Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Quick Snap: I can move mountains

An ant carrying a dead fly on its back

Travel Tips Series : 1 - How to budget your travel expenses

For those new to travel planning, leaving it all up to a travel agent might seem like the way to go. But if you have a bit of patience and the will to do extensive research before your trip, you might be able to go to your dream destinations well within your budget.

In this post I shall talk about the basics of travel budget. In posts that follow I shall focus on some specific cities/countries to give you an idea of how I plan my expenses.

Travelling on a budget does not necessarily mean being cheap. It is meant to allow you to get the most value out of your expenses. Before you even begin to make your budget, you should have a clear idea about your travel plans. Where do you want to go and what is the duration of the stay at each destination?

Friday, 26 July 2013

A Road trip to the Mozambican countryside by Debasish B

Mozambican countryside…on roads…

Who knows what waits on the road you have taken this time…..the peanuts may be priceless…….

Guest Post by Dr. Debasish Bhattacharya.

Starting from where I left in my previous post……

The weekend gone….Monday arrived and I was on road. I started from Maputo early in the morning as I was told that we had to cover about 500 kilometres by the evening. The driver was the same but the car was a Land cruiser.  For my project on Nacionale Estradas 1 (NH-1), I had to travel along my project road and my friend, philosopher and guide, Mr. Ismail, the driver told me that we were to travel through 3 provinces - Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane ….the Mozambican countryside.

Leaving the city of Maputo I was greeted with a totally different scenery altogether. It was so different that I never thought of. It was only natural and no human interference. Blue on the right side, was of the Indian Ocean and on my left, rugged terrains with stony outgrowths and intermittent green patches of coconut, banana, mango and other trees.

The Road I Took

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Dumpling Story

There are some stories that just beg to be told. The dumpling story is one such, at least to the three of us who were involved in it.

I was leaving Aachen in a few days, having wrapped up my Masters Thesis.

We are all sad and nostalgic, taking walks, planning future meets, etc when Am and Kath decide to throw me a little going away party at Kath's place.
Here is how I imagine the conversation to have proceeded like:
[Am: Maharashtrian boy
 Kath: German girl]
Kath: Anwesha loves German food. What say we cook her something German.
Am: Sure. What?
Kath: Umm, I am thinking something traditional with beef and pork, you know lots of meat, just how she     likes it.
Am: Great. You handle the food and I will bring the wine. Oh, by the way, if you are cooking with beef and pork, could you perhaps make mine a vegetarian version?
Kath: Sure, no problem.


Anyway, so I arrive at the farewell party. Kath is cooking traditional German dumplings, a potato mash filled with spiced beef mince with a sauce made of bacon and cream. Everything smells great and fantastic. The portions are generous and I am drooling.
Soon Am arrives with a few bottles of wine, you never know how many bottles we'll go through when thereis good food to be had.
Cue sentimental stories and photo sessions and general reminiscing that every good farewell party needs and then it is time to eat.

Traditional German mince dumpling
The food tastes awesome. The potato is thick and creamy, the mince rich and the sauce, an amazing bacony decadence. The three wine option Am has brought are lovely and goes perfectly with the food. I am happy. Kath is happy. Am is... all too quiet. I realise he hasn't spoken in a while. We turn and see him staring at his plate, a slightly shocked/dazed look on his face. Kath has kept her word and cooked him a vegetarian version. Am has all the wine he can drink and a big lump of baked potato swimming in a bowl of milk.

Dedicated to my darling friends whom I love very much. Thank you for making my stay and last days at Aachen so very memorable and more often than not, filled with ridiculously funny mishaps.

A farewell to remember with Am and Kath

Monday, 22 July 2013

The perfect road trip : Visit to Schauinsland, Black Forest

How do you define the perfect road trip? We go to so many places - amazing and mundane, exotic and everyday, we remember somethings, forget many others. I suppose, for a trip to be the perfect road trip, it is the travel that is more memorable than the destination ... the journey which is cherished and fondly recollected.
The road trip I will tell you about today was more perfect that any I could have ever imagined. I was going to Schauinsland in Black Forest, Germany to set up a weather station with my colleagues. We had booked a Renault mini van and having packed our instruments in the back, we set off on a nearly 500 km long journey.
Now driving on the German autobahn is an experience in itself and I will write more on that later. Let it suffice to say that including a snack break and traffic halts, we covered the distance in four hours with most of the journey being covered at speeds greater than 150 kmph.

