Visiting The Abode Of Kamakhya, The Powerful Menstruating Goddess

An almost three-hour flight journey took us from Bangalore to Guwahati, Assam, the first leg of our recent journey to North East India. The plan was to stay in Guwahati for a day, and then move on to Shillong, from there on to Cherrapunjee, then to Mawylnnong, higher and higher and higher in the hills of Meghalaya.

Guwahati, the largest city in Assam, was sweltering hot when we landed, at about 8.30 AM. The owner of North East Explorers, who had planned this trip for us, met us at the airport. He was quick to assure the crestfallen us of better weather in Meghalaya – where we were to spend the bulk of time during our holiday. With him, we drove to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, the first pit-stop of our holiday.

The beautiful exterior of the Kamakhya temple

I have been fascinated by the Kamakhya temple ever since I read about it, a few years ago. I had heard that this is the temple of the ‘menstruating goddess’, the goddess who bleeds once every year and that people consider her menstrual blood sacred enough to dip their handkerchiefs in it and carry them home, as tokens of good luck. This temple was, definitely, one of the spots I had eagerly wanted to visit, as we planned out this trip to the North East.

History and significance of the temple

Maata Kamakhya or Kamakhya Devi, also known as Maa Shakti, is the presiding deity at this temple, located on the Nilachal Hill, a short drive away from the city centre. The temple is believed to be over 2000 years old, but has been destroyed and rebuilt a few times in the course of time. The structure that exists now is said to be about 500 years old.

View of the city from atop Nilachal Hill

This temple has several legends associated with it, one of them being about Sati, wife of Lord Shiva. Centuries ago, King Daksh, father of Sati, organised a great yagya, to which he invited everyone except Lord Shiva. Sati went against her husband’s wishes and visited her father’s house, only to be met with humiliation. Saddened, Sati jumped into the sacrificial fire to end her life. On hearing of this, Lord Shiva came running to King Daksh’s place and, in a fit of anger, began performing the tandav nritya (the dance of destruction), holding Sati’s burning body in his hands. Parts of Sati’s body began falling on earth – apparently, 51 different parts of her body fell at 51 different earthly places, most located in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Later, Shakti Peethas (temples that are storehouses of power) came into existence at each of these 51 places. The Kamakhya temple, one of the Shakti Peethas, is the place where Sati’s female organs fell.

Every year, around June or so, the idol of Kamakhya Devi in the temple is said to menstruate. The temple remains closed for the three days of menstruation, when the Goddess is said to be resting. The water that is used to cleanse the idol collects in a pool outside the temple, and this water turns red during the three days that the Goddess is believed to menstruate. After the said three days come to an end, the temple re-opens with the fanfare and celebration of the Ambubachi Mela, a festival that attracts devotees, tantrics, photographers and tourists from all over the world.

Bells tied by devotees outside the Kamakhya temple

Kamakhya Devi is believed to be a highly powerful Goddess, having the ability to grant all the wishes of her devotees. Thousands of young women visit the temple daily, to pray for wedded bliss and fertility. The temple is considered to be an important spiritual destination and a must-visit tourist spot in the city.

Our experience at the temple

When we visited the temple, it was a weekend. At about 9.30 AM, there was a huge, huge, huge queue of people waiting to get into the temple, snaking up as far into the hills as the eye could see. We had no VIP pass (an idea that I’m not very fond of, to be honest), and, from the looks of it, would have to stand in queue for at least 3 hours to get inside the temple. The walk into the temple, too, would involve much pushing and rushing, being shut in rooms a la Tirupati.

PicMonkey Collagekamakhya.jpg
Pooja items on sale at various shops outside the temple

From the quick look-around that we had outside the temple, though, an unmistakable aura of commercialization came through. Touts called out to us, asking if we would like to meet the Goddess directly, without wasting any time. A number of priests told us they could perform a special pooja for us, in return for a small fee. Scores of shopkeepers tried to cajole us to buy pooja items from them and leave our footwear with them. All this while, throngs of people pulsated around us, pushing and pulling and jostling. The atmosphere was not unlike that at Kalighat in Calcutta, a place whose touts we had been warned against by numerous cabbies. At the Kamakhya temple, the surroundings were, sorrily enough, way too overwhelming and frustrating. I don’t mean to offend anyone’s sentiments here – I’m merely stating what we felt.

(Here‘s a much more prosaic depiction of the surroundings at the Kamakhya temple.)

