Durga Foodie

IMG_20181222_181725Food is always the backbone of any city and little towns of this beautiful country is always mesmerizing. One such place that we happen to visit was Chitradurga during December. The temperatures were down but this rock city still held its warmth in the air. The hotel was not that helpful and it prompted us to step out. The long drive from Chennai was not too worrisome. edf

It was getting dark as the lights started to come out to bring out the night life in this little city and we got curious as to what this city could give. The smaller lanes and rumbling tummies made us ask people about the eateries around. Unanimous was the “Lakshmi Bhavan Tiffin Center” and the path brought us to the first fort edfgate and right adjacent to the gate was a small eat out, our nostrils pulled us to the aroma and we could not resist ourselves from experimenting food there. If you happen to be there, do not miss the aloo bondas there, they are simply mind blowing. They happen to shut down by 6 pm.

From there we moved on to Lakshmi Bhavan Tiffin center. It seems that the shop closes by 7 pm and so by the time we reached there, the

stocks had run out. But we did manage to try the Dosa and the Gulab Jamun. They were good and it left us asking for more. We felt it was more hype than the quality of the food that we could have.

The beauty about travelers is that they could be hungry for exploring and asking people shamelessly about things especially food .. ūüôā

We headed off towards the next destination but not without having the “Mirchi Bajji” and walked munching the spicy delicacy,

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This lead us to walk the streets to “Sri Basaveswara Hot Chips & Condiments”, this lead us to hog on “Thata Idli“, Vadas and bondas apart from the savories that were flying off.

IMG_20181222_190225How can it be that the evening would end without something sweet. Just across the road were hot Jalebees freshly made. It was just the right food to seal off the evening.

It was simply juicy and sweet. The tangyness was just right. It was crispy and hot to tell you that this was made right there and just for your taste buds. The only sad part was that it was served on plastic kept over news paper. I wish there could be some other way.

That evening when we retired to the room, we kept talking about this little city and its gastronomic flavours. It was simply wow..

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Byadgi Chilli

dsc_8536 (2)Chilli, Red and spicy… one of the major ingredients for any preparation in India. The mere thought of Red Chilli sends one in an imagination of a Red or deep Orange coloured shriveled crescent moon structure filled with capsaicin seeds.

Chilli as such is not a native of India but rather an origin from New Mexico, Guetamala, Peru and has been domesticated in an around 5000 BC. Columbus was the one who img_20181223_172012brought these beautiful fiery fruits to Europe and from there this has moved to Asia. It came to India in around 1584. It was initially used as a crop to protect the crops from the birds but today is a main crop as such. I was largely aware that Chilli production happens at Andhra Pradesh & Rajasthan but never knew that Maharashtra, Odisha & Karnataka are also major contributors. While Assam’s city Tezpur produces one of the spiciest chilies the world has, Naga Jalokia, the rest of the country produces chilli that are used in food and cosmetics (which was a surprise to know for me!!).

Well the other big surprise were the chilies being produced in Karnataka. I never knew about its Chilli producing capability and the variety that it produces. One of the largest producing areas is Byadgi region, near Haveri. The chilies from Byadgi are known for their red colour enhancement in food and less on the spice content. They are also exported for usage in cosmetics especially Lipsticks.dsc_8547 (2)

We happened to be travelling from our visit from Galaganath to Haveri and thanks to our GPS, it took us through some of the most lovely interior villages of north Karnataka. As we were crossing the village of Agadi, I pulled over to the sides of a paddy field on the sight of red chilies being dumped in the fields.

I had never seen harvesting of Red chilies and the sight was really exciting. We got down and literally ran into the fields with excitement. In a large clearing of the field there were close to 9 people working in sorting and packing the chilies in sacks. There was an air of excitement in them when my partner started talking to them.

She had no clue of Kannada and they had no clue of any other language. Actually, my partner amazes me all the time in the way she communicates with strangers and has good laughter with them.

Our broken discussions lead us to discover that this variety of Chilies that were produces was to be shifted to Byadgi which is the central zone for all Chilies production in the region. Here they were drying, sorting the chilies based on the colour and then packing them in sacks.

Chili Bugs

It was interesting to see the bugs in the chilies. They reminded me of the bugs from “Mummy” movie.

We took photos and videos of them doing the various activities on the land. The laughter that they had was coy and their simplicity was just contagious. It was a time that tells one that the heart of India is in its villages truly.

As we left from the farm land, we did manage to pick up some chilies for ourselves too, off course we paid them for the generosity. It was a beautiful evening to spend time in the rural part of this beautiful country.

Few lovely travel tips:

  • Always be on a look out for the beauty as you drive to your destiny.
  • Travel is for your pleasure, so pause when you feel or find something special.
  • Speak to the locals even though you may not know their language. The heart knows best to connect.
  • Request the people before you would like to take their photos or videos.
  • Carry a simple empty bag, just in case you would like to buy local things.
  • Keep change, it will always be handy as the rural side does not have many ATMs or swipe machines.
  • The last one, just soak in as much as you can.. ūüôā
Sunset

India is beautiful

Terracotta Adda – Bishnupur

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The first time that I heard of Bishnupur, it did not rekindle any feelings. Yeah, like any other local town in India, this could yet another city. Now, the mind does play tricks and I happened to start reading about this town and what got me excited was that this small The wingstown some 130 odd kilometers from Kolkata has been on the tentative list of UNESCO Heritage sites. That was more than enough for me to make up my plans to travel to this city.

And thus the wings took me off to the “City of JOY” … Kolkata and from there we headed off to the sleepy town of Bishnupur. We had a great cab driver who was quite a chatter box and ensured that we had a lovely time travelling to the Town of RED.¬†Tera HorseThis town today falls in the Birbhum district and was ruled by local kings under the rule of the Gupta Dynasty. Somewhere in the 17th & 18th century, this quiet town was ruled by the Malla Rulers who were followers of Lord Vishnu and had built these elegant structures. There has been a time in history, Bishnupur was the cultural capital of Bengal.

Today stands still to get recognition that it had in the past. The only thing that has got a world recognition is the beautiful Terracotta horse from Bishnupur that stands proudly with the West Bengal Tourism. It has become a symbol of pride from the past.

While heading to this historic place, we enjoyed the “Aaloo Chap” (Potato balls) a specialty from Bengal. It was way different from what we have had so far. One thing to remember is that, if you are heading towards the hinterlands in east, food is something you would have to adjust or carry your own stuff. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ed1
UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_ecfYou may not find great restaurants on the way but guaranteed to find some amazing local delicacies in shacks. Offcourse, water is a treasure and do pick your bottles as you head towards your beautiful destination. Not that you may not find them, but just be sure that you have them when you need them.

We rolled down our car and one would tend to have some guides who would reach out and ask. The best part is that these guys are not too pushy here and very reasonable. Our guide asked for Rs 200/- to take us around. You would need one of these guys just to get a understanding of some of the nuances that web may not throw out.

After picking up the tickets, I turned to just be awestruck by the grande of “Rashmancha”.. the base itself is some seven feet high and on top of that is the edifice which to me reminded of the Pyramids.¬† More than anything, it was the usage of Terracotta and red bricks to build this massive structure. UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_f7cOn these red bricks, the terracotta slabs depict the life from Ramayana &¬†unadjustedraw_thumb_f82-e1536476895193.jpgMahabharata. Just imagine, to cover such a huge structure how many just blocks would have first been conceptualized and then molded in heat to get the story done in a¬†beautiful sequence.

The “Rashmancha”¬†was made to celebrate the festivity with Lord Krishna. The villages from nearby and far would bring their Lord Krishna & Radha decorated in their finery best. There were places that were demarcated within the “Rashmancha”¬†where the respective deities were kept. It must have been a scene filled with fun and frolic. Bazars must have been filled with delicacies and handmade art work for people to buy and celebrate the festivities.

After this we went to the “Radha Balabha temple,” which is exquisite art work. The temple is small but a lot compactly built. The square structure is proportionately built with door ways exactly the same way. But, each wall has a different inscription and story to tell. The terracotta work will leave you mesmerized and you would tend to spend more time understanding each of these panels.

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Post this we went ahead to see another beauty called “Jor Bangla”.. Which is also called Twin palaces. “Jor” means joint.. There are two identical structures that look to have been joint in the middle. Except the fact that one has got a door while the other does not. The rest of the structure is the same.

UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_faeThe sad part is that people are not allowed to get inside the place. Am sure the exquisite work would have to be preserved.

As we walked around we found that, apart from the red bricks there were laterite rocks that have used to build these palaces. Both red soil and laterites are common to this place. A beautiful usage of what is available in the vicinity.

