Staying in Heaven

While holidaying in the Gold Coast, after a few days of sunshine and clear skies, we decided to move into the hinterland. We chose Nambour and opted for an Airbnb @The Dragonfly Retreat, completely secluded in Rosemount, a beautiful part of the Sunshine Coast.

It was an amazing property done by in regal style. The owners had thought of even very small details like providing a torch and umbrellas. It was very close to many attractions around Nambour like Montville, Maleny, Eumundi, and Noosa. In fact, I find myself short of words to describe the opulence of that place. It was super comfortable and sheer heaven-like.

The DragonFly Retreat.

The property had a verandah outside the living room, where you could meditate or practice yoga while the sun rises and the birds start their day. The kitchen was fully functional and included a coffee machine, a slow cooker, a grill, and even a Nutribullet.

View from the Verandah.
An evening @The DragonFly Retreat.
A beautiful garden on the slopes around the property.

The whole house had filtered rainwater (supply permitting) and chemical-free personal care products. We simply had a fabulous time and I would definitely recommend this place for a short holiday.

A treasure for book lovers.

Hong Kong Central Library is a book lovers paradise.

It has 12-stories occupying an area of 9,400 square meters and houses 2.3 million books, periodicals, etc.

HongKong Central Library

On the first floor of the library, there is a Toy Library for very young kids.  As homes are small, kids come here to frolic and have fun. Each kid can be accompanied by two adults. The library follows an excellent procedure to prevent the kids from the danger of communicable diseases.  Each session for the kids is for 45 minutes after which the Toy Library is disinfected. Individual body temperatures of all kids and the adults accompanying them are checked before they can enter the place.

It has been an amazing feeling taking my granddaughter there for the past two days, we have been here.  She gets so excited seeing the place that yesterday she was not willing to wait for even 5 minutes, as we reached at 4.55 pm, though the session starts at 5 pm.

It left me wondering, where are we as a society in India are headed, indulging in irrelevant issues, the Hindu Muslim debate, Ram Mandir and NRC while so close to India, small countries like Hong Kong are doing so much to make a huge difference in the lives of its citizens by improving the overall infrastructure.

No wonder nobody wants to leave this place even though life does get affected occasionally by the difference of opinion between the Government and the people.

(Photography inside the Library is not permitted, hence any pictures in my Blog)

A tour of Melany Dairy.

During our holiday in the Gold Coast, we had a chance to visit Melany Diary in Melany, Queensland.  We drove down from Nambour, where we were staying in an Airbnb. It was 31 km and it took us a half an hour to drive through the beautiful Queensland countryside. We joined a Group tour lead by a proud local lad, Che, who was really good at his work. Although being from India, I vaguely knew how dairies operate but this was a unique experience and I really learned a lot.

Melany Dairy Farms.
Melany Dairy farms
Children with calves.

Maleny Dairies is a premium milk company of Sunshine Coast owned by the Hooper family since 1948. Currently, it is the third generation of Hoopers, Ross and Sally Hopper,  who are running the show. The Dairy has seen many ups and downs including a really bad time in 2000. The industry was deregulated at that time so thousands of Australian farmers were forced to close their farms. Hoopers, on the other hand, decided to fight back by building their our own processing and bottling plant and like they say rest is history.

In 1948, when Great Grandfather Hooper purchased the land it was for a Cream only farm. However, now Melany Dairy buys milk from other local farmers on the Sunshine Coast Hinterland. This benefits both parties with local farmers getting a better price than before.  The present Melany Diary commenced operations in 2002 and has always received a very positive response from its customers.

A kid feeding the Calf.
A Guernsey Cow
Milk vans
Cows are milked here
Milk storage container
Cows being feed

They have Guernsey cows (bred on the Channel Island of Guernsey), which are known to produce the highest percentage of A2 protein in their milk and a high level of butterfat. It has a creamy golden appearance and taste. One of their cows ‘Belladonna’ was a World champion, breaking the records in milk, butterfat and protein production, when she produced an amazing 70.5 litres of milk in one day. An average cow gives only about 15 litres in a day.

Apart from milk, they also sell flavoured milk Yoghurts, Custard and Cream. I really loved their Apricot Yoghurt.

I would definitely recommend this tour for families with young children as they would love the experience.

Wet Markets of Hong Kong

After staying home for a couple of months, I finally travelled once again to Hong Kong, which has been disturbed for over six months now.

What brought a cheer to me was the fact that in the current tumultuous times also, there are still some places where life has not been affected so much, the Wet Markets, the traditional markets of South East Asian countries where both dead & live animals such as poultry, fish, reptiles, and pigs are sold along with vegetables and fresh fruit.

Chun Yeung Street Wet market

There are a many wet markets in Hong Kong, owned by property investment firms. The price of food therefore varies in different markets based on its location and current property rates.

The ground floors of the buildings have stalls which are rented out to the retailers which sell live fish, shellfish, and frogs. Some stalls are run by the butchers too, who sell fresh meat. Other sell fresh fruits and vegetables, separate from the meat, dried stuff, Tofu and flowers.

Chun Yeung Street Wet Market.

Chun Yeung Street Wet Market

Chun Yeung Street Wet Market

Most of the shoppers are older residents and domestic helpers or people from lower-income groups, who generally stay above the market.

Many customers like to see the animal alive before purchase to check its health and quality, an option not available supermarket, except in lobster or fish booths.

Most wet markets therefore have facilities for allowing a customer to choose a live animal, then either take it home as is or have it cut and cleaned. It is this reason that wet markets in Hong Kong, are quite popular tourist destinations. Among the major wet markets are on Graham Street, Chun Yeung Street in North Point and in Kowloon.

In 1920, the first wet market was set up in Reclamation Street which was later removed in 1953, due its structural problem.

Later in 1957, Yau Ma Tei Street was set up to replace the market on Reclamation Street. There were fixed-pitch stalls which sold vegetables, fruits, seafood, beef, pork, poultry, baby chickens, baby ducks, and three-striped box turtle as pets.

In 1842, on Queen’s Road the Central Market was launched where people could find all kinds of meat, fruit and vegetables, poultry, salt fish, fresh fish, weighing rooms and money changers.

To understand day to day life in Hong Kong, do visit these wet markets.

Aberdeen Habour, Hong Kong

Aberdeen, is part of Hong Kong’s south district and is an important tourist attraction. It is famous for its floating village and restaurant. The Tanka people have been living here on boats for ages and have been involved in fishing, as a means of livelihood.

Beautiful Aberdeen Promenade.
Beautiful Aberdeen Promenade.

It is named after the memory of 4th Earl of Aberdeen, who was also the former Prime Minister of UK. In 19th century, the foreigners who landed here mistook it for Hong Kong. Later it was realised that this was part of main Hong Kong.

The Aberdeen Harbour.
The Aberdeen Harbour.

In Cantonese, the name Aberdeen means Hong Kong Tsai or Hong Kong minor. Hutchinson Whampoa Limited has built a private housing colony here for about 2800 families in 20 buildings.

Sampan. You can hire them here and go for a sail in the harbour.
A Sampan. You can hire them here and go for a sail in the harbour.
Boat people, Tanka, live on these floating house and are engaged in fishing.
The boat people, Tanka, live on these floating houses/boats and are engaged in fishing.
A fisherman statue installed on the promenade.
A fisherman statue installed on the promenade.

There was a family run Shan Loon Tse Kee Fish Balls restaurant here, which served Chiuchow style fish ball soup for 65 years till its closure in 2012.

Now there are many restaurants and fast food chains but it is the floating restaurant, which is a major attraction of this island. The promenade is full of tourists in the evenings and the atmosphere is very lively. You can hire a Sampan boat from the promenade and sail in the harbour.

During the Tuen Ng Festival there is a Dragon Boat Race in the Aberdeen Harbour which attracts tourists from all over the world.

If you are visiting Hong Kong, make sure you do not miss this place.


