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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Rishikesh, INdia: Cottage ... Maybe, Swiss ... Not, But A Fair Hotel Value

Hill Top Swiss Cottage
Swiss Cottage Complex
Rishikesh, India
Prices: $$$$$

View of Ganges River Valley From Room
Hilltop Swiss Cottage sits in its own small self-contained village atop the hills of the High Bank of Rishikesh’s Tapovan area and a little over 1 kilometer from Laxman (Lacksman) Jhula (bridge), the northern most bridge over the Ganges (Ganga) River in town. The “Swiss Cottage” area has seven or eight hotels and guest houses, an equal number of restaurants (Raasta and Nirvana Cafés, Swiss Garden, and Oasis to name a few), a couple of small markets, a laundry, travel agancies, yoga studios, and massage parlors, so you never even have to leave the hill if you desire. It is a relatively quiet area compared to town, but is an easy walk to restaurants, the river, or numerous ashrams and other attractions.

There are cheaper options even within the Swiss Cottage compound (200 rupees/$3.20 per night and up), but I had a nice, large room with a view of the river valley below, flat screen TV with cable (no CNN or BBC), relatively fast Wi-Fi, and a bath with Western toilet, tub, and a great shower with plenty of hot water for 800 rupees ($13) per night.

The staff are not overly friendly and I got the “evil eye” from numerous locals during my stay, but otherwise I would say westerners are well “tolerated”, unless you are an attractive female in which case you are given a great deal of (unwanted) attention.

Their restaurant, The Oasis, was empty every time I walked by and other than a pot of coffee and an omelet my first morning I steared clear because the place was absolutely freezing. There were also a couple of characters there, one Dutch (I believe) and the other appeared to be from the Middle East, that were odd to say the least. The Dutch guy tried to whistle tunes with no melody and went off on a couple of Indian men for no apparent reason and the other guy kept whispering something to me I could not undertsand while looking at me like he wanted to slit my throat. Unnerving, so I ate breakfast at Raasta Café from that point forward.

They have their own yoga studio and meditation hall, but when I stopped by at the appointed times on my first morning, I had apparently awoken the instructor who appeared at the door disheveled from sleep and not ready for a class as advertized. Nothing opens before 8am in the compound, so if you are an early riser be prepared to keep yourself occupied until then. The room did have a small fridge and a boiler (kettle) for hot water, so you can buy some coffee, tea, milk, or soft drinks to have in the room (no alcohol because Rishikesh is a "dry" town).

Being December and in the foothills, Rishikesh is chilly when the sun goes down and the room (and everywhere else for that matter, because India apprently has not figured out central heat yet) was freezing. When I booked the room on Booking.com I clearly saw “heater” advertized in the room, but when I arrived there was none to be found. I asked the manager and he told me that I had reserved the “standard” room without  heat, but when I checked my reservation again I was in-fact correct and he quickly brought me a heater, a small space heater that barely kept the room warm.

CombatCritic Gives Hill Top Swiss Cottage 6 Bombs Out Of 10 … Bombs Are Good!

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Title: Cottage Maybe, Swiss It Is Not, But A Decent Hotel Value


Key Words: Hill Top Swiss Cottage, hilltop, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Raasta, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook

Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinnamon Roll

Raasta Café
Swiss Cottage Area
Rishikesh, U.P India
Prices: $$$$$

I ate only one meal other than breakfast at the Raasta Café and it was not great. The reviews on TripAdvidsor were terrific, but the food was underwhelming. It is a nice enough place, like most restaurants in India, open-air and extremely cold in December, and the staff (mostly Nepali from what I gathered) nice enough, somewhat indifferent, and efficient.

The milk coffee (40 rupees/$.65 for a cup, 95 rupees/$1.55 for a large pot) was very weak even though I ordered it “strong”, so I bought my own Folgers instant coffee and spiked the pot each morning in order to get my caffeine fix. On most mornings I had their peanut butter toast (40 rupees/$.65), a nice brown bread with sesame seeds but barely enough peanut butter to cover the toast (sgould have bought my own peanut butter too I guess). I tried their “homemade” pastries (cinnamon roll, chocolate croissant) a couple times, but they were basted with egg and had that definite “raw” egg taste which was not appetizing, so I stuck with the toast.

