Category Archives: India

Kundalika River Run: Mumbai to Kolad

Standard

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

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1053

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

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

Kolad Rafting IMG_9459_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Kolad Rafting IMG_9480_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Rafting at Kolad IMG_1060

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

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

Kolad Rafting IMG_9470_Anurag Mallick

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

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

Kolad Rafting IMG_9505_Anurag Mallick

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

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

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

Kolad Rafting IMG_9449_Anurag Mallick

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

Dhenkanal: Royal Fables

Standard

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

Dhenkanal Kali temple IMG_6543

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

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

Gajalaxmi Palace Dhenkanal IMG_6447

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

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

Gajalaxmi Palace Dhenkanal IMG_6435

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

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

IMG_6541

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

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

Gajalaxmi Palace Dhenkanal IMG_6518

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

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

Joranda-Mahima Dharma IMG_6566

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

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

Gajalaxmi Palace nature walk IMG_6455

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

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

Food-Dhenkanal bada IMG_6546

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

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

Joranda-Mahima Dharma IMG_6589

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

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

Kapilas temple IMG_6662

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

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

Sadaibereni dhokra craft village IMG_6715

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

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

Nuapatna weaving IMG_6736

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

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

Kila Dalijodha IMG_6786

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

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

Kila Dalijodha IMG_6778

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

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

IMG_6914

FACT FILE

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

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

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

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

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

Food-Pyaji IMG_6548

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

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

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

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

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

Bikaner: Tales of the Wild West

Standard

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

IMG_3514_1

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

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

IMG_3602

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

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

IMG_3359

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

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

IMG_2940_1

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

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

IMG_3120

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

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

IMG_3156

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

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

IMG_2828

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3623

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

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

IMG_2865

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

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

IMG_3460

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

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

IMG_3548

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

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

IMG_3479

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

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

IMG_3213

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

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

IMG_3619

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

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

IMG_3188

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

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

IMG_3263

NAVIGATOR

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

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

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

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

IMG_2869

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

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

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

Kabini: Wild tales of the Kuruba

Standard

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

Kuruba lady Puttamma IMG_7991

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

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

Backwater female IMG_1357

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

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

Kabini landscape 2017-09-21 08.08.55

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

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

Kabini Tusker 2017-09-20 16.11.11

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

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

Orange County welcome IMG_7829

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

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

Orange County Kabini IMG_8058

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

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

IMG_7896

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

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

JLR Kabini IMG_7720

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

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

Kheddah operations at Kabini IMG_7702

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

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

Mr Kabini the elephant with the longest tusks IMG_9100

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

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

Kabini jeep safari 2017-09-21 17.17.18

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

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

JLR Kabini IMG_7711

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

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

Kabini's famous black panther IMG_3786

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

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

Water Woods IMG_7761

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

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

Leopard with fresh chital kill IMG_1996

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

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

IMG_6231

FACT FILE

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

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

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

Water Woods IMG_7755

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eat Street: India’s best street food

Standard

Indian appetite for street food is insatiable and the variety on offer is mind-boggling. Join ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY on a food journey of the best street eats from around the country

Jhalmuri IMG_9867

It is often said that in India, food and language change every few kilometers. In a vast country like ours, street food is as diverse and limitless, with each region having its own specialties. Many food connoisseurs consider India’s capital Delhi as the national street food capital. From Parathe wale gali in Chandni Chowk to late night anda parathas at Moolchand, thukpa in Tibetan Market to various state stalls in Dilli Haat, Delhi’s street food scene is exciting.

Bittoo, the male protagonist in the movie ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ would earnestly profess ‘Bread pakodey ki kasam.’ Delhiites are likely to swear by their favourite snack as easily as they swear at their best friend. While chhole bhature is typically Delhi, on the streets you are more likely to find pushcarts or bicycles with large brass containers selling chhola kulcha, a soft flatbread served with chhole that’s dry or curried. Hawkers trawl the streets and office complexes carrying baskets of ‘ram laddoo’ or deep fried moong dal pakodas, topped with grated radish and coriander chutney.

Ahmedabad Law Garden snacks IMG_7450

In the evening, vendors clang their tavas to announce deep-fried aloo tikki or aloo chat. Roasted shakkarkandi (sweet potato chat), bread-omelette and boiled eggs topped with onion, green chilis, coriander leaves, salt and chaat masala rule in winter while summer spells lassi, shikanji, bel ka sharbat (wood apple squash), sattu, bhanta (goli soda) and chuski (ice gola) to quench people’s thirst.

Thanks to the significant population of immigrants from Darjeeling and the North East, momo stalls have sprouted all over Delhi like startups in Bangalore. Explore the bylanes of the old city with Delhi Food Walks.

Indore Bhutte ka kees IMG_3501

One place that rivals Delhi for the tag of food capital is Amritsar. The first eateries popped up around the ‘Lake of Nectar’ being excavated that gave the city its name. The common staple is kulcha, a thick aloo paratha cooked in a tandoor and served with bowls of chana, longi (a chutney made of potato, onion, tamarind and mint) and butter. ‘Suchha da Kulcha’ on Maqbool Road, ‘Ashok da Kulcha’ on Ranjit Avenue and ‘Darshan Kulcha wala’ near Jamadar ki Haveli are the top kulcha joints in town.

For Amritsari chhole, there’s ‘Kesar ka Dhaba’ at Chowk Pasiyan, ‘Bade Bhai ka Brothers Dhaba’ and ‘Bharawan da Dhaba’ at Town Hall. Try the tandoori chicken at Beera Chicken on Majitha Road and Amritsari machhi at Makhan Fishwala and Surjit Food Plaza in Nehru Complex. Wash it all down with lassi at Ahuja Milk Bhandar at Lohagadh Gate or Gyan di lassi.

Bombay Vada Paav DSC03781

Mumbaikars are equally passionate about their city’s eats. From bhelpuri at Chowpatty, chaat at Elco Market, late night roomali rolls at Bade Miyan or fruit with ice cream at Bachelorr’s, Mumbai has its chosen haunts. Besides the ubiquitous vada paav, there’s paav in every form – misal paav, paav bhaji and keema paav. Sure, there’s ragda pattice (chana and aloo tikki chaat), but on the national food stage, Mumbai’s frugal eats fare the same as we would in an all-India exam, ‘satisfactory, but can do better’.

Mumbai’s eponymous quick fix the Bombay sandwich is made at roadside stalls with slices of potato, onion, cucumber, tomato and cheese between pressed toast. Competing with Mumbai’s dabbawalas are the unsung poha makers, a local household industry and the idli-vada vendors of Matunga, which harbours a significant Tamil population.

Bun maska tea at an Irani cafe IMG_8073

Parsi-run Irani cafes dish out brun maska and tea all day long. During Ramzan, the mile-long stretch from Bohri Mohalla to Mohammed Ali Road teems with food stalls selling baida roti, rolls, kebabs, malpua and phirni. The same ambience can be found in Nagpur’s Mominpura.

In Ahmedabad, locals throng roadside stalls like Shri Ambika Dal Vada Centre selling hot lentil pakodas with onion and fried chili. After the jewellery shops in the gold district Manek Chowk down their shutters, the entire area transforms into one giant open-air food court. Local businessmen don’t mind; it’s free security till 2 am! Understandably, a lot of real estate is devoted to churans, digestives and mukhwas (mouth fresheners). However, not everything is vegetarian in Amdavad. Bhatiyar Galli is packed with Muslim non-veg fare like salli gosht, mutton samosas, kebabs and patties (puffs).

Salli Gosht with bun IMG_8284

Besides khandvi and khaman (dhokla), Gujarat’s most popular snack is Kutchi Dabeli, a desi burger invented in Mandvi, made with potato, masala, chutneys of tamarind, date, garlic, red chilies and garnished with pomegranate and roasted peanuts. Since the filling is ‘pressed’ together between two buns, the dish is called ‘dabeli’. On an average, 20 lakh dabelis are consumed across Kutch every day.

Surat is synonymous with undhiyu, a mixed vegetable dish, literally ‘upside down’ as the dish is traditionally cooked underground in upturned pots with fire from above. Another Surat special is Surti ‘12 handi’paaya (trotters) and assorted meat parts simmering in twelve different handis or pots.

Kadhi fafda IMG_3423

In neighbouring Rajasthan, cities are associated with their unique snacks. If Jaipur is known for its pyaaz kachori (best at Rawat Mishthan Bhandar and the iconic Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar or LMB) and Bikaner has its signature Bikaneri bhujiya, Jodhpur wins hands down with its mirchi bada and mawa kachori. Sign up for a Bazaar, Crafts & Cuisine walk with Virasat Experiences and eat your way through the streets of Jaipur, trying out ghevar, imarti and makhaniya lassi.

In Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior’s local snack is bedai, 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 samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s laddus aren’t to be missed, besides the mandatory pack of gajak (sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) from Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar.

Gwalior bedai IMG_4792

Indore, royal seat of the Holkars, bears a strong Maratha influence, evident in their love for poha, except that they couple it with jalebi! Sharing a border with Gujarat and Rajasthan, khaman and dal-bati are integral to the Malwa region. Indore’s street food scene is legendary with stalls at Sarafa dispensing garadu (deep fried sweet potato), dahi bada, bhutte ka kees (grated corn fried in ghee and spices), batla (green peas) kachori, sev and khopra patties – an aloo bonda with grated coconut inside! Chhappan Dukaan, a commercial precinct of ‘56 shops’, mostly food joints, is home to legends like Johnny Hot Dog and Madhuram’s shikanji, a sweet concoction of thickened milk and dry fruits.

Many cities have a khau galli or ‘Eat Street’ where locals congregate for their daily fix. In Lucknow, Hazratganj and Chowk, the old market stretching between Gol Darwaza and Akbari Darwaza, constitute ultimate foodie heaven. Melt-in-your-mouth kebabs like shami, kakori and galawati are sold at stalls like Tunday Kebab, alongside kulcha-nihari and Lucknowi biryani at Idris or Lalla. Awadhi cuisine, unhurried and delectable, is best savoured in various halwas and desserts like nimish or makkhan malai.

