Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the category “Travel”

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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How I Learnt to Balance Travel with Technology in Hungary

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

The gorgeous Chain Bridge connecting Buda and Pest

I sat in front of the Chain Bridge in Pest and stared at my phone. It was a hot summer day and being a Sunday in the middle of the tourist season, Buda looked at me invitingly from the other side of the Danube. I was sitting on the party side of the Hungarian capital while the historical hilly portion kept telling me ‘come visit’. My phone had blacked out for the second time during my Eastern European sojourns this summer, absolutely refusing to come back on. And instead of soaking in the historically rich city, I was wistfully gazing at the black screen, hoping against hope to see the start up icon pop up just to ease my racing mind.
How did I manage to get to this point? How did I get so dependent on technology that it seemed impossible to function in the initial panic-stricken moments?
In a constantly evolving world where technology and travel go side by side, can we ever imagine doing things the old-fashioned way? The long phone calls to hotels, going to the Tourism bureaus to check out the brochures, standing in line at the railway stations to book a ticket other than in emergencies, gathering paper maps and neatly folding them along the creases, consulting with the weather forecast in newspapers before a journey, deciding on what books to bring along and the selection of cassettes for the fashionable walkman, buying rolls of film for the camera…
Looking back it seems so long ago. Almost ancient isn’t it? As I staunchly tried to resist major technological changes for a rather long time (I wasn’t on WhatsApp till about two years back which friends called a foolish thing to resist) sitting on a bench along the Danube in Budapest, I wondered if I could balance technology and travel today.
When we make travel plans, applications or Apps are our friends. From the route on the map to where to stay and eat, purchasing tickets to packing according to the weather conditions, reading and listening music to pass time, noting down directions to taking pictures which last a lifetime, everything can be done on one device. And when the device fails, we are at a loss. We panic.
Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget 

On the bridge

On the bridge

Technology has definitely helped us to be better travelers. We know exactly how long it will take us to reach the destination. Instead of folding sheets of paper, navigation can be done in real time. The best hostel/hotel deals on websites and apps help us fix a budget as do notifications of airfare sales. All it takes is a bit of research to find amazing deals. In fact, I found a lovely hotel absolutely last-minute at a steal near the bus terminal. I wanted to stay around the area thanks to an early morning journey. In money matters, a credit or debit card with net-banking helps with instant transactions instead of cashing in travelers cheques. There’s so much of travel advice on the internet (which also helped finding the hotel in Budapest near Népliget) that helps one decide and focus on how to go about a holiday or even giving everything up for some years to see the world. Careers have been made out of travel blogging and I too had thought would join the bandwagon and live a nomadic life. It is fun I assure you because I’ve met so many of them on my travels around the world. But then there are problems too, like any other profession.
Also Read: 5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The cars drive on the bridge

A car drives on to the other side

I was in London this summer and to my utter surprise, I found people depending on their phone to navigate the city much more than anywhere else I’ve visited. I was standing at the edge of the Jubilee Walkway at Trafalgar Square and wanted to walk to Hyde Park because the weather was sunny. If you’ve ever visited the UK, you know how rare that is. I deliberately refused to use Google Maps and just asked a passerby if I was on the right path. She took out her phone and of course, Googled it. “Better yet, take the tube,” she exclaimed, giving me directions as to which station to get off at. Do people not notice anything on the streets if it’s not online? I was in London for a week and managed to give correct directions because I was looking up and taking mental images where to turn left or right!
Also read:  Living it up in Paris on a Budget

A view of the Danube

A view of the Danube

But while technology definitely helps, I sometimes wonder if we’ve lost our sense of adventure.
Do we need to know every single detail of a holiday? Do we need maps to tell us the shortest route? Must be depend on food apps to find the best places to eat? Must we note everything down in our phones or tablets and not on paper?
Also Read: Stumbling upon the Royal Cemetery in Bangkok

I can see Pest!

I can see Pest!

Personally, I think it’s wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips. It’s time-saving and very useful when on the go. But on the other hand, I love getting lost in walkways on cobblestone streets, I enjoy stumbling upon little eateries where locals gather and stories are exchanged, I look forward to sitting and reading a paperback somewhere on a park bench, dozing on the green grass, finding a local pool and jumping in, meeting and talking to people from different cultures to share ideas. Nothing ever beats human contact. No amount of using technology can ever replace that.
It’s all about balance at the end of the day. I still use my trusty notebook to jot down addresses and names in case I don’t have wifi to check my phone on travels, I still sit and write down adventures with a cup of coffee by my side and not worry about my laptop crashing and losing all memories. I do use a digital camera and make sure I back up pictures immediately. While I carry mostly cards, I ensure there’s enough cash in hand in case an ATM refuses to dispense. I firmly believe in walking, asking around and checking actual paper maps to locate places rather than use online ones. But when it comes to scoring cheap tickets, I don’t think I’ve been to an agent or tourism bureau in years.
So I stopped panicking. I looked over to Buda across the Chain Bridge. It was a long walk to the other side. I put my switched-off phone into my backpack, took out a paper map I had brought along from the hostel, brushed the dust of the back of the jeans and set off. I was going to enjoy my day without the help of my state-of-the-art phone! It was time to get to know Budapest better.

A view from Buda

A view from Buda

Guest Post: The 150 foot journey within Bangalore’s Food Street

Akki roti

Akki roti

Two months to know a city. That is all I can think of. Two Months. Can it ever be enough to know or see something of a city that is home to zillions of people coding-decoding the mysteries of life, or uhm, the daily grind at least?

I am moving to the capital soon. Delhi – with its wide roads and scorching summers. Delhi – of history in each stone and politics in each message. And Delhi with, hopefully, yummy street food. Street Food in itself is a funny concept, is it not? You eat something on the streets of a certain city. And the same thing is sold in restaurants in a different one. Pav Bhaji in Kolkata. Dhokla in Bangalore. Idli-wada in Delhi, chicken rolls in Hyderabad. But the only way to eat the food of any region and to understand what makes them tick, is to eat it in that city itself. Imagine being served a steaming plate of Missal Pao in Kolkata. Looks like daal with chanachur/ mixture on it. I would probably slot it in the evening snacks genre. And yet in Maharashtra, that is a staple breakfast. Similarly Poha Jalebi would never be breakfast for someone in Mumbai, but for people from Indore, it would be a way of life.

So to understand the nuances of lip-smacking ‘south indian’ food above and beyond the Idli-Wada-Dosa that I have eaten since childhood, I agreed (very readily, if I may add) to my friend’s invite of visiting Bangalore’s Food Street.

Known as Thindi Beedi, this stretch in VV Puram, Bangalore, is a foodie’s delight. But of course, you have to be open to experimenting. Thanks to my fabulous guide to everything food in this city, we knew exactly where to start.

Thindi Beedi

Thindi Beedi

On one end of the stretch, standing proud and tall is VB Bakery. This place is easily 40 years old, or maybe more. But the smell of freshly baked puffs and sweet honey cake wafts through as soon as you enter. We tried our hand at the honey cake and the incredibly named, Congress Bun. The Congress Bun is actually a Khara Bun lathered on the inside with a paste of peanuts with Turmeric and Chilli. Spicy and yummy till the last bite, these get their name from the colour – which resemble the political party’s flag colours.

Congress Bun!

Congress Bun!

This is probably just me, but I notice the bakery culture being more pronounced in Bangalore than any other city I have lived in. Bombay did have bakeries, but those were for chicken and mutton cutlets, rolls, chips, sometimes kebabs etc. The best one for – from where I have often got breakfast and party food alike – has been A1 bakery in Bandra, though I am sure there are many strewn around town. However, in Bangalore, bakeries are mostly vegetarian, serving home baked breads, biscuits, cakes etc. There is probably one Iyengar bakery every few hundred metres. Just as there are hot chips stores. (I wonder if everyone who grew up here, grew up on tapioca/ banana chips and honey cakes. Sigh!)

Paddu being made fresh

Paddu being made fresh

Paddus!

Paddus!