My one dinner consisted of paneer mata (90 rupees/$1.60), which was supposed to be a spicy spinach dish with cheese (curd) cubes, and some garlic and butter roti (flat bread – 30 rupees/$.50 each). The paneer was obviously the spinach soup from the menu with some cheese tossed in and although not bad tasting was both unfulfilling and not filling. The roti were OK, but reminded me of whole wheat tortillas with some butter and garlic added. Neither were very good.

I found a few good restaurants in town, including nearby Nirvana Café (Indian/Continental), A Tavola con Te (Italian/pizza), and Ramana’s Garden (Organic / Vegetarian /Eclectic), so I was not too upset by Raasta’s boring food. It is the one place in the area where people seem to congregate and the Wi-Fi is reasonably fast, so it is worth a visit if staying in one of the “Swiss Cottages”.

CombatCritic Gives Raasta Café 5 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!

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Title: Rishikesh, India: Raasta Café: Hey Mon, Roll Me A Great Big … Cinammon Roll

Key Words: Raasta Café, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, menu, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, Rishikesh, India, review, Raasta, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook


Monday, January 26, 2015

Rishikesh, India: Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Bitro NIRVANA Is Trendy, Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced

Bistro Nirvana
Swiss Cottage Area Rishikesh, U.P. India

Bistro Nirvana came highly recommended by a friend I met in Dharamsala, but I only had a coffee there until the day before I left because I did not like the “vibe”. It is a very nice place with bamboo, wood tones, and a Polynesian feel, but all but one table is of the “Eastern” variety with low tops, seating mats, and a little too uncomfortable for this disabled Veteran. 

The young “Bohemian” / hippie-wannabe crowd is drawn to this place, the ones with the dreadlocks (not sure why caucasians want to waste their time or money on dreadlocks, but whatever floats your boat) and nose-in-the-phone silence, just like in Dharamsala, so that also put me off a bit. The staff is friendly, but indifferent just like everywhere else in Rishikesh in general and the Swiss Cottage complex in pariticular.

Anyway, the food was really good! I ordered the Dal Makhni (130 rupees/$2.05), black lentils slow cooked overnight with garlic, onions, butter, and crème and a garlic and butter nan (50 rupees/80 cents). The dal were superb, arriving in a good size copper pot, perfectly warm and the best $2 I have spent in a long time at a restaurant. The nan was also very good, not looking enough to get me through my dal at first, but there was more than met the eye and I was satiated … after a piece of their legendary Banoffee pie (60 rupees/$.95) of course. The pie was rich and sweet, tasty with banana cream and toffee (caramel) atop a thick, chewy biscuit (cookie) crust, being almost too rich, but I polished it off just the same.


CombatCritic Gives Bistro Nirvana 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … One Bomb Deduction For Low Tables and Too Many Dreadlocks … Bombs Are Great!

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Title: Consider Yourself ENLIGHTENED: Café NIRVANA Is Trendy,  Eclectic, and Reasonably Priced

Key Words: Café Nirvana, café, Swiss Cottage, Swiss, cottage, Tapovan, Laxman Jhula, laxman, lacksman, jhula, jhula, Rishikesh, India, hotel, review, Nirvana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, YouTube, Facebook



Sunday, January 25, 2015

Get Netflix and Access To Other US-Only Sites From Anywhere In The World

Did you know that Netflix is not available in many countries overseas, even if you have a US account? Netflix and other services (gmail, etc) automatically detect that you are in another country and block their site or, in gmail's case, lock your account until you authenticate by logging-in and entering security information.

Well folks, after many years of traveling and numerous headaches caused by Google, Netflix, and others, I found out about VPNs (virtual private network) where you set up a proxy on your computer and use a FREE server in your home country to make it look as though you never left home while adding additional security to your browsing!

Here is one of many excellent tutorials on YouTube (this one is for Mac) that takes you step-by-step through the process:


You can find several FREE VPN websites by searching PPTP VPN free" on your favorite browser, but here is one I am trying: vpnbook.com I will let you know how it works after I watch a movie on Netflix from India!

Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite '14/'15 Member) And  TripAdvisor ("Top Contributor") Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

Key Words: VPN, PPTP, protocol, virtual, private, network, Netflix, Google, YouTube, gmail, free, proxy, Mac, PC, US, worldwide, secure, travel, value, TravelValue

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Goa, India: You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value ... Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!

Candolim Beach
Casa Praia
Vaddy, Candolim, 
Bardez, Goa, 403515, India
+91-997-044-4666
Prices: $$$$$


With a dearth of available options over the New Year 2015 holiday in Goa, a last minute cancellation gave us an opportunity to book a room at Casa Praia (4,000 rupees/$64 per night), a relative bargain at a property with an unprecedented 9.9 rating on Booking.com and 5-star rating on TripAdvisor.  I jumped on it and am I glad I did!

4,000 rupees per night will get you a 3 or 4-star hotel in many places in India, but Goa is unlike anywhere else in India thanks to supply and demand, and hotels and taxis are at least triple the price of anywhere else I have been (Dharamsala, Rishikesh, New Delhi, Jaipur, Pushkar, Cochin, Varkala). But this is Goa, Candolim Beach in particular, a beachside party town packed to the gills with Russians and Brits ready to party, and just two budget-minded Americans that I knew of … my wife and I.

Paul (or “Hardip” as he likes to be called) and Sophia, the owners and hosts of Casa Praia, greeted us by email immmediately after our booking and offered to send a taxi to meet us at the airport at the standard government rate of 1,100 rupees ($17.80), so we took them up on it as their property is an hour’s drive from the airport and the hotel/guesthouse is somewhat secluded and not easy to find. Our driver met us outside the terminal as promised with sign in hand and we proceeded to Casa Praia.


Being early evening on New Year’s Eve, Hardip, Sophia, and some other British guests (Brits) were sitting around the pool enjoying a beverage and chatting, and after showing us to our room we were invited to join in the celebration. We enjoyed a wonderful night of conversation and commaraderie with our new friends and former rivals, the Brits plus one Swede (Sophia).
Our room was large, well appointed, and very tastefully decorated with three sets of French doors, one opening onto the garden with the pool not far away. The stone tile floors were immaculate, the queen size bed had fresh sheets, plenty of pillows, and a mosquito net tasefully draped near the headboard and there was plenty of storage space for our clothes and personal belongings. A decent size flat screen TV with cable was provided, along with air conditioner and ceiling fans (2), a small refrigerator, sink, cups, plates, bowls, cutlery, and plenty of filtered water throughout our stay thanks to Raja, a friendly, attentive young Goan that works on the property. The bathroom large, it had all the necessities, including toilet paper (a rarity in Indian hotels), and plenty of hot water thanks to the solar panels on the roof. I have to say that although somewhat expensive by Indian standards, it was the nicest $64 room I have ever stayed in.

Breakfast is included and Sophia and her cook, Jessica, cheerfully greeted us each morning with a choice of yogurt (curd) with granola and fruit (bananas and pomegranite were in season while we were there), oatmeal (porridge to the Brits) with accompaniments, or eggs (any style – I liked the cheese and onion omelete with green chilies), along with fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee or tea, and toast with butter and jam (get some peanut butter for the Americans Hardip – Delphino’s has a nice locally made butter for 250 rupees per jar). Seriuosly, the breakfasts were marvelous, the food fresh and hot, and we never walked away hungry like some places we have stayed.

The property has four buildings, two large two-story structures with four guest rooms each, a small kitchen building, and the Hardip residence where Paul, Sophia, and their two beautiful (and very well behaved) children, along with Feni their sweet cat, live. The grounds are lush and well maintained with a medium size pool (relatively new), plenty of stone tile deck space, lounges, tables, umbrellas, and chairs and is surrounded by a six-foot concrete wall with locked gates for added privacy and security.

