This one is straight from my grandmother’s kitchen or rather, straight from her stone mortar and pestle….paata varvanta as they call it in Marathi.
I vividly remember, she sitting with her saree tucked away on one side with one leg folded near the paata (stone platform) and the other leg stretched on the kitchen floor, grinding this chutney to get the perfect consistency. She had an electric mixer but desisted from using it too often saying that grinding chutneys in a mixer does not impart the same yummy taste.
This chutney was a regular feature in her house as everybody just loved it mixed with hot rice and ghee. Now, I have made it quite a few times myself, using the same tried and tested recipe but in an electric mixer… and …it lacks that taste which my memory craves for. May be the secret of getting it perfect lies in the paata varvanta 🙂 Miss you avva!
1 cup fresh, grated coconut
1 tbsp chana dal
0.5 tbsp udid dal
0.5 tsp sesame seeds (optional)
Tamarind pulp – to taste
Water – to adjust the consistency
2-3 red chillies, deseeded as preferred
1 tbsp oil or as required
Salt- to taste
0.5 tsp mustard seeds
4-5 curry leaves
A pinch of asafoetida
1 tbsp – til/sesame oil (Sesame oil is preferred but one can use any other oil as well)
Method: Roast the chana dal, udid dal and sesame seeds along with the red chillies in little oil till they change color. Grind the coconut with these roasted dals, chillies and tamarind pulp with gradual addition of water till we get our desired smooth consistency. To this chutney, add the above tempering and mix it well.
It’s best enjoyed with hot rice drizzled with sesame oil or ghee.
I haven’t had tried masala puri till recently …even after staying in Bangalore for more than 5 years now! This is something what I wanted to atone for. I tried going to Malleswaram and eat this chaat at a street vendor’s stall but somehow ended up disliking it. The peas gravy had a peculiar taste to it but I was not about to accept defeat. How could a foodie like me give up on this Karnataka’s local favourite without even trying for it!
Well for the unacquainted, masala puri is a chaat item which consists of a crushed puris served with piping hot, peas masala gravy, an assortment of chutneys and sev. Many locals just vouch for its mouthwatering goodness. So what was I waiting for… I googled for its recipe and finally decided to try the recipe given on hebbarskitchen.com.
Here it is reproduced for you all with slight variations of my own:
For the Peas Masala:
To be pressure cooked:
2 cups white peas, soaked overnight
1/2 carrot ( I had a huge red carrot and so I used half of it)
1 medium potato
Salt – to taste
For the paste:
1/2 onion – chopped
1 large tomato – chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 inch ginger
2 green chillies, roughly chopped
Masalas to be added:
1/2 teaspoon amchur powder
3/4 tsp fennel powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp red chilli powder
1 heaped tsp pav bhaji masala
1/2 tsp garam masala
1-2 tsp jaggery powder as per your liking
oil – 2 tbsp
water – to adjust the consistency
Pressure cook the soaked peas with carrot, potato and salt till they are soft and ready to get mashed. In a kadhai, heat the oil and fry the onions with ginger, garlic and green chillies for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, turmeric and chilli powder and fry it more for 2-3 minutes. Once the onion-tomatoes are done and mushy, allow it cool and grind it without adding any water.
Again, using the same kadhai, add the ground paste with mashed peas and sufficient quantity of water to form a gravy. ( No need to add oil again). Add the remaining masala powders to this gravy and allow it to boil well. Adjust the consistency with water as per your liking. Usually this masala is prepared a bit thin to serve it on top of the puris.
For assembing the masala puri plate, you will need the following:
Flat fried puris – I used the store bought ones or you can even use the puffed-up puris which we use in pani puri
Sweet and sour dates and tamarind chutney
Chaat masala and chilli powder – to sprinkle
Finely chopped onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves
Crush around 5-6 puris in plate. Pour a ladleful or two of peas masala gravy on top of it. To this, add generous quantities of sev; chutneys as per your liking, garnish it with finely chopped onions, tomatoes and coriander leaves. Finally, sprinkle the chaat masala for that typical yummy taste!
Note: One can even use dried green peas for this recipe.
“Mamma! My friend’s mom makes sandwiches for him almost everyday. I too want a sandwich tomorrow after school“. I was a tad disappointed that my son didn’t approve of the ever-appealing aloo paratha I had made for him that day. Instead it was a sandwich that he craved for.
It’s interesting to see how food habits of a child are influenced by his peers. Earlier he never had any demands on the food front and making him eat was a task. Now, cooking a variety of dishes for him, especially for his after-school snack is a big task! 😀
So with hummus and garlicky hung-curd dip sitting in the fridge, I decided to make this quick snack for him today:
Whole wheat bread slices – as required
Hummus ( I used home-made hummus) – as required
Garlic Dip ( I used Wingreens farms’ hung-curd & garlic dip bought from Nature’s Basket) – as required
Finely chopped onions and capsicum – as required
Thin Tomato slices – as required
Thin Cucumber slices – as required
Fresh, grated mozzarella cheese or processed cheese works fine as well. ( I prefer fresh cheese) – as required
Coarsely crushed pepper powder – to sprinkle as per taste
Garlic bread seasoning – to sprinkle as per taste (optional)
Salt- to sprinkle as per taste
Spread a spoonful of hummus and the hung-curd dip on one bread slice. Arrange the onions and capsicum on it. Next, arrange the cucumber and tomato slices on it. Season it with salt, pepper powder and garlic bread seasoning. Grate cheese on top of it and cover it with the other bread slice and press it slightly. Toast it in a sandwich grill or on a heated tava with some weight on top like a chakla or a polpat (the roti-making platform) for a nice, crusted sandwich 🙂
Enjoy the healthy goodness!
