Sunday, 26 June 2016

Thailand Dairy : Day 1 Bangkok By the Night


After a nice nap we were ready to venture out. Slowly the evening was setting in. We got ready and were out of the hotel in minutes. The Citin Pratunam or similar hotels in the area might seem that they are situated in very crammed up lanes but this was very advantageous also. Within 2 minutes of walk from the hotel you have access to everything that would satiate your shopping spree. And that’s why we come to Bangkok right, to shop till we drop.

Room @ Citin Pratunam
The first thing on our agenda was to get money exchanged and to get a local sim card. I had read super rich near big C mall was the best place for money exchange in Pratunam as they offered the best rates. But what I didn’t know was the closing time of Super rich. We asked a few shop owners for direction to super rich but they all said that by 5 PM it would have closed and it was already 6 PM by then. We were in dire need to get our dollars exchanged for local money. So the next best option we asked. One shop owner pointed to a small shop 2 minutes away and said they offered good exchange rates.

We walked down to the place. It looked like a gift shop. Inside there was a counter and behind that the exchange rates were displayed. They were offering 33 THB against a dollar which was fairly good. We got 100 dollar exchanged. It was pretty smooth process. They don’t ask for any identity of even validate the currency notes. With expressionless faces they take the dollar and give you the equivalent bhats in less than 30 seconds, no questions asked. Wow! And to think of I was carrying a cartload of Xeroxes as id proofs.

We also noticed that the shop was selling SIM cards as well.  I had enabled international roaming on my phone while travelling from India just to be extra sure that we remain connected to our home even if there is a delay in getting the local SIM. But that was a mistake. SIM cards are so cheap in Thailand that you really need not enable international roaming. The call charges are also pretty much affordable plus the 3G is super fast. We ended up not consuming all the call time the card offered as we had rationed the calls back to home initially.


There are a lot of local shops where you can get sim cards, even at the airports and seven eleven shops. We went to the counter and asked for an AIS sim. I had read a couple of networks offer the best signals AIS was the top one among them. All tourist SIM cards come at 299 THB with validity for 7 days and unlimited 3G  internet. It’s a pretty good option for anyone visiting there. The person at the SIM counter was Indian and talked to us in Hindi. He asked only to show the Xerox of the ID card but returned it after seeing. It took 5 minutes to setup hubby’s phone on the AIS network and we were done. The 3G internet was butter smooth and a joy to use. We called our homes for a few minutes each to confirm the calling services. There was different dialing patterns and the guy explained to us which was the most cost effective way.


After we got the SIM and exchange we were at peace to roam around the night market. Pratunam is mainly a shopping district and a very popular destination with the Indian tourists. If not for the banner and hoardings in Thai one would actually think they are in any Indian market. Many places like the Indra Square was brimming with Indian sellers and Indian tourists, mainly Guajaratis.  There were endless maze of small alleyways packed with thousands of fashion stores, and they are so cheap because most of them actually sell at wholesale rates. These shops offer t-shirts, jackets, dresses, jeans, shorts, shoes and accessories, including many fakes. So you need to bargain a lot to get the right price. We saw many tourists carrying a type of wheeled bag, similar to luggage bags in the shopping area. Initially we thought they were luggage bags only but later understood that they were being used to stuff the shopped goods. Can you imagine how shopping crazy people often this place that they need luggage bag sized bags to stuff their loot :) !

We were not looking for clothes and accessories shopping but something which would be unique to this place that we could carry back home.  Most of the I love Thailand printed T-shirts are also sold in India in any wholesale market. My suggestion would be not to spend on the clothes as, the quality is also compromised since the price is low.

The main road was brimming with like thousand people at the same place. At places it seemed like elbowing thought he crowd was the only option we could move forward. Added to this was the intensive heat and humidity. It was like only 10 minutes from hotel, my makeup came off due to the sweat. We were sweating profusely, almost like we were just out of the shower. Take along a couple of hankies with yourself just to be fully armed against the sweat. Initially it was pretty discomforting. But everyone was in the same state and still we didn’t see anyone care about it. Soon we also got used to it.


The heat was making us thirsty. We saw a number of stalls selling some colorful bottled juices. We approached one of them selling a green coloured juice and asked what was it. The young guy at the stall said it was lemon juice. This was the first time I saw lemon juice having a colour. And no in Thai juices they didn’t add extra colouring. I tool a medium sized bottle costing 30 THB. Looked a tad expensive but the drink was very  very refreshing. Lemon juice and salt mixture but tasted nice.

We crossed the Baiyoke Tower II on our way, 300 meters and 88 stories, it is the tallest and one of the most distinctive monument in Bangkok. We kept walking towards the main road by asking people for direction. We wanted to go to the Big C supermarket, as I had heard it was good for shopping. Well so was the many other malls like Palladium, Indra and others but we were already late and didn’t have much time to check out all the popular malls in the area.

There are different markets in Pratunam based on the time of the day. Morning markets, day markets, night markets etc. But throughout the day you can see some sort of markets open to entertain the tourists. When we walked towards Big C, we saw some shops closing their shutters at 6 PM itself while at other places shops were just opening. It was kind of amusing.


One thing that I didn’t mention earlier was street food stalls. They were everywhere wherever you went. Authentic local foods sold by the locals along the roadside. If you get hungry with all the shopping, no need to fret. At every 2 minutes there is a lot of street food lined up in small makeshift shops. And a disclaimer, walking by the food stalls might offer visuals which is not for the faint hearted and certainly not for pure vegetarians. Huge chicken roasts, baked fishes, fried squids, pork on the stick and a multitude of shocking non vegetarian items stocked up on display. Though for us it was a pleasant sight to behold, there was food everywhere and being foodies nothing could please us more. We had promised ourselves at the onset of the tour that once we are in Thailand absolutely no Indian food for us. I was not ready to pay for simple daal rice in thai bhats costing double of what it is in India. So the numerous Indian restaurants on either side of the road were of very little interest to us. But Thai food definitely was piquing our interest.

 Though it was hot, but we loved the walk. Once we reached the main road the crowd diminished. One thing we noticed in Bangkok was the color of the Taxis – pink, orange, purple, yellow, green- name the colour and you would have a taxi in that colour. That was a pleasant change from the yellow-black ones we were so used to in our country. Later I read about it and learnt that there is a colour coding applicable for these taxis - “The single-color are company taxis, personal taxis in cooperation or alliance and rental company taxis. These color include bright green, bright sky blue, red, orange, yellow, blue, pink, purple, violet and tan. The bi-colored taxis are in 3 kinds including yellow-green, red-blue and yellow-orange. The yellow-green are the personal private taxi. The red-blue are the rental taxi. The yellow-orange are the company taxi”. We also saw the famous tuk tuks, which was something similar to our autos or totos of Kolkata.

On way we came across a street seller selling hats. Since from next day our beach vacation was starting hence we both needed hats. We tried out many hats and finally settled for two of our choice at 150 BHT each. Happy with our first purchase we kept walking. In distance we could see the neon lights of Big C mall. After a while we crossed a long line of open air street restaurant under the flyover. The sitting arrangements were very basic but the place was buzzing with people. The food aroma around this place made us hungry but it was not yet time for dinner so we walked on. We decided we will have dinner at this place only.


