Suite 16: Special places to stay in Mauritius

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From private beaches and butlers to in-house golf courses, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out 16 special places to stay in the tropical paradise of Mauritius

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There’s a lot that makes Mauritius unique – the world’s third largest coral reef, multi-coloured earth and other geological wonders, experiences such as walking with lions at Casela or swimming with dolphins, rum tasting at rhumeries (rum factories) like Chamarel, St Aubin, Chateau Labourdonnais and L’Aventure du Sucre, besides spectacular marine adventure – Sea Karting, UnderSea Walk, Underwater Scooter and submarine rides.

But what makes a holiday in the island nation of Ilé Maurice unforgettable is its special places to stay. Here, resorts come with more than sea-facing rooms; think world-class golf courses, dive centres, private butlers, gourmet French and Creole cuisine, besides Sega dancers and fire-eaters performing on white sandy shores after a magical sunset. Here are our top picks.

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Four Seasons Resort Mauritius at Anahita, Beau Champ
Easily the pick of the resorts in Mauritius, the luxurious Four Seasons is located on a 64-acre private sanctuary on the east coast with 136 pool villas. Each villa comes with a private plunge pool and garden, alfresco rain showers and a spacious verandah, offering enough privacy to honeymooners or families. There’s an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Ernie Els and a 1-hour golf initiation session is offered free to guests every day. You have four friendly giant Aldabra tortoises for company and 10 water sports to keep you entertained. Try homemade pastas and Italian cuisine at Acquapazza, amble down for some fine dine at The Chef’s Table or chill at the O-Bar open-air lounge at one of the largest lagoons on the island.
https://www.fourseasons.com/mauritius/

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The Residence Mauritius, Belle Mare
Sunlight filtering in through wooden shutters, a soft palette of white and beige interiors and the relaxing aroma of ylang ylang; The Residence offers classy colonial style comfort. The resort’s central feature is a large pool while its 135 rooms and 28 suites come with garden and ocean views. There’s a choice of dining options – light lunches at The Verandah, contemporary world cuisine at The Dining Room and oceanfront dining at The Plantation.

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The Sanctuary Spa has treatments inspired by luxury French brand Carita. ​Inspired by a sugarcane plantation house, the Planters Kids Club by the beach offers treasure hunts, snorkeling, cooking classes, picnics, pony rides and other fun activities. Get expert coaching from fitness expert Stephan Manique or have your personal butler attend to more mundane chores like unpacking, running a bath, ironing or taking care of your laundry.
http://cenizaro.com/theresidence/mauritius/about

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One & Only Le St. Geran, Belle Mare
South African hotel tycoon Sol Kersner’s One & Only chain takes holidaying to another level with special bespoke experiences. Stay in plush rooms with views overlooking a lagoon, the ocean or sandy beach. Go on a carefully curated art trail in Port Louis or cruise aboard the luxury speedboat Legend 33 to The Cathedral and Fosse aux Requins (Shark Pit) for diving with sharks. Accompany celebrity Executive Chef Marc de Passorio to the vibrant Flacq Market to shop for groceries followed by a guided cooking session at the resort. Can’t cook? There are dining options aplenty – Pan Asian at Tapasake, industrial-style grill house Prime, La Terrasse overlooking the pool and grilled seafood at La Pointe at Palm Grove beach.
https://www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-le-saint-geran-mauritius

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Constance Prince Maurice
Designed by architecture genius Jean Marc Eynaud and designer David Edwards, Constance Prince Maurice is named after Prince Maurice Van Nassau, after whom the Dutch named the island Mauritius in 1598. Set amidst lush tropical greenery, the resort is based on the principles of Feng Shui. Beds stand high above floor level to help the circulation of Qi while Archipel restaurant has concrete columns at the centre of the hall to increase the concentration of energy. It has an intimate and secluded setting with an Infinity pool, U Spa by Constance and exceptional cuisine. Families who opt for beach villas get complimentary access to Constance Kids Club, while golfers have two 18-hole championship courses to choose from.
https://www.constancehotels.com/en/hotels-resorts/mauritius/prince-maurice/

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Shangri-La’s Le Touessrok Resort & Spa, Trou d’Eau Douce
Located on the untouched eastern coast, Le Touessrok’s a winner because of its two isles of paradise just off the resort’s pristine shore, open only to Shangri-La’s guests. Ilot Mangénie features a trendy beach club and on-island butlers while Ile aux Cerfs has a spectacular 18-hole championship golf course designed by golf pro Bernhard Langer. The Chi spa at the resort is a pamper haven. Japanese restaurant Kushi features exclusive Wagyu beef menus and traditional omakase set menus while Le Bazar presents international cuisine with a twist. Guests also get to interact with chefs at the show kitchen. If visiting between 12 April-26 May this year, the resort is bringing South African icon The Test Kitchen (voted the best Restaurant in Africa in 2016), a unique culinary journey curated by Chef Luke Dale Roberts.
http://www.shangri-la.com/mauritius/shangrila/about/

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Lux Grand Gaube
With 5-star resorts stretching from Reunion, Turkey to Vietnam, everything about Lux Resorts promises world-class luxury and indulgence. After setting up resorts at Le Morne and Belle Mare in Mauritius, they continue their promise of ‘a lighter, brighter holiday experience’ with the opening of Lux Grand Gaube in December. Award-winning designer and interior designer Kelly Hoppen MBE blends an east-meets-west sensibility. Partnering with British swimwear brand Orlebar Brown, the resort has created an exciting new capsule collection of swim shorts for men. LUX roped in street artist and French designer Camille Walala to bring her bold geometric prints, patterns and murals to Mauritius. It has a busy event schedule with expert-led workshops and guest DJs. To top it, each LUX resort is 100% carbon neutral!
https://www.luxresorts.com

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Shanti Maurice, St Felix
Tucked away from the busy north, Shanti Maurice is a 36-acres oasis by the sea in the quiet south. Walkways lined with tropical foliage lead to private villas with thatched roofs and large balconies that face the garden or the sea. Ringed by a coral reef, the resort has only non-motorized water sports like windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling and kayaking so as not to disturb guests. Enjoy lovely massages at the in-house Nira Spa and a range of culinary experiences.

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Rum Shed offers spiced rum, prawn pancakes, calamari and 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! In the resort’s herb garden ‘La Kaze Mama’ (literally ‘Mum’s House’) dishes out Mauritian and Creole cuisine. The lantern-lit Fish Shack has seafood and beachside barbecues with Sega dancers and the sound of waves breaking on the reef.
www.shantimaurice.com

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Radisson Blu Azuri Resort & Spa, Roches Noire
A unique lifestyle beach resort integrated within the coastal village of Azuri, like many sights in Mauritius, it is built around a sugarcane factory. The old dilapidated chimney overlooking the pool has been left untouched as a relic of the past. Fringed by coral reefs and clear blue waters, one may snorkel and kayak without leaving the comforts of the resort. Of the 100 odd rooms, the Superior Rooms are located on the beachfront with a plunge pool and private access to the beach, making them ideal for couples. Breakfasts are generally served at Le Comptoir restaurant (the ‘Eye Opener Juice’ of strawberry lemonade really lives up to its name) while Ocean One Beach Club & Restaurant overlooks the surf. Luxuriate at the Spa by Decleor, go on a mangrove kayak safari or explore the lively Flacq Market, the largest outdoor market in Mauritius.
www.radissonblu.com/en/hotel-mauritius-azuri

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Hotel Sofitel Mauritius L’Imperial, Flic en Flac
Spread over 9 hectares of tropical gardens, the reception and restaurant open out to a large swimming pool that seems to spill onto a white sandy beach with the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean stretching into the distance. Located on the west coast, it is one of the best spots to catch the famed Mauritian sunset, though one can be prepared for Sega dancers, fire-eaters and acrobats to put up a show on the beach with dinner by the sea. They have a great dolphin cruise as well and flippers are available at Christine Sofitel Boat House for snorkeling right on the property.
www.sofitel.com/Mauritius

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Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa, Blue Bay
Pioneers of the hospitality industry in Mauritius, Beachcomber Hotels have been around for 65 years with a bouquet of top-notch resorts across the island. Set on a private peninsula lapped by the Blue Bay Marine Park, Shandrani is the first fully inclusive 5-star resort in Mauritius with 327 rooms. Spread across 57-hectacres, it has three beaches, a 9-hole golf course, a sailing school, a dive centre and Beachcomber Spa that uses their signature product range ‘Be Beautiful’.

Shandrani Beachcomber Resort & Spa

Lying in the shadow of the historic Le Morne mountain, Beachcomber’s Hotel Dinarobin is named after the original name of Mauritius given by Arab sailors in 15th century. Along with its twin resort Paradis, it’s set on a 150-acre patch with a 7km beach view. Dinarobin’s exclusive Zen suites at the farthest point are ideal for adults. Wake up to sea views from your private verandah, enjoy kite surfing at the lagoon and pamper yourself with wat-su (water shiatsu) treatments and in-house wellness routines like Gommage and Santayana massage. The best part? You pay for one and enjoy the facilities of both resorts – 8 restaurants, 2 spas, 2 sports centres, a spectacular golf course and shuttle service every 15 minutes.
www.beachcomber-hotels.com

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The St Regis Mauritius Resort, Le Morne
Tucked away on a southwestern nook of the island, the resort comes with 172 guest suites. The colonial theme leads to the 1904 Bar with its signature St. Regis mural painting. Try La Belle Creole Mary, a local interpretation of the legendary Bloody Mary, created 75 years ago at St. Regis New York. The highlight is the food with Franco-Mauritian fare at Le Manoir Dining Room, platters of oysters and grilled prawns at the oceanfront Boathouse Bar & Grill and trendy Asian-inspired Thai, Malay and Vietnamese dishes at Floating Market. They also run the more private St Regis Mauritius Villa with a 143 m beach frontage and the signature St. Regis Butler Service.
http://www.stregismauritius.com

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20 degrees Sud, Grand Baie
Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, the small boutique hotel on the north coast has only 29 rooms and 7 suites, offering an intimate holiday experience. Enter through the beautiful oak door to experience one of the best-kept secrets of Mauritius. Located in an old coconut grove and inspired by a Mauritian Creole style, the interior design is by prestigious Belgian decorator Flamant. Choose from Charm and Beachfront rooms to Austral suites with private plunge pools. Mauritian master chef Sanjeev Purahoo stirs up a wide repertoire of dishes at L’Explorateur restaurant and La Voile, a beach concept under a Bedouin tent with a view of Coin de Mire. The highlight is a cruise on the M/S Lady Lisabeth, the oldest motorboat in Mauritius. Children below 12 are not allowed at the resort.
http://www.20degressud.net/en/

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La Pirogue, Flic en Flac
Part of the international Sun Resorts chain, La Pirogue resembles a traditional fishing village set amidst a coconut grove surrounded by lush gardens. Each bungalow’s thatched roof is reminiscent of the unfurled sail of a local fishing boat, from which the resort derives its name. Bright coloured interiors and themes define this boho-chic hotel with spacious Beach Pavilion rooms and Garden Bungalows. With signature experiences like Sun Golf, Spa, fishing and multi-cultural food, it’s perfect for those looking for a big resort holiday.
https://www.lapirogue.com

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The Westin Turtle Bay Resort & Spa, Balaclava
The 5-star hotel is a tranquil hideaway in the historic Balaclava area overlooking Turtle Bay, a protected marine park on the north-west coast of Mauritius. Natural tropical elements like local teak and lava rocks combine well with contemporary design as The Westin brings its proprietary products to the table – Heavenly Spa By Westin, New Balance gym gear on hire at nominal rates at the WestinWORKOUT Fitness Studio and SuperFoodsRx dishes like whole-wheat blueberry pancakes, all-natural roasted turkey wraps and black bean hummus. Grab a bite at Seasonal Tastes, relish Frontier cuisine at Kangan or sushis and more at Mystique Beach Bar & Lounge.
http://www.westinturtlebaymauritius.com

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Angsana Balaclava Mauritius Hotel, Turtle Bay
Set in a secluded cove in Turtle Bay adjacent to a coastal village on the picturesque northwest coast, Angsana Balaclava Mauritius is a tropical oasis. Its stylish suites and villas feature private infinity pools and hammams, besides an award-winning spa and gourmet cuisine. There’s international Asian-fusion and Mauritian Creole cuisine at Oryza, lunches at Passion Chill and foodie excursion and cooking class rolled into one at Epicurean Delight. Enjoy Destination Dining with a private dining experience on the beach or a catamaran cruise dinner. Admire the Port Louis skyline and its magnificent mountain backdrop sipping champagne and nibbling on delightful canapés. Cycle through the lovely coastal village of Petit Gamin, take pics against vast sugarcane fields and have a picnic lunch on the quiet beach of Le Goulet.
https://www.angsana.com/en/mauritius/balaclava-mauritius

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La Plantation D’Albion Club Med, Albion
Spread over 21-hectares, Club Med’s ‘5-trident’ beach resort has an all-inclusive policy with full-board gourmet cuisine, bar, snacks and sports activities. Imbued with a laid-back vibe, it has two pools (including an overflow pool), Flying Trapeze classes, an adults-only Zen Zone and a Petit Club Med kids club where little ones can learn about local animal and marine life. The Club Med Spa by Cinq Mondes Paris is the perfect place to pamper yourself as you enjoy delicious Creole and Continental fare at The Distillerie with two terraces overlooking the sea or pool. Dine at The Phare, named after the lighthouse at Albion 6km away, the only lighthouse on the island that is still in use and a worthy excursion.
https://www.clubmed.com.au/r/La-Plantation-d%27Albion-Club-Med/y

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For more info, contact
Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority
www.tourisme-ilemaurice.mu

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. Photos courtesy respective hotels, except Shanti Maurice, Radisson Blu Azuri & Sofitel (by authors). Four Seasons – Ken Seet. This article appeared on 9 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Here’s the link: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/16-gorgeous-hotels-for-your-next-holiday-in-mauritius/

 

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Basketful of Joy: Ballooning in India

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY reach for the skies and profile the mad world of ballooning while attending the Araku Balloon Festival

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Listening to tales of early explorers conquering the world in strange airships and watching their adventures on celluloid had always filled us with awe and wonder. Be it ‘Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines’ or Phileas Fogg and his French valet Passepartout crossing the Pyrenees in Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, nothing had captured our imagination like hot air ballooning. Verne’s first acclaimed novel in 1863 ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon’ involved travelling across Africa from Zanzibar to St Louis in a hot air balloon. With the 2009 animation film ‘Up’, our interest only piqued…

Internationally, ballooning as a sport started in the late 1960s-70s in France, UK & the US and then spread across Europe. In 1986, maverick tycoon Richard Branson did the first Trans-Atlantic crossing in the biggest hot air balloon ever and in 1991, he successfully crossed the Pacific Ocean, setting a distance and speed record of 6,700 miles and 245mph. In the late 90s, Branson ran the largest ballooning operation in the world and wanted to bring Virgin Balloons to India, but things didn’t work out. In India, ballooning seems to have taken off with regular events like Taj Mahotsav, Pushkar Mela and the Tamil Nadu Balloon Festival at Pollachi in January (in its fourth edition).

