Bangalore New Year and some fishy tales

The mister and me were bored. Out performing each other with the help of Fruit Ninja and other highly competitive mobile games, was getting too mainstream. We wanted to ‘do something.’ Having arrived in Bangalore one morning for a surprise visit to my in-laws boomeranged. The surprise was on us; there was no one to welcome or hug or make us feel wanted, as both ma and pa in law were away completing chores on the last day of2013.

After the epic train journey that we had had in Udayan Express, this was just what we needed. We had the keys to the apartment, so we snuggled in and made ourselves at home. Soon we were planning on doing something, but what exactly could one do after having endured 20 hours in a train? We ended up watching ‘Captain Phillips’ starring our common favourite ‘Tom Hanks’.

Our folks arrived home in the evening and received a grand surprise. The day ended with talks, debates and ‘why did you not inform us’ with the company of some good food and loads of hugs.

The next day was 1st of January 2014. We again decided to ‘do something’.

Bangalore is the city of gardens; you’re always stepping into one garden or the other. But, Bangalore is also the city of museums, rich cultural history, temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras each with their architectural wonder and more.

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Cubbon Park, Source: Wikipedia

We decided to enhance our knowledge of flora, while in the city. So Cubbon Park it would be with a visit to the aquarium adjacent to it. Located in the heart of the city, one cannot have missed the Cubbon Park while travelling anywhere in Bangalore. Starting off with 100 acres, the park was extended to around 300 acres because everybody likes a little more greenery. 300 acres is equal to 1.2 square kilometres by the way, so that’s a lot of flora watching. Named after Sir Mark Cubbon, the longest serving commissioner of Mysore, the park has a variety of bamboos, imported ornamental trees, a toy train and many historical monuments.

It is New Year day and the whole of Bangalore had made similar plans. After having braved the traffic jams and changing two buses, we arrived at Cubbon Park to realise that sightseeing 300 acres of flora with nearly 300 thousand people is not a fun way to start off 2014.

So we started with the aquarium located at the entrance gate to the park. The Bangalore Aquarium, as it is called, is the second largest in the country. Surprisingly, it wasn’t crowded so I could have all the fun with the fishes. I was all excited like a kid who visits an aquarium for the first time.

I don’t know how to describe this but the second largest aquarium in the country had me disappointed. Some of the tanks were empty, while some of them had their labels torn. Most of the fishes have lived in these artificial environments for so many years that they do not have a motive left to explore it anymore. They don’t bother to swim across the next manmade underwater cave to meet with their friends.

But, there was one enthusiastic guy that I fell in love with. He went up and down his little tank frantically looking for something – worms perhaps. Or maybe he has a story of a lost love. Maybe she was taken to another tank, we would never know.

Sadly, his label was pulled off so I might not be able to identify his species. To the discerning fish buff, the bulging eyes are a clear giveaway though. Here’s a little video shoot of the smarty:

We then decided to skip the Cubbon Park for another day when it is less crowded.

The second day of the year, we visited the Lal Baug botanical garden spread across 240 acres in the southern part of the city. Both of these were being managed by the horticulture department of the state who are fairly good at their jobs. The floral clock works but the aquarium is defunct. For a nature enthusiast especially of flora, the garden is a treasure house.

Most of the trees are more than a hundred years old and being near them makes you feel like a child under the care of loving elders. I can’t describe the contentment we returned with. It will always remain like a beautiful memory within us.

Butterfly garden Bangalore
Butterfly garden, Bangalore

So the Google search for ‘exciting places to visit in bangalore’ served us well indeed! Hope you too visit places in your city and discover the beauty hidden in its hustle and bustle.

The last epic train journey of 2013

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India is a densely populated country. I bet you know that and have a very own personal experience to vouch for, for if you’re living in this country other than the remotest towns lying strewn across the bosom of the Himalayas, you sure have been magically transported from point A to point B through the Great Indian Railway Network at least once in your life.

I live in the Queen of the Deccan, Pune – the twin city of the country’s financial capital, Mumbai, and often travel by trains. I’m travelling on one right now – the Pune-Bangalore Udayan Express and do not have many better things to do, other than observe this cacophony called co-passengers. This is my last train journey of 2013 and it seems to be as epic as the ones before.

Trains form the lifeline of this country. With over a billion and another 270 million people travelling across the length and breadth of this country, the Indian Railways sure deserves a pat on its back, or rather it’s amazing maze of rails that work in clockwork precision. Thanks to the British rule, this is one system that works at sigma level 4 to 6, depending on the assorted group of passengers it is dealing with.

Right now my Udayan Express is dealing with an assortment of passengers from all corners of Pune. The noon sun isn’t kind either. The Express train has just overcome a massive panic attack. Passengers have invaded it from each of its doors and windows. And most of them haven’t even bothered to reserve their seats. But, that goes because in India just about anything goes.

The ticket checker is working hard to ensure this. After securing a cancelled seat for his daughter, he goes about allotting vacant seats to the hundreds of distressed souls moving helter skelter inside the express train. (It doesn’t move like one though!) And by the way, I also learnt that TCs have a special quota reserved for their sons and daughters. And, there are free meals for them too!

There’s more going on –

There are guys selling ‘thanda pani bottles’ (read empty mineral water bottles refilled at the railway drinking water tap). Remember – anything goes? This isn’t adulteration; it’s called ‘innovation’ and it is a thriving business in a tropical country like ours.

Some guys making the rounds are selling everything from safety pins to recycled tea/coffee/meals to metal chains for anchoring your luggage to your seat. They want to make the most sales in these 20 hours, by whatever means possible, even if it means scaring you enough to buy it.

Even more interesting to observe are my co-passengers. There’s a party of colourful people returning from a wedding. I know because the women’s palms are smothered with intricate mehendi designs, and the men are carrying in all the booty. For starters, there are endless boxes of fragile porcelain, just what the doctor prescribed to carry on a jam packed passenger train.

The cartons say ‘Handle with care’ and the party has been fighting tooth and nail to handle them with care. There are tea cups, saucers and a teapot in one box. There are dinner plates, bowls, and casseroles in another. I read the branded labels on the other carton boxes  – XYZ air freshener, LMN microwave, PQR cooking range, UVW cooler and EFG something something . If all this was not enough, there is a carton of possibly fifty 200 gm packets of unopened potato wafers too. Some poor soul has been fleeced at the wedding.

Plus there has been a scene at the wedding; I can tell for sure. One of the young lad has a bandage across his wrists and is also making gigantic efforts at standing on his feet. Nobody is bothered a teeny bit though.

And then there is the ‘distinctive’ ubiquitous fragrance of the Indian Railways emanating from each and every nook and cranny of the express. Food mixed with poop or is that pee, I don’t know nor do I care. The family beside with the know-it-all mom, the errand-boy dad, their darling daughter and her super irritating little toddler, are also adding their distinctive smells to it. A floral perfumed hand spray goes foosh foosh on each of their palms every one hour. The combination is lethal. My olfactory senses have been deadened by now.

And, let’s not talk about my auditory senses. The darling daughter with her high-pitched voice has successfully managed to out-perform the many wheels chugging along the rails. Her know-it-all mom has been giving her a piece of advice on ‘how you should not disturb your co-passengers’ while being completely oblivious of the noise pollution she has been spreading around. The only adult male has visibly surrendered to these female forces. Life goes on as they discuss what’s wrong with the State Railway Minister.

Evening has arrived and we are now waiting at the Gulbarga train station, the letters of the language are rounded now; we’ve crossed Maharashtra and are now at Karnataka. The telecom service providers are always happy to welcome passengers in roaming, aren’t they? All of us receive welcome SMS’s from our delighted service providers.

Talking about my co-passengers, there’s also a trio of boys who are dead bored. I guess they could do with a real Temple Run 2 kinda adventure right now. They’ve been talking all the time and wondering what the hell am I typing away on my laptop!

I am thankful to this last moment tatkal quota ticket the agent could get us in the sleeper class, because nowhere else could I have had experienced such an epic journey at the end of the year. I consider myself the chosen one. In fact the mister and me are equal in status of being the chosen ones.

Here’s to more epic train journeys in 2014. Cheers!

Image courtesy: Amit Kulkarni

The sky has many moods…

We (my much nagged husband and me) stayed almost the whole of July with my in-laws at Bangalore, better known as the Silicon Valley of India. The city isn’t much different from its sister IT city Pune, where I live now, but never before had I seen the sky change colors so often in a day. Overlooking the Indian Air Force school at Jalahalli near North Bangalore, which is forever enveloped in a lush coat of greenery, our 9th floor apartment is a wonderful viewing spot. While we lived in our refined interiors, we had the privilege to the exteriors served by nature. The whole was made up of only two entities – the sky above and the earth below.

And, watching the two of them in a jugalbandi of sorts, was great fun. Here I’ve shared a few pictures from my simple Olympus camera, taken from the bedroom window. By the way, Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece!

Cloudy in Bangalore

The innocence and the purity of nature…like sky-blue candy far far away!

Rain clouds peeping in

The angry rain clouds start peeping in, to take a reality check.

Dark clouds

By dusk they seem to be really happy, emerging victorious after defeating the Sun!

a masked sky

The clouds are having a party in the sky. My Olympus can create magic!

Do keep a watch on the skies above, like I do a lot nowadays. It really has many moods…

Why you should never try panipuri in Bengaluru

When you are in the southern parts of India on a mini-vacation, do not experiment with your taste buds by feeding on quintessentially North Indian cuisine. “What on earth is this? I had placed an order for panipuri for heavens sake, please get this changed… someone”, panicked a little voice inside my head, half hoping that the guy was sincerely mistaken. Sadly, he wasn’t.

This was the famous Bengaluru panipuri served without any pani, as I realised to my absolute horror one evening in Bengaluru. Only partially puffed because someone was in a hurry, the puris stuffed with boiled green peas were accompanied by some lentil curry instead along with a cup of some strange liquid concoction. The thing not only was overpriced at Rs. 17 but it also caused a permanent damage to my taste buds. Welcome to Bengaluru panipuri!

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Image courtesy: Wikipedia

Panipuris, also called lovingly as puchkas or golgappas in the eastern parts of India are pure heaven to the discerning foodie. A burst of gustatory delight when puris stuffed with a mixture of mashed potatoes, raw onions, boiled moong dal, boondi, curd and what have you are washed down with the juices of tangy tamarinds blended with some hot spices and salt. In one word, it’s ‘awesomelicious’. You have to pop one to experience the burst of flavours in your mouth. But, not in Bengaluru, I warn you!

Every state of India has its own version but these are prepared within the rules of the divine recipe. But, some Bengaluru hooligans have broken these to serve you corrupted versions in your naive exploration of authentic panipuris in the southern city. For sake of the babus, please understand that curries are not part of snacks; curries are meant to be had with rice! These guys cannot and should not mess up with the recipe, else they should be punished with a lifetime ban on their eatery and be force-fed that gooey thing all their life. And that’s fair enough.

For starters, the puri has to be super puffed mind you. Oval, flat puris are not meant to be put into the mouth; they are best used as flying discs. And please, don’t make mini-UFOs out of them. The mixture however can vary but strictly between potatoes, chickpeas, moong dal and other edible stuff. You are allowed to use salt, jaggery, black salt, spices, as per your taste preferences and not ingredients meant for a full meal. Remember panipuri is an easy snack meant to be light on your tummy while lightening up your senses.

Having learnt survivals skills in Mumbai, I was no stranger to the variety of panipuris lining the streets of this hungry city. Sometimes the puris were stuffed with a mixture of only mashed potatoes but at times the potatoes found company of moong dal and boondi as well. The pani is sometimes made with mint leaves if not tamarind. But, not even once did I come across a lentil curry-puri; the South Indian eateries in Mumbai would also hang their head in shame.

In fact, another friend was horrified to see curry leaves floating in his pani in another part of Bengaluru!

Lost in Bengaluru

Lost labyrinth
Image courtesy: Leah McNeir

For someone who gets lost more as a rule than accidentally, I’m doing quite well. I’m at Bangalore with my in-laws in an apartment called ‘Kilbirnie’, housed inside a never-ending housing park complex, where residents often get lost navigating from one end to another.

Located towards the far end of North Bangalore and close to the Indian Air Force school, the complex is absolutely out-worldly – more like Dexter’s laboratory teeming with people deep in thought or rather devising a solution to navigate their way back to earth.

Reading the names of the apartments makes me feel more at home in the Milky Way. Are these the names of galaxies far far away and waiting to be discovered? Albany and Milford do sound like places that exist in ‘prithvilok’, but what can you make of Picton? Sounds like a planet close to Krypton with loads of virtual pics that make up the atmosphere!

And what about Fairlie? If one were to procure some fairy dust and sprinkle a little before Fairlie, I believe the apartment will transform to reveal its true avatar – a giant fairyland with gnomes, pixies, elfs, and every creature from Enid Blyton’s book of fairies.

Before I lose all hope, there’s Napier, Collingwood and Lumsden to make my day. These apartments stand cuddled together more like a trio of stars in a constellation. Whenever I’m near any one of them, I know my planet ‘Kilbirnie’ is near.

It’s been a good ten days that I’ve been here and I’m still to get a hang of the layout. A 15-minutes walk saw me return only after an hour; an hour which was the most gruelling 60 minutes of my life. The next time around it took me even more to return home!

Nevertheless, I did not give up on hope. The third time I tried remembering numbers of the parking lots nearby and stored it in my navigational brain, confident and relaxed that I would return like a boomerang. But alas!

There are more ways than one to enter a particular apartment here. So parking lot numbers changed depending on which way you left the apartment. The parking lot numbers I browsed through, did not find any matching record in the database I had stored. I knew I needed expert opinion.

So, who else than the security guard stationed at each of the apartments. I said ‘Kill-bir-nie’ and he looked at me as if I were an alien looking for my planet. He said, “Tower number, madam?” I fumbled in my mind. He’s most probably seen this exasperated look before. Smiling, he consulted his fellow expert and together they decoded which apartment I was referring to. Tower 7 it was, near the underground parking exit.

I’m waiting to get back to my good old building in Pune. With a relatable name like Dhanalaxmi Park Housing Society, that sounds so much earthly and my building numbered B4, I’m all sorted out.