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Vampire Country

Surveying the land of Dracula

JUNE 2013 • `120 VOL. 1 ISSUE 12







Myths and stories that inspire travel



Seeking Burmese Connections

crime scene mystery novel walking tours

SAMARKAND Journey down the Silk Route

June 2013 N a t ion a l

G eog r a p h i c

In focus


Chasing Legends

Myths and stories that inspire travel


Tales of Dracula

The lure of the world’s favourite vampire fuels Romania’s travel industry


A Brit in Banaras

The holy city through the eyes of a colonial Indophile


T r a velle r


A Walk on the Wild Side Crime novel walking tours turn readers into investigators

in d i a



Something’s Always Cooking


A meaty guide to Aurangabad’s slow-cooked delights

The promise of new worlds in Mexico’s ethereal cenotes

A Wild-Goose Liver Chase

Swimming into the Afterlife



Strolling through Strasbourg on a quest for foie gras

A journey back in time, along Uzbekistan’s historic Silk Route

The King and I

Samarkand Stories


Seeking Burmese connections on the Maharashtrian coast


seux paule/ images

Shah-i-Zinda, Samarkand, Uzbekistan.

6 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013

On The Cover Countrya Vampire land of Dracul



• `120 JUNE 2013 12 VOL. 1 ISSUE















Nirvair Rai Singh, the winner of National Geographic Channel’s Misson Covershot, shot this image in Ritigala, Sri Lanka. The nineteen-year old photographer is from Bhatinda, Punjab. natgeotraveller.india

12 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire

Voices 50

18 Real Travel Comforts of home, far away

36 The Icon The Gateway of India

20 Frontier Tales Travellers can help save the African elephant

38 Go Now Boat races on the backwaters of Champakulam

22 Guest Column India in the Western mind

40 Tech Travel A guide to using Google Maps


44 Local Flavour The tingling sweetness of golas

24 Taste of Travel Soju offers a window into Korean culture 26 Film Trip Cinema that inspires travel, from Kauai to Tunisia 32 The Neighbourhood Bengaluru’s Avenue Road is a link to the past

short breaks 124 From Delhi Dalhousie’s pine trails 128 From Bengaluru Lakeside capers at Honnemaradu 132 From Mumbai A heritage holiday in Fort Jadhavgadh

interactive 135 Photo Workshop Interpreting nature with Ganesh H. Shankar

46 Hidden Gem A secluded beach in busy Odisha 48 48 Hours Culture and nightlife in Madrid

137 Photo Contest The best of readers’ photos

50 Take 5 Subterranean caves that are natural treasures

last page 144 Dire Straits The furry freak butterfly

52 National Park Cold, wild Changthang

get going 118 Active Holiday Beach treks in Karnataka 120 Adventure White water rafting in the monsoon


122 Field Trip Trekking on live volcanoes


june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 7

photo courtesy: Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves (Ice Caves), bonchan/shutterstock (food), POLYGRAM/AUSTRALIAN FILM FINANCE/THE KOBAL COLLECTION (bus) Nirvair Rai Singh (COVER)

16 Tread Softly Bees are integral to the survival of the tiger

Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman

Old city structures, like Mumbai’s Gothic buildings, have fascinating stories to tell.


few weeks ago I went on a heritage walk around Mumbai’s Fort area, a business district I have frequented since I was a young child. The walk was organised by an organisation called The Bombay Heritage Walks and was led by Sarthak Chand, a young architect and a knowledgeable guide, who made the experience remarkably thought-provoking. Walking through the old fort of Bombay was a complete revelation. I couldn’t believe that even though I’ve spent decades in this city, I hadn’t noticed some fascinating buildings he pointed out, in a variety of styles from Gothic Revival to Indo-Saracenic. Or that I’d never stepped inside the splendid St. Thomas’s Cathedral, a fiveminute walk from Flora Fountain, a place I’ve been to at least a thousand times. I learnt so many things that morning, including the fact that it wasn’t the British who built a lot of of this neighbourhood. No, it was the settlers and residents, Indians from a variety of walks of life who had made their money through business, including trading in opium. Who knew that a gentleman called Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney had paid for the construction of so many of Bombay’s iconic buildings? Once Sarthak pointed out that the sculpted face of the building’s sponsor is usually seen on its facade, a moustachioed man with a Parsi fehta hat seemed to pop out of walls of every other building. During the heritage walk, I began to make connections to places I’d been to, stories I’d heard, and

Why then do I shut down my senses when I’m in my own city, without so much as a glance in any direction?

12 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013

people I knew. When I was in school, in the month leading up to the annual sports day, we practiced athletics at the Readymoney School next door. Was it the same Cowasjee Jehangir Readymoney that the school was named after? I questioned some urban legends I’d heard and even repeated with authority to visiting friends: was the Taj Mahal hotel really built front to back? Did the architect really commit suicide when he saw the finished building? Not true on either count, said Sarthak. When I travel to a new place I find my sense of observation heightened. I’m eager to absorb everything new around me, my ears tune in to new sounds, my taste buds are impatient to savour new flavours. Why then, do I shut down my senses when I’m in my own city, moving from point A to B without so much as a glance in any direction? Even though I pride myself on having explored some of the city’s by-lanes, by and large, I realised that I had been walking around with eyes wide shut. Does city life extinguish our innate curiosity, our natural need to inspect and examine the world in which we live? Do we only allow ourselves to really observe a place when we travel outside the cities in which we reside? Does the switch to open our eyes only turn on once we reach the train station or an airport? A five-hour walk opened my eyes to the singularly fascinating architectural heritage of my city. It drove home an important point: there are stories and experiences of travel that can be had right here, right now, no more than a ten-minute walk from my desk. n

micahel svec photography/flickr/getty images

Eyes wide shut

Letters Inbox



I believe that your April issue, Musical Journeys, was your best one by far. The stories on the Hindustani classical music scene in Varanasi, the theatre music scene in Goa, and the brass instrument factory of Meerut—coupled with articles on music scenes from Brazil and Vienna—gave the reader an eclectic treat. Unfortunately, barring a few places, the culture of street music is not prevalent in India as such. Legendary artists have given performances in India, but at expensive concerts that can be afforded only by the elite minority. Like the Editorin-Chief of this magazine, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have seen Carlos

I would like to let the editor, writers, and the entire team

at National Geographic know what a fantastic job you’re doing with National Geographic Traveller India. In fact, my last trip to Kashmir to snowboard was inspired by one of your articles, and I ended up having a life-changing experience while experiencing it in Gulmarg. My next stop is Nepal, to trek to the Everest Base Camp. I am reading Natasha Sahgal’s wonderful story on her experiences during the trek to the Camp, as I write this mail. Her stories bring to life all the wonderful people she meets and experiences she has along the way. I look forward to her inspiring journeys in every issue. -Subbu

Write to us, share stories of your travel experiences within India and around the world. We will publish some of them on these pages. Send your emails to

My last trip to Kashmir to snowboard was inspired by one of your articles, and I ended up having a life-changing experience”

HOW TO CONTACT US Emails: Letters: Editor, National Geographic Traveller India, Krishna House, 3rd floor, Raghuvanshi Mills Compound, Lower Parel, Mumbai 400 013. Include address and telephone number. Not all letters can be published or answered; those published may be excerpted and edited. Customer Service: To subscribe or manage a subscription, email us at or call 022-40497417/31/35/36.


Visit us at

Santana live in Delhi but the atmosphere was not as chilled out as the one in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia. It was also very thoughtful to devote some space to the emerging Bangla rock scene. The popularity of many Bangla and Malayalam metal bands, even among people who don’t speak these languages, stands testimony to the fact that music can overcome regional, linguistic, and ethnic boundaries. I have already blocked dates on my calendar for most of the music festivals mentioned in your magazine. -Ritvik Chaturvedi


Visit us at for ideas that will inspire you to plan your next holiday.

june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 15

jonak photography/flicky/getty images (landscape), Denis babenko/shutterstock (snowboarding)

stared spellbound as mischievous golden and light brown coloured fish jumped in the air and pounced on the bread crumbs that accidentally fell from my hands into the pool of water before me. I was at Katramal waterfall, 200-odd kilometres from Odisha’s capital Bhubaneshwar. It is located in the forest area around the town of Phulbani, an area surrounded by hills and a variety of waterfalls, making it a perfect sojourn in the wild. A narrow and winding red gravel lane, lined by trees let to the next waterfall. The trees swayed as a langur jumped from branch to branch. A flight of about 200 stairs led down the hill to a spot from where visitors have an uninterrupted view of the Pakdajhar waterfall plunging 100 feet below. The sight and sound of the water was mesmerising. Another must on the waterfall trail was Putudi, which is also popular with the locals. The journey meanders through farmland, alongside the River Salunki. Instead of driving all the way, we opted to hike from the last village on the route. Walking on a narrow trail to reach this cataract made it even more beautiful. The final stop was the 60-feet high Urmagarh waterfall. There are lots of rocks by the stream that provide perfect resting point to dip your toes in the chilly water. -Sushobhan Roy

