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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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Review: Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai

Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport is a great place for multi cuisine-dining in a luxurious and spacious environment. But be warned, this lobby-level restaurant at the four star hotel is already pretty popular and long queues are inevitable for those who turn up late for the buffet breakfast. During our recent weekend staycation at the hotel, we enjoyed an indulgent dinner and refreshing breakfast at Saptami and came away quite impressed and comfortably satiated. Here is a visual account of our forays into their culinary offerings.

The interiors

Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport
Lots of bright light, thanks to floor to ceiling windows
Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport
along with swanky seating spaces and interesting wall elements
Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport
served as a great precursor to the courses that would soon grace our plates.

Ambience is very important to us when it comes to eating out – after all, great music, seating and lighting are as crucial to the fine dining experience as the taste and presentation of the dishes themselves. Saptami scored well on all aspects and we were led to a nice corner table – we hate sitting in the midst of a busy restaurant.

The food

Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
For lunch, we gorged on paneer butter masala
Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
and succulent kebabs (there were non-Indian delicacies as well)
Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
along with decadent desserts featuring cakes, tarts and Indian sweets
Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
while breakfast was a beguiling melange of assorted cheese,
Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
warm croissants and other baked goodies fresh from the oven,
Food at Saptami, Holiday Inn Mumbai
and fresh fruits for an even fresher start to the day.

Maintaining great taste, presentation and quality across such an exhaustive array of dishes couldn’t have been an easy task but the staff at Saptami managed it with aplomb. There was something to delight everyone at the dinner and breakfast buffets along with juices and a choice of still and sparkling water. But we have to say, the attentive service and friendly host were the icing on the cake.

Saptami at Holiday Inn Mumbai International Airport is open everyday from 6 to 10:30 AM for breakfast, 12 noon to 3 PM for lunch and 7 to 11:30 PM for dinner. For reservations, call +91 9004617824 or 022 40851895.

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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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Panchgani with Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley

For most of our lives, Panchgani has only been a brief stopover during a holiday in Mahabaleshwar. But on the weekend before Ankita’s birthday, we decided to finally give the beautiful hill-station in Maharashtra its due.

Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley
Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley

It took us around five hours to reach Panchgani from Mumbai, with a little halt at Pune to break the long drive. We were glad to see that our homestay at Godavali Village was marked on Google Maps and a bumpy, pebble-strewn ride later, we were nearly at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley. The route to the house had been turned marshy by heavy rains and we had to park our car outside a nearby temple. Once there, we could only see the roof of the house. Because to enter, one had to descend a longish flight of stairs. It was almost like making our way into a secret hideout.

A rose in the garden at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley
A rose in the garden at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley

And once we lay our eyes on the gorgeous veranda overlooking Panchgani’s mountains, waterfalls and colourful township on the banks of Nagewadi River, we knew this was a secret worth keeping. A sumptuous lunch put us in the mood for a long nap and we decided to postpone our exploration for the following day.

Dusk at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley
Dusk at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley

The rains decided to grace the landscape again that evening and we sipped hot cups of masala chai on the veranda, mesmerised by the way the moisture draped itself over the valleys and foliage. We stayed on the deck until the sun dipped over the horizon and twilight cast its silvery web over the hills.

Sunrise at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley
Sunrise at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley

The next morning, slim cotton curtains let in the pre-dawn light, rousing us from a deep sleep. Excitedly, we settled on the armchairs in the veranda, facing the lush green garden and waiting for the sun to do its magical dance across the sky. The sunrise was as magnificent as we’d hoped it would be and the exotic birds flitting around the garden added to our joy. After a delicious breakfast prepared by the caretaker’s wife, we set out to refresh our memories of Panchgani’s scenic points and find new stories to write about.

View from Parsi Point
View from Parsi Point

The view from Table Land and Parsi Point was reminiscent of European landscapes – sweeping, verdant mountains lay spread out before our awed eyes with the sparkling river curving at their feet and the villages sprinkled with vibrant cottages. We enjoyed a jam puff at MV Roach & Sons, the oldest bakery in Panchgani, now run by the fourth generation and walked away with a bottle of Jambul honey from Paradise Apiary. The apiary was located alongside the Cheese Factory and an interesting display of vintage cars and a carriage.

Bhilar Nursery, Panchgani
Bhilar Nursery, Panchgani

It wasn’t strawberry season but we strolled through a nursery next to the Bhilar waterfall point anyway. Seeing little potted plants bursting with floral buds never fails to perk up our spirits. The waterfall was a healthy trickle in the distance.

Ropeway at Parsi Point
Ropeway at Parsi Point

After more scenic views at Sydney Point, which also featured a boardwalk suspended on ropes, and Harrison’s Folly which offered 360 degree views of the landscape, we made our way to Sherbaug Theme Park and Resort. It had a slightly ignored appearance but we were thrilled to walk through the cool, dark garden with its little staircases and swings. The theme park has been built around the erstwhile summer holiday palace of the Queen of Indore.

Sherbaug Theme Park
Sherbaug Theme Park

Today, it features a variety of jungle-themed luxury accommodation, fossil museum and cactus collection, horror house, laughing house, man-made waterfall and restaurant. We were most interested in the array of exotic cacti growing outside the fossil museum, which was also a remarkable study in the remains of dinosaurs, sharks and butterflies. The horror house tour got finished much too soon and we were in no mood to ruin our clothes at the waterfall with so many adventures ahead. So after our brief exploration, we decided to go hunting for Devrai Art Village.

Devrai Art Village
Devrai Art Village

The art village included a shop full of wonderful décor items such as wall hangings fashioned from impressions of Parle-G biscuits, red chillies and peanut pods, wall pieces carved out of real tree branches, sculptures of monkeys and floral installations. An NGO uses the money earned from the sale of these items to fund the living expenses and salaries of the artists behind them, who are none other than Adivasis from Gadchiroli and Chhattisgarh.

An artist at work for Devrai Art Village
An artist at work for Devrai Art Village

The best part was that we could also visit the workshops of the artists, which were located in the woods surrounding the shop. We had a great time chatting with the artists and their apprentices and watching them work with materials like rice husk, wax and clay. Panchgani thus proved to be a rejuvenating medley of picturesque nature and unconventional attractions.

View from Table Land, with waterfall
View from Table Land, with waterfall

Book your stay at Saffronstays Verandah by the Valley here. Rates begin at Rs 11800 per night for four adults. Also note that there are day-long power cuts on Tuesdays.

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