Sago Fritters, 3 Ways| Healthy No-Fry Sabudana Vada

I’m so thrilled to be associated with this amazing group of food bloggers, as part of something that is called the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. These ladies decide upon a theme every week, cook something based on that theme, and each one posts her dish on her blog the coming Monday! Foodie Monday Blog Hop completed 100 weeks the last week, and I am so excited to have joined this group of very talented bloggers now, at the milestone of the 101st week. 🙂

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The theme for this week’s Foodie Blog Hop is ‘vrat ka khaana‘ or ‘food that you can eat while fasting’. Soon, the month of August will set in, and the festive season will begin in India. With the onset of the monsoons, a lot of people fast on various festive occasions, and a whole lot of delicacies are cooked up then. I don’t really have much experience with fasting, but I do have some basic knowledge of the ingredients that are commonly ‘allowed’ during these times.

For this week’s blog hop, I decided to post about a fasting food that my family and I love having at any time – Sago fritters aka sabudana vada. Here, I have included three different ways to prepare sabudana vada – the traditional deep-fried version, the shallow-fried version for the calorie-conscious, and the appam pan version for those who don’t want to compromise on either health or taste.

Now, let’s check out how to make sabudana vada, shall we?

Ingredients (serves 4):

1. 1-1/2 cups of sago (sabudana)

2. Rock salt (sendha namak), to taste

3. 6 medium-sized potatoes

4. 3-4 tablespoons sugar

5. A small bunch of fresh coriander leaves

6. A 1-inch piece of ginger

7. 2 green chillies

8. Red chilli powder, to taste

9. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder

10. 1/2 cup raw peanuts

11. 2 pinches of asafoetida (hing)

12. Oil, as needed to make the fritters

Method:

Get the batter for the sago fritters ready first, and then proceed to make them whichever way you want.

For the batter:

  1. Soak the sago in just enough water to cover it, for about 2 hours. Then spread it out in a colander and let the excess water drain away. Keep the sago this way, covered, till you use it.
  2. Cut each potato into two, and pressure cook the pieces, for 4 whistles. When the pressure releases completely, run cold water over the potatoes and peel them. Mash the potato pieces. Keep aside.
  3. Chop the coriander leaves finely. Keep aside.
  4. Dry roast the peanuts on medium flame, till they are crisp. When they are cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Pulse them for a second or two in the mixer. You need to just coarsely crush them and not make a fine powder. Keep aside.
  5. Peel the ginger, and chop it finely. Chop the green chillies finely too. Crush the ginger and green chillies using a mortar and pestle, and keep the paste aside.
  6. In a large mixing bowl, add in the mashed potatoes, roasted peanuts, crushed ginger and green chillies, salt and red chilli powder to taste, chopped coriander, and turmeric powder. Mix well.
  7. Now, add in the soaked sago to the mixing bowl. Mix well, but gently.

Now, you can use this batter to make sabudana vada, as little or as much guilt-free as you want it to be!

To make the deep-fried version

The deep-fried sabudana vadas will be beautifully crispy on the outside, yummylicious inside. This is my most favourite way to make sago fritters but, of course, it comes with guilt associated to it, thanks to the deep frying.

  1. Heat enough oil to fry the sago fritters, in a heavy-bottomed pan, over high flame.
  2. When the oil is nice and hot, reduce the flame to low-medium.
  3. Make rounds, fritters or flat cutlets out of the batter and fry them in the hot oil, a couple at a time. Fry them until crisp and brown on the outside, turning them gently now and then, to ensure that they are well cooked on all sides.
  4. Transfer to a serving plate. Serve immediately.
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Left: Deep-fried, crispy sabudana vada, Right: Shallow-fried, not-so-crispy, but still delish sabudana vada

To make the shallow-fried version

This version of sabudana vada is equally tasty, but not as crunchy on the outside as the deep-fried ones. However, it consumes a lesser amount of oil as compared to the deep-fried version.

  1. Heat a dosa pan on high flame, till drops of water dance on it.
  2. Spread a teaspoon or so of oil on the pan. Reduce the flame to low-medium.
  3. Make flat patties out of the batter and place a couple of them on the pan. Drizzle some oil around them.
  4. Let the patties cook on low-medium flame till the bottom gets browned.
  5. Then, flip over and cook on the other side, adding a little more oil around the patties.
  6. Transfer to a serving plate. Serve immediately.
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Left: Healthy, no-fry sabudana vada being made in an appam pan, Right: The finished product, straight out of the appam pan!

To make the healthier appam pan version

Did you know that you can make healthy, no-fry sabudana vada in an appam pan? The vada made this way are just as crispy and delish as the deep-fried version, but use just a fraction of the oil!

  1. Heat an appam pan on high flame till water droplets dance on it.
  2. Turn down the flame to low-medium.
  3. Form small balls out of the batter and place one each in each cavity of the appam pan.
  4. Drizzle some oil around each ball.
  5. Let the balls cook, covered, till they are crisp and browned on the bottom.
  6. Then, flip them over to the other side, and drizzle some more oil around them.
  7. Cook again, covered, till they turn crisp and brown on the other side as well.
  8. Transfer to a serving plate. Serve immediately.

Notes:

  1. Sendha namak or rock salt is typically used in dishes during fasting in India, in place of table salt. If you plan to make these sabudana vada on a casual day, and not for the purpose of fasting, you can add regular table salt instead.
  2. On a non-fasting day, sabudana vada can be served as is, or with tomato ketchup or spicy green chutney. Here‘s how I make the spicy green chutney – You can make it without onion and garlic, if you are making it for the purpose of fasting.
  3. We, as a family, have never really fasted, so I am not very sure of the kinds of ingredients that can be used to cook ‘fasting food’. Moreover, the ingredients that are ‘allowed’ to be consumed during fasting differ from one region to another, one family to another. Here, I have tried to use ingredients that I have seen other families, other people, use during fasting. If you plan to make these vadas for the purpose of fasting, please do check on the ingredients as per your family’s guidelines.
  4. We like the hint of sugar in our sabudana vada – they taste a lot like Gujarati sabudana khichdi. You may avoid adding the sugar, if you don’t want to.

You like? I hope you’ll try out each of three versions of sabudana vada too! When you do, please don’t forget to tell me how they turned out!

Travel Shot: At The Vana Durgai Temple, Kathirmangalam

We spotted this beauty in the grounds of the Vana Durga temple at Kathiramangalam, near Kumbakonam. We made a pit-stop at the temple during our recent visit to Kumbakonam.

