MY TRAVEL DIARY FROM SULA VINEYARDS, INDIA
During a recent trip to Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, we wanted to explore other sights this state has to offer and several friends suggested visiting Sula Vineyards in Nashik Valley. Sula Vineyards is one of India’s largest wine producers with wide varieties to offer wine lovers. It has also gained a fine reputation as India’s best wine producer since the launch of the company’s first wines in 2000 and Nashik’s climate and soil were the perfect recipe for growing a wide variety of premium wine grapes. We had a little chat with Mr.Meenal Kansara who is the Senior Executive for Guest Relations and he took pride in explaining about Sula’s winery and its production. Although they host other international brands as well, it is their 20 different types of homegrown Sula Wines that caught our attention. It ranges from their Premium Reds such as the Rasa Shiraz, Dindori Reserve, Premium Whites such as the Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Riesling, Sparkling Wines such as the Sula Brut, a Rose’ Wine such as the Sula Blush Zinfadel which is also India’s first ever Zinfadel, a Dessert Wine and Value Wines such as Mosaic Grenache Syrah (red), Dia White, Madera (red/white/rose’) and et cetera. Most of their wines have acclaimed several awards locally and internationally.
The winery is open to visitors, who can enjoy a tour, wine tastings, courses, and fun events. Sula Vineyards is located on the outskirts of Nashik, which is about 180 km from Mumbai, in the state of Maharashtra. It is easily reachable by Indian Railways’ train services to Nashik city, buses, or even by taxi and auto-rickshaws and detailed directions can be found in Sula’s website.
For a very reasonable fee of Rs 150 rupees (RM 9/ S$ 4) per person, you are entitled to a 45 minutes escorted tour of the winery and tasting of four wines. The tours take place hourly between 11.30 am and 5.30 pm and provide a good insight into the wine making process.
The harvesting months of January to March are the best times to visit Sula Vineyards as you’ll be able to participate in wine stomping but anytime after the monsoon season (after July/August) is also lovely to visit. There is an annual festival called the “Sula Fest” which is a music concert held during end February in the outdoor Greek-style amphitheater that attracts a large crowd of various nationalities.
THE WINERY TOUR
After the chat, we proceeded for the famous and knowledgeable guided tour of the winery and started to revel in the mysteries of the winemaking process from grape to bottle. It was an extremely interactive session with detailed process being explained in depth right from “vine” to the end product “wine”. Our tour guide, Amit started off by giving the history of Sula and showed us the vineyards, explaining about the manual plucking of grapes, its viticulture process right until the harvest. He then guided us towards the cellar and explained the varied process starting from sorting the grapes, removal of stems & leaves and their transfer to the grape crushing machine. The main difference between the red and white wine is that the grape’s juice used to make red wine contains skins, seeds, and stems. This is significant by leaving the juice to mix together with the woody bits (known as maceration) that causes the finished product to contain a deep red colour and tannins. Amit went on to explain that their main export is Sauvignon Blanc (white wine) and he ultimately explained how the juice ferments into wine. Finally we proceeded near the bottling room and learned about the process of transferring the wine while separating the residues from one container to another before filling into individual bottles and capping. All this are done by machines. Amit explained that Sula wines are mostly young except for the Rasa Shiraz and we were also informed that they intend to have a full oaked barrel room and it would be ready in the near future. We ended our tour in the Tasting Room.
The tasting room which is tastefully designed by Californian architects is open daily from 11.00 am to 10.00 pm. This makes it a wonderful place to watch the sunset and spend the evening with your loved ones. Since we have never tasted any Indian wines, we were looking forward to it and were surprised by its quality and must add that they were excellent and can match on par with any Californian or Australian Wines! Therefore, do not doubt its reasonable pricing as it is all in the tasting.
WINE & ITS FOOD PAIRING
During our wine tasting, we were educated further as to its food pairing suiting an Indian/Asian palate. The first is Sula Brut; a sparkling wine which goes really well with Tandooris/fried dishes and also perfect for dim sums and steamed food. It has a bit of fizz and bubbles and once poured, you should hold the stem of your glass to drink it and it should be served chilled.
