Category Archives: India

Travel Tales from Nilgiris – Coonor – Part 1

Wouldn’t you want to wakeup to these views day after day?

gardens

Last week we travelled on an impulse to the Nilgiris – mountain ranges at the intersection of three south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Things fell into place on the prior weekend and Wednesday morning found us onboard flight to Coimbatore – the nearest airport. Two hours later we were on a winding road amidst blue-grey tinted mountains, acres of tea gardens and smelling the fresh air laced with the heady eucalyptus.

Tea gardens

Taj Gardens

We reached the Taj resort by afternoon, rested and then in the evening headed to highland tea factory for a tour. We saw how tea is processed, sorted and packaged. The lovely ladies in the factory have to be vary of the tea dust that flies everywhere and wear scarves for protection.

Highland tea factory

Tea factory

Lady at tea factory

Filling tea in bags

It was serene and calm; not very crowded given the rainy and cold climate with the onset of monsoon. A bit like Seattle in Spring. We were not geared for the cold and had a rain jacket to keep warm. Even for Varun we didn’t have any warm clothes on hand. We made a beeline for the stores to buy some corduroys and denim pants for Varun and a couple of jackets.  They were very useful in the trip.

For four days we woke up to chilly mountain air, lightly drizzle, beautiful blooms, lakes and waterfalls and acres upon acres of rolling hills dotted with tea plantations. We took a ride in toy – train to Ooty and spent evenings by a roaring fireplace – a novelty for me in India.

Abundant flora, greenery , chirping birds everywhere and solitude if you skip the tourists hotspots. I don’t remember all these wonderful things about Nilgiris from my childhood visit though I distinctly recall the tall eucalyptus trees and the cabbage sized colorful dahlias.

The place is lovely -in fact perfect destination for early monsoon.  We went to bed early tired from the travel but with excited for the scenery to unfold in days ahead.

Stay tuned for more travel tales.

Of Blackbucks, Langoors and Peacocks in Blackbuck Resort, Bidar

blackbuck

Finally temperatures are cooling here. Saturday was in lower 30’s which is a big relief after the month of mid 40’s in May. June and early monsoon showers are very welcome.

To make most of the lovely weather, we made an impromptu trip to Blackbuck resort in Bidar. Technically in Karnataka, Bidar is a 3 hour drive from Hyderabad and a popular weekend destination from Hyderabad. The resort is set on banks of Vilaspur lake about 25 kms from Bidar. Most people start early on Saturday morning, have breakfast en-route and spend the morning exploring Bidar fort and tombs before heading to Blackbuck resort for lunch.Rest of the day can be spent at the resort with variety of activities.

Path in the jungle

 Nested on banks of lake, the blackbuck resort is home to langoors and peacocks. It is clean, spacious and offers package deals including meals at a reasonable rate. The staff is very helpful. While the resort is not very luxurious, it is a great place to unwind after a hectic week. A lovely place amidst nature a short drive from hustle and bustle of Hyderabad!

Monkey

Peacocks

Emu Farm

To keep visitors engaged, the resort offers a lot of activities. Nature walk to see Emu farm is offered in the evening. Lots of different varieties of birds are seen en-route and come visit the lake at sunset. There were these yellow flowers in bloom all along the path along with fiery red Gulmohar. And so were these unique fruits that the birds love to feast on. When the lake is full post monsoon season the resort also offers coracle rides on the lake.

Yellow flowers

Trees with fruits

The sunset  over the lake was brought to life by the chirping of birds, playfulness of monkeys and the beautiful red-yellow afterglow. After sunset we enjoyed a wild life documentary along with a round of beer and snacks. Telescope was setup to star gaze and post dinner a campfire was setup.

After glow sunset

The best part of staying at the resort is the safari at sunrise to see the blackbucks. Even Varun was thrilled to get up early to go out in the jeep and see deers in their natural habitat. We not only saw deers but a wild boar, countless peacocks and many langoors. While we were driving back, a dog chased a herd of blackbucks around and it was surreal to see them galloping away.

Herd of deers

Adult black buck

We also saw a whole bunch of colorful birds whose name I don’t recall anymore.

Birds

We came back from the safari to breakfast and then sat on the private gallery off the cottage to watch more birds and animals come to the lake below. We saw lizards and a huge reptile cross across the brush below amongst other scary animals like tadpoles, frogs and squirrels.

We left after taking a short nap as we were tired after carrying Varun on the long nature walk and waking up early to for the Safari. Our initial plan was to leave after lunch and shop for the Bidri artwork that Bidar is so famous for. But the mid day heat got to us. It was back in 40’s again. Varun slept as soon as we started driving back. We plan to visit again after the monsoon season when the weather will be cooler, the lake full and the deers back in larger numbers.

A White Temple Overlooking A Lake – Birla Mandir and Hussain Sagar Lake.

Buddha Statue closeup

I can’t believe I have not posted about the two popular attractions of Hyderabad: Birla mandir and Hussain Sagar lake.

Chances are you have seen the photos of a huge Buddha Statue rising above calm lake when you have searched for Hyderabad attractions. That lake is Hussain Sagar lake. Its an artificial lake built to solve the cities drinking water problem by Qtub Shah dynasty ( the ones now rest in Qtub Shah Tombs).

Along the lake on one side are gardens and parks known as Tank bund.  In the evenings, you will find young couples in love, families out for a stroll and friends making fun of each other and things around them all along the lake front. There are chaat-walas and ice-cream sellers. And a lot of traffic driving past noisily. Its quiet only after 10 pm or before 8 am; that’s when it makes for a pleasant walk ( if it isn’t smelly;))!

Hussain Sagar Lake

There are boat rides offered to the tall Buddha monument from Lumbini Park – a small urban park with laser and light show and musical fountains. We have not taken the ferry though I know my cousin is known to take the last boat ride fairly often. She mentioned its not as crowded then and it beautiful to watch the lights of necklace road (stretch of road between NTR gardens and Sanjeevaiah park) twinkle at night.

Birla Mandir

Birla Mandir is a beautiful white marble temple dedicated to Lord Balaji and is built on top of a hillock overlooking the Hussain sagar lake. Built by Birla foundation, it offers spectacular views of the lake, tank bund, various administrative buildings, flyovers and even Lumbini Park. It is a quiet place to contemplate life as the traffic goes by below.As with all Birla temples, security is tight, photography is restricted and even cellphones are not allowed inside.

Almost everyone visiting us wants to see both these places. Luckily they are very close to each other. A late afternoon temple visit, followed by a drive around the lake is perfect prelude to dinner in Ohri’s Tansen or at the Eat Street. I have seen folks go post dinner once the traffic has died down and then enjoy ice-cream at one of the many carts that are around.

Traffic along Tank Bund

If you have no other plans, why not visit Hussain Sagar this weekend?

Site Seeing in The City of Joy,Kolkata

Side view of victorial meorial

Last weekend, we were in Kolkata, pigging out after the IIM C recruitment trip. Bengali food was on the menu and so was visiting a couple of key attractions in Kolkata. With Varun in tow we didn’t want to do too much and generally take it easy.

Victoria memorial in reflection pool

First up was Victoria Memorial. An elegant white marble structure which was created as a tribute to Queen Victoria houses artifacts from British rule era. Paintings, rare books, arms and ammunitions, sculptures, letters etc. I loved that the monument is not too big that it  takes hours to browse through it all. It is surrounded by acres and acres of lawns, blooming gardens and ponds. Its adds to the tranquility of the place.

Main entrance dome

Victoria memorial another view

Blooming dahlias

Vast gardens surrounding victoria memorial

The school kids and blooming flowers added life to this still monument. But this is not what I had imagined Kolkata to be. Everyone had warned me that Kolkata is dirty, polluted. Howrah station and its narrow by lanes, cows on street and lyrical Bengali on the streets. I didn’t experience any of that. So, we decided to brave a taxi ride across the Hoogly river to Howrah.

Outside the Victoria memorial we hailed a cab and the driver sped across open green maidans over to the new bridge or the Vidyasagar setu. Once across in Howrah we had a shock. The lanes along the river bank are narrow and crowded with people, animals , automobiles and hand pulled rickshaws jostling for space. At one point, the taxi driver drove over an open stretch of garbage overflowing on to the streets. It seemed we were driving though a block of garbage!

The stench of garbage, sweat, trains and vegetables intermingled in the early afternoon heat. A few stray cows grazing on that garbage and left over vegetable remains added to the chaos on the bridge. This is the first experience for folks who take the train in to Kolkata. Sad. I know.

It took us forever to get to the other side.

Yellow cab and Howrah bridge

Traffic jam on Howrah bridge

Howrah bridge looking up

Once on the other side of the bridge, we were greeted with yet another quintessential Kolkata sights – a rally. A political rally to oust the current government or some such thing. Having just visited the Victoria Memorial’s collection of oil paintings of freedom fighters and their letters, I pondered if the rallies in early half of the last century were just like the one we saw. Colorful flags, sonorous chants, pedestrian demands of freedom and independence from the British rule. These were the very streets that witnessed the movement then and is seeing it once again.

A Political rally in Calcutta

Once back on the saner, cleaner side of Hoogly river, we headed back up to the hotel for a nap. Varun was drowsy and we didn’t want to keep him up unnecessarily.

After a long nap, we mainly went to New market famous for leather bags and clothes though we focused on street food. And later to Park street for some more good eats.

The following morning, we went to see the Princep Ghat which offers views of both the bridges over the Hoogly river. The taxi drivers in Kolkata, unlike their Mumbai brethren, don’t know the directions to local tourists destinations. Some say no and don’t take your fare, others nod and drop you to a different place,. It happened to us a couple of times. We were dropped 3-  4 blocks away from where we wanted to go and then had to walk down to our destination. with Varun and his diaper bag in tow.

The cab driver dropped us at Babu ghat where families were bathing in the river, priests were offering prayers and generally had a religious air around it. I couldn’t imagine dipping my toes in the brown muddy waters of Hoogly but life continued as normal on its bank. A barber shaving, kids jumping with glee, women folk changing out of wet sari’s while covering their modesty, men lathering the soap rather vigorously. Varun was thrilled to climb down the stairs and wanted to get in the water. We somehow managed to hold him.

We took another cab to Princep ghat – which is next to Princep station. Clean and maintained, it offers a calm and quiet place to stroll along the banks of Hoogly river. Overlooking the Vidysagar bridge ( new bridge), it offers chat vendors, benches, restrooms and even boat rides on the river. We didn’t see folks praying and priests preying on them here.

Hoogly river, boats, birds and Howrah

Boats and Vidyasagar bridge

We hung out, had some jhaal muri and let Varun run around. Soon, it was time for us to head back. Pickup sweets at KC Das and then feats on the scrumptious Bengali thali at Aheli.

We didn’t get to visit some of the temples Kolkata is famous for – Kali temple and Dakshineshwar temple. Hopefully next time, we can stay longer in this laid back city. Till then we need to find someone to bring us some Sondesh!

 

Of Ilish and Mishti Doi

We were in Kolkata this past weekend. I had to go on a recruitment trip to IIM – Calcutta on Friday so Vipul and Varun joined me on Friday evening and we spent the weekend feasting on Bengali delicacies.

I was introduced to Bengali cuisine at my best friend’s house – simple joy of fish curry and rice, dal and potatoes. Over years, her family moved to a different city. We kept in touch but I never got to relish authentic Bangla food. Till a fellow foodie, Sandeep,  introduced us to Oh! Calcutta. We loved it in Mumbai, Pune and even in Hyderabad.

When I had an opportunity to spend an entire weekend relishing the Ilish in mustard gravy, steamed Betki in banana leaf, Chello Kebab and more in authentic settings, we couldn’t resist.

Our day started with, Bangla style potato curry and lucchi (pooris) and a pot of Darjeeling top leaf tea! Perfect for a cold February day in Kolkata!

WP_20130209_002

After the breakfast we went out site-seeing and then decided to snack on a street side Roll – at Hot Roll , Park Street. Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the same but the roll was filling. Reminded me of Kapila’s Kathi Roll from Pune minus the green pudina chutney.

Then we had some sweets at Mullick Ballaram, a tiny sweets shop on Park Street, across from the Park Street Post Office. We had regular rossogulla and gurer rossogulla (made with jaggery and brown in colour), misti dahi, aam dahi, rose sandesh, aam sandesh etc. Fresh, soft and melt in the mouth. Antara– Thanks for the reco. We would have never visited this place without your recommendation!

WP_20130209_073

WP_20130209_075

WP_20130209_077

Needless to add, we skipped lunch and then set out again in the evening to continue our  food crawl around New Market.

The evening started with puchkas (or pani-puri’s ) for Vipul and a garam cuppa tea for me. Vipul though the puchka was similar to Mumbai’s pani-puri but the tea was fragrant. I savored the aroma of ginger and cardamom and tea before sipping it from a clay pot.

WP_20130209_066

WP_20130209_068

We wandered around looking for Jhaal Muri – another street side snack. We found many roll’s , chow mein and soup vendors, pav bhaji and moong dal vadas vendors but none that sold jhaal muri. Then we spotted a vendor selling jaam, ber and guavas. Jaam are a favourite of mine with their light crunchy watery taste. We haven’t had them since we returned to India so we bought a few and snacked on them.

WP_20130209_069

Then we took a cab to Park street. First stop was Chello Kebab at Peter Cat. Creamy marinated kebab grilled to perfection served with flavored rice. Butter added to the flavor of rice and Varun had some as well.

WP_20130209_070

We continued our evening feasting to Arsalan ( a 5 – min walk from Peter Cat) for our Bengali style Biryani. Tender moist chicken, fluffy rice- very different from Andhra style or Hyderabadi Biryani. A must in Calcutta! Thanks Sanjib and Rohit for the recommendations!

WP_20130209_071

By now, we were a bit stuffed but we had to visit the legendary Flury’s. A couple of pastries and another pot of Darjeeling tea and we were done.

WP_20130209_080

The following morning, we had a light breakfast of pancakes and French toasts and then went out to visit the ghats. I loved the breakfast spread at Oberoi. They even made a roasted almond and saffron milkshake for Varun and some boiled eggs so he could dig in as well.

At Princep ghat, we found a jhaal muri vendor. He quickly prepped us a plate and we enjoyed a distinctly mustard oil flavored snack.

WP_20130210_028 WP_20130210_019

Then we had a quick pit stop at KC Das, another institution for their sweets. We had some misti doi, sandesh and raas malai while we packed kheer kadam, assorted sandesh and rossogullas to take back home.

Lunch at Aheli, Peerless Inn was the highlight and the perfect ending to our trip. Vipul opted for a veg and non veg thaali complete with prawns in a malai curry, steamed Betki in mustard sauce, Ilish in mustard gravy, mutton gravy while I had a spicier Aam achar Iilish with rice. We ended the meal with even more misti doi and sandesh. Varun enjoyed some jhoori moori allo and rice as well as misti doi which he enjoyed as ice-cream! WP_20130210_043

WP_20130210_042

WP_20130208_001

 By now, it was time for our flight. We made our way back to our hotel, collected our luggage and dozed off in food stupor in the cab.

We dreaded stepping on the weighing scale today.

Royal Elegance: Chowmahalla Palace

A beautiful chowmahalla backdrop for a wedding

Its been more than a week since we are in Mumbai and strangely I am missing my home in Hyderabad. I never thought that I would miss Hyderabad over Mumbai, ever. Yet, here I am flicking though pictures of us together playing in the garden, in the tent and going through routine day-to-day tasks such as reading books at night.

I came across these pictures of recent trip to Chowmahalla palace  with my cousins and realized that I have not blogged about it. A complex of four Nizam palaces, central courtyards, surrounding corridors and gardens; it depicts the elegance of those days through carvings on the walls, rich tapestries and huge vintage chandeliers. Very similar to Falaknuma Palace in general layout ( which is more ornate), Chowmahalla is an unexpected oasis of calm amidst the bustling Old Hyderabad. Open to public (unlike Falaknuma which you can only visit if you dine or stay at the Taj property), this is on my ‘don’t miss’ list for Hyderabad.

Map of Chowmahalla Palace

Corridors flanking central courtyard at Chowmahalla

The fountains in courtyard have a couple of ducks gently wading by.  One of the mahal’s acts as museum of heritage clothes, furniture , arts and crockery. A stones throw from Charminar, it has vintage cars and buggies. Swords, daggers, arrows , shields are displayed in a very modern classical manner. Trees with century old canopies and pigeons add to the old world charm of this palace. This place has something for everyone. Kids, art lovers, architecture buffs, lovers, romantics at heart, vintage car lovers, textile designers, landscape designers, photographers…I am sure you will be inspired and will love this place just as much as I did.

Central courtyards with fountains

It easily takes a couple of hours to wander through its corridors and wings. The furniture and crockery are reminiscent of Salar Jung museum. There is also a vintage clock which chimes every hour (similar to the cuckoo clock in Salar Jung). In fact if you are strapped for time or not into museums, skip Salar Jung museum and visit this palace to get a taste of arts and lifestyle in that era.

Intricately carved window at Chowmahalla

Elegance at Chowmahalla

Royal durbar

Royal durbar with its massive chandeliers

Chandelier at Chowmahalla Palace closeup

As you exit the royal durbar palace, you will find arrangements for some function or the other. The grounds are rented for ceremonies and corporate functions. Wouldn’t it be lovely to exchange vows or get engaged against this gorgeous backdrop?

Chowmahalla Palace

The lawns beyond lead to the vintage clothes, cars , buggies and the royal living room where the royal guests used to be entertained.

Living room at chowmahalla palace

Arms collection at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage buggies at Chowmahalla Palace

Vintage clothes at Chowmahalla Palace

Varun loved running around in the corridors and looking out through the large windows. He identified elephants, horses and tigers in the paintings and carvings. But he was most fascinated by the huge canons with carved dragons kept in the courtyard. One of us was constantly chasing him – such is travelling with a toddler.

Cannons

Turret Tower

Sunset and closing time loomed on us. Pigeons swarmed together in the fading sun light. We walked by giant clock tower which is still maintained admiring the architecture, lemon and orange trees on the grounds; with a promise to come again – this time with more time to spare.

Clock Tower at Chowmahalla Palace

%d bloggers like this: