Category Archives: Travel

MP cuisine: 25 must-have treats in Madhya Pradesh

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

Kadhi fafda IMG_3427_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Sarafa Bazaar Indore IMG_3468_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Gwalior bedai IMG_4792

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

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

Khopra patties IMG_3255_Anurag Mallick

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

Shikanji at Madhuram 56 Dukaan IMG_3270_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Gajak IMG_5199

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

Poha IMG_3914_Anurag Mallick

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

Jalebis IMG_3476_Anurag Mallick

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

Bhutte ka kees IMG_3498_Anurag Mallick

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

Baafla being cooked at Sai Palace Hotel Ujjain IMG_3707_Anurag Mallick

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

Paaniya IMG_5103_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Sev IMG_4590_Anurag Mallick

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

Sawariya Seth ki sabudana khichdi IMG_3444_Anurag Mallick

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

Burhanpur's maand IMG_6270_Anurag Mallick

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

Burhanpur's daraba IMG_6364_Anurag Mallick

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

Burhanpur jalebis IMG_0300

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

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

Kadhi fafda IMG_3423_Anurag Mallick

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

Khaman IMG_3564_Anurag Mallick

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

Baalam kakdi in Mandu IMG_4962_Anurag Mallick

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

Mandu's Khorasani Imli IMG_4882_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Garadu IMG_3505_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Batteesi Chutney at Ahilya Fort Maheshwar IMG_5627_Anurag Mallick

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

FACT FILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Belgrade: A Serbian Sojourn

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Located at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, Belgrade, the historic capital of Serbia is packed with forts, churches, quaint kafanas (coffee houses) and riverside splavs (barges), discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

Air Serbia poster IMG_0928_Anurag Mallick

As the haunting drone of the trumpet on Izgubljeno jagnje (The Lost Lamb) played on the car stereo, our Serbian tour guide and archaeologist Luka Relič saw our spellbound faces and remarked, “I was there at Guča (Gucha) in Dragačevo district for the annual trumpet festival. It was fantastic. The audience is in the valley below as four trumpeters on four surrounding hills simultaneously play Sa Ovčara I Kablara – a nationalist song often associated with Tito. That is how the week-long trumpet festival officially begins.”

Miles Davis was right. Like him, we too ‘didn’t know you could play trumpet that way.’ The jazz legend had made this famous remark after attending the Guča Trumpet Fest, Serbia’s famous folk festival and the largest trumpet and brass band event on the planet.

Belgrade Fortress-Wedding at Ruzica Church IMG_0716_Anurag Mallick

We didn’t visit during Guča but just the tunes and tales were enough to give us goosebumps! Though folk music has always been ingrained in Serbian society, their love for the trumpet took root during the rule of Prince Miloš Obrenović who ordered the formation of the first military band in 1831.

Ever since, the trumpet has played an intrinsic part of Serbian life. From births, engagements, marriages or funerals, the tunes range from lilting notes to mournful dirges or robust martial marches, as the occasion demands. That evening, we experienced live music at Skadarlija, the hip Bohemian quarter of capital Belgrade.

Skadarlija street musicians IMG_8917_Anurag Mallick

Till the 1830s, gypsies squatted in the abandoned trenches opposite the ramparts of Belgrade’s fortress Kalemegdan; today it buzzes with tourists and locals who flock to its kafanas (coffee houses/taverns) and breweries. At traditional restaurants like Dva Jelena (Two Deer), local musicians play starogradska (Old Town Music).

At one end stands Belgrade’s oldest beer brewery BIP (Beogradska Industrija Piva), founded in early 19th century, though we sampled excellent craft beers at Samo Pivo (literally, Just Beer) and Serbian House of Beer.

Prince Mihailo monument IMG_8866_Anurag Mallick

The main Republic Square in Belgrade is beautiful, dominated by the bronze statue of Prince Mihailo of the Obrenović dynasty, a national hero who expelled the Turks from Serbia and liberated seven cities under Turkish rule in 1867. Designed by Italian sculptor Enrico Pazzi and erected in 1882, it was the first monumental equestrian statue in Serbia. When the statue was unveiled, 101 cannons were fired and all the churches in Belgrade rang their bells.

We ambled along Knez Mihailova, described as the most beautiful pedestrian zone in southeast Europe. The walking avenue is lined with shops, hotels, souvenir stores and a lovely gallery on murals and Christian art from various monasteries across Serbia. We took a sip at Delijska ćesma, a lovely public well with drinking water that was reconstructed from old drawings and photos. Interestingly, even in India we use the word ‘chashma’ for a spring. With Turko-Persian influence in both our countries, words like damad (son-in-law), sapun (soap) and kitap (book) lent an air of familiarity.

Belgrade Fortress IMG_0635_Anurag Mallick

As we entered the Belgrade fortress, the oldest part of town, Luka explained how it had been occupied by many nations – Bulgarian, Hungarian, Austrian, Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, German to Mongols, Goths and Huns! “And now Indians,” we remarked! “But you come in peace,” Luka defended us bravely! “That’s what you think!” we countered.

“Serbia is a friendly European country, really affordable and after we write about it, you could be dealing with hordes of Indian tourists.” We even taught Olga the octogenarian vendor at the park how to say “I love you” in Hindi (it was her idea). Imagine the shock, or delight, on the faces of avid Indian travelers to Belgrade accosted by the 80-something Olga professing her love!

Kalemegdan vendor selling inflationary currency notes IMG_0600_Anurag Mallick

We too were in for a shock. Besides Tito postcards and souvenirs, Olga had old Serbian currency notes printed in 1993. The war in Bosnia and Croatia led to massive inflation and the government started printing extra currency and kept adding zeros in the bank notes. Soon they were worthless but were now great collectibles. “I am the richest woman in Serbia,” said Olga who has been running her mobile shop for over 62 years. “I’m so rich, I live in a huge park and go home only to sleep,” she chuckled.

The fortress and the large grounds in front are collectively called Kalemegdan, derived from the Turkish words kale (fortress) and meydan (field). Walking through the Stambol Gate, we walked to the Monument of Gratitude to France, erected for their help to Serbia in World War I. The fort’s highest point overlooks the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers. When viewed from the Pannonian side from across the rivers the fortress appears white, leading to the city being called ‘Beo grad’ (White City) or Belgrade.

Pobednik or Victor statue at Belgrade Fortress IMG_0672_Anurag Mallick

Pobednik, the Victor statue stood tall on a column, built in 1928 to commemorate Serbia’s victory over Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires during the Balkan Wars and the First World War. Luka told us how the statue was originally meant to be at Terazije Square but landed at this spot as the “ladies of Belgrade were offended by the nude sculpture!”

We were lucky to witness a wedding at the Ružica (‘Little Rose’) Church inside Belgrade fortress. Besides harmonica and trumpets, it is a common practice to wield the Serbian flag at important functions. Inside the church was an ornate chandelier entirely made up of bullets! After a quick look at the Roman Well, we headed past what was one of the few remaining Islamic monuments in Belgrade – the tomb of Damad Ali Pasha, a Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire 1713-16.

Cathedral of St Sava IMG_0823_Anurag Mallick

Dominating the Belgrade skyline is the Cathedral of St Sava, one of the largest Orthodox churches in the world and dedicated to its founder St Sava. Currently under renovation, we saw its just completed crypt suffused with gold paintings. Josip Broz Tito’s mausoleum The House of Flowers is set in a garden full of sculptures donated to the communist statesman and former Yugoslav leader. There’s also an interesting museum with gifts from across the world given to Tito during his long tenure, besides relay torches with touching messages on scrolls.

Belgrade is packed with museums. The fascinating Nikola Tesla Museum, founded in 1952, preserves 160,000 original documents and 5,700 personal items of the famous inventor and physicist after whom the Tesla unit and Belgrade’s airport are named. Time your visit to catch the short film and science demonstration at the top of every hour. Founded in 1844, the National Museum is scheduled to reopen in 2018.

Nikola Tesla Museum IMG_0868_Anurag Mallick

Luka told us how a filming crew from a UK TV show, visiting the museum saw the signs in the local Cyrillic script and remarked ‘They could be keeping aliens and we wouldn’t know’. Set up in 1958 and renovated last year, the Museum of Contemporary Art was the first contemporary art museum in Europe and has a massive collection of 35,000 works ranging from Roy Lichtenstein to Andy Warhol.

One of the city’s unique aspects are its kafanas (café/tavern) and the oldest one in Belgrade is the enigmatic ‘?’ or Znak pitanja (Question Mark). Though it changed many hands and was known by different avatars, in 1892 the tavern’s new owner wanted to change the name to Kod Saborne crkve (By the Saborna Church), a move opposed by the Serbian Orthodox church. The owner temporarily put a question mark on the door, which became its identity and remains so till date. Thankfully, there were no people of questionable intent!

Question Mark kaffana IMG_0455_Anurag Mallick

Famous Serbian linguist Vuk Stefanović Karadžić, who created the Cyrillic alphabet frequented the kafana in the early 1830s. We enjoyed our thick strong coffee served in quaint cups on low carved tables and dropped by at the Cathedral Church of St. Michael the Archangel next door. Here, Vuk lies buried in front of the main entrance, making peace between the kafana and the church, alongside Serbian kings and princes.

After an ethnic feast at Zavicaj restaurant, we were off to experience Belgrade’s legendary nightlife at its many clubs and splavs (party barges) moored on the banks of the Sava and Danube Rivers. The longest stretch of the mighty river is in Serbia and we enjoyed a boat cruise from the old town of Zemun taking in the bright lights of the city. Belgrade was truly a grade above.

Zavičaj ethnic restaurant IMG_0901_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade is reachable from India via Moscow or Istanbul. Zlatibor is 213 km away with Sirogojno nearby.

Where to Stay
Metropol Palace
Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra 69, Belgrade
Ph +381 11 3333100
http://www.metropolpalace.com

Hotel Moskva
Terazije 20, Belgrade
Ph +381 113642069
http://www.hotelmoskva.rs

Dva Jelena restaurant IMG_8921_Anurag Mallick

Where to Eat

Dva Jelena
Skadarska, Belgrade
Ph +381 11 7234885
http://www.dvajelena.rs

Zavičaj Ethno Restaurant
Gavrila Principa 77, Belgrade
Ph +381 63 369670

Šaran Seafood Restaurant
Kej Oslobođenja 53, Beograd
Ph +381 69 2618235
http://www.saran.co.rs/en/

Kafana Question Mark
Kralja Petra 6, Beograd
Ph +381 11 2635421

Belgrade Fortress IMG_0729_Anurag Mallick

Local tours
Balkan Adriatic DMC
Parmak Zoran
Ph +381 11 3625036
http://www.balkan-adriatic.com

Tour Guide: Luka Relic
Ph +381 65 9890305
relic.luka@gmail.com

For more info, visit http://www.serbia.travel

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

 

 

 

The Writing’s on the Wall: Street Art Tours

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Move over London, New York and Berlin, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the new urban trend of street art tours at cool quarters around the globe

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In India, a man standing near a wall means only two things. He’s either sticking a poster (despite the ‘Stick No Bills’ sign) or perhaps creating ‘public nuisance’, ignoring messages like ‘Jo peshab kar raha hai wo gadha hai’ (The one urinating is an ass). Even printed tiles of gods are not enough to dissuade non-believers, who often gouge out their divine eyes before going about their business without the guilt of ‘being seen’. But elsewhere, the idea of spraying on a gritty urban wall is a lot more beautiful and aesthetic.

For the longest time, graffiti was a form of social protest and expression, done on the sly, cocking a snoot at authorities. The aerosol can became the new weapon of choice as street gangs emanating from the hip hop culture marked their territories. Street art became synonymous with dissent, as staid subways and derelict public spaces were reclaimed as hipster haunts. Today, street art has transcended into a powerful form of cultural expression that mixes socio-political commentary, folklore and mythology, vitriol and humour, personalities and quirky art. Yet, there’s a fine line of illegality between graffiti and street art as the latter is often commissioned.

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At 18, legendary British graffiti artist Banksy had a life-changing moment. While spray-painting a train with his Bristol gang, the British Transport Police landed up and everyone ran helter-skelter. His mates made it to the car but Banksy had to hide under a dumper truck. As he lay there, engine oil leaking all over him, he figured he had to shorten his painting time to beat the law or give it up completely. The stenciled plate under the fuel tank was the inspiration behind his signature style! He says, “All graffiti is low-level dissent, but stencils have an extra history. They’ve been used to start revolutions and to stop wars. This is the first time the essentially bourgeois world of art has belonged to the people.”

Banksy’s first prominent wall mural was The Mild Mild West in 1997 depicting a teddy bear lobbing a Molotov cocktail at three riot police. He turned the idea on its head when he showed a masked street protestor lobbing a bouquet instead of a bomb. Today, his art sells for millions and can be found everywhere from Paris, Barcelona, Vienna to the Gaza Strip. Street Art Tours are the latest city trend, a showcase of cutting edge art and the seamy urban underbelly of offbeat and parallel sub-cultures. Beyond the usual haunts like Brick Lane in London, New York and Berlin, there are other exciting destinations for your graffiti tour.

Street Art-Haji Lane IMG_4274_Anurag Mallick

Israel has a buzzing local street art scene, which got a shot in the arm in the early 2000s thanks to Banksy’s visit to Israel and Palestine. While graffiti is illegal in Israel, it’s everywhere in Tel Aviv. The local municipality turns a blind eye to it, especially in Florentin in the south of town. We trawled the street art hotspots of Elifelet Street, HaMehoga Street, 3361 Street and Hanagarim Street. Much of the graffiti is painted on doors and gates of various establishments, better explored in the afternoon, when the shutters are down and artworks can be seen fully. Local graffiti artist Doiz offers 3hr street art tours in Florentin on Tuesdays.

While most graffiti artists remain anonymous, their signatures or themes are recognizable. Tel Aviv artist Sened is known for kufsonim (mini-boxes) or abstract cube characters developed from ready-made stencils. Know Hope’s works have a little pigeon as a visual cue, ID (Imaginary Duck) has tiny duck figures while DEDE’s art features black and white squirrels, cats and Band-Aids, symbolizing both wounds and healing. Michal Rubin who signs her works as MR does colourful animal figures that look like stained glass paintings.

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Broken Fingaz Crew, Israel’s best-known graffiti collective have taken their pop-art murals beyond the clubs of Haifa to Europe, North America and Asia. Since 2013, the walls of the 7th floor of Tel Aviv’s central bus station have been spray-painted by more than 160 street artists from Israel and across the globe. All over the city, you can find ‘035’ sprayed on walls and garage doors by former soldiers of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) emblazoning their army unit number!

In Singapore, the local street art scene first emerged in the old Arab quarter of Kampong Glam in the hipster Haji Lane, Victoria Street and Aliwal Street. Tourists flock to the colourful bylanes for selfies. At the Art Precinct of Bugis-Bras Basah, a low wall next to Peranakan Museum on Armenian Street is emblazoned with art commissioned by the National Heritage Board to celebrate their 20th anniversary.

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Nearby, an independent arts enclave The Substation has funky graffiti all over. Bras Basah Complex features ‘Rainbows’, part of a larger street art initiative called ‘50 Bridges’ by the Australian Commission of Singapore. It celebrated Singapore’s 50th year of independence with 50 pieces of street art across the island. Wherever you go – sidewalks, subways or pedestrian pathways at Clarke Quay – there’s art at every footstep.

Though graffiti is banned in Dubai, the modern Arab nation is a little more indulgent when it comes to street art. As part of ‘Dubai Walls’, the first outdoor urban art show in the United Arab Emirates, world famous street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art at the posh retail promenade City Walk. There’s Nick Walker’s iconic ‘I love DXB’, Belgian artist ROA known for his animal depictions, ICY and Sot, Iranian refugee stencil artists currently based in Brooklyn and Japanese artist AIKO. The spectacular wall etching of a bedouin by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or ‘Vhils’ is part of his series ‘Scratching the Surface’!

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UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for ‘abandoning miniatures since 2006’ had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his ‘Little People Project’. In ‘Under the Stars’ burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood while a spilt glass of milkshake created ‘Oasis.’ On closer inspection, ‘Shifting Sands’, a pile of sand near a mop features a caravan of camels while a lady in a hijab carries shopping bags with a trail of actual designer tags!

Down Under, Melbourne teems with graffiti. After someone put up a framed artwork and stuck it to the wall in 2007 at Presgrave Street off Howery Place, the alley became a bit of an artists’ shrine. Walkers are bemused by the strange arrangements, curious collections of plastic dolls, installations of rats with parachutes, 3D graffiti to a miniature Mona Lisa with three plastic soldiers pointing guns at her. Melbourne has its own Banksy – except he’s called Kranky! In 2008, Union Lane, a tiny alley between David Jones and the Book Building was given to local street artists as a graffiti mentoring project. Every alley in Melbourne’s CBD (Central Business District) is suffused with art.

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A small bylane running off Flinders Lane between Exhibition Street and Russell Street holds another gem. The stuffy sounding Corporation Lane was officially renamed after Australian rock band AC/DC on 1 October 2004 by a unanimous vote of the Melbourne City Council. Melbourne’s Lord Mayor John So launched ACDC Lane with the words, “As the song says, there is a highway to hell, but this is a laneway to heaven. Let us rock.”

Bagpipers played ‘It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll)’ whose video was filmed one lane away at Swanston Street. The trademark lightning bolt or slash between ‘AC’ and ‘DC’ in the band’s name went against the naming policy of the Office of the Registrar of Geographic Names, so the punctuation was omitted. A month later, local artist Knifeyard painted the lightning bolt above and below the street sign!

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Even in rainy and windy Copenhagen where the sky and mood may scream grey, you will find explosions of colour on street walls and homes. They even have a legal wall for graffiti artists! Districts like Nørrebro, once gloomy and gritty haunts are now hipster areas with an eclectic multi-national air besides the bohemian art-infused district of Christiania.

Celebrating Nørrebro’s cultural diversty is Superkillen, an award-winning urban design park. The Red Square swoops up into a skateboarding ramp while the Black Square incorporates unusual objects – an octopus shaped slide from Japan, benches from Brazil, litterbins from the UK and random advertising signs of Chinese beauty salons and Russian hotels. The red mural of Chilean president Salvador Allende, by famous street artist Shepard Fairey stands out.

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They say if the walls of a city could talk, Belfast would narrate the most colourful stories. Tracing the Belfast Murals could turn your visit into a guided tour of the most significant moments in Northern Ireland’s history and culture – the Potato Famine, the Industrial Revolution and sinking of the Titanic. During the Troubles, thousands of landless Irish who were mainly Catholic flocked in who were building the mills and factory workers houses, settled here in what is called The Falls Road today and the area around The Diamond. Political paintings bore faces and flags representing the Irish Republican tradition. This area of Belfast became quite polarized with one side being nearly all-Catholic and pro-Irish, while the other more Protestant and pro-British.

Crossing over to the other side, we saw pro-British depictions on Shankill Road with the Peace Lines separating the two. An International Wall depicted uprisings across the world. At the Peace Wall hundreds of messages on love and peace were splattered and scrawled – ‘Together we are better’, ‘And she whispered words of wisdom’ from the Beatles song “Let it Be” and ‘I hope to come back when there are no walls to write on.’ One German visitor wrote “Where I come from in Berlin, peace walls mean division”.

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Another fabulous area in Belfast for street art is the Cathedral Quarter. We walked down ‘radical streets’ towards The Muddlers Club, a pub and restaurant that’s virtually an institution, named after the Belfast members of society who met here in secrecy to conspire against British rule 200 years ago! Interestingly, this part of Belfast also provides a perfect contrast to the Troubles Murals and presents an alternative narrative.

All along we came across stunning artworks, contemporary styles and genres, personalities ranging from musicians to sport stars and literary geniuses to cartoons and optical illusions. Take a guided 2-hour Street Art Tour around this area and you will not be disappointed. However, a grand redevelopment plan of the Cathedral Quarter threatens these artworks, which has the local community up in arms.

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In Lima, Peru, the streets of bohemian Barranco, an art district is a treasure trove of urban art. Birdman, a riveting piece by Jonathan Rivera ‘Jade’ was the winning entry for Las Paredes Hablan or ‘The Walls Speak’ contest organized by the municipality on the theme ‘Barranco: History, Culture, Tradition’. It’s home to Lima’s best artists, writers, photographers and musicians.

Imagine their shock when in 2015, the Mayor of Lima, Castaneda Lossio decided to cover all of Lima’s street art with yellow paint as it was his political colour. Sixty murals were destroyed and the angry artistic community decided to revolt. They formed a collective and organized ‘muraliza el barrio’ a street art festival claiming ‘They erased one, we will paint a thousand’. The rebellion has just begun…

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story on 4 Feb, 2018 in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Up, Up & Away: Ballooning on the Horizon

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY attend the inaugural Araku Balloon Festival in Andhra Pradesh, turning the spotlight on India’s latest trend 

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As the fourth edition of the Tamil Nadu Balloon festival took off this January at Pollachi with an international focus, all of a sudden hot air ballooning seems to be the hot new trend in travel. Besides trial runs in Amaravati, Agra and the Rann Utsav, the annual calendar now seems full with regular ballooning events at Pushkar Mela and Rajasthan thanks to SkyWaltz, one of the pioneers in the field.

Be it a balloon safari over the lush Sahyadri range at Lonavala and the rugged Aravalis above Jaipur or flights on request at Neemrana, Manesar, Udaipur and Ranthambhore, the main safari season (Dec-March and Sep-Nov) is busy with morning and evening fights. It seemed like the stuff adventures are made of, as we discovered for ourselves at Araku Valley.

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“A hot air balloon is the only vehicle in the world without a steering wheel, motor and brakes. It’s crazy, meant for crazy people…” laughed Johan Vander Meiren from Belgium. We were in conversation with the world’s top balloonists at the international Araku Balloon Festival in Andhra Pradesh. 16 balloons from 13 countries were participating and all their heavy equipment had been air freighted and transported to Araku Valley. The added attractions were the special shaped balloons – Iwi the Kiwi from New Zealand, the sea horse shaped Neptuno from Brazil and Bee, manned by Luc de Wulf from Belgium.

After a press launch at The Park Hotel in Vizag and two nights of music ‘Sounds On Sand’ at RK Beach (where Luc gained notoriety as the ‘dancing balloonist’ for his antics on stage), we drove into misty Araku Valley in the Eastern Ghats. To host the international pilots and media, a specially designed camp with 40 luxury tents was set up at Bosubeda in a clearing amidst green paddy fields, bright yellow flowers and colourful flags fluttering in the breeze.

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Organizer Samit Garg from SkyWaltz and E-Factor says: “Araku Balloon Fest is a unique tool to promote Araku Valley as a tourism destination and highlight its lush landscapes and waterfalls, fields and valleys, eco-friendly environment and friendly people. We came here three weeks ago scouting for a campsite. A farmer, who was about to harvest his crops, agreed to lease this patch. The whole camp was set up in days! We hope after this event ‘Araku’ will find a place in the minds of travellers.”

Johan had clocked a thousand flights in Europe and has been flying over the historic cityscape of Bruges for the past 12 years. During winter, day temperatures are constant, allowing longer flights over the Alps. “In today’s age, everything is programmable or as per a schedule. Hot air ballooning is not. You float on nature. That’s the reason I still enjoy it.” His hometown Beselare or ‘Village of the Witch’ has a witch festival and he’s currently developing a balloon shaped like a sorceress!

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Luc confided he found inspiration from his grandfather who often talked of flying. “I made my first balloon when I was 10 by heating a piece of plastic with a hairdryer.” Luc has ballooned in Israel, Thailand, Cambodia, Mexico and Dubai. “When you land, the people are so friendly, we’re treated like kings. A balloon ride is something special and often booked for a birthday or anniversary.

Imagine, it’s sunset… a nice landing place – we set up a pop-up café with champagne, cheese, and cheekily ask our passengers ‘Didn’t you do this yesterday evening?’ They wail ‘No’! ‘Exactly!’ Everything isn’t commercial. We spend a whole fun evening together. Why go to a café or bar when I meet so many people through ballooning?”

