Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Oh wanderlust, please never cease

I’m happiest when I’m about to travel. I really am. I revel in the anticipation of the place I’m going to, to immerse myself in its history, taste delicious cuisines and all that have influenced them. Every time I have one of my most treasured possessions in my hand, I know the coming days will be exciting because an immigration stamp always gives me the biggest smile. Last night as I sat in the airport lounge, waiting impatiently to board, it reconfirmed what I had believed in for so long – I have wanderlust and it’s here to stay.

My treasured possession

My treasured possession

It all began when my parents decided to whisk me off to Assam when I was just barely a year old. Though I don’t remember the adventures (due to obvious reasons), my parents insist that I stopped crying the moment I saw a gigantic elephant. With a toothy grin I stared at the animal, and then almost leaped out from my mother’s arms to touch the trunk. A memory which I do recollect, albeit vaguely, is when I was four years old, the parents decided I needed to see India. So a month long summer break turned into a hot desert adventure in Rajasthan. The next year it was cold Madhya Pradesh.

I think I have to thank my parents because they had never stopped me from travelling even during my teen years. Not once would they say ‘you can’t go’. In fact, since I and then my sister moved out, they’ve travelled more than the two of us have managed to! When I call them, I sometimes find out that they are somewhere in the wilderness of the Bengal jungles or lying on some sandy beach soaking up the sun.

I do get to travel a fair bit thanks to my job. It really is fascinating I assure you because not many people can get to do what I do. I write on sports in newspapers which can be fun. You get to meet interesting people, visit exotic countries, cover different kinds of sports… so there really is nothing to complain about. But at the same time, unlike many people, I love to live out of a suitcase. My backpack or suitcase (whichever can be applicable in different trips) is always packed. When I travel I can stay anywhere as long as I get to soak in different cultures, eat like the locals, meet friendly and warm people… I often think if I could do it full time. Maybe? Who knows what the future holds, right?

As the plane touched down at the Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok early morning, I smiled to myself. During immigration when I got my first Thai stamp, I knew it wouldn’t be my last. I just keep my fingers crossed that the wanderlust never ceases.

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From My Nepal Diaries

It has been a hectic couple of weeks. After consecutive events in Delhi, I returned from a hectic three-day trip from Hyderabad and then again, got stuck with more events. Either way, as I was stuck in traffic last afternoon, my mind kept going back to the glorious Himalayas. Due to the lack of sleep or the feeling of not wanting to go to work, I kept day dreaming about beautiful sunsets and sunrises I had seen in Nepal in early February.

Masks everywhere

Masks everywhere

It had been a sudden decision to visit Kathmandu. I needed to get away from work for a bit and realising Kathmandu is only a hour away by air, I took the plunge. (The fact that it’s cheaper than flying home also helped in the decision making part). I fail to understand why Indians are not keen on going to Nepal. Most say ‘it’s just there. We can go later’ while others add ‘it doesn’t feel like going abroad’. There loss I guess. (If you hold an Indian passport, you’ll jump with joy when you realise you DON’T need a visa).

Kathmandu lies below

Kathmandu lies below

As the plane slowly descended, my heart skipped a beat seeing the snow capped peaks, hearing them call my name. The Tribhuvan airport is so quaint that when you come out on the tarmac, you are reminded of a gorgeous hill station somewhere in the north of India. Honestly speaking, my first impressions of Kathmandu as a city wasn’t really that great but as I soon realised, there are pockets, like in every city, which make you fall in love over and over again. A quick drive to Swayambhu made me so happy, that not even Titora (dried fruit speciality) could top the delight.

Football time

Football time

The oldest stupa in Kathmandu valley, the long climb from the bottom, the gold spire and the piercing eyes… reaching the top is worth it. As the city lies beneath you, you wonder, could it really be that pretty? While Tibetian prayer flags flutter in the wind while young monks show off their Ronaldo-esque skills, you feel at peace.

At Bhaktapur

At Bhaktapur

What’s not to love about the Durbar Squares? I managed to visit two — Kathmandu and Bhaktapur — and felt I was travelling back in time. The courtyards, temples and palaces all show off the incredible skill of the Newar craftsmen. It had taken them centuries to produce what people can marvel at today. When you enter the complexes, you can feel yourself getting lost in the architecture, wondering to yourself how beautiful everything is. If you decide to climb up, be careful of the steep steps. It’s a great work out but be sure to climb down safe.

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At Kathmandu Durbar square

For all you shoppers, Thamel is great. Cheap and clean you have to be able to bargain to get the things you want. I have a custom, to get a small something back from every trip. It could be a magnet, postcard or even a dried leaf I had so carefully placed in my diaries… Something to make you ponder of the time in the place…

Boudhyanath Stupa

Boudhyanath Stupa

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The Himalayas, just before the sun set

An aunt had once told me to watch the sunset from Nagarkot. She had said, ‘You will never regret it’. It was the highlight of my few days in Nepal. Having reached early, as I sipped on steaming mug of coffee pulling my scarf tighter, I slowly saw the changing colours. I’ve seen the Himalays plenty of times but from the other side, it seemed prettier if that’s even possible. I had overheard a seasoned Nepal traveller speaking about the mountains and as the sun slowly set, giving off a gorgeous golden hue as the colours of the valley merged with the mountains, it’s hard to describe what you see. There are so many shades of pinks, oranges, blues and purples, you decide its best to admire than try to reel off the colour charts. My hands were cold and nose freezing thanks to the heavy winds but I couldn’t stop gazing. Even as I write this, I have a smile on my face remembering my cold nose. I’ll be back Nepal, just you wait.

Sunset at Nagarkot

Sunset at Nagarkot

NOTE: Indian credit or debit cards do not work, so carry cash.

Loving Amsterdam… on a budget

I remember leaving Amsterdam early one evening last summer, getting on the bus which would take me to Paris the next day. I left behind two days of walking around the quaint city, masterpieces in the museums, tremendously good food and the promise of learning how to cycle. (Yes, I still keep falling down somehow!).

The flower market

The flower market

An expensive city but not in the league of Paris and Rome, Amsterdam stole my heart and has kept it, asking me to go back every single day. It is possible to enjoy everything the city offers when you’re on a tight budget, and discover hidden gems along the way… I may physically be in Delhi, but my heart still lies in Amsterdam dreaming about the Night Watch. Here’s my top 5 things to do in Amsterdam on a budget.

1. Spend a day at Rijksmuseum
Unlike the Van Gogh museum, tickets for the Dutch national is valid for one year, not a particular date. You do pay 15 euros for a ticket unless you’re lucky to have a student pass but it will be worth every penny. Opened after 10 years of restoration work, its an art lover’s delight. Get lost among the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Steens. Read up on art history in the research library which impresses anyone who walks in. Seriously, do go there. (Do visit the Doelen Hotel if you want see where the Night Watch was painted)

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2. Walk around a lot!
Amsterdam has too many canals! From my hostel near Amsterdam Centraal, if you walked just a few steps, you’d come across one. And another, then another… You cover the whole city in a couple of hours just walking along the canals. Quaint houseboats line the water bodies as tourists fancy a ride in one. Typical Amsterdam houses line either side. You can admire the city differently if you walk in the morning and then at night. The pulse of the city changes completely.

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3. Visit Anne Frank House
a10A few Dutch friends told me that they’ve never visited because its ‘just an old house’. I beg to differ. If you’ve loved reading Anne Frank’s diary growing up, the reality is completely different. Not only does it remind you of the horrors of war, emotions choke you. I hate crying but by the time I left, I could feel my eyes watering. Living in the dark afraid of the sunlight, hoping day after day no one finds out about the hiding place, the lost hopes of ever making it out alive from the concentration camps… the chills don’t leave. Something to learn from the past, of hope and love, all from a young girl who loved to write.

4. Take a free ferry ride
Sometimes a canal cruise may prove expensive. So, why not take the ferry? It’s a free service, leaving every couple of minutes from the dock (behind the station) to Noord (north). Hassle free, get up on one and enjoy the wind caress your face. One can take a short or long ride depending on which ferry you choose to ride. Once you reach the other side, see the city centre from the other side as you sip coffee!

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5. Eating cheap and posing like a pro
From fries to pancakes, herring to cheese, Amsterdam is a foodie’s delight. Local carts easily sell the best stuff. I urge you to try the famous herring. It’s an acquired taste but oh so delish. Then, head to Museumplein to pose in front of the ‘I Amsterdam’ sign. Yes it’s cliched but when in Amsterdam why not!

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I hope to be back very soon darling Amsterdam!

Easy Thai-inspired lunch

These days I’ve been cooking a lot of Thai or Thai-influenced food. Maybe my Thai visa could have something to do with it! Yes yes I shall soon be heading there to taste the authentic stuff but till then, I have to make do with what I can cook at home.
I love the balance of flavours found in the cuisine. The harmony so perfect, no element overpowering the other. Tom Yum Soup is one of my all-time favourites and I make it often for lunch or dinner. But, instead of the usual ingredients, I like to play around sometimes with the unusual. Carrots instead of prawns? Why not I say!
It’s still slightly chilly in Delhi so why not make the most of it, right? So, a simple lunch I did make — Tom Yum soup with carrots accompanied by chicken and basil brown bread sandwiches…

Ingredients
Soup (Serves 4)
1 medium size carrot (chopped)
1 small onion (chopped finely)
1 lemon grass (the tender stalk, chopped)
4 kaffir lime leaves (chopped finely)
1 red chilly (deseeded and chopped finely)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fish sauce
3 tsp Tom Yum paste
1 lemon (juice)
1 litre chicken/vegetable stock
Coriander to garnish

Sandwiches
(I’ve started keeping roasted/grilled chicken in the freezer. I can shred it and use it where ever I fancy)
12 slices brown bread (for the health conscious)
2 tbsp mayonnaise
Handful chicken (roasted or grilled but shredded)
8 fresh basil leaves (finely chopped)
1 cube processed cheese (grated)
Salt to taste

In a deep pot with a cover, add all the ingredients (except coriander) for the soup and put it on the heat. Once the stock comes to a boil, simmer it till a gorgeous smell envelopes your kitchen. Garnish with coriander and serve hot.

While the soup is boiling away, mix the mayo, chicken, basil, cheese and salt. Spread evenly on six bread slices and cover with the remaining six. Cut into triangles. An easy lunch under 15 minutes!

Created with Nokia Smart Cam
NOTE: Feel free to substitute the chicken with any grilled or roasted vegetables

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