Golgappa IMG_9392

The most popular ‘naashta’ or breakfast item across the Hindi heartland is poori-sabzi. In Allahabad and Varanasi, locals also love their kalakand and lal peda. Everywhere in India, bhutta (corn) and moongfali (peanuts), variously called jig nuts, kadlekayi, singh dana or ‘timepass’, are anytime eats, grabbed on the go at traffic lights or by the kerb. In the south, they like their groundnuts and corncobs steamed!

The ultimate street food of all time is golgappa, which is known by different names and comes in subtle variations. Pani puri, puchka, gupchup, pani patase, call it what you may, it evokes the same emotions. Holding a makeshift sal leaf cup, awaiting your turn, you open your mouth till the world sees your epiglottis as you relish the burst of flavours and tangy explosion of tamarind water as you gobble a golgappa whole. It’s an unwritten rule that every round of pani puri must be followed by papdi chat, the drier version, and a gratis sukha (dry one sans masala) in the end.

Kolkata rolls IMG_6529

In Kolkata, besides kaati rolls, biryani and Bengali sweets, the samosa’s smaller cousin, the singada and aloo chop rule the roost. Kolkata’s eastern nook of Tangra is legendary for its Chinese joints. No train journey in these parts is complete without jhaal muri or puffed rice, spiced with mustard oil, peanuts, Bengal gram mixture, onion, chili, coriander, potato cubes and pickle masala, rattled expertly in a dabba with a spoon and served in a thonga (paper packet) with a sliver of coconut.

Every evening in Bihar, locals snack on mudhi (puffed rice) with kachri (onion/potato fritters) or chura bhuja (roasted flat rice) with lal chana. Bihar’s most well known export is litti-chokha, roundels of dough stuffed with spiced sattu (roasted gram flour), which are doused in ghee and relished with potato mash and thin tomato chutney. Bhola Kewat is a litti legend in Ranchi. Another Jharkhand classic is dhuska, a thick fried poori made of powdered rice and chana dal.

Litti chokha IMG_7021

Nearby ‘Steel City’ Jamshedpur, with its multi-cultural, cosmopolitan air, has its superstars – “Tambi ka dosa, Fakira ka chanachur, Hari ka golgappa, Bauwwa ji ka chai, Kewat ka litti, Lakhi ka rolls, Bhatia ka milkshake…” Jampot folks go into raptures over the taste of nostalgia, reminiscing about their street food heroes like kids obsessing over WrestleMania cards.

Pahala, midway between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, is lined with shops displaying large cauldrons of rasgulla, supposedly invented in Odisha before local maharajas (cooks) popularized it in Kolkata after migrating to Bengal. Another Odiya heavyweight besides chhena poda and chhena gaja is Dhenkanal bada, a dal vada served with ghugni (yellow pea curry).

Dhenkanal bada IMG_6546

Puffed rice or mudhi is consumed all over India, from Odisha, Bengal and Bihar to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where it is known as pori. Across North Karnataka, it’s called mandakki and stalls in Davanagere furiously stir it into spicy variants like khara mandakki, nargis or girmit. At dusk, little angadis (shops) dispense hot mensinkayi bajjis (chili pakoda) from Bijapur to Bangalore. Here, an evening snack is not just local tradition, but considered a sacred birthright. People love their bajjis (fritters) made of potato, onion, lentils or raw banana.

If Maddur is synonymous with Maddur vada and Davangere with its benne dosa made with dollops of white butter, Mangaluru boasts teatime snacks like goli bajji, Mangalore Buns, ambode, uppitu-shira and khara roti. In Hubli’s ‘khau galli’ Durgada Bail, stalls sell unique dishes like ‘tomato omelette.’ Cultural capital Mysore has the holy triumvirate of Mysore dosa, Mysore bonda and Mysore pak (a ghee drenched sweet).

Mangalore goli bajji IMG_5436

In Bangalore, major food haunts like VV Puram, Malleswaram, Shivaji Nagar and Mosque Road resound with the chomps of hungry masses. The quick and cheap rolls of Fanoos have sated appetites for years. Local outfits run food walks through the pettah (Old Bangalore), Frazer Town, Basavangudi, Russell Market and Military Hotels.

In Hyderabad, feasting continues in the city of Nizams with biryani, keema samosas, haleem and paaya. Tamil Nadu goes into raptures over their dosai and vadai as much as parottas, besides soondal, a salad of garbanzo beans or chickpeas tempered with onion, chilli, mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut. Every evening, Chennaiites head straight to the fish fry stalls on Elliott Beach to nibble on an assortment of local fish.

Malabar snacks_Bonda bajji IMG_1791

Across Kerala, the morning starts with puttu-kadla, steamed cylindrical rice cakes with black chickpea curry. Chips made of banana, tapioca and jackfruit are fried in roadside stalls like Kumari Banana Chips in Kozhikode. But the northern tract of Malabar promises a world of lesser-known Moplah delicacies – assorted pathiris (rice pancakes stuffed with egg or meats), bonda, ari kaduka (rice stuffed in green mussels), spindle-shaped unnakaya (mashed banana stuffed with coconut, nuts and raisin) and pazham nerchadu (banana fritters).

Like Iyengar bakeries in Bangalore and other colonial haunts across India, Kerala too has its share of outlets dispensing baked goodies. From Mambally’s in Thalassery, Kerala’s first bakery that opened in 1883 to Delecta and Cochin Bakery in Kozhikode, the bakery culture is omnipresent in India right up to distant Srinagar.

