SJ Mobilità Travel Diaries

January 18, 2021

One hell of an adventure in United States of America

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 9:21 am

About USA: The U.S. is a country of 50 states covering a vast swath of North America, with Alaska in the northwest and Hawaii extending the nation’s presence into the Pacific Ocean. Major Atlantic Coast cities are New York, a global finance and culture center, and capital Washington, DC. Midwestern metropolis Chicago is known for influential architecture and on the west coast, Los Angeles’ Hollywood is famed for filmmaking.

I could never forget my first trip to US, which was almost a decade back. I was a novice to International travel and I was not prepared and had very limited information in hand. So when one of my previous employers asked me to visit the US office for official work, I was happy to go and also was little worried as I was too scared to travel solo. But this turned to be a challenging and one hell of a solo adventure trip and it was also a great lesson.

Visa:

You have to fill up the online form as mentioned below, take the appointment and then attend the interview in person. First there was bio metrics to be done at VFS office (Currently it’s OFC) and then you need to go to the consulate directly in Chennai (as per the jurisdiction). Since you cannot carry anything in hand while visiting consulate for interview, be prepared to visit only with the consular documents and then also getting fried under scorching sun outside the consulate as there are longer queues.

My interview went smooth and I was very excited when the officer said, your application is approved. Finally I was relieved once I received the visa. I received my visa within 3 days of my interview and I was ready to fly.

https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/

Travel itinerary:

Day 1: I was booked in Emirates and I fell in love with their service and was glad I flew that. After enjoying their hospitality, we landed in Dubai. Then we boarded a bigger and better flight from Dubai to New York and I didn’t know how quickly the time passed. Even before I realized, we landed in Newark Airport. Even though I flew longer flight for the first time, had a comfortable one because of Emirates. Since I was very paranoid travelling alone I ensured the cabs were prebooked so that I don’t get lost as my phone didn’t have any network. Landed in Newark Airport, got my taxi, drove for almost an hour to New Jersey and checked in to Best Western. The hotel was great. Had a smooth checkin and ordered the food from outside since hotel didn’t have one. When the food came I realized, the portion size of US was huge. So that was lesson number one to order as minimal as possible so that you don’t waste food. Enjoyed the delicious food and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After the breakfast, I asked the hotel staff for help in reaching my office. The reception lady said my office was on a walkable distance, so I decided to walk. When I stepped out, I realized that I failed to note down the address of my company in a notepad as I didn’t have wifi to check the address/map online. So after walking for almost 15 minutes, I had to come back to the hotel, get the address and walk back as I hardly found anyone to ask for directions. That was lesson number two. I did find difficult to locate the building as I didn’t find the company signboard outside. Somehow, I went inside the building after making sure the address is correct, verified with the reception lady and she guided me to our office. I was only relieved when I met my colleague. I was busy for the whole day with official meetings and discussions, then came back from work, had my dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 3: After a great breakfast (loved their omelette, one of the best omelettes I have ever tasted), went to the office and then I had to travel to the client location in NJ where most of our employees were based out of. I spent the whole day in answering their work permit related queries to our expat employees. After a fruitful day, came back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: After breakfast, headed to office. After training and paperwork, returned in the evening, met an attorney, went for dinner in another Indian restaurant which they wanted me to try and got dropped to the hotel and and crashed for the night.

Day 5: After the delicious breakfast, we went to the office and then had to travel to New York as we had an appointment with one of the travel partners. We finished the meeting and went to the café for a nice coffee. Since I love coffee, she wanted me to try espresso and I didn’t enjoy it. I realized I was more of Cappuccino fan than Espresso. We then went to Anjappar Restaurant (Indian Restaurant) for lunch, even though I told my colleagues, we try local, they wanted to try Indian. So I went along and it was really great. We then walked around the NY Street and my colleague became my city guide and she was explaining me to the important buildings around. Also I saw a small park which had Tulip flowers and I loved it. Then went to Times Square and I was disappointed as I was expecting some monument, then walked around near Empire State building. Then we had our early dinner in NY and went for a nice pizza for dinner which was recommended by my colleague. That was one of the yummiest pizzas I have tasted with lots of lots of cheese. After that I was dropped back to the hotel and I crashed for the night.

Day 6: Since It was a weekend, my colleague offered me to tag along with her while she was taking them for their weekend football practices. So I booked a cab and I ended up getting a limousine. I made sure I was not charged extra and then I realized I was lucky since no cars were available that weekend, they had to sent the limousine and I got a free upgrade from a small car to that. I enjoyed the drive and I couldn’t complain for the upgrade. I met my friend, her spouse and kids and then went for a shopping with them, then had our lunch at one of the shopping mall. It was a great place for shopping as I loved the quality of the clothes. Then I got dropped at the hotel. Towards evening, I took a little bit of courage, just to walk around alone and it was great. As it was getting darker, I rushed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After an amazing breakfast, I checked out and then headed to the airport for San Diego, California. Landed after more than 6 hours of flight. It was a beautiful city. Checked in to Holiday Inn Express and crashed for the night.

Day 8: After enjoying the breakfast, my colleague had picked me up to go to office. Met the colleagues, was busy with back-to-back meetings for the whole day. Came back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 9: After enjoying the breakfast headed to office, had meetings for the whole day. This office had a food court outside with various options for food, which was great. Then returned to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 10: After breakfast, went for a half day sightseeing to the city. I had booked with one of the local travel agents. The driver was our guide and we were three of us, a senior couple from Canada and myself. We went to Hotel del Coronado, also known as The Del and Hotel Del, which is a historic beachfront hotel in the city of Coronado, just across the San Diego Bay from San Diego, California. Then headed to USS Midway Museum is a historical naval aircraft carrier museum located in downtown San Diego, California at Navy Pier. The museum consists of the aircraft carrier Midway. The ship houses an extensive collection of aircraft, many of which were built in Southern California. There is a famous statue of sailor kissing a lady, which everyone was attracted to. Then we headed to San Diego Bay which is a natural harbor and deep-water port located in San Diego County, California near the U.S.–Mexico border. We had a picture with the whole group, spent a little time and then headed to the Balboa Park. Balboa Park (Balboa Park is a 1,200-acre historic urban cultural park in San Diego, California, United States. In addition to open space areas, natural vegetation zones, green belts, gardens, and walking paths, it contains museums, several theatres, and the world-famous San Diego Zoo). Since we didn’t have much time, we did a quick tour and went to see the garden, orchid glass house which I was most interested. Then headed to La Jolla Cave (La Jolla Cove is a small, picturesque cove and beach that is surrounded by cliffs in La Jolla, San Diego, California. California sea lions can be found in the waters of the Cove and hauling out, temporarily leaving the water to rest on its beaches, cliffs, and bluffs. So we did go to the beach to see the Sea Gulls and Sea lions. That was really awesome experience. As we drove, we also came across few streets with the most beautiful house, each one was made in a very different architecture. That was a great experience and a quick half day tour to the city. Then I had to rush back to the airport to go to Dallas. After 2+ hours of flight landed in Dallas and checked in to holiday Inn Express and crashed for the night.

Day 11: After the breakfast went for meeting with the attorneys and then headed for lunch. After lunch, one of the attorneys dropped me back to our office. When I went there the office was closed. I didn’t realize the person who had the key was working from home that day and I was lost as I didn’t have phone to connect and didn’t know how to go back to the hotel. So I waited outside the office building for taxis and no one stopped. I waited for half an hour and I was growing restless. Finally I found a gentleman who was returning from a factory. I asked his help to use his phone, however when I told the hotel name, he said, I better walk, since they wouldn’t be able to reach me without a phone. So I started walking. He was there for half a distance then I had to take a right turn and he had to go straight. I thanked him and I left. I was still scared and nervous, walking alone. After 15 minutes of walk I found the hotel sign and I was relieved. Once I reached the hotel, was chatting with the reception lady for a while, had a quick dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 12: After breakfast, went to meet one of the employees, he took me around to meet his family. I was offered a tender coconut juice and I felt I was drinking a toddy. Then went to a good steak restaurant. Had a great time and then his wife decided to take me around for a shopping close by and then they dropped me back to the hotel and I crashed for the night

Day 13: After breakfast, had to say check out of the hotel and headed to the airport to board my return flight. Enjoyed the Emirates hospitality and reached Bangalore and this experience that I will never forget and it also taught me to be prepared for the next international trips.

I had a lovely time, inspite of me not having a phone network throughout the trip. This country has to be explored more as it has lot of things to offer.

Will see you soon….Until then stay safe all of you….

 

 

 

December 7, 2020

Blissful Experience at Varu Island Resort, Maldives

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 4:03 pm

During the Covid time, Sur and myself missed the most is travelling. When my friend Ajay from Kaia Tourism (He can be reached at ajay.anand@kaiatourism.com) told us about Maldives and he had got a good deal, we decided instantly to go ahead for Sur’s 40th birthday. Even though both of us were not really comfortable to travel at this time, we just took a risk of going for it and am glad we did that.

About Maldives:

Maldives, officially the Republic of Maldives, is a small archipelagic state in South Asia, situated in the Arabian Sea of the Indian Ocean. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India, about 700 kilometres from the Asian continent’s mainland. Maldives translates to Garland of Islands in some of the southern Indian languages, and which is what you will find there. The white sand and turquoise color of the sea/ocean is truly breathtaking. Even though I have heard about Maldives and it’s beauty, it was not in my immediate bucket list of travel but I am glad that we took a risk in this Covid time and thanks to the Maldives Govt and its people in controlling the covid cases and opening up the borders soon. Their efforts are commendable in ensuring all the safety protocols are followed and in keeping the covid cases under control to ensure others could visit their beautiful country. Hats off to them. If you need a break from all the Covid stress, now you know where to head to…You are in safe hands in Maldives and am sure you will thank me later.

Covid Guidelines:

Before travelling to Maldives:

  • PCR Negative certificate valid within 72 hours of departure (Would recommed to reach out to a good hospital when ever you undertake international travel. Manipal Hospital gives the report within 24 hours and they were excellent in their service)
  • Fill up the health declaration form of Maldives (https://imuga.immigration.gov.mv/ethd/create) within 24 hours of departure and have the copy of the same

Before returning from Maldives:

  • Fill up the health declaration form of Maldives (https://imuga.immigration.gov.mv/ethd/create) again within 24 hours of departure and have the copy of the same.
  •  Fill up the self declaration form of India before boarding the flight (https://www.newdelhiairport.in/airsuvidha/apho-registration), without which you would not be allowed to board the flight

Visa:

I heard this is the only country providing visa on arrival to all the countries free of cost. So why do you wait? Just ensure you have your boarding pass, passport valid for at least for 6 months and PCR Negative certicate. Voila, you get your on arrival visa from 30 to 90 days.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: Travelling from Bangalore to Malé, you don’t feel like you are doing an international trip. It’s just 2 hours of flight time and as you start to enjoy the ocean and it’s turquoise color, you had already landed Velana International Airport to the beautiful country of Maldives .

The immigration process was a breeze and once the visa on arrival stamp was done, we exited the airport. We were picked up by the Varu team at the airport, then we waited for other guests to join and headed to the speedboat which almost took 40-45 minutes to reach the Varu Island Resort.

We were greeted by the staffs as we got out of the speedboat, headed to the reception, had a welcome champagne, finished the check-in formalities, prebooked the activities for Diving/snorkelling, Sunset/Star gazing cruise and received the pre booking details of other specialty restaurants and then we were escorted to our rooms.

We had booked the watervilla and it was superb. We just lazed around for the day and went to Charcoal (Pool Bar) for a high tea and snacks as we were hungry by then since we missed the lunch. Then we lazed around in the beautiful villa in the late afternoon. It was time for dinner and had to go to Lime and Chili restaurant (multi cuisine restaurant). We were not hungry, so had a quick bite and then returned to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a sumptious breakfast at Lime and Chili, went for a swim near our water villa. Then we headed for a quick lunch and then rested. We had to cancel the sunset cruise booked at 5 PM as we were lazy to step out and went back to sleep. We had to force ourselves to go for Dinner as we had a booking at Kaage (Maldivian Cuisine). It was Sur’s 40th birthday and initially I offered him to change it as he is a vegetarian and I knew the Maldivian cuisine is incomplete without Tuna, he wanted to go ahead. So we entered the restaurant after a nice walk around, we were offered screwpine fruit juice shot as a welcome drink, which I thought I would miss since we were not exploring the capital other than the resort island where we usually get this fruit. Then we were given Feyli, which is black or dark blue wrap-around which has a border at the bottom with different types of stripes. With the evolution, the original black lines have been replaced by gold and silver as well. Then we headed to the room to watch the video, about Maldives and it’s history, which was very interesting. I didn’t know cowrie shells were used as a currency once. After enjoying the video, we sat for dinner. I enjoyed the authentic Maldivian cuisine which is mainly Tuna and other sea foods and Sur had to settle with the vegetarian version. It was interesting people could make so many fish snacks out of Tuna like samosa , rolls etc which was a pleasant surprise since all I knew was various fish curries, being a coastal girl myself. I had a great time trying out the authentic local dishes and I was impressed. Then staff had got a nice chocolate cake to celebrate Sur’s birthday. Since he is not a huge fan of chocolate, I had to eat his cake and it was yummy. Then we went around for a nice walk and then headed to our villa. Sur had a lovely surprise awaiting where the staffs had decorated the bed with happy birthday message using coconut leaves and rice petals. It was so beautiful and am glad he had a great 40th birthday with such amazing staffs around to make his day all the more special. We didn’t feel of removing the decoration so soon, so we sat out on the deck for sometime enjoying the stars, and then had to come back to the bed to crash for the night.

Day 3: Had a late and an amazing breakfast, swam in the ocean, went for a lunch and then it was time to catch up for a nice massage. Sur had an amazing hot stone massage which was worth every penny. I opted the aromatherapy which was complimentary. Then we walked around the beach for some time and then it was time for the Indian Ocean Gala dinner near Lime and chili. It was the best dinner with lovely music and delicious food. If you are travelling, make sure you are there on Friday night so that you don’t miss this. There were lot of honeymooners who had a nice table arrangement done separately and it was beautiful. After some time, rain did spoil that. But staffs did their best to ensure they had a lovely time.

Day 4: We had to wake up early since we were going for the diving, so had an early and quick breakfast and headed for diving. Since Sur was certified he went for the diving at two different spots and I heard this was one of the best for diving and I settled for snorkelling. Unfortunately the water was so choppy and I felt very uncomfortable, so I had to withdraw and that was very disappointing. I heard it was so beautiful which I missed it. We returned and then headed to lunch at Nu restaurant (Mediterraean). The food was as usual great, staffs were amazing and service was excellent. We rested for awhile and then headed to Lime and Chili for another great dinner. We skipped the star gazing cruise since it was cloudy and crashed for the night.

Day 5: Had an early breakfast and we had to check out. So we packed everything and kept ready so that staffs can pick up the luggage and then we waited in the reception for our speedboat back to airport. Thankfully staffs took the tempearture and reminded of our health declaration form which needed to be filled, we didn’t realize it had to be filled before 24 hours departure as well. So we filled it quickly and then headed to the speedboat to the airport. After almost 40 minutes of drive, we reached the airport. We had to wait for sometime in the foodcourt, since the airport is small and we were not allowed to go in until the airline counter opened up. After half an hour, the counter opened and we went for a checkin. To our suprise the lines were not moving and people were standing there for a long time, we were puzzled why there was a delay and what’s making the checkin so slow. Finally when we reached the counter, we had to face the truth that our boarding passes would not be handed to us until, we fill the self declaration form in Air Suvidha portal, which almost no one did and that’s why it was taking so much time and is mandatory for people travelling to India. I was a little annoyed that why did the airline or cleartrip where we booked the flights didn’t mention about this in any of their communications so that we would have done it earlier and not wasted our time and also other fellow travelers who were in the queue. I had to appreciate the airline checkin staffs, who were very supportive and were patient enough to wait for us to fill the details. Finally we filled up, showed the confirmation and then airline staff handed over the boarding pass. Then we headed to immigration. It was a breeze as usual and once that was completed, we headed to the security, did a bit of shopping and waited in the food court. After a dry burger for lunch, inspite of ordering it with cheese, headed down to the gate for departure. We finally boarded after a slight delay and then it was announced that there is a flight delay again for half an hour. I just slept off in the flight, so I didn’t realize when it started taking off. After 2 hours we landed in Bangalore and then we were in for a lot of health checks, first they checked the self declaration form, then temperature check and then oxymeter check. Since we cleared all, we were allowed to go to the immigration counter. Then we picked up our luggage, did some shopping and as we were stepping out we were stopped for another check. It was for Covid tracking and after taking our passport details, we exited the airport and finally reached home after an hour.

That was one hell of a trip and travelling for the first time during Covid, it was all a learning experience. First of all I wanted to say a big thanks to Varu Island Resort Staffs who were so helpful, provided excellent hospitality and they were amazing. Special mention to their simplicity, that’s what I loved them for. They had a smile for everyone, ensured every one was attended to and were prompt to assist when needed. Even though, due to Covid, we couldn’t hop on to other islands or do any sightseeing, we had a great time as Varu staffs ensured we had fun and we didn’t miss out any. My admiration for the people of Maldives for their simplicity, their welcoming nature and their amazing work to ensure all the safety protocols are adhered during this Covid time so that we all remain covid free and have a great holiday break inspite of the covid situation. A big applause to them…

I know many of you might want to travel but a bit scared. It’s the right time to travel to Maldives and rest assured you are well taken care of and you would enjoy the place without worrying about Covid and people are so welcoming to anyone coming to their country and they are glad to host you and give you a memorable experience. Now this should be on your top priority. Happy Holidays……

Shukuriyaa Maldives…….

 

 

November 15, 2020

Unexplored Bangladesh

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 5:33 pm

About Bangladesh:
People’s Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the eighth-most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 162 million people. Bangladesh shares land borders with India to the west, north, and east, Myanmar to the southeast, and the Bay of Bengal to the south.
I had visited this country a decade back and am sure it might be different right now, so this is like going back to my memory lane a decade back.
Visa:
Visa fee is gratis for Indian nationals and you can visit the below link for all the details
http://bdhcdelhi.org/faqs.html

Travel Itinerary:
Day 1: This was the peak of Kingfisher Airlines and Jet Airways days and my first choice always had been Kingfisher, however I didn’t have flight availability for the same dates as I had to reroute from Chennai-Delhi-Kolkata-Dhaka-Kolkata-Chennai. I had to settle with Jet since that was the only option available with these routes. I enjoyed the Jet Airways hospitality and landed in Delhi. I had to come to Delhi since my passport had to be picked up from here since my visa for Bangladesh was submitted from the capital and I didn’t have time to wait for the passport to be couriered to Chennai. My employer, being one of the diplomatic missions, they got their visas easily, so I didn’t go through any glitches myself. At that time getting Bangladesh visa was a bit complicated so being employed with the embassy came as an advantage. I went to the office directly and met the Delhi team, exchanged pleasantries, picked up my passport, went for an amazing lunch at the cafeteria and it was time to go to airport for my next flight. I got a cab and was on my way to airport and then I get a message saying flight is delayed. I didn’t want to go to airport so early and I was confused. My cab driver was an old Sardar and he was extremely friendly. When he asked me what time was my flight and when I told him, its been delayed, even without me asking he volunteered to take me around New Delhi and he tried to show the important places. I was happy enjoying the places from the cab and he became my official tour guide as I was new to the city. Finally after an hour or two, it was time to go to the airport and the cab driver dropped me back to the airport. I thanked him, went to the airport and again there was a delay. Finally by midnight my flight took off and landed in Kolkata. A decade back, Kolkata airport didn’t look that great and I had to spent the night at the airport since the connecting flight to Dhaka delayed due to fog until the next day. It was not at all a pleasant experience and the food choices were bad. Somehow managed the night at the airport with much difficulty. (FYI – Recently I did travel to Kolkata and of course the airport looked far better than I experienced at that time. That’s a welcoming news for Kolkata Airport)
Day 2: After much delay finally the flight took off to Dhaka from Kolkata. Again due to fog they couldn’t land in Dhaka as the visibility was low. After hovering for more than hour or two we landed in Dhaka. I got picked up by the office staff and I was asked to stay in the company guest house. It was a huge house and had multiple floors. I was given an entire floor to myself. I heard the hotels were very few in Dhaka that’s why most of the companies get an independent house for their employees to stay for their short visits. For me that was my first experience being all alone at a huge place and I had no idea how to operate any of the things in that house. Number one, it was too huge and I was scared, staying alone and was waking up often to ensure that I locked all the doors and was scared in the dark to go from one room to another. Then trying to use the household items, at that time I didn’t know how to operate the washing machine, coffee maker etc. I wish we had you tube popular at that time. I felt disabled not knowing anything since the house had everything equipped but I couldn’t operate anything and anyway it didn’t matter much as I didn’t know how to cook. I also had a help who was coming to the house while we were at office and made sure everything was cleaned, my clothes were washed and dried. First day I was in a shock after seeing my clothes washed and ironed and then I realized it was the help. I never met her so I had to thank her in spirit.

Travelling in January, the weather was biting cold and I didn’t have any more patience to take the help of my colleagues who were staying in different floors, however when it came to the heater in the room, I had to ask someone for help since that was lifeline and my colleague was happy to help. The office was opposite to the building that we were staying and it had restaurant and bar attached to it. So I went for the dinner and after a quick meal, I rushed to the room as it was too cold for me stay out at the restaurant and I crashed for the night

Day 3-7: I went for the breakfast at our office restaurant and the staffs were mostly from West Bengal, so they could speak Hindi. When they knew I was from India, they immediately started chatting and for the next few days they became my friends since all my meals were at the restaurant and they also had an amazing food.
Then went and met my office colleagues, had a wonderful time knowing and learning from them. They were extremely friendly and very helpful. That week had been amazing and productive. Even though I was alone, I felt at home whether it was at office or at the restaurant. There are the two places that I visited for the whole of that week. I didn’t know how time flew but that was one memorable and productive week.

Day 8: It was time to pack and leave for the airport. On the way I saw the local buses which I felt like they should have ben in a garage as they looked very old and almost it had to be discarded. Also I got to know that due to the geographic location of this country, it bears the brunt of the natural calamity every year which also hampers the country’s development. That was the sard irony, but I wished I had explored the city which I didn’t as I was travelling alone. Finally we reached the airport and the driver came all the way till the immigration and until I got out of the immigration, he didn’t leave. I even asked him why was he wasting his time accompanying me as it was waste of time for him and he said, since I was a single lady travelling alone, some of the immigration officers might be a little nasty, so he was trying to protect me. So I was enjoying the VIP treatment as he had the permission to come all the way to the Immigration. Finally my flight took off and landed in Kolkata and then my flight back to Chennai and landed to my city.
I wish I could travel now as this country is still unexplored and it’s already added in my bucket list
Until then Stay Safe and Happy Deepavali/Diwali…..

October 14, 2020

An Awesome Spain

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 5:41 am

About Spain: It’s a country on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula with diverse geography and cultures. Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is defined by Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical modernist landmarks like the Sagrada Família church. It is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, which is also known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Família church and other modernist landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudí dot the city.

When IBTM had a conference in Barcelona, I thought I should go as Europe was always in my bucket list of travel. Then I realized that we had initially planned to go to Lakshadweep as Sur wanted me to do the PADI course which I had wanted to do after my Thailand snorkelling trip where I felt I needed to do diving course so that I could join Sur. So, I asked Sur to choose between these two places, as Barcelona conference was scheduled at the same time that we planned Lakshadweep. As expected, Sur chose Barcelona as he said Lakshadweep we can do it later. So I registered and got accepted and we planned our trip to Spain.

Visa:

There are two consulates in India, namely New Delhi and Mumbai and it comes with Jurisdiction.

Mumbai: All four South Indian States, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Daman and Diu, Maharashtra, Pondicherry, and Gujarat.

New Delhi: Remaining states and Union territories fall under this jurisdiction.

BLS International accepts the applications on behalf of the embassy and they are present in most of the cities. Do check the close by office in your own state and then you can submit the application to them.

Document Checklist:

Do check the BLS link (https://india.blsspainvisa.com/) for more details and check for latest updates before filing the application. Sample checklist is mentioned below

  Visa Application Form: Form to be filled in blue pen and with the original signature from the applicant

Photographs: 2 recent photographs as per the specific requirement attached (do refer the link mentioned above)

Cover Letter from the Applicant: Attach the letter with the purpose of travel, dates of travel and with complete itinerary

HR letter from the company:

Company Letter: Letter should Confirm your approved leaves and employment details.

Company Id proof: Recommended.

Invitation Letter: If you are invited by the local entity, do get the letter in Spanish and English

   Hotel Booking: Do attach the hotel confirmation with complete payment done prior for the entire stay.

Flight Details: Confirmed flight booking to be attached.

Tour Itinerary: Give the day wise itinerary.

    Travel Insurance: It has to be issued by the approved Insurance companies, the link mentioned above will give you all the details and as per EU guidelines, minimum coverage of 100,000 USD to be there for at least 30 days .

Sworn Declaration for travel insurance signed by applicant: Attached

Salary Slip: Last 6 months of salary slips to be attached

Bank Statement: Last one-year bank statement in original (with bank seal and signature) to be attached

Income Tax Returns: Last 3-year IT returns to be attached

Pan Card Copy: To be attached

BLS Authorization Form: To be signed and attached

Passport Details: Passport copies of all pages including the old ones to be attached

Marriage Certificate: In case, spouse is accompanying

  Birth certificate: In case child is accompanying

Note: All the documents must be in English like marriage or birth certificate, in case it’s not in English do get the certificate issued in English before filing. In case your trip expenses are split by your spouse, then you need to ensure to share all the documents mentioned above for your spouse as well.

Travel itinerary:

Day 1: We had our early morning flight with Air France and after just over an hour layover in Paris, we landed in Barcelona in the afternoon.

The hospitality of Air France was good. Once we landed we hired a cab to go to IBIS Styles Barcelona City Bogatell, this is a budget hotel and weather was little cold as we visited in the month of November. We had a smooth check in and went to the room. Once we freshened up, we came down for lunch, they didn’t have much option, but we ordered some omelette and enjoyed the coffee and went around in the evening for a walk close by. We went to Ciutadella Park which was close by. The 70-acre grounds has the Parliament of Catalonia, lot of official buildings, beautiful garden, fountain, statues, trees with lots and lots of oranges. I was so tempted to pluck the oranges, which is always a fun activity in India specially with the tamarind trees on the roadside but I had to control myself as we were in a different country. We found lot of birds specially parrots and people were feeding and they were quite used with the people as they were not scared and stayed for their food until they were full.

Then we headed to my favourite place in the city which is the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum) where it was all about chocolates. We picked up few chocolates and few which had 90% cocoa for Sur’s dad as he wanted to get the maximum cocoa one, later when he tasted he realized he should stick to 50 or 60% as it was too bitter. The best one here is the hot chocolate, I could drink every time and not get tired of that as it was not very sweet which I liked about. Every time I passed this place I was nagging Sur for a hot chocolate. If you love chocolates, this is a place which you shouldn’t miss. After enjoying my best find in Barcelona, we stopped at a nearby restaurant for dinner, enjoyed some great food along with wine. We found that none of the wine in Barcelona was bad. In fact each one was better than the last and we ended up finishing a bottle for almost every meal. Then walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great breakfast of breads, pastries, cheese, eggs and juice, we headed to We Barcelona office for the Barcelona Walking Tour with Eco Boat & Helicopter Ride. The best thing that we found for sightseeing is this company called We Barcelona, after the first trip which we found through Trip Advisor, we didn’t look for other tour operators and we booked all the sightseeing tours for the remaining days with them. They were the best and all that you need to do was to go to the pickup point wherever they ask you depending on the trip that you book. Since I had Sur with me, we had taken metros for most of the places as for me it would have been difficult without him. The hotel also had the metro station close by so that helped with all our logistics.

This is to experience Barcelona by land, sea and sir. So we first started exploring by land and did a walking tour by visiting the Gothic Quarter and were listening to the Catalonia stories and their history.

The charming Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, has narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalonian restaurants. There is also the Cathedral of Barcelona and street arts. After that we walked to the Church of Sant Felip Neri in the Gothic Quarter (The romantic, slightly faded church is an unmissable corner of the Gothic Quarter and in the evening you can see people gathered with friends and family for a evening get together for fun, laughter and music ). We then proceeded to Plaça de Sant Jaume (square at the center of the Old City of Barcelona and the administrative heart of both the city and surrounding Catalonia) and went and saw the Town Hall and Palace of the Generalitat of Catalonia (Government of Catalonia, is the institutional system by which Catalonia politically organizes its self-government). We explored the Jewish quarter and passed by the Santa Maria del Pi (it is a 15th-century Gothic church).

After visiting Spain I realized that walking is the best way of seeing Europe, as it’s so beautiful that you need to explore it by foot wherever possible.

Then we went for a boat ride at Port Vell and enjoyed the cold breeze of the Mediterranean Sea, it was so beautiful.  We visited The Columbus Monument, which is a 60 m tall monument to Christopher Columbus at the lower end of La Rambla, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. It was constructed for the Exposición Universal de Barcelona in honor of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas and then went to the heliport where our sky adventure began. That was one beautiful short ride over Port Vell and the beautiful beaches and view from above was spectacular. The trip ended there but we had a quick bite near the port and then went near the pier.

It was all sea gulls which were huge and then headed to Aquarium Barcelona, which had a collection of 11,000 animals representing 450 species.

After the Aquarium visit we headed in the evening for Barcelona old town walking tour with Flamenco Show and Tapas Tour through We Barcelona. We had a guide who was Catalonian so, as we were walking to the place, she took us through the gothic quarters and old town and explained more in detail which was an eye opener. So we kind of repeated the morning walk tour once again in the evening but didn’t complain as the guide was so passionate about her culture and history, we were glued to her listening to every detail of it. After the walking tour we headed for a flamenco show which was spectacular. After a bit of snacks and drinks, we went to an outside restaurant to try the authentic Tapas in a near by pub. Tapas are bite sized snacks and it was quite interesting in a crowded pub. After enjoying those we walked back to the hotel and crashed for the night. Even though we were walking late in the night, never felt scared as we felt very safe in the city.

Day 3: After a great breakfast, we left for Montserrat Monastery visit and Natural Park Hiking with Railway from Barcelona through We Barcelona. It was a little longer ride from the city and then we reached Montserrat. It is a mountain rising over 4000 ft. into the air from Barcelona. We went to the church and then we rode the funicular railway to a scenic viewpoint, and took a nature walk in Montserrat Park while returning. It was a mini hike and enjoyed very bit of it and found lot of thyme and Rose Mary plants on the way. It was very exciting and beautiful and then returned back to the monastery. Since it was a Sunday we had the weekend market as well with varieties of home made cheese and everything tasted delicious. So we picked up lots of cheese and a dessert wine from the monastery and left. Enjoyed every minute of the drive and we returned back to the hotel. In the evening, we went around closeby, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had to check out of this hotel and had to check in at Ohla Eixample which was booked by the conference organizing team. It was one of the best hotels and had an amazing hospitality. We just dozed off and woke up in the evening and was hungry. Sur decided to step out for lunch and I didn’t have a patience to walk to much, so we found a Michelin star restaurant diagonally opposite to the hotel where we were staying and Sur said the review was good. So we went inside. I had never been to a Michelin Star and this was my first time. Once we entered, we realized we were not dressed appropriately as everyone at the restaurant was in formals and I was wearing a track pants and T-shirt and Sur was in jeans and T-shirt. I was the most under dressed and I was embarrassed. Since I was hungry, we quickly found a corner, had a quick meal and left. The food was great but the quantity was less and I  didn’t have the patience to order more as I was already embarrassed with my dress code.

Sur found it difficult to get his veg food as we tried to customize a non veg food and that was a disaster, since he didn’t like the veg options from the menu. I learnt few lessons on that day. 1. Never enter a Michelin star restaurant in casuals. 2. If you are really hungry and need more quantity of food and then this is not the place. 3. Don’t try to customize the food, it has to be original. After the embarrassing situation at the Michelin star restaurant, we went back to the room, ordered some more snacks as I was still hungry and crashed for the night.

Day 5: The day was busy with back to back meetings and appointments at Fira Gran Via Barcelona which was the convention centre. We were picked up by bus as it was far from the hotel where we stayed. While I was at the conference, Sur was enjoying the hospitality at the hotel. Once I was done with the conference, we both went to the seafood restaurant at the hotel for dinner. As usual I enjoyed but Sur didn’t have much option being a vegetarian and the customized one was not very great. Then we returned to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 6: Another busy day with meetings and appointments and then evening we had a IBTM world club night Opium Barcelona which was fun after a tiring day. I headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: While I headed for the final day of conference, Sur checked out and checked back in to IBIS styles where we stayed earlier pre conference days. So he was busy with that and then came to the venue to pick me up in the evening as I didn’t know the way to reach back. We went around nearby and found a grocery store, picked up more cheese, wine (even the local wines were great) for our consumption as we became addicted to the good wines of Barcelona. Then we grabbed the dinner at a close by restaurant along with more good wine and then crashed for the night.

Day 8: After a good breakfast we headed for the winery and cava (sparkling wine) tour of Pere Ventura. Here we found combination of modernity and tradition in which the company takes pride and first time I enjoyed the sparkling wine (Cava). The winery is located on the outskirts of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, in a lovely home reminiscent of an old farmhouse. The underground cellars with vaulted galleries looked breath-taking. We also got to enjoy wine tasting and every single wine was great. Then we were dropped back to the pick up point where we went around to see Gaudi architecture. Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was a Catalan architect known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism. Gaudí’s works have a highly individualized, sui generis style. I have never seen such a fantastic creative work till today, I was in awe of the buildings. After admiring the greatest architecture and creative work, we went around for a night walk for some time, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 9: Had another delicious breakfast and headed for Girona and Costa Brava tour with Explore Catalunya. After a long drive, we reached Girona. Girona is a city in Spain’s north-eastern Catalonia region, beside the River Onyar. We had a time for ourselves to explore on our own and enjoyed the medieval architecture, walled Old Quarter (Barri Vell) and the Roman remains of the Força Vella fortress. Landscaped gardens line the Passeig Arqueològic, a walkway following the Old Quarter’s medieval walls, which include watchtowers with sweeping views, I felt I was in Great wall of China. Few scenes from Game of Thrones were also shot in Girona. After enjoying the cathedral and architecture, we went to the shopping place to pick up some souvenirs. Then we headed to Costa Brava. This is a coastal region of Catalonia in north-eastern Spain and the town was almost empty as it was off season. Sur was complaining that next time I need to take him during summer and not winter. We enjoyed the beach to ourselves as hardly any shops/restaurants were open due to off season.

We had lunch at Tony’s restaurant and our guide suggested that I try the Paella which I have been wanting to try but was not sure where. Paella is a Spanish rice and is one of the best-known dishes in Spanish cuisine. Since this is not a veg dish, Sur settled for some salads as he had very limited option. After enjoying the places and food we headed to the hotel. We crashed after dinner as we had an early morning flight to catch the next day.

Day 10: We had to wake up early and head to the airport and the hotel helped us to book the cab. We reached the Barcelona Airport but no shops were open as it was too early for the day. Then we boarded Air France, had a stop over in Paris. We did a bit of shopping and then boarded for Bangalore. Landed in Bangalore after a good hospitality from Air France. The awesome Spain visit came to end but this was never enough as we could visit only Barcelona and not the other cities. It’s so beautiful that you need more time to enjoy the beauty, architecture of the country and even then, it would be never enough.

Here is to more visits to Spain and Europe, until then Stay Safe……….

 

October 6, 2020

UAE – The Royal Experience

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 6:38 pm

About UAE:

The Arabic name for UAE is al-ʾImārāt al-ʿArabīyah al-Muttaḥidah which is referred as United Arab Emirates in English. The sovereign absolute monarchy is a federation of seven emirates consisting of Abu Dhabi (which serves as the capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain.

I was always been apprehensive to travel to Middle Eastern Countries due to their stricter laws and other restrictions in the country. I also have realized that it’s due to limited news that media shares which is not encouraging either. But on a positive note, I have a lot of respect for these countries, because they have stricter laws which in turn has lesser crimes, which we miss in our country. We are improving now but we still have a long way to go… Many times, when I read the crimes committed in our country, there is one thing always comes to mind, I wish we had their laws so that lot of innocent lives would have been saved. I can only pray we have more stricter laws and lesser crimes in our country.

Just to make me more confident before I decided to travel, I also spoke to few friends who live in UAE and they had only positive news to share about the country and I also read about certain dos and dont’s of the country before I leave. I understand that we need to respect the locals laws, traditions and cultures and there is no two way about it. So when IBTM accepted my application to attend the conference in Abu Dhabi, I thought this is the best opportunity to explore the place as well post conference. As usual, I asked Sur if he can accompany me but I was refused point blank by him. He had few reasons:-

Reason No 1: We were not married at that time, he thought he will get arrested being with me.

Reason No 2: He has the habit of holding my hands while walking and he said he will get arrested for the same while sightseeing in UAE.

To add to my woes, there was two news that we read at that time:

News No 1: There was an expat who went for a medical check-up and found out she was pregnant at the hospital and she was unmarried. She got arrested as it’s against the local law. Her partner was also an expat living in UAE. Her mother was all over the news, begging to release her daughter and she wanted her daughter and unborn grandkid to be safe in her own country. She was pleading that daughter will get out of UAE immediately if she is released from jail but no one could reach out to her. I hear once you are in their jail, you disappear and no one could reach you.

News No 2: There was a couple who checked into a particular hotel and when the hotel staff suspected something fishy, they barged into their room and found out they were having sex and they were unmarried. So they were sent straight to Jail.

These 2 news clippings were reason No . 3 for Sur, to reject my request, to accompany me to UAE  and he was trying to convince me how bad it is. So I couldn’t push him as I completely understood, so I had to do my SOLO travel which is something I don’t prefer as I can never travel alone.

Visa:

You can apply through the below website for getting a visit visa. However, you can get a visa on arrival (VOA) for a maximum stay of 14 days provided you have any USA visas that’s valid and your passport is valid for at six months from the date of arrival into the UAE.

https://www.dubaivisa.net/india/

Since I already had a valid USA visa, I could go for VOA. Then I wanted to be sure that I could travel as my visa was on the old passport since I couldn’t take any risk with UAE. So I reached out to the consulate directly over email. After few mail exchanges, they confirmed I could travel as long as I carried both passports, which anyway I would because I need to show them the visa. I was grateful to the embassy staff for being so prompt and helpful as you do not get such speedy response from many of the consulates.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We were booked in Etihad Airways and of course, this is also one of the best airlines in the world. After flying various airlines, I have realized the Middle Eastern carriers, stand tall in their hospitality. That’s why I end up blindly booking these airlines, because I know their hospitality would be excellent. After enjoying it’s in-flight hospitality, I landed in Abu Dhabi. I found the immigration officers being so young and they were pretty quick with the process. I took less than 5 to 10 minutes to finish the formalities and got my VOA stamped. I got picked up by the conference organizing committee team and were welcomed in another iconic hotel Jumeirah at Etihad Towers. That’s the  luxury hotel and I already felt like a royal in Abu Dhabi when I entered. We had such a smooth check in and got into the room. It was a beautiful room, with a huge bathroom, where there was a bathtub overlooking the glass windows with amazing beach and skyline view and I immediately had to share the photos to Sur and make him jealous for missing out such a wow experience. Then I wanted a coffee but the machine looked so sophisticated that I didn’t know how to operate it. This had a sealed coffee sachet and I did try one and I failed and by then I was missing my coffee quota for the day as well. After much hesitation I did take courage to ask the housekeeping staff for help, unfortunately she didn’t know either  as she was very new. I felt pretty embarrassed, thinking I was the only one who didn’t know how to operate this one. After my failure in getting my coffee, I had to take the mixed nuts from the mini bar and have to be content with that. Even though I didn’t enjoy those nuts but that kind of distracted me from the coffee craving. Being the luxury property, those nuts were too expensive, anyway that was not a surprise as I was expecting that. By the way, Later I learnt to operate this machine in Spain, which had a similar one and of course Sur was there to figure it out. I always felt handicapped without him during my travel. God I love him that he fits right into my incomplete puzzle. I always thank God for him every day.