Speedometer hitting 170 kmph

Friday, 19 July 2013

Who is Maria Ralbovska?

Who is Maria Ralbovska? I don't know. But for nine months, the tag outside my room in Aachen proclaimed me as her.
Everyone and I mean everyone else I know had the correct name tags on their door, except me. I do not know why the Hausmeister never bothered to change mine and my numbing fear of him and his insistence that I speak in German ALL THE TIME never allowed me to broach the subject with him.
In any case, for those nine months I lived as Maris Ralbovska. We had a common kitchen with allotted shelves and lockers. She hadn't taken much with her when she left. Pots and pans, a few brand new packets of pasta, a box of toffee - I found all these waiting for me in the locker assigned to me, the locker which once again read 'Maria Ralbovska'. I cooked with her utensils. I even cooked the pasta and discovered a new favorite toffee in the box she left behind. To everyone in the apartment who did not know me personally, I was Maria Ralbovska, the surprisingly Indian looking girl from one of the erstwhile Soviet countries.
Thankfully, my mail box had my correct name, so I always got the posts all right. But every where else inside the building it was, 'Hi Maria'. I initially went about correcting them but after sometime, I gave up. 'Anwesha' was more difficult to remember for those with whom I had no more than two words per week.
It was Valentine's Day when on my door, there was a long-stemmed red rose - I do not know from whom or for whom - Maria or me. But I suppose it does not matter -it was there and it was a lovely surprise.

I do not know who Maria Ralbovska is, I have never met her, but I feel like she is a part of me.
From the black-handled wok, the penne in the pantry, the butter-cream toffee and your tanning lotion on my shelve to the single long-stemmed rose on my door, you have been more my companion in a foreign land than you will ever know and if you happen to come across this blog, Dear Ms. Ralbovska, who lived in Seilgraben before August 2010, drop me a line - because I sure would like to finally meet you.

To randomness of life,

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Zara - The Tapas bar and restaurant, Kolkata : Impressions

After a long time, I ate out with my parents on Sunday. We wanted to go somewhere we hadn't gone before and Zara, on the top floor of the South City Mall, was a convenient choice.
Usually, if we go to a new restaurant, we like to try out the buffet. The advantage of that is, you get to sample most all the cooking styles the place has to offer.
At Zara, the Sunday lunch buffet was INR 535 before tax and without alcohol. One could opt for buffet with alcohol at a price difference of about 200 rupees.

Zara at South City Mall, Kolkata 

Friday, 12 July 2013

Travel Tips to remember when in Kolkata Part 1

Blending In in Kolkata

So you find yourself in Kolkata on your spiritual awakening tour of India or because you talked back to your boss and got a transfer that no amount of headbanging changed... Regardless of how you got here, you are or will soon be in Kolkata. What do you do? How do you get around?

The people of Kolkata are inherently curious. We still haven't learnt the detached efficiency in that you see in Delhi or the overwhelming and focussed busy-ness that you see on the streets of Mumbai. We are relaxed creatures, yes we have somewhere to go, but it can wait - being on time is of secondary importance to offering some unsolicited advice to a tourist. Yes, we are inherently curious, sometimes to the point of being nosy - what do you do, where do you come from, what kind of food do you feed your two dogs and so on.

If you know how to handle us, it is most likely that you will find your stay in Kolkata pleasant. 

