Second Floor Studio’s New Delhi avatar

If ever one needed proof that Shahpurjat is on the up and up, this is it.

The gorgeous Second Floor Studio – hitherto of Khan Market –  has recently opened a second store, in this rapidly gentrifying south Delhi urban village.  We discovered the new shop by chance, while on a Shahpurjat heritage walk.

This store is also their design headquarters, and while we explored the store –  fabulous, fabulous space and use of light.  Just gorgeous –  so, yes, as we explored, we wandered into their offices upstairs, and the staff couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming.

Second Floor Studio has exquisite merchandise, and so it’s not cheap.  But it is mouth-wateringly fab.

I lust after the horse cushions…
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Wild Mahseer, a perfect colonial getaway

Last year, instead of heading straight to Kaziranga from Guwahati as we usually do, we took the scenic route and stopped for a couple of nights at the deliciously nostalgic, beautifully maintained “Wild Mahseer” near Sonitpur village in Assam.

Wild Mahseer consists of a series of tea planters’ bungalows set amidst acres of gardens, tea bushes, shady lanes, and you feel so at home there, it is hard to remind yourself that this is, after all, a hotel.  Actually, hotel is wrong.  Call it rather a fabulously welcoming home stay.

We were a party of 4, and – such a treat –  had the place to ourselves, and we all quickly felt as though we were, indeed, house guests.

Although we went out exploring and went on the river and went for a jungle walk, the most wonderful parts of our stay were lounging on the deep, shaded verandah, reading and day-dreaming.

We stayed in the main bungalow, called the Heritage Bungalow, and it could not have been bettered.

Perfect rooms.  Perfect unobtrusive, welcoming service, fab bathrooms, great food.

Absolutely not a word to be said against Wild Mahseer.

The entrance to the Heritage Bungalow

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Sweet  – the graves of 2 family pets, under a shady old tree.  Makes you feel really and truly at home

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The fabulous deep cool vernadah

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Entrance to one of the other cottages on the property

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Our bedroom in the Heritage Bungalow

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The dining room, which serves great food, in a totally relaxed “at home” way

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Signs galore

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For prices and packages, contact Wild Mahseer, since they offer many different combinations of stays and activities.  We opted to be active, but next time, I might well skip all that walking and rafting and just read the hours away…

http://www.wildmahseer.com/

Personally recommended.

A walking tour through Delhi’s Shahpurjat

For those in the know, Shahpurjat is a charming urban village in south Delhi, that is a brilliant combination of traditional, timeless village life and a fast-changing designer hub.  For those who want to explore this village and learn more about it, a brand new guided walk has started today, the proceeds of which will go to an NGO helping girls and women, so put on your comfortable shoes, get walking and exploring, and do good at the same time.

This walk is a total win-win situation.

I was lucky enough to be asked to “test-walk” the venture, and so can say at first hand that even for a Shahpurjat aficionado like me, I learned loads on the walk.  I visited parts of the village I had never seen, and went inside homes and ateliers that I would never ordinarily do.

Well, well worth it.

The organisation behind this walk is called Kamilini, and their mission statement from their website sums up their work :

“Since 2007 Kamalini Vocational Training Centre has empowered hundreds of under- privileged young girls and women in the national capital region by imparting basic education, employment skills and entrepreneurship spirit, to better contribute to their family’s support and boost their self-confidence.”

Their latest fund-raising venture, guided walks through Shahpurjat where their training centre is located, concludes at their offices and workshops, where participants in the walk can see for themselves the training and teaching, and the valuable work being done.

You meet in the village car park, on a Monday morning at 10.30am, for a walk that should take about 90 minutes.  You are then free, of course, to retrace your steps and visit all the fabulous boutiques that you will discover, tucked down little lanes.

On the walk you see an ancient monument, the Tohfewala Gumbad (though I can’t guarantee the oh-so-cute new born puppies will be there when you visit) :

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You wander through streets, taking in the amazing village ambiance, you visit an atelier, you visit a dyer, you see the remains of the Baradari palace and then you visit a haveli, whose delightfully chatty owner happily shows you her store-rooms, her living room, the communal courtyard – something you would never get to see as a casual visitor.

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Ending in the main street of the village, where Kamilini is situated, it is a short stroll – or a long stroll, depending how much window shopping you do –  to the car park and starting point.

The organisers thoughtfully give you a small bottle of water.

Since one of the interesting stops is to watch a dyer at work, if you have anything you want dyeing, do take it along with you  –  seriously.

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Participation is Rs 500, which goes directly to Kamilini.  You need to register in advance via email :

preeti9sachdeva@gmail.com or rgeorge@kamilini.org

Walks will take place every Monday and, upon request, on other days, for a minimum of 4 participants.

 

Personally & highly recommended.

 

Where can I buy good “bandhni” fabric in Jaipur?

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Last week in Jaipur, we were on a mission to buy a bandhni sari for a friend’s mother, and I wanted to buy stoles/dupattas, and so after trawling many shops in Johari bazaar, we liked the look of one New Silk Palace.

Friendly staff who patiently showed us gazillions of saris and dupattas.

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Despite the sign warning us off from bargaining, we did, and we succeeded.  They gave us the first customer of the day routine – suits me just fine.

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Personally recommended.

 

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Staying at The WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi

One night is often all a guest has to sum up a hotel and make a decision as to whether to return, to recommend, to criticise.

I doubtless sound impossibly crass and totally shallow when I say it took me all of –  what? – 5 minutes to decide that the WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi was most definitely in the “recommend and return” category.

If first impressions count, and we all know they do, then the first impressions of my room were this :

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Isn’t it divine ?

Here, have another look.  Close up this time :

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There was also this little touch (below) on the bedside table  – though I sort of winced when I saw this, as opposed to smile delightedly, as I did for my lovely customised pillow :

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Welcom(e) is an integral part of the hotel’s name and USP, and they went all out to project that welcome :

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There were other welcoming touches in the sitting room :

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And all sorts of innovative little extras in the bathroom, such as a shampoo kit for coloured hair, which was a first for me :

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Really sensible touches like nail varnish remover which is something I never, ever remember to take (how DID they know?):

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Much more useful things than the standard soap and cotton wool balls that most hotels offer were in the lovely huge bathroom.  Love the shampoo comb. (Housekeeping –  yes, I took it…) :

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Along with another blogger, Charis Bhagianathan, I was a guest of ITC Hotels on a four night trip on their Golden Triangle circuit, and this was our first night.

We stayed in Executive Suites, which consist of a large sitting room…

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…a large bedroom,with lovely embroidered linen…

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a large, well-stocked bathroom and a guest loo, which came complete with a step machine :

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Sadly, we were so busy that I didn’t have time to use this –  though amazingly, I did manage to find time to wolf down the cheese and walnuts…

There was a well stocked bar area, with loads of bottles of water, and an excellent choice of teas :

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But –  and this is my only “but” of the visit – instant coffee, which for a caffeine addict like myself was disappointing :

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(The other 2 Welcome hotels where we subsequently stayed, both had French push type plungers and real coffee, which was lovely)

Sadly, I also never found a spare 15 minutes to test out this lovely creature in my bedroom :

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On arrival we were given an internet coupon which was a nice touch.

We were shown the other categories of rooms in the hotel, and as women travellers we were both particularly interested in the Eva rooms, exclusively for women and staffed only by women.  There rooms come with a screen so you can see who is at the door, and in fact no unescorted male is allowed on the floor.  The night of my return from this Golden Triangle trip I met a cousin over dinner.  My age, she travels a lot on business and on hearing that I had been a guest of ITC, she immediately asked “Did you stay in the Eva rooms ?  I always do.”

QED.

Conclusions ?

A luxurious, brilliantly appointed room.  Very attentive service.   Good location very close to the malls and offices of Saket.

Would I stay here again?  Yes, but realistically since I live in Delhi, chances are (sadly) remote.  Would I recommend the WelcomHotel Sheraton New Delhi?

Absolutely.

And I absolutely love my pillow.

 

Kaya Kalp The Royal Spa, ITC Mughal Agra

I feel as though I am trying to reinvent the wheel somewhat here.

How does one review a spa that is already so fabulously awarded and praised and accoladed?

What can one say that is new or different ?

But my time in the Kaya Kalp Spa at the ITC’s gorgeous hotel ITC Mughal in Agra was so good, and the spa really is every bit as fabulous as one has been told, that praise is mandatory.

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These are just a few of their awards on display.

Their list is seriously impressive :

…Best City Spa…Best Resort Spa…Best Luxury Hotel Spa…Favourite Hotel Spa…and many, many more…

You can perhaps understand my dilemma in trying to say something new ?

Anyway, here goes.

A sort of disclaimer here, before I start : I was the guest of ITC at the ITC Mughal.

But that fact does not, in my book, alter the fact that the charming young Thai girl who massaged me for 90 blissful minutes was amazingly good, very competent, discreet, efficient and charming. Invitee or not, she would have been as good a masseuse to anyone, I am convinced.

And being an invited guest alters absolutely nothing as far as the beauty of the spa is concerned.

It truly is jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

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Kaya Kalp The Royal Spa is, first of all, huge.  As in huge. The spa alone covers more than 99,000 square feet, and includes a beautiful exclusive pool :

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It includes lovely sit outs :

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The treatment rooms are sumptuous.

Truly.  Trust me. They are gorgeous.

Actually, they are not rooms at all, but rather luxurious suites.

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Kaya Kalp the Royal Spa is the largest in India, but the personal touch is omnipresent. Debbie, the charming young British manager was as sweet and accommodating as one could wish, even though we were running late for our scheduled treatments. Every young lady we met was artlessly polite and – if it doesn’t sound silly – relaxing, They were all so gentle and soft spoken that you could not help but relax.

The striking decor in the spa, featuring a red pomegranate theme, is all part of the hotels’s tribute to the Mughals, who have so marked Agra. It was Babar, according to tradition, who brought the pomegranate with him to India, and this theme- plus the use of water channels running through the spa – is a delightful recreation of a past era.

I had a massage using ginger and lime which sounded almost good enough to eat. It is the spa’s signature massage and was amazing. I almost drifted off to sleep, and left the treatment room feeling refreshed and tingly and oh-so-relaxed.

Would I recommend this spa to a friend ?

Absolutely.

Would I return there, on a future visit to Agra?

Absolutely.

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How is the resumed helicopter service in Arunachal Pradesh?

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After 2 fatal accidents in 2011, Pawan Hans’ chopper services in India’s north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh were suspended.

Services were resumed on 24 January 2013 when a spanking new helicopter was inaugurated, and I was lucky enough to fly from Naharlagun to Guwahati on just the 2nd day of operations.  I believe it was only the second flight, too, so all in all, very exciting.

The flight was fabulous, the views were amazing, the service was charming and –  the ultimate –  at Rs3000 each, it cost 2 of us less than the Rs7k we had paid for our taxi from Guwahati to Naharlagun the previous week.  (Perhaps we were rooked on the cab fare, but that’s another issue.)

You save so much time by taking the chopper – and in our particular case, we more importantly avoided the risk of a bandh in Assam, which was the real motivator for flying.

Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Obviously on the second day of ops, the chopper was shiny new and spotlessly clean.

Great experience.

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For flight schedules, check online.  Currently one day a week is off for maintenance.

Where to buy jewellery stands & cases in Old Delhi

If you are on the lookout for any kind of display case or stand for jewellery, then head to the aptly named Deepak Box Wala in Old Delhi.

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This is the place for boxes and cases and pouches and – logically –  mirrors, especially those unflattering enlarging ones.

I have walked past this shop many times, but it was only when my daughter was with me, as we wandered through Kinari Bazar, that we decided to investigate further, and came out with stands for bangles and stands for ear-rings and all manner of interesting boxes and cases.  The staff in the shop couldn’t have been nicer, and were delighted by our poor Hindi, and gave us a discount, so what more could one ask ?

 

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Personally recommended.

MUGHAL INDIA exhibition at the British Library

For anyone with an interest in India, then the blockbuster “Mughal India” exhibition at the fabulous British Library in London is not to be missed.

As in absolutely not to be missed.

Let me rephrase that first sentence somewhat.  For anyone with an interest in India and/or history…this exhibition is a must-see.

There are beauties and treasures there that are dazzling, and even for Indian residents such as us, there were fabulous things we had never seen before.

The exhibition is – as one would expect from the British Library –  extremely detailed and you leave with a sense of perspective and – though I rather dislike the word –  an overview of a dynasty that had such a huge impact on the Indian subcontinent.

One word of advice : allow yourself time.

There are so many utterly fabulous, brightly coloured, jewel-like miniatures, all deserving of detailed examination.  It is a crime to skip any of them.  There are coins, armour, artefacts, photographs, books – so much to see and absorb, so , as I sadi, you need time.

Personal favourites were the rather OTT crown of the last Moghul emperor, which Queen Victoria bought, of all things; and a breathtaking 5 metre long painting that consists of a 360 degree view over Old Delhi.

Highly recommended.

We just walked in and bought tickets on the spot, despite being warned by friends that we should have booked online for a timed entry.  But doing the latter can only be a good idea.

The exhibition is on until 2 April 2013.

 

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How much is the camera fee at Delhi’s Jama Majid ?

As of 2 days ago, Rs 300.

By Indian standards, that’s a lot to pay for a camera (especially when you pay it, and then see everyone else whipping out their mobile phones to take photos.  For free).  To put it in context, a local ticket to the nearby Red Fort costs Rs 10, and even a foreign ticket costs Rs 250, so, yes, Rs 300 is pricey.

The ticket looked doctored, but since there is a printed sign up, also quoting Rs 300, there was nothing to do except pay up.

And I did get smashing photos.

By the way, there is no point in saying you will put your camera away and not use it.  If you have a camera, you either pay the fee or deposit it with the mosque authorities before going in.