Wine-tasting in India, March 2011


Mumbai, Nasik, Champaner, Udaipur, Jaisalmer, Jodphur and Delhi.

Sun 27 Feb.  We landed at Mumbai about midday after a very nice 8½ hour BA flight.  We got a prepaid taxi without aircon for 460 Rupees for the long ride to Colaba which was fun at first but soon became hot and unpleasant as we got stuck in one traffic jam after another.  We’ll splash out on aircon next time.  Bentley’s hotel gave us large, airy room 09 for 2,140 Rupees a night, good value in expensive Bombay (71 Rs to the pound, 61 to the Euro).  We walked up and down the causeway a couple of times and bought a telephone and sim card (it had to be in separate shops) for making calls in India. We ascertained that the glasses repair shop is closed on Sundays (Sheila needed two of the pairs repaired that she bought last year, as well as a pair of very expensive sunglasses that the lenses kept falling out of) then went for a refreshing cup of tea and salad at Indigo Delicatessen near the Gateway of India (or a tiny glass of Tiger Valley white Zin from Nasik region for Sheila at 5 pounds a pop; she looked at it so quizzically that they came and topped it up!). She had two ‘pops’ but drew the line at three.


In the evening we went to our favourite Gaylord restaurant and Sheila had the lobster thermidor (of course) while I had a spicy Chicken Kadai.


Mon 28th and Tues 1st March.  Lazy(ish) days in Bombay.


First we had breakfast (spicy masala baked beans on toast) at Mondegar’s Café and for the first time we got the desirable window seat, which was not so desirable in fact because there was no fan and not much breeze from the open window, just some smoke from the smokers who were banished outside.  We did all our chores – took Sheila’s glasses in to be mended (no charge for the ones we bought last year and a reasonable charge for the other one), took a silver necklace to the jewellers to be mended (it was quite an expensive one with several strands that gradually fell to bits and the estimates to mend it in England were ridiculous or they said it was impossible to repair); this time the first jeweller we took it to in Mumbai said no problem and the next day we picked up the freshly cleaned and good as new necklace for just 200 Rs! She also got a new clasp on a watchstrap for 15 Rs (last year in Udaipur we foolishly gave it to a man to take to the menders, instead of finding one ourselves and it cost about 5,000 RS and promptly fell to bits again – always cut out the middleman!) and finally went to the railway booking office at Churchgate station and booked our train to Nasik.  Then we went to the Tea Centre just down the road and while I had a refreshing pot of tea Sheila had a not very oriental sizzling chocolate brownie with choc sauce and double ice cream.

David Sassoon Library
Impressive architecture at David Sassoon Library (members only) in Mumbai.

We went shopping at the department store near David Sassoon Library and Sheila bought some cushion covers (she can’t help herself) and walked back via a look at the Catholic Cathedral.  We caught a bus down to the ‘Navy Nagar’ at the end of Colaba Causeway but there was nothing to see and the ocean was some distance away behind locked gates, so we caught the same bus back.


For dinner we went back to Mondy’s and had some nice wine at a more reasonable price than Indigo’s with masala papads and absolutely best-ever (at least so far) delicious butter chicken and chicken makhani.


Weds 2nd. 

Train to Nasik
We got the 8:20 am Lucknow Express from Victoria terminus and had a pleasant ride to Nasik 3½ hours later. We were in 2A/C which has seats below and sleeping berths complete with sheets and pillows above, so before you could say Jack Robinson Sheila’s bed was made and she was in it for the duration of the ride, while I had a snack breakfast delivered from the pantry car and several little cups of tea from the chai-wallah who went up and down the train.

At Nasik we got an autorickshaw to the Sai Palace hotel which is nice enough but is a couple of miles outside town along the Mumbai highway. We made enquiries about visiting two vineyards because this is one of the main wine-growing areas in India, and arranged to visit Sula tomorrow but discovered that Tiger Hills (a brand of the Chateau Indage company) is a long way away in another town. 


We crossed the highway outside the hotel – not an easy task, because you have to look BOTH ways on EACH side of the carriageway, they come at you from all directions – and got an autorickshaw down to the centre of town.

