January 30, 2014

Reflecting on the 100 happy days project

Oh no, the 100 "happy" days are not over yet, not even half way through for me to introspect about them. Just a few passing thoughts as I am dutifully putting up a picture each day. When I first spotted the 100 happy days project on instagram, I was really kicked about the prospect of all those lovely pictures that would go up each day as "this is what made me happy today!" and going over them at the end of the 100 days and feeling all joyous about all the little things that put a smile on my face that day.

As I started taking the pictures each day, I realized that it is not like everyday you go for an outing that makes you spill over with joy, so trip pictures got restricted to weekends. You cannot keep putting up pictures of jogging track where you go for your morning walk and get the adrenalin rush or the happiness at finding an empty bench in the park after the evening stroll. So you are left with the mundane food and material acquisitions. Well, eating the chocolate cake is fun, but not so much putting up a picture of it while I am waiting for it to cool down.

So this puts me into a moral dilemma. I end up putting pictures of "things" that are photograph-able for the project. But what about the moment when I threaten that Arnab Goswami shouting on TV will end up causing our divorce and the husband promptly hands me the remote and then wistfully looks at it, hoping I would change my mind? At this point, I smile more than what I did when I ate the chocolate cake and change back to the shouting match cause I can't see the fellow's depressed expression. Or the moment that the sister laughs at me complaining about the weather in Bombay and tells me that it is God's way of punishing me for all the days when I turned off the fan saying I can't stand the cold. And the next moment she tells me that sitting in the biting cold in Delhi, she does miss having me around. And my heart just melts.  A whatsapp conversation with a friend can make me all chirpy the whole day, but how do I capture such moments of joy?

Most things that make me happy are abstract- a spoken word, a warm hug or actions from people I meet or interact with. Until there is a way to put these up on instagram, I will stick to the more material things that are secondary sources of happiness. I am just praying and working towards ensuring that at the end of 100 days, it does not look like a collection of "what I cooked" or "what I ate" today :D

P.S. Oh, and by the way, you can find my collection on instagram hash tagged as #100hdquirkygrl 

January 6, 2014

A year end trip to Matheran

This post has been languishing in the drafts for a while now. I was down with an upset stomach after returning from the trip and was caught up in the year end frenzy after that and could not complete it.
Coming back to the post, we decided to do a trip to Matheran since the season seemed perfect to go to a hill station. Anytime is perfect to escape to a hill station when in Mumbai, actually, since it is never too cold here. We picked Matheran after reading about it being an eco friendly place and a nature lover's paradise. Matheran does not have too much to offer in terms of "hill station type" tourist attractions per se- no boating or flower garden or adventure sports. It is a hilly region that is full of viewpoints from where you can catch the sunrise, sunset or other breathtaking views.
Matheran View

If you are driving to Matheran, you have to park your vehicle at the Dasturi car park and hike from there onwards to reach your hotel. We chose to make it an out and out train trip since we wanted to experience the famous Neral Matheran Toy Train ride. Tickets cannot be booked online and you have to reach Neral early to buy your tickets. The toy train starts off at Neral and goes through the winding tracks along the mountains for a good two hours to take you to Matheran.It is painfully slow, so much that someone jogging along the track can overtake the train. But if you have the time, then simply take the train to savor some beautiful views. So many times, it seems as if you are almost floating in the air since the track runs right along the edge of the hill. As you travel through the woods, you can gorge on guavas, berries, freshly squeezed nimbu juice, bhel and lots of other snacks that the vendors sell through the window at every station.
Matheran is the perfect pick for you if you are a hiking enthusiast. The place is devoid of any pucca roads cause motor vehicles are banned here. So in order to get from one place to another, you have to walk. Or take the horse. Or sit in one of those precarious looking hand carts.
Yours truly was not really prepared for all that walking, so imagine my agony when we found on reaching the Matheran railway station around noon that our hotel The Verandah in the Forest was actually in the midst of the forest, a long long way from the station. So a porter was called to carry the luggage while we dragged our feet in the red soil. Enroute, we stopped at the Gujarat Bhavan for a lip smacking thali lunch and headed to the hotel.
The Verandah in the Forest Matheran

After a 20 minute walk through the winding pathways in the forest, we reached The Verandah, a quaint imposing bungalow that has been converted into a hotel by the Neemrana Group. The rooms open out into the verandah which overlooks the forest.It is the perfect place to be in if you are not really looking at doing any touristy activity and just want to sit back with a book and a cup of tea and relax. The rooms have high ceilings and all the furniture is antique. I really love places like this that have the old world charm in them. There are no televisions and no cellphone reception. Its as if you are really transported to history!
A short siesta later, we were recharged enough to walk to the sunset point and then to the marketplace, which is near the station for a spot of shopping and dinner. When you do not have any luggage to worry about, you can walk all that you want to and not feel a thing. The market doesn't really have much to offer in terms of souvenirs. Lots of leather chappals, jute bags and the usual tourist place stuff. You can indulge in a variety of mocktails from the refreshment stalls that dot the entire street. They concoct amazing mocktails with all the "imported from mahabaleshwar" fruit crushes and mocktail mixes. There are many decent restaurants all along the street where you can sample indian and continental cuisines.
By the time we wrapped up dinner and headed back to the hotel, it was pitch dark. The flashlights that the hotel gave us was not going to be of any use inside the winding pathways in the forest. And the horses do not ply in the night. So in God's name we entrusted ourselves to the hand cart wallahs. After a scary 15 minute journey in the pitch darkness, we thanked the heavens when they dropped us off safely at the hotel.
Make sure you wrap up before sundown if you stay away from the marketplace. If you want to be in the hub of all the activity and stay out till late in the night, then you better pick a hotel near then station/market road. Most hotels near that area are kid friendly, with loads of games and activities but are not really an unwinding destination.
All the walking you do in Matheran ensures that you get a good night's sleep. A nice spread of breakfast was awaiting us when we woke up the next morning. Take in the scenery over your cup of masala chai and you will wonder why on earth doesn't your dining table have a view like this.
The Verandah in the Forest Matheran

Half an hour later, we were walking again, this time to catch the views from Louisa Point, once again far into the jungle. You walk, walk and walk some more to reach I don't know how deep into the jungle and then suddenly there is the clearing and a breathtaking view that is worth all the effort. Only after soaking in the view, when you walk back do you feel the strain.
Matheran has just about enough spots for you to cover it in two days, making it an ideal weekend destination. The trip will help you slow down - starting from the slow train to the pace at which everything moves around in there. Go there to rediscover walking, to get your feet and footwear dirty in the red mud and to connect back to nature. 

January 3, 2014

Viviana Mall Thane

The brand new Viviana Mall in Thane has been on my "places to be checked out" list for a while now. I waited for someone to put up a review or for the mall itself to update its website in order to see if it was worth the trip all the way to Thane. None came my way. So rather than waiting some more, we decided to check the place out on the New Year's day. And I am writing this post for the benefit of the people who are perhaps waiting for somebody to give some information about the mall.

Viviana Mall is located on the Eastern Express Highway, a little further from Korum Mall. It is almost 5 kms from the Thane Station. If you are driving, then you will be happy to note that they have ample free parking space. Just that, you have to do one whole pradakshan round of the entire mall in order to reach the parking lot.
viviana mall thane 1

The mall is pretty well laid out, with a courtyard in the center where they have their events and games. The walking area which is elliptical on each floor is flanked by stores on either sides such that you do not miss out on anything while you complete one round.
viviana mall thane 2

Once in, you find the usual suspects when it comes to the stores. But what was different was the number of anchor stores that the mall has. Its got Lifestyle, Shoppers stop, Hypercity, Homecentre, Marks and Spencer, Zara (awaiting completion), Pantaloons, Reliance Trends and perhaps the biggest Bata store that I have seen till date as anchor stores, clearly outnumbering those in other malls.
viviana mall thane 3

We reached there pretty early, in time to glance at the layout of the mall and do a quick recce before heading for lunch. Lunch was at the much-hyped Cream Center which overlooks Sanjeev Kapoor's Yellow Chilli. The food was decent, but certainly not upto the all of the hype around their food. Thankfully, the crowd started trickling in as we were wrapping up lunch.

viviana mall thane food court

There are plenty of options when it comes to food in the form of restaurants, aside from of course the food court. You've got Cream Centre, Pizza Works, The Yellow Chilli, Rajdhani, Mainland China, Fire House Grill, Yoko Sizzlers and Banana Leaf. There are many cafes at every floor, notable among those are Starbucks and Tea Trails a midst your regular Barista and Gloria Jeans.

viviana mall thane fun city

Once you are done eating and shopping, you can head to their Fun City for a round of bowling or play all of the shooting, racing and redemption games. Bowling is charged at Rs.220 per head and you can buy a card for the games at Rs.200, with Rs.50 being the minimum top up after that. The multiplex, Cinepolis is still under construction, not something you would complain about since the mall expedition itself will be a 3 hour affair. Add to it time for lunch or a refuel and games and almost your whole day is taken care of. Head out before the evening on a weekend since you want to avoid the crowd and the mad traffic on the expressway.