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11/12/2014

Cabin in the trees, head in the clouds

Here is what happens when Jane takes Tarzan for a romantic week-end in the trees…

Jane spends quite a bit of time looking for nice gateways around Mumbai – which are far from plenty – and finally settled for something expensive: a cabin in the trees! With overview on the Western Ghats which are never more beautiful than at the end of the monsoon. There they should get peace, be able to yog and relax and maybe even go for walks (Jane doesn’t think that being at 6 months of pregnancy she can not climb a canyon and, as a matter of fact, she will).

A dream place. But which turned out to have the wrong vibe! Jane and Tarzan did enjoy their stay – mostly thanx to the impromptu trek on the top of the hill and certainly not thanx to the hotel staff. See they even wrote this review on Tripadvisor:

“Stunning views and amazing accommodation (a big WOW to the bathroom of the Forest Machan)!! BUT… Luck was not with us it seems…

We started by parking the car and it just happened that we stopped opposite an open air garbage dump! So much for eco-friendliness… Plastic bottles everywhere, which is not surprising since it is very difficult to get filtered water in glass bottles there.

Then we met the manager who greeted us with a request to pay a 3,000 Rs deposit. For what?

Because there is handicraft in the room… So 1. You are calling me a thief and 2. Haven’t I actually paid in advance 25,000 Rs?? He later turned completely rude when we asked to see another room, for in case we come back, and he said it was against the policy – even if the entire place was empty.

We then tasted silence and peace in our very nice room… Superb! Until our below neighbours came… They would have been in our room it wouldn’t have been nosier!

And came the time for dinner. Non-veg buffet: One yellow dal, one plain rice, one vegetable and one chicken with rotis. For 700 Rs. And it was not even tasty. Food was better the next day though, when it was only the 2 of us having dinner.

There is no consistency in the service. The staff wear track pants and chappals (dressing up for week-end guests). They make-up your bed one night and not the other. They don’t offer cushions to sit on the balcony. I could go on. All this would be okay if the rooms were not SO expensive and the staff unable to be a little friendly… It is an amazing place, just missing some good vibe and this is kind of sad…

But I guess they don’t care, the place is full all the time anyway!!”

India,Lonavala,The Machan,Mumbai getaway,week-end out of Mumbai,western ghats

10/28/2014

Interview for 20 minutes: Visiting Mumbai in 3-4 days

A journalist of 20 Minute (French free magazine) contacted me for an interview! I would like to thank her for her interest in my experience in India!! Poor thing, instead of just answering her questions, I wrote a full article ;)

Here is what she could extract for her interview… In PDFand the link. And below my programme to visit Mumbai in 3-4 days!

Namaste Bombay! Welcome in this chaotic megacity… to say the least! Crossing Mumbai from the airport to the heart of the city already gives a good overview: you feel like moving from one neighbourhood to another without distinction. And everywhere : people, life, activity, even at night!

Diving in the chaos, past the hotel door, can be somewhat of a shock: it's hot, the streets are badly indicated (Mumbai has been able to ignore the concept of urban planning), where to start? A walk in Colaba is a good stretch for the legs: the Gateway of India and a detour to the mythical Taj hotel (ideal for a pee break). Then take a stroll around Oval Maidan, a huge lawn surrounded by buildings dating back to the British era, before pushing to Victoria Station. Eventually stop to watch the sunset on Marine Drive, or walk along the Indian ocean, maybe up to Chowpatti Beach to experience what a good bath is (but for locals only!). To help digest this first day, treat yourself with a beer at Leopold Café, a meeting place for backpackers and locals.

Malabar Hill is also worth a visit, with its hanging gardens, Jain temple, Banganga Tank and its beautiful mansions. Then take a taxi for the rest of the day to go see the Haji Ali mosque perched on a peninsula and Mahalaxmi Dhobi Ghats, an open-air laundry. A drink at Aer, the terrace of the Four Season, will then be welcome, providing with stunning views of the city and a good change of scenery (from the poorest to the richest…).

 

india,mumbai,bombay,visiting mumbai in 3-4 days,interview

Bargain-hunting for the rare pearl in the markets (an antique at Chor Bazaar, a jewel at Zaveri Bazaar, everything and anything at Crawford Market) is a unique experience... More relaxing and less touristy: getting lost in Khotachiwadi, a neighborhood standing from the Portuguese era. A boat trip to Elephanta caves is also worth it if you don’t have the time to go to Ellora... Others will prefer a tour of Dharavi, the legendary slum and its industries, rather well organized and not voyeuristic.

