Finding Rastapopoulos: Scouring Sarawak for the Proboscis Monkey

Standard

From proboscis monkeys to Irrawaddy dolphins, Sarawak in Borneo is a paradise for lovers of wildlife, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

Bako National Park-Proboscis monkey IMG_6215

It was a Tintin comic set on a volcanic island in the Far East that introduced us to the proboscis monkey. In ‘Flight 714,’ its bizarre pendulous nose reminded henchman Allan of his mobster boss Rastapopoulos. As we flew in from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching, we were excited to encounter the fascinating creature in flesh and blood.

Called bayou in Malaysia and bekantan in Indonesia, it is also nicknamed monyet belanda (Dutch monkey) or orang belanda (Dutchman), after Dutch colonisers who often had similar large noses and potbellies! Marooned in Borneo’s wilderness, creatures had evolved anatomical oddities to adapt to their environment – pygmy elephants, bearded pigs, finless porpoises, gliding lizards and swimming monkeys with webbed feet.

Bako National Park-Proboscis monkey IMG_6171

The proboscis monkey is an endangered Old World Monkey endemic to Borneo, Asia’s largest island whose 140 million year old rainforests are among the oldest in the world. The flagship species was present in all three nations that shared the island –Indonesia to the south, besides Brunei and the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah to the north. Little wonder that the monkey was chosen as the mascot for South Kalimantan and Visit Malaysia Year 2014 and Malaysia’s Year of Festivals 2015.

The drive from the airport to Kuching’s historic riverfront was short and our room at Hilton Kuching overlooked the Sarawak River, Fort Margherita and the Legislative Building. We gorged on local fare like beef rendang, kari ikan (fish curry), nasi lemak (coconut rice) at live laksa counters, ahead of our wild adventure.

Kampung Bako-Boat ride IMG_5617

Borneo’s jungles are home to just 6000 proboscis monkeys and the best place to see them in Sarawak is the coastal area and riverine stretches of Bako National Park, home to troupes of 275 or more. The park’s location at the tip of the Muara Tebas peninsula at the mouth of the Bako and Kuching rivers made it the ideal habitat.

We drove past the legendary Mount Santubong shaped like a reclining lady to the fishing village of Kampung Bako. Over a cup of local coffee we watched tiny blue mangrove crabs flit about in the mud, and took a 20-minute boat ride to Telok Assam beach, which fronts the park. We disembarked to a jaw-dropping landscape of dramatic cliffs and marbled sandstone formations.

Bako National Park-Accessed by boat IMG_5954

Nearly 75 million years ago, this area was submerged under the sea. Tectonic movements led to the formation of sandstone hills which underwent erosion over millions of years, creating magnificent geological shapes along the rugged coastline – rocky headlands, white sandy bays and steep cliff faces with pink iron patterns, veins and honeycomb weathering. Wave erosion at the base of the cliffs had carved out fantastical sea arches and sea stacks. One looked like a gargoyle, another like a cobra’s head.

We waded through ankle high waters and reached the Park Headquarters after a short walk. Established in 1957, Bako is Sarawak’s oldest national park. At 27 sq km it is also one of the smallest parks in Sarawak, yet packs a lot for its size – jungle streams, waterfalls, bizarre rock formations, secluded beaches, nature trails and varied biodiversity.

Bako National Park-Nature walk trail IMG_5713

Almost every type of vegetation in Borneo can be found here – rainforests, mangroves, padang (grasslands) and peat swamps. In the forested patch around the park headquarters we spotted silvered langur, long-tailed macaques, Bornean bearded pigs and Grass green whip snake.

Bako has a network of 18 walking trails marked out for visitors – ranging from 700m/30 min to 12.8km/6-7 hours. Teluk Delima and Teluk Paku are the best trails to spot the proboscis monkey. Their 3.5 to 5.5 inch long nose helps them attract suitable mates! When threatened, blood rushes to their nose, causing it to swell into a resonating chamber that amplifies warning calls. We spotted our first proboscis monkey with great difficulty on a treetop; its appendage silhouetted against the sky.

Bako National Park-Sunda colugo IMG_5850

Our guide Sam also pointed out a ball-like creature hanging upside down from a branch. Soon, a baby emerged from the mother’s shroud-like sac. This was the Sunda colugo or Malayan Flying Lemur. Being shy, nocturnal and solitary creatures, colugos spend most of the day curled up in tree hollows or hanging inconspicuously under branches. To reach distant food sources without encountering terrestrial or arboreal predators, it can glide up to 100m over the rainforest canopy using its patagium or expandable membranous skin!

Besides plantain squirrels, monitor lizards, otters, Bornean Terrapin and nocturnal creatures like pangolin, tarsier, slow loris and palm civet, Bako has over 150 bird species including endemics like Bornean Bristlehead and Bornean Peacock Pheasant. Though a popular day-trip from Kuching, visitors can stay overnight in forest bungalows. The area also has estuarine crocodiles which feature prominently in the culture and beliefs of the Sarawak people.

Sarawak Cultural Village IMG_5242

Sarawak Cultural Village, site of the Rainforest Music Festival since 1998, is a unique award-winning ‘living’ museum that offers an insight into local culture. Stretching around a lake in a sprawling 17-acre site, replica buildings represented every major ethnic group in Sarawak – Bidayuh and Iban longhouses, sword-making shed of the Orang Ulu, Penan jungle settlement, Melanau tall-house, Malay town house and Chinese farmhouse.

In each dwelling, costumed tribesmen carried out traditional activities. We crossed a Bidayuh bamboo bridge, watched the vibrant 45-min cultural performance at the theatre and sampled ethnic Sarawak cuisine at Restaurant Budaya. A small souvenir shop stocked masks, instruments, clothes, collectibles and sapé (Bornean lute) music CDs.

Sarawak Cultural Village-cultural performance IMG_5293

From Damai Beach Resort we left on a boat cruise around Mount Santubong to see the rare Irrawaddy dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins and more proboscis monkeys, their orange fur glinting in the afternoon sun. After exploring typical kampungs or Malay coastal villages, we drove to Semenggoh Wildlife Centre.

For over two decades, young orphaned orangutans and those rescued from captivity, have been rehabilitated here and now survive and breed in the wild. We watched them trapeze and spar in the branches as their whoops and calls echoed through the forest. Sarawak was alive…

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre-Rescued orang utans IMG_6362

FACT FILE

Getting there
Malaysia Airlines flies via Kuala Lumpur to Kuching International Airport, Sarawak. From Kuching, drive 37 km to Kampung Bako, from where the park entrance is 20 minutes by boat. Semenggoh Wildlife Centre is 24 km from Kuching.
www.malaysiaairlines.com

When to visit
May to September is peak season at Bako. The Rainforest Fringe Festival (6-15 July 2018), which started last year, is a 10-day spectacle of art, craft, music and design. www.rainforestfringe.com The famous Sarawak Rainforest World Music Festival is being held on 13-15 July, 2018 http://rwmf.net

Tip
Wear long pants, hiking shoes or sandals. Carry a bug spray and a light rainproof jacket for the rainforest microclimate.

What to Do
Bako National Park
Ph 082-370434, 082-248088
www.sarawakforestry.com.my

Sarawak Cultural Village (SCV)
Daily cultural performance: 11:30am, 4pm
Ph +60 82-846 108, 846 078
www.scv.com.my

Semenggoh Wildlife Centre
Ph +6082 618324/5
Timings 8am-5pm

Sarawak Cultural Village-Ulang uru longhouse IMG_5468

Where to stay

Hilton Kuching
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak
Ph +60 82-223 888 www.hilton.com

Hotel Pullman Kuching
1a Jalan Mathies, 93100 Kuching, Sarawak
Ph +60 82-222 888 www.pullmankuching.com

Merdeka Palace Hotel & Suites
Ph +60 82-258 000 www.merdekapalace.com

Damai Beach Resort
Teluk Bandung, Santubong
Ph +60 82-846999 www.damaibeachresort.com

Damai Puri Resort & Spa
Teluk Penyu, Santubong
Ph +60 82-846900, www.damaipuriresort.com

For more info, visit www.tourism.gov.my and www.sarawaktourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 18 June 2018 in the HT Cafe supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper.

Advertisements

30 unique dishes from Karnataka (How many have you tried?)

Standard

There’s more to Karnataka cuisine than Bisi Bele Bath. On Rajyotsava Day, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a culinary tour across the state to pick 30 unique dishes from its 30 districts and various communities.

Flameback spread DSC01910

Like political leaders and psephologists criss-crossing the state, we had trailblazed across Karnataka on a 2-year long research project to document the state’s cuisine for Oota, a restaurant in Whitefield. Travelling with two chefs and a video crew, we ate in iconic eateries, discovered fantastic food folklore and cooked with nearly 25 communities in homes, roadside stalls and temple kitchens.

From the ghats of Coorg and Malnad to the Karavali coast, ragi fields of South Karnataka to the jola (jowar) and rice fields in the north and the Hyderabad-Karnataka region to the Maharashtra border, we traversed nearly 30 districts and 20,000km. Here’s a sample from an astonishingly diverse cuisine that goes beyond the ordinary…

Chigli (Red Ant) Chutney IMG_0962

Chigli Chutney
The hilly region of Malnad is known for the unique chigli chutney made of kempu iruve or red fire ants (Ecophila Smoragdina). The ants have a vicious sting and the sour ooze from the swollen larvae gives the typical tang and bite to the chutney. The leafy nests must be harvested before sunrise and the ants are roasted along with salt, pounded and stored for future use. Ground with garlic, birds’ eye chili, onion, coconut and spices, and eaten with rice rotis, the protein-rich chutney is a winter delicacy (Nov-March). Its medicinal properties help prevent cough, cold, flu and pneumonia.

Where to Eat: Not feature on regular menus, but hotels serving Gowda fare like Flameback Lodges (Ph 9242714197, 9448379748, www.flameback.in) near Mudigere and Black Pepperz Gardenia (Ph 9242144019) at Daradahalli might serve it on request

Rakti DSC02751

Rakti
Saujis or Savajis are a martial community of the SSK (Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriya) Samaj who migrated from Central India to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra. As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine and Sauji restaurants are popular among meat lovers. During Dussehra, they offer laal-pani (liquor), edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings) and arithi (wheat flour diyas) to Goddess Bhavani. A unique dish from their repertoire is Rakti, made from rakt (coagulated blood), reduced into a spicy thick paste and eaten with jolada (jowar) rotis.

Where to Eat: Hamsini Hotel on Shamanur Road in Davanagere (Ph 9886792331), Hotel Milan Savaji (Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875) at Jubilee Circle on PB Road and Kathare’s Savaji Hotel (Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450) at Line Bazaar in Dharwad, Bhavani Sauji Hotel in Rattihalli near Shimoga and Hotel Chetak in Kalaburagi.

Batti Chutney IMG_3039_Anurag Mallick

Batti Chutney
Originally from Andhra Pradesh, the Idugas have been in Karnataka’s border regions for centuries. They are known for their meat heavy cuisine with a liberal use of chillis, a typical Andhra influence. Every part of the goat – trotters, intestine, brain, blood and spleen – is used for dishes like poondi palya mutton, taley mamsa, boti and nalla vanta. Batti Chutney is made of spleen, liver and hand-pounded red chillies and garlic; rolled into gummy meatballs, it makes an excellent spicy bar snack with a taste profile akin to paté!

Where to Eat: Eateries at D Hirehalu and Ballari

Appekayi Trroiin IMG_2186

Appekayi Trrroin
Haviyak or Havyaka Brahmins came to Malnad from Ahichhatra in Central India for the completion of havans (hence their name) and the recitation of Yajur Veda at yagnas. Their scientific approach to food gives great importance to medicinal plants and various concoctions called tambulli made from arshina (raw turmeric), nellikayi (gooseberry) or doddapatre (carom leaf). Most feasts begin with a digestive drink strangely called Appekayi Trrroin, made from appekayi (raw mangoes). As for the ‘trrroin’, it’s most probably from downing it one gulp!

Where to Eat: Havyaka homestays like Gundi Mane near Jog Falls (Ph 9900956760, 9980100975 www.gundimane.com) or Vihar Homestay (Ph 08389-249437, 9449192329 https://viharhomestay.in) near Sirsi

GSB spread with Amshe Tikshe and Sungta Song IMG_5185

Sungta Song
It’s not really a song but you’ll surely dance to the tune of this classic prawn curry from the GSB or Gaud Saraswat Brahmin kitchen. A coastal preparation of prawns in thick tangy onion and tomato masala, it is finished with lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander.

Where to Eat: Shwetaa Lunch Home (Ph 99866 75726, 95918 41334) at Ananda Arcade, Green Street and Hotel Amrut in Karwar (Ph 08382-226609, 645562 www.hotelamrut.com)

Halasina Yele Chilmi IMG_3953

Halasina Yele Chilmi
The unique steamed dish from the Canara coast is as exotic as it sounds! First halasina yele (jackfruit leaves) are shaped into cones, rice paste is smeared on the insides before a mix of coconut and jaggery is poured in and sealed with rice paste. Placed inside a steamer, it is left to cook. The leaf is carefully peeled to reveal a marbled conical dessert.

Where to Eat: Blue Waters Resort (Ph 08254-230093, 9844065100, www.bluewatersindia.com) in Kundapura and their hinterland resort Green Woods in Senapura

Kalees Ankitiya (Pork offal)-IMG_5162

Kalees Ankiti
While leitão (whole roast pigling), a Portuguese tradition is popular among Catholics of Mangalore, the rest of the pig’s ‘spare parts’ go into an offal curry known by the intriguing name kalees-ankiti (literally ‘liver-intestines’). Cooking it is laborious and the intestines must be rubbed and boiled with cinnamon leaves to remove the smell. After adding spices, onions, tamarind, vinegar and local baffath powder, it is finished with pig’s blood and eaten with sannas. Surely not for the faint-hearted!

Where to Eat: Pereira Hotel in Mangaluru (Ph 0824-2425430, 9480158112, 9611067783)

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5840_Anurag Mallick

Mandige
Besides the iconic Belgaum Kunda, Belagavi is known for another sweet – mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khoa, it is made like a roomali on an upturned tava and folded like a dosa. A fascinating legend explains its mythic origin. A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his penance. Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! It’s a must in Brahmin weddings and is often displayed in large baskets. Rumours abound how weddings have been called off because no mandige was served!

Where to Eat: Krishnamurthi Saralaya (Ph 0831-2452707/4208620, 9448231751) in Konwal Gali, Belagavi.

Kalbutthi (Flintstone Curd Rice) IMG_2757

Kalbutthi
The ancient capital of the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi is famous for its pineapples and the 400-year-old Konkani community of Padkis. At the home of Mrs Indira Phadke, we picked up an unusual dish from Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine. Kalbutthi is like a curd rice sizzler using a piece of hot glowing flintstone (kal is stone). On the hot stone, some ghee, curry leaves and mustard seeds are used for tempering and covered with the curd rice to infuse the smoky aroma!

Where to Eat: Konkani Brahmin homestays

Allu susla or 'Susheela' IMG_6121

Susheela
From Davanagere to Dharwad and Huballi to Bijapur, mandakki or puffed rice is a common snack, presented in assorted flavours like Girmit, Nargis or Khara Mandakki, often paired with mensinkayi bajji (chilli pakoda). For breakfast, puffed rice is lightly soaked and tossed with seasoning into a light fluffy poha called allu susla. However, in street parlance it is commonly mispronounced as ‘Susheela’.

Where to Eat: TS Manjunath Swamy’s Masala Mandakki Angadi (Ph 9902200924) on Lawyer Road at Jaydev Circle in Davangere and LEA Canteen at Dharwad (Ph 9448147157)

Ballari Cycle khova IMG_3339_Anurag Mallick

Bellary Cycle Khova
If you thought Ballari’s only claim to (in)fame was the Reddy brothers, think again. Spread around two granite hills with a fort built by Hande Hanumappa Nayaka, Ballari (earlier Bellary) is famous for its cycle khova, sold on bicycles and dispensed from brass containers on eco-friendly sal leaf plates!

Where to Eat: Bombay Sweets (Ph 08392-272228, 9448056398) and Abid Cycle Khova Store (Ph 9901824292) on Bangalore Road, Bellary

KT or Kalladka Tea IMG_5813

KT (Kalladka Tea)
Kalladka, a small town 30km from Mangaluru on the Bengaluru highway, is famous for its strong tea, perfect for truckers and travelers to stay awake on the treacherous ghat route. Locals called it Kalladka Tea or KT, for short. Step into the roadside hotel where it was invented and you can see it made and poured in layers inside the tiny kitchen.

Where to Eat: Laxmi Nivas Hotel (Ph 08255-275359, 9448545203) at Kalladka

Hyd Karn Gulbarga-Malpuri-IMG_5660

Malpuri
Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi) is known for its paan mithai and malpuri, which is like a malpua on steroids. Stuffed with khova and dry fruits like a gujiya, the sugar-syrup laden sweet was invented by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan. Just utter the password ‘Mamu jaan ki malpuri’ and you will be guided to his little shop.

Where to Eat: Khasim Ali near the dargah and Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri in in Kalaburagi’s Chappal Bazaar

Bullet Idli

Bullet Idli
Mitra Samaj shares a wall with the Chandramouleshwara Temple in Udupi and started off as a temple kitchen. It serves excellent uppitu, Mangalore goli bajji, the gigantic Outlook dosa and an octet of miniature ‘bullet’ idlis in a plate of sambar. Till some years ago, a cow used to walk past the cramped tables to the kitchen where it would be fed reverentially. Only then would it step out!

Where to Eat: Mitra Samaj (Ph 9880199678) in Udupi

Gadbad Ice-cream IMG_5691

Gadbad ice-cream
Invented at Diana Restaurant in Udupi but popularized by Ideal Ice-cream, the assorted ice-cream was invented in a gadibidi (hurry). Local folklore has it that one day a bunch of customers came late and since portions of one flavour weren’t enough, 3 assorted flavours were mixed and served with fruits, cherries and dry fruits. It became a hit. And the name stuck!

Where to Eat: Diana Restaurant (Ph 0820-2520505, 9448132202, 9743388718) in Udupi and Ideal Ice-cream (Ph 0824-2440396, 9448121673 www.idealicecream.com) in Mangaluru

Mahabharata 2

Mahabharata
Just when we thought we had seen and tasted it all, we encountered a tangy mango chutney at a Brahmin feast in Bengaluru. It was called Mahabharata! Even more shocking was the discovery that there was another chutney called Kurukshetra. Truly epic!

Where to Eat: Brahmin feasts

Amingad kardantu DSC03102_Anurag Mallick

Kardantu
Invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak, kardantu is a popular teatime snack and desi energy bar from rural Karnataka. It is often given to pregnant women, wrestlers and body builders. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together to create karadi-antu (literally ‘fried gum’). When shaped into balls, it is called antin-unde.

Where to Eat: Vijaya Kardant (Ph 8123115005) on SH-20/Raichur Highway in Amingad and Amingad Cool Drink, Bijapur (Vijayapura).

Karchikayi, a native vegetable, is used to treat diabetes in folk medicine IMG_3900

Karchikayi Palya
A small pod vegetable that grows in creepers infested by scorpions, karchikayi (Momordica cymbalaria), a relative of the bitter melon/gourd plant, is unique to the Hubli-Dharwad region. Another peculiarity is that the vegetable must be consumed the same day it is harvested, before the pods burst open! It is usually made into a palya or stir fried.

Where to Eat: Uramma Heritage, Anegundi (Ph 9448284658 www.urammaheritagehomes.com)

Sorlaysoppu:Kannekudi soppu khatne IMG_2808

Kannekudi Khatne
The hill region of Malnad is a treasure trove of medicinal plants that grow wild, whose leaves, roots, herbs and barks are used for indigenous cooking. The bushy Kannekudi or Soralekudi (Persicaria piripi) is one such plant, widely used by the Haviyak community to prepare a tangy chutney. Consumed during the rainy season, it protects you against cold and fever.

Where to Eat: Homestays like AjjanaMane at Talavata (Ph 9535693240, 9342253240, Email ajjanamane@gmail.com www.ajjanamane.com)

Masala Akki Roti IMG_1727

Dapati to Uggi chapati
Karnataka has a wide variety of staples – besides jolada roti (sorghum flat bread) and akki otti (rice rotis), there’s berki roti made of mixed flours and pulses, dapati (multi-grain masala roti) and the uggi chapati which is steamed on tender cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee!

Where to Eat: Kolavara Heritage near Tirthahalli (Ph 08181 254722, 202210, 9448639444 www.kolavaraheritage.com)

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani
Once a flourishing port under the Vijaynagar Empire, Bhatkal attracted Arabian sailors and traders who intermingled with local Jains and GSBs to form a new community – Navayath or ‘newly arrived’. Their dialect borrows heavily from Konkani, while local tastes blend seamlessly with Arabia. Bhatkal is famous for its Godi Halwa, a glutinous sweet made of wheat extract and the exquisite Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani made of delicate vermicelli and prawns.

Where to Eat: Chillies Restaurant (Ph 99803 26265), NH-17, Bhatkal

Carrot Kismuri

Kismuri
Malnad is known for a variety of kismuri or delectable salads that can be made from carrot, beetroot, bale dindu (banana stem) or suvarnagadde (yam). Par-boiled juliennes of the vegetable are mixed with chopped onion, tempered with mustard, urad dal (split black gram), green chili, curry leaves and finished with yoghurt and a topping of crunchy papad.

Where to Eat: Surendra Mallya’s farm at Masigadde (Ph 94486 57245)

Amey soppu (Fiddlehead fern) DSC06318

Ameysoppu palya
Siddis are descendants of African slaves brought to India. Some escaped from the Portuguese in Goa and settled in the forested tracts of the Western Ghats. In Karnataka, they inhabit the stretch around Haliyal, Yellapur and Ramanguli. The Siddis eat river fish, rice and local greens – kesa (colocasia) and ferns like amey soppu, literally ‘turtle greens.’

Where to Eat: Coorg homestays like Gowri Nivas (Ph 08272-228597, 9448193822 www.gowrinivas.com) in Madikeri and Palace Estate (Ph 98804 47702, 94831 98446 www.palaceestate.co.in) in Kakkabe serve Kodava fare like kesa (colocasia) and termay (ferns), in monsoon.

Dasola Yele Khottey IMG_4431

Dasola Yele Khotte
KP Shetty’s unique botanical-themed resort in the lush hinterland off Shiroor is home to over 5000 plants, many of which are used in its ‘health’ cuisine. Try chakramani soppu tambuli (better known as multi-vitamin curry), brahmi tambuli (Indian Pennywort cooler), sandhu balli chutney (cactus vine chutney) and the unique dasola yele khotte (steamed rice dumplings or kadabus infused with hibiscus leaf), served with a dollop of butter.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa & Resort (Ph 7760976680 www.wildwoodsspa.com) at Toodalli village near Shiroor

Brahmi leaf or eli kivi soppu DSC05398

Elikivi Soppu Palya
Brahmi (Centella asiatica) or Indian pennywort is a wondrous leaf that aids intellect and sharpens memory. For centuries, Brahmins have consumed it to help them remember mantras. In ancient times, Sage Manduki noticed that wild animals that drank from a creek where the plant grew became calmer and were attracted to his discourses. In honor of his discovery, it was named mandukaparni (frog leaf) as it was shaped like a frog’s foot. In Kannada, it’s called ili kivi or mouse’s ear! Brahmi is usually stir fried into a palya with onions, mustard and grated coconut.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa and Shanthi Kunnj (Ph 0824-2485180, 9632726888 www.shanthikunnj.com) near Kadabagere

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

Soute beeja huggi
Believe or not, North Karnataka has rare indigenous pastas, often displayed as part of the Lingayat wedding trousseau! The process of rolling out little pellets of broken wheat dough is rather laborious. It is usually a summer activity, as the pellets can be sundried on the terrace. Using a paradi kaddi (basket stick), the dough is given different shapes – soute bija resembles tiny soute (cucumber) seeds, paradi is bowl or ear-shaped like orechiette while shankha is pressed against a comb and shaped like a conch akin to conchiglie. Once dried, it can be made as a savoury or a huggi (kheer).

Where to Eat: Vijaya Dry Fruits near Durgada Bail in New Hubli stocks a lot of these traditional pastas

Coorg-Madd kool-IMG_2359

Madd thoppu
Literally ‘medicine leaf’, maddu thoppu (Justicia wynaadensis) grows wild in Coorg or Kodagu. It is harvested during the monsoon month of kakkada, the heaviest period of rain from mid-July to mid-August. On the eighteenth day of kakkada, its medicinal properties are at their peak and contain 18 benefits. The stems and leaves are boiled to make a deep purple extract used for madd puttu (steamed cakes) or madd kool payasa (sweet porridge). And, don’t faint in the bathroom if you notice a bright yellow to orange colour when your pee!

Where to Eat: Taj Madikeri (Ph 08272-665800 Email madikeri.coorg@tajhotels.com)

IMG_2986

Vonekk Yerchi
There’s more to Coorg than pandi curry as Kodavas have an array of pork dishes – from chutti, spicy fried bits of pork fat served at Kodava weddings to pork choodals, deep fried pork cubes tossed in green chili-ginger masala, a great accompaniment to drinks. However, the ultimate dish is vonekk yerchi or smoked pork, typically cured for months over the hearth, shredded and stir-fried.

