Giant’s Causeway and Titanic Belfast: Day trip from Dublin

Travel date: 10th October, 2015

Clear waters, strong cold winds, thankfully sunny afternoon, and spectacular views of the rocks formations made our day out at the Antrim coast a wonderful treat. A day trip from Dublin in the zippy and powerful Ford Fiesta, we girls set off for a particularly long drive to view some rare rock formations at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, U.K. Although one would be diving into a different country altogether, but there are no border controls, hence this was deemed a very good getaway spot. My fancy for geology, doubled up with my friends’ sense of adventure (she has no permission of entry to the U.K!), got us started early in the day. Our stoppages included none but for a hearty Irish breakfast at the services, and after 4 hours of driving we reached Bushmills on a very clear, sunny and warm afternoon. The Antrim coast is extremely picturesque, the photos bear witness to that. But be mindful of that fact that this is also the windiest part of the country, so be adequately layered. The Giant’s Causeway is a World Heritage Site, and has an entry fee for £16 (approx 24 Euros), and provides an audio guide that details everything about the geology, geography, weather, culture and many more interesting facts about the Antrim county.

The columnar basalt rocks are something worth witnessing in a lifetime. They are extremely rare and found in only a few places in the world (St Mary’s Island in Malpe, Karnataka is one where you could witness this in India). There are many legends and folk lore’s around this place.

Legend goes that a giant named Finn McCool used to live here. Finn got into trouble with someone across the water. The Scottish giant Benandonner was threatening Ireland. An enraged Finn grabs chunks of the Antrim coast and throws them into the sea. The rock forms a path for Finn to follow and teach Benandonner a lesson. Now this was a very bad idea. Benandonner was terrifyingly massive. Realising this, Finn beat a hasty retreat, followed by the giant, only to be saved by our hero’s quick-thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. The angry Scot saw the baby and decided if the child was that big, the daddy must be really huge. So Mr Benandonner decided to give up and ran away, crushing down the causeway after him!

On the way back, we dropped in to view the Titanic Belfast which is an exhibit/ museum on the Titanic sinking. However, we were quite unfortunate to not make it in time, hence we could only savour the interesting architecture of the building.

The day involved some 570 kms of driving to and back, which has been my longest to date (and was manageable only for such excellent roads). I had an excellent travel companion so make sure you are in great company as well, as you can expect this to be a long day!

Read this article on my Tripoto page: https://www.tripoto.com/trip/giant-s-causeway-and-belfast-56b2f43b4b828

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Into the woods: Camping in Mukteshwar

Travel dates: 17-19th November, 2015

If you seek the thrill of camping in the Himalayan wild, but are too lazy or just can’t be bothered to carry your camping gear and accessories, your closest experience to real hiking camp experience is situated about 20 kms from the town of Mukteshwar.

Amidst the thick woods where this camp is located, there is no electricity, no mobile reception, no real infrastructure except for (thankfully) some toilets (I firmly stand for Swachh Bharat). So practically you are cut off from the rest of the world unless you walk around a kilometre across the woods to get close to any civilization or mobile phone reception. The camp is run by a group of 6-7 people from the hills of Kumaon who know the forest and the hills like the back of their hands, so you can be assured of your safety from adverse weather and wild animal visits into the camp, and get incredibly good ‘pahaadi’ food. But that’s about all the frill you can get.

This place, named Camp Vanvaas, is sheer beauty. Its name is apt as it brings you up close and personal to the forests of Kumaon. You can see the Milkyway on nights of clear skies, you hear no sounds from civilization, you may even experience occasional visit by a leopard (they like to keep away from humans, so that would be more of an accident rather than intended). The camp is situated on a somewhat clear patch amongst fairly thick woods and is not fenced or structured or landscaped. You are provided comfortable camp beds and as many blankets as you need (temperatures dropped to as low as 3 degrees in mid Nov when I visited, so you could need a few) as there is no heating either. You would want to be around the camp fire which they burn almost all day as that kept everyone from going into a state of limbo as it’s easy to go stiff from the cold.

Me and my little group reached there on a late midweek evening after nightfall. After what was quite a trying walk for non-hikers like us, we reached the camp and were welcomed and served dinner by the bonfire. Some pleasantries were exchanged, and the camp manager introduced us to the group who runs the camp, and spoke a little about this and that. Not having much energy left in us, we retired to our tents early and it took me some time to get adjusted to the darkness and the cold in the tent.

The best part came in the morning, when I stepped out of my tent and saw the sunlight shimmering atop the trees, too slanted to reach the ground, and clouds of smoke gathered up in between the trees above the kitchen tent. It would remind one of a Disney tale. As we gathered around the bonfire to be able to warm up and flex ourselves, we had two rounds of tea, a fantastic breakfast and a very interesting discussion on the life and works of Jim Corbett. As a part of the camping activities, we headed off to Chauli Ki Jaali which is about 15 kms from the camp in our cars. This place has some spectacular views of the valleys and the Nanda Devi mountain range in the distance. We were given a demo of rock climbing and rappelling by the camp folks, and within 30 seconds of my Rock climbing attempt, I dislocated my knee and gave up any attempt and sat quietly trying to adjust to the pain while the rest of the group completed their activities. Our rest of the day, was considerately modified, as the camp managers understood I wouldn’t be able to exercise my knee much. So instead of the biking activity, they arranged archery, and later in the night they took us out for a night trek (where I slowed down the group but everyone was very kind and understanding), and climbed atop a nearby hill where we could see the entire valley and the night skies. I could say that this was perhaps the best experience from the trip.

That night we had leopards in our camp! So blessed we were not to have the desire to have a trip to the toilets else we could have had the shock of our lives! I did hear footsteps of an animal nearby but it’s the hill folks who can distinguish breathing and footsteps to say which animal and how many and how close.

For the better part of the second morning, we spent a lot of time just interacting with the folks from the camp just because we realised that would be the part we would miss the most. Their hospitality was heartfelt, their smiles touched their eyes and their request to have you back was genuine. However, our schedule did not allow us to extend our stay, so all of them walked up to the village with us to say their bye’s.

Camp Vanvaas is about a 5 year initiative, and they have minimal presence on the internet so you may skip the trouble of Googling up for photos and reviews. We got to find out from a friend, who in turn found out from another, and the word-of-mouth model is what they have stuck to for this while. It doesn’t make much sense, but when you visit the camp you would know why one would want it that way. Not every now and then does it occur to you that you visit a place for its pristine natural beauty, and end up falling in love with the people. The camp manager called us almost every 2 hrs to check on us and direct us on the day of our drive from Gurgaon, and also called us on the last day of our trip to check if we got back safe to Gurgaon. They are lovely people who teach you leave you happy and moved by their simplicity, and you know you want to come back again.

To get there, it took us about 10 hrs from Gurgaon, although we had taken a wrong route and faced a fairly bad patch of road. We were told you could make it from Delhi in 7-8 hours time. By train, you would have to reach Kathgodam, from where Dhanachuli is about 65 kms and take about 2 to 2.5hrs on road. You could either hire a private taxi, or get a shared taxi which is available without much difficulty. The peak tourist season is between March to June, and off peak season is Oct-Nov. If you request to visit any other time of the year, you may not be able to experience the camp, but instead you could have a Homestay experience in one of their residences, and suggested seasons are Monsoon (July-Sep) and winter (Dec-Jan).

For enquiries and bookings you can contact them on the numbers provided on their Facebook page http://on.fb.me/1MYNrLf, . And if they ask you how you knew about them, please do mention my name, as I would love it if they remembered me from time to time as I do!!

Read this article on my Tripoto page: https://www.tripoto.com/trip/into-the-woods-camping-in-mukteshwar-56752f82e1e24

My 5 favourite places to eat in HSR Layout on a Budget

All those who have known me for a while are well aware of my love affair with food. I come from a culture where people take their food seriously and cut no corners with it. Whether I am happy or sad or angry or just mental, I am up for a gustatory delight anytime.

The earlier years in Bangalore that I have spent in Whitefield, I have had limited options of real food exploration (think of Whitefield from 2004-2009, the only ones were perhaps Herbs and Spices and Golconda Chimney). Last year, I moved into HSR Layout, as I had to relocate to the vicinity of my new office. HSR is a wonderful place to be in, broad wide roads, well planned, full of parks, not too crowded but commercially self-sustained, conveniently located from City Centre. This place also strangely reminds me of Salt Lake, the place where I was born and bred. But it took me no time to find out that HSR also houses some really interesting places to eat, from Indian to Chinese to Continental, from street food to posh up-market restaurants, HSR has offerings for every budget and age and crowd group.

Like a glutton, I took no time to get started with the endless explorations, and although I haven’t checked off everything from my list, I believe I have explored enough to share my gastronomical experiences with my fellow foodies!

