Panel Discussion: Resurgence Of Millets In My Plate

Last week, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to be part of a panel discussion, titled ‘Resurgence Of Millets In My Plate’, by eminent personalities from the state of Karnataka. This discussion, organised by the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Agriculture in co-ordination with the Department of Home Science of the Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, was held at The Capitol on Raj Bhavan Road on December 7, 2018 .

The panel discussion was a lead-up to the next Organics & Millets International Trade Fair, which is scheduled between January 18 and 20, 2019, at the Bengaluru Palace. As always, the discussion opened up to me the immense world of millets, all that one can do with these wonder grains, in one’s own kitchen and at the country level.

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The event started with a welcome speech by Dr. K.G. Jagadeesha, IAS, Commissioner – Department of Agriculture. He spoke about the mammoth scale of the Organics & Millets International Trade Fair 2019, and of how the fair has already proved to be a great success in the past years.

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Dr. A. Sundaravalli, introducing the agenda of the panel discussion

Post this, Dr. A. Sundaravalli, Head of the Department of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore, spoke about the panelists and the agenda of the discussion, i.e. how to enable millets to make a come-back on the plates of the common man, after the ancient grains having been considered as ‘poor man’s food’ for so long. She spoke of how, considering the immense health benefits of millets, it is critical for them to start gaining a wider acceptance than they already are.

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The panel discussion started, moderated by Dr. Santha Maria, Dean, Faculty of Home Science, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.

Dr. Santha Maria, introducing the esteemed panelists to the audience

The esteemed panelists included:

  • Dr. Manjunath C.N., Director, Jayadeva Hospital
  • Dr. Mahesh D.M., Consultant Endocrinologist, Aster CMI and Medpoint Diabetes & Thyroid Clinic
  • Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy, President, Indian Dietictic Association
  • Mr. Sihikahi Chandru, Actor, Producer & Director
  • Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran, Managing Director, Soulfull
  • Mr. Vilasbhargav, Managing Director, South Ruchis Square
  • Mr. Suresh Hinduja, CEO, Gourmet India.com
  • Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal, Former Indian goalkeeper of Indian Hockey
  • Dr. Swarnalatha Chandran, Swarayu Wellness Clinic
The panelists, in the course of the discussion. From left to right: Ms. Swarnalatha Chandran, Dr. Mahesh D.M., Mr. Vilasbhargav, Mr. Suresh Hinduja, Dr. Santha Maria, Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal, Mr. Prashant Parameswaran, Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy, and Mr. Sihikahi Chandru

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Putting forth his views about the importance of using millets in today’s world, Dr. Manjunath stated that there has been a stark increase in the incidence of lifestyle diseases in India, in the last couple of decades, both among males and females. What is even more alarming is the age group among which the incidence of these diseases is on the rise – more and more people in their 20s and 30s are being affected by rising blood pressure and cholesterol as well as heart problems, which is something very serious. At this rate, the day is not far when India will be the ‘disease capital of the world’. There are several factors which are leading to this negative development, as per Dr. Manjunath – including improper food habits, sedentary lifestyles, improper work situations, high stress levels and rising air pollution. Millets can go a long way towards bringing this alarm-inducing situation under control, he strongly opined.

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Dr. Manjunath putting forth his views at the panel discussion

The primary prevention of most lifestyle disorders starts with food, Dr. Manjunath stated. A lot of these diseases that are prevalent among today’s Indian youth can be controlled by increasing the consumption of millets, as well as consuming more vegetables and fruits (at least the minimum recommended dietary requirement for an adult). Dr. Manjunath stated that awareness among people about the various health benefits of millets needs to increase further, which will in turn bring about a better acceptance of them.

He went on to appeal to the audience not to think that the consumption of millets will automatically resolve all of one’s health issues. Millets are not a panacea. They should be used in combination with other components in one’s diet, like fruits and vegetables, dairy products, fats, wheat and rice. Every food group is important, he said. A 60:40 combination of millets:other ingredients will go a long way towards making them more palatable to the general public, he stated.

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Dr. Mahesh then went on to further elaborate on the various benefits that the consumption of millets offers. He stated that millets are the only food that offer everything to the human body, from fat, protein and antioxidants to vitamins and minerals. They are of great help in exercising the gut, and ensure the slow release of sugars into one’s blood stream. Considering this, it is very important for millets to start gaining wider acceptance among the general public, he stated.

The panelists, engrossed in the discussion

Prevention is better than cure. To cut short lifestyle diseases before they occur, it is high time we start paying close attention to what kinds of foods we are putting into our systems, Dr. Mahesh stated. It is high time we started recognising the importance of these wonder grains called millets, and gave them pride of place on our dining tables, he added.

Dr. Mahesh also spoke about the criticality of inculcating good eating habits, millets included, among children and youth, which will go on to ensure that we grow up into healthier adults and a healthier nation. Educating them about healthy eating will go a long way towards increasing acceptance, he stated.

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Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy went on to bust some common myths about the consumption of millets in India:

  • There seems to be a misconception among some Indians that eating a dark-coloured millet like ragi or finger millet will cause one’s skin to become dark. That is so not the case! Millets do not affect the colour of your skin, or that of your unborn child during pregnancy!
  • Millets are not a panacea for all diseases. Increasing the consumption of millets in one’s diet does not mean that all one’s ills will be cured.
  • Millets cannot replace everything else in your lunch or dinner plate. Your meals every day cannot be all-millet. A balanced diet, including good portion of all food groups, is more important. Moreover, millets might not be suitable in large proportions for certain people, such as those with digestive ailments.
  • Using millets in any proportion and in any way does not help. Using a small portion of millets in a dish, while the rest is made up of sugar or fat is not a healthy way to consume them. You don’t get the health benefits of the millet in your system, that way.
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Ms. Sheela Krishnaswamy putting forth her views about millets at the panel discussion

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Mr. Sihikahi Chandru spoke about how he started reading up about millets a while ago, when he heard about the numerous health benefits they possess. He was surprised to discover that millets are not some new-fangled marketing drama, but an age-old grain that has been in use in India since centuries. He spoke of how his grandparents and ancestors grew up regularly consuming millets, and lifestyle disorders never seemed to affect them. Further, he went on to speak about how, when he himself tried to inculcate millets in his daily diet, it took a while for his system to adjust to them. He urged the audience to give millets a chance, to give their bodies enough time to get used to them, to not give up on them too soon. Mr. Chandru also spoke about the need to cook millets in a way that is palatable to the general public, so as to improve their acceptance.

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Mr. Sihikahi Chandru, speaking at the panel discussion

In conclusion, Mr. Chandru stated that millets need to be made more affordable, so as to enable common men and women to consume more of them. The production, distribution and affordability of millets needs to be worked upon.

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Mr. Prashant Parameshwaran spoke about how his firm, Soulfull, is working towards making millets more palatable and acceptable to the kids of today and the younger generation. He went on to speak about how Soulfull is making millets easier to use, so that they can get wider acceptance by the general public.

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Mr. Parameshwaran also talked about how the onus of change (from a largely wheat- and rice-dominant diet to a millet-inclusive one) lies on several people, including doctors, media, teachers, bloggers, food critics and housewives. All of these stakeholders need to work towards this goal, for it to be successfully achieved.

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Mr. Vilasbhargav talked about increased awareness among his customers at South Ruchis Square, a fine-dining restaurant located in Bangalore, about the health benefits of millets. He spoke about how customers today are more willing to try out various dishes made using millets, and of how such dishes are getting a good response in his restaurant. There is scope to do a lot more using millets in the culinary world, he added.

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Mr. Suresh Hinduja spoke about the need to tackle the non-acceptance of millets among children and adults alike. It is critical to introduce millets to children early on, so they are more receptive of them at later stages in life, he rightly stated. Also, there is a need to educate adults about the many ways in which millets can help them lead a healthier life, he said, which enable them to accept the grains more readily.

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Mr. Suresh Hinduja, speaking at the panel discussion

Mr. Hinduja also re-emphasised the need to serve millets in a way that is more acceptable to the children and youth of today. Millet-based drinks, energy bars, chocolates, pancakes and snacks are good ways to introduce the younger generation to the wonder grain, he stated.

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Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal talked about how the inclusion of millets is important for sportspeople and those are conscious about their health. Millets are a gluten-free food filled with nutrients, thus making for the perfect pre-game food. He spoke about how he began including millets like ragi and jowar in his own daily diet and that of his team, at the recommendation of doctors, and how that benefited them hugely.

Mr. Ashish Kumar Ballal addressing the audience at the panel discussion

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Dr. Swarnalatha spoke about how millets are loaded with health benefits, but might not be suitable for all types of personalities, all age groups, and all times of the day. For instance, she stated, the system of someone with a kapha-dominant personality would be more acceptable to millets rather than someone with a vata– or pitta-dominant personality. Millets take time to digest, which is why they should preferably be consumed earlier in the day, between 6 AM to 2 PM, she said. She also spoke of how what you consume the millets with affect what nutrients you absorb from them – for instance, cooking them with an acidic substance like lemon or tamarind helps in better absorption of the iron in them.

Dr. Swarnalatha addressing the audience, at the panel discussion

Dr. Swarnalatha went on to state that it would be wrong to say that millets cannot be consumed by goiterous people or those with thyroid issues. The consumption of millets only has a very small bearing on goiter and thyroid problems, she stated. It would be best to consult a qualified dietician or doctor for better clarity on these aspects, she added.

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The event concluded with the answering of audience questions by the panelists. This was followed by a vote of thanks to the panelists on behalf of the Department of Home Sciences, Mount Carmel College, Bangalore.

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As always, there are several events planned to the run-up of the Organics & Millets Trade Fair 2019, including cooking contests, millet fairs, runs and more. Stay tuned! Also, don’t miss marking your calendars for the gala fair that is slated to happen in January 2019!

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I’m sharing this post with Fiesta Friday #254. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives.

Monaco Mango Bites| Cheesy Sweet & Salty Nibbles

Are you looking for a quick nibble to perk up a boring day? Are you looking for an interesting, different-from-the-usual appetiser to serve at a party? Try out these Monaco Mango Bites!

These Monaco Mango Bites are a beautiful medley of flavours, which your guests will surely love. It was a big hit at home, when I tried it out recently. The classic Monaco biscuit lends its saltiness to the nibbles, the mango its sweetness, the red chilli powder a hint of spice, while the cheese and gherkins add an element of surprise to them. All of them together pack a flavour punch!

This is a super simple snack that you can whip up within minutes, if you have ingredients on hand, albeit not very healthy. You can use toppings of your choice to these nibbles too, and come up with a different-tasting snack every time you make these!

Let’s now check out the recipe for these Monaco Mango Bites, shall we?

Ingredients:

  1. Monaco biscuits, as needed
  2. Dried mango (with sugar), as needed
  3. Cheese cubes, as needed
  4. Pickled gherkins, as needed
  5. Red chilli powder, as needed

Method:

  1. Slice the gherkins thinly. Keep aside.
  2. Slice the cheese cubes thinly. Keep aside.
  3. Make small bite-sized pieces of the dried mango. Keep aside.
  4. Arrange Monaco biscuits on a serving platter, as per requirement. Place a piece of dried mango on top of each biscuit, along with a slice of cheese and a couple of slices of gherkins. Drizzle some red chilli powder on top of each biscuit. The Monaco Mango Bites are ready! Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I used the basic old-fashioned salt biscuits from Monaco to make this dish.
  2. Here, I have used some of the dried mango that I bought in Thailand, which has some sugar in it. It was soft and easily chewable, so I did not need to soak it.
  3. I have used cubes of Amul processed cheese, which I have thinly sliced.
  4. I have used store-bought pickled gherkins, also called ‘Sandwich Fillers’. They are, usually, thinly sliced and used in sandwiches to add flavour. Check out this Subway-Style Veggie Delight sandwich in which I have done just that.
  5. Use very little red chilli powder, just a drizzle, over the Monaco Mango Bites. It should not make the nibbles spicy, but just add an element of interest and surprise to them.
  6. You can use toppings of your choice to make these nibbles – dried lemons or oranges, cheese, jalapenos, chaat masala, anything goes in the right permutations and combinations. Let your imagination run wild!

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This post is for the Healthy Wellthy Cuisines group that I am part of. The members of this group cook for a particular theme every fortnight. This fortnight, all of us are cooking dishes using dried fruit and/or nuts, and I chose to prepare these Monaco Mango Bites for the theme.

Check out what the other members of the group made for the theme!:

Badam Puri by Ruchi| Date Truffles With Oats by Sasmita|Nutty Fruity Cookies by Rosy| Salted Cashewnuts by Jayashree| Zarda Pulao by Vanitha| Shahi Mewa Korma by Shalu| 5-Minute Pavlova Parfait by Seema| Fruit & Nut Granola by Mayuri| Fruit & Nut Raita by Geetanjali

I’m sending this recipe for Fiesta Friday #254. The co-hosts this week are Antonia @ Zoale.com and Kat @ Kat’s 9 Lives.

Vazhaipazham Sakkarai Pongal| Banana Sweet Pongal

Vazhaipazham Sakkarai Pongal is a lovely twist to the regular sweet pongal that is commonly prepared in South India on auspicious occasions. Adding bananas elevates the taste of the sweet pongal up by several notches, and is a great way to get the goodness of the fruits in. This little touch makes the regular sakkarai pongal more exotic, makes it just perfect to serve guests on parties and other festive occasions.

This is a simple pressure-cooker recipe that can be put together in a matter of minutes. I’m sure it will be much loved by people of all age groups, including fussy kids. My daughter absolutely adores this!

Let’s now check out the recipe for this Vazhaipazham Sakkarai Pongal aka Banana Sweet Pongal, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 5-6):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1/2 cup moong daal
  3. 3 cups jaggery powder
  4. 2 cups milk
  5. 2 pinches of cardamom (elaichi) powder
  6. 2 big Robusta bananas
  7. 10-12 cashewnuts
  8. 2 tablespoons raisins
  9. 2 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons of ghee

Method:

1. Take the rice and moong daal together in a wide vessel. Wash a couple of times under running water. Discard the excess water.

2. Add 2 cups of milk and 2-1/2 cups water to the washed and drained rice. Mix well. Pressure cook for 4 whistles on high flame, or till the rice and moong daal are well cooked. Let the pressure release naturally.

3. Meanwhile, prepare the jaggery syrup for the pongal. Heat 2 cups of water in a pan, and add the jaggery powder to it. On high heat, allow the jaggery to get completely dissolved in the water. Cook till the syrup comes to a rolling boil.

4. When the jaggery syrup comes to a boil, add the cooked rice and moong daal to it. Cook on medium flame till everything is well integrated together, 3-4 minutes. Stir intermittently, to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan.

5. Add the cardamom powder as well as 2 tablespoons of ghee to the pongal. Chop the bananas into slices and add to the pongal too. Mix well, and cook on medium flame for a minute. Switch off gas.

6. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of ghee in another pan. Turn the flame to low, and add in the cashewnuts and raisins. Keep them in till the cashewnuts turn brown and the raisins plump up – take care to ensure that they do not burn.

7. Add the fried cashewnuts and raisins to the pongal. Mix well. The Banana Sweet Pongal is ready – serve hot or at room temperature.

Notes:

1. I have used Sona Masoori rice to make this pongal. You may use any other variety of rice you prefer, instead. You may even reduce the quantity of moong daal you use or skip it altogether, too.

2. Edible camphor (pacchai karpooram) can be added to the Banana Sweet Pongal. I haven’t.

3. I have used 4 tablespoons of ghee in the pongal, in total. You may use more, if you so prefer.

4. Use full-fat milk to make this pongal. I have used Nandini full-cream milk here.

5. Use boiled and cooled milk to make this Vazhaipazham Sakkarai Pongal.

6. You may skip the milk in the Banana Sweet Pongal too. In that case, cook the rice and moong daal in 4-1/2 cups water.

7. 4 whistles on high heat was just right to cook the rice and moong daal in my case. This might differ, depending on the make of the pressure cooker and the quality of ingredients used. Adjust cooking time accordingly.

8. If you feel there are impurities in the jaggery, you might want to filter the syrup before use. I did not find the need to do so.

9. The amount of jaggery you will really need depends on the type you use. Adjust quantity accordingly. In my case, 3 cups worked just fine. Typically, double the amount of jaggery to the amount of rice + moong daal works perfectly.

10. I have used Robusta bananas here. If you want to use any other variety of bananas, you might want to increase or decrease the quantity accordingly.

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Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for the week, as suggested by fellow food blogger Preethi of Preethi’s Cuisine, is #PotluckRecipes. The participants need to share recipes of their specialty dishes, which they would feel confident carrying to a potluck party. I chose to make this Vazhaipazham Sakkarai Pongal or Banana Sweet Pongal for the theme.

