Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Udaipur: The holiday palaces

There are three major palaces in Udaipur - City Palace, Lake Palace and Monsoon Palace.

Lake Palace

Looking at Lake Palace from City Palace
Lake Palace was built in 1743-1746 during the royal dynasty of Mewar by Maharana Jagat Singh II as a royal summer palace, right smack on an island in Lake Pichola. It was named Jag Niwas after its founder but it is now converted to a luxury hotel - Taj Lake Palace.

According to the legend documented in Taj Lake Palace website, this lake palace came about after a young prince was denied his indulgence in moonlight picnies with ladies in another lake island palace of Jag Mandir.

As this is now a private property, running as a hotel,  it is not exactly open for tourist, unless one is a resident guest. Apparently, one of the many films shot at this location was James Bond film Octopussy. I don't really remember this series of James Bond film though.

That being said, we only saw this summer palace in the past from afar as we were not guests at the current Taj Lake Palace.

Monsoon Palace

See, the white bits on top of the hill? That's Monsoon Palace
Pardon the iPhone 4, ok? ;)
Monsoon Palace, fomerly known as Sajjan Garh Palace, named after Mahara Sajjan Singh also of Mewar Dynasty. This hilltop palace was built in 1884 with the idea to watch the monsoon clouds.

This Monsoon Palace which overlooks the Lake Pichola was also meant to serve as a resort for the royal family. The palace is 5 km west of Udaipur and link by a winding road. Unfortunately, due to our lack of time, we didn't have the chance to visit this place. I like the name of this palace though, Monsoon Palace does sounds very interesting.

City Palace

Before anyone starting boo-ing me that I am making this up and wonder if I really have been to Udaipur, I have gone to one - City Palace.

Udaipur was the historic capital of the former kingdom of Mewar in the Rajputana Agency and its last capital. This marble palace was built by Maharana Udai Singh II in 1559, stood by the banks of Lake Pichola. What's impressive was not all parts of this palace was built at the same time, but the whole of it does look similar.

Entrance fee to Udaipur Palace Museum at that time of our visit was at Rs 115. There is also a charge for photography, to which we paid for one camera, Rs 225, this of course only started once we entered the building. We requested for a local guide on our visit, and his name is Dinesh. Lol, super easy for me to remember because one of my friend share the same name.

Prevention at door, said in case attacked by elephants

After a couple of hours in the City Palace, we cruised Lake Pichola to Jag Mandir (return ticket Rs 340.)

Island Palace

Jag Mandir is the first island palace of Lake Pichola. This palace built by Maharana Karan Singhji is right smack in the middle of the lake. It was intended to serve as a pleasure palace for regal parties and functions.

This island palace was also served as a refuge for Moghul Emperor Shahjahan when he was a prince against the wrath of his father in a family dispute in the seventeenth century. It was also said that following this, the island palace was the inspiration behind Taj Mahal.

In present day, this is a now a ideal destination for weddings venue. Other facilities at this place is an all day cafe, restaurant and bar.

Side note: Ah.. yummy cottage pie..

Monday, July 28, 2014

Udaipur: A little of Udaipur and Hotel Shikarbadi

View outside of our room
Udaipur is the historic capital of the kingdom of Mewar in the former Rajputana Agency. In present days, it is known as the city of palaces and lakes. It even has the nickname of "Venice of the East" (Was this the nickname for Suzhou as well?), owing to the many beautiful lakes in the state.

At the heart of it, overlooking famous Lake Pichola, stands the City Palace Complex and it is still partially occuped by the Mewar royal family today. Of our exceedingly short tour encompassed of four cities, I would rate this the holiday of the holidays. Given that this was our first stop, let's just say, we were easing into our trip (not that it was any hard work, as we booked a driver for this trip!)

The tour company initially recommended the superior stay at Oberoi Udaivilas. Despite very impressed with the place, it is above and beyond our budget. By all means, if you have the moolah, I think this traditional Indian palace is the place to spend a night or many nights.

The biggest keychain for a room key
Our stay, despite much cheaper comparatively, was not shabby at all - Hotel Shikarbadi.
Hotel Shikarbadi is surrounded by the Aravali hills, situated 4 km from the City Palace Complex. The main building was the former hunting lodge of the Mewar royal family.

I like the detail on the door

Anyway, we reached at night from a slightly delayed evening flight from Mumbai. Our driver for the trip picked us up from the airport and drove us to the hotel. Once checked in, we basically just rest for the night....

Complete with a walk-in wardrobe (bottom left)
... and woke up to this view.

After a couple of shots, my trusty camera stopped working. Regardless how I tweaked, nothing happened. Anyway, after we saw the view outside, we were excited of exploring the hotel.

There were monkeys in the compound
On the outer compound, there were some watchtowers and people playing crickets, also a small collection of cars.

Side note: A dark day for MH17 :(

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ph(f)oto Friday: Fridge Cake

I first learnt of this fridge cake from my previous Japanese class classmates. There were a lot of messages over LINE about this fridge cake and I decided I got to try this, no baking required too. I followed the recipe from here but used only dark chocolate as reviews from my classmates who thinks milk chocolate makes it too sweet. As for the nuts, I used pecan and omited the mixed peel.

The other day as I was browsing the many blogs I bookmarked, I saw this recipe for Chocolate Salami, the recipe looks rather similar and looks awesome as an edible gift! ^^

Side note: I need a sunny weekend!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vikhroli: Around a Mumbai Suburb

Vikhroli is a suburb in Mumbai and lies somewhere in the centre of Mumbai. It is nowhere near any tourist attraction and in fact, it takes probably an hour or so to get to one. Considering that I have about 5 to 6 hours to spare including 2 hours commuting, I decided to just check out the neighbourhood.

Nothing faze cows in India
When you are in India, this is a common sight - cows sitting at the side of the road, or even right smack in the middle. Motorist driving in India has superb skill in navigating around this holy animal.

I walked out of the residential area towards where the shops were, lo and behold there's a supermarket! Grin - it's fun to poke around in supermarket when you have time and see what kind of food there are on the shelves in different countries. I thought I'll start the day with coffee and got myself a can coffee, ahem... but I did finish it, waste not...

The other outlet that I spend a bit of time was a little book store, there were books for young adults written by Hindi authors too! Anyway, I continued my walk to the waters. Grin.

Yup, this was in Mumbai

I sat around for a bit, taking in the view and jotting down in my journal. There were two other guys there, sitting at the best spot in the house, at a corner, under the shade. My spot wasn't too bad but I had to move every now and then to get under the shade.

I sat crossed legs and by the time I got up, my feet has gone sleeping and I was limping to wear off the numbness. One of the passerby looked worried and started saying something to me. I don't speak Hindi and he doesn't speak English but somehow I worked out that he thought I had injured my foot. I also somehow managed to tell him I was ok. 'Sign' language and 'OK' seems universal enough. ;)

I walked back to the shops and picked out what I wanted to have for lunch. I decided to get a dosa from a food stall. Against all the advice of not eating street food in India, I went ahead with it anyway. I justified that it was cooked hot, that should have some comfort. This did not give me food poisoning but food from some restaurant in Agra did. Go figure.

Kaala masala dosa

Yes - I actually have a fork in my bag, a spoon too.. LOL

I asked for takeaway thinking that it would be easy to eat, a bit like a wrap. I was wrong, it came with dipping curries.

Super messy
There comes the issue, it's not ideal to do a takeaway as I was reluctant to eat such messy dish at where I was bunking. I did something that was probably a little worse than eating street food - I ate the street food in the street, sitting on a staircase, with the food placed on a flat hand rail. All was good and I even got myself an ice-cream cup from the supermarket as I made my way back to the accommodation.

A little fluffing around, Little P returned from work and we were ready to get to the airport to catch our domestic flight to Udaipur. ^^

Side note: Keeping fingers crossed for a clear day!

Monday, July 21, 2014

India: 12 hours itinerary in Mumbai

I reached Mumbai at 5.25am on a Thursday morning. My flight left Melbourne at 7.30 pm on Wednesday and had a two hour transit in Changi Airport. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the primary international airport in Mumbai is the first airport I encountered which segregates immigration check by flight class instead of foreign or local passport. Yes, if you are one of the many who traveled on an economy class, you get to queue with your fellow flight passengers.

I was picked up from the airport to the apartment that I bunked, courtesy of Little P. It was way too early in the morning, so I had a shower and a nap while she was hard at work. :P

Knowing that I would probably sleep the better part of the day away, I set an alarm and dragged myself out of bed to see Mumbai. Technically, I was in Mumbai for close to 2 days but only day 1 was spent doing the touristy bits. Whilst I did spent day two sightseeing, I was nowhere near the tourist centre of Colaba, in fact I was about an hour's drive away.

I took a cab to Gateway of India.

Gateway of India was built during the British Raj in Mumbai  overlooking the Arabia Sea. It is located on the waterfront in the Apollo Bunder area. This monument was erected to commemorate the landing of their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary when they visited India in 1911.

This gateway was right next to the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower hotel and symbolises "power and majesty" of British empire.

A bomb was planted in a taxi which exploded near the gateway in 2003 and was the disembarkation point of the terrorists participating in the November 2008 terror attacks of the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower.

One could take a boat ride here to get to Elephanta Island, the boat ride itself take about an hour. I gave this a miss as the island itself would take half a day though it does look very interesting. This is actually one of the few things I had listed down as I would want to check out.

I had a walk around the area and stopped for lunch at Leopold Cafe. Leopold Cafe sits on Colaba Causeway and was one of the first sites attacked during the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.

I ordered a garlic naan (Rs 90) and half size chicken tikka masala (Rs 400) for my lunch, washed down with a glass of cold coffee. I made a rookie mistake of forgetten to request for less sugar or sweet for my coffee (Rs 70).

This was yumm....

The sweetest coffee I had to date... even after watered down
After a fulfilling lunch, it was time to walk off the calories. I turned left from Leopold Cafe and walked along Colaba Causeway. Colaba Causeway is officially known as Shahid Bhagat Singh Road and house many stalls selling souvenirs, trinkets, jewellery, etc along it's walkway. Me being the boring one, only walked away with two pieces of Mumbai magnet.

Up till this time I do no have a map with me, so I popped in one of the hotels off Colaba Causeway and grabbed a free map. I then realised my next intended stop was at the opposite direction, so I retraced my steps and passed Leopold Cafe again, towards the other side.

I probably walked for another 30-40 minutes, passing Regal Cinema, one of the oldest and now rare stand alone theatre left in Mumbai till I reached Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). Strangely I think I only saw probably just another couple of foreigners along the road at that time. I am curious as to why they commute as I did see other foreigners at the tourist site but not when I was walking. Shrug.

CST was formerly known as Victoria Terminus (and definitely easier to pronounce) and was so named in honour of the Queen and Empress Victoria. It was opened on the date of her Golden Jubilee in 1887. CST is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. It was renamed as CST in March 1996, in memory of Chhatrapati Shivaji, the great Maratha Warrior King.

At the time of my travel, entry was not permitted to these part of the building. I only took pictures from outside of the gate. There was a security guard standing just next to the gate. In the midst of me taking shots of this beautiful building, two school girls came up and asked if they could have a photo with me. Mmm.. I can't be that exotic looking, especially considering my hair is still black in colour. Anyway, I obliged and they wished me "Welcome to India" :)

Female carriage
Despite being in the train station, I didn't board on any train as the next stop I wanted to go was on a different train line. Otherwise, it would work out perfectly. I flagged down a taxi and told him I wanted to go to Mahalaxmi train station. Seeing that I was a tourist, he asked if I wanted to go to Dhobi Ghat. This massive outdoor open air laundry place is just next to Mahalaxmi train station, 6th station on the Western Line from Churchgate. I paid Rs 73 for taxi fare from CST to Dhobi Ghat.

According to this webpage, this dhobi ghat is a registred organisation, called the Dhobi Kalyan and Audyogik Vikas Co-op Society. It was initially formed in 1890 to service the city's English and Parsi population.

From here, I walked for another 30 minutes of so, heading towards Haji Ali Dargah. Again, I have not met any tourist during my walk, maybe they took a cab instead? I'm unsure but 30 minutes isn't a long walk, really it isn't. Mmm.

Haji Ali Dargah is both a mosque and dargah (tomb). According to legends, Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari (R.A.) once saw a poor woman crying on the road, holding an empty vessel. He asked her what was the problem and was told by the woman that she stumbled and accidentally spilled the oil she was carrying. If she was to return home with an empty vessel, she would be beaten by her husband. The Saint asked the woman to bring him to the spot where she split the oil. At the spot, he jabbed a finger into the soil and oil gushed out. The woman, overjoyed, filled up the vessel and went home.

Thereafter, Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari (R.A.) had a recurring and disturbing dream that he had injured Earth by his act. Full of remorse and grief, he became seriously ill and decided to travel to India with his mother's consent. Years passed and before his death, he advised his followers to drop his shroud in the ocea and it should be buried by people where it is found. Haji Ali Dargah was built at the very site where his shroud came to rest, on an islet off the coast of Worli in the Southern part of Mumbai.

The accessibility to the dargah is very much dependent on the tides. It is only accessible during low tide. There are many stalls along the causeway leading to the dargah.


That, was my last stop for the day one in Mumbai before hailing another taxi and made my way back to the apartment for the night. If I had a little more time on day one, I would love to check out the Thieves Market too.

Side note: Pocky is dangerous....