A day at Chowmahalla Palace and Qutub Shahi tombs, Hyderabad.

Grumpy duck, Chowmahalla Palace.

Grumpy duck seeking cover under a fountain, Chowmahalla Palace.

No matter how much I love the city or how hard I try to capture its flavours in one single post, Hyderabad is flat-out refusing to be captured by my words. So, here it is, another itty-bitty snippet on the home of the Nizams.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

One of the inner palaces at the Chowmahalla Palace. This one had all the weaponry.

Chowmahalla Palace – middle name, Grandeur
An unexpected delight and an architectural jewel of the history of Hyderabad, Chowmahalla Palace is tucked away in the most unassuming corner of the back roads leading away (or to, depending on how you see it) from Charminar. Despite having spent every summer of my growing-up years holidaying in Hyderabad, I heard of Chowmahalla Palace for the first time a couple of months ago. And of course, because I hadn’t heard of it before, I was itching to go.

The ceiling of the main durbar area.

The elaborate ceiling of the main Durbar area.

The place didn’t disappoint. Chowmahalla Palace is like the Inception of palaces – four palaces within a palace. Each more beautifully crafted than the other, with intricate ceilings heavy with spectacular chandeliers stretching towards the ground. And like that isn’t breathtaking enough, every palace is a museum bursting with relics of the Nizam’s reign – photographs that have been framed with great care, an opulent grandfather clock from a neighbouring king, cutlery and chinaware, furniture, clothes, weapons and the most well-maintained vintage cars I have seen in a while.

The Durbar - made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The Durbar – made of solid marble and flanked on the sides and from the ceiling by crystal chandeliers.

The best part about visiting the Chowmahalla is that even on the busiest days, it isn’t bustling with hordes of people. It’s like a well-kept secret among locals, a slice of the past that the tourists haven’t been able to get their hands on, making the pleasure of experiencing the palace more than a tick mark on a checklist of must-see places in a city.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Most of the Chinaware housed in Chowmahalla consists of elaborate pieces that were gifts from neighbouring countries whose kings visited the Nizam. This one was especially pretty because it had an ornate butterfly in the place of a handle.

Another place, of course, is the Qutub Shahi tombs. Less popular with the tourists and a better-known retreat for the locals, it hasn’t changed one bit since my teenage years spent exploring the tombs and climbing stairways that were blocked by lush bramble.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the enamel work in the facade near the dome. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

One of the many tombs at Qutub Shahi Park. One can still see hints of the colourful Enamel work on the facade. When I was a kid, I used to collect the chunks of fallen Enamel pieces, almost as if it were a part of history that I could call mine.

Qutub Shahi tombs – where there’s beauty in death
The only thing that doesn’t make the approach to the Qutub Shahi tombs nondescript is the tourist shuttles standing outside the gates of the tomb park. Once you walk through the gates, though, it’s an entirely different story. Tombs of varying shapes and sizes dominate the area, reflecting the Persian, Pashtun and Hindu forms of architecture that they are based on. The kings of the Qutub Shah dynasty – including next-of-kin and important commanders – are buried here. The tomb of Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah offers a pretty decent view of the Golconda Fort, located about a kilometre or so away from the tombs.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways. So is my set of photographs! There's something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and having someone walk through it.

Mughal architecture is incomplete without symmetrical archways, and so is my set of photographs! There’s something almost poetic in framing a picture with arches and capturing someone walk through it.

Every tomb has a story behind it, not just about the person/people buried under it, but also the architecture itself. The bigger the king, the grander the structure and the inscriptions on the walls. Excavation of the Badi Bowli – the Big Well – was underway when I went there. From what I could see behind the sealed-off area, it resembled the step wells of Gujarat. It should be open to visitors soon enough.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

The grave on ground-level is just an indicative structure built on top of the actual sarcophagus. Although not considered holy, there are still those who pay the graves a visit and seek blessings.

As with all places of death, Qutub Shahi tombs is quiet, serene and somehow, more beautiful. There are the occasional light and sound shows that are held on premise, but otherwise the place shuts down after dusk – and for good reason too. Imagine moving around the place in darkness, with at least two dozen dead bodies that are at least four centuries old for company!

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

A smaller tomb on the Qutub Shahi Park premises, and also one constructed away from the main tombs. It could mean that the person buried here was of lesser stature than the king and his kins. Still, the craftsmanship is fairly elaborate.

Since the better part of the day was spent roaming the Chowmahalla Palace, I couldn’t spend as much time at the tombs as I wanted to. I did leave with an imprint of a gorgeous sunset on my mind – and my camera – though.

Maybe the next post I write about the elusive city of Hyderabad, I’ll be able to add more to my exploration of it and of the other places that are waiting to be rediscovered.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

A glorious sunset against the tombs made the short visit totally worth the while.

Getting there: Hyderabad is easily accessible by road, air and train. I would strongly recommend driving down because the route is picturesque and the roads, beautiful.

Go if: You love food, history, architecture, attention to detail and a little bling.

P.S: Yes, yes, I’m fully aware that Potli Baba was off the radar for a good two months (or more). We are back now, though, and hopefully will be more regular in posting here! Meanwhile, thank you to everyone who hung around, waited patiently for posts to appear and even reminded me to get back. Sending much love and gratefulness your way.

Snapshots from Nepal: Part Two.

The story so far: Nepal welcomed us with open arms but bad roads, and we made it through Kakarbhitta – Chaubis – Janakpuri – Kathmandu without much incident. It was quite an adventure, hanging on to life as we scaled 45-degree mountain inclines and rode down just as bad descents, with scenic views for company. This post covers the rest of the ride, and the crazy situations I found myself in. To read part one of the Nepal trip, click here.

The road to Kathmandu was a preview of the routes we were yet to cover across Nepal. My tail bone refused to cooperate with my urge to sit down on a soft surface after the ride to the China border; a duck kept me company as I walked in the rain to stretch my legs before getting on the bike again – it waddled alongside making cutesy noises and pecking at unsuspecting people; in Pokhara, we were so bushed with all our previous days that none of us managed to indulge in adventure sports – not even hang gliding; Tatopani was the dream destination with a nightmarish ride to reach it; and Lumbini was sort of alright. When I wasn’t hanging onto dear life or bending over to stretch my back, I was shooting pictures such as these:

Dawn at Dhulikhel, the highest region in Nepal. Couldn't catch a glimpse of the Annapurna range, but we did have the clouds brush past us at our home stay.

Dawn at Dhulikhel, the highest region in Nepal. Couldn’t catch a glimpse of the Annapurna range, but we did have the clouds brush past us at our home stay.

 

Bikers watching as the home stay owners of our halt at Dhulikhel took the bikes down a treacherous road.

Bikers watching as the home stay owners of our halt at Dhulikhel took the bikes down a treacherous road.

 

One of the bumpiest - and most painful - rides I have ever had was to the Chinese border from Dhulikhel, but the payoff was worth it. China looms on the other side of the gate, with planned infrastructure even on the hills!

One of the bumpiest – and most painful – rides I have ever had was to the Chinese border from Dhulikhel, but the payoff was worth it. China looms on the other side of the gate, with planned infrastructure even on themountains!

 

The Waddling Duck. Some day, when the duck dies and goes to Domestic Bird Heaven and meets the rooster that chased me in the Trongsa Dzong, they’re going to have such a good laugh about the woman who was a total sucker.

 

Pine-scented roadways, Nagarkot. The place is very similar to Kodaikanal in its beauty. The nights are especially stunning, with 360-views of a star-lit sky.

Pine-scented roadways, Nagarkot. The place is very similar to Kodaikanal in its beauty. The nights are especially stunning, with 360-views of a star-lit sky.

 

Hotel at the End of the Universe. Inspired by Douglas Adams, methinks. And certainly comes close to Douglas's imagination.

Hotel at the End of the Universe, Nagarkot. Inspired by Douglas Adams, methinks. And certainly comes close to Douglas’s imagination.

 

Two boys and a commentary. At the main square of Bhaktapur Darbar square, a UNESCO world heritage site.

Two boys and a conspiracy. At the main square of Bhaktapur Darbar square, a UNESCO world heritage site. Bhaktapur appears larger than Patan Darbar Square, and is more architecturally versatile. As you go deeper into the square, it appears as if time has frozen – the locals still create pottery, embroidered murals and singing bowls, pretty ancient arts.

 

Stone carvings at one of the many temples found in Bhaktapur Darbar Square.

Stone carvings at one of the many temples found in Bhaktapur Darbar Square.

 

Wheat growing in fields on the way to Pokhara.

Wheat growing in fields on the way to Pokhara. The crop can be found growing across most of Nepal. When we went, most of the wheat in the fields was ripe and ready for harvest, so all we saw were fields of swaying Gold everywhere.

 

The road to Tatopani. When we returned from Nagarkot, we halted for the night at Pokhara, leaving behind more than half our luggage because we were going to return to the place and stay for two days. Our next adventure was Tatopani, and from there onwards to Muktinath. I loved Tatopani so much that I stayed back while the rest of the gang rode up to Muktinath. This was the second toughest route to navigate on the entire trip.

