>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.

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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!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

9 day trip

Maharashtra : the very best of Mumbai

Pune -> Sinhgad -> Pune -> Lavasa -> Ajanta -> Ellora -> Aurangabad ->MumbaiCapture

Continued from here

We lazed around the room that morning, while they took the brunt of Mumbai traffic and a whole 2 hours to get to us from Navi Mumbai. But what delightful hosts they were. There truly is nothing better than being shown a city by someone who loves it. While riding through the city Lout dished out info about the innumerable landmarks and structures around

  • Bandra Fort: Our very first stop was the Bandra fort on Bandstand Promenade which had a gorgeous view of the sea link. PDA in India is probably reached its peak here.
  • We also passed by Carter road and Joggers’ Park made famous by the movie with the beautiful Perizad Zorabian.
  • We drove over the stunning Worli Sea Link that has is a testament to beauty combining the work of nature and man.img_1763
  • My first view of Haji Ali and I knew I wanted to visit,  I couldn’t on the trip, however, since it’d take quite some time and we had so much on our list.img_2095
  • We had a sumptuous lunch at a restaurant called ‘Jai Hind’ that was famous for seafood, but their dal khichdi that Anand ordered was simply off the charts and had the rest of us digging into his share.

 

  • I  do not like paan and think I last tried it at least 5 years ago and almost spat it out despite its sweetness. Anand, however, has an occasional fondness for it and Lout drove us to try the famed ice paan. Bhavya and I sat comfortably in the car, while Anand, took his camera to ensure no photo opportunity was missed. To my dismay, I saw them coming along with a total of 4 paans insisting I try them. It looked like too much to put into one’s mouth at one go but it was also threatening to spill out from the paan cover. I could see crushed ice too which was already weird. I had no option so in it went and what a brain freeze it caused! It is an experience, that’s for certain. It had the most confusing ingredients one would never associate with paan– chocolate and ice! I was glad I tried it just to have a story to narrate, though.

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    The famed ice-paan : Try it!
  • We next headed to the most iconic landmark in Mumbai, the Gateway of India. We parked a few streets behind it and what a delightfully charming area it was. After some time admiring buildings that took our fancy, we headed off to the place. It was way more impressive than it looked in the pictures.  I was completely taken with 3 men dressed handsomely in huge bright turbans and spotless white outfits who were lovely enough to even wait for our pic to be taken while they were walking across the place crawling with tourists. It was quite a spot for people- watching too. The Taj Mahal Palace hotel makes quite a backdrop for some pretty pictures we managed to get.img_1849

University Clocktower behind the grounds was yet another photo opportunity in a lovely city we’d come to appreciate. Bhavya and Anand bonded over camera skills while I was yearning to stop at the grounds that had dog owners taking their cuddly canines out for their evening stroll. But well,that had to wait for another day.

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Photography lessons

 

As the sun set over the day, a view of the Cuffe Parade skyline was a good place to be.

I absolutely had to shop in a city known for it, and managed in the little time we had to bag some lovely deals purely thanks to Bhavya’s insanely good bargaining skills. We couldn’t miss the Leopold cafe between shopping and had a delectable cheesecake and another dessert by the street itself, and were glad the kind guy at the store didn’t mind obliging us for the 8 glasses of water we sorely needed.

We were to meet Neetu and her friend Punit at Kala Ghoda café and as whimsically lovely as it looked, it was, however, full.

We instead headed to a café simply called ‘The Pantry‘ and it was an absolute delight. Mumbai also decided to give us some respite from the humidity with some welcome drizzles. The food was flawless and the company jelled together so wonderfully that it was easily up there with one of the best meals we’ve ever head. We were laughing uncontrollably throughout and so hard that the endlessly patient staff had to actually ask us to try and tone it down and we didn’t blame them one bit.

The unbeatable company was only comparable to the completely unexpected part of the restaurant that gripped our attention- the restroom. We decided it was world class and we could live in it. A beautiful bunch of flowers, white interiors that continued off the theme of the rest of the restaurant, a beautiful table of drawers by the mirror. We unanimously decided that it would be the new standard for washrooms everywhere and were afraid it’d be hard to beat. It also lead to insisting everyone on our table made a visit to the unisex restroom, to validate the impression of the first few of us who did. Hilarity, of course, ensued with even the waiters struggling to keep their giggling in.

Like we hadn’t already had a perfect evening, our hosts took us next to the iconic  place ‘K.Rustom’s ice cream‘ where we had to try their most famous item on the menu, their ice-cream sandwich. We caught them just before they were downing their shutters at 11 pm. Though I myself had no appetite for dessert, I did nibble at all the 3 flavours we bought – custard apple, guava and walnut and could certify they were all yummy.

We walked down with the ice-creams to Marine drive and yet again I realised Mumbai was going to surprise me with the number of people out and about at such places even late in the evening.

img_2100We had to head back to the hotel, and while I had cringed at trying the Mumbai local train during the day, the suggestion to take it for our way back (thanks to Neetu and Punit’s insane kindness saying they’d come along to escort us despite then needing to go back and forth to their own homes!), greatly appealed to me. It was, of course, part of the Mumbai experience. We did take the train and while there were fewer people, we continued our conversations on the journey too. We ended the day with me surprised at myself that I wasn’t in the least sleepy or tired though it was almost 1 AM.

Coming up next : Mumbai’s lesser known treasures

9 day trip

Maharashtra : Mumbai- the first glance

Pune -> Sinhgad -> Pune -> Lavasa -> Ajanta -> Ellora -> Aurangabad ->Mumbai

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Continued from here

After a well-deserved rest at our hotel, we headed confidently to the bus stand to take our bus to Mumbai, only to realise we had made a booking gaffe. Thankfully, some quick action later, we were on the right bus and on our way while not losing too much money on our incorrect booking for the next day! I spent the night being thrown across the sleeper berth from one end to another and an unhappy spine in the morning. We, therefore, after reaching Mumbai, took some time off the morning to rest.

 

In our hunt for breakfast (our hotel was very snarky about the whole early-check-in thing), we passed by a doughnut place but decided we didn’t want something so sweet early that morning. A long walk ahead and we reached a tiny Udupi restaurant. I ordered misal again and yet again was disappointed. Sinhgad had really raised my expectations of the dish. I nibbled at my food, and just managed to have one of the 2 pavs which led to an unanticipated, overwhelming and embarrassing amount of concern from the staff at the hotel who were so worried I didn’t like the food and offered to get me another dish! It was an excellent example of the fact that sometimes places that we pay a ton of money for are not necessarily the most welcoming in a city. We thanked them and finally did get back to the friendly staff at the doughnut place because what I’d eaten was too less for a meal.

Satiated, we headed to Sanjay Gandhi National park to ensure we have a relaxed day after all the walking at Aurangabad.

As luck would have it, we took a cab to the place and the had to pay an entrance fee for the cab too. Just as I wondered why we needed the cab ‘inside’ the park, I realised the park also housed the Kanheri caves that were 6kms from the entrance! He took us all the way to the caves but there was a lot of climbing involved and I’ve to admit I had cave-fatigue by now and had really been looking forward to a lazy day. So I plonked myself at cave number 72 (not numbered in order) just a little ahead of the start while Anand, , the brave explorer went ahead in the blazing sun to see if there was anything interesting for his camera amongst the 100 more caves that made up this group.

 

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Kanheri caves

 

He came back soon enough and we walked down only to realise there were only 2-way vehicles! Ie., one had to take a vehicle at the entrance that would wait till people were done and would take them back. We picked up some refreshments that were hearteningly provided only in paper bags to avoid littering of plastics inside the national park. Note : the monkeys have learned how to look oh-so-cute and ask for your food, and well, we succumbed too. Since it was a tree lined road inside the national park we decided we were the type who would actually walk it out, yes, the whole 6 km!

My strong will did not mean I was chirpy about the whole thing! Anand proved to be quite a champ narrating the stories of 2 whole horror movies in detail the whole while to keep my spirits (no pun intended) up. It’s not every day we get to walk amidst trees on a pretty path, so I trudged on despite the chance of asking the passing cabs to take us too.  We took frequent breaks as needed, and at the last one almost towards the entrance, we sat down and he nudged me to look behind. We were rewarded with a view of 4 spotted deer calmly going about their grazing and resting just a few feet away from us. Walking through loveliness sure has its rewards. We spent a while with them and then got back to the exit.

For lunch, we went to a nice place, Café Moshe’s near our hotel and then headed to the famed Prithvi theatre to get our tickets for the play that night. The play in Hindi was called ‘Peela scooter wala aadmi and was performed in a nice cosy space in a semi-circular setting around the stage itself. The play was about a writer trying to write amidst questions from his childhood haunting him. One of those deep intense tales elevated by the right performers. We decided to lighten up the mood by heading out to the Juhu beach just behind the theatre, though the beautifully lit café at the theatre was also tempting.

Of course, we absolutely had to have the pani puri and it didn’t disappoint! We hadn’t seen the menu of course, because who sees the menu for pani puri.  However, if we had, we would have been saved from an unexpected brain freeze because it was called ‘Ice cold pani puri‘. Nevertheless, it was brilliant and all that we wanted it to be, and I picked a cola flavoured gola and Anand, picked some more filling pav bhaji with dollops of butter to call dinner. It was interesting to see families and people from all backgrounds out at the beach that late at night. The next day promised to be an interesting one with Bhavya and Lout taking us around the city.

Up next: We make up for not photographing Mumbai enough on Day 1