Mumbai. Or Bombay, if I may.

For many Indians, Bombay is the city of dreams, of hitting a jackpot and making it big or losing it all and barely surviving. It is far less complicated for me. It is the city where I was born before I moved elsewhere, a city that I visited every summer during my childhood and a city that, despite its chaos and madness, has a special place in my heart for all the memories it holds.

And it was with this nostalgia that I visited Bombay to bring in 2015 and after a gap of 5 long years. It was just as I expected it to be – buzzing with people, a lot more traffic and pollution, old colonial bungalows replaced with 10-storeyed buildings and vendors selling street food with old haunts still intact (on a related note, the father thinks that it is the pollution that lends extra kick to Bombay’s street food. I try to take that with an extra pinch of dust, oops salt).

Credit: Rajarshi Majumder (Times of India)

So after a night of revelry on New Years Eve, I spent a quiet day catching up with cousins and helping them get over my surprise visit. By sunset, it was time to head out for a long drive from the city to town (as the local’s say) and after an impressive route (impressive because of a new link road, pot-hole free as of then) we reached Marine Drive. This is a long stretch of road also known as Queen’s Necklace because, when viewed at night from an elevated point anywhere along the drive, the street lights resemble a string of pearls in a necklace. Some more driving around town to show some of the city’s landmarks (Gateway & Taj of course) to a cousin’s friend and we finally headed back home not before stopping for an absolutely gorgeous chocolate milkshake at Bachelorr’s (their strawberry shake aint too bad either!).

This post is meant to be about ‘Bombay – the city’ but it is clearly gravitating towards ‘Bombay – what I ate’. Uh oh. You may stop now if you wish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Day 2 was a lunch-out with the family and since I was allowed to decide, Burmese was the flavour of the day and we headed out to ‘Busago’ a small resto in Bandra that served excellent kaukswe. One of my fav’ areas in Bombay, Bandra is a quirky suburb mixed with Christian/Parsi old-timers, Bollywood celebrities & yuppies and is a great place for shopping and food (street-side, high-end and in-between). It brought back memories of many a summer evening spent on Linking Road, haggling with vendors, buying pairs & pairs of super-cheap shoes and stuffing ‘selves with chaat.

Bombay Pav bhajiTalking about chaat, a visit to Juhu beach was mandatory. This is an 18-km stretch along the shores of the Arabian Sea, horribly crowded on weekends, and dotted on one end with food stalls. And so we went, said hello to the beach and headed straight to ‘Siddhivinayak fast food’ 😀 Do not miss, and I emphasise, do not miss the Cheese Pav Bhaji, a mouth-watering bun & gravy combo loaded with butter and cheese. Another momentary glimpse of heaven. Try everything else they may offer but ensure that you end it on a sweet note with kulfi (cut into cubes on a paper plate and not the usual cone; that’s the beauty).

On Day 3, we visited ‘Elco’, another street stall that started out a few decades ago and has now found its clientele and expanded, with even a branch in Dubai! Post Elco, there was room for dessert and after all the consumption, a stroll along Bandra’s famed ‘Bandstand’ helped in much-needed digestion.

I spent the evening of Day 4 hogging on Vada Pav’s, the famed desi-burger that continues to give Big Macs and their clan a run for their money. On the last day, I went scouting for Dabeli, another delightful burger that I haven’t eaten in years and surprisingly hasn’t found presence pan-India. After a lot of searching, found a sandwich-vendor happy to give in to our demands!

dabeli bombay

I took the flight back as one happy, satisfied kid. There was a 10K run in the offing the week ahead of me and I had gained (more than) adequate energy that I needed for it!

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Rainy days & Mondays with Parmesan

Rain Dubai

Rainy days like this are rare in a desert. And when it rains, everyone and everything gets alive and kicking, traffic included.

My ideal rainy day is to wake up as per routine, decide to skip work, snuggle back into bed and much later in the afternoon, go on a long drive, hunting for ‘pakoras‘ n ‘chai’.

Sigh! Back to reality. I did go to work and returned home to a fridge screaming at me to use its week old vegetables.

Result: Parmesan & Roasted Veggie Salad.

parmesan dubai

It turned out much better than I thought it would. Warm roasted pumpkins, brinjal (or eggplant or aubergine as you wish to call it), juicy red capsicum (okay, so they are called red peppers) and a local variant of zucchini in a balsamic vinegar dressing along with whole wheat pasta for company. Served on a bed of lettuce for some more colour effect. The star of the dish, however, were the Parmesan shavings – a generous, delicious and calorific contribution to an otherwise healthy dish.

No, those spicy Indian fritters cannot replace Parmesan or Pasta nevertheless, a bowl of this goodness provided a comforting end to a drab cold day.

Categories: Crème fraîche, Middle East | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Travel, New Year & Liebster

The timing was perfect. It was the last week of Christmas and I was in India for a brief holiday, to spend quality time with parents. And to reflect how I’d have to spend more time with the blog in 2015. Just reflect; I don’t make resolutions eh.

Immediately after, I get a wordpress notification from 3weeksandashoestring informing me that I’ve been nominated for the Liebster award! Check out her wonderful travel blog and look out for the post on ‘The Hungry Vegetarian’ if you are a vegetarian traveller!

Okay, so Leibster is not really the Oscars, but enough to make me thrilled and do a little dance. No, seriously. It is a nice little accolade to recognize promising blogs and those with less than 500 followers and works on a ‘pay it forward’ system. That’s enough motivation for a blog-rolling 2015.

leibster-award

As the Liebster rules go, every nominated blogger needs to answers a set of questions given by the blogger who’s nominated her / him – so here goes:

1. What do you enjoy most about blogging?

Even if I am blogging about country X that I have recently travelled to, I do some online research to ensure that any facts I include are correct and end up learning a lot more about the place. As a result, I’m building a mini country wikipedia in my brain.

2. What do you find to be the most difficult part of blogging?

I have this obsessive compulsion to not publish a post unless there are a few photos which in reality, takes much more effort than writing a post. And the occasional phase where I have a blog-block and nothing inspires.

3. What is the last place you traveled to?

Just back from India. Visited Coimbatore (in the South) and Bombay/Mumbai. The trip was for family & food 😉

4. What’s your favourite of the places you’ve been to?

Ah, difficult one. But the one that surprised me the most was Georgia. Being so accessible from Dubai, it is a country I’d want to visit a second time around.

5. Of the places you’ve been to, which would you say was the biggest ‘miss’?

None really. While I was disappointed with Dalhousie & Khajjiar in North India (the former in a state of repair and the latter with a needless reference to Switzerland), I have friends who have seen it during snowier times and raved about it.  So maybe my timing was wrong.

6. What is your least favorite part of travelling?

The return flight/train/bus back to base. No surprises there.

7. Backpack or wheeled suitcase?

Backpack; but with a back that is getting weaker with age, wheeled suitcase is taking priority.

8. Solo travel or travel with company?

Spouse travel! Because the husb allows me to dominate itinerary, planning & such (only on the travel front, if I may add), is not the most talkative person (which gives me adequate solo time) and yet is listening (or at least pretending to) when I jabber away. Can you see my halo?

9. What is your favourite among the blog posts you have written?

Confession time: I just wish a lot more readers would check my post on Spain & Andalusia. Because that post came straight from the heart.

Can I mention a second one, please? The one on Georgian food, which came straight from the stomach.

No more self-promotion now. Promise.

10. What is the last song you listened to?

Nothing Else Matters – Apocalyptica

11. What is the last book you read?

The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan. Read it for a perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict and for a heart-warming true story that existed amidst it.

11 random facts about me:

  1. I spent 7 months as a English-teaching assistant in Strasbourg, France. From the huge lot of 20-something Indian assistants that left for France, I was the only married 30-something.
  2. Much as I love travelling, I hate packing! I can waste hours sitting aimlessly with an empty backpack or suitcase.
  3. I can be quite cranky during the hours leading to a travel departure. I haven’t yet figured why but I’ll blame this on No.2 for now.
  4. The more number of people visiting a particular country, the lesser my inclination to go there.
  5. My 3rd year in Dubai will include my 3rd 10K run in this city later this month. A hat-trick, inshallah!
  6. I don’t upload travel photo albums on Facebook.
  7. Single child yet, in the words of a wise friend, ‘sorted’.
  8. I have tasted chicken/meat and enjoyed it on 2 occasions. There are several occasions when I get depressed seeing a lone vegetarian option on a menu but that said, I don’t ever intend moving to the other side.
  9. An Indian citizen working in an Arab country for the British Government.
  10. Cold country over warm country. 7 months of Strasbourg and not once did I miss the Indian sun!
  11. Night owl. That’s when all my blogs are written.

Blogs that I will nominate for this Award:

I think the below blogs are great and deserve recognition. I particularly envy bloggers whose pictures speak a thousand words and those with a lucid writing style.

Paper Boats

Salted Print

Afsha Khan

Stéphane at My French Heaven probably has too many followers to be nominated for a blog, nevertheless get inspired by checking out his website.

‘Liebster Award’ rules:

  1.  Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 –11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have less than 500 followers.
  6. Create a new list of questions for the bloggers to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post. Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!).

And here are my questions for my nominated fellow bloggers:

  1. When did the travel bug bite you?
  2. The most adventurous thing you have done or want to do?
  3. What do you find to be the most difficult part of blogging?
  4. What’s your favourite of the places you’ve been to?
  5. Any country that you’d want to give a miss, and why?
  6. What is your least favorite part of travelling?
  7. Mountain or beach person?
  8. Solo travel or travel with company?
  9. What is your favourite among the blog posts you have written?
  10. What is the last song you listened to and/or last book you read?
  11. Best travel secret or tip?

Pay it forward!

Categories: Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fujairah and a day of indulgence

I got Dubai’ed* and booked a night for the husb & me at Fujairah Rotana Resort & Spa. Fujairah is one of the seven emirates that make the UAE and less than 2 hours from Dubai on road, made easier with the recent construction of Sheikh Khalifa highway that beautifully cuts through the jagged Hajar mountains. The landscape is arid and nothing much to rave about (unlike the arid but beautiful one of Leh) nevertheless, the drive was seamless for most part.Fujairah Rotana Resort

The resort sits snugly with the mountains on one side and Gulf of Oman on the other. Not one who’d go about booking ornate resorts or even writing about them, Fujairah Rotana deserves a special mention because of their excellent service and friendly staff. And of course, the location. We even got an upgrade despite a busy November weekend and I cannot help but mention the impressive breakfast buffet that catered to almost every palate. Our room was cozy and came with a balcony facing the pool and the sea view, one that looked particularly incredible at night. Fujairah Rotana Resort 2

Not much to do in  the emirate but for those interested, there is the Al Badiyah Mosque, one of the oldest structures built during the Ottoman Empire. We also happened to pass by an impressive looking Sheikh Zayed Mosque of Fujairah, that somewhat resembles the Hagia Sofia of Istanbul from outside. Sheikh Zayed Fujairah

In all, a brief but wonderful encounter with Fujairah and one I’d like to escape to every now and then, budget permitting.

Tip: Check Groupon or Cobone websites that offer discounts at the resort. And at Fujairah Resort, do try the absolutely delish Piña colada made by our very own Mr. Pradeep from Kerala land 🙂

*Dubai’ed: residents of the emirate who tend to or can afford to spend more than they really should/need to!  

Categories: Middle East, Travelogue | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Uttarakhand

I was looking up some travel photos recently (which I do so every once in a while) and it brought back memories of an exciting trip to North India with a group of cousins.

Our trip was divided into 3 places based on 3 broad criteria!

  • Adventure (trekking)
  • Wildlife (the cousin sis was a ‘tiger lover’ and hence)
  • Climate (being summer time, we had to scout for cooler climes)

So we rounded up on the northern state of Uttarakhand that included:

  • The mountains of Jwarna
  • Jim Corbett National Park
  • The hill-station of Nainital

Jwarna is a small village amidst mountains and to get there, we had to first reach Dehradun, Uttarakhand’s capital best known for its schools and defence establishments. We made the most of our only day in the city frequenting local markets and making most of food stalls. After a 3 hour rickety van ride that included churning of gol-gappas and the momos stomached earlier, we reached our ‘Whispering Pines Himalayan Retreat‘ – a retreat which is a whole lot of tents lined across a well-terraced mountain. The place is nicely tucked away from the rest of the world and the locals who manage it were warm & welcoming and took us through a couple of treks including a moon-lit night trek for 2 hours with a soup-break! Which of course brings me to the pahari (mountain) food – fabulous! Made from produce that they grow locally, our meals were delicious to say the least, and made with tons of love. The bonfire-starters were so good that we insisted on visiting the ‘Maharaj’ (as the head chef is called in parts of northern India) and stopped short of shedding tears of joy while thanking him. Thereon we ate-slept-trekked and continued the cycle for 2 nights and had quite a blast.

Then went downhill to the sweltering hot village of Jim Corbett called Choti Haldwani and stayed in a rustic little cottage for another 2 days. The main point of traipsing in this weather was to see the endangered Bengal tigers that are known to come out of their dens to drink water. But then, our efforts to wake up at 5am went to waste as all we spotted were hundreds of deers and other creatures seen otherwise in daily indian life. If you didn’t count the paw-prints of a tiger, that is, which was apparently hiding nearby according to our jeep driver. (We suspect he had these paw print moulds that were used in advance to create some drama for poor desperate tourists like us). The highlight of Corbett, for me, was being surrounded by orchards and orchards of mango trees and other fruits wherever we went. My cousins had the unfortunate task of trying to hold my hands tight lest I tried some monkey acts out of excitement.

And on our last phase, uphill we went again to the beautiful hill-station of Nainital. We stayed in an old british colonial bungalow converted to a hotel, loitered around the famous Mall Road sampling different cuisines, climbed uphill to the Nainital Zoo (at the insistence of the cousin sis who finally saw a siberian tiger albeit caged), went boating in the pear shaped lake that is synonymous to Nainital and soaked in the wonderful weather. It was a fitting end to the holiday!

Jwarna uttarakhand travel

Jwarna travel trekking

Jwarna food maharaja traveluttarakhand corbett mangroveJim Corbett Park uttarakhand travelCorbett Uttarkhand old ladyCorbett man eaters of kumaoncorbett girl boy uttarakhand travelNainital travel uttarakhand

Categories: India, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Santorini

I am unable to get myself to write (type) a post in the last few weeks. It is one of those phases where nothing inspires.

And that’s when Santorini comes to the rescue. Because Santorini is best described in pictures. My only regret was that I forgot to take my camera on two outings, importantly the Oia sunset, so had to get by with the phone cam which was definitely not the best for low lit images.

So here you go:

White & blue, that’s Greece for you.

Greece santorini flagWorth mentioning are the Ouzeris or Greek taverns that serve Ouzo! 

Santorini windmill ouzoFlower power!

sunrise studios santoriniEntering Oia

Santorini oia blueJust like in the movies. No, not just the Greek Gods. Everything else as well.

Santorini oia donkey

Dream Wedding! If you get around to having enough money for one, then you may want to hire this fellow blogger-photographer

Greek wedding santorini

The Oia sunset. Oh yeah!

Greek Oia sunset windmill

Greece oia church sunsetWhile Oia is known for its sunsets, I found the one from another point at Thira just as beautiful and far from the madding crowd.

Imerovigli sunsetSantorini nights. Where yet another story unfolds.

Oia sunset white blue house

Santorini beach

 

Categories: Greece, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Greek Gemista

Greek starterThey weren’t kidding. We ordered a simple greek salad on our first evening in Athens and it was as good as they claimed it to be. Feta cheese, tomatoes and fresh lettuce drizzled with olive oil. How could it be different from what I’d otherwise toss together at home in Dubai, in India or in Timbuktoo? But it sure was different. Was it the freshness of the vegetables, dairy or olive oil? I couldn’t care. It was delicious like never before! Our culinary euphoria in Greece was, frankly, short-lived because after a week, it was challenging to find too many vegetarian options. By the time we got to Mykonos, we were eating ‘greek’ styled Italian food (same difference) and had got tired and fattened by feta. However, Athens helped us discover some wonderful little nooks and corners and the the most notable was ‘Η Κρήτη’, a little Cretan joint tucked away in a side street, something that you wouldn’t notice in passing unless you could read Greek. It had 5 small tables and we were lucky enough to find one available that the 5 of us could cramp into. So why did we choose this place? Foursquare. (I highly recommend that you save this link before visiting Athens because it is that good. The best meal in Greece and the best vegetarian-range-of-options in Europe that I’ve ever come across. After a lot of thinking, we ordered 2 meal combos – each with 5 dishes so 10 in all that would do justice to the group. The waiter enthusiastically offered to replace a couple of meat options with a vegetarian version promising us that it would be as good as the original.  Apart from Η Κρήτη, we also devoured good food in a few other random places. Enough now. Allow the below images to speak for themselves.

greek vine leaves

Greek-styled Pasta & Dolmadakia

greek salad 1

Spanakopita. So delish!

Spanakopita. So delish!

Halloumi and lentil salad

Halloumi and lentil salad

Zucchini fritters

Zucchini fritters

Briám. The Greek Ratatouille.

Briám. Greek Ratatouille.

Greek mushroom

Grilled mushroom with fava purée

And THIS is Gemista - peppers stuffed with rice

And THIS is Gemista! (peppers stuffed with rice)

Desserts with feta cheese and greek yoghurt. Divine.

Desserts with feta cheese and Greek yogurt. Divine.

Categories: Greece, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

And then it was Greece.

A bunch of 5 friends across Athens, Santorini and Mykonos.

But first, the sunburn.

Spent 10 days in Greece towards the end of June. All I asked for was pleasant weather, coming from the Emirati desert. Instead, I returned with a sunburn. Because Athens is all about walking around and taking a trip down history. So we bore the brunt of the raging summer sun and kept ourselves periodically happy with food and mythos. Ah, Greek effect on the stomach. Coming soon in another exclusive post.

We spent 4 days in Athens, 3 in Santorini and 3 in Mykonos. I must admit that the capital city didn’t particularly impress me the way it should have. I’ll conveniently blame that on the sunburn. But if you eat and sleep history, then Athens is the place to be. And while I loved history in school, I am no museum fan. One of the friends that I was traveling with was a historical encyclopedia in herself and a constant guide on our museum visits. It was an incredible experience learning about doric columns and greek architecture, the Cycladic and Mycenaean civilizations and more that I couldn’t have cared about before. All said, I am done with my fair share of museums for a long time to come!

Athens greece

Santorini was as postcard pretty as it is made out to be. The white-and-blue houses that I’d dreamed about and even mentioned in an Andalusia post of long-ago totally lived up to expectations. We rented a car and spent 3 white-and-blue days (ouzo and the beach, I mean) in this gorgeous croissant-shaped island. Santorini is well known as a wedding destination and I even had a long-sight view of a live one. Sigh. On a separate note, I will go back someday to Santorini with the husb. Not to renew wedding vows ofcourse (I am kind enough not to put him through another ordeal).

Athens Santorini

Mykonos followed Santorini and I’d like to assume that was possibly why it couldn’t quite live up to our expectations. Away from the party hotspots (it is also considered to be one of the leading gay holiday destinations of the world) I have reason to believe that the island, though much smaller than Santorini, is beautiful in its own way with the famous windmills and an old world charm. And I also spent a 24th birthday dancing on a table (Yeah ok, there’s a lie somewhere in between).

Athens Mykonos

Verdict? Must must experience. Save up some money first.

Greece

Categories: Greece, Travelogue | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sago Saga

An almost non-existent and under-rated breakfast option, the ‘Sabudhana Khichdi’ (also known as ‘Sago’) may not mean much in terms of nutrition but a very delectable indian snack, easy to prepare. My earliest memories of it is having it on occasional Saturdays of the month when mom used to do a ‘religious fast’ and I got to enjoy this delicious snack! Unlike other Indian breakfast options, it is not too easy to find across indian eateries but  a very popular dish in the western state of Maharashtra.

Many many years later, I decided that it was time to make it myselt. And it turned out better than I thought it would!

sagoLink to a recipe.

Eat it hot. Best made and had on a lazy Saturday morning with yoghurt and a cup of masala chai,

Categories: Crème fraîche | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Stratford upon Avon

Stratford upon Avon’s claim to fame is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. And that is not the reason I spent the weekend there. With just two days available to loiter around, I was looking for a quiet town where I could just unwind and not do much. And this town proved to be the perfect setting.

Having landed in Heathrow airport on a cold Friday morning, took the train to Stratford upon Avon with a quick change at Solihull – it meant that I could arrive earlier than a direct train which left much later. Checked into a pretty looking B&B, a couple of kilometers from the town centre but with a warm welcoming couple and more importantly, a wonderful breakfast that included hash browns, fried eggs & mushrooms and butter on toast. Calories, whats that?

While I didn’t enter the house of Anne Hathaway (was pretty enough just from outside), I succumbed to tourist pressure and paid some precious pounds to visit the house of Shakespeare. Considering that it is the essence of what Stratford upon Avon signifies, the visit was important, but something that I, personal opinion if you may, could have done without.

Overall a quiet, contemplative weekend. In images below.

Stratford upon Avon Railway Station

Stratford upon Avon Railway Station

Story-book houses with abundant use of timber frames.

Story-book houses with abundant use of timber frames

The weekend market is a great way to pass time and the hospice shop lets you buy books as low as 50p!

The weekend market is a great way to pass time and the hospice shop lets you buy books as low as 50p!

Stratford upon avon food

Bed, Breakfast & Bulmers!

Presenting William Shakespeare

Presenting William Shakespeare…

...and his grave.

…and his (open) grave.

Also read:

Afternoon tea

The Roaring Girl

Categories: Travelogue, United Kingdom | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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