Friday, January 18, 2019

Weekend at Ganesh Baugh - Kutch - Review

If you live in a metro city, specially one like Mumbai - you crave for a time-out to be somewhere peaceful, silent, green, serene. Somewhere you can go spend some quality time with your loves ones, or maybe silent time with yourself or connecting with nature. Ganesh Baugh was one such place I recently visited. Usually family vacations are at some standard luxury resort at Goa or some other tourist location - but tourist locations means crowd, noise, chaos. Now imagine being at a 100 acre lush greenery, living in the middle of trees and farm-life. A standalone basic accommodation with all modern amenities like a hugeee bathroom with geyser, jetspray (yes I need to know if the loo has a jet spray!), toileteries, bed sheets etc. There is a granite flooring with granite bed and since we went during winter - we did not even need the fan.

Unfortunate for us, we spent one whole day traveling as our train was delayed - so when booking tickets, see the delay pattern and then book. If you're coming from Mumbai Kutch Express is a good option. Nearest railway station is Anjaar, but that is a small one where not all trains halt, so then there is Gandhidham junction which is half an hour away. We reached on Friday night and after hours in the train, we could not wait to reach and have some hot home cooked food. The owner Mr.Bhatia and his staff was awaiting us and there was hot traditional Gujarat food awaiting us - Gujarati kadhi, sev tamatar nu saak, khichdi, chapati, chaas and some salad. We ate to our heart's content and turned in for the day as we wanted to rest up for the hectic day ahead. They have a proper functioning kitchen on the upper floor (rooms are on the ground level) - where all ingredients and utensils are there if you want to cook anything on your own. It's a great thing specially if you're traveling with children as you need to prepare milk or something else for them, or if you want to have tea or coffee anytime of the hour or are in mood for the midnight maggi - it's like your own home.

Next morning I woke up at around 7am, there was darkness in the room with the doors closed and shaded, and since we arrived at night we couldn't see anything. So now picture this - I open the room doors to see hundreds of trees, chilly air and li'l fog and peacocks and peahens running around! I could not believe my eyes. If you're from a small town or happen to visit villages frequently, you may not be surprised. But I have seen peacocks roaming freely like this only in my childhood days when I visited Jaipur, my native place. So I was so happy. I ran inside to go get my GoPro and record, and those camera shy and maybe human shy birds vanished. We had some tea and got ready for a long day ahead - covering places in Bhuj and then heading to Rann Utsav, read more about that here.

We were back late night, after having dinner outside on the way (Hotel Neelam, quite good food - much recommended). We chatted for a while and snoozed again - since we were exhausted. Our earlier itinerary had us on the road for hours again the next day but we did not want to tire ourself, plus being our last day we wanted to spend some time at the farm so we changed our plans. Next morning we got up and had our chai with a bonfire to warm us too - why should bonfires be only for nights, right? It was very soothing and soon we explored the farmhouse to see what all it has. They have ample of fruit trees bearing Guavas, Mangoes (during mango season they get really busy), lemons etc. They also house some domestic animals apart from dogs - like goats, cows, horses. We were even lucky to spot a family of great Indian antelopes (neelgaay) who apparently can jump heights and happen to visit the farm frequently owing to the fact there aren't many humans around. We saw the mother, father and kid (not from near though, from far off) - they are like giant deers (built more like a horse). Mr.Bhatia told us there are deers also which you can sometimes spot.
There was a very friendly black lab called Tiger - who even my toddler grew fond of. My toddler also grew very fond of the owner Mr.Bhatia, whom he addressed as "babaji" on his own, he hasn't even heard that word before!

