Explore The Luxurious Side of Hyderabad

A couple of hundred years ago, a palace could belong only to royalty. Cut to the present, and money can buy you what once only belonged to the blue-blooded. Luxury has started to become more commonplace than ever before. When I first went to the (erstwhile) princely city of Hyderabad, I explored a number of its heritage sites. I did not dwell too much on their splendour then, as I was often distracted by how simple the common man was in this twin-capital (of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh). A few more trips (and almost half a decade) later, I would see a new side of Hyderabad…

Charminar’s Oft Overlooked Charm

I look up at the old city from Charminar's intricately done gate.

I look up at the old city from Charminar’s intricately done gate.

I had first clambered up the steep spiral steps of one of the four claustrophobic minarets of the Charminar in 2012 (read: Say ‘Hi’ to Hyderabad) when I was flush with the new money from my first cushy job. Not so much of a travel blogger then, I was more interested in having my pictures clicked from the viewing deck of this 16th-century mosque. It is now, after I’ve grown older (and hopefully, gained some maturity), that I wonder how much time the masons must have spent carving each window, each grill and each gate. I can now admire the intricacies of Mughal architecture. Despite the dull exterior of this neglected icon, I can imagine how centuries ago, this structure must have been an opulent place to pray.

Salar Jung’s Museum (Of Riches And Rapture)

Spotted at the Salar Jung Museum: gold rimmed wine glasses from Czechia - Is this what luxury is all about?

Spotted at the Salar Jung Museum: gold rimmed wine glasses from Czechia – Is this what luxury is all about?

Can a man be so enamoured with materialism to spend thirty-five years of his life collecting expensive trinkets from around the world? The Salar Jung Museum by the Musi River answered my question with a resounding “YES!” One of India’s only three National Museums, this house of art exhibits a baffling collection of paintings, sculptures, antique crockery, furniture, currency notes and coins, carpets, and just about anything you can imagine. Prime Minister to the 7th Nizam of Hyderabad, Salar Jung III gave most of his life to the pursuit of princely possessions. Undoubtedly a man of refined taste, he managed to own some artefacts that date back to the 1st-century!

Chowmahalla’s Enchantment

Chandeliers sparkle inside one of the grand halls of the Chowmahalla Palace.

Chandeliers sparkle inside one of the grand halls of the Chowmahalla Palace.

If you don’t get enough of luxury from a museum, there is a grand palace ready to floor you! Not far from Charminar, the Chowmahalla Palace is the 19th-century mansion that has served as the seat of power for two dynasties. The shimmering interiors of this grand palace are a testimony to how well it is kept even today. When you are in here, don’t forget to look up at the roof to marvel at the work on the ceilings.

The Grandeur Of Golconda

I pass through a tunnel as I explore the labyrinthine Golconda Fort.

I pass through a tunnel as I explore the labyrinthine Golconda Fort.

Sometimes, luxury lies outdoors. The outdoorsy part of me loves to hike and explore ruins that stretch far and wide. For those who get their high from climbing steps and gazing at panoramic views from beautiful vantage points, Golconda Fort makes for a perfect day-long getaway. Just 10km from Hyderabad, this citadel has enough to keep you (and your kids) occupied! Lose your way through its myriad tunnels or pose for your next Whatsapp display-pic from one of its viewing decks (which once upon a time, was used to keep an eye out for enemies and to fire cannonballs at any attacking army).

Revel By A River

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam - It takes a mighty structure to stop a river as mighty as The Krishna.

Nagarjuna Sagar Dam – It takes a mighty structure to stop a river as mighty as The Krishna.

The River Krishna is so powerful that during monsoons, it can cause flooding. To rein in this river’s power, use its water for irrigation and harness some energy to produce electricity, the Nagarjuna Dam was built across it. When all of the 26 gates of this dam are left open, the sight is one to watch! Interestingly, this dam also happens to be the second largest reservoir in the country (in terms of storage capacity). The water-starved stones (which never quite get to be the river-washed round pebbles) also make for a nice, crunchy walk during sunset.

Soak Up Some Stardust At A Film City

Aerial view of Ramoji Film City - where London, Paris and New York are side-by-side.

Aerial view of Ramoji Film City – where London, Paris and New York are side-by-side.

If the real world doesn’t excite you much, there’s an entire city of make-believe structures in glamorous guise. I’m talking about Ramoji Film City (read: RFC- A City Hidden in a Village). A little distance from Hyderabad, this village is where a lot of movies are shot. The place is replete with stunt-props and sets ready to be torn apart and rejoined in no time. You can fake scenes from Japan to as far as France in this little land of movie-fanatics.

Is There A Price For Peace?

Does the pristine white marble of the Birla Temple offer the ever-elusive tranquillity?

