Sharmi on the Trot

Travelling, Exploring, Eating…

Archive for the tag “travel in India”

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

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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

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

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

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