Time for some more adventure…

17.01.2016:

After the diving session, we spent some more time swimming in the lagoon and lazing around. Time to move. While we were coming to this island, we saw a piece of land at the end of the lagoon and made a point that we should go to that piece of land. So, lets go there now πŸ˜‰ . We started walking through the coconut groves and made our way towards the Helipad. We didn’t have a solid breakfast and it started taking it’s toll on us! We are too tired and exhausted when Jaleel came like an angel with some fresh coconuts. We finished off some coconuts and moved towards the lagoon!

I think the sight of the lagoon and that small patch of land itself has made uncle a bit nervous πŸ˜€ . Again he denied coming with us even after Imran telling him that it won’t be that deep and not at all risky! Leaving uncle behind, we, Imran, Jaleel, Aunty and I got into the lagoon. The water was lukewarm, not so deep, turquoise blue in color and mild in currents – a good thing. It was almost as if we were walking on a road chit-chatting with each other. While Imran was explaining about the islanders and their lifestyle, aunty listening to him keenly while Jaleel was having a lazy swim every now and then and I was so curious to see what’s there on that land!

The distance from the island to this patch of land is around 800 metres. After a stressful walk through the waters for about 600 meters, we got the first real sight of it. There might be around 500 seagulls taking rest and chirping among them. That was a postcard pic with the deep blue sea behind them, the white silvery sand patch of land, the turquoise blue lagoon infront and the white seagulls πŸ™‚ . While we were nearing the land, they sensed the alien presence of ours and started flying away and that gave me a reason to regret for not having a camera with me to capture those moments! 😦

The scene found it’s place in the memories of my heart and mind. The vivid colors of all the elements around me and the various reflections of the water on the plumage of those tiny sea-gulls when they started flying off from the land is an enticing scene! Thanks to Bangaram for such wonderful eye feasts πŸ™‚ The moment we touched the land, Jaleel and Imran went in search of the eggs of those seagulls, while aunty went for some coral remains and shells and I asusual walking along the stretch. After their futile attempts, Imran came up with an idea of a running race and started running followed by aunty and me. After having enough fun, I laid down there with my entire body into the water and just the head out into the sun!

I was not worried about getting tanned anymore. I was there to enjoy each and absorb each and every moment into my mind. After all, this is not a common place which we can visit whenever we like πŸ™‚ . After a while, we started walking back to the island, but this time time currents were not mild and it took a lot of effort to overcome them and walk or swim at times. Once out of the waters, we ventured again into the lagoon for snorkeling with the snorkeling gear brought by Jaleel from Agatti. There was a small rock with a passage and I was able to find a fish in that narrow passage. And I went around to find some more, but I could find nothing! 😦

But so far it was good!

Towards the Eastern Jetty..

17.01.2017:

06.00 hrs – After a tight sleep, I woke up only to find that uncle and Aunt were already up and ready. While aunty was packing her bag, uncle has gone out for a walk and don’t know what Imran was up to. With my sleepy eyes, I found out my tooth-brush, but was unwilling to brush – not because I don’t want to, but because of the salt-water in the pipes. Luckily, I found a bottle of desalinated water and brushed my teeth :B . I don’t want to take a shower as am going to jump into the water in few hours! Lol!!

I packed my bag the other night itself, so no packing for me and I went to look out for Imran. After ringing his door bell for couple of times, Imran was out sweating. He was exercising! He told us that he will be down-stairs in couple of minutes and we decided to walk along the beach instead of waiting for him! The sea-shore is just 100 meters walk from our room and there are some wooden benches separating our room from the sea. I will explain what these wooden benches are for in my upcoming posts.

img_2148

The beach is calm and serene, above all beautiful! If you are in hunt of an exotic beach, definitely add this to your list. The blue lagoon, silver sands or the natural beauty – all Indians there, if you are heading to some foreign locations for such experiences, then please do consider the option of Lakshadweep πŸ™‚ Not far from our homes, here is the very own queen of islands, which is known as the ‘Jewel of South India’. Remote and isolated, Lakshadweep has perhaps the oldest recorded history among the islands here. Ibn Batuta, the African globetrotter, referred to it as Muluk.

img_2179

Time for some photography! After clicking some pics of the beach, the boats and the western jetty, I found a hole from where two eyes like mustard seeds were peeping at me. After playing hide and seek with me for a while and scrutinizing me, a colorful crabΒ ventured out. I held my breath and was careful not to move so that I could get a good photograph of this scruffy creature πŸ™‚ I don’t know whether he/she was confident enough that I am not going to harm him/her or he/she is enjoying my attention towards him/her, it stopped moving and became a bit like lifeless. Just as soon as I finished clicking a few pics of it, it vanished into its hole-home!

