Stuffed Paratha

Paratha! Something that is quick and relatively easy to make and has the potential to be lick smacking good. However, not all parathas are created equal and it is very rare that we come across good parathas. To be called a good paratha, my check list include crispy shells on the outside, not too greasy, oodles of spicy stuffing and no potatoes please. Also, no rips and gaping holes in the shells. It does take some practice to make parathas without rips and holes. Before we go into the making paratha, let me walk down memory lane and reminisced the hot summer afternoon I happened to be in Parathewali gali, Chandni Chowk. Amma and me along with a chaperone appointed by a dear uncle went shopping at the chowk that morning. Our chaperone walked us all over in the narrow, rather dirty by lanes. Numerous stops later, holding numerous bags filled with Cikkan suit pieces, cotton suit pieces and zardosi saris, we dragged our famish selves to Parathewali gali. There were few paratha shops in the lane those days and we snuck into one of the larger ones. Amma was not convinced. She was far more puritanical those days and rolled her eyes at the stinky open drain right next the platform where parathas were being made. But the determined bully that I am left her with no choice. It was so long ago that most of the day is rather hazy. But I remember ordering panner and gobi parathas. I was slightly surprised that those parathas were actually deep fried and not cooked on a griddle like else where. But they were oh so delicious. The parathas came with a curry, sweet chutney, green spicy chutney, pumpin subzi and perhaps choley. They were great and I immediately assigned the world's best paratha crown to Delhi.

After a few months, I was back in Delhi for my university, this time for a longer stint. Lousy hostel food along with first separation from family kept my spirits low. My mint new friends trying to cheer me up took me to Ganga Dhaba in our university campus. (oh! alright I am a JNUite) They had great things to tell about the parathas at Ganga dhaba. It must be really good I assumed after all I had already assigned the Paratha crown to Delhi. Some one ordered Aloo Paratha and they came in sets of three. That was pretty much a truck load of potatoes for a very small price! I remember thinking sitting on one of the blocks that made our chair. But it was miserably bland and I was happy that my friends helped themselves to it. Bread pakoda, a slice of bread filled with seasoned potatoes and deep fried in a strange smelly oil was way better. It ended up being my default order at Ganga Dhaba during my rest of the years at JNU. They served the bread pakoda with a slightly sweet tamarind chutney.

I guess Parathewali gali set my Paratha standards high and I have very rarely come across parathas that could like up to that standard. So here is a recipe for those persnickety paratha lovers like me.

 We will need,

Wheat flour ,Salt and water to make a rather tight dough.

For the stuffing:
Panner  1 C
Cauliflower  2-3 large florets
Carrot 1 (optional)
Spinach 1 cup (optional)
Coriander fresh a big handful
Green Chilli paste 1/2 tsp
Salt to taste
Lemon juice to taste
Toasted Jeera powder (optional)
Oil/ ghee/butter to cook the parathas

Method:
  • Spread a few layers of cheese cloth  on a chopping board and grate panner, cauliflower, carrots on it.
  • Chop spinach and coriander very fine and stir it into the panner mixture.
  • Sprinkle a little salt over the grated vegetables and set it aside for a few minutes.
  • Once the vegetables have started to get tender fold the cheese cloth by the edges and squeeze as much of moisture as is possible. Stir in the other ingredients.
  • Prepare a tight dough with the whole wheat flour, salt and water. It helps if the dough is not rested.
  • Pinch small balls of dough and using fingers, mould it into the shape of a small bowl. Place as much of stuffing as is preferred in the hollow if the dough bowl and seal it pulling the edges together. Roll it into paratha as below. 
  • Cook it on a hot griddle on both sides and serve immediately.
  • If this method is hard and the parathas are getting punctured, roll out a small ball of dough into a very large round roti. Place the stuffing on one half of the roti and fold over the other half, like a turnover. Seal the edges and cook it on a hot griddle on both the sides to end up with a paratha that looks something like the one in the picture above. No punctures , half moon paratha will be ready. Serve it with butter, chutney, fresh yogurt, pickle, or an condiment of choice.

P.S: The filling needs to be as dry as possible for the parathas to be good. Also the tighter the dough the easier it is to roll out the parathas.



Ragi Shavige Uppittu

Food fads are fleeting. But some of them can actually be good and doable like 'millets'. Millets are the latest darlings out there. Move over oats (or am I too early on oats!), super buddy 'Mr. Millet' is here. My ancestors had been consuming millets till Ms.Indira Gandhi decided to feed them surplus wheat thanks to green revolution in the more advanced countries. My mother does not remember eating wheat as a young child. As an older child she remembers occasional 'chapati' made out of pounded wheat flour that resulted in tough chapati. They consumed Navane, Sajje, Ragi and Rice, most of the grains her family cultivated. As time went by the family abanndoned cultivating millets in favor of high yielding rice. Public distribution system also skewed the family's food habit in favor of rice and wheat.
Now the tables have turned. Superbuddy Mr.Millet is back and everyone wants a piece of him. We are no exception. The other day I saw this package of ragi shavige and had to try. It turned out to be delicious. Some brands need the vermicelli to be steamed before use. But this brand needs a quick dip in boiling hot water and its ready for the dressing up

 we will need,

Ragi vermicelli 1 package
Peanut oil 2-3 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/4 tsp
Hing a generous dash
Urad dal 2 tsp
Channa dal 2 tsp
Curry Leaves a handful
Green Chilli 5-6 (as per taste)
Coconut grated 1/4 cup
Salt and lemon juice to taste

Method:
  • Prepare the ragi vermicelli as per the instruction on the package. Sticking to the package instruction is very critical, experimentations can go awry. Mine did and I onced endded up with a puddle of ragi flour. Once the vermicelli is ready, set it aside.
  • Heat the oil in a wok.Throw in mustard seeds, jeera,hing, curry leaves. Once the spices crackle, throw in the urad and channa dal. Saute it briefly and follow it with green chilli.
  • Once the chillies are fragrant, throw in the grated coconut. Cook it for a few minutes, stirring all the time. 
  • Gentle toss the ragi vermicelli, adjust salt and lemon juice and serve immediately.

Bananti Uppittu

Babies bring joy to the world but to new mothers babies not only bring joy, they also bring anxiety, worry and a bunch of other emotions. New mothers without much support are no doubt lost and find it hard to take care of the baby while taking care of themselves. This is a quick breakfast recipe for new mothers. A friend recently had a baby and I made this for her.
New mothers are supposed to eat well and rest very well. Many new mothers refuse to rest, with so much going, they have a bunch of things to take care of all the time, more so if they already have a child. But, though new mothers might feel they are energetic, healthy enough to go about their tasks, but it might not be a good idea. A scientist friend found out her blood pressure spiking every time she walked around the housing doing very light house work. Body might just not be ready to handle much right after child birth. Mothers and grandmothers know best here! We cannot beat their experience. They have had way too many more babies than us.

 So here is a warm, soft savory porridge kind of Uppittu

We will need,

Rice rawa 3/4 C
Ghee 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds 1/4 tsp
Jeera 1/4 tsp
Black Pepper 3/4 tsp
Bydagi chilli 1 broken
Carrots 1 fine chopped (cooked)
Dill leaves /Sapsigesoppu 1 cup chopped (loosely packed)
Salt to taste

Method:
  • Toast the rawa on a medium hot kadai till the rawa is hot to touch. Keep stirring it while toasting. Keep it aside.
  • Crush the Jeera and black pepper coarsely and keep it aside.
  • Heat ghee and throw in the mustard seeds. Once they pop, throw in the broken red chilli.
  • Once they sizzle, throw in the Jeera and pepper. Saute for a few seconds. 
  • Throw in the cooked carrots and dill. Cook till the moisture from the dill evaporates.
  • Add 2 1/4 cups of water and bring it to a boil. Adjust salt.
  • Reduce heat to medium low and slowly add the toasted rawa by the spoon fulls. Stir continuously so that there are no lumps. Cover and cook for a few minutes till the rawa is soft. 
  • Turn off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes. Stir and serve it immediately.
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Ugadi Playbook - How to put together a traditional Ugadi feast without the fuss

Wishing all my readers a very happy and prosperous Kannada new year. I rarely ever end up wishing my readers on festivals. Ugadi for instance, I had grand plans of wishing my readers but turns out that I was busy cooking, eating and merry making with friends. It is good in a way that my actual life takes precedence over virtual life. But then I did really love to do a post right on time someday.

Putting together Ugadi feast is like putting together the Thanksgiving feast. The difference is probably in the calorific value of the meals though. An average Thanksgiving meal is supposed to contain about 3,000 to 4,500 calories but Ugadi meal will probably be around half the calories with a potential to trim more without anyone noticing. Looking at the number of items cooked on a day like Ugadi, putting together the feast might look very intimidating, especially for newbies. So I thought of putting together a plan - a play book to help busy folks plan and put together a traditional Ugadi meal. It is also a good time to have little hands help out here. So enlist your children and assign simple tasks.

Traditionally, Ugadi meals consists of Holige , holige Saaru , cucumber kosambari , hesaru kosambari , green beans palya , mango chitranna , a variety of payasa, papads, bhajjis/pakodas , pickles along with white rice and fresh yogurt. Dishes are added or removed depending on preferences. But this essentially is the template. I start on the weekend before Ugadi, prepare my shopping list and make sure I have all ingredients. So here comes the shopping list.


Weekend before Ugadi, shop for all necessary ingredients. If there is no time constraints or if it is possible to shops two days before Ugadi, that should also do. We will need the following ingredients to cook a meal for vegetable loving 2 adults 2 kids.

Neem flowers (for bevu bella)
roasted chickpeas (kadale pappu for bevu bella)
Kopra (also for bevu bella)
Mango leaves (for torana)

Carrots 1 large
Green beans 1lb
Cucumber 2-3 medium
Coconut 1 whole
Green Chillies 1/4 lb
Curry leaves
Coriander
Tomatoes 2
Milk (optional, if making milk based payasa)

Rice 2 cups
Toor dal 2 cups (makes 15 medium size holige)
Jaggery 1 lb
Maida about 2 cups
Sugar (if called for in the payasa recipe , else Jaggery should do)
Peanut oil
Mustard seeds
Jeera
Hing
Dry red chillies
Salt
Peanuts
Ghee
Vermicelli/ sabodana/sooji/ channa dal/ moong dal as needed for Payasa
Choice of papad

Other optional ingredients:
Pulioggare mix for pulioggare
Mango pulp, fresh ripe mangoes for Seekarane
Chickpea flour for Bhajji or split chickpeas for vada

Once the ingredients are handy prepping will be a breeze.

One day before Ugadi:

  • Prepare the hoorana filling for the Holige.  Clean the kitchen after the sticky mess of hoorana filling.
  • String the beans, wash, chop it for Palya and store it in the refrigerator.
  • Prepare the chitranna gojju and store it in the fridge
  • Grate carrots for kosambari and store it in the fridge.
  • Grate coconut if using a whole coconut. If using frozen coconut, thaw the package in the refrigerator overnight.



On the morning of Ugadi, typically we do not have breakfast, we just go ahead with a brunch. It took me two hours to put together the meal below. I had the hoorana filling prepared the previous evening. Sunny boy helped me chop the cucumber and green beans. Other kid friendly tasks include mixing the Chitranna /pulioggare, chopping coriander. I find it sad when kids raised here in the States do not like to eat Indian food. I hope that enlisting their help would make them feel the spirit of the festival also encourage them to try and eat Indian food.
  • First get the rice going. We need the rice to cool down to be able to mix chitranna/ pulioggare
  • Make the kanaka dough for holige and set it aside.It needs time to rest.
  • Make the payasa.
  • Meantime, kids work on chopping cucumbers etc.
  • Start the beans palya.
  • Next work on the Holige saaru
  • Prepare the oggarane for the kosambaris all in one batch. 
  • Assemble the kosambaris and divide the oggarane between the two types of kosambaris. 
  • Mix the pulioggare if making
  • By this time most of the dishes are done. So start on making the holige. 
  • Once the holiges are ready prepare papads/ vadas/bhajji
  • Just before the family is ready to eat, add salt and lemon juice to the kosambaris.  Mix the chitranna gojju with rice. 
Bingo the meal is ready.

Rasayana

Wishing you all a very Happy Mahashivratri. Shivratri is said to be the day on which Lord Shiva in order to save the world consumed the poison that emerged from Samudramanthana. Alarmed Parvati then choked Shiva hoping to stop the poison from entering his body. The poison then was held at his throat turning it blue giving them the name 'Neela Kantha' or 'Vishakantha'.  Essentially like most Hindu myths this one too is the victory of good over evil, victory of Amrutha over Halahala. So we are supposed to contemplate of the negativity in our lives and try to get rid of it today. Devote fast, meditate, keep vigil through the night. Keeping up through the night is a tall order for me, so is meditation. But fasting is fine. Thankfully there is no one way to celebrate festivals in the Hindu pantheon. It is just a balance between celebrating life and mindful living that is at the core of these celebrations. So this one is fasting before Ugadi brings feasting with it.

As I explained to Sunny boy the significance of Mahashivratri, he got all excited and wanted to fast the whole day. I had to convince him that fasting was for adults and that kids need to eat well. The promise of allowing him to fast once he reaches high school brought me momentary truce. The next complaint was that his school did not declare holiday for Hindu festivals except Diwali. He held the temple calendar in his hands and started examining the number of Hindu holidays. With so many of them, he wishfully said 'had school closed on all Hindu festivals we did pretty much have no school. That would have been fun'. Excited at his discovery, he left for school have a great deal to share with his friends for the day.

Today, since it is the day on contemplation, I sit here wondering how time flew. This blog is a decade old, Sunny boy just a tad younger than that. I am that much older. Many family members who found their way into my stories on this blog are long gone. Most cricketers in the Indian ODI team are younger than me. Grand slam winners are decades younger than me. The software that inspired awe in a younger me are no longer around. Shops where we frequented are no longer around. It is just time, it waits for none. Then I look at folks in my family who are in their eighties. Every time I meet them, I thank my stars for this chance. They might be gone the next time around. Or the other way around. I wonder if it is mid life that makes you acutely aware of your own mortality.
Then I wonder how it must be of the older folks in the family. Most of their peers are gone. Life as they knew has changed beyond their wildest dreams. But they all know their family makes them the happiest.
Here is to family, fasting and feasting. Rasayana is a version of fruit salad. During my visit to Puri earlier this year, we got to taste a Rasayana like dish.It had sweet but savory overtones as well and it was delicious.I have tried to recreate it here.


We will need,

Ripe but firm Bananas 3
Pomegranate seeds 1 cup
Coconut shredded 1/4 cup
Cilantro /fresh coriander chopped 1 tbsp
Lemon juice to taste
Black Pepper ground to taste
Chat Masala (optional to taste)

Method:
  • Place the Pomegranate seeds in a mixing bowl. Peel the bananas and diced them. Toss the diced bananas into the bowl with the Pomegranate seeds
  • Toss the rest of the ingredients together. Serve immediately. 
Note: Many people do not consumer salt while fasting. Chat masala can be skipped if that case. Also Sendha Namak  can be used in lieu of salt if that is acceptable. 





Odisha Odyssey -Part 3 Puri

The drive from Konark to Puri should have been a picturesque one long back. Today the roads are comfortable but the stretch of road that run parallel to the seas shore is completely covered in litter left behind by rave parties,  after dark disco parties and irresponsible tourists. The sand is choke full of used plastic plates, cups and cutlery. This area is the natural habitat of Olive Ridley turtles and they should be badly affected by this litter. Can the local administration do something about it? Absolutely yes they can. Can we as a community do something about it? Yes absolutely. Unfortunately I could not think of any thing that I could do that evening to help make the place cleaner and safer for the turtles. I could only carry my trash along with me and dump it responsibly.

This sight brought the mood in my party down considerably, but the thoughts of Jagannatha kept us going. Finally we were going to meet the Lord of the universe  I could very well imagine Sunny Boy asking if I am referring to Darth Vader here.

Finally we reached our so called 'three star' accommodation -Kakkson Villa. Our luxury suit looked like a hole, the towels were torn, sheets were ripped or had huge oil slicks on them. I asked the house keeping staff to change the sheets immediately. They did and the new sheet had the exact same problem. One more try and eight more tries later, I gave up. There was no way that we were sleeping on clean sheet that night.  We realized how filthy the place was in the morning when we stepped into the stairway instead of the lift. It looked like hell hole with garbage and dishes with food scrapes left on the stair way and corridors. I swore to stick to the lift which was slightly cleaner.

The next morning they served a complimentary breakfast on the roof. I saw some greasy bread pakodas, toast and Idli Vada. The service was lousy and the kitchen super dirty. A strong gut is a prerequisite to eat there and survive. So if anyone is ever planning to book this place better not go by the reviews on either www.makemytrip.com or ww.tripadvisor.com. It is shitty hole and nothing like the pictures online. Though the hotel staff assured us that there was a restaurant on premises when Mr. Bubby was around, they requested us to order food via room service once Mr.Bubby was gone. None of us was willing to sit down for a meal in the hole. Instead we decided to walk around seeking out a place to eat. We did not have to walk very far to realize that Puri was a very touristy place. Pretty much every thing there revolved around tourists. There was the holiday home for Indian Airlines employees, another one for a PSU bank. Every other building there was either a restaurant or a hotel. But none clean enough from the outside. Finally was walked to the road by the beach where there were the hotels appeared a little more fancy and hopefully better. We liked one of them enough to settle down for the meal. The food was expensive but good. A few rotis , a curry and vegetable biriyani was all we could care for.

The next morning we were happy to head out for the day. Mr.Bubbly was on time. Since we had foolishly decided to skip Chilaka Lake in order to soak in the devotional spirit of Puri, we ended up at a super dirty temple called Loknath Mandir. Nothing could have prepared us to face the 'Lord of World' in that condition. The sanctum was as it is was small. Then right behind the deity was a huge pile of refuse, accumulated from previous poojas. No one had bother to remove the flowers, offerings and other organic stuff  for weeks. Obviously it was stinking in there, and nothing could have held the deity back. Apart from the stink and the garbage, there were the priests trying to hand you some kind of prasad expecting money in return. No wonder there were rows of beggars and hawkers plying neatly piled coins. Tourists can change their bills to coins so their money would stretch longer. We visited a Hanuman temple and Bengali Krishna mutt which was clean and beautiful too. But we had no tour guides or interpreters, nor were there any boards in any of the languages we knew. So we could make out what ever we wanted of the place.

Our next stop was the Gundicha temple. Gundicha is Jaganatha's aunt and Lord Jaganatha travels to his aunt's house every year in style perched on the massive cars to be lovingly fed by the aunty. Jagannatha is my kinda of guy. He simply loves to eat and that what he pretty much does through the day. The road between the Jaganatha temple and Gundicha temple is wide, really really wide,may be a few hundred feet wide. During the Rath Yatra the whole place fills up with a sea of humanity. It was hair raising to imagine how it could be, something like New Years eve at Times Square several times over.  The Gundicha temple was clean, something I became finicky about after the Loknath Mandir experience. But the fun was yet to begin. We entered the complex thinking it was a temple for one deity. Turns out that every priest in town had set up shop in the complex. The arrangement was simple. There is a particular path to be traversed. At regular intervals there would be a priest and the statue of a deity in a make shift, colorful shrine. As we approach the deity the priest feigns to be offering prasad or some kind of blessing. If we err and stretch our hand to receive the prasad, we will be in for a tax. They cajole, beseech, threaten or any combination of the three so we could part from the contents of our wallets. First to get stuck was my sister and her kid at the very entrance. The priest handed her a bangle and charged 20 rupees or so. As we managed to navigate our way inside, I got stuck at the Lakshmi shrine. The priest offered me a small Lakshmi and a few grains of Paddy and would not accept anything less than 100 Rupees. Another family who entered the temple just before us looked like they were pros at navigating the temple. The gentleman kept nudging his mother who tended to linger a bit at each stop. He gathered his family as they paused before each shrine but never allowed themselves to be bothered by the priests. While I haggled with the priest at the Lakshmi shrine it felt like the gentleman looked back with sympathy at our plight. ]

Next to get caught was Amma at Annapoorneshwari shrine. In the kitchen which is fired up during the Rath Yatra, they have a shrine for Annapoorneshwari, the goddess who feeds humanity. Again, a 100 rupees bill bailed out Amma. In the mean time we did not realise when we passed the Gundicha shire. We assumed it was the shrine where they were hitting faithfuls with a couple of sticks. It was weird that they should thus assault devotes.  But we had no idea what was happening.

As we hit the exit we could not help laughing. We had just been conned in the name of 'Bhakti'. Now we did not want to see any more priests. We just sat there in the spacious and clean (it had become no less than an obsession by then) courtyard and giggled. We had never had that much fun in any temple before.

Unfortunately I do not have any photos from these temples since photography is strictly prohibited and cell phones were not allowed in either.

Our next stop was Jagannatha. My heart pounded wildly. I was just a few kilometers away from the Lord of the Universe. It was late in the morning, the winter sun was blazing hot and I had had nothing to eat till then but it did not affect me. Devotion can give you a strange high, way better than alcohol or any other substance. We had to park our car about a mile and a half away from the temple premises. Mr.Bubbly had arranged for a priest to help navigate the treacherous terrain of the Lord of the Universe. It was the best thing that happened to us in Puri. Without that gentleman we would never have escaped the claws of vilely Panda priests. The gentleman had a small tuff of hair in the back of his head signifying his Bramhin credentials. That is like an all inclusive pass to all things religious in the Hindu universe. He led us to one of the entrances that lie on the market side. He helped us deposit our cell phones and foot wear and gave a brief before we entered the temple. He had a few rules.
    Rule 1: Be careful with your money and belongings.
    Rule 2: Never accept anything from anyone
    Rule 3: Follow me.
He explained that instead of giving money to priests we are better of contributing to the official temple fund that feeds the Lord of Universe and the hungry poor-Anna Dana. We negotiated to contribute the lowest possible, that meant sponsoring to feed the Lord of Universe a single meal. In lieu of our contribution we were to receive some prasad after the 'bhog' was offered to the lord. Though I felt like we did a good deed by feeding the lord and the poor, something inside me did not feel alright. there seemed to be too much pressure to contribute which is never a good feeling. But I ignored it with thoughts of meeting the Lord for the first time. How we went inside the sanctum is all a haze. Our guide took us inside and lead us to a queue. It was crowded and I got worried about my mother and my neice, two people who could potentially get lost. But the queue hardly moved, In a quick second our guide got hold of my hand and dragged me though the mob, I started to panic because it was crowded and this strange man, though our guide was pulling me by my hand. I grabbed the next available hand and that was my mother and she grabbed my sister and she my father. So we were like a human chain cutting  through the mob that had congregated at the mouth of the sanctum. In a matter of minutes we were face to face with the Lord. Lord Jagannatha was black- pitch black in color with pretty round eyes. Unlike other Hindu gods he is not a humanoid, he is  just a stump with two smaller stumps for hands. That said he is attractive, very attractive indeed. Something in his appearance captured my attentions like nothing else before. Tears flowed. All I could see was his big round eyes and all I heard was our guide screaming 'don't get distracted, look at the Jagannatha'. The prompting helped me with all the pushing and shoving that was going all around us.  In a brief second I noticed that the queue that we were earlier standing in was blocked by a barricade maned by a fat priest. We could not have had met Jagannatha without the help of our guide. A full three-four minutes of undisturbed view of Jagannatha and everything that had annoyed me till then that morning dissolved into thin air. There he was the Lord of the Universe standing taller than a very tall human and I was right in front of him. Before I could ask him anything, I had an apology to offer. 'Dear Jagannatha, please forgive me;I have decided never to come back. This place is far too dirty.'  But in those few minutes, something inside me spoke and said to Jagannatha 'If it is your will, I will come back to you, be as they are the hardships.' I was in love with the Lord of the Universe. Before we were contended with our rendezvous with the Lord it was time to get out, which we did. Our guide took us to the Ananda Bazaar area next. We did not get an opportunity to explore the temple much. But he kept repeating the instruction not to receive anything from any one. We reached the dining hall and it was time for our guide to fetch the prasad. The lord by now would have been fed. We plonked ourselves on the dirty concrete floor in one of the dinning halls. In front of us was a party from some village. A toddler and an adorable baby played in front of us. The floor was dirty and all I could think was a baby playing on the dirty floor and the mother was sitting right there without a care in the world. As a parent myself with stocks of anti bacterial wipes and rubbing alcohol in my bag all the time, I was mortified. How can a baby survive that dirty floors, I cringed as he crawled all over the floor with the toddler and giggled with his fingers in his mouth.  May be I was overreacting, may be I had degenerated into the prosaic NRI who finds faults in everything. But that day I just wanted the baby to grow up into an adult and live a fulfilling life, be what the infant mortality statistics. I hoped he did not become that statistic himself.
Very soon our guide got us a banana leaf each. We procured from bottled water from our satchels and wiped our leaves clean and waited for our guide to get our prasad meals.  Meantime, a shady looking  scrawny man with a small tuff of hair in the back of his head appeared from nowhere and offered us something. We did not even realize we were breaking Rule 2, when we accepted it. It looked like food, Jaggery I presume. Papa who was sitting next to me was looking at it suspiciously when the scrawny guy bent over his palms and licked it. Papa flew into a rage. How dare the guy lick his hand. He immediately shuck his hands free and rushed to the end of the corridor where there were sinks with running water. The scrawny guy kept trying to cool Papa down but that would be of now use. Amma's reaction was different. She just wanted to get rid of him without offending him -a bramhin. She urged us to give him something and one of us handed him a tenner or so. The scrawny guy kept justifying his actions saying he was a branhin and allowing him to lick our palms / a symbolic feeding him was a noble deed. I could not understand why and how we as the most rational of religions ended up here. Why did this guy think it was ok for us to let him lick of palm? How degenerate we were as a religion if we still believed that superiority was determined by an accident called birth. My own mother subscribed to this notion that we should not offend a Bramhin. Was not caste system itself obsolete? Why should anyone feel important just because of their birth? the questions I got were the same that I got when I came across political dynasty hirelings.  Would the Lord of Universe differentiate between us because our births? If the Lord is merciful and if we all equals in his eyes there should be no reason why people like this scrawny guy feel superior, or people like us allow the priests to threaten /cajole us into giving them money. But devotion like life is not a straight and simple path. We do things in devotion that is way beyond the purview of our own logical minds.
As a thankful diversion, our Prasad arrived. Our guide placed a few earthen pots in front of us and left to get more. He arrived in no time with more pot. He went back to get rice. The food in front of us was fragrant and enticing. But we had to wait. Mean time the village party in front of us was settling down. A angry young man kept yelling instructions in a language I did not understand and the motley broke down into a careful line with their backs against the wall. The baby and the toddler continued to play, the mother dressed in garish outfit continued to smile nonchalantly. Soon the angry young man arrived with huge earthen pots filled to brims with dal and rice. They fumbled to get plates and our guide arrived with steaming rice.  He scooped hot rice with his bare hands and heaped it on our banana leaves. He did this with all the dishes he had placed in front of us. By the time he was done, I could see a mountain of food in front of me. On a normal day I did eat that quantity of food in two days. There was a small mountain of short grain white rice of the local kind. There was a kicchdi, masoor I suspect but I am not sure. There was dal made of pigeon peas, a cinnamon flavored Shalyanna -sweet rice, so after everything cinnamon in sweet dish is at least as old as the Jagannatha temple. Then there was a fruit salad like Rasayana with Bananas, coconut , cilantro and sugar. There were two curries one called 'Rayi' or mustard based curry and the other 'saag' or curried greens. All the dishes tasted very different. No wonder they did because they had strict rules to follow when it came to feeding Jagannatha. A few of the rules are
   -all cooking to be done in earthen pots only
   -all ingredients are native
   -all recipe are from antiquity
   -all recipes are satvik and vegetarian
Given these rule, no wonder the food tasted different. But then it is the the partaking of the Lord and we devoured with great fervor.  My not eating anything till at point in the day helped me. The steaming mountain of rice in front of us was gone in minutes. The angry young man and his accomplices continued serving rice and dal to their huge party. The toddler and the baby continued to play till they were lured by the hot rice. For an instance I thought about Sunny boy. He would have thrown a fit eating the dal and rice. But less prevailed children are more interested in eating food than complaining about it. Once we were done, we disposed the banana leaves into the dustbin at the end of the corridor, washed our hands and set on our way out. It is a pity that we could not explore the temple, its architecture. We were by then mortified at the thought of predatory priests and wanted to get out as soon as possible. Soon we were out of the temple complex, collecting our cellphones and foot ware. It was not yet past noon that were done with our tour. We went around the Bazaars of Puri. But it turned out that  "Swarga Dwar" bazaar was in deep slumber during the day time. The hot sun finally took its toll and we were forced back to where we did not want to head back to -our dirty hotel. We napped for a few hours, the dirty linen still bothering so much that I would not cover my head with the blanket like I normal would. Once the sun set, we were off again to the Bazaar. The Bazaar now looks entirely different. There was a different energy.It suddenly was alive. Our first stop was the Boyanika- Odisha equivalent of Priyadarshini. Papa got me a black and orange Sambalpuri saree. It was much cheaper than Radhika fashion but the silk was much thinner too. We lingered around the bazaar and the beach till night fell. Rows and rows of shacks were displaying deep fried sea food and raw sea food in various stages of marination. There were shacks on the beach serving tea and assorted snacks. The sea was noisy and the waves broke at regular intervals. I felt that the intervals started to shrink as the night deepened, but it could have been just me. We parked ourselves on a set of cheap plastic chairs hoping for some quiet time. We must have sat for a few minutes that we realized my niece was not to be found. A panicky few minutes later we spotted her near the camel and camel minder trying to lure her into a short ride. My sister dashed to the camel, grabbed the kid by her arm and dragged her back to the party. We thought we had settled down that the owner of the plastic chair a buxom middle aged women who owned the tea shack came down to take our orders. None of us would drink Chai tea at that hour. Nothing else in her shack evoked enough confidence in us to order something. So we did what our intelligence could muster- scoot from there. We loitered around for a little longer and then we got hungry. Given the dismal meals the previous night Mr.Bubby felt guilty enough to promise us to take us to Dalma again.
Very soon at Dalma, Puri we were requesting the staff to tone down the air conditioning as we figured out our orders. Carnivorous sister ordered a Thali with Fish mustard curry, Papa ordered a vegetarian Thali and Amma and me shared a thali as usual. The dalma was very good. So were the other bits of the meal. But finally I got to taste Chenna Jilli.  It was a rustic fresh Panner, depp fried in ghee and soaked in a thin sugar syrup.  I could have mistaken it for an early unsophisticated precursor to Gulab Jammon. It was very good. Sadly they had run out of Chenna Poda and we would had to wait till the next morning for the legendary Chenna Poda.


Before long we were back in the dingy hotel room trying to catch some sleep between the filthy sheets. The only explanation for our current state of misery was that it was a test by the Lord of the Universe if we could stand the trials, of the erotic images, of the predatory priests, of the utter filthiness and squalor of the place and still be able to muster up single minded devotion. Devotion after all is more potent than any substance of abuse discovered by man and I felt we had all overcome the distraction and mustered up devotion to the extent possible in our personal selves. The sun and tediousness of the travel had wore us all down to be able to slip into sleep in the dingy hole of a hotel.

Soon enough it was time to head back to Bhuwaneswar airport and we were at the end of our trip. Mr.Bubbly was on time as usual and shepherded us and our bags into his taxi.In no time we were back on the Puri Bhuwaneshwar highway. This time I did not notice either the squalor or the litter. Mercifully my senses were overtaken by a bliss called sleep. The next thing I know is that we had stopped in front of a sweet shop very close to the airport. We got some snacks to humor the kid in the party, which essentially meant vast quantities of atrocious packaged chips. Then the holy grail of Chenna Poda. I finally got  a bit of Chenna Poda. It resembles our own 'ginnu' - a sort of a cheesy confection made of cow colostrum. It was moist and spongy. Unfortunately I forgot the name of the sweet shop. I was sleepy enough not to take a picture of either the Chenna poda or the maker of the Chenna poda. The next thing I know, I was on the Vaayu Vajra bus from Bangalore airport out into the city. Papa and Amma went their way. Sister and niece went their way and I was all alone peeking out into the city through the huge glass windows of Vayu Vajra bus. A guy in a skull cap sat in the seat next to me puking into a plastic bag. An elderly gentleman sat next to him rubbing his back. I hoped all was well with the man and that it was just a bad case of motion sickness that happens to me many time. I hopped down the bus at a traffic signal when I started to feel queasy in my stomach. I tried to pull my luggage with its fancy wheels. But the pavement in urban Bengaluru is no smooth and polished airport floor. I decided to carry my luggage till I came across an obliging autorikshaw, which I did very soon..
So there ends my Odisha Odyssey a story of how devotion and hedonistic consumption of vast quantities of food came together.

Odisha Odyssey Part 2 Konark Sun Temple

Day 3:


The whole family was up and ready well before 8 AM and hit the breakfast buffet. On the menu were Idli, tasty Sambar and terrible Chutnies, sticky sweet Upma, Aloo Puri, toast,eggs, fruit and very good grape juice. It was a couple of Idlis,  a few hundred grams fruit and a pint of fruit juice for me.
We briefly stopped at Bharateshwar, Shatrugneshwar and Laxmaneshwar temples. We had not noticed the Rameshwar temple across the road. The three former temples were smaller compared to the Rameshwar temple. All the random blank stone panels made us guess that these three temples were restored by the ASI. A priest was busy with his morning puja and as expected Bhuwaneshwar rose late during winters. Mr.Bubbly urged us to go across the road to the Rameshwar temple. It looked like another boring with a beggars at the entrance and a few priests inside the temple. We sought blessing from the deity and sought to go around the Prakara. I noticed the typical Vyalas -the lion headed mythical beast with a crouching elephant at its feet. There were the usual Nagas and Yakhas, but what was usual was the carving of amorous couples. Right there on the temple vimana were carvings of amorous couples that a typical south Indian pudic person that I am could not miss. Later I understood that erotica was an integral part of the architecture in that area but that we had not been able to notice it because we had visited some of the temples in dusk and had easily missed the carvings on the vimana. At that point, it bothered me to see such carving in a temple and wondered why would anyone in their right frame of mind do that. I was to get my answers later in Konark

We set out to Dhauligiri. Very soon we drove across the Daya river bed. Mr.Bubby mentioned that Kalinga war took place somewhere on the banks of this river and that the battle field was really vast. Kalinga war was one of the most significant in the history of India, one that led a rare happy consequence. This was the bloody war that made Ashoka realize the futility of wars. The battle happened right where we were. Long long ago, a wounded soldier might have been lying in the hot mid day sun bleeding to death, someone dead might have been there too, right there where we were driving. The roads are now surrounded by emerald green fields. But during the war Daya was supposed to have turned red due to the bloodshed. Cruelty has never been rare in history. But this was one rare time when the emperor realized how futile the war was. He ended up commissioning this rock edict very close to the site of the battle field.
The rock edict now is enclosed in a tiny glass enclosure to protect it from the elements. It is rather tiny and cannot hold more than 5-6 people comfortably at once. I cannot imagine going inside during a hot summer day without significant discomfort. A couple of Japanese tourists were already in the enclosure and we waited our turn. They left once they were satisfied with the umpteen photos that they clicked.
My fingers trembles as we entered the enclosure. I was being transported back in time, right there was a rock edict that was close to two thousand years old. Some one actually took time to carve this edict at the behest of his king on this huge rock, perhaps this is the oldest piece of writing I has come across in my entire life (not counting the Indus-Saraswati seals since they have not yet been deciphered). On the top of the rock we could see the carving of a partial elephant, elephants that symbolized Buddha. Another ASI watchman took us on a tour of the park and offered to take out photos. When we were reluctant for photos, he kept urging us that we ought to take more pictures because we had come all the way from south India spending so much money. I was too overwhelmed to argue with him and posed for more photographs. Looking back at how few photographs we have from the trip, I should be thankful to that old guy.


We then proceeded to Dhauligiri Stupa. A new stupa has been constructed with the help of Japanese. The stupa is just a stupa nothing remarkable but the place is completely touristy. Several shacks typically of tourist places selling everything from cut guavas, fruits to purses to costume jewelry. We soon got on our to Konark via Pipli. We stopped at Pipli and Amma did some shopping.  It was a relatively warm day for January and we were more than happy to be on our way to Konark.
Mr.Bubby had arranged a guide for us in Konark and before heading to the sun temple, we were to go the ASI museum at Konark.

The museum is a clean but small museum considering how important Konark is.  As in the other ASI site and museums a guide or a guided tour would have been a better introduction to what we were about to encounter.  There were Vyalas, god and goddesses, mythical animals, Nagas, Yaksha, beautiful tree nymphs called Salabhanjika etc. But nothing had prepared me to the extent or size of erotic sculptures. The first time I encountered a life size carving of an amorous couple I was stunned. The ones that I had noticed at Rameshwar temple were smaller in size, rather inconspicuous that my sister actually missed noticing them altogether. But here in Konark museum they were too big to be missed. What kind of people made carvings like this? Slightly perturbed at the kind of believers who made erotica a part of their worship, we headed out to lunch OTDC's Yatrinivas. The lunch was not a memorable one. We just had what they could give us at the earliest and headed out to Konark temple.

We bumped into a man in blue who we assumed was the security guard of the place but he turned out to be the guide Mr.Bubby has arranged for us. It turned out to be a very good idea. We would not have learned about the Sun temple by ourselves or with the help from Wiki. He ushered us into the temple complex explaining that once the seashore was right next to the temple but now the has receded about three kilometer away from the temple.  The path that lead to the temple has shops hawking the usual touristy stuff, miniatures of sun temple, miniatures of Jagannath and assorted trinkets.
The sheer size stuck me as we came closer to the temple. From afar it did not look much but we walked and walked and the temple appeared bigger and bigger. I was not expecting a temple of this proportion at all. Out first step was at the stairway to the Mantapa, on wither sides were statues of an elephant crushing man and in turn crushed by lion. After introducing us to various interpretations of the statue we proceeded further. The Mantapa is beautifully decorated with carved panels depicting  life as it was during those days including men, women, children, old people, squabbles, travelers, pet and others. Many of the panels were not well preserved, perhaps when the sea was close by these rocks had to weather storms and deluges from the corrosive saline water. Common motifs were again the Salabhanjika, Nagas and Vyalas.

The main temple is in partial ruins. The sanctum which was taller and perhaps more splendid than the remaining Jagamohana has long collapsed.  It was originally build to look like the chariot of sun god with twenty hour wheels , twelve on either sides being pulled by seven horses. The wheels are huge and very ornate. Very few wheels are preserved completely. Here is a picture of one of them.

The wheels can also be used as a sun dial which can measure time accurately to the minute. We were all awestruck that something of this quality and magnitude was constructed so far in time.

Then there were the sculptures of beautiful women in dancing poses reminiscent of Belur Shilabaalaki. The Belur version is slightly older than Konark temple but way more refined and more ornate. But then Belur being inland perhaps did not have to face the wrath of saline sea or hurricane with potential to send 30-40 feet high waves breaking on to the temple. Given what all the Sun temple must have withstood it is still in remarkable condition.


After the sanctum collapsed sometime in late 19th century only the smaller Jagamohana was left standing. But it was in a fragile state that conservation experts of the day decided to fill the inside of the temple with sand and rocks so as to support the roof. Kalinga design indeed used to be very different from the temples I am familiar with in that they used big iron beams placed horizontally over pillars placed in the corners of a rectangle (may be square). On these Iron beams were placed slabs of rocks, which tapered inwards till the slabs from all sides converged at the very top. Back in South India bigger temples were constructed with Pillar base ,covered with stone slabs. Some times the slabs were held in place with huge iron staples. Also most South Indian Vimans narrows as we go up and design elements stick to the perimeter of the vimana tier. But Kalinga design has this unique element where incredibly huge sculptures jut out  from one of the tiers in the vimana.

Currently the Jagamohana is being restored and there is scaffolding on the sides. The scaffolding actually marred the beauty of the evening, one day I wish to go there once the scaffolding is all removed. 
The door jams and lintel at the doorway of Jagamohan is make of ornate green chlorite stone and entry inside is prohibited. What can be seen is the stone that is stuffed inside. It is a pity that a greand monument like this should be in a condition like this. The temple was raided by medieval Islamic marauding armies sometime in 15-16 century just a few hundred years after it was completed. The raids and natural elements hastened the collapse of the temple. What remains is the wonder of our ancestors ingenuity, their scientific bent of mind and their effort to preserve their way of life carved in the reliefs all around. It is indeed their 'ithihasa' composed in stone.


While we sat on the stairway of the Jagamohana admiring the art and science behind the temple, there was a spectacle behind us. A group of Caucasian Odissi dancers were touring the temple and decided to pose for pictures posing in Bhongima (Odissi poses). Even as the tour leader directed the pose and position, a group of tourists gathered around them gawking, armed with their phones and cameras too. At one point there were more people around this group of women than anywhere else in the monument.

Every evening there is a sound and light show, something in while a family member was associated with. But we could not stay for long. We were to stay in Puri that night, so we had some distance to catch. Enroute to Puri we stopped briefly at Chandrabhaga beach. The sea deceptively appears calm but is notorious for its rip tides. Unfortunately the beach was rather dirty. It was just a preview of what was in store for us.  The evening as the day because to slip into the darkness of dusk, we go to witness the sad side effect of irresponsible tourism.

Odisha Odyssey Part 1-Bhuwaneshwar

Odisha has intrigued me for a long time now. Having never been to east or west India, my only window to these places were the people who hailed from these places that I met way away from either my home or their. Oriya folks made up for significant populace in Sabarmati hostel back during my JNU days. One of them had this knee high Jagannath in a corner of her room. In a place where it was cool to defy traditions (especially the Hindu ones, rest were acceptable in the name of  being sensitive), I was surprised to see this open display of faith. I was one of the few faithfuls too, though my faith laid in the Vaikunthnath temple, with its familiar dark granite south Indian style statue of Vishu. The old Tamil priest and the familiarity of the temple soothed my soul that ached to get back home to my family. Ah! there were those days and now I am way farther than ever before still aching to get back home to my people.

The other Odiyas I knew had strange sounding names and pet names. They loved Dahi Baigan because when ever we had a Odiya Mess Secretary, Dahi Baigan would invariably get back on the menu, also the quality of food would improve. I shared their love for Dahi Baigan and that was the one recipe I took from our cooks when I left JNU. Also the Aravali mess in JNU was one place where we got great food on the campus, which was again run by Odiya people. Since then Odisha has been on my radar for good food. I always wanted to visit and try the real deal. I finally got an opportunity to visit Odisha and I cannot stop thinking of it ever since. I booked a family 5 days 4 night vacation via www.makemytrip.com. The vacation turned out to be memorable except for the accommodation in Puri. I will go back to MMT for future holidays but will be more careful selecting accommodations.

Day 1:
Our odyssey started from Namma Bengaluru on the direct Indigo flight to Bhuwaneshwar. The flight was comfortable about two hours long (or short). They did sell snacks and breakfast along with Coffee/tea on board but it is expensive. We landed on time in Bhuwaneshwar and were greeted to a charming, small airport reminiscent of old HAL airport and this sand sculpture of Budha by the renowned Sudarshan Patnaik. I regret being lazy and not taking my SLR along, the photos are not great.

Soon after our local tour operator picked us up from the airport and took us to Hotel Pushpak, our home for the next two nights. The mural of Mukteshwar temple in their lobby along with a sizable Jagannath welcomed us to a quick check in. Dumping bags in the family suit, we headed out seeking something to eat. We found a restaurant called Yum Yum attached to the hotel with patio dining and ordered 'Thali' meals (vegetarian, egg and fish thali as per individual preferences). Each Thali came with a quantity of rice that can be called enormous by a city Kannadiga standard, a small bowl of dal, vegetable, egg/fish/panner dish, salad, papad and Gulab Jamoon. My carnivorous sibling ordered a dish called Chakuli Mutton, it looked a sort of mutton curry with thick Dosa like pancakes. The food was not impressive and I learned the hard way that one Odiya Thali would not be kind on my stomach.

Shortly afterwards we were on our way to the State Museum, which is well laid out by Indian standards. I  do wish there were more description on the artifacts or better yet guided tours, the lack of which left me fumbling with jigsaw pieces from the puzzle called 'The Great Indian History'. Having never studies the history of Eastern India in detail, I was surprised to notice works from 'Chalukya' and 'Ganga' , albeit with the prefix 'Eastern'. It got me wondering if there was something distinctly Kannada that I could spot. It was not to be. I could not help but wonder at the enterprising rulers who ended up so far away from their homes in quest of glory and that things were easier then in some ways. Back then they did not have to carry passports and pass long immigration, custom lines to be able to go to another country.

I left the museum acutely feeling the paucity of time with several sections given just a cursory glance. We passed the Bharateshwar, Shatrugneshwar temples and ended up at the Parashurameshwar temple. It was charming little temple with the usual Kalinga architectural motifs -Saptamatrikas, Yakshas, a circular ribbed structure just beneath the Kalasa called 'Amla'. At the back of the temple, in the Prakara path was a big Linga with several small Lingas carved into it, making it look like a Linga wrapped in bicycle chain. I had never seen something like this before.


Walking along a pathway to a low rise compound wall on which sat several women gathered in busy gossip, we found a quick path next door to the Mukteshwar temple. It is not a very large temple but it is one of the most charming temples I have ever come across. If Tamil temples look imposing with their sheer size, temples of Karnataka stand out for their detailed ornamentation, it is sheer grace that sets Mukteshwar temple apart from the rest. It has about it an easy elegance of an Odissi dancer.  The ornate Torana at the entrance of the temple offers a warm welcome. The walls of the temple is covered with elaborate carving  including that of playful monkeys which immediately reminded me of Sunny boy. The interior of the temple was rather small. Even as we stopped to admire the elegance, the priest invited us inside the sanctum. When we stopped at the entrance, we urged us to go inside. Unlike the south Indian temples and like Kashi Vishwanath temple, we can actually go inside the sanctum and pour water over the small Linga. A few 100 rupee bills made the priest happy enough to bless us the whole world and we came out of the temple feeling liberated. He urged us to visit the Kedar Gowri temple across the main road. We could not help noticing that in this temple prayers were offered to damaged statues of gods and goddess in the other smaller shrines in front of the main temple. Back home murti/statues are abandoned at the slightest damage (called bhinna). Progressive thought, I concluded.

Heeding to the priest, we walked over to the Kedar Gowri temple next door. It is a fairly modern temple and the deity Gowri ma is beautiful, with a yellow -turmeric laden face and big eyes. There were smaller shrines that of serpent god and a few others I don't remember. What I do, was that the temple was dirty and that they could have done a better job at maintenance.


We stopped at Raja Rani temple. It is a beautifully laid out temple with a garden under works. There was funky smell as we entered the premises at dusk, which my father suspected to be the mosquito repellent that  local administration typically sprays indiscriminately. There were no deities inside and the failing light of dusk ensured us no views of the carvings on the Vimana.  Was it the mosquito repellent or something else, we were actually able to sit at the steps of the temple for a while without having to slap ourselves defensively against mosquito attack.  A couple of old men sat a few feet away from us on the platform chanting the name of Rama. It made for an enchanting evening. If only we were a week late that we could have witnessed the music festival.

Our next stop was Lingaraja temple. The most prominent temple in Bhuwaneshwar.Unfortunately cell phones and cameras were not allowed inside and I will have to rely on my failing memory to revisit the images of the temples. The temple premises was super crowded with tourists from Maharashtra. Even though it was dusk, it felt dirty. The temple is actually a complex with a huge temple in the middle and several smaller shrines around the main temple.The priests doled out pushy invitations offering their wares and services. We were able to over look most of them except a few. A  few 10 rupees and a few 100 rupee bills bailed us out. There was a long line and a great deal of pushing for the darshan inside the main temple. On our way in I noticed inscriptions in Devanagari, Oriya and what I thought looked like Kannada, which got me excited. But Amma examined it and concluded it as Telugu. I felt my heart sink a little bit. The darshan was quick, one glimpse and the crowd behind us pushed us out to the security personnel, who did not seem to think twice to physically remove those that lingered still. As we walked around the Prakara the circumambulatory path around the main temple,we noticed smaller shrines dedicated to a bunch of gods including the patron god of engineers, Kashi Vishwanath, Surya, Krishna and interestingly Yama- the god of death. Indeed no celebration of life can be complete without death. Another remarkable feature that I noticed in the thickness of the dark night sky was the Vimana. It surely was different from the Dravidian or the Nagara style. There was a huge sculpture of  lions jutting out several feet above ground somewhere in the Vimana part of the temple spire. Such heavy sculptures jutting out without much support seemed technically brilliant. After spending several minutes parked on one of the platforms watching people walk by, we decided to head out.

Mr Bubby took us to ISKCON temple next. The evening prayers were being celebrated. A monk with long curly hair danced to the beats of the celebratory drums. A woman with ample bottom started to dance at the edge of the monks with her kid with great gusto. A few minutes later the watchman walked up to her and asked her to stop dancing. That was strange. It was not clear why she was stopped, that she was dancing next to the monks or that she was a woman. After a while we decided to heed our rumbling tummies and headed out.

Our driver Mr.Bubbly  (again an unusual choice of name for an adult man) dropped us to Pushpak. Instead of heading to Yum Yum fast food on premises, we decided to try the south Indian restaurant next door. A bowl of soup was all I could care for and others in the party ordered as dictated by their appetite. Nothing remarkable, but decent south Indian vegetarian for those with a hard core south Indian palate. As we demolished our food, I could not help hearing another Kannada party seated on one of the tables near us remarking how happy they were to find Idlies this far away from home. We called it a day.

Day 2:

My jet lag had not worn out and I slept poorly those days. A light sleeper that I am I woke up to what I thought was the sound of a conch, therefore the time for the dawn pooja. We had an appointment with Mr.Bubbly at 9 AM and waking up early to get ready seemed a good idea. Lo behold my surprise that the clock struck 1 AM. It turned out to be a honking train and not a conch being blown in some temple. Having been to several temples my mind was playing tricks on me. I must have been able to catch some sleep afterwards and finally before the breakfast buffet started, we were all set. We headed down to the Golden Bird restaurant where we were in for a complimentary breakfast. It was a cozy place with a good spread. There were Idlis, very good sambar, terrible chutnies, aloo parathas, eggs, toasts as well as fruits and juice. Idlis, eggs, chickpeas, fruits and juice it was for me. Mr.Bubbly kept his time and off we set out to Lalitgiri.

The winter morning it was, the air was chilly and the city woke up late. We were very soon out of the city and on the highway to Cuttack. Most of the highways were in very good condition and I quietly thanked AB Vajpayee for the highways. Before long we were passing through sleepy Cuttack and one after the other we crossed over dry river beds. Mr.Bubbly kept naming them and that they were the tributaries of Mahanadi. All that and more could not have prepared us for how big Mahanadi was. When we encountered her, she was pretty much dry but the span was nothing like I had seen before. We passed over piers after piers and there were more. I could not stop wondering how might the river must have been and how fecund the land around before the dam was constructed upstream? She is indeed 'Great' river now that she has ceased to be the 'sorrow of Orissa'.

Very soon we got off the highway into a small winding road lined with green fields and ponds at small villages at regular intervals. People went about their business in a pace that seemed languid to my city bred eyes. Who knows, this might be their life, unhurried and hard. Soon we were following of couple of tour buses carrying school children. Lalitgiri was a major Buddist complex with Stupas, Chaityas and ruins of Monastries. The extensive ruins has remains of walls built with clay bricks several feet thick. They were well planned for their time with ruins of drains and reminded me of Indus Saraswati Civilization. Perhaps there has been a cultural continuity from then to now that historians are unable to see? who knows a better historian might be able to see that in our lifetimes.
As we entered the complex after paying the required fees, we realized we were clueless navigating the site efficiently. The walkway was paved and the climb uphill. While we tried to figure out the path to pursue when we came across a split, a gaggle of school kids passed us. Leading and yelling instructions at them was a man in faux leather jacket and shades, perhaps their teacher who was familiar with the place. Following them might help us navigate the place is what I though till I spotted a Lama.

In the ruins of one of the monasteries on the left hand side of the pathway was a maroon-yellow Buddhist monk from who was touring the ruins with his guide.  I tried to strike a conversation hoping for some more information on the site, but the duo were in a hurry. The monk paid a quick obeisance at the feet of a partial Budha and left. We loitered around and tried to understand the ruins as much as we could. We acutely felt the need for either a guide or a guided tour. Though ASI charged us for entrance and has generally done a good job of keeping the place neat, there is no brochures or information on how best to go around the place. The gaggle of school kids long ahead of us, we tried to make sense of the ruins and walk around the large number of votive stupas and the ruins of a Chaitya. The Chaitya must have been elliptical brick construction with a smooth rounded platform. What remains are various geometrical shapes around the Chaitya ruins. We could not make sense of it. The monastery ruins were pretty intuitive. They typically opened into a courtyard with rooms and either sides and a small /large Budha Shrine across the entrance in the middle in some of the monasteries. We noticed niches in the wall perhaps to be used as cupboards, drains in a few rooms and large holes which we later were told held beams that supported the roof. Walking forward we landed at the flight of stone stairs. The gaggle of school kids were now split into groups, some were getting down the stairs already. We decided to walk up. At the top of the stairs was an enormous Stupa and beautiful views. A bunch of boys had already climbed on the Stupa which was disrespectful of both the Buddha and our antiquity. A mild reprimand alerted the teacher in faux leather and they were made to dismount in an instant. After searching in vain for a few tranquil moments we decided it was best to avoid the gaggle. After a brief stop at Monastry 3 and 1 we were on our way out. A huge museum complex is under construction to house the finds of excavation, which we were later told might open in spring 2018.



Our next stop was Udayagiri. From Lalitgiri to Udayagiri Mr.Bubby decided to drive us on a local road to save some time. It was a winding bund of river on one side and ponds on the other side. Ah! the number of ponds we saw, no wonder Odiyas love their fresh water fish. The cattle were mostly small desi cow and goats, which are pretty much replaced by Jersey and Holstein cows in southern Karnataka. If village houses were any indication of prosperity, Karnataka was way prosperous than Odisha. There were still many many thatched roofs which these days is a rarity in southern Karnataka. For a second I wondered what if snakes got into the thatches.Scary! The narrow winding bund continued, one particular stretch the bund was only wide enough for our car and Mr Bubbly graciously decided to make some space for an auto coming from the other side. For a second my heart stopped. Soon we were off the bund and on a regular road and I could not thank my stars enough.

The ruins at Udayagiri were more extensive than at Lalithgiri. Thankfully we found the ASI watchman who gave us a good tour of the area for 200 rupees. There were works underway. They were laying stone and cement path to walk around the place. Currently there were just uneven gravel paths which were uncomfortable to walk around. Our guide a gaunt man who claimed to be a local, told us the sad story of the excavation where structures collapsed as they tried to excavate the mounds and how the ASI excavated a beautiful budha only to find it beheaded by treasure hunters the next morning. Since then our guide explained they keep all their finds locked up in a small shed. He was considerate enough to open the locks at these sheds and let us have a quick look. He also clicked our pictures between pointing himself and yelling 'department' at passing foreign tourists. After a 5-6 mile walk around the ruins and paying obeisance at a Bhavani mandir near the main ruins in hot mid day sun, we had had enough. Our guide was still excited enough to point us the well from where the Buddhist monks drew water and carried it uphill to their kitchens and monasteries.  The well still had water and was beautifully laid out.

We took leave shortly and passed many auspicious prints of the names of newly weds on the walls of many houses en-route. We entered Ratnagiri to a whiff of spicy curry, mutton curry said my sister. After the whiff came the sight of a group of people chatting around a communal cauldron even as the fire under the cauldron spewed copious amount of smoke.  We were hungry and could think of nothing but hot lunch. Mr Bubbly dropped us at the Toshali resort in Ratnagiri. The kitchen staff had just wound up entertaining a major conference and the kitchen was understaffed. They did offer thali and dal/rice. The young man waiting on us warned us that the kitchen needed extra time since they were understaffed. We ordered a fish Thali , half chicken curry for my carnivorous sister. Papa ordered a vegetarain Thali and me and Amma decided to share an order of rice, dal, yogurt and salad. The amount of rice in our previous Thali orders had forewarned us to the hazardous mountain of rice that came along. As it would turn out, this was our shortest wait for food ever in this trip. The fish thali looked beautiful. It came with a mountain of rice, a papad, a tiny salad, dal, a  sad mixed veg curry and the star -a fish curry. I tasted the curry and it was really good, thick, tangy with the right balance of spice. There was also a dish of crunchy deep fried sliced of potatoes and bitter gourd. It was heavenly. I was hooked and the few pieces that I stole from Papa and my sister's thali did not sooth my agitated taste buds that wanted more. Thankfully our young waiter gave us a bowl of the dish without a fuss and did not even charge for it. That guy deserved the generous tip. After the belly bursting meal, we were ready to walk another 6 miles.



Ratnagiri was more touristy than either Lalithgiri or Udayagiri. the later two seemed to attract only the serious kind while Ratnagiri  looked like it was an established tourist attraction. There were several shacks vending 'chow-mein' and assorted unidentified 'Chinise' food. Nowhere else have I seen this brutal murder a of English language. The food they sold looked off colored, wonder how they got that stuff that red and green. After paying the entrance fees we slipped though the unusual gates. The ruins did not look much from where we were and I stood there wondering if it worth the steep climb after our surprisingly satisfying meal. But decided to lumber ahead regardless. Our first stop was at a disappoint bunch of votive stupas. Then we walked ahead hoping to see something that was worthwhile. That we sure did when we came across this.

This was the ruins of a grand monastery. It had a flight of stairs and perhaps was a two storied building. The walls were 8 bricks thick and it was laid out in the fashioned in a way that was typical to the monasteries we had come across since early that morning. A grand entrance way opening into a court yard with rooms on either sides and a shrine across. Additionally there is a set of  what looks like an ornate facade. How well laid out were these monasteries and how well have they stood the test of time. Here was also an arch made entirely of clay bricks. So arches in India could be pre-Islamic.

Dodging grazing desi cows, we walked a short path uphill amidst blazing speakers belting out local pop music. Here was the ruins of a massive stupa. We do not know if it was as big as the one in Lalitgiri but not as well preserved. The main stupa was surrounded by smaller votive stupas. There was also a Hindu shrine down the hill on ahead of the stupa but it was dated to more recent times. There were more cows grazing in the path between the stupa and the temple.
On our way back we saw a lazy bunch of people laughing and teasing us in Odiya. Thankfully we did not understand them. Restrooms are a particular problem everywhere. Either there are none or they are in such bad shape that renders it unusable.
Shortly afterwards we were on our way back to Bhuwaneshwar. Traffic was heavier than that earlier in the morning. Mahanahi had me awestruck again. Cuttuck was a traffic mess.I had half the heart to stop and shop for some silver filigri jewelry but Mr.Bubbly was reluctant. I gave into his reluctance hoping that would save me some money and time. He took us to Radhika Sarees in Bhuwaneshwar for some Sambalpuri Sarees.The owner was an affable man with subtle salesmanship that caught me unaware. He claimed to have worked with KSIC as a design consultant and that the rudraksha motif so common in KSIC is actually of Sambalpuri origin. Hm... who knew what comes from where. I fianlly got a beautiful off white silk saree with an orange border as a present for my mom-in-law.

I was determined to have typically Oriya fare for dinner that evening. Mr.Bubby was already instructed accordingly and he dropped us at Dalma, a popular joint for traditional Oriya fare. Again we settled for Thalis, Amma and me sharing a single thali. The tediousness of walking severals mile or the sun or the excitement of shopping, I don't know which made me slack and I do not have a picture of the beautiful thali. Again the thali came with a mountain of rice. Dal here was dalma, a lentil preparation with assorted vegetable. It had a feeling of comfort to it, in that it was neither too spicy nor too greasy.  There was a brown chutney that had the taste of powdered vada which went amazingly well with Dalma and rice. There was aloo subzi, Khatta - the tangy curry. Carnivorous sister ordered Chicken Biriyani. It was very different from the ones we have had before. The chicken seemed to have been deep fried instead of steam cooked /sauteed. It was nothing remarkable. They did not have any dessert other than Gulab Jamoon and my wait for Chenna Poda and Channa Jilli continued.  A warm shower later that night we slept like babies.

Paris Pranaya

Paris, it does elicit a variety of reactions. To a lot many it is a romantic destination, to some it means fashion, for a foodie like me it is a place I have been curious about for a long time, to be precise it's food. Recently I had the chance to spend a few hours in Paris and I think I made the most of it.

My trip started on an Air France Boeing 777-200 from Detroit to Paris. It was my first time flying Air France. Travelers talk about seats, leg room, in flight entertainment, sometimes the flight attendants too. But my compass always stops at food. The first thing that stuck me about Air France was the menu a smiling flight attendant wearing holiday themed earrings handed over to me. The menu was sleek, simple and the choices grabbed my eyes balls - Champagne any one? Dang, I did not keep a picture of the menu. I decided on the only vegetarian option on the menu. It was a pasta in red sauce and cheese. The meal came with a piece of excellent chocolate, Emmental cheese and cake. Champagne was good. The pasta itself was good but was pretty much swimming in cheese. I could not get over the shock of how good the chocolate and cheese were. French are some serious foodies if that is the kind of flight food they get to eat. Paris seemed just like my kinda of place, I had no doubts after the drinks and meal.

Later on during the flight they offered sandwiches and also had a small spread of treats and Ice Cream in the self service area. I landed in Charles de Gaulle mid morning. It was then that I realised the 'es' in Charles and 'le' in Gaulle were silent. Stepping out towards the train that was to take me into the city, I stumbled into a convenience store called 'Relay'. What did I find along with baskets of Croissants? Samosas of all kinds, Naan, Bhajjis and Kababs. It looks like we can never be far from Desi food. I ended up with a Croissants which was just about ok, (Little Chef Pastry Shop in Princeton,NJ has better ones, especially the Chocolate) and a cup of hot chocolate (too sweet for my taste)


Taking the RER-b train, I alighted at the station called Gare Du Nord (pronounced as Gar du Nor) to  walk around the Montmartre (pronounced as Mo Mart). I had a very tough time with French. To Kannadiga who are used to reading what is being written English is funny enough with 'Psychology' ,castle. But French is leagues beyond English. A stranger cannot connect what is being read from what is being written. It sort of dawned on me when my cousin who is fluent in French pointed the thumb rule in French 'ignore the last syllable' .
I went around Montmartre, the church and savored the views of Paris and Eiffel tower from the top of the hill. It was past lunch hour and I was rather hungry. I went around looking to make sense of the menus posted at the door of cafes, but most of them were in French and I dared not go in. Finally, I saw this one 'Chez Ginette' with a bilingual menu. Fair enough, but some how this cafe also reminded me of the movie Casablanca. I could almost imagine Bogart's Rick at a counter inside the cafe.

 It was just that, my imagination. But the cafe was well stocked with wines and gins. There I was trying to figure out something to eat. Finally I ordered this dish with a slice of country bread topped with Tomatoes, Cheese, Pesto sauce and Herb de Provence. It came with a side salad and  a whole basket of fries.

The amount of fries actually shocked me, even for someone used to big fires in American fast food joints. The salad was very good with a light balsamic dressing. I enjoyed the meal despite the guilty thoughts for having abandoned most of the fries. It was by then post lunch hour and I saw a few couples animatedly converse in French. They kept going on a week day post lunch hour. What a contrast it was. Mostly tourists can be spotted in New York restaurants post lunch hour. French it looked took leisure seriously. Also they were all dressed well, so was a solitary coffee drinker a few tables away on my left. There I was unwashed in a down coat and a Viking hat chowing down my bread in a French cafe with people relaxing over cups of coffee.

Lunch done I decided to walk around a little more. There is something uncomfortable about Paris, cat calls or  was it just something harmless in French. I would never know. After Van Gogh, a General in Napoleon's Army and the French Christmas equivalent of Chitrasante, I was ready for some Macaroons. There is this charming little shop right opposite the stairs as we descend the hill and they had a very colorful collection of Macaroons. I bought a dozed and a half and that served as my dinner later in the night.

At around 5 PM I reached Marcadet Poissonniers Subway station from where my walking tour started. My guide was a sweet young French woman who  had earlier waned me to keep my belonging real careful. Paris indeed was much like big Indian cities where belongings need to be guarded carefully.  On my way to the station, I chanced upon a ABBA Mania flyer. It was comforting to know that I am not the last ABBA fan alive.

Next stop was riding the subway to meet the Iron Lady, en route saw a station named after FDR. FDR like MGandhi offered me a fleeting comfort of something familiar in a distant city. The Iron Lady aka Eiffel Tower stood sparkling in the light rain and cold winds. As a fall out of the recent terrorist attacks, approaching her has become a tad bit more difficult and there were fences all around. It is a beautiful sight to see her sparkle for five full minute, every hour.
We then walked along the river to the spot where Lady Diana's car crashed. What followed was a haze, Louvre, Art bridge,Ile de la Cite,Notre-Dame, Latin Quarters, Museum of Modern Art all in a breeze. As the evening got chillier, my nose picked up warm whiffs of crepes pretty much every street corner. But the Country bread and cheese adamantly refused to leave my stomach and Crepes will have to wait. It was amusing to see that Crepes is pedestrian in Paris but super fancy here.

The evening progressively got chiller and my guide stopped to wear the extra pair of socks she had been carrying in her small backpack. By then I was tired and cold. Just then I noticed something simmering on a make shift stove outside a cafe. I was hoping for a warm bowl of soup but it got better, it was warm spiced wine. I downed a glass full in the matter of seconds. The warm liquid thawed my about to freeze blood and soothed my achy bones. It was a touch too sweet but 25 kilometers of walking had made me thanks god for the elixir.

Soon we were at the end of our tour and we found our self in a small cafe which served organic wines. After a quick red wine which I did not understand I was back on RER B to the airport. I bid goodbye to my friendly tour guide and curled up on my seat to happy thoughts of a warm shower in the airport hotel.
Shortly after reaching the airport I realized that Paris is no New York /New Delhi. Charles De Gulle pretty much closed down for the night. No shower, no airport hotel, no coffee shops are open after 12 AM. Damn I was counting on a late dinner at an airport restaurant and there I was with a bunch of sleepy wayfarers trying to keep warm and somehow make it through the night.

It turned out to be the most uncomfortable 10 hours of my life. Till Star bucks opened in the morning at 6.30 AM, there was nothing much for me to do except pace up and down the lobby to stay warm.

The bright morning brought some relief. The food court started buzzing with activity. Chefs in the Japanese restaurant started working on big pots of soups. Coffee shops started putting out baskets of fresh croissants and pastries. After a dinner of Macaroons I was ready to wolf down mountains of rice but that was not to be.  One hot chocolate and a Croissant made no difference and I headed out in quest of something hardy. I ended up with a bowl of hot Parisian Mushroom soup, bread and a slice of Quiche. The soup was earthy and was unlike any mushroom soup I had had till then. This soup had
pulverized mushroom and did not seem like there were many ingredients. Mushroom was the solo hero of the soup.  Chopped Parsley was an optional garnish. The Quiche on the other hand was rich and cheesy. As I bit through it, drops of molten fat dripped. One word about bread. The bread I had was like a raisin bread but it had the texture of a baguette.It was delicious. French know their bread and I will never look at the super market bread the way I did before. I also got a lentil and pea salad with pearl onions and sun dried tomatoes. It had too much going and I did not like it. It would have been better to keep it simple with perhaps just lentils and sun dried tomatoes and may be beets/ carrots/cucumbers. Full disclosure, I am not a big fan of peas.



I headed back to my flight with thoughts of great food I ate during the trip and all the more that I could not. One day Paris, I will be back to meet you and savor the delicacies in your street corners.