December 2018

A walk down the culinary trails of Tamil Nadu

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The recent sensationalisation of applications like Swiggy and Zomato in our city, has hindered people from delving further into what Tamil Nadu really has to offer, in the culinary space. This has resulted in the near extinction of many styles of cooking that entail numerous varieties of dishes. Over a period of time, each geographical area where Tamils have lived has developed its own distinct variant of the common dishes in addition to the dishes native to itself. The divisions of the Tamil speaking regions are the primary means of dividing the Tamil cuisine. The most popular cuisines are the Chettinadu cuisine, Nanjilnadu cuisine and the Kongunadu cuisine. My personal favorites, from the most sought after dishes, that are indigenous to this state, have to be, (1)the Thirunelveli halwa, a dessert made with ghee and stirred wheat berries, which when eaten slightly warm, will certainly satiate any sweet tooth, (2)the Ooty varkies, a type of biscuit made from wheat flour, rava, rice, semolina, water, ghee, sugar and salt, which interestingly generated popularity around the time of the colonial rule, which makes it a long-surviving recipe, (3)the Karaikudi Chettinadu cuisine, which people often say entails dishes infused with fire, as this cuisine is mainly about its heat and spice, and last but not least, (4)the Ambur and Dindigul Thalapakatti biryanis, the latter, especially so for its technique used to prepare the amazing Jeeraga Samba rice. In spite of having lived here all my life, I am certain I have experienced only an iota of what Tamil Nadu truly has to offer. Although the Chettinadu cuisine may be the best known in these regions, the vegetarian Iyer community is also largely famous for their 23 types of preparations of sambars, as well as the Nayakars who specialize in a sweet sambar prepared with black jaggery, and made with two types of dal, red pumpkin and drumsticks.

 Similarly, the Iyengars, Naidus, Mudaliars and Gaundas all have their own distinguishable cuisines that are seldom found on the menus of restaurants, even in Tamil Nadu. An intriguing way to look at this state and its many forms of the same or similar dishes, is that, it is the equivalent of the fact that they speak the same language from their choice of the dish, but only with a different dialect, in that no two communities prepare any dish the same way. However, the most evolved and the most scaled cuisine in Tamil Nadu has to be of the Naadar’s style, which often entails the use of many blends of spice powders. A popular blend is coriander powder as the base ingredient with a mixture of mainly fried morsels of shrimp, fish and chicken. The Naadar cuisine is most popular in the regions between Madurai and Kanyakumari, with their headquarters at Virudhunagar. This town, amongst the more urban cities and societies, is famous, or rather growing infamous, for its stir-fried lamb blood that is commonly served for breakfast or lunch. It’s generally prepared with the lamb stomach and intestines, along with spices like ginger, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, red chili powder, green chilies, coriander powder, cumin, shallots and grated coconut. Another dying traditional cuisine is a section of the Tamil Brahmin’s style of cooking, which mostly involved the use of healthy ingredients such as various herbs, spices, sprouts and vegetables. Traditionally eaten with jaggery and gingely oil, these dishes were considered to have been highly nutritious and rich in proteins. Some examples of the most popular dishes of this cuisine are namely, the Black gram porridge, the Angaya podi and the Adament creeper chutney. The traditional dishes of the Tamil people provide us with more than just food to satisfy our hunger, the slowly dying culinary heritage of Tamil Nadu offers a combination of a delicious amalgamation of spices, herbs and other flavorful ingredients that have been scientifically proven to help sustain a healthy society of people, and is certainly one that must be valued and cherished.

The Taste No Five Star Gives…!

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The aroma of bread being toasted with sizzling butter on a flat griddle wafted through the air from all sides. This was combined with aromas of mixed spices, potatoes, tomatoes and onions. The air was filled with vendors shouting out to customers to try the “pav bhaji” at their stall. As I walked around I could see colourful roadside eateries with their menu written on the boards outside – pav bhaji, sev puri, dahi puri, bhel puri, pani puri, etc. I was drooling!

Welcome to Chowpatty in Mumbai. Chowpatty is a paradise for street food lovers and one of my favourite places to indulge. Indian cuisine is hugely popular world over, but, it is the quintessential street food that walks away with the applause from the common man. The Indian culinary experience has been diversified and modified to a large extent owing to the waves of migration, climate and the tastes of the local population. As a result, Indian food in general and street food in particular, is inspired by multiple sources but always reflects local tastes. Hugely popular, wonderfully delicious and most important – very affordable – Indian street food is constantly reinventing itself to suit modern times, yet, remains truly “desi” or Indian.

