From the road less travelled to the most stumbled one – LEH

I looked up at the river flowing down blue

It pointed at the peak of the mountain high,

covered with tonnes of damp white snow hue

Got speechlessly stuck at the azure clear sky.

Every time someone brings it up, that’s the kind of visual most of them imagine. Had read a lot about the place, and had wanted to be there to see for myself what it actually meant when people screamed in awe at the slight mention of the place. So, when our colleagues suggested way back in the summer of 2017 that we should do it together, I agreed to it at the drop of a hat. That is where it all started. A journey which not just changed my perspective on many things around, but the people too. So off we took in air from Hyderabad to Delhi by Air and reached by road via Manali and from there onto the lap of the warmest snow mountains.

One trip where we had tried almost all kinds of commute from Air, water to road. From flights in the air, bikes, taxis, tempo travellers, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on road, River rafts, rope sliding, boat rides on water and not to forget the camel ride, which I am not too proud off to write about though, but couldn’t resist wondering with a place which is all about sand dunes and surrounded by snow mountains, offering camel rides is a major occupation of many locals here who believe it not only adds up to their tourist attraction but takes it to a complete next level. I guess even the Animal Protection folks will be offered rides may be for free if ever they turn up this far.

The most controversial part of our trip was Khardungla Pass Enroute from Let to Nubra Valley. Controversial because it is falsely claimed as the highest motorable road or passes in the world by the anonymous of course, most of whom have been there to believe it to be true. We also believed it back then and had a sense of achievement standing at that very point. Almost felt the same as a 5 year old who has conquered his first ever bike (bicycle) ride in the street across his home. Thanks, not just to Wiki Naani and Google Daadi, but those umpteen mountaineers and trekkers who have actually been to the highest motorable roads / passes in the world. But what is more interesting is the pass. If you are ever travelling by any such passes, beware of landslides, unforeseen rain which can cause the snow to melt, random snow fall which can block you from going ahead even an inch adding the risk of getting stuck in nowhere with a pool of strangers around you seemingly trying to get out of this crisis but enjoying every moment of being stuck there.

We then visited the Jampa (Maitreya) Buddha statue which is located in the Diskit monastery in Nubra Valley. Must say, it was the most peaceful place that I had ever visited. Unlike our temples down south or up north, the monasteries somehow bring in the best of us, at least for that moment. Maitreya Buddha is said to be the bodhisattva who will appear on Earth to achieve complete enlightenment and teach pure dharma. Also known as the successor to the present Gautam Buddha according to scriptures. It is a different feeling totally. Imagine when we were kids, our grannies used to tell us stories of the Lords and the holy ones in the past and here we get to tell our grandies about the future Buddha. The statue, a 32 feet long one is no less than a spectacle itself. May the buddha provide enlightenment to all of those who have visited the statue. Wishfulness. Must say. Apart from the Buddha statue, if there is something that you must visit if you are a culture enthusiast is the stores that exhibit and sell souvenirs, mostly Tibetian. Truly mind blowing.

I am sure you all must be wondering by now if we went to that place where the iconic climax scene of the movie 3 Idiots was shot. Yes. Pangong Tso (Lake), as it is less popularly known, is a one of a kind place to be. A lake that is about 140 kms away from Leh, a third of which is in India and the rest two – thirds in Tibet. A lake that can come up with all the colours of rainbow without an actual rainbow in the clear sky above. A lake that can show you almost 6 different shades of blue as you travel along side it. Defining blue as it is. May be if we start conducting our cricket matches here, our team will also truly bleed blue (pun intended).

Statutory Warning: It comes as a place where one feels that one’s life is wasted if one cannot capture this erotic beauty in pictures and videos. But before that, please remember that you have folks to get back to back home in single piece as humans and not as snow struck rock holders!

From this erotic lake we headed straight to Srinagar via Kargil and Sonmarg, witnessing the Zojilla pass or the Zero point -known for temperatures as good as Zero degrees most of the times. One place where all you can do is sit inside your vehicle hoping for the route ahead to be clear and praying that you don’t get caught in the wrath of the temperature there. Oh! and there is a particular time slot here, only in which one can enter or exit through the pass. If you miss it, you got to wait in your vehicle only to be frozen before you go dead.