Where to Eat: Cuisine Papera (Ph 08274-247247, 900887767 Email paperacaterers@gmail.com) at Gonikoppal

Tindli Moi (Cashew & Ivy Gourd)-IMG_5628

Tindli Moi
From Konkani eateries to Catholic restaurants in Mangaluru-Udupi, tindli or manoli (ivy gourd) is a popular vegetable. In season, it is stir-fried with beeja (raw cashew) and topped with grated coconut. Tindli-Moi or Manoli Beeja Upkari is a great accompaniment for fish curry-rice meals.

Where to Eat: Hotel Narayana’s (Ph 9448255025) fish meals and Pereira Hotel at Hampankatta in Mangaluru

Pinyanappa-IMG_5363 

Pinyanappa
Bearys are a Muslim trading community in Mangaluru with a typical cuisine. Wedding feasts or ‘tala’ are opulent affairs with dishes like koli norchad (stuffed fried chicken), whole goat and goat head presented to the groom and his friends. There’s naeveri (stuffed prawn dumplings) and kalathappam (thick rice pancake topped with fried onions) and unique desserts like bonda payasa (tender coconut kheer) and pinyanappa. The rice, egg and coconut milk dessert gets its name from the pinyan (bowl) used to steam the dish.

Where to Eat: Many of these dishes can be savoured at Oota Bangalore (Ph 88802 33322 http://windmillscraftworks.com) in Whitefield

IMG_4800

Authors: This article first appeared on 14 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Read the original article here: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/30-dishes-try-30-districts-karnataka/ 

Maheshwar: Here lived a queen

Standard

Once the capital of Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar, Maheshwar looms above the languid waters of the holy Narmada, enfolding within itself history, heritage and fascinating mythologies, explore ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

IMG_5344

It was evening by the time we reached the pilgrim town of Maheshwar. At the banks of the sacred Narmada we watched the incessant flow of walkers, pilgrims, bathers, wrestlers and locals. The symmetrical steps of the Ahilyeshwar temple looked familiar – it had served as a scenic backdrop for movies like Padman and Yamla Pagla Deewana! The ghat was dotted with stone Shiva lingas and temples along the riverbank – Til Bhandeshwar, Kashi Vishwanath, Narmada Mata and the chhatri (samadhi) of Rani Ahilyabai.

Between 1766-95, Maheshwar served as the capital of Maratha queen Ahilyabai Holkar. Stopped from committing sati by her father-in-law, she ruled for nearly three decades from her royal seat until Malhar Rao Holkar III shifted the capital to Indore in 1818. High above the ghats, her 250-year-old Ahilya Fort loomed above the Narmada as we caught the last rays of a pink sunset on its languid waters. A yogi, his arms tucked behind his head and legs folded in padmasana, languidly drifted along the current.

IMG_5299

Time flowed unhurriedly like the placid Narmada. We witnessed the devout engrossed in evening rituals as the Kashi Vishwanath arti at 7:40pm was soon followed by the Narmada Maha Arti at 8pm. The priest of Narmada Mata Mandir narrated fascinating legends about the river and the city she coursed through. Born from the sweat of Shiva, Narmada is hailed as Shiv-putri or Shankar’s daughter Shankari.

Maheshwar is thus sacred to Shiva and his imprint can be seen everywhere. Pebbles on Narmada’s riverbed are shaped like a linga (called banalinga). Some say she is both nar (male) and mada (female); others believe she is called narmada because she is narm (soft), bestowing a feeling of peace on the beholder. Her popular name Rewa is derived from rewati or her leaping motion through the rocky bed.

IMG_5700

“Jagat janani, jeevan dayini, wo ajar-amar hai. Sansaar nasht ho jayega, magar Narmada hamesha behti rahegi…” “She is the fountainhead of the world, the giver of life, she is immortal. The world may come to an end, but Narmada shall continue to flow,” explained Pandit ji. “She has other names too”, piped in the others. “Sonsursa, Mahti, Krapa, Mandakini, Mahanawa, Vipapa, Vipasha, Vimala, Namrata, Karbha, Ranjana, Trikuta, Vayuvahini, Dakshinganga.”

Maheshwar was once Mahishmati, founded by king Mahishman and later the capital of thousand-armed king Sahasrarjun. One legend recounts how the king went to the river for a picnic with his 500 wives and blocked the mighty river with his arms so that his queens could frolic in the waters! Meanwhile, Ravana who was flying by in his Pushpak Vimana stopped at the dry riverbed downstream and fashioned a sand shivalinga for his daily worship.

IMG_5352

When Sahasrarjun finally lifted his arms, the gushing waters swept off Ravana’s shivalinga. Furious, he challenged Sahasrajuna to a duel but was pinned to the ground by his 1000 arms. Sahasrajuna placed 10 lamps on Ravana’s heads and one on his hand, bound him and dragged him to the palace and tied him to his son’s cradle, where Ravana remained a prisoner until his release. Even today, the Sahasrarjun temple at Maheshwar lights 11 lamps to commemorate the legend.

Our driver, who had been restlessly shadowing us, politely asked if now we would like to go to our hotel. We laughed and walked up the steps to Ahila Fort. Set amidst gnarled neem and frangipani trees, Ahilyabai’s rajwada (palace) had been beautifully restored into a fort hotel by her descendant Shivajirao or ‘Richard’ Holkar.

IMG_5649

Parisian online magazine ‘The Style Saloniste’ called it “The Far Pavilions and The Jewel in the Crown with a dash of Gandhi idealism”. We were chuffed to know that we would join an elite list of celebrities that had stayed at Fort Ahilya – Mick Jagger, Ralph Fiennes, Lord and Lady Cavendish and Prince Michael of Greece (and Denmark).

In the inner courtyard, Kuntabai, who has been with the royal family for over thirty years, led us to Kachnar, our room on the first floor. Interestingly, the rooms were named after the surrounding trees – Imli, Elaichi, Champa, Badam, Gulmohar, Haldi, Kesar. The best rooms were the lavish river-facing Narmada Suite done up in muted greys with tasteful colour accents and the Nagarkhana Suite, the old drumhouse in a gateway overlooking the Ahilyeshwar Temple.

IMG_5436

“Richard ji will see you for supper at 9pm sharp,” the instruction was as crisp as the linen. The stress on ‘sharp’ was enough to ensure we were well on time. Clad in a simple Maheshwari kurta pyjama and Nehru jacket, ‘Richard ji’ was disarmingly informal. We discussed our recent travels through Madhya Pradesh and talk drifted to local food – the succulent balam kakdi, the tangy khorasani imli and the black coloured country chicken Kadaknath.

Author of ‘Cooking of the Maharajas’ in 1975, Richard often joins guests for conversations over a drink or meals and personally curates the home-style food at Ahilya. Dinner was announced by the drumbeats of the dholak with customized printed menus – mushroom pulao, spiced tomato and green gourd, grilled mahi mahi, crispy okra, capsicum raita, chapattis and vermicelli kheer.

IMG_5619

The next morning, we woke up fashionably late, to the sound of the Lingarchan puja performed daily at 8:30 am at the royal family shrine just below the terrace. The sacred ritual was initiated by Ahilyabai Holkar in 1766 for the well being of her subjects and involved shaping river mud into 1300 miniature Shiva lingas on a wooden board, which was ritually immersed into the river.

An elaborate breakfast awaited us at the Poshak wada – bacon, sausages, baked beans, Maheshwari style scrambled eggs, walnut and sunflower seed bread, with the fort’s jams and citrus preserves made by Richard. We even got a taste of the legendary Batteesee Chatni, a secret recipe of 32 ingredients that Richard will never part with. Ambling around the sprawling hotel, we discovered charming nooks under bougainvillea creepers – a hidden turquoise pool, herb garden and the quirky ‘Le Loo’.

IMG_5489

Lined with wooden pillars, the hallways held a treasure of antiques besides sepia tinted photographs of the Indore royal family and their mansions. The walls exhibited ethereal paintings of Maheshwar by late artist-in-residence Harry Holcroft and riveting prints by photographer Ashish Dubey capturing the many moods of the Narmada. A portion of the sales went towards the Ahilya Fort Wall Project.

The Maheshwar Rajwada serves as a museum on the Holkar lineage and a map marks out the pious queen’s sacred deeds at India’s holiest sites – renovating temples, dharamsalas and ghats from the Himalayas to Mathura, Brindavan, Dwarka and Puri. Locals and the devout often walk into the fort to pay homage at the queen’s statue.