From Mumbai to Delhi to Lucknow to Kolkata, each city has stamped its own brand on the street food sold there. The ‘cart menu’ in each city is a reflection of its history, people, and local produce available and regional flavours. The variety is as mind boggling as it gets. If you have to look at culture through the eyes of food, then the Indian food is a veritable kaleidoscope – a medley of colours, flavours, spices & aromas. With every bite your taste buds are treated to such delightful combinations, that your stomach may protest, yet, the heart will want to go on! The bustling streets of India is where you will find an array of these kaleidoscopes, tantalising you body & soul.

We introduce you to 12 of India’s amazing street food that will leave you wanting for more…

Vada Pav.

I was once chomping on a burger and my grandmother asked me what I was eating. I told her that the burger is similar to the vada pav, to which she pithily replied “Must be the poorer cousin!” It actually set me thinking and I laughed. True, so true. The vada pav is a staple diet for anyone in Mumbai, Pune and other parts of Maharashtra. The patty or ‘vada’ which is made with potatoes, green chillies, garlic & spices is sandwiched between the ‘pav’ which is between a bun & bread. The patty is deep fried and the pav is smeared with two types of chutneys and the whole combination is served like a burger with a couple of sautéed green chillies to add to the flavour. Wash it down with a lemonade or cup of ‘cutting chai’ and you are ready to take on the world.

Gol Guppas/Paani Puri/Puchchkas.

Shakespeare once said, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” It doesn’t matter what you call this particular street food, it will continue to be the nation’s favourite. So delicious is it that I really can have it for breakfast, lunch & dinner and in between. Gol guppas in Delhi, Paani Puri in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore or Puchchkas in Kolkata, these spicy + tangy + minty concoction have a way of exploding in your mouth and overpowering you with flavours. The little fried crisp ‘puris’ are made of either wheat or semolina and are stuffed with spicy potato – chickpea/sprout mixture. These are dipped in a sweet chutney and flavoured water of mint + coriander + green chillies with spices. My personal favourites are the ones that are served with a variety of flavoured waters including asafoetida or hing, cumin or jeera and kewra or pandanus. Mouth-watering and lip smacking!

Chow Mein.

I honestly don’t know what the Chinese would actually think of the variety we serve under the brand of Chinese food. However, Chow Mein has been the hot favourite with generations ever since this type of noodles was introduced to the Indian palate. We have of course created an Indianised version of the noodles. Mixed veggies tossed in a hot wok with red chilli and garlic paste, soy sauce & a dash of ketchup, add the pre-cooked noodles and mix it up. Viola, you have a plateful of hot, spicy & savoury noodles that you can wolf down very easily.

Tunde Kababs.

There are kababs and there is Tunde Kabab. Lucknow’s most famous, melt in the mouth kabab is the classic story of how royal food became part of the Lucknowi culture. Exceptionally soft and succulent till the core is what makes these kababs a hot favourite. Haji Murad Ali, the creator of this authentic cuisine had only one hand and hence the name Tunde. In Hindi a person with one hand is called Tunde. Haji Murad Ali made these kababs with a single hand to fulfil the last wishes of a toothless royalty!

Momos.

A native to Tibet & Nepal, momos are probably the most popular street food in India after Gol Guppas. The soft & spicy dumplings are part of the ‘cart menu’ and ‘a la carte menu’ today. They can be served steamed or fried and the tangy red chilli – garlic sauce accompaniment with it explodes a bunch of flavours in your mouth. You can choose vegetarian or meat stuffing depending on your preference. Wash it down with a chilled beer on a warm summer evening or a bowl of hot soup on a winter evening!

Misal Pav.

A common snack on the streets of Mumbai and in college & office canteens, the Misal Pav is in the same family as Vada Pav. Pav is the bread and Misal is the tangy, spicy gravy with sprouts and tomatoes and onions, garnished with ‘sev’ and freshly chopped coriander. Sprinkle some lemon juice and mop up the bread with this mouth-watering gravy. Misal Pav represents the essential “grab it on the go” kind of a meal that fills your stomach.

Akki Rotti.

The Silicon Valley of India runs on this tasty, crispy, spicy snack made of rice flour. It is flat pancake made of rice flour, coriander, green chillies & salt, eaten with freshly made coconut chutney. Bangaloreans can eat this hearty snack for breakfast, lunch & dinner and any time in between. This staple diet is available at roadside eateries and in restaurants across the city & is best had with a cup of hot filter coffee.

Assorted Pakodas.

Pakodas are a must mention in the list of popular Indian street food. These are fritters made of a variety of vegetables & gram flour. Each region in India has its own way making these pakodas. Every Indian can relate to the phrase “chai – pakoda weather”, which means the monsoons. Pakodas are akin to soul food and can be immensely satisfying as a party snack, an in between filler or an accompaniment to a meal. They are served with different kinds of chutneys depending on which part of India you come from.


 

Chaat.

A sweet & sour combination with colourful fusion of tastes, Chaat typically has universal appeal. It is said that this excessively common street food originated right from Shah Jahan’s kitchen. Yes, the Mughals also loved the medley of flavours in a dish like this. The crispy, soft combos with a variety of chutneys & yoghurt, Chaat has evolved into various new forms today – Dahi Puri, Bhel Puri, Paani Puri can be thus considered as cousins of this tangy treat. Some of the best Chaat I have eaten is to be found in old Delhi, Amritsar, Patiala, Indore & Lucknow.

Chhole Bhature

Indian bread has always been more exciting than the sliced variety. The flavours and the freshness of the bread itself warrants no accompaniment, except maybe a pickle or a basic curry. However, the Chhole Bhature is that combination of bread & curry that can be called soul food for many Indians. Chhole is a kind of chick pea curry made with onion – tomato gravy base and typical Punjabi spices meant only for the Chhole. Yes, you guessed it right – Chhole Bhature originated in the Punjabi household many decades/centuries ago and today is available in many parts of India. The Bhatura is fried Indian bread made of flour and yeast or yoghurt with baking/cooking soda.

Paddu

While a lot of street food from Delhi, Mumbai, Amritsar & Kolkata is eulogised and popular, one of my personal favourites is the Paddu from Andhra Pradesh. This scrumptious snack is made from a batter similar to the Dosa batter and is flavoured with chopped onions, green chillies and fresh coriander. Sold at every street corner in Hyderabad, Paddu can be eaten with different chutneys. A perfect snack, either mid-morning or late evening, Paddus go well with coffee or beer!

Samosa & Kachori

No Indian street food list is complete without the mention of these two snacks. The Samosa is a big fried dumpling with either a potato/onion/peas filling and the Kachori is also a fried dumpling with or without stuffing. When you eat the Kachori you will bite into multiple crisp layers of the cover before tasting the stuffing. Both Samosas & Kachoris can be by themselves or can be used as part of a Chaat preparation and you will still enjoy it as much!

With the variety that is available in every street or street corner in India, all I can say is explore, eat & enjoy!!!

Leh: A City Defiant of Time

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Nestled between the rugged mountains of the Himalayas, Leh exists overlooking the trade routes of India and China. To the modern traveller Leh resembles an old town land locked and time trapped, a mountain town of fables, a piece of the past untouched by the troubles of time.

For much of its history, Leh remained a small trading post that allowed passage between central Asia, Tibet and China. There are few places in the world that are picturesque and timeless yet inspire an overwhelming sense of awe like the imposing Leh palace that looms over the town. With the King of Ladakh moving into the Leh palace in the 17th century, Leh revived its place in history. The stupas that mushroomed across the city, the enchanting mud brick houses, the grand mosque that mixed Islamic and Tibetan architecture all stood testament to the town’s growing importance and stature.

The visitors to this mountain town have varied across time. The cut throat merchants and traders of the nearby provinces carrying salt and cashmere wool have been replaced by GPS guided tourists. The winding alley ways of the old city, the sublime view of overarching Himalayas on either side cater to a different audience today, an audience that demands to be inspired by beauty. As every year goes by, and Leh welcomes the world into its quarters, a new generation of travellers leave the town’s gate knowing all too well what it means to fall in love with a place that is oblivious to time.

Here’s to those that are looking for an escape or a getaway

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The world now comprises of a plethora of culturally diverse experiences and societies. From nightlife and street parties to sports competitions and music/art festivals, there is an experience out there that caters to every type of traveler in 2018. For those who are looking for a good enough excuse to get on that next flight to your preferred destination, we have found just that. Here are 11 considerably good reasons to get right to it.

The Sun Festival in Cusco, Peru ( June 24 )

For those that would be intrigued by an ancient religious ceremony, you must witness the atmosphere and the energy of the people that are indigenous to the higher portion of the Andes in Cusco, Peru. This religious tradition or festival pre-dates to 1412, when it was first performed by an Incan emperor on the winter solstice- the shortest day of the year in terms of the time between sunrise and sunset and the Inca New Year, in tribute to the god of the Sun, Inti. On the 24th of June, the festivities are initiated with a procession that begins from the center of town to the fortress of Sacsayhuaman, where you are surrounded by music, colorful costumes and large feasts.

 

The FIFA World Cup in Russia (June 14 – July 15)

For those that are looking to throw themselves into a high-energy, exciting month of the biggest international gathering in the football world, this World Cup in Russia will be quite the spectacle. Some of the best contemporary names in football will be in your presence. And the cities in Russia have a lot of interesting things to otherwise offer in terms of entertainment, like visiting Dargavs village (the city of the dead), Stalin’s old bunker, Lenin’s mausoleum and the more generic ventures like visiting Red Square and the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow.

