Archive | January, 2018

Grover Zampa Vineyards : Day Trips in Bangalore 7.30AM – 3.30PM (Trip 15)

25 Jan

This blog documents the 7.30 AM to 3.30 PM  day trips by a group of enthusiastic Bangalore explorers from Mantri Classic Koramangla.  We leave after the school bus departs and are back home when the kids return. Thats what we have been doing for the last 1 year – discovering amazing places in and around Bangalore. Energised ancient temples, architectural marvels , 1000’s of years old, lovely ashrams, treks, nature resorts all packed with simple and tasty food makes for a great day trip. Its a Fusion trip and thats the name of the group we gave to this team. The trips are very cost effective and average Rs 500 – 1000 / head inclusive of breakfast, lunch and travel. We travel on a Wednesday most of the time – mid week when the places are empty , and because we lave by 7.30 /7.45 and are back by 3.30 we beat the crazy Bangalore traffic.

This blog shares the itinerary of Trip 15 to Grover Zampa Vineyard at Doddaballapur near Devanahalli.


Trip – 15 : Grover Zampa Vineyards 

Jan – Feb – Mar is grape season – the perfect time to go on a day trip to a Vineyard in Bangalore. India boasts of two Wine growing areas – Bangalore & Nasik. The Grover Zampa Winery in the outskirts of Bangalore near the Devanhalli airport is a nice day trip.

We left Koramangla at 7.30 AM and reached our breakfast stop before 9 AM ( 52 Km). We had been here a year back – its located a few kms after the International Airport.  The Indian Paratha Company is a great place for fresh piping hot Paratha’s, Chai, Lassi and a lot more. Service is excellent and food was delicious – but prices have shot up in the last one year (a plate of Sarson ki Saag and Makkai ki roti is now Rs 325). On a weekday the place was almost empty.

The Grover Zampa Vineyard is only 17 Km from here – take a U Turn and after a few km take the right turn on the Doddaballapur main road and in less than 30 min you will reach the Grover Zampa Vineyard processing centre. This place has a vistor centre , the processing and bottling plants , and an outlet store.

The tour starts at 10.30 AM and ends by 12.30. The guide takes you to the different sections and covers in detail all the steps of making all the varieties of Wine. You then head to the Wine tasting cellar where you are again educated on how to sample and enjoy Wine. You get to sample 5 different varieties of Wine.

You can taste a few drops or you can get Tipsy with a glass full – its your choice. But clearly the Wine lovers love this part of the trip.  

We were fascinated with the storage Drums – which can be made to stools and table tops – and yes you can buy them in May – June when the crushing season is over since they change the drums once every two years.

From here we headed to the Vinery – 1 Km away  – a well maintained large Vineyard with an eye for detail to ensure that only the best quality grapes are grown.

We were back for lunch at the main centre. We had booked for Grape stomping ( Min 10 people) – this is not like what it looks in the movies – the scale is smaller – but there is music playing , lovely weather and the Wine from the tasting session gets you in the mood to sway while crushing the grapes – fortunately this does not go back to the wine making drums.

Lunch is a simple affair – Soup , Veg Pulao , Raita and Gulab Jamun. We were lucky we had a heavy breakfast – they could have done better with the lunch. A quick stopover at the store to get some discounted Wine and we headed back at 2 PM reaching home by 3.45 PM.

The package costs you Rs 1590/ person  inclusive of tax – the stomping is Rs 500 – its unique but expensive , 10 minutes of stomping for a group of 10 can put you back by Rs 5000/-.

There is a premium for the uniqueness of this trip – weekdays are not crowded but weekends tend to be very busy during the season. Weekend rates are also higher. Children are allowed. A final footnote – Don’t compare this with Vineyard tours of Sonoma Napa – those are on a totally different scale

If you want to book a trip contact Vipin – 9513338752 , 9901636346.


Kolkata Shining – Well Done Didi

15 Jan

I recollect that some years back Kolkata came to the news for all the wrong reasons – it was christened the “Dying City”. This after many many years under the administration of Jyoti Basu. From 1977 he held the CM post for 23 years without a break – a tough record to beat. But Bengal and Kolkata saw no progress.

I remember my trips to Kolkata – from the mid 70’s and till 2005 almost nothing changed. Traffic jams , pavements choked with hawkers, load shedding, appalling poverty , filth – it was a mess. Mother Teresa and Dominiqe Lapierre did not help by positioning Calcutta as a city in deep despair. I remember in a quiz competition in school we were asked to name the dirtiest city in the world and the choice was between Karachi , Dhaka and Kolkatta. Karachi narrowly beat Kolkatta to claim the distinction.

Things slowly changed and in the last 7 years Mamta Banerjee and the TMC have done a phenomenal job in transforming Kolkatta. I visited the city after many years in the last week of 2017 and was pleasantly surprised to see a city that I could barely recognise. The transformation is to a scale that you cannot comprehend. Broad Roads , cars zipping at 50 Km/hr ( restraining themselves as thats the speed limit), clean footpaths and pavements, well lit roads with plants, a maze of flyovers , clean billboards and shop fronts, efficient traffic police, the water bodies or “Pukurs” that dot the city are sparkling clean. In the 3 days I was there I did not see a single pothole or a dug up road or footpath – I could go on and on.


I would rate Kolkata as the Indian city with one of the best urban infrastructures in the country today comparable with Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and of course New Delhi. Coming from Bangalore ( Koramangla in specific) where traffic crawls at less than 10 km /hr and it can take you 30 min to cross the Sony Junction Kolkatta felt like a foreign city. Add to this Kolkatta has no power cuts and thanks to the mighty Ganges you will never see water tankers queuing up in front of apartment complexes.

We visited the Dhakuria lake complex – again a very well maintained park with excellent walkways spotlessly clean.

All this is indeed creditable work. Its not easy to change a dying city that has been languishing for decades. Yes good work was started by the former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and if the Nano plant at Singur had happened the industrial pace at W Bengal may have matched that of Gujarat. But full credit to Mamata Di for picking up speed and achieving the impossible. Well Done Didi.

The Indian Press is miserly – all I have heard about Kolkata sitting in Bangalore is Didi’s anger against Modi and the Muslim appeasement – not a word has been reported on how a dying city has been transformed in such a short period of time. You need to give credit where it is due and this change from a. dying city to a sparkling city should have been cover page article and news.

Its not just the infrastructure but also the cleanliness. People have started taking pride in their city – the Bengalis have always been proud of their legacy and now they have earned their bragging rights. I am sure this saga of development will continue. Its a very affordable city and the cost of living would probably be less than half that of Bangalore or Mumbai. A city with history , legacy , sights – a city waiting to be marketed. With all this going for Kolkatta its a matter of time before the builders, brands , malls , companies , jobs flood into Kolkata. And all the  NRI babus who always wanted to be in Kolkata and enjoy their adda will come back. A city on an ascending curve is unstoppable and as the momentum picks up the growth will accelerate.

The trip was also special as I caught up with my college mates from REC Surat and met them after 25 years. We were knocking at 50 but as we met after so many years we felt like 18 year olds. Thanks Manik , Somen and Tutli for taking time to come over.

It was also nice to meet up the folks from ABL township – the colony where I grew up after 30 long years. the hot didis and aunties had aged gracefully. Thank you Ishani and Deepa Di for making this happen. Bengali is a very sweet language and Bengali women are amongst the prettiest you can meet but behind that pretty face and charming smile is a dominating woman – this after all is the land of Ma Durga & Kali.

