Category Archives: India

Garli: Chateau Charisma

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover old world romance and architectural gems in a heritage village in Himachal Pradesh

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If it wasn’t for the summer heat and pahadi drumbeats heralding our arrival, we could have been in a faraway village in Germany or Switzerland. We stood under the painted oriel window of Chateau Garli with blues skies broken by white clouds and gyrating weathervanes, utterly besotted and bewildered by its beauty. The arterial road running through the pahadi town was lined by heritage buildings on either side though the summer haze obscured the snow-capped Dhauladhar range.

Garli in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley wears its European influences with an air of nostalgic élan. In the 16th century, the area came under the rule of the Jaswan kingdom. The brave princess Prag Dei put up a stiff resistance against a band of marauders terrorising the valley and Pragpur was established in her honour. Its sister town Garli is peopled by the 52 hill clans of the Sood community, who originally lived in Rajasthan but were driven out by the Mughals.

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Around 19th century they settled around the hamlets of Garli and its more famous architectural twin town Pragpur four kilometres away. The site was chosen carefully at the tri-junction of three Shakti temples – Chintpurni, Jwalamukhi and Brajeshwari in Kangra to receive auspicious astral influences. They came here with cobblers, carpenters, craftsmen and other professionals to set up a trading township.

As treasurers of the Kangra royals and contractors who helped the British establish Shimla, the Soods amassed great fortunes and love for European style is so evident in Garli. The town is a haven of sprawling ancestral homes showcasing jaw-dropping architectural styles. Today, most are however in need of care and renovation. Some of the houses seem to be in a state of decay and the sleepy town does wear a tattered cloak of neglect and abandonment.

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Giving credence to this is a legend of a young bride who was wrongly accused of adultery by the villagers years ago. Angry at the slur to her reputation, the helpless girl cursed the entire village to eternal ruin. Surprisingly enough, over the years people started moving out and by the 1950s, apparently most of the houses in the once thriving village were abandoned. Thankfully, a few, like Chateau Garli, which lay unoccupied for 20 years, have now been protected.

Our host Yatish Sud and his son Amish have painstakingly restored their mansion, constructed in 1921 by his grandfather Lala Mela Ram Sud, into a boutique heritage stay. Each of its 19 rooms holds memories of another time – colonial furniture, mellow lights and crystal chandeliers contrasting sunlit coloured panes spilling rainbow reflections onto the floor.

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Our room in the old main building had a lovely balcony overlooking the large swimming pool. The ceiling artwork and gilded motifs framing the doorways, walls and windows were hand-painted by Amish’s sister Tarini, adding a classy, personal touch to the interiors. The acute gabled roofs, long windows and pillared verandahs of the main building flowed seamlessly to the annexe, which used to be a cattle shed.

Overlooking the pool and rustic kitchen counter, the annexe with its colourful windows transforms into fairytale castle at dusk. Each of the rooms are dressed with antique furniture like four poster beds and baby cribs, which accentuate its old world charm. Beside the pool, a mud-plastered counter was lined with brass pots and a traditional chulha (earthen oven) where food was prepared by local staff.

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Lunch was a lovely Kangra dhaam (meal) featuring a fixed menu of traditional Himachali delicacies like mhani, a preparation of black chana with jaggery and amchoor, siddu, the local steamed bread, mah ki dal, khatta (tangy curry) and meetha (sweet). After washing it down with some Kangra tea, we went on a guided walk around Garli.

Meandering cobbled alleys were lined by copper-toned mud-plastered homes, brick houses with slate roofs and lovely balconies, wooden balustrades, carved doors, wall murals and Rajasthani arches. Rayeeson wali kothi, the first mansion built in Garli, had murals and Rajasthani motifs on the walls, Santri wali kothi was dominated by two turbaned plaster sentries on the parapet wall while Nalke wali kothi had a public tap in front.

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We stopped by at one of the earliest bakeries in town where home-style cookies were being fired in a coal oven. On the town’s eastern end on the road to the Beas stood Naurang Yatri Nivas, a charming rustic style country lodge renovated by Yatish’s friend Atul Lal. In market lanes we discovered the progressive town planning, water and drainage system incorporated nearly a century ago.

The Soods established a boys’ school in 1918, a special women’s hospital in 1921 and a girl’s school by 1955. All of these, along with Garli Water Works, which used imported copper pipes from London, are still operational! The waterworks was inaugurated by Sir Malcolm Hailey, the Governor of Punjab on 8th February 1928 and a special road was built for the purpose. At a time when the rest of India was largely underdeveloped, the infrastructure of this tiny outpost was leagues ahead.

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Homes had wall niches for lamps to illumine the path for pedestrians in the old days. Pots of water were left thoughtfully for people to help combat heat and thirst. Such generosity of spirit was apparent even at Chateau Garli. When Yatish’s grandfather struck water while building the house, he adjusted his compound walls so that the well came outside his boundary and village folk could fill their pots. The practice continues to this day.

As Yatish drove us around local sights like Pong Dam, Dada Siba temple with Kangra paintings and 8th century Masroor rock-cut temples, we realized hospitality was not new to the Suds, it was an age old tradition.

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VITALS

Accommodation
Chateau Garli has 19 heritage rooms and suites between its main house and the annexe and serves robust, home-style meals including Indian, Chinese and local Kangra fare. Each room comes with AC, coffee maker and wi-fi besides a common swimming pool with underwater speakers!

Chateau Garli
Ph +91-1970-246246, 94180 62003
http://www.chateaugarli.com
Tariff Rs.5000 onwards).

Getting There
Garli is 4km/10 min east of its twin village Pragpur in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. It is 45km/1 hr southeast of Dharamsala, 186km/3 hrs from Chandigarh and 425km/7 hrs north of New Delhi. The closest airport is Gaggal in Dharamsala which has flights from Delhi. The nearest railway station is Amb, 16km/20 min away, connected by Himachal Express from Delhi, which reaches at 8am. Regular buses ply to Garli from many cities in Himachal like Pathankot (120km), Kullu (180km) and Simla (180km).

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of National Geographic Traveller magazine: http://www.natgeotraveller.in/mountain-stay-chateau-garli-for-himachal-heritage-and-kangra-khana/

Beautifully Bespoke: Unique experiences in India

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From desert camps, mountain abodes, rainforest retreats to beachside bungalows, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY curate bespoke indulgences across the country

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Suryagarh, Jaisalmer (Rajasthan)
The welcome is grand. An open jeep with flags aflutter leads guests to the fort-like entrance where a pair of camels leads you up the driveway to the porch. A Manganiyar troupe welcomes you with song, Panditji applies a tilak on your forehead as a flower petals rain from above. At the foyer, an attendant hands a towel, another plies you with cool beverage before ushering you to the room. A manganiyar seated in a jharokha of the central courtyard welcomes you to the world of Suryagarh. Few hotels match the art of hospitality and pampering of Suryagarh. Its diverse dining experiences are beautifully curated – Breakfast with Peacocks, Halwayi Breakfast in the courtyard or Dining on the Dunes, at Fossil Hill or lakeside.

Its bespoke Desert Remembers trails present the Thar desert’s lesser known history – Bhil settlements, ruins of caravanserais, rainwater harvesting techniques of Paliwal Brahmins who prospered from the Silk Route, cenotaphs of merchants and travellers, ancient stepwells and the sweet water wells of Mundari. Retrace old trade routes on camel safaris or go on a midnight Chudail (Witches) Trail at Kuldhara. The hotel’s design elements are inspired by its surroundings – the jharokhas mirror Jaisalmer’s havelis, windows and friezes from Khaba Fort and stone walls and ceiling from Kuldhara. Suryagarh’s Residences, exclusive private havelis and suites handcrafted from sandstone, are reminiscent of Paliwal villages. They even have your photos printed and placed in customized frames in your room as a personal touch. Each day, halwai chef Gatta Ram sends a mithai platter with descriptive historical nuggets on scrolls. Surrender to specially designed therapies at Rait Spa that uses locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt.

Ph +91-02992-269269, 7827151151
www.suryagarh.com
Tariff 14,000-1,00,000/night

Coco Shambhala_2

Coco Shambhala, Nerul (Goa)
No matter whether you’re in Bangalore or Burkina Faso, a friendly phone call one day prior to your arrival at Coco Shambhala notes your dietary preferences in detail. Spread over an acre near Coco Beach, the secluded villas – named Bharani, Aslesha, Ashwini and Rohini – come with two rooms, treetop living room, private plunge pool, open showers, equipped kitchen and complimentary mini-bar stocked with beers, wine and champagne. The Panchvati style interiors by Belgian designer Lou Lou Isla Maria Van Damme uses colonial furniture in a tropical jungle style garden with ethnic accents. There’s no separate restaurant but signature dishes like Prawn & Chorizo Bruschetta, Basil Prawns with Lemon and Namibian Chicken are served in the comfort of your villa.

Relaxing treatments of 2 Heavens Spa can also be arranged in your room. Meals are ordered a day in advance so only fresh produce is bought and used. Savour the exclusive menu and gustatory experiences curated by India’s top wine and food specialist Shagun Mehra. The stunning pool uses chlorine-free well water. Guests are handed a cellphone pre-fed with staff details, including a complimentary cab and driver for excursions, with free pick up and drop to the airport. Sounds too good? No wonder Coco Shambhala was ranked among the Top 25 Beach Villas in the World by Condé Nast Traveller and recently bagged Outlook Traveller’s Best Boutique Hotel Award 2016.

Ph +91 9372267182
www.shambhalavillas.com
Tariff 30,000-42,000/villa, incl. breakfast

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The Ibnii, Madikeri, Coorg (Karnataka)
Opened in Feb 2016 after an extensive 10-year development project, The Ibnii (literally ‘Dew’) offers true-to-nature holidays. The check-in is paperless and a welcome drink of bellath (jaggery) coffee is served at The Kaadu, a wooden machaan overlooking the 120-acre property. The Ibnii takes great pride in having no phone network or room service (though wi-fi is available). Ten Balinese wooden cottages on stilts overlook a rainwater harvesting lake and 22 private pool villas called Kopi Luwak come with Jacuzzi and outdoor pool.

Guests are encouraged to walk to Pattola Palame (meaning ‘collection of silk strands’) to dine at the multi-cuisine Fig, veg restaurant Ballele (banana leaf), outdoor barbecue Masikande (charcoal) and Kaldi Kaapee coffee house where the Bean-to-Cup coffee tour culminates. Duck feeding, responsible fishing, nature trails, interactive kitchen with baking classes at the Boulangerie; there’s plenty to do here. Try the signature coffee and sugar scrub, besides Ayurvedic and Western spa treatments at Manja Spa named after the healing ‘turmeric’.

Ph +91 88849 90000 www.ibnii.com
Tariff Rs.35,000, incl. all meals

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Chamba Camp & The Grand Dragon Ladakh (J&K)
Could a high altitude cold desert like Ladakh offer comfort you’ve never imagined? Experience ‘Glamping’ or glamour camping at Chamba Camp Thiksey, part of Cox & Kings’ The Ultimate Travelling Camp (TUTC). Individually designed luxury tents come with en-suite bathrooms, colonial furniture, a private deck and personal butler. Experienced guides accompany you on personalized cultural trips to monasteries and oracles, regaling you with folk tales by campfire. Watch a game of polo, raft down the Indus River and enjoy lavish picnic lunches. In 2015, it won Robb Report’s 27th Annual International Best of Best Awards, the connoisseur’s guide to the world’s finest things. The only hitch? Just a 4-month season.

Thankfully, The Grand Dragon Ladakh, Leh’s plushest hotel is open all year round offering great winter packages besides swanky new suites. Centrally heated with impressive views of the Stok Kangri range, it serves terrific food and traditional Ladakhi cuisine. Move over from momothukpa and discover skiu (wheat pasta stew), timstuk (wheat strips and black gram soup), nang (Ladakhi sausage), shapta (meat curry), phingsha (keema with phing or glass noodles), taint (Ladakhi spinach) and tingmo (Tibetan steamed buns). Unique cultural experiences like learning calligraphy, a session with a Ladakhi oracle, tea by the Indus and Zanskar rivers and witnessing prayer sessions in monasteries make your stay special.

Ph 1800 123 0508
www.coxandkings.com
Tariff Rs.2,45,355/person for 6 days, 5 nights

Ph +91 9906986782, 9622997222
www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.10,670-43,000

Rokeby Manor_Pine Tree Lodge - Dining

 

 

Rokeby Manor, Landour (Uttarakhand)
A colonial era boutique hotel between the Shivaliks and the Himalayas, Rokeby Manor was built at Landour in 1840 by Captain GN Cauthy and named after the writings of Sir Walter Scott. With stone walls, wooden floors and quaint niches and nooks, the renovated rooms overlook the valley or the Tea Garden. The restaurant Emily’s serves gourmet cuisine and house specials like Mustard Chicken. While the second oldest villa in the erstwhile British cantonment is special, wait till you discover the cluster of 19th century colonial cottages called Rokeby Residences!

Offering stand-alone experiences, every mountain retreat has 2-3 bedrooms and its own Mr. Jeeves. Shamrock Cottage, built in the 1800’s, has a spacious garden. Bothwell Bank is a stone-clad log cabin with knotty pine wood décor, original fireplaces, kitchen, barbecue and outdoor Jacuzzi. Tabor Lodge has a private deck lined with herbs in outsized cups. Pine Tree Lodge displays Scandinavian architecture with patchwork stools, vintage lamps and Finnish artwork. Whatever your choice, exclusivity is guaranteed, with the Swiss-style Stubli Café, Ale House English pub and Little Shed Salon & Spa bound to keep you occupied.

Ph 0135-2635604/05/06, 9634443666
www.rokebymanor.com
Tariff Rs.10,000-70,000

 

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the Q4 2016 issue of Audi magazine.

Under the Goan sun

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Fun, food and festive fervour, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY find new reasons to come back to Goa

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The Goan sun may have lost its burn after heavyweight music festivals like Sunburn and Supersonic shifted to Pune last year end, but that can only mean good news to Goa lovers. There’s plenty of elbow room to party for Christmas and New Year! Crank up the volume with the Krank Goa Boutique Party Experience (27-30 Dec) at Chronicle, have the ‘Craziest New Year’s Eve party’ at Banyan Tree with legendary techno artist Goa Gil or try the Yoga Retreat Fest at Mandrem (28 Nov-3 Dec).

However, there’s more to cheer about this season. Starwood’s swanky W Hotels opens in Vagator this December. An old soda factory at Baddem has been reinvented into Soro, a rustic New York-style pub with colourful tiles and retro posters. After wowing Hauz Khas hipsters in Delhi, Gunpowder is scorching Goan taste-buds with its eclectic Peninsular cuisine. Sharing space with PeopleTree design studio in Assagao near the new Fabindia outlet, Gunpowder has a new trendy bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik.

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Not enough? There’s hot air ballooning (Rs.9900/person) at Assolda in South Goa and Duck Boat Safaris in Panjim, making Goa the first state in India to introduce it. Like Dublin or Dubai, you can take a terrestrial-aquatic tour of the architectural precinct of Old Goa followed by a boat ride on the Mandovi. Surely an upgrade from those sunset cruises with ‘live Goan music and dance’!

GTDC Managing Director Nikhil Desai is upbeat about new tourism initiatives. “We have launched cycling tours and birding trails. You can hire a yacht or go on boat tours to Chorao and Divar islands. Plans are afoot to convert Mayem Lake into a recreational spot. Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tours like Singapore and London are in the pipeline. Apart from beach tourism, the focus is on the rich hinterland, unique festivals and Goa as a gourmet destination.”

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Gourmet Goa

Having savoured Goa’s diverse repertoire, we had to agree. Be it Bomras’ Burmese cuisine like lah pet toke (pickled tea leaf salad) in Candolim, souvlakis, tzatziki and Greek fare at Thalassa in Anjuna or Indo-French fine dining at Gregory Bazire’s Le Poisson Rouge at Baga, Goa is for gourmands. Dig into river crab and fresh turmeric tortellini with a curry leaf emulsion at Le Poisson Rouge or hop across to Matsya Freestyle Kitchen at Samata Retreat Centre in Arambol to try out Israeli chef Gome Galily’s excellent tuna tataki and red snapper ceviche.

Chef Chris Saleem, the man behind Sublime in Morjim is now manning Elevar, a seaside restaurant in Ashvem. A large deck with casual seating overlooks the surf as well-plated dishes like Seabass Carpaccio and Tandoori prawns over saffron and fenugreek risotto are served. We took a ferry across to Fort Tiracol to dine at Tavern restaurant where Chris’s signature menu blends Portuguese, Goan and Indian flavours into petiscos (tapas). Overlooking Keri Beach from the fort ramparts, we tucked into spaghetti with Tiracol clams, Vitello Tonnato (stewed beef filets) and Peixe caldeirada (Portuguese fisherman stew) with a view as terrific as the food.

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Forget Italian and Asian, there’s even Bengali cuisine in Goa! Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a sea green and white Portuguese villa in Sangolda had enough room for a restaurant. Her friends Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh found inspiration in the Franco-Bengali love for mustard and roped in food historian Pritha Sen to meld subtle flavours of East Bengal with French cuisine. Over Cucumber Latte and tamarind-based Tentul Joler Sherbet, Pritha deconstructed Eastern Indian cuisine.

“When the British built the railways to expand the trade in tea and Burma teak, steamers ferried goods, passengers, forest rangers, British officials and zamindars from the railhead. Mogs, a Burmese hill tribe from Arakan, were ace cooks who picked up European flavours aboard Portuguese pirate ships. Unlike Hindu or Muslim cooks, Mogs were Buddhist and had no qualms preparing pork or beef, so the British employed them on these steamers. Over time, this ‘steamer cuisine’ crept into the Raj clubs of Calcutta.” Pritha tracked down the last living mog in Kolkata and coaxing recipes and techniques from his assistant, introduced a limited menu here. The highlight is smoked fish, made the traditional way by charring puffed rice, jaggery and husk.

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Museum of Goa

MoG was the flavour of the season! The smoky taste still on our lips, we breezed past the blue roadside mermaids scattered between Porvorim and Candolim to MoG or Museum of Goa in Pernem Industrial Estate. Mog is Konkani for ‘heart’ so when the museum opened last November, locals wondered what scandalous affair would unfold at the lonely hilltop. But the museum of contemporary art wows every visitor.

Spread across four floors amid landscaped sculpture gardens, MoG is the largest private art space in India. Set up by local ‘sea artist’ Subodh Kerkar (his muse is the sea), it chronicles Goa’s various cultural histories by local artists. Spanning a time frame from Parashurama to the Portuguese and 450 years of colonial rule, the museum is a tribute to Goa. Ceramic and pottery workshops by local artist Mayank Jain, art classes, book launches, lectures, film screenings, concerts; MoG is a hub where many art forms collide. The lores behind the themes were as interesting as the exhibits.

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The artists creatively interpreted Portuguese imports to India – from pepper and chili to gulmohar (brought from Madagascar and locally called kombyache zhad or ‘tree of the rooster’ owing to its crest-like flower). Subodh created installations using green mussels, sawn boats, porcelain plates submerged in the sea for months, even a fish vendor’s chopping block!

A large wooden horseshoe titled ‘Al Khamsar’ retraced Goa’s trading history as the centre of horse trade during medieval times. Nearly half of Goa’s revenue came from the sale of Arabian horses, in high demand by Indian royalty. The Vijayanagar kings were the biggest buyers with exclusive rights to all horses brought by the Portuguese. They also paid for horses that perished on the sea voyage, provided they could furnish the tail!

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Exploring Panjim

The gallery’s in-house Om Made Café served organic fare, but we were so famished, we could’ve eaten a horse! At Ritz Classic on 18th June Road in Panjim, patrons stalk diners for a free table, so we checked out their spacious new outlet in Patto. After a plate of chonak (Giant Sea Perch) fry, we concurred the taste was as spot on as the grilled pearlspot.

Panjim’s alleys are dotted with great eateries – Viva Panjim, Casa Bhosle (amazing tisrya sukkem or clams) and Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro that offers a daily rotating menu. Chicken cafreal on Monday, beef stew on Tuesday, feijoado (beef-pork-bean stew) on Wednesday, xacuti on Thursday and any dish on Friday. Bhatti Village in Nerul goes one better – an unfixed menu based on Patrick’s wife’s whims!

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Besides gastronomy, it was heartening to see Goa finally do justice to Mario Miranda’s legacy. The Reis Magos fort, named after the Biblical three wise men, was renovated by architect Gerard da Cunha, INTACH and the UK-based Helen Hamlyn Trust. The Craft Centre outlines the restoration process while two halls showcase Mario’s work, though one has been recently converted into a freedom fighters’ gallery!

Most visitors miss the first-of-its-kind Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum opposite Panaji jetty. Located in the 416-year-old Captain of Ports Building, it was renamed the Blue Building after a repaint in 2001 as tribute to the indigo trade. A chapel near the entrance is dedicated to St Anthony, patron saint of the lost-and-found. Among the highlights are dioramas of old trading settlements, Goan ports, a rare manuscript of Ain-i-Akbari, a Narcotics Gallery and a Battle of Wits Gallery where smuggled goods were seized in hollow shoe soles, cane sticks, commodes and car engines!

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In Panjim, take a guided walk through the old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas. Walking past lovely vivendas (homes) and pousadas (guest houses) with oyster shells windowpanes, we reached the fonte (spring) after which the settlement was named. Artist Subodh Kerkar too leads heritage walks and we joined him on an early morning jaunt to ‘any place within a short drive.’

At a time when we normally return from a rave, we set out to explore the heritage village of Moira. Beyond architect Charles Correa’s ancestral house, we strolled to the Moira riverfront guarded by the pre-Aryan folk deity Rastoli Brahman Prasann. At the sluice gates, fish was left to dry and fresh hatchlings in perforated plastic jars hung half submerged in the waters. ‘It’s to keep the bait fresh! On each walk I learn something new,” said Subodh.

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Having done enough rounds of Anjuna’s flea market, we browsed Mapusa’s Friday Market for local produce, clothes, furniture, terracotta artefacts and round Salcette sausages we had tried at the Pattoleochem Fest in Socorro village. They looked more like rudraksha beads (rosaries). “Child, they’re so tasty, you’ll come back for more”, one lady said. Indeed, we will! You can never have your fill of Goa…

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Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Dabolim airport in Goa.

When to go
Besides IFFI in November and Christmas/New Year in December, look out for local fests every month – Grape Escapade in Jan, Carnival in Feb around Lent, Shigmo (Holi) in March, Mango festival in May, Sao Joao (well jumping) and Ponsachem (Jackfruit) Fest in June, Touxeachem (Cucumber) Fest in July at Talaulim and Pattoleochem Fest in Aug at Socorro.

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Where to Stay

Birdsong, Moira
Ph 9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222
www.birdsonggoa.com

Coco Shambhala, Nerul
Ph 9372267182
www.cocoshambhala.com

Ahilya by the Sea, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575
www.ahilyabythesea.com

Aashyana Lakhanpal, Candolim
Ph 0832-2489276, 2489225, 9822488672
www.aashyanalakhanpal.com

Panjim Inn, Panjim
Ph 0832-2226523, 2228136
www.panjiminn.com

W Hotels, Vagator
Ph 0832-6718888
www.starwoodhotels.com

Turiya Spa, Canacona
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyavilla.com

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Where to Eat & Drink

Casa Bhonsle
Cunha Rivara Road, Near National Theater, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2222260

Ritz Classic
‪Patto Plaza, Gera Imperium II, Near Kadamba Bus Stand, Panjim
Ph: 0832-2970298

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Seaside Cottages, Ashvem
Ph: 9130352188

Soro The Village Pub
Baddem Junction, Siolim-Assagao Road
Ph: 9881934440, 9881904449

Gunpowder
People Tree, Assagao
Ph: 0832-2268228

Mustard Restaurant
Freedom Tree, Sangolda
Ph: 98234 36120 

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What to See/Do 

Indian Custom & Central Excise Museum, Panaji
Ph: 0832-2420620 Email goamuseum2009@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am-5pm (Tues-Sun)
Entry: Rs.50 Audio Guided tour tablet

Museum of Goa, Pilerne
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324 www.museumofgoa.com
Timings: 10am to 6pm
Entry fee: Rs.100 Indians; Rs.300 foreign nationals, Rs.50 students and children.