Does the pristine white marble of the Birla Temple offer the ever-elusive tranquillity?

Birla Temples across India are among the most expensive ones, mostly because of the generous use of fine marble and their ornate columns and domes. I do not believe in idol worship, but I like to take in the architectural finesse of such places. If you find the streets too busy, you can always drop in (albeit before 5 pm) and find your quiet space on the cool marble floors (or the garden behind). Sometimes, these little things carry more value than all the goods in a luxury store.

Stay Like Royalty – At The Taj

The palatial exterior of Taj Krishna seduces one's senses into submission. (Courtesy: Taj Krishna, Hyderabad)

The palatial exterior of Taj Krishna seduces one’s senses into submission. (Courtesy: Taj Krishna Hyderabad)

Where you stay on your trip makes a lot of difference to how you view a city. If you are serious about discovering the luxurious side of the city of Nizams, you should book yourself into a 5-star property, such as the Taj Krishna Hyderabad. Spread out like a palace of its own, this hotel is located in the upscale locale of Banjara Hills. After you have seen the richness of the city, sink in the riches of your own suite!

Make Your Moments Count

Precious moments are those that are shared with a loved one over a meal.

Precious moments are those that are shared with a loved one over a meal.

No matter how much wealth you have, you will be alone without somebody to love. If you do have a partner, make it a priority to travel with her/him. You will not regret the extra spend when you share a sweet evening by the Hussain Sagar Lake (read: All Roads lead to Hyderabad), holding your precious one’s hand as you polish off the eat-street’s munchies.

Let Your Food Reflect Your Lavish Taste

The glittering Firdaus Restaurant (Courtesy: Taj Krishna, Hyderabad)

The glittering Firdaus Restaurant (Courtesy: Taj Krishna Hyderabad)

A trip achieves its completion only when the local cuisine reaches your taste buds. Hyderabad is famous for its Mughlai cuisine, especially its biryani (which is very distinct from the ones in Lucknow or Bengal). The biryani at Paradise is overrated in my opinion. If you look deeper, you will discover other places for that authentic taste (and other Hyderabadi delicacies). On your luxury getaway, reserve a table at Firdaus, the Nizami restaurant at the Taj Krishna Hyderabad.

Have you seen Hyderabad any differently?

Do you enjoy a dash of luxury on your trips?

Let me know in the comments below! 🙂

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How Stops Hostel Is Making Delhi Feel Like A European City

Walking tours through interesting neighbourhoods and ancient ruins; mixed dorms with bunk beds and lockers; a shelf full of travel guides in the common room; and running into friendly backpackers in hallways from a dozen different countries – these are experiences I would typically associate with Europe. But here I was, in Delhi – a city arguably better known for its bungalows and boisterousness.

Is It Foolhardy To Be Fearless In Delhi?

Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla has stories that attract many curious listeners to this haunted fort complex.

Delhi’s Feroz Shah Kotla has stories that attract many curious listeners to this haunted fort complex.

I had been in Delhi several times before. Yet, this was the first trip that showed me this old city in a new light. Interestingly, this was the first time that I was exploring India’s capital as a solo traveller. I was no longer driven around in my aunt’s sedan, nor did I have my cousins’ expert advice on navigating NCR or avoiding the city’s stalkers. I had also decided not to heed my (overprotective) friend who made me swear I’d carry an electric taser or at least a pepper spray everywhere I went. Was I pushing my luck? Or had I let news reports paint a grave picture in my head? Whatever be the case, I rediscovered Delhi in a way I had never expected to know it.

Stops Hostel – A New Concept In Old Delhi

Embracing my new life as a full-time traveller, I decided to stay with Stops Hostel. The moment I entered, it felt like I’d left the red and brown Old Delhi behind to drown in bright colours. My video above will show you how vibrant the common room is. The hostel aims to attract both the right-brained creative explorers and the left-brained startup-workers. There is free wifi in all the areas, complimentary unlimited breakfast (although basic) in the dining-room-cum-kitchen and plenty of things to keep oneself occupied with – a small collection of books for those who like to cuddle up with a paperback and lie on the floor-cushions; a billiards table for those who can’t get away from perfecting their game; 3 guitars and a djembe for the musically gifted; and some board games for the laidback lounger. I can’t help but wonder whether the founders of this hostel are big fans of European hostels.

Not Too Far From Anywhere

Tuk-tuk - Delhi's only green mode of transport in a road full of cars, buses and bikes.

Tuk-tuk – Delhi’s only green mode of transport in a road full of cars, buses and bikes.

Located right in front of a Metro station, Stops Hostel is easily accessible from most places. Feroz Shah Kotla is a short walk from the hostel, and a few minutes in a tuk-tuk will take you to some of Old Delhi’s famous food streets. Walking around is also a good idea, but Delhi’s afternoons can be a little too hot for comfort, especially in the summers.

A Terrace Garden For Some Fresh  Air

Stops Delhi has a terrace for hostellers to enjoy some sun.

Stops Delhi has a terrace for hostellers to enjoy some sun.

Unlike any of the hostels I’ve stayed at abroad, Stops Delhi has a neat little terrace with potted plants and colourful chairs for the hostellers to chill in the evening. This is a nice way to help your lungs recuperate after they’ve felt the assault of Delhi’s pollution.

Food Tour In Chawri Bazaar

Kuremal's famous stuffed mango kulfi in Old Delhi's Chawri Bazaar.

Kuremal’s famous stuffed mango kulfi in Old Delhi’s Chawri Bazaar.

Stops Hostel offers some walking tours (which even non-residents can join) – this immediately makes me think of those old-town-walking-tours in Europe. I decide to have a light lunch one day to stuff my face during the Food-gasm tour in the late afternoon. I have 2 other travellers who join me for this walking tour through Chawri Bazaar. Perhaps not as well known as Chandni Chowk or Parathe-waali Gali, Chawri Bazaar hides some of Old Delhi’s best preparations – kulfis stuffed in deseeded apples, pineapples, oranges or pomegranates and fruit sandwiches, for instance.

Coming Home To Dogs & Cats

Stops Hostel's pet dogs - Ginger, Gennie & Pepper nap next to their feeding bowls.

Stops Hostel’s pet dogs – Ginger, Gennie & Pepper nap next to their feeding bowls.

Travelling of late has made me quite fond of pets. The hostel has 3 cuddly dogs and some cats who are mostly in their own world but entertaining to watch. Despite these furry friends around, the hostel premises are squeaky clean. (No cat hair on the cushions! 🙂 ) These pets are not allowed inside the dorms though. After we play with them, we are to leave them in the common room or terrace.

Myths And Mysticism

The imam watches over the coffin of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at the eponymous Islamic shrine.

The imam watches over the coffin of Khwaja Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki at the eponymous Islamic shrine.

I spent my first evening learning why Delhi is called “The City of Djinns” as our walking tour leader, Mayank, took us to some spooky places during the City of Mysticism walking tour. We strolled through the abandoned precincts of Feroz Shah Kotla and encountered an old woman who uttered unintelligible words aloud, as if possessed by a spirit. We walked past underground rooms full of bats as we heard stories of how a royal family was killed there many years ago. We later visited a temple where (shockingly) alcohol is served to the idol. It took me a while to fall asleep that night.

Colours In The Common Room

Charging sockets hang from the ceiling of Stops Hostel's common room.

Charging sockets hang from the ceiling of Stops Hostel’s common room.

Stops Hostel does its bit to go green by turning off the air conditioning in the dorms during the day. They encourage guests to spend time in the common room or the terrace. This is a great way to meet new people! The commmon room is inviting and warm with its coloured wooden tables, benches and couches. And there’s always some music in the background – a great accompaniment to good conversations! 😉 While I stayed with Stops, I made friends with:-

  • a blue-haired girl whose fetish is to change her hair colour to match the mood of every place she visits
  • a Gujarati diamond merchant from Russia who is spending this year travelling around the world
  • an Egyptian solo traveller who never forgets to kneel and pray before she hits the sack
  • two medical students from the UK who are stoked about mehendi and spicy food in Delhi
  • a Nepali roommate who lunches on smoothies so she can drink all night

I’ve always met interesting people whenever I’ve stayed at hostels in Europe. I honestly underestimated the scope of meeting quirky backpackers in Delhi. I’m glad I was wrong!

Take A Taxi To Tibet

One of the narrow alleys of Majnu Ka Tila - Delhi's Tibetan ghetto.

One of the narrow alleys of Majnu Ka Tila – Delhi’s Tibetan ghetto.

Not many are aware of Majnu Ka Tila – an area exclusively reserved for Tibetan refugees. This (almost) secret little hangout has the best places to get your Tibetan food fix! A couple of the night tour experts at Stops took me to this food haven in an Uber. Barely a 30-minute drive from the hostel, Majnu Ka Tila offered me a bowl of laping (a Tibetan street food made of mung bean flat noodles with a spicy paste), a tingmo (Tibetan steamed bead), sha phaley (vegetable stuffed fried savoury shaped as gujias) and some fried wantons. I was elated to find that the restaurants here serve Korean, Japanese and even Bhutanese cuisine!

Crash In Your Comfy Bed

My bunk bed is cosy, with cushions, a duvet and a wall full of mythological comic strips.

My bunk bed is cosy, with cushions, a duvet and a wall full of mythological comic strips.

After my day-long adventures in haunted forts and eclectic eat-streets, I would be glad to come back to a cosy room, a soft bed and a comforter to keep me warm. The reading lights for each bed are quite convenient to stay up without disturbing your fellow roommates. Our room had an ensuite bathroom which was also very clean and furnished with premium bath fittings. This bit felt luxurious in a hostel which is so pocket-friendly.

Where do you stay on your budget trips?

Ever backpacked in Delhi?

Share your thoughts below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more stories from interesting hostels! Do spread the love by sharing this article with budget travellers and backpackers! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Stops Hostels. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.

Why The Serai Bandipur Is Every Birdwatcher’s Paradise

The gentle ruffle of feathers, a lone chirp in the wee hours of the morning… and then, a series of chirps in response to the first – these subtle sounds would wake me before sunrise in a land where the September air was nippy and nature, alive. I was at ‘The Serai Bandipur – Experiential Bloggers’ Retreat’ with a handful of bloggers from across India. We would spend our next few days exchanging ideas and stories over endless cups of coffee, bowls of soup, a jungle safari and a night-long party which would seal our friendship into something more lasting.

Befriending Bandipur

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

A pale-billed flowerpecker wakes up early to feed on some berries at The Serai, Bandipur.

I would arise every day in a wonderland far removed from the cosmopolitan commotion of a city. This was Bandipur – a national park spanning over two hundred thousand acres in the South Indian state of Karnataka. The Bandipur Tiger Reserve attracts many travellers for the elusive big cat. In all honesty, it is not just the tiger, but also leopard that wildlife enthusiasts vie to catch a glimpse of. I, on the other hand, was not there just for the wild cat(s). I was on the hunt for some feathered friends.

Soaking In The Splendour Of The Serai

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage - Serai's floral greeting in the morning?

Butea flowers (palash) and bougainvilleas lie scattered outside my cottage – Serai’s floral greeting in the morning?

Forests, although enchanting, can be exhausting in the sun and humidity. Fortunately, I was sheltered in a serene sanctum ensconced in luxury – The Serai Bandipur. This indulgent jungle resort kept me right in the middle of the wild, yet provided me with all creature comforts of an avant-garde property – a temperature controlled commodious room, fine bed-linen, a well-stocked swanky bathroom, a wood-panelled patio and a landscaped courtyard outside my cottage! With so much pampering, I knew I would never tire from my incessant birdwatching.

Sunbirds On Lilies & Babblers That Are Sly…

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

This purple sunbird elegantly sucks some nectar off these pretty bunch of fire lilies.

You must think I’m an early riser who staunchly lives by the proverb – ‘Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.’ That notion cannot be further from the truth. I am a spoilt city brat who is stuck to her laptop at 2am – the quintessential night owl. I cannot open my eyes until I am wrenched out of bed by my mum, admonishing me to finish breakfast so the maid can do the dishes. Only a place like Bandipur can make me get up so early, and that too without an alarm! At The Serai, I would be roused from my restful slumber by the gentle rays of the sun filling up my cosy room through the French windows. Instead of a shrill alarm or a scolding from my mother, I would wake up to the sweet sounds of chirruping songbirds. That would set the tone of yet another day to be spent chasing exotic avifauna.

…Because Balconies Are For Birding! 😉

I use my verandah only for one thing - looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

I use my verandah only for one thing – looking for birds. See how my tripod is set up and my lens and camera-phone waiting to be used?

Stone-walled porches with varnished wooden railings,

Leather upholstered armchairs and sunroof ceilings –

These little luxuries pale when compared

To glorious sightings of bushchats and hares.

With the first ray of light, I would step out to the lanai and get my equipment ready. I can do without my morning cuppa, but I lose my cool if my DSLR’s battery is not charged. When my Benro tripod is in position and the Canon lenses cleaned and kitted out with a UV filter, I know I am ready to shoot!

Bandipur’s Birds On My Balcony! <3

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

I see this Indian silverbill only for a second before it vanishes in the blink of an eye.

The Serai rewarded me with quite a few gorgeous sightings of passerine birds. I did have some trouble managing shots that weren’t hazy. (These birdies are so restless, it’s hard to catch them clean!) I now have flowerpeckers, sunbirds, silverbills, flycatchers, magpies, cormorants, bulbuls and several babblers, among others in my collection. I know I’m still an amateur when it comes to clicking these flying figures, because I spotted many more that left me too stupefied for my limbs to make any movement. I could go hungry for hours if only my eyes would feed on birds! But one must eat to lug around a tripod and a bulky camera bag.

Fine Dining In The Fair Weather

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary - Serai's pan-cuisine restaurant.

