Dear South South Africa, where do I begin? How do I describe, adequately, in just one post all the things that I want the world to know about you. Your strength, resilience and untold beauty..
I was born and raised in South Africa (Durban, Kwazulu Natal to be precise). I then moved and lived in Johannesburg (the city of Gold) before moving to magical Cape Town as well for a while. South Africa has many provinces and I have had the privilege of living in all 3 of the major ones.
Each place that I have lived in has had its own unique charms and quirks that made them all keep a piece of my heart. Theres far too much to cover in one post so I have decided to divide my posts about SA into 3 parts ie. Gauteng, Cape Town and Durban.
Lets start with Durban. No matter how old I get or how far away I’m living on the other side of the world, Durban will always have a piece of me. All of my best childhood memories (and not so good ones) , my family and history, are all tied to this beautiful city. First off let me tell you about the food. If you try nothing else when visiting there, you must try the Durban curries and specifically a “bunny chow”. This authentically Durban dish is hollowed out bread filled with a curry and then topped with the bread that you scooped out. On the face of it, it may sound a bit strange but it is a must try. (Mike thought the idea sounded a bit weird but really enjoyed it when he tried one). The fruit in Durban is insane and some of the best you will ever find anywhere in the world. Mangoes, lychee, strawberries, apples, bananas, kiwi and the list goes on. They are so sweet and full of flavour that even I don’t mind having them as dessert (I hate fruit for dessert).
I haven’t really eaten out all that often when visiting Durban as its usually visiting with family so there is always ample amounts of food 😉 but some of my favourite restaurants that I have been to and really enjoyed the evening at, both food and service have been 1) Bel Punto
Mike and I went here after a football match that we watched at the sibaya casino and entertainment centre. (Man Utd & Liverpool if you’re wondering::). The bread was so good and the food was just as easy to tuck into. We had the pasta and King prawns which were just amazing. Dessert was a cheesecake that we shared (we couldn’t manage 1 each with all the food we’d eaten by then). The service was warm and friendly, really comfortable easy going setting with quality food at good prices. The restaurant is on the beach in Umdloti so there are great views.
This restaurant has stunning views of the Indian Ocean and serves up a bistro style menu to its customers. I loved its casual, alfresco style and sitting outside on the terrace, overlooking the ocean, cocktail in hand, was blissful. (you will need to share your views with the seagulls, who are slightly in the way sometimes but its not a big deal. We are on their territory after all;)). The menu has something for everyone from fish and chips to English breakfasts, each one as delicious so make sure to treat yourself while on your Durban vacation.
Ushaka Marine World is a 16 hectare theme park consisting of, amongst other attractions, the beach, sea world, the aquarium, wet n wild park etc. There are many options to choose from when it comes to food including Cargo Hold Restaurant which is a restaurant aboard a cargo ship. Once seated your are surrounded by the sea creatures in their tanks which gives you the feeling of being under the sea yourself. A must for me when I visit, is Moyo restaurants Pier Bar . Pier Bar is a beach bar at the end of the newly revamped pier. Apart from the delicious cocktails and fun jam jars, the bar has incredible views as you are surrounded by the ocean while sipping the afternoon away. The average cocktail is around GBP 3-3.50 / $4-5 (and they’re really good cocktails too:))
The Bunny Chow, as iv mentioned, is a Durban favourite for both locals and visitors alike. There are a huge number of places that you can find this Durban classic dish at but there are 2 in particular (that I have tried and know of) that are especially fantastic. Orientals restaurant at the Workshop Shopping centre serves up freshly made bunny chows that are as tasty as you are going to find in Durban. Its not the fanciest place you will ever eat in but most places that serve bunny chows, (the really good ones anyway), rarely are. Here, as in most of the authentic bunny chow takeaways and restaurants, its not about frills and fancies, but the focus is on that good flavour filled Durban food that most of us love. Right, enough with all these words, lets get to the best bunny chow spot (in my opinion). Goundens at 520 Umbilo Rd & Deodar Ave, Glenwood, Durban does arguably Durbans best bunny chow, according to the locals. The mutton bunny in particular seems to be their most popular so I’m saying please try them out😀 Either of these “bunny” spots should give you a fantastic Durban bunny chow experience.
