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j a n u a r y 2 0 1 4 • ` 1 2 0 • VO L . 2

t s a t of e

travel

Kashmiri Wazwaan • Spice Odyssey through Portugal • Sausage trails in Goa, Germany & Kalimpong • Feast for the Senses in Japan • Mexico’s Culinary Heart

ISSUE 7

ISTANBUL City of the future New Year’s Lucky Bites


january 2014

On the Cover JANUAR

ta s t e o f t r av e l

N at i o n a l

STE TA of

TRAVEL

Culinary Heart MEXICO’S NG Wazwaan • Y & KALIMPO AL KASHMIRI in GOA, GERMAN ns in PORTUG • Sausage Trails • Culinary Connectio a Trip • Cravings Worth

ISTANBUL CITY OF THE FUTURE NEW YEAR’S LUCKY BITES

This picture was taken by photographer Holger Leue outside the Costa do Castelo restaurant in Lisbon’s Alfama district. The streets of the Portuguese capital’s oldest district are lined with delightful cafés and restaurants.

www.natgeotraveller.in www.facebook.com/ natgeotraveller.india

issue 7

G eo g r a p h i c

ISSUE 7

T r av el l er

51

in d ia

18 Editor’s Note | 138 Inspire

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The King’s Feast

Voices

46

Toasting the Greek Spirit A sip of ouzo sweetens the day

22 Tread Softly Are we endangering the almost extinct?

The long journey of Bandel cheese

52

Kashmiri wazwaan is a swirl of flavours and old-fashioned gluttony

In focus

The Cheese That Moved

48

Currying Favour with the Germans

Mountain flavour

Little links from the Kalimpong hills

54

Spice odyssey

A museum to a fusion sausage

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Swiss Dish

Can the Luso-Indian flavours of home be found in the food of Portugal?

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Say cheese, to gooey raclette

50

Danish Delight

Cravings

Ten meals that are worth travelling the world for

Smørrebrød takes the sandwich to a new level

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42 National Park Swamped by nature in Sundarbans Tiger Reserve

135 Stay Soak in Ayurveda amidst Kerala homestead architecture

journeys

interactive 136 Big Shot The best of readers’ photos

navigate

98 Istanbul: City of the Future Its mix of East and West, secular and spiritual, makes this complex crossroads a Turkish delight

30 Culture Bring in the new year with these lucky bites

108 Back to the Future Pittsburgh’s rebirth comes to light on a dinosaur hunt

144 Dire Straits The Maluti complex of shrines in Jharkhand needs more than prayers to survive

Go Now 33 Flemish masterpieces come to India 33 A weekend of comedy 34 Soulful music of the Bauls 35 Vintage cars highlight Lucknow’s heritage

114 Fluid Connections There’s a little bit of Benares in a corner of Oxfordshire

24 Real Travel Moved by the movies

A Bite of Mexico

Mexican food blends Mayan, Aztec, and European elements

26 Guest Column Stepping over the edge has its rewards

82

Photo Essay

28 Guest Column The plan is not to plan

From Zen gardens to food, art is everywhere in Japan

90

Ode to a Hog

A quest to make sausage from scratch turns into a gastronomic adventure

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38 The Drink Europe’s ale and hearty cities, for those who love beer 41 The Icon The minar’s many charms

last page

get going 120 Explore Off the grid, in the Andamans’ remote Long Island 124 Adventure Visit the endangered Asiatic lion, on a trek through Gir forest

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12 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2014

keith bishop/vetta/getty images

short breaks

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128 From Delhi Churu’s centuries-old havelis reveal dazzling art 132 From Hyderabad Mute out the noise on a quiet weekend in Medak

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january 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 13

Oliver Strewe/Lonely Planet Images (café), Susan Wolfe (food), Bhaven Jani (haveli), Holger Leue/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images (Cover)

vol. 2

VO L . 2 • `120 • Y 2014


Editor’s Note Niloufer Venkatraman

Letters Inbox

Winter adventure

Bite sized: Food for thought

18 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2014

Dalhousie, Himachal Pradhesh

—Akash Pandya I recently visited Thailand and was very impressed with the infrastructural facilities. The government ensures that their tourist destinations are wellmanaged, which brings more people in, and boosts the local economy. If only our country could follow suit, we might reap many benefits. —Akhilesh Kumar Shah

Sattal, Uttarakhand

This November, I had a special visitor at home in Sattal, Uttarakhand—the Siberian rubythroat. When I saw this gem of a bird emerging from the bushes and jumping over the water lily leaves, my heart skipped a beat! Thirty years of birdwatching had not prepared me for this moment. There

was no mistaking the species, thanks to the bright vermilion mark on its throat. Siberian rubythroats are known to visit India, but their presence in the western Himalayan foothills is not regular. They breed in the undergrowth of mixed coniferous forests of

Siberia during summer and migrate to northeast India and further east up to Japan in winter. They are an adventurous species, and I hope that Uttarakhand becomes a regular winter destination for this beautiful insectivore. —Dushyant Parasher

Correction The runner-up image in the Big Shot photo contest on page 129 in the October 2013 issue, was incorrectly identified as Lake Pichola, Udaipur. The picture actually features Man Sagar Lake in Jaipur.

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 letters@natgeotraveller.in

Now, thanks to the December issue of Nat Geo Traveller, I have my heart set on Ladakh next winter”

HOW TO CONTACT US Emails: letters@natgeotraveller.in 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 subscribe@natgeotraveller.in or call 022-40497417/31/35/36.

—Akash Pandya

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JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Visit us at www.facebook.com/NatGeoTraveller.India for ideas that will inspire you to plan your next holiday.

JANUARY 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 19

Dushyant Parasher (bird), Pandya Akash (mountain), Sankar Sridhar (ladakh)

Each time I taste these edible mementos, I experience a rush of flavour from the place; I relive memories of that holiday

street in the medieval Swiss city of Lucerne, I spotted a sign that said “Hot Chocolate”. I walked across expecting nothing more than a chance to sip, well, a Swiss hot chocolate. Instead, I spent the next two hours in there chatting with the owner Daniel Biller, an electrician who had given up his profession to open his dream chocolate shop. I sipped on a cup of molten chocolate (yes, it was Eraclea), tasted local artisanal chocolates, and others from around the world. When I’d entered, I’d told Biller I disliked milk chocolate and only ate dark chocolate. Biller, whose knowledge of chocolate far exceeded mine, convinced me to taste a beautiful milk chocolate made by a local chocolatier. Then he made me sample another, rather ordinarytasting bitter chocolate that’s mass produced in Europe. My chocolate snobbery evaporated that day; in fact, I learnt a few lessons in how to appreciate food. I’m the kind of person who will travel pretty far just to eat. Right now I’m looking forward to winter’s special seasonal foods—undhiyu, sarson ka saag, vasanu. One February, I was visiting a friend’s family farm in Punjab where we were served sarson ka saag and makki ki roti, a traditional, cold weather dish from Punjab. I remember the freshness of the flavours, and that I was surprised it tasted nothing like the chilli-laden dish I’d had in Mumbai, where we get it all year round. The creamy smoothness of the mustard greens could only have been achieved by slow cooking; the makki ki rotis came to the table piping hot, topped with a giant blob of white butter that I knew had been churned just that morning. Even today, my mouth waters when I think about it. I really must plot a way to get invited back to that farm. When I was growing up, my aunt would send us a small but heavy package every December, that contained vasanu, a Parsi winter speciality. Being the consistency (and colour) of chyawanprash, vasanu did not appeal much to my siblings, which was a blessing for me. Over the next few weeks, I would devour it one scoop at a time. Taking a spoonful and slowly licking bits off, as if it were an ice-cream stick. The kick of ginger at the end, the subtle hint of various nuts, the many levels of flavours bursting on my tongue—I remember it well and crave it. These days I’ve got to be satisfied with vasanu bought from the Ratan Tata Institute’s shop at Hughes Road in Mumbai. But, if anyone knows where I can get some made with as much love and care as in my childhood, let me know. And I’ll be happy to travel far to savour it. n

alhousie is the perfect winter destination, and a great place to start exploring north India. It has forest trails overlooking vistas of hills, waterfalls, and gurgling rivulets. It’s where I began my vacation. I also visited the Pangi Valley and the Sach pass, soaking in views of Chamba Valley and the Dhauladhar range, with its snow-covered peaks. At Kalatop Sanctuary, I was lucky enough to sight a black bear. It was a wonderfully adventurous trip. And now, thanks to the December issue of Nat Geo Traveller, I have my heart set on Ladakh next winter.

yadid levy/robert harding world imagery/getty images

F

ood souvenirs make great gifts and that’s what I usually buy when I travel. The only problem is that often, when I get back home, I don’t really feel like giving them away—and so end up hoarding and consuming them slowly. That’s how I have timur berries from Kathmandu, a variety of other spices and spice mixes from around the world, dried mango and durian from Thailand, three different kinds of edible oils, and—in my freezer—two kilos of Hyderabadi biryani from Paradise restaurant in that city. Each time I taste any of these edible mementos, I experience a rush of flavour from the place; I relive memories of that holiday. My other souvenir weakness is kitchen gadgets and gizmos that I see along the way. That’s how I’ve come to own three ice cream scoops, a melon baller, a butter curler, cheese slicers, quirky swizzle sticks, and a variety of ornate chopsticks even though, I confess, I can barely eat with them. On a trip to Italy some years ago, I ordered hot chocolate in a little café in the historic town of Siena. It was a decadent, dark, creamy concoction whose taste stayed with me for years. All I that I managed to gather was that the base powder was made by a brand called Eraclea. A few years later, walking along a tiny side

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VOICES Tread Softly

NAVIGATE Culture

K

mike pandey

aghast to learn that its demand has soared in recent times. One of the most endangered species on the planet is the gorilla. Today they are sought as pets and trophies, and their body parts used for traditional medicine. The odds are already stacked against them— and now they are dinner too. Along with apes, the meat of zebra, elephant, and crocodile is also being sold and bought as a delicacy. Are these wild animals part of the human food chain, or are we eating away vital links in the web of life? Tribal communities may have tradition­ ally depended on the forest and wild animals for sustenance. But these huntergatherer communities were small groups and very selective about what they took. They needed protein and ensured a sustainable supply of resources and an intact ecosystem. The demand for bushmeat by travellers to safari parks is baffling. It has triggered an unregulated and unprecedented plunder of wildlife, including endangered species and those at risk. Local people who would never eat it themselves are hunting for bushmeat to make a quick buck. The profitable trade has attracted criminal syndicates with enormous resources and weapons. The trade is estimated to be worth over $2 billion. Often, this trade has been linked to logging concessions, which provide road access into deep forests. Some countries have created legal outlets, to clamp down on illegal hunting. For instance, many restaurants in Africa serve the meat Bushmeat shoppers have the fur singed off a drill monkey. enya’s Maasai Mara is a dramatic place to visit, especially when the spectacular animal migration takes place. Thousands of animal lovers from around the world gravitate to the Mara for a glimpse of this spectacle. An ocean of wildebeest, zebras, deer, and antelopes is flanked by predators like lions, leopards, and cheetahs, waiting for an opportunity to pounce on a weak on injured animal that’s fallen behind the surging herd. I’ve been a regular at the Mara for at least ten years. I love to wake up before sunrise to catch the migrating animals in the golden sunlight. But over the last two years I’ve felt that the herds have shrunk. During our drive from Nairobi this year I noticed the absence of zebra and antelope herds en route to the park that I’ve usually seen grazing away contentedly like livestock. After a few enquiries, I discovered that one of the reasons animal populations in Africa (and Asia as well) have declined is the escalating demand for bushmeat for human consumption. Bushmeat is the meat from hunted wild animals, particularly west and central Africa (and Asia). I was

30 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2014

Mike Pandey is a conservationist and wildlife filmmaker. He has won the Green Oscar award three times.

What and where to eat to ensure good fortune all year long By Donna Tabbert Long

Noodles in Tokyo.

Marzipan pigs in Vienna.

Hoppin’ John in Charleston.

The streets of Vienna fill with festive lights and holiday shoppers.

L

ong before the 16th century, when the Manchus of Asia believed that sacrificing pigs drove away bad spirits, folks have been consuming all sorts of edible talismans to attract wealth and happiness in the New Year. Hungry for some good fortune in 2014? It’s available in all flavours. Vienna: Pigs in Pastry

Legendary for its opera and arts, Vienna is one of Europe’s most refined and elegant capitals. In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the city sheds its sophisticated facade to

showcase—of all things—pink pigs. No ordinary hogs, these Viennese porkers are sweet, elaborate, edible, and artistically crafted from marzipan and meringue, and grace shop windows throughout the city. At the chocolate counter in Julius Meinl am Graben, Vienna’s luxury food emporium, residents queue up to buy intricately sculpted marzipan pig ears, tiny nougat snouts, and chocolate piglets in all sizes. Based on the notion that pigs symbolise progress (pushing forward when rooting in the soil) and prosperity (because they’re fat), Vienna’s sweet versions are shared with

friends and family to bring good luck in the New Year. Find them at institutions such as the 137-year-old Café Landtmann and Café Aida (Vienna’s coffeehouse chain, where the decor is pink) or shaped into cookies and perched on pink, frosted petit fours at seasonal street vendor carts all over town. Families enjoy watching the classic windschweinchen (whipped, pig-shaped meringue) being decorated at Café Demel; at glamorous Café Sacher, each table boasts a miniature Sacher torte (Vienna’s famous chocolate cake speciality)—topped with the season’s lucky, little pig.

january 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 31

Toni Anzenberger/Anzenberger/Redux (street scene), Iain Masterton/Alamy (noodles), otto stadler/photographer’s choice/getty images (pigs), Susan Wolfe (Hoppin’ John)

EATING Bushmeat is a surefire way of eliminating endangered species

The New Year’s Lucky Bites

Joel Sartore/National Geographic/Getty Images

Watch it, Don’t Eat it

of wild animals, though I was sorry to find that these are always jam-packed. I was shocked to see bushmeat being cooked over a hundred open fires and frenzied customers jostling for a portion. Many enterprises claim to have set up animal farms to breed endangered animals in captivity. But I feel that even this is wrong. The real solution is not to find a way to feed the desire for bushmeat—it is to eliminate the demand altogether. Kenya has apparently lost almost 30-50 per cent of its wildlife over the last two decades to bushmeat demands. The lion population has dropped to a dismal 30,000 from a lakh. Lion meat is banned across the world and yet it continues to be sold. Besides, studies have shown that certain types of bushmeat are dangerous to human beings and carry life-threatening viruses like Ebola and HIV. In the Congo, a tribe was slowly rendered sterile and wiped out because of regular consumption of crocodile meat. I find it hardest to wrap my head around the idea that the same visitors who’ve come to enjoy the beautiful spectacle of animals in the wild, fuel the demand for bushmeat. Public awareness is required locally and internationally to show people that they are endangering the very animals that they love to see on a safari. Very often the desire to taste bushmeat is driven by a sense of “adventure”. People are misguided and haven’t given thought to what they are doing. If they understand that the demand for bushmeat will lead to the extinction of valuable animal species like the lion, I think they will not seek it out. I believe there is not too much difference between the consumer and the poacher—eating bushmeat makes travellers directly guilty of sending animals to extinction. For real change to take place, even the sources of livelihood for local communities, forest dwellers, and pastoralists like the Maasai, have to be re-examined. Food security and economic development need to be addressed. Education for the traveller, and involving the local population in the benefits of wildlife safari tourism is necessary. Once all the wildlife has been eaten, there will be no safaris, and no visitors at all. It is the wildlife that serves the safari economy, and protecting it by refusing to eat it is a good place to start. n


NAVIGATE Culture

NAVIGATE Culture

Rio de Janeiro: A bowlful of lentils

year but a long life. Among the city’s most authentic and oldest soba shops is the picturesque Kanda Yabu Soba (opened in 1880) with its carved wooden gates and bamboo garden. Another notable noodle purveyor near Tokyo’s spectacular Senso-ji Temple is Namiki Yabusoba. Little has changed in the tiny tatami-matted space since it was founded in 1913.

At Rio’s Copacabana, fireworks greet revellers, who toss flowers into the sea for luck.

views and Zibu (think Mex-Thai fusion) even like to showcase the ceremonial grapes—placing them in individual ribboned baskets at place settings. The hip Becco al Mare, along with the

the corresponding month—sweet or sour depending on the grape; others simply believe it’s good luck to make a wish on each one.

In the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Vienna sheds its sophisticated facade to showcase—of all things—pink pigs

Japan is famous for its noodles, but none are infused with as much symbolism as the soba (buckwheat noodle)—especially on New Year’s Eve, when shops are open and practically everyone slurps down the customary toshikoshi (literally: “yearpassing”) soba. The noodles, usually eaten warm in a steamy, rich broth, are found everywhere from train stations and fast-food chains such as Komoro Soba to the sleek Honmura An, where diners can watch a master soba chef at work yearround. The dish symbolises the peace and prosperity resulting from the 17th-century Edo period (when the soba noodle became common), and those who eat it are said to enjoy not only good fortune in the new

landmark Las Brisas hotel’s BellaVista Restaurant, have been known to pile the lucky orbs in crystal goblets. According to tradition, at midnight, everyone eats 12 grapes in 12 seconds, a bonding experience that’s neither easy nor graceful. Some say each grape eaten characterises

Round is the shape of the season For many cultures, it’s about coming full circle Midnight on New Year’s Eve in Athens means cutting the traditional round cake known as vasilopita (St. Basil’s bread), a Greek Orthodox custom since the ninth century. Whoever receives the slice holding the lucky coin baked into the dough is assured

Festive food in India

a year of good fortune. Every pastry shop in the city has its own version. Try places such as classic Varsos, Veneti (a local chain), or the well-known Terkenlis. Similar to deep-fried, fruitfilled doughnut holes, oliebollen are the edible and lucky choice

32 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | january 2014

Lucky oliebollen in Amsterdam.

Tokyo: Noodle Shops

for crowds strolling the Dutch capital of Amsterdam during the holidays. Usually stuffed with apples and raisins, the tennis ballsize Dutch treats are sold at many street vendor stalls outlined in lights—try the one near Museum Square—or at numerous city bakeries such as historic Bakkerij Venekamp, said to make some of the best.

Soul food in Charleston, South Carolina.

New Year celebrations are all about excess, and sweets and fried snacks are the order of the day in most households. It is the busiest time of year for mithai stores (above); Phirni (bottom) is among the few Indian desserts that shows restraint where sugar is concerned.

