Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Short family holiday - Ganapatipule

I am here once again with my another adventure - another vacation - another exciting place. GANAPATIPULE - Ratnagiri - place synonymous with mangoes, famous Swayambhu Ashtavinayak temple and gorgeous beaches.

One fine day my cousin called me, asking me to plan small vacation in December and to zero in on such place where kids could also enjoy during Christmas holidays and also the adults. After lot of deliberation and searching we decided to go to Ganapatipule Beach in Ratnagiri district. 
Two things excited me about this place was, not very common place like Lonavala, Matheran etc and not very far from Mumbai. Another plus was train timings from Mumbai.

We checked some hotels online and also with yellow pages but nothing could even come close to perfect hotel and facilities provided by MTDC. (It doesn't come cheap but worth the price after experiencing)
Booking was done well two months in advance to avoid last moment disappointment.

D-Day arrived after long wait. And initial plan was for 5-6 people going on vacation and when day arrived total strength of people coming or joining in was up to 21.

We caught train from Dadar station leaving at 11pm which by far was the best timing we could get. We reached Ratnagiri early winter morning 4.30am with most of us finding our self on the station with only one eye open and other still peacefully sleeping !!!! 

I and my cousin asked others to wait at the station while we went to check the availability of transport to our destination. Other reason was of course early morning sutta break !!! Chilly winter morning on lonely location adds spice to the craving for Sutta. (Non smokers missing something !!!!!)

We found that there would be state transport bus arriving in next 15minutes which will take us right in front of our MTDC hotel in 2hour journey for Rs 16 per person in comparison to auto wallahs charging Rs 200 and only 3people can sit without baggage but where will jumbo baggage go which we were carrying along (like we gonna settle there once for all. LOL)

Journey in S.T bus is only advisable for people with strong bones unless you have proper seats. Our journey was going to be more fun as bus had flat tyre in less than 45minutes of run. wow !!! stranded in middle of no where, remembered movie of Johnny lever ferrying people to Dubai and asking them to get down at lonely island ..DUBAI DUBAI !!! 

After sitting on road waiting for more than one hour, we finally bribed another ST bus conductor who decided to charge not us because we already had tickets but our baggage which was more than number of people in the group. Ladies u see !!!!

We finally reached well in time for check in at 9am, More relieved to see a full fledged UDIPI restaurant in MTDC complex serving piping hot tea, idlis, dosai...

Hotel rooms were amazingly clean and spacious and more spacious was location overlooking famous beach. WOW !! what a prime location to have a hotel !!! We were off to the beach in no time with sissy in laws & sisters & kiddos getting more energy out of nowhere.

Beach here is so amazingly clean with no much crowd as expected !!! Happy to see some foreigners also choosing this place to celebrate New year eve here like us. After having njoyed on beach long enough, we decided to checkout sleepy village and nearby attractions as we were here for 3night 4days.
Lunch was good with veg/non veg options available alike in only restaurant inside MTDC. Men chilled with more chilled beer while women n kids had there own space of gossips and table talks.

Ganapatipule temple which is just few yards away was good and more interesting was history associated with century old temple.
Pradakshina around the temple is not few steps but whole walk of 45minutes around forest surrounding the temple. On the way we found another small unique Ganapati temple and birds like Kingfisher rarely seen outside books for people like us from Mumbai...

Kokum drink or sherbet served by village girls is one refreshing drink in hot afternoon sun..

Evening was time for some beach sports as we found beach for ourselves outside our rooms as some crowd that can be seen was only near the temple. Late in the evening, kiddos slept as tired of long day while we had our drinks party get together.

Next day morning I was up early with some other family members and decided for long walk on beach only to find hidden lake close to the sea... what a sight with sunrise adding glamour to amazing place !!!

We hired mini bus and were off to Ratnagiri to see some other attractions like markets, Tilak museum, Thebaw palace which was one amazing teak wood palace of last king of Burma !!!! He reached all the way here to make a Palace..could not resist the thought how did he reach her btw !!! walking, horse ride, elephant ride, Palkhi ride all the way from Burma.... wow !!!

We also visited museum located on a hill which provided insight into history surrounding Ratnagiri.
Late afternoon we went to fort JAY GHAD.... but not great idea to visit in afternoon. view from fort of  Arabian sea and jetty was good. Marine institute museum is also worth checking.

Quick lunch and we were off to PAVAS, holy ashram was welcoming with shades of trees. Shops selling locally manufactured products and also mango delicacy is must buy outside the ashram.
On way back we stopped at high point of the road which gives a amazing view of beach, 5star resort Krishnali and Arabian sea. Another good resort on way was Kohinoor Samudra owned by Manohar Joshi which has Titanic deck to view sunset !!!!

One place not (I repeat not) to be missed is ARRE VARRE point - road cut from the mountain and if you look down.. deep valley with sandy beach and Arabian sea. Don't know why government does not promote this place like GOLD COAST OF INDIA !!!!! 

Back to the hotel in the evening, which was 31st December evening so everyone got fresh and dressed for only DJ party organised by MTDC hotel. Drinks and some leg shaking till late night was too tiring after so much travelling in the day that everyone welcomed new year's first day by getting up late in afternoon. What a way to start first day of New year.

Afternoon again it was time for some more adventure sports, PARASAILING.
I would say I was pretty disappointed by sight where one truck runs on the beach which pulls you with parachute tied behind you.... Not at all happening as compared to Parasailing which I did in middle of high sea in Pattaya. But kiddos and everyone else njoyed while I became their personal photographer clicking pictures, videos capturing their excitement. 

Next day we were back at Ratnagiri station waiting for our train bound for Mumbai.
But overall it was fun filled holiday with family with everyone deciding on another trip before present came to end to another Ratnagiri location called TARKALI - India's top three great beach location.

Au revoir friends . Hope u njoyed it.
Next destination - I will take you again in Andaman Sea to see paradise in sea - Phuket.
Till then Hasta la Vista

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Nilshi - Lakeside camping & team outing, An unforgettable experience

Nilshi - Sleepy village 64 looooooong kms from Lonavala. (Looooooong because in your vehicle when you turn from Lonavala towards the destination, its a village road with barren hillocks on one side and tiny and far flung hamlets on other side).

It all started with work pressure everyday, meeting / not meeting targets, daily process update hurdles becoming boring and monotonous routine in office. A midst all this was plan formulating in mind of my colleague & team leader Ghatak for trip to Nilshi. He was the only one who had visited this place once. Not one had any idea where the hell is Nilshi on maps.

One Saturday morning after shift, we had a bus ready with organiser & contractor auntie ready with our sandwich breakfast. People too desperate to loosen up from daily office routine. So here we were in all 20 + people ready to go on team outing but not knowing what the place had in store for us. In fact what mattered for everyone was "OUTING" FUN" "BOOZE"

Drive from Malad to Lonavala was fun as it took around 4hours. With everyone already down couple of pegs of choice, whiskey, vodka, rum, beer,thumps up......

We checked with couple of locals if we were on right track to Nilshi, we indeed were !!!! thinking 60 kms would be covered in one hour and we would be at lake side. But drive from Lonavala on village road was turning out to be nightmare with lake not insight and sun already in full control. After 2.30hours drive covering 65kms from Lonavala we were at our destination - YMCA camping site. Its not a resort but international standard camping site near lake Gibbs (also called Andhra lake).

Mere sight of entire camping area is so soothing to eyes, one because its more than what you would expect when you have only seen barren roads for last 2+ hours drive, second because you now know that its gonna be only enjoyment

Let me talk about YMCA camping site.  The place provides everything you require for fun filled adventure trip. Situated in the lap of Sahyadri hills at village Nilshi, 64 kms from Lonavala. The site is spread over 37 acres surrounded by Andhra lake.

We checked into our accommodation  surprised to find rooms in form of bunkers dug in the ground, bunk beds and lawns overlooking your rooms for evening bonfire, party, music, barbecue.

