Finding Peace in McLeodganj (Little Tibet)

I fell in love with McLeodganj around two years ago, without visiting it even once. It was a book – David Michie’s The Dalai Lama’s Cat – that opened the world of Tibetans in India to me. When HHC (His Holiness’s Cat – the central character of the book) wobbled her way through the lovely hills, I imagined myself trailing on her paw-steps. I wondered about the pretty book cafes where she would perch herself on top of book shelves. The aromas that wafted from the kitchen of The Dalai Lama, would make me mentally re-create those fabulous meals.

So, it wasn’t a surprise that I planned a trip to McLeodganj when I had to accompany my sister to Shimla for some work. We had all of two days so we discounted trekking and site seeing and focused on the town, its people and the food. Continue reading

Where to eat in McLeodganj

Early this month I was in McLeodganj. I was accompanying my sister who was in Shimla for her exams and from there we traveled to McLeodganj to spend leisurely two days in Little Tibet. Two days clearly weren’t enough especially when I was working on this post; 3 days, 6 meals and a whole lot of places to cover. So we decided to walk around as much as possible and pack in small meals at various places. We were disappointed by a few – Tibetan Kitchen to be specific – and found a few on our own – Lhamo’s Croissants, the gem of a place. Here’s what I think are the must try places in McLeodganj. Continue reading

A Weekend In Ahmedabad

The year (2016) has started on a good note; I had a great Garhwali meal at Rushina’s APB Cook Studio (read all about it here) and went on my first ever solo trip. It might sound like a cliche, but travelling alone was liberating and I plan to do it more.

I went on a quick weekend trip to Ahmedabad, not a popular choice I know but I wanted to explore the city’s history along with the food. The city, originally named Karnavati, was renamed Ahmedabad after its ruler Ahmed Shah. The old city is divided into pols – housing clusters where you’ll find beautiful Maratha, Persian, Muslim and British architecture, 400 year old houses, ancient woodwork, temples and mosques.

The new parts of the city are as beautiful as the old ones and getting around is breezy. The auto rickshaws mostly never refuse and charge by meter. The best part, the city is safe for solo female travelers and you can roam freely late in the night.

Ahmedabad, one of the major cities in Gujarat, is easily accessible from Mumbai. There are regular trains, flights and buses; it’s difficult to get last minute train tickets so book in advance.

Here’s a list of things that I did, ate and bought.

Do:

  • Go for the Heritage Walk conducted every day in the old city. The walk starts at 8am from Swami Narayan Temple in Kalupur. The guide will take you around pols (the ancient residential areas of the city), temples and markets ending the walk at the famous Jumma Masjid. It’s the best way to get familiar to the city and learn about its history. Check out the details here. The walk is priced at Rs 50 for Indians and Rs 100 for foreigners.
  • Walk around the night market. Start with a cup of tea and bun maska at New Lucky Restaurant (the restaurant with the graveyard inside it), watch the sun set at Sidi Saiyad Ki Jali – mosque built in 1573 famous for its intricate lattice work, walk through the market starting from Lal Darwaza, via Bhatiyar Gully ending with dinner at Manek Chowk.
  • Visit Hussain-Doshi Ki Gufa and have a coffee at Zen Cafe. The cave is a modern structure which houses an art gallery. You’ll find paintings only when there’s an exhibition on so check before you go. You can still go there to sit and read under the shade of trees.
  • Catch a performance at the Darpan Academy of Performing Arts, the legendary theatre started by Mrinalini Sarabhai and now managed by her daughter Mallika Sarabhai.
  • Sabarmati Ashram to revive the history lessons on Gandhiji and his freedom struggle. Sit in the garden by the river, it’s peaceful. You can have a meal at Toran opposite the Ashram. I disn’t try it but had people recommending it.
  • Sarkhej Roza is a mosque and tomb complex around 7-8 kms from the main city. A large area is in ruins but is worth checking out. Go during sunset; the outer walls of the complex look beautiful bathed in the evening sun.
  • Utensils museum at Vishalla on Vasna Road. You can head there after visiting Sarkhej Roza. Vishalla is a village themed restaurant that serves Gujarati thali. I was slightly disappointed with the food but loved the museum; go for it if you love cooking and history. Honestly, skip the thali.
  • Dada Hari Ni Vav is a five storey stepwell built in 1500AD. The structure is beautiful and a photographer’s paradise.
  • Take a day trip to Modhera (98 kms) to see the ruins of the Sun Temple built by the Solanki kings. You’ll get an ST bus to Modhera from Gita Mandir bus station which will drop you at Modhera Chaukri. Take an auto rickshaw to the temple (another 25 kms inside) from there which charges Rs 400 for a round trip. Try to squeeze in Sidhpur and Patan too – both heritage towns. You’ll get a bus to both the towns from Modhera.
  • Go to a kitli – chai shop (they’re all over the city) and have a kadak chai with some charcha (discussion or gossip). I would really recommend the ginger and mint chai in Law Garden.

I documented the trip on Instagram. Here’re a few posts from my timeline.

Jumma Masjid, Ahmedabad

Jumma Masjid, Ahmedabad

Old House in Ahmedabad

Old House in Ahmedabad

Sarkhej Roza, Ahmedabad

Sarkhej Roza, Ahmedabad

Utensils Museum at Vishalla, Ahmedabad

Utensils Museum at Vishalla, Ahmedabad

Dada Hari Ni Vav, Ahmedabad

Dada Hari Ni Vav, Ahmedabad

Modhera Sun Temple, Ahmedabad

Modhera Sun Temple, Ahmedabad

Eat:

  • Head to Chandravilas Restaurant near Jumma Masjid post your walk. The 120 year old restaurant is known for its jalebis (made in desi ghee), fafda and methi gota (round bhajiyas made out of fenugreek leaves). It’s said that Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel would often meet at this restaurant. So go, have a cup of chai with a bit of history.
  • Vada Pav at Shriji Krupa on Vijay Cross Road. I have been hearing a colleague from Ahmedabad raving about the vada pav in the city and how it’s better that the Mumbai one. It definitely is different and maybe even better. They put a dry and green chutney on the pav which is toasted in butter.
  • Breakfast/brunch at Sandwich Workz, the small cafe like restaurant on IIM Road, run by a couple. The menu is a mix of food from America, Europe and Mediterranean Countries. It’s known for it’s huge waffles topped with eggs and served with hash brown, sausage and salami. They have other breakfast combos too.
  • Moti Bakery near Lal Darwaza is known for its puffs. Try the vegetarian and chicken puff which sell out pretty fast.
  • Dinner at Manek Chowk, the market area in the old city which turns into a street food hub in the evening and is a favourite hangout till late in the night. Eat the butter laden pav bhaji, dosa, desi style pizzas, chaat, methi gota and wrap it up with kulfi at Asharfilal. A hop, skip and jump away is Bhatiyar Gully known for its non-vegetarian food. Try the bheja fry and variety of kebabs here.
  • I had a disappointing Gujarati thali at Vishalla, but was suggested the one at Agashiye – the restaurant inside heritage hotel House of MG. I didn’t try it.
  • Sandwich and filter coffee at Natrani Cafe, the cultural hub of the city. The cafe is a part of Darpan Academy and a meeting point for creative minds. Do try the mushroom and cheese sandwich, it’s delicious.
  • Take a trip to National Insitute of Design in Paldi to grab a bite at R. K. Egg Eatery. The story goes that the eatery was started by a eunuch who brought in the whole egg culture to Ahmedabad. The students at NID would give him suggestions and that’s how he developed the menu which has variety of omelettes, bhurji, egg fries. Try one of their keema (bhurji) which is made in different styles with different masalas.
Clockwise - Jalebi at Chandravilas, Waffles at Sandwich Workz, Surti Keema at R.K. Egg Eatery, Sandwich and Filter Coffee at Natrani Cafe, Pav Bhaji at Manek Chowk, Vada Pav at Shriji Krupa

