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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Tsonga. Fabulous South African shoes

I have been a devoted fan of Tsonga shoes for years now, ever since we lived in South Africa. Their shoes are, without question, the most immediately comfortable shoes you will ever buy.
Let me explain.
I now live in India, in New Delhi.

In late May Delhi is hot.

As in 46C hot.

And when I stepped out for a day long shopping trip and wandering around with a house guest who likes to visit in the heat, I put on a brand new, never-before-worn pair of Tsonga sandals.
“Foolish woman,” do I hear you cry?
“Blisters guaranteed,” do I hear you mutter?
Not a bit of it.

These sandals (below) felt as comfy as slippers, the second I put them on, and after a long (very long) and hot (very hot) day wandering through Delhi, my feet felt just great.

No blisters, no chafing, no soreness.

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I don’t know how Tsonga does it, but every single pair of their shoes, loafers, sandals that I have bought over the years has been like this – comfortable from the very second you slip them on.

And it’s not just womens’ shoes.  My husband is also a firm believer.

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It was this claim that I used to persuade friends on their first ever visit to South Africa to buy at Tsonga in Dullstroom, and they reported back enthusiastically.
I shopped, as usual, on my trip earlier this month to South Africa, and came home with yet more Tsonga loafers.

Red ones, this time, to make a change from my standard blacks and navy blues.

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A part of my Tsonga collection (below).  An investment, say I…

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They are not cutting edge stylish – no killer heels, ladies –  but for traditional, classic, elegant loafers and brilliantly comfy sandals, Tsonga is your place.  They also had fab looking boots in their Dullstroom shop, but I had absolutely no justification for buying any, sad to say.

Personally recommended, without hesitation.

I have never mentioned in any of the shops visited over the years – Cape Town, Dullstroom, Hazyview –  that I blog or write reviews.

Where to find excellent coffee in downtown Johannesburg

On a recent holiday in Johannesburg, where we used to live, we went wandering through Braamfontein, a part of town that was hardly on our radar screen when we lived in Joburg, because it was downtown and perceived to be unsafe.

Fast forward several years (oh dear me, how I miss living in wonderful Joburg) and a brilliantly highveld winter morning, and we were headed to Braamfontein to meet up with friends and to explore the newly revitalised part of town.

Father Coffee is a small, elegant coffee bar and, as luck would have it, it was celebrating its first birthday that morning, hence the cake.  This cool little haven is partly owned by the son of our friends-  here he is busy at work :

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I loved the feel and pared down space :

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Outside is equally cool :

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My cappuccino was delicious and very reasonably priced.  I’m told the espresso was perfect.  Ditto the birthday cake.

They sell their Africa sourced coffee beans.

What’s not to love?

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Personally recommended.

I didn’t tell the staff I blog and write reviews until we had finished and after I asked permission to take photos, which was graciously granted.

Lovely place.

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Where to eat in Delhi’s Shahpurjat? Les Parisiennes, perhaps?

Nearly every time I go to Shahpurjat, which is usually to see my friend the designer Sonam Dubal, we end up at the charming cafe-boutique “Les Parisiennes”.

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A delightful space, elegantly and quirkily furnished, selling a mix of vintage and retro must-haves (think dresses, jewellery, accessories), and serving typical light French bistro style fare (think quiche, salad, gateaux – that kind of fare).

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I ask you what’s not to love?

I have been there with friends who went in for just for lunch and came out with a butter dish. Or stopped by for an afternoon cool drink and emerged with a glass cake stand they never knew they absolutely had to have.

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There is always retro style music playing, all vaguely Edith Piaf-y. The bathrooms are delightfully spotless.  The menu is written, bistro-style, on a blackboard.

I repeat, what’s not to love.

On a recent visit 2 days ago, on a broilingly hot Delhi summer afternoon, it was blissfully cool inside, and as I say every time I go there, “I could live here in Les Parisiennes”  – for it is a village house that had been beautifully transformed, but still feels like a welcoming home.

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I was very politely asked not to take photos on my last visit, so I didn’t, but on former visits I wasn’t stopped, so here is a quick look at a charming place that should be on everyone’s Shahpurjat To Do List.

 

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5-B, Dada Jungi House,

Shahpur Jat,

Delhi 110049

+91 88 26 51 89 43

+91 11 26 49 67 54

 

??? Personally recommended

I rate Les Parisiennes 10/10 for atmosphere.  8/10 for quality/portions/affordability of their food.  Have never shopped there, but friends have and love their crockery and glasses especially.

Open daily 10am-7pm

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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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

Where to buy bangles in Hyderabad

The southern Indian town of Hyderabad is famous for many things, and one of them is bangles.

Now how perfect can that be as a Must Do Shopping assignment?

So, without any more ado, off we headed to Lad Bazar, a fabulously busy market literally at the foot of Charminar.

And there you have bangle heaven.

Little shops galore, all selling bangles of every colour.

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There is an informal market, right at the base of Charminar :

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And then there are handcarts being wheeled up and down the crowded streets, piled high with round plastic boxes of bangles, all the same, all fixed price, so you choose what you want – several thin ones or one big fat one in any colour you wish – and at Rs 150 a box, what could be easier?

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Having shopped up a storm from this handcart, we were (theoretically) leaving when I spotted these beauties in a shop window…

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14 bangles per set…too fabulously gorgeous and sparkly and matching…and so we went into this shop where the owner could not have been nicer and more polite and charming.  Slightly dazzled by my (oh so imperfect) Hindi, he gave me what he assured me was a very decent unhaggley price, and I walked out with 2 gorgeous sets, each one costing Rs 750.

Super bargain.

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bangle receipt

I ask you –  who could resist?

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