Friday, November 16, 2012

Sikkim: Pelling

Sikkim provides the much needed succor to the urban eye tired of fast-pacing itself through concrete jungles and air-conditioned cubbyholes.
What you find is greenery in abundance, mountains, slopes, fresh unpolluted air and plenty of waterfalls.
Pelling is closest to Mt. Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain peak in the world.  The view is something to die for. No painter's hand can do justice to this scenic beauty.This is the view that you wake up to:

Kanchenjunga: view from our room

Kanchenjunga: another view from our room

And there are waterfalls of all sizes! There are so many that our car had to drive through one of them as we went to visit the Kanchenjunga waterfalls. A natural car-wash ! Here's the picture:

Driving through a waterfall

The swirling waterfalls, the regal mountain peaks and the lush greenery all around make Pelling a worthy trip.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sikkim: tastes, tips and takeaways

Some tips for the tourist, not found in a tour itinerary:

1. When you go on a tour, the norm in India is that the tour operator stops at some restaurant for lunch-break. In Sikkim, you find no such 'proper' place for lunch. You only find some small eateries selling local food.
The local food normally found is noodles, thukpas and momos.  We had a dig at all three. The Momos were quite tasty and my family liked them particularly because of the really spicy chutneys served with them. The chutneys vary from place to place and so do the momos' size. But inside, it is the same stuffing of finely chopped cabbage and carrot.
By default, the thukpa was rejected by family as it was a very, very watered down version of Chowmein and was quite bland in taste. The Chowmein, we found, was ok, though not yummy.

The Thukpa

Momos with the spicy onion-green chilli Chutney
2. It is also important that we do not waste much time in eating at a restaurant. One, there aren't many on your way to the tourist sights. Two, you cannot afford to spend about an hour on ordering and eating food as it is dark by 5 pm itself and you need to complete all the sight seeing before that time.

3. Another strange thing is the abundance of banana trees on all the mountain slopes. Surprising to find these trees one normally associates with the tropical plains and not the colder temperate regions. You are, therefore, assured of finding banana fruit wherever you go. The abundance does not convert to inexpensive though.

4. Day times are ok but nights are cold. So you need some warm clothes. October was pleasant and just one sweater was enough for me. Nathula is much colder and you need to properly protect yourself.

5. Lower oxygen levels at Nathula could be a deterrent for BP patients.

6. As mentioned in my earlier post, a visit to MG Road in Gangtok is a must-visit place, not just for its walk, but also for its many eateries (and pubs too).

7. Sikkim, being a mountainous terrain, you get some very good exercise as you keep climbing and getting down slopes all the time. It looks easy for the locals as they do it all the time but it is not the same for many of us whose only exercise is to move our fingers across the keyboard. Even to go to eating food at the MG Road, we had to climb up a steep flight of 50-60 steps. To do this, I had to stop at least 3-4 times. Going here may not be a great idea for the elderly.

8.  A pleasant surprise was to find many restaurants claiming 'pure vegetarian' food. I found this to be a relief as I thought the North-East India is known for its meat eating habits. Later, I came to know that it is because of the prevalent Buddhist religion which forbids consumption of meat and second, to support the vegetarian tourists who visit the monasteries here.

9. Rabdentse  Palace Ruins at Pelling can be skipped. One, it is almost razed to the ground. Two, you need to walk 2 kms up and down the mountain and it is not worth it! I say this because the climb is definitely quite tough for people not used to trekking. And if you have to go, then start at at least 2:30 pm and not later as you cannot see anything in the dark if you reach late. It took me (a person not used to any physical exercise) almost 45 minutes one way. It was the ancient capital of Sikkim and may be of historical value for the interested.

10. All the monasteries are worth visiting because of the peaceful aura.

11. Particularity intriguing are the 'Mani Khorlo' or the prayer wheel that we found almost everywhere...mostly near monasteries. We are supposed to rotate them clockwise as we say our silent prayers. We found two giant ones in Sikkim...about 10 feet high! Here's the ones that we found on our way to Rumtek Monastery:

Mani Khorlo: On our way to Rumtek Monastery

If I'd stay back, I am sure, with all the physical exercises going up and down the mountains and through breathing the pure mountain air, I'd return much thinner and healthier.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sikkim: Travel to Nathula Pass, a spine-chilling experience

Nathula, 55 kms from Gangtok, is a mountain pass through the Himalayas connecting India and China. It is at an altitude of 14000 ft above sea level.
To go to Nathula, one needs a permit from the Indian government. It is open to Indian citizens only on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. We were asked to submit two passport size photos and two photo ID proofs (our tour operator insisted on our passports towards ID proof).
We were there just two days after the roads were thrown open after a major landslide in September which had killed four people.

The road after the landslide

And the delayed monsoons ensured that the roads, if any, were full of mud and slush.

A stretch of the slippery road

What was truly a spine-chilling experience was traveling on these roads or non-existent roads. The roads become very narrow in places, sometimes just as much as the width of the vehicle that you are traveling in!  The waterfalls which exist everywhere in Sikkim wash away the roads. Where there is a strong waterfall, it is not possible to have a road, and your vehicle actually rides over the stones to travel across. All the slush on the roads jeopardize your travel further, as you never know when the vehicle could simply slide 14000 ft to the valley below. Though there is lovely scenery and nature filled with trees, mountains and waterfalls all around, you are rudely brought back to the real world with all the rocking and rolling of the car. Most of the time you sit through the journey praying and hoping you make it through. At one place, we waited quite some time for the crane to clear away huge boulders from the route which had come rolling down due to landslide. People are known to be stranded overnight for this very reason. And while returning, unless you manage to climb down before 5 pm, the diminishing visibility only makes things worse. Not for the faint-hearted, this experience!

The road can get as narrow as this
Visiting in winters is ruled out as temperatures can drop to below minus degrees. Visiting in the rainy season is ruled out as heavy rainfalls cause massive landslides. So that leaves a narrow window for visits. While we were there in October-mid, we were shivering from cold. It is necessary to wear shoes, and cover yourself head to toe to save yourself from the biting cold.We also saw some ice falling around us...not snow...just some random pieces of ice here and there.
The vehicle drops you at the bottom of the steps leading to the border and it is a steep climb up around 50-60 steps. Not an easy climb, especially due to lack of oxygen at that altitude.
After you catch your breath, it is time to get breathless again as you open your eyes to what you see around you: The Indo-China border and the beautiful mountain ranges all around you. Is this Yash Chopra's Switzerland, you wonder?
Patriotic feeling surges through you when you see the Indian soldiers guarding the border. And a quiet, reverent moment when you see the Indian War Memorial with names of all martyrs.
 The Chinese soldiers are busy clicking our photos and we theirs. They helpfully pose for us, with us. It is heart-warming to see their friendly nature. I was told that the Indian soldiers do the same when the Chinese visit the border, which is three hours before us as their time is ahead of us. Perhaps, this is the only international border which doesn't have a no-man's land.

And...the China post

Nathula Pass is a must-see.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sikkim: MG Road, a dreamy stretch at Gangtok

As written in my earlier post here, Sikkim is a land of hills, slopes, waterfalls, steps going up and down all the time, hazardous roads and routes.
Again, I am not providing a list of sights to see but those which have made a strong impact and I feel these are must-not-be-missed experiences. Will write about them in the next few posts.
At Gangtok itself, there isn't much to see. For all your tourist expeditions, you need to travel to its outskirts.  Yet, there is one place, visiting which will prove to be the most delightful experience for you, and that is the MG Road.

MG Road, Gangtok
The best thing about Gangtok is that it is a plastic-free area. The second best thing is that no vehicles are allowed to enter MG Road. The whole town is centered around this 1 km stretch which has many restaurants and shops on it. Now what's special about this road?
One, in absence of any vehicular traffic, you find a cleanliness so unusual of Indian roads. Not only is it kept clean, you will not find any littering on this wide road which is a completely pedestrianized zone. Along the length of this road, in the center, you find flowers, mainly roses, which further help beautify the area. Benches on both sides of the flower beds, and old-fashioned lights add to the languorous aura.
So away from the din of crowded streets and over-crowded malls in our cities!
As it gets to be dark early, no tourism is possible after 5 pm. The best way to spend time in the evening is to take a stroll along this street and enjoy the peace.
I only wish the tourists could respect this calm and talk in softer tones!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Kolkata: some tips for the tourist

We visited some of the tourist sights mentioned. This post is not to describe any of those sights, as plenty of information is available on the internet. Yet, the tourist must be informed of some things that may not be available on an itinerary.

