Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

In Photos: An Egyptian dream

Giza embraces you with open arms

Giza embraces you with open arms

We all have our dream destinations. The places we’ve been dreaming of visiting our whole lives. For my family, that place has always been Egypt. Ever since I can remember, my mother has been telling me stories about the pharaohs and queens, the pyramids at Giza, the worship of animals and Ra, the tomb raiders in search for treasure, the journey to afterlife… The stories have stayed with me over the years and every time I laid my hands on reading material about the country, I wouldn’t stop till I had devoured it all.

We’ve been planning to visit Egypt for years. When my father suddenly called to ask if I would be keen to go to Egypt with my mother and sister, how could I say no? I remember I was sitting in office, working on a story when I suddenly jumped with joy much to the horror of colleagues who thought I must have gone mad. When you’ve been offered your dream destination, how else would one react?

The 10 days we spent in Egypt were simply unbelievably fantastic. So much culture, so much heritage, so much art, warmth and gorgeous food that leaving the country became rather difficult. I can still see the Sphinx standing in front of me, the silhouette of the Great Pyramid in the dark, I dream about the Nile, the temples in Edfu and Luxor, the finely spiced food that’s mouthwatering… there will be a day when I go back. Here’s my ode to Egypt:

The pyramids at night

The pyramids at night

Abu Simbel, Rameses and I

Abu Simbel, Rameses and I

Cruising along the Nile

Cruising along the Nile

The temple at Edfu in the morning

The temple at Edfu in the morning

Luxor at night

Luxor at night

Alexandria, a place of beauty

Alexandria, a place of beauty

The obelisks at Karnak

The obelisks at Karnak

Hatshepsut's temple, behind the Valley of the Kings

Hatshepsut’s temple, behind the Valley of the Kings

Sheesh kababs anyone?

Sheesh kababs anyone?

On the steps of the Great Pyramid, Makes you feel tiny!

On the steps of the Great Pyramid, Makes you feel tiny!

All in a straight line walking towards the prize

All in a straight line walking towards the prize

Balloon ride over the Nile?

Balloon ride over the Nile?

The pyramids at Giza, NOT photo-shopped!

The pyramids at Giza, NOT photo-shopped!

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Of Ladakh and Dreams

The hills are alive!

The hills are alive!

“Julley, julley.” A chorus of greetings made me look up from my laptop. The adorable faces of school children smiling at me and waving their hands made me break out in a huge smile. It was then that it dawned – I was in Leh! Finally, after years of dreams and wishes, I was sitting on a rickety chair and typing away in the garden of my guesthouse situated at the edge of Leh market.

The gorgeous house amidst nature

The gorgeous house amidst nature

Well, yes I was there for work (the busy laptop reference) but to get to spend your birthday in Ladakh – I mean, how much better can it get right? I kept my notes aside for a bit and looked up at the sky. The Shanti Stupa up on the hill beckoned as I sipped masala chai and zipped up the jacket. It was mid-August and the tourist season was full on. But, yet there was a sense of calm. A feeling of just you and the mountains. I would love to do a road trip from Manali to Leh but instead I had to fly. So, as it was my first day in Leh, I was advised to not start exploring but just get acclimatised.

Steaming momos are perfect in the evenings

Steaming momos are perfect in the evenings

“Sleep, eat and sip water,” had said my father. I heeded his advice because in spite of not doing anything, I felt tired. “Are you up to exploring the market?” asked N, another guest. Feeling refreshed after a good sleep and chai, we went. We took the short but inclined path up to the main road and then started walking down the winding road that led to the market. Fleece jackets, sleeping bags, sweaters, shawls, binoculars, bikes for rent, bakeries, the smell of fresh momos; it seemed one could find anything they wanted. All one had to do was search.

Will you touch the top?

Will you touch the top?

Picture perfect
For years photographs of the pristine surroundings, the unbelievably elegant monasteries, the clear blue sky, the vast expanse of desert mountains had intrigued me. And I wasn’t disappointed. As the sun slowly set, lights lit up Leh. It was magical of sorts, the way you see Paris light up from the Eiffel Tower, similarly as the cold hit your face and the lights from the shops around you reflect in your eyes, you can’t help but shiver in anticipation of the coming days.

The desert mountains, Magnetic Hill

The desert mountains, Magnetic Hill

We all have bucket lists. And everyone wishes to cross off ‘visit Ladakh’ from that. But if you get to cross off ‘biking in Ladakh’ on your birthday, that’s just a bonus! One can rent bikes in plenty all over the market. But try to get to the shop early or during the tourist season you’ll be left disappointed. And there’s no better way to feel amongst nature if you’re not biking down the empty road with the wind in your hair. Just to clarify, I’m not that great with bikes though I love them. So thanks to the kindness of three guests at the guesthouse, we set off on two bikes towards Magnetic Hill.

Evenings in Leh

Evenings in Leh

Touching the clouds, almost

Touching the clouds, almost

Reaching the top
If I’m brutally honest, it was a dream come true. We travel far and wide for exotic vacations yet fail to appreciate our own backyard. Ladakh is what dreams are made of, where every frame is postcard perfect. The perfect contrast among the blue, brown, green and yellow – one is simply mesmerised. Many suffer from motion sickness and at times, I do too. But the roads here, they way they’ve been paved, never lets you feel that way. You can be on the road for hours going up the mountains and yet, never feel ill.

Scenes from a walk

Scenes from a walk

Due to lack of time and acclimatisation, I couldn’t visit Nubra Valley or Khardung La but instead I made my way to the lesser known Worry La (Wari La) at 17400 feet. The scenic views going up are spectacular. You feel you’re going to the top of the world. If that’s the feeling I got at 17400 feet, I can’t even begin to describe what Mt Everest would feel like. You nibble on the wonderful dried apricots and keep yourself hydrated as you approach the top. The Tibetan prayer flags wave proudly in the wind as the breeze hums a song. At a distance you could see snow. Just two days before Khardung La had experienced snowfall which resulted in a drop in temperature. As I zipped up my fleece and added a second layer of protection, I couldn’t help but want to go to where the snow was. A distance which would have taken me five minutes in normal circumstances, took me about 20. The melting snow made little puddles, each breath made me tired. But I finally touched snow! And it made me the happiest I’ve been in a long long time. As I looked up, the mountain range called out to me. The peaks played hide and seek with the clouds.

Almost there

Almost there

The view from Leh Palace

The view from Leh Palace

The smiles
As I recollect, these memories make me smile. The warmth of the people in Leh, their ever-ready smiles to make you feel welcome, proud of the region. There is no sense of regret. “It’s hard but that’s how you live,” said one local tour operator, who goes down to the plains during the harsh winters. People from all over India come to Leh looking for temporary jobs. Some work in restaurants, some help tourists. But not once do they complain. “Mehendi?” As I refuse, the young lady with a small child smiles at me. Sitting in a corner near a curio shop, she hails from Rajasthan. “Money here is good. This is my second year here. I make more money here in few months than what I make back home,” she says, the colourful bangles jingling on her wrists.

Blooming

Blooming

As I turned the prayer wheels at Shanti Stupa, I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘would I be happy if I was in a similar position?’ People forget what a privilege it is to be able to travel and see the world, to meet different people and hear their stories. And I wouldn’t give it up for  anything.

A view of the valley

A view of the valley

The never-ending road

The never-ending road

Of flags and the sky

Of flags and the sky

In photos: Eating My Way Through Spain

Have I mentioned earlier how much I adore Spanish food? If not, let me clarify — I love food from Spain. The spicy chorizo, the creamy Valencia paella with meat, the gorgeous saffron-flavoured seafood paella from Barcelona, the delicately spiced prawns drenched in olive oil perfect with bread, deep-fried churros dipped in hot chocolate, jugs of sangria to accompany every meal… I can go on and on.

I had the opportunity to visit to Spain in November last year. The week-long work-vacation was a wonderful experience. Though it was my second time visiting the gorgeous sun-kissed country, I can never get bored and will probably end up visiting Spain again in the future.

As in every other country, the cuisine differs from region to region. With such a vast history starting from Roman conquests to introduction of chocolate and paprika during the 15th century, Spanish cuisine is richly diverse and gorgeous in flavour. This time I had the opportunity to visit Valencia and Barcelona. No trip to Spain is ever-complete without learning about Gaudi the genius. But just like his beautiful creations, Spanish cuisine is complex in character, texture and taste. Every bite leaves you wanting more. Here’s my ode to one of my favourite countries…

How can you not have churros when in Spain? The deep-fried delight with oodles of sugar is sinful as it's delectable.

How can you not have churros when in Spain? The deep-fried delight with oodles of sugar is sinful as it’s delectable.

One of the most gorgeous veggie dishes ever. Lettuce drenched in olive oil and tomatoes.

One of the most gorgeous veggie dishes ever. Lettuce drenched in olive oil and tomatoes.

No meal is complete without delicate slices of Jamón...

No meal is complete without delicate slices of Jamón…

Pulpo a la gallega... Boiled octopus with sea salt and paprika

Pulpo a la gallega… Boiled octopus with sea salt and paprika

Piping hot Croquetas!

Piping hot Croquetas!

The icing on the cake: Seafood paella in La Rambla

The icing on the cake: Seafood paella in La Rambla

Over loading on fried prawns, calamari and mussels at La Boqueria

Over loading on fried prawns, calamari and mussels at La Boqueria

The olive love story!

The olive love story!

Seafood salad and lots of it

Seafood salad and lots of it

I love cheese don't I?

I love cheese don’t I?

Hello happiness - Sangria can melt away all your troubles. And the background helps too!

Hello happiness – Sangria can melt away all your troubles. And the background helps too!

And ending on a sweet tooth - colourful and delicious

And ending on a sweet tooth – colourful and delicious

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