What you should eat on your Sri Lankan holiday

Experience the true flavours of Sri Lankan food

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Food in Sri Lanka is heavily influenced by Tamil Nadu and Kerala in India. There are a lot of similarities yet unique tastes in their local food and why eat anything else when you can have authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Sri Lanka has many roadside eateries serving deliciously warm breakfast; while most of them are restaurants, there are several shed-like structures run by women serving up colourful food for cheap prices that would definitely not burn a hole in the pocket of a tourist in the country.

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Local food in Sri Lanka

The distinct accent made it difficult for us to get the local names but we did get the translated version of most. Breakfast includes a Tender cutlet (SLR 25) made from sweet jaggery and batter-fried crisp with a little spice. It was followed by the Idiyappams (SLR 20) – rice flour noodles garnished with curry leaves to lend a spicy flavour; it was served along with Sri Lankan sambol (an orange dry chutney made from coconut and chilli powder). Sweet Hoppers (SLR 20) are crisp pan-fried appams filled with sugar and can be eating plain without any accompaniment unlike the savoury alternative. Ulunde Wade (SLR 25) are the Sri Lankan equivalents of Medhu wadas only a spicier and served with a delicious white coconut chutney.

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Digestive warm drink of Beli Mal made from locally found beli flowers

Usually, Sri Lankan’s apart from beverages like coffee and tea, like to end their breakfast with Beli Mal – a brownish detox drink made from ground beli (a local flower) and water; the bitter taste from the drink is cut off with a small piece of jaggery served along with it.

Also Read: This is all the money you need for a Sri Lankan holiday

Eating local food brings out the true essence of a place but looking for the right restaurant is important because most and usually overpriced if the city is visited by tourists; especially Colombo. We stopped by a restaurant that had a lot of people lined up waiting to eat their lunch and were lucky to get a table soon enough to eat our meal. Since we were ravenously hungry we didn’t mind sharing the table with another local.

lunch
Thick dal (top left), spicy radish side-dish (top right), French bean preparation (bottom left) and Sri Lankan sambol chutney (bottom right).

We savoured a plate of fat rice that was served along with a spicy radish side-dish, a French bean preparation rich in coconut and a thick dal gravy we really relished. The meal is also served with the Sri Lankan sambol chutney on the side to make a deliciously wholesome meal. We were also served fried fish (resembled a Pomfret), a dry chicken dish and a prawn chilli fry on the side. While most look for the non-vegetarian food, the vegetarian food is an absolute delight. Interestingly, the whole meal turned out to be only SLR 130.

Also Read: Your travel bucket-list for Sri Lanka

Meals are incomplete without a sip of alcohol for most people and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring drinking Arrack. The drink almost tastes like black rum but is not as strong and has a strong flavour of coconut in it.  However, the prices of the bottle differ from place-to-place and is anywhere between 230 – 350 SLR for half a litre.

Tip: Eat only local food as it is really cheap and the flavours are worth the money

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Your travel bucket-list for Sri Lanka

Get off the beaten track to experience Sri Lanka with a difference

Itineraries are an important part of every holiday and while most people may choose to go by a tour, it is important to make a personal list on-the-go so that interesting places aren’t skipped for the lack of time.

Sri Lanka has many popular places to visit but it is ideal to stick to the central, south and south-west region as it is said to be safer than the rest of the country. These particular regions have so much to offer that missing out on the upper-half region won’t even cross your mind.

Our itinerary included Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Bentota and finally the capital city Colombo but we did visit many places en-route including Kalutara, Kosgoda and Balapitiya; the latter opens out to the sea and subsequently 18 islands in Sri Lanka.

Places to visit in Sri Lanka

Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage
Travelling from Bandaranaike Airport in Negombo, the closest sight-seeing spot is the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in the village by the same name. We were lucky to witness the elephants religiously going for their daily bath across the street to a nearby lake. The 25-acre coconut plantation houses the Asian elephants in captive breeding and also takes in any elephant that has been orphaned by its herd in the nearby jungles. Interestingly, many shops have sprung up on the route the elephants take and have different kinds of accessories being sold made from elephant dung. The accessories include books, calendars and other stationery.

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Elephants bathing at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

Kandy
Situated in central Sri Lanka, the city of Kandy should be on the list of every traveller looking to visit Sri Lanka. It has an old-world charm in its architecture with a mix of hills and a sparsely populated city. Spending an afternoon around the lake in the centre of the city is certainly relaxing if you want to take things slow. The city also has the Royal Botanical Garden, a Gem Museum and the Temple of the Tooth Relic Of The Lord Buddha; all of which can be done only if there is an interest but otherwise may not impress many younger travellers. 

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Kandy City Centre

Nuwara Eliya
While the weather in Sri Lanka is very similar to most parts of India, it is Nuwara Eliya that makes for a perfect hill-station in the country like north India or Munnar and Ooty in the south among others. The resemblance to colonial-style structures along with the lush green fields engulfed us even before our driver told us it is fondly called ‘Little England’ by the locals. While it has a golf course and various other sight-seeing spots, a visit to the local bars is mandatory if you crave for some spirits to keep you warm. Enroute the hill-station, a visit to the tea plantations is a must because of the flavourful tea served and the fact that Sri Lankan tea leaves are commercially sold in many countries under different brand names.

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The hill station of Nuwara Eliya

Bentota
While we spent most of our time at the Hotel Eden, a beach resort with a beautiful view, there is a lot more that the town has to offer if one sets out on foot including local eating spots and a lot more. However, the resort town is popular for its water sports and the boat safari; the latter is a must when in Sri Lanka for the most unique experience at sea around the 18 islands off the Sri Lankan coastline.

Also Read: This is all the money you need for a Sri Lankan holiday

Speeding through the surrounding Madu Ganga river, the boatman will take you through the breathtaking mangroves and move over to Cinnamon island to see the making of various products from cinnamon trees including cosmetics and cooking masalas. He will then take you under the bridge leading to the largest inhabited island of 300 people and drink coconut water for Rs 100 from a man in a shop on the waters. Among the many islands, a Ganesha temple is the smallest island surrounded by a mystery that you have to be lucky to be told by the guide. Ending the safari with fish pedicure is also a relaxing experience after a two-hour-long tour.

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Mangroves off the Mandu Ganga river close to Bentota in Sri Lanka

Kosgoda
Travel to south-west of Sri Lanka to Kosgoda to visit an interesting Turtle Hatchery and Conservation area. The farm houses a variety of turtles -big, small and handicapped from the fishing nets. A tour around also enlightens tourists about the effort being taken by the locals to preserve the turtles that come to hatch every year on the closest beach, The small town also has a beach that not many know about as it is guarded by trees but is a must-visit for some quite time and escape from the cacophony of the city. Driving back would also reveal a train track running across the road and you would be lucky to spot the occasional train going from station to station, to complete a fulfilling experience.

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Turtle Hatchery in Kosgoda in Sri Lanka

Colombo
The capital city should ideally be left for the last as it turns out to be as crowded as any other metropolitan in the world. Clearly, the shopping district in Sri Lanka, it can keep you busy for a whole day if you’re a shopaholic. Restaurants serving local food are easily available and definitely worth a try because the food is absolutely delicious. For the devout, the city also has many churches around (both catholic and orthodox).

Other places to visit
While we covered most of the important places during our five-day trip, we were left with a need to see more as we hadn’t had enough of the country yet. It would be best to visit Sri Lanka for at least 10 days to make the most of it. I, personally, was really disappointed we couldn’t visit Galle which is further south than Kosgoda because it is known to be a famous Dutch colony and hence piqued my interest. The Portuguese and British influences along with the local setting make it an interesting spot to visit.

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This is the second article in a series about my Sri Lankan travel experience. Come back for more on the food and culture and my personal experiences.

This is all the money you need for a Sri Lankan holiday

Travel cheap to an underestimated destination

Planning international trips take a while mostly because of the money involved and while it may seem a lot, it is also important to see if it is worth the experience. While most travellers settle for exotic destinations in Europe and the US and UK among others, looking closer home may help Indians looking for shorter trips.

Around India, Sri Lanka is an under-explored destination and can be a good change for people on a shoe-string budget. There are many reasons to visit the colourful land but an easily available visa and the lower currency rate are easily on top of that list. The currency is almost two-and-a-half times the Indian Rupee and the visa comes to you within two days.

If you’re itching to go on a cheap holiday, Sri Lanka is not more than INR 60,000. Our trip for five days turned out to be an amazing stay that encompassed almost everything we wanted to do while in the country. Here is the break-up of the money spent followed by tips on how it can be cheaper.

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Local food in Sri Lanka

Money spent for five days:

Flight tickets – INR 18,200 (round trip)

Tour Package – INR 28,500 (including car with driver, breakfast and dinner, stay)
The tour included staying at two five star hotels – Amaya Hills in Kandy and Hotel Eden in Bentota and a three star Hotel Sapphire in Colombo (which is closer to the airport).

Visa – Rs 1,400 (for one month) 
The visa can be applied for online or can be acquired on arrival. Applying for it online is easier and less time-consuming

Miscellaneous expenses – Rs 12,000 (lunch, alcohol, shopping and souvenirs)

Do’s and Don’ts

1. Book flight tickets four months prior to reduce cost to barely Rs 12,000.

2. Do not spend on food at big restaurants. Eat local food at SLR Rs 130 – 150.

3. Travel by local transport or be ready to spend on food and drink for personal driver.

4. Inform personal driver that eating local is priority and not at fancy restaurants if comfortable with local cuisine.

5. Walking around will save money and help explore place better.

6. Do not go by a tour guide as it will save a lot of additional unwanted costs.

This is the first article in a series about my Sri Lankan travel experience. Come back for more on the best places to visit, food and culture and my personal experiences.

Unique Weekend Getaways In Mumbai 

One a rainy paradise and the other a mini Goa

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Route to Rajmachi Falls in Khandala off Mumbai

A trek during the rains is one of the many favourite weekend plans for many Mumbaikars; some decide to club it along with relaxed weekend getaways, the others, usually the seasoned trekkers, choose some difficult trekking paths that are simply breathtaking.

I happened to visit two interesting spots in July around Mumbai – one Lonavala and the other Uttan. While the former is a few hours away from the city, the latter a jewel within the city is only a 30 minute rickshaw ride from Bhayander railway station in north Mumbai.

If you’re planning to go for a trek in Lonavala, Valvan Lake is a must visit. While it is more of an easy hike, it is enroute Rajmachi falls in Khandala. Valvan lake is serene and is best for a lazy Saturday afternoon dip. For those who are hydrophobic, the view is breathtaking from the hillock, you’ll see the occasional dance of birds a few metres above the water in the distance too.

Also Read: Markets That You Must Visit in Mumbai 

Rajmachi Falls is a daunting task for first timers but a joy for seasoned trekkers. While it is difficult to search for the falls, asking the locals helps while you cut through vast grassland onto an off-road towards the falls.

Tip: Wear footwear with proper grip. A windcheater is best as it rains regularly moving upward. Carry a first-aid kit as you could scrape your knee while climbing up the rocks.

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Uttan near Bhayandar

Uttan on the other hand gives a reminder of my trip to Pondy (Pondicherry). All those who have visited will know. While the main attraction has to be the bright red lighthouse, Uttan beach not too far away is another good option if you do not want to travel to far away from the city over the weekend. There are many hotels to stay at for the night which are both cheap and expensive with varying facilities. They boast of the delicious East Indian cuisine in the city that must be eaten when in Uttan.

Would love to hear your experiences from your getaways 😀

Others 

My Earliest Travel Memory 

Local’s Speak: Why Goa Becoming A Second Home To Most Mumbaikars

Meandering Through Thrissur In Keral

My Earliest Travel Memory

Memories of a hill station, trekking and a good trip

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Memories of a hill station, trekking and a good trip

We’ve travelled so much that we rarely remember our first trips, if your family had a penchant for travel, then you’ve visited many but if not, the few are as good as gold. While the most obvious place for Goans to go to travel to is Goa, I went there when I was seven and nine years old, respectively but my memory from those trips are hazy. So, one of earliest memories of travel trace back to when I was a 14-year-old in school, not a picnic but a so-called ‘Spiritual Trip’ by the Brothers of St. Augustine’s School, the school I studied in.