Now on to one of the most magical places in KZN. The Drakensberg Mountains. How I truly love this place. I have so many wonderful memories of my family and I (I mean ALL of us , cousins, aunts, uncles etc) driving from my aunts house (they lived about an hour away) to Drakensberg. We spent many many hours at a time here. Its such a peaceful magical place filled with walking and hiking trails, ponds and lakes, picnic spots and breathtaking scenery. Its the type of holiday or weekend getaway that will stay with you forever. Its equally stunning in winter as it is in summer – in different ways. In winter there’s snuggling up by the fireplace, smores and making snow angels while the summer lets you braai (South African for “barbecue” and picnic in the mountains, hike and take romantic walks and dinner under the stars. I can’t think of anything better quite honestly.
Yes, South Africa has many problems. Thats not a secret by any means. And it certainly has gained a reputation for the land of crime and corruption, poverty, to name a few. And this is partly true, it does have all these issues, but that’s just a fraction of what people hear about and see. South Africa has another side, one that’s not reported about because its not sensational enough I would assume. The side of her that’s generous and houses a nation of some of the most resilient people you will ever meet. A nation that has overcome insurmountable odds to overcome oppression and great divides to emerge as the rainbow nation it is today. SA rivals any other vacation destination in the world with scenery and beauty you will never forget. This is a nation of some of the friendliest people in the world, with hardships, trials and sorrow but what shines is their hope and tenacity. Yes, South Africa is a country deeply flawed but even within those flaws, despite them, she has a magic…one that I hope everyone can be lucky enough to experience at least once. SA is beauty, she is strength, she is a survivor, and even though im not there..she will always be mine! #MySouthAfrica
Mauritius…my absolute favourite vacation to date. Yes I have been to some amazing places so far, France, Disneyworld, NYC, India and the list goes on but this beautiful island took a piece of my heart. Mauritius was the very first proper vacation that Mike and I took together (admittedly that plays a part in making this such a special vacation for me). He met me at the airport straight after work, they were just about ready to close the boarding gates just as Mike arrived (usual hahaha). We rushed onto the plane and strapped ourselves into our seats just in time for take off. Next stop…paradise island!
I didn’t plan any aspect of the vacation so Mauritius would be a whole new adventure for me. We landed, it was definitely one of, if not the easiest airport experiences iv had to date. We only had hand luggage (beach vacations don’t require a lot of clothing so we packed light;-), our car was waiting for us when we got out of the airport so it was as easy as could be. I remember so clearly, getting out of the airport and feeling the sun on my face and that tropical breeze that was so familiar to me having grown up in Durban.
The drive to the hotel was about 30-40 minutes long. Finally we got to the hotel. (if you follow /read my blog and previous posts, you will see that I use this sentence ALOT. Im not the biggest fan of long car rides etc, I would prefer to click my heels and on the count of 3, arrive at my destination). We arrive at the stunning Intercontinental Balaclava Resort, which has again been voted as one of the best hotels in Mauritius. And for good reason too, as this place is breathtaking. From the moment we arrive the service is brilliant. Our bags are promptly taken from the car to our room, check in was seamless with a welcome signature fruity tamarind cocktail, that was delicious. The entrance where we sat sipping on the cocktails and signing in for check in, overlooked the ocean, and if you aren’t in vacation mode when you get there, the sound and smell of the ocean will definitely put you in the mood. Our room was beautiful, modern, spacious with a work area as well as a little coffee area to enjoy our morning brew together and we overlooked the ocean so we were able to sit on the balcony enjoying the island breeze and magical views.
The resort itself is set up in such way that you actually never have to leave the area. If you are looking for a vacation filled with lazy days at the beach/pool, great food in all directions (seafood, Indian, Chinese etc), romantic walks and if you want to explore further out, easy to hire cabs to take you wherever you need to get to, this place has it all.
First lets talk food. Our favourite restaurant there was The Segala, a Mediterranean restaurant that served great food including the freshest seafood you can get. We also quite enjoyed our experience at Veda, an Indian restaurant that had delicious Indian food that definitely hits the spot if you are craving a bit of spice:). There are 2 bars at the resort but Sugar Cane Bar quickly became our hang out spot with evening cocktails, live music and lots of laughs. I can remember those nights like it was yesterday. They were perfect, a moment in time that ill never forget.
