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Sunday, September 4, 2016

Travel Review: Vivanta by Taj, Guwahati, Assam

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Hello, fellow travellers!

I'm extremely happy to finally find quality free time to write about our travel experience to Guwahati in March. We apologise sincerely for this horrendous delay and also hope you enjoy reading this extensive travel review of our short but eventful journey to Assam earlier this year.

Above 30000 feet in Guwahati Assam
< View from our early morning flight >
Sprawled across the length of the Brahmaputra valley, the Assamese landscape is woven together with picturesque green-golden jigsaw like rice fields and perfectly manicured tea gardens. Even though it was our first time, we knew Assam is a hidden gem waiting for us to explore its breathtaking beauty.

Snehsha and I departed on a flight from Mumbai on 15th March at 7:25 AM, which landed in Guwahati at 10:35 and we headed straight to the property, which was around 40 to 50 minutes away from Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport. Our welcome at Vivanta by Taj was a pleasant surprise and we felt humbly grateful to the entire management for their sincerely warm efforts.

Welcome band at Vivanta By Taj in Guwahati
< Assamese folk band made us groove in joy when we reached the property >
Primarily a business property, Vivanta by Taj in Guwahati is spread over 5 acres of land and the hotel also caters to the needs of every leisure traveller, like me. The entrance to the hotel has a dome-like structure and a number of bells at the reception: representing the famous Kamakhya Temple in their city. We were ushered in with thekera: a local Assamese drink made with dried mangosteen, their traditional gamucha and a beautifully crafted jaapi: the huge traditional Assamese hat you see on my head below.

The Big Bhookad at Vivanta By Taj in Guwahati
< Enjoying my welcome-drink and the replacement of my fedora with the Assamese hat: Jaapi >
Vivanta by Taj in Guwahati has a total number of 150 rooms (out of which only 50 were operational and 100 were under construction when we visited in March), ranging from the basic Deluxe Delight Room to their famously luxurious: Presidential Nirvana Suite.

After a warm welcome, we checked-in and here's what our room looked like...

Deluxe Room in Vivanta By Taj Guwahati

Beautiful matching interiors at Vivanta by Taj in Guwahati Assam

While we were expecting our room to be more spacious in our heads, we were happy know that all the three different kinds of rooms at Vivanta by Taj in Guwahati [Deluxe Delight, Superior CharmPresidential Nirvana Suite] have bath-tubs built in the bathrooms, including ours of course.

All rooms have bath tubs in Vivanta By Taj Guwahati

After freshening up, we were invited by the management to meet and greet other journalists, bloggers and authors, who were invited on this FAM trip too. I do not prefer to accept any invitations for FAM trips; but since this was our first time, please note that all my views and opinions in this review are strictly unbiased and completely honest.

All points are referenced from the six pages of my personal diary, which was filled with relevant observations every day, during our stay. All pictures you see in this review are captured by my co-founder at Lensplate: Snehsha Tank.

The specially created set menu for lunch that day included...

Mushroom Cappuccino at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati Assam
< Mushroom Cappuccino >
Lamb Shanks at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati Assam
< Lamb Shanks >
Asparagus Risotto at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati Assam
< Asparagus Risotto >
While I know it was easier for the head chef to curate and create a set menu for opinionated and popular guests staying in the same hotel, I must confess the food we ate for lunch that day was not any short of extraordinary. The soup was piping hot + expectedly creamy, risotto was comforting, lamb shanks were perfectly cooked and crème brûlée tasted as good as it looks in the picture below.

Creme Brulee at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati Assam
< Beautifully created and presented Crème Brûlée with berries, melon and kiwi >

After lunch, we took a quick stroll around the property and headed to Kamakhya Temple, which is home of the mother goddess: Kamakhya. The Kamakhya temple is a mark of identity in Assam. Besides being a sanctum-sanctorum for people to come get their wishes fulfilled, this temple bodes a significant architectural stature and lays great emphasis on the sculptural art.

Bells at Kamakhya Temple in Guwahati Assam

The current structural temple, built and renovated many times in the period of 8th to 17th century, gave rise to a hybrid indigenous style of architecture, which is called the Nilachal type: a temple with a hemispherical dome on a cruciform base. The temple consists of four chambers: garbhagriha and three mandapas locally called: calanta, pancharatna and natamandira: aligned from east to west.

The sculptures are apparent mostly on the exterior walls, as well as on the interior walls of the temple. A good number of sculptures are also fixed on the temple gates, while some of the sculptures are lying scattered within the temple campus.

Kamakhya: The Goddess

After making a wish at the temple, we returned to our hotel, enjoyed a quick nightcap at the bar and decided to rest well for our jeep safari into the wild, next morning.

