Flowers in Bhutan

We were in Bhutan in end May; that’s the last leg of Spring. Spring starts around end March here and Bhutan is full of flowers everywhere for the next 2 months — in the trees, plants and meadows. We saw enough to have a heart’s fill!

Every Jacaranda tree in Punakha had been rendered lilac when we were there. Thimpu, being at a higher reach, didn’t have the Jacarandas. It had willows. But Punakha offered rows and rows of Jacarandas in the streets, pregnant with the beautiful lilac colour flowers. To me, the flower lover, it was an added boon – Jacarandas are my favourite flowering trees. 10 years of big-city living had taken away the happiness of seeing these trees every spring – Delhi-Mumbai don’t have these varieties. In fact, Delhi still had a few here and there, but I haven’t seen any in Mumbai in the last 7 springs we have spent here. Happy to find me so happy with the Jacarandas, Sonam, our guide, let me be. I sat down under one gigantic Jacaranda — couldn’t let go of this beautiful moment without a few minutes in silence and awe. I sat down, without touching the camera that was hanging from my neck, to look at the hundreds of flowers that had flown down from the trees to the grounds and the bees that had swarmed around these flowers to suck and stock honey in the hives up in the Dzong’s ceilings. But, most of all, I sat down to smell the Jacarandas the way I’d smell them in my childhood in Shillong. In those few minutes, I travelled back in time and relived some simple moments that the grown-up years had snatched away.

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It was lilac again at the Phobjikha Valley — the Primulas were in full bloom here. The black cranes had flown back to Tibet, leaving the valley to the Primulas. The hills of Gantey had red, pink, yellow Rhododendrons. It was roses, lillies, every everywhere.

Flower lovers, this is when you should come to Bhutan. The country is in full bloom at this time.

PS: Wheels On Our Feet’s FB page has a complete album dedicated to the flowers. Check them all out! Here – https://www.facebook.com/WheelsOnOurFeet

Book Review: Private India by Ashwin Sanghi

I had just finished reading Joseph O’Niel’s Netherland. Although just a 350-page book, it took me about a week to read it. What with his descriptive and pondering narrative,  I’d read portions and then, be the cow — chewing the cud. I completed it, mulled over the story for a day and then looked for a fast-paced book – my standard operating procedure since childhood; interspersing genres in order to change the palate. Private India, Ashwin Sanghi’s latest, seemed to be the right ‘cuisine’ …

Private India by Ashwin sanghvi

The basics first, Private India, is Ashwin Sanghi’s fourth book after The Rozabal Line, Chanakya’s Chant and The Krishna Key. Known and loved for setting his stories in history and mythology, Private India is a slight departure. It’s a crime thriller. Plus, he has collaborated with James Patterson (popular worldwide for the Private series) on this book, thereby giving it an international flavour. Didn’t I tell you I was looking for a change of palate? How fitting then, that I could lay my hands on Private India!

Well, laid my hands yes, and couldn’t let go of it until I had finished it – complete it in 6 hours flat, reading it until 2.30 in the night! Amused at myself, I wondered, at that unearthly hour, when was the last time I had stayed up this long for a book?

And now, for a quick review of Private India: Private India is a whodunit set in India’s Maximum City – Mumbai. Fittingly, the plot encompasses Mumbai’s unavoidable kaleidoscope – its wealth and poverty, its skyscrapers and slums, its good and its evil. Being the history and trivia buff that he is, Ashwin has weaved an interesting piece of history on certain crime groups of old India too. Plus, he effortlessly moves the plot through characters so believable that 50 pages into the book and you are almost ‘watching’ the book instead of reading it!

Simple English, descriptive just to the point that is necessary, not-one-dull-moment, Private India scores in being a good crime thriller coming from an India author. If you are a thriller fan, you will like it. Don’t expect a Dan Brown or Ludlum clone here and you’d be happy.

Verdict: If you want to escape worries of project deadlines, questions on whether Modi Govt can change India, or how the world can be a better place, or just how much longer your home EMI will burn your wallet, grab your copy of Private India. You will be transported to a world where your only question would be, Who is behind the murders and why? And you will not get out of that world until you have ‘found out’. Guaranteed!!!!

Restaurant Review: Salt Water Cafe in Bandra, Mumbai

6 o’clock. Friday evening. And we were stuck in BKC. But of course! What do you expect. Jayanta was waiting for us at the Four Seasons in Worli and we had planned for a dinner at someplace good in Lower Parel. When at 6.30, we were still at BKC, i asked him to come over to Bandra. Midway was better in this crazy traffic. Our driver too agreed!

And so we met just where the ONGC complexes start in Bandra, and here too, the same story — CRAZY traffic! Worse now, I was already hungry. So we took yet another prudent decision. Unnecessary to try to wade through this sea of cars; lets hop into Salt Water Cafe. It was just about 7.15 and we were sure, Bandraites were still taking their afternoon nap so that they could own Friday night. Hence, there wouldn’t be waiting at Salt Water Cafe. We should have been awarded that night for such AWESOME decisions. We got quick tables and ordered our drinks.

Brandy-Tody for me (I can’t seem to like anything else during the rains), Sula Resiling for Jayanta and Sweet Lime for our little one. And toasted to the evening — Weekend! Weekend! Weekend!

How is the Food at Salt Water Cafe? We have been here before. And had loved the food then too. This time round we ordered Pork Belly and 8-hr Slow Cooked Lamb. Our ususal litmus test. And boy were they good!!! The Pork, Jayant said, was better than what he has had at Smoke House and Bungalow 9. The Lamb was really slow-cooked — must have been pieces from the area around the shanks, for they were so tender!! The sauce was the same in both the dishes. I felt that my dish could have done with a bit of Prune juice. Pity! Else, those tender lambs would have been ethereal! Desserts were one Tiramisu which we shared. The perfect taste!

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How is the ambience at Salt Water Cafe? It was a mast Friday evening. Most of the patrons looked like they too hopped in from their offices nearby. Loudly chattering over drinks. You could tell that they too were relieved it was Friday! Some nice music played in the background, but most of it was drowned by the chatter and laughter. It did feel so relaxing! Salt Water Cafe is clasy yet informal. Which is what we like about the place. No Uncleji-Auntyji fretting loudly or their child making a mess. Good crowd is the next important thing after food and ambiance, what say?

One word about the staff — extremely vigilant, helped sweeten Ridi’s Sweet Lime, gave us an extra bread basket when requested, kept inquiring about the food. Greatly appreciate!

Go ahead! Plan a meal at Salt Water Cafe in Reclamation! 

Address of Salt Water Cafe: 87 Chapel Road, Rose Minar Annexe, Next to Mount Carmel Church, Reclamation, Bandra West, Mumbai

Hotel Review: Ugyen Ling Resort in Bumthang, Bhutan

We were stationed in Bumthang for two nights and a day, and chose Ugyen Ling Resort for our stay. A little away from the main town (perhaps a 5 minute drive away, 15 minutes walk away – nothing is really far in Bumthang), we got to the resort around 7.30 in the evening after a long drive from Wangdue (Read Drive from Punakha to Bumthang). It was raining when we arrived, and hence, quite cold. The staff were expecting us, and so the check-in was prompt. Plus, sonam, our guide, had already placed order for dinner. And so, we were advised to ‘quickly wash up and head for the dining room for steaming hot dinner”. Music to our ears!!! :-)

How are the rooms at Ugyen Ling Resort in Bumthang, Bhutan? Sensing that we’d be cold, the staff had already switched on the heaters, and so we entered a ‘warm room’ that had a large firplace by the seating area, a decent sized bedroom, a cosy dressing area and a good enough bathroom/shower. We were clearly taken in by the size of the room – it didn’t have a wall between the seating and sleeping area, thereby giving it a large, open feel. We discovered in the morning that it had an attached verandah.

We discovered that Ugyen Ling Resort was a rectangle-shaped, two-storied place with rooms on either side, a courtyard in the middle with the verandahs overlooking it, and the office and dining on one side. Pretty neat. Made with stones, the place gave the feeling of staying in a hostel!

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How is the food at Ugyen Ling Resort in Bumthang, Bhutan? Very simple. No frills at all. But the Momos they served that cold night were outstanding. And even more outstanding was the tomato-chilli sauce that were served as accompaniment to the dumplings. They served Chicken Curry Bhutanese style, Red Rice and Veggies. Note – the menu is fixed unles your’s is a large group to justify individual preferences.

Breakfast, too, was a spread of the basics – bread, bananas, jam, butter, milk, eggs and tea/coffee. Oh, they served canned juice too. The only lunch that we had in Bumthang, was at a restaurant in the main market.  But should you need lunch at the Ugyen Ling, order beforehand. Also, MUST order the Red Panda beer  here.

Final Verdict For Ugyen Ling Resort in Bumthang, Bhutan: Without mincing any words, we highly recommend the place. Very well maintained, ever-helpful staff, close to most places like the main market, the Dzong, the Ugyen Ling Palace, yet so quiet, we had an extremely comfortable stay there. Did I mention they have free wifi too? Go to the lobby to make those travel posts on your social-media handles. The rooms have poor connectivity since they are spread out.

Once again, Ugyen Ling is a very good stopover in Bumthang (Bhutan)

Where & What of Shopping in Bumthang (Bhutan)

Here is our verdict right at the beginning — if you are touring the length and breadth of Bhutan like how we did, say for instance, Paro-Thimpu-Punakha-Bumthang-Gantey, Bumthang is where you should shop from!!!

Why should you shop at Bumthang in Bhutan? Bumthang is 290 kms from Thimpu, 355 kms from Paro. As I said, in my Sight-Seeing blogpost on Bumthang, Bumthang is a small town, almost a village. Owing to the distance, Bumthang sees fewer tourists than Thimpu, Paro or Punakha. And that makes it a cheaper, more reasonable place to buy things from. Everything that you may see in Thimpu or Paro is about 25% less here. Same quality, same stuff. We had toured the shops of Thimpu, and since our last stop was at Paro after Punakha, Bumthang and Gantey, we had decided that if we didn’t get anything good at good rates between Thimpu and Paro, we’d buy from Paro. Good we did that. For, we found Bumthang’s to be the most acceptable rates!

What should you shop for at Bumthang in Bhutan? Pretty much anything that you might want to buy as memorabilia from Bhutan – the masks, traditional brassware, Kiras, Yak wool jackets, Yak-bone jewellery, Thankas etc.

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Where should you shop at Bumthang in Bhutan? Well, that’s the most important question, isn’t it? As I have mentioned already, Bumthang is a small town, and hence there are many markets/shopping options. Yet, there are two places where you could go:

              Bumthang’s Main Market: There is just one market right in the   middle of the town. Stretching for about half a kilometer, the road is rather wide and is flanked by shops and restaurants on either side. A handful of these shops have a good collection of Bhutanese handicrafts. We bought masks from here.

                    Thokmed Yeshey Handicrafts & Yathra Production Centre: This centre is about 20-30 minutes before you reach Bumthang. We had seen the place on our way to Bumthang and since, it was already 7.30 in the night, we decided to stop by during the return journey. We did that, and found, to our utter surprise, that the place is a treasure trove with everything under the sun! The Bhutanese sun! J The rates are very very good, and I picked up a yak-wool jacket for INR 3000 which, am sure, would have cost me double in the city. Fantastic range, fantastic rates. Buy from here if you are in Bumthang!

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Restaurant Review: Britannia & Company Restaurant in Fort, Mumbai

Britannia and Co. is an iconic restaurant – to say the least. It’s one of the must-dos in Mumbai by every possible travel guides – especially the international ones. No wonder that foreigners flock this dilapidated café without fail during their visit to Mumbai. Is it really worth the hype – Yes & No.

The restaurant dates back to many decades and probably hasn’t been renovated since then. The walls are falling off, there are bags of Atta next to tables and the management is probably as old as the place itself. That’s actually the charm of the place that they just don’t bother to do anything and still you will have people queueing for hours to get in. The old & older gentlemen sitting in the counter are quite oblivious of how the world has moved on and the sign on one of the boards summarizes their feelings best – “Do not argue with the management”. Priceless

The food is good – is it the best, not really. The Berry Pulao is the signature dish followed by Mutton Sali Boti.  Berry pulao is excellent. The sourness of the berries (apparently imported from middle east) compliments the rice and the meat therein perfectly. Servings are decent and the waiters attentive (except for peak hours). The keema, dhansak and fish dishes are very popular here as well. Majority of the patrons are regular Paris from SoBo and scores of office goers in suits & ties, getting down from the Mercs and BMWs. A few facts:
• They only open for lunch, that too Mon – Sat. Sundays closed
• No Credit Cards – keep cash handy. No printed bill either nor Service Tax / Charge included
• No air conditioning 
• Have unique drinks like Ice-cream soda and aerated Raspberry drinks (please avoid) not found anywhere
• The old 90 yr gentlemen might drop in for a chat with the menu cards, sharing stories about how he scolded Abhisek Bachchan for not coming with Aishwarya or showing a picture of Kate and Harry who have never been to India !! 

Hygiene is frankly sad although the tables are decent. The kitchen is frankly out of a Charles Dicken’s novel and don’t even think of using the washroom – which is a walk through the kitchen with bare bodies cooks and well, not so clean. 

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The food here is surprisingly expensive – actually crazy for the kind of infrastructure they have. A plate of Mutton Berry Pulao for Rs. 550, Chapati’s for Rs. 30; Mutton Sali Boti – Rs. 350 … not really worth repeat visits to be honest. There are newer and better Parsi joints that serve excellent food nearby and in Bandra… but this one is a must visit for old time’s sake. Just once …

Where Do You Get Clay In Mumbai For Making Eco-friendly Ganapati?

Where do you get clay in Mumbai for making eco-friendly Ganapati? Is one question most environment-concerned Mumbaikar asks in Mumbai in the run up to the Ganapati festival. And never get an answer. Until…..read on…

We have been making our own Ganapati for 4 years now. No, we didn’t learn it anywhere, not did we inherit any sculpting skills from our forefathers. Jayanta simply started making it looking at a photo, my daughter emulated him, and both of them have now ‘mastered’ their own Ganapati art. It helps that we like to keep it simple – no colour, no embelishments. And so, every year, about a month before Ganesh Chaturthi, we get clay and sit down to make our own eco-friendly Ganapati.

Which gets me back to the question I asked right at the beginning — Where do you get clay for making eco-friendly Ganapati? Or shall we say, where in Mumbai do you get clay for making eco-friendly Ganapati? At Kumharwada in Dharavi. And here are the details –

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Where is Kumharwada located? At Dharavi. If going from the Eastern Express Highway, take the turn toward Sion Hospital and keep going straight. Cross the flyover for the train line and a little ahead will be Kumharwada to your right.

Who should you ask for clay in Kumharwada? There is a line of shops of the potters, known as Kumhars. Go to any shop and ask for help. They will take you to the rear of the shop and give you how much you want.

How much does clay cost in Kumharwada? 20 rupees a kilogram! That’s cheap and affordable, right? They also supply to numerous schools and NGOs in Powai at the same rates.

Can you take your car to Kumharwada? Yes, it didn’t look all that congested to us. We were there around 11.30 in the morning. We were in a cab, though.

What else do you get in Kumharwada? It’s a potter’s market, and so, you get a whole lot of earthen ware – idols, small pots for decoration, earthen water filters, big pots for Puja, lamps, etc. I couldn’t resist the temptation of buying a few non-coloured pots. Brought them home for some creative work with my daughter.

Hope this post answers you clay-related queries. Go ahead and buy some clay from Kumharwada and help keep our precious lakes and sea still breathing! :-)

Share with whosoever you think might benefit from the info!

India’s Newest Tourist Destinations — Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli

7 years back, we drove down to Daman from Mumbai over a 3 day-weekend break. A small little town, its waters were pristine, churches charming, fort beautiful and the lighthouse, interesting. But what did it lack? Good, clean hotels. Good roads. Good shacks. And we came back from that 3-day trip, with mixed feelings – What a lovely place, why can’t they make it more than just a ‘liquor-dirt-cheap’ destination? Why be called ‘Poor cousin of Goa’?

Well, all these questions seems to have been answered. Daman & Diu, along with the Union Territory of Dadra & Nager Haveli has embarked on an ambitious plan to promote tourism. A series of projects have been lined up which are in various stages of completion – be it the gradation of tourist spots, beaches, gardens, churches; restoration of monuments; restoration of Moti Daman fort; heritage walkway at Diu; setting up of a National Oceanarium at Diu and Bird Park at Daman; adding new tourist attractions to the existing ones — the Union Territories are all set to woo both the travellers from inside the country and outside.

What’s more, the Administrator of these Union Territories, Mr Bhupinder S. Bhalla, with a CEO-like approach, pointed out categorically that the boost to tourism will come only when the overall infrastructure of these UTs would go hand-in-hand. And with that, he unveiled projects to construct bridges, develop waterfronts, introduce catamaran services between Daman and Diu, make an international Sports Complex, introduce Bus Services, commision projects for Solid Waste Management and Water Treatment, earmark land for hotels. With a steely resolve and focus, he said, “Our aim is to make Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli amongst the most exciting and activity-filled destinations in the world. Our marketing campaign will present the Union Territories at their finest. In addition, the projects presented here are a result of extensive discussion, dedicated planning and hard work by a large team of public representatives, government officers, architects and designers.” In the audience, we almost blurted out, India needs more go-getters like you Mr. Administrator!

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With a fantastic new tourism logo, Rs 1360 crore in budget outlay and a promise of 5-6 years (or before) for completion of all the projects, the traveller in us were delighted!!! We wanted to set out. When we went to Daman, we wanted to go to Diu too, but couldn’t since it was a long way off. And Dadra & Nagar Haveli had never crossed out minds. That is set to change now.

Look forward to a ‘new’ Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli, one that retains its inherent beauty, its natural treasure and cultural heritage, but has the modern-day facilities to give its tourists a best-in-class experience.

See you soon!

Takeaway Review: Sorriso Gourmet Kitchen (Marol), Mumbai

Two things first. Number One – A few weeks back, when it rained crazy in Mumbai, I was loathe to enter the kitchen and instead, wanted to be served Continental food. A friend suggested I order for home delivery. And I told her that screwing up with a Conti home delivery is a child’s play. And since I am so particular about the consistency of my Mashed Potatoes, or that Lamb gravy, I’d rather keep longing than order it home. Number Two — If someone had told that that there is a Continental Takeaway joint in Marol that I should definitely try, would have treated it either as a joke or waived it off thinking that the person had no clues of what he was talking about. Have been proved wrong on both counts. And am mighty glad about it!! :-)

What do they say about not judging a book by its cover? I tell you that about not judging a restaurant/food joint by its location. Sorriso is one such case. Apparently very popular with the Bandra & BKC crowd, their Marol outlet is not quite known and sadly so. Their menu card is impressive and we picked up some of the difficult dishes to experiment with, to get a good idea of their entire range.

How is the Food at Sorriso Gourmet Kitchen in Marol? We started with Smoked Chicken Soup (Rs. 120/-) and it was nice, slightly on the sweeter side. The pepper flavor was strong in the soup with a good quantity of chicken thrown in. On a slightly cold day or raining evening, it’s excellent with garlic bread. Next was Sorriso Special Pizza with Herbed Chicken, Sausages, Salami, Onion& Capsicum — thin base pizza and absolutely delicious – we were pleasantly surprised! They have some 10 veg & non-veg options with a couple of Indian variants thrown in for good measure.

And then, Shephards Pie — the test item. We couldn’t stop raving about it with every spoonful. The mashed potato was smooth with just the perfect cheese sauce. They should have made this with minced lamb – though cannot complain on the minced chicken used. We had Lasagna Bolognese following it and it was excellent as well, a close second to the Pie. Only suggestion would be the choice of cheese – it was lacking the flavor of Parmesan that I so love.

Chicken Risotto with Basil Pesto was a wild card entry as it’s really difficult to get a Risotto right and they did a pretty good of that as well. The rice was not Arborio, neither the cheese Parmesan but the taste was really nice, with the Basil Pesto sauce perfectly flavored and a good serving of chicken thrown in. Last but not the least, Mediterranean Lamb – soft succulent slices of lamb in a wine & basil sauce with lots (and lots) of Black Olives thrown in. It was amazing, especially with some dinner rolls that we had ordered separately. We ensured that the last drop of sauce was swiped off …

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Final Word for Sorriso Gourmet Kitchen, Marol: Overall, we were zapped with Sorriso! Never expected this quality of continental / Italian fare at the total value for money prices. With most dishes costing between Rs. 200 – Rs. 250 and one serving enough for an adult, recommend it highly for a lazy weekend dinner with drinks and friends.   Their team is very friendly and helpful in suggesting their dishes. Delivery is prompt and on time – packed in good quality containers and hot. The taste is better than many stand-alone fine dining restaurants we have been to across Mumbai and for sure – we will be ordering more & more. It’s a hidden gem, had this been in Hiranandani, they would have had a tough time keeping up with the orders. Try it – you won’t be disappointed. Promise!

Sorriso’s Marol number —  022 33487718

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Britvic Brings FruitShoot To India

Four new bottles of fruit juices have hit the Indian market — Apple-Blueberry, Strawberry-Raspberry, Apple-Pear and Mango — from the house of Britvic. For first-timers, Britvic is one of the leading branded soft drinks businesses in Europe.  Their India offering is for kids for they claim — “Kids manage their own fun and now they can manage their own thirst with these portion-controlled bottles and tasty, enjoyable flavours”.

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My daughter sure was excited to see these colorful, easy flip top-cap bottles and loved the Mango flavour. I am happy, for, Fruit Shoot is is real fruit juice with no artificial colours.

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Mumbai and Metro launch for now, Fruit Shoot will hit 35 Indian cities by December this year and 100 by April next year. I personally loved the Berry-Berry and Mango. But Apple lovers, you have two flavours to spoil you!! Priced at INR 30 per bottle, i think it will be a hit at birthday parties. But for the family of Wheels On Our Feet, the bottles will go to our picnic basket/travel bags for all our long drives and treks and explorations :-D

Gonna be a Bon Voyage with Fruit Shoot!!!
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Memoirs of a warring couple who agree only on travel and food

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