Category Archives: India

Mercure Dwarka: Rare Oasis in Devbhoomi

It was towards the end of September that we undertook the 1.5 hour drive from Porbandar Airport to Mercure Dwarka. But looking at the bright blue skies and light green foliage, one would never guess that many parts of the country were still in the grasp of the last vestiges of monsoon.

Windmill in Dwarka, Gujarat
Windmills on our way

Nevertheless, the numerous windmills on our way, grazing cattle and clumps of vegetation lulled us into a state of semi-stupor. And every time we’d shake ourselves awake, the beautiful scenery was exactly the same, rather like the fake driving scenes in films where the car is actually still and a movie projection creates the illusion of movement.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
The lobby
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Another glimpse of the lobby

As we neared the impressive facade of Mercure Dwarka, we glimpsed the glorious blue sea in the distance. And we knew there would be more to Dwarka than its famed stories of Krishna, the mischievous lord of the Hindu faith. Mercure Dwarka is easily the classiest and most sought-after hotel in this little town and when you enter, you feel no different than you would in a luxury hotel in a big city. The interiors feature infusions of maroon, purple and ochre in a white-dominated colour scheme. It was lunch time and we were ravenous but our Gujarati thalis were being readied. So we decided to check into our abode for the next couple of nights.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Our room
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
TV and writing desk

A beautiful portrait of Lord Krishna hung above the double bed while a cosy writing desk and large flat-screen TV occupied the other side of the room. The bathroom housed all the amenities we could need – including a shaving, dental and vanity set. There was also a coffee and tea maker beside the wardrobe. Only three stories of the hotel were operational then and our room looked out onto the tranquil lawn and main road. As far as we were concerned, this was no less than a five-star room (Mercure Dwarka is a four-star hotel). After a nice cup of Assam tea, we headed for lunch.

Gujarati thali at Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka
Gujarati thali for lunch
Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
Maakhan restaurant

The thali at Maakhan restaurant was colourful and delicious, featuring Gujarati delicacies such as sev tamatar sabzi, potato and brinjal preparation, khakra, kachori and sweetened dal. You can read more about the offerings at Maakhan here. We also loved sitting and soaking in the breeze in the outdoor smoking area adjacent to the restaurant. The staff always made us feel at home, and we were impressed with their ability to adjust in a small town like that, especially when a few of them hailed from Mumbai. On our final morning in Dwarka, we arose in time to watch a soft, golden sunrise unfold beyond the gates of the hotel.

Hotel Mercure Dwarka
The outdoor smoking area
Hotel Mercure Dwarka
Sunrise beyond the parking lot

There are numerous stories of Krishna associated with Dwarka, but to put it in a nutshell, it is where Krishna founded his kingdom after arriving from Mathura. Some believe that the town was swallowed by the sea after the death of the Lord, and there is some archaeological evidence to support this claim. True or not, we are glad to have found an oasis like Mercure Dwarka in this Devbhoomi (land of God).

Top places to visit in Dwarka

Nageshwar Jyotirlinga Temple, Dwarka

Nageshwar Jyotirlinga Mandir: A Shiva Temple with a serene courtyard, garden and magnificent Shiva statue. The temple also houses one of the 12 jyotirlingas cited in the Shiva Purana. Though not the most famous, it is our favourite place of worship in Dwarka.

Beach outside Mo Mata Mandir, Dwarka

Mo Mata Mandir and Beach: A hidden gem, this saffron and white temple is situated atop a cliff that affords stunning views of the beach below. After paying tribute at the temple with a heart-shaped pooja pit before it, descend the curved staircase leading to the beach and spend precious hours walking and watching the reflection of the sunset on the water ripples.

Rukmini Devi Temple, Dwarka

Rukmini Devi Temple: The temple dedicated to Krishna’s cohort is an architectural marvel and even atheists would enjoy examining the various carvings etched on the temple’s walls.

Bet Dwarka

Bet Dwarka: The main attraction of Bet Dwarka is the enjoyable (though crowded) ferry ride that gets you across the Gulf of Kutch to the island housing a temple and colourful market.

Dwarkadhish Mandir: Photography is not permitted at the most famous temple of Dwarka. It’s a huge temple complex and the main shrine is five storeys tall, carved in soft limestone. There are inevitably long queues for a darshan of the deity housed within.

