A home away from home, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal

While I was looking for homestays during my last summer’s travels to Uttarakhand, I had stumbled upon ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. They were sold out, but I was already in love with the place. I am a daydreamer and often last year I kept visualizing myself at the quaint colonial homestay. This year, when I started working on my project of waste management, (where I am working with the village women to remove waste from the world ecosystem and convert it into something useful and beautiful; adding livelihood and pride to lives of village women), the first place that I had written on my list was Bhimtal. Though, I am still at the primary stage of the project, I wanted to visit Bhimtal, to look at the villages around.

I had quite a few e-mail communications and telephonic conversations with Padmini Smetacek, the host at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal, about my accomodation and I got some good vibes. There are times, when you do not need to see something to believe in it, the energies that you receive are convincing enough. This is so true to this place. My general OCD-self was completely relaxed before reaching this place. From the moment I reached, and all over my stay, I promise, this has been the best experience of a homestay.

Away from the constructions surrounding the Bhimtal lake and nestled in the foothills of the Kumaon’s Lake District, amidst a forest estate, ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal is a home away from home. It takes a lot of things for me to call something ‘home’, and this place has everything to call it a ‘home’. It is an old British bungalow, maintained well, keeping the historical feel alive. If you love to unwind, wake up to the chirps of birds, get excited at the sight of colourful blooms, soak in the sun, smell the rain,  feel the pebbles under your feet, read and daydream, gaze at the starry night and paint stories in your mind, this place is for you. So, if this summer, you are looking for some digital detoxification, pack your bags and head to ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. For queries and bookings, contact  http://www.theretreatbhimtal.in/

I have travelled to Kumaon, Uttarakhand quite a few times, but every time I fall in love with the place like an old wine in a new bottle. I believe it is not only the place, but it’s the people who make the place. And this time, I give all the credit to the host and her family at ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal. I think my descriptions would fall short to describe how enchanting the place is and you should make time for a visit to experience it all by yourself; and you would not regret it.

This place looks exactly like my childhood sketches, an old bungalow amidst pine, cedar and oak, filled with flowers and all plants I could name. It is the place I would think of, if I ever write a fairy tale. There is a ridge behind the homestay where you could go for leisurely walks, I enjoyed most of the mornings and evenings, watching the sunrise and the sunset while walking on the ridge. Breakfast used to be lavish affairs in the verandah, getting childlike excitement at the sight of colourful birds of varied species. If you are a bird or butterfly spotter, this is the perfect place. You have your complete privacy to sit and drown in your thoughts or choose to unfurl the artist in you. Or you may join for long conversations in the evenings with the host about her family’s splendid history. The best part for foodies like me is you are spoilt by exotic homemade food from locally sourced vegetables and meat. The taste will always linger in my soul. The family makes the best food and will give any Michelin star restaurant run for their money. From shakshuka, to kadi chawal, from pot chicken roast to focaccia bread, from lemon cheesecake to pumpkin soup, they make food that you will crave once you leave this place. The best part, surviving all odds, the host and her family is always smiling, warm and eager to help you out. They will guide you for walks to the Sattal lake, arrange a cab to nearby villages, make you rhododendron juice when you are back from a hike. They will even spill the beans about some secret spots nearby, which you can explore.

The home and the people breathe an atmosphere of comfort and peace. This is a  perfect get-away for nature lovers, botanists and entomologists, bird watchers, yoga and meditation enthusiasts, trekkers, walkers, campers, couch potatoes, dreamers, artists, and writers. If you are looking for a laid-back atmosphere, with the world class hospitality, this place is a must visit. I appreciate innocence, I appreciate an organic growth. And this is something you will find in abundance here. The kids of the family are so well-behaved and so full of love that it moved me. I feel sad, that in cities these days we are losing that innocent, unadulterated charm in the younger generation. I definitely love to travel to explore a new place, but it’s more because of the people like of ‘The Retreat’, Bhimtal; there is always so much to learn from them.

The family strives consistently to conserve the forest and wildlife in the area. If you are planning to visit this place, please travel responsibly and respect the privacy of the host as well.

The parts of Bhimtal I explored during this trip, we will talk about it in my next post, because I have already started daydreaming of ‘The Retreat’ again. I celebrated my  birthday here. When Padmini, got to know about it, she baked me a cake and I had the most heartfelt celebrations in years. More than work, I relaxed here and on the day of departure, I didn’t feel like getting back, but with the hopes of going back sometime soon for a family vacation, I think of this place and the people fondly.

Every place stays with us, but some are special. Which is the best place that you have been to which you can call home?

 

I travel solo in India, and I feel safe

In the current scenario of India, it is very strange on my part to come up with this article. I feel ashamed, helpless and angered by the increasing number of rape cases in the country. It has given me sleepless nights and at times I have wondered if I should reschedule my travel plans. But holding on to my urge to travel, I didn’t allow my fear to overpower me. I travelled solo this month and I have been doing this since I was eighteen. I travel solo in India and I feel safe. I wish no one goes through the horrendous situation and everyone feels safe, be at home or in a distant land. As a traveller, I would tell you how and why I feel safe for solo travels in India.

1Carry a self-defence equipment

To be on the safer side, I always carry a self defence equipment, even when I am travelling within the cities. I still carry a pepper spray and have even upgraded to a taser gun. I make sure to place them in the most conveniently reachable part of my bag. And if you know any self-defence art, it’s cherry on the cake.

2. Dress according to the culture

I have always been a rebel about wearing clothes and have never stuck to the conventions of Indian society about my dressing. But while you are travelling, it is always wise to dress according to the culture of the place and not hurt the sentiments of the locals. That does no way mean that a dress invites a crime. I am totally against the notion. But I like to dress comfortably and according to the local culture. That doesn’t even mean wearing a kurta or a saree while you are hiking in the jungle. I prefer wearing t-shirts and tracks. I would suggest to wear anything that doesn’t grab attention. While travelling in a rainforest, I would not like to be in my LBD or stilettos, I would rather be in something that is comfortable for a hike and not seeking attention.

3. You will meet people who will worry for your safety

When we have a perception about something or someplace, we tend to think of the place like the way we have read. It’s better to ignore the perception, let go of your jitters and be on the road and experience. You will know how to avoid the nasty ones. And don’t you think we will meet jerks if we are living in the comfort of our city lives? You meet them at nightclubs, schools, colleges. Avoid them. This time, when I was staying at Ginger Hotel in Delhi, because I had to catch the early morning train, I was a bit worried to walk or to take a cab to the station alone before sunrise, though the New Delhi Railway Station is a 3 mins walk from the hotel. So, I asked the person at the reception to help me with a security guard who could give me company to walk to the station in the early hours of the morning. I am grateful to the employees at Ginger for being sensitive about the issue. On my return journey, my train was to reach the Old Delhi railway station at 4 o clock in the morning. The lady of the homestay, where I was staying, informed me that there is a McDonald’s outlet at Platform No 1 and asked me to wait there till there is daylight. This information was helpful and I did accordingly. People are nice to solo travellers, especially female travellers all over the world and in India people really worry about you and want you to be safe.

4. You will find ‘women-only’ everything

From the queues at bus depots, to seats at metro rails, you will find ‘women-only’ everything. You will find cabs driven by women to homestay run by women. When I booked the first class train compartment  and got up in the train from Kathgodam, I was worried to find the entire compartment empty. I panicked for a moment. I sat on my berth hoping that the cabin shouldn’t be filled with men. And thankfully, the cabin was reserved for three other women, solo travellers. Later, we discussed we all had shared the same worries. Happily, we made our night journey discussing everything and even reached safely.

5. People in India are friendly

Of travelling over the years, I have always found people in India to be friendly and caring. They would take you to your home and feed you with the humblest meal, but would not allow you to stay hungry. What we consider as over-peering neighbours at times, turns out to be the most life-saving people in the country. They will constantly remind you to be safe, not to be vulnerable to strangers and will always permit you to contact them for emergencies.

Leave your jitters at home, tie your shoe laces. Sitting at home, worrying over the perceived notion of the world would not lead to any experience. Work towards a better and safe place and walk fearlessly.

 

Itachuna Rajbari: A Weekend Getaway

Itachuna Rajbari, literally meaning brick and lime palace, was built in 1766 by the Kundu family who supposedly descended from the Bargis, the dreaded Maratha clan who invaded and looted Bengal time and again annually for a decade (1740s to 1750s). They were originally, “Kundaan” clan but since the time they settled, they embraced local culture and through word of mouth, it has become “Kundu”. In the present day, you can experience living in a heritage house.

A few steps from Kalyani across the river Ganges you will wade into the heritage Hooghly district. People from different places came and settled here. You will  find the elegeant monuments of the Portugese colonies in Bandel. Apart from that, you will find heritage of Dutch, French and Greeks. There are confluence of regional races & cultures too. Jains adored the place and even Pathans admired and left their traces here.

This heritage mansion is in thee village Itachuna, originally known as Bargi Danga. After the downfall of Mughal era, after the death of Aurangageb, Marathas became powerful. Many a times they used to attack Bengal,Bihar & Orissa. The erect watch-towers  from Singur to  Arra, Purulia witnessed the threat of Maratha warriors locally called Bargis centuries back.  Bargis used to come, loot and collect taxes. However, many of them never left Bengal and began to settle here embracing local culture. A sect entitled “Kundaan” settled in the remote village of Hooghly now known as Itachuna. They amassed  huge wealth and property by their wit and strength. Subsequently they became powerful zamidars/rajas of the locality. Over times they lost their original identity of Kundans, it turned to Bengali title Kundu.. They cultivated Bengali culture, Bengali cuisines, Bengali language and local deities. They became friend, guide and protector of local people here. They were pious and liberal. Their behaviour towards local people became a folklore even heard at the nook and corners of Itachuna. Still, people in the village put them on a pedestal.

The palace was made by ita (bricks) and lime (chun) and hence it was called Itachuna Rajbari. The majestic, splendid architecture and structure is intact  although it is about 250 years old. Currently, a part of it is being used as heritage-stay.
The Vishnu temple within the palace is  another attraction of the palace. Still now the deity is worshipped.
The caretaker of this place was guiding me to the artefacts kept for visitors. When I was exploring the huge property, its nooks and crannies and the rustic stairways at times I thought I was lost and couldn’t remember the pathways, but I was lost for a better reason, I was blissfully disconnected from the urban jungle and digital connectivity. The palace is a self-contained entity. There are rooms for royal families. There are space for amusement and dances. The visiting room has a magnificent outlook .
A night stay here will  certainly refresh your mind. If you spend seeing the village from the roof, you will stumble upon delightful oddities, when the afternoon gives way to dusk.

This place is just the perfect getaway if you are looking for a quiet, peaceful and scenic weekend. Away from everyday chaos this is the place to just be. The areas around the Rajbari is green and there are quite a few water bodies around it and one within it. It is a perfect place to rest, recuperate, and spend time enjoying nature, good food, and music! Yes, music of the flute variety! There is a person who comes in every morning and evening and he plays the flute. It was a lovely experience and somehow added to the ambience!

In the evening I was provided a tour of the Rajbari and the areas around it.
To sum up, it was a great experience to spend a weekend indulging in history and gorging on delicious Bengali food.

The rooms are pretty good. The experience of staying in a house over 300 years old with so much of  history was quite something! At present, mud huts have been built near the waterbody and people can experience night stay even there. The mud hut are each named after different flowers.

The food was excellent. They served Bengali food and the menu is fixed. You can choose between veg and non-veg food. The spread was very good. If you want to taste authentic Bengali cuisine this could be the perfect place and setting to experience it. You get to experience eating on old traditional dinnerwares and feel royal.

If you live in Kolkata and don’t know where to go next weekend, try to visit Itachuna. For more details you can visit the website of the Itachuna Rajbari: http://www.itachunarajbari.com/

Do not visit Itachuna Rajbari if you are looking for hotel-like amenities and modern comforts.
Come visit if you want to meet characters lost in a time gone by in a sleepy little town that houses a mansion full of charm for those that seek it.

Have you ever stayed in an old mansion?

Ping’s Cafe Orient, Park Street, Kolkata

Ping’s Cafe Orient was in my bucket list from the time it opened. And when I finally could make time for a lunch there, I realised it was worth being in the bucket list.

Park Street is one of my favourite neighbourhoods in town because of its old world charm. Ping’s Cafe Orient, though is a new kid on the block, has a contemporary look but has the spell of the old world. The decor with old things, like the postbox at the door, the fox candy’s tin up-cycled as tableware holder adds an ‘X’ factor to the place. It’s the perfect balance between both the worlds and delicious cuisine with responsible cooking and service.

 

They use only heart-healthy oils such as soyabean, extra virgin olive and sunflower, maximizing the nutritional goodness with fresh ingredients but not compromising on the richness of the flavours. Each taste lingers in your mouth, urging you to visit again for a guilt free dining experience.

I was bowled over by their attempt to be environmentally conscious by trying to use eco-friendly bio-degradable materials. What impressed me most were the ever-smiling hospitable employees.

We ordered for, to start with, Spicy Chicken Dumpling with Thai Lemongrass Cooler and Apple & Ginger Collins. For the mains, we had Chicken Hakka Noodles with Chicken with chilli and fresh mushrooms. The dishes had the perfect amount of freshness of the ingredients and the mixture of the flavours. We signed off with Poached pear with caramelized walnuts & vanilla ice-cream. This is one of the best poached pear I had till date, soft yet with a crunch and every bite of it leaving a taste in your mouth. We were treated in the beginning with some crackers and at the end with some chinese jasmine tea. The quantity and quality of the food here, is top notch.

The attention it is receiving is well-deserved. Everything at this place would make your heart crave to go back again.

Scuba Diving Puerto Galera, Philippines

Puerto Galera is located on the North West coast of island of Mindoro and is about 130 miles south of Manila. One of the main destinations in Philippines for scuba diving is Puerto Galera. There are more than 30 dive centres. It is also a marine sanctuary with a great marine life and coral reefs. The area has been a Marine and Biosphere Reserve of UNESCO since 1973 and has some of the most diverse coral reefs in Asia. While scuba diving Puerto Galera, big fish like white tip sharks, tunas, barracudas, eagle rays, turtles can be seen at the popular dive sites. Thriving fish life like angelfish, wrasses, surgeonfish, batfish, butterfly fish can be seen at house reef wrecks. You can also spot exotic fish like spanish dancer, harlequin ghost-pipefish along with camouflaged frogfish, fire gobies and blue-ribbon eels.
Scuba diving Puerto Galera is a heaven for underwater photographers, marine biologists and divers. You get to see a diversified marine life of soft corals, gorgonians, crinoids, colourful sponges, tunicates, crustaceans and shrimps and the most popular is the invertebrate, ‘nudibranchs’.
It is also a great place for night diving.
Most of the dive sites are located in Verde Island passage. Here the current is strong and the water is clear. It is a great opportunity for drift dives along the deep walls.
The other popular dive sites are in front of Sabang beach and are accessible via a 5 minute boat ride.
There are many places at Puerto Galera where you can learn technical diving.


How to get to Puerto Galera

You can travel to Puerto Galera from Manila. The preferable transport is the bus. There is a bus terminal along Taft Avenue, Pasay City. This is nearest to the Ninoy Aquino International and Domestic Airport. The other bus terminals are in Cubao (Quezon City), EDSA corner Kamias Street (Quezon City), Alabang(Muntinlupa City).
You can also avail the ferry going to Puerto Galera. Travellers may also opt to use private transfer.


