“Amby” in city of joy

Calcutta (Kolkata) – mega city of Eastern India. In this vibrant city with a distinct socio-political culture, cabs are grand old Ambassadors from Hindustan Motors and most of cars are manufactured from the nearby plant of Uttarpara. This picture was taken next to major long distance Sealdah Railway Station which shows that city of joy still struggles with traffic congestion. Unlike of other major cities where Tata indica or fiat or Maruti are common hired forms of mechanised transport this city has almost all taxis as amby painted in yellow.

Yellow Cab of Calcutta

Before Maruti it was the only car on Indian road. This reminds me of my childhood times when me and my brother used to identify a Mark-II, Mark-III or Mark-IV by its sound (all these models looked very similar). It was a stupid game in era of Nintendo –Wii. The game was a simple one - we used to hide behind a wall as we saw an Ambassador approaching, try to identify the same by sound and confirm as soon as it passed by from behind.

While writing this post I just found the web page of this car and found 10 reasons to buy this car ……

  1. First Indian car – [born in 1950 (inception in 1948. Originally based on Morris Oxford ,United Kingdom ]
  2. Power Steering – [Trying to match up the new market with Maruti, TATA, Honda and Toyota.]
  3. Multi Fuel Injection – [Well, all new car has that - what a big deal?]
  4. Company fitted CNG – [Well, you can convert almost every petrol car in India to keep your running cost as low as 1 Rupees for 1 KM.]
  5. Tough
  6. Tough - [tested on Indian roads for long time but why they have to list the toughness twice?]
  7. Roominess - [Yes, more then 10 people can travel in a single car at a given time!!]
  8. 5 Speed Gear box - [Another lame reason, all car now a days has the same. ]
  9. Easy repairable – [They claim across the country all mechanic knows the car inside out.]
  10. Serves the country – [Used by Indian Army and de-facto car of Indian bureaucrats and politicians. ]

If I have enough money one day I will like to have a chauffeur driven amby for myself just to hang out in nostalgia or in the roomy car or to be different from every one else ;) .My eleventh reason or may be only reason for having this car.

Rainy Sunday

rainy-market

This picture was taken from my phone camera when I went to do our weekly vegetable shopping in APMC [Agro Product Market] close to Vashi. Prices for every vegetables went up. Due to lack of infrastructure it was a shame to see so much wastage due to heavy rain. From the posture of the seller it was quite clear he was not looking for lot of customers as he stretches his back. There are protest against big retail chains as they started selling Agro products in India. Although, with the entry of big retail players it will take away lively hood of lots of small businessmen and prices will shoot up but may be with time they will help us in saving the products from calamity like this with better infrastructure.

Hue of the sky

Siliguri is gateway to the North East of India. It is commercial city of North Bengal where tea, timber and transport are the main business. It is a base point to head towards Darjeeling, Sikkim, kalimpong, mirik etc. Besides, it is also the transit point for air, road and rail traffic to the neighboring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

snow clad mountain seen from Siliguri railway staion

Situated at foot of Eastern Himalayas it has very pleasant temperature but weather is very unpredictable as it gets shower any time. Summer is not like other parts of India which burns in hot lava. It hardly exceeds 32 C in day time and after every 3-4 days there is a light rain sometimes short sharp downpour. Winters are really biting cold with mercury level hardly rising to 15 C at day time. During winter, on clear day it gives excellent view of Himalayan peaks with an opportunity to see as backdrop of snow-clad mountains.

In the month of May, we went there for 10 days which was a great escape from Mumbai’s heat and frequent power failure. These pictures are from the terrace of my in-law’s house.

Day time at Siliguri

Clouds

Sunset at Siliguri

Udupi Thali

This thali is named after a small town of South western coast of India Udupi near to Mangalore. It is famous for Krishna temple where from udupi (also called udipi) cuisine got originated. It is basically delicious vegetarian cuisine with no onion, garlic as commonly found in rich north Indian cuisine. Udupi cuisine comprises dishes made from grains, beans, vegetables. The variety and range of dishes are wide and a hallmark of this cuisine is the use of locally available ingredients.

Udipi thali is very common in Mumbai where food is mostly served in Steel plate; but at certain resto you have choice of Plantain leave. Eating with bare hand is more fun although spoons are available. Normally, meals you get are with unlimited serving except the Sweet Dish (Only one portion of Sweet Dish is included like kheer or kalajamun). Service is very fast and before you blink your eyes you have the meal in front of you even at peak hours; hardly sometimes one has to wait for 10 min. at max. The menu is not at all spicy nor rich in oil but very close to ghar kaa khana (everyday meal). That is one main reason these places are very crowded during lunch hours.

Udipi Thali

    Thali consist of small dishes of several curries-
  • Chapatti (wheat bread) or Purri,
  • Sambhar - a soupy vegetable(pumpkin or gourd) liquid with a sour edge
  • Rasam ( spicy pepper water)
  • Chutney (mostly of coconut) or Dal (lentil curry unlimited),
  • 3 Vegetables (Fixed Qty) - one Dry Vegetable, One with Gravy and one made with freshly grated coconut
  • Curd (1 bowl)
  • Pickle
  • Pappad
  • One bowl steamed rice. (If you want to eat less Rice you can take 2 Chapatti or 3 puris or vice-versa).

But in recent times non-vegetarian variation of the same cuisine is making marks not only in India but across the world. Sea food cooked in coconut and whole red-chillies are one of the common one.

Bon Appetite – bien sur, while you tear off a small morsel of Chappati, dip and devour the taste of authenticity.

Courtesy still … in Mumbai

With all its busy, speedy life I found courtesy still existing within in Mumbai-local; an unexpected encounter with refined human behavior in this Maximum city. I was retuning home in a local train and lucky to be seated as I started from VT terminus. In the mid way a family of three boarded the train; it is quite out of the way for a female passenger to get into general or male compartment at the rush hour. This is one of the unwritten but well defined codes of Mumbai local. Female passengers never try to get in to the general compartment as they will be squeezed by male passengers.

After few minutes of thought and hesitation within myself I offered my seat to the lady by signaling her husband. It was a relief for them as they both mother and son were able to sit.

Suddenly I found a gentle touch on my shoulder; looking back I saw another gentleman is offering his seat to me as he is getting down. Normally the person who is standing next to the seat will be having his turn and it will be big “Faux pas” if someone else grabs the seat. It was an acknowledgement of my good karma by fellow passenger which threw me in astonishment. Needless to repeat again when every one is ready to grab others neck in this metropolis - it is a pleasant experience which I might have to cherish for a long time to come.

Hearty Healthy

It’s too hot and humid with power failure I was sweating like a hell. Though just few minutes before I took my shower. Having my last portion of lunch I was searching desperately for something in my fridge but actually I forgot to buy one. My all time favourite item which I can even take truckload if needed in any form. It is generally considered to cool the body in tropical climates.

I don’t know how and when exactly I developed taste for it. One of my favourite childhood food item was a heaping spoonful of it. I’d lick it like a lollipop until all traces of thick delectable were gone. As I got older, I use to mix it with portion of vegetable curry(s) as well lentils given to me beside the last course. Now also I regularly indulge and make sure to have it at last after two main meals. Without that it’s something incomplete for me. I hope you guessed it by now… yes, I am talking about yogurt known for its characteristic taste and consistency.

curd

Being born and brought up in cosmopolitan town had known taste of India from my childhood. Due to the employment opportunities created by the Bhilai Steel Plant, people from all over the country flock here and the culture here provides a scintillating example of "Unity in Diversity".

