Category Archives: Culture & Heritage

Hyderabad Secrets: 10 offbeat experiences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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Native Spirits: Traditional alcoholic brews of India

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garli: Mansions in the Mountains

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Amid gabled roofs, Gothic windows and English weathervanes, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go walkabout in the surreal heritage village of Garli in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh

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A Shiva Shambhu or wandering minstrel in a red and black turban adorned with feathers walked in sounding his bell just as we were being ushered into Chateau Garli with drumbeats, tilaks and a shower of flower petals. For a moment no one was sure whether the itinerant was part of the arriving group or the welcoming party. And then as suddenly, like a mirage, he vanished into the afternoon haze.

Though the harsh sun had obscured the surrounding Dhauladhar range, Garli’s presence here seemed equally surprising and incongruous. We looked around in disbelief at the European style mansions with gabled roofs, Gothic windows and ornate weathervanes wondering how such a place could exist deep in the heart of Himachal Pradesh. It was only after the refreshing mint cooler went down our parched throats and the drumbeats stopped we knew it was real.

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In a dark sunless room, with the only light emanating from a red chandelier, our host Yatish Sud and his friend Atul Lal retraced the story of Garli. The mint had been replaced by hops but we swear the surreal setting made Yatish seem like a character in a Quentin Tarantino flick narrating a fantastic tale. The story went like this…

The 52 clans of the hill community of Soods, who find a mention in the Rig Veda with reference to a sacred fire, were driven out of Rajasthan after successive Muslim invasions. They escaped with a band of professionals – cobblers, carpenters, blacksmiths, craftsmen – and settled around the hamlets of Garli and its twin town Pragpur 4km away and set up a trading town. The location was protected as well as auspicious – surrounded by mountains and the snowy Dhauladhar range on three sides with the Beas river on the fourth and at the tri-junction of three powerful Shakti peetha shrines –Jwalamukhi, Chintpurni and Brajeshwari.

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Over time, the entrepreneurial Soods became treasurers to the Kangra royal family and as contractors, helped the British build Shimla. The great fortunes they amassed was put back into their hometown and the buildings drew heavily on colonial influences, a touch of Rajasthan and all the finer things that money could buy – Belgian glass, Japanese tiles, fancy chandeliers. Ummm, but haven’t we heard that story before!

In a pattern uncannily similar to the opulent havelis of Shekhawati (set up the mercantile community of Marwaris) and Chettinad (the bastion of the Chettiars), Garli too prospered in the same timeframe. Between 1820 and 1920, the construction frenzy reached its peak, spurring an unstated rivalry to outbuild thy neighbour. And then, by the 1950’s it was all gone.

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“How?”, we chimed. “We’ll continue that on the evening walk”, winked Yatish and led us to the dining area where hot lunch awaited us. After a terrific North Indian meal, we were ushered to our heritage room where we lay down with the looming danger of missing our tryst with the evening. The four poster bed, the paintings on the wall, the colourful embroidered bedspreads, the vibrant windowpanes and antique furniture really transported us to another era. Each of the 19 rooms in the mansion was unique and distinctive. But sleep be damned, we couldn’t wait till evening for the rest of the tale…

A quick round of masala tea and we were ready for our heritage walk through town. Scattered amidst living dwellings with heaving clotheslines and aam papad drying on charpoys were empty majestic homes that held steadfast against time. Some withering edifices lay forlorn and besieged by neglect. In the snaking alleys, one could sense an eerie silence emanating from the empty halls and corridors of run-down mansions.

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“That one with the murals is Rayeeson wali kothi, the one with the uniformed soldiers is Santri wali Kothi and that’s Nalke wali kothi! “Why?” “Oh that’s ‘cause it’s got a public tap in front of it!” There are nearly a hundred mansions marked out on the illustrated map so you could go gallivanting on your own. In market lanes, we discovered the progressive town-planning, water and drainage system that the early Soods had incorporated nearly a hundred years ago!

They established a school for boys in 1918 and a specialized women’s hospital in 1921 (the girl’s school didn’t come up until 1955)! The foundation stone for the Garli Water Works was laid on 8th February 1928 and a new road was built for the Governor of Punjab to come for the inauguration. The water works used imported copper pipes from London and wonder of wonders, it still worked!

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We stopped by at one of the earliest bakeries where home-style cookies were being fired in a coal oven. Pots of water were left at every few paces thoughtfully for the public to help combat heat and thirst. Before the advent of electricity, niches in the wall exteriors held lamps to illuminate the path for the pedestrian.

The humanitarian spirit and thoughtfulness was apparent even at Chateau Garli where the compound wall actually curved around a well. In 1920, when Yatish’s grandfather Seth Melaram Sud struck water while building the house, he decided that the natural resource was public property and moved his walls so that the village folk could fill their pots freely! The practice continues to this day. So how did it all go bust?

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The story goes that in the bygone days, the licentious ones left their families back in Shimla and snuck away to Garli for a secret rendezvous with their paramour or another man’s wife. Some say it was the curse of a wronged woman that brought about Garli’s downfall. By the 1950s, the whole place was abandoned and left to ruin.

“Even our haveli was not too different. My grandfather was orphaned very early in life and was taken care of by Atul’s father. I was the first to come back and then Atul followed. It took years of restoration. The annexe in front of the swimming pool was once a cowshed. We built it like the older structure.” The result was spectacular and seamless…

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Yatish then bundled us into his open jeep for a crazy off-road drive. Recklessly ignoring concerned locals crying “Agey raasta nahin hai…(There is no road ahead)”, we drove down a steep incline, bounced along unpredictably before rolling into the vast expanse of weathered boulders covering the banks of the River Beas. We made it in time to watch the big red sun take its final bow for the day from the horizon.

After a quick stop at the ancient Kaleshwar Mahadev temple we went for a cuppa at Naurang Yatri Nivas, a rustic style country lodge restored by Atul and his wife Ira. The elaborate brick structure was built by Rai Bahadur Mohan Lal for the stay of the Lt Governor of Punjab so he could attend his daughter’s wedding.

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Subsequently it became an accommodation for travellers and merchants who came to Garli for trade. In disuse for almost a quarter of a century, it took 30,000 litres of water, 250 kg of washing powder, 75 iron brushes, 18 people and 15 months to restore it to its former glory.

Returning to the luxury of Chateau Garli, we nibbled on juicy grilled meat and snacks followed by butter naans dunked in mutton gravy. The next day after breakfast local ice-cream man Satpal Sharma ji tinkled his bells to sell his family’s best kept secret – Malai barf! The creamy kulfi-like dessert with an unchanged 40-year old recipe was served on a sal leaf and priced at only 30 bucks a serving. To Yatish, it was “the taste of nostalgia”.

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Thus fortified, we set off for Pong Dam to witness the massive swathe of wetlands. In the distance, herds of bovines grazed and wallowed in the slush. In winter, thousands of migratory birds come visiting from Central Asia, making it a birding haven.

The Dada Sibba temple nearby has a rich treasure of 200-year-old mural art on the walls. Unusual images of Krishna, Shiva and Parvati made us linger and absorb the genius of unnamed artists who helped evolve and define the Kangra style of painting.

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We drove to the famous 8th century monolithic Masrur rock-cut temples where architectural virtuosity was on full display. Despite being weather worn, the delicate carvings, motifs and expressions were unmistakable. Our guide, like many we had met earlier in other towns and villages across India, claimed that the temples were ‘built overnight by the Pandavas’.

It was too hot for Kangra Fort so we headed back for a swim in Sud’s tempting pool, which boasted a funky underwater sound system! The party was on… and didn’t stop. Around midnight, Yatish mischievous asked, “Ok, who wants to come for an open jeep ride into the wilderness. Last week, we spotted a leopard, right on the road!” We dove right in and the adventure continued. Onion-like, the little town of Garli peels away its layers one by one, to reveal its many hidden secrets.

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Discover This
Garli is best discovered on foot. Start your heritage walk from Seth Melaram Sud’s residence, formerly UCO bank and presently Chateau Garli towards the Beas. Walk by the taal (lake) past spectacular buildings – Kanya pathshala, Mohan Nivas, Govt Girls’ High School, the tall gates of Saraswati Vidhya Mandir and the green gabled roof of the Civil Hospital to Naurang Sarai. While returning, take the left from the Govt Hospital and the right from Kanya Pathshala for scenic viewpoints.

Continue on the main road past Bhagwan Niwas and Peerewalan to the market. To its right lies the Garli Water Works while a left turn from Minerva School leads to Bishnu Nivas and the ‘House with the brick jali’. And for those who are interested, there’s also The Hidden House and a Mystery House, besides several ruins!

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NAVIGATOR

How to Reach
By Road: Located 4km from its twin heritage village Pragpur, Garli is 60km from Hoshiarpur, 70km from Dharamsala and 186km/4hr drive from Chandigarh via Ropar, Anandpur Sahib and Nangal.

By Air: The nearest airport is 47km away at Gaggal in Dharamsala or Bhuntar (85km) near Kullu.

By Train: The nearest railway station is Amb, 25km away though one can travel to Una or Hoshiarpur, which have more train connections. From Delhi, one can take the Kalka Shatabdi to Chandigarh and drive to Garli.

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Where to Stay

Chateau Garli
Mohan Niwas, VPO Garli, Dist Kangra
Ph 94180 62002, 98104 35554 www.chateaugarli.com
Rs.5000 onwards

Naurang Yatri Nivas
Opp Senior Secondary School, Village Nahan Nagrota, VPO Garli, Tehsil Rakkar, Dist Kangra
Ph 01970-245096 http://www.nyngarli.com

Banta House homestay
Near Garli entrance, VPO Garli, Dist Kangra
Ph 8459220851

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When to go:
Garli is great all year round, though summers can get pretty hot. Time your visit to catch a local festival like Hola Mohalla at Mairi, 15km away or the century old wrestling festival and 3-day fair Maidan ka Mela at Garli in September.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the April 2017 issue of Discover India magazine. 

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/

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/

Royal Rajasthan: 7 Wow Places for your 7 Vows

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY pick out seven dream locations in Rajasthan for the ultimate destination wedding 

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Few places can match Rajasthan for the sheer opulence and grandeur it imparts to a destination wedding. With forts and palaces doubling up as venues, there’s no better location for Maharaja style nuptials. Ghodis (horses) are too plebian; here the groom arrives in style on elephant back or in a vintage car.

Monuments brought alive with 3D laser mapping, processions carrying mashaals (torches) and entertainment that ranges from local folk musicians to international pop stars; whatever you want, if you have the budget, you can get it. Here’s a look at seven wow places for your seven vows.

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Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
The splash of celebratory orange safas (turban) over fort turrets and ramparts, lavish floral arrangements, starry skies and a cool desert breeze; Suryagarh on the Jaisalmer-Sam Road has wowed many as an unforgettable wedding venue. By day, mandaps and pavilions bedecked with orange and white parasols add colour while thousands of lamps light up niches around the Bawdi (stepped tank) by night.

With classy rooms in the main building for guests and exclusive haveli and suite Residences in a quiet corner ideal for the bride and groom’s family, the 77 rooms can accommodate the whole band, baja, baraat. Rait Spa offers specially designed beauty and wellness therapies for a pre-nup, using locally sourced Thar sand and Luni river salt, besides a stunning indoor pool and gym.

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The top notch cuisine blends the best of international fare with Indian cuisine, served in a variety of dramatic locations – from a lavish Halwai Breakfast in the central courtyard, Silk Route Dinner and Sangeet at the Enchanted Garden by the Lake to Wedding by the Bawdi at the Baradari pavilion of the Celebration Garden. Small celebrations take place in the Mehendi Terrace and musical evenings at the Tulsi Garden. Sundowners, strains of the algoza (double flute) and performances by Kalbeliyas and Manganiyars on the dunes culminate in fireworks, making it an unforgettable exeprience.

Kahala Phata, Sam Road, Jaisalmer 345001
Ph +91-02992-269269, 78271 51151 www.suryagarh.com
Tariff Rs.14,000-1,00,000

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur, from where Suryagarh is 285km/5hrs by road.

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Neemrana
Located south-west of Delhi in Alwar district, Neemrana’s advantage is its proximity to the national capital. Set against the Aravali hills, the sprawling 15th century fort palace is one of India’s oldest heritage hotels and a destination in itself. The Rs.7 crore renovation project took 15 years and it shows! Cascading down a hillside over 12 tiers of lush landscaped terraces, Neemrana is a stunning location for weddings. From the first regal wedding in 1992 (a London-Singapore affair) to a Punjabi royal bash, it has played matchmaker in many an alliance.

Various functions can be held in the fort’s seven palace wings overlooking 6 acres of terraced patios, alcoves and magnificent gardens like Uncha Baag, Mukut Baag and Sirmaur Baag. Blending Sultanate, Rajput, Mughal and colonial styles, each room is unique – Paashan Mahal (Rock Palace) is built around a rockface of the Aravalis, Uma Vilas has terrific hill views, Chandra Mahal was the old Hall of Justice while Francisi Mahal is a French suite. Enjoy alfresco dinners, Ayurvedic massages, two swimming pools – Raj Kund and the exclusive Surya Kund and Mahaburj restaurant serves excellent Rajasthani and North Indian cuisine.

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There’s plenty to do for guests with camel rides, audio tours, camel cart rides to an 18th century stepwell, vintage car rides and a 5-track Zipline, the first in India, by Flying Fox. Being a hill fort, be prepared to walk and climb high steps to reach different levels. For a smaller, more intimate experience, try Neemrana’s Hill Fort Kesroli near Alwar.

122nd Milestone, Off Delhi-Jaipur Highway, Neemrana, Alwar District 301705
Ph 01494 246007, 9310630386 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.6,500-28,000

Jet Airways has several flights to IGI Airport, Delhi from where Neemrana is just 108km

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Udaipur
Steeped in romance and the beauty of its seven lakes interlinked by canals, Udaipur has hosted many a celebrity wedding. In 2004, actress Raveena Tandon got married to film distributor Anil Thadani at Jagmandir Island Palace at Lake Pichola and the whole place transformed into a giant film set with Bollywood biggies flying in from Mumbai. The venue was immortalized in the Bond flick Octopussy.

New York hotelier and Bollywood dilettante Vikram Chatwal married model-turned-entrepreneur Priya Sachdev in 2006 with lavish pre-wedding parties like the masquerade-themed Fantasia that took place in the Zenana Mahal of the City Palace. The sterling guest list of 600 from 26 countries included Bill Clinton, Naomi Campbell and P Diddy, flew in on chartered planes from Bombay, Udaipur and Delhi during the 10-day bash.

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Jagmandir Palace featured again in the marriage of tycoon Sanjay Hinduja with Anu Mahtani in one of the mega wedding spectacles of the country. The global cuisine from 16 countries was served to 16,000 guests in a week-long celebration. There were traffic jams; caused not by the BMWs flown in from Mumbai for transporting guests but due to 208 private chartered planes! The wedding bill alone was £15 million with top artists like J-Lo and Nicole Scherzinger performing at Manek Chowk, a Mughal garden in the City Palace. The mehendi was held at the Shiv Niwas heritage hotel while the starlets stayed in £3,000-a-night luxury suites at Oberoi Udai Vilas.

Besides Fateh Prakash Palace and Shikarbadi Hotel in Udaipur, the HRH Group also lets out Gajner Palace, Karni Bhawan Palace in Bikaner and Gorbandh Palace in Jaisalmer for regal weddings. Udaipur’s advantage is the profusion of excellent lakefront hotels that serve as great nuptial venues. Ferry guests in style at the Taj Lake Palace, opt for a Wedding Package at The Leela Palace or escape to the hilltop fort palace of Devigarh.

HRH Group of Hotels, Udaipur
Ph +91-294 2528016-19, 1800 180 2933, 1800 180 2944
Email events@eternalmewar.in, crs@hrhhotels.com www.hrhhotels.com
Tariff Rs.23,500

Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur 313001
Ph +91 0294 2428700, 2428800 www.tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.29,000 onwards

The Oberoi Udaivilas, Haridasji Ki Magri, Mulla Talai, Udaipur 313 001
Ph +91 0294 243 3300 www.oberoihotels.com
Tariff Rs.30,000 onwards

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur

Umaid Bhawan Palace/Jodhpur/India

Jodhpur
The big ticket wedding of actress Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar in 2007 didn’t last as long as it took to build the Umaid Bhawan Palace, but that doesn’t dent the eternal charm of Jodhpur. The opulent golden-hued sandstone palace floored well-heeled guests like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger, Sting, Diana Ross and others. Set amidst 26 acres of lush gardens with 347 rooms, it is the sixth largest private residence in the world, with as many as four indoor and six outdoor venues to accommodate a dream Maharaja style wedding.

The palace has a private museum (with a Champagne Museum Walk), marbled squash courts and a subterranean pool under the palace decorated with zodiac signs on the pathway. Pamper yourself at Jiva Spa. Typically, a two or three-day wedding celebration begins with a cocktail dinner by the Poolside, a Mehndi ceremony at Mehrangarh Fort, Sangeet at the ornate Marwar Hall and Wedding-cum-Reception at the famous Baradari Lawns.

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The Mehrangarh Fort itself is a great location for a destination wedding as the lofty citadel is lit up in laser lights while the revelry on the ramparts continues late into the night. For a price, wedding planners can also organize an elephant polo match for guests. Don’t want to break the bank? Try Ranbanka Palace or Ajit Bhawan.

Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur 342006
Ph +91 291 2510101, 2510100 www.tajhotels.com
Email umaidbhawan.jodhpur@tajhotels.com
Tariff Rs.77,400

Jet Airways flies to Jodhpur

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Deogarh Mahal
Located between the two nodal hubs of Udaipur and Jodhpur, Deogarh or the Fort of the Gods was once the fourth largest jagir (estate) in Rajasthan. In the aristocracy of the Mewar court, the Rawats of Deogarh were counted among one of the sixteen umrao’s (senior feudal barons) of the Maharana of Udaipur. Built around 1670, their citadel is now a luxury heritage resort run by the Deogarh family.

Its 75 rooms stretch across three locations just 5km/15 min apart – 16 luxury Swiss camps at Khayyam, four exclusive suites at the renovated lakefront hunting lodge Fort Seengh Sagar and the rest at the Mahal (palace). Each room is reflective of a different era with Gokul Ajara, Moti Mahal and Ranjit Prakash rooms dating back to 350 years! With wide courtyards and terraces, there are several locations for various events.

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Gala evenings feature folk music and dance while one has a choice of theme dinners – Royal Desert Dinner at Khayyam with folk artists, Lake-side Dinner at Seengh Sagar or a Chowki dinner with low seating on chowkis, silver ware and typical Rajasthani menu. Fruits, vegetables, milk products and oils are all in-house, lending freshness to the typical Mewari cuisine. The Mahal can take care of all your needs – from elephants, buggies, royal processions, vintage cars, mandap décor, puja accessories, fireworks right down to the purohit!

Deogarh Madaria, District Rajsamand 313331
Ph +91-2904-252777, 253333 www.deogarhmahal.com
Tariff Rs.8,500-25,000

Jet Airways flies to Udaipur and Jodhpur, from where Deogarh is 135 km and 175km respectively.

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Jaipur
With its pink sandstone monuments, opulent palaces and festive spirit, the Pink City seems perennially drenched in celebratory hues. No wonder, businessmen, Bollywood stars, TV actors, royal scions, NRIs and foreign visitors, all make a beeline to Jaipur for their nuptials. Shivraj Singh, the prince of Jodhpur, got married to Gayatri Kumari of Askot here in a glittering ceremony in 2010. Jaipur’s advantage is the wide range of hotels geared up to host a wedding, with all facilities at hand – brass bands, vintage cars, elephants, artists and the best of shopping.

