Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Online discoveries

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I love discovering. A quaint store, an underrated food joint, local markets, a tree-lined lane (increasingly, a rarity in Bombay), second-hand books, quirky merchandise, a cool bargain, picture postcards (finding a nice one in Mumbai is an achievement) and just about anything. It's my curiosity that eggs me on to do these things.

A local market in Goa
While nothing beats an actual shopping trip and stumbling upon the unusual, of late I've been checking out a lot of e-commerce portals. A LOT. And it's interesting, too, to see how the Indian online shopping scene has exploded. 
Flipkart made it fashionable, I guess. And then you had everyone from SnapDeal, Fashion&You, 99Labels and a host of others selling everything and anything. I used to wait eagerly for their newsletters to see what deal(s) I could score, especially watches from fancy brands. I wasn't completely on board though. For most of the time, I was happy being a window shopper of the online variety. Till one Christmas. I ordered a dozen or so books from Flipkart to gift to children of my relatives and friends. Even though I had shopped online before that, it was my 'aha' moment. I could do this. Without worrying. And most importantly, even enjoy it as much as offline shopping. :P

But soon, I also realised there's life beyond Flipkart and the others. And not just heavyweights like Junglee, Jabong, Myntra, etc (how do they come up with such names?).

I'm hardly addicted to social networking sites these days. I am active on them but they don't keep me hooked for too long anymore. Apart from a silly game, Candy Crush, all my online activity seems to centre around any website that sells something of interest. And with Christmas around the corner, my annual Twitter Secret Santa participation was imminent. My Santee's wishlist had a generic mix of things s/he wanted (not gonna reveal the gender yet). And while looking for those, hit upon some sites - old and new. I'm sharing a few in this post. Maybe you'll find something of interest or score a bargain in the process.

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CHUMBAK
This colourful company changed the perception of the India souvenir. For the better. 'Chumbak' means 'magnet' and that's how their product line really began... from a fridge magnet. At least now we can proudly say we have funky fridge magnets for those tourists who want a piece of India to take back home.

Chumbak products are not easily available in Mumbai (or at least I haven't found them easily), so your best bet is to go online and shop directly from the website.
Some of my current favourites are Storage Tins, Magnets, Gift Hampers and Bobble Heads.

"FREE shipping on order value Rs.595 and above". So that could be a factor.


Also, it's a good idea to check the "sale" section on any of these sites. Like here.At the time of writing this, there's this sweet combo of coffee mugs for mom and dad for Rs. 395. And a canvas laptop bag with an autorickshaw print on it at Rs. 495, marked down from Rs. 1550. Awesome, right? 

One thing I'm sad about is that they have discontinued selling (at least online) their square-shaped postcards. I thought they were wonderful.

A selection of Chumbak postcards
I asked them about it and the response was "They were not moving." :( I am not surprised, but it's still disappointing.


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HYSTERIA
I stumbled onto this store on my last trip to Bengaluru in April. It's a haven for original merchandise with a music, film or TV theme. Like bobble heads of your favourite TV characters. The incorrigible Barney Stinson, an annoyingly cute Sheldon Cooper (as also his other fellow characters from The Big Bang Theory) and even some of your favourite superheroes make up a small collection worth checking out. Considering these are genuine pieces, the pricing looks quite reasonable. The website is a welcome relief if you live outside of the Garden City.

Sore points with the online experience? 
(1) The website doesn't load the images properly. Most of the descriptions are hidden. Cluttered feel. CSS/HTML gone haywire perhaps? 
And (2), the other issue I have (and I did make a phone call to confirm this) is they have a shipping cost for each product. So if I'm picking up a set of badges (Rs. 50 shipping) AND the Barney bobblehead (Rs. 100 shipping), they will charge me Rs. 150 for shipping to the same address. Absurd, right? I was informed they are working on that. I hope that's rectified soon.
 
Thankfully, the one time I transacted online, it was a smooth process. Waiting to see how and by when my order gets delivered.

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I don't know anything about this e-commerce venture. It's just another shop for different sellers. Somewhat like an Indian Etsy (of course, Shopo was once that till SnapDeal bought them - a move I don't get).

Coming back to Xarato (How do you pronounce it? "Zarrato"?)... I landed on it because a friend sent me a link to something and then I clicked on something else and was on this Facebook page for "Nobodyelse" - an independent Nagpur-based business for "Clocks, jewellery, hooks, murals, paintings etc." - and the person behind it has a jewellery line called Errors which caught my eye. I'm a sucker for earrings. What can I say? Click here to see some images.
And Xarato enticed me by saying if I signed up via my Facebook account, they'd give me a Rs. 500 discount on my first transaction (minimum spend of Rs. 1500; also the coupon code is only valid for the first day, I think). Not bad, I thought. And what's the harm in trying it out? It's not going to be a massive spend anyway. So now I'm waiting for three pairs of earrings, and because I had to round off the billing to Rs. 1500, I added some kiddie hair accessories. They will be included in my Christmas gift for the loveliest almost-3-year-old girl I know. 

The surfing on that site took me a while. The site is image-heavy (obviously!), so a slow internet connection can really kill the experience. But other than that, no issues with the transaction.

So that's that. I might be shopping at The Elephant Company soon. Waiting for my bank balance to recover a bit before I do that. ;)


Disclaimer: This is a personal opinion piece. None of the sites/brands mentioned here have anything to do with me, except for the fact that I may have snooped around their websites/stores, lusted after their products, and actually purchased some as well. I do not take responsibility if you shop at any or all of them and have an issue.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ooooo-Usha

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It's Thursday and you're longingly looking at that calendar waiting for the weekend to descend upon you. For me though, the weekends have been so hectic that I'm looking for a weekend to get away from my regular week AND weekend. Seriously. In the middle of that thought, I came across this video today and it brought such sunny happy thoughts to my mind that I had to share it.


I've always admired Usha Uthup's versatility and her unique personality. Fabulous singer, woman of substance and funny as hell. A true legend.

Enjoy maadi,
~j~

PS: Who doesn't love her sarees and bindis? Sigh.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Thaali in a gif-fy

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One of my favourite food places in Pune, Janseva Bhojanalaya near Deccan Gymkhana, does a very delicious unlimited almost-Maharashtrian thaali. It's mindboggling, really. So instead of just posting multiple photos, I experimented with a little something. Hope you like it.


When I ate there in May 2012, the thaali was priced at Rs. 130. This time around (November 2013), it was Rs. 250. WHOA!!! But still totally worth it.

~j~

Postcard from Pune: Ladh, Jhagadh, Aage Badh...

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Wow, I haven't posted in over two months and I'm wondering if there has been anything interesting to blog about since that last post. Well, I had a lovely Diwali weekend (three days!) in Pune visiting a close friend who's in the family way. And a mad cousin accompanied me, so it was just fun-fun-fun.

Aside from lining up outside Kayani Bakery at 7.30 AM for mawa cakes/Shrewsbury biscuits (and some more goodies) and battling a Diwali crowd at Chitale Bandhu for their famed bakharwadi, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Jadhavgadh. An erstwhile Maratha fort now converted into a heritage hotel, this almost-impromptu trip turned out to be a super break from the urban landscape of Pune and of course, Mumbai.

The steps leading up to the fort's main entrance
The story in short
Shahu, the grandson of Chhatrapati Shivaji (the great Maratha warrior king) was imprisoned for 21 years by the Mughals and later released. One of his prominent army commanders, Pilaji Jadhavrao, was instrumental in reinstating Shahu to the Maratha throne. Pilaji built four strategic monuments around Pune during his time to bolster their capital; Jadhavgadh at Saaswad was one of them and the only one of the four to survive to this day. It has since been turned into a heritage fort hotel - the first and probably the only one of its kind in Maharashtra. Who owns and who runs the property? Some info here.



My take
The museum of everyday objects. No photography permitted inside.
From the outside, the fort has been nicely restored and beautifully maintained. The lawns are green and have a variety of flowering plants. The frangipani and hibiscus were my favourites. 

There is a museum that you can cover before entering the fort. It houses a small, but interesting, collection of everyday objects of a time gone by. Intricately designed tobacco/kumkum boxes, betel leaf containers (paandan), nutcrackers, children's rattles, kitchen utensils, cutlery, coconut graters, pots, women's saree blouses and even royal palanquins. We were told it's from Vithal Kamat's personal collection. Mr Kamat is the man behind Hotel Orchid and VITS in Mumbai, and it is his group that runs operations at Fort Jadhavgadh. Worth a look.

The traditionally dressed guard with the tutari.
You get welcomed by a tutari-tooting turbanned (oooh, alliteration!) guard at the entrance and the beats of a nagada, a large-ish drum. A lady staffer dressed in the traditional nine-yard Maharashtrian saree called the nauvari applies a tikka on your forehead. Royal welcome indeed!

Once you've climbed up - and mind you, these are actual stone steps of the fort - you will come across the small reception area and the staff will guide you. The rooms and banquet areas are close at hand. Further up, there are some more rooms. And they even have these 'royal tents' out near the lawns.





How lovely does that look?
Finally, the swimming pool. It's located right at the top and has these two trees in the middle of it. I loved the fact that they let those trees be. The pool looked clean and really pretty; and if you go early enough before the other guests arrive, it's actually a wonderfully peaceful zone with just the mountains all around and an occasional staffer showing up to clear any leaves that fall into the water. And I just read that "While restoring the gadhi, the original rainwater harvesting system was discovered. It has been converted to feed a swimming pool."

Another view of the pool
There is a spa service too. I did not check it out. But to know more about that and generally about the hotel, do click here. The rates for the accommodation are obviously pricey. In the current Diwali holiday season, the cheapest double room is approximately Rs. 8000 a night. I'm sure it still seems reasonable compared to other similar properties in places like Rajasthan. 


My friends and I took the 'day picnic' option as the staffers referred to it. Basically, you can go there and sign up for one or two or three buffet meals of the day and get to access the pool and the lawns and just chill. We did breakfast and lunch (the museum tour is free if you're either a hotel guest or a day visitor). If you're in Pune city, this makes for an ideal getaway without spending a bomb on the accommodation. It's just 30-60 minutes away. From Mumbai, it's anywhere between 3 to 4 hours by road, so planning to reach there early in the morning is the key. However, try and avoid going during the busy holiday season.

In all, I had a great time. The only negative was the food. It wasn't bad, but could have been better. The menu seemed confused, especially at breakfast, where you had butterscotch milkshake and methi parathas vying for attention with medu vadas and eggs to order. And except for the moong dal halwa (lunchtime dessert), nothing stood out for the foodie in me. I much preferred the crisp cream rolls and mawa cakes from Kayani's. Fresh, yummy and material for another blog post. :P

I know this has been a longgggg read! But thank you for reading. These photos are from my phone. I will try to upload some from my camera (which unfortunately is giving up slowly). My friend's husband has clicked some very nice ones on his fancy DSLR. I will try and post a few of those once he sends them to me.

Tumchi*,
~j~


*Denotes "yours" in Marathi. If a man was writing this, it would be "tumcha". :)

PS: "Ladh, Jhagadh, Aage Badh..." is the fort's tagline and means "Battle, Fight, Move Forward..."

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