RSS

Category Archives: India

Tastes of Bengal – Because life is so endlessly delicious!

Many people don’t realise the huge variety of Indian cuisine. Each state has its own distinct cooking style. After a week of deliciously spicy food in Andhra Pradesh, on returning to Kolkata I set myself the task of getting a better understanding of Bengali cuisine.  That brought me to Koshe Kosha, James Long Sarani, Behala, Kolkata, a restaurant that serves typical Bengali food.  It’s a basic restaurant, so don’t expect posh table cloths and the like, but it has amazing food.
20170106_212225
My education started with the first page of the menu, which explains the Bengali cooking styles to the uninitiated.  This gave a good insight into the types of ‘curries’ that are found in this part of the sub-continent and the different preparations.

20170106_200552.jpg
The menu was extensive, far too large to sample in one sitting – all the more reason to go back! Although we did try our best to taste as many dishes as we could!

We started with the Mochar Chop, a round soft pattie made of banana flower mixed with potatoes, onions, cashews and mild spices, served with mustard and tomato sauces.  Perfect for vegetarians and tasty for meat eaters too, but don’t overpower the subtle flavours with too much mustard. Rs.55

20170106_202256

This was followed by a feast of flavours. Let’s start with some vegetarian options:

Lau Bori – This was one of my favourite dishes of the night, bottled gourd (squash) cooked with dried lentil paste nuggets. Wow!! Rs. 75
20170106_204801

Potoler Dorma – parwal (pointed gourd/squash) stuffed with potatoes, ginger, garlic and spices in a sumptuous gravy with cashews! Delicious! Rs. 90
20170106_204804

Narkel Chholar Dal – channa dal, with coconut chips and raisins giving it its slightly sweet flavour and interesting texture. Yum Rs.105
20170106_204806.jpg

Sona Muger Dal – a simple mung dal perfect with plain rice Rs. 105

20170106_204758

Pur Diye Begun Bhaja – aubergine (eggplant) slices stuffed with mustard paste and deep fried with a gram flour batter.  Although I love aubergine, the mustard overpowered this for me, so my least favourite dish of the night, but great for those who like mustard! Rs. 75

20170106_204749

Then for the non-vegetarian (meat lover’s) options:
Chingrir Malaikari – Wow!!! My favourite dish of the night! Enormous prawns in a wonderfully tasty gravy.  If you are a seafood lover, don’t miss this!! Treat yourself  Rs. 395

20170106_204755

Dab Chingri – This was something I had heard about and was keen to try it, even though a mild, sweet gravy is not usually my preference. It is prawns cooked with Panch Phoron (a mixture of equal quantities of five spices: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds and onion seeds) and the juice and soft flesh of a green coconut.  It’s cooked in the coconut and is definitely something to taste, especially if you like something mild.  It was a rather costly Rs.415 but worth it for the experience!

20170106_205217

Katla Kalia – This was also good. Katla fish is quite a meaty fish popular in Kolkata and is cooked in an onion gravy. Rs. 165
20170106_204752

Kosha Murgi was the chicken curry of the night, served in a wonderfully thick yummy gravy  (sorry, I forgot to snap this one) Rs. 195

Kosha mungsho is mutton (goat) dish slow cooked in a very rich dark gravy.  Nice but quite heavy so you don’t need much of it. Rs. 250

20170106_204809

Accompanied by Luchi – otherwise known as poori, a deep fried flat bread Rs. 65 for 4.
20170106_204502

Basanti Pilao (Rs. 120) and Plain Rice (Rs.80)
20170106_204812.jpg
If you are in Kolkata (or even Bangalore as they have a branch there too) and want to taste delicious Bengali food then head to Koshe Kosha, you won’t be disappointed!  Great food and great value.  Although don’t go expecting a beer as only soft drinks are served – try the sweet lime soda!  This feast above, with mineral water and soft drinks came to just            Rs. 3,000.
20170106_212213.jpg
Koshe Kosha have numerous branches in Kolkata, we went to the one at:
12, Mondal Para 1st Lane, -700034, Near M.P. Birla High School, Behala, Kolkata (James Long Sarani)

Open 11am -11pm

Tel: 03364606401 (free home delivery – but unfortunately not to the UK!)

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 7, 2017 in cooking, food, India, Life, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tiger expedition to the Sunderbans

I’ve been coming backwards and forward to Kolkata for a long time and have longed to see the Bengal Tigers in the Sunderbans, just three and a half hours from the city. This trip I decided it was time for an adventure so booked a two day, one night stay through Tour de Sunderbans

The booking process was easy, transferring INR 2,000 to their account in advance and then paying the remaining INR 2,000 on arrival (£40 was not bad for an all inclusive weekend adventure). I was picked up at 9am opposite the entrance to Science City in Kolkata.

Top tip – if you didn’t get breakfast go to the other side of the street at the Science City entrance, near the dinosaur: there are stalls where you can get toast, chai and fried egg or an omelette for a bargain price.

I joined my fellow passengers in a tempo traveler for the three and a half hour bounce along the Basanti ‘Highway’ to Godkhali – the end of the road. Supplied with a two litre water bottle and a sandwich breakfast (the latter of which I declined as my mother in law had already made sure I was well fed on departure), we spent the next 106km dodging people, cows, dogs, rickshaws, autos, cars and buses, even a gaggle of geese – it was like being in a live computer game –one mistake on the behalf of the driver and you would lose your last life! If you are a nervous passage then close your eyes and take a nap – it’s not for the fainthearted! There was a tea stop on route and thanks to my guardian angels, I survived the journey. At Godkhali there was just enough time for some coconut water (INR 20) before we boarded the boat for Gosaber in South 24 Paraganas District of West Bengal.

IMG_5197.JPG

Looking at the overcrowded boat as it came into the jetty with people, luggage and even a motorbike made me think of the refugee boats coming to Europe.

IMG_5215.JPG

It certainly did not look safe, but then I’ve come to realise that safety is not a priority in India – you do what you have to do to survive. If I wanted to join the Sunderban Safari then I had to board the boat. Since there were no seats you either balanced crouching on the edge of the boat or you chose to stand. I took the former.

IMG_5214.JPG

Unfortunately I chose a spot right near the engine; this not only meant having black smoke  puffing at me for the 10 minute crossing, but also that I got to see the crew bailing out the water from the leaking boat…… I said it was an adventure but this bit was certainly not an ecotour!!

IMG_5205.JPG

Top tip – don’t sit in the middle of the boat by the engine!

When we arrived in Gosaber we trekked through the hustle and bustle of the market to our next mode of transport across the island.

IMG_5217

Top tip – travel light, you will need to carry your own bags and your water bottle for a good ten minute walk through the busy market area.

Next it was time for our ‘Harley Davidson’…. A motorbike rickshaw used for transporting goods and people. It bounced us to the jetting on the other side of the island. Bone shaker is an understatement. It’s certainly not advisable for anyone with a back problem. However, it’s how the locals travel so a good way to experience rural Indian life.

IMG_5225.JPG

Top tip – sit at the back so you can dangle your legs of the back and get the best view.

After our rattling ride observing village life from the back of the motor-rickshaw we arrived at the boat that was going to take us to the backpackers eco-lodge.  Just after 1.30pm we were shown to our mud huts.

If you want a luxury resort, this is not for you. It’s meant to give visitors the opportunity to experience life in an Indian village so it’s a no frills accommodation. The hut is clean and has an ensuite toilet and cold water shower. There is soap, a mirror and a comfortable bed with a mosquito net. Don’t expect freshly painted walls (I reiterate, it’s a mud hut) but it was clean with clean sheets on the bed and a blanket. There was also a fan (although definitely not needed in December I’m sure it would be beneficial in the summer months). There are lights and one electricity socket, although power only came on after dark and we were told to conserve it as the site uses solar power (although thought I heard a generator somewhere).

Top tip – essentials to pack for the trip include your passport, a towel, mosquito repellent (although I did not see many possibly because it was winter season), warm cloths for December and January, and a torch. If you like a sheet between you and your blanket (not common in rural India) then bring your own. In December/January it gets cold at night so warm PJs are advisable.

After a short rest we all came together for lunch, a feast of rice, dal, kerala (bitter gourd), mixed veg, fish, papad and chutney. Excellent traditional home cooked Bengali food. Then at 3pm we took a walk around the village. It was time of the rice harvesting so everyone was busy.

We then walked along the embankment which was built by the locals to protect their land. Unfortunately over the decades man has cut down the mangroves, which had provided natural protection against erosion. So as well as new planting of mangroves man-made barricades are also needed to protect their crops and their homes, especially during the summer cyclones.

As the sun began to set we took a boat across the waters to explore the mangrove forests by water. Lots of bird life, and hundreds of crabs stuck to the trunks of the mangrove trees.

Our guide, Om, picked up a crab unaware of the fear of the guy sitting next to him, who jumped up and jumped off our boat onto the one passing by, the shock causing one passenger at the back to lose his balance and he just managed to right himself in time to prevent falling into the water: a hilarious sight that had us all in hysterics – that would have been great for YouTube!

The man-paddled boat ride was so peaceful; we watched the sunset and the bustle of India washed away. We relaxed in serenity.

DSC_0546.JPG

Returning to shore we took jungle ginger tea and rested in our mud huts. At 7pm were joined by a few of the villagers who serenaded us with traditional music for an hour, which was followed by another Bengali feast, but with chicken instead of fish. Then it was early to bed, under the thatch, tucked into the mosquito net ready for our 6am start the following morning.  A perfect time to lie in total darkness, pray and reflect.

Top tip: if you want to buy some fresh honey (madhu) picked from the jungle then ask Om in the evening and he’ll make sure they bring some in the morning. It’s INR 350 a kg and will be provided in a plastic water bottle for you to take home. You can’t get fresher or more organic!

Om rapped on the door at 5.45am with the early morning wake-up call. Jungle chai and biscuits was available for those who needed something to get them going, then just after 6.30am we left (with honey and all our belongings) on the boat for the Sunderban reserve. It was a cold and misty morning, but the mist gave an aura of mystery to the place and provided some great photo shots.

At the entrance to the reserve Om, our excellent guide and tour organiser, took our passports and dealt with the necessary documentation and then we proceeded to the beauty of the Sunderban reserve.

DSC_0631

 

A few facts:

  • Sunderban means ‘beautify forest’
  • The Sunderbans house the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world, covering over 10,000 square km of India and Bangladesh, in the delta of the Bay of Bengal
  • It’s a UNESCO world heritage site
  • It’s the largest reserve for the Bengal Tiger with an estimated 403 man-eating tigers, who kill at least 30 Indians each year plus numerous Bangladeshis (these are official figure – in reality it’s probably more since many people are in the jungle illegally and therefore their deaths go unreported)

From our vantage point on board the boat and at the two watchtowers we saw:

Beautify scenery

White spotted deer

Monkeys

A monitor lizard

DSC_0647

Lots of  hungry crocodiles

Red fiddler crabs

DSC_0707.JPG

And plenty of birds

Unfortunately the Royal Bengal Tiger was rather elusive and we only got to see his footprints.  It would have been amazing to have seen one of these rare creatures with males weighting between 180-280kg and females 115-285kg.  Om last saw one about six weeks ago walking along the mudflats on the beach. They have a life expectancy in the wild of about 20 years, an average litter of 3 offspring and prey on white spotted deer, wild boar, rhesus macaque (monkeys) and occasional humans.

It was a really relaxing day on the boat, with puri and veg for breakfast and another Bengali feast for lunch, while looking at the wonderful view and listening to the sounds of the jungle.  It’s one of the best places I’ve been to in India for beauty and peace.

In the evening the cruise boat took us back to Godkalhi and then we braved the night journey back to Kolkata. In a rather rickety vehicle with no seat belt or horn I can certainly say this was more scary than jumping out of an aeroplane whilst waiting for your parachute to open.  I now know the value of a horn in India – it has the same importance as a brake in the UK! How we survived this rather hair-raising journey I do not know, but it certainly dragged me back into the bustle of life, arriving in Kolkata about 8.30pm.   The peace and beauty of the Sunderbans was great while it lasted and a great reminder of the amazing creation we are part of.  If you are in Kolkata – take a detour for the weekend, its worth it!

 

 
 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Christian Mindfulness – Part 4

Who are you?

How do you generally answer the question ‘who are you’?  Perhaps the first thing you say might be your name. Then what?  Cultures vary on this one:

In the UK you are often defined by your job, so my response is likely to be “Head of Programmes at The Leprosy Mission”.  In fact, my job is so much part of me I find it hard to separate the two.  Who would I be if I was not The Leprosy Mission’s Head of Programmes?  An entrepreneur with my own Cookie business?

But isn’t there more to me than my job?

In India registration documents of women require that you give the name of your father or spouse – defining you as a child or wife of ……. So I suppose I am daughter of Chris and wife of Amit.

In Zimbabwe women are usually know as the mother (Amai) of their first child i.e. Amai Tasha.