Sudama Setu, Dwarka

Sudama Setu: The bridge near Dwarkadhish Mandir is probably our favourite attraction in Dwarka. Witnessing the spectacular sunset over the glittering Gomti River was for us, a far more spiritual experience than a visit to any temple. The walk over the bridge offers lovely views of the river and when you reach the other end, you can either sit on the banks of the river or walk down to the beach on the other side.

Mercure Dwarka features different room categories, along with a fitness centre and function room. Room tariff starts at USD 49 (Rs. 3204) and for bookings, click here.

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5 amazing facts about the Charminar

Every person who has been to Hyderabad would admit that an authentic travel experience to this city is incomplete without a trip to the Charminar along with a generous plate of biryani. Hotels in Hyderabad are usually filled with travelers from all over the world, wishing to take a closer look at the magnificent structure built in 1591. Besides the obvious beauty and grandeur, this popular heritage site holds many mysteries within its minarets, stones and walls.

Here are five astonishing facts about the Charminar that may come as a surprise:

Charminar was built to commemorate the end of plague

charminar
Credit: Siddiquabanu at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

While a few believe that Sultan Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah constructed Charminar in the memory of his queen Bhagmati, there’s another theory that is widely accepted. According to this theory, the massive structure was built to commemorate the end of the plague epidemic. Looking at his city in distress, the ruler had prayed that he would build a mosque if and when the plague menace ends.

Secret underground tunnel that links Charminar and the Golconda Fort 

Tricolor_Charminar
Credit: Mcprakash at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Did you know that there’s a secret tunnel within the monument but no one knows where it is located? The underground tunnel is said to be a secret escape route that enabled the royal family to get away in case of a siege. It connects the Charminar with the Golconda Fort, situated in the western part of Hyderabad.

A cat’s head is carved on one of the arches of the Charminar

Charminar_Minaret
Credit: Vu2sga at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

If you look closely at one of the arches on the eastern side of the Charminar, you would find a cat’s head carved in it. As mentioned earlier, the mosque was built to mark the end of plague. Since, plague is spread by infected rats and cats kill rats, the latter was included in the architecture to represent its role in eradicating the disease.

Charminar’s timekeeper clocks from 1889

Charminar Hyderabad
Credit: Pranav at https://www.flickr.com/photos/neychurluvr/4371614605, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A set of four clocks have been keeping close watch on the Arc de Triomphe of the East since 1889! These clocks are set on the four arches facing the former royal streets in four cardinal directions. The 150-year old clocks had travelled from London during the rule of Mir Mehbood Ali Khan.

Charminar stands tall at the centre of Hyderabad city

It is believed that Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah erected Charminar right at the centre of Hyderabad, as per the original layout of the city. The entire city was planned around the historical monument in a grid iron pattern. No wonder you can get a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of the Charminar.

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Top Things to Do in Hyderabad

(This post is by Ankita)

Five years ago, I booked a bus ticket from Pune to Hyderabad and took off to visit my best friend, who had an enviable position at Google (she still does, but now even more enviably in San Francisco :D). I was a post-graduate student at FLAME (Foundation for Liberal and Management Education) and it was the first time I’d be travelling alone on an overnight bus. Strangely, I’d never felt more liberated. I wasn’t a travel blogger then but solo travel still thrilled my heart like nothing else. Early the next morning, I reached my stop and met my groggy-eyed friend. Since I was her guest, I didn’t have to worry about hotels in Hyderabad.

Over the next four days, we talked into late hours of the night, toured the quaint streets and historical sites of Hyderabad with the aid of wily and chatty rickshaw walas (it was a pain haggling with them as they never went by the meter) and painted the town red with my friend’s colleagues at Google. By the end of the trip, I didn’t want to say goodbye but I checked my Air India flight status and it was dot on time. While waiting in the lounge, I managed to jot down what we’d done over the past few days. And that’s how I’m able to tell you about the top things to do in Hyderabad (I’ve checked to see that nothing is dated), despite my treacherous memory.

  1. Make a haunting trip to Golconda Fort at dusk
Golkonda_Fort_on_a_rainy_day
Credit: Ritwick Sanyal at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

The mesmerising architecture of this 12th century fort is best experienced in the evening, followed by a magical sound and light show that brings historical events to life. Golconda was once the capital of the Qutub Shahi kings, who constructed the fort with eight gates and 87 bastions. Interestingly, mines in the area have produced some of the most famous diamonds such as the Koh-i-Noor, the Hope Diamond and Nassak Diamond.