We reached Isetan supermarket in front of it we saw two temple like monument in front of it with Vishu like idol. We had also seen ganapati idols at places. People were praying in front of the idols and lighting incense sticks.  We took a few snaps and moved on. We came across another cluster of street shops. Hubby tried on a couple of shades just for fun while I checked some of the trinkets on sale.

There was also a stretch of shops which were selling different fruits, fishes, jewelries. Thailand has so many types of fruits to offer. Some of them very new to us like the Mangosteen, Rose apple, Durian or Rambutan. They resembled some of our fruits but tasted different. I tasted only Dragon fruit and Thai Oranges while in Thailand. Both were good.


My mother had told me that people usually buy gold or silver from Bangkok as they are very cheap. There was a couple of shops in this market selling silver. But we were in doubt about the authencity of the metal hence decided to skip.


We were really hungry by this time so we picked a stall with considerable crowd to buy something to eat. It had different fried non veg items on stick. The man handed over a plastic packet and asked to put in the packet whatever we liked. We picked two stick with chicken fry and two stick with fried chicken liver. He took the packet checked the content and told the price. The price was by the piece. It came to some 40 THB for all of it. Damn cheap. Just as we were paying I noticed on one side of the cart some fried things which looked like larvae fry.

“Err what is that supposed to be?” I nudged hubby pointing in that direction.

He looked and didn’t say anything.

“Is it really worm fry or something?” I almost said in a horrified note. He was laughing seeing my expression and said “Possibly”


I didn’t look at that part of the cart and walked away. After stabilizing a bit we started eating. Both the sticks were very scrumptious.

Big C is nearly 1 Km from Citin Pratunam. But the multiple pit stops we made made it look like we had come a long way. We bought a couple of cute jute boxes from a street shop. Hubby wanted to gift it to his boss.


Finally we entered the Big C mall. Till now we had forgotten that there was any kind of weather apart from hot. The moment we entered the mall it appeared as if we had entered the heaven. The gush of cold air from the central air-conditioning felt unreally soothing. All the tiredness vanished and we walked with renewed vigour into the shops. We came across several gift shops. One of the particular gift shops had a nice collection. I selected some fridge magnets which is almost a ritual with me whenever I visit any new place. There are many fridge magnets on my fridge from different places which talks about all the good times we had in those places. Hubby brought a set of key chains and nail cutters as gifts for our relatives. There were beautiful wooden dolls also in the shop, I particularly liked the cat dolls but the price was very exorbitant. Hence we didn’t buy them. The old lady at the shop gave us nice discounts after hubby kept bargaining. He wouldn’t budge without buying in the bargained price and she would not relent. But at the end she gave us the things at our desired price and we promised to come back again.


It was already pretty late by then and shops were closing down in the mall. We saw an escalator going up. We went towards it to go to next floor. A lady stopped us before the escalator. She was offering strips of paper with some herbal moisturizing cream trials. We took two of them and went up the escalator.  We applied the cream while going up and were mesmerized by the amazing scent of the cream. We thought of checking it out again while coming down.

The supermarket was situated in the upper floor. The look and feel of the supermarket reminded me of the American Walmart or Costco supermarket. It was huge. The collection of items was exhaustive, especially food items, preserves, sauces, cosmetics, ranges of alcohol etc. I had made up mind to buy as many Thai spices and preserves as I could hence it appeared like a treasure trove to me. My situation was almost like a kid in a candy shop, whatever I was picking to take a look seemed interesting and I was almost squealing with joy at the wide options I was seeing in front of my eyes. Even hubby agreed that the collection was amazing. One is really spoilt for choices in every section. But we didn’t buy anything that day as we thought about the weight constraint in Air Asia, which was our flight for the next day to Krabi. We simply browsed through the sections and made a mental note of what all we were going to buy during the return journey to Bangkok after three days. This supermart might not appeal to people looking for budgeted clothes and accessories but it fitted our requirement to the T.

We came out of the floor and headed for the area where we had met the lady who gave us the cream trials. But seemed like her shop was closed. So we thought of coming back when we were in Bangkok. By 9:30 the mall was almost having a deserted look apart from the supermart area. We came out and headed for the open air restaurant we had come across before.

The restaurant area was still brimming with people. And after some wait only we could get a table. It was hot and humid again and the restaurant had installed fans near the tables which made it a bit bearable. The menu was very exhaustive and we were confused like hell what to take and what not. We decided to go with something whose name was familiar to us. Seafood Tom yum soup looked familiar. We wanted some rice to go with it so we asked the girl attending our table about rice.

She looked at us quizzing and repeated “Rice?”

The food
Her expression told us that it was something she was hearing for the first time. Now it was our turn to be surprised. Thailand was a country in which rice was as popular as in India and here our waitress stood with a blank expression. We tried animated ways to make her understand what we wanted. She looked pretty helpless and summoned another young boy who was equally clueless.

We were so exasperated at their expression that we didn’t know how to explain it to them. Then by chance I asked “Fried Rice?” A wide smile spread across her face as she heard something familiar “Fried Rice , yes yes we have” she said.
The Street restaurant
Both the parties were finally relieved and we ordered seafood fried rice with seafood tom yum soup.  Why did we order a soup with rice you might wonder. Well we had seen the soup was thick enough to go with rice as a gravy hence the combination. It was a short wait and the steaming hot food arrived. The quantity was huge for two and the prices were very very affordable, hence we were super happy.  The food tasted as good as it looked, no wonder the place was brimming with people even at 10 Pm in the night. Squid if extremely cheap in Thailand. Hence whenever we had ordered sea food in this country we got a combination of prawns and squids in it. Squids might not appeal to people who are having it for first time. But both of us had it earlier so we were kind of okay with it though we preferred the prawns more. The rice was mildly spiced and the soup was very tangy. Combination was a bit weird but worked with us nonetheless. We also ordered coke to drink. They gave a bucket filled with ice cubes along with the coke. Due to the heat we had to drop the cubes frequently into our drink to keep it cool.

After the scrumptious dinner we were filled to the throat almost. The walk back to the hotel was really required to digest some of it. The shops along main roads were already closed so it was kind of deserted but e didn’t feel scared walking alone. We saw the trash collecting trucks were collecting the trash during night itself.

Tender Coconut Drink
The market near our hotel was still buzzing with activity. God knows when this area closes down. We were very tired by that time and decided not to linger outside anymore as we had an early fight the next day. We had already informed the hotel about the early check out and for arranging a cab to the Don Mueang Airport next day. Like Suvarnabhumi Airport, the connectivity to Don Mueang was not that good via skytrain. Only taxi or bus was the option. For Bus we had to change a lot of stops also at that early hour it could be confusing, so cab was the only option even though it was an expensive option.

