Kolkata Kaleidoscope- Part1

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The Victoria Memorial is a museum and tourist destination that was built in the memory of Queen Victoria

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The old co-existing with the new

Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta), the capital of the state of West Bengal is by far the largest city in Eastern India. Once the seat of power of the British Raj, the city today is a potpourri of the old and the modern where underground metro railways exists with electric trams, where air conditioned taxis coexist with hand pulled rickshaws, where Victorian era architecture jostle for your attention in company of swanky new buildings, where global eateries like KFC and Mc Donald’s satiate your hunger along with the roadside stalls selling traditional savories like beguni, phuluri, cholar dal, luchi, kochuri, shingara, deemer devil,rolls, jhaal muri, phuchka and ah the list is endless……

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A Kolkata street food that packs a crunch “Deemer Devil”- Boiled egg coated with spiced mashed potato rolled on breadcrumbs and deep fried to a golden brown.

Modernity is slowly but surely overpowering things that bear a testimony to an era gone by, but the city still retains an old world charm.

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The Loyal Sentinel- A Lion statue at the entrance of the Victoria Memorial, one of Kolkata’s most renowned landmarks

In my subsequent few posts and photos, I envisage to bring out the flavors, sights and colors of Kolkata as I encountered and experienced it during my recent visits to the “City of Joy”.

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Some of the old buildings in Kolkata are still resplendent outshining even the more modern swanky ones…

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But some buildings have borne the brunt of the vagaries of time.

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The tussle between the old and the new is on and these three buildings are a symbolic testimony to that.

Expect the unexpected in the city of Kolkata, made famous the world over by virtue of being the headquarters of the Missionaries of Charity and the work place of Mother Teresa (who after her canonization is now known as St Teresa of Calcutta).

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House of eminent Bengali playwright Shri Girish Chandra Ghosh that is located right in the middle of a busy road in the Baghbazar area.

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Two laborers rest adjacent to an idol of Sri Sri Sharada Ma, wife of the the Bengali sage and philosopher Ramkrishna Paramahansa, so as to emphasize the fact that divinity abodes in the masses.

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Africa in Kolkata?? Giraffe statues on the pavement of Baghbazar Street

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A man prays at the gates of Balaram Mandir, the house of Balaram Ghosh a disciple of Ramkrishna Paramahansa. The house is now a branch of Ramkrishna Mission.

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Kolkata is situated on the banks of River Hooghly, a distributary of River Ganga. A lonely boatman rows back home to the loved ones after a hectic day.

There is no greater love than the love of FOOD and the Kolkatans are Gastronomic Cassanovas to put it mildly. Every nook and corner of the city is filled with gastronomic delights.

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A Bengali is incomplete without his plate of rice and fish. In the picture a typical Bengali lunch of shukto, bhaat, daal, aloo bhaja, maach and a chorchori.

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Luchi, Kosha Mangsho and Posto Bora at 6 Ballugunge Place, a bunglow that has been converted into a fine dine restaurant specializing in authentic Bengali Cuisine.

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The deadly duo-Fish fry with kashundi (mustard)

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Buttered roti and Mutton Masala at Aminia, one of the more famous chain of restaurants in Kolkata that serve Mughlai delicacies

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A boiled egg, two pieces of Mutton and a piece of spiced potato and lo you have the unique Special biriyani of Kolkata. Arsalan and Aminia are supposed to be the best biriyani makers of Kolkata.

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A roadside eatery selling Aloor torkari, Luchi and bhaja

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Chicken cutlets from a roadside stall. These stalls and small shops that dot the Kolkata eating landscape give any of the leading restaurants a run for their money with respect to quality, taste and of course the prices of their items.

After every eat, the Kolkatans crave for something sweet. The sweet tooth of the Kolkatans is legendary and every locality has its own sweet shop that sells the best of Bengali sweets and the stars more often than not are the famous Shondesh and Mishti Doi.

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A typical sweet shop in Kolkata dotted with sweet goodies. This one is a neighborhood sweet shop at Pikepara.

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Mishti doi- sweetened yogurt is one of the more famous sweet indulgences in Kolkata. The doi is served in a ‘haand’, an earthen pot with a wooden spoon. The delicacy is creamy, flaky and delicious.

End of part 1

To be continued……….

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Fish Therapy at Jaisamand Lake

When an escape is required from the monotony that mundane routine life has to offer, we try to go off for a quick day trip from Udaipur. With the summer sun gradually but surely embracing the days, it was a point of contention amongst us, where we should be heading to. Besides the sun, the exams of my 9 year old son that were starting almost immediately turned the tables on many other options and we headed for Jaisamand lake, a place that has given us much pleasure umpteenth times, previously.

Approach

The road leading to Lake Jaisamand with Mona restaurant on the right

The drive to the second largest artificial lake in Asia has always been enjoyable and this time too it was no exception barring the bottlenecks and diversions that the work in progress of the construction of the broad gauge railway line from Udaipur to Ahmedabad have created at the peripheral junction of the city of lakes.

 

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Soaking in the beauty of the lake

We were visiting the lake after a hiatus of maybe six months or so and this time we found that the place leading to the embankment of Jaisamand had been enclosed with wire mesh surrounds and a ticket counter had cropped up. Now for an entry to the “Paal’ of Lake Jaisamand, you needed to dish out a nominal Rs10 per person as an entry fee. As we were entering, voices of dissent from the public was heard but if the money collected from the public is really put to good use for the beautification and adding of facilities at the embankment, then nobody would be complaining.

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School of fish savoring the corn kernels

My son as always bought Rs10 worth of corn kernels to be fed to the fishes that are found galore in the lake. The splashing of water by the movement of school of fishes as they scamper to savor the corn kernels is a sight to behold. After the feeding session was over, it was now time to laze around and soak in the beauty of this magnificent tranquil lake. We contemplated whether a boat ride could be fitted into the agenda but decided otherwise as feeding the fishes had given rise to pangs of hunger within us.

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The no ambiance open kitchen of Mona Restaurant

We searched for any cabin that served fresh fish nearby but in vain. Thus we came down from the embankment and zeroed in on a ‘fishy’ looking road side restaurant by the name of Mona that proclaimed that it served Fish Fry. With no ambiance to speak of and an open kitchen on top of that, was enough to dissuade us initially but the gastronomic grumblings got the better of us and we ordered a plate of Jaisamand lake fresh cuttle fish fry for Rs150.

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The freshly marinated fish

Fresh fish, freshly marinated was fried in front of us in the wood fired traditional hearth, ‘chulha’ as it is locally called. The cheerful owner who also doubled as the chef as well as the attendant told us stories about how he started this restaurant nearly two and a half decades back as he continued frying the fish.

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The owner honing his craft

The fish pieces when fried to a golden brown was served with a red garlic chutney and freshly round cut onions slices. The owner on his part insisted that we also try a gravied version of his fish and gave the gravy complimentarily along with a local fish which was fried to a crisp.

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The Fish Therapy

The cuttle fish fry was divine and the red garlic chutney complemented it to perfection. The fried local fish also packed a crunch and was delicious. The gravy though was more like a spicy water concoction, nothing much to write home about.
With our hunger satiated and mind rejuvenated it was time for us to again get back home and start a new week afresh, fresh from Fish therapy at Lake Jaisamand, albeit a gastronomic one.

Tajpur- Sun, Sand and Serenity!

On a family vacation to the City of Joy, Kolkata, the capital of the East Indian state of West Bengal, it was my father who zeroed upon the coastal hamlet of Tajpur, on the Bay of Bengal, in Mednipur district.

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Teeming humanity at Digha Beach

About 180 kms from Kolkata, Tajpur is a less visited sea shore destination though the famous sea town of Digha and Mondarmoni are located at a stone’s throw away from it.

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Howrah station

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We took a morning 11.15 am Duronto Express from Howrah railway station which raced past scenic meadows, villages, water bodies and lush green vistas. We were served a sumptuous non-veg lunch pack on board and by 2 in the afternoon we were at Digha, the terminal point of the train.

From Digha, Tajpur is about 20 odd kms and waiting for us at the station was a mini van sent by the resort that we had booked for our stay at Tajpur, the Mallickaa Resort.

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Fish farms enroute to Tajpur

Our journey from the Digha railway station to the Mallickaa  Resort took us about half and hour and during that period we could gauge that we were gradually getting away from the hustle and bustle of the city and a huge wave of humanity to something that was quieter, less uninhabited, something that promised, bliss.

From the main highway, our van took a turn onto a narrow road that had fish farms lined on both its side. We soaked in the beauty of the place and breathed the freshness of the air and before long we were at the gates of the Mallickaa Resort.