We spent a lot of time laying on the beach and by the pool, having cocktails and eating hahaha. Usually I would like to see more as just laying on the beach all day, doesn’t really do it for me, but there’s something about the energy of Mauritius and the never-ending views that you easily get lost in, that makes the entire experience peaceful and serene. Just what we all could use at various points in our lives, given how crazy life can be.
One of the must see attractions of Mauritius is of course Chamarels 7 colored earth. Its a natural phenomenon and a huge tourist attraction. Its a small area of sand dunes consisting of seven colours (red, yellow, brown, blue, purple, violet and green). Whats more fascinating is the fact that if you mix the colored sands together, they’ll eventually settle back into separate layers. Its quite special to see. Make sure to try and visit at sunrise as that the best time to see it. Theres also a kids play area and giant tortoises on the premises if you have little ones.
We couldn’t leave Mauritius without visiting the most important /sacred place for hindus..the Ganga Talao lake. It boasts one of the largest statues in the world, of the hindu God Shiva. It really is a sight to see. When I first heard of it, to be honest I thought “eh, its just another statue, just bigger” but standing in front of it, in the surreal setting of the lake etc is quite a special, sacred experience. When you enter Ganga Talao, you see a huge beautiful on the lake /water. People travel from all over the country and the world to visit the lake. There is something (dare I say it), “magical” and sacred about this place. If nothing else it definitely takes you out of the hustle and bustle of life and gets you to be present and appreciate the moment.
Lets go out tonight…
As I mentioned, we were happy beach bums on this trip for the most part. We did, however go out for dinner in town and then drinks (a bit of bar hopping) afterwards. I cannot for the life of me remember any of the names of the bars or the restaurant for that matter (except the manager/owner of the restaurant offered us a little drink with him just as we were leaving. It was so strong I couldn’t finish it so I palmed it off to Mike:)). That was just the beginning of the night, its all a blur from there hahaha. I can recommend one of the best beach bars and must go to places in Mauritius, Grand Baie to be precise. So don’t worry I still got you covered. The Beach House is a casual bar with a touch of elegance to it. As the name suggests its set on the beach so the views while sipping on cocktails (which are really really REALLY good here), are breathtaking. I would recommend visiting here for cocktails and snacks. The main dishes here are ridiculously expensive in my opinion so I wouldn’t recommend blowing your meal budget here for rather basic pub food. The cocktails though are divine and well worth it.
Mauritius is such a magical place. Its perfect for families, people wanting to get away and get some time to themselves and of course couples. Its one of the most romantic places. The hotel and staff were amazing even organising a little something special with roses, bubbly etc in our room to welcome us. Every place we went to, had warm, friendly service, which made us feel so welcome, another testament to the people of this beautiful island.
Mauritius, you were the beginning of so many wonderful memories and moments. Memories that I will hold on to forever. This won’t be the last you see of us though, we will be back to our little slice of heaven..where the first adventure in a lifetime full of adventures to come, began.
Ah Amsterdam, the city of tulips (my favourite flowers), canals, their famous “coffee” shops and of course the red light district. And each one deserves their fame (or notoriety, depending on how one looks at it), equally.
How I ended up in Amsterdam…
I was on vacation with Mikes mum, aunt and sister. We were in Bruges and Brussels (another story in another post (coming up soon)). And after a few days in each, Mike and I decided to get away to Amsterdam.
When I realised we were going to Amsterdam, I knew immediately that I needed to see 4 things : their tulips, the canals that you see in every picture of the city, the weed brownies and the famous red light district.
When we got there, we checked into our hotel and left our luggage inside before deciding to take the train into town. The trains are a really quick, easy and cost effective way to get around. There were trains available /running every 15 minutes or so, so if you miss one, the next is not too far away.
We had decided that we would go out later that night and explore the city as I was dying to go check out the red light district and asked Mike to take me there later. We started on a lovely stroll through the city, taking in the people riding there bicycles, shopping, we walked by the beautiful, famous canal and it truly is a picture perfect place. It felt like a scene out of a movie, boy and girl in love, strolling hand in hand through the picturesque, perfect setting until….
Isn’t that how it always goes down in the movies ? There’s always an until hahaha. We continued walking, through cute little streets, wanting to explore every corner of this incredible place. We turned into this strange street. I was busy talking Mikes ear off (as usual), when I looked around and thought hmm, what a strange looking store. The mannequin was so life like. When suddenly..she blinked! I nearly jumped out of my skin, but then they all turned/moved, blinked. It dawned on me…oh my God, this is the Red Light District (RLD)! And these “mannequins” are the famous RLD women. I was fixated. Mike kept saying “stop staring” but how could I not? You read so much about the RLD, the women etc and now I was right there standing if front of them as they were “on display” in these shop windows. If im honest, I probably looked more at these women than most men there were. Not for the reasons they are of course haha, but I was so curious as to how they looked, what they were wearing, were they as “perfect” looking as I assumed. I couldn’t help but stare. If I could take pictures, (its not allowed so I didn’t), I would have taken a million of them. Thats the first thing to know when visiting Amsterdam and the RLD…NO PICTURES & NO STARING! So basically do as I say, not as I did haha. There are always some people trying to sneak pictures in, they do not take kindly to that at all and have security measures in place.
As we walked through the district, I saw a guy knocking on one of the girls “shop” window. She then opened the door and they proceeded to negotiate a price for 15 minutes (50 Euros btw). They both agreed (in Amsterdam, prostitution is legal and these girls have the right/option to negotiate the price as well as turn away any client should they prefer). The guy, probably in his early 20s, goes in and down went the blinds and that was that.
It was quite a bizarre, surreal experience, I must admit. I found it intriguing and fascinating but also a little bit uncomfortable to be honest. And the girls, while all lovely, were also just “normal” women. I don’t know what I was expecting, some ethereal like creatures perhaps? They were all beautiful, but also quite “normal” women. Just like the rest of us mere mortals lol. That genuinely did surprise me.
The next night, we went back to the RLD, but this time because we wanted to try the weed brownies (edibles). Mike has never had them either so off we went to find one of these famous “coffee shops”. We went into a dark little shop. I’d say it looked more like a pub than a coffee shop. There was a menu on the wall like any coffee shop. They do have coffee on the menu…along with weed muffins, cakes and brownies. We had no idea what to order with the edibles, like do we just have a regular coffee with our weed? Is this really happening? We looked around and everybody else had a coffee either with edibles or they were straight up smoking weed. We settled on brownies (1 each) and a coffee each. We sat down, nice and cozy in a booth and took our first bite of weed brownies, together. You could definitely taste the weed. It tasted like a chocolate brownie but very “earthy”, grassy almost. Its not bad considering you would be expecting to taste something weird or different in it. I was convinced that just after the first bite or 2, we would feel something. First bite..nothing, 2nd bite..still nothing. I didn’t know any better so I thought lets keep going until we feel something. So we polished off each of our brownies (with a great cup of coffee I must add:)). Another thing not to do in Amsterdam: polish off entire weed brownies. A few bites or half the brownie is enough). After what seemed to be a disappointing first weed experience, I suggested we go for a walk around the city and then maybe a drink. That brings me to the 3rd thing to know about weed in Amsterdam – DO NOT GO OUT DRINKING AFTER YOUR (FIRST) WEED EXPERIENCE in a strange country! We sat down, ordered our drinks and about half an hour or so after this, it suddenly hit us both. The world around started spinning, everything became really hazy, and I just wanted to get back to the hotel and go to bed. We ordered an Uber and waited on the side of the street to spot our cab. We could barely read the plates but managed to finally get into our car. At this point the paranoia hits as well as nausea. You just have a million thoughts flooding your mind and you can’t control them. I closed my eyes in the car and hoped to get to the hotel and be ok…but then I hear the driver say “you 2 need to get another car.My car has puncture”! I could not believe that this was happening. He pulled off to the side off the road, and I kept asking Mike “is this real or am I high?” hahaha. His answer was a consistent “no, this is actually happening!”. Our backup Uber finally arrived and, hand in hand, we ran to the car.
Safely inside the second car, I think we both felt relief. That was temporary however. The paranoia was back and the Uber driver kept whispering into his phones bluetooth device. In hindsight, of course, he was probably just being polite and having his conversation using his inside voice lol, but in the moment both Mike and I were convinced that we were being kidnapped. Its hilarious to look back at that night, now, but in the moment it felt so real. I eventually fell asleep, Mike stayed awake and when I woke up next, we were in front of our hotel. We got into our room and straight into bed.
Needless to say it was not the best nights sleep iv ever had and the following morning was rough. I woke up with a terrible headache and nausea wishing I could stay in bed for the rest of the day but we had a train to catch back to London. I wished we had more time, although we did also visit the Van Gough Museum (highly recommend), and enjoyed great food alongside the canals, took a boat ride on the canal as well, which is also a great way to see the city.
I will probably go back for another few days as that’s all you really need. It is most definitely an experience you will never forget:) If you’ve been or plan to go, write me and let me know your experience. Would love to hear all about it!
I have had a love affair with India from the first time I visited this beautiful country so rich in tradition and culture. I am very lucky in that Mike and his family still have a home in Punjab, India. Mikes parents are originally from here and still visit in India a few times a year. I have been able to experience the food, places, culture, people etc, in India, from the unique perspective of the people who actually come from and those who still live here. India has always reminded me of Durban in Kwazulu Natal (KZN), where I grew up in South Africa. Its steeped in culture and tradition and unwavering belief and faith. The lifestyle is simple yet, even those who have onlya fraction of what most of us in other parts of the world do, they still smile, they walk in gratitude and contentment. In a world, that is always wanting more and more, and bigger and better, a part of me does admire these people for their ability to be content, without that contentment being tied to any material or outside influences.
Back to how this trip came about. Mikes mum (aka “mum”:)) needed to be in India for business and we decided to make it into a little bonding trip as well. His aunt (aka “massi”), would be there as well so I decided a week in India with mum and massi, while Mike was in London, would be fun and relaxing.
I literally booked a ticket a few days before jumping on the plane, and shortly after the panic began about what to pack, how much to pack and obviously how many shoes can I possibly get away with packing before it became ridiculous. (that’s the norm for me though haha;). Now for the first step to a successful, easy trip…
How do I put into words how much I hate packing for trips??? The requirements and restrictions at airports, (with every airport in the world varying on these), is just annoying and can make the process very stressful, especially if you don’t travel a lot/often. Having said that, I have become really good at it. 2 words when it comes to packing with the airport in mind… LIQUIDS AND ELECTRONICS!
Liquids can be a problem when going through security at airports. If you are carrying liquids in hand luggage (on international flights), each bottle/container that the liquid is in must be less than 100ml each and no more than 1 litre total for all liquids in your bag. In addition to that they need to all fit into a clear plastic bag. When you get to security, please remember you need to get all of your liquids out of your hand luggage and into tray at security. I keep a plastic bag (a medium sized ziplock bag is perfect), that has all my creams, makeup etc in it and when I need to pack and leave for somewhere, its ready to pop into my bag and get on a plane. All pharmacies have those travel bottle packs. Get yourself one (or 2) of these packs (they are relatively inexpensive , about GBP3.50/ZAR75 per pack). They come with labels most of the time so its easy to fill these up with your shampoos, creams, makeup etc and pop each of these containers/bottles into the ziplock bag for easy packing into your hand luggage. When you get to the airport and they ask for liquids, you just need to grab that one ziplock bag from your hand luggage and place into security tray. Its so worth the bit of extra time that it takes to get the containers and add the liquids into them. Its saves you a ton of time and stress at airports. Its a nightmare if you have packed different liquids all over the place in different bags and different compartments of different bags and then trying to hurriedly remember them all and find them at the airport. An extra bit of info to keep in mind when visiting India, is that airport security in India are more concerned with metal and electronics in your bags as much as anything else. Keys, coins, chargers, laptops, iPads, hair straighteners, hair dryers etc, please do yourself a favour and remove them from your bag so that you are not slowed down at security with needing to have your bags rechecked and scanned, due to electronics and metals that you have not removed and placed into trays. (I wasn’t lying, it is a big drama *yawn*).
Ok so we made it through the packing and airport security, we are on our way to explore magical India.
I land at Delhi airport. By this time the, now infamous, Corona Virus had hit and was causing moderate panic around the world. They were testing for fever at the airport , this was a pretty quick process and the queues kept moving. I filled in health forms to advise that i had not experienced any symptoms and quickly made my way to immigration (Indian immigration is not as dramatic as some other parts of the world). After all the formalities were over with, I had about 4 hours before my flight so I had to have my obligatory Starbucks frappe (Vanilla for those interested;)), while I worked on this very post amongst other things.