Is she resting? Abandoned? The story stays unknown to me. Whatever she might have gone through, she is extremely beautiful and captivating, for sure. I couldn’t resist this picture.

About the Vana Durgai temple, Kathiramangalam

The village of Kathiramangalam, a short drive away from Kumbakonam, houses a beautiful, ancient temple dedicated to Goddess Durga, where this picture was taken. The 6-foot tall idol of the Goddess within has a rustic beauty to it, the same way that the small temple itself does.

There are several legends associated with this temple, popularly called the Vana Durgai (Forest Durga) temple. It is believed that the famed sage Agasthiyar performed penance in the forests at this place, and that it is he who created the idol of Goddess Durga here.

Popular legend has it that the Goddess visits the holy land of Kasi every night, and comes back in the mornings to preside over the temple in the day time. She is believed to be highly powerful, and devotees come from far and near to seek her blessings or relief from their problems. The special pooja held at this temple during Rahu Kaalam is very popular.

Tips for travellers

  1. This temple is located in the midst of an almost forest-like area, with no shops, ATMs or eateries nearby. If you plan to visit, do make sure that you are well prepared for this.
  2. The temple is located roughly 15 km away from Kumbakonam and about 7 km from Mayiladuthurai. Kumbakonam and Mayiladuthurai are the nearest railway stations, while the nearest airport is at Trichy.
  3. A taxi from either Mayiladuthurai or Kumbakonam is the best way to reach this temple.
  4. You can combine a visit to this temple with visits to several other temples in and around Mayiladuthurai or Kumbakonam. Do speak to your cab driver beforehand and fix up an itinerary.
  5. The Rahu Kaalam pooja at this temple is believed to be highly auspicious. If you are interested in witnessing it, do find out the exact timings of the pooja and plan your visit accordingly.
  6. Different kinds of flowers are offered to the Goddess here by devotees seeking relief from different issues. For instance, the ‘manoranjitham’ flower is offered by people seeking reunion for separated couples, while roses are offered by devotees seeking marriage.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our trip to Kumbakonam. If not, please do!

Acquainted, finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, in the midst of Masimagam

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Travel shot: The man and his friend, the beast

Kalyana Sundareswarar temple, Thirumanancheri: The temple of marriages

Travel shot: Kumbakonam vettalai (betel leaves)

Garbharakshambigai temple, Tanjore: Abode of the Mother who protects the womb

 

 

The Living Root Bridge Of Nohwet Village, Near Mawlynnong

I am sure every person who has ever dreamt of going to North-East India has read about the living root bridges that are common in this part of the world. These bridges, made by joining the roots of rubber trees (Ficus Elastica), are very much a part of living trees and are, in consequence, live too. They are believed to have the ability to renew and strengthen themselves, as the trees grow and gain strength. Quite safe and sturdy, these living bridges form part of everyday life for the various tribes inhabiting North-East India.

The lesser known living root bridge of Nohwet Village

The living root bridge of Cherrapunjee, a double-decker one, is perhaps the best known of all such bridges. Crossing the Cherrapunjee living root bridge (a UNESCO heritage site) is said to be a must-do, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience. The scenery around is extremely beautiful, but the trek is an arduous one, involving the climbing of over 3000 steps. At the end of this tough trek, you are amply rewarded with a glimpse of the gorgeous Rainbow Falls, but this task that can take hours on end is not meant for the faint-hearted, people who aren’t really fit or used to trekking. Our tour guide advised us not to attempt the trek with a child in tow, and the husband and I acquiesced, understanding that our fitness levels are definitely way below good.

Contrary to popular belief, though, the Cherrapunjee bridge is not the only living root bridge that exists – there are many more, some lesser known, some not known to tourists at all. There’s an equally beautiful and awe-inspiring living root bridge in the village of Nohwet, near Mawylnnong, relatively lesser known to tourists, for instance. Our tour guide suggested we visit this bridge, seeing that we weren’t in a position to do the Cherrapunjee one, considering getting down to this one wasn’t as tough a job to undertake. And that is exactly what we did.

Scenes from the Nohwet living root bridge

The minute you land in Nohwet, a little village, the site of the living root bridge, you begin to feel a definite change in the surroundings around you. This village is very well structured and organised, and it is clear that a lot of thought has gone into its layout. There are proper channels for rain water to flow, cobbled streets and lamp posts. The houses are small but beautiful – thatched huts with a small porch, a little patch of green around the front, hens roosting here and there. Following the example of Mawlynnong, I suppose, Nohwet too is very clean, with spotless roads and conical bamboo dustbins set up everywhere to collect waste. For a proper tourist spot to be that clean is, I believe, something highly commendable.

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A thatched house in Nohwet village

Walking along the beautiful Nohwet village, following the signboards clearly directing us, we headed towards the living root bridge. Along the way are quaint little shops, selling pineapples and local berries and jackfruit and bamboo artifacts and what not.

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A shop selling snacks and refreshments at Nohwet village, just before the trek to the living root bridge begins

After just a few minutes of walking, the gorgeous sound of water gushing and gurgling filled our ears, and we knew we had arrived. A minute or so later, we came to a place that I can only describe as heavenly – lovely, lovely green all around, almost a jungle, the sound of water and crickets chirping renting the air, a river gushing by, and a magnificent bridge made entirely out of the roots of trees straddling the river. I couldn’t help falling in love with the place there and then, and a ‘Wow!’ escaped me. If this lesser-known bridge was so beautiful, just how beautiful would the double-decker living root bridge of Cherrapunjee be?

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The rocky descent to the living root bridge

The descent to the spot of the living root bridge is rocky, but not very tough. We managed to get down in about 15 minutes, walking slowly and gradually, holding on to each other and the bub. The sight that met our eyes was totally worth every ounce of energy we spent on the descent, that is for sure.

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The living root bridge over the river Thyllong, at Nohwet

The Thyllong, a river held sacred by the Khasis, flows extremely picturesquely beneath the bridge. The living root bridge has been prepared by the locals by training the roots of rubber trees, trees which were planted as far back as 1840. The plaque at the spot doesn’t indicate when exactly the bridge was built. It is, however, clear that the bridge was built so as to enable people from the surrounding villagers to cross the river, which I hear gets unimaginably swollen in the monsoons.

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Another view of the living root bridge at Nohwet

The bridge is still very much in use by the villagers and, in return for a nominal entry fee (INR 20 per head or so), tourists are allowed to visit it as well.