Reaching Srinagar was like home, well almost. The whether there was normal, food normal, people around normal, natural beauty normal. We stayed there a day before we boarded our flight back home. We got around to the best human practice ever possible on earth – SHOPPING and that too in the beautiful waters of DAL lake. Could spend the whole day riding around, stopping other boats, bargaining on trivial pieces of jewellery, spices, bags, souvenirs of walnut wood and what not. We also paid a visit to the (in)famous Shiva temple – Shakaracharya. 243 steps which feel like 1000 or more after one has climbed them, leading one to the temple area make it seem no less than a penance to reach the Lord himself. Unfortunately for us (Or should I say fortunately) there had been a massive terrorist shoot out just about 15 kms away from the temple, a week before we had been there which solved the mystery of too many army clad personnel there. Probably triple security. Not sure if the presence of so many army personnel staring at you weirdly was more scarier or the fact that there was still a threat of another possible attack. Nevertheless, safe is how we reached back home.

Overall, it was a trip to be remembered, cherished and brooded over later. Sharing few random clicks of our memories.

  • Places – Hyderabad – Delhi – Manali – Leh – Zanskar – Leh – Khardungla Pass – Nubra Valley – Diskit – Hunder – Leh – Pangong Tso – Zero Point (Kargil) – Sonmarg – Srinagar – Hyderabad.
  • Location – Kashmir, India
  • Entry Ticket – RISK. Enter at your own risk.
  • Eateries – Staple food is Maggie and Omelettes. And if you are not used to it then the only other option is TIG (Trust In GOD)!!!

Lessons from my SNOW COLD trip

  1. Be well planned and totally prepared at what’s in store for you ahead. But make way for surprises on the path like land slides, snow storms, snow melting rainfall. After all it is the journey that matters and not the destination.
  2. You might be travelling from one place to another mostly during the days and be reaching tents only in the nights. Take time out to have fun with your gang with food, games or just a walk along side the road.
  3. When in Leh, do have a round of the local market and indulge yourself in some bargaining and shopping. Best place for souvenirs like shawls, carpets and even silver ware. Do remember you have flight to catch before you tuck in half the market.
  4. Make sure you spend time speaking to locals there. There might not be much to do apart from travelling, eating or taking pictures. Cannot rely on the network or wi – fi signals. Besides, turns out they are as human as we are. May not be as smart or intelligent as us though, but definitely human.
  5. Do not wander away alone from your gang / team unless of course you are travelling solo. Also, would not recommend it for adults below 10 and kids above 50. It would then be hard for you to choose from either handling them or falling down form one of the highest peaks of a snow mountain with no clue of where you might land.
  6. If you get stuck somewhere during the travel after sunset, without second thoughts, plant yourself at a nearest place overnight. For all that you know, you might turn out to be a distant relative of our very own Columbus and discover a new route, place or may be just a new day. Blah!!! Plan gone for a toss again. Rewrite it. Reschedule it. Redo it. You are the boss.
  7. Keep yourself hydrated during travel. You don’t have to wait for the snow to melt to drink it. You can always try out the different varieties of tea offered here. Or for someone like me may be a hot cup of Maggie soup, the local brew Chaang (Barley Liquor) or the Aaraaka (Rice Liquor) would do. I should have tried knocking the doors of locals for a taste of the brew. May be next time.
  8. All those hard core Non Vegetarians should try and focus on Maggie and Omelettes instead when on the go. We had to travel 3 – 4 days before we could smell chicken at a local restaurant. One good thing, if you are lucky enough and the store is not crowded, you get to custom make your own Maggie / Omelette and they, do not think twice before offering their kitchen to you. So overwhelmingly welcome.
  9. We should take care we do not ruin their near nature life into a litterati, specially with all our plastic.
  10. It is completely alright to enjoy the view from inside of your vehicle. You don’t have to get down at every point to snap pictures or take videos. It is better to have memories and experiences rather than pictures and videos to talk about your trip. Might as well turn out that your photo becomes a memory for the rest of your gang. This, after 785 pictures and a near to death experience.
  11. AMS. Acute Mountain Sickness. Give yourself at least 2 – 3 days time for acclimatisation during your 10 – 12 day trip. Laze around. Shop around. Walk around. Sneak around. Worth the try.

My first ever SOLO

I walked into the warm embrace of nature…..

Not knowing what it had in store for me…….

I am, but still walking clueless of my future……

Never ceasing to be surprised by thee….

It all started one fine day when after having heard and read about stories on ‘Solo travels’, I decided to hit on one may be just for the heck of it. And after too much of contemplation, hesitation, deliberation and many other ‘tions, I ended up with this place, after all it does call for a toast when you are adding another year of life onto your calendar. Here I was for the toast on turning an year older, two years back.

Situated in Pune district, near the borders of Thane and Ahmednagar says Wiki Naani about Malshej Ghat – a mountain pass in the Western Ghats range. A very rare combination of brown, green and blue of course. The idea was to spend my birthday in Shirdi, my evergreen favourite place to hang out and then may be hop around a little. What more could you ask for than the coolest darshan and a treat to almost 1000 people together at the Bhojanalay. Felt like they had all come down just to celebrate my birthday. It was the very next day, that I visited the Malshej – a great beginning to the year that went by.

How I got there is no less interesting than the visit itself. After consulting Wiki Naani and Google Daadi about this place, I figured out that I would be needing the support from locals and went knocking on to every face that looked local enough, quizzing about this place and how to get there. Most of them were either not aware of this place or were skeptical to share the details with a single lady who wanted to venture out all alone to Malshej from Shirdi. Few even cared to ask me if everything was all right with my top portion, in good spirit though. Finally, one of the travels guy agreed to offer me a drive to and fro the next day for nothing less than a fortune. And, it was all settled. I would take a cab to Malshej early next day and be back to Shirdi by evening for the Aarti probably. Not until…..

Not until I woke up with a thought of ditching the idea. So I get ready and rush off to the nearest bus station to see if there is a bus that can take me to Malshej. Few elderly people suggested that I either take a bus to Pune or Thane which might make it easier to reach the place I was actually routing for. Sorted. It was already 5.30 in the morning and the buses had already started to take off from the station. Suddenly, out of nowhere I hear this guy saying Nashik, Nashik, Nashik……as if calling out to me. And the next thing I knew was that I was on this bus that goes from Shirdi to Nashik, with no clue whatsoever of how I was to reach Malshej.

But I guess sometimes you got to ditch safe and sorted plans to see exactly what life has in store for you. The ride was nothing less than awesome. Probably the best way to enjoy the route from Shirdi to Nashik next to foot, was the public transport bus that was carrying us. There were not many women though on the bus, and those who were there had their veils put on to avoid unwanted stares from the randomly weak ones.

After a while, which looked like it lasted just for couple of seconds, it was time to get down the bus and bid adieu to all the wonderful and friendly co passengers, I realised I was actually at the Nashik bus depot. The people around at the bus depot looked a lot friendlier and knowledgable. So I when I went around asking about Malshej, every one had the same response – ‘you should have gone to PUNE instead….vedi mulgi (crazy woman)’.Suited me right. So, without wasting another minute there, I got onto the bus where a not so pleasant guy was screaming Pune, Pune, Pune in his typical accent and a screeching voice. Seemed like he already knew my story with all the glares that he had for me.

By the time I set foot in Pune, there was a rumbling effect in my stomach, or I think it was the other way around. And to top it with the smell of vada pav, raged pattice and garam garam chole. It was lunch time and I stopped by a road side eat out. The cashier (also might be the owner) walked up to me to take the order personally. I told him I had to go to Malshej and he said that if I take a bus route, it might be late to reach there and I would have to stay overnight there to see places around. I was not prepared for that now. So I dropped the idea….. of listening to the Good Samaritan and chose to stuck to my plan (which was no where).

Bingo!!! While I was having lunch at this place in Pune, I happened to notice that the street was filled with shops that offer travels to places around Pune. It took me a while to convince one of the owners that I just wanted to visit Malshej and get back to Shirdi and it had got nothing to elope with a guy, commit suicide because of a love failure, do weed / dope. Man!!! That was the hardest part of it. My parents never asked me so many questions. Mr. Aslam, thank you for making my day and sending one of your best drivers who turned out an even better detective than you.

Must say, the way up there was not that easy. And to top it there were no other visitors, cars, vehicles on the way, which made it even more weird for the driver to get on with it. But I decided to face it with all my gut and courage and asked him not to worry. For a while, his weirdness had managed to intimidate me. Or probably my queerness had managed to scare him. Whatever. Then came a whiff of fresh air (fresh air mixed with the aroma of Maggie and Corn).

The Maggie and corn were saviours, not just from hunger but from the fact that I was just watching the view and cool breeze go past me sitting inside an Air-conditioned Cab. That reminds me of the stall holder Kasiram who shared his trade secrets with me and said that it was off season then (month of March) and that the peak season is when the monsoons start settling in. During the monsoons, he said that there will be about 30 – 40 stalls along the path and the business goes booming wham wham wham. He also said that he had never witnessed people other than locals visiting during off season. He said earlier they used to put up stalls of Vada Pav also, but then they realised that it was better to have something that could be easily transported up and down on the Ghat road and switched to Maggie and Corn instead. Apparently, corn is their major local produce around areas there. May these vendors flourish and their kids cherish with good health, education and happiness.

Because I chose to travel by the abnormal way in reaching here, I could not spend more time in visiting few other places like Malshej water falls, Harishchandragadh fort and the Shivneri Fort. May be there is another visit written for these places. We had to start back as the sun was about to set. And what a way to set. Guess the sun too had decided to play around a little. People generally put in a lot of effort to reach from ‘Before’ to ‘After’. But this little sunny brat did it in less than a minute. Effortlessly too. I somehow feel that we have devices to capture moments into photographs and videos but the experience stays with us, uncultured by any device. Can’t say the same will remain forever, thanks to Captains like Zuckerberg, Cook and Pichai.

We hit back to Shirdi by the Shej Aarti time, thanks to our driver who I guess must have overcome the feeling of a single women travelling all the way from Hyderabad to Malshej Ghats just because she wanted to start the day after her birthday in a nice way.

Place: Malshej Ghats

Location: Western Ghat range on the Pune – Thane way.

Entry Ticket: Free. Enter at your own risk. People with respiratory diseases, weak hearts need to think twice before going up there. It takes a lot of courage and crankiness to withhold oneself after witnessing the view there.

Eateries: If you are travelling by road, make sure you carry water and basic stuff along especially if you have kids on your kitty. The corn and Maggie stalls start almost from half way of the route and one is likely to come across them on the way back.

Lessons from my GHATY trip

  1. A trip can become adventurous from a surprising one within a minute. Be ready for that.
  2. Planning too much too ahead might not always be the correct thing to do while on Wanderlust.
  3. It is good at times to listen to advice local people offer, better to stick to plans but best to be yourself and adhere to no one but you.
  4. If you are a solo women traveller and people around have inhibitions and questions about you, don’t feel ashamed, instead feel proud you did what the likes of Bachendri Pal, Arunima Sinha and many others did.
  5. Be prepared for a stop over, a night stay even if you have a plan of coming back on the same day.
  6. Make sure to list out places that you missed seeing and visit them for sure, lest your soul wanders around these places after you are gone.
  7. The signals around the Ghats are a little tricky. So if you want to show someone the live coverage of the beauty, you better get them along with you.

Numaish – A whiff of POP corn!!!!

Now a days Pop Corn is almost synonymous with a movie in a theatre, shopping at a multiplex or even may be a short weekend trip at the near by mall which offers a play area for kids. But for those who have been in the Pearl City – Hyderabad during the 80s and 90s, it is no exaggeration that POP corn is synonymous to their very own Numaish or Exhibition for those who are not aware of it. So much so that I still am confused if my addiction for Pop corn is because of Numaish or my love for Numaish is for the Pop Corn. I just hope I never ever figure this confusion out.

As millennials, we are now aware of super and mega sales on Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra and the likes which go on for 3 to 4 days during festival season or at times off season too on all kinds of goods. A little earlier it was the clearance sale at big stores that would excite people. But for me it has always been Numaish, the Baap (Father) of all Super and Mega sales that brings in the excitement. From clothes to shoes, from crockery to bed and bath, from gadgets to handicrafts, from play time to food, you name it and it is there.

It opens on the New Year’s day 1st of January and lasts till 15th of February (a good 46 days) every year. It originated 78 years ago and this year (2019) marks its 79th year. The All India Industrial Exhibition or popularly know as Numaish held at the Exhibition Grounds at Nampally, Hyderabad. I remember as a child, my mother used to take my sister and me to this heavenly place every year and all I ever did was trail along her to all the stalls and shops and take a whiff of the pop corn. And a little while of walking around and being less naughty would mean a whole pack of pop corn, just for me. And then the play rides – the Tora Tora, the roller coasters, the well of death (Mout ka Kua) where bikers would test their talent and fate and the very famous GIANT WHEEL. Most of the kids my age, not to forget, their parents too would get scared at the sight of the wheel. But would get on to it to may be show to others or to themselves how brave they are or just because they would rather not leave their kids with strangers on the wheel. And I used to get on to the wheel only to watch how people react to when the wheel moves up and down. Might sound scary, spooky and a little sadistic, but that’s me.

