Exploring the over-explored?

You know those kind of places that become a rage and everyone starts visiting them and then within a short span of time they become obsolete and aren’t considered as ‘happening’ anymore? Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar top the list of those kind of places in Maharashtra. I know tons of people in Bombay who’ve never been to either of these places but whenever asked if they want to go there, they’ll say, “No way, that’s so overdone.” As I’m an aberration and tend to think differently than the majority in most cases, especially when it comes to travelling, these 2 places had been on my list and when I had a 2-day break, I convinced my sister to come on a short trip with me.

Panchgani is a 6-7 hour bus journey away from Bombay and there are plenty options. Accomodation and food are easily sorted in both Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. The only logistical issue is that in Panchgani, at several stretches, there are no sidewalks or footpaths and cars are driven at full speed on narrow roads so one needs to be careful. Nonetheless, as we went during monsoon, we loved our long walks.

We stayed at Zostel Panchgani, which was our first Zostel experience. We took a private room which had a beautiful view and was totally worth the money. The service could be quicker and their breakfast was average but the property is lovely and definitely worth a stay. (It is 3 kms away from Panchgani market)

The highs and lows (mostly highs) of our trip are as below:

Day 1: We reached Panchgani in the afternoon. Left the Zostel by around 3 pm and started walking towards the main town. The entire area is lovely to walk through and you’ll find yourself stopping frequently to capture the views around you. After hot chocolate and a bite at Ravines, a celebrity-frequented hotel, we walked up to Sydney Point. From the point where the trail starts, it’s an uphill walk of not more than 30 minutes. It was the least crowded point of our entire journey, with barely 5-6 people at the top and the views were brilliant. Imagine walking uphill with the wind blowing in your face, it leaves you overwhelmed in the nicest way!

We then hired a cab from the market and proceeded to Devrai Art Village, which is housed in a bungalow. It showcases and sells work of local artists from all parts of the country.  It is beautifully maintained and is a must-visit for anyone who loves art and culture.

We had an early dinner at Lucky’s, one of the oldest cafes in Panchgani. The food is soulful and completely value for money; a meal for 2 came up to 120 rupees. The highlight of the meal was the pizza and the special Irani chai.

Day 2: Post breakfast, we checked out of the Zostel and hired a car to take us around the rest of the spots in Panchgani and Mahabaleshwar. We visited Table Land and Parsi Point but both of them were too commercialized, the latter was extremely disappointing because of the excess of food stalls and gaming spots. These were okay, could be skipped. Panchgani has over 20 designated viewpoints but many of those offer more or less the same view and so it is best to pick a couple of them and explore those or go offbeat and discover your own trails. Our favourite spot was Sydney Point so the rest seemed very average by comparison.

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We then headed to Mapro Farm in Mahabaleshwar where we had a hearty lunch with a view of the farms, tried various fruit squashes in their shopping section and stocked up on strawberry jam and Falero.

We’d read that Venna Lake is the place to end your day in Mahabaleshwar with and so we decided to go boating. I have to say that it is worth every penny. There were very few people in the lake, it was beautiful and extremely calming. The serenity soothed me and that is one experience I’d definitely go for again. Our guide was extremely friendly and offered to take pictures for us as well.

We still had 3 hours to kill before our bus to Bombay, so we went to Le Meridien in Mahabaleshwar and indulged in one of their spa sessions which was heavenly! It’s a lovely property with extremely efficient service, definitely worth splurging on. After our incredibly relaxing massages, we got our daily dose of caffeine from their cafe which was quite impressive, although very pricey.

Le Meridien was our last stop after which we boarded our bus back to Bombay. On the way back, I wondered why Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani are often looked down upon. Our 2 day getaway completely rejuvenated us and we thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent there. We got out of our Zostel, walked around and embraced the immense natural beauty. This short trip made me realize that this new wave of ‘going off the normal path’ and ‘being different’ has led to certain classic destinations being forgotten. But the beauty of these destinations can only be discovered when you let yourself free from the notion that a particular place is overdone and actually connect with the place.

I’m the person who went on a proper 3 day trip to Lonavala 3 years back and explored places beyond Tiger Point. I’m the kind of person who went to Daman and loved the fortified areas as much as I enjoyed the beaches. I believe that more than what a place offers you, it’s your perspective towards a place that determines how much you get out of it. Over the years, Panchgani has just become as place where people come and chill in villas and barely get out and explore the outdoors. But our short tryst with these 2 towns taught us that when it comes to travelling, some places never go out of style.

Go to Panchgani-Mahabaleshwar, walk amidst the lush greens, eat soul food, lose yourself amidst local artwork or immerse yourself on a calming boat ride. Explore the unexplored with nothing but optimism and I promise you, you will learn a thing or two about yourself, about life. Be Khanabadosh and take the plunge.

 

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How to hog healthily- A guest post by Tarini Tripathi

You like to go out? But want to eat healthier? Is that even possible? YES, IT IS

The increasing need for a better lifestyle requires a shift in the way we eat. Recently, importance has shifted from exercise to the need of a healthy balanced healthy diet.

