Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, Bangalore, December 2012

Was at Dr L.Subramaniam’s annual fusion music festival last night. He started with a real foot stomper called ‘Indian Express’ (poetic justice indeed, since the festival itself is sponsored by the Times of India) and ended the evening with Don’t Leave Me. In between were pieces by  his wife Kavita Krishnamurthy, their kids and two other musicians. Except for the odd flash I pretty much forgot HolidayIQ for over 2 hours; evidently the music was absorbing.

A small regret – I would have liked the two global musicians to have got a bit more of play time. Froy Aagre from Norway on the Sax & Chris Rhyne from LA on the keyboards.

Sufi Persian Restaurant, Koramangala, Bangalore

I hit this place practically every month and have never found more than 4 other people eating here at the same time. Being alone among 50 tables in a huge restaurant is eerie and if it had not been for ther fact that I have always got the craziest food each time I go there and it never fails me, I would never have gone back. Under the circumstances, I always do.

When Mohit was here a couple of weeks ago, I was able to introduce him to Sufi. Now, I have never taken anybody other than Sunita to this restautant before on the fear that they will end up ordering Indian tandoori stuff, which in comparison to the Gafghazi kebab and such other divine stuff, is abomination. So, it was a relief to be able to take another devotee to pay homage. And boy, did we pray!

Three huge kebab platters and one massive Persian bread.  Not even the slightest hint of oil, lightly done veggies to round out the meat. And the meat – ahhh!!!!

Go there if you are seriously into meat. It is on the top floor of the Empire hotel in Koramangala, 5th block.

Techie Foodie

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(the Artists’ Corner at Sixtyfour)

Bangalore is for obvious reasons flooded with techies. What is interesting is that a clear sub-genus, the ‘techie foodie’, is emerging. And many of them are starting restaurants.

I was in one such place over the weekend. Sixtyfour is a smallish place describing itself as “a bistro & bar featuring great food and music”. Started by 4 techies in a converted Koramangala house, it is intimate and relaxed and yes, actually has pretty decent food – effectively it is everything most lounge bars in Bangalore are not.  Vijesh (my photographer-friend Nagesh’s brother) teamed up with Sameer (who set up a software company, sold it to Mindtree and worked for sometime there), an entrepreneurial IIM – Cal  alumnus via Gulbarga & Ratlam whose name I forget and another techie from Delhi to set up Sixtyfour.

Another such instance I am aware of is Shiok the pan-asian cuisine restaurant on Inner Ring Road near Embassy Golf Links. Madhu, the patron-saint of the place is another techie who forsake the world of bits & bytes to dig deep into ‘makaan’ of east asia.

As our techies travel far & wide across the world, the food enthusiasts among them bring back pieces of the globe to this city. May their tribe grow.

Travelocity India

Travelocity is coming through (and not just by buying up Indian companies) – looks like they have some of the better flight deals in the region. I recently found a Bangalore – Singapore return (economy of course) on Singapore Airlines for Rs 11,200. And a Bangkok return for 13,600. Both of which are better than the normal fares offered by m0st travel Agents.

So, if you have the time (or the necessity!) to do research f0r good flight deals, I suggest Travelocity India.

The star tourism product for karnataka

Recently, my friend Rohit Hangal posed an interesting question on one of the Tourism Groups on Linked In. His question was:

If we had to chose among one ‘attraction/destination’ in ‘Bangalore/Karnataka’, what would that be and the reasons for it – Scouting for that one ‘Star Tourism Product’.

I love the question, because I believe the bane of Indian tourism is trying to ‘sell’ too many things at the same time.

Therefore, let me attempt an answer:

I don’t think I know Karnataka well enough to pop up all of the options. But having spent too many years in Management Consulting, I cannot avoid the temptation to develop a framework to find an answer. So, here is my 2-bit on this.

It should be:

- Relevant – relevant to the target market. If we assume the target market is the 25 to 45 year old India urban-dweller, then we better make sure s/he is truly interested in what we come up with. if we assume that the market is 60+ year Caucasians, that is another story.

- Defensible – we must be able to able to ‘defend’ it from other competing offerings. that is, there should be no threat of it becoming a ‘me-too” product. Would any World heritage work? Unlikely, since many other states also have ‘world heritage sites’

- Desirable – the people of Bangalore / karnataka (ie. the ‘owners’ of the attraction) must feel that this is a ‘desirable’ facet to promote. If ordinary folks are in some way not quite convinced, all of the effort will go in vain. For, every time the tourist comes into contact with the real product, there will be a strong possibility of disappointment.

- ready – the product must be ready for sale. Which means, a reasonable amount of necessary infrastructure (both core & tourism infrastructure) should already be in place

Any ideas?

Home Alone

The last few days in Bangalore have been wonderful, especially since I was running around various parts of India for about 10 days before that. Its been overcast for every one of these days; a little rain every evening and generally very cool & pleasant. Life continues on its curious Indian urban rhythm.

Page 3 types here have been shouting themselves hoarse (with the usual support of the Bangalore Times) about the lack of night-life in Bangalore. As you would expect, everyone in Bangalore thinks it is a shame that restaurants close at 11.30 pm here. What happens if you are single & have a night-shift job that demands you look for a restaurant after 11.30 pm? This is a hard-working, 24×7 city and such restrictions are of no help to anyone.

I am of the opinion that this rule has not got changed for only one reason – because of the loud support it has got from the Page 3 crowd here. Bangalore is a city of serious achievers and hard-working citiziens. We have some of India’s leading & most respected business people here – Azim Premji, Narayana Murthy & VIjay Mallya are just the obvious names. The creme of India’s scientific community live here – for instance, the leading lights of the Indian Institute of Science, Indian Space research organisation & the DRDO to name just a few. We have our share of prominent sports-persons too. From Rahul Dravid & Anil Kumble to Pankaj Advani & Anju Bobby George there is a veritable phalanx. In such a city, the Page 3 types – mostly superannuated hotel managers, socialising matrons & similar hangers-on – are for obvious reasons, generally held in benign contempt. And it is the very prominence of these light-weights in the movement to keep restaurants open that is seriously harming the ’cause’. Girish Karnad, the movie director took part in a rally last week and spoke for the ’cause’ and for a day, it seemed the Powers would wobble. But another day of strident sound-bytes from the city’s social butterflies put paid to that hope. So, restaurants stay closed after 11.30 pm and God help you if you need to eat out after that. ‘Go Home’ says the sign.

Maybe it is high time some real people asked the government why this nonsense continues in Bangalore.

In the meantime, the great weather goes on & I flit between strong cups of Mysore coffee and hot, crispy Dosas. At home, obviously.

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata and 10 other Indian cities

HolidayIQ has just revamped its weekend getaway section. Now one can find weekend getaway destinations as well as weekend getaway resorts/hotels by distance from each of the top 17 Indian cities.

Click here to see the new pages:

Weekend getaways from Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kolkata

Weekend getaways from all 17 cities

Requiem for an airport

(The world has gone away…)

They closed it down last week; the old HAL airport in Bangalore, that is. I was there on its last day to say farewell. And in spite of all its inadequacies (there were too many), I felt not a little sadness. It is small, impersonal events such as this that sometimes tell me how much the world we are all so familiar with is now coming to a close.

In a decade, I am sure India will have spanking infrastructure in most of its cities and the misery of trying to lead a highly productive life in the midst of such crumbling old world infrastructure would be a thing of the past. Indeed, it is our generation that has borne the brunt of it, since most of us would have lived a good part of our life in the cusp between ‘third-world’ and ‘advanced’. What that also means is that we will be the last generation to remember India ‘the way it was’.

As I watch my sons grow up, I am relieved that the India we are moving into will probably give them everything they need to ‘succeed’ without the daily struggle we are all so familiar with. But, I am definitely left with a niggling thought that there were a few things that we had good in ‘the old times’. Such as not needing to choose too much (for example in my childhood, Indians cars came in 2 models – Fiat and Ambassador and in about 4 colours!). Or walking across to the cranky, neighborhood kirana guy for a toothpaste (you will now probably go to a Reliance outlet where the salesman will paste on a plastic smile & wish you ‘a good day’ – God forbid!)

Anyway, to come back to the old HAL airport. Over the last 10 years (almost 8 of which I have lived in Bangalore), I have probably used the airport about 500 times. And I still cannot get over my first experience (circa 1997) of returning from a hot & dusty Delhi to a wonderful cool breeze late in the evening in Bangalore and walking across the tarmac to a little terminal in which my 50 odd co-passengers were the only souls about.

Sorry baby, I loved you in my own way, but I gotta let you go now. That is the way of the world.

Mallu food at Claypot in Thippassandra in Bangalore

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(A surreal snap of a mallu ‘sadya’, I found on Flickr – click here for the original)

So you are looking for authentic kerala food in Bangalore. And you want a clean, not fancy place that serves you great food and no attitude. Check out Claypot, the tiny little mallu joint on Rama Temple Road in the midst of the crowded Thippassandra locality just off Indira Nagar in the eastern part of the city. Once there, ask for Benny and say I sent you. Should get you a warm smile. Keeping the determinedly socialist approach of the Mallu, knowing a big kahuna will not change anything else at the place for you – the food will remain the same as for everyone else. Which is good, because the food everyone gets is great.

My personal recommendation is to land up for lunch and to get yourself a mallu ‘meals’ (it is always said in the plural – anyone asking for a mallu ‘meal’ is either a serial-killer or a capitalist or both). Ask for a crab masala or prawn ‘thoran’ – if you can handle tons of lovely grated coconut – and mackerel fry. Say thanks to your God and tuck in.

Times Food Guide 2008 Awards and launch in Bangalore

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(Telugu actress – or, Actor as they seem to prefer it – Ileana giving away a prize)

The latest edition of the Times Food Guide, Bangalore was launched over the weekend with much fanfare at the Windsor Manor.  And I found myself in a Page 3 gathering, not my natural watering-hole. For some reason, the good folks who ran this shindig decided that I was to be one of the 20 odd people giving away a prize and so I found myself wedged inside an unlikely group including Kannada actors Ramya & Ganesh , the snooker player Pankaj Advani and Wipro CFO Suresh Senapati among others.

I gave away the prize to Dakshin the south Indian cuisine restaurant at the Windsor. Which was a relief, since I do genuinely like Dakshin. But specialty food in 5 star restaurants is, in general, not for true foodies. Continue reading

Mind of the new traveller – dissecting the indian tourist

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(Photo of the Taj Mahal, courtesy Incredible India)

There is a tourism doo-dah in Bangalore on Thursday and I have been invited to talk about the ‘Mind of the New Traveller’. Phew, that is a mouthful. Anyway, made me think. Over the last 3 years or so that I have been involved in creating India’s first travel community and getting a lot of feedback from them on HolidayIQ, I think I have got a pretty unique ringside view of the mind of the Indian tourist. Here, in a few short sentences, is the summary of what I see. Continue reading

Konkan coast on rails

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(Map of Konkan Railway)

So, I am off again. The idea is to get to Mangalore and work my way up to Goa and then from there to explore the beaches of Sindhudurg in South Maharashtra. It is a non-plan, plan. I have a train ticket from Bangalore to Mangalore. I have a ‘second sitting’ booked from Mangalore to Madgaon. (I think www.IRCTC.co.in is a blazing wonder – I just booked, very effortlessly, a 71 buck ticket for the MAQ – MAO journey and even have a window seat allotted to me; need to see whether seat allotments hold on passenger trains on the Konkan railway). I also have a return ticket to fly back from Goa to Bangalore. Hopefully, serendipity will help me fill the rest.

Click here for all my posts on the Konkan.

And, click here for all my posts on Trains, planes, spacecraft etc.

Golden Anniversary of the National School of Drama, Delhi

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(photo from National School of Drama)

Read a news item that NSD is doing a series of plays to celebrate its 50th anniversary. I first went for one of NSD’s annual festivals in 1991 (I think). It was held in the open air theatre in NSD’s campus close to Mandi house and Kamani auditorium. Have you ever watched a live performance perched on the steps of an open air amphitheatre surrounded by aficionados, in the darkness of a cold northern winter? If not, do it as soon as possible.

Nothing is an elevating as a live performance; a real person on a stage creating a spell of a character and drawing distinct human beings that make up the audience into that spell and that moment. It is one of the fascinating aspects of being human – this bubble which live theatre creates, encompassing both performers and the audience. I love it.

London is one of the greatest cities on earth and theatre is a big reason for that. West End of course we know. Great plays and fine dining make this THE location for an evening out in that city. But for a truly wonderful experience head out to Regents Park for an evening with the New Shakespeare Company. And here is the kicker; it is fairly close to Baker Street. So if you like both Sherlock Holmes and William Shakespeare, you need go no further for absolute nirvana.

Unfortunately, most Indian cities have practically non-existent facilities for theatre and almost certainly none for open air theatre. Further testimony to the fact that many Indian cities have become Continue reading

Bangalore to Mangalore – by train to the Konkan coast

Once upon a time there was this quiet town in India renowned for its great weather, doddering pensioners and slow & steady factories. And a few hundred kilometres away was another small town on the sea, with a massive smell of drying fish as its unique signature.

Life went well for everyone till a crazy Texan came to town (the first town with great weather) and in a short span of time had so corrupted the place that it was overflowing with cars, traffic jams, call centres, multi-milionnaires and java coders. While all this was going on, the second town was still on its placid path, with its unique olfactory imprint intact.

But a few souls in the sleepy, smelly town decided they wanted to get to the big city that the other town had now become. They too wanted ‘success’. So they fought hard for a railway line between the two towns.

Energised by the pleas of its people, the government decided to set up a railway line between the two towns. And started a project. The project went on. And went on. And went on. Soon, everyone in the two towns forgot about this railway that was being built. They went by car, by bus, by plane. By everything but by train. And the two towns bustled.

Till one day, when somebody suddenly said, the railway is now open. Continue reading

Gopi Manjoori

I was at the ET Awards do in Bangalore last evening. Everyone but everyone was talking about the big daddies of the future world – China & India. How they will drive growth, how they will reshape geopolitics, how they will change everything. The mood was generally upbeat, as it would be when there is an armchair discussion inside a five star room full of well fed & ‘well drunked’ rich men (mostly).

But I view things with altogether more concern. For I can see the big battle brewing between these two powers that I think will shake the foundations of world civilisation as we know it. I am referring of course to the battle to become the world’s epicurian default setting. In the next decade, lightly done & midly aromatic chinese food with fresh vegetables & mixed meats will meet the the sensory overload of fried + spiced, strongly vegetarian Indian cuisine in an all-out war for hungry mouths worldwide. And the best part is, I have no clue which will win.

But in a ressurective spirit of Panchsheel, let me propose a partnership. As all of us who have travelled to the deepest interior of our land know, there is a diabolical dish whipped up by ‘chotu’ chefs across a million dhabas, that has the potential to bring these two warring parties to the table and create a whole new cuisine that can quite effectively take over the world without shedding an unnecessary drop of ketchup. I am obviously referring to Gopi Manjoori (nee Gobi Manchurian), that versatile creation that I can never have enough of.

Top 5 holidays for winter 2007

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(Hogmanay in Edinburgh – photo from stuckonscotland)

So you have done well this year. The bonus has been good, your spouse is making good money & the stocks you invested in have zoomed up with the index. It is time to reward yourselves. How about a Mont Blanc Pen? Or maybe a set of fancy wheels? Or maybe a ballooning trip over the African veldt? or book yourself for one of the first sub-orbital flights with Virgin Galactic?

In my regular conversations with users & members of HolidayIQ, many of whom have the classic ‘successful’ profile I outlined in the first para, I now find that unique experiences are taking over from fancy products as the real self-indulgences. And it is clear that in the early 21st century India, unique travel has become THE way of self expression of the successful. Move aside, Mont Blanc & Maserati. Welcome to Masai Mara & the Moon (soon, hopefully).

Over the last few years, I have given up on business travel and got into some serious holidaying. So I get asked this question quite a lot – what are your suggestions for a holiday this season? So, in answer to the key existential angst of our time, here is my personal list of 5 great travel escapes for Winter 2007.

  • Watch the whales migrate at Byron Bay, Australia. One of the world’s most scenic spots, home to a great ‘littoral rainforest’ is also the setting for one of nature’s amazing events.
  • Soak in the atmosphere of true ‘ancient India’ on the banks of the Betwa and Maheshwar, ancient rivers of Madhya Pradesh. Stay in classily refurbished palaces & forts right on the waters edge.
  • Bring in the New Year at one of the classiest cities on earth. Be a part of Edinburgh’s Hogamanay, from 29th Dec 2007 to 1st jan 2008
  • Do a ‘Cantonese crawl’ – explore haute chinese cuisine starting in Hong Kong, Shenzen & Guangzhou and taking in various parts of the chinese coast around the south china sea
  • Scuba dive in the pristine coral island of Agatti, Lakshadweep. Discover the million shades that lie between Blue & Green.

Neighbourhoods

As I move around in the world, I am struck anew by the variety of neighbourhoods I have lived in. Human scale being what it is, it is the little neighbourhoods that you live in or work in that matters – irrespective of whether you live in one of the most populated cities of the world or in one of the more remote little towns. The other interesting thing I notice is that my recollection of a place is forever tinged by my emotional state at that time.

Take Connaught Place in New Delhi for instance. I was young, single, thought I was in love, had a job that gave me a relatively relaxed time & a few Rupees in my pocket. To me, Connaught Place & its environs is still about lazy afternoons, pottering down Janpath, eating cutlets at Bankura next to the Cottage Industries Emporium, occasionally living dangerously with a cold coffee at D’Pauls and regularly catching plays at the NSD or Shriram centre. Continues to be my idea of bliss.

Or take downtown Jeddah in Saudi Arabia where I worked for 6 months about 15 years ago. My recollections of this place are of the extremely hot sun, the regular calls of the muzzein, the steel & chrome facades of the office blocks and of a huge mall filled with shops, eateries and vast echoing hallways without people. Surreal.

Or Prabhadevi in Mumbai where my young family spent a couple of years. Facing the sea on a llth floor flat with lots of space, conventional wisdom suggested I had pretty much reached home-nirvana in Mumbai. But, I never got to like it. The awful dirt at the beach was a huge put-off. So was the idea that my little kids had to stand in a queue at Shivaji Park to get on to a swing (a queue for kids to get on a swing!). So, inspite of the world’s best seafood & very nice people, Mumbai could not hold me for long.

Other interesting neighbourhoods I lived or worked in include Chanakyapuri, Vasant Kunj & Greater Kailash in New Delhi, Perth Road in Dundee, Scotland, Lavelle Road in Bangalore, Jawahar Nagar in Trivandrum, Valmiki Nagar facing the raw power of the waves off the Bay of Bengal in Chennai & many more..

6500 Indian resorts, hotels, home-stays & guesthouses

HolidayIQ has now listed 6500 resorts, hotels, home-stays & guest-houses across India. About 40% of these properties have got reviews from actual guests who stayed there, which is amazing for our country. This is simply because of the consistent hard work so many travel-crazy folk have lovingly put into this over the last 3 years. I still remember early 2004, when this project started as India Resorts Survey – a travel-lovers initiative set up by a small group of holiday junkies. It has really grown up now and it cannot be easily replicated.

The count of accommodation options at the major tourism states are: Goa Hotels – 384, Kerala Hotels – 642, Rajasthan Hotels – 561, Himachal Hotels - 381

For the bigger cities, the count is : Delhi – 198, Mumbai – 176, Bangalore – 171

Out of this list, 1157 India hotels are in a mountain or a hill setting, 554 are Beach hotels in India, 161 are wildlife hotels and 92 give the traveller an inland waterfront experience.

National Aviation Company of India

Air India & Indian Airlines merged earlier today, the Prime Minister and others made spirited speeches & the airlines slapped on a new page on their existing websites. Will we, the travelers, get a halfway decent deal out of this whole initiative. Not likely. Unfortunately, this is one subject on which my natural sunny optimism gives way to a deep-down cynicism. Much prior experience has convinced me that governments should not be let anywhere near a service business (or any other business for that matter).

To find out why governments behave the way they do (and private enterprise they way they do), I would recommend “Systems of Survival” by Jane Jacobs. Not just an illuminating exposition, but a bloody engaging read.

Here is my previous post on Air India.

Karnataka : India’s best tourism destination?

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(Karnataka map from Totalkannada)

From the rolling, cool country of Coorg to the azure blue seas around Karwar just south of Goa & Maravanthe just north of kerala, from the elephant & tiger reserves of Kabini & Nagarhole in the Nilgiris Biosphere to the historical poetry of World Heritage Sites such as Hampi & Pattadakkal, Karnataka is a state with a hell of a lot of tourism oomph. Unfortunately, the state tourism bureaucracy has managed to keep this one of India’s better-kept secrets.

In spite of which, of late, tourism has blossomed here only because of the desperate need of Bangalore‘s denizens to escape the city on weekends.

While Karnataka’s tourism future has Bangalore as its possible saviour, what about the other strong potential tourism states, such as Orissa or Madhya Pradesh?

Oh, and another thing. Talking of Kannada oomph – Aishwarya Rai & Shilpa Shetty, the 2 most-est current hotties of Bollywood & Deepika Padukone the babe-in-the-making are all from Karnataka. Coincidence or what?

Click here to read all my posts on Karnataka >>