I think I am on to making some kind of a New Year traveling trend for myself – traveling to and exploring a new city within the country. Last year I went to Ahmedabad (read about the trip here) and 2017 started with a trip to Pune. Despite spending a couple of months in the outskirts of the city a few years ago and a few trips last year, this is the first time I saw the city like a traveller would. Here’s what you can do, see and eat if you are in the city for 24 hours.
Tokyo is huge, confusing, daunting, but the best way to enjoy this crazy city is to find your way through all the madness. I made a list of shrines to visit, temples to see, parks to rest in and restaurants to eat at, but as soon as I reached Tokyo it consumed me. So I swiftly kept aside my checklist and went with the flow doing things that came my way. I didn’t look down on the glittering city from Tokyo Skytree’s observation deck, I didn’t go to any museum or go watch Sumo wrestling, but the experiences that I had were still unique.
Walk, walk, walk…
There’s no better way to explore a city than walking; it familiarizes you to every turn of the road, every nook, and every store at the corner of the street. I walked around Tokyo looking at the lovely and neat houses in the suburbs, marvelling at the glitzy stores and being amazed by the sense of discipline. I got lost and connected with people who, despite the language barrier, helped me out to find the way and in some cases, walked all the way with me to make sure I won’t get lost again.
Have fun with the subway
The subway trains – pretty much like Mumbai’s local trains – are Tokyo’s lifeline. There are 13 lines and it’s a daunting task to understand the web of stations at first, but you soon get comfortable navigating through the map and start enjoying it after a while. Tokyo’s subway stations are where you see people’s love for wi-fi connection – yes, they’re all glued to their phones – and sense of discipline. It’s just so much fun hopping from one train to another and realizing that you’re already a pro at using their ticket vending machine.
Dodge and cross at Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya Pedestrian Scramble is the world’s busiest crossing with sixteen intersections. It’s fascinating to see all the pedestrian lights go green and people pouring in from all the directions. The crossing is at the Hachiko exit of Shibuya station, which also has the statue of the famous dog Hachiko (remember the Richard Gere starrer tear jerker Hachi: A Dog’s Tale?).
Retail therapy in Shimokitazawa
Japan is really expensive, but also houses some of the best fashion brands with Tokyo being the hub of it. You’ll probably have to survive on 200 Yen meal of rice and soup if you shop in Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ginza. So, shop smart and head to Shimokitazawa – a small suburb on the western side of Tokyo famous for its second hand and vintage shops, small eateries and live performance venues. I picked up a cute dress for 1200 Yen and a palazzo fro 1600 Yen. Right from shoes and bags to cosmetics, there’s plenty of things to keep you interested. Shop to your heart’s content here and then hop into an Izakaya for a few drinks and Japanese tapas.
Dine in solitude at a Ramen house
At Shimokitazawa, I hopped into Ichiran – the famous ramen house specializing in just one kind of ramen (pork-bone-broth tonkotsu). Ichiran is as famous for its serving system as its dish. You buy a meal ticket from the machine at the entrance, go at your seating booth (these are single seating booths with wooden panels giving privacy), fill out a form like menu customizing the richness of your broth, strength of dashi and amount of the special red sauce, and pass on the coupon and form from the gap between the counter and the curtain; all you can see of your server are the hands passing you that delicious bowl of comfort. The curtain is pulled down and you’re left alone to dive deep into that perfect bowl of ramen.
Sushi at Tsukiji
I had horrible luck with Tsukiji – Asia’s largest fish market. The day I made the trip there was a national holiday and the entire market was shut but for one sushi house; thankfully I had my fill there, some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever eaten. There’s a tuna auction too at 5am, go for it if you’re keen; if not then got at around 9-10am for a sushi breakfast.
Geek out in Akihabara
With its bright lights, manga covered buildings and strange sounds, Akihabara feels like a sudden attack on your senses. Once settled you can’t stop but be amused. Walk around marvelling at the Manga display screens, geek out at Yadobashi Camera – THE store for all things electronics, shop for Manga and comic book collectibles at Mandarake, watch the robot dance at the Gundam café and dine at a maid café – it’s a role-play themed café where waitresses are traditionally dressed as maids and indulge their customers in friendly conversations (few of these cafes have entry charges too).
Grab a drink (or five) at Golden Gai
Once you’ve been here you might want to spend your every evening in Tokyo at the tiny bars in Golden Gai. The street near Shinjuku station is full of such bars serving just drinks with a seating capacity of 6-8. Spend hours here clinking your sake and shochu glasses with strangers’ with the cheery kanpai (cheers in Japanese), make friends and experience how the locals spend their time after work. Hungry? Head to an Izakaya – a Japanese gastro pub serving mainly tapas. Line your stomach with pork yakisoba, gyoza, grilled prawns and sautéed mushrooms and get back to your bar for next round of drinks. Some of the bars have an entry fee of up to 800 yen so watch for that if money’s tight.
• Almost all the major suburbs in Tokyo are connected through city’s various subway lines. The tickets aren’t too expensive but if you plan to take multiple subways through the day then get a day pass that’ll cost you just 600 Yen.
• The subway stations and trains have free Wi-Fi and Tokyo has Wi-Fi spots at almost all the major shopping centres. Connect to the Wi-Fi, open your browser which will take you to a page, accept the terms and conditions and stay connected.
• Tipping is considered rude in Japan.
• Your regular charging plug might not work in the Japanese sockets so make sure you buy a universal adapter before you leave for Japan. Alternatively, you can buy it from the electronic stores in Japan where you’ll get an adapter as per your county’s specifications.
• If you plan to travel intercity in Japan, get a JRR Pass. The pass gives you access to almost all JR bullet trains, barring a few. Getting a pass will be a lot cheaper than buying tickets on the spot. JRR pass has to be bought before you leave your country. You can find the details here.
I remember my first trip to Shimla, around 12 years ago, was a bundle of sight-seeing. It’s tough to experience a city when you are at the mercy of your cab driver. Now that I am grown-up and wiser, I know better and wouldn’t ever fall for the trap again. This time I decided to be on my own and was please to see how the city opened itself to me, got friendly and made me comfortable. So much so, that I didn’t think twice before stretching myself on a road-side bench for a nap. Here’s what I think are the best ways to enjoy the city, not like a tourist. Continue reading
The year (2016) has started on a good note; I had a great Garhwali meal at Rushina’s APB Cook Studio (read all about it here) and went on my first ever solo trip. It might sound like a cliche, but travelling alone was liberating and I plan to do it more.
I went on a quick weekend trip to Ahmedabad, not a popular choice I know but I wanted to explore the city’s history along with the food. The city, originally named Karnavati, was renamed Ahmedabad after its ruler Ahmed Shah. The old city is divided into pols – housing clusters where you’ll find beautiful Maratha, Persian, Muslim and British architecture, 400 year old houses, ancient woodwork, temples and mosques.
The new parts of the city are as beautiful as the old ones and getting around is breezy. The auto rickshaws mostly never refuse and charge by meter. The best part, the city is safe for solo female travelers and you can roam freely late in the night.
Ahmedabad, one of the major cities in Gujarat, is easily accessible from Mumbai. There are regular trains, flights and buses; it’s difficult to get last minute train tickets so book in advance.
Here’s a list of things that I did, ate and bought.
- Go for the Heritage Walk conducted every day in the old city. The walk starts at 8am from Swami Narayan Temple in Kalupur. The guide will take you around pols (the ancient residential areas of the city), temples and markets ending the walk at the famous Jumma Masjid. It’s the best way to get familiar to the city and learn about its history. Check out the details here. The walk is priced at Rs 50 for Indians and Rs 100 for foreigners.
- Walk around the night market. Start with a cup of tea and bun maska at New Lucky Restaurant (the restaurant with the graveyard inside it), watch the sun set at Sidi Saiyad Ki Jali – mosque built in 1573 famous for its intricate lattice work, walk through the market starting from Lal Darwaza, via Bhatiyar Gully ending with dinner at Manek Chowk.
- Visit Hussain-Doshi Ki Gufa and have a coffee at Zen Cafe. The cave is a modern structure which houses an art gallery. You’ll find paintings only when there’s an exhibition on so check before you go. You can still go there to sit and read under the shade of trees.
- Catch a performance at the Darpan Academy of Performing Arts, the legendary theatre started by Mrinalini Sarabhai and now managed by her daughter Mallika Sarabhai.
- Sabarmati Ashram to revive the history lessons on Gandhiji and his freedom struggle. Sit in the garden by the river, it’s peaceful. You can have a meal at Toran opposite the Ashram. I disn’t try it but had people recommending it.
- Sarkhej Roza is a mosque and tomb complex around 7-8 kms from the main city. A large area is in ruins but is worth checking out. Go during sunset; the outer walls of the complex look beautiful bathed in the evening sun.