We retired to the room soon after. Coming back to AC was a relief. We changed quickly and went to bed watching some Thai comedy show.  The main tour was about to begin from the next day.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Thailand Dairy - Day 1: Pune to Bangkok

May 7 : Pune to Bangkok


This time the destination of our annual holiday trip was Thailand. A lot of planning went in to finalising the places, hotels and trips. But every phase of planning was a lerning experience for me. While planning a trip, I came to know a lot about the country and culture of Thailand.

Finally the D day had arrived. All the planning and hard work of past 3 months was about to get paid off. I was feeling a bit edgy and super happy at the same moment.

We had a early morning flight hence the plan was to hit the sack as early as possible. But the final packing, checking the checklist, clearing the trash, ensuring every minute detail was taken care of all these took much time and we ended up going to bed at 10:30 PM.

Our flight was at 6:05AM. It takes nearly 45 minutes to reach the airport from our home. So ideally leaving home by 4:00 AM was the thing to do. But when I had earlier contacted Indigo Customer Care just to be sure about the Check In time I was informed that I need to check in at the airport at least 2 hours before the flight time, which is the usual norm for an international flight. But the Pune-Kolkata leg was a domestic flight so I expressed my surprise over the 2 hour thing. The customer care executive seemed totally unsure and finally ‘recommended’ me to be there 2 hours before just to be sure! So now we needed to leave home by 3 AM. Hence the alarm was set at 2:15 AM. Which practically meant that we were just going to bed just as a ritual. But I was not complaining at all. My heart was racing all around the place and I simply wished the 3.5 hours to zoom past so that we can embark on our holiday!

We had so many options of transportation to choose from – Ola, Uber, local auto etc. But we decided to stick to good old Wings radio cab. Though they charged more but their service was bang on time. I had a disastrous early morning booking experience with Ola hence I didn’t want to repeat the fiasco.
The cab arrived before time and within minutes we were into the cab. It was pitch dark outside and there was hardly any soul on the roads apart from a few cars zooming by. We engaged in a friendly banter with the cab driver. When he knew that we were from Kolkata, he expressed his long standing of desire of visiting the shakti peeths of Bengal. We talked about Dakshineshwar, Goddess Kali and all kinds of spiritual things. It actually felt good. The day had started off well.

Traffic less Pune roads are like a dream come true. You feel like you have gone a century back when there were no gas guzzlers on the streets. It was pure bliss cruising through the empty roads. We reached airport by 3:40 AM. There were hardly a few cars in the departure area. And in the departure lounge there were even few people. Most of the people were dozing off in their chairs. The baggage screening belts were non-operational and not a single ground staff of any airlines was seen anywhere. This confirmed my doubt that we didn’t need to come 2 hours before departure to airport for a domestic flight. But we could do nothing except sit and wait. After playing candy crush, sugar crush, criminal case, for umpteen times and checking and rechecking whatsapp for the possibility of any night owl sending cool midnight messages I could still manage to pass only about 50 minutes. When I was just about deliberating the fact whether I too should seek a corner chair and doze off I saw a gaggle of yellow blue uniformed air hostesses making their way in. The jet airways crew was in. Everyone stirred in their chairs. Soon the jet screening belts whirred to life and passengers started queuing up. I was wondering where were these damn Indigo folks?  After like 15 more minutes later which seemed like an eon, we finally saw the Blue uniformed ladies.  As soon as the Indigo ground staff was spotted a long queue formed behind the Indigo baggage screening belt. No it was still non-operational but we Indians can never give up the temptation of reaching first everywhere. Finally the belt was started and we got our bags screened.

Suvarnabhumi Airport
One more funny thing with the Indigo guys. I have taken a lot many International connecting flights earlier in other countries. One, I am allowed to do web check in for both segments of the flight and two if I am having a connecting flight with the same operator then baggage is internally transferred by the operator themselves. Both the things were not allowed in our case by Indigo. I got to know from customer care that since it was a domestic international combi flight hence I cannot web check in, god knows why! And two I need to check in my baggage at Pune, collect baggage at Kolkata and then again check in baggage at the counter in Kolkata by myself.  The window period between our two flights was hardly 2 hours. So I was a bit tensed because usually it takes a lot of time to collect your bags and we had to go from domestic arrival terminal to international departure terminal in Kolkata which I was not sure how far. So I did the next best thing available – asking for confirmed assistance at Kolkata airport both while going to Bangkok and coming back. I was assured by the customer care rep that as soon as I would arrive in the baggage collection hall someone would definitely be there to assist us. I am really sad to say just because it’s our country we didn’t bank much hope on this assured assistance. And good that we didn’t. Because there was no such person who came for us. There was in fact no ground staff of Indigo available at the arrival carousal. When after walking for long in the Kolkata airport we saw someone from Indigo we informed them about this and he didn’t seem any less concerned about it. My good old country! Only one thing good was that they followed international norms for baggage. If you have an international connecting flight with Indigo they allow up to 20 KG in the domestic leg as well. Not sure if the same rules would still apply if you have two different operator for domestic and international segment.

Suvarnabhumi Airport
Okay so as I was saying I was not allowed to web check in earlier, this meant that getting a desired seat was totally impossible.  What I didn’t anticipate was that getting a seat together would also be impossible. And exactly that’s what happened. We got two middle seats 4 rows apart. Okay so the experience with Indigo was getting sourer. I was cursing the fact why didn’t we book a bit earlier while the Thai airways flight was still cheap. Our bad.

The security check was quick enough and then we went to the first floor to wait in the departure lounge. Though 5:30 AM was not a time to feel hungry, but since we were awake from 2 AM our body was already sending hunger signals. We got some sandwiches just to stall the hunger pang. We thought that we will have proper brunch at Kolkata airport. While we were waiting in the lounge we heard faint kitten calls. First I thought it was just my imagination. How could possibly a cat be anywhere near first floor departure area. For a while I didn’t hear anything else. Then I actually saw something. A mama cat with her little kitten going around the lounge! I was astonished beyond words. All the small kids in the waiting area gathered around the small kitten who seemed people friendly. I deliberated for sometime if I too join the kids in cuddling the kitten will the other passengers think I’m nuts? Should I behave in a more sophisticated manner as expected by a woman of my age? Then I thought what the hell? I am a cat lover and there right in front of my eyes was a tiny little kitty, does anything else matter? So I got up and went after the kitten. After sometime got hold of it and brought it to my chair. The other passengers seemed amused at my antics but I couldn’t bother less. Soon hubby also joined in. He is equally a cat lover. We played with them for long till our flight departure was announced.
Kitties @ Pune Airport
The flight from Pune to Kolkata was quite uneventful. I was in the middle seat so anyway I didn’t have anything better to do than catch up on my sleep.  Once in Kolkata airport, it was a long and frustrating wait before we got our baggage from the arrival belt.  After collecting the baggage we scurried towards the International Departure area. Now after Kolkata airport has been revamped for good or bad, one needs to simply run a marathon to reach from point A to point B. There are more empty places than vantage points in the whole airport and it makes things a whole lot confusing especially when you are in a hurry. We walked and walked and walked and then walked some more until we reached an escalator which indicated for departure. Funny enough we couldn’t locate a lift anywhere. So we somehow fitted our huge baggage on the small step of the escalator and reached upstairs.  Then I noted it was the usual domestic departure area that I always accessed while coming to Pune from Kolkata.  A bit confused we went towards the check in line where a ground staff informed us we need to go thought the baggage screening first and pointed to a screening machine at one corner. Ughhhh as if checking in all over again was not painful enough. We waited in the long queue and got our baggage screened and tagged and then came back to the check in queue. Now the same baggage person checked our ticket and told us with a deadpan look – “Oh you need to go to international departure area this is domestic”.  And heaven forbid where was this international area? I dared to ask. He tilted his head and pointed to some area far far away which was not even visible from there.
Suvarnabhumi Airport
Just by thinking about the distance we had to still cover and looking at the time we had in hand for once I thought why not give up this whole idea of boarding the international flight and just go out of the airport, take a cab home and have a week chilling out at home. I was beyond frustrated at that time. We half ran half walked to this international departure area. Guess what the farthest aisle was for Indigo and we did have to screen our bags again because for international flight they had different screening tags.  Due to so much delay in these procedures I was almost sure that we are not going to get a seat together again. But surprise, we did get seats together that too in the second row and one of the seats was a window seat! Wow, some fairy somewhere was sympathetic to our plight. Once the boarding pass was collected and baggage dropped we headed towards the immigration queue. Boy the size of the queue gave us a heart attack. We barely had 30 minutes till departure and the line in front of us looked like the great wall of china. Nonetheless we took our positions.

We had already given up hopes on eating anything. But I was in dire need to use the washroom. So Hubby kept the line while I decided to make a quick visit to the washroom. Guess what again, the nearest washroom was near the intersection of the domestic and international areas. This was seriously getting unrealistic. As if the whole gamut of airport and ground staffs had pledged to make our lives miserable in each and every imaginable way. It took me nearly 10 minutes just to go and come back. The line had moved quite a bit by then thankfully.

Clearing the Immigration was possibly the easiest thing we had done in the whole day.  After the immigration we had to just reach our mentioned gates. We were feeling quite hungry by then. But we couldn’t see any food courts nearby and we thought we will have brunch on flight with whatever they had t offer. Though strangely we saw a lot of passengers moving towards the gates with packed Thali lunches. We wondered why. Food would definitely be available on flight, though it might be a bit pricy, but was it really necessary to pack a thali for the flight? Little did we know the surprise that lay ahead of us.
Suvarnabhumi Airport
There was still some time left before the flight so we browsed through a bookstore nearby. I bought a couple of books to read in-flight. The boarding call came like 15 minutes before departure time and everyone boarded the flight right on time. After settling down my first thought was to check out the food offerings. Usually there was a time when Indigo would serve different meals according to the time of the flight. Gone are the days, now they serve only fixed snacks on all flights. Still I hoped for something different. When I went to the Menu page I got the shock of my life. Not only the same snack items were listed but now the cost was marked in USD!!! And it was not a direct price conversion from INR to USD but a 3 times costlier deal. I will give you an example. The cookie box which costs about 60-70 INR (cheapest snack on board) was listed as $3 (still the cheapest one on the menu in terms of USD)! You get a big cookie box in the Walmart at about $2.50! This was fleecing customers like anything! No wonder everyone was carrying the thalis. It seemed we were the only ones unaware of this.

But the problem was we were terribly hungry. And after seeing the unaffordable prices our stomachs started growling even more. I had a lot of INR cash on me but we had limited USD and Thai Bhat and that too in bigger denominations. I asked the air hostess if we can pay in INR equivalent of USD but she straightaway said a No. Only Thai Bhat or USD we were informed. It was a difficult decision to break the $100 currency note into lesser denominations just for buying a box of cookies but we did it finally. The loose change we got back is not usable as no one would convert less than $10. The lessons and experiences seemed piling up throughout the day.

Bangkok Sky View
First glimses of Bangkok City from the flight

It nearly took us 2 hours 30 minutes to reach Bangkok from Kolkata. When we were nearing Bangkok the clouds that had blocked our view so far slowly faded away.  The first glimpse of Bangkok seemed like a maze of canals and farming lands. But the demarcation was very linear, very uniform. It almost seemed like someone had marked the entire land with a ruler. We could see temple like structures and some high rises interspersed between the landscapes. We could also spot the Chao Phraya River looking like a giant silver serpent. The airhostess announced the local time before landing at the Suvarnabhumi airport and we adjusted our watches accordingly. Thailand is 1.5 hrs ahead of IST. We were given the arrival and departure forms which we had to fill in before landing.

The temperature was quite balmy at 38 degree centigrade. We were informed that first we need to visa on arrival, clear the immigration and then collect our baggage from conveyor belt 19. The excitement came back to me and made me forget all the sour experiences we had till then.

Aarival Departure lounge - Photo Courtsey Internet

Beautiful Artwork on the walls @ Suvarnabhumi Airport
We exited from the plane and after a short walk down the ramp we reached the airport. The lounge was done in a beautiful soothing shade of mauve and there were orchids placed at strategic locations. The whole place was aesthetically beautiful. We followed the signs and kept walking. Now Suvarnabhumi airport is like huge. We walked for what seemed to us like ages, maybe like more than 15-20 minutes. But thankfully there was walking escalators which reduced the stress of walking so much. Plus the whole airport was very pretty. There were traditional Thai fresco and murals all over the side walls. We were swooning over them as we walked. I wish I had taken pictures of the art works but we were so tired that we wanted to finish off the formalities ASAP. Now after walking for like 15 minutes we wondered whether we were going the right way or did we get lost somewhere. The arrows still indicated a left or a right towards the Visa on Arrival but we thought of confirming. Fortunately we saw a help desk sort of facility somewhere and confirmed with them that we were on right track. After walking for some more time we finally saw the Visa on Arrival section. There was a desk like structure outside the room where some people were asking something while rest of the foreigners were running inside. We thought of going inside first. There was a queue inside. We saw a board having a listing of what all things are required for Visa on Arrival. There was a mention of some form which we didn’t have. So I asked an Indian lady standing in front of me where I could get that form. She told me with a blank expression that she didn’t know anything; they were already given all documents by their tour operator. So I stayed in the queue while hubby went outside to check at the desk. He came back soon with the required forms. The queue was moving steadily and filling up the form while walking was a daunting task. By the time I reached the end of the queue there were still some text boxes to be filled. The lady manning the line literally screamed at us and asked us to come to side. She was doing the same thing with everyone who didn’t have everything matched to the T. So we quickly filled up rest of the stuff and got the documents in place. The lady gave a dirty look at the documents and kind of shoved us in front of one of the counters. Me and hubby went to separate counters. The men at the counters appeared even less friendly. They took the Visa money, passport ,documents  and gave us a token number and didn’t tell us what to do after that. When I asked the person he rudely told me to “go there” pointing to god knows where. We were still confused so I asked one of the other officials. That person also pointed to some direction without saying anything. So we walked in that direction. It was a waiting area where there were other similar confused looking Indians asking each other what was going to happen next.

