This blog is all about ...

My photo
Any idea/thought travelling through my mind, strong enough to make me sit and write all about it... Also food, my cooking, and any new foodie joints that is worth writing about.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The last week of December 2016 - Day 1 and 2 - Ahmedabad.

Hello there! It's been two years since I wrote here, and it definitely feels good to be back with a bang! What an eventful week it was - the last week of December 2016. It's been a week plus since we returned, and I decided I definitely need to do a little travelogue to record this trip such that it remains etched in our memories.

A gang of 21 of us from Bangalore, comprising of 10 kids and 11 adults, decided to do a trip to Gujarat, covering a tiny bit of Ahmedabad, moving to Veraval to cover Somnath, Diu, then Porbandar and finally Dwarka. The age of the kids ranged from one and a half years to 9 year olds!

24th Morning, we took a flight to Ahmedabad from Bangalore. Ahmedabad welcomed us with a map of Gujarat and it was a beautiful one, giving us a clear picture of what was in store for us around Gujarat.



By the time all of us convened at the Ahmedabad airport (we travelled in two different flights as we didn't get tickets in the same one), it was 12:30 pm. Deepak had arranged an awesome 20 seater mini bus to take us to our hotel. We decided to stop on the way for lunch as we were famished. And what better way to start our trip than with a super awesome Gujarati thaali at "Toran"! Here's what it looked like - and we couldn't wait to dig in! It was heavenly.


After a "Meetha Paan" to end the delicious meal, we checked in to our rooms at Lord's Inn. An hour of freshening up, and we got set to visit Akshardham.

At Akshardham, one is not allowed to carry cell phones, leather wallets or bags stuffed with one's belongings into the temple premises. We either need to leave it in our buses/cars or drop it off at the entrance where they give you a token to collect it at the end of your trip. The temple premises are beautiful with long walk ways and gardens all around and lots of places to sit and relax. The inside of the temple was massive and had the history of all prior Gurus written all around, with plenty of place to sit around for a moment of peace.

The highlight however, was the Vadilal ice creams that Deepak uncle treated all of us to! And then the wonderful laser show depicting the story of Nachiketa and Yamaraj. It was a wonderful combination of mythology with the current technology, and was mind-blowing. All of this left us famished and the temple campus itself had a good canteen with some super awesome khichadi dahi, and other interesting items. Dinner done, we headed back to our rooms and hit the sack.

Next morning, relaxed breakfast after, we checked out from our hotel and proceeded towards Adalaj Ki Vaav. This was around an hour's journey from the Lord's Inn. Adalaj Ki Vaav is a stepwell which is five stories deep. This was built in 1499, when such step-wells were used for storing water in the arid regions of Gujarat. The temperature at the bottom is told to be 5 degrees lower than the outside temperature. Beautiful intricate carvings adorn the walls leading to the bottom. You could read more about the history of Adalaj Ki Vaav here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adalaj_Stepwell

At Adalaj Ki Vaav, there was a huge garden with a lot of open space and green grass for children (and the forever young adults) of the group. We (yes, adults and kids) spent a good hour and a half playing polo, running catching, hide and seek and whatever not. Woh bachpan ke din yaad aa gaye!



We still had some time for lunch, so we headed to the famous Sabarmati Ashram. This was a beautifully maintained place, with a lot of information, pictures and details about Gandhi Ji. We sat around a little, allowing the information to seep in and letting the kids get their share of fun in the pebble pool as I liked to call it.



It was definitely time for lunch now. We headed to Neelkanth's Patang - another famous restaurant at Ashram road in Ahmedabad. This restaurant is located on a tower which is 221 ft above the ground. It is also a revolving restaurant and gives a 360 degree view of the city right from where you are seated! What an out of the box experience. To top it all the view includes the Sabarmati river front! The buffet was a huge spread as well and as we had to spend the entire day till we get onto the train at 11 pm, it was a totally "RELAXED" affair!



