Monday, March 20, 2017

Trident, Udaipur

We stayed here on the last day of our trip to Udaipur. After having decided not to over spend on palace hotels, this was our attempt to experience a lake-side, yet relatively affordable luxury stay. (I am sure that's a lot of oxymorons together)

Hotel Category - Five Star
Location - Udaipur
Service
The Oberoi Group (of which Trident is a part) is known for endearing hospitality and this was evident not only from the care and affection extended by the front office staff, but also the pleasant surprise they had waiting for us when we entered the room after a small site seeing; they took the cue from our discussion during checkin when we mentioned we were here as part of our honeymoon and had the room decorated with baloons and a heart shaped creating using bath towels, To top that, they had a delectable chocolate cake ready to be sliced. 


Mr. Mahi from the front office, his deputy and the F&B manager require special mention for making our stay a very comfortable one. They also extended their support in suggesting places to visit and restaurants to try in the city during our stay here. 

Room and Facilities
It's a large commercial hotel with over 137 rooms. What this also means is, there are going to be a lot of people buzzing around and this hotel might not be the best option if you are looking for a quaint and private space. 


Our room had a brilliant lake view, but when I look back I tend to think wasn't the lake a distant mile away from the room? Is that worth the premium I paid? Also, the room was compact sized and comparable to a business class hotel you find in Tier I cities. 

For the positives, the room had flawless hygiene and had good quality bathroom essentials. 


Location
The hotel shares its compound with the ultra premium Oberoi Udai Vilas and is easily accessible when in the city limits. 

Food
We had only their buffet breakfast and it was easily the best breakfast we had during the trip. While there may have been a few failed dishes, the lavish spread made up for it. 





On a summary note, the hotel has everything going in it's favor if you are looking for a commercial/quasi business class hotel. While the same may not be the recommendation if you are in the city for a holiday, their outstanding hospitality is BIG enough reason to revisit. 

P.S - used my Citibank premiermiles credit card points to part fund the room booking cost. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Best Places in Chennai to Have Dal Makhani

If you are you a fan of rich and sinful Dal Makhani (mixed lentil curry), here are the best places in Chennai to have it.


1. Peshawari, ITC Grand Chola

The dish is called 'Dal Bukhara' at Peshawari, which is the flagship restaurant of the ITC Group. While this might be an expensive affair, the creamy and rich flavor sets it apart. 

Pricing - Very Expensive - INR 795 per portion

Other Dishes to Try:
They have a brief menu and almost every dish is spot on. While their kebabs are succulent and a treat to your palate, the main course is equally good. 


2. The Great Kebab Factory, Radisson

The restaurant operates on a sit down buffet model and the dal makhani is a part of this course.

Pricing - Very Expensive 

Other Dishes to Try:
Big fan of their lamb galouti kebab; it is easily among the best places to have it. Not the place to overdo the starters as their main course and desserts are equally good. 


3. Zaica

This is the restaurant that introduced me to the world of Dal Makhani. The dish is called 'Dal Peshawari' and is a signature dish of the restaurant. I have always had it as a part of their sit down buffet, but they also have an a la carte menu. 

Pricing - Moderate - INR 230 per portion

Other dishes to Try:
Their sit down buffet is a great value for money and I love the veg kebabs that are served as part of it. Their desserts include hot jalebis and jamuns which are reasonably good. 


4. Pakwan

The dish is called 'Dal Pakwan' at this newly opened vegetarian restaurant. 

Pricing - Moderate - INR 230 per portion

Other Dishes to Try:
They have an extensive menu which includes a lot of fusion food. My personal favourites are: palak kurkure chat, paneer dum anari (starter), kekhsan (main course) and shahi tukda (dessert). 