Suvarnabhi Airport - Photo Courtsey Internet
After a while a lady came holding some files and started calling the token numbers. She was handing out the stamped passport to everyone. After we got our passport immigration counters were just behind the waiting area. We completed immigration formalities and finally moved into the baggage claim area. The belt was almost empty. I could however locate one of our bags on it. When I was lifting the bag from the belt a security person came and asked for my boarding pass. She then cross checked the baggage tag with the one on my boarding pass. She also informed that rest of the unclaimed bags were collected and kept in one place and pointed to a direction. It was a good measure actually to prevent passengers from mistakenly or intentionally taking someone else's bag. We walked down to the area and found the other bag. The guy who handed our bags seemed like the first Thai person who gave us a smile. We smiled back.

After we got our bags we remembered we were still very much hungry. It would be quite late by the time we would reach our hotel so we had to eat something before that. We came out of the baggage reclaim area and spotted some food stalls.

The first food stall had some tiny sandwiches lined up in the freezer. We asked the lady at the counter did they have any chicken sandwiches to which she gave a confused look. After asking for two three times she said , “no English” and called another lady from inside. The later informed us chicken was sold out, only ones in pork and ham was left. So we moved to the next one. It was a pastry shop and we were looking for some real food so we skipped that too. The next one was a bit far away. Some of the items written on the board in front of the shop caught our attention. Thai red curry fish and rice we decided. I happily asked the burly women at the counter can we have two of that to which she gave a really nasty look, turned her back on us immediately and started talking with another lady sitting inside the shop. Wow is this the kind of hospitality we were going to experience in Thailand? Why everyone seemed so irritated and angry we pondered.

Whatever our hunger problem still remained sorted. I told hubby lets walk down the corridor maybe we will spot something. But our energy and patience was also draining fast now that we were also dragging along our big baggage. Like a god-sent visual we saw the icon of food court a few yards away. It indicated to the floor above. Thankfully we found the escalator too quickly and just as we went up we saw what our sour eyes were waiting for – lines of proper restaurant in Thai, Japanese, Italian etc.

We went us to one Thai restaurant which had the least walking distance. The menu had real food but the prices were a bomb. We selected the ones costing the least – prawn fried rice with egg on top and chicken kung pao and rice. While we waited for our food to arrive a Thai lady in a skimpy yellow suite came walking from the adjacent restaurant and asked my hubby “Do you want beer?” We were a bit surprised that how can someone from another restaurant advertise their beverage in a different restaurant and what made her choose us?  Maybe because we were sitting just at the entrance and rest all were ladies in this restaurant. We politely declined her offer and she went away.

Prawn Fried Rice @ Suvarnabhumi Food Court
Chicken Kung Pao with Rice @ Suvarnabhumi Food Court
Meanwhile the food arrived. The quantity looked really sad and mine was looking quite bland as well. But we were so famished that all these technicalities didn’t matter. The prawn rice was really bland in taste as it was in look. It was steamed rice and steamed prawns together with bare minimum seasoning, even salt. While the kung pao chicken was really good. The first taste of Thailand left us with mixed feelings.  After our hungry souls were satiated and we blew more than 600 THB we were ready to take our next transport – the skytrain.

Photo courtsey Internet
There are actually a few options one can choose from while travelling from Suvarnabhumi to the Hotel. The first is a shared shuttle vehicle provided by your hotel or in general any shuttle service . Depending on the size of the group the vehicle size will change. But its a flat 800 THB per person in the shared vehicle to any point within the city. If you ask your hotel in all possibility they will send such a vehicle. Also the Indian travel agents will book you in shared shuttles if you are taking packages from them quoting that its the most cost effective transport means. In fact they will also say if you take a private car it will cost you more. Which is possible half true. By personal car they don't mean the usual taxis, personal cars are like the ones you can book in any Indian city for private travel.  Which brings us to the next option the metered taxi. The metered taxis are a good way to travel within the city if you are new in the city. The prices are fair enough and you don't need to go though the hassle of knowing at which stop to get down to, which usually is the case if you are taking a bus. The metered taxis are available in the floor number 1 of Suvarnabhumi. Next is the option of Bus. I did find a BTS stop somewhere close to my hotel but still it seemed like a long walk in the google maps. So after some more R&D I stumbled upon the best possible option to reach Citin Pratunam Hotel where we were going to stay for the night - the skytrain. The BTS Skytrain runs through all important downtown disctricts and major transport hubs in Bangkok, from Mo Chit to On Nut (Sukhumvit Line) and National Stadium to Wongwian Yai (Silom Line). I knew about the metro service in the city but I found the direct connectivity between the Suvarnabhumi Airport and Pratunam area just the day before. If you are staying in the Pratunam area and staying at any hotel located near to Citin this is the cheapest and fastest way to reach your hotel. While the taxis take roughly 40-45 minutes to reach the skytrain only takes about 20 minutes to reach the nearest station Ratchaprarop. The pink line in the below image shows the airport skytrain route. 
Rail Map

The skytrain is located in the basement of the airport. We followed the signs and reached the ticket counter pretty quickly. It cost us 40 BHT/person from Suvarnabhumi to Ratchaprarop Station. Metered Taxis would take about 450 TBH. We got a plastic round token instead of a paper ticket which we scanned at the entry gate. Almost in every 10 minutes there is a train. So one doesn't have to wait too long also. The door positions of the train are marked on the platform so the queue forms accordingly. 

Once the train came the boarders boarded the train in a very disciplined manner. The people from the train alighted first. Then without rushing in the people who were about to board the train boarded it one by one. There was enough time for everyone to get on the train. 

Ours was the last but one station, so we settled down comfortably. The sky train journey gave us a chance to see the greater Bangkok pass by our window. We could almost see the entire Bangkok city just by sitting in the train. Initially we didnt see many high rises, mostly there were residential and industrial complexes spread around the landscape. As we gradually moved towards the downtown area, the skyscrapers slowly made their appearance along the sky line. The city looked just like any modern Indian city, it didn't appear like a foreign country to us at all :). 
Ratchaprarop Station
There are within the train announcement about the next station so you can be ready beforehand. Finally we got down at the Ratchaprarop station. Frankly, I had a lot of trouble pronouncing the station name before I finally got it right. But it was fun. before we could even figure out which direction to go to, the entire crowd which had alighted with us had disappeared. The station was completely empty when we started walking towards the elevator. We were not sure which floor to go to so we came a floor down. There we saw some security people and asked them the direction to our hotel. They couldnt understand Citin Pratunam, finally an old man said " you want to go to Pratunam Hotel I will show you". He asked us to follow him. We Indians are almost taught to suspect any stranger who is very willing to help. Thus we were a bit hesitant at first. We thought maybe he will ask for some token amount since he was guiding us. But in the end he came across a good guy who was just showing us the way :).  He took us to the basement which opened to the main road.

