Landed in this charming little town yesterday and walked around the cobbled streets on a rainy evening. The town’s main feature is the Saint Cecile cathedral, which is the largest brick cathedral in the world and a UNESCO world heritage building. It’s been rather gloomy but I plan to venture out today, umbrella in tow, of course!
A road trip covering four national parks – Canyonlands, Arches, Bryce and Zion – gave us the opportunity to go “glamping” in Utah and we found the perfect location – Under Canvas
A recent road trip saw us journey through four national parks in Utah. We began exploring Canyonlands, and the Arches (which are in the same vicinity). From there, we drove to Bryce and after two days, continued to Zion.
Though there’s tons to write about and share about the trip, what I wanted to do is write about the fantastic place we stayed in. The concept reminded me a bit of the tents in Jungle Lodges back home in India.
If you’re looking for a camping experience, but with comfort, look no further
Under Canvas is a “glamping” alternative to camping, or staying in a hotel (or B&B). The first location we stayed in was located near Moab town in Utah. Though it seemed remote, the site was just off the highway, so you can actually hear the sound of cars whizzing by. The tents are done up comfortably and you come home to a nice big bed after a day of sightseeing or hiking.
Unfortunately though, the week we visited the temperatures soared to over a 100° F. The day we decided to come back early for an afternoon rest, we didn’t survive in the tent for more than an hour. It was like a sauna in there!
The main tent usually located in the center of the property has large sprinklers. Might be a better way to beat the heat. This year, it’s been unusually warm, we were told. Global warming and all those things that are still being debated. Meanwhile, the proof is doing a jig in front of us and we’re refusing to see it.
This being my first experience at an Under Canvas property, my only gripe is that the tents are really close together (they have acres around) so it would have been nice if they were further apart. The rest rooms are in a mobile vehicle converted into showers and toilets. And they’re really neat and tidy – but they’re quite small. If you’re used to showering with a bit more room, you might need to skip a few (showers!).
But overall, we had a great stay. They didn’t have food either, but if you ordered the night before, they delivered breakfast and a meal to go for the day from an outside vendor. We found some great dining options (Twisted Sisters for one) and a fantastic coffee shop (Moab Garage) in Moab.
Base yourself at Moab and explore Canyonlands and Arches
Moab is ideal to explore Canyonlands and Arches and after a couple of days, we traveled to Bryce where we stayed in a cute AirBnB (more about it later). Our third leg of the road trip was at another Under Canvas property near Zion.
Around 30 minutes from the park entrance, but with a self contained restaurant in the property, we had no complaints. But let me get to the property itself – the first thing that strikes you is that it seems to be in the middle of nowhere. When you’re driving down the road, you can’t really see the property till you get over a hill and then all of a sudden you notice the white tents arranged on the slopes in a random pattern. Framed against the rocky red mountains, it sure makes for a picture postcard frame. I love the fact that it’s remote, and there’s nothing you see from the property except some of the grandest views.
A perfect place to enjoy the gorgeous Milky Way
The solar system is clearly visible especially on the darker nights. Just look up to get a sense of how microscopic we are in the scheme of things! The property is designed on various levels and the tents have more “breathing space” between them. If you’re on a hill, the only downside is that you’re going to have to make a bit of a trip to the restrooms. But then thing of all the exercise you’re getting in exchange. And with the main area with the restaurant slightly further down the road, you could kill two birds with one stone.
Both the sunrise and the sunset were sights to behold from just outside our tent. We woke up to the soft morning light playing with the clouds and illuminating the whole valley in front of us. While the sunset colors played magic with the clouds turning orange to purple and then darkening as the evening gave way to the night. Frankly, if I was a painter, I’d probably whip out my brush and canvas. Since I’m not, I just sat back and enjoyed the spectacle.
The restaurant, which is under a large domed tent in the center (and if you’re atop the hill, you can look down and see the lighted up structure any time) serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. So if you want to take a rest day and do nothing, order yourself a nice meal and sit back and relax.
Needless, to say they’ve got it right in terms of the location. I would definitely recommended at least 2-3 days here if not more.
What can I say – I’m definitely a fan of glamping now!
You either love it or hate it… The smell could make you go into raptures. The taste will leave you longing for more. It’s the rather strong sensory experience called mustard. Or as they say in France, ‘moutarde’.
While the western palette might be used to the slightly blander version of the French mustard, the Bengali version is definitely stronger and more potent. One can liken it to the ‘wasabi’ taste as a comparison. Good mustard should get into your nose and leave with you a feeling of sheer (culinary) pleasure.
Widely used in Bengali (and Assamese) cuisine, mustard gives a fresh and unmistakable intense flavor to dishes. Teamed with fish—it’s what we Bengalis and Assamese folk crave as our comfort food.
The cheery blue and white interiors of the restaurant, as we walk in, are a bit Mediterranean, but we’re assured we’re in the right place as the sign says ‘Mustard‘. The fare is Bengali and French. Might sound a bit surprising at first. But then, they are both cuisines which are centered around many ‘courses’ and they do have a common ingredient—mustard.
Located in Sangolda, Mustard is the handiwork of Shilpa Sharma and Poonam Singh who decided to give shape to their shared passion for food, after years in the hospitality and retail space. The chefs responsible for the mouthwatering delicacies are Pritha Sen, a renowned chef and food historian who curated the Bengali menu and Gregory Bazire, who lends his expertise to the Continental side of the food, bringing some of his favorites and also innovating with some of his own creations.
I am looking forward to my Bengali meal a bit more. Being an Assamese it is quite close to my own cuisine and good fish is something which makes never ceases to make me content. There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of fresh fish, cooked well. I still remember my dad going to extreme lengths to get us good fish and then all of us going into raptures about it—and the feeling sustained pretty much through the entire day. In fact, my mom cooks up quite a fish curry, so I have naturally high standards when it comes to fish dishes.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. My friend, who accompanies me to the Mustard is a vegetarian and I tell her that I’m going to rely on her for that side of the meal since I’m more eager to taste the fish.
We talk to chef, Abhimanyu Sen, who suggests we try out smaller portions so we can taste a wider range of dishes and we’re only to happy to oblige.
My drink to set off the evening meal is Singapore Sling. My friend settles for a ‘lemu sherbet‘ (lemon juice) though my personal preference is the ‘aam porar sherbet‘, a refreshing and cooling drink made with slow roasted green mangoes in their skin and gently spiced with roasted cumin and black salt. The only reason I keep away today is because I want to make more space for the food.
Amongst the appetisers, there’s a variety to choose from both menus.
My friend tries the vegetable chop to begin with and I dig in. The Bengalis have adopted the common croquet and made it into a celebrated chop. It’s made from mashed potatoes and crumb-fried, and seasoned with fennel and ginger and is a favorite snack for any time of the day. I think we have a tendency to turn anything into a chop, but then no one’s complaining. This one is just right and sets off the mood for the rest of the food to follow.
From the French menu, we order the three layer veg millefeuille, light and crunchy pastry with vegetables in a delicious sauce and with just the right amount of cheese.
I am happy with my smoked fish, chunky with a tomato base with a hint of mustard. This fish dish, I read on the menu, was born about the steamers that plied the waters of the Padma river in undivided Bengal. It is marinated in mild flavors and smoked the traditional way with puffed rice, jaggery and husk. All I can say is that it’s a good way to start the meal.
I also taste the shammi kebab—finely minced mutton ground to a paste and then flavored with spices and filings. A delight to the tongue and senses as you bite in and enjoy the sharp taste. Dip it with a tangy yoghurt. For the lack of a better word—yummy!
I am torn about the main course, but naturally. So many things that I want to taste. Sadly, this is just one meal and there’s only that much my poor stomach can manage in a meal. Though I’m always surprised by how much!
Since I’d already tried the fish starter, I skip fish for my main course. I know, quelle horreur! But I would suggest any fish lover to try the rui maacher shorshay jhaal—it’s a preparation with mustard gravy and nigella seeds and is another staple in the Bengali cuisine. I would definitely try it next time I visit.
The channa dal was we order is light and sweetish, little low on salt and I must admit I’ve had better. The aloo postho (poppy seeds) lacked a bit of zing but since this is one dish both of us have eaten a lot of, maybe our standards are higher.
I mustn’t forget the main condiment of the meal of course—the mustard prepared in-house. It’s well-made and just right in terms of it’s level of intensity. The French version was delicious too.
What I am really looking forward to with much anticipation (like a true Assamese) is the luchi with kasho mangsho. Luchi is a puffed fried bread and rules supreme in Bengali (and Assamese) cuisine. Any time you want a snack or are visiting a relative or friends—be prepared to be tempted by this delicious (but calorific) snack. With a thick onion base, the mangsho (lamb) is particularly flavorful and tasty. It is cooked in mustard oil, infused with with cardamon, clove and cinammon, reputed to be Bengal’s best known meat curry, so don’t miss it. This is one dish which is usually eaten at celebrations and festive occasions. This didn’t disappoint as I downed a couple of the fluffy luchis along with this heavy, but satisfying dish.
Chef Abhimanyu chats with us a bit about the traditional Bengali meal. Beginning with a shukto (appetiser), veggies, meat dish and then end with a chutney, and a kheer based dessert. He has worked at several restaurants in Calcutta and Mumbai before moving to Goa, which he says he’s enjoying currently.
But here’s a bit on the French side too. And yes—we’re still eating…
For the main, my friend tries the tortellini pasta (more Italian then French), with pumpkin, zuchini and mushroom and served in a Girdiniera sauce, which is quite flavorful and delicious. The pesto aranccini (which we didn’t try) also sounded rather tempting—fried risotto rice balls with gooey mozzarella cheese cores inside and pesto coulis outside. What’s not to like about it, I’d say?
Ratatouille is definitely a very French dish. And I have mine with sea bass. The fish is cooked separately and has a crunchy exterior. It’s served in a tangy tomato based curry, with lots of vegetables. I do remember lessons on trying to pronounce this dish when learning French (many years ago) but I haven’t had the opportunity to taste it much. So I must admit that I didn’t have a strong reference point. In which case I usually ask myself, would I come back for it? And the answer is no. I’d probably opt for something else.
We have no room for dessert, of course by now. But like my good husband often says: “There’s always room for dessert!”
So we settle for a crème brulee, which is a happy ending to a very long and taste infused meal.
I must say though that the Bengali dishes stood out much more than the French ones. It might also be because of my natural inclination towards this particular cuisine.
But one thing I have to mention is that when you’re looking for a different taste while in Goa, try out Mustard for a bit of a refreshing experience. Your taste buds definitely won’t regret it and you’ll go back wanting more…
House no 78 Mae de Deus Vaddo,
CHOGM Road, Sangolda, Goa-403511
Hours: 11 a.m to 11 p.m.
Open 7 days
Budget: Around Rs 2000-Rs 2500 for 2 people with alcohol
(Note: This was on an invite by Mustard restaurant. All opinions expressed about the food are mine).
Image credits: Unless otherwise mentioned below the image, all other images are taken by me. The cover/feature image is also courtesy, Mustard.
This picture pretty much sums up the challenge that lay ahead of us.
A couple of days ago, on the way to Mammoth Lakes, we took Tioga Road that goes past Tuolomne Meadows and then reaches the top of Tioga Pass. From there, we descend towards Lee Vining.
This is the same road that we’re going to be walking. Except in the opposite direction. So I’d already had a glimpse of what I’d signed up for. When I estimated the number of hours when I signed up for the event, I thought 4 hours. On day 3, I wasn’t so sure.
The Tioga Pass Run/Walk is advertised as 12.4 miles and “one hill”. The walk/run had 3,162 feet of elevation gain in 12.4 miles: Tioga Pass is at 9,945 feet above sea level and Lee Vining is located at 6,781 ft.
The weather is cool when we start, and we’re about a mile in before we’re all warmed up. After a slight uphill, there are around 2 miles, where the terrain flattens out. I try to warm up my legs by attempting a brisk walk on this stretch.
After mile 3, the uphill climb starts. My pace begins to get labored.
We have some shade thankfully. Anytime I look up, I see the road snaking up.
Mile 3-6 is where the fun starts. I mean the pain.
What is it about running/walking that attracts so many people I think?
At around 8:30 am, one hour into our walk, the runners are already crossing us. I see around 3 lean, mean monsters powering up the slope! They’re probably aiming to finish under 2 hours. I will be happy if I can complete this mammoth attempt in double that time.
At this point, I’m not feeling too optimistic. My legs are tired. Though I’m not a very fast climber, I usually find a good rhythm I can maintain for a few hours when hiking. Not today.
At mile 6, I also start developing a blister around the ankle (just at the point where I’d had my surgery a few years ago). I knew that would be a problem and the only thing I could do is try and ignore it.
Difficult though, considering the fact that it chafes every time I put my foot forward.
Two women (they must have been in their 50s/60s) see my discomfort at mile 6 and realize I’m in need of some encouragement. One of them shares her salty treats which I gobble up. And then the other gives me a handful of peanut M&Ms, which I also munch on greedily. You meet some amazing people on the road. They are really sweet and talk to me for nearly 5-10 minutes and then set off. I am really inspired by their steady pace through the walk.
I knew it was going to be a long struggle ahead. But I’d finished 1/2 the distance and mentally, I had to tell myself that I need to continue for another two hours. I try not thinking about the steeper sections where my pace would drop even more. I continue, with the husband keeping step behind me. Without him for company, I would have definitely taken a ride back downhill.
I struggle with everything after this point – the painful blister, legs with no energy in them (I could feel that terrible empty sensation of having nothing) and the altitude. We are at 9000 feet at this point and have 500+ feet of climbing left.
I’m not exactly sure how I survive mile 6-9. It is not my finest hour. At the mile 9 rest stop, the two women there offer some more encouragement. Along with gels and endurolytes. I am open to ingesting anything that will help me at this stage.
From this point, the road flattens out a bit. I pick up my pace and feel some blood circulating in my legs again. Husband counts down the last few miles. We meet one of the organizers on the route who says, “just another mile to go.” Yay!
A final push towards the end point. I can see the cars line up to pay the toll at the booth at Tioga Pass. When I stumble towards the race organizers (who are by now wrapping up the party), they’re possibly even more relieved than I am! I think it took me 20-30 minutes beyond the time I’d estimated, but I am just happy to have crossed that finish line.
I definitely paid the price for choosing two tough races this year. I don’t think I was adequately prepared for either. The only silver lining is that I survived both.
(Next: After this effort, my next event is a 26 km run at the Bangalore Ultra on November 13. I first ran the Ultra in the 2nd year in 2008. This is the 10th year of the event and a good one to wrap up my year with! After that, I rest till 2017 🙂
What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger, they say. And I’m hoping it’s true.
After the swim, having been sufficiently nourished and rested, we land up at the bike venue at 8 am in the morning. It’s pretty cool, but the weather forecast promises a warm day and I discard my wind cheater at the start itself. I have arm warmers which I hope will do the job.
There are around 400 riders at the start point. An impressive turnout for an event in this part of the country. Mammoth Lakes is a little town in Mono country, surrounded by mountains.
The 100 mile riders started off earlier – at 7 am.
Bike rides are always unpredictable. You could be feeling fit and fine at the beginning and then like you’ve gone through hell and back a couple of hours later. Or you could start off feeling crappy and then blossom, like a flower, your legs opening up as the miles add up.
Thanks to one tough practice ride a weekend prior, I was feeling fine at the start of the ride. My main focus was going to try and maintain a steady pace and not run out of energy. I also had to leave a bit of juice in my legs for the next day’s walk (the 12.4 miles up to Tioga pass).
The warm-up began with a steady climb of a few miles leading us out of town. And then we had some thrilling downhills, enjoying the cool wind in our faces and racing down at 40 mph on some slopes. For a few minutes you feel what extremely fast bikers go at normally!
The cool weather helped the riders in the morning. Everyone was zooming along and then we reached the highway, where we turned right. Another few miles and we had a diversion towards Crowley Lake. A rather scenic area, and all the while on our left we could see the lake. A few miles of rolling terrain and we reached mile 20, and our first rest stop. At that point, I was feeling fine. A quick break and I set off again. The road loops around the joins the highway and a few miles on, there’s another diversion. This road to Benton Crossing eventually leads up to Watterson’s Summit, would be our tougher loop.
I had to stop for a few pictures, it was just so gorgeous out there – wide open plains, with yellow shrubs, cows grazing lazily and mountain ranges all around. It reminded me a bit of Ladakh. And of some of the stark scenes of Death Valley.
I was able to maintain a good clip. Not fast, not too slow. After around 10 miles on this road, the slow climb started. The gradient did go up to around 7-8% at certain stretches, but overall, the climb was not too bad. Being a slow climber, I focused on just keeping on pedalling, and took around 2-3 breaks for gulps of water and a few bites of my energy bar.
Meanwhile, riders were zooming down on their return journey. I plodded on.
Towards the end, is the steepest bit, right before the next rest station. I guess they kept the best till the last! I did a bit of a snake dance (the roads were closed for us at that stretch so I knew there weren’t any vehicles likely to come from behind) and with a final push, was relieved to see Waterson’s summit.
I could feel a bit of tiredness in my legs by then, but the good part was that a major climb was done. I tried a bit of everything they had on offer. Salted chips, oranges, bananas. Hydrated. Stretched. Took some rest. And then around 15-20 minutes later, was back on the bike.
The heat was on by the time I turned around. I knew this leg would be tough. I tried to enjoy the scenery, but with no cover at all, it was getting quite warm. The return had a few rolling climbs. Not too steep, but enough to suck some bit of energy out of you.
I did my best to enjoy this stretch. I also stopped 2-3 times, both to enjoy my surroundings and give myself short breaks. Though I’ve cycled at high altitudes (it’s been many years), this was a long effort at nearly 7000 feet and I didn’t want to really suffer too much.
Mile 60 finally was within sight. By then, I was a bit tired. But I decided not to take another break. Just had a sip of my water and started off again. Only 10 more miles I was thinking. But I think these 10 miles, physically was equal to whatever I’d already pedalled!
Back on the highway, I tried to keep up a good pace, but could feel myself slowing down. I got passed by dozens of speedy monsters – most of them finishing their 100 milers! I tried to keep myself motivated.
Finally, reached a point on the highway, where we turned into a side road back to Mammoth Lakes. The countdown began with a sign that said 5 miles to the finish. Also the longest 5 miles of my life.
I drummed up whatever energy I had left and started pedalling – slowly and steadily. Lots of encouraging words from passing cyclists. Which is the nice part of cycling here – there are always riders checking on you.
The last part was just counting strokes because the incline didn’t let up. A cyclist passed me by and commented what a “terrible way” it was to end a ride. I couldn’t agree more. I needed one downhill to revive my strength. But it was not to be.
I was hardly moving and I laboured over every pedal stroke. It was great relief to see the finish line. The camera person sitting there yelling out made sure I brought out my smile at that moment. And some of my team mates were there cheering me as I crossed, which made me feel a whole lot better.
An event that is going to be pretty memorable for me. The scenic beauty of the course, combined with the fact that you’re cycling at altitudes between 6-7k feet makes this a challenging ride. A little more preparation probably would have gone a long way.
But what’s a bit of suffering, right? And then, there’s the promise that I’m getting all the more stronger!
Official sign up page for the event: Mammoth Grand Fondo
(Cover photo and training ride practice photo courtesy: Sandeep V).
Next: A 12.4 mile hike up to Tioga Pass and the last event of this series.
To swim, bike and run on the same day is always a challenge. And though I enjoy all three sports, I’m still testing out the waters with shorter distances right now. Last year, I wrote about getting into triathlons and also doing my first triathlon – a sprint distance. This year, I did a slightly longer distance – called Olympic distance at the Auburn Triathlon.
Longer distances though are still daunting at this stage. But when one of our coaches suggested we check out the Graniteman Challenge event that involves all the sports, but over three days, I began to think it might be more feasible.
Impulsive decisions come quite naturally to me, so I decided to add another one to my list and sign up. The big event, which earns you the title of “Graniteman”, involves half Ironman distances (or nearly) – 2.4 mile swim, 100 mile ride and a 12.4 mile run/walk. However, they also had shorter distances in two categories – 1.2 mile swim, 71 mile ride, while the 3rd category (run/walk) remained the same.
So, along with another dozen team members of my tri-club, I signed on for the event. It would be my second tri this year – but spread over a few days. What better way to spend a weekend, right?
My preparations sadly didn’t quite go as planned. But then, they rarely do. In reality, I do make plans, and then manage to get completely off course. Despite thinking I’d do some preparatory bike rides and super long runs and swims, I basically landed up doing much lesser in terms of quality and quantity. Besides, I also had a chunk of travel that I had to fit in between, which I’ve written about (my adventures in North Carolina, involving very little cardio activity).
So as we drove up, a day before the event, I was a bit unsure and anxious about how things would go. Would I be able to stay in the water for the distance? Being a recent swimmer and only getting more comfortable in open water very recently, any long distance is still mind over matter for me.
The venue for the swim – June Lake – was perfect. With the backdrop of the Yosemite mountains, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect setting. I dipped my feet in and felt quite cold. It was around 7:30 am in the morning. Thankfully, by the time the swim started, it was 9 am and the water had warmed up slightly.
The swim started off as usual. Everyone raced off. I am usually the last one since swimming with people behind me makes me nervous. The first half a mile I spent talking to myself. My energy would come and go in waves. Suddenly, I would feel my spirits flagging, and then I had to talk to myself. I find my time in the water really interesting. It’s a struggle every minute I’m out there. I have to constantly motivate myself, think of something distracting or tell myself I can survive.
There’s really no other way out there I’ve realized. I also count my strokes. I go till around 20 and then start again. Getting to the first buoy was a relief. I called the paddle boarder close by and then took a few minutes rest, looked around, enjoyed the beautiful lake and thought to myself, “Aren’t I lucky to be here?” After that, I was off again, for the return leg.
Though I felt a bit more comfortable by now on the swim, I could feel my energy get pretty low. I had to stop at least 3-4 times to take stock of where I was in relation to the far-end buoy. It seemed to be moving – further away. Meanwhile, the fast swimmers who were doing the 2nd round, were already whooshing past me. I could see their arms taking powerful strokes, propelling them forward. At the speed of light or so it seemed! At times like this, I feel like a turtle. But then, there’s no time to feel sorry for myself. And I mutter a few words encouraging words to myself.
I think I’m getting closer to the last buoy. Or my mind could be playing tricks. Later, when I look at my Garmin data, I could see I veered to the right, away from the course. At some point, I realize this and correct myself and am then back on track. After the 3rd buoy, it’s a short swim to the 4th one (the course is rectangular in shape) and then it’s finally over.
I’m a bit dizzy at the end of it as I stumble over the finish line. I felt like it’s taken me forever. But I always remind myself that I only started swimming seriously last year. My coach often keeps saying, “Look how far you’ve come”. And this is what I try and keep in mind. Besides, I’m just about 2 minutes slower per 100 metres than the fast(er) swimmers. I can catch up. Maybe in a couple of years?
Meanwhile, it’s all about tri-ing!
NEXT: A 114 km (70+ mile) bike ride through the mountains and a 12.4 mile climbing up to Tioga Pass, with around a 3k feet elevation,