2 day trip

Alleppy : And the snake boat race!

Kerala is always a treat to visit- and this time we had to visit for what is probably the most popular event there – The snake boat race. We decided to take a day more and see Alleppy while we were at it.

We drove from Thrissur on the morning of the race since it was recommended to reach early. We dropped him to the boat pick up point for the race attendees and headed back to the hotel to watch the event from the comfort of our rooms on TV!

IMG_0987.jpg

The place is loud- the commentary like any sports event is fast paced and keeps you at the edge of your seat- if you understand the language. The best part of the event for me is actually the energetic singing in tandem with the rowing – however, that is mostly drowned out by the sounds of the crowds cheering their favourite local team and the commentary on the loudspeakers.

IMG_1063

IMG_1096.jpgEither way, you can’t be unmoved by the sheer strength, skill and beauty of watching a 100 men/women rowing in unison on a narrow boat across those placid waters bordered by the boisterous crowds and the waving coconut palms – both seeming to cheer their every gasp for air.

IMG_1068

Tips for the snake boat race attendees:

  • Carry water and food. There is none at the event.
  • Tickets vary from Rs. 200 – Rs. 3000. While the pricier tickets get you a better view point it doesn’t necessarily guarantee comfort unless you are booking a whole house boat which is a couple of thousands per person over the ticket price.
  • The higher priced ticket options will have chairs but in the excitement of the crowds, sitting is simply a suggestion and you’ll have whole crowds up on their feet almost the whole time.
  • If you think you can take the effort of standing/sitting on the ground for long, go early to the event – the finals this time started at 2:30 but Anand got there at 11 AM on the advice of the locals. There are qualifying races and those with smaller boats before the final event- those are fun to watch too and you’d be relegated to the back of the crowd if you aren’t early.
  • Take someone to speak to or take along a book to read since there is a time gap between races where you will be left doing nothing unless you’re into people watching.IMG_1204.jpg

Meanwhile, we happened to walk around the hotel area for lunch and completely by chance had a meal at what was the best restaurant in Alleppy according to many sites. A hearty meal later uncle and aunt continued to watch the race while I chose to catch up on my sleep. After that nap, we picked up Anand. Incidentally, a jewellery store had arranged for local artists to have a performance of the Chenda Melam that is quite foot tapping and maybe some nodding along if you like strong beats.

IMG_1256.jpg

Tip: If you want a hint of the local culture, the best time to visit Kerala is around Onam – the date of this festival varies every year since it depends on the Malayalam calendar month Chingam. It is however around Aug-Sept. Ask your local contacts for the smaller scale local boat races, the poorams (temple festivals), the puli kali (dances in tiger outfits), kottu (the traditional drum beats), Kummati Kali (dances with masks).

A couple of minutes there and we then went to the Alappuzha beach. The long flyover getting constructed right next to the beach (currently the nearest vehicle parking is just below it), seems like quite an aberration of concrete monstrosity just next to what is usually a peaceful spot for people to spend an evening. Nevertheless, there it was.

IMG_3681.jpg

The Alappuzha beach is crowded but it’s also a long beach so if you’re not into jumping into the water alongside the huge groups you can always walk by the water watching people and kites dotting the sky in the backdrop of the gently falling shades of the evening skies.

IMG_1272.jpg

Note: Food in Allapuzha was amongst the least expensive and most satisfying we’ve had in our south Indian trips. Try the local food and you will not be disappointed. You cannot go wrong with appam, puttu or idiyappam for breakfast.

IMG_2073.jpg
Puttu made within a coconut shell

The next morning we first dropped into a temple that we’d noticed just behind our hotel. It happened to be a several centuries old Sree Lakshmi Narasimhaswamy Temple. IMG_2040.jpgIt has quite a dramatic legend associated with it that says a devotee who was denied the temple offerings came upon sculptors who turned into the idols of Gods that were then installed in this temple.

Its walls were covered with frescoes of different deities and heavenly figures.

IMG_1348.jpg

The place is surrounded by structures with beautifully tiled tall roofs that make up both the temple offices and some residences.

The most unique aspect of the space I found was that this was the first time we had seen a dovecote in a Hindu temple. The only other South Indian place in recent memory that had one was the Dariya Daulat Bagh in Srirangapatna

IMG_1341.jpg

Note: Many temples in Kerala have a dress code. The safest thing to wear would be a sari or a long skirt for women and a mundu or similar garment for men. The next best thing would be a salwar for women and long trousers for men- still not ok in some temples. Men will sometimes be required to take off their shirts before entering the temple. This one allowed us in but not very near the deity, some will not allow entrance into the temple itself if you don’t adhere to the dress code.

Alleppey is one of those places in Kerala where taking a house boat is definitely something one could try. We, however, had to reach Thrissur by the end of the day and so instead opted for a smaller boat like the Shikara in Kashmir except on the Vembanad lake. This was the same lake where the Snake boat race was held the previous day so Anand got an opportunity to give us an idea of where different arrangements had been made. This also happens to be the longest lake in India.

IMG_1379.jpg

We spent only 2 hours on our boat but one could easily spend a day revelling in the sheer luxury of doing nothing. IMG_1470The backwaters of Kerala are the perfect place to be to disconnect.The eyes easily relax on seeing the placid waters, the lovely purple flowers blooming amidst the seaweeds, the cormorants easily diving into the water to catch their fishy meals, the boats in different sizes lined along the waterside and the locals going about their day.

IMG_2061

IMG_1433.jpg

Just by the backwaters are the Kuttanad rice fields you’d be able to see from your boat. It’s one of the very few places in the world where farming is carried out 4-10 ft below sea level. Our boatman informed us that the biggest expense is just pumping out water from the fields back into the backwaters. However, the land is otherwise very fertile and requires relatively lesser effort for cultivation. The farmers’ ability to undertake Biosaline farming in such situations has led to the area being declared a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System.

IMG_1411.jpg

Note: Costs vary for different boat sizes, the number of passengers and durations. The only way to know for sure is to ask around. We paid Rs.1000 for 4 people for a 2-hour ride because we weren’t in the mood for bargaining and signed up the first boatman who approached us.

After our ride, we drove to our next stop –  Pathiramanal Island. Anything with “island” in its name can’t help but sound intriguing add to it a name that means “Sands of the night” and your interest is piqued for sure. Our earlier boatman, however, warned us we’d probably not enjoy it as much as foreigners do.

IMG_1512.jpg

The island is known for mangroves, aquatic creatures and migratory birds. The birds are expected to be seen more often during summer or they just weren’t around because of the small but noisy tourist groups that had landed on the small island. Someone with at least a cursory knowledge of plant and bird species would definitely enjoy the island. Even to the untrained eye, there are a large variety of plants not very commonly seen elsewhere.IMG_2077

To someone living in the rural areas of Kerala, we would, however, find the greenery commonplace since our backyards look somewhat similar albeit with different plants! Despite being surrounded by the cool water, it is quite sultry inside the island since the thick vegetation doesn’t let much breeze in. On the flip side, it is quite a delight to step out into the spaces at the edge of the island towards the water for a welcome gust of cool air.

IMG_1575

Note: One has to take a boat to the island that cost us Rs.500 (there are only a couple of boats around) though it was a short ride and there are no boards on standard rates. So one can only hope you’re being charged a fair price.The boatman, however, will let you stay on the island as long as you need to and you could call him once done to pick you back. We spend around 40 mins on the island just walking around.

We went over to the Marari beach next though it was mid-day and therefore not the best time. This is significantly less crowded than the Allapuzha beach and the more ideal of them to relax and enjoy the water. Anand spent 20 minutes trying to feed a crow off of his hands but the crow persevered in just waiting from afar and we had more of a journey ahead of us. We enjoyed the beach for a while longer and moved on.

IMG_2078.jpg

Our next stop was the Periyar river. Following the map dutifully we reached an absolute dead end. The river was something one would see as one passes over the numerous bridges on the route. However, we were hoping for a space to sit by the water and enjoy its beauty. All we got was a shady deserted building and walking through the shrubs around it a peep at one edge of the river. Ah well, not all adventures are meant to be. So that was that.

IMG_1597.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
2 day trip

The temple town of Thiruvannamalai

Thiruvannamalai is a temple town that we passed by before on our visit to Pondicherry. This time we re-visited it with Anand’s folks in relation to an NGO. We happened to land there on a Saturday evening during the 100th birthday celebrations of the late MGR and the whole town was lit up with extravagant lighting and decorations. This also meant that the hotels were completely booked for the crowds that had descended there for the event. We were lucky to be hosted in a couple of rooms linked to one of the NGOs in the area. And it was a blessing in disguise. We woke up to the view of the open space and the Thiruvannamalai hill early the next morning.

IMG_1492

It is customary for devotees to go around the hill on foot visiting each of the shrines around the Annamalai hill – Agni Lingam, Yama Lingam, Indra Lingam etc. It is a distance of about 14km and is referred to as Girivalam (circumambulation of the hill) that you’ll see on boards there. We decided to drive around it due to a paucity of time and the difficulty in walking for our co-travelers. The hill itself is imagined to be in the shape of the Shiva linga with a Nandi on one side. I just stopped at one small shrine that was seemingly abandoned and was startled by a sadhu sitting and reading silently within an enclosure. You’d find lots of them along the way sleeping right on the footpaths.

IMG_1494.jpg

Note: Avoid visiting the place during the Full moon day or during the Karthigai Deepam celebrations unless you’re willing to brave immense crowds. Up to 3 million people descend on the place then. To put it in perspective, the town itself has a population of 150 thousand.

IMG_0883

Thiruvannamalai Annamalaiyar temple- This is the most prominent landmark in the small town of Thiruvannamalai and you’d pass by it no matter what other places you had to see there.

IMG_0909.jpg

IMG_3540.jpg

It is bordered by 4 Gopurams (temple gateway towers) one in each direction. It is considered one of the 5 manifestations of Shiva as the elements- this one being fire. It is also one of the largest temples of India occupying 35 acres. It has many shrines and halls inside the complex. The 1000- pillared hall is hard to miss. And opposite it is the large temple tank. On the walls, one can note the inscriptions in old Tamil regarding various offerings made to the temple by empires that had ruled over the place at different eras.

IMG_1509.jpg

IMG_0893

Note: there is an option of a “Special Darshan” costing Rs.20 per person. It is a small amount to pay to skip most of the queue. Also, early mornings are the best time to visit to avoid crowds. We were there around 7:30 AM.

IMG_1567

We next headed to the Thirukovalur Thrivikrama Swamy Temple. While the story of Mahabali makes up 1 of the only 2 festivals celebrated in Kerala, this was the first temple I had seen of that manifestation of Vishnu in his giant form with his leg raised up measuring the heavens and earth. The idol by itself makes this place an interesting one for a visit. The large idol is housed in the sanctum sanctorum which the priest lights up as he describes each aspect of the statue.

IMG_1579

This is supposedly the place where the first 3 Tamil Vaishnava saints (Alwars) wrote the first of the 4000 hymns in praise of the deity after the Perumal appearing to them on a stormy night. Its colourful pillared halls are very reminiscent of the Madurai Meenakshi temple.

IMG_1574

Note: the town itself supposedly has numerous other temples built during the Chola era. It may be worth your time to try exploring a few more. We had about 1/2 day excluding our drive so this was what we were able to do.

 

Our next stop was the Ramana Maharishi Ashram that we re-visited just for the benefit of Anand’s parents. It is touching to see small tombs for a crow, a deer and a cow behind the ashram- they were supposedly treated as other respected souls (aatmas) by Ramana Maharishi with dignity. Even today it is possibly the very first place I’ve seen a dog in a meditation hall that was not being shooed away. Further behind there is a path uphill a walk of about 20 minutes but we choose not to climb up due to a paucity of time.

IMG_1600.jpgIMG_1606And this time we were lucky- 3-4 peacocks put up a show for us dancing and strutting around the place.We sat a while in the meditation hall after admiring them and then headed back to Bangalore.IMG_1593

 

1 day trip

A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

Some days you don’t plan to wake up bright and early and but instead start the day slower, even if you plan a trip. One one such day we headed out with Anand’s brother to find Penukonda fort. If you think of visiting a fort, the monsoons are always lovely, the greenery amidst the resolute ruins make up for a pretty contrast – add to it a little drizzle and it’s easy to find the perfect experience.

 

Note: Pick up lunch when you visit this place, there is absolutely nothing nearby that even looks like a restaurant.

You may find chips and soda in small stores but definitely not a meal.

 

And so off we went, we picked up some parathas for lunch and headed towards the Penukonda fort– a drive of about 2.5 hours. Just following maps we reached the entrance of the fort, through the small roads of the village inside of it. At one point we saw a board announcing Gagan Mahal – but the maps pointed us in the opposite direction. Following it, we reached a village road that was a dead end and villagers who kept saying we were in the fort (and they were right), but we had not researched it and didn’t know what else to ask for.

 

Lesson 1: Follow the board and not google maps towards the last turn.

 

So we took the only option left, headed back to the direction towards Gagan Mahal. Its structure is in striking white that’s almost hard to look at in the mid-day sun reflecting all the light it can. It looked well maintained but had a closed gate.We had learnt our lesson from Bidar and got out of the car and walked towards the gate only to have the caretaker come over.

IMG_1219

Lesson 2: Don’t let a locked gate deter you. Many places have very few tourists and the caretakers often lock up the gates though they hang around nearby. Show some interest and wait for a while and they will most probably show up.

 

It had narrow passages and spacious halls with several arches both on the ground level and above. From the terrace, one could have a view of the village inside the fort. Gagan Mahal was the Summer Palace of the kings of the Vijayanagara empire. The windows above allow for a place to sit and watch the people and the rocky hill in the distance.Around the palace, the Archaeology Department has installed the stone sculptures found in the region in an outdoor museum of sorts.

IMG_1232.jpg

Once done with this, all of us were starving and in the absence of any directions/boards, went to the very end of the road in front of Gagan Mahal. We found a stone bench where we finished every last trace of our packed lunch while wishing we had packed some more of it! At that point through a passageway is a small temple and further down the path we come to what could be a very large lake bordered by the fort walls if it had any water but it was utterly dry despite it being July. On the other side of it was a small park maintained by the local authorities and nothing much else.

IMG_1249.jpg

Disappointed that we’d made the long trip for nothing, we headed back. At this point, I looked up Penukonda and realised the village was supposed to have 365 temples in it! On the way back we decided to stop at the first temple we saw and as deceptively simple as it looked from the road, there turned out to be a group of temples there with the backdrop of a small hill. IMG_1255.jpgOne of the temples being a Rama temple where supposedly Rama and Lakshmana stopped on their way to Lanka. All of the temples were closed but we could peep into some of the larger halls even from the closed doors.In the centre, one would find a bunch of stone sculptures placed atop a platform like a central area to pray to the whole bunch of deities.

 

IMG_1259

Just as we were about to leave, we noticed a small pathway with a series of boards. We went ahead to see it and the first one said “Thimmarasu Jail“. It says jail but it’s quite a small structure. Legend has it that the king Krishnadevaraya got his loyal minister, Thimmarasu arrested and blinded under suspicion of him having poisoned his young son. Later at the culprit being proven to be the king of Orissa, Thimmarasu was released by the repentant king but spent the rest of his life in Tirupati in poverty, refusing any help from him. The inside of this jail is simple but with multiple arches making up the ceiling.

IMG_1271.jpg

Besides this is a water tank that’s quite small and makes us wonder what it was used for.

IMG_1281.jpg

A few steps ahead is what we thought was a temple but was only the external structure without any idols/prayer area inside. Nevertheless, it sported a tall gopura, the top half of which seemed renovated.

IMG_1288

The next board was to the Basavanna well that was for us the definite highlight of this place. Walk through the statue of the bull, climb down through the path between the stone walls and you’d encounter a lovely old stepped well with sculptures of different deities carved on its wall. While it had no water it was quite a charming find.

IMG_1298

Just behind it is a small Jain temple, that also looked renovated. The priest told us that the local temples were in different states of maintenance depending on who had decided to sponsor them.

IMG_1325.jpg

Note : there is possibly more to see in Penukonda, however, there is not much literature available online nor are there any boards/notices to know where to head next. While we weren’t sure what else we could have done to explore more, it may be worth a try if you visit.

 

We next headed to the Gudibande fort– a fort created by a chieftain called Byregowda who was the Robin Hood of his time taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Like most forts, it has a series of steps to the top. It takes about 20 minutes to get to the top. IMG_1328This fort has changed many hands across kings and rulers and is one of the oldest hill forts in Andhra Pradesh.

 

IMG_1362.jpg

Just before we reach the top one would find a small catchment of water. There were young boys on a family trip merrily jumping into the water and having a whale of a time. Apparently, these ponds were to harvest rain water and though not too huge in size, definitely seemed to be doing their jobs well.

IMG_1367.jpg

At the top is a small Shiva temple and a couple of recent structures. In front of the Shiva temple is a tower on which one of the easy to miss images is that of the devotee Bedara Kannappa gouging his eyes as an offering to Lord Shiva.IMG_1400.jpg

 

The best part of the fort was that right at the top, it’s incredibly windy – so much that your phone is wavy in the wind and it’s hard to take a picture. One instantly feels ones at a hill station of sorts. It’s a charming place to just sit down on the rocks and enjoy the view of the turrets atop the fort, the colourful houses and the weather.

IMG_1388.jpg

An older gentleman came up to me and told me that there was a lot more to see in the fort. However, I couldn’t completely understand him, though he mentioned there was yet another pool of sorts atop the mountain supposedly at a more discreet place for the women to have their baths during the times of occupancy of the fort. We went to find it and crawling inside a tiny passageway managed to reach the hidden water spot too.

 

From atop the fort, one can see a large lake that we decided to stop at before we made our way to Bangalore because we do love a good water spot. It’s called Bhairasagara lake. And this as it happened, it is definitely a picturesque spot to end the trip watching birds go by and the gentle ripples in the water reflecting the cloudy evening sky.

IMG_1431.jpg

>10 day trip

Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

Continued from here

General tips

  • We decided to take a Chinese-speaking group tour to save money- the one we found online with an English guide would have cost us 4 times as much. There may be other options but we found none easily online. The downside was that we didn’t understand a word of what the very enthusiastic and seemingly funny guide was saying. We were extremely fortunate that my friend decided to accompany us so the essentials were translated thanks to her. The group itself was very friendly and kind but our lack of Chinese language skills was a downer to more conversation.
  • Carry a toilet paper roll everywhere – while the restroom stops are much more frequent than on Indian package tours, the restrooms often did not have toilet paper. Locals know it and carry tissues and so should you. Some restrooms are quite dodgy but honestly, we were grateful to be able to be well hydrated knowing there were sufficient restroom breaks.
  • More often than not, you have hot water available to drink/take with you at restaurants and not room temperature water unless you purchase bottled water. Since we had a wish to purchase less bottled water it meant that we had to borrow a flask so we could fill it up with the hot water vs the water bag that we usually carry on trips that’s not meant for boiling water.
  • Learn to eat with chopsticks or alternately carry preferred cutlery wherever you go. It will save you the hassle of asking for spoons at every single eatery – spoons are not served by default.
  • If you’re vegetarian, you may have limited options but there will most likely be at least 1 option for you 🙂 See our food post for details. However, if you don’t eat mushrooms- you may need to explicitly mention it in addition to the other things you choose not to eat since mushrooms are very often on the menu. Take a print out of this on paper since it will be something you often translate. If you eat eggs, the most common dish is eggs with tomatoes (not my favourite) but if you can learn the words for that you will be well fed.
  • ATMs are not very commonly found in the rural areas just like in many countries. Take cash along with you stored in each of your luggage items.
  • The visa process to China is a little confusing. As of today, you can only apply for it from Mumbai and Kolkata so if you, like us, don’t live in these locations you will have to go via a travel agent. An online search yielded exactly one result and we went with that since there were no recommended agents on the visa site. It cost us Rs.7500 per person. The government site asks for a lot of documents (account statements, hotel bookings, ID proofs etc) but the visa agent required just our passports. So not sure how that works.
  • Carry good walking shoes you can rely on- there is a lot of walking – even if you choose to not go on a “trek”. We walked an average of 15 km per day. Also, a jacket that is both sufficiently warm and is good for light rains will help rather than multiple ones. We purchased one in Huanglong since we didn’t want to carry 2 separate ones during the trek.
  • Like all international trips carry copies of your passport, hotel address, local contacts (if any) and tickets in all your luggage items. You will have to keep your original passport close at hand since its required for getting entry tickets at many places.
  • In some areas during your travel, people may ask to take pictures with you, it’s easy to mistake it for them wanting you to take their picture. If you don’t mind getting your picture taken with them, give it your best smile 🙂

 

App Review: 

We were lucky enough to have my friend Summer along for most of our trip in China, but it’s good to be prepared.

  • Hexatech: Many apps – Google, Instagram, Gmail, Facebook- do not work in China. The only way to get them to work is via VPN. We used Hexatech and it worked seamlessly.
  • Google translate – Download the offline translation for Chinese so that it’s available to you. Install a Chinese keypad to allow for Chinese people to type back responses to you. It also allows you to focus on some text and translates it. It is hugely helpful with food menus (despite funny literal translations occasionally) and signboards towards the exit/restrooms. However do not expect people in rural areas/older people to be comfortable with typing on your phone that they may not be familiar with.
  • Bing search: Google search does not work in China. But Bing does. It is a good option when you can search for images and point at them to people instead of word translation.
  • Didi: This app company has bought over the Uber business in China, so other than the green taxis that you can hail on the street, this is the primary option for taxis. While the app is available in English, the problem still holds that the driver will call to confirm your exact location – and then your inability to speak Chinese will impede further communication. So we didn’t end up using this app.
  • ChengDu Metro map: We did plan to take the metro as often as we could and it was very convenient since you have an English option to purchase your ticket. Do note that liquids will have to be given to the security personnel to scan separately in addition to scanning your baggage. Also, you cannot take knives and sprays in the metro. (We purchased kitchen knives and on a previous trip I’ve lost a bottle of perfume to the metro :()
  • iPhone maps : While the all-too-familiar Google maps doesn’t work, the iPhone maps did. Incidentally, both of us currently own iPhones so we didn’t try other options. Bing Maps just may work. Other map applications locals use are only in Chinese.
  • Wechat : This app is the most commonly used one that doubles up as both a social network, payment gateway and a text message alternative – This would be the useful to communicate with local friends and contacts.

What to buy on your trip to take back home (personal pick)

  • Tea: Not the green tea (which is also great) but the flower teas. They look stunning and taste fantastic. Which tea? I’d say a little bit of everything. Anand liked the barley tea too.IMG_1003
  • Sunflower seeds: Yes, sunflower seeds are available in India too- however, there are a lot of flavours to choose from- both sweet and savoury. We recommend going to the local vegetable market to purchase them so you can try one of each before deciding on which one to buy.

    IMG_0279
    Sunflower seeds still on the flower-we bought the toasted ones
  • Clothes: Clothes while fantastic are not inexpensive. The lower end shops cost as much as many branded clothes in India. Do purchase a style you may not get in India but the cost may not be too low.
  • Snacks: They have a glorious amount of vegetarian and non-vegetarian snacks that we almost always loved. From wasabi flavoured peanuts to rice crispies with the lightest hint of salt, to ready to eat seafood. For this, you’d have to purchase small amounts during your trip and decide which ones you like to take back home.
  • Anything cute: The products there are unapologetically cute- for kids and adults, stationery, clothing, accessories – if cute is your style you’ll be in shopping heaven.

    IMG_0445
    Yes, a panda shaped rice cake
  • Umbrellas: We did not purchase this ourselves, but if you’re in the market for beautiful sun umbrellas in everything from lace to bursting flower patterns – you’d be in the right place there.
  • Chopsticks: Needless to say it should be your go-to place for chopsticks. You have less expensive ones in all kinds of pretty prints, child sized ones with handles, elegant ones in gold, ones in steel and silver, wooden ones with carved designs- you name it and you’ll probably find some here. They make great souvenirs to take back to friends too.

 

Up next : A fort tale: Penukonda and Gudibande

 

>10 day trip

China- Sichuan province : What to eat (Even if you’re vegetarian!)

On of the common concerns, we heard from friends when we went on a trip to China was about food. China is a multicultural country with varied cuisines and here I can speak for the province of Sichuan as a tourist. It’s truly blessed and we had opportunities to sample a wonderful variety of delicious food here- that’s spicy and flavorful- just as we’d like to describe some of Indian food too.