Day 2 (technically Day 3) was then spent exploring li'l bit more of Bhuj and then heading to Bhujodi to shop for local handicraft and visiting the Vande Mataram memorial park (a must visit). We bought shawls, purses, copper/brass bells, kurtas etc from here. My only regret was not getting to spend more time at Ganesh Baugh - there was still a lot I did not get to see - like their inhouse nursery, nearby school etc. So I would recommend you to plan a trip with atleast 4-5 days minimum in hand so that you have atleast 2 days just at the farmhouse. They can easily accommodate a group of 10 - so if you're planning to visit with friends or family - they are there to host you. I opted to stay at Ganesh Baugh rather than one of the tent city tents because those are a rip-off, charging a crazy amount for a tent stay, plus it's too crowded and noisy - which I wanted to avoid and ofcourse thanks to Manasvi, our host from Mumbai who told me about this place - thanks a ton! You can book the property online or get more information here - Ganesh Baugh AirBNB.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

A trip to Rann Utsav & Kutch with toddler + Little Travel Bug Book Review

I had Rann Utsav on my bucket list since ages and finally went in December end! I aim to have one family trip a year - with my parents. This was that trip for 2018.

This blog is keeping in mind you are going with small kids, I have written another more detailed one on our stay here.

Mode of Journey -
There are trains, flights and good roads leading to Bhuj so you have lots of options, but if you're opting for trains please choose the Express trains and check their reviews online. My Mumbai to Gandhidham (that's where we were staying) train called Gandhidham express was really horrible. It was rescheduled to start 4.30 hours after the scheduled departure time and was running late plus the bathrooms and train coaches were a disaster (Even in 2 tier AC coach) so we wasted a day plus were irritated. Specially with kids you want a clean train that runs of time, and do check in advance if there is a pantry on the train or not, ours did not have - so if you are not carrying sufficient food, you're stuck.

Places to visit in Kutch/Bhuj with kids -

1. Rann Utsav, Dhordo, White Rann
So if you have done your research in advance, you will know that there is the Tent City and the normal Rann Utsav. Tent city has accommodation plus activities and more but it is super expensive.
There is the open for all Rann Utsav which has shopping and food stalls, washrooms (not in a great condition though) and a car parking. After that point you have to either walk or take a camel/horse driven cart ride to the white sand desert. What we did not know is that once you reach the White Rann there are no amenities - no washrooms, no drinking water or food or anything. You have to go back to the shopping stalls by taking another camel-ride for any of that. Its expensive and time consuming. So if you plan to spend hours at the beautiful dessert stretch- clicking lot of pics, watching sunset over the never ending horizon and watching the full moon - then please carry snacks and water in your bag. Also in winters, light woollens are required - it's important to cover ears specially. My kiddo enjoyed running around the hugeeee area!

2. Vande Mataram Memorial, Bhujodi, Bhuj
This is a new addition - and it's beautiful. Ample of space, a large fountain, beautiful structures and small hut-style cottages showcasing the local Kutch-work and a lake, bridge and ample greenery. They also have a 4D show that usually get sold out pretty soon - we anyways missed it coz it happens at late evening and we had a train to catch. But do visit this place - only thing, the queue for the tickets was realllly slow. It is located in Bhujodi, where you should do your local handicraft shopping as well. We left the toddler with his nana - and the ladies did some shopping. As kids will get bored in the shopping bit.

3. Radhe Krishna Temple, Bhuj
Now this is a place one might not recommend to a tourist, but I was very impressed by this temple and wish there was something like this in my vicinity as well. It's a huge space again, a small simple temple with colourful steps. Lot's of place where artists set up camp and were drawing or sketching or painting. There is a small kids park, pond with ducks, walking path and shaded area to sit and white sand everywhere. All in all, one could spend couple of hours here at peace - reading a book, writing or whatever else - while kids played around. What a concept! Temples wouldn't be so boring/chaotic then.

4. Kutch Museum
I will definitely not recommend going to Aaina Mahal & Prag Mahal with kids because they were extremely crowded, very old structures that look like they would collapse any time. There is a tower at Prag Mahal which has clearly instructions of not staying at the tower for more than a minute but no one follows that! Infact there is a very narrow set of steps to go up or come down, so I suggest not taking small kids here. But you can take them to the Kutch Museum where they can learn a li'l about the royals and old things - only if that interests them.

We could not go to Narayan Sarovar, Kala Dungar, Mata ni madh on this trip as our one day was gone due to train being late. Maybe some other time! There is a place called Chattedi at Bhuj which had nice stone structures to click pictures, if that interests you. Its unfortunate that due to harsh climate conditions and no rain, the lakes are all dried up in Bhuj. Also, you will be on the road a lot, so if your kids are motion sick, it's better to hire a non AC car or rikshaw - we had a non AC car, climate was wonderful so there was no need of AC, infact it drops a lot in the morning and evening onward - so kid who usually is motion sick, did not have any problem luckily.

I received a great travel logging book for kids from Little Travel Bug - their travel diary. And we logged our Bhuj travel in this book! This colourful, fun and interactive travel diary provides a place for children to record fun travel stories everyday while on a vacation. This book makes diary writing simple, easy and interesting for children. Imagine, how much fun it will be to re-read this diary together once they grow older… remembering all the little details that made their vacation special! My toddler is only 4 so he cannot write on his own yet, but I asked him the questions, which he answered and I logged the details for him so that when he's older he can check out his expeditions and add to them! Cool concept I think.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Year New Gadgets! #SmartHomeRevolution #GetFitWithFlipkart

“Ok Google”, start typing out this blog article for me. Yes, I can totally dictate notes, messages and the sort to my smartphone or smart-speaker or any other device and have my own personal assistant write this post for me. 

Today, close to 2019, this is what we have come to. Smart products that help us to live smart. Mind you, these smart products don’t help you become smarter, nor do they imply that humans are not smart. They are just gadgets and technology meant to make our life easier, faster, and our days more productive.

The aim is to take less time in doing certain tasks as compared to before. So that there is more time for us to do what we should be doing – Living. I have had a very gadget-oriented childhood and am a gadget lover till date. Dad being a IT businessman meant I learnt how to assemble a PC while other girls played with kitchen sets. And husband is a gadget freak too!

I own a smartphone and a smart wearable hybrid watch, smart lights in my home and not to forget my smart weighing scale from Mi (Yes it shows my weight and calculates BMI and syncs to my phone fitness app). I have not yet indulged myself in a smart-speaker yet, which is very much on my wish list. I also gifted my dad a smart blood-sugar checking machine that syncs with the phone via an app.

Being a 90’s kid, (Technically 80’s coz born in 1989) I have seen the evolution of technology right in front of my eyes. From the landline to cordless to big antenna’d mobile phones to flip phones to touch screens and today’s sleek smartphones that replaced all other gadgets like the Walkman, camera, and so on.

It’s a never ending debate about the pros and cons of technology, but we have to admit that certain privileges of technology like being able to speak to anyone, anytime anywhere or being able to search for the answer to anything in a few clicks to clicking a picture of every small thing we do without worrying about camera roll getting over and so on, we are pretty lucky.

How do smart products make my life better now? I’ll give you a few instances –

1.      I like to sleep with lights off, but my husband and son need light on. Not only that, we get too lazy to get up and switch on/off the light and can even get into fights! Philips Hue kit was the best solution. Works on WiFi and you can control the lights with the phone app. Not only that, you can choose from different colours and can have any shade of light or pattern. It even has a timer and all that jazz. Best thing ever, and super easy to set-up and use. I gifted this to the music lover husband, you can use the app to get light in sync with music and have your own discotheque at home.

2.      I have tried different fitness bands, but I don’t like the daily/weekly battery charging. Also I love the charm of analog dial watches. Enter, Fossil’s hybrid smart watches. Look like analog watches but have most features of a smart watch with activity tracker, notification alert, buttons that can be assigned to take a photo, toggle volume and so on. Husband gifted this one to me on my Birthday!

3.      Mi Digital Weighing Scale This I ordered when our earlier weighing scale broke down and I read a fellow blogger’s review. It is bit more expensive compared to regular weighing scales, but has a memory to remember everyone’s weight, syncs with Mi Fitness app and most importantly tells you your BMI and how much weight you need to gain/loose. With a kid, senior citizens and fitness freaks in the house, this was a great purchase.

Smart gadgets help push us towards our fitness goals or organising goals and so on! I am definitely getting myself a smart-speaker during the next Flipkart sale!