white-curd

We had a south Indian neighbour when I was a child. I used to love auntie’s food over my mom despite she tried her best to make best food which I never appreciated. Like the proverb says “ghar ki murgi daal barabar” (Self possessions are always undermined and other's possessions seem better). The memory still brings forth strong emotions when I think of it. I have one memory of eating this dish called Curd-rice as a small kid which Auntie used to prepare by mixing curd and rice with pinch of salt to taste if yogurt is bit tangy. For them it is common practice to finish any meal with curd rice. While our other neighbour was from North, so often used to have Raita - a special preparation with yogurt; normally served chilled. Though there are lot of variation in raita of which boondi is most common. Vegetable Raita involves adding grated cucumber and mint paste or using tomato, cucumber and onion raitas or diced carrots. Sometimes tempering it with mustard seeds, cumin seeds, curry leaves, channa & urad daal with pinch of asafoetida. Actually, Raita is good foil for spicy North Indian dishes like parathas, tandoori chicken, etc.

misthi-dahi

Now being born in bongo family we have Misti doi a thick sweetened yogurt which taste as sweet as pudding which is served and sold in earthern pot. Presently staying in western part, Shrikhand is taken in form of dessert made from strained curd. A soft muslin cloth is tied up and hung to drain all the water for a few hours from the curd. Sugar, salt, saffron, cardamom, diced fruit, raisins, and nuts are then added for its taste.

shrikhandhomemade-curd

Apart from all these, curd is widely prepared at home where it has an important place in traditional cuisine. It can be made from a small amount of store-bought, plain, freshly cultured yogurt by adding lukewarm milk thoroughly. The quality of curd depends on the starter used. The time taken to curdle varies with the seasons taking less than 3 hours in hot weather and up to 10 hours in cold weather.

danone

During our stay at Europe I use to wonder seeing one complete row on umpteen varieties of yogurt from fat-free to bio-organic in super-store. Not only natural and unflavoured yogurt but also yogurt with fruit, vanilla, chocolate and various other flavours are common. To offset its natural sourness, yogurt is often sold sweetened, flavoured, or in containers with fruit or fruit jam on the bottom. And when ever we travelled different parts of Europe we found different texture and taste for the same. It tastes completely different just across the border; in 2003 European Union debated to give a standardized name to yoghurt, but later abandoned that project.

Well well, wherever you go you will find curd; may be of different version in terms of taste and characteristics. So, while I have my daily dose of friendly bacteria you can certainly think on whether its worth to have or not.

Skittlish Theme with Silk Icons for Wordpress

Trying to jazz up skittlish theme of wordpress with silk icon sets from famfamfam.com. In recent time there is new version of skittlish supporting widgets so I thought it might be a god starting ground. Best part - for few colors (red, orange, green & blue) there are icons available for tag, user (author). But for rest there is none. As I am not a graphic person not sure how should I go forward. Any expert out there to help me ;). Plan to release my best by next week.

China rose

white china rose

Flowers are the sweetest things God ever made and forgot to put a soul into. - Henry Ward Beecher.

I don't know really why I love to picture flowers. Wherever visit if they fascinate me, try to make them my subject.

My dad loves garden; for him it is most sociable of hobbies.Truly said, the very nature of one's field of activities demands an audience. No one wants flowers to blush unseen or waste their sweetness. So, every time we are there we are taken around. This is one of the variety of china rose although not much redolent from my parents garden. Currently, we are on a 10days vacation at Siliguri to escape humid heat and fast life of Mumbai. As said, we tried to take lots of pictures this time of flowers with my new gadget Canon-G7 camera. Just could not stop my self from posting the same. Link to Album

W questions of Indian life

In India, life of middle class is different compared to occidental culture. There is a vast population of middle class in India and within middle class there are three distinct sub-divisions - “lower middleclass”, “middle middleclass” and “higher middleclass”. Comprehending the complexities of Indian society is not that easy. Though there are variations in socio-economic life within these three but one thing is common between all of them - everyone is curious to know whatz happening in others life despite of their own busy life. And they do pose what, why, when and where to quench their thirst.

Curiosity starts with birth of a child and has no ends. The initial round of questions like does your child walks; has he started speaking, whom does he resembles? As he/she grows a bit question changes its color – has he started going to school, then next question will be in a trice how he is in studies; does he comes first in class (as if all parents were merit holders). Apart from that of course there are questions related to his health, extra curricular activities which he has been thrown into.

Few more years, child reaches his teenage where he is being again quized with different set of questions how much percentage did he scored in high school and competitive exams; this is the most difficult phase as some of those questions remains hunted in the young mind for rest of his/her life.

Now related to the “stream” he has opted for; child is categorized - if science particularly with maths then good considered having bright future in engineering if with bio then mediocre. Next in line comes commerce, then with arts and last but not least home science and others where student is considered good for nothing no matter even if he has got gold medal.

As soon as he/she enters the new stage of his/her life next questions are already ready to be asked - does he have a job? If yes, where? If it’s abroad then– oh now you will have dollars /euros/pounds in your bank no matter if he/she is going to Timbuktu. What do you have to worry in life for? (as you have a kid abroad). No need to worry about money? Your kid is gonna be an NRI soon.

Now as child reaches marriageable age particularly a girl series of question are asked in a manner that it becomes nightmare for both parents and child. There will be proposal for alliance from any one and as a girl’s parent you are supposed to be very gentle and calm (no matter how much they pinch you). Once he/she gets married the very next instantaneous query has to be what about family planning; are not you going to have baby as if others are going to look after the baby. Once the baby arrives to this wonderful earth ……life cycle of same set of questions repeats endlessly.

Why we can’t refrain ourselves from asking these questions to others which might hurt someone unintentionally. Really, certain times its so disgusting. Or are these questions which keep us binding with each-other to some extent where millions of people live amidst cacophony--roaring vehicles, surging crowds, jammed apartment buildings, busy commercial establishments, loudspeakers, blaring movie tunes--while breathing the poisons of industrial and automotive pollution.

Are these those questions where Indians believe in sharing happiness and sorrow; where a festival or a celebration is never constrained to a family or home. Or is it an answer to beauty of Indians lies in spirit of tolerance.

Viva Goa - Adios

Reflection of Nerul River

Last day, woke up very early in the morning to visit Candolim, Sinquerim beach- Just to avoid scorching heat of sun. The shimmering sea stretches to the horizon. Spent some time to savour the view then headed to Fort Aguada. Fort Agauda crowns the rocky flattened headland at the end of the beach. Constructed in 1612 to protect the northern shores of Mandovi estuary from Dutch and Maratha raiders. It was a reference point for the vessels coming from Europe at that time. This old Portuguese fort stands on the beach south of Candolim, at the shore of the Mandovi river. Part of fort is now turned to Taj holiday village and another part to prison. Its worth a visit with superb view from top of the hill where four storey Portuguese lighthouse looks down over vast expanse of sea sand and palm trees. While descending the hill one can see River Nerul. Roads of this part of Goa are really nice and scenic. Enjoyed the ride as pillion rider. Undoubtedly, it is the picturesque palm-fringed beaches, scenic coves, sun-kissed sands and turquoise waters that make Goa one of the world's premier holiday destinations.

For lunch headed to another typical goan no-frill restaurant this time; ordered for chonok and rice which was enough for two as portion was big. Well recommended by guide book.

Fixing flat Tyre

One more last time went to Baga beach to soak ourselves in turquoise water. Enjoyed thoroughly and headed to hotel for pack-up as we were leaving that night by bus from Mapusa; a new experience to travel with sleeper coach night bus.

The sleeper bus was smooth at beginning but later along the way we had two blowouts. Needless to say, we were late by 5 hours. Santanu was forced to work from home next day.

Viva Goa - Day 4

motorcycle-taxi

As we couldn’t enjoy much earlier day we decided to opt for rented bike and move around in our own pace. Rented a bike for 2 days for 400 Rupees. One thing which is very interesting about Goa’s motorcycle taxi locally known as pilots ideal for nipping between beaches or for short distances. Bonafide operators ride black bikes with yellow mudguards and white number plate. These vehicles transport a single pillion rider. (Photo credit: from GoaBlog.org)

As usual after breakfast we headed towards Anjuna beach. Anjuna is gorgeous with its rocky shore and mighty cliffs where you can hear of techno-thumping sounds and see hippies around. With morning sun and plenty of time at hand we made this special sign to remember Goa. Vagator, however, is the perfect hideaway spot with its few beach shacks and fishing boats off in the distance. Black lava rocks, the coconut palms, the lush green landscape, nature playing its own music, and the sea turning from aquamarine to emerald green with Chapora Fort at its background. The reminiscence of the old Portuguese times giving a splendid view of the sea and hills covered with coconut trees and rice fields. To reach middle and little Vagator one needs to walk but the calmness worth the effort as big Vagator gets bus loads of Indian whiskey drinking male tourist.

At noon, sun is really hard to tolerate but for lunch, we made sure to have exotic flavour of the Goan dishes at whatever cost. So, we searched hard to find one place called “Gabriel” recommended by our guidebook as an authentic goan cooking. It was really worth searching.

For most Goans three basic necessities – fish, curry and rice. Goan values their food as much as they do their daily siesta. In their daily meal, seafood always has a pride of place in some or other form. From fried fish to exotic concoctions; sea food is usually a must on the menu, except for the occasional break for some religious observance. Besides fresh seafood, dried and salted fish dishes are also highly prized by Goans.

Green Chicken Curry

We ordered Galinha com Coentro (chicken with fresh coriander leaves and vinegar) and prawn curry with rice. It was really fresh, home –made and scrumptious. Owner was friendly; had chit-chat with him. We figured out it was guest-house cum restaurant with lots of shady trees around and not far from sea. Sitting arrangement is in the garden under trees with fan. Since it was shady we spent 2 hours there and at last we were offered yummy chocolate (European one after a long time).

In the evening we prepared ourselves for soaking at Baga beach; smeared well with body-oil. As on day two we found that sand was very fine and it gets stick to the body like glue even after proper shower. So, smearing oneself helps as sand can’t stick to the body and washes off with each roaring waves.

Bebinca

At evening we went to Tibetian market right across our resort where Santanu bought one finger-ring for himself and then headed for dinner at Baga-Calangute road to one nice restaurant. Wanted to taste one goan dessert for last 3 days; since we were not left with an inch place in stomach we could not but today made sure to eat less so that we can taste it. For dessert best is Infantaria Pastelaria recommended again by our guidebook which was again right across our resort where we bought Bebinca – a layered pudding.

Viva Goa - Day 3

We opted for package tour with our hotel stay, so our hotel had arranged for two day sightseeing South Goa with river cruise and North Goa. We opted for South Goa to start with.

Left hotel around 9 at Indian Stretchable Time after breakfast in a non-AC bus accompanied by one local guide. The itinerary included Dona-Paula (bypass Miramar beach). Old Goa churches-Bom Jesus Basilica and se cathedral along with two temples Mangueshi and shantadurga dedicated to Shiva and shantadurga (goddess of Peace), visit to Ancestral Goa/old Portuguese house and Colva beach. To wrap it up there is river cruise at the end.

Actually, this kind of package are good way of getting around Goa in short-time. It seems they are more appealing to Indian tourists wishing to combine peek at all top sights with the whistle-stop tour. Sometimes they include certain places inland that you wouldn’t otherwise consider visiting.

Anywayz, Colva beach was not even attractive to us though it is an oldest and largest fishing beach. There were international tourists marinating in the sun and overcrowded domestic visitors paddling. Beach front is dismal as stench of drying fish waft from near-by village.

Boat Cruise on River Mandavi

River cruise on Mandavi was one hour trip over crowed with mostly Indian tourists. Professional troupes perform the Dekni Temple Dance, the Fugdi Dance and the Corredinho Dance with live music. You can shake your leg too as it will tempt you to dance to their beats. They do try hard to entertain but no chance to glimpse the Sun as it sets in Arabian Sea. Its pity that this boat company makes sure you can not view the sun-set as there is a big backdrop on west to hide Sun from you. May be they do it on purpose to make sure everyone is seated and not leaning on side of the boat to take picture of golden ball as it goes down.

Cashew

Other then this they took us to souvenir shop (where they get commission)- i.e., one souvenir at least visitor always carries home from his holidays in Goa are cashew nuts, spices and wine. Cashew trees abound the Goan hillsides. The flowering in January leads to luscious, brilliantly coloured fruit in March, April and early May. It is then plucked, while the apple is used in the process of producing "Feni" (Goan speciality) and the nuts are roasted for consumption. Here locally produced wines and beer are cheaper than anywhere in the country. Big percentage of tourist to Goa are men from other parts of India who come to Goa as an escape from moral confines of life at home.

Disadvantage of this kind of package trips are they don’t give enough time where they should actually give and secondly you cannot have taste of Goa or in other words you don’t have much choice for restaurants as they take tourists to such a remote part where only one restaurant will be there with awful food and you end up eating those as you don’t have alternative. In short, we are the people who want to explore more of the place, know about the culture, food, enjoy the serenity, nature’s landscape and all. So, this kind of packages are not meant for us. And we decided not to opt for the North Goa trip.

Viva Goa - Day 2

In Goa, traveling around by rented motorcycle or car is imperative if you want more than just sun, surf and sand. It gives lot of freedom but can be perilous at same time. On second day early morning we haggled at least with three owners for renting and lastly ended up with Activa for Rupees 250(it is better to rent for long durations to get good price). Another reason for renting was we wanted to go to Bicholim to visit Santanu’s maternal uncle for dinner. Normally, roads of Goa are as smooth as airport tarmacs except few parts.

After breakfast (bread, butter, jam and juice or tea) at hotel which was included in our package we rode on Calangute-Baga road and soon realised that hotel in which we are staying is at main spot at entrance of this road which leads to Baga beach.

Gujrati lamps

This road to Baga Beach from Calangute is full of handcraft items, which are lucrative to foreign tourist (but not worth the money). Just opposite to our hotel was a nice Tibetan market which offers all kinds of gems and silverwork, wooden statues of the Buddha's and Hindu deities. Besides, Calangute and Baga have been swamped by Kashmiri traders putting up Kashmiri carpets, wooden crafts, embroidery and papier-mâché boxes for sale. Famous night clubs like Tito are on this road - vivacious with tourist and locals that mean shops are open till late while other parts of Goa goes to sleep.

Kashmiri Shopkeeper with Wooden Rihno

Interesting nugget of information about the Baga beach is that there are a lot of touts asking for para-sailing, water-sports, dolphin boat-ride, and banana ride etc. hawking wares include skirts, tee-shirts, novels etc. You will be offered with cup of tea to ayurvedic massages as every one tries to sell their service or product. It means you can sip chilled beer while getting a temporary tattoo done or reading a novel. For these services you need to bargain -We were told they were offering good Indian price compared to foreign tourist .But in reality tourists are tourists and local try to milk them out as much they can - the bitter truth of vacation.

Well, we rented sun-beds at Rs 50 for few hrs took dip in the turquoise water which was really fun. Best part to see majority of Indian women clad in colourful saris stand up to their waist in the water while others wear shorts, bikinis and swimsuit. Pot-bellied Indian men in shorts or undergarments saving a buck or two for swimsuit. Though there are few smarties (women) who come prepared in Indian attire with swimsuit inside to take a dip and get quickly changed. Indian visitors flock to giggle at the tribes of dreadlocked white-skin on the vast white sandy beach.

Being famished we headed towards Plantain Leaf (only vegetarian) for udipi thali. Came back to hotel for afternoon siesta and left at evening for Bicholim After tanking up at Mapusa we rode via Fort Corjuem to Bicholim - it was a long ride but enjoyable.