Every year, during the holy month of Ramadan, Mosque Road in Frazer Town converts into a major hub for food lovers. Several stalls are set up selling a variety of Iftar treats by the road side, and every year, the number of stalls just keep getting bigger and bigger.
Now, you don’t have to go to Frazer Town for Iftar treats as stalls are set up outside every major mosque in Bangalore during the holy month of Ramadan. But Mosque Road being what it is attracts are a larger number of people. I have been Mosque Road with friends in previous years, but this year I wanted to capture some photos for my blog.
After meeting up with a friend, we rode down to Frazer Town, parked my bike near Savoury Restaurant and walked up to Mosque Road.
After packing up some more food, I left Mosque Road. It’s obvious the annual Ramadan treats have grown into a big business opportunity for vendors over these past few years. It wasn’t this crowded when I visited 2 years ago. People of all faiths turn up to try out the food. Of course there were a few ignorant people. One guy was silly enough to ask if pork was available! 😛
Also, the prices this year weren’t low by any street food means. A plate of pathar gosht was sold for Rs. 200, and the quantity was only good enough for just one person. A stick of just three chicken-cheese balls cost Rs. 50. Don’t even ask about the sea food prices.
Still, if you have an opportunity to check out the fare on Mosque Road, do so if you have never visited the stretch during Ramzan before. And do it before Eid. Happy feasting!
Planning a trip to the Philippines began with the most unlikeliest of inspirations — an e-mail forward from my father. Not even a good official one, but one of those e-mails that had numerous ‘fwd: FW: Fwd:’ before the actual subject line of ‘can you believe Philippines has such beauty?!’ followed by numerous exclamation marks.
I usually disregard the images I find in such e-mails as they’re usually not from the country they claim to be but upon checking up some of the names of the places they showcased, I was quite surprised about how little I knew of their existence!
It dawned to me I knew very little about Philippines, this despite having grown up in the Middle East where (just like Indians) millions of them come to work. As a kid, all I knew about Filipinos is that a lot of them work in fast food joints or play in a band — and they don’t have the letter ‘F’ in their vocabulary. So I would often hear “500 pils” instead of “500 fils” when asked for change.
I learnt of Banaue and its famous rice terraces, the beautiful beaches of Boracay and Palawan, but the place that made me wish I was there was the remote island of Batanes. It was then, early 2010, I decided to consider making a trip to Philippines.
It was quite challenge really, because trying to study the geography of Philippines wasn’t easy.
Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. Sure, many of those thousands are really tiny to even identify on a map but still, getting around the country isn’t easy. It requires some learning beforehand. Since it’s not a landlocked country like most of Thailand, you have to commute via road, ferry, and airlines just to get to certain places within the country.
I initially thought of clubbing Philippines & Thailand last year but it was proving to be quite expensive. So I decided to give Philippines it’s own time.
That time was early this year, when things weren’t looking too good at my workplace. We all knew what was coming our way with the fate of the office and so, instead of prepping up my resume and looking for another job, I researched more on Philippines instead 🙂 When things became official in March and we all knew we were going to be laid off, I booked my tickets!
I tried Air Asia first but at around INR19k, it wasn’t as cheap as I thought it would be. Plus the timings were inconvenient. I land late at night and my connecting flight would have been at 7am the next morning. No way I was going to spend that long at KL LCCT! So I checked all the usual Indian travel websites and got the best deal from Travelocity for a Malaysia Airlines flight at Rs. 26,153 ($584/€411) return. Yes, it was more than Air Asia, but it was going to be convenient, so I didn’t mind paying a bit extra for that. Also, I would get proper meals, land at KLIA and not the present warehousebudget terminal. More importantly, the time I had to wait for my connecting flight was lesser.
Philippines Airlines had just launched their direct flight service to New Delhi (only), but it was quite expensive, so flying the Philippines national carrier was not a possibility.
Next came the visa. When I researched on the tourist visa, I was happy to find out Philippines offer a 21-day visa-on-arrival for a 147 nations! Great, I thought… until I scanned down the list and couldn’t find India one among those 147 countries -_-
So I ended up at the website of the Philippines embassy in New Delhi and found out I have to pay Rs. 2320 for a tourist visa (and for just 21 days). Since I couldn’t fly to Delhi just to get a visa, I had to get it done through an agent. Some agents wouldn’t even do it, and one moron even asked for Rs. 10,000 as service charges! But I walked into the nearby Thomas cook office in Koramangala (inside Raheja Arcade) and got my visa processed by paying their Rs. 1000 service charge. At Rs. 3320, this was the most I had spent on a South East Asian visa so far, and that too for a single entry visa. My multiple entry Singapore visa for 2 years cost just Rs. 1800 and my 1 year Malaysia visa cost just Rs. 1500. Thailand was free visa-on-arrival the two times I went.
My travel period was from 16th April to 4th May and I chose the dates keeping in mind the main focus of my trip was to photograph the Easter crucifixions in San Fernando. The rest of my itinerary would see me visit the largest American war cemetery outside of the United States, traverse throughout the Ifugao province for my fix of rice terrace farms, see coffins hung on hill sides, Cebu, see odd-shaped hills in Bohol and finally enjoy the natural beauty of Palawan island. I was looking for ‘interesting’ with this trip, so I ruled out Boracay — the nation’s most popular island destination, and the most touristy. Unfortunately, Batanes was out of this trip plan as well, simply because it was too expensive to even get there. No budget carrier (and Philippines has enough of them) flies to Batanes and even those that do only fly if they get enough passengers. Batanes is that remote an island.
As days passed by, I felt a bit nervous and kept having second thoughts about spending a lot of money during uncertain times. Sure, the Philippines currency value was the same as the Indian rupee, so that really helped! But still, here I was, going on vacation when all my colleagues were busy job hunting. Plus, I was going to be visiting a new country, one that like Thailand (to the eyes of the ignorant) has a sketchy reputation. I knew what I was going to see, and I was looking forward to see if they live up to the hype, but still…
One ray of hope that eased me up a bit came my way two weeks before my departure date when one of my readers left me a comment telling me how much she appreciated my website and that I “should visit the Philippines sometime!”
That blessing of a reader couldn’t have come at a better time and after we got in touch, she would be of great help to me, even helping me out with some bookings. I felt much better knowing I had a local contact, which always helps!
Post loitering, I found my gate and sat in front of it. I tried to catch some sleep but ended up going online to kill time for the next 4 hours.
I boarded my second Malaysia Airlines flight for this trip in the afternoon and I was now en route to Philippines.
I took a break from staring outside my window to eat some peanuts.
It got cloudy after this, so I lowered the shades and caught up on some sleep.
So after nearly a total of 8 hours of flying, I was finally in Philippines. Phew, long journey!
I got my passport stamped, got my bags rather quickly, converted some dollars and I was out in around 15 minutes. The first thing I wanted to do was get a local SIM and fortunately Globe was handing out free SIMs (though they were mostly for OFWs*).
I hired a pre-paid yellow taxi (which would later turn out to be a mistake) and asked him to take me to Kabayan Hotel in Pasay, which was close to the airport. I chose Kabayan as it was a popular recommendation online. Plus, I didn’t want to spend too much time in traffic just to get to touristy Makati.
But despite how close the hotel looked on the map from the airport, getting there still took nearly 45 minutes in evening traffic. It cost 250 pesos ($5/€4) which is far more than what I thought it would cost. Anyway, I went to the hotel reception, booked a single room for myself and checked in.
Kabayan is pretty cool. They have rooms ranging from dorms all the way up to deluxe rooms and from prices starting as low PHP610, they are very popular. And get this, you get complimentary breakfast and lunch! They also have free wi-fi among other great amenities.
Oh by the way, they don’t use the word toilets much in Philippines, instead it’s ‘Comfort Rooms’ or ‘CR’ 🙂
I stepped out again because I needed to buy some credit for the Globe SIM so that I could inform my family of my safe arrival. Since I was out, I decided to grab dinner early. It soon struck me just how much fast food Filipinos eat. Mc Donalds and homegrown Jollibee was everywhere — and they both had multiple branches within meters of each other — and all of them were doing brisk buisness! As the fast food chains are too chicken to sell beef burgers here in India (due to religious politics), a good ol’ cheeseburger was what I was craving. I picked up a burger from Jollibee, a doughnut from 7-11 and some water.
The area I was in was quite a busy part of town as it was a major hub for transportation, so you get everything you need as far as convenience stores, supermarkets and eateries go. It’s also a very noisy area, mostly because of the jeepneys.
But Kabayan does a good job of cutting out the noise once you’re inside the hotel. I took a nice warm bath and then had my dinner. I called my aforementioned reader (whose name is Aimee) and we spoke for a while. She told me the pre-paid yellow taxi at the airport are priced way more than the usual taxis I could have gotten had I just walked a bit further out. Also, there were frequent airport buses that drop people to Pasay and back. Oh well, rookie mistake.
Given that I hadn’t slept properly in nearly 24 hours, I called it an early night.
I couldn’t wait for tomorrow to begin!
Please note: In this series of posts, I won’t be mentioning conversion rates for Indian rupees as both Philippines Peso (PHP/₱) and the Indian Rupee are more or less on a 1:1 value ratio. So Rs. 100 is like PHP98. Therefore only US dollar and Euro conversion rates will be mentioned.
*OFW = Overseas Filipino Workers; similar to NRI (Non-Resident Indian)
After beginning this year with a visit to the UAE, then Singapore, Malaysia & Thailand later in the year, I capped off my 2010 travels with a trip to Hyderabad. The main purpose of the visit was to attend a friend’s wedding, but we (my usual travel buddies Ramesh and Loiyumba) decided to go a bit early to do a bit of sight-seeing.
This wasn’t my first visit to the capital of Andhra Pradesh. I first came to Hyderabad in 2002 to visit my brother when he worked there briefly.
In some ways I was looking forward to this trip because it was after a span of nearly 9 years that I got to travel by train again. We boarded the Kacheguda Express from Bangalore Cantonment station in the evening.
We arrived in Kacheguda station (not Hyderabad’s main railway station) at a chilly 5:45am. We had reserved a room for us three at Nand International, a nearby hotel, so we figured we could walk it there. But after walking for around a minute or two, we couldn’t spot the hotel and the auto drivers we passed by were telling us they could take us there for just Rs. 10. Figuring it was cold and we had luggage, we got in… and literally 5 seconds later, up the same Station road we were at, we were dropped at Nand International! Pissed at the fact all he had to tell us was to walk a few steps further to get here, we shouted at the auto driver — but relented from ruining our morning and just paid him Rs. 10 to get lost.
We checked in to our three person bedroom/family room.
Since we were still sleepy, we crashed for a few hours.
Got up around noon, had tea and pondered about where to have lunch. In a city famed for its food, we weren’t keen on hitting up the street food joints near Charminar straight away. So we decided to go to a place called Eat Street.
Eat Street is just some food court by Hussain Sagar Lake, one of the largest man made lakes in India. We passed through scanners (apparently security is pretty tight in Hyderabad) and walked in to a not-so-busy food court.
We checked out the various stalls, some open open for business… some not. You get your usual choice of South Indian, biriyani (of course), chaats, western fast food, etc. But despite being in the city famous for its biriyani, I wasn’t going to eat it from just about anywhere.
Ramesh and Loi both tried out the biriyani and they described the food as: “sucks” and “horrible”. So there.
Post-lunch, we already feeling a sense of ‘boredom’ and wondered what to do next.
The one good thing about Hyderabad is that they have an IMAX screen, and it can be found at Prasads on Tank Bund Road. The security was pretty tight before entering here as well (I take it’s because of the Telangana issue?). We checked out the mall a bit before going to collect our pre-booked tickets for Tron which was playing.
After checking out Prasads, we stepped out, took an autorickshaw and went to see Charminar, Hyderabad’s iconic structure.
We eventually asked the auto driver to stop and decided to walk it further up.
Charminar literally translates to “four towers”. Minar or minaret being the towers or pointy structures you find in just about every mosque and char which just means four.
But walking through the halls, I couldn’t really help but not ignore something.
Charminar done, we decided to sit in a cafe to have something to drink.
Excessive sugar intake complete, we decided to quickly step inside Makkah Masjid.
You have to leave your bag and shoes at the counter and walk barefoot once past the gates.
We left the mosque and decided to call it a day.
Once back in Nand International, I was quite cheesed off. Despite claiming to provide 24 hours hot water, when I opened the tap, I only got cold water. Went to the reception to complain and the man with a straight face told me it only comes on from 6am to 6pm. I then raised my voice and told him “well, that’s not what it says on your website!” and demanded I need hot water as it was quite cold (which it was outside). Only then did I get a bucket of hot water. So a big thumbs down for Nand International because of that.
Post rant, we concluded day one in Hyderabad with dinner at nearby three-star hotel restaurant where we had, yes, biriyani.
It was alright, but I would have much better biriyani in the next few days.