What’s not to love about the southern state of Kerala? Perhaps India’s prettiest state, it’s tranquil backwaters, endless coconut groves, green-face-painted Kathakali dancers and seafood define the region.

In Chakala (Andheri), a restaurant with an unassuming appearance attempts to bring the flavours of Kerala into Amchi Mumbai. ‘Just Kerala’ is located close to the Bisleri Factory, inside Hotel Samraj and serves delectable, vibrant south Indian fare.

AMBIENCE
just kerala restaurant

While it doesn’t appear so at first glance, the hotel has valet parking with cordial staff out front. Once in the lobby, make your way to the restaurant on the 2nd floor. On entering, you’ll find that the restrained white décor is refreshingly different. Floor to ceiling windows with strategically placed potted palms give the place an instant bright appeal. The décor is coherrent – having a large, polished bar with a textured white finish and matching white chairs, table runners and ivory sofas. A traditional lamp somewhere in the centre is the only stand-alone object you will find.

SERVICE

I was very impressed with the service at Just Kerala. The waiters were knowledgable, courteous and well spoken. They recited complicated dish names like Lobia Ulathiyathu and mezhukkupuratti with ease, as I struggled to get the spelling right on my notepad. Food, not only on my table, but also on tables surrounding mine came promptly and they were attentive to even guests sitting in the corners of the restaurant.

FOOD

For me, an unfamiliar menu is great fun as I love to figure out what’s what. This one was well written and while the names of the dishes are long and complicated, the descriptions are well written providing enough explanation yet leaving a little for guesswork. Also, it is worth mentioning that this is the only restaurant serving Kerala cuisine and possessing a liquor license.

Parippu Vada

There’s nothing sadder than soggy vadas! And this one set the tone absolutely right for the rest of the meal! Super crunchy on the outside and soft + tasty on the inside, they are made with a coarse paste of soaked chana dal, onions, ginger-garlic and spices! These once used to be my morning snack before work, since there used to be a seller just outside my office – and I could never resist that rustic texture and hearty flavour, especially on rainy days!

parippu vada just kerala

Surmai Fish Fry

Being Goan, fried fish is something that swims in my blood. Surmai, being a flavourful fish doesn’t need much added to it to make it a knock-out side-dish. While in Goa, we like it crumb fried, Just Kerala fried it after coating it with some awesome traditional spices and chillies, ginger-garlic and showered it with ground pepper. The red masala infused right through the fish and it was deliciously tangy and delicate!

surmai fish fry just kerala

Chicken Malabar Curry

The thing about the coastal area is that even though all communities use the same ingredients, the style of cooking and spices used give it a while new dimension. This vivacious spicy chicken curry was finger-licking good and had that typical South Indian flavour thanks to the addition of luscious coconut milk and complex spice mix. I enjoyed it with some traditional rice chapatis, called appams!

malabar chicken curry just kerala

Coconut chicken

This was my favourite of the lot. I love coconut in everything and the coconut here was so strong that I just couldn’t stop eating it! It was a semi dry dish packed with spices that were softened with the gentle touch of coconut. It was a little too oily for my liking, and if it wasn’t for that, the dish would have been heavenly!

coconut chicken just kerala

Long pieces of fresh coconut was amply added in with small chunks of chicken. The meat was so juicy and coconut flavour was so intense, it made me feel like I was on a tropical vacation to Kerala! And the best part is that it wasn’t sweet – like most coconut based dishes are – but had the powerful backing of ground spices. Don’t miss this addictive dish for sure!

Thali /Sadhya

You can’t go to a Kerala restaurant and not order a traditional thali served on a banana leaf! The amount of food on these always leaves me overwhelmed – but it’s more to do with the variety than than the quantity. Just Kerala is the only restaurant to serve Sadhya and it is interesting to note that they even deliver Sadhya to offices nearby for lunch – however, not with all 13-15 items – but with 5.

Just kerala chakala andheri

You can opt for an unlimited vegetarian Sadhya or go for the non-veg one, which is basically the same thing substituted with chicken or fish curry instead of veg curry. A jaw-dropping amount of Kerala boiled rice was served with Sambar Rasam, a watery, tangy-sour curry of sorts made using tamarind, tomato and pieces of drumsticks.

sadhya thali just kerala

A Sadhya isn’t complete without the quintessential Kerala classic, avial, or mixed vegetable seasoned with coconut oil and curry leaves. And apart from that, it also featured a veg dish made of suran (yams), Thoran (vegetable stir-fry), mezhukkupuratti (long beans), travancore chicken curry, a dish made of roasted black beans (lobia ulathiyathu), a delicious raw banana-curd side dish, ghee, banana chips, papad, pickle and buttermilk. A small bowl of vermicelli sevaiyan was served too. Like normal thalis, the items served differ everyday, however, the plethora of items, each with its own distinct taste, keeps it interesting.

To say this was filling would be an understatement. But Sadhya is an all-round healthy meal and although it leaves you stuffed at first, it gets digested pretty quickly and doesn’t leave you feeling sluggish.

Asda Payassam

The dessert menu comprised of a fair amount of Indian desserts such as Rasgulla and Gulab Jamun. In terms of authentic Kerala desserts, there were only Seviyan Payassam and Ada Payassam. I had already tried the former when it came as a part of the thali, so I ordered for the Ada Payassam – comprised of jaggery and flat rice in sweetened milk. I’m not a fan of jaggery so I wasn’t raving about this. I wish the menu had a bit more variety like maybe Unniyapam, Chatti Pathiri and Bonda.

asda payassam

Just Kerala so far hasn’t got the attention it deserves and except from the office-goes around it and the mallu community. If you’re wondering whether they serve the meat that must not be named, not exactly, but they do serve meat from other members of the bovine family.

Here’s where you can find them:

Address – Hotel Samraj, Chakala Road, Chakala, Mumbai

Cost for 2 – Rs. 900 for 2 (excluding drinks)

Get a true taste of God’s Own Country at Just Kerala and if you do happen to go, let me know what you think by dropping me a line on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Bye!

While Ratnagiri is not someone’s first choice for a vacation spot, it has a lot of what makes it a good one. Delectable seafood, proximity to Goa and Mumbai, more greenery than you can imagine and virgin beaches. Probably the one thing that sorely lacks here are resorts – and all that comes with one – a swimming pool, spa, lounge and the like.

The district does have a handful of budget hotels that provide a good pit-stop for bikers, family road-trippers and those looking for a quick weekend getaway. Among the best hotels in Ratnagiri, I came across this budget hotel, Sangam Regency that provided a peaceful interlude on a tiresome journey. It was so far above my expectations that I decided to share it with you.

GETTING THERE

Possibly the best part about Sangam Regency is its proximity to Ratnagiri Station. On exiting the station, it is a mere 2-3 minute walk, or 30 second drive. While it is so close to the station, it is absolutely silent from the minute you enter the spacious, air-conditioned lobby.

THE HOTEL

Pleasant and understated, Hotel  Sangam Regency offers travelers two things that they are seeking the most – comfort and cleanliness. The hotel’s large lobby has sofas on either side and a reception desk at the end.  A door leads to the hotel’s in-house restaurant, Soul Curry.

