Sunday, 10 October 2004

Try a cruise through God’s own country.

 Published on 10 October, 2004 in the Deccan Chronicle.

Kerala is a much recommended holiday spot, & a Houseboat (Kettuvallam) cruise seemed like an experience worth trying.

Never having spent 24 hours on a boat before, we anxiously asked ‘Experienced’ travelers for feedback. This ranged from “trip of our lives” to “Booooring, once aboard, you are stuck, you can’t even walk out if you want to”. After our holiday, I belong to the “trip of our lives” faction.

Kettuvallams are huge, slow moving, exotic barges designed for sheer leisure trips. Formerly, used to ship rice and spices, a standard boat, can be 100ft long, & hold upto 30 tons. Made of 100’s of fine heavy-duty planks of jack-wood & held together by coir knots (not a single nail is used) this framework is then coated with a caustic black resin extracted from boiled cashew kernels and lasts for generations.

Houseboats are re-worked Kettuvallams, having all modern amenities like western style bathrooms, well equipped kitchens, sun decks and even AC’s in some cases.

So informed, we arrived at Allepy (Venice of the East) where we were introduced to our hosts - 2 boatmen & a cook. Welcomed with fresh coconut water & fruits, we set sail on a blissful journey. We passed through amazing networks of canals, paddy fields, swaying coconut palms, river front houses, coir laden boats & unending shades of green.

We passed through Kuttanad, one of the few places in the World where Paddy is grown below sea level, Charava Bhavan – spiritual resort and Vembanad Lake – largest lake in Asia.

The Boat was anchored at noon, overlooking verdant fields. The cook served us a sumptuous lunch with 2 vegetables, sambhar and fish. For dinner, fish was substituted with chicken and for breakfast it was Idiappams with Egg Curry, all prepared onboard. We were told, guests often volunteered to prepare dinner themselves, but we preferred watching him deftly prepare Malyali delicacies.

Boats have to anchor from 7PM to 6AM so locals can cast their fishing nets. We settled down to watch the brilliant hues of sunset, relaxing to gentle lapping of water at the sides, chirping of birds, droning of insects and tantalizing smells wafting from the kitchen. We lit lanterns when darkness fell, rather than use electric lights (solar powered). It gave us the feeling of being the only inhabitants of the planet. The little girl with us, delighted in feeding grains of rice to the fish that swam so close we could have caught them with our bare hands.

In a novel holiday experience, we slept by 9:30 PM and woke at 6:00. Totally relaxed and refreshed, we watched the sun rise over the water. When it started raining on the Lake, the droplets hitting the water surface erupted into little diamonds and we had to agree that Kerala is indeed “God’s Own Country.”

Fact File :
Travel :
Allepy is 2 hours drive from Cochin.
Cruises also originate from Kottayam, Kumarakom, Quilon, Trivandrum, Mallapuram, & Kasargod. It really doesn’t matter where you start or end your cruise from, it’s the unending beauty of the backwaters.
You can spend anywhere from 6 hours to 15 days on a houseboat.
Season - October-March
Off Season - April - September

Must Not Miss :
Sunrise and Sunset on the Lake
Bay Island Driftwood museum if alighting at Kumarakom.
Definitely carry Mosquito Repellant for the evenings.

Costs :
Start from 5000 onwards for a single bedroom boat and 6000 onwards for a double bedroom boat per day (approx 22 hours) during off-season. Costs jump by about 2000 during season. Each bedroom has its individual attached bath. Costs include accommodation, welcome drink, 3 meals, tea/coffee. You can either carry your own soft drinks & water and chill it on board or purchase from the chef on board.

Whom to Contact :
For general information - There are more than a 100 houseboats at each location. You can negotiate a good deal at each location if its off-season (monsoons), but if you want to book ahead, you can contact any of the following operators.

