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List of Holidays for 2015

With 2015 taking over in a couple of days, most of us begin to plan our trips timing them with long weekends. Here is a list of standard holidays followed in India. This may wary between the South and North India and is marked by an asterix. So better start planning now if you want to get hold of good air fares and those popular resorts since they tend to sell out during long weekends.

2015 Holiday List
Sl No. Holidays Date Day
1 New Year’s Day 1st January, 2015 Thursday
2 Makara Sankranthi 14th January, 2015 Wednesday
3 Republic Day 26th January, 2015 Monday
4 Holi * 6th March, 2015 Friday
5 Good Friday * 3rd April, 2015 Friday
6 May Day 1st May, 2015 Friday
7 Ganesh Chaturthi 17th September, 2015 Wednesday
8 Bakrid 23 September, 2015 Wednesday
9 Gandhi Jayanti 2nd October, 2015 Friday
10 Ayudha Pooja* 21st October, 2015 Wednesday
11 Maha Navami 22nd October, 2015 Thursday
12 Diwali 10th – 11th November, 2015 Tuesday – Wednesday
13 Gurunanak Jayanthi* 25th November, 2015 Wednesday
14 Christmas 25th December, 2015 Friday

A few years back, I got an opportunity to visit this beautiful resort as part of a corporate engagement and since then had been wanting to go back. Couple of weeks back, my wife and I decided to celebrate our anniversary away from the city and Kumarakom came up as one of our options. We were primarily look for weekend getaways with good air connectivity.

After scouting for a few options on the banks of Vembanad Lake (one of the largest fresh water lakes in the country), we decided to stay at Zuri Kumarakom for their world class property and hospitality. Zuri has one of the best properties in the region with a large artificial lake covering almost half of the resort. We got a good deal from the resort under the MAP plan (breakfast and dinner) along with some discounts at their signature Spa and a complementary sunset boat cruise. There was however one deal on Goibibo.com which was even better, but we were not really sure if the resort would honor this booking. So, we took the safe route and booked directly.

View of cottages and rooms by the lagoon at Zuri

View of cottages and rooms by the lagoon at Zuri Kumarakom

Cochin/ Kochi is the nearest airport and is about 90kms away from Kumarakom and about 20 kms outside of Cochin town. We had already pre-booked a cab from ITS Cabs which offered the best rates and we were very happy with their service. Veena from the cab company was constantly in touch with us to ensure everything was in order. The trip cost us Rs 2100 one way and took about 2.5 hours. There is a pre-paid taxi counter at the airport which will charge about Rs 2300 for the same distance for an air conditioned sedan.

Zuri Reception

Zuri Reception

The moment we entered the resort property, we were treated like royalty with warm towels and a huge tender coconut while we were being checked-in. Our request for an early check-in was prioritized and we were able to get our room almost 2 hours in advance. Our high ceiling deluxe lagoon view room / cottage on the first floor was well appointed with all the usual luxuries (LED television, kettle for tea/coffee, mini fridge, locker etc) that a 5 star property offers along with a see thru bathroom and a large bath tub.

Fully furnished room with view of the lagoon

Fully furnished room with view of the lagoon

View of the lagoon from our room at Zuri

View of the lagoon from our room at Zuri

Since their in-room dining options are limited, we decided to have a quick bite at their all day cafe followed by a stroll around the property to catch a glimpse of the massive Vembanad lake which is beautiful during sunset. Their lounge bar facing the lake is also a good place to chill in the evening with a couple of drinks. Caution: Kerala does not allow sale of liquor on Sundays and first day of every month.

View of Vembanad Lake from the resort

View of Vembanad Lake from the resort

Evening buffet dinner at the restaurant has a good spread which includes both western and traditional kerala cuisine. Since a large percentage of the resort guests are foreigners, I guess this is essential to cater to their varied taste buds.

After a good night’s sleep, day 2 was to pamper ourselves with some of their signature massages and time at the pool, sauna and jacuzzi. Breakfast spread was good with live counters for dosa and egg preparations which filled us up. Massages at their signature spa are priced starting from Rs 2000 and going all the way up to Rs 7000. The evening cruise in a traditional boat took us around the lake to catch the sunset. This 45 min cruise costs Rs 350 if not added into your package. The resort also offers complimentary evening tea and cookies to all its guests either by the lake front or in their restaurant every evening.

Sunset on Vembanad Lake

Sunset on Vembanad Lake

Day 3 was a rush to start packing and getting to the breakfast counter before it shuts down by 10.30. Before we realized, it was time for us to head back to the airport with our trusty cab ready to pick us up on time. Check-out was again smooth and uneventful with everything billed according to usage. They accept all major credit and debit cards.

Island inside the resort for yoga and relaxation

Island inside the resort for yoga and relaxation

Costs: Deluxe lagoon view room – Around Rs 12,000 per night with taxes, includes breakfast and dinner, 15% off on signature massages

Flights: Bangalore – Cochin – Bangalore: Approximately about Rs 7000 per person (Will be cheaper if booked 10 days in advance)

Houseboats: An overnite stay in an air conditioned houseboat costs anywhere from Rs 7,000 – Rs 15,000

Other properties in the region: Kumarakom Lake Resort (5 Star)

Vivanta By Taj (5 Star)

WaterScapes Kumarakom (By Kerala Tourism – 4 Star)

Backwater Ripples

Abad Whispering Palms

Your escapist,

Brian

Kempagowda International Airport, Bangalore

Kempagowda International Airport, Bangalore

Kempagowda International Airport or earlier known as Bangalore International Airport is about 37 kms from city centre. While we all complained about the distance, we soon got used to it especially since there is a 6 lane signal free road connecting the airport from Mekhri Circle which cuts down travel time by 30 mins. Do note, there is a new toll being charged for this road while coming back from the Airport to the city at Rs 115 per visit.

So here is a short list of quick options to reach the airport or get back to the city.
1. Airport Bus : The cheapest option (for upto 2 passengers) is the air conditioned Volvo bus service from all parts of the city. Cost varies from Rs 170 to Rs 300 per person depending on the distance traveled. Log on to http://www.mybmtc.com/airportservices for more details about the route and timings.

2. Cabs – KIA has a lot of cab options to choose from and we’ve tried to sort them according to cost.
TaxiforSure.com : Offers A/c Indica hatchback at Rs 700 (fixed fare including toll charge of Rs 115) and A/c Sedan at Rs 850 from Airport to Bangalore and city to Airport. Their metered fare is Rs 14 and Rs 16 per km from Indica and Sedan.

Uber.com : is currently offering special promotions for their Uber X (40% discount) and Uber Black (25% discount) cabs anywhere in the city. The only catch is that you need to book it through their app and have uploaded your credit card details, else, you will not be able to use their services. Uber X will cost you about Rs 560 inclusive of toll for a distance of 45 kms with the 40% discount offer.

Megacabs.com : They have a promotional offer of Rs 666 or Rs 699 + tax from anywhere in the city to the airport for all web and mobile bookings and they are reliable.

Image courtesy: mydala.com

Image courtesy: mydala.com

– Airport Authorized Cabs (No advance booking reqd): Mega Cabs, Meru and KSTDC are all part of the approved airport cabs which are available at the far end of the airport. They have a standard charge of Rs 19.50 per km from Airport to the city + toll extra and charge according to the meter.

– New Services (Not tested) : There are a few others like Meru Genie offering per km rate of Rs 10 during the day and Rs 12.50 during night time and Ola Cabs which offer sedan at Rs 600 for first 30 kms and Rs 16 /km after that or mini cabs at Rs 540 for first 30 kms and Rs 13 /km post that.

3. Premium Cabs : Services like Avis car rentals, Ramesh Tours & Travels, Ola Prime offer premium cars and luxury vehicles and charge a premium for their service.

So depending on your budget and convenience, choose the option that suits you best.

Happy travelling!

Staying in Bangalore, Karnataka has many advantages.. one being, access to interesting destinations across south India.

When the corporate world starts to get on your nerves, we bangaloreans take our vehicles and head out either to a hill station in the neighbouring Tamil Nadu or towards the popular jungle camps and resorts around Bandipur and Nagarhole.

This time it was Yercaud, a cute little hill station about 35 kms away from Salem, Tamil Nadu. Salem is 200 Kms from Bangalore and has well paved double road all through with a few toll booth enroute. Bikes however have free passage which actually worked in our favor since we decided to bike it to Yercaud this time (this time being our 4th trip).

Typically for a biking tour, we start around 6.30am from a prominent location on the outskirts of the city and stop for breakfast after about an hour’s riding. During this trip, we stopped at Adiyar Anand Bhavan on Hosur – Salem highway (about 65kms from Bangalore) for a quick snack and continued to ride non stop till we hit Salem. After a round of tender coconuts, we began our hill climb which was the most exciting part of this ride.

Soon, you begin to feel the weather change and also get to catch a glimpse of the world below you. In less than an hour, you are on top of the hill covered by tall age old trees and a huge lake in the centre of town. A few hotels and resorts dot the landscape around the lake but the first to stand out is Sky Rocca, built on the edge of the last hair pin bend. Another popular property is Hotel Shevaroys which is one of the oldest in Yercaud and has cottages spread out amidst lush greenery.

Yercaud Lake; Pic from Wikipedia.org

Yercaud Lake; Pic from Wikipedia.org

Frankly, there isn’t much to do in Yercaud and is more of a location to relax and calm your nerves. However, an Indian tourist does demand his fair share of site seeing for whom there is boating at the lake, visit to the view point (Pagoda Point), Killiyur Falls and best of them all Shevaroyan Temple. This temple is situated about 7kms from town center and is at the highest point in Yercaud. An ideal location to view the entire mountain range and soak in the fresh air.

View of Shevaroyan Hills from Yercaud

View of Shevaroyan Hills from Yercaud

Yercaud is one of the least expensive hill stations and accommodation is available from as low as Rs 800 for a double room (in a hotel) which goes up to Rs 8,000 for a luxury cottage. Travelers also have the option of renting out an old furnished cottage with a cook cum caretaker for a fair sum.

If you are the sorts to end the day on high spirits, do note that Tamil Nadu has restriction on sale of liquor and is sold only across Tasmac outlets. However, premium hotels and resorts have license to sell liquor within their premises but may not stock exotic brands.

Greatescapes score for hill stations: 8/10

Your escapist,

Brian

Wanted to end the year with one last post about our recent drive to Mangalore, the coastal capital of Karnataka.

Mangalore is located about 360kms from Bangalore and is well connected by road and rail to Kerala and Goa and has an international airport as well. This destination makes for a wonderful drive from Bangalore with two distinct route options. The first and shortest is via Hasan, Shakleshur via Shiradi Ghat (360kms – 7.5 hrs) and the second is via Mysore and Madikeri, Coorg (400kms – 8.5 hrs).

Unfortunately, about 20 – 30kms on both these routes are in terrible condition due to heavy rains and low quality of tarring. The only positive on the second route via Madikeri is that, there is road widening underway and we should expect top quality drive by the mid of 2014. Both these route are equally scenic as we go over the western ghats to get to the coastline.

Majestic Western Ghats

Mangalore being a quieter city as compared to Bangalore is growing rapidly. This is partly due to the student population making this city their temporary home. The city boasts a large number of educational institutions including popular medical and dental colleges. The city has seen a spurt of malls and multiplexes and the breaking down of old traditional residences to make way for newer apartment complexes. Regardless, this city is worth a visit for it mouthwatering seafood and pristine beaches.

Here is a quick list of things to do while you are in Mangalore:

Beaches: Someshwar and Ullal are the two popular beaches towards the south of Mangalore. Someshwar beach which is further away has a lot of character with rocks all around while Ullal is best enjoyed from Summer Sands beach resort or at the confluence of the river and the sea. (Note: Ullal beach is dangerous to venture into due to strong waves and undercurrents)Mangalore beaches

Towards the north of the city lies Tannirbavi beach which is again slightly unsafe for deep sea swimming but the adjacent Panambur beach is ideal for water sports. Further ahead is the less crowded Surathkal beach right opposite the NIT campus on the main Mangalore – Udupi highway. Continue driving on this route and you will hit another popular beach called Kapu close to Udupi. This beach is very popular among the youngsters and for its light house which makes for a good photo opportunity. The best time to visit Kapu is during sunset. Close by is the popular uninhabited St Mary’s Island which can be visited on government manned boats for a nominal fee during the day.

Back in Mangalore, you can do a bit of shopping at the many new malls such as City Centre or Bharat Mall or the local Hampankatta Market. But the best part of this city is its local cuisines and its Ice Cream parlors.Ideal Ice Cream Parlor

One must visit Ideals Ice Cream parlor to try out popular varieties such as Gudbad, Parfait, Banana Split, Tiramisu, Royal Falooda and many more. They have quite a few branches across the city and are priced between Rs 20 – Rs 75. We highly recommended this joint. Popular restaurants such as Maharaja, Goldfinch and Amanthran serve the best mangalorean cuisines. Kane Masala Fry, Crab Sukka, Prawn Chilli, Chicken Ghee Roast, Kori Roti and sannas (soft idlis) are popular among the locals and are priced between Rs 80 to Rs 350 for Kane fish. So the next time you happen to visit this sultry city, don’t forget to visit one of the local restaurants.

Pomfret Masala Fry

Pomfret Masala Fry

Cashews are very common in this region and are used liberally in many preparations. Sweets such as Cashew Macrons, Banana Halwa, Sweet Potato Sticks (Sonte), Rice laddoos and Plum cakes are popular in the region.Kanthi Church lit up for Christmas

The city is connected by private bus service which is clean, fast and cheap followed by Autorikshaws. The best time to visit is between October – February and don’t forget to carry your sunscreen lotion or an umbrella. If you do not wish to drive down, you can opt for the reliable KSRTC Volvo bus service or take the train from Bangalore which offers splendid views of the western ghats early in the morning. Mangalore offers many accommodation options from service apartments to hotels and are very decently priced.

If we have missed anything interesting in Mangalore, do comment below.

Greatescapes score for beach towns: 8/10

Your escapist,

Brian

We had heard about those lavish and extravagant punjabi weddings but never got a chance to truly experience it until recently.

November – December are peak wedding seasons in the north with almost every wedding hall booked out. We were really excited to be part of one of our good friend’s wedding in Delhi during the last week of November and decided to make the most of this opportunity. Week long festivities and mouth watering food are the main attractions here :p (Tip1: Best to book Delhi flights in advance as they tend to go up close to travel dates. We prefer to fly Indigo, Jet Airways and Air India as they are mostly ontime)

Packing started a week in advance sorting out traditional wear for the Dhol and main wedding ceremony and party wear for the sangeeth party. We barely managed to keep our luggage under the 15 kg limit and began to wonder how we would manage on our return with additional shopping from Delhi. (Tip 2: Carry your best clothes as you will never be over dressed in a punjabi wedding)

We landed at the domestic airport T1 around 8.15pm and had to que outside for EasyCabs as they were in high demand. After a 15 minute wait, we managed to get one and reached our destination (Paschim Vihar) in 45 mins. We even had to pay for the cab’s airport parking charges (Rs 90) which I felt was not justified. (Tip 3: Best to book your cab in advance esp during evenings or early mornings. Try Taxi For Sure – 011 60601010 or Quick Cabs – 011 67676767 which offer the best rates of Rs 14 – Rs 16 per km. Tip 4: If you are keen to use the Airport Metro, you will have to take a shuttle to Terminal 3 from where you can board the Airport Express train to the city.)

Dhol guy

Dhol party

We managed to do all our last minute shopping at Karol Bagh which is well connected by the metro and is one of the popular shopping hubs in the city. Other hotspot for shopping are Sarojini Nagar Market and Lagpat Nagar. The only issue is that most of these markets are focused towards women. We also managed to do a quick stopover at a local restaurant to try out the quintessential Butter Chicken and naan. (Tip 5: If you plan to travel extensively in a metro, pick up a metro card and load it with cash. You can return this card at the end of your trip and get a refund of the amount leftover along with the depost.)

Evenings were dedicated to wedding festivities starting with the Dhol ceremony with unlimited drinks and dancing followed by yummy punjabi food. We noticed a lot of money being given away by the family members to the dhol artists and the servents during these festivities and in all subsequent ceremonies to avoid bad karma on the bride and groom.

Mehandi ceremony

Mehandi ceremony

The next day, we decided to visit the famous Dilli Haat which is again bang next to INA metro station. After three metro changes, we managed to reach our destination in about 75 minutes. Considering that we were in one corner of Delhi, it wasn’t so bad. Dilli Haat is an open air market where traders from all across the country display their art and offering local cuisines. A great place to spend half a day and look for some traditional handicrafts, clothes and home decor. One stall that stood out was TJ’s which is essentially products made by the inmates of  the famous Tihar Jail. Their products are quite popular and their chefs are in high demand. (Tip 6: Must try the famous Fruit Beer, Chicken Momo’s and Avadh cuisine while you are visiting Dilli haat. Frankly, we didn’t fancy their Fruit Beer so much.)

The sangeeth ceremony was like another party with a wide variety of starters, alcohol and lots of dancing. If you’ve noticed, food, booze and dancing are pretty much a constant across all these ceremonies. Finally, the bride to be and the groom see each other for the first time in many days and are pulled on to the dance floor soon after their families greet each other. The evening comes to an end with mouth watering food and desserts.

Bride to be

Bride during a ceremony before the wedding

Bride and groom dancing at their Sangeeth

Bride and groom dancing during their Sangeeth

Things go into hyper mode on the main wedding day with the haldi ceremony (both the bride and groom are smeared with turmeric paste by their respective family and friends). The women dash to the local parlor for their makeup session while the men ready their Kurthas and Sherwanis. The barath (groom’s procession) leaves the groom’s residence after some rituals (groom’s sister feeds the horse) and heads towards the wedding hall. The band leads the way playing popular tunes with the family members dancing all the way to the venue.

Barath party leading to the wedding venue

Barath procession to the wedding venue

At the venue, the bride’s sister and cousins demand money from the groom and block his entry. After some negotiations, he is let in and allowed to sit on the dais. Moments later the bride arrives and the exchange of garlands take place again with a bit of drama🙂

Wedding ceremony

Garland exchange during the wedding

At this point, we soon realized that it’s already 1am and the actual ceremony hasn’t begin. After a formal sit down dinner, the wedding ceremony begins at around 2.30 am.  This is when we decided to wish them both and head back home since some of us were flying back the next morning.

For someone living in the north, this may sound common, but for a south Indian where weddings are seriously boring affairs, this was surely an experience of a lifetime. Does make the entire experience of getting married more lively.

So, the next time you get invited to attend a punjabi wedding, don’t hesitate one bit. Oh, and we did manage to get all our shopping back without spending on excess baggage🙂

If you have a wedding experience to share with us in an interesting city, do write to brian.ammanna@gmail.com with pictures and we’ll upload them on our blog.

Here is a quick attempt to share our experiences with the various resorts, homestays that we encounter during our many travels. If you have recently visited a resort and would like to share your experience, feel free to write to us at brian@greatescapes.co.in

Traditional map of Coorg district also known as Kodagu

Traditional map of Coorg district also known as Kodagu which is 250kms from Bangalore

A few weeks back, we managed to get the old gang together and booked a few rooms at the newly opened Club Mahindra Resort at Virajpet in Coorg. Coorg is one of the most visited tourist destinations in South India for its thick vegetation, natural beauty and rich coffee estates. Club Mahindra members get preference but non-members can book this resort too.

This swank new property is located about 15 kms outside the town of Virajpet surrounded by coffee estates and perched on hill at an incline. The lobby is located right at the top to give you a 180 degree view of the valley.

Lobby at Club Mahindra, Virajpet

With constant rains and two infants traveling with us, we managed to reach the property at around 5pm which is about 275kms from Bangalore. That was a good 9 hour drive from Bangalore which would ideally take 6 hours. Patches of the road are in bad shape once you take the detour from the Mysore – Madikeri highway but manageable. The property however was a sight for sore eyes and is very well laid out with cottages and studio apartments tucked away on one side.

Cottages at Club Mahindra, Virajpet

Cottages at Club Mahindra, Virajpet

We got lucky to be housed in the first cottage complex which meant minimum walking distance to the restaurant and entertainment centre. Yes, they have a fully furnished entertainment centre to engage both the young and the old with games like carom, table tennis, chess, air hockey along with special shows for kids during weekends.

The most important part of our holiday is food and clean accommodation and this place lives up to its reputation. All meals are buffet styled with the entire food package (breakfast, lunch and dinner) working out to about Rs 1200 – 1300 which is decent considering the huge spread they offer. We also loved their dedicated kids section where special food is offered to children in colorful cutlery. A la carte options are also available if you do not believe in buffets.

Outside seating at the restaurant

Outside seating at the restaurant in Club Mahindra, Virajpet

The cottages are spacious with a living cum kitchenette stocked with utensils, refrigerator, coffeemaker and a flat screen TV. The living room comes with a dining table and a sofa cum bed and the bedroom is also well appointed with a common balcony. This is where we spent most of our time socializing with friends or just lazing around admiring the greenery outside. (Do note that their club house is under construction and hence there is a barricade put up which kinda obstructs the view. But this should be sorted in a few months.)

Sofa cum bed in the living room

Sofa cum bed in the living room

Overall we had a relaxing time at the Club Mahindra resort with courteous staff who are always smiling. This is one property worth visiting if you are looking for some peaceful time surrounded by green cover. Non-members are charged between Rs 6800 – Rs 9000 per night depending on the time of the year and the type of accommodation. Use this link to know more about the property – http://www.clubmahindra.com/our-resorts/club-mahindra-virajpet-coorg/

You can book online via Makemytrip or booking.com but do plan in advance as there is heavy demand during weekends.

Main lobby with restaurant and entertainment area

Main lobby with restaurant and entertainment area

Greatescapes score for Club Mahindra Resort, Virajpet: 8.5/10

your escapist,

Brian

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