Eat Your Way Through August With The Great Indian Restaurant Festival

It has been raining non-stop in most of India, certainly in Mumbai which seems to be flooded every other day. But that is no reason to sulk and eat leftovers every alternate meal. Also, if your typical food scene looks like cereal-for-breakfast, rajma-chawal-for-lunch and soup-for-dinner, you definitely need to eat out! Perhaps, cash-crunch is your excuse for not dining out? However, that shouldn’t stop you from hogging at the top restaurants in your city any more. Here’s why:

GIRF Is Back This August

Eat your breakfast like a king (Photo Courtesy:  Engin Akyurt)
Eat your breakfast like a king (Photo Courtesy: Engin Akyurt)

Thanks to the initiative by Dineout, India’s largest platform for dining out, August is going to be a month of binge eating. After the Great Indian Restaurant Festival (GIRF) in February, earlier this year, they’ve come up with an encore this month. From 1st August to 1st September, you will be able to dine at over 8000 restaurants across India for half the regular price! Read on to know more…

What Is The GIRF?

Instagram your restaurant moments (Photo courtesy: Victor Freitas)

GIRF is the annual Great Indian Restaurant Festival happening in 17 cities across India right now. All of August is now the #MonthOfMore because you get to eat more (twice as much, to be precise) for the same price. Dineout is offering flat 50% off your entire bill on select restaurants in these cities, and Mumbai obviously is one of them. What’s more? There is no restriction on the minimum or maximum amount to be spent, and you can avail the offer on a-la-carte dining, drinks and also buffets. This means you can go out to eat more often and collect more Instagram-worthy pictures while you’re at it!

How Can You Participate?

Reserve your tables before it’s too late (Photo courtesy: rawpixel.com)

To make the most of the 4th edition of the Great Indian Restaurant Festival, book your tables on Dineout. You can do this by downloading the Dineout app, searching for the restaurants by filtering your city, preferred cuisine and ambience, and finally, reserving your table. Don’t make the mistake of putting this off for later because the seats are limited and the demand is high. Keep an eye on their Flash Sales to buy deals at only INR 11! So, what are you waiting for? Plan all your brunch meetings and date nights for August and prepare yourself to eat your way through August.

Do you have a list of your favourite restaurants ready yet?

Are you working out extra to eat more this month?

Let me know through your comments below. 🙂

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Precious Jewels From Around The World

Every time I step out of my house, whether to explore a new country or a new place within my land, I mostly think about what my eyes can see. And, most of that is above the ground – the buildings and monuments, the streets, the mountains and valleys, the lakes and rivers, the trees, animals and the culture of the locals, and then, the sky. What I often overlook is what lies under the earth. I am not talking about tubers or roots or the exotic dishes that are made of those, but what lies further below – several feet under, formed by immense heat and pressure – precious stones.

Austria – Emerald Waters And Emerald Rings

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

The beautiful country of Austria is also a major producer of emerald.

When I went solo to Salzburg a couple of years ago, I was busy admiring the lovelock bridge that spans River Salzach, connecting the modern world full of gardens and courtyards to the Old Town paved with cobblestones. I gazed at the lime green grass carpeting the banks on either side of the emerald river and longed to hike on the moss-covered hills in the backdrop. But not once did I think about Austria’s prominence as an emerald producer and exporter to the world. Even my journeys back home yielded similar results…

Diamonds In Golconda?

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

Golconda (Hyderabad) is popular not only for its fort but also for diamond mining and trading.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have visited Hyderabad – both when it was a part of Andhra Pradesh and after it became Telangana’s. I have even climbed all of the steps that lead to Golconda Fort, and spent a lot of money buying Hyderabadi pearls. It is only now that I see Golconda differently after my mum inquires why I never brought back any diamonds from this place that has one of the world’s most famous diamond mines.

“Czeching” Out Garnet

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world's best garnet, topaz and opal.

Czech Republic might be famous for Kafka, but it stores some of the world’s best garnet, topaz and opal.

