Commuting in Mumbai – on a Budget

If you are a Mumbaikar, you probably spend about two hours on your daily commute on an average. And if you are planning a weekend trip out of the city, you will easily be travelling for over three hours each way. The longer you travel, the more you spend. Given the high cost of living in this city, your mode of commute only adds to your expenses. You might like to point out local trains and BEST buses as affordable ways to travel. But those are fertile grounds for pickpocketers and way too crowded for comfort. I have heard countless stories of friends losing their phones and wallets on a crowded bus or a packed train. Today, I’m going to tell you about some cheap yet comfortable and safe ways to travel in Mumbai!

The ubiquitous auto rickshaw - you can dislike it, but you cannot ignore it! ;-)

The ubiquitous auto rickshaw – you can dislike it, but you cannot ignore it! 😉

A popular way is to make use of the taxi service in Mumbai. Taxis are safer and much faster than auto rickshaws. The chances of having your purse or other valuable item snatched from the sides is much lower. Petrol and diesel are quite expensive here. This might lead you to assume that there is no affordable cab service in Mumbai. However, many private players have entered the market and made commuting much cheaper. Ola Cabs and Meru are undoubtedly the market leaders in Mumbai, but there are many lesser known cab companies that you can rely on. Most of these cabs are air conditioned, and will get you to your destination looking fresh. Mumbai has a perpetual humidity problem, and in the summers, you perspire all your fluids out. Also, if you have a long office commute like I do, you must definitely opt for air conditioned taxis. Another advantage of private cabs is that they are constantly tracked via GPS, and your location is known to the control centre at all times. Their GPS enabled smartphones also help the drivers take the best route to your destination to get you there as quickly as possible. Nowadays, some cabs also have the option of letting your friend or family member track your location real-time. The fact that most of these operators have their own mobile app makes it very simple to book and cancel cabs. You will also be able to book through their web portals and over a phone-call.

Would you prefer a cycle rickshaw to a taxi in the torrential Mumbai rains?

Would you prefer a cycle rickshaw to a taxi in the torrential Mumbai rains?

For those of you who have plans that change as frequently as the weather changes in London, and require cabs on the go, there is Uber. The Uber app lets you find any cab near you and you have a ride in a few minutes. Many of these online ride sourcing firms offer huge discounts and award referral credits when you onboard a friend or family member. If you are smart, you can actually ride free at most times! The recent news of safety breaches by these companies are worrying. But they are all making their rides safer, so don’t write them off just yet.

I dream of the day when commoners like me will be able to rent a stretch limo...

I dream of the day when commoners like me will be able to rent a stretch limo…

Most of my friends love to drive, but don’t have cars. And what do you do when you don’t want a driver listening in on all your group secrets in the cab? Well, self drive cars is the answer to your dilemma! Car rental for self drive purposes is very popular in the States and Australasia. But India is catching up just fine. If you are bored of the cheap Mumbai cab service and wish to drive a car on your own, hire one of the self drive cars and zip away without a care in the world! And on that note, I would like to tell you about an interesting venture that my friends have started up – Justride. Next month, I will be taking out one of their luxury cars on a spin. Stay tuned for that blog post!

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Must Go to Melbourne!

It is still 2014, and I’m already dreaming about the places I want to visit in 2015. I made dozens of wishlists of things I want to try and food I want to gorge on. But I threw those lists out of the window when somebody told me I could do it all in one place! Last month, my friend from Melbourne flew down to Mumbai and he couldn’t stop telling me about all the lovely things one can find in Victoria. He flew back to Australia but left me dreaming about that city down under…

Breathtaking Drive on the Great Ocean Road

That magnificent stretch of silver is surrounded by pure gold – the golden sun above, the golden reflection of the sunny skies on the Pacific Ocean, and the Twelve Apostles jutting out of the waters from a golden era! What wouldn’t I give to go on a long, long drive with my best buddies (a la ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’! 😉 )

Top Secret: The 12 Apostles change colours at sunrise and sunset! Those rock statues sure know how to rock! 😀

Squeal at the Seals or Point at the Penguins

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Phillip-Island

Now, there are some birds and animals you don’t get to see everywhere. When in Victoria, make the best use of the opportunity and head to Phillip Island! If you go on a boat cruise, you’ll get to wave your hands at the slippery seals barking from the rocks. And once you’re on the Island, you’ll witness the wondrous sight of thousands of little penguins wading across the sand to head to their burrows on Summerland Beach! (Yes, you don’t always need snow to spot penguins! 😉 ) While we’re on the topic of wildlife, let’s not forget koalas! These cuddly furballs are only found on this continent. You can take a peek at their joeys in their pouches at koala conservation centres or treetop boardwalks that let you watch the playful marsupials scurry along trees and bushes.

Slurp some Chocolate or Swirl some Wine

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Phillip-Island/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Pannys-Phillip-Island-Chocolate-Factory.aspx

If you are on Phillip Island, you might as well drop in at Panny’s Chocolate Factory and feel like Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. If the brown elixir is not your cup of tea, head to The Coffee Collective for your shot of caffeine in this coffee capital of Australia! For wine lovers like me, Melbourne has acres and acres of lush vineyards and a whopping 850 wineries! The cool climate and fertile lands of Victoria make it one of the best places to produce fine quality wines. Take a tour of a winery and indulge in some wine tasting with a sommelier.

Fly Over the Yarra Valley

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Source: visitmelbourne.com/Regions/Yarra-Valley-and-Dandenong-Ranges

Touring this beautiful wine region shouldn’t all be about walking. One can zip through the estates on a Segway, or even better – float in the air on a hot air balloon! The best thing about the ballooning experience is that you get to test your own balloon and watch how the hydrogen-filled giant is propped up. Yarra Valley has an ideal terroir. The harvests produce the country’s best wines with fruity notes. And, there’s always grape-stomping for the teetotallers! 😉

Pick Your Own Strawberries and Relish them with Cheese

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Gippsland/Things-to-do/Food-and-wine/Local-produce/Prom-Country-Cheese.aspx

For the ultimate “farm-to-plate” experience, spend a day at the Sunny Ridge Strawberry Farm which is open from November to April. They’ll let you pick strawberries straight off the ground! You can either eat them on their own or try some exotic strawberry liqueurs and jams. Melbourne also produces some interesting artisanal cheeses. You might want to try the deliciously creamy sheep-cheese varieties! However, if your are on a budget and wish to try everything under the Victorian sun, catch a tram to the Queen Victoria Market. It is the largest open air market in the Southern Hemisphere and sees footfalls of over 10 million a year!

Melbourne is not called cosmopolitan for nothing! You will find almost every cuisine you crave for. Cafes and restaurants dot this megacity where fresh organic produces are in demand. You cannot visit Australia and not try barbecued dishes or craft beers! Microbreweries and streetfood are insanely popular with the local crowd here. And the variety you can have is mindblowing! There’s Greek souvlaki and Indian samosas in the same block sometimes! 😀

Relax in a Thermal Pool

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Mornington-Peninsula/Things-to-do/Spa-and-wellbeing/Peninsula-Hot-Springs.aspx

Too much travel can tire me out. This is why I shall pre-book a session at the Peninsula Hot Springs and let my body and soul unwind with a mud wrap and hot stone treatment. The natural spas in this region have therapeutic properties in their minerals. After I’m rejuvenated, I shall get back to more activities in Melbourne! 🙂

Gawk at Artsy Streets

Melbourne is very progressive when it comes to street art. This is so liberating for budding artists and expressionists! Hosier Lane and a few others are dedicated to creative and edgy street art. One can lose oneself in this maze-like place full of messages displayed through spray-paintings. Even the street-name is a work of graffiti!

And Do A Million Other Things…

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Source: visitmelbourne.com/regions/Melbourne/Things-to-do/Tours/Sports-tours/Melbourne-Cricket-Ground.aspx

Melbourne cannot be seen in a day. Not even in a week. And no, even a month won’t suffice! This multicultural city has SO MANY SURPRISES that you will want to move here permanently for a couple of years to truly enjoy the spirit of this place. There’s something for every kind of traveller. The budget tourist can take the hop-on-hop-off City Circle tram which is free! The well heeled can book a helicopter ride over the Southern Ocean to watch the 12 apostles from the sky. The sports enthusiast will find the Aussie Open, the ICC World Cup and many other matches to keep her busy. The History buff can take the Gold Mine Tour at Sovereign Hill, and the architecture-phile can awe in wonder at the sweeping arches and towering skyscrapers. Even little kids can let their feet hang out of a window on the Puffing Billy! 🙂 It’s hardly a surprise then that Melbourne has been titled the “most livable city in the world”! You wouldn’t just live here, you would THRIVE!!!

When I woke up from my daydream, I was so amazed with the variety of activities I could take part in that I decided to pull my friends into this dream too. Without re-creating any scenes from Inception (the movie), I simply asked them a few questions:-

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

I set the ball rolling on Twitter

My tweet got my followers dreaming on Twitterland! 😉 And I picked out some replies for you to see:-

Picture5 Picture3 Picture10

Surfing was something even I did not think of! And even though I’m not a big fan of cricket, I love stadium tours. This virtual interaction taught me I could dream better if I spread the dream to more spheres. So I threw the same questions to my fans on my Facebook page:-

The excitement spread to Facebook! :-)

The excitement spread to Facebook! 🙂

The number of replies I received did not even fit into a screenshot! 😀 See how community dreaming is better than fantasizing on your own? I don’t want to leave my WordPress followers out of the excitement, so I have a special New Year Contest for all of you!!! 🙂

All you have to do is answer the following question and send in your replies as comments to this post:-

Which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why?

(Psst… You can reread this article to make a decision. 😉 ) The most creative reply will win a shopping voucher worth Rs.500! (Yay!! 😀 ) Send in your entries by 5th Jan, 2015.

Travelling With Children

On my blog, I’ve always written about travelling solo or with adult friends. But in reality, most vacationers are family-trippers. And while it’s wonderful to have your close people around you, it becomes a little challenging if you have little kids. 🙂

I have fond memories of travelling to multiple destinations with my parents and sister as a child. I loved each and every one of those moments, but it is only today that I realize what my folks must have gone through, handling two mischievous kids! 😉 Kids add a kind of excitement to every vacation as they view the world with their innocent minds. To help you experience magical trips and avoid misery as you tag along your little ones, I have curated a list of things to do and know when travelling with children:-

Kids Love the Sand and the Sun

If there’s any group of people that loves beaches the most, it is children! If you want to have a relaxing vacation, head to the beach. Leave your kids with some plastic spades and buckets so they can make their own sand castles, and sunbathe without their constant chatter! But remember to slather some sunscreen lotion on them as their sensitive skin is prone to sunburns.

Kids are the world's cutest beach-bums!

Kids are the world’s cutest beach-bums!

Snacks Can Save the Day!

Do you know the main reason kids are always agitated on a trip? They are hungry! Always carry titbits for your toddlers, especially when on a long road trip. You may not always find kid-friendly restaurants or food  on your way. As far as I know, road-side dhabas make food that’s way too spicy for children. So pack some sandwiches, nuts, crackers and chocolates when your bundle of joy accompanies you on that weekend break. Remember, not to make the food boring. Your kids don’t have to drink milk or eat bitter veggies when they are on holiday! Cut them some slack and indulge them with some junk food. (It’s okay once a while!)

The Bangali puchka

Food can keep your kids calm when all else fails!

Playgrounds Are Kid-Magnets

When you need some quiet time with your better half, head to the local park and let your kids have the time of their lives. Children can be surprisingly easy to manage if they have something or somebody to play with. The slides, see-saws and swings at playgrounds will keep your kids happy and active at the same time! Be careful of ride-injuries though. Make sure you carry some basic first-aid stuff with you. Nothing fancy, just band-aids and ointment. You can always buy other things from the local pharma-store. And this reminds me of medication! Do not forget to keep a few tablets or syrups for stomache-ache, acidity and fever. Dehydration can be quite common in the summers. A packet of Electral will see you through any eventuality.

Footloose in Kodagu

Swings and slides and swing your kids’ mood in your favour! 😉

Theme-Parks and Cartoons

Your trips with your children should not just be about keeping them busy or out of your way. You must plan something that they will truly enjoy. And what better than a trip to a theme park! From my visits to Ramoji Film City, Essel World, Water Kingdom and a few others, I have realized how wonderful it feels to go back to being a kid again. If you can take your kids to any of the Disneyland(s), there’s nothing like it! If you can’t, there’s plenty of other stuff you can plan. There are doll-museums around the world (one in New Delhi) and toy trains in many touristy places.

Nordic nights

Children love animated experiences

Children have their own way of perceiving vacations. They can give us some interesting insights into the places we take them to. You will be amazed to know how kids write their travelogues. Catch a glimpse of their words here – http://www.clubmahindra.com/teddytravelogues/

Oindrila on the Road

9 Oct, 2:30 PM

 

I locked my office computer, grabbed my backpack and oversized handbag, and rushed out of office. The boring life of an IT professional in a posh Mumbai suburb was not for me. I undid my corporate bun and let my hair down at the Bandra Terminus railway station. Things would change now… at least for the extended weekend.

 

9 Oct, 8:30 PM

 

I enjoyed breathtaking panoramic views of the Western Ghats all evening while the coffee on my side table grew cold. The drab cream colored walls of my workplace had made me forget how green the meadows could be. The carpeted floors kept from me the wonders of the humongous mountains. The cityscape I stared at from the French windows was nothing like the vast fields of paddy that lay beyond the rail tracks. ‘Why have I been wasting my life in a 9-to-5’, I asked myself. The taste of the deep fried samosas were still fresh in my mouth when the train steward offered me dinner.

 

I couldn’t remember the last time I had relished wheat-puris (fluffy Indian bread) and aloo bhaji (spicy potato dish) with the sun setting at my window. While I was daydreaming of the new land I would reach next morning, sleep spread its arms wide open and engulfed me for the rest of the night.

 

10 Oct, 10 AM

 

I was wide awake at the cold Nizamuddin railway station in Delhi, planning my next stop. I was chilled to the bone and they told me winter had only just begun. Minutes later, I stopped by at a café and said hi to another backpacker like me. Delhi is friendly. Not the monster of a place the newspapers tell me it is. I washed down the waffles with a mug of mochaccino and set off for Lodhi Gardens.

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I noticed as I walked along the way… Delhi is so different from Mumbai. Two cities, both cosmopolitan and capitals in their own rights, yet poles apart in their culture and organization. Delhi isn’t chaotic. Empty, wide roads replace the crowded by lanes of Tinseltown. I had many more places to see in the capital city of India, but my heart knew I enjoyed the roads more than the tourist spots.

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The roads, for me, are the best place to be. They hold the promise of a destination, the suspense of a thriller. They give me a reason to wake up and go on… not in search of a new place, but on a quest to rediscover myself… every single day.

Daman – Developing through Tourism

With spring’s stolen colour

The water shows me sky.

Gujarat’s younger neighbour,

Daman, is anything but “dry”!

Clear skies in Daman

Clear skies in Daman

52 years after its independence from Portugal, Daman nurtures new lives in this small union territory in India. With the intention of relaxing in its beaches, I marched along this little city in the month of March this year. But little did I know that a glimpse into Daman’s past would make me cognizant of  the effects tourism has had on this coastal wonder.

This report on the 20-year plan that the government announced in 2002, highlights how effectively tourism will harness Daman’s unique offerings and make it a win-win-win situation for the economy, the locals and the environment!

  • The now deserted forts of Moti-Daman (Big Daman) & Nani-Daman (Little Daman) were once guarded by the Portuguese. However, with the intervention of the Tourism Department, these forts will soon have more visitors. Travel-packages that include heritage-walks, local cuisine and cultural shows will bring equal joy to tourists and the locals as they find more employment-avenues.

 

  • Positioning Daman as a pocket-friendly vacation-spot, the administrator is boosting its infrastructure. The construction of several bridges and a coastal highway are already under way. The most useful bridge, according to me, is the one that connects Moti Daman to Nani Daman. The other route will set you back by several hundred Rupees. I always wondered why the backwaters couldn’t be navigated via boats (which the fishermen use on a regular basis), and was ready to shell out more just to bob up and down the water. My prayers will soon be answered.

 

  • The Waterfront Development Plan aims to maintain & develop the Devka & Jampore beaches, along with the Daman Ganga river and the place where it meets the Arabian sea. The waterway between Moti and Nani Daman is set to be opened to tourists! 🙂 The entire beach-line will get a retaining-wall to reign in beach-erosion. The sand on these beaches may be dark, but their future is certainly bright!

 

  • The focus of this mega-plan is on the conservation of nature. Special care is being taken to avoid adverse impacts to the environment, with the alternate recourse being mitigation & compensation. The international cycle-track (under construction) is the hottest attraction in this soon-to-be eco-tourism hub!

 

  • The inhabitants will now have a special part to play in the bigger scheme of things. Heritage walks and interaction with locals will now take tourists to Portuguese-style settlements too! Locally handcrafted bamboo and leather products are as much in demand as alcohol and fish. This spells a huge boon for the aboriginals.

 

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Daman was once regarded as the most poluted of all beaches due to industrial wastes leaking into its waters. But all that is now set to change for the better! Cleaner beaches, water-sports, boat-rides, walking tours, village-interactions… Do you need any more reasons to pack your bags and head to Daman?