Sunday, October 26, 2014

Trip to Philippines - Part 1

It was a sunny May afternoon where I got myself a few extra quids in my salary and that got me thinking what should I do about it, being a marwari the first thought was very simple INVEST!! and enjoy in the future then the traveler in me slapped the inner marwari and it was decided that I would be going on a trip a Solo trip to South East Asia. There were many options available Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Philippines. I was very fascinated by Laos and Cambodia and did a little bit of research and thought why not next year. Then googled up Philippines and I was blown away with the beauty of place and started going in deeper and deeper and with 1000 Filipino travel bloggers I had made my decision it was Philippines. I had to clear up a small hurdle first of getting a 15 days leave approval which is as we all know in India is very difficult but my bosses are awesome and they agreed the same though not in writing and I had that YAAY! moment.

One of the beautiful places
It was late evening of July the 3rd where I booked my flight tickets and before that searching for options on which flight to take etc etc ended up booking Cathay Pacific which has a 7 hour layover in Hongkong and then off to Manila.

Then started discussing the trip with friends and colleagues, first few questions are like this
1. Are you going with your family?
2. After hearing no, ohh with your friends then?
3. After hearing another no, so you have friends over in Philippines?
4. Another negative answer, why are you traveling alone?
5. Why did you choose Philippines, why not Thailand?
6. Ohh forgot this, which tour are you taking?
Well had to give a little bit of explanation of a solo traveler and how it is going to makes things easy for me.

Q: What is your schedule and where are you going to stay?
A:  First few days I have booked a hostel and then let see how things are will decide.

Come September 30th, after packing in food, lil bit of food, and lots of hope went on my way to the Mumbai International Airport and luckily that day it did not rain nor there was traffic reaching way before time which got me into an earlier Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong.

Few things you need to know
1. There are no direct flights from Mumbai to Manila, you will either have to stop at Bangkok, Hong Kong or Singapore and it will take you almost a day to enter Manila.
2. Currency is Pesos where 1 pesos = 1.33 INR, well we are behind in Philippines also in terms of valuation.
3. For vegetarians you can avoid this place or just eat fruits and few veggies like Corn and Coconut.
4. Time difference is 2.5 hours ahead of India
5. Yes, Filipinos speak English but it is also somewhat similar to what we have in India where most of them know it, most of them speak broken English and some do not speak at all.
6. Being a tourist country you may feel that you are being taken for a ride, get over it, it happens in all the countries.
7. Know how to swim, this can be helpful for you. No you will  not get drowned or something but the beauty lies inside the Turquoise water.

Let me start by my first few days of the trip. Well it was off season and things are cheap in terms of accommodation in Manila. So I booked myself a dorm room in MNL Boutique Hostel in Makati region which is around 12 Kms from the Airport. It was raining heavily when I landed in Ninoy Aquino International Airport passed the immigration without any fuss and collected my bags walks out and see a huge tout of people calling you over to get in their private taxi. There are 4 options to get out of the airport
1. Private car - they have fixed charge and are really really expensive.
2. Yellow Cabs/Taxi - They charge 70 pesos initial and 4 pesos for next 300 meters. Waiting is also 4 pesos for 4 minute
3. Airport Taxis - They are good, controlled by Airport, fixed charge but expensive than Yellow taxi
4. Buses - You need to know where you are going exactly, it is the cheapest option.

The start was really bad where I had to wait for a taxi for 4 hours because there was a huge traffic outside the airport and the traffic spilled on the airport also. So being frustrated and wanting to reach the hostel I asked for people waiting for the taxi if anyone is going near Makati area and found that 4 of them are. We had to haggle with the private car and it was finally 500 pesos for each and tips extra. After getting out on the main road I knew why there was dearth of cars in the airport the whole of Manila was stuck due to traffic, that should have being my first sign to get out of there fast. After driving for 2 hours for just 12Kms or so reached the hostel and was so happy to see the bed and shower.

MNL Hostel: This place is right behind Avenue Mall in Makati area and looks like a small colourful bunker from outside and inside it has 2 floors with mix of dorm and private rooms, depending on your budget. Walk out of your room and you see a common area and kitchen where they serve breakfast which is mostly eggs, breads, spreads, tea, coffee and milo.

Well Makati for me is like Bandra of Mumbai lots of places to eat and few other interesting "massage place" as well. But I kinda got kicked with option to eat at the street food place which is nice and cheap almost. Under one roof you will get fish, chicken, pork, beef mostly grilled.

Initial Food Thoughts: Well, saw mostly food being grilled and with gravy. Filipino love rice and they can have it with anything and whatever temperature it is in. Love pork, fish, beef, chicken, eggs and veggies in that order. Beer is just 40 pesos for a San Miguel Pale Pint which is super cheap and there is Tanduay Rum for 99 pesos for full bottle. The food stalls have lots of variety in terms of food and at times you would get confused on what to have and what not to. But that is a discussion for later.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Trip to Vaishno Devi and Places to Eat


My 7th or 8th trip to Vaishno Devi shrine and this one after 9 years was a refreshing trip with the family. Well, lot of them have asked on the itinerary of the trip, please note there shall be description of places to eat also in between so here it goes.

  1. Take the Swaraj Express train from Mumbai to Jammu Tawi [For train info click here]
  2. Make sure to do the following, get down at Ratlam to have their famous hot Poha from the station which has their special Ratlam sev
  3. Then next day the foodie fun starts, have Kulcha and Chole at Ambala Cantt [only Rs. 20 for 3 Kulche and bowl of Chole]
  4. Then get down at Ludhiana to have another dose of hot Puri and Chole
  5. If you still have some place left to eat get down at Jalandar for the same
  6. Get down at last stop Jammu [You have no other option now] and do not find any food here. Get to the Taxi stand which is just outside the station.
  7. Pay Rs. 1000 and get yourself an Indica to go to Katra. 
  8. Tell the driver to stop at Ashok Restaurant near Nandini Tunnel for some awesome crunchy Paneer Pakode [Rs. 70 per plate]. The guy maybe be snobby but the paneer is super soft inside.
  9. Have some Goti Soda from a store nearby.
  10. Reach Katra, find a place to stay. Please note you will get rooms ranging from Rs. 5000 per night to Rs. 500 per night so depending your budget. [Note: Every taxi driver has connection with some Hotel or the other, never go there as the prices may be inflated because Taxi wala get their cut]
  11. Refresh yourself and take hot water bath. And then walk or take a rickshaw towards the main market depending on the distance you are from the hotel.
  12. If it is your first time, ask where Mayur Hotel is, place is nice and clean and food is really awesome. Ranging from Dosa to Paratha to Sandwiches
  13. If you are interested in local food, search for Maa Vaishno Dhaba near Subhash Hotel [lane before 6x6 Bikaner Chaat Bhandaar]
  14. Enter the Hotel, check the menu on the wall and order the all the parathes. Lemme tell you, you can have 3 of them and not feel full and total cost would not come more than Rs. 500
  15. Roam the market, feel the energy and enjoy the window shopping. 
  16. Next day, get up early morning around 6:30 am, get fresh and ready. Have some tea with toasted bun and lots of amul butter [Rs. 20 per piece]
  17. Go to the parchi counter, stand in line [new rule: everyone now has to stand in line to get the parchi]
  18. So if you want to do helicopter booking, do it now as it gets full [Shrine Board Link] or go to Banganga in rickshaw. You will be haggled for horses [do not talk to anyone there] and pithus [pithus are helpers who carry your stuff and each one has an ID which they give to you. If you are carrying a bag or two suggested to take one as they are very helpful]
  19. Reach Banganga, go through the security [Note: No ciggies, lighter, tobacco, guns, bullets, alcohol allowed]
  20. Now starts the main decision point, take a horse or walk 12 KMS to the Bhavan. Well if you think you are fit, I suggest start walking or if you are not fit then take a horse. Every horse has a fix rate ask them to show the board where prices are written down. 
  21. If you walk up, avoid the stairs which are more than 100 because it will affect you later. There are few with 500+ steps AVOID THEM
  22. On the way, have chat, Chole, Goti Soda, Salads [note: Garlic and Onions are never used in any food item in Katra]
  23. The walk would end in 4 hours max. [Note: There are battery cars which charge Rs. 300 for 5 Km ride but you will reach the Bhavan in 15 mins. Worth it if you are in a hurry]
  24. Go to the cloak room, remove everything except your clothes and dump them in the locker. Keys will be with you.
  25. Start walking through the security and you can feel the energy [if you want more energy make sure you take bath in the naturally chilled water flowing from the mountains]
  26. Complete the Mata Darshan...and then have lunch at one of the dhabas.
  27. Take a Ghoda to Bhairav Temple [Why ghoda the 2 KM feels like 10 kms due to the steepness till the top]
  28. Do Darshan at Bhairav Temple. Take some photos, soak up the sun, enjoy the view.
  29. Start to walk down, pass Ardhkuwari and make sure you have some hot samosa or gulab jamun.
  30. Reach Banganga and shout JAI MATA DI!!
Next blog will be about trip to Shivkodi......

Friday, January 17, 2014

Banana Leaf - Idli with a Difference

Please say 'Aye' if you are a fan of hot pipping Idli which when dipped in super awesome sambhar taste even better but Banana Leaf located at Versova, near 7 Bunglows has changed the full definition of the Idli what we used to eat.

First visit was few months ago after a night out with friends and one of them was insisting we should try it, and after bowing down to her wishes we reach Banana Leaf on lazy late Sunday afternoon and luckily got seats in A/C section which my friend says is minimum waiting of 40 mins during peak hours.

The setting is nice, tall ceilings and enough place between the 2 tables so you do not overhear other people conversation. We started off with Rasam Soup which is regular Rasam with huge quantity of black pepper [If you have a sour throat this is the soup for you forget Hot and Sour or Manchow soups]. Then comes the magic of Banana Leaf the Idlis which is cooked in variety of masalas, I guess around it takes around 3 big idlis per serving cut in 4 pieces we started off with
1. Hyderabadi Tomato Idli
2. Chef Special Dakshin Masala Idli - This one was everyone favorite
3. Mulgai Idli

If you are the ones who love to try out different things well start off with this place and you shall not be disappointed.

For dessert you can go the regular Payasam route or try out the Nutella Walnut dosa which is a must try.

The overall cost per person came around Rs. 300 and it was totally worth it.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Grand Hometel - New Year Party Review

There are only 4 reasons why we select a place to party for New Year and this New Year was NO DIFFERENT
Following are the pointers:
1. Friends - Without them you cannot go out
2. Location - Where is the place located but with awesome buddies that at times is secondary
3. Food - This is important factor, you do want to be stuck at a place at 4 am with 'bhooka pet' [Empty Stomach]
4. Drinks - This is very debatable topic as some drink some don't, so unlimited alcohol for non drinkers do not make sense.

So after deliberating and discussion on whatsapp group chat the final decision was taken on Grand Hometel in Malad West [Mindspace] and everyone was OK with it because the place was nearby [5 mins in Rick] and this place management told us great things about food and drinks part. So booking done at INR 2K stag and INR 3.5K couples.

Fast forward to 31st December and we all plan to meet at the Panaroma Banquet Hall on the 10th Floor of the Grand Hometel. Everyone assembled by 9:30 pm and then started the good and bad part, lemme first start with the Good Part and my favorite one too FOOOOODDD!! Grand Hometel has being known for its good food and it really did not disappoint us. Following were the starters Veg Spring Roll, Cheese Balls, Crispy Veg, Paneer Tikka, Dum Aloo and Mumbai Chaats. For Non Veggies - 3 Chicken starters, 1 Fish starters and Keema Pav. I would like to give the hotel management the thumbs-up for putting up mobile counter where food comes to you. I would like to mention that except the Dum Aloo and Crispy Veg everything was.

Now the Bad Part - Without the music the place however good it is will suck on New Years Eve and the Event organizers had got some kids who loved EDM and Dubstep, well we do like EDM but not we can dance for hours on it. Also the arrogance of the DJ was appalling where he said "We do not have Bollywood music, those who want to boo us can go and drink outside" which kinda pissed us and luckily for us there was another 31st party on ground floor where the DJ played the music everyone has heard about.

Now going to the Good part again, the main course was a huge buffet and not the regular 31st party kinda buffet with Rice, Dal, Chicken Gravy and Roti no but here it was 5 salads, 2 kinds of Rice, Dal, 4 Veggies, 2 Chinese Gravy and 1 Burnt Garlic Rice, Fish curry, chicken curry and Chicken Biryani which lots of people missed out on due to extra drinks the system could not handle.

Ohh but there was dessert and it was amazing seeing 8 different kinds of them. The best was caramel custard.

Well to Hometel Management, good party and good food except for the 10th floor DJ I would have given it 8 star but sorry 6 star out of 10 for you.


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bye Bye 2013 Welcome 2014

Well, one does not need any specific date to start something new but every year almost everyone starts or resolves to do something new from the 1st of January which technically starts from 2nd January as everyone is sleeping on the 1st day of the new year and here we are on the 365th day of 2013 where I wake up at 4 am to write this blog and decide I shall start what I had stopped: going to new restaurants, eating great food and write about them.

For last 5 months there has being a massive change in my diet [well, I am not dieting rather I would Die Eating] which is I have turned vegetarian and also have avoided alcohol. Which I intend to keep till 31st December and maybe even continue in 2014.

As due to the lack of meat in the diet, I had stopped going to restaurant or there was a lack of interest to write about them but then in past 5 months found out some really good places, which serve awesome veg food with just a small twist and from being the regular joint it changes to being that awesome place where I would suggest people to go.

Few are the places which I suggest every veg, who do not like to go to places which serve meat:
1. Banana Leaf - This place is there for years but had avoided it coz it had only Veg but I was so wrong. This place has changed I have looked at Idli, with the variety of Masala's and gravy which they serve this is a place to go.

2. Quattro: A small door leads to big ideas of food opposite Pheonix Mills, and this is the place which is suggested by every food lover. LOVE FOOD!!! GO HERE!!!

3. Falafel's: There are multiple joints of this great middle eastern food. Sometime you would get something bad and at times really good but the important part is try it out. Lot of people are scared and do not try it because they do not know the taste but what the heck. Go and try a pita pocket and enjoy.

4. Panchvati Gaurav/Village/Chowki Dani: NOTE NOTE!!! If you have a good, I mean verrry good appetite do go here. For people who are happy with just 2 Rotis and little bit of Chawal please do not waste money by going here, you are not going to Enjoy it.

5. Chains of Restaurant: With the growth of Mall and the Mall crowd some old school places have opened up everywhere but I still suggest to go and try out the originals such as Bhagat Tarachand and Rajdhani near Crawford market and you shall not be disappointed.

Also, would be updating on the new places which will have non-veg too as I do will be going out with my friends.