Sunday, April 23, 2017

Introducing bloggers of GRTHotels Bloggers meet, Chennai

When I was invited to the bloggers meet being planned by GRT Hotels, I didn’t know who else were coming. I found out few of my fellow bloggers were invited but couldn’t make it. Didn’t know who were all will be attending. Only when a whatsapp group was created on the day of the event, I got to see the names of bloggers coming to Chennai for this event. Even then, most of them I had never met before. When I started sharing posts about the bloggers meet, many friends were curious to know more about the specially invited bloggers. After spending 3 days with them traveling around Mahabalipuram, Kancheepuram and Chennai, I now know them slightly better and thought a post introducing them to my readers will be apt. Thus in this post I am giving a quick intro about the other specially invited bloggers who were part of the #GRTHotels bloggers meet. You can refer their respective websites to know more about them, their stories and probably find out their social media handles to follow.
Group Photo taken at Radisson Blu Temple bay

1 & 2 Sandy and Vijay
I had met them a few times earlier, particularly in Indiblogger- Tata Motors events. This Bengaluru based couple blogs at traveling together for more than a decade now.  Sandy and Vijay were the only bloggers I had already met. All other bloggers I met for the first time during the #GRTHotels bloggers meet

3 & 4. Vivek and Saakshi
Vivek and Saakshi are Chennai based couple travel bloggers. Saakshi said she has been reading my blogs for some time now and it was such a pleasure to hear that. Both Vivek and Saakshi have full time jobs as a banker and dentist respectively and are managing travel despite that. We did have some great conversation during the journey, exchanged notes on Japan and more. Do check their blog at

Above: Vivek and Saakshi

5 & 6.  Prashanth Reddy and Andrea
Prashanth and Andrea are another Bengaluru based couple taking part in the GRT Hotels bloggers meet. They blog at , do check it out to know more about them and their travel and food stories. Andrea and Prashanth are also managing their travel despite full time jobs.

7. Gitanjali Banerjee: Gitanjali flew in from Delhi for the event. She had a corporate career but now into entrepreneurship with her niche website- . She is building a platform and a community for women health issues, pregnancy, infertility etc. Her travel stories are documented in the facebook page- Travel by Karma 

8. Divyanshu Mishra:  Divyanshu was probably the most active person the group, taking maximum number of pictures and sharing them instantly. He manages sales for a leading security services company in Pune and runs a food, travel blog at

Above: Divyanshu, Arvind and Spoorti

9. Arvind Soju: Arvind also has a full time IT job, based in Pune and blogs at

10 Priya Shiva
Priya runs giving great tips on food styling, recipes and more. She also consults with multiple brands. She joined us along with her husband Shiva and lovely son.

We also briefly met Swapnil Midha, official blogger for GRT. 

We were ably assisted by Anand, Spoorti and Senthil from the agency Firebrand Labs (more about them at and several other staff from the hotel and Firebrand Labs during the event. Below is another group pic clicked with GRT Management. (Photo sourced from COO Vikram Cotah's profile)
I was told that about 150 different bloggers were evaluated before shortlisting about 20 bloggers. Some of the invited bloggers couldn't accept it due to various reasons and finally about 10 of us made it to the event, spending 4 days exploring various GRT properties and towns of Mahabalipuram and Kancheepuram. I will write about those experiences separately and I am also looking forward to reading above blogger's experience from the meet. Also follow me on Instagram here- will be posting my clicks here regularly

I also learnt that Batch 2 of bloggers will be visiting soon. Curious to know them.

Similar: Bloggers I met at BNLF Mumbai

Friday, April 21, 2017

Destination Hong Kong for this summer family vacation!

Summer time is here and everyone are in a mood for a quick vacation. If you’ve not considered a trip to Hong Kong yet, here’re the reasons why you should do it now.

Why Hong Kong?
While there’re umpteen destinations to consider, let us see why Hong Kong stands out

1 Direct flights: Many Indian cities have direct flight to Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s national carrier Cathay Pacific flies to several Indian cities. Air India and Jet also fly to Hong Kong. One stop flights are available from a variety of airlines, such as Air Asia, China Southern and many other airlines. You can have a return ticket for as low as 15000 INR on a sale.

2 Modern yet contemporary: Hong Kong has some of the tallest skyscrapers in the region and is known for its modern life. However city retains the chaos of a small town, lots of greenery and more.

3 Try an overnight cruise: If you can’t afford long cruises, try an overnight cruise from Star Cruise Piesces ex- Hong Kong. Two people can enjoy an overnight cruise for a fare from Rs 17000 onwards. My detailed experience here.

4. Lots of Indian restaurants: Indians are particular about food. Indian food. Hong Kong doesn’t disappoint. There’re several Indian Restaurants in Hong Kong, including the popular veg chains like Sangeetha.

5. Magical Disneyland: Hong Kong is one of the nearest cities to experience Disneyland. At least one full day can be spent here with family enjoying various experiences and attractions HK Disney land has on offer. Standby for my detailed post on HK Disneyland
6. 20th Anniversary discounts: Hong Kong is celebrating its 20th anniversary of Hong Kong SAR Establishment. You will get great bargains and deals from hotels, flights, at attractions or during shopping. Make the most of it and plan a trip this summer. Grab your coupon booklet and enjoy all the discounts.
7. Attractions to everyone’s interest: Hong Kong has all kinds of attractions within a small area to suits everyone’s interest in the family. There are dedicated shopping streets for ladies, dedicated streets for flowers or electronics. Disneyland can keep kids as well as adults busy for whole day, Victoria Peak is another scenic destination which should not be missed, Symphony of lights is a free to watch attraction every night, a boat trip to Macao can also be planned if you have a day or two to spare and so on.

8. Packages to every budget: When I visited Hong Kong, I stayed in an ultra-cheap hostel for 3 nights. (Rainbow hostel) Just around INR 1500 per person per night. There’re accommodation options to suit everyone’s budget- from cheap hostels to ultra-luxurious hotels like the Sheratons with harbour view. Select a hotel closer to a metro station and you can save on taxi expense. Unlimited use daily pass can be purchased for the metro, making it even more convenient. You can also try hop on, hop off services, dinner cruises and so on.

9. Easy visa process: Indian Nationals can get pre-approval registration online to visit Hong Kong for 14-days. This is free of charge and much simpler process than having to apply for a tourist visa

So what’s holding you back? Make the most of Hong Kong this summer. Watch the video below and check this site for details and offers.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Aqua Fantasy Musical Fountain show at Kyoto Station

On my Day 2 in Japan, I had kept my bag in Kyoto station locker, so went there in the evening to recover it. However, I was treated to a delightful experience, of a musical fountain show which was running right outside Kyoto Station.

The show was happening right between Kyoto Tower and Kyoto station, the the roof of a building which had "Aqua Fantasy" written on it. I took a few photos and made couple of videos. Do watch the videos below, which are about 2 minutes each.

Video Clip 1 of Aqua Fantasy Musical Fountain show in Kyoto [Watch on Youtube here]
Video Clip 2 of Aqua Fantasy Musical Fountain show in Kyoto [Watch on Youtube here]
Video Clip 3 of Aqua Fantasy Musical Fountain show in Kyoto [Watch on Youtube here]
If you are too busy to watch the videos, some still pictures for you
Had good time watching it. Aqua fantasy runs all through the year but timings may vary. Check this site for schedules.

Similar: Sound and light show at Madurai's Tirumalai Nayak Palace * Symphony of lights- Hong Kong * Sound and light show at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Views of Osaka from Umeda Sky Building

Umeda Sky building was one of the first few attractions that I visited once arriving in Japan. My arrival was at 3.30 PM, so I was hoping to explore a bit same evening. But it was almost 6 PM when I reached my hostel-sim card activation and travel to Osaka city from Kansai took most of the time- more about that later. I did go to Osaka Castle area first to get some glimpse of Cherry blossom. Good to see them but it was beginning to get dark. Next attraction I had on my agenda was the Umeda Sky building. Thankfully Umeda Sky Building is open to visitors till 10.30 PM (Last entry 10 PM). Decided to head there next.

Umeda Sky building is walkable from Osaka station-about 1 kms.  From Osaka station the building doesn't look as inviting because its best view is seen from a different direction. After walking to the building, I went to information counter who guided me to 33rd floor. It did take me few moments to figure out the right escalator- the building houses several offices and elevators meant for employee use only.

Once in 33rd floor, I had to buy a ticket, which were priced at 1000 Yen (INR 600 approx). Went to 39th floor using this scenic escalator. This is one of the two V shaped columns you see in the picture above. The other one was meant for coming down but was out of service.

Once on top below were the night views of Osaka city. Viewing can be done at 2 levels- 40th floor with glass windows and 41st floor which is open terrace. Open terrace is supposed to get you clear photos but there are barricades that come in the way of photos demanding extra efforts while clicking.

There is a Lumi deckwith illuminated flooring, used as a photo corner.

Closeup view of the bridges

Also interesting to see was the Mazda showroom in ground level, which had the Mazda convertible hung from ceiling.
 Standby for more Japan stories and experiences.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Japan Travelogue by Sangeeta Sumesh

As some of you are aware, Japan is my next destination. I had booked a ticket 13 months ago and am looking forward to the trip. Have written about the Japan visa process here and even though I am yet to travel, there've been several queries from my readers about Japan already. Two of friends have recently returned from a Japan trip-they booked later but went ahead of me- now I can pick their brains to fine tune my itinerary. Sangeeta Sumesh is one of my friends who has recently returned from a family trip to Japan. She is an avid traveler, author (her first book is reviewed here) and well respected corporate executive. Upon my request she readily agreed to share her Japan trip notes and photos with my readers, hence this guest post. Thanks to her for the notes and pictures. I have taken liberty to add some additional notes.

A summary of my travelogue to Japan. In the order of the places I visited. Things that stood out or otherwise! By SANGEETA 

O – Oh my! Stunning views from the 54th floor of the hotel we stayed
S – Shinkansen experience (our first bullet train ride) was amazing
A – Automatic Bidet to wash bum!
K – Kansai Airport, our first port of landing, with lot of tourist information
A – A day wasted in Universal Studios (Due to excess crowd and rain)

Above: Double Decker bridge to reach Osaka airport- 6 lane highway on top, double railway tracks beneath
Below: Evening and night views of Osaka city from 54th floor hotel room

Above: Osaka Eye
Below: Bullet trains of Japan (Shinkasen) with about 340 kmph speed

SH Additional Notes: Osaka is my landing city as well. The Osaka airport is a marvel in itself- it is a floating and sinking airport built on sea. Watch this video if you're interested. When I booked, Air Asia was serving only Osaka, now they fly to Tokyo Haneda as well.

H – Heart breaking stories
I – Inspirational comeback
R – Radiation disaster from the atomic bomb
O – Offered lessons to the world not to use nuclear bombs
S – Sadoko’s paper cranes, touching story (Obama did the paper cranes too!)
H – Holocaust of the past
I – Itsukushu shrine at Miyajima Island
M – Museum and Memorial for peace
A – Atomic Dome rubbles still maintained

Above: Atomic Dome and Peace memorial (August 6, 1945, Little boy was dropped here)

Above: Miyajima, small island in Hiroshima Bay
Below: Sadoko's paper cranes
K – Kingdom of Shrines
Y – Yearning to see again
O – Outstanding city, the previous capital
T – Truly local accommodation - we stayed here in a Ryokan
O – Onsen (hot spring bath) experience

Above: Arashiyama Bamboo forest
Below: Ryokan Experienece

Above & below: Kyoto Imperial Palace

Above n below: Fushumi Inari shrine

Above: Golden Pavilion Shrine

H – Hail, Snowfall and chilly winds got us confined to the lovely hotel
A – Ashi lake, a scenic place
K – Komagate ropeway, we couldn’t get to, cos of bad weather
O – Odawara station – get off here to get to Hakone
N – Nearest town to view Mount Fuji
E – Ended with disappointment of not seeing the shy Mt Fuji as it was hidden by the clouds

Lake Ashi
Below: Distant view of Komagate ropeway

T – Transport system, unparalleled
O – Oshiage station, our prime spot
K – Kicked visiting Akihabara, Asakusa shrine, Meiji shrine, Shibuya crossing & Sky tree
Y – Yeah! The cherry blossom (Sakura) had just commenced
O – Odaiba, Imperial palace, river cruise & some parks we couldn’t visit cos of the weather 
Above: Shibuya crossing- said to be world's busiest. (Watch this AIG Ad where crossing is shown beautifully)
Below: Cherry Blossom in Tokyo
Tokyo Skytree and view from top

Below: Local alcohol (sake) at Meiji Shrine
Few travel tips
The weather is unpredictable. Also don’t go by just the temperature as it is colder than that because of the chilly winds
Any doubts ask the locals. Though most do not speak English, they understand and are polite and ready to help
The ready to eat Bento box (packed meals) at the stations are clean and well presented
For vegetarians beware – getting veg food is a bit of a challenge. Even some veg looking food are cooked in fish oil. Better to check at the tilling counter before purchase
All food items are written only in Japanese. Any doubts check at with the shop assistants. We bought sweet yogurt thinking it was plain yoghurt! 
The JR pass was very useful but some trains do not accept them. So beware. Check before you board. 
Akinhabara is the electronics hub in Tokyo to purchase any electronics, including robots. 
Good to get day passes in places like Kyoto which are valid for use in most buses, metros and subways. Please note that the JR pass is not valid to travel within the city
The coins are useful for purchasing the train / subway tickets
Loved the minimalist lifestyle of the Japanese. Also whatever work / job undertaken by them is done to the perfection! This has to be learnt.

You can check Sangeeta's FB page here.
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