See My India

“My mum is very upset. I forgot to send her a message last night to say I was fine. Despite the fact I left home 8 years ago and lived in 3 different cities in two different countries since, she is currently very worried. When I was living in London, we would chat once a week or less, but since I’ve touched Indian soil, she has been extremely worried. Do you know why? Because there is this pre-concept/rumour/urban legend in the Western world of India being extremely dangerous for female travellers, the impossibility to walk on the streets without being sexually harassed (there is harassment, but of another type which I will discuss on my blog later this week….), of men touching you without permission or various other risks for women. So, my mum, for the first time in 8 years, requests me to keep her constantly updated of my movements: morning, afternoon and evening.. That’s why, even being the least tech mom I know, she is on Snapchat now 😅 My mum, and many, many other people around the world think of #India as a scary country – thanks to the media btw – but I’m here to try and destroy this idea forever. I’ve been asked by a few local people here to help spreading the word so, here I am to do so as I desperately want the world to know that – if you are smart enough and respect the local culture – India IS safe. It’s been only two weeks, so maybe too early for such a statement, but let’s see if I will have to change my mind or not. I’m willing to take this challenge on. #letschangewhattheworldthinksofIndia

This is something I wrote on my Instagram 45 weeks ago while I was travelling around Rajasthan and the rest of India. Back then, I was still at the very beginning of my three-month Indian tour that would later take me to eleven states of that beautiful country. Fast forward to today and I still stand for what I wrote back then. My trip and adventure around India was just filled with the most incredible memories and experiences and despite whatever the media says, I’ve always felt safe and secure.

My mission to change what the world thinks of India hasn’t stopped when I left the country back in December. In fact, I’ve started a solitary campaign to address the questions and the doubts of all my friends, relatives and whomever was asking my opinion. I have kept this cause close to my heart – as I’ve always hated prejudice, racism and stereotypes – with the hope that more and more people interested in the Indian culture would finally leave their fears behind and just go.

https://www.instagram.com/p/91eSUnsQ1d/?tagged=thestoryteller_inindia


It was with immense humbleness and excitement that I have accepted the role of brand ambassador and testimonial for F5 Escapes,
an alternative travel company, based in Bangalore, India with a vision to redefine the way women travel India. Their goal – like mine – is to make India a preferred destination for women travellers from across the globe.

Their next tour leaves in November and in 18 days you will have the unique opportunity to explore some of the most amazing places in India all in the safety and comfort of trusty hands. I couldn’t  recommend F5 Escapes or this specific tour strongly enough. What you have to do is to drop me a comment below letting me know you are interested and I will send you all the info and put you in touch directly with one of the amazing F5 Escapes girls. For a very convenient price you can witness and experience the best that India has to offer and I am sure will be amazed by this incredible country.

5 FACTS ABOUT F5 ESCAPES: 

  • 3 years in operation
  • Incorporated in India as Zingara Solutions Pvt. Ltd
  • 250+ trusted vendor network across India for end to end logistics support
  • 600+ customers – Indians and expats
  • 100+ tours – groups and customized itineraries

See My India #3

A photo posted by See My India © (@see_my_india) on

THE F5 ADVANTAGES:

  • Experience with flights ticketing
  • Experience handling international women travellers
  • Good industry connects for seamless end to end logistics
  • Local tour leads from different parts of India know their land like the back of their hand
  • Well-researched, destinations already executed with current set of women customers

THE TOUR

The Itinerary

  • 17nights/18days (departing in November / January / February and March)
  • Delhi – Agra – Amritsar – Dhramshala – Rajasthan – Kerala – Delhi
  • A glimpse of desert, Himalayas, beaches and backwaters at a moderate pace

If you wish to know more about the tour or F5 Escapes, please feel free to drop me an email to sabrina.andrea.sachs@gmail.com or leave me a comment below.
You can also check more of my Indian shot here and you are still in time to pre-order a copy of your “See My India”, a photo memoir of my travels there here.

Take a dip into the Maximum City

mumbai_taj

A weekend in Mumbai is not going to be enough to take a true dip into the maximum city, probably a week or a month won’t work either. But maybe this could just be enough time to get your head around why this metropolis is still so cool and why Bombay (as it was called till 1947) keeps attracting million visitors from every corner of the world every year. Hopefully my final Indian CREED* is going to show you why, give you a hint or hopefully make you book your flight there.
If you missed my previous guides, you can easily access them on my past posts. Make the most of it! 🙂

The thing about Mumbai is you go five yards and all of human existence is revealed. It’s an incredible cavalcade of life, and I love that.
Julian Sands

Mumbai is huge, filled with dreamers of all age, colour, race and religion. It is also full of real movie stars and starlets, mafia bosses and soldiers, millionaires and the poorest people in the world.

Mumbai is a city of contrast and nonsense, where a superficial look would be dangerous as well as useless. If you start your Indian trip from here, please be ready, the pollution and noise can be unbearable, the harassment by street vendors unsustainable, the amount and insistence of beggars totally out of control. But. Hold on and take the jump anyway. Mumbai is also a treasure of Portuguese-influenced architecture, secret temples, a crazy nightlife and an exploding food culture.
Mumbai is life. And you only if you are truly alive you can grasp its essence.

Here’s your:

Mumbai’s Creed

COFFEE

Birdsong Organic Cafe
A lovely cafe in Bandra, serving delicious Jacket potato. Apparently their hot chocolate is also delicious, I didn’t try as it was above 30 degrees when I was there 🙂

The Pantry
Perfect place for a generous breakfast made of granola and yoghurt for me and creamy waffle for my travel companion. Cappuccino is pretty good by Indian standards.

Kala Ghoda Cafe
I found this tiny, little coffee shop by chance while trying to get lost in the Colaba / Fort / Churchgate triangle. Espresso was very good and we had a nice little bite there too, however the staff needs to step their game up. Big time. On top of being quite rude (I wanted to sit upstairs, but I was forced to stay downstairs as one customer  was already up?) and the general attitude was very far from welcoming. When asked the wi-fi password we were abruptly told it was only available for about half hour as lunch time was about to start. I get it when cafes do that as they are open to make money, no to serve coffees to freelance workers who are bored to work from home but, firstly, they could have told us in a nicer way, secondly as we were consuming both food and drinks for about an hour and needed the internet for our on-the-road jobs, would have been quite good if we could use our laptops while eating right?
I was quite uncomfortable as they disconnected the line while I was in the middle of sending an important email.So, you might be wondering why on earth I’ve added Kala Rhoda in my coffee list, right? Well, the truth is that it is very hard to find good coffee in India so if you are looking for your daily caffeine dose, then head here, but only for a brief stop or even better, for a take away. Don’t go there to hang out with your friends or family as they will make you feel rushed or forced to make an order.[Photo Credits: Bobby Joshi]

Colaba Social
I’ve been raving about Social in Delhi and Bangalore, so I had to try the Mumbai venue too, right? Well expect for the temperature which probably was below zero due to the centralised A/C (and my double request to switch if off), it was another delicious breakfast with a elvis toast and nicely done cappuccino.[Photo Credits: Bobby Joshi]

READ

Mumbai is like heaven for bookworms like me. My five days there were like a torture as I couldn’t buy or carry any book in my backpack and I had to fight the temptations constantly.