We walked about among the bathing ghats along the river.....
..... amongst the fascinating crowds of brightly-clothed pilgrims who had come to bathe in the sacred waters.

We looked into a couple of temples and sat and watched the people milling about ringing the bell to attract the gods’ attention and making their offerings. Everyone was very friendly and I even joined in with a game of cricket, making a catch that impressed me as much as the boys!


Although Tiger Hills’ vineyard is a long way away they do have a resort and spa a few miles up the road so we went there in the evening and had a wonderful meal in their restaurant accompanied by a couple of their very nice wines.  Apparently today is a religious festival day when eating and drinking is not allowed (we had no such problem!), so we were alone in the restaurant with half a dozen helpful and attentive waiters.


Thurs 3rd.

Sula vineyard
We went to our main objective in Nasik, the Sula vineyard about 8 miles outside town.  We arrived a bit later than expected so we started with lunch in their restaurant, at a table with a view over the grapevines to the lake and hills beyond.  Lunch was superb, accompanied by some of their excellent wines including the very rich and fruity Dindori Reserve Shiraz which was so good we bought a bottle and hoped we’d manage to squeeze it somewhere into our overcrowded suitcase.
Sula vineyard
Indian wine has no additives or preservatives so it is less inclined to give you a hangover but it has to be drunk young.

Later we went on the winemaking tour and because it’s harvest time we saw the whole process from tipping trays of grapes off the back of a truck into the first of several crushing and squeezing machines, then followed the juice as it flowed through big translucent pipes snaking across the floor into fermenting vats and for the special wine that we bought, into barrels made of French oak for ageing. It was a very enjoyable and interesting trip.


At dusk we had another walk down to the bathing ghats then caught the 9pm sleeper bus to Baroda (also known as Vadodara) in Gujerat state.


Fri 4th.  The bus dropped us by the side of a road somewhere in Baroda a little before dawn, and we walked down the road and found the Hotel Surya which we’d booked by phone.  They were very nice and gave us a complimentary breakfast because we’d arrived so early.  Once things had opened up we got a car to take us to the Champaner world heritage site about 50 km away. 

Beside Champaner is a volcanic hill called Pavagadh sticking 800m out of the plains with a temple on top, so we started by going to the top of it – not by climbing the 5,000 or so steps like proper pilgrims do, but by jeep up the windy road to the halfway point then by cable car almost to the top.  From there we climbed the last part up to the Kalika Mata temple right at the top of the hill for fabulous views and a walk through the temple with the queues of pilgrims.
Back at the base of the hill our driver took us round several of the spectacular old mosques spread over the countryside around Champaner village.  They are about 500 years old, some restored and some in ruins, and have an elaborate blend of Islamic and Hindu decorative styles.


We drove 25 kms further down the road to meet the King and Queen of Jambughoda, a former princely state, who still live in their rambling 1920s palace set in beautiful gardens, which is also a hotel for people to explore the surrounding wildlife sanctuary.  We sat in a marquee in the garden having tea and chatted briefly with Vikram, the king, and his wife, but mostly with their friend who was visiting them and told us all about the 807 different varieties of mango that you can find in the mango season, which is unfortunately in May so we were two months too early.  Sheila and this chap got on really well because they both adore mangoes; we only get a few varieties in England and more often than not they aren’t ripe – there are so many in India they drop off the trees and rot on the ground!


Back in Baroda we fancied a beer with our dinner but this turned out to be harder than expected.  We had forgotten that Gujerat is a dry state (supposedly because it was Gandhi’s home state), so we had to go to the bottle shop with our passports and a certificate from the hotel, endure half an hour of bureaucracy and being treated like criminals, to get a Tourist liquor permit so that we could buy two bottles of very warm Fosters beer.  We were not even allowed to carry them in the street ourselves but a boy from the bottle shop took them into the hotel for us.  While the hotel staff kindly cooled the bottles down in the hotel fridge, we went for a walk round and had very tasty spicy omelettes at a street stall for dinner, for about 20 Rs each.  We tried to keep track of all the ingredients as the man cooked them up in a big pan in front of us, but he threw in so many spices, herbs and other unidentified bits and pieces that we lost track, but it tasted delicious.  After that we retired to our room for a nearly-cool drink of beer, because it’s the only place we are allowed to drink it, and one of the bottles was bad (still fermenting) and we had to pour it down the sink.