The bathing area behind the temple

We were exhausted, hot and hungry, having started from Bangalore as early as 2.30 AM, and the bub was beginning to get cranky and disturbed. The OH and I quickly decided to pay our respects to the Goddess from the outside, and head to our hotel. That is just what we did.

Tips for travellers

  1. The temple is located at a height of about 800 feet, atop a hill. Vehicles can be driven right up to the temple.
  2. There are several viewpoints built around the temple, from where you can get magnificent views of Guwahati city.
  3. There are a huge number of people visiting the temple every day, more so on weekends, festivals and other auspicious days. The temple is open from 8 AM to 1 PM and then from 2.30 PM to 5.30 PM, daily. If you wish to avoid crowds, you should probably consider visiting closer to noon or in the early afternoon.
  4. Beware of the touts who offer devotees a ‘quick’ darshan, in spite of the crowds, in exchange of some money.
  5. You can leave your shoes at any of the several shops selling pooja paraphernalia around the temple, before you enter. You might be required to buy some stuff from them in return, or pay them a small amount for safeguarding your footwear.
  6. General entry to the temple is free of cost, involving a humongous crowd. You could get Special Entry and VIP tickets from the temple ticket counter too, which are believed to get you easier access. For defence and police personnel, these tickets are available at slashed prices.
  7. Photography and videography is prohibited inside the temple.
  8. Animal sacrifices are allowed at the temple, on certain days. If you want to avoid gory scenes, please find out the days these sacrifices are allowed, and plan your visit accordingly.
  9. There are small eateries around the temple where you can grab a quick bite, if you want to.




Lunching At Koshe Kosha, Calcutta: Understanding Bengali Cuisine Beyond The Aloor Dom

If you have been reading my Calcutta Chronicles, you’d know that, on our trip, we didn’t have much good luck with our meals. I’m sure Calcutta has beautiful eateries serving glorious food, but we just didn’t manage to find any, till the very last day of our trip. Most meals we had in the city were very average or, worse, utterly pathetic.

The last day of our trip, though, as I said earlier, was different. Through sheer luck, we ended up at the Koshe Kosha outlet near Park Street, on this day, and I was immediately filled with a sense of joy and peace. The restaurant felt like what we had been looking for throughout our stay in Calcutta, and I knew we were in for a good meal, finally. And a good meal we definitely had.


Decor and ambience

The place had a warm and welcoming ambience which enveloped us the minute we entered. The eatery isn’t very big, but not tiny either.

We were ushered to the upstairs seating area, where I loved the simple but classy decor, especially the wooden ceiling beams and the checkerboard tiles on the floor. The hanging lights were pretty, pretty, pretty.

Pretty sight, right?

I also loved how the paintings on the walls depicted everything that was typical of Calcutta (Bengal, rather) – from Sindoor Khela and Shubho Drishti (do look them up if you don’t know what they are!), to the cycle rickshaws on the streets, Victoria Memorial and Howrah Bridge.

A painting depicting Sindoor Khela at Koshe Kosha

I liked how one of the walls was decorated with Bengali books, though I couldn’t understand anything about them. Another wall was decorated with CDs of Bengali music (something I’ve always been fascinated by, but have never really studied in depth) as well as pictures of Bengali greats. Love!

The CD and picture wall at Koshe Kosha


Food and drinks

The Koshe Kosha meal was significant for me in the sense that it opened me up to a whole new world – the world of vegetarian Bengali food beyond the aloor dom. I am a big fan of the Bengali aloor dom, ever since I tried it for the first ever time this Durga Pujo, but I didn’t know any other vegetarian dishes from the cuisine. The visit to Koshe Kosha, therefore, came as an eye-opener.

First up, we ordered a Gondhoraj Ghol, a Bengali lassi made with Gondhoraj lebu, that very unique lemon from Bengal.

Gondhoraj Ghol at Koshe Kosha

Served with a wedge of the famed Gondhoraj lemon, the ghol was just perfect – just the right mix of salt and sweet, and filled with the fragrance of the lemon. There were bits of Gondhoraj peel in the drink (no hint of bitterness, though!), which took its taste and texture to a whole new level. Beautiful!

The husband ordered a Bengali thali, so we could sample a whole lot of offerings at one go, and it turned out to be another beautiful experience.

From left to right, in clockwise direction around the plate in the centre, are: Baked Rosogulla, Papad, Tomato Khejur Chaatni, Daal, Ghee, Shukto, and Dhoker Dalna. In the plate, there’s rice on the right, and on the left (from top to bottom) are Begun Bhaja, fried potato shavings, and another fried dish that I now forget the name of.

