Vegetarian delights in Korea


Vegetarian delights in Korea

Sandeep Narang

If you are a traveller packaged in a group tour, your travel agent will certainly fix up the dinners for you at an Indian restaurant. And there are plenty of them! Seoul ranks eighth in the top 25 global cities, so it does not come as a surprise that a quick search on TripAdvisor nets 106 Indian restau-rants with ubiquitous names –  Taj, Ganga, Om, Bombay Grill, New Delhi, Shanti …  with the Jyoti restaurant (www. jyotifood.com), near Sinchon station being ranked #12 of 12,969 listed restaurants.

If you are yearning for that Naan, or missing your post- meal papad, Seoul has it all. And it will all be below $25 per person (probably with a beer thrown in). Almost all Indian restaurants serve North Indian or Punjabi food. Most of them have multiple branches, so check out the one closest to your hotel. Chances are wherever you might be in Seoul, you will not be a few blocks away from Indian food. The Indian res taurants are run either by a Nepali, or a Pakistani capitalising on the brand name India. Some are run by Indians.

Here’s your daal-roti check area-wise in Seoul:

Gangnam: Ganga Gangnam (ganga.co.kr), Luna Asia, Durga

Itaewon: Agra Indian Dining Restaurant, Ashoka and Chakra (chakra.co.kr) — serves South Indian food too.

Jongno-gu: Durga (durga.co.kr) , Himalayan (hirnaloyanrest. corn) — yes, you have to walk up three floors, Taj Palace (tajpalace.co.kr), Om (omfood.kr)

aaa

Sinchon: Namaste (narnasterestaurant. co.kr), Manokamna, Amma

Other: Shanti (shanti , Taj (taj.co.kr) , Everest(everes corn)

Kimchi

Kimchi is Korea’s national dish. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 varieties of kimchi. Some kimchi facts googled:

  • During South Korea’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the government requested American help to ensure that South Korean troops, reportedly “desperate” for the food, could obtain it in the field; South Korean President Park Chung-hee told US President Lyndon B Johnson that kimchi was “vitally important to the morale of Korean troops.”
  • Kimchi was sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with Yi So-yeon after a multi- million dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odour without affecting taste.
  • South Koreans consume 40 pounds (18 kg) of kimchi per person annually, and many credit their industrious energy, and its impact on their nation’s rapid economic growth, in part to eating the dish.
  • Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fibre while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50 per cent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C and carotene.

bbb

  • Health magazine named kimchi in its list of top five World’s Healthiest Foods’ for being rich in vita mins, aiding digestion and even possibly reducing cancer growth.
  • A study conducted by the Seoul National University found that chicken infected with the H5N1 virus recovered after eating food containing bacteria found in kimchi.

We got Kimchi with every meal, and sometimes we did not even realise it was kimchi!

Jeoneun chaeshikjooeeja imnida (I’m a vegetarian)

Coming to Korea as a vegetarian is a little disconcerting, the concept is quite foreign to most Koreans. But, relax. Indian food is not a problem; there are plenty of vegetarian dishes in Indian restaurants: aloo gobi, dal bukhara, palak paneer sarnosa, mango lassi…. But if you are one of those who wouldn’t touch a diner that serves meat even with a barge pole, then you have a serious issue.

Temple Food

A highlight of my visit to Seoul was a dinner hosted by RI Director Sangkoo Yun and his gracious wife, Eun Sun a Buddhist temple meal at the Barn Gongyang. Korean temple food is a 1,700 years old tradition to a Buddhist monk, eating is more than enjoying good taste and nutrition; it is also a process of seeking the truth. The food is distinguished by the philosophy that all living things depend on each other for existence. Non-veg ingredients are prohibited, and also banned are pungent vegetables green onions, garlic and chives. Temple food is nature- friendly, healthy, simple and light, bringing out the natural flavour of the ingredients. The grand- daddy of temple food is Sanchon, a decades-old mainstay of Seoul’s tradition-focused Insadong neighbourhood — a must-do vegetarian gastro nomical experience.

Barn Gongyang is operated by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. Located on the fifth floor of the landmark Templestay Information Centre across the Jogyesa Temple, the place offers the urban diner a superb chance to experience first class Buddhist temple food without having to trek to a temple on some distant mountainside. The decor is appropriately Zen, and if you’re lucky you may get to sit in the Korean-style floor sitting section. The food is 100 percent vegetarian. Prices: $20 —$40. Getting there: Exit 2, Jonggak Station, Line 1. Walk 70m to Jogyesa Temple. The Temple Stay Information Centre is across the street.

There are plenty of temple food spots in Seoul (you may even consider temple stay options for lodging).

Check out the website http://www.happycow.net for veg restaurant options in Seoul or Loving Hut (www.lovinghut.kr), the international chain of vegan restaurants opened by followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai. Oh Se Gae Hyang in Insadong; PLANT in Itaewon; So True in Gangnam-gu and Veggie Holic Bakery (wwwveggieholic.co.kr) are few more. The Store Sajik-dong in Jongno-gu serves only vegetarian and vegan Tibetan and Indian style curries and dosa and chai including soy milk options.