Sat 5th.  After another complimentary breakfast at the hotel we left just after 8am for the drive to Udaipur in Rajasthan.  We had arranged it with yesterday’s driver, a very nice man, and by avoiding the hotel tour office we agreed on a significantly reduced price of 5,000 Rs plus motorway tolls.  It was a very pleasant drive, the roads were good (we were on the main Mumbai to Delhi highway), our driver was good by Indian driving standards and the lunch stop was good. We arrived in Udaipur about 3pm and I was able to direct him through the maze of little streets in the old town to the Kankarwa Haveli, the lovely old heritage hotel we stayed in last year.  They welcomed us back and it was like coming home, as we walked up the road a couple of people remembered us from last year and said hello which was nice.  We walked round the lake in the brilliant sunshine admiring all the palaces and heritage houses all over again like we did last time. This year the lake seemed to be full up rather than quite low as it was last year, which made it all even more spectacular. We went to the lakeside Ambrai restaurant in the Amet Haveli heritage hotel, the favourite of all our favourite eating places, but all the lakeside tables are booked tonight so we booked good tables for tomorrow and the day after and went a little way back down the road to the Food Club for a couple of beers in the afternoon sun.  Then in the evening we went up to Udai Garh restaurant on one of the higher rooftops and had a very nice dinner of five different starters (four were great, one less so – avoid the mutton which tends to be the slimy shin meat and bones), while admiring the nighttime view of the illuminated palaces around the lake yet again.

Udaipur lake palace
Udaipur is outrageously picturesque,
Udaipur city palace
with palaces of all shapes and sizes around the lake,
Rooftop restaurant
and nearly every building has a rooftop restaurant with a wonderful view.

Sun 6th to Sat 12th. Relaxing days enjoying Udaipur, starting with our standard breakfast of fried eggs on toast at the rooftop Rainbow restaurant next door to our hotel.  Sheila discovered that they do Kheer (rice pudding), a big bowl-full with lots of fruit and nuts and milk from their own farm, so she added that to our standard breakfast menu!


We went to see our old friend Mr A. at the Lake City Internet and travel shop.  Such a lovely man, he gave us good advice about our travels over the rest of the trip and we would often pop in just for a chat.

On Sunday we were walking down the bazaar towards the clock tower when we saw Ramu the elephant (we found out his name later) walking along the road, stopping occasionally to have a banana from a street stall.  Sheila soon negotiated a price for a ride and with a lot of heaving and shoving managed to get into the seat on top of Ramu’s back......
..... and proceeded in state down the road to Hatipol Gate, one of the gateways of the old city which by chance means Elephant Gate.
Ramu's reward.

Dismounting not very elegantly at a convenient mounting block nearby, we continued down the road to Chetak Circle where we bought a flower arrangement for the room and headed back in an autorickshaw (tuk-tuk).  After installing the flowers in honour of our wedding anniversary today, we walked round to the Ambrai restaurant to ask them to take the red wine out of the fridge so it would be warm tonight but, unlike some other restaurants in India, they knew red wine should be warm and brought us a bottle to feel to prove it!  Back at Kankarwa Haveli we went up to their rooftop restaurant for a beer and a tea.


We spent Monday morning trying to buy a marble elephant like the ones that decorate our room at Kankarwa Haveli.  We walked through the suburbs to the north of town past some very nice houses with well-kept gardens to ‘Om Arts’, the carvings shop that the Kankarwa’s owner bought his from.  They didn’t have exactly what Sheila wanted so their driver took us in their car for a tour round 20 or so other carving shops way out on the Delhi road north of town, but none of them met Sheila’s precise requirements.  Eventually she gave up and returned to town for a pedicure instead (about 3 pounds instead of 100 for the elephant, so a good choice as far as I’m concerned), while I had a coffee at Banana Tree café nearby. 


On Tuesday we went to find some passport photos and see what wine they had in the bottle shop.  The bottle shop, near Chandpol (another of the city gates) only had two bottles of wine which we’d never heard of so we walked across town by back streets and bazaars to Hatipol where we found the photographers and got the passport photos.  Worn out by all this activity Sheila had a nap at the hotel while I went for tea at Savage Garden, a well-established but well-hidden travellers’ café up a back street near Chandpol.  It was very restful, on three floors around a big Bougainvillea plant and a banana tree

Sari shop
On Wednesday we walked from the old clock tower all the way down bustling Bara Bazaar, past colourful sari fabric shops ......
Veg market
..... to the busy and scenic vegetable market near the new clock tower, and on to the Delhi Gate.

We went on a couple of trips outside town.

On Thursday we drove north to Kumbalgarh and Ranakpur; along the way we went through mountains, valleys and farms and saw oxen working the waterwheels to bring water up from the wells, it was a picturesque and fascinating drive.
Kumbalgarh Fort was most impressive, perched on top of a hill and there were so few tourists I felt like I had it to myself as I stood on the topmost roof with the wind whistling gently around me.  Unfortunately Sheila was suffering from a bad meal the previous night at the Jagat Niwas Palace hotel and had to stay and snooze in the car (it was the same restaurant where we had a bad meal last year so we went back to try to erase the memory, but again something was off so we won’t go there again.)
Ranakpur Jain temple, built in 1439, by contrast was packed with tour groups but this didn’t detract from the enormously impressive 1,444 marble pillars and cupolas with their elaborate carvings, regarded as the finest Jain temple in Rajasthan.

On Friday we drove south to Dungapur, another fascinating deserted old palace, less impressive outside but much more elaborately decorated inside than Kumbalgarh, with mosaics, murals and even plates imbedded in the walls.
Udai Bilas
For lunch we went to the nearby Udai Bilas palace, partly a luxury hotel and partly still the residence of the local royal family.  We had a snack lunch by the swimming pool in the lovely gardens surrounding the palace building.
Vintage Rolls Royce
On Saturday we went by autorickshaw to the Maharaja’s vintage car museum in City Palace road, and saw the fascinating collection of splendid vehicles including the 1934 Rolls Royce phantom used in the James Bond film Octopussy and another Rolls Royce chopped up to make a pickup truck for the cricket team to travel in – Messrs Rolls and Royce must be turning in their graves!

On several days for my ‘afternoon tea’ I had a delicious Greek salad and a cup of Darjeeling tea at Govinda’s Café in City Palace Road, but I foolishly enthused about it so much that Sheila came too and pinched half!

Ambrai restaurant
In the evenings we had a variety of our favourite meals.  At Ambrai restaurant we dined several times at the corner table with the best view of all the lake palaces, the ‘VIP table’ according to the waiter!  We had their wonderful smoky chicken curry and butter chicken, accompanied by a bottle of sparkling Sula Brut (1,800 Rs) to celebrate.
We forgot to ask for the smoked chicken off the bone so on the way home we fed the bones to one of the stray dogs who became our friend for life and followed us half the way home.  That was a day of animals, we’ve stroked dogs, cows and Ramu the elephant, seen sheep and goats in the bazaar and cats and rats at the roadside, including in one case a cat actually catching a rat and running off with it. Sheila also said to mention all the ants that had bitten her on the legs and arms!

At the Udai Kothi hotel’s restaurant we had delicious meals sitting cross-legged on cushions under our own individual pillared dome, like a Maharaja and Maharani!


Sun 13th.  A long car ride to Jaisalmer, leaving at 7:30 am and arriving at 6pm.  We stopped for samosas and cucumbers along the way, avoiding the tourist-oriented ‘resorts’ where the coach parties stop.  We checked into our nice room at the Pol Haveli hotel where they remembered us from when we stayed there two years ago. It was like coming home, Manu the owner is such a nice man and Ana his brother and the staff make you feel so welcome. Our room had a bath tub, sheer bliss! Sheila had carried bubble bath around for weeks just for this occasion!