I’m also sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #253. The co-hosts this week are Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

I’m linking this post to My Legume Love Affair (MLLA) #123, an event conceptualised by Susan and hosted by Lisa.

Coconut & Mango Pulav

Coconut and mango is a classic combination, one that is much loved. The two flavours marry beautifully, which is why they are found together in many dishes like Sticky Rice With Mango, Mango & Coconut Smoothie, Mango & Coconut Bliss Balls, and the like. The dish I present to you today – Coconut & Mango Pulav – uses this classic ingredient combination again, in a very Indian way.

This Coconut & Mango Pulav tastes lovely. The coconut flavour comes from fresh coconut milk, and I have used some of the dried, sugared mangoes that I picked up while holidaying in Thailand recently. I tried out this pulav recently at home on a whim, and it was an instant hit with everyone.

This is a pressure-cooker dish, a one-pot meal that can be put together in mere minutes. It makes for a different-from-the-usual lunch or dinner, perfect for busy weekdays or lazy weekends. Kids will love this Coconut & Mango Pulav – mine did!

Let’s now see how to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 3):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1 cup thick coconut milk
  3. 4-5 beans
  4. 1 medium-sized onion
  5. 1 small carrot
  6. 2 tablespoons shelled green peas
  7. 4 green chillies
  8. Salt to taste
  9. 1 tablespoon oil
  10. 2 small bay leaves (tej patta)
  11. 4 cloves (laung)
  12. 4 cardamom pods (elaichi)
  13. A 1-inch piece of cinnamon (dalchini)
  14. 4 large pieces of dried mango (with sugar)
  15. 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander

Method:

  1. We will first prepare all the vegetables we need to use in the pulav. Peel the carrot and chop finely. Chop the onion finely. Remove the strings from the green beans, and chop them finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep the prepared vegetables aside.
  2. Wash the rice thoroughly under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water.
  3. Now, heat the oil in a pressure cooker bottom. Add the bay leaves, cinnamon (broken into two), cardamom and cloves. Let them stay in for a couple of seconds.
  4. Add the chopped onions to the pan, along with the chopped carrot and beans, and the shelled green peas. Saute for a minute.
  5. Add the washed and drained rice to the pressure cooker. Saute for a minute.
  6. Add the 1 cup of coconut milk and 1.5 cups of water. Add in salt to taste and the slit green chillies. Mix well.
  7. Put the pressure cooker lid on. Pressure cook on high flame for 4 whistles. Let the pressure release naturally.
  8. Meanwhile, chop the dried mango into small pieces.
  9. Mix in the finely chopped coriander and the mango bits. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. I have used Sona Masoori rice here. You may use any other variety of rice you prefer.
  2. The heat in this pulav comes only from the green chillies. Adjust the quantity of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the dish to be.
  3. Use only a minimal amount of vegetables in this pulav. Only mango and coconut are supposed to be the dominating flavours here.
  4. I have used dried mango from Thailand here, which had some sugar in it. It was quite soft, so I just had to chop it into pieces and add it to the pulav. There was no need to soak the mango.
  5. Increase or decrease the quantity of dried mango you use, depending upon personal taste preferences.
  6. I have used 1 cup of thick home-made coconut milk here. Alternatively you may use 200 ml of store-bought coconut milk, which roughly comes up to 1 cup.
  7. I have used a 5-litre pressure cooker to make this Coconut & Mango Pulav.
  8. I have used refined oil in this pulav. You may use any oil of your preference or ghee, instead.

Did you like this recipe? Do tell me in your comments!

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I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #253. The co-hosts this week are Liz @ Spades, Spatulas, and Spoons and Mila @ Milkandbun.

Grand Palace & Temple Of The Emerald Buddha, Bangkok

The temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok was one of the reasons the husband and I finally undertook that long-pending trip to Thailand, this October. 9 long years ago, while we were honeymooning in Thailand, it was at this very temple that I made a vow – a vow to come back later, with any children that the future might bring into our lives.

Our secret connection with the Emerald Buddha

We were shy newlyweds then, on a tour to the temple not unlike many other Indian tourists. The Thais place immense faith in the Emerald Buddha, housed in the Grand Palace (the former residence of the country’s royal family), and strongly believe that no prayer goes unanswered here. When we visited, back then, the aura of sacredness came off the place in waves. When our tour guide mischievously suggested that the husband and I should pray to the Emerald Buddha for a cute baby girl, I went ahead and did just that. I prayed for the husband and I to lead happy, healthy lives together, vowed to Him that I would come back with our cute little one to see Him again. I kept my pact with Him this October, introducing Him to the cute and little (but also, super naughty and super frustrating) bub. The experience made me feel all light-hearted and warm inside. Touchwood.

People’s expressions range from ‘Whhhhhatttttt?’ to ‘Squeee! Just howwww romanticcccc is that!’ when they hear this story. I’ll leave you to decide on that. I’ll just say that, back then, the prayers came straight from the heart, and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do. This post is a glimpse into the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha, through my eyes.

About the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha

The Grand Palace in Bangkok refers to the former residence of the royal family of Thailand, since 1782, which is when it was constructed by King Rama I. It is not a single structure, but rather a collection of a number of buildings, halls, lawns and open courtyards, and a temple. Considering that these buildings were slowly added on over the years, their styles of construction are quite different from each other. This asymetry is evident as soon as you enter the main gate of the Grand Palace, but the painstaking detailing and prettiness of each building will not fail to blow your mind away.

The various buildings that the Grand Palace houses, visible as soon as you enter. Can you notice the mixed architectural styles?

By the year 1925, the royal family had completely moved out of the Grand Palace. However, there are a few royal government offices that are still functional here. Parts of the palace grounds are open to visitors, who come in droves. Even as I write this, the Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Buddha within are among the most visited sites in Thailand by tourists.

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The entrance to one of the structures in the Grand Palace. Can you spot the crowds of tourists?
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Just how beautiful is this structure at the Grand Palace!

Wat Phra Kaew (more commonly known as the temple of the Emerald Buddha) is a chapel located within the palace grounds. Apparently, King Rama I had the temple constructed in 1782 to house the 60-foot tall statue of the Buddha that he had carved out of green jasper stone. This statue exists in the chapel till date, and is considered one of the most important Buddha idols in Thailand.

Our experience at the Grand Palace

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A pretty mural we came across in the Grand Palace. This was a part of an entire series of similar murals, all of which apparently depict the Thai version of the Ramayana.

It is a hot and humid October afternoon when we visited the Grand Palace for the second time. The taxi we hire drops us off at the designated spot for the same, from where we proceed walking towards the palace. Only to be stopped by a smiling local, dressed formally and wearing some sort of a tag around his neck – he goes on to tell us that the Grand Palace was closed till later in the day, that we should probably head out to some of the other surrounding tourist attractions and come back post that. The husband and I sense something fishy about this, and walk away saying we would check with the tourist information desk at the Grand Palace anyway. Only later do we come to know this is a popular scam around here – a way to make tourists part with some of their cash by making them go on unnecessary tuk-tuk rides and visiting spots they hadn’t planned for in the first place.

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A structure inside the Grand Palace. Just how pretty are those ‘ball’ trees?
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One of the many ‘bearers’ we spot at the Grand Palace, holding up the many pillars and blocks present here

The Grand Palace is very much open, as we suspected already. We buy our tickets and head inside, not opting for the services of a guide or an audio tour. Instead, we decide to rely on the maps freely available to tourists at the ticket counter, and tour the premises ourselves. Swarms of tourists walk in with us. Thankfully, the Grand Palace premises are huge (almost 2,20,000 sq mt., to be precise), and it does not feel stiflingly crowded inside.

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A demon guarding the temple of the Emerald Buddha within the Grand Palace compound. Check out the detailing on the idol! There were six huge ‘demons’ like these, every single one crowded with people who wanted selfies with them!
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Check this out! Beautiful detailing on one of the walls within the Grand Palace premises

The premises of the Grand Palace are extremely neat and well-maintained, just as I remember them from our visit all those years ago. The traditional golden-coloured Thai monuments glitter as they catch the rays of the sun, as does the fine detailing in crystal, glass and gold detailing that seems to be everywhere. Personnel from the Thai Army and Police are everywhere too, infusing order to the movements inside the palace compound. All over again, I am entranced by the place at the first glance.

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A beautiful, beautiful white-and-blue structure within the Grand Palace premises
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Statue of a Chinese guard spotted at the Grand Palace

I can understand why a visit to the Grand Palace proves to be quite overwhelming for some tourists. The droves of tourists, the hordes of uniformed guards, all those monuments, all those different architectural styles, all that detailing and bling, a highly sacred Buddha in the midst of it all – it can be too much to take in and process. The husband and I take it really easy, for this very reason. We have no agenda in mind; we are not there just to check the place off a long checklist. We have come prepared to stay for a few hours’ time, simply walking around and taking in the scenes and sights and sounds, one little piece at a time, taking breaks in between just to sit in silence. I can’t say we understand the entire layout of the Grand Palace or figure out the many stories associated with the place, but I can definitely say we thoroughly enjoy exploring it at our own pace. This way, our visit turns out enriching and oh, so rewarding.

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The surroundings of the Emerald Buddha temple. Again, the same mix of different architectural styles.
Outside the temple of the Emerald Buddha

Walking around, we reach Wat Phra Kraew or the temple of the Emerald Buddha, and get inside to pay our respects. The inside is cool and refreshing, a welcome respite from the heat that is beating down outside. Photography is not allowed inside the temple, so I have no pictures of the idol to show you. However, we are surely left breathless by all the ornate work in and around the temple.

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Some of the detailing on the walls outside the Emerald Buddha temple
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A mythological Thai creature that is half-woman, half-animal

We sprinkle some of the holy water from the temple over our heads, and gear up to walk around some more. By then, the sun was at its hottest best, and we are quite tired. We realise we should be heading out soon, and that is just what we do. On the way back, we capture a few more of the charming, painstakingly done sights that the Grand Palace has to offer.

A model of Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat temple, in the Grand Palace premises. Cambodia used to be a vassal state to Thailand (erstwhile Siam) in those days, and legend has it that King Rama I had this constructed so he could show people this beautiful temple from the other country that was also under Thai rule.
Rows and rows of cannons spotted in the premises of the Grand Palace. I kind of shudder to think that these must have been in actual use at some point of time.

Tips for travellers

  1. Visiting the Grand Palace can be quite an overwhelming experience for some travellers. It helps to take this place easy and explore it at one’s own pace, like we did.
  2. You can hire the services of a guide at the Grand Palace, if you so wish. He/she will help you understand the history of the place better. However, make sure he/she speaks good English, and do fix a price for the tour beforehand to avoid heartache later.
  3. Beware of tourist scams in and around the Grand Palace. Be careful with your belongings.
  4. Dressing conservatively is a must at the Grand Palace. Shorts and dresses that expose knees and/or ankles are a strict no-no. If needed, you can rent a wraparound from a stall located near the ticket counter.
  5. Photography is allowed everywhere in the Grand Palace, the parts that are open to public I mean, except inside the temple of the Emerald Buddha. The chapel is highly sacred to the Thais, and it is advisable to follow the rules and maintain the sanctity of the place.
  6. Entry fees at the Grand Palace are 500 Thai Baht per head, for foreigners, which is actually pretty steep.
  7. The palace remains open between 8.30 AM and 3.30 PM daily, except on special holidays which are usually announced well in advance.
  8. The Grand Palace gets really, really crowded with tourists! If you would like to explore it quietly, you would do well to reach before it opens, before the maddening crowds descend upon it.
  9. Walking around the huge premises of the Grand Palace can be a tiring, draining affair, especially in the months of summer and monsoon. Ensure that you don’t carry much while you walk around, wear loose and breathable clothes, and have a bottle of water with you as you explore.
  10. Do read up a bit about the history of Thailand and the Grand Palace, as well as a bit about Thai culture and mythology, and I can bet you will have a fascinating experience here. No time to do that? Check out the place at leisure, and then do your reading after you get back home – like we did.
  11. There are several places that you can visit around the Grand Palace – the temple of the reclining Buddha aka Wat Pho, for instance, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, and the famous Khao San Road. You may combine a visit to the Grand Palace with any of these places.
  12. You can use a cab, the BTS Skytrain or river taxi to get to the Grand Palace, or just walk down if you are staying nearby. We used a cab.

I hope you liked this post, and found it useful! Do tell me in your comments!