On standing in the reception and looking up, you’ll see all the 26 rooms around the periphery of each floor, with a glass barricade from where you can stand and look down at the lobby.  The hotel also has wi-fi, which wasn’t working when I visited. Apart from that it has a banquet hall and conference centre.

hotel sangam residency room

Among the main attractions, Thiba Point is 7kms away, Black Sea, Suru Ban Bhatye Beach and Patitpawan are at 9kms, and Ratnadurg Fort is at 11kms away.

THE ROOM

I didn’t expect to find a hotel of this standard and was quite thrilled with the find. The room has a huge cmofortable bed to sink into and also comes with cable TV, refrigerator, dining area, electric kettle and private bathroom with toiletries.

sangam residency ratnagiri

The view from the window is nothing to speak of and faces one of the lanes around the hotel.  The washroom was extremely clean as well with a large sink, Western toilet, strong shower and hot and cold water. Like many hotels, it didn’t have a partition door or shower curtain between the shower area and rest of the room, so as always, once you’re done with a 10 minute shower, you walk on the wet floor for hours. Oh, well.

hotel in ratnagiri

hotel sangam

The hotel has a choice of Rooms ranging from Deluxe (Rs. 2200), Supreme (Rs. 2700) and Suite (Rs. 3500). An extra person can be accommodated on a matteress that is placed on a sturdy cot.

THE FOOD

The a-la carte menu is vast and features an array of veg, non veg and seafood items. I had the Mutton Rogan Josh and naan for dinner which was delicious!  In contrast, the buffet breakfast the next morning was absolutely atroctious. It featured south Indian staples of idli-sambar, uttapam, and others, none of which looked good, let alone taste good. I settled for coffee and buttered toast. The boiled eggs at the next table looked so over-boiled that I didn’t bother ordering eggs either. On the plus side, the service is quite quick and prompt!

That wraps up my short review of this budget hotel in Ratnagiri. Don’t forget to check out all the details of my road trip from Mumbai to Goa and back as well as of Mandvi Beach in Ratnagiri.

Heading back to the food in my next post! Until then, let’s keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

A great thing about living in Mumbai is the fact that you’re 600 kms away from Goa, which means you can get there in 10-11 hours, depending on how many stops you take. The bad news is that the horrendous state of roads in our country make driving as pleasant as getting a root canal.

MUMBAI TO GOA

Sukhjeet and I departed from Mumbai by road at around 5:30 am one rainy morning on our maiden roadtrip from Mumbai to Goa. Our goal was to take advantage of the open roads in our otherwise choc-a-bloc city traffic and get out of Mumbai by 7 am. We had the option of two routes:

NH 4 – This route takes you through Pune and Kolhapur

NH 66 – Formerly known as NH 17, this route takes you through Ratnagiri and the Western Ghats.

For our drive from Mumbai to Goa, we opted for the NH4 Route for 2-3 reasons. The roads are wide and straight, fit for fast driving. Until you reach the border of Goa, the highway has 3-4 lanes. They have proper dividers and lane markings, making it more comfortable for the driver.

And thirdly, but most importantly, this route allowed us to skip the winding roads of the Western Ghats. The Western Ghat roads are steep, narrow and at a high altitude with no barricades on the sides in most places. As it was our first drive and we weren’t a 100% confident we could tackle it, we decided not to risk it. However, most Volvo buses take this route.

road goa to mumbai

The downside of this route though, are the numerous toll booths you will come across, 1 in almost every 100 km stretch. You will need to shell out at least Rs. 500-600, but it is still better than other options, as you will see later in this post.

We zipped through the city while it was still dark and reached Lonavala just as the sun began to rise. At 7 am, we were already in Pune and made our first stop for a breakfast of pancakes and coffee at McDonalds, just off the highway. I always prefer stopping at McDonalds because the food is safe and restrooms, clean, both important aspects to consider on a road trip. We were thrilled at having covered so much distance in just two hours and hoped that this head start would see us in Goa by 5 pm.

roadtrip mumbai to goa

Once we crossed Pune, we clocked in our kms with no hassles whatsoever. The surroundings were scenic and there was very little traffic.  At one point, we saw the road in front of us gently slope upwards and on looking up, saw cars winding their way around a hill ahead. That did cause a little panic, but turns out, we shouldn’t have worried because on climbing that hill, the road sloped back down again and it wasn’t the dreaded ghats we feared.

We stuck to NH4 and zipped passed Satara, Kolhapur and finally, Belgaum at around 1 pm quite uneventfully. It was here that we took one wrong turn that caused us to drive nearly 2 hours more. While we should have taken a left and stayed on the Belgaum Highway, we saw a giant board saying ‘Welcome to Goa’ right in front of us. Naturally, we carried on straight and into that narrow, but very scenic lane. A couple of kms in, we saw a darling little restaurant with seating in the verandah and a lawn out in front and that was where we took our second stop for lunch.

An hour later, we got back into the car and carried on straight. The scenic beauty here was absolutely stunning and I definitely want to go back and explore. On following the road further, it led up, higher and higher until – you guessed it, GHATS!  Thankfully, it was a short stretch, but thick with fog and rain pouring down. We were caught between two trucks for over half an hour and didn’t dare overtake as there was no barricade and a sheer drop down.  On finally finding our way back at ground level, the road worsened and GPS led us through the most narrow pathways. Some stretches were mud-roads riddled with potholes. At 5 pm, we emerged on a decent road somewhere in Pernem but were so exhausted and disheartened that our incredible roadtrip turned into a disaster. Not to mention, Sukhjeet’s knees began to hurt terribly with the constant brake-clutch-accelerator pedal-pushing on these terrible roads. An hour later, we entered Mapusa and by 6:30, I was home.

The bottom line is: Blindly opt to drive on NH4 on a roadtrip from Mumbai to Goa  and carry on the Belgaum Highway until you find yourself at Panjim. It is quite a painless journey if done right. You will need two tanks of petrol for the entire journey (and there are ample fuel pumps to fill up). I won’t mention the cost of fuel because we all know how uncertain that is.

GOA TO MUMBAI

For the way back, I decided to try out Route 66. From my home in Saligao, I headed towards Pernem and further on towards Sawantwadi – Kudal – Kankavli – Rajapur – Ratnagiri. If you’ve travelled by train, you’ll probably realize that all these are Konkan Kanya train stops! It was a two-sided road, 4 lanes and beautiful scenery. There were minor slopes and the journey took me around 5 hours. It would have been shorter, but this time, I was on a motorcycle and the freqent rain spells made me seek shelter every now and again.

roadtrip goa to mumbai

I spent the evening at Ratnagiri and checked out the beautiful Mandvi Beach. I stayed at a very comfortable 3-star hotel, Sangam Residency, just minutes away from Ratnagiri Station (more on that in my next post)

We left Ratnagiri at 10 am the next morning and continued on NH66, passing through Hathkamba, Navadi, Dhamani, Khamathe, Chiplun and Khed. On craving some of my morning caffeine, we stopped for some fabulous coffee (about the best I’ve had on the road) at this little restaurant in Chiplun at around noon. Sadly, I don’t remember its name.

coffee road trip goa to mumbai

Lunch was above average as well, and I relished some dal, tandoori roti and bhindi fry (ladyfingers) at Hotel Annapurna in Poladpur. Both places had lovely views and were extremely hygienic. I was able to work for about half an hour on my laptop as network was strong. Sigh.. the life of a digital nomad!

hotel annapurna NH66

hotel annapurna poladpur

Until here, we were driving in the wilderness amongst hills and fields, but in about an hour, we passed through dozens of villages. These busy, narrow roads, traffic and pedestrians slowed us down to a great extent. While that was completely manageable for the next 3-4 hours, at around 7:30 pm, it all went downhill! The last 100 kms, the roads were nothing short of a nightmare. The road was unpaved, there were trucks crawling along by the dozen and the dust in the air was so thick, it was difficult to see 100 meters in front of us. In fact, we could taste the dust at the back of our mouths and the journey was nowhere near complete.

It is for this reason that I’d advise you to completely stay clear of this route. There were no toll booths whatsoever, which is probably why the roads are neglected and can’t even be compared to the roads in Rural India, let alone be fit enough to lead to the financial capital of the country. Entering Mumbai saw us amidst insane traffic and in order to dodge it, we took every in-road we could find. Our long, looong journey finally ended at 11:30 pm.

Hope you enjoyed this post! Got questions or comments, leave me a line below and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Bye!

If someone says ‘Konkan Coast,’ it is almost certain that your mind will jump to Goa or Kerala. You wouldn’t think of Alibaug or Ratnagiri unless you’re in Mumbai, looking for a quick weekend getaway. However, just a hop away from the border of Goa, or 270 kms to be exact, the welcoming beaches of Ratnagiri are a sight to behold.

ratnagiri konkan kanya

Until recently, I’d only had a glimpse of Ratnagiri as the train from Mumbai to Goa chugged past its railway station. Even while peering out through the rusty window grills of the Konkan Kanya express, the district looked pristine, down below. Winding narrow lanes, emerald paddy fields and a multi-hued landscape permeated with red earth.

For those who love wandering to lesser known spots, the coastal shoreline of Ratnagiri is truly astounding in terms of natural beauty. With the Sahyadri ranges on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other, it’s fair distance from Goa and Mumbai have allowed it to keep its scenic beauty intact. There are little pockets of ‘town’ between the greenery and it is here that you will find yourself amidst honking traffic, busy marketplaces and commercial centres for a few minutes.

ratnagiri mandvi beach

But the beaches! Unlike Goa, where the beaches are teeming with tourists, those in Ratnagiri offer undisturbed views of the sea. No shacks blaring loud music, no hawkers coaxing you into getting a henna tattoo, no shouts of joy from tourists as they ride off on their jet-skis. Just plenty of shady trees, the sound of the crashing waves and the opportunity to do absolutely nothing.

Ganpatiphule, Malgund, Arre Waare and Bhandarpule are a few of the blissfully secluded beaches in the area. I wish I could have explored them all, but I was only in Ratnagiri for one evening and Mandvi Beach was the closest to where I was put up for the night. (More on that lovely hotel, Sangam Residency, in my next post).

that goan girl mandvi beach

This particular beach, Mandvi, did have a handful of tourists in places but it wasn’t hard to find quiet spots to sit and relax. There are no food options around, save for a couple of vendors selling chaat off their carts. Don’t expect to find white sand here. While it is lustrously powder-like, the colour is as black as coal, darker than even the monsoon clouds overhead.

If you’re looking for a beach to spend the entire day at, and maybe have a picnic, it is best to overlook this one. An hour or so here would be plenty.

Ratnagiri is home to some popular ancient temples and has some marvelous Konkan cuisine as well and maybe I can stop by on another road-trip to check it out. Let me know if you’ve ever explored this area or this beach! Would love to know what you think.

I visited another gorgeous beach in my home-state of Goa recently. You may like to check out my post on it – Grandmother’s Hole Beach. Also, stay tuned for all the details on my road-trip from Mumbai to Goa.

Until then, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram! Ciao!

How are you doing, guys?

After a quiet monsoon season of catching up on work and building my marketing agency, I’ve suddenly found myself drowning in blog posts. Just two months ago, things seemed to have stagnated and this blog, That Goan Girl, seemed to have plateaued. But post my trip home to Goa, where I reviewed at least half a dozen restaurants, I’m back in Mumbai and it’s literally raining collaborations and feature requests again. While my pickiness about who I feature here and talk to you about does filter a lot of brands/restaurants out, there are quite a few that are worth talking about.

Pa Pa Ya is one of them! Casual, yet fine-dining, luxurious, yet edgy, Zorawar Kalra’s restaurant has been on my radar for the longest time. His other restaurants, Masala Library and Farzi Cafe are both mighty impressive, and employ the concept of molecular gastronomy, of which, he is the master.

pa pa ya ambience

AMBIENCE

I’ve peeked in at Pa Pa Ya’s Lower Parel outlet as I’ve walked past on many occasions and boy, does it ooze glamour! My review was held at the Colaba outlet and it was just as chic! This dimly lit modern Asian bistro had touches of crimson and an ample amount of their hexagon motifs everywhere. While downstairs is much more spacious, especially with the high ceiling, it is not quite the case upstairs.

pa pa ya ambience colaba

SERVICE

The service was quick, the staff was knowledgeable, but for the life of me, I couldn’t understand a word my waiter said. He literally spoke so fast that after a couple of dishes arrived, whenever I saw him approach with something new, I kept the menu ready for him to simply point out what the dish was. Anyway, I can’t deny that the knowledge was all there, because whenever I asked him what seasoning was used, he would rattle off without any hesitation.

FOOD

What makes Zorawar Kalra’s many restaurants stand out is that for the longest time, he’s been redefining what it means to cook ‘authentic’ food. Not quite traditional, not quite modern, most of the food plays with flavors from other cultures, creating an entirely new take on cuisines that have long remained the same. His brilliant knowledge of molecular gastronomy and one look at the menu confirms that here too, it’s all about experimentation. Here’s what I tried from the long and confusing 16-page menu.

Crispy Lotus Root – We were first brought the Amuse Bouche – a basil compressed watermelon in lemongrass and chilly foam served on a seashell with some smoking dry ice below. It popped like a bubble bursting in my mouth and released all its delicious flavour, making way for the Lotus Root that was brought quickly after.

crispy lotus roots

Sticky, sweet, slightly caramelized and just a slight hint of spice! The crispy lotus root from Pa Pa Ya is so crispy, you can break it with a satisfying *snap*

I’m so addicted to crispy starters, and this one was no exception! It came with a cool, creamy avocado dip for balance.

Sushi Tree – Sushi lovers like myself have often wished that this Japanese staple would grow on trees, and at Pa Pa Ya, they do! Various types of colourful nigiri are placed on the branches of this wooden tree and at the base are pickled ginger and wasabi. Apart from the traditional tuna and salmon sushi with caviar on top, there were two interesting nigiri as well. I particularly liked the ‘carbon sushi with rice balls’ which are coloured jet black with squid ink and had rice-crispy-balls on top for crunch. Another great ‘fruit’ of the tree was spicy tuna roll with seaweed that had a 7 powdered-spice mix coated on the sides. Loved every bite!

sushi tree pa pa ya colaba

sushi tree pa pa ya

Lamb and Mandarin Bee Hun – This looked like a piece of art! Translucent steamed potato and rice wrappers stuffed with mandarin flavoured lamb was cooked to perfection. It was served with a tiny bit of black bean sauce which worked wonders in elevating the dish.

lamb mandarin bee hun

Kale and Pakchoy Gaozi – This may be a hit with the vegetarians, but I wasn’t a fan. The delicate mushroom parcels were served with a crispy-starchy potato shell. Presentation wise it was quite messy – random splotches of sauce on the plate with microgreens strewn around carelessly. The waiter suggested rolling the mushroom in the papad-like coverings and while that added texture, it was pretty strange, I must admit.

Beet Infused Dim Sum – A colourful twist to dimsum, Pa Pa Ya kept it natural with bright pink beet infused wrappers stuffed with sautéed leeks, chestnuts, celery and spring onions. It was served with yuzu soya foam on top as garnish and looked refreshingly different. The flavours here seemed very Indian and it could be the use of spices. It was good, but not wow. What saved it for me was that texture wise, silken wrappers paired with the crispy filling was interesting.

beet infused dimsum pa pa ya

Pla Samrot Gung – I looove sweet-and-sour flavour profiles so the Pla Samrot Gung was a hit in my books. You may find the flavour here overlapping with many of the dishes on the menu though. Plump tiger prawns were coated in piquant Thai sauce, served on a bed of pea sauce with a beautiful dehydrated slice of pineapple for garnish which was dry and chewy at the same time. Ah-mazing!

pla samrot gung pa pa ya

Pork Belly Skewers – Again, mildly sweet but oh, how buttery!! This is Pa Pa Ya’s version of Japanese Pork Belly Skewers and it is glazed with mirin and soy sauce. Chargrilled, slightly sticky and utterly melt-in-your-mouth good, this was simply irresistible. Check out the presentation!

pork skewers papaya

pork skewers pa pa ya

Wasabi Rice – Not something I’d ordinarily order, but I’ve had some good luck going with the staff’s suggestions and once again, this one was a win! Don’t let the name scare you away, this dish won’t set your nostrils aflame. The rice is slightly sticky, fragrant and with an ever-so-slight tinge of wasabi. The tiny diced bell peppers added colour and bite to it.

wasabi rice pa pa ya

Lamb Rendang Curry – Its hard picking a favourite dish here, but this one came out tops. To call the meat ‘tender’ would be an understatement – it literally fell off the bone at the slightest touch. That gravy, guys!! Mind blowing! Infused with strong spices with a dash of coconut cream, it was irresistible I didn’t like the lachha paratha it was served with, but then I like my rotis fully cooked – so it comes down to personal taste on that front. Definitely don’t leave Pa Pa Ya without digging into this one.

lamb rendang pa pa ya

Pad Thai Noodles – Unlike the other items that were either sweet-ish or rich, this one was quite basic in comparison. Tossed noodles with scrambled egg, peanuts and capsicum and slightly on the oily side.

pad thai noodles pa pa ya

Braised Sliced Chicken in Chilly Sauce – As I write this, around a fortnight after visiting Pa Pa Ya, nothing about this dish stands out. I’d definitely skip this on the next visit because there are stellar items on the menu and this one doesn’t quite match up.

chicken chilly sauce pa pa ya

Flaming Chocolate Ball – Pa Pa Ya’s signature dessert has very ordinary elements put together to form a whimsical creation. Scoops of ice cream inside a chocolate ball, some cookie crumble, nuts, whipped cream, orange liqueur, chunks of chocolate brownie and a bit of chocolate ganache. It is set ablaze with 15 mls of alcohol and the blue flames slowly reveal the ice cream within. Taste-wise it wasn’t Pa Pa Ya worthy, but it did add some theatre! The video of its sapphire blue flames are on my Instagram page.

flaming chocolate ball pa pa ya

At Pa Pa Ya, the food speaks, and how! It is a feast for the eyes and the taste buds. The restaurant takes any notions you have of Asian Food and turns it around, giving you an experience you’ll never forget.

Address: Hotel Diplomat, Whitehouse Building, 24-26, B. K. Boman Behram Marg, Apollo, Bund, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400001

Cost for 2: Rs. 3000/-

See you next time! Until then, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and check out my last posts on The Oak Barrel and Caravela Cafe

xoxo

P.S. My meal was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own

It’s easy for a tiny country to be lost among two giants, each with a rich and diverse culture and cuisine of their own. That’s Nepal for you. With India and China, two culinary greats by its side, Nepalese cuisine seems almost lost, forgotten. The cuisine itself isn’t one that fights for attention, but is mild and restrained, with simple flavours that wow the palate in a way that Indian and Chinese explosions of flavour cannot.

Nepalese cuisine made a quiet entrance into Mumbai’s competitive food industry just a few weeks ago, off the boisterous Link Road in Andheri. Mumbai’s first Nepali restaurant, called Yomari, is named after the traditional dessert of the land. Not only was it my first time trying the cuisine, but also, the first time I was the only blogger called to review it! Double win!

AMBIENCE

Yomari is a tiny 4-table restaurant in Andheri West, Mumbai and a few steps will take you from the main entrance to the kitchen. A tiled, covered patio in the front suggest that a couple of more tables will be added for outdoor seating. Inside, it is minimally decorated with Nepalese trinkets, a statue of an elephant and over the kitchen door, a wall to wall back-lit image of the Himalayas.

SERVICE

The restaurant being so new, there were no servers been hired yet. I’ll update this section on the service when I visit again.

yomari mumbai

FOOD

The menu features traditional Nepali staples such as Jhol (soups), Khaja Ghor (snacks), salads, ‘tummy full meals’ which comprise of various proteins over rice, Momos (of course!), Sadeko (munchies), Sekuwas and Chhoilas (Grilled/BBQ styled appetizers).

