While I’ll always be a Bombay-lover, I’ve been intrigued by the love the people have for Delhi. I’d viewed Delhi as being a very narrow cultural space, as compared to Bombay’s cosmopolitanism. Since I’d seen most of the popular monuments in Delhi, I was confused as to what to do when I visited Delhi not once but 3 times this year, once for 36 hours and twice for less than a day!
My sister and I love breakfast and so that was the first thing we planned on getting on my first trip. I found this place called C’est La Vie in Sector 50, Gurgaon. We called for grilled pesto vegetables, pancakes, a chocolate banana shake and a latte, all of which were perfect.
After we’d checked into our hotel and relaxed, we went to Manhattan Brewery, which is in Gurgaon itself. While it’s not a must-visit, USP of this place is that they have a stock market system which also includes craft beers. I got a Blonde Ale for INR 150 so I was quite delighted.
The next day, we channelized our inner Kabir Thapar(Bunny from YJHD) since we had to catch an evening flight and had just 8-9 hours to spend in the main city. We first took a metro to Hauz Khas Village, walked around the fort complex and the lake, which was much better than my expectations. Post that, we visited Hauz Khas Social since we loved Tamasha. To be completely honest, I felt that HKV Social was hyped and I’d prefer Colaba Social over it, any day.
We went to Le Bistro Du Parc for lunch. It’s a quaint French restaurant in Moolchand Market. It has delicious cocktails and the food is supremely comforting. It’s on the expensive side but I’d definitely recommend it for its authenticity.
feta cheese and greens salad with sundried tomato
My first rigatoni!
tartiflette with mushrooms and onions
Lipstick on your collar-a vodka-based cocktail that was perfectly made!
Post the hearty lunch, we headed to Janpath, near Connaught Place for some street shopping. They have very reasonably priced tops, t-shirts, palazzos and skirts. We wrapped up a satisfying shopping session as quickly as we could and headed to the airport.
My next 2 visits to Delhi were both very short and they were with my friends. We were travelling to Parvati Valley, so while going and while coming back, Delhi was our stop.
On our first visit, we went to the famous “parathe-waali galli” in Chandni Chowk. Now a word of caution- Chandni Chowk is really crowded and in order to find the most authentic places, you need to either have done a lot of research or know a local who knows the area, both of which we weren’t. The parathas we ended up eating were quite average and definitely not worth it. I hope to someday revisit it with more research and with a local in order to try the famous parathas and chhole-kulche.
We then went to the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, which, I believe was the highlight of the trip. It was beautiful and extremely well-maintained. Despite being an agnostic, I thoroughly enjoyed watching the immense faith with which people come to this Gurudwara.
Lunch was at Farzi Cafe, since I’d been to the Bombay one and loved it. Now Farzi is known for serving Modern Indian food and is only good for people who want to experiment and since my friends didn’t feel like experimenting at that time, they didn’t think it was that great. The last thing we did was visit United Coffee House, a posh coffee house in Connaught Place. Their coffee menu is very elaborate and it will instantly remind you of a coffee house from the movies, with its dim lighting, high ceiling and huge chandeliers.
My 3rd visit to Delhi was the shortest. We reached Delhi at 7am and had a train at 3pm. Since my friends hadn’t been to Hauz Khas before, it was the only thing on our agenda for that day. We left our hotel at 10 am and since we were super-hungry, we first went to Elma’s in Hauz Khas. They have an elaborate breakfast menu with lots of waffles, sandwiches, egg dishes, amazing coffee and the best desserts!
After a quick walk through the HKV fort complex, we again went to Hauz Khas Social because my friends wanted to visit it, but they were also let down. At this point, we were accompanied by a couple of people we’d befriended on our trip and made an impromptu plan to go to this pub called Vapour. It was a bar with a stock exchange and the service was pretty quick. It wasn’t extraordinary, but the pricing was on point.
In short, my favourites that I’d recommend on a 12/24/36 hour trip to Delhi are:
To see: The HKV fort complex and the lake if you’re in the area, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib; but if you haven’t visited the Red Fort, Jantar Mantar, Rajghat, India Gate and all those places, visit those first!
To eat/drink: C’est la vie(Gurgaon), United Coffee House, Le Bistro Du Parc, Elma’s, Farzi Cafe, Big Chill(Because it’s a Delhi must-do) and this stall called Lotan ke chhole in Chandni Chowk(go with proper research and directions)
To stay: The Visaya in Delhi, The Fern in Gurgaon and if you’re looking for cheap options, there’s a line of hotels outside New Delhi railway station.
Delhi, like any other metro city is a place where you’ll be spoilt for choice. There’s so much to do in this city and not enough time, so my advice would be to plan well in advance and try things that are unique to the city. Eat that ice-cream from one of the stalls in CP right after you buy a super-cheap book from a street vendor, eat spicy street food in the crowded gallis of old Delhi and end your evening by pub-crawling through Hauz Khas Village. After all, यह दिल्ली है, मेरे यार.
When I first moved to Bombay, I was quite nervous about making new friends and even though a part of me knew that I’d probably make a few friends, I never imagined that I’d form those close friendships, the Blair-Serena or Monica-Rachel kind of friendships, friendships where someone comes with you to eat waffles in the middle of the night, where you send every Terribly Tiny Tale to each other, where you take care of each other when you fall ill, where you plan every weekend together, where even a trip down memory lane means watching High School Musical songs together. I also never thought I’d find someone with same interests. When I met Aditi Ranjan for the first time, I couldn’t have thought that we’d end up being so close. We initially bonded over our convent school background and food and before we knew it, we started planning all our outings together. Being roommates gave us the kind of transparency that most friendships don’t have. I never had to worry about not having company for a play, a random shopping spree or a new restaurant. We shared a love for romantic comedies, Gossip Girl and Sex and the City, food, travel, plays and our love for adventure brought us together. One “kuch spontaneity laate hai life mei yaar” and we’d both be on our feet, ready to plan our next adventure. In a city like Bombay where time flies, weekends and holidays come and go without you even realizing, Aditi and I managed to make so many memories in 2 years. Now that she’s no more in Bombay, whenever I read about a flea market, a play screening, a pub crawl or a restaurant opening, a wave of emptiness fills my heart because the one person I tagged in all these events saying “let’s go, Ranjan” is now the person I tag and say “I miss you, please come back”. Although friends like these leave you feeling bittersweet, they’re a blessing.
On the occasion of Aditi’s 21st birthday, I’d like to list out some of the best restaurants she and I visited together. The best part about visiting a restaurant with Aditi is that she rarely interferes with your choices. There are so many people who will want to share all the items we’re ordering and in doing so, I’ll have to compromise on what I wish to order. Since I love trying new dishes, a lot of people ask me why I keep on experimenting each time, and this annoys me to no extent. Aditi, on the other hand, doesn’t really care about what the other person is ordering. Whenever we’ve gone out, we’ve either ordered separate mains for ourselves, (considering I’m a vegetarian) or we’ve both decided an equal number of dishes. We both love experimenting and so we’ve never faced an issue there. Our beverage choices are also similar. She is thus, the most chill person to go on a meal with. Here is the “Aditi and Paripsa list”
The Clearing House:
This is one place that Aditi really wanted to visit! She’d been begging me to add this to our list and I was quite apprehensive because it was slightly expensive. When we finally ended up going there, it was worth every penny! The dim lights and soft music give this restaurant killer vibes. We ordered for udon noodles with shiitake mushrooms and coconut broth and saffron and goat cheese ravioli, both of which instantly transported us to food coma! The coconut broth enhanced the taste of the noodles and the ravioli had so much more flavour than any ravioli I’ve had before! For dessert, we ordered the pot de creme, which was heavenly! Although we came home with almost empty pockets, this restaurant was worth every penny!
2) TAG Gourmart Kitchen:
TAG was another place that we saved up for. We were very excited to try Chef Ranveer Brar’s menu. We decided to order 4 small plates. The first was mushroom galouti kebab. Although it was delicious, the quantity was very meagre; 2 pieces for Rs. 350 left us quite alarmed, considering our huge appetites. The second dish was Konyakkuyaki, which is a Japanese street dish, except that here it was served with Idiyyapams. This one too, although very good, was very small. Aditi and I started looking up more places on Zomato to go to after this to fill our stomachs! But the Ramen bowl and the Kathal biryani were thankfully big enough! The kathal biryani was my favourite, and although the idea of jackfruit in biryani seems weird, TAG does full justice to it! We’d ordered a strawberry and champagne tea which was pretty good. We asked for the chocolate fondant and black pepper ice-cream in the end and that was truly the ‘sone pe suhaga’.
3) Woodside Inn:
We visited Woodside Inn on the occasion of its 5th anniversary and so the drinks were very well priced! We ordered beer and mimosas along with a pizza and a gnocchi aglio olio because Aditi had a gnocchi craving! Although the place was very crowded, the food was pretty good and the music was soft, which gave it a good vibe!
4) 1441 Pizzeria
1441 Pizzeria has this concept of unlimited toppings which is perfect for gluttons like Aditi and me! What’s even better is that in one 11” pizza, one can customize the pizza in such a way that half of the pizza can be filled with vegetarian toppings and the other half with non-vegetarian toppings! This made me and Aditi squeal with joy and we fully utilized this option. Aditi took full advantage of the fact that we could add unlimited toppings and she got all kinds of meat put on the pizza! We ordered dough balls along with the pizza and called for 2 iced teas! We were too full, thanks to our pizza which had too many toppings! All in all, Aditi and I loved this place for its value for money pizzas!
5) Bombay Salad Co.
Although both of us love eating junk, we’re fond of salads as well. We’d wanted to visit Bombay Salad Co. since quite some time because we’d heard a lot about it. It was brimming with customers when we visited. I ordered an Italian salad and Aditi ordered a salad witb tofu and soba noodles. We ordered small portions of the salads and yet they were so filling! The salads had the perfect balance of all ingredients and we couldn’t ask for more since we were too full! A visit to Bombay Waffle Co. right across the street sorted our meal.
6) The Pantry
This year’s Kala Ghoda festival was such a fail as compared to last year’s and The Pantry is where Aditi and I went to seek refuge. It’s a really pretty place, the kind of cute cafe that Aditi and I are suckers for. I ordered the lasagna and Aditi ordered the grilled chicken with Anna potatoes. Aditi claims that these potatoes are the best she’s ever had. I’ve never seen her talk so much about potatoes so I can say for sure that the Anna potatoes were great. The lasagna was very tasty. We shared an iced tea(it’s our safe option when we’re not in the mood for coffee). The Pantry definitely lifted our low spirits and we’d surely recommend it!
Aditi loves Asian food and is almost always up for trying Asian food. We’d heard a lot about BusaGo’s reasonably priced Khou suey and so we there once when we wanted to cut down on our expenses. The quantity of the Khou suey was pretty good and it was lip-smacking. Both of us loved it and the fact that it didn’t burn a hole in our pockets made even more happy.
8) Fellas Cafe
Fellas Cafe is a health cafe that lists the calories that each dish contains, quite a unique way to make people eat healthy,no? It’s off Khar S.V. Road and is a quaint little cafe. I ordered a ‘healthy’ pizza, which had olive oil instead of regular pizza sauces, broccoli and mushrooms. Aditi ordered grilled basa with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The prices were very pocket-friendly and although the food wasn’t extraordinary, it was pretty decent.
Quattro has delectable Italian food. I ordered a penne arrabbiata and Aditi ordered a fusili alfredo. We shared a filo pastry. I ordered a Kingfisher Ultra and she ordered a ginger ale. We ended with the Chocolate Saturn(Quattro is known for its desserts) Everything was so good that all we wanted to do at the end of the meal was go to sleep. We went back to Quattro two more times to try other items from their dessert menu . It’s now one of the places we’d blindly visit, anytime!
We went to Shizusan because 1) We’d heard a lot about the Pune outlet which was the first one and 2) We’d gone to Phoenix for the Itsy Bitsy Food Fest and we got hungry while waiting for it to start. We ordered the gingsing mocktail which consisted of lime, basil and cucumber, kimchi spiced mushrooms and gyoza dumplings. All the dishes were delicious to say the least, but the kimchi spiced mushrooms took the prize! We fell in love with Shizusan, a love that’s going to last a long time.
MasalaBar had been on our list for the longest time and when we found out that Wowtables has a 5-course lunch menu at MasalaBar for just 1000(say whattt?!) we decided that we have to go for it. When Aditi’s school best friend came to town, we decided that it was the ideal time to visit MasalaBar. Their 5-course menu stands out because the portion sizes are HUGE and it’s very difficult to finish all the 5 courses completely. The food was delicious, to say the least. The highlights of our meal included paneer khurchan, the carbon pav bhajji, the Baileys lollipop and the chana tempura chaat. The sea-view made the meal even better. Our investment in the 5-course meal at MasalaBar was a very succesful one!
Aditi and I have share a love for cocktails and we got a cocktail pass for ourselves in 2015, which entitled us to one cocktail at 8 different pubs, all at a total cost of Rs. 1000. One of the places on the list was BlueFROG. Since Aditi and I love pub crawls and we usually don’t stay at one pub/bar the whole night, we started with BlueFROG. We got one sangria each and we ordered for bruschetta. BlueFROG is too pretty and the vibe is very soothing. The live music just added to the vibe and even though Aditi and I don’t like sangrias, we had a great time. It’s a shame BlueFROG shut, but we’re glad we got to visit it at least once.
These are just some of the places Aditi and I have been to. We’ve been to more than 90 restaurants/cafes/pubs together, some of them more than once. We’ve had our first kamikaze together, our first LIIT together, we’ve planned pub-crawls wherein we’d visit at least 3 pubs, we’ve visited almost every sea-face between Andheri to Churchgate, we’ve cried and laughed with each other, celebrated each other’s achievements and supported each other through every difficulty, be it PMS or an assignment. Now that she’s not in Bombay anymore, I try to do all the things we did together on my own and I miss her a lot, but I know that Aditi Ranjan is the kind of friend who stays, the friend who understands, the one who never judges. Aditi Ranjan is gem and I’m glad to have found a friend for life in this impulsive, spontaneous and loving human being. Happy Birthday to my non-judging Breakfast Club(Because Gossip Girl references are the best!). Here’s to good food, travel and to always being up for adventure.
I’m quite hard to please when it comes to stationery. I’m not an ardent stationery lover and so I’m rarely charmed by a piece of stationery. Although I’m insanely passionate about writing, I may never be able to the maintain a diary, because I’m as sporadic as most of the great writers I worship; who may sometimes churn out a masterpiece, but on bad days, may lose to writers of Hindi TV shows. So whenever I’ld decide to write a diary, I’d make an entry once in every 15-20 days and the rest of the empty dates would make me feel guilty. The first and foremost reason why I’d recommend MatrikaS Creative Woman’s Journal is because it’s not a diary yet fulfills the same purpose. It’s not something you feel obliged to fill daily, yet it’s so pretty that you feel like scribbling something or the other in it, all day long!
MatrikaS Paper Products was kind enough to send me a copy of their Creative Women’s Journal for their Blogger Outreach Programme -“Scribble your heart away”. The quality of the cover is impeccable and the design is adorable. It has adult colouring pages and extra pages to doodle on. Adult colouring pages may seem like a far-fetched idea but at the moment I’m having such a bad day that filling those colouring pages would be a relief. Doodling has been proven to be a great stress-buster and therefore I’d give the doodling pages a thumbs up! The stickers are the USP of the journal though, they are super-cute and there’s so much variety on the sticker page; there’s a sticker for almost every mood! The stickers are my absolute favourites.
There’s also an envelope at the end, which can be used to store visiting cards and small bits of paper that contain phone numbers or any sort of significant information. I found that to be very useful and I like that it doesn’t take up a lot of space. Ho
While I don’t have any complaints per se, I feel that the ‘Names and Addreses’ page is redundant since most people store addresses digitally. It would be great if more scribbling/doodling pages would be given in the book. The price, although completely justified, is a litter on the expensive side. But then again, if I were to assess the journal in a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits would definitely exceed the costs, by a large margin.
I believe that writing is a mode of self-expression. Women in our society have been silenced for too long. With this initiative, Matrikas has taken a small yet significant step towards ensuring the creation of a space wherein women and creatively express themselves. I feel honoured to be a part of their programme and I’d definitely recommend the Creative Women’s Journal to every woman I know, to every woman who wants to make a difference!
P.S. To get this journal and to tick everything off your stationery bucket-list, visit their website!
Till, scribble your desires away! Be Khanabadosh and never stop dreaming!
Although Ahmedabad is just 2 hours away from Baroda, where I lived all my life till I was 18, I hadn’t really loved or for that matter, even explored Ahmedabad. I did obviously visit Kankaria Lake, Sabarmati Ashram, the shaking minarets and the Rani ni Jaali on picnics or school excursions but I never really examined or studied the history of these places; I’d visited all these places before 2013 and my knowledge of history and culture was relatively limited then. I didn’t visit Ahmedabad much between 2013-2015. Moreover, since Baroda is quite cosmopolitan and Ahmedabad’s culture is known to be a singularly Gujarati culture, I never had the inclination to visit Ahmedabad and explore it. But my sister got a job in Ahmedabad last November and she took part in a lot of heritage walks there,after which she insisted that I visit Ahmedabad.
I’ve visited Ahmedabad thrice in the past 4 months and I’ve enjoyed each visit. There’s still a lot that I haven’t explored in Ahmedabad but whatever I’ve seen so far has exceeded my expectations. After visiting some of the best restaurants in Bombay, I’d set the bar for cafes and restaurants very high but I have to admit that I was quite impressed by most of the places I visited. Some of the best cafes and restaurants I’ve visited so far are:
The Project Cafe:
I have to say that I give this place full marks for its interiors and exteriors; it is too pretty and extremely spacious. The concept of the place(it houses and displays the works of amateur,budding artists) is also quite unique and all the artwork on display is lovely! I visited it late in the afternoon so it was quite empty and I had one section all to myself. I ordered the stuffed mushrooms, the ginger lemon tea and the mocha mousse flan pastry. The quantity was satisfactory and the quality was also very good. The tea could be slightly better but on the whole, the quality of food was fairly good. I sat there for a long time and read a book. This place gives out a calm, soothing vibe and is perfect for those who want to enjoy a meal or a cup of coffee in silence. While Baroda has pretty cafes, the food is quite average and so I loved that the Project Cafe struck a perfect chord between ambiance and food quality.
I’d heard a lot about Nautanki and since it’s the only place in Ahmedabad that’s known for its application of molecular gastronomy to its dishes, my sister and I were very excited to visit it. I’d previously visited Masala Library in Bombay which was probably the first place in India to start molecular gastronomy so I had very high expectations. Unfortunately, Nautanki was pretty average in comparison to Masala Library, firstly since quite a few dishes seemed to be inspired from the dishes at Masala Library but weren’t as tasty as the latter. We ordered a chaat trolley which cost approximately 700 bucks and so we thought it’d be quite elaborate. The server brought the trolley to our table and made the chaat in front of us but it was just one chaat and even though the taste was pretty good, it didn’t seem to be worth the money. Their papad platter is good for a group of at least 4-6 people since it’s pretty big but then again, there isn’t any molecular gastronomy involved in the dish. The other dishes were also quite normal. On the whole, this place can be visited once but the food is ‘just good’, not exceptional or extraordinary. I’d personally prefer paying slightly more and having a meal at Masala Library.
P.S. Nautanki has pretty interiors
3) Huber and Holly:
Huber and Holly is extremely popular amongst people in Ahmedabad and although I visited it at 10:30 pm on a weekday, it was quite full. It serves everything but is well-known for its desserts. Their ice-creams are quite innovative and absolutely delicious! I’d love to visit it again and have a proper meal.
4) The Kettlery
Bombay has a lot of cafes that open up early in the morning but most of the cafes in Gujarat open post 11 in the morning. My sister and I wanted to go for breakfast and The Kettlery was one of the few options we had. It is a bungalow converted into a cafe. It is very beautiful and spacious. They have outdoor seating in one section of the first floor and on the terrace. Since it was quiet warm, we sat inside. This cafe also had a pretty impressive book collection and had I come alone, I would’ve picked up a book from the collection and read it. Their drinks menu is quite varied and they serve different types of hot and cold teas, coffees and coolers. Their food menu also has a lot of options. My sister ordered the spiced chai latte and I ordered the chamomile mint iced tea, both of which were delicious. We ordered the grilled cheese and veggie bagel; 3 days before this, I’d ordered a bagel sandwich in Baroda and it was disastrous since it wasn’t an actual bagel but a big bun with an aloo patty. I was not expecting too much from this bagel but it was absolutely authentic and very tasty. We also ordered a sachertorte which was delicious! The Kettlery exceeded my expectations and should not be missed!
I also visited Cafe Baraco and Nini’s Kitchen, both of which were good. Cafe Baraco serves a coffee called Cafe Baraco which is a cappuccino with a dash of cinnamon;it is heavenly and is definitely worth trying. Nini’s Kitchen has really good tandoori bharwan mushrooms, although the taste of mushrooms wasn’t as dominant as I had expected. Both these places were fairly decent.
I’ve always had an eye for unconventional places and although I earlier thought that Ahmedabad lacks such places, I saw a couple of really interesting places during my visits. I have an obsession with synagogues and I think they’re extremely pretty and grossly under-rated in India. When I found out that Ahmedabad has a synagogue and that it’s the only one in Gujarat, I decided that the first place on my priority list would be this. It’s located in the old city area and is pretty inconspicuous. Google hadn’t listed any visiting hours so when I landed there, it was locked and I was told by the nearby vendors that it opens after two hours. As I was about to leave, someone told me that the caretaker lives right behind the synagogue and he may open it. I tried to approach him and so I walked into the extremely dilapidated area behind the synagogue. While a tiny part of me was mad at myself for being so crazy, I thought that asking the caretaker to open the synagogue for me won’t be such a bad thing. Thankfully, he agreed and showed me the synagogue. Although very little efforts have been made to preserve it, it looked quite impressive and prayer meetings are still held there. I would definitely recommend a synagogue visit to anyone in Ahmedabad since it is a representative of a culture that isn’t very well-preserved in India but whatever little bit of the culture is preserved is beautiful, to say the least.
I also visitied the conflictorium, which is a museum of conflict. It has a record of some of the greatest social, cultural and political conflicts that have taken place in India and in its neighbouring countries. It is a participative museum because it requires the visitors to involve themselves in the study and experience of those conflicts. This is also situated in the old city and is housed in a bungalow that belonged to the first female hairdresser in Ahmedabad. One of my favourite exhibits in the museum consists of a large mirror on a table which has a photograph of the above-mentioned lady and a pair of scissors. The visitor is supposed to sit and hear a recording through headphones while looking at the mirror. The audio is recorded by the founder/owner of the museum. That exhibit is absolutely enlightening. My second favourite exhibit is the ‘sorry tree’ which has the suicide letter of Rohith Vemula written on a wall and a jar where you can write down something you’re sorry about. It may seem like a simple task, but once you accept your mistake on paper and apologize for the same, to no one in particular, it seems exceptionally relieving. This made me realize the importance of letting out one’s feelings through words; even if those words aren’t read by anyone, they benefit the writer because often, writing is like letting go, letting go of all that is binding you to something undesirable, scarring you and hurting you. The conflictorium is one place that I cannot aptly describe because it is an experience, an experience every Indian must have in today’s turbulent times.
Ahmedabad has surprised me with its diversity, intrigued me with its hidden gems and charmed me with its vibe that resembles a metropolitan city but also reminds one of a small town. I sometimes still feel that Ahmedabad is somehow ‘too Gujarati’ for someone like me.I don’t fit the stereotype of a Gujarati that many people hold; I often question the excessive noise pollution caused by Navratri, I like spicy food,I speak English quite well and my Gujarati is quite poor. Sometimes, when I sit alone in a cafe in Ahmedabad and hear people around me, all I hear is Gujarati words and sentences whereas I’m used to hearing a bunch of languages in Bombay and even Baroda, for that matter. But now, I’m fascinated by Ahmedabad because beneath this upper Gujarati layer, it holds within itself the traces of so many cultures that are waiting to be explored and appreciated. Earlier, I could never relate to the phrase ‘Aapnu Amdavad’. But now I can, because now Ahmedabad seems more open, more welcoming and more accepting. Now it seems like an Ahmedabad that is mine and yours, without any distinction.Now, it is, Aapnu Amdavad.
I have to admit that I had my fair share of apprehensions before signing up for a tour organized by the nature club of my college. In my defence, only one friend of mine was interested and the idea of travelling and being chaperoned by teachers didn’t sound appealing to a rebel like me. But I decided to go on the trip anyway, because it was a tour of Rajasthan and it covered a lot of cities. I had previously visited Jaipur twice and I absolutely loved it so the sole intention with which I and my friend embarked on this tour was to see and experience the wonders of Rajasthan.
The lows- The group that we travelled with came on the trip just to click selfies and to eat the food they normally eat in all the hotels and to buy expensive things from the highly commercialized gift-shops outside all the places of interest. None of the people wanted to go to Chokhi Dhani, which is known for the delicious Rajasthani food and instead enjoyed the paneer ki sabzi and biryani that was provided daily. We weren’t allowed to explore a lot on our own and were expected to stick with the group.
The highs- My friend and I met two like-minded people on the trip, people who liked exploring and wanted to try different things and that was great. But the two things that mattered the most-the food and the places of interest were worth it. The food was exceptionally tasty and the places of interest were splendid, to say the least. Here’s a look at each city and its highlights:
1) Ranthambore/Sawai Madhopur:
Sawai Madhopur is known for Ranthambore National Park and its tigers; but I feel that the Ranthambore Fort is as good as the former. It’s quite big and although many efforts to maintain it have been taken, it has more or less retained its beauty. I really enjoyed climbing to the top and I was really impressed by the views from various points in the fort, but since this was the first fort we saw in a state that it known for its forts, I didn’t know that many more beautiful forts were awaiting me. On the whole, although the fort is not that great, it’s not so bad either. The national park, on the other hand, was quite a disappointment because we didn’t see any tigers and this also goes to show that the number of tigers is decreasing at an alarming rate and all efforts to prevent that are failing.
I’d been to Jaipur twice before this trip and I was still looking forward to it. The ‘Pink city’ does live up to all the hype surrounding it. The Amer Fort is absolutely stunning and one of the best places I saw in the tour. The carvings on all the walls are so intricate and beautiful that one cannot help but gasp. The Hawa Mahal, the City Palace and Jantar Mantar are all very well-maintained and the museum in the city palace is extremely interesting and a must-visit for history lovers. The old city markets are must-visits for people who are looking for jhumkas, bandhani dupattas, jholas, mojdis and kurtas. Although almost everything is very cheap, I felt that the Hawa Mahal bazaar was cheaper than Bapu bazaar which is more famous. One can find jhumkas being sold near Amer Fort at very cheap prices but these bazaars have more variety. #KhanabadoshTravelTip-Some shopkeepers might charge high prices for bandhani and other dupattas by saying that it’s because of the quality, so please don’t fall for such gimmicks. The print kurtas sold in the bazaars are extremely VFM (There’s a shop at the junction of the first and second lane in Bapu bazaar that sells sleeveless kurtas for 150 and 3/4 sleeve kurtas for 200 and the quality of the kurtas is really good). But the one thing that one cannot miss in Jaipur is Laxmi Mishtan Bhandar or LMB as it is popularly known. My friend and I had to report back to our group and we had 25 minutes to go to LMB, eat and go back and at the risk of being scolded by the professors, we went to LMB and we were glad we did. Their pyaaz kachori and lassi were insanely tasty and worth all the haste! This place should not be missed. The next day, we ventured out by ourselves and went to Kailash ka Dhaba and ordered a Rajasthani thali which had Dal baati, churma, gatte ki sabzi, dal-chawal and roti, along with lassi. Let me clarify that I’m not a lassi lover but this trip made me one. The thali, again was fantastic and I would recommend Kailash da Dhaba in Hawa Mahal bazaar for the quick service, reasonable prices and yummy food.
Before we reached Jaisalmer, we went through a terrifying train journey from Jaipur to Jaisalmer. I’d travelled in second class sleeper almost 10-12 times before but the crowd of people was never as bad as during this journey. As a result, we hardly slept during the night and when we tried to sleep, the cold kept us awake. So woke up quite cranky but all of that went away when we saw our campsite in Jaisalmer, 50 kilometers away from the city. It was very close to the sand dunes and we felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and for once I was glad I didn’t have any mobile network. After recovering from the hangover that the train journey gave us, we went for a camel ride in the sand dunes. The whole experience took me back to my childhood. The camel ride made me squeal in delight like a young kid and once we reached the sand dunes, I played with the sand, something every kid loves to do but stops doing once he/she grows up. When I was a kid, my dad and I would make secret pathways in the sand and I made the same with a young girl in Jaisalmer. There, making that sand tunnel and watching the gorgeous sunset, that was one of the best parts of the trip. At night, we had a cultural evening under the stars, wherein dancers performed traditional Rajasthani dances and we were served a Rajasthani meal. It was quite enjoyable and later at night, we walked around the campsite and at one point, we took off our chappals and enjoyed the cold sand. I cannot express how simple yet satisfying that was.
The next morning, we left the campsite and went to the old city. The Jaisalmer fort is very unique because almost the entire city resides inside the fort. Grocery stores and restaurants are located inside the fort and yet, it hasn’t been contaminated by human habitation, it is still a delightful visual. The fort is golden-yellow in colour and quite beautiful. Next we went to Patwon ki Haveli. This is just one haveli, there are other havelis also but some of them have been infested by bees or termites and hence are not open to the public. The Patwon ki Haveli was quite beautiful. Every storey was more marvellous than the previous one and the roof has a beautiful view of the city. The havelis are located in the small by-lanes of the city and walking in these lanes gives one the true feel of Rajasthan. A lot of street shops sell different types of kachori near this area but I cannot vouch for the taste, although I’m pretty certain that it must be authentic.
Jodhpur was the underdog of the tour. I wasn’t expecting much from Jodhpur since it’s not as popular as the other cities and relatively less written about. But it managed to surprise me and hold me in awe. The first place that we visited in Jodhpur was Jaswant Thada; it was beautiful. It is very well maintained and has some great views! We then went to Mehrangarh fort, which is one of the biggest forts in the state. It has a very good museum, which has an informative yet engaging display. A lot of films have been shot at this picturesque location. We also visited the Mandore garden, which was spread over a large area and is captivating.The Jodhpur Palace, however is a must-visit. Half of it is taken over by a hotel but the remaining part is converted into a museum and there’s also a vintage car museum which is a paradise for car-lovers. The view from the palace is so good and no picture can do justice to it.
As far as food is concerned, the area near the clock tower in Jodhpur is the place to be. Ajanta Sweet Home is well-known but it must be visited early or else the good stuff gets finished. We found a small shop behind the clock tower where we had mogar kachori, mava kachori, lassi and rabdi and all of them were great. The mava kachori is really sweet so people who do not have a sweet tooth should stay away from it. Pyaaz kachori can be found at Ajanta sweet home or Shahi samosa.
Udaipur was my favourite, out of all the cities we covered; and as clichéd as it may sound, I knew it was my favourite the moment I saw Fatehsagar lake.My boat ride in the lake was filled with feelings of amusement, awe and fascination. The places that followed were just as good, if not better. Saheliyon ki bari and its fountains amused me and I enjoyed it despite the crazy crowd. But the City palace took my breath away. I got major YJHD feels when I visited the palace and the views from the palace were breathtakingly beautiful. The palace also had some very pretty doors and I instantly fell in love with it. But the best part of our day in Udaipur was when we left the palace and were walking down towards the entrance and saw the beautiful sunset by the lake. The sky looked like a stunning canvas that was painted to perfection. #KhanabadoshTip- There’s a restaurant right outside the city palace and it has a great view of the lake. Since I was in a group and had to get back to the hotel, I couldn’t go there but I bet it’s worth visiting, just for the ambiance.
That night, for dinner, we decided to rebel against the authorities that were making us eat paneer and dal-chawal and went out for dinner. 1559 AD is one restaurant that I’d heard a lot about, from very reliable sources so we finalized it. It has a really soothing ambiance with Rajasthani music being played. There is indoor as well as outdoor seating and we chose the latter. The variety in the menu is impeccable. We ordered stir fried vegetables with rice and stuffed mushrooms. The quantity is worth mentioning and the portions are quite filling. I wouldn’t say that the food was wonderful but it wasn’t bad at all. All in all, 1559 AD is a place that should be visited once.
6) Mount Abu:
Mount Abu was one of the most fun places of our trip. It stood out because it had many hill station-like attractions- the countless ice-cream sellers, small shops selling souvenirs, cute cafes and street food stalls serving almost everything from dal baati to manchurian to pani-puri. I’d been told to visit Cafe Shikibo and try the orange hot chocolate. When we looked it up on TripAdvisor, it said that the place was right in the middle of the main market whereas they had shifted the cafe some time back (They’ve updated the address now). It’s still in the middle of the city only, but in the bylines. It is pretty spacious and I loved the ambiance which clearly shows how much thought has gone behind designing the whole place. The owner is very friendly and will even suggest you dishes. We ordered the orange hot chocolate, cheesy fries, a gingerbread cappuccino and a veg grilled sandwich. The cappuccino was good but I have a feeling that only those with experimental taste buds will like it. The sandwich and the fries were tasty but the orange hot chocolate was the showstopper. It was HEAVENLY! I would definitely recommend that to everybody. All in all, Cafe Shikibo is a place to be visited.
The next morning we went to the main market and had a breakfast that consisted of coffee, egg ghotala with bread and masala maggi, which was insanely satisfying. We then went for sightseeing, of which our first stop was the Dilwara temples. The temples are Jain temples,are made of marbles and are known for the intricate carvings. Now I have to say that for someone who’s just been to forts and palaces in the rest of Rajasthan, intricate carvings may sound very normal, but these carvings just blew me away and made the other places I’d seen seem like they’d been made by amateurs, in terms of the carvings. The temples are not allowed to be photographed and are very crowded but definitely worth a visit. After the Dilwara temples, we visited the Achalgarh temples which were badly maintained and were not as magnificent as the former; Achalgarh, can therefore, be skipped.
Our next destination was Guru-Shikhar, which is the highest point of the Aravalli range. My dad had told me that Guru Shikhar is something I should not miss and so I was incredibly excited for it. When we reached there, however, most of the people decided to give it a miss since it required some amount of climbing which they were not ready to do. Since I said that I will go there no matter what, a few people accompanied me. We climbed to Guru Shikhar in just 5 minutes! There is a Jain temple at the entrance which is quite well-maintained and after walking through it, we came out and were greeted by the spectacular view. It probably won’t compare to the views one might get in the Himalayas, it is probably one of the best in the state. I kind of felt bad for all the lazy bums who missed out on it because they didn’t want to climb such a short distance.
After leaving Guru-Shikhar with very high spirits, we went to the Brahma Kumaris Peace Park, where again, most of the people backed out because the idea of walking in a beautiful and clean garden made by one of the most famous spiritual organizations in India didn’t appeal to them! I went in with the same group of people that had accompanied me to Guru Shikhar, but I walked ahead of them since the Peace Park was so beautiful that I didn’t want to spoil my experience by engaging in conversation; it was that kind of moment that is best experienced in silence. One of the highlights of my walk was when I saw the playground within the park where adults were playing on swings and see-saws. They seemed so happy and seeing them made me realize that if we try, we can obtain happiness from things like swings, which we deem to be immature as soon as we grow up. The visual of that playground is something I will always remember and something that taught me that it is okay to relive my childhood. The entire park is beautiful and there is also a meditation room which I would definitely recommend because it elevated my mood. This place should not be missed and I’d suggested walking through the park in silence in order to appreciate its serenity. Silence is often under-rated, celebrate it.
P.S. Taking photographs is not allowed inside the Peace Park
Mount Abu was the last destination of our trip; we took a train back to Bombay from Abu Road Station. I came back with a lot of lessons 1) Going on a trip in a group, especially a college group, can be tricky when everyone has different interests 2) Not everyone is as excited about exploring as you are 3) Sometimes, you need to find a middle path and do your bit of exploring while adhering to the schedule at the same time. My friend, Delice and I made 2 new friends, who are our juniors in college, who we’d never met before; they also liked exploring like we did and we had a lot of fun venturing out on our own, away from the group! This was the first trip Delice and I took together and in the beginning it was difficult to be around each other the whole time, and while we did argue at times since she is incredibly talkative and I like being quiet at times, we managed to have a great trip because we didn’t let any of our arguments get out of control and more importantly, because we both love exploring and we rebelled against the whole group together. We’re definitely not going for a college trip again but we look forward to travelling together in the future.
Rajasthan is rich in culture, is incredibly diverse, each city has its own story to tell. But what I realized after this trip is that while most of the monuments in Rajasthan are worth visiting, some of the less celebrated monuments are the real gems: I would definitely put the Peace Park and Guru Shikhar above the Delwara Temples; Jaswant Thada and Mandore Park will linger in my mind longer than Mehrangarh Fort will and I think that Ranthambore and Ranthambore fort are slightly overrated and can be skipped. While Jaipur is richer in terms of history, Udaipur will be my favourite! I realized that travelling is about breaking free from the set schedule, exploring the unexplored, never underestimating the beauty of a place and being open to new experiences and lessons. I should mention at this point that Rajasthan has some of the prettiest, some of the most majestic and some of the simplest yet charming doors which will always stay with me.
The large number of foreigners who visited the place also made me wonder why we tend to underestimate the beauty of our nation. My father loves travelling but he doesn’t have a passport; he always told me that India is so vast and so beautiful that he wants to travel the whole country before venturing abroad. We plan trips abroad round the year and talk about the modernity that some of the global destinations boast of but do we fully appreciate the beauty that our country has? To find out why so many foreigners visit Rajasthan every year,go there once, dance to the folk songs, take in the grandeur of the forts and the beauty of the palaces, taste the food that is as delicious as it is varied, go on a camel safari and walk barefoot in the sand at night with the moon and stars to keep you company. Ek baar hi sahi, padharo mhare desh!
I always thought that after a certain age, it is difficult to develop friendships that are based on zero judgement, mutual respect and acceptance; since it’s a common notion that bonds of friendship that develop in school are the only ones that last, my belief became stronger.I have a very close circle of school friends that have been with me through everything and so I thought it would be difficult to find friends in Bombay that would be as non-judgemental, as loving and as caring as my friends back home. Little did I know that I was wrong.
For the last two years, I stayed in a PG with 11 other girls. Luckily, I had a small room to myself, so I didn’t face a lot of problems when I moved. In my first year, I initially got along with all of the girls in the PG, but I became good friends with two of them: Medha and Aditi. They’re both poles apart- Medha is extremely diligent and focused while Aditi is opinionated and whimsical. What these two share, though, are values like respect for one’s privacy, perseverance and patience. I love exploring and trying out new restaurants, cafes & monuments;Aditi is a big foodie and loves travelling so my bucket list became hers and she became the first person who would come to my mind when I read about a play screening, a restaurant opening or a new Terribly Tiny Tale. Medha, on the other hand, shared my love for old Hindi songs and Indo-Chinese food. We bonded over cheesy fries and “Urvashi Urvashi”. In my first year, the three of us were in separate rooms but in my second year, we shared a room, which brought us closer(not just physically!). Since I love exploring, we would fully utilize our Sundays by picking one area and exploring it. We had a Bandra day, a Powai day, a Fort day, a Mahakali caves day, a Byculla day and a Mandwa day trip wherein we would visit places of interest, eat good food, sit by the lake or the sea. One of the things I love about the two of them is that we don’t necessarily have to talk all the time. We understand and appreciate each other’s silences.
One of the things you learn while living with someone new is how to adjust. Since we were in different rooms in the first year, we didn’t have to adjust too much, but in our second year, we did. I sleep earlier than the two of them so they had to keep quiet. Medha studies regularly so we had to use our earphones. Aditi sometimes comes late from college and naps till the evening so we had to maintain silence. We often had to adjust when we had to dry our clothes since the three of us had one drying line in common. We couldn’t get our friends over when someone was ill or had an exam; we also spoke softly when someone was sleeping. These things seem very small but when it comes to making these small sacrifices, one often becomes very egoistic. I learned how to adjust and talk softly when someone was sleeping, how to use the bathroom and get ready without making noise, how to watch movies on my laptop at a very low volume and most of all, I learned that this process is mutual, and that if you find people who will sacrifice for you as much as you sacrifice for them, they are meant to stay and that is how life is.
I always refer to my school friends as my ‘bestfriends’ because for me, the word bestfriend means someone who will always be there for me, someone who won’t judge, someone who will always listen, someone who I can bare my heart to and someone will sacrifice for me, just the way I will. I’ve learned not to use the word bestfriend for too many people since it comes with a lot of insecurity, jealousy and expectations. When I came to Bombay though, I realized that it’s not how you label your friendship that matters. Medha, Aditi and I have never used the term bestfriend for each other, yet we’ve been there for each other, been each other’s pillars of support, seen each other through thick and thin, laughed and cried together, celebrated each other’s victories and divided each other’s sorrows. Medha was the one who comforted me when I lost a relative while I cried on Aditi’s shoulder the night I was at my lowest. They taught me that sometimes, it’s best to leave some bonds undefined. “Batane se behtar hai nibhana”
Although we’ve never expected a lot from each other and we’ve respected each other’s privacy, there have been times when I expected them to do something that they didn’t; but those instances didn’t change anything because I could talk to them when I felt something was wrong and sort it out with them. We have had tons of tiny arguments but we’ve never fought once. I feel that you may not be able to live with all your friends, but if you’re able to be friends with the people you live with, those are the bonds that are built on a solid foundation of trust, acceptance and love.
Aditi and Medha will graduate this year and move out of Bombay. I will also move to another PG. In order to mark the end of these amazing two years, the three of us decided to go on a weekend trip. We saw this link which said that an eco-resort named Avanti Kalagram in Mulshi(which is 30-45 mins from Pune) was the perfect getaway and that it was regularly visited by families and that there were a lot of trekking options nearby. We managed to convince our parents to let us visit the place and we hired a cab and went. Once we reached there, we had no signal on our phones, the place was deserted, there was nobody staying there that night except us, the staff consisted only of men, there were no phones in the rooms and the door of the balcony didn’t lock properly. There were only rocks there and the roads were too narrow; there was no route that we could trek on. We were alarmed and I immediately called my dad; I asked him if we should go to Pune since we felt Mulshi was unsafe and he told me to do the same. Since we had to go to Pune because the situation demanded that, we decided that we would be together that night, which was a Saturday. We let our cab go and went partying in our camping clothes and enjoyed a lot. The next morning, we separately went to meet friends and relatives in Pune and we came back in a bus. When I was in Mulshi, I was worried because things didn’t turn out as I had planned but that worry didn’t turn into fear because I knew that the three of us would be together and that we would get through it and even though the trip was definitely what we planned, the sense of security I experienced in that one moment reminded me of why we were so close and why we decided to go on a trip in the first place.
The realization that they won’t be there with me next year broke my heart because they had become my Bombay survivals, my daily diaries; Aditi helped me aim for the stars while Medha helped me stay on the ground. I don’t know if I’ll ever label them as my ‘bestfriends’ but they’re both living examples of what friendship stands for- mutual respect, care, sacrifice and understanding. I’ll surely meet them soon but it will be very hard for any roommate to fill their shoes. What helps me though is the fact that both of them will be just a phone call away. They’ve made me realize that at any point in your life, you can find friends who will last a lifetime, if you’re willing to try; it won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worth it. They taught me that not everyone is your ‘bestfriend’ and not all friendships are built on expectations but the ones where you do things for the other person without expecting anything in return are the best ones. Which is why I feel that the person you live with in a new city is the one you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Before I end, here are a few of our happiest memories:
I came to Bombay to study in a good college and explore the city but I realized that my so-called ‘exploration days’ would be incomplete without them. I’d like to quote Aisha from Wake up Sid at this point:
“Inn goals ko paane ki khushi tab hi mehsoos ho sakti hai jab unhe baatne ke liye koi saath ho”
If you have someone like this in your life, tell them how much they matter, tell them how much you love them. Unadulterated, non-judgemental bonds of friendship are rare these days. Cherish them. And as far as Aditi, Medha and I are concerned, we’ll always have each other!
“Ho bin kahe, thehra tu har mod par, oh yaara, mere liye,
bhula tu khud ki dagar, oh yaara, mere liye,
har kadam, sang chali, teri yaari ,
Iss bedhangi duniya ke sangi hum na hote yaara, apni toh yaari atrangi hai re!
My elder sister has always loved strong coffee; when I say strong I mean the 3-sachets-in-a-cup level of strong! I had my first coffee at the age of 8 and I thought it was very bitter because my sister made it that way. Since then, throughout my childhood and early adolescence, I avoided coffee because I thought my sister’s way of making it was universal and that it was always that strong.
But my belief was shattered when I reached high school and embraced the saviour that Cafe Coffee Day was. CCD is the perfect place for all the teenagers who want to chill with their friends but are on a budget. Most of my family loved CCD and I instantly took to it. During 11th and 12th, I visited CCD 3-4 times a month and their tropical iceberg with whipped cream was my favourite beverage, although I did experiment with almost all the hot and cold coffees. The waitstaff know me and my friends personally since we’ve had some of our most important life discussions there and I often go there alone and chat with my favourite waitress. Even today, when there’s no other decent place to go to (Baroda does have pretty cafes but most of them lack good coffee and food), my school friends and I go to CCD and stay there for hours and hours, talking, completing college assignments, planning birthdays, possible getaways and what not.
It was only when I came to Bombay that I stopped visiting CCD, since Bombay has so many good cafes that have great coffee and snacks. Pretty, cosy, hidden cafes are my weakness and I love trying new coffee places. In the past 1.5-2 years that I’ve been in Bombay, I’ve tried too many cafes and I’ve had my share of good coffees and bad coffees. Although I’m currently obsessed with health cafes, my loyalties will always lie with coffee places. Here’s a list of my favourite coffee places in Bombay:
BAD Cafe, Pali Hill, Bandra:
I’d wanted to visit BAD since a long time and I’d read very good reviews about its coffee menu. They do not display their menu on Zomato and I’m accustomed to checking any place’s menu, carefully scrutinizing it and then visiting the place. But one evening, me and my roommate were eating dinner nearby and we decided to visit BAD and have some coffee and dessert and see whether this cafe was worth the hype or not. It’s located in the by-lanes of Pali Hill and is pretty huge. I loved the monochrome interiors, they gave the place a very welcoming vibe. The ambiance here is spot-on. We ordered a Cafe Bon Bon which consists of 30 ml condensed milk and a 60 ml espresso shot. This has to be the best coffee I’ve had in Bombay so far. The taste was bittersweet in the real sense and I couldn’t stop sipping it. Adding to the great taste was the fact that this place looks absolutely stunning at night. It is pricey but completely worth the money!
2. Bombay Coffee House, Linking Road, Bandra:
Bombay Coffee House is famous for its breakfast options and while its omelettes, croissants, baked beans and waffles do live up to the hype, its coffee is something that’s underrated. They have a good coffee menu, albeit not as elaborate as BAD’s. I went there to try their King’s breakfast which is more than enough for two people and is delicious! I ordered the Hazelnut cappuccino and my friend ordered the mocha. The mocha was good but the hazelnut cappuccino was heavenly and I was impressed because it’s tricky to get it right, since you need to be able to taste the caffeine as well as the hazelnut. BCH nailed this beverage by having a balanced taste of caffeine and hazelnut.
P.S. Their breakfast menu lives up to the hype and the other dishes are also pretty decent. You can try almost any snack with the coffee. They also have WiFi and plug-points so you can enjoy your coffee while catching up on assignments or unfinished work.
3. Koinonia Coffee Roasters:
Koinonia stands out because it’s a place that serves only coffee; I repeat, ONLY COFFEE! It’s a tiny, cute cafe inside the the Chuim Village in Khar. It’s not very well-known since it opened just a couple of months back. It can seat barely 8-10 people but I have to say that within the limited space that they have, they’ve managed to beautify the cafe. Since their menu only has coffee, there are plenty of hot and cold coffees to choose from. I ordered the latte which was perfectly hot and soothing. They serve coffee with this cookie which was so delicious and it complimented the coffee to such an extent that I kept on taking small bites because I didn’t want to finish it. They don’t sell these cookies but do serve them with every cup of coffee so that’s an added incentive for having another cup of coffee. I could guess that the cookie was made from oats and had a hint of caramel.The coffee-makers here are extremely friendly and will even suggest you coffee according to your taste. I spontaneously visited this place today and had an even better experience! We ordered the cappuccino and the cortado, both of which were amazing! I like coffees that are strong but not extremely bitter and Koinonia’s coffees effortlessly fulfill this requirement. I’d definitely recommend this place.
P.S. They make their affogato with ice-cream from Bono Boutique Ice-cream and I can vouch for Bono Boutique’s taste, so ice-cream lovers should definitely give their affogato a try.
I don’t repeat a lot of places, but I’ve already repeated Bombay Coffee House and Koinonia and I’ll surely be visiting the BAD very soon for I cannot wait to try the rest of their coffees. Having said that, I feel it is incomplete to write a coffee post without writing about the magic that filter coffee weaves (or rather filters!) Making good filter coffee is an art and the South-Indian cafes in Matunga and Sion and have perfected it. I absolutely love the filter coffee served at Ramashray and Cafe Madras and once in a while I’ll surely travel on a harbour line train to eat a South-Indian meal with filter coffee! But on days when I feel like catching up with a friend over coffee, reading a book or just stepping out alone, I know I’ll enter one of these welcoming cafes and ask the most pertinent question: