The Spanish Steps and the Trevi Fountain

The Spanish Steps

We decided to visit one of Rome’s famous landmarks – The Spanish steps. The subject of several movies that made it popular, these steps are one of Rome’s many symbols. While the tourists went to see the steps themselves, for the Romans it is a popular shopping hangout.

Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in a Roman Holiday courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Let us start at the top of the Spanish Steps.

At the top -start at Piazza di Trinita dei Monti.  The Church of Trinita dei Monti that dominates this square is a French church in the city built in 1503 and modified over time. Earlier, a slope brought people down to the square below before the steps were built.

And now about the Spanish Steps themselves – You may want to ask why are the Spanish Steps in Rome?  Well, the Piazza di Spagna or the Spanish square at the bottom has the Spanish Embassy which was based there since 1967 and therefore the name. The steps were built by Francisco de Sanctis as a result of a contest held by Pope Innnocent XIII after arguments of over a 100 years on how to build the steps! The staircase has 135 steps and is the widest staircase in Europe. The twelve flights of stairs built entirely in Travertine by Fransesco De Sanctis between 1723 and 1726, widen and narrow in varied stages but in line with rococo architectural concepts.  You may be tempted to eat on the Spanish steps, but please don’t! It is forbidden and you don’t want to pay a hefty fine!

Spanish Steps Top Down

Spanish Steps Top Down

A horse carriage ride anyone?

A horse carriage ride anyone? ..Although the poor horse can’t open his mouth and has an eye patch.

The Piazza di Spagna is the square at the bottom when you descend. This square is more of two triangles like an hourglass and not really a square! If you look up the Church of Trinita dei Monti looms large in the backdrop of the steps as you descend making for a picturesque setting. There are also side ramps or more stairs that run alongside.  At the center of Piazza di Spagna is the Fontana della Barcaccia set against the backdrop of the steps. Unfortunately this fountain was all covered when we were there and we couldn’t see it. Below is a  picture though.

Fontana Barcaccia, The Spanish Steps and finally Church Trinita Dei Monti..all in one pic! Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Fontana della Baraccia I mention above means ‘Ugly Boat’. It was built by Pietro Bernini (father of the more famous architecht Gian Lorenzo Bernini). This boat is a representation of a sinking boat leaking water at the stern and prow.

Let me let you into a secret now. For all the romanticism around the Spanish steps, I only found hype. It was a crowded place, with all the room on the steps taken with photographing tourists. A few horse carriages and the portrait artists at the top were nice. But what was nicer was to escape the hordes into smaller alleys near the steps with little restaurants and gelaterias.  Well, if it hadn’t been for the huge number of steps I have climbed to reach the top of various temples in India, I might have found the Spanish steps a big deal. They make for many a postcard of Italy and should be best enjoyed at wee morning hours or late night before the hordes of tourists descend on them making them pretty invisible in the throng.

The crowded Spanish Steps

The crowded Spanish Steps

We went to the next famous place nearby- the Trevi fountain, with more anticipation after the initial disappointment at the Spanish steps.  The fountain was no doubt the grandest I have ever seen in a fountain, but..Alas! It was being repaired and was reduced to a shadow of its real self and amidst all that scaffolding, I could barely gauge the magnificence that it was. It is supposed to remain closed till October 2015. But here are a few pictures I have sourced for you to see it in all its true glory -

The Glorious Trevi Fountain courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Trevi Fountain

The Trevi Fountain in its caged glory

Next: How we took the wrong turn but got good surprises.

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Richa Roams in Rome!

I’ve got to admit first that I have been really wanting to use the title I did! And now for a series on the Roman Holiday…

It was a fine September day when we landed at Italy from our flight from Mumbai to Rome via Cairo on a Egypt Air flight. Although we craned our necks looking out over Cairo to spot the pyramids, Alas! we saw nothing but the desert and dust! Thankfully SSS wasn’t too uncomfortable during the flight and barely troubled us!

There is a 3.5 hour lag in Italian and Indian time. By the time we reached the apartment we had booked, it was night in India and SSS was asleep. Our kind host at the apartment where we were staying had arranged for food and milk for her and even a baby cot for her. Tired out, as we were, we were fast asleep before we knew it as we looked forward to the next day.

So much to do!

I have never been a fan of ‘places to see’. What I do live by though is ‘places to experience’. However, looking back, I realize Rome is one of those places where you want to see everything and experience it all as well! And it can get mighty difficult to balance it out unless you stay there for over a month! Be it long walks in a quiet neighborhood each different from the other, explore authentic Italian food places in Rome, do a wine tour, travel in the trains and buses and live like locals, enjoy the melodies from the quaint churches, watch the pigeons flutter at the fountain…All the ‘experience’ is challenged by the need to run from one Roman pillar to another Roman post..from the Vatican city to the Colosseum to one museum after another..and yet, there is still so much to do and see that it gets overwhelming. So in this blog, I am going to tell you how best you can experience the city and see some of it as well!

It was a chilly morning as we started out after a home-made breakfast. We were off to see the Spanish steps, the Gallery Borghese and the Trevi fountain in our itinerary.

Walking around and first impressions

We decided to walk to our destination. As it turned out, it was quite a long walk, but one that we really enjoyed. The vibe of a place can be best felt through a leisurely walk through it.  We ambled along smelling the coffee and fresh bread smells that wafted through cafes, passed joggers who had finished their morning jog, and ofcourse hordes of tourists referring to maps like us and looking around in wonder. We noted some of the crumbling architecture of Rome, how the new and the old buildings co-mingled- none , the better than the other. Outside seating of restaurants were being set up and looked inviting.  We passed a couple of churches on the way, passing those little fountains on the way. It was hard not to stop and look at every insignificant place that looked interesting and to cut a long walk short, we walked for over 2 hours for what should have been a 45 minute walk!

Fish Fountain

Fish Fountain

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Colorful buildings.. old and new

Roman Alley

Roman Alley

Chasing pigeons

Chasing pigeons

Buildings Buildings

Enroute..

Enroute..

Tip – Airport transfer: For the airport transfer we just took a taxi although there are cheaper options of using a bus or the train. It cost us €48 which was about €20 more than we would have paid for other modes of transport. But well worth it considering we were tired out and weren’t in a mood to lug the luggage looking for the apartment!  The Leonardo Express train leaves every 30 minutes to the central Termini station and costs €14. The Terravision bus is another comfortable option and costs only €4 but leaves less frequently after every 60 minutes.

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler: Part 3 – Sightseeing

Continuing the ‘Travelling with a Toddler’ series, here is the concluding part on Sightseeing and everything else you need to know.

Sightseeing:

Most developed countries have decent footpaths and walkways, so it is a great idea to carry a pram (stroller) while you sightsee. It is very likely that you will be out for long hours, and your baby may be able to sleep in it. A good quality stroller that has a good suspension system for bad roads and one that reclines fully and half way for her to sleep comfortably is an absolute must.

You are going on a vacation with your kid. Don’t just visit museums and churches that she understands little of and will be impatient to leave! Also take her to the nearby park, the beach or wherever else she would enjoy too! Ask the tourism office for kid-friendly places and they will tell you a host of places. We took SSS to little parks in the neighborhood wherever we were, lounged around in open squares where she enjoyed playing and gave her space and time to enjoy her vacation too!

Pigeons...wheeeeee!

Pigeons…wheeeeee!

Other pointers

  1. The most important of them all – Go slow! If there are ten things you need to see in 2 days, rest assured you will be able to do only 4 or 5! Either extend your trip or prioritize the places you want to see. Between your baby’s nap times, food times, play time and tired time, you certainly won’t be able to see it all! You can also consider splitting a few places with your travel partner such as climbing 400 steps of a cathedral where it may not be a great idea to take her. Let him see what interests him while you look after the baby and you see what you like while he takes care of her. And..we took her up those 300 odd steps in St Peter’s Basilica and I don’t know how I made it!
  2. First aid/Medicines – Talk to your pediatrician and find out what medicines you should carry if required in a foreign country. Also carry the receipts for these if they are required in customs.
  3. Pack light – It is highly probably that your kid’s bag is heavier than your own with extra clothes, toys and diapers! You need to compensate by packing light for your own baggage!
  4. Buy at your destination – Don’t pack what you can buy at your destination. Such as extra diapers apart from those you will require while travelling and for a day more, certain food stuff etc.
  5. Time zone changes – For a substantial difference in time zones you will have to give her two-three days to adjust to a new timezone. Manage your schedule accordingly.

I hope this series was helpful if you are planning to travel with a kid. Although, as someone said, it may scare others into not travelling with a baby! Happy Travelling!

Do check out my other two articles on Travelling with a Toddler -

1. Travelling with a Toddler – Travel

2. Travelling with a Toddler – Food and Accomodation

Categories: Italy, Other Travel Blah, World | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

Travelling with a Toddler – Part 2: Food and Accomodation

Continued from my previous blog on Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1 where I talk about how to travel/commute with a toddler.

Food

Coming on to the next important thing is food. You may be giving your baby only homecooked meals and don’t want to subject her delicate tummy to restaurant food everyday. Can you do that on a trip out? Yes!,To a certain extent you can. It is simple. Don’t book hotel stays. Book home stays with kitchen facilities! That is what we did and I could give atleast 1-2 home cooked meals before our tour and after our tour ended for the evening to SSS.

If you are travelling internationally, you may want to carry a few basic ingredients from home that may not be available where you are travelling and even small cooking vessels if they are not readily available. I carried a small pressure cooker which we used for her food for all our stay, some wheat flour for rotis and Indian spices. You can visit a local super market and buy a few basic vegetables, and plenty of fruits too.  This is when it is not a bad idea to use all those yummy baby food jars that are available in the market. Also carry baby cereal that can be instantly made with hot water. I carried a couple of Cerelac flavors.

Milk:  Carry formula milk or breast-feed if you are staying at a hotel. If you have a kitchen or a microwave, you could even buy milk from a super market if that is what she drinks. While you are out and it is time for her milk, the easiest way is to pop into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of warm milk for the baby. It is that simple!

Lastly, don’t overdo the home cooked food! You are on a vacation and so is she! Let her enjoy some cheesy pasta and pizza too! And a little Gelato or those candies won’t hurt either!

Candy in Italy

Candy in Italy

Accommodation

Food and accommodation go hand- in-hand, since I have recommended you stay at home-stays with kitchen facilities. However, the kind of place you stay at is important too. If you would like to stay in a full fledged hotel instead of a home-stay, then you need to make sure it is kid-friendly. We booked most of our stay through airbnb.com for fabulous home-stays where we had the whole apartment to ourselves in lovely neighborhoods.

  1. Make sure that the hotel staff can cook baby meals for your baby and will sterilize any milk-bottles you may need.
  2. Ensure that the hotel is clean.
  3. You don’t want to tire out your child with excessive travelling, and may want to explore options that are nearest to your sight-seeing places so you can hop down quickly for her to have a peaceful nap.
  4. Kid facilities such as a swimming pool, small garden and a place with activities for kids will be nice too!

Do read my other two articles on Travelling with a Toddler -

1. Travelling with a Toddler – Travel

2. Travelling with a Toddler – Sightseeing

 

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Travelling with a Toddler – Part 1 – Travel

Many of my friends have lauded me for being ‘brave’ enough to travel with a toddler. Now, obviously I had my personal selfish reasons to be ‘brave’ enough to undertake the trip, the chief one being fulfilling that wanderlust that had been kept at bay for a good 1-2 years during pregnancy and till she grew old enough to travel!  And the fact that she didn’t require a ticket (atleast not till she turned 2) didn’t play any role in me not waiting for that trip to happen!

To all such moms with toddlers who may fear undertaking that long trip outside home, it is really not all that difficult! But yes, a lot of planning needs to be done to ensure that all goes well and the little one is at ease.

For starters, think about a few major things and how you need to tackle each one of them.

  1. Travel
  2. Food
  3. Accommodation
  4. Sight-seeing

Inflight travel with a baby:

Before the flight

  1. Inform the airline that you will be travelling with a baby beforehand. They may provide you with the first row seats with more leg space and a bassinet for her to sleep in. Trust me, your flight will be much easier with that extra space during a long flight.
  2. Travel bag – Make sure you carry several diapers, wipes and a couple of changes in clothes. Dress her in some layers for flights can be cold.
  3. Entertainment Entertainment Entertainment! If you think if you require that during the flight, think about that restless toddler who needs it at all times in her waking hours! Those old toys are not going to be entertaining enough to keep her at her seat. And you can’t pack large toys either in your baggage. So, shop and pack several small treats that will keep her busy. Package them all so she spends time opening each one and getting surprised! Give her a new toy only when she gets bored of the old one! Some suggestions for toys to take on the flight are small cars, key chains in various shapes, small board books with pictures, small nesting toys, flash cards, colorful necklaces etc. If your kid is old enough, you could take a coloring book, puzzle book etc s well. You will ofcourse also be able to use some resources at hand such as the inflight magazines, the food tray table, the opening and shutting window shades, and hopefully co-passengers who will entertain your child!
  4. Food – Think about what you will be giving your kid to eat in flight. Carry a home cooked meal for atleast one meal. You can also carry cereal for which the flight attendant will be able to provide you hot water with incase she does not like the food served during the flight. Cheerios, cheese-links, pulpy fruits, and biscuits can be used to satiate hunger pangs during snack times as well. The key is to carry only food she likes!

Engrossed in the world of animals!

During the flight

  1. It is a great idea to travel during her nap time so she sleeps through some of the flight atleast.
  2. Take-off and landing times can be challenging for kids and babies with changes in air pressure. Give them something to suck on or eat so they keep swallowing thereby causing less discomfort in their ears
  3. Entertain her through the flight. When she really gets bored of sitting, be prepared to walk up and down the aisles with her when they are not busy

Other modes of transport with a baby

I would recommend train travel to bus or travelling by car for long distances since a train accords more space to move around and is faster as compared to traveling by road.  If you have to travel by bus be prepared to sit in cramped seats and face her tantrums or hope she falls asleep during the bus journey!


What are your experiences if you have traveled with a baby or toddler? Share them in your comments…

Continued in the next part here..

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Sightseeing in Italy: To reserve or not to reserve

Italy has several historical monuments and a humongous quantity of art to boast about. It sees millions of visitors in many of its cities every year, and as a result, to get inside to see any famous piece of art or architecture can be stressful with long lines that get worse in the sweltering heat of summers. There are however a few planning tips to help you skip those snaking lines and saving precious time and energy to enjoy!

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The second line at the Vatican Museums

The most common way of skipping a few lines is using a sight-seeing passes. Rome has a sightseeing pass called as Roma pass that will let holders skip the line, see two destinations without paying separately and provide discounted tickets at other places at a cost of €36. It will also provide transport without having to purchase tickets…All this for a validity of three days.  Again, you need to evaluate how slowly or how fast you want to see places, compare the cost of the pass with the individual ticket prices for places you will see in three days and if you will be using public transport often. If you don’t think the pass is worth it, you can separately make reservations for popular destinations as well.  Similarly Florence has a Firenze Pass. Venice and Milan have their city passes as well.

Here is my take on the places you need to reserve at Rome and Florence and what we did –

  1. Rome – Colosseum – The Colosseum is Rome and Italy’s most famous sight and ticket lines can be long. Although you need not reserve in advance for the off-peak season, you may want to book ahead to skip the line in peak season.  Well, that is the advice which most people will give you, but in September, we actually went on the first Sunday of the month without reservation and got in pretty quickly…for FREE! That was because we got reached at about 8 a.m. when it just about opens. But lines can be long all day.  You can either reserve tickets to just see the Colosseum, or go through one of the several guided tours offered.
  2. Rome – Vatican Museums –The Vatican museums which are supposed to be one of the world’s largest museums include the famous Sistine Chapel and is the other most popular place flocked by tourists. If you go in the morning, there are long lines to get. But afternoon can see no line at all! We had pre-booked the Vatican tickets and were able to skip the line for the Vatican museums, although I think we could have done without the pre-booking.
  3. Rome – Gallery Borghese is particularly famous for the marble sculptures of Bernini and is a popular museum in Rome. It is a must to pre-book and they don’t let you in without a pre-booking. You can call up and make a reservation for a given date and time and you need to be present to pick up the tickets at the appointed time.
  4. Florence – Uffizi galleries – The Uffizi gallery is one of Italy’s most visited museums and holds important works of Renaissance by the masters including Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Michaelangelo, Caravaggio and Raphael. It is a must to make reservations to visit the Uffizi since they only let in a specific number of people at a time and the lines are really long! You can either book online or call on phone (39-055-294-883) during regular working hours there on weekdays. It is important to note that there are several sites where you can book tickets online, but many have a large premium on the tickets. Go through the official site only to book cheaper tickets.
  5. Florence – Accademia gallery is where Michaelangelo’s famous statue of David is housed. Again, go through only the official site to book the tickets at the correct rates.

Some more references in here – Roma Pass, Rome and Vatican Pass, Vatican Museums  and more on reservations

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Planning a trip to Italy

There are two types of travelers- First are the ones who plan and execute it all on their own and the second are the ones who outsource the planning and execution and go with a travel operator on a well planned trip.  Both have their pros and cons – While it is time consuming to plan your own travel arrangements, itinerary and accommodation, it offers far more flexibility and you can spend your time the way you like it. However a planned tour by an agency will take care of all your needs but you need to stick by their rules, schedules and itineraries.  We belong to the first category of travelers. We decide what we want to see, do all our planning, book our tickets, figure out where we want to stay, use a map to figure out where to find anything, and enjoy  exploring on our own! I am going to give you a few pointers on everything that needs to be planned through in this space.

passport

Visa

Italy being a part of the European Union requires a Schengen Visa for Indian citizens which needs to be given atleast 15 days of processing time before one can fly. The Visa list simplifies what needs to be get done – Airtickets, Insurance, accommodation and internal travel arrangements and having your finances in order is what is required. You can find the complete list of documents required here.  The process of submitting a visa application is fairly simple and one need not go through any travel agent. Just take all the required documents with two copies of everything, fill up the forms also available on the online, visit the VFS office that manages Schengen applications and submit the documents. It should not take more than two hours to do that. Once the visa is stamped, you can collect it from the same place. In Mumbai, there is no need for any appointment for a Schengen Visa and one can just go directly walk into the VFS office in BKC to submit the documents.

Booking flights – I expect we could have found sweeter deals in our flight booking had we booked earlier, but well, we didn’t plan well. But if you are reading this, and would like to plan a trip to Italy, watch out for International discount days at major carriers from three months in advance and you may just land a deal as sweet as Rs 25-30K return fares as did some co-travelers.

Accommodations – Here is the thing about Europe where lodging is concerned..As compared to India where decent hotels can get astonishingly expensive at not less than Rs 8K a night, in Europe there is a vast range of places one can book for all sorts of budgets. From hostel accommodations for the solo intrepid travelers, to lavish suites at 5-stars and the mid-range hotels ranging from Rs 3K-8K, it is easier to find a place in the heart of the city. One just needs to look out for the right place. And it is not just hotels and hostels. A vast segment of tourists prefer to rent a home for a few days through sites such as airbnb or booking.com. This further increases the options around the sort of neighborhood you would like to live in and the kind of amenities you can have and one can experience life the locals lead. With a one year old in tow, we had little choice but go for homes that had kitchens we could use for our little picky eater (though we are pickier about what she eats!).

Travelling within the country: This is again that requires a good deal of research. Having zeroed on the destinations you would like to visit, the next step is to check on the cheapest and the fastest ways to get there. Be it a rail pass, cheap airlines, or high-speed trains. All or none may require pre-bookings. Italy has its railway Trenitalia which we used for booking our tickets in advance before we left. Train fares in Italy are not fixed and can fluctuate based on demand and supply. It is best to reserve train tickets in advance or be prepared to pay much higher amounts later. We preferred the high-speed trains to all our destinations that took almost half the time that regular trains did.  If you are thinking about purchasing a train pass, make sure you compare the prices with single leg ticket journetys. In Italy reservations are required on the high speed trains and EuroCity/International trains, and therefore the hop on-hop off convenience is not really there. For more on train reservations read here

Sightseeing and reservations: Italy is a destination that sees millions of tourists every year. All the major tourist places are inundated with these hordes of tourists and you will encounter long lines to get inside anywhere. But some pre-planning can help avoid these long lines.  What needs to be done is make reservations early on or buy the City Tourist Passes. Since there are a lot of options and a lot of places where you may need reservations, I am going to keep this for another post, you will be soon able to read.

Packing

Finally, only our packing remained and this is the most important piece of all. Whatever you do, travel light! Pack few clothes and do your laundry and well, shop in Italy! If you however need those four pairs of shoes to match your outfit, be prepared to lug your suitcases on the roads and through stairways in places such as Venice which has no cars.

Next – About Passes and reservations

Categories: Italy, World | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Italian Holiday

Italy in three words is Art, Food and Touristy!  As I look back on my recently concluded trip at the beautiful country of Italy, so many images flash by – Pizza at the Piazzas, religion in Renaissance, art with architecture, hordes of tourists, leisurely outdoor lunches, chilling out with Gelatos, the symphony of the bands playing at the square, the grandeur of the Colosseum, my one year old daughter SSS chasing fluttering pigeons..

Through this blog I am going to take you through our trip right from how we planned it out and how we should have planned it out!

Why did we choose to go to Italy?

Italy was a dream travel destination for many a year for me. Three reasons finally saw us zeroing on Italy – Good weather, Amazing art and Culture and great Food! And thus.. Italy fit all our expectations and we locked down our air tickets about a month in advance.

DSC00066

Deciding what to see

Once our return flights were booked, the next step was deciding the places we wanted to see in Italy and book our accommodation accordingly. Italy is a country with points of interest for varied tastes. One may want to see every major Art gallery there is in places such as Rome and Florence, or visit quaint towns in the country such as Lucca or Pisa, or do a wine tour at Tuscany or click a photo of the Coliseum and move on to the next tourist destination or hike in the scenic coastal town of Cinque Terre. There is much for everyone and it is quite necessary to prioritize based on what one likes!

What did we finally see?

With a baby in tow, we decided to stick to the tourist trail and not the off-beat trail. We also decided to take it easy and enjoy the vacation instead of simply hopping from one site to another. Italian cities have a lot of history and culture in them and we finally decided to visit Rome, Florence and Venice as our key destinations. If at all we had time, we could make day-trips around these places to places such as Pisa, Lucca or a trip to the famed Tuscany countryside.

Next blog – Planning the trip to Italy

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Mount Abu – Keeping cool in Rajasthan (Part 2)

This is a two part series on Mount Abu. This post includes some more sight-seeing places at Mount Abu and tips for travelers. See my earlier post on Mount Abu here.

We continued with our leisurely excursions of Mount Abu on Day three.

Like every hill station in India, there were ‘points’ that offered panoramic views. These included the ubiquitous ‘Sunset point’, the ‘honeymoon point’, and Guru Shikhar. I must warn you that though the Sunset point though offered lovely views, was extremely crowded and dirty with people eating and dumping their garbage right where they stood.

Views from the Honeymoon point

Views from the Honeymoon point

Other points of interest include the Mount Abu wildlife sanctuary, a fort ‘Achalgarh’, and the ‘Achleshwar temple’. The Achleshwar Shiva temple built in the 9th century has an idol of the Nandi that is made of five metals and weighs 4 tons. Near the temple is a lake which has the idols of 3 buffaloes which were supposed to be demons in disguise. Legend goes that the lake was once filled with ghee <although I have no clue how that is possible!>

The Buffalo trio near the Achaleshwar temple

The Buffalo trio near the Achaleshwar temple

The Four Ton Nandi at the Achaleshwar Temple

The Four Ton Nandi at the Achaleshwar Temple

Mount Abu is also the headquarters of the Brahmakumaris spiritual university, an organization that teaches spirituality and meditation. The Brahmakumaris have several centers at Mount Abu that host visitors from all over the world in their residential programs. They also have a fabulous garden with an exquisite display of roses and other flora.

A Brahmakumaris center

A Brahmakumaris center

Mount Abu also has a little known museum with several artifacts and sculptures in it not far from the Nakki Lake. However the condition of this museum was not very good. Most of the artifacts were carelessly kept without proper labeling or descriptions. We were the only ones in the museum for quite a while and the caretaker had to literally switch on the lights when we reached there. Inner rooms of the museum (that were open) revealed what must have been ancient artifacts dumped and dust laden.  The sheer callousness was apparent in the whole upkeep of the museum and it was quite sad.

Artifacts at the Mount Abu museum

Dumped artifacts at Mount Abu museum

Dumped artifacts at Mount Abu museum

Other information

Mount Abu certainly makes for a weekend or an extended weekend excursion. With convenient modes of transport cheaply available to Mount Abu and for local transportation, and hotels to suit all pockets, Mount Abu can certainly be included in a budget travel destination list.

Accommodation – Most resorts and hotels are around the Nakki Lake. For those looking out for boating activities or prefer to be near the market, restaurants etc., there are a large number of hotel options around the lake that would suit all pockets right from Rs 1000 a night to Rs 10,000 a night.  We stayed at Hotel Hilltone, which was an excellent resort with good facilities of a garden, game room, swimming pool, and good restaurants. Rooms in several formats were available and the service was quite good. I would highly recommend this resort to families.

Food – Being a tourist destination, most eateries offer a pan India cuisine from South Indian to Punjabi and even Indochinese. However, it was nicer to eat some of the traditional Rajasthani fare of Dal Baati and Churma which was much less unhealthy than the rest. ‘Baatis’ are baked/roasted tandoor balls of wheat flour dough that are broken up to eat and dipped in warm ghee (clarified butter) with the spicy dal or lentil soup. Churma comprises of broken baatis mixed with ghee and jaggery to make for a simple but delicious dessert. It was funny that the eatery owners on the way called out to us to grace their restaurants exactly when we were out to have our dinner and ceased to call us when we had finished! Another couple of things Mount Abu claimed were famous there was the ‘Rabdi’ (thickened flavored milk) and the Softy ice-cream. The Softy ice-cream easily available in the market at Mount Abu came in all flavors and toppings and was quite a delight!

Traditional Gujarathi meal

Traditional Gujarathi meal

Getting around – Tourist taxis are available for about Rs 1,000-1,500 to be rented for a day and they typically show you everything that is to be seen. These taxis can also be shared.  There are options of bus tours and jeeps that are quite easy on the pocket too. Bikes can be rented for about Rs 100-500 depending on how much time you want them and the make of the bike. Getting to Abu road station from the top can set you back by Rs 500 in a private taxi or one can opt for the much cheaper shared jeeps that stuff them with passengers for a much smaller amount.

Tourist Information – A Rajasthan tourist information office is situated next to the hotel Hilltone and the police station. One can get information on what to do at Mount Abu, get maps and other information.

Reservations -A train reservation office is also present in the same building as the tourist information office. We booked our return tickets in a Tatkal booking so this office was God-sent to us with the train booking IRCTC site always super slow or down! There are also several tourist offices near the market that can make reservations and transport arrangements for all modes of transport.

To read my first post on the primary two attractions of Mount Abu -click here.

Categories: India, Rajasthan | Tags: , , | 20 Comments

Mount Abu – Keeping cool in Rajasthan

Leaves droop, dogs lie languidly in the middle of roads, birds come by the flowerpot in the balcony attempting to siphon off the few drops of water that haven’t yet evaporated, Taxiwallahs sigh as they use their napkins to wipe off that unending stream of perspiration, and the only happy person that seems to be quite happy with the oppressive heat is the ice-cream vendor where a  steady stream of people make their way to at all times during the day.

A few days away from this sweltering heat is what I wanted!  With a few holidays in sight, we explored options to go to near Mumbai for an extended weekend to a nearby hill station other than Matheran, Mahabaleshwar and the other usual suspects of Lonavala-Khandala that have become as bustling as Mumbai itself during summer. I also longed to go somewhere clean, green and a place that had good roads. After much procrastination, we finally zeroed on the hill station of Mount Abu in the state of Rajasthan which seemed to offer peace, fresh cool air and relief from the sweaty dirty megapolis. Mount Abu is the highest point in the Aravalli mountain range at about 1220m above sea level making it a cool getaway from the searing summer heat in Rajasthan, nearby Gujarat and Mumbai!

Getting to Mount Abu

Mount Abu is accessible by excellent roads, trains and is about 3 hours away from the nearest airport at Udaipur. Mount Abu is conveniently located at about 750 kms from Mumbai (11 hours by train or road), and at about 230kms from Ahmedabad and 170kms from Udaipur. One can have their pick of mode of transport of trains, driving down, taxis and buses from major cities.

Mumbai to Abu - courtsey Google Maps

Mumbai to Mt. Abu – courtesy Google Maps

After a hasty tatkal booking, we were finally on our way to Mount Abu one evening.  The next morning the train chugged along to Abu Road station which seemed to be quite a busy station with several tourists like us getting off and on.  On getting out, taxiwallahs immediately hounded us to take us up the hill station. A few minutes later, we grouped up with a family going the same way and we were on our way for Rs 500 for the taxi.

A few curvy roads later, we reached our hotel and were content in whiling away our time for the rest of the day at the peaceful resort in the very pleasant weather.

A leisurely stroll down the road took us to one of Mount Abu’s main attraction, the Nakki Lake. The market near Nakki Lake is a bustling hub of activity where one can get everything from traditional jewellery, garments, bedsheets, artifacts and souvenirs at good prices.  Plenty of restaurants dot the little market and all seem to do brisk business!

The market side of the lake is in no way tranquil or peaceful with hordes of tourists, eateries, hawkers and boatmen creating plenty of noise. However, a walk around the lake brought us to several peaceful perches from where we could smile at the hullaballoo on the side of the twinkling lights of the market place. For suggested walking and trekking routes/maps visit the Tourist office nearby.

Our day ended in the hotel sitting outside in the evening without the ubiquitous mosquitoes bothering us and enjoying the cool breeze. The holiday was just as it was meant to be – relaxing and cool!

Peace at Nakki Lake

Peace at Nakki Lake

Catch me if you can - by Nakki Lake

Catch me if you can – by Nakki Lake

Fun at Nakki Lake

Fun at Nakki Lake

The next day, after a morning of lazing around, we decided to venture out to see what was touted to be even more beautiful than the Taj in its interiors – The Dilwara Jain temples. These breathtaking temples were ‘paisa vasool’ for the whole trip! On the outside, they seemed to be like any other, but once we entered the sanctum, we were awestruck by the magnificence of the artwork.  I have never seen such intricate workmanship ever before. Such finesse, such grandeur and such beauty carved in marble.

The Dilwara temples were built between the 11th and 13th centuries and consist of five major sections or temples devoted to the five tirthankaras of Jainism. Each temple is decorated with intricate marble carvings of Jain saints, flowers, petals and designs on ceilings, pillars and temple walls. One can get quite a crick in the neck staring up at those gorgeous chandelier designs on the ceilings! Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the temple and you have to be content with memories and bad quality picture postcards.

Here are a few glimpses of the Dilwara temples courtesy Wikimedia commons.

Door at Dilwara

A door opening into the inner sanctum of a deity, Dilwara

Dilwara

The gorgeous Dilwara temple

Ceiling on Dilwara

More on the other places at Mount Abu and tips for travelers in the next post of this two-part series. To read click here.

Categories: India, Rajasthan | Tags: , , | 13 Comments

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