Friday, June 29, 2007

June Jaunt Thru Blogworld

Here are some of the great travel and food blogs I discovered during this month (Please note: All photographs in this post belong to the authors/blogs reviewed below):

Belur Halebid1. Meiyang Chang's blog, Buddha Soliloques. In a post from his trip to Belur, Halebid and Shravanabelagoda in Karnataka, he writes: "...a closer look at the thousands of stone human figures, elephants, warriors, Gods and Goddesses adorning the temple clearly sets a clearer picture. The sculpted inner & outer walls of the temple tell a tale of dedication and sheer hard work by the craftsmen. Each figure is carved to perfection and straining to come to life any moment."...Read More.

BTW, if he seems familiar to Indian viewers, that's because he's on Indian Idol; which is probably why he's not been updating his blog since May 07!

Northern Norway2. Thomas Laupstad's visual treat, Photos from Northern Norway. An example of his poetry through pictures: "This photo was taken through my bedroom window at midnight. I guess it’s not really a sunset because the sun is not setting in the horizon. The midnight sun is just hiding behind the mountains."...Read More.

Stuffed Pheasant Breasts3. Roshani's appetizing blog, Living to Eat!. From one of her recent posts, "On my last trip to Notting Hill’s farmers’ market I was pleasantly suprised to find a pack of pheasant breasts at the Manor Farm stall... I was so enthralled with my pheasant, I thought I should do something exciting with it. "...Read More.

Kaziranga National Park4. Anita Bora's photo-blog, Just a Little Something. She writes about her recent visit to Assam's Kaziranga National Park, home of the Indian one-horned rhino: "The best sighting turns out to be a huge python wrapped around a tree. The guide informs us that it has been wrapped around that particular branch for a few days. It’s quite a fascinating creature and I would have loved to see it move, though I had no intention of being under that tree if it happened to let go of the branch for some reason. "...Read More.

Swimwear in Indian Beaches5. Mark Righter's blog, An Englishman in Mumbai. See India through the eyes of an outsider, in this case an expat Englishman with a sense of irony and humor. From his recent post (research?) on why Indian women wade into the beach fully-clothed, "...whereas in England you would have a rule against wearing swimsuits that are too skimpy, here women have to be ordered out of day-clothes and into swimwear! "...Read More.


Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Spa Vacation in Goa

Goa is India's premier beach destination . The peak season is usually during the winter months when most of the foreign tourists visit India. But even the summer months are crowded with the local tourists, who tend to time their vacations with their kids' summer holidays. So, if you like Goa but not the crowds, the monsoon season is the time to go there.

Park Hyatt GoaYou can't indulge in the usual beach activities of water-sports and lazing around in the sun, with the rather cold and windy weather during these months. However, the excellent resorts in Goa make for a rather nice spa vacation. And you pay less too! I began visiting Goa when I and my family moved to Pune. Before that, when we were in Delhi, we would usually head for the mountains.

Park Hyatt GoaWe last vacationed in Goa in October 2006, at the Radisson White Sands, but that was during the peak winter season. It was the year before that, in June 2005, when we enjoyed the rains at the Park Hyatt Resort and Spa. And that was so much fun!

Park Hyatt GoaThe resort is spread over 45 acres of lush, beach-front gardens in South Goa, about 15 minutes from the airport. Designed like a village, the resort features an extensive spa facility. I loved the way the rooms were designed with balconies overlooking the turquoise blue lagoons, outdoor showers, sunken bathtub, and a variety of flowering trees and plants all over the place.

We mostly ate at the buffets during breakfast, lunch and dinner. The service was excellent and the food (a mix of Indian, Italian and continental) was pretty good. We would spend most of the day in the large (and I mean really, really large!) swimming pool, periodically wading to the pool bar for cocktails.