5. Salt

A restaurant that I frequent for a few of their other delectable dishes but end up ordering the dal makhani almost every time. Their dal makhani goes by the name 'House Black Dal'

Pricing - Moderate - INR 265 per portion

Other Dishes to Try: 
When describing the food at salt, I would always start with the dessert first. My staple order here is their Elaneer Payasam which is the best you would find in budget restaurants across the city (I am told Southern Spice at Taj is another good place to have it, but yet to try given the luxury factor). Egg biriyani is another staple order; while I don't order egg biriyani usually at restaurants, Salt is one place I would recommend trying if you ever want to (even-though recently it hasn't been inconsistent). 

This is my top five, lets hear your views and recommendations in the comments section.

P.s - Few of the images were taken from google and others are from my visits to these restaurants. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Ramada Resort & Spa, Udaipur

We stayed here on our first day in Udaipur. We chose this hotel based on the pricing and pictures/reviews on Tripadvisor. On arrival, we were given an option to choose for a room upgrade to the premium category for INR. 1500 - which we were happy to opt for. 

Hotel Category - 5 Star (Resort)
Location - Udaipur


Location 

This is a hill-side property located at Rampura Circle. While I may not be the best judge for commenting on the locality, the hotel is ticked away from the busy lake-side localities - which are preferred locations to stay for tourists. 


Room & Facilities 
It was a twin room designed in a ground plus one model; we occupied the one on the ground floor. The room was reasonably large sized (something that might be otherwise rare in a crowded travel city like Udaipur) and had a great visual appeal - could not decide whether it looked better in day or night. 



But that said, the hotel maintenance was below par. Our issues ranged included: broken bathroom flush, dis-functional telephone (this is a big no for a property where the lobby is a kilometer from the room), stained bathtubs, etc. 

Their other facilities included spa, swimming pool, few indoor games, a fully functional pub, etc. Specifically referring to the pool facility, they have two options - one central pool accessible to all customers and other being a private one which had a paid entry. 


Food 
Our dining here was restricted to the complimentary breakfast. The spread was decent and food just above average, 



Service
The service was patchy. While they attended to most requests instantly, our efforts to get the telephone fixed went unanswered - despite informing twice. 

On a summary note, this is a good resort if you are looking to spend time with family and relax. That said, they need to maintain the place better; which is an essential for five star properties. 

My rating for the hotel is 6/10. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Essentials for a Luxury Vacation to the City of Lakes - Udaipur


If you are planning your travel to Udaipur there are several questions you would like to ask yourself. To make your job simple here are some struggles I went through in making the plans:

1. How many days?
Well, everybody you speak to or every place you research would tell you that you don't need more than 3 or 4 days to fully cover Udaipur. 

While that might make sense if your target is only to cover the city, visiting nearby places of interest (Ranakpur, Kumbalgarh, Mount Abu and Chittorgarh) could make your trip a longer one.

An ideal vacation would be for 3 to 4 days if you are looking to get a comprehensive feel of the city and its culture and a day or two each for all nearby places of interest. 

2. Where to stay? 
The biggest question one needs to answer is the kind of vacation they plan to have. Especially given that Udaipur has some of the country's most premium hotels - it might be worth considering them:

Ultra Luxury Hotels (priced INR 40-60k per day range)
a. Oberoi Udai Vilas
b. Taj Lake Palace - Heritage hotel located in the middle of Lake Pichola; there are no options to even dine here unless your staying with them)
c. Leela Palace 

Other Luxury Hotels (priced in INR 10-25k per day range)
a. Trident (part of Oberoi group)
b. Fateh Prakash Palace
c. Lakeend
d. Lalit Lakshmi Vilas
e. Shiv Niwas Palace

Other Hotels - Just search on trip advisor and you would find a decent number of options across all price segments. Interestingly, the city has palace styled hotels in all price segments.

3. How to get here?
For travelers from Chennai - it is likely that you would have to stop over at Mumbai/Delhi if you chose to fly.

Not discussing train routes here as I am no authority on the same.

In my next few posts, would talk about my experiences - hotel stays, places visited and dining sessions; stay tuned for more

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Top 3 Travel Credit Cards

Every aspiring traveler in India is envious of his global counterparts when they talk about cheap airfares and redeeming air-miles for holidays. While this is a growing fad in our country, the system and the credit cards have not fully matured to support the model.

So, while you wait for things to catch heat, here are some of the credit cards that could be handy given the current scenario. 

1. Citbank Premier-Miles Credit Card

Source: Google, Citi
Pro's:
  1. You get to redeem your miles for travel and hotels: most of the travel cards have airline tie ups and miss the other essential element - 'stay'. 
  2. Miles utilization is linked to the ticket/room pricing: a fair system that benefit travelers who plan their trips in advance
  3. Never expiring miles: this is possibly the best feature of this card. Unlike JP miles or gift vouchers these miles have an infinite validity period
Con's
  1. Redemption pricing is slightly higher than the pricing in their travel partner's website (GoIbibo is their official travel partner)
  2. Low on miles granted: They offers 10 miles for every INR 100 spent for airline bookings and 4 miles for every 100 spent on other expenditure. 
  3. Low credit limit for non Citibank customers: Card offers low credit limit for non citibank customers
Best recommended usage strategy: For all your travel bookings (except Jet if you have a JP partner card). For other expenses, depending on benefits available in your other cards. 

Fees: This card comes with an annual fee of INR 3000

2. AMEX Platinum Travel Credit Card

Image result for amex platinum travel card
Source: Google images; Amex
While this is not exactly a travel card, it has some excellent rewards which Indian travelers would love to get their hands on. The cards has a milestone based rewards system whereby the customers get Indigo vouchers upon sign up and spending INR. 1.9 lakhs and Indigo and Taj vouchers when cumulative spend reaches INR. 4.0 lakhs. 

So the most cash equivalent of rewards that one can avail in a one year cycle is worth around INR. 33,800. 

Pro's
  1. High on rewards: their rewards is easily among the highest you would find among comparable credit cards
  2. Lounge access - You get limited free access to select Amex lounges and also a free membership to Priority Pass; however, entry to priority pass lounges would be charged. 
  3. Enjoy high credit limit: Amex typically offers a higher credit limit than your other cards
Con's
  1. Voucher benefits come with a limited validity and are restricted to their airline and hotel partners
  2. No benefits for spends over INR 4 lakhs in a year
  3. No accelerated points or miles privileges for frequent travelers except small discounts on travel booking partner Makemytrip. 
Best recommended usage strategy: Use this card for all your non-travel expenses if you use more than one travel card. Limit usage once you have availed maximum rewards (i.e reached the INR. 4.0 lakh milestone). 

Fee: First year fee - INR. 3500 (plus taxes) and renewal fee INR. 5000 (plus taxes)

Hack - You could apply through paisa bazaar and get the first year free. 

3. JetPrivilege HDFC Bank World Credit Card

Image result for jetprivilege hdfc bank world credit card
Source: Google, HDFC
I am wannabe Jet loyalist and have been trying hard to accumulate jetmiles. They are among the few and earliest Indian airline's to launch a loyalty program and is also possibly the best connected in terms air-routes. 

Pro's
  1. High on miles (rewards) - You earn 18 miles for every INR. 150 spent on flights booked using Jet airways website and 6 miles for every INR. 150 spent on other bookings. So if you are a frequent traveler on Jet Airways - this card could come handy. 
  2. Lounge Access: The card provides access to mastercard lounges and also offers free priority pass membership. Unlike your Amex travel card, the cardholder gets 5 five free entry's to the priority pass restricted lounges. 
  3. Receive miles across a host of  non-airline expenditure which include stay, dining, subscriptions, etc
  4. 5% discount on Jet airways flight Bookings
Cons
  1. Only Jet Airways flights: Miles redemption is restricted to airline ticket bookings only and comes with a prefixed validity period. 
  2. Low value for miles: Though the redemption has been linked to airfare, it works on a slab based model; therefore the miles spent per booking might be slightly higher than your bookings with PremierMiles or other cards. (e.g - a round trip from Chennai to Bangalore would cost you INR. 3,500 if booked in advance. The same would however cost you 10,000 miles if one was to redeem miles for this booking. 
Best recommended usage strategy: For all your flight bookings on Jet Airways and hotel bookings through partner websites such as Agoda, Booking.com, Rocketmiles, Kaligo, etc. Some of these sites may be priced slightly premium, especially for bookings with miles as rewards. 

Also, check Jet Privilege website to know what other expenses you can get miles for. 

Fee: First year and renewal fee of INR. 2500 per annum. The renewal fee would be waived based on expenditure milestone being achieved. 

Jet privilege platinum members can get this card for free.  

Note: There are Jet Privilege partner cards, but this had the best return on annual fee. 

About Me
I use all of the above cards and I am currently accumulating miles to see India (if not the world). The above views are based on my personal experiences (positives and struggles) and the views may vary from other users. 

Fern Meluha, Mumbai



Star Category - 5 Star (Ecotel)
Location - Powai, Mumbai
Stayed at this hotel during my last visit to Mumbai and checked in late after a long day of meetings. To my pleasant surprise they upgraded me to a junior suite room and that was the first of the many memorable things from the stay here. 

Location
The hotel is located in the heart of Powai and is also close to commercial establishments in the locality. 

Given my desire to explore the neighborhood when I am in a new city, this hotel was perfect for a small dessert and dinner sojourn. 

Room & Facilities 
When you get more for what you pay, you are more likely to be impressed. That is clearly my views about the stay here and junior suite room is perfectly designed if you are carrying work back to the hotel. 

I stayed up late to work and watch the Indian wrestler bring us the first medal and that was the perfect icing to the stay here. 

On to details, the room had a study, two tv's, a cloak room, a mini bar counter and very comfortable and cozy king-sized bed.


Pricing
They are priced slightly premium and having stayed at similar priced properties in other parts of the city, this was definitely among the ones I found most comfortable in many ways. Hence, it could be considered necessary premium. 

Food
Had a quick breakfast and did not have enough time to do justice to their breakfast spread. 

But what little I had, found it just above average. However, would definitely want to have a more elaborate meal next time. 

Service
The staff were extremely courteous and the check in process was hassle free. 

On a summary note, a hotel stay I enjoyed and one I would surely want to revisit: 

Fern Meluha, Mumbai



Star Category - 5 Star (Ecotel)
Location - Powai, Mumbai

Stayed at this hotel during my last visit to Mumbai and checked in late after a long day of meetings. To my pleasant surprise they upgraded me to a junior suite room and that was the first of the many memorable things from the stay here. 

Location
The hotel is located in the heart of Powai and is also close to commercial establishments in the locality. 

Given my desire to explore the neighbourhood when I am in a new city, this hotel was perfect for a small dessert and dinner sojourn. 

Room & Facilities 
When you get more for what you pay, you are more likely to be impressed. That is clearly my views about the stay here and junior suite room is perfectly designed if you are carrying work back to the hotel. 

I stayed up late to work and watch the Indian wrestler bring us the first medal and that was the perfect icing to the stay here. 

On to details, the room had a study, two tv's, a cloak room, a mini bar counter and very comfortable and cozy kingsized bed. 

Pricing
They are priced slightly premium and having stayed at similar priced properties in other parts of the city, this was definitely among the ones I found most comfortable in many ways. Hence, it could be considered necessary premium. 

Food
Had a quick breakfast and did not have enough time to do justice to their breakfast spread. 

But what little I had, found it just above average. However, would definitely want to have a more elaborate meal next time. 

Service
The staff were extremely courteous and the checkin process was hassle free. 

On a summary note, a hotel stay I enjoyed and one I would surely want to revisit: