Friday, December 30, 2011

Ultimate Urge to KILL ....

Peculiar things snowball into a PHENOMENON ...lesson learnt from year 2011, right on time when it is about to end. 

I had, for long, refrained from writing down a post on this topic - quite consciously. I did not want to give it my share of attention. The topic barely required it as it had garnered copious and unimaginable proportions of interest from many quarters - far and near, known and unknown. 

Why this KOLAVERI DI? Precisely, this post hovers around the new found national rage. 

To start with, it all seemed rather peculiar when I found a video on Facebook liked multiple (better said innumerable) times over a span of week. The feeling was reaffirmed when a fellow colleague at work, hailing from North India, requested me to explain the word "kolaveri" . I summed it up as an uncontrollable rage to KILL. The feeling lingered on with Times of India blog featuring 5-6 articles using Kolaveri Di theme that week. The theme was funnily extended to the release of Kanimozhi (2G spectrum scam case) from Tihar jail, an article quoted Stalin,  her brother wondering "Why this Kanimozhi Di"?  

Over the next few weeks, I felt very peculiar when I received an IT (Information Tech industry)  version of this song as an email forward. Then, I saw the original version sung by Dhanush and felt the IT version of the song fit IT folks' bill well. Sonu Nigam's very young son sang the song throwing in his "apt for kids" modifications. Kids in my street assembled and sang this song like an anthem, once (at least) every evening before they commenced playing. They ensured they emulated the minor nuances and naughty expressions of the song well - Kaila Glass .. only English .. , Mama notes eduthukko, Papapa Papapa etc .. They appeared thoroughly enthralled while singing. 

Recently, I found it fantastically peculiar when I saw a snippet of Dhanush's LIVE performance of the song in a New Year Celebration show hosted by Salman Khan, arranged by BIG Entertainment. The show is expected to be aired on Star Plus channel on New year's eve. Abhishek Bachchan tweets - Dhanush is his great friend and is extremely talented, Dhanush is seen singing a special Kolveri version for his friends' daddy dear - Big B on stage, talks are doing rounds on how Dhanush is planning to roll out a HINGLISH (Hindi + English) version of Kolaveri Di song, all by himself. 

Going a step further, it becomes fantabulously peculiar when the Indian PM invites Dhanush to render this song in front of Japanese PM who is on a visit to India to sell nuclear technology and sign deals for bullet trains. Looks like Dhanush's Why this Kolaveri Di? will oil the deal well and ensure smooth completion of work for our Indian government which is already tired of Lokpal and like hurdles. The Indian Government is quite like the soup boys who have no choice who figure in Dhanush's song.

The Japanese PM, I guess, will demand from Dhanush, a Japanese version of his song so that back in their country, they can sing the song in face of an impending Tsunami and many a typhoon, try to reduce the rage of such calamitous forces. The Indian cricket team too, I hear, loves Dhanush's song. Apparently, they believe, the music director of the song - Anirudh resembles their fellow team mate Ishant Sharma too very closely. 

Now, the sense of peculiarity attached with Dhanush's song, its lyrics, the song's rendition and music has ended, become all too familiar for me. My 2 and 1/2 year old nephew sings the song on phone specially for me - very cutely, with the whiteu whiteu blacku blacku extensions rendered correctly. At this age, he asserts that white skin girlu girlu has heart that is blacku blacku :) I can do nothing but LOL and ROFL

I do not intend to analyse here what worked with the song and why it is such a huge hit. I am sure we would have read articles of the likes -  "10 reasons why Kolaveri Di works". I also do not want to debate if the mammoth attention the song and its artist have received is in place or out of place. I am sure Barkha Dutt, Sagarika Ghosh and Arnab Goswami will do and would have done the needful in this aspect. 

My blog is titled - Furore Scribendi, furore means a rage, not kolaveri but veri (folks with Tamil background can understand this well, but thanks to Dhanush now, I am sure even rest of the nation will make an effort to understand). Furore Scribendi refers to an urge, madness or a frenzy to write. Therefore, not writing in this space about something that has whirl winded into becoming a national rage will be an unforgivable mistake. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New Year ... around the corner

2011 is quickly coming to an end ... a new year is about to begin soon ... very soon :)
I have, in recent past, gained this practice of buying copies of Manorama Year Book or say any other compilation that grasps details of all major events in India and world around new year time. In fact, on New Year's day, I buy a copy of the newspaper - The Hindu (the one I grew up reading) and carefully preserve the 4-6 page section/segment that covers events of 2011. 

The problem I faced with Manorama Year Books is that these are bulky, drab and small fonted; a stockpile of details -  apt for a civil services exam aspirer, in my opinion. I have their entries for 2009 and 2010 but managed to turn only a few pages, barely 20%. For the year 2011, I bought a pocket yearbook - much thinner, released by IIPM publishing house, more like a general knowledge info bank. 

Casual browsing through new collections in a Reliance Time out, close to my office, brought me to a very colorful book - Hachette Children's Yearbook and Infopedia 2012. This colorful book with vital information in it of many events of the year comes along with a free CD - full of famous quotes and quotations on varied topics. I purchased a copy of this book from - online shopping portal. This book marked for sale at Rs 275 in stores is available at crossword online portal for Rs 207. 

The contents of this book suffices my interests. There is no excess information and the way facts are presented is awesome. Bold lettering, different colors, the scheme of presentation is perfect for a casual summation of news of year 2011. Below are the sections into which the book is divided -

  1. News : India 
  2. News: World
  3. ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 Recap
  4. Awards and Award winners
  5. The year ahead - peek at 2012 Olympics
  6. Countries of the world (A-Z)
  7. Know your Planet 
  8. History section 
  9. India : States and Union Territories 
  10. Literature 
  11. Movies 
  12. Science 
  13. Space 
  14. Sports
  15. Diary - 2012 Calendar and Year Planner for you 

Each of the sections numbered 6-14 has a brief quiz session at its end with answers provided at the end of the book. The topics organization and extent of details are good for adults who are not so serious about every iota of detail in 2011. I prefer this colorful summation of 2011 by Hachette to Manorama series of which I have , now, got terribly bored. Though the title reads "for children", the book has many a detail that can fill in empty pockets of our heads too. 

Happy Reading and Happy 2012 :) 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Damn...this Dam issue

What started as a ban on the movie - Dam 999 moved to a more condemnable act - an attack on pilgrims from Tamil Nadu at Sabarimala Ayyappa temple. The insanity rages on with attacks on shops owned by Keralites in Salem, Erode, Coimbatore and Chennai. The movie directed by Sohan Roy met the ban because it purportedly depicts the collapse of Mullaiperiyar dam from which sprouts the currently raging controversy between Tamil Nadu and Kerala. 

While the former state wants to raise water level in the dam from 136 to 142 feet as per a verdict issued by Supreme Court, it is also working in every direction to allay fear psychosis of its neighbors claiming it has done everything timely to strengthen the masonry gravity dam originally built in 1887. The latter - state of Kerala is afraid if the seismically active zone of Idukki might see the dam crumbling soon with the slightest tremor, the breach in the dam observed by an experts committee presents a grim condition, foretelling a disaster of unfathomable proportions on environment, downstream dams - Idukki, Cheruthoni and Kulamavu and life. Kerala wants a new dam in place of the current Mullaiperiyar dam and definitely does not want the water level to be raised. The wants of the neighbors are in stark contrast when juxtaposed. While Tamil Nadu has been focusing on how the Supreme Court verdict passed a little back must be heeded to, Kerala is placing the magnifying glass on the damage in the masonry dam in upstream portions - 95 to 106 feet from the base of the dam. 

