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Monday, August 29, 2011

Sheraton Bangalore Hotel - A Review

Last weekend, being a long holiday weekend (13th to 16th August), we decided to make a short leisure trip to Bangalore City for three days. It had been raining incessantly in Mumbai for the last whole month making it impossible to move out much or do anything else. Getting bored of being stuck to the house caused us to think of taking a short break away from home for a while and the closest place that we could get relatively cheap air tickets at such short notice was for Bangalore City via Kingfisher, for which I am a Club Member. So without further ado, we booked our flights and then did come research online on the hotels where we could have a comfortable stay.That's when I came upon Sheraton Hotel Bangalore. The Sheraton Hotel is part of the Starwood hotels and resorts worldwide and to my surprise, I discovered that they are have a partnership with the Kingfisher, my preferred airlines, wherein you can get extra Kingfisher miles for just staying in this hotel. This spurred my interest in choosing to stay in this hotel.

Sheraton Hotel Brigade Gateway, Bangalore.
I visited their official website online to check out the features and facilities offered by the hotel and to also check out the rooms available and their tariffs. That's when I discovered the "Starwood Preferred Guest" program where you can easily apply to be a member and get a membership card for free. Apparently, this membership earns you "starpoints" for all of your eligible stays at over 1100 Starwood hotels and resorts in more than 100 countries. These points can then be redeemed for Free Night awards. I applied for the program and got a card instantly. The room rates were reasonable and cheaper than the other five star hotels that we had checked out. So we went ahead and booked a room for three nights. 

The Sheraton Hotel at Bangalore was opened quite recently in the month of May 2011 and is located in Malleswaram on Dr Rajkumar Road, Rajajinagar. The Hotel forms a part of the expansive Brigade Gateway lifestyle enclave comprising of the World Trade Center office tower, the massive Orion Mall and Multiplex, green space, a man made lake and is also connected to the World Trade Centre (WTC) and the Orion Mall via a sky bridge. All in all, the whole property looks pretty  impressive and stylish as per international standards, has all the comforts, easy accessibility, suited to the business class and is also very futuristic in its design and facilities. It is situated about 34kms away from the airport, and so it took us about 35-40 minutes by cab to reach it as there was little traffic on the roads late at night. All the other important places like the city center, Golf club, Bangalore palace, Cubbon park etc are within 10 kilometers of the hotel.  One can use the hotel travel desk for transportation or use the city cab services. However, for unplanned movement, it was also very easy to catch an auto rickshaw during the day (which is the preferred mode of cheap local transport in the city) from right outside the Hotel. 

View of Sheraton Hotel from the man made Lake.

The Sheraton Hotel is an ideal destination for both business and leisure and the stay is definitely a lifestyle experience. We found ourselves booked into the deluxe pool facing room on the 10th floor, which offered a fantastic view of the pool, the man made lake, and the iconic ISKCON Temple that's located nearby. We were given the King size bed as per our choice, which was big enough for all three of us to fit in very comfortably, and therefore we did not require an extra bed for my son. The room was very comfortable and spacious, offering all the world class amenities in it. See Pictures below.

Deluxe Room at Sheraton Hotel

Lavish Bathroom
View of Iskon Temple from the Pool.

View of the pool from our room on 10th floor.

The grandeur offered by the hotel is visible the moment you enter the lobby with its high atrium and the walls decorated with motifs inspired by India's culture. On the left side is a water body with flowing water right next to the staircase going up to the ballroom level. The water theme continues on to this level and the large pre-function area has a ceiling decorated with crystal beads of light. Expansive is the word when it comes to the Ballrooms/various banquet halls, there are nine of them, suitably provided with wireless internet and audio-video equipment.

The Lobby at Sheraton Bangalore

The Lounge at Sheraton Lobby
Largest Prefunction Hall

Grand Ball Room Cocktail Setup
On the right side of the entrance, a custom made lighting fixture with a blue/clear crystal combo catches the eye even though it is higher than the eye level, leading straight up to the reception. The staff was cordial and very helpful and checking in was a breeze. The lounge opposite the reception is well thought out with nice furniture making one feel comfortable unlike some other hotels where one feels like they are in an airport lounge. Across the lounge is the Link@Sheraton area, something like a business center, with wireless and regular connectivity. Developed in partnership with Microsoft, guests can use the facility for connectivity, printouts etc. While we were there, the first 45 minutes of use was complementary.

Feast, the signature multi-cuisine all day restaurant was where we had our breakfast daily. The restaurant is tastefully done with colors, indoor plants and fixtures melting into each other in the natural daylight streaming in through the high glass windows. What I found unique about this restaurant was that it was thoughtfully divided into different islands to cater to the different cuisines namely, Indian, Asian and Western dishes and each island was manned by their respective chefs who offered to cook your choice of food exactly the way you would want it. The choice available was such even after three breakfasts there were certain items we had not tried yet. During our stay, we managed to try their dosas (which were perfect, by the way) and the stuffed parathas, choice of eggs with toast, noodles of our choice cooked with a mixture of our own choice of vegetables, and non veg items that were on display, and also tasted some of the different types of bread, puffs and pastry along with fresh juice, tea and coffee. The food was delicious and the staff very friendly and helpful all along. 

Feast, the Multicuisine Restaurant @ Sheraton, Bangalore

Another unique feature of this restaurant is the ice cream island, where one can just go "nuts" and invent an ice cream of your own choice served on a cold grill with any type of fillings, toppings, condiments and mixtures that you want, called the Ice Cream Teppanyaki , the first of its kind in Bangalore. It's definitely something you wouldn't want to miss.   

Durbar, a colonial styled bar, offers a varied range of beverages and snacks. Themed on the Indian royalty of yore, the interiors give a royal and plush look complemented well by the Maharaja sofas and the bed style seating. The opulence continues on to the mezzanine floor which also houses a private dining area. We just missed the saturday night special discount offer of drinking and tasting unlimited Brazilian malt for just Rs/-1000 per head. This special scheme will get over on 30th September, so if you are looking for a cool place to chill and indulge then this is probably where you should be headed. And don't miss the WOW (wines of the world) tasting opportunity, where they have a huge collection of imported wines of all varieties right in front of your eyes that you can choose to taste. The place is aptly decorated to make you feel "royal" in every way, including the huge paintings from the royal patronage to suit the mood. See Pictures.

Durbar Style @ Durbar, Sheraton

Wines of the World at Durbar Sheraton
The level four of the hotel houses Bene, the signature Italian restaurant. We are not much of Italian food fans and hence skipped the opportunity to dine there. The restaurant offers a variety of soups, salads, pastas, pizzas and cheese. For those who mix business of eating with the pleasure of drinking, the restaurant has a delectable selection of wines and draft beers to choose from. For kids they have an equally lavish choice of a variety of sodas, milkshakes and desserts.
Bene, the Italian Restaurant @Sheraton, Bangalore
Adjacent to Bene is the Persian Terrace, an open air restaurant, set to a mid-east theme. Shimmering lanterns, candles, twinkling tea lights, cabana sofas, cane chairs, stone floors, a Persian fire wall reminds one of the Arabian Nights. The Arabic and Lebanese cuisine completes the experience. For the weather, such as in Bangalore, the concept and the implementation clearly is one of the highlights of the Hotel. 

The fourth level also houses the swimming pool, the Gym and the Angsana spa and is certainly the most happening space in the hotel.

To sum it all up, Sheraton, Bangalore has all that it takes for an enriching stay away from home. A helpful staff, elegant decor, a spacious room, an inviting bed and appetizing food. What else do you need for your stay to be worth cherishing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Himachal Pradesh - A Trip to Sarahan (Valley of Flowers)

After a very refreshing stay at Kalpa for one day, we proceeded to the next destination of our road trip - Sarahan.

We started early in the morning so that we could reach Sarahan well before lunch. The distance from Kalpa to Sarahan is about 160Km and driving down the Kalpa mountain was faster than the time it took us to come up. The road after the Karcham bridge was better and so we managed to reach Sarahan well in time.

Sarahan - Popularly known as the "Valley of Flowers", lies in the foothills of the Himalayas, in the Sutlej Valley at an altitude of 2165m amidst scenic beauty of breathtaking greenery, waving snow peaked mountains, apple orchards and decked with flowers. Sarahan was the old capital of Rampur Bushair one of the biggest princely states in Shimla hills, located on the Kinnaur-Shimla border in Himachal Pradesh. Sarahan is filled with flowering Pine trees, stately oaks, deodar trees and higher still, encircling the Bashal peak, are trees of smooth birch and variety of wild flowers and rare medicinal herbs.

Snow Peaked Himalayas - Sarahan
Snow Peaked Himalayas - Sarahan

Sarahan is a place of pilgrimage and there are many sacred stories related to this region. There is the famous Bhimakali Temple which has numerous ancient legends surrounding its existence.

Sarahan is a place where you can take numerous treks and experience nature at its best. There are also other places of interest that you might want to see while you are there, if you have the time. for more information on that visit:

Himachal Pradesh Tourism has a very good hotel in Sarahan where you can book your rooms in advance online. We found the hotel in the middle of the town market, which was very crowded and so they were not allowing any vehicles beyond a certain point without a permit. The Temple could also be seen beside the market area, looking very majestic indeed. However, our luck seemed to have run out on us that day and we couldn't find any decent place to stay. All the hotels were booked as also the circuit house.

I would definitely recommend staying over in Sarahan for a day or two to enjoy the true beauty and serenity of the valley. The place retains its unpretentious beauty and can be appreciated only from close quarters.

Since we couldn't find a suitable place to stay we decided to go ahead to Narkanda. We reached there just before sunset and managed to get a room again, luckily, at the circuit house.

Original article posted on Xomba

Himachal Pradesh - A Trip to Kalpa

After seeing Chitkul and the Sangla valley we decided to head to Kalpa straightaway, which is just about 69Km from Sangla. We reached back in Sangla town about 11:00 am in the morning and decided to have brunch, since we had had no breakfast in the morning and we knew we wouldn't find anything on the way back. So, we entered one of the many Nepalese restaurants there and had hot Alu Paranthas. We also decided to try some of their local dish called "Momo" which seemed to be very popular and available in all the eating joints there. We had a plate of hot mutton "momos" packed for later and set off for our next destination- Kalpa.

The road to Kalpa from Sangla is very bad because of the Hydroelectric Project that is underway and lots of landslides added to it as well. It was a slow drive for about 2 hrs touching Karcham and taking the opposite road to Kalpa. From there onwards we again started following the Sutlej river and climbing mountains towards the Kinner Kailash in Kalpa. The scenery all along the way was magnificent.

View of Kinner Kailash
View of Kinner Kailash

Getting to Kalpa is a travelers paradise at a height of 10,900 feet in Himachal Pradesh going along the NH22 in Kinnaur District and located at the base of the imposing Kinner Kailash ranges and Shivling peaks which rise upto 20,000 feet, towering above the clouds surrounding the whole area. Kalpa is spread amidst chilgoza forests, apple plantations and the holy deodhars. You can reach this little village after crossing the quaint town of Recong Peo, which has a hundred-year-old monastery and is the district headquarters of the Kinnaur region.

Recong Peo is about 51Km from Sangla. There is a petrol pump just before you enter Recong Peo (2290 M)at a place called Powari. Soon after Powari is the gradual climb up the mountain to Kalpa. The distance from Recong Peo to Kalpa is just about 20Km. The road here is good and the drive was better. We reached Kalpa in good time in the afternoon around three PM. Searched for a room in the circuit house and managed to get two rooms there after a lot of cajoling and speaking to the authorities on the phone. It was a holiday that day due to Dussera festival and so we couldn't find anybody at home and the offices were all closed for two days.

Finally, we settled down in the circuit house by late evening and prepared for dinner. We managed to get something packed from the Kinner Kailash Hotel, which is the HPTDC hotel in Kalpa (was fully booked)and returned to our rooms. You can book your hotel rooms in advance at the Kinner Kailash Hotel, which is definitely one of the best hotels available in Kalpa, online here:

After a tasty dinner of Chicken curry, dal, rice, vegetables and some chappattis we turned in for the night. The next day we got up early and saw the beautiful sunrise on the Kinner Kailash mountain right in front of us. Take a look at these beautiful pictures.

Sunrise at Kinner Kailash Kalpa 
Sunrise at Kinner Kailash Kalpa

Snow peaked Kinner KailashSnow peaked Kinner Kailash

View from Circuit House KalpaView from Circuit House Kalpa
Kinner Kailash KalpaKinner Kailash Kalpa
Kalpa Kinner Kailash
Kalpa Kinner Kailash
View of Kinner Kailash from KalpaView of Kinner Kailash from Kalpa

We had a hearty breakfast in the room of hot Alu Paranthas and some apples and generally relaxed around that day. My dad and husband went to the town to find some petrol and fill up the tank again. They managed to find the petrol pump in Recong Peo (there are two there) and topped up the tank. In the meanwhile, I just basked in the beautiful scenery around the Circuit house and took these snaps and lots of fresh air.

In the afternoon, we set off to the town market in Kalpa to eat lunch in some local Dhaba there. We managed to find one which was offering dal and rice. It was good enough and cheap, and tasted homemade. The market is very small and looks very quaint right in the foothills of the great mountains. See the Jain temple that rests right in the middle of the market.

Jain Temple in Kalpa TownJain Temple in Kalpa Town

Kalpa has lots of apple orchards all along the way. We saw both the varieties, the red and the green ones, called the Golden apples. They were in the process of plucking the apples and packing them into boxes making them ready for transport. There were lots of packed boxes lying alongside the road ready to be picked.

We did not do anything else thereafter, just returned to the rooms after seeing the town and again had dinner there and got ready to move on to the next place, Sarahan, early next morning. Read all about Sarahan in the next byte.

Original article posted on Xomba

Himachal Pradesh - A Trip to the last Indian village Chitkul

The trip to Himachal Pradesh started from Chandigarh by car. The route taken was via Shimla - Kufri - Narkanda - Sangla and Chitkul - Kalpa - Sarahan and back to Shimla and Chandigarh. It was the most exhilarating experience of my life. The whole route was amidst scenic beauty of the majestic mountain ranges of Kinnaur District of Himachal Pradesh.

We drove along the Sutlej River for most part till a place called Karcham where the Sutlej river conjoins with the Baspa river. We then followed the Baspa river to Sangla. Sangla is a town based in the valley along the Baspa river in the lap of the Himalayan mountain ranges.


Snow top Himalayan Mountain ranges Chitkul
 Snow top Himalayan Mountain ranges Chitkul

About 28Km from the Sangla Valley is located the highest and the last Indian village in the Indo-Tibetan Border called Chitkul. It is also the last point you can travel to without a permit. This beautiful village is surrounded by the Himalayan mountain ranges on all sides and is covered totally in snow during the winters. We saw that the top of mountain ranges were still covered in snow due to a fresh snowfall in the month of September. The sight of the majestic mountains is absolutely breathtaking and awesome.

Chitkul Village
Chitkul Village

The village has a population of about 700 people and rests at an altitude of about 3,435m. The mountains lead to Tibet on one side and to Uttarkhand on the other. The local people still cross the mountains on foot during the summers carrying their deity to the temple on the other side. The Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol has its presence in the village and also along the Tibetan Border in the mountains. We also got to see the Yak on the way to the Chitkul village. See Picture.


We saw the last Indian Dhaba that boasts of serving Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. It was closed! I wondered if it ever functioned?

Last Indian Dhaba Chitkul

Last Indian Dhaba: Chitkul

Original article posted on Xomba

Monday, August 1, 2011

Himachal Pradesh - A Trip to Sangla

This byte is a continuation of my road trip from Narkanda, which you can read here.

After a relaxing night at Narkanda, we set off early the next day for Sangla, which is in Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh. It is about 170Km from Narkanda via Rampur. This stretch of the road was very good till Rampur and so we made good progress as even traffic is very less this side of Hiimachal Pradesh. We saw plenty of apple orchards all along the mountains on this route, although most of the trees were now bare of fruits as they had finished harvesting at this time of the year.

Apple Orchards of Himachal Pradesh

This part of Himachal Pradesh has not yet been bombarded with modern facilities and hotels and so we got to see the original beauty of the place along with their culture and their simple way of life. For, Himachali folk are very simple down to earth people and also very polite, warm and helpful in general.

Our petrol tank was now nearing the "half" mark and so we started hunting for petrol outlets in every small town that we passed and found that there was no petrol in most of them. Let me add here that there were not that many small towns in between either. They were spread far apart from each other. We passed about two to three such small towns each one promising us petrol in the next one. Finally, we reached a town that had some petrol and we managed to get petrol for Rs 200. They told us to go ahead to Rampur where we would get more petrol.

On the way downhill to Rampur, we saw the Sutlej river and we had to drive alongside it for most of the distance uptill a place called Karcham where the Baspa river conjoins it. See Picture of the Sutlej River from the top and bottom of the mountain.

Sutlej River: View from the top of mountain

Sutlej River Flowing Alongside The Road

We also saw a Hanuman Temple at the roadside on the way. Here is a picture of the huge idol of Lord Hanuman.

Lord Hanuman Temple

We reached Rampur and managed to get petrol on the way and filled our tank. That was fortunate because we realized that after Rampur there were no more petrol outlets all the way to Sangla and back. To add to it, the other facilities, like hotels and roadside Dhabas also thinned out and as it was nearing lunch time we started looking out for a decent place where we could stop for a meal, but found nothing till a place called Wangtu.

Baspa River

Let me also point out that the road from Rampur onwards became bad again which slowed down our speed quite a bit. There is a lot of construction work of a hydroelectric power project going on on the way and so there is no proper road for a long way. To add to this, there were the landslides which had happened recently during the rains which narrowed the road even further at some points making it very dangerous and risky.

At a place called Wangtu, we finally found a very good Dhaba which was serving hot meals for only Rs 25 a plate with unlimited quantity. We enjoyed hot rice, chappatis with dal, Kadi (a local Himachali dish made from curd) and some vegetables. It was very delicious and tasted like homemade food. The service too was excellent.

You won't find any other place to eat after this point till Sangla. The road from this point vanished altogether and became even more tricky and nerve racking all the way till Sangla. We managed to reach Sangla Valley which is situated at an altitude of 8,900 ft, after 2 hours of driving, although the distance left was not all that much. We arrived just before sunset and started looking for a place to stay. We found to our dismay that all the hotels and rooms had been booked in advance.

However, after searching here and there, we finally managed to get a room, a dormitory with four beds, at one hotel, and having no other choice, we grabbed the room and settled in for the night.

That day there were clouds in the sky that were threatening to rain. We even had some thunder and so it became quite cold and chilly. Here we finally saw the snow covered mountains towering right in front and over us. It was a magnificent view. However, since light had faded and night was falling, we retired to our room and crashed in bed after a hearty dinner of dal, rice, vegetable and rotis that was cooked graciously by the hotel cook. The next day morning we set off to see the Sangla Valley and to Chitkul.

The Sangla Valley is spread all along the Baspa River with the snow covered Himalayan mountain ranges all around it. The beauty of the valley is absolutely breathtaking and awesome. There are small towns that are nestled in the valley and look so peaceful and serene. This was real unspoilt beauty at its best.

See some pictures of the Sangla Valley here:

Sangla Valley

Sangla Town

Sangla Mountains

Sangla Valley

Baspa River in Sangla Valley

That was the end of this part of our trip. We reached Chitkul and then turned back to proceed to Kalpa the same day. But that is yet another story.

Luxury Camp in Sangla Valley

Original article posted on Xomba 

Himachal Pradesh - A Trip to Narkanda

Narkanda is a beautiful town situated in the hills of Shimla district in Himachal Pradesh. We started our road trip from Chandigarh and headed to Shimla, which takes about three and a half hours by car. Narkanda is at a distance of about 64 kms from Shimla by road and lies at an altitude of about 2,470 mts and is also reputed to be India's oldest Ski-Resort. The drive through the winding roads of the hills was exhilarating and enjoyable till we reached Shimla. From there onwards the road deteriorated all the way to Kufri. It was the most horrible stretch of road, giving us quite a few bumps and to make matters worse the traffic got very congested at this point, slowing down our progress considerably. In spite of all these delays we still managed to reach our destination well before sunset.

We hadn't bothered to book any room in advance, and so went to the circuit house to try our luck there. We were very fortunate to get a room at the last moment. After dumping our baggage and refreshing ourselves in the room, we set out to look around and discover the place. The place was absolutely scenic with the majestic hills all around and the beautiful valley visible below. The beauty of Narkanda can be appreciated better in these pictures that we took from the circuit house. Since it was getting a bit cloudy that day, we were unable to see the snow capped Himalayan ranges that can otherwise be seen on a clear sunny day.


Tress of Narkanda

Narkanda Valley

Himachal Pradesh is famous for its apples. There were plenty of apple orchards all along the route, in Narkanda and the rest of the places that we visited as well. Some of these apple orchards had already been harvested. Narkanda is also considered to be a very important Horticultural Center.The main place of tourist interest here is the Hatu Peak, which is also the highest peak in Narkanda at about 3,400 mts.

Hatu Peak

The scenic beauty is absolutely breathtaking from this point. The road leading upto this peak was equally treacherous, narrow and nerve racking. We could see the complete Narkanda valley and the town from the top and also see the surrounding majestic mountains. There was a temple at the top. Himachal Pradesh is also known as the land of Gods, or Godesses we can say. As the people here seem to worship Godesses.  The view from the top of Hatu Peak was absolutely breathtaking and fantastic. We took a few pictures from the top, take a look.

Temple at Hatu Peak

Top of Hatu Peak

View From Hatu Peak

The place was very cold at night as the temperatures dropped drastically due partially to the clouds in the horizon. The Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department  (HPTD) have a hotel called "The Hatu" in Narkanda where one can book rooms in advance online at their website. There were also a few other places of tourist interest in Narkanda, but as we did not have much time in hand, we did not bother seeing them.

Night fell soon, as it does in mountains, so we returned to the town to have a good dinner. We found one of their local Dhabas called the "Himalayan Dhaba" that looked good and inviting and settled down for some good food. The food was delicious and piping hot, so we were satisfied after a long and tiring drive. It was worth it. The next day early morning we were able to see the snow peaked Himalayan ranges at the horizon as the sky cleared considerably and we set off on our way to the next destination, that was Sangla. That is yet another story...

Original article posted on Xomba