Casa Praia sits midway between Candolim Beach (250 meters) and the main beach road (150 meters) in Candolim (not sure if the road has another name), so you can exit one gate and walk to the beach for a day of sun, the Arabian sea and lounge chairs, umbrellas, drinks, and food at one of the countless beach “shacks” along the coast (the place we went to had a 400 rupee/$6.40 minimum, but all the comforts were included if you spent that much, a relative bargain) or through the other gate for a stroll into town.


There are an overwhelming number of restaurants, bars, and shopping options within a stones throw of Casa Praia, so you do not have to venture far unless you are so inspired. We ate at Floyd’s our first day and were unimpressed, The Mango Grove our second and were equally unenthused, but on our third and fourth days we found The Bistro, which was a continental delight, and Tuscany Gardens, an Italian restaurant with nice, relatively authentic food. Please click on the links above to read my full reviews.

And if you staying over a Saturday night, you must go the the Saturday Market, a 20-minute ride (350 rupees for a Tuk-Tuk/500 rupees for a taxi) away where you will find an international food court with numerous options and a maze of countless stalls selling everything from Kashmiri scarves and hand painted boxes to local and name-label clothing, jewlery, and everything in between.

Old Goa is also worth a visit, so hire Garesh, one of the few “Goan” taxi drivers in town, and a very honest and warm person (his English is very good too, another rarity in India where one of the National languages is English BTW) to take you there with a stop by the two local forts on the way back. Old Goa has some nice, old Portuguese (Catholic) churches, one being the Basilica of Bom Jesus where Saint Francis di Xavier (their patron saint whom is encased in a glass casket and brought out for his festival which is only held every ten years – we were there during the festival, but opted not to atttend because of the reported massive crowds and traffic jams), Se’ Cathedral (a large, but unispiring church), Saint Augustine (a Portuguese Catholic church in ruins, but well worth a visit), and Saint Francis Church (adjacent to Se’ Cathedral, smaller, but much more ornate) which has an archeological museum attached (closed on Fridays, the day we were there of course).  Fort Aguada and its lighthouse are also worth a visit, but are not overly impressive, and Reis Magos Fort, a smaller, more attractive option (50 rupees entry, includes van ride to the top) with beautiful views of the river, the Arabian sea, and the cliffs below.  We paid 1,200 rupees/$19 for the six-hour tour (taxi), a bargain by Goa standards, so just ask Hardip to contact Garesh or contact him directly at +91-901-194-8499 if you need a lift anywhere.

Saturday Night Market
On a final note, I was ill during our stay and realizing I had become dehydrated and needing medical attention, Sophia and Hardip jumped to attention and without hesitation rushed me to the local hospital, a large clinic with beds actually, where I was given IV fluids and kept overnight. Hardip returned later that night to drive to five pharmacies to find the potasium I needed (the hospital did not have any), and again the next morning (twice) to pick my wife and I up (she had spent the night in the bed next to me) and deliver us back to the hotel where I spent the next few days recovering. We also needed to extend our stay by three days, and good thing we did because of the unforeseen emergency, so Hardip shifted some bookings (we basically displaced Sophia’s older daughter, who was visiting from Scotland, we found out later … you’re a gem Sophia!) so we could remain the in the same room even though they were “fully booked”. All I can say to Paul and Sophia is “thank you for your unparalleled compassion, extreme kindness, and oustanding hospitality”.

Without a doubt, Casa Praia is “THE BOMB” and deserving of my highest rating, rarely bestowed on a hotel or restaurant …

CombatCritic Gives Casa Praia The Maximum … 10 Bombs Out Of 10 … More Bombs Are Better!





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Title: You Will Not Find A Better Accommodation Value In Goa ... Casa Praia Is THE BOMB!

Key Words: Casa Praia, casa, Praia, hotel, guesthouse, guest, house, Candolim, beach, Goa, Bardez, India, Arabain Sea, sea, ocean, CombatCritic, review, TravelValue, travel, value

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