Realities of Rajasthan

So, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when I say Rajasthan? It has to be either a ride on the camels or the pretty lehariya dupattas and saris famous there. The Sam desert on the outskirts of Jaisalmer is recommended for those who want to take a tour on the sands. In fact with winter coming up, Rajasthan in India will be on the top of most tourists’ mind. So, charges for a camel ride, did you just ask? The rates differ vastly during the off season and season months, which are typically from October to February, with November, December and January being the peak months.
Frankly, how much you pay for a camel ride depends on how rich you look!

Price for a camel ride:

The camel handler will typically charge Rs 250 for a ride that begins from the road where the owners are waiting for their camels to be hired till a point in the dunes. The handler will walk ahead will you are perched on a cushioned seat on the hump. Once he leaves you in the dunes, he will ride the camel back to the road and wait for more customers. The price for the same routine escalates to Rs 1,000 or even Rs 2,000 during the peak tourist season, in the months of November till January. One camel keeper confided that the rates are not fixed and are generally decided on the spot, judging the customer’s capacity to pay. So it’s usually charge anywhere between Rs 800 to Rs 1,500 while the rates for foreign tourists are Rs 1,000 upwards only.
Also, the rates mentioned above are only to drop you till the desert, or a few steps into it. If you want a full tour, you have to cough up more. The options are a full desert tour, a camel race or a ride back to where you started from. There are a number of entertainment options once you reach the dunes too. Groups of men and women put up a show, with the women dancing to folk songs that men sing. The twirling of skirts adorned with local embroidery and mirror work, with beige dunes serving as a canvas makes for a pleasant sight and more imporantly, excellent pictures.

Beware of the lehariyas

Next stop: Shopping. The one most common item found on almost everyones shopping list is: Lehariya duppattas, suits or saris. You get the same thing for about the same price in every other metropolitan city in the country, but I guess there is a charm to wearing one that you can claim to have picked up in Rajasthan itself. But here’s a word of caution before you, like many other always-in-a-hurry travellers, just pile on lehariya sets at the cash counter. Always open the suit or the dupatta to check the length of the chunni. Most of them are quite short and those who like only lengthy chunnis will be disappointed. Some dupattas come in ‘bada panna’ (increased width). It’s no magic, the shopkeeper attaches an identical chunni piece to the existing one, for a wider breadth causing it to look clumsy, to say the least. My friends were in for a rude shock when they saw dupattas with a joint on them, but only once they were back in the city. Luckily for them, good sense prevailed and they separated the joint piece from the real chunni and made a stole out of the extra piece.
Moral of the story: Always open and check the dupattas and even sari length before buying them.

Use the extra bit of the dupatta as a stole

For Jewellery Junkies:
The city of Jaisalmer has several stores where you can scout for typical Rajasthani bags, outfits and mirrored jewellery. But silver jewellery aficionados will be pleased to learn that tucked away in the bylanes of Jaisalmer is a house that specialises in silver items. Shri Charbuja Jewellers is a family run business, the bunglow which they operate from is their residence as well. Guests are ushered into a room and one of the men will come with boxes filled with silver pendants, bracelets, necklaces and earrings and they are priced according to the weight, design and stones used in it. I found some really cool designs of a whistle pendant (which you can blow into), miniature crocodies, turtle (both with moving limbs and head), etc. They’re primarily into manufacturing and exporting silver, gold and ethnic jewellery but they welcome tourists who drop by occasionally too.
You can call them at 9414206089, 9782583101 or check out www.shricharbhuja.com.

Cool cat and other silver jewellery at Shri Charbhuja

 

 

Goa

Okay, folks. I’m a shopping addict. So much so that I have seriously considered seeking therapy to cure myself of this addiction! And Goa, I hear, is a shopper’s, especially street shoppers haven. Sarongs, funky printed tees, cottons pants, Goa markets are the best bets to find the best at inexpensive rates. So, I took off to Goa, one fine night (took the late night train from Panvel) and reached my hotel – The Royal Palms, Haathi Mahal early morning. After a hurried breakfast, I slept till lunch-time before heading out for a stroll on a nearby beach. 

It was the monsoon period (mid-July) and there was just one dog (trust me, I’m not exaggerating) on the beach. I saw a few human figures disappear in the horizon. Obviously, they miraculously understood that it was time for the clouds to burst open, and I didn’t get the hint till the clouds started spewing water.

Lesson learnt: Goan beaches are best stayed far away from during monsoons. The tide was so high, even the itsy-bitsy adventurer in me couldn’t imagine fooling around with the ever-rising waves. I ran back to my hotel, changed, called for bhajias and pakoras, watched some TV and then ventured out for a stroll in a couple of hours.

The next day was slightly better. I hired a Sumo and told the driver – a local – to just take me to the must-visit places in Goa. Obviously, he couldn’t manage the world in a day’s time, I was there on a very short visit, but he did his best. One sumo for myself didn’t come cheap, I had to shell out Rs 2,500 for the entire day. (Not a bad bargain, if you split it up though.)

He drove moi to Big Foot, at Salcette, South Goa. “Must see, madam,” he insisted. Honestly, I was more interested in shopping, but I thought that could wait till early evening and gave in. So, Big Foot is this arty place where old Goa has been brought alive. The fee is nominal, and at the entrance, girls do a little aarti and put a tikka on your forehead. Cool!

One level has life size images of how people in old Goa dressed, their homes and how they made Feni (cashewnut liquor). A giant stone carving of Mirabai in one end of the theme park is another attraction.