An array of freshly prepared delicacies are up for grabs at Sanctuary – Serai’s pan-cuisine restaurant.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner at Serai’s in-house restaurant (Sanctuary) are elaborate affairs. Their buffet spread comprises dishes from across the world (read – Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and also some local favourites. I would generally have a platter of cut fruits, an egg – made to order, an idli, a pancake and a muffin with some freshly squeezed juice or a milkshake in the mornings. Afternoons would see me load my plate with assorted salads and dips, a baked pasta preparation, a hot naan – fresh off the pan, some grilled greens, a vegetable poriyal and some dish with gravy for the mains. I would finish off my meals with not less than 4 desserts – generally an ice cream, a mousse in a shot glass, some hot rabri with gulab jamun, and a decadent pastry.

Our evenings were usually spent at Moyar’s Edge – Serai’s bar, with a stunning view of the Nilgiri Hills of Ooty (only 2 hours away) and the crystal-clear swimming pool of the property. The bar is well stocked with aged single malts and imported wines, apart from the regular party-spirits and liqueurs. I avoid drinking these days to better practise my faith and cater to my diet as an athlete, so I took the opportunity to sample a couple of their mocktails. The evening chill helped stoke the warm conversations that flowed freely through the night.

Alcohol And Ornithology Don’t Go Together

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

The branches make it difficult to tell whether she is a white-bellied blue flycatcher or a bushchat.

Another reason I don’t like to drink is that it makes you too lethargic to wake up with the birds. I would never trade the chance of watching a munia fluttering towards her nest with a leaf in her beak for a night of mixed strong spirits leading to a hangover. That said, I couldn’t resist a glass of red wine (read – Sula Vineyards: A Fine-Wine Story) with my dinner on our last night at The Serai. I knew I would miss the place – the tranquillity of the 36-acre sprawling surroundings, the grandeur of the elegantly done interiors and the hospitality of the humble and helpful staff. They made me even more emotional with the intimate bonfire and the barbecued goodies that were served in the light drizzle in the evening.

Deep Tissue Massage Deep In The Forest

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

I spend close to 2 hours at the Oma Spa, hoping to relax my excited nerves (from all the birding adventures).

My time in Bandipur was not all birdwatching and gourmet dining and giggling with my new pals. I also booked myself into a 90-minute spa (which would ultimately stretch to 2 hours). My masseuse of North East Indian descent gave me the ‘fitness massage’ – one that not only releases the tension in my marathon-weathered muscles (read – Running in Lithuania – My First Half Marathon Abroad) but also has elements of aromatherapy. I could not feel my bones after every part of my body was kneaded with hot oil. I also opted for 10 minutes of ‘hot stone massage’ which involves rolling hot river stones (which are boiled in hot water) across your well-oiled back and arms. After the relaxing massage, I sat 15 minutes in the steam chamber (to unclog my pores and let my skin breathe) before taking a long shower to wash off the oils.

You Point Your Lens Better When Your Arms Are Strong

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

I also manage to spot a red-vented bulbul perched on a tree.

After the rejuvenating spa session, I had a quick breakfast and continued on my quest for more winged wonders. I had caught quite a few birds from afar, but I was still thirsting for a close-up. I had walked most of the trail (read – Forsyth Trail – A Hike through Satpura’s Core Tiger Zone) about the living quarters inside the property (spanning 18 acres), peeped up every tree that I could safely reach without being bitten by a snake, and stood still in my green pants and dark top (for camouflage), my camera delicately balanced on my palm. Yet, I hadn’t captured a bird so close it would blow my mind.

Would Passerines Pass By The Poolside?

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool - always afraid I'll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

I am restless as I watch my friends splash about at the pool – always afraid I’ll miss a bird if I put my camera down.

“C’mon! Change into your swimwear and jump in the water!” – My friends from Skreem prod me to leave my camera and enjoy the infinity pool (that has goalposts in case you and your gang wish to play a game of water polo). I am in two minds – I have come prepared with my towel and everything, but I can’t keep the DSLR aside. I am gripped by a fear that I will miss my best bird sighting when I am frolicking in the pool.

My Luck Finally Shines

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! :-)

My luck finally shines, and I catch this jungle babbler sitting right on the railing of my balcony! 🙂

I spent that afternoon getting a tan on the sunbed by the swimming pool, but sacrificing pool-time did not yield me any sightings. (Sigh! 🙁 ) Next morning, however, as I got up to pack up my tripod, a look of resignation painted on my face, I was startled by the cacophonous chatter of a babbler. I’d almost dropped my zoom-lens in excitement! I quickly regained my composure and clicked away – delighted to have my feast served on a platter before my eyes. There wasn’t one, but half a dozen babblers that warbled away for close to a minute before disappearing from what seemed like a dream. My day was made.

Mission Accomplished!

I'm all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

I’m all smiles as I have fulfilled my goal of sighting pretty birds in Bandipur.

That day, my joy knew no end! I wasn’t lost at the dinner table anymore. I did not forget to wish the couple that was celebrating their anniversary at this opulent resort. And, I was actually excited about the tiger sighting we had had in the afternoon. (I still don’t get the obsession over tigers, to be honest!)

In my eagerness for sharing my birding adventure with you, I have perhaps forgotten to tell you how swish our cottages were, or how breathtaking the views were from every corner of the property, or how we saw a tiger chase a spotted deer in the jungle. So, I’ve made a small video that captures some moments from my memorable stay at The Serai:-

Do birds make you feel the same way they make me feel?

Do you like tigers more than birds?

Let me know through your comments below! 🙂 I would also really like some feedback on my writing and video. I am quite new to videography and your tips on editing and shooting will really help. Don’t forget to subscribe to my Youtube channel to give me some encouragement!

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for more pictures of birds and luxury jungle properties from my nature-trips! Do spread the love by sharing this article with birdwatchers and lovers of the wild! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by The Serai – Bandipur. Nevertheless, all views are entirely my own.

5 Souqs In Sharjah You Shouldn’t Miss

Most of us have fingers that itch to spend ‘just a little more’ money to buy ‘yet another something we may barely need’. Today’s post is for all such shopaholics who can’t leave a place without bringing back a part of it with them. I have been writing a series of posts on my trip to Sharjah (read Sharjah at First Sight), and I had to write one just about the souqs – the markets that can keep you busy for hours on end.

Get ready to fill up your shopping bags! (My photo was clicked by Anuradha Goyal! :-) )

Get ready to fill up your shopping bags! (My photo was clicked by Anuradha Goyal! 🙂 )

Know When To Go Shopping

In the Muslim world, religious norms of prayer are strictly followed. They pray 6 times a day, of which 4 are likely to fall between your shopping time. These times are usually around 12:30pm, 4pm, 7pm and 8pm. You’ll see boards that notify customers that the shopkeeper is out for prayer. In fact, on the inaugural night of the Sharjah Light Festival (read Glimpses of the Sharjah Light Festival), the show was paused for 15 minutes to allow for prayer at 7pm. You might have to wait for anytime between 5 and 25 minutes when the prayers are on, and you’ll usually find every store deserted (except for the tourists). Fridays are dedicated to worship, so most shops close early or don’t open at all. Apart from prayer times, there’s also a lunch hour (1-2pm) during which many establishments are shut.

 

Once you have your shopping schedule ready, you can follow my quick and easy guide to splurging your way through this emirate! 😀 I know how most of us are pressed for time, and have only a few hours that we budget for shopping. Therefore, for your convenience, I’ve curated my special list of 5 souqs that will give you a good a flavour of the middle eastern culture while you’re in Sharjah.

#1: Blue Souq (a.k.a. Central Souq)

Blue Souq (or Central Souq) is flanked by a large manicured garden circle.

Blue Souq (or Central Souq) is flanked by a large manicured garden circle.

This is the largest souq in Sharjah, and that’s no secret (unlike Khor Fakkan – Sharjah’s Best Kept Secret). The Blue Souq has a distinct blue roof and dark blue borders along its pastel walls. The marketplace is quite huge, with two wings connected by a bridge and two floors full of middle eastern goodies – artifacts and jewellery made of precious stones, glazed pots made of ceramic and clay, glass-work, especially the decorative lamps, and perfumes.

The Central Souq’s ground floor is full of dazzling gold ornaments, and a few stores dedicated to abayas (the Islamic robe-like outfit which every woman wears over her regular clothes. The floor above has beautiful Persian carpets with intricate handmade designs. Card collectors will find gold-plated playing cards, and a lot of other interesting collectibles here. Chandeliers and lamps hang low from the ceilings of a few shops that showcase the detailed glass-art on the lampshades. Even perfume-collectors have something to look forward to! Emirati perfume, or ittar, has an oil base, which makes it stronger than the regular variety, and a little goes a long way. Ittar is not sprayed, it is dabbed at the pulse points and rubbed for the skin to absorb it well.

#2: Souq Al-Masqoof

Traditional shoes are arranged on the wooden doors of a store at Souq Al-Masqoof

Traditional shoes are arranged on the wooden doors of a store at Souq Al-Masqoof

Located in the old town area of Sharjah, Souq Al-Masqoof reminds one of yesteryear. Everything form its roofs to doorways to walls seem to tell a story from another time. This is where men gather to discuss their business over some tea. Even if you are not much of a shopper, a stroll through its narrow alleys will do you good.

#3: Souq Al-Arsa

Souq Al-Arsa exudes old world charm with its stucco exterior.

Souq Al-Arsa exudes old world charm with its stucco exterior.

