Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The foodie explains the Durga Pujo bhog

Every Durga Pujo morning would have my mother packing a picnic bag for us; into it went spoons, bottles of drinking water, one bottle of water to wash hands, paper napkins, and maybe a tiffin box or two. These said tiffin boxes didn’t contain anything, if you thought these would hold the picnic food, no, it was to bring back bhog for anyone who couldn’t come for bhog.

This was the annual pre bhog eating ritual , at our home .

The mid day meal at the Durga Pujo pandals aka bhog is open to all, from any caste ,c reed and religion, atleast in the ‘sarvajanik pujo pandals’ , also almost every Durga Pujo pandal (no matter how low on funds they are running that year ) will serve atleast the ONE bhog on Ashthami afternoon, and thus my blog post for our #bloggersdurgapujo is about demystifying the Pujo Bhog.

Most of my blog followers would find similarities to my post on “The foodie explains the Goan Fish Thali” , well this one is the “the foodie explains the Bengali pujo bhog”
Let us begin at the very beginning; the name-bhog.

Bhog , essentially means partaking of Prasad, but here in Bengalis, it is an entire meal in itself. For bhog to be served , it must essentially be served to Ma Durga before we can even think of having it ourselves.

That brings us to the concept of ‘ma –er bhog’ or Durga ma’s meal/lunch. It is not just for her, but for her kids as well, namely Ganesh, Kartik, Lakshmi and Saraswati. If you find a distinct lack of veneration among Bengalis while addressing their Gods, it because more than adulation there is a sense of Adoration, after all they are the children of Durga. And even Durga is hardly one to be feared, especially since she is considered to be coming home to her ‘maternal home’ she is the ‘daughter of Bengal’ (even if she does carry 9 lethal weapons ).
As a child watching Ma durga eating was one of the great mysteries of Durga Pujo, frankly because she ate behind closed doors! Not exactly a door, but come mid day, a curtain made of tied saris, or a big double bed sheet, would be stretched across the idols, such that we could not see the God’s eating.
never before seen 'parde ke peeche' scenes of Ma being served bhog.

“How long will Ma Durga take to eat?” I would ask, hungry to get at the bhog myself. I even imagined her using her three pronged trishul as a fork to feed the food to her kids and herself.
Seemed  like half an hour is a good enough time for the celestial family to eat their meal. And then amongst the rustling of heavy silks, and the cacophony of children running around the pujo pandal and mothers calling out to them , one singular “ BOLO BOLO DURGA MAI KI …” followed by a resounding “JAI”  will send down shivers down the spine, with the realisation that Pujo is indeed here.

And thus began the long and arduous journey for us to get our bhog.
A bit of history here. A few years back, maybe 10 years back. When the crowds were much lesser at the Pandals, most of us enjoyed a sit down meal; rows of chairs and tables were laid out, and people ate in batches. But even back then there would be a mad rush to book our chairs using handbags and even hair clips to ‘reserve’ seats for friends and families. And then someone came up with the concept of ‘buffet bhog’ where a group of volunteers stood in front of each dish and served the people who walked by in an orderly fashioned line. Finding seating after you have been served bhog was another matter in itself. Also in the early days fried sal leaf plates were used to serve bhog, which were more biodegradable, and nature friendly, but now they are either served in thermocol type white plates, or plastic plates.

Now,  the Food itself, to make it uber simple for non-bengalis,(with whom you may want to share this article) I am going to colour code the food.

Yellow- Khichuri, made with rice and moong dal lentils cooked with whole spices is the center attraction of Bhog. Cooked previously by the women of the organising committee, it has now been outsourced to men clad in white banyans, who have the upper body strength to keep stirring the giant couldrons of khichuri over an open fire. Once the khichudi comes to boil, it is covered and allowed to simmer until the rice and lentil meld into one wholesome and comforting meal.
khichuri, p

Green- Labda is made with a mix of seasonal vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, beans, green leafy vegetables, brinjals and what have you. This is perhaps the only time one can be convinced to have such a nutritious meal. Labda againis cooked over an open fire, with use of spices and a generous bit of alchemy, Labda is the most delicious vegetarian dish and when mixed with the khichuri is ‘fit for the Gods’. The only catch is that it can never be made this tasty when one makes it at home, and I can just here Ma Durga tell her kids, “ you seem to be enjoying the Labda here, but at home I cant even get you to have one vegetable!” 

photo credit jonaki bhattacharya, note the assortment of veggies!

Orange- Bhaja. This is the customary fried vegetable, mostly brinjal being the vegetable of choice, because again it is one of the vegetables kids love to hate. You see where I am going with this? Most of the items in a typical bhog meal is nutritious and healthy or a sneaky way to make you eat your veggies.

Off white- Ok I have created this just so that Papad get’s it own paragraph. It is after all the most wanted dish in the bhog, “ar ekta papod din” could very well be one of the most heard sentences during bhog. Every one wants another piece, it is the first item to be over long before the bhog serving is over, there is never enough of it to go around for the last batch of bhog eaters. It’s just plain old papad, but the textural addition to the other wise semi solid meal liquidy meal is key to a good bhog meal.

Red- For the tomato chutney, a sweet and sour jam made of tomatoes, soaked raisins, grated ginger and a tempering of mustard seeds is a surprising yin to the yang that is khichuri. Mixing tomato chutney with the yellow khichuri may seem like the most unnatural food combinations, but it works! And sweet tomato chutney turns out great even at home , to recreate the magic later in the year.

White- Payesh. The rice cooked in milk with sugar , spices and dry fruits is the most epic way to end the meal. Payesh seems to be the sweet dish of choice whenever I have visited family , it is the first spoon of food offered during annaprasan, also it is cooked for every calendar birthday in Bengali homes. So it makes sense that it is served when Ma Durga visits her maternal home.

Now , traditionally the meal is supposed to be eaten by hand, and now ofcourse we do that, but as children my mom was worried about unclean hands, germs etc, also if we would touch our new pujo clothes with khichuri smeared hands, and thus we carried our own spoons. The water was also circumspect, and so we carried our filtered, boiled , cooled water. the lines outside the tap to wash hands were long, so we carry our own potable water to wash hands, and napkins to dry them lest we spoil aforementioned new clothes.

While doing my research for this blog post, I read so many many interesting tid bits that I just had to share them here. Firstly, many households serve a non-veg bhog to Ma Durga, especially homes hailing from East Bengal, and especially in the Home style Durga pujas ,bonidir bari pujo, which are more private affairs as opposed to the ‘sarbajani’ barowari pujos of today. Second, not all bhogs contain khichuri! This again was because of the rigid caste system back in the day which allowed only Brahmins to cook rice for the God or to serve rice to others. Many non Brahmin families, till date serve uncooked rice to Ma Durga (and then gift the uncooked rice to the poor), or serve the refined flour puris also known as luchis . infact luchi or the flour puris were the dish of choice served during Durga Pujo, and serving or being able to have rice served from a brahmin home was considered great good fortune. Third, on the last day that is dashami, a meal of old fermented rice (paanth bhaat) is eaten by the ladies of the house before bidding goodbye to their beloved Ma, it is because either everyone is too sad that the festivities are over and no one feels like cooking a fresh meal, or the mythological version where Ma Durga is so eager to return to her husband residing in Mount Kailash, that she eats left overs and leaves for her heavenly abode.

From non-veg fish bhogs, and even a ‘vegetarian goat meat dish’ made without onions and garlic, to the tradition of eating leftover/stale rice , I came across umpteen blogs and articles online about Bhog, and the written word is perhaps the best way to keep our traditions alive.
As I keep my traditions alive , for myself, and share my childhood tradition of picnic packing our bhog, in the form of written blog, I hope you share your family traditions, and stories related to bhog here on the blog with me.

Let’s keep the festive enthusiasm infectious with #bloggersdurgapujo.

Share your bhog pictures with me, all through the festival on instagram using the hashtag #bloggersdurgapujo, and see it featured in this article by the end of the week! 

Durga Pujo is celebrated with immense joy and enthusiasm by Bengalis all over the world. Join Four bloggers from four different parts of the country as they bring to you a kaleidoscope of festive fervour in the form of blog posts and videos for an entire week . We hope to entertain, inform and enthrall you in a quest to involve everyone in our moment of joy. I am happy to be one of the cocreators for this creative team called #bloggersdurgapujo 

Participating bloggers are

Rahul Basu 

Shamik Byabartta

Kuheli Bhattacharya

Saturday, September 23, 2017

7 lessons I learnt from Durga Puja as a Probashi Bengali kid

 With Durga pujo round the corner, and my 2 year old toddler all ready to embrace the Bengali half of his genes, it made me reminisce about my own Durga Pujos. One word I heard often but never truly understood was ‘probashi’ , it means a Bengali not residing in Bengal, much like an NRI which translates to non resident Indian. And while growing up I never aligned myself towards the word ‘non resident’ because I believed that all of India was mine to celebrate and reside in , the need of the hour is to not only accept our different cultures but to embrace it. With more Indians living abroad, and yet trying to bring in Indian festivities in their own way, feel free to use this blog as a template for your own learnings, as you celebrate your festival outside of a region that originally celebrated it.
While I have been mulling over what Durga Pujo will mean for my son, a half Bengali, who will be residing in a non Bengali environment, I wondered if it was possible to write a parenting blog post on the festival of Durga Pujo ? well, challenge accepted!

1.       Masterclass in Bengali culture: Read culture as in ‘Kaalchaar’ , but Pujo was one time when the 5 days starting from shoshti to dashami were steeped in Bengaliness. It infact started even earlier, with the enacting of the Mahisasura Mardani , enacted by the local drama team on Mahalaya. I remember watching it with rapt attention in Air Force Station Halwara, in Punjab heartland, and hoping that someday I would get to play Ma Durga in all her conquering glory. 5 days of listening to Bengali being spoken by various families, Bengali songs at home(we even played Bengali cassettes in the car while travelling from one pandal to another,pandal hopping), Bengali popular movies being sold as CD’s and cassettes at the Pujo stalls, and Bengali dances and natok (drama) on stage at the various cultural shows at the pandals.

2.       Learning my ABC’s from the Bengali hoardings: As a probashi Bengali kid, from an army background, I never did get around to learning to write Bengali. Caught up with learning to write Punjabi while in Punjab, and Marathi while in Maharashtra, I refused to add another language to the curriculum. The other languages were being tested in school, and I needed to learn them for my marksheet, where will I need to read Bengali? Was my argument, and it does make sense. If you are a Bengali residing in US , I think learning Spanish would be more beneficial than learning to read Bengali. But it was only during Pujo that I would painstakingly read out “sharodiyo shubechcha” to my proud dad (beeming ear to ear), and then continue to read “Jamdani sari for sale” and “ chicken roll” from the other hoardings. Roll infact was my favourite word, once you know that one, the rest of the menu was simple, “egg roll” “mutton roll” … for someone who till pujo rolled around , knew only to read “Howrah” during the annual summer holidays at Kolkata, being able to read more Bengali was a matter of pride , but I would conveniently forget the words by next pujo, and would have to start all over again.

3.       Learning to appreciate the handlooms of India: Pujo meant new clothes. That and the spending pocket money we got every day of pujo, will always be the TOP most memories of Pujo. The spending money went from Rs 10 to the princely sum of Rs 500 last year, and yes we still get spending money from my mom till date. But what hasn’t changed is the new clothes, and the showcasing of the most varied Indian attires. Mens in kurtas with elaborate kantha stitch work done, or with Jamini Roy paintings . Women in jamdani, baluchori ,and silks from all over India-Banarasi, Sambalpuri, Muga, the list went on. As a child I may not have known the names, but the love for indian ethnic wear left an indelible impression on my young mind.

4.       My first taste of politics : The forming of commitees, the selection of committee president , and member privileges, the ego battles, the taking of sides, and the ultimate fractioning of the factions, a Pujo committee made for rife breeding ground for local politics. It was often said “if there are 5 bengalis, there will be two pujo commitees.” As children, we used to envy the kids who got to sit on the front row of all the cultural programmes, and got the plum roles in the dance dramas, because their parents were in the “pujo committee”, big or small cities, no one is free of such subtle privileges. Last year when I went to the local pujo in Panjim, Goa, we were denied Pujo bhog, because we were not members of the local pujo, until one of the juniors from the medical college recognised us and smuggled us into the ‘members only line’ .

5.       Over all extracurricular development: The five days of pujo were packed with fun contests and competitons for all ages, for us children there were fancy dress competitions , drawing competitons, singing , dancing and also quiz contests. While my brother excelled at the quizzes, I was interested in the painting competitions. The paintings done by the participants would then be pinned on to the makeshift fabric or tarpoline walls of the pujo pandal, for everyone to admire. I loved to see my art on display, and till date, always enjoy seeing the art of other children proudly displayed at the pandals. A lot of Bengali children grow up with artistic leanings, even those not born and brought up in West Bengal, maybe Probashi pujos have something to do with that.

6.       Importance of community: Bringing forth a sarvajanik durga pujo in a non Bengal environment is not easy, especially since Durga pujo is hardly ever a family affair, outside of Bengal. It is always a community celebration, unlike other pujas like Lakshmi puja, or Ganesh chaturthi, where individual families celebrate within the four walls of their home. Durga Pujo necessitates the forming of community groups, there are those who will handle the bhog, others who will manage the collection of funds, procuring of things like a Kola gaach “banana plant” as a bride for Lord Ganesh (kola bou). Durga pujo is not celebrated within the four walls of one home, it is celebrated in a community, with the entire organising committee working as a family.

7.       Celebrating your differences: I have this as my last point because honestly I had the hardest time learning this lesson. As an army kid, I loved to celebrate Lohri in Punjab, or Ganesh Chaturthi in Pune, Pongal in Tamil Nadu, or even Christmas in Goa, but when it came to Durga Pujo, I didn’t involve my nonbengali friends. Growing up I didn’t have any Bengali friends in school, much to the chagrin of my grand parents . I have lived in 8 different cities in India, and not one of them has been in the state of west Bengal, and I felt ‘categorised’ when people identified me by my surname. And that was one of the reasons I didn’t have Bengali friends while growing up . (I am guessing it’s the same reason NRI kids refuse to be labelled the Indian in the NRI ) .

But why did I not take my non Bengali friends to pujo pandals? It was the fear of being judged. We ate non veg during durga Pujo, when most of the country fasted, or at the very least ate vegetarian. Do you have dandiya , do you have garba nights?they asked. No , we didn’t and it made me feel that we were not as cool as the other navratri celebrations. But with age I have a better understanding. Now I try and make others understand our celebrations, and also I accept my own lineage. And thus, five years back my first blog post on Pujo was explaining WHY WE CONTINUE TO HAVE NON VEG DURING DURGA PUJO, and celebrated our chicken rolls, and mughlai parathas and prawn malaikari. A few years later I celebrated the absence of dandiya but the presence on Dhunuchi naach, dance dramas and BENGALI CULTURE OF PANDAL HOPPING through another post.

Ironically , while I was ok celebrating all other festivals of India, I kept Durga pujo guarded from the inquisitive and often judgemental eyes of others. I felt defensive , and it made me non inclusive. But all of that changes now. Now that I have a son, who will also grow up in a probashi environment, and with many more Bengalis moving out of Bengal for work, we will have many more probashi Bengalis, I want to invite everyone to have a chance to celebrate Durga Pujo, through an innovative online experience which we call #bloggersDurgaPujo , with four bloggers from four different cities in India. 

Durga Pujo is celebrated with immense joy and enthusiasm by Bengalis all over the world. Join Four bloggers from four different parts of the country as they bring to you a kaleidoscope of festive fervour in the form of blog posts and videos for an entire week . We hope to entertain, inform and enthrall you in a quest to involve everyone in our moment of joy. I am happy to be one of the cocreators for this creative team called #bloggersdurgapujo 

Participating bloggers are

Rahul Basu 

Shamik Byabartta

Kuheli Bhattacharya

head over to Paromita's blog tomorrow (Monday 25 september) for her post on Durga Pujo,then to Rahul's blog on 26 September ,Tuesday, and Shamik's Blog on 27 september wednesday... a week of Pujo related blogs on our #bloggersdurgapujo ! 

I am taking my alexa raanking to the next level with my friend Alexa
also submitting this to #mondaymommymoments , theme for this week was teaching our kids about our festivals

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The foodie explains the Goan fish thali

No visit to Goa is ever complete without having atleast one Goan fish thali, and if you are a Goan, then perhaps no midweek lunch is ever complete without the ‘xit kodi Nuste’ , apparently Sundays are meant for the chicken xacuti, but the Bengali in me wants a Goan fish curry even on a Sunday.

But a lot of travellers and tourists coming to Goa are not very comfortable making the deep dive into a Goan fish thali. The reasons are many, but one of the important ones is that they aren’t sure what is part of the Goan fish thali. They want to have a fish curry rice meal in goa, and many order a prawn curry and rice separately, but when every single table in the restaurant gets these huge platters with tiny bowls, you are left longing for the thali.

I understand , I have been there. I was once a Goan tourist too.

Fish Thali , Kokni Kanteen Panjim. yes seeing all that food can be unnerving

So here is me explaining to the goan fish thali , the foodie way.

1.       The rice: a large mound of rice is the main carb of the meal. You rarely get roti/chapatti in a Goan fish thali, but you can ask for it, if you need to. Rice is also called XIT ,not  pronounced like what the doo doo dogs do, but more like a ‘sheet’ of paper. You can ask for extra ‘xit’ but in most places it is chargeable. (I know in maharashtrian thalis the rice is generally unlimited portions but not in Goa)
Fish Thali Ritz ,Patto panjim

2.       The fried fish: shallow fried and covered in Rava, this is a healthier crisper version of the average fried fish. The rava adds a crunchy texture, and since I haven’t seen rava covered fish anywhere else (and I have had multiple fish fries be it malvani, Bengali or kerala coastal cuisine) I deem that rava covered frying is indegenious to Goa. They even fry potatoes covered in Rava FYI. Now the fish is always fresh day catch, so you don’t get a choice of fish here. They are generally the easy to hand fishes like king fish, or chonak or a pomfret.Many People from North India, are not comfortable seeing an entire fish fins, tails, head and eyes n all on a plate, they can opt for chonak or king fish.

3.       The main fish curry: now this is generally in a bigger bowl than the other multiple bowls. It is a coconut based fish curry, and small prawns are generally the sea food of choice . if you are allergic, do mention it prior to your order that you Do not want prawn curry, and they will give you another one. Mildly spicy , its best consumed with rice, you can attempt chapatti, but its not the same.

4.       Tisryo: Now this was what used to be my biggest fascination. The sea shells I had previously only seen on the beach were now in a sabji/bhaji on my plate! Madeof mussels cooked with grated coconut and other masalas, this tastes just like any indian sabji, except it has shells in it. The shells are NOT for eating, within the shells are tiny morsels of sea food the mussel. It is kind of chewy and rubbery, but worth a taste, and since it’s part of a fish thali and you aren’t paying extra for it, it’s perfect to experiment.


  Kismur: another interesting dish, for non Goans. This is made with a dried prawnor a dried sardines. These salted and sun dried prawns are crunchy morsels packed with flavour. Onions and the dried prawns are fried and then mixed with generous amounts of grated coconut. This dish is texturally great, and the crunchy coconut and the crackle of the dry prawns is a perfect foil when mixed with the rice and fish curry.


6.       Some vegetable sabji: Goans never did master the art of cooking veggies. This one is either beet root, or cabbage, or bottle gourd. Unfortunately always boiled , bland and garnished with grated coconut. If it sounds unappetising, its because it mostly is, it isn’t anyones fault. I heard ones on a sanjeev kapoor show I think, that Indians tend to over cooked their veggies because in olden days it was a good way to kill all the organisms.

7.       Sol Kadi : The digestive drink to end your meal is made of Kokum a sour reddidh purple berry, which is steeped in water, tempered with garlic and chillies, and mixed with coconut milk for a bright pink end to your meal. Ilove my sol kadi enough to have a separate glass of it! But don’t over do it, multiple glasses of sol kadi can lead to acidity, and I should know .

This makes for the average staple Goan fish thali. Sometimes you may get another fish curry, mostly a teek (spicy) or an ambotik( sour and spicy ) fish gravy, sometimes a meagre salad of tomato and cabbage, pickle, and papad. Rarely , almost never do you have a sweet dish part of the thali.

A goan fish thali is your rite of passage from being a tourist to a traveller. You must try it once, and you will keep coming back for more. Why choose it above ordering ‘fish curry and fried fish separetley’? for one fish thalis are cost effect, second it is a single person helping so if you are travelling alone, you can still have a complete meal, without leftovers. PS it is always served for lunch, very few places will serve a thali at night.
fish thali at Kamlabai, Mapusa

Fish Thali at Goan room, Dona Paul

Fish Thali Antique Mardol , Ponda

Fish Thali , Maharaja Hotel Vasco

Fish Thali , Rancheghad, Margao

Places to try

Mapusa:  Spice Goa , Kamlabai
Porvorim: copperleaf, wood’s inn
Panjim: Ritz classic and patto, Anandashram , Kokni Kanteen
Vasco: Sheila (opp St Jacinto island)
Margao: Nanutel hotel, peppers

Friday, September 15, 2017

The anatomy of a Goan House

There is something very regal and yet whimsical about a Goan home, very European in its look and yet very Indian with the use of Mangalorean tiles on it’s sloping roofs. It is one of the most startling features in a Goan Landscape, especially for someone who hasn’t grown up seeing Goan homes. Right at the outset is my disclaimer that I write this article not because I have indepth knowledge of the ancient histories and workings of a Goan home, but because of an inherent fascination for them.

The signboards: even before entering a Goan home, a beautiful signboard consisting of a few tiles put together, and painted in the traditional blue states the name of the house. It could simply read “Menezes” or be a more elaborate “casa de Menezes” or home of the menezes, or could even have a quote or an elaborate saying, like “Me casa su casa”. These signboards are called Azulejos, which are traditional Portuguese tin –glazed tile paintings. They are not restricted to signboards or homes, and tile paintings can be elaborate enough to decorate entire walls or facades, can be present within a building or on the exterior, and can depict elaborate historical events and the art can be dated according to the centuries it belonged to dating back to the 13th century.

The windows: The windows of some of the Goan homes have a distinctive glass pattern, with small square shaped pieces of glass slotted within the the early 18 century, the homes used the local mother of pearl from locally sourced oysters, which were …. And fitted into the window frames. The light filtering through these translucent mother of pearl windows, cast an ethereal glow within the homes. With time these fragile pearl shell window panes became difficult to source and the expertise to cut and fit them also became a rarity, leading to people turning to glass window panes.

The balcao: Not to be confused with the balchao the red hot spicy and tangy pickle like curry, a balcao is in fact a open air seating, where the members of the family gathered to sit out an enjoy a cool evening breeze and see the village folk pass by, or even gossip with each other. These balcaos are present just outside the main gate, and staircases lead up to the balcao. The higher the plinth, the more the number of stairs leading up to the entrance of the house, signified the social standing as well as the wealth of the owners of the house.

Verandas and railings: The verandas are interesting parts of the Goan homes anatomy. They are generally narrower than the average balcony, they sometimes run the entire length of the floor, or might be restricted to individual rooms. These balconies were signs of affluence amongst the nouveau riche in the 18 and 19 century. The railings too were elaborate and decorative, first made in laterite, then wrought iron and in wood. Each home in the neighbourhood tried to out do the other one  

The painted walls: No Goan landscape is complete without the colourful homes. It is said that the Portuguese prohibited any home from being white, and only the churches and places of worship were allowed to shine in pristine white. This led people to use natural organic colours such as red of the earth, yellow from saffron, and blue from Indigo, while the green was a mix of the blue and the yellow. Over the years it has become a beautiful way to showcase their home rather than out of any religious compulsion, so much so, that even Hindu homes have started to paint their homes in vivid colours.

The courtyard: The courtyard is the heart of the Hindu home. While the catholic Portuguese were interested in showcasing their new found wealth and social standing by external beautification of their homes, the hindu preferred in internalising their faith, maybe in a way to safeguard it against outsiders. The courtyard generally was without a roof, and allowed the wind, air, and sunshine to circulate within the home. In contrast to the balcaos of Portuguese homes which encouraged interaction with the outside world, the courtyards were intimate gathering places for the members withing the home away from prying eyes. The courtyard is also home to the Tulsi vrindavan. Now most Hindu homes venerate the tulsi plant, but in Goa they held on to the holy basil, as a symbol of their faith, and thus the pot within which it was held became more decorative and ostentatious, even as the catholic Portuguese homes grew more elaborate.

The mangalorean tiles: This might have been the only true blue Indian entity which stood the test of time even during the Portuguese rule and thereafter, the sloping roofs with the mangalorean tiles. The torrential monsoons were no match for these burnt kiln roofs, which even till date grace many a home in the villages and cities of Goa.

Marcou artifacts and Mario Miranda paintings : A vibrant yellow ceramic cock, or a porcelain vase depicting a village scene in Goa, may not mean much to the untrained eye, but these are quintessential items in a Goan home, especially those who have settled in foreign shores but hope to carry a bit of Goa with them. Little salt and pepper shakers, which depict shigmotsav and the carnival in typical Mario Miranda sketches, are not just fantastic gifting ideas, but they also bring Goa within the home. the religious diversity, the colourful village folk, the fisherwoman, the ‘hiccing’ drunk at the village pub, all encompass the olde goan life, immortalised on fridge magnets, ceramic plates, ornamental tiles by Mario Miranda’s work, these now help make any home a Goan home even if you can’t afford the lavishness of the 18th century Casa de sobrada (double storied mansion) and can barely afford the rent on your two bedroom-hall-kitchen.

Museum -Houses of Goa

In my search to know more about the homes of Goa I found myself in a museum which is dedicated solely to the houses of Goa, in Porvorim. Designed like an inverted triangle, this building is like no other house in Goa and yet is an ode to the architects of yesteryears.

The entrance of the museum has these lines by the architect Gerard de Cunha:

 “Walk down a village lane and you’ll see that these houses are like elegant and dignified men and women chatting at a formal reception. The atmosphere is cordial and thoughthe dress code is specified each invitee is nattily dressed, colourful personalities with great individual confidence and swagger!and just as each party guestis unique and varied , the variety in the details of the elementsin these Goan houses is astonishing.”

This article has been previously published in Planet Goa Magazine. 

this blog is also part of my 'Being Goanese' collection, 

Monday, September 11, 2017

five things I learnt about Bhutan, without actually visiting it

Five things I learnt about Bhutan without ever visiting it
If the title has you mystified, let me explain; in the summer of 2017 my mother, father and brother decided to fulfil a long standing wish to visit Bhutan, the happiest country in the world. I could not. Being a doctor with a newly opened clinic and a mother to a less than 2 year old, it was not possible for me to juggle my role as a traveller, at that point.
But I thoroughly enjoyed their anecdotes and the pictures they shared with me on whatsapp , social media and I even received an old school picture postcard from them.

picture credit to Ekalavya Bhattacharya

All of this made me wonder at all those who wish to travel but cannot.

Today’s instagram travel influencers and even travel bloggers would have you believe that we should throw caution (and our responsibilities towards family and our profession) to the wind, and pack our bags for the next exotic locale.

And as a Travel blogger I feel my need to travel like a physical ache sometimes, as if I could sprout wings between my scapula, and take flight. Yes, sometimes the urge to Travel is, as one of my fellow travel bloggers put it, like a heady addiction. But unlike various ‘digital nomads’ , I as a surgeon , cannot be sitting on an island sipping pinacoladas and operate, and I do envy the digital nomads who turn up their assignments and even code entire gaming programs while sipping said pinacolada. And even if I managed a ‘travelling doctor’ post, what of my son who needs to go to school, or my husband, who even though loves to travel in small doses, is not keen on a nomadic life?

So we tune into travel shows, we watch youtube vlogs of our favourite travellers, and many of you have previously even read of my own travel escapades. We couch travel from our living rooms, and that is what I did with Bhutan.
Read on to find out all that I experienced and learnt about Bhutan.

1.       You cannot back pack to Bhutan alone: Bhutan government and the King wish to keep the travellers safe as well as provide jobs for every citizen in Bhutan. You need to book even your flight tickets to Bhutan through a travel agency. Backpackers and even biking gangs are also expected to have one tour guide travelling with them everywhere. There is also an existential fee of 250 USD for every day you stay in the country if you belong from the non SAARC countries. When asked why so, one of the travel agencies said that they wished to keep the country free of the hippy, marijuana smoking crowd’. Bhutan is an expensive country to visit and travel to. They even book your hotels, which is a three star accommodation, and if you wish to upgrade the fees is higher and exclusive from the package that you have already purchased from the travel agency. All the itinerary is also discussed with your guide, and plans of just walking off alone in the woods is not encouraged.
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2.       You can get your picture on a postage stamp and actually mail a letter anywhere in the world: I have always loved to collect picture postcards from around the world, and my brother used to collect postage stamps. Imagine then to receive a picture postcard, as well as a stamp from Buutan, and the stamp has your families portrait on it! While in Thimpu, head over to the general post office and get your photograph on a postage stamp. You can even send out letters to family , or just keep the stamps as collectibles. I found this a very unique way of reviving the waning art of sending letters. The postal system in India is also trying to survive in todays world of emails. How cool then to convert it into a place of souvenir collection and tourism. Imagine the revenue a country like India can generate from this idea.
receiving a letter from family, with their portrait as the postage stamp, priceless

3.       There is a village with phalluses drawn on the wall: Yes, the town of Punakha has phallus drawings on homes, and even a phallus restaurant, and souvenir shops. The paintings are everywhere, on doors, walls, and even number plates of trucks. The story goes that the divine Madman Lama Drukpa Kunley advocated phallus iconography as a protector against evil eye and slander.Newly weds and childless couples hike all the way to Chime Lhakhang the temple of fertility.  Well just goes to show how far people will go for their devotion towards Godmen.
seeing is believing

4.       There is a many handed and multiple headed Buddha in Bhutan: Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha with 11 heads and a thousand arms. My mother is an avid avid collector of Buddha statues and souvenirs from around the world, and I say avid twice, because once just doesn’t explain her collection. Yes, she has lovingly bought back a statue of the Bodhisattva of compassion, or the Buddha avatar of compassion. According to their guide, that when Budha saw the suffering around him, he was filledwith despair and aneed to help, so he banged his head in anguish, and in turn got 11 heads and 1000arms so that he could help more.
A must see is the Great Buddha Dordenma statue, Bhutanese architecture loves symmetry in its designs. Also worth visiting is the National institute of Zorig Chusum (handicrafts, sculpting,painting) 

the famous avalokiteshwara Buddha now resides in our home too

5.       Everyone wears their national dress in Bhutan: it is a matter of national pride that the people of Bhutan wear their national dress the men the Gho and the women their kiras. It is also highly encouraged by the government , infact they may be fined if they do not wear the national dress especially while visiting a government building or a temple premise. Making sure that people wear the national dress, promotes local artisans, and also helps maintain the identity of the small country. It also looks extremely picturesque. Infact my family got back a half kira for me, and I absolutely love wearing it, and have snce been following Bhutan street fashion avidly on instagram, the women are so stylish.
school girls in their Kiras

An old Bhutanese lady in a Kira

The guides who accompanied my family, all dressed in the traditional attire

So you see, there are more than one way to see the world. Yes, physical travel is the best, but not everyone can travel and not all the time. Some places, we must see through the eyes of others, and even for that you must have an open mind and an eager heart.If you read about your friends travels on facebook or see their pictures of their holidays, and all you can feel is envy and 'why not me?' then you will fail to share in the joy and wonder of travel. when I blog about my experiences , it is never to make tthe other person feel sad, but to feel inclusive in my experience, and feel some of the exhilaration. Happy travels .

PS. If you are thinking , wow a travel blogger who wrote about a travel she hadn’t actually been too, that is some dedication to travel blogging. Then like and share the post.

the customary food pics on foodietrails, apparently people of Bhutan love their chillies and cheese

(Pictures and inputs from Barnali Bhattacharya and Ekalavya Bhattacharya)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hop on Hop Off Bus, Goa

We have been big fans of  Hop On Hop Off ,tour buses as a family . We have seen the Brooklyn borough and visited Juniors cheese cake during our stay in New York, we have visited the markets of Sicily from the safety of the double decker bus even as we travelled famous lands of Italian Mafia, we have travelled on sightseeing tour buses in Barcelona, and hopped from the Sagrada Familia to the Camp neo stadium of the Barcelona football team. And so we were thrilled to see the double decker hop on hop off buses come to Goa.

What is a hop on hop off bus?
It is a sight seeing bus, which takes you to the various sights of the city. You pay a one time fees and can get off anywhere and get on at the other stop. It allows for you to visit many sights in a tourist area for a very affordable price.
These tour buses also have tour audio guides or personal guides , who tell you about the history of the place or the sights as you cross them on your journey.
Many a time they are double decker buses, allowing you to get an aerial view of the city, and really take in the atmosphere, without being couped inside a car/vehicle. You feel more connected to the place, when you don’t have any windows between you and the world.
The double decker bus at Miramar circle

The hop on hop off bus , in Goa.
We decided to finally try the bus in Goa, even though we live here, because my two year old is obsessed with ‘wheels on the bus’ and we even had a bus themed birthday party for him, cake, tshirt, invites and décor all matching the theme. I had wanted to celebrate the birthday on the bus as well, and apparently that is also allowed , you just have to book the bus in advance. (how cool is that)
So we caught the bus at Miramar circle. You may either get it at the main stop, or at the Goa science center stop, or at Miramar beach. Facility to catch the bus anywhere is available, all you need to do is call the helpline number. This was a huge plus.
The cost is Rs 300 per person, for either the double decker or the single decker bus. We availed the 15 august offer of Rs 200 per person. Always check the website or their twitter handle for offers available.
an upcycled red bus, I made out of an Amazon carton

personalised double decker bus birthday logo

The bus:
We took the double decker bus, and it was magnificent. Very clean, very new, everything in working order. There was ac in the covered section, but we chose to sit on the top deck.

Things I wish they had :
Since we have been on very many of the hop on hop off buses, here is what was missing, No disposable rain jackets in case of rain ( this is a MUST, since we were travelling in august) , the disposable jackets also make for cute pictures , and we have worn them in Newyork as well as Genoa.
Second , and more importantly, no audio guide in multiple languages. As I understand this is again a MUST. The website says that 15 odd language guides are available, but there were no audio plug ins near our seats, no audio head sets, either. When we asked the guides, they said they themsl\elves talk to the guests, and it is mostly in English. If Goa wants to be an international tourist destination, we need it in multiple languages, andI would appreciate the audio in Indian languages as well.
There was no audio at all for our tour, no one explaining about the various sights as we crossed. Ok, so we knew most of the sights, but a pre recorded audio, must go on at all times.

Now the ride:

We started at Miramar circle, circled around the first stop which is the Goa science center, you can get off here, for a quick tour of the science center which has a pre historic park which dinosaur statues, a space station, a planetarium (extra charges), a 5 D movie show (fixed timings) enjoy the crazy mirrors, and a labyrinth of mirrors. The cost of entry is Rs 20 which is extremely affordable and they are open on Sunday as well.
You can also cross over to the caranzalem beach and enjoy a cleaner nicer beach than the Miramar beach.
If you are looking for a meal at Lunch time, go over to a place called SWING which is situated in the veranda do mar hotel. (order for baked broccoli in cheese , and tandoori fruits )

notice the little ones Tshirt with the double decker bus

we watched the other Hop On Hop Off buses from our vantage point

NEXT STOP, Miramar circle again
Here you can visit the popular beach, walk over to the chowpatty which sets up at 5 in the evening for some pani puri and shawarma, or the Goan cutlet pao. If you are feeling hungry, head over to Miramar residency which has a very old school ‘mama made pizza at home’ and the fresh made juices and milk shakes. Would recommend the double chocolate shake. They also have a café with the Mirmar residency which serves cakes and small eats. Feeling religious? There is holy cross, at the right side of the circle, if you are on the beach side facing the circle, also a Hanuman temple bang opposite the beach side. Walk a bit further for a fancy meal at Fortune Mirmar, or a pack and move meal at Carasid (I would recommend the tandoori chicken sandwich and the chocolate mousse)

NEXT STOP , kala academy, and park by Forest dept.
Don’t get off, but if you want to , and have kids, then visit the kala academy and walk over to the lighthouse on the riverside. Take a walk in the forest dept park, and take a boat ride in the small paddle lake, there is also a childrens park there. eat at the For-rest restaurant. The sugar cane juice is allthat I have tried there and it’s good. Can try the pani puri wala stationed outside, I like his hygienic approach and he always gives me extra raw mangoes, when I visit. (thumbs up)

be careful of low hanging branches

yes, we carriesd the traffic signal themed ballons to the bus, toddler birthday celebrations continued

the mandovi promenade is a lovely place for pictures
NEXT STOP, panim market
Don’t hop off, unless you want vegetables and fish. This is a local market. If you are a foreigner, then get off, see a traditional Indian market place, they even have a big Mario Miranda painting on one of the walls of the indoor market. Walk past the fish, and then the vegetable carts, ask for the flower market, buy a garland for your hair or around your neck, for added ‘travel to India’ feel. There are no souvenir shops, and no cashew stores here, don’t bother shopping here. They do have a government certified liquor store on the other side.

NEXT STOP, Mandovi promenade and Casinos
You can hop off to take a few pictures, or stay in the bus and take pictures from the bus itself. Stop for lunch at the Hotel Mandovi, one of the oldest hotels in the city. Order the chicken cafreal, or a fish curry rice at their Goan specialty restaurant Riorico. Or eat by the riverside, by the Mandovi, order for the prawn cocktail, it used to be good, been a long time since I visited, also the calamari batter fry.

All in all we had fun , on the HOHO bus, can it be better , YES. Their serveices, and the route, and the commentary can all be better. But the bus as such is JUST like the buses we have riden across the world, and for Rs 200 this was a paisa vasool ride.

the mangroves, back waters and greenery

NEXT STOP, well there isn’t any, we drive to the panjim circle, with the totem poles, take a right to drive along the Mangroves , and then turn back at the Raibander circle, all the way to Miramar circle. If you wish , you can get off at Raibander circle, walk down to the jetty, and take the free ferry across to the river Island of Divar and the devaaya ayurvedic spa, or take the other free ferry to Bicholim, but be sure to take the correct ferry back to ribander, and catch the hop on hop off bus back to Panjim city.

So if you see, the double decker bus, doesn’t really show you any of the great sights of Panjim. I have tried to give you the BEST info, and hope you can enjoy all of that, but the bus, DOES NOT go to the Panjim church, neither does it take you to the fontainhas section, or to Dona Paul jetty even, or to 18 june road or Altinho hill.

On asking, they said the city has not given them permission to ride within the city, which is a shame really. They informed the single decker bus goes till the Dona Paul stop, but doesn’t ride within the city to the Panjim church. The roads in the city are too narrow and congested for the large tour buses. The double decker bus is not allowed to ply all the way to the olf goa churches, which is a shame because the new fancy highway leading from Panjim, Merces and to Old Goa, can easily allow for the double decker buses, but certain low lying electric wires have prevented permissions.

We enjoyed the low lying branches and trees along the road, it added to the adventure of the travel, but there is a particular branch which is so low lying, that the guide made everyone sitting on the left side on the top deck, move to the other side!! On asking why it cannot be cut, she said, since the mangroves were ‘protected land’ , but this was not even a Mangrove, it was a tree by the road. I really wish the powers that be, and the babus of the land make intelligent decisions while making blanket rules.

hope you enjoyed the ride with us

(This post is from my Being Goanese collection. There is nothing called ‘Goanese’ and yet almost every tourist who comes to Goa, expects the language, or the people or the food to be ‘Goanese’ ; The language is called Konkani, the people Goans, and the food Goan. So what is Goanese? My Goa collection of blogs is called Goanese J

Enjoy more about Goa in the below posts click on the text below

Visit a spice plantation in Goa