If this does not help there are plenty of fruits available or look at opening a Haldiram in Seoul— great business opportu nity there. And, of course come loaded with plenty of theplas, acchar khakara, bhujia, burfi — I will be looking out for you.

At the Seoul Promotion meeting the issue about avail ability of vegetarian Indian food at the venue, Kintex was discussed at large. The Korean Host Organising Committee has assured that there will be Indian food aplenty, not only for the 4,000 targeted Indian delegates, but also for delegates from other countries who might go in for Indian food.

(The writer is D 3250 PDG and Regional Convention Promotion Coordinator.)

PHOTOGENIC PARADISE SANTORINI


The Greek isle of Santorini has survived through its past history and natural disasters to retain its title as the most photogenic paradise.

photogenic paradiseview of oia village

It starts out as a holiday from hell. Greece is in the throes of stormy weather in the beginning of summer – our ferry is cancelled and we have to settle for expensive air tickets. As we land on the island, the sky is a smouldering grey and the first drizzle depresses us; we were looking for islands in the sun…instead, we wrap ourselves in fleece and caps as we head out.

According to Greek mythology, Santorini was a handful of dirt that the sea god Triton gave to the Argonauts. Another tale says that the god Zeus hurled the core of the island at his enemies – the Titans – and the imprint of his fingers can be still seen on four inlets of the island. Called Kallisti, “The Loveliest,” when it was first settled, this crescent shaped photogenic island locally called Thira, is famous for its dramatic setting.

oia village streetchurch with blue dome

Rimmed by striated red and grey volcanic cliffs and lined with a chain of vertiginous villages, with white sugar cube houses that drip down the edges like frosting on a cake, it is probably the most photogenic in the Aegean. Three thousand years ago, Santorini changed forever when a volcano exploded with such force that the centre collapsed into the ocean and a tsunami wipe out the entire Minoan civilization. Plumes of lava ripped through the skies in a mammoth explosion. Legend has it that the lost city of Atlantis was inspired by his volcanic eruption.

a cafe in city of firahouses in fira

BLUE AND WHITE LAND: We choose to stay at Oia, a pretty village in the northern most part of the island, in a traditional cave hotel that is chiseled into the soft volcanic rock where one villa’s roof is the next villa’s balcony. The owner is generous and upgrades us to an apartment, as we have arrived during off-season just after Greek Easter, when the islands are slowly being readied for the summer. This is when hotels are painted, woodwork is polished and plants are tended to. This jumble of cave houses called hyposkafa was built for fishermen and sailors. These were nestled in the cliff rocks, and one could see only their arched entrance, so that the inhabitants could hide from pirates. Above these cave houses are Venetian mansions built for the wealthy sea captions, called kapetanea. It’s a world where white and blue are the predominant hues.

doors to heavenBoutiques

Locals say that the Turks who settled on the island were banned from using the national colours of Greece, and to defy them, they painted the houses in the colours of the national flag! Oia is also an artist’s hub, with colourful shops lining the main street paved in marble, selling jewellery, paintings and carvings as well as distinctive doors painted with scenes from the village.

From Oia, we walk down to the small fishing village of Amoudi Bay lined with seafood in small eateries, giving us the chance to snorkel and swim in the clear waters.

As the sun comes out, changing the complexion of our vacation for the better, we gaze enviously at the luxurious villas with their infinity pools spilling over the sides of the cliffs. Rows and rows of white balconies with blue swimming pools and umbrellas hug the sides of the cliffs.

Precipitous paths wrap their way around this maze. We spend our days walking through the vertical world, watching adroit waiters lugging breakfast on their shoulders nonchalantly, shops displaying colourful watercolours, blue domes of churches framed with sprays of bright pink bougainvillea, offering a striking contrast to the white and blue colour scheme of the entire island. I get lost often, walking through the labyrinth of streets that were meant to thwart pirates long ago.

Almost every street seems to end in a whitewashed church. Santorini has just eight thousand inhabitants, but more than three hundred churches with their signature blue domes and pretty bell towers, most of them built by grateful seamen, for having been saved from fierce storms.

ISLAND RETREAT: we take a trip to Fira, the capital of the island, accessed by more than 500 steps from the port. If Oia is tranquil, Fira is robust and full of life.

Fira is where the big cruise ships come and dock and the presence of big spenders have resulted in a lot of gaudy stores. We walk through the cobbled lanes paved with volcanic stone, ‘Gold Street’ filled with shops selling expensive gold jewellery and rest our tired traveller’s feet at cafes with panoramic views of the volcano.

There are liveried donkeys that ferry tourists who choose that over a cable car from the harbour at the foot of the cliff. I see a time warp of wizened old women basking in the sun and Greek orthodox priests with long beards, alongside camera-toting Japanese tourists who fill up their memory cards recklessly.

