Sunday, December 8, 2013

Food Culture of Jammu : Introspection of My experience

Often, Jammu is discussed in context with pilgrimage to Vaishno Devi or a gateway to Kashmir. People don’t ‘travel’ to Jammu but it is like a pit stop. Thus, little is known about the main attractions of this city, forget about the food. Since I have the privilege of staying in Jammu for longer periods as it is my in law’s place, I can vouch for the extra-ordinary street food this Dogra stronghold has to offer.

Jammu is generally famous for its Rajma Chawal (Kidney beans curry with piping hot steamed rice). The kidney beans cultivated in the Bhaderwah region of Kashmir are supposed to be the best quality in the world. It is a no brainer that Rajma is an integral part of both Dogra and Kashmiri cuisine. There are various places across Jammu serving Rajma Chawal, but in my view, it is best served at home.

The original Dogra cuisine is actually very simple and is normally constituted of wheat, maize, pearl millet, rice and cereals and bears striking similarity with the Himachali cuisine (owing to sizeable Dogra population in HP). However, I could see a transformation in Jammu where the neighbouring Punjab has a lot of say, especially in the breakfast spread. The deep fried aloo tikkis, chole bhature are the preferred dishes now-a-days. Chowmein as the Chinese noodles are generally referred across North India is very much in vogue. Mahajan Namkeen and Sweets on Canal Road appears the first choice for people of Jammu

The street food of Jammu is probably the tastiest offering by this city for the gastronomical devouts. There is a sizeable spread to taste and should not cause any disappointment to the rookies also. ‘Kulcha’ is a very famous snack in Jammu which comes in various forms depending on the stuffing. So it could be aloo kulcha (potato), chole kulcha (chickpea), nutri kulcha (Soya Chunks). Kulcha (as in Jammu and other parts except Amritsar) is a round baker’s spread split open and warmed on flat pan, stuffed with chopped onions, tomatoes, green chutney (coriander and mint) along with the specific stuffing.
Kalari Kulcha in Making

The ‘King of The Jammu Street Food’ is the famous ‘Kalari Kulcha’. The stuffing is made from the awesome Kalari Cheese (known as Maish Krej in Kashmir) is an exclusive cheese available only in J&K and to quote once again ‘it beats mozzarella by miles’ and is a ‘die if you miss’ kind of dish. My favourite place is the guy who dishes out these Kulchas in Ladies Market in front of Taj Boutique in Kacchi Chavani area. There is another advantage to eat kulcha here that you get to see so many pretty faces. J

Kacchi Chavani area of Jammu is the den of street food. You get to taste everything from kulchas to tikkis to bhaturas to golgappas. You may also come across a unique item known as ‘Lachcha Kulfi’ here. The famous Malai Kulfi is served with noodles laced in rose syrup. It is a unique stuff but not out of the world, in my view. You can always resort to the safest option of lassi if you are not in a mood to experiment too much with your food.

Lachcha Kulfi

Along with the generic spread of snacks, Jammu offers something very unique. One of them is ‘Kachalu’. Kachalu are colocacia (arbi,arvi) corms sliced and diced and marinated with tangy spices. The texture of the bite is not smooth but slightly grainy and is probably similar to the ‘Garadu’ which is available in Indore at Sarafa Bazaar during winters.  Girdhari Kachaluwala in Kachchi Chaavani is supposed to dish wonderful kachalus and fruit chaats. ‘Masala Mooli’ is a delectable dish made of baby white radishes sprinkled with right amount of spices. Wonderful example of zingy and tangy combination!  

Arrival of Kashmiri Pandits in early 90’s have also added another dimension to Jammu’s food culture. Though generally restricted to Kashmiri people, the cuisine can be easily accessed by being guest in a kashmiri home or attending kashmiri wedding. Dum aloo, red and yellow paneer, tangy brinjals (chyok wangun), haakh (collard greens) and monje haakh (kohl rabi) are the recipes one must try. Kashmiris love to have baker’s bread for their breakfast and hence, every Kashmiri colony has one traditional bakery known as ‘Kaandar’. The traditional breads like gyevchot, katlam, tyel woru, kulcha (this is different) go wonderfully well with the sweet milky tea or the salty pink tea. And since I have mentioned about tea, the discussion would never be complete without mentioning my most favourite tea, Kahwa, the wonderfully aromatic clear green tea with bits of dry fruits.
Gyevchot Bread with Sweet Tea

As with most of the hilly areas in North India, momo is a very popular snack item here. Steamed momos are the packets of fine flour filled with grated vegetables (or chicken) and served with pungent chutney and steaming soup. It is a must experience on cold windy evening in Jammu, especially in the outskirts.

Jammu has few swanky restaurants like Falak in Raghunath Bazar area. But they actually don’t represent the food culture of Jammu. Jammu is rather epitomized by the bustling streets and the food available on these streets and in the homes on people in Jammu.  Jammu is also known as the City of Temples and hence, the religious factor has somehow augured well with the vegetarian quotient here. There are pockets in Jammu for non-veg  delicacies but I am not an authority on it. But the veg spread is droolicious. Bon appétit!

Jammu is well connected by road, railways and airways. Personal suggestion is to go by road or train, especially the long journeys.  Best time is to visit during winters i.e. November to February where the food can be enjoyed to fullest terms. Jammu has an array of hotels and lodging arrangement due to its importance as pilgrimage point as well as pit stop for Kashmir. Area around Raghunath Bazaar offers good accommodation at reasonable prices. 

This blog was published as a featured story on the website of The Alternative. Following is the link to the URL :

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Spiritual Aspect of Gastronomy!

By the time you are finished with reading this blog, you may have started enjoying food in a different manner. I can assure that this blog will lead to ‘Salivation’ than ‘Salvation’. I have a different take on the overall aspect of ‘enjoying food and but also come out with a guilty frame of mind, most of the people face after eating their heart out’. The friction starts there and believe it or not, it starts to get accumulated in the form of fat/calories. The more the friction the higher the calories are!

I had been reading a lot in the newspapers (or read ‘tabloids’) regarding the ill effect of certain food e.g. Cheese.  Cheese is sometimes referred as deadly as an assassin and next day, the same tabloid publishes a note on why one should eat cheese regularly to stay healthy. So you don’t know whether to blame yourself or the cheese or that sucker tabloid. Most of the time, you end up blaming yourself or the cheese or mostly..CHEESE!