Since I had a little time to catch up with my bestie, who was working in Abu Dhabi, I called him to come over to the hotel. He reached and we went to the Pool bar. It was fun catching up with him. We also enjoyed  the bar food and drinks. By evening, he had to leave as he had work next day and I went straight to the room and crashed for the night.

Day 2: After a great breakfast buffet spread, I headed for the conference which was at the same hotel. UAE surprised me and even the IBTM, about how they managed the entire pre and post conference in details. The first thing, that surprised me was the registration fee, which was the cheapest among all the international conference fees that I attended. Comparing to others, it was almost nil. Then our mandatory supplier’s meeting which is usually 30 meetings for 3 days, which is in between various talks, and used to be a little hectic. Here they had only half of the mandatory requirement and half part of it was discovery day to explore the city. So this conference was more relaxing, had lot of time to network, do a bit of sightseeing and time to enjoy the delicious spreads which was very encouraging. Hats off to the organizing committee of IBTM Arabia.

The First day, we just had only the meetings for the first half, along with it, had a destination presentation of Ras Al Khaimah which was very interesting as they had recently opened a longest zip liner in the world beating Puerto Rico. Immediately the next question to the Tourism team was can we get the tickets, since I only loved the zip liner out of all the adventure ones. But unfortunately it was completely booked for the next 3-6 months. So we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t experience the thrill of it. Then there was a royal buffet which got served in the Mezzoon Ballroom and after such a heavy and great lunch it was difficult to sit for few more meetings.

Then, it was a discovery day to visit Yas Marina circuit situated in Yas Island, enroute we enjoyed the nice drive with the panoramic view of Abu Dhabi. This is the venue for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and it is the second Formula one Track in the Middle East after Bahrain. We had a venue tour, where they had taken us to the race control room, the pit, the media center, VIP area, pit support garages and the Podium. For our live experience there were few drivers practising at that time as well. So we spent some time admiring them. Then we went to the podium, posed for few photos and felt like champions. I don’t think I would have visited this place if not for IBTM. Also we could partake in go karting, drag racing, pit stop challenge. I just admired everything as an audience and I was enjoying looking at others enjoying the moments.

Then we headed to Ferrari World Abu Dhabi, which is a mostly indoors amusement park on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It is the first Ferrari-branded theme park and has the record for the largest space frame structure ever built. Formula Rossa, the world’s fastest roller coaster, is also located here. Being VIPs there, we were offered one free ride of Formula Rossa, but I declined as I am not big fan of rides as I get headaches. Many of them were scolding me, that how did I refuse such a golden opportunity but I had to just smile and say Sorry. It has more than 10 rides and unfortunately I refused to get into any. I found few companions like me in the group who also didn’t do much rides, so joined with them, had some snacks, admired the souvenir shops and we left.

We were then dropped back to Yas Vicerory – Skylite for a welcome reception. After another royal experience we were dropped back to the hotel and I crashed for the night.

Day 3: After another great breakfast spread, headed to travel supplier’s meetings, amazing lunch and then meetings and then it was time for another discovery in the capital. We headed to Louvre Abu Dhabi. It is an art and civilization museum and located on the Saadiyat Island Cultural District. It is approximately 24,000 square metres in size, with 8,000 square metres of galleries, making it the largest art museum in the Arabian peninsula. After interesting experience at the museum, we headed to the Gala Evening, white themed party at Beach Rotana. It was in the open garden and it was quite an entertainment with music, food, networking and memorable experiences. Then we were dropped back to the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 4: After a great breakfast, meetings, lunch and back to meetings. After that we had a Sunset Farewell Cocktails by the Pool at the hotel. Had a great fun and then crashed for the night.

Day 5:  After breakfast, had to pack and check out. I waited for my friend who was working in Dubai to pick me up as he was kind enough to take me out for a sightseeing in Dubai. So I had to stay near Dubai. He had booked me in Crystal Plaza Hotel in Sharjah which would be convenient to go around for the next few days. We had an amazing drive from Abu Dhabi and then late evening headed to the hotel. It was a hotel mostly run by the Malayalis, so I felt I was in India rather than in UAE. When I checked the menu, you would be surprised what I found out, it was rice and Kerala Fish Curry and I felt at home immediately. I ordered the same thing every time I ordered the room service during my stay. Another surprise was I just had a 500 ml drinking water bottle in the room and everything else was over charged and I was like, that wouldn’t be enough for me. So I had to ask them if there was any shop close by since I needed more water, the hotel staffs were helpful in guiding me a grocery shop close by, owned by another Indian who spoke Hindi. I immediately went and got a 5 litre can. That saved my stay for the next few days and I knew where to get it if I was short of water. The grocery owner was very sweet and helpful and after a quick chat, I headed back to the room with much relief. Ordered my usual staple order through room service, enjoyed the Kerala homely meal and crashed for the night.

Day 6: I had a lovely Kerala breakfast and as I was waiting for my friend to pick me up to start my sightseeing. Then I heard a knock and he was at my door. I got panicked and I am like, who allowed you to come to the room. He laughed and asked me to just relax. Since he wanted to have a tea before we head out, I ordered the same. After few minutes, we got our tea and as we were trying to finish and leave the room, we heard there was another knock. It was a housekeeping staff, checking on us. Since he saw us standing and found us walking near the door, he left without saying. So my worst fear came true. So I told my friend, I don’t want any trouble in the country, so next day I told him to stay down when he comes to pick me up and promised him to get his tea and the smoke outside the hotel. He did laugh but understood me after seeing how uncomfortable I was after the knock on my door.

After that weird experience, we headed for a sightseeing to Ras Al Khaimah. He asked me, why Sur didn’t accompany me, I was narrating him all the reasons that Sur had told me along with the news that we read. He just laughed and he said Dubai is a city with lot of expats, yes, there are local laws which needs to be respected, otherwise he agreed that there is no issue and it’s a good place. I also clarified with him on the news that we read about, first being lady found pregnant without marriage, he did say, it might be true as it’s against the law. 2nd news about a the couple having caught in sex, he said he was not sure, as he read a different news where, they arrested that couple because they were found to be carrying drugs. So the news that we hear mostly, are completely not true.

I was waiting to inform Sur about the same in the evening when I trouble him for the daily late-night call, as I was missing him. First you cannot use WhatsApp since there is restrictions in UAE for that, so we had to make the international calls, even that roaming didn’t have a good network. So Sur had to call the hotel room landline. It was very frustrating with calls getting disconnected time to time, and finally Sur surrendered saying, next time he is accompanying me as that was easier than making these phone calls every day which was more frustrating. Not allowing WhatsApp calls was a let-down in UAE.

It was a long drive to Ras al Khaimah. It was a dry place but was a hilly terrain and was a beautiful drive so we just enjoyed the drive, that also took us to the residential area as well and it was very different from the high rise buildings in Dubai. We went around, the zipline which is called Jebel Jais Flight which allows thrill-seekers to soar from the country’s largest mountain peak for nearly three minutes, suspended while gliding through rocky terrain. Measuring 1.76 miles long, this zipline stretches longer than 28 football fields, and crushes the former record holder in Puerto Rico by almost 2,000 feet. We were just enjoying the view of the people going in the zipline, it looked scary though. Then we found a shop near the parking and we found a tea shop, the owner was from Pakistan. He guessed we were from India, we got the tea, started chatting with him for some time and then left from there after such a hearty conversation. At the end of the day people are good, no matter which country they are from. I wished we had better relations with Pakistan provided they didn’t support the people who intend to harm the country and people. I heard the country is so beautiful but losing out on all the tourism and revenue for the country because of evil activities by few, affecting majority of the innocent people and am sure the innocent and good hearted people of Pakistan, might also be wishing the same for their country. My prayers for the country, that they work on improving relationship with India by eradicating the evil people/group, who destroy the peace of the country and the innocent people. Then we headed back to Dubai and I had to visit my friend’s family and kids. Spent some time with them, then I got dropped back to the hotel, had my homely food at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 7: After the breakfast, I headed down to the lobby waiting for my friend. Had his usual tea and then we headed for a sightseeing in Dubai. We went to the Dubai Mall, went around looking at various high end shops. It also has Aquarium & Underwater Zoo in the mall itself, so as you walk through the mall, you can see the sharks through the glass and it was amazing. So we didn’t go inside and then headed to the food court for lunch. The food options were great and one of my best dessert that I tasted here was Kunafa at my friend’s insistence. Kanafeh (Kunafa) is a traditional Middle Eastern dessert made with shredded filo pastry, or alternatively fine semolina dough, soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, and typically layered with cheese, or with other ingredients such as clotted cream or nuts, depending on the region. He said I should try that. I still salivate at the thought of it even today and I haven’t found yet here in Bangalore. Even though once for a dinner at Hyatt, MG Road, Bangalore, there was kunafah, am sorry it was nowhere close to that. I am still waiting if I can get the same here in Bangalore. I haven’t succeeded yet. Once I did try to ask my friends to get it when they visited Dubai, unfortunately they got something else. I wanna go to Dubai, at least to taste that Kunafa again. After such an unforgettable dessert experience, we drove again. We passed through Burj Al Khalifa, Dubai Frame etc.  Since we were short of time, we didn’t get down to go into those places. My friend being a perfect guide was pointing me every iconic buildings in the city and explaining about it as he drove me along.

Then we headed to the souk, for perfumes as he was raving about the oil-based perfume. He insisted I should visit them. So we headed off to the souk. Here they have the oil-based perfumes of David Off and many other known perfumes. The advantage with the oil based was, it stays longer in your body against the water based ones, which is usually we get to buy in the perfume stores. Once you select the perfumes that you want to pick up, they have 15 to 30 ml small bottles where they pour and give you. I could just stay there forever, inhaling those amazing scents. That is the only thing I was ok to shop, since I just love those amazing scents. So we picked up quite a lot of bottles with different brands and then headed to find a t-shirt for Sur. We picked up more perfumes from another shop and then headed back. There were gold, dry fruits, nuts and many beautiful things. Then we headed to a famous dry fruits store, picked up some dates, dry fruits and fruit candies. If you love shopping, this is the perfect place.

I also heard that you need to be careful here. There are people inviting you on the street to buy their stuffs and they take you to a shady place/hidden place, in that case please don’t go as it might be fake products. However, if you are going directly to an open shop, then you are good to go. I was reminded of Sex and the city 2 and the tips when they travelled to Abu Dhabi. Do respect the local customs in terms of dressing, that would always make your stay pleasant. But you have nothing to worry about safety as hardly anyone dares to do any crimes as the laws are pretty stringent.

After such an amazing experience, I had a quick dinner at the hotel and crashed for the night.

Day 8: Had another Indian breakfast and then packed my luggage and was time to head out to the airport. My friend already had instructed me that there was a pickup point in Dubai for Etihad Airlines, so I needn’t go all the way to Abu Dhabi. So hotel had helped me with a cab, reached the airport lounge in Dubai and checked in there itself. It was such a smooth experience and then I was waiting for the bus. Then we boarded the bus, reached the airport and bid adieu to UAE. The warm hospitality of Etihad Airlines, came to an end as I landed in Bangalore. My appreciation and love to the airlines.

So my fearful UAE trip came to an end, but I came with an enriching experience and lots of respect for the country. Yes, you need to respect the local culture, there is no two way about it. But they have the best legal system, because no one messes with it, since they know they can’t escape from the law. The stringent law keeps the country clean, crime rates low and everyone does their job ethically and at their best. I just wish, we have the same legal system to ensure the guilty is punished and doesn’t go scot free just because they are from a powerful/influential family and also the judicial process is faster and not goes on and on and on and never ending……..

UAE, am coming again with Sur, so that I can explore more, this time he is not scared because we are married now. I can still make fun of him on this………Let’s defeat this Covid soon, so that we can travel again and in the meantime start appreciating the little things in life, be thankful to all the best friends who shaped your life  and be grateful for all the opportunities that we are blessed with every day….Until then Stay Safe…..

October 3, 2020

Passport – Things to keep in mind for International travel

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 7:56 pm

About Passport:

It is a travel document, usually issued by a country’s government to its citizens, that certifies the identity and nationality of its holder primarily for the purpose of international travel. In India passport is usually issued for 10 years for Adults and 5 years for minors.

Validity Requirement:

When you apply for the short visit visas to the consulate, ideally it has to be valid for at least 6 months from the return travel date to ensure you have a smooth travel to the destination country. Some countries might ask for 6 months validity from the travel start date or even for a year. Do check the passport validity requirements before you apply for visas and then before you travel.

It’s not just the validity period, it also has to be the number of empty pages available in the passport. Ideally for short visit visas, it has to have at least 2-4 pages being completely empty sans even the immigration stamps. For work permits, some countries require 4-8 pages being empty. Some of the countries like UK, might require having minimum of 2 pages (front and back of the single paper to be empty) due to the security codes present on the visa vignette, otherwise they cannot stamp the visas). Ideally ensure at least 2-3 papers of the passport to be empty on both sides of the respective papers.

In terms of work permit applications, countries like US/Europe, it can be valid from few months to 1 year. For these countries, visa is not issued as per passport validity and they go ahead and issue the maximum period of the work permit from 1 year/4 years/10 years. Only requirement for them is passport has to be valid until the complete process is done. When the passport expires before the visa validity, you can apply for a new passport. When you travel all that you need is to ensure, you carry both old and new passports since the work permit/visas are in the old passport.

For countries like Europe/few Asian countries, there is post landing formalities for work permit as the residence/work permit gets stamped only after landing in the destination country. In this case passport cannot expire until the post landing formalities are done. If it expires before landing, then you might have to reapply for the passport and have to reapply for the work permit with the new passport, which again adds unnecessary cost to the corporate/individual.

For countries like Malaysia, the passport has to be valid for full 2 years in order to get the maximum period to be issued, as the work permits (EP) are issued for a maximum of for 2 years. If you don’t have the 2 years validity, then your work permit gets issued only until the passport validity date, which means, you have to reapply for the work permit, once your new passport comes through which would add additional cost for you.

For countries like Singapore, the visa has to be transferred to the new passport, if the old passport expires and your visa is still valid. This also adds additional cost to you, as Singapore doesn’t accept travelling with the visa in the expired passport, even if you carry the new passport along with it.

Physical Condition:

Passport cannot be physically damaged while applying for visa application specially while travelling.

Ensure the passport is kept safe, so that physically it’s not damaged.

The paper from the passport cannot be torn no matter what.

You/your kids cannot scribble on the passports.

Ensure, if the lamination from bio or address page is coming off, ensure to get a new passport.

If there is any accidental physical damage to the passport, better get a new passport and travel or else you might get into problems at the destination country

It’ s also important that you ensure, the passport is not damaged while travelling, then there is a possibility of you getting stuck at the destination, until your new passport comes through.

It’s better to apply passport in your home country which might be easier than applying at the destination.

Happy Travelling…and Stay Safe…..

September 25, 2020

Vietnam – The Hidden Treasure

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 10:07 am

Vietnam was a surprise, as I never thought I would be visiting Vietnam so early, as I hardly hear about this country. When ATF hosted the conference in Vietnam, I thought why not? So once I got accepted, I asked Sur to join me as well, so that we could do a bit of sightseeing before the conference starts.

Visa:

Vietnam tourist visa is pretty simple, you have to apply for e-visa through the portal wherein you would be issued 30 days single entry visa. Do refer the below link for the details.

https://evisa.xuatnhapcanh.gov.vn/trang-chu-ttdt

About Vietnam:

Vietnam is a Southeast Asian country known for its beaches, rivers, Buddhist pagodas and bustling cities. Hanoi, the capital, pays homage to the nation’s iconic Communist-era leader, Ho Chi Minh, via a huge marble mausoleum. The credit goes to him mostly for making the Vietnam that is today. My respect and love for their leader.

Travel Itinerary:

Day 1: We had boarded the Singapore Airlines late night; this was part of my wish list to fly with this Airlines and was glad it came true and I enjoyed their hospitality.

Day 2: We landed in Singapore in the morning and were in transit for few hours. Sur and myself explored the airport and went to Sun flower Garden and then Orchid Garden. It was beautiful and the airport is well maintained as well. No wonder this is the best airport in the world.

Then went for a quick bite in one of the food courts, it had lot of options and were great. Then we boarded the flight to Hanoi.

We landed in Hanoi in the afternoon and had to go to Ha Long Bay where my conference was held.  We booked a taxi and it was almost 3-4 hours of drive. The driver stopped midway for a small break for some snacks and we reached the Ha Long Plaza late evening. We decided to stay in the same hotel even for preconference days as the location was more convenient. We had a shock when we had to pay to the driver, as he was charging in millions and then we realized the Vietnamese dong value is much much lower and the payments are in lakhs. Even the currency notes were all in lakhs and we realized minimum currency values were in Thousands. First time in Vietnam, we felt we were crorepatis, because we just needed 32,000 INR to have 1 crore of Vietnamese Dong. Do remember to ignore the last 3 zeroes because of the lower value of the currency. Don’t worry about burning the wallet as well. You will feel like a millionaire or may be a billionaire as well.

For budget travellers in India, you should travel to Vietnam.

Finally after the currency fiasco, we checked into Ha Long Plaza. We rested a while and booked for a massage in the same hotel. That was disappointing, it was not as we expected and was nothing encouraging.

Then we walked around the hotel, we found a travel agency board in a grocery shop next to the hotel, so we enquired and booked for the next 3 days for a sightseeing tour. They were insisting for cash payment.

Thankfully Citi ATM was close by, but withdrawing almost a crore of Vietnamese dong for the 3 day trip was exhausting. Then we headed a little further, found a good restaurant, had our dinner and then returned and crashed for the night.

Day 3: The best thing that I started enjoying during breakfast was the Noodle soup and it was the best soup that I ever had. The extra meat balls, chicken pieces and other non veg item that gets added later in the soup is an acquired taste as it has a very strong flavour. After tasting few times, even I preferred without that. The soup anyway had a chicken broth by default and most of the sauces also were non-veg, which enhanced the flavour, so we didn’t miss out any. I heard from the guide later there is no veg broth made in Vietnam. It’s by default made with meat only. The soup was my favourite so I ended up having for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never got tired of it. We also enjoyed other local delicacies from the breakfast buffet, even they had a Chinese pork dish which was a stable menu for the breakfast, which was similar to the one I had tasted in Beijing.

After a hearty breakfast, we were picked up by the guide to go for the one day Ha Long Bay cruise. We were dropped in the Marine Plaza and we had to walk from there to go to the local boat. The plaza itself is a big shopping place where you can purchase lot of things like exotic dry meats like Scorpion etc, local handicrafts and lot of other items. Since we had to rush, we thought we will check out the plaza later in the evening when we return and headed to our Ha Bing Cruise boat.

We had lot of fresh cut fruits on sale in the boat and beverages. The boat ride was awesome. We could go on the deck on the top of the boat which had a seating arrangement as well and could enjoy the cold breeze as we went in the month of January. If you are travelling at this time, do carry warm clothes. On the way to islands, we were shown multiple rock formation in the shape of 2 cocks fighting and elephant. Sitting in a boat in an open sky, watching the rock formations in different shapes is breath taking. The first pit stop was to Sung Sot (Surprise) cave which has lime stone formation across 10,000 sq feet and its spectacular and it’s a place for photography lovers. Be prepared to climb lots of stairs, but its worth it. You will also find very few local handicrafts being sold as well. Please do not miss out this place.

After a tiring climb to the cave, when we returned to the boat, we were treated for a sumptuous local lunch. The food was served on the table, so the vegetarians had to sit in a separate table to make it easier to keep the veg food together, so Sur has to sit separately and I was left with another large family whose language I didn’t understand and I sat alone with them. The food was kept in each table and we had to serve from there. It was a little awkward for me to ask to pass onto things, because, sometimes by the time I asked to pass on the dishes, those were almost empty and I was too hesitant to ask them to refill.  It was a very awkward situation sitting alone. I also noticed that the elders in the group were very sensitive and they were trying to pass me the dishes before the younger ones finish the plate of food so that I don’t miss out, they kind of realized later.  It was a lesson for me to learn from those elders about being sensitive and inclusive which I didn’t find it with the youngsters of the group. After such an awkward experience, all that I wanted was to leave the table, so I just had a quick lunch and then joined back to Sur. However, the lunch was delicious, they had served noodle soup (it’s a staple food everywhere), fish, meat and fresh vegetables.

After a hearty lunch we headed to the Pearl Museum. Here you can see the pearl cultivation and the entire process of harvesting the pearl. It was a different experience against actual pearling in the sea which I have heard of which is very difficult. This is less tedious way of getting the pearl and also they cultivate as per the desired requirement which is a very good business. There is also a shop to buy the exotic pearls, but I felt it was overpriced.

Then we headed to TiTop Island. Here you have a great view point for which you have to climb quite a lot of stairs and then once you are done, you can come back and enjoy the beach. It was crowded but was good. We spent more time to chill here as this was the last stop before we head back. We enjoyed the local tender coconuts and fresh fruits. The fresh fruits in Vietnam are more tempting than any other food, as they look very colorful, fresh and huge. So we had finished the quota of having fresh fruits in our diet. Then we headed back to the boat, enjoyed the nice boat ride back. I did doze off and by the time we woke up, we reached the port.

We did a little shopping for the local handicrafts in the Marine Plaza and headed back to the hotel. We had our dinner, Sur for a change tried the pizza at the hotel and he couldn’t eat that. The base was so thick, had 4 slices of tomatoes on the top with some cheese slices. That was a disaster. I had to tell Sur to stick with his omelette as he didn’t have much options as he was a vegetarian. I am glad he could eat eggs, that saved him in Vietnam. We then called it a day and crashed for the night.

Day 4: We had our quick breakfast and headed to the capital Hanoi. We reached this time within an hour or two as I understand there was a shortcut which has a toll, which reduces almost 50% of the time taken from Hanoi to Ha Long Bay but has expensive toll charges. Many of the cab drivers, do not take this route as they don’t want to pay this extra toll charges, which is way too expensive for the locals. We asked the guide to take us to the short route as we agreed to pay him the extra toll charges.

Finally we were in Hanoi, we were glad we had a guide with us who knew Vietnamese. Here people hardly spoke English but the youngsters did speak but we found very few in the shop, am sure they were at college.  The people were good, its just that since we didn’t know the local language, most of the communication was done through the guide. My guide had studied in Hanoi, so he was taking us through his memory lane.

We started with a temple visit to Hoen Kiem Lake, here you cannot go to the temple which was in the middle of the lake, but can be viewed from far. After a prayer for the people of Vietnam, we headed to the old quarters. This is the happening place similar to chickpet in Bangalore. You can get almost everything and including wholesale. First I tasted the egg coffee (normal coffee with egg broth), which was recommended by the guide and was good and then walked around the streets. We did a bit of shopping as I heard, most of the high end products are manufactured here and prices are low compared to India.

They had good jackets in Vietnam and Sur was insisting me to buy one, so we went to the shop and asked the girls. They started laughing, saying they don’t have clothes for my size. First time I felt in Vietnam I was obese. This is according to Vietnamese standards as the girls are petite. We laughed and then guide insisted that we try more shops, saying ee might be lucky to get one or two. Then we found a wholesale store, where we did the final try and for our luck, they had 2 jackets. The girl spoke English and she said that’s all they have and it’s very difficult to find my size in Vietnam. Then we  shopped for jeans in the same store as they had good collection. The girls at the shop were extremely friendly and they were happily helping Sur to shop his jeans and he got quite a few as the quality was superb and it came 1/3rd of the price of Levi’s that we would have spent. If you are a jeans lover, this is the country to shop for men. Indian Ladies, sorry, unless you are extremely slim, then you might. I wouldn’t mind going again just to buy jeans for Sur. They are really good and on that excuse, we can also explore more of Vietnam, as I realized we didn’t explore much as we came for a very short period.

The guide recommended a place for lunch, it was a very small local shop which had just 4-5 benches and tables for lunch. Even though Sur doesn’t like soups, (he is scared of hot beverages as he is afraid to get his tongue burnt) we didn’t have much option as there was only soup available. So Sur decided to have a soup, then guide guide informed me that the broth is actually a chicken broth, so I had to cancel the order for Sur and then informed the guide to get just the noodles as he is a vegetarian. They were very kind and customized the noodle just for him, with their own sauces. The noodle served to Sur was the best. Even though my soup was equally good, his noodles scored an extra brownie point for their love and warm hospitality.

After thanking them for accommodating our request we headed to Temple of Literature. This site is the national symbol of Vietnamese education. The temple has, records of Vietnamese scholars, and statues of turtles which are said to bring students good luck in their exams. So every student is asked to visit this place especially before their exams to bring good marks.

Then we headed to Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, which houses the embalmed body of Vietnam’s greatest political leader, Hồ Chí Minh. We were not allowed to go inside, we strolled around the building, it has a huge open area.

Then we headed to Hoa Lo Prison Relic. This prison was used by the French colonists in French Indochina for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.  This is the saddest, most gruesome treatment to Vietnamese people and they are not happy to show this to the visitors. My guide stayed away and we just went silently, said a prayer for the people of Vietnam and stepped out and started back to Ha long Bay.

Day 4: After our breakfast, we headed to visit temples close to ha long area. We rode to Cai Bau Pagoda, which is situated on the mountains overlooking Bai Tu Long Bay. This is also known as Truc Lam Giac Tam Monastery and it has the stunning landscapes and maintained well. My favourite was the bonsai plants all around. They looked spectacular and if you are into photography this is the must place. This took almost half the day and the drive was amazing as we drove though the local villages, fields etc. We had our lunch on the way and then headed to Quang Ninh Exhibition of Planning and Expo Centre to collect my entry passes for the conference next day. We came to the hotel and then after some time walked around opposite to the hotel, which was overlooking the waterbody. We found another good restaurant at a walkable distance, had our dinner and crashed for the night.

Day 5-7: Next 3 days was busy with conference and meeting travel suppliers. FLC luxury resort hosted the dinner and that hotel had the best of hospitality. The opening and closing ceremonies were awesome and spoke volumes of the local culture and enjoyed their warm hospitality. I also enjoyed the frog meat. I was surprised, it was served in a five star hotel restaurant for a dinner buffet and was great. The conference ended with memorable experiences and was in awe knowing the local culture, traditions and people more. As I was busy with conference, Sur enjoyed the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza.

Day 8: We had to check out early as we have to reach Hanoi to catch our flights, so had to bid adieu to Ha long Bay after enjoying the hospitality of Ha Long Plaza. Reached Hanoi after a long drive and then boarded the Singapore Airlines for Hanoi. Had a few hours of transit in Singapore. Sur bought his speakers and then it was time to board our flight to Bangalore.

Vietnam surprised me and I think it was my ignorance that I didn’t read about the country, so I didn’t know much about them. I wished we had spent more time as there was lot to explore and am looking forward to visit again. The people are so warm and simple. I just loved enjoying their warm hospitality. My love to Vietnam and their people.

See you Soon, until then Stay Safe, we will defeat this Covid Soon.

September 17, 2020

Singapore, The Best Country in South East Asia

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 7:10 am

When you think of Singapore, the only expression comes to my mind is WoW. The country is an inspiration to other developing countries in South East Asia. Its growth from the bottom to the top is phenomenal and holding on to the top position for being the best country in South East Asia in terms of social, economic and financial is a credit to it’s Govt and their people. Their hard work, discipline and excellence keeps them at the top position.

They have the best airport in the world and their national airlines is one of the best in the world as well. Their achievements and accolades speak volumes of the country’s commitment to strive for the best. Another interesting thing is to note is that they are also one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Singapore is Par Excellence in every way and my prayers and wishes to the people of Singapore to continue to grow and be the best in everything. Let them be an inspiration to other countries to grow and become like them. My respect and love to the country and it’s people.

When ITB Asia was hosting a conference and I got accepted to attend, I was over the moon.  So I asked Sur to join me for the trip, unfortunately he was short of leaves from his work so he could stay only for the part of the trip leading up to the conference.

Visa: The visa process is pretty simple; all you need is to apply for a tourist visa and you will be issued with an E-visa.

If you are in India, you can apply from any of the three consulates, do refer the below details for the jurisdiction. Do go through the link, check for visa information for visa application details. The application has to be submitted to the authorized agents as per the list provided in the consular websites. It gets updated time to time, so ensure to check before filing.

New Delhi – North & East Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/New-Delhi
Mumbai – West Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/mumbai
Chennai – South Region – https://www.mfa.gov.sg/chennai

About Singapore: Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia.

Day 1:

We had booked the Tiger Airways, and that was the worst decision I have ever made. I now know that LCC’s (low cost carrier) are not the right one for international trips. I didn’t have any issues with the airline as there was no service during the flight being a LCC. I wished that I booked another airline which was non LCC. The flight was non-eventful and we landed in Singapore in the morning, booked a cab to the hotel and reached Holiday Inn Express @ Clarke Quay. This is a budget hotel and was decent for its price. The hotel didn’t have much options for food, so we had to step put to get lunch.

We found a F.R.I.E.N.D.S themed coffee shop named Central Perk near the hotel. Even though both of us are not a fans of the series, the shop looked interesting so we stepped in and were welcomed with a pretty lady waitress and they were extremely hospitable and friendly. We asked her for some recommendations for food and drink and we ordered the same. The food was really good, but the quantity was huge. So be sure to order less so that you don’t waste the food. The waiter also invited us to visit the café in the evening for drinks. We smiled and said we would join if we were close by and thanked her for such a warm hospitality, before stepping out.


Central Perk
Post lunch we walked over to the China Town, where I got a Chinese dress which looked really nice. We also found a travel agents and bought sightseeing passes for the next 3 days.

After which we walked back to the hotel and dozed off since it had been a long day. By the time we woke up it was late night, and all the shops around us were closed by then. Since we didn’t have any other option, we had to come back to the hotel bar to get some snacks. Keeping in mind that this was a budget hotel which meant that they had really limited options for food available. Since I don’t have food restrictions, I had options like burger etc and Sur being a pure vegetarian left with only one option in the menu which was a spaghetti. So we ordered that and I don’t think we have ever eaten a worst spaghetti. It was just plain spaghetti dunked in Olive oil, Yes dunked in Olive oil and one big clove of garlic which had been boiled till it was tasteless was kept in the middle. He just couldn’t eat the dish even though he tried forcing himself and I also tried to help because I didn’t want to waste the food. But it was one of the worst food experience we had in the Singapore.

Day 2: After a wonderful breakfast at the hotel, we took a metro and then a cable car to Sentosa Islands. Sentosa is a sunny island in Singapore, home to exciting events, themed attractions, award-winning spas, lush rainforests, golden sandy beaches and resort-style hotels. This has lot of attractions and we started with Butterfly Park with lots and lots of trees, flowers and exotic birds. There was also a Fossil museum which was great. We also saw Merlion (lion’s head and a fish’s body) which is the tallest merlion in Singapore. We headed for the Mega zipline and jump, me being not the adventure type, I was a bit sceptical. Sur insisted that I do it and am glad that I agreed to do it. It was my most memorable experience. The zip line went from a mini forest to the road and then landed in the beach. That was one awesome ride. Then we went to one of the beach restaurants, had a delicious food and drink. We headed back to Sentosa Park, it had lot of great decorations and interesting statues. We waited then for Laser light show at Wings of Time, which is in the evening. The show was spectacular and then headed to meet Sur’s friends for dinner. we returned to the hotel and called it a day.


Butterfly Park
Day 3: After the breakfast at the hotel, we took a metro and then a cable car to Sentosa Islands back as we were going for Universal Studios. I get headache for such roller coaster rides and I was as usual reluctant. Sur gave me a motion sickness tablet and told me to accompany him as he didn’t want to go alone. So the first ride which was the famous rides Human Vs Cylon, we took Human, it’s the tallest duelling roller coaster. As usual I just closed my eyes and finished the ride. The other Cylon is also similar to Human and since we had more rides to go, we went to others. We took few more rides like revenge of the mummy, treasure hunters (realized later its more for kids, as it was a very slow ride which would be boring for adults), Canopy Flyer and Puss in Boots’ giant journey. We wanted to do more rides but being a weekend and lot of crowd, we couldn’t do much.


Universal Studios
There were quite a lot of restaurants for lunch in the park and we grabbed a quick bite in one of them. We had to do a force stop as the studio was closing it for the day and then headed to the Night Safari after a little break at the hotel. This is in a little outskirt of the city, after a long ride we reached to the park, it’s a open air zoo and was an amazing experience. Watching the animals at night is a completely different experience. After the tour we had our dinner and headed back to the hotel and crashed for the night.


Marina Bay Sands
Day 4: After breakfast we had to check out from Holiday Inn Express which was a good experience overall, as I had to check in at Marina Bay Sands where we were hosted for the ITB Asia conference. Once my check-in formalities were done we went around Marina bay Sands to have a quick look as Sur was leaving the same evening. We had our lunch at Marina Bay Sands and headed to Gardens by the Bay which was at a walkable distance from Marina Bay Sands. This was heaven for me as I love flowers. We enjoyed the flower dome and cloud forest. This was the best experience and it has thousands of trees, plants and flowers from across the globe. It is a paradise for photography and nature lovers. Then we had to head back to the hotel for Sur to bid adieu as he had to catch his flight late in the evening. He complained that he missed out staying in Marina Bay Sands due to his unavailability of leave, I agree with him it was sheer bad luck. Since I cannot explore alone anywhere, ordered the room service for dinner and crashed for the night.


Gardens by the Bay
Day 5: We were served our breakfast at the Sands Expo Convention centre and then headed to back to back meetings with travel suppliers and various talks. Evening we were invited for the Opening Night Function in Marina Bay Sands and after a great evening, we crashed for the night.

Day 6: After breakfast at the Convention centre, back again for the same meetings and talk. Singapore Tourism Board hosted the dinner that day and after another memorable evening, crashed for the night.

Day 7: After such a lovely stay in Marina Bay Sands, I had to check out in the morning since we couldn’t leave the conference midway to come in the afternoon for check out, gave the luggage to the bell boys and headed to the convention centre. After a great breakfast, we were back again to the supplier meetings and talk. Then I had to rush in the evening for the flight to catch which was a late night. The airport was beautiful and I couldn’t explore much as I needed company. So I read a book, waited for the flight to start boarding. Boarded the Tiger airways for return to India and reached bangalore the next day early morning with a WOW experience of Singapore.

Singapore remains an inspiration to all other developing countries across the globe. My respect, love and Kudos to the Singapore Govt and it’s people.

Stay Safe.

September 15, 2020

Thailand, Does it need an Introduction?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 8:24 am

About Thailand:

Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand and formerly known as Siam, is a country in Southeast Asia. It’s known for Tropical beaches, Royal palaces, Ancient ruins and Buddha temples.

Visa:

Indian passport holders who are visiting Thailand for Tourism and plan to stay no more than 15 days in the country can avail the Visa on Arrival service from the 32 designated channels of Immigration checkpoints including Phuket International Airport.

Tourist visa can also be applied through the consulates in India (New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai & Kolkata). My personal recommendation is to always apply for the visa before travel and it saves the waiting time at the immigration in Thailand and it’s more hassle free and convenient. Do refer the below link for more details.

https://www.vfs-thailand.co.in/

Travel Itinerary:

Thailand is the go to country for most Indian men, the moment you say Thailand, people only think of sex tourism and when you decide to go, the first question is why are YOU going to Thailand? and they expect only men to travel there. My partner was questioned about this as well when we told that he was accompanying me to Thailand, with folks saying, why are you carrying a home cooked food, when you are going out to eat.

Since I had an opportunity to attend the CTW conference as a Speaker, I had asked Sur to join me so that we can explore Thailand post conference. We were also invited for a Pre-CTW Asia Pacific Luxury Experience for the Speakers along with Partners and were hosted by Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park for 3 days. So we were looking forward to enjoy the Marriott hospitality.

Day 1:

We were booked in Thai Airways and it was my first experience with the airlines and it didn’t disappoint. We had a relaxing flight and landed in Bangkok. We had the VIP experience from the moment we landed. There was a conference representative who came to receive us at the airport and she picked us right inside the airport as we stepped out of the plane. She guided us through the immigration and escorted us to the car that took us to the Marriott where we were getting hosted pre conference.

We were welcomed in the hotel, had a smooth check-in and were allocated the best of rooms. We were a group of 10+ people who were hosted by Marriott. Marriott ensured we had the best experience throughout the stay. The same evening had an introductory cocktail party and got introduced to all the speakers and their partners who had come from across the globe. In the evening, as we were served the cocktail snacks, I informed the F&B team that Sur was a vegetarian and they immediately ensured they prepared something for him as there was hardly anything for a pure vegetarian and he was the only one vegetarian in the entire group.

Day 2: After the awesome breakfast at Goji kitchen + Bar in Marriott, I had few sessions to attend with the CTW organizing committee while Sur was chilling out in the room. Then we along with our partners had a cooking session with one of the local chefs who specializes in Som Tum (spicy green papaya salad with dry shrimp and peanuts) and it was so delicious and fresh. We were asked to prepare a salad by ourselves along with the chef’s guidance and we had made the vegetarian version for Sur without adding the shrimp. If you are in Thailand, ensure not to miss on this one.

Then we were taken for an amazing lunch and I had a laugh at the table as staff had kept a whole fried fish on the table and it’s mouth was open and it was looking at Sur. He was scared to look at it while eating and he whispered to me to move the plate towards me so that fish doesn’t look at him. I had to control myself from laughing out loud, until I reached the room. The lunch spread was delicious and after having a great lunch we headed out for a massage in Quan Spa in Marriott itself, since we both love massages. In the evening we also walked around the hotel, in a public park close by. It literally felt like an open gym where everyone was seriously working out and it was nice to see that people were conscious of their health.


Whole fried fish
I have also heard of Thailand Red bull, which is much better compared to the normal red bull that we get in India and it makes you very hyper. So Sur wanted to try that since he is a red bull fan and we picked up Theoplex-I (Thai Red bull) close to the park and he enjoyed it. We also explored Sukhumvit Street Market which was recommended by friends. If you love budget shopping, then this is a good place to go. Since we are not much into shopping, just spent a little time around and returned.


Thai Red Bull
Then Sur said he wanted to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle which got released recently, so we thought why not watch it in Thailand as he was saying, by the time we reach India, probably it might be out of the theatre and he didn’t want to miss out. So we headed to Terminal 21, one of the largest shopping malls in Sukhumvit, Bangkok. This mall has almost 600 shops and it has 5 floors, which includes most of the brands, food court and cineplex. We had our dinner at the food court itself and went to the watch the movie and enjoyed the Gold class experience. It got over late night and since the hotel was close by, we just walked back and rested for the night.