It was in the November of 2006, winter had just set in, and 16 boys were selected from our school to travel to Mount Abu in Rajasthan. We were a mischievous bunch but we had to live up to the ‘spiritual trip’ tag, it ended up being little of what we expected. It turned out to be one my earliest treks and a good one at that. We travelled by train, it was a sponsored trip and we were going to stay in the students hostel of St Mary’s School, the Christian and Irish Brothers branch in the north Indian state of India. We had hardly packed for the five day trip and clearly didn’t know what to expect. We reached early next morning and had to travel by jeep before we reached the school which was situated atop the ghats, since it was early November, it was really cold and though there was a swimming pool, we would be able to swim, which we thought we could because of Mumbai’s sweltering heat.

Most of the boarders had gone home as it was Diwali vacations but some who stayed to far were yet in the hostel. We were assigned a large dormitory that we shared with the students. We were to sleep in rows of iron cots with thin mattresses and were given thick blankets to escape the cold. We were really excited for the next day and why not, we were in for a surprise. We were briefed about the next day; Breakfast at 7 am, Lunch at 12pm and Dinner at 7pm, we couldn’t miss any of them. There was a common bathroom, where all of us had to bathe by taking water through tubs from a drum kept in the corner. We were living like boarders and it was exciting. Over the next few days we trekked through various hills called by different names by the boarders – Plummey (don’t remember the origin), Spongy (because it had pores like a sponge) and Toad Rock (shaped like a Toad) overlooking the main city market. We also climbed down 886 steps to Gow Mukh (marble cow head) through which water flowed into a small open tank. They say the source of water was unknown and so many believed that wishes come true there too. It was Aldo the first time we saw big scary Langur’s (a species of monkeys). It was only at the end of the day when we reached the dormitory that we realised we couldn’t walk at all. The ascending and descending of the steps to see How Mukh had left us almost crippled and we couldn’t feel our legs at all.

The best part of the trip turned out to be on the night before our last day, we went crab catching, in a flowing stream. And the best part? We went in the night! As the surrounding area was forest land and bears and panthers were said to be spotted, we took the school dogs for safety. While we learnt how to literally fish crabs, as we used leftover chicken bones to get palm-sized crabs that we were going to eat the next day. Suddenly the dogs started barking and we were told that they had sighted a panther around the area, we were quite astonished and excited at the fact that a wild cat was in close proximity but soon it was gone and we carried we our night crab-catching and took back a bucket full of crabs to end the trip on a high note.

P.S. – Pictures are plenty but sadly none are digital.

Travel bucket list 2016

Different food and cultures come calling. What’s on your bucket list?

North East India Photo Credits: www.indianmarks.om
North East India Photo Credits: http://www.indianmarks.om

Since the travel bug bit me only a few years back, I’ve wanted to travel more places in India and that got me thinking about places I should be visiting. It is easy to travel luxuriously and so I decided that I would travel cheap, budge-travel is not really difficult and only requires you to be able to work around cheap stay and travel. After visiting a part of Delhi, Manali and Dharamshala, Mysore happened and then it was Chennai, Kerala and most recently Pondicherry among specific tourist locations. Ever since I have been planning to see places in India and I’ll be able to see them hopefully soon, they are as follows

Pangong Lake, Leh Ladakh Photo Credits: bethraham.wordpress.com 1
Pangong Lake, Leh Ladakh Photo Credits: bethraham.wordpress.com 1

Leh Ladakh
Well, Leh and Ladakh seem to be on everybody’s bucket list recently. Facebook timelines flooded with snow-clad mountains and Enfield riders going to rough terrain is not new these days. I’ve wanted to visit Leh and Ladakh ever since I’ve seen pictures of the Pangong lake.

