Locomotoring

Seven continents, seven seas, seven billion people and seven thousand good eats …

Archive for the ‘India’ Category

Kakori kababs at Salim’s – roasting at Khan Market

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Salim Kabab at Khan Market

Salim Kabab at Khan Market

Even in blazing summers, a visit to Delhi is incomplete without a taste of its famous kababs. We had already tried satisfying this craving by eating some sheesh-kababs in the cool comfort of the regal Curzon room in Oberoi Maidens Hotel. Their sheesh was competent, but it had failed to hit the spot.

We were planning a visit to Khan Chacha when we happened to read about Salim’s,  yet another tiny kabab corner in Khan market, at “Eating Out in Delhi” blog. It is a rare happenstance to find a foodie proclaim a kabab corner as good as chacha’s, so we were intrigued. On author’s suggestion, we decided to seek out Salim’s kakori kabab and are glad we did.

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Written by Som

July 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Holy walk on hot asphalt – from Haridwar to Delhi

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Kavadi-bearer near Connaught Place

Kavadi-bearer near Connaught Place

This is an ultramarathon of a different type. Every year in July, come Monsoons or not, hundreds of thousands of Kavadi (or Kaavadi) bearers walk from Haridwar to their respective Shiva temples. They carry the holy water of Ganges in pitchers mounted on shoulder slung bamboo carriers. A vast majority of them are young men between the ages of 20-30 from small villages or slums.

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Written by Som

July 27, 2009 at 10:27 am

Restaurant Pindi, beating Delhi heat with food from Pind

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Taka-tak aloo at Pindi restaurant

Taka-tak aloo at Pindi restaurant

It is Sunday, the day of rest. Rest from the kitchen, that is. I am at Pindi, a popular establishment in Delhi frequented by visitors and locals alike. It is devilishly hot outside. I can smell grilled meat a good hundred feet from Pindi. It is late for lunch but the joint is crowded. People are tearing apart tandoori chicken with gusto and hungrily sopping up creamy curries with naans. All accompanied by cheerful faces, animated conversations, and sounds of laughter. Very Punjabi indeed.

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Written by Som

July 26, 2009 at 12:32 pm

Showing a purple tongue to Delhi heat

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Jamuns, a seasonal purple berry

Jamuns, a seasonal purple berry

This monsoon season in Delhi, I tasted jamuns after nearly two decades. As a child, picking ripe jamuns used to be a pleasant way of killing time. It often involved sneaking into a neighbor’s yard when the elders were dozing off in the summer heat. It also meant getting up on precarious fences or branches to reach up the tree for a handful of jamuns. I saw some street urchins doing the same the other day; the girl appeared to be as old as I was then.

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Written by Som

July 26, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Delhi, India

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Baking in Delhi, waiting for the rains

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Humidity and heat give mangoes a sweeter flesh and a heady aroma. The same dose makes my brain feel fried and served on a platter – all shapeless and gooey. Monsoons should smell of earth and mangoes but it hasn’t started raining yet. Air is so thick with humidity that I am practically breathing in water. Or is it soup? A soup spiced with exhaust fumes, and body odors.
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Written by Som

July 20, 2009 at 7:23 pm

Posted in Delhi, India

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Kashmir – On not bus-ing across Leh

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Thiksey Monastery

Thiksey Monastery

We abandoned our plans to hoof it around Leh, but we were still sample-the-local-culture type of tourists. So no rented SUVs for us, it was going to be local buses instead. We asked our inn-keeper for the night whether it would be possible to catch a bus the next morning to our next village stop. He assured us that there was a bus to be caught at 10:00 am the next morning. Excellent.

We had time to do the morning tea ritual and eat a leisurely, if spartan, breakfast. It felt like a vacation after all. We hefted our backpacks, walked half a mile to the nearest bus stop and patiently sat down to wait. The waiting was pleasant – deep blue sky, fresh mountain air, high desert landscape around us, the golden Buddha statue glinting in the courtyard of the monastery we had visited the evening before. Very picture postcard perfect. Put in some luxury tents and charge a bunch of rich tourists $1000-a-day perfect.

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Written by Sachin

July 7, 2009 at 12:17 am

Kashmir – On walking across Leh

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Lamayuru Monastery from the Highway

Lamayuru Monastery from the Highway

A combination of lack of detailed maps, the locals’ flexible notion of distance and time, and the thin mountain air, made us drop our grand plans to wander across Leh on foot. But every day or two we did have to walk the distance from the nightly bivouac to the nearest bus stop, which usually turned out to be just beyond the next mountain (us) / hill (locals). After a couple of days of lugging my stupidly heavy backpack it dawned on me that there were usually two tracks leading across every mountain/hill – one around it and the other over it. The latter seemed as if someone had created straight-as-arrow paths on a flat piece of paper, and draped that paper on mountains and valleys.