The chaatni and the baked rosogulla (the traditional sugar syrup-drenched rosogullas, baked in an oven to give it a lovely caramelised taste) were simply gorgeous, and both of us loved them to bits. The fried items were a close second favourite, followed by the dhoker dalna (chana daal cakes cooked in a flavourful gravy).

Dhoker Dalna at Koshe Kosha

Apart from the baked rosogullas, the shukto was something I had never seen before this thali happened. For the uninitiated, shukto is a vegetable gravy-based dish that includes all sorts of vegetables, like the bitter gourd, brinjals and drumsticks. (Bengalis believe that their thali should include foods with all kinds of tastes – sour, salty, bitter, spicy – and the shukto added the bitterness). It wasn’t very bitter, as I had always imagined it would be, just mildly bitter. Though the shukto here was very well done, neither the OH nor I fell in love with it.

I ordered some phulka rotis with chhaner dalna, the latter being a dish of fresh cottage cheese cubes cooked in a lightly spiced gravy. The rotis were lovely, and the chanar dalna was perfectly done, too – the cottage cheese was super fresh and soft, and the gravy was heavenly in taste.

Chaaner Dalna at Koshe Kosha

After all of this deliciousness, we were in the mood for one more dessert, and chose an Aam Mishti Doi (because their famed Nolen Gur ice cream was out of stock). It was super-duper awesome!

Aam Mishti Doi at Koshe Kosha


Service and pricing

The service staff was friendly, courteous and helpful, we found. They were patient enough to explain to me the names and characteristics of the various dishes we were served, and even arrange them the right way so I could get good photographs of them!

Prices were, we felt, decent. We paid about INR 650 for everything we had (including a Green Salad, which is not in the pics). The thali was good enough to serve two, to be honest.


Our verdict

All in all, a hearty and delicious meal was had by us. An enlightening one, too, for it only whetted our appetite for more Bengali vegetarian delicacies. I was thrilled to discover that we have a Koshe Kosha outlet in Bangalore as well, where I can watch the movie after having my senses titillated with this beautiful trailer. Yay!


Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Calcutta Vignettes – 3

Calcutta Diaries: Of Hogging Street-Side Jhal Muri

The Weirdness That Was Doodh Cola

Calcutta Diaries: Of Hogging Street-Side Jhal Muri

Photographing jhal muri in a cone made out of a Bengali newspaper, in Calcutta, has been a silly little dream of mine for as long as I can remember. And, of course, the dream included the eating of the said jhal muri too. :)

I am happy to report the coming true of this little dream on our recent Calcutta visit. Street-side jhal muri – check, Calcutta – check, Bengali newspaper – check, deliciousness – check.


We chose a vendor near New Market to sample our first jhal muri in Calcutta – and it turned out to be our only sampling of the same as well.

The jhal muri was beautiful, with just the right amount of mustard oil in it, not too less and not too overpowering either. I had never thought I would enjoy a confection with pieces of coconut and mustard oil in it so much, but I did! And, this guy added some mustard-oil-y pickle to it too, which tasted just gorgeous!


I have had jhal muri in Bangalore before, but didn’t like it much. Now, I know why. Those plates of jhal muri were so underwhelming, so not right, so not the real thing.

I can’t wait to try my hands out at making jhal muri at home. Will I get the taste right? Only time can tell.


Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Calcutta Vignettes – 3

Visiting Nahoum’s, One Of Calcutta’s Oldest Surviving (Jewish) Bakeries

Our recent trip to Calcutta was one for which we didn’t do anything but the most basic of research. We wanted to take things as they come, to let experiences come to us rather than our going to them. Thanks to this, I hadn’t known about Nahoum’s before one of my acquaintances told us about the place just a couple of days before we were to leave on our trip. ‘If you are going to visit Calcutta, you must visit Nahoum’s,’ she said, and proceeded to give us the names of the stuff that we absolutely must try out there.

The minute the said acquaintance described Nahoum’s to me, I knew I had to go there – I simply had to go. How could I not want to visit one of Calcutta’s oldest bakeries, over a 100 years old? One set up by a Baghdadi Jew in 1902, which still holds a place in the hearts of the foodies of Calcutta? One that is described as a place with a charming, charming, old-world vibe to it?

So, checking out this bakery was high on our priority list, and we went on to do the task one humid afternoon when we had not much else to do.

The place, in itself, didn’t disappoint. Located bang in the middle of the bustling New Market in Calcutta, Nahoum’s (Nahoum & Sons, Dainty Confectionery, actually) is a large-ish bakery-cum-shop that oozes charm. With a high ceiling, glass cases all around showcasing baked goodies, an old-fashioned till and a well-worn floor, the place surely took us back in time.

Part of Nahoum’s bakery-cum-shop in New Market

When we visited, though, most of the glass cases were empty. There was no tell-tale sign of baking wafting out of the bakery, and not many goodies left to sell. There were freshly baked plum cakes, however, sitting pretty on one of the counters (different from the freshly baked fruit cakes sitting on another counter), and some biscuits and other savouries.

We decided to sample things based on our inner compass, our friend’s recommendations, and by those of one of the shop’s assistants.

First off, we had a vegetable pattice.

Vegetable pattice at Nahoum’s

The shell of the vegetable pattice wasn’t flaky, like those of the vegetable puffs we are so used to in Bangalore. The stuffing wasn’t as tasty, either. Overall, the vegetable pattice disappointed.

We moved on to the next item on our hit-list – Nahoum’s famous rum ball.

Rum ball at Nahoum’s

Now, the rum ball was absolutely delicious. The outer shell was made of hardened chocolate, and inside was a lovely chocolate cake that smelled of rum, but not overpoweringly so. For us, the rum ball turned out to be the star of all that we sampled at Nahoum’s.

The rest of the goodies we chose, we asked for them to be packed so we could get them back home to Bangalore with us.

The other stuff that came with us from Nahoum’s to Bangalore: Orange biscuits (top left), chocolate brownie (below), plum cake (bottom-most), macaroons (to the right of the plum cake), and vanilla fudge (top right)

I absolutely had to dig into these goodies the minute we were settled in, back home.

Sadly, the orange biscuits turned out highly disappointing – they felt under-baked and there was only a very mild hint of orange, unlike the strong orange fragrance that I had expected them to have.

The brownie was dry – very different from the moist, gooey chocolate brownies that I have become accustomed to having in Bangalore – but tasty. It smelt of chocolate and walnuts and I liked it, in spite of it being quite dry for my taste. I didn’t love it, but I liked it.

The plum cake – one of Nahoum’s signature products – was strictly average, I am sorry to say. The cake was thick and dense, not airy like the gorgeous, gorgeous plum cakes that I have eaten in Bangalore. The candied fruit and nuts were all settled at the bottom of the cake, and the top part was only batter, as if the cake hadn’t been mixed properly. The plum cake didn’t entirely disappoint in taste, but it wasn’t eye-poppingly great either, as I had somehow expected it to be.

The macaroons were good. They were crunchy on the top, slightly soft on the inside, without an overpowering aroma of egg, the way I have experienced with this kind of macaroons elsewhere. I didn’t fall in love with them, but they were good.

The vanilla fudge, again, was very disappointing. They felt like cakes of flour and sugar and butter, with only a tinge of vanilla in it.

The behaviour of the staff was just about average; I am sorry to say this, but there was a lot of room for improvement on that count. Prices are slightly on the higher side as compared to an average bakery – all of the goodies that we got (including the vegetable pattice and the rum ball) cost us INR 500.

Overall, our experience with Nahoum’s was good in some ways, not great in some other ways. It has, definitely, whetted my appetite for their confectioneries, though. I can’t wait to go back to the shop when the shelves are full and to try my luck at getting some of their Jewish delicacies, which they do stock at times. I have a feeling I am going to love some of the confectioneries from this place, some of which I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on yet.


A little bit of the history of Nahoum’s, for the uninitiated

Nahoum’s was set up in the very same place in New Market, Calcutta, in 1902 by Nahoum Israel, a Jew who came to the city from Baghdad. Subsequent generations from the family took over the running of the shop after Israel and, I believe, the business is still within the family. Apparently, the shop hasn’t changed much since it was originally established – it has the same furniture and display cases.

Nahoum’s doesn’t have an online presence. The fact that the bakery still survives is, largely, attributed to the efforts of the subsequent owners, after Israel, and to the great taste of some of their products.

The bakery is hugely famous for its plum cake for which, I hear, the residents of Calcutta form long-winding queues at the time of Christmas. If you happen to visit the bakery just before a Jewish festival, you might also be lucky enough to find baklava, date babas, and a whole lot of other exotic bakes. Their samosas and bread are supposed to be really good, too, but sadly, we couldn’t sample either – there were no samosas to be had, and the bread would have expired by the time we got back to Bangalore.

The Jewish population in Calcutta is fast dwindling, and was reported to be as low as just 20 in 2015 by this source. With the dwindling in numbers of this community, the availability Jewish baked goodies in Calcutta is also fast going down. Nahoum’s is believed to be the only surviving Jewish bakery in the city.


Have you ever been to Nahoum’s? What was your experience there like?


Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

Calcutta Vignettes – 2

The Calcutta airport is lovely, and I had a lovely time exploring it, thanks (but no thanks!) to the fact that our flight back to Bangalore was delayed.

I enjoyed visiting the Biswa Bangla store and picking out some cute little souvenirs from Bengal to get back home.

I also loved how part of the airport has been done up with Bengali letters on the ceiling. So beautiful!



We got hold of some fresh, fresh, fresh water chestnuts in Calcutta – they were everywhere in the markets! I’ve never seen them this fresh anywhere else.


And, yes, if you hadn’t known before, we are the sort of people who would stroll around in markets on a holiday. Also, yes, we are the sort of people whose hand baggage on the flight back home would consist of vegetables and stuff from the market, among other things. 🙂


There was a Kali Pooja pandal right next to the hotel we were staying at in Calcutta, and we loved visiting it at different times in the day, every day. I loved watching the priests do the traditional dhunachi aarti – the smell, the feel of it is just amazing!



I hadn’t known that something like Kahaani 2 existed until we went to Calcutta and spotted this poster in the Gariahat market. At first glance, both the OH and I thought it was an actual ‘Wanted’ ad by the police, for a person who looked amazingly similar to Vidya Balan. Something in me told me to take a pic of the ad, and only when I lifted up my camera to do it did I realise my faux pas.

The husband and I went on to have a hearty laugh post this. Bubboo didn’t understand head or tail of why we were laughing so much!


Kahaani was the trigger for my craving to visit Calcutta, when I think back to the time I watched the movie. I had always been fascinated by the city, but this movie took that fascination to an entirely new level. The Durga Pujo scenes, the Sindoor Khela, the craftsmen making idols in preparation for Pujo, Vidya Balan walking through the tiny bylanes of Calcutta – all of it made me want to visit Calcutta desperately.So, it is a beautiful coincidence that we spotted this ad for the Kahaani sequel in Calcutta.


I was so thrilled when I spotted the famous Gondhoraj Lebu of Bengal in Gariahat market! Of course, I had to get some home. 🙂



Bengal loves its fish, which is no secret. We came across fish and other seafood wherever we went in Calcutta.

This scene, in New Market, of a man carefully choosing the fish he wanted from the fish seller’s sack is something that stayed in my mind for a long, long time afterwards. I absolutely had to click a picture.



Walking through any street of Calcutta has to be a delight for a photographer, with all those ancient, ancient buildings all around. Any wonder I always had my camera on the ready all the time when we were out in Calcutta, leaving the OH to carry, cajole, talk to entertain Bubboo? 🙂

An old, old, old building near New Market


Paan parlours are everywhere in Calcutta, in every lane that you turn into. What interested me most about these parlours is a rope tied to a pillar outside most of these parlours, burning away slowly from one side. Smokers light up their cigarettes and beedis using these ropes, which is something I have never seen anywhere else before.

This particular paan wallah near the Gariahat market made such a pretty picture that I couldn’t stop myself from clicking a photograph of him.


We didn’t try out any Calcutti paan all the while we were in the city, I realise now. Sad, but nothing that can’t be rectified by another visit.


We loved looking at the little souvenir shops outside Kalighat, mostly selling pooja paraphernalia, idols of Kali Maa, sindoor and shankh pola.

This particular shop had very beautiful idols, and I absolutely had to take a picture of it!



There was this stall in New Market that was selling the cutest of Kolhapuri chappals for little babies. I fell in love with the little ones, just as I do with any piece of little clothing or footwear meant for babies.

Considering that Bubboo isn’t used to wearing chappals – she mostly wears shoes and buckle-on sandals – we didn’t buy any. But these are definitely on my hit list the next time I visit Calcutta.



Well, that is that for now. Until the next post, be good, you folks!

I hope you enjoyed this little trip through Calcutta!

Have you read the other posts about our recent trip to Calcutta? Please do, if you haven’t already!

Man Proposes…

Calcutta Vignettes

Calcutta Diaries: Pastry Sampling At Flury’s, Park Street