It’s the time to Pisco: Exploring Peruvian cuisine

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Ceviche, pisco, potatoes and fine unique spices, Peru’s rich cuisine is all of this, and more. PRIYA GANAPATHY pays a greedy tribute. 

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I will never forget my first taste of ceviche. Before I could dig in to Peru’s flagship dish, my guide Pablo cried, “Wait! Mix it with a spoon. Taste it slowly.” Misty-eyed, his voice dropped to a whisper, “Ceviche classico is a dish that must be savoured. Taste the freshness of sole fish, softness of cooked cancha (corn kernels), crunchiness of fried corn and onions, sweetness of the orange sweet potato, creamy limey taste of leche de tigre (tiger’s milk) and Peru’s famous amarillo chilli or yellow peppers.”

It is evident Peruvians are passionate about food. Entranced, I swirled the colourful ingredients together and scooped it into my mouth. A burst of different textures and flavours exploded within. Ceviche clearly has the potential to become the next sushi. Peru has even declared June 28th as National Ceviche Day!

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Connoisseurs hail Peru as “the next great global foodie destination”, ranking it among the Top 5 cuisines in the world. It has been propelled into international stardom thanks to celebrity chefs like Gastón Acurio, the mop-haired messiah of Peruvian cuisine who owns more than 20 restaurants and has authoured over a dozen cookbooks, and Chef Virgilio Martinez, recently crowned the Best Chef on the Planet for 2017 when he bagged the Chef’s Choice award.

I landed in capital city Lima, ‘the gastronomic capital of the Americas’ and host to Mistura, the annual food festival in Oct-Nov (this year was the tenth edition) which draws gourmands from across the world. From there on, I practically ate my way through Ica and Cusco, praying that a trek to Machu Pichhu would work it off.

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Three signature ingredients are recurrent in Peru – the holy trinity of papas (potatoes), cancha (corn) and aji (chilli), which come in various avatars and form the backbone of Peruvian cuisine. You will be blown by the sheer variety in sizes, shapes and colours – red, yellow, purple, orange, brown, black, pink… round, long, oval, plump, thin… it’s practically a rainbow in the pantry.

While agriculture has been the mainstay since Pre-Incan times, the Incas elevated it to a science with their larger-than-life field experiments and open laboratories of microclimate terrace farming at Moray, near the ancient Maras salt mines that whiten the entire mountainside.

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According to legend, when the mythical founders of the Inca empire, Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, emerged from the waters of Lake Titicaca, the first thing the god Wiracocha taught them was how to sow potatoes. Potatoes became not just a crucial food item but their very identity. “Soy mas Peruano que la papa” meaning “I’m more Peruvian than a potato!” is a popular saying in the all-powerful Quechua culture which exalts the iconic tuber.

They have nearly (breathe deep) 3800 types of potatoes and have been growing them for nearly four millenia. Can you blame them for being finicky about which potato goes into which dish? One variety, the yana piña, is full of knots. Cheeky mothers test the efficiency of new brides by telling them to peel it, hence its nickname ‘mother-in-law potato’ or ‘weeping bride’!

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Another extraordinary Quechua dish, Causa Peruana is a delicious yellow potato mash cake, layered with vegetables, mayonaisse, aji amarillo (golden yellow chilli), avocado and hardboiled egg topped with Peruvian botija olives. The non-veg version comes with tuna, egg, crab, chicken or shrimp. Interestingly, causa is linked to the very history of Peru as the dish was born on the streets of Lima.

Folklore has it that sometime in the 1800s, the wives of soldiers fighting for Peruvian Independence would prepare and sell this potato dish as a fundraiser for the ‘cause’ of Independence. Others believe the word causa is derived from the Quechua word ‘kausay’ meaning ‘sustenance of life’ since the potato was the life-blood of ancient Peruvians.

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Corn or maize too is sacred to Peruvians. They grow over 60 varieties that can be cooked, fried, salted or mashed… from steamed and stuffed dumplings called tamale wrapped in corn husk to delicious desserts like mazza mora made with purple corn or traditional drinks like chicha.

Chicha morada is a dark non-alcoholic drink made with purple corn while the fermented alcoholic version chicha de jora is made with yellow corn. In the Urubamba region and Sacred Valley, local chicherias (local pubs) often announce their presence with a pole bearing a red flag. While villagers quaff chicha de jora like juice, to the unaccustomed, just a glass of this golden corn beer will get you tipsy.

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While on potions, one drink all Peruvians rave about is Pisco – a colourless to pale yellow drink made by distilling fermented grape juice to a potent brandy. Contrary to Chile’s claims and a debate that’s been raging for over 400 years, pisco was born in Peru in the 16th century. It was probably named after the town of Pisco, an old port on the Peruvian coast, though pisco is also Quechua for ‘bird’.

The famous Pisco Sour, a classic South American cocktail that originated in Lima, is Peru’s national drink made with pisco, egg white, lime juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters. They even had a remedy if you drank too much. Adobo, tagged as the perfect hangover meal, is a wholesome soup of pork chops simmered with onions, rocoto, purple corn, garlic and Peruvian spices!

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With the mighty Pacific lapping its shores, Peru offers an incredible bounty of seafood. In the surreal desert region of Ica, I tucked into bowls of fresh Lima bean salad and Pulpito Candelabro (grilled baby octopus) between sips of Inca Cola at La Hacienda Bahia Paracas’ restaurant El Coral.

Vina Tacama, South America’s oldest vineyard, dating to the 16th century evolved from an Augustine nunnery to a world class winery. Sampling wines and local cuisine, accompanied by traditional shows like marinera dances, music and showhorses was a delightful experience.

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I tried a hearty plate of Arroz con pollo o aji de gallina – rice served with generous helpings of spicy creamy yellow chili sauce. Sauces or salsas also colour the Peruvian table. Made with aji (chili) or herbs, they make great dips with potato or yucca chips – from yummy avocado mash guacamole to yellow salsa huancaina, herby green ocopa sauce made from aromatic huacatay leaves and crema de aji rocoto.

Another delicious speciality is alpaca. The animal looks a lot like a llama, but is smaller and has a softer coat. I tried not to think of the cute alpacas I petted at Urubamba and Chinchero’s Urpi weaving centre when I placed my order. Alpacas were a domesticated species of camelids central to the Quechua lifestyle. Bred mainly for their fleece and pelt which women wove into luxuriously soft woolens, alpacas are also culled regularly for meat. Alpaca red meat is tender, lean, low in cholestrol and high in protein and iron, tasting like a sweeter version of venison or goat.

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Every visitor is impressed by the manner in which food is served in Peru. It’s as much presentation as prepartion. Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Chicha has a tasting menu that will blow you away with its flavours, textures and exquisite plating style – tartar de alpaca with a mushroom vignarette, lechon crocante (crunchy piglet) swimming in its own juices served with potato and apples, soft lamb pita with muna (Andean mint), cucumber yoghurt and candied sacha, ceviche de valley with trout tarwi artichokes… it didn’t stop.

Nothing’s better than discovering the tastes of Peru in an atmospheric place, like the restaurant at the historic archaeological complex of Huaca Pucllana overlooking the magnificent 15-acre pre-Inca ruins or the creeper-riddled Museo Larco Café in Lima attached to the privately owned museum of Pre-Columbian art. Here, I tried tres leche, literally ‘3 milks cake’ – a typical Peruvian dessert of sponge cake soaked in condensed milk, reduced milk and heavy cream besides a golden mousse de lucuma made from the exotic buttery fruit.

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At the high-end restaurant Senzo at the Palacio Nazrenas hotel, set in the inner courtyard of a heritage monastery complex in Cusco, the colonial ambience adds to the magic. I savoured Cuy (guinea pig) as part of a five-course tasting menu and could see why it was reserved for special occassions. At Cathedral Basilica, Marcos Zapata’s gigantic 1753 painting depicts The Last Supper with the cuy as the main course on the long table!

MAP Café, a courtyard restaurant in the Pre-Columbian Art Museum in Cusco, serves Peruvian food with French and Italian touches. Quechua men knitted traditional woolen caps as the steward wowed us with Capchi de Setas, a soup of Andean setas, mushrooms, fava beans and pariah cheese. It came veiled with a sheet of dough that was dramatically opened! This was followed by delicious pork leg, slow cooked for 12 hours in Cusconean Adobo sauce, resting on a soft bed of sweet potato mousselline l’orange.

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With great music, a Pisco Sour bar and a fab view of Cusco’s remarkable churches, fountain and atmospheric central square Plaza de Armas, Limo is quite the place. I devoured grilled alpaca tenderloin daubed with elderberry sauce and yellow chilli quinoa risotto, Andean tiradito (wild trout with rocoto, Andean lake seaweed and sachtomate sauce) besides suckling pig cheek.

High up at El Parador de Moray restaurant with lilting tunes of the Andean harp wafting over the Moray terraces, we had a traditional buffet spread of lechon (pork) roast, trucha ala sal (trout cooked with salt), pollo horniado (oven-cooked chicken), quinoa tabbouleh, ollucas ragout, humitas (sweet tamales) and desserts like arroz con leche (akin to rice kheer) and mazza morra.

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The first-class Belmond Hiram Bingham luxury train along the legendary route from Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichhu presented 1920s style grandeur. Imagine polished wood and gleaming brass fittings, champagne, exotic fare like Wayllabamba’s smoked trout and grilled tenderloin beef, with unparalleled views of the Andes and meandering rivers on a voyage to the Inca empire.