Note: Also, feel free to experiment with the veggies; however, cucumber goes very well with hummus and curd – so try and incorporate it.
“Cambodia and Siem Reap” – these words conjure up images of Angkor Wat, the largest temple complex and religious monument in the whole world. ‘Angkor wat’ roughly translates to the City of Temples (Angkor derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Nagara’ and Wat from the Sanskrit word ‘Vaat’ meaning ‘an enclosure’) and was originally constructed as a Hindu temple by King Suryavarman II of the Khmer dynasty. Unlike most other Angkor temples, this is a West-facing temple built in the early 12th century and was dedicated to Lord Vishnu till the end of the century, when it gradually and gently was converted to Theravada Buddhism.
Symbolic significance of Angkor Wat:
Today, the temple is a symbol of national pride in Cambodia and finds a central place on its flag, representing Religion (Buddhism). It is a classic example of the Khmer architecture, carved in sandstone and known for its sheer size. It is a monumental complex spread across 402 acres, and is well-known for its extensive bas reliefs portraying devatas (gods) and apasaras (heavenly nymphs) on its walls. It is also famed for the harmony and proportions of its architecture with a central sanctum sanctorum enclosed by a concentric galleries separated by courtyards in between. These galleries are interspersed with gopurams at cardinal intervals, which are nothing but elaborately carved entrances, flanked by dwarpalakas or guards on each side.
This particular style of temple architecture is symbolic of the microcosm of the universe as per Hindu beliefs. When the visitor enters the temple, he or she is required to go through the following stages:
Cross the moat to enter the temple, which represents the cosmic sea
Go across the enclosure walls, which represent the mountain ranges signifying the obstacles one needs to cross to attain enlightenment
Reach the five towers representing the mountain residences of Gods. Out of which, the central tower represents Mount Meru, the holy abode of Gods, atop which one is supposed to attain Nirvana!
Siem Reap – gateway to the Angkor region
We landed at Siem Reap on a fine Saturday afternoon and had 4 full days to roam around and absorb what the city had to offer. The first thing that struck us when we landed was the warm and welcoming hospitality of its people. Inspite of the visible poverty around, the people are super nice and sweet. The road from the airport to our villa reminded me of how India used to be in the 90s – small shops and eateries on both sides of the road; a river canal flowing through the city, muddy side paths; crowded streets, hawkers selling their wares on carts and tourists everywhere. The nostalgia felt inviting, and true to my vibes, we found it to be a clean, tourist-friendly and happening city at any time of the day!
Siem Reap is a small city and our meals, when we were not exploring the temples, were usually at the Old Market area. The Old Market area had a great atmosphere and was buzzing with hordes of western tourists. Actually ,we visited the market on the first day itself as we had arrived without our luggages – courtesy, Malaysian Airlines. Nevertheless, this delay gave us a good opportunity to explore the Old Market and interact with the locals there. Bargaining happens there without us even asking for it. I was happily surprised… Some shopkeepers were sweet, others were not so sweet but our experience there reminded me of our good old Mumbai’s Crawford market 🙂
Would like to mention that Pub Street is another such happening street which is quite close to the Old Market and the Night Market. It won’t be an overstatement to call it the most lively street in entire Siem Reap. It’s full of restaurants, massage spas, bars with live bands and night clubs. The food options are really good and so are the shops selling knock offs. You get most things under $5! It’s the apt place to unwind at night by taking a foot massage and having a warm dinner after spending the entire day wandering the temples.
Right here on Pub Street, we found this vendor selling fried tarantulas and other such weird local delicacies. As he hardly had any tourists buying from him, he charged us a dollar to click pictures from his cart..it had all sorts of crawling creatures that one can imagine!
Before we started visiting the temples, we visited the Angkor National Museum. This is a must-do 2 hours to understand the Khmer history and its transition from Hinduism to Buddhism. The museum houses numerous artifacts including the 1000 Buddhas and many Hindu deities. Sadly, many of the artifacts are in a damaged condition (eg: We saw many headless Buddhas- The eyes of these Buddhas, embedded with precious gems were looted by beheading these sculptures) pointing out to the untold pillage and plunder that this country underwent till as recent as 1993.
We had bought 3-day passes of Angkor Archaeological Park. One day is not enough time to witness the past grandeur of the Khmer dynasty, so it is advisable to buy the 3-day passes beforehand. We had rented a tuk-tuk and a local guide for our sightseeing and off we started with Angkor Wat. As we neared the entrance, I saw a big lake on the way to the temple. I was mistaken. It wasn’t a lake but the mighty moat that surrounded the complex. On we proceeded and this was our first glimpse of the sprawling temple complex (pic below). I was excited!
We crossed the gate and started walking towards the main temple.
It is recommended to enter from the East Gate to avoid the crowds at the West Gate.
The temple inside, as I mentioned earlier, has 5 towers each housing a shrine. The galleries leading us to the towers, were carved with bas reliefs depicting numerous apsaras and devatas on them. As we crossed one enclosure, we were welcomed by another concentric enclosure. There are 3 enclosures before we reach the innermost part of the temple. Wooden stairs are installed at places to protect the structure. Here is a pic of an entrance to the enclosure:
We crossed this second enclosure and reached the area where the temple towers stand tall staring down at us. Some towers were under renovation and they are closed to public on certain days to allow for cleaning and maintenance.
From the third enclosure, we spotted the ancient east-west facing library where the walls have inscriptions on them. Crossing this enclosure led us towards the central and the main tower which used to house the presiding deity of the temple.
As we move along inside the temple, we find most of the spaces quite bare and empty. Gone are the bejewelled deities and gone are the riches that once adorned these now empty nooks and corners of this temple. Most of the artifacts are looted and the remaining ones are now preserved in the Phnom Penh Musuem and the Angkor National Musuem.
Ramayana and Mahabharata epics have been carved as bas reliefs on the outermost west-facing gallery:
We soon reached the West Gate which is usually the main entrance to the temple.The path towards the West Gate is adorned with various nagas and lions guarding the gates. Now it also crowded with various shops selling local goods. Not to mention the weirdest of food options the local people indulge in!
This temple was once taken over by the dense forests around it. This might be the reason that it was protected during the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that this country witnessed. The treasures of these temples are long gone but what remains behind is nothing less than a marvel – a mathematical and an archaeological marvel.
The next temple we visited that day was the Ta Prohm temple. It was CRAZILY crowded on that particular afternoon! It is one of Angkor’s most popular temples with visitors. The reason might be because this was the location for the popular Hollywood movie Tomb Raider. Or most probably because of the picturesque vistas this temple offers after merging with the forests around. Yes! The trees growing out of its ruins are perhaps its most distinguishing and eerie feature at the same time.
This temple was constructed again by Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university. Now the temple is in a dilapidated state. However, the conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm is jointly undertaken by our Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the APSARA (Authority for the Protection and Management of Angkor and the Region of Siem Reap).
A must-see temple on your list when you are in Siem Reap. Not much left to see in terms of carvings but it is fascinating to see how nature is taking over this marvellous piece of art. Just try not to go before lunch time to avoid the crowds.
It was past mid-day and our guide suggested a floating Khmer restaurant for lunch nearby. That day we had some really good local vegetarian food, seated on platforms floating in water with lotuses in them. It was a lovely and relaxing place full of tourists. The country’s food culture is definitely not to be missed, even for vegetarians like us. The options were limited but we did try the veg Amok curry served in a large coconut shell served along with rice. Amok is a thick curry made of coconut milk with vegetables added to it and is the national dish of Cambodia 🙂
3) Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple
It was around 3 pm and we were already tired with the all the walking we had to do in the humid weather. However, we could not afford to miss Angkor Thom! Angkor Thom or the “Great City” is a walled city in Siem Reap which used to house the royal palace, numerous official residences and temples within its boundary. It was built in almost a perfect square and covers a large area of 12km in length and breadth alike, with a moat built around it. This fortified city was built by Jayavarman VII and was the capital to a population of around 1 million. Not much is left of the City today except the enclosure walls with towers and a few noteworthy temples and monuments including the famous Bayon Temple.
Bayon temple is situated exactly in the centre of this walled city. It represents the intersection between heaven and earth in the cosmic Universe which is represented by Angkor Thom. It was the last State Temple of Angkor and was originally named Jayagiri. The name later got changed to “Banyan Temple” and now the mispronounced name of “Bayon’ is stuck with it.
The beauty of this temple lies in the fact that it appears to be a stony mass of chaos like a misfit jigsaw, towering into the sky from a distance but as we go closer, we see the serene and smiling faces carved on the 54 towers of this temple. All the 216 faces are carved on the upper part of its towers and are said to be of the King (Jayavarman VII) himself. Some also believe it to be that of Avalokiteshwara.
The Bayon temple is a baroque gem of the Khmer empire, quite in contrast to the classical architectural marvel that is Angkor Wat. There are many such impressive architectural masterpieces strewn all over this ancient capital city of the Khmer dynasty. Banteay Srei temple, Kulen mountain, 1000 shivalingas on a river bed and many others in this temple city are worth a visit. Take your own time and leisurely wander these ancient ruins with a local guide by your side. Therein lies the true charm of visiting Siem Reap and exploring its rich and golden history.
Buy a sim card for your phone at the Siem Reap airport itself. Cell card offers good data and mobile coverage under $10.
We had rented a villa through Airbnb. It was quite a comfortable accommodation with the owner arranging for all the tours and guides, including airport pick up and drop.
Vegetarian food options are limited but available nonetheless. Peace Cafe (River Road 172, Bang Don Pa) is one such vegetarian cafe which offers both local and continental food in a relaxing setting. The Cafe offers yoga and meditation classes as well for those interested.
Viva Restaurant – 697 Street 09, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia: Lovely Mexican food right next to the Old Market.
Dakshin’s – Old Market,Opp Siem Reap Referral Hospital, Siem Reap 0000, Cambodia: Authentic Indian snacks and thalis for those missing Indian food.
Come winter and there is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables in our country. Red carrots, fresh pearly peas, grapes, amla and so the list goes on. In my family everybody loves green peas. In fact, since it is available all the year round in its frozen form, it is consumed almost daily in our diet in some form or the other.
My husband makes lovely peas kachoris (on the lines of Gujarati lilva kachoris) on RARE ocassions 😉 (Hope he is reading this and gets the message!) Hare matar ki sabzi, Maharashtrian usal, matar paratha, matar pulao are all tried and repeated recipes. I already made amla pickle, gajar halwa this winter to enjoy their seasonal goodness and wanted to try something unique with fresh peas. Nevertheless, I chanced upon this article on NDTV on 10 Best Winter Foods and there I spotted Nimona. And then soon again I saw its recipe on TV as one of the special dishes of Benares. It looked really good and tempting. Served on a thali with numerous other traditional heirloom dishes, it looked rich green and inviting. It is supposed to be had with pooris, rotis or piping hot rice (as one of my UP-bred friend pointed it out).
So yesterday, I ordered 1kg of fresh peas, sincerely shelled them and got this lovely dish made. Some people make it with aloo, or moong dal wadis or simply plain without any additions. Onions, tomatoes and garlic too are optional. I googled and got many recipes for it with all these variations and then decided to get it done the satvik way – without onions – without garlic and with minimum spices – to enjoy the robust, earthy and mildly sweet flavour of peas, the way it is traditionally prepared in our City of Gods.
1 cup fresh, shelled peas
1 inch ginger
2 green chillies
1 tsp Jeera
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp ghee
1 pinch asafoetida
Water – around 2 cups
Salt- to taste
Chopped coriander leaves and lemon wedges to serve along with.
Grind the fresh peas along with the chillies and ginger to a coarse paste without adding any water. In a kadhai, heat the ghee and temper it with jeera and asafoetida. When the jeera starts changing colour, add the turmeric and peas paste to the kadhai and fry till the peas get cooked and its raw smell is gone. To this paste, add sufficient water and boil it till the mixture starts thickening. Add salt and boil it a bit. Adjust consistency with water as per your liking.
Serve it with chopped coriander leaves and a lemon wedge on the side. We had it as a soup and paired it up with veg biryani for dinner.
In my mom’s house, we call this aamti – “Kusum tai’s aamti”. Smt. Kusumtai Kshirsagar, was an elderly neighbour of ours in Kalyan when I was a little girl. She always used to give us a vaati (bowl) of this aamti whenever she prepared it. Being South Indians, we hardly ever made this Maharashtrian aamti. However, I and my brother grew very fond of her aamti, and till date, we remember her whenever we make this type of dal. Aamti + bhaat + toop = Heaven 😀
In those days, it was quite common to see neighbours drop by to share their culinary preparations with us. Be it the everyday aamti, exquisite puranpolis to home made masalas; sharing food was a popular way of expressing camaraderie. Borrowing too was quite common and a neighbour eventually turned up every now and then at our house with an empty vaati in her hand asking for saakhar (sugar), or salt, and also sometimes green chillies! Well, those memories are definitely cherished by me now when I live in a world of super convenience where every single thing gets delivered to my door step. I still remember how our immediate neighbour used to come to our house asking for a little helping of sambar when its aroma wafted from our kitchen window over to her house. Those were the days of sharing and caring 🙂
The Marathi word for sour is ‘ambat’ and thats the origin of the word aamti. Well, aamti is a dal preparation which is supposed to be slightly sour and sweet. Some like it sour, some like it sweet but both the tastes are strictly required to make it a delectable dish.
Here goes the recipe:
Toor dal – 1 cup cooked and mashed
1 small finely tomato chopped
Kokum concentrate* or tamarind pulp – 1 tsp or as per taste
Sugar or jaggery – as per taste
Goda masala – half to 3/4th of a tsp
Salt – to taste
For the tempering:
Peanut Oil – 1 tbsp
Mustard seeds – 1 small tsp
Hing – a pinch
Haldi – half a tsp
Chilly powder – half a tsp
Green chilly chopped – 1 to 2 or as per taste
Kadhi patta or curry leaves – 4 to 5 in number
Prepare the tadka and when the mustard seeds start spluttering, add the other ingredients under tadka and let their flavours seep in the oil for a minute or two. Immediately, then add the chopped tomatoes and let it get cooked for another couple of minutes. Then add the mashed toor dal along with the other condiments of sugar, kokum and salt. Add water to adjust the consistency and let it boil. Finally add the goda masala and again allow it to boil for another few minutes. Switch off the gas and garnish it with chopped coriander leaves.
Note: Kindly do not substitute goda masala with any garam masala, for that is the ingredient which imparts that authentic taste to this dish. One can add onions, ginger, peanuts to this dal as per their liking. Peanuts when added here should be boiled along with the dal initially.
*Make sure the Kokum concentrate has no sugar added to it.
Halebidu is a small little town located in the Hassan district of Karnataka, popular for its twin temples of the Hoysala dynasty. Hale = old and bidu = abode, stands for old abode or old capital. Our guide told us it’s also known as ‘Dwarasamudra’ – (entry by sea) and I started wondering how could a samudra (sea) come in this place! Later I was told that a huge tank was built here by King Vinayaditya of the Hoysala dynasty. As per historical records, the Hoysalas ruled from Belur (17 kms from Halebidu) along the banks of the Yagachi river. Later, King Vinayaditya built a canal to channelize water from the Yagachi river to a newly built tank along the banks of which Halebidu flourished.
Now that explains why it was also known as Dwarasamudra! The tank is long gone now and all that can be seen are lush green fields surrounding the temple complex.
The Hoysala period boasts of numerous exquisitely carved temples. It is said that more than 1500 temples were built during their reign out of which hardly 100 survive today. Halebidu twin temples is one of the Hoysala trio of temples which have been proposed to be listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The other two proposed temples can be seen at Belur and Somnathapura. The intricate details of these temples are simply jaw dropping! It is difficult to describe the exquisite handiwork of the talented craftsmen. No wonder, these temples are huge tourist attractions from world over.
How to reach Halebidu from Bangalore:
Its a refreshing drive of about 3.5 hours from Bangalore. Halebidu is 210 kms from Bangalore and the drive on NH75 is a breeze. SH21 was okay. Love our National Highways… State Highways need to catch up! We could easily cruise (literally!) at speeds of more than 100 kmph on NH75.
The Shiva Temples:
The twin temples of Hoysaleshwar and Shantaleshwara stand tall and glorious as a mute testimony to the grandeur of the past. These Shiva temples named after the King and Queen Shantala Devi respectively, are located in the same complex and are still unfinishe. It is said that the work on these temples were interrupted by numerous wars the Hoysalas had to wage to defend their empire. 850+ years later these temples are still almost intact and active, housing the large monolithic Nandis facing the Shiva lingas.d. The temples stand on an elevated platform which has 64 corners and shaped like a star. The geometry of this soapstone structure is simply accurate in every detail. The temple walls are covered with deities depicting tales of our Hindu mythologies from Ramayana, Mahabharatha and others. Similarly, in Belur, the temple walls are adorned with sculptures of apsaras depicting the lifestyle of those times, replete with shringar (fashion), dressing style, hair style and much more.
As we enter the temple complex finding our way through the numerous vendors selling guidebooks and knick knacks, we are welcomed by a lush green lawn and paved pathways leading to the entrance. On one side, it houses a museum collection of numerous awe inspiring sculptures of deities which were once a part of this magnificent architecture.
The Dwarapalakas (guards at the entrance) are so exquisitely carved but unfortunately were destroyed when it was attacked by Malik Kafur in the 13th century. The Archaeological Survey of India tried to repair the damage in vain. I guess perfection cannot be repaired. They could not conceal the damage done, in a graceful way and left it as it is.
Photography inside the temple premises is prohibited. After taking darshan and teerth, we proceeded to hire a guide who was very good with her work. With her near perfect English, she walked us around the complex describing every little detail with great interest and enthusiasm. It took us around 2 hours to see the temple at our own slow pace.
I am portraying some of the carvings below. A look at it will make you wonder the patience and talent of the craftsmen then. Not only were they adept sculptors but were also proficient in mythologies and other art forms prevalent then. A beautiful sculpture of a Bharatnatyam dancer reveals how knowing the dance steps and the correct posture was essential to the correct portrayal of the dancing sculpture.
The temple visit was fantastic. We also visited Jain basadis (situated within a kilometer), dedicated to Jain tirthankars – Parshavanatha, Shantinatha and Adinatha. These basadis or temples were all built in between the 11th and 14th century. Unlike the Shiva temples, the basadis were not crowded and only a few Jain devotees were singing a holy song in the premises. It was amazing to experience the solitude of these ancient temples.
Two – three hours is all it takes to enjoy these temples but it leaves behind memories of a lifetime! This visit impressed me greatly and makes me all the more proud of our Indian heritage.
A few tips:
It’s a one day trip from Bangalore and NH 75 is really good to cruise at high speeds. The other Hoysala temple at Belur is just 17 kms away and can be combined with this trip.
There are no decent eateries nearby but yes, one does get corn, sugarcane juice, cucumber slices etc. just outside the temple. Suggest to eat on NH 75 which are lined up with various restaurants.
There is no entry fee to the temple but the museum visit does require one to buy tickets, which again are nominally priced.
Government guides are easily available inside the temple and charge a fixed rate of Rs 300/-
A good after-school snack for kids with the goodness of hummus, vegetables and cheese! Not only pretty but yummy too. My son comes home from school and smells around saying -“something nice is baking in the oven!” I am a bit apprehensive if he would like this twist in the pizza with hummus and olives in it…and he loves it!
Here is the recipe from a happy mom:
Chickpeas (kabuli chana) – 1 cup. To be soaked overnight and cooked soft
A dash of lemon juice – as per your liking
Thick curd – 4-5 tbsp
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Red chilli-garlic paste (the one used in bhel puri) – 2-3 tsp (as per your liking)
Jeera powder – 1/2 tsp
Salt – to taste
Add all the above ingredients in a mixer and grind it smooth. The hummus should be smooth and of this consistency:
Ingredients for the pizza:
Hummus – to apply on the pita bread as the base sauce
Pita breads – 6 in number. I used the ready-made ones
Juliennes of red, yellow and green capsicum – 1-1.5 cup
Sliced onions – 1/3 cup
Black pitted olives, sliced
Grated mozzarella cheese (Amul, Milky Mist) – around 2 cups
Sesame seeds – to sprinkle on the pizza ( I did not use it)
Garlic bread seasoning OR oregano powder
Red chilli flakes
Assembling the pizza:
Spread the hummus on the pita breads in generous quantities. Top it with veggies, onions and olives. Add the grated cheese, again in generous quantities. Sprinkle the seasoning, chilli flakes and sesame seeds on the top. Bake it in the oven for around 15 minutes at 180 C till the cheese melts and starts changing colour a bit. Towards the end, broil/grill it for a couple of minutes.
Kruger National Park was on our bucket list of destinations for a long time now. We were waiting for our little one to grow up a bit so that he could truly understand and enjoy the wildlife sightings there. Kruger was the highlight of our South African trip but once there, one cannot afford to miss Cape Town and Garden Route. Cape Town was a beautiful beginning to a memorable vacation and from there, off we started on the 2nd leg of our journey through the panoramic Garden Route.
Nope..don’t go by its name. This route is not associated with any gardens as such but it is a 300-km stretch along the south-western coast of South Africa, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.
1) Mossel Bay
Our first destination on this route was Mossel Bay, some 400 kms from Cape Town. Driving was a breeze on the well-maintained roads and we reached our destination in under 6 hours. This is the very place where the first European, Bartolomeu Diaz landed his foot on the South African soil in 1488. There is a museum complex by his name which houses some interesting remnants of this past, including the life-size replica of the caravel which Diaz and his crew used for their voyage.
Mossel bay is also known for its prehistoric archaeological remains dated as far back as 164,000 years! There are caves here which have revealed evidence of it being the ‘birthplace of human culture’. The Point of Human Origins is an archaeological tour offered at these caves from near the Pinnacle point beach and is quite well reviewed. We were supposed to go on this guided tour but unfortunately heavy rains and the slippery path cancelled our tour. Nevertheless, we did lunch at the restaurant there (@ the Pinnacle Point Beach & Golf Resort) and had our share of some super delicious fig pizzas. Gain some, lose some…, right?
Mossel bay was great fun inspite of the rains because of its AWESOME views. The vast expanse of the Indian ocean with waves dashing along the cliffs made for an unforgettable view from the beautifully manicured lawns of the resort. We spent about 2-3 hours in the resort and headed to George (city) for our overnight halt.
We stayed for two nights at George which is an hour-long drive from Mossel Bay. Next day, early morning we started for Oudtshoorn to reach Cango caves, which are located in the Swatberg mountain ranges. After around 2 hours of circuitous driving, we reached the caves and were ready to be amazed.
Words will not do justice to the evocative dripstone formations inside this underground wonder world. All the chambers are illuminated and beautifully highlight the natural decor formed here. Some of the stalactites and stalagmites are more than millions of years old and resemble the modern works of art. Aptly, they have been named so too. Madonna, Child formation, Cleopatra’s needle which is 9m long formation, Leaning tower of Pisa and many such popular names have been attributed to those fantastic formations. We chose to do the standard tour over the adventurous one which requires one to crawl along the rocky terrain through claustrophobic holes! An hour-long trip inside leaves one dripstone-struck 🙂
The next plan for the day was to visit an working Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn and see these wonderful flightless birds. Riding on ostriches is now banned by the government there and I am quite glad about that. However, the ban left me wondering who would have anyways dared to ride on such huge, super fast birds! We took a guided tractor tour in the huge breeding farm and were amazed to know some interesting facts about them … like did you know that their eggs are so huge and strong that do not break even if a fully grown human stands on them? Wait! however, if you dash them around, they will crack!
The farm has a big curio shop selling candle stands made from ostrich eggs, ostrich-feather dusters, pens, leather bags made from their tough skins and so many more things. I purchased a beautiful ostrich egg candle stand which adorns a table in my living room today! The pics and such momentos make for some lovely memories over time.
Next day we hopped over (not literally :P) to Knysna (pronounced as Nice..naa) stopping briefly at one Redberry Farm for some fun. We did strawberry picking there although it was a bit early in the season for it. But still, we managed to collect a lot of sweet, juicy strawberries for us to munch on.
Knysna is well known for its ‘Kynsna Heads’ which are a pair of sandstone cliffs dramatically rising from the sea and guarding the entrance of the lagoon from the vast ocean. We drove along the headlands adjoining the Heads and then walked gingerly on the Leisure Isle beach, avoiding the zillions of baby crabs playing there in the waters.
The evening walk along the beach was a very lovely one, offering beautiful views of the Heads on one side and of picturesque, whitewashed villas on the other. Some experiences which seem simple and not so noteworthy, sometimes gives one the greatest joy. They cannot be easily described in words; only can one feel and live the experience. The fact that we ( I and my husband) were enjoying the walk without a care in the world, frolicking behind our son like small children, clicking pictures all around us, and enjoying the magical moments of it all, made it a walk to remember for our life times.
4) Plettenberg Bay
Well, the Garden route journey definitely warrants a mention of Plettenberg bay and the lovely hiking trails, sanctuaries and adventure activities it offers. We did visit the Elephant Sanctuary and were delighted to get really up close with the elephants. We could touch them, feed them and walk along with them. The guides were friendly and we felt quite safe throughout our adventure. The group matriach, Sally, commanded a lot of respect from me. The way she managed her herd and led them by example in each and every task, calls for a leadership class from her 😉
Many tourists to South Africa skip Garden route and directly go for Kruger from Cape Town. But if you have the luxury of time, then please do not skip this scenic route. It offers a lot to satisfy one’s travel lust. From beautiful views, adventure activities to wild forests and fauna, the route offers it all.
From Garden route, we flew to Johannesburg and then proceeded to Kruger. Kruger is a different world of its own and one has to experience its wilderness in person to enjoy it truly. The sightings of animals, the thrill of tracking at the wee hours of sunrise & sunset, the feeling of wild animals lurking around close, all has to be experienced by oneself.
However, I would definitely like to add one funny incident we had with the wild elephants. We were in our safari jeep in the midst of a herd of elephants. Old elephants, adult elephants, adolescents, babies, they were all there. It was a big herd of around 15-20 elephants scattered all over, enjoying their meal of bushes and leaves. We were in a open-air jeep with 8 tourists including us, a guide and a tracker with their guns. We were strictly warned to not make noise or get up from our seats no matter what happened as this act of ours supposedly scares the animals and they might attack us.
So we were all seated in our seats surrounded by elephants and enjoying their joyful antics until it was time for us to make a move. Our jeep, was a sturdy Land Rover which could crush any small bush in our path and make way for us in that arid bushy area. When the tracker crushed a large bush under our Jeep, one of the adolescent elephants just 2 feet away from us, got irritated and trumpeted loudly, signalling us to leave. The tracker and the guide were calm but worry was writ large on our faces. Again, the elephant trumpeted so loudly that it made my little son jump up in his seat and clamber up on my lap. Later we were explained that adolescent elephants get easily irritated and trumpeting is the best way they can warn us. Most of the animals, except leopards and wild bulls, tend to warn their opponents before attacking. Glad that nature does have its way of warning the lesser (in terms of strength) animals.
It was funny the way my son panicked, jumped and got on my lap but it did teach us to respect nature and the might of these wild animals. When in jungle, obey the rules of the jungle or court trouble! The safaris and such kind of interactions with these animals taught us a lot in terms of their habitat, their behaviour, their getting adapted to the constant tourist incursions, and also made us realise the sad truth of poaching.
These pictures tell much more than just words! 🙂 Most pics were taken from a distance of less than 5 feet from our open-air jeep. So do plan out this thrilling South Africa and Kruger trip soon. It is a must-do trip in your lifetime..Adios!
Stayed at Oobai Hotel, Golf & Spa at George to cover Mossel bay and Outdshoorn.
Rented an Air BnB at Kynsna along the waterfront to cover Knysna and Plettenberg Bay
Getting vegetarian food along the Garden Route was a bit difficult as compared to Cape Town. We tried Mexican, Thai, Italian and Portuguese food for vegetarian options in and around the place. Zomato app was a true life saver on these occasions. We did not find any Indian options as they were far and few and also closed on Sundays.
Hot chocolate is one of the must-try drinks while in South Africa. The rich, chocolatey taste is sure raving about.
At Kruger National Park, we stayed at Kambaku Safari Lodge in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Timbavati is contiguous with the larger Kruger area and so the animals are not restricted in any one area but free to move from one part of the reserve to another. Sighting is purely on chance and on the skills of the tracker and guide. We were lucky to see all the Big 5 (Leopard, Lion, Giraffe, Rhino, Elephants) up & close in under 3 safaris. Kambaku conducts 2 safaris and a bush walk daily. Food, obviously is taken care of at the Safari Lodge and they do customise it for us as well :).
As the legend goes, Lepakshi – the Vijaynagar era temple, is the place where Jatayu, the vulture, fell wounded while trying to save Sita from the clutches of the demon king, Ravana. ‘Le-pakshi’ in Telegu means: ‘Rise – O – bird’. These were the words which Lord Rama uttered on seeing Jatayu injured in that condition.
This legend is surely fascinating and so is the temple architecture and its murals. The 16th century temple is situated in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, some 120 kms north of Bangalore. Dedicated to Lord Veerabhadra, Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Lakshmi, this temple is well-known for its hanging pillar and India’s largest monolithic granite-sculpted Nandi.
Lepakshi is about an hour-long drive from North Bangalore on the lovely Bangalore-Hyderabad highway (NH44). Cruising at a speed of little more than 100 kmph, we reached Anantpur at about 10 in the morning. Taking cues from the signboards, we turned left off the highway onto Lepakshi Road and passed a few charming villages before being welcomed by the granite monolithic Nandi some 200 metres from the main temple. We parked near the Nandi enclosure next to the APTDC Haritha hotel. As soon as we stepped out of our car, we were greeted by a couple of monkeys and a group of kids, who followed us demanding money. We soon enough realised what they really wanted and bought all of them ice cream from a vendor nearby. The happy faces waved at us as we proceeded on.
The Nandi is ornately carved from a single block of granite, with a height of 4.5 m and a length of 8.23 metres, making it the largest monolithic Nandi in India.It is bedecked with bells, earrings, chains and other jewellery and it faces the shiva linga inside the temple premises, some 200 metres away. Another monolithic Nandi, probably the second largest in India (need to verify the fact here), faces the Virupaksha temple from the bazaar lane of Hampi. Interestingly, both these monolithic bulls are the architectural marvels from the bygone Vijaynagar era.
We walked over to the temple which is atop a small hillock known as Kurma sailam (tortoise-shaped hill). The sanctum sanctorum houses the main shrine of Veerabhadra (a fearsome form of Shiva), Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Laxmi. The murals on the ceilings are still visible and are partly intact in places with all their colors and forms. Their mere glimpse depicting the everyday way of life then, clothing, social events, musicians, processions, etc. transport us to that glorious, royal past. I desisted from clicking pictures inside the garba griha to do my bit to preserve the remainder of the murals. The murals are fading away and are in urgent need of restoration. Right outside the main temple hall lies the Ranga mantapa or the 100-pillared dance hall with its exquisitely carved pillars.
Another interesting aspect of this temple is its hanging pillar which hangs from the ceiling without touching the ground! No, no it not defective. The Archaeological Survey of India had demonstrated that the pillar was not defectively built but was specially constructed this way to highlight the sheer brilliance of the architects of their time. One can easily pass a sheet of cloth or paper from underneath the pillar and verify the truth.
To the left of the main shrine, lies the Kalyana mantapa which as per records, was never completed. However, the exquisite carvings adorning the pillars of the mantapa leaves one, still, spellbound. Below the elevated Kalyana mantapa is a big, right footprint considered to be Devi Sita’s footprint. The footprint is always wet with some water seeping in through the rocks. No one knows the source of this water supply nearby. Interesting, right?
The brilliance of the architecture manifests itself in every nook and corner of this temple. There is a huge Ganesha carved out on the other side of the mantapa. A shivalinga canopied by a hooded, 7-headed naga is another marvel carved on the other side.
Legends abound this temple as does the beauty of its carvings. The temple was built by brothers Virupanna and Veeranna during the rule of king Achyutraya of the Vijaynagar empire. It is said that Virupanna, who was a royal treasurer, misappropriated the funds from the royal treasury for the construction of the temple without the approval of the king. The infuriated king, as a punishment, ordered Virupanna to be blinded for his act. When Virupanna heard of the punishment, he himself carried it out by dashing his eyes against the walls of the temple. Even to this day, the two (supposedly) gory blood marks on the temple walls stand a mute testimony to this legend. After this incident, the temple construction came to a standstill and the Kalyana mantapa (wedding hall) and other structures remained unfinished.
One requires about 2-3 hours to explore the temple and enjoy the carvings. We did not see any guides around in the vicinity in the temple. However, as per other blogs and travel sites, guides are supposedly available to help us get around.
There is just one APTDC restaurant in the vicinity, Haritha, which did not have any variety in their menu. So we decided to head back towards Bangalore without trying it out. We pulled over at Nandi Upachara restaurant near Nandi hills for lunch and were not disappointed with their fare. We even chanced upon Shri. Ravi Shankar Prasad at the restaurant and managed to click a selfie with him. For the uninitiated, he is the Union Minister for Law and IT presently. 🙂
Lepakshi is a half-day trip from Bangalore and an enjoyable one! Not to be missed by the residents of Bangalore for sure.
Route: Bangalore North -> Bellary Road ->NH44, towards Hyderabad for about 100 kms. There are a couple of tolls on this road. Take a left diversion as per the signboard in Anantapur district of Hyderabad and drive around 16kms on Lepakshi road to reach the temple.
Carry sun protection like hats, sunglasses and skin creams as it gets really hot there, especially during summers.
There are no restaurants except APTDC’s Haritha in the vicinity. So it is advisable to pack food for your trip there.