The next on the list was a Dindori Reserve (white). It has a light shade and is a young wine and has interesting flavours of peach and lychee. This wine is best paired with any seafood as well as spicy dishes. Upon pouring, you should swirl the glass a little to let the wine “breathe” as this also helps to enhance its fruity flavours. Those who are new to wine are encouraged to try these types of white wines before moving on to red wines which has more stronger flavours.
On to the third wine and still feeling sober, we had a Rose’ Wine: Sula Blush Zinfadel. Rose’ means pink in French. As mentioned earlier, this is India’s first ever Zinfadel and having tried an Australian brand before; we were very pleased with its flavour. This is an anytime favourite wine and is great for picnics, parties and on hot summer days and is also a lady’s favourite. It has fruity flavours and a hit of strawberry at the end and goes well with poultry dishes and spicy food. You must serve this wine chilled and upon pouring, don’t gulp it down but give it a sniff and slowly sip to get its strawberry flavour.
Finally, we tasted a full-bodied red wine known as the Mosaic Grenache Syrah. It has interesting flavours of spice and smokiness to it. It pairs really well with pork, beef, kebabs, lamb and curries and is best served at room temperature. Although we are not big fans of red wines, this surprisingly became an instant favourite.
Feeling satisfied with its flavours and knowledge, we purchased couple of bottles that is priced about Rs 360 each for a 750ml bottle (about RM 21/ S$ 9) for our friends and family. That is indeed quite a bargain! The word is; Sula hopes to make its wines more widely available in Singapore and when it does, do give it a try.
RESTAURANTS AND ACCOMODATION
There are two notable restaurants on its premises. An Italian Ristorante called the Little Italy which serves delicious Italian food and Soma an Indian restaurant. Soma is there to prove that wines can pair well with Indian food and every recipe on the menu is created by Soma’s own chef – Kalra whose family have been tantalizing locals’ taste-buds for decades. Both restaurants are open for lunch and dinner all through the week.
Finally, for the ones wishing to stay back and bask in the beauty of this place, Sula Vineyards has their very own luxury resort called “Beyond”. It’s located about 3kms from the winery and has a 23-room boutique hotel with a starting rack price of Rs 6000 (about RM 351/ S$ 144) per night for double occupancy but includes breakfast, wine tour and tasting, massage etc… Beyond also has luxurious bungalows that comes with private balconies, large living area, swimming pool, and in-house chef and it comes steep at the rate of 20,000 rupees (about RM 1170/ S$ 480) plus tax per night on weekends. However, prior bookings are needed.
Mr.Meenal informed us that they can arrange for pick up and drop off to and from the airport and you need to liaise with them in advance regarding your travel plans. For further details as to its location, directions or reservations, visit their website at www.sulawines.com or call +9178755 55725/ +9125322 30141.
MY TRAVEL DIARY FROM ISTANBUL, TURKEY…
I never imagined Istanbul would be such an amazing place until I explored it recently. I can truly say that Turkey is the Europeans’ answer of East meets West. It was also called the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2010. I did the 5 days 4 nights DIY tour with Mithil. The trip left us breathless as the weather was great (early June), friendly & helpful Turkish men, picturesque beauty, culturally amazing, great food, shopper’s paradise and I can go on more.. Read on our travel itinerary to know more:
Day 1: Landed in Ataturk Internationl Airport by 1.30pm. You then go through the immigration and we then made our way to a money exchange for some small change for the metro/tram. When I say this, I mean if your hotel is not picking you up for free, the metro/tram is your answer. It was really cheap and convenient to get to your hotel this way without having to dig a big hole in your pockets. We then headed to the Metro station that is conveniently beneath the airport mentioning “Hafif Metro“. Go down the escalator and buy two Jeton (tokens that looks like a round plastic coin) costing only 3.50 TLR one way and get down at Zeytinburnu stop (the 6th stop). From here you need to buy another two tokens for the same price and enter the tram line that is heading towards Eminonou or Kabatas. Our hotel was located at the Sultanahmet area, so we got off at that stop (16th stop). View www.istanbululasim.com for the Rail System map.