Day 3: After another sumptuous breakfast, productive sessions with the organizing committee, we had a seven course lunch arranged in Pagoda Chinese Restaurant and I was amazed that Sur had a separate menu card printed and his veg options were served exclusively to him, they only knew a night before about his food preference. I don’t think I needed another proof to show how the staffs at Marriott ensured that everyone had the best of experience. Hats off to the team of Marriott, Bangkok and I don’t think I have enough words to thank them for going extra mile to ensure everyone was treated with the best of hospitality, specially taking care of Sur.

Then we had to check out from Marriott to go to Centara Grand where the conference was happening. Since we didn’t have much activity planned we checked in, got a room which had an amazing skyline view from the window and that was Sur’s working space for the next 3 days since I was busy with the conference for those days.


Sur’s Office in Thailand
Day 4: After another delicious breakfast I headed for the conference. We also had pre show tour to Sampran Riverside at Nakorn Patham for a local Thai experience. Here we got to interact with locals to know about their organic farming, tried local Thai teas like butterfly blue pea flower and other herbal teas which I heard is super good for health. Tasted local tender coconut, it’s very different from Indian coconuts as it taste like toddy and its an acquired taste. We also got to see the local Thai art and crafts like bamboo dancing, garland making and fruit and vegetable carving. Then we had an amazing local Thai lunch. After a great experience we returned to the hotel.

Once we both finished our official work, we decided to go to Uno Mas, which is a unique Rooftop Restaurant in Centara Grand which serves the finest Spanish & Mediterranean cuisine in the most spectacular Al fresco panoramic city view. Spent a little time, enjoyed their food and then called for the night.

Day 5: Next day after a quick breakfast headed for the full day conference and after a hectic  back to back meetings with the travel suppliers and then came back to the room. Sur and myself went to the Red Sky bar which was on the 27th floor of the Centara Grand hotel. Since we both were cheese lovers we had a cheese platter and cocktails. The presentation was noteworthy as it was very creative. Every drink was presented in a  different way. One cocktail was kept it in a cage and another was served a in wooden art container so we kept ordering different cocktails and, along with it we had an amazing skyline view. It would burn a hole in the wallet but if you can, don’t miss out such unique experiences. I also had a first experience of the blue cheese which was the favourite of Sur and my expression said everything to Sur as I found that it was an acquired taste as well.


Drinks at Red Sky
Day 6: It was a little hectic day as I had breakfast with my team of panelists so that we could discuss and be prepared before we go on stage and then headed to conference. The conference went very well. Being first time on a panel stage gave me confidence and I was glad that it went well. Then as I was meeting the suppliers, I was referred by a relative to Mr. Sunny for organizing some sightseeing which we wanted to do it post conference. Mr. Sunny (+66 817826131) owns Sunny Online Travel and we booked for the sightseeing tours for the next four days.


Panel Discussion
Day 7: Mr. Sunny had sent someone to pick us from the hotel and he took us around in Bangkok in the morning and went to flower market. Which was pretty much empty as Bangkok mostly sleeps during the day so we didn’t stop anywhere and went to the Golden Buddha Temple, it’s officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwanna Patimakon, commonly known in Thai as Phra Sukhothai Traimit, is a gold Maravijaya Attitude seated Buddharupa statue, with a weight of 5.5 tonnes. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. The temple is so beautiful and also there are certain dos and dont’s in terms of not having any buddha tattoos on your body and not going there with short dresses. Do read the local guidelines before you visit. This is a place of worship and it needs to be respected. We said a prayer and started our journey to Pattaya. Once we reached Pattya, we met Sunny and he had given us the itinerary for the next few days and we were dropped at the hotel. We checked in and chilled at the hotel for some time before we began our sightseeing in the evening.

Mr. Sunny came to pick us up in the evening and took us to the streets to show where we can hang around before he dropped us for Alcazar Show which is done by the lady boys. It was so graceful and amazing. Kudos to the lady boys, we had a blast. This is a must visit and my thanks and respect for the ladyboys who put us the spectacular show.

Sur really liked one particular lady boy who was so beautiful, even I agreed with him on this and wanted to take a picture. He was too shy to ask, so I went and paid for the photo to be taken with her and gave an extra tips as we were so impressed with her during the show as well. She was very kind. We clicked a picture and thanked her. Sunny picked us up and dropped us to the walking street and he instructed how to walk back to the hotel and he left.


Beautiful Lady from Alcazar Show
I had no clue about the walking street and I did kind of guess by seeing the way ladies were dressed. We had a drink in one of the bars which was an open place and then we walked back. While walking back, these girls were trying to show the card, for me it looked like a food menu card, I didn’t realize the menu card was for sex and I took the card, looked at it and I was in a shock, since the pictures were explicit and it had rates as well. So I started walking back and then the girls were trying to woo Sur to go to their bars and I got paranoid as the street was crowded and I was worried  I might get lost in the crowd and I had no clue how to get back to the hotel alone if I didn’t find Sur. Since I was in a panic mode, we decided to leave and then it started raining, so we had to hurry back quickly. We did get lost on the way since it was too dark and hardly anyone was on the road outside the walking street. Finally we found a small shop which was open, found someone who guided us by sign language since we couldn’t understand/speak Thai. Finally we reached the hotel and this adventure was more than enough for the day and crashed for the night.

Day 8: We started early, had a quick breakfast and headed to the floating market in Pattaya, where the stalls were just getting set up, and it had less crowd since we reached early. So we could go around quickly and were impressed with an elephant painting in neon colors in one of the stalls. It looked so beautiful, however the size that we needed was incomplete and we couldn’t buy immediately. That was a bit let down. The canoe ride was beautiful, attended monkey show in the market which was fun, had a photoshoot with a local costume and tried more local thai teas as well. There was also a zipline which was for a very short distance and I had fun.


All dressed up in Local Ethnic wear
Then for lunch we headed to Nong Nooch garden, which was good and then went around to enjoy the botanical garden spread across 500 acre of land which has Thai Cultural and elephant shows and it’s a beautiful themed garden with thousands and plants and trees.  Then we headed to Underwater world, Pattaya. This is beautifully done with the glass dome for an amazing view. Enjoyed the sharks, sting rays, sea horse and many more. I was bugging Sur, telling him which are the fishes that I ate, and finally he told me to tell only which I had not eaten, as per him, that list might be shorter.

Next we headed to Ripley’s believe it or not and it had packages to choose from, we did the Vault Laser Maze, Moving Theater 12DX, Infinity Maze, Louis Tussad and Haunted Adventure. I am not a big fan of haunted or any of these experiences but Sur had fun so I tagged along reluctantly. Finally when we had to do haunted, I was adamant that I won’t go as I don’t like the haunted house experience. Since Sur didn’t want to go without me, I had to tag along as I didn’t want him to miss out his adventure. So as soon as we entered, I held his hand and closed my eyes and I told Sur, I am not going to open until the end, which I knew,  it was the saw (Movie – Saw) experience where they scare you with the chainsaw. I saw it while standing in the queue as that was the last experience of the haunted house and it was on the first floor balcony and people were coming out screming and running, so I knew what to expect at the end. Sur couldn’t control himself as everyone was trying to scare me, they were surprised why I was not reacting at all, only after few minutes they realized that my eyes were closed. Even I was climbing down the stairs in the haunted house, Sur had to insist me to open my eyes as I might fall. So I opened for a minute and before I stepped into the last step, I closed again as I guessed there might be someone to scare at the end of the stairs. Finally with my closed eyes I reached the balcony for the last chainsaw scary experience and I could hear the loud noise of it. I just stood there with my eyes closed till the guy got tired of scaring me as he knew I am not going to open my eyes until he finishes. So he gave in and went back, then I reconfirmed with Sur and only then opened my eyes and came out of the haunted house. I don’t think anyone went to haunted house with the eyes closed. I am sure, the staffs would have had the last laugh on account of me.

Day 9: We had an early start since we were going for a diving/snorkelling with Jomtien Dive Center. Since Sur had a PADI certificate, he was allowed to go for diving and I had to settle for snorkelling since I didn’t have one. We went to the centre for paperwork and then we were taken to the beach. On the way to the Beach I realized that I forgot my swimsuit and Sur was making fun of me saying, how could I forget the swimsuit which is needed to get into the water and since I didn’t have time to go pick it up anywhere, I was lucky to find a girl selling swimsuits near the boat. I had no other option than to pick one quickly as we had to get into the boat. It was almost an hour drive and enjoyed the ride and then time came to get down for our adventure. Diving groups had been allocated along with the instructor and the owner lady was helping everyone to ensure they get in the water and some of the folks were scared and one of them returned back out of fear, but all others went for a dive. I was given snorkelling kit, was expecting someone to guide like how they did it for diving, since this was my first time. Unfortunately there was none for snorkelling in our group and no one bothered to tell me what to do while I was waiting someone to instruct. Finally I had to ask the lady what should I do and she says just jump and be close to the boat. I was a bit disappointed that I was completely ignored.


Sur Diving
Then I jumped for the snorkelling and ensured I held on to the rope, as I didn’t want to get drifted. This was one of the best experiences watching the various varieties of fish. The water was not that clear, but still it didn’t disappoint and I had a blast. After almost 45 minutes of snorkelling, I went back and Sur returned back from diving as well. We freshened up and sat for a delicious lunch and returned back and I didn’t forget to complain to Sur that I got ignored so I should get my PADI certificate so that I can join him next him and I wouldn’t be left alone.

In the evening we thought will step out for dinner and there was a restaurant adjacent to the hotel, so we thought will try that. The cocktails were good and the best part of it was the glasses were huge with long straws, am sure it contained more than half litre of cocktail. We ordered 2 cocktails without realizing the quantity and we found it difficult to finish. Then we grabbed our dinner there and called it a day.


The large cocktail
Day 10: It was time to return back to Bangkok to catch our flight in the evening. We checked out the hotel in the morning, enroute  we stopped at the Safari world, Bangkok. The entrance was not maintained well as the water had a foul smell, but once we went in, it was great. Went to Safari park for the exotic birds, had our lunch and then watched the Spy war and Hollywood cowboy stunt show which was really cool. There was Orangutan show, which was quite entertaining and the sea lion show which was really fun to watch and the bird show which was amazing. Overall it was a very good experience and while took a turn to leave, there were zebras. With such an breathtaking sight, we had to leave for the airport. Do spent a day here, its worth your time.

We boarded Thai Airways and enjoyed their hospitality while returning and landed with a memorable experience of Thailand. We felt incomplete, as we couldn’t do other beautiful places like Phuket, Krabi etc.

As we came back with the happy experience, I was appalled to hear an experience from another friend of mine who went to Thailand for her first International trip to celebrate her 40th birthday along with her bestie. One of the evenings in Bangkok, she returned to the hotel late night after celebrating her birthday and found a girl, in the hotel lift, bleeding, with fingernail marks all over her body and she was crying. She was telling my friend, she will never go with Indian men. I just couldn’t sleep for that day when I heard about this. The country that you are visiting for pleasure, don’t you think you should be grateful and respect the people who are helping you to attain your pleasure. Is this how we treat another human? Paying for the service doesn’t mean, you own any. No one has any right to hurt someone. Is it that Indian men don’t know how to enjoy sex without hurting the other person? Sorry folks, you need to educate yourself before you go to such places and don’t embarrass the other gentle men of our country.

My apologies on behalf of the Indian men who hurt the Thai women and any other person irrespective of gender, am sorry once again, they didn’t deserve you.

I am looking forward to explore more of Thailand and let’s all pray that we defeat this Covid soon, so that we can start our travel again. Until then, stay safe.

August 24, 2020

China, should you or should you not travel?

Filed under: Travel,Visa — jani @ 10:38 am

When you think of China, keeping in mind the current political tension and the little news that we hear are mostly being negative as these are just restricted to political news, I was not sure about China and I was completely ignorant about the country and didn’t have any encouraging news either with the limited news that media reports.

When my extended family decided to visit China for their annual international trip, only one question came to my mind, why China? But I didn’t have any say in the choice of the country, so I tagged along reluctantly.

But I was in for a surprise and my admiration and love for the country grew when I visited. I had read about stories of business men/women who, when became successful in their venture, started giving back to the society where they came from, they never forgot their roots even though they shifted to the cities for their business. They helped their own town/village with better housing, employment etc to help their old neighbours to make a better living. The lovely rose garden on the side and middle of the roads, skyscrapers beating one from another with their architecture, amazing hospitality, just made us feel awe of the country. The rich history, beautiful temples are mesmerizing. I also heard every new building that gets built cannot be the same from the exisiting one and it has to beat the current ones in every possible way. Hence people are pushed to their limits to bring the best in their field. I wished we could have spent more time as it was never enough to explore the places and hear more about inspiring stories around and how the country had built by themselves. My respect for the people of China and am glad I visited in person so now I can proudly say, please visit whenever things become better after the Covid. Leave the politics aside for politicians and let us become ambassadors of peace and spread the love and happiness wherever we travel.

About China:

China officially the People’s Republic of China, is a country in East Asia. It is the world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.4 billion in 2019. Covering approximately 9.6 million square kilometres, it is the world’s third or fourth-largest country by area.

Visa:

In India, you can apply from Mumbai or New Delhi, however it depends on the consular jurisdiction as well. So do follow the jurisdiction.

Mumbai – West & South Region

New Delhi – North & East Region

Below link will help you to download the visa application form (same form applies for both Mumbai and New Delhi consulate), also help you with the fees and checklist

http://in.china-embassy.org/eng/lsfw/qz/

Checklist:

Document checklist are mostly the same for both Delhi and Mumbai except the bank statement requirement. Do find below the documents for reference, however before applying do verify the exact requirements as per the consulate requirement as it varies time to time.

Passport (minimum 6 months validity) and at least 2-3 blank pages for the visa stamp,

Filled application form,

2 colour photograph with white background,

Self-attested letter detailing the purpose of visit, itinerary etc (complete travel details),

NOC letter from employer,

confirmed air ticket,

hotel confirmation,

original bank statement with minimum balance of Rs. 160,000 (per person) in the bank account (not required for New Delhi)

Travel Itinerary:

Beijing:

We were glad that we chose Cathay Pacific Airlines and I was impressed with the service and the quality of food since this was my first experience with Cathay.

After a stopover in Hong Kong, we landed in Beijing and headed to the hotel which is in close proximity to Tian’anmen Square. I also had an amazing small bar cum restaurant close by, which helped me to sneak out in the evening to explore the Non-veg food since my extended family is strictly Hindu vegetarians. They had one of the best pork dishes and I didn’t get tired of eating it every day for dinner while in Beijing. Beijing is best known for roasted duck which I missed as this restaurant didn’t have it and were available at other restaurants during lunch time when we were exploring the city and I couldn’t try with the family due to their food restrictions. Finally I was in for a surprise when the return flight had the same menu and I was relieved that I got to taste and just loved it. So airline made up for me which I missed in Beijing. Thank you Cathay Pacific.

If you are in Beijing, do not miss out the below sightseeings: –

Great Wall of China:

The Great Wall of China is an ancient wall in China. The wall is made of cement, rocks, bricks, and powdered dirt. It was finished in 1878 and it was meant to protect the north of the empire of China from enemy attacks. It is the longest structure humans have ever built.

It’s a good walk in morning and walking through one of the historical place is mind blowing. There are lot of viewpoints and you can just sit and chill out and be proud to have visited this place and admire the manmade wonder. This is pretty long and you can return whenever you feel tired as the stretch is never ending.

When you visit Great Wall of China, do head to the Great Wall section of Mutianyu. Here, you can take a cable car to the top, and hop on a Toboggan (luge) ride to get back down to the bottom. We loved it so much and some of my family members went for a second ride as well. This remained one of the memorable experiences.

Forbidden City:

The Forbidden City  is a palace complex in central Beijing, China. It houses the Palace Museum, and was the former Chinese imperial palace and state residence of the Emperor of China from the Ming dynasty (since the Yongle Emperor) to the end of the Qing dynasty, between 1420 and 1924.

These are architectural wonders and there are no words to explain as you have to be there in person. It’a a huge palace and you can spend almost half a day there going around admiring the beauty and the great work.

Temple of heaven:

The Temple of Heaven is an imperial complex of religious buildings situated in the south eastern part of central Beijing. The complex was visited by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for a good harvest.

So this is one of the must visit place to come and pray for any wish that you might have to seek God for. Do not forget to enjoy the local ice creams from the vendors. I think we spent more time in trying out various ice candies and ice cream than praying here.

Tian’anmen Square

Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square is a city square in the centre of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen (‘Gate of Heavenly Peace’) located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City. The square contains the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. Tiananmen Square is within the top ten largest city squares in the world. It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history. Outside China, the square is best known for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that ended with a military crackdown, which is also known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre or June Fourth Massacre.

This is a historical place and we ended up being there during one of the anniversaries, so there were lot of security beefed up to ensure there are no protests or anything. We just sat there, remembering People’s heroes, enjoying the views, garden etc. Ideal to visit in the evening as it would be very warm in the afternoon under open sun.

Summer Palace

The Summer Palace is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing. It was an imperial garden in the Qing dynasty. Mainly dominated by Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, it covers an expanse of 2.9 square kilometres, three-quarters of which is water.

It was a place to enjoy the scenery and lake. We were blessed with a nice shower while we were strolling near the lake so had to rush out quickly without getting drenched. 

Beijing Zoo

The Beijing Zoo is a zoological park in Beijing, the capital of the China. Founded in 1906 during the late Qing dynasty, it is the oldest zoo in China and oldest public park in northern China. The zoo is also a center of zoological research that studies and breeds rare animals from various continents.

The popular animal here is giant pandas and that is the crowd puller as well. This is must especially for kids, they would just love it.

Qinglianggu Valley Glass bridge:

This is for adrenaline junkies and it’s fun to walk on the glass bridge along the valley and it’s an another memorable experiences. It does scare you if you look down and you will also have a laughing riot when you watch others getting scared and you are trying to be brave to ensure others don’t laugh at you with all the screams and noises. You can trek both ways but also cable car is available to go on top and to come down. The day we reached return cable was not working so we only used cable one way to go up and had to trek to come down. Even if you are taking the cable both ways, you have a little climb to do, hence be prepared with a good footwear for a walk which is little steep. Since it’s a valley with lots and lots of trees, it’s fun to trek and enroute we had picked up ice creams from the small stalls to give us company. There was a temple once we reached the ground, visited, said a prayer and headed back to the hotel as it was getting dark.

Lama Temple:

The Yonghe Temple also known as the Yonghe Lamasery, or popularly as the Lama Temple, is a temple and monastery of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism located in Dongcheng District, Beijing, China. The building and artwork of the temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan styles.

This is the place must visit for students as it has an academic significance as there is a statue of the Geluk school founder is there.

Pearl Market (Hongqiao Market)

This is one of the largest shopping complex and each floor has different items for sale, from pearls, accessories, luggage, clothes, tea and many of the things that you might want to buy for. This is the best place to try out your bargaining skills as most of them have to be bargained for a better deal.

You can spend almost a day if you love shopping and most of the things that got picked up were in good quality. Also the sales people (most of them were young and beautiful girls) very friendly and warm and they were very happy to help since we didn’t know Mandarin. Bargaining with them was fun and it was more of a friendly banter and yes, it worked as well.

I had noticed in China, there were hot water dispensers everywhere and hardly I found lukewarm water dispensers. Then I realized most of the locals were flowering tea lovers as every one walked with transparent flask and we could see flower inside, they were filling up with hot water and were sipping constantly. Except in star bucks, hardly saw anyone drinking coffee. No wonder most of them looked healthier and hardly found any obese people. This is a big takeaway for a healthy living and yes, I did go and pick up few flowering teas to try out and it was great.

Flowering tea or blooming tea  consists of a bundle of dried tea leaves wrapped around one or more dried flowers. These are made by binding tea leaves and flowers together into a bulb, then setting them to dry. When steeped, the bundle expands and unfurls in a process that emulates a blooming flower, and the flowers inside emerge as the centerpiece. Typically they are sourced from the Yunnan province of China. Flowers commonly used in flowering teas include globe amaranth, chrysanthemum, jasmine, lily, hibiscus, and osmanthus. Flowering tea may be either a modern creation or a much older Chinese invention. Flowering tea is generally served in containers made of glass or similar transparent materials so that the flowering effect can be seen. The bundles can usually be reused two or three times without the tea becoming bitter.

If you are a coffee lover, do carry your own coffes sachets unless you are ok with star bucks as very few shops sell coffee or coffee sachets, thankfully we found one small grocery store and we picked up the entire coffee sachet carton as most of us were coffee lovers, that helped for the entire stay in China.

Do sample the local delicacies and also if you are a vegetarian, don’t worry, every meal has enough fresh vegetables served along with the main. For an Indian palate, Beijing doesn’t disappoint as their food has little spiciness and that is a comfort. Try out evening stalls which has lots of local delicacies from seafood, to meat and other stuffs. Since I was the only non-vegetarian in the group, when I tried the seafood especially octopus, every one ran away from me as they felt creepy and I had a laugh and enjoyed my food and then I had to give away ordering non-veg food while eating with them so that they don’t feel uncomfortable.

Xi’an:

If Beijing is actual capital for China, Xi’an is a historical capital. We travelled from Beijing to Xian by train. This itself was a different experience, if you get a chance do take the train. We felt we were in the flight as the cleanliness and hygiene was at par. We did have a stewardess who was making sure we had help in case we needed any. As usual you needn’t carry a hot water in case you need it, as hot water dispenser are available everywhere including in the train and there were snacks available on sale. We were so impressed with the hospitality and cleanliness. We just spent a day and that was a biggest mistake, since this place had lot to explore with rich history. don’t ever make a mistake that we did, do spend few days otherwise you won’t do justice to Xi’an.

We had booked a guide in Xian, as that would help us to explore as much as possible since we just had a day and then had to head back to Shanghai in the evening

Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang

The Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor is located in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China. This mausoleum was constructed over 38 years, from 246 to 208 BC, and is situated underneath a 76-meter-tall tomb mound shaped like a truncated pyramid.

During excavation, they found various pits with the status of hundreds and hundreds of terracotta warriors, the work is still in progress and it’s amazing to hear the story, why there were these statues were created in the pit. This is a must visit and it’s historical findings. The place has lot of greenery around and we enjoyed the shower as it as raining the whole day.

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda

Giant Wild Goose Pagoda or Big Wild Goose Pagoda, is a Buddhist pagoda located in southern Xi’an, Shaanxi, China. It was built in 652 during the Tang dynasty and originally had five stories. The structure was rebuilt in 704 during the reign of Empress Wu Zetian and its exterior brick facade was renovated during the Ming dynasty. One of the pagoda’s many functions was to hold sutras and figurines of Gautama Buddha that were brought to China from India by the seventh-century Buddhist monk, scholar, traveller, and translator Xuanzang. Today, the interior walls of the pagoda feature engraved statues of Buddha by the renowned artist Yan Liben

This is another architecture marvel and a place of worship and do say a prayer here.

Then we headed for lunch and we asked the guide to take us to local good Chinese restaurant, she was surprised as we were the only Indians who said we were ok with local cuisine and not insisting for Indian restaurant. So we had to tell her, we came all the way to China to try their cuisine as we have enough time to try our dishes in India. My request to all of the tourists, do try out the local cuisine, I understand some of you would have food restrictions like being vegetarians etc. which gives you limited options and let me reassure you with my personal experience that you will find your kind of food and you might end up finding another delicious dish which you may not get in your country.

Shanghai:

It’a financial capital of China and you would see lots and lots of high-rise building, beating one after another with their design, architecture and innovation.

The Bund:

We stayed close to the bund hence it was nice evening walk to go around the bund. This is the place near Huangpu River, to view the skyscrapers and the best is in the evening with the lightings it looks spectacular. Do try out lots and lots of food stalls near the bund specially momos, local delicacies and it does have other options like star bucks, sub way etc. Later for other attractions we had used hop in hop on buses which takes you almost very major attractions.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

This is the highest observatory level for the skyline view, we were too lazy to go up and hence just lazed around viewing from the ground before we headed to the next place.

Shanghai tower:

This is the highest building in China and second tallest building and it also has fastest elevator in the world which takes to 119 floor, this is a must visit and inspite of going to such elevation, there is no jerk movement or anything in the lift. It was one smooth ride and before we realize, we reached the 119 floor.

Yu Garden:

Yu Garden or Yuyuan Garden is an extensive Chinese garden located beside the City God Temple in the northeast of the Old City of Shanghai at Huangpu Qu, Shanghai Shi. It abuts the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, the Huxinting Teahouse and the Yu Garden Bazaar.

This is one of the beautiful gardens with lots of lots of flowers, trees, lake, fishes etc. It felt like some movie shoot locations which was done so beautifully and every place was picture perfect.

Nanjing Road:

This is the main shopping street of Shanghai and you can get almost anything. Also there is few old malls which has mostly wholesale items and you couldn’t bargain and not very friendly comparing to Beijing, so we didn’t spend much time.

Also this has lot of other options including items with fixed price which was reasonable and you could spend the entire day to shop until you feel satisfied. There were few friendly independent stalls where we ended up chatting, bargaining and shopped until the family was satisfied.

Shanghai food was a little let down for us as we love spicy food, but other members of the family enjoyed as they have zero tolerance towards spice. It was less spicy among other 2 cities and it was almost bland however had good options like momos and other local delicacies.

The Shanghai Maglev

China has the world’s fastest commercial maglev service. The Shanghai Maglev, with a top operational speed of 431 km/h, has been carrying passengers on a 30 km stretch between Shanghai’s Pudong airport and the city centre since 2003.

The best experience in Shanghai is getting onto this train to reach the airport, you never feel like you are in the fastest train except the speed reading that gets displayed in the screen. It’s a smooth ride and one of the best experiences. We wanted to do more rides but we had to rush for our flights.

The awesome China trip came to an end and we as a family inspite of our differences, had a blast and this trip made the family bond stronger.

Do appreciate the local culture, food, people and do not afraid to give a try on their local cuisine. You will thank me later.

Stay Safe, Stay happy.

 

 

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