Kashmiri bakeries IMG_9995

The famous Ahdoos and traditional Sofi-run bakeries churn out khara biscuit, sheermal (saffron flatbread), baqerkhani (puff pastry), lavas (unleavened bread) and kulchas (brittle bread) topped with sesame and poppy seeds, avidly consumed with kehwa (Kashmiri tea) and sheer or noon chai (salty tea).

In Himalayan regions like Ladakh, Sikkim and Darjeeling, locals pop churpi or yak cheese cubes like popcorn. It smells vile, tastes like cardboard and takes hours to melt in your mouth, but somehow they love it. No matter which street corner you hang around, there’s a food stall beckoning you with a local bite that begs to be tried…

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 October 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald.

Bridges Across Forever: 10 spectacular bridges in India

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY profile ten beautiful bridges in India you must surely cross in your lifetime

Calcutta bridge IMG_0985

India is a land of mighty rivers and spectacular bridges. From the hollow chug of a train crossing a river bridge to the rhythmic rattle of automobile tyres on the tarmac or the gentle swing of a bamboo bridge; there’s great romance and excitement in crossing bridges. Be it India’s longest river bridge – the 9km long Bhupen Hazarika Setu across the Brahmaputra or the 5.75km Mahatma Gandhi Setu over the Ganga at Patna to massive bridges over the Mahanadi in Odisha and Godavari in Andhra Pradesh, bridges in India come in all shapes, sizes and statistics.

Do all Mumbaikars know that the Bandra-Worli Sea Link they cross to and fro everyday is the longest sea bridge in the country? Vidyasagar Setu over the Hooghly in Kolkata is India’s longest cable-stayed bridge while the 9.5km long Dhola Sadiya Bridge over the Lohit and Brahmaputra rivers connecting Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, is the longest road bridge. We pick 10 bridges you must surely cross – each unique for its scenic or historic value.

Arunachal hanging rope bridge IMG_5696

Hanging Bridge, Damro (Arunachal Pradesh)
In the mountainous state of Arunachal Pradesh, criss-crossed by rivers, you encounter a charming assortment of bridges. From Pasighat, Komsing to Mechuka, you find lovely bamboo or steel bridges lined by fluttering Buddhist prayers flags. But take the back road from Pasighat to Yingkiong, and you come across the longest bridge in Arunachal at Damroh. Stretching across the yawning Yamne river is a giant lattice structure akin to a giant spider’s web. In some places, the planks give way to strips of bamboo that serve as a toehold for nimble-footed kids and local herders going to the forest to tend to their herds of mithun (semi-domesticated bovine)! Stay at Yamne Abor for local explorations.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati and Dibrugarh, from where Pasighat is 155 km away

Meghalaya root bridges DSC01594

Double Decker Living Root Bridge, Laitkynsew (Meghalaya)
In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, the Living Root Bridges are centuries old modes of crossing wild mountain streams. Their natural beauty takes your breath away as you wonder how simple village folks could train the roots of the Ficus elastica tree to interweave and create a Cat’s Cradle-like mesh bridge that spans rivulets. The ancient tradition continues to this day so much so that any passing villager, young or old will diligently twist a fresh errant tendril around an older root, allowing it to curl and grow over each other, strengthening over time. Some root bridges are so strong, they are paved with stones! Meghalaya is home to several root bridges like Riwai’s Jing Kieng Jri, a 2km hike from Mawlynnong. Near Cherrapunjee, a long trudge into Laitkynsew valley leads to an ancient double-decker root bridge. Here you can take a dip in blue-green pools set amidst boulders or savour a natural fish spa.

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata and Shillong

Goa Doodhsagar waterfall bridge DSC04320

Dudhsagar Railway Bridge (Goa)
Travellers on the Vasco-Madgao-Londa train route await the moment when they get close enough to be sprayed by one of India’s most spectacular waterfalls. True to its name, the Dudhsagar literally spills over the mountain ridge like ‘an ocean of milk’. Set in the Western Ghats at the Goa-Karnataka border, the waterfall lies within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary (Mollem National Park). Dudhsagar is created by the Khandepar River, a tributary of the Mandovi which plunges 310m to form India’s fifth highest waterfall. Mist covers the imposing ridge that is cleaved by a fairytale bridge and railway line. It is an unbeatable and exhilarating experience for train passengers; some even fling coconuts or coins as sacred offerings, much to the consternation of revelers below! The bridge is accessible from Castle Rock (near Tinai Ghat in Karnataka) or a dirt track from Collem (6 km off Mollem). Stay at Dudhsagar Resort near Mollem checkpost or Off The Grid Farm near Castle Rock.

Jet Airways flies to Dabolim Airport, Goa

Pamban Railway Bridge IMG_2153

Pamban Bridge (Tamil Nadu)
Not far from Dhanushkodi’s legendary Rama Setu or Rama’s bridge built by the vanara sena (monkey army) to reach Lanka, lies another epic bridge. Looming forty feet above the sea’s aquamarine waters, the Pamban railway bridge connects Rameswaram on Pamban Island to mainland India. Opened on 24 February 1914, it was India’s first sea bridge and the longest in the country until the Bandra-Worli Sea Link upstaged it in 2010. Despite its beautiful setting, the bridge is located in the world’s second most corrosive environment after Florida, lashed by high wind velocities and cyclones. The metre-gauge line from Pamban to Dhanushkodi was destroyed during the 1964 cyclone. One of the most amazing features of the Pamban railway bridge is its Scherzer rolling type lift span that is raised to let ships pass. Its two wings, each weighing 415 tons, are still opened manually using levers! It’s best viewed from the adjacent Annai Indira Road bridge.

Jet Airways flies to Madurai and Trichy

Howrah Bridge Kolkata IMG_0001

Howrah Bridge, Kolkata (West Bengal)
From Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen to Satyajit Ray’s Parash Pathar and Shakti Samanta’s Howrah Bridge to Shoojit Sarkar’s Piku, Kolkata’s iconic cantilever bridge has been immortalized in celluloid with several films featuring it. Built in 1942 to replace an old pontoon bridge, the Howrah Bridge or Rabindra Setu across the Hooghly connecting Calcutta to Howrah is riveting in more ways than one! The metal wonder does not have any nuts or bolts but was created using rivets. 26,500 tons of steel was used, out of which 23,000 tons of high-tensile Tiscrom alloy steel was supplied by Tata Steel from its steel plant at Jamshedpur nearby. Within a few years of construction, nearly 27,400 vehicles, 1,21,000 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle used it daily. Till 1993, it carried trams as well! Flanked by 15 feet wide footpaths, today it sees a daily traffic of over 1 lakh vehicles and 1.5 lakh pedestrians, making it the world’s busiest cantilever bridge.

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata

Nilgiri Mountain railway bridge IMG_2054

Mountain Railway Bridges in Nilgiris/Shimla/Darjeeling
There is a quaint romance associated with tooting vintage trains chugging up mountains, tunnels and bridges – a theme exploited repeatedly in Indian movies. Three of India’s Mountain Railways – Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), Nilgiri Mountain Railway (NMR) and Kalka-Shimla Railway – have been collectively designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The 46 km ride from Mettupalayam to Ooty in the Nilgiris crosses 250 bridges rolling past tea estates, churches, lakes, gardens and viewpoints. The 96 km train ride from Kalka to Shimla has 864 bridges while the 88km journey from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling presents stunning views of the Himalayas.

Jet Airways flies to Coimbatore, Chandigarh and Bagdogra

Nurabad Bridge in Madhya Pradesh IMG_4637

Nurabad Bridge (Madhya Pradesh)
Forget the Bridge over River Kwai, the striking bridge over River Kuwari, a branch of the Chambal, has to be seen to be believed. Located between Gwalior and Morena at Nurabad, a city founded in the 16th century, the ornate stone bridge bears a quiet alluring beauty. Pleasing Mughal arches, minarets and stone pavilions mark this bridge built by Motimad Khan, a sardar of Aurangzeb during the Mughal period. Historian James Tod in his 1829 book ‘Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or the Central and Western Rajpoot States of India’ writes: ‘The Taili-ca-Pool, or ‘Oilman’s Bridge’ at Noorabad, is a magnificent memorial of the trade…These Tailis (oilmen) perambulate the country with skins of oil on a bullock, and from hard-earned pence erect the structures which bear their name.’

Jet Airways flies to Delhi

The Wellesley Bridge in Srirangapatna, Karnataka - c1850's

Wellesley Bridge, Srirangapatna (Karnataka)
Stretching across the Cauvery at Srirangapatna is the historic Wellesley Bridge. Erected in 1804 at the princely sum of rupees five and a half lakh, it was built under the supervision of Dewan Purnaiya and named after the Governor General – the Marquis of Wellesley. An interesting specimen of vernacular architecture, the bridge is built only with granite and its stone pillars capped by stone corbels surmounted by stone girders have survived the heaviest floods in the Cauvery for over two centuries. The fact that the bridge is still functional speaks volumes of its architectural genius.

Jet Airways flies to Bangalore

Mahatma Gandhi's call for Dandi march at Ellis Bridge IMG_8218_Anurag Mallick

Ellis Bridge, Ahmedabad (Gujarat)
It was from the historic Ellis Bridge in Ahmedabad that thousands heard Mahatma Gandhi declare the Dandi March on 8 March 1930. Linking the western and eastern parts of the city across the Sabarmati River, the 125-year-old steel bridge with its emblematic arches was the first of its kind in Ahmedabad. After floods destroyed the original wooden bridge constructed by British engineers in 1875, a new bridge was made in 1892. Engineer Himmatlal Dhirajram Bhachech built it out of imported Birmingham steel at a cost of Rs.4,07,000 and named it after Sir Barrow Helbert Ellis, commissioner of the North Zone. Since the estimated budget was Rs.5 lakh rupees, the Government suspected Himmatlal of using substandard materials. But an inquiry committee found that it was indeed a fine construction and Himmatlal was honoured with the title of Rao Sahib. When the bridge became too cramped with heavy motorized traffic, new concrete bridges were constructed on either side. In 1997, Ellis Bridge was closed to traffic and made into a walkway to preserve it as a heritage landmark of the city.

