Apr 14, 2014

Gingee - The Fort

The Maratha warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji, is believed to have considered the fort of Gingee (also called Senji or Chenji) India's most impregnable fort. And yet, the fort has apparently been occupied by most dynasties that ruled the region, like the Cholas (who built it), the Nayaks, the Vijayanagara empire, the Marathas, the Mughals, many others in between and finally the British.

Located about 160 kms from Chennai, the fort is built on three hillocks - Krishnagiri, Rajagiri and Chandrayandurg. When you drive into the fort area, it is easy to see how hard it must have been for an enemy army to invade while being attacked from 3 hills simultaneously. Since it was raining pretty heavily when we got there, we could only do one hill, Rajagiri, and did not even climb too far up. A friend said he climbed all three on one day and couldn't even feel his legs by the time he was done!

The Archaeological Survey of India keeps the Gingee Fort really clean. The Rajagiri hillock has an assortment of structures like temples, stables, granaries, tanks and pavilions. Let me now show you some pictures from the hill - mostly from around the base. What would have otherwise been just another (very beautiful) fort, was transformed into a mysterious wonderland by the clouds, the rain and the mist.
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After spending some time walking about the ruins, we went to a couple of temples at the foot of the Rajagiri hill before beginning the drive back to Chennai. I'll show you those in the next post :) 

If you happen to be in Chennai and have a day to spare, definitely visit Gingee.The road is pretty great most of the way, but traffic can get rough - we saw a very gruesome accident on the way back :( I'd totally recommend going in the rains, but ONLY if you are a very very very careful driver. Wear sensible shoes and carry snacks and water with you - I didn't notice any shops around the fort. There is a lot of vegetation all around, making it a great place to spot some cool birds.
A lily pond on the way to Gingee

Apr 2, 2014

A Drive To Gingee In The Rain

It's been sooooo long since I posted anything on either of my blogs. When the new year began, I honestly meant to post regularly, but between sheer laziness and other projects that took up my time, I never got around to it. But now I'm back! (did that remind you of Karan Johar?) 

In February, I went to a gorgeous fort called Gingee about a hundred miles from Chennai. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you might have seen some pictures from my phone. The day before we went, Ashwin, who's been there many times, kept warning me that it would be really really hot. He was wary because heat makes me crankier than usual. But when we woke up in the morning, it was drizzling! And then it rained all the way to Gingee and back, right through the day! Such good luck!

I thoroughly enjoyed the drive, and we stopped every now and then to take photos - some through the windshield too. So how about I make this post about the drive and the next one about the beautiful fort?
Now that we are well and truly into summer (my least favourite time of the year), 
even looking at these pictures is making me all wistful :(
This was how the hills of the fort looked when we got there. Almost like a hill station!
My first owl spotting on the way back. An adorable Spotted Owlet.
I've only been to Gingee once, but I'm telling you - visit it when it rains. You'll have a brilliant day. 
Stay tuned for pictures of the fort :)

Jan 7, 2014

This time, Vedanthangal was open :)

Happy New Year, people! I hope all your dreams come true this year :)

Almost 3 months ago, we drove to the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary about 75 km from Chennai, only to find it closed. In the weeks that followed, I proved to be fickle as ever, and my interest in birds kind of waned. And then last month, we read in the newspaper that the birds have arrived in Vedanthangal and the sanctuary is now open, so my interest shot up again and we decided to go back :) We enjoyed the drive to the sanctuary even more than the first time because the weather was gorgeous. December is probably the best time to travel in Tamil Nadu - never cold, but mild and pleasant, especially this year.

The Vedanthangal lake is dotted with clusters of trees and attracts migratory water birds from many parts of the world that have winters too harsh for them. The relationship between the birds and the villagers of Vedanthangal is symbiotic - the lake provides a warm and safe feeding ground for the birds, and the bird droppings that fall in the lake fertilize the surrounding fields that receive water from it. The water in the lake recedes in summer, and fills up once the North-East monsoon sets in, just in time for the birds to arrive. One side of the lake is lined by a bund with a tiled walkway and a couple of watch towers for bird watchers, and the rest is surrounded by fields. Read more here.

And now, check out my pictures :) We saw many tropical birds like we did last time, but this post is for the migratory birds.
Can you see faint white specks on top of the trees?
Here's a closer look
And even closer
Pelicans, cranes, herons, egrets and more - I don't even know which is which
And I made a gif out of some pictures I shot of this pelican (I think) landing in the water - funky no? :) I was amazed at how wide the bird is when its wings are open - at least as much as an adult human's arm span.
If you are in the region and are interested in birds or wildlife or long drives, you really should visit Vedanthangal before the season ends and the sanctuary closes again.

Dec 12, 2013

Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue, Mumbai

Besides my first ever taste of Parsi cuisine, my first ever visit to a synagogue also happened during my short trip to Mumbai. (I also ate bubblegum flavoured gelato for the first time, but don't worry, I'm not going to write a post about it. I'll just say it was EPIC.) We stayed at my sister-in-law's home in Colaba, and the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue in Kala Ghoda was only a short drive away.

The synagogue was built in 1884 by Jacob Sassoon, of the illustrious Sassoon family, in his father's memory. The Sassoons came to India when Jacob Sassoon's grandfather, David Sassoon, the treasurer of Baghdad in the early 19th century, fled here with his family to escape the persecution of Jews in Iraq under the Mamluk rulers. The family built several educational, charitable and religious institutions in Mumbai, of which I got to see the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room across the road from the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. You can read more here.
The synagogue is a sky blue building that is somewhat plain on the outside, but exquisite on the inside, with stained glass windows, ornate pillars and beautiful chandeliers. The lower floor is the men's gallery, and the upper one is for the women. 
You are required to enter your details in a visitors' register and buy a ticket if you want to take photos inside. The synagogue is closed on Saturdays.

Dec 10, 2013

Britannia and Company, Mumbai

While in Mumbai for an extended weekend recently, I got to taste Parsi cuisine for the very first time at the Britannia and Company Restaurant. We went to the Irani Cafe for lunch after driving around Colaba for a while checking out its gorgeous old buildings. There were many people waiting outside for a table to clear up, but we didn't have to wait because a part of our group reached much earlier and did the waiting for us :D The very quirky cafe is over 90 years old, and it shows in the old furniture, peeling paint and creaking stairs!
The 91 year old owner of Britannia, Mr Boman Kohinoor Irani comes around to every table to greet customers and to take orders. The cafe was started in 1923 by his father, who moved to India from Iran. The non-vegetarian members of our group had a lot more to choose from, but there were enough vegetarian options, and I left the cafe feeling very well-fed :) We started with some Rose Raspberry Soda. Bright pink, fizzy and just sweet enough.
Rose Raspberry Soda
The Berry Pulao is Britannia's most famous dish, and it was what I was most excited to try - a delicately flavored pulao topped with dried sweet and sour berries (I believe they are called barberries) brought all the way from Iran. It was brilliant - totally worth the hype!
Veg Berry Pulao
I didn't take pictures of my Veg Dhansak, and something called Sali Boti that the others had - it had chicken (or maybe it was mutton) in a dark gravy topped with crispy fried shredded potatoes on top. It looked super delicious and they said it was. And this picture is of an egg dish whose name I can't remember:
Some egg dish
The rice that came with the dhansak
For dessert, I chose Caramel Custard and Mishti Doi. The custard was the better of the two, but the mishti doi was special because it took me on a nostalgia trip back to the years when we lived in Calcutta :)
Caramel Custard
Mishti Doi
The cafe is extremely popular with both locals and tourists, so the whole world has probably been there already. But if you haven't, put it on your must-do list the next time you go to Mumbai. The cafe is open only for lunch, does not accept debit/credit cards and is closed on Sundays. 
Told you the place is quirky! Yes, that's Kate and William on the left. No, they haven't been to Britannia.