All posts by Anita

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Wanderings in Bhuj: a photo journey

Like any other small but burgeoning town in this country, Bhuj exhibits all the usual signs. Development on one side – good wide main roads, vehicles, ATMs, and everyone flashing smart phones. But on the other hand, the litter and garbage everywhere is an indication that no lessons in waste management have been implemented. Sadly, it’s just everywhere, including the water body in the middle of the city – the Hamirsar lake.

Steeped in history, and scarred by a devastating earthquake in 2001, some parts of the old fort are still standing and visible as you move through the town. There are monuments that are crumbling, derelict, which give you a glimpse of those glory years. The small gallis through the town hold a quaint charm, albeit a little diminished by large amounts of garbage lying everywhere.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Like any small but growing town, Bhuj has fallen prey to all the usual problems

Wanderings in Bhuj
The narrow lanes are abuzz with activity

As I touched down in the small Bhuj airport and made my way down the main road, I am excited about my first trip to Gujarat. I decided to bypass Ahmedabad and Baroda, the larger towns, and head straight to Bhuj. My primary reason being that my hosts, Katie and Jehan Bhujwala have graciously offered to put me up at their ancestral home in the town and also help me out with my itinerary.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Situated in the camp area, the view from the home of my hosts Katie and Jehan

Wanderings in Bhuj
The house is lovely and is currently being renovated. It will soon be possible to stay there as Katie and Jehan will open it out as a home stay, hopefully from January 2015 onwards

The house is in the camp area and is constructed in the old style, with tall ceilings, filled with charming antique furniture around a large centre courtyard. The old world ambience still lingers on when you enter.

Once I’ve gotten my bearings, along with my hosts, I set off on a small “discover Bhuj” tour. The town still has the remnants of the old fort, and in places it’s quite intact. We pass by a beautiful gate with some detailed carvings.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Parts of the old fort, still stand tall

The narrow gallis take us to an old building from the British Raj – an orange coloured structure that was the district collector’s office. In the afternoon sun, it reflects the light and still looks regal and stands out amidst the new concrete structures. Today, it faces a grim fate though. Like many of our beautiful old buildings; it will likely be ruined totally or razed to the ground.

Wanderings in Bhuj
A building that is now abandoned; testament to the glory days of the past

A short ride away, is the Prag Mahal palace. The old jharokhas and balconies are still intricate and stand out on the palace wall. To the opposite side, is the new version of the palace. The earthquake of 2001 affected quite a lot of the palace walls and structure.

Wanderings in Bhuj
The old palace walls, though affected by the earthquake still sport intricately carved jharokhas

Wanderings in Bhuj
The new Prag Mahal palace, opposite the older one

The new building has an imposing clock tower and with its red brick walls, it projects a feeling of warmth in the fading light.
We wander over to the Bhuj market. Like any Indian bazaar, it’s busy, crowded and filled with people, cows and assorted creatures. Two wheelers and rickshaws honk, trying to assert their right of way. Mostly to be ignored. The honking gets more insistent. Women are about doing their clothes shopping, buying vegetables, silver jewellery, “farsan” – you name it, and it’s available in the market. Including music systems in case you’re missing one at home.

Wanderings in Bhuj
For any kind of shopping, head to the Bhuj market

We wander around the streets for a while peeking into the different shops. A farsan shop walla generously allows us to taste a bit of his freshly fried goodies.

Wanderings in Bhuj
Women flocking in front of an obviously popular shop
Wanderings in Bhuj
A shopkeeper gets creative with his doors!
Wanderings in Bhuj
Beautiful antique silver jewellery for sale
Wanderings in Bhuj
No trip to Kutch without stocking up on their intricate embroidery work

A great place for juice is Bhudia’s which is another ride away from the market in an area near the Hamisar lake. The juice is fresh and we choose a delicious mix – guava and pomegranate – much recommended. They also have an organic farm a little outside of Bhuj where you can get a taste of the local thali, if you want to make the journey.

I’m happy with my first taste and sights of Gujarat. I even have fish fry for dinner, (after a visit to the local fish market) which I was a bit surprised about. I had planned to go vegetarian for this trip!

Wanderings in Bhuj
The local fish market in Bhuj is an assault on the senses. But we did get some fresh fish

Wanderings in Bhuj
A fish monger at work

I settle into my large room, adjoining a busy road listening to the hustle and bustle of traffic. My initiation into Gujarat has been hectic, noisy, smelly and colourful. But then I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Also check out the Bhuj Diaries album on Flickr

Desi Traveler Prasad

Fitness on the road: A few strategies that might work

So here’s the problem.

I like good food. And when I’m travelling, food obviously becomes even more of an issue. Let me explain why. I can’t really control what I’m eating. I like trying out local delicacies so I rarely say no. And if my host is cooking something, I would eat even if I’m not hungry (rarely does that happen though). I usually am.

So the big problem is that it doesn’t do any good to my waistline (I can’t actually find it these days). After every holiday, the scales tip a bit more. At this rate, I have to get new scales.

Bringing me to the main topic of this post. With all this gluttony, one has to figure out creative ways to keep fit. I’d love to hear how you do it, but here are some tips from my side. And why “might” work, you might ask? Because as you’ll probably realise, you have to put these to practice for results. So personally, I have tried to make a few of these work. At least I make an effort. At most times!

Devise a yoga routine

I tried this – putting together a series of exercises to keep me occupied for around 45 minutes. The problem is that I rarely actually do it. I also have a very low motivation level when I need to do things on my own. So it makes it all the more harder. I love yoga and have dabbled in all kinds. But asking me to do it on my own is like dragging a horse to water… You get my point.

A 45 minutes yoga session will make you feel refreshed and ready to take on anything!

A 45 minutes yoga session will make you feel refreshed and ready to take on anything

Go out for a jog

Usually, when I arrive at a place, to get a lay of the land, I go out for a jog. It’s a nice way to get familiar with the new roads and also discover the place. I did this during my Europe trip. I particularly remember the picturesque village of Le Vaud in Switzerland, where I was lucky enough to stay for a week. I venture out nearly every day and discover new roads and routes. It’s a lovely quiet village, with enough hills to keep the calf muscles burning. I ran a lot. Around the village. To the next town. I was even tempted to run down to the town at the bottom of the hill, but I realised it would be difficult to get a lift to come back up again.

Where there are footpaths and running trails, make use of them!

Where there are footpaths and running trails, make use of them

In Den Haag, Netherlands, when staying with friends, I was impressed by the city’s efficient network of roads and pathways for cyclists and pedestrians. It was walking and running paradise. After being shoved off the road, being second (no, actually third) class citizens on Bangalore’s road when you’re walking or cycling, this was truly paradise. A part of me didn’t want to come back. Ever. While I was there, I made sure I went out nearly everyday. Found some excellent routes, tree-lined avenues that went on forever. I loved it. And I’m not even a runner. I can just imagine how pleasurable it will be for a real runner.

In Spain, with Stefania, training for her next long run, I had a nice time jogging on Malaga’s very scenic beach, very close to her home. With a location like that, I would run everyday. Yes, I’d probably train for a marathon. But then, I don’t.

Borrow/rent (don’t steal) a cycle

Pedalling is a great way to get some exercise and see a city (a bit faster than walking). Most European cities have great infrastructure for cycling. Every city I visited – Den Haag, Amsterdam, Brussels, Antwerp, Malaga – has cycling lanes and also has places to rent cycles. In Amsterdam I did a cycling tour, enjoying the cycling lanes and getting a view of what the lucky citizens of the city get to experience everyday. In Den Haag, I borrowed a bike and went out exploring the city.

While in Den Haag, I made use of the extensive cycle pathways

While in Den Haag, I made use of the extensive cycle pathways


Rent or borrow a cycle - there's no better way to see a city and get some exercise

Rent or borrow a cycle – there’s no better way to see a city and get some exercise

My best biking experience was in Malaga when I decided to do my own little cycle tour, visiting an automobile museum, a park, a artsy neighbourhood, ending with a climb up (locked the cycle at the bottom of the hill) to watch a most brilliant sunset from a viewpoint called the “Castle of Gibralfaro”.

Enrol for walking tours

I love them! I also found a company called SANDEMANs New Europe which offers free walking tours in nearly all major European cities. And I did 3 of them – in Amsterdam, Brussels and Madrid. It’s a great way to glimpse local culture, food, environment and get interesting nuggets of information that you possibly wouldn’t be able to figure out on your own. Besides the hosts are usually really interesting characters who will keep you more than engaged. So we had Scott in Amsterdam, Berber in Brussels and Michael in Madrid who had their own unique styles and kept us amused and on our toes. The walks are around 3 hours and so you’ll be glad to sink in a chair and order that wine or beer once it’s over.

Walking tours are a great way to explore the city

Walking tours are a great way to explore the city

Hit the hotel gym

Most of them will have some kind of a health club. During our Kerala Blog Express trip, I still remember a particular hotel where we went through a set of darkly lit rooms to discover one treadmill in a corner. So, you never know. If you seek, you might find. I’m not a fan of gyms; give me the outdoors any day. But if there’s absolutely no other option, then it’s a good idea.

Use that pool

Shimmering blue waters beckon. And you look at it. Take photos. Dip your toes in. Contemplate.

Two pools to choose from at the beautiful Crowne Plaza, Kochi

Two pools to choose from at the beautiful Crowne Plaza, Kochi

Well, don’t. Just jump in. There’s nothing like a few laps of a pool to make you emerge refreshed and feeling good. And besides, swimming also burns calories I’ve heard. I love the water. If I had a pool, I’d probably be inside half of the day. So it’s a good thing I don’t. But most hotels come equipped with pools, so it’s a good thing to get in a swim first thing in the morning or towards the end of the day. Avoid those crowds of aunties though who step in wearing everything, including their family heirlooms and jewellery.

Use common objects

Okay, I haven’t actually tried it personally, but a friend vouches for it. You can use chairs, beds, sofas, tables and other such furniture lying around your room (and if you’re staying with friends hopefully they have enough furniture). Or even kitchen objects like water bottles, kettles. Using them as props, you can then do some simple exercises – you need to get creative. Look them up online and list around 10-12 of them in a notebook and do whichever ones are most convenient.

If all else fails, do 100 surya namaskars. Okay, maybe 20. You are on holiday after all.

So what is the routine that works for you?

Foodie Thursday!

Taste of Tangra: From the kitchen of Chef Edwin

Ever wondered about the origin of “Indian Chinese” cuisine?

Apparently, it all started in Kolkata – the place where the Hakka community from China settled down many decades ago. Interestingly, according to this link, “One of the earliest records of immigration from China can be found in a short treatise from 1820. This records hints that the first wave of immigration was of Hakkas but does not elaborate on the professions of these immigrants.” Over a period of time, they grew to a large flourishing community initially involved in the tannery business. Over a period of time, many families closed down their business while others were moved to an area outside of the city. The New Chinatown area, where the community resides came to be known as “Tangra“.

Over time, the cuisine of this community began to undergo modifications to suit the Indian palate. Coriander, chillis, cumin began to make it’s way into the dishes. What resulted was “Kolkata Chinese” or what is known today as Indian Chinese. This cuisine gained popularity rather quickly and you’ll probably find “Chinese food”, even in a remote part of the country.

My first encounter with Kolkata Chinese food began way back during my childhood days in Shillong. We had a Chinese restaurant at the bottom of the hill from our place (I think it was called Abba) and dad made sure he packed us a parcel of oily hakka noodles for us whenever he passed by the place, while coming home. My sister and I would eagerly look forward to his treat!

Chef Jolly of the JW Marriott introducing Chef Edwin and the Kolkata Chinese inspired "Tangra" cuisine

Chef Jolly of the JW Marriott introducing Chef Edwin and the Kolkata Chinese inspired “Tangra” cuisine

We are given a taste of this cuisine at a special cookout session at the JW Marriott, Bangalore through 3 dishes, demonstrated by Chef Edwin, who runs and owns the very popular “Golden Joy” restaurant in Tangra. Chef Jolly (follow him here) of the JW Marriott recounts the story when upon visiting Kolkata and this area, he settled on this particular restaurant due to the quality of the food and it’s popularity.
Special kitchen set up to whip up some Tangra delicacies

Special kitchen set up to whip up some Tangra delicacies

Chef Jolly didn’t waste any time and organised for Chef Edwin to come down to Bangalore, so we can get a taste of this unique cuisine.

Chef Edwin demonstrates threaded paneer – his creation and innovation – a good alternative for vegetarians. The other two dishes are the Hakka style chilli chicken and golden fried prawns. By adding a bit of seasoning, garnish, soy sauce and Chinese wine, he cooks up these delicious dishes. Served with Indian style sauces – flavoured with mint and coriander – they have their own unique taste.

For the special occasion, we also got to taste a big spread of delicacies like like momos (pork, chicken, vegetarian), egg hakka noodles and fried rice and fish in oyster sauce.

The delicious golden fried prawns

The delicious golden fried prawns – – we did try to get the recipe for the batter – but I doubt we can replicate it even if we tried!

After a good meal, which is topped off by Tangra inspired cocktails (we tried the Beijing Bellini), we had an interesting chat with Chef Edwin who tells us a bit more about the Hakka community and his style of cooking.
Tangra inspired cocktails to add to the spice!

Tangra inspired cocktails to add to the spice!

Interestingly, he was a resident of Bangalore around 1978, but can no longer recognise the city. (Well, neither can we!). After a few years, he left and rejoined his family in Kolkata, taking over the running of the restaurant. He attributes his love of food to his mother, who is a very good cook. A lot of things he learnt by hanging on to her apron strings. But along the way, he’s also had to improvise and be creative to keep his customers happy. He says he gets people from all over the country (and even the world). “For example, I get Sikhs who won’t eat meat on Tuesday, but still want to eat out and want exceptional food,” says Chef Edwin of the kind of demanding customers he gets. He seems to manage all his customers really well; the restaurant on busy nights does around 600 covers, Chef Jolly tells us. If you look at the reviews of the restaurant online, it’s not hard to believe either.
With Chef Edwin, who lived in Bangalore around 1978. He doesn't recognise the city anymore, he says. We're not surprised!

With Chef Edwin, who lived in Bangalore around 1978. It’s changed a lot since then, he observes

The Hakka community has managed in the meanwhile to keep their language and culture alive (Hakka) over the years. They don’t however know how to read their own language, since they are all 2nd and 3rd generation Chinese brought up in India. Even at home, Chef Edwin says he insists his son speaks in Chinese. It’s the only way to ensure that some aspects of their culture is preserved. From a large community of more than 20,000, then numbers have dwindled down to a few thousand with many immigrating and moving out.

About the food, says Chef Edwin, the idea is not to drown the dishes in soy or over cook/fry the ingredients, but to bring out the flavors in subtle ways. And his food is testimony to this principle.

So in case you’re tempted to check out a few Tangra delicacies from the expert hands of Chef Edwin (and don’t want to fly to Kolkota), hop across to the JW Marriott Bangalore which is hosting the Tangda seafood festival till November 9.

So this special is a part of the JW Kitchen buffet, along with other cuisines and mouthwatering choir of desserts for Rs 1599 + taxes.

Hakka, anyone?

(Note & Disclosure: Please excuse the not so good pictures as I dropped in after another hectic event of my own and had no time to grab my DSLR! This was on an invitation from the JW Marriott, Bangalore).

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A Malaga moment

When I look back at my Europe trip, I have so many moments and sights that stand out. So many things to write about – just looking back is a bit daunting. But I’m trying to organise everything and share useful information in nuggets, along with tips and travel information. Hopefully, over the next few months I’ll get to share some of it.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this lovely view of Malaga with me. It was a cloudy day to start with. My host was quite disappointed by the weather I was getting to witness (it’s never like this, she kept telling me). But I set off anyway on a bit of sightseeing. I borrowed her son’s cycle and decided to explore the city on two wheels. At the end of my gallivanting, the skies cleared quite a bit and I decided to climb to the Castle of Gibralfaro. Even though I wasn’t optimistic about the views that day, I started off. It was a good decision. As the evening set in, suddenly I got a display of some brilliant colours – orange, purple, yellow – the sky was on fire!

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

The sea-side city of Malaga awash with brilliant colours as the sun sets

Malaga is on the southern tip of Spain, and apparently one of the oldest cities in the world. It also has some of the warmest summers in Europe. I spent quite a few happy days there and can recommend a visit to Malaga to anyone who is heading to that part of the world. It is also the place where I lost my passport, but I’ll reserve that story for another day.

In the meanwhile, enjoy the view!

letterfrombangalore

Published: “Letter from Bangalore”

A piece I wrote for the magazine, “Vision – fresh perspectives from Dubai“, published by Touchline, October edition.

It’s published quarterly in the English language, and has a print run of 60,000. It features reporting on business, culture and life in the emirate, high profile interviews with influential thought leaders, In-depth special reports and notes from different parts of the world.

I did a piece on the cycling in Bangalore (my favourite topic!) and how, despite the lack of roads and infrastructure, enthusiastic Bangaloreans have sparked off a revolution on two wheels.

Read the piece here — LETTER FROM BANGALORE.

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Walking around Aarschot, dreaming of noodles

I spent a week in the town of Aarschot. If you’re wondering where that is, it’s very close to Leuven (a university town), around 50 from Brussels. It’s a city and municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The town of Aarschot, with a population of 27,864 (in 2006)

My home for a week was a caravan in the home of a farming couple and their two children. My caravan mate was a lovely girl from England and I was glad I had some company. I hadn’t really lived in a caravan before and this was a different experience for me. (But I’m saving that story for later).

Aarschot turned out to be a much larger town than I initially thought so. I had an impression that it will be a smallish town the size of my locality in Bangalore. But it turned out that I was wrong. The town is actually quite large and has a nice big square with different restaurants around it. On weekends, there is some activity as people come out to enjoy the sun and some of the famous Belgian beer.

A walk in town: Aarschot
A small and neat town, great to walk around. Also has cycling tracks

A walk in town: Aarschot
I love this – it’s a bread machine! So you can pick up your dinner on the walk home…

But otherwise, it’s pretty quiet as I discovered while setting out for a walk with my caravan mate, Lou. We decided to explore the natural “reserve” area, a few kilometres down from where we were staying. From there, we’d venture into town and maybe grab a glass of wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Off we go, Lou and I

I like seeing places on foot. Or bicycle. You can stop and stare. Do unplanned things. And generally get a feel of the place. Something you wouldn’t get if you were whizzing past in a car. Or a bus.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
Quiet picturesque roads, where we encountered a few cyclists and a nice trail leading to a green forested area

The natural reserve (I am really not sure it was one, but calling it that for reference) turned out to be a rather pretty area. We walked on the edge of it, I think. Met some cyclists on the way, but we were the only walkers.

A walk in town: Aarschot
Means, watch out for cyclists!

A walk in town: Aarschot
Lou running up the slope as we enter the green forested area

We went in for a bit and then decided to turn around towards the main city centre in search of food. Lou was a bit suspicious of my direction skills, but I had the map with me. A distinct advantage.

A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot A walk in town: Aarschot
The town is quiet, with flower lined roads, signs and routes for cyclists and a large square where most of the restaurants are located

We walked through the pretty streets of Aarschot and got a bit lost. Some of the streets didn’t have any names. Or they had hidden them well enough. So there were periods of time, when we stood at a crossing and didn’t really know where we were. This is where cathedrals play an important role as a GPS. Using the tall tower, you can make your way towards it. So, as soon as I espied the tower, I knew we could head in that general direction. We did, and landed up at the town square.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The main square where most of the action is!

The sun dappled square was quite busy since it was a holiday and people were enjoying their beers and drinks in the warm afternoon sun. We basked in the sun ourselves for a bit; had a glass of well deserved wine.

A walk in town: Aarschot

We stopped to enjoy a glass of wine at a cafe in the city centre

And then set off in search of Asian food. Well, I was dreaming of noodles (I have these cravings sometimes) while Lou said she’d be happy with fries. We didn’t land up getting either. Roamed around a bit looking for an Asian place. Every town, city and village has to have an Asian place. Surely.

A walk in town: Aarschot
The Beginhof in Aarschot, a very beautiful stone building

A walk in town: Aarschot
City roads of Aarschot
A walk in town: Aarschot
Do we want Indian? Not me!

We weren’t about to give up though Lou was getting quite swayed by the thought of “frites”. But that particular day, there were no frites in Belgium. Well, at least not in Aarschot. In our vicinity anyway. We walked around to the station area and finally sighted a Chinese restaurant. By then we were tired and hungry.

Dreaming of noodles, I ordered my “nasi goreng” (not a Chinese dish I know, and I had no idea why it was there) from the menu. Around 15 minutes later two plates of rice arrived on the table. That’s when I realised my mistake. Obviously, even my recent trip to Malaysia hadn’t helped differentiate between “mee” and “nasi”. Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect.

So, of course, my noodle dreams had to be shelved for another day. We enjoyed our food, never the less. And then walked back to our life. And the caravan.

More pictures from Aarschot

More from the Europe wanderings:
Swiss summer
Of missed flights