Mandu -A conglomeration of cultures

Indian history is so vast and diverse that studying it in one lifetime perhaps is not possible, the records of such a long time are available and the fact that it is such a vast country and there is so much diversity makes it an interesting subject no end. Whilst I was taught history in school, honestly, I was not that fascinated, for in exams that would ask which year who defeated whom and all that and remember the AD and BC and all that seemed a super headache. Perhaps the system of testing instead of narrating stories was what killed it. Whilst the class would invariably be interesting, the exams would be dreaded by all of us.

 

What the history classes did not achieve was ultimately achieved by ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ 

 

Reading these books whilst growing up is one of the highlights of my life and also a stark reminder that history always fascinated me. Especially when narrated well nothing can beat the stories from the past. So during this road trip to Pench NP, we decided to drop anchor at Mandu for a day.

 

Mandu, previously known as Mandavgadh, is an amazing location, ideally to be visited in Monsoon, is an amazing conglomeration of cultures and tells you so much about India’s diverse history. The story of invasions, prosperity, art and culture booming, eventually cultural invasions and most spectacularly even architectural conversions!!

 

As our guide narrated, originally founded by Raja Bhoj, Mandu was once a prosperous town, well populated and pretty educated and liberated society. It is said even the then lowly considered weavers would be able to write shloka’s in Sanskrit back then, that high was literacy during the times of Raja Bhoj in the 11th century. Eventually as the centuries passed, it was won over by the Afghans, the Ghuri dynasty was established and began Mandu’s golden age. (source : wiki)  The subsequent take over the the Khilji’s and during the reign of one of its most colourful king Ghiyas ud din who buillt a harem of almost  women to equal the number of wive’s Krishna had (as per our guide) tells you how many tales this place holds.

 

The most popular story, which has been told a lot and even has had a popular hindi film made on is of the romance between Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. The tale as narrated by the guides here is stuff of so many unbelievable happenings and makes you wonder as to how the people of that generation thought. The entire truth again is probably lying somewhere in between. How a Muslim king and a Hindu princess fall in love, their palaces which look to have been  built for practicing and performance of music and dance, the Rupmati pavilion built for her to worship the Narmada river before she ate anything overlooking the Narmada valley tells you of splendors and whims of the rulers of that era.

 

Mandu today has several World Unesco Heritage sites, its architecture from the days gone by tell you of the engineering that might have been used in those days. The swimming pools, to hot water showers, to sauna’s, numerous escape routes, the music rooms that involve telephonic technology almost are a delight to view and soak in. Do hire a good guide and do take in all the story he tells you with a pinch of salt, history they tell you might be distorted a bit, the narration however, helps build a more interesting experience. The architecture of the place as the guides show us has several traces of so much diversity Jain, Hindu, Muslim and Farsi influences are clearly visible telling you that each one came in and tried to leave their mark on history.

 

Although I visited it in March, a relatively dry and barren time of the year, ideally visit Mandu during Monsoon, not for nothing did the Mughal’s including Akbar treat this as a monsoon retreat. It is a pleasure that must not be missed. The Jahaz Mahal during the monsoon is a visual treat you do not want to miss.

 

Here are a few pics from our trip there :

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

On the far right is Jahaz Mahal, the entire area is flooded during monsoon, it also has a lake on its back side and appears like it is a floating palace in the monsoon. A sight you do not want to miss.

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain's gave up! ;)

The Jahaz mahal is said to have been a harem that housed some 16000 women, in the monsoon I am sure the Sultan boarded this ship till the rain’s gave up! 😉

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect's of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The Hoshang Shah tomb made of marble that is said to have inspired the architect’s of Shah Jahan who were responsible for the Taj Mahal

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

The walking path in the Rani Rupmati Pavilion

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur's palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

This used to be the swimming pool in Baz Bahadur’s palace, amazing is how they managed the water cleaning system and all.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

Hindola Mahal, the place where the women kept in the harem would entertain themselves on swings.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

The hindola mahal from inside, said to have had huge swings in its time.

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

A perspective of Jami Masjid in Mandu

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

Mandu is a delight for any photographer! A must visit place

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

The wanderlust in you will love this place over looking the Narmada Valley!

