Starbucks, Connaught Place, New Delhi

It’s taken a while, but I finally visited a Starbucks in India.

The fact that I ended up in the wrong Starbucks for my first-time meeting with a well-known author is not especially relevant to this review, other than the fact that sitting alone (in the wrong place, you remember) gave me time to observe my surroundings.

And jolly impressive they were, too.  Now please don’t take this wrongly, all ye diehard “Mera Bharaat Mahaan” people, but sitting in Starbucks in Connaught Place, you could have been anywhere in the world.  Which is what you sort of expect in a Starbucks, right?

I knew I was in India, because of the very polite service and the “Ma’am” added to every sentence, but in case of doubt, here you go:

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But what was totally un-Indian (and y’all know I love India.  Live here, remember) is the feeling of space.  It’s lovely and restful, when you find it.  And it was quiet and the cappuccino was excellent.

So all round great experience.

Too bad I was in the wrong Starbucks for my meeting.

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India_Starbucks_8891Oh yes.

Price.

Rs 147 for a very generously sized cappuccino.  Not bad at all.

Hotel Spic ‘n Span, Leh, India

If you are looking for a brilliantly located, spotlessly clean hotel in Leh, then the aptly named “Spic ‘n Span” fits the bill.  Within walking distance of the town centre, it has adequate, comfortable rooms and bathrooms, a pretty garden and a restaurant that serves standard hotel buffet fare.

Very popular with foreign tour groups –  mainly European trekkers –  means that it’s always busy, but the staff are charming and helpful.

We stayed there for a few days last July, and had no complaints whatsoever. Just one thing : our package included dinner, but were I to stay there again, I would opt for just B & B, as the food is nothing wildly exciting.  Since the hotel’s location is so central, you are within easy walking distance of a couple of good restaurants in town, such as “Bon Appetit”, “Gesmo” or “Open Hand“.

Most evenings, we sat out in the little garden, reading, chatting, enjoying the cooler weather after hot days.

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Yes, that really is a full moon shining over a mountain peak (below)…

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Looking down on the tiny car park, and the lovely view beyond.

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For rates, which vary according to the package you take, check their website.

Personally recommended.

I did not tell them I blogged or wrote reviews, and we obviously paid our own bills.

Where to stay between Kargil & Leh?

The road journey to Leh high up in the Indian Himalayas is a spectacular but oftentimes difficult one.

The terrain is unforgiving, the road can be blocked by sudden landslides, but oh those views…and those colours that look as though they have been overexposed, so bright are they.

Last year we drove from Gulmarg to Leh, and one of the issues was where to stay for the night en route. No-one expects luxury at altitude, but a clean, hygienic overnight stop was a must.

And the little tented camp called Nun Kun did not disappoint.  It is about 25 km beyond Kargil, surrounded by mountains and makes a good overnight stop.  The camp describes itself as “luxury” and I know most of my party was underwhelmed by the camp, but quite frankly, to find a clean loo, a bed groaning under the weight of so many quilts and hot food was luxury enough for me.

 

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The bathrooms are simple but functional, which is all one needs and expects at 3660+ metres.  To find western flush toilets was more than I had expected, to be honest.

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Recommended, though I think one night is all you need there, to break the journey.  There was a French couple staying there for a couple of days when we were there, but I’m not sure what you would do during the long hot days – walk and explore the surrounding peaks, I guess.

 

Nun Kun Camp is popular with biker groups – as is much of Ladakh.

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Not the camp’s fault, but perhaps they need to explain to men like these that:

(a) they have their own bathrooms for a reason, so there is no need to brush their teeth in the middle of the camp, spitting toothpaste everywhere with gay abandon.  Manners, guys, manners…

and

(b) you don’t walk around camp in your thermal long johns.  Once again, manners, guys, manners…

Perhaps the charming, unfailingly polite Ladakhis need to be a little stricter with these groups…they mainly are from Maharashtra, which is neither here nor there, I realise.

 

 

For information about rates and to book, you can contact the camp via this website.

I didn’t tell them that I write or blog and we obviously paid for our own stay.

 

JENNI BUTTON – classic, elegant South African clothing

On a recent return visit to Johannesburg, South Africa, where we lived for many years, I was looking for Western smart formal wear for my daughter. We now live in India, and office appropriate Western clothing isn’t always easy to find.

I was pointed in the direction of Jenni Button, and found a shop where I could have bought just about every item of clothing, so elegant and so smart and so classic are her designs.

How is it possible that I lived all those years in South Africa, in ignorance of this talented designer?

Ah well, better late than never is my mantra.

Loved the look and feel of the shop in Sandton City, with the colour co-ordinated displays.

Ms Button has simple formal wear and cocktail dresses, for example, all hanging together, by colour, tempting you to mix and match.

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As an aside:  I found small size clothes difficult to track down on my earlier not very fruitful shopping trips through the better known stores in SA.  I needed Size 6, and very few stores had this size on offer.  Jenni Button did.

Personally recommended.

I didn’t tell the staff in the shop that I blog or review.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sanskar Studio, in Delhi’s Shahpurjat

For the many loyal devotees and fans of Sonam Dubal’s couture, there is brilliant news afoot.

Sonam has recently opened Sanskar Studio in Shahpurjat, a cosy welcoming space where you can view his designs, as well as shop for clothing and accessories from a Calcutta based NGO, “Sasha”, an organisation very dear to Sonam’s heart.

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Up a tiny staircase, onto a little veranda, through the iconic red door, and you have arrived.

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The studio has only just opened, and so by the time you visit (and visit you should, you must) Sanskar Studio may well have evolved a little more, since it is being created slowly and lovingly, with new designs and products being added all the time.

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(Oh, by the way, this outfit, above, has my name on it.  Be warned…seriously, isn’t it gorgeous?)

Sanskar Studio is elegant, airy, welcoming and showcases the best of Sonam Dubal’s designs.

What’s not to love?

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Sanskruti resort, Gokarna

In my most recent review, on the Om Beach Hotel in Gokarna, I mentioned that when we stayed there in January there wasn’t really a viable option (price-wise).

Now there is, because a charming little hotel called Sanskruti Resort opened in February.  And so, last week on a return visit to Gokarna, we decided to stay there for one night and check it out.

Negatives first –  the property is small-ish, so there are none of the lovely established gardens of the Om Beach Resort.  The rooms are smaller, too, and close to one another.

And that is about it.

Otherwise, for service, smiles and even food, it is already ahead of the competition.

Plus they have a big pool.  2 actually, one shallow (for children, I imagine) and a deeper one, separated by a little bridge.

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So, we first visited for a look-see as we drove past, and the staff kindly showed us around.  Then we made a snap decision to change hotels, and when we rolled up for the 2nd time in half an hour, it was to even bigger smiles.

We were given a discount, too.  We were told that rooms with a view were Rs500 more expensive than those without a view, but were given the former for the latter price, without asking.  To be honest, the view isn’t actually up to much, but the thought was sweet.

No liquor permit as yet, but I imagine that’s just normal start-up scenario.

So, here was our room :

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All the doors were a bit sticky in the room – had to push hard to make them close – but I imagine it’s a case of new wood etc etc.

Our bathroom was totally adequate, though they might want to put a shelf/soap dish in the shower area :

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Nice flat screen TV and powerful A/C.

There is the teeniest of sit outs :

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and for us, we had a 3 second walk to the pool.

Straight out of room in fact :

 

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Lots of pretty floral arrangements

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The food was better than Om Beach, with delightfully attentive service.

A cute place and I wish them well.  They are building more rooms at the back, by the way, so I am sure this resort will take off.

It deserves to.

I didn’t tell then that I review/blog and we paid our own bill.

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SANSKRUTI

Om Beach Resort, Gokarna

The pretty little temple town of Gokarna, on the Karnataka Coast is a magnet for pilgrims and beach lovers, and justifiably so.

Well, to be honest, I can’t speak for the temple bit, since I was excluded from entering, since I am not an Indian, which always gets me irritated. Can you imagine the uproar there would be in Europe if a church excluded Hindus from entering?  I can see the headlines. I can imagine the lawsuits.

Yes, you’re right, I digress.
So, yes, back to Gokarna.

We were there in January of this year (2014) for a couple of days, when we stayed at the (then) only reasonably priced hotel, Om Beach Resort, run by Jungle Lodges.

 

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We have experience of this chain, having stayed a few times in one of their fishing camps on the Cauvery River, so the mix of polite-if-rather-dreamy service and nice-but-rather-scruffy-round-the-edges-accommodation was familiar.

Our room was large, with a little sit out, a pretty garden view, and an inside sitting area, but there was an air of benign neglect over everything.

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Spotlessly clean, but shabby.

Broken panes of glass on the front door, with paper to replace them.

 

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Bathroom tiles peeling off.

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Plaster peeling.

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That kind of shabbiness.
Kind service.

No pool, sadly.

Weak connectivity –  best reception in the reception (no pun intended).
Lovely location.

Pretty garden.

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But oh so dull food.

Oh so very, very dull.

You eat at a pretty platform, with a lovely view, but the buffet food is downright uninspiring.

To be honest, it’s the sort of place you stay in because there isn’t another clean reasonably priced option.

Fast forward to last week, mid April, when we were once again in Gokarana for 2 nights.

We booked into the same hotel and got the exact same room.

With the window pane still broken, the tiles still falling off, the walls still peeling.
Time had stopped still for nearly 4 months.
Not impressive.  It just re-confirmed the air of shabby neglect.

The food was still dull.  But the service was kind.

For example, when it was a choice of either meat or fish, since we are the original Jack Spratt couple (I don’t eat meat, hubby doesn’t eat fish) they served us both.

And when we checked out after just one night (more anon) there was no demurring.  They didn’t charge us for the extra night.

Nor did they ask why we were leaving.

 

JUNGLE LODGE

My favourite moment of “Diana” was…

…when it finished.

Oh dear, is that too harsh ?

Yes?

Oh well, too bad.

I am a (self-styled) reviewer, so I must not lack moral courage when it is called for.

“Diana” is actually so bad that you almost have to see it.  Well, that was our logic, daughter dearest and I.  We had read several highly critical reviews that painted the movie in such a poor light that it became a “must see how bad bad can be” challenge.

And “Diana ” did not disappoint.

It is pedestrian, the acting is wooden, and Naomi Watts doesn’t look a bit like the late Diana, despite the film’s poster.  Ms Watts has got the voice and the simpering-peeping-up-from-fluttery-eyelash-look off to perfection, but that’s about it.

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I am not at all sure what the point of the film is.

If it is to present the late Princess of Wales in a favourable light it is beyond a flop.

Diana comes across as needy, selfish, immature, irrational, stupid, beyond self-centred, manipulative.  You cannot for one moment like this woman, who tips off the press to her jaunts and then flees in shock-horror-tears when it all gets a bit too much.

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She shops, she jogs, she plays the piano, she spends a lot of time complaining and calling people in the middle of the night to cry on their shoulder.

She practices in advance That Comment About Charles and Camilla that she makes in her infamous TV interview.  She practises in front of one of those mirrors with light bulbs –  the sort actresses have in their theatre dressing room.

And she falls in love with a nice Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan.  Though why she does is a bit of a mystery.   He is nice enough but hardly jaw-droppingly good-looking, is presumably not rich, given the size (and state) of his flat.  He drinks beer, smokes, loves junk food and watches footy on the telly and has the messiest flat you could hope never to see.  A regular bloke, in other words.

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But love does funny things to you, apparently, so Diana does the dishes and Hoovers and other such nonsense, so that’s all right.

She also goes to Pakistan, so there’s a nice feel-good ethnic-y bit, where she sips tea with her (alas not)-to-be in-laws.  Our Delhi audience gave a knowing laugh when we meet the stern-faced, steely-eyed, unsmiling Mrs. Khan, as in Hasnat’s mother, who is dead-set against the relationship, we are told, and lectures Diana about the horrors of Partition.  (That was about the only moment I felt sorry for her)

Oh, hang on, just remembered one moment that made me smile.

Diana goes to all kinds of lengths to try and hide her relationship with Mr. Khan, such as wearing a wig and smuggling him into Kensington Palace hidden under a rug in the back of her car.

As she speeds past the cops on security duty at the Palace, one of them comments that the line of the car implies it is carrying more weight than normal.
“About 80 kg”, one guesses, “One Pakistani heart surgeon” and they laugh, not at all unpleasantly.

And that is about as genuinely funny/smile-worthy as it gets.  For the rest, it’s a cringe-fest.

Diana wearing yellow rubber gloves to do the dishes.

Diana criticising Hasnat’s English.

Diana meeting Hasnat in a Chicken Cottage fast food outlet.

Diana…

Oh you know what?  Just go watch this dreadful movie for yourself.

Beats me why a nice footy loving bloke like Mr. Khan would put up with her antics for more than 10 minutes.

Poor chap.

Recommended for all the wrong reasons.

THROUGH A LENS, BY A MIRROR THE PARSIS 1977 – 2013

In tandem with the exhibition of black and white images of the African descendants living in India, known as Sidi, Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art has a second photographic exhibition, also of a minority community, but the gulf between the poor, rural Sidis of Ms Sheth’s exhibition and the westernised, philanthropic, city based Parsis couldn’t be greater.

It is this contrast that makes these 2 collections doubly fascinating.

Sooni Taraporevala’s early photos of family and friends gradually morphed over the years into a detailed and loving chronicling of this educated, outward looking but sadly in decline community.

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Many of the photographs were shot in Bombay, which is home to a large percentage of the Parsi community.  Having lived in that wonderful city about 20 years ago, there was a delightful nostalgia about some of the images. Ah, those wonderful double-decker buses…those flared trousers…those cool tiled corridors in the turn of the century buildings…

 

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This is a collection of images that, like the Sidi exhibition, has been photographed with love and affection and ne’er a moment of voyeurism.

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There is a gentleness and almost retro feel to many of the portraits, as Ms Taraporevala captures both a community and the city that is so much part of the Parsi social fabric.

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A lovely exhibition, which made me want to head straight back to Bombay, so nostalgic did it make me feel.

 

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This last image (above) is sublime.  Almost like a painting.  Absolutely love it.

 

Highly recommended.

 

Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

(Comments re the Rs 150 vs  Rs 10 rupee price differential in ticket price holds.)

The Sidi: Indians of African Descent

Calling all Delhi-walas/visitors to Delhi.

There are 2 photographic exhibitions at the National Gallery of Modern Art that you absolutely don’t want to miss. Both exhibitions cover minority communities in India, but communities that are poles apart, socially and educationally. The juxtaposing of these exhibitions makes a visit even more thought provoking.

Ketaki Sheth’s stunning black and white photos of the Sidi community is fascinating.

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One knew, of course, that there were the descendants of African slaves and sailors and travellers living along the Konkan Coast. I remember once, on a day trip out of Bombay (as it then was) to visit an old fort, seeing a man in a village who looked completely African.  I wondered, researched it a little in those far-off computer-less days, and then forgot all about him.

But until I visited this fabulous photographic exhibition, I had no idea that the Sidi community numbers some 70,000 (more than the Parsis…more anon), and that they have been in India for centuries.

Ketaki Sheth’s images are hauntingly beautiful, and very sympathetic to her subject. You never for a moment feel that the camera has been intrusive or exploitative. You just instinctively know that her subjects cooperated with her. These are definitely not grab shots, the kind we are all guilty of, but rather lovingly and sensitively composed portraits.

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What strikes one is the intrinsic African-ness of these villagers, who, despite bangles and dupattas, look every inch as though they are sitting in a dusty village in Botswana, say.

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I used to live in South Africa, and miss the continent enormously.  Visiting the exhibition with a South African friend who also lives in Delhi, we were both struck at how – well – at how African the photographs looked.  The faces and vignettes of village life could have come straight from a dusty “kraal” as opposed to a dusty “gaon”.

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Gorgeous images, which made me deeply envious (and deeply admiring) of Ms Sheth’s commitment to black and white, in a world where Instagram and iPhone selfies otherwise rule.

Highly recommended.

 

Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

 

Seriously, NGMA, seriously ? Rs 150 for foreigners vs Rs 10 for locals…