Mojito at Seven, Vivanta By Taj, Guwahati
< A large peg of my favourite malt for me and this refreshing mojito for her >
Thriving with exotic wildlife, Guwahati is close to some of the intriguing national parks to watch out for. Kaziranga National Park is one of the most famous national parks in the world, which hosts two-thirds of the world's great one-horned rhinoceroses today. According to the latest census held in March 2015, the current rhino population in Kaziranga National Park was merely 2,401 and according to World Wild Life, the population is just over 3000 today. 

Jeep Safari at Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary
< Our FAM group was divided as two groups of passengers for two jeeps >
We didn't manage to visit Kaziranga but our trip to Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in the floodplains of the mighty Brahmaputra River, was something I don't think any of us will forget during our entire lifetimes. This sanctuary is home to the endangered one-horned-rhinoceros as well. Although we found it to be quite small for a sanctuary, the density of rhinoceros in Pobitora is quite high; high enough for us to spot at least a few during our safari.

Spotted and captured the dreat one-horned rhinoceroses!
< Snehsha captured this in nick of time, when the one-horned looked straight into the camera >
The Big Bhookad posing in Guwahati Assam
< Posing with all the girls on the FAM trip, on the bridge above Brahmaputra River >
Jeep or elephant safari is a 'must do' for every wildlife enthusiast that visits Guwahati, especially tourists who have Assam on their bucket-lists. Please don’t forget to carry your binoculars along with your cameras, as I'm sure you will also get plenty of opportunities to spot rare species of beautiful birds at Pobitora Sanctuary. You're welcome.

After the safari, I was extremely excited to return to the property and enjoy this traditional and authentic Assamese Thali prepared by their head chef, which included labra (mix vegetable), aalu pitika (mashed potato), pork khorika, spinach khar (yellow dal with spinach & papaya) and masor tenga (betki fish crusted with hurum, served in a sour tomato gravy). Definitely worthy of the rare tag of #BhookadRecommends on Instagram!


If/when you visit Assam, whether or not you visit Guwahati or Vivanta by Taj, I would like to strongly insist on this, please make a sincere effort to enjoy an authentic thali experience at least once during your stay in the state. You can ask around wherever you go, I'm sure you'll find a restaurant serving Assamese thali easily in Assam!

Every first trip to Assam is incomplete without the customary tour of a tea estate, of the rolling hills covered with lush green tea plants; but sadly, we did not have that included in our itinerary this time. However, we were lucky enough to find a tea boutique nearby, called Amalgamated Plantations, a Tata enterprise; which has given the elites the opportunity to relish good quality organic tea and the opportunity to learn more about different kinds of tea available in Assam, for tourists like us.

Amalgamated Plantations Guwahati Assam
< Amalgamated Plantations is the 2nd largest tea producer in India with 24 tea estates in Assam >
Amalgamated Plantations Tata Tea Guwahati Assam
< Their supply chain and business is big enough to employ 31000 people >
Amalgamated Plantations Guwahati Assam
< We were introduced to over 50 kinds of black and green tea >

The Big Bhookad at Amalgamated Plantations Guwahati Assam
< I got to taste more than 15 kinds of tea and understand their different effects on my palate >
Apart from the core business of Tea, APPL has ventured into the agri foods and timber/bamboo plantations business, within their tea estates, focusing in the areas of spices, horticulture, animal husbandry and high value timber. Their objective now is to optimise land uses, wealth creations and employment generations for the local communities. I was very happy to have this opportunity to learn about so many different kinds of tea in so much detail during our stay in Assam, and for that I'll always be thankful to the management and PR team of Vivanta By Taj.

Unfortunately, our trip came to an end after this tour to Tata Tea's boutique in Guwahati but fortunately for you, mainly because you've already scrolled so far on this review, here are my top 5 food recommendations for your stay at Vivanta by Taj in Guwahati.

Chocolate profiteroles at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati
< If these chocolate profiteroles are not on the spread, request them to make some for you > 
Strawberry Pancakes at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati
< Don't forget to try these strawberry waffles with maple syrup during breakfast! > 
Minestrone Soup at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati
< Packed with many flavours: minestrone soup during lunch could be a good start for you too >
Custard Burgers at Vivanta By Taj Guwahati
< These custard burgers deserve your attention and deserve to pacify your craving too >
Now I know all of you can count to five and I've mentioned only 4 recommendations so far. Well, that's only because I'd like to share the most definite reason of my return to Vivanta By Taj, if/when I visit Guwahati again in the future.

Even if I don't end up staying with Taj again, I'm going to make sure I visit their property at least for this unforgettably and sinfully amazing tiramisu; which in my humble opinion was so good, that it will undoubtedly make it to your list of best tiramisu experiences you've had too.

Guaranteed.

