Month: November 2021

Potato Tales: All About Aloo

Bengali aloor dum. Image courtesy Whiskaffair

We Indians and aloo. The starchy potato or aloo is probably the most popular vegetable in India. There’s aloo in our samosa and aloo in our dosa, there’s aloo parantha and aloo bonda, there’s aloo tikki, aloo chat and what not. Especially in a bong household most veggies are paired with aloo – aloo kopir dalna, aloo pataler dalna, aloo peper dalna and the list goes on. There’s aloo in our mutton and fish curries too. Aloo or potato in these non-veg curries especially mutton adds a flavour that is much coveted.

Aloo doesn’t only lend support to other vegetables it stands on tall on its own as well. It’s probably the friendliest veggie that easily blends most veggies and yet has a character of its own. Aloo bhaja, aloo posto, aloor dum, aloo bhate (Bengali version on mashed potato) are a few popular Bong preparations. Not just in Bengal versatile aloo has popular culinary representations across India – Kashmiri dum aloo, Brijwasi aloo of Vrindavav, dahi aloo in UP and aloo chokha in Bihar are relished by people across India. Much to the surprise of Westerners’, we Indians have aloo with roti and chawal – carb with carb as they put.

In the West aloo or potato is often the substitute for our roti and chawal, served with roast chicken, baked fish and veggies etc. We also have popular potato snacks like potato chips, French fries and very classy potato in jacket. Potato is probably one vegetable that is popular across the world, across cultures. Weight watchers may raise their brows, but gol aloo or starchy potato is a nutritious vegetable rich in potassium, iron and vitamins.

The origin of potato

Potato or aloo is one vegetable that has travelled across the world. Potato was first found in Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia sometime between 8000 and 5000 BC. The cultivation of potato is South America may go back 10,000 years, however the earliest archeologically verified potato tuber remains were found at the coastal site of Ancon, central Peru dating back to 2500 BC. Since then potato has travelled to many countries.

Potato first reached Europe sometime before the end of 16th century, first in Spain and then in British Isles. In France potato was introduced at the end of the 16th century. According to the 1785 edition of Bon Jardinier, “There is no vegetable about which so much has been written and so much enthusiasm has been shown … The poor should be quite content with this foodstuff.” Yes, potato was largely considered to be food for the poor then.

Throughout Europe, the most important new staple food of the 19th century potato had three major advantages over other foods: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger) and its cheapness. The crop slowly spread across Europe, becoming a major staple by mid-century, especially in Ireland.

Aloo comes to India

Potato started becoming a popular food in the East as well. Introduced in  China toward the end of the Ming dynasty, potato immediately became a delicacy of the imperial family. Sometime between 1735–96 the growing population of China led to potato cultivation across the country and it was acclimated to the natural conditions.

In India, author Edward Terry mentioned potato in his travel accounts of the banquet at Ajmer hosted by Asaph Khan for Sir Thomas Roe, the British Ambassador in 1675. The vegetables gardens of Surat and Karnataka mentions potatoes in Fyer’s travel record of 1675. The Portuguese introduced potatoes, which they called ‘Batata’, to India in the early seventeenth century when they cultivated it along the western coast, thus we have batata and famous batata vada in Maharashtra. British traders introduced potatoes to Bengal as a root crop, ‘Alu’, and alu became Bengal’s much loved aloo. By the end of the 18th century, it was cultivated across northern hill areas of India.

Aloo wins over India

Since then potato or gol mol aloo has won over Indian palates. Though aloo maybe round and some preparations like fries and chips fattening, the vegetable by itself in not fattening. Potato is an all-purpose, high fibre vegetable than can be quite nutritious if prepared in the right way!

Udaipur and Me: my solo travel saga continues

Starry-eyed selfie

British administrator and Oriental Scholar James Tod felt Udaipur is “the most romantic spot on the continent of India,” and he was bang on. The city of lakes surrounded by Aravalli’s or Jagra, as the range is called in Udaipur, will captivate you. The palaces and monuments will softly whisper their mesmerizing tales in your ears. You can sit by the lake for hours and soak in the gorgeous city. No wonder Udaipur is a popular destination for weddings and honeymoons. But even if you are travelling solo the company of the beautiful city is all that you need!

I fell in love with Udaipur the moment I stepped out of the aircraft on Diwali morning. Udaipur’s Maharana Pratap Airport captures the flavour of the city. I have never seen such a nicely done airport before. The cab ride from the airport, 22 km East of Udaipur, to Hotel Sarovar Pichola in the heritage city is about 40 minutes. While driving through the newer parts of Udaipur, modern and smart with malls and branded stores like any other city, the cab driver started talking about his city. “Madam people of Udaipur are rich. Sixty per cent of them are into hospitality and the rest in mining. Udaipur is also called the city of zinc you know.” In Udaipur, every cab and auto driver have their own tales of the city to share. He even offered to take me on a city tour the next day for Rs. 2200/-, which seemed quite reasonable to me then.

Exploring Udaipur

On reaching the hotel I was told that auto would be a more reasonable choice therefore I set out to explore the city on an autorickshaw. I heard a lot about the silver and stone jewellery of Udaipur. Being a lover of silver jewellery and handicrafts I decided to check out the markets first. I headed to Bapu Bazaar on learning from the auto driver that silver shops are to be found in that market. On the way, he also mentioned that I may like to check Shlipgram. Therefore, we stopped at Shilpagram first, a multistoried emporium that houses traditional sarees, fabrics, handicrafts and jewellery. After picking up an indigo saree and Kundan earrings from there I asked the guy to take me to a silver shop in Bapu Bazaar.

Silver Art Gallery was our next stop. I was floored by the design, the range and the price points. Silver in Udaipur is much cheaper than in Delhi and the designs so different. I picked up two pairs of earrings and a Kada from the store. It was almost lunchtime and I wanted to sample Rajasthani food. “Natraj chale jaiye madam,’ the guy attending to me in the shop advised.

As I stepped out of the shop looking for a conveyance to go to Natraj, an elderly auto driver stopped before me. I had initially decided to go back to the hotel after lunch but Ram Bhai, the auto driver, convinced me otherwise, “Aaj hi ghoom lo madam. Kal Diwali le ke baad aur bhir ho jayega.” As I didn’t know much about the city except the names of the tourist spots, he decided the route. He took me to Fateh Sagar Lake first and convinced me to take a speed boat with four strangers (something that the usual me would never do). I sat in the single seat at the front and quite enjoyed the ride I must say.

Ram Bhai

Udaipur, once the capital of Mewar founded by Maharana Udai Sign in 1559, has seven artificial lakes. The heritage city was built around Lake Pichola, the oldest lake of Udaipur. Fateh Sagar, another popular lake that was formed later, lies in the north of Lake Pichola. I was taken to an underground fish aquarium on the banks of Fateh Sagar next. It is a new addition to the tourist attractions of Udaipur. There’s nothing historical about it but the pretty little fishes are refreshing.

Saheliyon-ki-Bari (Courtyard or Garden of the Maidens), a beautiful garden with fountains and pools, built by Rana Sangram Singh for his queen Shakuntala, is also on the banks on Fateh Sagar. Queen Shakuntala was accompanied by forty-eight maids when she got married. She wanted a garden where she could hang out with her sahelis or girlfriends. ‘The foliage was much thicker in those days,’ said the tourist guide. ‘Women observed purdah then. Even the sun couldn’t penetrate the thick greenery.’ He also told me that the fountains were once natural, drawing water from the Fateh Sagar. They use a pump now to regulate the flow and ensure that there’s less wastage.

Diwali evening

I headed back to the hotel after that, the music of the fountains still playing in my ears. Being Diwali I dressed up for the evening and sat in the rooftop bar with Lady in Red to witness the festival of lights, and what an experience it was! Well-lit monuments and their reflections in the lake, firecrackers going up in the air added a romantic aura to the festival.

 Day 2: Sajjan Garh Fort, City Palace and more…

The construction of the Sajjan Garh Fort, also known as Monsoon Palace, was initiated by Maharana Sajjan Singh. He had originally planned it to be a five-storey astronomical centre. The construction came to a halt after the premature death of the young king at the age of twenty-six. His son Maharana Fateh Singh later completed the palace and turned it into a monsoon palace and hunting lodge. The popular James Bond film Octopussy was shot in the Monsoon Palace

View from Sajjan Garh Fort

Located on a hilltop overlooking the Fateh Sagar Lake the palace offers a panoramic view of the city. It’s great during the monsoon with clouds overlooking the Monsoon Palace. It’s also a good point for watching the sunset, I later learned.

Ram Bhai had reached the hotel with his auto sharp at 10:30 am to take me sightseeing. He dropped me at the gate of Sajjan Garh Fort, “Madam van le lo upar jane ke liye.”  It’s about five kilometres hilly drive to the fort. One can either get a pass made for their private vehicle or take shared vans that keep plying up and down. A shared van! I stopped for a moment but I had to see the fort. So I walked up to the counter and got my ticket and a pass for the van.

I sat at the front seat of Tata Qualis and even picked up a conversation with the driver Govind. On my way back I found the same van, Govind on the phone while waiting for passengers. The van filled up in no time and we made our way down.

Inside Sajjan Garh

There’s a National Park next to the fort that I skipped and went to Shilpgram instead, not the emporium but a crafts village though they share the same name. Not many stalls were open at Shilgram but I did manage to pick up a beautiful Rajasthani skirt for my niece and Udaipur’s famed miniature painting. December is the time when they have a fair where craftsmen display their work. Realizing that I liked shopping Ram Bhai took me all the emporiums around. I did end up buying an ear in semi-precious stone, set in ‘anar ruby’  I was told, from one such place.

He drove me to Maharana Pratap Gaurav Kendra at Tiger Hill in Udaipur, which he insisted is a must-visit. Unfortunately, the place was shut that day so we headed to the City Palace. My hotel is just a kilometre away from the City Palace so I let Ram Bhai go. Rs. 1500 was all he charged for two days city tour.

The City Palace has been built over a period of nearly four hundred years. Maharana Udai Singh started the construction in 1553 and several rulers of the Mewar dynasty over the next four-decade added to it. When Udaipur became the capital of Mewar, City Palace was the seat of power. Now the intricately built palace houses a museum and galleries. Beautiful glass inlay work and paintings of past monarchs and their glories adorn the palace. With many narrow passages and stairways, security was of paramount concern when the palace was designed. The palace overlooks the Pichola Lake and Taj Palace Lake Hotel. An 18th-century marble structure on a lake island originally part of the palace has been leased out to the Taj Group. It was late afternoon then and I had to push my way through the throng of tourists, mostly from Gujarat, to make my way through the palace.

Shilpgram

Jagdish Temple is just next to the City Palace. I bowed before the temple deciding not to go up the stairs and walked the lanes instead. There are small shops with Rajasthani handicrafts and jewellery on both sides of the road. I walked into a small silver shop close to the temple ‘Natural Collection.’ The man behind the counter opened boxes of jewellery, both set in stones and plain silver. Of course, I picked quite up a few pairs of earrings, not just for me my friends as well.

I stopped by Bagore-ki-Haveli and Gangori Ghat on my way back to the hotel. My last evening at Udaipur. After a tiring and satisfying day, I headed to the rooftop bar to get my fill of Udaipur in the evening, peaceful and beautifully lit up. You can never have enough of this gorgeous city!

Me, myself and Udaipur: my solo travel tales

I have been planning to travel solo for a while. Wanting to experience it to see if I enjoy going solo. Though I did travel a lot on work, exploring the city on my own whenever I visited a new place, that doesn’t exactly qualify as solo travel. So this time before Diwali I decided to visit Udaipur on my own.

