Logged off, Shut Down… Went Outside

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir

My previous two camping treks were when I was still in school and as such, though I must have noticed, but I did not truly appreciate the beauty of my surroundings. It was more of an ‘exercise’ trip, and it helped that after each of those trips, I came back 5-6 kgs lighter. 🙂

I had been looking to go for camping/trekking for a while and this trip came as a great opportunity. We travelled through Haridwar, Rishikesh and Joshimath to Auli the starting point of our 5 day trek.

While walking, the rhythm of the breath moving through my body was like the movement of the ocean tides. As I breathed deeply, I learned to sense the breath in this way. It was like discovering that I had a beach front view inside of me. Mindfully walking, breathing, living and enjoying every moment was a novel experience. (‘Sweat the Alphabets, Dance the Digits’) (Taming the Lions) ( Let’s wander where the WIFI is weak )

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“THE UNIVERSE IS FULL of magic things, PATIENTLY WAITING for our senses to BECOME SHARPER.”~ Eden Phillpotts

Trek

I was a part of a large group of people hiking and camping to the popular Kuari Pass top. We were also the last group of trekkers before the trail closes for the Monsoon. Providentially, for us, it would be bright and sunny while we hiked, and the rain Gods would open up the minute we reached our campsites. So, luckily, all through the hike we enjoyed all kinds of weather without being inconvenienced by it.

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The trek is not as ‘easy’ as my pre-trip research made it sound. At some places, it was very steep climbing and at times with narrow trails with sharp 90 degree cliff drops. However, all the huffing and puffing lead to devastatingly beautiful views which were heavenly to say the least- worth the suntan and the sore limbs. As it is said, “the best views come after the hardest climbs.”

In fact, I also had a pleasant surprise when on the very first day of the climb at Auli I bumped into a friend I had studied in Melbourne with. It was a pleasant coincidence that he was there holidaying with his wife. Such a small world!

Focus

In any outdoor activity, the focus completely shifts from us as individuals to our surroundings- making them the natural center-stage. Throughout my treks, the focus moved from the green rolling hills that were our campsites to the snow-capped mountains that glistened on the horizon. Sometimes, it was the soft clouds drifting in-between us as we made our somewhat arduous walk, and sometimes it was the angry dark clouds bellowing at us from above.

The pitter-patter of rain as we sat huddled in our tents with our cups of hot soup or curled up in our sleeping bags. Or, in sharp contrast, the clear starry evening sky, with the smoke curling up from the cooking tents as the meals were being prepared.

There were the gurgling sounds of fresh water streams we hopped across on our trails, small ponds awash with rain water, and wild strawberries and berries that grew with abandon in the forests as we trudged past them. Alternate to that were the patches of farmlands in the villages we criss-crossed with their organic produce of potatoes, rajma, apricots and colourful flowers.

The grazing sheep, the mooing cows, the tottering ponies, the sheep dogs that followed us… it was nature at its best. It suspended all my anxieties, thoughts and trepidation making them trivial in front of the the vastness and expansiveness of the Universe.

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Sheep scurrying past our camp

Many a time, I found myself sitting in silence over-looking the deep gorges with a mighty river meandering in the distance, or on large branches of trees staring into nothingness as birds hummed in the background. As a quote I read by Jon Kabat Zinn says, “Non-doing has nothing to do with being indolent or passive. Quite the contrary. It takes great courage and energy to cultivate non-doing, both in stillness and in activity”.

Gastronomical Delight

It feels slightly odd to talk about this, especially on a camping trek, where food is nourishing, but quite basic. In a delightful break from my previous treks, the food served at every camp here was a delight. Though vegetarian, the zeal with which the cooks whipped up not just North-Indian, but South Indian, Chinese and Italian cuisines with a selection of desserts, evening tea-time snacks and different soups would give any eatery in the city a run for its money.

I could not believe that after a tiring day I was having steaming hot macaroni, Chinese Manchurian, noodles, pani puri, samosa, cream of mushroom soup, idli, sheerkhurma, gulab jamun (the list is endless) at high altitudes in dense forests and grasslands, with no motor-able roads for kilometres, no electricity and completely cut away from any other civilization.

