28-Feb-2009

Hither and thither

The cool thing I discovered about Bombay last weekend was the number of resorts within a one to two hour driving distance. The obvious choices are of course Matheran and Alibaug. But even tiny beaches like Manori, Utan, Gorai have something to offer and in no time, I had picked out one, paid for the rooms and we were on our way to the place.

Things to remember about family resorts

1. People love listening to music on a holiday. If it involves playing your car stereo loud enough for people in neighbouring rooms to hear, so be it.
2. When the pool says ‘only lycra swinwear’ what it actually means is that men can wear Bermudas displaying their ample paunches and women can wear swim wear on top of tights/track pants and t-shirts.
3. Children in a swimming pool love to scream whether they are having fun or are scared.
4. The best way to communicate with your family visiting the pool at one end of the resort is to scream from your room at the other end of the resort

These are however generic features of all family resorts and should not be held against U-Tan which was very reasonably priced, had well maintained premises, small but warm rooms and a friendly staff. Infact, after the day trippers had left, it was absolutely beautiful to sit by the swimming pool and watch the sun set into the sea.

To balance out all the fun from saving on travel time during this holiday, work travel reared its ugly head this week, complete with early morning flights and late night returns. Which became not so ugly once I realized that I would have a couple of hours to spare for a quick sightseeing trip close by.

The advantages of visiting a fairly large company located in a semi-urban town are several. The company sends a nice car to pick you up. You are taken to their guest house where you can have another go at breakfast despite hogging on airline food. Then you can nap a bit. Eventually you land up for the eleven thirty meeting and spend the rest of the day cooped up in office. Which ranks higher than traveling two hours from town to the suburbs in Bombay for an eleven thirty meeting and spending the rest of the day cooped up in office.

Or atleast this was the plan. Turns out the driver meant to pick us up had no clue where the guesthouse was. He spent quite some time asking vendors for ‘O.S.S. Colony’. The piece of paper he carried gave clear enough directions ‘near petrol pump. Opposite Reliance Fresh’ including the road name and so on. But mysteriously enough for a small town, no one had heard of the place. The driver gave up after five minutes and seemed quite content to spend the whole day searching for El Dorado. After a good forty five minutes of circling around the same place like a devout pilgrim, we were overhead by a stranger at the petrol pump. He kindly led the way and there we were at our destination

In big bright letters it said ‘The Oasis’

No time for breakfast or nap. But colleague and I had a good long (and I suspect hysterical) laugh.

13-Feb-2009

The grass is greener on my side

I spoke to a friend who had gone to the Ranthambore sanctuary over the Republic Day weekend. We both started on how we had to contend with a miserable set of co-visitors in our respective sanctuaries. It turned out that despite all my whining about Gujjus in Gir, I lost the cribbing competition fair and square. Here is what the friend said

The sanctuary is a popular stop in the North Indian tour circuit and was consequently filled with North Indian tourists (who are apparently even louder than Gujjus)

The rooms cost twice as much as what we had paid since accommodation is in Havelis and the thumb rule in Rajasthan is that if the owners can boast of royal lineage, they double the prices. (Though I suspect my friend chose the Haveli route when he could have very well stayed in normal hotels like us commoners)

A bunch of spoilt brat Delhi kids decided that Ranthombore had more potential as a party place than a sanctuary. Consequently on day one they jumped into a pool and made a ruckus at twelve in the night and on day two began to blast loud music at three in the morning. The fact that some of the guests gave the kids the firing of their lives was a very thin silver lining

But most of all, after doing four safaris, he did not spot any tigers. Instead had to bear jokes like this on each of the safaris -

Guide (pointing to a deer) – That is a Sambar

Loud Sardar tourist – Arey if this is the Sambar, where is the idli?

Everyone in Loud Sardar's group - chortle chortle chortle

Atleast I saw a lionness

02-Feb-2009

Gir Sanctuary – Fact sheet


The Gir National Park and Sanctuary is accessed from Sasan-Gir, a sleepy, one-street village without any character whatsoever.

Best time to go – Summers if you can put up with the 40+ temperature then. Apparently lions move about a lot more freely and can be spotted a lot more easily. We went in the winter when temperatures are more bearable (daytime 20 - 25 degrees) and can come down to 8 degrees in the night.

Getting there: Flights go to Rajkot – 3.5 hours by road and Diu – 3 hours by road. Trains go to Veraval (1 hour by road) and Rajkot.

Stay – A handful of resorts and very few recommended both by Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor or even Holiday IQ. We chose Anil Farmhouse which was neat and clean and had nice rooms. But it was also the most popular choice for Gujju families, who as it turned out, are really loud (defying all rules of civilisation where one would expect noisy young ones to grow into soft spoken adults. Just the opposite happens here). The other resort in this price range (3000 per night on twin sharing, including 3 meals a day) was Maneland but it had bad online reviews

Eat – At the resort. Unless you are a Gujju family in which case you would have remembered to carry loads of theplas and farsan and eaten it loudly at the dining table.

To Do

Lion Safari – Happens at 6 a.m., 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and lasts three hours per session. We went for the 3 p.m. round and spotted a lioness. Apparently it is fairly easy to spot a lion if you manage to do a couple of safaris atleast. Even if you do spot a lion in your first try, doing another safari could be interesting.
Gir Conservation Centre – An enclosed area where there are lots of animals, including lions. Can see animals much closer than in the non-enclosed forest area.

There are tons of birds in Gir. Carry binocs if you are an avid watcher.

The leopard is also a popular animal in these parts, though now pretty much a side-show on account of the lion

Around Gir

Somnath (1 hour from Gir towards the south) – Claim to fame is the number of devasting attacks it endured from raiders. Ghazni managed to destroy the ancient temple and now a new, stereotyped temple stands courtesy Sardar Vallabhai Patel. Looks quite nice though and there is an awesome view of the sea. If you have really keen eyesight (like, say, Sarah Palin), you can keep an eye on Antarctica as apparently there is no landmass in between. There is also a sound and lights show in the evenings though we did not stay to see it.

Diu (3 hours from Gir towards the south if you go via Somnath. Shorter route should take an hour lesser. Road is a little bad in some parts) – Diu has a lovely Portuguese Fort. We skipped the Church and the museum. Guides are available to give you a tour of all these places. The most popular beach is Nagwa, 5 kms away. It was crowded with families. The shacks, sadly, were filled with shady looking men tanking up on daru before returning to the dry state of Gujarat. The water sports are a con job with lifejackets that had thermocol oozing out. The beach had a pleasant breeze and you can walk about a bit. From the Diu Fort, we could see some lovely, secluded beaches though. Could be worth a try.

Junagadh (1 hour, towards the north) – lots of stuff on the net about the fort, Ashokan edicts, Mausoleum etc. We did not have much time but from the quick stop we made at Maqbhara Khan's mausoleum it seemed well worth a visit

Rajkot (3.5 hours, towards the north, past Junagadh) – Nothing on the net seemed impressive and since we got there primarily for the train, did not see much either. Supposed to be good for shopping (which I managed to at Jetpur, about 50 kms away). Time will tell if the colours of the bandini stuff I picked up runs.