Guides from our travels

Day-to-day details & all costs of our trips

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Do's, don'ts, advice, how-to's

Madurai Summer Film Festival, India

May 4, 2009

What: Summer Film Festival – 2009
When: May 6-8, 2009; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m IST (GMT +5.30)
Where: The American College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India

Inaugural film: “Nee Yaar” [Tamil / English]
A documentary film on Tamil writer Sundara Ramasamy
Directed by R.V.Ramani

Closing film: “Your’s Truly John” [Malayalam with English subtitles]
A documentary about filmmaker John Abraham
Directed by Sarat Chandran

Organized by:
Marupakkam, in association with Department of Visual Communication, The American College, Madurai and Yadartha Film Society

Wagah Border – ‘Berlin Wall’ of Asia

May 2, 2009

Wagah Border Ceremony

Wagah Border Ceremony

Every late afternoon, just before sunset, the Indian and Pakistani military meet at the border to engage in an extraordinary 20-minute ceremony of pure theatre. The border-closing ceremony elicits machismo and posturing from the proud young soldiers on both sides, but also, despite the two countries’ uneasy relationship, a stunning display of harmony.

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Three best safaris in India

May 1, 2009

India has a wide range of wildlife safaris and national parks, some of which have accommodations in the heart of the reserves. Visitors can take elephant rides or jeep tours to watch the flora and fauna – lions, tigers, crocodiles, elephants, boars, birds, monitor lizards and more – and experience the beauty of Indian wildlife.

Here are three wildlife reserves we think are amongst the best:

  • Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan
  • Sasan Gir Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat
  • Jim Corbett Tiger Reserve, Uttaranchal

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Tips for money exchange before travelling

April 30, 2009

One of the first things most travelers do after landing to your destination country is exchange money, or make use of your debit/ATM/credit card. This can be a huge expense, especially if you’re careless. A few tips can help you get the best exchange rate and avoid paying high fees.

  1. Know the rate before you go
    Look at the currency converter for the most up to date exchange rates. When you know the current rate you’ll know what you’re getting into is a good or a bad deal.

  2. Get money from the ATM
    Using your ATM card to get cash from a local ATM will save you from traveler’s check fees and exchange stand fees. Most ATMs will only charge an ATM fee (if any), but will not charge you a percentage fee for the actual exchanging of the money.

  3. Get a lot of money from the ATM
    Don’t go to the ATM and get only a day’s worth of money. Get 2-4 days worth of cash and stash it in various places. Try to figure out exactly how much you need so you won’t have to exchange your money back again. Most ATMs charge fees for withdrawing money in a foreign country and if you withdraw $100 in one day, that ATM will charge the same to withdraw, say, $500 in the same transaction, rather than spending fees on 5 transactions everyday.

  4. Use a worldwide bank (if you can)
    ING (if you have an ING Electric Orange Checking) and HSBC both have banks in almost every country in Europe. You can use your ATM card at any of their locations and not get charged a fee. Bank of America partners with banks in the UK, France, Germany, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and China. Also, if you’re eligible, USAA lets you take money out of any ATM in the world and will reimburse you any fees the ATM charges.

  5. Talk to your local bank
    Give your local bank a call before you head overseas and ask what their rates are and what they can do for you. They may not be able to prevent fees on your ATM card before you go, but if you call when you get back they will likely remove the fees.

  6. Don’t exchange money before you go
    You are going to get a worse exchange rate in your country than you will in the country you’re visiting.

  7. Don’t exchange money at the airport
    The exchange kiosks at the airports have terribly high fees. Look for local spots like banks or currency exchange places that offer zero fees and good rates. Banks are your best bet.

  8. Understand the difference between buy and sell
    If you are at a bank/exchange kiosk in another country they post two rates “we buy at” and “we sell at”. “We buy” is when they are buying the the currency (e.g. euros) back from you to your currency (e.g. dollars). “We sell” is when they are taking your dollars and giving you euros. You will want to look at the sell rate when you get there and the buy rate when you are going home. Ideally, you want both of these numbers to be as close to the current exchange rate as possible.

Pet Airways – airline for pets

April 28, 2009

Pet Airways

Pet Airways

Inaugurating with 5 cities – Los Angeles, Washington DC, Chicago, Denver, New York – Pet Airways promises to fly your pet in the main cabin, not the cargo and take care of their ‘needs’ while en route.

This is what they have to say:

We promise to transport your pet with lots of love, care, safety, and comfort in the main cabin.

Pet Airways is the first airline exclusively dedicated to pets – no humans please – and we take the job of providing a comfortable experience for pets very seriously.

We’ll do everything in our power to make sure your pets get the best care during their journey because we’re committed to taking care of our pet “pawsengers” as if they were our own.

The Beech 1900 aircraft is a 19-passenger plane has been that has had the “human” furnishings removed; like the seats and overhead bins. Pets are placed in their private pet carriers which are secured using our proprietary restraint system especially designed and created by Pet Airways. They claim it to be “flown by many of the major airlines throughout the world and is recognized as safe and reliable.”

Some of the features are:
1. Track your pet – you can track the flight status.
2. Online booking
3. Tips on Pet Travel
4. Tips on preparing your pet for travel

Introductory fees: $149 one way

Hocking Hills Zipline Canopy Tour, Ohio

April 28, 2009

Hocking Hills Zipline Canopy Tour

Hocking Hills Zipline Canopy Tour

Hocking Hills is home to many exciting outdoor adventures, but nothing compares to the thrill of our Zipline Canopy Tour!

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Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia suspend airline booking fees

April 28, 2009

Orbitz / Expedia

Orbitz / Expedia

If you’ve been avoiding the big travel websites because of their booking fees, you might want to reconsider. Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia have all stopped charging airline booking fees until May 31.

The Chicago Tribune says that Expedia was the first to drop their booking fee, followed by the other two. (Priceline hasn’t charged booking fees for 2 years.) The idea is to eliminate the advantage that airlines have over travel agents by eliminating the price difference.

Will the fees return eventually? No one is talking. Orbitz, however, has also dropped booking fees for hotels reserved by July 15.


Airlines Allowing Passengers To Rebook Due To Swine Flu Outbreak

April 27, 2009

Several U.S. airlines are allowing passengers to rebook due to the swine flu outbreak in Mexico. American Airlines, Continental Airlines Inc and US Airways all said that they were allowing customers to change travel plans if they were concerned about the illness.

This new strain of swine flu has caused an estimated 81 deaths in Mexico and there are now 40 reported cases in the US — but only one hospitalization and no deaths.

The CDC has warned travelers about the illness, but has not advised people not to travel to Mexico. Reuters is reporting, however, that the US plans to issue a travel warning later today.

“There will be a travel warning urging Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to Mexico because of the swine flu,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition he not be named as the warning has not yet been officially announced.

It is likely to be announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although the State Department will also carry details on its Web site, the official said.

US airlines let customers change Mexico travel plans [Guardian]
U.S. set to issue travel warning to Mexico [Reuters]


Blue Frog club in Mumbai

April 26, 2009

A large, defunct industrial warehouse in the old mill district in central Mumbai is converted into a complex of sound recording studios and an acoustically outstanding live music club. The club needed to provide musicians and audiences with a superb auditory experience while also accommodating fine dining, drinking and dancing space.

Contemporary Urban Design, Mumbai — led by architect Kapil Gupta — designed the club. Their design strategy was to functionally blend the acoustic, spatial and performative characteristics of a traditional opera house with the demands of a full-fledged restaurant and bar while preserving the structural beauty of the old warehouse.

Critical performative demands on the design were clear sight lines from seated diners and patrons standing at the bar to the stage, given how crowded the lounge would be over weekends and popular performances. The design resolved this by using a “raked” section, which allows the eye level of diners and standing patrons to be distributed across staggered platforms that increase in height away from the stage.

Blue Frog Lounge

Blue Frog Lounge

A grid of circular, mahogany-panelled dining “pods” occupy these platforms and seat between 4-10 people. Their geometric outlay maintains uninterrupted views of the stage as well as a comfortable distance between diners irrespective of how crowded the rest of the club gets. A gently undulating, glowing acrylic resin surface over the pods retains the presence of the architecture amidst a state-of-the-art sound and light show at Blue Frog.

The elevated pods are arranged, amphitheatre-style, around a large circular floor that can accommodate standing/dancing patrons; the floor can also function as a 360 degree stage for performances requiring an intimate viewing experience. At one end of the floor is a large, raised stage for main performances.

Visual coherence is established by the propagation and repetition of the circular grid as a design language across a host of details, from dimpled acoustic panels on the walls to the back-bar display.
The air-conditioning system is fitted with jet diffusers so that air flows freely, minimizing noise from forced air. Newly launched L-Acoustics coaxial speakers and intelligent amplification capable of delivering the perfect energy output are the basis of their sound system; the FOH (Front of House) comprises the latest equipment controlling state-of-the-art visual and lighting display technology.

Blue Frog Lounge

Blue Frog Lounge

Mathuradas Mills Compound
NM Joshi Marg, Lower Parel, Mumbai, 400013, India
Tel: +91 22 4033 2333

Hours: Open Mon 12am-1:15am, 6:30pm-1:15am; Tue-Sat 6:30pm-1:15am; Sun 6:30pm-12am

Blue Frog Lounge

Blue Frog Lounge

Shani Shingnapur – the village with no doors on houses

April 26, 2009

Shani Shingnapur, also known as Sonai, is a village in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Situated in Nevasa taluka in Ahmadnagar district, the village is known for its popular temple of Shani, the Hindu god of the planet (graha) Saturn.

Shani Shingnapur Temple

Shani Shingnapur Temple

Shingnapur is also famous for the fact that no house in the village has doors, only door frames. Despite this, no theft is reported in the village. Villagers never keep their valuables under lock and key. Legend says that the temple is a “jagrut devasthan” (lit. “alive temple”), meaning that the god here is very powerful. They believe that god Shani punishes anyone attempting theft. Devotees, pilgrims and tourists arriving in Sonai can leave their valuables in a car or bus with all the doors unlocked and not worry about anyone stealing it. The only barrier to enter a house are curtains which keep out stray animals. People believe that nobody dares to steal anything because they are punished by Shanishwara, the local deity, and the owner has always got the stolen things back – if any such thing ever happens.

The village has a post office and a high school known as Shri Shanishwar Vidya Mandir besides the primary schools run by the Zilla Parishad. The chief source of water supply in the villages is wells.

Shrine of Shani
The shrine for Shani compromises of a five and a half feet high black rock installed on an open-air platform, which symbolizes the god Shani. A Trishula (trident) is placed along the side of the image and a Nandi (bull) image is on the south side. In front are the small images of Shiva and Hanuman.



Generally, the temple has 30-40,000 visitors a day, which swells to around three lakh (i.e. three hundred thousand) on amavasya (the new moon day), believed to the most auspicious day to appease Lord Shani. The village holds a fair in honour of the deity on this day. A bigger fair on new moon days that fall on Saturdays. Devotees bathe Lord Shani’s image with water and oil and offer flowers, and udid to him. A palanquin procession of Shani is held on the day of the fair. Other festivals include the birthday of Shani, Shani Jayanti.

Devotees generally wear a saffron-coloured attire and have a head bath in the holy water close to the temple before entering it. There is no priest to perform the pooja. The pooja is carried out in the form of offering Pradakshinams – of going around the idol a couple of times, chanting specific prayers such as Shani gayathri and slokas. Devotees also perform Abhishekam with water and gingelly oil.

Some facts about Shani Shingnapur
1. The idol is out in the open, as the Lord made it clear in various ways to his devotees, that He did not want to be covered.

2. The temple is open for everyone twenty-four hours. Even at night, men (women are not allowed near the deity) can bring the puja material and perform all prayers by themselves.

3. No house / shop in the village has doors. It’s believed that the deity protects them and if someone tries to steal or do something wrong, they would be paralysed.

Getting There
Shani Shingnapur is 350km from Mumbai and to reach there it’s best to hire a taxi from Mumbai. Long-distace cabbies from Mumbai take about 7 hours to reach Shani Shingnapur. Although there are MSTC (Maharashtra State Transport Corp) buses from Mumbai to Shirdi (60 km from Shani Shingnapur) and privatly-operated buses as well, locals advise not to attempt the bumpy, shaky ride on the MSTC buses, nor the long, frequent-stopping private buses.

The nearest airport is Aurangabad (144 Km) which is connected by Indian Airlines and private airlines with other cities/towns.

Trains from Mumbai leave for Nasik (123Km) and Manmad (60Km).

The village, being a very small one, does not offer any accommodation for the devotees, though there is a Dharmastala nearby where the devotees are fed. Since the village is about 60 km. from Shirdi, it is advisable to stay at Shirdi and visit this unique temple.

Shirdi Hotels

Sun N Sand
Plot No. 109/P-124/P, Village Nighoj, Taluka Kopergaon, Shirdi
Tel: +91-2423-2557 28 / 29 / 30
Fax: +91-2423-2555 94
E-mail :
Garlanded by 5 acres of lush greenery, the hotel is a short walk from Sai Baba’s Shrine, making its location an ideal one for the disciples. 100 rooms overlook the swimming pool or the serene town of Shirdi. The hotel has a choice of rooms to choose from Standard room, Studio room, Suites
Double/twin bed attached bath, Satellite TV, Telephone.
Check in/out time: 24 hours
Vegetarian meals only. Country Green (multi cuisine restaurant, 12.30pm-3pm, 7.30pm-11.30pm)
Swimming pool, Steam, Sauna, games, Safe deposit, running track, parking, driver available upon request.

Hotel Shraddha Park Inn
Pimplewadi Road, Shirdi
Offers 75 Superior Rooms amidst lush green landscaped gardens. Every room is equipped with luxurious comforts & modern amenities including attached bath with running hot and cold water, CCTV, mini refrigerator, color television, direct dial telephones & 24 hours room service. The hotel has 3 swimming pools one indoor pool, one outdoor pool and one children pool.
Central air-conditioning, cable television in all rooms, direct dial phones, 24 hour room service, restaurant serving Indian and Chinese food, business services, photocopying, travel desk, parking, laundry, fax, e-mail, internet access.

Hotel Sai Leela
9/5A, Pimpalwadi Road, Shirdi
200 km. from Pune Airport, 16 km. from Kopargaon Railway Station, 80 km. from Nashik Railway Station, 50 km. from Manmad Railway Station, 270 km. from Mumbai.
Located near the Sai Baba temple. 90 elegantly furnished rooms categorized into 4 Single Rooms, 70 Double Rooms and 16 Deluxe Rooms. All rooms have a private balcony with a panoramic view, attached bathroom with running hot and cold water, Television with satellite connection, direct dial telephone, wooden furniture, spacious closets and radio. The hotel has both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned rooms.
24 hours room service with no service charge, pool tables, table tennis, carom, video games, no tax on food, buffet service available for large groups, 24 hour security, 24 hour amenities shop, car wash facility at a nominal charge, free pick-up and drop to temple, a 6000 square feet swimming pool, water park facilities, slides and upcoming water gun pool, children’s playground, luscious green gardens, cricket nets, basketball, volleyball, mini golf, putting course, cycling track and jogging track and nursery with plants for sale.


Hotel Goradia’s, Shirdi
Pimpalwadi Road, Behind Sai Udyan, Shirdi
120 km. from Aurangabad Airport, 60 km. from Manmad Railway Station, 15 km. from Kopergaon Railway Station.
Located at a stone’s throw from the famous shrine of Sai Baba.
Offers 80 well-furnished double rooms and 160 beds. All the 80 rooms are air-conditioned. The rooms at the hotel are spacious, cozy and comfortable. Each guest room is fitted with a color television, in-house movies, 4-channel music, air-conditioning, a direct-dial telephone and a private toilet and shower with hot and cold running water.
Specialty restaurant, 24 hours room service, satellite channels, 4 channel music system, automatic wake up calls, meeting, banquet & conference facilities, valet parking, safe deposit lockers, doctor on call, travel desk, car rental, children play park & rides, color television in all rooms, laundry service, shopping arcade, valet parking, internet facilities, 24 hour check-out, left luggage room, fax, free accommodation for drivers, doctor on call, pool table, video-games, indoor games, all major credit cards accepted, no service charges.

Los Angeles Book Fest

April 25, 2009

The two day Los Angeles Book Fest begins today at UCLA.

405 Hilgard Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024

Tickets are free!
Tickets will be available on April 19 through
They are needed for indoor panels and speaker sessions.

Parking on the UCLA campus is $9.
Free shuttle bus services will connect the outlying UCLA parking lots with the main festival entrances.

For more info click here

World Taximeter – estimated taxi fare

April 24, 2009


World Taximeter, in beta, gives you an estimate of the fare of a taxi ride in cities around the globe. Currently they support these cities only – Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Boston, Chicago, Dublin, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, New York, Paris, Prague, Rome, San Francisco, Singapore, Sydney, and Toronto.


We gave it a try and selected Los Angeles as our city. Clicking on the “Browse <city> main places” link (#1) will open up a list of tourist and transport places that maybe of interest to you.

You can set the time of your travel (#2) and the estimates will change depending on the traffic conditions and the time you may spend on road.

Change the currency(#3) – currently they support USD, GBP and EUR – and you will see a side-by-side estimated charges of USD and the currency you pick. [It’s weird that if you pick USD, you will see a side-by-side view of USD and USD and the prices will differ a bit!!]

In the results window they also mention some useful tips about taxis in the city you selected and contact information of some can companies in that city.

Did we mention that they are still in beta; oh, and they also have a mobile version.

Inman Park Festival in Atlanta

April 24, 2009

Inman Festival, Atlanta

Inman Festival, Atlanta

During the last full weekend in April each year, Inman Park in Atlanta proudly presents a neighborhood festival widely regarded as Atlanta’s most spirited and eclectic.

The 38th Annual Inman Park Spring Festival and Tour of Homes will take place Saturday and Sunday, April 25-26, 2009

Festival Map [PDF]
Entertainment Schedule [PDF]

Saturday, April 25, 2009, 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday, April 26, 2009, 4:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Free and Open to the Public

Highlights include:

  • Atlanta’s biggest Street Market, offering everything from antique furniture to handcrafted wares.
  • A juried Arts and Crafts Show featuring some of the Southeast’s finest artists.
  • The city’s quirkiest and most colorful Parade, led by the Inman Park Butterfly followed by floats, bands, art cars, politicians, drill teams, Kelly’s Seed and Feed Marching Abominable Band, clowns, jugglers, and many more. The parade ends with the appearance of the Inman Park Trash Monarch, perched atop the throne-a street sweeper.
  • The Festival centerpiece, the Tour of Homes, featuring turn-of-the-century Victorian Painted Ladies and Craftsman bungalows as well as original contemporary designs and loft conversions.
  • Live entertainment, including rock-n-roll, blues, swing, jazz, folk, Western, and beyond.
  • A Dance Festival that showcases some of Atlanta’s best ballet and modern dance companies.
  • Children’s Activities—with a giant slide, cool obstacle course, relays and more.
  • A wide variety of food and beverages on sale throughout the Festival.

San Francisco International Film Festival

April 23, 2009

SF Film Festival

San Francisco International Film Festival is back in its 52nd year today through May 7, bringing together some of the world’s finest films and filmmakers.

Premiering at six venues across San Francisco city – Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, Castro Theatre, Pacific Film Archive Theater, Landmark’s Clay Theatre, Premier Theater and Roxie Theater – the festival will be screening over 100 films under various categories, from documentaries, short films to feature films.

Visit for information on films, SFIFF features tributes, live events, and a series of post-screening.

Tickets: Buy tickets online from here

Festivals and events around the world in Summer 2009

April 22, 2009

Celebrations of art, music, culture or religion – from Cinco de Mayo in Mexico to Koninginnedag in Netherlands; from Vappu in Helsinki to Thrissur Pooram in India; from Bun Festival in Hong Kong to Roskilde in Denmark, these celebrations bring people together to enjoy the festivities, understand cultures and make friends.

Here’s a list of some of the festivals and events occurring in the summer of 2009 around the world.

Also read A guide to the world’s best music festivals [CNN]

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