Friday, April 28, 2017

Kancheepuram Silk Sarees: Weavers colony visit

As part of the GRTHotels Bloggers meet activity, we visited Kancheepuram last Saturday. After visiting the temples, next stop was at a small handloom unit where silk sarees were being hand weaved. This post shares some photos and notes from that visit.
Despite advance of machine operated mills that can produce large quantities of cloths in shorter time, a good number of handlooms still operate in many parts of South India, Kancheepuram being one of them.  These domestic units put in extreme hard work to produce hand-made sarees which still retain good demand. The finesse and grandeur of sarees made by expert hands is unmatched by a machine. Below are some of the information shared with us by the lady who gave us a walkthrough of the operations

The silk used in the saree comes from Karnataka. The golden colour threads come from Gujarath.
Making a saree by hand is a pretty slow process. About 40 cm (length) long saree is made every day. A typical saree is 4.5 to 5 meters in length while few are even longer. Making one full size saree usually takes about 30-45 days of effort, depending on complexity of design. Workers put 10-12 hours of effort each day, pulling various levers and controls and inserting threads in specific patterns to get the desired output.
We saw two different unit. First one was operated by an old man and was completely manual. He needs to memorize the design and feed in right threads at right place periodically to get the desired design. The equipment felt so complex to understand and operate. We saw a second unit operated by a young man. It had a FORTRAN like computer program card (looks like 1980s technology). While the former machine had single colour threads, this one had blue + Red threads, which would result in a dual colour saree.

Kancheepuram sarees are very famous for their designer border, known as Zari. At the loom we visited, some party from Andhra Pradesh had placed order for several wedding sarees.  We were told retail price of exclusive wedding sarees range about 25000-35000 typically. Regular silk sarees cost INR 5000 upwards.
It was nice to know the effort that goes into making a saree. Next time you're in Kanchipuram, do visit some of the handlooms. You can stay at Regency by GRT Hotels. Thanks to them for facilitating the visit.

Similar: Rao Brothers of Mangalore- Ganesha Idol makers * Bikaner Miniature artist *

View of Kyoto city from Kyoto tower

Kyoto tower is located right opposite Kyoto station and is impossible to miss. During my first evening in Kyoto, as I returned to Kyoto station to pickup my bag from locker, Though Kyoto tower was not on my agenda, since it was right opposite I went closer, but I was greeted by a sign that said "Tower is closed for today because of media event". Next day I had to return to Kyoto station to catch train to Tokyo and the bullet train on which JR Pass is allowed was still 30 mins away. Thus took a decision to go to top of Kyoto tower.

The main entrance was covered with lots of people holding flowers and stuff- I guess they were waiting to receive some VIP guests. I went inside the tower, after troubling couple of people, found my way up to the ticket counter. Ticket cost is 770 Yen. Was guided to the elevator to top.

Below are some views of Kyoto city from top of Kyoto tower

Above: Kyoto Station building
Below: Kyoto city on the other sides

There is an interactive touch screen panel that gives more details about the spots visible from tower.
 A parking lot below had just one car

A Buddhist temple nearby (Higashihonganji)
Probably the most interesting experience from top of Kyoto tower would be watching bullet trains entering and leaving Kyoto station
Kyoto is a large city. Most of the places of interest are not visible at all from Kyoto tower. On my way down, I was asked to pose for a photo, which I did. A small size photo of that was given to me for free while I had the option of buying the bigger size one for 1100 Yen. I decided not to.

Visitor info:
Opening hours: 10 AM till 10 PM, all days
Fee: 770 Yen
Height: 131 meters

Similar: View of Osaka from Umeda Sky building  * View of Tokyo from Tokyo SkyTree  * Aqua Fantasy near Kyoto station
Indian Bloggers

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Japan Trip on low budget-77k for 6 days all inclusive

Japan doesn’t appear in the list of preferred destinations when we think of a holiday. We check Europe,  Middle East and South East Asian countries, but not usually Japan. Even holiday packages advertised by prominent travel agencies usually focus on Europe, America and Singapore/ Malaysia/ Thailand. Why not Japan? I don’t know. May be everyone thinks there’s nothing unique in Japan or they think it is far and expensive not worth going. But after my short trip to Japan, I am very much pleased with this country and strongly recommend you give Japan a consideration for your next vacation.
For those of you worried about budget, below is a sense of what various things cost in Japan.