Insanity due to fear psychosis and intolerance has already risen over the last few days and there is widespread unrest in bordering areas and blockade of highway traffic. The Union Government sits at Delhi with its back turned to the South, not enough clamor until now in these two states to garner their attention or turn their heads. 

The Centre is busy rolling back decisions announced by it last week and fighting out the warrior in Anna Hazare. It is the Supreme Court of India that looks into all issues of national and state level importance. It has set up an experts committee to study the extent of damage in Mullaiperiyar dam and effectiveness of its earlier announced verdict. Top TV news channels do not consider this issue important enough to cover it for even a span of 5 minutes. Anything related to Kudankulam nuclear power plant or Mullaiperiyar dam appears as trailing meta data displayed at the lowermost portion of our TV screen. 

The nature and magnitude of damage as predicted by M. Sasidharan, a member of the Inter State Water Advisory Committee, in event of collapse of the dam can be read from the link below - 
This quite probable event of collapse is completely overlooked by Tamil Nadu state. The states are behaving like two sides of a coin. 

Human chains are formed and processions underway in Madurai, Theni and Ramanathapuram districts that benefit from water of Periyar river demanding the execution of Supreme Court order at the earliest possible. There was a one page appeal by Tamil Nadu Chief Minister in Times of India newspaper, Bangalore edition on Saturday - Dec 10, 2011 stating the history of the dam, repair works undertaken by the state and remarking fears and worries as a complete and needless misplacement. 

Water sharing and dam disputes are not new in the Southern states, that man made structures erected have a lifetime and are not free from error and prone to destruction by natural, calamitous forces is also a well established fact with various instances from different parts of the world, including the far more developed West. 

What is incomprehensible is the way in which these two states are not being brought to the discussion table by a supposedly bigger and more respectable force - the Centre, be made to talk out all aspects of the problem and arrive at a plausible solution after scanning reports by fair and well informed committees. Looks like that honorable stature goes only to the Supreme Court in our country and not the Legislature we people elected. Irrespective of who comes to table a solution, the sooner the better it will be, before peace and amity wanes between the neighbors who have already begun to unscrupulously mix business, religion and spirituality, entertainment with this damned DAM issue. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hypermetropic Cooks

Another update on my blog ... may be a post that can fit in here and my other blog on cooking - Foodies' Sphere. 

A thought struck me as I was watching an episode of Master Chef India 2 on Sunday - Dec 4, 2011. Four contestants were fighting out an elimination round. I have noted, be it Master Chef India - the first or second season, top contestants are experts in Awadhi, Gujarati, Rajasthani cuisines, they have toiled with the extremely hot Bhut Jolokia chilly from north eastern states, tossed many fishes in kasundi (mustard paste) much in Bengali style, rolled out sheek kababs and patiently cooked flavorful biriyani. 

In the arena of desserts and baked goodies, they are kings and queens. Adept at making mousse, artfully using mascarpone cheese, baking pies, tarts, quiches, meringue cookies and macroons, they also churn out desi sweets like Ghewar, intricately shaped Jalebis and Rasagulla cake in remarkable style even when provided very little time. Simply stating, they know it all. 

The contestants of Master Chef India are unparalleled experts in international cuisine - Risotto, Ravioli, Lasagna, Tortilla, Quesadilla - from Italy to Mexico to China, name it and they present them matching international standards. Be it Galangal ginger, Pad thai, Sushi or other tongue twisting names, these are no surprises to them. The thought process and creativity these people put in, their knowledge of ingredients, quality and taste of end products they create have always startled the three judges on the show and many lucky ones who have had a chance to taste their platter. 

This Sunday, however, I realised, they are all what I can call Hypermetropic Cooks, a new term I have coined to describe at least those who were fighting out the elimination challenge. These hypermetropic cooks  have abnormally above average, in fact, supreme distant vision, in this context, technical know how of recipes made in regions of the globe, miles away from India. When a banana tree came bang in front of them - more precisely, its various parts - banana stem, raw and ripe banana, banana flower were presented as the core ingredient to be used, they were all flabbergasted. If it had been only an expression of shock, I could quite understand it.Their expressions were like all hell broke loose on them on Sunday.  

The four contestants had to prepare a complete platter using raw banana, banana leaf and ripe banana in the first round. The second round involved usage of banana flower and the last one required contestants to prepare a starter using banana stem.

Raw bananas make yummy dry curry, especially when mixed with grated coconut. Ripe bananas could be steamed with honey laced water to provide a simple, delectable dessert. Steaming in banana leaves added an extraordinary flavor to any dish. Ample knowledge can be derived on how to use all of the above elements of a banana plant from Canara coast, states of Kerala and Tamil nadu (as far as I know). Banana flower beats the rest when it comes to taste factor though it is quite meticulous to clean it. Finely chopped banana flower could be mashed with potato and used to make cutlets or mixed with channa dal to make vadas. Banana stem is a miracle ingredient, rich in roughage, yielding tasty dry and yoghurt based curry. The core ingredient is quite common place in the southern states of India and very vital in nutritive aspects too. People who cared to know about global cuisines could have had an easy take that day had they turned a few pages of any South Indian cook book.

I felt a strange sense of ignorance looming in them and I have seen this in most cookery shows aired in India.    There is much more in South Indian cooking than only idli, vada and dosa.Whilst the whole nation has adopted the tandoor, naan, kulcha, paneer butter masala, concepts of weaving magic with a wet grinder and simple fermentation techniques have gone amiss. It is very appreciable people put in sincere efforts to master things that are cooked and served in far off corners of the world, but why some take a huge leap before they are even aware of indigenous lessons is not clear.

I realized that day - to be a key contender in Master Chef India, it is mandatory one excels in North Indian cooking and be a clone of Nigella Lawson in baking. Churn out a 1000 recipes with olive oil but remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that even till oil can be used for cooking. Be crafty with the pasta maker even if you haven't (even once) skillfully squeezed out murukkus and chakalis. With an overdose of enthusiasm, there are takers for the far fetched Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Thai and Japanese, but even indirect references and simple awareness of completeness and diversity in Indian cuisine strangely goes for a toss. 

Eight Minutes

Here I come, hitting my blog after a brief gap, to write about nothing like Paulo Coelho's Eleven Minutes. Busy days at work kept me away from jotting down my thoughts. The month of November was exceptionally cold in Bangalore. Cyclonic storm and rains in Chennai sent mercury dipping in Bangalore too. Getting the morning cab on time and reaching work at 8 has become next to impossible. So I have been doing this exercise of taking Bangalore Metro, better known as, Namma Metro to work! 

I stay in New Tippasandra, about 2 km from Indira Nagar Metro station and work at Cunningham Road, about 2.5 km from Mahatma Gandhi Road Metro station. There are buses that ply from close to my house (Indira Nagar 80 feet road) to Shivaji Nagar (314, 314A/P/N, 139) and these buses ply via Indira Nagar CMH Road- Ulsoor- Dickenson Road- Cubbon road. A hop from Shivaji Nagar (a prominent bus terminus) onto any bus going towards Hebbal/Yelahanka/Yeshwantpur will take me to Cunningham road and a brief walk of 10 minutes to my office. 

Leaving home post 9 in the morning to reach office is a killer decision in Bangalore. To commute the distance of 11 km from my home to office, time taken ranges between 50-70 minutes due to heavy traffic congestion. Those who reside in Bangalore can definitely relate to copious time one spends in Ulsoor to reach MG Road, the most decisive bottle neck. MG Road itself has 6 signals over a stretch of 2.5 km, some of them marking "GO" Green signal at 120 or even worse 140 seconds interval. The more one slips from
9am departure from home, hits close to 9.30am or thereafter due to reasons - planned or unplanned, the more he/she will face the ire of Bangalore traffic.  Traffic is TERRIFIC.

Two weeks back, I decided to give this "two-buses" journey scheme a break. Of course, what is stated below might appear little tedious but it saved a lot of time and energises me in the morning despite the slumber that creeps into this city's environs during winter months. 

I take a brisk walk for 8 minutes to reach Indira Nagar 80ft road bus stop, board a bus to Indira Nagar Metro station, then board the Metro train and reach Mahatma Gandhi Road - my and Metro's destination. I then take a G-9 bus, right outside MG Road Metro Station to Cunningham road, again walk for 10 minutes and reach office. The total travel time despite many hops and ups-downs comes down from 60/65 min to 30/35 minutes. 

Reason - Namma Metro, however slow it wriggles on tracks laid between buildings, covers the deadly bottle neck in 8 minutes - ON DOT.

The metro train is punctual, no question of congestion up there on the tracks, seats in train during office hours are full but there is ample space to stand and standing for 8 minutes is not a pain. There is no pollution and no squeezing of fellow passengers against the ticket collector. As the metro chugs past Ulsoor, crosses Trinity circle and reaches its final stop at MG road in 8 minutes, one only thinks - WOW! ... the race against time is completed in style. 

A trip from Indiranagar to MG road by Metro costs Rs 12 per person, for now it is tad costly but I am sure that with future expansions and route completion, Metro will draw more crowd and lessen the fare. Commuters in weekdays rush hour are office goers, many who work in banks and other offices on MG road and Trinity circle. On weekends, there are all sorts of people on board, those who want to go shopping, catch a movie, enjoy a trial ride, kids who want to want to cling onto the holders inside train, swing using them as if they were Roman Rings and catch a view of the city from a height. 

The current route plies from Byappanahalli to MG Road, a short stretch I must admit, well supported by feeder buses. This eight minutes journey by Metro from Indira nagar to MG Road has helped me avoid head aches and migraines. But there is a big, nagging question I have, not one, but many ...

Bangalore has multiple railway stations at Byappanahalli, KR Puram, Bangalore East, Bangalore Cantonment, Bangalore City (Majestic), Malleshwaram, Yeshwantpur, Banaswadi and Yelahanka and more which I may not know. Why the thought of leaving Electric Multiple Units (EMU trains) on these tracks with stops at these stations never occurred to the state government? I had written twice to the decision making body when Namma Metro was planned but no avail. BEML (Bharat Earth Mowers Limited) factory located in Bangalore makes coaches for electric trains running in Chennai and Mumbai, then why does this workshop not churn out coaches for Bangalore local trains? Feeder buses now used to connect Metro could well have been used to connect all the above railway stations to prominent city centers. If there are AC electric lines already running above tracks in place, why lay a third DC rail, build many pillars, lay tracks, fell tress, dig and scoop earth out, make potholes on roads of Bangalore which are already crushed under the weight of incessant traffic during the day and heavy metro-work related machinery during night? This cannot be a case of simple overlooking or a careless flaw in planning. It only seems an orchestrated effort to start something anew as this alone brings forth fresh contracts, more money and thereby more SCAMS. 

Questions remain and concerns grow on the change of scape of a city I have always loved since the day I landed. But as I even reckon them .. eight minutes are over and I prepare to get down at MG Road station. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

For you, a thousand times over ..

Back in 2008, I grabbed this book titled - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini at a Crossword (book shop) outlet, Bangalore. I read about 3 chapters from it and loved the narration style used. Every discussion, thereafter, of the book with peers, yielded only positive reviews. There were many who were willing to offer me their copy so that I could read and return. I refrained, for two reasons. One - somewhere back then, I had many activities at hand and made no efforts to organize time for my interests and second, if it was such a glorious book, I preferred to buy a copy of it for my own book shelf, retain it with me for life. 

Finally ... springing up from my memory's long lost corners, I purchased this book on a Friday in Nov 2011 ... and I was very glad! The weekend gave me ample time to finish the book midst many piled up household chores. In fact, the book offered such an awesome read I finished it early Saturday itself, starting Friday night. 

The Kite Runner is all about human emotions, relations, the minor nuances involved that define them and that complicate them. But there is no overdose of it at all, no verbose descriptions, no purple prose. Just purely simple and powerful expressions and phrases which each one of us can relate to. The backdrop of the story is set in Afghanistan, pre and post Russian invasion times unto the recent, destructive Taliban regime. So this is not a story of Afghanistan - no historical narrative, but purely a fiction piece that uses the Afghan and Pakistan towns and villages as its fabric for life.

There is servile loyalty in one character, there is confusion mixed with cowardice in another. There are expectations, the burden that results from it, some moments of happiness and many of disappointment in a father-son relation, mixed feelings of betrayal, anger and guilt that choke a young but strong and intense friendship. 

The book opens with profound depth when it states - I became what I am today at the age of twelve.  It says - Its' wrong what people say about past; I have learned,  how to bury it, because the past claws its way out each time. In my opinion, this is very true, who we are at a much older age is all moulded in many "apparently insignificant" years of childhood. 

Portions of the tale from 1975-81 set in Afghanistan and again in 2001 wrench one's heart, there are so many expressions and dialogues that bring a tear, a smile, some thoughts and severe contemplation. Serious concern of a father like - A boy who won't stand up for himself becomes a man who can't stand upto anything are so commonplace and that's what makes the story so relatable while reading. The tale gets a small slump when it reaches the USA, primarily because it is the past at Kabul that is the bedrock of the tale and is intriguing till the end. There are lot of children in Afghanistan but little childhood, a child's description of a long wait for good things to occur equated as waiting for sour apples to turn sweet present acute lyrical excellence. The kite competition, the slingshot, the Shahnama, a leather bound notebook are few lifeless elements that bring vitality to the story. 

For you, a thousand times over! is a simple expression that recurs in the story at crucial junctures. To me, I am glad I own a copy of this book. To summarize, this is a great piece of fiction, not even once overdone in narration, a must-have in one's bookshelf, may be then one can read it a thousand times over! 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Redirection to a new space

Hello All,

Posts in this blog - FURORE SCRIBENDI, under the label - Foodie's Sphere have been moved to a new space in The link pointing to this new space is and is called Foodies' Sphere. From now on posts related to recipe trials in kitchen, good eateries in Bangalore or anywhere else in India, plainly stating, anything related to food, will appear in this blog space.

Reasons for migration: I found posts under the label - Foodie's Sphere quite illustrious plus different in terms of interested audience, thereby decided to keep them apart. I always wanted to have a personal blog space on cooking but had minimal first hand experience back in 2008 when Furore Scribendi began. With about 5 years of experience in kitchen, post wedlock and much learnt from my mother, mother-in-law, trial and error in kitchen and largely from friends on blogger space, the intention to create this dedicated space for food/cooking related posts has found more and better meaning.

The posts under this label - Foodie's Sphere will remain on this blog till end of 2011, these will all be deleted when the new year begins. These, along with more and new ones, from now on, will be available at

Thanks for reading !! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year in advance.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Feasty Yeasty Experiments - 2

No Knead Focaccia Bread 

Another post stating many thanks to Cakes and More blog. I just could not stop playing with yeast and roller pin and flour last weekend. After baking two batches of rolls, I went ahead with confidence and picked up this quick and easy recipe. It is very quick, requires less effort and yields a super tasty flat bread that goes very well with tea. 

As already mentioned in my previous post on no knead rolls, Suma's blogposts offer a direct "put-to-practice" recipes. The link leading to the recipe on her blog is given below -

Not much I altered in the parent recipe, I followed the ingredients as is. Minor modifications are as below- 

  • I omitted grated fresh coconut. I didn't have any at home. 
  • I used only 1 cup of APF and altered all other ingredients accordingly. 
  • I used a 6' round tin for baking the flat bread. 
  • I fried the finely chopped green chillies and coriander with hing, salt and sugar in oil, added required quantities of water and coconut milk to this. Then I added yeast upon hitting the right luke warm temperature. Into this, I incorporated the flour. We enjoy spicy stuff at home, therefore I added the chillies directly to the batter and mixed it well. 
  • I sprinkled little rosemary, thyme and oregano (mixture) as a final topping before sending the tin into the oven. 
  • I baked in my Samsung microwave convection oven at 180'C for 35 minutes. I didn't use the grill option for more browning. I checked for the hollow sound trick, it worked and I stopped at that. 

Nice, tasty flat bread and my weekend went well with fruitful experiments with yeast. My fascination for such yeasty experiments continues ... it is only Tuesday and I am already waiting to get my apron, gloves on and bake more goodies :) 

A big note of thanks to Suma and her blog ( again for all valuable and truly delectable recipes. Many more thanks to you, I get to score many brownie points with friends and family with these recipes.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Feasty Yeasty Experiments - 1

No Knead Choco Chip Rolls

Come weekend, my head is full of ideas, to cook something special. There are two worlds in cooking, broadly (in my opinion) - one is the routine, daily world, one full of veggies, pulses and spices that drives daily life. The other is this intriguing world of baking which poses interesting challenges and tempts one to keep on trying and improving. I was vehemently pulled into this second world by following the blog - Cakes and MoreThis blog is authored by Suma Rowjee, frankly and simply stating, my Baking Guru :) 

I attribute my entry into the world of baking goodies, the sudden drive to procure an oven and a constant enthusiasm to learn many neat tricks to churn out perfect goodies to her blog. There are many elements that make this blog very special for a reader. From the write up that leads to the recipe, measurements of ingredients (which one can blindly trust and follow), many important tips and clear instructions, out-of-the-world pictures of baked goodies, a supreme baker cum chef like presentation of final products - be it Graham crackers tied with a red ribbon, chocolate ganache spilling out of a cup, olive oil in an Arabian Nights style glass bottle :) - the many brilliant aspects of this blog instilled and maintains my passion for baking. 

I was content, for some time, with baking cakes without cream icing/topping. Sponge cakes, marble cakes, mawa cakes and fruit cakes were on my list of well accomplished dishes.  I forayed into the yeasty domain, for the first time, with these choco chip rolls (eggless and no knead). I am glad I performed my first experiments with yeast as baking with this elusive ingredient gives a unique sense of satisfaction, an unparalleled one I must say. Along with this smug happiness, comes a sense of fear. You want to outsmart yourself every time you use yeast and churn out consistently delectable and sponge soft goodies. Getting the temperature right, getting the yeast to bubble and froth is a pure adventure, fit enough to give an adrenaline surge in domestic environment itself. But the pretty outcome of baking with yeast is that the house turns into a sweet heaven with the smell of ambrosia from the oven, spreading all over and bringing lots of cheer and devilish hunger too.

Without further ado, I bring forth the link I referred to, the recipe I followed which helped me make these yummilicious, soft choco chip rolls. 

I followed the ingredients (their measure) for dough as is in the blog. I used Gloripan yeast 1 1/4 teaspoons. For the filling, I used choco chips I bought from IBCA, Bangalore. 

I followed all steps as mentioned in the procedure, no digressions. I divided the dough into two batches - out of one I baked rolls instantly and the other batch, I refrigerated and used to make rolls the next day. I got a total of 12 rolls from this dough and we devored them happily with tea over the weekend. 

Here are few pictures of the photogenic rolls I made -

Big smiles on my face and waiting for the coming weekend to make more of these rolls with different filling and many more experiments with yeast.

Thanks (wholeheartedly) to Suma and her efforts :) 
Cakes and More !! ( rocks !! 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Weekday Baking : Eggless Mawa Cake

A quick post on baking - I tried out Eggless Mawa Cake yesterday and it came out super delicious. 
I followed the recipe provided in the link below - 

I did not attempt too many modifications, just took note of below points - 
1) I used only 1/2 cup milk in total. This itself gave me cake batter of the right consistency. I did not require additional 1/4 cup of milk. 
2) I added 7-8 strands (pinch of) of saffron, no additional sugar with it. I added the saffron to the batter without pounding it. 
3) I baked the cake in a round 8' tin at 160'C for 30 minutes. 

The eggless version of this Mawa cake came out very well, nice brown and soft, with delicate taste of saffron, bites interlaced with crunchy cashewnut bits. 

Below are some pictures of the cake taken on my mobile phone - 

Picture of the cake (in true colors) taken using Nikon DSC 

Cake cut - picture taken using Nokia 1.3 MP camera

Thanks to Saffron Trail for providing me such a wonderful recipe. I will surely make this over and over again on many other occasions. Loved the cake completely! 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

From Sholavaram to Buddh International Circuit

A shower of memories flooded me on 30/10/2011 as I sat down to watch the inaugural session of Formula One Indian Grand Prix. The elite sport commenced at 3 pm on India's Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida and the sixty lap race spanning roughly two hours gripped my interest wholly.

Sitting in front of the television, I recollected some of my father's conversations on motor cycle racing, the magic this sport weaved back in 1980s in Sholavaram circuit, near Chennai. The Indian Grand Prix commenced and Vroom Vroommmed the super machines. My father remained an avid fan of bikes and motor cycle racing in 1980s, his young days. During a span of 8 years, from his age 25-33, he owned two Royal Enfield Bullet bikes and two YEZDI. As a kid, I could figure out my dad arrived home by picking up the majestic DUD..DUD..DUD notes of his bike. I proudly occupied a place on his bike's fuel tank. As per his accounts, the first race I saw was the last race held at Sholavaram circuit in 1988. However, I do not carry memories of this racing circuit, once an air strip during World War II times. The Madras Motor Sports Club, thereafter, changed the venue of racing from Sholavaram to Irungattukottai, near Sriperumbadur, off Chennai.

Passionate about racing, powerful bikes and cars, rallies - few of which he has been a part himself, my father took me to many races held at Irungattukottai. Images of this race track remain clearly etched in my memory - a gigantic MRF tyre arch at the head of the circuit, stands made of wooden planks for audience and few special stands/glass towers for the rich class.

Come February every year, my father would take us all - me, my mother, my cousins, aunts and uncles who visited us at that time, to the Formula 3 races at this venue. This was an era of glorious names like Karivaradhan, J. Anand, Vicky Chandok, Akbar Ebrahim and Vijay Mallaya.

Anyone with an iota of interest in motor sports in 1990s could not afford to feign ignorance when the name Sundaram Karivaradhan was mentioned. This legend hailed from a wealthy business family of Coimbatore (Lakshmi Mills), remained reticent in social spheres and highly committed to the advent and steady progress of motor racing in India. The impetus he provided inspired and sprung forth the current heroes - Narain Karthikeyan, Karun Chandok and Armaan Ebrahim. Formula India Single Seater Maruti Engine was Kari's brain child and with it began the first and complete tryst of India with this sport, a sport that does not stop with flushing gallons of adrenaline in its drivers but instills a huge rush of this hormone in its audience too. Cars would zoom and whroom past, lap after lap, fast, faster and fastest each time. Whizz men were unfazed by the deadly turns and corners, they cracked it all in a fiery fashion. Speed meant absolute power!  

The constant buzz of the Formula One cars - Ferrari, Renault and Mc Laren Mercedes etc on Buddh International Circuit gave me a quiet sense of satisfaction and happiness, I was lucky to have witnessed Formula 3 races at Irungattukottai at least over 4 years during my childhood times. Probably, this introduction to motor sports, in my home town, at a young age inspired me to follow Formula One intently. 

Come lap 24 of the Indian Grand Prix; a fiery battle ensued between Felipe Massa of Ferrari team and Lewis Hamilton of McLaren Mercedes, their cars cut across and collided for the fifth time this season. The feud on television,  quite reminded me of rivalry between Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in 1989-91. I followed rivalry between these two drivers much more intently than the on-field battles between India and Pakistan in cricket. Ayrton Senna's death in 1994 San Marino Grand Prix pained me terribly. His death evoked a sense of fear and overshadowed the sense of awe I had for the sport. The period of abysmal interest towards Formula One halted with the entry of iconic Michael Schumacher. His unbeaten championships from 2000-2004 pumped up zeal. He and Ferrari made an indomitable combination, his prowess at the wheel was and remains unsurpassable. People knew results of the race he participated in before they began. 

Path was paved for few greenhorns in the sport with Michael Schumacher's retirement announced in 2006.His return to Formula One with Mercedes GP team in 2010 assured the king cannot stay away from his empire and subjects for long. At the age of 42, he churned out a rank 5 in the Indian Grand Prix. 

Sebastian Vettel, the young gun (a double champion now) led every lap, right from start to finish, turned the apple of eye of every Indian who watched the race that Sunday. Vettel equalled Michael Schumachers' record of 11 wins in a season yet leaving most critics admit that the former had a long way to go before being placed at par with the Messiah

The Buddh International circuit looked fantastic with its cynical combination of turns - thanks to its architect - Hermann Tilke. Champagne poured lavishly on the podium, smiles shone on faces of Sebastian Vettel (1), Jenson Button (2) and Fernando Alonso(3). The opulence that evaded India for long, arrived in a weekend in October 2011at the cost of farmers' land, humongous funds during economic downturn times and many more factors that are busily analysed by media. I am not sure if we deserve to and will be able to play host to this splendid power packed sport. All I can say is that - the two hours long event on Oct 30, 2011 helped me revive some lost interest in Formula One and I snugly relished the memorable journey from Sholavaram times to F1 Indian Grand Prix at Buddh International Circuit. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Wish you all a very HAPPY DIWALI :)

Diwali 2011 (26/10/2011)was spent in Bangalore. Simple celebrations marked the day, I made a flower Rangoli using marigold flowers (both orange and yellow), adorned it with a set of four decorative diyas/lamps. We had pretty noiseless fun with just two box of sparklers. I made a traditional sweet called Okkarai for the festival. This one is my favorite and my mother-in-law prepares it without fail during Diwali. 

Thanks to Saffron Trail for sharing the recipe of Okkarai on blogosphere 
I followed the recipe specified in the link mentioned above barring a few modifications specified below which I made after appropriate discussion with my mother-in-law. 

1) Instead of using 1 cup channa dal, I used equal measures of channa dal and moong dal (yellow) - 1/2 cup channa dal + 1/2 cup moong dal were used.

2) I did not make a syrup out of jaggery, the vella paagu as mentioned in the recipe on saffron trail. Instead, I add grated/powdered jaggery (measurement same as specified in the blog) directly to the wok in step 6. I mashed the crumbled dal and powdered jaggery in the wok on low flame and ensured they mixed well. Then I moved directly to step 9 - addition of roasted coconut, fried raisins and cashews and completed the recipe. 

3) I used little less than 1/2 cup (mentioned of Saffron Trail) of grated coconut for the recipe. 

The Okkarai smelt and tasted divine and had a nice, flaky texture. As mentioned in the blog, this recipe requires only 2-3 table spoons oil and 1 spoon ghee in total. I must admit it is quite minimal and with wholesome goodness of steamed dal, jaggery to add to taste, this traditional recipe is a safe bet and has become a huge hit in my list of favorites. 

With one cup dal or measurements as stated in Saffron Trail, much more than adequate quantity for two is prepared. The sweet can be stored for 2-3 days with appropriate refrigeration in an air tight container. 

Thanks to Saffron Trail! 
I did surprise my mother-in-law when I said I was going to prepare Okkarai for Diwali :) 

Okkarai made at home 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Peek into Royalty

Travelogue Entry of Padmanabhapuram Palace, Thucalay, Kanyakumari
About the palace:
Padmanabhapuram palace is a grand remnant of the glory of Travancore kings/Venad dynasty. Thirunal Marthandavarma who ruled Travancore from 1729-58 rebuilt this palace in 1750, originally built in early 17th century by IraviVarma Kulasekhara Perumal. Located 37 km away from Kanyakumari, en route Trivandrum and about 65 km from it, the palace reflecting the best example of traditional Kerala architecture is administered by Government of Kerala. Padmanabhapuram housed the kings of Travancore and remained the seat of power until 1790 when the capital shifted from here to Trivandrum. The place derives its name from Lord Padmanabha, a reclining form of Lord Vishnu, the presiding deity of Travancore kings.
The palace stands inside an old granite fort complex, with the fort boundary intact only in few places now. A tourist should spare time to visit this palace recorded as world's largest wooden palace by Guinness Books of Records. The palace is made entirely of teak and rosewood and has exquisite flooring of granite and a rare ayurvedic mixture with secret extracts to keep it cool in summer and warm during rains.

Timings/When to visit:
Open on all days except Monday, from 9 am to 5 pm. I could not see any official guides around, the tourist can take a self guided tour of the palace as “This Way” boards at regular intervals lead one correctly around from entry to exit. Inside rooms of the palace, there are officials from the archaeology department who give snippets of information in addition to display boards erected.  
Virtual tour of the palace:
The first glimpse of the palace from ticket counter presents a simple, house-like structure, with a clock tower, quite different from the glorious, larger-than-life palaces I have seen in Mysore and Bangalore or those in Rajasthan seen on TV. The architecture of this palace is such that the grandeur lies in use of rosewood and teakwood lavishly for ceilings and pillars and in sheer expanse of the building, its labyrinth of rooms and corridors. Therefore, for a common man who visits this palace, it appears a very live able structure and not an overdose of opulence.

As we enter, we first reach the Poomukham, this room serves as a reception area where king entertained special guests. One can see the big Onavillu (a bow) at display here. The ceiling has 90 floral motifs in wood, also on display is a brass hanging lamp and a Chinese chair. A flight of wooden stairs leads one to king’s council chamber. There are lattice windows called – Kilivaathal that provide a view of the outside. The king’s chair centrally placed with additional chairs for council members can be seen here at display in this hall (Mantrashaala) that adorns a shining and smooth floor. Intricately carved wooden brackets connect windows to the roof made of red tiles, both in interior and exterior parts. From here, one proceeds to a large dining hall that can house 2000 people, the Oottupura where free meals were served by the king. Leaving this hall, we go out to the courtyard and enter Thai Kottaram, the residential quarters of King’s mother, believed to be the oldest part of the palace. There is a small room here called Ekantha Mantapam with spectacular wooden carvings on the ceiling and a pillar exquisitely carved out of jackfruit tree wood called Kannithoonu.

From here we walk up to the Raja’s quarters, housed in the tallest building of the palace complex (4 storied). We enter a room that has a huge cot made from 64 medicinal herbs. The ceiling here bears more elaborate and rich designs in wood. Going along directions provided, we enter the Queen’s dressing room that has a huge swing and big Belgian mirrors hung on two opposite walls. The side walls have many lattice windows giving a view of the outside. Narrow passageways connecting rooms run to form a maze. Walking further, we reach the king’s mother’s bedroom which bears a simple, polished stone cot. Walking further, we enter the Armoury. From here on, watching carved ceilings, lattice windows and rounded pillars at regular intervals, we hit Ambhari Mukhappu. Built in the shape of an Ambhari – a seat put on elephants, this chamber with a huge window was used by the king to view chariot races and temple car festival.

Long corridors with paintings of kings, murals depicting tales of Lord Krishna lead one to the next portion of the palace and we hit Indra Vilas – the guest quarters in the palace. Built to house foreign dignitaries, this is the only portion of the palace complex that deviates from traditional Kerala style and infuses elements of European architecture. This  deviation in style is evident from design of doors and windows in Indra Vilas. The columns in this hall also appear different. Walking out in the courtyard, catching a glimpse of buildings we have seen in the palace complex, we now enter the kitchen area, marked by storage shelves and stone grinders. There is a pond at the end of the kitchen.

Walking out of the kitchen quarters, one enters the Navarathri Mantapa, a big hall meant for dance performances or any such cultural extravaganza during the Navarathri festival. The mantapam has shining floor (Kannadi Thara – mirror floor effect) and houses magnificent stone pillars carved with supreme intricacy. This is the only part of the palace that is made entirely out of solid rock. There is a private viewing room for the royal members with wooden flap like windows. The dance hall at one ends opens to the Saraswati temple. The deity in the temple is taken out on a procession to Trivandrum for ceremonies during Navarathri. Reaching the last part of this royal splendour, we hit at the museum, a building inside the palace complex dedicated to showcasing stone figures, artifacts and weapons used by the kings. One requires 2 hours for complete tour of the palace.

Just a mention:
  • Many Malayalam movies have been filmed inside the Padmanabhapuram palace, most famous one being His Highness Abdullah.
  • There are few refreshment shops outside the palace complex that can save you from hunger and thirst. 
  • The palace can be reached from Thucalay bus stand by auto for Rs 30.
  • Thucalay can be reached from Kanyakumari/Nagercoil by bus; all buses plying to Trivandrum, Kayalikaaval and Marthandam go past Thucalay.
  • There is a sign board showing direction to Udayagiri fort just outside the palace complex on the right side. The battle of Colachel in the year 1741 marked victory of King Marthanda Varma of Padmanabhapuram over the Dutch Admiral – De Lannoy. The vanquished De Lannoy served as chief of Travancore Army under guidance of ruler Marthanda Varma. The tomb/graves of De Lannoy and that of his family members lies inside the precincts of this fort, now upgraded from a mere fort to ranks of a bio reserve with vast expanse of rare species of woods, some birds and animals. This bio-diversity park is run by Tamil Nadu forest department. The fort is also believed to have held captive prisoners during Tippu’s times.
Picture Gallery:

As one enters the palace complex

Intricately carved wooden ceiling , a common sight in most rooms of the palace

Indra Vilas, the foreign dignitaries/guests quarters

Navarathri Mantapam, pillars of solid rock and mirror finish flooring

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Tryst with Sun, Sea and Sand

Travelogue entry of Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), Tamil Nadu, India

About Kanyakumari: Located at the southernmost tip of Indian peninsula, marking the georgraphical end of Indian Mainland, this coastal town in state of Tamil Nadu is a popular tourist destination. Located at the confluence of three major seas - Arabian sea, Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal, this is the only town in India where one is bestowed with the gift of view of sunrise and sunset over sea.

The place teems with its share of tales, history left by Cheras, Cholas, Pandyas and Nayak kings, but the most important imprint, that influences the local culture till day, is that of the Venad/Travancore kingdom. The town presents a conspicuous amalgam of Malayalam and Tamil cultures, the former being more dominant. However, few agitations held during linguistic reorganisation of states in 1956 removed this town from the frame of Cochin-Travancore state and incorporated it into Tamil Nadu state.

Travel Mode and duration of Stay: Kanyakumari can be reached from Bangalore directly by a daily train. We headed to this place from Rameshwaram by CAPE-Rameshwaram express that plies thrice a week.
We left Rameshwaram on Sep 26, 2011 - 8.45 pm and reached Kanyakumari - Sep 27, 2011 - 4 am. We headed from Kanyakumari to Trivandrum at 6 am by bus on Sep 28, 2011, thus completing a two days stay. 

Hotel Details: Kanyakumari is a very popular tourist destination and therefore there is no dearth of hotels. The seaside boasts of innumerable hotels though these buildings and concrete pavements constructed around have quite avariciously swallowed the beachfront.

We stayed in Hotel Maadhini - at the seaside, phone contact - 04652 246787. A non ac room for two here costs Rs 800/day and it was super neat and offered true value for money paid. The hotel has a decent restaurant, courteous staff who wake you up for a view of sunrise from the hotel's terrace. I personally enjoyed the stay in the hotel. I would safely recommend it to all and choose to stay here myself if I visited Kanyakumari again.

Places to eat: In my opinion, gone are the super yummy idlis, dosas, sambar and chutney with the inner heartland of Tamil Nadu and island of Rameshwaram. The same breakfast dishes lose quality and taste quite noticeably and fail to impress against delectable versions I have had in Madurai, Trichy, Tirunelveli and proximal regions. From past experiences, I have understood that the chances of getting delicious, pure vegetarian fare  reduces exponentially as one moves close to the state of Kerala. At Kanyakumari, we ate at few places durign the course of our stay and felt Hotel Maadhini's restaurant was a decent option  among them all. I am sorry I cannot prove to be of any use when it comes to reviewing on non-vegetarian food options.

Tourist's Itinerary:
Kanyakumari Amman temple: The main deity in this temple is Goddess Parvathy who manifested herself as a virgin - Kanyakumari and did penance to slay the demon, Banasura. It is believed that Lord Shiva from Suchindram wished to marry Kanyakumari but the marriage stood cancelled due to clever theatrics by Narada. The goddess, in dismay, discarded sandal, turmeric and kumkum kept aside for the wedding into the seas explaining different colors of the waters of three seas that meet here.

I was visiting Kanyakumari for the first time but I learnt from my husband who visited the town as a kid that the three different colors of the seas were clearly noticeable earlier. Also, back then, there was a sizeable beach strip in front of the temple.  I saw no beach strip, there were marked pavements with benches laid out in front of the temple and water all around me shone in azure blue mixed with a verdi green.

The deity is highly beautiful and her nose ring that glistens vibrantly catches your attention as you step into the sanctum. Mobiles and digital cameras ought to be deposited at the entrance of the temple and this draws a fee of Rs 10. And yes, we get close to Kerala, therefore to the mandatory practice of guys removing their shirts and vests before entering the temple premises. The temple is open till 12 noon and opens again from 5-9 pm.

Suchindram temple: Located in the town of Suchindram, 12 km from Kanyakumari, is the temple of Thanumalayan. The presiding deity is an incarnation of the trinity of gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with the name interpreted as Thanu - meaning Shiva, Mal - meaning Vishnu and Ayan meaning Brahma. The deity in the sanctum is a lingam adorned with golden metal covering that bears a face at the base(representing Brahma), then 14 curvilinear moons in a vertical arrangement (representing Shiva) and a snake hood at top (representing Vishnu).

There is a self manifested lingam too in the temple that represents the trinity of gods. This exists at the foot of a tree known as Kondrai maram in Tamil. The temple is unique for it speaks of tales of Atri, a sage and Anusuya, his devout wife, the penance the three goddesses did in this region known as Gnyanaranyam,  immense sculptural wealth, the four sets of musical pillars, unique deities like Vigneshwari (female form of Lord Ganesha), 18 feet high Hanuman, very intricately sculpted gopuram (main temple tower) and navagrahas (nine planets with the sun) on the ceiling rather than on ground which we usually come across.

The temple gains its name on the pretext that Indra was cursed with an evil skin disease for his wrong doing. He broke the curse and shed the disease after immense devotion and strict penance to trinty of gods here. This temple is open from 4 am to 11.30 am and again from 5 to 8 pm.

Buses from Kanyakumari to Nagercoil (Vadassery - is the name of the central bus stand at Nagercoil) that ply at very frequent intervals stop at Suchindram, journey one-way lasts about 40 minutes and presents pleasant visuals of lily-lotuses ponds, fields marked with coconut trees, plantains and paddy arranged in a three tiered layout against the backdrop of Mahendragiri hills.

Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Tiruvalluvar Statue: After visiting Suchindram, we headed back to Kanyakumari town, to the jetty from where boats ply to Vivekananda rock memorial and memorial of Tamil poet, Thiruvalluvar.

Two rocks in the sea, about 500 metres from the mainland bear twin attractions of this town. It is stated that Vivekananada visited Kanyakumari in the year 1892, meditated deeply and sought enlightment on this rock. One can see the impression of feet on this rock, supposed to belong to Devi Kanyakumari thereby imparting the name - Shri Pada paarai to the rock, the site where it is believed the goddess herself performed penance before killing Banasura.

The Vivekananda rock memorial consists of a big meditation hall at an elevation that is reached by flights of stairs and corridors in periphery that provide an awesome view of the seas around. This grand monument of national importance, completed in 1970 was envisioned by Eknath Ranade, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda. From here, one can get a view of many windmills stretching out at a distance, in a place called Anjugramam. The shoreline in view from the rock memorial, ends at a dome like structure peeking into the sea - the Koodankulam nuclear power plant, the commencement of operations of which is under dispute. Fishermen at Koodankulam (near Tuticorin) have complained that the release of water from the  plant will raise temperature of local waters by about 5'C, harm aquatic life at large and hamper their catch and their daily earnings. Environmentalists have further bolstered the cause of fishermen, expressing concern over ill effects this nuclear power plant will have on marine eco system - the coral reefs, unique aquatic species, pearl cultivation and severe, irreparable damage to human life drawing example from havoc caused by Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan post earthquake and tsunami.

No further ado, atop another rock, about 200 feet away from Vivekananda rock memorial, stands a tall statue of Tamil poet - Thiruvalluvar, an iconic figure in the state of Tamil Nadu, the author of the famous work - Thirukkural. The pedestal that bears the statue is 38 feet high indicative of 38 chapters of virtue in Thirukkural and the statue itself made of granite - stands 95 feet tall indicative of the remaining 95 chapters in the work. This memorial, inaugurated in year 2000, is a recent addition to the sky/sealine of Kanyakumari and quite awkwardly masks the serenity of Vivekananda rock memorial when seen from the western seaside. From the high pedestal here, Koodankulam nuclear reactor catches one's attention again, leaving one in deep thought of possible and inevitable dangers of man's constant messing with nature.

Sunset Point: The boat from mainland completes a tour of Vivekananda rock memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue, leaves us back at the mainland jetty for a fee of Rs 20 per person. The ferry timings are from 10 am to 4 pm. A walk along the shore crossing the temple, takes us to Gandhi mantapam, Kamaraj memorial onto a wide and clean road with well marked pavement. Along this we walk to reach a thin strip of beach and the sunset point. Here, we reach the waters of the Arabian sea and can catch a glimpse of weary sun as it sinks down the horizon leaving orange-purple streaks over azure sky.

Sunrise View: If one stays at a hotel close to seaside, then an early morning call by the staff of hotel for a view of the sunrise on waters of Bay of Bengal is sure. Many boats quite sleepily rock in the waters anchored to the shore, spires of the Lady of Ransom church tower into the sky as the orange-red plum shaped sun peeks out of it sending ripples of light far and wide.
Padmanabhapuram palace: Kanyakumari has a heavy imprint of Venad dynasty which once was centred around the capital at Padmanabhapuram under the reign of Marthanda Varma.  About 37 kms away from Kanyakumari via Nagercoil, the palace, now managed by Kerala State government, is closest to Thucalay town (3km). Buses to Trivandrum, Kayalikaaval and Marthandam from Kanyakumari stop at Thucalay. An auto can be hired from Thucalay for Rs 30 to reach the palace. It is better not to rely entirely on direct buses from Kanyakumari but save time by going to Nagercoil (18 km from Kanyakumari) and then change over to reach Thucalay. The palace is a marvellous creation and calls for lucid description than a mere mention. So I decide to keep aside an exclusive post on it.

Nagercoil (Nagraj temple): After visiting the palace, we reached Nagercoil, grabbed a mini tiffin and visited Nagraj temple in the town. The Nagraj temple, initially a Jain shrine with figures of Parswanath and Jain thirthankaras (still seen on the temple pillars), was later converted into a Hindu temple with Nagraj (five hooded serpent) and Lord Ananthkrishnan as the main deities. A quick 15-minute worship completed and we headed back to Kanyakumari by bus.

Our tryst with sun, sea and sand continued on the second evening at the shores of Cape Comorin. "ENCORE", I felt !!

Picture Gallery: 

  Vivekananda Rock Memorial and Thiruvalluvar statue, Kanyakumari

Post sunset sky, Kanyakumari

Sunrise at Bay of Bengal, Kanyakumari

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Big Slice of Ramayana

Travelogue entry of Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, Tamil Nadu, India

About Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi: Rameshwaram is a town in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu, India; an island separated from the main land by Pamban Channel. Situated in Gulf of Mannar, just 50 km away from Sri Lankan main land, the town housing the famous Ramanathaswamy temple is a bustling and prominent centre of pilgrimage. Considered tantamount to Kashi/Varanasi in religious and spiritual significance, this town enshrines stories from the famous epic Ramayana in every quarter. Dhanushkodi is a town located in the southernmost tip of Rameshwaram island. Devastated completely in a 1964 cyclone, the ghost town declared unfit for living since then, projects a topography seen nowehere in South India - saline sand flats, barren without vegetation spread over distances indefinite till it meets the confluence of Mahodadi (Bay of Bengal) and Ratnakara (Indian Ocean).   

Rameshwaram is closest to Madurai, a major city in Tamil Nadu, only about 150 km away. There are plenty of buses, passenger trains that commute between Madurai and Rameshwaram. Trains from Chennai ply daily to Rameshwaram via Trichy (223 km away from Rameshwaram), another major city in Tamil Nadu.

Travel mode and duration of stay: Section 1 By Mysore-Mayiladuthurai Express, departed from Bangalore (7.20 pm) to Trichy/Tiruchirapally on Sat, Sep 24, 2011. Section 2 Chennai- Rameshwaram Express - boarded at Trichy to Rameshwaram on Sun, Sep 25, 2011. Reached Rameshwaram at 11 am.
Left Rameshwaram on Mon, Sep 26, 2011 at 8.45 pm to Kanyakumari by Rameshwaram Cape Express.

Hotel details: Hotel Sethu Maharaj - Ph contact – 04573 221271, close to West Tower of Ramanathaswamy temple - budget hotel with Non AC room at Rs 475 per day for two. Very basic room, proximity to temple is the highlight, not to expect any WOW factors in the hotel as Rameshwaram is primarily a pilgrimage centre.

Places to eat: Hotel Ananda Bhavan on Middle street, close to West tower of Ramanathaswamy temple - superb, south Indian vegetarian fare/breakfast comprising dosas, idli, vada and puris. We had wholesome and simple Gujarati meals at Gujarat Bhavan, few metres away from the East Tower (main entrance) of the temple. We loved the dal chaawal, roti-sabjis served there and not to forget Srikandh and Puran Poli for desserts.

Tourist's itinerary:

Ramanathaswamy temple: This temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and stands close to the sea - Agnitheertham beach. The main deity is Ramanathasway, a Shiva lingam better known as Rama lingam juxtaposed with Shri Viswanath, another Shiva lingam. Tales puport that Rama suffered from a sense of guilt after killing Ravana in Lanka and was advised by Sage Agasthiya to worship Lord Shiva at Rameshwaram to remove all sins (Brahmahati vimochana) and overcome the sense of guilt. Hanuman was sent to bring back a Shiva lingam but he got late in his journey from the Kailash mountain. Meantime, Sita made a lingam from sand and prayers were offered to this deity - Rama lingam during the proposed auspicious time. Upon Hanuman's arrival with his lingam, to avoid any dejection, it was ordained by Rama that prayers be first offered to Viswanath - the lingam/idol brought back by Hanuman.

The right procedure to enter the temple includes first a dip in Agnitheertham beach in front of the main entrance to the temple, then a bath in water from each one of the 22 wells/theerthams inside the temple complex, changing the wet clothes and then visits to the sanctum. Looking beyond the protocol part, this practice to enter the temple, quite interestingly, offers a chance to hear many tales of the 22 wells inside the temple complex and a highly refreshing dip in the sea. It is also a wonder that each well's water has a unique taste to it.

There are deities of Parvathavadhini, Perumal, Mahalakshmi, Hanuman, Ganesha, Subramanya and Sethumadhava inside the huge temple complex which has some structural jewels like the long 1000 pillared corridors and a 3-dimensional effect Nandi painting on the ceiling close to west tower. From memory, the names of theerthams/wells inside the temple complex are provided below - Mahalakshmi Theertham, Gayathri, Savitri, Saraswati, Sanku, Chakra, Gavaya, Gavacha, Gandamadhana, Sethumadhava, Surya, Chandra, Sarva, Siva, Brahmahati Vimochana Theertham, Nala, Neela, Ganga, Yamuna, Gaya and Koti theertham. Urghh!! I guess I cannot recollect the 22nd theertha's name. One can completes his/her dip in Agnitheertham (sea side) and take help from temple guides who willfully offer services of a tour inside the temple complex and pour water from 22 theerthams for a fee of Rs 150 per person.

Boating: The Tamil Nadu state tourism department arranges for a boat cruise on the Bay of Bengal sea lasting 30 minutes for Rs 40 per person in motor boats. The boats leave from a point close to Agni theertham. Listen to the boating announcement carefully (a recording played in continuum) -the Hindi segment is highly hilarious !

Rameshwaram has a slice of the epic tale - Ramayana in every corner. There are many important tourist sites and many a tale cocooned in them. These sites can be covered in an auto for hire. 
1) Ganda madana Parvatham - the highest point in Rameshwaram, originally a sand dune, now a hillock with a temple bearing the impression of Rama's foot steps. It is believed that Rama looked out for Sita in the direction of Lanka from this point/hillock. Climb onto the terrace of the temple for a breathtaking view of the island - Dhanushkodi, Pamban bridge and the tranquil, blue-green Bay of Bengal. The Ramanathaswamy temple gopurams (towers) and the tall, imposing TV tower mark the azure sky line vividly.
2) Bhadrakali Amman temple - en route Dhanushkodi, favorite deity among locals.
3) Sugriva Theertham en route Gandamadhana Parvatham
4) Saakshi Hanuman temple - apparently the point where Hanuman conveyed to Rama that he saw Sita devi in Lanka.
5) Rama Theertham and Ram Sita temple- a big tank, with the temple adjacent to it. Displayed here is a limestone shoal purportedly used by army of monkeys (the Vaanar sena) to construct Ram sethu (Adam's bridge) to go from Rameshwaram to Lanka.
6) Pancha Mukha Hanuman temple - deity is a five headed Hanuman. There are many samples of the light weight limestone shoals that Nala and Neela - the chief architects used to construct the Ram Sethu that figures in Ramayana.
7) Lakshman Theertham - big tank (quite similar to Rama Theertham)
8) Sita Theertham - a medium sized tank.
9)Kodanda Rama temple, Dhanushkodi - this temple marks the point where Rama conducted the coronation ceremony of Vibheeshana, king of Lanka and brother of Ravana. The temple was completely destroyed in a cyclonic storm in1964 and was re-built in 1978. The surroundings of this temple astound a  commoner wearing the look of barren, tree less, sand flats for distances that eye can see and even beyond,  much like the Rann of Kutch in miniature laid in front of you.
10) Dhanushkodi, visit to Land's end and destroyed town remains - The road ahead from Kodanda Rama temple, 8 km from Rameshwaram to Dhanushkodi speaks of a forlorn town that crumbled completely to the fury of nature on a fateful night in Dec 1964. The road, all along, is flanked by highly saline, white sand flats that gleam under the mid day sun. The flat lands are mostly devoid of vegetation, barring a few thorny shrubs at places. The road ends at Mukundarayar Chattiram which has a few drinks/snacks stalls, a thin beach strip, a check post and a Mahindra van/truck stand. These Mahindra jeeps are modified to ride adeptly over the sand flats which are wet at points but largely silken and slippery. Only these modified vehicles can ply to the Land's end at Dhanushkodi, no autos or private vehicles can ply on this terrain. Passengers are packed to full capacity in these modified trucks/jeeps, photography enthusiasts prefer sitting on the top. The 1 hour 30 minutes journey reveals a landscape that can be best captured and registered by the human eye. It would be a sin to even attempt to describe the scene in words. A trip to Dhanushkodi - land's end can render one speechless and is a must in the itinerary of a person who visits Rameshwaram.

At the lands' end - a thin strip of land in the shape of a bow is flanked by timid and shallow blue green waters of the Mahodadi on one side and fierce, frothy waves of Ratnkara on the other. On the way back, the trucks stop at old Dhanushkodi town, declared unliveable post 1964 cyclone. Remains of destroyed water tank, church, post office, railway station - abandoned and sunk in deep sands against the background of roaring sea waves reiterate the most important lesson - that man cannot conquer or overpower nature. So fierce was the cyclone of 1964 that it battered the town completely, swallowed a train with its passengers causing a death toll of over 1500. Man, truly is inconspicuous before the mighty nature.

The auto that leaves one at Mukundaraya Chattiram waits till you get back from the Land's end. The trip in the modified jeep/truck costs Rs 80 per person and the auto fare for a tour of all places inclusive of waiting charges stands at Rs 400.

Pamban Sea Bridge: 
The rail-road bridge pair connects the island of Rameshwaram to mainland Ramanathapuram. The section of sea begins with Mandapam station and ends with Pamban via duct/Pamban station. It is an experience of a lifetime when the train precariously chugs along the rail bridge that has no embankments. Pamban bridge, at a length of 2.3 km, is the second longest sea bridge in India, after Bandra Worli Sea Link. The rail bridge has a still functional double leaf bascule section that can open and let ships pass through and this bridge stands adjacent to the road bridge.

1) Rameshwaram is oppressively hot, your body burns even when you cover your head with a cap. It is advised that you always carry water.
2) Resort to tender coconut water - lot better than bottled drinks. Best means to beat the heat!
3) If you care for your complexion, carry a bottle of sunscreen without fail.
4) Rameshwaram is one (probably the only) town in Tamil Nadu that has openly and heartily embraced Hindi as a language. From auto rickshaw fellows to priests in temple, all speak fluent Hindi and put sincere efforts to make people from North India feel at home.

Picture Gallery: 

View of Pamban Road Bridge from the rail bridge

View of Agnitheertham beach with Gopuram (tower) of Ramanathaswamy temple

View from Ganda Madana Parvath 

En route Land's end, Dhanushkodi

At Land's end 

All that remains of Dhanushkodi town