U

nlike in the West, in India every community has its own date to celebrate New Year, usually based on the religious calendar they follow. During Ugadi or Gudi Padwa, the New Year for Hindus from Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka, a dish called ugadi pachadi is made: It’s a melange of raw mango, neem flowers, jaggery, tamarind, and chillies. The same dish is called maanga (mango) pachadi in Tamil Nadu and is the highlight of the Puthandi (Tamil New Year) feast. In Kerala, the year’s beginning is marked by Vishu, which swings by around April. Vishu meals aren’t marked by one specific dish, but most homes indulge in an elaborate vegetarian feast or sadhya to celebrate the occasion. Avial, made with a bounty of fresh vegetables including drumstick, carrots, white pumpkin, beans, ash gourd, and raw bananas cooked in ground coconut and yogurt, is very popular. A Muslim New Year’s meal is a carnivore’s delight, laden with fragrant biryanis, meat curries, and hunks of grilled mutton. Visit a Bohra home (on the third day of Muharram), and you’ll be treated to a generous thaal: a table-sized plate filled with bowls of fruit, dates, meat, pickles, pulao, salads, sweets, and ice cream. Traditionally, groups of four share a plate, and sweet and savoury courses are alternated, starting with dessert. Other Muslim communities celebrate with weddingworthy feasts featuring mutton biryani, malpua (pancakes soaked in sugar syrup), and earthen bowls of chilled phirni. Zoroastrians ring in Navroz, or the Parsi New Year (in August) with a sweet tooth. In Mumbai and parts of Gujarat, boxes of

suttarfeni (a nest of slender, sugary threads) and malido are exchanged. Malido is an impossibly rich sweet made with ghee, flour, semolina, eggs, an assortment of nuts, and vanilla essence. It is said, a few spoonfuls of malido is enough to render one inactive for several hours. Bengalis too mark the New Year (Pohela Boishakh) in April. Enthusiastic Bangla mashis make patishapta, pancakes stuffed with coconut, sugar, and khoya (milk solids) while others stock up on sweets like pethe, rice-flour pouches stuffed with date jaggery, palm syrup, grated coconut, and dates. Sindhis and Punjabis, on the other hand, have both sweet and savoury—together. Both communities favour a delicious pulao made of rice and jaggery that’s eaten with spicy jeera aloo in Punjabi homes on Baisakhi, and with took, deep-fried, chillismacked potato discs, in Sindhi households on Cheti Chand. n

january 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 33

Marianne Drenthe/Marmalade Photography (jestine's kitchen), flab lstr/Alamy/Indiapicture (shop), dbimages/Alamy/Indiapicture (bowls)

Acapulco: 12 grapes for 12 months

The idea of downing a dozen grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve for good luck started in 1909 in Spain (combine a glut of grapes at harvest time with some savvy marketing). But it didn’t take long for other Spanish-speaking countries such as Mexico to adopt the unusual custom. Revellers in sunny Acapulco have been finding the fresh grapes (usually green and seedless) on New Year’s Eve tables all over the city for years. The more upscale places such as Kookaburra with its bay

Ring in the New

Charleston: Hoppin’ John

Hoppin’ John (black-eyed peas and rice) has long been part of a traditional meal in the American South. But eating it on New Year’s Day has special significance: “Eat poor that day. Eat rich the rest of the year. Rice for riches and peas for peace,” notes an old Southern saying. A traditional Low Country food dating to slavery days, Hoppin’ John originated on Carolina rice plantations. Greens such as collards— representing dollars—are sometimes added to the mixture, and occasionally a coin is even buried in it—bonus luck for the finder. In downtown Charleston, South Carolina, residents feast on the homespun dish at Jestine’s Kitchen along with other soul food staples such as fried green tomatoes, okra gumbo, shrimp and grits, fried chicken, and coconut cream pie. The humble fare (minus the coin) graces menus at upscale Charlestonian restaurants, too. Try it at the elegant 82 Queen or the city’s storied Poogan’s Porch (both in the historic French Quarter), where Hoppin’ John is served with classics such as pulled pork, fried catfish, and Carolina crab cake. n Gabriel de Paiva/Globo via Getty Images (fireworks), Michael Jacobs (oliebollen)

In Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro, eating lentils is only one of many customs believed to ensure a year full of riches and good luck. Come New Year’s Eve, Rio’s Copacabana stretch of sandy shore fills with more than two million partiers dressed in white (to signify a clean and fresh start in the Afro-Brazilian culture), tossing flowers into the sea (gifts to the sea goddess for more good fortune) and jumping seven consecutive waves (to have seven wishes granted). Many Cariocas (locals) dine with their families at home before heading to the beaches on December 31—getting their lentils fix early. Others visit their favourite restaurants. In Rio’s Santa Teresa district, locals like to grab a table on the veranda at Espírito Santa, overlooking the historic neighbourhood. Meat eaters gravitate to the elegant (and expensive) Giuseppe Grill Leblon. Closer to the beach, popular Alfaia, off the bustling Avenida Copacabana, has been serving Portuguese fare for some 15 years. No one knows how or when the lentils became lucky in Brazil, but it’s likely that the amalgam of European, African, and indigenous cultures here played a part. Since Roman times lentils have symbolised coins; Brazilians (as well as Italians) have believed them to be a symbol of prosperity.


USTaste of Travel IN FOC

Local Flavour

How a fusion sausage became a workingman’s dish with a museum dedicated to it

The first currywurst to be served in Berlin was reportedly at Konnopke’s Imbiss (left), which opened in 1960. The popular sausage store is still run by the same family; Deutsches Currywurst Museum attracts both the curious and hungry. QWoo, the museum mascot (right), is very popular with children and makes an appearance at major Berlin events.

T

o the first-time visitor, Berlin seems to be the embodiment of every Teutonic stereotype. It’s efficient, clean, and nononsense. Some of Germany’s most iconic structures and cultural figures are associated with the city: the Brandenburg Gate and Bach, the Berlin Wall, and Bertolt Brecht. So I couldn’t help but do a double take when I realised that Berlin’s favourite street snack carries with it the whiff of India. As I wandered around the city, I noticed scores of imbisswagens, or mobile snack stores, advertising a dish called currywurst. I was intrigued and a little apprehensive. Fusion food is all very well but how would my spice-saturated Indian palate react to this sausage curry? On closer inspection, currywurst turned out to be a melange of fried pork sausage (or wurst, in German) doused with ketchup and sprinkled with turmeric-

based curry powder. It’s usually ladled out on rectangular paper plates, sometimes with a bread roll, and eaten with a disposable fork. It’s fairly straightforward. The only option customers get is whether they want the darm, or skin, of the sausage to be removed. When I finally mustered up the courage to sample it (with the darm), it wasn’t as strange as I’d imagined. The sausages were filling, the ketchup sweet-tangy though the yellow curry powder was barely discernible to taste buds drenched by a lifetime of wolfing down vindaloo and brinjal pickle. Over the next week, I found myself sampling currywurst at several stands across Berlin and, given my rock-bottom budget, I grew rather fond of the cheap snack. Currywurst is to Berlin what the vada-pao is to Mumbai or the hot dog to New York. It’s workingman’s food, served with a chunk of bread to keep the bricklayer or delivery boy fuelled through the day. Currywurst

48 national Geographic Traveller INDIA | JANUARY 2014

fosters an easy camaraderie among its fans, who stand around high tables on pavements, waving their picks animatedly as they chat with strangers. Conversations are quite likely to include bits of slang that use sausage metaphors. “Das ist mir Wurst” (Literally, “that’s sausage for me”, or I don’t care.) If they’re resigned to a situation, they could observe, “Alles hat ein Ende nur die Wurst hat zwei”—Everything has an end, only a sausage has two. At every election, German politicians seek out photo ops at the snack stands as a way of emphasising their deep connections with ordinary people, the great voting block of currywurst consumers. One afternoon, wandering past Checkpoint Charlie, I stumbled upon a whole museum devoted to the dish. The exhibits included a film about currywurst, a spice chamber in which visitors could sniff the ingredients that constituted the curry powder, and giant, phallic, sausage-shaped sofas. “On every street corner, around the clock, you can snack on a currywurst,” said the museum’s director Birgit Breloh, who trained as a sociologist. “You can meet all kinds of people over a currywurst. It’s urban food; a factor in the economy; an icon; and a cult.”

Alberto Paredes /Dinodia Photo (shop), Andreas Rentz/Getty Images (museum) facing page: FoodCollection/Getty Images (currywurst)

By Naresh Fernandes

Swiss Dish Sharing the gooey pleasures of raclette By Kelly Dinardo

Soul-satisfying melted raclette blankets potatoes and cornichons (pickled gerkins).

A

long with watches and chocolate, cheese is one of Switzerland’s great treasures, and raclette— both a semi-firm cheese and a stick-to-your-ribs dish—is an Alpine gem that remains little known outside this country’s borders. Raclette comes from cows that munch on short blades of high-altitude grass. This imparts the unique, earthy flavour to the unpasteurised cheese similar to the impact of terroir on wine. Centuries ago, the mountain herders from the Valais region of southern Switzerland would gather around a fire and place a wedge of raclette nearby until the exposed edge began to melt. When it did, they would scrape it

onto potatoes and cornichons for a hearty meal. Today, the dish is made by placing the cheese on an electric melter that resembles a small grill, but the social aspect of the meal persists. “Sharing raclette is a time for friends to gather together, drink wine, and have fun,” says Zermatt native Amadé Perrig. For an authentic experience, head to Zermatt, which sits in the shadow of the Matterhorn and serves as a top destination for skiers and climbers. You can swoosh or trudge into a lunch spot like Chez Vrony, one of the mountain huts tucked in between the trails, and warm yourself with raclette. Or head to the rustic Whymper-Stube, where locals linger over plates of charcuterie, raclette, and enough wine to inspire you to yodel. n

JANUARY 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 49

ann lee ling

Currying Favour with the Germans

A section of the museum is devoted to Herta Heuwer, who is credited with having invented the snack in 1949, when Germany was occupied by Allied troops after the Second World War. Food was in short supply and Germans were envious of the American soldiers they saw eating steak with ketchup. Heuwer, a shop assistant, decided to improvise. She created a “poor man’s steak” by dressing up traditional German sausage with ketchup obtained from the Americans and curry powder obtained from the British canteen that catered to Indian soldiers. She created and patented a secret sauce that she called Chillup, or chilli ketchup. “The unusual flavour was a welcome change from the limited diet options after the war,” Breloh said. Currywurst is more sophisticated than I had realised. The curry powder, Breloh said, didn’t merely have turmeric and pepper: It could also contain coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and salt. Variations of the mix include ginger powder, garlic powder, asafoetida, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, green or black cardamom, mustard seeds, nutmeg, mace, paprika, chilli, and cayenne pepper. Heuwer’s creation has become so popular, the nation of 82 million consumes approximately 800 million servings of currywurst each year—70 million of which are eaten in Berlin. The city has an estimated 2,000 currywurst stands. The dish has also made its way to the menu of restaurants in Los Angeles and New York. One establishment in Düsseldorf, I was told, serves currywurst plated in gold leaf, accompanied by champagne. Five decades after it was born in a climate of scarcity, Herta Heuwer’s invention has established itself as part of Germany’s cultural heritage, celebrated in films and books. Said Breloh, “Currywurst is more than a kind of food: It is a social phenomenon. It stands for a whole mood and way of life.” Deutsches Currywurst Museum Schützenstrasse 70, 10117 Berlin (+49 30 88718647; currywurstmuseum.com.) Daily 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Entry €11/`935, children €7/`595, family €29/`2,465. n


USTaste of Travel IN FOC

Danish Delight

Toasting the Greek Spirit

taking the sandwich to a whole new level

A sip of Ouzo sweetens the day

I wondered what could be special about buttered bread, for that’s what smørrebrød literally means

interesting journey. It started in the 19th century as a wholesome meal enjoyed by peasants and labourers. But during the 1880s, it become a speciality, leading to the opening of several smørrebrød restaurants in Copenhagen. It had a midlife crisis of sorts in the 1960s and 1970s when it acquired a super-sized avatar. In this unsavoury version, mass-produced bread was piled high with canned meat and fish accompanied by standard sauces— preparations that were high in fat and artificial preservatives and low on taste. Soon smørrebrød began to be ignored by its creators, and Danes became distracted by whiffs of Asian and Italian food blown in by the winds of globalisation. The new millennium saw a smørrebrød renaissance when young Danish chefs, keen to revive their traditional cuisine, began experimenting with the dish. They interpreted the smørrebrød in modern, healthy ways, making it the crown jewel of Danish cuisine. Today, smørrebrød is prepared with fresh bread, locally produced meat and fish, fresh seasonal vegetables, herbs and homemade sauces. It’s a popular choice for lunch for most Danes: a quick meal that’s light yet filling and delicious, and a symbol of Danish craftsman­ship and cultural pride. While the Michelin Guide recommended Aamanns as a safe choice, another popular place is the oldfashioned Schonnemann, where you can pair your smørrebrød with Scandinavian schnapps. My personal favourite is the Royal Smushi Café, which offers the traditional Danish smørrebrød with a contemporary sushi twist. It serves bite-sized pieces, allowing you to try several variants. A set of three costs about 135 kroner/`1,300. Part café, part store, Royal Smushi Café offers a peek into Danish design from different eras. To me, that’s a perfect way to satisfy your appetite for two distinctive Danish creations: smørrebrød and design. n

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asting of anise with subtle hints of cardamom and clove, the fiery national tipple of Greece known as ouzo is meant to be sipped siga (slowly) with a bit of food, and in the company of friends. While some drink ouzo straight up, most add a splash of water, turning it cloudy. Greeks traditionally toast a bridal couple or a newborn with ouzo. Many use it as a folk remedy, rubbing it into aching joints. But most com-

By Alexis Marie Adams

monly, people sip ouzo, as one adage says, “to slow the pace and sweeten the day”. Like the drink, ouzo’s history is hazy. According to some, the product originated in the early 19th century in the silk-producing town of Tirnavos in northeastern Greece. There, fans of the spirit declared it smooth as “USO Massalias,” the name used for premium silk bound for market in Marseille. Others argue ouzo comes from the island of Lesbos, where its production is centred today. Travel through Greece

and you’ll find an ouzerí in nearly every community. In Piraeus, Athens’ port since classical times, one of the oldest ouzo bars is To Steki tou Artemi. Beneath walls cluttered with vintage ads, patrons drink ouzo while playing backgammon and arguing politics. In Plaka, an ancient neighbourhood near the Acropolis, Sholarhio is a favourite of academics and artists. Some Greeks say, “Ouzo makes the spirit.” Linger over a glass on the ivy-covered terrace at Sholarhio, and you may agree. n

david mclain/aurora photos

efore arriving in Copenhagen, I had heard about the “new Nordic cuisine” movement that was gaining ground in Denmark. But once I got there, I felt that I should first try the staples of traditional Danish cuisine. I’m sorry to report that long-time favourites like lever postej (liver pâté) and frikadeller (meatballs) failed to get my taste buds tingling. The smørrebrød, on the other hand, was another story. When I first heard of smørrebrød (pronounced smoh-reh-brol) from my Danish language tutor, I was intrigued. I wondered what could be special about buttered bread, for that’s what smørrebrød literally means. Still, I managed to cast my scepticism aside and made my way to Aamanns, the restaurant that is credited with reviving the smørrebrød tradition in Copenhagen. Faced with the actual dish, the translation seemed spectacularly inappropriate. The smørrebrød is an open sandwich with a smorgasbord of pålæg (toppings). The base is usually a slice of rug brød (sour dough rye bread), artistically piled with pieces of meat or fish combined with vegetables, cheese, or pâté. It offers a combination of tastes and textures that tickle the palate. The Shooting Star, for instance, is made with poached, butter-fried plaice fish served on crusty white bread, topped with shrimp and pickled herring, garnished with caviar and dill. The hønsesalat, meanwhile, has chicken topped with crunchy bits of apple, celery, cucumber and pickled mushrooms in herbed cream. My first brush with smørrebrød was unexpectedly satiating and, I can never again think of it as merely buttered bread. Smørrebrød has had an

BY Sarita Rajiv

Boyny, Michael-the food passionates/Corbis

B

USTaste of Travel IN FOC

Liquorice-flavoured ouzo pairs well with an assortment of mezedes or Greek appetisers. JANUARY 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 51


USTaste of Travel IN FOC

Portugal

Spice odyssey

Can the Luso-Indian flavours of home be found in the food of Portugal? By Naresh Fernandes

W

from a Bandra aunty’s kitchen. All this convinced me, not unreasonably, that if I ever had the opportunity to visit Portugal, the cuisine would be immediately recognisable and instinctively appealing. Nothing could be further from the truth. When I finally got to Portugal a few months ago, most of the main courses tasted completely unfamiliar. This, I realised, was proof that the European power had completely failed in its mission: In 1498, when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama arrived in Calicut, he is said to have declared that he was seeking “Christians and spices”. The co-religionists he sought were the subjects of Prester John, a king who, Europeans believed, ruled over a vast Christian empire in the East. The spices of India were more valuable than gold, the key to building the fortunes of an ambitious European country. Da Gama was to find that Prester John was a mere myth. Though the spices helped Portugal shore up its cash reserves, India’s pepper, cinnamon and turmeric, I was to learn, had failed to make any great impact on the food eaten by his countrymen. Not for the Portuguese the fiery bite of the chilli, the smoky taste of black cardamom, the subtle bitterness of fenugreek seeds. Though it is located in the Iberian peninsula, Portugual’s food—unlike that of Spain next door— is an expression of Atlantic restraint rather than Mediterranean exuberance. To my

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Aperola do Bolhao is a grocery store in downtown Porto that has been open since 1917. The attractive facade, covered in Portuguese tiles, depicts women holding tea and coffee plants.

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For as long as I can remember, I’d been told that many of the delicacies beloved of my Catholic family from Goa and Mumbai were “Portuguese influenced”. Five hundred years of Lusitanian colonialism in the subcontinent had profoundly shaped our culinary traditions, we’d been led to believe, and the journal provided spicy corroboration of this. The vinegar-laden vindaloo, it stated, was a contraction of the Portuguese phrase vinho de alho, or garlic wine. Suddenly, etymological evidence of the Luso-Indian culinary connection was to be found everywhere: At breakfast, we ate pão, as the Portuguese call their bread, and many of our other meals included chunks of batata, as Iberians know their potatoes. Since then, I’ve been delighted to find the dishes and flavours of home in other former Portuguese territories too, served up with the ingredients and predilections of those specific regions. Consider, for instance, the dessert my grandmother in Bandra, Mumbai, made when the milk curdled. She would blend it with sugar and crushed cashew nuts to make rekijao. I ran into its sibling one afternoon in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre: A sign outside one food stall advertised a creamy cheese preparation called requeijão. In Macau a few years earlier, I’d eaten curries seasoned with turmeric, coconut, and chillies that could have come

fStop/ Indiapicture (tile), Philippe Michel/Dinodia photos (shop)

hen I discovered the origins of the word “vindaloo” in a scholarly journal several years ago, the delicious taste of vindication washed over my tongue.

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1 Custard tarts called pastéis de nata have been cooked in the same way since 1837, following a recipe devised by the Jeronimos Monastery monks. 2 Diners near the steps of Calçada do Duque street in Lisbon, enjoy a traditional meal against the backdrop of St. George’s Castle. 3 Bolo do Caco or Madeira flatbread earns its name because it was cooked on a broken (caco) tile on a fire. It is usually eaten with garlic butter. 4 Mercado Dos Lavradores market in Funchal in southern Portugal has an open patio, where flowers, fruits, and vegetables are sold. 5 Tripas a Moda do Porto, a stew of white beans and tripe or offal, is slow-cooked over two days. 6 Bacalhau, or dried, salted codfish is a Portuguese staple. Some say there are 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for each day of the year. 7 Jeronimos Monastery houses the remains of Vasco da Gama. It was built in honour of the explorer’s trip to India and came to represent the expansion of the Portuguese empire.