 

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 4 – 28), Scotland

This festival that’s been celebrated since 1947 is one for the natural seekers of creativity. It is the world’s largest arts festival, which in 2017 spanned 25 days and accommodated over 53,000 performances of 3,400 shows in 300 different venues. The official Fringe festival shows involve theatre, comedy, music, dance, children’s shows, musicals, opera, physical theatre, circus, cabaret, spoken word, exhibitions and events. This festival is not one where you need only spectate, it is an open access performing arts festival, with no jury or judges, and anyone willing, may participate in whatever capacity they see fit.

 

Sumba Island, Indonesia

For those looking for a path less travelled and one that is way more interesting, the Sumba Island, a sibling of the famous city, Bali, is a cult surfing destination that is slowly attracting more of a crowd. Lush and tropical, it comprises mostly of rainforest, waterfalls and picturesque surf beaches. It’s untouched lands essentially guarantee a quiet, nature-filled experience.

 

Lofoten Islands, Norway

The land of the midnight Sun, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are a craggy cluster of windswept lands, known for its scenic mountains and peaks, open sea and sheltered bays, beaches and untouched lands, topped with red cabins and bobbing boats of the local communities. This archipelago experiences one of the world’s largest elevated temperature anomalies relative to high altitude. These islands have other exciting activities to offer like mountaineering, rock climbing, surfing and cycling, which is an especially pleasant experience as you will be surrounded by a variety of local species of animals.

Aurora Borealis, The Northern Lights

People often talk about the beauty and wonder of the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis, but not many are privy to the fact that they can be viewed differently from different parts of the world, namely Fairbanks ( Alaska, US), Tromso ( Norway ), Nellim ( Finland ), Akureyri ( Iceland ), as well as from parts of Russia, Sweden, Canada and Ireland. Each point has its own characteristic vibe and feeling with the respective change in conditions of the surroundings. It is a spectacular phenomenon of natural light display in the Earth’s sky and is one that all must witness in person.

 

Malta

Malta is popular tourist destination, but aside from the lovely resorts and hotels, there are some hidden gems here. Armier beach, which is located right across from Comino Island, has the same clear, blue waters as Malta’s famous Blue Lagoon.

 

Spiti Valley, Lower Himalayas

The Spiti Valley is a cold desert mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. The name “Spiti” means “The Middle Land”, i.e. the land between Tibet and India. The local population follows Vajrayana Buddhism, which is similar to the practices of the people in Tibet. This is an ideal spot for those looking to engage with their spiritual sides and try to find themselves, as the acres of untouched lands and emptiness around you will leave you to your mind. Below, is a photograph of the famous Key Monastery of Spiti valley.

 

Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, India

Ladakh, the land of high passes, is a region in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir that currently spans from the Karakoram ranges, the Himalayas and the upper Indus River Valley. The locals are of Indo-Aryan and Tibetan descent. Ladakh is rich in culture and known for its remote mountain beauty. From the traditional noodle soup, their traditional music festivals to ice hockey and archery, Ladakh has a lot to offer even at town’s center. Places that you must visit here are Pangong Tso, Nubra Valley and the Moon-Land, which are surreal in every sense.

 

Majuli Island, Assam

Majuli is the world’s biggest river island and is located in the Brahmaputra river, Assam, which was first considered to have become a district of India in 2016. Most of this district is accessible only by boats, which connects Majuli to the neighboring city of Jorhat. It is an extremely pleasant, beautiful and exotic location, and surprisingly a rarely visited one. It was deservedly nominated for one of the places in UNESCO world’s heritage list. Majuli, known as the cultural capital of Assam, is rich in ancient culture and traditions. The locals have set up an interesting way to preserve antiques like weapons, utensils, jewelry and other items of cultural significance. Pottery that is made in Majuli bear a huge resemblance to that of the work of the ancient Harrappan Civilisation. The hand-loom work of these tribes is famous internationally. This is an experience worth setting out for, as the locals have preserved their unique culture and dance forms, which remain untouched by modern influences.

Spiritual tourism – the emerging interest

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We often strike a spiritual tone in our lives to help ground ourselves. This leads to the understanding of the core of our existence and everything & everyone it entails. People have often sought such enlightenment through travel and adventure, which gave rise to the concept of spiritual tourism. Spiritually motivated tourists are an emerging niche and there has been a huge shift from the tradition of religious pilgrimage to travelling for personal spiritual growth. Spiritual tourism is based on a variety of motivations, ranging from traditional religious tourism to alternative medicine to forms of deep immersion in nature.  The concept of modern tourism, however, has become the functional and symbolic equivalent of more traditional, spiritual practices such as festivals, pilgrimages, yoga and holy places.

 

                                   One of the first challenges for those interested in “spiritual tourism” is defining exactly what it is. Believers taking part in religious pilgrimages such as Muslims doing the Hajj or Buddhists visiting the four sacred sites in India and Nepal are plainly recognized as “spiritual tourists”. But what about the hordes of tourists who visit say Notre Dame to admire her architecture and history – are they really spiritual tourists or is there a different category again for spiritual sightseers? It has been long recognized that a variable relationship exists between spirituality and tourism. Spiritual tourism can be defined as a specific type of tourism whose participants are motivated either in part or exclusively for peace reasons. At one extreme it is prescribed as sacred pilgrimage, a journey driven by faith, religion and spiritual fulfilment; at the other extreme it is prescribed as a tourist who may seek to satisfy some personal or spiritual need through tourism. Between these two points can be found different forms and intensities of spiritual tourism that are motivated to a greater or lesser extent by religious or cultural or knowledge-based needs.

India has been one of the richest centers of spirituality over the last four thousand years, while the tourism opportunities have developed gradually. India, being a secular country offers a haven, not only to one religion, but to all religions in the nation.

 

India has plenty to offer in terms of spiritual quests. You can explore a new way of travel, a discovery of the sacred world. You get a taste of eternal love and ideas about spirituality as you travel through India. This country is synonymous with the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhaba’ – which translates to “treat every visitor like God”. So, anyone who travels to the various spiritual destinations that India has to offer, gets a crux of the concept of being the respected guests to this mystical land of the Gita and the Upanishads. The plethora of temples, mosques, churches and monasteries in India are worth the visit as it entails a distinct sense of peace and serenity. Such experiences or journeys are bound to benefit you holistically in that it broadens your perspective, helps you find inner peace, exposes you to a confluence of cultures, can be educative, and teaches you Indian history and our cultural tradition.

 

 

Wellness Getaway – Detox Weekend at the Shathayu Retreat, Bangalore

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Serene, refreshing, relaxing and energizing all at once. Now, that’s a vacation. India is soon becoming a top destination for Wellness Tourism in the world (more on that on our next post) and we had the privilege to visit the hub of it all – Shathayu Ayurveda Yoga Retreat, Bangalore.

 

If you want to get away from all the city-madness and retreat into four and a half acres of serenity, then Shathayu Retreat is definitely the place for you to be. At a little less than 15 minute drive from the Bangalore International Airport, Shathayu stands dreamlike, overlooking hills on 3 sides and a lake on the other. We headed to Shathayu for a weekend and we didn’t want to leave! Here’s what we did:

 

Day 1

12:30PM – We left the city and headed towards our much awaited retreat

01:30PM – Within an hour we were transported to the serene world of Shathayu. Surrounded by verdant landscape, the place draws you in with its marvelous looking set-up. We were welcomed at the lobby with friendly staff who checked us into our rooms.

 

The luxury room comes with a balcony with a beautiful view of the lake and the plush greenery at Shathayu. With a queen size bed, a study, a couch and a TV, we had a hard time getting out of the room!

 

02:00PM – We head down to the dining area for lunch. Orson Welles said, “Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.” That is exactly what we did when we were led into the dining area – a cute place that overlooks a lush lawn and frangipani trees. Our chef walked in and told us to relax and wait for the food to be served. We were in a for a gastronomical delight. Shathayu serves Sattvik food – food that has subtle & tranquil energy. The lightly sautéed vegetables and a crunchy salad along with rotis, steaming hot rice was like manna from heaven. Lip smacking!

 

03:30PM – Once we devoured the amazing food, we met with our consultation doctors to discuss our therapy options. We opted for relaxing and beauty therapies. We underwent the Abhyanga and Sweda therapy – A traditional Ayurveda body massage using individual, seasonal, ailment-specific medicated oils followed by steam. Abhyangam improves circulation, alleviate symptoms, pacifies toxins, nourishes the skin and tones up the muscles, thereby aiding relaxation and strengthening the body.

 

Followed by the Mardana with Sweda Therapy, a Deep tissue pressure-point massage with medicated oil for enhanced relaxation; highly effective in muscular aches and pains.

 

05:00PM – Once we were done with our respective therapies, we headed out to the Yoga and Meditation Hall for our customized session with the Yoga Instructor. The role of breath is very important in the practice of Asanas or Yoga positions or yoga postures. In Yoga practice, we integrated focus on breath during slow movements as well as while maintaining asanas or yoga positions. Our instructor allowed us to assimilate the knowledge he shared with us in the pristine yoga & meditation hall. As we came to the end of the session, I swear, we could have almost fallen asleep in that peaceful place.

 

6:00PM – Post our Yoga session, we headed out for a walk around the property to enjoy the sunset.

 

07:00PM – We were back in our rooms, catching up and treating ourselves to a nice cup of tea

08:30PM – We headed back down for our dinner. The chef had a scrumptious meal of grated apple & cucumber salad with just salt, pepper & lime dressing, lightly steamed cauliflower and zucchini with basic spices along with some herb flavoured rice. We rounded of dinner with two kinds of desserts – eggless banana cake with berry compote and burnt banana & raisins topped with berry sauce. To say we were satiated, is an understatement.

09:30PM – Called it a night and retreated to our rooms for some personal time and much needed sleep.

 

Day 2

07:00AM – After a peaceful sleep, we woke up fresh and set out on a trek to explore the Nandi Hills.

 

09:00AM – Back at Shathayu for the most important meal of the day. The chef served us up with delicious Apple and Banana skewers with cinnamon and a South Indian feast of Masala Dosa, Pongal and Pudi Dosa. Keeping up with the season and weather we were served watermelon and coconut juice to flush it down.

 

10:30AM – We headed to the Meditation and Yoga Hall for our session where we performed the Surya Namasakar.

 

11:30AM – We set out to explore the Nandi Hills, Grover’s vineyard and Tippu’s Palace nearby.

 

01:30PM – We were back in time for lunch and as usual the Chef treated us to one of the most delicious meals. A rice platter consisting of nine varieties of rice – curry leaf rice, onion and garlic rice, mint rice, carrot rice, rosemary and garlic rice, coriander rice, veg biryani, garlic with black and white sesame seeds rice and traditional Kerala red rice. Since rice is abundant in carbohydrates, it acts as fuel for the body and aids in the normal functioning of the brain. We went into python mode after such a spread! You can’t just eat good food. You’ve got to talk about it too. And you’ve got to talk about it to somebody who understands that kind of food.

 

03:30PM – Once we were done savouring our lunch, we went back to our rooms to relax & read! We proceeded to the therapy rooms at 3.30 PM, for our respective treatments. We underwent the Pizichil therapy – a procedure of pouring warm medicated oil in a continuous stream over the body; helpful in vascular, Neurological and Musculoskeletal disorders.

 

One of us went for the Swarna Kanti therapy – a combination of full body medicated oil massage with steam and herbal beauty scrub for exfoliation, skin tone and glow with improved blood circulation. This therapy was truly exquisite in its procedure and its effects. Your skin feels soft and post 24 hours, your skin visibly glows. Must try for soon-to-be brides as part of their wedding preps!

 

The other went with Shirodhara, a continuous pouring of decoction, oil or other liquid on the forehead and then allowing it to flow over the scalp. This therapy is deeply relaxing and de-stressing and is effective in anxiety disorders, insomnia (sleeplessness) and other psychological conditions. It is equally effective in many neurological conditions, headache, hypertension and many more.

 

06:00PM – We went for a walk around the property to relax

08:00PM – Headed for dinner. Food that evening was par excellence. Idlis sautéed in light spices and tempered with curry leaves & mustard seeds, sautéed vegetables with mixed herbs, rings made of snake gourds, coated with rice flour & spices and baked. The flavours were overwhelming and we just sat there, heaving sighs of satisfaction.

09:30PM – Headed to our rooms to enjoy our last night of peace and serenity. We sat in the balcony enjoying tea, good music and some great conversation.

 

We checked out the next day with heavy hearts to return to the city and our busy lives. All-in-all the our detox-wellness weekend was perfect at Shathayu and we at Go Magic Trails, whole heartedly recommend the spot as a must-visit for weekend and wellness getaways. They have great day-out packages for corporates as well as stress-buster packages for a quick stress-free holiday.

 

Head to their website to book your stay now, we promise you, you will love every minute of it.

 

Thing to look out for – Ziplock, Cycling, Bio Swimming Pool coming soon at Shathayu Retreat.

No, Thank you Google Maps…Serendipity & Travel

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Is exploration dead? As someone who curates travel itineraries, we go through great pains to understand what our guests want when they travel. We have had people saying,” Why do you ask so many questions? I just want a holiday package?”

Now, that is exactly what we educate our guests about. A holiday package we cannot give you. A holiday experience we can help build. However, to build, I will require a foundation. The foundation is based on the answers you give me.

In today’s age of technology, with mobile apps, maps and ready information, everyone is consulting what everyone does on social media platforms. The comfort of having someone do the exact same things that you like….it is a trap, as far as I am concerned. I do not deny that technology makes travel simpler. It also makes it boring. If you can write everything down in Evernote before you leave your house, and then slavishly follow the itinerary/social media recommendations, are you missing out on the serendipity of travel and life? Imagine telling your friends upon your return, “Oh yes, our holiday went exactly as planned, nothing we didn’t expect.” They’d look at you like you were a project manager, not someone on vacation. Memories are made by unexpected stories, not from flawless checklist itineraries.