After I grew a little older, it became more than just pop corn and giant wheel. At times it was a chance to hang out with friends or just a pleasure trip where we get to window shop the world (we have always felt it that way). Also, the umpteen trips to this place all through these years have helped me in improving my skills – bargaining, negotiating, convincing, decision making and last but not the least interacting with strangers. It is an all together different feeling when you walk out of the store with that thing in your hand at the price you quoted. Elation. Ecstasy. Euphoria. If you have ever tried your hand at bargaining, you will definitely agree with me on that. And it doesn’t matter if you actually need the thing or not, as long as you are getting it at a price quoted by you. Naive, you would say. I know. But that is the beauty of the place which one has to experience by oneself.

The most charming thing about this place is that people from all over the nation come here to sell their stuff and to showcase their talent. There are stalls that showcase Kashmiri carpets and shawls, Rajasthani dupattas, Bengali sarees and the Lucknowi Chikan work apparels, Kolhapuri chappal (slippers), Pawadi & Kutch chappal, Nawaabi chappal, Jaipuri chappal, crockery in melamine and glass, artefacts made out of wood, cane, jute and cloth, handlooms from Pochampally, Ikkat, Patola and Bandini, fashion jewellery from all over the nation, home appliances, industrial items, real estate jigs, models of Government projects, local tourist attractions, food stalls that cover a wide range of dishes like Dosa, Dhokla, Chaat, Chole Bhature, Manchurian, Biryani and Haleem (PISTA HOUSE). There is a stall that displays the Forest view of our state – Telangana, a stall that showcases the items made by prison inmates, a stall that depicts the works taken up by DWCRA (Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas).

Spread across 23 Acres of land providing access to approximately 3000 stalls, this exhibition is without doubt one of the finest and largest in the world. With the advent of technology, it has become very easy for anyone with a smart phone to order a piece manufactured not just in our nation, but anywhere in this world with just a simple click. Hassle free. But if you want to feel the forte of the region and get to know a little about it from the manufacturers themselves, then you should definitely pay a visit to the Numaish. It is filled with crowd always, at least in all these years of my visit, I have rarely witnessed this place with minimal crowd. This place can support a floating crowd of about 20 lakh people on each day. Enormous. Gigantic. Mammoth. ‘Crowd’ would just be an under statement. Getting lost in the crowd is the most common thing that can happen if not cautious. Though I have been going back to this place year on year for the past 20 years, I can never say that I have seen it completely. There have been times that I felt that I am just moving in a circle ending up at the same point where I started, which is a visual illusion (though not optical). It would take any sane person at least 24 hrs to see all the stalls put up here, whereas it is open only for 7 – 8 hrs every day. Irony.

It is not just about the variety platter that is being offered which matters, but the fact that the spirit of the manufactures and stall bearers keeps going up year by year. All through these years they must have seen many highs and lows and withstood many obstacles. One such thing was the cash crunch which hit 2 years back in 2017 due to the demonetisation. To everyone’s surprise, it did not falter their spirit but on the other hand, raised it by making them get a step closer to technology and digitisation. It definitely takes courage to come to a place away from home for 45 days and make it feel like home for lakhs of people who come there. There have been few who have been taking part in this exhibition through generations too. But as I said earlier, it has always been synonymous to the whiff of fresh pop corn for me. Such a welcome whiff, that can mesmerise you so much so that even a certified lethargic like me can walk around for 3 hours at a stretch without a halt. At times when I feel that I am lost in the crowd, I stop, close my eyes and have a deep whiff of the pop corn and viola!!!! I am lost no more. I know exactly where I am and where I have to go.

Pop corn there is now being offered in various flavours – Chocolate, Caramel, Cheese, Schezwan, Tomato, Butter, Plain salted and Masala. My all time favourite being the ‘Masala pop corn’ with which I survive through my bargaining stints, window shopping and not to forget the long walk across the ground. If you are a local here you would know that too. If you are visiting Hyderabad during Jan – Feb, make sure you don’t miss this experience. The feeling of discovering oneself amidst a crowd. The feeling of bearing the torch to those who follow you into a stall unknowingly and get benefitted by your bargaining skills. The feeling of having had the best food ever with strangers around. The feeling of being an ace at deciding on what to shop and what not to (which by the way has rarely any connection whatsoever with the utility of the item). The feeling of taking away very little out of this huge shopper’s paradise. The feeling of having been a part of a walk marathon and mostly watch others shop around. The feeling of being there and having done that. Our visit to this place would always end on a sweet note – the sugar candy which we would carry back home as a prized possession and then compete on who finishes it the last. Crazy!!! Not really.

Place – Numaish, Exhibition Grounds

Location – Nampally. With the Metro now, it has become easier to commute. Just get down at the Gandhi Bhavan stop and walk straight into the Exhibition grounds.

Duration – 1st January 2019 to 15th February 2019

Timings – 3:00 pm to 10:30 pm on Week days & 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm on Weekends

Entry Fees – For Adults (anyone above 5 yrs of age) Rs. 30/- per head. Senior citizens, children below 5 yrs, persons with physical disabilities are exempted of the entry fee.

Eateries – Outside food is strictly not allowed except if it is for kids below 5 yrs. There are many food and juice joints within every 2 kms of distance inside.

Lessons from my NUMAISH visit:

  • Have a list of things you need to shop for but don’t be surprised if you end up getting more, in fact things which you might realise later you don’t need at all.
  • Most of the stalls are equipped with PoS machines, but it is better to have some cash in handy for smaller purchases.
  • Make sure to carry your own water bottles if it is not a burden. Might help in lessening the litter around.
  • Do make use of the litter bins put across. They are not for show off, they have been put there for a reason.
  • Take care of your belongings (mobiles and wallets) especially if you are visiting with kids. Beware of pickpockets.
  • There are places for radio announcements and police patrolling stops after every 2 – 3 kms. Do not hesitate to make use of them if need be.
  • They have also provided for toilets after every 5 kms. There are a few with kids care section and for the disabled too.
  • If you are into a little fun, do try out the train ride which takes you around the whole ground from middle of the road with the crowd staring at you.
  • Bring back as many memories as possible some in the form of purchases, some in the form of stories to tell your kids and their kids. Make the most of your visit.

Petite miracles of the World!

Our first look of the Shell and Pearl Museum

Shells – The hard outer protective layer created by sea animals. If this was not miraculous enough, I sometimes wonder at the persuasion and perseverence with which humans perceive their goals. One such wonder is the Shell Museum at Mahabalipuram (Mamallapuram). A collection of more than 40000 different shells is what welcomes you there. Each shell unique in itself having a story to tell. It was definitely a sight to see these stories talking to each other and to people looking at them in a language of their own. All thanks to Mr. Raja Mohamed who spent 33 years of his life in gathering these shells from different parts of the world.

I remember, as a kid, I would always be curious to know more about shells, how they are formed, where they come from, what happens to them after a while, do they get decomposed too??? But because we were not introduced to either Google or Wiki then, could never get my doubts clarified. But after visiting the museum, have just been awestruck at the beauty of these little miracle bundles not to forget the answers I found for my silly doubts too.

Can’t find enough words to describe the feeling I had while I was going around watching the shells. There were a few that even made my imagination go wild. So much so that I ended up into my childhood fantasy of making up wild stories around few of the shells that I saw there. This is just a glimpse of my wild imagination.

There were a few (actually many) of those that amazed me too. There were the ‘Right Handed’ and the ‘Left handed’ ones. There were ones that looked like Giant Butterfly wings and also the tiny dot shells. There were the princely ones and the most regular ones too. There were the Turtle back shaped and also the Porcupine shaped ones. The rarest, unusual and the common ones too.

Then there was a set which displayed the World’s smallest shells. Truly fabulous. They were all supposed to be the most common ones, but seemed uncommon to me.

Also, there was something else apart from the shells that attracted my attention. Each Gallery had a descriptive of how these shells were formed.

And this was not the end of it. There was more to come. Not to boast about it, but I do take pride in being brought up in the City of Pearls, Hyderabad. Only till I headed to the next stop at the Museum. It was no less than a grandeur of pearls. I had goosebumps all over while I was having a look at them. Have grown up watching different sizes and varieties of pearls at our very own Charminar shops which offer a platter of pearls. But this turned out to be epic. Truly EPIC!!!

I remember, during my younger days, whenever we had visitors from foreign (For us anywhere outside AP / TELANGANA is considered Foreign), it was a ritual to take them around the city. And one of my favourite spots was of course Charminar. On the pretext of taking the guests around, we used to take shots at the Pearl shops around looking out for varieties of pearls.

I don’t know if someone said it earlier, but I would definitely want to say this, “what good is a Shell without its pearl?”. You will have to see it to believe it though.

We also got to know few ancient facts about pearls there.

We ended our visit with the Aquarium next to it which had the most beautiful fish collection, but a rather limited one. And then there is also a store which sells shells and pearls called ‘Mayabazar’ in the same complex. If you are a shell enthusiast, or if you have a thing for pearls or if you want to take away a few souvenirs for loved ones, this is definitely the place. So, the next time you are visiting places in South, near Chennai especially, do make sure you drop by this heavenly place.


Place – Indian Shell & Pearl Museum, Mahabalipuram

Location – Right on the way to Chennai from Pondicherry via East Coast Road. If you are taking the road, it might just take 2 hrs from Pondi to reach.

Entry Ticket – It costs Rs. 150/- for the Shell Museum, and Rs. 50/- each for the Pearl and Fish Aquarium. Photography and Videography allowed. Totally worth it.

Eateries – Not sure if food is allowed inside, but can definitely take water along with you. Especially if you are weak at heart and tend to drool away at the sheer sight of beautiful pearls.

Lessons from my SHELL & PEARL Museum visit 

  1. It is alright to be surprised at times on a trip that is totally planned.
  2. Do not worry if you have to cut short on other places to see or things to do when you are on a trip. It is bound to happen. Else, there is no fun.
  3. When you come across a place where you are not sure whether to look around or focus on taking snaps, do not think twice. Keep looking around. Try to sneak in snaps in between. But make sure you enjoy the sight of the place when you are there.
  4. If you have good knowledge about shells and pearls (not in the literal sense though) do shop around for some of them. They will act as good souvenirs or gifts for people back home.
  5. Do make sure you come back and try to find out more about the place. You can rely on your folks (Moms, Dads, Grandmoms, Granddads, Uncles, Aunties or Friends) or our very own Google and Wiki.
  6. And last but not the least – try this one “She sells sea shells on the shore.” Let’s see how many times you can say it without fumbling!!!

Teintes De Pondichery

A rare combination of coastal Indian and French cuisine, Puducherry is our own French colony with a tangy tinge of India in it. A place well known for peace and tranquil owed not just to the Aurobindo and Auroville Ashram but also to the Serenity and Paradise (beaches). A true escape from the regular hustle bustle of a busy corporate life. When me and my friend decided that we go away from work for a while, this was our first choice for no specific reasons.

Day 1 – Bonjour Pondi

We took a flight, a direct one from Hyderabad to Puducherry. For those who didn’t know, yes. There is a single flight from Hyderabad to Puducherry courtesy Spicejet. So if you do not want to while away your time in boarding buses, trains and cabs, do check out for direct flights from your place. Reached Pondi at about 11.30 am and hit our hotel – The GINGER. All we had was a list of places to visit in our 3 day stay here. So the first thing we did was to have a wonderful lunch out at the hotel where we were put up. For us, Pondi was all about Fish. So we went ahead and ordered their signature fish dish (which by the way took ages to be served). Totally worth the wait, must say!!!!

The signature GINGER fish in Tartar sauce (MAYOOOO…..)

After this heavenly treat we hit the road, literally hit the road. Found out the local market and rented a bike for our trip. And off we went to the Auroville Ashram (Thanks to Google maps). Since we had not booked earlier, we could just have a look around and witness the Matr Mandir. It is truly an exercise for those who are mostly confined to their desks because of their work. Almost 3 – 4 kms of walk inside to reach the spot. We felt weird when we saw people cycling their way in and out. But after a looooooong walk (which felt like almost 20 kms) when we got to witness the Dome, we didn’t really mind it. We then headed out to visit few temples – Manekula Vinayagar temple and the Varadaraj Perumal temple (which we initially mistook to be Kanniga Parameswari temple, thanks to Google Maps again). We then hit our first beach of our trip, Promenade. A cool walk along the shore with the sound of waves hitting every now and then in the background is something you need to experience if you are in Pondi. Its like an Ilayaraja classic which brings in the aroma of life. Did you just read aroma???? There was another aroma apart from Ilayaraja’s classic which was inviting us….. The Le Cafe, the French cuisine dine out which served the best Pizzas of Pondi (says Google again).

The Wood Fired French PIZZA

Day 2 – Our Panai Soru Kozhambu

For those who know me and my lazy bones well, it takes a thought about beach and a stubborn friend to move my ass at 5 in the morning. And before we could even think about it, we were off on our very own Dhanno to the Serenity Beach. Rocks, water, sand and an eerie calm. Priceless. Our plan for the day was to visit Aurobindo Ashram and the much talked about French colony. So we hit the road with Dhanno and google maps. We also visited the St. Basillica Church and the Samba Kovil. Only to find ourself famished. We found this hoarding on a posh looking hotel on our way out every now and then. To put an end to our curious pangs, we walked right into it just to taste one of the most heavenly delicacies of the world.

A deadly combination of steamed rice and fish. Ummmmmmm!!!!!!!

Must say, the soup (Nand poondu rasam) Crab served in steaming hot garlic rasam turned out to be a relish but could not beat the original ‘Oru Panai Soru Kozhambu’ literally meaning One Pot (Mud Pot) full of steamed rice and curry. I am pretty sure, a thought that we have landed right out of a draught stricken area must have crossed Ms. Anita, the waitress who served us this delicacy. After this master hog, we hit our hotel back and probably didn’t want to head out anywhere else. Later in the evening we headed out to Promenade beach again, this time around to try out some authentic French cuisine for dinner and ended up at the Coramandel Cafe, famous for its ambience and cuisine. We were pleasantly surprised after looking at the menu, probably because we were totally unaware of what French cuisine is all about. Overall, it turned out to be more of an Indian flavour to what seemed like a French savoury. And all night through I had just one question on my mind. How could ‘Paneer’ make it to the French cuisine???

Day 3 – Buddha Bay

Wherever you are, Sundays are bound to make you feel lazy. And Sunday it was. After our free breakfast, we decided to take a nap for a while longer to make it up to the Sunday effect. After which we hit the road to the Eswaran Kovil which incidentally is right next to the Varadaraj Perumal temple. We then visited the Puducherry Museum. Reminded me of one of our History classes back in school (in a nice way though). I was specially attracted towards the Paintings that were put up there. Marvellous. And then we decided instantly that we would have some local food that day at Adayar Anand Bhavan. The Veg Thali (Meals) there could deceive anyone into believing it was not sufficient. But turned out to be as filling as ever. We then chilled out a little and went shopping to the MAX store there. We had booked for a dine out at Bay of Buddha (The best Pub at Pondi as told by Google) which is a roof top at Promenade Hotel for that night. Our last night at Pondi. All thanks to Mr. Nizamuddin, the desk manager at Promenade who managed to keep a slot available for us and the best one too.

A Toast to Pondi…..

Day 4 – Jour Des Coquillages

The plan for the day was to reach Chennai for our flight back to Hyderabad at night via Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram, as it is popularly known as. Before we left Pondi, we visited the Paradise Beach, just in time to witness the sunrise.

Our Last Sun rise at Pondi

It was time to bid adieu to our Dhanno, a true blue VESPA which had been our travel mate for 3 days. Took up a cab from Pondi to Chennai. Just at the time when we were thinking, it was all over so soon, we came across a surprise. A pleasant one though. A Shell and Pearl museum. A real eye candy. Not many of them knew about this. Had not heard about it earlier. Not even from Google. And then we stopped over at a food court for a quick bite. But obviously Fish being the flavour of the day.

The Wanton fish meal….

We then saw the Shore Temple, Pancha Rathas, The unfinished cave of Krishna Mandapa, the Light House (scary stairs) and stepped by the famous Tiger cave. But then bunked the cave and pushed off straight to the waves across. Had a good time at the beach there and headed back to the Airport (Chennai).

A trip to remember – Flight, Fun, Food, Fish, Friends, Fusion, Fossils, Fotos and Fondi.

Lessons from my FONDI trip

  • It is good to check out all possible options of travel and commute well before taking a trip.
  • Should have tried one of the home stays at the French Colony.
  • It is good if you know / can manage with the local language – Tamil. Even otherwise, English rules.
  • Never be in a rush to finish off all the places to visit or things to do in your trip list. It is sometimes good to stay back where you are and enjoy the moment. A la Deepika Padukone in ‘Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’. After all you didn’t pay for the hotel room just to keep your belongings.
  • Trust google maps. But also make sure you confirm with local people around about places of visit. Deadly combination, especially if you are not a native local. And last, but never the least,
  • It is alright to not have photos of a certain place, point or people as long as we have the memories close to our heart.

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