Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Where to Stay in Shirdi? A Peaceful Accommodation in Your Budget!

Shirdi is one of those spiritual places that are jam-packed with innumerable hotels today. Weekends or weekdays, scores of faithful pilgrims, descending from all over the world, jostle for a breathing space in this holy town.

Sometimes I wonder how the landscape would have been, around say 25 or 30 years ago, when pilgrimages were less commonly undertaken and thought to be more a privilege of the elderly. To break my bubble of inquiry, my mother is quick to paint a tranquil scenario: The pilgrim rush was less. The number of vehicles even lesser. And the hotels – well, there were hardly any!

Clearly, it’s a nostalgic trip down memory lane for her, a journey she inadvertently misses out on and reminiscences very fondly. For me, it's more like a chapter in history, beautiful recollections of an era gone by...

Coming back to 2015 anyway - we planned a Shirdi Weekend Getaway a couple of weeks back and consequently, I got down to choosing and booking a hotel right away.

A quick search on Airbnb threw up only 2 options for Shirdi and after carefully examining both of them, this is what I chose:

Wonderful accomodation in Sai Baba's town of Shirdi, Maharashtra

1 BHK Rented Accommodation at Shirdi, Maharashtra hosted by Manoj.

Cost: 1347 incl of taxes.

The Airbnb Shirdi property and My Experience: A Review!

Located a little off from the main central hubbub of the town, the property is not a fledgling hotel but a 1 BHK house in a newly constructed society that has been listed on Airbnb for hosting travelers like us.

The location enabled easy transition in a place as sacred and equally busy as Shirdi to simply cut off from the trappings of the urbane and instead transcend our minds into a spiritual realm.

Beautiful accomodation hotel in Shirdi, Maharashtra

As soon as we entered the pristine society compound, a balmy breeze engulfed my senses as the caretaker of the house – Pappu welcomed us in and directed us to our room.

One point that totally irked me off though - initially - was the realization that contrary to the Airbnb listing headliner pronouncing the room to be walking distance from the temple, we didn't really think that was the case.

Ironically, the same point eventually left us in a happy mood what with the peace traded in the process. The property is located around 1 - 1.5 kms. from the main temple grounds, keeping at bay all the pilgrim frenzy surrounding this little temple town.

Having our own car as a mode of transport helped – the time taken to cover the distance from the room to the Sai Baba Samadhi Mandir is about 10 minutes by car.

Room:

Well furnished and newly built, the one BHK room was clean, comfortable and spacious enough (740 sq. ft.) to easily accommodate a family of 4.

Airbnb hotel - Shirdi, Maharashtra

The AC in the room worked fantastic – just what I would need for a quick relaxation after a long tiring journey. The room came equipped with a TV but I preferred not to disturb the sanctity of a space that had completely bowled me over. The kitchen had a mini fridge that worked wonderfully well to keep my bottled water optimally cool.

Accomodation hotel in Shirdi, Maharashtra

One of the pictures on the listing page showed an in-house cafeteria as one of the highlights of the property but I couldn’t really find any arrangements for in-house eating neither did I try to scout for one.

For our breakfast and lunch, we preferred ‘The Neem’ instead, the MTDC restaurant in Shirdi town – but more on that later.

Do I recommend it?

If peace is what you are after, above everything else, take my word - this place is tailor-made, just for you!

My mother, for one, couldn't (and still hasn't!) stop raving about the entire experience - an offbeat but peaceful stay that helped recreate the same town-feel of the olden days for her.

However, do note that the place is slightly off-beat, located around 1 km from the main temple grounds. If the distance isn't a problem for you, then I would highly recommend this place - it is a budget accommodation, worth all your value for money - certainly a convenient and comfortable place to get yourself put into.

Other Information and Traveller Tips:

For making a reservation: Click here.
Check-in / Check-out time: Flexible.
Contact: Through the Airbnb website.

... And, while you are off booking through Airbnb, why not CLICK HERE to enter my special Airbnb invite for you?


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Decoding Yoga || International Yoga Day || Quote Unquote.

As we are celebrating the first International Yoga Day worldwide today, that is 21st June 2015, I heard this question pop out in one of the media out there and it set my mind thinking -

What is Yoga? And how can we incorporate it in our daily lives?

For me, the idea of Yoga meant doing all kinds of postures and asanas, the rhythmic inhaling – exhaling routine, bodily flexibility and attaining stillness through meditation. Personally, I have never had the stamina to do all these sort of exercises, so I thought I was not a yoga person. This - until I attended the International Yoga Festival at Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh, March 2015 which helped changed my perception and pushed me further in the world of ‘Yoga’ and what all it actually entails.

Yoga meaning - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

The Yoga festival had approximately 1000 participants from more than 55 countries and more than 60 revered saints, yogacharyas, presenters, seekers and teachers from nearly 20 countries gathered from all over the world explaining the true sense of Yoga, in their culturally unique ways.

Below is a photo story trying to decode and delve into the true essence of Yoga through a compilation of some quotes I jotted down while attending the various Yoga classes in the festival along with the corresponding pictures. Sit back, take a deep breath and enjoy!

1. The Art of Freeing your Voice.

Daphne Tse - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

The best healing music is your own voice.
A voice that travels beyond space and time - loud and clear in the heart.
So sing your own song in your voice.
Then, offer it as a selfless service to the Divine.

~ Daphne Tse, Singer.

2. Divine Discourses. Satsangs by Radhanath Swami, Dayanand Saraswati, Sadhvi Bhagwati Saraswati, etc.

Divine Discourse, Radhanath Swami, International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Forgiveness and compassion are the crest jewels of a true Yogi.
These can be cultivated by connecting to the Divine Grace –
that frequency of Grace that is everywhere. And also within us.

~ Radhanath Swami.

3. Appreciation - The Highest Meditation in the Aquarian Age.

Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Love gives you power to Merge and touch your own infinity.

~ Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa.

4. Meditation from Hand.

Chinese Yoga by Hand - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Hand exercises that heal the body. ~ David Mei and Team.

5. Osho Style Dynamic Meditation – Letting Go ~ Chris Miglino.

Osho Style Dynamic Meditation - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

A very energizing session with no talking:
All we did was scream, dance, jump and empty our hearts out - let go!

6. Exploring the Frontiers of Consciousness.

Sukhmandir - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Happiness is a natural state of consciousness. Everything else is disease. Everything else is imbalance. Happiness is who we are, what we are. This is our birthright.

~ Sukhmandir.

7. Shinto Japanese Yoga.

Shinto Yoga of Japan - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh
Shinto Yoga, Japan, International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

The Universe wants to give you its blessings right now. Accept them with grace.

~ Hikaru Hasimoto, Japanese Shinto Yoga Instructor.

8. Salutation to Ma Ganga.

Salutation to River Ganga - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

"There are few things on which Hindu India, diverse as it is, might agree.
But of the Ganges, India speaks with one voice.

~ Diana Eck.

9. Color dissolves color ~ Holi Celebration.

Baba Ramdev - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh
Dissolution of color - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Look at yourself. Look at each other.
Can you spot any difference?
All look One. All are One.
This is Yoga.

~ Ramdev Baba, on the eve of Holi.

10. And, Finally … The Eternal Mystic Yogi ~ Lord Shiva.

The eternal Yogi - International Yoga Day, Parmarth Niketan, Rishikesh

Through Yoga - Indian culture gives you visa for living.
A lifetime visa that sustains life after life.
Do not only learn Yoga - live Yoga, breathe yoga - YOU are Yoga!

~ Swami Chidanand Saraswati.



Thursday, June 4, 2015

Planning Melbourne Itinerary >> 72 Hours in Melbourne: A Guide!

When I initially sat down planning for Melbourne, what I had with me is a list of about ten odd places that I wished to visit during my four-day trip to the city.

Question that followed was:
How to group all these places so as to create an amazing itinerary?

I arrived in Melbourne with no map and itinerary in hand. My planning at home had been raw - just a rough roadmap with no fixed schedule. Soon after arriving though, I decided to mend my ways. I picked up a city map and a couple of other reference booklets from the hotel lobby and got down to work. I plotted on the map all the places from my Melbourne bucketlist, so now I had a fair bit of an idea on the places that could be clustered based on their proximity. The booklets were helpful too. Aside from giving me a sense of all the latest happenings in the city, it also offered exclusive discount coupons for many attractions like the Edge which was instantly torn off and kept safely in my pocket.

Three icons - City circle tram and Flinders street station, Eureka Sky deck Melbourne Australia

For any doubts that remained – I turned to the best people around – the Melburnians, especially the hotel staff. I remember standing with Ananda, the concierge at Hotel Citigate on my first night with my city map, yatra book and pen in hand - asking all sorts of questions I could possibly ask and gathering all sort of local information not always available in the tourist brochures and booklets. After gathering all the information, I left it to the city to do the rest which was indeed a very good decision! (Melbourne by the way, is one those cities that knows how to delight its guests with surprises!)

And today, happily back having lived it all, here I am sharing my itinerary on My Yatra Diary as a future reference for all those wishing to visit Melbourne.

GETTING AROUND: Modes of Transportation and Living -

Take the City Circle Free Tourist tram: In addition to being a free and convenient form of transportation, the City Circle Tram is a 'hop on, hop off' service covering major sites across the Melbourne CBD area. The trams pass by frequently, and major attractions like the Flinders Street, Federation Square, Old Treasury Building, Parliament House, and Princess Theater are in its route. Make sure to grab the ‘easy to understand’ map before settling on your window seat, the informative leaflet along with the running commentary adds delight as you gaze at the historical and architectural beauty unfolding outside.

Melbourne Visitor Shuttle Bus: Another wonderful way to explore the city’s attractions is the Melbourne Visitor Tourist Shuttle Bus that covers attractions not covered by the tram service. The 'hop-on, hop-off' service has enough on offer to keep you occupied through the entire day – it’s wise to get yourself a full day ticket for $5 that can then be freely used on any of these red-colored Shuttle busses any number of times during the day. The bus is quite comfortable, not very crowded and goes with an informative on-board commentary about the city.

Rent a Campervan or a Motorvan: If you are open to step out of the generic mould and try something more adventurous and fun, you can hire a campervan in Melbourne to explore the city. Make sure to choose a campervan that suits your budget otherwise it can be a bit costly. The biggest advantage about them is that they free you from all the other transportation and accommodation hassles thereby allowing you the freedom to travel at your own speed and in your own style.

Myki Cards: Myki card is your permit to discover Melbourne through the city’s privately operated trams, buses and trains. Myki cards are available at Vending machines, located at major train stations and bus interchanges and can later be topped after every travel at one of these stations again or additionally at 7/11 stores. These cards can come across as a bit confusing in the beginning but that’s how it is for everyone. You can read more about them here: A Travel Blogger's Guide to Melbourne's Myki.

DAY 1: EXPLORE CBD AND AROUND.


Right in the heart of the city, St. Paul’s cathedral provides a quick escape from the busy chaos of Melbourne into a world of peace and tranquility. You can easily spend an hour here walking around the halls and spending a few moments in self-reflection.

- Flinders Street Station (diagonally opposite to the cathedral).

The oldest of stations in Australia dating back to the 19th century, Flinders street station is a golden marvel of Victorian architectural beauty. With its famed catchphrase ‘Meet me under the clocks’, Flinders is an out and out people’s place which entertains thousands of commuters and tourists on a daily basis. Take a vantage point at a distance and watch the world slide by this significant landmark - makes for quite a striking sight.


Yarra River flows through the heart of Melbourne and you can see many of the city attractions speckled all around while wandering through this peaceful stretch of the riverside. The Yarra Bridge is a good vantage point to take in the panoramic views of the city. Spend a restful evening on the breezy Southbank footbridge over the Yarra; it has the fascinating love locks which ooze a charm of their own!

Love locks along the Yarra River footbridge, Melbourne in Australia

The cruise is also an option but I missed it due to bad weather conditions but even the walk along the riverside is a great activity to do.

DAY 2: EXPLORE ATTRACTIONS IN A SHUTTLE BUS SERVICE; THEY ISSUE A FULL DAY TICKET FOR A FEW DOLLARS.


The largest open air market of the southern hemisphere, Queen Victoria Market stacks a lot of different varieties of veggies, fresh fruit produce and locally crafted merchandise. I bought for myself a few apples and ate them with great relish! It is spread in a large area so a leisurely stroll for an hour or two at least is needed to get a good hang of this 120-year old place.

- MCG.

One of the largest and oldest sporting venues in the world, Melbourne Cricket Ground is an iconic landmark that needs little or no introduction. It takes pride in holding the infamous boxing Ashes test every year which is high on passion and energy, a must see if you are in Melbourne during those times. Simply strolling down the circumference of this famous stadium makes for an enjoyable experience which you can further heighten by taking one of the personal guided tours that will grant you access in the restricted player arenas.

- Royal Botanical Gardens.

The Royal Botanical Gardens is a vast peaceful expanse of gorgeous, colorful and exotic flowers, shrubs and trees alluring millions of visitors annually. It’s very close to the city center and you can spend as many hours strolling or relaxing as you may like in its quiet shady environs. It’s a favorite picnic spot for a lot of Melburnians especially during the weekends – joining them is a wonderful idea!

DAY 3: WALK - LET MELBOURNE GUIDE YOU.

Walk around Melbourne and explore the graffiti street art hidden in Lanes and alleyways.

Graffiti in Melbourne Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is an outstanding cultural art city – a fact that gains weight through its intriguing art and graffiti splashed in narrow lanes and alleyways hidden carefully amidst the busy sprawling streets of the metropolis. You really don’t need to go out looking for one of these; instead you can join specialized tours to guide you into one of the city’s many artful treasures.

- Check out Bourke Street Mall.

A quality shopping area characterized by a long strip of alluring shops and relaxing caf├ęs, Bourke Street Mall is every shopper’s delight. What makes this lively stretch especially striking is the fact that it is nearly traffic free, open only to pedestrians and trams, which makes it a great area for an evening stroll. Among other things to watch out in this area are Melbourne’s street performers that include some of the best musicians and artists showcasing their skills.

- Royal Arcade.

Royal arcade is an elegantly styled little gem that is home to many beautiful specialty and boutique shops, standing long since the 18th century. The arcade is fully roofed that passing through it is a captivating experience. The stuff on sale might come across as a bit on the pricey side but the delectable handmade chocolates and drinks are worth a try.

- Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery Buddha Art Gallery (non touristy but really peaceful).

Step out of hubbub and chaos and retreat into a world of peace and tranquility at Fo Guang Yuan Art Gallery Buddha Art Gallery. Nestled quietly in the busy suburbs of Queens Street, the art gallery is house to culturally and aesthetically rich artworks like paintings, sculptures, pottery, books and other such antique and inspiring collections that appreciate the profound culture of Buddhism. Walk through the gallery and admire the artworks, there is an adjoining tea house and restaurant where they serve excellent vegan food. Do not miss spending some time in the meditation hall on the first floor – it’s divine!


The panoramic views of the city offered by the highest building in the southern hemisphere, The Eureka Sky Deck 88 is too awesome to be missed. From an elevated height of almost 300 meters, you can see many of the major attractions around the city.

Golden reflections at the Eureka Sky deck, Melbourne Victoria Australia

The best time to drop in there is during the evening just before the sunset, so you can enjoy both the setting sun and the night landscape for a single ticket price. Pay a little extra and get on the Edge experience – it’s not for the faint-hearted for sure!

If time permits: Other attractions I would recommend -

- Spend some time in the Federation Square; the ISKCON Temple is a nice spiritual retreat as well (It’s a little off from the city center though).

- Many locals vouch for an evening sunset at St. Kilda too, though I missed it personally.

Other Traveler Tips to keep in mind:

- There's a lot to see and do in the city - be flexible with your plans and don't cram in much.

- Ask the locals like the hotel staff, they are generally the best people who will guide you to the nearby places which are worth a visit.

- Pick up freebies like the Melbourne map and city information leaflets from your hotel lobby – besides serving as wonderful pointers to significant information and happenings in the city, you also get to enjoy attractive discount deals and coupons that are incredible money-savers!

Melbourne packs in a lot of hidden gems and gorgeous beauties that are best discovered by yourself. I have designed this itinerary just to give a fairly rough idea on the places that can be clubbed together in such a way so as to leave ample space for flexibility - Roam around and go where the paths take you, with curiosity in your eyes and a spring in your footsteps and of course - no fixed plans!

Wish you a fabulous trip!


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