So here goes the list, my 5 favourites places to eat in HSR Layout.

Grigliato

On the first visit one would not be quite impressed by the slightly overcrowded table arrangement, under-lit, and occasional noisy ambiance (given it’s right on the ORR service road in a spot that gets particularly heavy traffic during evening hours). But if you get past the decor, this place is ideal for food lovers who want to explore good food of the American/ European/ Oriental cuisine without burning a hole in their pockets.

First time Grigliato happened in my life with a takeaway order at my friend’s place, where the flavor of the food got my attention even after I was particularly jaded with intoxication. A few months later, I went for my first eat-in, and I loved the food instantly. Over several visits, I have explored their Starters, Fritters, Fried Rices, Steaks, Pastas, Pizzas, Stews, Burgers, and I have never been disappointed with their food. Ever.

They have very generous servings, so if you were ordering starters and main and deserts and drinks, very likely you would not make it to the end quite comfortably.

Some of the best ones that I can recall are the Chicken Fritters, Beef Steak, Beef Stroganoff, Lamb/ Fish Burger, Shrimp & Chicken Alfredo, Red River amongst many others. My experience with their Pizzas have not been particularly good, as on both occasions their sauces were runny rather than dried up, perhaps because there was too much topping for the baking time. They serve lager beer, which makes this a good place for a casual hangout with friends.

Pros

  • Huge portions. For a conservative eater, one portion can serve 2
  • Pocket friendly restaurant
  • Smoking area on a different floor

Cons

  • Not Air conditioned
  • Table service is many a times compromised as they are understaffed for a full house
  • Towards closing hours they tend to rush through (They served starters and main course and drinks all together at once!)

Cost

  • Rs 1000 for 2 with drinks

Where

ORR Service Road, Next to Indian Oil Petrol Pump/ Nanda’s Party Hall

Sector 1, HSR Layout

Square Ruth

Have you been on a trip to visit Uncle Sam and had a great sandwich off a portable kitchen truck parked by the road? If no, the closest experience you could have right here in Bangalore at Square Ruth. The delightful part is the experience of ordering and watching your food being cooked in a truck, and what is even better is that their sandwiches are worth killing for.

My favourite so far is the Bacon and Cheese Sandwich, but I have tried several others in Chicken and fish and are worth recommending. In addition, they serve other sides like chicken strips etc. They are highly sought after for private parties and hence many a times you wouldn’t find them in HSR. So the best way to keep on track is to follow their Facebook page.

Pros

  • Delightful burgers
  • Food off a truck, very American and not too many similar options in Bangalore

Cons

  • Not available every day, need to follow their Facebook page to keep track
  • Towards end of day they tend to run out of stock so it’s wise to call and check if you are dropping in post 9 Pm
  • Roadside truck so no proper seating arrangement

Cost

Rs 100-150 for a burger/sandwich

Where

27th Main, HSR Layout, Opposite Juice Junction

Noon’s Biriyani

This has been perhaps my best discovery in HSR, a tiny shop tucked in a corner of street branching off from XYZ main, very easy to overlook. The premises have not been created for eat-in, as there is only a small table to seat 4, but they take orders online and provide home delivery. But it would be wise if one could get their phone number and place a direct order, as this could save you the delivery charges and commissions by the 3rd party.

Ok, so this is a no-nonsense, only great Biriyani joint, where their menu consists of only Egg, Chicken and Mutton Biriyani and NOTHING ELSE, and believe me, you wouldn’t complain if you ate the Biriyani just once!

They call it Hyderabadi Biriyani, but the flavor and appearance is quite distinct from what I have eaten at Bawarchi and Paradise. But it is good, really good. There is no kitchen at the outlet, the Biriyani is cooked by the family of the owner at their home kitchen. Very flavorful and aromatic, and not excessively hot or spicy, it is cooked to perfection. A must try for Biriyani lovers.

Suggestion: During Ramadan, try their Haleem too. I could vouch it beats Pista House!

