In Shimla for two days

Shimla – with its majestic mountains and beauty is a popular tourist destination. The routes were closed in January 2017 because of heavy snowfall. So when we decided to visit it in February, we did not expect it to be packed with tourists since it was off season. We were still trying to pick a hotel a week before we had to travel and before we were ready to make our choice, all hotels around Shimla were sold out! Thanks to Valentines’ day!

We were left with just one hotel option – Shimla Havens – luxurious but outside the city. We booked it and kept our expectations low.

Getting to Shimla

To travel to Shimla, we picked a route with minimal road travel. We decided to fly to Chandigarh, spend an evening there and then rent a car to drive us to Shimla the next morning. The drive up the scenic mountains would be four hours long.

Tourists in Chandigarh

Chandigarh is a beautiful city – clean, planned and with friendly residents. We arrived at Chandigarh around 4 pm and sadly did not get a chance to visit the famous rock garden. We used uber cabs to get around and managed to visit Sukhna lake, which was beautiful! 

Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh
Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh

We also made time to visit the market to buy some sweaters. Chandigarh did not disappoint! We enjoyed the evening shopping and were able to find great deals. One thing that surprised us was the lack of chai-stands even at the market place. We did manage to find a few but it took a lot of asking around and surprised responses from shopkeepers. The chai that we found was milky and warmed us up on that cold evening.


We had planned to try some local lassi (a savoury yogurt drink) but were advised not to since it was still cold and lassi would most likely make us fall sick. Thanks to the uber driver for the advice!

Drive to Shimla

The drive to Shimla was scheduled to start at around 9 am the following morning. Our hosts at Chandigarh served an amazing breakfast and we were ready to be on our way. So grateful for families – near and distant! 🙂

We stopped at Pinjore garden on the way to Shimla. 

Pinjore gardens
Pinjore gardens

There were roadside vendors selling fresh fruits and we couldn’t help but stop to buy some oranges. We made it to Shimla around 1 pm and stopped for lunch at a dhaba. The himachal thali that we enjoyed was delicious and vegetarian. That was another thing we would need to get used to during our time there – more vegetarian options and less varieties of meat. But every dal and sabji was delicious!

Tourists in Shimla

The drive down the hill to our hotel was a little steep but Shimla Havens is luxurious with great staff and service. We enjoyed complimentary breakfast and dinner there, which were large buffet spreads. What we were most pleased with was their unlimited chai option along with meals. It’s possible that chai was not meant to be unlimited but we were not billed for any of our drinks. The rooms were comfortable and fitted with all modern amenities. They would turn wifi off during the night but that did not bother us much.

Shimla Havens


Caught a glimpse of the tandoor flames.

The views outside our windows were majestic. We were surrounded by mountains and the cold air was refreshing. Temperatures stayed between 3 – 14 degrees Celsius. 


We were warned about monkeys roaming around freely in Shimla and we saw many! Most of them populated areas where food vendors were set up. We managed to stay out of their way and they stayed away from us.

In Shimla, budget enough time to visit the Rashtrapati Niwas (Indian Institute of Advanced Studies). The history of the location is rich and the mountains that surround it are breathtaking. It’s a great location for photography. Photography inside the niwas is not permitted. 

Rashtrapati Niwas, Shimla
Rashtrapati Niwas, Shimla

Mall road is another place you need to make time for. It’s essentially a market street but it has other attractions as well. To go up to Mall Road, we had our car drop us at the entrance and we would take a lift to go up to the destination. Each lift ride cost Rs. 10 for each person.

Mall Road, Shimla

Mall road is filled with small and branded stores offering sweaters, wooden items and food.

A little walk upwards and you can visit Christ Church, which is the second oldest church in North India that’s still open for services. The church is located near the Ridge and was surrounded by snow-capped mountains. 


Our driver decided to drive us to a spot up the mountains that had options for adventure sports that we were not interested in trying with our parents. Since it was expensive to enter and we did not want to spend the afternoon there, we turned around and headed to Kufri instead.

Horse ride at Kufri

In Kufri we were encouraged to try their horse rides up the mountain. We were apprehensive at first but then decided to give it a try. The horses were small and very muddy. We picked the ‘cleanest’ horses and climbed on. The ride felt unsteady at first but soon we got used to the rhythm. The road led to a steep, muddy narrow path crowded with other horses and tourists. We stopped enjoying the scenery and began worrying about our safety. The horses were being pushed and pulled around and as feared, one of the horses got excited and started running haywire, thus jeopardizing the ride for everyone. The narrow path had no boundaries on the sides and the horses were tied together in pairs. If one horse fell down the hill, it would take several others down with it. We decided that the ride was more dangerous than exciting and asked to turn around to return to our starting point. We don’t recommend the ride to anyone unless other safety measures are established. 