Timings: Most of the places that are listed are closed from 11.30 am to about 3.30 pm. So the best thing is to plan for lunch or shopping during the time.

Traffic jams: I thought Hyderabad was bad in managing traffic but thankfully we have only fixed hours when we expect a peak and can plan accordingly. But in Kolkata, as per our cab driver, traffic starts at around 7 am and continues till 8 pm or may be even beyond that. They still seem to follow the conventional office hours of 9-5 but even after 8, I didn't find it relenting.
Once we had to go from College Street to Ballygunge. We started at 2 pm and reached the restaurant at 3: 45 pm which is at a distance of less than 5 kms! So you need to really be prepared if you have a train or plane to catch. While our train was scheduled to leave at 11 pm. we left our hotel at 9:15 and reached the station by 9: 40 pm!. The traffic is THAT unpredictable!
I have got so used to the term 'phanka' while in Kolkata. When you ask the driver, all you get to hear is that, "if there is 'phanka' we can reach in half hour or else, it will take 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours". Sometimes we were late and couldn't complete what was planned or sometimes very early... like on our return journey, we were at the airport by 2:50 pm for the 5 pm domestic flight!

Weather: Visiting Kolkata during summer can be very miserable. Therefore, we selected the cooler airs of October to visit, but believe me, even in October, you cannot think of wearing your clothes twice without a wash.The clothes stick to your body when you step out from the AC wala  car. It's better that you carry thin clothes even during October.

Food: Like us, if you are vegetarians, you need to be double careful of the reviews on Burrp, if you plan to go by Burrp reviews. It looks like ONLY the non-veg part of the food is reviewed. Example, BBQ Nation, one of my favorite restaurant chains, doesn't have good reviews on Burrp, Kokata. We selected one which ranked very high on Burrp, Kolkata (Ivory kitchen on Camac Street) and was supposed to offer a HUGE buffet with a good balance of veg and non-veg food. We went in expecting a LOT! In the veg section, there were just about two simple salads, two starters and two of main course, some chat items and of course loads of sweets! For this buffet they charge 700 per head!  For the same price, Westin, Hyderabad, offers quality stuff four times this spread. Even Ohri's buffet has a much greater selection at half the price. Ivory Kitchen's buffet is not worth more than Rs.250-300 at the best.
Vegetarians do have a tough time as vegetarian food isn't available easily and the ones that we did find on the internet were at distances that intimidate us, given the traffic conditions...though none more than 5 kms away.

The Metro: We took a metro to save some time traveling and traveled from Park Street to New market. We had planned for a longer ride just to enjoy the metro ride but the jam-packed train with sweating bodies all around made us get off two stations away. The Metro, unlike our local train, doesn't come with a separate ladies coach.
One tourist sight that stands out in memory is the regal grandeur of St. Paul's Cathedral which is considered the oldest and called the mother church.

St. Paul's Cathedral
Belur Mutt and Dakshinewar are both 12-15 kms away from the main city. Given the uncertain tarffic conditions, we started at 1:30 pm itself to be able to reach there and finish our visit by 5:30 pm by which time the Mutt closes. When we were just about 1 km away, we decided that we could take some time for lunch without running the risk of seeing it closed.
What came as a very pleasant surprise was a vegetarian restaurant, Vegetarian Valley, we discovered on the way. The place is not great ambiance-wise and they make you wait for a while before the order is ready but the taste of the food makes the wait worth it. Not just the taste, but the wonderful courteousness and the pleasant smiles with which the food was served, the waiters keeping themselves at a distance so as not to intrude, yet at a distance from which they could observe when the plates are empty and serving is required. The price is quite decent too. For me, this restaurant was like a jewel discovered unexpectedly. I say this because who expects that kind of service, attention and courtesy from this teeny-weeny, seemingly dingy place?!

 For the more squeamish, there are the more renowned fast food joints at a stone's throw from here.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Kolkata: Places not to be missed

Among the places mentioned in the WB tour itinerary, I was interested more in Belur Mutt for its quietness and serenity. This was how I remember it from my childhood when I had visited it and thankfully not much has changed since then.
If you have no time to see any other place, the below two more than make up for everything that the city can offer to the tourist.

 'Boi Para' on College Street is not listed in any tour itinerary but I had short listed it and boy, was I glad?!
Any book-lover will drool over the thousands of books lining both sides of the street. You have around a 2-km stretch selling study books, fiction, non-fiction, old editions...every kind of book one wants, at throw-away prices. And yes, no pirated versions...only original, second-hand books. I picked up about eleven of them. I could hang on forever but had to drag myself away for paucity of time. It is a virtual feast for a book-lover and even if you spend all your allotted time here, you'd be left hungering for more!

Boi Para on College Street, Kokata

The Mother House  is listed as a tourist attraction. We were about to give it a miss but fortunately, we did not.

Entrance as humble as the place within
Even as you enter the street leading to the Missionaries of Charity, you have people helpfully pointing to the House. It is so easy to miss the simple building. Sisters who we met, humbly joined their hands in a gesture of greeting. The entrance has a sign showing that 'Mother' is 'IN.' When you step inside, a quietness and peace seems to engulf you. Immediately to the right, you have a hall housing the last remains of Mother Teresa. You need to only step into the room and you feel some connection with Mother. A feeling of spirituality encompasses you. Your eyes see the traffic just outside the windows with their old-fashioned half-curtains; yet, you are no longer a part of the world outside; you no longer hear the noises around, nothing seems to distract you as you allow the peace within to seep into your soul. Some ethereal experience as you kneel to speak to mother.
I had a sister talk to me and pray with me. I was gifted pendants with Mother's image on it. I was given quite a few and am willing to share with anyone who wants them.
We went upstairs and saw the room that Mother spent her days in. The room was the size of a prison cell: one tiny bed that was barely enough to accommodate her tiny frame, a box, a small cupboard, a table and chair. And NO FAN in the hot and humid Kokata weather! She never had a fan installed despite the fact that her room was directly over the kitchen where food in huge quantities gets cooked.
Photographs are forbidden here but how I wish I could share the picture of her room to inspire millions of people. Even otherwise, you feel somehow that you violate the sanctity if you take pictures. Something stirs deep within when you sit there to watch the room in awe. (found the photograph here.)
You are not required to remove your shoes inside, you are not required to queue there, you are not required to pay to get a faster 'darshan'; no one pushing you or jostling for place; whether you choose to donate or no, you are treated with respect. I got a special picture of Mother Teresa as I shared my memories of meeting her when she graced our school decades ago.

People who read this post and go there to experience what I did, may/may not feel the same way. I felt a deep, deep connection. Seeing the peace on the faces of the sisters working there so quietly, overwhelms you. Is it possible to give yourself so totally to a cause wanting nothing in return?!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kolkata: In pursuit of Bangla flavors

When we planned to travel to Sikkim, we had to go via Kolkata. So we thought, why not visit Kolkata as well. I was brought up in Orissa and therefore quite familiar with the culture, cuisine and language of the eastern states . I wanted to re-experience those flavors that I get so nostalgic about.
As part of my research for sites to see, I called up my Bong friend at Kolkata. Her first response was,"What is there to see in Kolkata?" :) I understood her response perfectly. If she had called me to plan about a Hyderabad visit, I might respond in the same way. The metros/capitals have become so indistinguishable from one another. We have the same malls, the same restaurant chains, the same cinemas. Despite this invasive urbane culture across major cities in India I was hoping to catch the Bengali sights and smells.
Towards this process, I first drew up a list of the recommended places to see: the Victoria Memorial, the Indian museum, Dakshinewar etc. But there was something different in my visiting Kokata this time. I wanted to experience the real Kolkata, get the whiff of Bengal and catch all the Bengaliness in it.

For shopping, we went to New Market off Chowringhee lane and Dakshinapan in Ballygunge.
New Market is extremely crowded, chaotic, and filled with 'guides' who try to ensnare you into buying the exorbitantly-priced wares at their shops. We went there on two consecutive days as we got tired just from going round the complex. We went with the expectation that we will get everything we wanted there but found ourselves going round and round the same shops selling only clothes. May be because it was 'Pujo' time.The upside was the throw-away prices that you can bargain for. Got a kurta for Rs.150!
Dakshinapan was a more solemn and a quieter  place offering you khadis/cottons/hand looms  from every state in India. Got 5 khadi kurtas for a total of Rs. 1500! That too from a West Bengal government-run shop which doesn't allow any bargaining. Can't think of such bargain  prices anywhere else in India!
For authentic Bengali cuisine, I short listed three places: Bhojohari Manna, 6 Ballygunge and Sholo Ana Bangali. Of these three, we had time to visit only 6 Ballygunge. From my rudimentary knowledge of Bengali cuisine, at 6 Ballygunge, I ordered for one shukto, one bhaja, one torkari, one pulao and of course the Loochis. The steward assured me that this was more or less the perfect combination of a typical Bengali meal.
On the day of return, we were less than 100 meters from Bhojohari Manna where we planned to lunch but had to give up as we were afraid that we'd miss our flight back home.We got jittery even though we had  four hours for the scheduled take-off as we had experienced terrible traffic jams where we covered distances like 5 kms in 1 1/2 hours! So we just took a U-turn and ate at Halidram's--a quick snack would have to do for lunch.
Despite the fact that Kokata has a majorly fish eating populace, in a city as large as Kolkata, I thought I'd find some exclusive vegetarian restaurants but these were few and far between. When we went to try the Bengali food, we had a very limited choice as vegetarians but what was a satisfying experience was to recall the tastes from my childhood... especially of the posto and mustard-oil combinations. Of course, my family found it a bit tepid as the Telugu cuisine is known to be fiery by comparison!
If Kokata is known for its mustard-oil preparations, it is equally famous for its street food. I was dying to try it and went to Vardhan Market near Park Street. But on the one opportunity that we got to try the street food, it was raining hard. Just a few puchkas and we had to run for shelter. Elsewhere we did try the equally famous Singhadas but the rolls and chops got left out :( Knowing how yummy they taste, it made me really miserable at having gone all the way there and come away without eating it.
The real Bangla experience was waiting to happen just round the corner...what else...THE PUJO! But instead of waiting for it to appear, we decided to flee as we were warned of serious traffic issues during Pujo and we didn't want to stay back to experience it.

More on Kolkata in coming posts.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stay at Pelling, Sikkim: Hotel Hill Retreat

We were driven to Pelling, a distance of 110 kms from Gangtok, through a mountainous terrain. It is at a higher altitude than Gangtok and increasing altitudes leads to lowering expectations of the quality of accommodation.
Our tour operators chose some other accommodation for us but we got it changed to Hotel Hill Retreat which is ranked#2 as per Tripadvisor. Below is the picture of the room that we were allotted.

Hotel Hill Retreat, Pelling, Sikkim
Definitely not as big as the one in Gangtok. It is about 3/4th the size. What is comforting is that the room was carpeted wall-to-wall. And warm water is provided for drinking. These two factors are a must, I realize, or else it is difficult to handle the cold temperatures.
Pelling is chosen as a tourist spot because it is closest to Kanchenjunga. And the view from the room is awesome!
The hotel is housed in a lovely building, the size, space and design is something that we in Hyderabad would die for. But it looks like once it was built, people had no idea as to what to do with it. The service or the amenities do not match up. First, they still have the archaic bell system to call the reception and not the telephone. And to top it, the bell wasn't working! So whenever you needed to call the help, you had to walk down two sets of stairs. If you are ranked #2, one expects the best.
Getting hot water through all the taps in bathroom is compulsory in Pelling. Yet, the tap supplying hot water in the wash basin was broken. You had to go downstairs to let them know that you need hot water and only then the geyser switch is turned on at the reception. They switch it off once they feel everyone in your room had had his bath. The bathroom did have the basic amenities but not really well-maintained. Also, the towels provided had some marks on them and were dirty. We could not use them and it is on this last leg of our journey that we had to take out the towels that we carried as a stand-by.
The bed is also a bit small for two members. The curtains instead of being thick were rather flimsy and we couldn't block out sunlight before we were ready to get up in the morning. And remember, sun-rise happens at around 5 am there. So you keep lying in your bed tossing and turning after 5, wishing to block out the rather too bright sunlight.
Breakfast on both mornings we were there happened to be the same: aloo paratha and bread toast. Meals are cooked for you on request but we got a delayed order as there weren't many tourists when we were there. Food and the restaurant are quite decent. The food is slightly expensive though.What they are really good at are their 'phulkas.'  Small round, thin rotis, fresh off the stove...awesome in taste.
Because the hotels in Sikkim cannot compete in amenities with the bigger cities, all they can do is provide superior service.  But, there was nothing in the service that I can say went beyond expectations.
Yet, they don't fail to put the Tripadvisor logo on the front door, proud to be recommended by them. To be ranked# 2, you need to provide much better services and amenities. My rank would be a 2.5/5.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stay at Gangtok, Sikkim: White Conch Residency

I must begin by saying that as far as hotels in hill stations are concerned, the expectations, as per my experience, are pretty low. They are so far from the plains and not really easy-to-access. It would be too much if one has expectations as from the hotels in a bigger city.
Hence, when we went to Gangtok, we were prepared for a not-so-great accommodation. But when we stepped into the room, we were all smiles when we saw the size. Huge! And all the three beds ready and prepared. Here's a pic of a room that we were allotted (from Tripadvisor):

White Conch Residency, Gangtok

Pretty decent, don't you think?
The pluses of the room was the size, neatness and came equipped with all necessary furnishings. We weren't into the pricing details as the accommodation came as a part of the package that our tour operator provided.
The room was quite well-lighted as it has glass windows all around. The view from the largest window is that of the Kanchengunga mountain range and it is a sight worth waking up to! This teeny town has its greatest and one of the two shopping complexes, on the MG road very close by. The wooden floor helps absorb cold and you can dare walk bare foot despite the cold. 
A huge plus is the size of the double bed and the excellent mattress used. Quite firm and gives you a comfortable sleep. 
The staff is very courteous and try to help you in which ever way they can. The manager at the desk is quite informed about Sikkim and it is a pleasure to interact with him.
The minuses: Despite the fact that this is a hotel in the capital, they don't have the amenities provided in a larger city. Apart from the toilet roll, a soap and a shampoo sachet, there really isn't any other more-sophisticated stuff in the bathroom. And you don't really mind. That they have hot water from all  taps 24/7 is enough. The best part is that the manager knows this and admitted that they, of course, can't compete with hotels of a bigger city.
Another funny incident was that when we left the room, we had agreed for a room service. They seemed to have outsourced this stuff to a couple of cleaning ladies. When we came back, we found that all the plastic covers which we used to carry our extra pair of shoes, all the bigger 2 liter empty bottles which we kept as stand-by, all were thrown away. The ladies had gone around the room with a comb and trashed all that they thought needs to be. LOL! During travel, I am wary of throwing away anything till just before the last leg of the journey and was now at a loss as to how to wrap my extra shoes. This concern was more so as Sikkim, blessedly, doesn't allow plastic at all. When I told about this, the staff provided me some cloth bags. So if you go there, rule out room cleaning, especially if your stay is short like ours was.
We had agreed to this hotel as it had advertised itself as a hotel with a vegetarian restaurant but when we went there, there was no restaurant at all. It was supposed to be under renovation. Our lunch, on the first day, was brought from outside and arrived after an hour of ordering by which time we were like half-starved to death. 
For all other meals, we ate at the MG road before we came back to rest at our room. They provide a breakfast free with the package, though not a buffet.
By our Hyderabad standards, this hotel might not stand a chance but as per Sikkim standards, I would rate it a 3.5/5. This is for sheer courteousness of the staff.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Stay at Kolkata: Casa Fortuna