Needless to say, I doubt anyone of us lost any weight on this trip! Haha…

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We 50

Location: Kuari Pass (4264 meters above sea level), Uttarakhand

Trek route:

  1. Auli to Gorson Bugyal (3300 mts)- 4 kms
  2. Gorson Bugyal to Tali (3500 mts)- 8 kms
  3. Tali to Khullara (3650 mts)- 10 kms
  4. Khullara to Kuari Pass (4100 mts)- 4 kms
  5. Khullara to Tugasi -5 kms

Transport: Delhi to Joshimath by road. Then, to the 5-day trek start point at Auli by road or cable car.

Group Organized by: Mr. Farooq Haque at ‘Within n Beyond’

Tour Operated by: The Wanderers- Mrs. Farzana Haque. Ph: +91 9850427609

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

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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

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. (Logged off, Shut Down… Went Outside )

)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)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Iraqis

Ancient Iraq (Mesopotamia) and the surrounding areas are known as the Cradle of Civilization. My 2-week enlightening experience of present day Iraq proves what an amazing civilization it would have been and how resilient her people are even now.

People and Atmosphere

I had pre-conceived notions of what Iraq would be like- a war ravaged country with bomb blasts almost every week in their cities. I thought I would see burnt car tyres and road blocks, gun-toting Army men, armoured vehicles on their highways and old cars on their roads. I expected to see bumpy and broken down roads and run-down houses. (All images fuelled by those seen on TV and in newspapers).

But boy! Was I wrong. The places we visited were nothing like I imagined them to be. Right from our air-conditioned Mercedes buses to the many luxury SUVs I noticed on the roads…to the well-maintained buildings we passed by and the hotels we stayed at, everything was near perfect. Their highways were 4-laned, clean and in good condition. Even the narrow lanes, by-lanes and roads in the cities were clean-in fact even their garbage pick-ups were mechanized (very unlike in India).

Our hotels had well-appointed rooms and bathrooms with latest fixtures and fittings. Even our towels were freshly laundered and sealed in individual wrappings when we checked-into our hotel rooms (I have not seen this even in 5-star hotels). The hotel staff was attentive and most understood Hindi or English.

I imagined there would be many destitute on the streets especially close to the shrines- but there were hardly any and the rare ones we saw, sat quietly by the side of the road not pestering anyone. (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural) I also thought the locals would be wary of foreigners, but this was furthest from the truth. They were welcoming, polite, friendly and loved India, Indians and of course Hindi movies 🙂

There were numerous foods stalls and restaurants-small and big, and they were super hygienic. The aromatic smell of freshly baked breads (multiple types of these), kebabs and shawarmas filled the streets we walked on every day. Iraqis love their tea and numerous vendors sold flavourful Iraqi chai (they would clean each glass with hot water before serving). The buffet at our hotels was unbelievable, especially considering that we were in a country with poor economy. Table full of baklavas and puddings, cheese, salads and mains were served for every meal.

The one other thing that impressed me was the excellent internet bandwidths. The Wi-Fi never failed and there was never a drop in the download speeds. Their economy might be down, but their bandwidths are certainly not.

Masjids

Thousands of people daily visit the shrines of Moulana Ali’s at Najaf and Moulana Hussain’s and Moulana Abbas Alamdar’s at Karbala, and even then they were well- maintained with constant vacuuming, cleaning and renovations. The very many other masjids and historical places that we visited during our trip were also clean with constant maintenance- this despite the fact that this region has been affected with violence and destruction. (Bonding- Spiritual, Social, Cultural)

Bazaars

The most colourful and full-of-life souks I have even seen. From knick-knacks to prayer items to yards of material, household items, to gold and silver, and meat, food and bread-everything was sold in narrow,scrupulously clean but interconnected by-lanes. A truly Arabian atmosphere was seen here. Hundreds of people would walk these lanes picking up bargains and in the evenings, supper for their homes.

Almost everyone in my travelling group picked up finger-rings and pendants with semi-precious stones (akik, topaz, sapphire, opals, etc.), colourful head scarves, tasbih (prayer beads), masallahs (prayer mats) and many other souvenirs. The shop-keepers would cheerfully strike bargains, offer free samples of dry-fruits and try to please all customers.

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A vendor selling jewellery

It was lovely walking down their curving streets (even though they were chock-a-block with people), watching the many artefacts on display and taking in the different aromas of food, trays of their local sweets, spices and the crackle of the falafels frying in hot oil.

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An Iraqi man selling bread rolls

Safety

I was never really concerned for my safety though my friends back home were worried. There was frisking at regular intervals and though a tad inconvenient, it kept us all safe. Even we women would walk in the streets throughout the night and no one would bother us. It was in fact ultra safe even for women.

Iraq has natural beauty and a lot of history and I would love to come back to explore. Iraqis are proud of their culture and history. The people of this Cradle of Civilization are welcoming and full of hope despite their many problems. I pray that this land of the Euphrates River eventually attains their lost peace and prosperity.

Travel:

We flew into Najaf, about 100 km from the capital Baghdad. The shrine of Moulana Ali is located here and this city is considered one of the holiest cities in Shia Islam.

We travelled by bus from Najaf to Karbala-a distance of 80 km. Karbala is another very important centre for Islam.

-Tamanna S. Mehdi

Palaces, Lakes and Memories

It isn’t always about how much sight-seeing we do on a holiday, but rather how much we enjoy in the company of people we travel with. My recent holiday to Udaipur, was just that- time spent in the dear company of friends I have grown up with.

Whether we were waiting for our cabs or spending anxious moments stuck in autos in the narrow gullies of the old city or while we trudged along the castles and forts or even when we were haggling for a good bargain- all we did was enjoy and laugh. It was the most stress free, laidback and carefree holiday I’ve had.

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Happyness!! 🙂

Our good times also had a lot to do with the city we chose to visit. Udaipur is a laid back city where nothing is more than a 10 minute cab/auto ride away. The soothing water of the lakes around which the city is situated adds to the calmness of this place. The city is steeped in history and has an old-world charm to it. Its narrow curving lanes with family run shops with residences having jharokas (overhanging enclosed balconies) is reminiscent of an earlier era that we hardly get to experience in our modern architecture. It is also very clean- the roads were garbage free, very unlike what we are used to in India.

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Silver market… Notice the windows…they are residences

Lakes

Udaipur is built around the two main lakes-Pichola and Fateh Sagar and the many bridges across its back waters connect the different localities. We stayed at Hotel Lakend built right on the banks of the Fateh Sagar Lake and it turned out to be a good decision. The area around here is less crowded and more easily accessible.

But suffice to say that Lake Pichola was where all the action was- an array of hotels and lake front restaurants offered the perfect places to chill and relax. Swarms of ducks swam past us as our motor boat revved around the lake on a cold January morning. We stopped at the Jag Mandir, an island on the lake and sailed past the Taj lake palace hotel built on another island in the centre of the lake. (What-e-‘Numa) The City Palace and the very many other hotels and ghats on the banks formed an idyllic setting.

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On the Lake Pichola

Palaces

The whole city is full of palaces and forts. We chose to visit the City Palace, the Monsoon Palace at Sajjangarh and rode the ropeway at Dudh Talai to the top of a fort.

The City Palace is a huge complex and has many palaces built in it. It is grandiose with both Rajasthani and Mughal architecture. The views of Lake Pichola from the many sit-outs and jharokas here were stunning.

The Monsoon Palace is a little away from the city and we hired a taxi to go up the Aravalli mountain range where the palace is located at 3100 ft above sea level. Offering panoramic views of lakes, palaces and surrounding farm lands, this palace is located in a forest reserve and was built by Maharana Sajjan Singh of the Mewar Dynasty in 1884.

The cable car ride was a very touristy thing to do but the ride up was worth it- for the beautiful views. Every spot offered breath-taking vistas of the lakes, the very many castles and the quaint old city.

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View of Dudh Talai, Fateh Sagar lake and the city from atop the cable car

There is a lot more sight-seeing to do especially for history buffs, and if you have the time, I recommend it.

Shopping

Silver jewellery, handicrafts, hand painted cards, clothes, shoes, bags, durries from Jaipur… you name it, and you get it here at excellent rates. The curving interconnected gullies of Hathipole and Chandpole markets are where we spent a good part of our afternoons and evenings. Covering the many shops by foot, peeking in the stores and striking friendly bargains, we all came back with excess baggage 🙂 (A Royal Retreat)

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(Needs no caption) 😉

Food

We felt that most of the food at the restaurants catered to foreign tourists and lacked an authentic local taste. We tried the ‘must eat at places’ from all the blogs we read up on, but weren’t very thrilled with the food. We heard a lot about Savage Garden and Ambrai, but apart from their very stunning locations, we did not find the food very appetizing. Upre also has a lovely setting, but the food was strictly okay.

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View of the Ambrai restaurant

The only place that lived up to its reputation was Hotel Natraj on the station road. A vegetarian place serving Rajasthani and Gujarati thaali, it was our most authentic experience at local food on this trip. The Daal baati churma was an excellent addition to our already wonderful meal. We washed it all down with namkeen chaas and meetha paan at the end.

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Rajasthani Thaali, Natraj Hotel

The malai khajla, a very famous Bohra sweet found its way back home as well. It is a puff pastry filled with fresh cream. Before it is eaten, it is warmed and hot sugar syrup is poured over it…hmm…yumm…

So, pack a bag, take a break and make your own memories!

Location: Udaipur is in Rajasthan and is accessible from all major metros and cities by air, rail and road.

Weather: The average night time temperature is about 7 C this month (January).

Tip: Book a hotel preferably close to the lakes.

Tamanna S. Mehdi

 

 

Craft ParTea

Half the fun in having a party is in the planning of it.

As I ring in this new year of my life, I decide to have a different sort of soirée – a ‘crafty’ tea with my family and friends. Splashes of colourful paints and a cacophony of loud and cheerful ideas made this a really fun day!

Having a get-together with a DIY craft theme is not a new idea, but I personally don’t know of anyone who has organized one such. It is a more popular children’s theme, so I was apprehensive when I contemplated this for an adult group, but then I thought, why-not?

And just as soon as I zeroed in on this ‘craft’ theme and the guest list, then the invites, menu, decor…all the spokes in the wheels set into motion. Living in a small city, it is a challenge to get supplies- whether they are items needed for making the DIY or key ingredients for food. Whether it’s sourcing something as simple as a cake stand or my favourite cream cheese or even veggies like mushroom or bell peppers- the day I need them they’ll be out of stock! 😦 Hence, my planning needed to account for courier time and last minute tweaks to my menu.

Spanning into days of ‘getting things together’ culminated into this day of fun togetherness on this balmy November afternoon. My group of 20-odd exclusive guests showed up suitably armed with brushes, pencils, rulers, et al. They excitedly opened up to the idea of making decorative home wall décor and for the next couple of hours, as glasses of lemon punch made way for cups of hot tea and coffee, and sandwiches and savoury food led to cake and dessert, the crafty high-tea afternoon turned into a big success.

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Beverage Preference card

For the DIY

  1. 2 wooden bases each
  2. Acrylic Paints
  3. Glue
  4. Decorative Paper
  5. Embellishments
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DIY Supplies

I provided my guests with 2 wooden bases each so they could decorate it the way they liked. While I supplied the above, they got their own scissors, pencils, rulers, brushes and those who wished some laces and coloured beads.

After showing them some samples I had made before, I instructed them to first visualize which room in their houses they would like to display them in. And then, take a few minutes to choose an appropriate paper for their wall décor. Based on that, they selected a colour and then started on their project by applying the first coat of paint.

Menu for Afternoon-Tea

  • Lemon Punch
  • Cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches
  • Chicken and mayonnaise sandwiches
  • Bite-Sized Caprese Appetizer (Tomato and cheese)
  • Naan Pizza
  • Walnut and Date cake
  • Saffron and Pistachio Cheesecake
  • Freshly brewed Tea and Coffee
  • Chocolate with wafers (supplied by a friend)

Taking a break to let the paint dry, we had our spot of tea. Afternoon tea is typically a light meal and is enjoyed between 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm. I limited the menu to finger food so it wouldn’t get oily and messy and also so my friends could snack while working on their boxes.

After applying another coat of colour to their boxes, they glued the paper, added some bling and final touches with the material at hand.

Amid peals of laughter and some very interesting design planning, between passing paints and brushes to making first dibs on decorative papers and embellishments, and as the late afternoon sun set and the lights came on at first sight of dusk, the wall décor slowly but surely began to take shape.

As they say, “in crafting there are no mistakes, just unique creations.” I feel over-joyed that my friends had a great time bonding over craft and afternoon tea. They took away gifts that they created themselves. The attractive wall art is sure to liven up their rooms as many of them told me.

I am truly blessed to have many supportive and loving people in my life. I truly missed having many of them here today. A big shout out to all the shining lights in my life and especially to my Ayun masi, dad, mummy, my sister Sabina and brother, Meher- it is your bright ideas that add sparkle to mine. 🙂

As the evening drew to a close and the last of my guests left, this is what I want my new year to be like- full of planning, parties and happiness. Happy Birthday to me!

-Tamanna S. Mehdi