We were also encouraged to visit the zoo next to the horse riding place. The zoo had four animals and some snow on the ground. It was not worth the time. We decided to head back to Shimla for the rest of the evening. 

Dry fruits and sweets from Himachal

The next morning we left Shimla Havens after a fantastic breakfast. We drove up and down the mountains and dozed most of the way. We stopped at a store (Haveli) to buy some dry fruits and sweets from Himachal and made it back to the airport in time to board our flight. Since the Chandigarh airport is small, we made it through security in a matter of minutes.

We made it back to Calcutta with new memories and some great photographs!

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How to bargain when shopping at markets – tips that really work

Shopping at flea markets and wholesale markets require more skills than shopping at malls and ‘fixed price’ stores. These shopping experiences also add to the joy of shopping, especially if you enjoy shopping. I learnt a lot of bargaining tips from my aunt, who is an expert! To make the most of markets around the world, here are some tips to get the best value for your money!

Lesson 1: Don’t reveal a price range right away unless you know exactly the kind of value that range will buy. If you’re unsure about what to expect, some vendors will not hesitate to display items of lesser value and sell them at your estimated higher price. Especially when buying from a flea market or wholesale market, ask the vendor to show some items and tell you the price of those items. Once you have an idea of what to expect, you can narrow your search.

Lesson 2: When browsing through items, don’t reveal your top preferences right away. In addition to your preferred items, bargain for a few other items. Vendors might quote a higher price if you reveal your favorite too soon. Feel free to negotiate prices to drive them down further. Sometimes buying several items from a single vendor can encourage them to provide additional discounts. Once you’re convinced that you are not getting cheated, return the favor and don’t cheat the vendor.

Lesson 3: If you see an item you like right away and don’t have time to browse through a whole section, quote a bargain price at half the quoted price. Then scale upwards slowly based on the vendor’s reaction. Even though this is not a set rule, it gives you a comfortable room for bargain. An exception to the rule: Once my aunt had quoted 1/10th of the price listed for an item when we were out shopping one afternoon. I looked at her trying hard to mask my surprise at what seemed like a outrageous bargain. The vendor protested only a little and then accepted the offer with a smile.

Lesson 4: Don’t be afraid to walk away. Most vendors will want some return on the time invested on the customer and more often than not, they will accept your offer as soon as you begin to walk away. If they don’t, chances are that the market offers other alternatives that you can pursue or you can accept the final price quoted by the vendor (it’s okay to let them smirk a little – getting the product that you wanted should make up for it.)

Lesson 5: During payment, since most of these markets prefer cash over cards, don’t pay in large denominations. If the vendor refuses to return exact change, claiming that they doesn’t have any, you could end up paying more than you bargained for.

Lesson 6: Be polite and respectful. People respond favorably to well behaved customers. Be cautious when your vendor is overly polite and respectful or you will respond favorably even to higher prices 🙂

It’s also important to know the the language of the place or have a trusted translator along. Tourists end up paying a little more during shopping anyway but don’t let that discourage you from enjoying the experience.

Do you have other tips? Please share them in the comments below.



The Abode of Clouds – Meghalaya

I’ve always wanted to pen down something and share about this little state of mine. Situated in the north-eastern part of India, Meghalaya is also known as the “Abode of clouds”.  Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya is known as “Scotland of the East” because of its scenic beauty.

Mawsynram, a village in Meghalaya receives the heaviest rainfall in the world and Cherrapunji (Sohra) being the second.

The best time to visit is during the winter season i.e from November – February. But if you want to see the waterfall, monsoon season is the best i.e from July – October.

Meghalaya – The Abode of Clouds

How to reach Shillong, Meghalaya:

The nearest airport/train station is Guwahati (Assam). Shillong is around 2.5 – 3 Hours drive from Guwahati airport. There are pre-paid taxi booths inside the airport and also the Meghalaya Information center.

If you are travelling by train, the Shillong cab stand is outside the railway station.

Where to go:

Cherrapunji – It is also known as Sohra by the locals. It is a major tourist spot and it is around 2 hours’ drive from Shillong. Places to visit: Nohkalikai Fall, Dainthlen Fall, Seven Sister’s Fall and Mawsmai Cave .

If you want to see the waterfall, the best time to visit is during the monsoon season i.e from July – October.

Nohkalikai Fall
A view from the Thankarang Park

Mawlynnong – It is a village 90 kms away from Shillong. It was awarded as the cleanest village in Asia in 2003.  It is also famous for the Living root bridge. The bridge is hand-woven by the villagers from the roots of the trees.

Dawki – It is 1 hour away from Mawlynnong Village.  If you’re up for an adventure, then you should visit this place. The best time to visit is during the winter season i.e from December – February. You can try river rafting, camping, boating and scuba diving.

The Suspension bridge over the Umngot River, Dawki

Mawphlang – It is just 25 km away from Shillong. Mawphlang is famous for the Sacred Grove.  The forest is about 700 acres and around 800 years old. The forest is protected and preserved by the Khasi tribe. There are guides who will take you for a tour inside the forest. You can also cover up nearby places like the Elephant falls and Shillong Peak.

Inside the Sacred Forest

Guest author: Babetlin Synrem is an IT professional who loves to travel, eat and read.


If we were to visit your city when you were not around to drive us around, how would we get around? Please tell us about your local transportation system, recommended hotels, restaurants, and tourist activities. We know you love your city and can write all about it. Share your experiences with Find out more topics you can write about: Write for The Lead Journal


My first solo trip to China

You know the feeling you get when you are excited and nervous at the same time? That’s how I felt when I traveled to China a few weeks ago. It was the first time I was traveling to a foreign country all by myself. I have had the privilege of working in other parts of the world with my team but there’s a different level of preparation needed when your company sends you on a one-woman journey to a country so close to my own and yet so different.

Getting there

The flight was a total of eleven hours. I flew Cathay Pacific and had a two and a half hours’ layover at Hongkong, which by the way, is truly one of the prettiest airports in the world! It’s built on the island Chek Lap Kok and I enjoyed the short layover before the final journey to China.


I knew that one of the challenges of this trip would be my lack of Chinese speaking skills so I had a piece of paper with me with the address of the hotel written in Chinese. A big thanks to my colleague for helping me with that! I stepped out of the Beijing airport after a smooth immigration process and was approached by several taxis who offered to drive me to my destination for three times the fare amount! Thankfully I found my way to the airport taxi counter to find a taxi and they didn’t charge anything extra for the ride. On the way to the hotel I tried to make note of landmarks and realized that all the road signs were in Chinese. How would I ever get around on my own! This was going to be an interesting week.

The weather was great – chilly in the evening and early mornings and warm during the day.

View from my hotel room. You can see the Bird’s Nest on the left.

The hotel I was staying at was in a commercial area with tall skyscrapers all around. I walked up to the receptionist and breathed a sigh of relief when she greeted me in English. My room was on the 19th floor so I checked-in and headed up.

Oh the food!

Vegetarian meal at Houhai Lake
Salad at Pullman Beijing restaurant

China has an amazing variety of food, especially sea food. The two common items that caught my attention were fried squid and crunchy crickets. But I don’t eat meat and it was not easy to find too many vegetable options. I ended up eating plain bread, salads and fruits for most meals during my trip. I did meet a lady at my business meeting who was from Hong Kong and she understood the problem I was facing in terms of finding food options. She was really kind and helped me order vegetable soup and rice whenever we went out to eat. I even tried learning how to eat with chopsticks but I still have a long way to go before I can master that technique.

Eat Street at the Wangfujing Shopping Street

Getting around

If you’re planning to travel to China, I would recommend that you download maps and messenger services from Baidu. I learnt that China has several restrictions on internet use and Google apps are banned. It would have probably been easier if I had a travel companion but I learned a lot about getting around without being able to speak or read the language. Quite an accomplishment, you could say!

Being a tourist!

Steps leading to the Buddhist Monastery at the Summer Palace
Entrance to the Summer Palace
Steps leading to the Tower of Buddhist Incense at the Summer Palace
Tower of Buddhist Incense

You should definitely visit the Great Wall of China but Beijing has a lot of other tourist areas that are noteworthy. The huge Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, Kunming Lake, the Bird’s Nest, which is the Beijing National Stadium, are all amazing!

Kunming Lake
Extension of Kunming Lake
Beijing National Stadium – the Bird’s Nest

The Silk Market is where the famous Chinese silk garments and the authentic Chinese cosmetics are sold. Travelling to these places will not be difficult with well-connected subways and routes marked in English. If you do get lost, you can always pull out your address, preferably written in Chinese and get directions because people there are very friendly and helpful.

Looking back on the trip, I am glad I did it because it certainly made me feel adventurous and accomplished. My short trip to China taught me a lot about traveling solo!


Guest author: Rashmi Jammi has been aptly nicknamed the “South Indian Bengali” by her husband. She lives in Hyderabad, India and enjoys exploring new places whenever she can take a break from work. This trip to China was her dream-to-travel-solo come true.

Eat: Calcutta

Finally we have some restaurant recommendations from Calcutta! The guest author is an amazing cook but also a restaurant-hopper and shared some of her favourite dine-out options in the City of Joy.

Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside. – Mark Twain

If I were to eat out every weekend for the next few days, out of all the restaurants that I have been too, I would want to revisit these.

Breakfast is best enjoyed between 8 and 11 am in Calcutta. I am torn between driving up to Flurys on Park Street or just walk down my street to the local street-side cha stand and enjoy hot dim toast and cha. I think the local stall might win. It’s so hard to ignore the amazing smell of eggs cooking and that sweet loaf of bread! My second pick would be Flurys especially if they don’t have the usual long queue of people waiting. They have the best brunch – no wonder it’s so busy! Then there’s Udipi for those soft idlis and steaming filter coffee. I also like Wise Owl at Hindustan Park.

Lunch..I might not need lunch after all that breakfast..unless it’s Arsalaan. Who can ever decline that plate of perfect Biryani? But there are other favorites too – Chelo Kebab at Peter Cat – that might be everybody’s favourite dish at Peter Cat! I also love the steaks at Mocambo and The Steak Factory. Oh so good!

Restaurants that I think are best visited later in the evening for dinner include Thali at Kasba, Hatari and Hong Kong Express at Hindustan Park. There’s a small restaurant called Kowloon at New Alipore which is a simple place with pretty good food. You could try it if you’re in the area and want to eat out without spending too much.

How can I miss Flame and Grill, Barbeque Nation, Bar-B-Q at Park Street, Golden Joy at Tangra, Jimmy’s Kitchen! Just thinking about these restaurants is making me hungry!

There are also some places that we visited fairly recently that have turned into favourites – Goli at Kasba, Mrs. Magpie, Abar Baithak at Jodhpur Park and Ta’aam near Deshapriya Park. Pretty amazing food and great ambiance! You should check them out.


Image credit: Hatari, Calcutta

You can feature your local restaurant recommendations by writing to We hope to hear from you soon!

Eat: Delhi

Delhi has been our home for the last 15 months. Thanks to a great set of friends and an insatiable hunger for the wide and varied experiences, my husband and I have been able to visit a bunch of restaurants in Delhi. Presenting to you the top seven among other favourites!

  • Tibetan Kitchen

What we love: Mutton and Chicken steamed and fried momos

Tingmo (Tibetan steamed bread)

Shaptag (Mutton Fry)

Fruit Beer

Find it here: G 15, Old Double Storey, Lajpat Nagar 4, New Delhi

Call them here: 011 64676111, +91 9999059092

Check them out:

  • Big Chills

What we love: Banana Raspberry Smoothie

Grilled Chicken Salad

Chicken Lasagne

Pizzas and Pastas

Banoffee Pie

Actually, everything.

Find it here: 68 A, Khan Market, New Delhi

Call them here: 011 41757588

Check them out:

  • Parikrama- The Revolving Restaurant

What we love: Malai Tikka

Tandoori Bharwa Mushroom

Find it here: 22, Antariksh Bhavan, Kasturba Gandhi Marg, Connaught Place, New Delhi

  • Anna’s 101 Dosas

What we love: Chicken Biryani

Neer Dosa

Chicken Dosa

Anna’s Kuch Bhi Dosa

Filter Coffee

Find it here: C 23, Ground Floor, Lajpat Nagar 2, New Delhi

Check them out:

  • Nagaland Kitchen, Dilli Haat

What we love: Mixed Fried Rice

Pork Ribs

Chicken Thukpa

Pork Momos

Fruit Beer

Find it here: Dilli Haat, Aurobindo Marg, New Delhi

  • Viva O’ Viva

What we love: Rava Fried Prawn

Prawn Peri Peri

Pao Bread

Chicken Xacuti

Find it here: Goa Niwas, 14 Bir Tikendrajit Marg, Behind Akbar Bhawan, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi

  • Nor-Khyil

What we love: Beef Shapta

Phing and Mushroom


Mokro with egg

Find it here: 23, Tibetan New Camp, New Aruna Nagar, Majnu ka Tila, New Delhi

Author: AmPu

(Featured Photo: Viva O Viva)

Have you tried these places yet? Have you tried any others? Send your recommendations to 

Eat: Manila, Phillipines

Metro Manila:

The Fort

The fort has several dining and shopping options. Our favorite cupcake place, Vanilla Cupcake Bakery, is located there as well. It’s a great place for families and the all important date night. The fort is the high-end, relaxing setting you long for when you need a break.

  1. The Wholesome Table. Hands down our favorite restaurant. They have a good variety of organic food, good for you smoothies and drinks (including almond milk), and amazing eats.  Our favorites include: The grass-fed beef burger (order medium well unless you want it completely raw in the middle) and the Orzo salad. Other great picks include the pulled pork sandwich, the lamb, and the chicken fingers (kids menu).

Eastwood Mall

  1. My Thai Kitchen. We love the spicy beef salad (Yum Neua) and lemon grass soup (Tom Kha). The kids love the pad thai and spring rolls.

Podium Mall

Podium Mall in Ortigas center holds the best mix of our favorite restaurants. The mall it self isn’t all that big, but we love the boutique dining options it offers. In fact, we will often drive the hour and a half it takes to travel round trip just to hit one of these spots for dinner.

  1. Brasas. Don’t let the size of the menu or restaurant fool you, this place is good eats.  It’s also not the “healthiest” option on this list, so hit is sparingly. Our favorites are the beef and chicken wraps. As a matter of fact, we love them so much we have never ordered anything else!
  2. Greek Café. We love Greek food! The lamb stew and cuscuses is amazing! We also love the appetizer dips and lamb gyros.
  3. Borough. The Borough is the biggest of the establishments we love in Podium and is located on the main floor in the corner. We love the cobb salad, sandwiches and have friends who swear by the mac and cheese (which is probably two days worth of your caloric intake). It is also one of the only places that offer happy hour drinks (buy one take one is the Philippines term for buy one get one).
  4. Wildflour Café. This is a great little café that offers unique drinks, entries, and baked goods. Their coconut cupcake was one of the best I have had.

Green Belt Mall

Greenbelt Mall offers a wonderful array of shopping and food. You could spend an entire afternoon there and not have time to explore all this mall offers. (If you haven’t figured it out yet, the Filipino people LOVE their malls.) This mall offers two great Thai restaurants and our favorite burger place (although you will have to look closely for it or ask around to locate it because it’s a bit hidden).

  1. People’s Palace and Simply Thai are two of our favorite Thai restaurants. You can’t go wrong with the basil chicken, pad thai, spring roles (fried or fresh) and cashew chicken are all fantastic at Simply Thai. The cashew chicken and spring rolls and pad thai are also wonderful at People’s Palace.
  2. 8 Cuts. This place is amazing. You can order any variety of unique burger combinations including buffalo. Their sweet potato fries are AMAZING, but over priced for the size, if you ask me (but yes, I still order them :0).



Pampanga is small but offers three fantastic options (yeah, I know, that makes 11 great places to eat in the Luzon Philippines, but really, whose counting?).

  1. LA Bake Shop. We love LA Bake Shops cheese bread. Yes it’s amazing, and if you want to have any semblance of a waistline you will not be able to indulge in this often. (Is it worth it? Oh yeah!) Their beef mami (soup) and pansit (a traditional Philippine dish) is also quite good.
  2. Fortune Hong Kong restaurant. This is the crown jewel of Pampanga cuisine. They offer delicates such as shark fin soup (although we have never tried that one). We tend to go for the beef with veggie stir-fry, spring rolls, and crab and corn soup. All amazingly good (especially the beef!).
  3. Last, but not least, Niji. This place has the largest menu I have ever seen. Don’t be overwhelmed though. Focus on the sushi. The crispy California Maki is amazing and unique. You likely won’t taste anything like it anywhere else (at least we haven’t).

So there you have it. Central Luzon and Metro Manila’s top (11) recommendations. We hope you enjoy our favorite finds as much as we do!

Author: K. Reed

(Featured photo:  The Wholesome Table) 

Did you try a new restaurant recently? Send your recommendation to