Sultanahmet is also nick-named the old Istanbul where the main tourist landmarks such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Byzantine Hippodrome and the Topkapi palace are. This place was truly vibrant as we reached; as it was a Sunday and families were out for some entertainment. After asking around for directions we finally found our hotel: Hotel Sultan’s Eye Comfort (www.sultanseye.com). It is advisable to book your hotel much ahead in time to get the best offer. P/s most hotels in Turkey charge in Euros, so be sure to keep both Turkish Lira and Euro.
Once we got settled into our hotel room, we then embarked on our first journey of experiencing the Turkish Bath or better known as the Hamami to the locals! Prior to that we looked around the Arasta Bazaar that was near our hotel. After that we took a tram to Grand Bazaar (Beyazit stop) and walked to find the hamam. Since we were there a bit early, we decided to explore a mosque: Suleymaniye Camii that was very pretty.
I did a pre-booking at Suleymaniye Hamam (www.suleymaniyhamami.com.tr) at the cost of Euro 70 for two people. P/S: you are required to pre-book at this place through their website. The pampering session lasted for about 1 hour that including a sauna moment where all your dirt comes of you (you’d be surprise of the amount of dirt)! Then you are ushered for a washing session by a male masseur, peeling, gentle scrubbing, intoxicating soaping massage, washing, shampooing, massage & finally cleaned. You are never clean unless you ever went through a hamam session. Worth every penny we paid for.
Day 2: After having a good night sleep due to the hamam pampering we continued our journey of exploring Istanbul. We first made a pit stop to the famous Blue Mosque. The entry is free here and at the entrance, ladies will be given a shawl to cover your head and a plastic bag to store your shoes. The mosque opens at 9 am and closed 1 hour before sunsets.
We then took pictures of Aya Sofia which is a church. It is interesting to note here that the mosque and the church face each other! There is an entry fee for the church: 20 Lira, open 9am – 5pm but closed on Mondays (so yes we did not enter).
After about 10 minutes of walking, we reached the grounds of Topkapi Palace museum. Again the general entry fee was 20 Turkish Lira, open from 9am – 5pm but closed on Tuesday. Note: The fee does not include the entry to the Harem. This was really a magnificent place and there was so much history to be learned about the Ottoman empire, their jewelry collection, Prophett Mohamad (they even had his actual strands of hair taken from his beard!). It is worth to note here that you are able to see the Asian side from the rooftops of this palace. The Asian and European side (where we are) are separated by the Marmara Sea.
After all the exploring, we headed to the Grand Bazaar where there are 4000 shops! The prettiest item you would commonly see is the hand painted ceramic bowls. You need to bargain at this place. After going around the maze of the bazaar, we head on to find a better tasting Doner Kebab and thank god we did. Once done, we were pretty tired and took the tram back to Sultanahmet area. We walked around the Hippodrome and finally back to the hotel to retire but before that I had to have my Turkish ice-cream served to me the Turkish way 😉
Day 3: We got up early and enjoyed our healthy Turkish breakfast served at the hotel (part of the package) and headed towards the tram station all the way to the last stop: Kabatas. Here we are to board a ferry that takes you to an island called “Princes’ Island”. There are 4 islands to see but in particular Buyukada Island is what you should not miss. The ferry is only 5 Lira one way. The journey took about 1 hour. Just off the dock, you can board the horse carriage that gives you an either short or long tour. The prices aren’t cheap (about 50 lira to 60 Lira). However, if you can ride a cycle, go ahead and rent one or walk (but this can be really tiring).
What is important to state here is that not many people know that there is a Monastery of St.George right atop a hill at Luna Park in this island. Therefore, what we did was, we took the horse carriage that charges you 22 Lira (one way) to Luna Park and from there you need to walk uphill (a good 45 mins!) to the monastery. If you are feeling lazy to walk, you can always hire a donkey to take you uphill but I must warn that it looked scary as it has no brakes! We decided to walk and finally you would realise that all the walk uphill was totally worth it as the view is magnificent and there is a special aura in the monastery (no pictures allowed). An interesting story here is that, you would see many pieces of clothes tied to branches of trees. Each of them signify a prayer made by mostly female believers visiting the monastery, praying for a child.
