The fantastic Sanskriti Museums, New Delhi

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A visit to the Sanskriti Kendra on the outskirts of Delhi wasn’t quite on my bucket list, I have to be honest, but it was, nevertheless, something I had been intending to do for years.

So an organised, guided walk through the 3 museums that are housed in the Sanskriti Kendra was an opportunity not to be missed.  The location is absolutely gorgeous –  you turn off MG Road, under one of the metro pillars and enter a different world.  Greenery, gorgeous trees, watered lawns –  such a treat in a city that otherwise often resembles a noisy, permanently dusty building site.

There is a calmness and tranquility about the Sanskriti Kendra that is instantly relaxing.

This amazing place, the brainchild of Mr O.P. Jain, houses his personal collection, and contains 3 museums – the Museum of Everyday Art, the Museum of Indian textiles and the Museum of Indian Terracotta.

You can take photos in the latter but not the other two, so the illustrations below are all of the wonderful terracotta collection.

All 3 collections are fascinating, and are well displayed.  Exhibits are well lit, there are good explanatory panels, and the whole things was a joy.

And, can you believe it, it is free.

The terracotta collection is housed in rooms that are built like village huts, and you wander from state to state, as it were, seeing the different styles and traditions :

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Let me end with this adorable roof tile, below, from Orissa.  It’s their version of a scarecrow, meant to keep predators away from the grain stored in the loft.

Fabulous, right ?

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Check the website – www.sanskritifoundation.org –  for opening times, and a location map.

Kaya Kalp The Royal Spa, ITC Mughal Agra

I feel as though I am trying to reinvent the wheel somewhat here.

How does one review a spa that is already so fabulously awarded and praised and accoladed?

What can one say that is new or different ?

But my time in the Kaya Kalp Spa at the ITC’s gorgeous hotel ITC Mughal in Agra was so good, and the spa really is every bit as fabulous as one has been told, that praise is mandatory.

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These are just a few of their awards on display.

Their list is seriously impressive :

…Best City Spa…Best Resort Spa…Best Luxury Hotel Spa…Favourite Hotel Spa…and many, many more…

You can perhaps understand my dilemma in trying to say something new ?

Anyway, here goes.

A sort of disclaimer here, before I start : I was the guest of ITC at the ITC Mughal.

But that fact does not, in my book, alter the fact that the charming young Thai girl who massaged me for 90 blissful minutes was amazingly good, very competent, discreet, efficient and charming. Invitee or not, she would have been as good a masseuse to anyone, I am convinced.

And being an invited guest alters absolutely nothing as far as the beauty of the spa is concerned.

It truly is jaw-droppingly gorgeous.

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Kaya Kalp The Royal Spa is, first of all, huge.  As in huge. The spa alone covers more than 99,000 square feet, and includes a beautiful exclusive pool :

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It includes lovely sit outs :

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The treatment rooms are sumptuous.

Truly.  Trust me. They are gorgeous.

Actually, they are not rooms at all, but rather luxurious suites.

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Kaya Kalp the Royal Spa is the largest in India, but the personal touch is omnipresent. Debbie, the charming young British manager was as sweet and accommodating as one could wish, even though we were running late for our scheduled treatments. Every young lady we met was artlessly polite and – if it doesn’t sound silly – relaxing, They were all so gentle and soft spoken that you could not help but relax.

The striking decor in the spa, featuring a red pomegranate theme, is all part of the hotels’s tribute to the Mughals, who have so marked Agra. It was Babar, according to tradition, who brought the pomegranate with him to India, and this theme- plus the use of water channels running through the spa – is a delightful recreation of a past era.

I had a massage using ginger and lime which sounded almost good enough to eat. It is the spa’s signature massage and was amazing. I almost drifted off to sleep, and left the treatment room feeling refreshed and tingly and oh-so-relaxed.

Would I recommend this spa to a friend ?

Absolutely.

Would I return there, on a future visit to Agra?

Absolutely.

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How is the resumed helicopter service in Arunachal Pradesh?

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After 2 fatal accidents in 2011, Pawan Hans’ chopper services in India’s north eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh were suspended.

Services were resumed on 24 January 2013 when a spanking new helicopter was inaugurated, and I was lucky enough to fly from Naharlagun to Guwahati on just the 2nd day of operations.  I believe it was only the second flight, too, so all in all, very exciting.

The flight was fabulous, the views were amazing, the service was charming and –  the ultimate –  at Rs3000 each, it cost 2 of us less than the Rs7k we had paid for our taxi from Guwahati to Naharlagun the previous week.  (Perhaps we were rooked on the cab fare, but that’s another issue.)

You save so much time by taking the chopper – and in our particular case, we more importantly avoided the risk of a bandh in Assam, which was the real motivator for flying.

Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Obviously on the second day of ops, the chopper was shiny new and spotlessly clean.

Great experience.

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For flight schedules, check online.  Currently one day a week is off for maintenance.

A sneak peek at the soon-to-be launched Tata Vista D90

I was one of the lucky ones, asked to drive and report back on the yet-to-be-launched Tata Vista D90, and so for the last 3 days, I have had my hands on a pristine, brick red, brand new, shiny new car, mine to drive around Delhi as I wish.  All that was asked of me was my feed-back, which is easily done.

It’s a super little car, zippy, roomy and perfect for city driving.

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Now despite having driven for aeons, I am not especially technically knowledgeable about cars beyond the basic essentials, so I decided to test the Vista D90 by subjecting it to 3 days of my normal Delhi routine.  Lots of quick trips here and there.  Far too many long, noisy, ill-tempered traffic jams.  And the eternal quest for a parking slot.  And in all these 3 areas, the car scored a perfect 10.

The Vista D90 handles well, accelerates brilliantly and moves with speed, all the time feeling safe and secure.  I was able to zoom ahead when the traffic lights changed, overtake quickly and safely, and sudden braking (tested while we were later filming) was easy and without ever making me feel the car was anything but stable. In 3 days of test-driving, I didn’t actually need to brake suddenly, thank goodness, so the braking was admittedly deliberately tested.  I was filmed driving today, some of which involved my coming to a screeching halt just in front of the (brave) cameraman, and so I know how smoothly and swiftly the car brakes.  Equally, the pick up is fantastic.

So, the Vista D90 passed the Delhi driving tests, as far as I am concerned.

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Next, the traffic jams. How did the car perform in them ? The Vista D90 is comfortable inside, has a great sound system, has an integrated Bluetooth phone on the dashboard, which meant that during the long jams on the BRT I could catch up on calls –  and since everything is hands free, it is 100% safe.

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There are controls for the phone and the music system on the steering wheel, which makes complete safety sense.  You can pair up to 5 mobiles, there is a USB port, there are cup holders, so there is everything you need to entertain you while (hopefully) driving but also while you are stuck in traffic.

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My 3rd testing criterion ?  Parking.  Since the car is neat and compact, finding parking was not an issue.  I was, however, terrified that someone would scratch my on-loan car.  No one did, though I did encounter one man who stared so long and hard at the car that he nearly toppled off his bike.  We also encountered an elephant on our first trip, but since I was driving I couldn’t take a photo to prove it.

There are some useful touches and features :

a pen holder in the glove compartment, which means you don’t have to scrabble to find one.

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the heated rear window, which really came into its own in the bitter Delhi cold.

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the alarm that sounds if you try to close the door with the ignition key still in.

the alarm that sounds if the driver doesn’t belt up within a few seconds.

immediate automatic locking

I very much liked the fact that the Vista D90 is quite high off the ground, with good wide visibility. I felt more elevated than many other cars on the road, and there was no blind-spot.

Conclusion ?

The car is nice looking, comfortable to drive, feels very safe, and is roomy inside.

I have only one teensy quibble.  There is literally no space at all to the left of the clutch, which means you tend to leave your foot on the clutch by default.

But that’s it.

Otherwise I loved driving “my” Vista D90 and felt a real pang when, filming over, I had to hand it back.

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Where to get coloured cables for Apple products in India

It’s not rocket science, but the first time I saw a display of coloured iPhone/iPad/iPod cables, it was something of a revelation.

Move over classic same-as-everyone-else’s white cables and chargers, and enter a range of bright, jolly, indivdual colours.

There is the added incentive that these might well mark the end of one of the many little squabbles that dog a home full of dedicated Apple users.

Trying to mark my territory over my chargers and cables, I had taken to sticking on labels with my initials (confusingly CAP), but different colours makes much better sense.

So for Christmas that’s what my son did.  From ebay India he bought us all different colours.

I am red, fyi.

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Cheap AND cheerful.
Thoroughly recommended.

Where to buy jewellery in Old Delhi

Shopping in the crowded tiny lanes in India’s Old Delhi is amazing fun but can be a tad overwhelming.

There are so many people, it is so noisy and crowded, and you are spoiled for choice.

If you are shopping for trinkets or buttons or beads or ribbons or gift bags or any other of the wonderful things you can find in Old Delhi, then the worst that you risk is paying a couple of rupees more in one tiny shop than you would have done in another.

If you are in the market for jewellery or for gem stones, however, then the stakes (and the risks) are more substantial.

And that is why the cognoscenti beat a path to the following address in Old Delhi :

Ask for the Jain Temple, and the shop is in an old haveli in the same tiny little lane where the temple is.

This lane is famous for its row of prettily painted old houses, and is an oasis of quiet.  The temple is also delightful, so the whole trip is well worth your while.
Ashish Nahar and his father are courteous, welcoming, and have a huge range of jewellery and loose stones.

The latter are a particular favourite of mine – bags of topaz and amethyst are offered for you to select the stones you want, and their quality is excellent, their prices good, and their reputation impeccable.

A real find.

Personally recommended.

Where to eat good Polish food in London ?

Our London based friends were already great fans of GESSLER AT DAQUISE, a Polish restaurant in South Ken, and so at their suggestion,  off we headed, the 4 of us, on a lovely summer evening.

The restaurant has been in London since the 1940s, and the slightly faded, old-fashioned decor pays hommage to that fact – in the nicest possible way.  There is what one imagines to be an authentic whiff of old Warsaw what with the bistro setting, the large wooden table for serving, the mirrors – I loved the ambience.

The service was attentive and kind, and actually rather stylish, which is not a word one uses much these days for waiters, is it?  Again, a a slightly old-fashioned feel to it, which is very welcoming.

The young Indian sous-chef who served our food at the table was thrilled to talk about India and speak Hindi with us, and couldn’t have been more charming.

And now to the food, where I have to say up front that I wasn’t as thrilled by the food as my 3 carnivorous companions, simply because I am not a carnivore.  I am essentially a vegetarian although I do eat fish, which left me with Hobson’s choice on the solidly meat-based menu.  There was one cold fish starter, one warm fish starter and one main dish.  Not one single vegetarian offering.

As I said, Hobson’s choice.

I had the cod (below), because there was nothing else, and though the accompaniments were delicious the fish was very cod-y.  Rather heavy and rather dull and I left most of it. (And no-one asked me why, which was a little odd, given the otherwise attentive service)

I did try the herring (below) from my friend Eden’s tasting menu (and the staff kindly gave me an extra piece) and that  – on the contrary –  was absolutely delicious.  Thick and tasty and served with all kinds of lovely stuff on the side – fab thick cream, for example.

The duck was declared delicious, and it looked pretty good, even to a non meat-eater.

The tasting menu and the beef were both also declared to be a triumph.

I also had a taste of Eden’s beetroot & dumpling soup, (above) from the tasting menu : very good, and such a new, interesting taste.  And such a fab colour.

Moral of the story ?

Head to GESSLER AT DAQUISE if you love meat, and what I can only call authentic-looking food, served in generous portions.

I found £150 for 4 a tad pricey, but I am way out of touch with London prices, so who knows ?

 

 

 

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INDIAN ACCENT RESTAURANT in NEW DELHI

This review is different, since it is a guest post by a Twitter friend?/acquaintance?/cyber-friend? –  well, anyway, someone with whom I chat and tweet online. His Twitter handle is @alltough, and last month, he tweeted a review of a Delhi restaurant, which caught my eye.

@alltough tweeted in a series of posts – for those of you who don’t tweet, you are limited to the numbers of characters per tweet.

This review, sentence by sentence and photo by photo, appealed to me enormously as it unfolded slowly in cyber-space, and so I asked @alltough if he would guest post for me.

Here is his review.

 

A pictorial tribute to an exquisite fusion dinner that was indulged in at the Indian Accent restaurant on March 28, 2012 based in the Manor Hotel in 77, New Friends Colony. The meal was prepared by the friendly Chef Manish Mehrotra that evening for a table of five. For their menu online, click here: http://www.themanordelhi.com/restaurant-menus.htm

  1. Went to the Indian Accent at the Manor Hotel last evening. Had never heard of it before but now I won’t stop raving about it for a few days.
    delhisultan
  2. Had the most delicious little parathas stuffed with blue cheese as an appetiser. I think, I can safely recommend, it is worth dying for it.
    delhisultan
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    Too much naatak; too little to eat – a cheese ball hung over a slender cup filled with shorba. I couldn’t dunk it
    delhisultan
  4. Items on menu have a slight Indian twist to it hence the name. the chef came to our table & explained the aesthetics of his presentation.
    delhisultan
  5. most fine dining places can be quite snobbish but this one had the friendliest staff. They make you feel at home. not everything is priced.
    delhisultan
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    The chef sent this to our table as a complimentary item:  enjoyed the tangy chilli strawberry dip but ignored liver
    delhisultan
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    The famous Pao Bhaji at Indian Accent
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    veggies wrapped in thin paneer was ordered for a starter but I think I could order three more and make it a mains
    delhisultan
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    It took time for us to touch this one because nobody had the heart to destroy the way it looked. Potato chaat
    delhisultan
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    This was a strict no-no for me. I pretended it wasn’t there. some part of a goat’s ankle many will relish
    delhisultan
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    crisp Mexican rotis stuffed with chicken gravy (naming whatever I like as I don’t remember menu) this was delish
    delhisultan
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    I could have died & gone to heaven if I had eaten the whole thing. Prawns on a bed of thick Goan rice. Must have
    delhisultan
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    Some very exotic fish whose name I can’t be bothered with. With fried lotus roots. Again, nice mellow flavour.
    delhisultan
  14. The names on the menu were simple but long and without any added adjectives like ‘creamy’, ‘smooth’ and ‘spicy’, but staff use it liberally.
    delhisultan
  15. dessert was strictly okay. Fancy names but I was too stuffed to change the way my palate felt. Order assorted stuff & share in a small group
    delhisultan
  16. Indian Accent is in the Manor Hotel in New Friends Colony (West) at #77. Make a reservation. Good experimental food and great service. Go.
    delhisultan
  17. We paid for our food. My hosts loved it so much they asked the unassuming celebrity chef to come to South Africa and open one there. #Delhi
    delhisultan
  18. That was a restaurant review in 16 tweets. Must storify. Thank you, ladies & gentlemen. You may now resume with your work day. Bon appetit!

Where to stay in Varanasi

Arriving at the JUKASO GANGES HOTEL by boat, on a first time ever visit to Varansi was spectacular.

As we made our way downstream from Raj Ghat, the exciting panorama of life along the Ganges unfolding before our eyes, we slowed down in front of an elegant building, snugly fitting in between Ganesh Ghat and Bhosale Ghat, and set a little bit back from the river.

Our hotel.

The Hotel only opened in early 2012, and indeed not all of the planned 15 rooms were ready at the time of our visit (1-3 April 2012), but the hotel promises to be a little jewel when it is completed.

Our rooms were deliciously cool (a blessed relief from the 40C temperatures), well appointed, and those facing the river have views to die for.  Good bathrooms.

The staff couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, staying up late and serving us dinner without a murmur when we returned after 10.30pm one evening, ladened with shopping after a long foray into the bazaars.

Any little glitches –  and they were only little ones –  were dealt with promptly.

The location of the hotel  –  quite a distance up river from the main Assi Ghat area –  means either walking or taking a boat to go down to the busier ghats.  It also means the hotel is quieter.  The walk along the river is fascinating, along a wide, well maintained walkway, and to go up and down the Ganges by boat is a total delight.  Just tell the hotel, and they will arrange a boat whenever you need it.

The only possible criticism –  though that is too strong a word – would be the location of the restaurant.

The restaurant is very small, and located on the top floor, involving a climb up 2 flights of stairs (the lift only goes up to the 3rd floor, so the occupants of the 2 rooms on the 4th floor always have an extra floor to climb).  I doubt the restuarant could hold all guests at the same time, once the hotel is running at full capacity, because that would ideally be 30 covers.

The chef told us that in the winter some guests will be able to eat on the outdoor terrace, which has an admittedly fabulous view.

But there are monkeys, so that issue will have to be tackled.

Despite air conditioning and a fan, the restaurant was very hot, mainly because the large picture windows have no curtains or blinds, so the summer sun was beating down remorselessly. Chick blinds are a must.

But this comment apart, our stay was an utter delight.

The proof of the pudding ?  We made reservations to return in the winter.

DAVID HOCKNEY A BIGGER PICTURE at the ROYAL ACADEMY

The  timing of my visit to the Hockney exhibition could not have been better. An early weekday morning, and the weather was grey, windy, piercingly cold, with a hint of snow. London at her most miserably winterish.

The contrast between the freezing grey outside and the explosion of colour inside the Royal Academy was electric. Just walking into the first gallery was like a dose of warmth and sunshine.

Today was my Road to Damascus moment as far as David Hockney is concerned.

I knew a little of his work – “A Bigger Splash”, obviously, and some of those extraordinary photo collages of the Grand Canyon, but, to my shame, not much else.

To my eternal shame, I didn’t even know know Mr. Hockney is a fellow Tyke.

But this morning, if a fairy godmother had waved her magic wand and given me enough money (and ginormous walls) I would have bought every single painting there, so bowled over was I by the work of this wonderful talent.

Wandering round the galleries full of colour and happiness made me feel happy. I know I had a daft, dippy expression, smiling at people –  but then again, everyone else looked happy too, and smiled back, and chatted, so obviously I was not alone, in the feel-good stakes.

I have frequently been moved by seeing a particular masterpiece – the Madonna of the Rocks last week, for example at the Leonardo Exhibition at the National Gallery –  but never have I felt so incredibly happy at an exhibition.

And never have I felt so ridiculously proud of being a Yorkshire(wo)man.  There, I’ve said it.  True, I have never actually seen my native west Yorkshire looking as riotously colourful and vibrant as Mr. Hockney’s landscapes, but I have seen the hedgerows full of meadow sweet and hawthorn bushes that he so eloquently paints, in the countryside I remember as a child.

Favourites from amongst these amazing pictures ?

The effect of all those canvases in “The arrival of spring in Woldgate East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)” was amazing – an array of fabulous little details of grass and flowers and shadows and leaves, all contributing to a stupendous whole.

And as for those films (digital video) –  utterly glorious and I laughed out loud during the dancing, as did my neighbours in the projection room, and when Mr. Hockney appeared, brandishing a mug, lots of people applauded.

The exhibition is a delight.  An utterly delightful treat for the senses and the soul.

I am cross with myself that I have wasted so many years of my life not knowing enough about David Hockney : today I became a total and utter adoring fan.

Mr. Hockney’s talent and exuberance and mastery of so many media is impressive.  Damn it, why can’t I do such amazing things with my iPad ?

Entry to the exhibition costs £14, and you really do need to book.  I was incredibly lucky, walking by yesterday afternoon and being told I could go straight in, or choose whatever time I wanted, but I understand that booking online isn’t quite as easy.

I opted for the first time slot, 10am, when the Royal Academy opens, and by the time I left, it was getting quite crowded, so I would advise the earlier the better.

There is more merchandise in the shop than you can shake a stick at, but if you buy only one thing, let it be the catalogue.  It’s heavy, and at £29.95 it’s expensive, but it is well, well worth it.