Rainy days of Kolkata

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There is a popular phrase “Birds bath” in Bengali which mothers use to describe the inadequate amount of water used by their children to bath. Sparrows are happy and busy creatures. The bath they take in small puddles of water in a rain soaked city is no less than a spa. After a hellish warm and humid summer comes the rains. A few days of continuous rain changes the city.

Kolkata loves its fare share of rains, unless it’s office time and the streets in your locality are going to get flooded. This year a six month old pavement dwelling child got separated from her mother in sleep and got killed by drowning in the waterlogged streets. Those who live in certain parts of Kolkata feel the need of buying a gondola using a car loan. (I shall suggest a good read here. After you finish this take a look at this blog-post by Amitabha Gupta  for some more memories of rain). Kolkatas iconic hand pulled rickshaws make a few quick but tough bucks, struggling waist deep in water to commute people from one place to another.

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Those who still believe in real life gaming hit the Kolkata maidan playgrounds. Mud and sweat gets washed away in rains.

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The football game ends or rather continues in a swim for some. Many of them don’t have smartphones. But they have lesser problems than us for sure.

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Rain makes us happy, maybe the plants are the happiest. That’s why they look so beautiful in rain.

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Bamboo chicken, a tribal delicacy of Araku, Andhra Pradesh, India

A Bangladeshi advertisement has been in news for their “Bamboo is on” campaign against MS Dhoni and Co. The tribal people in Andhra Pradesh, India has been using bamboo for a less offensive and healthier purpose. It is bamboo chicken, a chicken recipe without oil or water. I went to visit Visakhapatnam and Araku and experienced this delicious tribal food.

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Araku valley is situated in Andhra Pradesh, India. Araku is definitely not Kodaikanal or Ooty but it is good for a day trip or a nights stay at the APTDC resort. Araku is known for it’s valley, coffee plantations and the famous Borra cave and can be reached from Visakhapatnam by road or by train. The train 58501/Visakhapatnam – Kirandul Passenger moves through 58 tunnels and over 84 bridges and the journey itself is quite an experience, just reserve your seat. Shimliguda station, at 997 m above sea level was once the highest broad-gauge railway station in the country. If you are making a day trip you can come back by a hired car.

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Chaprai is a picnic spot 15 Km away from Araku. Chaprai is reached by road using private vehicles or hired cab. The air is refreshing with no signs of pollution. A stream passes dancing down the slopes of the rocky terrain. Avoid the waters in rainy season. The flat rocks surrounded hilly forest makes it a popular picnic spot with the provision of some kind of water sports for the local tourists. At times the streams can be found crowded by the local people gathered in groups for a picnic.  Don’t get panicked, this place can always be visited for the bamboo chicken.

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Bamboo chicken is sold by roadside stalls set up by the local tribal people.These stalls can be spotted easily by the pieces of green bamboo and colourful signs hang up from the boundary walls. A simple arrangement of few spices, pieces of bamboo and few utensils on top of a table. In one such shop it says Natural Triable [sic] Food”. The price is negotiable, your tour operator or local cab driver can do a better bargain than you.

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Similar shops also sell seekh kebabs; marinated pieces of  boneless chicken in wooden skewers grilled over a stove. The smell from these shops will definitely make you salivate. While you wait for you bamboo chicken get ready you can order a few of these .

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The chicken is cut and marinated with turmeric powder, chicken masala powder(A mix of different spices used in cooking chicken, commercially available all over India), garam masala powder, chilly powder, chopped coriander leaves, chopped green chilly, and put inside bamboo sticks made into a flask by cutting one node open. The open end is sealed with corn husk leaves. Then the stuffed bamboo shoot is roasted on open wood fire. The chicken cooks in it’s own water. No oil or water is added. After 20-30 minutes the chicken is taken out.

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The chicken comes out full of flavour, soft, succulent and juicy and served hot with a dash of lemon juice and chunks of onion.

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Next time you go to Araku try bamboo chicken. They are available in the town but with a higher price tag. Rather sprinkle a dash of nature when you have it at chaprai.

Darjeeling tour in 24 hours part 3

Read the first part here

Read the second part here

A visit to the tiger hill is a must to do thing if you are visiting Darjeeling. The earlier you leave for it better your experience is. The luck is also important. Don’t be disappointed if you miss the sunrise. Darjeeling will always amaze you.

I did not booked a car and was not ready to visit Tiger hill. It was pretty cold and I had to hire a room heater for a few hundred rupees. My sleep was interrupted by the sound of cars starting their engines. I got up and  draw the curtain open. The thick black clouds were gone. The buildings were beautifully lit against the azure sky  The entire range of mountains were so near my window. It was indeed a room with a view.

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Just before the Sun came up the the icy mountain ranges were blueish in colour and it changed colour as the sun came up. Not tiger hill but I was happy to be able to see it from my room. Hotel Sonal Bangla may not have elevators but it has good rooms at affordable prices with a grand view.

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The Sun and Clouds played hide and seek for the rest of the day. I took my camera and went to the Mall again. This time I had my breakfast at the famous cafe and bakery, Glenary’s. I took bread, eggs, bacon and hot chocolate. Bought some chocolates and some more chocolates in case they were eaten during transit.

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The mall was colourful, scenic and friendly. I made a few friends, met a number of cute dogs and took many pictures.

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Taking a walk along the mall among the blue mountains was an wonderful experience. The rain washed skies were deep blue and the sun was shining brightly. The valleys were wrapped in cozy fluffy blankets of cloud.

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I found a place to seat, badly wanted to seat there with a newspaper and a cup of Darjeeling tea. What a house to own!

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I left for my hotel, packed my lunch of fried momos and chilly pork from Kunga resturant and took a car back to Siliguri.

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Here is a panorama of Darjeeling from my hotel balcony.

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Darjeeling tour in 24 hours part 2

View the first part here

I reached Darjeeling and after a steep climb using narrow spiral lanes I checked in my hotel. I asked for a room with good views. There was no elevator and it was on the top floor. I remembered the numerous times I wanted to join the gym but the resolutions lived in “Tomorrow, not today”. The room was big, with a soft bed and softer blankets. A chair made from bamboo and cane. A roof made up of wood and a huge window overlooking the valley. Sadly the sky was cloudy, it was raining and I did not see a single hill there. I passed my time looking at the trails of umbrellas.

There is a thing about the hill stations, the altitude, the low temperatures, and the scenic beauty it feels so different. I live near sea level, and you will never see a hill nearby. Whenever the landscape changes into something wavy, I see hills and mountains I jump with joy. That’s the cause people in and around Kolkata is so fond of hill stations. Wherever you go to a hill station in India you will see a lot of Bengali tourists.

I was feeling cold and hungry. Kunga restaurant was nearby, I went there for a meal. I left my jacket at the hotel as it was soaking wet from all the raindrops it collected during by drive by shooting. A glass full of honey tea with lemon re energized me. I had Handmade flat noodles soup with pieces of vegetables and meat. It worked like a charm. It tasted heavenly. The amount was good and I refrained myself from ordering anything more. I recommend Kunga for a nice Tibetan meal.

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In the later hours the rain subsided. I took a walk into the Mall road. Shops selling scary Tibetan masks and drenched furry dogs of Darjeeling welcome me.

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The mall was not very crowded and the natural fauna included pigeons and dogs.

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Little children played and enjoyed as the gloomy day had no effect on them.

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I explored the Manbari and Chauk Bazar area. Lots of small shops and local people ere buying things of everyday use. I bought some Lapsi and other pickles.

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Little people went to school and back as some of the elders were seen bearing heavy loads in baskets hung at their back and supported at their head using a strap.

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I saw shops selling Momos, noodles and Kebabs. The customer at the kebeb shop was more interested in the heat from the grill.

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I saw this couple taking a romantic stroll as the clouds roll in.

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I came back to my hotel only to go out for a meal at a local Nepali restaurant and retired for the night. I did not book a car for a visit to Tiger hill to watch the famous sunrise as the rain intensified. Now I wish I did, as the clouds were about to clear overnight.

Continued…

Darjeeling tour in 24 hours part 1

(This is my first blog post, please send your honest feedback so that I can improve)

West Bengal Science Congress at North Bengal University (NBU) was over.  I was feeling happy as I have managed to bag a best oral presentation of the session award. Whatever symposium or workshop I attend, I manage to cram a couple more days to visit places. Here you can see me at NBU.

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Darjeeling is fondly called “Queen of the Hills”. It is a popular tourist destination. Darjeeling is known for its tea, toy train and a magnificent view of Mt. Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world.

My parents chose Darjeeling for their honeymoon. I am going alone. I have never been to Darjeeling before. This will be my first visit and I have 24 hours at hand.

I booked my hotel online beforehand. I took a car/jeep from Siliguri on a sharing basis early in the morning. I payed for the  2 front seats for the freedom of movement for photography and comfort of seating. The driver of our car started with a serious look on his face but soon he was communicating in a very warm and friendly manner.

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I was able to see blue mountains near the horizon where the road vanished.It was slightly cold and windy. Fires were kindled and people shared the warmth. Colourful flags added to the beauty of the green and blue.

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Darjeeling is world famous for it’s tea. It is to India what Champagne is to France. Tea gardens can be seen along the sides of the road to Darjeeling. Darjeeling has more than 80 tree gardens. Camellia sinensis or tea tree can survive for many years. The trees are pruned regularly and the new buds and leaves are plucked and processed. Tea is a stimulant and source of antioxidants.

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We went through army camps. Saw an army man cycling to his duty. In the backdrop there is a decommissioned anti aircraft gun.

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There are many schools in and around Darjeeling. Students traveled on foot to long distances. It started raining and colourful umbrellas were seen everywhere.

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As we climbed higher along the spiraling road the vegetation and landscape changed. The toy train line ran along with us. Toy train service was limited but recently there has been changes.

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The umbrella repairman was having a busy day.

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There are local bakeries with a variety of items.

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The daily life carried on despite the rains. I struggled to keep my camera dry. I saw diesel engines. The traditional steam engines are also functional and comes at a higher price tag. Next time I am sure to book a ride.

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I reached Darjeeling partially drenched and shivering. I went to the hotel and checked in. It was raining and my hopes of sight seeing and a view of Mt. Kangchenjunga was dwindling.

Continued…