Changing face to Pune.

My earliest memories of Pune are from late 70’s, when after my marriage I visited some of my wife’s relatives in Pune. After sometime, my mother-in-law also shifted to Pune so we visited her practically every year. I have fond memories of the city, every time I visited it.

In those days, most people lived in sprawling bungalows with trees all round and there were very few cars and two wheelers on the road. In fact on my first visit to Pune, I was shocked to see there were no fans in my sister-in-law’s house as they weren’t needed.

A few of the Bungalows which have survived.

Pune, with its proximity to Mumbai has always been very strategically important to whoever ruled India, right from 1674 when the Maratha empire was established, upto 1818, when the third Maratha war broke out. The Peshwas were defeated in the Battle of Khadki and the British established a large cantonment in Pune. Later, in 1895, the headquarters of the Indian Army was later established here.

A few of the Bungalows which have survived.

The climate of the city was so good that it was not surprising for the Officers during those days to choose Pune as their home after their retirement. Slowly however, it became the second largest city in Maharashtra, after Mumbai and due to the presence of several well known educational institutes, it became a major educational hub. It was often referred to as the “Oxford of the East”. Then came the IT revolution and after Bangalore, Pune became the second IT hub in India. Several multinational IT companies set up their offices in and around the city and population grew with many migrants from all over the country coming for work here.

Now Pune boasts a population of 3.3 million and is now the 9th most populous city in India.

A few of the Bungalows which have survived.

This has put a serious strain on the housing in the city. Bungalows have been brought down to make way for multi storied buildings with flats and the city has expanded in all directions, even beyond the Airport. As a result, the city is slowly turning into a concrete jungle and has started facing harsher climates and water scarcity. Due to water scarcity, the green cover is also depleting fast. The story not so different than some of the other cities in the country, like Jaipur and Bangalore etc.

Dry trees in the Pune University
Dry trees in the Pune University
Another one (Bungalow) bites the dust.
City expanded, no green cover.

On my latest visit, I was shocked to see less green cover, very harsh afternoons and mosquitoes in the evenings. I feel we need to give some really serious thoughts to our urban planning, and stop plundering the environment in the name of “development”.

It all started with a cup of tea.

The story of Yewale Chaha started with a cup of tea, when 16-year-old Dashrath Yewale came to Pune from Purandar and started selling milk. He often dreamt of setting up a tea stall.

The Yewale mascot.

That dream, which started in 1983 from Salisbury Park, Camp, Pune finally blossomed into a full fledged business spread across many outlets. It not only involves his son, Navnath but all Yewale brothers. Sadly Dashrath is not there to enjoy his dream.

After labouring extensively over five months, the Yewale brothers finally standardised their tea, by using the same proportion of milk, tea and sugar. They boil the tea over seven minutes while milk is boiled twice before being used for tea. This simple formula ensures that their tea tastes the same across all their branches in the city.

They use about 1,000 kgs of sugar and 300kgs of tea powder in a month to churn out countless cups of tea across all their branches in the city. This Wadgon Sheri outlet alone sells about 2000 cups of tea daily priced at Rupees 10.

The Wadgaon Sheri outlet.

The humble tea cup.

They now have a mega plan of opening 100 branches in the country and going international soon.

Having two cups of this magical tea last night, I can safely say that it is a must try for all tea lovers.

Pushkar se Sambhar tak

On the Republic Day weekend, early on a cold morning we left for Sambhar Salt Lake via Pushkar, where we planned to stay for the night.

Pushkar Adventure Camp

Pushkar is a seven hour drive from Gurgaon via Jaipur. It lies in the Ajmer district and is about 150 kms from Jaipur. The road bypassing Jaipur is good like other roads in Rajasthan.

Essentially it is a temple town situated on the shores on Pushkar Lake. It is famous for its cattle fair, which is held during October – November each year attracting tourists from all over the world.

We had booked ourselves in Pushkar Adventure Desert Camp which is outside the town amidst fields. The sleeping arrangements were in Swiss tents and we had a real cold night on 26th January.