JANUARY 2014 | national Geographic Traveller INDIA 57

Richard Cummins/Lonely Planet Images/ Getty Images (pao), Martin Thomas Photography/Alamy/Indiapicture (egg tart), Peter Adams/JAI/Corbis (café), Robert Harding/indiapicture (bread), Hubert Stadler /Corbis (market), teleginatania/shutterstock (dish), Westend61 /Indiapicture - WEST (fish), Photononstop RM/Indiapicture (tomb)

Naresh Fernandes is consulting editor at Nat Geo Traveller India and author of City Adrift: A Short Biography of Bombay (Aleph, 2013).

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Indian taste buds, it was bland. Everything we ordered seemed to be a slab of meat or fish, grilled without any seasoning, accompanied by an uninspiring salad of lettuce and tomato drizzled with olive oil. The bread seemed different too. I poked my head into several bakeries across three cities but all the loaves were crustier than the soft-topped, rectangular pao of home. Even the pork in the chouriços was unsullied by zesty condiments, unlike the turbo-charged bites of sausage from the subcontinent. Still, eating my way through Portugal wasn’t an entirely futile endeavour. Among other things, it proved an excellent way to get an education about the country’s history and folklore. In the northern city of Porto, for instance, I tucked into a steaming bowl of tripas a moda do Porto—a stew of tripe and white beans. The dish is thought to have its origins in the battles Henry the Navigator fought in the Moroccan town of Ceuta in 1415. The generous citizens of Porto are believed to have slaughtered their livestock to keep the troops well supplied with meat, keeping only the intestines for themselves. That’s when they invented the dish that has become their city’s signature dish and acquired a new identity: residents of the commercial centre are still known as tripeiros, or tripe eaters. In Lisbon, I queued for 25 minutes at the legendary Pastéis de Belém bakery, founded in 1837, to sample their egg custard tarts. These treats, like crème brûlée in a cup, are said to have been created by monks in the richly ornamental Jerónimos Monastery next door. They used egg whites to starch their robes and to clear hazy wines. The leftover yolks were used to make the pastéis de nata, which have since become popular around the Lusophone world—everywhere, it would seem, except for Portugal’s former Indian colonies. I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I still enjoyed Portugal. Lisbon is among the most beautiful cities I’ve seen, especially in the soft light of the evening. I almost went into debt buying quirky, urban handicrafts in Porto. I spent two evenings soaking in the melancholic fado songs of Coimbra. But if I ever have the opportunity to visit the country again, my luggage will definitely include a tightly sealed dabba of “Portuguese-influenced” vindaloo. n

Portugal Portugal


JOURNEYS Urban Renewal

Pittsburgh The best way to catch this spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh is from the the famous Pittsburgh Duquesne Incline cable car, built in the late 19th century to carry coal and cargo. At the top of the Incline, a museum presents interesting information about the city and its railroad. Facing page: Ketchupsaurus at PPG Place in downtown Pittsburgh is a tribute to the Heinz family, which supports art and culture in the city.

Pittsburgh’s rebirth comes to light on a dinosaur hunt

Future

Back to the

By Dipti Nair

A

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we were staying, a new tulip would surprise me every day. The neighbour’s magnolia tree was in full bloom. Today, Pittsburgh is rated as one of America’s most liveable cities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the North Side neighbourhood, in which our temporary home was located. Once notorious for gang fights, drug dens, and random shootings, the North Side has been transformed by better policing and active residents. Abandoned houses are being restored as “art houses”, culture hubs, and residences. Most notable in this regard are the art houses on Sampsonia Way that belong to City of Asylum, an NGO that provides refuge to foreign writers who are at peril in their own countries. Each house is

Naum Chayer/Alamy/IndiaPicture

Until the 1980s, Pittsburgh was an important industrial centre, its port filled with ships from all over the world bringing in migrant labourers and setting sail with cargoes of that most valuable metal. But the prosperity came at a cost. The black smoke spewed out by Pittsburgh’s chimneys inspired writer James Parton to describe the city as “hell with the lid off ”. When the steel industry fell apart in the 1980s, Pittsburgh slid into irrelevance, a little like those vast beasts that had once stalked the Earth. When we arrived, though, there was no hint of that dystopia. Instead, there was an unmistakable hint of spring in the air. In the coming days, we would see bare branches sprout buds of all hues: green, pink, deep red, orange. In the backyard of the house in which

Naum Chayer/Alamy/indiaPicture

rriving at Pittsburgh airport on a crisp and clear evening, we were greeted by the formidable skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex. My son and I were visiting the U.S. for six weeks, joining my husband as he researched the city’s steel legacy to compare it with India’s own steel town of Jamshedpur. Though I didn’t know it then, dinosaurs would become the motif of my trip.


JOURNEYS Urban Renewal

Pittsburgh

Such was the public enthusiasm for the famous Diplodocus carnegii (left), that people nicknamed it Dippy. This fibreglass replica plays an active part in the city’s social scene. During Breast Cancer Week, for instance, he was sporting a pink scarf; Cheery Alphabetosaurus stands alone opposite the Carnegie Museum of Natural History (top right); Visitors to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History can see paleontologists at work (bottom right).

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Students often dress him up, and Creation Rex has on occasion looked like Lady Gaga and Batman

the art dinos had long scattered. The collectors who had bought them had donated them to public parks and institutions. Over the decade, many art dinos had changed venues or seem to have disappeared. Not many people had vivid memories of DinoMite Days, but a glint came to their eyes when I asked about the event. The lady at the reception desk of the Education Council spent ten minutes dialling old-timers in the building asking them for information on “our dinosaur out in the front”. Sadly, no one remembered anything of importance. My quest to find the city’s dinosaurs felt like a treasure hunt. My husband’s friend, Bob Riefle, offered to drive me around. A retired law clerk, Bob never leaves home without three things: his ready smile, the day’s New York Times, and the prospect of adventure. We chose downtown Pittsburgh as our first stop on the dino hunt. Often referred to as the Golden Triangle, this is where large corporations, banks, and law firms have their offices, and where many hotels, high-end shops, and the popular PNC Park and Heinz Stadium are located. It’s here, among the tall gleaming steel-and-glass buildings, that Pittsburgh’s transformation is most evident to a visitor. The soot-covered steel workers have been replaced by men and women in smart business suits. At the heart of downtown is the Cultural District, which has well-

known theatres, opera houses, and restored cinema houses, some of which had been gambling dens that screened pornography as well. After many enquires, we hit the jackpot when we spotted three art dinos near the Pittsburgh Plate and Glass building—Ketchupsaurus (a torosaurus that resembles a Heinz ketchup bottle), Mr. Dig (a T. rex with excavation scenes painted on it) and Philiposaurus (a stegosaurus composed of reflective glass and mirrors, named after the architect of the PPG building). A dinosaur with a ketchup bottle head should not have amazed me because the famous Heinz ketchup has origins in Pittsburgh. The factory is situated near the Strip District close to the downtown area, where old warehouses and factories are morphing into art galleries, nightclubs, and posh eateries. Weekends are the best time to visit the Strip District, when the streets come alive with stalls selling food from Mexico, Peru, India, the Middle East, Vietnam, China, and

A dinosaur with a ketchup bottle head should not have amazed me because the famous Heinz ketchup has origins in Pittsburgh

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Richard T Nowitz/Corbis

dinosaur outside the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Another stood opposite the museum, on the lawns of the Education Council. It was a colourful fibre-glass torosaurus carrying the letters of the English alphabet on its back, called Alphabetosaurus. The dinosaur, I discovered, is Pittsburgh’s default mascot. It has been so ever since 1899, when an expedition funded by Andrew Carnegie found the near-perfect remains of a dinosaur in Wyoming and named it Diplodocus carnegii after the steel tycoon-turnedphilanthropist. “Other cities have cow or moose sculptures, we have dinosaurs,” a local explained. Alphabetosaurus, it turned out, was one of many works created by local artists in 2003 as part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s fundraising event. DinoMite Days aimed to transform Pittsburgh into the world’s largest Jurassic art park. About 100 fibreglass dinosaurs (primarily T. rex, torosaurus, and stegosaurus) decorated by local artists were displayed at key points in the city and later auctioned. I decided to track them down. It wasn’t as easy as I had imagined. By the time we got to the city,

Jeff Greenberg “0 people images”/Alamy/ IndiaPicture (dinosaur), National Geographic Image Collection/Alamy/India Picture (Carnegie Museum), dipti nair (Alphabetosaurus)

completely refurbished and a text-based public artwork is commissioned and incorporated into the building’s facade. City of Asylum thinks of this process as “house publishing” and so far, four art houses have been published. It is an effort to transform Sampsonia Way into a public library of multilingual houses that can be read while walking down the street. And if future plans go well, people can listen to an “audio house” through their cell phone. We found ourselves (thanks to my husband’s association with City of Asylum through the International Writing Program, Iowa City; he was its 2007 alumnus) living in an art house called House Poem, which had Chinese calligraphy painted on its facade by Huang Xiang, a great poet and master calligrapher. Huang was forced to flee China in 2004 for his free-spirited poetry and advocacy of human rights, for which he was frequently imprisoned. Huang had been given shelter in this house and lived here until August 2007. In that time, he painted the walls with Chinese calligraphy, and the texts are snippets of his poems. A passage beside the front door read: “The most wonderful way to write poetry/ Is to stand right on your head / With mind and body as one / And dab ink/ On the ground!” Each day, having discovered yet another line to inspire us, we would set out to explore the city. The dinosaur sculptures kept popping up everywhere. After spotting the T. rex at the airport, we saw a second

The sheer size of the giants on display at Carnegie Museum of Natural History is awe-inspiring. The central hall of the dinosaur exhibit is three storeys high.


JOURNEYS Urban Renewal

Pittsburgh Pittsburgh

The GUIDE Orientation Pittsburgh is the second-largest city in Pennsylvania state in the eastern United States. It is located 602 km west of New York City, and was a major port and industrial centre for over two centuries.

Visa Applications for a U.S. visa are submitted online (ceac.state.gov/genniv) and followed by a personal interview at the embassy in Delhi, or the consulates in Mumbai, Kolkata, or Chennai. The visa fee is `10,118. Once the visa is approved, the passport is couriered to the pickup location selected while scheduling the appointment. The visa can take a long time to process, so submit the application well in time. Return tickets, hotel bookings, and a number of financial documents like bank account statements and tax returns are required to prove that you are likely to return to India.

Sampsonia Way’s Jazz House is a tribute to jazz saxophonist and composer Oliver Lake. He is the musical curator for City of Asylum, Pittsburgh’s annual jazz poetry concerts. Jazz House is covered with murals based on Lake’s paintings and the doorbell plays his music.

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Institute, which provides care to children with special needs. The creator of this dinosaur worked with children from the institute, helping them stamp their handprints on the dino’s back to form flowers. My exploration of Pittsburgh was inextricably linked with finding dinos and I kept my eyes peeled. One day, on our way to one of the best hamburger places in town—Tessaro’s in the Italian neighbourhood of Bloomfield—we almost missed the X-ray stegosaurus at the Greater Pittsburgh Orthopedic Association at East Liberty. New friends listed dinos they had seen or heard of. One on the list caught my imagination. It was a T. rex V.P., with a hat and briefcase. This corporate executive reflected the evolution of Pittsburgh from a blue-collar, smoke-filled city to a high-tech, white-collar giant. But for Henry Reese, founder of City of Asylum in Pittsburgh, who grew up listening to stories of discrimination and segregation, the more obvious transformation has been accompanied by a more subtle one. “There is a lack of pretence and a friendliness and respect for work,” said Henry, when I met him at the posh Isabela restaurant, which is situated at the edge of a cliff with a spectacular view of the city. The three rivers shimmering with the reflections of city lights and the many bridges over them provided a dramatic setting for our send-off dinner conversation. From that vantage point, I began to detect a method to the dino-hunt madness. The dinosaurs, it would seem, were a device deployed by a cunning playwright. I was drawn into the drama and slowly the city had revealed itself to me. It was open yet not revealing too much, and infused with a rich culture built on its history of cultural philanthropy. But unlike its extinct mascot, Pittsburgh is slowly evolving. n Dipti Nair lives in Bengaluru and is consulting editor at a media platform for entrepreneurs. When she is not surrounded by start-up tales she likes to travel in search of inspiring stories.

Getting Around Pittsburgh’s roads can be confusing for first-time visitors, so taxis are best for short trips. A reliable bus service covers most of Pittsburgh city and a light rail system connects the south side of the city to the

Andy Warhol Museum Andy Warhol, the leading rebel artist of the 60s pop art movement was from Pittsburgh. The museum in Pittsburgh dedicated to him has one of the largest single-artist collections in the world. Get to the museum early so that you have enough time to go through thousands of paintings, photographs, installations, and video art housed across five floors. Spend a few extra minutes in the Silver Clouds section where visitors can lie on the floor and enjoy a meditative moment as silver clouds float above and around (www.warhol.org; closed Mondays, open 10 a.m.5 p.m. on Tues-Sun, and until 10 p.m. on Friday; entry $20/`1,245 for adults, $10/`620 for students and children 3-18 years; half-price admission on Fridays, from 5-10 p.m.).

april – SEPTEMBER

october – march

Max: 24 °C; Min: 11 °C

Max: 18°C; Min: -6°C

Throughout spring and summer, there are barbecues in people’s backyards and terraces, and a host of outdoor events. The famous Three Rivers Arts Festival takes place in June.

Winter in Pittsburgh can be harsh and punishing with no sight of the winter sun for days. Visit only if you love the cold as the windchill factor makes it feel even colder than it is.

STAY Budget

dipti nair

Japan. Other stalls offer charcoal paintings, wire art, clothes, and jewellery. Imagine my surprise when I saw a quilted Jaipur jacket similar to the one I was wearing. On a tip from Bob’s friend, we walked down to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh on a beautiful spring day. We found Creation Rex on the building’s facade, looking like it had walked right through the wall. Students often dress him up, and Creation Rex has on occasion looked like Lady Gaga and Batman. When we found him, he was carrying a bouquet of flowers to commemorate Earth Day. We chatted with security officer Steve Jackson, who told us about life in Pittsburgh as the son of an African-American coal miner. “It was a hard life,” he said. “The miners were no less than slaves and living conditions were very sad.” He recalled the race riots that had taken place in the ’60s, adding quickly that he’d rather not think about them. Steve did not seem impressed with Pittsburgh’s new avatar, though he did admit that the city was witnessing a resurgence of sorts because of the medical institutions and hospitals and tech companies. “But I tell you ma’am, the jazz culture is destroyed,” he said. “I remember a time when there would be a jazz band playing every mile, from Hill District to downtown, surrounded by a large crowd.” In the ’50s, he said, Hill District was nicknamed Little Harlem. Steve and Bob talked about the jazz days, of old icons, and forgotten sounds. The music uniting them to a shared past that was lived in segregation. We hopped back into Bob’s car and drove to Oakland to meet Fredosaurus Rex. If you had grown up in this part of the world, you’d know Mister Fred Rogers, host of a hit television children’s show. We found Fredosaurus just outside the WQED TV station in Oakland, wearing Mister Rogers’ characteristic red sweater, tie, and blue sneakers. A small trolley representing the Duquesne Incline, a funicular that is a popular attraction in Pittsburgh, climbs up his tail. We found another T. rex called Amazing Hands at The Children’s

downtown area. There’s a trip planner at the website of the Port Authority that operates the services (www.portauthority.org/ PAAC/Schedules/TripPlanner/tabid/164/ Default.aspx). Most bus routes terminate downtown. Within the downtown area, it is convenient to walk; getting a taxi may require a long wait. Buses and the light rail system (also called the T) within downtown Pittsburgh are free.

comfort

luxury

Clarion Hotel and Convention Centre is located on Holiday Drive and is close to attractions like the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, National Aviary, and Heinz Hall (+1-412-9228100; www.clarionhotel.com; doubles from $69/`4,300).

The Parador Inn is a Victorian building restored to a B&B with a Caribbean flair. Oozes character and the fireplaces add a romantic touch to the rooms (+1-4122314800; theparadorinn.com; doubles from $150/`9,400).

Arbors Bed & Breakfast is a renovated 19thcentury farmhouse, making for a restful home base close to the city’s attractions (+1-412-2314643; www.arborsbnb.com; doubles from $105/`6,545).

The Priory Hotel is located on Pittsburgh’s North Shore and is a renovated Benedictine monastery (+1-412-2313338; www.thepriory.com; doubles from $150/`9,400).

Omni William Penn Hotel is a century-old hotel that has hosted the likes of President John F. Kennedy (+1-412-2817200; www.omnihotels.com; doubles from $237/`14,700). Fairmont Pittsburgh is located on Market Street and is in the middle of the city’s business and culture hub (+1-412-7738800; www.fairmonth.com/pittsburgh; doubles from $269/`16,750).

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Heather McGrath/Getty Images (map), Remi Benali/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images (andy warhol museum)

Getting There Several airlines have connecting flights to Pittsburgh from European gateway cities. An easy way to connect to Pittsburgh is to take a flight from a major Indian city to New York and then connect to Pittsburgh via any one of several local carriers.


GET GOING Explore

Andaman and Nicobar Islands A freshwater stream originating in the forests of Long Island joins the ocean at Lalaji Bay, a white sand beach located at the far end from the settlement.

Off the Grid Long Island in the Andamans sets the scene for exploration and solitude

from the capital, Port Blair, and is so small, there are no motor vehicles on it. Long Island is the embodiment of remoteness. To get here, I had scrambled on to the ferry from Neil Island the previous day. On board, I stood in a corner watching the gliding flying fish as we passed dozens of uninhabited islands. When the boat finally docked at its destination, the locals quickly dispersed, and I found myself confronted with a crumbling red-and-blue welcome sign. The forest behind the board looked dense and undisturbed. Next to the jetty, another sign warned visitors of crocodiles. As I made my way through the winding lanes, I saw decrepit, abandoned houses without roofs or doors. The buildings were being taken over by creepers, bushes, and

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trees—the structures were on their way to becoming part of the forest. After settling into my raised hut and making peace with the gaps in the bamboomat flooring of my accommodation, I rested in a hammock beneath a huge tree in the courtyard. Suddenly, I heard three women talking to each other in Telugu. I was more than a little surprised to find people speaking my mother tongue so far from mainland India. They told me that decades ago, thousands of people from Coastal Andhra Pradesh had migrated to these islands to work in timber factories. In the early 2000s, the factories were shut down when a Supreme Court order banned felling trees to protect the island’s unique ecosystem

and threatened rainforests, leaving a legacy of abandoned houses and migrant settlers. That’s how I came to discover a tiny bit of home so far away from it. The next morning, I set out along the coast in search of Lalaji Bay. I’d heard it was a pristine white sand beach at the other end of the island. The tide was slowly coming in when I started hiking with Pawan, a local teenager. We walked along a three-foot-wide rocky coast with thick forest on one side and the rising waters of the ocean on the other. Though the waves were gentle, they made a deafening noise as they crashed on the shore. With the rising tide, our path became narrower. Halfway through the hike, we came across mangroves protruding into the sea. I had

to work my way through waist-deep water around the branches of the mangroves. Every time a noisy wave crashed into me, I raised myself on my toes, gripped with fear. Pawan was amused by my nervousness about the ocean. To him, it was just a way of life. After what felt like an eternity, we arrived at a long strip of beach where the sea wasn’t so furious. Giant, dead, uprooted trees, caused by the 2004 tsunami, dotted

Pawan was amused by my nervousness about the ocean. To him, it was just a way of life

the shore. The crashing waves had stopped making my heart skip a beat. Instead, they played out like a beautiful melody in tune with the swaying branches, rustling leaves, and the occasional bird call. I sat inside a tiny hut and Pawan sat by the shore, both of us lost in our own worlds. The silence was broken by the arrival of the beach’s caretaker and his dog. A middleaged, stout man, he came with machete in tow. Surprised that he was guarding the beach and palm grove so far away from the village of Long Island, I asked if he ever felt scared. He laughed at my question. Despite its calmness Long Island overwhelmed my senses. Everything seemed so pure. It was a perfect place to experience beauty and isolation, yet

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aving survived the night as the only tourist on a remote island, I was quite proud of myself when I woke up in the morning. It isn’t everyday that I sleep in a bamboo hut in the middle of a jungle, with only a ghostly moon and insects for company. But my bubble of happiness was shortlived. I was shaken out of my sleep when I discovered what appeared to be a snakeskin right next to my bed. I stared at it in disbelief before eventually breaking into a smile. I had after all come here, to this remote island, to experience the wild. Long Island is a tiny speck in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, about a 1,000 kilometres off the Indian coast in the Bay of Bengal. It is a six-hour boat ride

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Text & Photographs by Neelima Vallangi


GET GOING Explore

Andaman and Nicobar Islands The guide ORIENTATION The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands is located in the Bay of Bengal, closer to Thailand than mainland India. The capital, Port Blair, is near the southern end of the archipelago. Long Island is about 125 km north of the capital. Approximately 2,000 people live on Long Island and few tourists come, so the infrastructure is basic. There are no vehicles or tour operators and only one hotel.

GETTING THERE Long Island can be reached from Port Blair. There are regular flights and ships to Port Blair from Chennai and Kolkata. The flight takes about two hours while the ship takes four days. Travel to Long Island by ferry from Port Blair or Yerrata Jetty, or by road. Ferry from Port Blair There is a ferry to Long Island at 6.15 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday (`190 per head; duration 4-5 hours). Tickets are sold a day before the journey and it is advisable to buy them as soon as possible as they sell out quickly, especially during tourist season (Dec-Jan). The return ferry to Port Blair leaves from Long Island every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. Road/Ferry from Yerrata Jetty From the State Transport Bus Stand in Port Blair take a bus to Rangat in the Middle Andaman Islands (`200 per head; duration 6-8 hours). The first bus leaves at 3.45 a.m. and you need to board one before 7 a.m. to reach Rangat in time to catch the connecting ferry to Long Island. From Rangat, take a second bus to Yerrata Jetty (`10 per head; duration 30 minutes; frequent buses) or hire an autorickshaw (`50). From Yerrata Jetty, there are two ferries to Long Island. The first leaves at 9 a.m. and the second at 4 p.m. (`9 per head; duration 1 hour). Note Foreigners require a restricted access permit that can be obtained at Port Blair on arrival. Many dead trees line the coast of Long Island (top left); The fascinating ferry ride from Yerrata to Long Island passes through narrow mangrovelined passages (top right); The first thing disembarking passengers see is the blue-and-red welcome sign (bottom left) and a thick forest rejuvenated by the ban on cutting trees; Since the timber companies left, abandoned old buildings are slowly being reclaimed by the forest (bottom right).

it forced me to question if this truly was the idyllic life. As an outsider it did seem like paradise. But I wondered: If I were a teenager here, fishing on a raft, climbing coconut trees, joking around—would I still feel that way? The furthest any of the Long Island teenagers had ever been was Port Blair, though most had roots in mainland India, in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh. Back at the guesthouse, I was lying in a hammock with my book when the three

women came back and handed me a guava just plucked from a tree. It made me think about what a blessing Long Island’s remoteness was for me. The opportunity to go off the grid in this overconnected world was a privilege. I realised that there was more to the Andamans than sparkling beaches and amazing marine life. Old growth forests that seemed to be straight out of the Jurassic era added to the enchanting aura of the emerald isles. The fact that I could give

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my book complete attention, experience nature around me, or have conversations without the distraction of a ringing mobile phone or a blaring television felt like bliss. And the people—they brought the island alive. After the three women left, somewhere in my head I heard the ocean singing and against that background score I was soon lost in my book. It was just another day on Long Island, where the joy of solitude meets the tranquility of nature. n

in advance by sending an application by fax or post to the Divisional Forests Officer, Middle Andaman, A&N (03192-274210; fax 03193-269054; `500 per head).

EXPLORE Hiking Lalaji Bay, a beautiful white sand beach, is a short hike from the village. There are two trails, one through the jungle (1-2 hours) and the other along the coast (3 hours). The jungle trail is inaccessible during the monsoon, which is between June and October. The hike along the coast must be timed to avoid high tide. Diving There are several wonderful dive sites around Long Island with new ones being explored and added regularly. Blue Planet offers equipment and organises dives as well as certification courses (`2,500 for a dive; details at www.blueplanetandamans. com/scuba-diving-andamans). Snorkelling The waters around Long Island are crystal clear except when the sea is rough. Lalaji Bay and the beach near Blue Planet are great places to snorkel. Visitors can rent masks for `200 a day and explore to their heart’s content.

Island Trips Those who don’t want to hike can rent a boat to Lalaji Bay (`2,500 for two, both ways, including waiting time). You can also plan boat trips to uninhabited islands and wonderful beaches nearby, such as Guitar Island, Merk’s Bay, and the Button Islands. Explore the Mangroves The Long Island-Yerrata Jetty ferry offers a great view of the mangroves around the islands, travelling past thick groves and through a dramatic, narrow passage. At Yerrata Jetty, travellers can visit the Mangrove Interpretation Centre for information about this unique ecosystem and its many benefits for the islands. The first ferry to Yerrata leaves at 7 a.m. and the last ferry from Yerrata to Long Island is at 4 p.m., making for a comfortable day trip.

SEASONS During winter (late Oct-Feb), days are bright and sunny, and underwater visibility is excellent. Temperatures range between 20-28°C. Port Blair and Havelock Island can get quite crowded in tourist season (Dec-Jan). During the monsoon (June-Oct), it rains heavily for more than 20 days each month and humidity is more than 80 per cent. Summer (Mar-May) is hot, with day temperatures going up to 35°C.

STAY Blue Planet is an eco-friendly property built around a tree close to the village. The rooms are basic and separated by bamboo walls. Book in advance during peak season as Long Island is famous for its remoteness and this is the only accommodation available here apart from a forest resthouse (03192-215923/94742 12180; www. blueplanetandamans.com; doubles from `1,000). Forest Resthouse has three rooms and rudimentary facilities. It has to be booked

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Short breaks From Delhi

Churu

Mansions 3 and Markets

+ AYS D

Churu’s locked havelis reveal dazzling art | By Neha Dara | Photographs by Bhaven Jani

look magical in the golden light of the setting sun. Century-old deep reds and bold blues glisten in that enchanted light, making it look like the legendary Rajasthani lovers Dhola and Maaru—immortalised in folk songs—are still trying to escape their pursuers. Details stand out, so it seems that the ghungroo adorning the feet of the gaily dressed dancer on the wall will start chiming any moment. The rest of Churu, a town of just over a lakh people in northern Rajasthan, sprawls around this silent core in a tumultuous muddle of vehicles and bright lights, and a riot of the bubblegum pink and pista green favoured by home owners here. A number of India’s richest families, including the Lohias and steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, have their roots right here. Further north, just beyond the edge of the town, lie the creeping sands of the desert.

EXPLORE ART HOUSE Churu’s oldest havelis were

T

he streets of Churu’s old town are quiet and rather empty. There is the occasional motorcycle, its absurdly loud horn urging a bull out of its way, and autorickshaws full of schoolchildren that careen through the narrow lanes in the afternoon. There is an abundance of photogenic grand doors here, most of them locked. Some are so definitively bolted that even the locks are covered in plastic to protect them from moisture and delay rusting. The beautiful old havelis they lead to lie unused and in disrepair. Churu market, on the southern end, is a sharp and lively contrast to the emptiness of the rest of the old town. Here, vendors,

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animals, shoppers, and two-wheelers jostle for space in lanes lined with shops. There are mounds of dried red chillies, large cloth-bound ledgers of the kind used by merchants of old, kachori-makers with their giant smoking kadais, and bright bandhej dupattas fluttering in the wind. There’s a convivial energy, and a stomped toe is forgiven with a gentle smile. Occasionally a large car tries to squeeze through streets that seem to wind gently, only to make sudden right angle turns. Lanes that are wide enough to accommodate a truck at one end, narrow down just hundred metres along into pedestrian pathways. Away from the market, the sounds drop away, blocked by the thick walls of havelis that

Until six years ago, Malji ka Kamra (top) was one of Churu’s many ruins. The structure has now been restored to its previous grandeur; Churu’s havelis often feature murals of elephants (bottom left) and camels, fancy cars, and ancestral portraits; Ramgarh has over 45 splendid chhatris, built by rich families to honour their dead. The most well known was made for Seth Ramgopal Poddar in 1872 (bottom right).

UNIQUE EXPERIENCE

Miniature wood carving Pawan Kumar Jangid won his first award for miniature woodcarving in sandalwood when he was seven. Over the years, many more awards have followed for the 30-year-old and when I visit his home to see his art, it is easy to understand why. A peanut shell opens up to reveal a village scene, complete with a turbaned and moustachioed farmer. A hand fan unfolds to show lord Krishna on his flute. Four generations, Jangid’s

family have been woodcarvers and even today, his 70-year-old father works away at a detailed carving without the aid of spectacles.Even their tools are created by them at home (01562-250742).

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neha dara (chhatri & carving)

Amusing murals cover the walls of this quiet street in Churu’s old town. One shows a warrior wooing a gentlewoman. The horse he is riding is unnaturally tall, as high as the balcony she stands upon.

built in the 1830s and most are completely decrepit. It’s not unusual to see only a fragment of a wall standing, faint flecks of colours on its once-beautiful facade and a giant lock holding closed doors that only lead to wild foliage. Once in a while, bright colour erupts in the middle of the browns and ochres, where a family has made an effort to renovate an ancestral home. Here, one can see in startling detail the care and effort that goes into creating and decorating even functional doors, walls, and windows. The doors, decorated with brass knobs, have up to five layers of intricately carved frames, with painted sentries guarding each side. Standing in that courtyard, I try to imagine what it must be like to live inside a work of art. The paintings here are in the Bikaner style with some Shekhawati influences, from the work seen in better-known towns like Mandawa and Nawalgarh. Churu’s paintings are not as intricate and their subject matter is often matter-of-fact. Instead of religion, the frescoes here deal with subjects of everyday life. There are elephants and camels, dancing women, portraits of ancestors and royals, fancy cars, and even a train, though the railway didn’t come here until the 1920s. Interesting stops on the haveli trail include the gaily painted Surana Brothers double haveli that was built in 1871 to have mirrorimage houses for two brothers; the Hawa Mahal with 1,111 doors and windows; the largest fresco in town on the walls of the Bagla Haveli; and the ruins of Malji Kothari ki Haveli, which was built in 1865. Malji ka


Short breaks From Delhi

Churu merchant families (8 km km/20 minutes south of Churu). Since it’s farther away from town than Sethani ka Johra, it is quieter and I even spotted a couple of deer during my visit.

was closed for renovation when I visited. It is slated to reopen in September 2014 (98285 84540; www.bhawani.co.in; doubles from `2,500). Hotel Sun City Palace is located in a quiet lane in the centre of the town, providing the best of both worlds. It’s a small town business hotel, but clean and rather busy (01562255701; hotelsuncitypalacechuru.com; doubles from `1,400).

STAY

Kamra, the heritage hotel I’m staying at, was built by Malji Kothari as a rangmahal (palace of colour) where he entertained his guests. There’s a sharp difference in the architecture of the two Kothari buildings. While the haveli has traditional frescoes, the rangmahal, built in 1920, has Italian influences like columns and stucco decorations. In fact, a number of small figures on the outer facade show English soldiers and other foreigners.

TO MARKET, TO MARKET Locally sourced ingredients are one of my passions, and Churu’s bustling little market holds a bounty. Walking down certain lanes, my nose begins to tingle. That’s when I know I’m near shops selling dried Rajasthani red chillies, fiery as the desert sun. Another interesting purchase I make is ker, a sour, green berry that grows on a thorny bush: It’s available raw or as a delicious pickle. It’s also one half of the famous Rajasthani dish ker-sangri; the latter is the needle-like fruit of the thorny khejari tree. Both raw ingredients are dried and sold, so they keep for months. Recent studies have shown that ker and sangri have great nutritional value, purifying the blood, cooling the body, and providing high amounts of calcium and vitamin C. Kachri powder is commonly used across India as a meat tenderiser or to add a tangy flavour to dishes, but the wild melons can be bought fresh only in Rajasthan. Kachri are also sold here as a delicious pickle. I also stocked up on the tasty Marwari papad. Even if shopping is not your cup of tea, exploring a small-town market is a refreshing

experience after city malls. People call out greetings to each other, and show small courtesies to a visitor from out of town. While in the market, don’t miss the ghantaghar, which was built by the well-known Birla family in the early 1900s, and the red doorway, which is all that remains of Churu fort. A visit to Nagar Sri, a small museum that houses a collection of traditional household items—utensils, financial records, jewellery, and clothes—donated by local families, is insightful. End the trip with a stop at Vijay Kumar’s chai stall in the heart of the market for delicious masala tea accompanied by sweet petha or onion kachoris. Pop into Sonu Photo Studio to see some beautiful old photographs of Churu town and the havelis in their original grandeur.

MIRROR OF BEAUTY Make a sunset trip to the beautiful Sethani ka Johra (4 km/20 minutes northwest of Churu). The construction of this pond was funded by the widow of Bhagwan Das Bagla, the man who is considered the first Marwari millionaire. It was built in the 1870s during a famine, to generate jobs for the local population and create a water catchment area. It is a great spot to enjoy a few moments of quietude, punctuated only by the sounds of lapping water, birds, and a shepherd herding his flock home. Lean back and enjoy a cup of tea in one of the little chhatris around the johra, where the original paintings are still visible on the roof (Malji ka Kamra organises tea for two for `650, including travel). To see some magnificent painted havelis,

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head to the town of Ramgarh (14 km/40 minutes southwest of Churu). It is a small town of only 40,000 people, but has over 300 havelis. Two-thirds are locked, so a stroll down any street is like walking through a majestic ghost town. Imposing doors loom over the narrow streets, walls are marked in fading brown handprints that signify a birth in the family, and creepers prise their way into the cracks. Even the shops are built right into the mansions in a curious intermingling of the past and present. At the Poddar haveli, one of the oldest in town and now reduced to near-rubble, there is a single room on the first floor that has somehow survived the cruelties of time. Bright floral patterns still decorate the walls and pillars of the room, which was probably the owner’s private study. Ramgarh is also dotted with about 45 chhatris or cenotaphs that were built by wealthy Rajasthani families to honour their dead. The most beautiful among these is the Poddar group of chhatris, where the murals depict important scenes from the Ramayana and the life of Krishna. A mesmerising redand-blue mural of the raas leela decorates the inner roof of one of the chhatris, the colours so bright that it is hard to believe that it dates back to the 1850s. But one of Ramgarh’s most striking sights is the Shani Mandir, which was constructed in 1840. It is an astounding temple—though a small structure, nearly every inch of the interior is decorated with Belgian glass mosaics that dazzle the visitor. Closer to Churu is Prem Sarovar, another pond that is the result of philanthropy by rich

Bhawani Kothi is located in the centre of town and has a large and lovely front garden, but it

EAT

Churu’s Jain Temple has an opulent marble exterior, while Belgian glass mosaics and a dramatic chandelier adorn its interiors.

Food in Churu is predominantly vegetarian and features several must-try dishes. The traditional breakfast of bajra roti, eaten with homemade curd and fresh garlic chutney, is quite satisfying. Ker-sangri is a sweet and spicy local speciality that is rarely available outside Rajasthan. Gatte ki sabji is a curry with koftas of seasoned besan, and papad mungodi is a dish made using two Marwari favourites, papad and tiny pellets of moong dal. n

THE GUIDE Orientation Churu is the main town of a district of the same name in northern Rajasthan, close to the state’s border with Haryana. Often considered part of the historical region of Shekhawati, famous for its grand painted havelis, Churu belonged to Bikaner state until 1947. It is 200 km north of the state capital Jaipur.

Getting there Rail Churu is a 4-5-hour train journey from Delhi and there are several convenient day and night options to pick from, including the Bikaner Intercity, Delhi Bikaner SF Express, and Sujangarh Express. Road Churu is 280 km/6 hours west of Delhi. The route goes via Rewari, Singhana and Jhunjhunu. After NH8, it winds through beautiful countryside on district roads with light traffic. An alternative route with marginally better roads goes via Rohtak, Bhiwani and Sadulpur. Depending on which

part of Delhi you start from, one or the other can take slightly less time.

farm & sand dunes

Getting around Shared autorickshaws ply throughout the city, though these can be quite crowded. Taxis can be rented by the day (about `2,200) or for specific trips (`1,200-2,200 depending on distance and time). Within the old town, walking is the best way to get around.

clock tower Jai Dayal Goenka Haveli

bagla hanuman mandir

poddar haveli

Seasons Churu registers some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in Rajasthan, with daytime highs in summer soaring to 48°C. Night-time lows during winter occasionally dip below 0°C. The monsoon (July-Sept) is mild (20-35°C), turns the landscape green. The smell of rain on desert sand is intoxicating. During winter (Nov-Feb), days are warm with temperatures in the mid-20s, but the mercury drops sharply at night to 2-6°C.

sethani ka johra

fort jain temple

surana double haveli

kothari havelis

to ramgarh malji ka kamra

to delhi

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Deepak Balan (temple), urmimala nag (map)

Prem Sarovar (left) is one of many ponds and wells built in and around Churu by the town’s rich residents; Scenes from the Ramayana, like Krishna’s raas leela (right), adorn the roofs of Ramgarh’s chhatris.

Malji ka Kamra was built in 1920 and restoration started in 2006 after more than 20 years of being locked up. The heritage property opened in 2012. Lit in the evening, the mint green building definitely looks like a seth’s rangmahal. The colour may seem a little garish but the restorers took care to match it to the original as far as possible. The rooms are large and comfortable with oodles of historic character while the bathrooms are mercifully modern (01562-254444; maljikakamra.com; doubles from `3,500, includes guided haveli walk in Churu, trips to see local crafts like bandhej and blockprinting).

National Geographic Traveller India January 2014  

Preview version of the January 2014 edition of the Indian edition of National Geographic Traveller