Pulickattil Houseboats :
Deshadan Operators :
Soma House Boats :
Marvel Tours :

Friday, 3 September 2004

Back off, I’m trying to unwind

Published in - Deccan Chronicle on 3rd September 2004

Back off, I’m trying to unwind

By Karishma Pais

Have you ever had a rough day at work? Come back home and think “At least I’ll relax at this evening’s party” and just as you begin to forget the day’s frustrations, nurse a drink, tap your feet to the music, someone comes up and says, “Doctor my son has been coughing for a while, what’s the problem?” Or to a techie, “Warcraft isn’t loading on my computer, what should I do?”

How does it feel to be questioned regarding work in a social setting? Even those in the media, while they might enjoy dining out on the odd nugget about some hotshot politico, don’t like being accosted for some insight into the current political situation. “During election time, I dread going to a party, because everyone seems to think I have an inside track on what will happen,” grumbles a hack. Politeness often makes her and the doctor/lawyer/ teacher/techie to try and veer the conversation to something that does not seem like talking shop while they really want to scream, “Back off, I’m trying to catch a break here.”

When do we draw the line between being interested in another person’s line of work and trying to get free advice? Are we justified in asking a friend’s professional opinion, especially at social gatherings? Aren’t they entitled to have conversations at dinner parties regarding something other than their work?

School teachers narrated incidents where pushy parents cornered them and gave them a hard time at social occasions. Telecom professionals said they found it irritating when people got into intense debates regarding TRAI policies. Techies complained that friends tried to get them to solve their computer problems without realizing the difference between software and hardware experts.

Dr V Koteswara Rao, Pediatrician, Apollo Hospitals says “People do ask for advice on and off. When we are trying to relax in a social gathering, we don’t like to be asked for advice, but I try to be courteous and give an answer if their problem is genuine.” Another doctor joked that people would stop asking for free advice at parties if he turned around and asked them to undress so he could do a full physical check-up.

Everyone attends social occasions to relax and take their mind off work. We need to respect that, professionals too need time off. Let’s be a little less selfish and allow them to chill and enjoy their time away from work.

Monday, 16 August 2004

Lautre, Hyderabad

Life Style Building
Bob : 0.75

Decided to assemble at Lautre before hitting 10 Downing where it sometimes gets too crowded to locate your friends. Didn’t stay here too long so can just about list the pros and cons :

Pros :
Excellent food. The oriental prawns are amazing for their size and the price. Music is soft rock sometimes graduating to hard rock. It isn't crowded.

Cons :
It has no crowd !!!
The seating is like a mess hall with better seats and dimmed lights.
The tables are soooo HUGE.

So this is what I surmised. Well, I mentioned before, we didn’t spend too much time here... Actually the poor owner just can't seem to strike the right balance. He seems confused as to whether he wants to serve gourmet food, have a relaxed lounge or a rocking pub. If he improves the lighting a bit, I think this place could become one of the best lounges around in the true sense of the word. A place you can relax with good food in your tracks or sweats.

Getting to the rates, they are quite reasonably priced. But after partying in Delhi, the whole of Hyderabad seems reasonably priced. BOB is 75 to 120 depending on the brand. Rum is 65 for Old Monk and 75 for Bacardi 30ml. The cocktails range from 175 to 250. Food is very reasonably priced. They serve an afternoon buffet for 150/- which also doesn’t have too many takers. But it's better to order a la carte than try the buffet which is not always excellent or so I heard.

Published on

Edited on 1 April 2008 - the pub has been closed - so the review has been taken off the site

Sunday, 15 August 2004

Genting Highlands, Published in Deccan Chronicle, Sunday Chronicle on 15 Aug 2004

Published in the Deccan Chronicle, Sunday Chronicle on 15 Aug 2004.

After a whirlwind tour of the Petronas towers, KL tower, Kings palace and a lot of other trekking up and down to see the sites of Kuala Lampur, we decided it was time for some ‘Rest and Recreation. Genting Highlands was the perfect answer to our needs.

An hours drive from Kuala Lampur, it’s a popular weekend destination for the locals too and this is always a good sign. With 2 amusement parks, the world class ‘Casino De Genting’, the ‘Awana Golf and Country Resort’ and numerous hotels to suit every budget, there’s something here for everyone.

The approach into Genting, is via the Skyway cable car from Gohtong Jaya, the longest cable system in SE Asia and the fastest in the world. This 15 min ride covering 4 km, ferries 2000 passengers an hour. It gave us a panoramic view of the green valley below and our first sight of the highlands riddled with hotels and interspersed with roller coasters.

After checking into our rooms, we rushed to the amusement park, a haven for adventure seekers. There are rides to suit every level of risk takers. Our favorites were the Corkscrew which turns you upside down and the coaster which drops you into a water pool at its trough and takes you up again. There are also the more sedate rides for the risk averse.

After the exhilaration of these rides, we wound down at the indoor park which has video games, a space simulator and a 3D dome theatre among others. We purchased memorabilia from the souvenir shops here.

For night entertainment we could choose between the international dinner shows, the disco and the casino. Consensus moved us to the casino where we tried our hand at all the games including blackjack and baccarat. We were lucky enough to leave with more money than we entered with.

The next day we wandered around the ‘Malaysia First World hotel and plaza’ whose lobby is larger than a football field. Someone recommended the horse riding school, but being addicted to the roller coasters, we headed back to the amusement park.

The whole highlands are a maze of escalators and hotels, so it’s quite interesting just to walk around. You never know what you may chance upon: Sweet shops, chairs that massage you, pirates, jugglers or clowns.

There are a lot of Indians living in Malaysia, so don’t be surprised to hear the locals break into Tamil, Telugu or Hindi. Indian food is easily available and the local food tastes familiar. This combines to make Malaysia a good place to take a break.

Fact File :
Travel :
Genting Highlands is 50km away from Kuala Lumpur and can be reached in an hour by road. There are frequent buses that leave every hour from the Puduraya Bus Station. Genting also offers limousines, coaches and helicopter services for charter.

Weather :
At 2,000 meters above sea level, it’s quite cool in the evenings, so do carry a shawl or sweatshirt. Casino entry requires more formal attire than jeans and tees. Take appropriate clothing, unless you want to pay a bomb for a batik shirts.

Must Not Miss :
The Skyway Cable Ride from Gohtong Jaya to the highlands.
The corkscrew ride at the theme park.
The Casino. (Muslims are forbidden from entering, so are children below 18)

Published in Deccan Chronicle, Sunday Chronicle on 15 Aug 2004

Saturday, 10 July 2004

10 Downing Street, Hyderabad

Ten Downing street
Lifestyle Complex
040 5562 0015, 5562 9323

Ten Downing Street, has its regulars. And the owners and the loyalists have an all round sense of contentment. This is my kind of place. TDS is frequented by working professionals who want to unwind after a hard days work. Couple of call center parties do come here, then after awhile realise its not really their kinda place and drift away and restore the ambience to normal. This is a place you can go to when your boss has $@!~%d you over and TDS will welcome you & your tired, weary, minds and bodies.

The Décor is kind of like what an English study is pictured to be in the movies. Warm wooden panelling including on the floors. There's a small library at one corner which partly has genuine books and partly pasted prints of book spines. Some cool curios can be seen in some of the cabinets too. The central bar table where the bar tender mixes the cocktails is a good place to sit. The most coveted seating though is the slightly worn leather sofas just at the entrance.

BOB is 125 onwards. Their draught is quite good. A mug is 100, a pitcher is around 400. 60 ml hard liquor is 160 bucks. Accompanying mixer is 40 bucks. Heard a rumor that they don’t sell small pegs. Cocktails are rs 250 onwards. Tried the Whiskey Sour and the Screaming orgasm which would have been better with more alcohol content and less ice. But good never the less. The bloody mary was appreciated though.

No complimentary snacks, but some of his food is really good. Especially the meat balls. Definitely try this. The shepherds pie is out of this world, as is the pasta. The cook for the continental stuff is great but not so for the others. The chinese snacks are average. Thai curry to be avoided at all costs.

In the noons there's a total VFM offer. For 150 bucks you get a beer, a main course, soup and desert. This includes the shepherds pie option.

DJ Black Jack totally rocks. He knows what the regulars want him to play and he sticks to it. Look out for him on Tuesdays for sure. Wednesdays is Ladies night. Ladies get beer, hard spirits and a choice of 3 cocktails absolutely free from 8-10pm. Thursdays is Karaoke night and theres some pretty good talent around. Sometimes you get a guest DJ who wants to play out his collection, but the crowd always manages to bring the DJ back on track.

If you are in the 25-45 age group and looking for a chilled out place to relax, look no further. Teeny boppers who have started addressing me as aunty/maam, please avoid this place. Ive found my sanctuary in Hyderabad, please don’t attempt to disturb it.

Published on

Monday, 12 January 2004

Dublin - Hyderabad

Dublin - Welcompub
ITC Kakatiya Sheraton & Towers
Hyderabad - 16
040 2340 0132 *2502

ITC trumpets their pub as : The Original Irish Pub, which offers an exciting array of drinks & cocktails.

Located in the basement, the décor is reminiscent of the Irish pubs in the US, but since Ive never been to Ireland, I cannot comment on the genuine authenticity of the décor. There's a pool table near one entrance where you can while away some time, if you so wish.

The crowd here is very mixed. You have some expat crowd, couple of sons of rich businessmen, some junta that troops in after or in the middle of attending functions in other parts of the Kakatiya. I guess the only uniting factor of this crowd would be that they are **Moneyed**

Which brings me to an important question - "Just what the Heck was 'I' doing there ?" Waiting for a friend who was on a Company Business Account, is a good reason and I thank the company in question for sponsoring our evening.

We ordered a Margarita Pitcher for 700 bucks. Decent amount of alcohol in the pitcher, though the glasses were oversalted. It’s a small Pitcher, so just about filled 4 margarita glasses. Don’t go expecting beer pitcher quantities. BOB is 150. MOB is 125. Pitcher is 425. + Taxes of course... They served Potato chips with tomato sauce dip and roasted peanuts complimentary on every table and you can keep ordering refills of this. Harder stuff is about 250 per 30 ml unless you are considering the higher premium brands. Mocktails / Cocktails are in the 250+ / 275+ range. We have no idea what the snacks cost. You will see why as you read further.

Music is fairly good for most part of the time. They usually have a live band with North Eastern women doing the normal song and dance routine and they are fairly good at it. But the kind of music played keeps varying based on who's requesting what and whether it’s the live band or a DJ.

The service absolutely sucks. Unless you have a fair skinned foreigner, who speaks accented English sitting at your table. When the 3 of us intially reached there, it took 20 minutes before a waiter brought us the menu. Drinks took another 30 minutes to arrive, once the order was placed. The waiter then took, over 40 minutes to revert when we asked him for the snacks menu. By the time he reverted to us, he said the kitchen was closed ! ! ! When an Amercian friend walked in and came over to our table to say hi, the same waiter who had waited for the kitchen to close before even getting us the snacks menu, mysteriously conjured up an extra chair, before the new arrival even turned around and requested one. Barely were the words "Fosters" out of his mouth and a well iced bottle materialised in his hand. We then told our American friend to ask for a water pitcher and lo & behold, it was placed in the centre of our table with a flourish and a dose of TLC. (We had been pleading for a pitcher of water for the last 4 hours and the waiter insisted he did not have a pitcher in the pub, inspite of serving us the Margaritas out of a pitcher)

Don’t visit unless you are a fair skinned foreigner, a high roller who is well known by the waiters, or have been sucked into attending a formal function at the Kakatiya, where no alcohol is being served, and you absolutely have to have your evening fortification, no matter how long it takes !

Published on


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