (2) We could not pick up a souvenir from the Studio Kishangarh outlet.
As we completed the fort visit, we were greeted by the sight of His Highness sitting in the veranda of Phool Mahal. We struck a conversation where he told us about the history, the efforts to clean the pond, the privacy of the Srinathji temple, and his other properties in Roopangarh and Mount Abu.
His Highness came across as a learned man; we later came to know he was an author and a lecturer on the Kishangarh art. There is something royal about royalty, isn’t there?
This brought our trip to an end. The day we left was the day of Holi, the festival of colors. We found the roads and highways devoid of traffic. On our onward journey, we had taken almost eight hours to reach. While returning, it took us six hours.
We took away nuggets of learning from the trip: (1) Never write off a place without experiencing it; (2) Hit the roads on major festival days.
Lastly, for the ease of fellow travelers, we suggest the following itinerary ex-Delhi: Delhi – Kishangarh- Ajmer- Pushkar- Roopangarh- Delhi. Five days, four nights would be sufficient.
Day 1: Leave from Delhi in the morning. Reach Kishangarh by evening. Spend the night at Phool Mahal.
Day 2: Start early and explore the fort in the first half. Head to Ajmer after lunch and offer a ‘chaadar’ at the ‘dargah’. Return to Phool Mahal for the night.
Day 3: Start late and head to Pushkar. Visit the Brahma temple and others, if you wish. Or shop at the bazaar and eat delicacies at the German bakeries. Head to the lake towards evening and be a part of the ‘aarti’. Back to Phool Mahal for the night.
Day 4: Head to Roopangarh. Explore the fort by day and rest there at night
Day 5: Leave for Delhi
Recommended time to visit: October-March
Recommended eats: Laal Maas (a very spicy mutton dish)
Recommended buys: A souvenir from Studio Kishangarh, lac bangles