Magic Of Maui

December in Maui

We were in Maui for a week in December.

After Dubai and before starting our life in San Francisco.

Hawaii has always been our milestone destination. For our fifth anniversary we were in Oahu ( after Australia) and our first baby moon we were in Kauai. It made sense to continue with our Hawaii theme for our 10th anniversary as well as second baby moon (if a vacation with an active 3-year-old when you are at fag-end of second trimester can be called as any kind of “moon”).

Maui has always been an elusive destination for us. We have planned to visit many times before Varun. We almost had purchased tickets but something or the other was always in the way. This time we wanted to visit Maui as we started our second phase in US.

I wasn’t sure how I would fare the long flight from India to US. I wanted to see if I could manage another 5+ hours flight so we booked our tickets fairly late minute.

Where We Stayed 

December in Maui

Since we had “researched” the island earlier, we knew where we wanted to stay. It was either Lahaina in West Maui or Wailea in South Maui. Both have excellent sunset views, calm crescent beaches and luxury resorts catering to every whim you would have. We didn’t really plan to do much of sight-seeing anyways so we didn’t really care to be in center of things.

December in Maui

Based on the deals that we saw at that time, Four Seasons, Maui was booked. And boy was it a fantastic choice or what. Luxurious expansive rooms, water views, top-notch service and little details that make your stay memorable. Its expected at a resort like this. What really blew me away was their kid friendliness.

December in Maui

Little robe for Varun? Check

One Planet Lotion/Shampoo/ Bath wash for kids and babies? Check

Complimentary Pool/Beach toys ? Check

Complimentary kid friendly books, video rentals? Check

Kids for All Season – A complimentary play area with activities (gecko hunting, swimming, beach combing etc) and toys for kids including meals and snacks ? Check

The last one was so loved by Varun. Between that and the beach he couldn’t decide where he wanted to go.

But it was not overrun with kids. There was a separate adults only area with swim up bar and infinity pool , up and away from the chaos of kid and family pool.

December in Maui

December in Maui

We enjoyed that as well thanks to the babysitting service that we could avail from Four Seasons concierge. The baby sitters are carefully shortlisted and checked so you can actually enjoy your vacation without worrying about your kid not being in safe hands.

We met so many families by the pool who return here every year around the same time every year from various cities in US to enjoy the warmth and hospitality of Four Seasons. They have formed friendships over their vacation and are excited to see them. I think that speaks the most about the resort.

If you have a child and are looking for a chilled out resort in Maui, really look no further than Four Seasons. I would go again in a heartbeat.

What did we do?

There is literally a ton of activities to do in Maui. Shortlisting ones to do given the limited time you have on the island is a challenge. We didn’t plan to do much other than drive to Hana and Snorkel. Rest was pool and beach time.

A drive unto Haleakala summit was out of question as was some of the other activities we would typically have indulged in on such a vacation – hiking, learning to surf or even scuba diving.

Luckily, Varun didn’t mind the drive to Hana. He actually loves waterfalls and was excited to visit one after the another. He didn’t snorkel but we took turns snorkeling by the Molokini crater. The reef is alive and teeming with colorful fishes. Very vibrant and reminiscent of our scuba diving experience in Cairns.

By the day, Varun played in the pool with other kids or played in the sand digging our feet in on the beach.

December in Maui

December in Maui

Or chasing birds

December in Maui

December in Maui

Afternoons were either in the kids for All Season or napping.

December in Maui

December in Maui

Evenings were spent watching pink sunsets along the beach or the board walk.

December in Maui

Tiki torch lighting ceremony and Hula dancing at the resort was followed by dinner.

December in Maui

A movie or books reading time for Varun and then bedtime.

December in Maui

Sometimes its an adrenaline packed vacation that you remember for ever. Like our time in Costa Rica. Other times its relaxing vacation that makes wonderful memories. Varun talks about waterfalls and beach from Hawaii. He remembers how we had to get back from Hana before it got very dark.   And the beautiful pictures of Varun and Vipul are something I will cherish forever.

I got to chill out, enjoy a massage and sleep in before the fast pace of life took over again. I would so not trade our time in Maui for anything.

They say Hawaii spoils you forever. The greenery, the laid back pace of life, coffee, soft sand, waterfalls, seafood, naps in middle of day and the Aloha spirit. We have visited three island so far and I agree, we are spoilt. Can’t wait to go back again – this time with two kids in tow!

Dubai Adventures: Desert Safari

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One of the most popular things to do in Dubai is to go out in the evening for desert safari. Depending on the tour operator that you choose to go with, it includes dune bashing, sand skiing, camel rides, dinner in the desert with belly dancing, henna painting etc.Dune bashing was the highlight of the trip. Vipul couldn’t stop raving about it. I skipped as it was too much for my 28 week pregnant self to handle and of course I didn’t want Varun to partaking in it either. The ride is crazy rough (how crazy depends on your driver).

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We booked the tour after we reached Dubai and went with Arabian Nights. Apparently more exclusive (read expensive) tour operators take you out to a conservation area to talk about desert conservation, bedouin lifestyles, falconry etc, but this tour was a pure “entertainment”.Even though it is evening safari, we were picked up from our hotel around 3:00 pm and then dropped off by 9:30 pm.They dropped Varun and me at the desert camp and went with others to the dune bashing area. They were still setting up the camp so Varun and I wandered around the small dunes, watching camels and sunset from a ridge.

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Vipul loved the sand bashing part – roller coaster rides amongst dunes so high that it was impossible to keep up. He only got a sense of how vast the desert is when they stopped for sunset photo ops. The sunset watching area was crowded with all tour operators descending on the same spot for sunset and then whisking the tourists away to various camps for dinner.

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As Varun and I were at the camp before everyone else, we bagged some prime seats. After sunset, it began to cool a bit and the freshly made shwarma and falafel were what we needed. Even Varun enjoyed the falafel and freshly baked bread from tandoor.

Fortified, we went out to try the camel ride ( a joke of a 2 minute ride), henna painting, seeing the falcon and trying the sand skiing.

Over dinner, we got to see an amazing Tanoura  dance. Although not local to the area, the Tanoura dancers are a sight to watch. With their colorful long flowing skirts they twirl around at dizzying speeds. The origin of the dance is in Sufi tradition and is to symbolize union between Earth and Heaven with the twirling motion indicating seasons, movement of earth around Sun as well as around Mecca. Here the whole act was to entertain us tourists and earn a living. Maybe some day when we go to Egypt we will experience the dance the way it is intended to be. But for now, it got us hooked!

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

Tanoura Dancer Dubai

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Followed by the Tanoura dance was a belly dance – again not a regional dance but something to keep us entertained. She was good as belly dancers go. Folks milled around over food, Arabic coffee, sheesha while the belly dancer entertained.

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The good part about the camp setup was that the sheesha hut was setup away from the main seating area. So we were not bothered by the smoke. And other family friendly activities like henna painting, sand art, dressing up in local garb, souvenir shop etc were away from sheesha hut.

After dinner and entertainment, we headed back to our hotel. It was about an hours ride away. Folks we shared the car with were sloshed and slept all the way. Varun didn’t want to come back. He was happy playing in the sand and digging up a storm while we had dinner. Needless to say there was some crying involved but he slept en-route as he was tired to.

If you have one day in Dubai, do this tour. There is nothing more entertaining and adventurous than this! And of course this is what everyone back home will ask you about (besides Al Burj) ;)!!

Travel Tales from Nilgiris – Ooty Highlights

After a long day of travel and visiting the Tea factory in Coonoor, we slept early and woke up refreshed ,ready to take on the mountains.

The plan was to go to Dodabetta peak and other sites along the way. The  basic sights outside of Ooty. After breakfast we headed out towards Ooty, ooh-ing and aah-ing at views along every turn. More tea estates, cute bungalows and roadside fresh vegetable sellers with just pulled carrots, radishes on sale. Seriously, Ooty has to be the root vegetable capital of India! The colorful carrots, radishes, beets have never looked so inviting and fresh in India!

Carrots for sale

Doddabetta Peak
Views ofOoty below

The dark clouds parted making way for sunshine and every now and then a light drizzle added to the misty weather around us. The kids were bundled up and cosy. After about an hour from Coonoor we reached Dodabetta, the highest peak in the Nilgiris. It was windy and super cold. We just had lame wind cheaters and hurriedly bought fleece caps from a hawker who made most of the opportunity by selling cold weather clothes from the trunk of his car.

Us at Doddabetta

Doddabetta peak telescope house

We almost ran from the car to a tea stall on the peak who was making brisk business on this cold windy day. We wandered around, chased the kids who kept warm by running around and even went up the tower that had the telescope to take in views below. Clouds drifted in and out revealing and hiding the Ooty city below. It was a bit like being in Switzerland minus the Alps, snow and crowds.

Cloudy misty peak

Oh, and the plump dahlias and marigolds and a host of other flowers at the top were envy inducing.

Nilgiris Tea and Chocolates
Nilgiri tea and chocolate

After an hour or so we headed back to the car and drove back towards the city stopping en-route at Niligiris tea shop for another round of tea. Kids had chocolate. It’s an experience to sit amidst tea gardens and sip hot tea. And variety of tea like masala tea, green tea, cardamom tea, even chocolate tea! We definitely OD’ed on tea and chocolate while we were here. Luckily all the walks and chasing Varun helped with keeping the weight piling on.

Pykara Lake
Boating at PykaraLake

Next stop on agenda was Pykara lake. It was cloudy but not raining hence we decided to make most of it and went boating. The kids were cold, but were thrilled about going out on the boat. there are no views here to talk about but if you want to have a boating experience while in Ooty, this is probably a better bet than Ooty lake ( which is very crowded). I didn’t like this spot as much.

Pykara Falls
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Our driver recommended going to Pykara falls from here and I didn’t really have any hopes. But we went along nevertheless. This was a surprise for me. Although the monkeys here are aggressive, the falls were very beautiful. These are the kind of falls you can sit on rocks on and enjoy levels of falls all around. The water was brown due to rain run off but I really liked them. They had an earthy, down to earth quality about them without boasting about being the widest, tallest, most visited or one with most water. Arum leaves nodded in the light breeze, couples walked hand in hand to the falls and odd visitor sat by a burning log to keep warm. It was a bit slippery due to rain and moss and we had to keep an eye out on Varun to ensure he didn’t slip. We returned to tell the tale without any accidents.

By now, we were all hungry and headed to a “dhabha” or a road side eatery for lunch. It looked clean so we ordered food which to our surprise was very fresh – dal, curry, rotis and rice. We were set. We got some bhaajis or fritters from a neighboring stall as appetizer while waiting for our food to arrive. It starting pouring heavily and we contemplated sitting there over lunch and prolong it to tea to wait it out. But as if on cue, rain stopped after we had lunch and we could step out to take in more photos of the scenery in rain.

Photosession us

We left Varun in the car and wandered around to get some couple photos 😉

Nine Mile Stop
9 milepoint

Our driver prodded us to go to another “tourist” attraction on the same road -the nine mile stop. It is so-called as it is 9 miles from Ooty and is a popular spot for movie shoots. It’s an overview point. You have to climb a small hill to get to the top to the view-point but the rains made it very slick. We managed to make it to the top with Varun who as he was cold pulled his cap over his face and proclaimed he is a Spiderman. Things kids do!

Varun as spiderman

Vipul ran around taking photographs while Varun and I huddled closely to keep warm. The wind was wild on this exposed location and we were pushed by the wind. Varun and I headed down and soon Vipul and other’s joined us. Back in the car we were warm and happy.

Getting tired of the cold we headed back to our resort in Coonoor, even though there are additional attractions ( Pine Forest, Six mile stop) in this area. Back in the resort we sat by the fireplace enjoying some more hot tea while the kids played around.

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Latter that night there was a bon-fire where we sat, joked and had drinks.

Wildas fire

It was another awesome day of sightseeing, great scenery and amazing company. The evening and night were spent at the resort- resting and charging for another day ahead!

As we headed to bed that night we couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful Ooty must be when the weather is better in early summer months of March and April. Sun soaked hills and valleys would be the perfect getaway – no wonder it is called the Queen of the Hills. We dozed off dreaming of the scenic vistas and great company counting our blessings for being able to enjoy this!

Site Seeing in The City of Joy,Kolkata

Side view of victorial meorial

Last weekend, we were in Kolkata, pigging out after the IIM C recruitment trip. Bengali food was on the menu and so was visiting a couple of key attractions in Kolkata. With Varun in tow we didn’t want to do too much and generally take it easy.

Victoria memorial in reflection pool

First up was Victoria Memorial. An elegant white marble structure which was created as a tribute to Queen Victoria houses artifacts from British rule era. Paintings, rare books, arms and ammunitions, sculptures, letters etc. I loved that the monument is not too big that it  takes hours to browse through it all. It is surrounded by acres and acres of lawns, blooming gardens and ponds. Its adds to the tranquility of the place.

Main entrance dome

Victoria memorial another view

Blooming dahlias

Vast gardens surrounding victoria memorial

The school kids and blooming flowers added life to this still monument. But this is not what I had imagined Kolkata to be. Everyone had warned me that Kolkata is dirty, polluted. Howrah station and its narrow by lanes, cows on street and lyrical Bengali on the streets. I didn’t experience any of that. So, we decided to brave a taxi ride across the Hoogly river to Howrah.

Outside the Victoria memorial we hailed a cab and the driver sped across open green maidans over to the new bridge or the Vidyasagar setu. Once across in Howrah we had a shock. The lanes along the river bank are narrow and crowded with people, animals , automobiles and hand pulled rickshaws jostling for space. At one point, the taxi driver drove over an open stretch of garbage overflowing on to the streets. It seemed we were driving though a block of garbage!