Park Hyatt GoaThe resort has multiple restaurants, bars and lounges. Sambar specializes in South Indian fare, while da Luigi serves excellent Italian pizzas, pastas and salads complimented by an elaborate wine list. You can also try the Market Grill, the Masala for local Goan food, or the beachside BBQ. Please note, all these restaurants are not open during off-season (which is usually during the monsoon season).

But where you want to be (at least for a few hours) is the excellent spa. Spread over 28,000 ft., Sereno Spa at the Park Hyatt offers an elaborate menu including the usual Ayurvedic treatments and scrubs. BTW, this spa was awarded the Best Spa in Asia by Conde Nast Traveller in 2006.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Random Facts Meme

Fellow blogger Wannabe Wino tagged me to tell you eight random facts about myself. So here goes:

1. I collect hotel room key-cards. Here's a photo from my collection of hotels I have stayed in around the world.
2. During childhood, I dreamt of owning the largest personal library in the whole world.
3. I have read all Harry Potter books to date; I expect to read the final one too.
4. The first car I ever drove was a Toyota Camry in the USA; I bought my own car in India only after returning: A Maruti-Suzuki 800.
5. In my first job, I designed electronics for the next generation of battle-tanks for the Indian Army. We actually tested them on real tanks which was quite a thrill!
6. My first PC was a Gateway, my first cellphone was a Nokia, and my first MP3 player was an iRiver. I have stayed loyal to Nokia but not the other two.
7. I smoked for a period of six years before I quit. 'Have stayed away from cigarettes and cigars ever since.
8. I witnessed a shoot-out in Bandra during my very first trip to Bombay.

Hopefully, that was random enough! Now for the difficult part of figuring out who to tag. Let's see... I will tag the following bloggers:

Winnie, Shikha, Melody, Holly Jean, Sakshi, Middle Model, Bee, and Anil. If you play along, you have to list eight random facts about yourself, tag eight other bloggers and let them know they have been tagged.

Cloudy skies and light drizzle outside my window right now. I love the rains! Pune is so much prettier during the monsoon. Spread link love and have a great day!


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Out of Africa

Check out Newsweek's cover story on the best that money can buy! Among the best hotel accomodations they listed, this one seems truely out of this world and worth the price:

Singita Tanzania

"Sabora Tented Camp, Singita Grumeti Reserves, Tanzania. Fans of Sydney Pollack's film "Out of Africa" will love this luxurious air-conditioned tent decorated with Persian rugs, gauze curtains and great-game, safari-style furniture straight out of a Hemingway novel.

Go during the summer months, when the wildebeest migration is in full swing. Meryl Streep and Robert Redford not included (room rate approx $850)."

This resort in right in the Serengeti savannah where antelope and zebra join about 1.5 million wildebeest in one of the largest animal migrations every year, ending a three hundred mile journey in search of life-sustaining grasses and water. What a spectacular view that must be!


Friday, June 22, 2007

Sin City

There is no place like Las Vegas. Atlantic City, Reno, Macao? Pale imitations all! I have visited 'Sin City' at least six times now. The first time, I was participating in what was then the largest technology fair on Earth: Comdex.

Las Vegas, Paris HotelThe days belonged to the hordes of visitors that crowded the our pavillion (I was working for a small startup and demo'ing our hot new software product here). The evenings and nights were an endless stream of jangling slot machines, sizzling Vegas shows, huge frozen margaritas, and long walks from one mammoth hotel to another.

I don't think we slept much during that week at Vegas. I stayed at the Circus Circus, which is at one end of the Strip. BTW, key scenes in the James Bond movie, Diamonds are Forever, were shot in the live circus area in the middle of this hotel.

Las Vegas, Bally'sThe next few times I was here were all for conferences, but the evenings and nights were filled with fun activity. Whenever, I have come back here, I find a new hotel or entertainment that wasn't there before. In fact, The Venetian wasn't even built when I first came to Vegas; there was another hotel in its place.

I have stayed at the Rio Suites, Treasure Island and most recently at the Venetian, which boasts of the largest standard hotel room in the world, antique-style bathroom and canopy beds. I have watched Cirque du Soleil's Mystere and Ka, two of the most awesome shows on earth (if you haven't seen one of Cirque du Soleil's shows, you are missing something; I still haven't seen 'O' which is their most popular one now and plays at the Bellagio). At Vegas, I have also eaten in the most unusual settings and tried the most lavish buffets ever! And this is only the list of those activities I am willing to put up on my blog. :)

Las Vegas, Ceaser's PalaceThere's an excellent series of articles at MSNBC describing the many sinful pleasures at Las Vegas:

On the sexy shows that sizzle in the Strip: ‘The Crazy Horse Paris’ at MGM is by far the sexiest, most chic revue in all of Las Vegas. The girls, who are mainly French and Russian ex-ballerinas, have incredible dance talent and exotic beauty. They keep the ideal of the ‘glorified girl’ alive. I have never seen another Vegas revue that manages to create such mystique, glamour and sex appeal.” ...Read More.

Las Vegas, BellagioOn getting swanky in Sin City: "Mammoth hotels with 24-hour casinos. Red-hot celebrity chefs. Luxury shopping. Endless entertainment. Shamelessly lavish hotel suites. Just another day in Sin City" ...Read More.

Also check out Forbes' slide-shows of the Top Ten nightclubs, sexiest revues, and best restaurants at Las Vegas.

The pictures here are from my Vegas trips in 2003 and 2006 at the Paris, Bally's, Ceaser's Palace, and the Bellagio hotels.

Travel+Leisure has another excellent feature on how to hit the best spots in town in a single day for under $250.

I remember a funny incident when we the city was filled with attendees from the computer software industry for a large conference. As some of us strolled down the Strip, a tout offered to turn our "software into hardware", and even before we had figured out what he was trying to say, he had pushed cards with pictures of adult entertainers with their phone numbers into our hands!


Lonavala & Khandala Resorts

For those who have been asking me for details on Lonavala/Khandala resorts I have personally stayed at, here they are:

#1. Duke's Retreat: Pune Mumbai Road, Khandala 410301. Phone: 952114-269 -201 /2/3/ 4/5/6 /7/8/9. Room rates vary from Rs:8000/night to Rs: 12,000/night.

In my opinion this is the best resort in this area, but relatively expensive. They have rooms with balconies that have an excellent view of the distant hills. The cottages are good for families whose kids may want easy access to the swimming pool and the play area. Duke's has excellent views (especially from it's restaurant which is located on a steep cliff-side overlooking the expressway and the hills beyond. They have a spa, large gardens (with some ducks, geese, and rabbits), and an excellent buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you are lucky you may also run into some celebritries. The first time I was here, Kajol, Ajay and some of their friends were here too (my first close encounter with Bollywood outside of a movie hall!). During weekends, they have a DJ during the evenings. They also have a great outdoor bar.

#2. Sahil Sarovar Portico: Anandgiri Society, Near L&T Mgmt Dev Centre, Lonavala. Phone: (02114) 270 060/612/62. Room rates vary between Rs: 4500/night to Rs: 6500/night.

The resort is small and so is the swimming pool. However, the rooms are clean, the service pretty good, and the food simple but good. The best thing in this resort is their spa which in my opinion is among the best you can get in this area. I would recommend this place for the spa alone! Incidentally, ran into Bollywood here too; Emran Hashmi was partying in the bungalow next door creating quite a bit of excitement among the hotel staff.

#3. Velvett Country Resort: Vikas Valley, S V Road, Near PWD Guest House, Khandala -410301. Phone: 952114-269136/37/38/39. Room rates vary between Rs: 4500/night to Rs: 9000/night.