  1. Tour the lovely Charminar
charminar
Credit: Siddiquabanu at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

This monument and mosque dates back to 1591 and will be recognised easily by most Indians. Located on the banks of the Musi River, it is surrounded by beguiling markets where you’ll find bangles of every colour. It was intended to be the centrepiece of the Old City and is designed in the Indo-Islamic style, with inputs from Persian architects.

  1. Have biryani at Shadab’s or 4 Seasons
Chicken_Hyderabadi_Biryani
Credit: Dheerajk88 at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

Biryani is the queen of Hyderabad’s culinary scene, along with haleem and other Mughlai delights. But finding the best biryani is not an easy task, unless you’re visiting a Muslim friend’s home. We enjoyed great Hyderabadi biryani at Hotel Shadab near Charminar though 4 Seasons (which has multiple outlets) also comes with decent recommendations.

  1. Enjoy a giant wheel ride at Numaish
Ferris_Wheel_in_Night_at_Numaish
Credit: Email2nprasad at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en

Numaish is actually an annual shopping exhibition in Nampally, along with an array of joy rides and food stalls. The colourful fair is worth an entire evening’s entertainment and while the giant wheel belts are worryingly loose, we recommend a ride or two. Vendors from all over India sell local garments and jewellery at Numaish.

  1. Have dinner at Coco’s Bar & Grill

Banjara Hills is one of the posh neighbourhoods of Hyderabad and if it’s a windy open air dinner you crave, look no further than Coco’s Bar & Grill. Great music, barbecued delights and heady drinks come together at Coco’s for a memorable dinner.

  1. Party at 10 Downing Street

After dinner, take the party ahead at 10 Downing Street, a famous pub at Begumpet. There’s a different theme on every day of the week – we were there for Desi Saturday and danced like there was no tomorrow. Fantastic drinks and starters served in a posh ambience with period furniture and Colonial artwork make this an absolute winner.

  1. Take a walk at the Botanical Gardens
A_Green_Walkway_in_Botanical_Garden_Hyderabad_Telangana
Credit: Rk20july at Wikimedia Commons, licensed under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

The Hyderabad Botanical Garden is spread across 120 acres in the Kothaguda Reserve Forest. With numerous fruit and timber trees, medicinal, ornamental and aquatic plants, the garden is a wonderland for nature lovers. One can also explore beautiful meadows, rock formations and ponds interspersed with the dense foliage.

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Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka: Gujarati Thalis and more

Thalis are the embodiment of Indian culinary ethos – colours, variety, a melange of every flavour and best of all, limitless refills. The last point is usually not of much use to us, since we barely manage to finish one serving of an elaborate thali. But at Mercure Dwarka’s Maakhan restaurant, we actually mustered the courage (and tummy space) to have another helping of the dessert, snack and bhaingan aloo ki sabzi (potato brinjal curry). While the Gujarati thali was no doubt the highlight of their gastronomical offerings, the a la carte menu and buffet breakfasts had us smiling ear to ear as well. Let’s dig into the details.

Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
The interiors

An earthy colour scheme with nicely lit alcoves and ample seating space made Maakhan seem very inviting. We were a large group that inevitably ended up at one of the long corner tables, although for breakfast, we’d sit at a table next to the veranda (which was actually the smoking area but the windy outdoor space endeared itself to us for other reasons). We were at Mercure Dwarka for two nights and enjoyed most of our meals at Maakhan.

Maakhan at Mercure Dwarka
Seating spaces

The aforementioned thali was the first meal we had at the restaurant, after checking into the hotel and it impressed us completely. The tomato sev sabzi was quintessentially Gujarati, as was the potato brinjal preparation and sweet dal. We were offered a choice of theplas or roti and of course, we chose the local thepla. Some khakra, kachori, salad, rice and gulab jamun for dessert completed the perfect luncheon. The ubiquitous glass of masala chaas (on the milder side) accompanied our sumptuous meal.

An a la carte meal
An a la carte meal

That night, we enjoyed a buffet dinner which featured numerous varieties of Indian and international vegetarian dishes. Yes, the restaurant doesn’t serve meat or eggs because Dwarka, being a Hindu pilgrimage site, is an all-vegetarian state. However, the variety of vegetarian food is more than enough to keep food ennui at bay. For lunch on the following day, we ordered a buttery paneer preparation, non-sweet dal tadka, an interesting bharwan aloo (stuffed potato) and pasta in red sauce.

Food at Makhan, Mercure Dwarka
Ice-cream for dessert

The pasta, dal and paneer were supremely delicious. The cheesy, flavourful pasta assured us that Chef Inderpal Singh could do a great job with non-Indian dishes as well. The thick and creamy dal was so comforting that we ordered another bowl. The potatoes had a luxuriant cream cheese stuffing but the gravy was a tad tangy. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful, nap-inducing meal. Yet, we made room for chocolate and vanilla ice-cream at the end of it all.

Breakfast at Maakhan, Mercure Dwarka
Breakfast buffet

Breakfasts are often our favourite meal while travelling because not only are they usually complimentary, they also feature the widest variety of dishes. We missed South Indian cuisine (idlis and dosas) at Maakhan but thoroughly enjoyed the poha, upma, fruits, salads, flavoured yoghurt and muffins. The variety of juices were also very refreshing though there was nothing to beat the serene perfection of their masala chai.

Sweet temptations
Sweet temptations

Have that thali!

Where: Hotel Mercure Dwarka, Porbandar-Dwarka Highway, Dwarka, Gujarat
When: Everyday, all day
Damages: A little expensive on the pocket, but worth it

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Staycation at Holiday Inn Mumbai

A sense of deja vu enveloped us as we entered the lobby of Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport, for we were reminded of our stay at Holiday Inn New Delhi International Airport. This time, we were not in the city of Mughals but in the city of Ganpati visarjan, vada pav and Bandra bandstand, which also happened to be our hometown. Ankita was a little tired from her trip to Dwarka, Gujarat (tales to come very soon) and a sweet staycation at a plush hotel with a relaxing spa treatment, rooftop pool and all-day dining was just what the travel doctor ordered.

Holiday Inn Mumbai lobby
Lobby
Room at Holiday Inn Mumbai
Our room

The vast lobby was very tastefully done, with walls plastered with botanical art, high chandeliers and the warm-toned lighting that adds an extra touch of luxury. We were given a room on the seventh floor, not with great views because this was an airport hotel after all, but with a comfy bed, soft carpeting, TV, writing desk and tea/coffee maker – all in an earthy colour scheme. Our bathroom was not too bad either. The only thing missing was a balcony. After a refreshing cup of coffee, we set about exploring the hotel.

Fitness centre at Holiday Inn Mumbai
Fitness centre
View from Holiday Inn Mumbai
View from the fitness centre

Tattva spa was on the very same floor, while the fitness centre and swimming pool were on the top floor, along with a beautiful rooftop garden. The best part about the fitness centre was the view of Mumbai city with the mountains beyond. Of course, the array of fitness equipment was also impressive. In the evening, we enjoyed treatments at Tattva spa (shirodhara for Ankita and potli massage for Mohit) and you can read all about it here. After our treatment, we made it to the rooftop right in time for sunset.

Rooftop garden at Holiday Inn Mumbai
Rooftop garden

We really like the space-saving concept of wall gardens, which has become popular in hotels worldwide. We wandered around admiring the flowers and views in the soothing saffron warmth of the descending sun. Late evening was the best time to take a dip in the glorious infinity pool with sweeping views of the city and mountains and miniature palms on either side.

Pool at Holiday Inn Mumbai
The rooftop pool

The pool seemed to be extremely popular with the hotel’s guests – we went there many times during our stay and not once did we find it absolutely empty. The pigeons of the area had made it their favoured haunt as well, and many kept us company from the ledges as we floated on the deep blue water. Lying down on the lounge chair after a good swim and a glass of cool water (or something headier if you prefer that) made us feel like all was right with the world.

72 bar at Holiday Inn Mumbai
72 bar

We enjoyed a scrumptious dinner and breakfast at Saptami, the all-day dining restaurant at the lobby but more about that in our next post. 72, the bar adjacent to the restaurant seemed to have many exciting offers as well. Here’s some information to help you enjoy a staycation at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport like we did:

Address: Near Sakinaka Metro Station, Sakinaka Junction, Andheri Kurla Road, Andheri East, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400072
Phone: 022 4085 1800
Tariff: Rooms begin at around 5000 INR per night. Book here.

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