A visit to Mumbai is not complete without a 'train' trip (the local metro), if possible at peak hours! Or without testing the street food (it's a little risky for the intestines but you don’t get nothing with nothing!): bhel puri, pani-puri, vada pao, Bademiya’s goat brains etc. The motivated (or just lucky) tourist who hangs around Regal theater may be rewarded with a figuration in a Bollywood movie... At worst, watching a movie is generally worth its weight of popcorn! And well prepared tourists can experience Holi festival and Indians throwing colour powders at each other, or the throwing of Ganesh (the elephant-headed God) statues for Ganapati...

One of my articles on the "Mumbai Incontournables": http://www.indiansamourai.com/archive/2014/03/06/intervie...

Other of my articles on Mumbai: http://www.indiansamourai.com/apps/search/?s=Mumbai

04/12/2014

Searching for the lost turtle...

When Indians ask for a leave, they always give you an explanation; this is pretty funny... They have to attend the naming ceremony of a newborn, take their wife to get an MRI of her arm etc. That’s how, one fine day (it was a Wednesday I remember), one of my direct reports asked me if he could take a day off to... go see turtles hatching! Turtles!! Not only did I give him a day off and my blessings, I also tagged along!

We left Mumbai early (very early), towards the village of Velas on the Konkan coast of Maharashtra. Very quickly a foul odor – which had already disturbed us a few weeks earlier – spread in the car. Incredibly brave, my favorite Indian opened the bonnet and discovered the corpse of a cat. As it was early (very early), he took the bull by the horns (or rather the cat by the legs) and removed it himself – ignoring my advice of delegating the task to any guy against twenty rupees...

Later on we found a place to clean the car but the pressure washer hardly helped, death smell is tenacious. So I spent a good amount of the journey playing with incense stick, to the tune of One Republic:
podcast

Seven hours later, we arrived in Velas, a village blessed with no network coverage (in brief, a village like I like them!). Our local guide had set sail for Mumbai without informing anyone and our small group found refuge in a random house, where we tried to call him (with a landline). An hour later we finally touched base with our host cum lunch provider.

After a micro-siesta we were off to the beach to meet the turtles!

A beautiful beach, without a human soul nor a... turtle! We learned then that the turtles come to lay their eggs at night only and the NGO involved in their preservation doesn’t let people walk on the beach at night to avoid disturbing them – annoying but fair... Anyway, we were also told that the previous night, only one turtle (according to fin prints) had visited the premises. Plus at night it was so pitch dark that the chances to spot that brave turtle were close to nothing! Still we woke up at 5 AM the next morning to go track down turtle prints – who knows?? Well we do now… Luck was not with us!!

As for eggs hatching, well, let’s say it wasn’t the right period...

Nevertheless, we saw a turtle! A river turtle (or tortoise) caught by a fisherman...

But we didn’t come home empty-handed since we got the information that it is on the beaches of Orissa (on the other side of the country) that turtles come by the thousands to nest...

And we could witness the work that an NGO can make  by empowering local communities in the preservation of endangered species: stop hunting turtles, protect the eggs from predators, and take on the path of turtle tourism, becoming a "turtle village" with a "turtle festival" (website). Quite smart! There is just a bit of work so that tourists can actually see turtles. Or so that white-bellied Eagles spend a little more time in their nest and tourists can see them also! 

Anyway, we spent a great weekend in the countryside! In a very quiet village with old-style houses, their floors covered with cow dung to prevent vermin, with cats in every house (which is pretty rare in India) to give warning of ophidian intrusions, with skinny chickens everywhere. We slept at a home-stay: very simple (very thin mattresses on the floor, Indian toilet in the garden (or more exactly in the palm grove behind the house) but clean!

The road from Mumbai is beautiful, especially when you leave the highway (well, the highway... the word is big) and the road gets empty...

And then we managed to defeat the dead cat smell by taking in a hitchhiking India: he was a Pandit (priest) who had come to perform a puja for a baby whose stars were not a birth (especially Venus) and who smelled of wood fire!

Velas, Maharashtra - Feb 2014