Food included in the package is simple veg / non veg combined. like Dal rice, chicken curry, bread (pav) for lunch/dinner, simple snacks like poha, upma for morning or afternoon snacks. Make sure you carry enough booze, cold drinks and your own bitings as place does not have enough stocks if not informed in advance and sure you don't have the guts and courage to drive 65kms or 5hours to & fro only to get cold drinks, or bitings or booze. LOL

We settled by 4pm in evening, all set and ready to explore the place. We found that road leading to lake is uneven slope and not advisable in night. We reached lakeside by 5pm, It was mesmerizing !!!! enchanting 

No one could resist dip in the lake even when no one was carrying pair of clothes as it was already evening.Dip in the lake is strictly under watchful eyes of the campsite and not allowed to go deep even when you might have swimmed the Atlantic !!! 

As it started to darken we all promised to be back as early as possible in the morning and began our ascend back to camp site. We were the lucky ones as our Team leader - Ghatak was one classy DJ and also had carried his instruments, speakers and music collection to spin & mix.

And party started at 8pm, all ready in lawn area with booze, biting and music. No restrictions on nearby uncles or aunties getting disturbed, no police driving 60kms to stop us whole night. Bollywood, retro, hip hop, Psyche trance, Goa trance - everything was in the air .... 4am in the morning and people had only words to say "party abhi baki hai" 

Time to lay down at wee hours in the morning and forest atmosphere making the climate more chillier. So now it was bonfire and some ladies taking initiative to make barbecue's one last time for hungry hoggers !!! 

At first sight of dawn, everyone was back at lake side, some checking the depth of water and some the temperature of water. Sunrise at Gibbs lake was one capture not to be missed.

At 9am, it was time for some boating, kayaking, swimming as camp starts its activity now.

Other activities include trekking, rappelling, rock climbing. The activities continued till late afternoon till we received warning that lunch will no longer be served as it was already time for afternoon tea.

Then it was time to say adios and packing our bags. Still we didn't want to leave the place so it was time for photo shoot with camping site being on hill gives panoramic view of the scenic lake and nearby forest,

Finally we bid goodbye, promising to return back at any given opportunity. Our bus ride back was more relaxing with sunset and our mind still at the site. 
Occasional village kids bidding goodbye to us was adorable. 

We stopped at Lonavala for quick purchase of Lonavala chikki, fudge and reached Mumbai around 11pm with everyone bidding goodbye, taking home memories of one amazing outing in their heart, in their cameras only to tell others how amazing it was. Someday pen it down in books as memories or type it in BLOGSPOTS !!!!! 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Come with me to Bangkok - Thai capital

Bangkok - Name itself will excite you....

After visiting Pattaya, I & Victor took taxi for Bangkok in afternoon.
We checked into our Hotel Ambassador located in area which is as vibrant as the city. Sukhumwit also called mini India.

Let me tell you about Sukhumwit,  Indian shops, Indian restaurant, close proximity to malls like Robinson, Times Square, station NANA which connects you to other parts of city easily through monorail, disc in the hotel and above all "Small bar called  Charlies" which opens at 7pm till 2am and feel at home sipping your drink on tables lined on street with a pint or JD or JW costing one rate 70baht.
If you want to exchange currency then best place would be VASU, offers best exchange rate I could find in whole of Bangkok.

We chose Ambassador as Indian breakfast included in package (try American toast, butter, jam or Indian dal rice or pipping hot Rajma chawal) and in heart of mini India.

Do as much shopping in malls or night markets offering T-shirts of Polo, Ralph Lauren at rates which could make Polo,Ralph commit suicide 150baht each.

Night is what Bangkok is famous for, take a tuk-tuk or taxi to hottest pubs BOSSY or CLIMAX or SPICE GIRLS in basement of Ambassador, dance to tunes of AKON, Rihanna, or INDI POPS, BHANGRA !!!!!

Morning we took tour to famous floating market and Bridge on River Kwai at Kanchanaburi. Floating market is worth a watch with houses lined on banks of canal, sellers selling on boats, you can take ride on these boats  which makes you part of JAMES BOND MOVIE, tomorrow never dies.

Off to BRIDGE ON RIVER KWAI part of world war - II battle ground. Lunch on floating restaurant on river Kwai is must.
We also visited cemetery of brave men died in battle fields miles away from home country. Particularly interesting is TOMB stone for brave Indians who fought and died in Thailand. We salute our hero's !!!!
On the way back to the city, must visit is reclining Buddha temple.

Next day we planned another tour to one of must visit places in Thailand. Tiger orphanage run by monks in jungles of Kanchanaburi.
Never ever I have seen tigers tamed as pets. You can click pictures with them. Phew !!!!!!

Other major attractions in Bangkok is visit to SILOM -Lumpini park in the evening. sipping your drink near flowing river.
SIAM center which is close to NANA station is worth a visit for underwater aquarium, shopping plaza.
other must visit mall is MBK famous for mobile phones, computers, accessories.
Weekend markets CHATUCHAK, last station on MRT line is worth for sheer size and variety of products.

KINGS DUTY FREE MALL, Kings Palace, Gems & Jewellery souks, rooftop restaurants & bars like GAZEBO, Dusit Thani 61st floor restaurants are some major attractions not to be missed.

Don't forget the soapy soapy massage !!!!! and genuine foot & body massages.

HAVE A NICE TRIP !!!!!! adios amigos.

Enter Pattaya with me

One town which is so vibrant, so lively and close to Bangkok city is none other than PATTAYA !!

Only just a nap could bring you from Bangkok to Pattaya. It is the nap that could give you an experience to tell anybody you have ever been to Pattaya.

We checked in one of the hotels on beach road (Soi 7 - Sunbeam hotel). But you will get many hotels here according to your budget.
We were welcomed in Pattaya with light showers, very common in this part of the world with tropical climate. As soon as we checked in late afternoon.
I was off to the beach which was just walking distance from the hotel. (Don't be amazed to find people from different continents as the place is melting pot of different cultures.)

For Indians looking for Punjabi / North Indian food, there is small eatery run by Punjabi family.
or for more exotic Indian food, you can try AHAAR (soi post office) run by Marwari with Nepalese wife. Food here is mouth watering, finger licking with options of Veg & Non Veg served with chilled beer (Singha my favorite).

We sat with him for a quick chat while our food was being prepared by chefs imported from India, found this man was ex-Citi Banker from Newyork, visited Pattaya in 80' and fell in love, quit job to serve most delicious Indian food in this part of the world.

Evening in Pattaya is unique, city lit up in dark sky. Beach road full of night hawkers, malls full of tourists. Best time to walk the entire stretch of Beach road is after 6pm.

The end of Beach road is where the action starts, WALKING STREET - street where even bicycles cannot enter, you just walk & walk.
Its the world famous street since late 70's which put Pattaya on world map. Its littered on both sides with open bars, go-go bars, clubs & restaurants which are open till wee hours.
Music -beer - food- girls - tourists = Walking street
Victor and I walking on the street only to be amazed to see some Indian couples enjoying and amazed that they actually walking in so called RED LIGHT AREA which even I wouldn't dare to do in any part of India... Lol
One Indian couple really amazed me because husband & wife holding hands and walking in the street with hubby enjoying the girls doing pole dance outside the pubs and wife looking at passerby to make sure she doesn't bump into Indian face. !!!! njoy people we will not complain to your mom-in-law ...hahaha

Pattaya has loads to offer - world famous ALCAZAR cabaret show, which was our next destination. amazed to see transgender running the show for last 3 decades !!!! and more amazing was the view of people flocking to click snaps with favorite stars at the end of the show.

The convenient way to travel in Pattaya is either by tuk-tuk, taxi but best is hire a mobike for 200 baht for 24hrs. two people can travel as much, where ever and no traffic police to stop you if you don't break signals.
Next day we booked a tour for Coral Islands - must visit in Pattaya.
Pick up was at sharp 8AM. On jetty meeting point we were informed about do's n don'ts in high sea, on beach.
you will have options for deep sea coral watching (must for non swimmers like me as you have instructors taking you on seabed to watch corals.) Another must sports on the way was para sailing in high sea. It was my first and most amazing experience of life time !!!!
We reached Coral islands at time of lunch, after quick lunch (vegges have real problems if you don't inform tour operator well in advance. My friend Victor relied on potato chips for entire afternoon.) we were off to beach for sunbath and relax in ocean waters with singha making you feel relaxed in hot summer afternoon.

Another must see attraction in Pattaya is mini world or mini Siam. Amazing to find world heritage sites miniature replicas, meticulously made with perfection.
Nong Nooch Tropical gardens
Pattaya Elephant village
The Million year stone park and crocodile farm.
Ripley's believe it or not 

Its just amazing to see city which has been developed solely for tourist and new attractions added every year for the tourist to have interest in revisiting Pattaya.

We also planned to go to Cambodia - Siam reap, for visit to Angkor Vat - Lost Mecca for Hindus , only temple of lord Vishnu outside India, built more than a century ago. The magnificence and grandeur of the place is indescribable. One of UNESCO heritage site in the world and 8hour drive from Pattaya.Time constraint and border disputes between Thailand and Cambodia stopped us but surely not for ever.One day, I plan to visit this last bastion of God Vishnu before it disappears in oblivion.

Off to Bangkok to write another experience .... keep reading

Start of my Thailand tour

Here I am with my trip from Mumbai to Pattaya to Bangkok and back to Mumbai...
People have wrong impression about the Amazing country THAILAND...some call it "SEX capital of the world" or the "Ultimate leisure destination for bachelors", I prefer calling it "AMAZING & CHEAPEST HOLIDAY country which should be part of your vacation itinerary when you are travelling to South East Asia ....

Hi My name is Paul and I am going to give you insight about my wonderful & amazing and of course first overseas trip, I was joined by best friend Victor who was also my guide, because he is the one who has visited this country may be 6-7 times and still craves to visit again and again, I sometimes feel looking at the Thai visa stamps on his passport, they could give him life time free visa to THAILAND...

We had been planning our trip to Thailand for quite a long time and when finally I got my passport in September 08, We without wasting more time decided to travel in October 08...The best time,  I would say  to travel to Thailand as tourist season starts from end of October to I would say best time to visit would be somewhere after August and before October ends as cheap flight tickets, easy availability of 4/5 star hotels at affordable rates..Thailand of course is 365 days destination, whole year around there is so much fun and so much to explore...

Always check with travel agents about the flights to Bangkok as they would surely offer cheaper rates for flight tickets as compared to some travel websites.. I took the CATHAY PACIFIC flight from Mumbai to Bangkok which left Mumbai at 5.00am (best time to fly) as you would reach Bangkok at 10.30... No prior visa required for Indian passport holders, As its Visa on arrival at Bangkok airport which would cost $25.00 (roughly Baht 1000)

For smokers travelling from Mumbai airport its awful time as you need to smoke before entering the airport for checking, immigration (airport is no smoking zone) and you enter 3hours before your flight, when you reach Bangkok airport that would be the only time you can smoke with dedicated smoking rooms at Swarnabhumi airport (Bangkok), Shows the care a visitor gets in Bangkok !!!!!!!

It took hardly 15 minutes for Thai authorities to process and stamp the Visa at the airport, keep one photo and hotel booking receipt ready, No questions asked !!!! and here I was at Swarnabhumi airport...the complex which is meticulously planned and its awesome experience when you are travelling for the first time...

At Swarnabhumi Airport after Visa processing, I would advise travelling directly to Pattaya if its part of your list..You can get limo buses which would cost baht 350 -400, taxis would cost baht 1200 but don't book at the counter rather do bargain hunting with taxi drivers, for smokers i would say light a smoke once you are out of airport and smoke and bargain, taxis are pretty comfy with music and air conditioned and drivers are friendly but don't speak much of English...