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After dinner, we retired early for our morning tryst. By dawn, the camp was abuzz with pilots getting their gas cylinders filled with nitrogen. Karimulla Syed from Guntur, the only balloon pilot from Andhra Pradesh, was overseeing the fuelling operations. “We don’t have propane in India, so commercial LPG cylinders are used and pressurized with nitrogen,” he explained. Though non-motorized, the balloon is still an aircraft, so requires registration, licenses and permissions from the DGCA, Airport Authority of India and local Air Traffic Control. Karim started ballooning as a hobby and has flown 800 hours across 15 countries.

It was a short drive to the launch site and the atmosphere was electric. Numbered jeeps rolled onto a grassy clearing and each passenger was given a boarding card with the number of the allocated balloon. We caught up with other participants while they were unloading baskets, setting up equipment and inflating the colourful balloons.

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Paolo Bonanno from Italy has 37 years of ballooning experience and is the leading authority on burners. He chugged at his trademark pipe and looked up ruefully at the grey sky. “By rule, the maximum permitted wind speed is 10 knots. The perfect condition is no wind on the ground and soft wind in the air. The landing is most important. We fly for pleasure and avoid taking risks”. His partner Nicole added, “There’s a popular saying – ‘Better to be on the ground and say I wish was in the air rather than to be in the air and say I wish was on the ground!” Their words seemed as dark and foreboding as the low hanging clouds but we laughed.

Paolo originally made automatic machines for industrial textiles and created a balloon just to win a challenge. Back in 1980, there was no concept of ballooning. For 2 years, cops followed him around to confiscate his balloon! Now 73, he planned to continue flying for the next 30 years, Paolo said with a twinkle. He had flown in Sri Lanka and Philippines, but this was his first time in India. At Albuquerque, the organizers said he couldn’t smoke in the fields, so he lit up the moment they were off the ground. “No Pipe, No Fly,” he tapped his badge and chuckled.

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Spaniard Josep Llado from Ultramagic started 30 years ago with a balloon trip across Africa. Be it Albuquerque in USA, the world’s biggest ballooning event with 650 balloons, or a small event like this, each has its own charm, he explained. “It’s freedom – you forget about terrestrial problems”, he laughed. “We’re in an era where we like to control everything. With ballooning it’s very difficult, but you can adapt. There are different wind directions at various altitudes so you can change levels. Early morning or evening is better for flying, as the wind is calm and the temperature cool, without any thermals, making it easier to control the balloon.”

Ballooning as a sport started in the late 60s and grew in the early 70s in the UK and US before spreading to other places. Josep had flown over Kilimanjaro, India Gate in Delhi and the Taj Mahal at Agra, besides Jaipur, Pushkar and Ranthambhore. “Flying in India is incredible and very colourful. As you fly over a city, people throng the roofs and there’s always a big crowd when you land. In Africa, there are photographic safaris over lions or elephants. In Burma, you fly over temples. In Capadoccia, Turkey, ballooning started in 1992 and today is a big business catering to hundreds of tourists. India is huge, like a continent, and I’m sure there will be fantastic panoramic places for ballooning. We hope Araku will be our favourite!”

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“There are so few moving parts, what could possibly go wrong” – piped in Peter Dutneall with characteristic humour from Down Under. His balloon was called Zoz. “Not ‘coz it’s from Oz, it’s my registration number!” he said. “What I love about ballooning is that it puts smiles on people’s faces”. The wind had stopped and the smiles were coming back on. Huge industrial fans had inflated the balloons and burners fired them up with hot air. Last minute instructions were handed out – clutch the ropes inside the basket, bend the knee when landing, hope for a soft touchdown!

Josep was the first to fly out, followed by Marc Blazer from Switzerland, Izzati and Atiqah Khairudin, the intrepid ballooning sisters from Malaysia who run the annual Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, Kevin Chassa from France (whose mom was the first female balloon pilot in France) and Rick Astral and John who fly Iwi the Kiwi. Rick, who relocated from New Zealand to Santiago, is candid. “There’s so much stress in life, ballooning is all about enjoyment. I’ve flown the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone Park, even landed in an airbase to shoot against some F-16s. I was a Cheeky Kiwi who just wanted photos of balloons in dramatic places!”

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As our pilots fired up with a loud whoosh and hiss of fire, we clambered into our baskets and were off, waving at the screaming crowds below. We rose above the mesmeric patchwork of green and gold fields, noticing streams and grey blue hills that ringed the valley and other vibrant balloons mid-air. Now and then, a paramotorist swooped around us in hypnotic curves. Farmers stopped their work and children waved agog!

Ballooning was as much about the flight as a foolproof exit plan. One had to watch out for low hanging powerlines, forests and hilltops. The most important thing was a flat patch of land and proximity to a road for the crew to easily recover the equipment. Our smooth landing could put an Airbus to shame as we headed back to the camp for breakfast, jabbering about our experience.

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The day was free to visit the Tribal Museum and Coffee Museum in town, Araku’s coffee plantations and tribal hamlets. Near waterfalls like Chaprai, local women sold barbecued chicken and fish on wooden skewers. That evening thousands of locals and tourists converged at a large ground to witness the Tethered Flights and Night Glow balloon spectacle. Later, the party continued at the camp, with lilting folk tunes and an energetic Dhimsa dance, performed by women of the Nookadora tribe.

Kaushik Mukherji, consultant for AP Tourism, explained that Araku was one of the many wonders in Andhra Pradesh. “There are temples with floating pillars, ancient Buddhist sites and 500-year-old Dutch cemeteries. We’re creating different holiday experiences for different customer segments and an event calendar from October-March. There’s horseracing on the beaches at the Vizag Stud Million while the Yacht Pentagonal in mid-Feb will be one of its kind in Asia.”

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On our return, we stopped by at the fascinating Borra Caves, discovered by British geologist William King in 1807. Deep in the bowels of the Ananthagiri Hills, we encountered the most incredible stalactites and stalagmites besides formations, created by the subterranean Gosthani river. Roadside stalls sold ‘Bamboo Chicken’, cooked in hollow stems “without oil or water”. At Vizag, the brand new Fairfield by Marriott, just off the Araku highway and near the airport, was the perfect base for our local explorations. We also got our fix of local Andhra cuisine – Nellore chepala pulusu (fish curry), Gongura Mamsa and desserts like pootharekelu.

A befitting tribute to Vizag’s maritime history, the INS Kursura is a fascinating museum inside a retired Russian submarine. We drove north to Rushikonda Beach, the Buddhist sites of Thotlakonda and Bavikonda and the port town of Bheemli. Not far from the ancient Dutch cemetery, it was startling to see the same Gosthani river descend from the Araku hills and flow into the sea. Life had come full circle, like a giant hot air balloon…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Araku is 112km/3 hr drive from Vizag via Simhachalam and Srungavarapu Kota. Borra Caves is a 6km diversion off the main road to Araku and 30km before it. Bheemli is 30km north of RK Beach in Vizag.

Where to Stay
Fairfield by Marriott
KSR Prime, R&B Junction, Marripalem, Vizag
Ph 0891-668 8999 http://www.marriott.com

The Park
Beach Road, Vizag
Ph 0891-304 5678 http://www.theparkhotels.com

APTDC/AP Tourism
Hotels at Vizag, Rushikonda, Araku, Ananthagiri, Tyda
Ph 0891-2788820, 1800 42545454
http://www.aptdc.gov.in

Balloons Only

Hot Air Ballooning Festivals

Tamil Nadu Balloon Festival (10-16 Jan)
Ph +91 95000 90850, 94882 54204
Email tnballoonfestival@gmail.com
http://www.tnibf.com

Pushkar Fair (28 Oct-4 Nov)
Ph +91 8130925252
http://www.pushkarmela.org

Araku Balloon Festival (14-16 Nov)
http://www.arakuballoonfestival.com

SkyWaltz/E-Factor
Ph +91 9560387222, 9560397222
Email goballooning@skywaltz.com
http://www.skywaltz.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 12 January, 2018 as the cover story in Indulge, the Friday supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

Hyderabad Secrets: 10 offbeat experiences

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Beyond the Charminar, biryani and the pearls ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out these hidden gems of Hyderabad 

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So you’ve had your fill of dum biryani and covered the usual sights in Hyderabad – Golconda Fort, Charminar, Salar Jung Museum, Chowmahalla and Falaknuma Palaces, Birla temple, maybe even Ramoji Film City – what else is there to do in the City of Pearls? Here are 10 truly local things to do.

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An 800-year-old hollow baobab tree
Hyderabad has its own Sleepy Hollow, an 800-year-old baobab tree locally known as ‘Hathiyan ka Jhaad’. Overlooking Golconda golf course in Naya Qila near the 1569 mosque of Mulla Khayali (noted courtier, poet and calligraphist during Qutub Shahi rule), the massive tree gets its name from its elephantine trunk. Parts of the tree look like different creatures from different angles – a rearing elephant, a crocodile’s snout, monkey’s eyes, tortoise, etc.

With a circumference of 25 m, the tree originated in Madagascar and was planted here by wandering fakirs centuries ago. But the most interesting aspect of the tree is that it has a hollow large enough to accommodate 40 people! We climbed inside to see if it was really true. For safety reasons, the tree has been fenced off by a grilled enclosure. Caretaker Abdulla, around for the last 18 years, sweeps the compound and opens the gate for visitors. Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/QzQVoPGPYu0

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Get a free bangle with your meal at Kangan
In the old city, the art of making lac bangles is slowly on the wane. But there’s one place where you can watch a craftsman make a bangle of your choice before you enjoy your meal. In a bid to conserve this age old tradition, Kangan, the Frontier fine dine restaurant at The Westin Hyderabad Mindspace in Cyberabad has a craftsman making a bangle for guests. Pick your favourite colours and Shareef bhai will deftly prepare a customized bangle that you can take home as a souvenir.

Feast your eyes on the fascinating process and enjoy a lavish meal of Nalli Rogan Josh, Peshawari Murgh Tikka, Lahori Aloo, Galawati Kabab and Khubani (apricot) ka Meetha thereafter. With a terrific set menu, the restaurant lives up to its name with décor made up of bangles! While at Westin, try out innovative dishes like vada sandwich and panipuri with guacamole and sol kadi, besides the amazing Sunday brunch (the largest spread in town) at Italian restaurant Prego and Arabian fare at the Mediterranean lounge Casbah. Ph 040 33165086 www.westinhyderabadmindspace.com/

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Find a bargain at Shilparamam
From Kalamkari fabric to Kondapalli toys and Nirmal lacquerware to Bidri ware, there’s many a bargain at the state handicraft showroom Lepakshi. If you’re looking for all that and more then get all your shopping in one place at Shilparamam, a vast art and craft village with streetside shops and food stalls. It’s like a budget version of Dilli Haat. Kashmiri carpets, shawls and papier-mâché products, Saharanpur wooden furniture, Mithila paintings, pattachitra from Odisha, you’ll find it all here. There’s also a village museum and an amphitheatre where cultural shows are organized. Ph 040-64518164 www.shilparamam.in

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Where to grab Irani Chai and Osmania biscuits
Irani Chai was introduced to Hyderabad by immigrants from Persia who settled here on business. The thrill of enjoying a cuppa with a view of the Charminar is indescribable and Nimrah Café & Bakery is the best spot for it. The friendly owner Aslam ushered us into the tiny kitchen to explain how it’s made. First, tea leaves are boiled in water to make a decoction. In samovars or copper handis, milk is simmered on low flame for hours. Sometimes, chunks of mawa are added to make the milk thicker and tastier. The milk is added to the decoction to make the perfect cup of strong, flavourful Irani chai. You can even ask for a ‘cutting’ (one by two) or pauna (three fourth).

The perfect accompaniment is Osmania Biscuit, named after Hyderabad’s last ruler Mir Osman Ali Khan who wanted a melt-in-your-mouth biscuit with a salty aftertaste. Soon, the biscuit began to be produced by bakeries around town. At Nimrah, Aslam sells 75 products and 18 varieties of biscuits alone – tie (bow-shaped), chand (crescent-shaped), khopra (coconut), kaju (cashew) and shatranj (checkered) besides biscuits made of jam, fruits and oats! After making us sample an assortment and handing us a box, he explained that the main ingredient is love. Whether it is the famous Karachi Bakery or Subhan Bakery, nobody comes back from Hyderabad without a box of biscuits. Nimrah Ph 040-24564909 Timing: 4am-11pm

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KKK, the breakfast of champions
While biryani rules lunch and dinner, Hyderabad’s favourite breakfast item is Khichdi-Keema-Khatta, a combo dish of dry khichdi (rice porridge), a bowl of keema (minced meat) and unlimited khatta, a tangy buttermilk based curry. There’s also nalli nihari with naan and a whole range of small eats like khajoor, a deep fried sweet and lukhmi, derived from loqma or morsel – a square keema samosa with four corners instead of three! Wash it down with some milky yet strong Irani Chai at Rumaan (Ph 9700704901) near Chowmahalla Palace or Shah Ghouse (Ph 040 6461 7789 www.shahghouse.in) in Tolichowki.

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Enjoy Golfconda!
Hyderabad has some stunning golf courses set amidst boulders, fort walls and ruins. Just off Seven Tombs Road near Golconda Fort lies Hyderabad Golf Club, the first and only public golf course in the city. Run by the Telangana State Tourism Development Corporation and the Hyderabad Golf Association, it offers a stunning view of the Qutb Shahi tombs.

Dubai’s famous Emaar group, the name behind big brands like Burj Khalifa and Dubai Mall, has a lovely 18-hole championship course opposite ISB (Indian School Of Business). As the name suggests, Boulder Hills has an undulating course designed by Peter Harradine and their signature hole #3 has a massive boulder vantage point, offering a panoramic view of the greens.

Hyderabad Golf Club Ph 040 65588103 http://www.hyderabadgolfclub.in
Boulder Hills Ph 040 6652 0000

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Admire the world’s longest cupboard at Nizam’s Museum
This small yet exquisite museum is dedicated to the last Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan and houses everything from the cradle he was born in (in 1886) to the opulent gifts he received for his silver jubilee in 1936, including the golden throne used for the celebrations. Resembling an 18th-century European palace, Purani Haveli was the official residence of the Nizam.

Among its rare treasures are silver models of the Charminar, Ashurkhana and other landmark buildings in Hyderabad, besides fancy itardaan (perfume holders), silver tea sets, cigarette cases, gold tiffin boxes inlaid with diamonds and ‘Zeher mohra’ cups made of Chinese celadon that could detect poison. A unique feature is the 150-year-old hand-cranked lift wooden lift and the world’s longest wardrobe of the sixth nizam Mir Mahbub Ali Khan. Built in two levels, it occupies the entire length of one wing of the palace with sherwanis, shirts, coats, shoes, headgear, brocades and walking sticks – in their dozens. Legend has it he never wore the same dress twice!

Adults Rs.80, Children Rs.15, Photo Rs.150 Timings: 10 am – 4:50pm

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Try Barkas ka Jaam
One of the rare local delights is Barkas ka Jaam, a pink-fleshed variety of guava, sourced from the suburb of Barkas. Located near Chandrayangutta off the Srisailam highway, Barkas is locally known as ‘Mini Arabia’ with shops selling everything from burqas, dates and perfumes from Dubai to lungis from Jeddah.

This area was home to the Nizams’ employees, mostly Arabs, who settled in barracks on the outskirts of the walled city. The name ‘Barkas’ is supposed to be derived from the English word ‘barracks’. The guavas of Barkas are auctioned every morning between 6-10 am at the local auction centre and are available on pushcarts across Hyderabad.

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Meet Nasihu, an Egyptian mummy at the State Museum
Inside Bagh-e-Aam, lies the beautiful Iron Bungalow, the oldest building in the public garden and a beautiful mosque where the Nizam offered his Friday prayers, which featured in the Salma Agha movie Nikaah. Also within the extensive grounds is the oldest museum in Hyderabad state, the Telangana State Archeology Museum renamed after YS Rajasekhara Reddy.

You’ll find here copies of Ajanta frescoes, paintings by Abdur Rahman Chughtai, Buddhist and Jain galleries and the main attraction, an Egyptian mummy! Bought for 1000 pounds by Nazeer Nawaz Jung, the son-in-law of sixth Nizam Mahbub Ali Khan, it was donated to the last Nizam in 1930. Dating back to 2500 BC, the mummy is of the teenage daughter of the VI Pharoah of Egypt.

Adult Rs.10, Child Rs.5, Photo Rs.50, Video Rs.200 Timings: 10:30 am – 4:30pm

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Why city buses bear the letter Z
When the seventh Nizam Mir Osman Ali Khan started a new public bus service in Hyderabad in June 1932, he wanted it to be named after his late mother Zahra Begum. Hence, the first letter of her name ‘Z’ was added to all number plates in her memory, a practice that continues to this day. The registration number plates of city buses bear the initials AP Z (now TS Z, after the bifurcation of Andhra and Telangana)! Don’t believe it? Check it out on your next visit to Hyderabad.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the story that appeared for Conde Nast Traveller India online. Here’s the original link: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/8-offbeat-hyderabad-experiences-youve-probably-never-tried/

 

 

 

 

Dubai: In a new light

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ANURAG MALLICK seeks out new experiences in Dubai, a dynamic city that keeps reinventing itself

Dubai illustrative map IMG_2068

So you think you’ve done it all – been ‘At the Top’ of Burj Khalifa, shopped at DSF and Dubai Mall, trawled the gold and spice souks, done a dhow dinner cruise, hopped across Dubai Creek in an abra (local water taxi), gone dune bashing and sightseeing on a SeaWings aerial tour, had your belly full with belly dances and the tanoura, maybe even gone skydiving – and you wonder if there’s anything new in Dubai to explore. Dubai is not a city that rests easy on its laurels. It is restive, always striving to improve or notch a new record. No sooner have you turned your back and come visiting again, there’s something new to surprise you…

Strolling down Dubai’s City Walk lined with designer stores and restaurants, you might mistake it for a European capital. The first phase of the urban living concept by Meraas tantalizes visitors with funky street art. As part of ‘Dubai Walls’, the first outdoor urban art show in UAE, globally renowned street artists were invited in 2016 to create street art in Dubai’s urban landscape. Despite being a modern country, graffiti is banned here, so this was indeed an evolutionary leap.

City Walk street art IMG_1762

I was blown away by the path breaking wall etching of a bedouin carved by Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto or ‘Vhils’, part of his series ‘Scratching the Surface’! UK-based artist Stuart Pantoll aka Slinkachu, infamous for ‘abandoning miniatures since 2006’ had set up scenes across City Walk using toy figurines as part of his ‘Little People Project’. ‘Shifting Sands’, a pile of sand had a caravan of camels, in ‘Under the Stars’ burnt matchsticks doubled up as firewood while a spilt glass of milkshake created ‘Oasis.’

Nearby is The Green Planet, Dubai’s first indoor tropical rainforest and the first biodome of its kind in the Middle East, launched in September 2016. The unique expedition of over 3000 plants and animals is conceptualized around the world’s largest man-made indoor tree – a giant kapok mimicking a highrise forest. Take the elevator to the fourth floor and walk down a ramp, leisurely exploring exhibits on each floor.

The Green Planet IMG_1703

Well informed naturalists guide you through various habitats – Butterfly Balcony, Canopy Tree House, Forest Cascade Trail and Flooded Forest Tunnel as visitors are encouraged to touch snakes and Talk with Biologists. From creepy crawlies like Goliath Bird-eating Tarantula to rare reptiles like Madagascar Day Gecko, Green Basilisk and Rainbow Boas, the cacophony of birds from 51 species will make you feel you’re in an Amazon jungle. The highlight is a two-toed sloth named Liam John Barker – inspired by a young boy with a passion for animals.

As the temperature lowers, all the action turns outdoor. Dubai’s brand new attraction is Ripe Market organized every Friday at Zabeel Park, where organic and boutique lifestyle products vie for your attention in a flea market-meets-carnival atmosphere amid grassy lawns and palm trees festooned with flags and streamers. One section is dedicated to an organic farmers market with fresh produce that reaches farm to fork within 48 hrs, and products like Olive Grove pickles, The Salad Jar and vegan hand-formed Field Burgers made of barley, carrots and celery!

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Another section has apparel, trinkets and funky stuff like Mango Beat natural amplifiers made of mango wood and Wild Wood eco-friendly designer sunglasses. Food stalls sold everything from biryanis to bagels, even Black Rose charcoal activated ice-cream at Carli’s Chimneys!

Dubai really enjoys its food and Ewaan at Palace Downtown is the perfect place to try out lavish buffets of Arabic dishes, finger foods like meat kebbeh, falafel, tahina, fattoush salad, large platters of lamb juzi and fish sayadieh (like biryani), Arabic grills of seafood and meat, Moroccan tea and Turkish coffee, besides olives and dates. Try lesser-known treats like Qamar Al Deen (juice from dried apricot paste) and desserts like baklava, borma, mafroukeh, chaibeyat and Um Ali (creamy bread pudding with stuffed baklava). On weekends, they have special Arabian dance performances and live counters of logmat (Arabic sweet).

One & Only Royal Mirage Eauzone IMG_1821

Even though there are no Michelin star restaurants in Dubai, several Michelin-star chefs run fine-dine restaurants here. In March 2017, Dubai had its first ever pop-up restaurant for world-renowned Indian chef Gaggan Anand at the opulent Celebrities restaurant at One&Only Royal Mirage. Overlooking the Palm Island Bay with a 1km private beach, South African magnate Sol Kersner’s luxurious resort is spread over 65 acres and is a complex of three hotels – The Palace, Arabian Court and Residence & Spa. Its Grand Gallery has seven domes with colours of the mosaic patterns on the floor representing different hues of sand of the seven emirates.

The sculpture of Seven Bedouins astride camels retells the tale of their desert journey from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. As per folklore, they were caught in a sand storm and got lost when a palace appeared before them, where they rested, feasted and were entertained, and as suddenly, it disappeared. They realized it was a mirage and this palatial resort was imagined as that ‘Royal Mirage.’

One & Only Royal Mirage bedouin sculpture IMG_1878

It was as much a museum and art gallery with an award-winning traditional oriental Hammam and eight themed restaurants (from French to the Moroccan Tajine). We headed to Eauzone, a modern restaurant with an Asian twist for some delectable seafood like hammour with tamarind sauce. “We have guests proposing on the beach, dinner under the stars in a private gazebo or helicopter rides for birthdays and anniversaries,” said Elizaveta, the PR co-ordinator. “Nothing is impossible in Dubai!”

If Mall of the Emirates has ski slopes and snow adventures at Ski Dubai, Dubai Mall has a 150 million year old dinosaur. We retired to our hotel Four Points by Sheraton on Sheikh Zayed Road for a terrific 360-degree night view of the cityscape and traffic on the arterial road from the rooftop Level 43 Sky Lounge.

View of Sheikh Zayed Road from Level 43 Sky Lounge IMG_1574

The restaurant also has an art gallery. Being centrally located, it had free shuttles to the beach and was well placed to attractions like City Walk and Dubai Mall. Their other branch in Bur Dubai is close to Dubai Museum, Meena Bazaar and the old Al Fahidi historical precinct also known as Bastakiya.

Dubai Mall saw 85 million visitors last year. Not content with footfalls, it created the world’s largest video wall as advertising space to catch eyeballs! The Underwater Zoo and Aquarium offers experiences that are truly immersive – from shark encounters to feeding frenzies of giant trevally and sharks. We took a backroom tour to see how they prepare fish food and take care of the 10 million liter tank with 23,000 fish and 300 species.

Dubai Aquarium tour IMG_1429

The city’s hot new attraction is Dubai Parks & Resorts, a vast complex of entertainment parks located far south just short of Abu Dhabi. It had by far the largest parking lot I have ever seen. The best way to negotiate it is a VIP tour so you skip the cues, get your own tour guide who plans out your rides with a buggy drop to your vehicle.

We started from Motion Gate and its 5 theme zones – Studio Central, styled like 1920s New York with old Hollywood songs blaring, Smurf’s Village, Dreamworks, Colombia Pictures and Lion’s Gate, which opened in October 2017, with a Hunger Games hovercraft simulator. Each zone has its own rides, roller coasters, simulators, F&B outlets and retail shops.

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There’s a separate Legoland water park for kids between 2-12 and Riverland. At Bollywood Parks Dubai, the world’s first Bollywood theme park, chase Don down the streets of Dubai in ‘Don: The Chase’ or try the Krrish flight simulator and Ra:One 4D in the Hall of Heroes. The largest zone Rustic Ravine has faux mud floors, lanterns and a rural setting for a Sholay interactive dark ride, a Dabangg live show and a Lagaan roller coaster simulator!

Costumed dancers burst into live performances at Bollywood Boulevard while the Royal Plaza serves as an event space with Broadway style theatrical Jaan-e-Jigar staged at Rajmahal Theatre. FYI, Mughal-e-Aazam fine dine restaurant is the only establishment that serves alcohol. You could even reshoot epic sequences of skydiving, bull racing and Tomatina from Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, with yourself in it! Indeed, in Dubai, everything is possible…

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Direct flights from India to Dubai take 3-4 hrs. National carrier Emirates has the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s. www.emirates.com

When to visit
Nov-Mar is ideal with events all year round – Dubai Shopping Festival (Jan), Dubai Food Festival (Feb-Mar), Al Marmoom Heritage Festival and camel race (April), Al Gaffal Dhow Race (May), Ramadan/Eid (June), Dubai Summer Surprises (July-Sep).

Where to Stay

Four Points by Sheraton
Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai
Ph +971 4 3230333
http://www.fourpointssheikhzayedroad.com

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

Four Points by Sheraton Bur Dubai
Khalid Bin Walid Street
Ph +971 4 397 7444
http://www.fourpointsburdubai.com

Anantara The Palm Dubai
Palm Jumeirah
Ph +971 4 567 8888
http://www.dubai-palm.anantara.com

The Green Planet IMG_1724

Things to Do

The Green Planet
City Walk, Al Wasl and Al Safa road junction
Ph +971 4 317 3999
http://www.thegreenplanetdubai.com/en
Entry Adults AED 95, Kids AED 70

Dubai Parks & Resorts
Sheikh Zayed Rd, Opp Palm Jebel Ali
Ph +971 4 820 0000
http://www.dubaiparksandresorts.com
Entry MotionGate AED 235, VIP AED 595, 11am-10pm

Bollywood Parks Dubai
Ph +971 800 2629464
http://www.bollywoodparksdubai.com
Entry Q-Fast AED 100 onwards, 4pm-12

Ripe Organic Food & Craft Market
Fri: 9am-4pm, Zabeel Park, Gate 2
Sat: 9am-3pm, Times Square Centre, Sheikh Zayed Road
Sat: 12pm-9pm, Al Barsha Pond Park
Ph +971 4 315 7000, 380 7602
http://www.ripeme.com

Dubai Aquarium & Underwater Zoo
Ground & Level 2, The Dubai Mall
Ph +971 4 448 5200
http://www.thedubaiaquarium.com

Ski Dubai
Mall of the Emirates
Ph +971 44094000
http://www.malloftheemirates.com

For more info, visit www.dubaicalendar.ae, www.visitdubai.com

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of JetWings magazine.

Native Spirits: Traditional alcoholic brews of India

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Throughout history, India’s traditional drinks menu has been full of potent, flavourful brews, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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While travelling across India is quite a high by itself, in all our forays, we love trying out the local tipple whenever it’s been offered to us. Be it feni or urak in Goa, bhang during Holi, apong in Arunachal Pradesh during the Sollung festival, kyad on a trek to a Living Root Bridge in Meghalaya, chhang to combat the Ladakhi winter, raksi in Sikkim and Nepal, taadi and handia with tribals in Jharkhand or saraph (salfi) and mahua in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Odisha; we have happily imbibed Indian spirits in all its glorious forms wherever we have travelled…

The history of intoxication in India is as old as its gods. Like the Greek ambrosia or nectar, Hindu texts mention amrit or soma, the divine elixir that gave Vedic gods immortality. Agni consumed it in copious quantities and Indra drank rivers of soma for strength to overcome Vrittra, the fearsome three-headed dragon.

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Soma, a Vedic Sanskrit word, literally “to distill, extract or sprinkle” is derived from the juice of the soma plant, ephedra vulgaris. The golden-hued drink was imbibed by mortals as well, since it enabled hallucinations and ecstasy. It often accompanied sacred rituals, helped warriors overcome battle nerves and inspired painters and poets into bursts of creativity. In fact, soma was considered a divine bridge between the mortal world and the realm of the gods.

Alcoholic beverages were known to the Indus Valley Civilization and appeared in the Chalcolithic Era between 3000–2000 BC. Wormwood wine was quite popular in India around 1500 BC. Sukla Yajur veda describes the preparation of two stimulating drinks – parisrut and sura, popular among kshatriyas (warriors) and peasants alike.

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Agriculturists often set aside a portion of their produce for the fermentation of home brews. Made of rice, wheat, sugarcane, grapes and other fruits, sura was prepared with germinated paddy, germinated barley, parched rice and yeast. Katyayana Srauta sutra gives a comprehensive description for preparing sura.

Boiled rice or barley was mixed with the ferment and the entire mixture was kept in a jar, which was placed in a pit for three nights into which cow’s milk and powdered parched rice were poured. Sometimes the fermenting vessel was covered with horse dung or placed on a pile of grains or exposed to the sun or fumigated.

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Another drink popular from pre-Vedic times is bhang, which has been consumed since 2000 BC. In the ancient text Atharva Veda, bhang is hailed as a beneficial herb that releases anxiety. An integral part of Hindu culture and often associated with Shiva, ascetics used bhang or cannabis as food, drink or smoke to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states.

From the streets of Mathura to the ghats of Benares and Omkareshwar, the buds and leaves of the cannabis plant are ground into a paste in a mortar and pestle and shaped into balls or pedas. Milk, dry fruits and Indian spices are added to make a bhang lassi or thandai, widely consumed during Holi.

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During the time of Kautilya, popular Mauryan era drinks included medaka (spiced rice beer), prasanna (spiced barley or wheat beer), asava (sugarcane beer) and arista (medicinal tincture). However, modern day distillation of alcohol scaled new heights with widespread use in the Delhi Sultanate by the 14th century.

Over time, many rajwadas (royal families) and thikanas in Rajputana concocted their own signature brews for recreation or medicine, based on ingredients available locally and climatic conditions. Spices, saffron, fruits, dry fruits and stimulative agents were added for flavour and therapeutic value, distilled through copper pots and matured in wooden casks.

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Back in the day, many princely states had a separate department for liquors. Broadly, three types of liquors were prepared based on strength and refinement – Ikbara for the common man, Dobara for officers and upper middle class and Aasav, reserved only for royalty and nobility. Often referred to as ‘baap-dada ki daru’ in Rajasthan, some of these liqueurs even had aphrodisiacal qualities.

As per legend, Rana Hammir of Ranthambhore, the 14thcentury ruler of Mewar, had eleven wives but didn’t have the stamina to satisfy them all. One day, a saint gave him the recipe for a potion that would give him “the strength of a hundred horses”. And like a blissful royal tale, they all lived happily ever after. However, not all the royal brews were reserved for kings. It is said there was a honey-based brew with 21 spices that was meant for royal ladies that could make a 60-year-old queen behave like a 16-year-old teen!

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One royal bastion that stands out for its heritage liquors is Mahansar, a thikana in Shekhawati founded in 1768 by Thakur Nahar Singh, second son of Thakur Nawal Singh of Nawalgarh. The Mahansar royal family’s legendary Saunf was brewed by fermenting gud (jaggery) and ber (Indian date) in an earthen pot for 15 days, distilled by adding milk, misrisaunf and other spices, stored in a ceramic vessel and matured for six years.

The resultant brew was aromatic, spicy and clear, with a dash of pale yellow. Mahansar has maintained its heritage liquor brewing tradition and old royal formulae. In 2006, Shekhawati Heritage Herbals began brewing Gulab, Saunf and Orange, mint and ginger royal liqueurs under three brands – Royal Mahansar, Maharani Mahansar and Maharaja Mahansar. It spurred a local industry of sorts, similar to the homemade wines of Coorg.

Coorg wines IMG_4464

During mid 18thcentury, ably guided by his kulguru, Thakur Karni Singh ji Shekhawat, descendent to a clan of Mahansar thikana, prepared various aasav, using herbs and spices like saunf (fennel), elaichi (cardamom), pudina (mint), dhaniya (coriander), fruit extracts like orange, apple, watermelon, berries and liqueurs like cider grape wine and gulab (rose). The word ‘julep’ was supposedly derived from an English mispronunciation of ‘gulab’. Royal brews like Rohitaasav, Kumari aasav, Kankaasav, Dus mul ka aasav and mahaverlane were made exclusively for the use of the royal families of Bikaner, Kashmir and Nepal, mainly for medicinal benefit.

In 1862, Thakur Zorawar Singh, part of the Champawat clan of the Rathores founded the prominent Kanota thikana. As a tribute to the royal houses of Jaipur, the Kanota family created the drink Chandrahaas in 1863 and named it after Lord Shiva’s indestructible sword. Since then, they have meticulously followed the original recipe of using nearly 165 herbs and spices like kesar, awlah, safed musli, jaiphal, amla ki chaal, white sandalwood and dry fruits.

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Amar Singh ji of Kanota thikana is known for writing the world’s longest continuous diaries. Maintained in English for 44 years from 1898 to 1942 in 89 folio volumes with 800 pages per volume, these precious notes include detailed recipes for dishes and heritage liquors. His heir Mohan Singh and his sons Man Singh and Prithvi Singh offer special royal thalis and Chandrahass at their Jaipur hotels Royal Castle Kanota and Narain Niwas, built by Amar Singh ji in 1928.

Legend has it that Amar Singh’s son-in-law, Raja sahib Karni Singh of Gadi thikana, was on his deathbed and all the efforts of the royal physician to cure him proved futile. When nothing seemed to work, the royal brewer requested for a chance and administered Chandarhaas. Sure enough, Raja sahib was back on his feet!

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The Shyopurs, who were in charge of the household affairs of the Kachhwahas (Jaipur’s royal family), have over three dozen recipes like Angoor, Ananas and Narangi, which is made with oranges and 18 herbs. The drink supposedly keeps the body cool in scorching summers and can be consumed “from dawn to dawn” and one still feels fresh as a daisy in the morning, without a hangover. Shyopur Narangi Ginger is made from fruits, two dozen spices and pineapple flavours!

Jagmohan, an ancient recipe from the royal house of Marwar in Jodhpur, is made of herbs, spices, dry fruits, seasonal fruits, murabba and bark, finely blended with milk, desi ghee, saffron and crystal sugar. Distilled in the royal cellars for the use of kings and princes, it was a drink for winters. It could be consumed on the rocks in summer as a post-meal dessert liqueur, though citrus and acidic drinks are best avoided with it. Similarly, Kesar Kasturi is made from exotic ingredients like saffron, dry fruits, herbs, nuts, seeds, roots and spices, blended with ghee, milk and crystal sugar.

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Another liqueur Mawalin, from the royal house of Sodawas, 90 km from Jodhpur towards Udaipur, has 38 different ingredients including dates, dry fruits, herbs and two dozen spices. Local folklore says Maharaja Umaid Singh Ji of Jodhpur gave the recipe of Mawalin as jagir (aristocratic fiefdom) to Thakur Sahib Bishan Singh Ji of Osian. It is typically served “in a liqueur glass on a bed of crushed ice in summer and in a bowl of half-inch deep lukewarm water in winter.” A good appetizer, it has curative and medicinal properties, when taken in small doses.

To keep these unique traditions alive, Rajasthan State Ganganagar Sugar Mills (RSGSML) has launched Royal Heritage Liqueurs as a tribute to the state’s royal brewing legacy. The fermentation and distillation process used by the ruling thikanedars have been strictly adhered to with use of earthen pots, copper and brass utensils. We got to savour some of these brews with Raghavendra Singh at Fort Amla, a rustic-style heritage retreat in western Madhya Pradesh, bordering Rajasthan.

Handiya at a Santhal home in Bengal IMG_0062

While royalty elevated intoxication into an art form and a science, alcoholic brews were not the exclusive domain of palaces but were widely consumed by the proletariat. Across the adivasi heartland of tribal India, we’ve encountered local ladies selling handia in weekly haats (village markets) by the roadside.

Rice is fermented with bakhar, a yeast prepared with roots, bark and leaves of more than 20 plants to produce handia, which is named after the handi (earthen pots) in which it is stored and usually served in makeshift cups of sal leaf. We’ve glugged it from large brass vessels in a Santhal home near Shantiniketan during the Sohrai festival, accompanied by dancing and thrumming of the mandhar (drum).

Women in Chhattisgarh collecting mahua flowers IMG_6515

Across Central and Eastern India, flowers of the mahua tree are collected and fermented to make a desi liquor mahua, jokingly referred to as ABCD or Adi Basi Cold Drink. Similar to it is salfi or the chheen tree, whose sap is tapped to make a local brew, hailed as ‘Bastar Beer’. It is considered a sign of prosperity and can be found in almost every tribal household.

In Bihar and Jharkhand, taadi or sap from the taad (palm tree) is equally popular, known as neera in the south. We tried salfi at the village haats at Onkudeli and Chattikona with the Bonda tribesmen in southern Odisha, as they offered it to us straight from their unique ridge gourd cup with a spout to gulp it! Needless to say, it was a heady experience.

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Alcoholic brews have always been closely related with festivals and merriment, as we found out. In the North East, during Etor or Chhota Sollung festival in Arunachal Pradesh, we danced with members of the Adi Padam tribe. Wherever we went, villagers handed us kala (black) apong in hollow bamboo stems and the songs and laughter echoed across the hills. The local brew is made of fermented millet and rice. At Abasa Homestay near Ziro, Kago Kampu and Kago Habung taught us how to make homemade apong.

Easily the most well known Indian distillate is Goan feni, made from cashew, a plant that was introduced to India by the Portuguese (we still call it by its Portuguese name ‘caju’). With the advent of summer, the hillsides come alive with the heady aroma of ripening cashew fruits. The fruits are plucked from the trees and the nuts are separated from the cashew apple and consumed after roasting.

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The cashew apple is squashed in a rock cut basin to extract niro, a non-fermented sweet juice best served chilled. All the collected niro is allowed to ferment and transferred into a big earthen pot where it is boiled for distillation. The first distillate is called urak, which is low in alcoholic content while subsequent distillates yield feni. Quite potent and smelly, feni is best enjoyed with lime and soda though many bars in Goa like Soro and Gunpowder stir up feni-based cocktails!

At The Grand Dragon Ladakh in Leh, huddled in a traditional sit down Ladakhi style restaurant in winter, our host Danish gave us a crash course in Ladakhi cuisine. If endless cups of salty gur gur cha with yak butter ain’t your cup of tea, try the local tipple chhang, made from fermented barley. The drink was poured into our kore (cups) with a snack of churpe (hard cheese) served in a pheypor or decorative lidded bowl, often used to store tsampa or barley.

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A thousand miles away, we had discovered chhang at Sonam di’s little shack at the Tibetan settlement of Bylakuppe near Kushalnagar. It tasted like wine, had a high like beer and cost as much as water. After a round, you only had to add water to the fermented millet, leave it for 10 minutes and voila, your next serving was ready!

We used to pick up sacks of millet to drink it at leisure at home in Bangalore. Little wonder the local authorities banned it. The next time we went to Bylakuppe, there was no whiff of chhang anywhere!

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Perhaps the most easily accessible intoxicating brew across India is bhang lassi or thandai, sold at Govt. authorised bhang shops. We’ve tried it in Allahabad, Varanasi, Pushkar and Omkareshwar, though the craziest experience was at the famous bhang shop in Jaisalmer. Located at the base of the fort since the early 1970s, the tiny shop was immortalized by Anthony Bourdain. Chander Prakash Vyas or Babu, better known as Doctor Bhang, represents the tech-savvy third generation and has a YouTube video, an FB page and a killer spiel to hawk his potion to foreign tourists.

We laughed as he rattled off the variants, “We have a light Baby Lassi for Japani-Korean people because they have baby eyes, then Medium, Strong and Super Duper Sexy Strong – full power 24-hour, no toilet, no shower!” Besides bhang lassis in banana, chocolate and other flavours, they also had bhang chocolates and cookies. As we pored over the menu, Dr Bhang took a long look at us and said, “Better you take Super Duper Sexy Strong!”

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 17 December 2017 as the cover story in Sunday Herald, the weekend supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.