Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The stepwell near Connaught Place

A few weeks back I was watching Malishka on TV, gallivanting through the streets of Delhi, both old and new, showcasing the splendours that lay hidden in some of the busy lanes of the capital city. Delhi, definitely, is one of the cities that can flash with pride its resplendent and glorious past through its various monuments.

And one SHOULD visit the capital city to feel and experience the magnificence and flamboyance of the Mughal Empire that ruled it...once upon a time. Amidst the silence of a bygone era lies the cacophony of a city that can throw the most staggering surprise to the one who has an eye for architectural marvels. Yours truly was one of them. I was fascinated by this particular step well, right in the heart of the city, a few kilometres away from the famous CP (Connaught Place).  I remember Malishka showing it on TV and the mind had made up its mind to see the place, to be there, to breathe the air.

Since this was my first visit to the city, I had my friend Kabir take me around the place. He had spent a good part of his life growing up in Delhi but had never heard of a step well right in the centre of the city, that too close to one of his regular hangouts, CP. In plain words, he refused to believe of its existence. And to add to my woes, none of the rickshaw wallahs had heard of the place either.

We stood there like anomalies. And then, suddenly, he walked towards us, like Zeus. A sturdy figure with a few days old stubble, he spoke, "Kay chal rahya se?" On hearing "Agrasen ki Baoli', he told us he'd charge Rs.50/- and to hop into his auto if we agreed. Of course, we agreed!

Finally, winding our way through twisted alleys and lanes we reached the place we had set out for. 'Agrasen Ki Baoli' (Agrasen's Stepwell). And believe was worth it!

Here it is,

Read about it here


Was it difficult reaching the place?
I would not say no. We had a tough time explaining it to people that a place like that does exist. But I am sure you will get people to help you reach there like we did. If you are a walkaholic with a keen interest in triangulation, walk it up, I say!

Is it a safe place?
Tough it's an isolated structure, it is a safe place. But to keep your fears at bay, it would be ideal to travel with someone familiar to you.  

Friday, August 6, 2010

Kerala - Postcards from Mattancherry

I got introduced to the alleys of Mattancherry when the husband and I went furniture shopping for the new  house. Our research had led us to this shop called Crafter's Antique which is more like a storehouse of beautiful and intricately designed furniture and other accessories for your house. The trip being a very short one, did not give us much time to gallivant through the lanes of this old town. But nevertheless, we enjoyed our trip, not to forget the sumptuous lunch at Hotel Abad.
Crafter's Antique
The world's biggest varpu - 12 ft diameter, 3184 kgs

Mattancherry is a few kilometres away from Ernakulam Town and can be reached by bus or by a boat. Yes, there are boat services available from the boat jetty near Subhash Park. Historically significant, this place is famous for it's Jew Town, synagogue, the palace, the museum, the spice markets and the streets selling antiques, providing you with plenty of opportunities to shop. 
Pallankuzhi - a traditional board game, at Crafter's

It is said that most of the items that you see here on sale are things that were left behind by the Jewish traders when they migrated to Israel. 
You can buy Chinese jars, wooden spoons, Kerala style doors, spice boxes, dowry chests, lacquer boxes, traditional cooking vessels from Kerala, furniture, murals, paintings et al.
Spices and more spices


Variety is indeed in this box of spice

Wooden cowheads

A perfect combination of busy arterial lanes on one side and serene backwaters on the other, the place exudes bits and pieces of history in all that you get to see there.  
Though a good and productive two days were spent in Mattancherry in two different trips, I am yet to discover more about this historic place. The synagogue, the samaj temples and the palace are yet to be seen. 
I only wish to say that right now I am enjoying the pace at which I am unravelling the pages of Kerala.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mumbai - Cafe Mondegar

Mondy's, that's what it is popularly known as...
:) Located near Regal Cinema, Colaba Causeway, Mumbai
:) Just a few metres away from the Gateway of India.

:) Ideal for some beer and snacks.
:( What? You walked the entire stretch and you didn't spot it? Hmmm, there's a lot of hustle and bustle around the place and hence you may have missed it. And it gets a little hidden too. So, if you are new to the city you may have to be a little alert.
:) The walls of this landmark cafe deserves some attention too. The Mario Miranda illustrated walls bring out the essence of Mumbai - the spirit of the city.

:) Another highlight is the jukebox kept in the corner. I don't know if it still works, but I remember that it had a great assortment of wonderful songs from different genres.
:) Once you are inside the cafe, you can also try Innside, yes, another restaurant within Mondy's, less crowded and less louder.

Though, sometimes I do feel that Mondy's is a little over-hyped :D 

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Maharashtra - Sago saga

If in Maharashtra, do it the Maharashtrian way...enjoy their yummy fastfood.

Nah! Don't get me wrong. I'm not referring to the ready-to-eat food served at the local Chinese wala in Maharashtra. Here the term fastfood refers to 'food that you are allowed to eat when you are fasting'. 

By the way, did you know that the word Chinese can be written in different ways, well, yes, that too in English by just exchanging the places of letters in the word? No? Well, we'll look into it later. 

Let's come back to Maharashtrian fastfood. Interesting isn't it? That's what India is all fact we can boast of a culturally varied fastfood fare ;)
Ever heard of that one before?

The Marathi list would comprise sabudana khichdi, sabudana vada, potato chivda, varicha bhaat and many more. 

Let's go slow, one at a time. We shall fist scrutinize the unavoidable Sabudana khichdi - a yummy snack made of sago (sabudana). It's easy to make. But only after some practice. To be honest, sago can be a rogue if you don't handle it properly. The first time I tried making this khichdi it ended up as poppadums. 

The second time I made it, my husband sensed that there was something wrong in the preparation. The sago hadn't turned completely transparent. Now that wasn't my fault, if the sago didn't feel motivated enough to get cooked. But my hubby wouldn't understand this. So I told him that this sago is different. And I don't think he believed me.

Months later I had the same stuff at Ramya's place. From her mom I learnt that I was messing it up with the 'soaking time'. Finally, things were set right and I could see light at the end of the tunnel. I could see my family relishing the khichdi that I had made for them. I tried and now I am an expert. 


You can also make sabudana vadas out of this. 
One place where I have devoured this delicacy is at Prakash, Shivaji Park, Dadar (W). This place is quite popular for it's authentic Maharashtrian fare.

So, go! Indulge in some Sago :)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Kerala - Fort Kochi

    The streets of Fort Kochi were never unfamiliar to me. Though I hadn't visited the place, there was a strange connect that I experienced. A connect that I share with Dehradun too. The latter one, thanks to the several poems, essays and stories of Ruskin Bond and the former one, thanks to my father-in-law, who was so insanely in love with the place. 

    It's quite a strange thing. Throughout my life, inspite of the several visits to Kerala, I had never managed to visit Fort Kochi even once. The reason being the annual visits to relatives' houses which by itself was so time consuming and fun that we never managed to steal time to visit places. And I'm ashamed to confess that finally at the ripe age of thirty, my eyes were ready to take in the sights in and around Fort Kochi.

    And while I stood there gazing at the myriad, beautiful lanes adorned by little houses on either sides I realized why Fort Kochi was a favorite with Papa. If the place could evoke a sense of nostalgia for a first timer like me, it had to be an overwhelming feeling for him.

    He knows every nook and corner of Fort Kochi. Every restaurant, every hotel, every street. Mention the names and he has stories to tell.  

    I happened to spend three days in and around Fort Kochi. There was something magical about the place. Perhaps it was the I-don't-care attitude of people, or maybe the food, or the churches, or the quaint shops, or the by lanes that tempted you to take long walks... 


All you need to do here is to wander, sometimes glancing at the beauty of the heritage structures, the houses, the colourful lanes, the busy spice markets, the antique stores, the cafes, the signages...

...the Chinese fishing nets

Another attraction here is the local market from where you can buy fish and get it cooked at the make-shift shops across the street.

Fort Kochi is full of life. Tourists, shopkeepers trying to attract customers, residents, food courts, cafes all add to the life of this place. A very cosmopolitan culture. 

Well, an ideal place for the one with the nomadic gene...just keep on wandering. I am sure I am going back to this lively and lovely place, SOON!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Tungareshwar - Maharashtra

Monsoon? Wondering what to do? Tungareshwar is the place to be. 

This thickly-wooded mountain plateau is a haven for trekkers, photographers and Shiva devotees alike. Yes, in that oder. 

Situated at an altitude of about 2000 feet, Tungareshwar is an easy-to-reach destination for some adventure and fun in the rains. Easily accessible by autos or private vehicles from Vasai Station, the place also has some eateries that can take care of your sudden pangs of hunger. 

If you have your camera be ready with it. The monsoon turns every inch of space to green and thou shall be blessed with sights of beautiful birds and some creepy crawlies, that would me more than willing to pose for you.

I don't think s/he liked me much
On a wing and a prayer

Muddy pathways that inspire to explore
Munch on these salted boiled peanuts while you climb your way to the shrine
or maybe enjoy hot buttas (corn on cob)

Spooky, isn't it? Her talent only got better when she learnt that she's been noticed:)

A little temple with a caretaker canine

Concrete hollows of the Lord Shiva temple - used for lighting lamps.

Pictures of Hindu Gods on display at a shop, pre-dominantly Lord Shiva.

Reaching Tungareshwar:
Tungareshwar can be covered in a day. Hence, one need not think about stay options.
The nearest station is Vasai. Once you alight there you can share a rickshaw for Rs. 10-15 per head and reach the base. From here starts the trek to the temple, which is a good 3km long one. You also get to pass through a couple of streams to reach the temple. Once at the temple, you can venture beyond for another trek or maybe undertake a jungle trek to the Chinchoti Waterfalls, which can also be accessed through Kaman village on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway. 

Best time to visit: Monsoon! Monsoon! More monsoon!

Monday, July 5, 2010

The vanishing ponds of Kerala

Far away from the maddening crowd of Mumbai lies a land that moves at its own pace. A land that is second home to me and many like me. In spite of being bred in the busy city of Mumbai, I share a special bond with God's Own Country; the reasons being many. Though I was born in Kerala, a major stretch of my life was spent amidst the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. Kerala was reduced to nothing, but a holiday home, or better still a home away home.

Thanks to a large flock of uncles, aunts and cousins our (me and my little brother) trips to Kerala were restricted to social visits, pleasantry exchanges and lots of tea and palaharam. It was only at a later stage of our lives that we started taking these trips all by ourselves. And what it meant was less of polite conversations and more of gallivanting.

It was at this time that we realised that there was something that was going through a slow change in this land that boasted of a large number of naalukettus and ponds. The one that was closest to us and was facing neglect, was the temple pond of Chettarikkara in Charummoodu. It looked like modernisation was not doing much to revive the pond. It had become completely defunct. Sad!!!

Sadder was the fact that this was the plight of most of the ponds in Kerala, a state that could easily boast of 1000 ponds, if not more. Once upon a time an irreplaceable part of the ecosystem of Kerala, today these ponds stare at us, questioning their abandonment.

This picture was taken in Shoranur, part of Palakkad District in northern Kerala. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sanjay Gandhi National Park

A good long thirteen years later, I was visiting the Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai. The last time I visited this place was as part of a teacher's picnic organised by the school. But this time it was with family. The husband and two kids.

Why the national park? Well, to tell the seven year old and the three year old that:

  • there does exist a large and extensive green belt in the heart of this city called Mumbai
  • a 45-minute drive will get you out of a fast-paced hectic life to a quiet and tranquil setting
  • it is indeed a forest and not a Hiranandani created artificial township
  • there are a few wild animals too, some in enclosures and some in the open 
  • selfish human interests are cutting through the park
  • malls don't hold true recreation, nature does

We had fun time trying to get a glimpse of the sunny sky through gaps of the patterns made by the branches and leaves of the tall trees...the park is a tree lover's delight.

And while we stood there gazing, a family of monkeys had fun watching us standing their with stretched necks...probably wondering what we were unto...

Next on the list was a ride on the all-time popular mini-train that paved its way through the park and then a bus safari into the jungle, kickstarting a struggle to spot a few felines (if we are lucky). After all that hardwork, we decided to pamper our tastebuds with some fresh cucumber, red guavas and raw mangoes. Nicely cut and smeared with salt and chilli powder. You can also treat yourself to some 'ber' at the park. Reminded us of school days when these dried fruits with a pinch of rock salt, were a regular treat.

What are these neon green fruits?

Semi-gooseberries, that's what I call them (nothing intelligent). It's just that they look like miniature versions of the gooseberry. Down south they are called 'nellipuli'. Get a boat right now and you can actually sail it in my mouth ;) That's what these fruits do to you. The moment you spot them your salivary glands go on an overdrive.

और यह रहा हमारा प्यारा खीरा नमक और मिर्ची पावडर के साथ खाइए या चाट मसाले से सजाईये, पर खाईयेगा ज़रूर...

I don't know if much has changed in the park, but it felt nice to be there amongst the old, tall trees, doing nothing. And the kids had a great time too. Especially Rishi whose perpetual craving for sour food was satiated beyond imagination. 

What were the monkeys thinking?
Are they calculating the distance between the ground and the highest branch of the tree? If they are going to jump from the ground onto the tallest branch, we are definitely going to take lessons from them. 

Did we have fun?
Of course, we did! It's always fun to go back to nature. 

Any issues?
We did feel bad looking at the plight of the tigers and lions there. It's disappointing to see that what could have been turned into an attraction was soon turning out to be an obligation. There's no doubt that the park with it's tall and dense verdancy was taking care of itself. 

Should I visit the place? Is it worth it?
You must. And if you have kids, take them too. Monsoons are magical in the park. Take a day off to treat yourself to some beautiful moments with your loved ones. Gorge on the juicy, luscious fruits and enjoy the train ride. Go on a walking trail. Do some amazing photography :)