Soya Sadeko – For starters, I was served a traditional cold dish called sadeko with puffed rice, bamboo shoot pickle, and a glass full of some epic chaas! Unlike other soya items that are eaten with rice or roti, you just pop these soya chunks into your mouth. Right from this starter onwards, the food at Yomari kept me guessing what spices and techniques were at work!

soya sadeko yomari mumbai

Chicken Sadeko – While this chicken starter as well as the earlier soya one was novel, I liked this one slightly more than soya sadeko as it had more flavour and was so tempting! Chicken is shredded, tossed and further sautéed in spices and herbs to renew its rich flavour that appears almost like a salad. This was served with crunchy, beaten rice and tart radish pickle that I absolutely couldn’t get enough of!

chicken sadeko yomari mumbai

Shrimp Salad – Seafood in Nepal?? Hmm.. I’m not sure about that one, but I kid you not, these prawns were probably the best I’ve had in Mumbai, and they weren’t even ‘Goa-style’ spiced and fried like the way I usually like my prawns! Cooked to perfection and minimally spiced, the prawns were steamed and served with an assortment of spring veggies, sprinkled over with pepper and herbs and tossed in a delicious, zippy dressing. Bang on perfect!

shrimp salad yomari mumbai

Chicken Chop – I loved how light and delicious these starters were! They reminded me of the ones Mum makes at home, however the spices were much milder like Nepali food is supposed to be. These crumb fried minced chicken and mashed potato chops were served with a spicy chutney and salad and I could have easily eaten half a dozen.

chicken cutlets yomari mumbai

Chicken Momos – From high-end nibble restaurants to dingy bhattis, momos are ubiquitously popular everywhere, especially up north. Maybe I’ve eaten too many commercialized momos, but these seemed a tad too bland for my liking. Either way, the chilli dipping sauce gave it a boost.

chicken momos yomari mumbai

Mushroom and Cheese Momos – These were among the freshest mushroom momos I’ve eaten. They were sooo juicy and the chilli sauce paired well with them, too. Mushrooms being soggier than chicken, all the delicious flavour got infused in the translucent shells as well, making it even juicier!

mushroom cheese momos

Mutton Sekhwa – Sekhwa is a quintessential street food item which is sort of like satay or kebabs, but without the skewer. Like most of the dishes served, this one came with that scary-looking chilli on top, but it wasn’t spicy at all! What was intriguing was that it was neither saucy or dry, grilled or fried – the Sekhwa was just the right mix of everything with fragrant herbs and ground spices! I’ll even go out on a limb to say that kebab’s got nothing on the Sekhwa! It’s easy to see why this is a local favourite. It definitely was mine!

mutton sekuwa yomari mumbai

Mutton over Rice – Maybe I was just a little too stuffed at this point, but I felt that the flavours of the mutton sekhwa overlapped a lot with the mutton over rice. The meat, however, was much more tender as compared to the Sekhwa and the flavours were a lot milder. Served over steamed rice, this one is a meal in itself.

Yomari – Finally! I couldn’t wait to try these fish-shaped dessert dumplings after which the restaurant is named. Available with two filling choices – dried fruit and chocolate, it is prepared to worship the goddess of grain, Annapurna during the full moon after the harvest. I tried the dried fruit one which had a mix of coconut, jaggery, dried fruits and nuts served in a warm, thickened milk. This isn’t one of those indulgent desserts, and it’s mild sweetness didn’t send me on a guilt trip – so thumbs up!

yomari andheri

Food lovers who want to try something unconventional, yet traditional at the same time, round up your friends and head over to Yomari! It wont be long before you’ll have to wait for a table at this little gem of a place!

Meal for 2: Rs. 600

Address: Sterling CHS, Sundervan, Lokhandwala, Andheri West, Mumbai

Until next time!

P.S. My meal was sponsored, however, views, as always, are my own

I know I know…

Vasaiiiiiii…

How did I land up in this part of the world, you ask? Well, why not! If you’ve ever googled about restaurants in Vasai or cafes to visit in Vasai, you’ll find Google giving you a blank stare. So I decided to list down the options for those looking to grab a bite in this part of town. Apart from McDonalds, Dominos and Balaji, here’s where you can head:

Vasai East

East Side Café – Finding a proper sit-down gourmet restaurant in Vasai East is no easy task. Among the very few options available, this one is my personal favourite. This tiny restaurant has polished interiors and is a great place to grab a late night coffee (until 11 pm). The menu is limited but carefully curated and no dish you order will ever let you down. I tried the mocktails too and they were absolutely delicious. The drinks are crafted by the owner/manager himself, and with his background in the F&B industry, he takes it upon himself to make it perfectly!

Mad Over Fish – My joy at seeing a seafood restaurant in this part of town knew no bounds! Well, you know what they say about high expectations.. they always disappoint, just like Mad Over Fish did. The restaurant has a lovely, earthy ambiance but the food is pathetic and alcohol, highly priced. I ordered Goan prawn pulao – which, if you have eaten Goan food, know is nothing like this wet, gravy-topped, masala-rice dish in the image below. Goan fish curry, a dish supposed to be having a rich coconut base, had no coconut at all and the spice brought tears to my eyes. I’ve had better Koliwada prawns at the Koli festival in Juhu, cooked in an open stall. These prawns were hard, not too fresh, cooked in cheap oil and tasteless. You’ll have to fish for seafood dishes on the Mad Over Fish menu since they are pretty limited. If you do happen to go, I’d advise choosing off their Indo-Chinese menu – can’t go wrong with that!

mad over fish

Relish – Your go-to option when you’re home and don’t want to cook! Relish is your neighbourhood, no-frills-but-delicious food joint serving a mix of Indian food like butter chicken/kadhai paneer/dal makhni and naan, biryanis, pav bhaji and Indo-chinese staples like fried rice and Manchurian etc. Good food and value-for-money.

Vasai West

Pizzeria Fried Chicken (PFC) – Go here for the Twister Potato! Once you eat it, you’ll want to keep visiting the place every day! PFC has only two tiny tables inside but there are always 5-6 people hanging out and eating their spice coated twisters outside. You’ll also get subs, sandwiches and fried chicken here.

The Social Brew – “Eat here, or we’ll both starve” is the board that welcomes you as you enter The Social Brew. These folks really do have a sense of humour and besides serving up great food, they offer a good time too! Quirky seating options, a rack full of comics and books and the current playlist ensure you spend a decent amount of time at the restaurant. I happened to go there to satisfy a nacho craving and plan to go back to try the pizzas and pancakes!

Junkyard – While Junkyard is easy on the wallet, I wasn’t impressed by the food at all. The pasta sauce had a very glue-like texture, the pizzas were deep dish and hard, and their mocktails tasted worse than medicine. Definitely not going back until there’s a quality upgrade.

Papa’s Cafe – It’s hard to ignore Papa’s Cafe with their sunny yellow facade and glass windows through which you can see every table full, all the time! With a limited menu of flat bread, ciabatta, fries, pasta and dessert, everything here is in the range of 80-150, making it a popular hangout among college kids. The sriracha fried chicken ciabatta was exceptional and the piri piri fries were decent (although could have used some more sauce.) The desserts were a let down, with the red velvet item being served in a jar, looking like gloop and having chunks of chocolate inside, while the baked New York cheesecake had such a soggy base.

papas cafe vasai

papas cafe vasai

Frankie Corner – While the shawarma here is better than that at many other outlets, it can be a gamble going there. Sometimes, they run out of chicken at 8:30 PM, and at other times, they’re happily serving up roll after roll an hour later. You’ll find a lot of quick eats here such as the chicken cheese pav, chicken tikka and the like as well as cold coffee. The price is super reasonable and you won’t mind heading here for a quick evening snack.

frankie corner vasai west

That’s about all for now! There’s still a lot more to explore, and I’ll keep updating this post with more places to eat at in Vasai as and when I try out the latest.

Got any tips on restaurants to visit in Vasai? Comment below!

See you soon!

Who knew that a weekend at Casa De La Luna was exactly what I needed after an extremely tiring few weeks. I snuck away to this picturesque little haven and was swept off my feet with the impeccable hospitality of the staff and the simple comforts of the room.

casa de la luna pool

I sat on the patio outside my room in the mornings with a cup of coffee, catching up on work as the sun blazed overhead, occasionally changing its mind and bursting into drizzle after every few hours. And as the sun would disappear, I’d slip into the pool for a swim until dinner time, floating on my back and admiring the moon, after which Casa De La Luna is named.

jade that goan girl

THE RESORT

Casa De La Luna is a resort-cum-homestay in Alibaug, around 10-15 minutes away from Mandwa Jetty. On entering a tiny lane that opens out into a larger mango and coconut orchard you’ll find yourself on a driveway leading up to a footbridge built over a flowing stream. Step off on the other side of the bridge, and the aura of calmness is apparent right away.

entry to casa de la luna

Manicured lawns, an abundance of flowering shrubs and palm trees are a welcome sight as you enter the property. On both the days that I stayed here, I walked in these gardens, clicking pictures of spotted butterflies and listening to the loud sounds of bird chirping.

The lobby of the resort looks more like the hall in a personal residence. It had sofas facing the TV, a dining table and a door that leads to the kitchen. Walking past the dining table leads you to the other side of the property that houses the rooms, two on the left, two on the right, and one upstairs, all facing an azure blue pool! I had a look at a couple of the rooms on Day 2 of my visit and while all of them were lovely, I liked my room the most – the first one on the right! Design-wise it was the prettiest and it had the sit-out area right outside the door.

casa de la luna garden

THE ROOM

Minimally done, yet tasteful! My air-conditioned room was super spacious and didn’t have any unnecessary items and knick-knacks cluttering the space.

casa de la luna bedroom

casa de la luna room

A simple, comfy double bed in the centre, flanked by two mini bed-stands and a wooden rack on which to keep your bag/suitcase was all the room contained. That, and an impressive painting hung over the bed to lend the room some colour!

that goan girl casa de la luna

A small room in between the bedroom and bathroom held two intricate pieces of wooden furniture, a cupboard and a dresser which acted as a changing room of sorts. What I found interesting (and smart designing, too, actually) was that the bedroom and changing room had a glass window that faced your own personal patch of greenery. You wouldn’t want to, or need to step out into it – it’s too small for that, but it added the lovely freshness and warmth that live plants do, without having actual plants in the room.

casa de la luna dressing room

The bathroom was another interesting element of the room. Open planned and designed in earthy tones, like the other two rooms, a certain portion of it formed the third wall surrounding the little outdoor garden patch, adding to the whole forest-like appeal. However, from here, one could open a glass=paned door to the garden, which one would need to do only to water the plants.

casa de la luna washroom

casa de la luna alibaug

THE FOOD

The food wasn’t a lavish spread, but home-cooked, hearty meals prepared right there in the kitchen. Every morning, Ashish, one of the staff would come over and ask what we’d like to have for lunch, evening snacks and dinner that day. At night, he’d inquire about our preferences for the following day’s breakfast. Since I wasn’t used to thinking of my meals that much in advance, he’d offer delicious suggestions, to which I readily agreed!

I enjoyed all my meals on the dining table in the hall, from where Manisha, another member of the staff would come out occasionally to ask if anything was needed. Poha and aloo paratha on Day 1 and omlete with toast + cheese sandwiches on Day 2 made up our breakfast. While I’m not really a breakfast person (bad habit, I know), I absolutely adored the food, and still maintain that the poha was the best I’ve ever had.

casa de la luna poha

Evening snacks ranged from chicken 65 to veg Manchurian and chicken lollipops on Day 2. Manisha would call out to us in the pool, like a mother would, asking what time we would like to have it ready and call out again when it was served. She was quite the chatterbox and we loved having her around to add a homely feel!

casa de la luna alibaug

casa de la luna chicken

tgg casa de la luna pool

Dinners were delicious too!! And what I loved even more than the food was the fact that the atmosphere was so informal, without being uncomfortable. We’d sit at the table and eat, talking about random things while 2-3 members of the staff would be in the same room, watching a regional program softly in the hall. No frills, no formality!

biryani casa de la luna

This was lunch on Day 2! So good!!

casa de la luna lunch

custard casa de la luna

The best dish of the lot HAS to be the caramel custard! Not saying that because it’s a Goan dessert, but because it was so outstanding, I could write a poem about it – ‘Gone in 10 seconds.’

caramel custard casa de la luna

P.S. If you’d like to cook your own meals, you can do so as well. However, do carry your own cooking ingredients or source the same from the local market.

AMENITIES

Apart from air conditioned rooms, basic housekeeping and food is taken care of at Casa De La Luna. The property also has 24×7 power backup, however during power failures, the a/c doesn’t work. 24 hour use of the pool is one of the biggest plus points that the property has, unlike all other hotels!

A well equipped kitchen to cook your own meals and 24 hour hot water supply in the bathrooms are provided too. In case of additional people, you can request for additional mattresses.

jade that goan girl

WHAT I LOVED

Casa De La Luna is everything I could ever hope for from a villa resort. It is cheerful, has character and is stylish, yet unpretentious. The staff is professional, friendly and incredibly helpful.

jade dsa

The pool is clean! And thanks to the fact that the place has only a handful of rooms, more often than not, you’ll have the pool to yourself! #win

casa de la luna alibaug

It is perfect for two back-packers, a couple or a group of friends who can book the entire place and have a fun holiday. Online entrepreneurs can work unhindered as mobile and internet network are strong.

I was so pleased to find that the room didn’’t have a TV! With a pool available to jump in all day and such stunning scenery, I’d hate to see it go to waste with people watching TV indoors.

WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED

It would be nice if there was a wall-fixture in the shower area to place your toiletries on so that one doesn’t have to use the windowsill.

Since there are no TVs in the rooms, some board games, books and pool floats could be provided

#TGGTips

Carry your own toiletries and bug spray/lotion. Since there are a lot of plants around, mosquitos in the evening are natural.

If you’re in need of an escape close to the city, I’d suggest heading out for a weekend at Casa De La Luna. I’m already itching to go back.

Book Casa De La Luna on their website, YatraAirbnb or call Aftab on 9022112266. Follow them on Facebook for updates and offers!

You can also read of another fun weekend getaway right here – Phoebe’s Farm, Mumbai. Bye for now!

Note – My stay was sponsored by Casa De La Luna. Views expressed, as always, are my own.

As if on cue, the drizzle began to caress our cheeks as we rode over the threshold of Bhandardara, a rural village in Maharashtra. The days before all seemed to merge into one. That of power cuts, sweat-soaked clothes and laments over the sweltering Mumbai heat (and uncomfortable humidity).

road to bhandardara

Firefly sightings at Bhandardara were said to begin just before the first rain shower. But rain, as always, seemed to be nowhere in sight and just like the pigeons in our balcony, we yearned for grey clouds to darken the skies as May dragged on seemingly forever…

bhandardara roads

hotel deepak bhandardara

On one such unbearably humid night, we decided that, come rain or sunshine, we’d head out to Bhandardara the following day for a short weekend getaway from Mumbai. And at 10 am the next morning, we set off from Mumbai along NH3 to Igatpuri. After around 150 kms, we took a right turn towards Bhandardara and almost instantly, the scenery began to change as we rode along winding roads that led higher, the mercury drastically dropping. The panoramic views of nature, the lack of noise and traffic and the gentle drizzle lifted our spirits and enthusiasm!

bhandardara local

bhandardara views

jade bhandardara

that goan girl bhandardara

Over the next two days, we took in the mellow, picture-perfect village, nestled between the Sahyadri ranges. The air was fragrant with the smell of ripe mangoes that kids would collect and sell on the road, trying to stop bikes and cars as they drove past. The grassy plains rolled on for miles, dull and brown, separated in two by tiny streams. Some places had dry, wiry vegetation interspersed between rocks and at others, lush green forests that plunged into the valleys.

thatgoangirl bhandardara

TGG bhandardara

One of the must-see sights is Arthur Lake, a mesmerizing blue pool of water that is fed by the Pravara River. The shore of the Lake is an idyllic place to unwind and the continuous strong flow of cold wind makes you crave a cup of tea all the time! The spot is popular among campers who set up tents along the shoreline. It was quite dry as it was the end of summer, but the view is so much better during or just after the monsoons.

MTDC Bhandardara is a government guest house that boasts of the best spot from where you can have a fabulous view of the lake! Check out my hotel review of MTDC if you haven’t already.

Since I work remotely, I found that only one spot at the lake had full network and would head over there for a couple of times a day to catch up on emails. The rest of Bhandardara has negligible network and 3G data.

lake arthur

bhandardara winding roads

bhandardara dam

Apart from the restaurants at a handful of hotels in the area, Bhandardara has no other eating joints and food stalls. While scouting the area one afternoon, we climbed higher and higher, and ventured pretty far away from the hotel. Driving back for lunch would have taken more than an hour, and as we were wondering where to stop for lunch, we came across this tiny place with a board indicating that food was available here. It was run by a poor family who cooked in their kitchen and served it on a camping platform a 100 meters away.

restaurant bhandardara

restaurant bhandardara seating

On asking what was available, a man told us that he would make whatever we liked and suggested bajra roti (flat bread made of millet grains) and kadhi (chickpea flour based gravy with yogurt). The food took a good 30 minutes to arrive but the view of the hills and fields, the breeze and sight of naughty kids playing a little distance away more than made up for it. It was a simple meal and as the man said “Rs. 100 mein pet bharke khaana,” (all you can eat at Rs. 100). He meant it, and this is one lunch I won’t be forgetting anytime soon.

P.S. You’ll also find spots like these raised platforms in certain locations where campers can set up their tents.

bajra roti and kadhi

We noticed scattered houses far away from each other, which was strange because in a remote village like this one, I’d think everyone would like a neighbour! Shops were a rare sight, and if we ever found one, it was either shut, or the owner was asleep on the floor, oblivious to a customer. We wondered where people shopped for groceries and quite by chance, we found our answer! A little weekly market in the middle of nowhere!

bhandardara market

houses bhandardara

Another spot on our to-do list was to visit the Ratangad Fort, a 2000 year old Fort located 4225 feet above sea level with stunning views of the lake and the highest of the Sahyadri mountains. There are two ways to get there – one by following the road and the other by off-roading through a river and mucky fields. I must admit, I had much more fun off-roading – with farmers, goats and cows walking alongside as the bike made its way through water, rocks and muck.

off road bhandardara

crossing the river bhandardara

bhandardara fields

The videos and pictures I’ve seen show the fort looking mystical – surrounded by mist, with clouds passing through. However on getting there I learnt that it was a 3 hour trek to reach there. Ain’t no way I’m trekking for three hours! So I settled for exploring the Amruteshwar Temple instead.

amruteshwar temple bhandardara

Those who were returning from the trek looked haggard, but swore that it was a sight to behold. A few people choose to camp at the fort overnight, which would be pretty amazing! Maybe I’ll attempt the trek another time, when it isn’t the fag end of the day.

Located at the base of the mountain, the Amruteshwar Temple was built in 900AD and like all Indian temples, the intricate stonework, wall and ceiling murals was incredible! There is a Shivalinga and statues that get submerged in water when it rains (I’ve heard that snakes live in the temple during the monsoons too!)

bhandardara locals

Beautiful vistas of nature await at Bhandardara. It’s an understatement to say that the village is beautiful. Ditch the city this weekend and surround yourself with splendid misty hills and more shades of green and blue than you can count.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading this travelogue! Comment below and keep in touch on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

I have so many more adventures up my sleeve for now. Can’t wait to take you along!!

xoxo

Hello again!!

A lot has happened since I saw ten thousand fireflies at Bhandardara! The Finale of World Class India, an international level bartending competition that was INTENSE! And I took you with me to uncover some of the secrets behind restaurant food at Food Service India’s Innovation Lab.

But I’m not done telling you about my trip to Bhandardara just yet. A lot of you have been asking about where I stayed and what else there is to do there. So here are all the deets on my not-so-impressive stay at the Maharashtra Tourism Development Guesthouse, MTDC, Bhandardara.

Getting There:

MTDC Bhandardara is located at a distance of around 45 kms from Igatpuri, 180 kms from Mumbai and 190 kms from Pune in the Shendi Village of Akole.

I tried booking online for a couple of days before my trip and the website showed that there were no rooms available. Still, we decided to try our luck at MTDC on arrival, and if there it was full, we would go to one of the other 4-5 shortlisted hotels.

The Hotel

At the end of a leafy, cobble-stoned lane, MTDC looks like quite charming. A little cottage-like reception is located on the right. Beyond that is a spread of 34 rooms, cottages and dormitories in several small buildings

mtdc bhandardara reception

Location-wise, the hotel is a gem! It is situated perfectly, on a small cliff overlooking a beautiful blue Arthur lake with open views for as far as the eyes can see. Nothing can compare to the strong, cool breeze that instantly clears your head! The government really scored with this surreal spot, but that’s about all that’s worth talking about the place.

The Room

I picked the hotel with the thought that being a Maharashtra Tourism Guest House, a department that spends huge sums on tourism, the hotel would be up to the mark of at least a 3 star property. Sadly not!

We picked a standard room at approx. Rs. 1200 a night, and it was slightly on the shabbier side. We were allotted a non- a/c room that shared a wall with the canteen. So the clanging of plates and sound of talk and laughter carried through from breakfast time until past dinner.

mtdc bhandardara bedroom

The linen was grainy, and the floor, even more so. The only thing that was clean, surprisingly, was the bathroom. It was quite large, spotless and with an overpowering smell of detergent (I’d rather smell detergent than anything else, so that was okay.)

mtdc bhandardara standard room

The bed was comfortable enough for us to rest on after a 4-5 hour ride, however we didn’t use the blankets provided. If the plain cotton sheets were of questionable cleanliness, who knows when the heavy blankets would have been washed last?

mtdc bhandardara sink

The room opened up to a beautiful, large breezy balcony… which we couldn’t leave open to let the breeze in as bugs and moths would fly in in an instant. Overall, since we barely spent any time in our room, the stay was manageable. Wouldn’t suggest if you plan on staying in.

mtdc bhandardara view from room

The delux rooms and Valley View Premier Suites looked pretty from the outside and we tried to get a room in one of those for our second night at the property. It was full, and maybe that’s for the best, as the reviews I read later weren’t great either.

mtdc bhandardara delux villa

Food

The MTDC restaurant , Yashanjali, needs a major overhaul! Sticky surfaces, bad service and a limited menu is just the start of one’s experience. If you’re desperately hungry, pick safe options like an omlete sandwich. Better to skip altogether.

Amenities

Amenities include free parking, room service, a restaurant and small children’s park. Standard rooms have a TV and geyser while the pricier options have a sofa, centre-table, bathtub, a/c, a balcony overlooking the lake and a TV.

If you’re a group on a complete shoe-string budget, staying in one of their dorm rooms for 12 is something you may want to consider. But camping by the lake would be far more preferable.

 

What I loved:

The location’s idyllic nature and views! The day I visited was the day it started raining in Bhandardara. The lake would definitely fill up in a couple of weeks and look even better!

mtdc bhandardara lake arthur

What could be better:

Literally, everything else! Maintenance, Service, Food, Cleanliness, Room Service…

 

The Verdict – Give this place a pass, unless you’re on a budget. You can enjoy the lake-view from a dozen other vantage points.

Instead, give Yash Resort a try. It looks stunning and the reviews are much better. Hotel Amruteshwar is right next to MTDC and we had a couple of our meals there. The rooms are nothing special, but if nothing else, at least the food served at their restaurant, Anandvan is better than that at MTDC.

#TGGTips

If you book online, carry your reservation slip as they have no idea who is coming and when. You also need to pay a refundable security deposit.

The best time to visit is between August to November, when the lake is full. You can even bring your own tents and camp out beside the lake.

Take a trip to Wilson Dam and explore the area for around 50 kms or so – the views are breath-taking. More about that in my next post!

Stay tuned for the last, but most adventurous post on Bhandardara! You’ll want to have a look at those pictures. In the meanwhile, check out this fun, pet-friendly resort in Mumbai, Phoebe’s Farm.

Until then, catch me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

xoxo

Fireflies, or lightning bugs were a memorable part of my childhood. With the onset of monsoons in Goa, evening power cuts were a daily affair. There was no generator or inverter installed at our old Portuguese home back then. No cell phones to while away the dark hours texting on.

So we’d light a candle in each room of the house, sit outside in the balcao (balcony) and listen to the wind whistle through the leaves, bringing with it that cool, uplifting smell of a storm approaching. It was then that we’d unfailingly see a twinkle in the darkness, and then another… and another. As kids, we’d try to count how many fireflies there were in the garden that night and if one happened to be crawling on our old wooden gate or painted balcony grills, we’d watch it up close, eyes wide with awe.

Mumbai has made me forget these memories. We don’t even have time to look up at the stars anymore. If we did, we wouldn’t see them anyway.

I first heard about the Firefly Festival organized by Grassroutes, a community based initiative that focuses on creating a conscientious society through promoting rural tourism. You could choose to go on the firefly expedition through Grassroutes where they will put you up in tents, arrange your meals and the whole experience in general at Purushwadi, another popular spot to watch fireflies. I preferred finding my own way.

On doing some research, I found that the fireflies mating season occurs during the last weeks of May and first weeks of June, just before the onset of the monsoons. Once the monsoon sets in, the droplets falling on their wings make it difficult for them to fly, causing their already short lifespan to end even faster.

The moment I got the news that the rains had started lashing Goa, I knew they’d be in Maharashtra in a couple of days, so I packed a bag and was road-trip ready for the opportune moment I found out that I had no commitments the next day.

The trip to Bhandardara was SPECTACULAR to say the least, and I’ll tell you all about it in a different post, along with the review on MTDC, the Maharashtra Tourism Guest House I stayed at. If you’re a biker or someone who loves long drives, forget planning a trip to Leh Ladakh! Head three hours north for the most breath-taking views of the Sahyadri ranges and valleys.

Anyway, I left Mumbai at around 10 am and reached Bhandardara by 4 pm. The last half an hour got us drenched in the downpour and the drizzle continued for hours. The entire evening, I wondered whether my trip was in vain, since the rain could have washed away the fireflies and my hope of getting to see them light up the forest.

At 7:30, as darkness began to creep in, we headed out again, and just like Goa, there was a power cut, thanks to the rain. It was pitch dark, except for the headlights of cars driving down the narrow lane and halting to spot some fireflies among the trees on both sides of the road. Even in the day, there were plains and valleys for as far as the eye could see, with a few or no houses at all.

It drizzled incessantly throughout but we saw these magical lightning bugs instantly. The forest came alive with bright flashes all around, pulsating with a natural rhythm – thousands and thousands of fireflies looking for mates. It was like a natural disco party, but the only music was the sound of rain on the leaves and dozens of frogs croaking, breaking through the silence.

We stayed out in the rain to watch them until 10 pm, climbing over hillocks in the dark to see if there was an even more surreal view on the other side and riding up and down the 5 km stretch. At times, the fireflies blinked in sync, lighting up whole trees in a flash – and at other times, they were like fairy lights, twinkling to their own tune.

Fireflies

Try as we might, we couldn’t get any pictures of them using an iPhone. I tinkered with every possible setting but it failed to capture a firefly’s blinking in the dark even when it was a few feet away. Clicking an entire tree light up was impossible and one would need a DSLR for sure.

We left to get back to the guesthouse drenched but with memories that only the eyes can capture. The pitch darkness, twinkles of millions of fireflies, the occasional bright flash of lightning that defiantly showed these creatures who can light up the sky better and the smell of rain! Nature indeed puts on the best shows if you have the time to stop and watch.

The next day, the weather was perfect. Crisp, cool air, gentle breeze and not a cloud in sight. We decided to stay on to see if the fireflies would be more in number when the weather was pleasant, as they were supposed to be. It was a Monday, which meant that people had gone back to the city and there would be an absence of that steady flow of traffic and headlights that kept interrupting our lightning-bug gazing experience the previous day.

Was it?

lightning bugs

Not really! While there was a huge drop in cars on the road, there was no power cut. So a few houses had their lights on, the streetlights glowed, the full moon shone in the cloudless sky and in general, the fireflies seemed a little less in number.  Either way, I’m blessed to have witnessed a once-in-a-lifetime experience TWICE!

xoxo