Best dive sites around Puerto Galera


Hibo Reef: The depth is 40 m. This is located in the Manila Channel. The wall is covered with gorgonian sea fans and large black coral trees, unique to this spot in the locality. Eels and blue triggerfish have made small holes in the wall their home. stingrays are common below the wall, on the sandy patch. A variety of soft corals can be spotted while scuba diving Puerto Galera’s this dive site.
Tamaraw Rocks: The depth ranges from 3 to 16 m. It is a shallow dive. You will find barrel sponges and colourful reefs on your way while scuba diving. On the sand there are stingrays. This site is home to leaf fish, frog fish and is a good site for night dive.

Odies Wall: The depth of this site is 33 m. The ocean floor is white sandy with large bommies and rock formations. The contour slopes off gently. You will find large number of staghorn coral, basket sponges, plate corals and sandy areas are covered with long whip corals and a variety of small tropical fish. Reef sharks and turtles can also be spotted.


Manila Channel: The depth is 18 m and the site is abundant with gorgonian sea fans and colourful sea whips. You can also see hard and soft corals in a variety. While scuba diving, groupers are hard to spot because they are well camouflaged.


Coral Gardens: The depth is 10 m and this is one of the best dive sites of Puerto Galera. It is excellent even for drift drive. Coral strewn terrain shelves out from the beach and some of the crevices are home to ribbon eels and even turtles can be seen.


Alma Jane: It has a depth of 30m. A liveboard which had sunk in 2000 is home to giant frog fish and even batfish hang out here. Turtles can be spotted too.


Sabang Wreck: With a depth of 18m, this is an old wooden fishing vessel sunk off in front of Sabang beach. Home to bat fish and surgeonfish, it is a popular dive site. Trumpets, stone fish, stargazers, flounders, sea stars call this dive site home.


Sabang Point: It has a depth of 24m with stoney corals, fish, invertebrates such as cuttlefish and octopus. A ridge is covered with crinoids and corals. It is a good site for night dive.


Monkey Beach: A coral slopes down to 18 m. This site is good for beginners. Small coral heads have crinoids, nudibranchs and reef fish.


Dungung Wall: A wreck sits at 27m, at the bottom of the multi-level wall. The wall rises to 12m where the bottom extends into the bay. A good area for colorful corals and reef life.


Hole in the Wall: Situated at Escarceo point, this dive is normally performed as an 18m profile. You descend in several drop offs, each about 3m, and reach the hole at about 13m.The hole is about 1.5m wide, covered with multicolored corals and crinoids. While scuba diving Puerto Galera, you will find this as a world class dive site.


The Canyons: An advanced dive site with 30m depth. Drop offs are covered in soft corals and sponges.You will find a variety including snappers, emperors, sweetlips, barracudas, jacks, trevallies and the occasional shark, that make this a high-light Dive. The dive ends at a large anchor embedded in the coral where the group can gather before being swept off before the safety stop, in the current.


The Atol: This large rock has several small crevices on the bottom side, reef sharks and stingrays have made these crevices home. On the other side the rock overhangs, it is a good place to explore with a flashlight. You will find eels, lionfish, nudibranchs and octopus. A large grouper also lives here and also the occasional larger pelagic fish. It is good for nitrox diving.


Shark Cave: It has a depth of 27m. It has a large overhang which is a favourite spot for white tip reef sharks. It’s also home to blue spotted stingrays, moray eels and octopus. This site is usually visited at the beginning of a multi-level dive to the Pink Wall or as a stop on the way to the canyons.


Pink Wall: It has a depth of 12m. A very pretty site with many corals. When dived on the correct tide, it is a paradise for photographers and beginners.


What to expect while scuba diving Puerto Galera

The conditions on many dive sites are pretty easy and therefore ideal to learn scuba diving. Puerto Galera is famous for its drift dives along the beautiful walls.
Since Puerto Galera is considered as warm water diving area, 3 mm thick wet suits are the norm. The tide exchange is from a few centimetres up to 2 meters. For scuba diving Puerto Galera, selection of the dive sites depends on the tidal exchange and the slack tides, which is an important part of dive planning.
The currents which is common in the area are often brisk and unpredictable.
You will find gentle currents in most of the local dive sites ideal for training. It is fierce in the straits in the channels between the Islands.
The Verde Island Passage is known as the “centre of the centre” of the world’s marine biodiversity. Life enhancing nutrients from the Pacific and waters of the South China Sea mix together. Underneath the surface are vivid reef formations which consists more than 300 species of corals. It also has underwater rock canyons that host nearly 60 percent of the world’s known shore fish species. It is described as the marine counterpart of the Amazon River basin,” by World Conservation Union. The passage is at the peak of the “Coral Triangle” that consists of the Sulawesi and the Sulu Seas in the southern Philippines and nearby Indonesia.


Other things to do and see in Puerto Galera

Apart from scuba diving Puerto Galera, you can indulge in other activities like sailing, kayaking, sunset cruises, beach hopping, volleyball, golfing, snorkeling, banana boat, trekking, buggies and motorcycle rentals and even paintball. There is also a zip-line in the area.

 

Best times to visit Puerto Galera

It is possible to dive all year round in Puerto Galera. The visibility ranges from 10m to 30m depending on the season and the tide.
The best time to dive is from April to September. During this period you will enjoy great visibility, good sea conditions and warm water.
During winter and especially in December, the water temperature is much colder with minimum around 23°C on certain dive sites.

 

Energy-Packed Pancakes

If you are looking for a healthy breakfast option or a energy packed meal after workout, this is going to refuel you and the needs of your body.

Ingredients:

Wheat Flour: 1 cup

Strawberry: 1/2

Homemade Cottage Cheese: 2 teaspoon

Grated Coconut: 2 teaspoon

Milk: 1/4 cup

Eggs: 2

 

Procedure:

  1. Chop the strawberry into pieces.
  2. Mix all the other ingredients with a hand blender or in a food mixer. Add the strawberries to it.
  3. Heat frying pan on oven top. Add a drop of olive oil/white oil.
  4. Pour or scoop the batter onto the frying pan.
  5. Once the side is golden brown, flip it.
  6. Once, even the other side is golden brown, the pancake is ready.

Serve the hot stack of pancakes with maple syrup or honey. If you find nolen gur (jaggery), you may serve the pancakes with the same. Nothing like eating local and seasonal.

 

Best Markets in India

We live in a world, high on digitalization. Everything that is a necessary or a luxury, is a click or two away. Being offline is the new luxury. The idea to go to the market, to procure the essentials, seems from the historic age. I have noticed, these days, when after months, I go out to the market, I am grappled with some kind of discomfort. Still, the flea markets have an unadulterated charm and attract dozens of crowds. Watching people, to purchasing handmade trinkets, relishing the aroma of spices wafting into the air or the unruly racket of experienced hagglers, a flea market is an experience that will leave you with history and culture of the place.

I have travelled quite a bit within India and while travelling, I make sure to visit the flea markets, get into the skin of the place. From my observations, I have rounded up the best flea markets in India, for you.

Colaba Causeway, Mumbai

The one-stop-shop for everything, this is a shopper’s paradise.You will find clothing, second hand jewellery, handicrafts, books, souvenirs, bags, name it and you will find it. Tourists are attracted to this colourful bustling market and even the locals flock this place.

Chor Bazaar, Mumbai

You might think Chor Bazaar’s name to be derived from the fact that it’s a thieves’ market, that is absolutely not very different from the truth. Originally, the market was actually called Shor Bazaar, but that quickly got corrupted because the British pronounced it as ‘Chor.’ The name stuck, and India inherited the mispronunciation. The shopkeepers at the bazaar have been true to the reputation, though, and if your haggling skills are good you can find some of the best second hand antiquities and trinkets in abundance.

Laad Bazaar, Hyderabad

It is situated in an alley. Visually vivid, this place is famous for beautiful and colourful bangles, semi-precious stones, pearls and other jewellery.

Arpora Saturday Night Market, Goa

This is more of a carnival than a flea market. It is open only on Saturday nights and you will find clothes, handmade accessories, shoes, bags, home decor and a lot more. To add to it there is street food and live music. This is an experience that I highly recommend.

Sarojini Nagar, Delhi

You must experience shopping at this place once. With the best of available fashion in a bargainable price, this place will enchant you. I have bought the best of international brands clothes in less than half the price fro here.

Parry’s Corner, Chennai

A world of colours, this place is packed with people.  You can pick anything from books to clothes to everyday household items.  You need to daunt your way through the crowd.

Johari Bazaar, Jaipur

Johari Bazaar is a place where five hundred stores call it a home and it caters to every mood and every need. From jewels, gems, precious stones, to just traditional Rajasthani gold jewelry, the market is full of skilled artisans with generations of experience in the field, which helps them find the best match for you. To add to that, the other markets like Bapu Bazaar and Nehru Bazaar, are in the surrounding where you can find gorgeous garbs as well. You need to sip into the  lassi at and everything is a perfect equation.

Anjuna Flea Market, Goa

Every flea market has its own story and Anjuna’s is rather fascinating. There’s a story that the Anjuna Flea Market was started decades ago by a bunch of hippies who created handcrafted merchandise that helped them fund their stay in Goa. Today, the market only operates on Wednesdays and has the best merchandise from all around the country available at multifarious stalls that are set up by locals in the area. This flea market is complete with delicious street food and amazing live performances to go with the shopping.

Ima Market, Manipur

It  is one of the oldest markets in India, and even the spectacular one too. Ima Market, is run solely by thousands of women, making it Asia’s largest (and in all probability, one of a kind) all-women’s market. The self-dependent women sell everything from handicrafts to fish in a remarkable setting that is simply unheard of and hard to find elsewhere. In fact, its origins are said to date back to the 16th century, making it one of oldest women empowerment movements in the country.

Dilli Haat, Delhi

The word ‘haat‘ is used to describe a market in many parts of rural India. Dilli Haat, essentially, is a traditional rural market. Situated in the south of the chaotic capital, the ‘haat’ has been operational since 1994 and has various exclusive and exotic handicrafts on offer that showcase the talent of the many skilled artisans and the terrific detailing and intricacies with which they work. You can experience many cultural and musical performances while shopping in the market.

Chandni Chowk, Delhi

Built in the 17th century by Shah Jahan and designed by his daughter Jahan Ara, it remains one of India’s largest and busiest markets. You will find the most  freshly made Indian sweets, the taste of which will linger in your mouth, the Chowk is also famous for home decor items, various fabrics, junk jewelry, as well as electronics.

Sardar Market, Jodhpur

Situated a stone’s throw away from the famous Mehrangarh Fort, the panoply of the market will quickly have you under its spell. You will find mojris, handicrafts, textiles, bangles, and even unadulterated spices by and you can get them for a good deal, if you are good at bargaining.

Janpath Market, Delhi

Janpath is one of the most impressive flea markets. The name literally translates to the people’s path, and the kilometer-and-a-half stretch runs perpendicular to the Rajpath (the rulers’ path). The market is famous for its Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls, Kurtis, Himalayan and Tibetan products, as well as the many ebullient hawkers who sell a bunch of baubles and gimmicks.

New Market, Kolkata

The New Market in Kolkata was constructed in 1874 simply because the British colonists refused to rub shoulders with the Indian populace at markets. The New Market has endured two major fires, regular flooding, and an exotic pet-trading business that was only uncovered and stopped in the mid-70s. It’s 2000 stalls sell everything from marble counters, saris, and crockery to Nahoum & Sons’ cakes that patrons have enjoyed for well over a century.

Jew Town, Cochin

India was home to many Jewish people who lived peacefully in the country for over two centuries. Post 1948, many chose to move to Israel, but the few who chose to stay in Cochin own a majority of the shops in this market called Jew Town. The last known surviving Jews in the area make a living by selling spices, perfumes, shawls, handcrafted products, jewelry, and other similar products from around the country.

 

Sienna Store & Cafe ~ Bluetiful

I am the Bong who loves the Portuguese and the French influences, that the old colonial culture has left in the city. I love everything Bengali adulterated with the European colours. After a long wait for a laid-back cafe, Kolkata lastly has its perfect cafe. I am so much head over heels in love with this cafe & store in blue, that I find everything beautiful about it and my term ‘bluetiful’ suits it aptly.

   

Situated in the by-lanes of Hindusthan Park, Sienna Store & Cafe is a boutique store and cafe with shuttered windows, doors, mosaic-tables all in blue. It is beautifully decorated with handmade decor items and fairy lights that give the place a magical charm. It sells sustainable clothing, accessories, homewares and paper stationery. I have a few of them in my collection and are few of my favourite things. I love that they maintain the colour symmetry in everything. The notebooks that the store sells, the cover is made of ‘gamcha’, which is a thin coarse tradition cotton towel found in India. Everything about the place speaks of tradition, colonialism and an old-world charm.

Coming to the food, I love the sandwiches, simple but served like a dream. If you want to find the best pasta in town, the one that Italians would be proud of, you should order the pasta here. My favourite is the one with sundried tomatoes. The lebur jol, the juices are served in canisters and the thing that you cant beat is they have copper straws, if you want any. The thing that you would die for are the cakes. Its very difficult to name one, because the goodies baked in the kitchen is not only a delight to look at but even is a treat to all the senses. You could smell the spices wafting into the air, the lusciousness of the baked goods in front of your eyes and when you taste them, each flavour sends a gastronomic revolution inside you.

If you want to work, catch up with some reading, or spend hours over music and good food, stop thinking and hit this address. If you have wondered about the picturesque cafes in the other part of the world, this place is your location to check-in. If you want to collect things that would not only be a statement but echo sustainable living, this is a must visit the place. Sienna store & cafe will make you think about re-doing your home decor, about. The best part about this place, everything is raw, everything is left as it is, imperfect, but the beauty oozes out from there. In every way, it speaks of the ‘Wabi-sabi’ aesthetics of life.

 

JW Kitchen, an experience

Being a foodie since time immemorable obviously urges me to try out new places in town. But, being a social vegan and selectively choosing to go out is quite contrasting to the whole scene.

I love the brand JW Mariott, and I had to try out their food. So, I made sure to head out for lunch with my folks. Pleasantly surprising was, it was the 1st anniversary of JW Mariott in Kolkata. Along with the brand, we celebrated its 1st anniversary with food and cocktails at JW Kitchen.

 

I always feel special when the chef or the manager comes to the table and asks about the food and the hospitality. This makes you feel royal. But it’s more about the hospitality than me feeling royal.

Though I am a food goblet, yet it is practically impossible to try out everything in a single lunch. My favourite was the cheese section, where they have an international selection of cheese. The prawn cocktails and the salads are really great and you should not miss it. I literally had 3 plates of different selection of breads and salads. The chicken and parmesan salad is a treat to all the senses. I think I would go back one day only for the desserts, which had the low sugar carrot cakes, apple pie and a wide array of selection. I ended my trip with an espresso with the hazelnut cake.

I bite my nails because I do not have enough pictures, but trust me, it’s more of an experience. And particularly for this day, I wanted to soak in the experience, the sight of the food, the generousness of the employees and the taste that leaves you numb in that gastronomic pleasure. That leaves me with another day to go back to this place to freeze edible moments and memories.

I am not a food blogger within inverted commas, with due respect to all. But, I blog for the experience, I write to read memories. And for that reason I would not discuss the price, you can obviously find it out from various sources. But one thing I must mention is that I was pleasantly surprised that 28% GST wasn’t charged, I thought food and beverage at a 5-star is 28%, but we were only charged 18%. For the price, it’s more than worth it, I recommend you must visit JW Kitchen once, for that fine-dining experience. You go to a place, not just for the food, but for the experience and I could see that sense of relaxation in my parent’s smile. The brand stays loyal to its name and principles in every sense.