After the lunch, we went to a famous park where we thought there might be trees and some shade to sit around. But it was not to be! The hot sun followed us where ever we went. There were lot of play things for kids though, and they had their share of fun in a chota bheem "tora tora" and a lot of other games. After this, we did some shopping in the National Handloom house (I got an experience of how crowded a store can actually get), and then hit the food street at Ahmedabad. Superb arrangement of street foodie joints complete with tables and chairs outside each joint. The food and the different kind of ambience was just unbelievable. The lassi that we ended our meal with was heavenly.

Now to the railway station to board our train to Veraval. With the help of porters, trolleys and transporting luggage across tracks, we were excited to finally reach the platform. We looked at other people like us with bedspreads on the platforms and comfortably settled for the night. We chatted around and wondered at how they could just sit there on the platforms! After a few minutes, we were told the "delightful" news of our train being behind schedule by an hour and a half. What!???? Ofcourse not... Ofcourse yes!!! Oh well, let's just settle on the platforms. And now it was our turn. Forget the bed spreads. We just sat right there on the bare platform floors and arranged suitcases together for our kids to sleep on them and huddled and waited for the train to arrive. So much for commenting on the other folks!

When finally the train arrived, we had some really "COLD" issues to handle. 2nd class compartments, with each of our seats spread across from s3 to s11 (yes!), and all of it being Side upper berths, and none of the shutters closing properly for the nights, and all of us running really low on winter clothing and bed spreads and last but not the least - kids ranging from one and a half to 10 years - you can definitely imagine what an eventful the train journey to Veraval might have been!! :)

Learning - Load yourself with winter wear and blankets when you travel by train. Definitely carry a pair socks, and something to cover your ears as well!

I will stop here for now (December 25th night) and continue the next few days' account in my next article. 

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Trip to Chitradurga

A weekend trip to Chitradurga turned out to be so refreshing, the highlight being exploring Chandravalli Caves, which has not gained much popularity due to the historical importance of the Chitradurga Fort.

Here's a link from The Alternative, an e-magazine which published my article on the same:
Chitradurga Fort and Chandravalli Caves

Friday, April 04, 2014

Vishaka Hari on Women's day 2014

In a unique attempt to bring our Indian culture to the attention of today's youngsters and elderly alike, Scion Master minds organized an event featuring Smt. Vishaka Hari on the occasion of Women's day. Smt Vishaka Hari, a disciple of Shri Lalgudi Jayaram, is a Harikatha specialist. She has a number of works behind her, some being - Sabari Moksham, Sundara Kandam, Rama Pattabhishekam, and many more.

Smt Vishaka Hari presented a discourse combined with appropriate musical renditions for each of them. The topic chosen was "Women of Wisdom", where in the characters of women from our vedic era - Sharada Devi, Gargi, Sita, Chintamani and Kanhopatra - were elaborated on. The present generation has a misconception that the women from earlier generations were only good at cooking and keeping the home. It is thought that they stayed indoors and were weak at heart and cried at the drop of a pin. However, by elaborating on important events of life of the characters above, and also some more, Smt Vishaka Hari erased this misconception.

She started with the eye-opening fact that in the Vedic era, during Ramayana, Mahabharatha and Bhagavatham, women were respected a great deal. They were treated as equals to men, and man and woman were infact complementary to each other. It was understood that without one, the other would cease to exist.

The story of Sharada Devi is an inspirational one of how man and woman are complementary. Sharada Devi, even after hearing from everyone that her husband was a good for nothing, and was mentally unstable, she decided to join him, though her parents repeatedly told her that he would be of no use to her. Her belief was "I am not expecting him to be of use to me, I am going there as, if he is mentally unstable, as a wife, it is my duty to be of use to him, to support him and nurse him back to health". When she went there with this belief, she found Ramakrishna to be a very caring person. He treated Sarada Devi as an incarnation of Divine mother, and worshipped her as Sree Maa. Theirs was an example of a marriage that was a spiritual union. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarada_Devi)

Thus, just as today's woman expects man to respect her, she must not forget that the vis a vis also holds true and necessary.

Gargi was the first women philosopher of the Vedic times. She was invited to the world's first conference on philosophy convened by King Janaka of Videha. She challenged Yagnavalkya to a debate and acknowledged defeat and praised Yagnavalkya for his presentation.

Gargi was thus known for being a very knowledgeable woman.

To highlight Sita, Smt Vishaka Hari picked the delicate interaction between Sita and Rama, after Rama was told that there would be no crowning ceremony, and that he had to leave to the forest immediately and for fourteen years. She brought out this conversation with a beautiful rendition of a sanskrit song.

Sita is known for her immovable patience, courageous nature and dedication to lord Rama. The patience with which she bore the decision of Rama sending her away to the forest, when she was carrying her twin children, the dedication to Rama with which she decided to follow her dharma and accompany Rama to the forest for 14 years, the courage with which she spurned Ravana's advances, were a few of her characteristics that we can definitely learn from.

The next story was of Kanhopatra - a little known marathi poet. She was the daughter of a courtesan, and lived near Pandharpur. Though she had a rich childhood, as she was the child of a courtesan, she was treated as a socially low status woman. As she grew up, she refused to follow the lifestyle of her mother. She became devoted to Vithoba and fled to Pandharpur, when she heard that Vithoba was kind, generous and would accept her as she was. She dedicated her life to the Lord, and she asked a boon of the Lord that she be able to serve the people even after her death. The Lord then merged her soul with that of a tree near the temple, and she thus got her boon as she provided shade to the number of devotees who visited the temple.

The last story was of Bilvamangala and Chintamani. Chintamani, who happened to be the daughter of a prostitute, was a great Krishna devotee. She had a pet parrot to whom she taught names of Narayana and made the parrot repeat the same in its sweet voice. Bilvamangala was besotted by Chintamani and her devotion, and he kept coming to visit her. One night, when it rained heavily and the rivers were flooded, he refused to be held back, and swam through the overflowing waters and reached Chintamani, all exhausted. She watched him and told that his devotion to her amazed her, and treating him as her inspiration, she jumped into the same flooded waters and swam all the way to Brindavan to devote her life to the lord. This act of hers transformed Bilvamangala, and he followed her footsteps and dedicated his life to meditation and the lord.

Through this presentation, Smt Vishaka Hari also shared some interesting tidbits  -

1. 90% of the raga names of Carnatic music are of female gender, some examples being - bhairavi, asaveri, sahana, ranjani, rasikapriya ... and so on!
2. Even the Gods had their names after their wives names - Lakshmi Narasimha, Lakshmi Narayana, Parvati Parameshwara, Sitaram etc!
3. A conversation between a husband and wife in the vedic period was recorded as the Upanishad!
4. A conversation between Swami Vivekananda and a foreign national went thus - The Foreign national was not impressed by the so-called Indian Culture, and asked Vivekananda what was so special about it. Swami Vivekananda replied thus - In your country, you look at every woman other than your mother as your wife, however in India, a man looks at every women other than his wife, as his mother!
5. While writing the section of Ramayana where Sita decided to accompany Rama, Valmiki actually pondered over the name of the Epic and a thought crossed his mind that he should have named it Sitayana, instead of Ramayana!

What better way to spend the evening of Women's day, than to understand what Indian culture was eons ago, where we stand today, and what women empowerment actually means to us. Kudos to Vishaka Hari and the team for giving us such a beautiful evening, and to end it with the feeling that the contributions were well spent too, towards the Girl Child initiative.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Trek to Shiv Gange

The Bangalore weather being a delight for the last couple of weeks, it was time the long standing plan of going for a trek was executed. Saturday night, we were left enthralled by Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, a beautiful take on Milkha Singh. The whole experience of knowing about the great athlete left us inspired and raring to go. But not enough to get up early next morning for a trek to Shiv Gange!! We almost called it off and rolled over to catch up on our sleep, but our son decided otherwise. He woke us with “Amma – Appa – get up, we are supposed to be climbing the mountain today to watch butterflies!”

Oh yeah?! J Not wanting to disappoint him, we mechanically went through our morning rituals, had breakfast, and pushed ourselves out of our home by around 10:30 am. Once on the road, there was no looking back. After a small detour to Malleswaram, we proceeded towards Tumkur road. Taking a left at Dobbaspet, we were welcomed by wonderful views of the ShivGange hill from afar. It looked absolutely enchanting with a halo of cloud hanging so low that it engulfed the top most tip of the hill!


We drove on till we reached the foot of the hill, parked our car and made sure we had our stomach’s fill of ragi rotis, jackfruits and biscuits to keep us going for the next 2 hours (or so we thought). With a picture book idea of what a trek consists of, I started loading a backpack with a water bottle, left over biscuits, chocolates …. but wait, before I could complete, my husband told me to drop the entire bag back into the car and climb up bare handed. Disappointment writ all across my face, I didn’t argue, because I knew he was right as soon soon as he mentioned MONKEYS. We at least needed a water bottle, said my MIL, and carried one in a plastic bag and we started on the trek.
After hardly a 20 step climb, where the paths forked, with one leading towards the temple and the other going on to the top of the hill, we had our first (and last) close encounter with a primate. The little fellow stopped us on our tracks and jumped at the plastic bag that my MIL carried. She tried to explain to the little fella that it was nothing but a water bottle. He growled, and we concluded (thank god for that!) that he didn’t quite get us. We threw the cover away, to show him that we were speaking the truth, and tried to move on. He wouldn’t let us get away so easily. He pulled at my MIL’s saree and growled again. Oh well, we lost the battle and gracefully handed him the water bottle. Off he went with it and started opening it. We didn’t stay on to see what he did, but were glad that we could now get on with our trek.
We took the route to the trek and started our walk. I told my son (a little chatterbox), to save up his energy, and take deep breaths on the way up. He followed my instructions to the T. As long as we didn’t grab their attention, the monkeys pretty much kept to themselves. However, we did note one naughty fellow grab a fellow tourist’s back pack and run away with it. When he found that there was nothing interesting in it, he just left it there for the tourist to pick it up again.
We kept continuing on the trek, with a few stops to catch our breath and of course the view all around! There was a pleasant breeze blowing all through the climb, making our climb enjoyable. Every time we looked down below, the sights never ceased to amaze us. After around an hour of climbing, we reached the huge white colored statues of Shiva and Parvathi, and heaved a sigh of relief, assuming we had finally made it to the top. We stopped to buy a bottle of water, and the kind lady selling it explained that we were just half way to the top. My jaws literally dropped open, and I took a few swigs of water to regain my composure. A few pictures later, we resumed the trek, with only my son still being at the same enthusiasm level as the start about climbing further. He refused to hold any of our hands and went on climbing. With him to inspire us, we moved on.

This section was the more difficult of the two parts. The climb was steep, with little narrow steps etched out of the rocks itself. Railings at most places helped us with the climb. Fellow trekkers ranged from as young as 4 year olds, to a 70 year old lady! There was even a lady who had lost one of her hands, and climbed with ease with just one hand to guide her through. While most of them were encouraging, some told us it was impossible to make it to the top.
We concentrated on the climb, enjoyed the breeze and finally reached the famous Nandi, which stood with all its might atop a precarious looking rock. Looking at it from down below, I didn’t think twice about climbing. Quickly reaching the top, I started to go around the Nandi when my heart skipped a beat. I had to walk past a grill which extended out beyond the rock to nothing-ness! Though it was just one step through nothingness to safety it was enough to give a scare. The next difficult part was the descent from the Nandi. While climbing up did not seem such a great deal, the descent seemed impossible. The surface seemed like a plain fall down, and it seemed almost close to impossible to get the foot into a crevice. After relaxing for a couple of minutes and watching the others do it, I finally managed to get down safely. The next few steps to reach the top of Shive Gange were almost a cake-walk, and we finally reached the top. The view all around us was more than worth all the efforts we put into the climb. We finally realized what it meant to feel on top of the world! The looming clouds made the view simple breathtaking. It was just enough to sit there, enjoy the peace and quiet, and relish the fact of accomplishing the climb!


Some tips to make your travel enjoyable and ensure it has minimum effect on the environment:

Travel light, preferably empty handed.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Eat sufficient to keep you energetic for 4 hours, before starting the travel.

Wear trousers with multiple pockets, and carry only absolute necessities in those.

Start the climb early in the morning, so that you can finish before the sun is out.

Do not litter. There are dustbins available at all the little foodie joints. Dispose waste there. Else carry it back with you.

Do not provoke the monkeys. Remember, it’s their habitat that we are invading and not vice versa. Leave them alone, and they will leave you alone.


Friday, May 31, 2013

Summer fun 2013

Summer spread its wide enticing wings in front of us. We cousins had decided that the meeting point would be Pune this time. This was so that the ladies (read girls) could catch up and freak out while the kids were being looked after by the grand mom (who loved to do just that!).  So that’s what we did, and what a blast we had. Of course we made it up to the kids by taking them to parks everyday to run around, fun zones in malls, EPIC 3D, tons of ice creams, and last but not the least – an outing to Pavana Huts – an agro tourism destination.  Pavana Huts was a petite farm house with acres of land around it, and lots of space for kids to run around, play, soak in the atmosphere of the fields and subject their taste bugs to awesome home-cooked delicacies. The website indicated that the place does not claim to be anything out of the ordinary. It was a break from the routine, in the lap of nature.

Run by Mr. Prasadh G Yelakar, Pavana Huts is the outcome of a simple idea of setting up a little farm, and opening it to people who would like to get an idea of farm life, see what it is like to grow their own crops, vegetables and fruits, laze around in the pond and just relax. Situated near Pune, in a place called Kamshet, it is easily accessible if you have your own vehicle. It takes around an hour and a half’s drive from Pune city to reach the place, and Mr. Prasadh is very accurate with his directions. As we entered through the narrow drive-way and parked our vehicle, we were welcomed by Mr. Prasadh’s eager parents. They had setup a small table with a heavenly breakfast of Poha and Upma, made in the authentic Maharashtrian style. After double helpings of the same, came some strong and super sweet chai. Though we would have preferred it a little less sugary, the chai masala that came fresh from their farm made up for it.


After that Mr. Kelkar, ever so enthusiastic about his current retired life, and ready to share his experiences, took us around the house. He had a bedroom which visitors could use to rest, at a nominal price. Beyond the hall was a kitchen where they cooked for themselves as well as the visitors. The cooking was done on chulhas which were used in olden days, to retain the taste of the rotis. They had bags of rice, jowar, bajra stored in the wide kitchen which doubled up as a store room. The 70something Mr. Kelkar explained to us that this was the best decision he had taken in his entire life - to give up working, and self sustain himself and his wife on their own farm. He seemed to enjoy walking around the fields, dealing with the couple of farmers he had, give out instructions to the boys who helped him with the electricity, plumbing, building etc.

He then took us around the farm, showing us the various crops of jowar, bajra, rice, and the various veggies and fruits that were growing around. Since it’s been just a few years from inception, they are still figuring out the seasons and how / which crops grow better when.  There was a guinea pig and rabbit coop, where the kids stepped in and they were thrilled to hold the little animals in their hand.


We did a session of boating in their man made pond just for the fun of it. Kayaking was also an option, though we didn’t give it a shot. Rest of the morning we literally slept in water. Another man made pond which was had around one and a half feet depth of water, called out to us! And none of us could resist. We lazed around for 2 hours and didn’t feel a wee bit of the heat. The kids freaked out in the water slides and the water showers, and refused to step out of it. We finally dragged them out to change for lunch.

Lunch preparation was simple Maharashtrian thali, which had their trademark Bhakri Zunka, Zunka bhakri - Maharashtrian dish is a traditional chickpea or besan based wet mix which is then tempered with mustard seeds, garlic paste and curry leaves. This zunka is then stirred with fried onion mix and enjoyed hot with jowar or bajra bhakris or rotis. Along with this was dal chawal, which we had just to taste the heavenly smelling farm grown rice. There was salad and papad to go along with, sheera and last but not the least, masala buttermilk. Buttermilk was the best part of the whole meal, and the couple served us as many helpings of the same as we wanted. There was a small bell – pizza hut ishtyle – which we could ring if we liked the food. This was to let the cooks know that their efforts were more than appreciated.
Stuffed, we contemplated as to whether we sleep, or do a trip to the near-by Pavana dam. Unanimous decision was SLEEP! J After a short refreshing nap, what next? Tea and garma garam pakodes!! Phew. Was there any space left in our tummies? Oh no, but the onion pakodes were too tempting to resist. We chatted around, and Mr. Kelkar picked an eighty year old tortoise out of its container and let it walk around. The kids got a touch and feel of the animal.


Finally, some pictures later, we said our byes to this lovely homely couple, and went back to Pune after a relaxed day! For more details visit - http://www.pavnahuts.com/



Thursday, May 23, 2013

Soup time folks...

I saw this interesting soup preparation on the "Food Food" channel a few days back, and was really eager to try it out.

This recipe is a part of 'A Slice of Summer', the theme of the month all May in The Alternative, an online publication on sustainable living
Slice of the Summer

Yellow Pumpkin and Sweet Corn soup. Hmm. An interesting combination. Got a chance to try it out yesterday. Here's the recipe -

My measurements here served five. The veggies - a small packet of shelled sweet corn, a 200 gm piece of yellow pumpkin and one medium sized onion. Dice up the onions and the yellow pumpkin. Heat a pan, add a teaspoon of butter into it, and saute onions till they turn golden brown. Add the diced pumpkins and sweet corn, some salt to taste, and fry for 2 minutes. Transfer this mixture into a pressure cooker, add three cups of water and cook the vegetables well. Drain the water and keep the water aside as vegetable stock. Puree the cooked vegetables well in a mixer. Add the vegetable stock and boil the soup for 5 minutes. Serve hot with some freshly ground pepper to suit individual taste. You could also add cream to the soup before serving.

I prefer the fibre of the veggies and corn in my soup. If you like your soup smooth, strain the pureed vegetables and then add the stock and bring to a boil. The soup had a nice sweetish flavor to it from the yellow pumpkin, and also a streak of peppery hotness to it. Freshly ground pepper gives a distinct flavor, the emphasis here on "freshly" ground :)... helps to keep that in mind. Didn't take pictures this time to give you a visual idea, but the outcome was simply awesome.


Saturday, May 05, 2012

Simple joys of life.


Sitting on the bed with a laptop, typing away, a cup of adhrak waali chaai to help keep the yawns at bay, I can hear my 3 and a half year old son chirping all around the house, one thing after the other catching his attention.
 
Just a moment ago, he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum, accusing me of turning off the TV too soon. "But we had a deal" I tried to tell him, "that it would be just 10 minutes of watching Chota Bheem. You already crossed the limit, and its half an hour since you started watching it, and its OVER now. The show timing is up, and they are putting subtitles now, so there's nothing I can do about it."
 
Nothing I said seemed to convince him, and he was all set to yell out loudly. (Before you start having your doubts, let me tell you, his tantrums, I am told, are nothing compared to other kids. He is a very understanding child - touch wood zillion times - and this was the rarest of occasions) So being the case, I seemed to be the lucky (and spoilt?) mom who really didn't know how to deal with these rare outbursts. I tried reasoning, ignoring, placating, and striking another deal - which was - deciding to end any other sessions of Chota Bheem if he continuing whining and wailing. Bad luck. Nothing seemed to work today.
 
Just as I thought I am in for it, Naani popped in a magic sentence - "I have a pedha for you in your snack bowl, would you like to try it?" Poof. The mood turned exactly the other way round and off went he happily, had a nice little pedha and went on to arrange his little train engine set, with little word blocks on the goods carrier. He came back into my room to announce "Amma I am carrying Goods train la full of dabba jalebi". (We are Tam Brams, which explains his liking for food, especially sweets). Ready to burst into a laugh, I tried to look serious and asked to see the train. He proudly led me to show the neatly arranged goods train. 
 
Such darlings, kids. No preconceived notions, no inhibitions, no carrying over emotions, NOTHING. Just pure feelings for the moment. It is heartening to watch them and oh, how they succeed in bringing a smile into our otherwise serious lives!
 

Well, right now he is talking to his little cousin, who is all of 4 years, warning her to be wary of scorpions when she travels to Australia for her summer vacation. Can you beat that! :) Love you little fellow.