They also have a large cottage with multiple bedroom that can be used by a larger group. They have a great restaurant, large gardens with lots of greenery and flower beds, swimming pool and spa. However, the resort doesn't have many views of the surrounding hills. The staff in the spa are well trained, but the one in Sahil has better ambiance.

#4. The one other resort I haven't stayed, but has a reputation is Fariyas. They claim to be a five-star hotel and have been around for a while. Incidentally, both Fariyas and Sahil Sarovar Portico are located in the same general area. Rack rates vary between Rs: 9000 to Rs: 14000. Phone: 2114-273852 /3 /4 /5.


Monday, June 18, 2007

It Happens Only In India...

Here are some things so uniquely Indian that I feel at home the moment I see any of them, especially after a long trip abroad!

LonavalaSee that guy with the array of colored liquids? He sells a variety of slush and drinks. Warning: those of you from the 'developed world' don't want to sample this, unless you have a strong stomach that can survive Indian street food. Honestly, even mine can't any longer!

LonavalaThe next one is our own version of 'corn on the cob'; grilled over charcoal, they usually use a wedge of fresh lime to liberally apply a mixture of salt-red pepper before serving it. A treat for just Rs: 10. This vendor is also selling packets of blackberries. The warning from the first para applies here too. These two photos were taken in front of the Walwan Dam in Lonavala.

Thali, Mystic Masala, Blue Diamond, PuneThe third one is called a thali. It is a traditional Indian meal that is served in multiple bowls placed on a large plate, from which you directly eat. Usually, 'thali' restaurants will serve a particular form of Indian cuisine (such as South Indian, Gujrati, Rajasthani, Marathi, or Punjabi), and one can order multiple helpings for a fixed price. The picture here is of a South Indian thali served at the Mystic Masala in Pune.

LonavalaAnd last of all, the A1 Chikki outlet at Lonavala. This is a traditional Indian candy made with jaggery and nuts (see wiki for more details). Many old cities in India are famous for a particular kind of sweet or a particular variety of street-food; Lonavala is famous for its Chikki, and A1 is one of the premier brands. Vendors selling this sweet in Mumbai and Pune always claim to have sourced their wares in Lonavala.


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Weekend at Lonavala

There were seven of us with our spouses and kids. Given the nature of our jobs (and in some cases, those of our spouses), we hadn't spent time together for a very long time. So a few weeks back, a few of us decided to do something about it. And here we were, celebrating the arrival of monsoon in Lonavala.

LonavalaGiven how close Lonavala and Khandala are to Pune, we have visted this lovely place many times before. This time we decided to stay at the Sahil Sarovar Portico, a moderately priced hotel/retreat in Lonavala. This place turned out to be much smaller than we had expected; however, the rooms were clean, the staff polite and helpful, and the food, though not elaborate, was good. The discovery of this trip was their spa. While it was modest in size, the quality of experience was better than those the upscale resorts offer in this area (we are familiar with Velvet Country Resort and Duke's Retreat).

LonavalaLonavala is at it's prettiest during the rains. The drizzles had already begun the week before, and the foliage seemed greener than ever. However, the best is still ahead of us, when little streams and waterfalls begin to show up in the Ghats, and the heavy rain-clouds begin to shroud the nearby hill-tops.

LonavalaDuring the morning hours when the sun shone brightly through the clouds, we alternated between lounging pool-side with mugs of chilled beer and splashing in the (rather small!) pool in our hotel. After a lazy lunch, we drove down to the nearby Valwan Dam, which is run by Tata Power.

LonavalaThe lake on which the dam is built can only be visited by walking through elaborately landscaped gardens which are a feast for the senses. This is a very pretty place for a quiet stroll, the hillside rising on one side with trees, bushes and man-made waterfalls, while the land gradually falls away on the other side revealing rows and rows of colorful flower-beds and plants. There is a nominal entrance fee (Rs: 5 per person), but the WTF moment occured when we realized that photography is prohibited in this area. They are efficient in their frisking; so don't even think of smuggling a camera or a camera-phone inside.

Like all good things, the weekend came to an end, and we drove back to Pune after a wonderful weekend. I will cover some other interesting stuff and post more pics in a later post.

A side-effect of this weekend trip to Lonavala was I missed attending the very first bloggers' meet in Pune. From the initial posts I see on blogs (here, here, and here), advertisers apparently spent some time marketing their wares during the intial sessions, while the Bombay bloggers hogged some of the limelight during the rest of the day. The meet got a lot of media attention from the mainstream press too!


Friday, June 15, 2007

The International Food Blog

Mystic Masala PuneI was recently invited to become a member of the International Blog of Food. Check out my first post on the food I sampled yesterday at the Mystic Masala, one of the two restaurants at Pune's Blue Diamond Hotel.

The pictures in this post are of me and my little angel on our way to the restaurant and the bags of Indian spices that adorn the entrance.

As many of you probably know, about 40% of Indians are vegetarians. Regular readers of this blog also know by now that I am not one of them :)

However, given the variety of great-tasting vegetarian options available in India, I would advice those new to Indian food in sampling more than just the kababs and biryanis. The local cuisine in Pune is distinct, and has a lot of mouth-watering vegetarian options too.

Mystic Masala Pune


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

So Much to See...

I have travelled more during recent years than ever before, yet my wish-list of places to see just keeps getting longer!

I have a vacation coming up in Switzerland and London during August. Before that I will make yet another business trip to the US that will take me to Orlando, Washington DC, San Francisco and Santa Monica. I also expect to be in Lonavala with friends and family during the coming weekend (that should be fun!). And during the Diwali holidays, I expect to visit my in-laws in Bareilly. That is a lot of travel during the next few months, but I am hungry for more!

The three places on top of my wish list right now are:

Africa: I love the jungles and so does my wife; we spent our honeymoon in the wilderness of the Himalayan valleys close to the Jim Corbett National Park. We have been discussing Africa for a very long time but haven't gotten around to making it real yet. I haven't figured out if I should organize my own 'African Safari' in Kenya (Masai Mara), South Africa (Kruger National Park), Zambia (Zambian side of the Victorian Falls), or from other less popular destinations within Namibia or Botswana.

An Alaskan Cruise: I have to do this one! I love the stark beauty of icy landscapes. Also, I want to spend some time in Canada when I do this; from the pictures and videos I have seen so far, it's one of the prettiest places on earth. I recently bought the DVD set of Planet Earth by David Attenborough; I have always enjoyed his excellent documentaries. The first episode begins with breathtaking panoramic footage of northern Canada that you have to see to believe! I strongly recommend this DVD set to anyone who loves nature; the series has been shot on hi-def video and the results are unbelievable!

Bhutan: A beautiful, small country nestled in the Himalayas between India and China; a land of splendid mountain views, Buddhist monasteries, colorful festivals. Friends who have visited have been here had wonderful stories to tell about the land and its people. This is the closest you can get to one of those isolated, charming, old-world kingdoms you only see in fantasy movies, where time seems to have passed much slower than the rest of the world.

A friend recently gifted me 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Shultz. I have only read parts of it, but I think she's tried to cover too many places in a single book. I am sure there will be other places in the world that catch my fancy as I go through this book.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Pune Fave Five Meme

Sig of Live to Eat tagged me to write about my favorite five restaurants in any city in the world. While I usually blog about all the places I travel to, I haven't yet written much about the city I live in. Therefore, this post will be about my Fave Five in Pune!

1. Bombay Brasserie: Located in Boat Club Road, this restaurant serves excellent North Indian fare. While neighbouring Sigree has more contemporary interiors and better ambience, the food here beats all the competition. This is the place to be in if you love succulent kababs, dum biryani, moghlai curries, and breads. I recommend the Murgh Kali Mirch and Chakori kababs, the Raan Sikandari followed by Gosht Dum Biryani. I personally prefer their Rabdi over the Phirnee for dessert. Update: Bombay Brasserie is located at City Point, Dhole Patil Road. Ph: 66011101; Sigree is located at the same location. Ph: 66027080.

Mainland China Pune2. Mainland China: This restaurant will easily get the vote from Pune'ites for the best Chinese restaurant in town. However, popularity means the restaurant is crowded most nights, especially the weekends. Therefore, make reservations in advance. I recommend the Mongolian Lamb Skewers for starters, burnt garlic chicken soup, Chengdu Clay Pot Chicken with Vegetable Hakka Noodles. The only dessert I like on the menu is Litches with Vanilla Ice-cream. Update: Mainland China is located at City Point, Dhole Patil Road (Ph: 66013030) and in ICC, Senapati Bapat Road (Ph: 66207777).

Mainland China Pune3. Carrots & Celery: While I don't enjoy the food in most buffets, this one is an exception. If you want to taste a variety of Indian, Chinese, and Italian food during lunch, all of which is freshly prepared, this is the place for you. The Indian selection includes kababs, biryanis, curries, and salads. But most of all I love the elaborate dessert spread that includes Indian and western desserts along with fresh fruits and ice-creams.
Update: This restaurant is located at the Sun N Sand hotel. Ph: 26167777

4. La Dolce Vita: This Italian restaurant in town is the place to visit for a special evening. Authentic ingredients, cosy interiors, and an impressive wine list augment an exhaustive menu of pastas, pizzas, and salads. Please note that this is also the most expensive eat-out in town. Update: La Dolce Vita is located at City Point on Dhole Patil Road. Ph: 26145555.

5. Vaishali: I had t0 include this restaurant which the old-timers swear by. Frequented by college students and senior citizens alike, Vaishali serves excellent South Indian and Maharashtrian fast food. They do not take reservations, so the only way to sample the fare is to patiently await your turn. The one dish you must sample here is SPDP (Sev Puri Dahi Puri).

Update: Vaishali is located on Fergusson College Road (also known as F.C.Road), opposite British Council Library and next to the Times of India building.

Pune, being a smaller city than Mumbai or Delhi has lesser upscale dining options; however for a true feel of India, Pune has a variety of choices if you are adventurous enough.

With that, let me tag some others around the world:

1. Kent lives in Cairo, Egypt,travels a lot and writes about his gastronomic adventures at the International Food Blog.

2. Rennyba lives in Oslo, Norway and paints a lovely picture of that country, its people and its food in his blog RennyBa's Terella.

3. Foodette who lives in Los Angeles, California and provides detailed reviews of restaurants she visits on her blog Restaurant Review World.

4. Mel who lives in Melborne, Australia, authors and writes about food on her blog The Secret Foodie.

5. Sank who lives in Twin Cities, Minnesota and writes about life, baseball, and fishing in his blog Old And In The Way.

If you end up participating, here are the rules:

Add a direct link to your post below the name of the person who tagged you. Include the state and country you’re in.

Nicole (Sydney, Australia)
velverse (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)
LB (San Giovanni in Marignano, Italy)
eastcoastlife (East Coast, Singapore)
Tigerfish of Teczcape (California, USA)
Amy of Nook and Pantry (Seattle, WA, USA)
Sig of Live to Eat (Seattle, WA, USA)
Traveller's Tales (Pune, India)

List your top 5 favorite places to eat at your location. Tag 5 other people (preferably from other countries/states) and let them know they’ve been tagged.


The Interview Meme

It took me a week, but I have finally completed the Interview Meme! Here are the rules if you want to play along:

1. Leave me a comment saying "Interview me"
2. I will respond by emailing you questions. I get to pick the questions
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
My interviewer is Sank, from Twin Cities, Minnesota. He's been one of the first regular visitors of my blog; check out his excellent blog Old And In The Way. Thanks for the questions, Sank!

Q> The Great Indian Software story, as you refer to it on your profile was no accident. I believe it was the result of a cultural reverence for education, a long standing policy of self sufficiency which fostered an entrepreneurial sprit, and, clearly, proficiency in the English language, which enabled Indian engineers to avoid the language gap to doing business in the west. As the economies of our two nations become more entwined, a previously small and quiet Indian community in the United States is starting become players in the American Cultural Stew. Many Indians I work with find themselves torn between our two cultures, the familiar, family, and spiritual aspects of living in India, vs. the consumer oriented, far less crowded, “free” society in the United States, where they can do what ever they want. As a fellow who’s lived in both, how did you reconcile and what continues to draw you back to India? What tempts you about America?

In addition to the things you have listed, a number of things worked in India’s favor, and ironically many of them were of positive side-effects of not-so-happy circumstances:

1. Population: Even if 5% of our population is highly educated and can compete globally, in absolute numbers this is large enough to dwarf those of many other countries.

2. British Rule: English was institutionalized in this country during this time and went on to work in our advantage.

3. Quality of Life: I believe you work harder, when you can know the alternative isn’t very pleasant. All over the country, I think the focus on children’s education, etc., is much higher among the lower and middle classes who want their children to lead a better life than they did. Also people - especially those in rural areas- began having more access to information thanks to the widespread penetration of television during the 70s; they could make more informed choices for themselves and for their children.

And finally, the world became flat, to use Thomas Friedman’s now famous phrase! Which means, Indians could now compete globally for work, without leaving the country.

Re: What draws me back to India. For me it is clearly my extended family, and the unique sense of being at home (the festivals, the sounds, the smells, the crowds, and everything else that is familiar and difficult to define)

Re: USA. USA is like a second home to me (especially Durham, North Carolina where I and my wife lived for a few years before our marriage). Everyday life is far simpler and predictable in the US, the large outdoors where you can lose yourselves (not possible in India, you will run into people everywhere!), and of course, in the US I could - like you - have owned a boat too!

Q> Values- as a parent, what are the most important values that you want to pass along to your daughter? What would tell her to be careful of in the New India?

The primary values I would like to pass on to my daughter are concern for others, the value of hard work, and being independent. New India is trying to assimilate western values such as individualism & independence, while continuing to keep traditional ones such as respect for elders, being responsible for your family & community (and being interdependent). I think we need to be careful about not completely discarding one set of value systems for the other.

Q> The Hindu faith is one of the world’s great religions and philosophic systems. It’s also completely misunderstood in the United States. If you had to tell someone with no exposure about the tenants of religion while standing on one foot holding a match, what would say? This is question which came up in Judaism hundreds of years ago. After you answer I’ll give you mine…

The key tenets of Hinduism to me is about believing that:

· All life is sacred.
· All individuals create their own destiny through their thoughts, words and action.
· Divine beings exist in unseen worlds; temples and rituals create a communion with God.
· No religion provides the only way to salvation above others, and that all paths lead to God.

Q> You could be among the most widely traveled people I know. List your one top city for each of the following; business travel, family travel, cuisine, resort life and shopping, theatre, adult stuff..

The Bay Area and Houston for business travel (familiarity and therefore needs minimal planning);

Orla ndo and Florida in general for family travel (we love this place and have a lot of good memories from previous trips); this also is our top resort choice, mostly because our daughter has veto power!

For cuisine, I would say Singapore where you can sample the best the East and the West have to offer.

I am not a great shopper, but my wife would vote for Singapore.

For theater and the rest: Thus far, I would say Las Vegas. But then (strangely enough) I haven't visited New York City yet!

Q> What do you tell a young Indian collage graduate about to embark to the United States for his first gig as Tata consultant (or any other gig) about working and living in this country. What does he need to do to fit in and also enjoy himself?

Basic advice: Speak up more, don’t try to depend on non-verbal communication (they won’t be understood); and explain the difference in the concept of personal space (e.g in queues, knocking before entering cubicles, etc.). For those who want to stay longer and fit in: You need to socialize more outside of the Indian-American community; try the local food and make an effort to understand more about the country you live in.


Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Roshogolla From Orissa?

During my weekend at my sister's, the brunch included rôshogollas. As most Indians know, the rôshogolla holds a hallowed postion in any Bengali banquet, feast or dessert spread. When I attended weddings in Calcutta during my childhood, I remember kids routinely boasted about how many of these spongy delights they could polish off at one go.

roshogolla, rasgullaAnyway, this time my sister had served the rôshogollas with fresh Alphonso mangoes, and they looked so good, I decided to take a picture for this blog. While posting the picture, I looked up rôshogolla in Wikipedia so I could link to it, and imagine my surprise at learning that the rôshogolla didn't originate in Bengal at all, but in neighbouring Orissa. Apparently, the dish most associated with the sweet-loving Bengali was actually created in the temple town of Puri.

If you are travelling between Cuttack and Bhuvaneshwar on Orissa's National Highway No.5, there is a village called Pahala which is still famous for the 'original' rôshogolla. There isn't much to choose from here. For only three varieties of sweets are sold: the Rôshogolla, the Chennagaja and the Chennapoda. These are the specialities of the halwais of the Pahala village. Some 25-30 stalls selling the same three sweets in a small bypass of 100 metres lining the highway! You can see buses, trucks and cars stopping as the shops do a brisk business selling take-out packs of these delicious sweets.

The rôshogollas in Pahala are a softer version, more creamish in colour than white, and not as spongy as the Bengali ones. The Pahala halwais allege that one reason why the Bengali rôshogolla is tougher than theirs, is that the Bengalis want a longer shelf-life for their product. They add arrowroot powder to their rôshogollas. In Pahala, they mix 25 gms of sooji with 1 kg of chenna in the making of their rasgulla. To this is added elaichi for flavour. A dough is made, it is rolled into little balls, and dropped into boiling sugar syrup. The sooji is used to hold the chenna together in the sugar syrup.

Update: Check this post for other viewpoints on the history of this sweet dessert from India!


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Weekend Drive to Mumbai

Pune ExpresswayWe drove down to Mumbai this weekend so we could wish my niece on her birthday in person.

Pune and Mumbai are connected by an Expressway of which everyone here is very proud. If you have travelled on Indian roads, you would know why. The 60 mile stretch of the Expressway is the closest any road in India gets to the US Freeways. However, once the Expressway ends, you are again back in the middle of the chaos and madness of Indian roads; we were lucky it was a Sunday so the roads were relatively less crowded in Mumbai (once we got off the Expressway).

Pune ExpresswayThe monsoon rains have just begun and so the Ghats seemed greener than they were earlier this year. This area gets prettier as the rainy season progresses, with greener foliage covering the hillsides, and you can see streams and waterfalls as you drive by. However, the rains can cause an occasional land-slide leading to unexpected traffic jams!

Pune Expressway


Friday, June 01, 2007

Indian Tourists Rude?

"Indians may be clocking up air miles like never before but when it comes to tourist etiquette, they still have miles to go. A poll of 15,000 European hoteliers has ranked Indian tourists as the second worst, behind only the French."

Times of India reported the latest survey by Expedia. Other findings in this survey:

  • Trailing India in the league of terrible tourists are the Chinese followed by the Russians and Brits.

  • Etiquette didn't score the Indian outbound traveller any points either. The poll ranked them as the worst behaved followed by the Italians.

  • Cleanliness doesn't seem to be a strong suit with Indians either, with those in the trade saying Indians are wont to leave their hotel rooms in a mess though they are not as messy as the Russians. The Germans were ranked as the tidiest.

Read the complete report in the Times of India (here) or Swiss Info (here).