I short listed some hotels for our stay at Kolkata. The typical middle-class me tried different deals to get some discounts. Make my Trip was one of those. But later, I realized that you get a better deal by directly talking with the hotel rather than going through any agent. Especially, if you are not clubbing it with a tour package.
I also learned that using TripAdvisor is like using a spell-check in MS Word. Some things may not fit your requirement but are still okayed. This applies especially to Kolkata Hotels.
The hotel we selected, Casa Fortuna, ranked 7 as per TripAdvisor, was Rs. 6000/- per day for a teeny-weeny room. An extra bed, and there was no room for maneuvering. We had to wait to give space when another person walked by. They are so crunched for space that the bathroom had a sliding door with a mirror which doubled up as a dressing table. If you have the other person in the room wanting to use the bathroom, you find your dressing table sliding away like in a bhooth-wala cinema.  The room reeked of cigarette smell, doubly unbearable as none in my family smoke. On complaining, we had some kind of a triangular devise which was said to absorb the smell! 
We arrived in batches of two. One person in the morning as per his train timing and two of us by the noon flight. This was clearly told to the hotel. Upon arriving at around 1330 or so, we were very starved as we had had a meager breakfast at 0730 before we caught the flight to Kolkata.A welcome drink was part of the deal. We had to ask for this welcome drink (imagine). And then it arrives a good forty minutes later as we were just about to leave for lunch. Sometimes a warm moist napkin accompanies your welcome drink but what I was unprepared for was a small towel almost dripping with water along with our drink (canned juice). 
The house-keeping services were pathetic too. When we left the hotel for lunch and came back late evening, we found that the dishes ordered for breakfast were still not cleared though someone had stepped into the room to take away the smell-absorbing device.
And due to the highly congested traffic, during the time of check out, we barely were left with any time to talk to the hotel for the discount discussed earlier, and though we overstayed by 2 1/2 hours, we were charged for one extra day despite the fact that we had had complementary breakfast only on two days and not three days which is supposed to be a part of the package.
To top it all, the hotel calls itself a Boutique Hotel. LOL! They need to search for the meaning of the term before calling themselves one.
If one were to pay the same amount in Hyderabad, one gets a far superior room and amenities. For less than half this price, we got an excellent room, much larger and with same amenities in a tiny town like Rourkela (Hotel Radhika) in 2010. And to our great surprise, it had such a vast spread for a breakfast, that we couldn't do justice to even half the fare.
Casa Fortuna, the plus: Proximity to many significant places, including the Metro. A decent breakfast buffet. Noise-free room. No unnecessary intrusion from the staff.
My take away: Take any review of Kokata Hotels with sackfuls of salt as the expectations of a room, amenities and service seems pretty low. Rooms priced as they are with the service provided would not last two weeks in a city like Hyderabad where hotels are compelled to provide services exceeding expectations all the time.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Annual Vacation: to the top of the world

2009 saw an extensive 20-day tour of Rajasthan; 2010 was Orissa; 2012 saw two trips: Kerala and now Sikkim. And Sikkim has to happen via Kolkata.
These days we no longer do things as we did when younger; viz getting up early in the morning and rush to catch (pre-booked tickets on) the state bus to visit the designated local sight seeing.
Things are planned much more elaborately. We do a lot of research on the best accommodations; best tour packages;  even customize the tour packages; cabs to book; the most recommended places to visit; places where we get the best local cuisine;  places where we get to explore the local markets for the best shopping and so on....and thus it is a good 3-4 weeks of planning to optimize the tour experience.
Trips have now  become much more personalized, more comfortable and customized to meet our personal comfort levels resulting in now sitting back to enjoy the trip rather than a breathless frenzy of a series of sight seeing places as marked in the government agenda.
Sikkkim has been an out of world experience. I will be writing more on the trip in the next few posts. Yet, to sum it up in a few lines:
Sikkim: a land of hills, slopes, waterfalls, steps going up and down all the time, hazardous roads and routes.
Kolkata: a land of huge huge traffic jams. Most of the time all that we did was sitting in the environs of our AC cab waiting to reach our destination.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ohri's @ Banjara Hills

Reviewing an Ohri's is as though one is trying to review the Chutney's. Both the restaurant chains are so well-known across Hyderabad that a review seems redundant!
Yet, the glaring difference between the two is consistency. Where Chutney's has a consistent taste across its branches, Ohri's is not so. The taste varies according to the location.  The cuisine isn't consistent either. Each Ohri restaurant has its own menu AND price. The quality varies too. If one were to have at Ohri's at any of the malls, one finds a much watered-down version of the taste (though not the price). I therefore steer clear of Ohri's at food courts at any of the malls/multiplexes.
I happened to visit the Ohri's at Banjara Hills. I had had their à la carte fare earlier and today I was in the mood for a buffet. I keep seeking the USP of a restaurant while writing its review. If a restaurant doesn't have its distinguishing feature, why would any one feel compelled to visit it again? Well, the Ohri's @ Banjara is clear about its USP, it truly offers a  huge spread: a feast for the glutton but wasted on small eaters like me. Given below a list of all that they offered on the day of my visit: a weekend.
It offers both veg and non veg. I have omitted the non-veg items but noticed that there were about six of those too.

Started with Veg Shorba

Shangai baby Corn
Banana Pakoda

Pasta Papaya Salad
Chilly cucumber
Tomato Chat

Main Course:
Pudina rice
Veg Biryani
Dondakayi kura
Dal Makhani
Jeera Aloo
Khumb Kadi
Shahi paneer
Bhindi Adraki
Sabzi hariyali

Macroni Alfredo
Vegetable Marinara

Veg in Soya Garlic Sauce
Veg Soft noodles

Chaat Counter:
Pani Puri
Papdi Chat
Dahi Puri

Curd Rice
Dahi Bhalla

Live Counter

Five kinds of sweets
Four kinds of ice creams

Get it? That's the spread! They have tried to cover a varied cuisine. I think it is difficult for anyone to eat so many items. The suggestion, therefore, so as not to waste food, is to help yourself to just one spoonful of each item were you to decide to taste everything. I couldn't do even that as I felt too stuffed eating slightly more than half the fare.
How was the quality of the food? It was quite good. None of the items can claim to be insipid. And in keeping with the norm of the restaurant requirements at Banjara Hills, they were mostly oil-less in preparation and also the masalas toned down a bit. I have no complaints about the quality of food.
The price for weekend is 395/- inclusive of all taxes. During weekdays, it is lesser.
The staff was quite courteous too. The restaurant being one of its older branches has not worked on its ambience for quite some time, and therefore though pleasant, well-lit with well-spaced tables, it wears a jaded look.
Will I go for their buffet again? No. That's because I want my buffet meal to consist of a variety of salads and appetizers, and concentrate  less on the number of  main dishes. The three nondescript salads were virtually non-existent for me. As for the appetizers, there was truly only one: the baby corn. The other one, banana pakoda, don't we prepare it at home frequently? So, whats special about it?
Eating so many sweets, however much of a sweet tooth one may have, does lead to a tumultuous tummy, doesn't it? And tell me truly, don't we have just one sweet at the end of a meal at home?
So, this restaurant is ruled out for a revisit for its buffet.
My favorites still are the BBQ Nation, à la Liberty and Bikanerwala...the last two being vegetarian restaurants.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vinayaka Chavithi/Ganesh Puja: my angst

After the puja is performed, new clothes worn, sweets eaten, it's time for Ganesh immersion. Went to Durgan Cheruvu the day after puja for the immersion with a grim warning from son: "Bring the plastic covers back. Don't throw them into the lake." The environmentalist that he is! Not that I intended to, anyway. When I went there to immerse my Vinayaka idol, there was something that was heartening and something that was distressing.
What really cheered me was the sight of many idols of mud and clay that would not harm the environment but blend into the lake bed. Yet to see the lakefront teeming with swaying plastic covers, in which the puja material like flowers and leaves were brought, was appalling.
And this was on the very next day of the puja. It's frightening to think how many more covers would be carelessly dumped on the shores in the ensuing days of celebration as more and more people would be bringing the idols for immersion!
I wish there was someone appointed there just to ensure that a bin is provided so that people dump the plastic covers in it.

Another incident that saddened me was the power cut. Hyderabad, which rarely used to have power cuts, has now become like other Metros where there is a huge lacuna between demand and supply. To bridge this gap, the government has resorted to power cuts of three hours a day. I was fervently hoping that at least this day be spared, but it was not. Sharp, at the appointed hour, the power was shutdown :(  I am sure that this would have proved to be a very frustrating experience for all the worshipers in the city. With most of the factories/organizations closed for the holiday, didn't the government have enough to provide uninterrupted power for this day?
To ensure that we were worshiping the right God, and offering the right offerings, we switched on the emergency light to complete the puja.
I hope the next year, these things are taken care of.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Vinayaka Chavithi/Ganesh puja : the preparations

Our Ganesha this year

Ganesha after our puja


Let me add a disclaimer even before I start writing this post.
I am not a person who is regularly into the traditional pujas and stuff. For me, God is everywhere and I pray wherever and whenever I feel the need to have a conversation with Him
I celebrate all our festivals by wearing new clothes, preparing sweets and a longer prayer than usual. But if there is one puja/festival that is done with great zeal, it is Vinayaka Chaturthi.When praying to this God, one does not ask for riches or any other generous gifts. All that we ask is removal of obstacles on the path to our intended goals
This post is for all infrequent worshipers like me who want to follow the traditional path once in a while but are not conversant with the preparations. Provided below, a check-list of all things that need to be bought or readied as it is considered inappropriate to get up in the middle of performing the puja. If I have left out anything, do let me know. Probably, the same method is used by all South Indians.
We need two of everything as we worship the pasupu vinayakudu first and repeat the puja with the actual idol.

No: Telugu  English  Quantity

1 Pasupu Turmeric
One is not supposed to ask 'how much' for Pasupu and Kumkuma. Their supply ought to be limitless.

Kumkuma Vermillion

3 Doodi  Cotton Two for each family member who performs puja To make Vattulu, Vastramlu, Yagnyopaveetamlu: (Wicks, clothes, sacred thread)
4 Gandham/Chandanam Sandalwood paste One teaspoon
5 Akashantalu Sacred rice Half cup Rice and a pinch of turmeric powder mixed with half teaspoon of water or a drop of oil
6 Agarbattullu Incense Sticks Two for each family member who performs puja
7 Karpooram Camphor

8 Aku- Vakka Betel leaf and Betel Nut Ten  of each
9 Panchamrutam Translated as a nectar made of five liquids Half-cup A mix of milk, sugar, ghee, honey and curd
10 Neellu Water Half glass for each family member who performs puja Insert spoon in each glass
11 Deepamulu Lamps Two Deepam to be filled with oil. Light them at the beginning of puja
12 Puvvullu Flowers About 250 grams for each family member who performs the pooja Any kind, one of which may be a lotus
13 Aakulu Leaves To use 21 varieties if possible, but I make do with 5 Of these, one that is compulsorily  used is grass. I try to include leaves of fruit-bearing trees like guava, jamun
14 Pallu for naivedyam Fruits as offering No limit but at least one per family member if possible Banana is considered Ganesha's favorite. Coconut is compulsory. And any other fruit that you want to offer
15 Jilledakayalu An Indian sweet
A sweet made of rice flour is compulsorily made for this puja
16 Vinayakudi vigraham Ganesha Idol One Available in the markets a day before or can easily be made with clay (link)
17 Pasupu Vinayakudu Ganesha idol made of turmeric paste One A few drops of water added to turmeric powder and shaped into a small mound
18 Data needed at the beginning of puja

Name of the Telugu year, the tithi, name of the week, your name, surname and your gothram
A camera

Gods and pujas have to be uploaded to Face book and other social networks (Sigh!)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Barfi: Glimpses of a Beautiful World

Today if I was asked how I'd like to have my blog described, I have one word for it: "Barfi." 

This is added later: After all the obvious and unabashed plagiarism, I do not want my blog to be described as 'Barfi.'  Anything that is fake puts me off. Feel so betrayed when reading so many reports of plagiarism. Wish the director had at least acknowledged it in the movie. Even a delightfully silly movie like 'Bol Bachchan' had acknowledged it's 'inspiration' and paid a tribute to the original.
Yep, the movie is still beautiful, yet some of the magic is lost.

Barfi is a panorama of beautiful moments strung together. It lets us have a glimpse into the beautiful side of the human minds, an ideal world where there is no malice, no rancor.
The movie starts with a funny ditty and the smile on your face starts with this beginning. Just don't miss the beginning. The Chaplinesque moments within and other moments captured have you feel warm and smiling throughout the movie.
The movie is almost like Kamal Hassan's "Pushpaka Vimanam" as none of the lead actors really talk to each other. Two of the three leads are physically challenged, Ranbir Kapoor playing a deaf and dumb character and Priyanka Chopra, an autistic. The beauty of these characters is that they don't evoke pity with heart-rending OTT performances. On the contrary, you find yourself warming up to them as they are as normal or as flawed as any of us are--falling in love, being jealous and possessive, making mistakes of wrong choices but all very humane: amply demonstrated in unselfish gestures where each could have what they wanted but choose to give it up for the person they love. I am dying to reveal all such beautiful moments but then I might be giving away the story. Just one of them, my favorite scene from the movie. There is a moment is every girl's life where she starts being aware of herself as a woman. And jealousy causes this awareness in the life of Priyanka Chopra, when she sees Ranbir Kapoor interacting with another girl, Ileana. The preening in front of the mirror, quickly hiding this when Ranbir Kapoor walks natural and so unexpected an emotion in the mind of an autistic girl!

A MUST watch. It's decades since such a movie was made. It has all the niceness of Amol Palekar's movies of the 70s... remember movies of  'Choti si Baath' genre? It is so easy to understand why we people keep visiting and revisiting those movies...movies with wonderful stories, with great scope for performances, where both the male and female leads have equally balanced portions...
Why the critics have stopped short of a 5 on 5 rating is incomprehensible.
Life imitates Art, they say. Will I be considered foolish if I hope that with more such movies getting made, people in the society will turn as loving to each other?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Showing respect: the Indian way?

From an article in TOI
1. The 49-year-old, Gurgaon-based CEO of a software product company was in for a rude shock some months ago when one of his young employees peeped into his spacious cabin with a beaming smile and said: "Hey, your cabin's goddamn big... What fun man!" The irritated chief executive instantly summoned a senior hand, a 52-year-old, to check on what could be done about the cheeky geek. The senior executive told the CEO, "We have an army of such guys, how many can you reprimand? It's their style."

Another instant: 
2. A guy wrote an extremely anguished mail on a forum seeking suggestions when he found "an extremely junior and subordinate staff" address his boss by first name in her mail. He feels she should not have addressed someone very senior  (age and position) by first name. He wanted to know how he should advise or warn her to follow proper etiquette while addressing seniors?
(This was written in such atrocious grammar that had I reproduced it as it is, it would have been incomprehensible)

Another instant:  
3.  A well-known food blog says that unless you show respect by addressing as ji/garu/shri/shrimati/Mr./Mrs./Ms., your comments will be ignored...

What do you think of these instances?
If I was in the place of the CEO in the first instant, far from getting irritated, I would have smilingly waved him in and  invited him to explore the cabin as he seemed to have liked it so much. Why and for what he should be reprimanded is beyond me. He hasn't shown any disrespect towards me with those innocuous remarks. On the other hand, he has openly expressed that he liked the place. He might be considered disrespectful if there was an important meeting going on and he had intruded.
If only the seniors more experienced know how to harness this abundant energy of the youth without impeding their thought process, without ridiculing their ideas however implausible they seem, without denting  their self-esteem through discouragement, but work in unison by giving a positive direction to the yet-uncontaminated minds, they can achieve wonders.

In the second instance, I was quite befuddled by the query. What is the meaning of "an extremely junior and subordinate staff"?
A dictionary search threw this meaning for Junior: of lower rank or standing and this meaning for subordinate:  belonging to a lower order or rank/subservient or inferior. Do I infer then that being in a lower rank permits one to consider the person as being subservient or inferior? 
If the criterion for showing respect is age, then should I respect Osama who is older to me? And if the criterion is position, there is the once President of Uganda, Idi Amin. Again, I do not understand what did this person want to "warn" the subordinate about? Mind you, the content of the mail wasn't mentioned anywhere. So my assumption is that there was no issue there.

In the third instance, I do not understand how tagging the blogger with ji, or garu or Ms. or any other title portrays respect to the person.To be able to give a detailed and simple step-by-step guidance to cooking and to have so many clicks on the You-tube, is truly an amazing accomplishment and inspires respect for the work. But to demand ( "I expect and insist") respect through such tags takes away something.
I have read blogs by many senior citizens of India...people in their 60s and 70s who have hundreds commenting on their blogs and addressing them by their first name. (Zephyr and Gappa to name just two). I respect these really senior people, not because of their age but that despite their not-so-robust health and advancing years, their yearning to keep blogging and be able to keep up with the times (as evidenced in their writing on contemporary topics...topics which people of all ages can relate to).

On the personal side of relationships, in India, the touching of feet is considered the ultimate sign of obeisance. But then whose feet does one touch? Any person who is older to you or the one who inspires in you that reverence towards him/her? And looking at the way these Pairi Paunas (feet-touching) happen, I wonder whether they are paying their respect or playing out a farce. A quick 30 degrees bend forward and sometimes side-ways, your hand brushing against the legs just beneath the knees is Pairi Pauna? Personally, I don't allow anyone to touch my feet. I am not God I say, and am as imperfect as everyone else is.

'Respect' is 'to show regard or consideration for.' Every person's being, his space, feelings and thoughts deserve to be respected irrespective of his age, position or status.
Respect is a two-way street. Authoritarian ways never beget respect. One of my favorite authors in Telugu, Chalam, said that in a society that believed in the children being indebted to their parents, he proclaimed caring for and bringing up of children as the fundamental duty as parents. To all those parents who demand respect through unquestioned obedience, I ask:
If Ji/Garu are signs of respect then why Pithaji, aap but Ma, thum ( in Hindi) Nannagaru, meeru but Amma, nuvvu (in Telugu)?

Friday, August 31, 2012

The story of Shirin Farhad, Tivoli Theater and KFC

Been to see "Shirin Farhad ki tho nikal padi" yesterday at Tivoli Theatre.
Shirin Farhad is a love story between two people who are 40+. It is a heart-warming film and portrays the joy that being in love brings to two people irrespective of their age. The movie, simple in concept and an uncomplicated narration, has you smiling throughout as you relate to the joy of the couple in a new-found love. Its subtle comic moments too have you smiling.
The movie endorses the fact that there is no 'right' age for falling in love and that love brings happiness at whatever age it happens. Boman Irani is known for his acting abilities but it is Farah Khan who is a surprise element in the movie. She is such a natural in front of the camera that you wonder where she has been all these years. Her acting career should have begun 25 years back! The chemistry, evident between the pair adds to the credibility.
This movie comes as a refreshing story as the romance isn't mushy with fluttering eyelashes, balloons, chocolates et al. It is so wonderfully sane and practical. Even when Shirin wants to hug Farhad, we don't find the invitation of come-hither looks but a simple, "idhar aa, let's hug"  :)
Yes, like all love stories this movie too has the lead pair suffer a brief separation but they are,of course, back together.
The blessing while watching this film is that there are is no sleaze which makes you squirm. If you go to the film after watching those lingerie selling promos and expect more of the same, you'd be disappointed. Those scenes in the movie are just limited to the ones shown in the promos.
A simple heart-warming love story. A 3.5/5 for me.

About Tivoli theater: The pain of traveling over long distances on the congested roads of Hyderabad has me experimenting with single screen cinemas closer home these days.  The charm of multiplexes are worn off due to the distance and the time that it takes to reach the theaters. Increase in the movie ticket rates by 50% and the equally exorbitant parking tickets are also instrumental in people clustering to the single screens. I ventured to the Tivoli which is closer to my home than all other multiplexes and also showing the film at the most convenient time for me. I had been on Wednesday but I was told that they had run out of tickets. It seems the 2 pm matinee is shown in their smaller screen of 50 people capacity. I bought a ticket for the next day. Was slightly skeptic of going to this theater as I knew that this was one of the older theaters of Secunderabad. But to my surprise, the small theater with 7 seats per row not only had very decent seating but also good acoustics. The screen was proportionately small and I blessed the ticketing guy in my mind who had me have the privilege of getting the middle seat. Because of the small capacity, the tickets for this show run out fast. ( I came to know later that this was a new theater added to the older one and hence plush).
Now coming to the minuses, the washrooms have excellent infrastructure but pathetic maintenance. We women had to rush out with our noses closed.
The snack counter, almost beside the entrance to the washroom, is also a put off as the rates on display equal or surpass those at the multiplexes. 
Another pathetic act was that of the parking guys. If you happen to be new to the theater (as I was), you have to be there at least 15 minutes before the movie starts despite holding a valid ticket. Because that is the time required for you to search for the parking on your own. Only when you make the wrong moves and are struggling to get out, will someone tell you that you aren't supposed to park there. You are completely left to fend for yourself and if you go just five minutes before the show begins, you are sure to miss some of it. It's not as if they are there to help you but that you are at their mercy as you wait for them to come over to issue the parking ticket
An important update:  Went to see the 11.30 am show of Barfi,on another screen in the new theater, a 100+ seater, and for the three hours, there was NO AC. The hall was fully booked and being enclosed for three hours with no air-conditioning was greatly stifling. Half the pleasure of watching such a great movie was taken away. After about half hour into the movie, someone had the sense to open the exit doors opposite each other which brought some respite as there was some cross-ventilation. After 10+ years of living in Hyderabad, I dared to visit Tivoli and I have now sworn off the theater forever. Will rather wait and hope for a decent multiplex experience in the upcoming Sangeet. Until then, it is back to traveling all over the town for a pleasant watching experience. Tivoli, never again!

About KFC: Happened to go over to KFC close by at Karkhana after the movie. I used to visit this place when I worked at the office at Karkhana location and would drop by at end of the day. Though I have eaten at many KFC outlets since then, this remains my favorite as I recollect great taste of the burgers there. But I found that the quality has deteriorated. I try to avoid fast food centers usually, as all that I am piling on are lot of empty calories. After about 3 months, I visited one again and ordered for their Zinger meal. The guy who took the order (sameer) asked me whether it is single cheese or double cheese. Double cheese, eh? No way, I thought and said give me single. When I was given the bill I saw that I was charged separately for the cheese. I asked him and was told that the extra price was for the cheese that I ordered!!!!!!! This I find is the tactics of many a fast-food center. They add something to your meal and make it seem as though it were a part of the order and it is only later you realize that it is an addition. Though not unfamiliar with these tactics, I was surprised this time because earlier when I had ordered from the same place, I was never asked the question. I wasn't in the mood to argue. I think this is how they get away with this kind of charging as they reckon that there will be very few who are going to argue and will quietly accept.
The order itself was pathetic in taste. The cheese slice turned out to be an unwanted and unnecessary addition to the burger. The burger itself has shrunk in size. The fries didn't look as though freshly fried. There is nothing more tasteless than having cold french fries. And maybe due to the cheese, there was a mild burnt smell to the burger. Earlier the same order would stuff me to the gills but yesterday, I was left with the feeling that I could have some more. The succulent taste is missing and the burger felt quite dry to taste. As it is I don't frequent these fast food outlets and I have to be really desperate to go to one again.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sudigadu disappoints

Let me confess: I enjoy movies which elicit a hearty laugh and therefore I see (Allari) Naresh's movies. Seemingly brainless, we know how tough it is to conceive these ideas and execute it successfully.
One of such movies was the Hindi movie, "Khichidi" adapted from the TV series with the same name. It was a laugh riot and if you expect any sense out of it, you'd be greatly disappointed. Lovely movie, one that you can watch many times.
I haven't been watching Naresh's movies in a movie theater for a long time because his movies, despite being high on comedy quotient, seem to have become repetitive in content. I wait for them to be telecast on TV. Suidgadu had good reviews and that made me decide to go to the theater to watch it.
I was egged on by the fact that the movie was supposed to  be a spoof on the theatrics that the Telugu film heroes are famed for. It is exactly on this count that the movie disappoints.
None of our actors have the guts to take it on chin when being made fun of. They forget that imitation is the best form of flattery. There was also one open threat which said that if the director wasn't careful and made fun of their super star, the actor's fans would take care of him! How I wish the director had the gumption to take on more of the actors and made a better parody. There is so much potential in this theme!
The movie does have its high points though, but the laughter is provided more by the incidents which are not related to the actors. Like all other Naresh's movies, this one is also not a bore but doesn't really stand out.

ps: One must be an avid movie-goer to know which movie scene is being portrayed  or which actor is being impersonated or else there is not much  fun in watching  the movie.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

From Pretty to Plastic

Image Courtesy: Google
Image Courtesy: Deccan Chronicle
                             A tale of the present-day women actors as they peak in their careers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Love Marriage Ya Arranged Marriage

'Love Marriage Ya Arranged Marriage?' debate two chirpy girls barely out of their teens on one of the entertainment channels.
This was a question which people used to ask in the more  conservative 80s. But even then, this was a question or rather a fear that the parents had; we young girls were all impatient to try our wings and were raring to fly. Many of those girls have done well in their lives today. When I say us girls, I refer to the mostly middle- class, small-town, close-knit, education-focused cosmopolitan crowd. We didn't know then what happened beyond the gates of the steel township. We didn't have girls discussing marriage. The question was always what next in life.

When the name of this serial was announced, I was taken people discuss 'Love Marriage Ya Arranged Marriage' these days? On the flip side: how does it matter how you choose to die? It's like asking someone, if suicide is better or being murdered? On a serious note though, do people care these days? For this generation in their 20s, they freely discuss everything with their parents and if they find a Mr /Ms Right, they let their parents know. If they don't find someone, they are equally comfortable about asking their parents to look for them.

The serial strengthens the idea in conservative Indian minds that a girl's existence centers around marriage. To add fuel to the fire, I heard an elderly lady advising someone, "get your daughter married before she falls in love with someone." That the girl is good at studying and had earned a Master's from abroad holds no importance.

Indra Nooyi, Naina Lal Kidwai, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw are just a few examples of India-born women who have done wonders with their careers. All three married at a time they chose to, to a person they chose to, have empowered themselves, live with dignity and turned out to be iconic leaders who knowingly and unknowingly inspire thousands of women to fulfill their dreams. Girls! Be firm and tell your parents, "Marriage can wait, education cannot.”  (Khaled Hosseini).
More than anything else, the Govt. of India must make it mandatory that no marriage takes place until the girl holds at least a +2 certificate, if not a degree. Unless the woman is educated and empowered, the nation CANNOT move forward. To quote Nehru, "If you educate a man you educate an individual, however, if you educate a woman you educate a whole family. Women empowered means Mother India empowered." 

In your teens, dear girls, fill your eyes with these dreams and hearts with these aspirations and not ask 'Love Marriage Ya Arranged Marriage?'

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

100 Degrees

Since I had the sizzler at Kobe, Chennai, I was looking for a similar outlet serving the sizzler at Hyderabad. Kobe has its presence in many cities but not Hyderabad :(
Having tasted it, I was insatiable till I had more of it :)
While searching for the sizzler at Hyderabad, I came across Yoko Sizzlers and 100 degrees. It seems Yoko, which has superlative reviews, also has its presence in many cities, but couldn't survive in Hyderabad for long. For Ohri's 100 degrees, the reviews varied from awesome at 4 star experience to awful at 1 star and a horrible service experience as well! These reviews kept me away for a while but the sizzler experience beckoned me strongly. I decided to go there the last month. It was easy to locate on the Necklace Road, right next to Moksh which has been there for a long time.
First, the ambiance--quite decent, with three dine-in options: the regular tables laid out inside the main dining area, a glassed-in private dining area and the open space with an awesome view of the lake. The ambiance does add to the experience. I went there around 1 pm and found the place entirely to myself. I focused only on the sizzler part of the menu.
The restaurant has a buffet too and the waiter was nudging me towards it but I had made up my mind to have the sizzler. Nevertheless, I did go out to check the buffet priced at Rs.399/-. There was half and half of vegetarian and non-vegetarian sections with a live chat counter and a pizza counter. For me, there wasn't anything that set the buffet apart from lots of other buffets. To boot, this one had only one veg starter and  one plain salad...two parts of a buffet which are very important to me.
I stuck to my original choice of a sizzler.
I found the waiter quite helpful as, when I was trying to choose a sizzler, he placed before me an additional print of menu which listed various offers on sizzlers. As I was not too familiar with a sizzler, I played it safe by opting to replicate my Kobe experience by choosing a similar order. He helped me further customize my sizzler by offering a choice of sauces and noodle/rice combination according to my taste.
My order was a new (unheard to me) starter called 'vegetable flutes' and a veg sizzler.
The vegetables flutes were a variant of spring rolls but without all the oil. They looked baked and were about 5 inches long, 1.5 cms thick, and stuffed with a mix of spinach and cheese. I had expected them to be succulent but there was just a hint of the stuffing which went in the right combination with the flour in which it was encompassed. It was served with a dip.There was also a choice of other sauces available at the table-side.
Before the sizzler was served, I was served a portion of bread, again accompanied with a dip.
My sizzler was served with a vegetable cutlet, accompanied with beans, peas, potato fries, carrots, and rice...all encompassed in sauces.
I liked the sizzler but having tasted the one at Kobe, this sizzler which I tried to match with the one eaten at Kobe, doesn't stand a comparison. The beans were all stringy, the fries weren't as crisp. I also came to know that the chef had earlier worked with Kobe and this was obvious as he had tried to replicate the taste. If I hadn't eaten at Kobe, I would have said that the taste was quite decent but now I can say that they could have taken better care of cooking the vegetables and rendering a sharper taste to the dish with the right mix of sauces.
The sizzler @ Rs. 225/- is ok but the starter @ Rs. 135 seemed a bit expensive. Yet I can safely call this a value for money experience due to the quantities served.
Yes, I think I'd visit again, maybe this time to have a taste of their Pizzas.

ps:  They have a service charge of 10% AND VAT of 14.5 % on service charge + watch out for this amount in the bill.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Water, water everywhere...

When Amir Khan telecast his program on "water" and contamination, I thought to myself...'no, it is not applicable to this safe corner of Hyderabad'. In the last five years I am at Tarnaka, I never had any issue of water...lack/contamination. That was till last week.
About ten days back we noticed slightly muddy water from our taps. We waited awhile and filled our water filters. I had very naively scolded the building watchman when he didn't let water into the overhead tank. I told him that we can take care of our water requirement as we have Pureit at home which would purify any and all kinds of impurities.
 On 20th, son complained of feeling feverish. He declined any food. I had a Maggi and went to bed. From the time I hit bed, I had this intense churning in the stomach. Vomiting followed. 21st morning, I too had fever. So, the whole of last weekend, we spent in bed, too weak to get up, or eat-- only spewing fluids from both ends. This continued for three days. When it stopped, the discomfort in tummies continued for another four days. Meanwhile, we bought this water bubble and had the mineral water for a week. I came to know that a few more households in our apartment were effected too!
And, we have Pureit in our home.
When you see the ad wherein the guy pours in water from every drain and river into the Pureit unit and claims it to be 100% germ free, he should have picked up a glass full from my home too. I was furious to see their tall claims fall by the way side. Their claim of 1 crore challenge remaining unclaimed for two years is also fake. Because, when I logged in to their website to actually write challenging the water purity, this is what I found:

The way they advertise on TV misleads us into believing that they claim that the challenge is for providing 100% germ-free water but the challenge for the one crore claim is actually to see if you can find a unit from any other company providing the features that Pureit does!
With a six monthly mandatory battery replacement for even a small family like ours, we need a serious re-think on whether it is prudent to go for this, especially when it fails you when you need it the most. Wonder whether the whole Germ-Kit (@ Rs.750) that they provide is merely a placebo!
Why is it that more and more we find that the enthusiasm with which a product is sold, does no longer match with the quality or service provided?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sipping my Chai

Some obsession with Chai, I feel, which leads me to write about it again after my earlier post here.
This might have you imagine me with a permanent cup of tea in my hand. No, that's not so.
Exactly an hour after breakfast I have this urge which keeps telling me that its time to complete my breakfast experience. And for me, this happens with my first cup of tea in the day.
I have a large red colored mug which can hold about 500 ml of the brew. To hold that large mug in my hands and feel the warmth of the brew as you sip through leisurely...heavenly! 
My son holds this strong opinion that all his mother's cooking skills fail when it comes to preparing tea. Down but not out, I try to best my efforts by a trial and error preparation method. And this time, I changed the tea powder too! I had been to Kerala and got the supposedly best tea powder from the Kanan Devan gardens...and also picked up a new method of preparing tea.
I came to know that tea is not supposed to be boiled to death like I do with Rasam preparation but to add just a little tea powder into the boiling water, shut off the flame and keep it closed with a lid for 1-2 minutes and then pour it. This method brought a new and better taste to my chai.
This continued for four months by which time the powder brought from Kerala was over and I switched back to my old favorite, the TATA Tea Gold. AND the taste of that powder combined with this new method of preparation...a magical combination! That hot, thin, brown liquid with its swirling aromatic steam rising from the bottom of the red cup...!
That one cup of tea brings me enough energy to see me though my day.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Roti Shhoti revisited

I had visited Roti Shhoti sometime in April and had written its review here.
This time though, I had visited alone and when I started my order, I was recommended their set-lunch offered in a segregated white tray containing Peeli Dal, Veg sheekh kabab, Veg Dum Biryani, Methi Chaman & Paneer Kulcha. They had offered a dessert too which I declined.

The meal started with Tomato Shorba which seemed more like tomato soup. It wasn't spicy or thin like shorbas are normally found to be.
Though its been sometime since my visit, and I don't recall all the finer details, what I distinctly remember is this:
1. The total quantity was huge!. I could manage only half of it. Even for a person with a robust appetite, the quantity served would easily suffice.
2. As usual, they do justice to their name 'Roti-Shhoti.' Rotis, any kind, served here are truly awesome... very soft and pliable.
3. The appetizer served this time was good again though not excellent as the Aloo Kabab that we had ordered the last time.
4.The curries, though don't stand out as being exceptional, but as mentioned in my last post, they are still recommended for being non-oily in preparation.
5. The biryani also was quite decent though not exceptional.
6. At 140/ for this lunch, I feel that it is good value for money: taste-wise, quantity-wise, the ambience...

Found their menu online here.

Hyderabad Weather

The monsoons find a different way to begin every year.
This year, it came a little late around second week of June, 2-3 showers, after which the ACs were turned off.
The summer this year was horribly hot compared to all the summers in Hyderabad.The entire country seems to have experienced the hottest summer this year. Yet, this year we didn't experience those hot humid phases that happen in the beginning of the monsoons. Once the rains started, the weather had turned cool.
And, what happened the last two days, Friday and Saturday, was really a bit too astonishing: it poured not just cats and dogs but I thought every conceivable animal was dropping from the heavy was the downpour!
I had gone shopping in the afternoon but scooted home when the skies relented a bit. Good that I did that because what started at 3 pm on Friday didn't relent till 3 pm on Saturday. 14.2 cms according to records!
Thankfully my family hadn't stepped out. Or else, we know what happens to the traffic in even moderate rainfall in Hyderabad. Vehicular traffic almost comes to a standstill and reaching home gets to be a nightmare.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Life ephemeral

Yesterday, I woke up with a start in the middle of the night.
Sitting up in bed, I glanced around at the cupboards which held all my possessions...clothes, books, and a whole drawer of trinkets which I hold close to my heart.
This collection seemed so HUGE! Something which needed  four cupboards to hold. Apart from the thought that do I need so much, was also another scary thought-- that once I am no more, people around me would just dump all this. What meaning do these things hold for anyone? Some times I grieve over the breaking of my favorite bangle, sometime a lost ear ring, sometime a dress that gets torn or spoiled. I cannot carry even a fistful of these. I need to leave them all behind.
These words may sound cliched but when this thought runs through your mind, that moment  can be quite overpowering.
Some kind of premonition?  Maybe, I thought, as the next morning, news of passing away of the superstar of Bollywood, Rajesh Khanna, filtered through. The biggest superstar...and the loneliest one. Even as I was around 8-9 years of age, Rajesh Khanna's fame was on wane, with his movies failing one after another. Plus the fact that there wasn't the TV in those days to give us an insight into the celebrities' lives. So there wasn't much I knew about him then, apart from the repeat broadcast of all his hit songs through the radio channels.
In more recent times, the internet provided an insight into the lives of these Bollywood actors...of the destitute lives of actors like Bhagwan who squandered away all their earnings (which was so much more than they ever dreamt of).
To compare,  actors of Rajesh Khanna's age were more prudent with money, not wishing to end up in penury or live their evening years in chawls. He built his estates but again died a poor, lonely life.
Actors this generation have realized the value of balancing work with family and hopefully they'd have had a more fulfilling life. This is so important, because worse than dying of penury, is to die due to loneliness. 
After all, you can't carry even a fistful of all that you possess.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

ek kafan ki khatir

‎Bina libaas aye they iss jahan mein... bus ek kafan ki khatir itna safar karna pada..!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Olives & Cheese, Ristorante Italiano

This restaurant with its raving reviews has been on my radar for a long time. When I eat out, I am usually in a fine-dining mood and hence had never ventured there. It is situated at Trimulgherry beside the RTA office.
It is a tiny place beside the Axis bank and opposite ‘mom & me’. Just about 15 tables, all placed close together. I went at 2:50 pm and there were only two tables occupied at the time. I had called and asked whether it was the 'downtime' for the restaurant as is the norm in all Hyderabad restaurants and I was assured that they have service running from 11 am to 10 pm, every time preparing food afresh. Well, the ambiance isn’t much to speak about. Looks more like an artist's studio with little pictures from/of Italy hanging around. One part of the ceiling is painted yellow and has cheese-like holes in it.
I was full of expectation and my order didn’t let me down. There were 10 sections to choose from: soups, salads, appetizers, breads, pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, cold and hot beverages, milkshakes and desserts. As I went alone, I ordered just two of these: one was the salad Mexican supreme. This consisted of a bed of lettuce, jalapenos, olives, corn , topped with nachos and mayonnaise dressing. This had a crunchy taste rendered to it by the crisp lettuce and topped by crispier nachos. Priced at 129/-. I didn't find any distinctive taste of spices and feel that it was the mayonnaise that had rendered the flavor.
My second order was a Hawaiin pizza topped with olives, red capsicum, paprika and pine apple. The pizza base was quite good. There are choices of deep pan and thin crust pizzas. It was slightly spicy though.
Each order took about 20 minutes to deliver. The quantity of salad was overwhelming. I could have only half of it and got the rest packed. The pizza also priced Rs. 129/-, was about 7 inches across. After having eaten the salad , I couldn’t finish the pizza either and had to get that packed as well. The bill came to 270/- with taxes.
The waiter at my table was polite and answered all my questions about the menu. And when I wanted extra cream or nachos, he helpfully brought them instantly. But he was not proactive in informing about the various pizza bases or explaining about various pasta choices or speaking about the cream choices for the salad. Also, tomatoes were substituted for red capsicum in my pizza. In the salad, corn was missing. Upon asking I was told that it was over. The basic idea of having a salad is that you go for all ingredients mentioned and not with some of them missing. The pizza toppings were rather frugal, though the base and the cheese used were awesome. So, if you are a person who is well-conversant with Italian food, you'd better customize your order because whatever you order, the taste is quite awesome.
It no way compares to Little Italy. Do not even attempt to compare, yet in its own way, it presents some decent food. Also to be remembered that the price is at least one-fourth of what you spend in the big one. I wouldn’t call it a must-have experience but by not eating here, you are sure going to miss some great Italian-Italian food.

ps: When microwaved the next day, the pizza tasted as though freshly prepared and hadn't become tough like the ones we get from other (bigger) outlets.