Sunday, May 22, 2016

Mumbai's Food Truck Festival

What is that? Where is that? 
Food Blogging, Food photography and Food tourism all are real things! So are food festivals! Have you ever heard of Mid-Autumn Festival of China, Pahiyas Festival of Phillipines or Naples’ Pizzafest? No? Surely you have heard of Melbourne Food and Wine Festival and Oktoberfest of Germany. Right? Well these are some of the best food festivals around the globe and while breweries in India and Sula wines have started adopting these festivals with Indian flavour there was another food festival Indianized this weekend in Mumbai! If you are wondering why I am doing a food cover, well I fall in the food tourism department.

Funky looking food truck!
Anyways, have you guys heard of Food Trucks? They are a common sight in the U.S. cheap sustainable on the go food, just like our local vada pav and samosa stalls but of course all on the wheels. 

First Ever!
Now guess what food trucks that started off in Texas in late 1800s have food festivals dedicate to them too specially in Miami and Chicago but after almost 150 years they managed to travel to India and this weekend Mumbai had its first ever food truck festival in Lower Parel. *drum rolls, nope horns!* 

Not just trucks, there were cars too - as small as Nano!
This Food truck association and Mumbai foodie collaboration was initially a 2 day event that was later turned into a 3 day extravaganza for all the foodies in the town and catered to their desi (Indian) and videsi (foreign) taste buds. Though I would not suggest the place/festival for desi chaats, the food trucks could surely give a mall's food courts a run for their money.

I eye the sweets, always!
With a price range of 100-200 on almost all items and the making counters visible to the customers, the food trucks made sure they were making way for another festival in the near future. Cleanliness and order made sure people were happy and food, well the crowd said it all. If you don’t believe me look at the crowd that poured in despite the 35 degree humid summer weekend.

Okay this is a non AC place and that was the crowd at 5:00 PM
Biggies like The Lalit and  White Owl and newbies like Snow World and Czar were all there to be part of this first ever Food Truck festival of Mumbai that was meant to promote flavours of street food of the world and promote food tourism. And the ones that didn’t have a truck made may with wagons and Nanos!

Ice creams anyone?
Sandwiches, nachos, burgers, burritos from the west met chaat and bhel of Mumbai with a sweet touch of pastries and cupcakes and a cold shiver of ice creams of so many flavours. The quad of High Street Phoenix was witness to food love of Mumbai and I was there just to see it all. Yes the heat was a spoil sport but well food trumps it all right?

Some biggies I had tried way before the festival
Know of any other unique India version of an International festival happening anywhere, or have you ever been a part of one. Let me know your experience!

Okay I thought a glimpse of the food should be from the organizers themselves!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Tamarind - Just the right amount of Goa

Get the colours don't you?
A bit of turquoise, a bit of white, a bit of green and shining yellow in light – The Tamarind,Anjuna Goa stands elegantly in peace with nature around and lets you bask in the feel of all these colours at the same time. I love Goa and while I love the beaches and shacks there, I also love the architecture, the culture, the untouched serenity of nature and the sense of languid laid back country side feeling that prevails in this tiny state of India maybe even more. The Tamarind was one of the few hotels in Goa to have it all, and thanks to and Indiblogger, I had an amazing 4 days experience at this property.

The Tamarind
On the way to Anjuna, just off the St. Michael’s Church or the Anjuna Church is one of the best boutique hotels of Goa – the Tamarind. It is a 25 year old hotel, with some parts of the property being over 100 years old, blends well with the local area predominated by Goan Villas, as The Tamarind itself was a Goan Villa ages ago. But the most appealing point about the place for me at first site was it quirky d├ęcor dominated by white and blue. 

Yes, I got straight to the walls.
Also close to one of the most happening beaches of Goa, still miles away from the crowded corners of Goa, this quintessential Portuguese stone property lets you experience Goa in luxurious, beachy ways as well has rustic, peaceful, local’s way.

Okay get the Villa feeling first
The property is a 3 star hotel but the rooms were way better than expected. Small cozy rooms, with a spacious balcony and a view of the typical Goan Courtyard with a blue twist, aka the swimming pool, is what you will get irrespective of what class of rooms you select. 

View from my room
Mini pic of the mini fridge

Mine was yellow/orange themed deluxe villa bedroom but you also get options of grass green and turquoise blue! With all the standard amenities, the room also has a mini freezer with things one would need for a lazy evening in Goa– don’t think too much! – Booze, Chocolates and Chips!

Yup, that was my room.
Also if you have midnight desert cravings, the Hotel has a small wonderland from where they deliver any dessert you want to your room! This little wonderland where all the foodie madness happens is Cotinga, the in house restaurant of Tamarind. One cannot miss how the silhouette of one tiny bird is what made this restaurant stand out in the first glance! 

Notice the Bird? Notice the feather? Now guess the place!
I was lucky enough to meet the owner of the property on my very first day at Tamarind. She told me how the whole theme of the place, and not just the restaurant, was in memory of a tiny blue Cotinga bird that used to visit her villa and how looking at the bird enjoy the property was her favourite pastime of the day. She said she wish people to have a fun time in Tamarind always, hence the whole theme. Sweet right?
The sweetest in you face picture ever! Sorry I ate it all.
From sweets – let’s get back to Cotinga shall we? The stay came with complimentary breakfast which was a decent spread at Cotinga but with some local Jams to try! But the main fun of food we experienced later during lunch and dinner. While pizzas and pastas are their forte, the Indian Curries over here are very special as they are ‘Dil se desi with a Konkan twist’ (Indian from heart but with a bit of Konkan flavour dominance’. The use of spices like black pepper and kokum and of course tamarind is very generous in their food and that is what makes it so different and amazing. But Cotinga’s forte is their desserts - made in-house! Each and every one of them!!! I tried all of them during my four days stay so trust me on this one.

Late evening walks around this place was true bliss!
The only drawback with the place was that it is 15 mins away from the main Anjuna beach and there is no way to get a chakda aka auto or cab there easily. But the man at the Cotinga sweets counter told me if I really wanted to explore Goa like a local this was my chance; the bus stop was right outside the gate and I should take the bus and walk to the beach and the flea market. The decision was made, and without wasting anytime that is exactly what I did and it was very convenient! 

Right next to this place - now you know why the evenings were so beautiful.
The locality is lush green and has numerous villas and if you are lucky you might get invited to one of them, like I did by an old lady for evening tea one day. Apart from that the Church is a minute’s walk from the hotel and the hotel provides guests with the facility to hire four wheelers and two wheelers to move around the state ( There is also a free shuttle service to Vagator beach that comes complimentary with the stay but luckily the hotel gave me free rides to Vagator and Bagha too in an especially dedicated car! There are no conveyance stores close by though.

The Church Next Door
Overall I enjoyed my stay thoroughly at this secluded retreat since I got a really good break from my crazy office work but this hotel, as amazing as it is, is a recommended stay only for people looking for peace and laid back days in Goa away from the crowd. Not recommended if you want to party or travel less because the location is undoubtedly an issue.

Last one I promise. Just couldn't get enough of the decor.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Postcards and a Musical Note from Antelope

Nature at work - do go slow!
Little sunbeams dance on dusty rocks, painting them in shades of red, pink, orange and yellow. Narrow shafts, barren lands, whizzing howl of winds around but it is all about a hidden channel in form of a slot between rising continuous boulders of ancient rock, etched and levelled by winds and water over centuries! A friend of mine recently witnessed it all and sent me over dozens of pictures and I just cant get over them. Well you can see the reason, can't you?

Let the light in!
This is Antelope Canyon, a slot canyon that is a part of the Grand Canyon. Located in the Navajo Nation of Arizona, Antelope Canyon is actually comprised to 2 separate slots Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon. Though the photos in this post are only from Upper Antelope, lower is equally breathtaking!

Rising walls or etched rocks!
True wonders of nature – these slots canyons along with the Horseshoe bent and Lake Powell are the biggest attractions of Grand Canyon, but nothing beats the natural splendor Antelope Canyons hide in their narrow shafts. Antelope canyons are photographer’s paradise and these pictures prove the reason why. Believe me – all of these are unedited and clicked from a one plus two phone camera! You get the point now don’t you?

The orange alley
My friend, who took these photos, said the place was chilling and there was a crazy long line for the 30$ ticket – but all of it was worth it from the very first sight of the colourful stone walls! Enough said let the pictures make you travel through the alley of the Upper Antelope Canyon.

The dimming pinks and purples

P.S. – It is said that photography inside the canyon is difficult due to wide exposure caused by reflecting light shafts off the canyon walls but early morning at sun rise and time just before sunset would pose as no photo issue time. Yes you won’t be able to witness the light beam phenomenon but as you can see the place is amazing even without that. Also since these periods do not have the light shaft phenomenon, the cost of the tickets are lower.

If the pictures didn't take you there, this totally will!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

That Place Called Shillong

That is when you know Meghalaya has come
Few days back I was writing an article about my Meghalaya Trip and the entire time spent in Shillong kind of played in my head like some flashback. I had been to Meghalaya almost a year back but that trip is just as fresh as ever.

Roadside Pickle Farms
Silent sleepy Guwahati fades and you enter a busy dusty highway that is a single route access into the cloudiest state of India, Meghalaya. Roads fenced with pineapple farms and pickle stalls and construction sites keep you company till you enter a verdant canopied road about 2.5 hours later and cool breeze from the close by Barapani Lake formally greets you into this state that is close to nature in every sense. The transition in temperature is so drastic as you approach Barapani that you literally forget the hot humid weather of Guwahati the minute the canopied path commences.

Barapani, formally known as Umiam Lake – is an artificial lake that was built for a hydroelectric project on the Umiam Lake in the 1960’s but over time it has become very important part of the eco system around and is pretty much the reason the area on the way to Shillong had low temperatures throughout the year. The close by area is densely forested and the lake itself has numerous small islands that become bird watching zones during winters and the sparkling blue waters of the lake surrounded by sylvan hills – the sight - is a treat to the eyes!

Shillong from Shillong Peak
While Barapani is the lowest point of Shillong, Shillong Peak is the highest one. Terraced farmed lands, hillocks turned into vegetable plantations, turns and slopes and you reach the air base colony of Shillong. Just as you cross this colony you see the point where you can see the entire city in one glance – this point is called Shillong Peak. The view of the city sandwiched between grey clouds and patches of green below is beyond words and cold winds and light showers on the peak just add to this amazing experience.

Shillong Peak
The way up there and back is equally amazing as the Shillong Peak point. You see acres of colourful farmlands painting the hillocks in earthly colours, colourful because this is Meghalaya’s Farmers Market Area! Everything that can grow in the region – vegetables and grains – is grown here. 

Look at the colours in the farms!
The hills around Shillong transition from the farmlands, to lush green forested area, to symmetrical tea gardens to verdant golf course – all standing next to each other but not overlapping. And somewhere between these there is a hidden 3 layered waterfall that gushes noisily all round the year.

One of the levels of Elephant Falls
Elephant Falls - locally called the Ka Kshaid Lai Pateng Khohsiew, is probably the most popular tourist spot of Shillong. Exploring the falls is all about a 170 steps walk around the 3 levels but it is totally worth it! A board at the starting point of the falls tells you that Britishers named these falls ‘Elephant Falls’ because there used to be a rock resembling an elephant at the bottom of the main falls. Though the rock was destroyed in an earthquake back in 1897, the name still prevails till date. This is also the place where people can click photos in traditional Khasi attire but if you want to see locals and not just dress up like them, there is no better place that Police Baazar to see Shillong as a local.

Police Bazar has a lot of buildings like this one!
Criss-cross, interlinked arrays of alley, packed with people and shops – this is police bazaar. Unlike other hill stations where a small road, mostly called as MG Road makes for shopaholic paradise, Shillong has a full-fledged market area that runs across interlinked major 4 alleys. From permanent stores, to temporary carts to number of street food joints – Police Bazaar has it all. 

I tried that weird looking white fruit
I did try some local fruits there but enjoyed momos more than anything. Also, if you love collecting traditional handicraft material, this is the place you need to go to! There is also a small alley here that has shops that only make and sell artificial flowers! And remember the key to shop here is - Bargaining, because, well Shillong is after all a touristy place.

Shopping anyone?
Shillong is a place that gives you the sense of a town, a hill station and a country side getaway all at once. Won’t say it is the best of the cities I have been to in North East India, because that is undoubtedly Gangtok, but Shillong has its own charm that you just can’t escape once you have experienced it!

See you again Shillong