Jet Airways flies to Ahmedabad

Andamans-Natural Rock bridge Laxmanpur DSC07251

Natural Rock Bridge, Laxmanpur (Andamans)
Neil Island in Ritchie’s Archipelago, one of the 572 islands in the Andamans, is home to a unique geological marvel. On the scenic Laxmanpur-2 beach on the western edge of the island, lies a natural rock bridge fringed with tufts of green vegetation. In this wild untouched corner, the surf recedes during low tide to leave behind shallow pools teeming with marine creatures. A short slippery walk along the beach takes you closer to this rock bridge which arcs into the Andaman Sea like a thirsty dinosaur. Dubbed as “Howrah Bridge” by nostalgic Bengali refugees who were resettled here after the Bangladesh War, it is a photographer’s delight.

Jet Airways flies to Port Blair

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of JetWings magazine.

Into the hearth of North Karnataka

Standard

ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY travelled 20,000km across Karnataka on a food research project for a restaurant, sampling and cooking local cuisine with two chefs and a video crew. This story covers their North Karnataka leg to jola (sorghum) country.

Benagi vegetable shop Dharwad DSC03144_Anurag Mallick

Gangamma Kashiappa Benagi, an octogenarian vegetable vendor from Dharwad, had more creases on her face than the currency notes she handled everyday. She sat singing in her kitchen, involuntarily rotating her arm over an imaginary grindstone! We smiled. Embarrassed, she confided it was out of habit.

The tune, typically sung while grinding grain, recalls a rich oral tradition where everyday chores and harvesting were celebrated through song. Over the next few hours, Gangamma shared recipes and secrets she had learned from her mother Lingamma who started the vegetable shop in 1905.

Author pics IMG_4800

We were two writers accompanied by two chefs and a video crew driving through Karnataka, cooking and sampling local delicacies as part of a food research project for a restaurant. While we had stuffed our faces all day, Gangamma had vended vegetables, tilled her field, changed two buses to meet us and rustle up a great vegetarian spread. She even slapped out 18-inch jolada (jowar or sorghum) rotis by hand. This was Shravana masa cuisine, she explained, using native vegetables available in the monsoon.

On offer were jowari doddmensinkayi palya (stuffed country capsicum), so pungent, it had to be tempered down with curd, gulagayi yenagai (country cucumber fry), jowari mensinkayi (pan fried country chilli), majjige saaru (buttermilk curry) and karchikai palya (Momordica cymbalaria), a little pod that must be consumed right after harvest, before it bursts open. In the old days, the Benagi ladies gave vegetables to local hotels on credit and settled accounts only after the day’s cooking and feeding was done!

Jowar fields DSC02605_Anurag Mallick

This was North Karnataka, the famous jowar belt where sorghum/millet is used to make unleavened bread or jolada roti, served at Lingayat eateries like Basaveshwara Khanavali in Hubli (now Hubballi). In the 12th century, philosopher saint Basavanna started the Veerashaiva-Lingayat faith, marked by Shiva worship and vegetarianism. In Dharwad, every morning Hotel Nataraj displays the saint’s vachanas (sayings) on a board outside.

Lunchtime business is brisk at Basappa Khanavali, a legendary Lingayat eatery started by Basappa Malgond in 1930 with set meals of jolada roti with yenne badnekayi (brinjal curry), hesarukaal palya (green gram curry) and jhunka, steamed gram flour cubes dusted with sesame and coriander leaves. The region is known for its pudis (powders) that supplement the diet as sources of protein – agasi (flax seed), yellu (sesame), shenga (groundnut), puttani (chana dal) and gural or ucchelu (Niger seed), commonly sprinkled on salads and curries or stuffed into brinjal or okra.

Tingal avrekayi palya DSC03376_Anurag Mallick

In the Amingad home, we discovered unusual delicacies like tingal avrekayi palya, a local bean available only for a ‘month’ (tingal in Kannada). Soute Bija Huggi or broken wheat kheer resembles tiny soute bija (cucumber seeds) and features in all Lingayat marriages and functions. The process of rolling out the little pellets of broken wheat dough was tedious. Ashok, who runs Amingad Cool Drink with his father, joked, “In North Karnataka, we also have traditional momos and pasta!”

The ladies rolled out kuchida kadabu (wheat dumpling), kudisida kadabu (stuffed dumpling) and uggi chapattis, steamed on green cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee! Little dough beads were pressed on a comb for stripes and shaped into miniature shells or ‘shankha’. “Bro, it’s like Orecchiette” (ear-shaped pasta), exclaimed Chef Manjit. Epiphanies lurked around every corner.

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

At L.E.A. (Lingayat Educational Association) Canteen, we tried thuppa avalakki (beaten rice with ghee) and their signature Masala Toast with chatnipudi, benne (white butter) and sauce. Slathered together, it was as good as a desi peanut butter sandwich! ‘Hotte’ (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa was literally a heavyweight in the local food scene.

This sweet stall owner with a heart of gold distributed free treats to children and the poor, before selling mandakki (puffed rice) and sweets to customers. Meghdarshini offered an outsized poori, unlimited sabzi and chutney for those with smaller pockets! Philanthropy ran deep in culture-rich Dharwad.

Hotte (Pot-bellied) Nanjappa Hotel Dharwad IMG_2258_Anurag Mallick

The Dharwad peda story began 175 years ago, when Ram Ratan Singh Thakur migrated from Unnao due to the plague and started making pedas for a living. His grandson Babu Singh Thakur popularized it and people formed such long queues at the shop that the area was named ‘Line’ Bazaar.

In 1933, a penniless Avadh Bihari Mishra settled in Line Bazaar and got into the same business. Today, Mishra peda, with its industrial production and multiple outlets across cities, has made Dharwad peda a household name!

Mishra peda factory DSC02890_Anurag Mallick

Dharwad’s twin-town Hubli is dotted with Lingayat khanavalis like Basaveshwara and Savaji eateries like Nakoda and Devika standing cheek-by-jowl with brass bands and ammunition shops. Durgada Bail, the city’s legendary Khau Galli (Eat Street) fires up the evening with snack stalls serving masala dosa and ‘tomato’ omelette!

But it’s not all vegetarian up north. The bold flavour of Sauji or Savaji cuisine is like a beacon for lovers of meat and spice. Savajis or SSKs are Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriyas who claim descent from the mythic thousand-armed warrior Kartiveerya Arjun. They migrated to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra’s borders from Central India.

Sauji wall decor DSC02742_Anurag Mallick

As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine. During Dussehra, they offer edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings), arithi (wheat flour diyas) and lalpani (liquor) to Goddess Bhavani. We cooked classics like keema ball and khara boti at Hotel Milan Savaji with the Kabadis and traditional delicacies with Vidya and Vishwanath Kathare – rakti (blood curry), tale mamsa (brain curry) and karadu (spicy) mutton. If Savaji cuisine uses blood, its spiciness extracts an equal measure of sweat and tears!

Northwest Karnataka shares a border with Maharashtra and the Maratha love for spice is evident in Belgaum (or Belagavi). Be it rassa (fiery curries) or sukka (spicy dry fry), red chili is essential! Manjula’s chicken sukka and mutton rassa at Pai Resorts left us teary-eyed in more ways than one. An erstwhile British cantonment, Belgaum is famous for its kunda, a milk and khova sweet, best at Camp Purohit. Anyone naïve enough to advertise his travel plans to these parts is saddled with requests for boxes of sweets!

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5840_Anurag Mallick

Overshadowed by Belgaum kunda, is the city’s other sweet, mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khova, it is whirled like a roomali, baked on an upturned tava and folded like a rectangular dosa. At Krishnamurthi Saralaya’s Mandige on Konwal Gali, Vijaykumar shared a fascinating legend.

A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled some dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his tapas (penance). Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! A must in Brahmin weddings, it’s often displayed unfolded in large baskets. Many a marriage has been called off because no mandige was served!

Amingad kardantu DSC03102_Anurag Mallick

North Karnataka loves its sweets as much as spice. Kardant was invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together, creating the karadi-antu (fried gum).

Like a nutty granola gym snack, it became extremely popular among those frequenting garadimanes (wrestling akhadas). Gulbarga is famous for its paan mithai and malpuri, created by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan, while Ballari is known for its ‘Cycle’ khova sold on bicycles!

Ballari Cycle khova IMG_3339_Anurag Mallick

From sheep farms in Haveri, Karnataka’s ‘Chili town’ Byadgi to the erstwhile Muslim principality of Savanur known for Shivalal’s legendary ‘khara’ (mixture) since 1931, we went into virtually unchartered terrain on our food trail. Just past Almatty Dam, Korti-Kolhaar on the Hubli-Bijapur (Vijayapura) highway attracts travelers with fresh fish from the Krishna river. The matka curd, served with puttani-avalakki (beaten rice) for Rs.25, lasts for days without souring.

Menthya (fenugreek) is another staple and sprigs of the smaller-leaved country variety are served at every meal, made into a pachadi (salad) or steamed into kadabu (dumpling). With our Bijapur ‘oota’ (meal), we got crunchy country cucumbers as well. Here, people love their jolada rotis kadak (crisp) and their mensinkayi bajjis fiery. “But why such spicy food in a hot climate?” we cried. Thippanna looked at us incredulously. “It’s a hot arid region; people eat spicier food so it makes them sweat and keeps the body cool.” Baffling, yet believable!

Sauji thali DSC02726_Anurag Mallick

At Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi), the Maratha-run Chaddi Hotel got its name from the owner who wore shorts. Gajanan of Chetak Sauji Hotel recounted how on a busy night, he ran out of food and had to cook a fresh batch in a pressure cooker, which patrons tagged ‘seeti rice’ after the whistle! The small-grained rice goes perfectly with kavala (tender) mutton, mutton keema balls and anda curry.

The Hyderabad-Karnataka region, bordering Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, has culinary influences like gongura (Sorrel leaves), made into chutney or cooked with lentils or mutton. Hyderabadi dishes like biryani, dalcha (meat with lentils) and bread ka meetha are popular in these parts, explained Lalitha Jawali.

Gurudwara Nanak Jhira Bidar langar kitchen IMG_5048_Anurag Mallick

In 1512, Guru Nanak came to the Deccan during his second udasi (spiritual journey). When people lamented about the brackish water in Bidar, he tapped a stone with his foot to create a fresh water spring (jhira) that flows to this day. The langar (free kitchen) at Gurudwara Nanak Jhira feeds thousands of visitors daily while Rohit Restaurant nearby serves excellent Punjabi food.

We stopped for Iduga cuisine at Dandina Hirehalu, the historic camping ground for soldiers marching from Bellary Fort to Chitradurga Fort. The Idugas migrated from Andhra to Karnataka centuries ago and are known for meaty cuisine and fondness for chilli. At HRG Farmhouse, Mahadevi explained, “Mutton kebab is best marinated with papaya flowers. Every part of the goat is utilized – trotters for kaal (leg) soup, blood added to boti (intestines) becomes nalla vanta and spleen and liver mixed with hand-pounded chilli makes batti chutney.” The round appetizers tasted like paté!

Batti Chutney IMG_3039_Anurag Mallick

Beyond Hamp’s Hebrew signboards advertising shakshuka, babaganoush and Israeli fare, there’s local food aplenty. At Uramma Heritage Home in Anegundi, we cooked with Sharda and Hemlatha of Bhuvneshwari self-help group, who specialize in traditional cuisine.

They whipped up unusual bhendekayi (okra) chutney, alasande gugri palya of cowpeas or lobia, country brinjals roasted on open fire and mashed into badnekayi chutney and hesaru bele (green gram) payasa (kheer) and kosambri (salad).

Holige making with Bhuvneshwari Self-help group Anegundi IMG_3695_Anurag Mallick

Davangere is synonymous with the benne dosa, made with generous dollops of white butter and served with alu palya (potato mash) and coconut chutney, best savoured hot at Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel. Professor Ganesh took us on a street food tour with a cooking session at Vinutha Ravi’s home.

Davangere has hundreds of bhattis (mills) that produce mandakki (puffed rice), served with mensinkayi bajji (chilli fritters) at street stalls. At TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi, puffed rice was furiously stirred into masala, khara or nargis mandakki. An entire street was dedicated to shavige (vermicelli), dried like screens of silken yarn on terraces. The tantalizing aroma of oggarne (seasoning) hung in the air as someone busily tapped a ladle against a vessel.

Shavige Davangere IMG_2274_Anurag Mallick

FACT FILE

Getting there
There’s a daily flight from Bangalore to Hubli, from where Belgaum is 101km, Davangere 151km, Hampi 164km, Ballari 214km and Bijapur 193km. From Bijapur, Gulbarga is 151km and Bidar 112km further northeast.

Where to Stay
Places like Davangere, Bijapur, Gulbarga and Bidar have regular city hotels. At Bellary, try Hotel Royal Fort, Pai Resorts opposite Killa Lake in Belgaum, Uramma Heritage Home at Anegundi and Orange County’s Evolve Back at Kamalapura near Hampi.

Where to Eat

DAVANGERE

Sri Guru Kottureshwara Benne Dosa Hotel
Medical College Road, Kuvempu Nagar
Ph 9449135100

TS Manjunath Swamy Masala Mandakki Angadi
Lawyer Road, Jaydev Circle
Ph 9902200924

Hamsini Hotel
Shamanur Road
Ph 9886792331

HUBLI/HUBBALLI

Basaveshwar Khanavali
Opp Old Bus Stand, Kamaripeth
Ph 0836-2357745

Basappa Khanavali Dharwad-local favourite DSC02879_Anurag Mallick

DHARWAD

Basappa Khanavali
Opp Civil Court, PB Road
Ph 9902729973

Hotel Milan Savaji
Jubilee Circle, PB Road
Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875

Kathare’s Savaji Hotel
Line Bazaar, Opp Sangam Theatre
Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450

Hotel Nataraj
Sangam Circle
Ph 0836-2442855, 9964607800

L.E.A. Canteen
Belgaum Road
Ph 9448147157

Megh Darshini Restaurant
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2435147

Amingad Cold Drink House
Subhash Road
Ph 0836-2442437, 9740013177

Babusingh’s Thakur Pedha
Near Sri Ram Temple, Line Bazaar
www.thakurpedha.com

Mishra Peda
Court Circle, SH-1
Ph 0836-2213217
www.mishrapedha.com

Krishnamurti Saralaya's mandige shop at Belgaum IMG_5845_Anurag Mallick

BELGAUM/BELAGAVI

Krishnamurti Saralaya’s Mandige
Konwal Gali

Camp Purohit
Opp Shringar Cinema, High Street, Camp
Ph 0831-2422715

Hotel Niyaaz
PB Road, Opp Market Police Station
Ph 0831-2400133

AMINGAD

Vijaya Kardant
SH-20, Raichur Highway
Ph 8123115005

HAMPI

Uramma Heritage Homes
Anegundi
Ph 9448284658
www.urammaheritagehomes.com

Hampi fields IMG_4032_Anurag Mallick

BIJAPUR/VIJAYAPURA

Shri Sai Prasad Khanawali
Sainik School Road, Opp KSRTC Workshop
Ph 9902153239

GULBARGA/KALABURAGI

Hotel Chetak
Humnabad Base
Ph 9901003399

Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri
Chappal Bazaar

BIDAR

Rohit Restaurant
Inside Kamaan, Guru Nanak Colony
Ph 9241374425

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine.