Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My pilgrimage to Trymbakeshwar Bhimashankar Grishneshwar Padli Vaijnath/Vaidyanath and Aundha Nagnath jyotirlingas in Maharashtra

20th October 2012- Reached charbagh railway station at 12 AM to board Kushinagar Express. Had made nearly 6 bookings over previous two months in Pushpak Express but did not get confirmed tickets. Had in fact made bookings in another train from Jhansi but since was travelling with family never liked that journey plan. Plan would have involved waiting at Jhansi railway station all night.

Got a rude surprise when found that train was late by 1 hour. Later it increased to 2 hours and then nearly 2.5 hours. Little kiddo was co-operative otherwise it would have been hell.

Train came in and we boarded with the help of a coolie. Interiors of the train were dismal and seats looked smaller than normal. We had booked in First AC initially, the booking that never got cleared and now this! Anyway the people did not appear problematic. I forgot to mention that a day before the journey I booked Tatkal tickets in this train.

The journey was long almost exactly 24 hours thankfully the train food was good and kiddo enjoyed the journey.

21st October 2012 – Reached Nasik railway station at about 2:30 pm in the night! Most stations in Maharashtra howsoever small are neat and clean. I am told there is heavy penalty for spitting in stations.  The problem that we had on our hands was that no coolie was present on our platform. This is becoming such a problem these days. My dad a senior citizen is the worst affected- no coolies specially outside UP! I did spot a coolie after walking towards the footbridge but he was standing on the other side of the tracks. Thankfully when I hailed him he crossed over. I was on platform 3 and two coolies together charged rs. 120. I first tried retiring rooms on the station but as often happens to me after travelling through nearly the whole of India – there was no vacancy. The only time I have managed to enjoy a retiring room was in Hyderabad and it had better ambience then a hotel!!

The two coolies strongly suggested that we leave straight away for Trimbakeshwar instead of staying in Nasik. They even negotiated with the taxi guy on our behalf. Now that was good! Coolies are seldom this gentle! We left for Trimbakeshwar with a pliable meek taxi driver who however charged us Rs.700 which was not much, as we got to know later, since he was driving us in the dead of the night.

Good thing about driving in the dead of the night is that roads are clear!! That is a big one if you are living in a city as crowded as mine and want to have some rest from the perpetual traffic jams! We reached Trimbakeshwar in about 1.5 hours. I saw a couple of hotels there and finally settled for the Taxi guy’s choice – it was Hotel Sahyadri ! A nice medium size hotel almost new! A good though a bit expensive restaurant!

Taxi guy was most co-operative poor thing and we took quite a bit of his time!

The room was almost exactly as I had dreamed nice clean toilets, floors lined with my favourite shade of marble. Woodwork and nice simple bed and of course with a very beautiful balcony opening on to the road.

We had planned to take a bath and go for darshan right away but we were so dead tired that we fell asleep like people drugged and only woke up at around 9 AM.

22 Oct. 12 – We woke up and ate a little breakfast we had brought in from Lucknow with tea with had ordered from the hotel. Here a word of advice – on a long travel trip it is advisable to bring along things like Bhujia, Mathri, Dalmoth, Saakhen/Namakpara and other food stuffs that can last out a few days. It helps you save time!

After breakfast we left our camera and mobile phones behind and set out for the temple. Due to terror threat most temples do not allow mobile phones and cameras. If you take them along you might have to deposit them at a stall outside temple complex as in Kashi Vishwanath temple where they might be swapped or damaged so it is better to leave them behind.

The temple is very neat and clean and well managed! It is advisable not to take a big bunch of flowers in a basket in the temple because you are not allowed to offer them inside Trimbakeshwar temple. Temple is of a very dark gray colour and I do not remember having seen a temple of this colour ever before. Floor is all lined with similar stone. It did not take us much time to do Darshan. Out of the queue for Darshan we emerged into a rather high but very dark hall at one end of which was the Garbha Griha housing the Trimbakeshwar Shivlingam. We were not allowed to go inside the Garbha Griha which was very disappointing. I was really upset about this because generally I managed to touch the shivlingam and it induces euphoria in me and makes me feel very near Lord Shiva.  I managed to talk to one temple staff. He asked me to wait for one hour. So we sat there on the steps for nearly one hour waiting patiently. Finally he made me change into a dhoti/lungi. Then he took me inside the temple and instructed one guard to take me into Garbha Griha. Now this was a really great moment for me. I managed to touch all three parts of sunken shivlingam representing Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh.  Then we left. We went back to Hotel Sahyadri and brought back the camera and took photographs of the temple from outside bought some pictures of the temple and went back to hotel.  We then took an auto rickshaw and went to the bus station. We took a bus back to Nasik.

Once in Nasik we took a private bus to Manchar for our onward journey to Bhimashankar. We reached Manchar in about 6 hours and checked into Paras Lodge and Hotel on highway just next to bus station. The room was the best so far in entire journey though staffs was a bit rude.

The next day we took a bus to Bhimashankar. The hotel guy suggested we leave our luggage behind but we did not take his advice and regretted it. Bus journey to Bhimashankar was very comfortable and rather short. The whole route is very picturesque specially near Bhimashankar. Darshan at Bhimashankar was very comfortable very few devotees were there. We touched the shivalingam and bowed our heads. In less than hour we were back in the bus back to Manchar. There is little if no facility for accommodation in Bhimashankar. A few dharmshalas were there but they were very shabby and absolutely no hotels. So we came back to Manchar. Once in Manchar we were advised to go to Ala Phatak and take a bus from there to Nagar, Nagar in this case stands for Ahmadnagar. We waited and waited but could not board a bus to Ala Phatak so we hired a taxi who charged us Rs. 500 for only 30 km.

Once at Ala Phatak we waited and waited for a bus to Nagar that is Ahmadnagar but none came for a long long time. Finally just as we were ready to give up one bus came. Unfortunately this was full of rowdy boys from college who shamelessly played music as loud as possible on their mobile phones and even presence of ladies did not deter them. These were all Marathi boys since they were speaking fluent Marathi. Ironically it is they who blocked the seats for us. They plagued us all the way till Ahmadnagar. I noticed this breed of teenager all over Maharashtra perhaps they are there all over India but it is very sad that this rowdy generation has come up powered by electronic media and internet.

In Ahmadnagar we stayed in Hotel Swastik near bus station. In fact the crossroads is called Swastik Chowk after the hotel. The hotel was very safe and comfortable only irritant was the they did not supply us mosquito repellent and we were too tired to ask them. In the morning daughter woke up with three mosquito bites on her cheeks which infuriated me.

23rd October 2012 – At 9 we set off for Aurangabad. The bus was half full. It was a comfortable journey. We checked into Hotel ..... Once we reached. The auto driver took us to the hotel. Comfortable safe and nice hotel. We hired a taxi for taking us to Grishneshwar temple the last and the twelfth jyotirlinga. The driver was Muslim but his behaviour was exemplary. I have met very taxi drivers whose behaviour can be called exemplary. He never seemed to listen to what we were saying, never interfered and promptly answered all questions put to him. He always made a point to open the door for my wife which is something very uncommon for Maharashtra at least.

Ellora caves are on the way but the driver made sure that we knew the site was closed on Tuesdays. He told us so at the beginning of the journey in fact. We also came across tomb of Aurangzeb and Daulatabad Fort. The latter was a really impressive structure.

At Grishneshwara temple we seemed to have the whole temple to ourselves. We did puja and darshan to our heart’s content. It is worth mentioning that men have to go with naked torso inside the temple though whatever lower garments they are wearing is not a problem at all.

During return we inquired from the driver about Parli Vaidyanath and Aundha Nagnath temples and he gave us very accurate information.  Based on information given by him we chalked out our program and decided to go to Parli by bus.

We were dead tired by the time we returned to go to Daulatabad Fort and went straight to Central Bus Stand in Aurangabad to inquire about bus for Parli the next day. It was very intelligent of us to do that because the bus for Parli goes in fact from SUDCO bus station a bit outside the city where most five star hotels are located.  I had done another intelligent thing which was buying map of Maharashtra at Daulatabad fort though it cost us 100 bucks.

24th October 2012 we started off from Hotel without any breakfast or tea at 6:30 am by an auto rickshaw and reached SUDCO bus station. We waited and waited and waited still there was no bus for Parli. The MSRTC inquiry staff was not in the least helpful though he could have helped us if he wanted. Then I remembered about a place called Ambajogai just before Parli so we boarded a bus for the aforementioned. The journey was relatively comfortable but I decided that this was going to be our last journey by MSRTC. I have fallen in love with UPSRTC ever since I used MSRTC buses. Our buses are much newer and AC bus facility in fact Volvo buses are available on many routes. Or it could be that the routes we took were to very remote areas that is why good buses did not ply.

We reached Ambajogai in about five and a half hours. Once there I went outside the bus stand and inquired about taxi which would take us to Parli, Aundha Nagnath and drop us as Parbhani. Parbhani was the place where we had decided to board the train to Mumbai CSTM. A couple of taxi guy quoted astronomical sums like 3K but finally found an Indica Taxi whose owner would settle for 1800 rupees. This guy was decent, efficient and a man of very few words. He drove like a mad man but I could feel that he knew exactly what he was doing. The roads on the whole aforementioned stretch are bad and it is advisable to use an SUV if possible.

Taxi guy had us standing in front of Padli Vaijnath in less than two hours. We had a darshan to our hearts content although if we would have been late by a few minutes the temple would have been in semi closed state with devotees not being allowed to touch the shivlingam covered in silver.

We took a mineral water bottle and a soft drink and rushed off to Aundha Nagnath temple my final destination. I was absolutely dead tired by now dozing off to sleep in the car something I have done very few times in life. The highway was very narrow lined by tall grass or crops all along. No streetlights and big craters at regular intervals. It took us about 2 more hours to reach Aundha Nagnath temple.

Now there is something very curious about this temple. The actual shivlingam is in the basement where you cannot stand but have to sit and one has to go through a rectangular opening only about 1.5 feet by three feet. In the basement Lord Shiva was all ready for the procession I think since it was Dusshera. Shivlingam was covered by a huge silver mask.

I came out and phoned up father saying finally I have paid my obeisance at 14 jyotirlingas and he said something very encouraging which almost made me weep due to overwhelming feeling of joy but I controlled myself and talked of mundane things.

The driver dropped us at Parbhani station and settled myself in Upper Class waiting area to answer some business emails just then I saw on platform one Devgiri express crawl in. I was under the impression that it would arrive at 10:15 hours. Somehow we gathered our luggage which was quite numerous and ran towards our bogie but thankfully were able to catch it. There is no restaurant at Parbhani it being a small station only a stall selling samosa, vada etc. But also Puri sabzi of a substandard quality. Outside the station there is one Udupi restaurant not the original one but it serves tolerable food both north and south Indian. I had the owner pack two dosas for me which were just about tolerable.

Bam Bhole !