The Buzz about Bees don’t ignore the Bees, they need a balanced diet too


wenty years after my first visit to Uttarakhand’s Valley of Flowers National Park, I found myself dreaming of its carpet of multi-hued flowers, and decided to go back. Located at an altitude of 3,000-3,600 metres, the UNESCO World Heritage area is blanketed with flowers from June to August. The colour of the 80 square kilometre area seems to change every other day as a new species of wild flowers bloom. The valley is home to over 500 kinds of alpine flowers, hundreds of butterflies and insects, bear, blue sheep, musk deer, and snow leopard. On this second visit, it didn’t take me long to realise that a lot had changed in 20 years. My trek from Govindgarh was not pleasant. The once pristine route was lined with plastic waste, discarded beer and cold drink cans, and all sorts of garbage. Instead of a carpet of flowers, sparse and scanty patches of blooms greeted me. Disappointed, I made my way to Kullu,

Italian bees are being imported to pollinate apple crops in Uttarakhand and surrounding applegrowing regions

mike pandey

where I learnt the probable reason for the disappearance of many flowers. The hot topic of discussion among Kullu’s farmers was the disappearance of bees. Without the bees, there were fewer flowers, the apple crop was suffering, and honey production had fallen. The beautiful orchards were bare and spring seemed to have lost its charm. Suddenly, everybody had woken up to the importance of bees and other small insects that pollinate flowers, and was exploring ways to protect them. This may be a surprise for many, but life on Earth is possible because of insects and tiny organisms. Bees, butterflies, and small animals pollinate almost 90 percent of all the food and fruits on Earth. Though they are an integral part of the interdependent chain of life that makes Earth sustainable, few of us spare a thought for the role bees play. Unknown to most of us, crop production is falling all over the world, because bees are dying by the millions and hives are becoming empty. Desperate farmers are now hiring beehives to pollinate their crops. The US imports 3-5 lakh hives from Europe each year to pollinate orange crops in Florida and the world’s largest almond crops in California. In England, farmers are worried that bee-dependent crops like canola, broccoli, lettuce, and apples may disappear by 2018. Even in India, Italian bees are being imported to pollinate apple crops in Uttarakhand and the surrounding apple-growing regions in the Himalayas. Kashmir too has seen a major decline in apple crops. The causes of this problem are manifold. First, is the indiscriminate use of a cocktail of pesticides. A second factor is pollution,

16 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013

evidenced in the detection of chemicals and heavy metals in honey. A recent experiment in Germany has shown that cellphone radiations disorient bees, rendering them unable to find their way back to the hive. Another major problem is careless garbage disposal. As a result of habitat loss, bees have started foraging on waste dumps. All these directly affect the immune systems of bees, which are already weakened as they only get one type of nectar due to the practice of monoculture, where a single plant variety is grown over a large area for a number of years. It is a bit like giving a person only rice, day in and day out. It leads to a severe deficiency of vital nutrients and causes immense harm. And if you still think “they’re just bees”, figure this: If bees disappear, the tiger will vanish very soon and man will follow after. In countries like Slovenia that have protected their indigenous bees, besides other benefits, there has emerged the unusual genre of bee tourism. As travellers, there is an urgent need for us to change the way we live. Everything on this planet is interconnected and we must learn to only take what we need, enabling Earth to remain sustainable. We have caused the problem, but we are also the only species on the planet that has the intelligence to reverse the damage. Remember to dispose waste carefully as bees, insects, and other creatures may scavenge on it. When travelling, especially at high altitude, carry your trash back. Switch off your cellphones when you leave the city, turning them on only when required. Avoid their use entirely in forested areas like the Valley of Flowers. Not only will it help the bees, it might be a good way to take a break from your daily concerns and return refreshed. When you return from your travels, start a small kitchen garden, or pot a few plants for your window sill. Grow vegetables and herbs, they’re useful in the kitchen and attract butterflies and bees. Keep your garden free of pesticides and insecticides. Encourage biodiversity; bees need nectar from a variety of flowers to stay healthy. If you don’t have space for a garden, help by buying pesticide-free food, grains, and fruits. The key, as always, is to tread softly, minimising your impact on the environment. n Mike Pandey is a conservationist and wildlife filmmaker. He has won the Green Oscar award three times.

Gail Shotlander/Flickr/Getty images

VOICES Tread Softly

VOICES Guest Column

The Westerner’s enduring quest for gold and enlightenment


have a small confession to make. The first time I came to India—in my early twenties—I had, like so many other Western tourists, assumed that I knew what India was all about: elephants, coconut palms, ancient palaces, gentle spirituality, dancers bedecked in golden ornaments. Fresh off the plane that hot June day, I was hit, not unexpectedly, by culture shock. In this state of shock compounded by acute dehydration, I kept walking around Delhi’s Connaught Place with my backpack, unaware of the fact that it was a huge roundabout and that I was being chased in circles by an entourage of pushy earcleaners, shoe-shiners, and sundry touts. It was only after a considerable trek that I began to notice the same snake-charmer turning up outside the same shop, and understood that it was time to take a right turn towards the budget hotel district of Main Bazaar. Rationalising in hindsight, I think that this dazed walk drove home to me the fact that there are two Indias: the actual, complex country that it is—and the India of the legends that Westerners have cultivated. This legendary India has, first and foremost, been the land of plentiful gold. Herodotus, the father of written history in the four hundreds B.C., never came to India, though he described, with great interest, the copious supply of Indian “gold-dust”. According to him, gold was procured

Zac O’Yeah from deserts with the help of great ants, “in size somewhat less than dogs, but bigger than foxes… Those ants make their dwellings underground, and like the Greek ants, which they very much resemble in shape, throw up sand-heaps as they burrow. Now the sand which they throw up is full of gold.” He wrote of how the clever Indians use a tactical formation of camels, where one in every three is a female that has just given birth, to steal the gold. Then they flee with the monster insects in pursuit. The male camels inevitably get caught, but the brave lady camel wishes to get back to its babies and outruns the ants. Legends about India’s wealth were one of the major driving forces behind conquerorexplorers such as Alexander the Great and Christopher Columbus. Neither found any of that gold, but Columbus, as we know, did find America thanks to a navigational error. On my first day in India, I was hoping to strike gold in a more metaphorical sense—maybe I would meet a yogi with superhuman powers, a wise man who would reveal to me the meaning of life. And indeed, later that day I did meet a fortuneteller in the Main Bazaar, who looked into my past, present and future. The insights of these mystical men have also been high on the list of Western legends about India. Plato and Aristotle had heard about Indian philosophy through the grapevine, but the first Westerner to actually set eyes on a yogi (as far as historical sources are concerned) was none other than Alexander the Great. As well as being a world conqueror, Alexander was a pupil of Aristotle, a man interested in knowledge. The story goes that one day in early 326 B.C., Alexander met several yogis in the Punjab. One particularly striking Brahmin stood on one leg all day, holding up a log of wood, and relaxed by lying down on burning hot rocks. The Greeks knew

There are two Indias: the actual, complex country that it is—and the India of the legends that Westerners have cultivated I didn’t dare challenge him for fear that I might offend his holiness. Before he charged me `1,000, which amounted to thrice my daily travel budget, he made the unlikely prophecy that I was going to enjoy my holiday and wish to stay for good. The moment I got rid of the guru, I tried to figure out where the airline office was in order to fly out of the country that very evening. But it was simply too hot, I didn’t have the energy to go to the airline office, and decided to stay and survive my culture shock. When my holiday was over, I missed India and kept returning. Amazingly, Yogi Singh turned out to be right. Twenty years later, I’m still here. I think I may be a little more enlightened too. n Zac O’Yeah has been a travel writer for over 20 years going from Iceland to Zimbabwe, Australia to India. He particularly loves long train journeys. His latest book is a crime novel entitled Mr. Majestic: The Tout of Bengaluru (Hachette India, 2012).

june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 23

Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

India Shining

him as Kalanos. He appears to have issued a pretty radical prophecy that worried the world-conqueror enough to make him plan his return journey: “You must soon die and possess no more than the spot of earth which will suffice to bury you.” Despite this harsh prophecy, Western adventurers have continued to visit India in search of its mythical riches. Some believe that Jesus spent a number of years practising yoga in India. Two thousand years later, in 1961, yoga premiered as a workout technique on American TV and, in the same decade, the Beatles signed up for a course of Transcendental Meditation in the Himalayas. The pop stars came for enlightenment, and returned home in paisley-patterned outfits stitched from saris by the tailors of Rishikesh, setting off a 1960s fashion. I was a traveller in the Beatles’ footsteps—and was excited to run into Yogi Singh in the bustle of Delhi’s Main Bazaar. Over a glass of chai, he dissected my karma and although I soon started to get the feeling that he was taking me for a ride,

A handful of Korean restaurants in India serve pints of soju, sans the rituals of consumption followed in South Korea. It is generally paired with platters of seared beef teppanyaki.

