A Holiday Full Of Experiences At Sterling Fernhill, Ooty

In the world of holidays, Sterling is not a new name. Sterling is known for its ‘timeshare’ holidays, wherein members pay an annual membership fee and get to stay at any of their properties for a fixed period, either rent-free or at a discounted rate. What a lot of people do not know about Sterling, however, is that rooms in their resorts can be booked by non-members too, and that they can also be used for weddings and other events. Then, there’s also the fact that Sterling has recently rebranded itself as an ‘experiential holiday company’, priding itself on providing to guests various local experiences at all of its properties. #HolidayDifferently is Sterling Holidays’ new motto, and they aim to offer patrons unique experiences that will make their holiday hugely memorable.

Recently, a bunch of bloggers from Bangalore and Chennai were invited by Sterling Holidays for a two-day staycation at one of their properties in Ooty, Fern Hill, and to indulge in some of the indigenous experiences they offer. I had the opportunity to join the group too, and ended up having a wonderful mid-week holiday that I will cherish for a long time to come. This was my first-ever time travelling without family, and I am so glad it all turned out so well.

About Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

The beautiful colonial facade of Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, which was our abode for two full days

Located away from the hustle and bustle of ‘proper’ Ooty, Fern Hill is a sprawling property that boasts of over 100 rooms of different types. It is a colonial structure with oodles of old-world charm, and lots of greenery all around. And then, of course, it offers some gorgeous views of the magnificent hills of Ooty!

I loved the simple room that I stayed in at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, especially the huge window with a mesmerising view of the mountains, the comfortable window seat (which I didn’t want to get up off at all!), the writing desk by the window, and the super soft bed. The room, equipped with basic amenities like a heater, an electric kettle and hair-dryer, was kept painstakingly neat at all times by the resort staff. At all times, we found the staff to be warm and friendly, courteous and eager to help.

Glimpses from our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill

We enjoyed our meals at the dining room here, looking out at the scenic landscapes of Ooty. The food was decent, a good mix of Tamilnadu and international cuisines. I found it quite charming that a lot of the herbs and vegetables they use in their daily cooking comes from their very own, organic garden patch!

The activity centre at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill offers several in-house activities for kids and adults alike, including Burma Bridge, vertical climbing, painting, archery, table tennis and bonfires. If you are in the mood to pamper yourself, you can also avail of the spa facilities here or shop for souvenirs at the little store in-house.

Some Sterling Experiences We Enjoyed

I am an experience seeker. I seek small and big memorable experiences wherever I travel to. That is what makes travel worthwhile for me. In that respect, this trip to Ooty with Sterling was a hugely satisfying one for me. The Sterling team had lined up several experiences for us bloggers, to indulge in during the course of our stay. Some of these were quite touristy, while some others were quite off the beaten track. All of them put together, they helped us delve deeper into the place that Ooty is, dig deeper into its cultural fabric.

Here are some of the Sterling Ooty experiences we thoroughly enjoyed.

1. ‘Root Vegetables Of Ooty’ Themed High Tea At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

Scenes from the themed high tea at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill

While in Ooty, we paid a flying visit to another property by Sterling, Elk Hill. Again, this is a beautiful, sprawling resort with some great views of Ooty, and I loved the look of this place. I adored the little patch of garden here, where a lot of the veggies and herbs used in the kitchens comes from. There is also very cute play area for kids at Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, complete with box hedges and swings of different types, which I think the bub would have absolutely loved!

At Sterling Ooty Elk Hill, we bloggers were treated to a beautifully thought-out and very well-executed high tea. In addition to the usual suspects – tea, coffee, milk and the likes – we were also served a variety of sweet and savoury dishes, all made using the root vegetables that abound in the hills of Ooty. Beetroot Cutlets, Sweet Potato Halwa, Tapioca & Mutton Biryani, Carrot and Beetroot Shots and Carrot Cake were some of the delicacies that were presented to us. And, you know what? Over half of the root vegetables used to make these dishes came from the gardens of Sterling Ooty Elk Hill – just how lovely is that?!

2. Getting up close and personal with the Todas

Some snapshots from the Toda way of life

The Sterling team took us bloggers to a settlement of the Todas, an indigenous tribe in Ooty with a very interesting way of life. We got up close and personal with them, getting to learn more about their lives, an experience I loved to bits. I have been to Ooty several times before, but somehow never got around to visiting a Toda group. I am so glad Sterling gave us this opportunity!

While some of the Todas have started leading modern-day lifestyles, quite a lot of them still live a life that is untouched by modernisation. They reside in very pretty, small huts, called munds. They have a beautiful dressing style of their own, complete with a very unique hairdo. The Todas talked to us of some customs they have been following since centuries, and I was awed at the way they have been religiously protecting their history.

The Todas follow an entirely vegetarian diet, and lead lives that are in harmony with the flora and fauna around them. The very in-sync-with-nature process they use to extract honey from honeycombs hugely fascinated me, when I heard about it. I can’t wait to experience that some time!

3. Shaking a leg with the Todas and Badugas

The Badugas performing their traditional dance for us. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

The first day of our stay at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill, we returned to the resort to find a bunch of Todas waiting for us, decked up in their traditional costumes. They were there to perform their traditional dance for us! We were thrilled to watch them singing and twirling, around the bonfire that had been set up in the courtyard. Isn’t that some way to get guests acquainted with the local culture?

When the Todas were done with their performance, it was the turn of the Badugas to go up on stage. The Badugas, a caste that forms the majority of the population in Ooty, were there too in their traditional wear, to present their songs and dances to us! They kicked up quite a storm with their energetic dancing, which looked deceptively simple but so wasn’t! How do I know? Well, because we bloggers were also offered a chance to join in the dancing, and to learn the steps straight from the Todas and Badugas. Super fun!

4. A picnic lunch in the midst of a tea garden

All of us bloggers enjoying a picnic in the midst of a gorgeous tea estate. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

I’m sure all of us who have ever been to Ooty have visited a tea estate, and have taken beautiful pictures in the midst of all that green gorgeousness. I have been there, done that too. However, on this holiday to Ooty, the Sterling team arranged for a different sort of experience for us – a picnic lunch in the midst of a tea estate! It turned out so very lovely!

We drove up, up, up in the hills to reach a beautiful, beautiful private tea estate. With prior permission from the estate owner, a sumptuous picnic lunch had been set up for us here, complete with a carpet, big umbrellas, a wicker basket, fruits and packed lunch boxes. The mist rising up out of the hills added tonnes to the atmosphere. This was such a charming experience that felt like something straight out of a storybook!

5. Learning the alphabet of T-E-A

The goings-on inside a tea factory. Shot at Benchmark Tea Factory, Ooty

Visiting a tea factory is a very touristy thing in Ooty, something a lot of tourists do. We never got around to doing this, though, in spite of having visited Ooty quite a few times. When the Sterling team arranged for a tea factory visit, for us to learn how our everyday cup of tea comes about, I was glad of the opportunity to do so. We had an enlightening experience.

We learnt how the leaves are plucked off tea bushes, sorted and brought to the tea factory. The leaves pass through several processes at the factory to reach the ‘granular’ stage that we commonly find in stores. We were enchanted to learn how green tea, black tea and regular tea all come from the same plant – it is the differences in processing that makes each of these different.

We sampled a variety of beautifully brewed tea at the factory – green, black, ginger, cardamom and masala. We also tried out some white tea, which is one of the most expensive tea in the world.

6. Hopping on the toy train from Ooty to Coonoor

The quaint train we rode on from Ooty to Coonoor. Picture Courtesy: The Sterling team

Most of us know about the ‘toy train’ plying in Ooty, which is quite a huge draw for the tourists. This quaint train by the Nilgiri Mountain Railways runs between Mettupalyam and Ooty in Tamilnadu, chugging along some really scenic mountain paths. Riding on this train is quite an enchanting experience, for children and adults alike.

I have done the Ooty-Coonoor toy train ride a couple of times earlier, but never with the eyes of a travel blogger. I am so glad to have been given a chance to do just that, by Sterling. As always, it was a cute journey I couldn’t stop smiling throughout.

7. Checking out the bisons

When the mist cleared, and we spotted the bison amidst the bushes

When the Sterling team told us we would be taken to a spot amidst the tea estates where there would be hundreds of bison grazing, it sounded like a fairy tale. Sterling did keep up its promise, and took us to exactly such a place. There was mist all over when we arrived, and when it slowly cleared, we could see the bison amidst the tea plants. There were not one or two bison, but flocks and flocks of the huge, majestic animal, grazing busily alongside the workers on the tea estates. Both parties seem to be quite used to working in the presence of the other. What a sight this was!

I have spotted wildlife in the Bandipur forest area en route to Ooty, several times, but this was a first for me. The husband is fascinated by bison, and I am sure he would have thoroughly loved this experience. I’m raring to do this all over again, with him around!

Would you like a Sterling holiday too?

The next time you visit Ooty, do consider staying in a Sterling property. Why, go the whole hog, and take up some Sterling experiences as well – they will show you a whole different side to Ooty, I’m sure!

From what I could gather, I think the Sterling resorts are great places for families, with something for every member to love. They might not be uber-luxurious spaces, but they are definitely places I would like to stay in with my family.

Do get in touch with the Sterling team for prices and other details!

This post is brought to you in collaboration with Sterling Holidays. All opinions expressed in this post are based upon the experience we had at Sterling Ooty Fern Hill. The views herein are entirely mine, entirely honest, not influenced by anything or anyone.

Advertisements

Jamia Masjid, An Architectural Marvel in Old Srinagar

Just a few minutes after driving into the heart of Srinagar, fondly referred to as Old Srinagar or Downtown Srinagar, we noticed the landscape around us begin to change. The relatively modern buildings and wide roads of modern Srinagar – where we were staying – began to fade. The roads got narrower and narrower as we drove on, the buildings getting more and more ancient, some with rather pretty latticework on them.

Electricity wires seemed to dangle out of nowhere. Vendors selling everything from vegetables and spices to fancy trays, baskets, Kashmiri shawls and dry fruits dotted the streets. Tiny shops choc-a-bloc with some really interesting stuff – like the kangris or wicker baskets that the Kashmiris use to carry a coal brazier, to keep themselves warm or pretty, pretty, pretty samovars that are used to make the local kehwa – began to whizz by. I would have loved to get down, to take a long, exploratory walk around the place, even indulge in some shopping, but I didn’t. We were on the way to see the famed Jamia Masjid in Nowhatta, Old Srinagar. The bub wasn’t keeping too well, and we wanted to limit exploration and get back to our hotel quickly. Before the husband and I could even realise it, our cab stopped. We had reached our destination.

What is the Jamia Masjid like?

One word – beautiful.

The Jamia Masjid of Srinagar, a hugely sacred mosque and place of worship for Kashmiri Muslims, is a beautiful specimen of Persian architecture, with a few influences from Buddhist pagodas. There has been generous usage of Kashmiri glazed black stone, bricks and deodar wood in the building of the mosque, which gives it a quaint, charming look. Our first glance of the mosque stunned us with its prettiness.

Our first glimpse of the mosque, as soon as we had set foot inside the main gate

The Jamia Masjid was constructed by Sultan Sikandar Shah Kashmiri Shahmiri in 1394 CE. The mosque was originally built to accommodate 33,333 people at one prayer session, besides the imam. It is a huge structure, believed to be about 1,40,000 square feet. There are four entrances to the mosque, from the east, west, north and south.

fb_img_1531892735311-012055745228.jpeg
The prayer hall we walked through, to get to the actual mosque

As soon as we stepped inside the main gate, we found ourselves in a gorgeous prayer hall with a beautiful wooden ceiling and columns. The high ceilings gave the hall a roomy, airy, light feeling. We walked through the prayer hall to reach an open courtyard with a little Mughal-style garden and a fountain. This courtyard housed the actual place of worship, the mosque, a stunning edifice.

The main prayer hall at Jamia Masjid

The mosque was, apparently, extended later, when Sultan Sikhandar’s son Zain-ul-Abidin added turrets to it. The landscaped Mughal garden which we saw outside the mosque was also added later, we learnt.

One of the turrets of the mosque. Notice the similarities to a Buddhist pagoda?

When we visited the Jamia Masjid, on a weekday morning, it was drizzling lightly and the place was almost empty. Almost to ourselves, we spent about an hour here, walking around, admiring the architecture, offering our prayers, soaking in the peace around us. I am sure the scene would have been completely different on a weekend or on a festival day.

Exploring the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid

fb_img_1531892764758-011615807098.jpeg
A glimpse of the bazaar outside Jamia Masjid, Srinagar

Step out of the Jamia Masjid gates, and you will find yourself amidst a little bazaar of sorts. Little shops, manned by smiling Kashmiris, sold household things like spices, dry fruits and groceries, dresses and footwear, tea sets (which I learnt later is a huge passion in Kashmir), curtains and bedsheets, suitcases, bags and purses, kitchen utensils and the like. Walking around these shops, checking out things, photographing, learning and shopping was a treat in itself.

fb_img_1531892768530-011495002220.jpeg
Some beautiful outfits that we came across, for sale in the bazaar outside Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid

I fell in love with a tiny spice shop in the bazaar, filled to the rafters with culinary treasures. I was hovering outside, asking the owner a battery of questions about the several indigenous-to-Kashmir ingredients he stocked. He invited me inside to take a look, and I became a kid in a candy shop.

The charming little spice shop outside Jamia Masjid that I loved

We ended up spending over an hour here, chatting with the owner about this and that – the cockscomb which is apparently the reason for the pink cheeks of the Kashmiris, the Kanagucchi or the special ear-shaped mushrooms that come up in the forests only when there is a cloudburst, the local tradition of drying up vegetables and fruits to preserve them, Kashmiri tea and black moth daal and veri masala. I picked up quite a few things here, small quantities of all that I wanted to go back home and try out.
In the meantime, the owner plied the husband and me with the pinkish salt tea aka noon chai that a whole lot of Kashmiris prefer to sip on, and the bub with big fat kishmish from his shop. Marketing? Probably. Probably not. All I can say is that we absolutely adored the time we spent in this little shop, and we valued the conversation with the owner. Moments like these are precisely what makes travel worthwhile for us.

Some of the treasures we found in the spice shop. Top left: Dried lauki aka bottlegourd; Centre left: Kashmiri black moth daal; Bottom left: A cake of freshly made Kashmiri ver masala or veri masala; Bottom right: Cockscomb, a flavouring agent that is typically used in Kashmiri cuisine; Top right: The tea that is commonly used for different types of brews in Kashmir

Don’t miss this grand mosque whenever you are in Srinagar!

Tips for travellers

  1. The Jamia Masjid is located in Nowhatta, in the heart of Old Srinagar, quite a sensitive area by the looks of it. Monday to Thursday would be a good time to visit, as the mosque tends to become crowded on Fridays and weekends.
  2. There are no entry fees here. Photography is allowed.
  3. Visitors should cover their heads and remove their footwear before entering the mosque. Please ensure that these simple rules are followed. Also, considering that this is a sacred place of worship, maintaining silence and decent conduct is advisable.
  4. There is not much to do here, in terms of activities. However, the place is, indeed, an ocean of calm and peace, which one can spend any amount of time soaking in. The architecture of the mosque is a treat to the eyes, as well.
  5. If you want to time your visit with a prayer session in the mosque, please check on the exact timings before you embark.
  6. Do spend some time at the bazaar outside the Jamia Masjid, walking around, learning, shopping, photographing. This is a great place to learn about traditional Kashmiri culture and culinary traditions, if you are interested in that sort of thing. This is where you can shop for some unique foodie souvenirs from Kashmir, too. The shopkeepers are friendly, and most of them speak Hindi. Prices are reasonable, we felt, and we didn’t feel the need to haggle.

Doon Chetin| Kashmiri Walnut Chutney

Have you ever tried out Doon Chetin, a walnut chutney in Kashmiri style? I tried it out at home recently, and fell head over heels in love with it, as did my family.

Making Doon Chetin (‘Doon‘ is Kashmiri for ‘walnuts’ and ‘chetin‘ refers to ‘chutney’) had been on my mind ever since our recent trip to Kashmir. I didn’t have an opportunity to savour this chutney in the course of our holiday, so I pledged to make it once I got back home. I made sure to pick up some Kashmiri walnuts (which are believed to be of high quality) and some shahi jeera (black cumin) that goes into the preparation of this chutney. I read up on the Internet, and was lucky to find an authentic Kashmiri recipe for the Doon Chetin. Like I said earlier, the chutney was made recently, and the rest, as they say, is history. I served it as a dip with home-made kuzhi paniyarams, and it was gone in no time at all!

fb_img_1528218835269-01853976645.jpeg

The Doon Chetin combines some really unusual ingredients – fresh curd, black cumin, raw onion, walnuts, mint and the like. Initially, I admit, I did have apprehensions about whether I would like the taste. What if it tasted too weird? Well, I wouldn’t know unless and until I tried it out, right? So, try it out I did, and I am so glad I did – the Doon Chetin tastes absolutely amazing, rich and creamy, yet light and exquisite, the chillies and mint adding a zing to it, the walnuts contributing their nuttiness, with the faintest of sourness from the curd. Yumminess, I tell you!

Traditionally, the Kashmiris prepare Doon Chetin in a stone mortar and pestle, which gives it a slightly coarse texture. It is eaten with non-vegetarian kebabs or rice dishes, typically. I used a mixer to make the chutney and ground it smooth, which is fine since I was planning to use it as a dip.

Try it out, and I am sure you will love it too!

Here’s the recipe for the Doon Chetin.

Recipe Source: Keep Calm & Curry On

Ingredients (makes about 3/4 cup):

  1. 1/2 cup walnuts
  2. Salt to taste
  3. 2 green chillies
  4. 1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
  5. 2 tablespoons fresh mint leaves
  6. 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
  7. 1 teaspoon shahi jeera aka black cumin
  8. 1/4 cup fresh thick curd

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients in a mixer jar.
  2. Blend till smooth.
  3. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
  4. Serve as an accompaniment with tandoori dishes, fried snacks or rice dishes.

Notes:

1. For best results, use thick and fresh curd that is not too sour.

2. Adjust the number of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the chutney to be.

3. I used Kashmiri walnuts and shahi jeera to make this chutney. In case you don’t have access to them, you can use locally sourced variants for these two ingredients too.

4. Traditionally, this recipe uses Kashmiri red chilli powder, which is low on heat and adds a gorgeous reddish colour to dishes. I didn’t have any, so I used ordinary red chilli powder instead – which is why the colour of my Doon Chetin is not as beautifully brown as it is, traditionally.

5. You can add in a couple of cloves of garlic while grinding the Doon Chetin, too. I skipped it.

6. If you do not have shahi jeera, you can substitute it with ordinary cumin. However, shahi jeera adds a richer, deeper flavour to the Doon Chetin.

7. Dried mint powder can be used in the chutney, in place of fresh mint leaves. If you are using dried mint powder, use about 1 tablespoon for the above quantities of ingredients.

8. I wanted the Doon Chetin to be of a smooth texture, so I ground it in my mixer. You can keep the texture coarser, too, if you so prefer. You may even use a mortar and pestle to make the chutney, as is done traditionally in Kashmir.

9. Any leftover Kashmiri Walnut Chutney can be stored in a clean, dry, air-tight box and stored, refrigerated, for 3-4 days. Use only a clean, dry spoon for the chutney.

10. I served the Kashmiri Walnut Chutney as a dip alongside quick-fix kuzhi paniyarams made from idli batter. The two made for a wonderful, wonderful pair.

What do you think about this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!

************

 

shhh-secretly-challenge-image

This post is for the Ssshhh Cooking Secretly Challenge. I was paired by Priya Mahesh of @200deg for this month’s challenge, who assigned me the two secret ingredients of ‘Walnuts’ and ‘Curd’. Doon Chetin is what I decided to make, using these two ingredients.

I’m also sending this recipe for Fiesta Friday #230, co-hosted this week by Diann @ Of Goats and Greens.

 

 

Walking Alongside The Almond Trees At Badamvaer, Srinagar

fb_img_1528378486558-01772114498.jpeg
Badamvaer – prettiness is what meets your eye, wherever you gaze

It was love at first sight with Badamvaer, Srinagar, for both the husband and me. The moment we set foot inside the gates of Badamvaer and caught a glimpse of its prettiness, we were charmed. It was a rainy weekend morning when we visited, in the course of our holiday in Kashmir, and we were lucky to have this beauty almost all to ourselves.

fb_img_1528378519826-011879484790.jpeg
This was the sight that greeted us, the minute we had stepped foot into Badamvaer. For some reason, this particular spot reminded me of a fairy garden straight out of Enid Blyton’s books.

What is Badamvaer, you ask? Popularly called ‘Badamwari‘, Badamvaer is the Kashmiri name is a gorgeous, gorgeous garden in Srinagar. Like the name suggests, almond trees abound in the place (‘Badam‘ refers to ‘almond’, while ‘vaer‘ is ‘garden’ in Kashmiri). I hear the garden comes alive in the spring, when the almond trees blossom. There are beautiful white blossoms everywhere, and the garden is a sight to behold. When we visited this May, there were no blossoms on the almond trees, but the place was still a sight to behold.

fb_img_1528376491126-011833200391.jpeg
Multi-hued flowers in bloom, at Badamvaer

The story of Badamvaer begins with the Durrani Fort, a very famous tourist spot in Srinagar. The Durrani Fort stands regal on a hillock called Hari Parbat, on the outskirts of Srinagar. The fort shares space with a few Muslim shrines, a Shakti temple that is sacred to the Kashmiri Pundits, and a Sikh gurudwara.

The Durrani Fort sitting regal atop Hari Parbat, as seen from Badamvaer

It is believed that Emperor Akbar had plans of setting up a new capital around Hari Parbat, which is why he began construction of a fort here in 1590. However, the project was never completed. It was during the Durrani reign in Kashmir, under the reign of Shuja Singh Durrani in 1808, that the present-day fort was constructed.

Emperor Akbar had plans of building Naagar Nagar, a city around the foothills of Hari Parbat, which would house palaces and balconies for the royal family, residences for the noblemen of the court, and army barracks. Thanks to the downfall of the Mughal empire that began at around this time, the city never came into existence. In the year 1876, when Dogras ruled over Kashmir, the then ruler Ranbir Singh got the garden area (as per Emperor Akbar’s original plans, I suppose) planted with almond trees. Over time, the garden began to be known as Badamvaer or Badamwari, the garden of almond trees.

fb_img_1528376500365-011775688156.jpeg
The almond trees that abound in Badamvaer aka Badamwari

Badamvaer used to be a popular picnic spot for Kashmiris in the 1900s, from what I understand. Slowly, though, the place fell into a state of neglect and disrepair, and local footfall kept reducing further and further. It was in the year 2007 that J&K Bank took up the project of bringing Badamvaer back to life. The garden was painstakingly cleaned up and landscaped all over again, a new lease of life handed to it. Over time, locals and tourists alike began to return to Badamvaer, and the Kashmiri picnics began happening here, all over again. The J&K Bank continues to undertake maintenance of the garden till date, and has done a really good job at it.

fb_img_1528376522373-01730943878.jpeg
Inside Badamvaer aka Badamwari

Badamvaer boasts of some stunning landscaping and extremely beautiful flowers, which had us going all ga-ga.

fb_img_15283785339521941489652.jpg
I had never seen roses in this particular purple-pink before Badamvaer happened. Can’t get over just how pretty this shade is!

The huge climbing roses that are everywhere in Kashmir are present here as well, of course.

fb_img_15283785143711702716217.jpg
A much-coveted selfie and photography spot within Badamvaer, which the climbing roses have chosen to adorn

Apart from roses in many hues, the garden is full of exotic flowers that only a place like Kashmir can have in such plenitude.

fb_img_1528378573956167278821.jpg
Pansies are all over Kashmir, and so they were in Badamvaer too. Is it just me or can you spot a face in these flowers, as well?

Badamvaer also offers some lovely views of the mist-shrouded mountains that surround it.

fb_img_1528376532036-012112823278.jpeg
The beautiful structure that houses a well, in the midst of Badamvaer

I wonder why Badamvaer is not as popular among tourists as, say, Nishat Baugh or Shalimar Baugh is. I never read about Badamvaer on any of the travel blogs I checked out, while researching for our trip – I am so thankful our tour operator suggested we visit this lovely haven! When we visited, there were absolutely no tourists around – just some locals and school kids busy picnicking. Well, good for us!

fb_img_1528376507300-011724559625.jpeg
This part of the garden took my breath away, it was so beautiful on that sun-kissed, rain-drenched day. And, this school kid insisted on getting into my picture!

I love how Badamvaer has managed to retain an air of purity, of cleanness and freshness, how it is still untouched by commercialisation in spite of being such a gloriously beautiful locale. I really hope it stays that way.

We spent a good couple of hours in Badamvaer, just walking around, basking in the beauty all around us, soaking in the place.

fb_img_1528378509020-01217620939.jpeg
An Indian mynah we spotted, nestling in one of the trees in Badamvaer

It is quite a huge garden too, one that deserves to be walked around leisurely and explored slowly, to one’s heart’s content.

A metal bridge running over a stream from a man-made fountain, in Badamvaer. Pretty, ain’t it?

Badamvaer was quite the weekend hang-out spot for locals from 2007 onwards (after the garden got a new lease of life) until recently, with dance performances and cultural programmes happening here. However, the performances have been temporarily put on hold as of now, considering the political unrest and upheaval in Kashmir in the last few months.

A fountain, in the midst of Badamvaer

Here’s hoping peace finds its way to Kashmir soon!

That’s the washroom in Badamvaer! Can you guess?

If Badamvaer is pretty now, I can only imagine just how gorgeous it would be with all those almond trees weighed down by white blossoms, in spring time. I hope to be able to return to this place some time, to see that phenomenon in person.

The husband and the bub, enjoying a leisurely walk in Badamvaer

So long, Badamvaer! I hope to meet you again, soon!

If you ever find yourself in Srinagar, don’t miss visiting this hidden gem. Highly recommended!

Tips for travellers:

  1. A visit to Badamvaer can be combined with one to the adjacent Hari Parbat fort and Old Srinagar, where there is loads to see and do and explore.
  2. There is a small entry fee that needs to be paid, to enter Badamvaer.
  3. If possible, try to time your visit to Badamvaer with the blooming of the almond trees in spring – it is totally worth it, I hear.

 

 

Bread Rolls| Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets

Eid is just around the corner! Here’s wishing good times to all those who are celebrating! 🙂

Today, I present to you a recipe for Bread Rolls or Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets that you can make for Iftaar, the routine breaking of the fast during Ramzaan. You can also make these on the occasion of Eid, a hearty and nutritious vegetarian snack.

I have extremely fond memories associated with Bread Rolls aka Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets. In the almost 36 hours it took to travel by train from Ahmedabad to Madras, while I was growing up, Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets would make for my morning breakfast. I remember them tasting awesome (I’m not sure if I would still say the same about them!), and being all excited about having them because they were such a novelty for me – we never made them at home ourselves.

I also remember my school friends bringing home-made Bread Rolls in their snack boxes, and offering me a taste. I would adore them, and we would end up exchanging our boxes – they would happily gobble up my idlis while I munched on their Bread Rolls.

The bub was introduced to Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets at school, and she happened to adore them. Like mom, like daughter, eh? When she came home from school grinning like a Cheshire cat a couple of days – because the snack was her favourite Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets – I absolutely had to learn how to make them at home. I spoke to the parents who had sent them, understood how they had made them, and began making them with a few customisations. Now, they are a regular snack at our place, and a much-loved one, too!

I make these Bread Rolls with tonnes of vegetables and whole wheat bread, and use home-made garam masala to spice them. I use a dosa pan to shallow-fry them, with minimal oil, as opposed to deep-frying. They turn out absolutely delicious in taste, perfectly crisp from the outside, soft from the inside, just the way we like them to be.

At a lot of places, I find Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets containing either too much of potatoes or too much of bread. The recipe I am going to tell you about today will help you avoid both these situations. These measurements will give you the perfect cutlets – perfectly balanced ones, with no one ingredient overpowering the others. Do try it out!

Here’s how to make the Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets.

Ingredients (makes 18-20 cutlets):

  1. 4 medium-sized potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
  2. 2 medium-sized onions, finely chopped
  3. 1/3 cup shelled green peas
  4. 1/3 cup grated carrot
  5. 1/3 cup finely chopped cabbage
  6. 1/3 cup finely chopped beans
  7. 1/3 cup finely chopped capsicum
  8. 1/3 cup finely chopped cauliflower
  9. Salt, to taste
  10. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  11. 2 generous pinches of asafoetida
  12. 1/2 tablespoon garam masala
  13. Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
  14. 4 tablespoons bread crumbs + more as needed to coat the cutlets
  15. 3-4 tablespoons finely chopped coriander
  16. 2 tablespoons of slivered almonds
  17. 8 slices of bread
  18. 4 green chillies, finely chopped
  19. A 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  20. 1 tablespoon oil + more as needed for shallow-frying

Method:

  1. Heat the 1 tablespoon oil in a pan. Add in the chopped onion, carrot, cabbage, beans, capsicum and cauliflower, as well as the shelled green peas. Salt lightly. Cook on medium flame till the vegetables are half done – they should be cooked, but retain their crunch. Switch off the gas, and allow the cooked vegetables to cool down entirely.
  2. Grind the ginger and green chillies to a paste in a mixer, using very little water. Transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl.
  3. Add the peeled and mashed boiled potatoes to the mixing bowl.
  4. Soak each of the bread slices in water for just a second, then squeeze in between your hands and drain out all the water. Add the drained bread slices to the mixing bowl.
  5. To the mixing bowl, add the 4 tablespoons of bread crumbs, lemon juice, asafoetida, salt to taste, garam masala, turmeric powder, chopped coriander and slivered almonds.
  6. Once the cooked vegetables (the carrot, capsicum, beans, peas, cabbage, cauliflower) have completely cooled down, add them to the mixing bowl too.
  7. Mix all the ingredients in the mixing bowl together thoroughly. Shape patties out of this mixture. Keep aside.
  8. Heat a heavy dosa pan on high flame. When it is nice and hot, turn down the flame to medium.
  9. Spread out some bread crumbs on a large plate. Dip two of the patties in the breadcrumbs, evenly coating them, and place them on the hot dosa pan. Spread some oil around the patties, and cook on medium flame till the bottom gets brown and crisp, ensuring that they do not get burnt. Then, flip the patties over, add a little more oil around them, and cook till crisp and brown on the other side. Transfer to a serving plate.
  10. Prepare all the cutlets in a similar manner. Serve hot with hot green chutney, kasundi, tomato ketchup or sauce of your choice.

Notes:

1. Cooking the Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets on a dosa pan ensures that minimal oil is consumed, as against shallow frying in a deeper pan.

2. To make bread crumbs, just tear a few pieces of bread roughly and grind in a mixer. Alternatively, you can use store-bought bread crumbs, too.

3. You can use either whole wheat bread or white bread to make these Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets.

4. Chana masala can be used in place of garam masala, too.

5. Increase or decrease the number of green chillies you use, depending upon how spicy you want the Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets to be.

6. You can add any vegetables of your choice to these cutlets, but the ones I have mentioned above are the usual suspects. These are the veggies that go really well in the making of Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets.

7. Make sure you soak the bread slices for just a second and then immediately drain out all the water from them, before proceeding to add them to the cutlet mixture. Over-soaking of the bread slices or retaining too much water in them will cause the cutlets to get soggy.

8. The above quantities of bread, bread crumbs and vegetables are perfect to get cutlets that are just right – neither too much of veggies nor too much of bread.

9. I prefer cooking these Bread & Mixed Vegetable Cutlets on a dosa pan, but you could deep-fry them too. If you want to deep-fry them, dip the prepared patties in a thin paste of maida or wheat flour and water, then coat evenly with bread crumbs, then proceed to put them in smoking hot oil. Deep fry on medium flame till evenly brown on both sides, ensuring the cutlets don’t get burnt.

10. Crumbled paneer or cheese can be added to the cutlets too. Alternatively, you can garnish the cutlets with grated cheese, just before serving them.

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

****************

Foodie Monday Blog Hop

This recipe is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘Eid-Special Recipes’.

I’m also sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #227. The co-hosts this week are Lizet @ Chipa by the dozen and Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

 

Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi

If you have been reading my blog for a while now, you would probably know that the husband and I love trying out local vegetarian dishes wherever we travel to. We are suckers for exploring the foods popular at various destinations. We often bring back local ingredients (and sometimes recipes) from the places we visit, and using them in our home kitchen. This Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi that I’m going to write about today, is one such instance.

In the heart of what is known as ‘Old Srinagar’, in an area called Nowhatta, there stands a majestic specimen of Mughal-era architecture called the Jamia Masjid. We had a lovely time walking around the mosque, trying to fit the beautiful architecture into frames on my camera, from different angles. It was also a treat checking out the various little shops around the mosque, selling spices, apple chips and cockscomb and walnuts and different ingredients indigenous to Kashmir, clothes, tea sets, shoes and cutlery, among other things. It was at one of these little stores that I came across the Kashmiri black moth daal. I absolutely had to pick up some, to cook with later. From these shops, I also bought some beautiful Kashmiri ver masala and dried mint, all of which I have used in this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi.

The black moth daal from Kashmir is packed with various nutrients, and has an earthy taste to it. The Kashmiris typically use these lentils to make daal or cook it in combination with meat or vegetables. I decided to use them in this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi, a one-pot meal that is awesomely delish, very easy to make yet full of flavour.

Here’s how I made this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi.

Ingredients (serves 4):

  1. 1 cup rice
  2. 1/4 cup Kashmiri black moth daal
  3. Salt to taste
  4. 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  5. A small piece of Kashmiri ver masala
  6. 4 green chillies
  7. 1 medium-sized onion
  8. 1/4 cup shelled green peas
  9. 1 small capsicum
  10. 6-7 beans
  11. 2 medium-sized tomatoes
  12. 5-6 cloves garlic
  13. A 1-inch piece of ginger
  14. 1 tablespoon oil
  15. A few stalks of fresh coriander leaves
  16. 1 tablespoon dried mint

Method:

1. Soak the Kashmiri black moth daal for about 20 minutes in warm water. When done, drain out the excess water and keep aside.

2. Peel the ginger and garlic. Grind them to a paste in a mixer. Keep aside.

3. Chop the onion length-wise. Peel and chop the carrots into batons. Remove strings from the beans and chop into batons. Chop the capsicum into cubes. Chop the tomatoes and coriander finely. Slit the green chillies length-wise. Keep aside.

4. Mix the Kashmiri ver masala in a little water, until completely dissolved. Keep aside.

5. Wash the rice well under running water, a couple of times. Drain out all the excess water. Keep aside.

5. Heat the oil in a pressure cooker bottom. Add in the chopped onions, carrot, beans and capsicum, the shelled green peas, and the ginger-garlic paste. Mix well. Saute on high flame for a minute or so.

6. Now, add the washed and drained rice and Kashmiri black moth daal to the pressure cooker.

7. Add in 3.5 cups of water, as well as salt to taste, the ver masala paste, the chopped tomatoes, turmeric powder and the turmeric powder. Mix well. Taste the water and adjust seasonings as needed.

8. Close the pressure cooker and put the whistle on. Pressure cook on high flame for 3 whistles. Let the pressure release manually.

9. When all the pressure has gone down, open the cooker and fluff up the khichdi. Mix in the dried mint and the finely chopped coriander.