Jaisalmer fort
Since we came two years ago Manu has developed a roof terrace, beautifully done with a view of the fort and the sunset .....
..... and also a view into neighbouring properties including the laundry next door (you don’t get a hot wash, several rinses and conditioner here!)

The roof terrace is a lovely place to lounge around and meet other travellers from all over the world, everyone is very friendly and full of information.


Then we went to the Trio restaurant for a meal which was nice, but the chef had changed and it wasn’t as good as we remembered from before.


Mon 14th to Weds 16th.  Jaisalmer is hot.  They warned us it would be, and it is – much hotter than Udaipur.  We walked up to the fort and had brunch at 8 July restaurant overlooking palace square, where the lady owner remembered us from last time.  It was so good two years ago but we were rather disappointed this time; the rice pudding was made with basmati rice rather than pudding rice and not much of it, the toast and Marmite had not even a teaspoonful of Marmite and the ‘mango pulp’ which was so thick and tasty last time is now weak and watery but still 100 Rs a time. We walked around the lanes and bazaars in the fort, stopping in a couple of wall hanging shops for a chai and the sales spiel and Sheila managed to buy some scarves.


It was too hot to do much else so we spent the afternoons in the breezy open-air restaurant on the roof of our Haveli having tea and salad and very tasty pakodas and chatting with the interesting group of travellers who were also staying here.


One evening we had a good meal at the Saffron restaurant on the roof of Hotel Nachana Haveli with a wonderful view of the fort, but our boneless butter chicken was full of bones which rather spoiled it.  The other evenings we had Dal Makhani and Veg Do Piaza at the restaurant on our roof which was very tasty.  Manu and Ana went and bought a bottle of Sula red wine from the wine shop for me, which I sipped my way through at a couple of lunches and dinners.  One evening Manu took us to his village a few miles outside town, where we met his family and sat in the courtyard of his house drinking chai.


Thurs 17th.  After a hot 5-hour drive to Jodhpur we checked into the very nice Hotel Inn Pal, which is in a great position next to the market.  We had a very short walk round and a refreshing lassi (yogurt drink) at the ‘famous lassi stall’ near the market gate (and unfortunately near the fly-ridden smelly loos).

Camel and cart
Later when it had cooled down a bit we walked round some more, found a photogenic camel and cart in an alleyway then went for a beer and a snack on our rooftop restaurant with a wonderful view of the floodlit fort.


Fri 18th. After a pleasant breakfast in the rooftop restaurant we went for a walk round the shops before it got too hot, while they were still opening up.  We managed to find the famous pashmina shop – at least Sheila says it is famous, they make them for Hermes and Vuitton apparently – anyway, after sifting through what seemed like hundreds she narrowed it down to three and at over £100 each she was allowed only one for our anniversary (obviously if she’d wanted more I wouldn’t have stood a chance). She says you can easily tell the difference between a real pashmina and the other ones which are just woolen scarves. I think the price gave it away, next time we go we’ll be giving that shop a wide berth.  At least, because we were there sitting on the doorstep when they opened we avoided the touts and so saved ourselves a 40% markup.

Ambassador taxi
Later we got a tuk-tuk to the airport for 70 Rs and flew to Delhi, where we got a pre-paid ‘Ambassador’ taxi for 350 Rs to the Swati hotel in Karol Bagh.

We had a walk round Karol Bagh main shopping street, very ‘big city’ after all the country places we’ve been in, then had a delicious meal and half bottle of red wine at our favourite Crossroads restaurant. Sheila had to drink Kingfisher beer though, they seem to have cornered the market in India; we much prefer Cobra.


Sat 19th. We got the metro to Connaught Place and had a light lunch at the atmospheric United Coffee House, then found the bottle shop where we bought four more bottles of Sula Dindori reserve, and went back to squeeze them into our suitcases.  I hope they survive the journey at about 20 pounds a bottle!  Sheila had another pedicure and ‘threading’ then after another nice dinner at Crossroads we went to the airport for the middle-of-the-night flight to London.


Crowded tuk tuk
In rush hour, the tuk-tuks can get a bit crowded!
Sacred cow
This sacred cow is all dressed up for a special occasion.

To see pictures from our other travels, please click here .......... glove