3 years ago, I was exploring central Europe, and my journey had brought me to Prague – the capital of Czech Republic. Over days of checking out the most vibrant Old Town, its cathedrals, sailing over the Vltava river, being surprised over Kafka’s fame and buying copper rings, I discovered Czechia is also popular for its gemstones such as garnet, topaz and opal. But I asked myself how far and wide I’d have to travel to collect beautiful stones from different parts of the world. Could I not get all such precious stones from the comfort of my home? Would expensive gemstones always be too expensive for me to own? I’ve recently found an answer to my quest:-

Jewel On Fire – Gemstone Jewellery In Your Budget

Did you know Germany's Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

Did you know Germany’s Alps could have gemstones such as beryl, topaz and emeralds under them?

I came across the online jewellery store Jewel On Fire which lets you buy precious stone ornaments priced up to 90% lower than their retail cost. This is possible only because they cut out the middlemen and source jewellery directly from jewellery craftsmen and manufacturers. And their online presence means you can shop without having to spend a bomb on travel. They have a splendid collection of low-cost genuine diamond jewellery and those of other precious stones. I have a sweeter information for you! When you use my promo code “OINDRILADE” to make a purchase on their site, you get an additional discount on their already amazingly priced items! 🙂

Won’t You Travel Differently Now?

It's not only Sri Lanka's lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

It’s not only Sri Lanka’s lakes that are associated with aquamarine!

When I told my mum about this, she was elated. She won’t have to worry about lugging heavy jewellery back from her trips now. And travel would only be about the sights and experiences, not the expenses associated with shopping of gemstones. I will again be able to visit Germany for its castles, and not think about beryl or topaz or emerald. I will again be able to enjoy the forests and lakes of Sri Lanka without hunting for good quality yet affordable aquamarine. “Aquamarine” would only make me think of the water bodies again, and not the stone on my ring finger.

Still, You Should Know…

Hungary's creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Hungary’s creamy white skies know that that this country has a lot of creamy opal stones as well.

Even though you will mostly shop online, lounging in your sofa, it helps to know a little more about the things you buy. It is the stories behind each earring, pendant and bracelet that makes the gemstones more precious!

Do you ever wonder where each of your jewels come from?

Write your comments below! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter for more interesting facts and stories from around the world. Do share this article with your friends who are into precious stones!

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! 🙂

Follow me on InstagramFacebook, Youtube and Twitter to discover other luxurious getaways you can have from your city. Do share this article with those who love to live it up!

RFC- A City Hidden in a Village

The onset of spring brought me to a little known village in Andhra Pradesh – Anajpur. What I did not know was what awaited me there… the gateway to Tollywood!!! 🙂

Entrance to the Ramoji Film City

Entrance to the Ramoji Film City

I had missed the opportunity to visit the famed Ramoji Film City on my numerous visits to this southern state in India. But 2014 ensured I had my fill of entertainment. RFC, the world’s largest film studio complex, is situated atop a hillock that affords all visitors breathtaking views of the entire village.

Hot Tip: You’ll do well to arrive before 10AM as the tickets are always in short supply and booking closes by 2PM.

The Cowboy Town

The Cowboy Town

After you buy your passes, you’re driven to the studio complex area in what looks like a London bus! Each bus stops right in front of a miniature cowboy town that resembles the sets of Wild Wild West. (This is where the popular song, Tha Kar Ke, from Golmaal Returns was shot! 🙂 ) There’s plenty of scope for photo-ops, especially when there are a number of prop-sellers that entice you to buy their cowboy hats and giant goggles. Kids will love the place for its vibrancy and colour!

London? Paris? Maybe Tokyo?

London? Paris? Maybe Tokyo?

Spread over 2000 acres, RFC lets you gasp at the Eiffel Tower and admire Japanese roofs within an hour! As you guessed, it isn’t possible to explore the entire property on foot, so they have shuttles to take you around this wonderland of sorts. The guide that escorted us on the tour was a talented orator who made us laugh at his witty one-liners as he described each set.

RFC has “multipurpose buildings” that can be a university when the young man courts his first love, a hospital when the pretty girl weeps for the injured hero, and an airport when they fly to Switzerland for their honeymoon! 😛

Amer Palace in Anajpur!

Amer Palace in Anajpur!

Our shuttle stopped at the artificial Amer Palace (here you can read about the real one that I visited in 2012) and I had the opportunity to compare it with the original one in Rajasthan. I could hear the faint tunes of Rajasthani folk music from where I stood, and I decided to walk towards the source of the sound. I was mindblown by what I saw!

Captivated by Kalbelia

Captivated by Kalbelia

I witnessed a live Kalbelia dance performance in the middle of a Telegu village! The dancers looked exotic, dressed in their traditional garb, and decked up in Rajasthani ornaments. With the music still ringing in my ears, I couldn’t hear my stomach grumble. It was only after the dancing stopped that I realized I was hungry.

The clock strikes "lunch"

The clock strikes “lunch”

RFC (am I the only one who thinks it sounds like KFC? 😛 ) has half a dozen restaurants that cater to different tastes. We ate at Alampana, which claimed to serve authentic Hyderabadi cuisine, but the food cut no ice with me. If you’re the type that salivates for street food, there are a couple of stalls that sell pani-puris and frankies in front of Dil Se (in the pic above).

Aboard the toy-train!

Aboard the toy-train!

In the afternoon, to avoid the sun that shone directly above us, we hopped onto the toy train in Filmy Duniya. This roofless train chugs through a long, twisty tunnel and takes you into the world of animated characters and crayon-coloured backdrops. I felt like a little girl enthralled on a joyride. RFC is best enjoyed when you’re in primary school, and I appeal to all the mommies & daddies reading my post to take their young ones to tour this film city before they reach high school.

Nordic nights

Nordic nights

We tunnelled through snow-capped mountains of the arctics, saw african tribes dance to congo-beats, waved at the Thai royalty, and dodged the huge camels that the Arabs held with their harness. After what seemed like an overdose of light, sound and colour, we alighted the train and walked into a room full of even more garish lights and sounds.

Inside the royal court

Inside the royal court

The scene was of a royal Indian palace where most mythological TV serials are shot. Real or not, the courts appear larger than life, and the jewelled pillars dazzle in the neon lights. I felt a little lightheaded in the violet lights of the king’s court, and knew it was time again to go outdoors.

Landscaped greens from up above

Landscaped greens from up above

From over the rocks, I could see a carpet of light green laid all over the Sanctuary Garden. Even the grass-sculptured animals seemed to play their part, sipping from the pond and grazing on the field. I did manage to spot a real animal though:-

The special visitor

The special visitor

This monkey followed me all the way to the Japanese garden and managed to scare away the others! Good thing, isn’t it? Considering how I got the entire place to myself! 😀 The Japanese park was a treat to my eyes with its undulating meadows and clear waters that flowed under tiny bridges. I lingered here for quite some time before I moved to my final destination.

Strolling in the Japanese garden

Strolling in the Japanese garden

The Butterfly Park beckoned to us with its greenhouse-like enclosure and sweet smelling flowers. I surprised myself when I managed to identify a couple of butterflies even with the camouflage. RFC also has a bonsai-park and the most amazing collection of bonsai I have ever seen!

I spotted a 'male cruiser butterfly'! :-)

I spotted a ‘male cruiser butterfly’! 🙂

I’ll conclude this piece with some tips for which you’ll thank me later:-

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes as you’ll be clocking quite a few miles on this trip.
  • It’s hard to completely see RFC in a day, so be judicious with your time if you only have 1 day with you.
  • It’s very hot up here at the top (even in spring), so get a hat with you and don’t forget to spray some sunscreen!
  • The lavatories are quite dirty and ill-equipped. The one I used did not even have a lock! So try not to go overboard on that cola. (Yeah, right! Like it’s possible to go without hydrating yourself in this heat!)
  • Monkeys, no matter how innocent they seem, can be dangerous. So, use your judgement and follow the crowd when you have a monkey eager to accompany you.
  • Don’t miss the closing ceremony (in front of Dil Se… at 5PM)!

All Roads lead to Hyderabad

I finished a much awaited trip to Hyderabad earlier this week. And this time, my experiences beautifully complemented the ones I’ve had on my previous visits to the city of pearls.

Hyderabad as viewed from the heavens above

Hyderabad as viewed from the heavens above

My Friday morning began with a drive to Golkonda Fort, a good 15 kilometres from where I stayed. Golkonda means shepherd’s hill, and rightly so, for the highest point of this citadel requires the strength of a shepherd to scale! This ancient castle was built in the 13th century and has an intelligent acoustic system which it is famed for. What now remain are the ruins of white granite that cast a spell on all tourists that walk on these lands. The complex has landscaped gardens and multilevel arches that adorn the walkways and lead to the base of the ‘stairway to heaven’. And this ‘heaven’ is astonishingly a prison – Ramadas Bandikhana, which is now considered sacred due to the unlawful imprisonment of a loyal Lord-Ram-devotee. A visit to Golconda Fort is highly recommended for the breathtaking views that every yard on the 380-step climb lends the visitor. This heritage site is well maintained and has food-stalls and rest-rooms at strategic locations in the caves. The place is almost romantic with the chipped walls, greens peeping out of stones, and beryl skies playing hide-and-seek behind the white clouds.

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Saturday afternoon saw me waiting under overarching branches of trees outside the Salar Jung Museum as my travel-companion parked the car. This 38-gallery art museum has over a million objects from Far East to North America, and is the world’s largest collection of antiques by a single person. The building showcases artefacts like paintings, carpets, sculptures, arms, apparel, crockery, manuscripts and furniture that Nawab Salar Jung III zealously invested in.

Hot Tip: Time your visit such that you can hear the central grandfather clock chime at the stroke of a new hour.

Nightlife and Dining options in Hyderabad:-

(This list is in addition to the eateries I’ve mentioned in my first Hyderabad-post.)

  • The night I arrived in this city, I had the buffet at The Square, Novotel (near the airport). The food wasn’t much to boast about and the couple of drinks we ordered took our bill to almost 7000 INR. But this is a nice place if you’re bored of the airport-food-court and are starving after your flight.
  • Chutneys is a pocket-friendly restaurant specializing in South Indian cuisines. We ordered guntur idlis (very spicy) and palak paneer dosa, and were served an assortment of 6 exotic chutneys (both coconut based and coconut-free) complimentary!
  • Staying in a southern city doesn’t mean you only have to eat South Indian delicacies. Dil Punjabi proves this with flavours of Punjab. We had ordered veg and chicken soups, hara-bhara kebabs for starters, a roti-basket of Amritsari kulchas, naans and tandoori rotis with a paneer dish (large cubes of paneer) and some chicken preparations (for my non-vegetarian friends) for mains. The food was finger-licking good and the portion sizes, befitting a Punjabi eatery! The restaurant closes in the late afternoon, but if you can persuade the maître d’hôtel, you’ll be allowed to order from limited sections of the menu and enjoy a quiet lunch.
  • Hyderabad is mostly a conservative city and has numbered discs, but the party-scene is gradually picking up. I spent my Saturday night at Hard Rock Cafe as the outlet celebrated its 4th anniversary. A large part of the restaurant and bar area was converted to a dance floor and they played some pop and rock chartbusters.

Hot Tip: Ensure you ‘check-in’ on Foursquare if your bill goes over 1500 INR, for a complimentary tequila shot! 🙂

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Insights from an Insider:-

(This is an exclusive interview with a local Hyderabadi)

Praveen in his Deccan Chargers jersey

Praveen in his Deccan Chargers jersey

Me: How long have you lived in Hyderabad?

Praveen: 20 years

Me: Your favourite thing about this city…

Praveen: Our unique language… ‘Hyderabadi Hindi’. You will only hear it in Hyderabad!

Me: Teach me a phrase in Telugu.

Praveen:  ‘garu’ – giving respect to a person. E.g., Oindrila-garu

Me: When does the city go to sleep?

Praveen: Though Hyderabad is one of the thriving Indian cities, the mindset of the people here is still very traditional. You will notice that a typical Telugu girl still prefers to wear traditional dresses over Western. Likewise, the nightlife here is pretty dormant.

Me: One thing nobody must miss doing here…

Praveen: One should visit all heritage locations like Chowhmalla Palace, Chudi-bazaar, Charminar, Golconda, Taramati Baradari and agar aap hyderabad mein hai toh aapko ek bar toh hyderabadi biryani khaani ‘padingi’ ! (a-la-Hyderabadi Hindi) [Now, that you’re in Hyderabad, you must have Hyderabadi biriyani atleast once!]