A trip to Kolkata is never complete without visiting Dakshineshwar & Belur Math. We left our hotel at 5.30 AM and reached Dakhsineswhar by 6.15 AM – spotlessly clean with hardly any crowd we had a blessed Darshan of Ma Kali in all her divine glory. The Ganges was sparkling clean and majestically flowing with Belur Math on the other bank. We could feel the vibrations of the great Sage Ramkrishna in his small room at the temple complex. We didi visit Belur Math also and the Bhog we had was special, don’t miss it – piping hot Khichdi , delicious curry, and Kheer so tasty all served with so much love and affection. Whether its Golden Temple or Puri Jagannath or Dakshineswar there is something special about the Prasad they serve in these divine places.

This is also the city of food – from street food to fancy restaurants all at very affordable prices. We relished the Jhal Modi at the Maidan as we waited for a ride on the iconic tram and enjoyed sweets galore all through the trip. There is no comparison to Kolkata sweets. My fatty liver restricted me from being very adventurous but we did through justice to the amazing food of this great city. The only disappointment was our lunch at Tero Parbon at Hindustan Park where the service was disastrous.

Central Kolkata was buzzing with energy – the stretch from Victoria Memorial , Park Street , Chowringee , the National Museum – is mesmerising and brings back fond memories of childhood when we used to visit Kolkatta from Durgapur. The yellow Ambassador taxis are fast making way to the Uber’s and Ola but I pray that continue for some more time. Kolkata without the yellow taxi and its blaring horns would never be the same again.

Its a paradise for shopping – again great stuff at affordable prices. This was the time of the year when there were melas all around the city. Khadi , Handicraft and a wide variety of clothes and artwork at prices which you cannot believe. From sarees to pyjamas and kurtas, shoes, leather goods you can shop all day long in this city.

Kolkata has so much to offer – it was only on the last day that I came to know of a Jyotir Linga at Baidyanath Temple – a 1 hr drive from Kolkata. I missed it but will come back for sure to visit. There are 12 Jyotir Lingas in the country and most states market them very effectively. These are divine sites blessed with the energy of Lord Shiva – Kolkata needs to market itself better.

I have 3 suggestions to make to help the city sparkle more and attract investments. 

Kolkatta and Chennai produce nearly 50% of the CA’s of the country – Kolkatta with its low cost base can easily position itself as a back office finance hub for the country. The intelligence of the Bengali and the low cost of the city will make this a very compelling proposition.

A lot of day trips can be organised to market the city better. A 7.30 to 6.30 PM trip that includes breakfast and lunch – its easy to identify 10 – 15 such packages and have buses travel on a daily basis to these locations.

Launch a company that can help cities like Bangalore – specially BBMP spruce up the city. You now seem to have the expertise to provide consultancy and execute projects that can bring cities like Bangalore to shape.

And last but not the least Kolkata needs more Gym’s. Given the rich oily diet, lethargic lifestyle, late dinner habits and probably the highest % of smokers in the country   – my friends in Kolkata need to exercise vigorously. But I hardly saw any gyms.  Here is an opportunity for Mukesh Bansal to open many Gyms across Kolkata – so Mukesh please don’t open any more Cult Zones in Bangalore – head to Kolkatta. If Mamta has succeeded in a cleaner Kolkata I am sure she can make it a fitter Kolkata too.

Hospitality is in Bengali blood – my friend and his family took such good care of us we felt we were with family. Thanks Subhashish and Ruma for going out of the way to make us comfortable. I am looking forward to my next trip soon.








The Sound of Silence – My 2nd Vipassana experience

14 Jan

Its 4.30 AM on a cold winter day in January and I am  sitting in a pitch dark small 10 sft cell in the confines of a beautiful Pagoda. And its pin drop silence – but wait you can hear something , after a few minutes of meditation as your mind calms down  you can actually hear the Sound of Silence. And as you try to observe this beautiful sound with equanimity you hear two more sounds – the soft sound of breath and the rumbling sound of your stomach.

I never felt hungry during my Ten Days program but the stomach grumbled everyday – well it had reason to do so. My last meal was at 11 AM the previous day and post that all I had had was a cup of lemon juice at 5 PM. Thats a gap of 19.5 hrs between two solid food meals. Thats the world of Vipassna – 10 days of Noble Silence, 10.5 hrs of meditation every day starting at 4.30, a light breakfast at 6.30 AM , healthy lunch at 11 AM and a cup of lemon juice or tea at 5 PM.

To know more about Vipassna – read my blog from last year –

This time I was at the Dhamma Khetta Hyderabad – a serene and beautiful Vipassana centre in the outskirts of Hyderabad , the 1st centre set up Goenkaji in 1976 a few months before Igatpuri.

The second experience was easier, a lot more easier. Most of the piled up defilements had cleared up last year and I had led a stress free relaxed life since then. The first few days I felt I was in a resort with a nice room , timely meals and total peace – all of this FREE. The weather was excellent. Everything was perfect. And barring a few storms that came up and helped clear some long pending blocks Vipassana 2 was a song compared to Vipassana 1.

It was also a little repetitive – and the instructions are so detailed that and old meditator may find it an overdose especially when its repeated in English , Hindi and Telugu. But then you have no choice as the program attracts people from all backgrounds and the instructions have to be crystal clear. It was also a little disappointing to see the over harping and sarcasm on rites and rituals that goes on and on over the ten days. But given the benefits you can ignore that. Will I go back – yes I will but maybe for the 3 day or 5 day programs in one language. I don’t think I will be able to manage the repetition of the 10 day program again.

So what makes people go again and again ? The idea is learn the technique and go deeper and deeper and clean up layer after layer of embedded defilements in the mind – not just of this birth but also of the previous births. Its a dry, arduous technique and tests your patience and tenacity. But it does help – I have observed significant changes over the years – especially in Anger management and the ability manage the ups and downs in life with equanimity. And the 10 day program acts like a great detox and helped me lose ~ 4 kgs

But I am just a beginner – a good example of how Vipassana transforms you is my good friend and his family. They are a family of Vipassana practitioners and their house has so much peace and tranquility it feels like an energised temple. This person exudes warmth, compassion and happiness. He is like a conductor of pure joy. He always has a smile and a kind word to people most of us will ignore – From the security guard  to the toll boy in a busy highway , the servers in a restaurant, he even greets and wishes the CISF guard who pats you down in the airport security. He is a conductor of Joy. He is loved by one and all. And it flows from the infinite spring of joy and peace that is deep inside him. Brimming with compassion and happiness. I have seen him face with equanimity the challenges of life. He is a role model to me and he attributes all of this to his many years of Vipassana practise.

So the question arise who should go ? I guess everybody should experience one Vipassana session and see if the technique works for them. Its logical and it works. I have also interacted with people who are at the other end of the spectrum from my friend. People who are conductors of misery. They give a tough time to the people around them. And this comes from the fact that they are full of misery inside. Throttled up tension , ego , sadness, frustration , all tangled up in a complex maze. Vipassana can help you untangle these knots.

As Goenka Ji explains in one of his Dhamma talks – the Sugarcane is full of sweetness , every fibre is saturated with sweetness so people like my friend are like a Sugarcane. And then there are others who are like a Neem tree – who are full of bitterness. Be rest assured – the teacher who was nasty in school , the dominating boss who made your life miserable, a murderer , a rapist –  are all people who are full of misery within , because what comes out is what is within.

I strongly believe that deep down everyone is a small pure innocent child – the situations in life make you full of bitterness and a conductor of misery. These people definitely need to go for a Vipassana session and clear up their defilements and bring that pure child back to life. They will find deep peace and help transform themselves as better human beings

Life is all about getting the Blessings of others, when you show compassion and help people the Blessings flow to you. On the contrary when you purposely make lives of others miserable you miss out on the good will and Blessings of people. Accumulating Blessings and Positive Karma is probably the biggest asset you can build in this life – which is nothing but one step in the multiple lives we will have to purify ourselves in the search of eternal truth.

Cell Inside the Pagoda