The road to Tatopani. When we returned from Nagarkot, we halted for the night at Pokhara, leaving behind more than half our luggage because we were going to return to the place and stay for two days. Our next adventure was Tatopani, and from there onwards to Muktinath. I loved Tatopani so much that I stayed back while the rest of the gang rode up to Muktinath. This was the second toughest route to navigate on the entire trip.

 

A glimpse of the snow-capped Annapurna range, Tatopani.

A glimpse of the snow-capped Annapurna range, Tatopani.

 

The view from our hotel at Tatopani. Off the screen to the right are the hot springs that give Tatopani its name. There are several such hot springs across Nepal. The water is rich in Sulphur and supposedly curative. When I drank a cupful, the taste was pretty metallic.

The view from our hotel at Tatopani. Off the screen to the right are the hot springs that give Tatopani its name. There are several such hot springs across Nepal. The water is rich in Sulphur and supposedly curative. When I drank a cupful, the taste was pretty metallic. P.S: Who can spot the blue truck?

 

The Thakali Thali. One of the highlights of the ride was the standard vegetarian thali one can find across Nepal. The daal is particularly delicious, with a special herb locally called Jimbu adding loads of unique flavour to it. The herb is pretty expensive and is usually imported from Tibet. The rest of the components of the thali are pickled radishes, local greens, a dry dish made with legumes, tomato chutney and potato-bean sabzi.

The Thakali Thali. One of the highlights of the ride was the standard vegetarian thali one can find across Nepal. The daal is particularly delicious, with a special herb locally called Jimbu adding loads of unique flavour to it. The herb is pretty expensive and is usually imported from Tibet. The rest of the components of the thali (from lower right) are tomato chutney, pickled radishes, a dry dish made with local pulses, local greens and potato-beans sabzi.

 

Visiting Devi's Fall at Pokhara.

Visiting Devi’s Fall at Pokhara. Pokhara has many interesting places to visit. The Gupteshwar Caves are stunning, but make for really bad photography. There’s also the Mountaineering Museum which I heard is fabulous, but didn’t manage to go to because we got stranded in the rain.

 

This wishing well is pretty rich - by Nepali standards at least. At Devi's Fall, Pokhara.

This wishing well at Devi’s Fall is pretty rich – by Nepali standards at least. 

 

A night out in Pokhara, listening to a local band doing covers of the oldies.

A night out in Pokhara, listening to a local band doing covers of the oldies.

 

Chitwan, our destination after three days in Pokhara. The Chitwan Wildlife Sanctuary is pretty famous for its wildlife, but the entry is also quite expensive. We could only afford to go to the Elephant Breeding Centre. This was the scenic approach to the rows and rows of open enclosures for the elephants and their babies.

Chitwan, our destination after three days in Pokhara. The Chitwan Wildlife Sanctuary is pretty famous for its wildlife, but the entry is also quite expensive. We could only afford to go to the Elephant Breeding Centre. This was the scenic approach to the rows and rows of open enclosures for the elephants and their babies.

 

Lumbini, the last stop in Nepal before we headed back into India via Basti, UP. The ruins of Lumbini Palace are cocooned within this monstrosity of a structure and totally killed my desire to walk in. Based on the reports from those who did venture in, I didn't miss much. It was exciting, though, to be at the birthplace of Buddha.

Lumbini, the last stop in Nepal before we headed back into India via Basti, UP. The ruins of Lumbini Palace are cocooned within this… this structure that totally killed my desire to walk in. Based on the reports from those who did venture in, I didn’t miss much. It was exciting, though, to be at the birthplace of Buddha.

 

QUICK NOTES

Currency:

1 Indian Rupee = 1.6 Nepali Rupee. Which means that you’ll feel richer in Nepal. Possibly also one of the reasons why a lot of Indian families holiday there. Unlike Bhutan, people here don’t go crazy behind the Indian rupee. Oh, and 500 and 1000 rupee notes are not accepted in most places because of fraud.

Food:

Sekuwa – smoked meat – is widely available and is apparently pretty delicious. It’s an acquired taste for some. Vegetarian food is widely available – the Thakali thali, especially, is available everywhere. Chicken and beef are most common. You’ll find a lot of Chinese and Indian cuisine everywhere, but places that serve authentic Nepali food are a little hard to find.

Accomodation:

Varies from basic to luxurious. Water and electricity are a problem, so carry a torch with you. Most rooms are well-maintained, with western bathrooms and water heaters, toilet rolls and towels.

Weather:

It was pretty hot when we rode into Nepal, but after that it was raining throughout. The weather is mostly pleasant, and bearably cold in the higher regions. I carried six pairs of jeans and plenty of tees. I used floaters for local sightseeing, but for treks and the ride itself, I wore hiking shoes. Carry rain covers for your luggage.

Vegetation:

Sparse. Most of it is cultivated land, with a decent amount of greenery on the mountains. The historical monuments are note-worthy, with quite a few world heritage sites in the country.

Wildlife:

Not sure, really, because I spotted nothing – no birds, no animals, and definitely no yetis.

The road travelled. Less or more is entirely up to you.

The road travelled. Less or more is entirely up to you.

Getting there: Delhi is the most conveniently connected metro to direct flights to Pokhara and Kathmandu. You can also fly to Bagdogra and ride from there.

Go if: You want to indulge in plenty of adventure sports.

Ramadan Specials: Iftaar at Charminar.

A view of Charminar from the gates of Osmania Hospital.

A view of Charminar from the gates of Nizamia Hospital.

Eid has come and gone already, and I know this post is way behind time – but it’s less than a week since Ramadan ended, so I can be forgiven. I think.

This year, I had the good fortune of being in Hyderabad during Ramadan. Eager to explore what the city of Nizams had to offer in terms of food and colour, I dragged a friend to Charminar for Iftaar – the opening of fast – one evening. And Boy Oh Boy, the joie de vivre there is entirely different from Bangalore.

Jumma Masjid near Charminar, moments before the siren went off.

Jumma Masjid near Charminar, moments before the siren went off.

For starters, the place is so packed that you can’t move an inch without elbowing someone or stamping the odd toe. The approach to Charminar comes with its usual bustle – people hawking hairbands and miscellaneous accessories, while Hyderabadi bikers and car drivers zig-zag across roads like drunk crabs out of water (there’s a popular saying among seasoned drivers, actually – if you can drive in Hyderabad, you can drive anywhere in the world). Once you get closer to Charminar, though, it’s a different story. The centuries-old structure stands guard to the crazy frenzy of mankind. It’s as if thousands of years ago, Time decided to stroll through the streets, came across Charminar and was so taken by its majesty that it completely forgot to move on.

Jumma Masjid after the dusk prayers.

Jumma Masjid after the dusk prayers.

There are tons of shops and stalls and carts with fruits everywhere, but there’s a certain order in the chaos. The roads were so full of burqa-clad women and men in white skull caps that it appeared as if the traffic was stuck in a black and white maze, trying to find a path that would lead to the finish.

Q: Why did the vendors wait patiently for customers? A: Because they knew that their patience would bear fruit. (Yeah, I know. Bad one.)

Q: Why did the vendors wait patiently for customers?
A: Because they knew that their patience would bear fruit. (Yeah, I know. Bad one.)

My friend and I reached at the right time – the siren went off just as we parked the car. Rather than stopping to open their fast, we saw people fly into an even greater frenzy. There were at least 60 fruit carts lined up on one side of Charminar – it gave me a serious complex as a Bangalorean. During Iftaar, us Bangaloreans leap for the nearest fried goodies we can lay our hands on and stuff it down our throats, followed by copious amounts of meat and rice and juices. In Hyderabad, everyone ran for the fruit carts. The carts outnumbered sellers of samosas and fried meats by 60:2 – I kid you not. (Yeah, we found just two non-fruit selling stalls. And they stuck out like sore thumbs.)

 

Dahi Vadas in all their splendour. Please do not miss the deep-fried chillies sticking upright as a garnish!

Dahi Vadas in all their splendour. Please do not miss the deep-fried chillies sticking upright as a garnish!

 

Sesame-crusted Fried Chicken. Superbly marinated in spices and lip-smackingly delicious.

Sesame-crusted Fried Chicken. Superbly marinated in spices and lip-smackingly delicious.

 

Pickle in their blood: Hyderabadis are crazy about pickles. The old city especially is known for its variety of pickles. The most remarkable is the Tarkari ka Achaar - pickled vegetables in a base of raw tamarind paste and spices.

Hyderabadis are crazy about pickles. The old city especially is known for its variety of pickles. The most remarkable is the Tarkari ka Achaar – pickled vegetables in a base of raw tamarind paste and spices.

Hyderabadis have a wicked sense of humour – at least the ones on the old city side. Most of them are charmingly incorrigible, I would say. The salesmen are especially glib, ready with retorts to any queries or conversations you may have with them. While I tried all sorts of weird squats to capture Charminar from different angles, the fruit vendors around me kept nudging each other and giggling, addressing me as aapa – elder sister. Completely unnecessary, considering 98% of them were ancient compared to me! “Kya aapa, konse newspaper ke vaaste hai ye? Arrey photo lere bhai, aake thairo yaan, thoda pose-an maaro!” (So, elder sister, which newspaper is this for? Hey, she’s taking photographs, come and stand here and give her some poses!”) By the end of the night, their glibness had resulted in clearly visible embarrassment on my cheeks that matched the colour of the pomegranates on sale.

Salesmen in Hyderabad don't have the least qualms in draping sarees and showing them off to customers. This young chap here beckoned me over to his shop and asked me to take a picture. "Maidum", said his companion sitting off-camera, "Don't take his face, you won't be able to see anything in print. Or just do some Photoshop on him, make him fairer." He grinned as I looked at him with bulging eyes, then at the saree-clad man. He just grinned too and posed some more for my camera.

Salesmen in Hyderabad don’t have the least qualms in draping sarees and showing them off to customers. This young chap here beckoned me over to his shop and asked me to take a picture. “Maidum”, said his companion sitting off-camera, “Don’t take his face, you won’t be able to see anything in print. Or just do some Photoshop on him, make him fairer.” He grinned as I looked at him with bulging eyes, then at the saree-clad man. He just grinned too and posed some more for my camera.

Once we were done sampling the food, my friend and I decided to move towards Laad Bazaar – another lane branching off from Charminar, home to endless shops selling bangles of all kinds. Walking into the lane is like stepping onto the red carpet – the hide and seek of sparkles from shiny, glittering bangles emulating a million flashbulbs going off. There’s glitter everywhere, making one feel like one’s entered some sort of fairyland. And the bangles? Oh. My. God. Lac bangles with engravings, traditional sona glass bangles worn by brides, the bridal joda, thick bangles studded with shiny stones – the variety is mind-numbing.

Laad Bazaar at Charminar.

Laad Bazaar at Charminar.

 

Shimmer, sparkle, glitter - the bangles of Laad Bazaar.

Shimmer, sparkle, glitter – the bangles of Laad Bazaar.

 

Traditional Sona - delicate glass bangles worn by women with thick stone-studded bangles. A bridal trousseau is incomplete without them.

Traditional Sona – delicate glass bangles worn by women with thick stone-studded bangles. A bridal trousseau is incomplete without them.

As I saw people walk around the food stalls and women walk into the stores and whip out dresses/sarees to match colours of the bangles to their Eid clothes, I was taken back to my summer holidays many moons ago. Every one of my vacations was spent in Hyderabad – fearlessly exploring the tombs, climbing up to Charminar, shopping for weddings of aunts and cousins at Laad Bazar,  and earnestly hoping that this part of Hyderabad would always stand still despite time and preserve all its magic. That there would always be that energy, that shimmer, that madness that can only be associated with this particular part of the world. Imagine my surprise and joy when I went back this time to the comforting knowledge that the pollution levels may have gone up, inflation may have taken a toll, people may have grown more impatient, but there’s one thing that hasn’t changed still: the magic.

Gateway into present-day living from the old city.

Gateway into present-day living from the old city.

Getting there: Charminar isn’t hard to access, but it’s super-difficult to find parking space around here. I would recommend taking an auto or a cab here and going back home the same way.

Go if: You love experiencing moments of magic. And food. And life.

Snapshots from Nepal: Part One.

Since Nepal is known for being a 'Hare Rama Hare Krishna' destination, it seemed fitting to make this the opening shot for my posts on Nepal. This is the entire country in a single frame. The woman, however, is smoking a regular cigarette.

And the worries of her age go up in wisps of smoke. A local woman en route Kodari, from where the Chinese border is visible.

Nepal… Hmm, I’m really not sure where to begin. I can never separate the journey from the place on any of my travels. Nepal, however, broke the monotony. I am able to clearly distinguish between the journey through Nepal and the country itself – bizarre as it may sound. The reason’s quite simple – my 2000-plus kilometre ride delivered on the promise of adventure and adrenalin rush more than the place itself did.

Don’t get me wrong – the land of Gurkhas is stunningly picturesque in bits and pieces, but the first and most recurrent word on my holiday was not ‘stunning’, or ‘picturesque’, ‘beautiful’ or other similar adjectives. It was ‘impoverished’. It was the first thing I noticed on crossing the border at Kakarbhitta, and continued to notice throughout the ride – throngs of disabled people, an average quality of life, scarcity of water, power shortage, almost non-existent infrastructure… the works. If the country has any riches, I didn’t see any evidence of it. Not even in Kathmandu or Pokhara. I guess that’s the downside of riding through a country or visiting parts of it that do not have the ‘Tourist’ tag attached to them – you discover the reality behind the image portrayed to the world.

Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.

Fishing in shallow waters, en route Janakpuri.

So that’s that about the place. Now about the ride… well, I have one word for it too: crazy. 80% of our journey was an off-road one, riding up steep hills, through parched river beds dotted with parched lands, surfaces covered with inches and inches of mud, slush and boulders. I am happy to say that my spine is fine and my butt isn’t in a rut. It was my first off-roading experience, but enough to last a lifetime – I have sworn off off-roading (for the time being at least). And this time, I didn’t fall off the bike even once or get chased by formidable roosters.

That’s about all I have to say about Nepal. I’ll let the pictures and videos work the rest of the magic. Since a lot of the riding was tricky, I shot a lot with my Moto G phone as well. You’ll know the difference. (Or not, because my phone camera is pretty good too.)

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Rest stop, on the way from Siliguri to Kakarbhitta.

 

At Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. in the evening. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.

And then there was light. Chaubis, Bhedetar. Everywhere we went, the rains followed. This was snapped at 5:30 p.m. from the first floor of our resort. Thunderstorms and lightening were the flavour of the evening.

 

A wandering minstrel, Chaubis. The instrument is a type of Sarangi, but what I find most fascinating is the way the sound box is shaped – like a shoe. Imagine this music playing to the thunder and lightning show that the weather at Chaubis put up for us that evening.

At the Janakpuri temple, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita's version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.

A lesson in mythology at the Janaki temple, Janakpuri, where onlookers listened to an enactment of Sita’s version of the Ramayan on a candybox television.

 

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Sita’s home – Janaki Temple, Janakpuri. The temple, like the town, gets its name from Sita – known in these parts as Janaki. Not surprisingly, a majority of the visitors are women, most of them hanging around the inner sanctum of the temple, chatting, gossiping and exchanging stories.

 

Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.

Crispy, gooey jalebis at a breakfast stop on the way.

 

Smooth tarred roads, the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.

Serpentine roads, en route Kathmandu. Smooth tarred roads on the way to Kathmandu – the last stretch that we saw before days and days of off-roading.

 

How to lose weight while riding. En route Kathmandu. I wasn’t kidding when I said that Nepal doesn’t really have too many tarred roads.

 

A glimpse of the architecture at the Jal Narayan Temple. The Jal Narayan - a solid-gold god asleep as he rests on serpents in the middle of water - is a remarkable example of craftsmanship, but wasn't allowed to be photographed.

Repairing the time tear, Jal Narayan Temple, Kathmandu. Restrorations at the Jal Narayan temple. The Jal Narayan – a solid-marble god asleep on serpents in the middle of water – is a remarkable example of craftsmanship. Couldn’t photograph it, though.

 

Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn't be photographed for two reasons - one, it's not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.

No entry. Pashupatinath Temple, Kathmandu. Again, stunning architecture and craftsmanship of the centre sanctum, with giant lions and kings carved out of solid stone dating back to 400 A.D, but couldn’t be photographed for two reasons – one, it’s not allowed, and two, non-Hindus are not allowed either. Where there is a will, there is a way, though, and I managed to sneak in and look around.

 

Prayer lamps on display at Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I'm in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.

Arranged prayers, Bodhi Stupa, Kathmandu. I’m in love with monasteries, and was especially fascinated with this display at the base of the stupa. There are many stores, hotels and restaurants surrounding the stupa and the place is quite commercial, but everything just fades away when you climb up on to the stupa and walk around it.

 

Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old an is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together.  This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.

Majestic no more. Patan Darbar Square, Kathmandu. Darbar Squares are massive, open spaces with temples, palaces and civilian residences co-existing next to each other. Patan Darbar Square is five centuries old and is the perfect example of traditions and modern-day living coming together. This poor lion, however, is not a happy creature, what with his majesty being abused by a shameless display of ghutkas.

 

Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Pokhara.

Giving the wheels a sunset break, on the way to Kathmandu.

We spent a couple of days in Kathmandu and rode on to the highest point in Nepal, the Chinese border and a hotel at the end of the universe. I had a duck for company (what is it with me and birds??) and two snow-capped days in the lap of the Annapurna range. That, however, is for another post. This should whet your appetite enough for you to look forward to Part Two!

Down the Rabbit Hole: 10 Italian villages for the perfect summer getaway.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. Picture via Huffington Post/Minube.

San Gimignano, Tuscany. Picture via Huffington Post/Minube.

Think of Italy, and you think of Quixotic men, flowing wine, sumptuous food, candlelit dinners at quaint roadside cafes and a city that is a living, breathing part of history.

We know the country for its romance and architectural beauty, but it turns out that there are remote, undiscovered places in Italy that are way more charming than the touristy attractions usually associated with it. So here’s a list of the 10 Italian villages that one must visit when holidaying in Italy.

I think I’ll just settle for one of these over the cities – or maybe stay in all of them, because as the Italians say, la varietà è il sale della vita – variety is the spice of life.

Via Huffington Post. Read the full article here: http://huff.to/1h3Xrc1

Picture via Huffington Post, who curated it with help from Minube.

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What is Down the Rabbit Hole?

Remember Alice? And how she went slip-sliding down an innocent-looking burrow? And how she emerged into this fantastic, unbelievable world on the other side – one she never thought existed? Well, starting this month, Potli Baba will go down a special rabbit hole from time to time and stumble upon strange, fascinating worlds that have been recorded for posterity by those brave enough to venture into them. Simply put, Potli Baba is going to curate interesting and marvellous articles, stories and photo essays from the Internet and bring them to you as a series (complete with gift-wrap and ribbon) on the blog. Just for your reading pleasure.

Why you must trek in Kemmanagundi (even if you’re not the trekking types).

Our first view of Kemmanagundi.

Our first view of Kemmanagundi.

Remember my posts on Bhutan, in which I lamented my decision to trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery? Despite my earnest desire to go trekking more often since, my loathing for any activity that combines walking with breathlessness and increased heart rate overcame the enthusiasm.

View from near the Rose Garden.

View from near the Rose Garden.

And like all other times when life has made me eat my own words – especially when they involve ‘hate’, ‘don’t’ or ‘exercise’ – this time too, I had to down my loathing with a generous helping of humble sauce. Kemmanagundi is to be blamed for it. This popular-with-government-officials hill station of sorts in Chikkamangalur district cast its spell on a non-trekker like me as well. And my, what a spell it was – lush green hills as far as the eye can see, grassy pathways formed naturally over the hills, flowers in brilliant reds, pinks and blues, and a freshwater spring or two.

The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.

The trek to Z point, from where one can see the sun setting into the Arabian Sea.

The trek isn’t for very long – at least, not if you take your vehicle up to the most accessible point. One can finish it in a couple of hours both ways. I ventured halfway out, and then decided against going any further because the path involved scaling down slippery patches of mountain and I had a big camera bag with me. (Let this be a lesson to everyone.) I am told, though, that the sun setting over the Arabian Sea makes for a magnificent sight.

Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.

Catching the sunset from regular terrain while the rest of them watch it disappear from Z point.

The trek’s not the only attraction at Kemmanagundi – there are view points, water bodies, temples and more around the place. The most pleasurable bit, though, is the greenery and serenity that comes with it – winding mountain roads with an overarching canopy of giant trees swaying in the wind.

Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.

Blooms soaking up the mountain sun.

The local farmer's market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.

The local farmer’s market in the compound of the jungle lodge we stayed at.

And that sums up everything I have to say about the place – there wasn’t enough time to explore it more extensively, considering it was weekend trip with more time spent biking than exploring. I do say this, though – if a quiet getaway to connect with nature is your thing, Kemmanagundi is definitely a destination to consider.

The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.

The trees form natural filters, letting only wisps of sunlight through their canopy.

Getting there: Drive down or bike it – it takes about 6 hours, with stops. The road closer to Kemmanagundi is quite bad, so that takes a chunk of time to get through. There are also overnight buses available. The nearest train station is Chikkamangalur and there are several trains that run every day.

Go if: You enjoy trekking, need some quiet time and want to feel one with nature.

P.S: There are plenty more pictures on my Instagram feed. Check them out to get a bigger picture of what the place is like.

Down the Rabbit Hole: How Europe’s mountain communities celebrate Winter solstice.

Image shot by Charles Freger for his book Wilder Mann. Picture courtesy: Wired Magazine.

Image shot by Charles Fréger for his book Wilder Mann. Picture courtesy: Wired Magazine.

Every year, as winter breaks its stronghold and retreats to make way for Spring, the mountain communities of Europe gear up to celebrate the occasion by shedding their human form and dressing up as animals/birds.

French photographer Charles Fréger travelled across 19 European countries and over 50 villages to document this fascinating culture and compiled it in his book titled Wilder Mann. Just reading the article makes me want to go to the places and be a part of the celebrations – imagine the centuries-old stories that one could find among these people!

This adventure comes via the Wired Magazine. Read the full article here: http://wrd.cm/1hkuy7O

***

What is Down the Rabbit Hole?

Remember Alice? And how she went slip-sliding down an innocent-looking burrow? And how she emerged into this fantastic, unbelievable world on the other side – one she never thought existed? Well, starting this month, Potli Baba will go down a special rabbit hole from time to time and stumble upon strange, fascinating worlds that have been recorded for posterity by those brave enough to venture into them. Simply put, Potli Baba is going to curate interesting and marvellous articles, stories and photo essays from the Internet and bring them to you as a series (complete with gift-wrap and ribbon) on the blog. Just for your reading pleasure.

Food adventures: The Avarekai Mela

Plates waiting to be filled.

Plates waiting to be filled.

I recently heard about food festivals in Bangalore that are centred around specific ingredients, and rather than being hosted in some expensive hotel for a couple of days, these festivals are held on the streets of Bangalore for at least a week. Nearly half a year ago, when the Kadalekai (Kannada for Peanut) Mela (Festival) was held, I heard about it only after it happened. In late December, when I heard that the Avarekai Mela was happening, I jumped at the opportunity to experience it.

Vendors selling the Lablab bean by kilos.

Vendors selling the Lablab bean by kilos.

Avarekai – Kannada for the Lablab bean (or the Indian bean, Egyptian bean, Hyacinth bean or Australian pea) – is popular with locals when in season: you’ll see its skin strewn in front of homes across Bangalore. Legend goes that if the skins are stepped on or trampled over on the roads, the food cooked using the bean gets more flavourful. (I don’t know about that part, but I do know that by the end of the season, I’m pretty sick of my mom using it in everything she makes.)

Everyone of these cooks was creating something different with the Avarekai. And this is just half of them.

Everyone of these cooks was creating something different with the Avarekai. And this is just half of them.

That the Lablab bean is an amazingly versatile ingredient is something I discovered after I went for the Avarekai Mela. Held on the street adjacent to Sajjan Rao Circle, by a very enterprising woman who runs a sweets and savouries store on the same road, the Avarekai Mela showcased the many ways in which the little green bean can be used – from Ragi Dosa to Kod Vadai to Payasam. Thousands of people walked up and down the street, trying out the many delicacies on display, getting straight off girdles and frying pans to environment-friendly disposable plates; buying coupons for the food took an awfully long time because the queue was insanely long.

I sampled everything, of course, and didn’t need to eat for the rest of the day. My four most favourite dishes were:

The Nippattu – a sort of fried flat bread-ish snack made with green gram flour, spices, peanuts and in this case, Avarekai. It was crispy through and through, with the Avarekai adding delicious crunch to the mix.

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Deep-fried goodness.

Avarekai Payasam – made with milk, jaggery, fresh ground coconut, cardamoms and Avarekai. It was the first time I tasted the Lablab in a sweet dish and, my goodness, I was amazed. The distinct flavour of cardamom with the slightly nutty Avarekai and earthy tones of the jaggery made for a new, novel, and very memorable taste.

The Avarekai Payasam. Tasted way better than it looked.

The Avarekai Payasam. Tasted way better than it looked.

Avarekai Masala Vada – Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, another classic dish at the mela.

Kod Vadai – Did you know that Lablab can be ground to a paste and mixed with curd and spices and then rolled into circles and deep fried? Well, now you do. If I ever meet the person who invented it, I will fall at their feet and hail them as the next best thing after the printing press.

Kod Vadai being fried as the lady in the background rolls the dough and shapes it into circles.

Kod Vadai being fried as the lady in the background rolls the dough and shapes it into circles.

Want to get a taste of similar melas yourself? Here’s how:

– Look out for listings/mentions in the local newspapers. Unfortunately, they’re not a big enough event to have a dedicated Facebook page, nor are they as fancy. So newspapers are the only way to know about them.

– When in doubt, Google.

Avarekai Dosa. One of this is lunch enough.

Avarekai Dosa. One of this is lunch enough.

Getting there: Grab an auto/taxi to Sajjan Rao Circle. I wouldn’t recommend driving there – parking is excruciatingly hard to find.

Go if: You like experimenting with food, love food, and are happiest trying out new flavours.