Yen to rupee conversion factor: 100 YEN= 60 INR
Approx Cost
20k to 50k per person, return
Try booking during a sale for best deals
Japan Local travel
18k INR for JRPass (1 week, Ordinary), another 3k to 5k for travel expense not covered by JR Pass
Purchase before travel
May not be needed if visit is too short or focused on one city only.
1800-2000 YEN onwards
A proper meal (2-3 items) in basic/mid-range restaurants
Water bottle-550ml
100-130 Yen
Cheaper in supermarkets, little expensive in vending machines
590-610 YEN minimum fare (1.5kms)
1000 Yen for about 2.5 kms

100 Yen (small, supermarket machine coffee)
300-350 Yen in coffee shops

Cheapest options- Capsule Hotels- around 1900-2500 YEN per person per night

Bus Ride
230 YEN per ride, any no of stops

Train Ride
210 Yen onwards, depending on distance/no of stops

Bullet train cost
Sample: Tokyo to Osaka- 15000 Yen in Nazomi- with seat reservation fee
Tokyo to Osaka – 9000 Yen on slower bullet trains without seat reservation
Assuming you’re not buying JR Pass or want to try faster Nazome bullet train not covered by JRPass
Check Google Maps or Hyperdia
Attraction Entry fee
Usually between 500 to 1000 YEN per person
Tokyo SkyTree 2060 Yen, Disneyland/ Univ Studio even more

100-120 Yen per piece

Around 350 Yen per piece

Visa Fee
INR 440 for Embassy, VFS fee extra if you can’t submit direct.

300 Yen- Small size
500 Yen- Medium size
700/1000 Yen-Large
Per day per lock (till 2 AM next day is 1 day)
Small size can take mid size backpack
Sim card
2600 YEN
(1 month, 1 GB limited voice call SIM)

Typical daily expenses in Japan: (intercity travel and flight not factored)
  • 1 Full meals: 2000 YEN
  • Around 10 different local train/bus rides: 3000 YEN
  • Some snacks, Coffee water etc at convenience store: 600-1000 Yen
  • Entry fee to 2-3 of attractions  during the day: 2000 Yen approx.
  • One or two taxi rides: 2000 Yen
  • Hostel stay: 2500 Yen
  • Other miscellaneous  expenses: 2000 Yen
  • Total: Approx 13000-15000 Yen per person per day or INR 8000-9000.
Below is what my 1 week trip cost me
I could save significantly on flight because of Air Asia sale- booked it in March 2016. Check this post on how to make the most of AirAsia sale
20497 INR

17700 INR
1 week ordinary
Stay expense 6 nights, budget hostels/capsule hotels
Osaka: 1900
Hiroshima: 2400
Kyoto: 3100
Tokyo: 4680 (for 2 nights)
Osaka 1 night: 2700
14780 Yen

Entry fee to various attractions
Ranges between 300-1200 Yen per attraction, total 12000 approx.
Tokyo skytree most expensive at 2060 Yen

Accurate to +/- 10%
Travel not covered by JR Pass
7000 Yen approx

Local sim card
2600 Yen

Food expense for 6 days (meals, snacks, coffee, water n fruits purchase)
20000 Yen approx.
Accurate to +/- 20%


Locker storage cost
600 Yen

Misc (newspaper, deer cookies, fridge magnet shopping etc
1500 Yen

Inflight meals purchase
86 MYR total

Bank fee for withdrawing local cash using debit card
400 Yen

Chennai home to airport and airport to home

Local train + bus + walk
Interest lost on ticket booked 1 year ago (at 8%)




Round off Japan trip expense: 77000 for 6 days, everything inclusive
Tips to reduce expense during Japan Trip
  1. Select a hotel/hostel within walking distance from a train station- preferably one serviced by JR line if you’re buying JR Pass. This will save precious time and Taxi expense
  2. Plan your trips in multiples of 7 days, so that you can make full use of JR Pass (issued for 7 or 14 days)
  3. There’re many vending machines all over, but I find that items like drinking water are cheaper in supermarkets (Family Mart of Seven i) than these machines.
  4. Daily pass for metro/subway/bus or combined are useful and convenient. While buying daily pass check if it is valid for 24 hour from first use or for the calendar day. Kyoto daily pass is for the calendar day while Tokyo Subway/Metro pass is for 24 hours from first use. If it is for a calendar day, avoid buying it in the evening
  5. Avoid taxi where possible. Walk or take train. A short ride of 2-3 kms will set you back by 1000-1500 Yen
  6. Some attractions like Universal studios/Disney land/Tokyo skytree may not be really worth the time and money. Check if you really want to spend on these
  7. Check opening and closing hours before visiting- most shrines close by 5 PM
  8. Assuming you will be spending 5-7 days and will be visiting at least 2 to 3 cities, buying JR pass in advance makes sense. If you will be stationed in just one city then do the maths and figure out if JR pass is still economical.
Reading a bit about the attractions or checking photos online will help. Not every garden, shrine or castle is really worth visiting. Check photos online, reviews and check if you really want to visit the attraction or skip it. For example, attractions like Tokyo skytree are expensive at about 2060 Yen per person, plus demand lots of waiting time. If you’re not very keen for view of the city, you can skip it.

