Vizag at ’18

There is much to do in Vizag this New Year! From graveyard slot movie shows at 1 am to stand-up comedies to new dining and better shopping.

My friends and family usually hit me for places to eat, things to do and what and where to shop while in town. While the beach is a major attraction, we usually skip venturing in the cool waters this season.  There is ‘new’ every season here.

If you are visiting Vizag or even if you live here, this is a roundup of some of the new things you can do in a day this January. (Ah Vizaaag!One Lazy Sunday)

Comfort Food

Head over for a scrumptious lunch of hot soup and some winter comfort carb-rich food to the new diner in town- Pepperazzi. This glitzy new place is loud, not just in colour, but in din too. Done up in bright red, it aims to create an American diner atmosphere. This diner is a good place to stop by when hunger pangs strike while you are out and about exploring the city.

The long meandering menu covers Italian, Lebanese, Indian and South East Asian cuisine, but skips American.

The bread bowl soups are my fav here. I have been craving for them since I last had them at the Fisherman’s Warf in San Francisco. So happy to find them now on the menu here. The bread bowl is very fresh and the soups are top-notch. I have had a few varieties here and they are all good. I enjoy the rice dishes the most here and when you are taking a day off, it doesn’t matter if it makes you long for a siesta later.

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Soup in a bread bowl

Their hawker menu includes the Korean fried rice and the Indonesian Nasi Goreng. While the Korean version tastes good, it reminds one of any local fried rice, nothing Korean about it- not even Kimchi.  The pick of the dishes for me is Nasi Goreng. It comes served topped with a fried egg and chicken satay on the side. Really good!

The potato dumplings served with Mexican rice is also good, but a little heavy with all the cheese. A dessert of brownie with ice cream was delectable. The brownie was fresh and melted in our mouths.

I wish they served ‘diner’ food though- burgers, eggs, sausages…

Swap the sambar for some soup.

Sizzle with the Kebabs

Make space in your tummy for the yummy kebabs at Roast and Grill. Based on the lines of BBQ Nation, the unlimited veg and non-veg kebabs are delish here! Unlike other such places, where every dish tends to taste the same, here each item has a different flavour to it and it is really hard to choose one best one.

It is interesting that their selection reflects a mix of multi-cuisine in its flavours and doesn’t just stick to the Indian masalas. We really enjoyed the Creamy Florets (cauliflower in a white sauce), Mexican mushrooms and the Beetroot steak in the veg selection. The vegetarian spring rolls might taste even better if served with a sweet and sour sauce.

In the non-veg, the Australian grilled chicken, the chilli garlic fish and mutton seekh kebab were the pic of the dishes. The fish was falling off the bones. It had a nice crust to it (maybe egg-wash?). The seekh was a little spicy for me, but eating it with the yogurt and green chutney dips cut some of the spiciness. There was a mango chutney dip too for those who like mangoes.

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Cauliflower, mushrooms and garlic potatoes served steaming hot

The rest of the buffet was largely Indian Biryanis and curries. However, their rogan gosh was excellent in medium spiced brown gravy. They had a chicken roast in grape sauce with vegetables- it was the highlight dish of the evening. I wish they have more roast dishes…

If you are not yet bursting at the seams already, they have a regular selection of Indian sweets for desserts.

Psst: This is a Keto diet friendly place.

‘Handmade soap is the new black’

Hydrate your dry and chapped winter skin for some ‘me time’ after a long day at being about and around with the chemical free  soaps, scrubs, body lotions and balms made by soaper Nitya Mutyala at Amoda Handmades.

As they say, soap is to the body, what laughter is to the soul. What I love about her products is that unlike the commercially available ones, hers only use vegetable oils and butter, pure essentials oils and natural colour. I like how each of the soaps that she handcrafts with love and care retains glycerine which attracts moisture, and keeps my thirty winter skin hydrated. The same holds true for her moisturising body and lip balms as well.

My favourite soaps from the extensive range on offer are the coffee scrub and the lemongrass soaps. Her soap’y’ operas smell oh so fresh every time I use them. Her creative gift packs make for fantastic giveaways to take from the city.

‘Be in’. Stay stylish.

This season- ditch the old, do the new 🙂

Where to find these:

Pepperazzi – Waltair Uplands, Siripuram

Roast and Grill– Hotel Green Park

Amoda Handmades- Nitya Mutyala- 8897387344

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

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Let’s wander where the WIFI is weak

We passed through Araku valley last week on our road trip to Nagpur. It was so crowded that it made us want to get away as soon as possible. On the quest to find some relaxing getaways close to Vizag, we found two off-beat places with little or no phone connectivity.

In sharp comparison to the throngs of tourists in busloads to Araku valley and Borra caves, the Gangrel Dam and the Chandoori Sai resort are the perfect spots for people looking to get away from the ‘maddening crowd’ for some calm and quiet.

Gangrel Dam

Gangrel Dam is built across the Mahandani River and is located in the Dhamtari district of Chhattisgarh. Chitrakoot falls are more popular in this region, but the Gangrel dam filled to the brim in the winter season with its pristine blue water is a sight for sore eyes.  On the way from Vizag to Nagpur, we took a planned detour and a single-lane road from Dhamtari town (15 km away) led to this vast expanse of water.

We spent the night at the Bardhia Lake view cottage, owned by Chattisgarh Tourism. We reached at night and woke up in the morning to the soothing sight of water right in front of our large balconied rooms.

The new log huts, ready for occupation look straight out of picturesque postcards from Thailand or Indonesia. It is hard to imagine that this is located in a remote tribal region close to Vizag (475 km).

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The new log huts

The night sky was clear and we were greeted with a brilliantly lit blanket of twinkling stars. It was very comforting to recline on garden chairs in the cool December night sipping our hot teas. As it was a weeknight, there were no other guests and we had the whole resort to ourselves.

The friendly staff served us piping hot breakfast of aloo-puri, poha and eggs in the morning. There are water sports at the dam and we passed a park on the way. They all looked like good picnic areas. The small surrounding villages and canals with flowing water made for a picturesque ride back to the highway.

Note: The new log huts are not yet opened and we stayed in the older rooms which though not luxurious were large and adequate.

Chandoori Sai

Lounging in a manicured garden overlooking the rolling hills, watching the smoke from the neighbouring chimneys as the evening meals are cooked or gazing at the stars in clear skies at night, the faint sound of the nearby flowing brook and the chirping of crickets. If you aspire this, then believe it or not, it is only 200 kms from the hustle-bustle of Vizag.

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View of Gouduguda village from a drone Pic Courtesy: Mark Thomas

Chandoori Sai is nestled in the forests of Orissa. Conceptualized, built and managed single-handedly by Leon Mahoney, an Australian, this luxury eco-friendly homestay in the picturesque pottery village of Goudaguda is to be experienced to be believed. In order not to disturb the tribals, this accommodation is unobtrusively placed in a secluded part of the village.

With only five spacious guest rooms, this unique guesthouse is styled on the tribal village homes of the ‘Poraja’ and ‘Khonda’ tribes that live here, but within a secured garden setting. The accommodation is modern and the bathrooms are extremely clean with hot water and shower cubicles. From the hand-made terracotta floor tiles, to the coloured ochre used on the walls to give the rooms a warm earthy look- everything is pristinely local.

The continental fare of pasta, home-made freshly baked bread, and pies and tarts for dessert could give the best of bakeries a run for their money. All the vegetables are organic and sourced from his garden or the local markets.

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Leon busy baking pizzas for dinner

We had a truly unique opportunity of seeing and experiencing a different way of life first-hand.

 Truly places where on a clear day, you can see forever!

NOTE: There is little or no mobile phone connectivity at both these places.

Travel Info:

Gangrel Dam: Located in Dhamtari district of Chattisgarh. By Train: Dhamtari is the closest railway station. By Air: Raipur is the closest airport at 90 kms. By Road: Visakhapatnam is 475 km via Araku or National Highway 30 from Vizag to Raipur. http://cgtourism.choice.gov.in/resorts-&-hotels-in-chhattisgarh/5/CTB%20Resort

Chandoori Sai: Goudaguda village is in Kakriguma in the Koraput district. By train: To Koraput via Araku valley and a taxi thereafter (about a 50 km drive); or the twice weekly Intercity Express to Rayagada stops at Laxmipur station from where the village is 25 km away. By road: Take a taxi from Visakhapatnam. www.chandoorisai.com

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

Other travel blogs- (A Royal Retreat, Iraqis,Bonding- Spiritual, Social, CulturalPalaces, Lakes and MemoriesWhat-e-‘Numa, Mysticism and the Kumbh, Ah Vizaaag!, One Lazy Sunday, Vizag at ’18)

 

Student’s Diary

It has been a while since I wrote my last blog, mainly, as my fingers are sore from trying to fill 32 pages of the exam booklets. I am tired of writing so much. I have just finished appearing for my first semester exams of MBA-7 subjects daily each for 3 hours! Phew! (Back to School)

My out-of-school friends are tired of all the ‘study talk’. Since I have gotten back to study, invariably the conversation veers to, “How is college? When are the exams? How did they go? Will you pass?”

So, how did I study for these exams? I did everything a student should not do. From watching movies to going for dinners and meeting family and friends. I have done everything else but studied just a little. In fact, some of my tutors went into more of a tizzy trying to explain concepts to me last minute and fretting over ‘my busy social schedule’ 😉

The time that I did try to study- even the copious amounts of cups of tea and potato wafers I nibbled on couldn’t help me concentrate (my waist line’s bigger though). The alphabets (‘Sweat the Alphabets, Dance the Digits’) blurred out (prompted me to see an ophthalmologist) and danced into oblivion as I tried to memorize my class notes.

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Suddenly everything else seemed more important too- Steig Larsson’s and Fannie Flagg’s novels lying by my bedside, catching up on the latest TV series, scouring the internet for design ideas, planning my next vacation…

Last minute phone calls to my classmates for ‘important questions’ didn’t help much either, as I didn’t know the answers to those questions anyway 😉

Waking up anxiously and walking up tensed to the exam hall, staring at the question paper as if it was in Greek and Latin, I cursed myself and promised to study well in time for the next exams. The only thing that came to my rescue while writing though was what I remembered the teacher teaching in class, as learning anything new at the last minute proved quite futile.

I am invoking God in my prayers, as I fretfully wait to know if I’ve made the cut.

I wonder if I’ll be better prepared for the next exams… I DOUBT 😉

(Back to School) (Phases)

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

A Royal Retreat

The magnificence of the forts, the dazzle of the glittering ‘sheesh mahals’ and flamboyant palace-hotels, the rustic beauty of the villages, the inner calmness even in the thick crowds at Ajmer Shareef, the staggering queues of the devout at Pushkar, the clambering of hawkers in the old city and the mouth-watering mithai and food. My recent escapade to Jaipur was visual, soulful and a gourmet treat.

I am in love with Rajasthan. My winter visit of Udaipur (Palaces, Lakes and Memories) this year made me a fan of this State. Udaipur was laid-back and Jaipur is comparatively fast-paced. The action, for tourists especially, is in the old city-also known as the Pink city where all the buildings are painted in pink (a welcoming colour). Needless to say, we spent all our waking hours discovering this part of the city on foot and cycle rickshaws. The famed Hawa Mahal is located here. We jostled past the crowds to go all the way up for some ‘hawa’ (air), but alas! On this particularly sweltering day, there was none. However, the unique architecture of the building and the views of the surrounding monuments from here, made up for the lack of breeze.

Forts and Palaces

Amer Fort and Nahargargh Fort were our ‘must-sees’. Both located about 11 kms from the city on top of a hill are visual marvels. Amer Fort is huge, covering the surrounding hills to protect the town of Amer. Moats, ponds, gardens and a long curving pebbled walkway led us to the palace atop this fort.  The Rajput maharajas and their families lived in this opulent palace with its large open courtyards and the ‘sheesh mahal’ (section made entirely of glass). The Nahargarh Fort located at the edge of the Aravalli hills offered beautiful vistas of Jaipur city from its very interestingly made roof-top. It is said to have been a retreat palace for the Maharajas. The fresco paintings and their many baaris (windows) made for picture-postcard pictures.

We drove up to the Samode village (about 40 kms) which has a magnificent palace converted into a hotel-Samode Palace (What-e-‘Numa). The drive up to this palace traverses through the quaint village where artisans were busy at work in their shops. Blacksmiths were hammering hot iron on their anvils, while families of bangle (lac) makers were busy moulding pieces of designer bangles. They made us some new bangles as well. The palace is beautiful, with guards standing sentry.

Spiritual

Our ziyarat (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) to Ajmer Shareef (135 kms) was a spiritual experience. Even in the midst of the multitudes of people, this resting place of the benevolent saint Moinuddin Chisti (Gharib Nawaz-Benefactor of the poor) had an eerily calming effect on us. We offered a customary chaadar (embroidered sheet) and flowers to the saint’s tomb and the custodian of the Dargah (Dr. Syed Irfan) offered prayers for us. The lyrical sound of the qawwali (Sufi devotional music) outside was divine.

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In the dargah

We took a trip to Pushkar town (Mysticism and the Kumbh) from Ajmer (16 kms) where the only Brahma temple in the world exists. While crowds of people lined to enter the temple, many others, like us, walked to the ghats (series of steps leading to the holy water) where priests performed pujas and did aartis to the chants of shlokas.

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At the ghat

Food

After our spiritual interlude, we were back to discover the rest of Jaipur. We took a food walk by YoTours in the old city and it was a gastronomical adventure of local snack food of kachoris, masala chai, malai kulfis, ghewar,sutarfini and our favourite-different kinds of paan. The Rajasthani food looks simple, but is deviously rich and laden with ghee. The famed vegetarian thaali with daal baati churma and a variety of curries and rotis we could only attempt to eat once. The non-vegetarian delicacy, laal maas, is not to be missed. We had it at ITC’s Rajputana and it was very worth it. We also had Continental and Chinese food at Niros and at Taruveda in the new part of the city.

Shopping

The hawkers and shop owners strike a hard bargain. The city is famous for its blankets, durries and bed sheets. Bandhini prints, bangles, fashion jewellery, footwear, different types of mukhwas (digestive mouth-fresheners) and bhujias (snacks), the roads were teeming with people selling all these and much more. Needless to say, just like my trip to Udaipur,(Palaces, Lakes and Memories) we came away with extra baggage!

Jaipur is a royal city. The people are courteous, helpful and surprisingly, humourous. Everyone is a guide here and has their own story to share about the forts and palaces. This city’s unique mix of the old and the new made it a memorable and delightful journey for us.

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At Samode Palace…Until next time…

Location:

Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan and is well-connected by air from metros. It has a good road network and a train station. Ajmer is well-connected to Jaipur by road and train. Pushkar is accessed by road.

Climate:

Average temperature in August is 35 C.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

 

 

 

Paid. Check.

While having a particularly tough day in college, trying to understand ‘matrices’, ‘integration’ and other such alien terms in my Quantitative Theory class, I got a message on my phone. It’s a salary crediting in my bank account! And it is my first pay check… after 5 long years! I almost whooped in joy and kept smiling gleefully the whole day. 🙂

It is literally the only time that I love ‘numbers’. Even the complex ‘matrices’ did not seem as sinister suddenly 😉

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The excitement and emotions I went through were the same, just as they were in 2002 when I got my first salary working for the newspaper, Deccan Chronicle. I remember that day, as if it was yesterday. My late grandmother (dadi) and I went and bought a gold finger ring with that money. It is my most cherished possession; I still wear it every day.

The thrill of getting paid is incomparable. In my immensely complex life, it is these small moments that make my days.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

 

 

Back to School

I was never a ‘studious kid’ or a teacher’s pet for all through my formal education days. In fact, like countless other school/college kids, I could not wait to pass, get my degree and get out for ‘good’ from the ‘education cycle’.

I was better at commerce subjects and enjoyed economics while in school. I wanted to study further on those lines, but instead ended up getting an Arts degree. I followed it with a Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism (did exceptionally well too) and then a PG Diploma in Public Relations.

I did all my studies in India except for my course in Public Relations from Deakin University, Melbourne. It was a different experience, especially since I had lived and studied only in India up until then. The walk to my University traversed through the Gardiners creek protected forest reserve which has a small brook flowing through it. Every time I walked to classes, I crossed the small foot bridge with ducks quacking in the cool water below. I had never imagined that I would be studying in a setting as beautiful and idyllic as this. The mode of teaching at that University was ‘assignment orientated’ with just 1 written exam per semester. Ah! What a relief it was to me! No exams to ‘mug-up’ for. 🙂

Anyways, I thought those eventful study years would be the end of my academic pursuits. I consciously forgot about my keenness for business studies, but perhaps sub-consciously, I knew it was still an unfinished business.

Though I thought about it often, but I kept postponing it, mainly as I did not want to get back to the routine education grind. However, I finally decided this year to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA). An unlikely conversation with my friend at my work this summer got me inclined to ‘stop sitting on it’ for any longer.

And hence, after a little over a decade of running away from the hallowed hallways of colleges, I find myself back at a study desk. I enrolled this year for an MBA degree from Andhra University at Dr. L.B. College, Visakhapatnam. I like to think of this as a new phase in my life (Phases).

Though it’s still early days and I have only had a few classes, I know that this stint at education will be as eventful as my previous ones. It has its challenges, mainly the daily classes and written exams (I haven’t held a pen for anything longer than signing my signature in a while).(Student’s Diary) Juggling academics with a full time job and a part-time job…it is going to be a hectic next two years of my life. Oh, I almost forgot about the Spanish language course I have applied for this year too.

Few get an opportunity to get back to study. Sometimes it is a relief to know that the only thing I will be stressing about is if I will pass the next subject.(Student’s Diary) Wish me luck for this phase in my life (Phases).

Tamanna S. Mehdi

Makes a Difference

I have recently come across two very different types of organizations, (non-profit) that have left an impression on me. One works in the field of education of children with dyslexia and the other is a donor registry for blood stem cells.

Sprouts

On my visit to Nagpur this summer, I was invited to a very different kind of school. With the ratio of 1:1 for a child to a teacher, this school is unique. Situated on large grounds in a prime property right in the centre of the city, I noticed parents sitting patiently, some talking on the phone, some reading and then some others just idling.  In all their eyes though, I noticed a love for their children- a love that made them bring their children to this special school.

Curtained partitions separated the different classrooms and the walls were brightly coloured and adorned with different learning materials. The school had a sand-pit and a playing room, gym area with props and even a small zoo with different birds.

The biggest USP of this school is that it is completely FREE. Yes, you read right. There are no fees here. Most of the teachers here are volunteers. Remember the iconic movie ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and how we all instantly connected with the ‘day-dreamer’ Ishaan? That was perhaps the first time that dyslexia was highlighted in India.

Dr. Nisreeen Maimoon, Director and Dr. Sofia H Azad, Professor of Occupational therapy school and centre GMCH, Nagpur run the program at Sprouts. Their mission is to provide a unique centre to our society and it is run by a team of skilled multi-speciality faculty that is efficient in nurturing young minds and enabling them to discover and manifest their inherent skills through an education best suited to them.

The activities at this centre include Occupational therapy, Speech therapy, Special education and Counselling. Considering each student to be a unique entity, they develop individualized educational plans along with sensory-motor therapy and counselling.

Counselling forms a major part of intervention for parents as well as students. They conduct regular workshops at different schools highlighting dyslexia and other learning disabilities and urge teachers as well as parents to recognise problem areas in children as early as possible, so that they can be tutored keeping their special needs in mind.

Dr Maimoon says that learning disabilities and dyslexia cannot be corrected, but they can help a child develop coping skills,  so they can have a normal learning experience at school and can mingle easily in the society.

Some of the famous people who suffered from learning disorders are: Pablo Picasso, Tom Cruise, Richard Branson, Mohammed Ali, Magic Johnson, Whoopi Goldberg, Daniel Radcliffe, Steven Spielberg, Justin Timberlake, Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, CNN news anchor Anderson Cooper, Keira Knightley, singer Cher, TV Chef Jamie Oliver…

It is heart-warming to know that there are selfless people like Dr Maimoon and her team who are highlighting this issue and lending a helping hand to many ‘mis-understood’ children.

Find out if someone you know needs help by answering this simple questionnaire.

questionnaireSprouts Resource and Remedial Centre is run by ‘Sk Asgharali Hasanali Maimoon charitable trust’ and comes under the project for ‘Dyslexia Management’ in the name of Late Mrs. Khadija Maimoon.  Helplines: +91 9823060144/+91 9823320938

Blood Stem Cell Registry

We usually wake up to medical emergencies when something happens to us or to someone close to us. For me, the eye opener was when my dear cousin fell seriously ill. As the case maybe, a mad rush for matching donors or treatment options ensues. And also, instant searches on Google.

As infections and accidents increase, blood banks and organ donation drives have also increased and help in giving a new lease of life to many in need. Blood donation camps are rampant and large numbers of citizens turn up to donate their blood. It is lesser, but same with volunteering for donation of corneas for eyes and registering for other organs.

A not so new, but a lesser known type of donation, is that of BLOOD STEM CELLS. This is used for treating patients with Lymphoma, Thalassemia and Leukaemia. According to data, there is only a 25% chance that a genetic match can be found in one’s own family. This makes, a blood stem cell donor registry that much more valuable as cases of cancer are on the rise and treatment is still limited.

Recently, a blood stem cell donation camp was organized at Waltair Club in my home town, Vizag (Ah Vizaaag!). I am happy to be 1 of the 217 willing donors who registered by giving a cheek swab sample in the hope that I can be a genetic match for someone in need. In case of a suitable match, the donors will be contacted and they can choose to donate by simple out-patient procedures.

Increasing the registry of such facilities works 2 ways- not just for being there for someone, but it also expands our own chances at treatment, if ever need be. Let’s not wait for our own emergencies to wake us up (Whatzat!).

Datri Blood Stem Cell Donors Registry: www.datriworld.org

-Tamanna S. Mehdi