IMG_5533

We visited Rehwa Society, a weaver’s cooperative for local women. The clatter of looms mingled with the incessant hum and chatter of kids next door at Ahilya School, founded in 1979 for weavers’ children. Maheshwar’s weaving tradition goes way back to the 5th Century.

However, weaving as a large scale occupation gained prominence during the reign of Rani Ahilyabai Holkar (1767-1795) when she invited master weavers from Surat and South India to create traditional Navvari or Maharashtrian nine-yard saris and turbans as mementos for royal guests.

IMG_5429

The craft languished till the 1970s when Richard Holkar and his former partner revived the centuries-old tradition of Maheshwar weaving. Today, weaving is the mainstay for over 700 local families. At Rehwa Society alone, 70 ladies and a few men worked in shifts. They showed us the intricacies and typical designs that made Maheshwari weaves so popular.

“Weaving one sari could take 3-10 days, depending on its complexity. Some pallu designs could take 3-4 days,” they explained. The in-house store was a rainbow of colours. All around town the inner bylanes reverberated with the constant clack of looms as shops sold kurtas, shawls, saris and stoles.

IMG_5570

The town is dotted with temples. The Rajarajeshwar temple has a ceiling full of mirrors and coloured glass. Smaller shrines dotted the complex and the path continued to Gobar Ganesh temple displaying an idol made of gobar (cowdung). We completed a radial circuit back to Ahilyeshwar temple, with the chhatri of Vithoji facing the elevated Shiva shrine.

The inner courtyard had beautifully sculpted statues of musicians, dancers, apsaras and even two gentlemen in English costume! Marble slabs on the stone steps marked the water level during two big floods – 6 September 1944 and 17 September 1961.

IMG_5779

Boatmen of the Ma Rewa Nauka Vihar Kewat Samaj Samiti offer boat rides to Sahasradhara and Baneshwar. Gliding past the riverside temples and the fort, we took a leisurely ride to Baneshwar Mahadev, located on an islet midstream and returned by sunset.

That evening, we left the palatial Ahilya Fort for the humbler comforts of the renovated gatehouse – Labboo’z café and lodge. The odd name came from the family driver who initially ran it – Lakshman aka Lambu (the tall one), mispronounced as Labbu by Richard’s kids! Its five rooms were named after birds commonly seen around the lodge.

IMG_5676

We headed to the topmost room Bee Eater above the main fort doorway overlooking the ramparts and a private terrace. Inside, cute alcoves on either side served as luggage racks, seaters, wash, shower and a secret toilet behind a blue door! The blue-grey tiles and Kashmiri embroidered linen from Richard’s mother’s collection added a cozy touch. Large cement steps led to another terrace, perfect for stargazing. We sank into the cane chairs under trees with book-lined alcoves and sweet, ever-smiling staff.

Food was mostly vegetarian snacks, perfect for a short bite. But we had been spoiled silly with Ahilya Fort’s hospitality. Richard’s voice echoed in our ears “It’s called La-Booz, but there’s no booze there. For that, you have to come to the palace!” And so we returned for some more fried parval (pointed gourd), a sip of champagne and unhurried conversations in the history-scented fort. We could try the Maheshwari maalish (massage) tomorrow or perhaps take the boat ride from Mandleshwar to Maheshwar? Like the leisurely river cruise, life in Maheshwar drifted ‘slowly down the Narmada.’

IMG_5412

NAVIGATOR

Getting there:
Maheshwar is 95 km/2 hrs southwest of Indore. Mandu and Omkareshwar are just 1.5 hours away.

Stay:

Ahilya Fort
Ahilya Wada, Maheshwar
Ph 011-41551575
http://www.ahilyafort.com
Tariff ₹26,000 per night upwards; min stay 2 nights

Labboo’z Café & Lodge
The Gatehouse, Outside Ahilya Fort
Maheshwar
Ph 07771004818, 7771004811
Café 10am-8pm

IMG_5631

Eat
Besides specially curated home cooked meals at Ahilya Fort, Labboo’z Café offers vegetarian snacks in the shaded fort compound with a nice garden ambience – samosa, pakoda, grilled sandwich, poha and peanut chat, with chai, coffee and lassi.

Shop
Rehwa Society (Ph 81200 01388, 8424999225 http://www.rehwasociety.org) is open between 10 am–6pm and Saris are around Rs.3000, scarves Rs.700 and dupattas Rs.1200. Tana Bana Maheshwari Handloom (Ph 86026 27811) on Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Bazaar Chowk. Women Weave Gudi Mudi (Ph 88004 11898) on Mandleshwar Road, Gadi Khana.

Discover This: Maheshwari Saris
In Maheshwari saris, silk thread is used in the tana (warp) and cotton in the bana (weft), which imparts a silken sheen and a light, comfortable drape – ideal for the region’s hot climate. However, the uniqueness lies in its weave. The body is checked, striped or plain but the striped pallu and border designs are inspired by traditional or architectural temple motifs. Each design has a specific name – rui phool (cotton flower), diya (lamp), chameli (jasmine), hans (swan), aari (wood saw), jugnu (fireflies), baadal (clouds), jharoka (lattice windows), iint (brick), chatai (mat) and heera (diamond) A wavy border pattern is called ‘Narmada ji’ or leheriya inspired by the river’s ripples…


IMG_5809

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of Discover India magazine. 

Gulmarg: Enchanted Meadow

Standard

An all-year round destination, Gulmarg has much to offer – hikes, gondola rides, horse trails, excursions to Baba Reshi and Buta Pathri, besides winter sports, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

Skiing in Gulmarg - Winter landscape

Every winter, Gulmarg’s snowy slopes transform into a world-class skiing destination boasting the highest ski slopes in Asia. In spring the frozen landscape thaws in preparation for the summer splendor of daisies, forget-me-nots, buttercups, lupins and wild flowers dotting the grassy knolls.

Unlike other tourist spots in the Kashmir Valley, Gulmarg remains open all year round. Immortalized by Bollywood, it was on these pastures that Rajesh Khanna and Mumtaz crooned ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ while Rishi Kapoor and Dimple Kapadia sang ‘Hum tum ek kamre mein band hon’ in the film ‘Bobby’. Yet Gulmarg’s romantic tryst was not new…

IMG_0851

Local shepherds called it Gaurimarg, the enchanted meadow of Gauri or goddess Parvati, Lord Shiva’s consort. In 16th century Sultan Yousuf Shah of the Chak Dynasty who frequented the heavenly hill resort with his queen Habba Khatoon fondly renamed it Gulmarg (Meadow of Flowers).

Mughal emperor Jehangir collected 21 varieties of wild flowers from here for his gardens. A temple dedicated to the divine pair Shiva-Parvati was built in 1915 by Mohini Bai Sishodia, wife of Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir.

IMG_0952

The drive from Srinagar was short as we climbed from Tangmarg through alpine forests. Located in a cup-shaped valley in the Pir Panjal range of the Western Himalayas, Gulmarg was perched at 8,694 ft. The undulating meadow loosely ringed by hotels, shrines and colonial edifices formed the heart of Gulmarg. Pink and blue flowers rebelled against the blanket of green as horses grazed unfettered in the meadows.

Oddly, the credit of ‘discovering’ Gulmarg goes to a Croat architect! Around the mid 1800’s, Michael Adam Nedou sailed to Lahore from the port city of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) to construct a palace for a maharaja in Gujarat. While traveling from Murree (in present-day Pakistan) to Kashmir in 1880, he stumbled upon Gulmarg.

IMG_0964

Nedou introduced it as a holiday destination to British aristocrats, civil servants and royalty who would spend the summer fishing, hunting and hiking here. After building his first hotel in Lahore, Michael set up Nedou’s Hotel in Gulmarg in 1888.

However, we were headed not to the oldest but the best address in town – The Khyber. The five star resort with stunning wooden architecture has been voted India’s Favourite Boutique Hotel for the fifth year running at the 2017 Condé Nast Traveller India’s Readers’ Travel Awards!

IMG_0553

A whiff of pine welcomed us at the foyer dominated by large Moroccan lamps, plush seating and painted papier-mâché wall panels. Delicious steaming kahwa (Kashmiri tea) awaited us at Chaikash, the tea lounge, before we were ushered to our room.

The balcony opened to a view of the snowy peaks of Apharwat and gabled cottages with green roofs strung with chinar leaf designs. At Cloves restaurant, we savoured a Kashmiri Traami (platter) – a hearty fixed meal of rogan josh (mutton curry), tsaman kalia (paneer in yellow gravy), rista (meat balls in red gravy), tabakmaaz (fried lamb ribs), seekh kebab and haak (greens), served over rice.