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Another view of the Thyllong river

It is such a serene, magical place, something straight out of the pages of a fairytale. We managed to visit at the best time, just before the sun went down, when there were not many tourists around. I would have loved to lounge around this place, sitting on a rock by that gurgling river and reading or simply staring at all that bounty of nature, soaking it all in. Sadly, though, we had a hotel to check into, a drive to head on, places on our to-do list to check off, and could spend only a short while (much too short for my taste, actually) here.

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The Thyllong river

Some other time, some other vacation, I am going to make sure I stay put at this place to my heart’s content.. Till then, I will make do with memories. 🙂

Tips for travellers

  1. A trip to the Nohwet living root bridge can be combined with a visit to the adjacent village of Mawlynnong.
  2. A boat ride at Dawki and a visit to the India-Bangladesh border at Tamabil can also be combined with a visit to this living root bridge. Do check with your tour operator on this.
  3. Mawlynnong, as far as I understand, can be accessed only via taxis, private or shared.
  4. The living root bridge can be visited any time of the year, but monsoons are the best time to do this, actually. During monsoons (between March and August), the river is apparently at its beautiful best.
  5. There is an Eco Park at the same spot as this living root bridge. We weren’t able to visit it due to paucity of time, but I hear it is very beautiful too.

I hope you have been reading my posts about our recent trip to North-East India, and enjoying them too. If not, please do check them out!

The beginning of school and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds at Meghalaya

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed at Shillong

10 Experiences We Thoroughly Enjoyed In Shillong

Our recent trip to the North-East began with a brief stop at the sweltering Guwahati, where the only thing we managed to do was visit the famed Kamakhya temple, that too from the outside. The next morning, armed with a good night’s rest, all rejuvenated and excited, we set out for Shillong by road, an approximately 2.5-hour journey if you don’t come across any major traffic jams. We were to stay in Shillong for 2 days.

The roads between Guwahati and Shillong are excellent, and we had a very smooth drive. In fact, we wouldn’t even have realised we had neared Shillong if the quality of the air hadn’t begun to change after a certain point. The closer we got to Shillong, the clearer, the crisper, the colder, the air became. Shillong itself was cold, in the peak of the monsoon season, and we set about sightseeing with jackets and umbrellas in tow.

A brief note about Shillong

From the time of the British rule until 1972, Shillong was the capital of the state of Assam (back then, an undivided state as Meghalaya hadn’t yet been formed). In the year 1972, when Meghalaya became a separate state, Shillong was retained as its capital, while Guwahati was chosen as the capital of Assam.

Shillong is a small but extremely beautiful city – with rolling hills, flowers, waterfalls and pine trees all around. The city enjoys pleasant weather all year round, thanks to its location of about 4000 feet above sea level, but is all the more beautiful in the period from March to June.

The city gets its name from U Shyllong, a revered deity of the local Khasi tribe. Shillong has also been nicknamed ‘Scotland of the East’ because, apparently, the beautiful weather and rolling hills of the city reminded the Britishers of Scotland.

Close on the heels of the British, Christian missionaries arrived in Shillong, establishing churches and schools and spreading Christianity among the local tribespeople. Some of the educational institutes established in Shillong during this period – St Edmunds and IIM-Shillong, for instance – have made the city proud and famous. You will find several relics from the British rule and the reign of the missionaries in Shillong, including the city’s famous rock-and-roll culture. Most of the locals here still follow Christianity, introduced to them by the missionaries. Archery, golf, football and polo are popular sports here.

10 experiences we thoroughly enjoyed in Shillong

We fell in love with Shillong at first glance. As we explored the place, a little on foot and a little by cab, this love only deepened.

Shillong is a popular tourist destination, and it was teeming with people when we visited. We were lucky, though, to manage some off-the-beaten-track experiences here, along with checking out the local tourist spots.

Would you like to know which experiences in Shillong we loved the most? Here you go!

1. Gorging on gorgeous pineapples en route to Shillong

On the way to Shillong from Guwahati, you will come across many little stalls that sell a variety of things, from pickles made the old-fashioned way to local varieties of bananas, jackfruit, banana flowers, pineapples and arum root.

You will come across a vast number of pickles here – bamboo shoot, mango, local berries, gooseberries, raw mango, local fish varieties, and what not. These pickles are made (and sold at these stalls) by people residing in the villages, in the mountains en route. Most of these pickles contain nothing but salt, chilli powder and oil, and are preserved the ancient way – using sunlight.

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One of the little stalls that we passed en route to Shillong from Guwahati. Look at all those bottles of pickles lined up!

We made a pit-stop at a couple of these stores, and the beautiful pineapples here were what caught our fancy the most. We ate the loveliest ever pineapples here – perfectly ripe, so sweet the slices felt like they were dipped in sugar syrup, so juicy the juice ran down to our elbows when we bit into them. The taste of these pineapples still lingers on in my mind, and I now realise how much the fruit available in Bangalore pales in comparison to this gorgeousness.

The families manning these stalls are very friendly too, and we had a lovely time clicking photographs of them and talking to them as we ate.

2. Basking in the beautiful views of the Umiam Lake

About 15 km away from Shillong lies the beautiful, beautiful Umiam Lake. This 220 square km man-made lake was built as part of a hydroelectric project by the Assam State Electricity Board. Over time, the lake has grown to become a major tourist attraction and picnic spot for the locals. Now, you will find stalls selling snacks, photo ops, washrooms, a play area for kids, adventure sports and boating facilities here, too.

The lake looks exceptionally lovely, breath-takingly so, during sunset. You can view the lake from a viewpoint on the highway passing above it, too, and this view is extremely pretty as well.

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Aerial view of Umiam lake, from the highway above. Isn’t that super picturesque?

They say the Umiam lake looks different at different times of the day, depending on how the light falls over the waters. It looks different in different seasons, too, apparently. We spent some quiet time here, just sitting and gazing at the calm, seemingly unruffled waters of the lake, in awe of its beauty.

3. Getting up close and personal with the ducks at Ward’s Lake

All of us – the husband, bub and I – absolutely loved Ward’s Lake in Shillong. This large lake, with a big garden around it is so very pretty! In a lot of ways – the variety of trees in the park, the sloping grounds, the cobbled pathways – reminded me of Sims Park in Ooty, a place beloved to the husband and me.

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Part of the beautiful, beautiful Ward’s Lake in Shillong

We spent quite a bit of time at Ward’s Lake, leisurely walking around the garden, soaking in the beauty around us. We had a lovely paddle-boat ride in the lake – something we dismissed as a very touristy thing to do initially, but absolutely loved it once we got into it. The bub loved, loved, loved watching the ducks at the park in action – they are so used to people that they get really, really close to you; we had never seen ducks at such close quarters before.

If we had had more time, I’d have loved to lounge around in Ward’s Lake for hours on end, reading a book and just inhaling as much of that pollution-free air as I could.

4. Exploring the delights of Police Bazaar

Police Bazaar is one of the biggest markets of Shillong city, a bustling place that is best explored on foot. Here, you will find shops selling everything, from readymade garments, cosmetics, footwear and groceries to the locally produced betelnut, knives, berries, plants, fruits and vegetables and bamboo handicrafts – all at very reasonable rates.

In this bazaar, you will find several traditional eateries, modern cafes, bakeries and sweet shops, too. Come evening, and the bazaar comes alive, transforming into a food lover’s paradise, with road-side stalls selling kebabs, chaat, roasted peanuts, noodles, chowmein, fried eggs, and what not.

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Women prepping the locally grown betelnut at Police Bazaar, Shillong

We loved the time we spent walking around the bylanes of Police Bazaar, taking in the sights and sounds and smells, trying to capture as much of the action as we could on camera, bargaining and shopping, understanding the ways of the locals, experimenting with local food.

Yes, the Police Bazaar area can become quite crowded, especially during the evenings, but I would highly recommend a visit here. This place will definitely give you a taste of local flavours.

5. Checking out the ‘Skywalk’ at Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture

The Don Bosco Centre For Indigenous Culture in Mawlai, Shillong, is a great starting point if you want to understand the cultures of the many tribes that reside in North-East India. The museum houses pictures of the various tribespeople, their clothing, utensils and jewellery, as well as life-size models depicting their daily lives. The little shop in the museum sells Meghalaya-special souvenirs, such as locally grown tea and turmeric powder, as well bamboo handicrafts. There is a small cafe in the museum premises, too, which will give you a taste of North-Eastern food.

To be honest, the husband and I weren’t too impressed with the museum. It is extensive, yes, and it is definitely a good place to understand North-Eastern cultures. That said, there was an air of commercialisation around it, that feeling of there being too many models and not enough actual relics from the past like you would expect to see in a museum like this. That said, I still maintain that this is a place you mustn’t miss out on, on your visit to Shillong.

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A church, set against the backdrop of the city and the hills, as seen from the Skywalk

The part of the museum that we absolutely loved was the ‘Skywalk’, a winding pathway that takes you up, up, up, from where you can get breath-taking views of Shillong. Don’t forget to check out the Skywalk whenever you visit the museum!

6. Soaking in the peace at the Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery

The Shillong Gaden Choeling Monastery is not your typical tourist destination. It is a place of worship for Buddhist monks, a small place nestled in the foothills of Lumparing, Shillong. It is a scenic place, though, and a very peaceful one.

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Prayer wheels at the monastery

We visited the monastery early in the morning, while incense was being burnt near the prayer wheels and the chants of the monks filled the air around us. There were no other tourists, and the place emanated a pleasant, peaceful, relaxed vibe. We just walked around for a while, looking at this and that, and that sat in to bask in the peaceful atmosphere. Absolute bliss, I tell you!

7. Staying at the home of a Khasi family, at Dew Drop In

The husband and I have always loved staying in homestays wherever we go. We think it is a great way of understanding local culture and cuisine, a wonderful opportunity to interact with locals. Now, with the bub travelling with us, homestays work out best for us, where we manage to get kid-friendly food and other necessities under the same roof, without too much of a hassle.

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Dew Drop In, the charming homestay we stayed at, in Shillong

While in Shillong, we were thrilled to know that our tour operator had arranged for a day’s stay at Dew Drop In, the home of a Khasi (one of the local tribes) family. The property is extremely beautiful, well managed and maintained. We had a delightful time staying here, looking around the place, admiring the artful way the house has been done up, checking out the gorgeous plants here, just chatting, reading on the terrace, and gorging on some wonderful Khasi food. Our guests were super friendly and courteous, taking care of our every need, and that made our stay all the more pleasant.

Don’t miss staying at this place whenever you are visiting Shillong. I can assure you that the experience will be totally worth it!

8. Relaxing at the Don Bosco Cathedral

The Mary Help Of Christians Cathedral in Shillong, popularly called the Don Bosco Cathedral is quite a popular tourist spot in the city. And why not? The church, said to be one of the oldest is Shillong, is a beautiful, beautiful Gothic structure. The surroundings are lush green, filled with the flowers that are a common sight all over Shillong. What’s more, you get a majestic view of the mountains of Shillong if you climb all the way to the top of the cathedral. I also hear the Cathedral housed refugees in times of war, saving them from the clutches of hunger and death.

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At the Don Bosco Cathedral, Shillong

This is the sort of place that fills you with peace the moment you set foot in it. There is that charming, old-world aura to the place, and memories of all those prayers that must have taken place here rush to you as you walk around. All that unadulterated, natural beauty around is sure to make you feel heady, as is the beautiful weather of Shillong. We spent a couple of hours here, much more than the average 15-20 minutes usually allotted to this place, just relaxing and soaking in the loveliness of it all. We absolutely loved every bit of it.

9. Walking along the very pretty golf course

The golf course at Shillong is a beautiful, beautiful thing. You might think – as we did, initially – about what exactly there is to see at a golf course. But, there is! This golf course is a huge expanse of green, dotted with pine trees, with some gorgeous views.

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At the beautiful Golf Course, Shillong

You must spend some relaxed time here, like we did – walking around, soaking in the peace, sampling local berries from the women vendors who frequent the place, taking pictures of the amazing surroundings, reading a book or listening to music, collecting pine cones, sitting below the pine trees and taking in their gorgeous scent as the wind ruffles their branches… this surely is a place that needs to be cherished.

10. Hogging authentic Khasi food at Red Rice and Dew Drop In

Being the foodie that I am, I wanted to try out at least a few authentic Khasi dishes while we were in Shillong. Considering that we are pure vegetarians and that the people of the North-East are predominantly meat-eaters, this was a slightly difficult task. Thankfully, our tour guide directed us to the right places where we did manage to get hold of some very authentic, vegetarian Khasi food.

During our stay at Dew Drop In, our Khasi hosts were more than happy to cook us an authentic local meal with vegetarian ingredients. Here, we got to sample Khasi daal (made with greens), mixed vegetable curry, jado stey (a Khasi dish of rice cooked with turmeric, green peas and onion), a pickle made with local sour berries, along with rotis, curd and green salad. Every single dish that was a part of this meal was absolutely delicious – simple but hearty, well cooked and flavourful.