In the streets, we encountered smiling vendors with packets of fried corn, yucca chips and coca leaves or trays of churros, a delicious fried dough stick that can be eaten plain or with a filling of chocolate or dulce de leche. Food is so integral to Peruvian life that it infuses their slang with phrases related to fruits or food. Christina Maria, our Peruvian companian giggled and said, “A handsome hunk is called ‘churro’. When a girl is skinny we have a phrase that means ‘put some extra potato in her soup’!”

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For a glimpse into what locals eat, wander around the San Pedro Market in Cusco. Be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted. Alongside crafts, apparel and souvenirs, you will encounter a mind-numbing assortment of breads bigger than your head, jug-sized servings of fresh-pressed juices, speckled quail eggs, various animal heads, pickled snakes and roasted guinea pigs stacked in buckets!

Chef Uriel Alfares from Gaston Acurio’s Chicha restaurant in Cusco, attributes the universal appeal of Peruvian cuisine to the unique spices, produce and the fact that chefs are increasingly experimenting with indigenous products and traditional dishes and techniques. This boutique restaurant can seat only 22 people at a time, yet sees over 300 people streaming through the day! “The exciting thing is the freedom to do fusion cuisine with ingredients from other countries like India and Spain. We have the produce, the passion, the instruments and tools” confessed Chef Uriel.

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Each region in Peru has something special to offer. Chef Uriel elaborated “In Cusco, Lima beans salad and Adobo are popular. In Lima, it’s ceviche, suspiros and picarones, a special kind of doughnut made with sweet potato, a Moorish influence. In Arequipa, it is rocoto relena and pastel de papa. Mazza mora is made of chicha, or maize with cinnamon, pineapple and sweet potato flour – mazza indicates ‘dough’ and mora denotes the Moors from Spain. There is a lot of Spanish influence in traditional Andean dishes.” Traditionally, the Incas didn’t know about oil and only boiled their foods; frying as a cooking technique was introduced by the Spanish.

Peruvian cuisine is a mirror of its rich ethnic mix – native Indians like the Quechua, Spanish conquistadores, Moorish cooks who came on ships, African slaves, Chinese indentured workers and Japanese immigrants who arrived in the 20th century; all have put their stamp on Peru’s food. At Maido, Chef Mitsuharu Tsumara’s speciality Nikkei cuisine fuses local Peruvian with Japanese food created by Japanese immigrants. Most of them arrived in the 1900s to work on sugarcane farms.

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Even the Chinese integrated into Peruvian society and contributed to the popular chifa culture. Our guide laughed saying, “You’ll find a chifa restaurant in every corner of my village!” Lomo Saltado Montado is the perfect example of Peru’s rich fusion cuisine. Traditionally a chifa dish, served with a heap of white rice, fried egg and fries, it was beef saltado (stir-fried in a wok), a technique introduced by the Chinese.

Peru has doggedly promoted culinary tourism for the last 15 years by participating in food fairs and festivals. According to Christina Maria, “Food is not only food… it is an entire food chain critical to the Peruvian economy – producers, farmers, the market, the produce. Before the 1980s, quinoa was what we fed to chickens! Now people are aware of its nutritional value and it’s everywhere… We always knew our food was great. Today, we’re just showcasing it better to the world. About 20% of people coming to Peru are culinary tourists… they come only to eat!” I think I just increased the percentage and my waistline.

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The Information

Getting There
International flights like Air France and British Airways operate regularly to Peru’s capital Lima via Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid and Miami. Paracas is a 4-hour drive (261km) south of Lima along the Pan-American Highway and 22km south of Pisco. There are over 35 daily flights from Lima to Cusco (1 hr 20min) operated by Peruvian Airline, LATAM, Avianca, LC Peru.

Where to Stay
Lima: La Hacienda Milaflores www.hotelslahacienda.com
Paracas: Bahia Paracas Hotel www.hotelsahacienda.com
Cusco: Aranwa Sacred Valley Hotel & Wellness www.aranwahotels.com

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Where to Eat

Lima:
Museo Larco Café Restaurant (Avenida Bolivar 1515, Lima 21; Ph: +51 1 4624757)
Huaca Pucllana (8 General Borgono Cuadra, Lima 27; +51 1 4454042)
Maido (399 Calle San Martin, Corner Calle Colon, Lima 18; +51 1 4462512)
La Mar (Av La Mar 770, Milaflores; +51 1 4213365)
Central (Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima 15074; +51 1 2428515)

Paracas/Ica:
El Coral (Hacienda Bahia Paracas Hotel, Urb. Sto Domingo Lote 25, Paracas, Pisco; +51 56581370)
Vina Tacama (Ica; +51 56581030, www.tacama.com)

Cusco/Sacred Valley:
Limo (Cochina Peruana & Pisco Bar, Portal de Carnes 236, Cusco; +51 84 240668)
Senzo (Belmond Palacio Nazarenas, Calle Palacio 144, Cusco; +51 84 582222; www.belmond.com)
Chicha (Heladeros 261, Cusco 08000, Cusco; +51 84 240520; www.chicha.com.pe)
MAP Café (Casa Cabrera, Plazoleta Nazarenas 231, Museo de Arte Precolombino, Cusco; +51 84 242476)
El Parador de Moray (Fundo Moray, distrito de Maras, Cusco; +51 84 242476)

For more information visit www.peru.travel or www.facebook.com/visitperu

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the special double issue of Outlook Traveller magazine in December 2017. 

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Kundalika River Run: Mumbai to Kolad

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go rafting down the Kundalika at Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site

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Jaded city dwellers from Mumbai or Pune needn’t go as far as Rishikesh or Dandeli to experience the rush of white-water rafting or wait for the monsoon to ride the waters. The Kundalika River in Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white-water rafting site, is open all year round. Being a dam-fed river, it’s doable 365-days-a-year, as easy as morning poha! We set off early from Mumbai to avoid bottlenecks at Pen and took a diversion off NH-17 towards the undulating Mulshi-Pune state highway, punctuated by scenic fields, farms and the Kundalika river.

Since the waters are released from the hydroelectric power station at Ravalje on the Bhira Dam around 8.30am, we needed to be there well before water levels receded. Purists often dismiss a ‘dam-fed river’ as a tepid choice against the thrill of tackling natural rain-fed torrents. Not true. The 14km stretch had as many Grade II-III rapids that transform into Grade IV during monsoon. A few rafts had already been launched, as we geared up and practiced our commands.

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While the first river run took place at Kolad in 1996, the sport became immensely popular only over the last few years. Like most white-water tracts, the rapids have ingenious names. The river kicks off with a prayer – ‘Good Morning Buddha’, the first rapid.

Thereafter, our raft bounced past ‘Hilton’, ‘Pumphouse’ to ‘Fisherman’, named after a fishing spot for local villagers and tribals. At ‘Butterfly’, waves curled and gracefully flapped around the rocking raft, drenching us and eliciting delighted squeals before swooping into a wicked eddy called ‘Crow’s Nest’.

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The next series of rapids come fast and furious forming the main highlight of Kundalika. ‘Key Wave’ unlocked a portal of waves, ‘Bush on the Bend’ glided us smack into a tree growing in the water and before we recovered, we were engulfed in the thick of ‘Morning Headache’.

Pema, our Nepali instructor explained, “If you go overboard in this 2km stretch of rapids, it’s a headache to haul you out!” If that wasn’t enough, the most ferocious rapid ‘John Kerry’ whacked into us before hurling the raft drunkenly into ‘Johnny Walker’.

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From here, we were dragged aboard ‘Rajdhani Express’ a set of non-stop rapids and floated into ‘Boom Shankar,’ which concluded the wild part of the ride. The tame course from here, prompted us to fling our paddles and dive in to swim and bodysurf, soaking in the beauty of the surrounding forests and hills. Friendly villagers along the banks chatted and cheered us along.

Clambering into the raft near ‘Broken Bridge’, we rowed to the finish line – Kamath Village; completing the exhilarating journey in one and half hours! The workout tempted a grab of vada paav and kanda bhajiya (onion pakoda) at the local tea vendor’s stall though the drive down to Orchard Café (10km) and Namrata Dhaba at Kolad offered a wholesome bite.

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While many do Kolad as a day trip, some extend it into an overnight stay at camps and farms like Sai and Sanskriti in and around Kolad for a taste of rustic life amidst paddy fields and groves of betelnut, coconut, chikoo and guava. The food is simple besides gharguti or ‘home-style’ meals of chicken, rotis, rice, dal, vegetable fry and salad. Explore the scenic countryside, laze on hammocks or chat around a barbecue or bonfire. Poojas Farm has cottages set on the backwater’s edge with riverside walks and bullock cart rides.

Adventure outfits offer rafting packages that include lunch, stay or activities like treks, river crossing, kayaking, canyoning and rock climbing around the area with expert instructors. Nature Trails Empower Activity Camp offers ATV rides, river crossing, paintball and corporate training programs while Kundalika Rafting Camp run by Nature Trails has luxury tents, and given rafting experiences to 33,000 adventure enthusiasts since 2006. Being Maharashtra’s only rafting site right in the midst of nature, Kolad is just the shot of adrenalin you need to escape from urban tedium.

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BOX
Distance: 138km from Mumbai, 96km from Pune
Time: 3-4 hours from Mumbai; 2hr 40mins from Pune
Route: Take NH-17 (Mumbai-Goa highway), cross Nagothane and 1km after Kolad, turn left on to SH-60 towards Pune via Mulshi. Saje village, the start point is 22km from the highway. The 14km rafting stretch from Saje to Kamat village has 14 Grade I-III rapids. Catch a Goa-bound bus and hop off at Kolad.
Link: goo.gl/AkbDYP

Raft: Kolad Rafting; Ph 9820299088, 9821454434 https://koladrafting.co.in; Wild River Adventure; Ph 98801 31762 http://www.indiarafts.com; Quest Adventures; Ph 8657195551 https://adventurekolad.com; Mercury Himalayan Explorations; Ph 92728 82874, 7276061111 http://www.kundalikarafting.in; Snow Leopard Adventures; Ph 9209265657 http://www.snowleopardadventures.com

Costs: For rafting Rs.600/person weekdays, Rs.1200-1500/person weekends, Rs.400/meal, Rafting+lunch+activities weekend package Rs.1400-2000, Farm stays range from Rs.2,500-4,000/day, Parking Rs.50, Local autos charge Rs.700/auto for ferrying people between the end/start points.

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Stay: Empower Activity Camp, Sutarwadi; Ph 9422691325, 7720873330 http://www.empowercamp.com; 6 AC cottages & 12 Swiss tents, 2 AC dorms (each 20 beds) Tariff Rs.2,600-3,900/person/night including meals. Nature Trails Resorts, Kamath Ph 8080807341 http://www.naturetrails.in; 20 luxury AC tents, Rs.3192 (luxury), Rs.3864 (super deluxe), includes tax, meals and adventure activities (Zip-line, Tarzan swing, Kayaking, Burma bridge, Treasure Hunt). Check-in 5pm, check-out 3pm; Sanskriti Farm, Muthavle; Ph 9987501613; Sai Farm, Ainwahal; 6 rooms, 2 cottages Ph 98691 18763 http://www.saifarmkolad.com; Tariff Rs.1500-1700/person ; Poojas Farm, Dhagadwadi; Ph 9209484178 www.poojasfarm.com; 11 cottages, 4 tents. Tariff 1500/person, including meals

Excursions: Sukeli waterfall, 10km from Kolad and a 1½ hour hike through a forest. Carry drinking water and snacks.

Top Tip: Timings for rafting are strictly 8–11am, so start from Mumbai by 5am. Late-risers may leave a day prior to stay overnight at Kolad. Wear light clothing, swimwear and apt footwear. Carry a change of clothes and towel. The last 5km is flat and requires strong paddling, though ideal for a swim and bodysurfing. Minimum age 14 years, not suited for asthmatics and heart patients. Weekday rates for rafting are cheaper by about Rs.600.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 28 Dec 2017 in Mint Lounge. Here’s the link to the original story: https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/76T8vxnYFoJ4yNkZs6YbxI/Mumbai-to-Kolad-Kundalika-river-run.html

 

A fairy tale life: Hans Christian Andersen trail, Copenhagen

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PRIYA GANAPATHY steps into the life of Denmark’s famous fairytale genius and poet HC Andersen on a canal ride and guided walk around the old city of Copenhagen

Painted houses of Nyhavn seen on a canal ride_Priya Ganapathy

Nyhavn in the maritime city of Copenhagen sits like a fairytale, with its gorgeous coloured houses, leaning against each other like old friends. Many of these old sailors’ quarters have been reimagined into trendy cafes, hotels and resturants offering superb views of sailboats in the waters below. I was on a floating picnic in a solar-powered GoBoat.

As we glided along the canals, our host Guiseppe Liverino pointed to a lovely tall white house wedged between a brown building and cream one. “This is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Nyhavn between 1845 and 1864.” I couldn’t believe I was staring at the house of Denmark’s gift to world literature. Marked No. 67 with a plaque honouring him, I almost expected words and fairytales to waft out of its tall windows. Apparently he lived in House No. 20 earlier where he wrote “Tinderbox” and “Little Claus and Big Claus”.

HC Andersen's house No 67 at Nyhavn is sandwiched between the cream and brown buildings_Priya Ganapathy

Ironically, the legendary fairytale writer and poet who populated our childhood dreamscape with unforgettable characters, led a life of utter penury. So poor was he, that he was kicked out of the home I was staring at, because he couldn’t pay his rent. He then moved a few hundred metres across to the other side, to live in a red house No. 18 where he met the same fate after two years!

Without a penny to his name, Andersen allegedly sought out monied folks by pretending to be very rich. Eventually, when the wheels of fortune turned, he was too old! There was something tragically beautiful about his story and I wished I could step into his ‘Galoshes of Fortune’ to discover his Copenhagen. I had the perfect opportunity the following day.

IMG_0439-HC Andersen's bust at City Hall_Priya Ganapathy

If there is one guided city walk you need to do in Copenhagen, it should be the Hans Christian Andersen Tour. Run by guide Richard Karpen, who literally transforms as he dons a top hat, tail coat and old world umbrella, and insists you call him ‘Hans’! American-born Richard may be from the NY Bronx, but is a Dane at heart who stays in character as he gives insights into the life of Copenhagen’s most famous writer of childrens’ books.

The author was born in 1805 and died at the age of seventy leaving a body of work that continues to inspire generations. “Andersen surprisingly wrote fairytales for adults.” So, if you read him as an adult, a more sophisticated deeper message would emerge in his stories (called eventyr in Danish) that perhaps children could miss. A bit like watching a Shakespeare play or listening to Mozart.

DSC03755-HC Andersen's famous statue near Tivoli, a favourite spot for a memorable iconic picture_Priya Ganapathy

Andersen was born to a poor family in the Odense countryside and raised by his shoemaker father and washerwoman mother. After seeing a theatrical show in his town, he heads off alone to Copenhagen with dreams of becoming an actor, armed with 10 Danish shawls, a belief in himself and a great soprano voice. He joins the Royal Danish Theatre, but fails as an actor, singer and ballet dancer.

After someone says he would make a good poet, he embarks on a career of writing. His early life in Odense and subsequent travels around Funen Island (Fyn) where he lived in various manors and castles like Broholm Castle, Hindsgavl Castle and Valdemars Castle, inspired him to ink several of his stories. By thirty, he had four fairytales under his belt and the rest is history.

Andersen's Tales_Priya Ganapathy

His books have been translated into every major language in the world, so when Richard said, “Each year, the only books in more publication are the Bible, Shakespeare and the IKEA catalogue”, we believed him. The very name HC Andersen evokes a wave of nostalgia. As the author of bedtime stories like Thumbelina, Tinderbox, Ugly Duckling, The Princess and The Pea, The Emperor’s New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid (which inspired Copenhagen’s most recognised and famous landmark on a rock at Langelinie promenade), he created characters and tales that left many enchanted.

Having penned many long travelogues and the most unforgettable quotes on travel, it wasn’t odd that in his autobiography The Fairytale of My Life he wrote, “To travel is to live” which became his motto for life.

IMG_0632 Tableau of the Snow Queen in Andersen's classic The Flying Trunk ride at Tivoli_Priya Ganapathy

Andersen travelled twenty nine times outside Denmark spanning ten years of his adult life –to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal and west upto Norway, by horse carriage and the Far East by ship! Though he never married, he fell in and out of love, often with ladies way out of his league. Living in a classist society, women wouldn’t marry him because he was too poor. But a broken heart is often the bedrock of a successful poet or writer.

By the end of his life Andersen was rich, famous and welcomed into the homes and feted by royalty. However, he was too old to marry. Having been denied of a mature, physical or lasting relationship, people say he never really grew up. He wrote 1000 poems, 6 novels, 40 plays and 175 fairytales. Perhaps his child-like innocence was the key to why his writings and fairytales could be understood and appreciated by children. “My whole life was the greatest fairytale” he had once remarked and it seemed true.

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Inside City Hall, stands a wonderful marble bust of story-teller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen. Though a life-long bachelor, the latter’s bust was placed near the civil marriage ceremony room perhaps to bless relationships to turn into fairytales! Newly married couples often pose or clink champagne flutes against the City Hall’s alluring backdrop after signing their marriage contracts inside!

We walked around the old city, along its cobbled paths and ancient landmarks. We found Neo-Classical architure around the Bridge of Sighs and the Old Fountain of Charity at Gammel Torv – the city’s oldest Market Square, visited the lovely Cathedral of Our Lady nearby and marvelled at the brick wonder of University Library and the Law Faculty’s vibrant 1850 wall frescos before halting at the Round Tower or Rundetarn, whose library hall became Andersen’s favourite spot for inspiration.

Venue for the HC Andersen classic The Flying Trunk Ride at Tivoli_Priya Ganapathy

For 20 years our guide had kept the city’s visitors rapt with these stories. Indians love Richard as he shares a great love for our culture. He confessed how India brought him and his Danish wife together 30 years ago. She is a pracitioner of Bharatnatyam and he, a classical cellist (among his talents) who lived in Varanasi to learn Indian music. Before disappearing into the crowd like a magician, Richard doffed his top hat with a familiar “Achcha ji, namaste. Bhagwan ki marji, phir milenge. Uparwale ki daya?!” leaving me agape. Copenhagen was full of surprises!

Yet, there was so much more to experience – the HC Andersen museum near the City Hall or a trip to see his birthplace Odense and the manors he stayed in at Fyn, or stepping into the sculpture of his huge galoshes in Roskilde… But I stood by his large bronze statue on HC Andersen Boulevard, that sat gazing at Tivoli Gardens.

DSC03751-HC Andersen's famous statue near City Hall Square overlooking Tivoli Gardens_Priya Ganapathy

He had a book in one hand and a cane in the other and his knees shone from people repeatedly sitting on his lap for an archetypal selfie at Copenhagen! I didn’t need another prompt to enter the ornate gateway of Tivoli Gardens and its fairytale setting to experience Den Flyvende Kuffert or The Flying Trunk, a classic Hans Christian Andersen ride.

Who could resist being a child again, to trundle down a dark tunnel and relive his 32 fairytales in a seven-minute ride? With the cutest mobile models and a tableaux of superbly designed ever-changing sets, mood music and atmospheric commentary, this is a huge attraction for people of all ages. The ride is named after the 1839 fairytale of a young man who squanders all his money.

The Flying Trunk at Tivoli, a classic ride for all Andersen fans_Priya Ganapathy

Left with only a few belongings, he gets a magical trunk that transports him to Turkey where he meets the Sultan’s doomed princess locked in a tower. After impressing the Sultan and his queen with his stories, they agree to let him marry the princess despite a curse of unhappiness. The excited lad buys fireworks, flies around the countryside, setting them off in celebration. One spark tragically falls on his trunk, burns it to ashes and he can never fly to meet the Princess in the tower again. So he wanders the world on foot, telling stories.

And telling stories was all that Andersen did right up till his final resting place at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen where I paid homage. As a writer and poet, HC Andersen was definitely Denmark’s ‘national treasure’ who has inspired movies, plays, ballets, books and will continue to delight people for generations to come. Just before his death, Andersen advised a music composer on what to play at his funeral: “Most of the people who will walk after me will be children, so make the beat keep time with little steps.” He once remarked, “Enjoy life. There is plenty of time to be dead”.

DSC03312-Final resting place of Denmark's national treasure, H C Andersen at Assistens Cemetery_Priya Ganapathy

FACT FILE

Getting there:
Emirates, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways and other airlines have daily flights to Copenhagen from major Indian cities via Dubai, Frankfurt or London. The journey time varies from 11 hour 45min to 12 hours 15min. Air India will soon launch direct flights to Copenhagen from Delhi thrice a week initially, starting September.

Where to Stay:

Avenue Hotel
Award-winning boutique hotel with cosy simple stylish Danish design rooms in the heart of Norrebro, close to the metro with organic breakfast and signature wine hour at the bar. Ph: 0045 35373111

Hotel Danmark
Brand new upscale boutique hotel in a historic neighbourhood close to City Hall Square and Tivoli. Has a rooftop bar and terrace with great views, fab indoor and outdoor dining options. Ph: 0045 33114806 www.brochner-hotels.com/hotel-danmark

For more details: www.visitcopenhagen.dk or www.visitcopenhagen.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 3 December 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

Dhenkanal: Royal Fables

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The palaces of Odisha are opening up to visitors at long last, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY on a trip to the erstwhile princely state of Dhenkanal 

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It was pitch dark and the narrow mud road was barely discernible in our car’s headlights. Somewhere on the outskirts of Dhenkanal, our vehicle scratched its way through some bramble on an increasingly narrowing path. “Bab…..u”, our driver Kalia’s voice quavered, unsure of the way ahead. “Please let us go back into town and take a lodge,” he pleaded in Oriya. Eerily, we passed by an outré Kali temple, whose female leonine doorkeepers wore skull garlands and wielded a bloodied sword, clutching a decapitated head. We caught Kalia looking at it nervously out of the corner of his eye…

Indeed, there was no road marked, but Google Maps insisted that our destination Gajlaxmi Palace was nearby. The seconds ticked away slowly and Kalia sat on the edge of his seat, teeth chattering, his nose to the steering wheel, until we finally saw a white edifice looming to the right. By the time we had finished rejoicing and unloading our bags, our driver had convinced our hosts that we planned to murder him and decamp with his vehicle. Why two travel writers on assignment would want to pop off their driver was perhaps beyond poor Kalia’s comprehension, but we hoped that it was just Dhenkanal’s wilderness and the long drive that distressed him!

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This was indeed wild country. Inhabited by aboriginal tribes since prehistoric times and surrounded by lush river valleys and the Bahukhai and Kapilash Forests of the Eastern Ghats, Dhenkanal is home to tigers, elephants and other beasts. Located on the gentle slopes of the Megha Hills, the double-storey palace is tucked in an untamed patch on the town’s quiet outskirts. Jitendra Pratap Singh Deo or JP and his charming wife Navneeta run it as a heritage hotel.

Strewn across its living spaces and rooms were large sandook (chests), period furniture and artefacts while hunting trophies lined the walls. From a glass showcase in the drawing room, the shiny eyes of the dreaded man-eating tiger of Naranpatna glowered at us. It had claimed 83 victims before being shot by JP’s father Kumar Saheb Ranendra Pratap Singh Deo at Koraput. The trophy and the palace featured in Satyajit Ray’s Royal Bengal Rahasya, shot by Sandip Ray, besides a host of other films.

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By morning, Gajlaxmi Palace wore a more cheerful air. We savoured the view of the surrounding forests from the terrace and took a morning walk through the orchard to a water tank frequented by elephants, wild boar, barking deer, civet cats, rabbits, peafowl, jungle fowl and raptors. Being the only water source in the area, it attracted all sorts of wildlife. Our appearance from a thicket startled a sambhar on the opposite bank.

Back at the palace, Navneeta explained over breakfast how the palace took seven years to build before being completed in 1942. When she came here from Udaipur in 1998, it was total wilderness and one couldn’t even spot a cyclewala! Her innate Rajasthani love for heritage and hospitality, prompted her to convince JP to renovate it into a heritage stay in 2009. They finally opened in February 2011, naming it after the famous Gajlaxmi puja of Dhenkanal.

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Despite the proximity to Bhubaneswar airport (100 km away), things didn’t look up until they were featured in an international guide as a ‘rural retreat.’ Most of their visitors were from Europe and would often end up extending their stay. JP takes his guests on jeep rides to Satkosia, Saptasajya and other excursions.

The summer heat forces the hosts to close down for 4 months from April, but the rest of the year is excellent for nature walks in the surrounding orchard full of cashew, jackfruit, mango and litchi trees and dense clumps of sal and bamboo. The homegrown produce from the farm like papaya, drumsticks, carrots and cabbage are conveniently used in the kitchen.

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Besides Dhenkanal, the extended royal family of Singh Deos also reigned other princely states like Balangir, Kalahandi and Mayurbhanj. Dhenkanal is supposedly named after a Sabara tribal chief called Dhenka who ruled this patch in 16th century. Sridhar Bhanja, a local chieftain from the neighbouring region of Garh Besalia, vanquished Dhenka in battle.

Dhenka’s dying wish was that the area be named after him and his sacred relic be preserved and worshipped. The area was called Dhenkanal in his memory and his relic is worshipped at Dhenkanal Palace to this day!

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In 1529, Hari Singh Vidyadhar, commander of the southern forces of Gajapati king Pratap Rudra Deva, defeated the local Bhanja chief and established control over the region. The Gajapati Maharaj crowned him as the Raja of Dhenkanal and ever since, 18 generations have ruled the throne. Dhenkanal Palace, a large complex on the slopes of the Garhjat Hills, was built at the site of a fort that witnessed a long drawn siege with the Marathas.

Six rooms have been reserved for guests, two large family rooms double up as lounges while the Durbar Hall hosts folk music and dance performances on request. Be it Aul Palace near Bhitarkanika or Parikud Palace near Chilka, many of Odisha’s old palaces are being converted into heritage hotels.

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Dhenkanal town doesn’t have major attractions, except the 16th century Siddha Balarama Temple with its 90 ft high spire that towers over town, the Dhenkanal Science Museum near the palace Rajbati and the District Museum, which houses weapons of erstwhile rulers and Paleolithic tools found in archaeological excavations.

The presence of Dhenkanal College, Indian Institute of Mass Communication and other educational institutions gives the town a youthful air with a large student population. Snack vendors park their cycles outside schools, colleges and street corners to dish out dahi bada and the eponymous Dhenkanal bada, a traditional fried snack of black gram and rice served with ghughni (yellow pea curry).

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After a quick bite at Gourang Mishtan Bhandar, we drove 24km via Karmul to Joranda, the religious headquarters of ‘Mahima Dharma’, a 19th century monotheistic cult and reform movement that is often described as ‘the world’s youngest religion’. Joranda houses the samadhi of its founder Mahima Gosain.

Ascetics in loincloth with long matted hair roamed about the vast complex dotted with temples – Shunya Mandir, Dhuni Mandir and Gadi Mandir. They believe in a single supreme God or parambrahma named Alekha who is formless and omnipresent.

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Monks lead a life of austerity, celibacy, piety and constant movement, as they cannot sleep in the same place on successive nights or eat twice in the same house. The temples have no idols, only beautiful lamps and feathers and the evening arti is a sublime experience. At the Joranda fair, in existence since 1874, devotees pray together, recite ‘Alekh Brahma’ and burn ghee for universal peace and harmony.

Backtracking to the Y-junction at Kaimati, we continued to Kapilash. At 457 m, the lofty peak with its 13th century Shiva temple of Chandrasekhar is hailed as the ‘Kailash of Odisha’. We parked at the base of the hill, but instead of hiking up 1,351 steps, hired a 4-wheel-drive jeep to tackle the steep ghat road and twelve hairpin bends to the temple.

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The spire of the Shiva temple bears an image of Lord Jagannath, which demonstrates the synthesis of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. East of the main shrine, at a higher altitude of 2239 ft, stand the temples of Narayan and Vishwanath, the latter being older than the Chandrasekhar temple, hence also called ‘Budha Linga’.

Dhenkanal is excellently placed for excursions. Perched at 900 feet, the hill temple of Raghunath or Lord Rama at Saptasajya, 14km away, was built by Rani Ratnaprabha Devi of Dhenkanal. The name Sapta Sajya refers to the ‘seven hills’ where Lord Rama, the Saptarishi (seven celestial sages) and the Pandavas are believed to have stayed.

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We drove into a nondescript village called Sadeibereni where craftsmen practiced the ancient art of dhokra – an indigenous metal casting technique using the lost wax method where they use clay, beeswax and scrap metal to make bracelets, necklaces and idols of gods and goddesses, besides utilitarian pieces.