Then there is the Madan Mohan temple and many others. All these temples that have been created. Many of these structures are fairly identical to one another and grandeur. This is one temple where the lord Krishna resides and the idol is worshiped everyday. We happened to reach there a little late.UNADJUSTEDRAW_thumb_fcc

Just a furlong down, is the “Large gateway”. It is also made up off Laterite rocks and Bricks. As I walked into the gateway that is still used for smaller vehicles to pass through, one could see the posts that were created for the sentries and Royal army to be stationed. The large dome did make it more spacious.

Each of these places do have something or the other happening right outside. We had a Baul singer, mesmerizing the place. Then you have the tea stall and a vendor selling the local handicraft.

After¬† going through the regular tourist spot, we were fascinated by some of the dilapidated structures. One of them was this “Radha Krishna” temple. There were still in sequence next to the village pond. Even though it is a locked and broken temple, people have had kept the space in front of that cleaned for their evening get-together.

A further down was an old house of one of the singers from the “Bishnupur Gharana”. This house is now run down and is beyond use. Only after seeing this place, did we realize that Bisphupur, does contribute to the Indian Classical Music in a big way. Felt sad too that such places and art has not been publicized much.IMG_20180429_124950

What really surprises me the heights and the similarity in layout. One would tend to find a similar layout within each structures. Each of these temples have a Tulsi area, a kitchen area right behind the temple structures.

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The top of all these temples have a very beautiful arch which am sure serves both the ways for keeping the place cool during the hot summer days and also, let’s the water recede faster during the rainy season.

There seem to be an alignment to the Vastu requirements of building a place. The vastness of the temples does talk about the fact that these places were not only built from a worship point of view but also a place where people could get together and celebrate various functions. There is a very forward thinking by the kings who ruled this places.  Importance has been given not only to the architecture but also the society that thrived around them.

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Exploring the kitchen area, my imagination on food had no bounds ūüėČ

We had spent almost three hours in this beautiful historical place and still felt we have not seen enough. Our driver then took us to a place slightly away from the main area. This place was further decorated with many a temples. These temples have been built by the local Zamindars and these are no less captivating.

After another hour of exploring the beautiful red structures and soaking in the past, we went ahead to see one last chapter in the annals of history. That is the “Dalmadal Canon”. This canon was the largest manufactured by the Malla Kings. The canon has been manufactured by layers of alloys stripped together and is quite intact. It has not rusted at all.

IMG_20180429_141955We ended our trip at the “Chindamastika temple”, which was really a peaceful space in¬†front of a rather “Ugra roopa” (Violent image) of Goddess Kali.

By around¬† 2.30 pm we were hungry and our driver took us to the “Bishnupur Tourist Lodge” for a simple Fish meal. Well even if you are a vegetarian, the food is really simple and nice. It was really a nice place to end the trip and before we headed back to Shantiniketan for the next part of our journey to soak in the cultural hub of West Bengal. It was quite a fulfilling journey.

A few things definitely would suggest who would like to go and soak oneself in this beauty:

  • Carry water bottle as much as you can
  • Be ready to walk, as there is much more to explore, a CAP is a must as these are open spaces.
  • Do carry some food with you if you can.
  • Try being there during the non summer season.
  • Take a guide, he will help you explore the place from a different perspective.
  • The place is fairly clean and the Archaeological department has done some great restoration. Help them in the cause by keeping it clean.
  • Soak in the local flavours, you will not regret it.
  • Enjoy the place, it has more to offer.

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The LASSI

“Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi is a Lassi”

When Gertrude Stein in 1913 wrote, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”.. she might not have thought that people across the globe would use it for any article that could suite them..

Sweet white LassiWell not every Indian would add and agree to that statement with Rose and the “Quintessential Lassi”… When the world talks about the white sweet lassi, one place in Bhubaneswar, says Nah!! we do not like it white, let’s make it brown. Why should every thing from curd be white.

Well, welcome to “Lingaraj Lassi centre” . A bustling city space right in the heart of the city at Shahid Nagar (Near Durga Mandapa). Bhubaneswar being a foodies delight, this place adds to the flavour and it is very difficult to resist not going there and gulping down a glass of chill Lingaraj Lassi.

