Monthly Archives: July 2012

Going to the Zoo

A couple of weekends ago, we made a quick trip to the Nehru Zoological Park, aka the Hyderabad Zoo. We had heard about it a lot from all our friends and so we decided to give it a try.

We were in for a surprise. The zoo is probably one of the best kept ones in India – and it’s not an exaggeration. My memory of Indian zoo is the one from Mumbai where animals are really poorly kept and look old and starving. That’s not the case here. The zoo is well maintained, animals are healthy and kept in their natural habitats (instead of tiny cages). In fact the zoo is so huge that people usually make it a day trip complete with a picnic lunch.

The atmosphere at the main entrance is very festive with balloon sellers, street hawkers, kids running around with big smiles on their faces eager to start the fun day and their parents chasing them so that they don’t lose them while trying to buy tickets, check their cameras and tote lunch bags.

We went a bit late in the morning around 11:00 am. By the time we reached the zoo and bought the tickets, it was about noon. We chose to  take our car inside the zoo for the additional price of Rs. 750 – which on second thoughts was a mistake. We should have simply parked the car outside and walked outside. There is a train inside as well as Safari’s to see the animals up close. I think there is a bus that goes in a circuit so you can hop on and off where you please.

Theer are paid restrooms and refreshment centers as well. Photography is allowed. Normal point and shoots are included in the ticket with an additional charge for professional camera’s.

Some pics from our visit with our trusty Canon.

  • White tiger – Larger and healthier than the ones in Mirage, Las Vegas.

  • Leopards –  Varun was asking the leopard to ‘walk’ and not ‘sleep’

  • Tiger – Woke up its sleep and took a walk in the moat for a refreshing dip.

  • Fox – Elusive creatures waiting for us to take a pic!

  • Elephants – Varun loves them!

  • Deer- They reminded me of our home in Seattle and many an occasion when we have spotted them driving home or even in our backyard.

  • Peacock

  • Bears

  • Birds – Lots and lots of birds. starting with Black necked Ibis

  • Pelicans

  • And a red-headed bird – making this up as I don’t know the name 😉

  • And some kissing birds – they were probably sharing a fish!

The zoo was crowded around all exhibits. And people ran from one place to other as the animals moved around.

But the zoo also has quiet paths where no one goes  – not the restricted areas but just the ones that let you wander around the park and take in the nature.

Varun just liked being in the open and away from the crowds.

Varun was initially excited to see the animals, but after 40 mins or so, he was happier to run on the open lawn, play with the water hose and generally do everything but watch the animals. Mid day heat and nap time aborted our visit and we returned back by 3:00 pm.

We loved the zoo, and we hope to go next time earlier in the day and take the lion safari – hopefully when Varun’s cousins are visiting!

Hyderabad Restaurants

As promised, this is the list of restaurants we have tried and tested and the ones on the wish list. We have tried these places for dinner and its been almost always ala carte.

I don’t go for buffets unless they are highly recommended or unless I like the place on a prior visit. Buffet’s almost always have poor fare and lower quality.

There are virtually no hole in the wall places primarily because we are still adjusting to Indian palate and I don’t want us to catch a stomach bug (especially Varun!).

Restaurants we love: If you are visiting us, chances are we will take you to one of this.