The oldest souq in this emirate is at Heart of Sharjah. Souq Al-Arsa has a central square with benches for tired feet that have shopped a lot. Its galleries are full of handicrafts and trinkets from Islamic countries as far as Yemen. Coral necklaces, wooden bracelets, iron daggers – you’ll be surprised at the amount of unusual tchotchkes you can buy here!

I enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee at Al Alrsa Cafe

I enjoy a cup of Arabic coffee at Al Arsa Cafe

I always need to sit down and eat something every time I’m on a shopping spree. Staring me in the eye was the Al Arsa Cafe, with its interiors resembling that of the Irani cafes in India. I hopped in for some Arabic coffee (read Vegetarian Food In Sharjah – What Nobody Tells You About Emirati Cuisine) and sat down to a room full of old men in their traditional attire looking grave in their photoframes.

Clocks, planets, jugs and ropes - a lot of interesting antiques are paraded inside Al Arsa Souq

Clocks, planets, jugs and ropes – a lot of interesting antiques are paraded inside Al Arsa Souq

If you’re a fan of antiques, this is the place to be! Swords, scabbards, clocks, jugs and other interesting vessels in various stages of wear and tear are stocked up at this place. Even old furniture is not hard to find in these little shops.

#4: Souq Sagr

One can smell the aroma of spices from a distance at Souq Sagr.

One can smell the aroma of spices from a distance at Souq Sagr.

The foodies and cooks reading my blog must be waiting to hear about the spices and local produce of UAE. I’ve saved the best for the last! 🙂 Close to Souq Al Arsa, Souq Sagr has a lot of stores that sell local dates and a plethora of condiments. Take your pick of lavender, dried rose petals, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, saffron and more from these shops that let you taste their dates before you buy them.

#5: Souq Al Jubail

Souq Al Jubail is Sharjah’s largest market for fresh produce. It is located on the coast and has 4 sections for fish, meat, fruits and vegetables. There is a large circular courtyard at the centre where at 5pm every day, the fishermen bring in their catch, straight from the sea (one can see their boats docked outside) and start haggling with traders to sell their fish. This is quite a spectacle to watch! Their sections for dry fruits was where I went for a lot of free tasting of dates, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachio and raisins, and also bought bagfuls of dates from various regions. Dates are cheaper in Dubai, but if you aren’t planning to visit there, get your fill from this souq in Sharjah.

You can't leave the UAE without buying dry fruits!

You can’t leave the UAE without buying dry fruits!

Are you a shopping-pro who’d like to share some tips?

Do you know more places to shop in Sharjah?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

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Disclosure: I was hosted by the Sharjah Tourism and Commerce Development Authority. However, all views are entirely my own.

Dudhsagar Plantation – A Homestay Hidden Away From Goa’s Beaches

Goa, a place synonymous with beach-life (to the casual traveller), has much more to offer those who seek something different. My friends reading this account will be flabbergasted when they learn that I did not see a single beach all through my recent trip to the ‘party capital of India’. What I saw instead was this:-

Acres Of Greens With No Sand Or Sea In Sight

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

Farmers prepare to work on the paddy fields

If you are a fan of nature and forests and everything organic, get away from the coastline and drive into Sanvordem, and then further towards Kulem until you reach Karmane Village. There, where the road ends and the boundary of the Mollem National Park begins, you will find Dudhsagar Plantation – a farm-stay that is removed from the smoke of the cities and the noise of the parties. I had a chance to stay at one of the cottages here last month when monsoon was in full swing. This was perhaps the best way to begin my career as a full-time travel writer.

The Cottages At Dudhsagar Plantation

The property has 5 cottages with brick roofs which have 4 glass-patches to let light filter through in the mornings. There’s a nice sit-out area in the front porch of each cottage, with wooden lounging chairs to enjoy the view of the plantation. This eco-stay is basic, but comfortable. Every cottage is spacious and furnished with a double bed and a divan, besides shelves on a wall to store your things. The bathroom is well ventilated with grills, and the exposed brick and cement sections lend a rustic touch to it. The all-out in the room keeps mosquitoes away, but don’t be surprised if some harmless caterpillars, bugs or lizards stop by to say “hi”. 😉

Know Your Host

The Malkarnekar brothers - Ashok (right) runs the property

The Malkarnekar brothers – Ashok (right) runs the property

The plantation was started by the Malkarnekar family in 1985 and their home is built on the farm itself. Today, Ashok Malkarnekar, the eldest son, stays here and looks after the administrative bits of this home-stay. I was fortunate to be here when Ashok’s family and friends were around for a reunion, and we spent some good time chatting over chai and singing along with the guitarists in the house. The Malkarnekar siblings (2 brothers and a sister) are half German and half Goan, and fluent in Konkani, Hindi, German and English. They are all very friendly and warm. Throughout the duration of my stay at Dudhsagar Plantation, Ashok graciously showed me around the estate and took me to some interesting parts of Goa I’d never explored before.

Take A Spice Tour

(Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Every guest here can opt for an hour long guided tour of the spice garden. Spread over 50 acres, the plantation is a tropical paradise! Here, you will find a variety of trees and herbs – coconut, betel nut, starfruit, pepper, cinnamon and cashew, to name a few. Speaking of cashew, you can also learn how cashew feni is made through the fermentation process. A milder version of feni is the urak, which is distilled at an earlier stage. During my stay, I had their distinctive jungle juice – a cocktail they make with urak, limca and some “secret spices”. 😉

Jump Into The Family Well

Dive into the 15 feet natural well

Dive into the 15 feet deep natural well

Water babies will leap at the mention of a pool in a farmstay. Dudhsagar Plantation has something even better – a giant natural water well which is 15 feet deep! It was a lot of fun to swim here, the trees secluding us from the rest of the property. You might spot some friendly frogs and little fishes while you take a dip here. It is not uncommon either to sight snakes. (Yikes!!)

Relish Home-cooked Meals

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

A hearty Goan meal of pao, rice and curries with plenty of coconut

I thoroughly savoured the freshly prepared meals at this homestay. The ingredients are locally sourced and mostly grown on the plantation itself. The food is completely organic as no pesticides or fertilizers are used for farming. Natural composting is practised here and manure is used for the plants. Ashok also showed me the nitrogen-fixing plants which absorb nitrogen from the atmosphere and plug it back into the soil to improve its fertility. This reduces the need to add artificial fertilizers for the regular nitrogen-guzzling flora.

 

The food is generally vegetarian, but sometimes, the cook also prepares some fish or meat. You can have egg preparations for breakfast, and these are free range eggs from the domestic chickens on the farm. I had my fill of local vegan Goan curries which have a little bit of coconut in the form of its flesh-shavings or as coconut milk. They also use a lot of mushroom, which are my favourite! 🙂 I particularly loved the dishes for their mild flavours (I’m not a fan of spicy food) and judicious use of oil. Don’t forget to try their pineapple-banana butter, a house-speciality which I fell in love with! You will also like their homemade pickles and puranpoli.

Walk In The Rain

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Take a romantic walk through the plantation under a cozy umbrella

Dudhsagar Plantation is a nice place to spend an intimate weekend with your significant other. The property feels especially romantic in the monsoon (read: Lavasa – A Lyrical Journey in the Rains) when the raindrops rhythmically pelt on the brick roofs of the cottages and the thatched central dining gazebo. You may also want to want to laze in the swimming pool while you wait for the sun to set.

Swim In The Infinity Pool

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well

The swimming pool which gets its water from the well (Picture courtesy: Ashok)

Not all visitors like natural wells, so the plantation also has a modern-style swimming pool that looks out to the green foliage. Fortunately, the pool’s water comes from the well, and has no chlorine. The host is building a yoga-shala close to the pool, which will be ready in a few weeks. He has plans to build a large hut which can serve as a dormitory for budget travellers who wish to learn yoga. This place has the potential to be a tranquil yoga retreat. Can you imagine how relaxing it will be to practise yoga in the middle of nature!

Read, Nap Or Do Absolutely Nothing On The Veranda

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Sit back and relax on the lounging chairs in your balcony

Rejuvenating holidays are those where you don’t squeeze too many activities into your itinerary. The best way to spend your time at Dudhsagar Plantation is to read your favourite book or do a little bit of writing. The atmosphere is ripe with inspiration for those who find their joy in composing poems. Bring along a guitar and a mouth-organ, and make some soothing music if you are musically tilted. It really helps that internet connectivity is intermittent and slow here. You have another reason to tune out the world and tune in to your thoughts. The property has a wifi router installed at the common dining area, but that only worked for a few minutes during all the days I was there. No complaints, though. I quite enjoyed playing with the cute toddler (Ashok’s nephew) and the dogs (which guard the estate from trespassers and wild boars).

Things To Do Around Dudhsagar Plantation

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

Capturing River Kushavati at Usgalimal

If you are the restless type of traveller and cannot sit still, there’s plenty you can do around this place. I did the Tambdi Surla waterfall trek (close to the eponymous 12th century temple), peeped into a Portuguese villa, strolled atop the Salaulim dam and checked out 20-thousand-years old petroglyphs at Usgalimal. More on the activities in a separate blog post. 😉

Have you ever lived on a plantation?

Do you know of more non-touristy things to do in Goa?

Let my readers (and me) know through your comments below! 🙂

 

Follow me on InstagramFacebook and Twitter to stay updated with pictures and stories of more such interesting hideouts that I keep discovering! Do spread the love by sharing this article with all the Goa-fanatics you know! 🙂

Disclosure: I was hosted by Dudhsagar Plantation. However, all views are entirely my own.