The Udaipur is beautiful on Diwali. Also, the City of Lakes is pleasantly cool at this time of the year. “I want to go Udaipur in Diwali,” I pinged my friend. “Go for it,” came the prompt response, and that was all the encouragement I needed. I immediately started checking the hotels and the flights.

Striking a pose: City Palace

Since this was my first solo trip, with my excitement adding to my experiences, I plan to do a series on Udaipur & Me or Me in Udaipur.

Careful planning: better to leave nothing to chance when travelling solo

Flights could wait but I needed to book the hotel first as Diwali is a busy season in Udaipur. After looking at various hotels I settled for Sarovar Pichola, a 3-star hotel on Lake Pichola Udaipur. It’s a very popular, hotel with a great view and location, I learnt from various reviews and recommendations. Since I was travelling alone, I wanted a city hotel and Sarovar Pichola is in the heart of the heritage city. Lake Palace lies on the other bank of Lake Pichola, diagonally opposite Hotel Sarovar Pichola. I could just step out of the hotel and walk the narrow but clean lanes of old Udaipur and get a feel of the city. The hotel had just one room left that I promptly booked.

Udaipur has direct flights from Delhi, good connectivity is one reason why I chose the city. I booked myself in a morning flight on Nov 4th and return on a late afternoon Nov 6th flight. I would have two full days to explore the city, though my heart craved for more once I lay eyes on the gorgeous Udaipur.

Since it was a two-day trip, I packed light – comfortable clothes in vibrant colours to match the city and shoes that I could walk in. I also carried a small medicine kit with antacid, paracetamol, pain killers and band-aids (just in case). I was so excited that I could hardly sleep the night before and finally on Diwali morning I landed in Udaipur.

Reaching the Hotel

I smartly walked up to the Uber Bay ignoring all the cabbies waving at me. ‘No cabs,’ the app said again and again. Finally, an old man pointed out the pre-paid window for booking cabs ‘Uber doesn’t come here,’ he said politely. Once I booked the cab driver told me that we would drop me 500 meters away from the hotel. Sarovar is in the heritage city and cabs are not allowed to enter these narrow lanes. After driving through the newer parts of Udaipur, a smart city now, I entered the heritage city. “This is crematorium for the royal family,’ said the driver as we were entering the old city. He dropped me close to the Chandpole bridge, a footbridge on Lake Pichola. ‘You can just take the bridge, your hotel is not very far,’ he said. ‘Or you can take an auto if you like.’ Since I didn’t have much luggage, I decided to walk. Best way to experience the city I thought.

Thali for lunch at Natraj restuarant

A three-story heritage building has been converted into Hotel Sarovar, therefore no lifts. While my room was on the ground floor the restaurant with a terrace is on the third floor. The view from the terrace looking into the lake is just breathtaking and the food is good, so I didn’t really mind climbing up and down.

Exploring the city

After checking in and a quick breakfast I set out to explore the city. ‘It’s a small city, Ma’am, you can take an auto. Cab will be unnecessarily expensive,’ advised the guy sitting at the reception. I usually prefer to take a cab but this time I decided to take an auto. I stepped out of the hotel with no particular destination in mind. I decided to check out the silver jewellery that Udaipur is known for. ‘Take me to a silver shop,’ I told the auto driver. ‘Bapu Bazaar mein hai,’ he said as I got in.

Then followed two days of browsing through the beautiful jewellery and handicrafts, trying local foods and of course exploring the beautiful palaces and museums. Listening to auto drivers talk about Udaipur as they drive me through the city, the stories of tourist guides who doubled as my photographer, walking the lanes, sometimes even requesting strangers to take my picture. These are things I would not do in the normal course; in the solo trip, I found a new me.

Udaipur lit up on Diwali

In the evening I would sit in the rooftop bar enjoying the view and a drink, tired and satisfied. The view of the city from the rooftop, especially on the Diwali light with palaces and houses along the lake lit up and people floating diya on the lake was breathtaking.

Solo but not alone!

Though I would sometimes crave company in the evening, I quite enjoyed my solo drinks. I would call a friend or share pictures of my trip. Yes, I did keep my friends posted while I was making the most of my time alone.

I had my apprehensions about travelling solo. I could be bored or uncomfortable I feared and spend the day sitting in the hotel. Surprisingly, though there were couples and families all around me, not for a moment was I bored. I went to my room only after dinner when I was too tired, looking forward to the next day. Udaipur and me was such a perfect company!

Wait for the next post to know more about the city…

Specky Me!

In my new specks

And finally, it happened! I have been asked to wear glasses. Well, that’s no surprise. People usually need reading glasses after crossing forty and I am well into my forties. Though my eye sight’s been always good. While many of my friends and contemporaries had to go for reading glasses, my eyes didn’t let me down. It’s my genes I thought. In my family people needed reading glasses much later in life. But then the lockdown happened, and screen time just went up manyfold. “It’s the lockdown effect,” the ophthalmologist told me after looking into my eyes.

I start my day reading news on various apps on my phone. Then 8-10 hours before laptop. The world has gone virtual, even meetings are on screen now. Late evenings I either entertain myself on an OTT platform or read or write, on screen off course. I sometimes get on video call with family or friends.  So, screen has become all pervasive. Screen, be it mobile, laptop or TV, overpowers me and dominates my life. No wonder my eyes gave in!

It happened one fine morning, about a week ago. I was working on a presentation my eyes suddenly felt very tired. I had to strain my eyes to continue working. I tried watching TV in the evening, but the screen felt too bright for my comfort. So, I went to bed early thinking I could sleep it off. Next day was as bad and it wasn’t getting any better, so I decided to visit an ophthalmologist without further delay.

Going to the doctor finally!

“I can see your eyes are dry,” the doctor said after one look. “Now let’s check your power.” After checking my eyesight for both distance and close reading she announced that I have cylindrical power in one eye. “Oh, I thought I would need reading glasses,” I said. “That’s also there, though the number is not very high. But you will need to wear glasses all the time because you have cylindrical power in one eye.” Gosh! I did imagine myself flaunting my stylish reading glasses but having to be spectacled all the time. “You can either go in for progressive lens or two different pair of glasses,” the doctor added.

Choosing health & the right pair of specks

I will go in for progressive lens, I decided immediately. Two different pair of glasses would be too inconvenient. No, this has nothing to do with reluctance to admit that I need glasses to read. I have seen people averse to taking out their reading glasses in public for some vain reason. They cringe their eyes while working on the laptop or reading a message on the phone but refuse to wear reading glasses. It dents their ‘youthful image’ I guess. I have often wondered why people choose vanity over health. As far as I am concerned, it would be easier to get used to one pair of glasses rather than two.

I didn’t want to delay getting spectacled any further, so I immediately drove down to BONTON Opticians. Progressive lenses are expensive, the  comfort range of progressive lenses starts from rupees thirteen thousand, I learnt. “Well can’t you give me contacts for my cylindrical vision and a reading glass?” I asked. “Ma’am your power is too low for contacts. It will be good if you go for progressive lens,” the shop manager advised.

Next step was choosing the right frame. I will be wearing specs all the time, so the frame has to be both comfortable and smart. It took me while to decide. I tried almost every frame in the store. I didn’t want anything boring, nor anything too flashy. The shop manager was very patient I must say. Finally, I zeroed down on a half-rimmed metal frame. The pair cost me almost twenty thousand. But what the heck. It’s an investment on my health and on a fresh look of course!

My New Glasses

BONTON delivered the glasses to me on Sunday evening. It will take a few days to get used to the new pair I was told. Second day in the glasses and I am still getting used to them, though I am very happy with the comfort before the screen and my new look!