Santorini is a hedonist’s paradise, with infinity pools and black beaches to bask on – but scratch below the surface and you will find the scars of its turbulent past; hoteliers build properties teetering on the edge of the volcanic crater, and farmers till the hard soil and plant vines in spite of the lack of rain.

I realised how fragile the island and its romantic hotels are when I take a trip to the volcano, walking up a grey ash path, with the whiff of sulphur and the hiss of steam signifying that it still has life.

I follow it up with a swim in Palei Kameni, a hot sulphur spring where you feel like you are drowning in a pool of sewage, but it works wonders for your skin.

ANCIENT WONDERS: long ago, Santorini was home to one of the most advanced civilizations of the world. I find the ghosts of the past everywhere. I see them in the gorgeous wall paintings in the Museum of Prehistoric Thera in the capital. Some of the oldest vineyards are still found on Santorini’s surprisingly fertile soil. For a time warp experience, I visit the southern tip of the island, where the Bronze Age archaeological site, Akrotiri, exists with the ruins of ancient settlements with mosaics and frescoes preserved perfectly for centuries under layers of pumice. Imagine a Minoan city, with well-planned streets and squares and three-storey houses, buried by a volcanic eruption. Artefacts, furniture and vivid frescoes that decorated the houses of its sophisticated wealthy sea merchants that were unearthed show that its must have been a very sophisticated civilization.

Come sunset, I head to the end of the village, for the famed Santorini ritual of watching the sun inching towards of purple horizon, casting vivid shadows of purple and orange on the whitewashed facades. I look forward to dinners at open air restaurants on the precipice that arrange their tables and chairs on the edge of the cliff and give the phrase ‘meal with a view’ a completely new dimension!

cooled lava rock souvenirspainted doors n windows in oia

With more than 300 days of sunshine and rich volcanic soil, Santorini is quite the foodie paradise – on every table in the island are fava beans grown on the island and made into a puree with capers and other flavouring. We feast on local specialties like baby squids batter fried and tomato fritters made with the island’s aromatic cherry tomatoes.

My Santorini sojourn is all about those Eureka moments; catching sight of a gorgeous seascape painted on old doors and windows of an art gallery, a black cat napping on a blinding white parapet, a little secret courtyard aflame with geraniums, a blue door that seems to lead nowhere, the constant soundtrack of pealing church bells and finally, the rosy hues of the setting sun against the dramatic cliffs heralding the curtain call to yet another day in paradise.

Courtesy by K.T.

IN THE PINK OF THINGS – JAIPUR


Jaipur’s forts, palaces, colors and hospitality will make you feel like the royals that lived here centuries ago

Across the rocky plains encircled by desert hills, with bastion and fortified walls spiraling over their contours, lies the capital of Rajasthan. I rolled the window down as we drove through early morning rush hour at Bapu Bazaar. Vendors prepared their fresh supply of fruits, vegetables and bright orange marigolds for sale, children crowded together in cycle-rickshaws headed for school, and there was an extraordinary chaos in the air, as every possible mode of transport, from luxury cars to scooters, rickshaws, horse-drawn carts and camels, all found their place on the same road. The morning sun reflected on the stunning 18th century architecture of pink sand-stone, turning into a soft shade of honeycomb with a pinkish hue.

In stark contrast, our car soon wheeled into a royal landscape which was home to a fairytale princess, the fabulous Rambagh Palace that is now a luxury hotel. The imposing exterior was reminiscent of the regal style of the buildings in the city. We were greeted to a rose petal welcome and led to our suite by an attentive turbaned butler.

The palace interiors were no less impressive, with long, white-marbled verandahs that wound around the courtyards. As the third wife of HH Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II, this was Rajmata Gayatri Devi’s first home after marriage. Sipping tea on the manicured lawns, you get a sense of the kind of grandeur that she wrote so fondly of, what with all the elephant polo matches, lavish meals and the Rolls-Royces. The palace’s resident peacocks complete the picture.

The sights and sounds of Jaipur, like its people, are vibrant and exuberant. It is a world of Bandhani And Leheriyan Saris, Mojari Chappals, Puppet dolls and Daal Baati Churma and Makkai Muthiya meal that we had been anticipating since we left. But first, a brief history lesson: just outside the city, accessible by car – or better yet, by elephant – is the spectacular Amber Fort. Built four centuries ago by Raja Maan Singh I, Amber Fort is renowned as an architectural marvel with stunning artistic elements and stonework, which used the practical approach of the ancient Indian study of vaastu.

Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Amber Fort gets approximately 5000 visitors a day, most of whom seemed to be waiting for an elephant ride up to the Fort.

“Padharo Mare Desh!” yelled out short, pot-bellied turbaned tour guide Gyaan Singh, in his uncanny American accent. We cheated the serpentine queues to enter the Fort, thanks to his wasta (influence) and soon we were taking in enough history to fill an encyclopaedic volume. He walked us through the Suraj Pol, Jalebi Chowk (an Arabic word referring to a place for soldiers to gather), Ganesh Pol, Sila Devi Temple, the stately courtyards, and numerous other places of unimaginable intrigue all amongst this immaculately planned palatial fort of red sandstone and marble masonry, lattice-screens and mirror work walls.

After taking in all that history, we made our way to some retail therapy in the bustling markets of the city. Jaipur is famous for its textiles, block prints being made by local artisans, silver and of course the spectacular Jaipur gems.

The next morning, we bid farewell to the city and our not-so-humble abode and headed for the undulating Aravalli hills to pink sandstone and limestone-walled resort, reflecting Rajasthan’s famed architectural history. The Tree Of Life Resort and Spa offers a quiet tranquillity – it is an ideal place to unwind and rest. It inspired my very urban children to go off on a ‘nature walk’, so that is something. They reported back with an interesting list – “a real carrot garden, four monarch butterflies, three big squirrels and a large German Shepherd…..that belongs to the lady in the next villa.”

Up here in the Aravalli hills, under the clear blue skies, with no cellphones, no computers or schedules to uphold, you get a chance to be pensive and contemplative. Perhaps, that is my version of being Royal in Rajasthan.

Courtesy by K.T.

Song of the Wilde – The Bandipur Tiger Reserve


SONG OF THE WILD

leopard1

We sat down for a romantic dinner at a candlelit table for two, on the periphery of the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in south India and the air resonated with mystery and menace. We heard an owl hoot, the electrifying alarm call of a deer ripped across the jungle and then the low growl of a tiger resonated in the depths. It was a chilling moment, but laden with ineffable beauty.

The king of the jungle was probably on the prowl in the forest beyond The Serai Bandipur, a plush jungle resort in Karnataka, around 226 km from Bangalore. As we sipped a drink and pondered on the surreal nature of our tryst, we exulted that the Royal Bengal Tiger was roaring back, having been written off by doomsday prophets as being on the brink of extinction.

23

A handsome total of 2226 tigers have clawed back into the big cat census of 2014 as opposed to 1706 in 2010, and the southern Indian state of Karnataka has the highest number in the country. Indeed, Karnataka was the first state in India to set up a commando force to fight poachers and, today, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve supports the highest density of tigers in the country.

The low roars had died down soon after in that star-span-gled night as we savoured a gourmet repast laid out for us at The Serai, where luxury in the wild is the byword. Not surprisingly, the 990 sq km Bandipur Tiger reserve is no stranger to the luxury, these forests, though the 18th and 19 centuries, like to pulverise a tiger or two over an idle weekend.

bird-1chital fight

Built artfully across 19 acres (and enclosed by solar fencing), the resort has 17 acres of private wilderness around it. As we turned in for the night in our capacious suite, we could imagine the majestic cat scoping the jungle for a meal; transfixing a terrified fawn in his tawny eyed gaze; sizing up on a muscled Sambar and could almost hear the nervous titters of Langurs, high up in a gnarled old tree…

Nestling in the foothills of the Nilgiris, Bandipur that day was awash in shades of green where dawn crept in on silent feet, painting the vast lushness in pastel shades. Langurs swung from tree to tree to welcome the new dawn, birds trilled and the Giant Malabar Squirrel scampered up the sturdy trunk of a tree. The rare while bellied black woodpecker peeked out of a hole in a tree like an inquisitive old aunt; the greater racket-tailed drongo called, displaying his ability to mimic the calls of a number of birds while a crested serpent eagle sat prey. Spotted deer pranced as our jeep purred past and handsome stags locked velvety antlers in a display of brawn.

As the sun rose in the sky, it glanced off the axle-wood trees and glided the forest, turning it into a wonderland. Knotted old growth trees leant towards stands of dead bamboo as though to breathe life into their old, lifeless comrades; red pathways sliced the dense forest and suddenly, a herd of elephants – aunts, matriarch and baby, chomping their way through the jungle. As jeep stopped in quiet homage of the huge beasts, another group suddenly emerged from the other side, backlit by the climbing sun. Low sounds emanated from the herd as they communicated with their brethren on the other side of the divide.

Then a couple of them lumbered across the safari trail, even as our driver reversed the jeep to let them pass unhindered. But one gentle giant hesitated for a heart-stopping moment as though considering mock charge and then plodded away, having decided that we were not invaders. The most stirring moment was yet to happen: the herd trumpeted as they crashed through the jungle, sending shock waves through a silent landscape.

There were no encores after that, but it was a cameo of the world in all its raw innocence. And as drove back to the Serai, a graceful leopard draped in a tree just outside the property, a gorgeous beauty that combined raw menace and grace.

Later, we savoured breakfast at the resort, revelling in the scenic beauty of South African style lodge, which cleverly combines rustic chic with luxury. We spent the rest of the day under the thatched umbrella set up on the terrace of our residence suite, gazing at the Nilgiris blueing in the distance and heaving ourselves up only to go on a nature walk with the resident naturalist in the private wilderness of property. This is a not-to-be-missed activity for the formidable Kuttappan’s air of a fearsome bandit, complete with a rakish bandana and scarred face, is deceptive.

To embark on a nature walk with him is to experience the smaller pleasures of the jungle: points out the pug marks of a visiting tiger who might have loitered past at night; presents a non-venomous wolf snake to you as a mark of respect and affection; and lifts up from the forest floor a pair of deer antlers, velvety in the dying sun, with the tender care that one would accord a newborn baby!

kuttappan-resident naturalistwoodpecker

Kuttappan is a legend in these parts, a tribal who taught himself to read and write, despite a childhood spent in the forest eating birds and robbing wild dog kills for his family, which they would roast on a crackling fire and eat.

Later, as our vehicle trundled through the forest, we were resigned to the fact that we might not see the striped feline. But to out amazement, he made a guest appearance. He sat in a clearing in the distance, gazing back at us with disdain. We eyed each other for a while before he seemed to tire of our pesky presence. He rose and strode off into the thicket, his swishing tail waving goodbye.

Courtesy by K.T.

Love and longing in Indonesia


jakartataman mini mosque

From the airport to the Ciputra Hotel, on the fringes of the city, is a half-an-hour drive at night. Jakarta, or rather the build-up to the Indonesian capital, is somewhat underwhelming –a feeling that stays with me through the next morning. Jakarta, by day, is crowded (Indonesia is world’s fourth most populated country, and the capital is obviously more than just the tip of the iceberg) and crazy (the traffic jams are in a league of their own); the muggy weather plays its climatic version of spoilsport.

indonesia-love and longingnational monumentulu danu beratan temple

But there are parts of the city – especially the older side – that are beautiful. Cutting through the crowded clutter, you spy colonial (read Dutch) architecture, tree-fringed avenues and interesting eateries. You can grab the lunch at a seafood restaurant called Raja Kuring, a typical Indonesian cuisine is far more unfettered than sya mainland Chinese or Korean (the mix in plate comes from the varied historical and cultural influences – including Indian – the country has absorbed).

Pressed for time, so alongside a traffic-deadened tour of Jakarta – with a mandatory stop at the 137-metre-tall National Monument – a visit to the Taman Mini Indonesia Indah. This is supposed to be like a thoughtfully-dressed-up window display of the diversity of Indonesia’s 27 provinces.

dragon springs

The Jakarta fling over, and headed to the airport to catch a flight to the hidden gem: the island of Lombok. Lombok has the potential to be another Bali and locals regard it to be an unspoilt avatar of the eastern world’s Great Tourism Factory. It is easy to say why. Crystal clear waters – one can see the coral formation through and through – and white sands frame the tropical paradise. The drive through Lombok is wondrously rural: there are lush green pastures and rolling hills.

The hotel room overhangs the sea. The waters were lapping gently through the day, but, as the night gets darker, it gets choppier. Sitting out on the porch outside ground-floor room, one can hear the crashing of the waves reverberating in the surrounding stillness. It is magical.

The next day, head off to a gili – that is island in local parlance. There are many gilis lying a short distance away from the main island of Lombok, and it is an exhilarating 10-minute journey on a bumpy, open-air speed-boat. The tropical sun beats down mercilessly, and the humidity continues to soak it.

gunung kawi

The gili whose shores are washed up on is called Trawangan. The villa at the gili hotel has an open-air bathroom and, because all the water on the island is from the sea, there is an urn of treated water left on the side of the shower area. Adventurous people can head for snorkelling and deep-sea diving. There are bonsai stagecoaches that would take you on an island trot. At night, you can hit an alley that looks straight out of a western European small town (there is a reason why it looks like this – tourism from the Occident): bistros, live-cooking cafes, lounge bars…..and music.

Even the weather seems to be behaving itself. In the morning, it is back to being hot and grimy and you would board the speedboat back to Lombok. You will be taken to this consortium of local houses, like a quick-fix hemlet: locals live here, make a living selling their ethnic wares. It is a labyrinth of levels, little huts magically appearing at every nook and corner. One can buy sarongs from them. Next you will fall in line with the rest of the group to catch a flight to Bali.

Bali turns out to be a somewhat of a downer. That is probably because of a displacement theory. The hotel – Discovery Kartika Plaza – is utterly gorgeous. Cottage comes with a plunge pool, there is Balinese piped music playing, the bedroom has a four-poster bed, complete with a flimsy, diaphanous curtain all around it. The downtown area is quaint and touristy with a certain faded old-world charm. The younger and wilder lot of visitors hang out near the beaches.

The next day, last in Indonesia, the group happily passes up the chance to watch a Balinese dance recital in favour of retail therapy. Consumerism always aces culture.

ulu danu beratan temple

There is a shopping mart called Krishna (most of the Balinese population is Hindu, and Krishna appears to be the most popular god: the main square has a wonderful depiction of Krishna and Arjun from the Mahabharat), a slice of shopping heaven: from Balinese souvenirs to Indonesia artifacts to silver jewellery to spa treatment lines to clothes and shoes and what-have-you.

One last meal at a lovely mom-and-pop dinner and you are off the airport. A new airport is allegedly in the works. Which is good news – the present airport, that greets huge traffic, is in a bit of mess.

Indonesia is the archipelago of 17000-odd islands. One dollar is equals 9600-odd Indonesian rupiahs. With just over 100 dollars, one can feel monetarily and momentarily empowered.

SPOTTING THE POTTED


More elusive than the tiger, leopards are one of the toughest big cats to spot. But if you are passionate about these enigmatic creatures, here are a few places in India to visit.

RAJASTHAN:-

Far from the madding crowd of tourists and safari canters, this is an uncharted leopard terrain, unknown even to the locals. A few dry, parched zones of Rajasthan have become thriving spots for leopard sightings. The journey starts from Taalvraksh (while coming from Delhi), which is just 20 km from Sariska Tiger Sanctuary in Rajasthan. The place has become a safe haven for leopards, which have migrated here from Sariska, thanks to territorial tiffs with the tigers. A small area of dense forest covering, with little water available, has made the place a good leopard habitat.

Next, you can visit Siana in Jalore district, a small hamlet bordering the great Thar Desert. The village of Siana is featured in David Attenborough’s epic The life of Mammals. The rocky desert hills of Siana are still home to a number of leopards other than chinkaras, Indian striped hyenas, desert fox, civet cat and jungle cats. The place offers a farm stay with homegrown food, safaris and a tour of the village where you can see carpenters engaged in making wooden handicrafts, leather embroidery and potters wheels.

Last but not the least, on the list is a place called Bera near Jawai Bandh, one of western Rajasthan’s largest reservoirs, which is abuzz with flamingos, geese, cranes and other migratory birds. Equidistant from Udaipur and Jodhpur ( 4 -5 hours by road), it is an hour’s drive away from the Jain temple at Ranakpur. Unlike Taalvraksh, Bera is not home to a few nomadic leopards, the place is full of the cat, camouflaged under big rocks. The location boasts of quite a few comfortable camps, some in luxury category with private viewing decks! Most of them offer specialized safaris with experienced guides, who will help you track down the stealthy beast and other wildlife, like sloth bears, wolves and hyenas.

Best time to visit:- winter, since the cat strolls out and basks freely under the winder sun.

KARNATAKA

The iconic image of a leopard resting on a silent tea branch that we often see in magazines was perhaps shot in the lush backwaters of the river Kabini in southern India. Snaking its way through the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, the Kabini forms a spectacular backdrop to abundant wildlife, especially leopards. The Kabini forest Reserve in Karnataka is rather unique since all three predators – Tigers, leopards and Dholes (Indian wild dogs) coexist here. The leopards spend a large part of the day on trees and come down mostly for hunting. They are so well-camouflaged that even the most trained eye misses them from a distance. The Kabini Forest Reserve is also partially the largest refuge of the endangered Asiatic elephant. On a boat safari of the reserve, one can spot them by the waterfront along with other animals like gaur (Indian bison), spotted deer and wild boar.

Best Time to Visit: Between October and May.

BORDER OF MP, MAHARASHTRA

The fabled forest immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, Mowgli Land in Pench, makes for intriguing jungle safaris. Located on the southern boundary of Madhya Pradesh, bordering Maharashtra, Pench National Park is known for a variety of wildlife and more famously for the Royal Bengal Tiger. However, leopard sightings in this park are stated to be among the best in India. Though known to operate mostly in the peripheral areas of the park, leopards are also seen in the deep forest area. So don’t always keep your vision fixed at ground level, keep a watch on treetops for unsuspecting leopards taking a nap. Birding enthusiasts must pack appropriate binoculars and amateurs should carry birding books since the forest boasts of around 200 different species of birds, including barbets, wagtails and blue kingfishers.

Best time to visit: November to June

MADHYAPRADESH

There is one more place in central India that brags of a high leopard density – Satpura Tiger Reserve. Most travelers, who’ve been here to seek tigers, have come back jubilant over chance leopard sightings, the possibility of which is terrific, both inside the park and in the buffer zone, which is accessible on night drives. This relatively new, little-known scenic reserve also has the distinction of being one of the few national parks offering walking and kayaking safaris! Other than offering abundant wildlife, its forest clad hills, steep gorges and creeks makes for a picturesque outing.

Best time to visit:- November to June

JAMMU AND KASHMIR

A trek to the higher regions of Ladakh has become synonymous with searching for the elusive snow leopard. Leopards are hard to spot and snow leopards top that list. These reticent creatures love their cold habitat and come into sight only during their mating months, when they are on the move. Various organizations have vowed to protect this endangered animal and have started treks in the area, led by a Ladakhi snow leopard expert who tracks the snow leopards movements with the help of local villagers. In support of community-based ecotourism, these organizations make travelers stay with the local herders in the warmth of their traditional Ladakhi homes with comfy beds and gratifying meals.

Best time to visit: February and March, the snow leopards mating season.

AROUND THE WORLD

Asiatic leopard sightseeing’s can be fantastic in Yala National Park, Sri Lanka. Boasting of one of the world’s densest leopard populations, Yala is also inhabited by herds of elephants, sloth bears and crocodiles.

Finding the elusive leopard can seem like a tall order, but not in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park. Stay in one of the many gorgeous luxury camps and lodges with excellent guides at your service.

The Kalahari Gemsbok National Park in Botswana is a place full of predators, roughly 200 cheetahs, 450 lions and 150 leopards dominate the sand dune-ridden landscape!

Graceful Monaco


Home to arguably the world’s most glamorous royal family, this tiny city-state welcomes celebrities and high rollers in their droves, no doubt drawn to its glitzy nightlife and designer boutiques.

graceful monacomonte carlo bay

Monaco is a discreet, welcoming place and that is why celebrities like it here: they can stay in private and not be disturbed by fans. This is a place where wealthy and successful people come to live because they know they can leave million-dollar artworks in their Ferraris, or not lock their doors, and come back to find everything is still there.

place du palaisnicole kidman in the biopic of grace

The countless security cameras that swivel and zoom every time you cross a street or walk into a shop no doubt help, but Charlotte’s back on brand, pointing towards the perfectly placed bunches of flowers that decorate the lobby. Here enthusiasm is contagious. Monaco is a glamorous city – state, penned in by France and the Mediterranean and just a short drive from Italy.

grace kellyhotel metrolole - pool with a view

hotel metropole

Now, with Nicole Kidman’s biopic of Grace Kelly opening the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and Louis Vuitton’s cruise collection dropping anchor here, it’s clear Monte Carlo’s star cachet is on the rise. Add warm weather, beautiful scenery and a history scattered with royal tales and intrigue….it is a must to visit place.

The world’s smallest city-state has a population of just 30000, yet every time there is a big event – a society wedding, or even a Robbie Williams concert – that number rises to 2000000.

For beautiful, spacious rooms, a Karl Lagerfield-designed restaurant and the occasional celebrity spotting, Hotel Metropole is very lovely indeed. The staff at the hotel are super-friendly – ask them to print you a Princess Grace tour map.

Courtesy by G.N.

Most action-packed jungles


Tiger scouting, Chitwan National Park, Nepal

If you want to see a tiger that isn’t shuffling about in a zoo or on the front of a cereal packet, head for Chitwan National Park in the Nepalese jungle, where there’s a 75 percent likelihood of a sighting. There are also night tours to further help you glimpse this nocturnal beast. But even if you don’t, it’s still the perfect place to channel your inner Mowgli, with heaps of other wildlife on view, such as leopards, sloths and water buffalo. Travel is via a mixture of elephant back, canoe, jeep and foot.

Tiger Safaris  are accompanied by a zoologist and local naturalist guides. Jeep tours and on-foot tracking tours are available, best taken late November to early May.


Gorilla tracking, Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, Central African Republic

When a trip promises ‘long and uncomfortable journeys’ by plane, jeep and canoe, there had better be a super-bright light at the end of the tunnel. In the case of the Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve, there certainly is – it’s one of the few places where tourists can track the majestic but critically endangered western lowland gorillas. Fewer than 2000 westerners are thought to have visited this stunning jungle region, which is also home to forest elephants, buffalo, crocodiles and red river hogs, and the local Ba’Aka pygmy tribe, who help with the gorilla tracking.

It can take three to eight hours to track the gorillas, after which you’ll move with the group or sit as they groom.

Feeling Heady In Hyderabad


The Taj Falaknuma Palace – the restored Nizam’s Palace – is yet another jewel in the crown of the city that boasts of the Charminar

taj-falaknuma-palace-courtyardTo enter the Taj Falaknuma Palace involves many steps. You drive to the entrance of the 32-acre palace; then, get on a horse carriage, which takes you to the entrance. You are greeted with vetiver juice. A flag bearer carrying a golden flag-pole bearing a coat of arms marches ahead as you climb the white staircase. Then the rose petal shower.

Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-bWalk into the Ritz Carlton in Miami or George V in Paris and all you get is a form asking for your credit card details. Here in the East, we take hospitality much more seriously, garlanding our guests, giving them a welcome drink, offering them attar and sandalwood paste, or, in this instance, showering petals on them.

cn_image_2.size.taj-falaknuma-palace-hyderabad-india-112405-11Built by Vicar Ul-Umra, the prime minister and son-in-law of then the Nizam of Hyderabad in 1893, the Falaknuma (meaning ‘mirror of the sky’) has had a chequered history. Sir Vicar as he was called, built and inhabited it for a mere five years when he heard that the Nizam was coming for tea. Tea extended to dinner and then overnight. Twenty days later, the Nizam was still in residence. What happened next was typical of the tehzeeb or etiquette of the era, when words were pregnant with hidden meaning. Sir Vicar watched his master’s delight in the palace and the curious questions: “How have you built a palace so wonderful?” He intuited that the Nizam coveted the palace that he had bankrupted himself to build and decided to give it to the Nizam as a nasr or offering. “Huzoor, I have built it for you,” said he. That same evening, three generations of Sir Vicar’s family, along with their retinue of staff, moved out of the palace. To give up something so substantial is not easy for any person, but that was the ethos of the era. The Nizam insisted on paying more than what the palace had cost to build. He presented Sir Vicar with Rs 68 lakh (10 lakh = 1 million), small change for a man who was on the cover of Time magazine with the headline, “The richest man in the world.” The Nizam had his own currency, airline, railways, a fleet of Rolls-Royce, some of which were used to dump the household garbage, and the 48-carat Jacob’s diamond that rolled about his table in lieu of a paperweight.

The-Spectacular-Taj-Falaknuma-Palace-in-Hyderabad-11The Nizam’s family used the Falaknuma till after Independence, when they entertained India’s first President Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1951. After that, the palace fell out of use and into disrepair till the current Nizam’s estranged wife, a princess belonging to the Turkish nobility, decided to restore it. Princess Esra Jah reconciled with her husband, the current Nizam, who lives in Australia, during her son’s wedding. In 2000, she decided to restore the palace in partnership with the Taj Group of Hotels. By then, the palace was in an advanced state of disrepair. Water poured through the roof, rats were running around, the furniture and upholstery were chipped and broken, and cobwebs hung throughout the place. “I was among the first persons to see the palace and it was scary,” says the historian, Mr. Prabhakar.

It took ten years and countless iterations to get the palace back into its pristine glory. The walls were painted a hundred times to match the shade that Princess Esra had in mind: the colour of the sky at dusk. Today, the Falaknuma is a Victorian pastiche of many architectural styles. There are Corinthian columns, Italian frescoes, Carrara marble fountains, Tudor arches, Venetian cut-glass chandeliers, French trompe d’0eil paintings that make cement look like wood, fleur de lis on stained glass windows, English paintings and upholstery. “Not one of the objects or influence is Indian,” says Mr Prabhakar proudly. The result is stunning but a little disconcerting. It is as if the palace was airlifted from Europe and placed atop the hill in Hyderabad.

char minarThe city sparkles far below as Sufi singers sing on the Gol Bangla’s terrace. It is a city built for love, when Mohammed Quli Qutb Shah, whose portrait hangs in the Smithsonian, fell in love with a maiden called Bhagmati. In 1591, he moved his capital from Golconda to what was then a tiny village on the banks of the Musi village. He named the new city after his wife, Hyder Mahal. The city was modelled on Esfahan in Iran, with water-bodies for moon-watching, fountains, fragrant gardens and broad boulevards. When the bubonic plague hit the city, Quli Qutb Shah prayed to Allah to release his people from its clutches and built the Charminar (Four Minarets) in gratitude. Diagonally across from the Charminar is the Makkah Masjid, among the holiest shrines in India, built using soil and stones from Mecca. Ten thousand of the faithful can pray together here.

Today, the roads that radiate from the Charminar sell rhinestone-studded lac bangles that are a signature of the city. Countless shops glitter with these coloured gem-like ornaments. Vendors sell burqas, dupattas, vessels, fruits, knives, clothes, Unani medicines, orthopaedic massages and anything else that a person can need. It is a hub of humans and commerce. The Chowmuhallah Palace down the road is quieter. Built over 45 acres in the 18th century, it is now a museum and used for weddings and other ceremonies. Only 14 acres remain since the current Nizam fled to Turkey and then Australia to escape debt payments from his wives and concubines. I attend a wedding there one night. The palace is stunning when lit up at night. Tuberose garlands cast their heady scent and the aroma of slow-cooking biryanis makes the tongue pucker. This is a city that takes it meat seriously. Men can argue for hours over the right technique to cook patther ka gosht, or lamb seared on a stone slab.

lac benglesTextile expert Soraiya Hassan Bose belongs to an old family. Today, she and a band of weavers sell the state’s kalamkari and ikat weaves in her eponymous shop. Hyderabad’s hand-loomed, hand-woven textiles are known throughout the country for their quality.

Local fashion designers such as Anand Kabra use the state’s weaves in their designs and infuse it with a modern cut. Jewellery designer Suhani Pittie lives in a heritage mansion that houses her contemporary creations. Both are passionate about their home state and its rich traditions.

There are two Hyderabad today, one is the city around Hussein Sagar Lake; the modern city that attracts IT companies to its Hi-Tec City or Cyberabad. Then, there is the slower, more leisurely city that was created by kings and Nizams; the Hyderabad of slow-cooked meals and exquisite etiquette.

Courtesy by K.T.

Taj Goa – 4th Complimentary (July Onwards)

« Older entries

%d bloggers like this: