Cruising into the Terrifying 30s

This last week, the last day of last year, I turned 30. I dreaded that day since I entered the late 20s. Why does this have to happen to me? When I turned 29, I wanted to fill every form possible so that I could fill the “age section” with the coveted 20-something. “Never ask a woman her age” became my most beloved saying. It felt like the visa to remain crazy was in a nonrenewable zone after I cross the border of 29.

While all conversations with friends in the same age bracket turned towards this serious life crisis, some thought it to be a nonevent, many were freaking out, others thought it was going to be a game changer. And I thought, oh that poor little number; how we treat it with disdain and fear! We are such, if I may say, age-ists.

Age is a number – yes. It’s all in the mind -yes. But it will slow down metabolism, it will get the biological clock ticking a beat faster. However, on other levels, age shouldn’t define us, we should define it. It’s not like we are Cinderella carriages that have turned into pumpkins. We can do what we want – with our careers, with our love lives, with our dreams. So all those in my shoes, stop mourning over those “15 things you must do/travel to/wear in your 20s” articles and blogs. One can age gracefully; let’s have the remote control of what this number defines for us, and for heaven’s sake, let’s leave that much-tortured number alone!

The journey from 11:59 at age 29 to 00:00 when I turned 30 was the slowest and I wished it could be slower. But now that it’s here, I am going to embrace it with oomph and style! Here’s to the Dirty Thirty!

10caffbe12c752ae8c914aa62de04f37

Advertisements

Ek News pe Ek Sensation Free!

Consumers – we are built to believe that any “offer” is a good offer. We like the end-of-season sales even if it means buying not-of-season clothes, we love buying that iced tea just because it has a free shaker and not because we need it. That’s us. And this consumerism has spilled on to the Indian media on a heavy-duty basis. Long time ago. Our dear darling media loves taking one issue and trying to fit as many issues – related or not – that can latch on to it. And now we are one step ahead, we have gone international!

While watching the coverage on the Scottish referendum here in UK, I remember saying in jest to my husband how the reporting back home would have so much more masala and high-pitch sensation on an Indian channel. As if to prove my point, Rajdeep Sardesai did what he did, just when I thought he couldn’t out do himself.

Hang on. I know many are infuriated by the “heckling” at Madison Square. If no one else, I would have been the first to support him. I grew up admiring this guy and my journalistic aspirations were catalyzed every time I saw him reporting passionately. This adulation dwindled over time. But that’s another story.

When I first saw a partial clip of the incident outside Madison Square, I thought surely the crowd must have instigated him enough to make him get physical and use abusive language. He is human after all and is bound to react. I was tempted to post my opinion on social media – but I wasn’t getting a full picture anywhere. Clipped vidoes, one-sided opinions, first-hand witnesses – all spoke from one angle. No complete picture till I saw the videos posted by guruprasad.net. And then it all made sense. And caused shame.

Let’s think logically – if you are at Madison Square to cover Narendra Modi’s address, what would you typically ask the crowds outside? Top of my mind, I am thinking “What would you like Mr.Modi to address in his speech today?”, “Do you follow Indian politics as an NRI?”, “Do you think the Modi government will deliver what they promise?” or “As a person of Indian origin, do you see yourself going back to India or doing something for India?” Instead, what came in is a barrage of crassly framed questions and quotes from an economist on the pooja culture of Indians in America and how they want to pose in front of cameras but don’t do anything for their country. Now, now, now. You can ask the crowd anything and you are allowed to have an opinion. But if you were so concerned about the contribution of NRIs towards India, hire a studio in US/UK/Australia, call people from different industries and cities, and ask them whatever you desire and quote whoever you wish to unabashedly. Instead, you try to maximize out of an event by asking unrelated questions to a crowd and instigate them unnecessarily. Crass but well played on TRP and social media!

I don’t know if this was orchestrated by sections of the media, I don’t know if the people got into a mob frenzy. All I know is that I wanted to hear what Mr.Modi  wanted to say to the people in America, but I got my doze of unwanted masala free!