And there are some research fellows who are writing a thesis on how fast food craving is almost similar to drug addiction. They have come to a conclusion that thinking about fast food activates the similar centres in brain which are generally associated with triggering the addiction of drugs. I insist that addiction for food is not caused by food but by the person consuming it. And FYI, there is an addiction of God also. They keep on chanting 24X7 and expect miracles to happen. I have also come across many people who insist that they eat to live and not live to eat.

First things first. What my experience says – Never blame your food for your ill health. You are consciously accepting what to eat. And even after this if you have nothing but to blame food, you are doing an injustice to it. From here only the unfair treatment of the food starts. Your body decides to not digest it properly. It blames it. It says the food is heavy and is hindering the digestion. This slows the metabolism. And slower metabolism rate means deposition of fat at various organs in your body. Then how food is culprit here?

In general, we see many a people seeking spirituality, trying to be as close as possible to God, seeking inner peace. Most of them attend spiritual camps to cut themselves from the mundane (and essentially ruthless) chores. That particular retreat refreshes them, charges them up so that they can survive the battle for a typical time cycle. Some go a step ahead. They accept a typical order to attain higher spiritual level, dedicate a lot of time for meditation and yet, are part of the family. Some (and almost all sages) leave everything what they have and embark a journey to find themselves which ultimately culminates into finding GOD sometimes.

In a nutshell, you have to work hard to be closer to God. I mean that is the impression we get from the so called ‘learned ’ people. However, I have never heard of God quoting “You will have to go through tough situations to see me. I will test you. I will take you to the cliff. I will torture you and if you pass the ‘examination’ then only I will appear” Is God that tough to people who wish to experience him? Will he purposely make them go through penance? I have my doubts. Perhaps, a simple and honest act can get you far closer to God than the unruly penance can take and that too in less time.

So why am I talking about being closer to God? May be, the following case makes sense for the topic. Consider any moment from the past when you were hungry. Seriously hungry! You wanted something to eat. It didn’t matter what. You were not in a position to define if you needed Italian, Chinese, French, Mediterranean, Punjabi etc . And all you got was simple bread (Roti in Indian context) and vegetable (Sabzi) and it must have tested far better than the ‘most awesome cuisine’ you had till date. Eureka! My dear friend, you had experienced God. Experience of God is the experience of fulfillment, experience of joy and experience of gratitude. It comes in many forms. And food is one of them.

Food is a basic need of any living being. It thrives on it. And it is probably the simplest way of being in touch with God everyday (if you wish to)! There could be nothing as joyful as you enjoying a morsel of food when you are hungry. The sense of fulfillment and joy certainly takes you near to God. Hunger is the penance. I am not trying to write ‘A Lazy Man’s Guide To Seek God’ but what is the problem if there are simpler ways to be happy and grateful. You don’t have to go all the way to Himalaya for that!!

Few of you may argue that many communities across the globe have the practice of saying prayer before starting lunch/dinner. Saying prayer and experiencing fulfillment are different things. Further, saying prayer has become a mechanical ritual. In my school days, I used to be so eager to finish the prayer so that I can open my tiffin and start eating the food. More or less the same case across the globe.  Few must be doing this very dedicatedly but is all right if you do that after finishing your food. It will have more element.

And finally small note on a tribe of people who call food ‘s**t’ when they don’t like it. Okay, I understand your outrage but referring food in that manner is complete disrespect and not acceptable in any terms. There are millions on this planet who don’t get to anything to eat for days and they are ready to eat anything. Think for a moment about them before you disrespect food. And yes, please finish the portions in your plate. If you can’t finish then please don’t serve yourself with that much quantity. You will be doing a lot of favour to the whole mankind!

So, in a nutshell…it’s easy!!! Love your food, love the person who cooks food for you, appreciate, say thanks and just enjoy it!!! J     

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Two and Half Hours in Mussoorie

Statutory Warning – This is a blog regarding my experiences for the time I was there in Mussoorie and mostly contains the review of food served at a famous oriental eatery called ‘Kalsang’. This blog is not about the tips about what to do, where to eat, what to see in 2.5 hours in Mussoorie. Oh yes, this is the right time…turn back…and read some useful stuff. What follows is a story of how a dream to spend a whole day (yes that’s when the daylight is prominent) went awry and was shrunk to 2.5 hrs (thankfully, in the daylight!)

So the Google Maps say that the distance from Haridwar to Mussoorie is merely 80.7 km and can be covered comfortably in 1 hour 49 minutes. For me, what matters is the distance, you can’t calculate time (on the contrary time calculates you!) Did somebody say….. time= distance/average speed? So stationed at Haridwar in the second week of April of 2012, I was contemplating about doing a day trip to Mussoorie. Since there are regular bus services from Haridwar to Deharadun and from Dehardun to Mussoorie, I was expecting myself to reach Mussoorie in 3 hours (base case scenario).

I don’t remember what went wrong…but I started late. I was waiting outside Shanti Kunj in the outskirts of Haridwar towards Rajaji National Park. So things start turning hostile when you mess up with them. I started late and now, I was waiting for the bus to arrive for more than half an hour. Finally, I got the bus at around 11.15 am and reached ISBT Deharadun at 12.45 am. There I was enlightened about the buses for Mussoorie departing from the bus stand at Railway Station, hain? So I hurriedly caught a 6 seater auto to reach the Deharadun Railway station (It was already 1.15 pm! L)

Thankfully, as I reached the bus stand, a bus to Mussoorie was ready (read as it was standing there with the signboard ‘Deharadun to Mussoorie’). I got the tickets and took my seat. I didn’t see a kitty crossing my road but still there was more than a half an hour delay (or right time?) to start the bus. But the only thing which was comforting me was the distance- mere 30 km. It was about 2 pm and somebody sitting behind my seat roared while having conversation with a fellow passenger “No doubt! We will not reach Mussoorie before 3.30 pm!” What??? 1.5 hrs to cover 30 km distance? I was almost in tears. I was hungry!

Finally, the driver of the bus arrived. I don’t remember how he looked but he was almost an angel who had transformed from a Satan I was cursing few minutes ago. After covering few kilometers briskly on the plain and well maintained roads of Deharadun, I had started doubting the ‘backseater’s’ claim.  But as our bus started ascending on the hilly road, I knew that the claim was right. However, the air turned cooler and as we kept on elevating the vistas were turning more beautiful. (Na na…not breathtaking..for that you have to be face to face with The Himalayas and that I experienced next day itself at Deoria Taal near Ukhimath!) So our bus came to halt at Mussoorie bus stand at 3.30 pm. My base case scenario had gone for a complete toss.

Look at the number of cars (visitors) even on a weekday  in Mussoorie and also, the Anand Bhojanalay near Bus Stand

Relieved, I finally CLIMBED to the Mall Road. Every other hill station in North India has a Mall Road, the busiest street and probably, the most avoidable during peak seasons (Actually I give you a good advice – AVOID POPULAR HILL STATONS DURING PEAK SEASONS!!!) Mussoorie though is referred as the queen of the hill stations. Thankfully, it was not a peak season and very few rumblings were happening on the mall road. A wedding celebration was going on in a nearby cultural hall. I couldn’t make it which wedding it was! It sounded like Nepali wedding with the song being sung there. It was about 4 PM and I had nothing since morning. L I earlier thought of visiting Chic Chocolates on Mall Road but skipped it and proceeded for Kalsang at the far end of the Mall Road (I had to hire a rickshaw puller as I was too tired to walk all the way!)

Kalsang is a very famous oriental (read Tibetan) eatery in Mussoorie and has got a tremendous patronage. The dekko oozes all oriental stuff. The red lanterns, crimson interiors as well as exteriors and the staff dressed in red mandarin suits assure that you are entering a genuine oriental eatery. As soon as I settled on the table, I was presented with a menu card with quite an elaborate menu. I actually had not thought about ordering specific stuff but was intrigued by my earlier day’s visit to Clement Town in Deharadun where most of the Tibetan restaurants serving Thukpa and Momos.

After flipping through the Chinese menu, I came across Tibetan menu. Well, for me, any day Tibet wins over China in any aspect. I had been to Namgyal Monastery in McLeodganj (HP) and have watched ‘Seven Years In Tibet’.  A wide smile on my face as both thukpa and momos were available. I ordered (as usual) veg versions of both these dishes and told the waiter that I would order main course after a while. He gave me a smile and told me that my order would be sufficient to fill the guts. Trust me, I am a foodie with serious appetite but this bowled me over. But I didn’t stop there. Let me elaborate!

Thukpa is a thick noddle soup along with lot of veggies (and yes meat too in the original format..happy?) If you ask me to nominate the soup I would like to have any day, there is no competition to Thukpa. Amazingly delicious, kindles almost all your taste buds on the tongue, the aromatic waft makes all the gastric juices ooze at the same time, the portion is very filling and a person with average appetite may even struggle to finish the bowl. Thukpa took my breathe (and my hunger) away!
God Bless You, Tibet! What an awesome Thukpa is this!

However, I couldn’t do any injustice to the momos which were served while I was enjoying Thukpa. Momos are the packets made of fine flour enclosing finely chopped veggies (for me) and meat (again in the original format!) and are steamed to perfection. Served with a tantalizingly pungent red dip/chutney, it tastes like jackpot. I mean your eyes roll to appreciate the taste. Nine momos served with finely chopped cabbage disappeared one by one from my plate. The waiter might have started regretting about suggesting to limit my order. He He! J

Veg Momos with delicious dip!

How a lunch could be complete without a dessert? Honestly, I don’t remember the name but I certainly remember the taste! J A huge block of vanilla ice cream supported at four corners by four extremely delectable banana fritters (banana pakoras) with white sesame on the outer layer of the fritters. Enough it was! I took out my pen and wrote a wonderful thanking note on it! Hopefully you’ll find it on the table just near the kitchen!  

The unusual dessert made of vanilla ice cream, bananas and white sesame! Yummilicious!

Now, it was 4.45 pm. I decided to walk the entire stretch of Mall Road to digest the heavy stuff. The air was crisp and cool. The Mall Road literally looked deserted. I sat on one of the bench alongside the road inhaling the beauty of the valley and the distant hills. It was time. I had to catch the bus to Deharadun at 6 pm. Luckily this bus left on time. J

Though the start of the day had been messy and almost squeezed my patience out of me, I was happy that I got to spend at least 2.5 hours in Mussoorie (and I got to eat the best Tibetan dishes I had till date J). Life loves you. Don’t worry! Even if the start is frustrating, you’ll be rewarded with one of the finest things you couldn’t have imagined. My belief in this became stronger after spending 2.5 hours in Mussoorie! 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Revisiting The Images of Krishna

“Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya Glanirbhavatibharata Abhyuthhanam Adharmasya Tadatmanam Srijamyaham Paritranay Sadhunam Vinashay Cha Dushkritam Dharm Sansthapanarthaay Sambhavami Yuge Yuge!”
"Whenever there is decay of righteousness O, Bharat! And a rise of unrighteousness then I manifest myself. For the protection of the good, for the destruc­tion of the evil and for the establishment of righteousness, I am born in every age”

If I have come across any popular verse from the Hindu scriptures since my childhood, it has to be this from the famous ‘Bhagvad Geeta’. It is believed that Lord Krishna himself narrated all the verses to Arjuna during the epic war of Mahabharata. I had seen the posters depicting these verses in Devnagari script with the background of Krishna in his Vishwaroop (The Universal Form) in the very battleground of Kurukshetra and Arjuna bowing to him. The posters came in all shapes and sizes, a fit for almost every household. I am although talking about the late 80’s and early 90’s

I am just trying to rekindle those memories and pondering if it influenced any of my actions and what I am today. The television was introduced to India in early 80’s. To own a television (though monochrome) was a matter of prestige. There was only one channel being aired i.e. Doordarshan (or DD in short), the Indian public service broadcaster which started its service in 1982. In the late 80’s the whole population of India was smitten by Ramanand Sagar’s Ramayan (the television adoption of the epic, Ramayan). People were dazed by this series and almost went into depression when it was concluded in July 1988. The extravagant ‘Mahabharata’ series came to the rescue of public in October 1988. And guess who the show stealer – Nitish Bharadwaj as Krishna!

Krishna remains the most glamorous incarnation of Lord Vishnu as per the Hindu mythology. None of his incarnations are as detailed as Krishna. Almost every detail is noted from his birth, the toddler stage, adolescent stage, the youth and becoming the King of Dwaraka. In India, almost every child is related to Krishna. At least when I was kid, I used to see many parents loving to get their kids clicked as Krishna in any nearby local photo studio.

I was also impressed equally by Krishna. I found it difficult to imitate Rama as I thought that he always carried his bow and arrows wherever he went. Krishna was easy to imitate. Just take a handkerchief, tie it around your skull and adjust the peacock feather in the hanky. You are Krishna. Uhh…don’t bother about your wardrobe.. wearing a t-shirt with “SPORTS” printed on it and an elastic short is perfectly alright. It is the peacock feather which adds glamour! I used to flaunt it almost for the whole day wandering in my locality. This gave me momentary popularity to be forgotten next moment.

Krishna though was quite a contrast to his predecessor incarnation Rama.  Rama was considered to be a perfect gentleman (Maryada Purushottam). He grew up as an obedient child, went to gurukul for acquiring knowledge, married to Seeta,respected his step mother’s wish and gave up the kingdom of Ayodhya and went into exile in forest, went in search for miles for his kidnapped wife, waged a war on the mighty kingdom of Lanka and the king Ravan and after returning to Ayodhya,finally gave up his wife since the people questioned her fidelity. In a nutshell, it is difficult to relate any of us to Rama and hence, personally, I don’t find him worth following.

Krishna is altogether a different character. Krishna was a naughty kid. He used to steal milk products (say curd, milk, butter…no cheese) from the households in Vrindavan along with his friends. . He was KNOWING everything. He used to pass time with the herd in the meadows on the banks of Yamuna river and is considered to be a master of playing flute. And everybody just loved listening to him…including many girls in the locality! There is also a reference of Krishna stealing clothes of the women who were bathing in the Yamuna river.

Suddenly every youth relates himself to Krishna. Some go to the extent that if Krishna could do that why can’t we? Remember the rhyme? – “Raas Leela” and “Character Dheela”! Further, visibility of Krishna is much higher than any other God. (Of course, nobody can beat the God of the Gods, Shiva in the visibility and follower context in India) The organizations like ISKCON had taken the visibility of Krishna to another level and hence, Krishna has a huge following even in the foreign countries.

Generally, Lord Vishnu’s two incarnations, Ram and Krishna are very popular compared to others. Ram was a very straightforward person and was stuck to his principles. On the other hand, Krishna was extremely strategic in thinking. Hence, it is generally believed that Ramayana is a good read but is the ‘Bhagvad Geeta’ which is applicable to day to day life, even to the corporate world. While Ram was a one woman man, Krishna had 16,108 wives. A common man may experience perpetual vertigo if he’s informed that he has 16,108 wives. Although 16,108 technically, Krishna actually had 8 princely wives (“Even this is a daunting number” – Common Man) and this reincarnation of Vishnu is believed to be present with all his princely wives at any given time. This is Godly!

I think we can find multiple references of Krishna and the discussion will go on. I particularly used the word ‘Images’ of Krishna instead of Krishna. Because whatever I have learnt, heard, understood thought is about the image of this God. I don’t know if he existed in Vrindavan, Gokul, Mathura. I don’t know if he was on Pandava’s side during Mahabharat and charioted Arjuna during the epic war. I don’t know if he married 16,108 girls and never sure that this epic incarnation ended with a tragedy. But yes, the images are fascinating, awe-inspiring, thought provoking….and hence this write up. J

Disclaimer - Trust nobody’s sentiments are hurt as everything written here is unintentional and a result of Brownian motion of my mind.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Amritsar - Kesar da Dhaba, Famous Kulche and Kanha Sweets

As I mentioned in the first part on Amritsar’s food, going easy on stomach by just having creamy lassi at Ahuja Milk Centre and having food at the langar of Harmandar Sahib helped me reverting and I was all set to visit the most legendary food institutions in Amritsar. It is said about Amritsar that 50% of the population is busy eating something (of course laced with desi ghee or/and butter) and the rest of the populations is busy preparing the stuff for the earlier category at any given moment. J I can vouch for this. I had sifted through narrow lanes of Amritsar for the best of the culinary experiences and all I could relate my memory is with the waft of something being deeply fried in the desi ghee (the clarified butter). The air in Amritsar is so thick with this palpable aroma.

Kulchas are the specialty of Amritsar. This is the kulcha land. Honestly, I had a different impression of kulchas before stumbling upon the ambrosia version served in Amritsar. The typical chole kulcha, nutri kulcha or even my personal favorite kalari kulcha of Jammu incorporates a typical baker’s bread as kulcha. Similar to the ‘pav’ in the ‘Vada Pav’ which the Mumbaikars and rest of the Maharashtrians enjoy in any season (Please note the discrimination of Mumbai and Rest of Maharashtra!). So I had thought that kulcha was just a north Indian adaptation of a typical baker’s bread. That concept hit a rock bottom when I had ordered a kulcha (it had a prefix ‘Amritsari’) in a famous suburban Mumbai restaurant (okay, hint - Sion). When it arrived on the table, I couldn’t stop laughing. The kulcha was as thin as masala dosa JJJ Let’s come back to Amritsar now..

My food destination for the lunch on that day was …hold your breath.. “All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha”. Situated on the upmarket Maqbool Road opposite the police post, this institution is thronged by patrons even on a weekday. Luckily, I got a seat as soon as I reached there. You need not order specifically here. If you are seating there, it means all you want to eat are the divine kulchas served with chana (chick pea) preparation and salad made of spring onions and green chilies in tangy tamarind gravy. It is difficult to elaborate the experience. The kulchas are thick with the generous stuffing of potatoes, chilies and other spices in the multilayer dough preparation and the tandoor roasts every layer to a tantalizing level of crispiness due to the ghee used. It is generally served with generous amount of home made white butter which melts by the time the kulcha reaches you giving it a glistening appearance. Now eat… The kulcha can be enjoyed with chana preparation and salad separately. However, I saw a gentleman sitting next to me mixing both chana and the salad. I also followed the same procedure and it tasted divine. My gastric juices were on fire merely with the sight of kulchas and I finished 3 kulchas at a go. I had heard the owner of this restaurant saying that generally even a person with heavy appetite finds it difficult to go beyond 3 kulchas. I had achieved the feat.

All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha... 10/10 in Taste!!!
‘All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha’ is a purist’s den. The food is the experience. The seating arrangement is very basic and common houseflies may test your patience. Your ideas of décor and upholstery will go for a toss here. But hello…the kulcha is available for just 25 bucks! Beat that! I tried to strike a conversation with the smiling but very shy Mr. Shucha Singh who is the owner of the restaurant and all I could get was a gesture of gratitude. Well..Sir, I am the one who is indebted that you allowed me to have such a wonderful experience! Please don’t miss this place if in Amritsar even for few hours and you’ll be indebted to me! J

All India Famous Amritsari Kulcha, Maqbool Road, Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 5/10  Service – 10/10  VFM – 10/10

A special mention for the Maqbool Road area. I was amused by the size of the bungalows on this road. I am rather more amused by the size of the gardens these people are maintaining in front of their bungalows. And it is not a case for few. There is a 100% hit rate for this kind of arrangement on Maqbool Road. Extreme opulence but still very very adorable. Lahore is just 50 km away…

Food at ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ in Amritsar is the only way you may claim that your trip to Amritsar was complete. Dinner is always an exquisite event and if in Amritsar then make it sure that you are at Chowk Passian (now being called as ‘Chowk Passion’…see what food can do to places!) to have the best of the Pujabi food at the legendary ‘Kesar da Dhaba’. However, before going to the dinner, it was inevitable to pay respect to the legendary lassi at Ahuja. J I again went there and drank the full glass of lassi with utmost satisfaction.

I anyways have found a very effective method of building appetites for exquisite stuff. I always walk for long distances. So for ‘Kesar da Dhaba’, I decided to walk all the way from Beri Gate to my hotel and whoa, again from my hotel (near ISBT) to Chowk Passian. It took almost an hour to reach ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ and meanwhile as expected, my stomach had started secreting enough gastric juice. It was a Friday night and though the weekend culture is yet to make roads to these cities but still ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ was overflowing and supply demand theory had gone for a toss. The people who had come in large groups were waiting with lot of hope in their eyes and lot of hunger in their bellies.

A solo traveler always has an advantage. He/she never has to wait. I made a seamless entry in that tradition (let us not call it a restaurant!) A group of four had just settled on a table and I sneaked in as the 5th on the table. Being a research analyst by profession brings this research dimension to every perspective of life. How could I let the food stay away? I knew what I wanted to have at ‘Kesar’. My order was like this – lachcha paratha, daal (may God be with you miss this and may a digestive be with you if you finish this!), palak paneer and baingan bharta. First came that heavy stainless steel plate with all the ordered stuff except paratha. The waiter soon got my lachcha paratha tossing all the way from the kitchen on his hands. I fell in love with that paratha. Feels like God’s own creation.

The awesome spread at 'Kesar da Dhaba'..the poor tissue paper serves no purpose! :)
The daal at Kesar has turned into a phenomenon. The heavenly taste coming from the slow cooking for arduous hours with the best of the ingredients takes your culinary experience to new level. The bowl serving daal is generally bigger than others. It takes mighty effort to finish that daal and I couldn’t finish it. The baingan bharta though captures your taste with the insane amount of ghee floating in the bowl and it is not obnoxious. Palak paneer is a very different preparation than the rest of India. For me, lachcha paratha takes pole position followed by daal and baingan bhartaa. I finished three lachcha parathas and the waiter told me that it was a commendable effort. J Well, needless to say I came back to my hotel walking all the way from the ‘Kesar da Dhaba’ and how I am feeling the pang in my stomach again so that I can go and devour all the specialties there again!

Kesar da Dhaba, Chauk Passian (Passion), Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 6/10  Service -10/10 VFM – 8/10

The next morning I went to try the typical Amritsari breakfast at Kanha Sweets on Lawrence Road. This shop is exactly opposite the Bijli Pahalwan Mandir. This place serves the interesting Puri Launji Thaali for breakfast. One giant masala poori is served with choley and aloo ki launji. I have had enough choley on my trip and I indeed loved the sweet and tangy Launji subzi. A glass of thick and creamy lassi to accompany completes the breakfast. Ambiance wise this eatery scores due to air conditioning.

Kannha Sweets, Opposite Bijli Pahalwan Mandir, Lawrence Road, Amritsar
Taste – 7/10  Ambiance – 8/10  Service – 8/10  VFM – 8/10

Thus, I completed the first phase of my dream trip and it is just a beginning. People have different ways of experiencing God. Some visit temples, some go to mosque, some attend masses on Sundays and some prostrate at Gurudwaras. If God exists for me then it is in every morsel I partake. Then every cook/chef who prepares great food is a messenger of God and the place which serves it is a temple. I probably get to taste great food whenever I wish to. This could be because of the respect I have for food. I have already admitted that I am insanely honest when it comes to talking/reading/writing about food. Trust you enjoyed my experiences with food. Wish to come up with new post soon! J Till then…Bon Appétit!

P.S. Being a veggie, I couldn’t produce any details about the non-veg food but places like ‘Beera Chicken’ and ‘Makhan Fish’ are the places my carnivorous friends would definitely relish. J   

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Amritsar - The Food Capital of Punjab

Started in the morning at 9.30 am from Jalandhar to Amritsar with a slightly disturbed digestive system. The highway to Amritsar is a typical Punjabi set up with lush green fertile land with fields extending till horizon. Small hamlets popping up every 10 odd kilometer with the impeccable white glistening Gurudwaras and the houses of flamboyant Sikhs with the water tank essentially shaped as a football or a falcon. Falcon is an important bird associated with Sikhism. Remember the lines? “Chidiya naal je Baaz ladawaan taan Gobind Singh naam dharavaan” You are not an Indian if the Punjabi culture doesn’t impress you!

Mustard Fileds - The Essential Yash Chopra Movie Ingredients
Thanks to the Bollywood and Doordarshan, I have been hearing about these names since childhood – Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jalandhar, Phagwara and how I was there! The verdant green fields, the fertile land, fresh air and the lively attitude of people immortalized by these lines ‘Khao, piyo te aish karo mitro’ makes your trip worth. Punjab as such doesn’t appear on Indian map as a tourist destination. But almost everybody in India knows that life flows in full fervor here. Find a Punjabi friend who has a house in the countryside of the rustic Punjab and you will know why Yash Chopra was so obsessed with painting his films yellow with the fields of sarason (mustard)

I had been to Amritsar three years ago but it was a very breezy encounter. I had approached the city from the endearingly beautiful Dalhousie in HP. Didn’t get time to pay respect to Harmandar Sahib and horror of horrors…didn’t get good food to eat. I left that day with a sunken heart and had decided to return with full vigour. And after 3 years, there I was with 3 days at disposal and a big list of eateries to sink my teeth and my heart too.

I spent the whole afternoon resting and essentially giving rest to my guts who had revolted earlier night. They had faced the onslaught continuously for 3 days and needed a break. The revolt was so bad that I had become slightly doubtful about my plan in Amritsar. But still I had faith in myself and was expecting a quick recovery.

In the evening, I finally decided to go ahead with the planned itinerary. I was still not feeling any pang in my stomach even though I had skipped my breakfast and lunch on that day. I said to myself – a milk should not worsen the condition and besides, what are you doing if you are in Amritsar and haven’t had the lassi at Ahuja Milk Centre!!! It was a no brainer. I hired an auto and asked him to drive all the way to the Hindu Mahasabha College near Beri Gate. Ahuja Lassi is famous since the auto guy dropped me exactly in front of this shop.

Lassi is thick creamy drink made from yogurt and sugar especially popular in the northern region of India. Lassi in Punjab is legend and that too in Amritsar..then it has to be Ahuja Lassi! I love lassi and have tasted it at few places. I have to say that by far this is the best lassi I ever got to drink. Since 1955 if somebody hasn’t gone wrong with his main product then it is least likely that he’ll go wrong today. The graceful and lanky Mr. Ahuja oversees all the preparations and is sure about maintaining the quality. The lassi is served since morning 7 am to 12 noon (because it is finished J) and the second phase starts at 5 pm. You gotta be there on time!

The original form of lassi remains the best in my view. It has simple ingredients of yogurt and sugar. Now it is being modified by adding fruit pulps and dubbing as mango lassi, strawberry lassi etc etc. I have also tried the famous ‘makhaniya’ lassi  at Janata Sweet Home in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. But honestly, Ahuja scores ahead of all the lassis. Every glass of lassi here comes with a dollop of cream. What a start to my food exploration in Amritsar! I managed to strike a conversation with Mr. Ahuja telling him that I had been travelling through Punjab for tasting food and heard a lot about his lassi especially from Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma. He was mighty pleased to hear that and lo and behold…I got an extra dollop of cream on my lassi. My stomach never regretted from this point onwards!

P.S. Some people especially from Mumbai or Pune region may come up with suggestion for the best lassi they have had in their own areas. Thanks in advance for your valuable inputs!

Ahuja Lassi, Near Hindu Mahasabha College, Beri Gate, Amritsar
Taste – 10/10  Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 8/10 Value for Money – 10/10 (INR 25 for this fab lassi!)

My next destination was the Harmandir Sahib or popularly known as the Golden Temple. Since I had stomach full of lassi for the evening, I decided to pay my respect to this wonderful temple late in the night. To build up the appetite, I decided to walk to the Golden Temple through the almost deserted roads at 10.30 pm in the night. As I started nearing the temple, the commotion started increasing. Even at that point of time there was sizeable number of devotees visiting the temple but I guess most of them were done with paying their respect.

The Harmandir Sahib
As I entered the complex, I was enthralled by the beautiful view of the temple at night. The Harmandir Sahib was glistening in the golden hue and it was reflecting in the calm waters of the surrounding lake. The place was peaceful with minimal amount of visitors. After paying respect to Harmadir Sahib, I sat on the banks of the lake trying to grasp the tranquility of the surreal atmosphere.

After spending some time sitting quietly, I made my way to the famous Langar of the Harmandir Sahib. Langar is the term used in the Sikh religion or in Punjab in general for common kitchen/canteen where food is served in a Gurudwara to all the visitors (without distinction of background) for free. This particular langar feeds almost 70 k to 1 lac people in a day. There is no discrimination - no poor, no rich, no Sikh, no non-Sikh, no Indian, no foreigner. All are equal and they sit together to be served by the volunteers of the Harmandir Sahib, right from the distribution of utensils, serving the food and washing of the utensils. That is the ‘kar sevaa’ offered by the devotees here.

Langar at The Harmandir Sahib
I went and sat in the row with my utensils. Soon the sabzi and daal were served and then came the roti. I first extended my right hand to accept the roti. I was promptly told that I should be accepting the roti with both my hands as what I am getting is the holy offering. Honestly, it was such a simple meal yet so delicious. I enjoyed every morsel. However, I didn’t like the attitude of many people enjoying free food. They take everything for granted and leave so much of food in the plate. That’s disgraceful. If you respect God then have respect for food in your plate also. Many a times God must be meeting you when you are hungry and you eat the first morsel. Don’t dishonor that meeting!

The sabzi was a simple potato preparation with minimum spices and daal was the legendary kaali daal with ample amount of garlic giving it a sharp taste. The rice kheer (rice pudding) was delicious. I also found the mechanical water dispenser very interesting as it didn’t have any human intervention maintaining hygiene. In fact, the whole premise of the Harmandir Sahib is impeccably clean and you indeed feel like visiting a holy place.

Rocky Singh put his verdict for the food at Golden Temple in a very apt manner – “God bless you, who are we to pass verdict on this one”

My food journey in Amritsar had started on a fabulous note!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Punjab Food Trip - Exploring Ludhiana!

“There is no sincerer love than the love for food” – George Bernard Shaw

Punjabi Food holds a distinct place everywhere and also in the memories of a small town boy like me born in 80’s. The idea of luxury food was always synonymous with Punjabi Food as Chinese dishes were yet to be introduced everywhere. The ‘Palak Paneer’ (Cottage cheese in spinach paste) remains my (as well as for many) first encounter with Paneer. Paneer epitomizes Punjab and Punjab epitomizes Paneer. It always used to be a memorable affair to go to a famous local restaurant and feast on the ‘so called’ Punjabi dishes at least once in 3 months. Eating out itself was a luxury that time. While taking every bite, I always wondered that how Punjabis manage to cook this stuff and eat on daily basis. J Super myths! I always looked up and asked, “Why didn’t you send me to this world as Punjabi?” I don’t know but God must have smiled many a times and said, “My dear child, you are a born foodie. You will be in Punjab someday for the sake of food only!”

My love for Punjabi food kept on growing. As I travelled to bigger cities like Pune and Mumbai, I was introduced to the finer versions of this exquisite cuisine. In Pune, I realized that ‘Malai Kofta’ (Fried Cream nuggets in sweet and spicy gravy) is actually composed of ‘Malai’ and not potato. J Mumbai though a den of foodies have few restaurants offering authentic Punjabi cuisine. I loved the spread at ‘Urban Tadka’ and was also disappointed by the ‘Punjab Grill’. My first encounter with authentic Punjabi food happened in the heartland, just outside Delhi on Grand Trunk Road. “Gulshan Vaishno Dhaba” at Murthal is a fab eatery and I can anyday swear by their ‘Pyaaz Paratha’. However, it was just a chance encounter but it further fanned my desire to visit Punjab for enjoying the authentic spread.

Meanwhile, the Gods nicknamed Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma of “Highway on My Plate” were on rampage in the Northern Punjab region, devouring the best of the food and letting it out loudly. It was an awe-inspiring journey through the cities viz. Patiala, Ludhiana, Phagwara, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Pathankot. How I wished while seeing the show that I should also be following the same circuit for food. The dream remained untouched till March 2013. When I was contemplating for a long trip, Anita, my better half suggested me the wonderful idea of exploring Punjab for food. And I was left wondering that why it didn’t click to me. The timing was perfect, the winter was about to over.

Finally, the day arrived, I mean the night arrived. I boarded on the ‘Golden Temple Mail’ on 17th March 2013. The night sky was smiling at me with the wonderful formation of crescent moon and two stars. All the way I was dreaming about paneer, parathas, chole kulche, naan, bhature, kaali daal, gajarela, lassi and the insane amount of white butter added in almost every dish. Finally I reached the Ludhiana junction on the morning of 19th March at 2.45 am. Quite an odd hour! But yes… A solo food trip to Punjab and why, yes, it was happening!!!

Due to arrival at odd timings and thrill due to novelty factor of my food trip, it took a while to come to the terms and I slept at 4.30 a.m. This started my day late but there was no change in the schedule. I was staying at Hotel Maharaja near Clock Tower in the Bhadaur Market Area. Since it was a solo trip, I had all the flexibility to make it as frugal as possible. I got a shared auto from the main square to Apollo Hospital and then a private bus all the way to Doraha where my first food destination was located “New Zimindara Baba Neem Wala Dhaba” As I entered the dhaba, I saw only two patrons partaking lunch. 

New Zimindara Baba Neem Wala Dhaba, Doraha
Being true to the Punjabi dhaba culture, I first decided to sit on a ‘charpai’ but changed my mind and settled on a table. The menu was quickly rendered by the waiter while I asked him to hold on and pulled the ‘Highway On My Plate’ book from my sack to decide what to eat. The waiter was visibly surprised. The choice was simple – kadhai paneer and daal makhani with hot tandoori rotis to be washed down with a big jug of buttermilk! Though the daal was served with a big cube of yellow butter, for me, kadhai paneer was the clear winner. The wonderful spices cooked perfectly and absorbed by the luscious paneer and accompanied by crunchy bell peppers was an absolute delight.  

Kadhai Paneer and Daal Makhani
The daal makhani was subtly flavoured but honestly, I didn’t challenge my palettes. As a tradition, the ‘Zimindara Dhabas’ owned by Zimindars (landlords) in Punjab serve unlimited amount of buttermilk. After finishing the sumptuous lunch, I walked over to have a word with the gentleman owner of the dhaba.  He was impressed after learning that I was travelling through Punjab to taste the authenticity. He took down my number and promised to meet me whenever he comes to Mumbai. Guess this holds some prospects of getting discounts next time I visit his dhaba. Yeah!

New Zimindara Baba Neem Wala Dhaba,  Doraha, Near Ludhiana
Taste – 7/10 Ambiance – 6/10 Service – 9/10 Price – 8/10

I was fortunately staying at a very strategic place and didn’t have to make way to my preferred eateries in the evening through the unbelievably noisy and dusty roads of Ludhiana. These Ludhiana people are terrible honkers. Ludhiana is also supposed to have the maximum density of merc in India but that day, all I had seen were BMWs and Audis. Guess there is a change of taste for Ludhiane de Puttars!

Veg Menu @ Chawla Chicken :)
So my next target was – Chawla Restaurant famous for its chicken dishes. Now what a veggie like me has to do with this restaurant? So there are two Chawla restaurants in Bhadaur House area. I first entered the Veg Chawla restaurant and didn’t find ‘Chawla Special Creamy Paneer’. I asked the waiter and he blabbered all the dishes with paneer and insisted that all are ‘Creamy’. I got up, went to the manager and asked him for the address of the Chawla Restaurant I was looking for. I got the address. It was just a 5 minutes walking distance but helped to build my appetite more!

Chawala Chicken, as the name suggests is indeed a chicken eater’s heaven. It is in fact a take away station. However, I was not taking away anything, I settled at a sparse dining area available on the first floor. The order was no brainer – Chawla Special Cream Paneer with again, hot tandoori rotis. The Chawla Special Cream Paneer is the veg variant of their famous dish – Chawla  Special Cream Chicken. The paneer/chicken is cooked in a special assembly line only in milk and cream using special ingredients at different stages (the main spice being the black pepper) and uses no water at any stage. I found creamy paneer very interesting but not a spectacular one. But the combo of hot rotis, raw onion with green chutney and paneer in thick creamy gravy was indeed a gastronomical delight.

The famous 'Chawla Special Cream Paneer' with Tandoori Rotis

Chawla Chicken, Bhadaur House, Near Clock Tower, Ludhiana
Taste – 7/10  Ambiance – 5/10 Service – 6/10 Price – 7/10

Fruit Ice Cream, Basant Ice Cream
In the last stage for the search of best ice cream of Ludhaina, I landed at Basant Ice Cream. As a guy living in a metropolitan city, I believe that my taste for ice cream has undergone multifold changes. After having tasted Naturals, Baskin Robins, Move N Pick, Gelato and Cocoberry, it was unlikely that Basant Ice Cream would have casted a spell. Yes, it didn’t. Too sweet for my palette. Didn’t like it and somehow I was the only person sitting in the sprawling 2000 sq feet area trying to enjoy the famous (?) fruit ice cream!
The trip had started well! With the exception of ice cream, everything was up to mark! Oye, chak de phatte! J     

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bowing at The Top : Trek to Tungnath (The Highest Shiv Temple in the World)

Trek to the beautiful Tungnath Temple has always mesmerized me. I had been longing for my first encounter with the snow and it couldn’t have come better than in the form of the trek to Tungnath Temple and Chandrashila Peak. It didn’t take much time to decide upon the itinerary as I was in Haridwar at the time of scheduling and my friend, Ashish joined me from Mumbai after having an arduous journey in the air and on the rail tracks.

Deoria Taal and Chaukhamba
In the first phase, we explored the enchantingly beautiful Deoria Lake. Words were not sufficient to describe the beauty of this place. The mighty Chaukhamba peak with the fabulous Gangotri Range of the Himalaya reflecting in the calm waters of the Deoria Taal was one surreal experience. After spending a night at the Deoria Taal, we returned to Saari village by noon. A sumptuous Pahadi Lunch of rice, vegetables and special chutney filled our guts for our next project – Tungnath and Chandrashila!

For the uninitiated – Tungnath is the highest Lord Shiva temple in the world situated at an altitude of 12073 feet (3680 m). It is also part of the Panch Kedar group of temples dedicated to Lord Shiva. Chandrashila is the summit situated atop Tungnath at the height of 13000 feet.

As we drove from Saari village to Chopta, the drop in the temperature was obvious. An uphill drive in the dense forestation of the Kedarnath Wildlife Conservaory with the red and pink hues due to rhododendrons was a sight which was unforgettable. Garhwal is more beautiful than Kumaon and how I was experiencing that! Finally, we stopped at Chopta and started our trek for Tungnath and Chandrashila at 2.45 pm. It was late by any standards for the 5 km trek till Chandrashila .

Red hue of Buraansh, Chopta
The trek to Tungnath though is longer than Deoria Taal trek but it is not as arduous as the same. The well constructed pavement makes it little easy in the initial phase as you pass through the thickly forested area dotted with numerous trees of buraansh (Rhododendron). We could see many people coming down as they were about to finish their trek and myself and Ashish were the only souls who were climbing. I didn’t check but many of them must have had a bewildered look in their eyes.
Bugyal on the trek to Tungnath

I got the first glimpse of the snow lying by the pavement. It looked as if a carcass of dolphin has washed ashore. Not very best of the comparison but I was still elated. All around me were snow strands and not exactly the way I had expected. But was a heady combo of rhododendrons and snow that energized us to trek further as new dimensions of nature’s beauty were unveiling in front of us at every turn. The next turn and we were gawking at a beautiful bugyal guarded by barren hills on one side. It had started drizzling at that time and the atmosphere became magical.

The snow started to appear prominently and vegetation was getting less dense. The air temperature shifted from cool to cold. Frankly speaking, we were not so well equipped for the snow trek and the change in the weather was making it worse. The weather in the mountain is unpredictable. The clear weather by noon changed with dark clouds gathering in the sky and we could see that it was raining heavily at a distance on few hills. I was wearing a simple t-shirt, a pair of jeans and sweater as if I was strolling on the Mall Road of Mussoorie. Ashish was wearing his all time favourite UCLA jacket. All I could vouch for were my all weather shoes.

Snowy Trek, Tungnath
The vegetation had now almost vanished and we rested at the last full bloomed buraansh before we proceeded.  The pavement was lined by snow though we were yet to see the glimpse of Tungnath temple. 
All of a sudden a mild hailstorm approached us. The tiny small ice pellets landed on the exposed part of my hand giving me momentary numbness. I quickly wore the sweater I was just tying around my waist.  In the meanwhile, we met a newly married couple who were returning to base and generously offered their stick to navigate through the snow at the top. Other two locals who were coming down warned us of the bad weather (which we could see and experience).
Tungnath, village buried in snow!

As I mentioned that we were getting surprised at almost every turn which was unveiling the newer form of beauty. After braving the hailstorm, we reached the point where we could finally see the glimpse of Tungnath temple and the beautiful paved track with snow on either side. Due to the open space at the top, the wind was now blowing with lot of gust and it was chilling too. Me and Ashish were tired and hence took a 5 minute break and grabbed a chocolate bar. All we were praying for was to have a cup of piping hot tea when we reached the colony at Tungnath.
Not a single soul, Tungnath

Lo and behold…we reached the Tungnath village (actually it’s a small colony) and not a single soul was present there. The whole village was covered in 3-4 feet thick snow. The residents had shifted to the plains after the festival of Diwali and we could see why. All the doors locked. Thankfully, we heard somebody repairing a roof of a house there. We approached him and ask if we could get tea. He seemed least bothered and asked to continue to visit the temple. Disappointment! No tea! It was tricky to make way through the snow and the stick came handy. Thanks to that couple who insisted that we should carry the stick!

Tungnath and Parvati Temple, 12073 feet
Honestly, the only thing which looked divine in the vicinity was the Tungnath Temple otherwise the whole village had an eerie look. We proceeded to the temple. The newly constructed blue frame at the entrance has numerous bells hanging. I rang the biggest and whoa…the echo was in the atmosphere for at least a minute. That was one amazing experience with sound (Generally we attribute it to the BOSE sound systems! J) Ashish braved and removed his shoes to enter the temple which had snow everywhere and I followed the suit.

Tungnath is the most beautiful temple I have ever seen. Probably absence of human beings took this experience to different level. We could feel the cold surface but we were simply admiring the temple and the surrounding beauty. Built in a typical Garhwali style, where the smaller structure provides the entrance to the main sanctum sanctorum has a striking similarity to the Kedarnath Temple, the main temple of the Panch Kedar group. The doors of the temples (known as ‘kapaats’ locally) were closed and are scheduled to open in the second week of May 2013. We said our prayers. We took a while to sink in the peace and tranquility of the surrounding. However, the fading light and the numbing peak started to give us the signal.
Evening glory on return, Tungnath

Chandrashila was another 1 km trek, very steep and arduous. Time was not on our side.  It was 5.30 pm in the evening. The weather had just improved and the distant snow peaks of the Himalayas which were little invisible due to haze appeared clearly. I would love to postulate and time and again it has been proved “There is nothing as beautiful as the Himalayas in this world”. We decided to start our return journey with a promise to ourselves that we will soon be standing at Chandrashila.

Nothing as beautiful as Himalaya!
Luck was on our side. We spotted a movement up in the snow. A slightly bulky silhouette of a bird. It was joined by a similar bird and both hid beyond a rock covered with snow. I was surprised to find such a bird at this altitude. Then one of them took flight right in front of us and went on another side towards valley. From that height we could see the span of the fluorescent blue wings and the brown tail. We were amazed by the beauty of that bird which looked like peacock. We were also taken aback by its ability to fly steadily looking at the bulky size. We had found the state bird of Uttarakhand, The Himalayan Monal. Similar to the peacock family, this pheasant is found only at an altitude above 7000 feet and is endearingly beautiful.
Himalayan Mouse nibbling in the snow!

We were little slow in descending. The tiny and cute, Himalayan mice were braving us, sometimes posing well to click a good shot. In the last phase of our descent, we were in dark, walking through the forest alone. Finally, at 7.30 pm we reached the starting point of the trek and straightway headed to the hotel serving tea. The tea in this situation feels better than the heady mocktail for which you may end up spending 1000 bucks. And once you start wandering in the Himalayas (Upper and Greater) then you don’t need anything to get high. But one should remember that even at the summits you have something to bow to and we bowed at the top!