Reis Magos Fort, Verem
Ph: 0832-2904649 Email reismagosfort@gmail.com
Timings: 9.30am to sunset (Tues-Sun)

Houses of Goa Museum, Torda, Porvorim
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

For local tours, contact GTDC
Ph: 0832-2437132, 2437728, 8805727230
www.goa-tourism.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Assam: Chasing the Brahmaputra

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Assam has much more to offer than tea plantations, the one-horned rhino and the Brahmaputra; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY discover slow travel while following the course of India’s only male river

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Named after the Ahom kings who ruled the land of the mighty Brahmaputra, Assam is a region of astonishing diversity – ancient temples, UNESCO World Heritage sites, rich wildlife, vibrant culture, delectable cuisine and tea estates that stretch till eternity. Its bustling capital Guwahati, once a haat (marketplace) for gua (arecanut), hence the name, acts as a gateway to North East India.

Like most visitors, our first stop was the Kamakhya Temple atop Nilachal Hill in the western part of the city. Seat of an ancient fertility cult, the temple is a revered Shakti pitha where a cleft in a rock is worshipped as the place where Goddess Sati’s yoni fell. In the rains, when the Brahmaputra is in spate, the rivulet flowing over the stone shrine turns turbid and red, symbolizing the menstruation of goddess Kamakhya.

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The sanctum sanctorum is closed for three days and reopens only after the goddess is purified with a ritual bath. Devotees collect holy spring water and shreds of the angabastra (stained red cloth) as prasad. The week-long fertility festival Ambubachi Mela is attended by mystics and tantriks.

Guwahati’s Kalakshetra, a tribute to Assam’s medieval poet-playwright Srimanta Shankardev, is the perfect primer into Assamese culture. Inside the sprawling campus, housed in ethnic buildings, is a treasure trove of traditional articles – murals, masks, silk saris, jaapi (traditional conical hat) and the red and white cloth gamosa traditionally used to cover the Bhagavad Purana, a holy scripture recited every evening in most households.

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Guests are usually welcomed with a gamosa and tamul (betel nut), often served in a xorai or ornamental bell-metal offering tray, considered a cultural symbol of Assam. An open-air theatre serves as performance space for colourful dances like bihu while the Bhupen Hazarika Museum showcases 4000 objects owned by the maestro.

We stopped by to savour local cuisine at restaurants like Parampara (excellent Assamese thalis) and Khorika, where a choice of chargrilled meats – fish, pork, chicken – is served in khorika or bamboo skewers with piquant mustard chutney. After a quick visit to the Navagraha temple, we caught the sunset on the Brahmaputra as it silently slithered in a wide swathe. Umananda, the tiniest river island in the world stood silhouetted in the fading light. The world’s biggest river island Majuli was also located on the Brahmaputra further upstream.

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A quick halt at the silk-weaving center of Sualkuchi and the pilgrim centre of Hajo to see the Hayagriva Madhava Mandir, and we set off on the Assam Trunk Road following the course of the river. The Brahmaputra is at its narrowest at Hajo (just 1km) but swelled up as we drove along. We marveled at the sight when our driver corrected us, “Ye nadi nahi, nad hai!” In a country where rivers are largely feminine (Ganga, Yamuna, Saraswati, Cauvery), Brahmaputra or the Son of Brahma stands out as a rare male river.

As per mythology, Sage Shantanu’s wife Amogha had a child by Lord Brahma. The child took the form of water and Shantanu placed him in the middle of four great mountains — Kailash, Gandhamadana, Jarudhi and Sambwartakka. He grew into a great lake called Brahmakunda. Meanwhile, Sage Parashurama had committed the terrible sin of killing his mother on the instruction of his father Jamdagni. So grave was the offence that the blood-stained axe got stuck to his hand! After visiting several holy places, Parashurama came to Brahmakunda where he axed down the mountainside to release the waters for the benefit of locals. Lo and behold, Parashurama’s axe came loose and the blood was washed off, leaving a reddish tinge in the river, which was called Brahmaputra or ‘Luit’ in Assamese (from the Sanskrit word for blood).

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The history of Assam seemed to be written in blood as we reached Tezpur. Its ancient name Sonitpur too meant ‘The City of Blood’. Here, Lord Krishna battled Lord Shiva and his ardent disciple Asura king Banasura, to rescue his imprisoned grandson Aniruddha who loved Banasura’s daughter Usha. There was so much carnage, entire rivers of blood were spilt and the whole place was stained red.

While not much remains of the Agnigarh fort, Tezpur is a good Launchpad for Nameri Wildlife Park nearby. Amid impeccable tea gardens, we were based in the 1875 angling bungalow Wild Mahseer Lodge at Balipara for our explorations along the Jia Bhoroli river for the prized White-winged Wood Duck.

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But the jewel in Assam’s crown is Kaziranga. Spread over 430 sq km and often compared to African parks for its wide open tracts and quality of wildlife viewing, Kaziranga is the Land of Giants. Home to the Big 5 – elephants, tigers, Asiatic water buffalos, swamp deer and the world’s largest population of the great one-horned rhinoceros, Kaziranga harbours 15 threatened mammal species. We checked into Wild Grass Lodge, one of the pioneering jungle lodges in the region.

For two full days, we explored the park’s three ranges on jeep drives, elephant safaris, wildlife sightings from machaans (observation towers) and birdwatching trails in buffer zones and tea estates. A magical river cruise on the Brahmaputra revealed Gangetic dolphins, before we continued our road trip to Jorhat. Our base was the heritage tea estate bungalow Thengal Manor, ideal for forays to Hoolock Gibbon Sanctuary, where animated hoots announced the presence of India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon.

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In 1794, Ahom King Gaurinath Singha shifted his capital from Sibsagar to Jorhat but a series of Burmese invasions from 1817 destroyed the commercial metropolis. 1823 heralded the arrival of the British and it was Scottish adventurer Robert Bruce who introduced the Assam tea bush to Europe. While trading in the region he found the bush growing wild and noticed local Singhpo tribesmen brewing tea from its leaves. The British East India Company took over the region from the Ahom kings in 1826 and after leaves from the Assam tea bush were examined in the botanical gardens in Calcutta, the first English tea garden was established at Chabua in Upper Assam in 1837.

From Jorhat to Dibrugarh and Margherita, this is Upper Assam’s premier tea county. Local conditions are ideal for growing tea. The low lying floodplains in the valley of the Brahmaputra river has clayey soil rich in nutrients. The climate varies between a cool, arid winter and a hot, humid rainy season with the lengthy growing season and generous rainfall making Assam one of the most prolific tea-producing regions in the world. Each year, Assam’s tea estates produce nearly 6.8 billion kg of tea!

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An assuming town, Jorhat was the first town in Upper and Central Assam to have electricity in 1923. The first aeroplane landed on north-eastern soil in Jorhat in 1928. Jorhat Gymkhana Club is the oldest golf course in Asia and third oldest in the world. And the world’s oldest and largest Tea Experimental Station Tocklai is located in Jorhat. We enjoyed the life of a retired planter at the Burra Sahib Bungalow and learnt the nuances of tea tasting at Sangsua Tea Factory, before continuing to Nemati Ghat for the ferry to Majuli.

Packed to the rafters with passengers, cycles, motorbikes and cars, the ferry disgorged us at Kamalabari Ghat from where a van deposited us at Garamur. Staying in French-designed huts of bamboo and thatch, we savoured the rustic hospitality of a Mishing family and explored Majuli on a hired bike. Many of the centuries-old satras (Vaishnava monasteries) were established by Shankardev and his followers.

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Each satra was devoted to a particular art or craft – Chamaguri specialized in masks while at Auniati we witnessed apsara nritya and other dances. Our visit during the annual Raas Leela in November was perfect to witness night-long theatrical performances. Sadly, each year the Brahmaputra relentlessly devours the island bit by bit, making it a fragile vanishing ecosystem. The blazing sunsets on Luit Ghat seared on our minds, we reluctantly bid adieu to Majuli and stopped at the ancient Ahom capital Sibsagar with its lakes and temples.

The next morning, it was with a sense of achievement we sipped our full-bodied Assam tea at the Mancotta Chang bungalow in Dibrugarh. It was shockingly late for breakfast but then, tea gardens in Assam do not follow the Indian Standard Time. Bearing in mind the early sunrise in this part of the country, the British introduced a system called Tea Garden or Bagan Time that was an hour ahead of the IST! The moments stretched like the unending tea gardens and our sips were long and languorous. This indeed was slow travel or ‘laahe laahe’ (no hurry) in the local lingo. After all, this was Bagantime.

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FACT FILE

Getting there
Guwahati is connected by direct flights to Kolkata, Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Kaziranga National Park is 215km (5 ½ hour drive) from Guwahati

Where to Stay

Prabhakar Homestay, Guwahati
Ph 0361-2650053, 9435033221/2
www.prabhakar-homestay.com   

Hacienda, Guwahati
Banyan Grove & Burra Sahib’s Bungalow, Jorhat
Thengal Manor, Jalukonibari
Ph 0376-2304267/673, 9954451548
www.heritagetourismindia.com 

Wild Mahseer Lodge, Balipara
Ph 03714-234354/79, 98336 31377
www.wildmahseer.com

Nameri Eco Camp
Ph 9435145563, 9435250025, 9854019932
E ecocampnameri@gmail.com

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Wild Grass Lodge, Kaziranga
Ph 0361-2630465, 03776-262085, 9954416945
E wildgrasskaziranga@gmail.com

Diphlu River Lodge, Kaziranga
Bansbari Lodge, Manas
Ph 0361-2602223, 2602186, 2540995
www.assambengalnavigation.com 

Chang Bungalows, Dibrugarh
Ph 0373 2301120, 2300035
www.assamteatourism.com

La Maison D’Ananda, Majuli
Ph 9957186356
E danny002in@yahoo.com

For more info, contact
Assam Tourism
Ph 0361-2633654
http://www.assamtourismonline.com
http://www.assamtourism.gov.in

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the Oct-Nov 2016 issue of India Now magazine.

 

Pedal On: India By Cycle

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY get their bums on the saddle to map out exciting cycling experiences across India

img_0387-pondy-cycle-tourThe location was perfect, the mellow morning set the right mood and our bicycles were the funkiest set of two wheels. Astride canary yellow and hot pink bicycles retrofitted by ‘My Vintage Bicyclette’, we set off at 7am on the ‘Wake Up Pondy Tour’. Our guide Manisha from SITA (South India Traditional Arts) led us through Puducherry’s less-explored Muslim Quarter – past Elliamman Koil temple, down Tippu Sahib, Mullah and Cazy Streets to the 19th century Kuthba Mosque, a blend of Mughal domes and French designs. Goubert Market, with its lively flower, vegetable and fish stalls, brought back memories of Life of Pi. After visiting the fishermen’s colony at the far end of the French Quarter, we ended at SITA’s garden cafeteria for a South Indian breakfast.

How Fiona Guerra and Idriss Madir, the duo behind My Vintage Bicyclette met in Aleppey and landed in Pondicherry, customizing bikes and creating cycle tours, is something even they cannot explain. They fell in love with India and the Atlas cycle on their first trip and decided to soup up vintage Indian cycles to brighten up mundane daily life. They revealed, “After settling in Pondicherry in 2012, such a creative and colorful city full of talented craftsmen and knowhow, we prototyped our first vintage custom hand-painted bikes for friends. It was difficult to ship the cycles to France and North India so we brainstormed to find a solution – ergo, the Pondy Cycle Tour!”

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With friend and partner Fleur Soumer, manager at SITA, a cultural center housed in the bright blue Villa Martine Marie Jacqueline, they crafted an authentic, local cycle tour. Since March 2014, they have welcomed over 1000 happy cyclists. Last November, a new afternoon tour was added to discover Pondy with ace photographer Gopinath Ram.

Fiona and Idriss admit, “For us, cycling is the perfect way to move around. Not too slow, not too fast, healthy, practical and eco-friendly. As urban cyclists, we don’t travel great distances by cycle in India, but do rent them in the cities we visit. We loved cycling in Hampi, Fort Kochi and Orchha. But we love it most in Pondicherry, a place we consider home. The city is human sized, to stroll along the Beach road is unique, as for the typical rides through the heritage streets and their bougainvillea…so cliché but unforgettable!”

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Cycling in India has taken off in leading metros with urban folk pedaling to work and weekday techies becoming rallyists over the weekend. Bengaluru is fast becoming India’s cycling capital. Till a few years ago, if someone flung terms like FTP and HRM, you knew he was referring to File Transfer Protocol and Human Resource Manager; today it could be Functional Threshold Power and Heart Rate Monitor!

Rohan Kini quit his IT job and founded Bums On The Saddle in 2006, a top-end bicycle service shop in Bengaluru where he’s the ‘Chief Wrench’. BOTS is the perfect place to geek out with Body Geometry Fit Specialists helping you find your unique riding position and intense training sessions to improve cadence, average speed and climb timings.

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It’s a busy calendar – from GMC (Great Malnad Challenge), BBC (Bengaluru Bicycle Challenge) to TFN (Tour of Nilgiris), the event that put India on the global cycling map. Started in 2008 by Bengaluru’s Ride a Cycle Foundation, TFN is India’s largest cycling event. Held between 16-23 December each year, the 7-day ride spans 800+ km, passing through three wildlife sanctuaries – Nagarahole (Karnataka), Wayanad (Kerala) and Mudumalai (Tamil Nadu).

Pankaj Mangal, founder of Bengaluru-based The Art of Bicycle Trips, says it all started when he and two friends went on a 100km bicycle ride to Cauvery Fishing Camp. After riding out 60km, they sat under a statue of Mahatma Gandhi when the penny dropped. This was it – being outdoors, getting out of comfort zones and enjoying the simple life of the countryside. In 2010, they launched their first tour the Bike & Hike day trip to Ramnagaram, the immortal setting for Sholay. Today, their wide repertoire stretches from Udaipur to Vietnam.

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The latest entrant on the scene is Bengaluru By Cycle, started by local boys Raghu and Nithya. Just a few months old, they offer a lovely Pete Tour in the heart of Bengaluru. Reporting early morning at Cubbonpet, it was uncanny to see the busy commercial quarter free from traffic. Raghu explained “Most tourists go to MG Road or Lalbagh, but this was where Bangalore started. We grew up here and know the backlanes inside out. Being fond of cycling and having done a DelhiByCycle tour in 2010, we thought of launching a cycling tour in Bengaluru. Unlike walking, you can cover a larger area on a cycle.”

Bengaluru Pete was established in 1537 around a mud fort built by Yelahanka chieftain Kempegowda. Originally spread over one square mile; today Bengaluru has expanded to 741 sq km! The 12km ride took us through the city’s oldest parts – a 250-year-old dargah linked to the local Karaga festival and Cubbonpet’s bylanes, where Bengaluru’s old culture thrived in garadimanes (wrestling akharas), temples and daily rituals.

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Sipping tea at the crossroads of Avenue Road, we smiled at the irony. At the spot where Kempegowda allegedly let loose four bullocks in the cardinal directions to mark his city’s boundaries, there was a ‘no entry’ sign for bullock carts! The highlight was Asia’s largest flower mart, set in the ground floor of KR Market. Established in 1928, it was formerly a water tank and a battlefield during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. We bit into crisp dosas at Udupi Krishna Bhavan as Raghu outlined plans for more tours in partnership with Jack Leenars of DelhiByCycle.

In 2009, while working as the South Asia correspondent for Dutch daily De Telegraaf, Jack was looking for a new challenge in life and began exploring Old Delhi on a bicycle. “It was a total blast! The best experience I ever had. So many impressions, colours, smells, beautiful faces, amazing architecture and great history. All clustered within the centuries-old city walls. After cycling for two months I finally designed the best possible route, gave up my journalism career and jumped into the deep called DelhiByCycle.”

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He started with the Shah Jahan Tour, a glimpse into the life and times of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his 1500-acre capital Shahjahanabad. Built in 17th century, it was regarded as the most prosperous and beautiful city in the world. Today, it is a 400-year-old web of alleys enmeshed with electric cables and infused with the smell of brewing tea and simmering curries. Pedalling past Chawri Bazar and Fatehpuri Masjid, the vibrant spice market, a chai break in Civil Lines, stops at Old Delhi railway station and Chandni Chowk, an outside darshan of Red Fort and Jama Masjid and you’ve truly earned your breakfast at Karim’s!

DBC has expanded operations with four other tours – the Haveli tour explores the lavish noblemen mansions or havelis in the 17th century metropolis of Shajahanabad, ‘a city of decadent Emirs, ruthless Persian invaders, woeful poets, mystical men, masterful artists and forgotten architects who wove dreams into the now crumbling contours of Old Delhi.’

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The Raj tour showcases the Imperial heart of New Delhi, taking in sights like Connaught Place, Parliament House, Presidential Palace, India Gate and Agrasen ki Baoli. The Sufi trail of Nizamuddin and the urban village of Kotla Mubarakpur took Jack the longest to develop (almost one year), integrating stunning rooftop views, Humayun’s Tomb and picnic on the Lodhi Garden lawns. But Jack’s favourite is the Yamuna tour, which includes a boat ride on the river! Recently, he designed cycle tours in Lucknow in partnership with UP Tourism.

Jack has inspired many to take up cycling as a hobby, if not a profession! After a cycling tour with him, Eleonore Gaspa and Ophélie Teyssandier returned to Jaipur to start their own company. Jaipur is packed with so many attractions, most tend to focus on the touristy sights. So the two French girls decided to create their own itinerary, showcasing lesser known aspects of this wonderful city. The thematic tours kick off early from Ramganj Chaupad leading guests through the City Palace district of the walled city, ending with a Rajasthani breakfast in Karnot Mahal, a 270-year-old heritage haveli.

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The Pink Inside Tour goes inside homes and workshops of marble carvers, jewellers and artisans, a wholesale vegetable and fruit market, cenotaphs, havelis, ancient temples, even the back kitchen of a sweetshop! The Pink Sensation tour covers everything from Ras Kapoor haveli (named after a courtesan, not the actor) to the local lassiwalla and a temple ceremony in an ancient Shiva shrine. On the Pink Royal tour see Jal Mahal, Gaitor cenotaphs, vegetable markets and a ceremony at the Govind Devji Royal Temple.

Jaipur-based Virasat Experiences, who started with walking tours in the walled city, also run an excellent Jaipur Cycle Tour. Ride through the streets and markets early morning, past Hawa Mahal to the city’s outskirts and 4km up the hill to Nahargarh Fort. Savour a panoramic view of the city from 700 m, before an exciting downhill journey. With local street food tasting and a Rajasthani breakfast in a heritage haveli, it’s a great way to get Jaipur’s local flavours. A more challenging excursion is the Nahargarh Cycling Expedition through the Aravalli forests to Nahargarh fort and stepwell, Man Sagar Lake, Nahargarh–Jaigarh tunnels and Jaigarh fort, built on a hill called Cheel Ka Teela (Mound of Eagles).

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Like Rajasthan, another classic cycling destination is Kerala where the topography changes every day – beach, winding ghats, steep hills. Kerala Bicycle Trips has been crafting thematic cycle tours for years. Starting off from Mattancherry near Jew Town, the Sunrise Beach Route has fishmongers, toddy tappers, milkmen and school kids for company.

The Old Kochi Bike Route explores a 3km radius of large warehouses exporting spices and tea, dhobiwallas and Christian, Hindu, Gujarati and Jain settlements. On the day-long Spice Coast Route, head to rustic Alappuzha or take the Hornbills Route along a canal bund road past lush paddy fields and coconut groves to the forests of Edamalayar and Thattekad. There’s a whole world to explore, if you get your bums on the saddle…

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FACT FILE

Getting there: Jet Airways flies to Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Jaipur and Cochin.

SITA Puducherry
Ph 0413-4200718 www.pondicherry-arts.com
Timings: Mon-Sat 9am-12:30pm, 2pm-8pm
Cost: Rs.1200/person (Rs.400 children), incl. breakfast

Kerala Bicycle Trips
Ph 97420 19837 www.keralabicycletrips.com
Cost: Rs.1500-4200/person

Delhi By Cycle
Ph 011-64645906, 98117 23720 www.delhibycycle.com
Timings: 6:30-10am
Cost: Rs.1850/person, incl. breakfast

Bengaluru By Cycle
Ph 95138 86305 www.bengalurubycycle.com
Timings: 6:30–9:30am
Cost: Rs.1500/person, incl. breakfast

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Cyclin Jaipur
Ph 77280 60956, 77280 60651 www.cyclinjaipur.com
Timings: 6:45-10am
Cost: Rs.2000/person, incl. breakfast

Virasat Experiences
Ph 0141-5109090/95, 96672 00797 www.virasatexperiences.com
Cost: Rs.1650-3500/person incl. refreshments

Art of Bicycle Trips
Ph 78294 86953 http://www.artofbicycletrips.com
Cost: Rs.1450-2500/person (½ day tours), $1695-3495/person (multi-day) incl. stay & food

My Vintage Bicyclette
Ph 84898 97427 Email my.vintage.bicyclette@gmail.com

Bums on the Saddle
Ph 080-41143064, 41505583, 73497 83178 www.bumsonthesaddle.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared in the December 2016 issue of JetWings magazine.

Goa with the Flow

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What’s hot in the country’s coolest holiday destination, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY dig out hip hangouts in Goa

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Everyone goes to Goa for a holiday. We are the only schmucks who go there for work. Eating at new hotspots, hopping in and out of bars and beach haunts, checking out new places, meeting interesting people, that kind of punishing work. For a place we visit so often (a friend once remarked ‘Arey, tum fir aa gaye?’ – an apt tagline for any state tourism board), Goa still holds many new experiences in store.

Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) was launching hot air ballooning in South Goa, Heli Tours, Duck Boat Tours from Panjim with plans to develop Mayem Lake. The same lake that generations of Goans grew up going for picnics to – it’s so old, Hum Bane Tum Bane from ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ was shot there. Plans were afoot to develop a clutch of five islands off Vasco – Grande, St George, Pequeno, Conco and Bhindo. Goa’s year-round festivities were being promoted – Bonderam Festival at Diwar Island (April-May), Sao Joao in June (where Goans literally go an’ jump in the well), Pattoleochem Fest at Socorro in August where the steamed pattoleo (rice and jaggery dumpling) is the star. Hell, there’s even a Ponsachem fest (jackfruit) and Touxeachem (cucumber) fest. Yes, food is indeed a celebration here.

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A new addition to Goa’s cultural scene (besides Sunaparanta in Panjim and Houses of Goa Museum near Porvorim) is MoG or Museum of Goa. Blue roadside mermaids guided us to the museum of contemporary art in Pilerne set up by local artist Subodh Kerkar. Working with a wide range of media in his installations, his abiding muse remains Goa – its sea, coast, surroundings, rich culture and heritage.

Collaborating with the ocean, he immersed antique ceramic plates and allowed oysters, barnacles and shells to create artworks on old china. Chipping and slicing through layers of red, yellow and blue oxides painted over time, he turned sections of old walls into his canvas. Other local artists too gave rare insights into Goa. Shilpa Naik’s Mosaic paid tribute to the mosaic tiles ubiquitous in most Goan homes. We discovered that Goa never had any ceramic industry and the chips were actually ballast brought by Portuguese and Chinese ships!

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Santosh Morajkar’s ‘The Motorcycle Pilot’ celebrated Goa as the only place in India where motorcycles are used as taxis. There are nearly 10,000 of them here. The first motorcycle taxi stand was at the base of Pilot Hill near Panjim Church. Since the lighthouse on the hill helped ‘pilot’ the ships in Mandovi River, the motorcycle taxis were nicknamed ‘pilots’! Besides MoG Sundays dedicated to Talks, Films, Expressions (11am-1pm) the museum hosts frequent jazz and music events. Subodh also leads free-wheeling walks on request at Saligao, Aldona, Siolim or any village a short drive away. Subodh’s private jaunts turned professional when Bambi, the manager of the lovely seaside cottage Ahilya by the Sea asked him to lead walks for guests.

We set off with Subodh from Birdsong, a charming 200-year-old renovated villa in the quiet hinterland of Moira. With peacocks calling and mist rising from the roads and yellow paddy fields, we walked past lovely homes to explore Goa anew… Rubbishing our fantastic theory that GoA was derived from Government of Adil Shah, Subodh conjectured that the ancient name Goapuri and Gopakapattanam was in existence and the Portuguese probably truncated it to Goa to rhyme with Lisboa.

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Subodh pointed out the scalloped curved tiles fringing the roofs of local homes. Apparently, the clay tiles were hand-patted on the thigh, giving them a distinct curvature – narrow on one side and broad on the other. The tile’s shape depended on how fat a person was! When the Portuguese came, the shell windows were already in use. In his book ‘Goa and the Blue Mountains’, 18th century traveler Richard Burton dismisses how “In Goa, there is not even proper glass available and they used seashells for windows”.

It was an unwritten rule that houses could be any colour but white was reserved for churches and chapels. Colours were derived from natural pigments – oxides of red and yellow and chuna (lime) mixed with indigo yielded blue. We walked past locals tending to tendli (ivy gourd) gardens. Subodh joked how his request to pluck tender tindlis on a previous walk were rebuffed with a stern “They’re kids!”

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Others watered their red-leaved tambdi bhaji (amaranth). “That’s karith”, Subodh pointed to a small gourd. “It’s very bitter and during Diwali it’s customary to eat karith before you eat sweets, symbolic of keeping the balance of bitter and sweet in life.” Straw and hay figurines of Narakasura were being built on the wayside, to be lit up before Diwali.

Tracing the lineage of what are now considered Indian vegetables, Subodh explained that the Portuguese introduced the tomato, chili, potato, caju, besides sweet potato, chikoo and guava, which came from Peru. The Marathi word for potato comes from Portuguese batata and the guava is called Peru! Bread was also a Portuguese introduction. For the longest time, tomatoes were not eaten by Hindus because they thought it was flesh.

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Just like the walk had no script, Bhatti Village in Nerul had no menu. Patrick’s voice quavered passionately, “Oh we have many varieties of fish.” Earlier a bhatti (feni factory), barrels and glass decanters share restaurant space with 3-dimensional stickers of Spiderman and Minnie Mouse amid strange wall plaques of crabs, lobsters, shrimps and fake flowers.

Patrick had us at ‘beef kebab’, though we said yes to everything he suggested – white bait rava fry, tisro sukka (clam coconut), saudalo (butterfish)), dodyaro (saltpan fish), shark ambotik (sweet sour red gravy), ending with Sera dura, a heavenly Portuguese dessert. “You want Guizad as well – you won’t get in any restaurant! And I’ve packed the ambotik, heat it tomorrow and eat it with poi. Should I pack some poi?” Patrick called over our retreating shoulders as we staggered out, heavy-bellied and weak-kneed.

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Locals take great pride in their culinary heroes – be it Anton in Nachinola or Eldridge Lobo at Eldou’s in Siolim, Sabita Fernandes at Amigos for crab hunting and Jurassic crab, cafreal at Florentine’s in Saligao or beef roast and ox tongue at Mafia Cocktails in Pilerne, run by Tony and his famous ‘Sister Cook’. But a new generation of chefs at Goa’s welcoming shores were tantalizing local palates.

From Greek cuisine at Thalassa, Vagator to Australian Masterchef Sarah Todd’s nextdoor restaurant Antares, the making of which is a six-part documentary on SBS, there’s lots to dig in to. Sarah’s Scents of India cocktail seemed right out of a ‘Hassan weds Mehjabeen’ wedding platter and we were happy to have space for dessert and homemade gelato at Baba Au Rhum, doing well in its new location in Anjuna.

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Elevar in Ashvem currently boasts the best view and food in town. The latest offering of chef Chris Saleem (Sublime Morjim fame) treated us to excellent Seabass Carpaccio, Celery fried prawns, Papaya-spinach-prawns-lotus root salad, seared bass with pesto tapioca and tandoori prawns over saffron fenugreek risotto.

His style is ‘flashy and mainstream.’ “I like to give people what they want,” Chris admits. Earlier, we were floored at The Tavern in Fort Tiracol (where Chris was roped in to curate the menu), by exemplary dishes like spaghetti with Tiracol clams and fish fillet with Goan chorizo crust.

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Stefan Marias, a Frenchman from South Africa, was now helming the beachside restaurant Go with the Flow overlooking Baga Creek. With two new outdoor decks, the restaurant spills out of the verandah of the 1928 Filomena Cottage onto the gardens with a makebelieve river meandering through that lights up at night. We wolfed down the Mozambican style Prawn Nacional and crispy salt n pepper squid in no time.

In the bustling Candolim-Calangute stretch, the talented Mr. Bomra stirs up what some describe as the ‘best Burmese restaurant outside Burma’. A friend quipped “To be honest, how many Burmese restaurants are there outside Burma?” On our anonymous visit, the steward clarified, “The chef is Burmese, but the food is not. It’s whatever he likes to make.”

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Once when some American guests complimented how tender the Aldona slow roast suckling pig was, the manager Chris remarked, “Of course it is. It is a suckling pig, it was suckling on its mother when we took it away and slaughtered it. It’s a baby, that’s why it’s so tender.” Baulking, the guests set down their cutlery and left. Clearly, eccentricity has always been in Goa’s gene.

Like Pondicherry, the fusion of cafeterias and boutiques has caught on in Goa. Latika Khosla’s gorgeous home store Freedom Tree in a seagreen Portuguese villa in Sangolda houses hobo-chic styled crockery, lighting, rugs and furniture. After shopping, step into the adjacent Mustard restaurant, which sums up France and Bengal’s passion for food in one seed – the tiny yet, omnipresent mustard! Conceptualised by Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh, the restaurant was actually the villa’s old kitchen!

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The subtle nuanced flavours of East Bengal have been perfectly curated by food historian Pritha Sen and the delicate notes of French cuisine put together by Chef Gregory Bazire. Here, regional specialities like Shukto and Mochar Ghonto rub shoulders with authentic European favourites like Tuna Pan Bangnat and Tortelloni a la Giardinera.

The sharp tamarind tang of Tentul Joler Sherbet spiked with vodka and a bowl of Chilled Cucumber Latte (Goan cucumbers with Bengali kasundi with mint and mustard sprouts) was the perfect appetizer. We embarked on Mustard’s journey to ‘savour the flavour’ of Dhoom Pukth Mach (Smoked Chonak Fish) and Kosha Mangsho with Luchi. Except for certain traditional ingredients, the restaurant follows a zero mile green philosophy and sources everything locally. You can even buy a pot of microgreens to spruce up your salad at home!

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Thanks to its low faded signage, Satish Warrier’s Gunpowder Restaurant (two houses away from the new Fabindia outlet in Assagao) is a blink-and-miss restaurant set in the backyard of Cursino Villa, an old Portuguese home. Hidden within a leafy compound behind the well-known boutique PeopleTree design studio, Gunpowder’s Peninsular Kitchen stirs up Syrian Christian beef, chilli pork ribs, crispy natoli fry (anchovies), appams and regional delicacies.

Complementing Gunpowder’s South Indian flavours is the cool new bar designed by ace mixologist Evgenya Pradznik, a Russian who has mixed her way from Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Lebanon to Goa. Behind her teak bar counter, she uses locally sourced turmeric, ginger, spices and fruits. They grow their own herbs like thyme, lemongrass, black pepper and 200 pineapple shrubs. “Though we have so many options to choose from, my idea is to stick to classic combinations made with full respect to the main spirit.”

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Evgenya had some homemade brandy with dry apricot macerated in Riesling stashed away, date liqueur in white rum and mad new concoctions like Pop Fashion, a version of Old Fashioned with an infusion of popcorn in bourbon. We tried the Ginger Cucumber Caipiroska and Tamarind Pineapple Margarita and teetered out…

It seemed like an abandoned rundown village house except for the vines of Chinese lights wrapping it in a warm firefly glow. The peeling plaster on the mud walls disguised its twilight avatar where people flit in like moths towards lamplight. Soro, strategically located on the Assagao-Siolim road is a New York style pub masquerading as a Goan village bar.

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Exposed brick walls, retro style posters, multi-coloured geometric floor tiles reminiscent of Mexican homes, bald filament bulbs and stage lights, industrial pipes and quaint relics of juicers make a bold design statement. Old world bar stools propped next to large windows overlook foliage and fields beyond. Named after the Konkani word for liquor, Soro is actually located in an erstwhile soda factory, making it the ideal place to down or drown your sorrows.

“Where next”, asked Savio at Coco Shambhala, a tropical haven near Coco Beach where we had come to experience their new Forest Essentials massages. “Cantare in Saligao, LPK (Love Passion Karma) in Nerul or Cohiba near Aguada?” “No more”, we gasped. “Don’t worry. ‘Soro jivak boro’ (Alcohol is good for life). As the therapist confirmed our appointment, we cracked up when she said “I hope you have come on an empty stomach.”

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FACT FILE

Where to Stay

Birdsong
497, Calzor, Moira
Ph +91-9987962519, 9810307012, 9587508222 www.birdsonggoa.com

Ahilya by the Sea
Coco Maia, 787, Nerul-Reis Magos Road, Nerul
Ph 011-41551575 www.ahilyabythesea.com

Coco Shambhala
Nerul, Bardez
Ph +91 9372267182 www.cocoshambhala.com

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The Secret Garden
Estrela e Sinos, Saligao
Ph +91-95525 18664

Lar Amorosa Boutique B&B
House No. 68, Barros Waddo, Sangolda, Bardez
Ph: +91 7888047029 www.laramorosa.com

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Where to Drink/Eat

Elevar Beach Bar & Restaurant
Leela Cottages Beach Front, Ashvem, Morjim Road, Mandrem
Ph: +91 9130352188 www.facebook.com/elevarashvem

Go With The Flow
House No. 614, Calangute Baga
Ph: +91 7507771556, +91 7507771557 www.gowiththeflowgoa.com

Soro The Village Pub
Assagao Baddem Junction, Goa
Ph: +91 9881934440, 9881904449
Wed-Jazz, Fri-Rock, Sat-Ladies night www.facebook.com/SoroGoa

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Bomras
Souza Vaddo, Candolim, Bardez
Ph: +91 9767591056 www.bomras.com

Thalassa Greek Taverna
Mariketty’s Place, Small Vagator, Ozran
Ph: +91 9850033537 www.thalassagoa.com

Antares
Small Vagator, Ozran, Vagator
Ph: +91 7350011538, +91 7350011528 www.antaresgoa.com

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Baba au Rhum
French Café, Bakery, Pizzeria
Anjuna, Goa
Ph: +91 9822866366

Gunpowder/People Tree
6, Assagao, Cursino Villa, Saunta Vaddo, Bardez
Ph: 0832 2268228 www.peopletreeonline.com

Mustard Restaurant/Freedom Tree Store
House No. 78, Mae Dey Deus Vaddo, Chogm Road, Sangolda
www.facebook.com/mustardgoa

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What to See/Do 

Museum of Goa
Pilerne Industrial Estate, Pilerne, Bardez
Director: Dr Subodh Kerkar Ph: +91 9326119324
Email museumofgoa@gmail.com www.museumofgoa.com

Houses of Goa Museum and Mario Gallery
Near Nisha’s Play School, Torda, Salvador do Mundo, Bardez, Goa 403101
Ph: 0832-2410711 www.archgoa.org

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Outlook Traveller magazine. http://beta.outlooktraveller.com/trips/goa-with-the-flow-1009179

Where Malgudi was born: RK Narayan Museum, Mysuru

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A public outcry saved author RK Narayan’s Mysuru home from demolition. Now restored and converted into a museum, it offers a peep into his life and times, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY

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If RK Narayan had to have a museum for himself, it would have been like this – simple, unassuming, Spartan. You’d miss it if it wasn’t for the sign that said ‘RK Narayan’s House’ and his photo on the building’s façade. It was in this two-storey house with red oxide floors on the leafy Vivekanada Road of Mysuru that he wrote 29 novels set in the fictional town of Malgudi. Many cannot believe that this vividly described town does not exist and is perhaps a cartographical omission; such was the power of his pen. Fewer still knew that this was where the author spent nearly four decades.

It was almost 5pm but the watchman allowed us entry despite being closing time. There was no entry fee, only a scribble in a register gave us access. We were asked to leave our slippers outside as if entering a shrine. The whitewashed walls were bare except for black and white photos, quotes and information panels that offered an insight into the life of the author. Honorary doctorate degrees and awards lined the shelves and walls. On another shelf were a pair of glasses and few pens.

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To the rear was a dining hall with a small table and four chairs and a kitchen. His first floor study, a bay room with eight windows that afforded him a view in every direction, held his collection of books. In an adjoining chamber, his old stitched shirts, tattered coats, mufflers and worn out sweaters scented the room with his presence. RK Narayan’s museum, like his simple insightful prose, was shorn of any ostentation or grand flourish.

The photographs gave us glimpses into a man about whom the world knew precious little – RK Narayan as a child of 5, posing with his family and eminent personalities like Jawaharlal Nehru, during a BBC interview in London with author Graham Greene and playing cricket with his nephews as part of the ‘Rough and Tough and Jolly Club.’ On one wall was a rare black and white illustration of Lord Hanuman done by him; on another a Rs.5 postage stamp dedicated to the author released in 2009.

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The information panels were rich in anecdotes. Indian literature’s ‘dirty old man’ Khushwant Singh often wondered how a storyteller of modern times could hold a reader’s interest without injecting sex or violence into his narrative. “I found them too slow-moving, without any sparkling sentences or memorable descriptions of nature or his characters. Nevertheless, the one-horse town of his invention, Malgudi, had etched itself on my mind.”

But if it wasn’t for Graham Greene, Rasipuram Krishnaswami Iyer Narayanswami might not have become the author he was destined to be. The story goes that Narayanswami gave the manuscript of his first novel ‘Swami and Friends’, set in fictional Malgudi, to a friend at Oxford. However, he couldn’t find a publisher and in despair, told his friend to destroy it. The friend took the manuscript to author Graham Greene who was so impressed by it that he recommended it to his own publisher and the book was released in 1935. Greene also suggested that he abbreviate his name to RK Narayan for ease of familiarity to an English speaking audience! He was instrumental in publishing Narayan’s next three books as well – The Bachelor of Arts (1937), The Dark Room (1938) and The English Teacher (1945).

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Yet, it was his first collection of short stories Malgudi Days, published in November 1942, that shot RK Narayan to fame. He named his fictional town after the old Bengaluru neighbourhoods of Malleshwaram-Basavangudi. The series was adapted for television by Shankar Nag and the serial was almost entirely shot in Agumbe. Two panels with stills from the making of the serial adorned one wall.

The sketches for the television adaptation were done by his equally talented younger brother RK Laxman. What Laxman expressed through cartoons, Narayan painted in words. Both focused on the mundane, the trials and tribulations of the common man and the observance of daily life that held a mirror to society.

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It was from this house that RK Narayan went on gentle strolls to Mysore market. His observations on life and interactions with shopkeepers and locals gave him much fodder for his books and characters. Having lost touch with England during World War II, he started his own publishing company Indian Thought, which is still active after all these years and is run by his granddaughter.

It was when Narayan visited England that he and Greene finally met. RK Narayan’s works were published in the US for the first time in 1953 and it was during a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1956 that he wrote The Guide. Narayan won a Sahitya Akademi award for his story in 1958, a first for a book in English! The story was later adapted for Bollywood and he also bagged a Filmfare award for the best story in 1967.

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Despite being lauded internationally, RK Narayan remained rooted in his small town Mysuru simplicity. During a literary seminar in Hawaii he would often buy a carton of yoghurt from the supermarket and go from one eatery to another till he found boiled rice! The only compromise he made was eat his curd rice with a spoon. Such was RK Narayan’s zest to write that he admitted he had become lazy after he entered his nineties! His close confidante and The Hindu publisher N Ram reminisces the day Narayan was put on a ventilator. He asked Ram for a diary. When he agreed, Narayan asked whether it will be a 2000 diary or a 2001 diary! Ram confirmed it would be 2001.

The author breathed his last on 13 May 2001, leaving behind a legacy spanning sixty years. Critics lauded him as the Indian equivalent of Guy de Mauppasant, William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. Despite such acclaim, like the plot of one of his stories, RK Narayan’s house was all set for demolition, until public outcry and universal love for the author, forced local civic authorities to save the building. The dilapidated property was purchased for Rs.2.4 crores and Rs.34.5 lakhs earmarked for repairs. After a neat restoration and landscaping job, the museum was opened to visitors earlier this year and aims to be a literary stopover like Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-upon-Avon.

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It was almost dark by the time we were ready to leave. There was no leaflet or souvenir to take away, except the memory of the visit. The caretaker switched on the decoration lights, bathing the white building in surreal green. The meagre museum may pale in comparison to Mysuru’s grand palaces, markets and temples. Yet, it is a must visit for RKN fans as the endearing memory of the creator of Malgudi lives on…

RK Narayan’s House
D 14, Vivekananda Road, Yadavgiri, Mysuru 570020
Timings: 10am–5 pm

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unabridged version of the article that appeared on 20 September 2016 in Conde Nast Traveller online. https://www.cntraveller.in/story/where-malgudi-was-born/