Tag Archives: Food

Trip To Remember – Trekking Sar Pass – Part 1

Finally, surpassed all the procrastination, laziness and mental blocks to write about our trek to Sar Pass (Did you note the word play?).

It was an exciting trip and plenty of stories to be told. But, From where do I start? Just like my last trek, this one is also with Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI). Being one of the most famous and sought after trek organized by YHAI, we had to plan well in advance, almost before 5 months. Like any other trip, few opted out, a few added in and finally left with Myself, Jayashree (Buddy), Nigilan and Lavanya. Yeah, the same friends from my last trek and many other trips before. It was quite unfortunate that Giri opted at the last moment, it was great fun with him the last trek.

Day 1 – 18th May 2017

As planned Buddy and Myself started from Chennai whereas Nigilan and Lavanya started from Bangalore. Here is something funny that happened at the airport. We were there well ahead of our flight schedule. With a poor consciousness of time, we lazed chit chatting and charging our mobile phones. It was a great shock when we were denied to check-in our luggage as we crossed the 50 minutes to departure check-in window. Phew, Thankfully, our kind apologetic words worked and the ground staff agreed to check-in with a strong warning to be on time. That’s a great lesson learned. We boarded our Indigo6E 26D, despite checking-in together we both were given different seats however the only consolation for that ultimate boredom was a seat by the window. Most time was spent listening to music and reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (Yet to be completed). After a long haul at Hyderabad, we reached Chandigarh around 2 pm.

Nigilan & Lavanya were already waiting for us at the airport and we were joined by Giri’s friends Prasad, Sunil & Sunil’s sister Sharon. More the merrier, the gang count raised to 7. With our bus to Bhuntar scheduled at night, we decided to hire cabs and roam around the city in the mean time. As we were terribly hungry, we decided to finish off our lunch first before doing anything else. The cab driver recommended Pal Dhaba at Sector 28, one of the popular Dhabas in the town. Yes, the food at this place lived up to its reputation without burning hole in the pocket. I loved their Butter Chicken & Mint Chutney and finished the meal with delicious Kulfi sold outside the hotel. Our next stop was the beautiful Sukhna Lake. Despite being a hot summer day, it was quite breezy there. With my friends complimenting my superior photography skills the time moved pleasantly as we walked around the lake. I am in still love with the yellow blossoms there.

Our next stop was the most famous Rock Garden of Chandigarh. It was secretly built by Nek Chand, a government official out of waste and throw away items. Though it was illegally built in a protected forest area, public opinions were asked and the park was officially inaugurated in 1976 as public space. Isn’t it true when they say “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”? it was really amazing to see how day to day waste items has been transformed into beautiful sculptures. It’s awesome of Nek Chand to make us see and the feel the same beauty he saw in those disposable things. The place was magnificent, even got waterfalls and I really wish we had enough time to roam around.

Our next hop was Zakir Hussain Rose Garden or just Rose Garden as dearly called by the locals. Spanning across 30 acres, it’s the largest garden in Asia. It’s a home for 50,000+ rose bushes, as a result of being there at off season, all we could see is rose bloomed in very few bushes and that was quite disappointing. One big mistake we did was to extend the cab. The cab driver didn’t communicate us properly on the extra tariffs, as the result, we end up paying a lot more than we supposed to when we reached Inter State Bus Terminus (ISBT). The Sad part is, even my buddy’s conversation with the cab company’s customer care in Hindi didn’t help us. After a light dinner at a restaurant in ISBT, we boarded our bus to Bhuntar and that’s how the first day of our trip came to an end.

Day 2 – 19th May 2017

With bumps and sharp turns, all of sudden I felt like being on a roller coaster. It took some time for me to get into my consciousness and realize that the bus was in the middle of mountains intensely tracing its curves. As everyone is asleep, the whole bus was quiet and I silently enjoyed the dawn slowly breaking over the mountains. Little perks of being an early riser. As soon our bus dropped us at Bunthar, I could feel the cold breeze caress me and my body struggling to adapt to the same. My friends easily vetoed my idea of reaching the base camp by bus, so we hired a cab. On the way, we halted a little for our morning tea. The taste of the tea was completely contrary to the driver’s claim of the best tea in this area. View of the Parvathi river and the Hindi songs on the way make the drive much memorable one.

After an hour journey, finally, we reached YHAI base camp at Kasol. It was nothing like our previous base camp at Darjeeling during Sandakphu trek. Once done with our registrations, we were allotted our tents. Yes, you heard it right, we would be staying in tents in base camp as well as all other higher camps to come. After having our breakfast and collecting our blankets, we spent the forenoon resting in our tents. One can’t expect much on a rest day. At any given point of time, this camp houses 4 batches, 1 x reporting batch, 2 x training batch and 1 x departing batch. That’s quite a lot of people. No wonder when they say it’s one of the most famous treks of YHAI. One of the best things Nigilan did during this trip was finding an awesome place for lunch. The Evergreen restaurant served some of the authentic Israelian cuisines in Kasol. I really loved their Chicken Schnitzel and Hummus. We were not allowed to be out of the camp post 6 PM and that’s very little time to finish our late lunch and shop some essentials. After roaming around the street of Kasol, we returned to the camp just on time. Then the dinner was served and a yet another awesome day came to an end with campfire event organized by our previous batch in the camp.

Day 3 – 20th May 2017

Though the day started much earlier for me, for most of them at the camp the wakeup call was the long whistle from the camp leader. We all assembled for a quick count check and jogged to the exercise spot half a kilometer away. An hour was well spent doing stretching and strengthening exercises. The best part is, Sunil and myself would run back to the camp while others would walk exhausted, runners you see. A girl in the camp seemed familiar but couldn’t even recollect her name and was quite hesitant to talk to her. Later, she introduced herself and happened to be my fellow Yatri during Jagiti Yatra. It’s no mere coincidence that I keep meeting Yatri’s during my treks. It was a pleasure meeting you Amrita. The breakfast was followed by tent cleaning activity and the acclimatization walk. We had to carry a minimum of 10 kgs and walk a total of 8 km, almost near Manikaran and back. We took a small break on the banks of Parvathi river, had some juice and rejoiced the beauty of the mountains and the flowing water before returning back to the camp.  Post lunch we had our induction session, where the program director gave a brief talk on the trekking route, Do’s & Dont’s. The rain spoiled our sneaking out plan and we spent the rest of the day inside our tents. Like any other awesome day at the base camp, it came to an end with dinner followed by campfire event by our batch. Our guys did put a spectacular show on the stage. Did I tell you that Sharon is an awesome singer? We even some how convinced her to sing that day.

Day 4 – 21st May 2017

The morning routine is pretty much same at the base camp. Just like the last day we had the wakeup call, count check, exercise session, breakfast and tent cleaning. We were then taken to a pine forest for the rock climbing training. The trainers gave us clear instructions and even thought us how to tie a double bowline knot. We had to climb an almost flat vertical surface with a few cracks to hold on. Most of us tried and only a few of us succeeded. Even though we mocked Nigilan a lot, he is the only one in our gang to complete the climb successfully and did it like a piece of cake. While others were trying hard to climb, I relaxed eating cherries and playing cricket with the local kids. They were gracious enough to allow me to bowl an over. Ours was a 50 member batch and the time wasn’t enough for all of us to try, consequently, few of the brave souls like me returned back to the camp without even giving it a try. Post lunch we were supposed to go on Rappelling, but nature had other plans. It rained heavily and Rappelling got canceled. By evening, we packed our bags. Initially, my backpack weighed around 9 kgs. Lighter the better during the trek, eventually, I reduced it to around 6 kgs and deposited the rest with the base camp. When the rain subsided we had some time to go out and munch some cakes at the German Bakery and some hot Momos at the small shop opposite to it. It seemed to be a perfect climate to munch those deliciously hot Momos. By this time you must have known how a day ends at base camp. Unlike rest of the days, one feeling dominated that night, the sheer excitement of climbing mountains the next day.

To Be Continued…

Trip To Remember – Kochi – Muziris Biennale

After weeks and weeks of procrastination, I finally pulled myself up to write about one of the exciting trips of my life. Who said short trips aren’t exciting enough? This one easily defined that assumption.

One fine day, my dear blogging friend Deepanarayana a.k.a Prince Deepu called me to check if I was interested in a 2 day trip to Cochin. As I haven’t visited the place yet, I gave my nod without a second thought. Later, he also informed me that there’s Kochi Muziris Biennale, a contemporary art festival going on in Cochin at the same time. For me, it felt like killing two birds with one stone. In other words “Kanna Rendu Laddu Thinna Aasaiya” feeling :D. Like any other trip, a few opted out and finally ended up with Bragadesh Prasanna a.k.a Brags Anna, Karthik Pasupathi a.k.a KP, Deepanarayana a.k.a Deepu and Yours Truly.

That Friday (10.02.2017), left my office early so that I could pack up my things and catch the train on time. Luckily, like my last trip to Hyderabad, there wasn’t any eleventh-hour adventure. Though our train was scheduled for 22:50 it was around 23:15 when we took off. After bits of chit chats, my sleepy head wasn’t able to hold anymore. So, I wished the rest a very good night and dozed off.

It was around 12 in the noon when we reached the Ernakulam Junction the next day (11.02.2017). We were hungry as we had a very little for the breakfast on the train. So, indulged on traditional Kerala Parotas and Biryanis in a restaurant near the station. From there, we took an Auto to Fort Kochi and it was already 2 while we checked-in into our homestay. Then, we freshened ourselves before heading out to roam around by 2.30. Renting the bike from the homestay helped us.

Our first stop was “Cabral Yard”, where we saw an array of awesome audiovisuals projected on unusual surfaces inside a mud hut. Then we moved to the greatest attraction of the fest, “THE ASPINWALL HOUSE”. It’s one of the famous heritage property in Fort Kochi. Established in 1867, the former business premises of Aspinwall & Company Ltd was well converted into a well-organized art exhibition. After picking up our entrance passes which will be valid for the whole Biennale for Rs 100 each, we took a free guided tour, sincerely considering our expertise in the field of contemporary art. The following are the artworks that completely blew me away.

The first on the list is “Sea Of Pain”. Many times I have heard Poems, but for the first time, I experienced one. It’s the conceptualization of the below poem by Raul Zurita on Syrian refugee. The heaviness and gravity caused while walking in the dark, dense sea water in the room are beyond expression by words, one has to feel it being there.

Don’t you look? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you hear me? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you see me? In the sea of pain.
Don’t you feel me? In the sea of pain.
Won’t you come back? Never again? In the sea of pain.
Never? Never? Never? In the sea of pain.”

The next on the list is “The Pyramid of Exiled Poets”. It’s a Pyramid with a very faintly lit path inside, it’s almost dark in there. Along the path, you hear the voices of poets who were exiled from their country. Again, it’s tough to express these experiences by words, at least for me.

Ghost Keeping“, a depiction of a textile factory run by ghosts, “Room for Lies“, a room filled with lots of photographs and paintings, “Dance of Death”, an art installation made of electric bulbs and “12 Stories”, a live mural painting project using only natural colors depicting a mythological story are the other artworks that got inscribed deep in my thoughts. It was great to see a pop-up post office got set up in the venue, what an opportunity to write postcards to a few friends.

I liked the view of Kochi port from there. It was amazing to see huge ships moving in and out of the port. Wish we could stay there for more, but we had to leave the place as every Biennale venue get closed by 6 pm. Then we headed straight to the beach, I have no idea why I love beaches a lot, I just love them. One of my long time dreams came true, it’s to watch those massive Chinese nets in action. The breeze, the sand, the waves and the tiny shells. OMG, the beach bought an unexplainable joy and I was singing aloud “Andha Arabic Kadaloram” song as the tiny tides wet my legs. Again, we went back to the homestay, got freshened up and started scouting for a better place to have dinner. Unfortunately, our search got ended up in an overpriced Italian Restaurant. Our purse got emptied, but our stomach wasn’t even half full. So, we headed up to a local fast food joint nearby the beach to fill up the rest. After roaming all the day, we were all dead tired when we returned back to the room. So, I dozed of quick and that’s how an awesome day came to an end.

The next day (12.02.2017), as planned we all woke up early and headed straight to the beach. Yes, it’s the beach again. We were so early that the beach was deserted and oddly any people there. But, the environment was serene to enjoy. Slowly the dawn broke and the sun came out, so the people. One thing that caught our eyes was “Fish Cemetery”, an art installation that was created to bring awareness on marine pollution created by disposal of plastic into the ocean. Here comes the best part of the day, the breakfast. Isn’t it a sin, being in Kerala and not having Aapam or Appam. Lucky a Thattukada (Road Side Shop) near the beach saved us from committing that sin. We had Appam with a super spicy egg curry and finished it with a KattanChaya (Black Tea). OMG, that morning is so vivid in my memory. With soo much salt and sand on our body, we returned back to homestay to freshen up and get ready for the rest of the day.

Compared to other places, it was quite a long ride to Mattancherry Palace. It’s a Portuguese palace popularly known as the Dutch Palace. Now this palace acts as a museum where the artifacts of the royal family are been preserved. It was unfortunate that they didn’t allow photography inside the palace. Experts would have advised visiting popular venues like “Pepper House” or “David Hall”, but we decided otherwise to visit Student Biennale instead. Our next stop was a small Student Biennale near the palace itself. Then, we made a detour towards the Jewish Synagogue. On the way, we stopped by a collateral project which showcased some beautiful Pichvai or Pichwai form of paintings. The place also features a long Snake Boat decorated with bowls filled with color powder.  Just before the Synagogue, there was Mandalay hall which showcased some of the Pepper House projects, we didn’t want to miss it either. Finally the Jewish Synagogue. It’s my first time to a Synagogue and it’s well decorated with Chandeliers, Hanukkah Menorah (Jewish Candle Holder) and artistic blue tiles. It was definitely a unique experience out there. It was lunch time and the alarm went off in our stomach. Luckily we found the snooze button not far away. We had a typical Kerala Meals for our lunch. As we had few more hours to spare, we decided to explore a few more venues.

On the way, we came across one awesome Student Biennale at “Mohamed Ali Warehouse”. It featured many interesting artworks which include a comic type art installations, tools of goldsmith and animals portrayed as soldiers. Just a few meters from there, there was an “Artists In Residence (A.I.R) Kochi” exhibition which featured awesome works, especially by women artists. Then, we stepped into “Routes”, yet another collateral exhibition which showcased colorful and vivid art installations by Indian artists. Further down the road, we found yet another awesome Student Biennale which featured works of students from Government College of Fine Arts of Chennai and Kumbakonam. Their works were all inspired by the life of normal working people. The sweat drops collected in bottles, tools of the blacksmith and the portraits of weavers made of silk are few of the highlights.

By that time, my brain has reached its saturation point. Whenever I see an art piece it threw an “Art Overflow” exception.  Usually, it’s a symptom of creativity overdose, probably caused due to continuous exposure to awesome artworks. I pleaded to go back, but we decided to visit one last venue before packing up. The last one was “TKM Warehouse” and this place featured a traditional Uru Boat along with a few other artworks.

Finally, we were back to our homestay packed our bags, said our farewell to the owner and headed straight to the Jetty to catch a ferry back to Ernakulam. There here was a huge queue standing for the tickets and we weren’t sure of the ferry timings too. Hard luck, so we took a cab to Ernakulam and boarded our train in the very last minute. Next day (13.02.2017) morning around 7.30 we were back to Chennai and an awesome trip came to an end. Wish we had more time to explore the whole Biennale. But not to complain, we made max use of the time we got, enjoying every moment of it. What makes a trip exciting is not just the place alone, but also the company. With no doubt, it’s definitely a trip to remember.

Trip To Remember – Hyderabad – Sindhu’s Wedding

Celebrity blogger, One of our Chennai Bloggers Club’s (CBC) admin and my good friend TD A.K.A Sindhu was so kind to invite me to her wedding. What made me more excited than the wedding itself is the fact that it’s gonna be in Hyderabad. For most of the world, Hyderabad is IT Hub, Land of Nizams, The Pearl City and so on. But, for the rest of the divine souls like me, it’s the Biryani Paradise, Haleem Heaven and a living Monument of Mogul Food. Now you might have got the sole reason why I was super excited.

Before going deep into the whereabouts of the trip, it’s time for some history lesson on how the city got its name, courtesy Google, Wikipedia and all of the web.

Hyderabad means “Haydar’s city” or “lion city”, from haydar (lion) and ābād (city). It was named to honour the Caliph Ali Ibn Abi Talib, who was also known as Haydar because of his lion-like valour in battles. The city was originally called Baghnagar (city of gardens). One popular theory suggests that Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the city, named it “Bhagyanagar” or “Bhāgnagar” after Bhagmati, a local nautch (dancing) girl with whom he had fallen in love. She converted to Islam and adopted the title Hyder Mahal. The city was renamed Hyderabad in her honour.

Initially, we 6 of us planned to go together for the trip. But, just like any other trip two dropped out due to unforeseen circumstances. So, finally, its 4 of us who made it to the trip, it’s me, DeepaNarayanan a.k.a Deepu, Bragadeesh Prasanna a.k.a Brags Anna and Jothi Vel Moorthi a.k.a Jo Anna.

The Timely Benefit

Our train from Chennai Central to Hyderabad Charminar Express was scheduled to depart at 6.10 pm on 2nd Dec. Unfortunately, it’s 4.15 and was still struck at my home as it was pouring heavily. I started in spite of the heavy rains as it was a now or never moment. With clocks ticking, my wait for the bus to Tambaram station went in vain. Luckily after a few minutes came a share auto all empty. The driver noticed the clear anxiety on my face and asked me what’s wrong. I told him that I am running late to catch the train. After hearing this, he didn’t stop the auto at any subsequent stops though there were a few passengers waiting. “Bro, now you will catch the train on time”, he said while dropping me at the station earlier that expected. To my surprise, he didn’t demand any extra money. It’s not the first time someone had helped me to reach on time. From Tambaram Station  I took a local to Park Station and from there I joined the rest to board the train at the Chennai Central on time. Many thanks to the share auto driver.

காலத்தி னாற்செய்த நன்றி சிறிதெனினும்
ஞாலத்தின் மாணப் பெரிது.

A timely benefit, -though thing of little worth,
The gift itself, -in excellence transcends the earth.

The Alpha Hotel

We boarded our train, had our dinner and dozed off. The next day (3rd Dec) morning by 7.30 we reached the Secunderabad Junction. Thanks to my friend at work Sashidhar who recommended the Alpha Hotel and we found it right opposite to the railway station. As Sashi suggested we ordered the specialty of the place “Keema Roti” and Omelet. As Deepu is a vegetarian, he ordered Lukmi and Sabzi. To my surprise, the Roti was so big that I wasn’t able to have more than one and the Keema (minced meat curry) was spicy, rusting and utterly delicious. The food was not only divine and soul filling but was also very much affordable. It cost only 360 for the 4 of us. Isn’t it a sin to complete the breakfast without an Irani Chai while you are in Hyderabad. As we didn’t intend to commit one, we had our cup of joy there itself. The Alpha Hotel has been around for more than 50 years and serves good food at an affordable price. So, sincere thanks to The Alpha Hotel for brightening up our morning. From there we took a cab to the hotel where our rooms were booked.

The Salar Jung Museum

After resting a bit and freshening up, we decided to roam out. We took a cab by 11 am and reached our 1st stop “The Salar Jung Museum” by 12.15 pm. This massive museum is one of the three national museums of India. After collecting out tickets, we had to deposit our bags as no bags are allowed inside the museum. You need all day to patiently look around all the galleries here, but unfortunately, we didn’t have that luxury of time. So, all we could do was skim through the galleries. One of the famous attractions here is a marble statue named “The Veiled Rebekah”, as they say, it’s definitely a melody in marble. Yet another famous attraction here is “The English Bracket Musical Clock”. It’s manufactured in England and got assembled in Kolkata in the late 19th century. A lot of visitors, including me, patiently waited for the striking of the gong. There are 2 toys in this clock. One is a blacksmith which keeps on beating the hammer for every second. Second is what every one of us is waiting for, a bearded man who comes out 3 minutes before every hour and strikes the gong no of times the hour (12 times for 12’O clock) exactly when the hour strikes and goes back in. Out of everything I saw there, one thing really caught my eyes. It’s a small ivory statue of a beautiful woman in their ivory gallery. I named her Ivory Nandhini after one of the famous charters in Kalki’s book Ponniyin Selvan.

The Bawarchi Biriyani

It’s already 2 pm and Going around the museum made us really hungry. Though the next stop we planned to visit for was just 2 km away, neither our mind, nor our stomach paved way to go for it. We had few eateries nearby, but I was very firm in having authentic Hyderabadi Biriyani for lunch. So, after a couple of calls with Sashi (Yeah the same friend who recommended us Alpha Hotel), we decided upon one of the most famous Biriyani places in Hyderabad. After traveling another 18 km by cab we reached the “Bawarchi Biriyani”. Even by 3 pm, the place was well crowded. As the AC restaurant was fully occupied, we were redirected to the rooftop one. Once we went up and got our seats, the divine smell of the Biryani served around took over me and made me impatient. This is one place where demonetization has hit us very badly. They don’t accept cards and demanded cash upfront on the order, just like a takeaway. With the limited cash we had, all we could order was Chicken Biryani for Me, Brags Na and Jo Na, and the veg one for Deepu. The moment of truth, Finally, the waiter brought big portions of Biryani to our table. The Briyani was yummy, spicy and rustic. The chicken piece was juicy and well marinated too. The portion was sumptuous that it was hard, even for a biryani boy like me to complete one. With a content soul and stomach

The Charminar

As we approach our destination, I could see Telugu being replaced by Urdu in the sign boards and the environment turn old and rustic. Finally, we were there, in front of the most iconic landmark of the city, “The Charminar”. One of my early memories is my paternal grandfather smoking a cigarette brand named Charminar. So, was familiar with the word “Charminar”, even before I know that a place named Hyderabad exists. Brags Na volunteered to take care of our bags as they didn’t allow us to take our backpacks inside and as he has been here umpteen no of times and. We collected our tickets from the counter and “QR Code” on the ticket was scanned using a smartphone just before letting us in. Surrounded by crowded market streets and a big mosque, the view from the top was worth climbing the spiral, narrow and high staircase. What could be a better souvenir than Pearls from the “City Of Pearls”? so after Charminar, we stopped by the nearby pearl market to get some. From there, Brags Na and Jo Na decided to go back to the room and rest. Deepu and I had separate plans to meet up with our friends, so we merged both the plans and decided on a common place on the other side of the city as it would be easy for us to commute together. We had a tough time explaining the pickup location to the cab driver and Mr. Venkateshvaralu a traffic cop helped us with the same. That’s yet another timely help.

The Meetup

It was around 7 pm when we reached Shilparamam night bazaar, an arts and crafts place. Later we were joined by my Jagriti Yatra (JY) friend Kishori, her friend Tushar, Deepu’s friends Harika and Vinay. We roamed around the bazaar talking and doing window shopping. It was great catching up with Kishori after a couple of years after JY. Herself and Tushar got me handmade and hand painted wooden RGB (Red, Green, and Blue) Elephants, that’s so lovely of them. In the meanwhile, Deepu managed to find an awesome gift for the couple getting married the next day. As usual roaming and talking made us hungry and there were a few restaurants just across the road for the rescue. The dinner was at Chutneys, to justify the name they served like 6 varieties of Chutneys. That awesome eventful day came to an end when the cab dropped us back at our hotel and I dozed of exhausted.

The Marriage

It’s yet another Sunday for us, but for our friend Sindhu, it’s her D-day (4th Dec). Surprisingly both Raji and her brother Ram came to the marriage hall quite early in the morning. So, I spent a while chatting with them and the rest of the morning was wisely spent on gift wrapping. I am not even exaggerating, It was a fun activity considering the size of the gift :D. It was a typical Telugu style wedding and totally enjoyed witnessing the proceedings. Once the knot is tied we are supposed to go and wish the couple rather we headed straight to the dining hall. We relaxingly had the awesome wedding lunch, man their yummy desserts. Then we came back, wished the lovely couples and took pictures with them. Even though she is the bride, Sindhu will always be our selfie stick. I am so happy for you both Sindhu and Kiran. Wish you both an awesome life ahead.

The Karachi Biscuits

Unfortunately, all the must visit places were quite far away from our hotel. So, we decided to lay back and rest for a while to avoid the risk of missing the train. The only thing that was bothering me was that I wasn’t able to get some Karachi biscuits. There is a famous quote from the book The Alchemist,  “When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream”. Seems I was lucky that day and the universe decided to conspire in my favor.  Mr. Ramesh, Jo Na’s friend who came to meet him there lent his helping hand. He drove me and Jo Na to the Karachi Bakery. Again demonetization hit us very badly. We almost ran out of cash and the bakery wasn’t accepting cards. With the limited cash we got, all we could get was one or two small boxes of fruit and cashew biscuits each. Mr. Ramesh was also kind to drop us at Hyderabad Deccan Nampally station.

The Journey Back Home

From Nampally station Me and Jo Na boarded the Charminar Express by 6.30 pm and the other two boarded the same train from the Secunderabad station. After munching some buns I dozed off. When I woke up in the morning, I had a few messages from my dad to stay safe as the CM was critically ill and there might be law and order problem in the city. Later, even a few co-passengers also enquired about me the same. Though I was bit concerned, things looked pretty normal when we reached Chennai Central around 8.00 am. Again, I took a local train back home.

Bye Bye Hyderabad

Bye Bye Hyderabad

It might have been a short trip, but an awesome one indeed. Definitely, it’s a trip to remember.

Walking Down The OMR Food Street

One awesome thing being part of an awesome group like The Chennai Bloggers Club is you get invited to interesting events. This time, it’s a food tasting event at OMR Food Street. Situated near Thoraipakkam, OMR Food Street is the Chennai’s first organized food street. This place not only hosts a variety of eateries but also gives you a unique experience apart from the typical food court and street food. One could see this place buzzing with people even by 5 in the eve. Though I have been here before, being with blogging buddies is yet another different experience. I am not a food critic and reviewer and all, I am a simple foodie who enjoys food like any other. So, all I am gonna share about is what I had there in chronological order.

That 6pm crowd @ OMR Food Street

That 6pm crowd @ OMR Food Street

With Blogging Buddies PC: Mahesh Lakshmanan

With Blogging Buddies PC: Mahesh Lakshmanan

  1. Paniyaram
    It was Sindhu’s idea to start with Paniyaram first. There was a small shop named C-Tasty which sells a variety of Paniyarams such as Cheese, Mushroom, Paneer and Carrot Paniyarams. But we decided to go for the classic plain Paniyaram. It was soft and tasted good. The chutneys they gave accompanied the dish well, especially the Kara (Spicy) Chutney.

    Paniyaram

    Paniyaram

  2. Atho
    Being brought up in North Chennai, Atho needs no introduction to me. Actually, I was very surprised to see Burma Square, an Atho joint there. I am happy that this Burmese dish which is quite prominent in Noth Chennai areas has spread to other parts of the city. This is one of the things that I really missed after moving to South Chennai. Not only Atho, they also sell other Burmese food such as Sejo, Mohinga, Bejo Soup, Etc. The Atho was good but little spicier than authentic ones. The soup was good too but was slightly on the thinner side than the usual.

     

  3. Thattu Vadai
    I was really surprised to see one of Salem’s signature food being sold here. Once I enjoyed having it in Salem itself and thanks to Thattu Vadai Touch shop for bringing similar experience back. We ordered Thattu Vadai Set, Norukku Mix, and Panagam. Thattu Vadai was really awesome, Norukku was bit mushy and the Panagam  was perfect. It’s been years since I had Panagam, it used to be one of my favorite drink during my school days and remember preparing it even during one of my work experience cooking classes.

     

  4. Adai
    There is a shop here, that sells traditional Millet based food, the same way they do it in good old times even before rice and wheat were cultivated in large scale. So, to go with the kind of food they serve, they must have named it Ki Mu 200 (200 BC). We had Thinai Adai with Aviyal and Thinai Sweet Pongal. The Adai tasted a bit different, but the Sweet Pongal tasted
    quite typical.

     

  5. Paratha
    After munching South Indian dishes, it’s time for some North Indian ones. “Stuf-fed” sells all kinda stuffed parathas here. Out of all their options, we opted for Pyas Paratha. You know why? according to Sindhu, that’s the one which sounded cool 😀 . The Parata was typical, but the accompaniments pickle and mint chutney took it to the next level.

    Pyas Ka Paratha

    Pyas Ka Paratha

  6. Crepe
    Friend: Bro, what’s Crepe?
    Me: It’s a thin dessert masala Dosa, where they stuff in fruits and ice cream instead of mashed potato, they also top it with maple syrup, honey, chocolate sauce etc.
    This conversation might not sound funny now, but it sounded then. We ordered Crepe Classic at Zuki&Co. Though it was delivered late, it’s worth the wait. The Crepe was soft, thin and had yummy fresh strawberry fillings. They also sell Nanari sarbat which is a must try.

    Crepe Classic

    Crepe Classic

  7. Ice cream Fruit Salad
    All I thought of was having some juice before entering “Oasis” the juice shop there, but I quickly made up my mind when I saw few others having Icecream Fruit Salad. It was not only eye-catching but tasted yummy too. Their selection of fruits in the salad was good and the syrup over the ice cream elevated its taste.

    Ice cream fruit salad

    Ice cream fruit salad

Just like the way I did If you also like to taste a variety of food under your budget, OMR Food Street is the place.

Look what a good food can do to me, it puts a big smile on my face. Awesome candid click my Mahesh Anna

Look what a good food can do to me, it puts a big smile on my face. Awesome candid click.  PC: Mahesh Lakshmanan

My sincere thanks to CBC for organizing and OMR Food Street for hosting us. It was a great experience to indulge in a variety of food and will definitely visit again.

Featured banner image courtesy Vinod Velayudhan.

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 4 – Sillunu Oru Sandakphu

Recap from the last post: We were at Kala Pokhari

The title “Sillunu Oru Sandakphu” directly translates to “Sandakphu, the one which is cold”. On 28-04-2016 (Day 4) I woke up with the sound of the wind vibrating the metal panels of our room. With nothing much to do, I laid down for a while beneath those thick woolen blankets. I did what I like to do often, dream with my eyes open, for no reasons too many things rushed into my mind. You will know the tea is ready when you hear the whistle. I filled my cup and headed outside hoping for some fresh air. All it resulted in was my tea getting cold in minutes. Here, the Sun rises as early as me. Probably cos it’s summer and one common time zone across India. The morning looked too beautiful than yesterday eve, think the sunshine made the magic. I went around with my camera to capture some light along with Prem and Lavanya. Everything around appeared fresh and green. The sky was clear and the view of sun rays reflecting over the small dark lake was spectacular. As usual, had out breakfast, clicked the customary group pic. packed our bags and by 9.00 am we started to trek further.

The path was much steeper than ever. My fine stamina and some good company helped to cope up with the terrain. Initial 3.5 km wasn’t that demanding. On the way, Sowmya climbed somewhere and got a bunch of Rhododendron, a flower quite abundant in that area. We even tasted a bit of its nectar. Then, there was a huge staircase kinda structure which housed a small shrine on its top. We all sat on those steps and took a group pic. Our guide Avinash (Cute Avinash) took us through all those sharp shortcuts. They were too steep that at times I have to catch hold of those small bushes to climb. With occasional rests, I somehow managed to keep myself moving. Around 12.15 pm, myself and whistle Vihari reached Sandakphu (3636 mt) and we were the ones in out group to reach there first. Our camp leader Mr. Abhijit Roy was already there on the top to welcome us. While waiting for other friends in the group to return, we simply relaxed outside the lodge as the weather was clear and pleasant. Once everyone is in, rooms were allotted and was served a hot & spicy soup. Soups are always comforting, especially in the cold weather, aren’t they?. The Soup induced my appetite which was later neutralized by the lunch. As the water is much scarce here, we were advised to use it very wisely.

A few of us decided to take rest in the lodge while the rest (including me) were too certain about trekking further to the viewpoint along with our camp leader. We trekked another 500 mt uphill to reach there and it marks the highest point in West Bengal. “Yaay, Mission Accomplished” I shouted out of joy and that feeling is worth all the pain trekking all along. It felt like being on the top of the world. The place was awesome and the view was spectacular with the clouds pass by. I really pity the ones who missed it. As we were on the Indo-Nepal border, there was a pillar with “India” written on one side and “Nepal” on the other. So, all I did was, kept on jumping between two countries and try to be in both countries at the same time. Though it might sound crazy, it was total fun. In a fine weather, one could view both Mount Everest and Kangchenjunga from the viewpoint, but unfortunately, the weather was cloudy. We waited for the Sun to show some mercy and show up, but no luck. As they say, the weather was unpredictable on the mountains, suddenly it became freezing and windy. We started to descend back after having some hot tea and soupy Magi from a small hotel there. As much as you, I too wonder about the existence of hotel in such extreme places. The visibility went down below 30%, luckily our guide’s torch and Mr. Abhijit’s headlamp guided us back safely to the lodge. As usual, our MC took charge of the evening. This time, we played truth or dare and for a change, Mr. Biswas sang a song for us as his daughter and wife felt too shy to sing for us. We all decided to finish off our dinner quick and sleep early so that we could see the sunrise early the next morning.

As always, our Whistle Vihari was spot on in his duty. His whistle woke up all our tired souls. It was too cold outside. Only a few of us were there, patiently waiting for the sun to raise. After a few minutes, I saw the Sun slowly rise between two mountains, just like how I used to draw when I was a kid. I witnessed one of the beautiful sunrises in my life, as beautiful as that bright bindi between her eyebrows.  With my hands trembling out of cold, I managed to click a few pictures.

To Be Continued …

Trek to Sandakphu – Part 3 – Trembling Tumling & Kickass Kalipokhri

Recap from the last post: On 26-04-2016 (Day 2) we left Darjeeling by van early in the morning.

It was fun listening to Bollywood songs on the way. DJs Nilofar and Vihari didn’t fail to play a few of my favorite tracks like Patakha Guddi from Highway. First, we made a short halt at Manebhanjan (or Mane Bhanjyang) which is the gateway to Singalila National Park. Bhanjayang means Junction in Nepali and Mane means Buddhist Stupas. So the name Manebhanjan means the junction of Stupas. Then, we resumed after collecting our entrance and camera passes from the Forest and Wildlife Department check post there. After an hour drive, we reached Dhotrey around 11.00 am. It’s a small village 2550 m above the sea level, most of its residents are guides and porters enabling trekking and tourism. We relaxed and clicked some pics around while our organizers were busy fixing a few logistical issues.

Around 12.00 pm, we started to trek along with our 2 guides Mr. Avinash and Mr. Rajan. The path is an elevated one with more than 500 m in altitude and with the added weight of my backpack, trek has already become a back-breaking one for me. I was surprised to see a couple of women selling tea from nowhere, and that happened to be our first resting point. Just the tea and the rest weren’t enough for me to cover the rest. I needed electrolyte, pep talks, nature, and music to keep me moving. It was already 3.00 pm when we reached Tonglu (3036 m). The weather has changed to cloudy and the view of the village was breathtaking. While my eyes were feeding on nature’s beauty, my stomach demanded its part. An awesome lunch was provided at the Trekker’s Hut there, their Tamarind Chutney tasted very unique.

Though we were done with the tough stretch of 5 km uphill, we still had 3 km downhill left for the day. So, we didn’t rest much post lunch and started our decent by 4.00 pm.  The weather was perfect and the route wasn’t that tough, can’t ask for more to admire the beauty all around. All it took us was some 45 minutes to reach Tumling (2970 m). We were welcomed with hot tea and some snacks at the Siddartha Lodge. There is this one incident which I can’t get out of my mind. I was sipping my tea glancing down the beautiful valley and was conversing with Upma. Now don’t ask me, how I could converse with my least favourite breakfast. Upma is my friend from Delhi, whom I meet at the trek. She was like, “I am feeling too happy, I wish I could shout out loud here” and I was like, “You should actually do it, you might not find a moment like this again”. She actually did it, she did shout out loud. Then, she asked me to try the same, but I was feeling kinda shy, yeah, It’s easier said than done. Though I was kinda skeptical, she went ahead and dared me to do it. Then, I gathered all my guts and screamed out loud “This feels Awesome”, moreover, it was awesome to hear my voice echoed back from the mountains. And, the craziness was followed by Giri teaching us some awesome steps to dance and “Pudhiya Vaanam Pudhiya Boomi” steps are worth mentioning.  At times, silly and crazy things like this do give us so much happiness, don’t they?. We all gathered at the guys dormitory for the evening for some entertainment. We were also joined by Mr. Biswas and Family from Kolkata. Tushar from Pune started off the evening with a fine rendition of Bombay Meri Jaan song in his mouth organ. He along with Kishor, Mayur, and Akshay (Pune Guys) sang few Marathi songs that eve. Sachin, Rupali, Manali, Gargi and Akanksha (Mumbai Gang) along with Pune guys sang yet another Marathi song “Hi Chaal Turu Turu“. Though little Miss. Biswas was too shy to sing any song for us, her mom, Mrs. Biswas sang us a nice Bengali song. We Tamil guys sang Tamil Songs, mostly A.R.Rahman’s which have got a Hindi version too. Nilofar sang a solo Hindi song. Upma narrated us the plot of her debut novel, ONE DAY INSIDE A BLACK HOLE. The closing song of the eve was one of favourite John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane sung by Shubam. It would be a shame on me if I am not crediting our MC Mr. Giri for all the fun which we had on that eve. The fun was followed by food and sleep, that’s an end of an awesome day.

The day started well with a good cup of tea and breakfast. Before we could pack our bags and leave, we clicked a customary group picture with the awesome people who run the lodge.  It was 8.45 am and we finally started moving towards our next destination. Initial 7 km is a fine downhill path and it’s kinda flat, compared to yesterday’s terrain. We reached GairiBas (2625 m)  which is an army check post of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) on the border around 11.00 am. We got to rest for a few mins and resumed our journey back by 11.15 am. The next 2 km happened to be a steep uphill stretch. Luckily I had a great company of Manali and yet another guide Roshan. Did I forget to mention that Manali is an awesome baker and she gave us all muffins after the induction programme? As you might have guessed most of our conversations was about food. On the way, Roshan stopped near a pillar on the side of the road and wrote the word “MY” on it. When asked, he said, he does this every single time he passes the pillar and the word “MY” cos it belongs to him. That’s something kinda cute about him. It was 12.20 pm when we reached KaiyaKata, where we relaxed for a while and had our lunch. A hot tea at the end was energetic and refreshing.

A whistle from Vihari or Shubam always denoted only one thing, enough of parking yourselves comfortably and keep moving now. So, after one such whistle at 1.45 pm, we resumed again. Most time I walked alone with my music on cos I think, it’s probably the best way to enjoy the nature. Though this was an uphill stretch, it wasn’t as intense as GairiBas-KaiyaKata one.  I could feel the weather turn more foggy and windy as we go up. When I was almost about to reach Kala Pokhari (3185 m), I met Prem on the way and continued walking with him. I was surprised to see a small lake with many PrayerFlags over it welcoming us into the village. “Kala” means dark and “Pokhri” means lake in Nepali and that’s how this village got its name. With mist, small huts, cattle, grass, lake and mountains in the background, the view was spectacular. I spent some time trying to capture those eye-catching scenes with my camera. After a while, we were served tea and snacks. The rest of the evening was fun, as usual, few notable things to mention are Vihari and Sowmya doing the cartwheel and Sowmya teaching us Yoga, Salsa, and Zumba. After trying to follow Sowmya’s steps, it didn’t take us much time to realize how rigid our bodies are. Later that evening, just before the dinner we all gathered to played Anthakshari and that was quite a fun too. As usual, the day ended with a good dinner followed by a sound sleep.

To Be Continued …

Trip To Remember – Kolkata Diaries – Best Friend’s Bengali Wedding

I am aware that I have few other posts pending on my blog. Post on a couple of previous trips and a Liebster Award post. But, I can’t wait to write this one, cos I feel indebted to post this. I am writing this post after an awesome trip from Kolkata. If you are wondering what made me travel all the way from Chennai, it’s my best friend Srijani’s wedding with Apurba. A wedding I can’t miss. This is probably the longest post I ever wrote. Also, bare with my extraordinary photographic skill and image quality of the pics.

The city of Kolkata:
I was very excited to travel to Kolkata. This old, rustic ex-capital of British India (until 1911) doesn’t need much introduction, as the city is well known for arts, literature and food. It’s been home to many great souls like Swami Vivekananda, Subhas Chandra Bose, Satyendra Nath Bose, Sri Aurobindo, Satyajit Ray etc. Notable Nobel laureates like Rabindranath Tagore, Sir C. V. Raman, Mother Teresa and Amartya Sen are very closely associated with this city, that’s 4/5 total Nobel laureates of India. People of this place, Bengalis are said to be very patriotic. No wonder it’s the birthplace of India’s national anthem “Jana Gana Mana” and national song “Vande Mataram”.

The Long Train Journey:
With all that excitement, I boarded Howrah Mail on the midnight of 19th Jan 2016 with my friend Shaul Hameed and his wife Humaira Thasneem Hameed. I am still wondering why 15-day train journey felt so short and this 29 hours journey felt dragging. Most time was spent on reading a book and watching sitcom episodes. Fast forward, we reached Howrah station on the early morning of 21st Jan.

The Bengali Wedding:

Day 1:
Though was tired, we reached the marriage hall by the morning. Many rituals were carried out by the bride’s side in parallel while we were whiling up the time clueless. You wouldn’t expect people to literally stuff yummy rasgullas into your mouth, that’s what my friend’s sweet sister did. She doesn’t stop with that, she also made sure to apply a mix of sandal and turmeric on my face after the haldi function. I made sure that she doesn’t miss my friend Shaul. Believe me; it’s tough to outrun her. For breakfast, we were served Luchi and Alur Dum, Bengali version of poori and potato masala. Followed by an awesome lunch, the menu is a reflection of Bengali’s love towards fish. Post lunch we decided to take a break, go back to our room, freshen up and be back for the main marriage event by the eve.

As planned, I and Shaul went to the wedding in traditional attire, we draped Vetti a.k.a dhoti in south Indian style and wore a dark colour shirt. We stood out in the crowd, just think of two guys wearing Vetti Sattai in a traditional Bengali wedding, how funny does that sound. I never felt this involved in any of my friend’s marriage. It’s common to be treated as a guest in friend’s marriages, but my friend Srijani’s family went a step ahead. They treated me as one in their family. I was really moved when I was given the honour of welcome the groom when he arrived and to escort him to the wedding altar. That’s like the greatest honour a friend can get at his friend’s wedding, cos here it’s usually done by the bride’s brother. Then, there is a ritual where the bride is made to sit on a low wooden stool, lifted and taken around the groom seven times. The lifting is usually done by the bride’s brothers, but they included me also in lifting and that was one awesome experience. The main marriage got concluded as the groom applied vermilion on the bride’s forehead. The day ended with an awesome dinner which includes aromatic Kolkata style mutton biryani, fish tikka, mutton curry, rasgullas and kulfi. It was already midnight when we reached our room, what a day it was.

Day 2:
As I am an early bird I woke up early as usual, but the love birds with whom I came along, didn’t. I tried watching a couple of sitcoms episode but got bored soon. So, I walked 8 Kms on the busy roads of Kolkata, It was fun. On the way back to my room, I had tea from a roadside shop and was shocked by the serving size. The cup reminded of measurement cup in tonic bottles, probably one-third of what they serve in Chennai. It was already noon when the couples woke up and got ready and we headed back to the marriage hall. As all the main marriage events got concluded yesterday itself, It’s just the supplementary events today. The bride and the groom are made to play small ritualistic games; probably it’s kinda warm up before the big game ahead. Again, yet another awesome lunch with 4 fish dishes, can’t ask for more. With some time left, we thought to roam around.

It was already noon when the couples woke up and got ready and we headed back to the marriage hall. As all the main marriage events got concluded yesterday itself, It’s just the supplementary events today. The bride and the groom are made to play small ritualistic games; probably it’s kinda warm up before the big game ahead. Again, yet another awesome lunch with 4 fish dishes, can’t ask for more. With some time left, we thought to roam around.

Finding Nani Lal Gosh:
When asked for good places nearby to get rasgullas, my friend’s brother suggested “Nani Lal Gosh”. Though we were heavy after a sumptuous lunch, we decided to try this place before going anywhere else. After enquiring directions and couple of misdirection, we finally reached there. We had yummy Nolen Gur (date palm jaggery) rasgulla which can be got only in the winters and Rabdi too. My friends also tasted the famous Mishti Doi (sweet yogurt) and they loved it. Believe me; this small place is worth the long walk.

The Victoria
Not secret, but the memorial. We reached a bit late, thanks to narrow streets and heavy traffic. As the result, we couldn’t get the museum passes and could avail only the garden passes. We spent some time clicking pics walking around the memorial. As we couldn’t make it to the museum today, we unanimously decided to visit back this place first thing in the morning tomorrow.

The Howrah and The Ghats of the Ganges
After missing to meet Queen Victoria, we decided to go to BabuGhat so that we could experience the ferry ride to Howrah. To my surprise, the ticket cost is just Rs.5 per person. We enjoyed the ride as the Howrah Bridge looked strong and beautiful at night. Once done with the ride, we also decided to walk across the bridge. The bridge was too crowded, still we managed to walk and click some pics. That’s all for the day, we returned back to our room by midnight.

Visiting Victoria Again
Victoria MemorialFirst thing in the morning, we took a taxi to Victoria memorial. It’s a huge white marble museum built to commemorate 25 years reign of Queen Victoria in India. As all of us were hungry, we had Luchi-Alur Dum and Chow Mein for breakfast, what a contrast. This time, we were lucky to get museum passes. While my enthusiasm to visit the museum is boiling up, the couples were busy with nature photography around the memorial. Luckily they finished before I reached my threshold of waiting for them. We were allowed into the museum after security check and were asked to switch off our electronic devices as photography is prohibited in there. The main museum housed many artefacts related to British rule in India, mainly weapons that were used at that point in time. One mustn’t miss the paintings in the royal gallery which illustrates the life history of Queen Victoria. If you are interested in the history of Kolkata, then don’t miss the Calcutta gallery in there. A visit to Kolkata wouldn’t be a complete without this place.

Princep Ghat
This monument along the banks of the Ganges was built in the memory of James Princep who was an eminent Anglo-Indian scholar. His works were so great that this was built by crowd funding people of Calcutta, which was 12,000 Rs in 1841. Later this place was renovated and maintained by Public Works Department of Kolkata. It’s one of the most happening tourist spots in Kolkata, especially for couples. You could see couples all around clicking pics and taking a boat ride on the Ganges. I can’t forget the chillness of the Ganges, the chillness that touched my spine when my bare foot touched the water. Wish I had an extra pair of clothes to take a dip. Then I remembered that I haven’t got anything for my family. So, it’s time for some shopping.

The Esplanade Shopping
It’s a short travel from Princep Ghat. All I wanted to get was a Bengali Cotton Saree for my mom and a Salwar for my sis, for which I needed the help of Shaul’s wife. But, the couples were busy with their own shopping, so I decided to part apart and try my luck.

The Couples Dilution
If you are single, especially guys, it’s better to avoid planning a trip with couples unless it’s inevitable like this one. No offence couples, this benefits both. The problem is the difference of preference. They might prefer places while you prefer experiences. They might be less flexible, comfort seeking and do things in leisure. More than all, it’s constant guilt of invading their privacy.

The Tram Ride
It’s something Shaul & Co. shouldn’t have missed. Visiting Kolkata and not experiencing a tram ride is similar to visiting Chennai and not going to marina beach. After parting from the couples, I searched for shops for Bengali Cotton Saree, but that too failed as most shops there sold trendy stuff. Then, I decided to at least experience the tram ride. Somehow I enquired and found the nearby college road tram line. I was excited to see the tram approaching and boarded it when it stopped. Again the ticket is flat Rs. 5, which is very cheap. I enjoyed the ride; it felt like a bus moving a bit slower over the rails. The funnier part was people staring at me wired, I presume my excitement and me clicking pics must be the reasons.

The Crafts Shop
I came back to Esplanade empty handed to join Shaul, A small guilt of not getting anything for mom and sis still stuck to me. I found interesting things on display while I crossed the shop and decided to check on the same. I got myself a small terracotta Rabindranath Tagore statue, which will be my official souvenir of this trip. I got sis an artistic box with a glass painting and mom a Sholapith Durga wall hanging. When I went to the billing counter to pay for my items, I saw an old man sitting at the counter, he must be around 70. Hearing my worst Hindi, he enquired where I am from. I saw his calm wrinkled face glowing and turned smiling when I replied “Chennai”. I was completely flabbergasted when he asked me “eppadi irukenga”, that’s “how are you” in Tamil, my mother tongue. While I was still standing speechless, he continued, that he used to work in madras (former name of Chennai) and Coimbatore 40 years back and still got friends there. He also added that he like the people there. That’s something really sweet to hear. I left the place after thanking him for those kind words.

Small Tagore - The official souvenir of this trip

Small Tagore – The official souvenir of this trip

The Metro Ride
Did I tell you that we were personally invited by the groom for yet another function at his home? It’s a kinda reception where close relations from the bride side visits the groom’s house and they were treated there. To reach the groom’s home, we must join with my friend’s family first. We were advised to take a metro and then an auto to reach there. So, we took a metro from Esplanade to Shobhabazar. The fare is only Rs. 5 and the maximum fare is Rs. 25 which is very cheap comparing to Rs. 40 in Chennai. Transportation in Kolkata is really cheap compared to other cities. As usual, I could notice people eying us wired, probably cos of the strange language we were talking and wouldn’t have seen people taking selfies in the metro. They might have no idea that we go in metro only to take selfies. Trivia: Kolkata metro is the first underground railway system in India.

The Sweet Surprise
Somehow we managed to reach my friend’s house. As we arrived we were served with rasgullas and samosas. Wait, rasgulla is not the sweet surprise anymore, they serve it at every other meal here, and there is one more much sweeter. SJ’s mom gifted me and Shaul awesome shirt and trouser fabric. She also gave Shaul’s wife a traditional Bengali cotton Saree. That time, I kinda felt bad that I couldn’t get one for my mom. So, I told the same to aunty expecting her that she would point me to a better place where I would get one. But, she patiently listened to all these and left the place just replying “ok”. First I thought that she is busy with the arrangements and resumed eating rasgullas. After a while, she stepped in with a couple of sarees in her hand and asked me which one I would like to take for my mom. I was dumbstruck for a while and that’s the sweet surprise guys, sweeter than those rasgullas itself. Out of the two, I chose the one which suits my mom, a beautiful yellow colour one. I couldn’t thank her enough for that much love; it might be one which she bought for herself to wear on a special occasion. I was delighted and beaming with smile and joy. One must have seen me dancing out of joy when she left the room, Shaul and his wife witnessed that insanity.

Beautiful traditional Bengal Cotton Saree - SJ's mom gift to my mom

Beautiful traditional Bengal Cotton Saree – SJ’s mom gift to my mom

The Reception
After more than an hour of drive, we reached the groom’s home. There we were introduced to the groom’s family and relatives. We were really happy and felt privileged to be there. It felt like family more than friends. What can make the evening more pleasant than a sumptuous Bengali dinner? . It’s already late by the time we finished our dinner and we have an early morning flight back to Chennai. So, we started back to the hotel after a photo session. I was happy to be there for my best friend, to be there while she takes a leap in her life.

The Early Morning Flight
Our flight was scheduled at 8.20 am and we were advised to start early due to extensive republic day security checks. Waking up at 4.30 am is something usual for me, but for my friend Shaul, it’s like waking up at midnight that too after sleeping late at night. Luckily we all woke up and got ready on time. It seems we reached the airport bit early and a long wait followed until we boarded the flight. It’s a 2hrs 10mins flight to Chennai and it’s generous of Shaul to sacrifice his seat by the shade for me. It’s my 1st, morning flight and I enjoyed gazing at those clouds while we flew above them. They looked nothing less than suspended white colour candy floss. That was one smooth flight except a couple of air turbulence, which I experienced for the first time. It was around 10.45 when we landed at Chennai.

The Lucky Arrival
I was waiting to collect my baggage from the baggage conveyor and was lucky to spot some celebrities nearby. I am happy to meet some of my favourite singers SPB Sir, Srinivas and Karthik. They were all returning back from Rahman’s Coimbatore concert. They were all gracious to exchange few words with this unknown fan and accept my request to take a selfie with them.

I loved writing this post. Even recollecting each and every moment gave me a warm feeling. I still feel words aren’t enough to express my experience there. I couldn’t thank enough Srijani and her families for their love, hospitality and making this trip more memorable. I dedicate this blog post to them. Wish the couples an awesome married life.