The food is delicious and we’d highly recommend you embrace it’s flavours and tastes without comparing it with familiar food. Visiting Sichuan and eating at fast food places seems criminal considering what the local food has to offer. However we do admit, having a Chinese friend along greatly helps in trying out the food. Here’s a list of what we ate on our trip- it’s not the complete list of recommended items- just what we chose to eat.

Day 1 : 

The first thing that’s a favourite of mine is the Sichuan barbeque – the ultimate winter food – hot, spicy. It works in a simple format- you select the vegetables/meat of your preference and you pay by the stick (more for meat). They barbeque it and get it to your table. It goes marvellously well with the locally available peanut soy milk, the herbal tea served in cans or beer that they prefer.

Food ordered by our group of 4:

Vegetarian : 3 types of tofu, 3 types of mushrooms, potato, lotus stem, 3 types of greens, a long chilly,

Meat : snails, fish, chicken, pork, beef

Eggs : Quail eggs

China1.jpg

Day 2 : Leshan

LeShan is also popular for its food and Summer had visited it just for the food previously, so we decided to make the best of our trip there.

Veg/Egg: Tomato and egg noodles, Egg chow mien, Greens and Noodles

Meat: Sweet skinned duck (which is a speciality of Leshan), Beef and noodles

LeShan food
Our lunch at LeShan

After lunch, we dropped into a few more eateries and decided to pack snacks for the trek. It was quite a challenge to pick a few of the options but we did manage to finally pick – buns with a sweet brown sugar filling, rice with sesame wrapped with corn husk, brown and white coloured rice cakes, and steamed pork dumplings. Some packed watermelon and green and red cherries later, we were all set to take the bus to see the famed Leshan Grand Buddha. (slideshow below)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 3:

At the Wenshu Monastery, we were hungry for a snack and headed to the place most crowded (always the safer bet in an unknown place). People just had paper containers of soft noodles that we ordered too. Was quite a delicate process to handle those noodles with chopsticks since they cut through so easily and it is simple fare. But Anand loved it so it’s a thumbs up from the Indian vegetarian. Vegetarian restaurants are quite the speciality in the area- you could try some more when there.

Food at Wenshu Monastery

Day 4:

Huahu:  Lunch  here was one of the very best we both enjoyed

Vegetarian: Dandelion leaves (bitter for me, Anand utterly loved it), mushrooms, eggs with tomatoes, mushroom soup, rice

Non-vegetarian: Kung-pao chicken, whole fish cooked Sichuan style, beef with peppers, and fried beef.

IMG_0416
Our favorite meal on this trip!

We had dinner at the hotel we stayed for the night in Huanglong. A meal of

Vegetarian/Eggs : julienned potatoes (my favourite), tofu, eggs with bitter gourd

Non-vegetarian : Beef, and another meat dish with the ubiquitous soup.

IMG_2132

Day 5 :

In hotels, breakfasts seem to have lots of items but not much spice other than pickles. We had a modest breakfast of some porridge, the local bread with a few types of pickles before heading off to Huanglong.

 

Lunch though did not disappoint. We stopped for lunch at a large rich looking place and had a sumptuous meal of

Vegetarian: Eggplant, Pumpkin, ear mushroom( Anand liked this one a lot), local bread, eggs and tomato, pickles, rice

Non-Vegetarian: Fish, chicken, beef and pork dishes.

IMG_0566.jpg

Day 6 : Jiuzhaigou

Food here was very bland for Indian and Chengdu tastes.For dinner we had

Vegetarian/Eggs: Pumpkin, Bean Sprouts, Tofu, Soup, rice, eggs cooked in water.

Non-Vegetarian: Ash gourd with Pork, Pork with Potatoes, Beef with Peas, Buckwheat noodles with some meat (I don’t recall)

IMG_0696-2.jpg

Day 7 :

Breakfast and dinner were on similar lines as the day before, So after dinner at the hotel where we stayed we set out to find what our heart desired – a spicy barbecue.

We ordered a few sticks of greens and several types of mushrooms with lots of spice to crave our chilly withdrawal symptoms of the past few days.

 

Day 8 :

On the way back from Jiuzhaigou we stopped for lunch where we had an endless buffet with numerous options for lunch and then headed back to the bus.It’s hard to even list the entire set of items , some I can remember are

Vegetarian : Corn, cakes, soups, eggplant dishes, noodles, greens , potatoes, mushrooms, several salads

Non-vegetarian : Dried fish, beef, pork dishes (too many to remember)

 

Day 9 :

We were lucky to be hosted by my friend Michelle and our family and in Jinli enjoyed this brilliant looking and tasting meal.

Vegetarian: a sweet jelly dish, several types of sweet baked items, eggplant,  the most coral like mushrooms cooked with eggs. a sweet dish with noodles

Non-vegetarian: Duck cooked with tea, kung-pao chicken, a cold but delicious chicken dish, a huge serving bowl of fish cooked in chili oil.

(slideshow below)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And they added icecreams to the mix  – one shaped prettily like a plant with cocoa powder imitating the soil in the cup.

IMG_1059.jpg

Day 10 :

The next day we revisited Jinli not in the least for its food. We picked a dinner of pineapple rice, fried potatoes and fish cooked on a stick and walked around enjoying its sights once more. However the food available was incredibly varied and beautiful looking.(slideshow below)

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Day 11:
Mostly spent eating and all the lovely food is right here in the post.

We did not specifically go searching for food items, but easily found things we enjoyed and can’t wait to have again sometime- and we hope you do too. Happy eating!

 

Up next: Travel tips : For the first time China traveler

>10 day trip

China: Chengdu : Of flavourful food and foot massages

Despite staying a few minutes away from the museum we never got to it for lack of time amidst our other visit choices. The next day we checked out and leaving our luggage at the hotel met Summer for a day of shopping.

IMG_0825

We met at the point that was literally the centre of the city called Tianfu Square which is the most common image one would find on looking for Chengdu city.It has the Science and Technology Museum and a statue of Mao.  IMG_0705But before shopping, we’d more important things first and we stopped for food. We all had piping hot bowls of delicious noodles all 3 vegetarian. My favourite type of noodles – made with sweet potato- stays hotter even after a long time and so was quite a struggle to eat quickly. It, being so tasty made it a challenge I was willing to take on.

 

We mostly went shopping for clothes and souvenirs- mind you neither are less expensive than India. We were lucky that we were also close to Chunxhi road which is the main shopping area in Chengdu. We picked up a snack midway of chicken wings filled with rice (sounds intriguing but really bad at all!) and some Oolong tea for Anand.IMG_1100

 

Shopping was as always was exhausting and we were soon hungry again- this time we headed to the food court at the Tianfu Square Station. While Summer and I shared a dish of noodles with clams, Anand had an assortment of wraps with delicious fillings.

 

We then headed back to her home to meet Wunscai again whom we had sorely missed.Summer also treated us to something that was so typically Chinese- the century egg- it’s an egg coated with clay, ash, salt and quick lime, and rice hulls for several weeks. It gets cooked when the pH is gradually raised thereby curing the egg. It does look intimidating in a deep green colour that one doesn’t normally associate with eggs. The outer portion is a little jelly like but otherwise, it tasted very much like a usual boiled egg to us.

 

 

That evening we headed off to yet another typical Chengdu experience- the foot massage. The masseuses use their knowledge of acupressure to give you a pleasant calming experience that however starts by, quite literally putting you in hot water, albeit only your feet. The customers there who were there before us- an older couple and a gentleman, were incredibly gracious to let us go ahead of them since they had reached there after their supper and didn’t mind the wait. My masseuse easily rattled off my list of ailments from just massaging my feet much to my embarrassment. That being said, I’d definitely love to do it again- it’s a perfect mix of therapy and a pedicure and was a complete treat to us especially after several days of enjoyable but long distance walking.IMG_1128.jpg

 

It was a day of Chengdu experiences after all, so there was no better way to end it other than with a Sichuan hotpot supper. It’s something one cannot miss on a trip to Chengdu especially if you love spicy food. You’re provided with add-ons of garlic, spring onions, chilli, and sesame oil to put into your bowl. You pick each piece of food and let it cook in the boiling pot of spicy sauce and then pick it up, let it cool down in your bowl and then bite into the delightful morsel.

 

Vegetarian, egg: Quail eggs, stringy mushrooms, lettuce, a sweet pancake that we purchased in addition to the rest of the food.

Non-vegetarian: Fish, Duck intestines, chicken, beef

 

Last day:

And just like that, we had come to our very last day.  It also happened to be the day we tried the Durian fruit for the very first time. Being familiar with jackfruit which is one of my favourite fruits, the appearance doesn’t put me off.  However, it’s notorious for being stinky and for good reason. We tentatively bit into it and sensed the consistency of soft custard. Unfortunately, I didn’t warm up to it but well it’s worth a try if you get a chance.

 

Our trip has an apt ending with a final touch of hospitality from a city that had been so generous to us, a delicious lunch made by Summer’s mother- eggplant, greens with mushrooms, and my favourite- julienned potatoes.  We gorged on it gratefully and bid a warm farewell to our hosts.IMG_1149.jpg

 

We’d have a lot to look back on when we reminisce about this trip together- the wonder in our eyes at the stunning caves at LeShan, the unspoilt beauty of Huahu,  the decadent food we’d had the chance to try every day, the unbelievably perfect hues of Jiuzhaigou and the most magical of all and the memory that’d stay with us the longest – the sheer kindness of dear friends and perfect strangers at every step of the way.

Up next : China- Sichuan province : What to eat (Even if you’re vegetarian!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

>10 day trip

China – Chengdu : Of bustling markets and tranquil spaces

Continued from here

The next morning we decided to head off to the area which is the heart of social life in any town – a vegetable market. We were greeted with shiny raspberries, century eggs, teas, paper thin mushrooms, sunflower seeds still in the flowers, all kinds of chilly pastes, sea-weeds and noodles, freshest produce in bright colours and the most delightful smells.

We picked up a delicious snack that tasted like a spicy kothhu parota to sustain us through the shopping. On the other side of the market were numerous cuts of meat and fresh sea food still swimming in their containers.

 

After seeing all the beautiful food, we reached back to her house starving. And Summer treated us to a lovely home cooked lunch of -eggs with bitter gourd, julienned potatoes, Chinese Yam, and lotus root cooked with other vegetables. Completely full we then headed to check-in to the hotel to be real tourists for the next couple of days. After a short nap, it was time to meet Michelle at Jinli.

Jinli street is the most touristy spot in Chengdu and while being crowded on the weekends, it’s also a lot of fun and worth the visit.IMG_0419 It is the most colourful space – the Chinese lamps everywhere in bright red with golden light shining off of them, the food in delectable aromas and colours, the art you could buy in a variety of shapes and sizes, delicate paintings on everything from lanterns to inside tiny beads of glass.IMG_0441.jpg

 

We were very lucky to have my friend Michelle host us at a restaurant in Jinli with her family – her gracious husband and her son with the sweetest smile. In came the stunning food. It was all incredibly delicious and our only complaint was that we wished we had bigger stomachs to accommodate all the food!

We had a delightful surprise when we realised there were going to be performances at the restaurant. We sat completely entranced at the dance performances – one with the long sleeve, one with a group of 3, one with a lady moving ribbons with utter grace, one with a lady in a shimmery dress.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was thrilled that there was also my favourite part of Jinli- a face-changing performance that Anand could also watch for the first time – It’s essentially a performer changing the masks on his face without even touching it – inexplicably without even touching his face.

 

Like all that hospitality was not enough, they further treated us to icecreams. We walked around the space with them catching up on our lives and stories in the past 5 years since I’d been there. In the area, we especially enjoyed the store with the calligraphy instruments where you could try a brush with water that disappears in a few moments and the store with gorgeous silver jewellery. Her son enjoyed the open area where he ran all around on his little scooter. After a while, with our completely grateful hearts and tummies, we bid them a warm goodbye at the end of a perfect evening.

 

Day 10:

 

The next morning we decided to head to the ChengDu Zoo, we picked up some snacks from a local supermarket to make up our meals. IMG_0492To its credit, the zoo does have a large number of beautiful birds including flamingoes in flaming orange, it has penguins and seals, energetic simians, noisy meerkats with stunning tails and is definitely a green space in the city. IMG_0483We also had a nice time locating birds in the aviary while we walked along its paths.

IMG_0567.jpg
We met this plump fellow in the aviary
The zoo does have a good variety of animals, but we should have learnt our lesson by now that caged animals are saddening no matter what. Also, it didn’t help that it was the season for many of them to shed their fur that made them look sickly. We’d give this a miss if we knew how we’d feel after.IMG_0519

 

Just as we got out of the zoo, the way out was via a temple complex and we decided to explore it. We had unexpectedly stumbled into the Zhaojue temple and were soon completely lost within it! It was a beautiful place to be lost in, though. It is considered to be the first Buddhist monastery in the west of Sichuan.IMG_0660 In addition to the curved roofs and the fragrance of incense that we’d come to expect of Chinese temples, there were also lush green large trees and multiple ponds with turtles spilling out of them amidst sneaky glimpses of the lives of the monks who live there with the chillies kept out to dry. The areas are dramatically named as we’ve frequently observed here too. A couple were called of them are- The Hall of Heavenly Kings, the Tower of Zen Master Yuanwu. The former has 3 white marble statues of Buddha representing truth, wisdom and benevolence.IMG_0658

 

There are many shrines inside the space each with its own set of deities and saints that are quite a treat to the eyes in rich gold. Photography is not permitted so we’d have to leave that to your imagination. My favourite was the Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in the “Hall of Perfect Enlightenment” with 4 faces and 1008 hands.IMG_0668

 

After some rest at the hotel, we headed back out on foot to the People’s Park nearby. It has a little bit of everything – a koi pond, a tea-house with people sipping on fragrant tea, multiple flower gardens, boat rides and a memorial of the Railway Protection Movement from the past.IMG_0731-2.jpg It is the first public park in the Chengdu city. It’s a space one could walk around and relax amidst greenery.IMG_0740.jpg

 

We then decided to take advantage of the fact that we were near Jinli and decided to re-visit it, this time exploring it ourselves. We picked a dinner and walked around enjoying its sights once more.

 

There was a lady performing ear-cleaning the traditional way but Anand was too chicken to try it! We also were lucky enough to listen to musicians playing live in the open area that day. IMG_0768.jpgWe strolled around absorbing the sights and sounds and enjoyed the evening trying to take back some of it- even if it was only by picking souvenirs for family and friends back home.IMG_0425

 

Up next : China: Chengdu : Of flavourful food and foot massages