Strand Book Stall

The city is filled with bookstalls everywhere, it’s almost impossible to walk for more than half a mile without bumping into yet another guy selling new and old books on the street. Especially near parks and stations. I loved it, even if it tortured me! LOL! On top of street vendors, there are also famous and less-known libraries and bookstores you should check out. Strand Book Stall was one of my favourites
Address: 15-C, Dhannur Building, Sir P.M. Road, Borabazar Precinct, Fort, Mumbai

David Sassoon Library
I found this beautiful library completely by chance as I was randomly walking on the Esplanade. Unfortunately, it is only open to members and you know me, I love everything that has to do with books, so I was desperately curious to enter and I offered a coffee bribe to the guardian to let me in, but he politely refused and offered me the option to buy a membership instead. Despite my strong, strong curiosity, I could not afford to spend 55,000 rupies for a couple of hours in a library, however I would suggest you to do so if you are planning to stay in Mumbai longer. I only managed to take the sneaky shot below, but I would have loved to run upstairs and see the rest of that book collection (possibly with the guardian shouting at me, that would be an experience worth doing!!).

Central Library
I had the Central Library on my list for almost two months as I had seen pictures of it and I was excited to finally be in the city to photograph it myself. Well, I did, but from the outside only. The building was under restoration and all the books were transferred in a miserable tent next to it. My heart broke, I have to admit, and I was quite pissed as there were no notice on their website or Facebook page. Anyway, would you do me a favour and go when it re-opens and show me how it looks like from the inside? Thanks! 🙂

Books

EXPLORE

Jehangir Art Gallery
This is a strange gallery, or at least it was when I went there. The floor was scattered with cardboard boxes and pieces of tapes, the first floor was closed to the public, despite the timetable said the opposite. Regardless, there was a very fascinating drawing and painting exhibition in the main room on the ground floor. I don’t know much about it as there were no information or leaflets.

Go to see a Bollywood movie
There are dozen of old and new cinemas in Bombay and you will have to pick the challenge to select one for your Bollywood vibe. Remember that most movies are in Hindi, but having experienced first hand, I can tell you that the dance, the expressions and the music are worth the ticket, even if you won’t understand a word!

Or…Be an extra in a Bollywood movie!
If you follow my Facebook page  you should already know that when I was in Mumbai, I was approached by a scout to take part as an extra in Bollywood movie. Unfortunately, I had plans that day and I had to refuse, but I will certainly accept next time I’ll go to Bombay. I’ve done some research for you and in fact it wasn’t something unusual or unique.. you can do it too! You can read the amazing story of a backpacker turned “actor” here. If you want 10 minutes of  Bollywood fame, my tip is to wander around Colaba where scouts are fishing  for Westerns to feature in local movies almost every day. Can’t wait to see you all in one! 🙂

Dhobi Ghats
This is also known as one of the largest open-air laundry in Asia and in fact, looking at it from the bridge that takes you there, it can easily be the largest in the world. The Dhobis, or washers, work in the open to wash clothes from hotels, hospitals and some privates.
It’s a maze of concrete wash pools, each fitted with its own flogging stone where men of all age are at work from morning to evening. Why, are you wondering they wash things this way? Well, that was also my question and it seems they use chemical products that are hard to find or dangerous to obtain such sparkling results.

The Other Mumbai: Dharavi Slum
Since before reading Shantaram and other books about India, I knew I was going to visit the largest slum in Asia one day. I didn’t know I would visit it in the vest of an ambassador for the best not-for-profit organisation around, Reality Gives. With the guys of RG I managed to learn about the live in the slum, its economy, culture and community sense. I was expecting to hear horror stories and to fall into pieces, but in fact the story is different and I highly suggest you to book a tour too via the link above. Please note that photography is not normally permitted to respect the privacy of the people who live there.

Sir JJ College of Architecture
One of the things I love the most, as mentioned already many times, it’s to go with the flow and get lost in a new city. So, when walking down Dadabhai Naoroji Road, I saw the gates of the Sir JJ College of Architecture opened, I could not stop myself to go inside for a quick peak. And hey, wasn’t one of the best things in Mumbai? There was a college cerebration going on, but other sculpture artists were busy with their creations in the garden, while the painting class were drawing two old men lying on the floor. Students and teachers made us feel most welcome and explained to us many things I did not know about the art and the Indian university system. If you get a change, try and get inside too.

Dhabba Walla
These are Six Sigma foodies. While I was in Mumbai, thanks to Shanti travel, I got to experience first hand another magic of the city that never sleeps: the Dabbawallas in action. It all started about 125 years back when a Parasi banker wanted to have home cooked food regularly in his office and gave this responsibility to the first ever Dabbawala. Other people also liked the idea and the demand for Dabba delivery soared and it still remain alive today. Even Richard Branson was so impressed that he came all the way to India to witness these guys’ delivery system in action and I couldn’t miss my chance either! They have been shifting dabba (lunch boxes) from Mumbai suburbs into the city’s office with less than one mistake in every six million deliveries, for this reason they have been awarded the Six Sigma  certificate and yes, that is without any computer or software in place! To watch them live too, get in touch with Shanti Travels and arrange your visit too.

Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sandhralaya
There are very few museums or memorial places in the world where my heart sunk and I felt as I was touching a piece of history with my own eyes. One was Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and the second the WWII memorial in Berlin. Now, in Mumbai, Mahatma Gandhi’s house gave me the same feeling for its powerful photographic and video journey as well as his intact room on the first floor. If you don’t believe in soul, maybe a place like this will change your mind, because there, I felt as Bapu was still alive.

Mumbai CST
Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), formerly  known as Victoria Terminus (VT), is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which serves also serves as the headquarters of the Central Railways. From the inside and the outside, the Gothic influence mixed with the Mughal architecture is clearly visible and this improbable juxtaposition makes it a grand building overall. Built in 1887, it is one of the busiest railway stations in India: take care!!

EAT

Leopold Cafe
Does this place really need a introduction? Everybody knows about Leopold Cafe, right? If you don’t, read this
Leopold, as it is popularly referred to be one of the city’s oldest restaurants in Mumbai, India. It has created its own heritage and legacy into the food business since ages… To call it a restaurant, it would be demeaning as an institution since it has become a landmark in Mumbai as it is the preferred place both for local Indians and foreign tourists. Founded in 1871, Leopold is open from morning 7:30am till midnight. It boasts of a varied and eclectic clientele. The interiors are very much like a european cafe and the food is so scrumptious and delicious, you’ll want for more and more and more!!!! Whether it’s lunch, Sunday brunch or an evening spent with friends drinking.

Salt Water Cafe
This lovely restaurant came highly recommended to me by my local friends and once I got there I understood why. The menu is filled with delicious local and international dishes and the wood-filled venue itself is also very lovely. The only issue was that once inside it was freezing. Everybody in fact looked like their were having their meal in a refrigerator and despite having asked them twice they couldn’t turn off the A/C. Remember to bring a jumper and a scarf, there is nothing worst than feeling cold while eating.

JamJar
A super cool restaurant in an up-and-coming area of Mumbai that reminds me of Dalston in London. The food was good and coffee was not bad either.Staff is super friendly, but what is the key factor here is the beautifully Gaudi-inspired terrace and the quirky indoor design.
A must-visit, especially for those foodie instagramers on the hunt for cool restaurant to add to their gallery.

Elco Pani Puri Center
A very popular stop for Indian families for Pani Puri on every day of the week. It was a Wednesday lunch time and there was a 45-minutes wait when we went, but it was totally worth it! If you go, make sure to ask advice about the most amazing dishes to your neighbours tables: we did so and soon enough with a table covered by the most delicious local food ever.

DREAM

I’ve been one of the earlier fan of Airbnb for a long time, so whenever I feel tired of hotels and resorts,  I try to find a nice little accommodation where I can pretend to have a house for a couple of days. Even in Mumbai, Airbnb didn’t fail to meet my standards. If you also want to start airbnb-ing, why don’t you sign us using this link? It will give £14 credit to you and £14 to me when you travel.
So, it’s a win-win strategy for both of us, right?

