Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A vintage gastro-pub experience at Soro, Assagao

Come evening, the vintage gastropub, right in the heart of Assagao - Soro The Village Pub - is buzzing with the right kind of crowd. Just chill with your buddies over drinks or indulge in some delectable food off their quirky menu, it's a place to soak in the vibe and just unwind, especially during the weekend when they have a buzzing live music and salsa scene! 

The interiors are elegant and classy - with incandescent lighting, industrial themed decor and high chairs you can comfortable perch on. There is a cozy outdoor setting in the verandah, amid lush green foliage or an air-conditioned interiors if you wish to sit indoors.

Their bar counter, stocked with the best of premium liquor and a mixologist churning out some of the finest concoctions. The wait staff are warm, welcoming and friendly, and makes sure you have a wonderful experience.

They have the mocktails for the non-drinkers and IMFL for those who want to stick with the classics. For the more adventurous souls, they have a bunch of special cocktails in addition to the classic cocktails like the margaritas and the martinis.

We tried the Konkan @ Rs 300 (a Goan themed drink with cashew feni and rum, kokum juice, black salt with a hint of lime), Chocolate Kiss @ Rs 400 (a delicious chocolate and vodka concoction) and Goan Reviver @ Rs 350 (a coconut based drink comprising of tender coconut water and cocnut feni, with gin and white rum), which were delightfully refreshing and just apt to get the evening going.

The quirky menu has a bunch of interesting starters, one of which we started the evening with. The Vodka Gol Gappa @ Rs 140 was an unusual twist to India's popular street food, where the tamarind flavoured water was replaced by vodka. Yummza! 

The menu interestingly includes ample vegetarian options as well, in addition to a large seafood and meat delicacies. Their crunchy Onion Rings @ Rs 140, Paneer Skewers @ Rs 275 and Bruschetta loaded with cheese and garlic @ Rs 255 are good bets. If not, you could munch on some chilli cheese or regular fries!

For the seafood and meat lovers, the Bacon Wrapped Beef/Prawns @ Rs 350, King Fish Rava Fry @ Rs 300, Koonthal Masal Fry @ Rs 295 and Leaf Bundled Fish @ Rs 300 are good options. We opted for a platter of Island Tidbits @ Rs 370, which had a bunch of appetizers like crispy prawns, jalepeno cheese poppers, chicken wings and crispy fried calamari - the right portion size to share between two.

For those looking for a healthier option, the Tex Mex Nachos @ 275 are delicious with a nice topping of salsa, beans and sour cream, with an addition of bacon or chicken bits if you fancy it,

For the mains, I had to go with the Grilled Beef Tenderloin @ Rs 540, and done medium-rare, it was every bit of delicious. The peppercorn marinated tenderloin was succulent and oozing with flavours, and came on a bed of sauteed veggies. Divine! They also have a selection of salads, burgers, pizzas and pastas.

For the lovers of Goan food, they have their take on the Chicken Cafreal with Poi @ Rs 255. The juicy chicken in the spicy green marinade made for a filling and tasty meal served with local bread. You could also opt for their Grilled Moroccan Lemon Chicken @ Rs 380 or the Soro Mixed Seafood Platter @ Rs 915.

For someone whose meal isn't complete without dessert, their selection of assorted desserts are something you could end your meal with. Dive into a warm goey chocolate brownie served with vanilla ice cream or a crumbly apple tart with ice cream.

End the meal with a home made chocolate paan to add to the fun! The menu indeed is quirky and something to look forward to. With the quality of food taking centre stage, Soro lives up to the hype! The right portion sizes, delectable flavours and wide variety is something that will get you hooked! Happy dining!

Related post: A Mediterranean experience at Artjuna

Thursday, June 28, 2018

My Munnar travel diary | Munnar trip in photos (Indian girl backpacking solo in Kerala)

The tea country in the South wasn't really on my to-do list anytime soon. It seemed hyped and really touristy for my liking. But when I was backpacking solo in Kerala and was spending a substantial amount of time in Cochin and Allepey, which is just a few hours away from Munnar, I was coerced by friends to give Munnar a shot.

And there I hopped onto a bus to Munnar, from Cochin, without a return ticket. But one day in Munnar and I booked my return to Allepey for the next evening. I spent an entire day sleeping in my beautiful room in a cozy little homestay overlooking the beautiful tea gardens and hills of Munnar, and the next day was spent driving around and exploring the beautiful hill station.

The highlight of my trip definitely was the tea plantation visit and the visit to the tea factory. My tea plantation visit at 'Top Station' involved a little hike to where tea leaves were being harvested. I did interact with a few plantation workers and had a great time experiencing the tea harvest.

I also spent a delightful time understanding the processing of tea at the Kanan Devan factory - where most of South India's tea is made. It truly was a wonderful experience for a tea lover. Admist slight drizzle and absolutely chilly weather, and after drinking cups of tea, I left from this beautiful place.

Tips before you go:
#1 Book a nice place - a home stay or a resort and just chill
#2 There are a bunch of waterfalls you can visit, but plan in advance, since they're at quite a distance
#3 Visit the tea factory
#4 Spend time at the tea gardens (it was mesmerising)
#5 Take a volvo bus from Cochin to Munnar and back, or go to Allepey from there (or vice versa)
#6 Don't go during winters if you can't take cold (I went in monsoons and froze. Winters are cooler)
#7 Drive your own vehicle or rent one there (or hire a rickshaw or jeep, but a roadtrip would be lovely)

Now, let me take you through my Munnar travel diary in photos. Hope you like it. All photos are taken on MiA1 and 99 per cent of them aren't edited at all! Comment and let me know what you think!

You may like: Top 7 things to do in Allepey (Alappuzha), Kerala

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Top 7 things to do in Allepey (Alappuzha), Kerala

The little town functions at its own pace and has something for everybody. You could just spend a few days here, and stop by just for one of the following things and you’re sure to have a great time!

#1 Watch the sunset at Allepey beach

It’s one of the more pristine beaches on the Western coast of India and offers some breathtaking views during sunsets. Though they don’t have beach shacks (like Goan beaches does), they do have some beach facing restaurants you could dine at. The main beach tends to get crowded during the day and evening, but it’s really empty during the day. Also, walk a kilometre along the coast and you reach an empty stretch where you can have the beach just for yourself.

#2 Explore the backwaters of Allepey

The backwaters of Allepey are one of the most hyped things about the place. And cruising through the narrow waters and exploring the villages around is sure mesmerising. Take a house boat, hop onto a public ferry or hire a motorboat of your own – there are so many ways of exploring this beautiful place. Read: Types of boats to explore the backwaters of Allepey.

#3 Ride around the pretty town of Allepey

Unlike the more crowded cities – Cochin and Trivendrum – Allepey is relatively more remote and has its own charm. There are hardly any cars or cabs on the street and you see so many people riding a bicycle, or walking or just sitting by the roadside. The entire town is interconnected with cannals and it’s a beautiful sight to cross these narrow bridges and see a lovely church or a mosque on the other end. The town in itself is very small, but not walkable. Renting a motorbike or bicycle is a good option.

#4 Relax at a beach-facing property in Allepey

The best part about this town is cheap accommodation, right by the beach! I got to stay at Zostel Allepey, right by the beach, and it was a steal. I hardly shelled out any money and got such a wonderful experience. Additionally, there are many resorts, hotels, BnBs and even tents overlooking the beach, and staying at one of this is sure a wonderful experience. You can just relax and unwind while in Allepey.

#5 Indulge in some local delicacies and visit a toddy shop in Allepey

Considering Allepey isn’t buzzing like the cities, the food offerings here are limited. You can either visit one of the arty cafes by the beach dishing out a globally infused menu, or try some local food. There are plenty of local restaurants and asking around should find you one. Additionally, when you’re on a boat ride, so stop by at one of the restaurants in the villages and try their delicious seafood. Also stop by at a toddy shop and munch on some local delicacies as you sip on some freshly tapped toddy.

#6 Take up a cooking class in Allepey

The laidback town has it’s own set of things to do. If you’re done walking around the narrow streets and lazing on the beach, engage in an interactive cooking class conducted by locals, and get to learn how to cook some local delicacies. Most of these classes are customised according to your requirements and the local aunties are happy to teach you cook your favourite items.

#7 Enjoy an ayurvedic massage in Allepey

There’s another thing Kerala is known for, in addition to their beaches and backwaters, is it’s ayurvedic massage. While many people come to Kerala for their ayurvedic treatments, rejuvenating with a nice ayurvedic massage in this little town is a great idea too. The rates are so much cheaper than getting a massage in the city and it’s such a great way to end your Kerala vacation!

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Allepey travelogue | Alappuzha beach & boating in the backwaters of Allepey

You need to visit Alappuzha, romantically known as Allepey, to understand why exactly it’s called the ‘Venice of the East’. The quaint town is just around two hours South of Cochin (which is connected by air from major cities) and Allepey is accessible by bus or train, in a two-three hours journey. The laidback vibe of the beach town interconnected by a network of canals and waterways is a perfect beach getaway, in addition to a chance to explore the mesmerising backwaters.

I reached Allepey way past midnight and found this amazing beef curry with parotta. Yumm!

The dosas that looked like pancakes were sure amazing! Street food rocks!

The town in itself, is quite small and comprises of several backwaters and narrow canals throughout. A little distance away are a bunch of villages and wildlife sanctuaries connected by the waterways. The entire town is calm and peaceful, that you are traversed into a different timezone while there. I headed to Allepey after a short stay at Munnar and Cochin, to spend two nights in this beautiful land. Considering I love both – beaches and backwaters, I was super excited for my weekend.

It was love at first sight when Mia sneaked into my bed when I woke up

Got out of the room into this beautiful space

This being my last stop in Kerala, I didn’t have a lot of time to spare, and skipped the ayurvedic massage since I got one earlier that week in Fort Kochi. So most of my time was spent chilling at the beautiful common space at Zostel Allepey. For the uninitiated, Zostel is a chain of hostels across India and this was my fourth time staying in Zostel (I’ve stayed in Jaipur, Pushkar and Fort Kochi before this). What I love about them is they’re perfect for solo women travellers considering a lot of solo travellers stay in them!

Some idli vada for breakfast

.....and some dosa with chutney and sambhar too!

So well, when I booked Zostel Allepey, I wasn’t sure about what to expect. It was just an extended trip from Cochin and it was a decision taken in haste. I constantly hoped that it didn’t disappoint, and it sure didn’t. To begin with, I was insanely late when I got there. I reached well past midnight, and the property manager Varun was there to welcome me. That was the kindest gesture. That wasn’t it. The folks at Zostel Allepey helped me plan and itinerary and assisted me in figuring the best way to explore Allepey.

One of my favourite photos of Reina's bag, Varun's computer with world map cover and Mia

Walking out of Zostel onto the beach

Mia being herself

The cherry on the cake was, it is located right next to the beach. Like, the main entrance opens right onto the beach. The terrace offers a wonderful sea view and has hammocks where you can chill all day! The common area on the ground floor is always buzzing with the best kinda people! I met some amazing people while there. I have lost track of the number of hours I’ve spent chilling on the hammocks on the terrace. Truly a wonderful experience. I truly recommend you try Zostel Allepey if you’re looking to experience staying in a backpackers hostel while traveling solo, or with a friend or two!

I couldn't get enough of her

One of the best things of travelling solo is meeting new people...here's Reina!

Love the details

The place next to Zostel

Empty Allepey beach

Walking around Zostel

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Types of boats to explore the backwaters of Allepey | Best way to experience the backwaters in Alappuzha, Kerala

The slow paced village life along the backwaters of Allepey can be experienced in a boat. It’s by far the most sought after thing to do in Allepey and almost everyone look forward to hiring a houseboat for the night. However, not many know of all the boat options available to explore the Allepey backwaters. You can take an auto rickshaw or walk until the boat jetty and opt for any of the boat you’d prefer. Just so you don’t get conned, here’s a list of the boats you could pick, depending on duration, budget and preference; and a few tips on which one’s offer what sort of experiences.

Types of boats in Allepey

Public ferries: The cheapest and the most crowded boats to explore the backwaters. If you are there for long, you can take a ferry from Allepey boat jetty to any neighbouring village. Probably take one multiple times to check out different routes. The route fares are nominal and you get to interact with loacals. It stops at multiple stops and people hop off and get on there. Rs 10/-.

Shikara: The joyous rides in a Shikara are perfect if you’re looking to explore the backwaters for only a few hours. They have a roof and have comfortable seating arrangements, and are pretty! You can hire one for yourself and the rates vary depending on the number of people and time of the year. Rs 500/- an hour.

Motorboat: A slightly better version of the Shikara, these are more modern and are closed boats with large windows. They can accommodate up to a dozen people and are more sturdy, as a result of which they function even during the rains. You can choose one depending on the number of hours you wish to spend in the backwaters. Rs 600/- an hour.

Canoe: Though these lack all sorts of comfort, these are truly wonderful means of exploring the backwaters considering they can go through even narrow canals into the villages. They accommodate fewer people are a riskier option during bad weather. But it’s a truly wonderful experience if you’re an adventure seeker. Rs 600/- an hour.

Kayaking: If you’re up for it, a kayak is a wonderful way to explore the backwaters. This is a great combo of water sports and exploring the backwaters. They are available at different rates for three, four or seven hours and usually commence operations early in the morning. Rs 2000/- an hour.

House boats: These most luxurious boats are honeymooners’ paradise. They are spacious, sturdy boats which is like a floating hotel. You can check into it at noon, and stay overnight. Like every inland hotel, they are equipped with facilities for a comfortable stay. They serve you lunch, dinner and breakfast, before dropping you off the next morning. They are relatively expensive and aren’t meant for budget travellers! Between Rs 7000/- to 25,000/- depending on size and luxury offerings.

Some tips before choosing a boat:

Which boat do you choose? These are all the types of boats you can hop onto to experience the backwaters of Allepey. While I’d recommend a house boat if you want the experience or if you’re in Allepey for a special occasion. If you do not have the budget or the time, I’d recommend a canoe, a shikara or a motorboat. Just in case you’re a backpacker and there in Allepey for a very long time, try hoping onto the ferry. You’ll have to be able to communicate locally, considering most people don’t speak in English or Hindi, and only speak in Malyalam. If you’re a watersports enthusiast, a kayak would be great!

Try to bargain at the boat jetty! They do quote exorbitant prices. I got a motorboat for Rs 1000/-, for which he initially quotes Rs 1800/- for three hours. Also try to get a captain who knows English or Hindi and chat up with him. The backwaters have wonderful stories which he will be able to share. Also, since the boat guys are locals, they know the places around and are in the position to explain the route and the places visited.

Make sure you’re there during the afternoons, so you can stop by for lunch at a local restaurant. There are several local restaurants lining the backwaters once you reach the villages. I remember my boat took me to Kuttunad and I had the best local meal there. What’s the food like? They serve a local thali, with a bunch of veggies, rice, fish curry, papad and a variety of pickle. They have fresh seafood stocked, so you can take a pick and they cook it for you right there in the preparation style you desire. Trust me, this will be the best decision of your life. The food is relatively cheaper as compared to Goa, and the seafood fresh and tasty. The local aunties take pride in their cooking style, and leave it to them. They make sure you enjoy your time there.

Also, make sure you stop by at a local toddy shop. The little joints has some freshly tapped toddy and some amazing spicy seafood to go with it. Either pull over and chill at one of the toddy shops by the backwaters, or grab some toddy and sip on it on your boat as you relax on the deck and enjoy the scenic view. Perfect way to unwind and watch the village life…

I hope you enjoyed this post. Hoping this will help you while booking your backwaters boating experience in Allepey. Have fun! Happy cruising. J

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Top six things to do in Mattancherry in Ernakulam, Kerala

The historic town of Mattancherry in Ernakulam is located around 2.5 kms from Fort Kochi and approx. 10 kms away from Cochin. The place, that has a rich cultural history has a remnant of the Portuguese, Dutch and Jews in India during the colonial era. The architecture and streets are influenced by a mix of Portuguese and Dutch, and also shows traces of British and hints of Kerala. It is perfect for a day trip from Fort Kochi. This is what you can do while in Mattancherry:

#1 Visit the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry

Interestingly, the Dutch Palace was originally constructed by the Portuguese in a predominantly Kerala style of architecture and gifted to the royals of Kochi in 1555. Though most part of it resembles a Kerala bungalow, there are traces of European architecture as well in their arches and chambers. The flooring of the Mattancherry Palace resembles a black marble, but is actually a mix of burnt coconut shells, egg whites, plant juices and charcoal. The Dutch took over the palace in 1663 and it was later taken over by Hyder Ali and Bristish. There are a couple of temples in the palace premises, into which you’re allowed entry only if you’re a Hindu. The entry fee to the palace is a nominal Rs 5/-, and photography isn’t allowed inside it. The palace comprises of several paintings and mural covered walls and a lot of them are religious in nature.

#2 Explore Jew Town in Mattancherry

The narrow street right outside the Dutch Palace in Mattancherry that leads towards the Paradesi Synagogue is known as Jew Town. It is quite touristy than you’d expect it to be and has a ton of stores, cafes, galleries and houses. A short walk away is a Jewish cemetery, entry to which isn’t permitted, but you can see it through the gate. Through the foliage, you can see engravings on the tombs in Hebrew, English and Malyalam.

#3 Shop for some spices and artefacts in Mattancherry

The streets around Mattancherry have some really great artefacts and trinkets you can take home if you’re a history and art buff. The most popular ones are the bronze and other metal items, wooden furniture, crockery, jewellery, musical instruments and handicrafts. The Jew Town also features a spice market which has spice stores lined up amidst heritage houses on both sides of the street, where one can shop for multiple Kerala spices.

#4 Visit the Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry

The Paradesi Synagogue in Mattancherry is one of the two synagogues in Ernakulam (one of which is in Cochin) that was apparently constructed in 5105. It is the oldest synagogue and only one that is still in use. It comprises of a large 18th century clock tower at the entrance. Mattancherry has just one Jewish family comprising of five members and they are the caretakers of the Synagogue. I was told by one of the Jews that the rest have migrated to Israel. There are strict dress codes and timings to be followed, and the Synagogue is shut during weekends and Jewish holidays. There are several items of historic importance in the Jewish Synagogue, for example, the Scrolls of the Law, gold crowns received as gifts, Belgian glass chandeliers, and a brass-railed pulpit. The flooring of the synagogue is made up of multiple 18th-century Chinese hand-painted porcelain tiles – every one of which is unique.

#5 Visit art galleries and arty cafes in Mattancherry

The streets of Mattancherry are lined with art galleries and arty cafes. Most of the galleries have a café attached to it and has a basic café menu. Though the food offerings are varied, they serve the best tea. You must experience the calm sitting by the window side and sipping on some tea as you see life in Mattancherry slowly progress. Some of the lovely cafes you could visit are Mocha Art Café, Café Crafters, Café Jew Town, Café Mattancherry and Yoga Art Café. If not, grab lunch or dinner at a restaurant in the Muslim stretch of town; preferably beef curry with Kerala parota or chicken biryani at Kayees Biryani in Mattancherry. 

#6 Spend some time at the Jain Temple in Mattancherry

The Jain temple dedicated to Shri Dharmanath, the 15th Jain Tirthankar is the only Jain Temple in Kerala and is open for public at certain timings. The temple which was constructed in 1960, is an example of the cultural confluence of the place, spreading over a large area of worship and offerings. The tranquil temple is located on the Gujarati Road in Mattancherry and is inspired by the Jain Temples in Gujarat. Hundreds of pigeons call the premises of the Jain Temple their home and one can feed grains to the pigeons there.