Having heard about this lassi, we happened to head out to have this beautiful sweetened

34493708331_9668a6c207_olassi. At first, the place being crowded makes you think about the popularity and fan following. There was ample space to park our car though slightly away, but the pull was strong for a nice walk. I struggled to first understand what to be done because of the crowd. Then we slowly made our way to see the whole jamboree of activities that happen right in front of you.

On the left as one enters, there was one who was scraping heaps of coconut, while right in front was a small cemented space to hold big blocks of ice which was being broken and taken for mixing it up with the lassi. As this was happening, what caught my fascination was the four huge furnaces on which there were huge pots of Khoa (Milk Product) was being made. The lassi here is made different with loads and loads of Khoa (Another milk product), which is basically what gives it the brown colour and the sweetness that it brings.  It is fascinating to see that there was this one man who kept staring the pots to get the right thickness and flavour to Khoa. Once this was done, curd along with sugar and Khoa was put in a mixer and served. There were close to fifteen mixers kept just for this purpose,

There are close to three people manning the serving area but one held the money and was mouthing the instructions while he himself went on serving. The coordination was so smooth that, only when the money was paid the glasses were held out to the customer.   This gentleman held a thick wad of money in his hand, explicitly saying he is the cashier without even having a board.

The prices were economical, a large glass (Approx 500 Ml) is priced at Rs50/- while the small glass (Approx 300 ml) was priced Rs 40/-. Now one can have a sugar free lassi too, but then when you have so much sweetness in Khoa, what is sugar free?? 2ecff44b86293d926068010b3c6f176d

 

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What ever said and done, once the liquid flows down the throat, there is a sense of peace 34624310715_a28409af3d_oand pure bliss. Well the only caution that it is really a sweet concoction and could hit you really heard, so choose your glass accordingly.

And.. if you are in Bhubaneswar, you could place an online order too..

Having said so, will always say.. “If in Bhubaneswar during summers (Available only in summers), never ever miss this heady Lassi”

Oh!! you can check their humble space on facebook too but not that active, it just says that the focus of these guys on the product and not on publicity. It is truly for its loyal customers like me to do.. ūüôā

 

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My first book.. Maya. Do pick up a copy at Amazon or Notionpress.com

 

 

 

Sublime ecosystem – Chilika

 

odisha-325Chilika, the shallow brackish lagoon on the south eastern part of Odisha, today is an integral part of the state. A distinctive landmark that is not only well established from tourism perspective but also is well know for its “Tiger Prawn” cultivation worldwide. A landmark¬†that was once a maritime hub with¬†a rich history, today largely remains a source of livelihood through tourism and prawn cultivation. This pear shaped lagoon stretches 64.3 Kms across¬†Puri, Khurda & Ganjam districts of Odisha. Apart from being a support to the human livelihood, this natural beauty is a mother to the 225 species of fish¬†ecology and it hosts 160 different species during peak migratory season.

This was my second visit to this beautiful lagoon. My first trip was some 11 years ago from Berahmpur side. The vastness was what pulled my interest. This time I was more excited as I wanted to see the beautiful lake from the Puri side. Also, this part of the lake has the lesser known Irrawaddy Dolphins. The fascination drove us down to visit the place once again.

Well, how much early that I think of starting, still ended up leaving only by 7.30 am from Bhubaneswar. The newly laid outer ring road is very smooth to drive and is a toll road today. The stretch of 135 kms took us 4 hours with some stops in-between for breakfast and at Alarnath Temple on the way.

It was a beautiful drive, also which cut off from the Puri main road. on our way we could see the great Jagannath temple. The Puri РSatapada road is filled with lilies on both the sides. It was a sight to see, awesome will be an understatement.

As we entered the Satapada area, we were almost chased down by a biker. He waved his hand vigorously and wanted us to stop. I slowed down the car to a stop, as I rolled down the window I realised that he was one of the local guys trying to get people for the boat rides. If one is not careful you could actually end up paying a higher price. The IMG_20161106_214234.jpggovernment owned boards are much cheaper and better which is near the lake boating point. We left him and trusted on the GPS to guide us to the spot. We were welcome by a small toll booth who showed us the way forward. We finally happened to reach at the lake boating area by 11.30 am. As we happen to get down there were a bunch of fishermen odisha-213community guys got hold of us positioning their deal for a boat ride. Though hesitant to pick it up we managed to get a good deal for three hours, which included Dolphin viewing, Rajhans island and Muhana (The lake mouth meeting the sea). We stacked up our ration of water, juices and snacks and went ahead to the boat designated for us.