Pros

  • Home cooked, delectable Biriyani with a generous serving portion
  • Pocket friendly
  • Home delivery available within designated areas

Cons

  • Small space, more suitable for a take away
  • Small menu, no starters or sides available
  • Requires early order. All the Biriyani is cooked in limited quantities on the basis of orders place
  • Mutton Biriyani available only on weekends

Cost

Rs 160- 180 for a Non-Veg Biriyani

Where

# 664, 9th Main, 25th Cross, Opposite Karur Vysya Bank

HSR Sector 6

99 variety Dosa opposite PWD Quarters

Okay so here’s the thing, you may find a zillion 99 Variety Dosa stalls in Bangalore, a couple of hundred in HSR itself (well I know the number is excessively exaggerated, but you get the point). But nothing stole my heart more than this. Their menu is not extraordinary, typical Cheese, Chinese, Mysore and Butter Specials. But their flavor, the perfect combination of hot and spices and right amount of cheese/ butter (this I find best, as most other stalls overdo their love with excess cheese or butter which surpasses all other flavors) is what takes me back there again and again.

I have introduced this place to many friends and each one has only consented to my verdict!

Pros

  • Delightful Dosa’s that stand out from most of its competitors

Cons

  • Roadside stall, hence no proper seating arrangement. This becomes an issue as holding a hot plate and eating is often not very comfy experience

Cost

  • Rs 50-70 per person

Where

27th Main, HSR Sector 1

Bang opposite main entrance of the PWD Quarters

Momo stall on 17th Main, across Sweet Chariot

I have a thing for stuffed dumplings. These little things are pure delight, steamed to perfection, bringing out the subtle but distinct aromas of its ingredients. And one of the best Momos that you could have in Bangalore is right in HSR, at the corner of the junction of 17th Cross and 5th Main, diagonally opposite Vision Health Care. The stall is open and small, literally just a table and a man standing attending to it, like most other Momo stalls, only that they serve no ordinary Momos. The ingredients bring out the best flavor, and the chilli sauce on the side is perfection! I have had Momo’s at several others, and I have found the sauce either to hot or too salty, or the Momo too bland to be eaten on its own, or with too little chicken or too much onions etc. And after many experiments I have found out that this particular one just rules. I have been eating here for over a year, and the Momos used to be bigger and 8 pieces a plate earlier, with their popularity, the size and count decreased. But once you are a familiar face you could even haggle for an extra dumpling!

Cost

Rs 50 for a plate of 7 Momo’s

Where

17th Cross Road, 5th Main, HSR Layout Sector 7

Opposite Sweet Chariot. Diagonally opposite Vision Health Care

The many first’s with my first car

There was this wonderful feeling when the first realisation of owning a car actually sank in the day I took it out of the showroom. The joy of the first 100 kms came the very next day. Then the first 200, 500, and little reasons for enjoyment were countless. It was thus, important, to write about this with a little elaboration.

I had always considered myself with very little esteem when it came to the prospect of being good with machines. To be able to drive an actual car, for that matter, was something that simply would never happen to me. Perhaps that’s the reason why, taking the decision to buy a car, that too a new one, was one the boldest decisions I have taken. And once I was a first time car owner, reality struck, and was seconded with a sinking, clueless feeling of what I was supposed to do with it because I just couldn’t bloody drive!

Had it not been for someone dear who stood by, my confidence may have taken a downhill ride when I had my first accident as well. This experience, wasn’t precisely pretty, but gave a lot of perspective into how hopelessly overjoyed I was about little achievements, just like being able to drive in a straight line at a 60km speed, whilst completely ignoring the physics of braking and control.  And then came the next time I bumped the front, and the next time the back. And the saga of the injuries and the learnings from it continued, and continues till date.

Amidst all this, came the ceremonious event of first time driving the car alone. I cannot forget, the cold, scary feeling in the throat, wondering how to make it across 35 kms of city traffic. Almost like sinking into oblivion. Then came the first insurance claim, and the actualisation of the fact that hurting the car just cannot be afforded again and again. Very soon after that, was the experience of driving for the first time in the rain. It felt peculiar to have the strange, clouded vision, and me stretching beyond comfort zone to get more visibility of the road, too alert and too rigid thinking the car would skid any moment. After that came the first side – parallel parking without breaking into sweat and asking for help. The pleasure of the accomplishment could almost be tasted. Simultaneously, the first 1500, 2000, 3000 were achieved in its characteristic fashion. The little cheer within never lost its vivacity each time these numbers were accomplished.

And today, in one moment, I hit the accelerator, and gathered the courage, and for the first time overtook two buses back to back! A moment of sheer joy, a feeling like a pro! Now, I am also looking forward to all the little events that shall achieve the first count. 4000 kms coming soon, and then the first long drive, and maybe also the first car tattoo…who knows! For all the firsts that are in store…game on, and I look forward to it!