 

Pench National Park

I am sure most of you are aware that The Jungle Book is being remade and being released in April by Disney. Rudyard Kipling‘s imaginations about Mowgli, Bhageera, Sherkhan and Baloo is what most of us Indians have grown up on. I doubt there maybe any people of my generation that wouldn’t be aware of this story. What fuelled the imagination of Kipling were the jungles of Pench. Even the most famous documentary Tiger : The spy in the Jungle by BBC was shot here, which again I am sure most of us would have seen on TV.

 

Pench National Park derives its name from the river Pench, it can be best accesed via the Madhya Pradesh Side of Seoni and Chhindwara districts. The forest is a dry dedicious forest and sheds all leaves by March making it an excellent time for viewing during summers. We have made a pact as a family to spend atleast 2-4 days looking for a tiger in march every year and so this year it was the turn of Pench after we had visited Ranthambore, Kanha, Bandhavgarh & Melghat. The jungles of central India which many decades ago were all one are pretty diverse, whilst Bandhavgarh and Kanha side are sal forests which are evergreen, Melghat and Pench are dry deciduous forests with loads of teak trees.

 

The jungle was pretty dry when we went, there was a carpet of dry leaves all around the forest as the trees had shed them and were not yet ready with new growth. This is a great advantage if you want to spot birds, less leaves, less foliage always aid in great viewing of animals and birds.

 

Pench has its own charm, at the outset you might even feel the jungle can’t hold enough life as it seems so dry, however, only a small matter of about 35000 spotted deer, over 8000 sambar survive, making it a perfect place for Tigers to live and thrive. We did most of our safari’s via the Turia gate and the area in which we were searching for the tiger some 4 tigress’ lived and all of them were with cubs. This news brought us all great happiness, for we are yet to witness a full family of tiger in one frame. I have always seen tigers who are alone, it would be great to watch a group of them, playing with each other.

 

Anticipation was ripe as we started our first morning safari at the crack of dawn, the weather was cold and a nip in the air, we needed a pull over for the first two hours of the safari. The bird life viewing was excellent, within an hour into the park we had spotted a Pied Malabar Hornbill, Mottled wood owl, spotted owlet, jungle owlet, racket-tailed drongo, Indian Roller, Wooly necked Stork, Rudy Shelduck, Painted Storks, Great Teat, Flameback woodpecker, Vultures of two species to name a few!

 

Bare(bear) necessities was the song on my mind all the time, the jungle seemed just enough for the wildlife to thrive without being lush in greenery or water. The waterholes were all full of activity, after about two hours of driving and no calls or any clue about the Tiger’s movement we decided it was better to sit at a waterhole and wait. We selected a waterhole that the guide told us was the Baigan Nala Tigress’ favourite spot. She had 3 cubs and that sounded like music to my ears.

 

We spent about an hour and half at that waterhole, during which we got an inkling of life in the jungle, as we reached the waterhole we saw an egret and a wild boar drinking water, whilst an Indian Roller dived around for insects that only it could see, there was a white breasted kingfisher who stood transfixed in its spot, two cormorants were drying their wings in the sun after a dip in the pool and a bee eater hunting about as well. As we waited we saw the Boar disappear after a while and a group of langur’s came to drink water, after they departed a group of spotted deer came to quench their thirst, they drunk water in a peculiar manner, the fawns and females all drank leaving space in the middle where the antler came and took position and drank to its hearts content, Rhesus macaque followed the deer and then it was the turn of the sambar to take a dip.

 

Life around a waterhole was so busy, I had once read a book whose name I forget, written by an english lady who spent about a month in Dudhwa National Park, she would go to a waterhole everyday morning where her Mahaout would drop her and she would sit all day like a wood log observing and soaking in the jungle till sunset when her elephant would come to pick her up. I had loved reading her experience back then and it was good to have a slight insight into that this day.

 

The calmness, the activity, the sounds of nature, the way life moves about sitting and watching, talking less and just soaking does it for me. It gives me a kick that I doubt anything else would. The jungle is there to soak and I tried my best to soak as much of it in as I could.

 

We didn’t get to see the tiger this time around, however, the jungle was still pretty hustling with a lot of life and that kept us busy. I was fortunate enough to witness a Peregrine Falcon sitting on a far off branch and then taking off leisurely. For those who might not know, it is the fastest diving bird and one of the fastest members in the animal world. When it makes it scoop to hunt it can reach a speed of 350 kmph. Go tell that to Ferrari folks, now thats a standard to match up to! Just imagine it for a second, the bird hunts parrots in mid air, parrots are pretty swift flyers themselves!

 

Our luck with the Tigers was overwhelming in Bandhavgarh last year and so this time around we were not lucky enough to spot one however, I still have fallen for this jungle as it makes for excellent viewing of animals, the dry trees and low foliage are an advantage which many green forests at times though far more beautiful do not offer.

 

I will leave you with a few pictures of the sights of Pench NP. Hope you like them!

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A herd of Sambar cross the road

A Grey Hornbill

A Grey Hornbill

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A Changeable Hawk-Eagle awaits its turn at the waterhole

A family of wild boar run about

A family of wild boar run about

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A shikra keenly keeps an eye on proceedings

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The head of the herd takes the prime position for a drink!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

Pench River Bed has maximum greenery for the deer to graze, boars to dig the dirt, jackals stalk them, peacocks strut about, the Vultures await an opportune moment!

A mottled wood owl didn't seem to amused at spotting us in their territory!

A mottled wood owl didn’t seem too amused at spotting us in their territory!

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

This handsome dude wanted to pose..

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

Finally a near good shot of the Greater Racket Tailed Drongo after 3 years!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

In the jungle, where ever you go, whatever you do, remember someone is watching you at all times!

Sarafa Bazaar – Indore

Caution : Do not read if on empty stomach. This post contains harmful photo’s and details if you are on a diet!

 

There are markets and malls and then there are Sarafa Bazaar sort of markets, the one in Indore tells me just how much I love window shopping as well, just the right products need to be advertised! Cliche’s all I tell you that say only women love window shopping. There is just so much food available in the Sarafa Bazaar in Indore that you cannot imagine the kind of orgy my mind indulges in each time I visit it. I have to concede I have not seen any Sarafa Bazaar of this scale. My mind is unable to make a decision what to eat and what to leave for next time. There is just such a huge variety of food available that even my epic appetite has to select what desires to satiate.

 

Per se, Sarafa Bazaar, means a Bullion Exchange, however, this bazaar for me has nothing to do with Gold. Indore’s Sarafa Bazaar becomes even more throbbing, happening and crowded ones all the Jewellers close shops. This is when the food stalls make their entry, as all the jewellers go home, their shop verandah’s and the whole street is littered by food stalls. Now, I have seen a lot of street markets, indulged in them, yet, this one stands apart. Two things, for me that separate it are one the fact that they are not selling the overly popular dishes, the major dishes here are not easily available everywhere else, you just have to come to Indore for them, like Bhutte ki Kees, Garadu, Sabudana Khichdi(nowhere else you get it like here), Jalebo(imarti) etc and secondly I have not seen any place where so many sweet stalls are put out on road, temporary ones at that!

 

There are a few popular fixed shops that run day and till late in the night like the Mittal Kachori/Samosa wala, Vijay ki Petis and Joshi ke Dahiwade but them apart a majority of them are temporary stalls that come to existence after the goldsmith’s have gone home after minting money. The stalls come to mint money and people make a beeline not seen during the day by the goldsmith’s.

 

Let me just list a few things you never want to miss out on if you are there :

1.) Bhutte Ki Kees (my personal favourite, I prefer it extra nimbu maarke)

2.) In winters never miss out on Garadu

3.) Joshi Ka Dahiwada – The man is a showman, the way he will feed you is completely unique. He is on youtube too if you want to see him . 

4.) Vijay Chaat ki Petis – This is divinity I tell you! hat

5.) Aloo Tikki Chat

6.) Jalebo – A sort of a jalebi/imarti that is as fat as your thumb! One piece does it for 5 people!

7.) Rabdi with Malpua.

After having eaten all these if there is still space in your belly, there is Sabudana Khichdi, Samosa’s, Kachaudi’s, Kulfi’s, Kala Jamun’s(hot), GulabJambun’s (hot), MoongDaal Halwa(hot), Gajar Ka Halwa(hot & seasonal), Pizza, PavBhaji, Cheese Faafda’s, Dosa’s, Fruit Chat, Chinese, Pani Puri and Chats & Bhel Pakodi’s and what not, the list really is never ending!

 

But yes one thing you will need before you do any of this is drink a Jaljeera first! 😛

 

The sheer scale of food that is available in this small market of that you can walk through in a matter of 3 minutes, that is if you can beat the crowd, is surely going to flood the place with your drool!  This place opens at around 8-9 in the night and goes on well till about 2 am in the night. When you are there you cannot comprehend how many people are eating at this ungodly hour! The market is throbbing and bustling with gluttony in the middle of the night! You just have to go there to see and believe what I am talking about.

 

Indore is called the food capital of Central India, I don’t think anyone can contest that, I mean apart from the Sarafa Bazaar there is another such crazy hangout zone called ‘Chappan Dukaan’ (meaning 56shops) obviously of food all lined up. The highlights are just unending you know, be it Laal Balti ki Kachaudi or Johny ka Hot Dog or Daal Baafle, the Indori’s are one crazy foodie bunch I tell you, from morning Poha Jalebi or Poha Ussal’s to the Malpua’s late in the night! The amount of Namkeen, Sweets, food these people consume is stuff of legends. These folks have my respect I tell you!!

 

If ever you happen to be going to the Hindustan Ka Dil, Heart of Incredible India, as MP tourism dept puts it make sure you are spending atleast 2 days in Indore for just indulging a bit. 🙂 😀

 

Here are a few pics of the foodie heaven of Sarafa Bazaar from a couple of days back when I was passing through and I stopped specially for this.

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Perhaps start with a Paani Puri

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke ;)

Thodi Bhutte Ki Kees extra Neembu Maarke 😉

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

Aloo Tikki and Bhutte Ki Kees vendor at work

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Aaj Kya loge ji? Kalajamun? Gulab Jamun? Ya Rabdi ke Saath Malpua!? 😛 😛

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Jalebi to gareeb log khaate honge.. Indori’s eat Jalebo! 😛

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The sheer amount of Ghee and Tikki’s that are eaten is awe inspiring!

If you want, we are ready with Gola's! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

If you want, we are ready with Gola’s! Sirf Flavour bataiye!

So the holidays end

 

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Finally the last weekend of the Diwali vacation is here, its been pretty eventful you know, a honeymoon trip, a long drive, a casino visited, unbelievable party invites, tonnes of food, no exercise, no alarms to wake me up, some more gluttony, weight gain (errr if all is well kahi nazar na lag jaaye isliye) and above all so much fun!

 

All that almost now wants me to fall into a routine for a bit, that is a huge change if you know me! I loathe, hate routines and yet, I actually dread when I see an invite for eating out! Its just been too much, maybe I need to keep myself to the ‘Gareeb Khichdi’ and humble ‘Curd Rice’ for a week to be able to want to actually eat out again. For a change I think this Monday will be welcome! 🙂 Thats what holidays, vacations do to you! Gear you up! Don’t they?

 

Plus the evil fact that I have a tiger safari planned and booked for next month is added incentive, if only life came with a fast forward button I say! 😀 😀 😀 :mrgreen:

 

Chicken Xacuti!

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Finally, I can claim I have tasted this Goan delicacy and as it is fair to say it lived up to what all it was talked about! We eventually ordered it at the restaurant Mango Grove in Candolim and it lived up to our expectations! We absolutely loved it and scraped the plate so much so as to in the end I dropped all the remaining rice in the Xacuti (pronounced Shakuti) bowl and wiped it clean! 🙂 🙂

 

Many a times I feel I may not be able to appreciate coconut milk gravies as much and I was so happy to learn that my pre-conceived notions were totally wrong and I am hoping to make more journeys in the south Indian food world!! 🙂

 

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We downed this wonderful dish with a Watermelon Cooler (cocktail) which was so wonderfully made that even a non drinker like me enjoyed it and even felt mildly delirious after it. 🙂

 

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जेवण on the Highway

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha

Whats a road trip good for if it doesn’t include some lip smacking food on the highway??

I am a total sucker for road trips, stopping where ever I want to, starting at any insanely hour (like 2.30am) not bother how many stops I am making to take a picture and above all the surprises that await on the highway in terms of food, many times you don’t know what and where to eat and yet from time to time you surprise yourself so very pleasantly.

One such occasion, we were passing through Pune and skipping the city, we have heard of the famous Vaishali restaurant in Pune but have not been able to check it out yet, and so about 45kms before Pune we start seeing boards of Vaishali on the highway. Immediately the stomach has made space for some food, I tell my partner in crime we must stop here.

As we ride into the hotel and park we do realise this doesn’t seem like the original, we enter anyway, ask the guy serving if it is the same Vaishali and he smiles and tell us no, this is different and that is different, yet, tempted by the fact that it offered Maharshtrian Food and not the steady South Indian or Punjabi, we decided to check it out.

The one drawback of being just two travellers is that we can order only so much, but, then my appetite helps anyways. So we ordered Kaanda Pithla, Bharla Vange, Shengdana Lassun Chatni, Lassun Mirchi Thecha, Jowar Roti and Chappati and boy was it delicious!!!

In any case I love spicy food and although the food was not as spicy the Thecha pretty much made up for it! It was an awesomely lip smacking and fulfilling lunch! I recommend anyone passing Vaishali to give this local fare a try.

Like the saying was, when in Maharashtra eat like the Maharashtrians 😉

The penchant to try something new

Food Discoveries! 🙂

The penchant to try something new has always lured me, its been like so attractive that I always pick up the bait and sometimes it leads to being caught up on the hook and wriggling like a fish for dear life. Well almost I mean, so one evening when we were strolling in a food republic in a mall checking out various counters for various things that they had to offer. One thing we were sure going to try out was the famous Chicken Rice of Singapore. It came highly recommended from a lot of people I knew who had been to Singapore and also had come across whilst researching before going to Singapore.

So whilst we ordered that which was served with a fiery red chutney (read sauce) which I tried a spoonful as they did not warn how hot it could be. The snooty Indian in me decided to go ahead and take a spoonful, thinking these foreigners can’t eat anything near to how spicy a Sev Ussal I eat normally, well how wrong I was, I was breathing fire in an instant and actually coughed my way to the Coke counter and till I finished drinking the whole bottle I was on fire, perspiring in the air conditioned hall. Eventually after I came back to my senses, we delved in the soup that they served along and carefully mixed the sauce in the Chicken rice which actually spiced it up and made it feel absolutely delicious. This is one dish you must have whenever you travel to Singapore! 🙂

Chicken Rice :
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Having tried this dish which was new for me I had to go and try the Prawn Laksa, however I couldn’t find it in the vicinity and whilst I was browsing for it I saw the word Octopus and Chilli together and I said to myself I just have to try for the heck of it. The word actually read, Hitchy come and consume me!!!! So I ordered, this Korean dish is traditionally called Nakji Bokkeum.

I waited with baited breath as the chef went inside the kitchen to come up with my sizzling plate, he came out and the smell was absolutely fascinating, I thought to myself hell you are gonna love this dish, it smells divine and masaledar actually for a foreign dish. This joy did not last long though, I mean my limited food taste buds could not quite fathom the taste of the Octopus, I took the first bite and it seemed weird for my taste buds but then I thought to myself you have to evolve and develop some taste’s as they are so foreign to us we might not be able to like them right away. I gave it another try, I always thought the octopus might be soft and slushy and kinda juicy, apparently this small octopus was nothing like that and very chewy, by the third bite I was ready to throw up. I said I cannot like this dish, no matter how nice prepared and no matter how many people consume it, I was not meant to eat this dish!!!!

Eventually an ice cream helped me return all sanity to my gut!

But I can atleast produce a photo of the Nakji Bokkeum 😀

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