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Written by Sachin

June 16, 2009 at 9:19 pm

Kashmir – On not walking across Leh

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Hitchiking - the driver hadnt slept three nights ....

Hitchiking - the driver hadn't slept three nights ....

We traveled to Leh, in northern Kashmir, a few years ago. Good sample-the-local-culture tourists that we are, we traveled on crowded buses, hitchhiked on trucks, and once, memorably, on a fully loaded gasoline tanker truck driven by a dozing driver. One thing we did not try to do much was hike. It was not the lack of detailed maps that held us back. India is crowded enough that finding someone to ask the way to a nearby village is usually not a problem. The problem was estimating how long it would take us urbanites to walk across the hills and mountains of Leh to our destination. Actually, the problem was the set of short conversations we had with the locals one fine day, which I reproduce below.

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Written by Sachin

June 12, 2009 at 2:09 am

Alford and Duguid and parboiled rice

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Husband and wife, Alford and Duguid met on a hotel rooftop in Tibet in 1985. They have been traveling together and writing James Beard Award winning cookbooks since. While leafing through an old copy of New Yorker, I re-discovered them recently. Most of their travels are through South Asia and consequently the cookbooks reflect the tastes and stories of Asia. I present here an excerpt from their introduction to “Seductions of Rice“.

In the course of working on this book, we were walking early one morning along a narrow path past fields of rice just outside Calcutta in Bengal, in India. It was early November, dry season in Bengal, and the sun was already bright and warm. The rice was golden, it was harvest time, and in every field out across a large flat plain as far as we could see, there were groups of villagers working hard cutting and threshing rice. Their voices, together with the songs of birds and the occasional bump of a bicycle riding along a dirt path, were the only sounds to be heard… We were there taking pictures, asking the odd question, but mainly just being there. We were happy to be outside the city at harvest time, to see the water buffaloes chomping on the stubble in the fields already harvested, to see farmers slapping long bundles of cut rice against a threshing table so that the grain would dislodge from the straw.

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Written by locomotoring

April 2, 2009 at 3:58 pm

Who moved my wife? – Ramlila in New Delhi.

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Ramlila Effigy Ramlila Effigy Ramlila Effigy

In 300 BCE, it is said, lived a thief, a kind of a highway robber called Valmiki. One day he tried to rob a sadhu, a wandering holy man, who had nothing to offer him so he gave him a mantra ‘Mara’. When Valmiki , in his distracted moments chanted it, he realised he was not saying mara-mara-mara but rama-rama-rama and that’s when he decided to write down the story of Lord Rama into an epic called Ramayana.

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Eating a starfruit from a roadside vendor

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Delhi vendor selling starfruit and roasted sweet potatotes

Delhi vendor selling starfruit and roasted sweet potatotes

From a Delhi roadside vendor.

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Written by Som

March 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

India’s village tourism

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Recently New York Times published an article on village tourism in India – “Villagers in India Open Their Homes“. Author of this article stayed for three days at a small village called Samthar near Darjeeling, the tea hills of West Bengal.

This is distinct from staying a night at a village as part of an adventure trip. In this case the principal activity for guests at village homestays is observing and joining in the humdrum rhythms of village life. While a local government official was quoted saying that one has to stay for at least 3 months to enjoy and understand the villages, 3 days is a small beginning.

A small beginning to what? That is what I am pondering over.

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Written by Som

March 11, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Coronation Park, a story of indifference

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Coronation Park

Coronation Park

When the decision to shift the nation’s capital from Kolkata to Delhi took place, this spot was proclaimed to be the site for viceroy’s residence. George V’s coronation as the emperor of India was commemorated here. Then the story of neglect began. The site was deemed unsuitable and the residence of Viceroy was eventually built at the site of Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The park reminds me of my school park – large, open, not very shaded, spottily grassy. But that is where the similarity ends. At dawn, no groups of people gather about for a yoga class or a laughing club session. At dusk, young lovers don’t come here in search of intimacy.  Grandpas don’t come here for their evening constitutionals. There is no chaiwala or any one else selling snacks. Really, nothing is happening here. There appears to be a single caretaker who lives with his family, he may very well be self proclaimed one. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything either.

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Written by Som

January 13, 2009 at 1:53 am

McLeodganj, Little Tibet of India

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Street of McLeodganj

Street of McLeodganj

McLeodganj, or upper Dharamsala is a bustling town, a well-known vacation spot, in the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh. Since the 14th Dalai Lama sought refuge in this town after the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959, it has seen a steady influx of Tibetan refugees. Now, the Tibetan population perhaps outnumbers the locals.

The Tibetan Government in Exile, which operates from here, has set up various facilities for the refugees. There is an old peoples’ home, a dormitory for fresh arrivals and a large setup of ‘homes’ and ‘school’ for children. A large number of Tibetans send their children across to McLeodganj with groups of refugees to ensure that they receive good education and get to study Tibetan culture. Many of these children never see their parents again. Some are scared to make phone calls to them back in Tibet and gradually lose touch with them.

McLeodganj, partly because of the popularity of the Tibetan cause in the West and partly because of its serene surroundings has always been a backpacker ghetto. The pressure on the resources of this small town is increasing and one sees more vehicles than people walking the streets these days. As far as tourism is considered, McLeodganj is a well-appointed town. One can find hotels of all ranges and most facilities that one hopes for in a town like that, like good Internet cafes (with broadband lines), fairly worthy restaurants and even a discotheque.

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Hello…Want to see a dead body?

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We had just stepped off the rickshaw when a young boy selling charms approached us. He was too young to have a street-smart swagger and walked towards us with the timidity of someone new to the job. A smile eased his hesitation and he stepped closer. ‘Hello…Want to see dead body?’ he said, grinning ingratiatingly. Casual and breezy…

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Why did I think that Khan Chacha’s was better than Dum Pukht

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Khan Chacha at Delhis Khan market

Khan Chacha at Delhi's Khan market

Dum Pukht, Maurya Sheraton is one of Delhi’s finest. Khan Chacha’s at Khan Market is a tiny shop where you queue up and eat out of a paper plate. Dinner for one at Dum Pukht is easy $150. And a meal at Khan Chacha’s is $1.50. The only thing common to them is their reputation for exceptional kababs. So, of course, I had to try both.

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Memories of a train ride

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Local Train in Kolkata

Local Train in Kolkata

The year was probably 1978-79. Time of the year – the summer holidays. Our family – mother, father, my younger sibling and myself – visited my grandparents whenever father could afford a short break during the summers. I think it was Kalka, going from Delhi to Kolkata. Could have been Shatabdi too. The ride typically was two days or more, depending on when and where the train got stuck. Rajdhani express, the first revolutionary train that traversed the same distance in seventeen hours, with its air conditioned carriages and Kwality Cassata for dessert would happen later during my teenage years.

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Written by Som

October 23, 2008 at 12:05 am

Man in a saree – no it is not what you are thinking …

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Bandhej style of fabric

Bandhej style of fabric

Here is what happened. I was in Jaipur last spring, visiting family. And a trip to Jaipur is not complete without a customary trip to the shops of Johari Bazaar, jeweler’s market. I wanted to buy some chunaris, colorful cotton/silk drapes worn like shawls or scarves. Jaipuri chunaris, particularly the tie and dye, Bandhej (or bandhani) style are fabulous.

So, I was in this small shop, lit with fluorescent light. I had already picked up half a dozen chunaris to share with friends and family. In our excitement we had managed to give away the fact that we were out of towners. This is when our enthusiastic salesman got particularly creative. I am paraphrasing but this is what he said – “Sis, just check out our sarees. You are hardly going to see these in Delhi. I am not going to ask you to buy them. Just see how gorgeous they can be”.

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Written by Som

October 22, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Srinagar – riots and roses

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Woman in Srinagar

Woman in Srinagar

If there’s anything that makes me feel cheated while traveling in India, it’s air travel. When you care the least about getting a window seat, like when it’s cloudy, there is always one available. When you really want a window seat, like when you are going to fly over the Himalayas, you will be seated between Mr. Corpulence and Mr. Mal-odor. If you are luckier, there will be a toddler kicking your seat throughout the journey, as it happened with me on a recent visit to Srinagar.

I was on a journalistic assignment, the tourists were returning to Kashmir with a revenge. We had been booked into the Centaur Hotel, beautifully situated, right at the DAL lake. There’s a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ about that hotel, maybe it is the peeling walls, the stale smell in the rooms, bad service, random people ringing your bell in the middle of the night… The next day we shifted to Green Acre. A smaller, cosier place, with big airy rooms and warm hospitable service. It is an old bungalow transformed into a hotel. They have an old section with wooden ceilings and beams and a new concrete block. It has a beautiful garden, which was in full bloom. Although there is no telephone in the rooms and the service a little slow, you can be sure your food is coming from a safe and clean kitchen. There’s no menu, there’s standard fare for each meal- Lentils, Meat, Vegetables, Curd, Rice and Chapatti (bread), and it is always excellent. Not all rooms have wi-fi but the connection in the hotel lawn is good. It is run by the family, they live in one section of the hotel. Friendly, polite and helpful, that’s the place I’m staying next time as well.

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Garlicky Nuns, Cream of Spanish and other adventures

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Lunch hour at Likir monastery

Lunch hour at Thiksey monastery

Leh is the capital of Ladakh, a high desert region in Kashmir Himalayas. Eight months in a year this region is covered deep in snow. During the summer months, it is a popular destination for Israeli kids who come here for cheap drugs after their customary stint with the army. So, what was I doing there? I am a Bengali and come holidays, we pack our bags and go somewhere, be it low-budget trip to tea-estates of Darjeeling or far away places like Leh.

I was in Leh with my husband (he is a Bengali in spirit). We flew in from Delhi and that wasn’t a smart move, human bodies aren’t designed for a zero to 17000 ft transition in 2 hours. More of this particular misadventure at some other time. But let me tell you about the nuns and the Spanish.

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Written by Som

August 12, 2008 at 6:10 pm

Not on the map, part IV, Abhaneri – 8th century stepwell

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Stepwell with its emareld green pool

Stepwell with its emerald green pool

On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night before at Sariska and started the day’s adventures with Bhangarh, the 17th century ghost town. Now we were on our way to Abhaneri, the site of 8th century stepwell.

It was afternoon and we were quite thirsty. At Bhangarh, couple of village women were serving water the old fashioned way – using a long handled copper pitcher out of a bucket, presumably the water was drawn from a nearby well. We had dared not drink it. We had run out of water and hadn’t found bottled water on these off-the-map roads. We stopped for tea at a local temple. I don’t recall much except a large cauldron of bubbling milky tea and a hyperactive group of adorable little baby monkeys. After nearly twenty five years, I had tea out of an earthen cup.

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Not on the map, part III, Bhangarh – a ghost town

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On our way from Sariska to Bhangarh

On our way from Sariska to Bhangarh

On our Delhi-Jaipur road trip, we had spent the night in Sariska and were on our way to Bhangarh that morning, a 17th century ghost town.

Our road was narrow and unpaved. A landscape of spring time fields full of fresh green shoots, village women in their bright chunris, wrinkly old men herding goats, buffaloes and children bathing at the same water hole, blue sky above, and georgette like veil of clouds. Dotting this landscape were ruins of old forts and chattaris, cenotaphs and occasionally, ads for mobile phones.

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Not on the map – part II, Sariska

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Tigerless tiger sanctuary

We had left for a Delhi-Jaipur road trip that morning. By the time we reached Sariska, it was already evening. I had spent my childhood in a town called Alwar, a small town then, not very far from Sariska. My memory of Aravali range were these undulating hills that sparkled in the noon sun due to the presence of trace amounts of mica. That evening, the Aravali hills surrounding Sariska had looked a dull greyish-brown in the setting sun.

Although the tigers at this tiger sanctuary are now all dead or departed, many wild animal species such as leopards, hyenas, jackals, spotted deer (cheetal), wild boars, sambars and four-horned deer are still there. A casual visitor these days is likely to see only monkeys. We didn’t encounter any that evening.

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Written by Som

July 1, 2008 at 5:59 am

Truck Spotting

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I don’t mean the English way of truck spotting. I mean a more interesting version à la mode India. Our trucks are whimsically decorated and often have amusing slogans.

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Written by Som

July 1, 2008 at 5:58 am

Posted in Delhi, India

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Not on the map, Part I – Getting out

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Sharing the road

Sharing the road

Last spring, after poring over several weekend getaway guides, we decided to go on a Delhi-Jaipur road trip via Sariska, a tiger sanctuary, Bhangarh, a ghost town, and Abhaneri, site of a 8th century stepwell.

It is always hard to find good maps, even in Delhi. We had to go all the way to Rajasthan Tourism Center in Connaught place to find a map of the state. And when we finally found it, we couldn’t locate either Bhangarh or Abhaneri on it. We didn’t let that deter us. All of us had traveled to remote places in India without maps. Besides, the distance between Delhi and Jaipur is only 250 kms, so even if we got lost, we would only be half a day away from home!

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Written by Som

July 1, 2008 at 1:44 am