At the weaving village of Nuapatna, the narrow bylanes resound with the clackety-clack of looms as weavers and master craftsmen avidly share their technique of creating these lovely khandua paat (traditional bandha or ikat saris).

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It was again late evening by the time we drove past Chaudwar towards Kila Dalijoda. Kalia was at the wheel and it was pitch dark outside. He cleared his throat nervously and uttered ‘Babu…’, but luckily we spotted two pillars and on a hunch asked him to drive through.

We ended up at a beautiful two-storey stone house and were welcomed by Debjit Prasad Singh Deo and his wife Namrata who run Kila Dalijoda as a heritage homestay. Stone steps led up to a hall of the European style mansion with lovely stained glass windows, arches and period furniture.

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Once a hunting lodge of the erstwhile rulers of Panchakote, Kila Dalijoda was built in 1931-33 by Raja Jyoti Prasad Singh Deo. It was named after the adjoining Dalijoda forest range of the Kapilas Elephant Sanctuary that once stretched right up to its doorstep!

The original patch of Kila Dalijoda spread over 11,000 acres; today the holding has shrunk to just 40 acres with two large tanks on the property. While we devoured home-cooked Odiya fare like machha besara (fish in mustard curry), saag (greens) and arisa pitha (deep fried rice pancake), Debjit helped us plan our trip to Bhitarkanika and nearby craft villages and tiny hamlets of the Saura and Munda tribes.

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The proximity to the Mahanadi and its back channels gave ample opportunities for fishing and the gently undulating tracts were great for cycling. By the time we were done with Kalia on the Odisha guidebook project for Outlook Traveller, we had driven 3000 km around the state.

As we bid him goodbye at the Biju Patnaik International Airport at Bhubaneswar, Kalia was teary-eyed but we couldn’t be sure whether it was genuine joy of travelling with us, or relief that he was still alive…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Air The nearest airport at Bhubaneswar is 80 km from Dhenkanal, from Kila Dalijoda it’s only 45km.
Rail Dhenkanal railway station serves Dhenkanal district and is well connected to Cuttack (55 km) on the main Howrah Chennai route
Road 75 km NW of Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Cuttack via NH-55 via Chaudwar, while NH-42 connects Dhenkanal to Sambalpur and Rourkela.

Where to Stay
Many of the royal palaces in and around Dhenkanal have now been converted into heritage hotels and palatial homestays.

Dhenkanal Palace
Ph 9437292448, 9748478335
Email contact@dhenkanalpalace.com
http://www.dhenkanalpalace.com

Gajlaxmi Palace
Borapada, 3km from Dhenkanal
Ph 9861011221, 9337411020
Email navneeta.singhdeo@gmail.com
http://www.gajlaxmipalace.com

Kila Dalijoda
Ambilijhari, via Chaudwar
Ph 9438667086
Email debjitsinghdeo@yahoo.co.in
http://www.kiladalijoda.com

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What to Eat
Try the Dhenkanal bara and local sweets at Gouranga Sahoo Mistharna Bhandara (Ph 06762-224861, 9778228877) on College Road and Prasidha Bara in Ganesh Bazaar. Dhenkanal is also known for its Chhunchi Patra, a sweet cake made of ground coconut, rice and maida.

When to go
Dhenkanal is great to visit from October to March. The Joranda fair is held on a full-moon day in the Hindu month of Magha (Jan–Feb). Shivaratri is celebrated at Kapilash with great fervour in Feb-March. The Ramnavami Fair at Saptasajya is held in March-April.

Tourist Office
TRC Complex, Mahisapat
At PO & Dist Dhenkanal 759001
Ph 06762-221031, 234670
http://www.odishatourism.gov.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. Here’s a link to the original article: https://www.outlookindia.com/outlooktraveller/destinations/odisha-royal-fables/

 

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Mauritian Cuisine: Island Flavours

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ANURAG MALLICK deconstructs the multi-cultural flavours of Mauritian cuisine through its most famous product – sugarcane

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If there’s one thing that shaped the landscape, cuisine, economy and in fact, the very destiny of Mauritius, it is sugarcane. Such is its importance that it features in the Mauritian coat of arms. The endemic dodo, though extinct, lives on in the insignia, where the flightless bird and a sambar support stalks of sugarcane.

From this wondrous grass, other lucrative products like sugar and rum were derived. Mauritius may be located just over a thousand kilometers east of Madagascar, yet its cultural and culinary influences are far-reaching – from African, Dutch, French, British and Indian to Chinese. The reason again, is sugarcane…

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While the Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on Mauritius in 1505, the Dutch colonized the island in 1598 and named it after their ruler Maurice, Prince of Orange. Besides introducing African slaves, wild boar and tobacco, the Dutch also brought in sugarcane from Java in mid-17th century. Being inferior in quality, it was mostly used for producing rum.

After the Dutch left in 1710, the country came under the French, who initiated sugar production and turned ‘Ilé Maurice’ into a successful trading base. Plantation workers and slaves brought from Africa and Madagascar during the French occupation to work on the sugarcane fields eventually formed the Mauritian Creole community.

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By the end of the 18th century, Mauritius was producing enough sugar to supply passing ships and the Mascarene Islands (a collective term for Mauritius, Rodriguez and Reunion islands). In 1810, Mauritius was ceded to Britain, who freed the slaves and transformed sugar into an industry.

The turning point came in 1825 when Governor Farquhar persuaded the British Empire to allow Mauritian sugar into the British market at the same rate as West Indies. The exploitative navigation law was also repealed, allowing Mauritius to trade with countries other than England.

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After slavery was abolished in 1835, new immigrants were needed to develop the island and the workforce was replenished with workers from China and India. Indian immigrants landed at the Apravasi Ghat in capital Port Louis to work as indentured labourers and Mauritius became the first country to benefit from Indian labour under contract. Governor Higginson (1851-1857) called them “the key to colonial prosperity”. Whether they came from Bharuch or Bhagalpur, the Indian immigrants brought their food with them.

From frata (paratha), achard (anchar), briani (biryani), samoussa (samosa), gajak (pakoda), alouda (falooda) and curries to an assortment of chutneys; many dishes in Mauritian cuisine are of Indian parentage. Perhaps the most iconic crossover and easily the national dish is dholl puri. Borrowed from the Bihari staple dalpuri (a dal paratha), it is often rolled up with white bean curry, pickle and chutney.

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In Mauritius, everything seems like a case of misheard lyrics. Familiar Indian words are softened and stretched like dough into convoluted forms, phonetically interpreted with Caribbean flair. The airport is named after the first Prime Minister Seewoosagur Ramgoolam (loosely translated from ‘Shivsagar Ram Ghulam’).

As we drove off, the road was lined with sugarcane fields that extended to the coast on one side and collided against jagged mountains on the other. The island was formed after the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano, now a crater on the island’s southwest with a fresh water lake.

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It was a short ride to our resort Shanti Maurice, an oasis by the sea with diverse culinary experiences. At Rum Shed manager Bobby Ghoora plied us with bottomless barrels of spiced rum, as we feasted on prawn pancakes and calamari. There were signature cocktails like Rum Dawa using ginger infused rum, Waw Mojito with cardamom & lime infused rum and Bab Daiquiri with banana and vanilla infused rum!

The resort has its own herb garden, where La Kaze Mama (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. At Fish Shack, we enjoyed beachside barbecues and fresh seafood amid lantern-lights, Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.

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But there’s more to eat in Mauritius than mere seafood. At La Vanille Crocodile Park, a 3.5-hectare reserve, besides feeding giant Aldabra turtles and petting iguanas, you could try crocodile meat. Ironically, the restaurant is called Le Crocodile Affamé or the Hungry Crocodile and it serves a sample crocodile degustation platter with mini spring rolls, mini kebabs, smoked crocodile and salad.

The local favourite cœurs de palmier or heart of palm makes a great salad, often mixed with salad leaves and a variety of seafood – oysters, shrimp, crayfish, prawns, smoked marlin and crabs – and tossed with sauce rouge (red sauce) into Millionaire’s Salad.

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The best place to learn more about the history of Mauritius and its tryst with sugar is L’Aventure du Sucre, the Sugar Factory and museum near the famous Pamplemousses Botanical Gardens. The self-guided tour, enlivened by info panels and videos, ends with tasting 12 types of sugars and 9 rums! Dotted with rhumeries (rum factories) and distilleries like St Aubin House and Chamarel, there’s always some rum tasting going on in Mauritius.

At Chamarel, besides exotic flavours like vanilla, mandarin and coffee rum on offer, the L’Alchimiste restaurant liberally uses rum for various dishes – Chamarel espresso, pork braised with Chamarel rum and Chamarel rum baba or baba au rhum, a small yeast cake saturated in syrup made with rum. Chateau de Labourdonnais, a historic estate started in 1771, has a distillery and old bungalow run like a heritage museum, showcasing Mauritian lifestyle in the 19th century.

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July to December is sugarcane harvest season when distilleries are busy with production. Mauritius is a tropical paradise also known for its sweet pineapples and coconuts, best enjoyed on the beach. Be it Casela Wildlife Park or La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, most tourist attractions have great dining options.

In capital Port Louis, a visit to the food market is a must. For an authentic French and Mauritian gastronomical experience, head to Le Courtyard, a boutique restaurant set in a courtyard around a fountain. They serve terrific seafood paired with French wines – scallops, scampi, salmon, mahi mahi and gueule pavé (Goldlined sea bream), with special touches like confectionery and amuse-bouche (literally ‘mouth amusers’ – single, bite-sized hors d’œuvre) as compliments from the chef. The desserts are to die for, especially the crème brulé, made with Mauritian Muscovado – unrefined brown sugar, a chefs’ favourite.

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If sugar is a precious commodity in Mauritius, its salt is equally coveted. Fleur de sel or flor de sal in Portuguese – literally ‘Flower of Salt’ – is hailed as the Queen of Salts. It is formed as a thin, delicate crust on the surface of seawater as it evaporates and is known for its characteristic crunch and clean light taste.

Despite being a small island nation, Mauritius packs in great culinary diversity. The French touch is apparent in the love for bouillon, tuna salad and coq au vin. The Chinese influence can be seen in the spicy noodles, fried rice and seafood dim sums. Mauritian favourites include calamari salad, daube, an octopus stew, fish vindaye (local version of the vindaloo) and rougaille, a Mediterranean dish of fish or meat with tomatoes, onions and garlic. Creole classics like Mauritian fish and aubergine curry and chicken curry are relished with rice and a chilli paste called mazavaroo.

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At its peak in the 19th century, there were nearly 400 sugar factories in Mauritius. Many of these have now been converted into museums, resorts and restaurants. Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, built around an old sugarcane factory, has a dilapidated chimney as a reminder of colonial plantation life. Overlooking the pool, the Le Comptoir restaurant serves ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade and hearty breakfasts with seafood at Ocean One overlooking the private Azuri beach.

Today, sugarcane is grown over 85% of the arable land in Mauritius and on an average, 6,00,000 tonnes of sugar is produced annually. And yes, a lot of rum! I bit into my caramelized pineapple dessert flambéed with Mauritian rum and sighed… Joseph Conrad was right. Visiting Mauritius in 1885, the author set his story ‘A Smile of Fortune’ here and called Mauritius the ‘Sweet Pearl of the Indian Ocean.’

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Where to Eat/Drink

St. Aubin House
www.saintaubin.mu

Rhumerie de Chamarel
http://www.rhumeriedechamarel.com

L’Aventure du Sucre
www.aventuredusucre.com

Chateau Labourdonnais
www.chateaulabourdonnais.com

Hotel Shanti Maurice, Chemin Grenier
www.shantimaurice.com

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Hotel Radisson Blu Azuri
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

Hotel Paradis & Dinarobin, Le Morne
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

La Vanille Reserve des Mascareignes (Crocodile Park)
www.lavanille-reserve.com

La Vallee des Couleurs Nature Park, Mare Anguilles
www.lavalleedescouleurs.com

Casela World of Adventures, Cascavelle
www.caselapark.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 5 November 2017 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

 

Bikaner: Tales of the Wild West

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the bylanes of Bikaner on the Royal and Merchant Trails, tonga rides and other curated experiences while staying at Narendra Bhawan, the residence of the last Maharaja of Bikaner

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In 1488, proud Rathore prince Rao Bika, second son of the Maharaja of Jodhpur Rao Jodha, broke away from the dynasty after his ego was bruised by his father’s barb. On a whim, he came with a band of followers to a barren outcrop of land called Jangladesh to establish his own lineage. This was the Wild West, home to warring Jat clans, who were subdued only after local mystic Karni Mata arranged a strategic matrimonial alliance of Rao Bika with the daughter of Rao Shekha, the powerful Bhati chief of Pugal.

The new capital ‘Bikaner’ thrived due to its strategic location along the caravan routes between Western India and Central Asia. Enriched by trade on the Silk Route, Bikaner’s merchants and nobles built opulent palaces, havelis and temples in red sandstone that have withstood the shifting sands of fortune for five centuries.

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It was the 6th Raja Rai Singh who moved from the original bastion and laid the foundation of a more secure Junagarh Fort, giving impetus to trade in oil and spices. Maharaja Sujan Singh invited merchants to settle at Sujangarh while it was Maharaja Ganga Singh who offered them an incentive to make Bikaner their home, with the promise of tax-free income and donations of land to build houses, ‘for just a rupee and a coconut’. It is said, 1001 havelis were erected during his reign.

Preceding the city’s foundation is the 15th century Bhandasar Temple, the oldest and largest of the 27 Jain shrines in Bikaner, commissioned by Seth Bhanda Shah Oswal in 1468. When someone questioned the need for a lavish temple in a water-scarce region, the indignant trader swore not to use a drop of water. He built the temple’s foundation entirely out of ghee or clarified butter!

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The unique ‘Ghee Wala Mandir’ used 40,000 kg of ghee and is an apt symbol of a proud land, where merchants were no less haughty than kings. Carved in red sandstone and white marble, the temple holds a treasure of frescoes, etchings and wall paintings with rich mirror work and gold leaf work.

We stood awestruck outside the stunning cluster of seven Rampuriya havelis built by three brothers. Red sandstone mansions with exquisitely carved jalis (lattice work) and contrasting turquoise doors and windows lined the narrow lane.

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The Merchant Exploration tour, specially curated by Narendra Bhawan, offers charming insights into the grandeur of the mercantile class and their pivotal role in the growth of Bikaner.

We sat like royals behind Sultan, the sure-footed equine who navigated Bikaner’s impossibly narrow bylanes trotting nimbly beside pedestrians and motorists past havelis on a delightful horse carriage ride. Where the lanes were too tight, we disembarked for a guided walk.

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From Golchha Haveli to Dadda Haveli and Rangari Chowk, Kotharion ka Chowk to Daga Sitya Chowk, the tour culminated in a well-earned meal at Punan Chand Haveli, once a grand merchant residence. Welcomed with a tumbler of chhaas (buttermilk) and fragrant cold towels, we were ushered up narrow staircases to a chamber on the top floor.

While we absorbed the rooftop view of Bikaner, our hosts assembled an amazing Marwari platter on traditional low seating – sev tamatar, Jaisalmeri kala chana, ker-sangri, bajre ki roti, poori, boondi raita and moong dal halwa. The descent seemed daunting after our heavy feast and we soon returned to the comfort of Narendra Bhavan.

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Set in an urban landscape, the residence of Bikaner’s last reigning maharaja Narendra Singh ji seemed like any other Rajasthani haveli from the outside. But step into this boutique hotel and you are transported into a colourful world, much like the idiosyncratic persona of its former owner.

Narendra Singh ji straddled the cusp when the old order was changing to the new. He was born a royal but wanted to live like a commoner so he left the palace to build a humble home for himself. Composed of memories from his travels near and far, the residence is accentuated with unconventional bric-a-brac and offers thoughtfully curated, bespoke experiences.

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In many ways, Narendra Bhawan is an assault on the senses. Its eclectic influences range from the Art Deco movement of Bombay to the flamboyance of Broadway, the decadence of royalty to regimental pageantry inspired by generations-old royal interactions with military academies.

Tall Ming vases in the verandah, crystals from Czechoslovakia, porcelain from Dresden, red velvet settees and gold walls in the waiting room, bronze sculptures of hounds and horses, Hussein paintings, antique furniture and embroidered tapestries.

Narendra Bhawan, residence of Narendra Singh ji, the last Maharaja of Bikaner has been beautifully renovated into a boutique hotel IMG_2821

A whimsical electric red Baby Grand piano ‘Edith’, a tribute to Edith Piaf, sat on a raised stage at the far corner of the foyer. Cleverly renovated, the old single-storey structure was encompassed by a four-floor edifice built around it with the old terrace becoming the central courtyard. The haveli’s pillared arches and latticed windows echoed the traditional architecture of the region.

As the perennially dapper Manvendra Singh Shekhawat, the man behind the project, explained, “It’s like the house of a mad uncle we all love. Nothing makes sense initially, but eventually it grows on you. Because it is a residence, it is not themed, but a landscape of memories, a life depicted through time!” The rooms represent Narendra Singh ji’s transition across the ages – somber Residence rooms, flamboyant Princes rooms and Regimental rooms with masculine leather tones… Our room had the flourish of The Great Gatsby with candy pink lights and sorbet green lamps lighting up a marble topped work desk with a maroon leather chair and printed ottoman. No two rooms were alike and the best artworks were reserved for the loo!

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Here, Narendra Singh ji stayed with his family, 500 cows and 86 dogs. It is common lore that he would call individual cows by name and they would respond. He was awarded a Gauratna for his service to cows and he apparently never ate a meal till all his animals were fed. As a tribute to his love for animals, the gaushala (cowshed) and verandah have been reinterpreted into an outdoor dining space for a drink under the stars. The onyx tabletop came alive in the evening, lit up from below, to impart a fiery glow as we sipped the signature Negroni.

Bikaner has one of the most evolved cuisines in Rajasthan – from the banquets of kings and menus structured in French, to a touch of Bikaner with vegetarian fare of the traders and the meaty flavours of Muslim cuisine. P&C or Pearls & Chiffon was a tribute to the ladies of the house and the illustrious military backgrounds of their families. The high backed chairs exuded an aristocratic air.

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Here, churros and chooza kebab went hand in hand while murgh sabja, dahi waley alu, kachre ki sabji (local melon), angoor ki sabji, kale chane ki kabuli and mooli palak rubbed shoulders with goat cheese mousse, smoked duck with Hoisin glaze and white fungus mushrooms with butter cream and fried walnuts. Desserts like red velvet with ghevar, French almond biscuit and fresh berry compote could melt the hardest of Rajput hearts while their version of the Philadelphia Cheesecake was what one ought to eat before hitting the gym!

After a suitably leisurely breakfast at the Mad Hatter’s Bake House, we set off next morning on a bespoke Royal Exploration tour of its fort and palaces. We started off near the Lakshmi Nathji Temple where it all began – at Bikaji ki Tekri, a collection of chhatris or royal cenotaphs of Rao Bika and Bikaner’s early rulers. Stone tablets in Devanagri script commemorated the valour of the kings. On saving Indian princes from the tyranny of Aurangzeb, they received the title ‘Jai Jangalghar Badshah’.

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Unlike other citadels in Rajasthan that are perched on hills or vantage points, Bikaner’s Junagadh Fort is a rare edifice built on flat land in 1593. Yet, the imposing fort of red sandstone, the same colour as dried blood, has never been conquered. Within the complex lie spectacular courtyards and mahals (palaces) with eye-popping frescoes and tile work.

Karan Mahal has Mughal influence, Anoop Mahal bears gold leaf or usta work, the exquisite Phool Mahal features glass inlay on stucco, while Badal Mahal has blue clouds interspersed with lightning motifs painted on its walls and ceilings. A ceremonial 1,100-year-old sandalwood throne stands in the Durbar Hall. Another outstanding highlight is the Sur Mandar’s unique jharokha of blue and white Delft tiles.

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The Fort Museum heaves with riches like Ali Baba’s fabled cave – thrones made of silver and sandalwood, golden swings, royal palanquins and howdahs and an ornate jhoola (swing) with the dancing gopis. There’s even a Haviland Plane displayed in the Vikram Niwas Durbar Hall, pieced together from the parts of two DH-9DE Haviland Planes shot down. Junagarh houses a smaller private museum Pracheena that displays contemporary arts and crafts, period furniture, costumes, photographs, crockery, cutlery and framed menu cards!

Maharaja Sir Ganga Singh ji served in the First World War in France and Flanders in 1914–1915 and sent 1000 camels to aid the British war effort. The elite gun-toting camel corps called Ganga Risala saw action in both the world wars. Ganga Singh ji represented India as one of the signatories at the Treaty of Versailles and opened the Gang Canal from Punjab in 1927. The world’s longest lined canal at the time, it ushered in another chapter of prosperity for Bikaner.

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Ganga Singh ji also commissioned the opulent Laxmi Niwas Palace, which took architect Sir Samuel Swinton Jacob five years to complete. This fine specimen of Indo-Saracenic architecture (a mix of Hindu, Mughal and European styles) served as the private residence of the royals and is now a heritage hotel. The stunning inner courtyard is lined by various chambers. In the resplendent Swarna Mahal with usta art on a Burma teak-paneled ceiling, dine on elaborate Rajasthani thalis and lal maas or mutton cooked in gulmohar flowers.

Inside the Trophy Bar, an Assamese rhinoceros and a Nepalese bison face off from opposing walls while fourteen magnificent tigers stare down at you in the Billiards Room. In 1902, another royal retreat was commissioned. Lalgarh Palace, now a heritage hotel, was built in Victorian style with beautiful lattices, filigree work and vintage etchings, hunting trophies and old portraits adorning the walls.

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We stopped at the market to see the local jadau jewellery as craftsmen worked wonders with enamel and diamonds studded in 24 carat gold. Others kept alive the tradition of usta, derived from ‘ustad’, an art brought to Bikaner by Muslim artisans. A detour to see the royal cenotaphs at Devi Kund Sagar and we were ready to hit the pool at Narendra Bhawan.

Overlooking the city, the terrace dons its Havana-esque style with aplomb. The plain walls with niches and bursts of green foliage contrast the blue sky and the gorgeous azure of its infinity pool. By evening, it transforms to recreate the magic of Arabian nights with shimmering curtains and sumptuous feasts.

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Narendra Bhawan’s unique experiences are not limited to the confines of the haveli. ‘Reveille at Ratadi Talai’ promises ‘goat for breakfast’, a take on the cavaliers grill, with goat grilled to perfection and served with nalli nihari – a robust curry of trotters, with eggs, bacon and hash.

We drove deep into the heartland of the Bikaner desert to a secret enclave for ‘Sundowners at the Pastures.’ The light of the lanterns mirrored the stars twinkling above, a folk musician played a soulful tune on his ravanahatha, singing about battles won and lost. We raised a toast to the wild glory of Bikaner’s past as the untamed Jangladesh wind ruffled our hair.

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Discover This
30 km from Bikaner, the 600-year-old Karni Mata Temple at Deshnoke, is dedicated to the household goddess of Bikaner’s rulers. Famous as India’s rat temple, it is home to legions of rats that are worshipped by the local Charan community as their reincarnated ancestors.

Scurrying in and out of holes, they perch on shoulders of pleased devotees and scuttle down marbled hallways, into pails of milk and platters of sweets, all 20,000 of them! Devotees tread warily performing pradakshinas (circumambulation) around the shrine as harming a rat is sacrilege while a glimpse of the kaaba (white rat) considered most auspicious.

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NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Air: The nearest airport is Jodhpur, 253 km away or Jaipur, 334 km.
By Train: Bikaner lies on the Western Railway and is well connected to Delhi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kalka, Allahabad and Howrah.
By Road: Bikaner is 249km from Jodhpur, 312 km from Jaisalmer, 334 km from Jaipur and 458km from Delhi with good bus connectivity.

Where to Stay
Narendra Bhawan
Ph +91-7827151151
http://www.narendrabhawan.com

Laxmi Niwas Palace
Ph 0151-2200088, 8875025218
http://www.laxminiwaspalace.com

Lallgarh Palace
Ph 0151-2540201-7, 9711550134
http://www.lallgarhpalace.com

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What to Eat
Local namkeen and mishtan bhandars are famous for sweets like Mawa Kachori and Ghevar besides the local staple mirchi bada. Bhikaram Chandmal Bhujiawala is the best place to pick up the eponymous Bikaneri bhujiya while Chhotu Motu Joshi Sweet Shop is good for aloo puri, methi-puri, kachoris and lassis.

When to Go
The best time to visit Bikaner is between October and March, the winter months. The colourful Camel Fair is held at Bikaner in January.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in November 2017 in Discover India magazine.

Kabini: Wild tales of the Kuruba

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Kabini may be a popular safari destination today but nobody knows it better than the tribes that once called it home. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY experience the Spirit of the Kabini with its original dwellers

Kuruba lady Puttamma IMG_7991

“I remember playing with tiger cubs as a child. I would string necklaces of kaare kai (berries) around their neck or limbs and cuddle them. They were our toys. Today’s parents give their children tiger dolls! I must have been six or seven then,” Puttamma recalls, with mirth in her eyes. Enthralled, we sat in the small hut of this Kuruba tribal woman in Brahmagiri Haadi, a hamlet on the fringes of the Kabini Reservoir.

Thrumming her little leather drum, she sang about the rain, the animals and the forests. She belonged to one of the many tribal communities displaced from their forest habitat when a dam was built across the Kabini River for irrigation in 1974 and their lives changed forever.

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With a faraway gaze, Puttamma continued, “When a tigress killed a gaur, it would guard the carcass for three days and eat her fill. That was when my brothers would stealthily bring her tiger cubs home for me. We would play and pamper them before putting them back where we found them, in time for their mother’s return.” She spoke of a different reality, a different time; how life had been sixty odd years ago, and for centuries before.

The Kabini river forms a boundary between Nagarahole and Bandipur national parks. When it was dammed, the huge reservoir created to the south of Nagarahole inundated many villages, ancient temples and tribal hamlets. The Kurubas were relocated to the edge of the forests. “They claimed that we stay in the forest and eat up all the animals. So they chased us out. Neither are we in the jungle any more, nor are the animals, but mankind is consuming everything in its path. When we go to the forest, we don’t see half the numbers of animals that we used to.

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We all coexisted in complete harmony. If a Kuruba woman died at childbirth, other mothers would breastfeed the motherless infant as their own. If a child was orphaned, all would take turns to feed and look after it. We wore no clothes except the broad leaves of sal (teak) that we stitched together with twigs. We lived like the animals and knew everything about them, their smells, their behaviour, their movements. In fact, we were just that – pranigalu (animals).”

In the dry summer months when there was no genasu (yam and other tubers) in the ground to eat, they would catch fish from the river, roast it on the banks and drink lots of water. They would gather in large groups and bring out the drums and bamboo flutes as they would sing and dance the whole night right up to dawn. “There’s a song from those nights to beseech the God of Rain, to open the heavens and pour down for our food and survival.

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When we spotted elephants, we would sing – ‘The elephants have come with their little babies, they see us but don’t do anything, come O moon in the sky and watch over us. Flocks of peacocks have come to eat termites and insects on the anthills, come O moon in the sky and watch with us’.” Puttamma seemed to have a song for every occasion.

We were on a Spirit of Kabini tour in a haadi (settlement) of the Betta Kuruba tribe, originally hunter gatherers who hunted wild animals and collected honey. They also wove cane baskets. Our Kuruba Safari Lodge guide Kishan clarified that they were called bett (cane) Kuruba for this reason and not because they stayed on bettas (mountain tops), as is popularly believed. Those who specialized in extracting honey were called Jenu Kurubas. Kurubas survived on genasu (yam), tubers, wild fruits, berries, jenu (honey), mamsa (wild meat), meenu (fish) from the holay (river) and kaad koli motte (jungle fowl’s eggs).

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Puttamma explained how they would locate a fresh kill and wait for the tiger to have its fill. They would then take the meat, wash it well, smoke it over fire and cook it. A gaur can weigh upto 900 kg and a tiger can only eat about 40 kg of meat! Like the Masai tribe, the Kurubas had learnt to coexist and live off the creatures of the forest. Kishan surmised that their fantastic knowledge of plants and their medicinal and nutritional benefits perhaps came from observing elephants and other animal behavior.

Being the youngest of her siblings she was called ‘Putti’ (small one) and over time Putti-amma became Puttamma. She was originally named Bommi, after the Kuruba deity Bomm devaru. “Wherever there’s a mound of mud or stone, we place a leaf or flower over it and that became our god”.

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However, these forests, the elephants and all its creatures are looked after by the twin deities Gundrumaramma and Mastiamma, patron goddesses of the Bandipur and Nagarahole forests. Mastiamma’s original shrine at Mastigudi like many other relics has been submerged. We saw the relocated Chola temple of Koteshwaralaya and the ancient Nooraaleshawara shrine before returning to our wildlife resort at Beeramballi village.

Orange County Kabini, which opened a decade ago, has been recently rebranded as Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge. Designed like a haadi or small Kuruba settlement with thatched palm roofs and mud-plastered walls, it takes its inspiration seriously. There are Kuruba dances by a poolside campfire and naturalists sharing Jungle Tales on alternate days, a Night Trail to see the nocturnal world of insects, a Responsible Tourism Walk on the lodge’s eco-initiatives and an early morning Nature Trail for birds, butterflies and everything in between.

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Our guide Shanmugham outlined the entire politico-botanical spectrum from Congress Grass (parthenium) to Gandhi gida or Communist grass (Eupatorium odoratum), named so because it is everywhere, though it might be a bit of a misnomer now. Shanmugham has been diligently documenting the monsoon flowers of Kabini and claims to be the first to spot Kabini’s famous black panther here. His favourite wildlife moments sound like Kung-Fu chase flicks – tiger chasing leopard, leopard chasing deer, dhol chasing leopard…

Beyond the resort’s rustic exterior there’s every luxury imaginable – plush private pool villas and Jacuzzis being upgraded, top notch cuisine at the Honey Comb restaurant, kebabs and local fare at Kuruba Grill, cocktails like Wild Kabini River at The Waterhole bar, an Ayurvedic Spa, a scenic Reading Room on the water’s edge with sunset cruises, coracle rides and bullock cart rides. As the only resort on the far side of the reservoir, it affords the most spectacular sunsets on the Kabini. Guests take a boat across to Jungle Lodges & Resorts (JLR) near Karapura for safaris.

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Kabini is a historic area that served as an exclusive hunting reserve of the Maharajas of Mysore. It was the site of the legendary Khedda operations, where entire elephant herds would be stockaded into a khedda or ditch. Select ones were caught and trained for timber operations and the Mysore Dasara. The first attempt to capture elephants in this manner was made by Tipu Sultan’s father, Hyder Ali in 18th century.

Despite using his army, the Sultan of Mysore failed to capture any wild elephants. A stone inscription records his disgust with a warning about the futility of the task and his curse upon anyone who tried it in future. Like many other relics, this too is lost in the murky waters of Kabini.

Kheddah operations at Kabini IMG_7702

For nearly a century, no further attempts were made until the first British khedda operation by Colonel Pearson in 1867. Ironically, it was unsuccessful. When another British officer from the Canal and Irrigation Department, GP Sanderson took a shot at it in 1873, he met the same fate. However, his second attempt in 1874 at Kardihalli in the Kakanakote forest on the banks of the Kabini River was successful.

The unique feature of a Kakanakote khedda was the river drive, first conceptualized by Sanderson in 1891 in honour of The Grand Duke of Russia’s visit to Mysore. In a vast operation that involved thousands of people who beat drums and drove the elephants across the Kabini river into the stockade. Special visitors galleries were set up for distinguished guests and royalty to witness the drama. Over the next century, 36 khedda operations were held until it was finally banned in 1971.

Mr Kabini the elephant with the longest tusks IMG_9100

Khedda may be a thing of the past, but people still come in droves to watch a grand elephant spectacle. Post winter, the reservoir waters are released for irrigation. When the waters recede, dormant grass shoots begin to sprout, turning the tract into a giant grazing ground, attracting elephants and other herbivores in their hundreds.

The forested Zone A is larger and covers part of Nagarahole’s Antharasanthe wildlife range while the lakeside Zone B covers DB Kuppe range – the preferred route in summer. Unlike most other parks, Kabini does not shut down in monsoon and the jeep and 16 and 20-seater safari vans and boats are equipped with a canopy come rain or shine.

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All safaris in Kabini start from the Golghar, the river-facing gazebo at JLR. The boat ride accesses parts of the lake not reachable by jeep for sighting elephants and crocodiles. Nearby, the Viceroy’s Bungalow doubles up as a bar and conference hall where wildlife movies are screened.

In the verandah decorated with black and white pictures of kheddas and hunts, is the favourite chair of ‘Papa’ John Wakefield, long time resident director and ambassador at JLR Kabini. A simple memorial was erected after he passed away seven years ago while a tree marks the visit of Hollywood actress Goldie Hawn.

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Kabini’s other wildlife legends include Mr. Kabini or the Bhogeswara Tusker, with ivories so long, they scrape the ground. The biggest leopard with the largest territory is the Water Tank Male or Torn Ear. We saw a tusker in mast, an ambitious jackal chasing a deer herd and the splendid tigress Backwater Female grooming herself. Increased protection has led to a spurt in tiger numbers with 221 in the Bandipur-Nagarahole tract alone.

Since Kabini is wedged between the two parks, the intersecting tiger territories, results in great sightings. The all-star gallery includes packs of dhol, gaur, over 300 species of birds and the sole elusive black panther that has been spotted only in the last few years. Rumour float about its relocation from elsewhere by the forest department but people swear by sightings in adjoining Coorg.

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The cluster of resorts in Kabini are all distinctive. Adjacent to JLR, is Water Woods – a small yet lovely waterfront property right on the banks. Luxuriant massages, swinging hammocks, home cooked food sourced from their vegetable garden and fresh fish made into succulent tikkas by their poolside restaurant overlooking the waters, make it a popular escape.

A little ahead, wildlife enthusiast Nawabzada Saad Bin Jung’s The Bison Resort has exquisite waterfront luxury tents and bush tents that blend the sensibilities of East-African wilderness camps with the romance of Raj era hunting lodges, complete with theme bush dinners. The wild tract abuts the lake on one side and the forest on the other, advantageous for elephant sightings right from the property.

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Another eminent Kabini personality is tiger conservationist TGR ‘Tiger’ Ramesh whose resort Cicada Kabini was acquired by Coffee Day. Now run as The Serai, it offers waterfront villas and residences. However, away from the lake and facing the jungle is Tiger’s secret lair, his old home in Kabini, that was sold and renovated into Kaav.

Literally ‘sacred grove’, the really private 6-room property has four rooms in a complex with a common living and an upper deck facing the forest and two really plush tents on stilts nearby. Overlooking the disused old forest department road, you can spot bison and big cats right in your backyard.

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Manager Pavithra Kumar or PK is as excited at the sight of the Ornamental Tree Trunk Spider, as he is of leopards mating, a leopard dragging a chital kill or the black panther draped on a tree. He has documented these chance wildlife encounters in Kabini and over 40 species of spiders on the Kaav property alone. Just a brief walk around the house with pocket torches yielded Jumping Spider, Two-tailed spider, Giant Cross Spider, Giant Wood Spider and Tent Spider in minutes.

From peering at their patterns through a magnifying glass to a high-powered telescope to spot Saturn, PK literally opened our eyes to new worlds. The days are dramatic in Kabini’s forests and skies, the nights more spectacular. Kabini at any time is Nature untamed.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Kabini is 224 km (4½ hours) from Bengaluru and 88km (2 hours) from Mysuru. Take the Outer Ring Road at the Columbia-Asia Hospital Junction to bypass Mysuru City and drive towards HD Kote on the Mysuru-Mananthavady Road. From Handpost towards Kabini. If coming from Calicut, the road between Mananthawadi and Kabini via Bawali is closed from 6 PM – 6 AM every day.

Safaris
Wildlife safaris are done by boat on the reservoir or by jeep in the tourism zone of Antharasanthe (Zone A) and DB Kuppe (Zone B) ranges of Nagarahole National park. There are two drives a day of 3 hrs each, at 6:30am and 3:30 pm (reporting time at your resort is usually 30 min prior). While the safari cost is billed into the JLR per person tariff, most other resorts have an all-meals package and charge for the boat or jeep safari separately (Rs.1650/person), including a transfer to/from JLR.

When to go
The forest and weather is at its best between October to March with good animal sightings from Feb to May. The Gundre jatre takes place during Ugadi.

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Where to Stay
Evolve Back Kuruba Safari Lodge
Bheeramballi Village and Post
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 08228-269100, 080-25127000
http://www.evolveback.com

Kabini River Lodge
Nissana Beltur Post, HD Kote Taluk, Karapura
Ph 08228-264402/03/05, 9449599754
http://www.junglelodges.com

Water Woods
19, Karapura, N Belathur Post Office
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 080 4673 2010, 99459 21303
http://www.waterwoods.in

Kaav Safari Lodge
Malalli Cross, N Belathur PO Kabini
HD Kote Taluk
Ph +91 9995803861, 9900613595
http://www.kaav.com

The Serai Kabini
No.60/1, Nishana, Karapura Village
Antarasante Hobli, HD Kote Taluk
Ph 08228 264444, 9945602305
http://www.theserai.in

The Bison Resort
Gundathur, N Belathur PO Kabini
HD Kote Taluk
Ph 080–41278708, 65590271, 7022155961
http://thebisonresort.com

Red Earth Kabini
Badane Kuppe (Near Hosamalla)
Via Antharasante, HD Kote Taluk
Ph 8884733188 , 7022264116 , 8884733500
http://www.redearthkabini.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in October 2017 as part of a wildlife Cover Story in Outlook Traveller magazine.