Category Archives: Beyond India

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.

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

Street Art-Haji Lane IMG_4281_Anurag Mallick

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!

ACDC Lane IMG_6153_Anurag Mallick

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.

Dubai: In a new light

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

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.’

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

It’s the time to Pisco: Exploring Peruvian cuisine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Information

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

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

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Where to Eat

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

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

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

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

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

A fairy tale life: Hans Christian Andersen trail, Copenhagen

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

Painted houses of Nyhavn seen on a canal ride_Priya Ganapathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Andersen's Tales_Priya Ganapathy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FACT FILE

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

Where to Stay:

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

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

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

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

Mauritian Cuisine: Island Flavours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Where to Eat/Drink

St. Aubin House
www.saintaubin.mu

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

L’Aventure du Sucre
www.aventuredusucre.com

Chateau Labourdonnais
www.chateaulabourdonnais.com

Hotel Shanti Maurice, Chemin Grenier
www.shantimaurice.com

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

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

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

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

Casela World of Adventures, Cascavelle
www.caselapark.com

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

 

Phillip Island: Walk on the Wild Side

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ANURAG MALLICK explores the wild charms of Phillip Island near Melbourne – home to Little Penguins, seals, wallabies and migrating Australian Humpback whales

Penguin Parade Ultimate Tour_Phillip Island-Anurag Mallick

While I had conveniently flown from Bangalore to Melbourne on Singapore Airlines and had driven down 137km to Phillip Island, the little penguins we were to encounter had a much more arduous journey. They had spent perhaps a few weeks at sea foraging for food and swum hundreds of kilometers before coming ashore at sunset, a spectacle of nature known as the ‘Penguin Parade’.

At 33cm and weighing just a kilo, Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the smallest of the 17 penguin species in the world. They breed in colonies along Australia’s southern coastlines and Phillip Island is home to over 32,000. Tourists throng Phillip Island Nature Park in equally large numbers to watch the penguins tumble in from the waves and waddle across the beach into their nesting burrows where they breed, raise their young, moult and rest.

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To compensate for their diminutive stature, Little Penguins are ‘counter-shaded’; their dark blue back blends in with the water to camouflage against predators flying overhead and the light blue stomach merges with the sky to camouflage against predators swimming underneath.

Surrounded by penguins, seals and whales from Antarctica migrating north, sleepy koalas in the eucalyptus trees, Cape Barren Geese dotting the lush landscape, wallabies grazing at sunset and shy Copperhead snakes, the only snake species on the island; Phillip Island is a wild tract of unparalleled natural beauty. But it wasn’t always like this…

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For thousands of years, Aboriginal tribes travelled here to collect shellfish, fish, Short-tailed Shearwaters (mutton birds), wallabies and ochre. In the late 1700s, Europeans came by boats to hunt seals. In 1798, British naval surgeon and explorer George Bass entered the area and named the bay of Western Port and Seal Rocks.

In the early 1800s, over 240,000 seals were killed in Bass Strait for their pelts, used for hats and clothing. Between 1890 and 1918, thousands of penguins were killed for their oil and by 1930, less than 5000 king penguins remained. Only after Macquarie Island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1933 were King Penguins saved from extinction.

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The island was named after Arthur Phillip, the first Governor of New South Wales. Penguin watching goes back to the 1920s when local residents Bern Denham, Bert West and Bert Watchorn started taking tourists to see the little penguins’ nocturnal arrival on Summerland beach by torchlight. The first access road was built in 1927 and the first bridge to Phillip Island came up in 1939. A whaling ban in 1963 led to the Australian humpback whales too making a comeback.

Located at Point Grant on the western tip of Phillip Island, the Nobbies Centre is the perfect ecotourism destination to learn about the island and its denizens. Antarctic Journey gives a virtual multi-media tour of Antarctica, the last frontier of nature and the coldest climate on earth. Located 3785km away from Antarctica, you can compare your thermal image with that of an Emperor penguin, feel the local weather at the Antarctic Chill Zone or take a peek at the earth’s southernmost webcam. The audio-visual kiosks and 8 state-of-the-art screens with whales, seals and penguins superimposed with your figures through 3D projection, keep one enthralled. There’s even an interactive seafood menu to check what fish are edible or not!

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Just outside, the boardwalks overlook the rugged coastline sculpted by the southwest winds and southern ocean swells. The centre is named after the distinct mesa like island jutting out of the sea called Nobbies. Another fascinating sight is the Nobbies blowhole, shaped by waves entering a cave and compressing trapped air to create an explosive jet spray.

Years of erosion had caused cliffs to weather away, leaving behind rock platforms where Sooty Oystercatchers darted about with their red legs and beaks. In the distance stood Volcanic Rock, Seagull Rock, Pyramid Rock and the distinct headland of Cape Woolamai, the highest point on the island.

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Since there was enough time for the Penguin Parade at 5:45pm, we took a back road with some scenic lookouts and drove to the main town Cowes for lunch. Eddie’s Isola di Capri, an Italian restaurant overlooking the beautiful promenade, has photos of racing legends and autographed helmets as decor.

During the annual Phillip Island Grand Prix in October, thousands flood the island for racing action. The Circuit even has Go-Karts at a 760m scale replica of the racetrack. After devouring capricciosa pizzas with anchovies and grilled trevally fillets, we drove 15 min to Rhyll Jetty for the Eco Boat Tour to Seal Rocks.

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Rhyll is a key spot on the George Bass Heritage Trail. George Bass, aged 27, surgeon of HMS Reliance was authorized by Governor Hunter to take six seamen and six weeks’ provisions in a 27 foot 8 inch whaleboat to explore the coast south of Sydney “as far as he could go with safety and convenience”. They left Sydney at 6pm on Sunday 3 December 1797 and reached this point on 18 Jan, 1798. A stone memorial with a plaque acted as a marker. In 1803, Bass sailed from Port Jackson to South America and was never heard of again.

Our captain briefed us that our destination was 14 sea miles away and advised us to strap on our seat belts since the waves could get choppy. And thus, we set off bounding on the Southern Seas, shaken and stirred. Seal Rocks is home to nearly 30,000 seals, the largest colony of fur seals in Australia. Young seals playfully darted in and out of water while the older larger ones croaked and growled from their rocky perches. Seals can dive down 200m and hold their breath for three minutes as they search for food.

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From Rhyll Jetty, there’s also a Captain’s Lunch Cruise, a 2¾-hr return trip to Cape Woolamai with lunch of fresh fish, chips and salad and a stop at San Remo for pelican feeding. San Remo, at the island’s western entrance, has a fisherman’s co-operative and every day at noon, a lady comes to feed the pelicans, which is quite a sight!

It was evening when we arrived for the Penguin Parade. Groups of penguins had started congregating beyond the waves and rafts had started to form. After a quick check by a scout, the first batch of Little penguins tumbled ashore. The timing is critical as after sunset, their land predators and larger birds like gulls and kites are asleep. With animated ‘huk huk’, they walked past the viewing platforms, under the boardwalks and into their burrows.

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Almost 90% of the penguins arrive in the first hour, though some trickle in as late as sunrise. They go wherever there’s fish aplenty – anchovies, pilches and silverfish! And the reason they waddle is because they’re so full of fish. Emily, a ranger, explained that penguins make very good parents, but very bad partners. They’re together as long as they have to look after the young in breeding season (Sep-Feb).

Males build the burrow with their feet and line them with sticks, twigs and grasses with their sharp beak. That’s the only way to tell the genders apart – males have a thicker beak, slightly hooked at the end. Guests can even help the ranger build a burrow for the penguins.

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Phillip Island Nature Reserve, a not-for-profit organization, is dedicated to penguin research and runs a penguin hospital that performs rescue during oil slicks. They also run Churchill Island, a historical homestead and farm where they do sheep shearing, sheep dog demonstrations and boomerang throwing, with a nice café. The Koala Conservation Centre gives visitors a chance to observe the cute cuddlies.

Koalas are fussy eaters who eat only eucalyptus leaves. They don’t drink, except when sick or dying. But due to overfeeding they are eating themselves out of habitat! Since their diet has no protein or vitamins, they are extremely lethargic and spend almost 20 hrs sleeping. In the other 4 hrs, they feed, mate or relocate to another tree. Sadly, the acidic diet causes their teeth to grind down over time and they literally fast to death.

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We had no such intention and gorged on oysters and mussels linguini at Sherwoods and retired to our seaside perch Waves. The island has plenty of other attractions like Amaze N’ Things with its funny mirrors, puzzles and illusions, Phillip Island Chocolate Factory, Purple Hen winery and scenic flights operated over Phillip Island.

Disused chicory kilns from the early 1900s were strewn all over while old shearing sheds had been converted into restaurants. Conservation was the new mantra and had indeed given a fillip to the island, which sees 3.5 million tourists each year.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Singapore Airlines flies from Bangalore to Melbourne via Singapore. Phillip Island is 131 km from Melbourne and just a 1¾ hr drive via the M420. http://www.singaporeair.com

When to go
The Penguin Parade takes place round the year, though the winter months of July-September are ideal for whale watching. If you are a racing fan, the Phillip Island Moto GP is held in October for 3 days.

Where to Stay
The Waves Apartments
1 The Esplanade, Cowes
Ph +61 03 5952 1351 http://www.thewaves.com.au

Where to Eat

Isola Di Capri
Corner Thompson Avenue & The Esplanade, Cowes
Ph +61 3 5952 2435 www.isoladicapri.com.au

Sherwoods Restaurant
5 Thompson Avenue, Cowes
Ph +61 3 5952 3773 www.sherwoodsrestaurant.com.au

Mad Cowes Café
3/4 17 The Esplanade, Cowes
Ph +61 3 5952 2560 https://www.madcowescafe.com.au

Cape Kitchen
1215 Phillip Island Road, Newhaven
Ph +61 3 5956 7200 http://thecapekitchen.com.au

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Things to Do

Antarctic Journey, Nobbies Centre: Adult $18 Child $9. (10am-4:45pm)
Wild Oceans Eco Boat Express Tour: Adult $85 Child $65
Penguin Parade: General Viewing Adult $25.10 Child $12.50
4-park bundle pass also available
https://www.penguins.org.au

Wildlife Coast Cruises
Ph 1300763739
www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au

Amaze N’ Things
Ph +61 3 5952 2283
http://www.amazenthings.com.au

Phillip Island Chocolate Factory
Ph +61 3 5956 6600

For more info:
https://www.visitphillipisland.com http://www.visitmelbourne.com/in

Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared on 3 September 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald.