that's the exact feeling one gets after drinking the first sip of "cona coffee with cream" at the United Coffee House.
thanks to my friend ankur suman, i'm sure he knew that i will find this concoction amusing enough when he first took me to this restaurant in connaught place with an old world charm. anybody who wants to walk back a couple of decades to experience delhi, just walk in to the United Coffee House. the chandelier, the upholstery, the decor everything is well preserved from the last generation.
now about "cona coffee with cream" well it seems like it had been prepared by a scientist and not a chef. the waiter walked to my table with a "volumetric flask" fixed on a "ring stand", and in the volumetric flask is a dark coloured potion made out of these magic beans after being roasted and ground. he gently pours the potion into the a white cup which had already been placed on the table. and now one needs to be careful the potion starts acting on your senses, it's smell may already start intoxicating you. there maybe sudden urge to pick the cup and bring it towards your lips. but the waiter is in complete control, he does not let you touch it. instead he picks one of the polished silverware and starts pouring rich cream into the cup. while he is engrossed in the act of pouring the cream his eyes are in contact with your to get the hint when you want him to stop. after this you are left all by yourself to indulge in the moment, but just before leaving he slides the sugar cubes towards you. also you may find another silverware with hot milk in it (which in my suggestion should be avoided, the name says "cream" so stick to it do not dilute the magic).
now it's turn for you to pick the cup an enjoy a creamy but robust cup of coffee. soon the cup will be empty but the effect remains on you for a while.
flight attendant "sir what would you like to have for dinner" I "what are the choices" flight attendant "veg food or normal food"
i knew that i was heading in the right direction. for the next few days i will survive only on normal food.
next six hours will take me far enough from the kebbabs of karim's to the land unknown. to a language unknown. only thing that made me feel safe was that the food will be normal, nothing will be vegetarian about it. be it the donkey meat or the solid blood of duck. it was amazing what all came on my plate and ended up in my tummy, i would have been happy enough to write down the names and ingredients of all of them. just that the language was a bit to alien for me to know what exactly was there on my plate.
the first day was a bit of an issue. to eat with chopsticks was a pain for me, anyways i let go of the embarrassment and put my fingers to optimum use on the table.
next day onwards i made sure of carrying a fork all the time with me. that proved to be my most important weapon during the trip to beijing. to get the dumplings out of the soup or picking the meat out of the wok all those wars where won by the help of the mighty fork.
along with the fooda bit of delicate chinese tea was always welcoming. and the way they prepare and serve tea is almost like a ritual. the love and respect for the process is outstanding. little cups as in really little cups would be filled with tea, little enough to be poured with a sip of transparent, mild fragrant tea. tea would be served time and again. whether it's tea at a posh restaurant or sitting with the cab drivers and sharing tea with them, all the time it would be refreshing and elating.
the other interesting liquid coming on the table would be baijiu it's simply 38% alcohol made by fermenting rice. the first neat gulp tastes like drinking liquefied fire by the next gulp your mind and body gets acclimatised to it.the beauty of baijiu is not just about how it tastes but also about the beautiful ceramic bottles in which they come to the table.these bottle will generally be earthy in colour with the names in chinese calligraphy, it would be foolish to leave behind the empty bottles. they would make excellent souvenirs from china.well i managed to carry back two such bottle in my bag.
overall rating would be 10/10 for people who are passionate about food without bothering to know what it is. it's pointless to waste time in cracking the ancient chinese codes to know the name of the bird or animal or the egg on your platter. rather just eat and enjoy the moment. eat as much as you can as you are running out of time, soon there is flight to catch back to chandni chowk.
four days of normal food and i am back to my real life.
back to gurgaon.
sitting on my book shelf are the empty ceramic bottles remind me of the drizzling, the small restaurant overlooking the great wall, the beef curry, the over boiled rice, the pork fry, the over eating, the joy... ...all this is now fills up those ceramic bottle. the alcohol is no more in the bottle but the spirit of chinese food will remain there tightly locked in those little bottles. the reddish cubes in the front are solid duck blood ready to be heated in spiced oil and eaten.
no clue what they are but the taste was really good and price was really cheap, all this in a road side shop in a hutong.
tea with the bunch of drivers and workers.
never knew of so many varieties of eggs that too being sold as food product (lack of knowledge).
actually i don't even remember when exactly we reached the western ghats i guess it was sometime after mhow. we saw a sign board which said. "GHAT ROAD STARTS" looked weird but ya the terrain around us changed. we where going uphill at places hills where being cut from the centre to make way for the NH-211. that's the road we where following after dhule. it looked a bit sad to see such beautiful hills being turned to dust by a huge system made of man and machine working hours at stretch to make way for the 4-lane highway. i'm sure after a year when we drive past the same road we would have forgotten all about the hills and will be appreciating the beauty of human engineering. such hippocrates we our. the next big town on our way would be sholapur. the day was well spent as the drive was wonderful and i was happy to have a car with high ground clearance. roads where mostly under construction and really bad at places, good testing ground for the car. though the driver i.e. me did not get too see much of the landscape while dealing with such roads whatever he could see the place was beautiful. while crossing the villages one could see groups of kids as well as grown up having tied ropes to thick branches of tree made a makeshift arrangement for a swing not once or twice but for kilometres one could have seen such a thing. probably it was some kind of a celebration for the newly arrived monsoon who knows what and why but it looked so beautiful to see people swinging and feeling merry. by now one can see the shift in clothing and colour of the skin from where we started our journey. the skin colour was much deeper and richer now. clothes where deeper and livelier in colour. our aim was to be at sholapur by sunset which we managed well, we took a short break next to a large lake on one end of the city. sat next to it for a while and decided to proceed to bijapur which was around another 100kms. the drive was smooth by now. and we reached bijapur by 7:30 pm. the total count for the day was around 565kms. the city took us up a bit by surprise, wide roads, big markets, nice restaurants and what not. we had enough options to stay almost checked into hotel pearl a brand new hotel with clean rooms good restaurant. at the last moment we decided to venture out a bit more before checking in. got back in to our car and started looking out for the karnataka tourism guest house, have heard they are generally good and have a charm of there own, they may not have the best of the facilities but surely have a strong character of their own. we drove all the way to the cities main market, i was looking for a shop to buy some socks and chappals which we found, did some shopping and once again started looking out for the tourist guest house. with not much difficulty we found Hotel Mayur Adil Shahi (named after the adil shahi rulers of bijapur.), a bit of an old structure with some renovations/additions for sure. big rooms. big attached toilets. attached balconies. and lawn. what else was required we immediately wanted to check in as the place was cheap and good. we where asked to come after a while as there was some wiring problem in the room and the guy where to lazy to fix it. we thought in the meanwhile we will look for a place to eat, though we had no hopes of getting something interesting. on our way as we where asking people about eateries on gentleman very authoratively suggested a place called hotel ambika maratha that too to have biriyani out there. it took us a while to find out hotel ambika maratha opposite bukhari masjid. once we found the place we knew that we had made a mistake. it was a dingy basement to a much cheaper hotel. just nothing was proper over there including the gentry. we did have a choice to try some other place but decided to rather be adventurous and dine there. and thats one decision i am thankful to myself that i took against all odds. soon the biriyani was served and what a biriyani it was. we where speechless till the last grain of rice and last bit of mutton was left on our table. one of the most amazing biriyani i ever had. note down the address "hotel ambika maratha opposite bukhari masjid" a must place to visit if you are in bijapur and even if you are not in bijapur. drove back to Hotel Mayur Adil Shahi to be lucky enough to get a room, the balcony was small but proved to be a good place to sit and chat up a bit. i am already over excited thinking about tomorrow morning, first thing tomorrow we gonna visit gol gumbaz. visiting this place had been a dream for a long time. soon the night past by and we where standing outside the gate of gol gumbaz amidst morning walkers.
i guess residents from near by locality take ful advantage of the lovely lawns of around gol gumbaz. we past by the small administrative buidling which i think also houses a museum (though the small building was not that small just that it got dwarft by the colossal gol gumbaz).
i stood there for a while trying to believe in what i could see. coming from delhi a city full of historic monuments and countless tombs, never had i seen a tomb such in size. gol gumbaz in pictures does not look much grander than humayun's tomb, luckily they are never pictures next to each other. a structure as large as humayun's tomb can be easily be hidden behind gol gumbaz, such it the size of the structure. the building is squarish in shape with a massive dome on top whereas outside on all four sides are octagonal minarets. step inside to see the worlds second largest dome which does not have any pillars to support.
one may get a sprain in his neck while stretching it to admire the whole thing. in one corner is a small board saying "way to the echo gallery" do take it seriously and start your journey towards the echo gallery by entering that small door. the door leads you to some stairs and the stairs lead on to more stairs and the process repeats itself almost till you drop dead. in between some flights of stairs will be a small bench to sit and catch you breath. as i said do take this sign seriously as the stair end into a space (sort of a balcony in the periphery of the dome). the smallest of a sound can be heard at the other end. and each fraction of sound bounces back ten times as clear as the original one, in simpler words every sound echoes back ten times. step out of the balcony into the outer periphery of the dome under the open blue sky stand next to the top of the octagonal minarets which look like small monuments by itself.
take a walk on the terrace and we could spot the jama masjid rising like a jewel in the busy cityscape at a distance from here, one should take out time to pay a visit to the mosque though we couldn't as we had plans of hitting hampi the very same day. traced back our way out, had our breakfast of poha and chai at the canteen within the gol gumbaz compound. the sun was just warm enough to be enjoyed. soon we will be heading towards hampi.
no clue where the thought got inspired from, but finally i hit the road on the 24th of july with the idea and intention of driving down to kerala in my car. the odometer said something like 19,752kms. start point was gurgaon at around 1 o'clock in the afternoon. my rough calculations said the entry point in kerala would be somewhat 2,500kms away. so no hurry, wanted to see things while i move down south. decided to follow the nh-8 for just a short while and then switch over to some not so smooth but much more scenic roads. stopped after crossing jaipur to have our lunch it was already past 4 o'clock. next we planned to stop at ajmer to meet keshav's family for a cup of tea. keshav was accompanying me for the next few days actually almost the entire first half of the journey then he would fly back from ernakulam on the 4th of august. after are tea break at ajmer, it's always a delight to meet his family, saw their new house, got a sneak preview to the under-construction work for uncle's forthcoming exhibition at jehangir art gallery, bombay.
from their we took the NH-79 to chittorgarh. we reached chittorgarh at around half past ten that night. took refuge in a modest lodge called Hotel Bhagwati.
they had decent terrace where we sat to slowly sip a small peg of teacher's scotch, before we finished our first round it started drizzling and we had to cut short our drinking plans. early morning we drove in and out of the fort, spending around an hour or so.
that was no good thing to do. it's massive fort one needs to pay it some respect by spending atleast a day over there. we followed NH-79 leading us towards madhyapradesh from rajasthan. on our way we crossed ratlam (which reminds me of kareenakapoor in jab we met) we took the mhow bye pass and took on NH-3. so far the roads where narrow and not so smooth. suddenly we reach a 4-lane highway it was a brand new road and traffic was negligible. the landscape was lush green, green not like the dark rich green but light pleasant leaf green. we didn't know what to do stop and enjoy the landscape or keep driving at the top speed to enjoy the recently inaugrated highway. next 100kms was blissfull. by now the sun had set. as we drove through sendhwa and shirpur i guess we where on the edge of madhyapradesh and entering maharashtra. by night we reached a place called dhule around 200kms short of aurangabad. found out a place called swagatlogde for the night and dined at a nearby dhabawhcih served us beer along with the dal-roti (had to pay a bit of a premium for the service though), the dal was really good so where the roti's. time to hit the sack having a long days journey ahead. ellora caves was next target. after a while where crossing a place called chalisgaon acting very intelligent we took the bye-pass to aurangabad, this was the biggest disaster of our trip soon we realised the road was no road just a collection of big potholes, and big meant really big. a stretch of around 10kms took around and hour or more i think couple of times i drove on the 3rd gear rest was all 1st or 2nd gear drive i'm sure you can imagine what the place was like. once we where out we took a break for a cup of over sweet tea and some snacks. actually we tried a bit of all the snacks available in the shop.
gaining back our lost energy we headed towards ellora caves by now we figured out that ajanta and ellora caves are not neighbouring each other rather at a distance of more than a 100kms. just before ellora was a small temple and baoli called the ahilyabaiholkar tank. it came like pleasant surprise out of nowhere. small but pretty place to take some pictures. soon we where at ellora, parked our car and took a guided auto rickshaw trip which would give us a glimpse of some of the caves though not all of them. the first cave we visited had a beautiful water fall next to it and the cave no. 29 known as sita-ki-nahani
it was a hindu temple with extremely impressive carvings inside, built in the 8th century. the sculptures where huge touching almost the ceiling of the caves at places nice soft light was falling from some very high openings on the roof of the cave. along with the light was trickling down drops of water which would echo in the caves as every drop would touch the ground. on the right side was a passage leading to a path leading us to the next set of cave crossing the waterfall. our next visit was cave no. 32 a jain temple built around 10th century.
the temple is a double storeyed structure and the star attraction seems to be a large monolith elephant. next to it is a large monolith pillar. after spending some more time inside we realised that what is the biggest attraction of this complex where some painted panels fit enough to be picture poscards for maharashtra tourism. even the pillars where very intricately carved. we skipped a lot of the caves coming our way and headed straight to the cave no. 16 it was unbeleivably big people around where looking tiny and thats not all the entire temple is carved out of a single mountain, it is not made in bits and pieces. how could dare imagine something so wild. apparently it took around 200 years to finish the task, looking at the temple 200 years seem less a time taken. whats most important is that it is there for real. no picture can capture the magic, still i tried to shoot some pictures. the temple dates somewhere around 6th to 7th century, locally known as kailasha. not getting into details browse through the pictures it may give some understanding of the place.
back in the car we start driving towards aurangabad suddenly i notice a board giving directions for aurangzeb's tomb did i misread something. not really it soon struck me that the mughal ruler spent his last few years in the deccan so logically his tomb should be around, took a quick u-turn and reach the place which was just a couple of kilometres of the track. a modest looking structure reflecting aurangzeb's modest lifestyle. there is a mazaar and next to it a dargah. everything around is simple and minimalistic unlike tombs of his ancestors who believed in grandeur some of which can be seen in delhi the seat of mughal power.
soon we drive into karnataka and are impressed by their style of road direction boards on the highway. they exactly know how to promote tourism through the road signs and surely make life easier for the travellers unlike maharashtra who can't think beyond bombay or the so called mumbai. in karnataka the road signs had small graphics depicting temples, mosques, wild life etc along with the name of places. it was nice to see how organised they are and the place i.e. the landscape was beautiful it was green all around the plains merging into hills as we go up the western ghats.