Best Tiramisu in Guwahati
< Tiramisu served with an edible chocolate spoon! >
Locally sourced intense coffee: TIRAMISU
< fresh and creamy mascarpone! >
Locally sourced intense coffee and housemade crusty and crunchy chocolate shavings, on top of creamy mascarpone layered with soft and moist sponge in the middle; served with an edible chocolate spoon, this dessert is definitely worth coming back for some more in 2017 or 2018!

Thank you Indranee Phukan and your entire team at Vivanta By Taj in Guwahati, especially your talented team of chefs, for your warm and unforgettable hospitality.

REVIEW SUMMARY

What's Garma-Garam?
The property is centrally located.Please do not leave without trying their tiramisu.

What's Thanda?
It's a new property and a few amenities are not yet accessible for customers. 

Dakaar Level
4/5

Comfort
3.5/5

Room Service
4/5



Have fun in Guwahati!
Happy travelling!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Maruti Alto 800 #TohChaleinKya Mumbai? Let's go move forward!

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Hello everyone!

Are you enjoying monsoon and spending adequate time indoors, cooking delicious food and binge watching the latest series of fantastic culinary shows like Masterchef Australia on television Chef’s Table on Netflix?

Same pinch.

Apart from all that, I’ve been unforgivably busy setting up www.lensplate.in and simultaneously juggling the opportunity of planning to launch a few new food brands: including a small kitchen and a unique food-merchandise brand. Lensplate's website is now ready and we will go live with it sometime during next week; followed by other launches during the end of this year. Hopefully, if our plans formulate according to the time we aspire to achieve it in.

Apart from chasing my biggest passion towards food, my business partners Snehsha, Kiran and I are also building brands internally, under our newest venture called Risevertise, which is currently positioned as a creative agency, especially for other start-ups and people who share my passion for food and creativity like me.

We are building a team of experts for our office in Andheri, who specialise in photography, design, video production, social media marketing, web design and various other kinds of digital, as well as BTL activities. We have currently partnered with a few small QSRs in Mumbai and a few newly set up brands from different cities; in the FMCG, television, automobile and technology industries respectively.



I know it has been really long since I have managed to resume reviewing my culinary experiences again, especially newly launched restaurants on this blog; and I’d like to say this from the bottom of my heart…

I’m sorry.

However, this time, I promise to finally resume writing from this month, and gradually increase the frequency of sharing my food stories with you, at least once every fortnight. We are rebranding and redesigning this portal as well, www.thebigbhookad.com while you read this story on it and the new look should go live during the last week of August.

I've spent a few days with the new Maruti Alto 800 and we hope you enjoy reading our experiences at not-so-usual and offbeat places Snehsha and I visited in Mumbai with this new ride!

#TohChaleinKyaMumbai was an initiative by Maruti to encourage its customers to visit unique places and try unique activities in different metropolitan cities. I hope you enjoy my recommendations of unique activities you could opt for in or around Mumbai, when you have time to spend with your car and dearest friends or family members!

Here's a moment captured with our dedicated and humble driver for those few days, Chintamani, when we met him for the first time at Maruti’s dealership outlet in Navi Mumbai.


Let the exploring begin!

Why settle for just 3D when you can enjoy watching movies in 4D at Cinepolis in Thane! Yes, you read that correctly. MOVIES IN 4D!



What is 4D? 4-D film is a marketing term for an entertainment presentation system combining a 3D film with physical effects that occur in the theatre, in synchronisation with the film. Effects simulated in a 4D film may include rain, wind, strobe lights, and vibration. Seats in 4D venues may vibrate or move a few inches during the presentations. Other common chair effects include air jets, water sprays, and leg and back ticklers. Hall effects may include smoke, rain, lightning, air bubbles, and smell.

Our time at Cinepolis was something that we hadn’t experienced before and you can know more about what they offer on www.cinepolisindia.com.

That day, after our show ended at 4 PM, we decided to enjoy a long drive from Thane to Marine Drive, just for some never-tried-before ice cream! Adventurous much? No actually, because I was sure there would not be much traffic on Eastern Express Highway during that time of the day.

We ended up enjoying the unique and insanely popular green chili ice cream at Bachelorr’s. You should go beat the heat on a sunny day with some never-tried-before ice cream flavours like green chilli and watermelon-litchi fusion out there, with access to the iconic view of the marine from the beginning of its promenade.



After spending some time at Marine Drive, I decided to drive the new Maruti Alto 800 home to my new apartment in Lokhandwala, where I’ve shifted recently with my family. On our way, we were greeted by the inescapable traffic jam at Mahim and Bandra, so we decided to let the peak hour pass by and parked the car in a lane near the church.