Gallery

Goa, what’s the fuss all about?

I tried to resist going to Goa, though most of my friends had told me how much they loved it. I imagined an Indian beach town between Rimini(click the hyperlink to understand the metaphor) and Ibiza (I don’t think Ibiza needs presentations or hyperlinks 🙂 ). Basically, I was expecting a large, wide beach packed with tourists, a place with little personality, culture and/or heritage and westerns self-appointed gurus immersed in a drug-dance-party marathon.
Oh, and I was so right. The sand beaches were covered by western (and Russian) women in bikini (or topless) and muscly, middle-aged men with tiny, little dogs; there were more dreadlocks here than in Jamaica and tattoos were a must too: 9 out 10 had at least one. The OM sign being the most frequent among all, I would say 2 out of 3 of the westerns had one somewhere on their body. Yeah, I know, ridiculous, right? Oh, and what about the constructed rough, pretentious messy, fake hippy look? Not sure why, but most of the backpackers/travellers and even expats seem to suddenly undergo a brainwash about appearance while on the road. Especially in holy/hippie places like Goa, Varanasi, Varkala and others, people seemed to think that dirty meant cool. Nah, I can tell you boy, it doesn’t work that way. Never mind, I’m writing a separate blogpost about the travellers’ look and attitude abroad, because it’s too funny to ignore, stay tuned.

Going back to Goa, I was just saying, I wanted to avoid Goa’s touristy vibe at all costs, but it became a “mandatory” stop after 10 hrs train journey from Hampi  on my way to my final stop in India, Mumbai.
I was going to stay there only for the exact amount of time to review two clients’ hotel ( see the DREAM section below) so 3 nights in total before catching a plane, but my curiosity was too strong and I really wanted to understand what the fuss was all about. So, I quickly changed my mind, changed a few details of my last weeks in India and the next thing I knew it was that I ended up spending 10 days in Goa even pushing my flight to Australia forward and squeezing my stay in Mumbai of a couple of days.
Yeah, you guessed it right… I understood what the fuss was about Goa.
Check my CREED guide below to find out, yourself.

Goa, India’s smallest state (yes, it’s a state, not just a city!) is probably the most famous, at least in the UK and among my English friends. The state is typically split into North and South, with Dabolim airport and Vasco da Gama train station being a divider between the two. This time, I explored extensively the Northern part and I left the South (yeah, you guessed right again, I will be back…), for next time.  If you also have limited time in Goa, you will be faced with the tough decision between north and south as distances can be quite big.

But there aren’t only the beaches in Goa. There is the vibe. There is the extraordinary natural beauty of the jungle reaching up to the coast, the awkward presence of a sweet lake among lush green hills, there is the variety of restaurants, the yoga lessons before the sun rises and that same massive orange ball that dives into the ocean right in front of you every evening, like a show you should never miss while by the ocean. There is also the Portuguese heritage, like in Bombay and Kochi, Goa was a main commercial centre of business for them and of course they left their clear mark all around, from the architecture to the food, from the language to the religion. Exactly like in Kochi with Portugueses or Kolkata with the British, there is a kind of halo of past participle, and the one in Goa is particularly strong as the Portuguese only left the capital in 1961 after 400 years of colonisation.

COFFEE

Lamuella

Israeli-run boutique with a lovely café at the back that serves over-priced but delicious mainly avocado-based dishes and other snacks. Espresso, one of the best in India, is dark, strong and made of beans imported from Kerala.  Some clothes are lovely, but with western price tags if not higher and considering the cost of manufacturing in India/Asia the products are not worth the money. It’s surely tailored to not-well informed Western clients or the ones who only come to Goa and haven’t had the opportunity to compare prices in the rest of India.

Babu Huts
Sea facing café and restaurant with excellent juices and real espresso. Staff here is super friendly and will go the extra mile to make you happy. Also a perfect budget accommodation choice (see below in the dream section).

READ

Most of the hotel and resorts have a few bookshelves of books left behind by other travellers. However, if you find yourself in need of a specific title, head to:

Broadway Book Center

Address:  Ashirwad Building, 18th June Road, Next To Rizvi Tower, Panaji

Literati

Address: E/1-282, Calangute -Candolim Road, Near Snip Salon, Gauravaddo, Calangute

A History of Goa, by Rev. J A J Da Costa

 

 

EXPLORE

Beach Life

(In the North) Anjuna and Vagator were until recently the preserve of the hippies and party people, but these days you’re just as likely to rub shoulders with independent, more affluent groups of young domestic tourists and foreign backpackers. The cooler, more in-the-know crowd of global travellers and neo-hippies have migrated north to Pernem’s beaches of Morjim, Asvem and Mandrem. Here the vibe is relaxed and low-key in the day, with more exclusive boutique resorts to hang out in, and cool clubs to party in during the night. Arambol is its own little world; the beach might not be much to look at but the beach-life is varied and retains traces of the hippy days of old.

Bike Ride

Nothing really beats the wind on burnt cheeks and through the hair as a bicycle or for the wilder one a scooter ride through paddy fields, hills and coconut groves. If you leave the chilled beach life (see section above), you will see that Goa has so many unspoilt and (almost) unknown areas. Even if you have no plans or direction, rent your favourite two wheeler and go for a ride. It will make you feel free like when you were back at 16 and it was so cool to ride without a helmet. (I did in fact ask for one, but I was told there were none, erm… Alright.

Three on a bike? Yeah, at least! Watch the video! 😛

Old City

If you are in Goa for the beach life, a day in the old city will be enough. To get an understanding of the Portuguese influence here, take a walk around and make sure to visit the Menezes-Braganza House and the Figueiredo Mansion (where the food is also excellent). There are plenty of churches and cathedrals in this part of the city and when you will be done with that make sure to head to the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas to see how the bygone age and one of the most delightful areas to stroll in Goa.

Asanas, Chakra and other ways to clean the Mind 

Similarly to the other holy cities I visited in India, Varanasi, Bodhgaya, Varkala etc, Goa has a huge yoga culture that dates back a few centuries melted with a wave of disillusioned westerns who plant their tends and life here to teach yoga at exorbitant prices. Personally, all the lessons I attended in India where run and organised by local, Indian people. Why on earth would I go to the other side of the world to participate to a lesson tought by americans, Australian, English as I used to in London? Nope, I didn’t fall into the trap and carefully selected lessons that were run by locals  (and at local prices),

Beyond yoga, pilates, chakra release and meditation in Go, there is all sort of real or fakish spiritual activities you can think of. I’m not judging, but do some research before booking your appointments and ask around as charlatans are as numbered as the waves of the ocean. Or just pick another activity for your stay; kite-surfing being a cool one.

Saturday Night Market – Arpora

Held every year, between December and May, the Saturday night market is a better version of the market in the day, a smaller version of Chandni Chowk in Delhi with thousands of different things you can find including pashminas, baggy trousers and cheap hippie clothes and jewellery. With a variety of street food options and bars it can be a good option for an alternative Saturday.