We thanked him and proceeded towards the road. There are two options from here. You can take a taxi if you have big baggage and not in a mood to walk. The other option is to walk. I knew the hotel was roughly a 10 minutes walk from the station. So despite of the fact that we had two big suitcases each we decided to walk. One more reason was that I had read that the hotels in this area are situated in very narrow lanes hence its difficult for a taxi to find the way at times. So to save time and money walk was the best option.

The first thing that hit us when we came on the road was the weather. It was terribly hot and humid. Within minutes we were sweating like pigs.Even Mumbai is humid but its nothing compared to this. It almost appeared like we had come out of the shower.

Train crossing on the road
We had to cross a junction point which had some railway tracks. And sure enough we were lucky to see the local train pass in front of us. There were no signals on the road for indicating a train is coming. The train came and went very casually. People stopped while the train passed and then it was back to normal. That was something new for us.

We kept asking people for directions and walking. The whole area looked like old Mumbai with the exception that everything was written in Thai. Soon we reached a lane which had many street shops selling clothes, food, accessories and what not. It almost appeared I had reached Laxmi Road in Pune. It was total chaotic and confusing. There was a lot of Indian restaurants in the area and most of them had a person outside their restaurant locating Indians in the crowd and advertising about their restaurant. One such Sardarji saw us and began inviting us to his restaurant. We asked him the way to our hotel instead. Finally from his direction we reached a narrow lane in which our hotel was situated.

Citin Pratunam
The lane was so crowded that it was difficult to locate any building and we almost missed the building. I had read in tripadvisor about one of the front desk staff named Rabbit, being very helpful. Incidentally she was present at the reception when we came but she didnt appear any more helpful than any normal frontdesk person. In fact both the staff at the desk were quite cold in their approach. It is a rule all over Bangkok that the check in time in any hotel is 2 PM. It was almost 4 PM when we reached the hotel so we were eligible to get the rooms immediately.

We asked for rooms in the new building at a higher floor as suggested by all tripadvisor guests. Higher floor room would ensure the street noise didnt reach up to the room. Though they provided room in the new building but they could only provide a room with twin bed. We wanted to rest quickly so we agreed to the room. I had read the hotel required the guest to deposit 1000 THB during check in as security amount which is refunded on check out. But we didnt have that much THB with us, only dollars. We told the same to the reception person. He told then we should deposit $50. $50 is obviously more than 1000 THB, plus keeping that money with the hotel meant it cannot be utilised for any shopping either. We were not happy with this policy. They could have kept the charge lower so that tourists are not required to block the big amount. Anyway we paid in dollars and after that we were given the room. They also provided the wifi details with the room keys.

The new building is just a short walk from the main building. Also there is a seven eleven bang opposite to the new building, so in case you need anything even at odd hours you can go to this shop. The Spa of Citin Pratunam is also located in the new building, so if you are planning to frequent the spa often then staying in the new building is a good idea.

Soon we reached our rooms. The rooms were not much to talk of but still pretty decent at the price offered. Neat and clean rooms with fairly sized beds, TV, in room safe, fridge and payable snacks and drinks.

We decided to freshen up and take a quick nap before we venture out to experience Bangkok by the night.




Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Lehsuni Murgh (Chicken in garlic sauce)


I just wonder how people manage with just 24 hours in a day. I want to do so many things, and 24 hours seem like too short for me, half of which I labour off in office and travelling. I really want to spend some quality time every day for writing but the challenge is that I cannot write until my mind is at total peace, which rarely happens. Added to this is my procastination nature. When I want to write I end up reading a book, and then when I want to read I end up playing Candy crush. Such a shame on me. There was a time when I looked down upon all the people who played candy crush on Facebook. I had even unfriended a few just to stop those annoying notifications from candy crush. Now I am myself a slave of this game. Well actually its a good way to make your mind empty. Statergy games kind of drain you out. But this one is a full time pass thing. When you dont have anything better to do play candy crush. Dont roll your eyes already, at least I am not bothering anyone with annoying notifications, isnt that good enough?


Weekend time means chicken time. And everytime its a challenge to find a new recipe which doesnt bore the chef, thats me. It becomes even more challenging when you have limited ingredients in your pantry (because the chef was too lazy to go shopping for ingredients after office on Friday). So with limited ingredients at disposal I surfed throught he net for any recipe that would fit in and yet be a bit different. Fennel Chicken - No, Dahi Chicken - No, Pepper Chicken - No, Poppy Seed Chicken - Ran out of poppy seeds so No, Chicken Korma - No and the Nos went on for more than 40 minutes. I was exhausted surfing and also the clock was ticking away frantically. My maid would be here and before that I need to get the cooking done. Finally I found a recipe which seemed something I could try - Lehsuni Chicken by Piya Mallick. The pics looked great and best thing I had all the ingredients with me.

So it was chop, cut, wash, whisk time and in like an hour I had recreated the dish in my own style. My maid was already in by that time and threatening me to clear off from the kitchen area so that she could do the poocha. hence the pictures are not so picturesque this time, but trust me the taste was much better than the pictures.


If you make the gravy dry then it would pair well with any Indian breads, else if you keep a little gravy then it would be a good option to serve with rice. This dish already has a lot of garlic but if you are a garlic lover then you can add more as well.


Preparation Time: 20 minutes  

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Serves: 2

Cuisine: North Indian

Ingredients:

Marination:
  • Chicken - 750 gm 
  • Curd - 200 gm
  • Onion - 1 1/2 medium sized
  • Potato - 2 medium , quatered (Optional)
  • Lemon - half juiced
  • Whole Peppercorn - 10-12
  • Garlic clove - 15-20 
  • Ginger - 2 inch
  • Green Chilli - 2 medium
  • Cinnamon - 2 inch stick
  • Cardamom - 2-3
  • Clove - 2
  • Cashew Nuts - 3-4
  • Red Chilli Powder - 
  • Turmeric Powder -
  • Coconut Milk - 1 tbsp (optional)
  • Salt & Sugar as per taste
  • Mustard Oil 
Procedure:

1. Clean the chicken and pat dry. 

2. Take a skillet and dry roast 15 fat garlic cloves and whole peppercorns till fragrant. Grind the roasted garlic, peppercorn, cashew nuts and a spoon of curd into a fine paste.


3. Add this paste to the chicken along with the whisked curd, 1 tsp red chilli powder, 1/2 spoon mustard oil, turmeric powder and lemon juice. Marinate the chicken for an hour or at least 30 minutes.


Please note that I do not add salt during marination as it takess out all moisture from the chicken which makes the chicken dry.


4. Heat some mustard oil in a pan and add sliced onions, chopped green chillies and roughly chopped ginger. Mustard oil gives a fine flavor to the overall dish. Fry till the onions become pink. In a grinder grind the three ingredients into a fine paste. Take care while doing this as the ingredients might be hot. Fry the potato cubes and keep aside.

5. Take rest of the 5 garlic cloves and crush them coarsely. In the same pan add some more oil. When hot add the crushed garlic, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves. When the garlic is fragrant, add the onion paste and fry for a minute.




6. Shake off the extra marinade from the chicken pieces and add them to the pan. Add the fried potato. Fold in. Fry the chicken till slightly golden along edges. 


7. Add the left over marinade and cook till oil seperates. Take care not to burn the masala. If you feel the masala is sticking to the bottom of the pan add some warm water and keep stirring. Cook till the chicken is well done.


8. Add the coconut milk at this point to make the gravy rich in texture. You can skip this step if you wish. Cook till dish has reached the desired consistency. Top it off with half a spoon of butter. Cover the lid and let the butter melt into the gravy.

Let the chicken dish sit for a while before you serve it with rice or roti.


Monday, 13 June 2016

A short weekend trip to Panchgani - Mahabaleshwar

If there is a most frequented weekend for us it has to be Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar. Be it summer, winter or rainy season we have experienced the twin cities in all forms. Every season has its own charm here and it never fails to amuse you with its excellent climate and things to do. This was probably our 12th trip in 4 years. The number easily tells you how much in love we are with these two places.


Mahabaleshwar was the summer capital of the Governor of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency during the colonial era. It is merely 120 Km from Pune and nearly 290 Km from Mumbai. State buses and some private luxury buses ply from Pune and Mumbai regularly multiple times a day. So its very easy to reach the hill stations even if you don't have your own vehicle. Mahabaleshwar is nearly 19 KM from Panchgani and can be reached in 15-20 minutes depending upon the traffic. We have been to Panchgani both on bike and state transport buses from Pune and it takes about 2.5 to 3 hours on an average depending on the number of stops you take in between.

Out of all the seasons though rainy season is the most picturesque. Mist, clouds, emerald rolling hills and valleys, cold weather and garma garam chai nothing beats this combination. So when the newspaper last week features an article exclaiming Mahabaleshwar to be in the coldest in the state with 18 degrees we decided it was time again we headed towards the hills for a quick break.

On 11th June morning we started from home at 6:40 AM and reached Swargate bus depot at about 7:10 AM. Our bus was expected at Swargate at 7:30. The bus was arriving from Pune station and was a bit late which is normal. Soon the bus took off along the newly built flyover. As we left Katraj and approached the ghats the air outside became pretty cold, in fact after enjoying the open air flipping though my hair for a while I had to close the glass windows to avoid falling ill due to the cold air. We could see masses of rain clouds spread over the horizon far away and this made us all the more happy. Rains here we come, we said to ourselves.

The first stop was at Wai. It is a small rural town in Satara district also popular with tourists for its  natural beauty. We got down from the bus for a quick chai and freshly fried wada pav. The weather was very cold and chilly winds made us shiver. We were slightly concerned that though we took our rain gears with us we weren't carrying any jackets or sweaters.

The bus soon took off again and we crossed many agricultural fields spanning on both sides of road. Freshly ground turmeric and red chilli were being sold in packets by the villagers on the road side. The air was heavy with the smell of wet earth and fresh turmeric.

Soon we reached Panchgani. It was about 10.30 AM. This place's claim to fame was due to the existence of multiple boarding schools and bollywood celebrity farmhouses. Once Mahabaleshwar reached saturation point with all the hotels, the next favourite spot became Panchgani. Now you can see a number of hotels and hostels in Panchgani as well offering roms with a view of the beautiful valley. My recommendation would be to stay in Panchgani and go for day trips around Mahabaleshwar. The simple reason is that even the shabbiest of Mahabaleshwar hotels are steeply priced as compared to the wonderful hotels you can get in Panchgani at the same price. Moreover its far more calm and away from the maddening tourist rush. You can enjoy nature and be on your own in Panchgani.

We also had our booking in Panchgani itself. Thanks to my R&D prowess we have got the chance to stay in some of the best places in Panchgani mostly when all these places were newly built. After that we never got a chance for encore strangely enough. When a new hotel opens it offers a low price and provides top class facilities to attract tourist but once it shoots to fame, the prices become steep and you dont get availability at the last moment. So for n number of reasons we never had a chance to stay at one place twice. But we are okay with that as long as we find another hotel which is equally good.

This time our destination was Mala's hotel. The name doesn't really sound classy or elegant, infact you would think it would be some kind of a small dinghy hotel at one corner of the road. But if you are aware of Malas - the brand that is well known in this part of the country for its crushes, juices and jams then you would think twice. But even though I was aware of Malas, the green color in its name always made me thing it was a pure vegetarian hotel so even if the name cropped up in my searches i never really studied about it earlier. Sounds Stupid? Guilty as accused. But this time I was running short of options and decided to read about Malas hotel and what did I find? The pictures looked stunning on the website and the tripadvisor reviews were tell tale. And bestest part the tariff. The prices were pretty cheap compared to many hotels in Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. Our booking went through pretty smoothly and we gave a token amount of Rs. 1000 towards booking confirmation.

We had a quick breakfast at a hotel near the bus stand which serves pretty good pav bhaji before going to the hotel. The path from the bus stand to hotel was very scenic. Its nearly a 10 minutes breezy walk to the hotel and is situated near the table land or Devils Kitchen.  I had my Google maps navigation on so we found it pretty easy to reach the hotel. Though we had been to Panchgani so many times before but we never really explored this side of the town earlier. Though you dont get the view of the valley from here but the surroundings are very pleasant and full of greenery. Its even more peaceful than the other side of the town.

The hotel is tucked away at one end of a dirt road. Parallely however there is a proper road which takes you to the lounge of the hotel. The obscure entrance didnt have any security guard. We reached the gates and were welcomed with Silver oak lined driveway leading to a one storey vintage looking bungalow. There were huge ancient trees and more trees every where around. We kind of felt lost among such a paradise and had to look hard to locate a small arrow directing towards reception which was nearly hidden away behind a huge tree again.

Greenery around the Hotel
The reception was quaint, neat and classy. The small cute decors all around imparted a warm homely feeling towards the entire place. The guy at the reception was very friendly and informed us about the necessary things in this property. We were then asked to wait in the lounge or restaurant for 20 minutes after which our rooms would be allocated. The check in time at the hotel is 12 PM but they are okay with giving you rooms half an hour before.


Lounge Area
We went and waited in the lounge area. The path leading to the lounge was done with wooden panels. It looked so beautiful against the green carpet of grass I cannot tell. It was pretty much empty apart from us and the two people manning the bar. There was a lot of non alcoholic drink and food options to choose from as you wait. But we were already full with the pav bhaji so we decided to share a malai kulfi instead. The kulfi turned out to be a dry fruit kulfi with lots of anjeer and nuts in it. Lovely!

Dry Fruit Kulfi & Lounge Entrance
Lounge Area
The lounge area looked really neat and rustic with the entire place done beautifully in wood. It a great place to hang out with a big group of friends. The hotel even arranges bonfire on request. What would be better than to sit around the fire on a chilly night with a group of friends and good food. For couples also this is a nice place as you can get all the privacy and peace you desire in this calm and peaceful environs along with the romantic weather.

We checked into our room at 11:30 precisely. Every place in this building had traces of history associated with it. It would make you feel like a time warp, walking along the long hallways, vintage furniture in the rooms, ancient looking upholstery. We had booked a delux room which had a double bed and a single bed. But by the size it could easily accommodate a family of four. Now a bit about the history of the place. Over 50 years ago Shaikh Asgarali Ebrahim Mala located this piece of land and built a few cottages to let out rooms to children who came to study in the schools here. During the vacations their families would also join the children and spend some quality time in these beautiful place. Gradually other people also started coming down to this place and the number of rooms increased. In those days the Indian Army's approval was needed to finalize the hotel premises. The government asked the founder to let out the premises to the army for three years. According the army requirements a set menu was introduced. So popular was the food that came from the kitchens of Mala's that both the cuisine and the set menu system has held ground even today, decades later.

 We rested for a while and then decided to take a stroll around the roads nearby. Actually we wanted to go to the table land which is like a 10 minutes walk again, but unfortunately we went the wrong way. Though the road was also very scenic, it was the route to Rajpuri caves. But we also had plans to go sightseeing hence we came back to the hotel. The guy at the reception summoned a taxi for us. We looked at the sightseeing option chart and decided to go for a trip that we hadn't done earlier - to the Arthurs seat point and all nearby points. All tours have fixed prices. Ours had 12 points and was priced at Rs. 1200. From Mahabaleshwar if you go on sightseeing of the same place they will cost less nearly Rs. 500- 600 because all these points are near to Mahabaleshwar.
View from Rainforest Restaurant
Lunch was at the Rainforest Restaurant which overlooked the Koyana valley. The only good thing about the restaurent was its stunning location by the side of the Parsi point. Food wise it was average. The white kebab was pretty much bland and the chicken patiyala was pretty disappointing if I compare it with what we had in the Himachal by the same name.

The drive towards our sightseeing points was though a dense forest reserve area. It was so green that it almost hurt the eyes. Thick mist and cloud were flowing in as the day progressed. We even got some rain but not too much. Arthur's seat point is known as the queen of all points yet we never came here before. On the way to Arthur point, there are around 8 to 10 different points. Each point has its own history but it gives you same valley view with little bit different angle.My recommendation would be to go for sightseeing as early as possible in the day. there are two advantages to it - one as the day preceeds the traffic comes to a standstill at all these remote area points. Two the clouds and rains become intense towards the later part of the day, so to get a better visibility prefer the morning time. We reached these set of points nearly by 3 PM so already it was crowded and the clouds had descended to cover everything, On a few occasions we were lucky to see the verdant valley but mostly it was misty.
Hunting Point
Malcolm Point
Tiger Spring Point
Arthur's Seat Point
Savitri Point
After visiting the points we went to the two temples in old Mahabaleshwar - Panchganga temple and shiva temple both on the same premises.


We came back to hotel by 6:30 PM. While hubby paid for the tour to the driver I headed towards the "small library" as quoted by the person at the reception. It was just beside the reception. The room was indeed small but had all sort of provisions like sofa, TV so that you can spend time. And the book collection was pretty cool. I have seen far more smaller libraries in hotel which they proudly present to the guests. But this one was specially upto my liking because of the topics on which it had the most varied collection - food, animals and comics :). There were even marketing and accounts books. Actually I love the fact that hotels now a days are reserving a corner for library. For avid readers like me its a real  blessing, because then we dont have to carry our own books on a trip which saves some space in the bag. I picked three books of my choice and as I came out of the library I saw hubby was playing outside with two little puppies. They were stray puppies who were given a home there I believe. The mummy dog was no where in sight. The two pups one black and one white were pretty playful but started squealing loudly no sooner we caught either of them to pet.  We played with them for a while and then came back to the room.

The agenda of the evening was to relax in the room. So I went to freshen up first. When I came back hubby had a surprise for me - a birthday cake! Well my birthday had fallen on a week day and hubby was away on a tour hence we couldn't celebrate it then. It was sweet of him to arrange it in the room. I had a cake cutting ceremony in the room and then we ate some of it. But it was a big cake so we decided to feed the pups some of it. We wrapped a few pieces in paper and stealthily went to the pups avoiding the notice of any hotel staff in case they oppose to it. I was the one who fed the pups. The white one was super active, he even tried to eat form the mouth of the black one. They polished off the cakes within minutes. It was so cute. We decided we will feed them whatever is left after we had it.
puppies @ the premises
The evening was spent in watching TV and reading the books that I had got from the library. Soon it was 8:30 PM so we decided to have dinner. I had read reviews of the hotel in which food was the primary discussion point. The hotel is famous for its Bohra Muslim food. Not only the culinary traditions have been upheld through the decades, the prices of the meals are also very reasonable. They offer a set menu buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast is priced at 250/person and lunch and dinner Rs. 375/person. If you are taking a bording lodging plan then you get the entire meal pack costing Rs. 1000 at Rs. 800/ person which is really remarkable. Mala's is a heaven for all the carnivores like us. They specialize in all kind of meat dishes.

Dinner Buffet
We were the first ones for dinner. One can also have food at the lounge which is just adjacent to the restaurant. But since it was quite chilly outside we decided to have food in the restaurant itself.The lavish spread was arranged nicely in the restaurant. We browsed through the day's menu :
- Chicken Lemongrass soup
- Chicken Pahadi kebab
- Chickpea salad
- Mini dahi vade
- Aubergine salad
- Green salad
- Papads
- Mutter Paneer
- Corn Masala
- Khichdi
- Gujarati Kadhi
- Butter Roti
- Mutton Pulao with palida
- Sahi Chicken
- Cut fruit - papaya
- Dry Fruit Ice Cream
- Gulab jamuns

Pahadi Chicken & Gulab Jamun with Ice Cream 
It was a treat fit for the king. The chicken starter - pahadi kabeb was actually not on the table. While you have the soup they prepare the kebabs and serve it to you at the table. The result is a moist melt in the mouth kebab which you will  love. I tried out everything on the menu in little portions and repeated the ones that i really loved. The pulao was good. This was the first time I tasted a palida. It is a Bohra Muslim delicacy made with toor dal, rice flour etc. It pairs well with the pulao. The soup was also pretty unique. But dahi vade was the one that i really really loved. It was so soft and tasty, I could go on and on. The ice cream was also a winner. It was something prepared in house I believe. The taste was pretty different from store bought ones and it paired well with the hot gulab jamuns.  After we had more than our fill we came out for a stroll in the garden.

There is a black cat family also in the premises. But they are not people friendly and run away from you go towards them. I could manage to take a picture of the mommy that too from very far.

The In-House Momma Cat
We strolled int he garden and then sat in the rope swings for a while. They are now making some play area for the kids as well. A bonfire in the lawns would be the perfect thing really. After a while we went around the premises taking pics. There are sitting areas and swings everywhere so you can relax wherever you feel.

We retired to the room soon after. All the walking around the points made our legs a bit sore and we feel in sleep soon after.





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