A friend of mine had told me about how walking on skywalks is going to be the next big thing for fitness freaks in the city. I had missed my morning run that day, so we decided to enjoy a nice long evening walk on the new skywalks constructed for pedestrians near Mahim Church. When we reached this spot on top of the skywalk, where we could view hundreds of cars pacing through right below us, we took this picture and also shot a time-lapse video on our smartphones.

Stand still and embrace the chaos of and your existence in Mumbai, from newly constructed skywalks at Mahim.
I used the car for another day, mostly to commute for meetings with potential clients in the city and to share my feedback and suggestions with the team at Maruti’s dealership in Nerul.

They say most men are overly attached to their cars and gadgets. Well, I might not be an exception to that stereotype. I enjoyed rediscovering a few of my favourite spots in (and around) Mumbai with the new Maruti Alto 800.

Sadly, it was time to say goodbye after day 2, so I thought of giving the car back slightly ceremoniously. I got the management to pick it up from this favourite spot of mine in Dadar, after enjoying the sunset and kadak chai, followed by a few con-calls with my clients.



It was a pleasure to be a part of #TohChaleinKyaMumbai and I hope all of you enjoyed our simple yet unusual recommendations of not-so-usual places in Mumbai.

Thanks and good luck, Team Maruti!



Hugs and regards from team Lensplate & yours truly, 

The Big Bhookad™


Monday, July 11, 2016

To follow the law or not? What’s a dish without a pinch of salt?

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Hey, guys! 
Hope you’re hogging happily as always! 

I don’t usually choose to write about my opinions on anything else apart from food, especially on this blog, but being a social junkie, I’ve been reading a lot about the turf war between Ola and Uber, and I am amazed to see how it has gone so far into the blogosphere and social media. 

Both cab aggregators in their own ways have benefitted commuters and simultaneously improved livelihood of drivers. Technology is solving most of the problems faced by common people. The same technology has made possible, for people like me and you to hop on a Kaali Peeli or any cab as and when I want. So, here I  thought of moving beyond Roti just this time and write a bit on probably the most influential and important aspect beyond Roti, Kapda aur Makaan which is Gaadi or transportation!

image source: beepweep.com
PLEASE NOTE:
What you are going to read below, are my personal opinions and everything I have to say, has nothing to do with which side I’m on. This attempt is only and solely to share my unbiased thoughts on the entire debate around the flouting Indian laws, as neutrally as possible. I’m nothing more than just another customer or commuter in Mumbai, who chooses to opt for kaali peeli, Ola or Uber, when I need to travel within the city.

So what was happening?

Recently the state transport department of Karnataka issued a licence to Ola under the On-Demand Transportation Technology Aggregators Rules 2016. Ramegowda, Karnataka’s state transport commissioner where he said: “We have issued licences to Ola and now they can operate under the conditions of the rules.” This is important because Karnataka is the first state and Maharashtra is looking to take inspiration from there!

However, Uber has not obtained a licence from the Karnataka Government, only because they are yet to provide all the required details - said a joint commissioner at Karnataka’s transport department. You can read more about this on Mint

Uber had started and stated in their petition that the government “appears to be coming up with new requirements on a daily basis, bordering on the absurd”.


Approximately 2 weeks ago, Uber wrote in a blog post that Ola is making "baseless allegations" to "confound and complicate matters," even as the San Francisco based company finds itself on a sticky wicket with the Karnataka government; with which it is at odds over regulations governing taxi aggregators.

So what is happening now?

This controversy began to heat up after Ola filed an affidavit before the Karnataka High Court on 27th June, accusing their rival Uber of flouting the rules, and roping in white board (non-passenger) vehicles to offer taxi services.

Instead of submitting progress on their compliance and adherence to law, Uber started a tangent view to distract people. They tried to play a card with ‘nationalism’ in perspective, instead of complying to the order given to them. 

Internationally too, media reports say, that Uber has been a law-breaker throughout. Meru, in fact, has listed down the unlawful practices by Uber in its blog. You can read all about that here.


Why should established companies like Uber NOT follow rules? Uber, while contributing to the livelihoods of thousands, possibly without their consent turn them into law-breakers. The law is the law, it treats and applies to everyone equally. None of us can be under or over it. 


Ola Vs Uber | Swadesi vs Pardesi

I have both your applications on my mobile phone and I opt for both of your services frequently. Though I love these gossips and charcha over chai but like my mum always says, hogging too much biriyani ain't that good for my tummy. Uber, please stop rebelling against the law. Kindly overcome your legal obstacles and focus on making the experience better for all your customers like me.

I’d like to end this unusual rant of mine with what my new favourite comedian, Zakir Khan, shared on YouTube recently: koi baat nahiToh koi baat nahi yaar, let’s grow like adults without violating the law and becoming serial offenders.

Keep calm and ride with peace.



Regards and bear hugs from yours truly,
The Big Bhookad™