Rice Noodles at an Organic Farm

While searching for some unique experiences to try out during my visit to Luang Prabang a couple of weeks ago, I came across an interesting tour that stated it would involve making rice noodles from scratch. Intrigued I booked the tour and was informed that I would be picked up at 8.50am on the day of the tour from my accommodation place. As the tour operator had mentioned that I was the only one booked for the day, I was surprised to see a family of three when I got into the van. One of them had been working in Luang Prabang for the past 7 months and had already gone on this tour and had decided to take her visiting parents to share her experience of the organic farm.

The guide introduced himself as Lee and informed us that we would be visiting his family’s farm. He explained that there were 7 brothers in the family and him being the 7th brother, the farm was called Lee 7 farm.

Upon arriving at the organic farm, a group of children greeted us and Lee mentioned that they were his and his siblings’ kids, who were all at the farm because it was the weekend. He also introduced us to two children from the neighbouring village, who were learning English, and who he had invited over to the farm during tour days so that they could practice their language skills with visitors.  Lee first gave us a tour of his herb and vegetable patch, where he was growing different herbs and supplying to restaurants in the city.

IMG_0779.JPGAfter sharing some of his successful and unsuccessful farming stories, Lee pointed out his family’s paddy fields and mentioned that the rice grown on the farm was just sufficient for his extended family’s annual rice consumption.

IMG_0780

We were then introduced to his buffalo, Pling, and a demonstration of ploughing a plot of land was given.
IMG_0782.JPG

After the others in the group tried out the ploughing, we pulled some paddy from the nursery and planted it in the international rice patch, so called because Lee had his international visitors to the farm sow the paddy in that patch.

Then, Lee proceeded to show us how the rice was threshed and then winnowed and the different ways of carrying the grain baskets. We moved to the rice de-husking area with one of the baskets and ground the de-husked grains to rice flour.

Lee explained that the rice flour was fermented for a few days before being made into rice noodles. A teacher by profession, Lee mentioned that he had got the idea for the tour when he realized that very few of the younger generations in his village knew how to make rice noodles. Given that his neighbour was an expert noodle maker, Lee decided to partner with her to share their heritage with the younger generations as well as international visitors.

Lee’s neighbour then demonstrated how the fermented rice flour was kneaded and converted to the noodle batter.

The batter was then squeezed into a pot of boiling water and cooked for a few minutes.

Once the noodles were cooked, it was transferred to a pot of cold water and then transferred to the serving tray.

IMG_0826

After showing me how to make a papaya salad, Lee invited us to have our freshly made lunch of rice noodles with steamed vegetables and papaya salad.

IMG_0848The freshly made rice noodles was delicious with the tangy papaya salad and the four of us enjoyed it seated around a low table on a raised platform overlooking the paddy fields.

IMG_0854.jpgLee decided to make us some fresh sugarcane juice after lunch and we relaxed with the sweet drink while sharing some of our travel plans for the coming days.

The Lee7Farm tour is an authentic experience that I would recommend and especially as it supports a local entrepreneur trying to maintain and share his organic lifestyle.

Fifi and Hop

Special Six: Highlights of Bangalore

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.

GanapathiFor 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.

img_0494

Dodda Basavanagudi

(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.

IMG_0508 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.

IMG_0519.JPG

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.

IMG_0516.JPG

(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.

img_4650

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.

img_0491

View from the balcony

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?

Special Six: Highlights of Mysore

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.

Sri Chamundeshwari temple

A view of the gopuram at the exit to the temple

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.

Ganesha sea shell sculpture

The Guinness World Record for largest Ganesha 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.

Mylari Dosa

The famous Mylari Dosa

(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.

IMG_0574

Entrance of Mysore palace

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.

Durbar hall

(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.

R.K. Narayan house

Entrance to R.K. Narayan’s house

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.

IMG_0615

Coorg filter coffee and walnut date cake

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.

IMG_0626

Sri Ranganathasamy 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?

Special Six: A walk around Invercargill

I unexpectedly had to spend around 6 hours in Invercargill during my April trip to New Zealand because the morning ferry service to Stewart island had got cancelled the day I visited the city. I had to wait for the evening ferry at 5pm and my connecting coach from Invercargill to Bluff would only pick me at 4pm, though I had requested them I would prefer to be dropped in Bluff that morning as I thought I would enjoy exploring the tiny seaport, while waiting for the ferry.

Given the unexpected time I was given in Invercargill, decided to take a walk around the city and I enjoyed the below six highlights of my walk. Starting from the I-site bus stop, where I had been dropped off by the coach from Te Anau, I made my way around the city.

(1) Water tower

IMG_4052

The water tower had been built in the early 20th century by the council, even though the local community had not wanted the tower on the green belt of the city. To appease the community, the 300,000 litre steel tank was disguised with an outer brick tower.

(2) Civic Theater

One of the landmarks of the city, the early 19th century building was originally the town hall. It was renovated and converted to a theatre complex in 2005.
IMG_4054

(3) Brunch at Zookeeper’s café

Having read positive reviews about this café, I decided to have some brunch here. The pancakes with grilled bananas was served with some vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. I also tried my first boysenberry juice at this café. From that point, I always ordered boysenberry juice the entire time I was in the south island.
IMG_4057

The staff at the café were friendly and one of them suggested I visit the Demolition village, an hour’s walk away from the café. Given that I do have problems walking long distances, I had to pass the option of visiting the interesting theme village, cited as one of the key places to visit in the city on the map of the city.

(4) St Mary’s Basilica

The beautiful church was designed by architect, Francis Petre, and opened in 1905.

IMG_4061Places of worship evoke different responses from me – the ones I have enjoyed simply exude an air of peace, that I simply feel content to be in the place. Others bedazzle me with their grandeur, but do not evoke spiritual feelings. Yet others put me off with their coldness. There are a few though that evoke unexpected strong emotional responses from me. Sitting inside this church, I was moved and while I don’t wish to dwell on that experience in this post, I wanted to mention that because of it, this church is one of my special six highlights of Invercargill.

(5) Victorian Railway hotel

IMG_4062.JPG

The hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Invercargill, that is continuing to be used for its original purpose.

(6) Queen’s Park

Back on Gala street after my circular walk around the city, I decided to rest my tired feet at Queen’s Park and enjoying the beautiful trees around me and a book.

IMG_4066 There was quite a number of families around the park as there was some kind of race taking  place with children and adults finishing their race at a café inside the park. For me, the park is the best part of Invercargill city and while I did not explore all aspects of the huge park, it was enough that I enjoyed the parts I visited very much.

Which of the above six have you visited or would want to visit, on your trip to Invercargill?

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

“Untold

Special Six: Taste of Cochin

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.

IMG_3583

(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.
IMG_3576
(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.

IMG_3579.JPG

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.
IMG_3744The 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.
IMG_3733

(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.
IMG_4612Fort 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?

To view this article in the GPSmyCity app, please follow this link on your iPhone or iPad.

Fifi and Hop

 

Special Six: Bay of Islands trip

RES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eSELRES_ea137e0a-6237-4f3b-9198-41566bd0534eDuring my April trip to New Zealand, I took a 3 day tour from Auckland to the Bay of Islands, with Stray tour. I am not much of a group tour person but since I needed to travel to the Hokianga, and there was only one public transport service which only ran twice a week from Keri Keri and this was the only tour that I came across that went to the area, I decided to take it.

In addition to the optional skydiving experience with Skydive Bay of Islands on the first afternoon, the special six highlights of my Stray tour with Muesli, our tour guide and driver, and 6 other travelers, were the following:

(1) Visiting McKinney Kauri

Our first stop on the tour was to see the McKinney – a beautiful kauri tree. The guide mentioned that the kauri tree and the spiritual significance it holds for Maoris had inspired James Cameron in Avatar. I also learnt of kauri dieback, the disease that was killing a lot of the kauri trees and other native species.

IMG_4441.JPG

(2) A glass of wine at the oldest running bar in New Zealand

If in Paihia, one has to take the ferry across to Russell Island for a visit to the Duke of Marlborough for a glass of wine. The pub, established in 1840, is the oldest running licensed hotel and bar in the country. The website of the hotel has an outline of its interesting history from its infamous start to its current owners and their vision.

IMG_4473.JPG

Stray tour includes a ticket to Russell island in their package, though the return ticket needs to be purchased separately directly on the ferry.

(3) Cruise around the bay of islands

The Stray tour package had partnered with another tour operator, to include a 3 hour cruise around the bay, with the captain pointing out islands with an interesting story or marine life. I was out in the bow area, for most of it, scanning the sea for signs of dolphins. Two dolphins did finally take pity on us and showed up to greet us and play alongside the boat a little.

IMG_4503.JPG

IMG_4515.JPG

Can you spot the two seals lounging on the rocky outcrop?

After we passed the bird rock, where the seals were lounging, another lovely landscape greeted us. A pretty lighthouse, though I don’t think I would want to live in that little cottage down that slope from the lighthouse, very much isolated from the rest of the islands. I did see someone fishing by the rocks below, probably someone living in that cottage.
IMG_4524.JPG

There was a sense of excitement and anticipation building within the boat once we passed this and it was all for the final highlight of the cruise – the hole in the rock.

IMG_4527.JPG
IMG_4537

The highlight about the rock was not the rock in itself, but that the captain maneuvered the boat through the rock.

IMG_4543.JPG
Emerging from the rock

(4) Picnic lunch at Waitangi

Following the cruise, our little group was quite tired. Our guide asked us to pick up a picnic lunch from town, which we could have at Waitangi. I had wanted to visit the Waitangi treaty ground the previous afternoon but I had missed it as I had chosen to go skydiving. Therefore, I welcomed the opportunity of at least having a quiet lunch overlooking the bay, with the treaty ground behind us.
20180422_131603.jpg

It was interesting to hear our guide’s story about the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi and how two language versions of a treaty led to land being taken away from the native population and the start of colonization.

(5) Walking around Opononi

On the way back to Auckland from Hokianga, we first stopped at Opononi for a sandboarding activity included in our package. I was not interested in trying it out and instead was more interested in this tiny village called Opononi, which had been named after a dolphin.

IMG_4557.JPG

So, after the rest of the group took off on the little boat with their instructor to the sandboarding area, I went for a little walk around the tiny village.

IMG_4560.JPG

Opo had been a little friendly dolphin, who had been coming into the bay area and playing with children. The dolphin became very popular across the country that families brought children from around the country to meet the dolphin. When the friendly dolphin passed away, it was laid to rest here and the village named after Opo, the dolphin.

img_4559.jpg

(6) Visiting Tane Mahuta

After the rest of the group finished their sandboarding adventure and returned to Opononi, we continued our journey. Our guide then made a brief stop for us to visit Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest. While the exact age of this majestic kauri tree is not known, it is thought to be over 2000 years old.
20180423_110110.jpg

The rest of my group had actually gone on an optional cultural activity the night before, where they were treated to a Maori cultural experience in the forest visiting Tane Mahuta and listening to local folklore and rituals. While I had skipped the night visit to the forest in favour of catching up with my friend, I was glad that I had the opportunity for this brief visit into the forest to meet this majestic tree considered the giver of life in the Maori culture.

There were a few more places we stopped at during the three days, but the above six are my special six of the experiences I had with the Stray tour. It was also lovely that this Stray tour group was small and Muesli knew the right balance between giving us the space and narrating anecdotes during the drive. So, it is sometimes nice to mix up independent traveling with mini tours with tour groups, provided the tour operator and group you are with are pleasant.

Have you been to the Bay of Islands area? What was your highlight? If not, are you thinking of traveling there?

“Untold