- Utensils museum at Vishalla on Vasna Road. You can head there after visiting Sarkhej Roza. Vishalla is a village themed restaurant that serves Gujarati thali. I was slightly disappointed with the food but loved the museum; go for it if you love cooking and history. Honestly, skip the thali.
- Dada Hari Ni Vav is a five storey stepwell built in 1500AD. The structure is beautiful and a photographer’s paradise.
- Take a day trip to Modhera (98 kms) to see the ruins of the Sun Temple built by the Solanki kings. You’ll get an ST bus to Modhera from Gita Mandir bus station which will drop you at Modhera Chaukri. Take an auto rickshaw to the temple (another 25 kms inside) from there which charges Rs 400 for a round trip. Try to squeeze in Sidhpur and Patan too – both heritage towns. You’ll get a bus to both the towns from Modhera.
- Go to a kitli – chai shop (they’re all over the city) and have a kadak chai with some charcha (discussion or gossip). I would really recommend the ginger and mint chai in Law Garden.
I documented the trip on Instagram. Here’re a few posts from my timeline.
- Head to Chandravilas Restaurant near Jumma Masjid post your walk. The 120 year old restaurant is known for its jalebis (made in desi ghee), fafda and methi gota (round bhajiyas made out of fenugreek leaves). It’s said that Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel would often meet at this restaurant. So go, have a cup of chai with a bit of history.
- Vada Pav at Shriji Krupa on Vijay Cross Road. I have been hearing a colleague from Ahmedabad raving about the vada pav in the city and how it’s better that the Mumbai one. It definitely is different and maybe even better. They put a dry and green chutney on the pav which is toasted in butter.
- Breakfast/brunch at Sandwich Workz, the small cafe like restaurant on IIM Road, run by a couple. The menu is a mix of food from America, Europe and Mediterranean Countries. It’s known for it’s huge waffles topped with eggs and served with hash brown, sausage and salami. They have other breakfast combos too.
- Moti Bakery near Lal Darwaza is known for its puffs. Try the vegetarian and chicken puff which sell out pretty fast.
- Dinner at Manek Chowk, the market area in the old city which turns into a street food hub in the evening and is a favourite hangout till late in the night. Eat the butter laden pav bhaji, dosa, desi style pizzas, chaat, methi gota and wrap it up with kulfi at Asharfilal. A hop, skip and jump away is Bhatiyar Gully known for its non-vegetarian food. Try the bheja fry and variety of kebabs here.
- I had a disappointing Gujarati thali at Vishalla, but was suggested the one at Agashiye – the restaurant inside heritage hotel House of MG. I didn’t try it.
- Sandwich and filter coffee at Natrani Cafe, the cultural hub of the city. The cafe is a part of Darpan Academy and a meeting point for creative minds. Do try the mushroom and cheese sandwich, it’s delicious.
- Take a trip to National Insitute of Design in Paldi to grab a bite at R. K. Egg Eatery. The story goes that the eatery was started by a eunuch who brought in the whole egg culture to Ahmedabad. The students at NID would give him suggestions and that’s how he developed the menu which has variety of omelettes, bhurji, egg fries. Try one of their keema (bhurji) which is made in different styles with different masalas.
- Law Garden has a street market where you can shop for clothes, accessories and beautiful handmade bed sheets. You’ll have to bargain a lot here.
- Manek Chowk has a couple of shops selling all sorts of mukhwaas and chooran; don’t leave before buying some.
- Stock up on khakhra, kachauri, pickles and other farsan at Induben Khakhrawala.
- Head to Kandoi for the famous mohanthaal – sweet made out of besan, ghee and sugar and doodh no halwo – fudgy milk cake.
“Humen saal mein kam se kam do baar Goa zaroor ana chahiye”, remember Sameer’s dialogue from Dil Chahta Hai? It resonates the feelings of almost every Mumbaiite and I am trying to make it my life’s motto, for now, to visit Goa at least once a year if not twice. This time around, since I was staying at Bay 15 in Dona Paula (there’s another post on it, check it out here), I went exploring Panjim and loved what I saw. Here’re some recommendations if you’re looking at some non-beachy and non-touristy things to do in Goa.
See and Do:
Sit on the steps of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church
This church was built in 1541 as a chapel by the Portuguese and was later converted into a church. The all-white church looks like a giant wedding cake from a distance. Once you’re done lighting candles, sit on the steps and observe the local life and people passing by.