Culture in a Cup Soju is not just a drink—it’s a window to a people By Biju Sukumaran


at pig! Drink soju!” As a foreigner only just beginning a year-long contract teaching English in Seoul, I had largely been ignored by my fellow faculty members. So when I was told I’d be required to participate in the Sangdo Middle School “Man Club” one evening, I had no idea what to expect. Until the P.E. teacher, the school’s head disciplinarian (and lead social organiser), described the plan of action in those four succinct words. I was already familiar with these twin passions of the Korean people. When night arrived, restaurants in Bucheon, our small satellite city within the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area, came alive with the babble of voices as friends and co-workers met up to eat samgyeopsal (pork belly) and galbi (beef short ribs) on outdoor tables set with charcoal grills. An older person would periodically rise to his feet amongst the sea of revelry to raise a toast, cheeks

flushed bright red, and to the clink of tiny glasses call out, “One shot!” At this, the participants would down their soju in a single gulp. Soju literally means “burned liquor”. Created during the Mongol invasions of Korea in the 13th century, it is traditionally distilled from rice. But in recent times, the drink has been made from sweet potatoes and tapioca, giving it a milder flavour. Though the original, more potent variety is still available, it’s expensive. The more popular versions with lower alcohol content, like Jinro’s Chamisul, are sold cheaply in medium-sized green bottles at every corner store. Advertisements featuring K-Pop stars like Lee Hyo-Ri and her toned midriff are a testament to how the liquor industry is pushing soju as a healthy drink of choice. The foreigners I had met treated soju like any other alcohol; clear, slightly sweet, toasted in small glasses—it was easy to

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forget that it wasn’t vodka. But as the green bottles made an appearance at the meeting of the Sangdo Middle School Man Club, I realised that soju was more than a drink: the rituals of pouring and drinking were actually a reflection of the subtle Confucianism that permeates Korean culture. Seated on the floor, as was custom in the traditional restaurant, my colleagues first showed me how to pour the clear liquor. I learned that by holding the bottle in both hands, I would be showing respect, and by turning and covering my mouth while imbibing, I was displaying even greater regard for older or higher-ranking colleagues. The ceremonies around soju drinking embodied Korea’s complicated power structures. I noticed that when a science teacher offered soju to our viceprincipal, he rose from sitting on crossed legs to the more formal kneeling position before pouring. But in Korea, respect runs both ways. While those lower on the rung must accede to a superior’s demands, the boss is also expected to be attuned to the needs of his subordinates. Teetotallers, for instance, participate in the rituals by bringing the glass to their mouths, if only to wet their lips out of respect. The elder is expected to notice this, and order a soft drink for the non-drinker. After dinner, my principal, the undisputed ruler of his fiefdom, got the bill and there was no discussion—it was his duty to pay it. We then made our way to a hof, a Korean-style pub serving beer, soju, and anju, salty snacks that include dried sardines and nuts. It was late on a Tuesday night but the streets were crowded. The next day, everyone was a bit bleary-eyed at school. But in the months that followed, I grew closer to my fellow teachers, in part lubricated by that one night of fun, but more likely because of the lessons I had learned. I became far more attuned to the chain of command, and it showed not only in how I deferred to others, but also in how I was treated in return. At the end of that year, I gave a brief farewell speech to mark my last day of school. What seemed to hit home with my colleagues was not my expressions of thanks but rather my statement that no matter where I might travel, I’d take a bit of Korea with me. It’s funny how an evening of drinking can extend far past the moment to encompass a culture. n

Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

NAVIGATE Taste of Travel


Gateway of India A monument that mirrors the cosmopolitan city it calls home By NEHA SUMITRAN

The real gateway

King George V insisted on seeing the Taj Mahal upon his arrival—never mind that the marble marvel was in Agra. To appease the king, British architects created a smaller replica from plaster of Paris on the harbour, close to where the Gateway stands. It was torn down when the royal entourage set sail. Dating game

The Gateway’s commemorative plaque

states it was built in 1911. In reality, its construction did not begin until 1915. The ambitious project involved realigning the entire harbour (the original port lies to the far left of the present structure), reclaiming land from the sea, and quarrying vast amounts of stone. Final touches to the 85foot archway were completed in 1924, well after King George V left the country. Style quotient

The Gateway’s designer, George Wittet was an admirer of Indian architecture. For his magnum opus, he combined Indian motifs with the scale of European construction in a style called Indo-Saracenic Revival. Look closely and you’ll notice the ethnic elements that adorn the pointed Gothic arch: flowers typical of Hindu temples, geometric patterns characteristic of Islamic architecture, jhali windows like those in Rajashtani palaces, and ornamental brackets that feature in Dravidian temples.

boasts shiny, glass office buildings and the largest mall in the city. Very few of Kurla’s structures are made of yellow basalt. Dome charade

Inside, the structure has domed ceilings, each of which has a discreet staircase leading to the top. When dignitaries arrived at the port, servants would climb to the dome to shower them with flower petals as they walked through the arches. Garden variety

The Gateway is actually an incomplete project. Wittet’s original plans included a boulevard bordered by landscaped gardens, like the Champs Élysées in Paris. It was supposed to stretch from the harbour to Regal Cinema (a still functional art decostyle movie theatre built in the British era). The harbour was realigned to facilitate the promenade but unfortunately, World War I broke out when the construction began, so the required funds could not be spared.

Rock steady

Like most buildings built during the British Raj, the Gateway was made of yellow basalt. The rock was also called Kurla stone, after the hills that it was mined from. Today, Kurla is a thriving suburb of Mumbai that

Taking leave

Ironically, the Gateway was also the point from where the last of the English troops departed when India achieved independence in 1947. n

JUNE 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 37

Walter Bibikow/Age Fotostock/Dinodia


aximum City’s most popular monument is steeped in history. It was built to commemorate the visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Bombay in 1911—the first voyage of a British monarch to India. At the peak of English rule in India, the arched Gateway was the gem of the Mumbai harbour, a symbol of the splendour of the British Empire. A century later, the sepia-toned structure with the Arabian Sea glimmering in the background, remains one the city’s most imposing structures. Frequented by curious travellers and dawdling locals, the Gateway of India is as quintessentially Mumbai as the chutney-smacked vada pav served around the corner from the tourist hotspot.


Caving Through Some caves are naturally stunning By Natasha Sahgal


aves around the world have been used as homes, storage spaces, and sometimes, as drawing boards by prehistoric people. Some of them have spectacular features—coloured rocks, preserved fossils, and strange wildlife—that have attracted the interest of scientists and travellers. Luckily, many of these stunning caves are open to visitors.


Waitomo Caves, New Zealand

Inside these caves, it’s a starry night at any time of the day. Thousands of glowworms live on the ceilings of these stalactite-filled grottos, carpeting the roof in a greenish-blue light. They are the larvae of the fungus gnat fly. This stage of their life

cycle lasts around six months, during which they hang from the tops of cave ceilings and eat small insects. Their abdomens shine brightly to attract their next meal, usually unsuspecting moths and flies that get stuck in their traps—silky threads drizzled with drops of mucus. Ignore these details and a visit to the Waitomo Caves is a pleasant experience that can be enjoyed on a boat ride or rapelling tour (tour `5,000 per person; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily).


Crystal and Fantasy Caves, Bermuda

Legend has it that two 12-yearold boys discovered the Crystal Caves while chasing their lost cricket ball down

50 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013

a hole. The caves they found in 1905 are now popular with tourists for their perfect stalagmites, stalactites, and crystal clear water through which more limestone marvels can be seen. The walls of the Fantasy Cave are covered with calcium deposits that make it seem like a frozen waterfall. Both caves can be easily explored by walking on floating planks (entry `1,700 for both caves; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily).


Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves, Austria

Its name means “world of the ice giants”, an apt description for the world’s largest system of ice caves. They lie 40 km south of Salzburg, Austria, and

san hoyano/age fotostock/dinodia

The Reed Flute Cave in China gets its name from the reed that grows abundantly at the cave’s mouth. The plants are used to make flutes that are believed to be particularly melodious.


getting to them requires an hour-long hike. The caves are made of limestone, but most parts that are accessible to tourists are covered with clear ice. The combination of white stone and ice makes for a giant spectacle. Dress warmly as the temperature in the caves dips well below freezing point, even when it’s sunny outside (entry `620; open May to October, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily;


Reed Flute Cave, China

A centipede frightened by a magic mirror, a dragon pagoda, and a lion seeing off guests are just a few things

to watch out for while visiting the Reed Flute Cave in Guilin, China. These are the names of the natural rock formations inside the underground cave. Even though there is colourful, artificial lighting inside, the natural beauty of the stalagmites, stalactites, and stone pillars still stands out. It takes at least two hours to explore this 240-metre-long cave (entry `800; open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.).


Carlsbad Cavern, United States of America

Under the desert of New Mexico lies an amazing colony of more than 100 caves.

Carslbad Cavern is one of the largest caves in the region and is fascinating because parts of it are made of reefs and fossils that are over 200 million years old. Several species of bats live in this cave and park authorities organise events to see them in May and October. The biggest section of the cave is called the Big Room and a self-guided audio tour through it is available at the national park headquarters. The tour lasts for two hours and passes through parts of the eight-acre Big Room, such as the Bottomless Pit, Giant Dome, and Painted Grotto (selfguided tour `400; open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, n

Besides exploring the stunning glowworm grotto, visitors can also go tubing on an underwater stream in Waitomo Caves (left) in New Zealand; The 3,800-foot-long and 600-foot-wide Big Room in the Carslbad Cavern (right) is considered the third largest in the US and the seventh largest in the world. june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 51

photo courtesy: Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves (Ice Caves), raffaele meucci/marca/dinodia (Bermuda’s crystal cave), m wisshak/dinodia (Waitomo Caves), mike theiss/national geographic/getty images (Carslbad Cavern)

The ice structures in Austria’s Eisriesenwelt limestone caves (left) are formed in the spring when water seeps in and freezes due to sub-zero temperatures inside; Water in the pools of Bermuda’s crystal cave (right) is so clear that spectacular formations 50 feet below the surface look like they are within touching distance.

The Old Town in the centre of Samarkand is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Visitors can saunter through typical narrow lanes, bound by mosques, madrassahs (schools), and homes. The traditional mud houses have painted ceilings and wall decorations and are grouped around central courtyards with gardens. 90 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013


IN FOCUS Chasing LegendsLegends


Into the heart of the Silk Route by

arati kumar-rao june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 91

XXXXXXXXXXXX Thomas Wallmeyer/Panther (XXXXXXXXX) Media/IndiaPicture

Samarkand stories

IN FOCUS Chasing Legends

The rattling of a beat-up sedan brings me back to reality. Six pairs Idyllic though it appears, Amu Darya, the lifeline of of curious eyes peer at me. Following them out of sight, my eyes wanCentral Asia, is an environmental disaster. Fed by glacial melt in the der to the rise and see the old lady still spinning her yarn. Pamir mountains, the river has been continuously over-drawn by I am on the road to Samarkand, heart of the ancient Silk Route. It ambitious Soviet irrigation schemes to the point where it does not was a childhood dream to be here, to see the land that Genghis plunreach the Aral Sea anymore. As a result, the Aral Sea has been drying dered, that Timur “The Lame” lorded over, to touch ancient carpets, up, putting the region at serious risk of becoming a dustbowl. to zigzag in the footsteps of traders from all over the world. I wanted But here, near Urgench, the Amu Darya still flows thick and mudto go overland from Xi’an in central China all the way to Istanbul. dy. Urgench is the nearest airport to the ancient city of Khiva, the That’s proved difficult, so for now I’m resigned to traversing this former capital of the oasis region of Khwarezm. Khiva was a little outfamous road one section at a time. post of trade along the Silk Route. Today, its main draw is the walled *** city of Itchan Kala, a magic world of well-preserved zenanas, royal Uzbekistan is a double-landlocked country—it’s surrounded only baths, many-pillared mosques, silk-weaving shops, and carpet stores. by other landlocked countries. It is beautiful and brutal, just a short Women beckon from inside, gilded smiles flashing. I wander in and flight from New Delhi. As I look through the window of my plane, the out of shops mesmerised by their dexterous fingers that fly in and out Himalayas seem close enough to touch. and behind and before threads of 16 colours, weaving magic. Far below, I can see the sweep of the Indus plains dissolving into I step out just as the sun sets the ramparts of Itchan Kala aglow. the deep furrows of the Hindu-Kush. Though Khiva dates back to the sixth It was here that Genghis Khan wincentury, these structures are relatered his army; here that Timur tively recent, the handiwork of the crossed with his camels and horses Astrakhans, who rebuilt the walled and 1,00,000 warriors to march on city between the 17th and 19th centhe Delhi Sultanate in 1398. Surveyturies, after the ravages of Genghis ing the inhospitable landscape as the and Timur. plane descends into the capital TashI can see the whole city from atop kent, I wonder how he managed that the wall, including the domes that journey. And how, on his return, did once held the largest slave markets he get the elephants he had acquired in the world. Earlier that afternoon, in Delhi back across those frozen I had walked through there. Uzbekis mountain passes? hawking cheap trinkets and freshTashkent, with its empty avenues, baked non (bread) masked a row of boxy, largely deserted apartment semi-circular wooden doors, heavy complexes, and pervading hush, is with padlocks, behind which slaves the antithesis of Delhi’s bustle. Save were stocked like cattle. Even from for a hunched, gold-toothed old the comforting distance of the ramwoman pushing a threadbare shopparts, I felt a deep unease, imagining ping cart past shuttered stores, there what life must have been like under is hardly anyone to be seen as I make those domes centuries ago. my way to my hotel. The shops close with the setting My journey across the former Sosun. Framed against the moon is viet republic, from Tashkent (on the Kalta-Minor—the “short minaret”, Kyrgyz border) to Urgench (on the blue in hue, covered with glazed tile Turkmenistan border), mandates an and majolica. It looks incomplete early start. My Tupolev-154 has been and thereby hangs a tale: Muhamairborne for an hour when the Amu mad Amin-Khan of Khiva wanted Darya river, known to the ancient to build a huge minaret—an edifice Taimur-e-Lang (or Timur, the Lame), was a fearless warrior world as the Oxus, comes into view, so tall that he would be able to see and an opportunist who used his Turkic-Mongoloid ancestry squirming over the landscape like a Bukhara from the top. When the and infighting among the Chagatai Khans to install puppet nest of intertwining serpents, all fat Emir of Bukhara got wind of this, he descendants of Genghis and rule in their name, eventually and languid. bribed the architect to build a taller taking over large swathes of Asia, Africa, and Europe. 92 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013


n a rise outside a solitary mud hut, an old lady is spinning wool yarn. She’s dressed in a colourful Khan-Atlas tunic with wide trousers, her head wrapped in a scarf. Before she knows it, they are upon her: hordes of warriors with Genghis Khan at their head, thundering across the steppes, sweeping through hamlets, looting, raping, and killing.


arati kumar-rao

Dapper men on donkeys and kids walking to and from school (above) are a common sight across Uzbekistan. Education is compulsory—a legacy of the old Soviet Union—and free upto the age of 12 and the country’s literacy rate is nearly 100 percent; Registan (below) is Samarkand’s most famous landmark, one you come upon suddenly, without warning. The ancient public square stands just across from hotels and other signs of modernity. It is the site of three famous madrassahs, the oldest is Ulugh Beg’s, on the left, on the right is Sher-Dor, and in the centre stands Tilya Kori, the gilded one. Its courtyard was once full of dormitories that are all now little shops.

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Martin Moos/LonelyPlanet Images/Getty images

IN FOCUS Chasing LegendsLegends

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Uzbekistan shop in Bukhara is renowned. Sabina, his London-educated sister, fronts the business with aplomb, but tosses all bargains back to him for approval. I sit cross-legged on the floor while she unfurls rug after prized rug—from traditional double-woven sumacs to the famous Bukhara Turkmens. Ancient, new, blue, maroon, ochre, wool, and silk rugs, some woven twice over, each more exquisite than the previous, each setting free djinns that lure me to buy. Sabina speaks non-stop. She has no gold teeth. I ask her about that Central Asian tradition. Apparently gold dental prosthetics were once a sign of status, but not anymore. She talks about 18-hour workdays in the tourist season, skipping meals and foregoing sleep, losing tens of pounds, making far-flung friends, and lots of money. Today has been a long but lucrative day. She laughs as she narrates how several Europeans who were really poor at bargaining had disgorged themselves of thousands of euros in exchange for some of her best carpets. At 22, Sabina already has two children and yet, the waist of a waif. “Girls get married very young in Uzbekistan. If you are 25 and unmarried, no man will even smell you,” she says. She persuades a restaurant to open at midnight, asking them to make me a salad and a good soup—with the bustling efficiency typical of Sabina, and the unsolicited hospitality typical of all Uzbekistan. Everywhere I stopped, folk insisted on plying me with cha, inviting me home and chatting with gestures. Any awkwardness of conversation is glazed over by their happy, open smiles.