Of Food and Fear – I

Fear. It grips us in the most vicious way. It envelopes the mind and clouds judgment. It behaves like a superior race; gloating over the beads of sweat it brings onto our foreheads, trickling slowly into our souls and becoming a fixture. It is upon us to overrule its command and break out of the shackles.

I am not getting philosophical here. Nor is the title of the blog in any way suggesting nexus between the two F words. Always wanted to write something that sounded like the narration right out of a TV Drama – this seems close enough. However, this isn’t some random rambling – it is a sensing associated with my recent trip to Manali.

Manali – such a picturesque place. Why would one want to associate the word ‘fear’ with it? All thanks to my acrophobia. More on that later. First – predictably about my food journeys whilst on the trip.

This was an outing with mom and neighbors who are equivalent to family. A tranquil few days I was really looking forward to – escaping from daily routine and in some ways from reality. Since time was an affordable luxury, we wandered through the uphill roads in sheer abandon.

While on a holiday, I look forward most to the king of meals – breakfast. Not so much for citations on health magazines but more so because vacays promise elaborate and leisurely breakfasts unlike the everyday customary ‘chug-a-mug, gobble-a-mouthful’. We particularly enjoyed breakfast on our first day at Johnson’s Lodge – fluffy omlettes, crispety crisp hash browns and crunchy dressed veggies. The only other breakfast which stays on the mind was at Café Amigo’s. Actually, the preparations were disappointing but I loved the multi-grain bread. Enjoyed the baked goodness of the crusty bread without any dressing/spread – a sheer rarity.

Image

Three places I thoroughly enjoyed food at – English Dinner at Jimmy Johnson’s, much awaited meal at Mom’s Kitchen, chulha cooked Himachali lunch by Jana Falls. Jimmy Johnson’s is an old café serving some classy trout platters and is recognized for it. Visit this place and enjoy some yummy garlic grilled trout. For someone like me who doesn’t enjoy fish much, the Chicken Roast Platter is a delight – peppery with a thick sauce. I must add, the vegetarians don’t have much choice beside some wood-fired pizzas which aren’t great – I have eaten way better.

We could taste food at Mom’s Kitchen by sheer Divine Intervention – at least my mother claims it was her prayers that led to the before prior-to-season opening of Mom’s Kitchen 🙂 The place is run by an old couple in their 70s. It can seat not more than 12 persons at a time. The USP – fresh food prepared after the order is placed and made with Mom’s own twist to otherwise traditional recipes. My friend Jashan ordered the Chicken in Mom’s Special Sauce. One bite into a platter and I wanted to keep the plate for myself. I had the Ajwaini Roti with Chicken which was pretty good. Suggest visiting this place not for the richness of the food but for – richness in the care with which the food is prepared, for the interesting conversations with the 75 year old ex-surgeon who humbly serves the guests since 20 years, for the thought that goes into packing the poori-bhaji you ordered for your journey with some complimentary pudine ki chutney because you told them that you loved the way they made it.

On our second day at Manali, we visited the Roerich Art Gallery. After seeing glimpses in the lifetime of this Russian Master of the Mountains and his wife, the legendary and spectacular Devika Rani, we were greeted with chilly showers on our way back from this hilly memorial. With the rains came the appetite and the imperial recollections were balanced out by the earthy meal we ate by Jana Falls on that rainy afternoon. Nothing bigger than a kiosk, this place is run by Himachalis and serves authentic food – rajma, chawal, kaddi, makai ki roti, saag, siddu, mirch ki chutney. The cooking was done on a slow wooden fire under mud walls, the greens were minced over a grinding stone, the flour was farm fresh. Oh just one more thing, the food was served with a bowl hot ghee which threatened to freeze if not doused into the meal quickly. Anything more I say will dilute the charm of the food. Forget the spoons and forks, roll up your sleeves and enjoy the flavors of the mountains.

Image

The evenings were mostly spent strolling by the shops lined up in the market area. The cold weather demanded a good appetite which meant gorging on steamy Momos. The kiosk outside Adarsh restaurant was particularly good, especially the tongue-smacking chilli sauce – something most places cannot nail.

The advantage and disadvantage of our trip was that we visited in off-season period. Advantage – it did not feel like ‘the great human migration’ during which tourists flock hill stations not so much to beat the heat but for bachon ka vacation. Disadvantage – lean period = most restaurants take a breather = we missed out on a few awesome food experiences.

Another experience we missed on was visiting Rohtang Pass – climatic hazard. Anyway, we did get to visit its winter counterpart Solang Valley. That’s where the adventure lay.

Since this blog is inspired by tele-drama, I am going to keep the suspense hanging and let the blog roll over to Part II.

Watch this space for more 😉

A Breezy Rendezvous with Deccani Tehzeeb

Picture3Irony – you do make your presence felt once a while. Like the day when I decided to start going for walks and it rained miraculously or how I found those shopping discount coupons exactly a day after they expired or that time when two of my friends from different circles decided to throw a party on the same day. However, you outdid yourself last week when on the very day that I decided to write about Hyderabad, bomb explosions shook that very city.

For the next few weeks I am sure many foreigners due to visit this IT hub will cancel their trips citing safety alerts. This one is for them to show what they are missing out on.

I was in the Hyderabad for a measly two and half days. The trip was my first here and a sudden one at that which meant I had not done research beyond Biryani and Char Minar hence the expectations were kept at a minimum. Sarah and Trupti, who stay in Hyderabad, were my hosts cum tour guides. Sarah – my roommate from Junior College and Trupti also a roommate but from Business School, are friends who I can call in the dead of the night, throw tantrums at and the chosen few whose tantrums I pay heed to :-p.

Sarah and I brought in Valentine’s midnight with an aerial view of the magnificent Hussain Sagar Lake. It is a huge water body with the statue of Lord Buddha standing right at the centre. It wore a deserted look at night thus making a tranquil site. Over the next two days, we crossed the Husain Sagar many a time but with traffic and crowd as accompaniment. I am glad that my first glimpse of this visual beauty was in the calm of the night.

Though Hyderabad has made a global mark with its prominence in the IT sector, I wanted to dust off this thick soot of technology and see the Deccan beauty in its original charm. Saw glimpses of this in the ruins of Golconda and the dusty Char Minar. Went to both these places on 14th February and I don’t think there could have been a more exotic way of spending Valentine’s Day in this city.

photo (4)

Char Minar was visited in the afternoon and it made a beautiful site under the clear blue sky. It is no Taj Mahal but what makes it charming is the hustle bustle of the market around it. The street in which the Minar lies is not crowded and dirty as I had imagined. Shops under archways with their names carved uniformly in Urdu like delicate golden slivers, pearls by the dozens, burqa clad women shopping on the streets, attar and incense sticks giving out their perfume – all these amalgamate beautifully to bring out the richness of a culture passed on from the Mughal era.

Next stop was Golconda Fort where we wanted to reach in time for the evening Sound and Light show. The sun was setting by the time we reached and a beautiful crescent moon shone atop the fort like a befitting crown. When the Sound and Light show began we were transported to a kingdom that was. A time when all religions co-existed harmoniously. When music, poetry and literature flowed without inhibition like wine in a royal feast. When battles were fought and no mercy was shown even to the one whose blood ran in their veins. Crumbling of such a magnificent empire for the lust of power and money – such shame. While sitting there and absorbing the beautiful music playing in the background, I wished there was more done to revive this fort in the form of regular art and literature festivals that will complement the beauty of Golconda.

Picture14
Shilparamam in Hitech City is something I came to know of in a handbook I picked from a hotel lobby on my first day and visited on the second day. Since I was in the vicinity and had some time off, made a spontaneous visit to this Arts, Crafts and Culture society. The arts and crafts were nothing new to me but what I particularly liked was the Village Museum which showcases the lifestyle of various Andhra communities, tribes and skills.

Village Museum

I run the risk of making this blog very long but I just have to mention food. Breakfast at Chutneys was Steamed Dosa and Qubani ka Meetha. Now Qubani ka Meetha is a dessert made with dried apricots and specialty of Hyderabadi cuisine. The sweetness was overwhelming for me but most people on the neighbouring tables seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. Lunch was at Paradise – the mecca of Hyderabadi Biryani. Sarah had warned me that it is over-hyped but nevertheless we went there humming ‘para-para-paradise’ (courtesy Coldplay!). The aroma of the steaming Basmati in copper handis almost promised to transport me to paradise but after tasting the first morsel, the spell broke. What I actually liked there was the Chicken Tikka – well marinated and beautifully tender.

Cut to next day dinner at Rayalaseema Rucchulu with Trupti. This was an accidental find on Lakdi ka Pul and I insisted on eating there as I wanted to eat Andhra pappu – lentil gravy or dal. I can almost vouch for the fact that Dal is a part of every Indian sub-culture and comes with its variation from state-to-state. Rayalseema Rucchulu serves coastal Andhra food which is notorious for heavy use of spices. I did not realise this when we ordered something as basic as Tomato pappu and Andhra chicken. By the time I finished my second spoonful of pappu and rice, I was puffing and paffing with a bottle of Sprite finally coming to my respite. Nevertheless, I have all the intention of visiting this place the next time as the menu has some fabulous offerings from the Andhra belt.

bakery
Some goodies that must be picked up while in Hyderabad – Mango Tokku (pickle), all the poddis (dry powder chutneys) and Karachi biscuit! Since I am very fond of Karachi biscuit, I paid homage to the legendary Karachi Bakery (the Banjara Hills outlet). I am also a fan of their Almond Biscotti now. I also picked some Lasa and Lamsa tea as curiosity got the better of me after seeing what seemed like the 100th advertisement for these two brands and learning that it is a part of the tea routine in many Hyderabad households.

The trip was a breeze but I tried and made the most of it. If I had to sum up my trip to Hyderabad, I would do so by equating it to the quintessential Indian boy-girl meeting for a prospective rishta – 1) initially know each other only through photographs and a bio-data, 2) have a very brief meet over chai and ladoos and 3) end up liking each other. Intend to meet this Deccan land over a few more chais and ladoos 😉

Hindi Terms
Rishta = matrimonial alliance
Handi = Vessel
Ladoos = Indian sweet

The Local Sabzi Waala

I hate shopping at the sabzi mandi. Take me to a conditioned supermarket with trolleys in tow and fancily arranged vegetables any day; even if it means struggling for parking space and standing in endless queues while looking at the candy bars perked pretty on the confectionary stand that seduce me to pick them and cheat on dear diet. I will go to the supermarket and pay above average prices for below average stuff wrapped in shiny cling wrap so that I can help XYZ Retail Inc. justify their costs of occupying real estate in my expensive city. But God forbid if I have to pay the sabzi waala even one extra paisa! I am going to make sure the trip justifies every dime by extracting that ‘thoda extra kaddipatta aur mirchi’ (some extra curry leaves and chillies) from him even if he is giving me fresh veggies.

The ‘I’ in the above paragraph depicts not just me but several urban Indians whose buying patterns have altered as supermarkets scrupulously take over from the sabzi waala bhaiyyas.

This is not an ‘organized retail hai-hai’ blog. It is just that I find the quality in the markets/hawker carts far better than the refrigerated sorts and yet we subject our gastric journeys to mediocrity.

The inspiration to write about this comes from a recent visit to the Matunga Vegetable Market, Mumbai. I have been there several times with my parents who, when in India, come to buy some exotic or South Indian produce that is not available in our area. It is one of the popular markets and also one of the first few places in the days of yore where one could find baby corn, iceberg lettuce, fresh Italian herbs, kiwis, etc. Several women frequent the place, fervently making purchases from the hawkers while lugging around several bags loaded with fruits and veggies.

As a child, I always sat in the car and waited for my folks while flipping through the heaps of comics that dad bought me from the kiosk outside Matunga station. This time however, my mother forced me to accompany her into the market – sheer horror I imagined. I do not like moist, narrow spaces and particularly avoid such scenarios. I reluctantly followed her and was surprised that it wasn’t all that bad. The array of shops actually made an appealing picture with the colourful and green sabziyan such that I couldn’t resist a few clicks. Glossy purple brinjals, bright peppers, slender winter carrots, crunchy beans, Cinderella carriage-like pumpkins – I wish eating them was as delightful as looking at them!

IMG_4273

I have always looked at buying vegetables as a boring chore. Turns out going inside the market gave me a glimpse to a side of me I totally wasn’t aware of – enjoying veggie shopping!

Travel needn’t just be about trips to far away locales. There are also those pit stops on our everyday routes that provide invaluable experiences – like the Matunga Market was for me. As my fellow blogger Wandering iPhone recently mentioned on an FB note, ‘You never know where inspiration and light is gonna come from and you don’t have to travel to find it. It’s right here, every day.’ I have believed in that for the longest time now and at times recall the smaller delights in the form of these jauntlets (mini jaunts =>;;;; jauntlets :)).

So, next time do try and make a little trip to the local mandi or an organic fair. You may not get loyalty reward points but you will definitely get a fresher platter of greens.

image_2

Glossary (for the Hindi words)

Sabzi (pl. sabziyan) = Vegetable(s)

Sabzi Waala = Vegetable Vendor

Mandi = Market

Bhaiyya = literally means Brother. In this context – a term used to address vendors, hawkers, drivers, etc.

Hai-Hai = Booing

Wild yet ‘S’usegad

Susegad is a Portuguese term used for ‘a contented state of being’. A state of being that most of us city dwellers do not indulge in quite often. We take pride in our crammy, no-time-ya-what to-do lifestyles and flaunt this pitiful state in conversations at luncheons and weekend dos. The good old goofier days (goofier ‘coz goofy still happens ;)) are fondly recalled by me and the girlfriends on our Whatsapp chit chats. Finally, after insistent demands for a reunion and entering boss cages to get leaves, we took off from our concrete dwellings to the land of susegad – Goa!

Goa – the name has such a zingy ring to it. I cannot fathom any person not liking the place. The beaches, booze and nuste (fish) come together into a celestial combination and attract people who share chemistry with this heady mix. I was excited about visiting Goa after three whole years and being there with the girls. So here we were – 4 girls: 2N/3D: infinite fun. (We are 5 but one couldn’t travel as she is having a baby. Had to mention this ‘coz she is going to strangle me otherwise!)

Goa is a very appropriate place to have these little reunions on shoestring budgets. We had splurged on our last reunion and wanted to make this one more conservative on the wallet. One of the girlies knew of this amazing place to stay – Martin’s Guest Rooms. It helped that she had put up there on many occasions so we were assured it wasn’t some riff raff place. It was close to the beach and extremely tidy.

IMG_3867

Our stay was on the Baga-Calungute stretch – a shore in North Goa that witnesses a good party scene and crowd. From the time of landing, food seemed to be our primary obsession which was only superseded by our obsession for each other. All I can say is – we pelted. The diets were also sent on a holiday and we binged till the last moment. I am more of a chicken eater but you can’t be in Goa and not have nuste. I particularly enjoyed the crisp rava (semolina) fried calamari served at one of the beach shacks. Fish fried in rava gives it a crisp texture and makes a crunch-yummy snack. Those of us hailing from the coastal Karnataka belt love our fish prepared in this style especially when fried in clear coconut oil.

We found ourselves getting upset about the Fries served with most platters. It isn’t an over-reaction – Fries are quintessential! They were either like wedges or weren’t crisp enough. The only place that got it right was Lucky Star – a shack on the beach again.

While at the Arpora Night Market, we also chanced upon some good Greek rolls and wood fired Pizza. No doubt they were tasty, but tastier as we were famished after wandering up and down the market!

IMG_3781

Brunch on second day was at Infantaria – a place with which I was a tad bit disappointed. The meat of the crumb fried chicken and batter fried prawns didn’t seem clean enough and had that distinct stench. But the salad that came along with both was particularly good. It had smack-on tanginess with perfect proportions of the Vinaigrette dressing and pickles. The chicken burger was baaaad. I was expecting something to the lines of Hearsche & Co. in Bandra which serves some brilliant burgers. Not only did this one not match up, it didn’t even have mayo in it! The only solace came from the steal deal on beer.

One of the best parts of the trip was getting our hands on King’s beer. Beer = King’s in Goa but news is they shut shop a few months ago. However, they were magically available at a wine shop next to where our rider girls went to get the bikes and they managed to grab a few pints. It is a smooth brew and of course, best when served super chilled.

Coming to the desserts – most were orgasmic. At Britto’s – the Alpine Chocolate cake, the Molten (spelt Moltan on the menu) Chocolate cake and Chocolate Walnut pie made it to the top ranks, at Mambo’s it had to be the Éclairs and Chocolate tart. Éclairs almost tasted like the ones at the Birdy’s outlets in Mumbai.

The real dessert of the trip was our moments together. Since we stay in different cities, us girlies look forward to these precious occasions to get together, behave like morons and giggle silly. Every reunion is – crazy, spicy, wild. More details? Sorry patrão, mouth is zipped. The secrets will stay with us and the susegad winds of Goa.

566330_10152526818370495_881552385_n

A Wintery Rickshaw Ride

After what seemed like my nth meeting for the day, I hurried into an Italian café and grabbed a takeaway portion of freshly baked garlic bread and some steaming Oolong tea. Stepping out into the unusually crisp winter evening of Mumbai, I was glad to find a rickshaw without any frantic waving. It was a respite on what had been a long day at work. I couldn’t wait to get home but the previous passenger in the rickshaw held me up as she fumbled with her purse for money and spoke on the phone simultaneously. While I waited impatiently, I caught hold of scratches of her phone conversation – ‘jab main galat nahi hoon to main kyun bardasht karoon mummy’ (Mum, why should I tolerate this when I am not wrong?).

As she finally emerged out of the rick, I noticed her kohl smudged eyes and constant sniffing – clear indication that she was crying. I wanted to ask if she was okay but decided otherwise as it would seem too intrusive. It was probably just a heart-to-heart conversation with her mum about office politics. I put the sight behind me and started nibbling on the hot bread while the rickshaw weaved through the traffic.

When we stopped at a signal, the rickshaw waala spit out some paan (betel leaf preparation) and remarked, ‘Yehi hota hai jab maa-baap ki marzi ke khilaaf shaadi karo’ (This is what happens when one marries against the wishes of their parents). I ignored his comment, continuing with my nibbles, assuming he was talking on the hands-free like I find most auto and taxi waalas doing these days. Probably disappointed at not garnering a response, he turned his head to glance at me and repeated, ‘Maine kaha, yehi hota hai jab maa-baap ke marzi ki khilaaf shaadi karo’ (I said this is what happens when one marries against the wishes of their parents). He was definitely not referring to me. Then who was he talking about? Turned out the previous passenger had blurted her entire story over the phone through her journey from Andheri to Bandra and Mr. Eavesdropper had strained and hung to every word he could catch. He told me about how the lady’s husband had hit her the previous day which also happened to be their wedding anniversary. Before he could go on, I pretended to be very busy on the phone and cut him short.

I cut him short not just because it seemed inappropriate to listen to some stranger’s saga, but more so because at that moment I realized that some of my whiny/gossipy personal conversations while plying through the city must have become hot shot topics of conversation for many a driver. Strangers who I would mostly never meet, but nevertheless, the thought is a tad bit intimidating.

As we moved on to the highway, I noticed several police vans at regular intervals. Not realizing that some steps were actually taken in our city (which will last for how long remains to be seen) in wake of the Delhi Rape/Murder case, I inquired with the auto waala if he knew the reason behind so much bandobast (security) on the roads. To which he snorted, ‘wahi Delhi ka hua na abhi’ (The Delhi incident which happened recently). He took this as a cue to preach once again, ‘Sirf ladkon ki galati bhi nahi hai. Ladkiyon ko dekho, boyfriend ke saath ghumne jaate hain aur ghar pe bolte hain traffic mein phas gayi hoon. Rape nahi to aur kya hoga?’ (It’s not just boys who are at fault. Look at girls, they gallivant with their boyfriend and say at home that they are stuck in traffic. Obviously they are going to get raped). This enlightenment of girls lying, going with boyfriends, etc. must have also been sourced from his various fares through the years. He looked young – mid-twenties. But his thoughts I could not put in an age bracket. They were scary for a person who represented young India. I was tempted to give him a piece of mind but getting into an argument with this person in the middle of the highway (especially when my mother had warned me not to travel by rick!) did not seem smart. I chose to keep my mouth shut and ignore his smart ass comments.

On most occasions I am used to the drivers crib, crib and crib. Give them a chance and they can go on about their ‘chutte ka problem’, ‘ulta padne waala raastas’, ‘waiting’ or any other woe of the typical taxi/auto driver. But this guy was very accommodating – when I needed to hunt for an ATM, when I had to make him wait to get change. He also knew his manners, thanking me when I paid him the fare.

I don’t want to judge him. I have had many interesting conversations with the taxi/auto waalas. The thought of journaling it had however never struck. A journey by itself, that remains as a foggy memory of that wintery night.

Imageimage source: dribbble.com

A simple Prayer, a dozen Phulkaris and ghee clad Paranthas

Been a bunch of months since my last..cough (first and only) blog piece. This time the fingers itch to write about someplace in India. Time travel takes me to the recent family holiday we had when I got back to India – Amritsar.

So, it was just a one day trip but my third visit to the golden land of Amritsar. We were planning a trip up north since a while and did a Chandigarh-Amritsar-Mussorie (Microsoft Office insists it is Missouri) gig. The spotlight here is on Amritsar and anywhere I go, if Amritsar is on the itinerary, the spotlight will remain on this dusty, divine city.

We as a family hate doing the ‘3N 4D trip with XYZ Tours and Travels’. It has to be our time, our way and no over cramming of all the ‘places to see’ that Google throws up. Added advantage on this trip was that since Dad had a work stint in Himachal Pradesh a few years back, we knew our way around and had a reliable taxi guy to take us around even if it meant he had to come all the way from the Himachal border to pick us up from Chandigarh. Even though it seems impractical, sometimes it’s just the comfort level and camaraderie that matter.  So off we were with Ganeshji – the taxi guy on this short but sublime holiday.

We reached Amritsar on the second night of our journey. It was intended as a day trip but we reached earlier than anticipated which meant we didn’t have hotel bookings. Endless Google searches (I somehow seem to be giving too much coverage to Google. It is a parallel lifeline no doubt). Here let me tell you, the hotels are sorted not just on tariff or grade but also on their proximity to the Golden Temple. We are talking early July and yet we had to struggle to find a decent place. Finally we found one which came in the category of ‘2 kms. from Golden Temple’.

After checking in, we quickly freshened up and got ready to go the Temple. For those unfamiliar with what I am referring to – Harmandir Sahib, popularly known as the Golden Temple, is a prominent religious Shrine of the Sikh community. It garners the name ‘Golden Temple’ as the shrine is covered in real Gold. For me though the temple is golden not just due to the yellow metal but because of the golden glow it brings upon you.

So this wasn’t my first trip to Amritsar or Harmandir Sahib. But everytime I set foot into the Gurudwara, I feel this sudden calm set upon me. Like steam settling on a lid, like clouds shuttering away the scorching sunrays.

Harmandir Sahib is beautiful by the night as much as it is by the day. The shrine sits amidst calm waters, chants are recited in a soothing tone and the shrine is surrounded by white structures wrapping it like cloudy foam. The ambience dips down my stress levels which even a 5-digit de-stress spa package has failed to instil.

Spiritual journeys are subjective. Moving on to a realistic level, what will hit you as soon as you enter the premises of the Gurudwara is that no one is posted at the entrance to frisk you or confiscate your gadgets. I don’t know if this translates to having a superior system that surpasses these routine checks but the fact that you don’t have to go through this process strikes as surprising. The waters are pristine and the Halwa Prasad is hot and yumm. It is nice to see people at every corner serving water to every piligrim like a guest in God’s abode. I hear the langar is also delicious but haven’t had the chance to experience it.

As soon as you step out of the temple, at a walking distance there is the historic ‘Jallianwala Baug’ which housed the brutal killings of innocent lives in the pre-independence era. During my very first visit to Amritsar, I was frankly more excited about visiting this landmark. But when I entered the place it resembled a picnic garden with people lazing around plastic littered all over the place. The only reminiscence of that fateful day is a wall with bullet marks and a small museum. In my personaI opinion, the place should have been maintained in the state it was to remind people of the lives lost instead of making it a merry park. I vowed never to visit the baug again.

There are many other places to visit in the city of holy nectar – temples, museums. Try experiencing the city on a cycle rickshaw. It’s fun and inducts you into the local way of life. Ladies looking to shop for ethnic wear can resort to the local cloth markets. If you want to pick up something very Punjabi go for the Phulkari suits/saris. These are typical of the region. Try to have a local accompany you as many merchants pass of machine embroidered Phulkari as hand-made and charge you a bomb. Don’t be surprised if the shop keeper says, ‘Madamji aap Bombay ke ho? Hum to vahaan customers ko dus-bees hazaar ke suit bhej te hain. Aap payment idhar kar do, hum suit silwake courier kar denge.’ (Madam, you hail from Bombay? We send suits worth Rs.10,000-20,000 to customers there. Make the payment now we will tailor the suit and courier it to you.). Do not fall for this trap. I know people who have been duped. It can be a problem especially if you don’t intend to visit the city again which means claiming a refund can be difficult. Having said that, Amritsar is also filled with sweet and large hearted people. Visit any dry fruit shop and you will be stuffed with an assortment of sorts. The quality of almonds, pistachios, saffron, papads is extremely good and it’s a good idea to pick some to stock at home. Also do visit the chuda bazaar (bangle market). It’s no great shakes but gives you feel of Punjab. All these are in close vicinity of the Golden Temple and you can cover them on foot.

Try and make time for a trip to the Wagah Border which is a 30 minute drive from the main city. On the way, you see beautiful fields of wheat/paddy crops on either sides of the road which makes for a fantastic view for an urban dweller used to seeing just concrete buildings. Try and time your visit to witness the daily drill of guards changing shifts on both sides of the border. It is an event by itself – pumped with energy and patriotism, each side trying to outdo the other. It is done with jest and a sporting spirit with no trace of jingoism.

How can I miss out mentioning food? Food is synonymous to Punjabi Oye! When in Amritsar, eat at the dhabas. Try asking a local and he will immediately whip up the name ‘Bharwan da dhaba’. I found this place to be overhyped. The food is okay and the hygiene levels go to a new level of bad. Instead, I prefer ‘Kesar da dhaba’. It is one of the oldest dhabas in Amritsar and serves some amazing khaana-shaana. It is located in the narrowest street I have ever been on. The place is crammy but when the food arrives all else will seem trivial. The kaddi, the parantha, the phirni – my eyes are rolling backwards in gastronomic nirvaana as I remember what my palate experienced. Caution and Suggestion: Weight Watchers keep the calorie count aside and enjoy the ghee-laden delicacies.

A day or two is sufficient to see the place. I do however wish I could visit the place at leisure, go to the Gurudwara late at night and sit there until the sun rises.

The Warm Heart of Africa

The other day as we were travelling to the outskirts of Mumbai for a lovely monsoon drive, my mother changed the tempo of the ambience in the car from the soft music playing on the radio to her excited exclamation of delight at seeing a write-up about Malawi in a popular tabloid. Indians by origin, my parents have been living in the city of Blantyre in Malawi for the last couple and little more years. I have also had the privilege of living in this tucked away country for a year and a half while fulfilling my stint as a retailer. So seeing Malawi in print here in India translated to utter joy. The delight didn’t take long to turn into disappointment as my eyes scrolled the article. Not only was it out of focus, it was heavily misinforming.

That’s is when I decided to open that heavy trunk which is loaded with ideas and experiences but has been locked away. My love for travel writing has to be dusted out of that attic and journaled.

For starters I will play lazy and post a travelogue I wrote for http://www.pinkpangea.com (women travellers must browse through this one). You don’t need a crystal-ball gazer to tell you that this one is about Malawi.

More pieces about other countries and different regions in India to follow.

Here’s the link:

http://www.pinkpangea.com/post/shop-til-you-drop-in-malawiImage