Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the tag “indian traveller”

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

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

DSCN0742

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

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!

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

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!

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: