It is hard to imagine that just a 90 minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Chennai, lies an ancient city filled to the brim with history and culture. Well that’s the magic of Mahabalipuram. I felt like I had entered a time machine and travelled back in time, to the 7th century to be precise.
Mahabalipuram, in addition to the ancient temples and tradition, has now slowly gained importance as a leisure destination owing to the spectacular beaches and luxurious resorts it houses.
Considering Mahabalipuram for your next getaway? Then read on for must visits while you’re there.
1. Shore Temple
At first ,the towering stone temple intimidates you with it’s grandeur, but as you get closer she gets warm and inviting, embracing you into her bosom. This temple dates back to the 8th century, built by the rulers of the Pallava dynasty in a traditional Oriental pagoda style. The Shore Temple complex was also known as ‘Seven Pagodas’ but currently only one remains standing on land, the other six are submerged. If the seas permit, it is possible to take a catamaran out into the ocean and try and spot the submerged tips of the other temples. Once a busy port, now a world famous UNESCO heritage site, the Shore Temple now stands as a mark of a forgotten dynasty.
‘Tans and tides will fade. But memories will last forever.’
Why do you travel? And what sort of a traveller are you? Do you love setting off on romantic escapades with your better half, in an attempt to discover each other in addition to the destination you’re visiting? Or are you an adrenaline junkie and enjoy participating in thrilling, adventurous activities on your vacation? Or you’re a luxury traveller – a vacation for you implies swanky rooms, best of food and wine, and relaxing spa sessions? Or like me, you’re a foodie and believe the best way to explore a new destination is via it’s culinary route? Whatever be your rationale to travel, a good hotel or resort should be able to cater to every sort of traveller and be able to fulfill your every desire while on vacation.
This was my first visit to Mahabalipuram or Mamallapuram – an ancient city of yore in South India that dates back to the 7th century. And just like all ancient cities, Mahabalipuram is a treasure trove of culture, history and art that attracts tourists all year round. But what makes Mahabalipuram special is the fact that it is a coastal town, situated between the Bay of Bengal and the Great Salt Lake. And the Chariot Beach Resort in Mahabalipuram is the perfect holiday spot if you’re looking at enjoying the cultural aspects as well as the pristine beach that Mahabalipuram has to offer.
There’s a Goan vacation for everybody! India’s favourite tourist destination offers a plethora of options for every kind of traveler. Adventure junkie to the nature lover to the honeymooning couple to the food explorer – Goa has something for everyone. Especially if you’re a luxury traveler, and you love your five star hotel beds, relaxing spa treatments, gourmet fine dine, and the best of service. Goa will spoil you with luxury stay options as well. And who better than the Marriott group of hotels – the first name when it comes to grand hotel stays, to help me experience an opulent Goan getaway.
Location: W Goa, Vagator
We drive down Goa’s narrow picturesque bylanes, passing by shuttered shacks and the occassional North Indian tourist on a scooter to arrive at Vagator in North Goa. The rains convert Goa into a different destination altogether – flooded paddy fields on either sides of the road, coconut trees swaying dangerously, and shades of green you didn’t know existed. #50ShadesOfGreen. After a failed attempt at climbing up to Chapora ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ fort in a downpour and a subsequent skidded knee, we made our way to W Goa.
A good hotel is so much more than plush interiors, comfortable beds and delicious food. I love hotels that go above and beyond the conventional route, to create memories and experiences that the guest rarely forgets. Which is why I fell head over heels in love with the JW Marriott Mussoorie Walnut Grove Resort and Spa property. The hotel has a soul that resonates strongly within the walls, and positivity that reflects on the faces of their smiling staff.
I was visiting JW Mussoorie as a part of the Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal organised by the property in association with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal of the APB Cook Studio, to discover more about the region of Gahrwal and their cuisine. (You can read more about the trip here.) Promoting the local Garhwali cuisine is just one of the many initiatives the hotel has undertaken. They want to help promote the culture of the region and the hidden beauty of Garhwal, all under the ‘sustainable tourism’ bracket. Any hotel that truly practices this form of responsible tourism – generating income and employment along with alleviating any deeper impact on environment and local culture – is a must visit in my opinion. In case you are looking for more reasons to visit, here they are. Read on!
1. The Food – A Multicultural Experience
We were there on a culinary soujourn, so it’s only fair that I mention their food first. Usually, five star hotels manage to wow guests with the world cuisine on offer, but rarely do they get their regional dishes spot on. At the JW Mussoorie, they take extra care in showcasing Garhwali food and bringing it to the forefront. Credit here goes to the Food and Beverage team that includes two lovely local women from the nearby village, who have been employed by the hotel to train their staff and cook meals for their patrons.
A must have at the property is the Garhwali thali, available on request at the JW Cafe – their all day dining restaurant. The thali is a wonderful way to acquaint yourself with a few popular Garhwali dishes, with the mountains around you for company. I love that they manage to do rustic dishes like the Kandli Ka Saag – a vegetable dish made from bichoo ghaas aka stinging nettle, with just as much elan as they do a thin crust pizza. The breakfast spread here is mighty impressive, especially because they rustle up local favourites such as Gehat ka Paratha (stuffed horsegram parathas), Aloo Swala (thick aloo puris), and Urad Dal Pakodas. Ask nicely and they’ll even throw in the recipes for you to replicate at home.
Want a break from the local cusine? (Though I wouldn’t see why.) Teppan is their in-house Pan Asian restaurant, where you can not only gorge on delicious sushi, but also watch some live theatrics at the teppanyaki counter. Or else, nibble on some grills, while you nurse your cocktail looking out at the Northern Garhwal range of mountains from the classy Trout House Grill and Bar. Don’t forget to sip on their famed Hot Chocolate at Perch – a tea lounge that offers a panoramic view of the mountains – with a book and your thoughts for company.
We were lucky enough to indulge in a beautiful Garhwali Fusion meal where the chefs used local ingredients infused with modern cooking techniques. When a kitchen churns out genius dishes like Stinging Grass and Pinenut Kebabs or a gateaux made out of the local Bal Mithai, you know you’re in for a gastronomic treat.
2. The Location – The Hills are Alive
What wows you the minute you walk into the JW Mussoorie lobby is the sight – you get a stunning view of the lush green valley. And if you choose to stay in a valley view room, you get to wake up to that view every morning. With gorgeous balconies in every room, you can’t help but lie on the sofas without a care in the world, pondering over life as you look straight out into the mountains. Look into the distance and you can see snow capped peaks of the Himalayas even during summers. Even if you haven’t opted for a valley view room, you can still enjoy the view from most of the restaurants at JW Mussoorie and a number of different vantage viewing points littered across the property. The mountains brought pristine air, and serenity in to my room, only to be disturbed by the chirping of birds.
The hotel is also aptly located on the outskirts of Mussoorie, yet not too far from the hustle and bustle of the main market. It is easily accessible, yet isolated thereby making it a perfect destination for some much needed rest and relaxation.
3. The Wellness Programs – For the mind, body and soul
Like most high-end hotels, the JW Mussorie also has a fully equipped. 24-hour gymnasium for those who want to work out while on vacation. Not to mention a fantastic, indoor heated swimming pool overlooking the mountains which makes it perfect for when you want to go swimming even during cool weather.
A fabulous wellness initiative that the hotel has organized is the Yoga session that is available to all hotel guests every morning, completely free of cost. I was lucky enough to participate in one such session, and the experience was surreal. Doing asanas barefoot on the grass connects you to mother earth like nothing else can. Meditating while breathing in pure mountain air was such a calming experience, I’d fly back just for that! Yoga classes in the city just don’t match up.
The hotel also houses the Cedar Spa by L’Occitane which is an ideal space to unwind at after a tiring day of sight seeing. The majestic Cedar trees that dominate the ridge line of Mussoorie have been used to create signature therapy treatments at the spa, along with L’Occitane products. I underwent a fabulous massage session at the spa, and emerged feeling like a goddess ready to embrace the mountains.
4. The Activities – Fun, Family Bonding
The hotel goes out of their way in attempting to create a fun experience for the entire family, such that you return back home brimming with positive memories. They organise a Kachadi or a ‘get together’ every evening over high tea for their guests. The JW Mussoorie lawns turn into a melange of colour and sound, as families intermingle, play various games such as badminton and croquet together, while live music plays in the background. Not to mention the fabulous masala chai, and chaat on offer.
The Den is their in-house gaming arcade complete with carrom, table tennis tables, and arcade games. Not to mention the underground bowling alley, that children (and adults) seem to flock to. It’s also a wonderful space to leave your kids for an hour while you go get a back massage at the spa.
The hotel also organizes excursions to nearby tourist spots on request. Their ‘Breakfast in a Stream’ is one such fabulous activity you could enjoy. I repeat, breakfast IN the stream, not BY the stream! We were treated to a hearty breakfast in the middle of a gushing stream, after we trekked down an easy slope for about 20 minutes. Cool water flowed under our legs, towering mountains all around us, while we gorged on some delicious breakfast spread. Parathas, croissants, fresh fruit, and even a live omelette station – all in the middle of the stream; not to mention the freshly squeezed orange juice being handed out to us.
The hotel gets it’s name from the number of walnut trees that are interspersed within the property, and if you’re lucky enough to visit during walnut season you can actually go picking walnuts with the hotel staff!
5. The Environmental Initiatives – Go Green
JW Mussoorie not only preaches about sustainable tourism and responsible travel, but also practice it extensively. Our aim as responsible travellers should be to add to the region we visit, instead of depleting and deriving it’s natural resources. Which is why the Plant A Tree initiative is a fantastic way for tourists to give back to the mountains of Mussorie. The hotel encourages all guests to plant a tree on the property, which their gardening staff later looks after.
The hotel also has an accompanying farm on which they grow their own vegetables and fruits, most of which are utilized in the hotel kitchen. The greenhouse on the lawns also grows a variety of herbs and shrubs which are again included in a lot of meal preparations. The farm and the greenhouse are picturesque locations to escape to on the hotel campus, and enjoy some solitude in the middle of all that vegetation.
It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. ~ Sir Edmund Hillary
The mountains can be both awe-inspiring as well as overwhelming. Their grandeur can make you feel like an inconsequential speck in the larger scheme of things, which is exactly how I felt driving around in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand during our four-day Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal. I, a self proclaimed beach bum with an exaggerated fear of heights, finally learnt to give in to nature, live in the moment and embrace the mountains. ‘Respect the mountains, and she’ll respect you back,’ my grandfather’s saying came echoing back to me.
Garhwal is a mountainous region in the state of Uttarakhand; it’s vibrant Garhwali culture has remained overshadowed and underexposed over the decades. Their simple, hearty cuisine and sustainable cooking methods are also lesser known among the larger population; which is why the Culinary Soujourn of Garhwal organized by the JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort and Spa, Mussoorie in collaboration with Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal of the APB Cook Studio was the perfect way to acquaint myself with their culture and cuisine. Along the way I fell in love with a region I knew very little about, a cuisine I had never eaten before, and people we never knew yet they welcomed us into their world with open arms. It was love at first sight. And/or first bite.