My Visit to Neemrana Fort Palace #roadtrip

I wanted to take a road trip out of Delhi but didn’t want to go as far as Jaipur. This chart definitely helped me narrow down the choices, and of course, TripAdvisor is my go-to source. We settled on Neemrana Fort Palace for a one night getaway. It was an approximate 3 hour drive from Delhi and completely hidden in a Japanese zone industrial area in the district of Alwar. You can barely see the Fort from the road leading up to it as it blends in among the haze and smoke. The road eventually goes through the surrounding small town, twisting and turning upwards until you reach the front gates.

The property and views are breathtakingly beautiful. At first, the property seems like a humongous labyrinth of narrow hallways, uneven stairways and ramps, and endless balconies – but you can easily walk through the whole thing in about an hour.

outward view from upper balconies

view of the District of Alwar from upper balconies

too cold to swim

the way to the room

worker enjoying the view

wandering around

statue that lived in the room

Although the fort is spectacular, I more or less felt like I was staying at some relative’s house. There was no TV in the room and no room service. The room was spacious and clean yet a bit too guesthouse-esque for my liking. The above statue greeted us as we entered the room, which I quite enjoyed.

coffee and samiyan

The staff were very accommodating and definitely made the experience more pleasant. I wasn’t a huge fan of the dinner buffet, yet I thoroughly enjoyed the morning breakfast. You can try your luck at ordering things off the menu, like Rajasthan delicacies like goat meat.

Given Neemrana is a destination, there really isn’t much to do, I got bored the next day after breakfast. I would recommend the following itinerary:

  • Arrive at 4 pm – check-in and get settled
  • 5 pm – tea and music – we had the privilege to see a high school choir from the States who were really amazing.
  • 6 pm – walk around and watch the sunset – good picture opportunity
  • 7 pm – cocktails and live music – I was pleasantly surprised to see that the drinks were very reasonably priced.
  • 8 pm – dinner and more drinks
  • 8 am – Breakfast, then digest by the pool in the sun
  • Optional: zip lining or camel cart rides – I passed on both, partly because of it being chilly.

I imagine in the summer, the pool would be an ideal place to hang out and sip reasonably priced mojitos all day. Maybe, next time!

Have you been to any of the Neemrana properties? How did you like it?

How to be a Tourist in India: Auto Rickshaws|Bangla Sahib|Humayan’s Tomb

I wasn’t able to go home for the holidays as I had originally planned so instead of getting depressed about it, I decided to declare this week, my #weekoffun which included hanging out with friends, sightseeing, shopping and sleeping in.

Speaking of sightseeing, I thought I would write a second edition to being a tourist in India as I visited some more exciting places and have more tips to share.

Taking Autos

I find trips from Connaught Place via auto rickshaw are always filled with interesting drivers. I attribute it to the fact that they have constant tourist patrons. I had a lovely Punjabi driver on my way from Starbucks to Humayun’s Tomb. He said he was happy to finally have a Punjabi speaking customer as it brought him joy to speak in his native tongue. So, I let him go on and on – mostly rants about people and his daily job.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend taking an auto from CP to go anywhere if you can help it, mostly because some auto drivers are paid commission based on if they recommend certain venues for shopping. Also, on top of that, most auto drivers will charge you double just because you’re “downtown”. Taking the metro is way more cost effective and convenient, especially if you’re a girl.

Bangla Sahib – Connaught Place, Delhi

bangla sahib

Although I am not super religious, I do enjoy visiting Gurdwaras and various temples whenever I can. I always find these spiritual places to exude a sense of positive energy and calmness. It brings me a sense of peace as well. I would suggest avoiding weekends for religious or spiritual pilgrimages for obvious reasons. What I loved about Bangla Sahib is the shoe depositing system; it was extremely efficient. You give your shoes (and socks) in exchange for a shoe key tag. I brought along my big bag just in case there was a system similar to Lotus Temple. You cannot enter the temple without covering your head with a scarf or handkerchief. I was actually yelled by one of the Baptized Sikhs for wearing a cap. There is no photography allowed either, but I couldn’t help but sneak in a few shots. The “pond” has beautiful red, and orange fish that people stop to feed or glower at. Some people even stop to wash their face and hands in the water, assuming it is Holy. I did my praying but was sorely distracted; I hope that going was enough to get myself in the good books for 2014.

Humayun’s Tomb – Nizamuddin, Delhi

IMG_2393

IMG_2405

I didn’t realize that this was the pre-cursor to the Taj Mahal! I definitely recommend it as a must-see for Delhi. I was impressed by the geometry of the place, and the sheer size of the structure. The only issue I had was the fact that foreigners are made to pay 250 INR vs. Indians who only have to pay 10 INR. This is outright fleecing in the highest degree. In any case, it’s quite easy to get the Indian price. If you’re not Indian, you must go with someone who is and he/she will buy your ticket for you. If you’re Indian yourself, then just lay on a few words of Hindi or atleast a heavy accent and you’re golden. I know in my previous post I said I was tired of fort-like structures, but I was thoroughly impressed with this one! You can see the main structures in less than an hour, or spend a few hours roaming the entire property which is filled with gardens and adjoining tombs. You can go alone or with family. I would recommend comfortable walking shoes as some stairways are quite steep and paths uneven. I would also recommend taking a bottle of water and a snack as there are no places nearby for sustenance.

Have you visited Bangla Sahib or Humayun’s Tomb? What did you think?

My Week in Pictures | 15.12.13

Another week of 2013 over! I’m looking forward to the new year and a fresh start, that’s for sure.

December is a great month to be in India since the weather is amazing. It’s pleasant during the day, and slightly colder at night, perfect sweater weather. Most people visit during this time as well, to visit family and of course, do their wedding shopping. I had a few friends visit this week, so it was a nice treat to have lunches, desserts and afternoon mojitos.

Yeti Decor
Lunch at Yeti (Himalayan Kitchen) in Hauz Khas Village

I had some extra time this week to work on some DIY projects I had in mind. The one thing I love about India is the plethora of quality fabrics and reasonable prices. We had extra viscose knit fabric that was warm and soft yet was coming apart from the ends. It would be tricky to hand sew, so I opted to put black felt borders on each side to keep it from unraveling. It makes for a perfect shawl.

IMG_2269

I spotted this cotton hounds tooth fabric in the window of a fabric sore and had to have it for a laptop sleeve. I had some extra jute material that I used for the lining. It was my first DIY laptop sleeve so the seams were a bit sloppy and the lining was a bit too big. But, the point is, my laptop fits in it, so that’s what counts. I’m thinking of making a pillow case out of it too.

IMG_2287  IMG_2288

For guys who love shoes, I would recommend this little studio in the back alleys of Hauz Khas Village. Through an alley, down some stairs to a beautiful little studio, I believe its called Aurom Inc.

IMG_2284

How was your week?

How to be a Tourist in India: Lotus Temple|Taj Mahal|Jaipur

Having been in India on and off for a year, I have done my fair share of sightseeing. The thing with India is it’s chalk full of castle-like buildings and fort-like structures, which for me got boring real fast, especially after constantly having this view on any given bar night in Hauz Khas village. In Delhi, I would recommend seeing India Gate and Lotus Temple. Both are amazing feats of architecture unique to Delhi, and are free to visit. Alternatively, you can do a quick drive by of both and call it a day.

I visited Lotus Temple on a spontaneous Sunday, having gotten bored of my usual Sunday haunts. Upon my arrival by auto, I noticed a huge line up that stretched probably a kilometer or two. There was no way I was going to stand in that line up, so I looked for some sort of VIP or “foreigner” line up, but nothing like that existed. I stood staring at the entrance and exit points and noticed the complete lack of security. Without really thinking it through, I made a bee-line for the exit and slipped through. But, there was a mandatory security checkpoint that I had to go through before entering the grounds. I scanned the line and found a group of girls. Again, without thinking I asked them if I could slip in line with them as I was supposed to meet friends inside and didn’t want to wait in the line up, which they graciously agreed to, phew! After easily slipping through security, I hung back a bit to lose the girls I came in with.

Getting in was only half the battle. To enter the temple, you had to remove your shoes. In true inefficient Indian style, your shoes (and those of your group) had to be placed in a bag that needed to be kept in an underground shoe room, similar to a coat check concept. This was only accessible through standing in a gigantic line up. Thankfully I was armed with my usual large black shoulder bag and wearing bendable ballet flats. I slipped my shoes into my bag and walked past the entire line up once again.

Needless to say I spent a leisurely hour exploring the temple, shooting pictures and sitting quietly inside. I would definitely recommend visiting Lotus Temple, on a weekday though! Be sure to bring a bag to carry your shoes in and a bottle of water.

lotus temple

lotus temple

Of course, no trip to India is complete without a pilgrimage to the tomb of love: Taj Mahal. Its an easy 2.5 hour ride to Agra on a newly paved expressway. However, the city of Agra is nothing but glamorous and all thoughts of romanticism are erased as you enter the poverty stricken streets. Here are a few cliche shots of me taking in the sites.

Jas sitting on the famous bench

Jas in the frame 1

The Taj Mahal 4

the many optical illusions of the Taj Mahal 2

I was fortunate enough to venture out of Delhi to visit Rajasthan, specifically Jaipur. It’s about an 8 hour bumpy car ride from Delhi. This was the epitome of “old fort like structure” overload for me. We explored every tunnel, nook and cranny of each and every place. The downside to Jaipur was the shopkeepers were way too aggressive and tripled the price on goods easily available in Delhi. I went to an off the beaten path store and got myself one kitschy umbrella as a souvenir. The inner pink walled village is claustrophobic and a hot bed for tourist scams. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend Jaipur as a place to visit for more than a day. I have heard other parts of Rajasthan are a lot better like Jodhpur, plus the shopping is a lot better there.

jaipur architecture

_DSC3049

elephant
I didn’t wake up early enough for the elephant ride!

exploring tunnels

Have you visited India? What place did you enjoy the most and recommend?

My Week in Pictures | 30.11.13

This week had some small adventures and nice surprises. Perhaps my luck is turning? I saw my friend off to the States earlier this week, but not before a wild goose chase for an acceptable piece of luggage and a half bottle of wine at her cozy flat. I instantly fell in love with her 3 bedroom, 2 story apartment that was quite large and done up in subtle Indian decor. It made me realize with a sinking heart, how much I had truly settled for the place I call “home”. But, I’ll leave that for another blog post.

Later that week, I was surprised with a fancy dinner at my favorite restaurant in Delhi called “Cheri”. It claims to be a french bistro, but really it serves mostly everything. We had company by means of a small cat that came in from the courtyard meow-ing for scraps. We named him Tom.

IMG_2207

I finally attended a yoga class at the Yoga Cafe around the corner from my office. It was done by a guy who specialized in healing and has taught yoga for the past 5 years. I enjoyed the class as it had tons of stretches and yoga moves I had never done before. We even chanted Om a few times. Now I know why people come to India to learn yoga, its really different than anything I’ve done before as the focus is on breathing and releasing stress.

IMG_2206

Today I went to one of my favorite markets in Delhi called “Sarojini Market”. It’s literally filled with one off samples and clothes that didn’t make the cut for retail abroad (I assume). You can get every and any label from around the world, although most labels are ripped out, the clothes remain intact. The price is beyond a thrift or goodwill shop, its literally less than a dollar for a wool sweater and less than 50 cents for a cotton scarf. I went a little nuts and got 10 sweaters, 3 scarves and 3 skinny belts. I figure if something doesn’t fit I can give it to one of the maids.

How was your week? PS – Happy end of Movember! Congrats to all those who raised money for charity!

IMG_2209

Women Wednesday: From India, with Love #gifts

When you move passed the kitschy, multicolored paraphernalia of mirrors and plastic jewelry, you may get as far as Bollywood inspired memorabilia. Everything from pillowcases to coasters has some long haired or mustached Indian movie star from the 1960’s on it. When you move passed that you’ll find that actually, India has a lot of unique brands and cool, even utilitarian souvenir/gifts that are really affordable. Here I list my top 4 gift ideas, all are unisex, wallet friendly and useful.

First up, is this black stone cup with bamboo handle detail made using Longpi handicraft skills. The cup is sturdy, slightly heavy and are unique in that they are made entirely without machinery from a black serpentine rock mixed with brown clay. It has a bit of masculine touch to it. My male cousin initially wanted one for himself, but then I bartered and got him two and so he gave me one. Now, its my go to tea cup. Where: Dilli Haat

IMG_2095

Yet, another slightly masculine item, is a leather wire holder. I saw this at Nappa Dori, a leather store that carries vintage style trunks I would love to have as a home decor detail. I got 4 leather holders for quite cheap. It was something I actually needed since my phone charger wires are all over the place in my purse. These atleast keep them together. Where: Hauz Khas Village

IMG_2096

Next up, is something I have mentioned a few times already – my go-to stationary: “Letternote” notebooks. These have fun colored paper and quotable covers. Its not the best quality in the world, but I like the bright colors and the prices let me splurge on these books. I am a pen and paper person at heart! Where: Saket – Select City Mall

IMG_2098

I’ve been on the hunt for an authentically Indian tea that was so frou-frou you need an infuser to drink it. As luck would have it, I came across this cool new tea shop that opened near my office: “Anandini HImalaya Tea“. At first glance, I thought it would be way too pricey for me with its glass entry and minimal display. Thankfully, it wasn’t like that at all, the owner was lovely, and quite knowledgeable. The various tea varieties were intermixed with wonderful smells, herbs and spices. The price was not too hair raising either. I wasn’t able to buy any tea as of yet, since I need to buy an infuser and frankly, couldn’t decide on what tea to get, but will update this blog once I do. She did have a cool 4 pack gift pack that included an infuser but was a bit more of a gift than something I could use personally. So I’ll come back to this one with my thoughts on how the tea tastes. Where: Shahpur Jat 

So those are my 4 recommended souvenirs and/or gift ideas.

I’m thinking of putting these things in a box and sending them as a gift to friends and family. Would be cool no? What items do you like or don’t like? Would you gift this to your friends and family? 

I’ll be on the look out for more cool and inexpensive gift ideas from India – part II coming soon.

This Week in Pictures | 04.10.13

I finally feel like I found my rhythm in India after a few tough-ish weeks. The weather is still extremely hot and oftentimes rainy. But, mid-October should bring better weather.

On Monday, I was surprised to find myself at Rara Avis, a french restaurant that happened to be on restaurant week’s list of discounted 3 course meals. I declared it a cheat day and had french onion soup, pumpkin ravioli, a small quiche, a lemon tart plus 2 glasses of Australian wine. This was a fantastic start to the week!

IMG_1824

Wednesday was a national holiday as it was Gandhi’s birthday. So I worked lazily from Kaffiene and later met friends at Dunkin Donuts. Yes, there is a Dunkin Donuts in Delhi with sandwiches and even a flat white on the menu. I opted for a iced coffee, but it was sub-par.

IMG_1825

I finally bought a few notebooks from my favorite Indian stationary place called Letternote. The quality isn’t amazing, but for less than $3 (CAD) per book, the eccentricity is definitely worth it.

IMG_1830

A quick photo I snapped on my way to the office, stuff you would only see in India.

IMG_1857

I was supposed to do a guest blog on DIY elbow patches a few week ago, and I finally had time to do it. I sewed on blue felt patches on my vintage blazer. It was pronounced ghetto yet, whatever, its DIY. I’ll post the blog once its up.

DSC_0164

I had drinks again at Mia Bella’s rooftop patio to celebrate a friend’s birthday Friday night. We had pitchers of Caprioska that gave me a slight hangover in the morning. I still pulled myself together and headed to the leather market to pick out leather for our upcoming collection which will include an iPad sleeve. With work, I still feel that we haven’t hit our grove yet. We are still iterating to find that sweet spot and that thing that works every time. Hopefully soon things will start to click.

How was your week?