Thursday, August 23, 2012

My visit to Somnath, Nageshwarnath and Dwarkadheesh Temples

August 16 2012
Boarded jet konnect flight to Ahmedabad. Flight took off at about 10:50 AM
Landed at ahmedabad aiport at about 2:30 pm. Nice airport luggage was already on belt when I arrived at ARRIVALS.
Pre-paid taxi counter is available at Arrival lounge as also auto rickshaw.
I had to go to Paldi chau rasta from where all buses leave Ahmedabad. Pre-paid auto rickshaw counter wanted me to pay Rs.350 but I went on outside the airport and found an auto guy who agreed to take me to Paldi for Rs.200.
It was hot and I was a bit indecisive whether to check into a hotel or to leave for Somnath rightaway.
Reached Paldi around 3 o'clock and started inquiring about buses to Somanath. I was told that Patel Tours and Travels and Eagle Travels were the biggest operators but they did not have buses to Somnath starting in the afternoon. Then I went to Mahasagar Travels agent. He suggested I go to Junagadh by AC bus and from there Somnath would be much closer and I could take another bus to reach.
I paid the agent Rs.300 and he gave me a printed ticket to Junagadh for an AC bus.
I had some food already packed from Lucknow so I immediately boarded the bus. I paid the auto guy who was really helpful all the while and brought me a bottle of mineral water too. I also tipped him a little bit.
Bus started at 3:45 pm.
It was a video coach bus and he played popular Hindi movies.
Bus passed through Rajkot and other cities which I did not make not of.
It also stopped midway on a big dhaba kind of place though much cleaner than normal dhabas and much bigger in size, also more expensive. Place also had clean toilets.
Bus driver drove on and on except for stopping to take in more passengers who had booked their tickets online.
We reached Junagadh at about 10 pm.
We alighted from the bus and a mini bus was already waiting for us.
The bus was to take people to interior of Junagadh. Inside the bus I happened to spot a Bengali guy, a young boy. He told me to stay overnight at one of the hotels near bus stand less than half a km away and then start for Somnath the next day. I took his suggestion and started on foot. I was really tired and wanted to fall down on any bed I could get hold of. I reached the bus station and bang opposite it was a lodge named Shri Ram Lodge. It is bang opposite Junagadh Bus station however a very budget hotel.
I had my doubts whether they would be having AC rooms but it appeared that they did have one room with AC.
I checked out the room, there was something cosy about it and the AC worked! Mistake I made was not checking out the toilet which turned out to be a bit dirty. I was dead tired as I said before I paid him and advance of Rs.800 of which Rs. 100 was refundable.
I told him to wake me up at 6:30.
17 August 2012
Woke up next day due to the hotel guy's banging at my door. Immediately got ready had no breakfast just two cups of tea. Tea cup in Gujrat is about half the size in UP but cost is same. You can take the tea home when the tea vendor packs it in a polythene tube. In fact he pours it down the tube with a funnel. I found this very funny !!
Bus started soon, a non-AC bus but people said I would hardly notice due to being near the sea, they were correct and in any case there are no AC buses plying between Junagadh and Somnath.
Junagadh to Somnath is about 90 km.
The road is good and bus was comfortable.
I had been advised to stay at Veraval less than ten km from Somnath but I decicded to go directly to Somnath.
Bus dropped us at Prabhas (patan??) from there I took a shared auto to the temple.
It being last day of Gujrati Shrawan police stopped the auto about 1 km from temple near Lilavati Guest House belonging to Somnath Trust. If possible one should book room online in advance in this guest house it is cheaper. I however had done no such thing.
It was painful to drag along my stroller attache for a km specially when I had a laptop bag full of stuff.
I bought a new pair of slippers as I had not brought along any. The slipper guy told me about a hotel nearby .
I reached the said hotel but he had no rooms at least no AC rooms. I was a bit angry and frustrated then I found a young guy, the type who take people to hotels. He promised to take me to a Hotel with AC rooms near the temple. Having no option I followed him. He showed me two or three rooms which I did not find good. Finally he took me to Hotel Sharda who had a huge room vacant, the only AC room vacant at thattime. Catch was that it had yet not been vacated. I wanted to catch the 12 PM aarti and it was already 11:30 AM. He had me taken to another room where I quickly changed and had a bath and left my stuff in . Neither camera nor mobile phones are allowed inside temple.
I quickly readied myself and left for the temple.
The crowd was extremely well managed. There was a depot for depositing luggage and foot wear but I did not go there I just left my slippers outside the temple like many others had done. From then on it took only about 10 minutes to reach the temple. Just as I entered the temple the aarti started. If you miss this aarti, be sure that you have missed something divine. Like in Rameshwaram temple you have to do darshan from afar you cannot go near the Shiv Lingam. I wish it was otherwise. Also you are not allowed to stay for more than a few seconds before Shiv Lingam and will be showed out by somnath trust staff if you overstay. I went outside the the main temple but within hearing distance of big aarti drum. A shehnai is also played along with drums.
On my way out I bought parshad which is sold at a designated kiosk by temple staff.
I was very hungry by now so I immediately left for Sardar Restaurant in Lilavati Guest House campus. Food here is expensive but really delicious and the ambience is superb.
Here i met Nepali students who came from Nepalgunj on India-Nepal border. I talked on phone and by my accent the Nepali student who worked as manager of restaurant immediately understood that I was from Lucknow. He lamented that he knew nobody in Lucknow otherwise he would not have had to travel so very far from his home to work. I assured him that I would give work to anyone he would care to refer to me. I gave him my mobile number.
After this I went back to Hotel Sharda and swapped my room. The new room was huge really meant for four people. It was tolerably clean with TV and huge space for putting things in.
Tea was made inside the hotel itself this I found very convenient as I am hugely dependent on tea.
I tried to catch some sleep but after some effort I gave it up and strolled out.
The sea near Somnath temple is lovely and one can stand on the rocks piled up against the sea for hours on end. It is not a cluttered beach very few pilgrims at a given point of time. Beside this pile of rocks is the regular beach which is crowded with ppl sipping a drink or even venturing out into the sea waves. coconut water , cold drink, snacks and sea shell mementos are sold on this beach.
Afraid that it could rain I went back into the hotel and watched some news on TV .
I again visited the temple for the 7 am Aarti. It was again a very smooth darshan. No pushing and shoving and no rush.
