Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Champaner & The Glory that Surrounds It

From : The DNA
16 November 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- History, Spirituality, Royalty, Natural Beauty & a Unique Craft @ Champaner, Pavgadh, Jambughoda & Sankheda

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

A Month Ago, (DNA, 16 Oct 14) we explored Patan, a recently declared UNESCO World Heritage Site, but Champaner was given the same honour more than 10 years ago in 2004, as the only complete and unchanged Islamic pre-Mughal city.

In 1484, Sultan Mahmud Begarah took possession of the Pavgadh Hill fort and renamed it Muhammadabad. Champaner was constructed as the Capital City of Gujarat by the 16th Century.

Today the town sees hordes of visitors, but 99.9% of them head only to Pavgadh Hill to the temple of Kalika Mata – belived to be a Shaktipeeth because Sati’s toe is supposed to have fallen here. Unusually, there is a shrine built over the temple dedicated to Muslim Saint Sadanshah, who supposedly pacified Mahakali, who in a fit of rage had set out to destroy the world.

It is possible to take your vehicle half way up the hill to the parking area, which has a basic Government rest house with very nice staff, who have snacks and tea on offer (if they are open) and usable washrooms. The view from their basic outdoor dining is gorgeous and with a steaming cup of tea and piping hot pakodas, you can forget the world and the crowds outside.

Many pilgrims climb the Pavgadh hill in pilgrimage (4-5 hours round trip), but for those less physically inclined, there is a mono-cable ropeway that can carry 1200 people per hour. However, this ropeway only operates in certain seasons and is often closed for repairs and maintenance, so be prepared for that eventuality.

The Champaner Heritage Site encompasses this temple, the living town of Champaner and the Heritage Buildings spread all over the area, many of which still lie unexcavated. You can see some of these monuments as you drive up the hill. If something looks interesting, park your vehicle (at a proper space that doesn’t obstruct other traffic) and get out for a walk. Walking around these monuments is the only way to truly appreciate their size and intricate work.

The ASI Website lists over 35 monuments that have been studied, but not all of them are easily accessible. Our car often had its capabilities tested to the maximum on some of the side roads and we still couldn’t find some of the monuments on the list. We treated the whole exercise as a treasure hunt and had loads of fun.

The main series of monuments is located directly opposite the path that leads up to Pavgadh Hill. The Jami Masjid here is accepted to be the model for later mosque architecture in India. Some of these Historic sites, now house Government offices. If you ask nicely, they will let you take a walk around their premises.

Champaner is 154 km away from Ahmedabad and takes around 2.5 hours to drive, bypassing Baroda, via Halol. However, you can also spend Friday night in Baroda and then it is less than an hours drive (58 km) to Champaner. You can choose to return to Ahmedabad via Baroda (stopping here for lunch), We however prefer the more scenic route via Jambughoda (25 km) & Sankheda (40km). Then another 167 km to Ahmedabad, for a round trip of around 400 km.

The Nature Lovers Retreat is a Heritage Property of the Jamughoda Royal family, that has guesthouse style rooms and serves brilliant food. Call at least 24 hours ahead to book for lunch. You may not see any Wildlife, but the Greenery is a soothing balm to the soul. Next time we may try the recently opened Champaner Heritage Resort or the Mount Heritage Resort. If you want to explore further, head to the Jhund Hanuman temple in the sanctuary, with its 18foot high murti, believed to date to the Mahabharata era or the Government Guest House which has great views of the reservoirs.

Then take a quick drive to Sankheda and watch the carpenters known as kharadis create the unique lacquered woodwork furniture of this region. It’s a 400+ year old craft, practiced by 100+ families. Pick up a sofa set or a photo frame and know that you have bought something that isn’t manufactured anywhere else in the world.

After such a series of varied experiences and sights, head back to Ahmedabad content in all that you have achieved for the day.

Champaner Heritage Site – the main mosque – 5 Rs – same ticket can be used for entry to the other monuments too.
Ropeway - 75 Rs

Read the Entire Article on the DNA Website


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Shock & Awe at Junagadh

From : The DNA
2 Nov 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- Shock & Awe in Junagadh

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

Junagadh is often overlooked by most travelers to Gir or Somnath as a tiny town that you pass along the way. However, it is the most undiscovered and untapped gem of Gujarat for us. We have never found tourists (local or foreign) here, except for the pilgrims visiting Mt Girnar, inspite of the town housing multiple sites of interest from Buddhist and Mughal time periods too.

