Tag Archives: India

Inspired Heritage: Reclaiming the Past

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‘Inspired Heritage’, that’s the buzz at luxury hotels across the country, as they pick out elements from history to spruce up their interior decor, while curating new menus and experiences, discover ANURAG MALLICK & PRIYA GANAPATHY

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A turbaned doorkeeper sounded the gong marking our arrival outside the gates of Kamalapura Palace, alerting the front desk about our impending check in. The car rattled along the stone pathway, deliberately rough hewn like in the past, the way a ratha or chariot would have clattered in bygone Hampi. The main building and villas came to view, their turrets and domes so reminiscent of Hampi’s monuments. There were shades of Anegundi’s Kamalapura Palace and the angular roofs echoed the temples near Virupaksha…

Greeted with a cool sandalwood tika, flower garland and a welcome drink, we were ushered to a foyer. In place of the reception was a recreation of Hampi’s iconic landmark Sister Stones, two sisters who complained about the tedious exploration of Hampi on foot and were magically turned into stone! The beautiful arches seemed right out of the Octagonal Bath.

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We were led to our Jal Mahal villa styled after the zenana or Queen’s Quarters and their water palaces. While Evolve Back (formerly Orange County) had styled its pioneering resort at Chikkana Halli Estate in Siddapur, Coorg on the lines of a plantation resort and its Kabini resort as a thatched Kuruba hadi (settlement), their latest offering in Hampi was a celebration of the architectural glory of the Vijayanagar Empire.

In what’s emerging as a new trend, hotels in India are now seeking inspiration from their immediate environment not just for design and architecture, but also for cuisine and thematic curated experiences. After working up an appetite in our private pool, we relished local Vijayanagara cuisine at Tuluva, the restaurant named after the most prominent of the three dynasties that ruled Hampi. Bidri showcased the Dakkani flavours of the Hyderabad-Karnataka region. The lofty Elephant Stables inspired the design of the Howdah bar.

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Our guide Venkatesh took us on specially curated itineraries – the Raya Trail, the Virupaksha Trail, the Pattabhirama temple adopted by Evolve Back and the Tungabhadra Trek, along the banks of the river past Courtesan Street, Achyutharaya Temple, Sugreeva’s Cave and the fascinating Koti Linga carved on a sheet of rock, just in time for sunset.

After wowing everyone with Grand Chola in Chennai with its Chola inspired architecture, the latest addition to ITC’s luxury portfolio is ITC Kohenur in Hyderabad, the first luxury business hotel in the heart of Hi-tech City. In keeping with their Responsible Luxury theme, it mirrors the culture and ethos of the destination, inspired by the world’s most famed jewel – the rare priceless diamond from Golconda.

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Its unique angular architecture is a reflection of the facets of the famed diamond with crystal clear glass façade. Like the Kohenur (Persian for ‘Mountain of Light’), the hotel is bright and full of light by day. By evening, it lights up like a gem, rising majestically above the lake Durgam Cheruvu that it overlooks.

The jali (lattice) pattern and marble inlay floors are a recurrent motif with an installation of Hyderabad’s local craft bangles hanging from the ceiling at the reception. The Peacock Bar, a tribute to Shah Jahan’s Peacock Throne where the Kohinoor diamond was once mounted, had a bas relief plaster peacock on the ceiling glittering with colourful tekri (glass) work. The Golconda Pavilion with design motifs from the 14th century Bidri metal craft, Persian zardozi and pearls, showcases local culinary favourites from the region.

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The restaurant Dum Pukht Begum’s has arches, columns and chandeliers reminiscent of palaces like Falaknuma and Chowmahalla. Its rich interiors reflect another famous diamond from the region the Noor-ul-ain (Light of the Eye), a tribute to the royal ladies who brought refinement and appreciation of fine things. The food too balances the flavours of Awadhi cuisine from the Dum Pukht brand with local Nizami touches.

At 4000 sq ft, the Grand Presidential Suite Koh-i-Noor is the largest in the Hi-Tech area. Even the Executive Room is more spacious than the other base category rooms in the city. Given its location in Hi-Tech City, the hotel comes with snazzy features – entertainment and room automation app on an i-Pad and a unique automated laundry system that can be accessed without entering the room. In between meals at the creative Chinese restaurant Yi Jing and authentic Italian Ottimo, we found time and space to rejuvenate ourselves at Kaya Kalp Spa.

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In Kochi, CGH Earth Hotels achieved the impossible. Inspired by the shipping legacy of India’s busiest harbour town, they transformed an old Victorian shipbuilding yard into a waterfront colonial-style hotel called Brunton Boatyard. One look at its lofty ceiling and large pillars and one imagines it’s a restored heritage mansion that dates back a few centuries; yet it’s just over a decade old!

Enjoy the day’s catch at the alfresco Terrace Grill or sample Kochi’s multi-cultural cuisine at History Restaurant – the Syrian Christian Duck Moilee, Anglo Indian cutlet, Jewish Chuttulli Meen, Ceylonese idiappam (string hoppers) with fish curry and the now iconic First Class Railway Mutton Curry.

IMG_9340 East Indies_Cheenavala, a trio of fish, calamari and tiger prawn_Anurag Mallick

CGH’s other hotel Eighth Bastion is a tribute to the historic port town’s Dutch legacy and is named after Fort Kochi’s ‘eighth bastion’ – no longer there. Their restaurant East Indies presents a specially prepared menu called the ‘Dutch Route’, featuring dishes collected from former Dutch colonies. Expect everything from Dutch Bruder bread to Indonesian satays, rendang (Sumatran caramelized curry) and lamprais, a Sri Lankan Dutch Burgher dish of aubergine, frikkadel (Afrikaans meatball), sambal (spicy relish) and balchao (shrimp pickle) wrapped in a leaf with rice, hence its derived name ‘lump rice’.

When it comes to heritage, no one does it as well as Rajasthan. JW Marriott Jaipur Resort & Spa is the first signature hotel under the Starwood banner in Rajasthan. An architectural gem set against the Aravalis, it is styled after the Amber Fort nearby. Musicians by the doorway welcome you to a mesmerizing world of intricate marble inlay, traditional jaali (lattice) and tikri (patterned mirror work), with ornate fountains and water bodies recreating the air of a pleasure palace.

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Each dining space had its own character – all-day dining at Sukh Mahal, the rooftop restaurant Hawa Mahal or the Indian specialty restaurant Mohan Mahal, inspired by the Sheesh Mahal at Amer Fort in Jaipur. A unique fine-dine experience, instead of electric lighting, light from candle flames are reflected in a stunning mosaic of mirrors in the ceiling and walls of the restaurant.

We savoured signature dishes such as laal maas, murgh makai ka soweta, dana methi ki sabzi and more. Tailor-made experiences included a walking tour of old Amer and a visit to Hathi Gaon, home to rehabilitated elephants that ply up the slope of Amer Fort ferrying tourists every day. The elephant interaction program includes a joyride, body painting with natural colours, bathing and feeding.

Magical clouds at Suryagarh Jaisalmer

As you drive past Jaisalmer, an open jeep convoy leads guests to the fort-like entrance of Suryagarh where a pair of camel riders usher you up the driveway. At the porch, a Manganiyar troupe welcomes you with song, Panditji applies a tilak and flower petals are showered from a jharokha above as you enter the foyer. An attendant hands a towel, another plies you with cool beverage and a musician seated in the central courtyard welcomes you to the magical world of Suryagarh.

An ode to the medieval Silk Route trade, Suryagarh is styled on the impressive ruins of Paliwal Brahmin settlements at Kuldhara and Khaba Fort. The hotel beautifully integrates design elements from its surroundings – the jharokas overlooking the central courtyard were inspired by Jaisalmer’s havelis, windows and friezes from Khaba Fort and stone walls and ceiling design from Kuldhara.

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The Residences, an exclusive section of private suites set away from the main hotel. Each handcrafted sandstone haveli was based on the community living concept and offered a sense of private luxury with a large open courtyard, reminiscent of Paliwal villages. Wide windows and pillared corridors framed the vastness of the desert while the warm décor, sunken rooms and furnishings exude sophisticated charm. Even its diverse dining experiences are beautifully curated – Breakfast with Peacocks, Halwayi Breakfast in the courtyard or Dining on the Dunes.

Its bespoke Desert Remembers trails present the Thar desert’s lesser known history – a midnight Chudail (Witches) Trail at Kuldhara, cenotaphs of merchants and travellers, ancient stepwells, ruins of caravanserais, rainwater harvesting techniques and the sweet water wells of Mundari, retracing old trade routes. Even the wellness therapies at Rait Spa were an ode to the region’s geography, using salt from the Luni river and potlis of rait (sand).

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Narendra Bhawan, a swanky boutique hotel in Bikaner has taken theme holidays to another level. It retells the story of Narendra Singh ji, the last reigning maharaja of Bikaner (1948-2003). Born at the cusp of India’s independence, Narendra Singh ji established a novel residence in keeping with his new tastes and vision and Narendra Bhawan celebrates his life’s passage through time – from his royal birth and patronage, military life, the makings of a global bon vivant to a socialist who embraced the idea of a new democratic India.

We viewed the recently launched premium Regimental Rooms, based on Narendra Singh ji’s time at the royal military academy. The canopied bed is styled like a field tent, while stern military stripes and miniature Spanish armada lanterns adorn the room. The starters were finger food you’d expect in an elite military club. We were led down to the foyer where a police band played outside to go with the theme, followed by a ‘mess lunch’ at the Gaushala.

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After a viewing of the India Room, we enjoyed a sundowner and dinner by the poolside and a viewing of the Republic Room ended in a brunch at the Indira Gandhi canal and an Imperial dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace. Each category of room corresponded a particular stage of Narendra Singh ji’s life with a specially curated meal and experience, titled the Grand Essentials of Life.

The food at Narendra Bhawan is as eclectic in choice as its erstwhile owner. From smoked salmon, cured ham, assorted cheese and canapés to robust Rajasthani fare like kale chane ki kadhi, papad ki sabzi and aloe vera ki sabzi, it carries off its varied cuisine with élan. Thanks to the direct flight connectivity from Delhi to Bikaner, you can be here quicker than the waiting time on a weekend at a posh South Delhi restaurant.

Facade-The Grand Dragon Hotel Ladakh

In Leh, The Grand Dragon Ladakh draws from vernacular architecture of the region with ornate carved windows and intricate dragons blazing flames of colour around the pillars and wide open views overlooking the Stok Kangri range. Welcomed with silken scarves we are handed a pouch of camphor that helps acclimatize to the high altitude.

Going beyond the obvious sightseeing trails, the hotel highlights unique offbeat excursions like visiting the only potter in the monastery village of Likir, local oracles, tea and biscuits by the Indus and smithy workshops in Chilling to interact with metal craftsmen making bells and utensils for locals and Buddhist monasteries, including exquisite kettles. It’s heartening to see how hospitality brands in India are exploring new ways to recreate the glory of the days gone by in their architecture, cuisine and experiences.

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FACT FILE 

Where to Stay

Evolve Back Kamalapura Palace, Hampi
www.evolveback.com

ITC Kohenur, Hi-tech City, Hyderabad
www.itchotels.in

Brunton Boatyard/Eighth Bastion, Kochi
www.cghearth.com

JW Marriott Jaipur Resort & Spa, Kukas, near Amer
www.jwmarriottjaipur.com

Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner
www.narendrabhawan.com

Suryagarh, Jaisalmer
www.suryagarh.com

The Grand Dragon Ladakh, Leh
www.thegranddragonladakh.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 7 Dec, 2018 in Indulge, the Friday supplement of The New Indian Express newspaper.

Secret Seven: 7 hideaways in the North East

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ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go off the beaten track in India’s North East to come up with some hidden gems

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So you’ve done the Tibetan monastery trail from Tawang to Gangtok, the train ride on the DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway), tea bungalow stays in Upper Assam, the orchids of Sikkim, wildlife safaris at Kaziranga, and now wonder if the Seven Sisters have anything else to offer. You’d be surprised that there are still a few secret nooks in India’s exotic North East that remain shy of the teeming masses.

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Mechuka
Tucked away in the upper mountain folds of Arunachal’s West Siang district, Mechuka lies closer to the Chinese border than any town in India. Named after the hot springs in the area (men means medicine, chu is water while kha literally means snow or mouth), Mechuka is reached after a circuitous drive from Aalo. The Siyom or Yargyap chu river snakes across the wide plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills with bamboo bridges lined with Tibetan prayer flags. Being an advanced landing ground (ALG) for the Indian Army, you wake up to the sound of bagpipes and military drills as wild horses neigh in the fields. Before the road was built, the airstrip was the only access to the village. Stay at Nehnang Guest House and visit Tibetan monasteries like Samden Yongjhar gompa and Dorjeling gompa; the latter has a mud statue spanning two floors, besides the cave where Guru Nanak is believed to have meditated 500 years ago on his journey to Tibet.

Getting there: 180 km from Aalong (Aalo)

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Damro
Located on the back road from Pasighat to Yingkiong, the tiny hamlet of Damro is home to the longest hanging bridge in Arunachal Pradesh swaying over the Yamne river. Surrounded by terraced fields is Yamne Eco Lodge, a cluster of thatched bamboo houses run by Oken Tayeng of Abor Country Travels & Expeditions. Hike 40 minutes to the bridge and encounter Adi Padam herders heading to the forests to tend to their mithun, a semi-domesticated bovine. Visit the original village of the Adi Padam tribe and get an insight into their unusual Donyi-Polo culture dictated by sun and moon worship. Watch sprightly men wield daos (machetes) with ease as women carry firewood or harvested crops in beyen (cane baskets). Try the local staple of smoked pork, lai (leafs), raja chili chutney, apong (rice beer) and if you are lucky, experience their local festivals like Sollung or Etor livened by song and dance.

Getting there: 74 km from Pasighat
Ph 9863553243 Email aborcountry@gmail.com www.aborcountrytravels.com

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Nongriat
While Mawlynnong has gained much acclaim for its tag as the ‘cleanest village in Asia’ and its pretty living root bridge Jing Kieng Jri, Meghalaya has a huge wealth of natural wonders. At Nongriat, a deep descent from Laitkynsew down 2500 steep steps, past aquamarine pools set in a boulderscape, lies a double-decker bridge. It was shaped over centuries by entwining the fast growing aerial roots of the Ficus elastica tree. Every local passerby would spontaneously twirl new wiry tendrils around older ones, in keeping with an unwritten ancient code of strengthening the natural latticed structure over time. Dangling above a pretty pool, like a tiered necklace swinging in the tree canopy, Umshiang, the double-decker living root bridge, never fails to leave any visitor awestruck. Dip your feet in the pool for a natural fish spa with butterflies wafting around. If you are up for another hour of trekking, you can catch the Rainbow Falls, another major highlight in Nongriat. While there are pocket-friendly community-run guesthouses in Nongriat, Cherrapunji Resort in Laitkynsew is a good base. Run by Dennis Rayen, an old-timer in hospitality, he’s well versed in birding, local excursions and meteorological data of the region, displayed on the walls.

Getting there: Cherrapunji (called Sohra locally) is a 56km drive from Shillong
Cherrapunjee Resort, Laitkynsew www.cherrapunjee.com

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Hoollongopar Gibbon Sanctuary
Named after the profusion of hoolong trees (Dipterocarpus macrocarpus) in the area, the Hoollongopar sanctuary is the only one in the country dedicated to the protection of India’s sole ape species, the Hoolock Gibbon. Surrounded by tea plantations and a railway line, this tiny pocket was once connected to larger tracts of forests in neighbouring Nagaland. Despite its shrinking habitat, the park is a good place to spot Hoolock Gibbons besides troupes of Stump-tailed Macaque, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Pig-tailed Macaque, Capped Langur and Bengal Slow Loris. There’s also a Forest Rest House where visitors can stay overnight and set out for an early morning nature trail. For a more luxurious stay, try Thengal Manor at Jalukonibari on the outskirts of Jorhat.

Getting there: 27km from Jorhat
Heritage North East Ph 18001239801 www.heritagetourismindia.com

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Siiro
While Ziro has garnered much attention for its music festival, nearby Siiro leads a life of relative obscurity. The pretty little village is home to an organic farmstay called Abasa, run by a charming couple Kago Kampu and Kago Habung. Staying with an Apatani family helps guests gain insights into the centuries-old techniques of paddy cultivation of the fascinating tribe, recognizable by their facial tattoos and cane nose plugs. The facial mutilation was apparently done to deter raiding tribes from abducting the beautiful women! Stay on the 10-hectare farm growing kiwi, tomato, cabbage, babycorn and rice as you get a crash course on the paddy-cum-fish farming of the Apatanis. Fish and rice form the staple with unique dishes like suddu yo, a mixture of chicken mince and egg yolk cooked on fire in tender bamboo stems, dani apu komoh or kormo pila, a chutney made of roasted sunflower seeds, yokhung chutney made of Xanthallum berries, peeke, a dish of bamboo shoots, pork and tapiyo (local vegetarian salt made from charred lai or maize leaf which is their secret to being slim) besides the local brew apong, made of fermented millet and rice.

Getting there: Siiro is 3km from the old town of Hapoli near Ziro, district headquarters of Lower Subansiri, 118 km from the capital Itanagar via NH-229.
Ph 03788-225561, 94024 60483 Email abasahomestay@gmail.com

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Dzukou Valley
Cradled between the borders of Manipur and Nagaland above 2000m, Dzukou Valley is an ecological haven that is home to the endemic Dzukou lily. Named dzukou or ‘soul-less and dull’ by disillusioned Angami ancestors after a disappointing harvest; others contend it means ‘cold water’ in the local dialect, ascribing it to the icy streams that run through it. The beauty of Dzukou Valley is unsurpassed, earning its more popular tag as the Valley of Flowers of the North East. Accessed by a tough hike across the Japfu Peak from the heritage village of Khonoma in Nagaland, the valley is a pristine paradise that attracts birders and trekkers alike. En route stop at the Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary, set up to protect the endangered Blyth’s Tragopan. Khonoma is incidentally the country’s first green village where hunting and tree logging are strictly banned. Other access points are the villages of Viswema and Jakhama. Entry to Dzukou valley (Rs 50 for Indians, Rs 100 for foreigners) is paid at the Rest House, which also offers basic accommodation for a reasonable fee. A better option is staying at Meru Homestay in Khonoma run by Angami couple Krieni and Megongui who happily rustle up traditional Naga cuisine. Go on heritage walks around the 700-year-old village and listen to stories of valour in the land of headhunters.

Getting there: Khonoma lies 20km south west of Kohima which can be reached via NH39 from Dimapur, 74km away.
Ph Meru’s Homestay Ph 0370-2340061, Baby’s Homestay Ph 9436071046, Michael Megorissa local co-ordinator and guide Ph 9856125553

Sikkim Bon Farmhouse

Kewzing
Overlooking snowy peaks of the Eastern Himalayas, Kewzing is a scenic village in Sikkim perched at 1700m and surrounded by cardamom fields and forested tracts. Hike to hot water springs in the area or head on walking trails to Doling, Barfung, Bakhim and Mambru villages, besides birdwatching trips to Maenam Wildlife Sanctuary and the monastery trail to Kewzing and Ravangla. The altitudinal variation between the Rangit river valley (350m) and the highest hill Maenam (3500m) harbours nearly 200 bird species, including the Satyr Tragopan and Fire-tailed Myzornis. Bon Farmhouse, a 6-acre family-run farm helmed by brothers Chewang and Sonam Bonpo is the perfect roost where farm produce like maize, buckwheat, finger millet, green peas, rice, wheat, potato, pumpkin, beans and lettuce is stirred up into delicious home-cooked meals. Fresh eggs and milk, butter, cottage cheese, curd and buttermilk from the farm’s Jersey cows also land up at the table. The forest abounds with wild edible foods and the monsoon adds seasonal delights like tusa (bamboo shoots), kew (mushrooms) and ningro (wild ferns). Try Sikkimese delicacies like kinama (fermented soyabean), gundruk (fermented spinach) and fisnu (stinking nettles). Enjoy a hot stone herbal steam bath in a dotho, infused with wild medicinal plants collected from the forest.

Getting there: 127 km from Bagdogra Airport
Ph +91 9735900165, 9547667788, 9434318496 www.sikkimbonfarmhouse.com

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in The New Indian Express Indulge in December 2018. 

 

 

On a Shoestring: The Art of Budget Travel

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Travel need not be an expensive affair, say ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY as they decode the art of travelling on a shoestring

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Having attended two Maha Kumbh Melas, walked with kanwariyas during the Shravana Mela and hitchhiked from Ladakh to Manali in a truck after staying at a Buddhist monastery for months, we do know a thing or two about budget travel. Exploring South India on a bike while setting up Drifter, a channel on budget travel for Oyeindia.com gave us the perfect opportunity to do things on a shoestring.

We have slept in cars during offbeat festivities like Kenduli Baul Mela and Baithurappa Festival, stayed in Tibetan monasteries from Ladakh to Bylakuppe, a Jain dharamsala in Kaushambi, a church in Kodaikanal, ashrams in Haridwar and Uttarkashi and religiously survived on gurudwara langar in Manikaran. Based on our varied experiences, we’ve put together the essentials for budget travel.

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Planning
Whether backpacking across Europe or a long haul across Asia, travel research and planning is critical. Be it cheap tickets, late night flights or last-minute deals, scour the Internet for distress sales. Bargain for better rates for longer stints; staying in a villa in Bali or Goa for a week or month is cheaper than a per day rate. Avoid peak season and weekends to save big, as many lodges lower tariff for weekdays and lean season.

Often, a destination is not only more economical but also less crowded then, like Kerala or Goa in the rains. Several museums and attractions, especially abroad, are free. Avail student discounts wherever you can. Cut guide fees by downloading maps and do-it-yourself trails. Pack less. Travelling lean means your bag can be easily lugged around or shoved onto a shared vehicle. Follow a simple rule – take only as much luggage as you can carry on your own!

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Transport
Hiring a cab (Rs.3500/day) burns a big hole in your pocket, so take public transport. Overnight buses help save a night’s room rent, as we discovered on sleeper buses to Goa, Kerala, Coorg and Pondicherry. In Uttarakhand and the North East, shared jeeps cost more than a bus, but save time. Despite revamped fares and new baggage restrictions, we love rail journeys! If on a budget, a day train with second sitting is more economical than sleeper class. And if the weather is okay, why pay extra for air-conditioning? The cheapest option is a chalu (running) ticket from the counter instead of a reserved ticket.

A ship to the Andamans from Kolkata and Chennai may take 3 days but if you’re in no hurry, it is not as expensive as a flight to Port Blair. In places like Pondy, Hampi, Khajuraho and Kochi, you can easily hire bicycles for Rs.10 or 20/hour rather than scooties, which may cost Rs.300-500/day. Of course, there’s the good ol’ thumb if you want to hitchhike. Walk around instead of taking a rickshaw and you’ll discover more on foot.

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Stay smart
Bid goodbye to fancy hotels and say hello to youth hostels, lodges, BnB’s (Bed & Breakfast) and homestays. Owner-run properties have hosts who are usually well informed to help with local tips, critical to your holiday experience. Avoid prime haunts or locations and you’ll save more. If you plan to spend most of the day out exploring, shack up in dormitories instead of AC rooms. You don’t always have to scrimp.

Often the cheapest places to stay (and yet, the best in terms of location and view) are Forest Rest Houses, PWD guesthouses and Inspection Bungalows, which usually require a letter from the DFO (District Forest Officer), Electrical Engineer or DC (District Commissioner) from the nearest hub. When in the hills, carry a sleeping bag or tent as you can set yourself up anywhere.

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In God we Trust
While travelling, we have always found new meaning in religion. Our transformation from agnostic to die-hard believer is swift, if it can wrangle us a stay in an ashram, dharamshala, church, monastery or gurudwara. They usually have simple rules like no smoking, liquor, meat or loud behaviour and restricted entry/exit timings. But mostly you stay for free, with a discretionary donation expected of you.

Attending a discourse, meditation, bhajan or satsang will earn you some brownie points. The other plus is food. All gurudwaras run a langar (free community kitchen) so a visit around lunchtime is good timing; likewise for annadana (free meal) at places like Udupi Sri Krishna temple, Horanadu Annapoorneshwari temple and Padi Igguthappa temple in Coorg.

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Eats shoots and leaves
Street food is the ultimate money-saver as food on the go saves you service taxes at a fancy restaurant with seating and air-conditioning. Eat local at dhabas and eateries. Being a veggie helps as non-veg dishes are costlier. A set thali meal is good value for money and you often get refills. Eat plenty of fruits especially bananas – fresh, cheap and filling! Don’t buy mineral water, carry a bottle instead and fill it wherever you go (most establishments now have RO water). If your hotel tariff has breakfast included, make sure you don’t miss it!

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Volunteering
A great way to offset holiday expenses is voluntourism like farming, teaching, home-build projects or charity. Organic farms like Rainforest Retreat in Coorg offer internship (minimum 3-6 months) while backpackers can stay in their remote self-service Farway Cottage at just Rs.7000/week. Spiti Ecosphere offers programs like the weeklong ‘Backpacking with a Purpose’ or the 2-week ‘Greening the Deserts: Building in the Himalayas’ and help build greenhouses for village communities. Useful for longer stays, in many cases it not only takes care of your food and stay, you might also earn some stipend on the side.

No matter what your reason for travel, a budget holiday often takes you to places that are more secluded and offbeat, offering real experiences, thrilling adventures and a chance to meet interesting, like-minded people who share travel, rooms and resources.

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FACT FILE

Top Tips
Avoid peak season and weekends
Take public/shared transport
Walk or hire cycles for local sightseeing
Get better room rates in off-season
Look out for museums/sights with free entry
Eat at dhabas/street food instead of restaurants
Carry a sleeping bag and a water bottle
Talk to locals for info/tips
Try Voluntourism

Popular backpacker haunts
Paharganj (Delhi), Pushkar, Rishikesh, McLeodganj, Kasol, Varanasi, Hampi, Gokarna, Goa, Manali, Spiti

Budget experiences
Kanwar yatra in Shravana Mela
Narmada Pradakshina
Kenduli Baul Mela
Goa in the rains

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 28 July 2018 as the cover story in the Travel supplement of Deccan Herald newspaper.

Burhanpur: Diamond in the Dust

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Mosques with inscriptions in Farsi and Sanskrit, Mumtaz Mahal’s hamam and the Black ‘Taj Mahal’; ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore Burhanpur, the gateway to the Deccan and cultural capital of the Mughals in southern Madhya Pradesh

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A tad weary from our journeys across Central India, we disembarked for a brief stopover at Burhanpur. Hoshang Havaldar, the portly 60-something owner of Hotel Ambar, greeted us with roses and scented cotton yarns. “This ordinary‘sut ka haar’ commemorates Burhanpur’s glorious past as a trading centre of cotton. The fragrance of khus, kewda and gulab represent the three ponds of itr (perfumes) in which Mumtaz Begum took a daily dip in Burhanpur’s Shahi hamam. She gifted a rose to Shah Jahan everyday and we greet our guests with a rose as well.”

Thus, a routine hotel welcome transformed into a history lesson laden with meaning. Local INTACH convener Havaldar took immense pride in his illustrious city. “Without Burhanpur, India’s chronicles are incomplete. Between 1600 and 1720, it served as a secondary Mughal capital and learning centre for princes and princesses, who imbibed tehzeeb (etiquette)-tameez (manners)-taakat (power)-tareeka-e-ilmaat (life lessons). Akbar spent 40 years in Burhanpur, Shah Jahan 44, Aurangzeb 30, while Abdul Rahim Khan-i-khana governed for 37 years. Whoever was appointed a sipahsalar (governor) here was destined for greatness.”

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But what was a Parsi doing in southern Madhya Pradesh? Havaldar’s great grandfather came from Navsari in 1904 to work at the Burhanpur Tapti Cotton Mill. The hotel has been around since 1985 and its foyer is lined with info panels and antiquities. At Heena Garden restaurant, Havaldar explained how Burhanpur’s architecture inspired the hotel’s décor – haveli styled rooms with jalis, arches and lotus patterns. The food was Mughlai but completely vegetarian – from Jalal-e-Akbari to Paneer Mumtaz…

Over a leisurely meal, he elaborated how the Shruti and Smriti puranas refer to Burhanpur as Bhrignapur, the tapobhumi (place of penance) of Bhrigu rishi, who wrote the Bhrigu Samhita on the banks of the Tapti river. Legends recount how Surya the sun god, unable to bear the heat of his own body, created the river from his being. Hence Tapti is worshipped as Surya-putri.“Taap haran karne wali shakti, Tapti.”

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To believers, the mere thought of Tapti or the sight of Narmada is equivalent to a dip in the Ganga. Tapti Mahapuran records how the west-flowing rivers Narmada, Tapti and Poorna predated Ganga’s descent on earth and Ganga undertook a penance to appease the older rivers at Navatha, 40km away. Tapti’s placid flow is attributed to this lore.

That evening we drove around the city noticing its architectural wealth flash amidst its crowded, soiled streets like rubies in the rubble. Burhanpur seemed burdened by its own history. It has a staggering 126 monuments – the most after Delhi – including 35 key sights. With the weakening of the Delhi Sultanate, Malik Nasir Khan claimed independence from Mandu’s Sultan, conquered Asirgarh Fort and renamed his capital in 1427 after Sufi saint Sheikh Burhan-ud-din.

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Burhanpur served as the capital of Khandesh where eleven Farooki kings ruled for two centuries, creating a ‘secular’ state where Sanskrit shared space alongside Arabic and Farsi. Adil Shah’s inscription can be seen at the two Jama Masjids in Burhanpur and Asirgarh. “To this day, Hindu-Muslims are like tanabana (warp and weft) of one weave,” quipped Havaldar. We reached the riverside palace complex Mughalbagh or Shahi Kila, constructed by Adil Shah Farooki II between 1457 and 1503.

The best-preserved structure is the zenana bath, built in 1612 with facilities that outshone modern spas – pleasure fountains, aquatic massage, hot and cold running water, showers and channels to route perfumes into tanks. The bathroom was lit up by eight diamonds studded in the ceiling to multiply the reflection of a lone flame from an oil lamp. Today, only intriguing holes remain.

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During Shah Jahan’s reign, frescoes graced the honeycombed ceiling to delight Mumtaz. Guided by Havaldar’s torch, we gasped at geometric patterns and Iranian designs – stars, lattices, arches, flowers, Shah Jahan’s ruby-studded turban, Mumtaz Begum’s sapphire-studded crescent turban, even an image of the Taj Mahal! Everything about the hamam was so dear to Mumtaz, that it became the inspiration for her tomb.

“Xerox kahoon, photocopy boloon, every aspect has been copied,” Havaldar’s voice resonated in the dark chamber. “Each of the four unique arches feature in the Taj, allowing light to fall on her grave at sunrise, sunset and full moon. The fourth hexagonal arch can be seen in Agra’s Moti Masjid. The blue bands and guldaan (vase) on Mumtaz’s grave are borrowed too, while Burhanpur’s Diwan-e-Aam inspired the public audience hall at Delhi’s Red Fort.” The bedroom where Mumtaz passed away while giving birth to her fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum, was in ruins with a tank on the terrace that kept it cool.

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The architectural genius was admirable. The palace complex, closed from three sides and open to the river, had 140 rooms and housed 400 people. In the cross-section of the false ceiling, we saw three earthen pipes – for fresh water, sludge water and 8 inch pipes for air vents! Alcoves and niches in the courtyard served as Meena Bazaar, a makeshift market for the queens. Shah Jahan built a rampart called Hathiya Chadhao for Mumtaz to descend from her chamber and mount an elephant for a ride to the city. A Pigeon Tower was built by Aurangzeb to ferry messages within the vast Mughal Empire. A few cannons from his time were strewn around; one bore a Farsi inscription: ‘When I open my mouth and belch fire, enemies’ hearts tremble’. Two beautiful mosques the Longi Masjid and Ilaichi Masjid, were named after their clove and cardamom-shaped domes.

Today, 1.75 lakh inhabitants stay within the 4km by 1km fort walls, making it one of India’s largest living forts. Asaf Jah renovated the parkota or circumference during Nizam rule (1720-1760). To him, Burhanpur was heaven for reasons more than its aab-o-hawa (atmosphere). The city had eight darwaaze (gates) and four khidkiyan (windows), as per the Quranic description of bahisht (heaven). Havaldar explained that a gate through which an elephant rider could enter was a darwaza while the smaller khidki allowed horse riders to pass through.

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The three-storeyed Shaniwara Gate served as the city’s main entrance. A blend of Hindu-Muslim motifs, its arch with lotus flowers hark to Akbar’s time, the next level with jharokhe, pipal toranas and kalgi design on the dome are Jahangiri while the two minarets were Shah Jahan’s contribution.

Another unique feature was the nine signs carved on it – ducks, fountains and insignia of the Mughal regiment stationed in Burhanpur. Like the Shaniwara gate, the Itwara and Budhwara gates were named after the local weekly markets. Lohar Mandi Gate was where ironsmiths set up shop while Shikarpura gate, was the hunting route of Akbar’s son Prince Daniyal.

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The following day, we toured with Professor Ghanshyam Malviya alias ‘Guruji’, who was persuaded by Havaldar to lead tours, a decade ago. He showed us how the Jama Masjid, with its 130 ft minars, was built in a way that its 15 arches intersected to form a ‘roofless masjid’. Each arch was unique, decorated with lotus flowers and toranas.

He pointed out a small stone wedged into the structure that conveyed the architect’s illustration of a deeper concept – every stone, big or small played a part in the building, the same way all men were equal in front of god.

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For six centuries, traders flocked to Burhanpur’s cotton market Tana Gujri mandi, which had a serai, hamam and masjid for visitors. Serais were traveller’s inns, kothaar were mid-budget lodges and huzoore were plush stays for respectable dignitaries. Under Noor Jehan’s counsel, Jehangir built a dar-ul-shifa (hospital) and a mardana Turkish bath where 125 men could bathe at a time.

Built underground to conceal bare bodied males from women passing by, it lay hidden under a mound of earth until 25 years ago. Khan-i-khana’s Akbari Saray where Sir Thomas Roe, emissary of King James I halted, was in shambles, but we peeked into the 1780 Zakvi Haveli built by Zakvi-ud-din, 41st Syedna of the Dawoodi Bohra faith.

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Narrow bylanes took us to the first ever Swaminarayan Temple in India, the Maratha-era Bombaywalon ki kothi and the Nathdwara-inspired Bahuji Maharaj ka Mandir. Its 2-inch idol of Lord Krishna needed a telescope for a clear darshan! Bibi ki Masjid, the city’s oldest mosque, was styled on one in Ahmedabad. We stumbled upon the century old wooden house of the Hathiwala family whose ancestors maintained elephants for Maratha and Mughal armies.

There’s no dearth of architectural wonders in Burhanpur. The Black Taj Mahal is the tomb of warrior Shah Nawaz Khan, Khan-i-khana’s son murdered by Aurangzeb. Built out of black stone, it is the lament of a father’s anguish. Begum Shah Shuja ka Makbara (tomb of Bilkis Jahan), wife of Shah Jahan’s fourth son Shah Shuja, has exquisite murals, kept under lock and key. Some say the structure was originally a Jain temple dedicated to 24 tirthankaras.

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The soul of Burhanpur is deeply entrenched in spirituality. Once a flourishing Jain settlement, the city is the revered seat of the Nath sampradaya, Dadu panth, Kabir panth and many religious denominations. The very name Burhanpur is derived from Sufi saint Sheikh Burhan-ud-din Garib, Hazrat Nizam-ud-din Aulia’s disciple. Nearly 4000 Sufi saints came here to spread Islam. “Yahan teen Chishti araam farma rahe hain…”(Here, three Chishti saints are at rest)

Shah Bahauddin Bajan came to Burhanpur as a young tutor to the children of Farooqi kings. Revered for his intellect, he was nicknamed ‘Chup’ Shah as he spoke very little. He died at the age of 120 and many visit his makbara (tomb). Nearby, on the banks of the Utawali, rests Hazrat Shah Bhikhari. “Utawali? Strange name for a river!” we remarked. Guru ji smiled, “She is quick to flood and quick to dry up. She comes in a hurry and disappears as hurriedly, hence ‘utawali’ or eager”.

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Nearly 2 lakh devotees offer namaaz on Shah Bhikhari’s urs. Saint Syed Mohammad Hashmi Kashmi lived in Burhanpur for 12 years. Two hundred years after his death, when the changing course of the Tapti river threatened to submerge his grave, it was shifted to a safer place. Surprisingly, his body was found intact!

Burhanpur is home to the biggest Shia monument in India. 17th-century Bohra saint Maulana Sayyedi Abdul Qadir Hakimuddin Saheb lived here and his tomb Dargah-e-Hakimi is much revered. It is believed a trip to Mecca-Medina is incomplete unless ziyarat is offered at Burhanpur. Spread over 125 acres amid immaculate gardens, the pristine dargah glistens like a fresh lotus in the muck and grime of Burhanpur.

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Syed Hakimuddin’s miraculous powers and the marble mausoleums of the 26th and 42nd Syednas draw many devotees. The old Mughal tradition of the tonga, known in Shah Jahan’s time as shahi sawari, is still alive among the Bohri Muslims who love taking horse-drawn carriages to Dargah-e-Hakimi.

Burhanpur is sacred to the Sikhs too as Guru Nanak stopped here in 1511-12 on his way to Omkareshwar and Guru Gobind Singh halted in 1708 en route to Nanded. Gurudwara Badi Sangat marks the spot where the latter camped and gave satsang. He stayed for 6 months, 9 days at Nivas Asthan Patshahi, which houses his weapons. It was here that Gobind Singh ji decreed that there would be no more gurus after him and the holy book shall be the sole guide. He compiled the Guru Granth Sahib and marked it with his seal. The Gurudwara has the carefully preserved tome with his golden signature and exquisite miniature paintings on each page, locked inside.

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One question nagged us. If Mumtaz Mahal died in Burhanpur, why was her tomb in Agra? Back in the day, Burhanpur had excellent medical facilities and was home to renowned hakims. After Mumtaz died during childbirth, she was embalmed and laid to rest for 6 months at her beloved Ahukhana, the shikargah (hunting lodge) built by Akbar’s son Daniyal, which had been restored by her into a rose garden.

Shah Jahan wished to build a memorial on Tapti’s riverbank so he could see its reflection in the waters. The bank was 80 ft high and required a larger plinth and a taller structure. However, the loamy black cotton soil wouldn’t withstand the weight of such a large edifice. The logistics of transporting marble from Makrana in Rajasthan tilted it in Agra’s favour. The rest is history. We drove out via the historic Dilli Darwaza, along the route of Mumtaz Begum’s final journey in a golden casket in 1631, accompanied by her son Shah Shuja to Agra.

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On Burhanpur’s outskirts, Asirgarh’s distinct form could be seen from afar. Perched at 259m, “it is the highest, oldest and most protected fort of India,” claimed Guruji. Havaldar ranked it among the 7 unconquered forts of India. Overlooking a pass over the Satpuras, Asirgarh lay on a key trade route between North India and the Deccan. It was the strategic Dakkani Darwaza or Doorway to the Deccan.

Nasir Khan Farooki murdered local raja Asa Ahir and captured the fort. Despite a matrimonial alliance with the Farookis, Akbar besieged Asirgarh for six months with a 32,000 strong army in 1600. Mounting cannons atop a hill – named ‘Akbar topi’ for its uncanny resemblance to the Mughal emperor’s headgear – he bombarded the fort in vain. Eventually, he too resorted to deceit. Under the pretext of the zenana wanting to see the fort, Mughal troops emerged from palanquins in Trojanesque fashion to end Farooki rule in Khandesh.

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In January, 1601 Akbar finally offered namaz at the Jama Masjid in Asirgarh. Stone inscriptions record Shah Jahan’s revolt against Jahangir as governor of Burhanpur and Aurangzeb’s overthrow of Shah Jahan. The British paid Rs.7 lakh to acquire the fort from the Marathas. After the 1819 treaty, Asirgarh was the last major fort to come under British control. Such was its import that a message was dispatched to the British viceroy that India had finally been conquered!

Yet, no one ever captured Asirgarh in battle. A formidable chain of seven gateways rose from the abyss, overrun by foliage. We wisely chose the winding mud road off the highway that ended abruptly against 120 ft high walls. Spread over 60 acres, the complex has three fortifications – Malaygarh the lowermost, Kamargarh the middle one built by Aurangzeb and Asirgarh, the highest and oldest part. Steep stairs led to a plateau at the summit where the Jama Masjid stood.

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Legend has it that the mountain was once Ashwathamagiri, the haunt of Drona’s son who hid here after abandoning the Kurukshetra battlefield. Another lore hails how after his ritual bath in the Tapti, Ashwathama does puja at Burhanpur’s Gupteshwar temple and takes a bilva marg (subterranean path) to perform a puja at Asireshwar Mahadev, which gave the fort its name. Till today, a single wild flower mysteriously appears on the linga as proof of his secret ritual.

Scattered around were remains of Rani Mahal, barracks, Phansi Ghar (gallows), prison, cemetery and an erstwhile British cantonment. Veer Surendra Sai, legendary freedom fighter from Sambalpur was imprisoned here for 19 years and died in 1884. From the summit, we spotted Moti Mahal, the palace and mausoleum of Shah Jahan’s third wife Moti Begum at the foothills of Asirgarh. While the whole world flocks to the monument of eternal love at Agra, Burhanpur lies discarded like a concubine, in the dusty wayside of history.

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NAVIGATOR

Getting there
Burhanpur is 181 km south of Indore (4 hrs) via SH-27. The citadel of Asirgarh lies 20km from town and 5km off the highway.

Stay
Hotel Ambar & Holiday Resort
NH-27, Rastipura Colony, Opp. Bus Stand, Burhanpur
Ph 07325-251197, 94240 24949
http://hotelambarburhanpur.com

Shop
Buy cotton clothes at Tana Gujri Mandi, locally made country cheroots or some daraba (sweet) and Burhanpur jalebi to take home.

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Eat
In the Khandesh region, poha, jalebi, samosa, kachori and khaman are commonly eaten for breakfast, besides chiwda, lasaniya sev, maand (roomali roti) and regional dishes like kala masaichi (curry of over-roasted black masala) and makai ki kachori. Try Burhanpur’s thick mawa jalebis at Burhanpur Jalebi Centre, Subhash Chowk (Ph 98262 72490).

For non-veg Mughlai cuisine head to Rahmania Restaurant at Jaistambh Chauraha (Ph 07325-257291) and for veg Mughlai delights like Nargisi kofta, Paneer angara, Jalal-e-Akbari and Kebab Palak, head to Heena Garden at Hotel Ambar Palace. For the signature sweet daraba (semolina, sugar and ghee whisked to a fine fluffy dessert), try Kundan and Geeta in the morning, Subhash bhai halwayi or Milan Mithai at Gandhi Chowk (Ph 07325-252315, 252295).

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5 Things to Do in the Region
Explore India’s highest fort Asirgarh
Try local treats like Burhanpur jalebis, maande and daraba
Take a ride in a tonga or horse-drawn carriage to Dargah-e-Hakimi
Attend Balaji ka Mela (Nov) on the banks of the Tapti river
Do an architecture tour – frescoes at Begum Shah Shuja’s makbara to Shahi Hamam

Discover This
Located 7km from town, Kundi Bhandara or Neher-e-khair zaari (literally, channel that flows regularly and safely) is Burhanpur’s wondrous water system built by Abdul Rahim Khan-i-khana. Water is channeled from the base of mountains at a depth of 80 ft to the surface by 3km long tunnels, using a capillary system. It is supported by a network of 8 gidgidi (points for drawing water), 44 karanje (ponds) and 105 kundi (wells).

It also has the popular misnomer Khooni Bhandara. One morbid story narrates how dacoits often looted and killed merchants who halted at Burhanpur’s serais, and dumped their bodies in a well where the water turned bloody. Local guide Guru ji scoffs at the tall tales – “Ek billi ka bachcha bhi nahi mara 75 saal mein!” (Not even a kitten has died Dargah-i-Hakimi,here in the last 75 years).

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Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the July 2018 issue of Discover India magazine.

 

 

30 unique dishes from Karnataka (How many have you tried?)

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There’s more to Karnataka cuisine than Bisi Bele Bath. On Rajyotsava Day, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY go on a culinary tour across the state to pick 30 unique dishes from its 30 districts and various communities.

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Like political leaders and psephologists criss-crossing the state, we had trailblazed across Karnataka on a 2-year long research project to document the state’s cuisine for Oota, a restaurant in Whitefield. Travelling with two chefs and a video crew, we ate in iconic eateries, discovered fantastic food folklore and cooked with nearly 25 communities in homes, roadside stalls and temple kitchens.

From the ghats of Coorg and Malnad to the Karavali coast, ragi fields of South Karnataka to the jola (jowar) and rice fields in the north and the Hyderabad-Karnataka region to the Maharashtra border, we traversed nearly 30 districts and 20,000km. Here’s a sample from an astonishingly diverse cuisine that goes beyond the ordinary…

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Chigli Chutney
The hilly region of Malnad is known for the unique chigli chutney made of kempu iruve or red fire ants (Ecophila Smoragdina). The ants have a vicious sting and the sour ooze from the swollen larvae gives the typical tang and bite to the chutney. The leafy nests must be harvested before sunrise and the ants are roasted along with salt, pounded and stored for future use. Ground with garlic, birds’ eye chili, onion, coconut and spices, and eaten with rice rotis, the protein-rich chutney is a winter delicacy (Nov-March). Its medicinal properties help prevent cough, cold, flu and pneumonia.

Where to Eat: Not feature on regular menus, but hotels serving Gowda fare like Flameback Lodges (Ph 9242714197, 9448379748, www.flameback.in) near Mudigere and Black Pepperz Gardenia (Ph 9242144019) at Daradahalli might serve it on request

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Rakti
Saujis or Savajis are a martial community of the SSK (Somavamsha Sahasrarjun Kshatriya) Samaj who migrated from Central India to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra. As kshatriyas, meat, blood and chili dominate their cuisine and Sauji restaurants are popular among meat lovers. During Dussehra, they offer laal-pani (liquor), edimi (wheat-gram flour dumplings) and arithi (wheat flour diyas) to Goddess Bhavani. A unique dish from their repertoire is Rakti, made from rakt (coagulated blood), reduced into a spicy thick paste and eaten with jolada (jowar) rotis.

Where to Eat: Hamsini Hotel on Shamanur Road in Davanagere (Ph 9886792331), Hotel Milan Savaji (Ph 0836-2435450, 9341998875) at Jubilee Circle on PB Road and Kathare’s Savaji Hotel (Ph 0836-2441956, 2435450) at Line Bazaar in Dharwad, Bhavani Sauji Hotel in Rattihalli near Shimoga and Hotel Chetak in Kalaburagi.

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Batti Chutney
Originally from Andhra Pradesh, the Idugas have been in Karnataka’s border regions for centuries. They are known for their meat heavy cuisine with a liberal use of chillis, a typical Andhra influence. Every part of the goat – trotters, intestine, brain, blood and spleen – is used for dishes like poondi palya mutton, taley mamsa, boti and nalla vanta. Batti Chutney is made of spleen, liver and hand-pounded red chillies and garlic; rolled into gummy meatballs, it makes an excellent spicy bar snack with a taste profile akin to paté!

Where to Eat: Eateries at D Hirehalu and Ballari

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Appekayi Trrroin
Haviyak or Havyaka Brahmins came to Malnad from Ahichhatra in Central India for the completion of havans (hence their name) and the recitation of Yajur Veda at yagnas. Their scientific approach to food gives great importance to medicinal plants and various concoctions called tambulli made from arshina (raw turmeric), nellikayi (gooseberry) or doddapatre (carom leaf). Most feasts begin with a digestive drink strangely called Appekayi Trrroin, made from appekayi (raw mangoes). As for the ‘trrroin’, it’s most probably from downing it one gulp!

Where to Eat: Havyaka homestays like Gundi Mane near Jog Falls (Ph 9900956760, 9980100975 www.gundimane.com) or Vihar Homestay (Ph 08389-249437, 9449192329 https://viharhomestay.in) near Sirsi

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Sungta Song
It’s not really a song but you’ll surely dance to the tune of this classic prawn curry from the GSB or Gaud Saraswat Brahmin kitchen. A coastal preparation of prawns in thick tangy onion and tomato masala, it is finished with lemon juice and freshly chopped coriander.

Where to Eat: Shwetaa Lunch Home (Ph 99866 75726, 95918 41334) at Ananda Arcade, Green Street and Hotel Amrut in Karwar (Ph 08382-226609, 645562 www.hotelamrut.com)

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Halasina Yele Chilmi
The unique steamed dish from the Canara coast is as exotic as it sounds! First halasina yele (jackfruit leaves) are shaped into cones, rice paste is smeared on the insides before a mix of coconut and jaggery is poured in and sealed with rice paste. Placed inside a steamer, it is left to cook. The leaf is carefully peeled to reveal a marbled conical dessert.

Where to Eat: Blue Waters Resort (Ph 08254-230093, 9844065100, www.bluewatersindia.com) in Kundapura and their hinterland resort Green Woods in Senapura

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Kalees Ankiti
While leitão (whole roast pigling), a Portuguese tradition is popular among Catholics of Mangalore, the rest of the pig’s ‘spare parts’ go into an offal curry known by the intriguing name kalees-ankiti (literally ‘liver-intestines’). Cooking it is laborious and the intestines must be rubbed and boiled with cinnamon leaves to remove the smell. After adding spices, onions, tamarind, vinegar and local baffath powder, it is finished with pig’s blood and eaten with sannas. Surely not for the faint-hearted!

Where to Eat: Pereira Hotel in Mangaluru (Ph 0824-2425430, 9480158112, 9611067783)

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Mandige
Besides the iconic Belgaum Kunda, Belagavi is known for another sweet – mande or mandige. A crepe with a thin filling of sugar, ghee and khoa, it is made like a roomali on an upturned tava and folded like a dosa. A fascinating legend explains its mythic origin. A devout Brahmin was in deep penance when the Lord appeared before him. Since he had nothing to offer, he rolled dough, sugar and ghee and baked it on his bent back with the heat of his penance. Thus the mandaka or mandige was born! It’s a must in Brahmin weddings and is often displayed in large baskets. Rumours abound how weddings have been called off because no mandige was served!

Where to Eat: Krishnamurthi Saralaya (Ph 0831-2452707/4208620, 9448231751) in Konwal Gali, Belagavi.

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Kalbutthi
The ancient capital of the Kadamba dynasty, Banavasi is famous for its pineapples and the 400-year-old Konkani community of Padkis. At the home of Mrs Indira Phadke, we picked up an unusual dish from Chitpawan Brahmin cuisine. Kalbutthi is like a curd rice sizzler using a piece of hot glowing flintstone (kal is stone). On the hot stone, some ghee, curry leaves and mustard seeds are used for tempering and covered with the curd rice to infuse the smoky aroma!

Where to Eat: Konkani Brahmin homestays

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Susheela
From Davanagere to Dharwad and Huballi to Bijapur, mandakki or puffed rice is a common snack, presented in assorted flavours like Girmit, Nargis or Khara Mandakki, often paired with mensinkayi bajji (chilli pakoda). For breakfast, puffed rice is lightly soaked and tossed with seasoning into a light fluffy poha called allu susla. However, in street parlance it is commonly mispronounced as ‘Susheela’.

Where to Eat: TS Manjunath Swamy’s Masala Mandakki Angadi (Ph 9902200924) on Lawyer Road at Jaydev Circle in Davangere and LEA Canteen at Dharwad (Ph 9448147157)

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Bellary Cycle Khova
If you thought Ballari’s only claim to (in)fame was the Reddy brothers, think again. Spread around two granite hills with a fort built by Hande Hanumappa Nayaka, Ballari (earlier Bellary) is famous for its cycle khova, sold on bicycles and dispensed from brass containers on eco-friendly sal leaf plates!

Where to Eat: Bombay Sweets (Ph 08392-272228, 9448056398) and Abid Cycle Khova Store (Ph 9901824292) on Bangalore Road, Bellary

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KT (Kalladka Tea)
Kalladka, a small town 30km from Mangaluru on the Bengaluru highway, is famous for its strong tea, perfect for truckers and travelers to stay awake on the treacherous ghat route. Locals called it Kalladka Tea or KT, for short. Step into the roadside hotel where it was invented and you can see it made and poured in layers inside the tiny kitchen.

Where to Eat: Laxmi Nivas Hotel (Ph 08255-275359, 9448545203) at Kalladka

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Malpuri
Gulbarga (now Kalaburagi) is known for its paan mithai and malpuri, which is like a malpua on steroids. Stuffed with khova and dry fruits like a gujiya, the sugar-syrup laden sweet was invented by Khasim Ali but immortalized by Mamu Jaan. Just utter the password ‘Mamu jaan ki malpuri’ and you will be guided to his little shop.

Where to Eat: Khasim Ali near the dargah and Mamu Jaan ki Malpuri in in Kalaburagi’s Chappal Bazaar

Bullet Idli

Bullet Idli
Mitra Samaj shares a wall with the Chandramouleshwara Temple in Udupi and started off as a temple kitchen. It serves excellent uppitu, Mangalore goli bajji, the gigantic Outlook dosa and an octet of miniature ‘bullet’ idlis in a plate of sambar. Till some years ago, a cow used to walk past the cramped tables to the kitchen where it would be fed reverentially. Only then would it step out!

Where to Eat: Mitra Samaj (Ph 9880199678) in Udupi

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Gadbad ice-cream
Invented at Diana Restaurant in Udupi but popularized by Ideal Ice-cream, the assorted ice-cream was invented in a gadibidi (hurry). Local folklore has it that one day a bunch of customers came late and since portions of one flavour weren’t enough, 3 assorted flavours were mixed and served with fruits, cherries and dry fruits. It became a hit. And the name stuck!

Where to Eat: Diana Restaurant (Ph 0820-2520505, 9448132202, 9743388718) in Udupi and Ideal Ice-cream (Ph 0824-2440396, 9448121673 www.idealicecream.com) in Mangaluru

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Mahabharata
Just when we thought we had seen and tasted it all, we encountered a tangy mango chutney at a Brahmin feast in Bengaluru. It was called Mahabharata! Even more shocking was the discovery that there was another chutney called Kurukshetra. Truly epic!

Where to Eat: Brahmin feasts

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Kardantu
Invented in Amingad, though popularized in Gokak, kardantu is a popular teatime snack and desi energy bar from rural Karnataka. It is often given to pregnant women, wrestlers and body builders. In 1907, Savaligappa Aiholi of Amingad mixed dry fruits like pistachio, almonds, cashew, dates, fig, kopra, jaggery and antu (edible gum) and fried them together to create karadi-antu (literally ‘fried gum’). When shaped into balls, it is called antin-unde.

Where to Eat: Vijaya Kardant (Ph 8123115005) on SH-20/Raichur Highway in Amingad and Amingad Cool Drink, Bijapur (Vijayapura).

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Karchikayi Palya
A small pod vegetable that grows in creepers infested by scorpions, karchikayi (Momordica cymbalaria), a relative of the bitter melon/gourd plant, is unique to the Hubli-Dharwad region. Another peculiarity is that the vegetable must be consumed the same day it is harvested, before the pods burst open! It is usually made into a palya or stir fried.

Where to Eat: Uramma Heritage, Anegundi (Ph 9448284658 www.urammaheritagehomes.com)

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Kannekudi Khatne
The hill region of Malnad is a treasure trove of medicinal plants that grow wild, whose leaves, roots, herbs and barks are used for indigenous cooking. The bushy Kannekudi or Soralekudi (Persicaria piripi) is one such plant, widely used by the Haviyak community to prepare a tangy chutney. Consumed during the rainy season, it protects you against cold and fever.

Where to Eat: Homestays like AjjanaMane at Talavata (Ph 9535693240, 9342253240, Email ajjanamane@gmail.com www.ajjanamane.com)

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Dapati to Uggi chapati
Karnataka has a wide variety of staples – besides jolada roti (sorghum flat bread) and akki otti (rice rotis), there’s berki roti made of mixed flours and pulses, dapati (multi-grain masala roti) and the uggi chapati which is steamed on tender cornhusk and served with spicy kempu (red) chili chutney and ghee!

Where to Eat: Kolavara Heritage near Tirthahalli (Ph 08181 254722, 202210, 9448639444 www.kolavaraheritage.com)

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani

Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani
Once a flourishing port under the Vijaynagar Empire, Bhatkal attracted Arabian sailors and traders who intermingled with local Jains and GSBs to form a new community – Navayath or ‘newly arrived’. Their dialect borrows heavily from Konkani, while local tastes blend seamlessly with Arabia. Bhatkal is famous for its Godi Halwa, a glutinous sweet made of wheat extract and the exquisite Shaiyya Jhinga Biryani made of delicate vermicelli and prawns.

Where to Eat: Chillies Restaurant (Ph 99803 26265), NH-17, Bhatkal

Carrot Kismuri

Kismuri
Malnad is known for a variety of kismuri or delectable salads that can be made from carrot, beetroot, bale dindu (banana stem) or suvarnagadde (yam). Par-boiled juliennes of the vegetable are mixed with chopped onion, tempered with mustard, urad dal (split black gram), green chili, curry leaves and finished with yoghurt and a topping of crunchy papad.

Where to Eat: Surendra Mallya’s farm at Masigadde (Ph 94486 57245)

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Ameysoppu palya
Siddis are descendants of African slaves brought to India. Some escaped from the Portuguese in Goa and settled in the forested tracts of the Western Ghats. In Karnataka, they inhabit the stretch around Haliyal, Yellapur and Ramanguli. The Siddis eat river fish, rice and local greens – kesa (colocasia) and ferns like amey soppu, literally ‘turtle greens.’

Where to Eat: Coorg homestays like Gowri Nivas (Ph 08272-228597, 9448193822 www.gowrinivas.com) in Madikeri and Palace Estate (Ph 98804 47702, 94831 98446 www.palaceestate.co.in) in Kakkabe serve Kodava fare like kesa (colocasia) and termay (ferns), in monsoon.

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Dasola Yele Khotte
KP Shetty’s unique botanical-themed resort in the lush hinterland off Shiroor is home to over 5000 plants, many of which are used in its ‘health’ cuisine. Try chakramani soppu tambuli (better known as multi-vitamin curry), brahmi tambuli (Indian Pennywort cooler), sandhu balli chutney (cactus vine chutney) and the unique dasola yele khotte (steamed rice dumplings or kadabus infused with hibiscus leaf), served with a dollop of butter.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa & Resort (Ph 7760976680 www.wildwoodsspa.com) at Toodalli village near Shiroor

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Elikivi Soppu Palya
Brahmi (Centella asiatica) or Indian pennywort is a wondrous leaf that aids intellect and sharpens memory. For centuries, Brahmins have consumed it to help them remember mantras. In ancient times, Sage Manduki noticed that wild animals that drank from a creek where the plant grew became calmer and were attracted to his discourses. In honor of his discovery, it was named mandukaparni (frog leaf) as it was shaped like a frog’s foot. In Kannada, it’s called ili kivi or mouse’s ear! Brahmi is usually stir fried into a palya with onions, mustard and grated coconut.

Where to Eat: Wild Woods Spa and Shanthi Kunnj (Ph 0824-2485180, 9632726888 www.shanthikunnj.com) near Kadabagere

Soute beeja huggi_North karnataka pasta DSC03411_Anurag Mallick

Soute beeja huggi
Believe or not, North Karnataka has rare indigenous pastas, often displayed as part of the Lingayat wedding trousseau! The process of rolling out little pellets of broken wheat dough is rather laborious. It is usually a summer activity, as the pellets can be sundried on the terrace. Using a paradi kaddi (basket stick), the dough is given different shapes – soute bija resembles tiny soute (cucumber) seeds, paradi is bowl or ear-shaped like orechiette while shankha is pressed against a comb and shaped like a conch akin to conchiglie. Once dried, it can be made as a savoury or a huggi (kheer).

Where to Eat: Vijaya Dry Fruits near Durgada Bail in New Hubli stocks a lot of these traditional pastas

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Madd thoppu
Literally ‘medicine leaf’, maddu thoppu (Justicia wynaadensis) grows wild in Coorg or Kodagu. It is harvested during the monsoon month of kakkada, the heaviest period of rain from mid-July to mid-August. On the eighteenth day of kakkada, its medicinal properties are at their peak and contain 18 benefits. The stems and leaves are boiled to make a deep purple extract used for madd puttu (steamed cakes) or madd kool payasa (sweet porridge). And, don’t faint in the bathroom if you notice a bright yellow to orange colour when your pee!

Where to Eat: Taj Madikeri (Ph 08272-665800 Email madikeri.coorg@tajhotels.com)

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Vonekk Yerchi
There’s more to Coorg than pandi curry as Kodavas have an array of pork dishes – from chutti, spicy fried bits of pork fat served at Kodava weddings to pork choodals, deep fried pork cubes tossed in green chili-ginger masala, a great accompaniment to drinks. However, the ultimate dish is vonekk yerchi or smoked pork, typically cured for months over the hearth, shredded and stir-fried.

Where to Eat: Cuisine Papera (Ph 08274-247247, 900887767 Email paperacaterers@gmail.com) at Gonikoppal

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Tindli Moi
From Konkani eateries to Catholic restaurants in Mangaluru-Udupi, tindli or manoli (ivy gourd) is a popular vegetable. In season, it is stir-fried with beeja (raw cashew) and topped with grated coconut. Tindli-Moi or Manoli Beeja Upkari is a great accompaniment for fish curry-rice meals.

Where to Eat: Hotel Narayana’s (Ph 9448255025) fish meals and Pereira Hotel at Hampankatta in Mangaluru

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Pinyanappa
Bearys are a Muslim trading community in Mangaluru with a typical cuisine. Wedding feasts or ‘tala’ are opulent affairs with dishes like koli norchad (stuffed fried chicken), whole goat and goat head presented to the groom and his friends. There’s naeveri (stuffed prawn dumplings) and kalathappam (thick rice pancake topped with fried onions) and unique desserts like bonda payasa (tender coconut kheer) and pinyanappa. The rice, egg and coconut milk dessert gets its name from the pinyan (bowl) used to steam the dish.

Where to Eat: Many of these dishes can be savoured at Oota Bangalore (Ph 88802 33322 http://windmillscraftworks.com) in Whitefield

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Authors: This article first appeared on 14 May 2018 in Conde Nast Traveller India online. Read the original article here: https://www.cntraveller.in/story/30-dishes-try-30-districts-karnataka/ 

15 reasons why India’s North East is unique

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There’s more to the North East than pretty orchids, tea plantations and one-horned rhinos. It is a region of astonishing cultural and ecological diversity, geological wonders and unusual traditions, discover ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY. 

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Ima Keithel, Imphal’s all-women market
Long before Mary Kom, Manipur had shattered the glass ceiling through Imphal’s Khwairamband Bazaar, an age-old celebration of womanpower. Founded in late 16th century by Khagemba Maharaj of Manipur, the keithel (market) is run exclusively by more than 3000 imas (mothers), hence its popular name Ima Keithel. Forget men, even young unmarried women are not allowed to run a stall. Hawking fruits, vegetables, farm produce, fish and Manipuri handlooms, the tough mommas drive a hard bargain. A few thousand imas also run the Lakshmi and New Market complexes nearby.

Jet Airways flies to Imphal

Teer in Meghalaya

Betting at teer (traditional archery) in Shillong
Archery stakes are an ancient tradition in Shillong that evolved from a tribal sport. Held twice a day (except Sunday) at Polo Ground’s Saw Furlong, archers from various clubs of Khasi Archery Association shoot 1500 arrows within four minutes at a cylindrical bamboo target. Arrows that hit the target are carefully counted before an eager audience. Betters choose two numbers. Say, if you bet ten rupees and get one number correct, you get Rs.800, but if you get both right you pocket a cool Rs.45,000! This legalized betting earns the government tremendous revenue, provides employment opportunities to locals and is a unique experience for visitors and punters.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

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The world’s largest existing family in Mizoram
If you wish to meet the world’s largest existing family that has featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not, head to Baktawng, a remote habitat in hilly Mizoram. On the town’s outskirts, Pu Zionnghaka or Ziona lives in a four-storied mansion with his 39 wives, 94 children, 14 daughters-in-law and 33 grandchildren, 180 inmates and counting. Ziona is the Chief of Chana Pawl, a unique Christian sect established in 1942 by his father Khuangtuaha that practices polygamy. His wives sleep with him in turns as per a roster. Ziona has named all his children and grandchildren and remembers every family member by name!

Jet Airways flies to Kolkata, which has direct flights to Lengpui Airport near Aizawl, from where Baktawng is 70km

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Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia
Neat rows of houses peep over floral hedges and the village road gleams in welcome. Mawlynnong, a small village of 600 people on the Indo-Bangla border is tagged ‘God’s Own Garden’ for good reason. A conical cane basket for trash hangs outside each home. Dotted with Presbyterian churches and Khasi sacred sites pre-dating Christianity, the area is ironically covered with phool jhadu or broom grass (thysanolaena maxima). Stay at Mawlynnong Guest House & Machan for your local explorations.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Shillong from where Mawlynnong is 90km on the road to Dawki

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The inscrutable phallic totems of Dimapur
Located by the banks of the Dhansiri river, Dimapur was the capital of the Kachari kingdom in 10th century before the Ahoms invaded it in 13th century. Not much of Rajbari remains, barring the brick gateway, with strange phallic totems in a fortified complex that have baffled archaeologists and historians alike. Topped by a mushroom-like hemispherical capital, the towering pillars bear ornamental bands, carvings of swords, daggers, flowers and geometric patterns. These Chessman Figures are believed to be fertility symbols or graves that represent ancestor worship.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur

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The living root bridges of Meghalaya
In Meghalaya’s remote hill tracts, Living Root Bridges are innovative modes of crossing mountain streams. Fast growing roots of the ficus elastica tree are entwined to create a mesh bridge across rivulets. It is an unsaid rule that any passing villager diligently twists fresh tendrils around an older root, allowing it to entangle and strengthen over time. Some root bridges are so strong they have been lined with stone pavers! Meghalaya has many centuries-old root bridges including a double-decker root bridge at Laitkynsew near Cherrapunjee.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

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Spot India’s only ape, the Hoolock Gibbon
Owing to the overlap between the Indo-Tibetan, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Gangetic gene pools, the North East is blessed with great diversity. Besides rare birds and mammals, it is home to an exclusive wildlife sanctuary dedicated to the Hoolock Gibbon, the only ape species found in India. The Hoolongopar Gibbon Sanctuary is also a good place to spot troops of Stump-tailed Macaque, Assamese Macaque, Rhesus Macaque, Pig-tailed Macaque, Capped Langur and Slow Loris.

Jet Airways flies to Jorhat, from where the sanctuary is 27km

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Kohima’s (in)famous Keeda bazaar
Kohima is the bustling capital of Nagaland but nowhere will you find the crowd as lively as its Supermarket or Keeda Bazaar (Insect Market). Wriggling and buzzing wasps, woodworms, silkworm larvae, eels in tubs, frogs zorbing inside plastic packets and insects hatching in the hives, this is ‘live’ action on full blast. The creepy-crawly bazaar is a top draw for tourists. Curious about what they taste like? Catch a local who will cook it fresh at home as restaurants don’t usually serve them.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur, from where Kohima is 69km

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Semoma, the ‘strongest fort in the North East’
Walking through the 700-year-old Angami village of Khonoma near Kohima, the sight of a small fortification of rough-hewn stone makes you wonder why the British called it the strongest fort in the North East. Originally built in 1825, it staved off British attacks in the first Anglo-Naga war in 1850. In 1879, the killing of British political agent GH Damant resulted in the Battle of Khonoma. The villagers booby-trapped the mountain and escaped to the top. After a stalemate, the British settled for a peace treaty, ending half a century of fighting. Each time the fort was destroyed; it was rebuilt (in 1890, 1919 and 1990) and rose phoenix-like, in defiance, a proud symbol of Naga pride.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur, from where Khonoma is 73km

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Ambubachi Mela, Kamakhya temple’s tantrik festival
Guwahati’s Kamakhya Temple is a revered Shakti pitha (seat) where a subterranean rock cleft is worshipped as Goddess Sati’s yoni (vulva). During the rains, the swollen Brahmaputra causes the rivulet flowing over the stone shrine to turn muddy red, symbolizing menstruation. During the fertility festival Ambubachi Mela or Ameti, the sanctum is shut for three days, scriptures are read and devotees do not cook or farm. After a ritual bath, the devi regains purity and angadhak (holy spring water) and angabastra (stained red cloth) are distributed as prasad. Aghoris, babas and tantriks attend the four-day mela in June to alleviate their occult powers.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati

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Headhunting village of Touphema
Right near the entry to Touphema village in Nagaland stands a large tree called Terhütsiibo (War head tree) where enemy heads once hung as war trophies. Local guide KV explained that in the old days of headhunting collecting the scalp of your enemy meant you gained his power. The village community runs an ethnic resort with wood huts bearing Naga symbols like mithun and goblets that represented vigour and prosperity. Sekrenyi Festival (25-27 Feb) is a nicer option than the more touristy Hornbill Festival.

Jet Airways flies to Dimapur and a 2hr bus ride from Kohima leads to Touphema via Botsa

DHR 

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Built between 1879 and 1881, the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR) is the oldest of India’s Mountain railways. It was also the first of the lot to be declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. The 88km narrow gauge from New Jalpaiguri to Darjeeling chugs along at 12 km/hr, a charming journey of loops, reverses, spirals and zig-zags past tea plantations and views of snow-capped peaks. Creak past Agony Point to Ghum, India’s highest railway station as the track bisects fruit stalls in its magical ascent to Darjeeling.

Jet Airways flies to Bagdogra Airport at Siliguri, from where New Jalpaiguri is 17km

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Majuli, one of the largest riverine islands in the world
One of the largest riverine islands in the world, Majuli’s ecological and cultural landscape is unique. Its geographic isolation and serene atmosphere attracted Vaishnava reformer-saint Srimant Shankardev (1449-1568) who set up Majuli’s first satra (monastery) at Belguri. With patronage from Ahom kings, these spiritual centres flourished and ignited an artistic revolution in Assam. However, each year, the Brahmaputra consumes chunks of Majuli’s riverbank, shrinking the island from its original 1,200 sq km to half its size. Belguri has long sunk into the Brahmaputra, but Bhogpur is Majuli’s oldest surviving satra, established by Shankardev in 1528 while Garamur, Auniati, Kamalabari and Chamaguri satras are also noteworthy. Visit during the annual Raas Leela (Oct-Nov).

Jet Airways flies to Jorhat, 12km from Nimati Ghat, from where ferries are available for Majuli

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The fascinating Apatanis of Arunachal
With distinct facial tattoos and cane nose plugs, the Apatanis have intrigued the outside world. The disfigurement was done to make Apatani women less desirable to neighbouring raiders! Unlike other nomadic tribes, Apatanis are settlers who cultivate permanent terraced wetlands instead of jhum (slash and burn) cultivation. They don’t till their fields but use an ancient irrigation technique. Surplus water drains off from one terrace to the next while a nala (drain) running through the fields is stocked with fish. This paddy-cum-fish farming ensures year-round food supply. Hong, 6km from Ziro, is the largest village of the Apatani plateau. During the annual Myoko Festival in March, revellers swing high in the air on jungle vines tied between babos (festive bamboo poles) erected by every clan.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, from where Ziro is 450km

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Meghalaya, India’s top spelunking hotspot
Not many know that Meghalaya is among the world’s Top 10 destinations for spelunking or caving. Record rainfall and a profusion of limestone hills in the south of the state have blessed it with 1350 caves, formed over thousands of years. Running over 400 km, the caves are among the deepest, longest and largest in the Indian subcontinent. Explore an underground realm of stalagmites, stalactites, cave curtains, candles and cave pearls. Maswmai Caves near Cherrapunjee in the Khasi Hills is easily accessible while Shnongrim Ridge in the Jaintia Hills is riddled with cave passages like Krem Liat Prah, the longest natural cave in India.

Jet Airways flies to Guwahati, which has connections to Umroi Airport, 30km from Shillong

Sikkim Bon Farmhouse

The dothos of Sikkim
The northeast bubbles with hot sulphur springs used as traditional medicine for soothing nerves, body aches and joint pains. Sikkim is known for its ethnic hot stone bath called dotho where stones are heated and infused with Himalayan herbs in a hot tub of menchu, or medicinal water, in the local Bhutia dialect. Neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh has a place called Menchuka, named after these medicinal springs. In North Sikkim, enjoy a natural bath at riverside huts at Yumthang on the River Lachung, Yume Samdong near Donkia-la Pass (25km from Yumthang), Reshi (25km from Gyalshing) on the Rangeet River and Kah-do Sang phu (Cave of the Occult Fairies). Soak in a dotho while staying at Kewzing Bon Farmhouse and Biksthang Heritage Farmhouse.

Jet Airways flies to Bagdogra Airport at Siliguri, from where Gangtok is 126km

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared as the cover story in the March 2018 issue of JetWings International magazine.

Dhenkanal: Royal Fables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FACT FILE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Eat Street: India’s best street food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bombay Vada Paav DSC03781

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

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

Bun maska tea at an Irani cafe IMG_8073

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

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

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

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

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

In Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior’s local snack is bedai, a poori stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s laddus aren’t to be missed, besides the mandatory pack of gajak (sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) from Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Lost: 15 Off-the-Grid Holidays

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Had enough of partying and want a quiet escape away from it all? Sit around a bonfire, watch the stars and get away from the crowds in these remote places that aren’t too difficult to reach. ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY show a whole world out there to lose yourself in…

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Get some Soulitude in the Himalayas at Ramgarh (Uttarakhand)
‘I’m off to Ramgarh’ you can announce nonchalantly and let the world figure out which of the dozen Ramgarhs in India you have toodled off to. Thanks to its remote location, the village of Gagar near Ramgarh (35 km north east of Nainital) is free from tourist traffic. Tucked away in the slopes of a scenic hamlet at 7,000 ft, it commands a majestic view of the Kumaon Himalayas – Nanda Devi, Trishul, Panchachuli, Pindari Glacier, Nandakot, Nandaghunti and Kamet. Its ten rooms, named Nirvana, Bliss, Quietude, Awakening, Peace (you get the idea), offer ample ‘soulitude’ and inspiration. Hike to the local Ramgarh market and continue to scenic orchards and old dak bungalows of Ashok Vatika renovated by Neemrana into the Ramgarh Bungalows. Wake up to a magical sunrise in this quiet nook that served as Rabindranath Tagore’s literary retreat for six years – he even considered it as the location of his dream abode and university Shantiniketan! The renowned poetess Mahadevi Verma too lived in Ramgarh – her home is now a library of her works. You might consider reading a book here, if not writing one! Owner Manish Chandra also runs another quiet retreat called Soulitude by the River at Chanfi nearby.

Soulitude in the Himalayas
Gagar, Nainital-Mukteshwar Road, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
Ph +91 99993 30379 http://www.soulitude.in
Tariff Rs.8,000-12,000

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Swing in a hammock by a gurgling river at Shanthi Kunnj (Karnataka)
Deep in the heart of Malnad on the banks of the gurgling Bhadra River, swing lazily in a hammock while staying in wood and bamboo thatched cottages overlooking the river and forest beyond. The Areca House, Log House, Glass House, Mud House, Tent House are all made of locally available timber, tucked away in a coffee, cardamom, areca and pepper plantation. Go on a tour of the Holy Cross Estate run by the Saldanhas or take an adventurous jeep ride to the river bank for a splash and barbecue picnic of fish baked in sand. The area was called Masigadde (Coal Field) as the forests were burned for producing charcoal to power the steam locomotives during the British era. Thankfully the forests are now protected as part of the Bhadra and Muthodi tiger reserves. Guests have reported rare tiger sightings just across the river though otters are aplenty.

Shanthi Kunnj Homestay
Devdhana Village, Honnekoppa, Sangameshwarpet, Near Kadabagere, Chikmagalur District, Karnataka Ph 0824-2485180 www.shanthikunnj.com
Tariff Rs.3,500/person, all-inclusive

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Have a wild time of a different kind in Chambal Safari Lodge (Uttar Pradesh)
The once notorious bandit terrain of India, the Chambal valley today offers exciting opportunities for wildlife tourism and eco conservation. Spearheading these efforts are Kunwar Ram Pratap (RP) and Anu Singh who run Chambal Safari Lodge in their ancestral property. Mela Kothi, the family’s field camp that once hosted a cattle mela (fair) has independent cottages on 35 acres of private farmland. Enjoy fireside dinners under the stars, go on bicycle jaunts, horse rides and camel safaris in the ravines or village and nature trails on foot. The signature experience is the jeep drive to the banks of the Chambal River for a guided boat ride. Spot gharials and muggers on the sandbanks and flocks of Indian skimmers besides other wildlife. Watch camels ford the river loaded with firewood on an excursion to Ater Fort (2km) across the Chambal. At Bateshwar (11km) view the riverside temples on the banks of the Yamuna from the riverside retreat The Kunj.

Chambal Safari Lodge
Mela Kothi, Village Jarar, Tehsil Bah, District Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Ph 9997066002, 9837415512, 9719501517
Email rpsjarar@chambalsafari.com www.chambalsafari.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-9,000, meals and excursions extra

Neemrana's Bungalow on the Beach IMG_8106_Anurag Mallick

Experience tranquility at Tranquebar at the Bungalow by the Beach (Tamil Nadu)
Imagine a red sun casting golden spangles on a sea with silhouettes of fishing boats dancing past the waves. Throw in an easy chair on a wraparound balcony that overlooks India’s most oxygen-rich beach in front, the 17th century Danish Fort Dansborg to the right and a Pandya temple to the left and you have the perfect do-nothing holiday. Tharangambadi, literally the ‘Land of the Dancing Waves’ became Tranquebar under the Danes. Neemrana’s Bungalow by the Beach offers privacy with a dollop of wistful colonial nostalgia and rooms quaintly named after old Danish ships – Christianus Septimus, Countess Moltke, Prince Christian, take your pick! Period décor, stewards in attendance, a blue pool by the beach and delicious cuisine; this is old world luxury redefined. Visit the Fort museum or take INTACH’s heritage walk to leisurely explore the last vestiges of Scandinavian heritage at the only Danish outpost in India. In this time warp, Tamil culture seamless blends into the town’s landscape though streets still bear names like Kongensgade (King’s Street), Borgan Street and the old gateway Landsporten, besides historic churches, homes of former Danish Governors and pastors, an old cemetery and India’s 1st printing press! Neemrana has also restored two other heritage houses – the Gate House and the Thanga House into their signature ‘non-hotel’ hotels.

Bungalow on the Beach
24 King Street, Tharangambadi, District Nagapattinam, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91 11 4666 1666, 9310630386, 9786100461 www.neemranahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-7,000

Turiya Spa Canacona Goa_Amit Bhandare

Explore your fourth state of consciousness at Turiya Spa near Palolem (Goa)
Let’s face it, everyone has had their share of unconsciousness in Goa. But true to its name, Turiya explores the fourth state of consciousness. Set in a serene corner of Canacona, the 100-year old Portuguese villa and spa was renovated by architect and designer Sandesh Prabhu to help visitors to Goa find innermost peace. The 12,000 sq ft landscaped property has an inviting ambience, cheery colours and an intimate Eden-like garden with chikkoo, mango, avocado and frangipani trees. Get pampered with delicious home-style Konkani cuisine, bathe in open to sky baths or soak in a step-down bath, savour rejuvenative spa treatments based on Western methods and traditional Indian systems of Ayurveda. Uncover local culture with visits to a local market or farm or hire a bike to scenic Palolem (2km) and Agonda beaches (10 km north). Boat trips to Butterfly Island for dolphin sightings and day trips to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and Karwar are other activities.

Turiya Villa and Spa
House No 16, Chaudi, Canacona, Goa
Ph 0832-2644172, 2643077, 9821594004
www.turiyahotels.com
Tariff Rs.5,000-9,500

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Watch the stillness of Umiam Lake & enjoy Khasi hospitality at Ri Kynjai (Meghalaya)
Located on the outskirts of Shillong, Ri Kynjai is a boutique lakeside resort in Meghalaya really lives up to its tagline ‘Serenity by the Lake’. The resort reflects Khasi traditions in every aspect of hospitality and architecture. Stay in plush cottages and stylish thatched huts on stilts. Wrapped within its warm pine interiors and wooden floors, watch drifting clouds and watercolour beauty of the surroundings or sit in the balcony and contemplate on the stillness of Umiam Lake. Submerge yourself in high-end spa treatments at Khem Janai or indulge in gourmet fare at the restaurant Sao Aiom (Four Seasons) specializing in North Eastern delicacies like jadoh, smoked pork with bamboo shoot and the famous Cherrapunji Chicken. The 45 acre wooded estate and gardens are great for leisurely walks, though for more adventure visit the nearby village of Umiuh or hike around the Khasi Hills.

Ri Kynjai
Umniuh Khwan, UCC Road, Ri Bhoi District, Meghalaya
Ph +91 9862420300, 9862420301 www.rikynjai.com
Tariff Rs.7,000-12,000

IMG_5885 Chalets Naldehra revolving restaurant_Anurag Priya

Find Alpine comfort in India at Chalets Naldehra (Himachal)
Undulating grassy meadows fringed by tall cedar trees, Naldehra (22 km north of Shimla), was so enchanting that Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India (1899-1905) renamed his youngest daughter Alexandra as Naldehra after his favourite haunt. The undulating golf course set up by Curzon – the oldest in India and one of the highest 18-hole golf links in the world – still ranks among the most challenging in the country. Not far from the course, beyond a manicured lawn and a pretty garden, Finnish log cabins stand at multiple levels, no two of which are alike. Set on a 2-acre patch owned by the enterprising father-son duo Yatish and Amish Sud, the personal holiday home strategically built close to the golf course soon transformed into a resort., a Every chalet, named after early explorers who mapped the hills, sports commemorative brass plaques – F Younghusband Chalet, Gerard Chalet, Captain Kennedy Chalet, Sir Henry Collet Chalet. The revolving restaurant, 360˚ Top of the World, is the first of its kind in Himachal Pradesh! The small octagonal restaurant seats 20 and is a great perch to unwind and enjoy a delicious meal with laser lights, sunset views and starry nights. Hike to the picturesque village of Kogi to see old Himachali temples and homes with slate roofs.

Chalets Naldehra
Naldehra, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh
Ph 0177-2747715, 9816062007, 9816039162 www.chaletsnaldehra.com
Tariff Rs.14,990-22,990 (2n/3d package)

Deluxe Room --The Grand Dragon Hotel Ladakh-2

Fly to the roof of the world while enjoying plush comfort in Ladakh’s winter (J&K)
While thousands drive to Ladakh when the high Himalayan passes open in summer, the relatively quiet winter holds its own charm. Not just the air, the crowd too thins out as the temperature drops. The sheer joy of leaving fresh tracks in snow will make anyone feel like an adventurer. And what better way to do it than pamper yourself at Grand Dragon, the swankiest 5-star hotel in Ladakh? Stay in plush rooms that open out to a view of the snow-capped peaks of Stok Kangri, Khardung la pass, besides landmarks like Leh Palace and Shanti Stupa. Sip a hot cuppa and dine at the specialty restaurant Tusrabs, literally ‘from ancient times’ that serves a fusion of Ladakhi, Tibetan & Chinese cuisine. After acclimatizing to the 3500 m, take a day trip along the Indus river past Nimu where it meets the Zanskar to Chilling, the start point of the Chadar (Frozen River) Trek. Visit Ladakh’s oldest living monastery Alchi, the moonscapes of Lamayuru, Atishey village and attend local festivals like Gustor (Jan 7) at Spituk gompa or Losar and Dosmochey (Feb).

The Grand Dragon Ladakh
Old Road, Sheynam, Leh, Ladakh
Ph +91 1982-255866/266, 9906986782, 9622997222 www.thegranddragonladakh.com
Tariff Rs.22,999-32,999/person (3n/4d Winter Offer)

IMG_6904 Samten Yongjhar Gompa prayer flags

Escape to Mechuka on the China border (Arunachal)
Mechuka is so remote, it’s closer to the Chinese border than to any Indian town. Named after the hot water springs found in the area (men means medicine, chu is water while kha literally means snow or mouth), the far flung town lies in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. Reached after a circuitous drive from Aalo, the road deposts you at a wide plateau surrounded by an amphitheater of hills. The Siyom or Yargyap chu river snakes across the valley criss-crossed by bamboo bridges lined with prayer flags. Being an advanced airfield and staging post for the Indian Army, you wake up to the sound of bagpipes and military drills in the morning as wild horses graze in the fields. Base yourself at local guest houses and quaint homestays while visiting Tibetan monasteries like Samden Yongjhar gompa and Dorjeling gompa, besides the cave where Guru Nanak is supposed to have meditated 500 years ago on his trip to Tibet.

Department of Tourism, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh
Ph +91-360-2214745 www.arunachaltourism.com

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Gaze at the Aravalis as you listen to folk musicians at Dadhikar (Rajasthan)
Rajasthan is a land of forts and palaces, which is why it’s easy to miss out on some of the lesser known gems in the state. Dadhikar Fort, northwest of Alwar, is one such jewel. Wander into a world scented by 1000 years of history as you sip morning tea on the ramparts with unbeatable panoramic views. Choose from a bouquet of regal suites and stone clad rooms to curl up, with impeccable meals served in the courtyard and soul-stirring folk music under the stars. Balladeers sing ‘Saher Dadhikar Pargana, Alwar Garh ke paas, Basti Raja Chand ki, Abhaner nikas’ as they recount the legend of Raja Chand who camped here after his capital Abhaneri was flooded. The campsite (dera) came to be known as Derakar, which over time was corrupted to Dadhikar. Explore the hill fort, Sariska tiger sanctuary and nearby forts of Ajabgarh-Bhangarh besides Alwar’s hilltop bastion Bala Qila.

The Dadhikar Fort
Village Dadhikar, Alwar, Rajasthan
Ph +91 9871655431, 9950669900
www.dadhikarhotels.com
Tariff Rs.4,500-14,000

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Enjoy high tea at Tea Nest in Coonoor (Tamil Nadu)
Rolling tea estates, cool wind perfumed with the freshness of eucalyptus and pine, gushing waterfalls and exotic flower gardens; the Nilgiris is a dream destination. If you wish to stay away from the rumpus of Ooty, check into Tea Nest – a tea-themed hideaway outside Coonoor surrounded by 1800 acres of tea plantations. Wake up to birdsong in this perch on a hillock as gaurs graze in the bushes nearby, walk or cycle around the plantations dotted with tea-pickers busily plucking away or relax in the patio admiring the Pakkasurankote hill range. The early 19th century colonial villa has rooms tagged after tea varieties and presents a splendid 7-course tea-inspired menu served by friendly attentive staff. The Tea Nest Annexe, a 2-room planter’s bungalow scarcely 1 km away from the main house offers more privacy in a romantic setting. Don’t miss the nature trail past Toda hamlets and Hill Grove railway station to the ethnic Kurumba Village Resort, the company’s flagship enterprise nestled in a spice plantation on the Connoor-Mettupalayam Ghat road.

Tea Nest
Singara Estate, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu
Ph +91-423-2234018, 9442147198 (Tea Nest), +91-423-2233030, 8903502763 (Tea Nest Annexe) www.natureresorts.in
Tariff Rs.2,500-4,000, incl. breakfast

Woodpecker Tree House- View from the Plantation

Perch in a tree house at Pepper Trail in Wayanad (Kerala)
In a recent survey, Wayanad ranked among the top 10 best accommodations in the world. Adding to the present mix of specialty hotels, nature resorts and boutique hotels is Pepper Trail. The highlight of the 200-acre coffee and spice plantation in Kerala’s hilly district is a charming 140-year-old colonial bungalow. The lovingly restored Pazhey Bungalaav (Old Bungalow) houses the Malabar and Mackenzie Suites with quaint four posters and antique furniture. Perched on giant jackfruit trees nearby, the tree houses are 40 feet off the ground. Just because you are at the treetop, doesn’t mean you scrimp on luxury. Named Hornbill and Woodpecker, each tree house comes with large bedrooms, outdoor living spaces and safari inspired furniture. There’s plenty to do in and around the estate – guided plantation walks, cycling, open jeep safaris and coracle rides or fishing on the estate reservoir.

Pepper Trail
Mangalam Carp Estate, Chulliyode, Sulthan Bathery, Wayanad, Kerala
Ph +91 9562277000 www.peppertrail.in
Tariff Rs.4,700-18,000

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Stay in a house on stilts in Dibrugarh (Assam)
Head to Dibrugarh in Upper Assam to live the lazy life of a tea planter in a chang bungalow (traditional house on stilts). Rooms named after the tributaries of the Brahmaputra River look out to manicured lawns as fresh brewed tea is always available. Specially designed horse-riding tours take you around century old tea estates or cross-country along the banks of the Brahmaputra. Picnic on grassy banks, boat cruises and kayaking or extend your itinerary to visit the ancient Ahom capital of Sibsagar and the wildlife preserves of Kaziranga and Dibru Saikhowa. Purvi Discovery runs another lodge closer to town called Chowkidinghee Chang Bungalow and the new boutique property Wathai Heritage Bungalow at Limbuguri Tea Estate in Tinsukia, a good base to explore Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

Purvi Discovery
Ph 0373 2301120, 2300035 Email purvidiscovery@gmail.com www.assamteatourism.com
Tariff Rs.3,500-9,000, incl. breakfast

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Maroon yourself on Neil Island (Andamans)
The boat jetty at Bharatpur on Neil Island juts out into the vast Andaman sea of electric blue. You can walk to it each day from your beach hut just to watch the daily boat from Havelock sail away. In this nook, it is easy to stay in self-imposed exile for as long as one wants, snorkeling around the reefs and eating fresh seafood. Spread over 18.9 sq km and only 5km at its widest point, Neil is a tiny speck in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands nearly 1400 km from the Indian mainland and 40 km east of Port Blair. Its five villages harbour 3000 fishing and agricultural families, which gives the island its popular name – ‘Vegetable Bowl of the Andamans’. Neil is so small one can cover the whole island on foot in a day. The beaches (originally numbered for convenience) took on their present names after Hindu migrants were resettled here by the Indian Government after the 1971 Bangladesh War. Watch the sunrise at Sitapur or see it go down at Laxmanpur and marvel at the natural stone bridge and corals in shallow pools during low tide. Laze at Ramnagar or swim in Govindnagar, but whatever you do, don’t glug Neil down like a vodka shot; savour it like single malt…

Andaman & Nicobar Tourism
Ph 03192-232694, 244091 www.andamans.gov.in

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Stay in an erstwhile hunting lodge at Kila Dalijoda (Odisha)
Once an exclusive hunting lodge of Raja Jyoti Prasad Singh Deo, king of Panchakote Raj, Kila Dalijoda is a beautiful two storied stone house 22 km north of Cuttack in Odisha. The heritage homestay is named after its proximity to Dalijoda Forest Range, part of the newly declared Kapilas Elephant Sanctuary. The European style mansion, with arched windows and tinted glass was built in 1931-33, and at that time boasted tech advancements like self generating electricity, electrified fencing and water harvesting. Present hosts Debjit Prasad Singh Deo and his wife Namrata have kept its wild soul intact carrying out only minor renovation. With just three suites, it is the perfect hideaway where guests get a dose of rural lifestyle with visits to weekly village markets, tribal settlements and nature walks. Savour delicious home-cooked Odiya meals, with quail eggs available all year round (and duck eggs in winter), preferred over the plebeian chicken eggs due to traditional reasons.

Kila Dalijoda
Ph +91 9438667086 Email debjitsinghdeo@yahoo.co.in www.kiladalijoda.com
Tariff Rs.3,000-4,000

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This is the unedited version of the article that appeared on 18 December, 2015 in Conde Nast Traveller online. Read the story on CNT at http://www.cntraveller.in/story/off-the-grid-getaways-for-your-next-long-weekend/

Gwalior: Sweet strains of music

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In Gwalior, the home and resting place of legendary Indian classical musician Tansen, ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY explore the ancient city during Tansen Samaroh and find that art and culture continue to flourish here

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Not too far from the 16th century tomb of Tansen, Pandit Abhay Narayan Mallick’s dhrupad rendition filled the air on a clear December night. Unlike the black tie affair of an opera, Gwalior’s culture aficionados had turned up unabashedly wrapped in blankets, mufflers and monkey caps to brave the winter, yet, united in their love for classical music. Over the weeklong Tansen Samaroh, the country’s top classical singers and performers regaled audiences in a city that was home to medieval India’s most celebrated musician.

The elevated rectangular platform enshrining Tansen’s tomb rested under the shade of a tamarind tree. Its bitter leaves were considered miraculous and local singers often chewed it for a sweet voice. Tansen’s memorial dwarfed in front of the mausoleum of his spiritual mentor and Sufi mystic Sheikh Mohammad Ghaus Shattari. The large square tomb capped with a large dome, hexagonal towers in the corners and delicately latticed walls resounded with notes late into the night.

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Nearly 500 years ago, the voice of Tansen similarly echoed through the galleries of Man Mandir, the palace of Tomar Raja Man Singh (1486-1516), high up in the fort atop Gopachal Parvat. It is said the court poet could light lamps with Raga Deepak and his Raga Malhar could bring down the rains! Tansen later became one of the navratnas (nine jewels) of Akbar’s court. He sparkled, drawing gasps of awe, much like the brilliant azure, ochre and emerald green mosaic tiles on the façade of Man Mandir Palace adorned by whimsical bands of yellow ducks and blue elephants.

The rambling Gwalior Fort is dotted with several mahals (palaces), chhatris (domed pavilions) and shrines like Sas Bahu Temple and Teli ka Mandir, besides the exquisite Jain rock cut sculptures carved into the hillside. En route to the reputed Scindia School, Gurudwara Data Bandi Chhod celebrates the release of Guru Hargobind Singh from the fort, along with 52 other inmates. Gwalior is also associated with Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi who died fighting the British at the southern base of the very fort at Phool Bagh.

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At the hillock’s northern base, Man Singh built Gujari Mahal for his doe-eyed Gujar queen Mrignayani. Currently serving as an archaeological museum, its most prized exhibit is the 10th century statuette of Shalbhanjika, excavated at Gyaraspur. We retired to the royal comfort of Deo Bagh, Neemrana’s heritage hotel facing the nine-chequered garden Nau Bagh, located in a quiet campus with two 18th century Maratha temples, cenotaphs and arched pavilions.

For any visitor, Gwalior is worth exploring leisurely over a few days. There’s a lot to see – from the Vivaswan Surya Mandir to chhatris of the Scindias to Jai Vilas Mahal, still used a Scindia residence. Forty rooms of the 400-room European style mansion are open to public as the Jiwaji Rao Scindia Museum, with Belgian chandeliers, opulent dining sets and royal artefacts on display.

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And where art and culture flourished, can cuisine be far behind? Like music, Gwalior takes its food seriously too. Regulars line up in the wee hours at Bahadura, an 80-year-old sweet shop in Naya Bazaar for the local favourite bedai, a poori stuffed with moong and udad dal (lentils), besides laddus and gulab jamun. Locals love eating out – from samosa, kachori, jalebi and rabdi at SS Kachoriwala or a pure veg thali in Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak or assorted parathas at Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazar.

The city also nurses a sweet tooth with laddus of Shankerlal Halwai made famous by Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the legendary gajak (crispy sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) of Ratiram Gajak and Daulatram Gupta’s Morena Gajak Bhandar. Indeed, in the city of Tansen, sweetness is in the air…

Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared in the December, 2015 issue of JetWings magazine.