During my one week stay in Srinagar, the thing that impressed me most is the kindness and hospitality of Kashmiris. That’s even more than the beautiful snow-capped mountain peaks. There is this one incident that illustrates this point.
I stayed for a few days in Hotel Grand Mamta before deciding to move to a HouseBoat on Dal Lake. While checking out, I forgot my hoodie in the room itself. It’s not just another hoodie. It’s the Himalayan Writing Retreat branded hoodie which is special. (That’s where I really got my blogging mojo back and hence its special).
It was only at night that I began to realize I had lost my hoodie. That’s when the temperature in Srinagar drops and my hoodie was my only warm dress.
The owner of the Lake Palace Houseboat, which I had checked into, found that I had no warm clothes on me. Without so much as asking me, he went to his modest little floating home behind the boat and brought his son’s jacket for me to wear.
The next evening, I went to the Grand Mamta hotel only half expecting to get my hoodie back. Much to my surprise and relief, they had my hoodie packed in a bag with my name and room number written on it.
That’s the happy me feeling snug and happy. The hoodie is a lucky charm. And even more charming are the Kashmiris.
As part of my travel goals, I always savour local cuisine. While there are many Kashmiri dishes, the easiest way am told to experience it is to try ‘Wazwan’. It’s the Kashmiri Thali.
Now that I nailed the dish, I needed an authentic place to have Wazwan in Srinagar. A few people recommended ‘Mughal Durbar’. And so I went hunting for it. Follow my culinary journey below.
Its easy to find the place when the name itself is a landmark! I looked at the menu and my eyes popped out when I saw the cost. Rs.3600. Apparently its a single place for four people to share. The waiter said he would serve a quarter for me. I can tell you this much. Kashmiris love meat. Especially mutton. It’s clearly evident in Wazwan. It’s an over load of kebabs and curries overlaid over plain rice.
See that look on my face? That’s a look of disappointment. I tasted a few of the dishes and I must say it did not appeal to me. At Rs.900 a plate, that’s not a cheap meal. You expect something special. It just wasn’t.
Only after I finished my meal and stepped out of the restaurant, did I notice this board. Apparently, there are lots of knock offs of Mughal Darbar. And the people who recommended me this place never told me which is the original one.
It’s difficult to find the original one because each of them were claiming to be the real thing. They even went to warn people about the other ones as well.
determinatedly determinedly finished the meal and overdosed on meat. An interesting experience.
If you are traveling to Kashmir, here’s a tip. Never stay in a hotel on land. Always choose a houseboat. That’s a strong realization I had.
I was invited to speak at a Digital Conference and the organizers had housed the speakers in an upmarket hotel in the city. Once the conference finished, I decided to stay extra two days to explore to city. As someone who’s hungry for new experiences, I decided to stay in a place where I have never stayed in my life before. A houseboat! That’s been one of the best decisions I’ve taken.
There are 1200 houseboats in Srinagar spread across the famous Dal Lake and Nigeen lake. With so much choice, it is easy to get confused about which houseboat to pick. I turned to Booking.com and Tripadvisor and chose one with a high rating. It’s called ‘Lake Palace’ and had a rating of 9.8 / 10. I trusted the people who left the reviews and they turned out to be absolutely right. A beautiful boat with absolutely wonderful owners. (more on them in the next post)
This is the hall, the first room that you see as you enter the houseboat. Intricately carved walnut wood furniture. Kashmiri carpets. Wood paneled interiors. Thick drapes for the windows. Exquisite chandeliers. The only gaudy thing was the plastic flowers.
I would have liked a place with no TV. But last night, I didn’t mind it because it was the finals of the IPL. I’ve never watched a single IPL match this season (thanks to no TV at home) and it felt good to catch a full match. Turned out to be a low-scoring thriller that went all the way to the last ball.
The bedroom was quite comfortable. It was spacious enough. The room had an attached bathroom complete with a bathtub with hot water and western closet.
This is the view that I woke up to at dawn. I can easily get used to this. It’s very therapeutic watching the clouds waft across the mountains and the Shikaras rowing peacefully across the lake.
The Lillies added to the beauty of the place.
They had a raft connecting the various houseboats in order to cater to large groups who prefer to stay together. All the houseboats are anchored and they float on the same spot for the rest of their life.
Every 5-star hotel around the World I know would like to keep its floors squeaky clean. In Singapore, you expect that even more. So, imagine my surprise when I found the floor littered with peanut peels at a bar in a hotel. It’s not any hotel. It’s the Raffles, the most iconic hotel in Singapore.
This intriqued me a lot and decided to find the reason for this mess. I requested a meeting with the head bartender and promptly got one. He said that its a tradition that dates back 130 years. In the early days, the hotel was frequented by European plantation bosses. Peanuts were served while they waited for their drinks to be fixed. They would throw the peels around with an air of insouciance. And thus began the tradition.
Another bartender told me that the crunchy sound of the feet crushing the peels has become a signature sound.
Also, I feel it’s a branding technique by the hotel. By being a rebel, they bring an air of coolness. By encouraging littering in Singapore that takes it’s cleanliness seriously, they make you and the hotel look cool.
The littered bar floor is now instagram-worthy!
One of the better decisions that I have taken is to make my business trips to other cities be worth it. Usually, I fly in the morning, finish my meeting or my talk and fly out that night. It’s very….err..umm…businesslike and banal. So, I made two resolutions that added the much needed mojo into my travel.
1) I decided that I will meet up with interesting people in each city I visit. This is where my Podcasts, Kiruba.TV (Podcast with Achievers) , Digital PowWow (Social Media Podcast) and First Book (Podcast with Authors) comes in handy. I always have someone interesting people to reach out to.
2) I decided to add at-least an extra day to my itinerary to visit interesting and offbeat places in the city.
Here’s to more travel, visiting more interesting people and places!