This time I sat on one of the benches facing the sea inside temple complex and did mala jaap.
Temple closes at about 9:30 PM in sharp contrast to Jyotirlingas like Mahakaleshwar and Vishwanath which are open almost througout the day and night.
After this I went again to Sardar restaurant and had dinner.I also had fried rice and roti and sabzi packed. I always do this before starting on a journey and I really thanked myself for this later on.
The bus station is near the temple and the inquiry guy told me  that a bus to Dwarka, my next destination, would start at 6:30 AM in the morning. Of course a non-AC bus since AC buses did not ply between Somnath and Dwarka
Reached hotel and after watching TV and packing up my things I went to sleep.
 18th August
Started from Hotel Sharda at 6o’clock reached Bus station just a few buildings away. Inquiry guy said at the bus station that bus will leave at 6:30 am. Bus did come and leave at allotted time but I was not on it reason being that I have not mastered the fine art of pushing and jostling and elbowing one’s way into a government buses.
 It was suggested to me that I go to Veraval and wait for another bus which would arrive at 7 am. I took an auto and went onto Veraval and waited. A bus did come for Dwarka but it was the same bus that I could not get into. 
There was a group of financially weak students there too facing the same plight. We inquired about private buses but none were available. Then a mini bus guy suggested we first take a mini bus to Porbandar and from there take another bus to Dwarka. This is what we did. 
I and those seven people got into a rickety mini bus which took us to Porbandar . It was a beautiful coastal road with strong breeze blowing. But we were cramped for space so a ride of nearly four hours was a torture.
 At Porbandar the bus guy dropped us near bus station . From there we took an auto and went to bus station. Just as we got there a bus for Dwarka came inside the bus station. 
We got onto this bus which had become  fully vacant due to most of the passengers alighting. When the bus started we heaved a sigh of relief. It was again near the coast and cool breeze blowed. 
We reached Dwarka at around 1:15 pm and were shocked to learn that the temple had closed and would open only at 5:30 pm. 
Temple of Dwarkadheesh closes at 12:30 pm.
I was deeply worried as I was very very far from Ahmedabad and had to catch the plane back to Lucknow in the afternoon the next day.  
We inquired about Nageshwar Nath and Bet Dwarka thinking of doing these in the meantime . We were told that buses charged only Rs.70 for the whole tour. 
We went in an auto to inquire about these buses but apparantely they were all full. At this point the group of seven told me to take a special auto and go on forward on my way and they would stay back and manage somehow.
 I got an auto for Rs.600 both ways . I got onto the auto and heaved a sigh of relief. It took me to Nageshwar Nath about 16 km from Dwarka. Nageshwar Nath ji mandir was in a dilapidated condition but Late Gulshan Kumar had it renovated and a gigantic statue of Lord Shiva was installed there by him.
 Here I again met the same guys who helped me in getting darshan quicker. 
As we drew nearer the temple I bought gangajal and Prasad from the vendors there. I was disappointed to see that one had to do darshan only from a distance as in Somnath but those guys I had travelled with pointed to me that some people were going near the shivalingam so I inquired from two Pandits sitting there and they said I had to pay Rs.210 to go near shivalingam I paid and started to go in but they said first I have to change into a dhoti, so I went and changed into a dhoti and poured some gangajal on myself as I had not taken a bath.
 I was allowed to touch the shivalingam covered in silver except for a small window from where i touched it. It was a very old shivalingam with stone highly corroded. No body checked me I also offered bel patra and gangajal . 
I was so overcome by emotion that I clutched at the feet of two staff members there. Even they felt embarrassed but at that point of time I did not know how to thank them. One of them perhaps the Mahant gave me a special picture of Nageshwarnath Ji. It was the only picture I could acquire and why you would know later.
I also bought two bags of prasad from prasad kiosk which i later distributed to people back in Lucknow.
From this point the auto took me to Bet Dwarka jetty . I passed through salt making factories. 
At the jetty I was really tired but had no option but to move on. There was a mad rush for getting onto the steamer which was a large boat acting as a ferry.Steamer people charged Rs.10 . the rickety vessel chugged its way towards bet dwarka jetty. There we alighted . I saw a restaurant in front of me and stopped for bread pakora and tea which were only items available there that interested me. 
I was really tired by now with my soles paining badly but somehow pushed on. At bet dwarka temple i deposited my camera and mobile and my luggage with the security guard. I quickly had darshan of Dwarkadheesh. 
Lord Krishna 's idol here is almost a copy of the one at Dwarkadheesh temple. 
After this I quickly moved back to jetty and boarded the same boat with the same unpleasant owner. When I got back I again met those students who did not want to go to Dwarka but wanted to push off. I said goodbye to them. It was nearly six . I got onto a bus for Dwarka. He charged me only rs. 20. I had bid adieu to the auto rickshaw guy as i found him too unpleasant.
In the bus I met a couple . The man told me that he would take me to the office from where I would be able to get a bus back to Ahmedabad in the night. He dropped me at an office but the guy there said there was no vacancy in any bus. Then I went to adjacent agent and he gave me the only seat available in a sleeper bus. Ticket cost was Rs. 360. It was 7:45 and the bus was to leave at 8:30. I quickly took an auto to Dwarka temple . There I met a young Panda clad in jeans. He took me past the long queue and made it possible for me to have Darshan of Lord Dwarkadheesh. I asked for a bit of Tulsi from temple guard and he gave me a whole mala. Outside the temple I gave the young Panda Rs.500 for making it possible for me to have Darshan of Lord Dwarkadheesh. 
 I quickly rushed back to Bhadrakali chauraha where the bus was to come. I got my ticket checked and bought some patties , cream roll and mineral water and sat or rather lay down inside the sleeper bus.
The bus reached Ahmedabad at about 7. One autowalla took me to three hotels, of these I liked Hotel Crystal. Very clean luxurious hotel with wi fi and everything neat and new . I ate food there took a bath repacked my luggage and left for airport. 
Room tarriff was nearly 2K but I negotiated with him and he agreed on 1200. I had a heavy meal there of dal roti and chappatis.
The auto guy who had dropped me earlier had sent his brother to take me to the airport.
Reached airport at around 12 and checked in immediately.
Took a flight and came back to Lucknow again
It will be 3 jyotirlingas again in winter.
Jai Baba Somnath n Nageshwarnath. Jai Dwarkadheesh !

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Top quality vegetarian food in Lucknow : well mostly !!

There are two evils in Lucknow - sloth and food ! Yes I know they are evil but Lucknowites love both! Once you become infected by these two evils your career is finished. I have seen people who were posted in Lucknow stick to their jobs for years, not taking promotions just digging their heels in so that they do not have to leave Lucknow.
I never would have realized this had I not been entrusted with the responsibility of expanding my father's business in the south, extreme south India that is. Once in cities like Chennai I felt like a fish out of water due to non-availability of good north Indian food. North Indian food was there but it was not good. I guess no one is to be blamed for it but it made me look around and realize how heavily food makes up for what we call  Lucknowi culture.
This is my first blog post on food and I welcome your suggestions and comments.

Shahi Paneer
This is one of the most painstakingly prepared dishes and so requires great expertise. When I was a kid almost every restaurant in Lucknow served decent quality shahi paneer but this has changed in recent times. The quality has gone down dramatically and only recently have I discovered that Ritz (Mahanagar) has again started preparing the old and famous top quality Shahi Paneer that can only be prepared in Lucknow.

Dal Makhani
In Lucknow Dal Makhani is on the menu cards under different pseudonyms like Dal Bukhara and Dal Maharaja but basic ingrediants and method of preparation is same everywhere. This again is  a dish that is painstakingly made due to a variety of ingredients used and spices required. The recipe is still a secret and it is almost impossible to prepare the kind of Dal Makhani at home which is served in reputed restaurants in Lucknow. The best quality Dal Makhani is available in Hotel Gemini Continental, Royal Sky and Hotel Sagar Ratna; Falaknuma roof top restaurant in Hotel Clarks Avadh sadly has lost its mojo where aforementioned dish is concerned. 

Chole Bhature
One can say why mention Chole Bhature under the head Lucknowi food but the old Chole Bhature recipe of Lucknow is decidedly different from the Punjabi Chole Bhature. Lucknowi Chole Bhature are not actually made from chole but from a smaller version of chole known only to old timer khansamas it is called 'mobia'. This small gram is also not available easily in the market and professionals stock it up in large quantity. I feel sad though to announce that the best chole bhature in not only Lucknow but perhaps in UP are no longer been made. There used to be a shop in a lane now known as Naaja or Naaza market in Hazratganj which used to serve those. They were a large family but they had disputes and only recently they wrapped up the eatery business supplanting it with computer hardware business. They used to make a limited amount at great pains and it used to finish up by evening. They had no name for the shop so it has disappeared without a trace and become history. Now only in certain pockets in old Lucknow will you get those heavenly chola dishes. I am yet to discover one of them because I depended heavily on that Naaja market shop. So still looking for the perfect Chola-Bhatura maker in Lucknow. If you have run into someone who fits the bill let me know by using comments section below please.

No it is not chat as in chatrooms it is chaat which means in Hindi 'to lick' or literally 'lick it!' . Chaat is of course not a single dish but rather a syndrome of dishes I used the world syndrome because a lady who suffers from this syndrome can make your life hell specially if she happens to be your wife or mother. So chaat consists of paani puri, aloo tikki, matar tikki, sonth tikki, baigni, matar suhaal and chatni batasha some people add dahi bada to that long list. In my opinion original Lucknowi chaat is dead merely because no one wants to invest the mandatory long time in preparing chaat that is absolutely necessary for a quality product. To a very small extent Dixit Chaat in Chowk still keeps alive the taste but only just. Dixit chaat shop in one of the few to use Desi ghee in preparing chaat. Other big players in chaat market are King of chaat opposite DM's residence in Hazratganj and Royal Cafe Hazratganj. In my opinion Royal Cafe people who are the Don Corleone of food business in Lucknow make a chaat which cannot be called Lucknowi at all. It is an entirely different preparation. 
I never could train my palate to savour the strong and chilly taste of chaat so I am not so very enthusiastic in writing about this syndrome that has in its grip many ladies of Lucknow.

Veg kebabs
About ten years back veg kebabs were available only in parties of the very rich and nowhere else . Looks like some cook suddenly had a brainwave and started a veg kebab kiosk since then veg kebabs have become a huge hit in Lucknow with consumption far outstripping the supply. I am vegetarian but I have been told that there is not really much difference in taste in a good veg kebab and a non-veg kebab the secret being the spices used - which are the same. Veg kebab though is still evolving. No reputed restaurant right now has a good kebab cook on its payrolls so it is the roadside vendors who are supplying this new dish. There is one kebab corner in Chowk opposite Chowk post office, this eatery seems to me to be biggest eatery dedicated to serving veg kebab and veg biryani. On the quality parameter though I would give it two and a half out of five. Beware kebabs are very spicy and would not be kind on your palate or your stomach but the taste is divine if prepared by an expert. Falaknuma the roof top restaurant mentioned before serves a dish named 'Hariyali kebabs' they are definitely worth a try. I am sure in a few years good dedicated eateries serving veg kebabs would come up in Lucknow. Kebab is eaten either with rumali roti, a thin but large roti without ghee or butter; or parantha which is full of refined oil or ghee and made from polished rice flour.

