Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the category “Culture”

Experiencing Midsummer Celebrations in Estonia

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The beautiful rooftops of Tallinn.

“This is so strange,” AK pointed out. “It’s difficult to imagine going to sleep at bedtime in complete daylight!” We had just met and struck up a conversation in the Tallinn hostel. Our bodies felt tired and sleepy but with no darkness descending, our minds were confused – to retire or not.

My sister and I who visited East Europe last summer, unknowingly found ourselves in the middle of Midsummer celebrations in the Baltic countries. Honestly, we don’t pour over travel guides or spend hours on the internet searching for details about the places we planned on visiting. We do the obvious bit like figure out how expensive are the tickets are and where can one stay. Barring that it’s spur of the moment situations and going by local recommendations.

As Midsummer approaches in 2017, my mind can’t help but revisit those beautiful Baltic memories.
(Read: How I Learnt To Balance Technology And Travel In Hungary)

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The Old Town Square in Tallinn has flea markets on certain days of the week.

Estonia is simply beautiful filled with natural beauty. It’s well worth the early morning budget airline flying and spending a night on the cold floors of Stansted Airport. If one weighs the options – leaving cold and rainy London behind for warm sunshine and 24 hours of daylight, the cold night on cold floors is well worth it.

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Cobble-stoned paths in Old Town Tallinn

“Roam around guys. Enjoy the coffee and experience the weather,” is how the hostel-in-charge put it. The afternoon was hot and sweaty which came as a surprise. Walking along cobbled pathways in the Old Town we found quaint alleyways to explore and the clear blue sky with cotton candy clouds greeted us with warmth. It was somewhat hard to believe we were in a country which for years was just a name on an atlas.
(Read: 5 Ways To Plan Your First Europe Trip On A Budget)

Most people in Tallinn around this time (June-July) are tourists. Locals are usually at their summer houses celebrating the event with beer and meat. St John’s Day or Jaanipäev is a big deal. With almost 24 hours of daylight and official holidays, midsummer is celebrated with gusto by every citizen. The eve, usually June 23, is the day when everyone celebrates with dances, folk songs, bonfires, games and barbecue. One of the best places to experience an authentic and traditional celebration is at the Open Air Museum, a bus ride away from the Old Town.

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The entrance to the Open Air Museum. The place seems huge doesn’t it? It is!

The Open Air Museum itself is huge. Touching the shores of the lake, there’s so much greenery that one can often let one’s imagination run away. For visitors, its an insight into how people in the area lived in the olden times. There are recreated structures of huts and living quarters, of agricultural utilities and everywhere there are signs clearly explaining Estonia’s past.

During the Midsummer celebrations, the performers liven up the Museum. There are small skits happening in different parts, while singers and dancers show off their skills in an open space. Locals sing and dance along as tourists get a taste of Estonian culture and watch the shows. In today’s day of technology, however, mobile camera phones are everywhere filming those memories. It’s the smell from the food counters that ensure long lines are formed, each waiting to taste the mouth watering local delicacies. An boy it’s worth the wait. The salad and potatoes are well roasted while the meat is tender and juicy as you bite into it. Glasses of Kvass keep the throat well moistened.
(Read: Eating My Way Through Spain)

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Outside an exhibit at the Open Air Museum. See the girl in the red jacket? That’s the younger sister and travel partner!

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The Bonfire is an integral part of the celebrations.

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Traditional Estonian performances at the Museum.

After spending some hours soaking in natural beauty and experiencing traditional Estonia, it was time to head back to our hostel. “Did you guys have fun?” we were asked. Nodding in affirmative back at the common room, travellers formed a circle as Midsummer stories were shared over pints of beer. There was no night as the natural light kept us company till dawn.

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Traditional Estonian food washed down with Kvass.

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Review: Food Festival at Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahotsav, IGNCA

Anyone hungry?

Anyone hungry? Just look at the variety!

As you enter the gates of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, the colourful posters immediately catch your eye. People mill about as traditional music can be heard over the PA system. There are men dressed in traditional outfits beating drums which everyone gathers to hear while men in stilts entertain the young ones. The smell of delicious food wafts through to tickle the nose. Above all, it’s a festive atmosphere and a perfect way to spend a winter afternoon in Delhi.

Indian thalis are an absolute delight!

Indian thalis are an absolute delight!

The second edition of the Rashtriya Sanskriti Mahostav is being held at IGNCA near India Gate. Organized by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, it’s a 10-day extravaganza to celebrate culture, food, heritage and the diversity of the country. “Can anyone walk in?” asked my auto driver as I was paying him. I nodded in affirmation.

Dumplings from the North East

Dumplings from the North East

What drew me to the celebrations was obviously the food! With food stalls from all across the country, the festival stayed true to showcasing diversity. From Kashmir to Tamil Nadu, Nagaland to Rajasthan there was plenty on offer for every taste bud at reasonable prices.

Melt-in-your-mouth Galauti

Melt-in-your-mouth Galauti

I began at the Lucknow food stall where melt-in-your-mouth Galauti Kebabs were on offer. One could also taste biryani, parathas and other kebabs from the Awadhi kitchens. From Lucknow, I moved east towards the Bihar stall to gorge on Litti Chokha. It’s caught up in Delhi with many Bihar-themed restaurants springing up but the wheat and sattu (gram flour) delicacy is best eaten on paper plates from roadside vendors.

Litti Choka from Bihar, a delicacy from the state

Litti Chokha from Bihar, a delicacy from the state

The stalls from Assam caught all eyes with skewers of meat and seafood on display. The roast pork and chicken tossed with onions, cilantro, lime juice and spices was absolutely delicious. “We’ve come from Dibrugarh,” said the smiling lady behind the counter as she chopped up the pieces of meat.

Meat and more meat!

Meat and more meat!

Ready to be devoured!

Ready to be devoured!

From the east, it was time to move towards the west. I’m an avid fan of street food and the kind one gets in Maharashtra has me drooling every time I see them on a menu. I just had to taste the Sabudana khichdi simply because I hadn’t had it in two years! The first bite did justice to the long wait. The crushed peanuts, lime juice, spices complimented the sago (sabudana) perfectly, each bite leaving me wanting more.

Dhabeli from the streets of Bombay

Dhabeli from the streets of Bombay

One of my favourite kind of breakfasts!

One of my favourite kind of breakfasts – Sabudana Khichdi

The Hyderabad stall next door was racking up fast business with people ordering plates and plates of biryani and kebabs. With a tummy ready to burst I couldn’t take another bite but my kind neighbours looked at my forlorn face and asked, “Do you want a picture of this?” I nodded and quickly photographed my favourite kind of biryani before they could rescind the offer!
It had been a delicious afternoon, my favourite kind. I love food and when I get a chance to taste diverse cuisines from my own country, it leaves a big smile on my face. India is so vast and beautiful, each region with its own charm that it will take one a full lifetime to taste everything our country offers. But until that happens, head to IGNCA to get a taste!

Oh Biryani my love!

Oh Biryani my love!

In Photos: An Impromptu Visit To Fatehpur Sikri

It was last year this time that about 10 friends had come home for lunch. From devouring chicken curry with rice, fish in mustard sauce and ending the spread with two desserts (chocolate cheesecake and lemon pie if memory serves), talks turned to travel. It’s no surprise really because every time the gang meets, travel plans are discussed. The only issue, they fall through because it’s very difficult to get so many people who are free at the same time.
The conversation went somewhat like this… “Its been ages since I travelled,” said A. “Oh I can’t remember when I just packed my bags and left.” “Where did you go?” asked B. “I just came back from Kheerganga,” informed C. “Roadtrips man, it’s been a while,” said D. “Why don’t we go for a roadtrip tonight?” a voice was heard from among the chatter.
We all turned at her. “It’s Sunday tomorrow. We are all off. So why don’t we leave tonight from Delhi to someplace nearby and we’ll be back in the afternoon?” That was an idea! Quick calculations later, we zeroed in on Fatehpur Sikri. Three cars, munchies, a good music play list and a need to get out of town is what egged us. We had all been there before of course, but there’s something so tempting to go back to places we’ve been to before. Beer helps in that decision too, just saying!

The view as one enters the complex

The view as one enters the complex

For history buffs
Akbar, the third great Mughal ruler, built this city and shifted his capital here in 1571. However, after his death and thanks to insufficient water supply, it was abandoned but the majestic Indo-Islamic architecture wows travellers to this day. Barely 40km away from Agra, the red sandstone walls of the palace has found its way into many must-see travel lists.

Inside Fatehpur Sikri

Inside Fatehpur Sikri

The complex is famous for structures such as the Buland Darwaza, Paanch Mahal, Diwani-Khas, Tomb of Salim Chisti, Palace of Joda Bai, Hawa Mahal etc. As one enters the complex, it’s a step back in time. You realise the grandeur of the Mughal era, wishing you had a chance to see it when it was a flourishing city. It must have been a fantastic sight to behold.

That's a pose in front of the massive Buland Darwaza

That’s a pose in front of the massive Buland Darwaza

It's a massive door - Buland Darwaza

It’s a massive door – Buland Darwaza

The Darwaza from inside the complex

The Darwaza from inside the complex

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid

Corridor in symmetry

Corridor in symmetry

Anoop Talao

Anoop Talao

Diwani-Khas, the picture we've seen in history books all our lives

Diwani-Khas, the picture we’ve seen in history books all our lives

The Paanch mahal was being worked on, so the next best thing was to go under it

The Paanch mahal was being worked on, so the next best thing was to go under it

Tomb of Salim Chisti

Tomb of Salim Chisti

The sunrise from the hill top, before entering

Seeing the sunrise before entering

The sun rises

The sun rises

The beautiful complex

The beautiful complex

Food in Calcutta: Tiretti Bazaar’s Chinese Breakfast

 

Homemade Chinese delicacies

Homemade Chinese delicacies

The steaming bowl of broth and fish balls beckoned invitingly. The woman who had set up her stall by the roadside looked at her container on the fire that kept the soup warm for customers. She had just ladled out a serving along with handmade fish balls in a red bowl keeping up with the Christmas week celebrations. I bent down to smell the contents. All it needed was the customary decking with soy and it was ready. The table next to her is always kept ready with seasonings and cutlery. Break the generous fish ball and take a bite. Wash it down with the hot broth and that’s when you realise why you made that early morning journey to Tiretti Bazaar in Central Calcutta (Kolkata). (Do pardon me but I’m used to calling the city I grew up in Calcutta and not Kolkata).

The steaming soup container

The steaming soup container

Recently a lot has been written and discussed about the unique Chinese Breakfast in Calcutta. Many have called it a recent discovery while some have ventured out to try the food because of the visibility on social media. But for the old timers, it’s a matter of habit. I was introduced to Poddar Court about 10 years ago on a chilly winter morning by a dear friend. Having picked me up from home in the wee hours, we drove through the empty roads to reach the central part of the city.

Fish ball soup and Pork Bun

This time round when I visited home for Christmas and impromptu brekkie plans were made, I realised I was going there with the same friend. We were older but not wiser, yet our appetite for Chinese food remained the same!

Get them buns steaming hot. You get a choice between chicken and pork

Get them buns steaming hot. You get a choice between chicken and pork

You can shop for wallets as you devour pork spring rolls!

You can shop for wallets as you devour pork spring rolls!

Years ago, Chinese immigrants made Calcutta their home. They brought their food and culture to the expanding city and today, they form a unique part of Calcutta’s cultural heritage. As Chinese restaurants blossom, a visit to Tiretti Bazar will give you a taste into delicious homemade Chinese delicacies. From dumplings filled with minced meat to steaming buns with homemade fillings, sausages to prawn crackers, delicate broths to deep fried meat balls.

As you enter the road, you’re greeted with the view of a market. Fresh roses the flower seller sets up are gorgeous and red. Walk further down and you encounter fresh vegetables and greens – from bok choy to Chinese cabbage. Then you have the meat and fish sellers showcasing their wares and finally, the smell of steaming dumplings tell you you’ve reached your destination. The number of sellers has dwindled over the years but that does not stop a handful of enthusiasts from selling their homemade delicacies every single day no matter the weather. “Even if it’s raining, you will find one of us at least selling food so that no one goes back empty handed,” said the man who sells crumbed spring rolls along with wallets. The stalls are set up early in the morning, about 5ish and they wrap by when their stocks run out, which is pretty early if I can add. If you decide to come here at your leisure, you’ll be disappointed. The earlier you arrive, the more food you will get!

Steamed dumplings

Steamed dumplings

You want more? There's plenty!

You want more? There’s plenty!

Work never ends. Preps for the buns start in the evening while for items like dumplings and rolls, early morning plays a crucial role. As I dug into fish ball soup, prawn spring rolls, pork and fish dumplings and steaming pork baos, I craved roasted pork. If you want to try it, make sure you go there on the weekends because that’s the only time you’ll get it. If you’re in Calcutta and want to do something local, eating Chinese breakfast at Tiretti Bazaar must be on your to-do list!

Get some sausages to cook at home!

Get some sausages to cook at home!

Buy what goes into the sausage so you can attempt making them yourself!

Buy what goes into the sausage so you can attempt making them yourself!

After breakfast, why don't you complete your veggie shopping too?

After breakfast, why don’t you complete your veggie shopping too?

The roses that greet you when you enter and leave the breakfast road!

The roses that greet you when you enter and leave the breakfast road!

PS: Pocket pinch for 2 hungry eaters: Rs 300 approx
How to reach: Nearest metro station is Central. The food place is walking distance with the help of strangers whom you’ll have to ask for directions. If driving, then park in front of Poddar Court, near Lal Bazar

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!

A meeting with Bond, Ruskin Bond

It’s funny really, looking back, thinking of the first time I got tongue tied. Have you ever met someone whom you admire, get inspiration from? And then when you come face to face with the person, you’re unable to speak but just stupidly smile? Well, it happened to me for the first time.

I had been planning to go to Dehradun for a while now. One of my close friends has set up house there and had been asking me to visit for over a year. While the fact I would be meeting my friend had my backpack packed, it was also a meeting with a certain Mr Bond which kept me awake two straight nights!

Ruskin Bond. We’ve all heard of him growing up, reading his stories where he weaves magic with words. Whether you’re hooked onto every word of The Blue Umbrella, dream with The Room on the Roof, keep pace with Vagrants in the Valley or had to re-read Time Stops at Shamli in school, you could never get out of Ruskin Bond’s stranglehold over your childhood literature. His style is so simple yet elegant, funny with hints of naughty, sincere, straightforward and hauntingly beautiful, I pick up his books even today from bookshops.

If you decide to visit Dehradun, do head up to the hills from the valley to Mussoorie on a Saturday afternoon. Mr Bond sits at the Cambridge Book Depot on Mall Road, ever ready to autograph books and discuss anything under the sun.

My friend Anamika and I reached Mussoorie by 4pm from Dehradun (it’s about an hour and a half away) and after that, it was a race to reach the end of the Mall Road in time to meet Mr Bond. Like all popular hill stations in India, the Mall Road is where everything happens. You’ll find tourists strolling hand in hand, families with children in tow munching on popcorn or even boisterous groups of friends digging into warm plates of momos. We passed all of them, literally ran-walked to reach the small bookstore.

A happy me with Ruskin Bond

A happy me with Ruskin Bond

As you halt right in front and if the store is not mobbed by fans, you can clearly see a bespectacled portly gentleman sitting surrounded with books, chatting away to glory. There is a smile on his face as he glances at you. The deep brown sweater and black trousers keep with the image you’ve had of him. The hair is receding but the twinkle in his eye hasn’t diminished at 80. In one of his books, a child says, “‘You were born in 1934? And you’re still here?’ Bond reflects and says, ‘I guess I’m lucky.'”

On that misty Saturday afternoon, I was lucky having got a chance to come face to face with him. To be honest, I’ve had the chance to meet and interview the world’s best sportspersons — from badminton to tennis, cricket to hockey, golf to motorsports… yet as I stood in front of Ruskin Bond with two of his novels in my hand, I couldn’t utter a word.

“Could I please ask you to sign these for me?” is all I could muster as Mr Bond looked up and smiled.”Of course. Whom should I make it out to?” he asked. “Sharmi, please.” I don’t think I stopped smiling for those minutes. “Why don’t you sit down?” he asked and I was floored.

Could you please sign these for me Mr Bond?

Could you please sign these for me Mr Bond?

Thankfully Anamika was there to make me not look like such a star struck fan. She asked him if he was reading anything new. “Writing or reading?” Mr Bond asked confused. “Reading.” “Well there are some books I keep going back to like Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. But I try to read at least something new every month. I was recently reading Somerset Maugham’s new biography (I think he meant The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography). I used to like him but he seems rather naughty. I don’t think I like this fellow anymore,” he chuckled. His deep voice with that slight drawl will stay with me for a long time. ( Read about Anamika’s experience )

My sister, who was introduced to reading thanks to Mr Bond’s Biniya, didn’t speak to me for two days because I went to meet him without her. But I do hope she gets to meet him one day. Because she’ll cherish it for the rest of her life.

It wasn’t possible to keep sitting next to him all day lest he thought me a stalker but I was inclined to follow him to his house. Maybe he would invite me in for tea? Thankfully better sense prevailed as Anamika and I bought tarts and warm coffee, sat on a bench overlooking the whiteness of the mountains, happy in our thoughts as we discussed the meeting. It was a wonderful Saturday after all!

In Photos: Good morning Taj!

Living in Delhi has many perks. The best one – tons of places to travel to in a moment’s notice. And the closest drive is to Agra – home of the Taj Mahal.

I remember a friend telling me years ago how her fiance stood at the gate, enthralled by the Taj’s beauty. How he vowed to go back but never found the time since. Well, I’ve travelled to Agra a few times but I have to admit, the best time to see the magnificent structure is at the crack of dawn. As the sky changes colours, the sun decides to peak from behind the clouds, the sylvette of the marble mausoleum beckons. I can’t describe in words you gorgeous the sight is.

It was a couple of weeks ago that two friends and I decided to drive down to Agra to see the sunrise. After a night of stuffing ourselves silly with chicken and pulao (a side of beer too!), we left Delhi for Agra down the new Yamuna Expressway. It’s pretty much a straight and fast drive. We made it just in time as the sun slowly rose spreading warmth and light.

— — —

Tea, always welcome on the road!

Tea, always welcome on the road!

Entering the Taj from the West gate

Entering the Taj from the West gate

Isn't that a gorgeous sight!

Isn’t that a gorgeous sight!

Catching a glimpse of the peak!

Catching a glimpse of the peak!

Good morning Taj!

Good morning Taj!

Turning back!

Turning back!

A long way away!

A long way away!

Shining bright!

Shining bright!

Exploring the grounds

Exploring the grounds

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PS: The Taj Mahal was commissioned to be built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1632 for his third wife Mumtaz Mahal who had died during childbirth a year before. The white marble mausoleum was completed in 1648 while it took another five years for the surrounding gardens and structures to be completed.

Iftar at Jama Masjid

Delhi summers are humid. Getting out of the cool air-conditioned metro and up the escalator, the humid weather decides you are its long lost friend. It engulfs you, leaves you drenched and yet, no matter how hot it is, just the thought of iftar (the evening meal at sunset when Muslims break their fast during Ramzan) keeps your legs moving forward one step at a time.

The last rays of the sun

The last rays of the sun

Old Delhi is crowded like it usually is. I hop, skip and jump where I can see a relatively empty stretch of the pavement. But then again I’m forced to step on to the road in front of the million rickshaws jostling for space. The narrow street leads to Jama Masjid. I cross shops selling invitation cards and bathroom taps at wholesale rates, sellers shouting out their wares, old men trying to pack up after a day’s hard work. A little boy almost crashed into me trying to run as fast his legs would carry him towards Jama Masjid, to make it in time for the prayer call.

Crowded street in front of Jama Masjid

Crowded street in front of Jama Masjid

It’s not easy to navigate the streets of Old Delhi but once you make it to the front of the Masjid, the incredible smells from every nearby shop leaves you gloriously hungry. A chef frying pieces of potatoes coated with semolina, a fruit seller chopping up melons, bananas and apples to keep plates ready in time, the dipping of the raw samosas into piping hot oil in a gigantic wok…

Heaps and heaps of sewai

Heaps and heaps of sewai

Iftar was scheduled at 7.25pm. As I waited in front of the Masjid, I saw families and friends buying dried fruits and bottled sherbets and the fried goods in bulk. Some had water bottles in their hands just in case they couldn’t manage to eat anything on time to break their fast.

Dried fruit sellers breaking their fast

Dried fruit sellers breaking their fast

The sun’s rays slowly gave way to dusk. The sky changed colours… from a pale blue, the minarets stood out against a fiery red, then burnt orange and finally, fairy lights lit up in the black darkness. It was time to eat.

As the prayer calls rang out, I saw many scramble up the stairs into the mosque. Most mosques serve free iftaar in the form of fruits and savouries. My friend and I made our way to the opposite alley from where the delicious smells tantilised me as I waited for her arrival. There was so much to choose from. We sat at Al-Jawahar, a really great eating joint for Mughlai food, and dug into the little fried goods and fruit platters. A nice refreshing rose flavoured sherbet with lime followed.

Few steps from the eatery we came across a shop selling Shahi Tukra, a mouthwatering sweet dish of bread dipped in syrup and dried fruits. We washed that down with cold almond milk as perspiration dripped down our backs.

Delicious hot fried goodness and fruits to break the fast

Delicious hot fried goodness and fruits to break the fast

“You have to eat the mutton samosa,” said Zubina excitedly. “They are just so good.” Unfortunately after a good half hour after iftaar began and wolfing down sweets like there was no tomorrow, the mutton samosas remained elusive. We have to leave something for the next time we go back after all!

Shahi tukda. Deliciously sweet

Shahi tukra. Deliciously sweet

Fairy lights light up Jama Masjid

Fairy lights light up Jama Masjid

Heartbreak at the Killing Fields

I knew what I was getting myself into. I love the travel, but the single greatest joy I get when I’m on the road is learning. Be it learning the history of a community, a local recipe, the joys and sorrows of people I meet on the way or even a new hangover cure. History fascinates me, it always has. We are because of what we’ve learnt. Or not.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

The area is tranquil today, unlike in the late-1970s.

There I was standing under the shade of a tree on a hot summer day, amidst the desperate cries I kept hearing in my head. Men, women, children screaming in pain, hoping against hope for a miracle when the sickle hit their skulls. The audio guide kept telling me to move from one spot to the next, but it took me a long long time. I was at the ‘Killing Fields’, a few kilometres away from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh.

You make your way in a tuk tuk via many turns and corners to reach Choeung Ek. One of the most prominent killing fields discovered after the Vietnamese invasion, the area is serene and peaceful. There’s a sense of quiet all around, of unknown pain.

Green and quiet. There's a sense of calm

Green and quiet. There’s a sense of calm

I sometimes wonder what made Pol Pot what he was. He was educated, a teacher at that, and yet Khmer Rouge chose to dehumanise humanity on the pretext of creating a self sufficient community. A country which was so rich in tradition and steeped in history, everything was wiped out in a span of four years.

It’s a pretty big area, the Killing Fields that is. There’s a little museum which details the rise and fall of the gruesome regime. It has pictures and uniforms depicting the true picture. You feel so angry and helpless, you really do. Your ‘why’ joins the millions of others who have thought the same for so many years.

As you listen to the audio guide and move from one spot to the other and feel the atrocities that were committed, the one which broke my heart was where little babies where killed. How can anyone be so inhumane?

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

A commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims and the weapons used

You listen to horror stories from survivors. Each story leaves you gutted. Someone killed for bananas, someone for wearing spectacles. Is this what humanity is about? Killing one another? The audio guide signs off by saying that the world must learn to prevent such genocides. But do we actually learn? Bosnia and Rwanda prove otherwise.

I’m from India, a country which for hundreds of years had been dominated by different rulers. Visiting Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar or going to the Cellular Jail in the Andamans had left me drained, feeling miserable. But what I felt standing at the Killing Fields, looking at the weapons and skulls, was something different. Something needs to change. Something has to change for the better.

5 Ways to enjoy a Pattaya getaway

When friends heard I was planning a trip to Thailand, firstly they all warned me about the protests. But knowing me, they realised I would never listen. Secondly, most of them told me to head to one of the islands instead of going to Pattaya. One said ‘it’s horrible’ while the other ‘it’s so crowded’. Well yes, considering it has beaches and is a tourist friendly area closest to Bangkok, do you expect to not find tourists?

Pretty pretty water at the Pattaya Pier

Pretty pretty water at the Pattaya Pier

I spent three days in Pattaya and let me tell you, I enjoyed myself crazy. I like to party but I enjoy my peace more. I would prefer to laze around on the beach, swim till I’m tired to move my arms and then drink coconut water all day long. If you’re looking for a good beach holiday, follow my tips and head to Pattaya. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay on Jomtein beach, away from South Pattaya
It’s only about 10 minutes away but the difference is astounding. On one hand you have tourists spilling out of bars with loud music blaring and on the other, less people and almost-empty streets. Sure there are tourists and if you walk up to the Night Market there will be music and a young crowd but overall the place is peaceful. I stayed in a little guesthouse about two minutes away from the beach. Let me tell you, the rooms are fantastic, clean and spacious.

Water near the pier. Jomtien beach is just a tuktuk/taxi ride away!

Water near the pier. Jomtien beach is just a tuktuk/taxi ride away!

Early morning swims
Set your alarm for about 6am. Wake up, slip into your bikini/trunks and head straight for the water. It’s absolutely divine. You’ll have the whole beach to yourself, so swim to your heart’s content or sunbathe in the morning rays. For the non-swimmers, take one of the beach chairs or spread the towel on the sand and read, listen to music or sleep. No one will disturb you.

Private beach? No just empty!

Private beach? No just empty!

Waiting to jump in! Sans the camera of course!

Waiting to jump in! Sans the camera of course!

Visit Koh Larn
The nearest island near Pattaya has six beaches. I headed to Samae which is on the other side of the pier thanks to tuk tuks plying regularly. Called the Coral Islands, one can try adventure sports or just simply laze around drinking coconut water or a beer or two. The journey into the pale blue waters will be rocky so be careful but once inside, the sea is warm. Eat fresh seafood after a tiring swim and sleep. There’s nothing better than a lazy getaway.

Taking the ferry to Ko Larn

Taking the ferry to Koh Larn

That's my idea for a relaxing, lazy beach day! At Samae beach

That’s my idea for a relaxing, lazy beach day! At Samae beach

Yup all that after a swim!

Yup all that after a swim!

Gorge on street food
Thailand has great food. In Pattaya, instead of heading to a restaurant or pub, why don’t you try the scrumptious delights the street vendors or roadside eateries have to offer? From Thai green curry to squid to fiery hot Tom Yum soup, there’s something for everyone. Try plenty of fruits which are sold almost at every nook and corner and for dessert, have a freshly-made crisp crepe smeared with Nutella!

That's chicken Thai green curry

That’s chicken Thai green curry

Squid with sticky rice anyone?

Squid with sticky rice anyone?

Hot hot Tom Yum soup from a roadside eatery

Hot hot Tom Yum soup from a roadside eatery

Delicious deep fried goodness! Took me forever to decide which ones to try!

Delicious deep fried goodness! Took me forever to decide which ones to try!

Don’t leave without a foot massage
After long tiring days of walking on the sand, lazing in the sun and eating like its Christmas, why don’t you end the relaxed getaway with a foot massage? About an hour long and costing 150-200 Baht, its so so relaxing that I often dozed off! With oils and magic hands, hot stones and scrubs, the foot massage sessions are worth every baht!

There are flowers everywhere! Take out some time to smell them!

There are flowers everywhere! Take out some time to smell them!

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