The stench of garbage, sweat, trains and vegetables intermingled in the early afternoon heat. A few stray cows grazing on that garbage and left over vegetable remains added to the chaos on the bridge. This is the first experience for folks who take the train in to Kolkata. Sad. I know.

It took us forever to get to the other side.

Yellow cab and Howrah bridge

Traffic jam on Howrah bridge

Howrah bridge looking up

Once on the other side of the bridge, we were greeted with yet another quintessential Kolkata sights – a rally. A political rally to oust the current government or some such thing. Having just visited the Victoria Memorial’s collection of oil paintings of freedom fighters and their letters, I pondered if the rallies in early half of the last century were just like the one we saw. Colorful flags, sonorous chants, pedestrian demands of freedom and independence from the British rule. These were the very streets that witnessed the movement then and is seeing it once again.

A Political rally in Calcutta

Once back on the saner, cleaner side of Hoogly river, we headed back up to the hotel for a nap. Varun was drowsy and we didn’t want to keep him up unnecessarily.

After a long nap, we mainly went to New market famous for leather bags and clothes though we focused on street food. And later to Park street for some more good eats.

The following morning, we went to see the Princep Ghat which offers views of both the bridges over the Hoogly river. The taxi drivers in Kolkata, unlike their Mumbai brethren, don’t know the directions to local tourists destinations. Some say no and don’t take your fare, others nod and drop you to a different place,. It happened to us a couple of times. We were dropped 3-  4 blocks away from where we wanted to go and then had to walk down to our destination. with Varun and his diaper bag in tow.

The cab driver dropped us at Babu ghat where families were bathing in the river, priests were offering prayers and generally had a religious air around it. I couldn’t imagine dipping my toes in the brown muddy waters of Hoogly but life continued as normal on its bank. A barber shaving, kids jumping with glee, women folk changing out of wet sari’s while covering their modesty, men lathering the soap rather vigorously. Varun was thrilled to climb down the stairs and wanted to get in the water. We somehow managed to hold him.

We took another cab to Princep ghat – which is next to Princep station. Clean and maintained, it offers a calm and quiet place to stroll along the banks of Hoogly river. Overlooking the Vidysagar bridge ( new bridge), it offers chat vendors, benches, restrooms and even boat rides on the river. We didn’t see folks praying and priests preying on them here.

Hoogly river, boats, birds and Howrah

Boats and Vidyasagar bridge

We hung out, had some jhaal muri and let Varun run around. Soon, it was time for us to head back. Pickup sweets at KC Das and then feats on the scrumptious Bengali thali at Aheli.

We didn’t get to visit some of the temples Kolkata is famous for – Kali temple and Dakshineshwar temple. Hopefully next time, we can stay longer in this laid back city. Till then we need to find someone to bring us some Sondesh!

 

Things To Do Around Hyderabad

A friend recently asked me for sight-seeing options in and around Hyderabad. She was wondering of there is something that is sorted by driving distance.

I didn’t know of one that exists as is so I shared my bucket list with her.This is not an exhaustive list, but list of places that I want to visit :)If you are visiting Hyderabad, you will find this handy in planning your trip.

In Hyderabad

  1. Charminar and surroundings  ( Lad Bazar, Mecca Masjid)
  2. Salarjung museum
  3. Chowmallah Palace
  4. Golkonda fort and Qutb shahi Tombs
  5. Hussain sagar lake and Necklace road
  6. Sanjeeviah Park
  7. Birla Temple
  8. Lumbini Park
  9. Taramati Baradari
  10. Paigah Tombs
  11. Sudha car museum
  12. Nehru Zoo
  13. Lotus Pond
  14. KBR Park
  15. Anand Buddha Vihar
  16. Falaknuma Palace
  17. Raymond Tomb
  18. Shilparamam

< 2 hours from Hyderabad ( < 100 kms)

  1. Ramoji film city
  2. Leonia resort
  3. Epithopala falls
  4. Kuntala and Pocharan falls
  5. Himayat sagar lake
  6. Chilkur Balaji temple
  7. Pochampally

2-4 hours drive

  1. Nagarjuna Sagar
  2. Raichur
  3. Bidar and Bhongir Fort
  4. Kurnool and Belum Caves

4 hours from Hyderabad / Weekend Trip

  1. Srisailam and Mallela Tirtham waterfalls
  2. Warrangal
  3. Vijaywada and Bhavani island
  4. Nagarjunsagar dam

Long weekend (3-4 days)

  1. Hampi
  2. Vaizag – Arraku valley and Borra caves
  3. Rajmundhry- Konaseema, Kakinada, Palakollu – East and West Godavari
  4. Bijapur – Fort, Palace, Temple
  5. Suryalanka Beach and Kotappa Konda