IMG_1119

The radial road encircles Gulmarg’s central green, part of which forms the world’s highest golf course at 8,690 ft. Gulmarg Golf Club was conceived as a 6-hole course in 1890-91 by Colonel Neville Chamberlain, the man who invented snooker in Ooty! Three golf courses were established in Gulmarg including one exclusively for women. Golfing was so hectic that all three courses had to be used simultaneously – Upper course, Lower course and Rabbit’s course. Only the first of these survives.

Abutting the course was the 1890s Anglican St Mary’s Church surrounded by clumps of wild flowers. Made of austere grey stone, the green-roofed Victorian edifice had beautiful stained glass windows. On the other end atop a grassy bank, Shree Mohineshwar Shivalaya or Maharani temple’s red roof could be spotted from afar. Ironically and in a disarming display of communal harmony, both the Christian and Hindu shrines had Muslim keepers!

IMG_0867

A signboard proudly announced ‘Gondola, masterpiece of French technology’. Built by the French company Pomagalski, the Gulmarg Gondola is indeed an engineering marvel. One of the highest in the world, the two-stage ropeway ferries 600 people an hour from Gulmarg to Mary’s Shoulder (3,979 m) on Apharwat Peak (13,800 ft) via Kongdoori.

After stupendous views of the Nanga Parbat and Harmukh mountains, we returned to Khyber to relax with almond detoxifying massages at L’Occitane spa and apple-flavoured sheeshas at the Hookah Lounge.

IMG_0833

The next day, we set out to the Shire-like setting of Highland Parks Hotel. Walking past pretty flowerbeds, we reached the famous ‘Bobby’ cottage, where a still from the movie graced the wooden wall. “Six of Rishi Kapoor’s films have been shot here,” the manager drawled, “Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma and Yash Chopra stayed here in 2012 during Jab Tak Hai Jaan.”

Gulmarg’s brush with Bollywood continues as Haider and Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani too were filmed here. We padded across to the upholstered lounge lined with old lanterns, colonial era paintings, hunting trophies and funny ‘Rules of Golf’ illustrations. The brandy toddy and chili chicken seemed perfect for the chilly weather.

IMG_1258

We drove 12km to Baba Reshi, the venerable shrine of Baba Payamuddin, a courtier of 15th century Kashmir King Zain-ul-Abedin. Renouncing his worldly possessions to serve the people, the Sufi saint lived and meditated here. A three-storey monument with lofty minarets was built in 1480 in Mughal and Persian style with the devout flocking to the Noor Khwan (holy grave) for blessings.

Gulmarg has no dearth of adventures. Enjoy mule rides to the meadows of Khilanmarg, bite into freshly plucked Kashmiri apples inside an orchard in Tangmarg, go on an excursion to the Pandav Pathri ruins at eco village Drung or try fishing in wild mountain streams.

IMG_1021

At remote Buta Pathri or Nagin Valley near the international border we were warmly welcomed into hutments of nomadic Gujjars and Bakkarwals. Men with flowing beards smoked hookahs sending up smoke trails that diffused into the mist.

An unending procession of sheep posed a roadblock as we patiently allowed them to pass. The mist stirred ever so gently…

IMG_1307

Fact File

Getting there:
Fly to Srinagar from Delhi (1 hr 20 min) or Mumbai (2 hr 45 min) and drive 56 km to Gulmarg (90 min).

Stay:

The Khyber Himalayan Resort and Spa
Ph 9906603272
www.khyberhotels.com

IMG_0594

Hotel Highlands Park
Ph 01954-254491, 254430, 9419413355
http://highlandspark.in

Nedous Hotel
Ph 0195-4254428
http://nedoushotels.com

Book Gondola ticket online
http://gulmarggondola.com/

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in HT City, Mumbai on 4 Jun 2018. 

West Java: Paddling around Pangandaran

Standard

PRIYA GANAPATHY traipses around Jawa Barat from Bandung to Banjar by train, bus, boat, bicycle and rubber tube to experience real Javanese culture and cuisine that thrives in its kampungs (villages)

DSC00187

There’s more to Indonesia that Bali’s beaches or temples like Borobodur. With over 17,000 islands strewn across the world’s largest archipelago, the opportunities for offbeat explorations are endless. I found myself on a train from Bandung to Banjar, as Jawa Barat (West Java) slowly unfolded its pastoral charms. We chugged past lush mountains and brown swollen rivers slithering like snakes through the countryside where farmers in conical hats toiled in their fields. At Banjar, we tried pecel, a local salad served on banana leaf that tingled with spices, crunchy fresh vegetables and peanut sauce.

We took a bus to the lyrically named Pangandaran, a peninsular tract between Central and West Java. Welcomed with traditional batik blangkon (knotted headscarf), worn by Indonesian men, we tucked into an Indonesian buffet at the beachside Hotel Arnawa, replete with fountains and rooms facing a large curvy pool. Later, we set off on bicycles for a cross-country ride to explore surrounding fishing hamlets.

DSC00326

Located at the isthmus in Java’s south coast, with a national park occupying the fanning headland, Pangandaran is Javanese for ‘a place to make food or earn a living.’ Villagers in thatched huts gutted fish, sorting and drying them outside as cats prowled about picking at the dried fish strewn around. We pedalled past overturned boats lying in open beaches and rode down lanes lined by pretty cottages half-hidden by trees laden with jackfruit, oranges and hairy rambutan.

Pangandaran has two beaches, one on the west and another on the east. At its narrowest point, the neck is only 200m apart! Local guide Taufiq remarked, “It offers the most spectacular panoramas of both sunrise and sunset.” It began raining and we took shelter nearby.

DSC00166

A young vendor tempted us with a cartload of snacks – from brown whirly putumaya made of brown sugar to the candy-coloured green and pink cetil or gurandil made of cassava. Klepon was a green orb garnished with coconut shavings with a syrupy centre that dribbled down our chins…

Hauling our bikes onto a raft for a river crossing, we cycled onwards to Tegal Jambe, a kampung (village) where villagers had arranged a cultural program. Shy ladies offered us local rainbow-hued sweets, snacks, steamed roots and fruits neatly adorned in woven baskets.

DSC00554

A chime of woody clicks, tinkles and thrumming beats announced the troupe of black-clad musicians who enthralled us with a superb kentongan (bamboo slit-drum) performance. Led by a comedian–like leader, the Rombongan Bojong Jati ensemble entertained us with traditional Javanese music on angklungs (bamboo instruments).

The predominant home industry here is making gulah merah (brown sugar). Fresh palm nectar tapped from flowers is heated in a large vessel till it caramelises and thickens. Once poured into a mould and cooled, the palm sugar is tapped out as roundels. Being a coastal area, the brackish soil imbues the nectar with a hint of saltiness! Villagers demonstrated how to shin up coconut trees barefoot, strip nipah palm leaf to weave baskets and scoop out tender atap chee (palm fruit). Translucent, like shelled lychee, it is widely used in local sweet dishes.

IMGP5175

Secret Santirah

Most visitors head to Green Canyon for hiking, boating, kayaking and bodyrafting, but we trundled in an outsized bus on an undersized road to the quieter Santirah. “When it rains, the Green Canyon turns murky but Santirah remains clear,” Taufiq revealed. The river tubing or bodyrafting adventure along a pristine 1½ km stretch lasts two hours. Great for all ages, it involves perching on the edge of a large rubber tube, leaning back with feet tucked in the crook of the arm of the person seated in the tube ahead. Thus, with limbs interlinked, the group whooshes down the river, like a human caterpillar!

A clean gurgling river with delightful rapids, four limestone cave tunnels and five waterfalls to soak under, you savour the filigreed canopy of evergreen trees opening into sun-drenched emerald pools and thrilling cliff jumping; Santirah was the highlight of my trip. Being the only ones around, save dragonflies and butterflies hovering overhead, this was a secret side of West Java few knew of. We refuelled at a local shack with fried gorengan (batter-fried cassava and bananas), mi goreng (chicken noodles) and susu jahe (ginger milk)!

IMGP5172

After a short busride to Batukaras, we took a boat cruise into the mangrove tracts along the Cijulang or Green Canyon River, named after the reflective green and blue plankton. Aboard the thatched craft, Shane Josa Resort had arranged a lip-smacking seafood lunch of fried fish, crayfish and batter-fried prawns with rice and local greens.

Disembarking at the Sinjang Kalang pier, we hung around the surfer hangout Batukaras Beach sipping honge juice at RM Kang Ayi. The strange fruit of the torch ginger, shaped like a pineapple-lollipop studded with berries, was blended into an aromatic pink juice with a tart salty-sweet bite.

DSC00371

Back in Pangandaran, we witnessed Kuda Lumping – a scintillating traditional horse dance at Bamboo Restaurant performed by dancers with painted horses and puppets who slipped into a trance after consuming a shaman’s magic potion. They say, a trip to Pangandaran is incomplete without catching the famous sunrise.

Though deadbeat, I left early, defying the cloudy weather to watch dark waves gilded by the first sunrays. Fisherman silhouetted against the horizon drew in their first catch as children leapt in the waves, awash with the refreshing spirit of dawn.

DSC00210

Fact File

Getting there
Fly to Bandung via Kuala Lumpur (13-14 hrs) on Malindo Air or via Changi on Singapore Air (15-16 hrs). From Bandung take a train to Banjar and a 2 hr bus ride to Pangandaran or a direct 7hr bus journey from Bandung.

Where to Stay
The Arnawa Hotel, Pangandaran
Ph 0265 639194
www.thearnawahotel.com

Shane Josa Resort, Batukaras
Ph 082295695133
http://shanejosa.com

Mini Tiga Homestay, Pangandaran
Ph +62265639436, +6287826393801
https://minitigahomestay.weebly.com

Gino Feruci, Bandung
Ph +262 224200099
www.ginoferuci.com

Hotel Bidakara Grand Savoy Homann, Bandung
Ph +262 2242332244
www.savoyhomann-hotel.com

For more info, www.visitindonesia.co.in

Author: Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in HT City/Cafe, the supplement of Hindustan Times newspaper on 21 May, 2018. 

Mhadei River Run: Rafting in Goa

Standard

Rafting down the Mahadayi (Mhadei) river in Goa will give you an adrenaline rush like no other, describe ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

DSCF2894

For a river that runs for just a hundred odd kilometers, the Mhadei’s waters are indeed turbulent for its relatively short journey from source to sea. Originating from a cluster of 30 springs at Bhimgad in Karnataka’s Belagavi district, a major portion of the river flows through Goa as the Mandovi.

The region where it enters Goa is one of the most pristine patches in the Western Ghats and the river skirts the scenic Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary before it meets the Arabian Sea at Panaji, forming the lifeline of the state. While the sharing of Mhadei’s waters may be a contentious issue between Goa and Karnataka, the river’s bounty knows no boundaries.

DSCF5627

With the advent of rains in June, the Mhadei drains the surplus waters from the South West monsoon, which lashes the slopes of the Western Ghats. The otherwise placid river transforms into a gushing torrent with Class 2 to 3 rapids as adventure seekers converge on it for the untamed joys of white water rafting. Unlike the usual rafting season across the rest of India between October and May, in Goa it’s a monsoon activity from June to October when all the action shifts from the beaches.

John Pollard of Southern River Adventures, who pioneered rafting in South India, has introduced 6 stretches from Dandeli to Coorg since 1999. In 2012, he started rafting in Goa, in partnership with Goa Tourism. John considers rafting in Goa, especially the upper Mhadei-Tilari belt, as ‘the most advanced rapids south of the Himalayas.’

IMG_1178

We’ve had our share of crazy escapades in Goa – from full moon parties and coastal treks to an adventure bike ride to Dudhsagar waterfall. Yet, we were filled with a sense of expectation as we left for Valpoi to take on a 10 km stretch of the lower Mhadei. The Goan hinterland seemed awash with the first rains as we drove through the lush countryside of Sattari taluka. From our meeting point at The Earthen Pot restaurant minivans transported us to the river, a short 25 min drive away. It was a 10min walk to the launch point at Ustem village.

Pleasantries were exchanged between the rafters and the motley bunch of river guides from the south, North India and Nepal as we shared anecdotes about our rafting adventures from Rishikesh to Bhote Koshi in Nepal. Mohammed, who has been with Southern River Adventures for the past 14 years, briefed us on equipment, safety instructions and rafting commands. “All Forward, Back Paddle, Hold On, Over Left, Over Right,” he announced with the seriousness of a drill sergeant. After a quick mock paddling session, we carried the raft to the river down the bank. It was overcast and drizzling steadily.

IMG_1233

Raising our paddles in salutation to the river, we heaved off. We paddled through nearly 10 Grade II-III rapids starting off with Big Daddy, which lived up to its name. Giant Haystacks has high waves that start stacking up when the water level is good. The strangely named Y-Fronts owes its strange moniker to a funny incident during a trial run. John’s journo friend Monty Munford had such a churn in the rapids that when he emerged he was left wearing only his y-fronts! Between the white water stretches we stopped paddling to admire the lush forest backdrop and jungle scenery.

After the Pipeline we reached some flats, we jumped off the raft with our guide’s permission for some body surfing. The water was cool and invigorating. We disembarked at the finish point at Sonal and squelched our way up to a tea stall for some hot chai and pakodas. The minivan dropped us back to The Earthen Pot Restaurant where we devoured some poi and Goan sausages, before heading back. The Mhadei is perfect for first-time rafters as well as seasoned paddlers and ought to be on everyone’s ‘must do’ list for in the monsoon.

2009_09270032

FACT FILE

Where
10km on the Mhadei River in Sattari taluka of Goa, about 45km from Panaji

Grade of Rapids
Class II to III

Meeting point
The Earthen Pot Restaurant, Sayed Nagar, Valpoi

Timings
Season: June to September
Arrive by 9:30 am for 10am departure
Arrive by 2:30 pm for 3pm departure

Duration
Approx 2-3 hours (1–1hr 45 min of rafting)

IMGP0034

Wear
Swimsuit or comfortable swimwear, t-shirt, shorts/tights, fixed sandals or secure sneakers.

Don’ts
Loose clothing or slippers strictly not allowed. Avoid any intoxication before the trip because you need to be alert to follow the rafting commands.

Age
12 years and above (age limit is relaxed in case of low water levels)

Tariff
Rs.1800/person

Contact
Southern River Adventures
Ph +91 9545305734, 8805727230
Email goarafting@gmail.com
www.goarafting.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 16 June 2018 as the cover story in the Travel supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper. 

Immersive Thailand

Standard

Thai kickboxing and cooking classes, boat rides in canals and bicycle trails, wine appreciation tours and scenic excursions around Bangkok; Thailand is luring tourists with local immersive experiences, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

Thai cuisine DSC00218

No authentic travel experience in Thailand is complete without experiencing the food of the region. From the first sip of our lemongrass welcome drink, to inspiring décor with distinctly Thai themes – lotuses, wooden antiques and filigreed lamps shaped like fingernail adornments of traditional dancers, Thailand unlocks its surprises in a burst of new images and colours.

A good place to start is Bangkok’s Sky Restaurant at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel with a sumptuous buffet and spectacular night view from a revolving deck. Riverside dining hotspots like Baan Khanitha at the shopping mecca Asiatique and the Supatra River House along the Chao Phraya River provide an explosion of flavours – hearty seafood and pork dishes, unique combinations of steamed rice with neem flower gravy and green beef curry, stir-fried veggies, flat noodles with tofu, mildly sweet salad of raw papaya, carrot and prawn… besides platters of cut mango, sticky rice and coconut ice-cream with frozen tapioca flowers for dessert.

Thai cuisine DSC09865

Be it tom yum goong (shrimp soup) at street food stalls or kluay tod (banana fritters) from vendor carts, you could get more adventurous with odd bites like bamboo worms, crispy spiders and bugs on skewers around Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Thailand is often called Venice of the East because of its canals! A boat ride took us past beautiful pagoda temples painted in bright colours with gilded edges glinting in the sun and charming old wooden houses lined with potted plants and orchids hanging from the roofs. Boats doubled up as small floating markets with hawkers selling provisions and mementos as motorboats whizzed by with tourists. Along the banks, water monitor lizards sunned themselves on the edges.

Amita Thai Cooking classes DSC00355

We stepped off the small jetty in front of a heritage cottage to be welcomed by the charming Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon who runs Amita Cooking Class set in an organic vegetable and herb garden, right by the canal. Having lived here all her life, she smiles, saying, “The canal was very clean and quiet earlier but with tourism, it has become busy with boats.” In a four-hour session, Tam helped us whip up a range of dishes at our individual cooking stations.

With her rooster Soya Sauce strutting around like a sous chef and pet hill myna Basil punctuating her demo with entertaining screeches of Sawadeeka, laughs, coughs, whistles, siren calls and random Thai phrases, Tam took us through some delicious traditional Thai items with most ingredients sourced from her organic garden – Phay Thai (soft rice noodles stir fried with prawns and tamarind sauce), Gai Phat Met Ma Muag Himmaphan (stir fry chicken with cashew nuts), Tom Kha Gai (chicken in coconut soup) and Tab Tim Krob (water chestnuts in syrup with coconut milk). The most interesting aspect was Tam’s mastery in creating natural colours by crushing flower petals and vegetables, to make the dessert bright and appealing! It felt wonderful to eat what we had cooked.

Amita Thai Cooking classes DSC00360

All this food deserved a good workout and a round of Muay Thai Kickboxing classes at Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp sounded perfect. After a hectic warm-up that tested our stamina, we donned our boxing gloves, ready to pummel our fists like Brad Pitt in Snatch or Fight Club. Our coach explained the intricacies of Thailand’s unique martial combat.

“Muay Thai is a great way to keep fit, besides being one of the best forms of self defence. You make a move to knock down your opponent rather than use force. It’s all about focus and opportunity and striking with your fists, elbows, knees and legs. That’s why it’s called the Art of Eight Limbs.” Thanks to our encouraging coaches, we pulled out all our punches and it left us feeling powerful and energised.

Muay Thai Boxing School DSC00548

The gym was located in the famous ‘hippy market’ area so we decided to make the most of it. Funky dresses, tie-n-dye t-shirts, footwear and accessories for a steal, hair pieces in pop colours, parlours to get braids, massages and tattoos sandwiched between snack shops – this was a shopper’s dream. The harbour front at Asiatique is lined with old warehouses that have been converted into shopping stalls and restaurants.

From clothes stalls to designer boutiques and artists at work to relaxing restaurants and people walking their fancy pooches, the place buzzes with action. Siam Center is surrounded by malls such as MBK, Siam Paragon, Platinum and Pratunam, though a night market experience is a must!

MBK Mall

We headed out to lovely excursions around Bangkok – night safaris at Khao Yai National Park, rafting and soft adventure in Nakhon Nayok, golfing holidays at Royal Hills Golf Resort to wine tasting at Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand’s emerging wine county – there’s lots to do. Spread over 2000 acres below the Payayen mountains, PB Valley is Thailand’s largest vineyard. At GranMonte Asoke Valley Winery, Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy, Thailand’s only female oenologist and viticulturist taught us a thing or two about Thailand’s New Latitude wines.

For a ‘knowledge tour’ of Farm Chokchai, Thai girls in plaid shirts and cowboy hats act as guides on the largest agro tour in Asia. The sprawling 8000-acre dairy farm has 5,000 cows with rodeo shows, pony rides, petting zoos, Wild West town, animal shows and lasso tricks. We tried our hand at milking cows, with scoops of dairy fresh ice cream and juicy beefsteaks at the Steak House.

Death railway at HellFire Pass DSC01050

Kanchanaburi, Thailand’s western province offers a heady blend of nature and history. A 3 hr drive took us to the site of the World War II military camp where the JEATH Museum is a window into a darker past. The museum documents Japanese atrocities on prisoners of war from America, England, Australia and Thailand.

POWs were forced into labour to build a bridge and meter gauge railway line in just a year (1942-43), cutting through hard rock and cliffs of the Tenasserim Hills. It is said that one life was lost for every sleeper laid across the 415km track linking Thailand to Burma, earning the epithet ‘Death Railway’.

Death railway at HellFire Pass DSC01049

An Audio tour captures recorded sordid memories of the surviving POWs. We walked along the historic Bridge over the River Kwai (which inspired the David Lean movie of the same name). The original iron bridge suffered great destruction by Allied bombings in 1944 and was renovated. At Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, rows of stone tablets between flowering shrubs marked over 7000 persons who sacrificed their lives in the railway construction.

At Hintok River Camp, a former Japanese military base for POWs, we stayed in tented camps close to HellFire Pass and Memorial Museum. Driving around Kanchanaburi reveals the beauty of Thailand’s countryside with waterfalls and riverside nooks. We stopped by for a soak under Nam Tok Sai Yok Noi, or Khao Pung Falls, a gorgeous cascade and picnic spot where locals love spending a few relaxing hours.

Khao Pung Falls DSC00810

It was a royal retreat in the early 20th century and has a vintage steam locomotive on display. It was through the Three Pagodas Pass at the border that Buddhist teachings reached Thailand from India in the 3rd century.

Back at the camp, after a hearty meal of grilled meats and Thai fare, we chatted around a bonfire late into the night. The next morning, we hopped onto our mountain bikes for a ride to an ancient monastery just 2km away. We pedalled down the country road, past houses and temples and an old hanging bridge before halting at a splendid cluster of five colourful Buddha statues symbolising the different births of Buddha on earth.

Cycling tours DSC00888

At the monastery, we offered food to Buddhist monks. In the peaceful silence of the temple, we knelt and bowed our heads in prayer. As we received traditional blessings from the head priest, we realised what a befitting end it was to our journey. We were truly blessed to experience a side of Thailand that went beyond the clichéd itinerary of beaches, massages and bazaars.

Five Buddha statues DSC00937

FACT FILE

Getting there
There are several direct flights from India to Suvarnabhumi Airport, Thailand that take 3½ – 4½ hrs.

Where to Stay
Siam Kempinski Hotel
Ph +66 2 162 9000 www.kempinski.com

Intercontinental Bangkok Hotel
Ph +66 2 656 0444 www.ihgbangkok.com

Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort
Ph +66 2 476 0022 www.anantara.com

Hintok River Camp, HellFire Pass
Ph +66 8 1754 3898 www.hintokrivercamp.com

DSC09995

Where to Eat
Bangkok Sky Restaurant
Ph +66 2656 3000 www.baiyoke.co.th

Baan Khanitha, Asiatique
Ph +66 2 258 4128 www.baan-khanitha.com

Supatra River House, Chao Phraya River
Ph +66 2 411 0305 www.supatrariverhouse.net

What to Do
Amita’s Thai Cooking Classes
Ph +66 2 466 8966 www.amitathaicooking.com

Muay Thai Kickboxing classes, Sor Vorapin Boxing Camp
Ph +66 2 282 3551 www.thaiboxings.com

GranMonte Vineyard & Winery
Ph +66 36 227 334 www.granmonte.com

PB Valley Khao Yai Winery
Ph +66 36 226 415 www.khaoyaiwinery.com

For more info, www.tourismthailand.org

Absolutely Fantastic Holidays Ph +66 29 549 401 www.absolutelyfantasticholidays.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the June 2018 issue of JetWings, the in-flight magazine of Jet Airways. 

Suite 16: Special places to stay in Mauritius

Standard

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

Four Seasons - Ken Seet MAS_294

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.

Four Seasons - Ken Seet MAS_456

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/

theresidencemauritius3

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.

20815191

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

OneOnly-Le-Saint-Geran-1

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

orig-constance-le-prince-maurice-02

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/

shangri-las-le-touessrok-resort-and-spa-39560075-1523890266-ImageGalleryLightboxLarge

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/

Dinarobin Resort Mai2014 Aérien

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

Hotel Shanti Maurice IMG_1150 

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.

Hotel-Shanti-Maurice-IMG

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

Hotel Radisson Blu Azuri IMG_1727

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

Hotel Sofitel-Imperial pool IMG_2104

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

Shandrani Hotel View 

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

TF73131_960x960

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

20-degres-sud-hotel (4)

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/

long-stay-offer-la-pirogue_1599x899_300_RGB

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

hotel-the-grand-mauritian-resort-spa-balaclava-000

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

an-balaclava-homelandingphoto-1920x1080

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

sandals-royal-plantation-03.e0ab68df527f6c933a6d3f9aee6b38d5

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

CLPMBP_Archipel6

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/

 

Basketful of Joy: Ballooning in India

Standard

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

IMG_3666

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).

IMG_3538

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.

IMG_3552

“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.”

IMG_3544

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.

IMG_3586

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.

IMG_3964

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.

IMG_3550

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.

IMG_3691

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.”

IMG_3546

“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.

IMG_3706

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.

IMG_4027

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.”

IMG_3687

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

Standard

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

Ewaan Restaurant IMG_1528

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).

At.mosphere Dubai 3

Dining in Luxury

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.

Al Mahara interior 3

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.

Stitched Panorama

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.

One & Only Royal Mirage-Eauzone IMG_1820

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.

Four Points by Sheraton Level 43 Sky Lounge-Sheikh Zayed Road IMG_1574

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.

Mekong 2015-12-17 21.34.22

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.

comptoir (15)

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.

Ripe Organic Market IMG_2118

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.