Clockwise – Jalebi at Chandravilas, Waffles at Sandwich Workz, Surti Keema at R.K. Egg Eatery, Sandwich and Filter Coffee at Natrani Cafe, Pav Bhaji at Manek Chowk, Vada Pav at Shriji Krupa

Shop:

  • Law Garden has a street market where you can shop for clothes, accessories and beautiful handmade bed sheets. You’ll have to bargain a lot here.
  • Manek Chowk has a couple of shops selling all sorts of mukhwaas and chooran; don’t leave before buying some.
  • Stock up on khakhra, kachauri, pickles and other farsan at Induben Khakhrawala.
  • Head to Kandoi for the famous mohanthaal – sweet made out of besan, ghee and sugar and doodh no halwo – fudgy milk cake.
Mukhwaas Shop in Manek Chowk

Mukhwaas Shop in Manek Chowk

A Weekend at Bay 15 in Dona Paula, Goa

“The temperature outside is 32 degree Celsius”, the cabin crew announced as my flight landed in Goa. That’s hot, that’s really hot! But then, there’s no wrong weather to head to Goa for a relaxed weekend. So here I was, on my second Goa trip of the year (boy! can I get enough of this place?).

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Lovely Private Cabanas, Bay 15 Goa

In around 45 mins – after a lovely drive – I was at Bay 15, a beautiful property on Odxel beach in Dona Paula. Odxel is a small, secluded, partially rocky beach in north Goa. I was thoroughly impressed with the location, view and the rooms. It’s a small property with beach-side cabanas, a small and clean pool and windows that open to the view of the sea.

The Cabanas:
All the cabanas are of the same size and design with both pool and sea view (latter more expensive, of-course). The interiors are modern with framed pictures of Jim Morrison, Audrey Hepburn and Merlyn Munroe hanging from the wall. The air-conditioned room has a refrigerator stacked with beer, cold drinks, juices and chocolates; tea kettle with tea bags, coffee and sugar; chips and snacks; television with Tata Sky connection; a wardrobe; study table and French window with a small balcony where I spent most of my time looking at the sea and enjoying my beer. Continue reading

Exploring Lucknow’s Vegetarian Side

Lucknow, like any other small Indian town, is a slow city. A city which runs at its own pace, lazily. There are few things that’ll get the city folks up and running. But mention Netram Ajay Kumar’s jalebi and you’ll find them dressed, out of the house, on their two wheelers in a flash, that too early in the morning. The more than 100 year old shop (it’s been there since 1854) in the middle of Aminabad has been a favourite of many generations. A huge

crowd waiting for golden jalebis and khasta in the morning boasts of its popularity. It’s one thing to eat the thick, crisp, sugar syrup loaded jalebis at Netram and another thing to watch them being made. The old halwai, sitting with a composure that’ll shame the trained chefs, drops batter from a brass tumbler into hot oil with quick flicks of his wrist. Ask him to pose for a pick and he’ll do it with an ease of a filmstar, while still doing his job at the same speed. To balance out the sweetness of jalebis there’s khasta – deep fried flaky pastry stuffed with urad dal paste, served with spicy chhole, chutneys and onions. The khasta-jalebi breakfast is what Lucknow wakes up to, almost every day.


While Netram holds the reigns where jalebi is concerned, there are multiple favourites for khasta. Some for quality and other for pure nostalgia. Durga Khasta Corner in Hussainganj is another popular khasta joint where you’ll find a huddle of guys getting their morning fix or getting khastas packed for the whole family. The USP here is the pasty chhole scooped over hot khastas. 

At Netram, breakfast gets over by 10 and the shop gets ready for lunch. Puffed kachoris

stuffed with urad dal bobbing in hot oil, practiced hands making imartis and constant orders of kachori thali is what an afternoon looks like here. The thali has four crisp, double fried kachoris, potato curry, dry pumpkin sabzi, dry potato and cauliflower sabzi, bottle gourd raita and sweet chutney – the last one is so good it’ll make you take some home. Ask nicely and the waiter will happily pack some for you. Wrap up this meal with imarti or ras malai.

Want to make the Kachori Thali at Home? Check out recipe here.

As the Sun sets the city gets ready to take on the varity of chaat sold at every nook and corner. A hop, skip and jump away from Netram there’s a small shop at the corner of the street, Shree Kalika Chaat House. They’re making chaat since the days of my grandfather and great grandfather and the size of the shop and quality of food is still intact. Try the pani ke batashe here with spicy and tangy pani. The papdi chaat is a package of flavours – flat and crisp puris topped with potato, boiled white peas, red chutney, green chutney and a special masala sprinkled on top. The matar ki tikki, a Lucknow speciality is a simple preparation of pan fried boiled white peas garnished with chaat masala, green coriander and a spritz of lime. Don’t leave without eating their gulab jamuns – small, bite sized and full of sugar syrup. Walk exactly 10 steps to Prakash Kulfi for one of the best kulfis in Lucknow. The shop has been there since ages and serves just one flavour – kesar pista


If you loved Kalika’s chaat, wait till you go to Pt. Ramnarayan Tiwari Chaat Wala in Ganeshganj. The old shop is divided between two brothers so make sure you go to the one on the right. The chaat at Tiwari needs your complete attention so be suffeciently hungry and not in a rush. Start from pani ke batashe right outside the shop. The crisp batashas are filled with boiled white pea and spicy-tangy water in four different flavours – hing (asafoetida), lime, sweet with tamarind and a spicy one. Try the hing one and you’ll go for the second plate. All the waters have right amount of tang and spice. Once you’ve laid the geoundwork for the evening with batashas, move on to matar ki tikki – the one served here is better, crispier and spicier than Kalika. Aloo ki  tikki with whisked yogurt, sweet chutney garnished with thin potato wafers, green coriander and chaat masala is a burst of flavours. The dahi wadas are good too but the curd is tad too sweet sometimes. If you manage to save some stomach space after the tikki have a grand finish with tokri chaat – it’s a basket of deep fried potatoes stuffed with aloo tikki, wada, papdi, dahi, chutney and garnished with pomegranate, chopped coriander and chaat masala. Lucknow takes immense pride in its tokri chaat so yes, go for it. 

Another famous chaat place here is Royal Cafe in Hazratganj. It’s said that in the good old

days ordering food from Royal Cafe was the sign of being wealthy. You can try the chaat if you’re in the area. However, I’d still suggest that you go to Tiwari. But while you are Ganjing (roaming around in Hazratganj is called that) go and eat the dahi wadas at Gupta – a small wagon which is parked right outside Vallabhbhai Park in the evening. His dahi wadas are chilled, soft with creamy dahi.

Want to take a break from the chaat? Go to Burma Bakery in Ganj and buy their butter biscuits, cake rusk and jeera biscuit. 

One of the best things about eating in North India is the dhaba experience, and no I don’t mean a fancy restaurant dressed up as dhaba. I mean the real experience where you get in, eat and get out. Pappu Da Dhaba near Lucknow University is one such place; famous among students and working bachelors for its cheap and homely food. It’s a small eatery on the road side with rickety wooden tables and benches where strangers share tables. The menu rotates and has dal, a dry sabzi, a paneer dish, egg curry, kadhi on some days and soft tandoori roti. The food is simple, not very spicy and unlike regular dhabas low on oil. You also get ande ki bhujiya with bread and parathas for breakfast. 

Lucknow is definitely a city rich with non-vegetarian food – kebabs, biryani, curries and kormas. But for every non-vegetarian dish there’s an equally good vegetarian dish which I am trying to explore. More when I visit my hometown next.