These responses all state who I am in relation to others or  what I do.  But if we take that away, who am I?

Philosophers and social scientists have debated for centuries the concept of identity and I’m not going to go into that now.  However, during my recent studies on Mindfulness, I’ve become conscious that life in not just about doing, its about being – being one with God, being who God has called us to be.  So some of the questions I have been pondering are: Who am I? What is the real me like? How can I be more Christ-like and live the life God has planned for me, being the person He wants me to be i.e. the person He created – ME?

Being still, sitting quietly in reflection I’ve been trying to consider who I really am and what the difference is between the ‘me’ that I portray to others and the ‘real me’, the ‘me that God sees’.

How much do I bury the ‘real me’ and put on an a facade so that I seem stronger, more confident , more capable and more acceptable to the people I am with?  How much do I conform to cultural expectations and what I perceive to be the expectations of others, rather than ‘be me’?

Today I watched the Hindi film Tamasha.  It starts off with a man and women who meet in Corsica and agree not to tell anything to each other about who they are (i.e. the labels indicated above in terms of job and relationships) – they are just themselves, have great fun and a bit of a holiday romance.  After a very enjoyable week together they go their separate ways. Two years later they meet up back in Delhi. However, Ved is not the man that Tara met in Corsica.  He is an office worker who follows a routine, conforming to the rules and society’s expectations. Tara sets about convincing him to be the real ‘him’, the free spirit, rather than the corporate slave.

The movie made me reflect that we spend so much of our life doing the things that others want us to do, with our thoughts and actions shaped by the society in which we live.  I’m not saying that we should all break the rules and do what we like oblivious to the needs of others, far from it.  Although it is great to break the rules sometimes, if they are man-made rules rather than the God given ones. Our actions should be shaped by our beliefs and values.  However, should they be governed by our culture and our perception of the expectations of others, or should we  be ourselves?  How can we be ourselves and better enjoy the moment, rather than shoehorning ourselves into the shape of the world?

Romans 12: 2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

I am beginning to recognise that mindfulness helps us to do just that. In the stillness we are able to question the ways of the world, to better understand who we are in God, so we can be our true selves – the person God has created us to be.

When we are silent and resting in God, in union with Him, we are perhaps the closest to our true self as we will ever be.  And what’s wonderful is that I can be ‘me’, the ‘real me’ and know that despite my imperfections God still loves me, and has plans to prosper me and not to harm me (Jeremiah 29:11).

So today when the movie finished, I decided to be the ‘real me’.  The ‘conforming me’ would have walked quietly out of the cinema hall and back to the car discussing the movie on the way.  The ‘real me’ danced out of the cinema hall and gave Kung Fu Panda a run for his money….. mindfully enjoying the moment!  Watch out folks – I think the more I get into this mindfulness business, the more you might get to see the ‘real me’ ….

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

What is Reality?

Is what I see and experience reality?  Of course most of us believe so, but think about it…..

Do we see things in the same way as the person next to us? Perhaps if we did there would never be any disagreements. Or do we have different perceptions and perspectives based on our cultural and religious beliefs, our values and past experiences, likes and dislikes, labels and preconceived ideas? Whose way of seeing things is reality?

When we look at a scene do we see what is really there, or focus on the aspects that attract our attention? It’s amazing how a photograph can reveal the detail that we missed.

On my previous drives from Delhi to The Leprosy Mission’s office in Noida I have seen rubbish, dust, poverty

. NOida

and traffic….

 

Noida traffic

 

Today I chose to focus on nature and saw what I had never seen before, that at every moment of my journey I could see trees and bushes, often covered in seed pods and flowers, sometimes with butterflies, and bees pollinating the flowers.  There were birds in the trees and dogs sitting under the shade of the branches, an abundance of life and beauty.

Trees

Butterfly Mystery Pondi

So what is reality?  Are Delhi and Noida cities of beauty, places of poverty, or both? Do they really need a label? Perhaps their diversity it too vast to be contained in a single description and that can be said for all the situations we encounter.  We will never under all aspects of the true situation we find ourselves in, the thoughts and feelings experienced by others or the reasons for their actions or motives.  Only God, in all his infinite wisdom knows the true reality.  Reality is how God sees things.

1 Corinthians 1:25  For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Evelyn Underhill in ‘Practical Mysticism’ says that to understand Reality i.e. gain an insight into the wisdom and plans of the Almighty, we need to clear our minds of the whirlpools, twists and currents that prevent us from focusing on God and give Him space to show us Reality.

Isaiah 55:8-9 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.

My next blog will explore the steps we can take to experience Reality – otherwise defined as communion with God.

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on August 26, 2013 in butterfly, cities, India, Reflections

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

A day exploring Pondicherry (of Life of Pi fame)

Pondicherry, it is believed, is a French corruption of the more ancient name of the town of Puducheri. The French were the fourth colonial power to reside on these Indian shores, following the Portuguese (16th Century), the Danes (c. 1616) and soon after the Dutch with whom the French battled for control in the late 1600s. Then they then were conquered by the British in the late 1700s and Pondicherry was eventually returned to them in 1816. French rule continued for another 138 years, with them clinging on to the territory even after the rest of India gained independence from the British in 1947. It was not until November 1st 1954 that Pondicherry finally became a Union Territory under Indian rule.

This Indian coastal city on the Bay of Bengal, 160 km south of Chennai, still has evidence of its former French colonial roots. Take a walk along the 1.5km promenade….

Promenade Pondicherry 210813

and you come across the French War Memorial

War Memorial 210813

 and Le Café

Le Cafe Pondicherry 210313

side by side the 4.25m statue of Gandhi – just to remind you that you are still in India!

Gandhi (2) Pondi

Gandhi Monument Pondi

‘White town’ houses buildings with French Style architecture and tea rooms like ‘La Maison Rose’ where is it more common to hear French spoken than Tamil.

La Maison Pondi

In fact there are over 55 languages spoken in the 290km2 area with Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, French and English being the five official languages, many of which can be heard as you wander down the promenade, either during the day….

Icecreams Pondi

Or during the hustle and bustle of an evening….

Evening promenade Pondi (11)

Peace and quiet is not easy to find in Indian cities, streets are not only the domain of cars, bikes and autos beeping their horns, but also dogs, people….

Coconut sellers

And cows….

Cow street Pondi

Including those being milked on the street.

Milking roadside

It is no wonder that churches and temples are so common.

Cathedral Pondicherry 210813

Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), Pondicherry

Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica Pondi inside

Temple close up

Temple corner Pondi

….places to try and escape the noise of the horns, traffic and chatter to concentrate on the divine.

Other spaces to escape the struggles of daily life and meditate on the Almighty or to spend time with the family include gazing at the waves from the promenade….

Family watching the waves Pondicherry 210813

or sitting under the trees in Bharat Park….

Bharati Park

Although even here your peace is likely to be disturbed by the caws of the House Crows

House crow Pondicherry 210813

and the squawks of the Common Myna birds.

Common Myna Pair Pondicherry 210813

If you are lucky you might get to see a Tawny Coster butterfly as you tuck into your ice-cream.

Butterfly Tawny Coster 2 Pondi 180813

There is no zoo in Pondicherry (despite what the Life of Pi may have led you to believe) so another option to try to escape the city noise and get back to nature is to visit the rather dilapidated Botanical Gardens.  A lot of it is overgrown, but if you are lucky you can get glimpses of Common Crow and Dark Blue Tiger butterflies.

Common Crow Butterfly 2 Pondi 180813

Dark Blue Tiger Pondi

And you might get green fruits landing on your head as the Rose Ringed Parrokeets pluck them and throw them from the trees.

Rose ringed parakeet Pondi 180813

Make sure you don’t get run over by the ‘Joy Train’ through.

Joy train Botanical Gardens

This mix of Indian and French makes Pondicherry an interesting stop on a trip around India.  Don’t miss drinking the juice of a green coconut….

Coconut Pondi

pleasing the children by taking their photo…..

Lads in the park

and exploring the stalls on the promenade in the evening….

Evening promenade Pondi (17)

Evening promenade Pondi (10)

Evening promenade Pondi (8)

And as your roam the streets at night…. watch out for Bengal Tigers 😉

Then after a tasty Indian feast return to The Richmond, an oasis from the heat, noise and smells of this cross cultural city.

Richmond Hotel Pondicherry 210813

Before sleep kneel down and thank God for blessing you with the wonderful luxuries you have compared to the many thousands of people, just outside your door, who have no air conditioning, limited food, no clean toilet and no refreshing shower in their makeshift homes or on the street.

Children in the street

We are truly blessed!

Eglise de Notre Dame des Anges (The Church of Our Lady of Angels), Pondicherry Crucifix

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,