Going ahead from the bakery, we strolled till we found one big stall with a crowd thronging around the counters. Some strategizing later, we decided to go ahead and order almost everything we could see – which included Akki Roti (made with rice flour) with curry, Paddu (Smaller, lightly fried idlis), Kodbale (rings which taste like murukku on the outside but are softer inside). We stood on the street, ate up with our hands, looked at people coming in from all sides, and kept wondering if each country has such a huge variety of food, and if all foodies across the universe feel the same rush of excitement when they see something new.  The end of the journey came with the spicy taste of Masala Puri. However, the best, the very best, end to the non-extravagant but extremely satisfying dinner would have to be Shivanna’s Butter Gulkand ice-cream. As I stood there and watched with no-idea-what-I-was-getting-myself-into, a man with practiced ease put a spoonful of butter into a leaf-bowl of gulkand, whisked it and topped it with some ice cream and chopped fruits. Delicious.

Masala puri

Masala puri

Butter Gulkand fruit ice-cream

Butter Gulkand fruit ice-cream

So, in one day, I ate more than I had in the last 6 months in this city, and fell in love with the cuisine. All for less than Rs 150! Since then, I have tried many more authentic-Bangalore stuff. From the Dosa and Mangalore Buns at MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Rooms) to the Chicken Biriyani, Kaleji fry, Ragi Mudde served on banana leaf plates at a tiny Military hotel (the old and very basic hotels where the old Bangaloreans would get their non-veg fix). And each have, thanks to friends who know the city and servers who talk with pride of their food, shown me one more aspect of a city I was not so sure about.

Holige which will be served hot, with ghee

Holige which will be served hot, with ghee

Sohini loving Honey Cake!

Sohini loving Honey Cake!

Kodbale

Kodbale

My two months are almost up. And here I am loving this city a bit more. Om Nom N—I meant, love.

Sohini Sen is a blogger, journalist, dancer and traveller. Follow her journey on IndianCuriositea and North Wind’s Journey

5 Ways to Plan Your First Europe Trip on a Budget

The Sleeping Beauty Castle

The Sleeping Beauty Castle in Germany

It’s summer in Europe and before you know it, you’ll be walking along Champs de Elysees, biting into churros dipped in chocolate and loving the ruins at the Roman Forum. But it’s the pre-holiday bit – the planning – which can be daunting. Especially when you’re travelling to Europe for the first time. Many feel it’s impossible to travel to the Continent on a budget on your own. So, they prefer to travel with groups and eat Indian food day in day out. But if you want to explore Europe on your own, eat and travel the way locals do, planning a budget trip is easy. Here’s how:

1) Set a Budget

The first step is very important. If you’re not earning in Euros or Dollars (I earn in Indian Rupees i.e $1 = Rs 63 approx) you must make sure you know how much you approximately want to spend on your trip. If you have an idea of how many days you want the trip to last, setting a budget becomes easier.
Eg: During my last trip to Europe, I decided to travel for about a month and accordingly set my budget. It included my return flights, internal travel, accommodation, food and the attractions I wanted to visit.

Seeing the Mona Lisa was high on my list

Seeing the Mona Lisa was high on my list

Notre dame in Paris

Notre dame in Paris

2) Save Money by Planning Ahead

It sounds preposterous but if you can figure out which part of the continent, which city or country you want to be in when around an approximate time, it becomes easier to save. Instead of shelling out 100 euros for a train ticket at the last moment, you can end up buying tickets for less than 10 euros.
Eg: I got an overnight bus ticket from Amsterdam to Paris for 8 euros since I booked about 12 weeks in advance. (Also Read: Loving Amsterdam on a Budget)

The beautiful canals of Amsterdam

The beautiful canals of Amsterdam

3) Travel Route

Once you figure out the approximate plan, decide your travel route. Start checking travel websites for deals in and out of Europe from your country. If you book 3-4 months in advance you will find cheap deals. It’s always easier to compare the prices on a travel website and then purchase the tickets from the actual airplane website.
Eg: I got a return fare from Munich to Delhi at Rs 42000 approximately.

It was easiest and cheapest to fly into Roma from Barcelona. Isn't the Fountain of Trevi beautiful?

It was easiest and cheapest to fly into Roma from Barcelona via Vueling.
Isn’t the Fountain of Trevi beautiful?

Now decide how you want to travel from city to city, country to country. The best way is a combination of trains, buses and flights. It’s useless to invest in a EuroRail pass. Eg: Instead of buying a pass for Rs 60000 approx, I used a combination for all internal travels at less than half the price. (Also Read: Paris on a Budget)
All tickets go on sale around 3-4 months before, so if you buy then, you save a lot.
Subscribe to Rail Europe, SNCB Europe, DB Bahn, Eurail, Eurolines, EasyJet, Vueling. They keep having offers.

4) Cheap Accommodation in Europe

Stay in key cities like Paris, Rome and Berlin can be expensive. But instead of booking in hotels, try booking in dorms or private rooms in hostels. Check out HostelWorld, HostelBookers and AirBnB.

The sister and I loving Parc Guell. We stayed in an AirBnb in Barcelona

The sister and I loving Parc Guell. We stayed in an AirBnb in Barcelona

Couchsurfing is a wonderful way to meet new people and understand the city from a local’s perspective.
Eg: I’ve surfed and hosted couchsurfers and I can vouch what a great experience it is. I’ve stayed in hostels in Italy, couchsurfed in Austria, France, Germany and booked in rooms via AirBnb in Spain. (Also Read: Why I Love to Couchsurf)

5) What to See, What to Eat

The best way to see a city is on foot. Instead of investing in City Cards, decide on the attractions you want to visit depending on the days you stay in the city and purchase separate tickets. You can never visit all attractions offered in a card in the limited time-span. Buying separate tickets often work out cheaper.

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.

Eating out every meal burns a hole in the pocket. Why not make a meal yourself? Buy local ingredients from markets and indulge in fresh baguettes with olives and meat in Paris. It’s cheap to taste the local street food. You can find crepes at less than 3 euros in France, Paella and Churros with Coffee at less than 10 euros in Spain, delicious pizzas at about 6 euros in Italy. So go indulge! (Also Read: Eating my way through Spain)

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

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

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Who can not try Paella in Spain, right?

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

Where I go to Eat in Hyderabad

I love travelling to the city of Hyderabad when my work takes me there. And to be fair, it’s pretty often. I don’t want to put a number on it, but my mother is convinced I’m staying there and occasionally come to Delhi to show my face!
My first tryst with the city was way back in 1999 when in the summer my parents took the sister and I on a month-long exploration trip of the Southern part of India. We went to Andhra Pradesh (now broken into AP and Telangana), Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Oh what a glorious month it was. From seeing and visiting historical gems to bathing in the seaside, gorging on local spicy food to learning what Indian history books have neglected in teaching courses. Of course, the trip is etched in my memory because of my first summer crush in the form of a very handsome marine engineer but that’s a story for another time!

The Charminar in Old Hyderabad

The Charminar in Old Hyderabad

Coming to Hyderabad, I remember really liking the city. The hustle and bustle of the old city, the view of the Charminar from the gate, the smells of spices and perfumes, the first old Golconda Fort to the first taste of succulent Hyderabadi biryani. I found the place to be a mix of the modern and old, a combination of what cities should be.
Over the years, every time I go back on work, I feel the city growing rapidly. The suburbs which were empty are now booming IT areas. There are more designer stores and luxury cars but what I love about Hyderabad is that it still retains the grandeur which exists along with the modernity.
It’s never possible to go back to all the places I love eating at in every trip so I try to go to rotate. If I gorge on biryani in one trip, I go to my favourite kebab place on the next one. Here’s a list of my favourite eating spots in Hyderabad. Try out a few on your next trip there and let me know how you like them!

Succulent Mutton Biryani at Hotel Shadab
Located in the Old City near the Charminar and Chowmahalla Palace, this place is buzzing with customers all the time. And why not when they serve the best mutton biryani in the city? Well, at least according to me. Squeeze yourself onto the wooden benches which can be a pain if you haven’t run in a few days and place your order. As the bowl of rice comes to your table the aroma hits you. The server is a pro and serves you a big helping of the biryani along with pieces of the oh-so-succulent mutton. Your mouth waters. Mix the saalan and youghurt with the rice and meat. You’ll know why this place is so popular the moment the first bite hits your taste buds. Finish your meal with a helping of sweet milky tea and you don’t need to eat the whole day.
Pocket pinch: Rs 500 for 2 (approx)

Oh the gorgeous biryani

Oh the gorgeous biryani

Try the keema samosa with milky tea

Try the keema samosa with milky tea

Fried Chicken at Siddique Kabab Centre
There are four locations across the city and they serve the best fried chicken kebabs one can have. I end up going to the one near Kondapur because work is nearby. Pay at the counter and take a coupon. The smell of freshly grilled chicken is everywhere. Of course they have other kebabs but go there for the fried chicken. They serve a half plate with eight big pieces. It’s fried in front of your eyes by a pro with asbestos hands. He places the piping hot pieces on your plate and all you need is a roti to go with the gorgeous red pieces of chicken.
Pocket pinch: Rs 400 for 2

Fried Chicken kebabs with rotis

Fried Chicken kebabs with rotis

Rayalaseema Ruchulu for Regional Delicacies
They have outlets in the city and you must visit one to eat the food from the Rayalaseema region. Hot, spicy and delicious, I try to go back on every single visit. My favourite is the Gongura Mamsam or mutton cooked with Sorrel leaves. For an appetizer, try the Miryala Royyalu (prawns with pepper) because it just gets the taste buds going. It has the right amount of tanginess which bodes well with steamed rice. My recommendation is to try the platter which has goat, chicken and brain. It gives you a taste of what the food in the region is like.
Pocket pinch: Rs 1500 for 2

The platter where one can sample mutton, brain and chicken

The platter where one can sample mutton, brain and chicken

Prawns with spices

Prawns with spices

Breakfast at Chutney’s
There are a ton of dosa joints all over the city but I love going to an outlet of Chutney’s just for their namesake chutneys! Order yourself a steamed dosa or idly and gorge on them with a big helping of the different chutneys kept on every table. They are tasty, thick in consistency and each one has a unique flavour. What I also love about their presentation is they serve the food on banana leaves!
Pocket pinch: Rs 700 for 2

Breakfast with different chutneys

Breakfast with different chutneys

Time to let go of that diet?

Time to let go of that diet?

Kebabs at Paradise
Biryani from Paradise is synonymous with Hyderabad. Though I don’t go there often, one must say when I have to bring back Hyderabadi biryani to Delhi, they do a marvelous job in packaging. Packed in sturdy boxes, there’s no chance of leakage. All one has to do is heat the meal at home and devour a taste of Hyderabad. Personally, more than the biryani, their kebabs deserve an ovation. From the mutton pepper to mutton sheek to the kalmi kebab, each take centre stage.
Pocket pinch: Rs 700 for 2

Little pieces of happiness

Little pieces of happiness

All for me? Oh well, thank god I run!

All for me? Oh well, thank god I run!

PS: If you think I should try out something new, do let me know! I know I’ll be back in Hyderabad again very soon!

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

Melt-in-your-mouth Asian Stir Fried Pork

My introduction to pork began at an early age via homemade spiced sausages, salamis, those gorgeous frankfurters that crackled over heat. I remember going to Goa when I was about 12 and polishing off a plate of spicy pork vindaloo with steaming white rice in a small shack on the beach. The sound of waves crashing, the feeling of cold sand touching my feet, the just-right weather – I can still visualise that day.
I was recently shopping at INA for fresh fruits and salad leaves when I crossed the meat section. On a whim I picked up this delicious lean cut of pork. With plenty of flavour combinations playing in my head, this basic South-East Asian style stir fry had to be the first.

Ingredients
250g lean pork (cut into bite sized pieces)
2 tsp oil
1 small onion (chopped)
3 cloves garlic (chopped)
1 lime (juiced)
Handful of rocket leaves
Chives
For marinade:
3-4 Sichuan peppercorns (crushed)
1 star anise (crushed)
1 tsp demerara
2-3 tsp sesame oil
2-3 tsp oyster sauce
1-2 tsp dark soy
salt and black pepper to season
(I would suggest when making the marinade, start with the dry ingredients first and then add the wet ones)

Marinate the pork pieces overnight (half an hour minimum if you’re in a hurry)
Heat 1-2 tsp oil in a wok and add chopped onions and garlic. Once its sauteed, add the pork pieces. Cook till the pork has caramelised well on the outside and is tender on the inside. Add a bit of oyster sauce if need be.
Once cooked, take out the pieces to rest. Use lime juice to deglaze the pan and pour over the meat.
Serve with a side salad, steamed rice, stir fried veggies or a baguette!

Served on a bed of rocket leaves

Served on a bed of rocket leaves

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!

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

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