Kolkata Diaries

Kolkata is a strange city. It is not a city that outsiders are commonly too fond of... yet, if you are from the city and you live somewhere else, you pine for Kolkata. At first glance, Kolkata's glory days seem to be over. It seems to be a tired city, lack-lustre and stagnant, trying to hold on to a time long past, remembering achievements long forgotten... but do not write off Kolkata yet... Kolkata is an acquired taste, it grows slowly on you, through sipping garam cha by the lake while catching up on the local adda to getting inhaling bucket-loads of dust beside fellow book-lovers at the annual book fair to glorious festivals that rival any of the greatest carnival shows on Earth ... you will not be able to identify the time you fell in love with the City of Joy ... and one Sunday, after lunch, when you are yearning for that mishti doi, you will know that Kolkata has indeed become a part of you.
This series will focus entirely on Kolkata, the place where I have lived for the first twenty odd years of my life, my hometown... a much maligned and misunderstood city that I cant help but love despite all its faults.
I hope I will be able to give you a glimpse of this city that will inspire you to come visit.
Till next time,
Happy living...

A half day trip to Technik Museum Speyer: A Car Museum in Germany by Atanu B

Willkommen im Museum Speyer

Guest post by Atanu Bhattacharyya

“Today I will take you to some place, you will really like.” said my German colleague, responsible for Automotive Business in Germany. I had gone to Germany to attend our International Market Meeting. On the last day of our conference, this colleague and I went to our production plant in Kaiserslautern. After lunch he offered me a half day trip with him.

During my visit in Germany we normally stay in Weinheim. It is a very beautiful but small city (town) with two castles on a hill top. I had explored all possible places in Weinheim during my previous visit. So I accepted his proposal with an unknown excitement.

Small village

The speedometer was, for most parts, between 180 to 200 kms per hour. It was a time of December. The outside temperature was around 5 degree centigrade though we were nice and warm with seat heaters inside the car. I opened the window to take some snaps. But it was like a cold air sword touching our bare faces. So, I closed the window and started taking pictures from behind the glass window shield.

A vineyard
We were leaving behind small European villages and vineyards touching the horizon.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Quick Snap: Blue Muscari

Blue Muscari for sale in Maastricht, Netherlands

Walking through Maastricht: A Day trip

Maastricht is easily accessible from Aachen. I once spent a day in Maastricht wandering around the city and managed to do the whole thing under 20 euro. The Aachen University had an offer for international students which allowed us a guided tour of the city for 12 euros. I spent another 3 euro on lunch from a local vendor in Maastricht and another 5 euro on a waist-coat from a second hand shop. I went there two years back and I don’t remember all the details. I certainly haven’t seen all the must-see sights and I regret not having the chance to explore the underground caves. But I did spend a long time wandering about imbibing the flavour of Maastricht and wanted to share some of my memories of what was a wonderful outing.

Maastricht City Hall
Maastricht is often overlooked by tourists. But if you have some time to spend when you are in the Netherlands, I would certainly suggest you spend a day here. With influences of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, Maastricht is international spirit represented. At the same time, there are quaint little alleyways and hidden corners that give you a glimpse of thousand years’ worth of architecture that recount the journey of this town from since the Roman times.

Mozambique Diaries Part 1: Saturday Boulevard Market in Maputo by Debasish B

A dip into the Ocean of African Artisan Crafts – Saturday Boulevard Market in Maputo, Mozambique

Guest Post by Dr. Debasish Bhattacharya.

I started my freelancing career with a special attraction of travelling to places more frequently. As I was always travelling as a part of my profession, I wanted more of it and decided to go for freelancing that had provided me opportunities to work abroad also and thus I could see a lot of places beyond the country’s boundary. But, I earned some complements from my nearest ones this way – hardly stays at home…..always on wheels…..ha ..ha ..ha.

My first assignment abroad happened to be in Africa….the land of my dreams since the days I was studying Anthropology. The country was Mozambique, a country where people speak Portuguese, some in local dialects including Afrikaans (the national language of South Africa) due to its proximity as the nearest neighbour.

Before leaving I searched net and found an interesting story about the country and that was so similar to one about my birthplace Kolkata (erstwhile Calcutta). The first Portuguese ship harboured near the shore saw a man working on the beach. The captain asked him the name of the place and he replied ‘Musa Ali Baig’, as he thought the foreigner asked his name. The captain informed his team – Hey, this place is ‘Mozambique’. Isn’t it similar to the story about our ‘City of Joy’? I was more surprised by the Indian connection about the country’s name. I searched more and found that many Indian slaves via Arabian business routes used to be ported to this land much before it became a Portuguese colony.

My flight from Delhi took me to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique via Nairobi, Kenya. From Nairobi we were shifted to a smaller aircraft for Maputo. While flying above Mount Kilimanjaro I heard our flight crew asking us to see from the right windows. I was fortunate to sit near it and I saw a steep peak rupturing the clouds like a spearhead trying to reach our miniscule aircraft. I was spellbound to see the way the mountain raised its high head from a barren undulated terrain below. Suddenly, within a few minutes, there was another announcement – Look below…….. I was like…confused….what was that!!!! A thick cloud of yellow dust filling almost the whole landscape below, and the cloud was led by dark black mobile patches……oh my God….wildebeests…Yes, said the crew member…..they are on a long journey. From such a height it was so spectacular and unexpected that I could not sit without dropping my jaws. It was not in my dream travel itinerary……I was feeling extremely lucky.

From Maputo International Airport my client organization picked me up and took me to the office cum guesthouse. Since it was a Saturday I was briefly introduced to the team members who waited ignoring their weekend just to say hello to me. I was provided with some documents on my project on Nacional Estradas 1 (National Highway 1). Then started my weekend holiday, oh it was such a welcome.

I asked my driver (fortunately he could speak and understand English a bit) to take me to some nearby places since it was a holiday. Sir, why can’t we visit the Saturday street-side market? – said my driver. I was not very keen on seeing a weekly market there in Maputo, but I nodded positively. He took me to a boulevard in front of Maputo Port on the shore of Indian Ocean.

Sir, we have arrived – said the driver. I got down from the car and was simply bowled over by the scene of the spot. It was a special market…..a weekly market of handicrafts. I murmured to myself – thank God, I did not refuse this trip thinking of a mundane place for just buying and selling. I also realised how different and nice experiencing traditional markets instead of peeping through large glass windows in larger than life, extra-sophisticated malls all around in my present hometown Delhi.

Saturday Market, Maputo

Monday, 1 July 2013

Quick Snap: Breakfast at Dooars

Breakfast at Dhupjhora Elephant Camp, Dooars

Hartaal and Neya at Dhupjhora Elephant Camp by Debojyoti B

Guest post by Debojyoti Bhattacharya

The Dhupjhora Elephant Camp, Gorumara Reserve Forest can be reached after travelling about 75 kilometers from Siliguri, India through the nostalgic Doors road.

Road through Dooars
On our way there, we took a break as usual at Malbazar. We are always on the lookout small road-side eateries and more often than not, have managed to find little gems hidden away from the eye of the world where the d├ęcor may be lacking but hospitality and great food may be found in abundance. With plenty of fish and mutton consumed with profuse glee, we leisurely traveled the remaining distance after taking the state road leaving the national highway.

Changu Machher Gota Bhaja (Changu Fish Fry) by Debasish B

Amader HNesel Thekey...From Our Kitchen (Series):

Guest Post by Dr. Debasish Bhattacharya.

We, I mean Mandira and Debasish. Since long we have been planning to document some of our preparations. A constant encouragement from our daughter Anandi helped us taking up this assignment.

We love cooking and hope that we shall enjoy sharing our passion with all our near and dear ones. And, now we have started this series……

Though we have a regular cook at home, whenever we like, we either ask her to enjoy a planned French leave or sometimes take her help in assisting us. We have noticed that cooking has a special impact, at least on us. This works as a stress buster. When we find that we are bogged down with the burden of professional work, do not get the right way to come out with the right kind of results or working long hours bending shoulders, feel disgusted……just then if we feel like doing something good……close to our heart, we take up a kitchen assignment, I mean cooking. And then we start planning, collecting essentials, processing for cooking. This doubles up with our keen interest of having some good food. And thus……we get freshened up and recharged for getting into completion of unfinished professional tasks.

In this series, our dishes will come without following any norms…..vegetarian / non-vegetarian, salty / spicy / sweet / sour, dry or with gravy…..whichever will be cooked will be documented and placed on blog for sharing with all our friends. While doing so, we shall inform the place, time and who is cooking the item.

Our first item will be a fish-dish. After all, it will come from a traditionally Bangla HNesel (Rannaghar or kitchen)…….