10. Serve the Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi with plain curd or raita of your choice.

Notes:

  1. I used Sona Masoori rice to make this khichdi. You can use any other type of rice you want to.
  2. Adjust the quantity of water, depending upon how grainy or soft you want the khichdi to be.
  3. If you don’t have dried mint powder, you can add in a few torn leaves of fresh mint to the rice while pressure cooking it.
  4. The Kashmiri black moth daal imparts a lovely earthy flavour to this khichdi. If you don’t have any, though, it can be replaced with whole masoor daal – soak it the same way for about 20 minutes and then add it to the pressure cooker.
  5. The Kashmiri ver masala is a mix of 60-70 ingredients, including oil, Kashmiri red chillies, garlic, shahjeera and cockscomb. I would not suggest omitting this or using any other masala in place of this, as it would alter the taste of the dish.
  6. Adjust the quantity of green chillies and Kashmiri ver masala you use, depending upon how spicy you want the khichdi to be.

Do try out this Kashmiri Black Moth Daal Khichdi, too! I’d love to hear how you liked it!

I’m sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #226. The co-hosts this week is Jhuls @ The Not So Creative Cook.

 

Dodh-E-Pather Aka Doodhpatri, The Valley Of Milk

In other news, we just got back from a week-long holiday in and around Srinagar, Kashmir. We had been considering a few destinations to go to before the bub’s summer holidays ended, which wouldn’t kill us with sunstroke, where the bub could enjoy herself and so could we. We finally zeroed in on Srinagar, and hooked up with a travel agent in the city. Working with them, I built a slightly off-beat itinerary than the done-to-death Srinagar sightseeing-Gulmarg-Pahalgam-Sonamarg plan that most tourists undertake. We have already done that in the past.

This time around, we wanted to venture deeper into Srinagar, dig into local food and experiences, and explore a couple of lesser-known destinations around the city. While I wouldn’t say we got exactly the kind of holiday we wanted, it was still a beautiful trip – we did visit some gorgeous places and made memories that will last a long, long, long time to come.

Here I am, with the first installment of travel stories from Kashmir – about our visit to a spot called Doodhpatri.

***************

When the husband, the bub and I embarked on our drive to Doodhpatri, some 40-odd kilometers away from Srinagar (where we were staying), little did we know that we would absolutely fall in love with the place. Neither did we know that Doodhpatri would force us to think deep and hard about human nature.

Located in the district of Budgam, Doodhpatri is a gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous place. Think meandering meadows full of cows, sheep and goats. Think truckloads of soft green grass with very few people around. Think snow-clad mountains and freezing cold. Think natural springs and pine trees. Think nomadic shepherds tending their flocks and their squat mud huts. Exactly, that kind of place. Doodhpatri is not as well-known to travellers as, say, Gulmarg or Pahalgam, and has only recently started seeing tourist influx. As a result, the place still remains largely untouched, pristine, uncommercial – this also means that there are no restaurants of note or tourist activities of note here. There is a lot of virgin natural beauty, though, much to explore for the non-touristy traveller.

Locally called Dodh-e-Pather, the name of the place literally translates to ‘Valley of Milk’. The cattle here are renowned for the plentiful, rich milk (doodh) they yield, which is what gives the place its name.

fb_img_1526885715438-011711976877.jpeg
A shepherd tending his flocks, at Doodhpatri

It is an almost 2-hour drive from Srinagar to Doodhpatri, the road not in the best of condition at places, but decent enough. As you near Doodhpatri, signs of city life grow lesser and lesser, the vistas grow wider and greener, and the views become more and more stunning. When the snow-capped mountains come closer, they almost take your breath away.

fb_img_1526885720436-011537358068.jpeg
Our first sight of the snow-capped mountains and the gorgeous green plains of Doodhpatri

A few sharp curves and turns later, you come to a point beyond which no vehicles can go. Walk for a few minutes, and you reach a gurgling spring, the water milky white, humming along over rocks that have turned smooth with wear.

The beautiful spring at Doodhpatri

We spent a couple of hours at this point, just winding down, talking, eating, taking pictures and gazing at all the beauty around us. This is a hot spot for selfie lovers and photographers alike. You may even choose to don the Kashmiri costumes available for hire at the couple of make-shift stalls here, and get a photoshoot done.

img_20180515_121917-011709418737.jpeg
The milky white waters of the spring at Doodhpatri

The rustic wooden bridge across the spring stole my heart away. It surely was something straight out of a dream!

The rustic bridge that had me charmed

You can cross the bridge and walk along the plains beyond, soaking in the pure air and the prettiness of nature around you, or you could let a pony take you there. There is no dearth of horsemen here, who will plead and haggle with you to hire them for a look-around Doodhpatri on pony-back.

A bunch of horsemen in their traditional pherans, waiting for tourists to hire their ponies

Considering that the bub wasn’t too well when we visited Doodhpatri and the terrain looked quite rough too, we decided to skip the pony ride. We contented ourselves with just gazing out at the spring, snapping pictures of this and that. That, in itself, is quite an experience, let me tell you.

A barbecue guy we came across at Doodhpatri

There isn’t a single proper restaurant in Doodhpatri, like I was saying earlier, thanks to it not really being on the tourist grid. There are just a couple of shops here selling tea, coffee, chips, Maggi and the likes.

In fact, I hear the road we drove on did not extend till the stream, two years ago or so. One would have to get down at a certain point and hike a few kilometres to reach the stream! Now, considering increasing tourist interest in Doodhpatri, the road has been laid out further.

A small shop selling refreshments at Doodhpatri. I was charmed by just how pretty this shop looked!

There is a sharp drop in temperatures at Doodhpatri when it rains or when the mountain winds blow. In winters, the snow makes the place practically unlivable. The place, therefore, remains open only about 8-9 months a year. For 2 or 3 months every year – in the winters – the winding roads to Doodhpatri become inaccessible due to all the ice on them, and the place is therefore shut off. No one comes here then, not even the semi-nomadic Gujjar shepherds. There is no permanent structure here which is in use throughout the year – neither a home nor a shop nor a tourist activity.

fb_img_1526885693355-01660362901.jpeg
A Gujjar hut at Doodhpatri

You will find the small, squat mud huts of the Gujjars – the famous wandering shepherds of Kashmir – at Doodhpatri. These shepherds wander the mountains and plains of Kashmir with their flocks of sheep, horses, goats and cows in the winters, trying to find grass for them. They perform odd jobs – building construction and the likes – to earn some money.

In the summers, they build houses on the mountains and stay put for a few months with their families.

fb_img_1526885698988-01988104902.jpeg
A small Gujjar hut that we came across at Doodhpatri

When we visited, some of these Gujjars were selling snacks and refreshments for the tourists out of their huts. We walked along, fascinated by the structures, fascinated by the typical Kashmiri snacks some of them were offering.

fb_img_1526885670005-011141532599.jpeg
A stall selling the large traditonal pooris of Kashmir, called Khajla, which is typically eaten with semolina halwa. In the background are the dried pea-pakoras that are commonly available across Kashmir.

Neither the husband nor I had ever tried out the halwa-poori combination before, and we went on to do just that at Doodhpatri. My, it was mind-blowing – bites of the Khajla filled with the halwa!

We were snacking on some beautiful Maggi noodles cooked with vegetables at one such home when we noticed a sudden drop in the temperature. All too quickly, the wind started howling (that eerie way the wind has of howling in the mountains!) and the plastic chairs around us began to crash to the ground (I am not exaggerating!). It began to turn finger-numbingly cold, and the jackets and caps we were carrying with us offered no protection at all. The bub began to shiver. The Gujjar shepherd whose shop we were eating at was quick to invite us inside his house. We gratefully accepted.

The little fireplace inside the Gujjar home we visited

Inside, the hut was warm as toast. The man’s wife was busy cooking lunch for their family, and the wood fire was working wonders. I don’t know what did it – the thick, hand-made mud walls or the structure of the hut or the wood fire – but it was gorgeous inside. It was a cocoon, a separate world in its own. The howling winds outside did not even touch the inside of the house. The lack of electricity and the bare minimum of possessions inside the house kind of stunned us – it was a stark reminder of just how much we urbane folk cling to our worldly possessions day in and day out.

The family invited us to stay for lunch or at least for some tea, but we refused as we had already eaten. We did spend quite a bit of time sitting with them, chatting, warming our hands on the kangri (Kashmiri coal brazier) they were generous enough to share with us.

The kangri that saved us from frostbite in Doodhpatri

The husband and I had so many questions for the family and their way of life, and they were happy to respond to every single one of them. Snippets of the conversation still refuse to go out of my mind.

Hum 6 mahine yahan rehte hain, is ghar mein. Sardi mein 6 mahine hum parbat ke niche rehte hain.. majdoori karte hain..gay bakri charate hain.. kaam karte hain..,” the man told us. (‘We stay here, in this house, for 6 months. For the 6 months around winter, we stay in the foothills. We undertake labour and other odd jobs, tend to our cows and goats.’)

Yahan pe kuch nahi milta. Paani, aata, sabzi.. sab kuch neeche se le ke aate hain.. yahan par bahut zyaada thand padti hai na?,’ his wife said. (‘There is nothing available here. Water, flour, vegetables.. we get all of it from the foothills.. It’s too cold here, no?’)

Raat ko hamari gay aur bakri ghar ke andar rehte hain.. subah hote hi bahar chhod dete hain… woh chalte rehte hain, aur hum bhi saath chalte hain..,’ the man said. (‘We keep our cows and goats inside the house in the nights. As soon as morning dawns, we set them free. They walk around everywhere, and we walk around after them.’)