EAT

La Plage 

Even before setting foot to Goa or India, people told me about La Plage. It might be I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to food, but I wasn’t amazed by it. Don’t get me wrong, the French cuisine twisted with an Indian/Asian influence was good and very tasty, but it wasn’t a Michelin kind of menu or nothing extremely innovative either, or worth the overpriced menu. Worth a try for sure.
Ph. Credits: Krishin Jethwani

Sublime

Opened three years ago in Morjim, like La Plage, Sublime is also considered one of the best restaurants in Goa. Run by Chef Christopher Saleem brings his international experience to a delicate, playful and flavourful menu in a real fusion of global ingredients and technique. Beautiful setting and interesting live show, but once again I wasn’t impressed by the menu nor the meal (both considering the reputation and the prices). Worth a try for sure, but if you miss it, you haven’t missed much. Oh, staff service was really poor, polite, but not trained and it was quite surprising considering we were almost in high season!
Ph. Credits: Happy Trips

L’Amore

Despite the Italian name, this isn’t an Italian restaurant or at least among the very large menu, Italian pizza and dishes aren’t their best. Go for some Indian classics and you will find yourself coming back here night after night. Ph Credits: Tripadvisor

DREAM

Yab Yum, Ashwem, North Goa. Part of Tripzuki Network

I had heard of Tripzuki through some friends who had mentioned they had the coolest accommodation in India. I had a look online and I was impressed by the number and diverse accommodation they have in their portfolio. Tripzuki, a young, hip start-up provides travellers in India with local expertise, advice and inspiration, underpinned by a gorgeous collection of unique, well-run, ‘boutique’ hotels, all of which are directly bookable via their website.

Set in a coconut jungle just off one of the best and most tranquil beaches in North Goa, this intimate, eco-friendly boutique resort is the perfect place if you wish to enjoy the vibe in peace.

The hobbit-like, long-haired, eco-conscious 14 huts are itself a great attraction of the Yub Yum, in fact when I moved there I quickly extended by stay by a couple of nights.

One of the things I loved the most there, was the fact I had no need to wear shoes or flip flops, in fact these where forgotten by my hut for the entire stay: the lovely sandy path takes you from the entrance gate to the beach, the restaurant and the reception. Even to go to the nearby restaurants /café you can forget your sandals and just enjoy being bare foot for a while, especially at night when the sand is enjoyable cold.

Yab Yum isn’t a luxury resort, but it’s the perfect place if you are looking for peace, privacy and a very good vibe.

On top of the huts there are also 5 cottages (with A/C) by the beach, but personally I turned down one of them to try the adventure of being in a hairy beach-hut. Oh! If there is one thing I like to spoil myself with when travelling is breakfast in bed or in my bedroom. So, when I found out that at Yab Yum, a rich and generous breakfast is served just outside your dome, every morning, well, I knew it was going to be looove!

Gallery

Hampi’s Boulders, where Genius meets Nature

Hampi

If you haven’t heard of Hampi, don’t worry, you are not alone. I didn’t either until some Indian friends told me about it and showed me some pictures. It  took me about 3 minutes then to change my route and plans (once again!), and decide to go and see this beautiful city with my own eyes. Thankfully, I was invited to stay at the best and most magnificent resort I have ever seen and below there is a little photo essay to show you why, you should stay there too!

About Hampi
Hampi is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in India located near Hospet town in the Karnataka state. Today, Hampi is a laid back village by the banks of Tungabadra river, but this was the capital of Vijayanagar, one of the greatest Hindu kingdoms in India’s history.
Hampi is probably more peculiar and fascinating in its current, ruined state, and in fact it attracts thousands of visitors every year.
Dotted around the hills made of boulders, rice fields and valleys there are more than 500 monuments, including temples, palaces, pavilions, elephants bastions, water tanks and much more.
Walking around Hampi is like stepping back in time, every corner is a surprise and if you keep your eyes open you might find yourself in a hidden village among the boulders…

Hampi’s Boulders
Hampi’s Boulders is the  first and only luxury option in the area. But it is not luxurious in the traditional sense of the word, but completely quirky and surely memorable. Hampi’s Boulders is an ‘eco-chic-wilderness’ resort that offers a choice of 13 themed rooms, but by far the best are the Star and the Crocodile Cottages with their royal furnishing, river views and outdoor showers. Nestled on the banks of the Tungabadra river, Hampi’s Boulders is situated 7 kms from the world heritage site of Hampi and it’s the perfect location for travellers who love nature, want to travel ethically and want to stay away from the tourist buzz of the village.

On top of a playground-like park, there is also a stone-carved swimming pool, barbecue and beach volley facilities. They also organise a wonderful “Walk of the Island” where you will enjoy unique and stunning views over the entire surroundings as well as Hampi ruins.
Don’t miss the opportunity to sit on one of the large boulders at sunrise and don’t forget to walk along the river at sunset; you can be lucky enough to spot some otters,  crocodile and all sort of tropical animals here.

Bangalore ain’t just IT!

bangalore style

If I say Bangalore, what are the first things that come to mind? I bet it’s the followings:
huge call centers, IT towers, tecchies and engineers all around, right?
Well, that’s surely what I thought when I was almost forced to pass through the city on my way from Kerala to Hampi.

OH! I was so wrong. Bangalore, probably because of IT and its huge English-speaking, tech-savvy manpower has become so much more in the recent years. The main business city of Karnataka in fact, it’s also a cultural and art hub with an impressive number of galleries, cultural centers, cinemas, restaurants and lots of fun stuff to do. Unfortunately, I had a train ticket booked, otherwise I would have spent there much longer than two day.

So, the best way to enjoy your stay in this varied Indian central state is by landing in Bangalore for a few days of fun and then moving on to Hampi (next blog post) for some chill-out time. Due to time restriction I did not manage to visit Mysore as well, but I’ve heard great things about it. If you are in fact going there, please make sure to stay at the brand new Zostel.
Here’s your:

Bangalore’s Creed

COFFEE

Social Offline
After visiting Social in Delhi, I had to check the one in Bangalore too! I actually came back here twice. For dinner and drinks with a bunch of friends, but I prefer it as a daytime hangout place. With free wifi it is also the perfect spot if you, like me, are working on the go.
Cappuccino and Elvis Presley Waffles is my favourite Social combination.

OM Made Café
Lovely, lovely, lovely rooftop cafe with a great view over the city. It’s meant to be great for sunset too, but I actually spent a lovely afternoon writing there with a bite and a couple of coffees. Delicious beans, overpriced and not super amazing food. But the place is worth a visit for sure! 

Koshy’s
This is the true Bangalorean hub for artists, writers, actors and anyone who feels a bit arty inside. You should totally try the caramel custard along with a cup of tea.
Ph Credits: Bobby Koshi

READ

Blossom Book House
Hands down to Mayi Gowda who moved to Bangalore to study engineering and to sustain his studies he started selling books and magazines on MG Road. Fast-forward to a few years and he is now the proud owner of the best bookshop in Bangalore.

Books

EXPLORE

Freedom Park
Interestingly enough, this large venue was formerly the Central Jail and it was only opened to the public in November 2008.

Cubbon Park
Spread across 300 acres this is the place you need to come for your walking, running or yoga exercises. Come here at weekends and you will e surrounded by happy families with their ice-creams and balloons. Great place for people watching and street photography as well as refresh yourself from Bangalore’s traffic!

KR Market
KR Market, also known as City Market, is the largest market in Bangalore.
Curious fact: It was the first locality in the whole of Asia to get electricity and it is also considered to be the largest flower market in Asia.
Ph. Credits: The Girl Who Clicks

EAT

The Egg Factory
This is truly an egg factory as the name suggests! I never seen SO many different options to cook an egg and the taste is also great. Oh, their menu is super cool too! Ooops! I stole one as a souvenir guys! 😛

Ph. Credits: Rachel Prianka 

Nagarjuna restaurant
A classical south-Indian restaurant that serves all-you-can-eat kind of dinner on banana leaves. Mainly frequented by locals on a night out, it’s a nice place for some spicy and tasty food.

Ph. Credits: Burrp

DREAM

The Laika Boutique Stay is a small boutique hotel located on Bangalore’s Mahatma Gandhi (MG) Road. Laika, the lovely owner who runs the hotel received the property from her grandmother several years ago. For decades, the place was left in an abandoned state and shape, but one day, Laika, gifted with incredible entrepreneurial and spirit and incredible energy decided to turn the property upside down and opened this fantastic boutique hotel with a warm, homely feeling. Without showing off, the rooms are stylish and with contemporary design blended with heritage features. There are eight and all are equipped with air-conditioning, wi-fi, television, telephone, 24-hours hot/cold water. The ground level has a beautiful garden, common dining area with an attached kitchen.
Here you can easily get comfortable around one of her two living room’s large wooden table or work a bit on your laptop with the help of superfast internet connection. (The fastest in India I found! Ode to the IT industry!)

Laika and her team also organize tailored tours to Hampi and Mysore as well as to other destinations. Breakfast was also one of the most amazing I had in my entire trip in india, with all sorts of deliciousness from southern and central India, as well as continental options. If you, like me, fall in love with Laika’s dishes, just ask her to show you the secrets: she also hosts mouthwatering cooking class in her own kitchen!

You can book your stay at Laika’s little paradise here

If you are not an airbnb user yet, get your discount here

Gallery

Kerala: Was I Dreaming?

This is the world. Half of it is lit by the sun and the other half remains in darkness. It is the same with life. There is good and bad and it’s our duty to remain in the light, be good.

― Anita Nair

I already wrote about the unexpected side of India, but now I want to tell you more about Kerala, possibly the greenest, modern, diverse, culturally rich and interesting Indian state (in my opinion of course!)

Kerala, also appropriately called God’s Own Country*, is that strip of land in the western tip of the subcontinent, sitting between the Arabic Sea on the west and the state of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka on the east. It was love at first sight between Kerala and I. Not only the lush green all around. Not only the remote white beaches, the peaceful backwaters, the hill stations, the meaningful cocktail of churches, synagogues and mosques. Not only the vertiginous and violent waterfalls. Did I mention the delicious pannu, idli,and dosas? Oh! Gosh, the tapioca! And what about the tea plantations and the towels men use as skirts everywhere? Everything about Kerala is just perfect. Kerala and I are meant for each other. This is going to be a lifelong love relationship.

It’s true, I’m seriously thinking to move to India next year and Kerala is surely on top of my list. The nature is just lushly breathtaking, the green is the greenest and even if you would spend an entire life here, you wouldn’t be able to count all its different shades. There is everything in Kerala: a few nice cities, the hills, the rivers, the woods and the sea. Maybe I loved it so much because it reminds me of home.

Kochi is a peculiar, heritage city that forms the largest urban area in Kerala. It’s composed of many little islands and less-knows parts, of which Ernakulum is the main (modern) town. Fort Cochin instead is only the tiny, but beautiful tip of Cochin island and where the most interesting things are. If you are in a rush, you can see most things in Fort Kochi in a couple of days, but if you are travelling slowly and have no place to be, one or even two weeks are well-spent here, just walking around, browsing the little alleys, visiting all the cafes and talking to the locals is never a waste of time.
In fact, many western have put seasonal or permanent roots here: some for the low cost of living, others for the yoga or Ayurveda retreats, some others just because it’s beautiful. I might be one of the next ones to do the same soon….

COFFEE

#ButFirstCoffee was never as appropriate during my trip as here: Kochi was heaven for my espresso- deprived soul and taste buds, and here is where I spent my days sipping coffee at each and every café I could find. Yeah, I had troubles sleeping that week, but….it was worth it!!

Vasco Home Stay

Great place for a Keralan breakfast. Cute family service and staff. Upstairs is the well-known guesthouse that goes with the same name. Try the Keralan breakfast here, you won’t be disappointed!
No wi-fi (even though the website says the opposite, maybe only available in the guesthouse).
Address: on the corner of Rose Street and Bastion Street, Fort Cochin

 

TeaPot Cafe

A super-cute cafe that serves some delicious cakes and light bites. I was worried coffee wasn’t going to be a safe choice here, but I was wrong, as it was quite good. They obviously have a large selection of teas too. This is a great place to hang out with your friends in the afternoon or simply come with a book and enjoy the peace. Do not come with your laptop or with the intention to work from here as there is no wi-fi.
Address: Peter Celli Street, Fort Cochin

Kashi Art Gallery

This stunning café is part of an art gallery that had a brilliant photography (what a coincidence!!) show, when I visited! J Great snack and cakes’ options, with good moka coffee (they call it espresso), sandwiches and salads. Great place to hang out and meet other westerns, not many locals where there when I visited, I guess because the prices were higher than average. (no wifi)

Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kerala, India

 

French Toast

I’ve personally awarded French Toast “THE best cappuccino of India” prize. Not only the froth was of the perfect consistency, but temperature, size and appearance were also top-notch. 4.5 out 5 stars for this cute little café in mailand Kochi, it only needs wi-fi to earn that half point to perfection.

 

READ

OY’S Cafe & Studio
Lovely little café with loads of books for exchange and to buy. Breakfast was rich and delicious. Service a bit slow, but within Indian standards. Address: 1-390 Burgher Street, Fort Kochi 682001, Kochi, Kerala

Idioms Bookseller

A beautiful little bookshop, just next to Vasco where you can find loads of books about India. There are volumes in English, Spanish, Italian, French and many other languages. I had to stop myself at three books, but I would have carried on to 20 probably. They offer a very useful service of packaging and sending to Europe, US and other parts of the world in collaboration with the nearby post office. Unfortunately, the price of delivery has gone up in the last few years, but it is still more convenient than dragging your books for weeks if you, like me, are travelling for a long time.

Books

God Small Things
The God of Small Things is nominally the story of young twins Rahel and Estha and the rest of their family, but the book feels like a million stories spinning out indefinitely; it is the product of a genius child-mind that takes everything in and transforms it in an alchemy of poetry. The God of Small Things is at once exotic and familiar to the Western reader, written in an English that’s completely new and invigorated by the Asian Indian influences of culture and language. (from Amazon review)

51uaNBizxSL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_
Mistress by Anita Nair
The love affair between a traveller and a Keralan woman, all at the rhytm of the ancient art of Kathakali

EXPLORE

Just Wander
No, this ain’t a name of a place, but my best suggestion for Fort Cochin (and any other destination as a matter of fact). To be honest, here, you won’t even need a map as it’s impossible to get lost, but just take a walk around and take it all in. Stop in the café and restaurant mentioned above, bring a book, meet locals and expats, this is the best way to really get the vibe of the city.

Mattancherry, Jew Town and the Synagogue
Long time ago, there was large community of Jews here, along the Christian, Muslims and Hindu. Probably the reason why I loved Cochin so much is because it looked to me as the most successful and most beautiful Indian example of peaceful religious cohabitation (maybe I am wrong or not well-informed enough, but this was my impression as a foreigner). This is where Jews set of their trading and commerce and all around the area was the main spice market in the whole state. Make sure to visit the Synagogue at least for its beautiful, hand-painted tiles as the building isn’t particularly worth of notice. Upon entering, you will be addressed to a small “history room”, it’s interesting and it won’t take too long.

Backwaters
While in Cochin, you must arrange a trip to the backwaters. This is one of the best things I’ve done in my three-month travel in India, so I can’t recommend it enough. You will find plenty of tourist offices or agencies offering a day-trip, I personally would recommend the one organized by Happy Camper (see the Dream section below for details). In the backwaters you will be able to enjoy the life of Keralan villages, those little houses tucked away in the jungle and the beautiful Indian women in their colourful saris doing their laundry on the stones on the shore. While you are there, on the boat, enjoy the peace, the slow moving of the boat and life. Don’t fret and leave your switched off phone in your pocket. Everything on this trip was so perfect and so amazing that I actually wandered if it was staged. Where those people outside their little huts actors in fact? Were those gorgeous kids trained to smile so innocently and warmly? I have no answer, but I have a tip for you. Bring pens. Every single kid you will encounter on the way will shout at you for pens. I had about 15 in my backpack back in my room, so I was gutted I didn’t bring them along. (PS: this is a tip that’s pretty much valid anywhere in India, children ask for pens to bring to school. No, not in Delhi or other big cities, but surely in the remote villages if you are going to visit any, so bring some. It will make you feel wonderful.)

Saint Francis Church
This is a very simple but nice white Christian church by the beach in Fort Cochin. A few centuries ago, the Portuguese explorer Vasco De Gama, was buried here. The signs inside can be confusing, as it would appear his remains are still there, when this is not true. Saint Francis Church also became famous as the story says it is the oldest church in India as it was built in 1503.

Santa Cruz Basilica
If St Francis Church is a minimalist church, Santa Cruz is quite the opposite, it its impressive grandeur. It is in fact a pretty young church. Built by the Portuguese in 1506, it was spared by the Dutch who destroyed many Catholic buildings during the take-over but anyway,  it was destroyed by the British later on…. Bishop D. João Gomes Ferreira commissioned a new building in 1887 and it was consecrated in 1905. It was only consecrated a proclaimed one of the eight Basilicas in India by Pope John Paul II in 1984.

Kathakali
Indulge on a show of this impressive, different and mesmerising form of art. You need to go there before the start to see how the make-up of the actors (only male) is made. Make-up, facial expression and live music is what makes this 300 years old art form still a hugely acclaimed show for both locals and tourists.

Chinese fishing nets
On top of every Kochi must-see, top-10, top-5 lists you will find a mention of these fishing nets. Personally, I was far from impressed by them. Not only they weren’t particularly interesting or photogenic, but they were also too commercial to my taste. Fishermen have turned into models who jump to your throat offering to pose with a smelly fish in their hands (for money of course!). I refused several times, took a couple of boring sunset shots and moved on. I tried to get a different perspective of them, but I still struggled as the backdrop seemed very industrial and not particularly beautiful.

Note, the smaller fishing nets that you will see on the Cochin backwaters are far more authentic even if smaller.

EAT

In Kerala, you must leave all your culinary fears and prejudices behind and try ALL the food you can. For breakfast, go with a puttu, which is a funny-looking roll of coconut flour and steamed rice which is quite dry on its own, but delicious with chickpea or vegetable curry. While you are in this region, if you, like me, LOVE coconut, you will just die with pleasure as it’s their main ingredient.

Seagull

Food here is not remarkable, but not bad either. It has a nice view over the river and it’s one of the few places that serves alcohol in the city. We had fresh grilled fish, which was good but not outstanding.

Dal Roti

With a strong Mughal influence as well as Iranian, Dal Roti serves the cuisine of the heartland India, the States of Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The restaurant itself is nothing special and its decors is quite insignificant, but its cuisine is mouthwatering and out of this world to be franc. There was always a good number of Indians here and that normally is a sign of authenticity in the food. We went back here three or maybe four times J Must try Kati Roll and one of their Thalis.

Oceanos

Try the fish “Varutharachathu”, it’s the most favourite fish recipe in any Keralan home. It’s basically made of white fish cooked with roasted coconut paste and coconut milk. The grilled tuna with rice and yoghurt sauce was also very nice. Make sure to keep room for desert: honey fig with yoghurt pannacotta and cashew marzipan with chocolate sauce. (No licensed for alcohol).

Tibetan Chef’s Restaurant

Lovely little restaurant where you eat sitting on the floor around low tables surrounded by meaningful quotes by the Dalai Lama. Service is fast and extremely friendly. Food is fresh, tasty and original. Obviously go for the vegetable fried momo to start your adventure among Tibetan delicacies.

Upstairs – Bastion Lane, Fort Cochin

A small Italian-inspired restaurant in front the Santa Cruz basilica. The owner and manager is a cool guy who spoke a little Italian and told me about his time as a sous-chef in Turin, Italy. He said, he brought back all original recipes and decided to open this restaurant. Starting from the name, which isn’t appropriately an Italian name, I think he can upgrade his game a bit. The pizza was very similar to the ones at Pizza Hut or at least I guess so as I never entered one in my life. Spaghetti were overcooked but the sauce, oh the sauce! was (almost) like my mum makes it. The guy imports gorgonzola, prosciutto crudo and many other delicatessen from Italy, so it’s well worth a visit, but there is (lots of) room for improvement.

DREAM

If I didn’t know that San Francisco was were the “airbnb movement” started, I would have thought that Kerala and Cochin in particular, were was it all began. In fact, in this region there are plenty on option to try and taste homestays (exactly as in the airbnb model)!

We spent some time in Kochin, so we had the time to taste and try different levels and options.

LUX – Old Harbour Hotel

A fabulous 300 year-old building, built in Dutch style with Portugues influence, it was once used as a residential home for employees of English tea-broking firms, before being left unused for some time and then turned into a monument. It is only recently it was turned into a stunning hotel. The change and restoration kept great attention to most of its original details and features like the beautiful façade.

COMFORTABLE – The Pod Homestay

A delightful, simple, extremely clean, A/C homestay in the centre of the fort run by a wonderful couple. She is Japanese and he’s Indian, they have a daughter and they all live downstairs with his parents. We celebrated Diwali with them with fireworks on the rooftop. This is why homestay is better than hotels (#justsaying!)

BUDGET – Happy camper

A very cool hostel right at the center of the main roundabout in Fort Cochin. Beds in dormitories go for Rs500 which considering that some cheap double room go for as little as Rs800 make it look like an akward option or at least only very convenient for the solo traveller. (Note: hostels aren’t very popular in India yet, it’s an up-and-coming slice of the hospitality sector that is growing fast, but perhaps, not fast enough)

Explore More 

Munnar and the Surroundings 

As mentioned above, a trip to Kerala wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the tea plantation. So, make sure to arrange your trip there. Ideally, arrange this trip on your own if you have plenty of time in your hands or just arrange it at one of the various kiosk you will find in the fort.

Whatever you decide, make sure to visit/see the followings:

  • Eco point on Mattupetty Lake
  • Attukkad Waterfalls
  • Tea museum, a visit here is necessary to understand the area and also how tea ended up in India.
  • Top station (on the walk up, make sure to stop and taste some of the traditional fruits of Kerala especially the tomato of Munnar: a perfect blend of tomato and a strawberry. Then get some passion fruits, guava and maybe some carrots too.)

Top Tip: Don’t stay in Munnar but in one of the beautiful homestay in the middle of the tea plantations.

Varkala & The Coast
To finish off your visit to Kerala, nothing is better than a few days filled with Ayurveda massages and yoga lessons at sunrise and some fresh fish by the seaside in Varkala. Its dramatic red cliff and the surrounding lush green coconut forest make it the perfect holiday spot for local and international tourists as well as a permanent magnet of expact who settle here to train as yoga teacher or Ayurveda practitioners.

While in Varkala, don’t miss your opportunity to have some gorgeous avocado-based dishes and great coffee at Coffee Temple!

Footnotes

* God’s Own Country: as the Kerala Affairs Office explains “According to Hindu mythology, Mahavishnu’s sixth incarnation Parasurama fought back the advancing seas. He threw his axe (paraśu) from Konkan to Kanyakumari and the sea gave way, giving rise to present day Kerala. In recent years the phrase has been adopted as a slogan by the tourism department of the Kerala state government in India as people started to explore more places outside the traditional tourist spots.” (http://www.keralaaffairs.com/gods-own-country-kerala/)

** C(offee)R(ead)E(xplore)E(at)D(ream): everything you need to know in one simple CREED 😉

 

Andaman & Nicobar: The Unexpected India

Closing my eyes and thinking of India a few months ago, before actually landing here, I would always see temples, turbans, cows, forts and deserts. Never, even with the use of my wildest imagination, I would have fabricated an India of white beaches, palm trees, and crystal clear waters.
But, when I finally landed at Beach 7, also called Radhangar, on Havelock, part of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, I willingly had to change my mind.

Continue reading

Delhi – There is all India here.

New Delhi or Delhi as people still call it, it’s the reason why I am still here. I could blame the fact that it was my first  stop in India or maybe because there is so much India in Delhi, but the truth is that, on that very first day of my trip two months ago and as soon as I touched Indian soil and looked around, I knew that the three weeks officially planned weren’t going to be enough. I knew this country would have been mine for longer. I would have been hers for as long as possible.

Eight weeks later and with still four more to go, I can’t get my head around it or why I love it so much, I don’t know why it has a magnetic effect on me. What I know it’s that I’ve “post-poned” countries like Mynamar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos from the first leg of my trip because of Delhi. I can’t get enough of this country and its people and I’m seriously thinking of moving here.
To Delhi? Possibly, the coffee scene here is spectacular and there is such a huge variety of bookstores.
My fundamentals are there, I just need to find a job now. Can you help me? 🙂

Here’s your:

Delhi’s Creed

COFFEE

Hauz Khas Social
This uber-cool, stylish and vaste co-working space in the Shoreditch-y part of Delhi, blends the best of the office and the café. At Social, you can buy a membership and swap your boring office desk with one of their hip booth. Combining work and play, Social turns into a urban hangout where cocktails are served and music start pumping on the speakers after 6pm.

Address: Haus Khas Village, 110016, New Delhi (but also in Mumbai and Bangalore)

Indian Coffee House
Like the one in Jaipur, this venue in Connaught Place is an iconic cafe in New Delhi. It’s open from 9am to 9pm and the food, which is great, is also very, very cheap. Coffee is also very special as it’s made with old coffee machines. Unlike many modern cafes, you can stay here reading your book or chatting with your friends for hours and no-one would ask you to order something else or to go. Vintage vibe, no wifi.
Address: 2nd Floor, Mohan Singh Palace, Baba Kharak Singh Marg, Connaught Place, Near Tivoli Cinema, New Delhi, Delhi 110001
Ph. Credits: BBC News

Kunzum Travel Cafe
With a similar concept of Ziferblat in London, at Kunzum’s idea of “Pay what you like”,  you are not under any obligation to even pay for coffee or food or wifi.  It was Ajay Jain, a traveller and photographer who started this cool cafe where travellers still meet in person and interact.
Address: T-49, GF, Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi, Delhi 110016

Chill & Chai This cute cafe is part of Khoj, a not-for-profit contemporary arts organisation which offers space and programs to local artists, since 1997. You should totally order some food here as they change their menu every day and maybe also enjoy a cappuccino as I did. Free wi-fi comes as a bonus if you have emails to check or upload your cuppa on Instagram. Address: Khirki Extension, opposite to Select CityWalk Mall, Saket

READ

A person that doesn’t read lives just one life whereas a person that does lives a thousand.

For all of you, like me, gifted with a burning passion for reading and books, Delhi will satisfy your hunger as it offers a wealth of bookshops and all sorts of stories.

Cha Bar
I couldn’t include Cha Bar in the above section as this is not just the regular cafe, but it’s a house library also known for its wide variety of teas (more than for coffee). The place can be crowded sometimes, but you should always be able to find a quiet spot to enjoy your cuppa.
Address: Oxford Bookstore, N-81, Barakhamba Road, Block N, Cannaught Place, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Galgotia Book Shop
Walk around CP’s (Connaught Place) Inner Circle and on top of the various book stalls you will come across this fabulous bookstore tucked away in the corner of B Block. Your nose will awake right away by the musty smell of old books and then your eyes will be pleased by the endless shelves of literature treasures. There is any kind of book you are looking for here, from children’s stories to enciclopedias, from travel guides to dictionaries passing through adventures and romances.
Address: 17 B, Inner Circle, Connaught Place, New Delhi-01

Full Circle
A very special bookstore with a cafe attached and owned by a publishing house. It sits in the heart of Khan Market and it also offers a great terrace where you can watch one of the most spectacular sunset in Delhi while forgetting you are actually IN Delhi. This bookshop is also stocked with a number of books on a wide variety of topics.
Address: Shop No.23, Khan Market, New Delhi-03

Books

EAT

Ivy & Bean
Great “Aussie”-style cafe in the Fashion district of New Delhi. Not sure there is much of Australia in their menu which included Italian and local dishes, but it’s surely a good place for some tasty food and good coffee.
Address: 119, Sishan House, Shahpur Jat, Siri Fort, New Delhi, Delhi 110049

Zen Restaurant

It might happen after some weeks of travels that you will get tired of Indian food, so this is a great Chinese option right in the center of the city.
Address: B-25, Connaught Place, Near Rajiv Chowk Metro Station Exit-2, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

Cafe Lota
This is the perfect place for a local cuisine bite and a good coffee inside of the National Crafts Museum. It’s very popular with locals as well as expats and tourists.
Address: National Crafts Museum, Bhairon Marg, Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, Delhi 110001

DREAM

Once again, after Udaipur, I was kindly invited to stay at The Leela Palace in New Delhi and how could I possibly say no to the opportunity of being the princess of a fairytale once again?
I don’t know if it’s the fourteen thousand roses in display (read more below), the majestic interiors, the love for details, the art that takes your breath away or maybe the mouth-watering food that is served in all its four and award-winning restaurants, but The Leela has surely taken a predominant spot in my preferred luxury hotels in the world and I would recommend all of you to stay there while in Delhi.
This venue is one of the Leela flagship hotels and is one of the finest architectural marvels built from ground up in the last thirty years in downtown Delhi. Built in the shape of a butterfly, architecture inspired by Lutyens, art and embellishment by Mrs. Madhu Nair, The Leela in New Delhi takes luxury to a completely different level.

https://www.instagram.com/p/9A772CMQ4w/

Capt. Nair, the founder of The Leela properties  a man with one of the most amazing entrepreneurial story  I’ve ever heard,  was a hotelier, a dreamer and a gardner. From his love for nature he planted over 1,000,000 trees and plants in their eight properties combined and thanks to Mrs Madhu Nair, every day, The Leela New Delhi has a minimum of 14,000 roses displayed in the hotel. They fly them in from Bangalore two times a week and in summers three times. Each silver urn holds 500 each and in addition, they have 2,000 international flowers that range from Australian or South African Banksia’s to Tulips, Hydrangeas from Holland.
What I love most about their love for flowers on top of the beautiful arrangements, is the fact that Leela recycles them in several ways: in winter they harvest all pedals and thereafter fill our fire urns inside the ponds outside Qube; in summers they support a local NGO, that turn them into Rangoli and vegetarian dye.

Address: Chanakyapuri, Diplomatic Enclave, New Delhi 110023

Jaiselmer, Sleeping Under the stars

In the north-west of India, at the most remote corner of Rajasthan, almost on the border with Pakistan, sits a golden city that emerges out from the Thar desert like an oasis in the middle of the dunes. That city is called Jaisalmer and it is another remarkable fort-gifted town I visited during my travels there last month.

Here’s your

Creed guide to Jaisalmer 

COFFEE

City View Cafe
Address: Inside Fort Chougan Para, Jaisalmer, 345001, Raj India

Shiva Cafe

Excellent service and coffee, we stopped here for some refreshments and didn’t eat anything but everything is cooked with mineral water, so you should be fine. Oh, very happy staff!
Address: inside the fort, on top of Shiva guesthouse

 

Bhang Shop
Not actually coffee LOL, but it didn’t feel appropriate to put it in any other section of this guide 🙂 Bhang is a preparation of cannabis, frequently used in food and drinks in India and this shop is famous all over India or maybe the world for their bhang lassi and cookies. Take it easy! 🙂
Address: Fort Road, Khejer Para, Manak Chowk, Amar Sagar Pol, Jaisalmer 345001, India

READ

Bhatia News agency on Court Road, but also the various book stalls in the fort.

Dhahran Book Store includes a little coffee shop at the back and wifi connection to check your latest purchase.

Rawasl Handicraft and Bookstore on Vyas Para, Fort, is another interesting place to browse for new books.

EXPLORE

Jaisalmer Fort
It wouldn’t be a proper Rajasthan city if it didn’t have its Fort, right? So, make sure to visit this one too! The interesting fact of this one is that unlikely others in the state, people still live here, in fact the fort has about 2000 residents, the majority of  which are Brahmins.

Havelis
Commissioned by wealthy and powerful men during the eighteen and nineteen centuries, Havelis are stunning houses built on the principle of Hawa (Air) and Veli (Ventilation), they normally have two open courtyards and elaborated artwork on the mughal pillars.

Camel Safari
If you came this far across India, it’s probably because you are looking for a camel safari or sleep under the stars. Well, you picked the right place as this is probably one of the best and starrier sky in the whole world and if you avoid touts, scams and big organised tourists’ groups, you might even have a fantastic night in the desert.
In fact, me and my friend had a bespoke tour of the desert, we ate in the pitch dark food that had been cooked there in front of us on a fire and later we had the whole desert as our own bedroom as you can see from the pictures below! Leave the fuss of the tends and comfort for one night, just sleep in the wild!
I highly, highly recommend the tour organised by the accommodation that hosted me, (see the DREAM section below) and get in touch with me via email if you wish to be put in touch.

Gadsar Lake
This is probably one of my favourite places in Rajasthan and maybe India. It’s incredibly peaceful and it offers so many great opportunities for incredible pictures, like this one or the below.
In the past, this “little” lake acted as a reservoir that controlled the entire supply of water to Jaisalmer.

Pushkarna Trust Sunset Point
Just outside Jaisalmer, it’s a great place to watch the sun going down and painting the golden city in orange and red, but also to walk around the ruins and maybe chill under one of the many cenotaphs enjoying the incredible view.

EAT

Monica
Very calm, terraced restaurant that serves Rajasthani and tandoori dishes and several veg and non-veg challis.
Address: Near the Fort Gate

Midtown Restaurant
Very, very simple terraced restaurant, with basic decoration and setting, but excellent food and smiley staff. Bonus point is the view over the square where you can spy merchants making business or kids coming back from school. Excellent spot for some street photography without being noticed.
Address: Gopa Chowk, opposite to Bhang Shop 

DREAM

The foundations of Jaisalmer fort, built on a base of soft clay, sand and sandstone, are rapidly eroding due to the increases in water consumption related to tourism. Due to some drainage issues, during peak season some of the water comes back into surface and hits the foundations[read more here]

People died in 1998 and few more bastions fell in 2000 and 2001, for this reasons Jaisalmer is now listed among the World Monument Fund’s 100 Most Endangered Sites and as an eco-traveller as I consider myself, I decided (like many other conscious tourists do) to book an accommodation outside the fort.

I couldn’t have found a better hotel to host me during my stay in Jaisalmer.  In fact, The Gulaag Hotel is a luxury boutique hotel built in the traditional architecture of old hovels, including open courtyards and intricate sculptural work on each column.

It has twelve luxury rooms, eight deluxe rooms and four grand suites.

It includes a refreshing swimming pool and SPA as well as a rooftop restaurant that specialise in Rajasthani cousin as well as a few international dishes.

Address: in front of Nagar Praishad, Bera Road, Jaisalmer 345001

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Jodhpur – Blue is the Warmest Colour

Jodhpur was probably my favourite citadel in Rajasthan: I don’t know if it’s because it’s here that I took the executive decision that my stay in India would last (much, much) longer than I originally planned or because all that blue really blew my mind away, or perhaps because I was quite sick and so I had the time to stop and explore at a more reasonable pace than ever before, or more likely because I met some very amazing people here who showed me around town including some secret spots that I haven’t shared below but that I will include in my upcoming CREED guide of India that I will be giving away at Christmas to all my blog followers who request one.

Whatever reason, I really loved the blue city.

 Creed Guide to Jodhpur

COFFEE

Cafe Sheesh Mahal
An establishment in the coffee scene of Jaipur, with a wide selection of coffee (and specialty teas), snacks and light meals. Get a seat next to a window: people watching on this stretch of the Sardar Bazaar can be extremely entertaining!

Coffee Menhar
If you are visiting the fort (see the explore section of this guide) then a coffee break at this lovely and simple cafe is mandatory. Get a black coffee or try one of their many tea flavours.

READ

Testo libero

Krishna Book Depot
An establishment in the city and whole Rajasthan perhaps with a wide range of books in Hindi, English, French and German (maybe others too) about Indian arts, music, theatre and cultural scene. Some renovation works where taking place on the ground level, so I guess it will be even better now.
Address: Sardar Market, ask for directions as it might be tricky to find

EXPLORE

Jaswant Thanda
You will find many cenotaphs while in Rajasthan, but this one, if you like me have an obsession for symmetry and white, will blow your mind away. It was built in 1899 by Maharaja Sardar Singh in memory of his father, Maharaja Jaswant Singh II, whom initiated the irrigation systems and protected the city from bandits. Much better from the outside than the very simple indoors, but you still need to buy the ticket to get close to it. Another bonus point is the great view over Jodhpur and the fort itself, especially in the morning.

Mehrangarh Fort

This impressive fort looks like it has been there forever and ever, in fact it looks like it was carved in the rocky mountain rather than being built on it back in 1459. I fell in the trap of the free audio guide as it was described to me as outstanding, it’s good, but the entire tour at that pace takes more than 3 hours and when it’s 38/39 degrees you can’t really do that!! Skip the tempting offer and just download some history online before getting there. We didn’t take the elevator as it would mean miss so much of the atmosphere of the first gates, I guess.

Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park
I normally won’t recommend places I haven’t been to, but as this one was suggested to me by several people and had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of it while maintenance works were undergoing, I feel I can add it to my list here and be sure it’s a place worth a visit.

EAT

Omelette Shop 
This take-away spot by the main clock tower is always packed with locals and tourists, you need to try it to understand why.
Address: just off the clock tower on the right

The Blue House
Lovely, little family-run, rooftop restaurant at The Blue House Guesthouse. Food is simply delicious and a chat with the entire family (including granny and toddlers) in their living room at the end of your meal will just make things even more perfect.
Address: Sumer Bhawan’ Moti chowk, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

DREAM

If you want a traditional stay and meet the locals, you will have plenty of havelis and guesthouses to choose from, just be aware that tourism has put in danger some of these beautiful and ancient buildings, so just do your research and choose one that is safe and environment-friendly. Also, make sure to make a conscious use of water during your stay as peak season and irresponsible travelers are making things worse every year.

We were kindly invited to stay at Shahi Heritage Guest House, a fantastic 350 years old mughal-style Haveli right in the middle of the old town with a spectacular view over the fort and an amazing restaurant on the rooftop.

I couldn’t recommend this place enough, the staff, the food, the friendliness of the entire family made me feel at home during my stay, which was in fact extended by a few nights.

Address: City Police Gandhi Street, pop Narsingh Temple, Jodhpur, 342001

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