Finally 4 hours later, after people watching, working, instagramming and window shopping , I boarded my flight to Chandigarh and off I went. At about 3pm I landed at Chandigarh. Now you’d think that after having left home the previous day at 10:30am our time, a 2 hour layover in Doha, another 4 hours in Delhi before getting to Chandigarh, that this would be the end of traveling. Nope, my friends, I had one more, 3 hour car ride to the house in Punjab before that. The driver was waiting at the airport by the time I arrived along with an aunt of ours who lives in India. We started our journey to the house. It was a surprisingly relaxing ride, with us stopping for some “chai”(tea) on the way. It was raining at this point and they were kind enough to bring me the tea inside the car so I could enjoy it while staying dry and stationary haha.
At last I had arrived. I was happy as much as I was relieved. Mum and Massi had, by now, finished their business meeting for the day, and it was great to see them and start our vacation.
I had never heard of Shimla before this trip. And admittedly, when I first heard about it, I thought it would be like any other place in India, colourful, full of tradition and culture, but what I discovered was a gorgeous ski village, with snow capped mountains, hidden temples and the best apple cake you could ever have (the hot chocolate is pretty amazing also). Now I have to be honest and let you know that the drive from Punjab to Shimla is painful. And for someone who is not a fan of long car rides, I found the drive there quite dreadful. It took us about 6-7 hours to actually get there (I lost count after 4.5 hours haha). To add to the pain, the roads are narrow and winding which caused me to feel slightly dizzy and nauseous. We did have a quick stop to get a snack on the way to Shimla, however this was little consolation to me so I eventually dozed off until we got there. I would definitely suggest you leave home early to get there at a decent time. We didn’t realise the distance and only reached Shimla around 5pm. We decided almost immediately that we should stay the night and start exploring in the morning.
A picture paints a thousand words, and this one will tell you everything you need to know about my moods after/during long trips hahaha (iv blurred drivers face out coz he doesn’t want to be famous im sure lol)
Finding a hotel, usually, is probably quite easy, with loads of options. However at this time the Corona virus had already hit and wreaking havoc with travel plans. Many hotels were either not taking in guests/foreigners or demanded a list of your travel history to ensure that we hadn’t come from or travelled to and from any high risk countries. After much walking and asking around, we finally found the place where we would lay our weary heads for the night. The Legacy Shimla is a beautiful hotel situated in the heart of Shimla, right on the famously busy Mall Road. It is situated at 7000ft and has beautiful views of the town and the mountains, the service was fantastic, with the hotel staff going above and beyond to accommodate us and our needs. The rooms were all nicely furnished with king size beds, central heating (which is necessary out there), modern baths, room service, cable TV and free Wifi. This is such great value for money as well at 4000 Rupees per room (GBP40/R800), incl. breakfast.
The next morning, we woke up early, got dressed and headed down for breakfast. Indian breakfasts, to me, are sometimes difficult to differentiate from other meals. Its usually still curries and rotis. A bit too heavy for me, but that’s just a personal thing, and that’s quite the typical type of breakfast in India. Anyway, all those calories would come in handy for the shopping and walking we were about to do:) Our first stop was the very highest point of Shimla. Here you will find the most glorious views, churches, a cafe higher up in the mountains and of course the Jakhu Temple, which attracts thousands of visitors. The temple is located in the Jakhu Hills. You can walk from Mall Road all the way up to the temple (about 5km), or take the taxis that operate all day. The taxi option is definitely a better option if you are travelling with older people, or the roads are too slippery to walk. Unfortunately the roads were quite bad at the time of our visit so we didn’t get to visit the temple this time but I would definitely recommend if you are going to Shimla/India, that this is on your list.
We then played dress up and had a little photoshoot (trust me to go somewhere where I’m forced to take more pictures of myself right? hahaha). Right at the top, at the highest point in Shimla, you will find photographers who dress you up in traditional gear and take great pictures that you have the option to then choose your favourite shots and purchase them. Its something quite fun and light hearted and worth doing once.
After all the sightseeing, walking and tons of posing and pictures, we finally made our way back down the mountain to the famous Mall Road…the shopping Mecca of Shimla. I must admit, when I first heard about Mall Road, I wasn’t all that bothered. I thought “just another shopping district”. But there is an energy about the place and the people here that just draws you in. I LOVED Mall Road. This is a place of great finds at even better prices. The quality and prices really did surprise me (in the best way) and the only and best tip that I can give you is …BARGAIN BARGAIN BARGAIN. Like most places in India, prices are up for negotiation and vendors are more often than not, willing to offer discounts. Mum and Massi are brilliant negotiators and get the best prices on everything we shop for. If there’s one thing that iv learned from them, and would pass on to you, is that negotiating is a part of the dance in India. Everybody does it and so everybody expects it as well. I am probably the worst bargain shopper you can find. Truth is I’d happily pay full price for something if it saves me time, energy and effort, however, what a feeling of achievement when you do manage to get a bit off the normal price:-p We walked around, from one end of Mall Road to the other, shopping for the best bargains and trust me..we found ALOT!
All that shopping does tend to work up an appetite. I, being me, naturally wanted something sweet (and warm/hot). On my search for the perfect little snack, I found out that Apple cake is something that Shimla is famous for. I don’t mind a bit of Apple cake but when I saw a “Shimla’s famous apple cake” sign, I had to try this to find out what made this cake so “famous” and if to was worth the hype. I ordered their “must try real hot chocolate” to go with the famous cake and believe me when I say Worth. Every. Calorie! The cake was genuinely the lightest, fluffiest sponge you could possibly have. The apple flavour came through beautifully and it had a hint of nuttiness to it as well, I think from almond flour and the coconut added a great taste and texture as well. The hot chocolate was divine. The steamy brew was beautifully thick, rich and sweet which, combined with the cake (which wasn’t all that sweet), made for the perfect snow day treat. Get my version of Shimla’s hot chocolate on my travel food diaries page.
And just like that, our little 2 day adventure to Shimla, was over. Time to head back home to Punjab. While we were putting Shimla behind us, I still had a lot of exploring still to do in India…
I come from a fairly religious family/background. My family is Hindu and have brought us all up to believe in Hinduism and all that goes with it. While I do believe in God, I am by no means religious. I do however love visiting temples, around the world. I don’t know if it makes me feel more connected to God, to my late parents (or maybe both?). So visiting the Maa Chintpurni and the Jwala Ji Temple in the Himachal Pradesh state was a must for me and they didn’t disappoint.
The 3 Temples to Visit…
The drive is another long one (approx 6 hours), but this time I was armed and prepared with snacks to sustain me through the journey:) 6 hours or so later, I was more than ready to get out that car (although the minute I got out into a downpour, I did have a moment where I thought I should just get back in the car where I’m safe, warm and dry). To get to the temple, you need to walk from the car park through the narrow streets. After about 10-15 minutes of walking, you get to a long, narrow, almost tunnel like entrance. As you enter, you see a winding staircase, to what seems like, a staircase to nowhere. It looks never-ending. Having said that, once you start walking up, you will quickly get distracted from the hike up, by the market vendors perched on either side of the staircase, selling their goods..everything from sweetmeats (Indian sweets/desserts) to toys, jewellery and kitchenware. The people and the prices really make it nearly impossible to walk away from these stalls, without buying something. No matter how disciplined a shopper you think you are.
Tip: take a look only on your way up to the temple and do your shopping on your way back down.
Finally about 8 minutes later, we reached the top of the tunnel staircase and told to remove our shoes. The stores there will keep your shoes safely for you. There’s no charge and I don’t think there are generally any issues of safety, theft etc with shoes. (Security is also present). Once you remove your shoes, you can go up the stairs (yes more stairs 🙂), to the temple. It was pouring down at this time so I ran crazily up the stairs and cannot remember most of that run haha.
There it was, finally, the Jwala Ji temple. The temple is located in “Shaktinagar”, in Himachal Pradesh. Its is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess Jwala Ji.
There is a blue flame in the temple (there are no pictures allowed inside the temple), that burns flawlessly and is believed to be burning for the last 100 years, without being successfully extinguished. While nobody has the knowledge of the actual history, there are some that believe the flame is due to a reserve of natural gas but that too could not be validated. Its also believed that Akbar tried to extinguish the flame, but did not succeed. During the 70s the government of India appointed a foreign company under Nehru Ji Supervision, to try to explore the possibilities of natural gas, as a way to explain the constant flame, however, they too were unsuccessful in finding anything like that. Im not sure if I believe in the myth or not, but its almost irrelevant to me as there was no denying the special energy of/in the temple. There is a calm and a peace. A place where faith is unwavering and no matter what people have going on in their lives, this allows them to keep believing in a better tomorrow. Whatever your beliefs, if you are visiting India I would definitely recommend giving the Jawala temple a visit.
“Mata Chintpurni Devi” is believed, by hindu’s, to be one of the manifestations of the Goddess Durga. Humans have endless desires, and desires steer us to anxiety and worry. The belief is that “the divine mother” relieves her devotees from worry (chinta), by fulfilling their desires. Thats why she’s, appropriately, called “Mata Chintpurni”. Devotees believe that all who come to her with wishes and desires, do not leave empty handed, and that she showers her blessings on each and every one. The Temple is her abode and sees believers/devotees from around the world visiting with the hope of getting into the temple and having their desires fulfilled. The temple, was full of buzz and life with tons of visitors there on the day I was there, trying to get their rituals done and look around the beautiful temple building. Jwala Ji Temple was probably my favourite from the 2, but if you can get to see both, its definitely worth the time and visit.
And now for my favourite place that iv visited so far, in India – The Golden Temple! What a marvel this place is. The temple, also known as Harmandir Sahib, meaning “abode of God” is a Gurdwara (place of worship), located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab. It is the holiest gurdwara and most important pilgrimage site of Sikhism. The temple is built around a man made pool that was completed in 1577. The temple is an open house of worship and open to visitors from all walks of life and faith. It has 4 entrances and a circumambulation path around the pool. The temple is a collection of buildings, so there is a lot to see and do. Its like a city on its own, once you enter. This includes a clock tower, a museum and “langar” – a free Sikh community run kitchen that offers simple meals to all visitors without discrimination (the food is so good and authentically Indian). Its said that the temple sees over 100000 visitors daily.
I got there at night and the “magic” of this place was undeniable(again no pictures allowed around/in temple so we were lucky to have taken these). On entering all I saw was still water (the pool) and in the distance almost magically floating on the water was this breathtaking golden building. Everything seemed to stand still, as if it was just me in this once in a lifetime, magical place. The first thing we did before walking to/into temple, was cleanse our feet in the pool water. As we walk towards the temple, there’s the warm night breeze on my arms and face and the glow of all the lights surrounding the temple made this a surreal entrance. As we take off our shoes and prepare to go into the temple, we see the insanely long line, with all these people from around the world and India itself, patiently and hopefully waiting to go inside to perform their prayer, meditation or worship. For many just getting inside the temple is a dream come true and believed to be a blessing in itself.
I was thinking and we subsequently decided that as we had had a long, exhausting day, we were not ready to brave the queues. They were at least a couple of hours long before we had a hope of getting inside. As we were just about ready to turn around and start walking away, a separate line seemed to form and these people were being allowed in quickly. We somehow managed to get into that line and within 10 minutes or so, stood at the entrance of the holy temple. I went in not knowing what to expect. It was beautiful and opulent and…well so GOLD:) There were priests inside, in the middle of the temple/room, handing out “Prasad” (sweets that have been offered for worship). Prasad is said and believed to be blessed once offered to the Gods and a blessing to receive them. There were so many people packed inside trying to desperately get a morsel of their “blessing” (Prasad), that I was just happy to have gotten inside and experienced this once in a lifetime moment, I was certainly not thinking of pushing my luck getting any more blessings than I felt I had already received that day haha. As I was about to walk out though, the priest looked at me and gestured that I come closer. I walked slowly over, confused, thinking what have I done now? lol. He wrapped the Prasad and handed it to me. I was pleasantly surprised and quite touched at having received the Prasad. I did save some of it to take with me to New York (that’s a trip to read about another time in upcoming post:)), to share with Mike.
The Golden Temple is really one of those unforgettable, memorable places and experiences. Its one of my favourite places that iv been to in India and a MUST SEE if you are in India.
We all had to sadly cut our trip short this time, as the Corona Epidemic was now bringing the world to a grinding halt and we needed to get out of India before they decided to close their borders. After frantically searching for flights, we managed to get the last flight allowed out of India (we didn’t realise this until we got to the airport and it got real:).
We made it out, just in time. While it was a bit sad to have cut this trip short, India, I will be back, I promise…I will always be back! Till we meet again….