Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Temple of the Mother (Maatri Mandir) - Varanasi

 The above picture is of the Maatri Mandir  (Temple of the Mother) at Manikarnika ghat in Varanasi (Banaras, Kashi). The temple which reminds of the leaning tower of Pisa (more info on:  has an extremely interesting story to it.

A son from the east state of India - West Bengal was very poor, dependent only on his mother throughout his youth. He could not do anything for his mother while she was alive. After her death, though, he became rich and planned to construct a temple to pay back all what his mother had done for him.

Soon after the temple was constructed, it started leaning and tilted to one side as can be seen above in the picture I have taken. The lesson being that "no one can ever repay the debt of his/her mother".

A lovely story indeed!!

Varanasi is full of stories like these. It is one of the oldest cities of the world and hence if you sit down to chat up with locals there, they will flood you with numerous stories like these. Believe me you, every ghat, every historical building and every narrow street of Varanasi has a story(ies) to it,

To know more about ghats of varanasi read this post:

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Story of Dashashwamedh Ghat in Varanasi

During my visit to Varanasi, I was fortunate to have heard a few stories about the ghats of Varanasi from the locals themselves. This is something I love about Indian cities. All cities have tonnes of stories to tell - all linked to the religious places and temples.

The most prominent of 80 odd ghats of Varanasi is the Dashashwamedha ghat. Ganga Pooja happens everyday on this ghat. When I checked as to how the ghat got it's name, the story which goes like this was narrated to me:

Brahma Deva (Lord Brahma) did Ashwamedha Yagna on the very place to welcome Lord Shiva. During the yagna he sacrificed ten horses - hence the word "Dasa" which put together with Ashwamedha gives us Dashashwamedha.

The Dashashwamedha ghat is the most prominent and the most beautiful of Banaras ghats. Priests perform agni pooja every evening and the atmosphere is extremely magical. A must visit during the evenings.

The Holy City of Banaras

It was Deja vu for me! Going back to Varanasi (Kashi or Banaras or Benaras.. whatever you like) after a gap of 12 long years... and it was a life changing trip for sure...

Varanasi takes it's name from two rivers - Varuna and Assi which flow through Banaras and join in to Ganga which is the lifeline for the city. Of course the other lifeline is my Alma Mater - Banaras Hindu University now also renamed as Kashi Hindu University!

This was a business trip I was supposed to be on but turned out to be a soul searching trip for me! There is something about Banaras, about the ghats, the narrow lanes, the timeless existence of the city that feels spiritual in itself. No it's not about the hundred thousand temples which occupy the city.. that's the commercial part... it's the history and more history around the city which encapsulates one!

Some pics below of the ghats of Banaras.. hope you enjoy them

The pics are taken from my Mi3 phone camera (13mp).. oh how I wished I should have taken my SLR..

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bali Indonesia

I am writing again after a long time again. Now I have a 2 year old son. :)
We as a family visited the beautiful island of Bali in Indonesia in Feb-Mar 2014. Its been over a year but the memories are still as fresh.

We took an Air India flight from Mumbai to Singapore and then onwards to Bali by Tigerair. Since the stopover in Singapore was just 3-4 hours and we reached in the morning, we had enough time to freshen up and had a hearty breakfast at the comfortable and large Singapore airport. Bali is about 2 hrs away from Singapore and once we boarded the plane, we were super excited to reach Bali.

For Indians and most nationalities, the visa is on arrival for Bali. The visa cost for us at the time was $25 per person (approx. Rs 1500). The immigration process was fairly simple and soon we were out of the airport. The first thing we did as soon as we collected our baggage was to convert the USD we had to Indonesia Rupiah. I must warn you though, at the current rates 1 USD = 13000 Indonesia Rupiah approx. So you need to do your maths right because suddenly you will feel like a millionaire or a billionaire!! :) You can check the latest exchange rates here though:
I generally use xe to check exchange rates before travel.

Few Tips once you land in Bali:

1. Get some currency exchanged at the airport since you will need it straight away to pay for a taxi. If you do not, the taxi may rip you off on the exchange rate. Also the exchange rates at the hotels are generally same or worse than that at the airport.
2. Book a taxi from the official prepaid taxi counters if you haven't already booked through your hotel. Do not talk to many of the taxi drivers waiting outside because many of them will charge you much more and even later on ask for baggage charges extra (i.e. extra money per bag) once you reach your destination.

Bali is one of the provinces in Indonesia. In fact it is the only province which is predominantly hindu population in an otherwise muslim country. It's one of the most diverse island that I have seen. Its about 1.5 hrs flight from Jakarta, 2.5 hrs from Singapore and 3 hrs from Perth and about 4.5 hrs from HK. The Bali airport is called as Denpasar (DPS).

Best Season to visit
June to Oct is the best season to visit Bali. The weather is dry and cool - best for any sort of outdoor activities or strolling along the beaches. Rainy season is from Oct to Mar. This time of the year can be avoided, although you may get really good hotel deals during this period. Take your call. In case you are on budget travel - would suggest Oct and March as the month's to travel to Bali. The tourist season is just starting and if you are lucky, you may get a good weather.

There's a lot to do in Bali with activities including water sports, fishing, relaxing on the beach or playing beach sports, visit to various ancient temples (a must) and shopping among others. more to come on this in another post...

Where to Stay

Bali has many beautiful hotels and resorts across various places - Kuta (the party place), Jimbaran (the serene and quite place), Nusa Dua (beautiful beach), Ubud (close to nature and perfect for shopping) among others. If you are young (at heart) and party animal, would suggest you to stay at Kuta. If you are peace loving and need a quite place to stay, then Jimbaran or Ubud are the places to stay. If you need a luxury stay with a private beach, them Nusa Dua is the place to go. There are umpteen number of hotels in these areas. So take your pick.

We stayed in two hotels in Bali. First two days were spent in a small boutique hotel in Jimbaran - The Astari Villa & Residences. Its a small hotel with large rooms. It is so small, it almost seemed to be a private hotel with a private swimming pool. The breakfast was being served at the pool side. They also have a drop facility to the city center. The best part is that its cost efficient. We got a room with breakfast for approx. 60 USD.

The other hotel we stayed in was The Pullman at Kuta for three days. It has a infinity pool overlooking the Kuta beach. Standard 5 star rooms. Superb spread of breakfast. Its situated on the main beach road and the shops are also close by.

I would highly recommend both the hotels.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hong Kong - Places to See and Things to Do!

We reached Hong Kong (HK) through the Hong Kong Ferry Terminal since we had taken a boat from Macau. The ride was long and a little rough because of the weather but in all it took about an hour to reach Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Ferry Terminal is close to the Hong Kong - Central MTR station and also close to the Sheung Wan station where our hotel was. We took a small, very comfy hotel in the middle of Sheung Wan, walking distance from the MTR station and close to all the tourist places in HK.

The problem with HK hotels is that because of scarcity of space, the hotels are very expensive and the rooms very small. We came from Macau were we had a huge room and equally big bathroom in Venetian. But the hotels in HK have very small rooms. So be prepared for it. They will be smaller than your imagination. So much on the hotels...

Once you are settled in your hotel, get a MTR map and get going. MTR is fast and best way to negotiate HK. You dont want to waste your precious time stuck in slow moving Hong Kong traffic. You can go in for Octopus card as well as we did its very convenient as you dont need to buy tickets at different stations. It works very well every where and you can also pick up stuff at the various convenient stores and bakeries at the stations. You are always on the go with the Octopus card.

As an option in local travel taxis are inexpensive and easily available in HK also because distances are not much. So if you are not a metro person do oblige yourself and move in a taxi.

Now as you are settled with your Octopus card, where to go and what to do? right... so here I go with my list of Top 5 must see places in HK:

1) The Peak - The view from The Peak is amazing specially at night. You have to be there. Best is to take the tram and get to the peak by evening. Return you can take a cab or still take a tram back. Note that you may have to wait a long time for the tram though on weekends. Thrill loving guys can also trek their way up to the tram. Here's a pic (though not very good).

The Peak Tram station: on Garden Road. Closest MTR: Central. It is short walk away from Central. It operates 7 am to midnight and leaves every 10-15 mins. The peak tram return ticket along with the sky terrace ticket is HK$56 for adults. Peak Tram return + Sky Terrace + Madame Tussauds is HK$200 per adult. So take your pick. My recommendation, you can skip the Sky Terrace. Madam Tussauds on its own is HK$160.

2) Ocean Park - You must do Ocean Park when in HK. Ocean Park is Bird Sanctuary + Thrill Rides + Kids Amusement Park + Panda Conservation + Dolphin Show all rolled into one. It is extreme fun and you need full one day to cover it. And I haven't even started on the long escalators which are difficult to find anywhere else, the train from one park to another and the beautiful cable car ride. Yes you can get all this and more at ocean park. Here are a few pics of the ocean park:

Park Timings are 10 am to 6 pm on most days. The ticket is HK$250 per adult. The Best route is to take Bus no. 629 from outside of Admirality MTR station. There are buses from Tsim Sha Tsui (City Bus no. 973) and Kowloon (KMB no. 107).
Remember: Do find out the the timings of Dolphin show as soon as you reach ocean park. Also you must reach the amphitheater for the show at least 30 mins before to get a good seat. It will be important. A good seat is close to the pool and as center as possible.

3) DisneyLand - Of course you cannot come back from HK without going to Disneyland if you have not been to one before. But more on Disneyland in a separate post.

4) Stanley Market - On the outskirts of HK. Stanley beach is one of the best beaches in HK. Stanley village is a small fishing village near HK which is now one of the prime real estate piece of land. A distinctly European style market and another Chinese flea market are the biggest attractions of Stanley. I would highly recommend you to go.

How to reach?: Closest MTR is Chai Wan. Take exit C and catch a Green Minibus 16M.

5) Lan Kwoi Fong - HK's party area is quite distinct. Its a small street with a mix of British and Asia style pubs and clubs. People come down after office hours to have a drink with friends. You must go to the place. Its quite a party on weekends when the traffic is closed on the street and people walk/sit/drink on the street itself. We went there twice and had a great time. Just take a chilled bear and sit and relax. Enjoy the atmosphere!

That was my top5 must do must see places in HK.

More on Disneyland and a lot of pictures in the next post.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hong Kong - Macau

Long time since I have written a travel blog now. Not that I was not traveling, but it was mostly business trips - short and extremely packed. Therefore no time for being a tourist. Finally went on a trip to Hong Kong and Macau for a vacation and what time we had!

Macau, also known as Las Vegas of East is not quite there, yet! But it will soon be, if you have to believe what locals say and see it with your own eyes - the amount of construction happening in Macau. Super luxury hotels, casinos, neon lights, amazing shows and beautiful people - Macau has it all! plus it also has charm of an old Portuguese colony. But we will come to that later.

We took the Kingfisher flight from Mumbai 11:30 PM and landed at the beautiful and huge HK airport in the morning 8:00 AM. We had planned to go straight to Macau from the Airport. There is a ferry port right at the airport itself to take you to Macau or HK island or Mainland China.

We took the turbojet ferry ( The first ferry to Macau was at 10:00 AM and our luggage was directly checked-in to the ferry. i.e., we did not collect our checked-in baggage at the airport. When we bought the ferry ticket at the ferry ticketing counter, we simply showed our flight checked-in baggage tickets to them which they took and issued us new check-in baggage tickets for the ferry. The baggage was directly transferred from the flight to the ferry.

The ferry reached Macau at 11:00 AM and after immigration, we collected our baggage.
We had booked into Hotel Venetian ( This is a must stay if you are going to Macau. Venetian has airport and ferry pickups and drops. There was a Venetian bus waiting to pick the guests arriving by ferry. The bus took 10 mins to reach the hotel.

The check-in time at Venetian is 3 PM and we reached at 12:00 noon. But the staff was very courteous. They requested us to wait for at least 1:00 PM for check-in as room cleaning was in progress. In the meanwhile they told us to visit the Grand Canal Shopping area. Grand Canal Shopping area has been built on lines of Venice, the city of Canals in Italy, hence the name of hotel as Venetian. The staff took care of our luggage and we went ahead to visit the shopping area. Few pictures of the shopping area will give you an idea as to what I mean:

Venetian as the name suggests is a hotel based on the theme of the city of Venice in Italy. There are canals made and a fantastic shopping, activity and eat out area designed along the canals. You can even take Gondola rides in the canals.
Of course Venetian is famous for its Casino and you must play a little to experience the thrill... but only a little because very few people end up winning and if you are winning, move on, collect your money and get out fast.

You dont need to worry about food in Venetian. It has a fantastic food court which serves variety of cuisines.. from Chinese to Italian to Fast food and even Indian. You can also get plenty of vegetarian options. For those of you who are health conscious there are a couple of options as well. So the food court is well covered and serves everyone.

Useful Tip: The Four Seasons hotel and Venetian are interconnected and the Four Seasons is less expensive than the Venetian. So you can stay at the Four Seasons and yet take all the advantages of the Ventian.

Next up... Hong Kong!

Monday, April 6, 2009

London - Free Attractions

There are lots of things to do in London. You can really spend months in this city without ever visiting the same place twice. There is so much to see and do. But the best part is that a lot of attractions are free and a lot of what is free is also what is the best London has to offer.

Most major museums in London are free. They don’t charge a penny to visit them. Here’s the best of them –

1. The British Museum

If there is one place in the world where you can look at the history of the entire world from a cultural perspective, it is here is the British Museum. From ancient Greece temples to Egyptian Mummies and parts of Egyptian Pyramids to artefacts, clothing’s etc from Asia, Americas, Europe and Africa, this place will never cease to amaze you. With one of the most wonderful library in its premises it is truly a complete package for a traveller and a knowledge seeker.

Address: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG; Tel: 020 7323 8000

How to Reach?

Tube: Tottenham Court Road (Central and Northern lines), Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines), Russell Square (Piccadilly line) and Goodge Street (Northern line) stations

Bus: 1, 7, 8, 19, 25, 38, 55, 98, 242 Stop on New Oxford Street; 10, 14, 24, 29, 73, 134, 390

Stop on Tottenham Court Road, northbound and Gower Street, southbound; 59, 68, X68, 91, 168, 188 Stop on Southampton Row

2. Science Museum

One of the most entertaining museum’s in Europe, Science Museum offers a wonderful and exciting time to travellers. From history of science and space travel to Simulators to Imax studio the museum has a lot to offer. Entry to the museum is free but there are charges for Imax and Simulators.

Address: Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2DD; Tel: 020 0870 4868

How to Reach?

Tube: South Kensington station (Circle, District and Piccadilly lines)

Bus: Routes 14, 49, 70, 74, 345, 360, 414, 430 and C1 stop outside South Kensington station

3. RAF Museum

The Royal Air Force Museum is dedicated to the bravery of the British Air Force. There are a lot of aircraft on display with weapons used by these. In addition the uniforms, photographs on display and a sound and light show make it a great place to visit. The museum is open from Monday to Sunday 10.00 AM to 18.00 PM with free entrance and parking.

Address: Grahame Park Way, London, NW9 5LL; Tel: 020 8205 2266

How to Reach?

Tube: Colindale Underground on the Edgware branch of the Northern Line. Please alight at Colindale, not Hendon Central. Colindale is in Zone 4.

Bus: Route 303

4. Kenwood House

Also known as Iveagh Bequest, hangs the world famous art collections. Besides you can explore the parkland and lakeside walks. The entry is free and it is open daily from 11.30 AM to 16.00 PM except on Christmas and New Year.

Address: Hampstead Lane, London, NW3 7JR; Tel: 020 8348 1286

How to Reach?

Tube: Archway (Northern line) and Golders Green (Northern line-Edgware branch) - then the 210 bus, Hampstead Heath (London Over ground line) - 1.5 miles

5. Sir John Soane’s Museum

Sir John Soane’s former house has been converted into a museum housing his antique collectibles from around the world. The museum entrance is free and is open from Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 AM to 17.00 PM

Address: 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, WC2A 3BP; Tel: 020 7405 2107

How to Reach?

Tube: Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines)

6. The Geffrye Museum

Geffrye Museum is one of the hidden gems of London. Not very popular with the tourists, The Geffrye Museum houses the history of English interior design since 1600. It contains a series of period rooms reflecting the changing decor of English homes since last 5 centuries. The entry is free and it is open from Tuesday to Saturday 10.00 AM to 5.00 PM. Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays 12.00 PM to 5.00 PM

Address: 136 Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, E2 8EA; Tel: 020 7739 9893

How to Reach?

Tube: Liverpool Street (Central, Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines), then bus 149 or 242, Old Street-exit 2 (Northern line), then bus 243 or a 15 minute walk.

Buses: 149, 242, 243, 67, 394

7. The National Gallery

The National Gallery located at the famous Trafalgar Square in London was founded in 1824 and has a collection of more than 2000 paintings. The gallery came into being when the House of Commons in 1824 agreed to pay £57,000 for a collection of 38 paintings of the banker John Julius Angerstein. Hence the gallery was constructed and pictures displayed in it. Since then the collection has increased many folds and houses some of the finest and rarest pictures found in Western Europe.

The Gallery is open all days from 10 AM to 6 PM and on Wednesdays from 10 AM to 9 PM. The entry is free for all.

Address: Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN

How to Reach?

Tube: Charing Cross (Northern and Bakerloo lines), Leicester Square (Northern and Piccadilly lines), Embankment (Northern, Bakerloo, District and Circle lines)

Buses: Buses around Trafalgar Square 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 23, 24, 29, 53, 77A, 88, 91, 139, 159, 176, 453

8. Changing of the Guards

You can watch the Changing of the Guards ceremony, free of cost, outside the Buckingham Palace. To see the ceremony be there at 11.00 AM but make sure to check beforehand if the ceremony is taking place on that particular day. You can check it out here

How to Reach?

Tube: Victoria (Circle, District and Victoria lines), Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines), St James’s Park (Circle and District lines) or Hyde Park Corner (Piccadilly line)

9. Ceremony of the Keys

The ceremony happens at the Tower of London every evening and is free but you have to make reservations beforehand through a written application. Since only a few people can be part of the ceremony hence you need to apply about 2 months in advance.

There are many Museums in London as are in most of major European cities. But really, there is lot more to London than just museums and galleries. I do not bother to give you details of all the museums in London. I suggest you plan your stay in London so that you cover important museums and yet have a lot of time to do hundreds of other things there are to do.

Address: Tower Hill, London, EC3N 4AB; Tel: 020 7488 5663

How to Reach?

Tube: Tower Hill Station (Circle and District lines)

10. Hyde Park

Hyde Park is London’s finest and one of the most famous historical landscape’s. Covering 350 Acres of park land, it is the most ideal place to spend a picnic day out with the family. Start early, pack a nice heavy English breakfast and set out for Hyde Park with your family. With more than 4000 trees, a beautiful lake and meadow, Hyde Park is all set to take your breath apart.

Apart from this, Hyde Park also hosts a lot of actors, comedians, performers who come and perform for free. You can also take part in discussions and debates on various topics with a lot of people who are more than willing to chat with you.

For children, there are horse rides and bird feeding.

How to Reach?

Tube: There are 5 tube stations around the edges of Hyde Park. Hyde Park Corner and Knightsbridge stations (Piccadilly line), Queensway, Lancaster Gate and Marble Arch stations (Central line), Bayswater (Circle and District lines) is also close to Queensway station

Buses: From North London: 6, 7, 10, 16, 52, 73, 82, 390, 414; South London: 2, 36, 137, 436; West London: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 148, 414; East London: 8, 15, 30, 38, 274

11. Regent’s Park

The Regent's Park covering 410 Acres has both open parkland and spectacular formal gardens, including the stunning Rose Garden with more than 400 varieties of roses. The park is home to a wide variety of sports activities as well as other interesting activities such as a boating in its large lake and an open air theatre. Regent’s Park is also home to the London Zoo. It is open from 5 AM until dusk.

Regent’s Park is also a great place for picnic. In addition, it is a nice place to rest your feet while exploring London. Tourist Attractions near Regent’s Park include London Planetarium and Madame Tussaud’s.

How to Reach?

Tube: Regent's Park (Bakerloo line), Great Portland Street (Hammersmith & City, Circle & Metropolitan lines), Baker Street (Hammersmith & City, Circle, Jubilee, Metropolitan & Bakerloo lines), St John's Wood (Jubilee line), Camden Town (Northern line) tube stations

Bus: 2, 13, 18, 27, 30, 74, 82, 113, 139, 189, 274, 453

12. St James Park

St James's Park is at the very heart of London covering 58 Acres. It is often used for ceremonial and national occasions. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Palace and St James’s Palace skirt the St James Park. Hence in addition to being an attraction in itself, the park is also a great resting place while visiting any/ all of the above palaces.

How to Reach?

Tube: St. James's Park (District and Circle lines), Charing Cross Station (Northern, Bakerloo, BR lines), Westminster (Jubilee, District & Circle lines), Green Park (Piccadilly, Victoria & Jubilee lines), Victoria - Victoria, Circle & District, BR lines

Buses: 3, 11, 12, 24, 29, 53, 77a, 88, 91, 148, 159, 211, 453