Once I stepped out, he gave me a list of places to visit. I cut him short and told him to just take me to the ever so famous street shops in Goa. To my horror, he said that since it was monsoon, there was no market as such and the night market would be back post monsoon only! It took a while for the news to sink in and seeing my distressed face, the driver promised to show me the “actual Goa which is more than just shopping.” Okay, I said, when I recovered my hearing sense again.

Next stop: Bondla zoo.

Not many Goa visitors even know about the existence of this mini-zoo. It’s 38 kms from Margao and there are ample deer, elephants and snakes in this zoo. I even came across a caged cheetah in the premises.

The area is sprawling and well maintained with lots of flora and fauna for city bees to absorb. Just for the record, the zoo has at least 20 caged boxes of different kinds of snakes.. which according to me is ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING but MOST AMAZING for snake lovers (which clearly, I am not).

Late in the afternoon we drove to Aguada Fort and the lighthouse alongside. Aguada Fort, FYI, is the same fort where Aamir Khan and gang rest their buts on, in the movie Dil Chahta Hai. The fort is still as fabulous as it was in the movie, years back. If you happen to go there, also climb up the lighthouse. The view from atop is amazing and the wind just threatens to push you away, so be careful too.

Lanka Shopping:

Colombo has a lot to offer to shoppers, so keep at least one day aside for shopping. Peta, the street shopping haven, is at Colombo city. It’s a five minute walk from Colombo city railway station. Ask for directions along the way. In fact there are tones of street stalls (like the Colaba street market), selling belts, wallets, tops and the like on the way too, so ditch the auto and stroll along. The rates are dirt cheap but you may not find too much variety in terms of fashion. Cotton skirts and shirts for kids (aged 3-5 years) are available for as little as 50 Sri Lankan Rupees (SLR). That makes it 25 INR! No need to bargain, right? Again, the finish is not great, so no matter how hard you look, every piece will have strings of thread hanging loose or a stitch that was not right.  

Luckily, we chanced upon an export store, stacked with tones of dungarees for 250 SLR (125 INR). I bought a beige cotton pair. But there were variants in denim and corduroy as well. And high-waist multi-coloured shorts. Apart from this, we didn’t get lucky!

House of fashion: Must visit store. The best part is that there is a currency exchange counter at the store itself. Clothes for men, women and kids, kitchen items, show pieces, wallets, cuff links, bags, laptops bags, jewellery, toys, footwear, House of Fashion has it all. And you’ll probably get the most ‘original fakes’ here. I got a pair of LV cuff links for 600 SLR (approx). The labels of tops were holed through… just in case you’re looking to gift stuff from here.

Address: 28, R. A De Mel Mawatha, Colombo 5.

Odel: One of the first malls in Colombo. It’s pretty much like our Shoppers Stop outlets, with clothes, shoes and jewellery to offer.

CAUTION: I bought a stunning necklace, to gift to a friend. I paid around 500 INR for it and the chain, originally golden in colour, turned black, within 15 days. Sniff, sniff.

Lakmedura: Visit for masks, keychains, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

Lanka Train ride:

Don’t miss this one. There is a railway station located at a stone’s throw away from Mount Lavinia Hotel. A ticket to Fort at Colombo city will cost you Rs 15, per head, one way. The station is deserted, mostly. But the crowd increases when the train is nearing the city. The Colombo railway station is very similar to CST station in Mumbai. To get out of the station premises, you have to climb down a flight of stairs, surrounded by hawkers and beggars. This stretch will remind you of Dadar railway station. The train we boarded was not an electric one, but one that ran on coal. Bet you thought coal trains were extinct, eh? The compartments were spacious with seats at the circumference of the compartment and not in multiple rows, like in the Mumbai local trains. That leaves ample space for passengers to stand comfortably.

Don’t even think of rushing into a train without a ticket. No matter how much you pray, you will find a ticket collector at the exit points of every station. People have to queue up, hand over the ticket to the collector, and then go out. The tickets are unmarked and therefore reused. My friend wanted to keep a ticket as a souvenir. The collector crossed the ticket and gave it to him. Simple!

Sri Lanka The view:

The best thing about my l’il trip to Sri Lanka was the view from my hotel room, Mount Lavinia Hotel at Mount Lavinia. There are some who scout for the most inexpensive hotel rooms, and though I’m all for a comfortable stay, I don’t believe in splurging on five stars either. A decent hotel will do.But with a view like that this (check pictures), I wouldn’t mind shelling out those extra bucks.

We started at awesome, then realized it was breathtaking and by the time we moved out, our choice of adjective for our room with a view shot up to ‘out of this world’.

It’s been a month since I returned and I still have occasional dreams about the view from my hotel balcony. Sigh! BTW, it’s purrrrfect for honeymooners.

Sri Lanka!

I’ll begin with my recent trip to Sri Lanka.

Every country has its USPs to attract a tourist. If nothing, you’ll at least know what’s not worth visiting in a country, for future reference. But the point is, you were an eye witness to a country’s culture and saw things first hand.

Ceylon is a beautiful land. Most beaches are pristine and unpolluted. Ex Miss Sri Lanka and Bollywood actress Jacqueline Fernandez says Lanka has everything a country can lure a tourist with. “Except for snow capped mountains,” she is quick to add.

My trip to Sri Lanka was as a journalist invited by the Sri Lankan Tourism Ministry to enjoy the beauty of this island. The fact that the International Indian Film Academy is hosting its awards ceremony for the year in this island is reason enough for them to pump all they can to cash in on this opportunity to introduce, rather, re-introduce the island to the world, the Bollywood way.

So, what does Lanka have to offer tourists? A lot for westerners but, err.. sadly not much for Indians. For us, bhaiyon and behenon, it’s like an extended visit down south and some parts even have an uncanny resemblance to amchi Mumbai.