Monday, 19 September 2016

10 Commandments ~ Kolkata Travel for first timers

Kolkata is totally mystique. Most of the times it does not figure in the bucket list for most travellers. There are plenty of reasons. The only time when most travellers touch Kolkata is when they need to change flights. The city is hot and humid, has enough of trash,cacaphony and poverty. However if you think you will still brave all these and visit the city then please read on.

Having spent a good amount of my life in Kolkata, I can tell you that the city is amazing, a lot-lot much more than what you apparently see. So following are my ten commandments for anyone planning to visit the city for the first time or even planning to revisit to soak in its rich culture and heritage.

1. Bengalis address any strangers as "Dada" (elder brother) or "Didi (elder sister)

You have to admit this is something very sweet of a race, they will address any stranger as either 'dada' or 'didi' and mind it does not bear any reference to the person's social or economic status. So if you address anyone as dada or didi you are sure to earn some brownie points. Mind the gender though!

For example, you say to a shopkeeper(male) : Dada, can I have two packets of biscuits please.
To a lady on the street : Didi can you please give me the directions to the bus stand?

2. Never ever say anything criticizing Tagore, Netaji, Vivekananda and Sourav Ganguly

Bengalis are the most soft people anywhere in India and they can bear any criticise or abuse without ever raising a finger, but then everything comes with a clause just like Santa Clause. Never ever say anything demeaning Tagore, Netaji, Vivekananda and off course Sourav Ganguly. These four people are held with high regards. It is unofficially a crime to say anything low about these people and can earn you life long foes.

3. Bengalis are awesome cooks

Yes, Kolkata is the gastronomic capital of India and every food you get is awesome. Bengalis make the most amazing fish, crab, mutton or chicken dishes. There are restaurants that people swear by. Try the famous Kolkata Biriyani ( biriyani with a big soft potato) and chicken chaap or mutton boti at Arsalan in Park Street.The biriyani smells and tastes out of the world and should be a must try for anyone.

Try the the lip smacking vegetarian food at Haldiram's (Exide Crossing). You can thank me later!

Also sample bhel puri,jhal muri, papri chat, kati roll and phuchkas at any roadside shop. Bear in mind you and hygiene should be two entirely separate entity while sampling street food. Nothing will happen, you won't die but if you bother about hygiene while eating from the not-so-great looking roadside shop you will ever enjoy your food. Believe me there are no forces in nature that can kill you while eating roadside food, so just chill and enjoy.

If you are lucky enough to get a lunch or dinner invitation at some bengali home, do not miss it. You may not regret if you lose a chance to earn a thousand pounds but you will definitely regret the great gastronomic loss if you miss a bengali lunch/dinner invite.Be sure to sample the dish called 'aloo-posto' ( poppy seeds with potato).

4. Bengalis swear by their fish

United States swear by buffalo wings and fried chicken,Italy by pasta,UK by chicken tikka masala( Indian dish!) and bengalis double swear by their fishes. Bengalis eat a wide variety of fish mostly sweet water fish and no bengali meal is complete without fish. The fish that most bengalis live (and reborn) for is hilsa. Its a highly bony fish but tastes and smells awesome.In a subsequent blog I will give you the authentic bengali way of preparing hilsa. There is one more favourite that is the prawn or more precisely the tiger prawn.And the funny thing is they refer to prawn as 'fish' in bengali although they know it's a crustacean and biologically not a fish. Pretty weird though!

Hilsa paturi

Also visit any fish market and be amazed to see the variety and volume of fish that any average bengali 'dada' or 'didi' buys.

5. Too many sweets

A friend of mine once exclaimed saying she saw more sweet shops in kolkata compared to medicine shops. Yes, that's will find sweet shops in almost every major alley and almost all time filled with customers. Bengalis are voracious sweet eaters and can readily have sweets any time of the day. They will be very happy if you carry a packet of sweets if you go to their homes after a long time. Be sure to be feed sweets also.

The sweets are all too good.Take my word for it. Some of the very popular sweets are rosogolla, chomchom, sandesh and misti doi. Even if you have antipathy for sweets do not miss misti-doi (sweet yoghurt).

 Some famous sweetshops are Kamdhenu, Bancharaam and K C Das, though I am not much fond of the latter. You can try from any sweetshop you find nearby.

6. Head to North for Heritage

Kolkata has two distinct parts- North Kolkata and South Kolkata
The cosmopolitan part is South Kolkata bursting with shopping malls,shops,companies. It was mainly developed post India's independence from the British rule. You will find too many people who have crossed the border and have settled here,calling this part their home, post independence when Bangladesh was given to Pakistan and West Bengal given to India.

North Kolkata is where the heritage lies. The houses though now looks very cringy and dark because of lack of maintenance tells of an aura when the rich and affluent used to live here.The houses look so different,distinguished and beautiful. They speak  volumes of the bygone era. If possible arrange or do a solo walk in North Kolkata and see for yourself the languished beauties. You will be humbled.

7. Durga Pujo

Google and find out what this festival is. This is possibly the biggest Hindu carnival and once a lifetime experience. But yes, one word of caution, if you are not much comfortable with crowds the better avoid this time. Please do not think me cynical.

Durga Pujo

8. No dearth of cheap public transport and Bengalis are proud of their metro rail

Yes you read that right, there is no dearth of public transport in Kolkata but they may be jammed with people. So anyone who is familiar travelling in less-occupied  buses or trains will find it hard,jostling with too many passengers.But if you can accept this, then life is a breeze. Public transport is superbly cheap and versatile. A 3 km ride in a auto (shared tuk-tuk) will cost you less than 0.1 $, but mind it you have to sit with three four other co-passengers.


The yellow taxis are iconic to the city. Though they may not be comfortable to people like us who are more accustomed to the luxuries of our private cars, but they are cheap, runs anywhere in the city and are visually appealing.

Any person is very very proud of the metro railway.The reason is obvious, Kolkata was the first in India to get the metro rail and the most amazing thing is its partly an underground rail system.

Also the city is very sentimental of its tram. Yes you will not find tram anywhere in India except Kolkata. A lot of countries have who previously had trams have got away with them since they are slow and high on maintenance. But not so with Kolkata. When there was a discussion in the government to abolish trams, the people protested. They could not sever with anything that is so much nostalgic and linked to the city. So the tram is still there.

The tram is really a remainder to us that no matter how fast paced we become, there should always be some time for enjoying the small things in life, for retrospecting life and for living life.


9. Everyone has opinion

Well this might be annoying but deal with it. Any bengali you will meet will have an opinion on anything and everything and is too eager that you hear.It doesn't matter whether its EuroCup, Obama or Hillary, solution to the World's hunger crisis or what you should have for dinner if you have got constipation. An average bengali is well educated and more inclined towards art,poetry,theatre,music and gossip.Just your listening to them will make them happy.

Its a very normal on the streets that if you ask any single person for the direction, two or three will gather from nowhere and will start telling you the direction and sometime even brainstorm among themselves to tell you the best route.

10. Football

Yes, cricket may be the religion in India as well as the money minting sport but what steals every bengali's heart is the football. Every father or uncle will scold his son/nephew if he plays football without studying hard, but the truth is that person had also done the same and this will go down generations.

There are two major teams East Bengal and MohanBagan. As I told before post independence a lot of Hindu bengalis shifted to Kolkata because of Bangladesh's hostility towards Hindus,so team East Bengal was initially formed by them.The natives had MohanBagan. So whenever there is a match between these two teams, people gets divided into supporters of either one of them just like county cricket.Each will tease other in a friendly way whoever loses.But at the end of the day its just a game.

So unless if you are truly a supporter of any of this two teams, better not take any sides because your co-passenger in auto( tuk-tuk) might vouch for the other team.

Football practice

Well everything here is my opinion and you are free to take or leave any or all. Just as any Bengali I also have my opinion on anything and everything but I prefer to write.Let me know if I have missed any. See you in my next blogpost.

Victoria Memorial

The iconic yellow taxi

Hooghly Bridge

Monday, 1 August 2016

Digha ~ Popular beach destination of Bengal

Here's our first guest blog and we are so excited..Thanks Maitreyee for helping us with your valuable contribution.

Please scroll down for the post: Happy reading!


Heyy Soma & Ankur,

I have been following your blog for quite some time. I love the intricate details you provide in your articles. They are really helpful…Seriously ...

Well, I went to Digha last weekend..and would like to share the experience with you guys..Actually, it was not a planned vacation (I was sort of influenced from your last minute decisions).

                Digha is a very very popular beach destination about 185 km from Kolkata…Since me and Raja  are lazy bums  so we started off late , at around 7am…. On the way we halted twice, once for breakfast and one more time for stretching our limbs. A soft drizzle on our way slowed us down...and finally we reached Digha at around 12 noon(on a sunny day it will take around 4hrs 30mins..All throughout our journey, the road was very good..we took NH6 then NH116B).

On reaching Digha, we found several hotels ranging from budget to luxury.

We stayed at THE PIKU’s, which I would definitely like to recommend..tariffs are like:
Non ac rooms-900
Ac rooms-2650
Evening stroll on the beaches of old digha completed that day..

Before going to bed,we roughly planned our course of action for the next day..we hoped to cover  Talsari,Udaipur beach,Chandneshwar Temple and marine aquarium.

For TALSARI you have to cross a narrow inland water. The beach is quite secluded and if you visit it during the low tides,you may be able to see star fish,octopus and shrimps..and oh yes, RED CRABS!!

UDAIPUR beach is basically a virgin beach where you can go and share a mug of beer if you are on a vacation with your friends..but if you have a tight schedule,then you can give this beach a miss..

CHANDNESWAR TEMPLE seriously speaking I was totally pissed off by the pandas(no need to give them any money if you do not wish to)..the place is not well kept but it has quite an importance for the locals here.

MARINE AQUARUIM this place has some unique and beautiful sea animals like hermit crab,clown fish,sting ray,butterfly fish,lion fish etc..but do not keep your expectations too high cause the place is not very well kept..but children will enjoy the place.there is no ticket required and it is open from 10am to 6pm.

Though all these places are very near but still,the day was quite we ended that day with some fish tandoor(pomphet and bhetki ) and non veg thali from old digha..
The next day was kept only for relaxing and I must say that we thoroughly enjoyed that too..the hustle bustle of old digha after sunset will cheer you up..the happy faces of the crowd will remind you of Durga puja days..

On the following day  we headed towards Kolkata..but before that,we planned to check out Digha Mohona ,Shankarpur and Mandarmoni..

DIGHA MOHONA its  a FISH business center with FISH FISH and FISH everywhere..if you plan to take some home,you can..they arrange everything from packing to loading the packages on your car..if you are here in monsoon,don’t forget to bring some hilsa!!

SHANKARPUR BEACH nothing special..away from crowd..2/3 resorts are there..but they are quite costly..and availability is an issue here..

MANDARMONI the crowd here is quite different from Digha..the waves are more gentle and this is a perfect gateway if you are looking for a beautiful yet quite beach..this place is costly but has its own charm..

 MY Tips: stay in New Digha (the hotels are cheaper in old Digha)..If u wanna bath in the sea,new Digha is the perfect the evening for old Digha..And yes,do not forget to sip a cup of hot coffee sitting in old Digha..

nearby sight seeing places

a pretty shell o the seashore

Plenty of fishes in the beach stalls

ready to be fried and served

cactus on beach ?

Digha beach


plenty of shells

Beauty unattended

its a colourful beach at Digha

star fish 

lemon tea

shops on beach

shops on beach

shops on beach

shops on beach

shops on beach

shops on beach

shops on beach

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Nagarhole with a hint of Wayanad

"Could you check the french window once again... I'm sure I locked it. Still, 3-4 days right. Need to be sure", I was telling Soma at around 5 AM in the morning of that Thursday. 

  Ya you guessed it right. We were headed out... well, somewhere. No plan, nothing. The driver was simple, "Damn! We neeeeeed one break now". Yups, we needed one badly. Eat, sleep, <code> and repeat was too much to take anymore. We just had to go out breath some fresh air.

  Ultimately, about 2 hours on the road and somewhere in the middle of Mysore Road, we fixed on Nagarhole. Why? Well, 2 reasons mainly. One, it's close, Two, we've been to Ooty very recently (so that's a no no for now) and Three, we've got known homestay what is very peaceful. Okay, so that was three... whatever, you get the idea.

  Has super awesome breakfast on Mysore road. Don't remember which Kamat, but the one that's before the McDonald's (not the attached one). Soon after we were crossing "King's Santuary", which is just yards away from the main gate of Nagarhole. We didn't stay there of course. IT'S TOO DAMN FAR FROM THE JUNGLE.

  Now we're inside. Yeeees! Good 'ol Nagarhole. Nothing beats Nagarhole. It's like, we find peace here. And not sure why, whenever we visit this jungle, the forest seems to get happier and comes back greeting us. No, really, I'm serious. You can feel it actually. The wind starts changing direction, the deer come close to your car and keep a smooth pace, a really big family of elephants with their young slowly and silently cross the road. All these things started to happen. 
   Ahhhh! Peace at last!

  So we slowly drove through the jungle cleansing our lungs and recharging our eyes. They say, see more green to make your eyes better. Ya... So true. 

  Reached the main office. So, before we talk about our interaction with the officials, you better know the goal. It's simple, to stay inside the jungle at government cottages. The ideal procedure is to book it from Mysore office (ya not Nagarhole, but Mysore) and then come with the bill and check in. But we tried to test our luck. If we had failed, our good old friend's home stay is there anyway.

  The officials in the forest office are typical grumpy folks. They don't talk much. And when they do, the usual answer is "NO". They did the same to us and handed us with a leaflet so that we can call Mysore office to check. An answering machine does better job I guess. Anyway. So we called up Mysore office. Oh wait, we had to get out of the jungle to get a tower; inside there's no mobile tower. So we went out, called up Mysore, and one gentleman told us that just go back to the office and tell them to call Mysore office from the office phone, and if there is availability, we can arrange.

  Isn't that wonderful. Those sloth like prehistoric mammals sitting in the forest office couldn't tell us this in the first time? Damn...

  Anyway, so we went back, and guess what, they are really prehistoric, the answer still was "NO". Well, the reason was different this time. More like " at this time, most folks in Mysore office must be having lunch, so cannot call and disturb them ". Ya right. Like you're calling the president of India.

  "Sit down, chill... Check out the herd of deer... feel the breeze", Soma told me as I was getting really fumed. Anyway, I did cool down. Relaxed. And then onto Mr. Narendra Pattu's homestay.

  His homestay is just a couple of Kilometers from the Kerala side gate of Nagarhole. Checked in. Some old hug and tea. Then quickly got refreshed and went out to drive to Iruppu falls.

  It was late afternoon and we knew that the gate of the falls would be closed anyway. But our target was not the falls, but just the drive. So we drove, stopped at some places on the road, took pictures and kept moving. When we were there, the gates were indeed closed. So took some snaps there; selfies, groupies etc. And then some local life. Then headed back.

  At night, we decided to extend the tour. We thought that we're close to Wayanad and we've never been there. Why don't we just check it out tomorrow and then return to Bangalore the day after. Just so you're clear, the idea was to spend the next day fully in Wayanad and come back to the homestay in the evening.

  Next Day Morning

  We left the homestay at around 6:30 AM. Already packed some cakes the previous night. So no early breakfast. It took us about 1.5 hours to reach Wayanad center. And we really didn't know what all to see. No plan remember. So we started seeing those markers that talk about travel destinations and tallied those google. So, top 3 were:
  1) Chembra Peak
  2) Edakkal Caves
  3) Pookot Lake

  Why top 3? Because it's a recharge trip and not a drain out one. Haha.

  Went straight to Chembra Peak. After you reach the ticket counter, you get two options:
  1) Trek to the top, for which you have to hire a guide and it would cost you Rs. 800 plus the entry fee for individuals. And in case you bit the killing Sun at noon, you get to see a heart shaped lake on the way. And of course, you come back.

  2) Just visit the trek starting point. Only entry fee is needed. I think somewhere around Rs. 30 per person. Don't recall exactly. But it ain't much. You don't need a guide for this one. There's a watch tower at the end of this short trek and you can relax a bit and come back.

  Again, recharge trip, so option 2 for us. :)

  From the ticket counter, till the parking, it's about 2 kilometer. Then you walk about 1 kilometer. We did too. It was really hot. But we relaxed our way to the watch tower. Something funny happened on our trek back. Some young kids (college goers I guess), were coming onward when we were going back. The funny thing is that they were having sweaters and woolen caps on in that blazing heat. Then we laughed lightly (well in our mind of course), but later we realized the fact. In that scorching heat, they lost their mind... ya that's the idea. They were probably expecting some cold place, and found boiling heat. So they went crazy and kept the sweaters, jackets and what not on. Makes sense.

  We saw may flowers and nice tea garden on the way. Here are some snaps.

  Next destinations were the cave and the lake. And guess what, when we reached, both of them were closed on that day. But no problem. We headed for some restaurant for lunch. Found one. And we took Malabari Biriyani. And it was damn good. Well, you cannot call that Biriyani. But it's a really good meat and rice preparation, with dry fruits etc. 

  No more places to see. It might just sound short, but it was good actually. In most of our trips we cover much more. But the idea was strictly not to stress ourselves. So, when we missed two of the destinations, we never looked for two replacement ones. Just relaxed.

  Back to homestay. The great thing about Mr. Pattu is that his homely nature. He and his family loves to talk to people. And we enjoy talking to them likewise. Took dinner at around 8:30 PM, awesome coorgi cuisine. Then off to bed at 9.

  Next day, we left early, at around 6:30 AM again. Wanted to make sure that we enjoy the 20 KM long drive within Nagarhole to get as much fresh air as we can. You might have noticed that we didn't do any jungle safari etc. Because we had done many safaries in this jungle. And the beauty of Nagarhole is that you get to see more wildlife while driving your own car that taking a safari.

   On the way back, we took lunch at a restaurant opposite to Coorg Cafe on Madikeri Mysore road. Coorg Cafe was filled up. So had to choose this one. This one was fine, but the service was like super duper slow. Post Dosa and Coffee, we headed straight for home.

    Bangalore traffic killed most of the fun on the way back. 

   A bunch of new pink lily bloomed in our balcony. We were enjoying the evening tea at the balcony, when my mobile popped up a notification. Office mail box, Sprint Planning on Monday. God, back to zombie mode. 

    Now enjoy the pics:
Elephant with young one

From the trekking start point at chembra peak

Folks walking down from the Chembra Peak (we took this from the start of the trekking point)

Flower on the way to chembra peak

Flower on the way to chembra peak

Starting path to chembra peak

Flower on the way to chembra peak

One young fellow was posing as his friend was taking his pic

Phoodkote lake

Next to lake. Relaxing over some icecream.

One gigantic mushroom at Nagarhole

Jungle Road

Iruppu falls entry

Soma Posing

Jungle road

Posing in front of Chembra peak

On the way to Chembra peak

A big family of elephants crossing the road.

How close we were

My turn on posing

On the way to iruppu falls

Mandir at irruppu falls

On the way to Wayanad

Soma Posing

Can you spot the deer?

Day end at Iruppu falls. Kids are playing around.

Some fun time.

Interesting post office name

On the way to Wayanad

Flowers on the way to Iruppu Falls

Fruit from the flower above

Mango all the way.

Towards Wayanad

Sculpture in front of a church

On the way to Wayanad

Wayanad City Center

Somewhere on the road

Somewhere on the road.

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