Once downhill, you need to take another horse carriage to take you back down to the docks. I had this impression through some blogs that restaurants tends to over-charge here but that was not really the case or if you are truly worried, pack a picnic or there is a Carrefour Express on this Island where you can buy some snacks and drinks at reasonable prices. Once you are done looking around all the beautiful Victorian style houses, admiring the beautiful sea, watching the sea-gulls and the various quaint shops and food, you can board the ferry back to Istanbul for the same price.
Docked back in Kabatas, we decided to check out the much talked about shopping street; Taksim Square. You need to take a Funikuler i.e a special train that only goes to Taksim Square for 1.75 Lira (one way) from Kabatas. Once reaching this place, I can say why it is every shopper’s dream come true. All the best brands were housed out here. Better still, it was during Sales! So it was double YEAY for me :). You would be surpised that despite the exchange rate, it was still cheaper to shop here than Abu Dhabi. I also learned that the Turkish ladies (in particular) are fashion conscious and makes the best quality clothes too! After all the exploring at Princes’ Island and shopping, we were hungry and headed to a restaurant. The meal for two costed us about 30 Lira. Feeling full and happy we headed back to our hotel.
Day 4: We wanted to experience a cruise that would show us the beauty of Istanbul and its shores that divides the Asian and European side. Since were early, we decided to first explore the Spice Market for some spice of course! We took the tram from Sultanahmet to Eminonu and walked towards the covered market. It was completely beautiful to see all the various teas, spices, turkish delights and cheese sold here. After buying some wonderful turkish spices we made one short pit stop to the New Mosque.
After that, we headed towards the docks to board for the cruise or better known the Bosphorus Tour. The cruise costs 12 Lira per person and lasts for 1 1/2 hours. (Note: this is not a fancy cruise where there is a casino or buffet lunch, it is a normal boat that takes you for a tour :). In this cruise, we can see a few famous palaces namely the Dolmabahce, the Rumeli Fortress, Maiden Tower and many others. What is interesting to note here is that the Asian side has amazing bungalows overlooking the Marmara Sea with private yachts and swimming pool. So my guess is the rich ones have their homes there, away from the hustle and bustle of modern Istanbul (European side).
Once our tour ended, how can I leave without walking on the Galatta Bridge and eating its famous Fish Sandwich for only 4 Lira! The place was packed with locals and tourists. It is basically mackarel fish that is grilled and served with some onions in a sandwich and you can squeeze lots of lime juice on it if you can stand too much fishiness!
Since it was the eve of our flight, we decided to head back to the hotel to rest before going out nearby in the night. Once we had enough rest, we went to buy some Turkish Delights from KOSKA (a famous shop that has several branches not to mention it is clean & well packed). Thereafter, we wanted to try out what the locals eat at a fancy eatery in Sultanahmet. We headed to Pasha (www.pasharestaurant.org) and ordered Mezze which is an assorment of various condiments from stuffed vine leaves, hummus and many others that was served with some Turkish bread (cost: 11 Lira).
I decided to go for Chicken Topkapi which is seasonal vegetables, mushroom and cheese rolled in chicken breast cooked in chef’s special sauce and served with rice mixed with vermicilli and fries. The meal was delicious and surprisingly reasonable.
Day 5: It is the final day, and our hand-carry was filled with all sorts of goodies from Istanbul. Feeling fully satisfied with the trip. We had our last Turkish breakfast and got ready to leave. As the usual drill, we took the tram up to Zeytinburnu and changed to the Metro that goes all the way to Havalimani (airport).
The departure hall of the airport was really amazing compared to the arrival. I think their idea is for you to leave Turkey with happy memories. Oh I need to mention here that the prices in their Duty Free is all in Euros!
Finally it was time to board our flight. Leaving back with happy memories of Istanbul, Turkey is a place where there is a lot to explore. Until we meet again with more travel diaries.
THEME PARKS: FERRARI WORLD ABU DHABI, UNIVERSAL STUDIOS SINGAPORE & GENTING HIGHLANDS MALAYSIA.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi Theme Park
Where: Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Prices: Adults: AED 225 and children: AED 165
Time: 12:00 – 22:00 Tuesday to Sundays. Closed on Mondays.
Ferrari World Abu Dhabi features the world’s fastest roller coaster, the launched Formula Rossa, which is designed to travel at speeds up to 240 km/h (149 mph). It uses a hydraulic launch system and accelerates from 0 to 100 km (62 miles) in 2 seconds. The coaster climbs 52m (171 feet), and riders experience 1.7 Gs. Formula Rossa starts inside the indoor theme park, accelerate through the dome, travels outside the park, and returns to the loading station inside the building. The train’s cars have been made to look like flashy red
Formula One Ferraris.
Besides the world’s fastest roller coaster, there is the La Gara performances, Pit Wall, Junior Grand Prix Track, Cinema Maranello, Gallery, thrill rides, Italian food and a lot more… Check it out during a much cooler weather.
Resorts World Sentosa: Universal Studios, Singapore
Where: Sentosa Island, Singapore
Prices: Adults: Weekday: S$66 and Weekend: S$72 and Children (4-12): Weekday: S$48 and Weekend: S$52
Open daily from 10.00 am
Can’t go all the way to the U.S.A? Then Singapore’s very own Universal Studios is your answer! Tucked away in Resorts World Sentosa Island. One can experience from Shrek & Fiona’s Far Far Away Castle, Hollywood’s Glitz and Glamour, thrill rides, movie sets and more.
Resorts World Genting Highlands, Malaysia
Where: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Prices: Adults: RM 82 (indoor & outdoor theme park & rainforest splash pool
Children 12 and below: RM55 (as above)
Time: Opens from 9 am
Genting Highlands, set on top a hill is mostly well-known for its casino but it has a lot more than that. There is a multi-million ringgit playground with over 40 rides, making it Malaysia’s biggest indoor and outdoor theme park. The temperature here is also much cooler compared to other parts in Malaysia. You can either drive all the way up or also go by the cable car experiencing a different view all together.
Before you embark on your long journey or even short ones, there are certain preparations that you need to do. This prep can be simplified in a form of a checklist. I always make a checklist so that I do not forget anything even the most trivial. Below is my checklist when I am travelling abroad:
First thing is make sure if you need a visa to that country you are travelling to. Most Commonwealth country passport holders do not need a visa to several countries. However, with the constant security threats out there, it is wise to check with the concerned embassy and do the necessary arrangements as the last thing you want is getting rejected at the airport. (NB: some countries are entitled to visa on arrival).
Remember to check the validity of your passport. Make sure it is not expired or you do not have less than 6 months to the expiry as many countries would deny you entry if your passport does not have the sufficient validity. Once this is done, do remember to pack your passport in your hand-carry or handbag as this is an important document to determine your identity!
3) Air Ticket/s
Without this, you cannot go further to your dream destination. So, once you have got your name listed on a flight, remember to pack this in your hand-carry/handbag along with your passport. Nowadays tickets come electronically, so remember to print it and highlight the reference number.
4) Accommodation arrangements
If you are holidaying to a country where you can receive a visa on arrival, you may be asked about where you are staying. If you have prior booking with a hotel, it is wise to have the booking reference in hand or the letter from the hotel.
5) Money/Traveller’s cheque
It seems silly but it is important for you to keep some currencies of the country you are travelling to. Always check out for the best exchange rates in your home country to get a good bargain. Have some petty cash ready for a cab fare if no one is picking you. You may keep the balance in the form of traveller’s cheque for the fear of getting robbed and bring along your credit cards and use it only for emergencies.