  • Ohri’s Tansen – Ambience, live sitar music, north indian food, impeccable service.Go early around 7:00 -7:30 pm to avoid crowds. Drinks and chaat are particularly good.
  • Urban Asia – Young and buzzing,live music, Pan Asian food. Make reservations for window side table overlooking the Jubilee hills traffic below. Salt and Pepper prawns and drinks are highly recommended.
  • Little Italy – Vegetarian, Italian thin crust pizzas, homestyle pastas and a decent wine collection. Love everything on the menu.
  • Westin Brunch @ Seasonal Tastes– Obscene variety and perfect opportunity to be wasted on drinks and food if you have nothing else to do on a weekend. Live music, awesome dessert bar and separate children’s play area with kids menu.
  • Four Seasons – Kebabs and Mutton Biryani. Go in a big group to taste the variety of this place can offer.Lassoni chicken kebab are highly recommended.
  • La Cantina – Mexican food by pool side. Strong drinks, nachos, and a delectable tres leches cake ever. Live music. Need I say  more.
  • N Grill – Patio dining on a balmy evening, European/Italian. Mostly businessmen,families. Patio was a hit with Varun. Service is slow but food is good.
  • Chutney’s – South Indian food. Period. Extremely busy and fast paced. Time at noon to avoid the morning breakfast/brunch crowd and lunch folks. Thali, idlis, wadas and traditional dosas are highly recommended.
  • Mainland China – Indo-Chinese, friendliest service.
  • Vadapav factory- Hole in wall, wink and you miss joint doling out vada pav in this southern city.
  • Sweet Nirvana – Pastries and bread (havent tried their European dinning restaurant)
  • Paradise – Mutton Biryani. Have to go here at least once.
  • Taj Falaknuma – High tea, palace, grandeur.
  • F Cafe and Lounge – Drinks , walking distance to home. Decent crowd and good music.
  • Park (Hyderabad) – Location, Views and Chicken Biryani!

Been there, done that, may not go again

  • Sahib , Sindh and Sultan – Setup in an old Indian railway coach. Mughlai food. Heavy and greasy.
  • Ohri’s Urban Tadka – Typical north Indian. Nothing that you don’t get anywhere else, but good for weeknight dinner.
  • N Asian – Liked it initially, but Urban Asia is better
  • Prego – Great Italian food, but pricey and pretentious. Mostly business folks
  • Dialog in the Dark – Unique dinning experience in the dark
  • Cakes and More – Run of the mill pastries, ho hum.
  • Subway, Kondapur – Slow service. Why should anyone eat here when there is four seasons right above it?
  • Hyderabad House – Chicken biryani and salaan was better than Paradise but it’s better as a take out place than eat-in.
  • Testa Rossa – OK food, great staff with kids. Smokers made us leave the place early though Varun had fun running around.
  • The Square @ Novotel buffet – Pricey, OK food, OK variety. Westin is a better bet in that price range.
  • Ista – Multi-cuisine. Went for burgers which were OK. Will go only if Microsoft pays for it.

Wish List – Can’t wait to try these

  • Cinnamon Fusion – Multi cuisine
  • Angeethi – Indian
  • Ohris Serengeti – Indian
  • via Milano – Italian
  • Bikanervala – North Indian, chaat, street food
  • So Restaurant – Continental/European
  • Kibbeh Lounge- Lebanese
  • Taj Krishna – Brunch recommendation
  • Sigree – North Indian
  • Khaan Saab – Hyderbadi food and Biryani
  • Kerala Kitchen – Kondapur , Kerala cuisine
  • Pista House – Haleem, Highly recommended.  Almost always get sold out within an hour of availability.
  • Shadab – Biryani
  • Yellow Spice – Loved the one in Powai, Mumbai.

Have any recommendations that we must try? Drop a comment below!

Varun Visits His Great Grand Mom

Last weekend, Vipul was going to Delhi for a recruitment trip. Varun and I decided to join him and visit Varun’s great grand mom who is in Delhi as well. On a prior trip to Delhi, she reminded Vipul that ‘she is now getting old’ and its about time we take Varun to meet her.

That was 2 months ago, Delhi was sizzling in 45+ C heat. There was no way we could have survived that. With more manageable temperatures in mid 30’s, we decided to wing it and flew to Delhi.

Maharashtrian tradition dictates that when a great grand mom sees her great grand son for the first time, the parents (ie us), shower the great grand mom with gold flowers. Its her lineage after all.So, we flew to Delhi with gold flowers and had a mini ceremony at home when we performed the ritual.

Rest of the stay Varun had a ball with his great grand mom and with Vipul’s Uncle and Aunt – whom Varun didn’t allow to rest even a bit.

Interestingly, our visit also coincided with Varun’s 2nd year birthday per the Hindu lunar calendar. So his grandparents bought him a cake to celebrate!

Vipul’s cousin and his family visited us while we were there and Varun was thrilled at having so many grand parents ( another aaji? , another aaba? ). And Prasad kaka and Richa kaku entertained him with bubbles and toys till all we could hear were his giggles.

This is precisely what the move to India has been all about- Varun getting to know his cousins, uncles, aunts and grandparents. Next stop- Banglore and Pune to see Varun’s cousins.

Reality Bytes: Four Months Later

Fantastic Four. Can you believe that? To me, its seems surreal. I still can’t believe we are in India, settled in our own apartment and driving our car around the town.We drove to the old Hyderabad and totally survived it without running into or over people. Well, we got a scratch but that was totally not our fault – the biker and his girl decided to ride so close to the car that they  scraped the left side view mirror. Now that side of the car is feeling the love!

Well, four months later, we are loving it here in India. Last weekend we spent with friends – some old and some new. We bonded over pizza and poker, chaat and cake and booze and Wimbledon. It was just like old days in Seattle and it’s just helping make our transition easier.

Here’s my rundown of key topics everyone keeps asking me about.

Working at IDC

This is very interesting. People at IDC are very smart, talented and passionate. Mostly they are younger and work late nights – 27 years is the average age. Many don’t have a social life outside work – they even spend their weekends with team mates – which is not a bad thing. It helps reinforce the team spirit. But people are very competitive. Guess the competitive spirit that guides most through various entrance examinations and the sheer desire to be in the 0.5% to be recognized/make it in life does not suddenly stop after making  it to Microsoft. One up man ship is common. It happens in Redmond as well but it’s not ‘in your face’.

Teams at IDC seem to have a bit of a complex. We are always striving to do more features with a better quality. We work hard and we are always striving to get approval of our US counterparts . Every mail where we may have done something better than our US counterpart makes us proud.Well, I think we should be proud of what we do regardless of what US counterparts think.

Work-life balance is a hit and miss based on the team you join. I havent experienced this first hand but have heard from friends that their teams either have daily late night meetings or late nights emails to respond to. The teams sort of expect you to respond to emails right away – it’s a precedent set by other team members who are constantly glued to their phones and respond to the email as soon as it’s in the inbox. It frustrates my friends to no end but given recent move and pending reviews forces them to join the rest in their behavior.

I haven’t come across a single male who works flex hours or leaves early. I think culturally, we make exceptions for women with kids and expect everyone else to pitch in at any hour. I must say, my team is an exception to this. Not because my boss will read this but truly because I haven’t experienced it yet on my team.

And, vacations is another variance. The number of days you take off, where you go, do you have enough balance etc – everyone on your immediate teams knows that. And they don’t fail to remind you (or your boss) if your vacation balance is negative.

It doesn’t end at vacations. People generally are interested in each others life and want to know more about it. It just takes a little bit of getting used to. And has its merits – random strangers point out if you leave your car lights on, they send emails about rash drivers and help you find the best deal on anything you are looking for.

Life in Hyderabad

Hyderabad…oh, you are a city of contradictions. We love Hyderabad – well Jubilee Hills, Banjara Hills, Madhapur and Gachibowli areas to be precise. Beyond that we don’t venture. I know of people who stick to these neighborhoods and love it here. While you get everything in these areas, I don’t like that I can’t get up and go anywhere beyond without it being stressful. We did venture once to Kukatpally ( try saying that aloud, I like the way it rolls off my tongue. Now say it two times fast ), and boy were we in for a ride.

The crowd, the heat, the traffic brought us back to reality – it was of any typical second tier city in India. People enjoying picnics on mini gardens created on traffic circles oblivious to the honking and fumes around, guys lurking at corners just watching other folks scurry about their work and staring at girls and the quintessential cows on road. This Indian ‘stare’ is one other thing that annoys me to no end.I sometimes retort with ‘Kabhi Ladki nahi dekhi kya?’ (Havent you  seen girls before?) and other times simply shrug and walk away.

Even in these so-called affluent neighborhoods, contradictions abound. Small shanties are on vacant lots next to uber residential complexes. Some residential complexes don’t have to worry about water shortage while others get water only for a few hours a day. Our maid who lives less than 500 meters from us, gets water only once a week- that too in the middle of night.

The contradictions overwhelm you when you first land. After four months, we tune it out.

Traffic

Now that we (as in Vipul) has started driving, we feel the pain of driving in this city. It’s not that traffic in other Indian cities is disciplined, but here people happily drive in wrong direction and block traffic. Autorickshaws, bikes and jay walking people are the worst offenders. You never know when someone will be in front of the car – driving is stressful. Period.

While we love the Rapid. we miss our BMW a lot. My dear BMW, it’s a good thing we didn’t decide to import you here. You would have been dented/scratched and soiled in no time.

Car registration

After a month, we got our car registered with Andhra Pradesh RTO and finally have got our car number plate. It’s not as straightforward in Redmond.  Rs 1200 and an hour later, the car was registered as we went through an agent. They send the Registration card to keep in the car and the registration number via the agent.

After innumerable follow phone calls, we final got the card and the number yesterday.

Then you take that number to a shop like this (below) and buy a license plate of your choice (embossed, fiber glass or aluminium).

We paid Rs 2200 for an embossed fiber glass plate. Not sure if thats a rip off. Hopefully, today we will be able to pickup the plate and fix it to the car.

Heat

The weather is generally better now. On cloudy, breezy days, its perfect. On other days, its in mid – 30’s which we are still getting used to.

Restaurants, Pubs and Nightlife

Our nightlife experience in Hyderabad has still been lame – mostly for the lack of trying. August looks promising as we have parents for the whole month allowing us to party hard! And we have tried a lot of restaurants and liked most of the ones we have been too.  Stay tuned for a post on restaurants we have tried and liked and are on our list.

Likely to stay or Come back?

It’s too early to say that. We want to make it work. But basic things frustrate us to no end – traffic, getting a PAN card (it took me 3 tries to fill the form ‘per instructions’) , getting car registered, every day task of driving to work etc. It’s sad that half of the city doesn’t have water and electricity while we have fountains running at the airport and light and music shows at night at tourist spots. I think the animals at Hyderabad zoo are well taken care of than the people you see on the streets.

But as I said earlier, you tune it out and look beyond it. Else life would depress you to no end. Selfish but thats how it is.

On the bright side, we are beginning to make new friends and have parties. Varun has a group of friends he plays with in the evening. Now, that’s a start. Friends truly can make your life in any city. We are blessed to have few around to make this transition easier!

Trans’Planting

We are in our 4th month of Indian Adventure. The move has been a great exercise in uprooting our lives in USA and transplanting it in India. For now we have unpacked and settled into a new home, but the garden remained behind. Those spring blooming daffodils and tulips, followed by azaleas, early summer hydrangeas, mid summer blue berries (and Varun chomping on them) and blazing nandina, weepling maple and Kastura in the fall, in my memory, will never fade.

A home, I believe, is incomplete without its garden.Even a small plant, be it succulent , herb or creeper, adds life to the home. A little bit of greenery calms the home. It’s no wonder that every home design magazine, blog or website has a section on gardening and include greenery to add depth to their staged home photos.

While I don’t have a yard here, I have four large sunny balconies where I dream of growing tomatoes, peppers, spinach, mint, coriander  and lettuce – once I figure out a place to get seeds. Till then I am making do with two potted plants by the front door.They welcome anyone visiting our home in a Tara Dillard way.

I got these 2 plants from a road side nursery across from Shilparamam in Hyderabad. The nursery is a sharp contrast to nurseries that I have been used to – Molbaks , Gray Barn and Flower World with acres and acres of plants sorted by sun requirements, ornamental v/s edibles, trees v/s shrubs v/s creepers etc.

This is tiny nursery stocking sun-loving plants (out in open) and shade loving plants (under the tarp). They don’t sell any seeds or vegetable or fruit plants. I walked around the nursery with Varun and my mom , selected a couple of plants and asked them to pot it up for me. Varun loved running amongst the neatly arranged rows of plants, tried to feel different leaves textures ( sensory development anyone?) and tried to pluck the flowering daisies when I had to distract him and show the pots to him.

That didn’t work as he was immediately attracted to thorny cacti like plants and then moved on to playing in the mud by the entrance. It was time to warp up the nursery trip and head home before Varun was covered in the red mud. Anyways, it began to lightly drizzle as well so we would have headed home anyways.

While plant shopping, make sure you ask for price as you see the plants. Most small plants were Rs. 100 -150 and larger ones were Rs. 200- 250.I should have bargained but  was a bit carried away just being in a nursery. Having mom around helped as she spoke to the nursery owner in Telugu which saved me from paying NRI prices.

Anyways, Rs 700 later (or roughly more than $12), we walked out with 2 plants, 2 pots with matching drip trays, potted up in red soil. This nursery was a bit pricier than what I would have paid somewhere else in the city/outside city per my driver. Oh well, we live and learn.

For now, I have 2 plants by our door swaying cheerfully in the light monsoon breeze. Hope they stay cheerful and don’t die in my care!

Mid Summer at Stehekin Valley Ranch

A mid summer special email from Stehekin Valley Ranch in my inbox today brought back memories of a Fourth of July long weekend trip to Lake Chelan and Stehekin.Now, a lot of folks go to Lake Chelan during summer. They typically visit the wineries, fruit orchards , jet ski , rent a boat or even swim in the lake and drive back. It’s so popular that getting reservations in Lake Chelan during summer is very difficult.

When we visited few years ago (long before Varun was born), we found lodging available for one night at a Bed and Breakfast in Chelan and 2 nights at Stehekin Valley Ranch.As there is limited accommodation (unless camping), we jumped at the opportunity to stay at the Stehekin Valley Ranch.

We had first read about Stehekin Valley in Sunset Magazine as one of the places to unplug from modern world and simply relax. They have packages that include breakfast/lunch and dinner (but not activities) and we just went with that.

Getting there

Most families don’t go to Stehekin due to its remote location and limited medical facilities.A 2 1/2  hour boat ride along the 55 mile long Lake Chelan takes you to the Stehekin landing dock. The island’s population of ~ 100 permanent people lives simply amidst nature, glaciers and glacier fed rivers. The only other way in is to hike the North cascades Pacific Crest Trail or take a seaplane. You rarely see families with babies/young kids but its the place to be if you have adventure loving older kids.

We drove to Fields Point Landing stop and took the faster Lady of the Lake ‘Express ferry to Stehekin. Parking our car at Fields Point Landing saved us 40 mins of boat ride each way – which we knew would be critical to getting back home at time with the later (and slower) ferry that were planning to take (to maximize time at the Ranch).

The boat stops en route at fixed points as well as camp sites along the banks of the lake. The journey is very scenic with clean blue waters of the lake lapping up to barren mountains with sparse vegetation – typical of central Washington.

Lodging

We stayed at the rustic A frame cabins at Stehekin Valley Ranch – a working ranch with communal dining options and activities such as rafting, horseback riding , bird watching, hiking and guided tent to tent glamping into higher mountains.

The Ranch picks up guests at specific times from the landing dock, aligned with the boat arrival time.

The drive to the ranch starts off on a paved road and then goes over unpaved sections. Once we reached the ranch by afternoon, we were happy to leave the dusty road behind and check out the A-framed cabin. It was rustic as described, with comfortable beds (one in the loft and one on main), comforters for cool nights and attached bathroom. The cabin overlooked open grassy natural lawn, horse ranch and tall evergreen trees.

Visiting the Rainbow falls

We were famished after the long-boat ride and then the van ride and immediately went over to the communal dining hall for a hot meal. We shared our table with three older ladies who were at the ranch to go bird watching. After lunch, we borrowed cycle and a bottle of water from the ranch and drove down to see the Rainbow falls. The falls are accessible from the road but we decided to do a hiking loop and so we left the bikes near the road and hiked in. We saw a small black bear on the hike ambling along and minding his own business till I screamed and made it run away. Vipul till date teases me about his lost photo opp since I couldn’t keep my mouth shut 😉 and later we met a group of hikers who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for about a week and didn’t get to see any bear ( and here we were on a casual hike and saw one).

We continued on to the falls . A brief scramble over rocks brought us to these beautiful falls and are so named after the beautiful rainbows that are formed in its cool spray. We enjoyed the solitude at the falls and soaked in the cool mists on a hot July afternoon before continuing the hike.

The next part of the hike brought us to a hill-top overlooking the Valley floor. A bit like Yosemite, we saw the valley with its fruits orchards and the Stehekin river snaking through. Again, we were the only ones on the hike and simply loved soaking the sun under the cloudless July skies. A beautiful memory that lingers on years after the trip.

We made our way back to the trailhead and completed the loop to the place where we had stashed our cycles on the way in. The ride back to the ranch was hard after the long hike. We stopped many a times along the way to soak in the snow capped mountains and admire quaint bridges over the river.We somehow made it back to the ranch, and had hot coffee, followed by dinner.

After dinner, many folks stayed out to star gaze – a rarity in Seattle, while others like us turned in early to the background music of northwest insects.

Horse Riding

The next morning, we woke up early to a hot breakfast and then went for a short horse back riding tour with the Cascade Corrals. The ranch has Norwegian Fjord  horses , a breed known to be very gentle, and after selecting a tame horse for us we went through forest undergrowth, along rocky cliffs, over old roots and down to the lake. The horses were perfect for us with our beginning horse riding skills (or lack of them) and except for the patch along the rocky cliffs with a steep drop off on other side, it was a beautiful summer morning ride into the back country. The ranch offers longer rides, but 2 hours was what our ‘butts’ could handle and we were a bit glad to get off the horses back at the camp.

After the morning ride, it was time for us to pack our bags and head back to the landing to catch the slower Lady of the Lake ferry to Chelan.

Pies and More

The ranch staff was kind enough to pack us a couple of sandwiches for the journey home. But we were thrilled when we did a 20 min stop at the Stehekin bakery – a place famous for its hot coffee and homemade pies. We savoured the pies and other baked goods in their well-tended (and bursting with blooms) garden.

With a hot coffee to go, we were back on the bus and reached the landing with time to spare. We walked around the dock and up to the Stehekin landing resort which looked like a convenient place to stay as well. The boat ride back was slow and we dozed off in the hot sun with a promise to come back in fall to experience Stehekin in its fiery glory.

If you are in Seattle and have never been to Stehekin, I urge you to go there. When we first moved to Seattle, Vipul promised to take me to San Juan island and we kept on postponing it to ‘next summer’. Next thing we know, we are here in India and San Juan island is a distant faded memory. Don’t let this happen to you – do visit Stehekin. In my opinion its the closest thing to Yosemite in WA state!

P.S. There is a mid summer special running at Stehekin Valley Ranch. Mention the promo ‘Mid summer special’ and you will receive a free raft trip as part of the trip. And no, I don’t get paid for it. I just love this place a lot 🙂

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