Bukhara was always a magnet for artists. Coffee painting, where artists use concentrated coffee decoction instead of paint to create striking canvases, is especially popular. Davron Toshev (left) recreates and restores ancient miniatures and his work sells in far off Paris now; This nearly 200-year-old Turkmen rug (right) is a one of a kind. At one time, Bukhara used to be at the centre of the carpet world. Along the Silk Route, while goods from all over Asia came to Bukhara, the carpet was its chief and prized export. Even today, to own a real, old Bukhara Turkmen is a privilege. Facing page: The main hall of the Tilya Kori madrassah is full of gilded decorations. The work is so elaborate that the dome looks rounded on the inside, while it is in fact flat. Work is on to restore these gold-leafed structures, leaf by leaf. june 2013 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 95

arati kumar-rao (artist and rug)

minaret there. Furious at this betrayal, Amin-Khan had the architect thrown to his death from atop the unfinished Kalta-Minor. A variant of the legend says when the architect was pushed from the top, he flew to Bukhara. Further south in Bukhara, a few hours by road, stands a much taller minaret, with its own dark legend. At its base, I imagine another scene, as the army of Genghis Khan reached the gates of Bukhara almost 800 years ago. The siege lasts all of one day before, in the words of the historian Juvaini, “the people of Bukhara open the gates and close the door on strife and battle…” Genghis rides in triumph to the Friday mosque and asks if it is the palace of the Sultan. When told it is the House of God, he ascends the pulpit and exclaims, “The countryside is empty of fodder; fill our horses’ bellies!” Genghis’s hordes cast hundreds of copies of the Quran into the courtyard to be trampled under the hooves of restive horses. Courtesans are summoned; wine and song and dance flow, desecrating the mosque. Now the courtyard stands silent. I look up to see the beautiful PoiKalyan minaret outlined against the sky. It was the only structure Genghis had spared in Bukhara. When he left, he took with him artists and skilled workers who had created much of Bukhara’s beauty, to recreate it in his native Mongolia. The Imams, in the interest of saving the lives of ordinary people, let the Khan have his way. *** THE Imam has blue eyes and a Sinatraesque face. A short man wearing a cape and skullcap, he speaks no English. His carpet

have your photo taken endlessly with the ubiquitous cell-phones that *** are their pride and joy. GENGHIS might have kidnapped the original artists from this little I enter Timur’s capital and one thing becomes instantly clear: uncity, but Bukhara remains a magnet for artists from all over Central like Bukhara and Khiva, this is a bustling, modern city. Samarkand Asia. They flock to the city Rumi called the “mine of knowledge”, and is not a city steeped in the past. their artistic fingerprints are everywhere: in the paintings done with I find the perfect vantage point atop Registan, on the soaring concentrated coffee, in exquisite calligraphy and miniatures. minaret of the madrassah built by Timur’s grandson, the legendLured by a sign announcing a photography gallery, I enter through ary astronomer Ulugh Beg. The city is spread out before me—off in a massive wooden door set into a stone facade and find Shafqat Bolthe distance is the mosque of Bibi Khanum and further out, the netayev, a one-man trove of Bukhara history. cropolis known as Shahi Zinda; still further out are the snow-clad The city has been home to Persians, Turks, Jews, Uzbeks, Tajiks mountains that frame the city. and other ethnicities. Through his photos, the widely-exhibited The name Samarkand is redolent of ancient stories, but here hisBoltayev has documented the religious and cultural flux that tory is veiled by modernity; the madrassahs and mausoleums are was 20th-century Bukhara. Pointing to his images of Jewish life, blue patches hemmed in by newer structures of glass and steel and Boltayev reminisces of how the city once had a sizeable Jewish popcement, and the cars that whiz past testify to how the city has kept ulation, only a few of whom remain—and they too are leaving in pace with the times. the wake of the Arab-Zionist conflict that has had repercussions Yet Samarkand cannot fully shake off the legends of its past, which all over this region. becomes clear when I visit the mosque of Bibi Khanum, she of beauOne structure that towers above all is the mausoleum of Ismail ty so incandescent it drove the architect of the mosque named after Samani, an enduring metaphor for Bukhara’s obstinate tryst with her crazy with desire. The story goes that he refused to finish it unbeauty. Built in the tenth century as a resting place for the powerless she permitted him to kiss her. She reluctantly acceded, with the ful Amir Ismail Samani, the lower half of the structure got covered caveat that he could only kiss her through her veil. by sediment over time, managing to escape the worst of successive So passionate was his kiss that it left traces on her cheek—traces waves of destruction visited upon Bukhara. that caught the possessive eye of Timur. He took his beautiful queen Today, it is considered a brilliant exposition of ninth-century Cenup to the top of the mosque “to admire it better”, and pushed her tral Asian architecture. Made of baked brick in exquisitely decorated to her death, then mourned mightshapes, its two-metre thick structure ily, for he truly loved her. Another has never needed repair. I give ferversion goes that it was the architect vent thanks to all the powers that who paid for his ardour with his life. spared it for posterity. Timur himself is buried in Gur-e *** Amir, with its exquisite entry porIf ancient Uzbekistan has ental and a single cupola. In 1941, the dured much at the hands of invadgreat warrior’s body was exhumed ers, it has also produced its own by the Soviets, who intended to reshare of ruthless rulers, none more construct his likeness. When the so than Timur the Lame whose concasket was opened, an inscription quests stretched from the Chinese was found that read: “Whoever borders to Syria. It was Timur who, opens my tomb shall unleash an incensed at the tolerant attitude invader more terrible than I.” of the Tughlaqs towards Hindus, Nazi Germany invaded Russia two marched on the Sultanate and indays after the exhumation began. flicted one of the worst defeats Delhi Late one morning, as I was climbhas endured. ing down from the Shah-i-Zinda The road to Samarkand, Timur’s complex, I chanced to look up. The capital, is cradled by rolling hills. double cupola of Ulugh Beg’s tomb Wiry bare mulberry trees skirt cotton pushed its way into wispy clouds farms and snow-fringed mountains that surrounded a muted sun. As if soar over the horizon. Horses run in tribute to the legendary astronowild along the Zarafshan steppes; mer, a halo formed above his tomb and men in traditional chopons and and the locals, for whom Shah-itubeteykas ride their donkeys with Zinda is second only to Mecca in unhurried ease. holiness, pointed and whispered, Water is plentiful here. Canals “Miracle… it is a miracle.” from the Amu Darya flow flush with In that magic moment, Samarthe roads. Water wheels slake the kand waved a wand and obliterated needs of the farms, and the farmers’ The famous necropolis of Shah-i-Zinda is holy for Muslims, its veneer of modernity, standing tall families wear golden smiles of weland second only to Mecca, as the cousin of Prophet Mohammed is buried here. A flight of steps leading to the in its storied grandeur. Such is Sacome. To stop and say hello is to be necropolis has an odd legend associated with it. You count markand—and all of Uzbekistan—a invited into their homes and offered the stairs up, make your “mannat” or wish inside and then land that slips like a djinn in and out cha and non and white walnuts, to count the stairs on your way back. Your wish comes if the two of its legendary past. n be shown around the rooms and to tallies match. 96 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | june 2013

Maria Golovnina/Reuters

IN FOCUS Chasing Legends


Amos Chapple/Lonely Planet Image/Getty images (metro), Tips/IndiaPicTure (women)

The ornate stations of Tashkent’s metro system (above) reflect the city’s dual nature: steeped in history and lore, yet moving forward with the times; Hot green or black tea, without sugar or milk, is very popular in Uzbekistan. It is often served with meals (below). Chaikhanas or tea-houses are central to social life.

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JOURNEYS Journeys Taste Of Travel The secret of Aurangabad’s tasty beef kebabs is high quality beef, sourced from local farms that grass-feed their cattle. Facing page: Curries in Buddi Galli are usually eaten with bread known as Aurangabad sheermal.

Something’s always

cooking Aurangabad’s slow-cooked delights

paprika media

By Azeem Banatwalla

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I love to eat, but you probably won’t find me drooling over episodes of MasterChef Australia. Until fairly recently, when people asked if I could cook, I usually made light of it. “Not really, but I probably could if I tried,” I would say. “It can’t be that hard.” A trip to Aurangabad proved me wrong. Having tired of visits to Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road every year, I was looking for a new feast during Ramzan. Last year, when I made a biking trip to Aurangabad during the holy month, I decided to ask Chef Gerard D’Souza, a longtime resident of the city, to join us as an informal food guide for an evening. A chef with the Taj Group of Hotels and dean of teaching and learning at Aurangabad’s Institute of Hotel Management, Chef D’Souza agreed. He has tasted all that Aurangabad has to offer, and watched the city’s palate evolve. Nearly every restaurateur and food stall owner knows him, at least by face. Aurangabad has long outgrown its roots as Aurangzeb’s capital, but the gargantuan gates scattered across the city are indelible reminders of the Mughal era. “Even though Aurangabad was once a Mughal capital, it was never really a lavish place,” Chef D’Souza explained, as we drove through crowded, smoky streets to Buddi Galli, weaving past unruly rickshaws and seemingly suicidal men on twowheelers. “It was more of a military base with a workmanlike culture, and you can see that amongst the people even today.” None of the buildings were more than three storeys tall. Unlike Mumbai’s obsession with craning necks upward, Aurangabad seemed happy to evolve in its own time. Its attitude towards food turned out to be quite similar. It was iftar time, and Buddi Galli, on the outskirts of the city, glowed neon green, blue, yellow, and red. Marinated chickens on long skewers at a stall nearby sat waiting to be cooked in the tandoor. They were coloured bright orange. This was a trick, Chef D’Souza said, originally used by highway dhaba owners to attract the attention of truckers. Even so, the chickens were just barely visible amid Buddi Galli’s sea of loud colours. Men sat on long rows of tables set on the street, breaking bread after the day’s fast. Most were engrossed in their food, pausing occasionally to lick their fingers. Others with their plates wiped clean chatted loudly, frequently erupting into raucous laughter. I looked around, savouring intermittent wafts of freshly-baked sheermal (saffron-infused, slightly sweet naan) and spicy gravies. It struck me as odd that almost all the boards on the food stalls seemed

to be advertising food from a different part of the country— Hyderabadi haleem, Lucknowi kebabs, Indore jalebis, and most amusingly for me, Bandra falooda. Despite all these culinary imports, Aurangabad’s staple food has been the same since the days of the Tughlaq dynasty, especially among the Muslim communities that form more than half of the population. Naankhaliya is a simple dish that was born from necessity. “For several centuries, during the Tughlaq and Mughal eras, Aurangabad was a military base due to its strategic location on the Deccan Plateau,” explained D’Souza. “There were large numbers of soldiers who needed nourishing food. The catch was that fires for cooking couldn’t be lit at night, because that would give away outpost locations. That’s when they came up with the idea of slow-cooking curries in a tandoor all day, so they were ready to serve by evening.” The fiery-red curry has chunks of meat in it (usually beef), and is served with naan or sheermal. Spicy, nourishing, and filling in equal measure, it’s a fixture on every wedding menu in Aurangabad even today. I found it incredibly hard to wrap my head around the concept of waking up early in the morning to start cooking dinner. I can barely get myself to make breakfast. I felt an odd pang of guilt as I dipped my naan into the curry. I felt considerably better about ordering plates of kebabs, though. Amidst the standard fare of chicken tikka and reshmi kebabs, the beef seekh kebabs stood out. They were deliciously soft, yet crisp at the same time, with a tangy lingering spice; the best I had ever eaten. In the midst of my fifth kebab, a sign across the road boasting of “Aurangabad beef biryani” caught my eye. Chef D’Souza warned me not to expect a traditional biryani. Although it’s advertised as biryani, most eateries in the city serve a cross between pulao and fried rice. It seems to be the way people like their rice here. “Over the last couple of decades, Aurangabad has started taking famous dishes from other parts of the country and the world, and reinventing them to suit local tastes,” D’Souza said. “Everything is a bit spicier, heavier, and more in your face.” The slow-cooked naankhaliya was born in Aurangabad, but the city’s most popular snack is an amusing international import. Served at eateries across the city, “Aurangabad Cantukky” is a tribute to Kentucky Fried Chicken. We stepped into Sagar Restaurant, one of the oldest in Buddi Galli, to try a plate. The crispy, fried chicken was actually nothing like the American version whose name it echoed. It had a spicy,

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vinay kumar (bread seller)

Growing up as part of the fast-food generation, I never paid heed to how food ended up on my plate. It just did.

Journeys Taste Of Travel

Buddi Galli is a melee of meat and smoke, with food being prepared everywhere you look.

Melt-in-mouth kebabs became symbols of grandeur in the post-Mughal era. The aristocrats in Lucknow and Hyderabad in those days were so smoky flavour, somewhere in between Amritsari chicken and fish koliwada, and a satisfying crunch with each bite. While most of Buddi Galli’s delicacies are available all-year round, haleem, associated with Hyderabad’s Nizams, is an indulgence limited to Ramzan. It seemed to be well advertised on every menu board. As we made to order a plate, D’Souza pointed out, slightly disapprovingly, that what they served in Buddi Galli wasn’t real haleem, but actually harees, a less lavish version of the real thing, made with the addition of lentils, from a recipe borrowed from West Asia. It seemed rude to refuse a day’s worth of cooking, but we were there for the real deal. We found it at Himayat Bagh, a few kilometres away. The melee of Buddi Galli was far behind when we stopped at a forlorn stall seemingly in the middle of nowhere, run by a man known popularly as Munna Bhai. His haleem stall was open only during Ramzan. A man wearing a prayer cap sat perched atop a giant clay oven, stirring the contents with an implement that looked like a long, wooden oar. The process of making haleem begins early in the morning, when the beef and wheat are placed in the clay oven along with dozens of spices, and ground to a fine paste for several hours. The mixture is slow-cooked for the rest of the day, stirred every few hours. The consistency varies depending on how well it’s ground—the thicker, the better. I received a bowl of the gooey

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brown ground beef, which, although piping hot, had a consistency similar to ice cream. Topped with onions that seemed almost sweet, coriander, and a dangerous amount of ghee poured from a kettle, it was beef like I’d never imagined it— thick, bordering on creamy, with what seemed like a million different spices on a tour of my taste buds. I was surprised by how light it was. Another hallmark of good haleem, the Chef said. It had taken half a day to prepare, but my bowl was over in minutes, and I greedily asked for seconds. It was followed by Munna Bhai’s signature desserts—mango rabdi, doodhi halwa, and apricots with cream. Having had a few starters, a couple of main courses and three desserts, it seemed strange that we were only halfway through our meal. I willed my stomach to hold on as we made for our final stop at Roshan Gate—named after Aurangzeb’s sister Roshanara—in the heart of the city. The buzz in the streets and markets was akin to Buddi Galli, but the iftar crowds had dispersed. Kebabs seemed to be the main attraction, with skewers and smoke everywhere I looked. A man behind a little cart with no board stood frying tiny kebabs, with customers clamouring hungrily around him. They were called tikki kebabs, made from beef, onions and potatoes—a take on Lucknow’s galauti kebabs. Five or six kebabs were stuffed into a pao and handed to me. I stared at the miniature heart


eccentric they believed that chewing was a menial chore


Mawa jalebis are a speciality from Indore, but widely available in Aurangabad’s food streets; Paya (below) is Islami restaurant’s signature breakfast dish.

To me, this was an upside-down world where breakfast was cooked all night and dinner prepared all morning. To them, it was just soup), which I learnt, was a popular breakfast dish not just in Aurangabad, but also in Iran and Afghanistan. D’Souza told me that the preparations for paya had begun the previous night. The bones are cooked overnight in a wood oven and served with fat-laden gravy, seasoned with spices ranging from saunf (anise) to dagadphool (a lichen). It’s served with delicious, soft tandoori rotis made from three kinds of flour and washed yellow with turmeric. I watched patrons on the tables around me sucking the bones dry of marrow and casually leaving them on the table next to their plates. Apparently that was the paya-eating etiquette. I couldn’t get myself to mimic their marrow-filled exploits, though. I sat there, poking at my soup, incredulous at how something always seemed to be cooking in this city. To the people who had fed me over the previous 12 hours, food was more than just something on a plate. It was a passion. It had to be. To me, this was an upside-down world where breakfast was cooked all night and dinner prepared all day. To the men in charge of Aurangabad’s food, it was just another day. They had shooed the fastfood revolution away. n

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attack I held in my hands and bit into it before I could reconsider. Spicy, with a hint of coriander, the kebabs melted in my mouth, but their piquancy still lingered in the flavour-soaked bread. I asked for another. Twelve kebabs and two pieces of pao later, I was bewildered to find I had to pay a paltry `25. D’Souza began to explain how melt-in-mouth kebabs became symbols of grandeur in the post-Mughal era. The aristocrats in Lucknow and Hyderabad in those days were so eccentric they believed that chewing was a menial chore. They believed only slaves deserved to chew their food. The cooks were almost forced to create tender kebabs so that they could keep their heads. Our culinary exploits for the night were brought to a close by a dessert of mawa jalebis at Shahganj, a couple of lanes away from Roshan Gate. Mawa jalebis are instantly distinguishable from their more traditional counterparts. They’re thicker, stickier, and dark brown, made from thickened milk, and taste similar to gulab jamun—frightfully addictive when eaten fresh and piping hot. It was close to midnight when I finished eating, but the final feast would come six hours later. I found myself awaiting breakfast at Islami Restaurant at six the next morning, with a brown cat staring at me. Despite being tiny, Islami Restaurant, right next to Delhi Gate, is a landmark in Aurangabad. The specialty here is paya (trotter

(XXXXXXXXX) sudiproyphotography/ getty images (jalebis), vinay kumar (mutton dish)

another day

GET GOING Adventure

Riding Monsoon Rapids Rafts, rivers, and rain are a stellar combination | By By Supriya Sehgal & Azeem Banatwalla


inging in the rain is passé. Make the most of the monsoon by jumping in a river with a paddle in your hands. The rivers in Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra swell to their fullest between June and October with rapids and eddy currents that are ideal for white water rafting. Trips are easy to plan, and a whole lot of fun: all organisers provide gear and saftey equipment, and the ability to swim is usually not a requirement on most river circuits. Mhadei River Valpoi, Goa (45 km from Panjim)

Southern River Adventures in association with Goa Tourism offers a watery escapade on the meandering Mhadei River, with Grade 2 and 3 rapids spread over a 10-km stretch. Suitable for beginners and families, the circuit has more than 15 rapids with names like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Y Fronts, and Pipeline. Experienced rafters can move on to a longer stretch of 18 km on the Surla River, which is faster and more difficult, with Grade 4 rapids. Starting point Participants meet at the base camp at Valpoi, from where jeeps transfer them to the edge of the river at Ustem village. The rafting ends at Sonal. Length 1.5 hr/10 km, transfers take an additional hour. Contact Southern River Adventures & Sports Pvt. Ltd. in association with Goa Tourism; or; 96234 51758. Cost `1,700 (inclusive of jeep-pick up from Valpoi). Schedule June-October; 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Gonikoppal, Coorg (220 km from Bangalore)

Arrive at the rafting camp an hour earlier in shorts, a T-shirt, and floaters to sit through a short training session before starting out. This circuit has rapids ranging from grade one to four. Bounce along Morning Coffee (Level 1), Grasshopper (Level 2), Ramba Samba (Level 2), Wicked Witch (Level 3) and the most ferocious one, Big Bang (Level 4). All groups are tailed by a safety kayak.

Instructions for white water rafting are straightforward, though making your way through rapids can be hard work. It’s all about paddling in unison and swiftly obeying the calls of the instructor (top); Riding rapids is an exhilarating experience. Paddle hard and enjoy the ride (bottom). Starting point Ponya Estate, off T.

Schedule June-September; 9 a.m., 11 a.m.,

Shettigeri bus stop. Length 3-4 hours/2.8 km. Contact Coorg White Water Rafting; www.; 94818 83745. Cost `1,200 per head (inclusive of jeep pick-up from Ponya, and tea). Additional `100 for professional photographs.

2 p.m., and 4 p.m. daily.

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Bhadra River Kalasa, Chikmagalur (120 km from Mangalore)

The River Bhadra bumbles down Kudremukh Peak in southwest Chikmagalur,

photo courtesy: outbound adventure

Upper Barapole (Kithu-Kakkatu River)

Rafting with Class 1-4 rapids extending across 42 km. Capture Earth organises rafting expeditions of varying difficulty levels that can last anywhere between a few hours to an entire day. Meet the organisers at a camp between Kalasa and Hornadu for a quick safety briefing and then bob along the rapids flanked by lush Robusta and Arabica coffee estates. Starting point The base camp is at Balehole, a small village 13 km east of Kalasa on the Kalasa-Balehonnur road. Though local buses ply on this route, most participants use cabs or their own transportation to get there. Length 1 hour/8 km, 2 hours/12 km, 3 hours/18 km, 4 hours/22 km, 5 hours/28 km, 6 hours/42 km. Contact Capture Earth; www.capture-earth. com; 98453 55087. Cost `1,200-5,000 per head (inclusive of lunch and use of base camp). Schedule June-October; 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Cauvery River Bheemeshwari (100 km off Bangalore)

Kundalika River Kolad (112 km from Mumbai)

Over the last few years, Kolad has earned a reputation as an adventure sports destination. Rafting here is fuelled by water released from a hydroelectric power dam. The course isn’t particularly intense—the highest level is Grade 3 rapids—and a large section of the ride is spent cruising along with the currents. After a certain point, participants can dive into the water and float alongside the raft. Rafting trips happen all year round, although it’s particularly beautiful in the monsoon, surrounded by a landscape that gets greener with every passing week. Starting point Ravalje Dam is the base camp

On particularly rocky or rough sections, there’s sometimes no option but to portage, or carry the raft to safer waters.

for rafting on the Kundalika. Rickshaws can be organised to travel between Kolad to Ravalje Dam (`650 one way). Length 10 km/2 hours. Contact Quest Adventures Pvt. Ltd.; www.; 98203 67412. Cost `1,399 per head. Schedule All year round; 8.15 a.m. daily. Ulhas River Karjat (100 km from Mumbai)

With Outbound Adventure, participants are taught to read the Ulhas river, manoeuvre challenging rapids with names like Upset, Bundo, Surprise, and Zigzag, and stay afloat even though the river is churning the boat. This is a hands-on rafting trip, not a joyride, so all on board are expected to exercise muscle power and paddle. The amount of time the trip takes varies depending on the paddling strength of the team, and the water levels in this

monsoon-fed river. Departures are subject to there being adequate rainfall and water in the river. Participants report to Kondana at 8.30 a.m. and the operator offers an incentive of a 10 percent cash refund for all those who arrive on time. Not more than 20 people go out on a given day. Starting point Kondana village is around 15 km from Karjat station. You can either drive to Kondana or get an autorickshaw from the railway station (`300) to take you there. There are also six-seater shared rickshaws (`20) from Karjat station to Kondana village. Length 2+ hours/6-8km (varies depending on water levels and training time). Contact Outbound Adventure; www.; 98201 95115. Cost `2,000 per head (inclusive of vegetarian thali lunch at Kondana village). Schedule July to September (only by advanced booking). n

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photo courtesy: outbound adventure

The Bheemeshwari rafting sector is best for beginners. The 6-km stretch has no more than Grade 2 rapids, ensuring very little rough and tumble. The relaxing circuit takes participants through the thickets of the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. Starting point Muthathi, the base camp for rafting, lies 100 km from Bengaluru. Though local private buses run on this route, it’s best to drive via Kanakpura (60km) to Sathanur and then 18 km to Muthathi on the NH 209. Length 90 minutes/6 km. Contact Ace Paddlers; www.acepaddlers. com; 94481 11365. Cost `1,300 per head (inclusive of lunch). Schedule June to October; 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Short break From Delhi

Mountain 3 Walkabout


The alpine meadows of Khajjiar are an unusual combination of lake, grassland, and deodar and oak forest. It is part of the Kalatope Khajjiar Sanctuary where animals like goral, serow, black bear, and leopard can be spotted.


o, no, I have my solid oak wooden cane. How much walking are you going to do, bhai?” Teddy Singh booms over the phone in response to my question about whether I should get him an adjustable, shock-absorbing, aluminium alloy walking stick. A resident of Dalhousie for many years, Teddy Singh knows better than most people that the higher reaches of the town are a joy to explore on foot. In fact, my visit there over a three-day weekend is intended to be a warmup for an upcoming trek—an exercise to test my mettle. I intend to do a lot of walking during my time at his homestay and Teddy will be my guide on these jaunts. Dalhousie was once to Lahore what Shimla

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still is to Delhi. While the capital of Himachal Pradesh continued to swell with tourists over the decades, Dalhousie was spared a similar fate after its mother city was placed behind an international border. Like most hill stations in India, it was established by the British, who hated the blazing Indian summer, and desperately sought cooler climes. The idea of establishing a resort in Dalhousie came to Lt. Col. Robert Napier in 1850. He was posted in the area after Punjab was annexed by the British East India Company as a result of the Second AngloSikh War in 1849. Three years later, 8,400 acres of land across the five hills of Bakrota, Bhangora, Potrein, Kathalagli, and Terah were acquired from the Raja of Chamba. Dalhousie’s churches and cottages, made from stone and


Pine trails and meadows in Dalhousie | Text & Photographs by Rishad Saam Mehta

Dalhousie wood, look as if they were plucked right out of England and planted here. Since Dalhousie is still a little secluded, tourism infrastructure hasn’t broken out like an ungainly rash over its face. Coniferous forests still drape its mountainsides. Most of the clutter and cacophony is contained within Gandhi Chowk, where the bus stand and taxi stand are located. But take the road leading to the higher reaches of Dalhousie, past the schools for which this hill station is famous, and the noise fades away. Here the bracing breeze blowing off the icy peaks can make even the laziest couch potato want to exercise, so that he can fill his lungs with this wondrous stuff. Standing on Dalhousie’s upper reaches, with a stunning view of the mountains around, it’s obvious why this spot on the western edge of the Dhauladhars was selected as a site for a hill station. Within 30 years of its creation, it had already attracted a host of movers and thinkers, including Rabindranath Tagore and Rudyard Kipling, drawn no doubt by its quiet contemplative walks, clean air, and the sense of solitude—attributes Dalhousie retains to this day.

EXPLORE Strolls Dalhousie is the kind of place where visitors should forget their cars once they get here and explore only on foot. However, for those on a short break, it might be advisable to drive to the trail heads and continue on foot. The most invigorating walk is the one to the Pholani Devi Temple at Dainkund. This is the very hill that Napier was enchanted with, and where the idea of Dalhousie was born. Legend has it that flying witches used to live around the pond on top, hence the name Dain-kund. Today, it’s out of bounds because the Indian Air Force has set up base here. But cars can be parked at the barrier (14 km from Gandhi Chowk) and visitors can take a lovely 4 km/1½ hour round-trip walk through forests and over hilltops to the temple. For the adventurous, the walk continues from the temple to the jot (meaning pass). Known as the jot walk, this is another 4 km/2 hours past the temple. Other than a tea shop at the temple that can rustle up light snacks like roasted masala peanuts and Maggi noodles, there are no other stores here. Next on the list of interesting walks is the one from Lakarmandi to Kalatope through an oak forest. Lakarmandi (8 km from Gandhi Chowk on the road to Dainkund) is so called

A beautiful hairpin turn offers a sweeping view of the valley (top) just before the barrier to the Air Force base at Dainkund. The trek to Pholani Devi Temple begins here. Teddy Singh leads the way up the initial stage (bottom) which is the steepest and can be slushy with water and snow even as late as April. After that, the trail is mostly level with astounding views on a clear day. because it is where a tribe of woodcutters settled down after Dalhousie was founded. The woodcutters used to make coal, chop firewood, and hew planks for construction. When wood cutting was made illegal, their profession died away, but the tribe still continues to live here. There’s always a chance of spotting a Himalayan black bear on the 3 km/1 hour walk through the forest on a mud road. Just before Kalatope guesthouse, a trail peels off, leading into the forest—this is a 12 km/5 hour walk to the beautiful meadow of Khajjiar. Khajjiar can also be reached by road (it is 13 km from Lakarmandi, where the road forks, one prong leading to Dainkund, the other to Khajjiar) and is touted as India’s bit of

Switzerland. Khajjiar is a lovely green, perfect for picnics, impromptu cricket games, and zorbing down its gentle slopes. Another pleasant route, ideal for an afterdinner stroll, is the Bakrota loop, which starts at the Bakrota forest (4 km from Gandhi Chowk), goes past Hill Top School, turns right off the main road at the Ahla Tank, and then goes through thick deodar forest. The sight of the moonlight bouncing off the snow-clad peaks of the Dhauladhar Range is spellbinding. This is an easy 4 km/1 hour walk.

Sights Apart from the Pholani Devi Temple, Dalhousie has five churches. The chapel attached to the Sacred Heart School is the

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Short break From Delhi

There are two routes from Dalhousie to the alpine meadow of Khajjiar. The high road via Lakarmandi, from which this picture was taken, is more sinuous and scenic though sometimes closed, even during summer because of ice at the higher reaches. The other road goes via Chamba. best preserved and houses a 19th-century piano built by the famous Swedish organ maker Karl Theodor Mannborg. The oldest church is St. John’s at Gandhi Chowk, which was built in 1863 and houses a library with old books, some of which have images of Dalhousie when it was a new town. There are three other churches: St. Andrew’s (built in 1903), St. Francis (built in 1894), and St. Patrick’s (the largest church in town, capable of seating 300 people).

shop There is a small Tibetan market at Gandhi Chowk, which has junk jewellery, prayer mats, Buddhist paintings, and cardigans. The Himalayan Handloom Centre on Potreyn Road has good handmade woollen shawls at reasonable prices. Nostalgia buffs should check out the D.C. Khanna store on Potreyn Road which sells antiques and old-world bric-à-brac.

STAY Budget Alps Resort Located on the Bakrota Hills, 2 km from town on the road to Khajjiar, this is the kind of place to stay at, if you intend to

spend most of the day exploring, and just want a decent bed and bathroom (; 01899-240775; doubles from `1,800). Shangri La Also close to Gandhi Chowk, this hotel has good, basic amenities and has won praise for its food (www.; 01899-242314, 94180 10716; doubles from `1,200).

Homestay Teddy’s Lodge A drop-dead gorgeous wood and stone colonial house at Bakrota with a very entertaining host, this cottage is the Dalhousie that Napier envisioned it to be. The views are fantastic, the cook is talented, and the bedrooms feature toasty electric blankets (; 98161 68846, 94171 91243; `7,000 for a two-bedroom cottage with attached toilets, drawing room, kitchen and dining room).

Luxury Grand View Hotel Situated in the centre of town near the Dalhousie Club, this colonial hotel has spacious rooms, balconies with a view, and a sumptuous breakfast buffet. But it is in the heart of town, so the cacophony sometimes floats into the rooms (www.

126 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JUNE 2013; 01899-240760, 94180 40760; doubles from `9,000). Snow Valley Resorts Advertised as one of the biggest hotels in the area, with views that look over the plains of Punjab and the snowy peaks of Kashmir, this hotel is located in the heart of the Mall, a bustling suburb of Dalhousie. The rooms are large and spacious (www.; 01899-242600, 93185 13788; doubles from `12,000).

EAT Most hotels have restaurants that serve reasonably decent meals, so food is never a problem in Dalhousie. Kwality Restaurant at Gandhi Chowk has to be the best place to eat. The multi-cuisine restaurant boasts a varied menu, huge portions, and tasty fare. The prices are reasonable enough to warrant more than one visit. The spring rolls and American chopsuey were spot on and their selection of Indian dishes like butter chicken and rogan josh is also quite delectable. A meal for four big-eaters will set you back by around `800. The Tibetan market has stalls selling momos and thukpa, where you can eat well for `100. n






1 Childless couples go to Pholani Devi Temple to pray for progeny. When the wish is granted, they often return with their offspring to leave a trishul at the temple. 2 Enterprising locals make the most of unexpected snowfall in summer by offering sledding on a tube borrowed from the local puncture-repair shop. 3 Kailash Kothi, which occupies a prime spot overlooking the Kinnaur Kailash Range, was the holiday home of Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir. 4 Nomadic Gujjar shepherds often bring their herd to graze in the meadows of Khajjiar.

Orientation Dalhousie is in eastern Himachal Pradesh, at an altitude of about 7,000 feet. It is 85 km east of Pathankot and 204 km northeast of Amritsar.

Getting there Air Gaggal (109 km/2 hours; taxi `3,000) is the closest airport but Amritsar (209 km/5 hours away; taxi `3,500) is better connected. Chandigarh is also a convenient option (350 km/7 hours; taxi `5,500). Rail The closest station is Pathankot, which has trains arriving from all corners of India (80 km/2½ hours; `1,350). Road Delhi is 550 km/12 hours from Dalhousie (taxis charge `9,000). There are two routes

from Delhi and road conditions on both are good. One is via NH1 to Chandigarh, NH21 to Rupnagar, SH24 to Hoshiarpur and Dasuya, and NH1A to Pathankot. The other option is to take NH1 to Jalandhar and Dasuya and then follow the same route. From Pathankot take SH33 via Banikhet to Dalhousie.

Seasons During the summer (April to September) Dalhousie is a cool respite from the plains, though it is not uncommon for sudden snow fall to occur as late as the middle of May. Expect temperature around 25°C during the day and 15°C during the night. During winter,

snow is common and the road to Khajjiar via Kalatope often closes, as does the road up to Dainkund. With temperatures

ranging from 8°C to -3°C, this is the best time to sit around a roaring fire and enjoy the Himalayan winter.

Tibetan Market

Khajjiar St. John’s Church


Sacred Heart School To DELHI

Pholani Devi Temple

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Himanshu Khagta/Flickr/getty images (Khajjiar), urmimala nag (map)


Profile for National Geographic Traveller India

June 2013 web  

Preview of the June issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller

June 2013 web  

Preview of the June issue of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller