The Holi Escape (Part-3)- Food and Sights of Nani Daman

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The area of Nani Daman and Devka Beach are a gastronomic paradise. Numerous restaurants and cafes are found in and around the beach which offer you some delectable sea food and an unparalleled view, that gets magnified during the high tide. Chilling out here acquires a completely new dimension. A bottle of chilled beer with a plethora of sea food for snacks is enough to beat the heat into oblivion.

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After the short break (as per my previous post), we started off our journey of Daman or rather Nani Daman to be more precise, in search of gastronomic bliss. Our first stop was the in-house, sea facing restaurant of Hotel Princess Park, Cafe High Tide, right on the Devka Beach. We actually went there just to enjoy the sights that the sea which was virtually kissing the Cafe, had on offer. But the cool strong breeze and the sound of the waves, tempted us into having our lunch there. And we sure weren’t disappointed.

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Chilled Kingfisher strong with amazing crispy fried chicken set the tone for the rest of our lunch. We had over the next day and a half, a variety of dishes at Cafe High Tide, from sea food specialties like Prawn Goan Curry, Prawn Gauti to chicken preparations like Baked Chicken, Red Chicken and Afghani Chicken. Needless to say, every item was outstanding. Our first tryst with gastronomic destiny in Daman was an overwhelming success.

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If our lunches were great successes then our dinners were a mixed bag. We had heard a lot about the sea food of Hotel Gurukripa, which is on the narrow busy main road that leads you onto the beach of Nani Daman. So for our first dinner at Daman, we decided to pay it a visit. Parking the car at the hotel itself was next to impossible, so our driver parked it at the beach itself and we strolled along for 5 odd minutes, in great anticipation, to Hotel Gurukripa. The dimly lit restaurant had a LED TV which was telecasting live cricket. We were greeted by the cheerful restaurant manager and on his recommendation, we ordered ghol fish tikka, prawn biryani, a sea food platter and caramel pudding for dessert. Barring the caramel pudding, the rest were just run of the mill and the bill at the end of our meal,made it a huge diner’s disappointment for us. The highly recommended exorbitantly priced ghol fish tikka came last in our taste check or is it that one has to develop a taste for the fish before trying it, I would not know.

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If our first dinner in Daman was a disaster, the second one was more than a delight. Oliajis’ Duke Hotel is right on the main road of Devka Beach. A nondescript old board announced that the hotel was established in 1936 and serves delicious Parsee food. The restaurant has a very laid back ambiance laced with an old world charm. The menu of this family run joint was not very elaborate but whatever they had in it was mostly authentic Parsee cuisine. We ordered Golden crisp fried prawns, roasted chicken (BBQ), Patrani Macchi, Mutton Dhansak, Salli Chicken, Egg on Keema and rotis. The taste was super and the bill, very nominal and our overall experience was WoW..

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Our gastronomic journey being an undeclared success, my next post will deal with the wonderful sights of Daman, more specifically the old area of Moti Daman…

(to be continued)

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The Holi Escape (Part-2)-Daman

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The west Indian city of Daman is part of the union territory of Daman and Diu which were in turn part of the Portuguese colonial territories of Goa, Daman and Diu. Absorbed into the Indian union in December 1961, after a short skirmish between the Indian and the Portuguese troops, Daman today is a popular tourist destination on account of the sea, sun, food and fun (read- lots of free flowing alcohol, in stark contrast to the prohibition in the neighboring state of Gujarat).

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The drive from Baroda to Daman took us through the industrial heartland of Gujarat as we passed through the textile city of Surat and the chemical hub of Ankeleshwar on towards Vapi.

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The road was excellent and the countryside was lush and green, dotted with intermittent water bodies that irrigated the farms. It took us about three and a half hours to cover the distance of about 300 odd kilometers and we were at last into the gates of Hotel Princess Park, Nani Daman, our retreat for the next two days. The hotel was right on the edges of the Arabian Sea and the rooms offered majestic view of the sea and the beach (if you could call the beach, a beach).

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The city of Daman is divided into two by the Daman Ganga river, Moti Daman and Nani Daman. Moti Daman has the Jampore beach and Nani Daman has the Devka Beach and the Princess Park hotel was bang on the Devka Beach. The beach and the sea at Daman, though is quite unlike any other sea and beach, I have ever seen. Devka beach, which is very dull, rocky and blackish in color, is not at all tempting and the sea itself is pretty shallow. The amazing part of it all is that, it seemed as though the sea works in shifts (pun intended). Everyday, by 2 pm in the afternoon, the sea came gushing almost into the restaurant of the Princess Park hotel, aptly named Cafe High Tide and then the water receded, only to come back with a vengeance by 2 am at night.

The sea far off from Hotel Princess Park

The sea far off from Hotel Princess Park, Devka Beach, Nani Daman

The sea on the edge of Hotel Princess Park, Daman

The sea on the edge of Hotel Princess Park, Devka Beach, Nani Daman

We retired to our respective rooms for a short break to rejuvenate ourselves fully so that we could embark upon, to act on our intent to explore the tastes and places that Daman had on offer for us.

(to be continued)

 

The Holi Escape (Part-1)- To Baroda

Cometh, the festival of colours, Holi and it is time for me and my family to take a break from our routine in the Lake City of Udaipur and venture into new territories. If last year, it was Mount Abu in Rajasthan, this time around we zeroed onto the idyllic west Indian union territory of Daman. The distance of Daman from Udaipur is about 600 kms, so it was unanimously decided that we would have a night halt at Vadodara (previously known as Baroda) in Gujarat, as winding up things at Udaipur, we could only have left home, earliest by late afternoon. Thus, two days prior to the Holi festival, on a blazing Saturday afternoon (15th March 2014), we set off for Baroda, as we planned our Holi Escape.

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The NH8 that connects New Delhi to Mumbai, which in turn connects Udaipur to Ahmedabad, makes its way across the hills of the Aravali ranges. Trees with blooming local red flowers, dotted the slopes of the hills and provided for a very picturesque beginning to our travel, as we took a detour from the NH8, after entering the state of Gujarat.

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The state highway to Modasa and beyond was equally scenic and was in fact in a better shape than even the national highway. The rural countryside adjoining the highway showed glimpses of prosperity and we crossed hamlets after hamlets as we made our way towards Baroda.

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We covered the distance of about 315 kms from Udaipur to Baroda (via Modasa) in about 5 hours that included a stoppage for snacks and refreshments at a way-side restaurant where we had tea, Idli-sambar and Mango lassi. We had prior bookings made at the Hotel Sapphire Regency, Sayaji Gunj for our night in Baroda.

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Right at the city centre near the Vadodara Railway station, the Hotel Sapphire Regency provided for a very cozy stay in Baroda. Its highlight was its gastronomically amazing restaurant “Cafe Khyber”. The neat fine dining restaurant was nearly full when we went there for our dinner. We ordered vegetable noodles (for my kid) and chicken angarey for starters. For the main course we had Chicken Afghani, Murg Mussallam, buttered Naan and white rice. The food was exceptional, lip smacking and complete money’s worth (made more so by the 15% discount that was applicable for Axis Bank cardholders).  We retired to our rooms, very gastronomically as well as economically satisfied.

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The next morning being a Sunday morning, my father and me went in search for any temple that was in the vicinity of the hotel. We found a small and simple temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha, the Hindu God of Wisdom, in the nearby lane. After prayers, we went for a stroll and discovered some old architectural gems that were still there, standing proudly in a landscape that is being fast inundated with modern buildings and complexes.

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After a sumptuous breakfast at Cafe Khyber, Hotel Sapphire Regency, it was time for us to set off for our next and final destination of Daman….

(to be continued)

 

 

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar- (4th and concluding part)

Ajmer is home to a variety of sweets, but none more popular than the Sohan Halwa. Though there are many shops that sell the famed sweet, shops opposite to the Ajmer railway station are said to offer the best of the lot. In our quest for the best, we ventured into the congested old part of the city. Madar gate is gate that lies in utter ruins, standing in testimony to a glorious past. Beyond this gate is a shop which has been selling sweets for more than a century and a quarter. Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai was the shop we zeroed on guided by references and we were not disappointed. The sweet of this old and unassuming shop was pure and fresh and amazingly tasty. After having purchased a kilo of the sweet treasure, it was time for us to return back to Pushkar.

The Madar Gate

The Madar Gate

Sohan Halwa

Sohan Halwa

Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai shop

Moolchand Buddhamal Halwai shop

It was quite chilly in Pushkar that evening as the wind gained speed. We decided to take a stroll along the narrow lanes of the holy city and to explore it at night.  On the way were many old buildings that showcased the architectural splendor of an era gone by. We stopped by at a sweet shop and had glasses of hot milk and some unique chocolate ball sweets made of many ingredients like beetroot, mawa, sugar besides chocolate. After thus having finished our mini-dinner we kept walking towards the famed Brahma Temple, the temple dedicated to the Hindu God of creation, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Enroute, a poster caught my eye. It proudly proclaimed that below the very place the poster was pasted sat the famously eerily familiar named painter, Kikasso, who paints, as it was proudly claimed, as well as, if not better, than Picasso. With a smile on our faces we continued our walk till we reached the imposing gates of the Brahma Temple. The temple though was closed for the night and we turned back towards the Lake Sarovar, another not to be missed destination in Pushakar, having made up our minds to come to the temple again, the next morning.

A Pushkar Haveli@Night

A Pushkar Haveli@Night

A poster proclaiming the prowess of an artist, interestingly named "Kikasso"

A poster proclaiming the prowess of an artist, interestingly named “Kikasso”

The entrance to the Brahma Temple @ Night

The entrance to the Brahma Temple of Pushkar @ Night

The Lake Sarovar

The Lake Sarovar, Pushkar

The sacred Lake Sarovar is surrounded by beautiful Ghats all around. When we reached Gangour Ghat, one of the many, the scene was mesmerizing. The ghat was desolate, with only the sound of the waves hitting the embankments and a soothing trance music being played in a restaurant on the other side of the lake, being audible. We sat there admiring the haunting beauty of the lake at night.

We walked back to our hotel and slept blissfully.

A Ghat @the Sarovar

A Ghat @the Sarovar

A restaurant on the Ghat

A restaurant on the Ghat

Another Ghat @the Sarovar, Pushkar

Another Ghat @the Sarovar, Pushkar

We followed our routine of the day before for our breakfast, but with a change in the breakfast menu. We had vegetable cutlets with buttered toasts and cornflakes with milk, this time around and it was filling. We went to our rooms and got dressed up to check out. Checking out, we asked our driver to take us to the Brahma Temple. The narrow lane of our previous night’s rendezvous with the temple, was out of bounds, as no vehicular traffic was allowed through it, during the day. So we had to take a longer route that passed the venue of the famous Pushkar Cattle Fair that is held every year and is part of the event’s calendar of the state of Rajasthan. This fair draws tourists from all across the globe every year and is a big crowd puller amongst the rural folks who trade cattle in this fair.

Breakfast of Cutlets and Toasts at RTDC hotel Sarovar, Pushkar

Breakfast of Cutlets and Toasts at RTDC hotel Sarovar, Pushkar

The venue of the famous Cattle Fair of Pushkar

The venue of the famous Cattle Fair of Pushkar

The entrance of the Brahma Temple of Pushkar

The entrance of the Brahma Temple of Pushkar

During the day, the desolate stairs and the entrance of the Brahma Temple of our stroll of the night before were jam packed with devotees. We climbed up the flight of stairs of the temple and reached the orange domed main temple of the Lord of Creation of the Hindus. To find myself in front of the deity, whose temple, is probably the only one in the world, was an overwhelming experience. There are quite a few underground chambers within the premise of the temple that are dedicated to gods from the Hindu pantheon, especially Mahadeva or Shiva, the Lord of Destruction. Though bereft of any exquisite carvings or artwork, the Brahma temple exudes an attraction that is way beyond words and thus as we made our way back to Udaipur, I was lost in a reverie that was a concoction of religious and spiritual bliss with the places that we were leaving having already left an indelible mark in my mind forever.

The famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar

The famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar

Going back with memories to cherish for a lifetime

Going back with memories to cherish for a lifetime

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar (Part3)

Resuming our pending work at Ajmer, and we were able to finish off with our assignments by lunch time. For lunch we were directed to a vegetarian restaurant by the name of Khana Khazana. We ordered vegetarian thalis. At first sight, a single thali gave the impression that it had food adequate for 2 people but since we had ordered 2 thalis, we had no choice but to eat, a thali a piece. During the process of eating our lunch, we realized how hungry we were, as we devoured the thalis, in practically no time. For sweet dish, we had vanilla ice cream scoops, which were a part of the thali as well.

The Grand Thali at Khana Khazana

The Grand Thali at Khana Khazana

Fully “Fed Up”, we thought of looking for some places that were off the beaten track in Ajmer, away from the known circuit of Dargah, Ana Sagar and the fort. Our contact in Ajmer, being a person from the Jain sect, directed us to Dadabari of the Svetamber sub-sects of the Jains. The simple predominantly white religious structure, had idols of tirthankars or main preachers of the Jains, which were adorned with jewellery made of gold. I snapped a photo on my cell, before I was told that photography was prohibited there.

The beautiful idols at Dadabari

The beautiful idols at Dadabari

From there we went to Soni Ji Ki Nasiyan, again a religious temple of the Jains. This place, I was told had reverence for the Digamber sub-sects of the Jains. I was taken aback when on entering this red stone temple, I was asked to shell out Rs10 as an entry fee. Any religious fervor that I might have had, evaporated almost immediately. But after climbing the steep, winding stairs of this two storied temple, in the space of 5 minutes, I was taken aback again. Amazing structures (some even life-like) made of gold, silver, bronze and mosaic glass were there enclosed in glass. The place glittered with a splendor and opulence, rarely seen, especially for a religious temple. Actually to call it a temple, for me, is a misnomer. It is basically a museum that depicts the Jain philosophy of the creation of the world through the various models made of precious metals.

The Red temple-Soniji ki Nasiyan

The Red temple-Soniji ki Nasiyan

The red exterior of the temple

The red exterior of the temple

 

The fabulous interior

The fabulous interior

The grandeur and opulence of the temple museum

The grandeur and opulence of the temple museum

The precious preaching of the Nasiyan

The precious preaching of the Nasiyan

(to be continued)

 

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar (Part2)

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On reaching Pushkar, we had the option to check into either Hotel Sarovar, in the heart of the town or the Tourist Village, a cluster of huts for the tourists, both managed by the RTDC (Rajasthan Tourism Development Corporation). We checked into the former. The hotel was beautiful but as is the case with most government run hotels, in dire need of maintenance. The area that it covered was sprawling with a variety of trees and lush green lawns. It even had a swimming pool, which alas had no water in it.

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Built in a colonial style with ample balconies and a long corridor, the plaster from the wall, alas was peeling in many areas. Despite all the shortcomings what clinched the deal for us was the wonderful view of the hills that the balcony gave from the rooms and the overall serenity that seemed to engulf the hotel.

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The rooms were comfortable and we had a blissful night’s sleep after having a light dinner, courtesy the heavy lunch we had at Guddan ka dhaba. The cacophony of birds woke me up, the next morning and as I strolled off to the balcony of the room, a view of pure magic awaited me. The adjoining hills of the Aravali ranges were trying desperately to stop the sun from rising and the sun, slowly but surely was winning the battle. Mother Nature was painting her canvas with colors of all hues and shades and the resultant “piece of art” was Pure Magic.

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We had to go down to the restaurant for our bed tea as the personnel (or was it just a single chap as I now recollect) seemed oblivious to the ringing of the intercom. Anyway, the restaurant was airy and clean. Airy, because the place where one of the air conditioners should have been, now contained just the frontend of an AC. The back thus missing, threw in the cold winds that were sweeping Pushkar that day, into the restaurant. We even had a sparrow for company which had accidentally come inside through the hollow air conditioner. After having our tea, we ordered breakfast. Hot puris and paranthas along with aloo ki sabzi and curd came along, which were delicious to say the least and we forgot our anguish of not having been served our bed tea in bed.

After breakfast, we felt the day truly had begun on a bright “gastronomic” note.

Corridor of Hotel Sarovar

Corridor of Hotel Sarovar

The entrance of RTDC Hotel Sarovar at night

The entrance of RTDC Hotel Sarovar at night

The beautiful colonial designed Hotel Sarovar at night

The beautiful colonial designed Hotel Sarovar at night

The airy restaurant of Hotel Sarovar

The airy restaurant of Hotel Sarovar

The bright lobby of Hotel Sarovar

 

A trip to the twin Holy Cities of Ajmer and Pushkar (Part1)

Known the world over for the famous Dargah of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chisti, Ajmer has had a very colorful past and it was to this city along with the holy town of Pushkar that I went on an official trip, accompanied by a member of the top management of a leading hospital of Udaipur.

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The drive down to Ajmer, about 300 kms from Udaipur via Bhilwara, through fields of mustard and farmlands, took us about 4 hours. Though we were in the city by lunch time and were also feeling hungry, we first thought of meeting our contact person in Ajmer for the job at hand.  After having a brief discussion with him, it was time for us to have our lunch. Though some of the restaurants of Ajmer like Honeydew, are famous all across the state of Rajasthan, we were recommended to go to a traditional Indian restaurant or Dhaba quite near to our place of work that supposedly served delicious Indian vegetarian dishes.

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The restaurant,  Guddan ka Dhaba did not disappoint us. We ordered a Dal (lentil) fry with tadka, a Navratan Korma, a vegetable Raita (curd preparation) and Tandoori Rotis.The service was prompt and the food was, as promised delicious, more so for a pair of deliriously hungry men from Udaipur. We again went back to work after lunch, though our gastronomically satisfied selves yearned for a nap.

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After getting through with the day’s work, the next point to ponder for us was to where to stay in Ajmer. We had thought that getting a decent accommodation in Ajmer would be easy and in fact our first preference was the government circuit house but we had discounted a big factor. We had inadvertently landed bang in the middle of the wedding season and our search for accommodation was easier said than done. We scouted around and enquired for rooms at the Ajmer Club as well as the RTDC Hotel Khadim. Ajmer Club was fully booked (as was the Circuit House) and Hotel Khadim could accommodate us for only a single day. It was at Khadim that we came to know that RTDC also had two hotels in the Hindu holy town of Pushkar, about 12 kms from Ajmer and accommodation was available in both of them. Then and there itself we decided that we would be moving on to Pushkar for our stay.

Ana Sagar Lake

Ana Sagar Lake

Catchment area of Lake Ana Sagar

 

The narrow winding road across the hills

The narrow winding road across the hills

Troop of Monkeys enroute

 

Welcome to Pushkar

The route from Ajmer to Pushkar is a very scenic one. It took us past the beautiful Ana Sagar lake, the heart of Ajmer and through a long winding road across wooded mountains inhabited by a variety of animals and birds. Troops of monkeys were there galore on the sides of the road in eager anticipation of tit-bits from the passers-by. As we entered the holy city, our car was stopped and we had to part with Rs20, the entrance fees to Pushkar against which we were given a receipt which was valid for movement both to as well as fro for 24 hours.