Friday, July 17, 2009

South African Diaries Part 2

This was long due......

The trip started on the 10th of October and ended on the 6th of November, not nearly enough time to take in all the stunning sights of the country, but enough to let you know that this will not be your last trip.

We drove from Johannesburg to Cape Town passing through some of the most stunning beaches, mountains, farms, floral kingdoms, vineyards, forests, natural spendours and cultural cities of South Africa. This is truly a scenic extravaganza to behold personally!

Day 1:

As we drove from Johannesburg or Egoli, the city of gold and the economic capital of the country towards Port Elizabeth, the “friendly city”, the length and breadth of South Africa’s vast beauty started making itself known.

Our first stop was Port Elizabeth (shortened to PE), otherwise known as the Nelson Mandela Bay . We reached PE just after sunset and headed straight to the beach. Although PE receives little rainfall, it was our lucky day, I guess. It looked heavily overcast and we were a bit disappointed. But then I was told that you can witness all seasons in a day in SA and I reconciled myself to it all being part of the experience! And as a gift for my troubles, the following day was a sunny day.

A little trivia about PE: PE is South Africa’s third biggest port and lies on the shores of Algoa Bay. It is called the Friendly City, may be because it has a certain lackadaisical feel about it and unlike the fast moving cities, you are taken aback by the smiling folks’ who will readily greet you on the street . It also happens to be the home of South Africa’s first cricket club.

After check in, we went to PE’s biggest entertainment option, The Boardwalk Casino and Entertainment Centre, which has many dining options for those on the look out for some grub.

The next morning we woke up before the crack of dawn for a walk on the beach and witnessed yet another spectacular sunrise. After the sunrise, we freshened up and checked out of the hotel and headed straight to the famous King Edward Hotel for a sumptuous breakfast and boy, was the breakfast well spread!! The hotel, the oldest in the city, was magnificent with a Victorian feel to it. We walked across the road and headed straight to the Donkin lighthouse which had a sad, interesting, romantic and historic feel to it.

For history lovers: On a hill stands a stone pyramid with an adjacent lighthouse. This was proclaimed in perpetuity by Sir Rufane Donkin, acting British Governor of the Cape, when the 1820 Settlers arrived in Algoa Bay. Donkin named the new settlement after his wife, Elizabeth, who had died in India two years' previously, and erected the pyramid in her memory. The lighthouse was built in 1861, and today houses the city's Tourist Information Centre.

Must do’s at PE:

- Breakfast at King Edwards Hotel – I promise it will make you feel like a king !
- Addo Elephant Park
- Oceanarium
- The Donkin Heritage Trail
- Museum trail

When my friend first spoke about the Garden Route, I had visualized manicured gardens along the way but that was not quite what I saw. It was a garden of sorts but a garden with dense forests, pine trees – water bodies that were the size of oceans, rivers and lakes, flowers that grew wild wherever they felt like. In a nutshell, it was much more than what I had ever imagined!

According to Wikipedia, the Garden Route is a stunning and scenic stretch between Mossel Bay and Storms River in the southern coast of South Africa.
I promise, the drive will leave you completely spell bound and speechless. It runs parallel to the westerncoastline of the country with many lakes, mountains, beaches, cliffs and dense forests. The infrastructure is brilliant, making the region popular all year round.

Our first stop on the Garden route was Jeffrey’s Bay:

Jeffrey’s bay is a surfer’s paradise known for the perfect wave. As you enter J-Bay, the vibe of the entire town is very surfy with surf boards, shops with surfy names, shell museums and anything that’s even remotely connected with the surfs and waves! The warehouses for Billabong, Roxy and Quicksilver are all here on the streets, which are supposedly giant houses for beach gears!

We decided not to stay at J-Bay as there was so much more to do so we headed straight to Tsitsikamma National Park. We checked into the Bloukrans backpackers lodge. Perfect!
But none of the places around were open for us to fetch food – so we went to bed, hungry!!

We stayed in log cabins... the entire feel was fantastic was drizzling outside and the was kinda chilly too .. i quickly got myself into the rug and was trying to contain my excitement and catch some sleep. had a big day coming up...
I couldn’t sleep a wink thinking about the bungy jump next day off the Bloukrans (which happens to be the highest commercial bridge jump in the world – 216 m)

The walk… the fear, the jump and the adrenalin rush…..

As I was walking on the suspended wire bridge, my heart was racing. I had questions in my mind… wasn’t sure if I would survive it. Was thinking of freak accidents but then wanted to so badly do it.. So here I am. Standing on the highest commercial bungy jump bridge looking at the crew who were enthusiastically harnessing us, trying to make us laugh with funny stories... to jump or not to jump.. Anyways, I guess it was too late to turn back. I was petrified as I stood on the edge and the countdown began and off I went. What happened before was really history as what I witnessed after the jump was so completely phenomenal.. My heart pounding and the gorge below looked spectacular.. This is by far the most exciting thing that I have done in my life!

  • Next stop....
    On the banks of a lagoon and nestled between the Indian ocean and the Outeniqua mountain range, Knysna is a must-see for every visitor to South Africa and certainly one place that shouldn’t be missed on a Garden Route tour.
    One of my favorite spots is Noetzie beach, a long stretch of sand hidden away and accessed only through forests. As you climb down, you come across castles and experience one of the most idyllic scenery on the Garden Route. Truly a hidden secret.

    Top 10 things to do when you are bitten by the Knysna bug:
    - Go check out the heads for the panoramic view of the lagoon.
    - Beach: visit the Noetzie beach and stay in one of the castles
    - walk along the forests
    - Township tour: the town is very colorful and known for its crafts and has the biggest Rastafarian community of South Africa – go shopping for crafts. Visit the farmers market , if you land on a Sunday
    -Train ride: a return trip on the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe between Knysna and George is a must do.
    -Go for a sundowner cruise in the lagoon: A number of ferry trips around the Waterfront are available daily, weather permitting. Some companies offers trips on the Lagoon and beyond the head and others for sundowner trips on the Lagoon visiting the Nature Reserve

More coming up in the next issue of south african diaries.....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

“Bean” there done that!!!!

We decided to head out to check the avrekal spectacle on a Monday afternoon at the Sajjan Rao circle.
If you are a foodie, then this is a must go… The mela started on 3 Jan and would be on until the 14th of Jan and it happens every year at Sri Vasavi Condiments at VV puram near the Sajjan Rao circle
I almost got into a fight with the vendor serving uppitu as I couldn’t wait to attack the food and he would take the longest while to serve. I even offered my help for some self service . J

There was Avrekalu all over the place – there was fresh avrekal, dried Averekalu …There was nippatu, fried averkalu and many varieties of mixtures, avrekalu Dosas, avrekalu Vadas, Uppitu, Holige and Ginnu. What a treat for avrekal lovers!

The aromas from the tava were way too tantalizing and with hundreds of people like us in the tiny shop, it was quite a fight…but worth the wait

So what is Avrakalu?

The English name for avrekalu is Hyacinth beans.
The whole beans (avrekayi) look almost like green peas with shells on. The shells are harder than green peas. When the outer skin is peeled, the beans (avrekalu) can be seen. This vegetable or beans is very popular in Bangalore but is seasonal… My mother says you get the fresh beans only for about 15 days in a year and then it’s available in dried form – no wonder there was such drama around it…but we aint complaining at all!!!!

And here is an interesting trivia about the beans and our city ….After you read the story below – you will know why bengalurians swear by the name!!!!
"The story goes that many centuries ago, a Hoysala king lost his way in a forest while hunting game. Tired and famished, he stumbled upon a little village where a family offered him boiled avarekaalu beans and a place to sleep. Grateful for the hospitality, the king named the village as Bendada Kaalooru -- or the place of boiled beans -- and from then on contributed a lot to its expansion.
The story may sound made up and highly romanticized…. but since then Bendada Kaaluru becomes Benga luru, which was later anglicized to Bangalore by the British and is now back to being called Bengaluru!!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Cradle of the humankind.... africa !

Having lived and survived the American and the Asian continent, it was time to taste the African soil errr Beer maybe … So here I am, in Africa …- where humanity was born – which ultimately makes each one of us, an African.
I read this at the Apartheid Museum in Joburg, South Africa.

So here’s a snippet of my African odyssey ……

Travel gyan for the dummy travelers …

Travelling is not always about tacks and pins on the map…… its about meeting people… its about enjoying every little wonder that you come across, appreciating smaller things .. Having little expectations…. Tasting world cuisines, walking to a store in a foreign country and being asked a million times to repeat yourself cuz you have an accent. It’s about appreciating and respecting the laws of the land!!!! Is it a yes???? Congratulations!!!! You have been certified a true traveler!

Alright, I know I am going on a different tangent now. And need to be reminded now and again to stay on track … so coming back to the subject … I am here ,now, in the southern tip of Africa – South Africa – the most colorful country in the world…where it wasn’t fun being colorful a few years back 

Of personal invites and appearances….

After having submitted my visa documents , I was eagerly awaiting that stamp on my passport and instead I get an email from my visa agent … “ the RSA home affairs in Mumbai seeks the pleasure of your company to invite you to visit the beautiful South Africa” !! In other words, my passport has been the lucky one to have been picked among; a few, submitted, for interrogation – its personal interview time folks! Gaaahhh!!! Sometimes it isn’t fun living on the edge!

Alright, there s nothing you can do against the wishes of the embassies. Sadly!!!

So I book my tickets to Mumbai … First flight out at 5 am tomorrow. And its 9 pm already. Lots to finish before I jet set. So I finish all the important tasks, head home, need to pay some money to a friend on the way… send an itinerary to a client… speak to my agents about my disappearance for a few months …… wait is there time for a quick beer ;-) Nah!!! Need to pack. Get my documents sorted. Damn!!!!!!! So much to accomplish – such little time!
I reach home after all my chores at 11. Pack whatever is visually appealing and fill my suitcase till it can’t breathe no more. Hang on …I am coming back right … may be not, if I get my Visa tomorrow. I just fly out to Joburg if they are kind enough to stamp it tomorrow. Wait what if there is no ink at the embassy to stamp my passport… what if, there is fire at the embassy …. Hyperboles are flowing in abundance today …..;-)

I land at the Mumbai Chatrapathi Shivaji airport at 6:30 … and its raining incessantly … its raining people man – not cats and dogs!

I have lots of luggage. a claustrophobic suitcase , a laptop , wads of cash ( how I wish ) , alright a credit card with no limits … sigghhh ! Made my way to a cab after rescuing myself from massive puddles of rainwater and the heavy downpour.. Last thing I want now is Malaria!

Need to make a quick decision … Interview is at 9. Its 7:30 am already.. Do I have time to dump my luggage … Visualizing the Mumbai map, I make a few phone calls. Hoping someone would pick up the call and I could quickly put my poor suitcase on a ventilator and run to the embassy… A few persistent calls, and sleepy friend picks up my call!!! And I narrate the story.. Land there.. Suitcase dumped and I run out and head to the embassy. Just about make it at 9 and the security guard says no bags allowed. I have my haversack with my laptop, and camera.. I promise, I have the saddest puppy face in the world pleading him to let me in and he just refuses to acknowledge.. I make some quick cruel plans of leaving the bag on the main road.. He finally gives in and suggests that I leave the bag at the pan walla down the road. I meet the pan waalla and looks like this is an age old business of keeping bags.. so I leave my stuff and run back to the embassy . A couple of hours pass by.. No signs of being called in … I realize I don’t even have the token for the interview. Call my agent and he lands after a few hours. It was nice long laid back day.. No one seemed to be in hurry to open doors and I was famished and sleepy and worried about my laptop.. What if the pan walla gets my Swiss account number from the laptop??? Since it was a personal invitation, I was hoping some hospitality:-P. yes, I prefer my cappuccino with some cream and some chocolate shavings please! Never mind, the water drops falling on me from the corner of the roof outside at the sitting area at the embassy…

After a good 5 hour wait, the security guard gets me the token and I walk in. It’s not over yet. I wait for an hour inside before I get called in.

15 min interview about why who where how and when and it’s over. I muster courage and ask her – hmmm do u guys have enough ink? Errr I mean when would I get my passport? We will go through your case and take a decision next week! Arrrghhhhhh one more week in Mumbai before it get. Anyways, cutting my never ending long story short, I finally get my visa after 4 days and book the first flight out of Mumbai. The chosen airline is Ethihad airways, the official airlines of Saudi Arabia! After a short hop at Abu Dhabi, a few naps, a few morsels, I land in Johannesburg…

I clear immigration in less than 10 minutes. And wonder if they missed out something and let me in Well, it is supposedly a short process.

Welcome to Johannesburg aka Joburg aka Jozy !

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Singal dip or Many dips ????

A tenth century historian called it Singal Dip meaning Sinhala(lion)Dip(Island )...The Arabs called it Serendip, and the Chinese called it Pa-Outchow .. ( island of gems), which suggests that it must have been one of the important ports during earliar times.

Yes, we are talking about the country, where Sita was held captive by the ten headed King Ravana and Iddiappams are called string hoppers !!!!

Lush vegetation, streches of beaches, Buddhist shrines , Rocks, Caves and Waterfalls, "Sri" lanka trully deserves the knighthood ! ;-)

If your idea of a perfect holiday is relaxing on sandy beaches, driving down misty mountains, going on a wildlife safari, visiting sacred shrines.....errrr... a bit of this and a bit of that - Sri lanka is the place to be explored.

However , if you are rushed, wouldnt advise too many places unless you have enough time to have pit stops, or else you would land up spending more time travelling, than actually seeing places.
Well, for me that too works as I love watching the world pass by through my window .. I love to glare at people - make eye contact with strangers ... it takes you to another world...

The good news is that the Visa to Sri lanka is on arrival - its a mere stamping on the passport - takes less than 5 minutes and there is no departure tax and our currency is 2 and half times stronger which makes us feel we are rich for a bit !!! Some cheap pleasures ..comes a long way ......when you hit "house of fashion" and "Odel" .... :D

Interestingly - Sri Lankan apparel industry is one of the largest contributors to the National Gross Domestic Product of this island nation, followed by Tea, Rubber , Coconut and Tourism

With the time in hand, this was the route that was charted out....

You are greeted with a Ayu Bhawa( Welcome) coming from "Ayu(sh) Mana Bhawa" as you alight Sri lankan Airlines...and then showered with more Ayu Bhawas , and you trully feel welcomed to India's teardrop.

Colombo , the capital city has a very lackadaisical look to it ... its easy to imagine the city with wild elephants wandering around during the british era ... It has a victorian, probably a dutch look to it . You can see clock towers at every junction - which makes you feel that you are driving in circles. The suburbs look like they never end, giving it a " CAPITAL" city look and feel....

First stop.....We reached Nuwara Eliya town by 9 pm after a harrowing bus ride and a bus change after which we finally checked into the Heritage Tea factory, Kandapola.... We were welcomed there with some amazing in house vanilla tea.

The tea factory has a story to can spend days in the tea factory discovering little stories about the place... The outside of this 60-room hotel, 6850feet above sea level, has been retained exactly as it was when the British planters constructed it in the mid-1930s while the insides take you to another era...
It was then called the Hethersett Tea Factory, named after a small town outside London.
The factory finally shut down in 1973 and was converted into this unique hotel.

You can either get yourself a relaxing massage at their spa or indulge in a bit of tea leaves picking ...

and guess what it doesnt end there... once you are done with the picking, leaves are taken and dried and packed for you before you leave ..You can bring back home and brag to F& F... There is a mini tea factory in the Hotel where this process takes place....
Also , you can request the chef to teach you to brew the famous Ceylon tea...he will start with the history and explain the different types of tea - such as PEKOE, BOP and BOPF and give you gyan on how to tell strong tea from mild tea ! Very enligh-tea-ning indeed !!!!!!

When in tea factory , one must'nt miss the trek to the Horton Plains ...which is supposedly the highest plateau in the country...It's a fairly easy 4 km walk from the main entrance, through grasslands, gentle streams and eventually forest. First stop is Little World's End, much smaller size but still with excellent views of the valleys and village below. About a kilometre further on is World's End which is a 1000 m vertical drop. It was a bit of an anti climax as we had imagined too much but its nevertheless recommended for the walk part of it.Also the Baker falls, on the way back to the entry looked spectacular ....We were running out of time so cdnt stop over at the falls ..

We were soon back on track to our next stop - Bentota ..It was a good 6 hour drive with COMFORT BREAKS in between . We stopped enroute at the Raffles Restaurant at Kitigula - which has gained fame after the Bridge on river kwai, which was apparantly shot here .

The Beaches of Bentota are unimaginabely beautilful. One of the longest beach strech that i have seen in my life ..Bentota is actually in between the ocean and a lagoon and gifted with stunning views.

Next part is From Bentota to Colombo to the wonderful Dambula ..

Watch this space for more lankan tales.....

Sri Lanka

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

camera ... lights .... action !!!!

I have been meaning to blog about this amazing hotspot in Bangkok for a long lone time ... finally doing it as i recently visited the place after 2 good years.. thankfully somethings never change !

Welcome to a Thai club... nah no thai women and kathoys to lure you ... no sleaze ... its plain unadulterated fun !!!

Located on Rachada Soi 10 , Hollywood is like huge stadium with a capacity of more than 1000 people .
You can buy a bottle of whiskey for a reasonable price , so you don’t pay the entrance. We found ourselves a table but the waiters, i guess were so engrossed in the music that they dint bother to even look at us .. heheh, i forgot a bit of tipping always helps in thailand !! but anyways.....

Finally the action ... some 20 skimpily clad women set the stage on fire ...i think this should be called bollywood not hollywood . In true bollywood style,there were costume changes and major hip shakes .. Must say, some of the dancers were disasterous ... but they were really enjoying themselves ..and i guess that makes all the difference ..

Now the best part... if the crowd gets escatic about a performance they offer a bottle of whiskey to the artist and the way a 90 ( or mebbe more ) is gulped down, just leaves you stunned - yes mouth wide open !!!

So if you are in bagnkok the next time .. do check out hollywood ..

Sunday, November 04, 2007

its not always a HAIRY TALE !!!!

every morning when i wake up .. i see her longer ... she stands up and smiles at me .. i wash her and hush her.. she wants to breathe . she wants to play... yet she sits calmly watching the world while she is all curling up into a young lad ...

she had lost her identity for a few years ...she hated it ...

they would pull her all over.... she would cringe as she was put to test ... hot winds and hot iron passing through her had almost become a routine ... she would scream in pain... she would fall in protest ....

she wanted the love .. she wanted to be nurtured .. she wanted to be let loose... finally one day i gave her the freedom .. i let her be !!!

yes i let go of you for your sake ... and now i look at you everyday like a mother sees her child...a child so pretty .. a child that needs all the love ... i see how you add to my personality .. everyday you make me look like a different person ... I promise you child for all the sacrifices you have made i shall give you the tender care and all the affection that you deserve ....

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Ice Ice Baibay !

Yeah it was the perfect finnnissh ! bees saaal baad it happens .. three drivers fighting out for the ultimate position and it was none other than the ice man !!Kimi ended the season with 110 points from Hamilton and Alonso, who both finished on 109.
British rookie Hamilton having started second , allowed Kimi to pass him at the first corner and then let his teammate Alonso overtake him as well and finally dropped off to the 18th position due to a mechanical failure.

All in all, McLaren paid for their poor kimi-cks after a poor start.

What a weekend ... starting with india's 20-20 win against aussies on saturday and then then kimi winning the championship

Yippeee !