The journey to Junagadh from Ahmedabad, via Rajkot is around 317 km and takes roughly 5 hours, unless you decided to break at Rajkot / Khamabaliya or take a detour into Gondal.

Junagadh means “Old Fort” and this little town has been ruled in turn by the Mauryas, Maitrakas, Solankis, Chudasamas & Mughals – each of whom have left behind a bit of their history, architecture and aesthetics.

For a regular tourist, the main place of interest is the Uparkot Fort which was virtually inaccessible when it was built. Today, you can drive your car right into the fort and actually drive around it. The entry is on the narrow side, but an SUV can get in easily, as long as you come to an understanding with any driver approaching from the opposite direction.

Inside the Fort, the largest spot of interest is the 15th C. Jama Masjid which is itself built like a fort. Its covered courtyard is a unique feature in Indian mosque architecture. Be adventurous and climb up to the higher floor on the rickety stairs. The views are most definitely worth it and you can take multitudes of profile photos (which is what most of the visiting kids end up doing)

The oldest part of the fort is its Buddhist caves that are 2 – 3 stories underground carved out of monolithic rocks. You may feel that there is hardly anything to see and everything is faded, but remember that these caves are almost 2000 years old and use your imagination to visualise what it would look like in its heyday filled with Buddhist monks.

Hire a guide if you would like to hear the mournful story of Adi Kadi – the sisters who were sacrificed, so the stepwells would fill with water. Or have your picture taken astride a stuffed tiger with a BB gun in hand to resemble a shikari of yore, or scramble down the Navghan Kuvo which provided the fort with water in case of long sieges.

There is a snack shop opposite the Adi Kadi Vav, who sells packaged namkeen and cold drinks and you will often find street vendors selling seasonal fruits and cholafali or singdana. You may also find a lady selling local herbs and spices, be wary of what you buy, we found that the aroma of everything vanished even before we returned to Ahmedabad.

Just walk around this whole place and take it all in and enjoy the beauty of the fort and its magnificent backdrop.

Come back towards town and head to the pinnacle of Islamic Architecture in the State – the Mahabat Maqbara, with its external spiral staircase encircled minarets - from the Babi period, but built with a mix of European (Gothic columns, French windows), Hindu and Moorish influences. Climb up one of those staircases for some brilliant views and pictures of the Mahabat Maqbara and the neighbouring Bahauddin Maqbara which is also extremely picturesque.

Stop for lunch at Petals in Lotus Hotel for a pretty decent Indian meal with usable bathrooms. It’s also a good option for an overnight stay with comfortable rooms.

After lunch head towards Mt Girnar/Neminath which is home to Jain & Hindu temples, Buddhist Cave shrines and even a Dargah of a Saint. The Amba Mata Temple is sacred to newlyweds, Guru Dattatreya Temple is built on the spot where he performed severe penance to Lord Shiva for 24 years and Kalka’s peak dedicated to Kali Ma and the resort of Aghoris are the most famous. The annual Girnar / Lili Parikrama is a festival spanning 7 days and involves walking 36 kms and climbing 4000 steps upto Girnar Taleti and most pilgrims do this over 3 days.

If this is not your cup of tea, just drive up to the furthest point and stop to visit one of the few surviving Ashokan Rock Edicts from 3rd BC along the way.

If you spend more time in the city, the other spots of interest are the Sakkarbaug Zoo – which has an excellent conservation program with Asiatic Lions, Narsinh Mehtha no Choro, Bhavnath Mahadev Temple, Willingdon Dam, Datar Hill or the Darbar Hall Museum.

If you want to extend your trip to Junagadh, you can head off on a spiritual quest for God at Somnath / Dwarka or find God in nature at the Gir Wildlife Sanctuary.


Uperkot Fort
Entry – 4 wheeler with passengers – 40Rs.
Entry – 2 wheeler – 5 Rs

Most sites are open from 9 – 6 and entry fee if any, is 5Rs per person.

Read the entire article on the DNA Website.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Day Trip to Modhera & Patan

In : The DNA
On : 24 October 2014

EAT AND DRIVE :- Catch up with the Sun & the Queen.

Kim & Brajesh go Road Tripping through Gujarat.

Rani ki Vav at Patan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site just 4 months ago, so it is not yet inundated with tourists. Grab the opportunity to head to this magnificently worked ancient stepwell and see for yourself, why this 11th Century monument is worthy of this honour. On the way, stop at another Solanki monument of the same era at Modhera and breathe in the beauty at one of the 3 main Sun Temples surviving in India today.

This can easily be covered in a day trip. Start early from Ahmedabad to avoid the morning rush. Modhera is a 100km away via Kalol and takes about 1.5 hours to drive.

If it’s too early to prepare breakfast at home, you can always stop at Janpath Hotel near Mehsana, which opens as early as 6:30 am and serves great poha and lassi. Gota, samosa and bread pakoda are also on offer for those who like a crispy start to the day. If you arrive a little later in the morning , they will even offer you fresh dosas and parathas. Almost opposite, is a new McDonalds Drive-In (only), which works well if you want a fast food fix or are a little more conscious about overall cleanliness.

Drive on to the Modhera Sun Temple, where there is more than adequate parking. I have never seen the GTDC cafeteria – “Toran” – at this location open in the 15+ visits we have made, so do carry food with you, if you plan to picnic on the lovely sprawling green lawns at this site. There is a shop near the ticket window, that sells namkeen, cold drinks and water.

The museum at Modhera has been recently opened to the public. While it may seem like there is no point in spending time on broken sculptures, when a large temple complex awaits exploration, there is something to be said about browsing individual sculptures slowly. I find that I pay more attention to detail this way, but tend to gloss over intricacies when presented with a larger structure.

The Sun temple is broadly divided into the Surya Kund – Sacred Tank – surrounded by 108 mini shrines, mostly dedicated to Lord Shiva. Sabha Mandap – Assembly Hall – This is beautifully worked and since it is a semi open structure, here is where you can best admire the carvings of episodes from the Hindu epics. The Garb Gruh – sanctum sanctorum was designed in a way that the first rays of the sun on 21st March, would fall on the idol of Suryadev in here. There is no longer an idol in this temple, or any idol of Suryadev. But there is a small functional temple to Shivji alongside the main temple and there are plenty of depictions of Suryadev on the interior and exterior of the main temple.

Drive on for another 45 minutes (36km) on SH 7 to arrive at the Rani ki Vav in Patan. Before stopping here, head a little further on the same road to the Sahastralinga Talav, to get an idea of what it must have been like during the process of excavation.

Then return on the same road to the Rani Ki Vav (supposedly built on the banks of the River Saraswati) which to us, is the pinnacle of Solanki architecture in Gujarat. Stepwells in Gujarat were not just constructed for the practical purpose of water, but most of them were also used as a social gathering place and hence great attention was paid, to make it a beautiful space. The Rani Ki Vav is the pinnacle in the design & aesthetics of subterranean architecture. It is awe inspiring, right from the time that you begin your descent into the 7 levels. The walls are covered with over 500 main sculptures and 1000 minor ones from mythology and religion. The most prominent are the dashavatar and the image of Vishnu reclining on the Sheshnag, resting in infinity between the ages.

There is rumoured to be a tunnel at the base of this stepwell which extends 30kms into Siddhpur, to be used by the Royal Family for escape, in case of emergency.

At the end of this visit, you can relax and spend time in Patan City, exploring its multiple Jain Temples or admiring the Patola weavers exquisite skill. You can head towards the picturesque town of Siddhpur and stop at Bindu Sarovar – the only place in India for matru shraddh. Or you can head back to Ahmedabad via Unjha and Mehsana, stopping for a lovely South Indian lunch or dosas at Sankalp.

If you are not yet ready to call it a day, then you can visit Thol Bird Sanctuary en route and time it in a way to be there around sunset to witness the amazing cacophony of 1000’s of birds coming to roost around the lake.

There is so much natural beauty, history and architecture to be discovered around Gujarat, that it is never a question of “what is there to do this weekend?”, it is more about “how much can I see and do this weekend?

Modhera Sun Temple
Entry 5 Rs
Parking 20 Rs
Usable Washrooms behind the museum

Rani Ki Vav
Entry 5 Rs
Still Camera 100 Rs
Booklet 30 Rs

Sahstralinga Talav & Bindu Sarovar
Entry – Free

Thol Lake
Car with passengers – 200 Rs


Read This Article in Detail on the DNA Website

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Weekend Trip to Diu

From : DNA
12 October 2014

The Foodie & The Fotographer – Kim & Brajesh explore Gujarat through their road trips

Let’s face it : Living in a Dry State like we do, the minute you say that you want to drive to Diu, most minds jump to the most obvious. But there is so much more to see and do in Diu, including just enjoying the sun and sand on one of its many beautiful beaches, bordered with Hoka Palms that were originally imported from Mozambique.