The stunning monuments and palaces like Raj Palace and Jai Mahal Palace also form a great backdrop for pre and post wedding shoots. Taj Group’s Rambagh Palace, voted among the top romantic hotels in the country, offers multiple locations and experiences. The royal meal is served in peacock thalis at the Rambagh Lawns, while private lunches are arranged at the royal hunting lodge.

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You could have an intimate family dinner in the Rajput Room or a royal Indian feast at the former palace ballroom Suvarna Mahal, with 18th century French décor and massive crystal chandeliers. Saving all that money for your honeymoon? Opt for Shiv Vilas Palace or Alsisar Haveli in town or drive out 43km northwest of Jaipur to Samode Palace, snug in the Aravalis. For nearly two and half centuries, the palace and its tented camp Samode Bagh have hosted weddings. Have the mandap or sacred fire in the beautiful courtyard and a royal banquet in the opulent Darbar hall.

Samode House, Gangapole, Jaipur 302002
Ph +91-141-2632370, +91-1423-240013-15 www.samode.com

Alsisar Haveli, Sansar Chandra Road, Jaipur 302 001
Ph +91-141-236 8290, 236 4685, 510 7157 www.alsisar.com

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur

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Ranthambhore
When Katy Perry and Russell Brand got married in 2010 at Aman-i-Khas, a luxury resort outside Ranthambhore tiger reserve, it didn’t escape the attention of wedding planners and matchmakers looking for theme weddings! A local priest officiated over their grand Hindu wedding and Katy even put on a nath (nose ornament) and mehendi for the occasion. The nuptials featured a procession of 21 camels, elephants, horses, dancers and musicians. Part of the Aman group of hotels, the venue (and its tariff) is ideal for small, exclusive gatherings.

Each of the ten high-ceilinged tents is inspired by the airy abodes of Mughal emperors while on hunts or expeditions. You can opt for a ‘Machan’ wedding with the ceremony (sans the sacred fire) taking place on a platform 20 ft off the ground and guests watching the proceedings from elephant back. For a more regular affair, choose a swank hotel like Nahargarh to tie the knot.

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Aman-i-Khas, Sherpur-Khiljipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur
Ph +91-7462 252 052 Email aman-i-khas@amanresorts.com www.amanresorts.com
Tariff Rs.1,06,000

Nahargarh, Village Khilchipur, Ranthambhore Road, Sawai Madhopur 322001
Ph +91-7462-252281-83 Email alsisar@alsisar.com www.nahargarh.com
Tariff Rs.25,000

Jet Airways flies to Jaipur, 160km from Ranthambhore

 

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story on Destination Weddings in the October 2016 issue of JetWings magazine. 

Royal Gwalior

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From grand palaces and historic forts to scrumptious food and music celebrations, Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh has much to offer, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY 

Gwalior Jain statues IMG_4918_Anurag Mallick

After winding up Urwahi Road past mammoth rock cut sculptures of Jain tirthankaras, we stood awestruck by the sight of bright blue mosaic tiles and bands of quirky yellow ducks and blue elephants on the stony façade of Man Mandir Palace atop Gwalior Fort. Babur described it as ‘the pearl in the necklace of forts of Hind’ while Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of India famously proclaimed “The Gwalior fortress is the key to Hindoostan”. Lying at the crossroads of North India, the historic city was a coveted prize and a strategic outpost on the trade routes that fanned from Delhi to Malwa, Gujarat and the Deccan.

The majestic fort crowns Gopachal Parvat, the solitary sandstone outcrop of the Vindhyas rising above the plains. Once a hill where cowherds lazed, it became a quiet nook for ascetics. Sometime in the 8th century Suraj Sen, a Kachhwaha Rajput chieftain, lost his way while on a hunt in the forest. Tired and thirsty, he encountered the sage Gwalipa on this secluded hill. The saint gave him water from a pond, which not only quenched his thirst but also cured his leprosy. In gratitude, the prince built a protective wall to prevent wild beasts from disturbing the sage’s yagnas and a palace for himself. While the miraculous pond was called Suraj Kund after the king, the city that grew around the fort was named Gwalher after Gwalipa the saint.

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Over the years, smoothened by time and myriad tongues, Gwalher became Gwalior, in the same manner that the Sahastrabahu temple of the Kachhwahas got corrupted to Saas Bahu! But there was good reason for it. Built in 1092 by King Mahipala, the shrine was named after and dedicated to the ‘thousand-armed’ Vishnu, ardently worshiped by the queen. Since the prince’s wife was a Shiva devotee, a separate shrine was built for her beside the Vishnu temple. Collectively, they were called Saas-Bahu Mandir, referring to the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law’s temples.

In a similar vein, Teli ka Mandir, the loftiest and oldest surviving structure within the fort has little to do with oil-mongers but was originally called Telangana Mandir on account of its Dravidian spire. Gwalior Fort is a treasure trove of history. While it is common knowledge that the zero was invented in India, the earliest written record of the numeral is an inscription in the Chaturbhuj temple dating back to 876 CE.

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The Pal dynasty of Kachhwahas and the Gurjar Pratiharas controlled Gwalior initially, but the fort changed hands with alarming rapidity, slipping from the grasp of Delhi’s first Turkic Sultan Qutubuddin Aibak to Iltutmish. After the Delhi Sultanate collapsed at the end of the 14th century, independent regional kingdoms sprouted, including the Tomars, under whose reign Gwalior soared to great heights.

Periods of war and bloodshed alternated with interludes of peace and stability, when the sound of music drowned battle cries and the clash of swords was forgotten in the rhythms of poetry. The credit for developing Gwaliori Dhrupad, considered one of the purest forms of Indian music, goes to Tomar Raja Man Singh (1486-1516). Musicians from across the country descended on Man Singh’s opulent palace Man Mandir.

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Two of the most famous musicians in medieval India, Baiju Bawra and Tansen trace their roots to Gwalior. At one time, nearly half the musicians in the Mughal imperial court came from the city. Books preserved in Jai Vilas Mahal recount legends of how Baiju Bawra and Tansen could light oil lamps by singing Raga Deepak; cause rain by singing Megh Malhar; make flowers bloom by singing Raga Bahar; hypnotize deer with Raga Mrigaranjini or melt a stone slab with Raga Malkauns. Tansen, originally one of the nine jewels of Man Singh’s court, later became one of the navratnas (nine jewels) of Akbar’s court. When the maestro died, Akbar ordered all musicians in the country to join the funeral procession.

Thousands still flock to Gwalior every year in December for a weeklong music celebration in memory of Tansen not far from his 16th century tomb under the shade of a tamarind tree. As per local tradition, aspiring singers often chew the tamarind leaves for a sweet voice. Tansen’s raised rectangular memorial was humbled by the grand mausoleum of his spiritual mentor and Sufi mystic Sheikh Mohammad Ghaus Shattari. With lace-like screens, his massive square tomb was capped with a large dome.

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Akbar borrowed more than the city’s prized poet laureate; he also found in Gwalior’s mahals (palaces) and chhatris (domed pavilions) the inspiration for Mughal architecture. While Man Mandir was a private pleasure palace, Man Singh built another palace for his doe-eyed Gujar queen Mrignayani at the base of the hillock. Gujari Mahal now houses an archaeological museum, with a rare 10th century statuette of Shalbhanjika the Tree Goddess, kept under lock and key in the curator’s office.

Sadly, after the death of Raja Man Singh, the Tomar dynasty was swept aside. Ibrahim Lodhi captured the fortress after a two-year long siege but Babur wrested Gwalior after defeating Lodhi at the Battle of Panipat in 1526. Not known for his appreciation of Indian architecture, the founder of the Mughal Empire was struck by the loveliness of Man Mandir. He noted, “Man Singh’s palace is a wonderful edifice. On every side are cupolas, each covered with sheets of gilded copper. The outer walls are decorated with glowing tiles.”

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Under Humayun, the Mughals lost the fortress to Sher Shah Suri but Akbar reclaimed it. However, the palace that once resounded with song and laughter, echoed with the anguished cries of prisoners. The underground realms and pleasure pools where maharanis once gossiped turned into chambers of torture. French traveller Bernier noted horrific accounts of the prison. From Akbar to Aurangzeb, state prisoners were dulled with poppy and left to decay and die a slow painful death.

Among the few who left the prison alive was sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind Singh. Imprisoned unjustly, Emperor Jahangir was forced to order his release at the insistence of his beloved queen Nur Jahan. Seeing the plight of captive princes and fellow inmates, the Guru said he could not leave alone. The Mughal emperor decreed that as many prisoners who could hold on to the Guru’s robe would be released. Overnight, tassels were attached to the Guru’s tunic and thus 51 other people were set free. Not far from the celebrated Scindia School atop the fort, Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhod celebrates this incident.

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After Aurangzeb’s death, anarchy prevailed until Mahadji Scindia, founder of the Maratha empire seized the fort in 1765. Always at odds with the expansionist British, the Marathas fought many battles eventually losing the fort in 1780 before they faced a complete rout in 1843.

Public sentiment had built up so much against the British that a handful of soldiers in Meerut sparked off a nationwide rebellion in 1857. Gwalior once again changed hands as Tatya Tope, Rao Saheb Peshwa and Rani Lakshmibai took hold of the fort. The Rani of Jhansi died fighting valiantly against the British at the fort’s southern base, Phool Bagh. Ironically, the Scindias sided with the British and received handsome rewards which fueled a construction frenzy of opulent palaces and mansions in Gwalior.

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Jai Vilas Mahal, styled after a palace in Versailles stands in Lashkar (a Persian word meaning ‘camp’), an area once occupied by army battalions. Forty rooms of the 400-room European style mansion are maintained as the Jiwaji Rao Scindia Museum, with royal artefacts and opulent dining sets on display. The highlight is a gigantic pair of Belgian chandeliers in the Durbar Hall and a silver train in the dining room that ran on a miniature track dispensing post-dinner cognac, dry fruits and cigars!

Madha Rao Scindia I, founder of modern Gwalior built the Phool Bagh where a temple, mosque, gurudwara and Theosophical lodge stand testimony to the city’s secular ethos. The king also started the Gwalior trade fair in 1905, the biggest fair in Madhya Pradesh. Music aficionados will find it worth their while to visit Sarod Ghar or the Museum of Music, set up in the ancestral house of the legendary maestro Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, father of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

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Nearby, the place where the British Army Unit 34 encamped during Second World War is called ‘Thatipur’, its numerical reference lost on locals. In the syncretic air of Gwalior, Ramtanu Pandey becomes ‘Miyan’ Tansen and a fearless Gujar village belle Nanhi becomes Mrignayani the queen. Unperturbed by the burden of history, Gwalior juggles its various influences with panache and typical Bundelkhandi swagger.

FACT FILE

Getting there
Gwalior Airport is located at Maharajpur, 10 km north-east of the city and is connected by flights from several cities.

When to go
The month-long Gwalior Trade fair is held between the second week of January and February. Tansen Samaroh is a 5-day classical music festival held in December.

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Where to Stay
Deo Bagh
The royal summer house of the Yadavs facing the nine-chequered garden Nau Bagh is run as a heritage hotel by Neemrana. The 25-acre property has lovely gardens, cenotaphs, pavilions and two 18th century Maratha temples.
Ph +91 751 2820357 www.deo-bagh.neemranahotels.com

Usha Kiran Palace
The 120-year-old colonial era palace with twin towers is run by the Taj Group as a heritage hotel and has hosted luminaries like the King of England.
Ph +91 751 244 4000 www.tajhotels.com

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What to Eat
Try the local favourite bedai, a poori stuffed with spiced lentils, besides gajak (sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) from Ratiram Gajak and Morena Gajak Bhandar. Regulars queue up early morning for samosa, kachori and sweets at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old sweet shop in Naya Bazaar. Also check out Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and laddus at Shankerlal Halwai.

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the Cover Story in the April 2016 issue of JetWings International magazine.