Sikkim, North East India Photo Credits: Siddharth Agarwal, asidity.in
Sikkim, North East India Photo Credits: Siddharth Agarwal, asidity.in

North-East India
It’s always hard to choose one particular place among the seven sisters, even though Nagaland stands out for everybody, the music festivals and flavourful food, is something I’ve wanted to taste and hope to go there soon.

Also Read: 7 Places To Visit While You Are In Chennai 

Kolkata Photo Credits: skymetweather.in
Kolkata Photo Credits: skymetweather.in

Kolkata
What attracts me about Calcutta, as I like to call it? It has to be the yellow taxis and the quaint architecture which I’ve seen in pictures over the years. Reading books like The Lowland and Sea of Poppies have got me all the more interested and so it has been on my bucket list for some time now. Not to forget reading Goalless by Boria Mazumdar, which also refers to places like Tollygunge and obviously the famous rivalry between East Bengal and Mohun Bagan.

Rajasthan Photo Credits: Siddharth Agarwal, asidity.in
Rajasthan Photo Credits: Siddharth Agarwal, asidity.in

Rajasthan
I’ve been to Mount Abu and I know that isn’t even a justified visit of the state. Jaipur, Jodhpur, Udaipur , Bikaner and Jaisalmer have their own share of architectural beauty that needs to be explored.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands Photo Credits:reckontalk..com
Andaman and Nicobar Islands Photo Credits:reckontalk..com

Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Interesting landscapes and the famous Grand Trunk Road and references to the Jarawa tribe make me want to explore the islands. An interesting book by Pankaj Sekhsaria called The Last Wave make me want to visit the islands almost immediately.

These are interestingly the top five places on my list of places to travel. What is on your travel bucket list? Please suggest places that I have missed that I must see in India 😀

7 Places to Visit While You Are in Chennai

Chennai’s cycle rickshaws, church architecture and tech street will easily attract you

Cycle Rickshaws in Sowcarpet
Cycle Rickshaws in Sowcarpet

I happened to be in Chennai in 2014-15 while pursuing my post graduate diploma in digital journalism. Over the 10 months that I stayed there, I visited many places to cover stories for my assignments and many others simply because of my utter love to see new places but it was seven places that made me want to visit the south Indian city soon and more often in the future, than I ever imagined.

According to me, here are seven places that you should visit when you are in Chennai.

1. Sowcarpet
Chanced upon this place through word-of-mouth and a carefully crafted proposal that would make me visit this small town in Chennai. Situated in North Chennai, Sowcarpet is a small town which is known to have the last few thousand cycle rickshaws; the other place being the next to Chennai Central station. The yellow tricycle hand-driven rickshaws are a welcome sight in that particular vicinity. The banyan-clad bare-footed riders charge a meagre Rs 40 to travel within 4 kilometres of the narrow streets of Sowcarpet. They often haggle for more and if you’re an outsider you might just feel sorry for them and give them an extra 10 bucks.

How to get there: The easiest way to get there is by taking a train to Chennai Egmore railway station. Pay nothing more than Rs 50 by auto-rickshaw from the railway station.

Main Attractions: Crowded streets filled with yellow (often designer) cycle-rickshaws travelling through meandering paths and the feel of old Chennai, according to the locals I spoke to.

Ritchie Street in Chintadripet Photo Credits: livingchennai.blogspot.com
Ritchie Street in Chintadripet Photo Credits: livingchennai.blogspot.com

2. Ritchie Street
Another one of my reporting assignments accidently led me to Chennai’s version of Mumbai’s Lamington Road. Just about 10 minutes away from Chintadripet railway station, the market is rightfully Chennai’s electronic shopping hub. One can get every kind of electronic item in this huge market which boasts of having been there since the 1950s when only a few shops selling radios and transistors made up the entire market which now runs on several parallel streets.

How to get there: Take a train to Park Town from any railway line in Chennai and then board a train towards Velachery and stop at Chintadripet railway station.

Main Attractions: Cheap, reasonable and long lasting electronic items. Also witness a few remaining shops that repair radios and outdated electronic items.

Santhome Basilica in Mylapore Photo Credits: ramanan50.wordpress.com
Santhome Basilica in Mylapore Photo Credits: ramanan50.wordpress.com

3. Santhome Basilica
There are many churches in Chennai but very few have the peaceful and divine aura of Santhome Church in Mylapore. The cathedral built over the tomb of St Thomas, one of the apostles of Jesus who came to India is an architectural delight according to me. Though I’ve visited Annai Vailankanni Church in Thiruvanmiyur in Chennai, Santhome still remains my favourite and a must-visit for anybody who visits Chennai.

How to get there: Take a train to Thirumayilai railway station from Chennai Central Station. It is a 20 minute walk from the railway station; or take an auto-rickshaw which should cost around Rs 30.

Main Attractions: The architecture of the church and also the numerous services held at the church.

Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Park Town
Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Park Town

4. Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium
Many might argue that the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium should have been on my list instead of the Jawaharlal Nehru football stadium but my inability to go to the stadium during the time I was in the city is why it does not feature on my list. The football stadium is situated near Chennai Central railway station and is now buzzing with activity owing to the success of the Indian Super League (ISL) in India. Many local matches are played there weekly and it is a complete delight to watch local teams battle it out for the coveted Chennai Football League title. If you ever get a chance go for a Reserve Bank of India match; it is a delight to watch the fans, not more than 200, one side of which are busy cheering for the team. Like Kolkata has Mohun Bagan FC and East Bengal FC, Chennai has its very own share of notorious RBI fans.

How to get there: If you’re on the Velachery-bound railway route, get down at Park Town station for a 20 minute walk to the stadium which is just behind the Chennai Central Railway Station.

Main Attraction: Any RBI match in the Chennai Football League for their fans or any Chennayin FC match in the Indian Super League (ISL).

5. Besant Nagar Beach
Yes, I do not recommend the famous Marina Beach in Chennai. The crowded Marina beach apart from the average food has nothing to offer. In a place like Chennai where the heat gets to you at any part of the day, a good option would be Besant Nagar beach in Thiruvanmiyur near Adyar. The lesser crowded beach is a perfect place to visit after an early dinner in the city. If you’re planning on eating out, there are various options in fast food like KFC but you can skip those for delicious burgers and pasta from Mash and Tasty Jones, situated diagonally opposite the beach. They are high priced but have really good food for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians in the area. There are also several corn, groundnut, pineapple and coconut water sellers along the stretch facing the beach to choose from. Not far from the beach is the Broken Bridge which has a good view for early risers.

How to get there: Get down at Indira Nagar railway station on the Velachery route and take an auto-rickshaw which will cost nothing more than Rs 50.

Main Attraction: Visit for a lesser crowded beach that will make it a good experience and an occasional game of cricket or football.

Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram Photo Credits: wikipedia.org
Shore Temple at Mahabalipuram Photo Credits: wikipedia.org

6. Mahabalipuram
If you’re in Chennai, you have to visit the lesser known temple town of Mahabalipuram situated less than two hours from the city. While it may make you cringe that a temple town is not your cup of tea, the tiny place buzzing with activity will surprise you. Known for its temple architecture, Mahabalipuram attracts a crowd that definitely crosses a few thousands every day. A market selling various stone and granite souvenirs are available there for reasonable prices. Lunch can be had at Moonrakers, one of the best restaurants in the town. A one-day trip is all you need to see Mahabalipuram.

How to get there: Get down at Thiruvanmiyur railway station and walk 10 minutes to the Thiruvanmiyur bus depot to board any bus to Mahabalipuram that appears every 30 minutes.

Main Attraction: Temple architecture

Streets in Pondicherry
A street in Pondicherry

7. Pondicherry
Prepare to be amazed when you are in Pondy, the more I say is less for this once-French colony not very far away from Chennai. Not more than four hours away, this place is perfect for a weekend getaway when you are in Chennai. For more details, read Pondicherry Travels.

How to get there: Get down at Thiruvanmiyur railway station and walk 10 minutes to the Thiruvanmiyur bus depot to board any bus to Pondicherry that appears every 30 minutes.

Main Attraction: Paradise Beach for the breathtaking view, Café Xtasi for wood-fired pizzas and Café Satsangha for French and Italian food.

P.S. All the above places have been selected from my experiences and visits to them. Hope it helps people travelling to Chennai.

The Mystery Train In Mumbai

A peak-hour train that shocked everybody

The Mystery train Photo Credits: railnews.co.in
The Mystery train Photo Credits: railnews.co.in

Not often do you find an empty train going towards Virar during peak hours in the evening, do you? But last evening was different! I left a little later from work and was going to board a reasonably better train on a Friday night because I did not want to be the victim of constant bickering in the train.

I usually have to take two trains to reach home and so I was prepared for nothing but a packed train at Elphinstone Road but alas, I was rather greeted by an empty train by Mumbai standards which was more spacious than ever. Seeing an empty train going towards Virar in Mumbai is like a dream come true for most of us, I must say.

Now, this train that I boarded turned out to be a slow train towards Virar, but only just before till Nallasopara. A train of this sort does not run at around 7 pm in the evening so empty as to allow cross ventilation in it. I leapt with joy at the possibility of having a comfortable journey at that hour.

After asking around I got to know that it was a new train introduced last evening and nobody knew about it. What followed next was puzzled looks from people at every station as nobody knew why the train going to towards Virar was empty. While many entered, many were skeptical about entering it too.

An interesting conversation took place between two men sitting around me explaining the situation

Man 1: Accha train he, maine risk leke enter kiya, agar Kandivali tak pahucha deti he toh acha he nahi toh main beech me kidhar utar jaunga. Baithne ko mil gaya woh achi baat he, nahi toh Borivali train mein Kandivali utarna bahut mushkil he.

Man 2: Yeh train ko regular banana chahiye. 6:45 pm aur 8 pm ke beech mein bahut bheed hoti he, safar karna mushkil ho jata he.

Well, that is how important trains are to people in Mumbai and especially on the Western line. One mysterious empty train on a particular day and people are left flabbergasted. If we need to escape the crowd, it’s high time that trains be on time in the city which will eliminate the risk of numerous fights and accidents that occur on a daily basis. Indian Railways should make proper announcements at every station rather than making other unnecessary developments like even more spacious trains. What are we going to do with spacious trains when the crowd keeps increasing on a daily basis?

The Broken Bridge In Chennai

A jewel hidden beyond Besant Nagar beach

Broken Bridge in Besant Nagar Picture Courtesy: mediatimez.com
Broken Bridge in Besant Nagar          Picture Courtesy: mediatimez.com

Studying a post-graduate degree in journalism can sometimes take a toll on you. Though we are a bunch of dedicated aspiring journalists, we sometimes did replace the routine on-field reporting with our late-night escapade.

My penchant for travelling gets me excited at the thought of going out anywhere than the usual places. In Chennai, the closest beach to our college was the one at Besant Nagar and so that was the usual getaway on days we needed to unwind.

On one particular day with a few friends sharing the same sentiment we set out towards the beach for a walk but since we had time on our hands, one of them suggested we visit this certain ‘Broken Bridge‘ which is rumored to be haunted. It went beyond the extent of the beach and the only way to access it was a winding narrow grass-filled path that lead to a bridge that went on for almost 200 metres till it led to nowhere but water that was at least 10 feet below the bridge.

With a name like that, the bridge would definitely attract visitors and so the aspect of exploring it attracted us too. We set out past the beach towards the bridge and came to the fisherman village on the beach where the fishermen were busy drinking their beers over a game of Carrom while harmlessly abusing each other after emptying their bottle. There was another group of fishermen sitting on a large wood board singing into the night with beers in their hand while one of them gave the beat with a drum-like instrument and sang along with his fellow fishermen.

While the men sat down and relaxed after their catch, we saw that the women were busy cooking dinner for them and the aroma of a simple meal of dal and rice filled the air building my appetite for the need of a wholesome meal which I hadn’t been able to eat since I had started staying in a hostel.

They all looked at us curiously and suspiciously as well but we just stayed close for the fear of being questioned or robbed; but none of that happened.

After we passed the village din, it was like as if we had entered another land altogether, away from the cacophony of one’s life on the go, we escaped into a surreal quiet with only the sound of four pairs of legs trudging on dried grass. There was a path but it looked unused, as if covering up tracks of anybody who went there. A cool breeze passed by ever so often along with a chill that actually spoke about the upcoming winters. On the left was a high wall running till almost the start of the bridge and we wondered what was on the other side. We did see a door soon and just hoped that if we ever crossed over to the other side it would look something like a scene from the Chronicles of Narnia!

We soon reached the end of the road and to the start of the bridge and what a sight it was! A multitude of stars adorned the inky blue sky that covered the expanse of water beyond our line of vision and among all of it was the Broken Bridge, sitting there mysteriously with a jagged edge. We walked for about 200 metres passing empty beer bottles before reaching the broken edge to disgustedly see all of Chennai’s waste flow into the waters and pollute it with their presence.

In the distance, we saw the inaccessible identical twin of our side of the bridge and hoped that it would never be repaired because Chennai needed a quiet place like it.

A visit to the Broken Bridge in Chennai is a must if can evade the police guarding on most nights.

Best time to visit it would be at sunrise and sunset.

Pondicherry Travels

A French colony that boasts of its beaches, architecture and food

french colony-compressed
French Colony Pic Courtesy: Anupama Mallajosyula

If you’re in Chennai, Pondicherry should be on your to-do list.

A three hour journey from the city, you can board the local MTC bus that starts every half an hour at Madhya Kailash bus stand near Kasturbai Nagar railway station. It also stops at Thiruvanmiyur bus depot before taking off on the road.

The vibrant pink and blue roadside apartments are soon substituted for earthy coloured local as well as french houses that resonate the beauty of the once French Colony.

You also immediately get transported to a foreign land when you see easy-going middle-aged foreigners (now locals) cycling their way through the narrow by-lanes. An occasional yellow Vespa is the only traffic, as it cruises through the French residential areas contrary to the local busy tourist-hounding money-making tamilian zooming past you on a scooterette in the tamil-dominated localities of Pondy.

It is nothing more than a weekend getaway as you will have seen most of the colourful town, by evening the next day.

Chicken Pizza at Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street
Chicken Pizza at Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street

Apart from the French colony, Pondicherry is also a place for foodies to treat their innermost gastronomical desires. Cafe Xtasi on Mission Street is a must if you like pizzas. The dimly lit pizza place serves an almost 24 inch firewood oven baked pizza along with 60’s music, the crowd starts trickling in by lunch and goes on till late in the night. It’s a great place to be.

Prawn Pasta at Satsanga - A French Resataurant
Prawn Pasta at Satsanga – A French Resataurant

Satsanga is another place that one should try. The French restaurant is situated on La Bourdonnais Street in the interiors of the little town. A dimly-lit restaurant, the chandeliers portray a cozy atmosphere for both family as well as friends. I particularly ordered a prawn pasta which was way beyond my expectations and totally did justice to the money paid which came up to a reasonable Rs 500 without alcohol.

Last but not the least, though overrated, Paradise beach, is situated a little away from the mainland and can be accessed by two ways – by ferry and by road, though they are separated by a rope and a watchful lifeguard. The ferry is a better option as it helps to escape the blazing sun by sailing through for  20 minutes before reaching the beach.

Paradise Beach
Paradise Beach

The beach is a good place but hospitality is disappointing as you cannot sit around in the shacks if you’re not going to eat anything at their small over-priced counters serving fish. We were immediately told to find some place else even though there was nobody waiting for a seat. It did not happen at one place but in fact two before we decided to walk back to the ferry line.

The best part about Pondicherry is cheap alcohol and the French colony. Alcohol starts at a mere Rs 60 for a beer can and can be guzzled down almost instantly before the heat gets to you.

A two day trip can cost between Rs. 2,500 – Rs 3,000 per person and should definitely be on a traveller’s bucket list in India.

(P.S. – The above opinions and experiences are mine alone and can differ from person to person, do not take it as the law)

Happy travelling! 😀

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