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One day, out of the blue, we got the perfect opportunity for a first hand experience, thanks to the Araku Balloon Festival. Organized by E-Factor and SkyWaltz, pioneers of ballooning in India, in association with Andhra Pradesh Tourism, it was a chance to see Araku Valley and its stunning landscape from a different perspective. We flew into Vizag for the 3-hour drive to Araku where a recently harvested agricultural patch had been painstakingly transformed into a tented luxury camp. On the eve of our maiden flight, we hung out with the world’s top balloonists for an inside look into this fascinating activity.

There seemed to be more butterflies flying around our stomachs than there would be balloons in the air. Though Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) recognizes ballooning as the safest aero sport, Chief Organizer Samit Garg reassured first-time flyers, “Ballooning is the simplest form of aviation. It’s like a parachute that operates on the simple fundamental of being LTA (lighter than air). It does not have an engine that might fail, nor a wing that could fall off, if the burner has a problem, there’s a back-up burner, if there’s a hole in the balloon, it is not going to burst. If everything fails, the warm air inside will get cold and the balloon will slowly descend to earth.” We laughed at his simple logic. “The only two things that can go wrong is if you’ve taken a bad call and flown in bad weather or the pilot is an amateur.” We were fortunate to be in the company of legends.

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“There are so few moving parts, what could possibly go wrong?” said Australian flyer Peter Dutneall in mock seriousness. He loved ballooning because it put smiles on people’s faces. Sixteen balloons from thirteen countries were taking part at the Araku Balloon Festival. Italian Paulo Bonanno, the world authority in burners, had been flying for 37 years. He originally made industrial textile machines and one day while talking to a friend on the phone, absent-mindedly doodled a round shape that looked like a balloon. On a wager, he made a balloon in 15 days. As he gained altitude with each try, one day he cut the rope and reached for the skies. Though he had flown across the world, this was his first time ballooning in India. “I’m 73 and plan to fly for the next 30 years,” he chuckled, chugging at his trademark pipe. “The only navigational tool I use is my nose.”

Ballooning is subject to good weather; one can’t do it when it’s too hot, so summers and rains are off limits. The season lasts from mid-Sep to mid-April. Josep Llado from Spain began by fulfilling his dream of exploring Africa by balloon. Thirty years later, he’s still not tired. “It’s freedom, you forget everything else,” he said. An India veteran, Josep had flown in Jaipur, Ranthambhore, over the Taj in Agra and above India Gate in Delhi. “Flying in India is very colourful and incredible, especially the landscapes and the people. When you fly over a city, people run to the roofs. When you land, they come in droves, always interested to see what’s happening.”

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Josep explained that the best time to fly is early morning or evening, as the wind is calm and the temperature cool, without thermals. For long distance flights or across mountains the ideal wind speed is 50 knots, but for short flights, within a valley, 6-7 knots is fine. Wind blows in different directions at various altitudes so one can change levels and pick another wind. That’s where experience comes in. You observe other balloons.

“It’s a bit old fashioned”, he laughed. If you burn less often, you begin to descend slowly. The pilot must always be conscious of what to do – don’t stray too far, watch out for power lines when flying low, land near a road. If it’s windy, you land a bit harder. It’s not important where you go; only the flight is important, so enjoy the flight.

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For Samit, the magic moment came in Germany in 2003 when he saw a hot air balloon for the first time while driving from Stuttgart to Frankfurt. On learning that it was a regular ticketed activity, he wondered why it couldn’t happen in India? Samit travelled to the UK, Turkey, France and Germany to understand how it’s done but India still didn’t have any laws to facilitate commercial ballooning.

After much deliberation with the DGCA and obtaining a NSOP (Non-Scheduled Operators Permit), SkyWaltz waltzed into the skies. Commercial ballooning in India took off on 1 Jan 2009. Rajasthan, with its forts, palaces, rugged Aravallis and steady tourist traffic was the perfect place to start. Headquartered in Jaipur, they soon spread to Ranthambhore, Pushkar camel fair and a permanent operation at Lonavala. They flew at Hampi Festival, Taj Mahotsav, Amaravati Festival and for a TV series for the Bedi brothers with balloon flights over 8 national parks.

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From branding, tethered flights, corporate group events and destination marketing to experimental breakfasts and proposal flights (somebody held a 100 ft long banner with the message ‘will you marry me’), ballooning is indeed special … Today, the market has grown so much that SkyWaltz flies three baskets full every morning at Jaipur. In the last nine years, they have flown over 35,000 happy customers.

The next morning, the pilots left early for the launch site. Numbered jeeps carrying baskets, cylinders and other equipment rolled in. Karimulla Syed from Guntur, the only balloon pilot from Andhra Pradesh with 800 flying hours across 15 countries, was coordinating the setup. Paul Macpherson, chief of operations at SkyWaltz, was busy checking if any balloonist needed anything.

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We had all been designated balloons and were given boarding passes. A huge crowd had assembled to see the drama unfold. It was overcast. “If it’s foggy, it means no wind, which is good,” said Paulo. “The ideal condition is no wind on the ground and soft wind in the air. The maximum speed permitted by rule is 10 knots,” he added.

Rick Astral and John were rigging up Iwi the Kiwi, a special shaped balloon that won many admirers. Rick, who calls himself ‘the cheeky Kiwi’, was a self-professed cowboy who had flown over the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Park. Setting up nearby were Swiss flier Marc Blazer, Kevin Chassa, whose mother was the first female balloon pilot in France and Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin, Malaysia’s first female hot air balloonists.

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Their father Captain Khairudin, smitten by his first glimpse of a hot air balloon on a train journey in Switzerland, returned home to become Malaysia’s first balloon pilot. His daughters helped him organize the annual Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta in 2009 and after his death in 2012, took over his mantle.

The sisters love the unpredictability of ballooning – the inability to control the direction or flight route, leaving your fate to nature, following the wind and letting it take you to unknown places. Flying a hot air balloon is different from any other aircraft because you can never plan where you will land. Once on a cross-country flight across nine states in Peninsular Malaysia, they landed in a palm oil plantation. First the workers ran away and came back with machetes as they thought it was a bomb. When they saw people inside, they thought they were gods! “Ballooning is so universal – no matter your age, race or where you come from, the reaction is always one of excitement.”

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“But it’s not as glamorous as it seems”, they chimed. “You sweat buckets, there’s heavy lifting and you need a team – it’s not a one-man (or woman) show!” The nylon-polyurethane envelope weighs 100kg, the basket about 60kg and 50kg each cylinder. It takes a crew of four 20 minutes to set up. A balloon can cost around 30,000 to 100,000 Euros.

The Bee, a special inflatable balloon purely for display, was the first to dance in the air, as Luc de Wulf from Belgium wielded it expertly. After growing up on his grandfather’s stories on flying, he made his first makeshift balloon at 10 by heating a piece of plastic with a hairdryer. Luc started ballooning in 2005 and after Israel, Lebanon, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico, Dubai and flying over the Alps in winter, this was his first experience in India.

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We were assigned to his fellow Belgian Johan Vander Meiren, who had clocked a thousand flights in Europe and has been flying over Bruges for the last 12 years. “We cannot steer, so we float on nature,” he shouted over the din of industrial fans inflating the balloons. The burners fired up and after instructions to bend our knees on touchdown, we hopped in.

With a loud whoosh, we were off, rising above a patchwork of green, yellow and golden fields in a valley ringed with mountains criss-crossed with streams. After the initial whoops of joy, we settled in and savoured the 15-minute ride and the sight of other balloons on the horizon. The touchdown was really smooth. Johan radioed the ground staff and we lowered carefully into an open field where we were greeted by an excited group of farmers, children and bystanders.

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Yet, we were all unaware of another spectacle about to unfold that night – tethered flight and night glow! In a large ground, the balloons lit up each time the burners fired and the swarming crowd gasped. A lucky few got the chance to get into a balloon and experience a tethered flight. Little kids clutched colourful balloons on strings as if dressed for a fancy dress party. Later that night, we celebrated our success with dancing the local Dhimsa to the beat of tribal drums by the campfire.

On account of its sheer size and geographic diversity, India has the potential to be a top ballooning destination. However, weather and wind patterns are critical and you need vast open spaces for landing, so plateaus score over coastlines. Places like Varanasi and Hampi can rival Turkey or Myanmar. Ballooning is big business in Cappadoccia where 50-60 balloons take off each day but it took them 27 years to get there. In India, the tough part is done and the administration, the trade and customers are all aware of ballooning. As Leonardo Da Vinci said, “Once you have flown, you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been, and there you long to return.”

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 27 May, 2018 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Gourmet Dubai: Culinary treasures from the Oyster Shell

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Global cuisine, fine dining and festivals such as the Dubai Food Festival; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the delicious melting pot that’s Dubai

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Home to an expat population of 85% and over 200 nationalities, Dubai brings the best of the world on a platter. The sheer choice of cuisines, themed restaurants, Michelin-starred chefs and unique food festivals make Dubai a dream destination for foodies. But below the glitzy skyscrapers is a Dubai that still preserves its strong Arabic culture, heritage and hospitality.

The perfect place to start is Ewaan at Palace Downtown, where a massive traditional spread of rice, meats, salads, grills and desserts is laid out. Relive ‘Arabian Nights’ with energetic tanoura and belly dance performances every Wednesday with authentic delights like lamb juzi (spiced rice with lamb), fish sayadieh (like a biryani), meat kebbeh and a live grill. There’s a range of exotic drinks – Turkish coffee, Moroccan Maghrebi mint tea and Qamar Al Deen, a juice prepared from dried apricot paste. Sample exotic desserts like Um Ali (creamy bread pudding and cinnamon nut stuffed baklava), borma almond, mafrouka pistachio and chaibeyat as a veiled lady fries fresh luqaimat (spongy dessert).

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Fine dining in Dubai has reached dizzying heights. At the quiet Armani Hotel Lobby inside Burj Khalifa, a graceful hostess ushered us to an express elevator, which transported us to the 122nd floor in 45 seconds. Perched at 670 feet, At.mosphere is the world’s highest restaurant ‘from ground level’. The change in air pressure makes your ears pop like a champagne cork as you disembark.

A cantilevered staircase connects the restaurant to the lounge offering the best view in town and top-notch French cuisine by Michelin Chef Jerome Lagarde. A minimum spend policy of 250-500 AED per person guarantees window seating while a nine-course festive menu featuring caviar, foie gras, langouste, truffles, oysters and sea scallops, comes at a princely 880 AED.

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Al Mahara, literally ‘The Oyster Shell’ in Arabic, at the opulent Burj Al Arab is designed to wow any diner. Walk past gilded interiors through a shimmering tunnel into the restaurant dominated by a stunning floor-to-ceiling aquarium. As you are mesmerized by marine life swimming by, award-winning chefs stir up sea bass with almond sauce, Maine lobster with seaweed butter and poached tsarkaya oysters.

In the world’s tallest hotel JW Marriott Marquis, Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar (no longer with the establishment) reincarnates Indian food into a contemporary form at Rang Mahal (Palace of Colour), dominated by plush orange and black interiors and massive temple pillars. The Navratan Menu features Lasooni Scallops to Meen Moilley, culminating in a Modern Art Dessert Canvas of assorted Indian sweets ‘painted’ by the chefs. For Indian fine dine at its best, head to Indego by another Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia at the luxurious Grosvenor House.

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Encased in a beautiful two-storeyed glass facade, La Serre fuses the charm of a Parisian street café with the buzz of Downtown Dubai. The traditional boulangerie on the ground floor bakes the freshest breads in town while the first floor bistro offers the perfect vantage. In elegant white interiors, dine at the Chef’s Table on house classics – Tarte Flambée, lentil salad, rigatoni with white truffles, grilled veal chops and whole seabass baked in salt crust.

Chic and modern, the beach-facing Sea Fu is the signature restaurant at Four Seasons on Jumeirah Beach and one of the top seafood restaurants in Dubai. Expect Med-style dishes and Asian-influenced delicacies in a cool, loungey atmosphere, overlooking the spectacular Arabian Gulf. Try the Sea Fu platter, seafood fettucini and crispy prawn with wasabi lemon dressing.

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One of Madinat Jumeirah’s hot new launches, folly by Nick & Scott boasts award-winning cuisine that requires booking weeks in advance. The stunning arched hallway of the Arabian court at One&Only Royal Mirage leads to their lovely Moroccan restaurant Tagine. We dropped in at EauZone for Asian mezze, grilled hammour fillet and steamed miso seabass.

At Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road, dine amidst contemporary art or enjoy a stunning rooftop view of the Dubai skyline and fast-moving traffic from Level 43, the rooftop Sky Lounge. In Palm Jumeirah, the Signature Brunch at Social by world-renowned chef Heinz Beck at Waldorf Astoria is a culinary tour de force.

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With 5-star hotels aplenty, there’s no dearth of fine dine options, sometimes within the same hotel. The Beach House at Anantara, The Palm has relaxed beach side dining with views of the glittering Dubai shoreline as you relish Med fare, tapas, seafood and signature cocktails like ‘After the Storm.’ Anantara’s Mekong is counted among Dubai’s top Pan-Asian restaurants.

Relish authentic Far East preparations in rickshaw-style seating at oriental tables with overhead lights in birdcages. The Sharing Platter of crispy and Vietnamese spring rolls, Tod Mun Goong (Thai shrimp cake), Plah Goong (prawn salad with lemongrass), BBQ minced prawn on sugarcane skewer, Gai Hor Baitoey (chicken pandan) and chicken satay is highly recommended.

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Food festivals galore

There’s no better showcase of global and local flavours than Dubai Food Festival (DFF), the perfect hangout for the gourmand and the glutton. Besides pop-ups and street food awards, the Restaurant Week saw 15 top-end restaurants offer a 3-course menu for AED 199. Tum Tum Asia, voted among the Top 10 Hidden Gems at DFF, brings typical pan-Asian street flavours into a purely 100% vegetarian menu, thanks to the ingenuity of Indian celebrity chef Akshay Nayyar and owner Prakash Adtani. The vibrant décor inspired by street art and tuk-tuks has a quirky lip-smacking menu of dimsums, satays, kebabs, sushi, baos and Thai curries, presented imaginatively.

This year, Etisalat Beach Canteen captured Dubai’s eclectic multicultural milieu and was the heart of DFF. Funky food trucks and homegrown eateries served global fare and experimental, artisan food with tastes as varied as Polish dumplings at Zapie Kanka, falafel burgers and charcoal lemonade at BurgerItch, spicy Tacos at Maiz and Spanish churros from Churros Factory to bizarre presentations of Bubble waffles with chocolate injections and Butter Beer, a creation of American Chef Ian Klienman at the Inventing Room.

Dubai, Dubai Film, Food Festival, DTCM

Adding to the food fiesta was live music, yoga on the beach, kite surfing, paddle boats by the bay besides cooking demos and Master Classes by renowned chefs. From fresh buns to berry pistachio pancakes and ‘freaky fries’, we tried That Place Café’s fusion food of bun-based dishes paired with pasta, potatoes, sheesh tawook and curry. Decadent desserts are also served in a delicious bun, so you could say, no one can eat just bun!

The second edition of Miami Vibes Food Festival celebrated soul food in a happy beach-like vibe combined with festival founder Elham al Arif’s love for Miami. From mid-Feb through March, the parking lot of Green Planet in Dubai’s City Walk became a lively pink-splashed outdoor avenue amidst pink sun decks, beach umbrellas and giant flamingoes. On offer was live entertainment and food truck culture featuring global fast food – burgers (including hot pink ones), sushi, rainbow sandwiches, local Koshari meals, sour khameer (Arabic pastry), Hakiki Turkish ice-cream and gourmet desserts shaped like exotic flowers from Dolci e Salato.

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Eat Organic

Comptoir 102, winner of the Best Healthy Café in Dubai, is a classy craft boutique on Jumerirah’s Beach Road that morphed into a café and organic restaurant. Chef Erwin Jmaampoc emphasized that their unique food is nutritious, wholesome and sourced from local organic farms. The ever-changing contemporary menu is dictated by season and harvest with sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, super foods and vegan options. Impeccably presented, each morsel assures healthy goodness in a relaxed ethnic setting. Don’t miss the hearty Avo’ Club, Acai Bowl and juices that come with tempting health and beauty oriented names!

In the cooler months from mid-October to mid-April, Ripe Outdoor Market convenes at Zabeel Park every Friday with organic fruits and farm fresh vegetables, gourmet pickles and pestos, exotic white honey from Kyrgyzstan, food stalls and over hundred kiosks selling boutique and lifestyle products.

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At Carli’s Chimneys, we tried Black Rose, a charcoal-activated ice cream the owner picked up from Vienna. Another seasonal cultural extravaganza is Global Village, bringing together flavours, arts and entertainment from across the world. We sipped kerkade (hibiscus iced tea) and savoured Egyptian cuisine at Al Dahhan.

The seaside marina boardwalk Club Vista Mare in Palm Jumeirah is lined by fine restaurants like Simply Italian, Gursha (Ethiopian) and Aji (Peruvian) besides shisha bars. BoxPark Dubai, the hip entertainment quarter on Al Wasl Road has trendy boutiques and niche cafés housed in 220 shipping containers with a lady DJ spinning tunes from a converted food truck! No matter when you visit, Dubai is ready to tantalize your taste buds. It’s surprising that Dubai does not have its own Michelin star restaurant yet, but we might just have to eat our words soon.

Al Mahara-Line caught sea bass with almond sauce, black truffles and forest mushrooms 2015-12-18 15.52.06-2

FACT FILE

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dubai International Airport (3-4 hrs).

When to go
Dubai Food Festival is held in Feb-March. www.dubaifoodfestival.com
Ramadan in May-June has great spreads for iftar and suhour.

Where to Eat
At.mosphere, Burj Khalifa
Ph +971 4 888 3803
www.atmosphereburjkhalifa.com

Al Mahara, Burj al Arab
Ph +971 4 301 7600
www.jumeirah.com

Ewaan, Palace Downtown Dubai
Ph +971 48883444
http://www.addresshotels.com

Mekong, Anantara The Palm Dubai
Ph +971 4 567 8304
www.dubai-palm.anantara.com/mekong/

One & Only Royal Mirage
Ph +971 4 399 9999
www.oneandonlyresorts.com

Rang Mahal, JW Marriott Marquis
Ph +971 4 414 0000
www.jwmarriottmarquisdubailife.com

La Serre-Sea bass baked in salt crust

La Serre, Vida Downtown Dubai Hotel
Ph +971 4 428 6969
www.laserre.ae

Indego by Vineet, Grosvenor House
Ph +971 4 317 6000
http://www.indegobyvineet.com

Sea Fu, Four Seasons
Ph +971 4 270 7777
www.seafudubai.com

Four Points by Sheraton, Sheikh Zayed Road
Ph +971 4 323 0333
www.fourpointssheikhzayedroad.com

Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
www.ripeme.com

For more info, www.visitdubai.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the May 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.  

Wet n’ Wild: Water sports across India

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Raft in lesser-known rivers from the Himalayas to the Western Ghats, surf with swamis, swim with dugongs, rapel down waterfalls or kayak in wild streams; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY give the low down on aqua sports across India

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Sure you’ve got drenched in the surf at Tarkarli, felt invigorated in the icy Ganga while rafting at Rishikesh, done water scooter rides at Digha or Dona Paula and parasailing off Goa’s beaches… Yet, there’s no dearth of aquatic adventures in India, thanks to a 7000km long coastline and numerous lakes, streams, rivers and waterfalls pulsating with action.

The inaugural Vizag Yachting Festival, a first-of-its-kind event in March 2018 saw adventure enthusiasts cruise in plush yachts like Gypsea and Sea Norita in the Bay of Bengal. Wayanad Splash, Wayanad Tourism Organization’s unique monsoon festival, transforms Kerala’s hill district into an outdoor playground. Offroad rallies over hills and streams, river rafting in bamboo boats and mud football in slushy rice fields; it’s just the shot of adrenaline to shake away the monsoon blues. Local adventure outfit Muddy Boots organizes rafting on the Pozhuthanna and Triathlon on the Kabini River.

Malabar River Festival in July is South India’s only extreme adventure competition and the biggest kayak festival in Asia. Organized by Kerala Kayak Academy and Madras Fun Tools on behalf of Kerala Adventure Tourism Promotion Society, nearly 200 participants from across the world converge at Thusharagiri in Kozhikode district. These events mark a new chapter in the world of aqua sports in India.

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Raft the rapids

Wild rivers, rapids with funky names and the invigorating splash of cold mountain water; nothing beats the thrill of white water rafting. Criss-crossed by rivers tumbling down mountainous tracts, India is a rafter’s paradise, with every river having a unique character. Snow-fed Himalayan rivers provide top-notch rafting and operators like Ibex Expeditions, Aquaterra and Red Chilli run the Tons, Alaknanda, Bhagirathi and other rivers in Uttarakhand.

At Rishikesh, few do the full 36km stretch from Kaudiyala via Marine Drive, Brahmpuri and Shivpuri to Lakshman Jhula. Brave 13 Grade I-IV rapids like Daniel’s Dip, Roller Coaster, Golf Course and Sweet Sixteen, go body surfing and steel your nerves for some cliff jumping. In Ladakh, choose from day trips around Leh, longer runs on the Indus or the challenging 14-day Zanskar river expedition from July till September. In Himachal Pradesh, try the Beas or a 25km stretch in Spiti from Rangrik near Kaza to Sichling, with Class I-II rapids. In Arunachal Pradesh, there’s good rafting on the Upper Subansiri and the Siang from Yingkiong to Pasighat. The rafting location is so remote it takes five days just to reach the launch point!

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John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, pioneer of rafting in South India, has introduced 6 stretches from Dandeli to Coorg since 1999 and is partnering Goa Tourism from 2012. In Karnataka, get entangled in Adi’s Beard and Stanley’s Squeeze on the Kali river at Dandeli or tackle Milky Churn and Wicked Witch on the raging KKR (Upper Barapole) river in Coorg. ‘White water’ John describes Tilari as ‘the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas’ and a 10km stretch of the lower Mhadei river promises spectacular jungle scenery along the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and Grade II-III rapids like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Y-Fronts.

Unlike the usual rafting season of October to May, in Goa it’s a monsoon activity from June to October. Yet, some dam-fed rivers like Kundalika are accessible all year round. At Kolad, Maharashtra’s only white water rafting site, tackle a 14km stretch of the river with a dozen Class II-III rapids like Morning Headache, Johnny Walker, Rajdhani Express and Boom Shankar.

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Dive right in

Turquoise waters, great visibility, untouched coral reefs and a remote location 1000 km from the Indian mainland, the Andamans offers the best diving and snorkelling opportunities in India. North Bay, 10 min by boat from capital Port Blair, and Wandoor Marine National Park stretching across 280 sq km 15 islands like Jolly Buoy and Red Skin, give the ideal introduction to the underwater world through glass-bottomed boat rides and snorkeling.

For diving, head straight to the adventure hub of Havelock Island in Ritchie’s Archipelago. After introductory sessions at Hathi Tapu (Elephant Beach), a speedboat takes you to remote dive sites like Barracuda City, Dugong Dungeon, Turtle Bay and Barren Island, India’s only active volcano. A range of PADI courses – basic one-day courses to specialized programs – are offered. Slip away to the quiet Neil Island for snorkeling and swimming with dugongs.

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Off the west coast, head out to the 36 coral islands of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea. Lacadives, pioneers of diving in Lakshadweep since 1995, now run a dive centre at Chidiya Tapu in the Andamans and offer diving courses and reef adventures at Cinque, Rutland and Passage Islands! They also run a ‘Scuba in the City’ program with pool-training facilities in Mumbai and Bangalore. Dive Lakshadweep in Agatti, has 2 hr dive sessions in the lagoon for first timers, besides PADI’s Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) Introductory Dives and open water courses. Dolphin Reef and Sting Ray City northwest of Agatti Island and Japanese Garden near Agatti Island Beach Resort are popular dive sites. Diving in Lakshadweep outside the reef is possible only after the rains (15 Sep-15 May).

If time is a constraint, there’s enough action closer home on the Coromandel Coast. Temple Adventures, named after an artificial reef they built 5km offshore shaped like the Mahabalipuram Shore Temple, offers a Try Dive and snorkeling and surfing lessons at their facility on Covelong Road. There are also PADI certified dive courses and open-sea dives up to 50m at Temple Reef (20 min by boat) or The Wall, an inter-continental drop 15km offshore (45 min by boat).

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Temple towns & Surfing Swamis

Who would have thought surfing and spirituality go hand in hand? Just beyond Udupi, Kaliya Mardana Krishna Ashram at Mulki or ‘Ashram Surf Retreat’ is run by Hare Rama Hare Krishna devotees, with surfing lessons, yoga, meditation, veg food and total detox (no smoking or alcohol)! Go river kayaking and ride the Zodiac boat to local surf breaks like Swami’s and Baba’s Left. April-May is mild surfing season with 1-2 m waves and 8 feet waves between June-September. For banana boat rides and adventure-themed vacations, venture up the coast to Sai Vishram Beach Resort at Baindoor and Devbagh Beach Resort near Karwar.

The temple town of Rameshwaram is fast emerging as a pilgrimage spot for kite surfers. A steady wind speed and scant rains provide ideal conditions for kite surfing or surfboarding powered by a kite. India’s first female kite surfer Charmaine of Quest Expeditions teaches wave-style and freestyle riding and jumps at kite spots like Swami’s Bay, Lands End lagoon and Fisherman’s Cove. It’s possible all year round, with north winds blowing in winter (Oct–Mar) and south winds in summer (Apr–Sep). In Maharashtra, Ocean Adventures does surfing, wakeboarding and other water sports at Ganpatipule.

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Canyoning & other adventures

Come monsoon, the Konkan resuscitates itself with swollen rivers, mist-laden ghats and waterfalls at every turn. At Vihigaon, near Igatpuri, challenge yourself by rapelling down a 100 ft high slippery cataract, set amidst hills and paddy fields. Offbeat Sahyadri also organizes canyoning at Bekare near Karjat, Dudhani near Panvel and Dudhiware near Lonavala.

For sportfishing, hit the high seas off Chennai for Giant Trevally, tuna, mackerel, barracuda, barramundi, wahoo and sailfish. Angling operators in Goa and Chennai offer day packages to estuarine sanctuaries, breakwaters, wrecks and offshore ledges. Or head to Ritchie’s Archipelago in the Andamans for deep-sea fishing with Mikes Fishing Adventures and Monster Fishing. That’s the thing with marine adventure, once you’re hooked, you look for excuses to dive back in…

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FACT FILE

When to go
Vizag Yachting Festival (28-31 Mar, 2018)
http://www.vivagyachtingfestival.com

Malabar River Festival (19-22 July, 2018)
http://www.malabarfest.com

Wayanad Splash (7-9 July, 2018)
http://www.wayanadsplash.com

Where to Stay
Sai Vishram Baindoor Beach Resort
Ph 9449817535
www.saivishram.com

Devbagh Beach Resort
www.devbaghbeachresort.com

Adventure Outfits
RAFTING

Ibex Expeditions
Ph 011-26460244/46
www.ibexexpeditions.com

Aquaterra
Ph 011-29212641, 29212760, 41636101
www.aquaterra.in

Red Chilli Adventure, Rishikesh
Ph 0135-2434021
www.redchilliadventure.com

Goa Rafting/Southern River Adventures
Ph 9545305734, 8805727230
www.goarafting.com

Coorg Whitewater Rafting
Ph 0876-2346289
www.coorgwhitewaterrafting.com

Wild River Adventure, Kolad
Ph 9819297760
www.koladrafting.com

Mercury Himalayan Explorations, Kolad
Ph 92728 82874
www.kundalikarafting.in

KAYAKING

Muddy Boots, Wayanad
Ph 9544201249
www.muddyboots.in

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CANYONING

Offbeat Sahyadri
Ph 9987990300, 9664782503
offbeatsahyadri@gmail.com

DIVING

Barefoot Scuba, Havelock
Ph 044 24341001, 95660 88560
www.diveandamans.com

Dive India, Havelock
Ph 99320 82205
www.diveindia.com

Andaman Bubbles, Havelock
Ph 03192 282140, 9531892216
www.andamanbubbles.com

Lacadives
Ph 9820890948, 9619690898
www.lacadives.com

Dive Lakshadweep
Ph 9446055972
www.divelakshadweep.com

SURFING

India Surf Club, Mulki
Ph 9880659130
www.surfingindia.net

Quest Adventures, Rameshwaram
Ph 9820367412, 9930920409
http://quest-asia.com
www.thekitesurfingholiday.com

Temple Adventures, Mamallapuram
Ph 9789844191, 9940219449
www.templeadventures.com

Kallialay Surf Club, Mamallapuram
Ph 9442992874, 9787306376
kallialaysurfschool@hotmail.com

Ocean Adventures, Ganpatipule
Ph 99755 53617

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SPORTFISHING

Monster Fishing
Ph 98450 15472
www.theandamans.com

Mikes Fishing Adventures
Ph 95660 88560
www.wildandamans.com

Andaman Sea Gamefishing
Ph 99332 04012
www.andamanseagamefishing.com

Goa Fishing
Ph 94220 59303, 96374 82626
www.goa-fishing.com

Chennai Sportfishing
Ph 044 42102287, 9500032662/9
www.chennaisportfishing.com

Barracuda Bay
Ph 9841072072
www.barracudabay.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.

Galway Girl: An Irish Jaunt

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PRIYA GANAPATHY takes a Railtours Ireland trip down the Wild Atlantic Way to Galway via Limerick, Bunratty Castle and the Cliffs of Moher, the most popular day trip from Dublin

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One would think that a Van Morrison music tour and a weeklong Literary trail in and around Belfast should have satisfied my hunger for Irish art and culture. Yet, I was chugging to Dublin for an excursion to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher. My Dubliner cabbie Thomas Brennan chatted me up, “The interesting thing about Ireland is that there are no snakes, no earthquakes, no gales, no mountains, no wildlife to speak of. It’s not too hot, not too cold. So we’re all moderate people – products of our environment. Which is why Dublin is a nice place to be.”

By 6am I was ready for Dublin Hueston Station where my Railtours Ireland guide, Andy Geraghty promised to be “in a bright yellow jacket doing star jumps on the platform!” Being a combination of rail and road, the tour would take me past coastal towns, castles and cliffs along the Atlantic, wrapping up in gorgeous Galway, the cultural epicenter of Ireland. The town shot to fame with Ed Sheeran’s cheery hit Galway Girl, though people swear that Steve Earle’s original track in the film P.S. I Love You was far more Irish and way better.

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We changed trains at Limerick Junction in County Tipperary and disembarked at Limerick’s Colbert Station, learning that the Republic of Ireland’s railway stations were renamed in 1966 after rebels, who gave their life for Irish Independence. I was curious whether Limerick gave the literary ‘funny little poem’ its name or vice versa. “Not sure” replied Andy. “But I can recite one for you.”

“There was a man from Nantucket, who kept all his money in a pocket. His daughter Nan ran away with a Man, and as for the pocket, Nan took it.” In 16th and 17th century, Limerick was considered the most beautiful city in Ireland because the best-looking girls were from here. Few know that the city is also famous for its ham! Originally an old industrial town, Limerick seemed like a smaller version of Belfast.

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Our next halt was Bunratty Castle and Folk Park in County Clare. The pretty guide Elizabeth glammed up in period costume explained the 15th century castle’s history in the Main Guard, a vaulted hall. Its Minstrel’s Gallery is still used for Bunratty Medieval Castle Banquets every night where visitors are served medieval meals and plied with large glasses of Ireland’s infamous drink, mead!

I was fascinated by the tapestries, the spy-holes and special Ladies Window in the Great Hall, once out of bounds for women and a stunning carved oak dowry cupboard from Germany. Gracing the walls were gargantuan prehistoric antler trophies spanning up to three meters that belonged to Giant Irish Deer, one of the largest deer that ever walked our planet, but extinct for ten thousand years. They were retrieved from the oxygen deficient boglands, which ensured their fine state of preservation.

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On the fringes of Bunratty, an outlying castle served as a vantage. “Any approaching enemy would be signaled by lighting a fire on its roof. So when one arrived at Bunratty, the friendly O’Briens would greet you with a red carpet. They’d pour burning oil on you, throw excrement mixed with lime, or chop your head off, the usual ‘warm welcome’ the O’Briens gave everyone,” Andy quipped wickedly.

The journey was filled with delightful anecdotes on Irish history and culture, their love for superstitions and folklore. We heard stories about the Fairy Tree that stalled the motorway construction and Rag Trees and Holy Wells with therapeutic powers and the origin of the world famous Irish Coffee. This wizardly concoction of whiskey, coffee and cream created by chef Joe Sheridan in 1937 at Foyens near Shannon beats all the fancy coffees of today!

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Though Doolin’s candy pink coloured thatched houses and stores on Fisher Street looked good enough to eat, we stepped into Gus O’Conners, a little pub for a quick lunch of Seafood Chowder. A quick hop into a small chocolate shop run by Mary and Noreen who make artisan homemade chocolate and fudge and Wilde Irish chocolate and we were off. Apparently, Doolin is a mecca for Irish music.

En route we were treated to views of the Aran Islands. The farthest one was Inis Mor (big island) with Inis Meain (middle island) and Inis Oirr (small island) nearby. Depending on the weather, the islands are accessed by ferryboats or small sea planes nicknamed “vomit comets”. The islands are renowned for their gorgeous woolen weaves or Aran sweaters, hand-knitted by the island women.

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A 10-minute drive from Doolin were the majestic Cliffs of Moher, one of the highest sea cliffs in Europe and the top sight in the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s most famous tour along the west coast. We were warned about how it could be “very rainy, windy and biting cold or so misty you can’t see past your nose”. They sometimes closed the Cliffs for safety reasons. We got lucky with great sunshine, clear blue skies and strong winds that promised big waves.

Named after the Moher Castle that once stood here, the cliffs stretch for 8km. Hags Head is perched on the left at 120m while O’Brien’s Tower on the right is the highest point at 214m. The cliffs unfold in a jagged line into the horizon and the setting’s raw beauty leaves visitors spellbound, who take an adventurous Cliff Walk or a Fossil Trail.

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Moher flagstones were a prized item in the 19th century and were specially shipped to London to pave building fronts and floors of the Royal Mint. If I hadn’t hogged in Doolin, I swear the gusts of wind could’ve flipped me over the cliff. My hysterical laughter mingled with other visitors’ who were equally astonished by the wild winds.

We staggered drunkenly, negotiating our way along the boundary for better views. Interestingly, the Audio Visual Interpretation Centre with a coffee shop, restaurant and souvenir shop is buried in the hill to avoid ruining the aesthetics of the spectacular landscape.

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The Burren, literally ‘a great rock’ in Irish, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and National Park that stretches for 250 sq km. Photographers, botanists and researchers flock to capture images of its unusual cracked karst glacial landscape that comes alive in spring with Arctic, Mediterranean and Alpine plants growing together in the furrows.

Near Black Head Lighthouse the panoramic arc of a full rainbow across the blue waters of Galway Bay welcomed us. In a land that believed in leprechauns, it was the closest I came to finding my pot of gold.

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Galway was once a walled city and the Vikings had set up trading posts wherever they could navigate their boats. The swift-flowing River Corrib was harnessed hydroelectricity years ago ensuring that Galway had electricity long before London! Maroon and white flags fluttering from city’s buildings hailed a recent win in hurling, a 3000 year-old game unique to Ireland touted as one of the fastest field games in the world!

A few hours is woefully short to experience the energy of this University town. I knew I had to return. The vibe is so youthful and electric with lively Irish music everywhere. I hung around the legendary Eyre Square before strolling down Shop Street to see St Nicholas Church and the Lynch Window where James Lynch, a former Magistrate had hanged his own son Walter for murdering a sailor; coining the word ‘lynch’ before rambling around old world buildings housing pubs, cafes, art galleries, theatre companies, boutiques and shops selling Claddagh rings.

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At Salt Hill, a popular seaside resort near Galway’s city centre, the lovely promenade offered a brilliant sea view. I could have stayed and danced with strangers to Galway Girl but I made a wild dash to the station for my train back to Dublin. Bing Crosby’s soulful 1947 Irish classic Galway Bay, echoed in my ears:

If you ever go across the sea to Ireland, then may be at the closing of your day. You will sit and watch the moonrise over Claddagh and see the sun go down on Galway Bay…. But if there is going to be a life hereafter and somehow I am sure there’s going to be. I will ask my God to let me make my heaven In that dear old land across the Irish Sea.’

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Fact File

Getting there
Jet Airways flies to Dublin via Abu Dhabi

Stay
Spencer Hotel
Excise Walk, IFSC, Dublin 1
Ph +353 1 433 8800
http://www.thespencerhotel.com

Travel
Railtours Ireland
Ph 1-877-451-4783
http://www.railtoursireland.com

Lynk Taxis
http://www.lynk.ie

For more info, www.ireland.com, www.tourismni.com, www.discovernorthernireland.com

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.

Mauritius: Sweet taste of freedom

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Mauritius celebrated its 50th year of independence on 12 March 2018; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY present a round up of the festivities and the island nation’s centuries old ties with India

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As we landed in Mauritius, a pearly drop in the Indian Ocean, striped flags fluttered gaily in the untamed tropical breeze. In vast fields that stretched from mountain to sea, sugarcane stalks swayed in celebration as we joined 1.3 million Mauritians commemorate 50 years of Independence since British rule. Immigration officer JL Juste reminisced, “I was four when we got Independence. Back then, there were only sugarcane fields. Now there’s tourism, resorts, industries…”

The British were not the first to colonize the island. Until the early 1500s nobody knew of its existence besides African sailors and Arab traders. The Portuguese were the first humans to set foot on it in 1505. The Dutch colonized it in 1598 and named it Mauritius after Prince Maurice Van Nassau. They introduced wild boar, tobacco, slaves from Africa and sugarcane from Java by mid-17th century. The French, who had occupied nearby Reunion, came to Mauritius in 1715 and laid the foundation of the sugar industry. The British took over in 1810 and made Mauritius their stronghold for the next 150 years.

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How a virtually uninhabited, unknown speck of 790 sq miles became the global leader in sugar production by the 1800s under colonial rule is a bittersweet story of ambition, grit and hardship. After the abolishment of slavery in 1834, plantations were deserted as slaves fled to nearby towns and empty lands. The British had to bring indentured labour from their populous faraway colonies as some Indian spice and Chinese flavour was stirred into the cultural cauldron that’s Mauritius.

In capital Port Louis, we stood by the footprints that marked the first landing site of indentured immigrants at Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Led by officer Ramavtar Vedanand, we walked up the old basalt steps to the bathing area, Immigration Depot and other historic relics. What began as an experiment of using ‘free’ labour instead of slaves, created one of the biggest migrations in history.

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Immigrating in waves and tracing their ancestry to Odisha, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, the Indian influence is palpable. Despite its Creole culture and Franco-Mauritian and Afro-Mauritian population that converses in French or Creole, you notice the Indianness everywhere – in food, clothing, faces and names (though more elaborately spelt)! English may be the administrative language but locals ‘think in French’, hum tunes in Bhojpuri and celebrate Thaipusam, Ougadi and Shivratree.

“The Mauritian personality presents the best of everything,” chuckled Roselyne Hauchler of Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority. “We have the tolerance of the Indians and their patience guided by the principles of Mahatma Gandhi, the English way of life and pragmatism, and the welcoming warmth, hospitality and love for fine things from the French and Dutch! That’s why, we get along with everyone!”

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In an exclusive interview, Tourism Minister Anil Kumarsingh Gayan said, “Our association with India goes back a long time and today we see the blossoming of those ties. Mauritius is a beautiful country with temperate climate. When it’s monsoon in India, we have winter here with 15-16 degrees.

Despite its small size, it is very multi-cultural, like a miniature United Nations! Only in Mauritius can you catch the sunrise and swim with dolphins at 8am, have lunch and walk with lions and see the famed Mauritian sunset with a sundowner and Sega dance on a beach – all in a day.”

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On the eve of Independence Day we witnessed the gala street parade with dodo tableaus at the Mahebourg waterfront. The narrow winding roads were packed with people heading for the regatta to enjoy a day out, shopping and feasting on fried noodles and dholpuri (improvised Bihari dal paratha) at street food stalls.

Pointes des Regates, a unique boat race of traditional rowboats or sailboats, is a Mauritian sporting tradition that originated in 1874 as contests between fishermen. Sailboats did a ballet on waters that were bluer than a bluejay’s wing with the lofty Lion Mountain providing a dramatic backdrop.

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It was a bright sunny day and the mood was electric. Local musicians performed on stage as Sega dancers twirled their frilly skirts and moved sensuously to the beat followed by a Koli (fisherman) dance and other traditional dances from India. Despite its roots in Africa, the Sega evolved over the years with fusion from other cultures, including some inputs from Bhojpuri (The Bhojpuri Boys is a popular music band here)! Young men belted Creole songs to the beat of the traditional ravane (percussion instrument like a dhol).

On 12 March, the stalls were jam packed in capital Port Louis at the legendary Champs de Mars, the second oldest racetrack in the world to witness the flag hoisting ceremony and 21-gun salute. The Republic of Mauritius flag was raised for the first time right here in 1968. The 50th year of Independence saw gravity-defying manoeuvres by Sarang, the team of Indian Air Force helicopters and a phenomenal rifle drill by the IAF’s Air Warrior Team.

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There were dog marches, a horse parade courtesy the Mauritius Turf Club, a drill by the Mauritius Police Force, vibrant cultural performances and a fireworks display that provided a befitting finale. It was a proud day for us as the President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind presided over the celebrations as chief guest.

Mauritian PM Pravind Kumar Jugnauth explained how the two countries enjoyed a special bond that went deep, going beyond government interactions to the very hearts of people who take pride in the shared heritage and ancestry. As the Indian tri-colour flew alongside the Mauritian Les Quatre Bandes, the motto ‘lame dan lame’ (hand in hand) rang true…

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Things to See/Do:
Aventure le’Sucre (Sugar factory), Mahebourg Museum, Grand Bassin, Black River Gorges, Casela wildlife park, La Vanille Crocodile park, Undersea Walk, Sea Karting, Snorkelling & scuba, Nature hikes, Rum tastings, Multi-coloured earth, Curious Corner and the island’s highest waterfall at Chamarel

Upcoming events:
Festival Culinaire Bernard Loiseau (25 Mar-2 Apr)
Chamarel en fete (8 Apr)
Mauritius Tour Beachcomber – Mountain Bike Race (17-19 May)
Dodo Trail (8 July)
Mauritius Marathon (15 July)
Festival International Kreol (17-26 Nov)
Porlwi Festival of Contemporary Culture, Port Louis (Dec)

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 March, 2018 in Indulge, the weekend supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

 

Oota Chronicles: Travelling for food

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Chefs are stepping out of their kitchens to travel far and wide in search of authentic flavours, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

JW Marriott Bengaluru - Coffee Trail with Chef Anthony (19)

When JW Marriott Bengaluru invited us to a Coorg Coffee Trail with award-winning executive chef Anthony En Yuan Huang, we weren’t sure what to expect. “It’s a coffee-themed food festival in Bangalore, after a field trip to Coorg,” we were told enigmatically. And thus, a motley group of writers, foodies and chefs set off for Kodagu. We pulled over at a side road for a pop-up breakfast of JW Marriott’s signature soft-centre chocolate cookies, croissants, cupcakes and sandwiches.

It was just an appetizer for the lunch at Cuisine Papera in Gonikoppal. In a museum-like setting amid old vessels and traditional implements, we tried vonekk yerchi (smoked pork), pork chudals, bemble (bamboo shoot) and pandi curry with akki otti. It wasn’t ideal prep for a berry picking exercise at Tarun Cariappa’s coffee estate at Valnoor but we sluggishly learnt how coffee is grown, harvested and processed, savouring sweet paputtu, mushroom toasties and traditional Kodava hospitality.

JW Marriott Bengaluru - Coffee Trail with Chef Anthony (3)

By evening, we reached The Bungalow 1934, a heritage property run by rallyist Amrith Thimmaiah. With a backdrop of mist-laden hills, Chef Anthony conducted a Master Class on coffee-inspired dishes like Drunken Chicken, marinated with Coorg coffee, green pepper, parangi malu (bird’s eye chili) and a can of beer, staying true to the region. See the video of JW Marriott’s Coorg Coffee Trail.

Back in Bengaluru, we enjoyed a coffee spa and a coffee-themed buffet at JW Kitchen. Coffee-crusted beef tournedos, tiger prawns marinated in Coorg coffee, espresso desserts and coffee-based cocktails; it was a caffeine fix of a different kind. From food festivals, pop-ups to theme restaurants, ‘eat local’ is the new mantra and chefs are moving out of the comfort of their kitchens. They travel miles to ensure their food is zero-mile and locally sourced.

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Westin Hyderabad Mindspace relies on the cultural roots of its chefs for culinary inspiration. At Seasonal Taste, Chef Mukesh Sharma from Gwalior delved into the traditional tastes of Madhya Pradesh to develop a gharana cuisine of royal flavors from Gwalior, Indore and Bhopal – bhutte ki kees (spiced grated corn) and Bhopali gosht korma.

Westin encourages its chefs to regale patrons with unusual offerings like the maharajas of yore – vada burgers and golgappas with guacamole and sol kadhi! At their Frontier fine dine restaurant Kangan, an artisan from the Old City crafts a lac bangle for guests gratis, a wonderful way of keeping both cultural and culinary traditions alive.

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Total Environment roped us in as travel writers for a food research project to open a pan-Karnataka restaurant in Bangalore. With a video crew and two talented chefs in tow, we cooked at homes, iconic hotels, temple kitchens and smoky village huts. After 18 years at UK’s top restaurants, Chef Suresh Venkatramana returned to his roots to rediscover Karnataka’s traditional cuisine.

Self-taught chef and F&B consultant Manjit Singh of Herbs & Spice fame has launched restaurants from Indiranagar to Aizawl. An avid biker, his driving skills and fluency in Kannada made him an asset on our food journeys. He haggled with fisherwomen, bargained at village markets and made Gowda hunter-style sand-baked fish by the river, earning the nickname Manjit Singh ‘Gowda’ or MSG.

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Planning it by circuits – Coorg, Malnad, Coast, North and South Karnataka – the coast was supposed to be one linear trip with stopovers at Mangalore, Udupi, Bhatkal, Gokarna and Karwar. We could not even cross Mangalore in our first attempt, as we were ensnared in a delicious web of sukkas, seafood, goli baje, sajjige-bajjil and Mangalore buns, always referred to in plural even if you ask for one.

We realized there was no such thing as Mangalorean cuisine but Bunt, GSB (Gaud Saraswat Brahmin), Catholic, Jain and Beary cuisines, each a rich representative of various communities. So what’s the food scene in Mangalore, we asked our foodie friend Arun Pandit. “After Ramzaan, cholesterol, after Christmas, cirrhosis, after Ratholsavam (chariot festival), gas…” he summed up the hazards of feasting season and overdose of meat, liquor and asafoetida.

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We stuffed leitão (pigling) with the Britto sisters and chickens with Luna and Lunita, made tindli-moi (cashew-ivy gourd) at Pereira Hotel and savoured fish meals at Narayana and pork meals at a home-style Catholic eatery Mary Bai ‘mai jowan’ (literally ‘mum’s food’). We tried the ‘Gadbad’ ice cream at Diana Restaurant in Udupi, where it was rustled up in a gadibidi (great hurry).

Near Yellapura, we encountered Siddis, descendants of African slaves brought by the Portuguese, and cooked wild ferns like aame soppu, literally ‘turtle greens.’ From being goaded to eat goat balls at a Sauji eatery (good for virility, winked the owner) to waking up before dawn to harvest a nest of fire ants to make chigli chutney in Malnad, we did it all.

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“Hum pet pe kafan baandh ke nikle hain” (We’ve set out with shrouds on our stomachs), was our popular refrain, as we devoured everything from gurudwara langar at Bidar to cycle khova (sold on bicycles) in Bellary. By the time we were done, we clocked 20,000km over two years, covering 25 communities. Virtual strangers opened their homes and hearths to help us document these rare culinary treasures. See the video of our Oota journeys.

After extensive food trials, Karnataka’s culinary heritage was finally showcased at Oota, a Karnataka-themed restaurant in Whitefield. Our travels inspired mixologist Neil Alexander to concoct indigenous cocktails using local ingredients – Mandya Sour with honeycomb infused whiskey and sugarcane juice and Varthur Overflow, using Gokarna’s pink-hued Saneykatta salt.

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In Chennai, ITC Grand Chola’s Chef Varun Mohan researched India’s imperial kitchens for Royal Vega, a pan-Indian vegetarian restaurant with a season-based menu. Avartana serves South Indian dishes with a contemporary twist. For ITC’s new hotel WelcomHotel Coimbatore, Chef Praveen Anand travelled across the Tamil hinterland to research Kongunadu cuisine, stopping at local eateries, parotta joints and homes to understand culinary nuances and techniques. WelcomeCafe Kovai has a small regional showcase of kadai thengai curry (quail in dry coconut and red chilis) and kalakki (soft scrambled egg masala).

Mrs Meenakshi Meyyappan, octogenarian owner of The Bangala in Karaikudi, has dedicated her life to hospitality, showcasing the cuisine of the Nattukottai Chettiars of Tamil Nadu. After years of serving traditional meals on banana leaf at her heritage hotel, she has co-authored The Chettinad Cookbook and The Bangala Table. Even today, Mrs Meyyappan personally fixes the daily menu at The Bangala a day in advance.

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The assimilation of various flavours to form a unique composite cuisine can be best seen in Kochi. Like a UN potluck, the Portuguese introduced coconut milk, the Jews contributed the appam while the Dutch infused culinary influences from their colonies – Indonesian satay to Sumatran rendang (caramelized curry).

CGH’s Eighth Bastion Hotel offers a tantalizing ‘Dutch Route’ at their restaurant East Indies with Dutch Bruder bread and lamprais (Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher dish). Brunton Boatyard’s History Restaurant showcases 32 cuisines of various communities in Fort Kochi – Syrian Christian duck moilee, Anglo Indian cutlet, Jewish chuttulli meen, Ceylonese string hoppers and Railway Mutton Curry.

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For the longest time, Rajasthan’s culinary repertoire was a stereotype of laal maas, dal-bati and gatte ki sabzi. But heritage hotels have revived recipes carefully documented by various thikanas. At Bikaner’s Laxmi Niwas Palace, at a low-lit long table inside Rajat Mahal the Gold Room, we feasted on boti marinated with kachri (wild melon) and red chilis and wild country fowl with warqi paratha.

At Narendra Bhawan, the avant garde residence of Bikaner’s last Maharaja Narendra Singhji, we relished a Bikaneri nashta of mirchi vadas, bajra poori, kesar lassi and pista chaach. The Marwari Lunch at the Queen’s Table in P&C (Pearls & Chiffon) had carefully curated dishes from Bikaner’s royal kitchens – maans ke sule, khargosh kachra and murgh tamatar Nagori, besides the Maharaja’s eclectic European tastes – goat cheese mousse and arrancini biryani.

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One place that takes culinary exploration to another level is Suryagarh near Jaisalmer. At their specialty restaurant Legends of Marwar, host Manvendra Singh regaled us with stories of Marwar’s lesser-known fare from court kitchens and royal hunts. Suryagarh makes great effort to present its food in dramatic outdoor settings.

Waking up before dawn for Breakfast with Peacocks, the never-ending Halwayi breakfast, sundowners, Dinner on the Dunes with a nomadic hunt menu and Jaisalmer grill and curry dinner at The Lake Garden. The starry Thar sky mirrored the twinkle of lamps, Kalbeliyas danced as the smoky aroma of char grilled bater (quail) and khad khargosh (smoked rabbit) mingled with the ballads of kings…

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FACT FILE

Oota Bangalore, Whitefield
Ph 88802 33322
https://www.facebook.com/OotaBangalore/
http://www.windmillscraftworks.com

JW Marriott Bengaluru
Ph 80671 89999
http://www.marriott.com

Westin Hyderabad Mindspace, Hi-Tech City
Ph 040 67676767
http://www.westinhyderabadmindspace.com/

WelcomHotel Coimbatore
Ph 042 22226555
http://www.itchotels.in

The Bangala Chettinad, Karaikudi
Ph 044 24934851, 94431 83021
http://www.thebangala.com

Eighth Bastion/Brunton Boatyard, Fort Kochi
Ph 0484 4261711
http://www.cghearth.com

Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
Ph 07827151151, 0151-2252500
http://www.narendrabhawan.com

Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
Ph 02992 269269
http://www.suryagarh.com

JW Marriott Bengaluru - Coffee Trail with Chef Anthony (18)

For more food journeys, follow
@red_scarab, @oota_bangalore, @chefmanjit and @chefanthonyhuang on Instagram
@anuragamuffin, @priyaganapathy and @chefmanjit on Twitter

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story in Indulge, the supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper on 9 March 2018.

 

15 reasons why India’s North East is unique

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There’s more to the North East than pretty orchids, tea plantations and one-horned rhinos. It is a region of astonishing cultural and ecological diversity, geological wonders and unusual traditions, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY. 

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Ima Keithel, Imphal’s all-women market
Long before Mary Kom, Manipur had shattered the glass ceiling through Imphal’s Khwairamband Bazaar, an age-old celebration of womanpower. Founded in late 16th century by Khagemba Maharaj of Manipur, the keithel (market) is run exclusively by more than 3000 imas (mothers), hence its popular name Ima Keithel. Forget men, even young unmarried women are not allowed to run a stall. Hawking fruits, vegetables, farm produce, fish and Manipuri handlooms, the tough mommas drive a hard bargain. A few thousand imas also run the Lakshmi and New Market complexes nearby.

Jet Airways flies to Imphal

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Betting at teer (traditional archery) in Shillong
Archery stakes are an ancient tradition in Shillong that evolved from a tribal sport. Held twice a day (except Sunday) at Polo Ground’s Saw Furlong, archers from various clubs of Khasi Archery Association shoot 1500 arrows within four minutes at a cylindrical bamboo target. Arrows that hit the target are carefully counted before an eager audience. Betters choose two numbers. Say, if you bet ten rupees and get one number correct, you get Rs.800, but if you get both right you pocket a cool Rs.45,000! This legalized betting earns the government tremendous revenue, provides employment opportunities to locals and is a unique experience for visitors and punters.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

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The world’s largest existing family in Mizoram
If you wish to meet the world’s largest existing family that has featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, head to Baktawng, a remote habitat in hilly Mizoram. On the town’s outskirts, Pu Zionnghaka or Ziona lives in a four-storied mansion with his 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren, 180 inmates and counting. Ziona is the Chief of Chana Pawl, a unique Christian sect established in 1942 by his father Khuangtuaha that practices polygamy. His wives sleep with him in turns as per a roster. Ziona has named all his children and grandchildren and remembers every family member by name!

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata, which has direct flights to Lengpui Airport near Aizawl, from where Baktawng is 70km

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Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia
Neat rows of houses peep over floral hedges and the village road gleams in welcome. Mawlynnong, a small village of 600 people on the Indo-Bangla border is tagged ‘God’s Own Garden’ for good reason. A conical cane basket for trash hangs outside each home. Dotted with Presbyterian churches and Khasi sacred sites pre-dating Christianity, the area is ironically covered with phool jhadu or broom grass (thysanolaena maxima). Stay at Mawlynnong Guest House & Machan for your local explorations.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Shillong from where Mawlynnong is 90km on the road to Dawki

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The inscrutable phallic totems of Dimapur
Located by the banks of the Dhansiri river, Dimapur was the capital of the Kachari kingdom in 10th century before the Ahoms invaded it in 13th century. Not much of Rajbari remains, barring the brick gateway, with strange phallic totems in a fortified complex that have baffled archaeologists and historians alike. Topped by a mushroom-like hemispherical capital, the towering pillars bear ornamental bands, carvings of swords, daggers, flowers and geometric patterns. These Chessman Figures are believed to be fertility symbols or graves that represent ancestor worship.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur

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The living root bridges of Meghalaya
In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, Living Root Bridges are innovative modes of crossing mountain streams. Fast growing roots of the ficus elastica tree are entwined to create a mesh bridge across rivulets. It is an unsaid rule that any passing villager diligently twists fresh tendrils around an older root, allowing it to entangle and strengthen over time. Some root bridges are so strong they have been lined with stone pavers! Meghalaya has many centuries-old root bridges including a double-decker root bridge at Laitkynsew near Cherrapunjee.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

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Spot India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon
Owing to the overlap between the Indo-Tibetan, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Gangetic gene pools, the North East is blessed with great diversity. Besides rare birds and mammals, it is home to an exclusive wildlife sanctuary dedicated to the Hoolock Gibbon, the only ape species found in India. The Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary is also a good place to spot troops of Stump-tailed Macaque, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Pig-tailed Macaque, Capped Langur and Slow Loris.

Jet Airways flies to Jorhat, from where the sanctuary is 27km

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Kohima’s (in)famous Keeda bazaar
Kohima is the bustling capital of Nagaland but nowhere will you find the crowd as lively as its Supermarket or Keeda Bazaar (Insect Market). Wriggling and buzzing wasps, woodworms, silkworm larvae, eels in tubs, frogs zorbing inside plastic packets and insects hatching in the hives, this is ‘live’ action on full blast. The creepy-crawly bazaar is a top draw for tourists. Curious about what they taste like? Catch a local who will cook it fresh at home as restaurants don’t usually serve them.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur, from where Kohima is 69km

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Semoma, the ‘strongest fort in the North East’
Walking through the 700-year-old Angami village of Khonoma near Kohima, the sight of a small fortification of rough-hewn stone makes you wonder why the British called it the strongest fort in the North East. Originally built in 1825, it staved off British attacks in the first Anglo-Naga war in 1850. In 1879, the killing of British political agent GH Damant resulted in the Battle of Khonoma. The villagers booby-trapped the mountain and escaped to the top. After a stalemate, the British settled for a peace treaty, ending half a century of fighting. Each time the fort was destroyed; it was rebuilt (in 1890, 1919 and 1990) and rose phoenix-like, in defiance, a proud symbol of Naga pride.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur, from where Khonoma is 73km

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Ambubachi Mela, Kamakhya temple’s tantrik festival
Guwahati’s Kamakhya Temple is a revered Shakti pitha (seat) where a subterranean rock cleft is worshipped as Goddess Sati’s yoni (vulva). During the rains, the swollen Brahmaputra causes the rivulet flowing over the stone shrine to turn muddy red, symbolizing menstruation. During the fertility festival Ambubachi Mela or Ameti, the sanctum is shut for three days, scriptures are read and devotees do not cook or farm. After a ritual bath, the devi regains purity and angadhak (holy spring water) and angabastra (stained red cloth) are distributed as prasad. Aghoris, babas and tantriks attend the four-day mela in June to alleviate their occult powers.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

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Headhunting village of Touphema
Right near the entry to Touphema village in Nagaland stands a large tree called Terhütsiibo (War head tree) where enemy heads once hung as war trophies. Local guide KV explained that in the old days of headhunting collecting the scalp of your enemy meant you gained his power. The village community runs an ethnic resort with wood huts bearing Naga symbols like mithun and goblets that represented vigour and prosperity. Sekrenyi Festival (25-27 Feb) is a nicer option than the more touristy Hornbill Festival.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur and a 2hr bus ride from Kohima leads to Touphema via Botsa

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Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Built between 1879 and 1881, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is the oldest of India’s Mountain railways. It was also the first of the lot to be declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. The 88km narrow gauge from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling chugs along at 12 km/hr, a charming journey of loops, reverses, spirals and zig-zags past tea plantations and views of snow-capped peaks. Creak past Agony Point to Ghum, India’s highest railway station as the track bisects fruit stalls in its magical ascent to Darjeeling.

Jet Airways flies to Bagdogra Airport at Siliguri, from where New Jalpaiguri is 17km

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Majuli, one of the largest riverine islands in the world
One of the largest riverine islands in the world, Majuli’s ecological and cultural landscape is unique. Its geographic isolation and serene atmosphere attracted Vaishnava reformer-saint Srimant Shankardev (1449-1568) who set up Majuli’s first satra (monastery) at Belguri. With patronage from Ahom kings, these spiritual centres flourished and ignited an artistic revolution in Assam. However, each year, the Brahmaputra consumes chunks of Majuli’s riverbank, shrinking the island from its original 1,200 sq km to half its size. Belguri has long sunk into the Brahmaputra, but Bhogpur is Majuli’s oldest surviving satra, established by Shankardev in 1528 while Garamur, Auniati, Kamalabari and Chamaguri satras are also noteworthy. Visit during the annual Raas Leela (Oct-Nov).

Jet Airways flies to Jorhat, 12km from Nimati Ghat, from where ferries are available for Majuli

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The fascinating Apatanis of Arunachal
With distinct facial tattoos and cane nose plugs, the Apatanis have intrigued the outside world. The disfigurement was done to make Apatani women less desirable to neighbouring raiders! Unlike other nomadic tribes, Apatanis are settlers who cultivate permanent terraced wetlands instead of jhum (slash and burn) cultivation. They don’t till their fields but use an ancient irrigation technique. Surplus water drains off from one terrace to the next while a nala (drain) running through the fields is stocked with fish. This paddy-cum-fish farming ensures year-round food supply. Hong, 6km from Ziro, is the largest village of the Apatani plateau. During the annual Myoko Festival in March, revellers swing high in the air on jungle vines tied between babos (festive bamboo poles) erected by every clan.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, from where Ziro is 450km

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Meghalaya, India’s top spelunking hotspot
Not many know that Meghalaya is among the world’s Top 10 destinations for spelunking or caving. Record rainfall and a profusion of limestone hills in the south of the state have blessed it with 1350 caves, formed over thousands of years. Running over 400 km, the caves are among the deepest, longest and largest in the Indian subcontinent. Explore an underground realm of stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, candles and cave pearls. Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills is easily accessible while Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills is riddled with cave passages like Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

Sikkim Bon Farmhouse

The dothos of Sikkim
The northeast bubbles with hot sulphur springs used as traditional medicine for soothing nerves, body aches and joint pains. Sikkim is known for its ethnic hot stone bath called dotho where stones are heated and infused with Himalayan herbs in a hot tub of menchu, or medicinal water, in the local Bhutia dialect. Neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh has a place called Menchuka, named after these medicinal springs. In North Sikkim, enjoy a natural bath at riverside huts at Yumthang on the River Lachung, Yume Samdong near Donkia-la Pass (25km from Yumthang), Reshi (25km from Gyalshing) on the Rangeet River and Kah-do Sang phu (Cave of the Occult Fairies). Soak in a dotho while staying at Kewzing Bon Farmhouse and Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse.

Jet Airways flies to Bagdogra Airport at Siliguri, from where Gangtok is 126km

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story in the March 2018 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Ahmedabad: By the banks of the Sabarmati

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Ahmedabad, or Amdavad to locals, will captivate you with its history, architectural gems, heritage walks and food, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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Sometime in 1411 AD, while camping on the banks of the Sabarmati River, Ahmed Shah I saw a hare chasing a dog. Intrigued, he wondered if a typically timid hare could be so brave here, how brave would its people be! And so, he shifted his capital from remote Anhilwada Patan to a new riverside location. In a brilliant throwback to the legend, we saw the tenacious Amdavadi spirit on full display as a tiny goat took on a larger one, incidentally at the burial place of Sultan Ahmed Shah at Badshah ka Hazira near Jama Masjid. However, the city was named Ahmedabad not in honour of one man named Ahmed, but four!

When permission to found a new city was sought from revered Sufi saint Paigambar Al Khizr Khwaja, he set forth a strange condition. Only four individuals with the name Ahmed who lived by the rules of Islamic faith and never missed a single namaaz in life could hold the ropes to lower the foundation stone and ensure the prosperity of the city. The four eminent Ahmeds who fit the requirement included Sultan Ahmed Shah himself, worthy grandson of the first Sultan of Gujarat, Sheikh Ahmed Khattu Ganjbaksh, the saint of Sarkhej, Malik Ahmed whose tomb is in Pathanwada in Kalupur and Kaji Ahmed whose tomb lies in Patan. Thus, Ahmedabad came into existence.

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The Sabarmati river is emblematic of the city and has always played a key role in its story. In the 11th century the area around present-day Ahmedabad was called Ashaval or Ashavalli after local ruler Asha Bhil. When Solanki ruler Raja Karnadev of Anhilwara-Patan defeated him and established a city on the banks of the Sabarmati, it was called Karnavati. Being on the crossroads of trade routes from north to south or Saurashtra and Lat Pradesh, it attracted Jain traders and Brahmins who built several Jain and Hindu temples and monuments.

When Rajput rule came to an end in the early 14th century, Zafar Khan Muzaffar, suba (governor) of the Sultans of Delhi asserted his independence and began ruling Gujarat with Patan as his headquarters. The first three Sultans of Gujarat ruled from there but the expansion of their kingdom prompted them to move the capital from distant Patan to a more central location Karnavati, now Ahmedabad or ‘Amdavad’ as it’s called locally.

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The first structure to be constructed was Bhadra Fort. Built as the principal entrance of the palace complex, it was named after the ancient Rajput citadel of the same name at Anhilwada Patan, dedicated to goddess Bhadrakali. The fort’s massive towers and walls that withstood numerous conflicts finally surrendered to the onslaught of development. Similarly crowded by shops, pedestrians and vehicular traffic is the famous Tran Darwaza (Three Gates), the actual entrance to the walled city. Few know that the Gateway of India was inspired by this structure! Karanj, once a huge area called Maidan-i-Shah was where the sultan and his noblemen watched polo. It also served as a resting place for horses and elephants and a venue for Friday bazaars.

As the city evolved into a textile hub and grew beyond its confines, in the late 1970s, the capital was shifted 30 km further along the Sabarmati to the newly built, well planned city of Gandhinagar. Yet Ahmedabad still continues to be the commercial capital of the state and enthralls visitors with its shaking minarets, fascinating monuments, varied architecture, ancient stepwells and a plethora of museums.

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Heritage

From Hindu vavs (stepwells) at Adalaj, Jain temples and Islamic architecture to colonial influences, Ahmedabad’s heritage is a blend of all these and more. Recognizing its worth, in July 2017, the historic Old City of Ahmedabad was declared as India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City.

Old City
The highlight of the Old City is its numerous pols (derived from Sanskrit pratoli), self-contained neighbourhoods connected by narrow streets and squares with community wells and chabutaras or bird feeder pedestals. These pols were protected by gates, secret passages and cul-de-sacs, known only to its inhabitants. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation with guidance from CRUTA Foundation runs a Heritage Walk every morning at 8am.

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After a brief slideshow, the walk starts from the world’s first Swaminarayan Mandir built in 1822 at Kalupur and founded by Shri Sahajanand Swami. The temple complex has three sanctums and is surrounded by wooden havelis to house monks. Led by a local guide, the tour takes visitors past various pols, mandirs and monuments.

At Kavi Dalpatram Chowk, we saw a bronze sculpture dedicated to Gujarat’s poet laureate – Kavishvar Dalpatram Dahyabhai (1820-98). He came to Ahmedabad at the age of 24 to study Sanskrit at the Swaminarayan temple and lived in the old mansion behind his statue.

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Lambeshwar ni Pol had intricately carved bird feeders and buildings with wooden pillars, beams and brackets. The Calico Dome built in 1962 along Relief Road was actually the roof of the calico mill shop designed by Gautam Sarabhai and was inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s concept of a geodesic dome. India’s first fashion show was arranged beneath this dome!

Khara kua ni Pol named after a salt water well had buildings bearing colonial influences – from Art Deco motifs to scenes like a European lady reading a book. Shri Kala Ram ji Mandir has a seated idol of Lord Rama carved out of black kasauti (touchstone). Kuawalo Khancho, named after a community well, had a mix of architectural styles – Gujarati, Maratha, Persian and colonial.

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We stopped to marvel at the unique parrot holes – small niches in the exterior walls of houses sometimes with matkas (earthen pots) embedded in the walls. Harkuvar Sethani ni Haveli, once the largest building in the old city, was the colossal mansion of Sheth Hutheesinh’s wife who fulfilled her pious husband’s dream of constructing a large Jain temple. It was fascinating to discover that 600 years ago the Manek river, a tributary of the Sabarmati, flowed on the very road we walked on! A little ahead, below Fernandes Bridge built in 1884 by the British, was Ahmedabad’s biggest book market Chopda Bazaar.

The 2hr heritage walk ended near Muhurat Pol, the first residential area established in the city, opposite the Old Stock Exchange. The House of MG, a Baroque-themed 1924 home converted into a heritage hotel, organizes an unusual heritage walk by night through hidden bylanes to Mangaldas ni Haveli, Kshetrapal Mandir, Lakha Patel ni Pole besides royal tombs of the queen and kings – Rani no Haziro and Badshah no Haziro.

Getting there: Start from the Swaminarayan Temple in Kalupur and end at Jama Masjid

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Jain monuments

The impressive Hutheesing Jain temple dedicated to the 15th Jain tirthankar Dharmanatha is a massive temple complex, initiated by wealthy trader Sheth Hutheesing Kesarisinh and completed by his wife after his death. Built at a cost of Rs.10 lakhs in 1848, the temple was constructed during a severe famine in Gujarat and created employment for hundreds of skilled artisans and supported their families for two years! Its colonnaded corridor with beautiful arches and manastambha (column of honour) are stunning.

Hidden in the bylanes of the old city are some spectacular derasar (Jain shrines). The temple in Shantinath ni pol, named after the 16th Jain tirthankara, was built in 1923 and has a lovely 19 inch idol. Lambeshwar ni Pol is named after a Shvetambar Jain temple while Doshivada ni Pol, inhabited by the goldsmith community, has a Jain library and marble temple of Ashtapadji. Shantidas Zaveri, a Jain merchant built the beautiful Chintamani Derasar in 1626. When Aurangzeb was suba (governor) during Shah Jahan’s reign, he desecrated the temple, but Shantidas secretly hid the images. His heirs installed the image of Lord Adishwar in 1943, the second image was installed in the cellar of Jagvallabh in Nisha Pol and the third one was installed in the temple of Suraj Mahal. Several other Jain temples are centered in Zaveriwad like Sametshikhar temple, Mahavir Swami’s temple and Shri Manibhadraji’s temple. You can spot the only derasar on a terrace while driving by the Sabarmati in Usmanpura depicting the future tirthankar Shri Simandhar Swami.

Getting there: Hutheesing Temple is located on Shahibaug Road at Bardolpura in Madhupura while most of the other Jain temples are within the walled Old City – Sametshikhar temple in Mandvi-ni-Pol, Mahavir Swami’s temple near Fatasha pol and Shri Manibhadraji’s temple near Rupam Cinema

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Islamic monuments

Sarkhej Roza is a beautiful Indo-Saracenic architectural complex fusing Persian elements with Hindu and Jain styles. Sufi saint Sheikh Ahmed Khattu Ganj Baksh, spiritual guide and mentor of Sultan Ahmed Shah chose to settle in the quiet environment of Sarkhej away from the city in his later years. After his death in 1445, Sultan Mohammed Shah commissioned a mausoleum in his honour, along with a mosque. Towards the end of the 15th century, Sultan Mahmud Begada excavated a central tank and added several pavilions, gardens, a small private mosque. Eventually it housed the tombs of his wife and himself.

However, Ahmedabad’s mosques are a treat for any architecture lover. Jama Masjid, one of the India’s largest mosques was built in 1423 at the intersection of four roads with an open court measuring 87,096 sq ft. Two tall minarets around its main arch were destroyed during an earthquake while two remain. Its three gates open to Manek Chowk, Pankor Naka and Kagdi Pol.

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Ahmed Shah’s Mosque was built by the Sultan in 1414 as a private prayer house for the royals. The central hall has exquisite perforated stone windows and corbelled ceilings with a muluk khana (screen hanging gallery) used by the Sultan. The zenana enclosure at the northwest corner has 25 richly carved pillars. Though smaller than the Jama Masjid, it is older and represents the earliest architectural style in its class.

Only two lofty minars remain of the Sidi Bashir Mosque built and named after the famous architect during the reign of Sultan Mahmud Shah I Begada (1458-1511). Destroyed by the 1755 earthquake, only its jhulta (shaking) minars still stand due to the unique plinth construction. Bai Harir Sultani mosque is a stepwell complex and maqbara built by Harir, the chief officer of the Sultan Mahmud Begada’s zenana.

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Rani Sipri’s Mosque built in 1514 by one of the Hindu queens of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Shah I, is hailed as Masjid-e-Nagina (Jewel of a mosque) for its intricacy despite its diminutive size. Of particular beauty are the perforated stone screens, two slender ornamental minarets and six-domed roof. The Sidi Saeed Mosque built in 1572-73 by an Abyssinian who came to Ahmedabad from Yemen, during the reign of Sultan Muzaffar Shah III, the last ruler of Gujarat took our breath away with its carved jali. The stone lattice with intertwined trees, foliage, depicting the tree of life forms the famous logo for IIM Ahmedabad.

Getting there: Sarkhej is 8km south of the city centre. Jama Masjid is outside Bhadra Fort, along the south side of the road extending from Teen Darwaza to Manek Chowk

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Sabarmati Riverfront

Located in a quiet shaded nook on the river bank, the Sabarmati Ashram was founded in 1917 on the lines of Tolstoy Farm and Phoneix Ashram that Mahatma Gandhi had set up in South Africa. Hridaya Kunj served as the residential quarters of Gandhiji and Kasturba from 1918 till 1930. This was the hriday (heart) of the ashram that inspired all his national activities. Vinoba/Mira Kutir is a small hut where Vinoba Bhave stayed between 1918-21 and Madeleine Slade (Mira) between 1925-33. On display are quotes from eminent leaders and strangely addressed letters – ‘Gandhiji, Delhi’ ‘Mahatma Gandhi, jahan ho wahan’ and ‘Mahatma Gandhi, Mahabaleshwar, About 70 miles from Bombay’.

Gandhiji launched the Dandi March on 12 March 1930 from here, vowing not to return till India was set free. Thousands gathered on the historic Ellis Bridge across the Sabarmati to hear Mahatma Gandhi’s call for the salt satyagraha. Linking the western and eastern parts of the city, the 125-year-old steel bridge with its emblematic arches was the first of its kind in Ahmedabad. After floods destroyed the original Lakkadiyo Pul (wooden bridge) constructed by British engineers in 1875, a new bridge was made in 1892. Engineer Himmatlal Dhirajram Bhachech used imported Birmingham steel at a cost of Rs.4,07,000 to build it and named it after Sir Barrow Helbert Ellis, commissioner of the North Zone.

Since the estimated budget was Rs.5 lakh rupees, the Government suspected Himmatlal of using substandard materials. But an inquiry committee found that it was indeed a fine construction and Himmatlal was honoured with the title of Rao Sahib. When the bridge became too cramped with heavy motorized traffic, new concrete bridges were constructed on either side. In 1997, Ellis Bridge was converted into a pedestrian walkway to preserve it as a heritage landmark of the city. The once squalid river, which had become a seasonal stream, was revived by diverting the rivers of the Narmada and beautified into a scenic riverfront.

Getting there: 7km from the city centre
https://gandhiashramsabarmati.org

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Museums galore

From Doc’s Locks (Dr. Hiren Shah’s Old Locks Collection) to Surendra Patel’s Utensil Museum run by Vechaar (Vishala Environmental Centre of Heritage of Art, Architecture and Research) with thousands of utensils, including a 1000-year-old vessel, Ahmedabad has a wealth of rare museums. The Calico Museum’s nine halls showcase India’s textile traditions including the patolas of Patan and bandhnis of Gujarat (visits by prior booking only). City Museum tells the story of ‘Karnavati: Atit-ni-Zankhi’ at Sanskar Kendra, designed by French architect Le Corbusier. The cellar holds a unique collection of kites gifted by Bhanu Shah to Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation, making it the first museum of its kind in India.

AutoWorld Museum, developed by Pranlal Bhogilal family, is the largest automobile collection in India with antique vehicles. Shreyas Museum and Adivasi Museum throw light on the tribal and folk traditions of the state. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Memorial Museum was established at Shahibaug (Motishahi) Palace where he stayed. While Gandhi Memorial Museum at Sabarmati Ashram is dedicated to the Father of the Nation, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai Space Museum is dedicated to the father of India’s space program.

Getting there: The Calico Museum is on Airport Road opposite the under bridge at Shahibag, Tribal Museum is at Gujarat Vidyapith while the City Museum and Kite Museum are at Sanskar Kendra near Sardar Patel Bridge behind NID in Paldi

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Food

The most popular street snack in Ahmedabad is dal vada, avidly consumed by locals who pop in for a quick bite at outlets like Shree Ambika Dal Vada Centre. Sold by weight ranging from Rs.20 (67 grams) to Rs.290 (967 grams), it is served hot with green chillis and salt. For something more substantial, try a Gujarati thali, which was first served commercially by Chandvilas Hotel in 1900. At fixed meal restaurants like Sasuji (Ph 079-26405065-66 http://www.sasuji.in) that open for lunch and dinner, enjoy a spread of dal, kadhi, chapati, puri, papad, rice, chatni, athana, kachumber and buttermilk for just Rs.270.

At the top end is Agashiye, the rooftop fine dine restaurant at The House of MG that offers two variants – a regular thali for Rs.935 and a deluxe thali for Rs.1265. Interestingly, starters like soup, methi gota, makai handva and patra are served at the alfresco waiting lounge. If you don’t mind a little drive, try the rustic charms of Vishalla, a big draw with locals and visitors. There are enough distractions like the Antique Utensils museum and live entertainment to keep you busy until your name is called out (with an appending ‘Bhai)’ and you are led to a low chowki. After a ceremonial hand-wash, a large traditional spread is laid out on sal leaf plates to be savoured in the yellow glow of lanterns.

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In town, Manek Chowk is a busy hub of gold and diamond trade by day but after the shops down their shutters, it transforms into an open-air food court with diverse snack stalls open late into the night. Little wonder one of the largest and most popular stalls is dedicated to churans and digestives! It’s also a great showcase Ahmedabad’s vibrant nightlife and locals swear by the city’s impeccable standard for women’s safety.

Due to the large Jain and Hindu population, vegetarian fare rules the roost. The first all-veg Pizza Hut in the world opened in Ahmedabad! However, not everything is vegetarian in Ahmedabad. For a non-veg fix, head straight to Bhatiyar Gali for mutton samosas, charcoal-grilled kebabs, tawa fry, salli boti and Surti 12 Handi.

Getting there: Agashiye is located at The House of MG boutique hotel near Siddi Sayyid jali, Vishalla is opposite the Toll Naka on Vasna Road in Juhapura

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Shopping

Manek Chowk, named after Hindu saint Baba Maneknath is an open market square near the city centre that serves as a vegetable market in the morning, a jewellery market through the day and a food market by night. In the old city, the cobbler shops of Madhupura sell mojris or traditional footwear while artisans of Rangeela pol make tie-dye bandhini. Rani no Haziro in the walled city near Manek Chowk and Sindhi Market are good spots to pick up bandhini and block printed fabrics. In the Gulbai Tekra area idols of Ganesha and other religious icons are made.

Come evening, shoppers congregate at Law Garden for a good bargain with some food on the go. It’s a good place to pick up Kutchi embroidery, mirror work fabrics, bedspreads, cushion covers, clothes and handicrafts. Being Mahatma Gandhi’s city, there are several khadi emporia. Sabarmati Ashram has a museum shop where you can buy khadi clothes, books, postcards, charkhas and other Gandhi memorabilia. Gujarati snacks like ganthia, muthia, dhokla, khandvi, patra, fafda, khakhra, sev, khaman and kachori, besides local sweets are also popular.

Getting there: Law Garden is accessible via Netaji Road near Ellis Bridge while Manek Chowk and Rani no Haziro are in the Old City

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FACT FILE

Chandrashekhar Solanki
Heritage Walk Co-ordinator
Ph 9327021686 Email cdsolanki3009@gmail.com
School students Rs.30, Indian visitors Rs.50, International guests Rs.100

Night Walk at The House of MG
Bhadra Road, Opp. Sidi Saiyad Jali, Lal Darwaja
Ph 7925506946 https://houseofmg.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article was featured in the March 2018 issue of Discover India magazine.

MP cuisine: 25 must-have treats in Madhya Pradesh

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a culinary tour of Madhya Pradesh and come up with this definitive food guide of local eats

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Like the proverbial heart of India, Madhya Pradesh’s cuisine too is a reflection of its central location. Bound by Bundelkhand and Mewar to the north, Gujarat to the west and Maharashtra to the south, MP has its own distinct culture and language, though its cuisine borrows some elements from neighbouring regions – be it Gujarati kadhi-fafda and khaman (dhokla) to Rajasthani style dal-baatichurma with a twist and the love for poha stemming from its proximity to Maharashtra and strong Maratha presence. Yet, MP has its own set of dishes and treats unique to certain places.

If Gwalior has its bedai and Jabalpur its badkul, then Burhanpur is known for its mawa jalebis, maande and daraba. Yet, all culinary journeys begin in Indore, the imperial city of the Holkars. “Sir ji, main keh riya hoon, Indore toh chatoron ka shahar hai” (Sir, I tell you, Indore is a city for snackers), exclaimed our driver Jitender. Despite the local fondness for namkeen (savoury snacks) and charkha (spicy) flavours, they love their sweets. So much so, that poha-jalebi is considered as acceptable as macaroni n’ cheese.

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Breakfast rests on the four pillars of samosa, kachori, poha and jalebi. Chhappan Dukaan, a precinct of ‘56 shops’, mostly food joints, is Indore’s answer to Mumbai’s Chowpatty. Visitors flock to local food legends like Vijay Chaat House and Johnny Hot Dog. By night, the party shifts to Sarafa, where jewellery shops down their shutters at dusk and food stalls reclaim the streets. Locals and tourists alike feast on garadu (deep fried sweet potato), sabudana khichdi, dahi bada, bhutte ka kees, kachori, desi pizzas, pasta and Maggi, besides desserts like mawa-bati, khoprapak (coconut-based sweet), shrikhand and malpua.

While Indore has its Sarafa, Bhopal too has a Chatori Gali, buzzing with food stalls selling kebabs, paaya (trotter soup) and an assortment of sweets that often end with a Bhopali paan. Most MPSTDC hotels also serve local specialties like Murgh Razala Bhopali (chicken in white gravy), Malwa ka bhatta bharta (baingan bharta), Dal-baati with churma laddoo and Ghuian (arbi) ki sabzi. Here’s a look at 25 typical treats from the region…

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1. Bedai
It’s neither a poori, nor a kachori, but something in between. At best, Gwalior’s local snack bedai is a poori stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for bedai, samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. And while you’re on the foodie trail, stop by at Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s legendary laddus (which had a big patron in former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee).

2. Badkul
It looks like a jalebi but tastes like a gulab jamun. Yes, it may sound like a puzzle, but Jabalpur’s version of a jalebi is made of khova and arrowroot batter. It is believed that the dark coloured sweet with a spongy texture was invented in 1889 by Harprasad Badkul, after whom it is named.

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3. Khopra patties
A specialty from the western MP region of Malwa, khopra patties are golden-hued deep-fried aloo bondas with a stuffing of khopra (grated coconut) and dry fruits like cashews and raisins! Insanely delicious, it’s served with green mint-coriander chutney and red tamarind chutney. Try it at Vijay Chaat House in Indore or Amrit Sweets in Dewas.

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4. Shikanji
Not to be confused with Delhi’s lemonade of the same name, Indore’s shikanji is a thick, milkshake enriched with dry fruits. It is regarded as a concoction created by Nagori Mishthan Bhandar in Bada Sarafa, which still churns out a limited batch daily. Since it is a blend of various ingredients, it is called shikanji (literally ‘mixture’) made from kesar, elaichi, javitri, jaiphal, kishmish, mattha and milk reduced for 12 hours and cooled for another 12 hours before being served cold.

Shyam Sharma ji from Beawar in Rajasthan started a small sweet shop 35 years ago and called it Madhuram as he wanted a short and sweet name. Sporting a Krishna medallion, the cheery mustachioed owner, personally ladles out shikanji for visitors. “Aise gatak ke mat peena, ismein alag alag taste khojna!” (Don’t gulp it. Savour it slowly to discover its different hidden flavours). First shrikhand, then rabdi, dry fruit and milk. Affable Sharma ‘uncle’ literally force-feeds guests fluorescent green petha pan, another sweet invention.

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5. Gajak
A signature sweet from Bhind, Morena, gajak (sesame brittle) is mostly made of roasted sesame or peanuts and cashew, with jaggery and ghee. Nutty, crunchy and a snack that keeps you warm, gajak is a winter specialty with shops lined with these goodies. Anyone travelling to the region is expected to return with a mandatory pack. In Gwalior, Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar are trusted for their quality products.

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6. Poha
Poha or tempered beaten rice is the go-to brekker across MP. But unlike the Maharashtrian style poha, the Indori poha is much lighter with less use of oil and spices. It is topped with sev or mixture, chopped onion and coriander and served with a wedge of lime. Usually paired with hot scrumptious jalebis, you got to try it to believe it!

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7. Doodh-jalebi
In the winter months, you’ll often see milk being reduced in large kadahis (vessels) outside sweet shops and hot jalebis dunked in it and served. A Khandwa specialty, the town’s famous son Kishore Kumar often longed to leave Bombay and go back to his roots. His common refrain was, “Doodh-jalebi khayenge, Khandwa mein bas jayenge.”

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8. Bhutte ka kees
Maize, or bhutta as it’s locally called, is a common staple. Farmers harvest it and bring it by the tractor-loads to be sold on highways. Locals love it roasted on hot coals as a snack, with a smear of lime, salt and chili. Across Malwa, it is eaten as bhutte ka kees, made with grated corn (keesna means to ‘grate’), roasted in ghee and cooked in milk with spices. Sarafa Bazaar in Indore is the place to have it.

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9. Dal-bafla
The traditional bread is bafla, a small ball of wheat dough. However, unlike Rajasthan’s fried baatis, the bafla is typically boiled in water, roasted over dung cakes on an iron griddle and dunked in ghee. It is served as a thali meal with dal, kadhi, aloo sabzi and chutneys of garlic and coriander, often rounded off with laddus. At Hotel Sai Palace near Mangalnath temple in Ujjain, turbaned stewards serve an unlimited meal for Rs.200. Their original eatery Hotel Rajhans at Sarafa in Indore was started 40 years ago by Shri Gyan Chand ji Raka.

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10. Dal-paniya
Corn is also used to make paniya or maize flour cakes, sandwiched between aak ka patta (leaves of Calotropis gigantea) and cooked on an open fire of dried cowpat. Best enjoyed at Hotel Gurukripa in Mandu, paniya is slightly bigger and flatter than a bafla, but served with the same accompaniments – dal, sabzi. onion and chutneys.

11. Chakki ki shaak
Another popular local delicacy, Chakki ki shaak is made of steamed wheat dough cooked in a curd-based gravy. Tapu, a local variety of wheat, is also used to make sweet cakes that are used in religious occasions and festivities.

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12. Sev
Sev is a savoury noodle-shaped snack made from chickpea flour paste seasoned with spices, sieved and deep-fried in oil. It is of varied thickness and is consumed as a stand-alone snack across MP or as a garnish on poha, mixtures or chaats like bhel puri and sev puri. Each region has its flavour variants – from Ratlami sev to finer Ujjaini sev. In Ratlam, you get long (clove) flavoured sev while in Indore, the lasuniya (garlic) flavoured sev is the rage. Shops sell a mind-boggling assortment of sev – palak (spinach), tamatar (tomato), dhaniya-pudina (coriander-mint) and hing (asafetida).

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13. Sabudana khichdi
Sabudana or pearl sago is used to make khichdi (though its consistency is not like porridge but drier like poha or upma). At Indore’s Sarafa bazaar, Sanvariya Seth mixes the sago pearls by hand, tossing in some chopped onions, coriander, chili, lime juice and sev. He’ll even customize its spiciness for you.

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14. Maande
In the region of Khandesh abutting Maharashtra in southwest MP, the erstwhile Mughal bastion of Burhanpur is legendary for its maande (roomali rotis), hand stretched and tossed with flourish at roadside stalls. The workers dexterously fling the rotis on to the upturned tava and then to the take-away counter, where it is neatly folded into rectangles and taken home.

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15. Daraba
Burhanpur’s signature sweet, though not so well known outside, is daraba, made of sugar, semolina and ghee whipped together into a fluffy consistency. The word daraba could be derived from the act of beating. Local INTACH convener and owner of Hotel Ambar Hoshang Havildar says the sweet used to be really soft and smooth earlier. “Isey ghoy ghot ke, ghot ghot ke banate they (They used to beat it for hours). It was so fine, if you touched it to your eye, you wouldn’t feel a thing.” Sold at Milan Sweets, it is relished during the annual Balaji ka Mela on the banks of the Tapti river.

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16. Burhanpur Jalebi
Unlike regular jalebis, the Burhanpur jalebi is made of mawa (khoa) and is quite popular at food stalls stretching from Bohri Mohalla to Minara Masjid in Mumbai or Mominpura in Nagpur during Ramzan. Thick and a little chewy, some add arrowroot to bulk it up, but it’s best enjoyed fresh in its city of origin at Burhanpur Jalebi Centre. Deep-fried to a chocolate hue, it is dunked in sugar syrup before being dished out to patrons.

17. Batla kachori
While kachoris are popular all over the country, in Indore it’s stuffed not with spiced lentils, but with batla (green pea). The best place to have it is Vijay Chaat House, started in 1969 by Dayashankar Thakar of Surat. Their flagship shop D Harishankar Dhanjibhai Bhajiyawala has been running in Surat since 108 years!

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18. Kadhi-fafda
Another Gujarati touch, fafda (chickpea flour crackers) is typically served with kadhi or buttermilk based curry. Locals swarm shops like Shri Balaji Chaat Corner in Indore, dipping their fafdas in the tangy curry and biting into fried green chilis!

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19. Fried khaman
While khaman (or dhokla as it’s better known) is universally loved, in western Madhya Pradesh it is also available in a fried version and sprinkled with chat masala. While regular khaman is made from besan, for the fried version only Surti khaman is used made from chana dal as it’s firmer and handles deep frying much better.

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20. Baalam kakdi
In Mandu and its surrounding regions, there’s a giant cucumber called baalam kakdi, which is served with salt, chilli and lime. Unlike regular cucumbers, it is lemon green in colour with a soft and fleshy pulp and a texture that’s more like steamed squash.

Mandu's Khorasani Imli IMG_4882_Anurag Mallick

21. Khorasani Imli
Malwa’s ancient capital Mandu is home to giant baobab trees, gifted by the Caliphs of Egypt to the sultans of Mandu sometime in the 14th century. Known as ‘dead-rat tree’ and ‘monkey-bread tree’ owing to the fruit’s strange shape and its popularity among simians, it is locally called Khorasani imli (tamarind from Khorasan, ancient Persia) and makes a good souring agent for curries like imli ki kadhi. It is deseeded and sold in packets by local vendors, along with other seeds, barks and agro produce.

22. Mawa Bati
Similar to a stuffed gulab jamun, the mava-based dough is filled with mava, dry fruits and nuts, deep-fried till brown and lightly soaked in sugar syrup. Sometimes, it is dusted with desiccated coconut powder.

Garadu IMG_3505_Anurag Mallick

23. Garadu
If Delhi loves its aloo chaat in winters, Indore goes weak-kneed for garadu, a tuber from the yam or sweet potato family. Cut into cubes and deep fried, it is sprinkled with chaat masala and a dash of lime before being devoured by locals.

24. Kadaknath
Another local specialty is a sooty country chicken called ‘Kadaknath’ endemic to the region. Charcoal black in colour, its blood is believed to be just as dark with even its skin tone being purple-grey. A connoisseur’s delight, this extremely rare fowl is sold at twice the price of a regular country chicken. However, it is not available on regular restaurant menus and patrons must procure it before it can be prepared!

Batteesi Chutney at Ahilya Fort Maheshwar IMG_5627_Anurag Mallick

25. Batteesee Chutney
Richard Holkar, royal scion of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar, renovated the queen’s royal seat Ahilya Fort in Maheshwar and revived its weaving and cultural traditions. A gourmand, he also authored ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’ in 1975 and often joins his guests for conversations over a drink or meals. His creation, the legendary ‘Batteesee Chatni’ is a secret recipe involving as many as 32 ingredients. Ahilya Fort is also the perfect base for foodies to enjoy a Maheshwari maalish (massage) along with Maheshwar scrambled eggs (with onion, tomato, coriander), grilled baam (local river fish), chilled soups of carrot, ginger and sweet lime, homemade walnut and sunflower seed bread, banana upside down cake, besides Richard’s exclusive collection of cardamom and citrus preserves.
 Dal paniya thali at Mandu IMG_5115_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Vijay Chaat House
6-9, Chhappan Dukan, Indore Ph 0731-6541710
75/5, Bada Sarafa, Indore Ph 0731-6541709
http://www.vijaychaathouse.com
What to eat: Khopra patties, matar kachori, samosa, fried khaman

Madhuram Sweets
27, Chhappan Dukan, New Palasia, Indore
Ph 0731-253 0555
http://www.madhuramsweets.com
What to eat: Shikanji, Pan Mithai, sweets

Amrit Sweets
AB Road, Bawadiya, Dewas
Ph 07272-258580
What to eat: Poha, jalebi, samosa, kachori

Hotel Sai Palace
Sunder Van Dhani, Mangalnath Road, Ujjain Ph 9009293944
Near Rajkumar Hotel, Freeganj, Ujjain Ph 0734-4061888, 9009004830
What to eat: Dal-bafla thali

Hotel Gurukripa
Main Road, Mandu
Ph 98930 43496, 94250 34837
What to eat: Dal-paniya thali

Ahilya Fort
Ahilya Wada, Maheshwar, West Nimar 451224
Ph: 011-41551575 Email: info@ahilyafort.com
http://www.ahilyafort.com
What to eat: Batteesee Chutney, Maheshwari scrambled eggs & more

Milan Mithai
Main Branch, Gandhi Chowk, Burhanpur
Ph 07325-252315, 252295
What to eat: Daraba

Burhanpur Jalebi Centre
Subhash Chowk, Burhanpur
Ph 98262 72490
What to eat: Mawa jalebi

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared on 7 Feb 2018 on National Geographic Traveller India online. Here’s a link to the original piece: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/food-trail-in-madhya-pradesh-25-must-have-treats/