I have few separate posts lined up on my Japan Trip itinerary.

Similar: Andaman on budget * Philippines on budget
Indian Bloggers

Regency by GRT-An affordable 3* hotel in Kancheepuram

Regency by GRT Hotels is an affordable star hotel in the temple town of Kancheepuram. We visited this property for breakfast, lunch and a short break in between. This post shares some of the details and photos about this hotel, so that you can consider the same for stay/meals during your visit to Kancheepuram

The location:
Regency is conveniently located in Gandhi Road, Ennaikaran, Kanchipuram- just about 1 km from bus stand (walking path, 2 km by main road), 1.5 kms from main temple and around 3 kms from Railway station. 
The rooms:
Rooms in Regency are standard budget hotel rooms with all basic facilities catered to. The building is 5 floors tall with a terrace access. Some of the photos below 
Dakshin restaurant serves south Indian food. I liked the way they provided curd rice in small earthen pots 
Other facilities:
Regency has a gym, a permit room. Limited car parking space is available within campus. Wifi is available
We didn’t stay at Regency during our bloggers meet. But we got to rest in the room for an hour or so and enjoyed our breakfast and lunch here. On your next visit to Kanchipuram, you can check and book Regency by GRT Hotels using the widget below.

Per night cost ranges between 2500 to 4000 a night. Though hotel claims booking direct with the hotel will be cheapest, I found rates on marginally cheaper than rate quoted by hotel website for the dates I checked. (after factoring 10% genius discount). Use your discretion.

Similar: Zone Coimbatore * South Indian budget hotels we tried in 2015 * Bharath Hotel Cochin * Sangam Hotel, Madurai

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Night view of Tokyo city from Tokyo SkyTree

Tokyo Skytree is one of the popular tourist attractions in Tokyo. I visited it on my first day in Tokyo. This post shares some photos and details about the Tokyo SkyTree.

When I visited Tokyo Skytree it was 9 PM- about 1 hour of visiting time left. I had no prior reservation (prior reservation is possible online but it is only in Japanese and need to be paid via Japanese credit card/bank account- not practical for tourists). Also prior reservation could mean that your visit will be wasted if the sky is cloudy. When I walked in into the skytree ticketing area there was not much crowd, just about 10 people. So I could get to the counter within minutes.

Entry costs 2060 Yen per person. Around INR 1200. I am not sure if it is really worth it. You can decide for yourself. This is for reaching first observation deck at 350 meters. Upton reaching there, you can go further up till 450 meters (2nd observation deck) by making additional payment, which I opted out. With a total height of 634 meters, Tokyo Skytree is tallest in Japan and second tallest self supported tower in the world. (Burj Khalifa is the first, full list here)
A day time picture is below, clicked by Sangeetha Sumesh
I try to visit skytowers during sunset time so that I can get both day, sunset and night views, but couldn't manage that during Japan trip.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The ultra colourful Bazaar Restaurant at Grand by GRT

Bazaar is the round the clock buffet restaurant at the lobby level of Grand by GRT 4 star hotel in Chennai. Bazaar is located in an open area so that guests do not feel space constrained. The number of options offered at Bazaar is simply countless. We found about 30 varieties of pastries and sweets, a dozen + main courses in veg and numerous non-veg options and a dozen+ dessert options. While I obviously enjoyed the breakfast and lunch we had at Bazaar, I thoroughly enjoyed clicking the food items as well, because all of them were beautifully presented. The food was colourful, lighting was great, presentation was well thought through. So I clicked dozens of photos before beginning eating. Presenting some of my favorite clicks in this post, from the Bazaar restaurant of Grand by GRT, located in T Nagar, Chennai. Do visit them sometimes to experience the same first hand.

I am not much of a foodie. Help me correct the name of these items if I am wrong.

1. The donuts and ice-creams- the most colourful items!

2. The paneer, pineapple sticks

3. Pastries, Sweets and saviors

4 The Moroccan Tiles (imprints on local tiles)

5. The cheerful tables with colourful glasses

6. Chicken Biryani closeup!

7. The Juice cart! There was a dedicated section for zero calory items

8. Colourful Plates are very inviting!

9. Organic fruits and vegetables- On display and sale every Sunday!

10. Chat Counter!

11.Veg counter


Hope you like the photos... Unfortunately the taste needs to be experienced in person-can't show in pics. Standby for more posts.