I have a lot of “Hey, let us check out something there” moments in my travel. As a result, there have been many unexpected moments that have led to lasting beautiful memories. Like the time, I decided to venture further into a souk in Alexandria, Egypt. This was my first solo trip and those few steps rewarded me with souvenirs I could not have bought on the streets of Cairo and heard stories told by the couple who hand – made those lovely pieces. Or the time I went walking all over Birmingham and discovered a quaint little second-hand book shop, where I found some old books on golf, which I know would have been difficult to find anywhere else. This is besides having tea & sandwiches with the book store owner, who was fascinated that an Indian woman, wandering by herself, would pick up old golf books.

Sure, sometimes you just want to chill out and read on the beach. But we travel to travel, to see new things, get out of our routines and expand our brains. Little more than a century ago, only the rich travelled, and normal people like me flocked to World’s Fairs, which brought the Earth’s rare charms to your doorstep. It was a zoo like atmosphere, but all of us who went to the World Fairs, were craving the unfamiliar sights from around the world. Your inheritance of that spirit should not end in you buying a ticket to a theme park safari. To meet people who aren’t expecting to see an Indian today is a rare joy, an authentic moment when two cultures share and grow.

When we talk about exploration travel, we typically conjure up an image of a cave in Belize or a Himalayan peak. But equally important, if not more, is the boat salesman in Bangkok who knows just enough English to tell you about his niece wanting to visit India and asks a lot of charmingly uninformed questions, and you provide the kind of guidance to save him money and his niece embarrassment. Or the waiter in Keren, Eritrea, who complains about paying his local “king” rent, kicking off a long conversation about cultural differences and why it’s hard to get a business off the ground under those rules.

If you’re just doing what everyone else is doing, then you might as well stay home. Even Mount Everest has been truly ruined by the crowd.

This is not to say that all exploratory travel is great. You will have experiences of soggy, bland food being served or a shower where water just trickled, enough for you to wash your face, rather than clean yourself up or a non-communicative inn owner who answered in mono syllables. You can wander away and walk around for miles without getting to familiar spots of crowds or malls or a Pizza Hut. But, then, that is what life is all about. Some not so good experiences, yet, some great, out of the world experiences. A surprise – free, uneventful travel is the gift of the internet. Why should I walk two blocks away to sit at a small roadside café and watch a sport on the large TV the owner has placed outside, when I see a Starbucks in front of me where I will get my chai latte exactly as I want it? Of course, the small roadside café may not be listed on Zomato or have reviews up on the internet. These ratings influence me leading to the expected. Serendipity in travel is a “social glue,” bringing us together by common, accidental experiences.

Remember, it does not have to be esoteric or exotic all the time. Just understanding and accepting that going by your instinct and gut feel will lead you to more fun times is good enough. You may not succeed two out of three times. But, the one hit you will have, will be worth everything on that vacation.

Even today, most discoveries are a combination of serendipity and searching.

India – a great view with a suitable destination for all sport-oriented activities

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India, as a country and a people have always been hugely interested in the concept of playing a variety of sports. Our extensively large country is filled with a plethora of facilities that have been established to ensure growth in this realm, as well as tourism. Cricket has been the nation’s most played sport for more than half a century now. As a result of which, there exists an extremely professional youth system to ensure the development of great talent. Football is rapidly growing, more so in the metropolitan cities, as we have observed a major influx of new indoor turfs all around India. This has generated a lot of interest amongst the local talents.

                                     Sports like tennis, squash, surfing, skiing and golf have attracted our attention. There are a number of extremely talented youth tennis, squash and golf players in this country. The facilities have aided them in their pursuits. Surfing has grown in interest in the last couple years. Many come from all over the world to catch the waves on our coastlines. Since India is a peninsular country, we have some of the longest coastlines and beaches in the world and our surrounded by two beautiful islands that truly complement the desire to surf. From covelong point in Chennai and Kovalam and Varkala in Kerala, to the Andamans and the beaches in Goa, India offers a great many options to satiate our desire to surf. India has a number of hills in the north where skiing is quite possible, provided it’s the right season. Two famously ventured spots are Auli in the lower Himalayas and Manali in Himachal Pradesh. These destinations attract thousands of visiting tourists all through the year, from all over the world. With golf, your curiosity for different kinds of golf courses will never end. There is an abundance of golf courses scattered all over the country. From Kodaikanal, the Nilgiris, Goa and Bangalore in the south to Delhi, Mumbai, Pune and parts of the eastern states in the north, there are a large number of long lasting courses and ranges surrounded by beautiful lands and greenery.

India is also known for it’s regions that host a variety of adventure and extreme sports. From skiing in Kashmir, river rafting in Himachal, mountaineering in the greater Himalayas and trekking in Arunachal and Nagaland to scuba diving in Andaman, flying fox in Kerala, bungee jumping in Karanataka, water sports in Goa, paragliding in Maharashtra and rock climbing in Madhya Pradesh, there is so much we can do and experience in India.

The reason there are a lot of tourists coming to India is because we have a lot to offer in terms of physical rehabilitation and detox. Mostly young people travel and backpack through India because of it’s rich culture and as it serves as an ideal retreat for those who are willing to break a sweat, or to indulge themselves in fun, outdoor activities.

Dras The Gateway to Ladakh

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Mark Twain once said, “God created war, so Americans would learn geography.”

That is exactly what happened to millions of Indians 19 years ago. Most of India had not heard of either Dras or Kargil in 1999.

A little glimpse into what this region is all about.

This is a land where time stands still. The snow sculpted landscape of Dras valley will move you in ways only nature can. The brown rocky mountains, sharply eroded ridges and picturesque rugged valleys – all enhance Dras’ theatrical setting. If Ladakh is paradise, Dras is your stairway to that paradise. Driving through Dras valley is mesmerising and meditative. We let our imagination run amok and dreamt of trading caravans of yore that rode in and out of this valley carrying fabled silks, spices and unnamed treasures.

The weather adds to the beauty of the place. To explore some of Dras’ most picturesque viewpoints is one of those timeless experiences. The intense beauty, travelling through the remote mountainous terrain has a calming effect and it inspires. The first town after you cross the famous Zojilla Pass, Dras & the gorgeous valley is resplendent with wildflowers blooming in colourful abandon, even as the Dras river playfully meanders through sea buckthorn thickets and a patchwork of fields in multiple hues of green. It is extremely cool during summers and temperatures drop to sub zero in winters. The average temperatures hover around – 22 degrees Celsius. It is the second coldest habitable place on earth, the first being Siberia.

The Srinagar-Leh highway drive, which skirts the Dras river, is staggeringly beautiful. The magnificent landscape of Ladakh unfolds itself as the dense green forest-clad slopes of Kashmir Valley give way to bleak multi-hued mountains. Stark beauty takes a different meaning altogether. From the flower-sprinkled green fields to the old-world stone homes in villages nestled on the banks of the Dras River, the amazing sights of the valley compel you to just sit back and gaze in awe the soulful harmony of man and nature.

The population of Drass comprises people of Dardic (also known as Shinas) and Balti tribes. The Dards are descendants of Indo-Aryan people believed to have originally migrated to Ladakh from Central Asia. They speak Shina, a Dardic language. The Baltis form the major tribe in the whole of Kargil.

The villages in Dras Valley are surrounded by terrace farms all along the hillsides. These terraces are home to groves of tall poplar and willow trees, orchards of apples and apricots and fields of barley and buckwheat.

During winter, Dras turns into a frozen paradise. Everything is covered with snow and the landscape is a surreal white dotted with browns & purples here and there. The extremes of winter cuts Dras off from the Kashmir Valley and it disappears into a world of its own.

Sporting in high altitudes – Horsemanship is a treasured tradition of the Dard natives here and polo is played with particular zeal and fervour in Dras. There are numerous riveting contests of polo organised during the summer season and it is the favourite sport of the landlocked region, besides football and ice hockey during winters.

Beneath this earth young warriors sleep – this inscription says it all. India lost 527 bravehearts and 1363 soldiers were injured badly. The Memorial at Dras at the foothills pf Tololing is testimony to the fierce battle that was fought for more than 60 days. Lying below the tricolour, that sways high against the backdrop of the very same mountain, these martyrs are testimony that Indian Armed Forces will go to any length to protect what is ours!

Dras has been developed as a tourist destination since 1999, following the Kargil War. This new facet of the local economy initially took the form of visitors specifically arriving to see the war zone. For many of us it is nothing short of a pilgrimage to pay homage to all those who fought to save this paradise.

Places of interest –

  • Manman Top, 10 km from Dras (from where one can view the Dras Valley and the Line of Control.

  • Gomchan Valley, 5 km from Dras (a highland valley with glacier and steam running through)

  • Dongchik, 10 km from Dras (A model village in terms of agriculture, education and peace. Only village with zero cases as per police record)

  • Bhimbet Stone, 7 km from Dras. Legend says this piece of rock is supposed to represent Bhim, the burly Pandava from the epic Mahabharat, and that the soil surrounding it has great healing powers.

  • Draupadi Kund – 18 km from Dras

  • Minamarg (A valley 30 km from Dras headquarters, hills of which is bounded by Machoi Glaciers and also is a traditional route to Amarnath Yatra)

  • Laser La (A hill station about 14 km from Dras, especially known for its milkwhite water and Laser La glacier)

  • Mushku Valley 8 km from Dras (popular for various wild flowers during summer season in the deserted Ladakh region)

Dras-Gurez Trek Route (A trek route from Dras, Ladakh to Gurez, Bandipora in Kashmir which runs through Mushku Valley, Botakul and mountains (vehicular road also links Dras with Gurez))