Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving in India

It hit me tonight that it’s the first time in ten years I am not happily slaving in the kitchen during Thanksgiving. This is the end result of cooking for eleven hours at my sister’s place in NYC (2005).

video

To not break the *cooking* tradition, this is what I made myself for Thanksgiving this year.


Happy Turkey Day y'all!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pondicherry and Auroville

I shouldn't title this trip with "Pondicherry" because we were hardly there. We spent most of our waking hours exploring Auroville but after three days, I am still unsure if I get it. In a nutshell, as I understand it, Auroville is a project that was dreamed and started by "The Mother" of a place "... where all human beings of good will, sincere in their aspiration, could live freely as citizens of the world, obeying one single authority, that of the supreme Truth ...". It has been nearly 40 years since the birth of Auroville and today, it is close to 2100 acres and mostly populated with forest, fruit trees and about 2000 people.

If I can describe Auroville in one word, it'd be serene. At first glance, Auroville looks like expatriates have invaded India. More than 40% of the population is of European descent.


We rented bicycles at first but all the bicycles were old and wobbly and the lights doesn't work so we got some TVS/moped instead, which I think is the best way to get around Auroville. Here's Pritika and Livio.


Afsana Guest House - is where we stayed.


An Aurovillian home - mosaic rooftop and random statues in the garden. We were told this house was built by an American lady but currently home to a Spaniard couple.


Dynamised water - good enough to drink without the need to filter or boil and believed to cure various ailments. You could get this for free at the Visitor's Center.


Matrimandir - is situated right in the center of Auroville. We didn't get to visit because you have to get an entry pass, which is not something possible on weekends. This building took 37 years to construct, is used for meditation and does not belong to any religion.


Another Aurovillan homes. Smurf's house?


Next to Ami Guest House is an area where you will notice strange things like motorcycles balancing on the top of trees making the whole place looking a creepy adult playground. Livio and Anand are playing on a merry-go-round.


Roadside Idly and masala chai stop on our way to Pondicherry.

More pictures of Pondi and Auroville

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ooty

Ooty is a popular hill station in Tamil Nadu that was established by the British in the early 19th century. This scenic and somewhat romantic place is about 6-8 hours drive from Bangalore and is perfect for an extended cool and relaxing weekend getaway from the noisy and dusty city.


Meet this weekend's travel buddies Madhu and Kan with Ravee, our excellent driver cum Ooty tour guide (Ravee is very familiar with Ooty because he and his wife came here for their honeymoon) and a random old female monkey. View from Dolphin Nose.

Coonoor toy train
Toy train ride to Coonor.


Tea plantation at Highfield Tea factory, Coonor


Botanical Garden, Ooty

We stayed at Destiny’s Farm located in Emerald Hill or Dam, about 25 km away from Ooty. The hotel has a farm/cowboy theme and the place looks more like Texas than India. To get here, you have to park your car about 1 km away and a huge tractor will bring you to the hotel because the roads were apparently dugout by the government to protect the wildlife in the forest reserve. If you decide to stay here, I would suggest this be your first or last stop because it's quite a pain to go back and forth Ooty. The tariff includes trekking, fishing, horseback riding and Kum Ba Yah bonfire to keep you busy during your stay.
http://www.littlearth.in/destiny/


Kan taking a nap after fishing.


Horseback-riding.


The farmstay is fenced with electric barbed wire to keep wild animals away. Here is our trek destination, right outside the fenced perimeter. The locals use coracle to cross the dam bringing with them fresh vegetables and fruits.

On our way back to Bangalore, we drove through Mudumalai National Park and saw some wild elephants, mongoose and peacocks.


More Ooty Pictures.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mysore

Madhu was in Bangalore for work and we used his company-paid car and driver to go on a one-day trip. We left Bangalore at the crack of dawn and after about three hours, we arrived just in time for some masala chai and dosa. Mysore is one of those places that if you live in Bangalore, there's no rush and will always be an opportunity, hence after four months of India and about seventeen attempts, I've finally arrived. I think I would have been more impressed with Mysore sights if it was my first stop in India.


Tipu’s Summer Palace. Foreigners pays Rs200 to enter and Indians pay Rs20. Madhu paid the latter amount. We spent about 30 minutes here and then drove to St. Philomena’s Cathedral, which is one of the largest in India but looked like any other cathedrals to me.


Sandalwood Factory. Mysore is well known for producing sandalwood goods but we were told unless you go to a government-operated shop, you probably won't get genuine sandalwood products. Other shops will sell wood carvings infused with sandalwood scent which would cost 80% lesser but just as pretty.


Chamundi Hill. There are two ways to get to the Sri Chamundeswari Temple; drive or climb the 1000-plus steps from the bottom of the hill where the Nandi statue sits. Somehow, we managed to do both.


Nandi


Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary. We took a boat to have a closer look at some egrets but there were also some creepy crocodiles hiding under the lake or behind the bushes.

Maharajah Palace, also known as the Mysore Palace. The palace interior was filled with stained glass, mosaics and gaudy colored paintings. Within the palace compound, we went on an elephant ride. The palace closes at five o'clock but our driver Ravee said we absolutely have to return here at dusk because it will be illuminated by ninety-six thousand light bulbs, which only happens on Sundays and during the Dussehra festival. Fortunately for us, it was Sunday.


Mysore Palace

More pictures.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

30 in Bali

Bali is beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeautiful! Thank you for your wonderful birthday wishes! Muaks! ~PO

Since I’m so backlogged with postings I have consolidated my entire Bali trip into this one post.

Initially, I planned this as an all-girls trip but all my girls backed out because apparently they either just got back from Phuket or Bangkok or had promised their boyfriends or husbands that they would do Bali with them, hence, just like any other weekend trips I have been taking in India, I went with two dudes. Madhu and Iqbal are people I’ve known since I was eight, lost touch and then reconnected recently. This also means that at some point in our lives, I was taller than them.



We split the trip into two locations; Seminyak and Ubud.

Hotels we stayed
It’s quite obvious that Bali is marketed to couples because I reserved rooms beforehand and wanted to add an extra bed but both hotels said it was against their policies and insisted we get another room for the 3rd adult guest. Eventually, they put us up in suites, which means more expensive but sickeningly sexy.

The Kayana in Seminyak

Our private garden and heated pool.


Bedroom


Bathroom and outdoor private heated pool, separated by a sliding door.

Warwick Ibah in Ubud

Our singles honeymoon suite


Outdoor shower.

Fun activities

1. Trekking in Ubud - There’s a path right behind the Ibah hotel that will lead you to a small temple and as you walk farther, you will get to a valley overlooking beautiful honeymoon suites on your left and miles and miles of lalang fields on your right. The locals know this hill as “bukit cinta” (love hill).


The hills are alive...

Lalang fields

2. White Water Rafting – Highly recommended. The rapids may look intimidating but this is so much fun! Along the 2.5 hours ride, you hardly have to peddle at all because the current is pretty strong. Towards the end of the ride, we had a four-meter free fall.

If you decide to do this, book directly with the rafting organizers and not through the hotel because with a bit of haggling and flirting, you should be able to get 50% discount. Madhu did for us.

This is the hike we have to take to get to our starting point.


We made a quick stop at a waterfall.


Intense rapids.


This woman climbed about 1000 steps balancing our deflated rafts on her head.


Stephanie, our raft-mate at the complimentary lunch that came after rafting.


Scenery on our way back to Ubud.

3. Surf in Kuta – If you have never surf before, this would be a good place to start. First of all, the water is nice and warm so you don’t have to rent or invest in a wet suit. Secondly, the water is shallow but the waves can go as high as 5 ft. At some point, someone’s surfboard hit my head but it was fine because I was surfing in Bali. The sunset in Kuta beach is very pretty.


Surfing at Kuta.


Sunset in Kuta beach.

4. Watch a show – any show. We went to a kecak dance call Fire, Trance and Monkey in Uluwatu.


5. Visit a temple – You are required to wear a sarong over your bottoms regardless if you have long pants or skirt on. We borrowed ours from the hotel.


6. Beach Massage – If an old lady asks if you want a massage while you are reading by the beach, say yes! This is one of the best massages I’ve had and being a massage whore, I have to say her strokes and strength was at least a hundred times better than the massages I've had at hotel spas. A 45-minutes full body massage costs US$6.


7. Clubbing in Seminyak – There’s a stretch of bars/clubs by Seminyak beach, which name escapes me but we heard this area is hopping and boy, were we disappointed. It was a Thursday night and I guess mid October wasn’t a peak season, I again find myself dancing in an enormous club with two drunk dudes. The advantage of this is that we get to club-hop without paying cover charge. We went to a lounge call Dejavu and Iqbal got hit on by a white man.

Absolutely must eat:

1. Dinner Mosaic in Ubud. The exec chef here used to work at French Laundry in . We had the Chef’s Surprise menu with wine pairing. The meal was out of this world and I was stuffed and trashed by the end of it.


2. Kudeta in Seminyak. The food is delicious and desserts were scrumptious! When you are done with dinner, head to the bar and chill out with a glass of flavored mojitos and watch moonlit Balinese waves.

Starters at Kudeta


Yummy watermelon vodka mojito

3. Babi Guling at Ibu Oka in Ubud. Mmmmmmmm… I can still taste the moist pork and crispy pig skin in my mouth. Get here by noon because we were told they sell out by 2pm and only open for lunch.


4. Nasi goreng anywhere. The one at Kayana hotel was super delicious maybe because we were pissed drunk and wanted a late night snack and the nasi goreng was super fragrant and flavorful.

5. Terang Bulan on the streets of Kota and Seminyak. This is an Indonesian delicacy and a walking heart attack. A similar pancake can be found in Malaysia with peanut, sugar and sweet corn filling call “Mang Chang Kueh” (literally translated “Frustrated Cake”). Terang Bulan is filled with sugar, chocolate rice and freshly grated cheddar cheese and if you ask for a “special” one, the chef will add about 5 large scoops of butter. We finished the medium-sized pancake in one sitting accompanied by a bottle of Moet at midnight.


6. Bebek Bengkel in Ubud. This place has yummy Balinese food but their specialty is deep-fried duck. I like this place because you are surrounded by paddy fields, so try to go before sunset and don’t forget to bring mosquito repellent spray.


Shopping
1. Balinese painting – Iqbal and I were trekking in Ubud and we stumbled upon a random painter. Turned out that his youngest daughter has the same birth date as I do so I bought a couple of paintings from him.


2. Balinese Furniture – On our way from Seminyak to Ubud, we passed by at least a hundred wholesale furniture stores and most of them very affordable. The question is how to ship it home (in my case, wasn’t sure whether to ship it to NYC or to KL), so I didn’t get any, yet.
P/S: If you tell the salesperson to ship it to a foreign country, they can make the cost appear lower for the customs.

After furniture-shopping, we drove for another 30 minutes and stopped at a jewelry store and I suddenly realized I had left my precious D40 camera in one of the furniture store. Without wasting any time, our super duper driver I Gede Suartana called up his friend, borrowed his motorcycle and rode it back to the furniture store (in heavy traffic, motorcycles is faster than cars). I just had to give him a big tip.

Our driver I Gede Suartana (His handphone #081 338 619 467)


I love everything Bali.

Thank you Oi Yen and Nick for excellent restaurant recommendations and Madhu and Iqbal for being 30 and single.

More Bali pictures