Sunday, December 21, 2014

My 5 Wow! Travel Moments of 2014

This year was special for me as a travel writer. I quit my job, turned an entrepreneur and started my own online hospitality magazine
This year was also quite satisfying and exciting as I experienced many new hotels and travelled to three new countries- Jordan, United States of America and Singapore. Yes there are many new places I would like to see, many hotels I want to check-in but that's for another day. In this post as a travel blogger I want to list my Five Wow! Travel Moments of the year- moments when I said to myself This Is It!  Hope it will be inspiring for someone somewhere just like so many other travel bloggers have inspired me through their stories. 

#1 Floating on the Dead Sea 

I was lucky to get an invite from the Jordan Tourism Board to attend the Papal Mass! I loved Jordan and highly recommend it as a travel destination. I thought meeting the Pope will be the high point of my Jordan trip. It sure was great to see Pope Francis and how many people get to do that, but floating on the dead sea was my 'wow' moment. I had read about it, seen hundreds of pictures of real travelers and even YouTube videos but when you experience floating for yourself it's something else. No words can describe the feeling and pictures explain what it's really like! You have to experience it yourself. My travel tip: If you are ever at the dead sea, first get done getting clicked. Then for 10 seconds just close your eyes and float on your back. You will be able to recall those 10 seconds even in your next life!

#2 My New York Moment 

It was on my Bucket List. Who doesn't want to go to New York for a holiday! After days of filling out online visa application and rounds of visa office, I finally got my 10 year US visa.  The bookings and visa process was so tedious that I was mentally exhausted by the time the date of our America departure finally arrived. No I wasn't awe-struck when I first set my foot at the Times Square and saw the sky scrapers and billboards. But it was happy tourists, friendly Americans and the vibe of the city that gradually made me fall in love with NYC. Times Square is the place where first time some one bombed my selfie and cutely admitted that he is been doing this all day! Who wouldn't fall in love with New York and its people. 

#3 Bahamas! Scream!  

I was going to US for the first time and also it was my first on a  cruise. I took the Norwegian Cruise Line Miami-Bahamas-Miami with my husband and family friends. We had a ball on board. But the moment that took my breath away was when we got off the ship and walked to the beach at Bahamas. I had never seen a sea so beautiful, sky so blue and weather this nice. It was just perfect. Now I know why celebs and HNI's who have money to splurge love Bahamas. Agreed its really far from India but given a chance I would love to go back and spend few days sunbathing on the beach there. There was something magical about that place. 

 #4 Heaven on Earth: Gulmarg
"Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin ast" Which means if there is ever a heaven on earth, its here, its here, its here! 
These are the famous words of Mughal emperor Jahangir which he uttered when he visited Kashmir. It was my third time in Kashmir this year but for the first time I was staying in Gulmarg at a wonderful hotel Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa designed like a Kashmiri Palace. It was November and had just started snowing. The place truly looked like a paradise. The tranquility, the snow flakes whispering in our hotel balcony and Kashmiri hospitality made this a memorable trip. My wow moment was waking up in the morning to watch snow flakes make love to pine trees. If I could wake up to that view every morning and breathe in virgin air. Jahangir has already said the words ' The heaven is here!'. What else can I add to that?

#5 Drinking in a Public Place with an Old Buddy- Priceless! 

My fifth wow travel moment probably shouldn't make the cut in a travel blog. But then every traveller is different- some like the adventure, some opt for luxury, some like wildlife while some are culture vultures. I like exploring culture, love talking to locals and doing things the way they do. I visited Singapore which was a touch-and-go business trip. By the time I finished conference the usual tourist attractions- Sentosa Island and Night Safari were shut. Luckily I have a college friend- Manan Gupta who works in Singapore and I decided to meet him for dinner. We went to Clarke Quay and after I rejected most of the pubs, he came up with the idea that we could buy beer bottles and chips from the Seven Eleven store close-by and have a picnic on the river front. I didn't know drinking in public was allowed in Singapore. So we started the party right there and shared beer and life stories till 2 AM in the night. In India you can't do that without attracting the attention of cops. I will remember that night for long and imagine of all the things that was the 'wow' moment of my Singapore trip! 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Nomadic Spalon: Beauty and Wellness Comes Home!

At 11:30 am sharp on a winter morning my therapists for the day Reena and Nidhi were at my door step in their well-tailored  uniforms. In next ten minutes they transformed my living room into a spa complete with fragrant candles and soothing music. They had even nicely laid out a foldable bed for the treatment! The Nomadic Spalon's service, efficiency and the concept made a great first impression.

Serving With a Smile: Seema Nanda
The Nomadic Spalon is the brainchild of entrepreneur and spa consultant Seema Nanda. Having worked extensively with spas located in hotels, Seema realized that in this fast paced world it was increasingly annoying many women to adhere to the 'salon timings' and the commute time often spoiled the experience that a spa aims to provide. That's how The Nomadic Spalon was born- to give a professional salon and spa experience in the comfort of your home as per your convenience. The Nomadic Spalon offers services ranging from facial, waxing, manicure, pedicure to a spa massage, for both men and women in Delhi-NCR. Have a look at their menu for details.

I had pre-booked a manicure, pedicure and swedish massage. With Delhi's temperature dipping it was nice to get beauty treatment done comfortably at home. The girls were quite skilled and I was quite happy with my manicure and pedicure done using VLCC products. The nails were well shaped and glowing. 

I am a regular at spas and review them for a living but still I was pleasantly surprised that how they had managed giving a good spa experience in my home and even created an ambience. The one hour Swedish massage (Rs 1500) was relaxing and value for money. Of course if its a spa treatment for a particular ailment that you are looking for going to a specialized spa like Kairali or the Aura Thai Spa is a better idea but if it's quick rejuvenation you are up for ( and don't have time or energy to step out of your home) you must try The Nomadic Spalon.   

I am definitely calling them home more often and putting them on speed dial as I am really impressed by the professionalism. Many  a times I have waited at salons in the tony GK2 market, which houses all top notch salons, despite a prior appointment. At times when you are there to get the impending waxing done or a quick threading, they cajole you into a facial or a hair spa even if you are not game for it. Thankfully The Nomadic Spalon's team followed instructions and concentrated on pampering and making the experience truly rejuvenating. 
Since they were punctual, I was done with my beauty treatments within the estimated time and as scheduled attended an official meeting post my session with the team. So yes it was hassle-free and saved me from getting stuck in a traffic jam or waiting at a salon's reception to clear the bill. For women who have toddlers to take care of at home or work long hours, this service is definitely a boon!

Putting Their Best Foot Forward: The Nomadic Spalon Team 
Reena and Nidhi were smiling even after they were done with the treatment. I didn't see a speck of tiredness on their faces and they comfortably left in a car that their employer provides. Many multi- national companies can learn basic people management skills from entrepreneurs like Seema for whom the safety and security of her employees is paramount. The Nomadic Spalon is following the simple mantra of keeping its employees happy to ensure satisfied customers.

For an appointment you can call on : 08010135135

The Nomadic Spalon Menu (For complete menu visit their website)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Irezumi- Making the Heart of Delhi Beat!

There is something magical about Dilli Ki Sardi (Delhi winters). Many love to hate it but let us agree winters make our city come alive - festivities, al fresco dining and shopping in high streets like Khan Market becomes fun. Winter is also the season for Sunday Brunches. 

As the winter just set in I got an invite from Irezumi- a restaurant which turns into a happening lounge bar at night to come and experience their Sunday Brunch. I immediately agreed because of two reasons. First Irezumi serves Japanese and sushi is my new found love. But it’s the second reason that was more important. Irezemi is located in the heart of the city and offers a splendid view of the Lutyens Delhi. 

Irezumi transforms into a happening lounge in the evenings
On a Sunday afternoon we reached Irezumi, located in a building that houses the Jaguar showroom on the ground floor. We chose to sit on the rooftop where you could see the iconic Delhi hotel Le Meridian, Shangri La and the bustling Janpath road. On a clear day you can spot the India Gate too. The sound of water from the fountains on the rooftop, the breeze and soft rays of the sun made it a perfect setting. The place was quiet unlike in the evenings when it’s bustling.

 Chef Xavier Lepcha quickly came to greet us armed with the Sunday Brunch menu and his infectious smile. The menu was quite exhaustive. I skipped the soup, even though the options were quite tempting including the Burmese Khao Suey and Miso Soup and went straight to the salad, dimsums, sushi and sashimi.  The Asian Caesar Salad, Prawn and Chicken Siew Mai and Salmon Maki Roll all met our expectations. The must try items on the Sunday Brunch menu include Kung Pao Chicken and Chilli Chicken pizza, yes you heard that right.

Chef Xavier Lepcha makes Japanese (cuisine) look quite simple 
The Sunday Brunch menu is different from the regular menu at this Pan Asian restaurant.  On a weekday you can go for a Non-Veg Sushi Platter ( Rs 1295) or a Veg Sushi Platter (Rs 995).

There was option of choosing wine, cocktails or the beer. I went for the tried and tested Cosmopolitan that was quite refreshing. But you must be more experimental when you visit the restaurant because they have some great cocktails. You must try Sake, a Japanese alcoholic drink made of fermented rice.

I had read mixed reviews about this place. Though everyone had good things to say about food, there were many who were not quite impressed by Irezumi's service, so I did go with a few pre-conceived notions. The food undoubtedly was good and service too was impressive if not impeccable. This Asian Tapas lounge might not be the best restaurant serving sushi in town but it definitely makes the Japanese and Oriental cuisine look familiar and less intimidating. For this the credit also goes to the friendly staff and chef

Its the location and setting that makes Irezumi a treat! 
When in doubt ask the Chef! So for the main course if you don’t know what to order  well here are Chef’s recommendations- Hainanese Crispy Fish topped with mushrooms and chillies and flambéed with Shaoxing Wine, Szechuan Poached Sliced Lamb with Fragrant Oil and Lantern Chilli and Choy Sum with Hot Garlic sauce.
It was the dessert that was the star that day- the Creme Brulee sampler that had the delectable dessert in two flavours is a must try. Next time I am going for the Bailey’s Chocolate Mousse Cake.

As I wrapped up my hearty meal, the servers were busy preparing for the Sundowner. Irezumi’s setting is indeed perfect for a lazy Sunday Brunch, a sundowner or a date night!

Watch the Vine video Here 


Address: Irezumi, 22A Janpath Road, Connought Place, New Delhi

Total Covers : 120

Average Cost of Meal for Two people: Rs 2500 (exclusive taxes and Alcohol)

Cost of Sunday Brunch: Rs 1795 per person 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How Marriott Ensures you Travel Brilliantly: Bloggers Diary

You don’t want to spend a weekend at a corporate hotspot of an IT city. Until unless it’s a five star hotel that innovates to please Gen Y, offers a sumptuous Sunday Brunch and has a nice spa! My recent stay at the Marriott Whitefield , Bengaluru surprised me as it was  a perfect work-and-play weekend.  

Jump the Queue: Mobile Check-In Counter
I reached Bangalore on a Saturday morning for a bloggers trip organised by Marriott Hotel. As soon as I got into the car I checked in using the Marriott mobile app. Being a blogger and Gen Y myself people expect me to be quite tech and web savvy. Truth be told I am always wary of trying new apps on my phone.  But the Marriott mobile check-in turned out to be rather smooth.  The cab that hotel had sent to pick me up was wi-fi enabled, thus making the check-in even simpler.

Once I reached the hotel it took me exactly thirty seconds to collect my room key that was ready at the mobile check-in counter. Marriott Hotel has globally rolled out mobile check-in and check-out using its mobile app. In fact the Marriott hotel in Bangalore was one of the five hotels in Asia where mobile check-in app was tested, as the global biggie is constantly innovating for the next generation traveller.

The mobile check-in has another advantage. The time that you save can be used for a power nap and a luxurious shower. I loved the room design at Marriott. With a glass wall between the bedroom and bathroom, the shower area looked bigger and had ample of natural light. Perfect for a woman, I say.  It’s the details after all that matter.

Chic: Room with see-through bathroom
In a very enjoyable company of the general manger of the hotel Nick Dumbell and fellow  bloggers, Ajay Jain of Kunzum Travel Cafe , Kalyan Karmakar of Finely Chopped and Jeet Banik of Traveling Beats,  I enjoyed a hearty lunch at the M Cafe. For a Saturday afternoon the restaurant was packed. I particularly enjoyed my glass of white wine, biryani and stir fried vegetables from the live counter.

In the evening,  I headed to the hotel’s  Sama Spa for the Asian Fusion massage. A speciality at their spa, the treatment is a perfect mix of dry Thai and oil massage. In fact being a spa addict I had browsed the Marriott app on my iPad mini to check the spa details and decided on the treatment even before I reached Bengaluru. Post the relaxing treatment, 15 minutes at the dreamy Jacuzzi and I was rejuvenated . The affable spa manager told me that while the spa was open till 10 PM, the fitness centre next to it was open 24/7. I was quite happy when she told me this as one of my top hotel pet peeve is fitness centre at a five star that’s not open round the clock.   

The evening was spent leisurely sipping cocktails at the M Bar. That India was winning medals at the Commonwealth Games that was playing on the screen was a bonus. Now I will fall short of words. We had dinner at Chef Alfonso’s Alto Vino and the meal that night was superlative. The seafood risotto was perfect and Chef made mozzarella cheese in his own kitchen. It’s the best mozzarella I have ever had, almost addictive.

Blogger Selfie: Jeet Banik, Vishakha Talreja, Kalyan Karmakar, Ajay Jain 
Next day at the Marriott Amazing Race, a treasure hunt sort of competition for bloggers, we visited  the HUL  Aerospace Museum that houses fighter planes and an old church. For Marriott’s #travelbrilliantly campaign we clicked lot of selfies together. It was great fun.
When we reached hotel we were pretty tired but the good news was Sunday and the hotel had its special Sunday brunch on! From steaks to pizza and stir fried vegetables, I tried everything from the live station. It was a lavish Sunday brunch spread with Sushi, Indian and Chinese all being served. The outdoor seating with some refreshing cocktails made for a memorable afternoon. Did someone say this was a business hotel?     

I was quite delighted with the breakfast spread at the M Cafe...and actually ate my breakfast like a Queen. My favourite was the ragi dosa, a healthy option but didn’t really help as I ate two waffles with chocolate dressing from the live station.  What takes the cake is the pastry shop Whitefield Baking Company (WBC for short). The soft baked chocolate cookies were to die for! The ones at Oberoi Hotel in Delhi are my favourite but the WBC’s came close, very close. I even tweeted about it few days back that how I missed those cookies (so they must be really good). Oh I really miss them.

I had an early morning flight on Monday but thank god for the Marriott mobile app, I was able to check out right from the comfort of my bed late in the night. The hotel staff was attentive and asked me a night before if I would like early breakfast in my room. The next morning without worrying about the hassle of standing at the reception for check out I enjoyed the sinful chocolate muffins, fresh cut fruits and my cup of cappuccino.

Wait this was suppose to be a work trip, but proved to be a great staycation!

If you want to read detailed review of the Marriott Mobile App here it is:

Monday, August 4, 2014

Food Review: La Vie - The Tempting Little Pizzeria

Herb Grilled Vegetables Sandwich
In the hustle and bustle of south Delhi’s Khan Market, tucked away is a new quaint little Italian joint La Vie. As one steps into this cosy restaurant, it’s easy to be transported to any little pizzeria that you’ll encounter at every nook and corner of Rome, Florence or Naples.

La Vie at best seats about 30 people at a time and on a wet and dreary Monday evening it was almost packed to the rafters — which indicates the rapidly growing popularity of the restaurant. If the large oven at the back of the kitchen is not enough to tempt you already then take our advice and opt for the breads and pizza immediately!
For starters, we ordered the Rosemary and Garlic Bread (Rs 200) along with a Chicken Caesar Salad (Rs 320) as well as a Spinach and Ricotta Raviolli. The aromas from the herb on the bread are the first attraction followed by the sweetness and freshness of the beautifully baked garlic bread dough — perfect accompaniment for any of the salads.

The ravioli was silky smooth in texture and the mild crunch of the spinach with the fresh ricotta cheese in a pesto sauce made it lip-smackingly good. For the next course, we opted for the pizza and we picked the Pizza Milano (Rs 590) and Pizza Mexicano (Rs 690). The former is a cured meat special with thinly sliced ham and bacon topped with basil and mozzarella cheese while the Mexicano comes with a layer of BBQ sauce with toppings of tender chicken, jalapeños, pineapple, cheddar cheese and mozarella.

Chef Naresh Varma
The crust of the both the pizzas was thin yet crispy which made the bubbling cheese on top of it even more tastier. Since La Vie is only in its early days, they offer a selection of about 20 pizzas right now which they hope to double soon enough. Chef Naresh Varma has spent the better part of two decades working in Italy and care he takes with the pizzas and raviolis just shines through on the plate.

For the Indian loving public, La Vie also offers a selection of tikkas — Chicken Methi Malai Tikka, Chicken Tikka and Fish Tikka (made with fresh river sole) — but if one can have a much more tasty and sumptuous experience with Italian, why opt for Indian?

For our main course, we ordered Grilled Prawns (Rs 690), perfectly smoky in flavour and served with mashed potatoes, grilled vegetables and herb rice. The tiger prawns were crisp on the outside but perfectly cooked in the middle with their taste accentuated by the garlic, white wine and vinegar marinade. The Grilled Chicken on the menu is equally tender yet juicy. The chilli and herb marinate goes perfectly with the sides of herb rice.

The restaurant doesn’t offer any alcoholic beverages but that is more than made up for by their own unique mocktails, one of which is the signature La Vie Da — a lovely mix of lime, oregano and jalapeños. 
La Vie is the perfect for a family outing on an Italian binge and if you can’t make it to a pizzeria in Italy, might as well turn up here!

Location:  La Vie, 51- A, Khan Market.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Preview: Barbeque Nation’s ‘Global Cuisine Indian Style’ Food Fest

Must Try: Grilled Chicken Breast with Potli Gravy
There was a time when casual dining meant a Chinese or an Italian meal at a restaurant before some restaurants started doing Indian food in a way that made it quick, fun and moved beyond the butter chicken, rogan josh and seekh kebabs. Barbeque Nation is one such chain that made Indian food popular among the upwardly mobile Indians who were bowled over by its concept of DIY (do-it -yourself) live grills .
Keeping with that tradition of doing Indian differently, Barbeque Nation has launched its ‘Global Cuisine Indian Style’ food festival that is on from 1st to 17th August at all Delhi outlets. I happened to preview the menu and before I write about the food let me tell you it was their beverages that blew my mind. Paan Shots (Vodka shots paan flavoured), concoction of Jim Beam with Guava and the jaamun mocktail were the high points of my meal.

Prawns in Indian Sauce
The must try from this menu include the succulent Grilled Chicken Breast (with potli sauce), prawns in Indian sauce, mushrooms with cheese and the Chinese Biryani.  Other signature dishes that this food festival offers include the likes of Roasted Lamb in Thai Curry, Mexican Baked Potato Curry and Mushroom ‘n Pasta in Indian Arabiata sauce. Just like the cocktails, the desserts too are impressive. There is red and white Kheer, Rasgulla Litchi Cake, Masala Spice Brownie and Kappi Pie- innovative and delectable desserts.

I also met the man behind the new menu Chef Vijay Anand Bakshi who is Barbeque Nation’s Head of Culinary Operations. Bakshi has worked with some of the biggest hospitality brands across the country. Though five star hotels didn’t give him a chance to experiment much, at Barbeque Nation he says he is free to try innovative dishes. His freedom is patrons delights this Independence Day. The new menu indeed is innovative but doesn’t go too far from the standard Barbeque Nation menu.  

Off late with so many Indian restaurants, both in casual and fine-dining space, crowding the Delhi-NCR many foodies have stayed away from Barbeque Nation saying the live grill place known for its long queues doesn’t serve lip smacking appetizers anymore. The patrons who have fallen off with the brand must try this new menu. They might want to return to the restaurant.

Ready Reckoner
Where: Barbeque Nation outlets - Connaught Place | Jangpura | Saket | Vasant Kunj | Pitampura | Janakpuri | Vivek Vihar | Noida | Gurgaon
Date: August 1-17, 2014
Average Meal Cost (for two): Rs 1600

Timings: Lunch and Dinner hours

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Hotel Explorer is now live!

Have you checked out yet? 

The Hotel Explorer is an online magazine dedicated to all things hotel. There’s everything from hotel reviews to latest buzz from the hotel industry. What more? We feature exciting hotel deals so that travellers can make informed decisions. In other words, it’s the personal ‘digital’ concierge to the world of hotels. And by hotels we mean not just the popular chains but also boutique properties, home stays, vacation homes, holiday villas and serviced apartments...wherever you choose to stay when travelling. 

Check it Out ! 

Friday, July 4, 2014

SOCIAL: The Joy of Being Offline

Its the new black. Hauz Khas Village in Delhi. You are not a foodie, college dude, fashionista , an aspiring photographer, tourist or a Dilliwallah for that matter if you haven’t spent some time in the bylanes of HKV (that’s what it is popularly called) or it’s cafes.

In this very market that has recently been dogged by safety and environment issues there is a new entrant- SOCIAL.  The quirky cafe bar, from the stable of Impresario, is making the right noises with its concept. Its first floor doubles up as a collaborative workspace where freelancers, those without office but with work, can use it as their office space. The deal? You pay Rs 5000 for a month which is redeemable on food and drinks and get access to the space, free wi-fi, printers and even a board room that can be used on pre-booking. It’s high on the coolness quotient. And what I feel the only thing that probably will keep some at bay is that it’s too cool to be a regular workplace. Frankly speaking I find cool and quirky workplaces a little intimidating and distracting.
This week, I used Social as a workplace for a day, actually just a few hours...loved my mushroom, veggies and pesto panini , the internet connectivity was great and the place was well lit. Even liked my colleague for the day.. ex-editor of a lifestyle magazine who had recently quit his job. His bags are packed, he is moving to Afghanistan to teach English at an institute.  We shared fries and ideas on blogging since he wants to write online about his life in Afghanistan. He must after all internet is the future. But then it has killed that urge to socialize offline. Social as a brand is about rediscovering the joy of being social offline.

There is more to this cafe-bar than its collaborative workplace concept. Its anti-design, food done in a quirky way and the prices are sure to attract HKV regulars and foodies. There are bulbs hanging from the ceiling, the furniture is not assembly line, some sofas are even torn (recycled)! It’s expansive unlike many other cafes and watering holes in the village. The presentation of food is awe inspiring...mezze platter served in Indian thali, fresh lime soda in a jar and girls get their Cosmopolitans topped with candy floss. Yes please..all this without hurting your pocket. The cocktails too are quirky and nothing like what you have had at a bar earlier. 

                                                                                               My colleague for the day is leaving as I am busy tweeting which being a blogger is serious work for me.  “It was nice meeting you. Did I tell you I have another job offer from a company in Fiji Islands. I am not sure if I want to go to Afghanistan. But I have told the whole world on Facebook that I am shifting to Afghanistan.” I look up and keep my iPad aside. The view from the first floor of this joint is splendid..there is the lake and it’s about to rain. Maybe I should spend more time offline than online, socialising. 


Monday, June 16, 2014

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

JORDAN: Following the Footsteps of Jesus

There are two kinds of people on this earth- Believers and non-believers. Religion fascinates both. Only the reason behind this fascination differs.  
Jordan is for both- believers and non-believers. For those who want to explore the Biblical sites of the Holy Land  where religions co-exist and for those who want to slather mud all over them and experience floating on the Dead Sea. Which in itself is an ‘out of this world’ experience.

The three-day visit of Pope Francis to Middle East has been much talked about. I was one of the lucky ones to attend the papal mass in Amman, capital of Jordan, and to listen to him talking about peace in the region.
Pope Francis
While the event has already made history, for the record it’s not for the first time that head of the Catholic Church has visited this Arabic country where Christianity finds its roots. There was Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI who have visited Jordan in the past.

And here is all that happened before I attended the papal mass. My first brush with the biblical heritage of the country was at Mount Nebo. After a nice-and light- Arabic lunch at the Holiday Inn Hotel Dead Sea, we headed to the site. And there was the Promised Land.  Mount Nebo is believed to be the site where Moses overlooked the Holy Land but did not enter it. The view from the top is splendid. On a clear day one can see Jerusalem but it seems God was angry with me that day. All I could see was the hazy horizon.
Next in line was the quaint town of Madaba. We visited the Greek Orthodox Church which houses  the intriguing Madaba mosaic map, made in the second half of the sixth century. It is the oldest picture map of the Holy Land that features historical sites, rivers, mountains, villages, Nile Delta, Jordan river et al.   

Following the papal footsteps on the second day we visited the Baptism site, Bethany beyond the Jordan. The bible describes this place where Jesus was baptised by John the Baptist. After a 20-minute walk crossing the Church ruins we reached the holy river.  As I dipped my feet in the holy river Jordan, on the other bank of the river just a few metres away  a priest was baptising a boy. Yes in Israel. His family and friends were clicking him with their iPads. Just as I was. We were in different countries watching the same boy getting baptised. They say God is in small details. Serendipity is also a word. Jesus was indeed baptised in Bethany, I didn’t need a proof anymore.
A boy getting baptised on the other bank of the Jordan river

Returning from a sumptuous dinner at a local restaurant Haret Jdoudna in Madaba to our hotel on the Dead Sea, the road was pitch dark but you could see the lights of the Holy Land. I have never experienced such a divine drive.  Our tour guide Salah pointed out at a light post far away and said “That’s Jerusalem”. For me it was just a bright spot of that beautiful mesmerizing view. Jordan is for both believers and non-believers.      

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Captain Cool - Remembering Captain CP Krishnan Nair of The Leela Hotels

Captain CP Krishnan Nair, Founder, The Leela Hotels

17th May 2014, Saturday one of the greatest hoteliers of our times Captain CP Krishnan Nair left for his heavenly abode. Captain Sir ( as many youngsters use to address him) was 92. I remember meeting him just when he was gearing up for his 90th birthday- enthusiastically and eagerly. This man, who gave luxury hospitality a whole new spin with launch of the Leela Hotels, will be missed for his style, smile and success. Here is a profile piece I wrote for The Financial Express just before he turned 90. RIP.

(Published in The Financial Express on January 13, 2012)

It’s rare to see a nonagenarian exhibit the zeal of a young entrepreneur. But then Captain CP Krishnan Nair, chairman and founder of the Leela Hotels and Resorts, is one of a kind. And while age is just a number, in Captain Nair’s case, it’s a reason to celebrate. His sons are busy organising a birthday bash for the big daddy of luxury hotels, when he turns 90 next month. Considering that his first birthday party was at the age of 80 years, the enthusiasm is still high. “Though my sons are keeping it under the wraps, I know they are inviting my friends from all over the world,” he says. 
After all, there’s enough in his life worth celebrating, be it his enterprise to start a handloom business after quitting the army in 1952, defying age to start his first hotel in Bombay when he was 65, or courageously building one of the most expensive hotels of the country and launching it last year. Even today he is at the helm of his business and shares a work-play relationship with his three granddaughters, each of whom are inducted into the family business with clearly defined roles.
That’s pretty much the gist, but stories of the business of life abound in between. Born in Kannur district of Kerala, Captain Chittarath Poovakkatt Krishnan Nair, or Captain Nair, as he is known in the hospitality circles, did not harbour any dreams of being a businessman, and a successful one at that, during his early days. At 13 years, he became part of the freedom movement, forming a union in his school. He went on to join the Army in 1942 in Abbottabad, the same place where Osama Bin Laden was shot dead last year. The place is still fresh in his memory and he even digs out a picture of when he was posted there. He married Leela Nair at the age of 27 and even though it was an arranged match, the fact that he named his first business— Leela Lace—after his wife speaks volume of the love that was to blossom later. Decades later, when he launched his hotel business, there was no contest on what it would be named. “She has been a guiding force. Even my grandchildren take career advice from her,” he smiles, as we walk through his first hotel, The Leela Palace in Mumbai, which will celebrate its silver jubilee this year.
From Dalai Lama to Margaret Thatcher, from Dev Anand to Kokilaben Ambani, Captain’s hotels have had many a distinguished guest. “Kokilaben stayed at our Udaipur property recently. She quite liked the experience and later sent thepla and dhokla for me as a thank you gesture,” chuckles Nair. There is more history to it. It was at Leela Mumbai’s restaurant where Anil Ambani and Tina Munim spent time before they were married. ‘Chairman uncle’, as he is fondly addressed by the Ambani brothers, knew about it. He remembers the day he got a call from elder brother Mukesh, who said, “Uncle you know they are dating and are regulars at your hotel. You never told us!” He adds, “That’s when Anil confessed to me that he is not just ‘dating’, but loves Tina.”
Fellow hoteliers are also not untouched by the Leela luxury. Bob Burns of the Regent Hotels and PRS ‘Biki’ Oberoi have stayed at his hotels. “Biki has stayed quite a few times at our Bombay hotel as it is close to the airport. In fact it was during one of his stays that I said we should start a hotel association and he should lead the pack. That’s how the Hotels Association of India (HAI) was formed (in 1996),” he reminiscences.
The Delhi hotel is replicating the Mumbai story, as he points out, “Our Delhi property is doing well. And it better do; after all, it cost us a bomb!” Any regrets, as the huge expenses incurred on the hotel that made headlines, was a financial setback for the group? “Not at all! It’s just a matter of time. In about next three years we will be able to retire our debt,” says Captain Nair.
The company might be reeling under debt, but Nair’s clearly still upbeat. He tells us that while the Delhi property was built at an expense of Rs 2,000 crore, the upcoming Chennai hotel has also been developed at a whopping Rs 1,000 crore. “There are about 1,800 people working on that hotel. Like Delhi, this will be a marquee property. We wanted to complete the hotel by early February, but it will be ready only by March. In fact, I wanted to celebrate my birthday there,” he says.
The Leela Hotels and Resorts, which has about seven hotels in its portfolio, will be signing only management contracts and not owning hotels till it retires its debt. Besides Chennai, the group’s upcoming projects are in Agra and Ashtamudi. That the hotel business is capital intensive, this entrepreneur had realised long back, and that’s why in August 2007, he sold his lace business. “Though my elder son Vivek was involved with the hotels from the very beginning, the younger one, Dinesh, was handling the lace business. It was only after we sold Leela Lace that Dinesh became involved with the hotels full time,” he says. Sell-offs have become a part of Leela’s story. In August last year, it sold its Kovalam property for Rs 500 crore to NRI Ravi Pillai.
He also knows it isn’t the best of times for the hotel industry either. “For our Mumbai property we were earlier doing an average room rate (ARR) of Rs 14,000, which went down to R8,000 during the recession of 2009. It’s picking up now and is about Rs 10,000. In Delhi, the ARR is around Rs18,000. In Bangalore, it is about R13,000-14,000. At one point (before slowdown hit) we were charging Rs 25,000 a night at our Bangalore property! The rates were one of the highest in the world and not just India. But the IT hub is not the most lucrative hotel markets anymore. Arrivals from the US have dipped. You must have heard about Obama’s mantra: ‘Say no to Bangalore, yes to Buffalo’.”
When not working, he likes to travel, watch Malayalam serials with his wife and enjoys his food and the wine (though according to his dietary plan). And then he has his grandchildren to keep him busy, be it enjoying a Chinese meal with them or planning other treats. Captain Nair is also a shutterbug’s delight, as he poses gracefully, smiles throughout and leads us to the best spots for clicking him.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Four Must Try Fine-Dining Restaurants in Koh Samui

This post has been long pending. There is so much of chatter around about Culinary Tourism being the next big thing. So thought its time to jot down about all the wonderful places I dined at on my recent visit to Koh Samui. Yes this Thai beach destination is beautiful ... but what's even better is that it has some great dining options. Here are the must try ones, for their upscale ambience, romantic setting and of course the food.

1) Dining on the Hill- Six Senses Resort

Photo Credit: Six Senses Resort 

While its Dining on the Rocks that has been mostly rated as the best restaurant in Koh Samui, we couldn't get a reservation so we booked a table at the other restaurant in the same resort- Dining on the Hills. Located on the sunset side of the resort, Dining on the Hill is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While the food was fabulous (and no its not bland spa kind of food), the view was to die for. Yes this is an expensive place to dine ...but it will be an occasion when you have a meal at this restaurant. Celebrate it with seafood cooked Thai-style !

2) Barracuda

My god women dress up to visit this restaurant. A small place in Mae nam, this isn't located on the beach like the many popular restaurants in Koh Samui. Owned by a German chef, the menu of this restaurant is where Thai meets European cuisine. The fish of course is sumptuous, well cooked and flavorful. Its hospitality personified at Barracuda where the owner ensures that you try the best dishes and helps you in pairing the right wine. With just six tables at this restaurant, make sure you book yours in advance.

3) Zazen Restaurant

Photo Credit: Zazen Boutique Hotel and Spa Website
So this was the day when we girls decided to go shopping and boys decided to go eat at Zazen Restaurant (located in Zazen Resort, Bo-Phut). So I didn't go there for a meal but my husband, a great cook and foodie, was all gaga about the place. I regret going shopping and missing the meal at this gem of a restaurant. One must visit the place for its romantic setting too...I have heard. Its on my wishlist.

4)  The Address

The Address on the Bo-Phut beach has tastefully done interiors in white. There is outdoor beachside seating as well. The portions served are great and even though the prices are not that of a fine dining restaurant, the presentation of food is impeccable. This is where our first dinner meal in Koh Samui was...Thai Curry, BBQ fish and some beer was perfect!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

World On Your Platter! Ssence at the Suryaa Hotel

(Published on the travel site 
When a newly launched restaurant is buzzing with people on a week night, you know it’s doing something right.  So when we saw world cuisine restaurant Ssence at the Suryaa Hotel being flocked by foodies of the city and tourists alike, we checked it out to know what is it that it’s doing right.

Here is the how and why of it. Ssence at the re-branded Suryaa Hotel in Delhi’s New Friends Colony spoils you for choice- with its offerings from round the world- there is Indian, Italian, American and few other specialities. 

It serves the no-brainers like the Chicken Burger, Kathi Roll, pasta in a choice of sauce, thin crust pizzas, Biryani and also the dishes for the discerning food lovers-Asparagus Champagne Risotto (Rs 945) , Lamb Shank Tagine (Rs 945) and the Vilayati Subz Masala (Rs 645).  
But the not-to-be-missed items on the menu are the quintessential Galouti Kebabs (Rs 995), the Country Corn Fed chicken Breast (Rs 1595) from the grills and Paella Mixta (Rs 1095).  Galoutis are done perfectly, corn fed chicken sumptuous and the taste of paella with sea-food will actually transport you to Spain! Vegetarians must try the Subz Galouti Kebab (Rs 945)- the Indian version of mock meat.     

While its ala-carte that’s a better choice at some restaurants, at Ssence even the buffet is elaborate and done with lot of detailing. The salads and cold cuts are displayed in refrigerated shelves, an Indian chef dishes out paapdi-chat at the live counter and there is  Teppanyaki ice-cream and must say the guy behind that counter is an expert. A must try! Ssence has made buffet lunch and dinners exciting. Chef Sanjay Bahl takes care not just of the kitchen and recipes, but has infused lot of energy in the restaurant. The result: There is never a dull moment at Ssence.  
With so many restaurants making a debut it seems India is witnessing the eating-out revolution. Most of them, be it home-grown or international, source freshest of ingredients and have hired best of chefs. Then what is it that makes you want to go back to a restaurant? It’s the impeccable service. Our table manager ensured that he pairs our wine perfectly with food and that the glass was never empty. And that’s what the service is all about for we Indians.      
With it’s luxurious yet lively ambience, Ssence is an experience! When you see your mushroom soup look exactly like a cup of Cappuccino, the tag line of the restaurant – A Culinary Showcase- actually resonates in your head. The hotel, Suryaa, has seen many restaurants come and go. We just hope this one stays! 
Lunch Buffet: Rs 1500
Dinner Buffet: Rs 1750
Chandon Sunday Brunch: Rs 2600
Avg Cost: Rs 3,000 for two people

A ROYAL HOLIDAY - Review of The Ranbanka Palace Jodhpur

It was 11’o clock in the night and I was still sitting in the restaurant, satiated with my dinner meal and enjoying the conversations with a friend, in the royal ambience. One of the waiters came in to say that we must try the jalebis whenever we are done. On this winter night when I walked up to the live-jalebi counter nineteen-year old Bhim Sen was eagerly waiting with a smile on his face even though it was well past his duty hours. I told him he could leave the counter and we can try the jalebis that were lying in the serving bowl but he insisted he would serve us freshly fried jalebisand only then he would call it a day. Such hospitality coming from a boy who was still a teenager is rare, at least for us who stay in the metro cities. The delectable and flavourful jalebis andmalpuas that he served are even more rare!  

That’s Jodhpur’s Ranbanka Palace for you..a heritage palace turned into a hotel where the staff walks that extra mile so that the guests get a taste of royalty at the palace hotel. The 70- room heritage hotel that started with 30 rooms is located ten minutes away from the Jodhpur airport. It offers magnificent view of the Umaid Bhawan Palace on one hand and blue city’s star attraction- Mehrangarh Fort- on the other.
Ranbanka Palace was built for Maharajadhiraj Ajit Singh, the younger brother of Maharaja Umaid Singh of Jodhpur. Now converted into a hotel, promoter Karanvijay Singh (popularly known in the polo circle as KV Singh) and his family stay in a wing of the palace property that also houses a small museum replete with artefacts from the bygone Rajput era, hunting trophies and luxe items. 
It’s not just the structure that makes this hotel such a delight. The hospitable staff and the way they serve all guests could easily give top hotels of the country a run for their money. And there is a reason why the service is impeccable at this heritage hotel. KV Singh’s  wife Shweta Rathore herself looks after the operations and pays attention to small details.  She tells us about the Jodhana style of service that the hotel follows.  The staff follows traditions of the blue city and they serve the guests the way the they would attend to the personal guests of the royal family. “So when my friends come here for polo match or the Sufi festival and stay at the haveli, the way my butler takes care of them, in a similar fashion the staff at Ranbanka looks after the checked-in guests,” she tells us.
Here is another reason why the stay at the Ranbanka Palace leaves an impression. The food! The sumptuous Rajasthani thali is something nobody should miss when they visit the has about eight type of local delicacies including the Rajasthani Laal Maas (mutton). Other must try items on the menu are mutton burrah that melts in your mouth and the very spicey Junglee Chicken, a speciality . But why I say the food is excellent at the hotel is because while you would expect the Indian fare to be good, they do continental and other cuisines with equal elan! Be it rustling up a Greek Salad or serving pasta or for that matter whipping up the chocolate mousse. If you have had enough of Indian spicy food, you can try the continental or Chinese safely. The staff will ensure that you try their best dishes.   
The promoter family also supports many local artisans who have become integral part of the Ranbanka culture. In the evening the place turns lively with guests enjoying local delicacies in the garden as folk dancers enthral them with their performance, while others are busy with thejootiwallahs and choodiwallahs who display their collection in the gardens. There are others who enjoy the barbeque snacks at the poolside or just opt for the lavish buffet spread...the options at the hotel galore! 
I have stayed at some newly built palace hotels across the country, while they are amazing they are after all just hotels not palaces in the real sense as they lack heritage. Ranbanka Palace still has blue blood flowing in its veins and that’s why it has a life! The best part is staying at this heritage property doesn't cost you a bomb.
Things To Know About Ranbanka Palace
-   Ranbanka Palace is located in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. It is classified as the ‘Classic Heritage Hotel’ by the Ministry of Tourism. 
- The average room rate is Rs 8000. It has rooms in three categories—deluxe, club rooms and suite.  
-          The hotel has a banquet hall and business centre services. It also organises lavish weddings and hosts polo matches.
-          It has restaurants, swimming pool, shopping arcade and a spa.  It also organises theme lunches, yoga classes and village safari.
-          The best time to visit Jodhpur is in winter season that is from October to February. But keep an eye on the off-season deals.
-          For reservations you can contact