Chalna humare liye badi baat nahi hai. Humein aadat hai. Gulmarg se Doodhpatri ho ya Pahalgam se Sonamarg, hum chaltein hain..,’ the man stated. (‘Walking is not a big thing for us. We are used to it. From Gulmarg to Doodhpatri or fro Pahalgam to Sonamarg, we can walk.’)

The conversation was nothing short of enlightening. It set us thinking.

How hard would a life like this be, where you need to walk for kilometres on end just to fetch clean drinking water?

How many of the little things in my life I take for granted? Can I live a simple life like this, or am I too addicted to the complexities of my life?

How did these people cope up with so much hardship? Every single day? Did they even feel it was hard?

What makes these people stick to their roots? Do they ever wonder about the world beyond these hills?

Do they ever think about moving to an easier place, an easier way of living? Or does that thought never even cross their minds?

How different these people’s lives are from mine! And yet, we are all the same at the core of us – humans.

I don’t have the answers yet.

******************

Notes for travellers:

  1. Doodhpatri is a drive of about 2 hours from Srinagar. There are okay-ish roads some part of the way, while the roads in other parts are decent.
  2. It would be a good idea to carry some snacks/food while you visit Doodhpatri.
  3. Private cabs are the best way to reach Doodhpatri. You can hire one from Srinagar, where the nearest airport is located.
  4. The weather gets quite chilly at Doodhpatri at times, especially while it rains. You might want to carry a change of clothes, warm clothes, umbrellas and/or raincoats when you visit Doodhpatri.
  5. Pony riding is quite common among tourists, to see the sights in and around Doodhpatri. Walking everywhere might not always be possible. I would suggest going ahead with pony riding only if you are comfortable with the idea – there’s no fun in it if you do it half-heartedly or when you are scared.
  6. If you do decide to undertake a pony ride for sight-seeing, please do decide on the rates with the horsemen beforehand. Bargain if necessary, to fix a decent rate.

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for little insights into Kashmir, its food and people.

 

 

Street Food Journey In Ahmedabad

Whenever I think about Gujarati food, the first thing that pops into my head is the famous Kareena Kapoor dialogue from 3 Idiots – “Tum Gujarati log itne cute hote ho … par tum log ka khana itna khatarnak kyun hota hai?dhokla, fafda, handva, thepla … aise lagta hai jaise koi missiles hai!

Having grown up in Gujarat, the names of Gujarati snacks are as familiar to me as the back of my hand. This dialogue made me realise that the same might not be so for the rest of the world. Later, when I began travelling across India, I realised that a whole lot of the gorgeous Gujarati snacks I grew up eating are not even known by most people or, worse, are mixed up. No, people, khaman and dhokla are not the same, khamni and khandvi are not just different names for the same thing!

So, this post is a little attempt at demystifying the beautiful thing that Gujarati food is. This is an account of some of the street food that we tried out on our recent visit to Ahmedabad. Of course, this is not all there is to Gujarati food – I have barely scratched the surface here. These just form part of the proverbial iceberg!

Now, let’s check out all the street food we hogged on in Ahmedabad, shall we?

  1. Khaman from Radhe Khaman

Pillow soft, juicy, absolutely delicious steamed cakes made from gram flour (besan) – that’s khaman for you. Slightly sweet and sour, khaman seasoned with fried green chillies, lots of finely chopped fine coriander and mustard, is a common snack across Gujarat. They are a popular breakfast item as well. Don’t be fooled by how delicate they look – they are quite filling!

In Gujarat, khaman is commonly served with a delicious runny chutney made of gram flour, and/or a dry salad made with raw papaya (called ‘kachumber‘).

008edit
Plain Khaman from Radhe Khaman

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Growing up, I used to love the fluffy, juicy khaman that Mehta Farsan House at Vadilal used to serve. On our last visit to Ahmedabad, though, I came to know that Mehta – a childhood landmark for me – doesn’t exist any more. 😦 So, we gorged on khaman brought home by a cousin from Radhe’s, another popular joint in the city, and they were absolutely blissful! Radhe’s apparently offers a whole lot of varieties of khaman, but we were content to stuff ourselves with the simple, basic Plain Khaman.

Raipur Bhajia House and Das Khaman are two other places in Ahmedabad which serve simply beautiful khaman.

2. The Gujju-fied version of pizza at Jasuben’s Old Pizza

Decades ago, Jasuben, a Gujarati homemaker started making ‘bhakri pizzas’ – little pizzas with a home-made semi-crunchy crust, smeared with a very desi sweetish gravy, doused with a generous amount of grated cheese, and baked in a gas oven. These pizzas became hugggeeelyyyy popular, and Old Pizza came into existence in Law Garden, Ahmedabad, to sell these pizzas to the general public. Today, there are scores of Old Pizza outlets all over Ahmedabad, and several other restaurants offering these bhakri pizzas. The popularity of Old Pizza shot through the roof after Prime Minister Narendra Modi once called it a great example of female entrepreneurship.

These pizzas have always been a huge favourite with me. I absolutely couldn’t miss checking them out on our Ahmedabad trip! The quality and the taste of the pizzas was just the same as I remembered them to be, and I fell in love with them all over again! 🙂

26232212_736092299913522_845966048644456695_o
Italian Pizza at Jasuben’s Old Pizza

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: You can try this out at any of the Old Pizza outlets in town, including the original Law Garden one. We visited the outlet at Prahlad Nagar.

3. Dalwada from Ambika Dalwada

Gujarati dalwada taste absolutely fantastic, especially if you have them on a dark, rainy day. They are deep-fried balls of a special batter made from broken moong, with the skin on. They are typically served in a newspaper cone, with salt-doused thinly sliced onions and fried green chillies.

26685419_734706013385484_626842313811262195_o
Dalwada from Ambika Dalwada

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: I think Khadawala, a little street-side stall near Ellis Bridge, made the bestest of dalwadas in Ahmedabad. Sadly, Khadawala doesn’t exist any more. Gujarat Dalwada and Ambika Dalwada are the two next best outlets, if you want to try out this Gujarat-special snack, with several branches across the city. The dalwadas here are quite different from those at Khadawala, but they are pretty good too.

4.  Dabeli at Jay Bhavani

It would be very tough for me to choose just one favourite from all the lovely Gujarati snacks I have grown up eating. If I simply had to, though, dabeli would rank among the top three for sure. That sweetish potato filling, that fine sev, those pomegranate arils and gorgeous tangy and spicy chutneys all fit into a buttered and toasted slice of pav – that’s heaven!

26240757_734938620028890_4402235975814037348_o
Dabeli at Jay Bhavani

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Most street-side carts in Ahmedabad will do a great job of making the dabeli, I can say from experience. I am not sure if the carts I grew up eating them from exist any more, though. Jay Bhavani makes it really, really well, if you’d like to try this out, and they are at multiple locations throughout the city.

5. Buffvada at a roadside stall in Dhalgarwad

Buffvada is, basically, fasting food in Gujarat. A shell made of potatoes and arrowroot flour is stuffed with a filling made of dry fruits, nuts, coconut, ginger and green chilly, sometimes pomegranate seeds too. This is then deep-fried to perfection. Bliss in every bite, if you ask me.

The buffvada that we had at a roadside stall in Dhalgarwad

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Sadly, it is not very easy to find buffvada in Ahmedabad, especially when there are no festivals around the corner. Very few places make this, and fewer still make it the right way. Mehta Farsan House at Vadilal used to do some really love buffvadas but, considering they have closed down now, we tried them out at a tiny road-side stall in Dhalgarwad and found them just about average. If you want to sample them, I would suggest you head to any of the various Das outlets in town – I understand they make some killer buffvadas, from what I’ve heard!

6. Neera from any roadside stall

Palm nectar or the sap extracted from palm trees is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Not only is it loaded with health benefits, but tastes absolutely scrumptious as well. Locally called neera, the sap is extracted before sunrise and is sold off at roadside stalls before noon, before it begins to ferment. It is typically available in the winter months – knocking down a couple of glasses of cold, cold neera on a cold, cold winter morning is an experience in itself!

The neera we tried out at a roadside stall in Gota, Ahmedabad

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Go to any of the government-recognised neera stalls by the roadside in Ahmedabad, and you are sure to get a genuine, good glassful. The authentic stuff tastes absolutely lovely, cool and sweet. Beware of fake stalls that sell sugar water in the name of neera – they exist too!

7. Ragda Pattice at Swastik, Municipal Market

Ragda Pattice would rank right up there, among my top three favourite Gujju snacks. For the uninitiated, I would say this is the Gujarati version of aloo tikki chaat – potato patties pan-fried till the outer shell is crispy, then dunked in a lovely sweet-spicy gravy made of peas, served with a generous dose of chopped onions and coriander, sweet tamarind chutney and spicy green chutney. If you haven’t tried this out, you are seriously missing out!

Ragda Pattice in the making at Swastik, Municipal Market

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: My family and I have been eating ragda pattice at Swastik, a roadside stall in Municipal Market, ever since I was a kid. I have seen the same gentleman making it over the years – he has grown older, and we have too. On our recent visit to Ahmedabad, we headed back here for our fill of ragda pattice and, I am absolutely thrilled to report, it still tastes the same – out-of-the-world delish. Don’t go by the shabby look of the place – just go ahead, trust me, and grab a plate. This guy makes the best in Ahmedabad! He takes pride in the fact that he uses only pure Amul ghee to make them, too!

8. Dal Pakwaan at Jay Jhulelal, Vastrapur Lake

Crisp, fried pooris (pakwaan) served with a delicious tempered chana daal gravy (daal) is a common breakfast combination in Sindhi households. I tried it out for the first-ever time, on our recent trip to Ahmedabad, and absolutely loved it. The flavours were so subtle, yet so beautiful!

Dal Pakwaan at Jay Jhulelal, Vastrapur Lake

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: A cousin of mine insisted on dragging me to this little outlet near Vastrapur Lake, called Jay Jhulelal, which apparently makes the best Dal Pakwaan in town. I am so thankful he did that – the dish we sampled there was such a beauty, inside and out! I’d recommend you to visit the same place if you wish to try this dish out – I’m not sure of where else you get good Dal Pakwaan in the city.

9. Sev Khamni, Khandvi and Idada at Das

Sev Khamni is yet another gorgeous, gorgeous Gujarati snack that I can have any time of the day. Chana daal is soaked for a few hours, then ground and cooked with chosen spices, to be served with a generous dousing of pomegranate arils, coriander and fresh coconut. Love! (Click here for the Sev Khamni recipe on my blog!)

Khandvi refers to thin, thin, thin rolls of cooked chickpea flour (besan) batter, beautifully salted and slightly sour in taste, tempered with loads of coriander, mustard, fresh coconut and sesame seeds. It requires loads of finesse, practice and patience to make, but it well worth the effort!

Now, Idada refers to steamed cakes of a white batter made of rice and urad daal, not unlike idli batter. Commonly served with a tempering of mustard, sesame and coriander, pillowy Idada or White Dhokla are an absolute pleasure to eat.

Each of these three Gujarati snacks – Sev Khamni, Khandvi and Idada – are super healthy, cooked with minimal or no oil (except for the fried sev, of course)!

Left: Sev Khamni; Top right: Khandvi; Bottom right: Idada; all at Das

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Das is a great place to hog on any of the above three old-world Gujju snacks. There are several outlets across the city – take your pick!

10. Chana Jor Garam off a roadside stall

Chana Jor Garam, I’m sure most of you already know. It is probably not the healthiest of snacks, but God, it is so delicious!

A Chana Jor Garam vendor outside Kankaria Lake

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Pick up a newspaper cone brimming with Chana Jor Garam from any of the several road-side vendors selling it in town. Most of them make it well – you can customise it to your liking too – and it isn’t too expensive either!

11. Chaats at Honest

I’ve grown up eating the most delectable of paav bhaji, pulao and chaats at Honest. Back then, they used to have just a couple of outlets – now, they seem to have mushroomed all over the city! I absolutely had to go and try out Honest, on our last visit to Ahmedabad, but I ended up utterly disappointed with most of the food there. Prices seem to have quadrupled, while the quality of the paav bhaji and pulao seems to have gone down four times. 😦 The chaats that I tried out here – Bhel Poori and Chatni Poori – were still lovely, the way I remember them being all those years ago. Some school friends that I spoke to echoed my thoughts about Honest exactly – that the taste and quality of the food has, indeed, drastically gone down. Many of them now don’t go to Honest any more. They rather prefer going to small road-side stalls near their homes for their paav bhaji and pulao fix.

Wondering what chatni poori is? It is a cross between sev poori and pani poori, a gorgeous confection that I am not sure if you get outside of Gujarat. The small, round pooris that are used to make golgappas form the base of the chatni poori, which is served with assorted chutneys, lots of fine sev, onions and coriander. Had at the right place, it tastes absolutely lovely.

img_20180426_1145341021362192.jpg
Top Left: Pav Bhaji; Bottom Left: Pulao; Top Right: Bhel Poori; Bottom Right: Chatni Poori; all at Honest

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Considering the utterly forgettable paav bhaji and pulao I had at Honest, I definitely would not be recommending them. I think you would be better off trying these from the small carts that litter most alleys of Ahmedabad.

Go to Honest for the chaats, though, especially the chatni poori. If you are a chaat freak like me, I am sure you will love it. Of course, there are a lot of other places that will serve you glorious chaat in Ahmedabad, but I speak only of Honest because that was the only place where we tried them out, in the limited time we had available to us.

12. Kulfis at Asharfi

Asharfi is an age-old establishment in Ahmedabad, one that has wowed generations of citizens with its creamy, delectable kulfi. Like Honest, Asharfi outlets too seem to have mushroomed all over the city. Thankfully, the taste and quality of the kulfis we tried out at Asharfi still remains great, as it always used to be.

Top Left: Anjeer Kulfi; Bottom Left: Roasted Almond Kulfi; Right: Pista Kulfi

Best places to try this out in Ahmedabad: Don’t miss the old-world kulfis at Asharfi, whenever you get a chance to visit Ahmedabad. The Chocolate Kulfi, Pista Kulfi, Sitaphal Kulfi and Mixed Kulfi are personal favourites – they come highly recommended!

Well, that’s all about our street food journey in Ahmedabad! I hope you enjoyed reading the post!

So, the next time you visit the city, you know where to head to, for a happy tummy, eh?

Postcards From Cherrapunji, The Wet And Gorgeous Land

 

‘Cherrapunji is the wettest place on earth. It gets the highest amount of rainfall in the world,‘ I remember reading time and time again in my geography textbooks at school. Like many, that was my first introduction to Cherrapunji, via school books.

Well, the mantle of ‘wettest place on earth’ has now been passed to the neighbouring village of Mawsynram. Still, I am so thrilled to have had a chance to actually visit Cherrapunji aka Sohra, this place straight out of my school books, on our holiday to North-East India! And, guess what? We happened to visit Cherrapunji right in the midst of the monsoon, when it was at its wettest, wild, gorgeous best!

fb_img_1524121402488-01659006793.jpeg
A winding highway, in the midst of mountains, in Cherrapunji

Cherrapunjee from my eyes

We didn’t have any preconceived notions about Cherrapunji when we visited, and went with an open mind. The place charmed the socks right off us. We were thrilled to meet the sleepy, laid-back, small town that Cherrapunjee is, literally in the midst of the clouds. This land of many waterfalls and lush, lush greenery is still off-the-beaten track for many tourists.

fb_img_1524121372687-01372644694.jpeg
A quaint structure we came across in Cherrapunjee

Most tourists who do come here stay for just a day or so. They opt only to visit the Double-Decker Living Root Bridge and, at the most, a couple of tourist destinations. Cherrapunjee, however, is the sort of place you explore at a leisurely place. It is the kind of place where you stay put and do nothing, just sitting in the porch of your hotel with a cup of tea warming your hands, soaking in the prettiness around you. It is the kind of place where you take long walks on the winding streets, on misty mornings. You watch whole mountains being swallowed up by the clouds and mist. You let the clouds and mist envelop you, too, and you disappear into a private, magical space all of your own. Here, you begin to understand why Meghalaya (‘the abode of the clouds’ is called so), and why Rabindranath Tagore was moved to poetry here. You even write some poetry of your own, here. There is a lot to see and do and feel and explore in Cherrapunjee, if you take the time to do it.

fb_img_1524121387514-01418421219.jpeg
We stopped here to watch this breath-taking landscape, en route to Cherrapunji from Shillong. Later, we learnt that the landscape is like this, wherever you go, in Cherrapunji!

Exploring Cherrapunji

We stayed in Cherrapunji for 3 days, and thoroughly enjoyed our time there. We skipped the famous Double-Decker Root Bridge, as we were told it wasn’t a wise thing to attempt with a toddler in tow. We checked out many other spots here, and yet, I have this feeling that we have just barely scratched the surface.

When we visited, it would rain heavily in the early mornings, and everywhere would be filled with mist. At times like these, we would go for a leisurely stroll, just to get ourselves acquainted with the place, gawping at the pretty pastel-coloured houses, the local Ja-Sha (tea & rice) shops, and the many remnants of British culture. We would head for a relaxed breakfast then, the weather beginning to turn very pleasant. A day of exploration would follow. By 5.30 PM or so, it would start getting dark, and we would return to our hotel to rest and recoup. I grew so very fond of these do-nothing sort of days in Cherrapunjee – I would do it all over again in a flash!

fb_img_1524121490352-01638219664.jpeg
We missed lunch, the day we drove from Shillong to Cherrapunji. Our cabbie took us to this little shop in Cherrapunji, which made the best-ever vegetable Maggi we’ve ever had! There’s something extraordinarily charming about Maggi in the hills, right?

Relics from the times of the British Raj

Our cab driver told us fascinating stories of how the British were charmed by Cherrapunjee. ‘The Britishers wanted to make this place their capital,’ he said, adding, ‘but they found life here extremely tough. It was difficult to maintain any sort of records – the rain would wash away the ink on all their official papers. Finally, they gave up, and made Shillong their capital.’

I’m not sure how far this is true, but Cherrapunji does still possess some relics from the time the Britishers spent here. There are some very beautiful ancient churches here, and a few schools that the British set up. Apparently, during the British rule in Meghalaya, many of the local Khasi tribespeople converted to Christianity, which is still the most-favoured religion in the state, Cherrapunjee included.

fb_img_1524121367006-011603588049.jpeg
A pretty, pretty church that we came across in the course of our explorations in Cherrapunji

Wahkaba Falls

Neither the husband nor me are enamoured with waterfalls. I mean, we do love the sound of the gushing water – it never fails to soothe and relax us – but apart from that, we aren’t particularly fascinated by them. The waterfalls of Cherrapunji, however, made us fall in love with them! Wahkaba is one such beautiful waterfall we visited here, and absolutely adored. Abundant, powerful, pretty, we stared and stared at this waterfall for a long, long time. Then, the sun came out and made a rainbow in the Wahkaba, magic right before our eyes!

fb_img_1524137544557-01683923570.jpeg
The Wahkaba Falls in Cherrapunji

Arwah Caves

There are quite a few caves and caverns in Cherrapunji, many of them boasting of exotic rock formations and fossils. Mawsmai and Arwah are two of the best-known caves in the area. We decided not to do Mawsmai, as our tour guide suggested against it – it would be a difficult trek with a baby. We went to Arwah instead, and it turned out to be a fascinating experience.

fb_img_1524121324406-011026111685.jpeg
The gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous climb up to Arwah Caves in Cherrapunji

The climb up to Arwah Caves itself is magical. You get to see some amazing, amazing vistas, as you ascend.

fb_img_1524121351383-01343576207.jpeg
Mist-engulfed, during the ascent to Arwah Caves

You can choose to sit and rest at any of the stops during the climb, and take in the beauty around you. We did the climb real slow, soaking in every moment of it.

fb_img_1524121340875-011691003146.jpeg
A jaw-dropping vista, captured during the ascent to Arwah Caves

Good we did that, too, because when we got to the caves, we found we couldn’t get in too deep while carrying the kid – parts of it are real narrow and you need to double over to enter.

fb_img_1524121329273-01766799501.jpeg
The entrance to the Arwah Caves

We were so drunk on nature by then that we didn’t mind this one bit. Not exploring the cave meant more time for us to lounge around and breathe in more of that gorgeous, fresh air.

fb_img_1524121333823-011928994206.jpeg
Another absolutely amazing vista spotted during the climb up to Arwah Caves. Can you tell how crazy we went taking pictures here? 🙂

Nohkalikai Falls

Nohkalikai is another amazingly beautiful waterfall in Cherrapunji. When we visited, the water was abundant and gushing. At this spot, we fell in love with waterfalls all over again.

fb_img_1524121469356-011895466685.jpeg
The very beautiful Nohkalikai Falls in Cherrapunji

This brilliant waterfall has a rather gruesome story behind it, associated with a young local lady called Ka Likai (‘Ka‘ is a prefix given to women in general in Khasi). After Ka Likai’s husband died, she remarried, as is customary in this part of the world. Ka Likai had a baby daughter by her first husband, and would spend a lot of time with the little one after she got back home from work. Local legend says this made her new husband so jealous and furious that he killed the baby, and used the meat to cook a meal for his wife. That evening, the wife, hungry after her work, ate the meal. It was only later, when Ka Likai discovered a little finger lying in the house that she realised what had happened. Overcome with grief, she ran off the edge of a nearby cliff and died. Since then, the waterfall emanating from this particular place began to be called the Nohkalikai Falls, after her.

fb_img_1524121362871-011614171594.jpeg
Fresh cinnamon and bay leaves being sold at Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji. I had never seen cinnamon sticks this huge before!

Sad as the story behind Nohkalikai Falls is, the place is quite the tourist attraction now. The atmosphere at the site resembles a small village fair, with everything from local handicrafts, woollen garments and toys to forest honey, a variety of pickles, fresh cinnamon bark and bay leaves on sale. I loved this part – I walked around the fair to my heart’s content, took pictures and shopped till we almost dropped!

fb_img_1524121453192-011105540289.jpeg
A variety of pickles and forest-fresh honey on sale, at Nohkalikai Falls, Cherrapunji

Ramkrishna Mission

The Ramakrishna Mission, set up in Cherrapunji in 1924 by Swami Vivekananda, is a big-time tourist attraction here. We found it just like the Mission in other places, nothing extraordinary. I loved the museum within the Mission premises, though, which is full of information and models depicting life in the North-East Indian states and their history.

Photography is not permitted here, and so, I don’t have any pictures of this place to show.

Eco Park

A large park maintained by the government, Eco Park is something of a tourist attraction in Cherrapunji. It isn’t much, to be honest, sort of poorly maintained, but it does offer some amazing views. We enjoyed walking around the park, photographing the breath-taking Missing Falls (named so because the source of the waterfall is untraceable). The kiddo had a grand time having a go at the swings in the children’s play area here!

fb_img_1524121377358-011555610350.jpeg
The spell-binding Missing Falls, as visible from Eco Park, Cherrapunji

Seven Sisters Falls

The Nohsngithiang Falls in Cherrapunji is popularly called the Seven Sisters Falls, because it is segmented into seven parts, naturally. Considered one of India’s tallest falls, this is supposed to be quite a beautiful spot. When we visited, however, we found only very thin streams of water cascading into the valley below, a kind of disappointment after the gorgeous falls we had been witness to in Cherrapunji earlier.

fb_img_1524137538918-011815376208.jpeg

So, that’s about all that we managed to do in Cherrapunji. Like I said before, I believe we have only just scratched the surface of all that the place has to offer. Well, next time..

**************

Getting there:

The best way to visit Cherrapunji is to reach Guwahati, either by air or train. Cherrapunji, about 180km from Guwahati, can be reached via state transport buses or private cabs. Alternatively, you could travel to Shillong from Guwahati (via bus or cab), and then travel ahead to Cherrapunji.

Getting around:

Private cabs are the best way to cover all the major tourist destinations in Cherrapunji. It is a great place to walk leisurely around in, but you really need a cab to sight-see. Our entire North-East trip was planned and managed by North East Explorers.

Stay:

There are a handful of good homestays, guest houses, hotels and resorts in Cherrapunji. Polo Orchid Resort, Cherrapunjee Holiday Resorts, Sohra Plaza, D Cloud Guesthouse are some stay options available here.

Eat:

Orange Roots, Halari, 7 Sisters Falls View Inn, Cafe Cherrapunjee & Inn and Rain Cafe are some of the popular eateries here.

**************

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and found it useful! Please do tell me in your comments!

 

 

Sharjah Shake Recipe| How To Make Sharjah Milkshake

Kerala’s connection with the Gulf is legendary. Almost every family in Kerala has someone living in the Gulf countries or someone very eager to go there. When we recently visited Wayanad,Kerala, we were not surprised to come across small bakeries called ‘Dubai Bakery’, ‘UAE Bakery’ and the likes. It was in one of these little bake shops that we sampled Sharjah Shake for the first time ever.

For the uninitiated, Sharjah Shake is a milkshake that you will find in most bakeries in Kerala. A concoction made of milk, coffee powder, sometimes chocolate, peanuts, bananas, vanilla ice cream and Boost, Horlicks or Bournvita, it tastes absolutely delicious. This might sound like a weird combination, but don’t let that deter you from trying this out – like I said, this milkshake is finger-lickingly delish!

The origins of the Sharjah Shake are hazy. Some say this concoction was dreamt up by a Malayali in memory of the beautiful time he spent in Sharjah. Some say it is a tribute to the Gulf, the unending love Keralites share for the place. Well, whatever the case may be, I’m so glad to have had the opportunity to taste this beauty in Wayanad and to learn to make it right there!

Here’s how to make Sharjah Shake, the way I learnt standing in a tiny Wayanadan bakery.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  1. 1 medium-sized Robusta banana, chopped
  2. 2 heaped tablespoons Boost
  3. 3 tablespoons sugar or to taste
  4. 1 teaspoon instant coffee powder
  5. 2 tablespoons salted peanuts, skin removed
  6. 1 small cup of vanilla ice cream or to taste
  7. About 1-1/2 cups chilled milk

Method:

1. Add all ingredients in mixer.

2. Blend till smooth.

3. Pour into serving glasses. Sprinkle some cocoa powder or instant coffee powder on top (optional). Serve immediately.

Notes:

1. You can add in a few cashewnuts for a thicker milkshake as well as for added flavour.

2. Increase or decrease the quantity of the ingredients used, depending upon your personal taste preferences.

3. You can use Horlicks or Bournvita in making this milkshake, instead of Boost. Each one of these will add a variation to the taste.

4. Make sure the milk has been boiled and chilled in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, before using it in making the milkshake.

5. In Kerala, small local varieties of bananas are used to make the Sharjah Shake. Since I did not have access to them, I used a Robusta banana instead.

*************

This post is for the Foodie Monday Blog Hop. The theme for this week is ‘Recipes using coffee’.

I’m also sending this recipe to Fiesta Friday #220, co-hosted by Mollie @ Frugal Hausfrau and Jhuls @ Not So Creative Cook.