Once the important documents that I have mentioned above are sorted out. The following becomes easier:
Clothes: undergarments (fresh/disposable), jeans, tops, jacket if it is cold, socks, hat, dress, shirt & pants and a tie (if there is a formal dinner to attend), towel, shorts & t-shirts. *Do not pack your entire wardrobe as you can repeat some of the outfits over a jeans/skirt and beware of having an overweight baggage.*
Toiletries: Body moisturisers, Facial scrub, all-in-one body shampoo (if you are not staying at a hotel), sun-block, toothbrush & paste, shaving kit, powder, basic make-up kit, sanitary pad (if needed), comb, if applicable: contact lenses/solution/casing, hair gel, hair band/clips, perfume.
Devices: Camera & its charger and batteries, laptop & charger, mobile phone & charger.
Misc: Travel brochures & itinerary, pen & notepad, shoes, sandals, sunglasses, suitcase & house keys, tissues, jewelry (if attending special occasion), light snacks such as asam, biscuits/energy-bars/chocolates/buns, plastic bags. (Water/juice is not allowed on planes but if you are driving it is fine).
Medication: Multivitamins, Panadol, flatulence pills (for long journeys), balm, and prescribed medication by your doctor if you are diabetic/heart patient/ pregnant etc…
Finally, once everything is packed, double-check around your house if you have forgotten something and check the weight of your bag on a scale to avoid being charged extra for overweight bags.
Before leaving the house, switch off all the electrical appliances that are not in use. Lock all your cupboards/drawers/back door and front gate and keep all the keys in your handbag.
Bon Voyage! I will come back next with my travel stories…
TRAVEL PAGES FROM OMAN
Oman is a neighbouring country to the UAE and you can either drive there or take their long distance bus from Dubai for almost 5 hours or better still fly there. As a GCC resident, we can get the Visa on Arrival for OR5 and for other passports it would be normally be OR20 as a tourist.
There is a lot to explore in Oman namely a few like the touring of Mutrah/Muscat, Wadi Shab Sinkhole/Nizwa forts/Dolphin watching, Salalah and Musandam dhow tour. In order to cover the whole of Oman, you would need a bigger budget and of course days! I did not have both and being my first time to Oman, it was just a 3days and 2nights exploring Mutrah/Muscat. Continue reading below my travel diary:
Day 1: Arrived at Muscat International Airport and was greeted by a Mutrah Hotel rep. I did a prior booking with the hotel to be fetched from the airport and you need to pay an additional OR10 for one way. We were driven through a picturesque sight of mountains, fresh flowers, grand mosque, etc… and finally reached the hotel which is located in Mutrah a city known as the old Muscat.
Checked into the hotel for OR35.00 a night with breakfast (www.mutrahotel.com). The room was very spacious and clean and the staff were friendly though most of them originated from Kerala!
On the same day we went to explore Mutrah which is a coastal area. The Mutrah Souq (an arabic traditional market) is an attraction and a real bargain for souvenirs. Make sure you bring out your bargaining skills here. Besides buying the usual magnets and knickknacks, the Omani Halwa (a sweet sticky dessert) is a must buy and it comes nicely packed in a box for OR1 for 7 mini bottles, frankincense, and if you have more cash to spare; the Khanjar (a traditional Omani sword – also shown on the halwa box).
Opposite to this souq is the beautiful Corniche beach and the home to the Mutrah Fishing Port. Along the Corniche, you can see many Fish/dolphin icons and the Al Mirani fort is visible from this area. (I wish to add here that there are many budget hotels found in this area with a starting price of OR20 and it is much closer to the souq compared with the hotel I picked through the net)!
Note: Mutrah area is beautiful both at night and in the day. You can walk and explore things in this area.
Day 2: Exploring Muscat city. My friend who lives there was kind enough to “loan” me her private driver who took us around the city. It is wise to have pre-book tours in Oman as the local taxis are not metered! We drove through Muscat Gate and headed to the Sultan Qaboos Al Alam Palace. It is a real beauty and surrounded by some of the forts.
Day 3: The day we checked out from the hotel off to the airport. As we drove into Muscat city we passed the famous Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. It is totally grand and the Omanis are truly proud of it. Finally we reached the airport and it was time to say goodbye!
Now back in Abu Dhabi and I will be back again with my next travel diaries.. (see top of page for more travel diaries! Thank You!