Travel Secrets

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111 days, 11 countries, 1 family: This Family Took An Incredible 111-Day Road Trip From India To France

My Travel Secret – Aditya Verma

Varkala: Kerala’s stunning coastal town. Have you discovered it yet?

With its clean, quiet beaches, Varkala is a secret that Kerala has hugged to itself. Our Correspondent Sarita Santoshini stumbled upon it.

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This coastal town is a five hour bus drive from Cochin and sits 75 easy kilometres from Kovalam, Kerala’s more celebrated beach beauty.


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The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner-self, and a temple island draws you towards its quiet beauty.

The town itself is slow and unspoiled; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between October and May; wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add soul to the place and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you happy till you decide to head back again.

Following a receptionist’s advice,  our correspondent Sarita walked towards “a narrow lane” and to her surprise stumbled on a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff, the North Cliff Beach. Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost a kilometre, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering on the other side.

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Here, coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand. Varkala beach is locally called Papanasam Beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end are the mineral water springs whose medicinal properties attract people from all over the world.
Another gem in the heart of Varkala is the Shiva- Parvathi temple. It is on the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island, midst the lush forest and a chirpy bird life. Here you can reach by boat from Nenduganda Village.

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The historical Anjengo Fort dates back to the East India Company. There’s a lovely view from the lighthouse.

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Driving through this hamlet in the evening you’ll pass through vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, group of church-goers saying their daily prayers and glimpses of beautiful stretches of the sea that the Latin Christian Makuva community lives beside. It’s good to see that the community has held its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything.

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This story was published in our Nov-Dec 2013 issue. To subscribe, visit

Q: I’d like to carry tea as a gift from India. What varieties do you recommend?

In India, we love gifts – receiving them, mostly! From sweets and dry fruits to Rajasthani dolls and show-pieces, there is quite a variety to choose from. But let’s go find something uniquely Indian for your hosts abroad.

Mittal Teas

Tea is one such treasure. It defines our country, and we are one of its best producers. To know more about how to use tea as a gift, we took a sip out of Mr. Mittal’s tea pot. On entering Mittal Tea Store, the mixed aroma of different teas enchants your senses. Our expert talks all about teas and their potential as presents- but not before making each customer have a taste of it! When travelling abroad, the ideal gift choice would be Darjeeling and Assam tea- these are of superlative quality and the purest varieties available. While the former has a mellow but strong taste, the latter is more robust.


Although ‘First Flush’ Darjeeling is as good as it gets in teas, the most popular choice to take overseas is the tantalising Earl Grey. Two main categories of teas are- With Added Flavour and Without Added Flavour; it is suggested to bear the unflavoured teas as gifts, as they are more appealing and exotic to those residing outside India. All three teas mentioned above fall under this category. If you wish to gift flavoured teas, then the best options would be- Masala tea, Cardamom tea or Mango tea– as these are indigenous flavours, rarely found elsewhere; unlike chocolate tea or mint tea, which can be found almost everywhere.


Another reason why the unflavoured teas are sought after is that they are a locally produced here and thus offer great value for money — for both foreigners and Indians purchasing and carrying teas abroad.

This advice is affirmed when the foreigners come in and they all wish to purchase Darjeeling tea, Assam tea or other ‘typical Indian’ teas.

Thus, simplicity is the way to go, keep it pure (tea) and keep your friends & family abroad happy!


You can look at over hundred varieties of teas and spices at Mittal Teas Store in Sundernagar Market. Starting from small packets worth Rs.50, the range goes up to Rs.2000 per box, which are ornately hand-crafted and suited to your travelling requirements – in paper mache, wooden boxes, fabric packing, etc.

So what’s your flavour going to be?

– Megha Uppal

Read more on Teas:

How to brew the perfect cup of Tea.


Shop at Mittal Teas Online

Q: Where can I enjoy a peaceful break in India?

Monday morning blues, traffic, work stress, deadlines…who wouldn’t want a break. Here are a few peaceful getaways in India.

Nubra valley, Ladakh

Peaceful places_Nubra Valley

Almost on the edge of the Indian map, this quiet valley is for those who want to stay off ‘the-beaten-path’. It is lost among the  the Karakoram Mountain range and can be reached only by crossing the Khardung La – one of the highest motorable mountain passes in the world. 

The Backwaters of Kerala

Peaceful places_Kerala backwater

Offbeat or not, it is impossible to strike out God’s own country from our list of most serene places in India. Rent a houseboat, lay back and relax as the tiny islands and villages pass by. Get acquainted with the locals and enjoy the simple life.

Coorg, Karnataka

Peaceful places_coorg

India’s coffee country is blessed with mountains, spice plantations, estates, charming villages and home stays run by local families – this is where you could actually do nothing and still be entertained. 

Khajjiar, Himachal Pradesh

peaceful places_Khajjiar

Khajjiar, often referred to as the ‘Mini Switzerland of India’ is tiny hill station in the Chamba district of Himachal Pradesh. You can enjoy a rare combination of 3 ecosystems here – lakes, forests and pasture lands. 

Malana, Himachal Pradesh

Chandrakhani Pass- Malana

Untouched by modern civilization until recently, Malana is known as the “Little Greece in Himachal”. The people  here are believed to be the descendants of Alexander the Great. The village is nestled close to the majestic peaks of Chandrakhani. 

Phutkal Monastery, J & k

Phutkal Monastery

This massive 12th century cave monastery enjoys a unique status among the other monasteries in the Zanskar valley. If not for the spiritual calmness and inspiration, its breath – taking beauty would put you at peace.

Andretta, Himachal Pradesh


The Italian name is sure to grab attention, but this quiet and sleepy village is also a potpourri of culture and home to several artists. Tucked away amongst the plains of Kangra valley, it is blessed with an exclusive panorama of the mountains.

Dzongu, Sikkim


The land of the Lepchas is a strikingly beautiful hamlet in the northern part of Sikkim, with the majestic views of Mt. Kanchenjunga. Meeting and interacting with an indigenous tribe would itself be a one of kind experience.

Majuli, Assam


This tiny island in the middle of the Brahmaputra is home to many Vaishnava Monasteries and unique combination of art forms like dance, music, literature and art. Like many other remote but unbelievably unique places in the north-east, Majuli does not enjoy much attention from the outside world.


Q: How can I make the most of Mumbai in just one day?

Mumbai in a day

A:  Mumbai is eye-wideningly huge. It’s got 19 million people—and counting. It’s India’s largest and the world’s sixth largest city. And it’s got a whole year’s worth of things for you to see and do.

So, keeping just one day for Mumbai is like picking an olive off a family sized Margherita pizza! 

BUT. TS intern Sarita Santoshini is a Mumbai local, and a smart one at that. Hold her hand and off you go!


7 am: Hire a cycle!

Imaage courtesy: BikeShark on facebook
Imaage courtesy: BikeShark on facebook

Where? – Happy Cycle Shop, Colaba

They open at 6:30 AM and insist you knock the shutter if you find them closed.

    Charges: Rs 30/hour

Good stretch:

Ride around the empty morning streets of Colaba and onwards to the Gateway of India or Worli Seaface to NCPA on Sunday.

9 am: Breakfast


Option 1: With Rs.200 to spend, Kala Ghoda Café is the place to go for a Veg Morjim sandwich and a glass of fresh orange juice or Waffle with chocolate sauce and maple syrup.

Where: Ropewalk Street, Kala Ghoda – Colaba.

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Image Courtesy:, and

Option 2: Prakash. Their Sabudana vada and Dahi Misal is a foodie’s delight.

Where: Shiv Sena Bhavan, Next to Kithe Hall, Gokhale Road, Shivaji Park,  Dadar West.

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Image courtesy:, and

Option 3: For Pineapple Sheera worth Rs.35, plate of Idlis worth Rs.20 and filter coffee worth Rs. 15 – Café Madras is the place to go for an authentic south Indian breakfast.

Where: 38 -B, Circle House, King’s Circle, Matunga

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 Travel Smart: Get a one day BEST bus pass at Rs. 70 which is valid for travel across the city.

11 am: Adventure

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Image courtesy: , and

Option 1:  Chor Bazaar – Open from Saturdays to Thursdays, this market is a shopaholic’s paradise. We suggest you get there as soon as the shops open at 11 am.

Where: Get down at Grant Road (East) and take a cab. You’ll easily locate the market between S V Patel and Maulana Shaukat Ali Road.

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Image courtesy:

Option 2: Bassein Fort in Vasai is a great option for a getaway from the city. The Portuguese buildings in ruin, chapels, and greenery around are all worth a visit.

Where: After taking a Virar local and getting down at the Vasai station, you can take a bus which is available every half an hour and charges Rs.7 for a ticket. .

2 pm: Lunch

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Image courtesy: and

Taste of Kerala is popular among students and professionals alike, for its authentic food that you could savor for hours without drilling a hole in your pocket. Try the Chicken Chettiandu for Rs. 123 and the Pomfret Masala.

Where: 6/A, Prospect Chambers Annex, Pitha Street, Near City Bank, Fort, Mumbai.

Post Lunch: Siesta

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Image courtesy:, and

Option 1: Even if you are 300 bucks rich, you could head to Hiranandani Gardens in Powai. Forget the post lunch nap – Go Karting, Paintballing, Zorbing, Dirt Biking and Mini Golf are the many things you could do here.

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Images:,, and

Option 2: Leaping Windows Café and Comic Library is THE place to be for every comic and graphic novel lover. You could stretch away in the small library at Rs. 30 an hour.

Where: Corner View, Opposite Bianca Towers, Versova, Andheri West.

Evening Tea/Coffee

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Images:,, and

Option 1: If you are a tea lover and want to experiment with flavors, Tea Centre is the place to go. You could try the Masala Chai for Rs. 50 or Apple Butter Tea for Rs. 124.

Where: Resham Bhavan, 78, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate.

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Image courtsey:,,,

Option 2: Yazdani Bakery offers you Brun Maska and Chai for Rs. 30 and mouth watering Apple Pie for Rs. 50.

Where:  Fountain Akbar Ally, Saint Thomas Cathedral, Fort

Post 6 pm: Enjoy the vast stretch of sea


Head to the MTDC Information & Booking Counter at Gateway of India during the weekend and you could take a one hour ride in an Open Deck Bus either at 7 pm or 8:15 pm. At Rs. 120, you could experience the perfect ride around the heritage centers of South Mumbai.

Post 7 pm:  Entertainment


Option 1: Shows at Prithvi Theatre are for only Rs. 80 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Once there, be sure to tuck into one of the many delights at Prithvi Café, that plenty of theater-goers and others swear by.


Option 2: Karaoke Nights with friends are always fun. We suggest you head to either Soul Fry on Mondays or to Soul Fry Casa on Saturdays  – both guarantee good music.

Where: Soul Fry Casa,  111-A, Currimjee Bldg, MG Rd, Opposite Mumbai University, Fort.

Soul Fry Silver Croft, Pali Mala Road, Bandra West.

10 pm: Dinner


Café Universal that dates back to 1921 is still a lesser known restaurant in Mumbai. We suggest you head there to take in some old world charm and sip your draught beer worth Rs. 80 with Grilled Chicken or the Fish Sizzler while at it, both the dishes being totally worth the price. The menu is extensive and gives you plenty of options.

Where: 299, Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, Fort, Mumbai.

 Post dinner: Indulge your sweet tooth


Option 1: Whether a paan lover or not, Muchhad Paan wala is one place you must go to for the Sweet Paan or the Ice Paan.

Where: Opposite St.Stephens Church, Near Oomer Park, Bhulabhai Desai Road, Breach Candy.


Option 2: We believe no dessert or ice cream beats the legendary Gola. Head to the nearest beach and try either the most loved Kala Khatta or Milkmaid Gola. You could go to the famous Gola wala opposite the stretch of Marine drive. Situated a little after Girgaum Chaupati, the crowd around the stall will help you spot it.  Juhu Beach has great Gola stalls too, that remain open till late hours at night.

Can’t get enough of Mumbai? These websites could help find your way around:

Read more about India’s glamour capital – Mumbai through Books:

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