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The very Khasi meal we had at Dew Drop In

Another such beautiful meal was at Red Rice in Police Bazaar, a small eatery that prides itself on serving proper Khasi food. Here, we sampled a Khasi thali, served with the locally consumed red rice. It was, sort of, marvelous to see how a meal could be cooked up with so little ingredients and yet be so fulfilling, so lovely. It set me thinking as to how we city dwellers do have a lot to learn from these people of the hills, who live every day in the face of hardships.

Khasi fare is definitely something that I want to try out in my own kitchen. Hopefully, soon!

In hindsight…

Well, that is all about the experiences we loved having in Shillong city. But then, of course, that is not all there is to Shillong. There is a whole lot more to be felt, explored, in the city, and I am so sure we have simply touched the outermost fringes. Beneath its touristy, vibrant exterior, there are surely layers to Shillong that we can fathom only when we make several more journeys to the place.

Apart from these experiences, we also visited the Rabindranath Tagore museum and Lady Hydari Park in Shillong. In this post, though, I chose to write only about those experiences that we absolutely loved. 

I hope you had fun reading this!

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Have you read my other posts about our North-East trip? If you haven’t yet, please do!

The beginning of school and a ‘schoolmoon’

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

Playing hide-and-seek with the clouds in Meghalaya

Playing Hide-And-Seek With The Clouds In Meghalaya

You know you are in Meghalaya when you often feel like you are standing amidst clouds. Here, you will often come across clouds obscuring an entire mountain range, wiping it out of your eyesight. Here, you will often feel clouds wrapping around you, leaving you mesmerised and cold, as if you have just stepped inside a life-size refrigerator.

While holidaying in Meghalaya, one of the husband’s and my favourite pastimes was playing hide-and-seek with the clouds. Like two excitable kids, we would shout out – ‘Look, there come the clouds!’. We would watch, fascinated, as the clouds would blot out things as big as elephants from our line of vision, letting us see only that which they wanted us to see.

See, for instance, this set of pictures taken at the Arwah caves in Cherrapunjee, Meghalaya. These pictures have been taken within seconds of each other and, yet, how different the landscape looks in each one!

This was the scene in front of us when we reached Arwah caves…

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Clouds rising up from a valley amidst the mountains

… which, within seconds, went to this…

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Rising up, up, up

… and then this…

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Higher and higher and higher go the clouds

… and this.

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Can you tell there is a mountain behind those clouds?

I could go on watching this for hours on end! I would have done just that, if I had been on a long, long trip, without having to bother about a budget or time or other destinations to check out.

The name ‘Meghalaya’ is so very apt for this north-eastern state, I say. It means ‘abode of the clouds’ (Megh-alaya), and the clouds, really and truly, do reside here. I’m not sure who coined the name, but is surely is perfect. No wonder Rabindranath Tagore loved this state enough to spend a large part of his life here, and was moved enough to write poetry.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t checked them out so far, please do!

The beginning of school and a schoolmoon

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating goddess

10 reasons to plan for at least a day’s stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village

10 Reasons To Plan For At Least A Day’s Stay at Mawlynnong, Asia’s Cleanest Village

About 80 km away from Shillong and Cherrapunjee, amidst the hills of Meghalaya, there lies a little village called Mawlynnong. In June 2015, the village was recorded to have 500 residents.

Nature is at its bountiful best in and around the village, as it is everywhere in Meghalaya, and the Indo-Bangladesh border isn’t very far. These aren’t the things that the village of Mawlynnong is known for, though. The village – often referred to as ‘God’s own garden’ – is known for the cleanliness it maintains. The Discover India magazine did a feature on the place in the year 2003, calling it ‘the cleanest village in Asia’. Mawlynnong, slowly and gradually, began to get famous post this. Today, it has hundreds of tourists visiting it, wanting to check out whether it is actually as neat and clean as claims have been made for it to be.

I got interested in Mawlynnong after seeing this video about the place, a while ago, a WhatsApp forward. I thought it was definitely a place that I would like to at least ‘check out’. Then, I mentally added the place to my ever-growing list of places-I-must-visit. Little did I know then that my wish was about to come true, and soon enough at that.

When we were planning for our ‘schoolmoon’ to parts of North-East India, our tour guide asked if we would like to visit Mawlynnong. It was then that a tubelight flashed on in my head, and I made the connection – The video I had seen some time ago? That place was in North-East India, near Shillong, where we would be staying for a bit. We HAD to visit it – this was a God-made plan! ‘Of course!,’ I told him. And that was that.

‘Not many people stay in Mawlynnong, though,’ he warned us. ‘Most tourists just go there, look around for a while, take a few pictures, and then head back. There’s nothing much to do there – it’s a small village, after all. You guys will be staying there for a night, since you are on a week’s holiday,’ he clarified.

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When We Reached Mawlynnong..

… after a ride through extremely scenic roads, we realised what our tour guide had meant. Charming as the village was, with its huts and cobbled streets and greenery everywhere, it was small – we could walk through its length and breadth in the matter of an hour. However, at the end of our day’s stay in Mawlynnong, the husband and I had fallen in love with the place. Mawlynnong had turned out to be the highlight of our entire trip – the place we had bonded with the most. When it was time to go, we left Mawlynnong with heavy hearts, wishing we could have been there longer, promising each other we would come back to the village, hopefully soon, hopefully for longer.

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See how seriously the village takes cleanliness?

Yes, there’s nothing much to do in Mawlynnong, if you consider the place from a tourist’s perspective. But, that is precisely what we loved here. We loved the way silence engulfed us here. We loved the fact that there is nothing – absolutely nothing – to divert your attention from the village – no TV in the homestay we stayed at, no Internet connection, no WiFi. We loved walking through the clean, clean, clean village, listening to the sound of a mountain stream gushing by, admiring the little gardens in everyone’s front yards. We loved talking to the locals, watching them go about their everyday business. We loved the quaint, ancient church that the village houses. We loved climbing up on to the viewpoints that have been built in the village, here and there, gawping at the views that they had to offer.

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A treehouse that acts as a viewpoint, in Mawlynnong village

So, whenever you get around to planning a trip to Meghalaya, the husband and I would urge you not to make Mawlynnong just a stop-over. We would highly recommend staying here, soaking in the charms of the village, at least for a day.

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10 Things We Enjoyed Doing In Mawlynnong, And Think You Would Too

Here are the things we loved doing in Mawlynnong, things that we would suggest you do too.

1. Walk around the village.

A walk around the village is surely something that I would suggest you do, either early in the morning or in the evening. Take the time to watch the villagers go about their daily chores, and be prepared to get touched by how simply they lead their lives. Talk to them, learn about their lives, the way we did – we found them so friendly and jovial!

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One of the houses in Mawlynnong village. Prettiness, ain’t it?

The village is small, but very pretty, with cobbled streets and huts with thatched roofs, little gardens in the front yard and roosters crowing in them. And, yes, Mawlynnong is really as clean as clean can be – it is tough to come across a speck of dirt on the roads. Villagers take sanitation and cleanliness seriously, and any locals or tourists who litter, defecate or spit on the roads are instantly penalised. Bamboo dustbins line the streets, and that is the only place trash goes to in this village, very seriously. Smoking is prohibited, and the use of plastic is extremely limited. There is no home without a toilet.

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A house in Mawlynnong. Can you spot the pineapples on the porch?

What is commendable is that this cleanliness drive is an initiative not by the government, but by the village itself. I understand there was once a bad bout of cholera in the village, following which the villagers decided to always actively keep their surroundings clean. They have been at it ever since.

This is no ordinary Indian village – you will surely enjoy walking through its nooks and crannies.

2. Visit the beautiful, ancient village church.

Mawlynnong houses the Church Of The Ephiphany, a beautiful, beautiful structure that was established as far back as 1902. It is a delight to walk around the church, imagining village life as it might once have been, when it would have been inhabited by the Britishers. There are still hints of the British Raj here – the very English accents of the locals, their difficulty in comprehending Hindi, their very Christian ways of living and praying.

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Church Of The Ephiphany, at Mawlynnong

The church doubles up as the village school and, as we walked around, we heard the voices of kids repeating their lessons aloud after their teachers. Their melodious voices and cherubic faces (we couldn’t resist a peek in!) lifted our spirits to no end.

3. Check out the neighbouring plains of Bangladesh.

If you climb up – high, high, high – on one of the few viewpoints in Mawlynnong, you can view the plains of Bangladesh that are right next to the village. The bamboo viewpoints are very well constructed, and the one that we climbed up on was quite sturdy and easy to access. The view from the top is lovely – you get a bird’s eye view of the entire village, all the greenery it is filled with, as well as the beginning of Bangladesh.

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Those plains in the distance, beyond the stand of trees? That’s where India ends and Bangladesh begins. Viewed from atop a viewpoint in Mawlynnong village.

You would be required to pay a small sum (INR 20 per head, I think) to use the viewpoints.

4. Breakfast at a village shack.

There are no fancy restaurants or even medium-sized eateries in Mawlynnong. There are a few small shacks, though, that serve a limited number of snacks, drinks and food items. Most of these shacks have the owner’s family living out back.

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One of the shacks serving tea and snacks in Mawlynnong village

It is a good idea to sit down for a while at one of these shacks, nibbling on some snacks and sipping on a cup of tea as you look out at the villagers going about. It is an experience that will surely rejuvenate you, for the fact that it is so very simple.

5. Shop for souvenirs at a local store.

As you walk around Mawlynnong village, you will come across a few stores (thatched huts that act as stores, actually) selling pineapples, jackfruit and some other souvenirs.

Bamboo is abundant in this part of the world, so you will definitely come across some bamboo artifacts. Considering the proximity to Guwahati – home of the rhinos and Kaziranga National Park – Mawlynnong also sells rhino souvenirs. Most of these souvenirs are quite reasonably priced, and you might want to pick some up for family and friends back home.

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A shop selling fruits and snacks, at Riwai village, just outside Mawlynnong

I treasure the papier mache rhino toy that I bought for Bubboo at one of these stalls, as well as the bamboo tray and miniature waste-paper basket I bought here as keepsakes.

6. Sleep to the light of the fireflies and the sounds of the forest.

At Mawylnnong, we stayed at one of the few homestays within the village. This was no luxurious place, mind you, just a basic place to stay with very basic facilities. We absolutely loved it, though.

We were asked to keep the wooden windows open because of the high humidity levels and cover ourselves with the mosquito nets that had been provided. Bedtime that night proved to be an experience that we will surely cherish, for a long time to come. As we lay down on our beds, the sounds of the forest (there’s a veritable forest in Mawlynnong, what with all the greenery around!) enveloped us. We stopped talking, and just listened – insects chirping, birds calling out, the wind rustling among the trees. We glanced up to see fireflies dancing around above our mosquito nets.

A short while later, it started raining heavily – a thunder shower. Every time lightning struck, it would be so loud that we would jump, feeling as if our very bed had been hit. The sounds soon lulled us to sleep.

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Stairway leading deeper and deeper and deeper into the greenery, in Mawlynnong village

We woke to more forest sounds – birds chirping incessantly, a mountain stream gushing nearby in full force, crickets singing – and those of people beginning their morning chores.

For city dwellers like us, who have gotten overly used to living in a concrete jungle, this experience was nothing short of bliss. I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.

7. Bathe in the mountain stream.

There is a gorgeous, gorgeous mountain stream flowing right through Mawlynnong. It was in full force when we visited, thanks to the rainfall.

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A stream gushing by.. we thoroughly enjoyed the cold waters of this stream!

We had an absolutely delightful time getting into the cold, cold, cold waters of the stream, bathing under a canopy made by trees, watching crabs scuttling by. The bub loved this experience so much she refused to get out of the stream!

8. Bask in the greenery surrounding the village. 

Mawlynnong is blessed with abundant greenery and natural beauty, like I said before. Betel nut, pineapples, bay leaves and the plant used to make brooms abound here. As per our cabbie, Mawlynnong is one of the country’s biggest producers of betel nut, bay leaves and brooms, supplying them to different states!

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Check out how green the village is, and how clean the roads! All the trash goes into these cone-shaped bamboo baskets that line the streets.

We had never seen fresh bay leaves or the jharu (broom) plant before we visited Mawlynnong, and thoroughly enjoyed these little discoveries. This was also the place where we saw, for the first ever time, pineapple growing on a plant and a blood orange tree (we had always seen these fruits only on supermarket shelves before!).

Sitting on the little balcony of our homestay, looking out at the blessedly green village is another thing that we loved, loved, loved doing. Fat chance of doing something like that in an urban jungle like Bangalore!

9. Gorge on the gorgeous pineapples.

The weather, the rolling slopes of the hills, the soil all over Meghalaya are extremely conducive to growing pineapples, and they abound in the state. You can spot pineapples growing here, in the wild, just like that. There is something special about pineapples of Meghalaya, too – they are beautiful things, too, very sweet and juicy. We had some of the best pineapples we have ever had, in Meghalaya, fresh in a way fruits in the city can never be, explosions of flavour in our mouths, naturally sugary sweet, juice dripping down to our elbows. Mawlynnong – part of Meghalaya, too – was no exception.

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Our first sight of pineapple on a plant!

 

Whenever you visit Mawlynnong, don’t forget to pig out on the locally grown pineapples!

10. Check out the balancing rock.

Mawlynnong is also home to the ‘balancing rock’, the surprising natural phenomenon of a large rock balanced on a tiny one. It is a small sight, true, nothing very grand but, hey, where else do you get to see such a thing?

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The balancing rock at Mawlynnong

You need to pay a small token of INR 10 per head to visit the rock and photograph it. Don’t miss it!

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Tips for travellers

  1. We didn’t see any ATMs in the village, and most of the shacks and stalls accept only cash. Make sure you stock up on cash before you plan for a stay in the village.
  2. Just outside of Mawlynnong, the village of Riwai houses a beautiful living root bridge and an Eco Park. These can be visited en route to Mawlynnong, before you enter the village. Alternatively, you could make the short trek of about 1.5 km to these sites during your stay at Mawlynnong. Do check with your tour operator regarding this.
  3. Private or shared taxis are the only way to enter Mawlynnong. You can easily find cabs plying to Mawlynnong from both Shillong and Cherrapunjee.
  4. A boat ride at Dawki and the Indo-Bangladesh land border at Tamabil can be done en route to Mawlynnong. Please check with your tour operator on this.
  5. Considering that there are only a handful of homestays in Mawlynnong, each with just a couple of rooms, you might want to book your stay well in advance, whenever you plan to visit.
  6. Though Mawlynnong can be visited throughout the year, March-August is the best time to do so. This is when the village is at its greenest best, thanks to the monsoon rains.

Are you tempted enough to plan a stay at Mawlynnong?

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I hope you have been reading, and enjoying, stories from our recent trip to North-East India. If you haven’t, here are the links for you!

Visiting the abode of Kamakhya, the powerful menstruating Goddess

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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.)

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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.

 

 

 

Travel Shot: Madurai Malli| The Jasmine Flowers Of Madurai

The minute we entered our hotel in Madurai, we were assailed by the heady scent of jasmine. This was no ordinary scent, mind you, but a haunting, beautiful perfume that I haven’t come across with jasmine flowers anywhere. I looked around and, soon enough, found the source of the scent – a strand of jasmine flowers laid before the idol of Ganesha in the reception area. The famous Madurai malli! That moment, more than anything else, drove home the fact that we had, well and truly, arrived in Madurai.

For the uninitiated, the temple town of Madurai is well known for the special variety of jasmine flowers that it produces – popularly called Madurai malli or Madurai mallige. These flowers, grown abundantly in Madurai and surrounding areas, have thicker petals and longer stems, making it easier for flower vendors to string them. Also, these flowers retain their fragrance and freshness for up to two days, making them a huge hit with tourists and locals alike.

Apparently, it is the topography and climate of Madurai that lends the malli its special qualities and fragrance.

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Madurai malli for sale outside the Meenakshi Amman temple

So feted are these flowers, in fact, that they have received their own Geographical Indication (GI) tag! They have found mention in ancient Tamil scriptures as well.

In Madurai, you will come across these flowers for sale everywhere – on pavements, outside big showrooms, in marketplaces and, of course, outside the famous Meenakshi Amman temple. They are commonly sold by quantity here, though – a string of 100 flowers will cost you a certain amount (I forget exactly how much) – as opposed to sale by length (mozham) that I have seen in case of jasmine everywhere else.

How could we resist buying the mallige while in Madurai? I wore strings of them in my hair every day, and basked in the glorious fragrance of them.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my posts about our recent trip to Madurai. If you haven’t, here are the links for you!

On a jigarthanda trail in Madurai

Our street food (and drink) journey in Madurai

Madurai Diaries: Of hogging at Nagapattinam Halwa Shop

Thoughts after visiting MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai

Gopu Iyengar’s, Madurai: Serving delicious for 80+ years

Bun sandwiches, 4 ways

Travel shot: Panneer drakshe aka Indian Gulabi grapes

Azhagar kovil dosai| Black urad dosa

The other Azhagar temple in Madurai: Koodal Azhagar kovil

 

 

Gopu Iyengar’s, Madurai: Serving Delicious For 80+ Years

While I was researching for our recent trip to Madurai, the name Gopu Iyengar’s popped up often. I read about this all-vegetarian little eatery being touted as one of the best places in Madurai for South Indian snacks, particularly the variety of dosas that they serve and their vellai appam. Of course, we had to include a visit to Gopu Iyengar’s while we were in Madurai!

The history

Long, long ago, a certain Gopala Iyengar was working as a waiter in one of the old restaurants in Madurai. He was a good, hard-working and earnest person, much liked by everyone. When the owner decided to sell the restaurant, he found a willing buyer in Gopala.

In the year 1930, Gopala launched his own restaurant by the name of Gopu Iyengar’s, on West Chitirai Street, near the famed Meenakshi Amman temple. On the menu were traditional South Indian tiffin items like dosas, idlis, vadas, thavalai adai, pongal and halwa. The eatery became hugely popular, with dignitaries like Supreme Court Judge AR Lakshmanan and former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu K Kamaraj making it a regular haunt. Priests from the Meenakshi Amman temple began eating here too. The fame of the hotel spread far and wide, and locals began referring to the place as ‘Moolai Kadai‘ (‘corner shop’ in Tamil, thanks to its location at a corner of the street).

Over time, Gopu Iyengar’s launched a second outlet on the bustling Bypass Road in Madurai, too. They also began selling some of their signature snacks and pickles online. I was also surprised to see this ancient, traditional hotel having an active and well-maintained Facebook page!

The branches, presently owned by Gopala’s son RG Srinivasan, remain open from 6.30 AM to 10.30 AM in the mornings and from 3 PM to about 7.30 PM in the evenings. It is believed that the menu and style of preparation of dishes here still the way Gopala Iyengar planned them out.

Gopu Iyengar’s, West Chitirai Street

While in Madurai, we decided to visit the old, first outlet of Gopu Iyengar’s, rather than the new one on Bypass Road.

The old outlet of the eatery was not difficult to find at all. It is, indeed, a small, hole-in-the-wall place that we might have missed if we weren’t really looking for it, but I am sure the throng of people getting in and out of it would have drawn us to it eventually. A blackboard by the door told us about the day’s specials, all in Tamil.

Both times we visited, the few tables and chairs inside were full of people who seemed to be relishing their tiffin on plantain leaves, slowly sipping on their filter coffee. Both times, we got a table after a short wait, and were soon relishing our own tiffin and coffee too. I don’t know how this works – it felt like we weren’t rushed at all, we were given time to leisurely enjoy our food, with the people waiting outside being managed efficiently as well.

Inside, the eatery retains its old-world charm – the interior still probably looks very much the same as it did when the place was started in 1930. Peeling paint on the walls, framed pictures of Indian gods, an old-fashioned cashier’s desk by the door, barebones tables and chairs, the lack of fancy cutlery, waiters in T-shirts and veshtis, a little washbasin to clean your hands, a bin where you drop the plantain leaves after you eat, all add to the quaint atmosphere of the place.

The food and drink story

Like I said before, Gopu Iyengar’s is an all-vegetarian outlet that mostly serves traditional South Indian tiffin items, and is particularly famous for its vellai appam and dosas. Every day, there are different specials, announced on the blackboard, while the signature dishes as well as the most-ordered ones are served every single day.

The eatery prides itself on serving fresh, homely food, made without the use of any artificial colours, flavouring agents or preservatives.

Over the course of our two visits to Gopu Iyengar’s, we tried out quite a few items, most of which we absolutely loved. I’m so glad to see that this eatery hasn’t taken its reputation for granted and, even after over 80 years of existence, is serving finger-licking delicious fare to its patrons.

Here is a round-up of all the food we sampled at this eatery.

Vellai Appam: At Gopu Iyengar’s, you are brought a plate of vellai appams first, even before you have decided what you are going to have. That is de rigeur. You could refuse them if you want, but why would you do that? These vellai (white) beauties are things of joy, after all. These appams, a recipe from neighbouring Chettinad, are nothing but deep-fried balls of lentil batter. We found them quite delectable, albeit a tad oily. The two types of chutney we were served alongside these appams made for perfect accompaniments to them.

Filter Coffee: Filter coffee was good, wherever we sampled it in Madurai. Gopu Iyengar’s was no exception.

Plain Dosa: The dosa here was very well done, just the way I like it – neither overly soggy nor overly crispy. It was quite homely and delish,  a far cry from the thick and greasy dosas that you get in most hotels these days.

Podi Dosa: Again, this dosa was made beautifully, just the right texture, sprinkled with a liberal dose of karuveppalai (curry leaves) podi (powder). The dosa tasted lovely, but we didn’t particularly like the taste of the podi within.

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On the left: Vellai appam, On the right: Podi dosa, both at Gopu Iyengar’s

Idlis: The idlis we sampled here were lovely, pillowy soft and delicious. They were quite homely too, as against the grainy idlis that you get in most restaurants now.

Ulundhu Vadai: The ulundhu vadais – deep-fried rounds of urad daal batter – were absolutely delectable. They were perfectly fried, neither overly crispy nor underdone. The coconut chips and curry leaves in the batter took the taste to a whole new level.

Godhumai Dosa: The godhumai (wheat) dosa here was another delicious affair.  It was, again, homely and made just right.

On the left: Bun halwa, On the right: Idlis and vadai, both at Gopu Iyengar’s

Bun Halwa: On one of the days we visited Gopu Iyengar’s, we were lucky to find bun halwa in the list of specialties. The halwa, made with bakery buns, came to our table in a little plastic cup. It was absolutely delish, loaded with ghee and dry fruits. It is a distant cousin of the Hyderabadi shahi tukda, if you may.

Prices and service

We found the service to be quite fast. The waiters were courteous, friendly, and attentive.

The prices are highly reasonable, considering the quality of the food here. We don’t remember the exact amounts of the bills we paid, both times we visited, but we do remember that they were quite, quite reasonable.

Though the place is small and cramped, it is neat and well-managed.

Verdict

Don’t miss this place whenever you are in Madurai. Do gorge on the lovely traditional fare here!

I’m not sure if the quality and taste of the food at the (relatively) new Bypass Road outlet matches up to this one. The West Chitirai Street branch is the one we visited and loved, and the outlet that I can’t recommend highly enough.

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my earlier posts about our Madurai trip! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.

On a jigarthanda trail in Madurai

Our street food (and drink) journey in Madurai

Bun sandwiches, 4 ways

Madurai diaries: Of hogging at Nagapattinam Halwa Shop

Travel shot: Panneer drakshe aka Indian Gulabi grapes

Thoughts after visiting MS Subbulakshmi’s house in Madurai

Azhagar kovil dosai| Black urad dosa

The other Azhagar temple in Madurai: Koodal Azhagar kovil

Travel Shot: Kumbakonam Vettalai (Betel Leaves)

Degree coffee is certainly not the only thing that Kumbakonam is famous for, we realised while researching for our recent trip to this temple town.

Apparently, the town also happens to be one of the leading producers of betel leaves and areca nuts. In fact, the betel leaves produced in Kumbakonam are believed to be among the best in the world, as far as quality is concerned.

Armed with this knowledge, we were well prepared to keep an eye out for local paanwallahs in Kumbakonam, so we could taste a couple of these famed betel leaves.

We had, sort of, expected these betel leaves to be all over Kumbakonam, but they were so not! We came across just a few shops selling them, that too only in the local flower-fruit-vegetable market.

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Kumbakonam vettalai aka betel leaf for sale, in a market stall

When we finally got our hands on a couple of these betel leaves, we were surprised at just how fresh and strong in taste they were. They filled our mouths with a spicy juice that just isn’t present in the betel leaves we get in big cities like, say, Madras or Bangalore. The Kumbakonam vettalai is, definitely, different. Neither the husband nor I are betel leaf connoisseurs, and hence, unable to elaborate more on this.

Do try out some of the famed vettalai whenever you are in Kumbakonam!

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I hope you have been reading and enjoying my other posts about Kumbakonam! If you haven’t, here are the links for you.

Acquainted, finally: Degree coffee in Kumbakonam

What dining at a 100-plus-year-old eatery feels like: Sri Mangalambiga Vilas, Kumbakonam

Kumbakonam, in the midst of Masimagam

Kalyana Sundareswar Kovil, Thirumanancheri: The temple of marriages

Travel shot: The man and his friend, the beast

Garbharakshambigai temple, Tanjore: Abode of the mother who protects the womb