img_2171

Imran and Jaleel joined us and we made our way to the eastern jetty where our motor boat was waiting for us. The jetty is filled with people who came for a morning walk, fishing and few for casual exchange of pleasantries etc. Our boat was anchored next to a small size ship and it’s almost like jumping into our small motor boat from the medium-size ship. One wrong step, I will be into the sea! After carefully getting down into our small boat, we wished our boat driver/sailor and his two sons who neatly placed some towels on the wooden benches for us to sit. After settling down, engine coughed to life and started moving away into the deep waters.

img_2151

As I was moving away from the Agatti Island, dawn is breaking over Agatti and the island is putting on a well-rehearsed show. The sky is a mirage of pink, mauve, and orange. The ocean has cerulean glaze that would make a potter weak in the knees. Even the coconut trees are in on the act. The shimmy faintly to the gentle breeze that tickles the tendrils of hair at my nape. For what seems like the nth time, I shake my head in belief. It’s ridiculously beautiful, fake even. Some gall the Lakshadweep has, being this drop-dead gorgeous.

img_2212

I have fallen for this beauty!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

 

The staple snack of India – Pakoras

What if it starts raining on an evening? What if I didn’t prepare the dosa batter on a holiday? What if there is no upma rava in my kitchen on a holiday? What if some guests turn up at my place on an evening when I don’t have much to serve them? Simple.. I will rush into my kitchen and return with a plate of piping hot aloo pakoras or onion bhajiyas πŸ™‚ , the savory fritters that are a very popular component of the Indian chaat.

Rich in calories, pakora is a deep fried snack available all across the country. Vegetables like onions, potatoes, spinach, cauliflower, raw plantain and green chillies are dipped in spicy besan (gram flour) batter and then are deep-fried. Pakoras are all-time favorite snacking option for Indians and perfect for a rainy day. These crispy treats are delicious when teamed up with a cup of hotΒ coffee or tea.

Majority of Indian population relishes vegetarian pakoras and bhajiyas like palak pakora, bhajiyas like palak pakora, pyaz bhajji, bread pakora, paneer pakora etc. But the trend to savor non-vegetarian options like chicken pakora, fish pakora is also on rise.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 – 20 minutes

Serves: 2

img_1471

Ingredients: Any one of the vegetables – Potato, Raw Plantain, Paneer, Capsicum; 1 cup Gram flour (besan); 2/3 cup of water; 1 tsp Asafetida, 1/4 tsp Turmeric Powder; 1/2 tsp Red Chilly powder; 1/4 tsp Garam Masala; A pinch of Baking Soda or you can use Soda too; Salt to Taste and Oil to deep fry.

Preparation:

In a mixing bowl, take the gram flour, red chilly powder, turmeric powder, salt, asafetida and garam masala. Add 2/3 cup of water and mix it into a smooth batter without any lumps. Peel off the potatoes or plantain and slice those thinly. Dip the slices in the batter evenly and gently place in the medium hot oil for frying in the pan. Turn over when one side is cooked partly; flip them and fry the pakoras till those are golden in color and crisp. Take them in a bowl covered with paper kitchen towel to remove the oil. Serve them hot with some mint chutney or tomato sauce.

A brief Sojourn…

Everyone would like a day out at a beach and I am no different. And the places like Maldives and Mauritius would be definitely present on the dream destination list of everyone. Even I want to visit those places, but before that I would like to search for such destinations in my beautiful country – India! There is no surprise in the fact that one can find any kind of terrain in India and if we search with heart, we can find even all the places that would resemble those on our dream destinations list! πŸ™‚

Well my next destination after a wild road trip and an adventurous pilgrimage came as a result of such search πŸ™‚ . And the destination is the Lakshadweep Archipelago – one of the two island groups of India, located in the Indian Ocean. Not much sought out destination like the Andaman and Nicobar islands due to the restrictions that were present to visit these islands and less heard too. When we speak about these islands and if someone comes up with the question “does those Islands belongs to India?”, there is no wonder. Yes, they are least explored and exposed!

Lucky to have a few friends there and after hearing a lot of interesting things about these Islands, I made up my mind to visit these soon and as usual I landed there for a short trip! πŸ™‚ . I would be sharing all the details like obtaining the necessary entry permits, the details of Islands and the fun we had in detail. Hope everyone likes this sojourn of mine in these beautiful islands.

 

Gajar Ka Halwa

Helva (later halwa) was an import from the house of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566). It arrived in India as a dried, grainy mash that was rehydrated with rosewater, sugar and ground pistachios to get creamy, velvet-like rich texture when the traditional mixture of ghee-sugar along with mewa was added to it.

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: Around 1.5 hrs

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

5-6 tender juicy carrots – yields around 2-3 cups of grated carrots; 2-3 cups of full fat organic milk; 3 tbsp ghee/clarified butter; 8-10 tbsp organic unrefined cane sugar or regular sugar or as required; Cashews, almonds, pistachios and golden raisins; 3-4 green cardamom crushed (I like it this way, or else these many be powdered too) and a pinch of saffron strands.

img_20160719_193214

Method:

Rinse, peel and grate the carrots. In a deep thick bottomed pan, combine milk and grated carrots. On low to medium flame, bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer. While the mixture is simmering on low flame, keep stirring in between. Grated carrots will cook in milk and the milk will start to reduce and evaporate. When the milk was reduced by around 75%, add ghee, sugar and cardamom to the mixture. Stir well and continue to simmer and cook on a low flame. Keep stirring in between. Towards the end, add cashews, crushed saffron and raisins and simmer till all the milk is evaporated. Switch off the burner. Serve gajar (carrot) halwa hot, warm or cold πŸ™‚

If you are in Trivandrum, do visit the Haveli Restaurant, Vazhuthacaud to taste this yummy dessert! πŸ™‚

The TASTE BUD Encounters…

India – the land of diversity! Diverse in its cultures, religions, landscapes, and traditions. Not only these, but India is diverse in its cuisine too πŸ™‚ . A mixture of flavors and tastes reflecting a variety of cultures and regions. It is like an ocean full of flavors, and culinary techniques. Some call it ‘overtly spicy’, some ‘charmingly rustic’ and some ‘elaborately royal’. With its assortment of spices and aromas, India’s cuisine is best seen on the bustling streets of its cities. From the traditional to the mix-and-match modern, from the saucy to the royal, street food is affordable and fast, satiate the belly and entice the senses.

From Kashmir to Kanyakumari, there is something unique about the cuisine that is served in every region of India making use of spices and pulses local to each state. Be it Dum Pukht Biryani from Lucknow, Fish curry and rice from Bengal or fiery Pork Vindalho from Goa, our cooking uses a rich range of aromatic spices and other simple ingredients. And yet, if one takes a look at what India eats, one would be surprised at the simplicity of the recipes. Say for example the kheer or Khichdi πŸ™‚

10479879_718126194891188_3053449402311409140_o

And the long coastal belt of India gives India its favorite tiffin – idli, vada and dosa. The coconut chutney is one among the several relishes in coastal Indian cuisine, including the tomato khatta, curd dips and wood apple chutney. Take Kerala – Appam, puttu and kadala (chick-pea) curry. Tamilnadu – Chettinad food and dosas. Karnataka – It’s Dharwa Peda and Bisi bella bath. Andhra Pradesh – it’s tasty Hyderabadi Biryani and seafood pickles. Mumbai – Manchurian biryani, sushi noodles with masala. Kolkata – eat on the streets without any qualms. Zesty puffed rice for as little as Rs. 5. Lucknow – it’s kababs and biryani.

Mathura – the tasty peda, Punjab – Chicken Tikka Masala and the tasty stuffed parathas. Each of the seven states in North East India has its distinct culinary history and ways of cooking, but the underlying principle remain the same – organic, wholesome and uncomplicated! Oh my God, all this makes my mouth watering πŸ˜‰ πŸ™‚ . And thus, here I am, to share my food encounters of my daily life as well as during my travels.

Hope you enjoy!!!

At the feet of Shri Shirdi Sai Baba..

14.11.2016:

03.45 hrs – Our bus reached one of the famous shrines in India, Shirdi. Many a people from Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat visit this shrine every year to offer their prayers and my mom so wanted us to visit this temple from a long time. Though this was not a part of my plan at first, Mythri told me that we can visit the temple and I readily agreed. I don’t know how it happened, but everything came to us Β like a miracle. Firstly, we didn’t know that we will make it to this sacred place. Secondly, the bus reached so early leaving us with a chance to attend the aarti and thirdly, it so happened that today i.e. 14.11.2016 is a full moon day of the ‘Karthika’ month, which is considered to be one of the most auspicious months according to the Hindu tradition.

03.50 hrs – We started looking for an auto-rickshaw to our resort and one needs to bargain hard with these auto-walas, otherwise you will be on the verge of getting looted. Though we bargained hard, as it was the wee hours and there were not many autos around, we paid him a hundred rupees to drop us at our resort and asked him to wait for few minutes so that we can reach the temple in the same auto and thank God, he agreed.

04.05 hrs – Checked-in to the hotel and quickly refreshed ourselves and made a move. The whole idea is to attend the aarti. Aarti is an ancient yet living ritual that takes place every day across India. We left our mobiles back in our rooms as mobiles were not allowed inside the temple complex. Though there were cloak rooms there to safe keep our belongings, we don’t wanted to waste our time there. 04.30 hrs – Started back to the temple and it was so cool early morning. When the driver dropped us at the entrance of the temple, we started running so that we could be among the first people who can get a chance to see the aarti. But we were late by few minutes and we had to stop in the ground floor and watch the aarti in the LCDs that were arranged there 😦

Aarti (aa meas ‘complete’ and rati means ‘love’) is part of a Hindu puja or act of religious worship and is always performed facing the deity. Integral to any aarti puja is the circulation of the lamp around the deity, which acquires the deity’s power. The priest then offers the lamp to the devotees, passing on the deity’s blessing. In the temples of South India, the lamp may use camphor or oil, and it is then presented to the devotees, who hold their hands over the flame and touch their hands to their eyes. The simple gesture signifies a desire for spiritual insight: “May my eyes be opened up to the knowledge of the unity of life.” And the temple icons are often wrapped in silk fabric and beautified with ornaments – these offerings are another way of enhancing the relationship with the Divine, and is part of the ritual of temple worship.

The aarti is performed at Shri Sai Baba’s Mandir, which is the place where his body is resting in Samadhi.Β We moved towards the deity when once the aarti was completed and we had a good darshan (sighting) of the Lord Shri Shirdi Sai Baba. The Samadhi (resting place) is constructed of marble stones and the railings around it are of ornamental decorations. The unique feature of this temple is that it is visited both by Muslims and the Hindus equally and the Muslims offer Chaddars (Shawls) to drape the Samadhi. The idol present here is made up of Italian marble and is life size.

Shirdi Sai Baba is a guru of the Nath tradition, a tradition formulated by Lord Dattatreya based on the instructions of Lord Krishna. The text Sripada Srivallabha Charithamrutham mentions the saint Sripada, incarnation of Lord Dattatreya, calling upon Hanumanji to take birth as Shirdi Sai Baba.Β The distinct feature of the Navanath tradition is the absence of formal procedures or teachings; everything happens in the presence of the guru. Proximity to the guru is paramount; by just being present in his energy field, one gets cleansed and liberated.

Considered to be one of the greatest gurus, it is told that Shirdi Sai Baba often asked for the two coins of shraddha (devotion) and saboori (patience) from those who came to him. The path may sound simple but it is difficult in practice – since even a speck of ego or doership is unacceptable. Had our darshan and gone around the temple complex to see the other important features of it. Dwarakamai, which was an old mosque and Lord Sai turned it into Dwarakamai is situated on the right side of the entrance and has two levels. The importance of this is that it hosts all the things once used by Shri Sai Baba and the legend is that this is the very place where Sai has proved that God is one – Sabka Malik Ek Hai!

They gave prasad (sugar coated boondi) and we were out of the temple by 06.00 hrs πŸ™‚ . For me, this trip would always remain a miracle, as everything was so hassle-free and smooth πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

On board to Pune

India has one of the world’s largest rail networks, and transports roughly 25 million people daily. There are long-distance, suburban and freight trains, different classes of passenger accommodation, etc. And one should not forget that the first passenger rail journey took place in India in 1853 and covered a distance of some 21 miles between Bombay and Thane. Though I didn’t get a chance to explore the same route in the present time, I can very well relate this journey from Lonavala to Pune with that πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ . Can you just imagine this journey of mine back in those Victorian times? πŸ˜€

13.11.2016:

17.10 hrs – We got into an express train at the Lonavla railway station to Pune. India’s quintessential journey is still the long train ride. 25 million daily passengers travels in Indian trains watching the Indian landscape change from dry valley to lush mountain forest to lime-green rice paddies and today, I was one among those 25 million πŸ™‚ . The train is also where you can hang out with families and other domestic travelers, learning about Indian culture the old-fashioned way – over a cup of tea, to the rhythm of rails.

While the old people share their own train stories with their grand-children, the hawkers would be busy in selling various articles right from the safety pins to books (they sells some novels too) and while the middle-aged working class would be eagerly waiting to reach their respective destinations to join their families after a hectic day back at the office, the youngsters would be busy in their own ways like watching the much happening stuff around them and chuckling, giggling with their friends and some cursing the speed of the train πŸ™‚ πŸ˜€ . So much fun!

And the best part of train journeys is that we can make some quick friends and don’t think it will just for the time-being, some can become dear for life and I have a first-hand experience in this, and that too a very good one, for the matter of fact! πŸ™‚ . And there we were, Mythri and I indulged in a conversation with our co-passengers and during the same, a co-passenger told us that Shaniwar Wada is near to the Shivaji Nagar station and it would be better to get down there rather than traveling all the way to Pune Junction. He also added that the train would be reaching the Shivaji Nagar station faster than Pune Junction, as it would be stopped in the outer region for space on the platform.

18.20 hrs – We got down at the Shivaji Nagar station and walked towards the exit. Shaniwar Wada is very near to the railway station and there are frequent buses from here and we got into one immediately after we got out of the station and the ticket costed us only Rs. 6 each πŸ™‚ . 18.45 hrs – The bus conductor is good enough to stop exactly at the entrance of the fort and we stepped down and thanked him πŸ™‚ . There is a ticket counter at the entrance selling tickets for that evening’s light and music show and I am waiting for my turn!

GOAN CELEBRATIONS

If one asks any youngster in India about a perfect place for celebrations, especially the Christmas and New Year parties and celebrations, the only place that will be thought of would be Goa! And when we were thinking of a perfect travel destination in last December, the place that struck our minds is Goa.

Christmas and Goa – the perfect shot.. So, it’s decided and we chalked out a plan which obviously didn’t work as we planned, but turned out to be a good one and better than the one which we planned. Lol! The people on this trip should be Mythri, Guneet, Sunil, Shiva, Ruthwik and I, but as usual 3 of our friends dropped and two of my other friends joined us accidentally in Goa. A surprise πŸ™‚

So dear friends, come join me on this trip to see what the sea conversed with my body, mind and soul and what I explored in the smallest state of India in a small duration.. πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

How about a break???

Yeah, how about a break? A break from trekking? A break from the mountains? A break from the chilling winds and snowflakes? I think, it’s time for one.. for me; I think for you too πŸ˜‰

What could be a better destination? Any place far away from this concrete jungle would be fine for me :p A place where there won’t be any hustle bustle. A place where I can go for a long walk all alone; If tired, can sit somewhere and watch the blue sky and get lost in my thoughts; have some good food or a drink, soft though πŸ˜‰ under the moon light or on a candle-lit table, when I feel hungry… After this much of description, I know that everyone will vote for a beach πŸ˜‰ . Isn’t it?

Let’s go to a beach then. A small correction… to beaches!Β  Yeah, to some of the finest beaches in the world. Don’t think that I am taking you to Mauritius or Maldives for those. As I mentioned earlier, India, our beautiful India has got all one wants. It might be the mighty mountains or the vast green meadows, beautiful beaches or splendid valleys, we can find everything here in this land of wonders πŸ™‚ , my India!!

Having my roots in a coastal area, beaches are not new for me. Yes, though my mom is from a remote village in Vizianagaram, we had hardly been there. As far as I know, all my visits to my maternal grandparents are to the beautiful beach city β€œVisakhapatnam” (the city of destiny). And to my luck, I completed my graduation from a university in the same city, later worked in Chennai, which is yet another beach city, visited Pondicherry, the once French colony, still bearing the aroma of French culture and last but not the least Goa.

It’s quite a difficult thing for me to choose among these places, I mean for my next series πŸ˜‰ . I was thinking about the travel tale which I should share with you people now. Β After a lot of thinking, I decided my destination. Not from any of those mentioned above though! Guess what, Andaman and Nicobar Islands it is! Yes, thanks to one of my very close friends Swati for taking us all to this beautiful place. I will be thankful to her always πŸ™‚

I would like to share all the memories which I bundled for a life-time during this trip by taking all of you down to my past. Welcome to my Andaman Diaries!!!