Advertisements have been resorted to in a big way by moneyed restaurateurs and halwais in recent times in Lucknow. People not having the inside knowledge of the eateries map in Lucknow are fooled by these. I do not want to quote any names here but finding good food is not easy as reading and address in a hoarding and going to the same. Jalebi preparation is again a very painstaking process in that several processes are involved in it and a shade extra at any stage can spoil the whole effect. In my four decades of gluttony I have not tasted jalebi which comes even close to Babulal a famous halwai in old Lucknow. There is a whole crossroads named after him in Aishbagh. They are more than a hundred years old Halwai family. His jalebi has just that exact amount of sourness and sweetness which is the very soul of jalebi preparation. Then there is the texture of the fried flour how it releases the sugary and sour substances in your mouth that is what makes the jalebi either a success or a failure. He prepares a limited amount of jalebi and the last few grams are sold by 10:30 AM everyday. Like I said in the beginning no one comes even close. However if you want to savour the taste of second best jalebi you can go to Radhey Lal Sweet shop just outsidee Gol Darwaza market in Chowk in old Lucknow but he wraps it up by  10 am sharp.

At first glance imarti looks like the Siamese twin of jalebi but in fact it is more different than similar to jalebi. One big problem with Imarti is that it cannot be eaten even an hour after it is prepared the quality deteriorates dramatically as soon as imarti becomes cold. Old Lucknowi imarti is again dead and there are poor clones. The one imarti that comes close to old Lucknowi taste is available at Net Ram halwai on Shree Ram Road in Aminabad. Imartis are made only in the evening though in most shops in Lucknow. Another tolerable variety of Imarti is prepared by Radhey Lal adjacent Gol Darwaza in Chowk in old Lucknow.

You would again protest that it is a Bengali sweet but Rasogolla is Rasgulla in Lucknow and to the best of my knowledge two very old Bengali Sweet shops used to prepare the best of these one was (closed down recently) Bengal Sweets on Lathouche road and the other is Calcutta Sweets Charbagh. The former shop was the better of the two though with the rasgullas and sondesh having the characteristic bongo-lucknowi taste. Calcutta Sweets has taken a rebirth and is now hidden inside the lanes of Naka Hindola near Chargbagh railway station. They sold their huge property or maybe they were just tenants in a very old hotel which do the best of my memory was also called Calcutta Hotel just outside Charbagh railway station.

Puri / Kachori(ghee/refined oil)
Well in Lucknow there are two types of Puri/Kachori one made in desi ghee and other made in refined oil or Dalda ghee and believe me it is a totally different ball game. Again it is an altogether different ball game making the sabzi and the puri/kachori. Many halwais in old Lucknow are involved in making puris/kachoris because believe it or not many Lucknowites in old city breakfast at the halwai's place almost every day using these puris/kachoris. Technically speaking halwais do not make puris and almost all puris they make are actually kachoris as all puris are filled with varying amounts of filling. Normally urad dal is filled in puris, those which have a liberal filling are classified as kachoris and those with small filling are called Puris. Top class puri is available almost exclusively in old Lucknow and new Lucknow puris are overhyped. The great taste of puris in old Lucknow has evolved over nearly a hundred years. The best puri in my opinion is made by one halwai known as Ramchander . Ramchander was perhaps the grandfather of the halwai who presently makes those awesome puris with the help of his two sons. The puris are served hot and 11 AM is cut off time . This halwai is based in bartan bazar in Yahiyaganj area of old Lucknow. The high and mighty are his customers as the market is the very hub of business in Lucknow and most traders belong to families who have been doing ancestral business of selling utensils. Babulal halwai mentioned earlier has his shop at a stone's throw from this halwai's shop.

Puri / Kachori(desi ghee)
Like I said earlier this is an entirely different ball game. Best kachoris are made by a very friendly and savvy businessman in Aminabad area the famous Netram guy. He charges a fortune for his kachoris but it is a very neat and clean place and he has lots of other interesting things for you like the imartis I mentioned earlier. His kachoris are available throughout the day till almost 9 PM. I love his insatiable desire for customers and his cleanliness considering it is just a halwai shop and you know how halwais are in India.

This is one of the most complex north Indian dishes to make. No novice should attempt this dish. Even seasoned halwais and housewives are not able to produce a good specimen. There are two types of khasta again one made with desi ghee and the other made with refined or dalda ghee. I am sad to announce that no one in Lucknow seems to be able to make an excellent desi ghee khasta that art is lost! Last time I ate a good desi ghee khasta was years and years ago in Allahabad!
The best dalda/refined oil khasta is made, nay invented, by a halwai well known as Ratti based at Hewett Road. At his shop there is always scope for a stampede so popular is his stuff. Unlike other place he serves them mainly with matar but also gives two types of aloo sabzi one chilly and other only spicy. Quality has gone down dramatically as the third generation is concentrating on every thing other then quality of his khastas. I won’t recommend this shop anymore.
The best desi ghee Khasta is available unfortunately where not even a two wheeler can go and one must walk to reach the legendry shop of Ram Asrey in Ban Wali Gali in Chowk. The quality fluctuates a bit but it is more or less like khastas tasted almost eighty years back in Lucknow. I may add here that the shop invented malai paan or malai gilauri and is still the best producer of the aforementioned delicacy.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Mechanical watches vs Quartz

This post is inspired by an article by Sidin Vudukat the famous author from India and editor of Mint here is the link
It is not that I did not know the difference between mechanical and quartz watches, I knew it since childhood but never realized the value of rare watches my grandfather wore. I recently discovered one of his swiss watches in a pile of junk with bracelet damaged beyond repair but movement running better than a new watch's. Once fully wound the watch runs for about 3 days.
Now that is beside the point somewhat, what I wanted to tell you was when exactly did I realize that a mechanical watch is much more valuable than a quartz one, I have been trying and trying but cannot quite put a date to that. I guess like Sidin I also got to know the importance of mechanical watches from message board posts on the internet. It is there that I got to know that the world's most famous brands like Rolex, Rado are really famous for their mechanical watches .
Now for the new ones to the club mechanical watches are of two kinds - hand winding and automatic though it is not always that simple ! With handwinding watches you have to rotate the crown of the watches several times to wind the spring that gives power to the movement of the watch such watches are a bit cheaper than automatic watches ! Which brings us to automatic watches - these are the real kings of the trade. An automatic watch is powered by the movement of your hand as you move your hand an ultra sensitive semi wheel like structure rotates over a rail like metal ring and this rotation is used to wind a spring which powers the movement. Some automatic watches can be wound too like hand winding watches but I am told in Japanese watches this is definitely not the case. Nearer home HMT automatic watches can be wound a bit to give preliminary power to the movement. Now what sets apart expensive watches like Rolex and our humbler HMT. It all really depends upon sensitivity if you wear an HMT continuously for 12 hours it may keep on running for another 12 hours however I am told that if you wear a Rolex for an hour it will run for more than 10 hours when put off. Rolex is much down the line when it comes to cost . Some automatic movements are three dimensional like in the Breguet a very old watch brand which sold watches to Napoleon (hope I am accurate there). Such watches have a slit in the dial to show off this ultra complex movement the focal point of which is a tourbillon. Quartz watches are of course much simpler at first sight being largely a miniature circuit with a battery supply. The quartz movements are very cheap and I distinctly remember a road side seller in Lucknow selling quartz watches at Rs.50 per piece with one year warranty and most amazing thing was that the watches were displayed underwater in a tub, this to prove that they were waterproof. However when Seiko first made quartz watches they were as expensive as a car and even James Bond wore them in a movie before he reverted back to his Rolex.
Sidin in his Mint columns gives much more exhaustive accounts of various famous brands and their movements I advise all watch lovers to have a look at each of his articles.
Long time back I bought an automatic watch on ebay. It took nearly a week for the watch to come to my humble abode. When I opened the pack and the watch revealed itself it was with great difficulty that I was able to control my tears, I was afraid my workers would see my in that embarrassing condition, the reason I later on wept a little was that its dial was almost identical to that of a watch my grandfather used to wear, he died when I was a kid and that watch was an important part of memories I have of him.
He had many watches most of them I think he gave away to people whom he loved during his long illness only one of them is left which still ticks to remind me of a person who believed in giving away rather than hoarding.
Well I agree that was a bit beside the point - after reading Sidin's article I became aware that HMT is still making watches and checked out its huge range of models some of them now out of production. Many of these I found in old watch market in Aminabad in Lucknow. Fortunately for me most of them were prized at nearly 1000 Rs. or less. The modern HMT automatics are a bit expensive but still about one third the prize of automatic watches by Titan . HMT's Pilot watch is not world famous for nothing it is an absolute beauty and its real beauty is revealed in the dark when you can see its radium markers and hands glowing clearly. Radium is now banned for watches but it was probably more harmful for the people who painted the dials than for the wearer. Pilot watch however is not entirely HMT's invention I have a feeling it is inspired by old British Pilot watches of WWII but I am not entirely sure of it.
After reading all that stuff from Sidin and various experts on the site I am both elated and concerned. Elated to discover a world of watches and concerned because this is very addictive and watch collective is a very very expensive hobby. I find myself ogling at rich people's wrists, shamelessly gazing at their Rolex es and Rados and thinking Lo - does he know how exactly this thing functions ! God has been kind to me till now I have limited myself to only buying Seikos, Orients and HMTs a lot of HMTs though if you are kind enough to gift me a Rolex I would not say NO!