Pushkar Lake

As soon as we reached Pushkar, some of our friends went for the Dessert Camel Safari while the others left to explore the town. Earlier, I had visited this place during the Cattle Fair so it was big surprise to see the town virtually empty, giving us, the photographers a golden chance to capture its different mood and laid back life.

Camel carts for Desert Safari
Sunset @Pushkar Lake

Following morning we left to visit the Shakmbhari Mata Temple and Sambhar Salt Lake via Marwa. Though we did not stop at Marwa due to paucity of time, we did spend some time at the temple and had loads of fun driving on the salt lake.

Shakmbhari Mata Temple


Sambhar is the biggest saline lake in India which finds mention in the legendary “Mahabharata”. It is 96 kms south west of Jaipur and is spread in 190 square kms. Two freshwater streams, Mendha and Rupangarh feed it.

This lake was part of the Kingdom of Devil Lord, Brishparva. Shakambri Mata, the goddess of Chauhan Rajputs had blessed this town to a plain of precious metals. However the people fearing fights requested her to withdraw her blessings, so the goddess changed the metal into salt.

Sambhar Salt Lake
Sambhar Salt Express
Panoramic view of the salt pans.

Both Jaipur and Jodhpur kings had staked claim to this piece of land and rented it to the British but after the Independence of India, the Government of Rajasthan manages and control it. Around it there are 38 small towns and it attracts Flamingoes birds. The best time to visit this place is in winters as summers can be very harsh.

There is a heritage resort being run and managed by a NRI, but its tariff is usually over 10k Rupees per night. After spending some time clicking the salt pans outside the resort we headed straight to Gurgaon ending this beautiful short holiday in Rajasthan.

One night in Mashobra

Recently I received a holiday voucher for two nights in Club Mahindra, Mashobra, from my bank. I had not been to Mashobra though I had visited Shimla about 39 years ago, I decided to accept the offer.

Mashobra is a small town near Shimla on the India Tibet road made by Lord Dalhousie at a height of about 7041 feet. Although for an average tourist there is nothing much of interest and most people whom I met during me stay at the Club Mahindra, Mashobra used to travel to Shimla every day.

Early morning in Mashobra. View from my Hotel room.

Early morning trek to Craignano Nature Park.

However if you are a traveller, you can go for long walks in the hills. Although I must admit that I was a bit disappointed that most of the roads have too much traffic for walking and due to continued construction, there was a lot of dust on the roads.

The resort, is quite nice and offers good view of the town & sunrise and sunsets. The food is also good and you can sit in their lawns with a book or just enjoy the sun.

Mashobra town is a part of the Shimla Water catchment and the vegetation is mainly of beautiful blue pines, oak and cedar trees. You also encounter a number of birds and monkeys as you walk on the roads.

Blue pines trees.

Part of the Mahasu Shiv Temple grounds.

Mahasu Shiv Temple.

Sadly the way infrastructure is being developed, if you choose use public transport for travel to Mashobra from Delhi you face many hurdles. Top most is that Volvo buses ply only in the night and the others are connectivity with Shimla by local buses, haphazard traffic and traffic jams. Honestly this killed my joy of visiting this hill town so close to Delhi.

From Club Mahindra you can visit the (currently under development) Craignano Nature Park on the Shimla Naldehra National Highway at an altitude of 7700 feet.  It is set on a cliff and it is about 4 kms from the resort. The place has many blue pine, oak trees and a number of flower beds planted recently by the park authorities.

Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Flowers inside Craignano Nature Park.

Flowers inside Craignano Nature Park.

Flowers inside Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Flowers inside Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Inside Craignano Nature Park.

Sunset in Mashobra.

To reach here you have to walk through the village where the dust from the construction and passing vehicles makes the walk a bit uncomfortable. If you take your private car or taxi to reach there, personally for me the purpose of being in the hills is lost. I feel that given its location and current facilities, Craignano Nature Park will always have very little foot fall and it is a waste of tax payer’s money.

Enroute you pass through the Mahasu Shiv Temple where earlier bull fights were arranged but after Supreme Court banned them, the fair has lost many admirers and the temple its devouts. I wonder if it still part of the half day temple tour from Shimla.

Well, my Mashobra journey lasted two days and one night. Till a new adventure starts, hang on.






CambodiaDiary – Three nights in Siem Reap

Our flight from Hanoi reached Siem Reap, Capital of Cambodia in the late evening. As soon as I got out of the aircraft the beauty of Siem Reap International Airport struck me. Built in Aug 2006, it is one of the busiest airports in Cambodia and we had to wait in a couple of queues before we were ushered out. Hopefully Cambodian Governments’ plan to develop a new airport 60 kms away will help tourists in future.

Siem Reap International Airport.

Pub Street.

Pub Street.

Pub Street.

Pub Street.

Old market, Siem Reap.

Old market, Siem Reap.

By the time we checked into our Hotel Ibis Styles it was dinner time so we headed out.  Ibis Styles is strategically located, a few hundred meters away from both the Old Market and the Pub Street. Both of them are a must see, if you are visiting Cambodia, as this is where all the action happens.

The Pub Street is lined with pubs and bar as the name suggests and some of the best eating places are in this area. Though we were visiting Siem Reap in September, not really the season, the sights and sounds made me wonder how it will be in the peak season. The place was absolutely magical with some street performers also performing live. Street food in Cambodia is a must try. There are many Chinese style buildings in the town and in the evenings when they are all lit up gives a very magical aura to the market and alleys.

When the French first arrived in Cambodia, Siem Reap was a little more than a village. In the late 19th century, after the French Explorer Henri Mouhot re-discovered Angkor Wat, that tourists started visiting it.

The city’s history is largely shadowed by the horrors of Khmer Rouge’s regime but after Pol Pot died in 1998, stability has returned and tourists footfall has increased many folds leading to an overall development of the country. It is now listed among the top 10 travel destinations by various travel magazines.

Bridge over the Siem Reap river.

Street Food of Siem Reap.

On the right hand side of our hotel was the Siem Reap river which had a few  pedestrian bridges connecting the cluster of tiny villages across the river. The villages were developed around the Buddhist Pagodas (Wat) there.

Early next morning we were picked up by our Tour Guide who took us to the Angkor Wat, a temple complex, one of the largest religious sites in the World. The temple complex is in the ruins of the ancient Angkor city, which was the seat of Khmer Kingdom during the 9th and 15th century. During those days Angkor was a mega city supporting 0.1% of the world’s population during 1010-1220. The main temple Angkor Wat also appears on Cambodia’s flag.

Pedestrian bridge across the Siem Reap River.

Angkor Wat temples.

Wall carvings in Angkor Wat temples.

The Angkor Wat is an UNESCO World Heritage site and is well preserved. It was built in the 12th century (113-115 BC) and it is estimated that it took 30 years to build it. It was King Suryavarman’s dedication to Lord Vishnu and the main temple resembles Mount Meru.

This was a funerary temple for King Suryavarman and that is why it is oriented to west symbolizing the setting sun and death and is designed for viewing from left to right in conformity of the Hindu funeral rituals.

Wall carvings in Angkor Wat temples.

The fight of GODs and Demons for Amrit.

Hundreds of years old trees, Angkor Wat temples.

Angkor Wat temples.

The walls of the temple complex are covered by images of Hindu mythology. Carvings on the stone tell the story of how GODs fought the Demon Kings and recovered the elixir of life, Amrit. The entry and exit to the temple complex is only be through the west gate.

There are a number of other temples surround the Angkor Wat. The word “Wat” means temple in Khmer language and was added during 16th century, when this became a Theravada Buddhist monument. After the Capital of Cambodia was moved to Phnom Penh in 1432, the temple was cared for by the Buddhist monks.

Lord Buddha, hidden in a tree trunk.

Next day our holiday in this beautiful country came to an end as we took an early morning flight home via Bangkok.