After having exchanged the pleasantries our boats man pushed the boat into the main water. It was really unexpected of us that we would see the Dolphins within five minutes into the lake. It was a family of three that came up the surface and then ducked into the water. They were swift and moved very rapidly. Catching them on camera once needs to understand the patterns in their movement. Finally I managed to get their bums shot. It was an real beautiful experience to see them.

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Irrawaddy Dolphins

These dolphins are so different from that of the regular ones that one sees and reads about. According to a census in 2010 there are only 156 dolphins in Chilika. Hope the number have gone up now rather than nose diving.
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After our beautiful rendezvous with these mammals we headed off on a solitary trip to Rajahans Island. Chilika being spread over such a huge water space, there happens to be many small islands and water ways are a very strong mode to move from one island to another, as well as connecting it to the main land. One would also see the intricate spread of fishing nets either for catching the fish or prawn. These nets also become a good hunting ground for birds to get their hunger satiated.

20161006_123044By the time we reached Rajhans island it was already 1.00 pm and we were exhausted odisha-296because of the sun heat and the water around. But the breeze happened to be a good solace in the whole drive.

Rajhans was a small beautiful island, in-between the lake and the sea on the other side. The heat was really strong and the Akashiya shade was a real solace. Oh must say, the beach gave a feeling of odisha-298peace and was an amazing place for doing some great photo shoot. We spent close to 20 mins there before we headed back to our boat for our return. For the heat and the hunger that had caught us by now, we decided to skip the lake mouth. The sea shore at Rajhans was reassuring enough for the day.

We reached back at the shore in another 45 mins and that was a killer of time. Exhausted and parched. Was wondering how our boatsman managed to stand in that hot sun all this while and we the delicate lot even under the tarpaulin sheet were feeling the heat. Well nature has its own way of balancing it I suppose. The cool breeze made us to catch up with couple of winks before we reached our destiny.

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Lunch stop after the ride

The hungry souls finally got satisfied with a feast on awesome fresh sea food catch. You name it and it was there and the food was of local flavour which was finally topped up with some delightful pan (beetle leave).

Though the journey back was in the cool air condition of the car but the heart was left behind in the pristine waters of Chilika, as if it beckoned us to come back again and be a part of that wonder….

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Some experiences:

  • Avoid the touts trying to lure you in for a private trip.
  • Cover you head with caps and wear loose cotton clothes.¬†
  • Carry loads of drinking water while on the boat.
  • Carry fruit juices and not aerated drinks. You could juices near the boating area.
  • Liquor is not allowed on the boats.
  • Try to get a covered boat
  • There are no proper restrooms around
  • Food for vegetarians could be a challenge
  • Swatch Bharat… the place is relatively clean, try and keep it that way.

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Chuk Chuk…

A traveler am I and a navigator, and ever day I discover a new region within my soul
– Kahlil Gibran

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The multi wheel carriages running on two tracks carrying many dreams, ambitions, sadness, love, apprehensions and what not that a human being could go through has always been a fascination for me even in this flight era. Someone recently at office asked me as I shared that I will not be at Office for the following week,

He: oh!! so you are flying off on Friday??
Me: No.. Catching the train in the evening..
He: Really, it is a long journey.. 20 hours.. It will be tiresome. You should have caught the flight, save time.
Me: (Smiling) Oh, I did not think it that way. Yeah it would take time but I would love every moment of it with my family. It is full “FAMILY TIME!!”.

He was not sure, what to say after that and we both had a good laugh..

It’s really a treasure trove for me every time I get started with¬†my train travel plans.

Right from the moment, I book the train tickets, the wait and the anticipation is on the rise. Anticipation for the remembrance of childhood memories, a sense of freedom and a desire to meet and talk to strangers.

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The Indian Railways, is one of the longest and the most complicated rail networks of the world. From the first train that got launched in 1853 when am sure, people would have been looking at it with awe and admiration then to the latest high speed trains that are getting experimented from Delhi to Mumbai and many. The awe and admiration still remains the same. The network today runs over 115,000 Kms across carrying millions of passengers daily. There are many known and unknown interesting facts that the Indian Railways throws up.

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Technology todays has helped us avoid the jammed up railway ticketing counters but the fight to booking the tickets still runs high. Can’t complain when you have more than 13 lakh tickets being booked in a day through IRCTC portal. Just imagine the amount of traffic that IRCTC would be facing for these bookings.

As I have grown over the years the accessibility to AC coaches have become a part of life and the travels are becoming more and more comfortable. Having said so, I do miss those lovely moments when I would wake up to the sound of a chia wala (Tea vendor) or the smell of a hot snack at any railway platform. The beauty is that, each station has its own brand and popularity. I remember once catching a local train from Sambalpur to Bhubaneswar years back, and the train stopped at Boinda station. People jumped off the train as it came to a halt to have the very famous local bara and Aloo chop (Vada & Potato balls). (I am already  salivating as I share this.) This station is a junction and people literally have their breakfast in the morning as the train halts for 15 Р20 mins. Post the breakfast is the hot cup of tea on those small clay pots which are now very common in the Eastern part of the country.

Or the Bread Omlet at Vijaywada station as the train to east from Chennai halts in the morning hours. Am sure, each of us have a wonderful connection with many of these stations. It makes you feel closer to home.

Well, the pantry services is no different experience which one goes with. Now the services have improved and are way better off, though a long way to go. Train journeys tend to become gastronomic journeys too. Remember my childhood days when my mom would pack up tiffin boxes and snack packs for the travel to last for 18 hours. The moment the train leaves the station, there is an auto trigger for the hunger to kick in. So what, if I had had my breakfast or lunch or dinner just before we left home. ūüôā

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Enjoying the breeze

The longer the journeys is towards home, the more the impatience as the destination¬†gets closer. I tend to move myself away from my seat and stand at the door. The fresh breeze hits harder as the train chugs along. My mind pushes the train¬†harder to fly on those lovely tracks as the rice fields fly past me. During this month’s travel, I was standing with my son at the door (who was there for the first time) and I could see the excitement in him and the nostalgia that it created for me. Off course one needs to be cautious and careful but this today has become a part of life no matter if the train is long distance or local train. The freshness that this experience¬†leaves is heavenly.

As a child going in the sleeper class coach during rainy season was a delight. I would be chasing the rain drops as they would crash against the shut glass window pane and run down to meet the other water droplets. Dreams get created and smiles tend to appear at the corner of the lips.. then and even now it does so, no matter how old one gets.
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Indian Railways, with what ever shortfalls that it has.. it does not matter once you are on the train. Someone rightly said and I have seen it happening, “It is a beautiful journey where strangers meet and become friends to part again and may be to meet again”.

There are so many stories that one can go on and on. There is an unending list one shares in these journeys with not only the passengers but also the caterers, the TT, vendors at the station. All hoping to have a moment of fleeting emotion to be shared with.

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Train Bridge over River Godavari

Rightly said and with all love, I do connect with the same tag line of Indian Railways,
“Lifeline to the nation”

Every journey is worth living for!!! … Can’t wait for the next trip….

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Charred Ivory :(

Steamy flavoured “Kashmiri Pulav”, blissful “Dragon chicken” (Indian style sweet stir fry shredded chicken) and to top it up was the “Gajar ka Halwa” (typical carrot sweet dish). All served at the beautiful exotic Taj.The beautiful aroma and the delightful colours would lift the spirits of any person. My son was on all his enthusiasm and vigour to get digging into his plate and there I was with my eyes stuck on the “Cashews”…

I seem to have been transported to the recent visit of the cashew factory at Kollam, Kerala. I was all excited to see and know more as to how the cashews are sent to its customers. It was around 1.30 pm that we reached on to a deserted road leading to these huge gates of a Kollam-301factory. As the gates opened we were into a place of cold silence. We thought that it was a holiday that day but then a view at the polythene packets resting right next to the wall and the slippers which seemed to be guarding them was the testimony that people are there. But where were these people??

Our driver went inside as we were left wondering what is next!! That is when I could see our driver calling us to come over to a place that looked like an office. We met Manoj, the supervisor of the place. He was neatly dressed and seated in his office with piles of notes and paper. I could not see any computers, in this machine era. It seemed as though they trusted the old system more than the systems. He said, he will guide us on this “Cashew factory” tour..