Eating out is a big part of our lives, it’s convenient but it can be a tough choice when you want to lead a healthier life. Until sometime back, even I didn’t know how to eat out without feeling bad about cheating a bit. But with some basic and easy tips, even eating out can steer you to a better-balanced diet.

Pick a few of the following and try it out next time you go out and tell me how it goes:

  1. Drink MORE water: Drinking water before and with a meal, especially if you drink it instead of sugary drinks, helps reduce your intake of calories and added sugar.  You can add lemon, mint or cucumber to your water to make it taste a bit more interesting.
  2. Eat MINDFULLY: Mindful eating means making conscious choices about what you eat and giving your full attention to the eating process. Take the time to savour the aromas and flavours of your meal. I do struggle from doing this as well
  3. SLOW DOWN: Chewing your food thoroughly and eating slower makes you feel full more quickly. You don’t need to count the number of chews, but try to consciously eat slowly and savour each bite.
  4. Ask to Make A Healthy SWAP: Everyone knows that vegetables are healthy, but did you know at restaurants you can ask the waiter to swap out part of your meal, such as fries or potatoes, for extra vegetables or a salad. You’ll boost your vegetable intake and cut your calories in the process
  5. Ask for Sauces or Dressings on the SIDE: Sauces and dressings can add a lot of extra fat as they are oil based, so ask for your sauce on the side. Keeping it separate will make it much easier to control the amount you eat, allowing you to adjust the amount you have.
  6. Avoid EMPTY CALORIE drinks: “Empty calories,” such as carbonated drinks are said to reduce the consumption of foods that contain essential nutrients. If you want to make a healthy drink choice while dining out, stick to water or unsweetened tea.
  7. Another good idea, is to lean towards Mediterranean, Mexican and Japanese cuisines. These tend to be healthier than other cuisines because of the ingredients used and the way the food is prepared.

For the folks in Mumbai, here are 7 restaurants, where you won’t have to pick the healthiest off the menu but choose among them.  

  1. The Bombay Salad Company
  2. Sequel
  3. Subway (provided you don’t put too much sauces on)
  4. The Village Shop
  5. Flax
  6. Bonne Sante
  7. The Herbiary

I bet you’ve heard about the new fad about “Superfoods.”

Here’s the internet’s definition:

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But my definition is “everyday vegetables and foods.”

People usually associate superfoods with exclusivity and the fact that it is expensive, but on the contrary you can find superfoods in your local bazaar for a cheap bargain.

Here are some superfoods you may have not known about:

  • Broccoli
  • Indian Basil Seeds- the thing at the bottom of a Falooda
  • Beetroot
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Coconut- the whole package
  • Ginger
  • Haldi
  • Carrots
  • Flax Seeds
  • Spinach
  • Cabbage
  • Buckwheat
  • Almonds
  • Sweet Potato
  • And my favourite of all- Cashew- a good substitute for cheese. Yes, CHEESE

But something to keep in mind explained by Alison Hornby, a dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association (BDA), is that, “No food, including those labelled ‘superfoods’, can compensate for unhealthy eating.” Your body will adjust with consistency and discipline. These foods can all be tasty as well as healthy if you prepare it in the right manner.

Lastly, I feel that fitness and health is 80% food, exercise just gives you a reason to replenish and fuel your body with the right food. Your aim should be a Super Diet. That means maintaining a healthy, balanced diet that includes fruits, veggies and wholegrain food. If anything comes in a package it’s probably not good for you. But in our busy lives cooking everything at home can be difficult. Therefore, slowly try to meal prep and make conscious choices about the food you eat outside.

Take your first step at home by making an easy and healthy mac & cheese. The recipe’s below!

HEALTHY MAC AND CHEESE

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups raw cashews
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 cup hot water
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 maggi vegetable stock cube
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp mustard (optional)
  • 4 cups wheat macaroni pasta 
  • Pinch of black pepper
  • Oregano (optional)
  • paprika, for garnish
  • Parsley or basil, for garnish

Instructions:

  1. Soak cashews in the ¾ cup of  hot water for 10 mins
  2. Prepare the pasta according to package directions. 
  3. While the pasta is cooking, combine the soaked cashews with the water it was soaked in, lemon juice, salt, stock cube, chili powder, garlic, turmeric, mustard and any other flavouring you want to add. Then add it in a blender and blend until silky smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 2-4 more tablespoons of water and blend again. 
  4. Keep the sauce to the side, and once the pasta is “al dente”- tender-, drain and rinse it, then return the pasta to the pot and stir in the sauce.
  5. Season it further if required and EAT IT before someone steals it from you!

There’s one thing you should keep in mind, eating healthy should not stop you from exploring restaurants, you just need to make small decisions about what you’re going to eat. All the food you eat can be tasty as well as healthy and taking small steps can lead you to a more healthy sustainable diet!

#NotAChickTrip

If you’ve been following my recent Instagram and Facebook posts, you must be familiar with the hashtag and the fact that I went on a lovely trip to Coorg some weeks back. Coorg is a region which will give you natural beauty, immersive cultural experiences and quite a few monuments as well. I went on this trip with 3 people, all quite different from each but with the same love for travel. Aditi is my former roommate and loves relaxing on vacations and is admittedly high-maintenance. Delice and I attended college together and she’s the most talkative person you will ever meet and is the only person I know who is both terribly naive and immensely wise at the same time. I met Richa through Delice and while we were in college together, we became close after the trip; she’s incredibly adjusting and always up for new experiences.

Our day by day itinerary is as follows:

Day 1: We took a flight from Bombay to Bangalore, reached Bangalore in the evening and checked into Hotel Kadamba Guestline, which is right above Kengeri bus terminal, which is where buses to Coorg start from.

Day 2: We took an early morning AC bus to Madikeri. It takes 6 hours to reach, including stops and tickets can be booked on the KSRTC website 1-2 days before the journey. We reached Madikeri by lunchtime and checked into our hotel. Our hotel staff suggested that we cover the local sightseeing circuit in Madikeri that day since we just had 4-5 hours at hand. This circuit includes:

  1. Abbey Falls
  2. Raja’s Tomb
  3. Madikeri Fort
  4. Omkareshwar Temple
  5. Raja’s Seat

Out of all these spots, I’d only recommend Abbey Falls and Raja’s Seat, the rest are mediocre. Abbey Falls is a good sight but since we went in April, we couldn’t witness the waterfall in its full glory. What stood out that day was Raja’s Seat. Tip: Raja’s Seat is a sunset spot so by the time you get past the garden and reach the spot where there’s a railing in front, you’ll realize that the area is very crowded. If you walk to your left for a minute, you’ll find a very simple trail which, if you follow for 10 mins, you’ll reach a spot away from the crowd, where you can enjoy the sunset in solitude. The trail is not tough at all and should definitely be taken if you wish to get away from the crowd.

We made a quick stop at Beans N Brews for coffee. We ended our day with a meal at New Paris Hotel in Madikeri. It’s a simple place with delicious biryanis and hot lemon tea, which is a Coorg specialty.

Day 3: We woke up early to go to Mandalpatti for sunrise. It is roughly 25kms from Madikeri so you need to take a jeep but you can hike the last couple of kilometres. Mandalpatti is not very crowded, there were barely 10-12 people in the whole area when we went, so the whole experience felt surreal. On one hand we could see the sun rising and on the other hand we could see the clouds coming through the mountains. It was beautiful. I’d suggest sitting here for some time and enjoying the calm.

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We’d booked a coffee tour in a town named Siddapur, which is an hour from Coorg for that day. Since we wanted to travel like the locals did, we took a local bus that was available at the Madikeri bus stop. It took us an hour to reach Siddapur from where we went to Kasturi Estate by auto.

Kasturi Estate is run by a lady named Kushi and her family. Kushi also runs this organization/collective called The Giving Tree, which aims at promoting sustainability and spreading the importance of giving back to the environment. She offered us spiced buttermilk, fresh mulberries and bella Coffee, which is coffee with jaggery, another Coorg tradition. Being there, in that vast, green estate was the closest I’ve felt to nature. Kushi also told us about the man-animal conflict and the need to be aware about the problems the environment faces. I’d definitely recommend this coffee estate tour.

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Kushi suggested that we go to this place called Porcupine Castle for lunch. She said it had great views and was a good place to chill. Since there were not many other options in that town we went there. The restaurant only has a buffet which does not have even 1 local dish, the food that was available was horrible, the view was mediocre and the price was steep- 750 plus taxes for the buffet that did not include a single beverage. This place was a total rip-off. Post this, we boarded a bus to return to Madikeri.

In the evening we went to Ainmane, which is a beautiful cafe in the Madikeri market. Their coffee menu is huge and you can customize your coffees, they sell great varieties of dark chocolate and their ambiance is amazing. They also have good snacks and cookies. We ended revisiting this place and it was one of our favourites.

We went to Coorg Foodlands for dinner. It was a decent place that served local curries and Akki Roti, which is a roti made from rice.

Day 4: I woke up early in the morning and went for a walk by myself. Madikeri is very green and you can spot beautiful, colourful flowers all over the city. I enjoyed the walk because the weather was perfect, it was crowded and I could walk in and out of any lane. At one point, I reached a dead-end where all I could see was banana plantations against the backdrop of the mountains, engulfed slightly in fog. It was one of my favourite experiences of the trip.

Once everyone woke up, we went to Dubbare Elephant Camp. It is 1.5 hours away from Madikeri and the elephant bathing process stops by 10 so you need to leave early. Once you reach there, you have to cross the river, which in April was like a stream. It’s a 20 min walk because there will be a lot of people, and most of the rocks are stable. Once you reach the other side, you can see the elephants, ride on them and take part in the bathing process. Since we weren’t aware of the time restrictions, we couldn’t make it in time for the bathing but nonetheless, this was a good experience.

We made a quick stop in between to try quad biking, which was a thrilling experience and one you should definitely try, if you haven’t already.

Post that we went to the Tibetan Colony in Kushalnagar, where we feasted on thukpa and momos. The area is worth walking around and has some interesting memorials of the Tibetans’ struggle.

We then went to the Namdroling Monastery, which is a huge monastery in Bylakuppe. It was beautifully maintained and very peaceful. Again, this is a place where you need to sit down and take in the vibe to enjoy the experience.

If you’re hungry or thirsty, make a quick stop at Buddha Cafe nearby, like we did. The place has amazing smoothies and coolers.

We reached Madikeri at around 6pm and suddenly decided to visit Raja’s Seat again. Since that was a Saturday, by the time we reached the hidden spot that we’d discovered previously, we realized that it was also super-crowded. Since the experience wouldn’t be as great with the crowd, 2 of us took a completely different route, a slightly steeper one and climbed for 10-15 mins till we reached a point where we had a good view. At this point, my jeans were dirty, I was sweating and my hair were a mess but I felt so happy. The satisfaction we experienced at that point was incomparable.

We went to Fort Mercara for dinner and feasted on mushroom curry, rice hoppers and Akki roti that night.

Day 5: This was meant to be a day for souvenir shopping and relaxation before we left for Bangalore but I randomly suggested that we go to Mysore since it was on the way to Bangalore.

There’s a lot to do in Mysore but the places we could cover in 4-5 hours were:

1)Chamundeshwari Temple

2) Mysore Palace

3) St. Philomena’s Cathedral

All these 3 places were beautiful and although it was very hot and the places were super-crowded, we loved them all.

We stopped at Vinayaka Mylari in Doora in Mysore. I’d read a lot about it and was dying to go there. The place is as simple as it can be but the dosas are as delicious as they can be. We feasted on Mysore Sada and Mysore Masala dosas. They are undoubtedly the best I’ve had in my life. This is a humble family-run establishment operating since 80 years. Must, must visit!

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We reached Bangalore in the evening and headed to Caperberry in UB City Mall to pamper ourselves after the hectic day. The service was excellent, the vibe was cosy and the food was lovely! They have a great cocktail menu and this was the perfect meal to end our trip with.

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Logistics:

Take a flight from Bombay to Bangalore (Round trip 5-6K) or to Mangalore(Round trip 7K)

Buses from Bangalore to Coorg cost approximately 1.5K Round trip. We chose Airavat buses and were satisfied with the service.

Zostel Coorg is a great stay option, so are AirBnbs and Coffee estates, depending on your budget. The hotel we stayed in wasn’t up to the mark, but if you’re going to spend most of your time outside, go for a basic hotel in Madikeri.

Meals in Coorg are not expensive. Apart from the one bad meal we had, we had most of our meals for approximately 200-250 rupees per head. Go for authentic local places and visit as many coffee places as you can. ‘

Autos work in Coorg and you can easily bargain with the auto drivers, although most of the drivers we had quoted fair prices.

What to Eat:

Coorg is famous for pork curry which my friends loved. I’d suggest mushroom curry, bamboo shoot puffs, lemon tea, Akki roti and rice hoppers. And the coffee, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Where to Eat:

New Paris Hotel, Fort Mercara, Coorg Foodlands, Coorg Cuisine. We’d read a lot about this place called Capitol but it look slightly dingy and unwelcoming and one of my friends was apprehensive so we decided to skip it.

More spots:

Chelavara Falls, Iruppu Falls and Haringe dam.

Our trip was beautiful and so memorable. It gave me experiences that taught me so much, like being proactive when it comes to preserving the environment. But a great reason why this trip was a success was because my co-travellers were up for almost everything, adjusted with each other and respected each other’s wishes.

Here are their takeaways from the trip:

Aditi: I had my apprehensions before the trip. I’m not very adventurous but after Coorg, I’m a new person. I did everything I was worried about like hiking, eating at places I’d never imagined and staying in hotels I otherwise wouldn’t stay in. I came back a stronger person and I have to thank the 3 ladies with me who made it all possible. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them. Now all I want is to find a new place to explore!

Richa: I had started the trip without any expectations and I think it’s the best way. It’s amazing how I have a different bond with all the 3 people I travelled with. Paripsa and I can connect on just about anything, look at each other and burst out laughing. I’m getting amused by how slow Delice can be at times but I loved her. I met Aditi for the first time on the trip but it took only a few hours for us to know each other well and we bonded on a completely different level throughout the trip. Right from falling while crossing the river in an attempt to help Delice to finding our sunset spot by going that extra mile to the spontaneous Mysore visit to the delicious food we had, this trip has given me weird, crazy and beautiful memories. I honestly cannot reduce this tour to a single memory because there were too many special ones.

Delice: Our trip was perfect because we did all that we could in the time we had. Coorg is a beautiful place but the people were a surprise for me! We met some really nice people along the way. The most mesmerizing moment for me would be the sunrise. Besides, I’ve never had such good coffee, that too repeatedly for so many days!

I’m the kind of person who will want to see everything I can. Even when I’m tired, I’m happy because that feeling of accomplishment, of satisfaction, of knowing the different things you’ve seen, experienced and learned is one that only travel gives. Fortunately, I was accompanied by people who were seeking the same feeling. As I write this, my palm is itching because I’m craving that feeling again.

What makes you happy, even if it tires you? It may be your work, food, a place or any form of exploration. Chase that feeling. Be Khanabadosh and visit Coorg, you might find that feeling there, just like we did.

What’s cooking: Baroda

Bombay has spoiled me in terms of its culinary scene. If there’s a place in India that has every possible cuisine served in 10 different restaurants, it’s Bombay. It has an establishment for every mood and every price range. So when I come back to my hometown, Baroda, I’m often disappointed by new outlets. While many places match restaurants in metro cities in terms of ambiance, they lag behind in terms of taste and innovation. Nonetheless, some places stand out, in terms of taste, hospitality and the vibe. Here are some of the places in Baroda that stood out for me:

  1. JJ’s Cafe:

I’ve been wanting to write about JJ’s since ages. It is probably one of the few hidden gems in Baroda and while I feel sad about letting the secret out, I believe this place deserves more appreciation. This is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall establishment in the Marble Arch complex that also houses Shades. It’s not a fancy place, there are just 2 tables for 2 people each and some bar stools. The food takes time to come since the owner makes it himself. There’s no AC, no fan, but I didn’t feel the need for either when I visited the place. The menu scores full marks on variety. I’ve tried their pasta, their egg dishes, their mains and their platter and I’ve loved all of them. To top it all, this place has a fab coffee menu which coffee geeks like me will fall in love with. All at an incredibly reasonable price.

A meal for 2 with a beverage each will cost around 600 rupees.

2. Ms Muffet:

Another hidden gem, this is a place you won’t find on Zomato. It is a weekend pop-up kitchen that is open from 7-10 pm almost every Saturday and Sunday. The chef is incredibly friendly and whips up the most innovative dishes that you will not find anywhere else in the city. Imagine Chhole Bunny Chow and authentic South Indian Sagu curry with neer dosa. The home that this is housed in very cosy and welcoming making it ideal for people who want a quiet, satisfying meal.

A meal for 2 will cost roughly 500 rupees.

3. Bawaz Cafe:

One of the newest addition to Baroda’s food scene, Bawaz is a place that will cater to the Parsi food cravings of the city. For those who miss Bombay and Pune’s dhanshak and kheema pav, this place is for you. It serves both vegetarian and non-vegetarian Parsi dishes. The interiors are incredibly informative and a lot of attention has been paid towards retaining the charm of an Irani cafe. The Irani chai and all the cookies/biscuits are must-haves at Bawaz.

A meal for 2 will cost 700 rupees

4. Elysian:

While Elysian does have good food(their cheese naan being my favourite), their coffee menu is so elaborate(Atleast 50 different coffees to choose from), you could have a 5-course meal that would only consist of coffee courses. From apple pie coffee to tiramisu coffee, they have it all. Since I come from a family that is obsessed with all kinds of coffee, Elysian was a hit and we can’t wait to try more from their coffee menu!

A meal for 2 with a coffee each will cost 1200 rupees.

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5. Daily Dose:

Daily Dose is an adorable bungalow converted into a cafe, next to Akota Stadium. It’s so welcoming, you won’t feel like leaving. They play old 70s and 80s songs here and that won me over. There’s a huge book collection so you read a book for as long as you want. The menu is very simple, I go here just for the vibe, but I’d recommend the iced tea since that’s what I’ve always tried here. While I haven’t seen a full house on any of my visits, friends have told me that they often didn’t get tables here since it was full, so I’d suggest going there in the afternoons when it will be relatively empty. But a visit to Daily Dose is a must.

A meal for 2 will come up to around 400 rupees.

I wrote this post with the hope that more places like these come up in Baroda’s food scene. At the same time, as customers, it is our duty to encourage new cuisines to prevail in the city, in all their authenticity. We need to open up our palates and our hearts to new cuisines, since these cuisines are the doors through which we can experiences different cultures and make Baroda a melting pot of cultural diversity. So the next time you go out, try a new cuisine, interact with the chefs and the owners, ask them about the origin of the dish and trust me, you’ll come out of the restaurant with more knowledge than you entered it with. Till then, be Khanabadosh and never stop exploring!

We’re all in this together

It’s the dream.

Going with your girl gang on a Himalayan adventure for 10 days. No supervision, nobody to stop you, beautiful views to wake up to and hot Maggi to devour in the mountains. These are your closest friends, your school friends, the ones who’ve seen you in those awful uniforms with oily plaits and who still choose to love you. I kind of miss the uniform but that’s not the point! It’s the dream to be able to go on a long holiday with your bestfriends.

Well, it wasn’t the dream. Far from it.

We were a group of 5. 1) Rajvi, who’s strictly an adventure lover, cleanliness freak and has certain expectations from everything, which, if they aren’t met, she will have no qualms in expressing her displeasure. 2) Priyanka, who doesn’t identify herself as an outdoors person; this was her first proper trekking experience which, it’d be safe to say, changed her perspective on many things. 3) Krishma- Loud, insanely amusing, someone who will judge people at first sight but will also love them unconditionally. 4) Smin, always speaks before thinking, loves nature and is always up for everything. 5) ME- I’m the kind of person who will want to do everything in a holiday and make everyone around me accompany me to all the places I want to visit. I’m a lover of packed itineraries and a full Bunny at heart.

All of us are completely different people with completely different opinions on everything. While we all enjoy travelling, we have very different ideas of it. We were also travelling with a group that was completely different from the kind of people we’ve encountered, so the degree to which each of us socialized with them was also different.

I’d be lying if I said we didn’t have at least 100 moments of disagreement. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one of the most memorable trips of my life.

We covered the Parvati Valley region, mainly Pulga, Kheerganga, Jari and Kasol. Taking you through the journey quickly below:

Day 1- Our bus to Himachal was from Delhi so we went from Baroda to Delhi and took a bus from there in the evening.

Day 2- We reached Bhuntar in the morning. From there we went to our homestay in Pulga by car. 2-3 kms before the campsite, we stopped and had the first bomb dropped on our head- we had to trek 2-3 kms with all our luggage. We’d all assumed that the trekking would begin once we reached the homestay, where we wouldn’t have to carry our luggage. As we toiled to the homestay, Rajvi and Smin carried all the heavy luggage and helped us reach the homestay ALIVE. We explored Pulga, a little village, half an hour from Kasol in the evening. It’s as uncommercialized as anything can get. Walking through the tiny streets and playing with the adorable dogs was Priyanka’s favourite part of the trip.

 

Day 3- We went on a hike that we were told was short, but for everyone except Smin and Rajvi, it was super-long. We hiked to the forest behind Pulga and although we were dead tired, it was beautiful. Clean, quiet and gorgeous.

Day 4- This was the day we had to trek 15 kms to Kheerganga. We’d been told that it would be very tough and I had a meltdown the night before, because I thought there was no way I’d do it. As we started walking, the only thing I told myself was that this was what I’d come for and I couldn’t just give up. It was a 6-7 hour long hike and much easier than I expected, except for the last hour which was too steep. We all had to encourage each other and shout words of motivation. But when we reached the top, Kheerganga was totally worth it. Words cannot describe the joy I experienced there. At night we all sat outside, without electricity, just gazing at the stars. Kheerganga was an experience we’d never forget.

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Day 5- We trekked back to Pulga from Kheerganga. We fell on our beds, cleaned up and dreamt of the night before.

Day 6- We again had to take ALL our luggage back through the route we initially came on. While it was still tough, after doing Kheerganga, we didn’t complain much for this short trek. We took a car to Jari, which is on the outskirts of Kasol. In Jari, we trekked downhill with our luggage to a guesthouse by the Parvati river. While I hated the downhill trek, the river view kind of made up for it.

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Day 7- We trekked uphill from the guesthouse and then went to Kasol. While Kasol was good, with its cafes and street shops, I felt that after visiting Pulga and Kheerganga, Kasol felt too commercialized and overrated. I forced the gang to go to the Gurudwara in Manikaran which although decent, wasn’t as great as I thought, but the chhole in a bun outside the Gurudwara was delicious. We hit a couple of cafes and then crossed the bridge to go to Chalal, a nearby village in search of a popular cafe called Cafe 9. We ended up getting lost but more on that later. We were also the last ones to make it back to the guesthouse that night where we enjoyed a bonfire.

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Day 8- While everyone else was relaxing that day, we again went uphill to hit more cafes and have a mandatory shopping session. We went to Bhuntar by car that afternoon and took a bus to Delhi.

Day 9- We reached Delhi in the morning and the public-transport lover in me dragged everyone to take a metro to Hauz Khas. Smin and Krishma ended up getting lost with their phones not working. Priyanka was dead tired by then, Rajvi was running around to find S & K and I was feeling a plethora of emotions at the same time. After everything was settled, we got a hotel, rested and had one of the most lavish breakfasts in HKV. The rest of the day was full of disagreements as well and I was amazed we didn’t kill each other.

Day 10- The tiny arguments continued till we reached home and we didn’t meet each other for many days after the trip because of several reasons, we all knew this was something that had to be repeated. A LOT.

A blog post of my first trip with my bestfriends would be incomplete without their experiences, in their own style. Since the trip taught us the importance if respecting each other’s idea of travel and fun, here are the #ParvatiValleyMemories from my favourites:

Priyanka- I have never been an outdoors person but the trek to Kheerganga was one of the best things I’ve done so far. The mesmerizing view and the feeling you experience at the top are worth the pain. The sound of the river was so peaceful. Apart from that, the dogs of Pulga were adorable. I could’ve played with them all day.

Krishma- When people tell you that going on treks changes you as a person, you believe them. And while it wasn’t exactly life-altering for me, it was pretty special. Trekking uphill with a backpack for 6 hours works entirely against my very grain, but if it means doing it with my best mates, I would do it again. EVERY SINGLE THING AND EVERY SINGLE TIME, without a doubt. That’s how special it was.

Rajvi- While we trekked to Kheerganga in hopes of enjoying the hot springs, we ended up not doing that at all and just chilling and stargazing. Travel is sometimes about keeping your expectations lows and taking disappointment as it comes.

Smin- The first highlight of the trip has to be the moment we reached Kheerganga after a physical as well as mental challenge. It wasn’t great or exotic but unarguably special, at least for me. The second is the day our inner Bunny was satisfied (We’re all huge YJHD fans) It was supposed to be a chill day but in a limited period of time, we explored Kasol optimally and the best part was our way back to our home-stay. We were tired, exhausted, falling, singing, trembling and slipping on our way back and the only thing our bodies demanded was rest but what mattered the most to me was that in that moment, we were HAPPY. The third highlight is about the pros and cons of being extremely adventurous and BUNNYish. We read on the internet that Cafe 9 is a must-visit place, it was far and isolated but remember Bunny? We had to fulfill our whims. So we ended up taking the road less travelled and realized that the cafe existed only in a parallel universe.We wandered for an hour but never reached the cafe, although the time  we spent searching for it and cursing it will be something I will remember.  All in all, a trip with your girlfriends is a must.  It gave me the kind of happiness I get when I see food. Only this time, the happiness was for my soul.

I think the ladies put it better than I did. It was incredibly difficult to make the trip happen with date and permission issues but I would go through all of that trouble anyday to be with the people who will always, always have a special place in my heart. Another important lesson this trip taught me that destinations hold within them a lot more than what they show. Kasol is known to be a stoner’s paradise and most of the people only visit it to procure marijuana and other drugs, but that was never my intention. I ended up discovering the beauty of a region that’s rarely acknowledged. Take a trip to Pulga for its warm people, for the dogs, eat the chhole in a bun outside the Gurudwara in Manikaran and sit by the Parvati river in Jari. But most of all, do it with people you love. Visit Parvati Valley with your tribe and have an experience you will want to repeat again and again.

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The अंधेरी within Andheri

Andheri is that kid in a joint family who everyone thinks is up to no good, the one who lives in the shadows of the over-achieving older siblings. In the eyes of the family elders, this kid has no future but they love him/her anyway.  For most of the people living in the city, the only good things about Andheri are Lokhandwala Market, the metro, Fun Republic, The Little Door and the thousands of cheap delivery outlets. We can’t see Andheri beyond that. We go to the Art district in town or the grafitti lanes in Bandra to fuel our imagination or to document the creative expression in Bombay. But most of us can’t imagine Andheri as being beautiful.

While there are way too many forums putting up itineraries for day-trips in various areas, I’ve come to know the hard way that not many of them are genuine. One of my recent favourites, though, is The City Story. I used some of their suggestions for my Andheri itinerary and this is what it looks like:

3pm- MAJOR GOA FEELS ALERT!

We walked through Amboli Gaothan, which starts in the lane next to St. Blaise Church. There were chapels at every alternate turn, quaint homes, friendly dogs and semi-friendly cats, small trees with beautiful flowers, families playing with their babies and interacting with their neighbours. The settlement was very utopic and just for a moment, I forgot that I was in Bombay.

4pm- Bombay to Barcelona Library Cafe has been on my list since long and it should be on everyone’s list. Here’s why- a) It’s run by a guy who used to be street kid, grew up and wrote a book about it, b)The cafe follows a no-discrimination policy  c) They have a  subsidized menu for street/slum kids, d)They hire people who were street kids but had to leave their orphan homes/care centres as soon as they turned 18. The politeness with which the staff at this place interacted with us was the kind that comes from within, not the kind they receive money from. That, in itself is an experience.

5pm-We made a quick stop at this patisserie named Cocoamaya since one of my friends had been raving about it. While it’s slightly tough to locate, it is totally worth it. I’d surely recommend this place to any person looking for a sugar-fix in Marol.

5:45-The highlight of our day was venturing into one of the least known parts of Andheri West in order to explore Gilbert Hill. It is made of black basaltic rock and is one of the 3 mountains in the world of this kind. It was formed approximately 65 million years ago. The area around the hill is terribly maintained, with residential buildings being constructed very close to it. The roads leading to the entrance are also very narrow and I wouldn’t suggest visiting this area alone. Nonetheless, it is worth a visit, since it’s not overcrowded like most of Bombay’s other attractions. There are proper steps leading up to the hill and it won’t take you more than 10 mins to reach the top. There’s a 550 year old Hindu temple at the top which is simple but well-maintained. You can simply sit in the temple and enjoy the wind or you can walk around it and wait for the perfect sunset. The sunset was beautiful and its beauty can only be understood by someone who cannot experience such peace in the noise of the city. I’d surely suggest a visit to Gilbert Hill for its sunset. Those with more will-power can also visit it to catch a sunrise.

7pm- Everyone likes indulging in clichés once a while and ours was ending our day at Joey’s Pizza. One of my friends had never been there and it was time to make her experience what can be called an Andheri tradition.

My Andheri exploration reminded me of something I’d read some time back:

Travel begins in your backyard

Those 6-8 hours of exploration within my city gave me the same happiness that travelling 100 miles away would’ve given. It reminded me that the bottom line is to not make excuses and to make the most of each opportunity. It also taught me that it’s important to explore without expectations. In a country like India, you cannot expect every place to be as well-maintained as the Taj Mahal or the Red Fort. Less expectations lead to more happiness. But most of all, this exploration taught me to see the beauty in an area which I earlier visited only for dinners and night-outs. It showed me the अंधेरी within Andheri. Nahi samjhe? Try the itinerary, you’ll know.

 

The economics of exploring

As an economics student, I believe that wants are unlimited and the means to fulfill those wants are limited. The places I want to travel to are unlimited and like any other college student, I’m always on a budget. I can travel only during long weekends and festivals when flights and hotels are more expensive than usual. In such situations, planning a budget-friendly itinerary can be a real task. However, with some help from my dad, I managed to plan a super-reasonable and all-encompassing trip, that too, on a festival weekend.

3 of my friends and I were planning a trip together because the last time we’d be in a new city was 4 years back, on a student exchange programme in Germany, when we were less adventurous and thereby, less ready to try an unexplored area. This time however, we were more comfortable with the idea of exploring the unexplored and so we planned a trip in the South Gujarat-Daman-Dadra and Nagar Haveli region.

Day 1

We took a train from Mumbai Central to Vapi. Vapi is close to all the good places in the circuit and has reasonably priced hotels. We checked into hotel Blossom, which is 10 mins from the station, is priced at approximately 1500 INR per night and includes breakfast. T We then went to Silvassa, which is the capital of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. We ditched the tribal museum and went to the Damanganga riverfront in Silvassa. While the riverfront in itself is beautiful, there is no arrangement for people to sit at the viewpoint. If developed more, this spot can be even better.

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Post lunch, we headed to Dharampur, which is the base village for Wilson Hill. The drive to Wilson Hill is 26kms from Dharampur and is a perfectly motorable road. Wilson Hill is named after Lord Wilson, who was the Governor of Bombay in the 1920s, by Vijay Devji, who was the last king of Dharampur. A small temple-like monument is built in the memory of their friendship at the top. At the top, there are a couple of trails you can take to different viewpoints. Our first trail was a short one, not more than a 10 minute walk, which led us to such a pretty view! The fact that the place was not overcrowded like most of the other hills/mountaintops added to the beauty of the place. The second trail was slightly longer and it was downhill. The viewpoint was the best and we ended up sitting there for a long time. The four of us listened to music and took in the immense beauty, without uttering a single word. We ended a day with a typical Kathiyawadi meal of lasaniya bataka and sev tameta nu shaak at a roadside dhaba.

Day 2

We first went to Udvada, which is a small, laidback Parsi town, to the North of Daman. It houses the world’s longest running fire temple, the Atash Behram of Udvada. As per the customs, we weren’t allowed to enter the Atash Behram so we headed to the museum of Parsi history in Udvada. The museum in itself looks very homely and inviting and has a detailed description of Parsi history and their settlement in India. There’s a well outside the museum with carvings of phrases in Persian. Apart from that, walking in this tiny town is a treat in itself. There are big bungalows with porches in the front that house cute swings. Several homes double up as Dharamshalas that offer food and accommodation for travellers. We lunched at the Sodawaterwaala Dharamsala, which is a sprawling bungalow, with an open restaurant at the side. We feasted on dhansak and patties.  I’d recommend eating here and topping the meal off with some hand-made ice-cream that is sold by vendors roaming around in auto-rickshaws and cycles.

Post the hearty lunch, we headed to Daman. Since Daman used to be a Portuguese town, I was curious to know if Portuguese families still resided there. Instead of hitting the beaches, we first headed to the Nani Daman Fort. At present it only houses a church, a school and a cemetery. It overlooks the sea and offers a good view of the same. It is not well-maintained, but I’d suggest a walk along the corners of the fort. The Moti Daman Fort is much better than Nani Daman, since it houses all the administrative buildings and homes of the locals, alongwith a colourful post-office and pretty churches. We couldn’t get in touch with any Portuguese locals but if you can, contact the school in  Moti Daman; one of the administrators told us that there are Portuguese people who still stay there.

We’d heard that the beaches of Daman are pretty substandard so our expectations were very low but we were in for a surprise since both the beaches were quite decent. Jampore beach has shacks like the ones in Goa so that people can enjoy the view under the shade. Devka beach was the one I liked more, since it was less crowded and cleaner. Overall, while the 2 beaches are in no way close to the beaches of Andaman or South Goa, they are worth visiting if you’re in Daman.

On our third day, we had to board a train in the afternoon to come back to Bombay. We initally planned on visiting Nargol beach, an unexplored and clean beach, about 1 hour to the south of Vapi, but since my friends were exhausted, we decided to skip it and relax in the hotel. Nargol is still on my list and although I was pretty bummed that we couldn’t visit it, I hope to one day tick if off my bucket list.

In our 3 day trip, we visited beaches, a hill, a museum, a riverfront, a dreamy village, and 2 fortified forts. The cost for the entire trip came up to INR 5800 per head, which included transport, accommodation, food and everything else. The trip taught us that you don’t need a lot of money to travel, all you require is the readiness to explore the unexplored. The four of us may someday take another trip, when we’re all earning, when we can splurge without thinking twice. But eating authentic Gujju food at a no-frills dhaba and sitting at the top of one of the least explored hills in Gujarat gave us happiness that you can’t put a price tag on.

Take that trip with your friends. Plan and budget well. Go to a rural area, eat local food and absorb the culture. Be open to every kind of experience and learn something from each journey. Travel with those you love and never stop exploring. Be Khanabadosh, if only for some time.