The drive to Diu from Ahmedabad is approximately 350km and takes around 6 hours. You can go via Dhanduka on SH 236 or via Bhavnagar.

We prefer the Bhavnagar route, because it also gives us the option to break journey at the beautiful Nilambagh Palace Hotel for lunch. Whether you eat in the formal dining room with its humongous Burma Teak table and Czechoslovakian chandeliers or at the serene Garden Restaurant, you will always remember this place. They serve Indian, Chinese and Continental cusine, but we heavily recommend their Indian food, especially the local style chicken curry and tandoori chicken with rotis.

If you are heading straight to Diu for lunch, our first recommendation is O’Coqueiro. (No relation to the infamous restaurant in Goa with the same name) It’s a simple space, with food cooked in the house behind and while service is sometimes slow, it is worth the wait. Try their Penne Calamari, Bavette con Gamberi, Caldo de Camarao or the Fish in Tomato Curry. They also have quite a range of vegetarian dishes that are good, but the seafood is outstanding - absolutely fresh and tasty.

After lunch, pay a quick visit to the St Thomas Church next door, which is now the Diu museum. It’s a 10-20 minute stop, but has some good antique statues and wooden carvings. Try the Sao Tome Retiro upstairs, for budget accommodation and great BBQ parties (for residents only)

Once it’s slightly cooler, head to the Diu Fort to work off some of those calories from lunch. Built by the Portuguese in the 1530’s, it is worth climbing its ramparts for the magnificent sea views and a glimpse of the Island Fort - Panikota Forte do Mar.

For dinner, head to Cat’s Eye View at The Resort Hoka / Hoka Island Villa. It’s a lovely chilled out Garden venue which also serves brilliant seafood – Indian and Continental. If you are not in the mood for a heavy dinner, choose from a wide range of snacks to go with your drinks – batter fried prawns or fried brinjals there’s something on offer for everyone and their breakfasts are great too. The rooms here are quite quirky, but comfortable.

Heranca Goesa is a great option for breakfast after a swim / dip at one of Diu’s many beaches – Nagoa, Jalandhar, Chakratirth or Ghoghla. Gangeshwar Mahadev is a Holy spot with 5 Shivlingas supposedly constructed by the Pandavas to worship Lord Shiva before eating. During high tide, the Shivlingas are constantly washed by the sea spray. St Paul’s Church is a functional Church that holds services on Sunday, but can be visited almost anytime.

If you want to do something more adventurous, head to the Naida Caves, that are extremely picturesque (they are the backdrop to Rani Mukherjee’s opening dance sequence in Aiyya) and great fun to scramble around. If you want to do some serious caving, carry a flashlight and always go with a companion.

Honour our brave sailors who died defending our country at the INS Khukhri Memorial. This is also a perfect spot for a sunset viewing.

If you are not particular about staying on Diu itself, the Hotel Magico Do Mar is an interesting option just before the bridge that crosses over into the island. The cottages are very cosy and they have a private beach too.

Entry to all places of interest on Diu (except the Shell Museum) are free. Timings vary, but are generally sunrise to sunset. The Fort has a functional prison, so the timings here are a bit stricter.

5 Accessories to carry on driving trips
• Sunglasses & Caps for all
• Sufficient supply of water
• Camera - not the phone variety
• Music
• Phone

Read the Entire Article on the DNA Website

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Gangeshwar Mahadev Temple, Diu

Gangeshwar Mahadev is a Holy spot with 5 Shivlingas supposedly constructed by the Pandavas who stopped at this spot, so that they could worship Lord Shiva before eating. The different sizes of the Shivlingas are attributed to the fact that each of the Pandavas constructed one that resembled his own physical stature. During high tide, the Shivlingas are constantly washed by the sea spray.

Its a pretty peaceful spot and a great place for contemplation, if you can manage to avoid the hordes of religious and other tourists.

You have to walk down a bit of a cliff face, but its very safe, unless the water from the sea spray turns the stone floor slippery. There is no option for wheelchairs or strollers here.

Entry : Free

Velavadar : The Black Buck Lodge & Velavadar Blackbuck National Park

One of the easiest drives for good wildlife sighting in Gujarat is to the Velavadar Black Buck National Park. Velavadar, is about 140km away from Ahmedabad and a leisurely drive, takes around 2.5 hours with random stops for photography or food.

You also have the option to visit Lothal and the Uthelia Palace en route, for a peek into some history, if you so choose.

The drive is very comfortable, roads are good and the only thing that you need to watch out for is - the actual turn off from the Highway towards Lothal / Velavadar that isn’t very clearly marked.

The Velavadar Blackbuck National Park is open from sunrise to sunset (except during the monsoons) If you want to make just a Day Trip, depart from Ahmedabad about 5:30-6:00am, reach the park, go in for a drive. Have lunch at the Black Buck Lodge, relax there until the sun loses a bit of its fieriness, go on another drive around the Park and then head back to Ahmedabad.

The only reason I suggest a day trip option is because : The Black Buck Lodge has just 14 independent cottages and is constantly at high demand. However, to truly enjoy the beauty of this place and relax, it is advisable to spend at least one night at the resort.

The 35sq km Velavadar Blackbuck National Park park has grasslands, shrub lands, saline plains and mud flats, which support a variety of grass, 95 species of flowering plants, 14 species of mammals (blackbuck, nilgai, Indian Grey Wolf, Striped Hyena, Indian Fox, Golden Jackal, Jungle Cat and smaller ones like hare, gerbil, field mice, mongoose and hedgehog), over 140 species of birds and many reptiles. The Alang and Paravalia Rivers, three artificial ponds, two check dams and nearby coastal marshes provide an ideal habitat for aquatic flora and fauna. From a conservation viewpoint, a unique feature of the park is that it is the only tropical grassland in India to be given the status of a national park. This used to be the private grasslands of the Maharaja of Bhavnagar before it was converted into a National Park.

Serious Birders head here for rare sightings of the Lesser Florican, endangered vultures, Demoiselle cranes and a variety of Raptors. The park also hosts the world’s largest harrier roost.

We visited during the monsoons when the main park is closed (mid-June to mid-Oct), but we saw lots of black buck and birds and even a jungle cat on a general drive around the outside of the national park. It is a single lane road and the road behind the Velavadar village has massive craters, so you need a vehicle with higher clearance (like one you could use inside the Park) to make this drive.

As long as you don't have any noisy families visiting at the same time as you, this is the most peaceful resort that you can visit in the State. The cottages are spaced out more like an African (think Kenya / South Africa / Tanzania Safari Resorts) Resort than a Kutchi / Gujarati one. It spreads across acres and acres, with no boundary wall in sight, just rolling swathes of green and blue. The chirping of birds is brilliant background music to this visual relaxation.

They have a fantastic in house library (small, but with plenty of books on wildlife and lots of different magazines if you prefer) at the reception and the sit out here overlooks a beautiful lake, that makes it the perfect spot to cosy up with a book or just sit and contemplate the glorious silence. (that is until a noisy family comes along loudly debating on whether to make their accompanying maids carry their own food or let them eat at the restaurant or some other such BP inducing topics)

The rooms at The Black Buck Lodge are beautiful, wide open and spacious. Each cottage has a little open shower area behind the bathroom that is walled, but open to the sky, we had a tree in our open shower area, that often had birds in it.

The bathtub / shower area inside the bathroom is brilliant. I hate having a shower inside the bathtub, because the tubs are normally curved and small and you keep struggling for balance, but at this resort, they are large and spacious, so it was perfect. (unless you have someone in your group that has a problem climbing up a high stair.)

There are beautiful sit outs all over the resort (including outside the cottage) that are perfect for settling in with a good book. The planters chairs are also ideal for taking a post lunch siesta (weather permitting)

I loved their themed accessories - the cutlery, the bed sheets, the lamps etc. Everything has been very tastefully put together without going over the top. We loved everything about this resort except for a couple of other guests who were obnoxious without even realising it (one maid inside the 20 seater dining room insisted that her 5 year old charge sing ring-a ring-a roses 45 times in a row and he proceeded to do so at the top of his little high pitched voice, a grandfather sat on a seat a foot away from the lake, plopped his just-learnt-to-crawl grandson on the ground and we were subjected to half an hour of "no's" at various volumes and pitches - Vin Diesel could have learned from this grandpa)

This is however my favourite resort in Gujarat and I hope we get a chance to go back and visit inside the park.

You have to take the all inclusive plan as there is no other place nearby to visit for lunch or dinner, unless you plan to visit Bhavnagar for the day. But the food at every buffet was very good (you just have to adjust salt and chillies to your taste - they are served on the side). The non-veg is excellent and quality is high. Since they cater to just the small number of in-house guests (and the occasional lunch crowd), food sometimes gets cold (if you go late etc) but the service is very helpful.

The buffet includes salads, a fairly large vegetarian spread, a non veg dish (chicken / mutton) and a dessert. We had some awesome mutton kurma, mutton Rogan Josh, kofta curries and guab jamuns. Definitely don't miss the amazing pista colored gur which is made in the village nearby. It’s worth waiting to arrive here for your meal.

However, if you feel peckish along the way, the most popular stop is the recently opened Gallops that serves better than average highway food (for Gujarat), although most of the options are deep fried. The complex has a restaurant upstairs, an eatery downstairs, a couple of outlets outside selling chikkis, paan, channachor and frenchfries. CCD and Havmor are due to open shortly.

The Gallops kitchen isn't very clean or inspiring, so we much prefer driving a little further to Pipali and eating at Darshan Hotel which serves the most awesome dhal we have ever eaten on Gujarat's Highway's. Just order that with some hot rotlas and whatever veg side dish that the servers recommend and you and just trust them blindly, you can’t go wrong.

Whether you head here just for a day’s outing or for a long weekend, enjoy the park responsibly, do not harm or frighten the wildlife, avoid loud obnoxious behaviour and respect Mother Nature.

Disclaimer : every story/rant mentioned here is completely true.

5 Point checklist before a long drive.
1. Fuel (The obvious full tank)
2. Air in tyres (including stepney)
3. Tool Box & Jack (you never know)
4. Papers - RC, PUC, Insurance, Licence (right side of the law)
5. Map Route - Paper or Virtual (while getting lost has its own charm)

A shorter version of this trip appeared in The DNA on 5 October 2014

You can read the shortened version here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Photo Feature : Ramadan in Ahmedabad's Old City

I've been doing a series of Photo Essays on Ramadan in Ahmedabad's Old City which include Bhadra, Lal Darwaja and Bhatiyar Gali areas on my Restaurant Review Blog.

If you like the sampler above, do take a look at the other posts which have many more pictures.

Part 1 : Laari's
Part 2 : Bara Handi
Part 3 : Hotel Chetna
Part 4 : Khaja
Part 5 : The Food
Part 6 : Faces Behind the Food
Part 7 : Just a Little More

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Courtyard by Marriott, Ahmedabad

Courtyard by Marriott,
Ramdevnagar Crossroads,
Near S.G. Highway,
Ahmedabad 380015

Courtyard by Marriott in Ahmedabad is in the centre of the newer business location of Ahmedabad- Satellite.

When we first moved to Ahmedabad, this was where we stayed and we were very happy with our stay here. Comfortable beds, lovely staff.

The breakfast buffet at Momo cafe is huge and includes chaat and ice cream too. There is a smaller buffet that is set up upstairs in the business center, for people who are in town on work and in a hurry.

The Java+ Coffee shop has a lot of buzz around it right now, but honestly the food isn't worth it.

The lunch and dinner buffets at Momo Cafe are average, the food ordered a la carte is much better.

Shakahari - their vegetarian restaurant is excellent.

We have a lot of official functions here in their banquet rooms and they have always given us good service and good food.

You have to pay for wifi in the rooms.

Their in-house spa is run by O2. I haven't used it so I don't know how good or bad it is.

Rating : 4 / 5

Value : 4 / 5
Location : 5 / 5
Sleep Quality : 4 / 5
Rooms : 4 / 5
Cleanliness : 4 / 5
Service : 4 / 5

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Gateway Hotel, Athwa Lines, Surat

The Gateway Hotel
Ambika Niketan
Athwa Lines
Dumas Road

The Taj at Surat is a lovely hotel. Service and staff were extremely helpful, polite, attentive and co-operative.

When I requested a 4 am wake up call for my inlaws who had to catch the morning train to Bombay (we were driving back to Ahmedabad), they offered complimentary bed tea for them and told us that they could pack them a breakfast box that they could eat on the train. They volunteered this information themselves and had the tea and breakfast ready on time. Double Thumbsup for this attention to detail and prompt service.

We ate dinner at Flow and I think their Indian food (served as part of the buffet) was phenomenal. The buffet had a much better spread than most 5 stars in Ahmedabad. The Chicken curry and Goan fish curry were stand outs and the dessert selection was amazing.

The breakfast was not as great a spread though it was still quite subbstantial.

Room Tip: Try and get a river facing view, its beautifully calming

Rating : 4 / 5

Value : 4 / 5
Location : 4 / 5
Sleep Quality : 4 / 5
Rooms : 4 / 5
Cleanliness : 4 / 5
Service : 5 / 5

Friday, April 11, 2014

BMW Tour Experience 2014 in Ahmedabad #BMWEXPERIENCE

BMW has started its Tour Experience for 2014. This year they are visiting Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Chandigarh, Delhi, Pune, Mumbai, Chennai, Kochi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Kolkatta. Ahmedabad was the second city on this tour after Jaipur and I was lucky enough to get a taste of this experience on Day 1.

They are in town over this weekend, so BMW aficionados and prospective buyers can get not just a look but also a feel of driving their luxury sedans and SAV's (yes, SAV's, BMW calls them Sports Activity Vehicles not SUV's - Sports Utility Vehicles) across difficult terrain.

The venue for this Tour Experience is the AES ground near Doordarshan Tower in Bodakdev. A specially designed test circuit has been set up for the sedans  - the BMW Dynamic Drive - and one for the SAV's - the BMW xDrive Experience. For the SAV circuit, some special equipment - BMW X Ramps, articulation humps, steep hill and incline - has been brought in to demonstrate the unique features of their vehicles as seen in the video below.

The sedan circuit must have had a lot of help beforehand, given that the circus just vacated this ground a couple of months ago, but the team did create dips and highs to resemble off road driving. They even got a water tanker to create a marshy/boggy stretch, but given that Ahmedabad's afternoon temperatures are close to 43C, it barely dampened the ground.

After checking requisite paperwork and licences, people were chosen who would get a chance to test drive these sedans and SAV's on these circuits. Each one got 2 practice runs to get used to the car and winding circuit and then a final run where they were timed. Well, you can imagine the adrenaline rush it gave most of the men/boys assembled there. For me, I was perfectly comfortable being belted up in the back seat. (I would have preferred to ride shotgun, but those seats were taken)

Although, most of the people who test drove the cars when I was there, were most probably driving a BMW for the first time, the cars seemed to respond well to their touch, even when they took wild turns at high speeds.

The highlight of the evening for me, was definitely sitting in the sedan driven by ex Race Driver Mr Wong who went through a series of maneuvers and concluded with a couple of 360degree turns, which were thrilling to watch and even more thrilling to experience. Obviously the degree of control he had over the car, was way higher than anyone else on that field.

BMW has brought their complete range of sedans and SAV's from the 1, 3, 5 and 7 series and the X Range to town and this event is the ideal location to get a feel of all their features and test how they perform in exacting conditions, by experiencing braking, slalom, corner braking and fast lap experience. The BMW xDrive all-wheel drive system is an intelligent all-wheel drive system that monitors the driving situation constantly and distributes drive power smoothly between the axles where it is needed the most.

Mr Philipp Von Sahr, President BMW Group India says "With this unique initiative, we wish to take a step closer to our customers and bring as many customers to the BMW fold and make them experience BMW and sheer driving pleasure"

Well, the team most definitely nailed this directive. For those interested in the technical details, a team of product experts is also accompanying this Tour and are happy to answer queries and concerns if any.

In Ahmedabad, Parsoli Motors is the official Sales Outlet for BMW.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sita's Daughters at Natarani on the Occassion of Women's Day

When I was in college, I had the good fortune of watching a Bharatnatyam performance by Mrinalini Sarabhai and I was entranced.

Inspite of living in Ahmedabad for almost 2 years and visiting Natarani frequently for events, I had never actually been to a performance by Mallika Sarabhai as we never seemed to be in town when the really interesting events took place.

Given that we were in town yesterday, and the performance in honour of Womens day was Mallika Sarabhai's extremely renowned play "Sita's Daughters", I knew we just HAD to attend.

The script is wonderful. It covers 9 stories featuring women across the ages and the navarasas (9 rasas) of human emotion that are captured in Indian Classical Dance as outlined in the Natyashastra.

The performance was brilliant. Minimalistic props, a music troupe dressed in black, but on stage blending into the background and providing the perfect accompaniment, some dance, some drama, some comedy and audience interaction. This play has been performed over 600 times in Hindi, English and Gujarati, across the globe for various audiences. And while the core script remains the same, the details and references to current news (regarding oppressed women) has been constantly updated across the decades.

Sita's Daughters is not just about women who have been oppressed, its about oppressed women  standing up for themselves and that is what makes them Sita's daughters in this script co-authored by Mallika Sarabhai and John Martin

This is a play, I would definitely recommend watching, if you get the opportunity.

As an aside, the noise from the new road constructed behind the Natarani Amphitheatre did not disturb us too much yesterday, but the noise levels have definitely increased.

The play was put up as part of a 3 day cultural program promoting awareness on Womens' Issues for Womens Day, so it started out with a panel discussion by some of the other performers and artistes of this event.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ruhaniyat - Annual All India Sufi and Mystic Music Festival in Ahmedabad - February 8, 2014

For the second year in a row, Ahmedabad was one of the venues for the Annual All India Sufi and Mystic Music Festival - Ruhaniyat conducted by the Banyan Tree (although this is its 13th edition)

Held at the Vastrapur Amphitheatre (near Vastrapur Lake), the acts that came to Ahmedabad were:

Mahesharam & Group from Rajasthan who sang the bhajans of Meera dedicated to Lord Krishna

Mystic Pathways : an Indo Bulgarian production featuring Vaya Group from Bulgaria that sang acapella and the Kalbeliya women of Rajasthan. Their jugalbandi of two completely different styles was a pleasure to listen to.

There were Tannoura Dervish Dancers from Egypt, but the star of the evening for us was the Sufi Qawwali Nizami Brothers from Delhi who being the last performers, went on until 10:30 at night. But were completely worth ignoring the freezing temperatures of the cold evening for.

I first heard them in January 2010 at Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi, on the occasion of Basant Panchami and they sang some of the Basant Panchami special songs again which brought back such wonderful memories.

We really look forward to witnessing more such performances in Ahmedabad in the future too.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gujarati Literature Festival - January 3 - 5, 2014

This weekend, saw Ahmedabad host the first ever Gujarati Literature Festival at the Kanoria Centre for Arts, and it was such a roaring success that I hope the organisers make this an annual affair.

We are regulars at the Jaipur Literature Festival. This year, will be our 5th pilgrimage to Literature. However, we (my husband and I) have so far been content to be just attendees at the JLF, soaking in the experience, and drinking in the words of authors new and well loved.

Shyam, Samkit, Jumana, Leena, Nimitt and Tanvi took their love for books and literature one step further, they combined it with their love for all things Gujarat. Instead of just lamenting about the decline of Gujarati as a language, they conceptualised and conducted the first Gujarati Literature Festival 

Their enthusiasm was contagious and convinced even me (who understands just a smattering of Gujarati) to attend.

Inspired by JLF, entry was free for all, there were 3 simultaneous sessions through the day, performances in the evenings, a couple of book stalls, some food stalls, stalwarts of Gujarati literature, controversial authors and a writing competition for kids. On the side, the Kanoria Art Gallery also hosted an exhibition of Art Works inspired by Gujarati Authors and Literature.

Here are some glimpses from the 3 day festival.

From Left - Ms Minaxiben Patel , Mayor , Ahmedabad City, Mr Saurabhbhai Patel - Minister for Energy and  Petroleum , Gujarat State & Brajesh Bajpai - COO Vodafone Gujarat at the inauguration of Vodafone Gujarati Literature Festival held at Kanoria Art Center, Ahmedabad on 3rd January 2014 morning.

Court Martial of Kaajal Oza Vaidya

Arvind Vegda and LD Vadhiya performance on 4th January

Ashok Ahir performance on 4th January

Bollywood and Gujarati - Anand Gandhi in conversation with Nisang Desai

Krishan kare toh Leela, Hum kare toh Character Dealer - Shrungar Sahitya - Manvinder Singh Gohil and Vijay Pandya

A Play Reading about lions in Gir

Cricket Culture in Gujarat with Ayaz Memon

Vodafone - New Voice in Writing - Winner

The people behind the event.

Closing Remarks by Brajesh Bajpai