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The resort in itself was pretty amazing with ample flora and fauna within it precincts. Turkeys, swans, pigeons, hens, rabbits, guinea pigs all roamed around freely in the vast greenery of the resort. It did not have a swimming pool but to compensate for it, it had a pond in which one could go boating. The pond also acts as the breeding ground for the fresh water fishes that adorn the menu of the restaurant of Mallickaa.

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The pond in the resort

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Boats at Mallickaa Resort

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Turkeys on the ground

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Guinea pigs

We checked into cottages that had their own unique names and were comfortable with all basic amenities in place. A cat nap later we were ready for our tryst with the sandy serene shores of the Tajpur beach.

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Uniquely named cottages

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The wooded road to Paradise

An unpaved, about half a kilometer long, road from the main gate of Mallickaa resort through Casuarina groves and dense shrubbery leads you to inverted crescent shaped beach of Tajpur. Oh, What a sight it was to behold! A few shacks scattered around and with hardly a soul around, the sea shore was an epitome of serenity, a place that washes away all your materialistic worries and detoxes you and uplifts you spiritually. The noise of the sea crashing on to the shore, adds to the surreal experience. One could spend hours and hours together in the very lap of Mother Nature, far from the maddening crowds.

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The Tajpur Beach

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Sun, sand and serenity

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Fun on the run

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Detoxing effect

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A fisherman at his trade

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Toto-the electric rickshaw

Though we year marked a shack that offered food and drinks on the beach itself, the grumblings of the gastronomic variety forced us back to our temporary dwelling within the confines of Mallickaa resort. The resort provides the services of a Toto, an electric rickshaw for a charge, for guests who desire so but we walked our way back through the delightful wooded road.

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King sized-Breakfast

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ABC-Authentic Bengali Cuisine

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Up and close

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Crab Masala

At Mallickaa resort, the farm fresh vegetables, fish and poultry made our gastronomic indulgences even more satiating. For breakfast we had loochi (a fried Bengali bread made of flour), begun bhaja (fried brinjals) and aloor torkari (a potato dish). Lunch was an Authentic Bengali Cuisine affair with bhaat (rice), dal (lentils), aloo bhaja (fried potatoes), lau chingri (a prawn & bottle gourd dish), shorshe parshe ( mustard fish), chingri maacher malai curry (a prawn delicacy), topping it off with a nolane gurer rosogolla (a spongy sweet filled with jiggery). For dinner chicken korma (white gravied chicken dish), butter chicken, fried crab masala, dahi chicken (chicken in yogurt) and rotis (Indian bread) were the star attractions.

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The misty morning

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Dew drops from the foliage breaking the silence enroute to the beach

The next morning, after a good night’s sleep, we were off again to absorb the beauty of the Tajpur beach. It was a misty morning and that augmented the tranquil magnificence of the whole area. An overwhelming calmness reigned all over, periodically broken by dew drops sliding through the dense foliage making an eerie noise that got amplified in the hushed environment.

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Mist overpowering everything else

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Fog all around

The sea was hardly visible even from the shore. The fog and mist had truly embraced it in their bosoms. A biting cold wind swept through the large expanse of sand and sea. No animal was in sight let alone humans. Gradually, the sun started overpowering the prevailing murkiness. Resilient village folks started trickling out, doing their daily chores, facing the challenges that a brand new day had on offer for them.

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Resilient villagers trickling out

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Brown crab

Sea creatures too started coming out of their hiatus. Red crabs, brown crabs and other varieties of oceanic life forms could be spotted on the beach.

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Red Crab

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Sea Creature

Our explorations on the beach had made us hungry and we made our way back to our designated base camp, the shack that offered food and drinks.

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Food at The Shack

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A most pleasurable breakfast

Breakfast at the shack was a simple one but one which provided us with utmost pleasure. Loochi, aloo kopir torkari (potato with cauliflower), double egg omelet, sipping piping hot coffee, soaking in the visual gems that Mother Nature had on offer, ah life indeed was heavenly on that wonderful morning in December.

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Good things happen over a coffee

But as with all good things in life, our trip to Tajpur too came to its conclusion but not before we had energized ourselves and filled our minds with memories that we would be cherishing for life.

Wah-Taj!

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Bhilwara-The Textile Town of India

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Railway Station-Bhilwara

Railway Station-Bhilwara

About 165 kms away from Udaipur on the Chittorgarh-Ajmer-Jaipur highway lies, Bhilwara, the town made famous by the teeming textile mills that have resulted in it being bestowed with the epitaph the “Manchester of India”.

Tribal women on the roads of Bhilwara

Tribal women on the roads of Bhilwara

The origin of the name “Bhilwara” is obscure and there are many variants to why the town is called Bhilwara. But the most widely believed version is that once the town was inhabited primarily by the indigenous tribals of the region, the Bhils, who were subsequently vanquished by the settlers. In present day Bhilwara, the original citizens are a minuscule minority with the “Maheshwaris” and other business classes being the dominant groups.

The roads of Bhilwara

The roads of Bhilwara

On the whole the city, especially the older part, is quite well planned as most of the roads are connected to traffic roundabouts (“chourahas”) which further lead to more roundabouts and getting your way through the city is that much simpler.

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Chaos on the roads

But the traffic is chaotic and the traffic sense of the people even more so. You would be tempted to thank your stars even after conducting a basic thing like crossing the road, successfully.

Roundabouts of Bhilwara

Roundabouts of Bhilwara

Since, Bhilwara basically is an industrial and business town, the places of attraction in the city are few. One place that caught my fancy and is a wonderful place to visit if you are, even a little bit, religiously inclined and love serenity, is the temple of Harni Mahadev, a temple dedicated to the Hindu God of destruction, Lord Shiva.

The majestic outer entrance of the Harni Mahadev Temple-Bhilwara

The outer entrance gate of the Harni Mahadev Temple-Bhilwara

Located at a distance of around 6kms from the city in the village of Harni, the temple of Harni Mahadev is neither overwhelming nor awe-inspiring from the outside. In fact the entire temple complex is very simple and frugal in appearance. But lo, as you enter the main temple, the sight of the natural Shiva Linga beneath an uncut natural solid rock is a spectacle to behold and fills you with a religious fervor. The Linga of Mahadev has idols of the entire Shiva family for company and you could even bath the deities with water that is kept in buckets the sanctum of the temple.

The entrance to the main temple of Harni Mahadev

The entrance to the main temple of Harni Mahadev

 

The Shivalinga of Harni Mahadev beneath an uncut rock

The Shivalinga of Harni Mahadev beneath an uncut rock

Harni Mahadev is the ancestral temple of the Darak family of Bhilwara, who are one of the richest and most influential families of the textile city. The temple complex buzzes with devotees during Maha Shivaratri and “Sawan” month when more than 10 lac people visit the temple in 3 days.

A serpent shaped religious structure outside the Harni Mahadev temple

A serpent shaped religious structure outside the Harni Mahadev temple

Just outside the Harni Mahdev temple is a unique temple that is shaped in the form of a serpent around a Shiva Linga. This structure sure is an attraction of the place, especially for young kids.

Roadside non-veg joints near Railway station

Roadside non-veg joints near Railway station

Bhilwara could be a difficult place, if you are a carnivore by your eating habits. There are a very limited number of restaurants that serve you non-vegetarian dishes. Some roadside joints in the Muslim dominated area around the City railway station provide you with some delicious non-veg street food but if you are looking for some great non-vegetarian fine dining experience, you would be thoroughly disappointed. The roof top restaurant of Hotel Ranbanka is probably the only place where you could have decent food to satiate your carnivorous taste buds.

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But connoisseurs of vegetarian food are spoilt for choice in the textile city. Mughlai, Continental, Chinese, Indian, Fusion and street food, you name it and it is all available in Bhilwara. People throng street side stalls that sell katchoris, samosas, pakodis with kadi and also go to restaurants like Saffron that serve you multi-cuisine vegetarian dishes. Even a small shop near the city railway station that sells buttered buns and tea, is full round the clock. A neat swanky restaurant, again near the railway station by the unimaginative name PFC (Priya Food and Continental) and Amit Palace Hotel on the Ajmer Road has an amazing variety of Continental cuisine on offer besides the regular Indian fare.

A terrific fusion sizzler at PFC, Bhilwara

A terrific fusion sizzler at PFC, Bhilwara

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Delicious Indian fare at Saffron restaurant

After meals, if you like to munch on a betel leaf, popularly known as “paan”, then Bhilwara has a very special place on offer, the JBB Pan Corner. Here you can get a variety of Paans, that range from INR 15/- to a mind boggling INR 1500/- per piece.

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JBB Pan Corner near Bus Stand

Panratelist

The rate list- From Rs 15 to Rs 1500/-

All in all if you are a veggie, then Bhilwara sure could be a foodie’s paradise.

In a nutshell, the city of Bhilwara, in itself might not be very attractive at first look but it sure is a place that grows on you overtime…….

 

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)

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)