Kollam-257Just adjoining the office place onto the left hand side was a godown filled with sacks of Cashew nut. Beautiful Green and brown coloured nuts oozing out from the sacks. The first thought was wow.. “All this from Kerala” and he was prompt in saying.. “No Sir, this comes from Ivory Coast. Indian supply is only for 3 months and not more than that. So we import Cashew nuts”. And here I was in ¬†thought that “India was self sufficient in this”. A quick google search made me¬†realise that Maharastra, Tamil Nadu & Odisha lead in Cashew production in India. Kollam-256Kerala is at a meagre fourth. And, India contributes to around 28% of the world’s cashew supply.

This particular factory seems to have found it cheaper to import it from Africa rather than from Indian states.

Well from there these cashew went into a furnace where they would be heated up to help the nut cases loosen up and the main fruit to be easy to come out. These furnaces were manually managed. The oil that comes out of these nuts was sticking onto the walls of the furnace and giving it a sticky pitch black look. That place even though was not functional one could feel the heat to be atleast 20 degrees more than the surrounding. To me it looked

like a murder site in the dark alleys.

From here on the charred cashews are taken up for manual deshelling. It was really a dingy site with atleast 40 – 50 women hunched on one side of the room manually breaking open

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Deshelling of Cashews..

the nuts and on the other side were the men who were using the manual machine to open the shells. Both seemed painstaking and laborious. There is no automated way of deshelling, one had to go the manual way. What stayed very sad with me was the working condition. The air seemed still and suffocating under the asbestos sheets. The human voice was also lost out in the sound of cracking shells.Kollam-268Kollam-272

The women folk seemed to be from Kerala locals while the men were up up north and east. Many of them had there for the last 4-5 years and now fluent in Malayalam. These young boys were happy to send back money home and did not mind the environment as long as the money came in. They helped us also put our hands to work. While doing so, they did tell us to be careful of the oil coming out of the cashew as that could destroy the nails if not cared for.

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Removing the cashew oil

One of them was oiling his hand well to ensure that the Cashew oil did not stick to his skin. These men were doing all this work without any gloves.

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Cashew shells & Cashew

Once the deshelling is over, the brownish looking cashews move to be heated up again. And can you believe the shelled cases are used to heat up the same furnaces that are used to loosen them up. No external resources used to burn the furnace,  all self sustaining.

As one moves to the heating area, you are welcomed into a room which is constantly Kollam-276maintained at 100 degrees. And the furnace was even more. Stacks of Cashew trays are pushed into the furnace by this gentleman who is the only man managing it day in and out. Lifting and tying his lungi, he was back to his work with a smile. His shirt was his second skin. His beautiful smile did not even tell the heat and strain he was bearing on. I tried to push the cart into the furnace, I had a second bath and realised it was not an easy job at all, like the way he made it look like.

Once these cashews are cooled down, they move to the cleaning area. It is here that one see more light and air flowing. The supervisor of the room had his chair up ahead in the room, right between the two rows. He would walk up and down just to keep an eye on the women working. He was the only male member in the room filled with women. These women would segregate the cashews based

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Heated Cashews

on them being full or split or broken or smaller broken pieces. When we started interacting, there was giggle on the floor as if that was their fun time. But, none stirred from their places. Some sat on armed plastic chairs, while some on plastic stools hunched up. Towards the fag end of the room there were women seated on the floor too. They seemed more comfortable that way. The cashews were neatly stacked into different baskets and moved to the next room for final inspection and cleaning.

In the next room which was equally well lit, women were busy cleaning the cashews, some where scrapping the skin of the cashews to look ivory white. The deftness with which they worked on that said all about their skill. We tried our hand on one and by the time we ran the small knife for the second time, the cashew broke into two. There was a giggle and laughter looking at our clumsiness. These women were so friendly that they never would give a feel that they are unhappy. Some of them came from long distances every morning and return back in the evening.

As we stepped out of the room, our eyes felt on the shed next door and we realised that there was another similar set up for cleaning and a bunch of women ran to that side with crates full of hot cashews to be cleaned. In between the two sheds was the rest room, the stink could make one run away.

From here the cashews moved to the final packing area far away from this factory. There they put the cashews through the final inspection and hopped into big polythene bags. They are vacuum sealed with nitrogen air to protect the precious product before being sold. These were sold in the local and international markets at high prices. We also managed to pick up a 1 kg bag of cashew.

As we moved away from the factory, what remained with me was this smoked bellowing factory and the gleeful happy faces inspite of all the odds that they faced. All this to ensure that the end customer happens to get a shining white full Cashew to enjoy his or her “Kashmiri Pulav” or “Gajar ka Halwa”.

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