At the end of 2018, I decided to take a short break to a nearby city so that I could return refreshed to a busy work year in 2019. The city I chose to visit was Bangalore, the city of gardens. While I expected more green in the city, I think with the city becoming the IT hub of the country, its greenery has drastically reduced to a few parks – Cubbon park, Lalbagh etc.
The following six were my favourites from the four days I spent in the city:
(1) Dodda Ganapathi and Dodda Basavanagudi
Having read that Basavanagudi was a special place for the writer, R.K. Narayan, I searched for places to visit in this neighbourhood and came across these two temples. Both are centuries old temples and are very peaceful places to visit.
Dodda Ganapathi temple is the first temple that you will enter, when you enter the complex that houses both temples.
For those wishing to do an ‘archanai’ (individual blessing), one can get a 10 rupee ticket from the counter and give to the priest, who will then invoke the blessing and give you a flower or a little packet of pink sugar candy.
When you exit the temple, to your left, there is a staircase that leads up to Dodda Basavanagudi temple (or, the Nandi temple), which has a huge stone image of Nandi.
(2) Vidyarthi Bhavan
After visiting the two temples, I decided to have some coffee and snack at Vidyarthi Bhavan, a vegetarian eatery that was started in 1943 as a student canteen. There were lots of people waiting outside the eatery and I asked a group of youth whether they were waiting to go into Vidyarthi Bhavan. They replied that they were waiting to go in and said that I should first go and give my name to the man at the door.
The coordination between the man at the door and the waiters was interesting to watch. They were well in sync with each other that they packed each table to its full and sent in the exact number of people as the number leaving the eatery.
In my case, I did not have to wait as luckily, a table of four cleared and the next group on the list was a family of three and the eatery had a policy of having full tables so I was sent into make the fourth at the table. It was initially a bit awkward for me as I felt I was intruding at someone else’s table. However, the others seemed fine.
When the waiter took my order after taking theirs, both the family and the waiter recommended that I try out the eatery’s specialty dosa. I went for the lighter semolina snack and the family invited me to taste what they had ordered as well.
I would strongly recommend the visitor to Bangalore to go to Vidyarthi Bhavan, for the food, the atmosphere and the unexpected conversations with strangers at your table.
(3) Chitrakala Parishath
Having read that there was an interesting art complex, I decided to visit Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath one morning. The galleries at the museum was interesting, with a mix of traditional Mysore art and artwork by other Indians and foreign artists in India. I really enjoyed seeing some of Rabindranath Tagore’s modern art on the walls, especially as I had not known that the poet laureate was also . The work of his nephews was also interesting and I especially liked Gaganendranath Tagore’s satirical caricatures.
Next to the museum building, there was a lovely art and craft bazaar that week, with artists from different regions of India exhibiting their artwork and handcrafted products.
(4) St. Mark’s Cathedral
I visited the cathedral, built between 1808 – 1812, on boxing day and it was lovely, with only a few families preparing for the church service.
(5) Blossom Book House
I would recommend visiting one of the numerous bookstores in the city, but of special note is the Blossom book house, a store selling both second hand and new books. While I had meant to just get one book for holiday reading at the Church Street store, I ended up buying quite a few. There are lots of restaurants and cafes on this street so shoppers can have a drink or something to eat in between their shopping.
(6) The Oberoi Bengaluru
The best part of my holiday in Bangalore was the stay at The Oberoi Bengaluru. I had decided to pamper myself at the end of the year with a stay at this luxury hotel and I was indeed spoilt by the staff.
The service is the best I have come across among all the places I have stayed at to-date and it was lovely to see that there was a team spirit among the staff and that no matter what you asked for, a staff member would attempt to respond or get another staff member who could respond to your query. Little touches like a Christmas stocking with treats on the day I checked in and a thank you note with a souvenir, when I checked out were particularly lovely.
The room was very comfortable and the view of the century old tree from the balcony was really relaxing that I did end up staying indoors more than exploring the busy, dusty city outside.
Have you visited Bangalore (Bengaluru)? What was your favourite from your visit or what would you enjoy trying from my highlights?
During my holiday in Bangalore last week, I tried a few of Karnataka’s traditional dishes. Here are the special six tastes of Karnataka that I would recommend visitors to the state to try.
(1) Kesari Bath
During my visit to the neighbourhood of Basavanagudi, I had searched for an eatery specializing in local cuisine. I came across Vidyarthi Bhavan, a vegetarian eatery that started out in 1943 as a student canteen. While their dosas are quite famous, according to the waiter and the family who sat at my table, I decided to only try out Kesari Bath. This semolina sweet is a variation of the Kesari that is made in Sri Lanka and most South Indian states.
(2) Filter Coffee
After having had some terrible coffee in the first few coffee shops I had tried since arriving in Bangalore, the filter coffee at Vidyarthi Bhavan was a pleasant surprise. Simple and unassuming and served in tiny stainless steel cups, the hot beverage was a treat.
(3) Thatte Idli
On the drive to Mysore, the driver asked if I would like to stop for tiffin at Bidadi. According to him, “the idlis are famous here”. So, I took his advice and tried out the plate idlis made of a mixture of urad dhal (black gram), flattened rice and tapioca pearls. The resulting dish was very light and soft and tasted more like ‘appam’/ hoppers than idli.
(4) Mylari Dosa
During my search for local eateries in Mysore, I came across Hotel Mylari, an institution that started around 80 years ago and serves the unique Mylari Dosa made from a secret family recipe. With all the great reviews of this dosa, I had to try it out during my visit to the city. The tiny place only served dosas and the waiter served me mine on a plate with a banana leaf and with a dollop of butter and chutney.
(5) Rava Idli
On my last evening in Bangalore, I decided to go for evening tiffin at Mavalli tiffin room, another old eatery in the city that was started in 1924 and now has several branches around the city. I had read that they were the ones who concocted the first ‘rava idli’, which to this day remains a popular favourite at the eatery. So, I decided to try it out on my last evening in the city.
I noticed that the counter near the cashier had lots of packaged snacks and browsing through them, I decided to try out a fried snack called ‘Nippattu’. The snack is made of rice flour, fried gram and peanuts. It is quite addictive and I was not able to take a photo of it before my family consumed it all.
Which of the above six would you be interested in trying during your visit to Karnataka?
During my recent holiday in Bangalore, I chose to go on a day trip to Mysore as the city was a 3 hour drive away. However, I found out that day that what takes 3 hours on a regular day takes around 5 hours during peak season for the city. From the immense traffic that slowed us down, it looked like everyone in Bangalore was traveling on the highway to Mysore. As my driver mentioned, Mysore’s peak season seemed to be December and January.
The six highlights of my visit to Mysore were the following:
(1) Sri Chamundeshwari Temple:
Known by the people of Karnataka as the State Goddess, I had to visit this Durga temple with over 1000 years of history and mentioned as a sacred place in the ‘Skantha Purana’ (an ancient text) during my visit to Mysore and so made my way over to Chamundi hills first. Again as on the road, there was heavy traffic not only of vehicles going up the hill but also people on foot. After locating the ‘archana’ (individual blessing) ticket counter, I found they had two separate tickets – the regular one which meant waiting in a very long queue circling around the temple or the direct darshan, which meant skipping the regular queue and going through a separate lane to the main shrine.
With the heat outside and with limited time in Mysore, I decided to go for the direct darshan. However, I found several others had similar notions and the direct line had quite a long queue as well, albeit shorter than the regular one. After making my way to the main shrine, I found a couple of security guards hurrying people along so that people did not stop and block the queue that was waiting to enter the shrine area.
Giving the archana ticket and flower garland over to the priest and mentioning my mother’s name, I had to move on. At the exit, there was a small counter where another priest was giving the little ‘kumkumam’ packets (red turmeric powder) and bangles as ‘prasadham’ (blessing). While my time at the temple was mostly spent in the queue, I am glad I first visited this ancient temple. I could also imagine how it might be when there was less of a crowd, though it looked like the temple staff was used to such crowds on a daily basis.
(2) Sea Shell Museum:
As I had browsed through places to visit in Mysore during my travel planning, I had come across a mention of the Sea Shell Museum on Chamundi Hill road. Therefore, I decided to stop by the little museum on the way back from the visit to Sri Chamundeshwari temple.
The museum is a tiny place with two rooms and a hallway filled with sea shell sculptures. Only one room was worth the visit and that room was filled with amazing sea shell sculptures to make it worth the visit.
The museum noted that the Ganesha sculpture by Radha Mallappa had the Guinness world record for the largest sea shell sculpture of Lord Ganesha. Whether a record or not, it was a beautiful piece of intricate sea shell sculpture.
(3) Hotel Mylari’s Masala Dosa:
The Masala Dosa at this place was cited as a must have and so I decided to stop for lunch here. There are two Hotel Mylari’s on Nazarbad, just opposite each other and claiming to be the original. Probably a sibling rivalry among descendants of the founding entrepreneur?
Our question of which one to go to was solved as one of them only opened after 3pm and the other was open for lunch. The dosa was indeed delicious and their filter coffee a good finish to the lunch. Definitely a must-have when visiting Mysore.
(4) Mysore palace:
I was not that keen on visiting palaces during this visit and skipped such venues in Bangalore. However, visiting Mysore and not going to the famed palace seemed not right. So, I made my way over there next after lunch. Again, the peak season had crowds teeming at the entrance and within.
Moving with the crowds, one had to skim through the rooms open for visitors – the opulent darbar halls and portrait gallery etc. It was the least special of my six highlights of Mysore but it was interesting to finally see the place I had read so much about.
(5) R.K. Narayan’s house museum:
The piece de resistance of my visit to Mysore was the visit to R.K. Narayan’s house in Yadavgiri. It was learning that R.K. Narayan (one of my favourite writers) had lived in Mysore that made me decide to go on a day trip to Mysore from Bangalore.
There is no fee to visit the house, that has been renovated and is now a museum. One of the world’s literary greats, it was inspiring to visit R.K Narayan’s (1906 – 2001) house and visit the room where he wrote most of his novels and short stories.
(6) Depth n’Green café:
I had read that this organic vegan café served some of the best coffee in Mysore and decided to stop there on the way out of Mysore. It is an open café looking out onto the street and has some nice wooden stumps and benches with cushions for seating. Since I already had lunch, I opted to simply try out their regular filter Coorg coffee with a slice of walnut date cake. The coffee was decent. I noticed that they also served coffee from around the world, in addition to some interestingly named smoothies.
In addition to these six highlights that I had chosen to visit during my trip to Mysore, the driver asked if I would like to stop at Srirangapatna and visit another famous ancient temple – Sri Ranganathasamy temple. As we were anyway passing through the town on our way back to Bangalore, I decided to stop at the temple.
There was also a crowd here but at least there was a certain order in that people had to go in a single file along barricaded pathways like a maze into the temple. The priests also actually performed a short ‘puja’ (prayer) for those wishing to do an ‘archanai’ and would bring the lamp to the person who requested the ‘archanai’. Srirangapatna is worth stopping at on the way to Bangalore from Mysore or if you are staying overnight in Mysore. There were other places to see next to the temple, especially places related to Tipu Sultan, but I just focused on the temple.
Which of these highlights would you be interested in visiting?
At the start of this year, during my weekend getaway to Cochin, I spent a lot of time around cafes in Fort Kochi mainly to get away from the heat of the Cochin day. Of course, I also tried out some local specialties when doing so. Here are my special six tastes of my first visit to Cochin:
(1) Cold cardamom coffee at Loafer’s corner:
The cosy corner café on Princess street was a place I enjoyed going back to, a couple of times. Their cold cardamom coffee was especially lovely for the hot and humid weather.
(2) Fish mango curry at Oceanos:
On my first day at Fort Kochi, after arriving there in the morning, checking into Fort Bungalow and then exploring the fort museum, I was very hungry and decided to have a proper Kerala lunch at nearby Oceanos, which had great reviews for its seafood. I tried out their fish mango curry, which was delicious.
(3) Unnakaya at Farmer’s cafe
After walking around for a couple of hours exploring the cute little shops lining the old streets of Fort Kochi, I stopped at the Farmer’s café on Ridsdale road. I had marked this organic café as a place to visit, but since I had stuffed myself at lunch with the fish mango curry, I settled for a snack called unnakaya, which was fried steamed bananas filled with coconut. I had thought it would taste more like pisang goreng (the Indonesian fried banana snack) but I guess steaming the banana before frying it changed its flavor.
The café is my favourite in Fort Kochi and I wished I had time to revisit the café again.
(4) Cold coffee at Mocha art cafe
While exploring Mattancherry with two people from my bed and breakfast place, we decided to take a break and have something cooling. Since I had marked this café as a place mentioned for its good coffee, I suggested we stop by Mocha art café, and have some cold coffee.
The café is a lovely place, opposite the Jewish synagogue, with an art gallery and a little area for people to enjoy a drink or some food.
(5) Chai at Passage Malabar
With all the coffee I had been drinking that weekend, I decided to switch to some tea after my early morning walk around Fort Kochi beach area. I had actually wanted to go back to Farmer’s café for some breakfast, but it was not yet open at 7am so I decided to stop by next door Passage Malabar for a tea break before returning to my guesthouse for some breakfast. I enjoyed the masala chai in the leafy courtyard of the restaurant.
(6) Ela ada at Cochin airport
Having checked out of my hotel early on my last day in Cochin, without breakfast, I decided to get a bite to eat at the airport while waiting to board my flight. A little outlet called the L’il Tiffin attracted me and I saw that it had lots of traditional breakfast food and something that I had wanted to try but not found in Fort Kochi. Ela ada is a steamed rice flour parcel in banana leaf, filled with a sweet coconut mixture. Anything steamed in banana leaves always has a special flavor and this one had it too.
Fort Kochi is dotted with lots of interesting cafes and the above are just some that I visited and enjoyed during my weekend getaway to the city.
What is the Keralan food that you would want to try, during your visit to Kerala?
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The last city that we visited on this trip was Udaipur, or the lake city. The best part of this leg of the trip was the scenic drive from Jodhpur to Udaipur, through forested areas. We stopped at a durry weaver’s cottage to observe the weaving and decided to buy a small hand-woven carpet, though we had not planned to buy one or even heard of durry weaving before visiting that cottage.
We then stopped at a small restaurant for a light lunch of chappathis and Marwari vadi. We drove past breathtaking hills, past natural reserves, at one time the adivasi (indigenous people) settlement area. Our driver recommended us visiting a 15th century Jain temple in Ranakpur, even though it was not part of our itinerary. We agreed and found our first visit to a Jain temple fascinating. The religion is based on the three principles of non-violence, non-absolutism and non-possessiveness and has an emphasis on vegetarianism. There were some people walking about the temple, with pieces of white cloth tied over their mouth. I thought it was to maintain silence but I read that it was to prevent the killing of insects or other micro organisms unknowingly, while breathing. Yes, this religion is a tough one to practice because one needs to even watch carefully where they walk so they don’t harm an ant.
There were numerous picturesque villages along the way, which fired one’s imagination and I wish we had spent more time in some of those villages. At one point, our driver stopped the car and said, ‘old way of irrigation. you take picture’. I observed a bullock team walking around in circles, turning a wheel which in turn drew water out of a well.
By the time we reached Hotel Rajdharshan in Udaipur, it was evening and we decided that we would prefer to go on a boat ride on Lake Pichola that evening and go on the guided tour the next day. The boat bookings was however full that evening so we ended up exploring the bazaar area around our hotel.
The next morning, we drove to the City Palace. We entered through the Sun door and came across a board hung at the entrance with the names of the different rulers of Udaipur and their reigning period. A line had been drawn under the name of the Maharana who had been responsible for building the palace. Maharana Udai Singh II is credited with beginning the construction of the palace in the 16th century and the expansion was continued over the centuries, through his successors.
The city palace is considered the second biggest palace in India, after Mysore Palace.
The Maharana of Udaipur, Maharana Bhupal Singh, was the first ruler to have handed over his property to the Indian Government at the time of Independence. He was actively involved in the politics of the time and one can visit the room where Nehru and others gathered at Udaipur palace to discuss political issues. Maharana Bhupal Singh became the first Chief of State of Rajasthan. Due to a spinal disorder, the Maharana was disabled from a young age and therefore had an elevator installed to enable him to move from his chambers to the public area. As the Mewars liked symmetry, another door was built alongside the elevator door, but which was a dummy.
After the city palace tour, we visited Sahelion Ki Bari, an early 18th century summer garden for the royal women and had been built so that they would have a relaxing place away from the court.
It was soon time to check out of our hotel and take the flight to Delhi, for a final evening in the city at our own leisure.
[Linking this post to Weekend Travel Inspiration]
Driving along the grand National Highway 8, connecting Delhi to Mumbai, we passed Ajmer on the way to Jodhpur. Ajmer is home to the shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti. Dev, our driver, mentioned that the city was also famous for its nearby marble market in Makrana. It was marble from this region that was used in the building of the Taj Mahal.
The sun was beating down on us as we moved further towards the Thar desert. The landscape being drier, though still without the sand dunes that would have been prevalent in Jaisalmer. We had difficulty keeping our eyes open and we were worried that our driver might also doze off. I was keen on not getting into a road traffic accident a second time and kept checking in the mirror to confirm Dev was awake as well. My mother was finding the heat very taxing for her eyes and I was wishing the car windows had been tinted or had some shades to provide some relief from the desert heat.
We stopped midway for a lunch of vegetable pilau and spinach and paneer curry under a tent. We eventually reached Jodhpur and were taken to Meharangarh fort.
We met our Rajput guide at the entrance of the fort, which was built in 1459. It was a steep climb to enter the fort and by the time we came to what looked like the entrance, the guide told us that we were on the 15th floor of the fort. Gasping for breath, we were thankful for the guide’s lecture to give us a minute of rest. The guide paused by a plaque and pointed to the opposite side of the fort wall, where it looked as if someone had patched up a square hole in the wall of the fort. The guide said that at the time that the fort was built, the King had been adviced that if a man was buried alive in the foundation of the fort, the fort would withstand the test of time and onslaught of enemies. The King’s Meharan (palanquin-bearer) volunteered to be the sacrificial being and the patch was the last stone placed as he was buried alive. While the story of the sacrificed man is true, it is not clear whether the fort derived its name from the buried man or the Rajasthani word for sun, which the ruling clan was connected with. It was a ghastly tale of origin for such a magnificent fort that still stood strong and powerful.
Walking up the ramparts, we had a partial view of the city below and we saw the reason why it was also known as the blue city. Most houses were painted in dark blue as the high caste brahmins of Jodhpur liked painting their houses blue.
We first visited the fort museum. In one section, there was a display of palanquins that had been used over time. The one that stood out was a more recent one specially made for the King’s mother, for her visit to England. Her palanquin was fashioned as a telephone booth. I can’t imagine how she could have been comfortable travelling in that booth though.
The next section was the royal cradle museum, in the former women’s section of the palace, which had some of the cradles that had been used in the royal family. A more recent contraption was the electric cradle that was gifted, by the Department of Public Health, to the newborn Maharajah in 1948. The cradle was designed such that it would automatically swing, when it was switched on.
It was also from this room that the married women, who still had living husbands, threw rose petals at the Maharajah and his retinue, when he left for or returned successfully from a war. Women whose husbands had passed away were considered inauspicious. Among the exhibits in this room, another interesting exhibit was a display of dumbbells, which the guide mentioned had been provided by the Maharajah to the royal women so that they could exercise and keep fit, despite being confined to their zenana. There was also a painting of the women exercising with the dumbbells.
We visited a couple of apartments open to the public: the Phool Mahal, or the entertainment hall of the Maharajah; the Maharajah’s apartment and the hall of public audience. The artist who had designed Phool Mahal had died midway and the King had left the hall unfinished as it was, in memory of the artist.
From the fort, we saw a smaller monument a slight distance away, which we were told was Jaswant Thada or the crematorium of the royal family. As we left the fort, we saw at the entrance gateway, small hands imprinted into the wall. The guide said that they were the hands of the women who had committed sati and that sati originated in Rajasthan, during the Mughal invasion era. The practice was initiated to prevent the abuse of the women at the hands of invading armies, once their King had been killed. While the suicide practice had been initially a voluntary one, it soon became part of the culture, especially among the nobility, and women who had lost their husbands were expected to commit suicide. The practice was only banned in 1952. It was horrible to think of the women, who had placed their hands on the wall as a last imprint of their existence before burning themselves on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands.
The tour operator had booked Mandore Guesthouse in Jodhpur, which had been one of the places I had specifically requested for during this tour. I was interested in Mandore guesthouse for two reasons: that it offered a traditional Rajasthani hut-style accommodation at a family-run guesthouse and secondly, because the guesthouse owners ran a community volunteer programme in the nearby Bishnoi village.
Mandore, the former Marwar capital, is about half-an-hour away from the city area. Myth has it that it is the birthplace of Princess Mandodri, the wife of King Ravana of Sri Lanka, in the Ramayana. We visited the nearby Mandore gardens, where the cenotaphs of the Maharanis were. In front of the entrance to the garden, there were many stalls set up. It being the day after Eid, the festivities were still continuing in the neighbourhood. The gardens seemed a popular hang-out place for the locals as much as it was for the langurs.
After our short walk in the gardens as we were not too keen to be wandering around the cenotaphs at dusk, we returned to the entrance area. We spotted a boy playing some lovely folk music on a traditional Rajasthani musical instrument. My mother was very much taken by the music and the string instrument so we asked the boy where we could get a similar instrument. The boy replied that the instrument was 500 rupees but he wouldn’t sell it, as it was his living. We weren’t able to make him understand that we were not trying to buy it from him but from the place he had it made or had bought from, so we gave up and returned to the guesthouse.
We were a little early as we had requested dinner at the guesthouse around 7-7.30p.m. so we decided to sit in the garden till it was ready. The proprietor of the guesthouse introduced himself and spoke to us about the village and his days growing up there. As a poor boy growing up in the village, he said he dreamt of speaking English and wearing trendy clothes and had to endure jokes made by his college mates, when he went there on a bicycle. He was proud of all he had achieved since then and especially of his initiative of giving back to his community. The idea for the guesthouse and tourism venture, he said, sprung from his strong feeling that the palaces and forts though a great testament to the past were not where life was and that India, the current, living India was found elsewhere among the rural communities. It was with this opinion that he had founded his tour company, which offered tours to rural villages. He added that he felt that tourism should be a two-way process, not just tourists coming and enjoying sites but contributing meaningfully to the communities they visit. He felt that his venture provided that by combining short volunteer programmes in surrounding villages, which enabled the voluntourist to experience village life first hand and get to know the residents. He said that to make it more attractive for the volunteer, he incorporated special interest themes, like learning puppet-making or henna designs or cooking into the volunteer programme, to enable a cultural learning as well.
When he initially started his community tourism concept, he said it had been difficult to sell the idea to major travel operators in Delhi. However, over the years, his venture had built its own name for the volunteering programmes and had even been mentioned in the previous year’s Lonely Planet guide (2005) and he had been invited to attend a conference organized by ILO and UNCDF on responsible tourism in Bangkok. Most of the people who visited the place, he said, were those who had been recommended the place by others who had come earlier.
Dinner was announced and he invited us over to the table that had been set up for us in the garden. His lovely daughter-in-law served us the home-cooked dinner which did not taste like the Rajasthani meals we had on the road or at the hotels, but very much Sri Lankan (rice with dhal, okra curry, potatoes, pappadam). The garden was lovely but full of mosquitoes and we were slightly worried with all the dengue news going about in India.
Finishing our dinner, we went back to our cottage. The accommodation was as described in the webpage, but the only drawback was that in the middle of the night, the a/c stopped working and it became extremely uncomfortable, as there was no window. The walls seemed to have absorbed the heat of the day and were releasing it in the night.
Despite the air conditioning system that stopped working and the uncomfortable, sleepless night, it was a lovely stay due to the wonderful hospitality of the family and their responsible tourism venture, which I enjoyed more than my visit to the fort.