Tag Archives: South Indian food

The geographical centre of India before partition- Vidarbha

Vidarbha- the region consisting of Nagpur and Amravati derives its name from the epic city of Mahabharata. With several references made in Ramayana and Mahabharatha, it is not just historically important but a mineral rich region in Central India. And a region that offers its own delectable cuisine to its guests.. Vidarbha is extremely important with its strong influence in culture, history and geography.

When opportunity knocks at your door, grab it! That’s what I did.. A friend was getting hitched at Amravati and the nearest airport for me to fly down was at Nagpur. So this time, it was an opportunity to explore the Vidarbha region. But that came with its set of challenges. It is one of the hottest places in India and hence, a self-drive car was hired to ease the travel hassles of local transport. The itinerary was planned such that all major landmarks around Nagpur were covered on a single stretch before hitting the highway for the night’s stay at Amravati.

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The zero milestone of undivided India

Although poorly maintained for all hype around our first stop- It is a must see for anyone visiting Nagpur, the geographical centre of India before partition. The ‘zero’ milestone from where all distances were measured and highways originated in India before Pakistan was formed, stands in a corner of a busy main road. The DeekshaBhoomi meditation centre is around the place where Dr.B.R.Ambedkar is said to have given his first sermon after he converted to Buddhism. The Dragon palace temple, Ramdham Park are some other places within the city if you are in more leisure. The lakes in the city can easily be given a miss. However, some heritage structures like churches, schools and the railway station lend an old-world charm to the city.

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Swaminarayan Mandir

The Swaminarayan temple was a beautiful place and the ‘Adasa Ganesh temple’ that can be done by taking a small deviation before hitting back the same highway. ‘Mansar’ is an archaeologically important site, believed to be of Pravarapura, an erstwhile capital of the Vakataka kingdom that ruled the Vidarbha region. 5kms from there is Ramtek, the holy hill to people of all faiths. ‘Gad Mandir’, an old beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Ram is situated atop a hillock. Solitude is available in abundance here with a great view of the entire area. It is also believed to be a place where the mythological King, Kalidas wrote his epic poem- ‘Meghdoot’ at Ramtek hills. There are several places that are significant among the Jains and Buddhists too that are located in the vicinity. The Ambala Lake with its beautiful structures lining the Ghats at the base of the hills was my favourite place of the trip. Get yourself cooled with some water sports at Khindsi Lake or soak in history at the Nagerdhan fort, the primary capital town of Vakatakas if you have some more time for leisure. It is a further 10kms drive from Ramtek.

And… Don’t miss an opportunity to stay over at ‘Pench National park and do some tiger sighting’ in the land of ‘The Jungle Book’- The story of Mowgli and Bhageera that we have all grown up listening and watching. There are a lot of scenic places around Pench that I can help you with if you are planning to stay over at one of the jungle lodges. We did not have the luxury of time as we had to drive back all the way as our stay was booked at Amravati. The Amravati region is home to several wildlife sanctuaries and temples that can be accommodated if you’re traveling on a luxury of time and an own vehicle, we gave it a miss. Chikaldhara, the highest point of Vidarbha region and the only hill station is located here. For a person like me hailing from the coffee hills, it was quite exciting to know that Amravati is the only coffee growing region of Maharashtra state.

Now… coming to the highlight of the trip…. FOOD!! The Varadi and Saoji are the two popular cuisines of the Vidarbha region. So, it was a culinary treat for our taste buds to experiment on something fiercely spicy and so rustic in taste. While our day started with delicious plates of ‘Poha with Tarri’ and ‘Samosa Tarri’ for breakfast at one of the several roadside tapris, lunch was a simple delectable Varadi thali at the ‘Gad Mandir Bhojanalay’. We managed to find space in our tummies for street food with several pit stops along the way that tasted heavenly and ended our day with a grand non-veg varadi menu for supper at a star hotel where we were put up for the night.

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The Varadi food that kept us going!

Nagpur is synonymous with the orange fruit and the brand ‘Haldirams’. So, the visit would have been incomplete without trying the ‘Orange Burfi’ at one of the Haldirams outlets spread across the city. Do pick up a box of ‘Mango soan rolls’ from Heera sweets to please your sweet tooth along your return trip!

Exploring the backwaters of Karnataka- Thonse

Although the places that I choose to write about may not stand a chance to be compared with the Sundarbans or the Pichavaram forests… None the less- The Arabian sea coast has its own share of beautiful places in terms of its mangrove creeks. And while Kerala is synonymous with its enchanting backwaters, Karnataka too has its fair share of backwater system which is still untouched and yet to be explored… Through my innumerous journeys in this coastal stretch, I don’t remember a time when I did not put my neck out to be tantalized by the view of the backwaters as I passed on those bridges that fall in between Mangalore and Udupi. So, this time I had set aside one weekend exclusively to explore these lesser known places of the west coast and mark myself in those remote places on the map-of-India.

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First things first- Having good connectivity, taking the public transport to reach these places has its own experience, the way I enjoyed my trip. But I strongly recommend having own vehicle to these places given the hassle of waiting for a ride, given the remoteness of the place and the joy of riding through such a beautiful stretch of road be best enjoyed on a two-wheeler only. That said, I had reached Udupi by an overnight bus and stayed at a hotel close to the Krishna temple. I freshened up and headed to the service bus stand located at a walkable distance to the hotel. Click here for more weekend trips from bengaluru

The entire district of Udupi is dotted by innumerous temples and churches and hence, I prefer not to make a mention of them in this post. There is no dearth of local buses to any place within the coastal belt of Karnataka and hence, I relied totally on them for my commutation. All set to explore Thonse, I boarded a bus that passed through Kallianpur village which was once part of the Vijayanagara empire. The ruins of an old laterite fort stands testimony to that era. My first stop was at Kemmannu. A short walk on a meandering road through coconut plantations took me to a serene system of backwater canals connected to river Swarna. A suspension bridge has been laid across the river and set in an idyllic location of mangrove creeks. The oarsman suggested to take a boat ride in the high tides either for sunrise or sunset and that the delta beach would look brilliant at that time. I got a ride in a country boat around several islets in the backwaters of river Swarna that was good opportunity for birding and a pleasant experience of sailing in the lap of nature.

Click here for more weekend trips from bengaluru

The entire district of Udupi is dotted by innumerous temples and churches and hence, I prefer not to make a mention of them in this post. There is no dearth of local buses to any place within the coastal belt of Karnataka and hence, I relied totally on them for my commutation. All set to explore Thonse, I boarded a bus that passed through Kallianpur village which was once part of the Vijayanagara empire. The ruins of an old laterite fort stands testimony to that era. My first stop was at Kemmannu. A short walk on a meandering road through coconut plantations took me to a serene system of backwater canals connected to river Swarna. A suspension bridge has been laid across the river and set in an idyllic location of mangrove creeks. The oarsman suggested to take a boat ride in the high tides either for sunrise or sunset and that the delta beach would look brilliant at that time. I got a ride in a country boat around several islets in the backwaters of river Swarna that was good opportunity for birding and a pleasant experience of sailing in the lap of nature.

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The suspension bridge at Kemmannu

From there, I took a walk back to the main road where the harbored boats beside a broken bridge caught my attention. There was something amusing happening down there at the canals. I felt as if I was unfortunately experiencing a bioluminescent spectacle in daylight. The sight was something I had never seen before. On a closer look, I realized that the canal was filled endlessly with jelly fishes of various colours and sizes. After spending some time there videographing the sight, I boarded the bus to my next destination- Kodi bengre.

This small fishing hamlet is located on a narrow strip of land mass, placed geographically between river Swarna and the Arabian sea. While your heart will surely skip a beat at the first sight of the vastness of the sea at Hoodi beach, a deviation to the right which narrows into the village offers an experiential ride right until the estuary at Bengre beach. The tip of land is a great place for sunset viewing and enjoying the silence with the waves.. The several shacks in the hamlet serves freshly caught sea food served spicy hot which is something not to be missed while you’re there!

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Then, I took a bus to the coast that we had deviated from at Hoodi beach. With a quick ride through country roads flanked with traditional sea facing mansions, we reached Malpe beach. This being a popular tourist place, it was bustling with activities including various water sports. We walked down to the fish market / port area, away from the crowd- and got a good sight of the setting sun. There is a dedicated ferry service from the jetty to the Saint Mary’s Island for those seeking for a day trip which I personally recommend for anyone who is visiting this coastal town. It’s a great place and there is enough information available all over the net to get there… If you are driving your own vehicle, then I recommend you to take the Pithrody route to reach back the Udupi town. This will complete your coastal stretch of Udupi giving you an experience of driving through yet another estuary and delta- that’s formed by river Udyavara and the Arabian sea.

You can compliment your beach trip with a visit to the Krishna temple and the seven Mathas that are associated with the temple administration. Top it up with delectable Udupi chaats and the famous Gadbad ice-cream that saw its origin in this coastal town.

The monsoon delicacies of Coorg

So stuck up with my professional life.. I am finding little / No time to visit my native, where my basics belong to.. Politics, emotions, manners, education- on the whole the basics of every aspect of the human that I am today 🙂

Nostalgia fills my heart as I hear of heavy rains in the recent weeks- little villages have turned into islands, water levels are atleast 2 feet above bridges, waterlogged paddy fields now look like a never ending stretch of the river itself.. WOWwww…. An amazing picture of a rain fed rather filled-green COORG flashes infront of me.. And what my heart is craving for at the moment is some AWESOME Coorgie food.. And what my taste buds are asking for are the lesser known typical monsoon delicacies native to Coorg and cannot match their original taste if tried to re-create in any part of this wide world even by the greatest chef ever born..!! So here goes the list..

VEGETARIAN:

1. Therme thoppu palya (Fern salad)

2. Kembu suli curry ( Colocasia shoots)

3. Baimbale curry (Bamboo shoot curry)

These are varieties found only on river banks.

4. Kaad maange curry (Wild mango curry)

5. Kummu curry (Mushroom curry) especially the wild varieties- Aalandi kummu, Nucchi kummu, kaatola kummu.

The above stuffs taste deadly when combined with hot Akki Otti(Rice rotis) prepared on mud ovens lit with firewood 😉

6. Chutta chekke kuru (Roasted seeds of ripe jackfruit smeared with red soil and dried in the sun and preserved especially for the monsoon)

NON-VEGETARIAN:

7. Njend curry / Chutta njend (Fresh water crab curry /Roasted crabs)

8. Chutta yarchi (Barbecued meat)

9. Onak yarchi fry (Since Coorgs hunted regularly, venison, wild boar, barking deer and several other kinds of wild game formed part of their diet. These meats were also sliced, rubbed with salt and turmeric, strung or skewered and sun-dried or hung from the rafters in smoky, wood fired kitchens)

10. Koile meen curry (Used to be in abundance where bamboo traps were laid in cold, swift flowing streams and the flooded paddy fields were full of these tiny freshwater eels)

SWEET DISHES:

11. Kuvale putt (Prepared with ripe Kuvale chekke (a variety of jackfruit, locally called Kuvale) wrapped in Kuvale ele (Leaf from a local plant found on riverbanks) and steam cooked.

12. Baale nurk / nurk putt ( Bananas fritters)

13. Maddh paaysa/ Maddh putt (Porridge /cake made of an aromatic herb, which is expected to have 18 types of medicine available only during the month of kakkada or aadi)

And last but definitely not the least – A peg of Nell-kall (vodka made of paddy) and some homemade wine…. Or a cup of steaming hot ‘Bellatha Kaapi’ for the teetotalers .. 🙂

People often complain about my eating habits and how choosy I get about what I eat and the little quantity that I peck onto.. Treat me with a platter filled with the above stuffs and see how I can binge on… This city food is CRAP.. and not what I savour…Not even the 6-course expensive meal cooked by the executive chef de cuisine of the costliest restaurant in the world…!!

Kuvaleputt , Nurkputt & Kummu
Kuvaleputt , Nurkputt & Kummu

The best of Trivandrum in a day…

May be the coconut trees lining the coastal line abundantly and the rhythmic beats of the infamous drums resonating in the air…. And maybe the SUVs & MUVs that underwent the brutal checkup by me during my so called ‘Business trip’….. These surely made my visit to this little silent capital city an AWESOME one 🙂

A city of Trees & Vans & Drums put together…… Trivandrum it is..!!

A morning flight from Bangalore landed at Trivandrum airport by 09.30 a.m. The car was waiting for us outside which drove us past a fishing hamlet enroute to our workplace..  Fishing dories anchored, fishermen carrying their day’s catch, the blue sea water reaching to the horizon and a lovely lady’s figurine sculptured by the Shangamughan beach.. Further, as we crossed the toll road and drove across a bridge through the by-pass road, we were greeted by the backwaters dotted by the houseboats..  Such a warm welcome to the city..:)

And ofcourse, we began working without wasting much time… And definitely did not miss a chance to drive around the city as a part of the check-up routine 😉 In the evening was the much anticipated part of the trip- Tagged as the richest temple in the country – Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple visit it was .. For all the hype and media space grabbed by this temple, I had expected a BIG crowd of tourists(Not Pilgrims), fussy Godmen, lot of petty shops dotting the walkway selling pooja items etc.- A common sight at any of the famous temples in India.. But, totally contrary to it- This is one of the BEST temples I have EVER been to.. According to me- ‘A temple is a place where one has to feel GOD with PEACE’. And this place stands out for just that..!! A strict dress code and prohibited entry for non-hindus, a stringent adherence to the temple rules, limited crowd, silent ambience, an eyeful of the darshan of the massive idol lit by mere oil fed lamps- The place has not given up its sanctity to all the attention its hidden wealth has grabbed.. I’m really not a pious or a temple person- But this place is truly commendable 🙂

Main gate - Padmanabhaswamy temple
Main gate – Padmanabhaswamy temple

Later, we visited the old wooden museum inside the Puthenmalika / Kuthiramalika Palace just outside the temple premises.. This was built by the erstwhile Travancore kings.. A damn nice place for the art lovers 🙂

Day 2 : We started work early hoping to finish it early so that we can do a little bit of city trotting before we board our return flight.. And as per schedule, we were done with work by afternoon.. We shopped for some local crafts at SMSM institute crafts emporium.. We walked through the narrow lanes to one of the biggest shops that is all for ‘CHIPS’ – ‘The Mahachips store’.. Edible chips of different varieties made to order and packed just then.. I picked up about 10kgs of banana chips & jackfruit chips- something that will be much awaited for back home in Bangalore, even more than my safe return 😉

SMSM institute crafts emporium
A wooden piece of art @ SMSM institute crafts emporium

Just before sunset, we reached Covalam beach.. We walked upto the Vizhinjam lighthouse for a good view of the beach- it turned out to be a treat to the senses 🙂

View from the Vizinjam lighthouse
The view from the Vizinjam lighthouse

A stroll along the crowded beach, beautiful view of the sunset, some yummy local chaats to munch on.. Indeed an awesome end to an eventful business trip 🙂

Kovalam beach @ sunset
Kovalam beach @ sunset
Don’t miss to try 3 things while you are in Trivandrum:
1. Fresh banana & jackfruit chips and halwa
2. Hot palam puri with a cup of burning hot Kerala tea
3. Frog thigh fry (available only in select places)

If not a business trip, one could cover all these places in a day and combine it with a day trip to Kanyakumari- the southern-most tip of mainland India.

Bath- o- Baat..!!

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Its 1st of December.. At 10a.m.; an e-mail was delivered to my inbox from the canteen dept. “Monthly menu”- the subject head read. My immediate action was to click on the trash button which straight away dumped my unread mail in the trash bin. This action was not unique to me alone.. At least ten others in my office would have done the same.. And another ten would have just opened the mail and then trashed it.. Nobody usually expects anything unusual in the menu. But just incase, some fresher bumps into you with a humble intension to make a conversation and brings up the topic of breakfast menu:

“Hey ! You know what’s for breakfast for this month?”

The poor fellow is bound to get an equivalent reaction: “Aiyya…!! Looks like you have not had enough of a bath in the canteen..!!”

The oldies all know the menu by-heart. So what’s in a bath?? Read on…

  • Tuesday: green- bath (Methi bath)
  • Wednesday: red- bath (Vaangi bath)
  • Thursday: Deadly-oil bath (Darshini Pulav)
  • Friday: mixed colour- bath (Chow-Chow bath)
  • Saturday: brown- bath (bisi-bele bath)
  • Sunday: yellow- bath (rice bath)

If I missed out on Monday in the list: that’s the 1st working day of the week; so the company tries to give us some motivation / morale boost up. That’s the “Have no Bath”-day. It’s the only day when Idly-Vada-Sambar-Chutney is served.

Now: How do the employees identify what’s fir breakfast without actually entering the canteen or reading the menu? It comes with experience. Just a month’s time is enough..!!

Well, a Monday’s menu barely changes; so you know what is there: you go or don’t go depends on how bored or excited you are to get away with the Monday morning blues..!!

And the other days.. Usually standing at a distance and a small peep into someone’s plate is enough. By the colour you know what it is.. and then, do an about turn and walk towards office.!!

But, a special mention needs to be made about Wednesdays.. The day being the mid-week and you would already have lost the motivation to work; the day greets you by serving a deadly bath on your platter. This is the original “Darshini Pulav”. I prefer to call it the deadly bath. It’s because you don’t need to walk till the canteen door on that day. The strong smell of fried bread cubes doused in dalda oil and mixed with a weird coloured deadly preparation hits your nostrils instantly at the time you alight at the bus bay. So, you directly walk away to your office without wanting to even get closer to the source of smell.

Friday’s are special because not one, but two baths are given on a single platter. Chow-Chow-bath: as the name suggests it is a combo of Rava bath and Kesari bath…!!

Oh.. Are you wondering why we even go near the canteen door every morning huh? It’s just out of curiosity and nothing else.. The curiosity to know how a bath can be had in different forms and in different colours- and every time taste the same even with different names..!! For example: Vegetable bath, green peas bath were served a couple of times instead of the deadly oil bath… This was just a colour variant: the smell and taste is forever the same..!

Occasionally, Pongal, lemon rice, puliyogare, khara bath, tomato bath are served too.. but considering these are still different colour forms of the same rice dish: it is an array of Bath-o-baat..!! And it is highly impossible for a normal person to eat rice 3 times a day; seven days a week..!! I agree that we are South Indians who usually are associated with these baths, but nowhere in the peninsular India, would you find a Southie eat so much rice a day.. We have other better forms: dosa, poori, chapathi, akki-rotti, ragi-rotti, jola rotti, puttu, appam etc etc… Why the hell on earth are we forced to have this bath every morning..!!

This is a serious allegation coming from a deeply disturbed rice hater who has stopped taking a bath just because of the traumatising “bath-o-phobia”..!! No.. no.. This is not the “Ablutophobia”..!! Time the management does something about this one..!! I’m skipping my breakfast every day and my girth size is increasing rapidly owing to frequent starvation..!!

Madurai (Part 2) – Centre of arts and culture

There is no existence of a place without the people, And with civilisation exists the culture. Madurai has its own share.. Here goes the list:

Art:
* The temple art- the sculptures on the temple towers and the wooden vahanas that are used to carry the temple idols.
* Handicrafts- accessories used for decorating Devi idols, that are made of delicate sequins, etc.
* Mural paintings from the Pandyan era adorning the temple walls (The famous Madurai paintings)

Food:

Breakfast – Idly & Sambar, Pongal + a cup of filter coffee

11.00.a.m – Jigarthanda(it’s more like a combination of falooda & kulfi)

Lunch- Puliyogare @ the temple store, curd rice, Sambar rice(similar to Bisibele bath)

4.00.p.m.- Karupatti(palm sugar) coffee
Dinner- Anything after 7.00.p.m is called meals. Must try is the ghee roast & rava Masala dosa
Costume:

* Sarees for women & Dhotis for men

* Madurai cotton sarees with simple prints and zari borders with temple designs are famous
Jewellery:
Among the locals- particularly those belonging to the Thevar cast, it is believed that women are prettier with bigger earlobes. Hence, the girl child born in this community is made to wear a particular traditional earring called the ‘Thandatti’ when she is young. Each piece of this weighs 27 gms and is made of gold. This is particular to Madurai. The thandatti is said to evoke the 3 levels of our world: terrestrial, astral and divine and these levels are associated with Mandala.
Shopping:

Shopping at Madurai is all about wholesale vendors… and there are specified streets for each of them.

* Cotton sarees/ dress materials- shops are all around the temple complex
* Steel utensils- plastic beads & girls’ accessories, gold plated imitation jewelery to name a few.
* Pooja related accessories & crafts- particularly inside Pudumandapam
* Varieties of plantains / bananas and green groceries among the others.
A brief intro to a city full of life and activities.. Justice yet to be done.. Signing off with a hope that it has helped someone somewhere in some form who is seeking for some info on this Pandyan city….