What is Siri Fort Sports Complex, New Delhi like?

I have just returned from my first ever visit to the Siri Fort Sports Complex in Delhi, and at first I thought, “How can I review it after only one session there? Hardly seems fair.”

And then I thought, “Hang on, I will happily write a review of a restaurant after only one meal, so same difference.”

I used the jogging track, running with one of my running group, as we try and get fit for the Mumbai half marathon.

I was seriously impressed at this clean, quiet, green oasis, right in the heart of the city.  Ample safe parking. Blissfully quiet. After running on city roads, what a treat to run on a good track. Very clean, even the loos.

Slightly bored indifferent staff, but that is par for the course in India with any government/municipal initiative, always coupled with the obvious dread of perhaps having to speak in English with an old foreigner…as it is, this old foreigner can speak Hindi, so that was OK.

Got myself my day pass with only minimum explanation required that yes I am a foreigner, but yes I live here, and that yes I am PIO and…all OK in the end.  They even knocked Rs2 off the price, since no-one had any change.  Sweet.

As I was cooling off after my run, I was challenged by a security guard for not having said day pass.  “Gave it in at the desk over there,” I huffed, bright red in the face.

He went and checked at the desk, and dismissively told me, “Thik hai.”

“Oh,” I asked him, “so you think I would tell you a lie?”

“No, of course not madam.”

“So why didn’t you believe me. Do I look like a liar?”

“No madam, of course not”,  and he saluted, so that was that.


Very impressed by what I saw.  It was pretty empty at 3 when we started running, but as the afternoon wore on, and I guess schools finished, lots of children were rolling up, mainly for tennis practice it would seem

I can envisage more runs here, and a post run coffee in the Barista outlet.

Am seriously, unequivocally delighted that my tax rupees have been so well spent.


Well-tended lawns and flower beds, and gardeners hard at work this afternoon.

Brilliant running track.


Intriguing sculpture (below).  Guess the message is to get off that couch and into your sports gear.  Could’ve been our logo for our “Couch – 6km” programme last year.


A slightly puzzling sign (below).


Only sad note – rubbish “hidden” behind a wall, right next to ticket booth, and a “Swachh Bharat” poster.  No litter otherwise in the complex, which was such a treat, so this was unnecessary.


Pick it up, fellas, don’t chuck it underneath the hoardings, behind a wall.

Total bead heaven in Delhi

As I fossicked through the hundreds of necklaces and beads and yet more necklaces in Lall’s in Delhi’s Sunder Nagar, I remarked to Catriona, my fellow fossicker, that the shop reminded me of Lurgan Sahib’s antique shop in “Kim” –  only with electricity. Remove the lighting from Lall’s, and without too much imagination you could be in Lurgan Sahib’s amazing treasure house, sifting through mounds of objects and statues and jewellery from all over India.

Catriona had taken me to Lall’s especially to look at their Naga jewellery, and that was to be the beginning of an afternoon spent looking longingly through amazing necklaces, literally trunks loads of them, and we never even got started on the fabrics and the statues and the bronzes….

A true modern day treasure house, worthy of Rudyard Kipling.  Except it’s air-conditioned.

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The tribal jewellery from the North East –  especially Nagaland – is what fascinated me, and there are some truly lovely things on offer.  And, oh joy of joys, they mostly have price tags, which makes a poor haggler like me feel instantly more relaxed :

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See, I told you, price tags (below).

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And when I said there are trunks full of treasures, I bet you didn’t believe me…



There are statues and fabrics and brass objects and…and…and…

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The staff were polite and (another joy of joys) totally un-pushy.  I can’t abide shops where the salesmen try and entice you in, and then follow you round the shop, stuck to you like iron filings to a magnet.  Nothing like that here.

I didn’t tell them that I blog and write reviews.

Obviously we shopped.  And obviously we paid our own bills.

A good find.  To be re-fossicked.


They take credit cards but, like so many shops in Delhi, charge you an extra % for using them.


Ivy & Bean: fusion Oz food in Delhi’s Shahpurjat

I have mentioned in other reviews of Delhi’s Shahpurjat district that this little urban village is changing at the speed of light, as a recent hot humid afternoon’s wandering confirmed.

There are boutiques a-plenty and new restaurants and cafés, and seeing it through the eyes of my house guest, a European first timer to Shahpurjat, it really has become a super buzzy little place.

5 of us went for lunch at “Ivy and Bean”, a cute place serving Australian fusion food.

Absolutely loved the look and feel of the place.

We ate inside, in the air-conditioned dining room, but the gorgeous outdoor area (shown below) is clearly crying out to be frequented, once the weather cools down a little :

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The honesty library, below.


Everyone enjoyed their food, other than Nisha, who said her pizza was “ordinary and nothing special”.  3 of us had fish, and all loved it  –  interesting mashed potatoes –  and Anjulie’s stuffed peppers were apparently delicious.

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The Basa (above) and peppers (below):

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The portion of fish wasn’t huge, but after the large, fresh salads, it was actually exactly the correct amount of food.

Service was a tad on the slow side, but to be fair we did order in dribs and drabs, as our group straggled in at different times.

Ivy bill


The current menu can be seen on the zomato website.

I didn’t tell them I blogged, nor that I write reviews, and we paid our own bill.

Will I go back?  Most definitely.

I can foresee a lazy late morning coffee and some browsing from the honesty library, come the winter.


Ivy card

Clock Heaven in South Africa

For years, Dullstroom has been a constant fixture on our drives to the Kruger Park.

We always stop there.

We always eat there.

And we always shop*** there.

From a pretty but small stop-over in the late 1990s, we have seen Dullstroom grow into an increasingly sophisticated little place, complete with smart shops and smart places to eat.

One of the fun shops we always visit in Dullstroom is The Clock Shop, which sells clocks (obviously) but in quantities you never knew existed, in every shape, size, design and colour of the rainbow.

To wit :

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There are theme-based clocks:

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There really is something to suit every taste and budget, from cheap ‘n cheerful, to kitschy, as well as seriously expensive.

By expensive, think fabulous old grandfather clocks:


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There are some clever designs:

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There is a repair shop :

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So yes, all in all, pretty much clock heaven, I’d say.

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Oh come on, watch the video clip below, and then tell me – who doesn’t secretly rather like a cuckoo clock?

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Oh yes, those *** up top.

This is what we bought last month in The Clock Shop :

bird clock


We bought the bird song version, which I promptly hung up in my Delhi study, and once an hour I am transported back to Africa.


The shop is on the main street.  Just ask anyone where it is.  It’s that kind of place.

What is a good, really strong iPhone case?


In a word.

And why do I say this?

I broke my thumb in a recent running accident.  My Skech-protected iPhone 5 emerged almost unscathed.  Is that proof enough?

Since my poor phone went flying from my about-to-be-broken hand as I fell, the fact that it survived intact is a good enough testimonial for me.


When I got my lovely iPhone 5 for Christmas, my son gave me a Skech cover, muttering something along the lines of “no expense spared for you, Mum.  This case is expensive but will protect your phone.”

I think I may have demurred at its simple looks, secretly wanting something a tad more gimmicky.  You know those “Keep calm and…” kind of cases…

But Hari was adamant.

A Skech would protect my brand new phone.

Fast forward about 2 months, and the little protective thing that goes over the on/off button came off.  Not that sturdy then.  Hari confirmed that the same thing had happened to his Skech case.  I started a complaint procedure (which I may now need to amend).

Serious fast forward to last weekend, a mere 3 1/2 months after Xmas, when I fell in a rather bloody messy tangle while out running in a Delhi forest.  I was holding my phone –  timer/GPS on and all that running malarkey –  and it went flying from my hand, and I obviously feared the worst.

This was the worst :


Scratches at the bottom where my poor phone hit the track, but no major damage. To the phone.  I broke my thumb, remember…

(And you can see in the top right hand corner where the thingamajig is missing.)

I immediately ordered a new Skech cover, albeit in a slightly jazzier colour, because I am now convinced.


Personally recommended.

I bought mine from eBay, but their website will tell you where you can buy these sturdy products.


Hmmmm….while checking their website just now, prior to adding their address, I saw that they have lovely armband covers for iPhones…might make more sense…


What is Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurgaon like?

Last summer, I spent many a hot summer Sunday morning yomping round the Aravali Biodiversity Park in Gurgaon with my trekking buddy Sunil Nehru, as we trained for our high altitude trek in Ladakh.  Gurgaon might not be all that hilly, but we found the park a great place to train, as my review said at the time.

Fast forward almost a year, and Sunil, his delightful wife Nina and I met up last Sunday for a yomp.  They are going off on a trek later this month, I am planning a climb in August, so with our backpacks on, we did 3 rounds of the park.  Quite like old times…

And it’s not q-u-i-t-e as unspoilt as last year, sad to say.  There is more barbed wire than I had remembered.  Plus a nice new perimeter wall, which is good.  But for some reason, fancy metal gates have been installed at several points along the path (I’d actually seen this back in January when I came running here) but now they have been semi-chained and padlocked –  the way the grills outside nationalised banks are ? – which meant we rucksacked folks had a bit of a struggle to get through.  As did everyone on a bike, or (I imagine) with a dog on leash.  You squeeze through, precariously, one at a time.

Don’t see the point.

Other than that, the sunrise was every bit as lovely as I had remembered.



No nilgai or jungle cat this time, but flowers.



And, of course, Sunil’s famous jam butties.

We always have a picnic breakfast thanks to him, and (I suspect) that British Public School education he received as a teenager, which must have marked him for life.



As on every occasion I have visited this great public facility, I felt perfectly safe.  It is clean by any objective standards and by Delhi/Gurgaon standards it is spotless.

I especially love the views, below –  for a few minutes as you crest this slope, you really do not feel you are in a crowded city at all.




It was amazingly green on Sunday, despite the heat – doubtless the result of the rain we had in March.  Gardeners were out at work, there is a massive drip irrigation system in place, which will be brilliant when the summer really takes hold.


All you Gurgaon people –  get out and enjoy a facility that is on your doorstep, that is free, and that is clean and safe.  It is rare to have such a wilderness space, so use it and cherish it.


In tandem with the exhibition of black and white images of the African descendants living in India, known as Sidi, Delhi’s National Gallery of Modern Art has a second photographic exhibition, also of a minority community, but the gulf between the poor, rural Sidis of Ms Sheth’s exhibition and the westernised, philanthropic, city based Parsis couldn’t be greater.

It is this contrast that makes these 2 collections doubly fascinating.

Sooni Taraporevala’s early photos of family and friends gradually morphed over the years into a detailed and loving chronicling of this educated, outward looking but sadly in decline community.

Many of the photographs were shot in Bombay, which is home to a large percentage of the Parsi community.  Having lived in that wonderful city about 20 years ago, there was a delightful nostalgia about some of the images. Ah, those wonderful double-decker buses…those flared trousers…those cool tiled corridors in the turn of the century buildings…


This is a collection of images that, like the Sidi exhibition, has been photographed with love and affection and ne’er a moment of voyeurism.


There is a gentleness and almost retro feel to many of the portraits, as Ms Taraporevala captures both a community and the city that is so much part of the Parsi social fabric.



A lovely exhibition, which made me want to head straight back to Bombay, so nostalgic did it make me feel.



This last image (above) is sublime.  Almost like a painting.  Absolutely love it.


Highly recommended.


Gallery Timings:
Opens daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
Closed on Mondays and National Holidays.

Entry Charges:
Indian: Rs: 10/-
Foreign National: Rs: 150/-
Student / Child: Rs: 1/-

(Comments re the Rs 150 vs  Rs 10 rupee price differential in ticket price holds.)

A good shopping & eating combo in Leh, India

I mentioned in a review posted earlier today of a restaurant called “Bon Appétit” in Ladakh’s capital Leh, that this little city’s eating and shopping profile has changed hugely over the 4 years since my previous visit.

Another great discovery on my trip earlier this month was the Open Hand Espresso Bar & Bistro.  In fact, this was a double discovery because once I had ooh-ed and aah-ed myself silly in Open Hand, I then discovered that there are outlets in Delhi, where I live, and that as a concept, Open Hand has been around since 1999.

Travel really does broaden the mind, in more ways than one…

So, we went for lunch at Open Hand, 6 of us, and the food met with everyone’s satisfaction.

So, food first (and curiously, I can’t find our bill, so forgive me in advance for this).  Rather foolishly, I didn’t choose a salad -mainly because I felt like soup, which was delish, so no complaints there –  but these salads looked perfect.  I helped myself to the feta from hubby’s salad, and it was as creamy as you could wish.

So, big thumbs up for fresh, crisp salads and creamy feta cheese at 3500 meters – Leh, you really are astonishing.




Gita had this veg fried rice dish (below) which she said was OK, but not rave-worthy:


My veg soup (below) was, as I said, delicious, filling, and just what the doctor ordered – though if I am allowed a quibble, I would’ve expected better bread than sliced white.


I was in need of a caffeine fix, and this espresso milk shake did the trick


Now, not only is Open Hand a café, complete with loungers in the sun, and ‘firangs” a-plenty checking their email and sipping coffee, it is also a fair trade kind of shop, which I enjoyed pottering around :



You can shop from all over India…




…or closer to home, from the Himalayas…


and you can support any number of good causes


This was a clean, relaxing place to spend a few hours.

Good food.

Wifi (though s-l-o-w, but hey, it was free) and a nice vibe.

We paid our own bill, and I did not tell the staff that I write reviews and run 3 blogs.

Next time, I will head there for breakfast and coffee, though 2 of our party tried that one day, just as a coach party of the ubiquitous Leh summer visitor foreigners rocked up.  Apparently the Open Hand staff were very sweet and told our friends that it would probably be better if they tried elsewhere, since there was bound to be a long wait otherwise –  a refreshingly honest approach.


Looking for a good, reliable Indian trekking and climbing company? Look no further…

Having just returned from a very successful climbing trip to Ladakh, I want to share with you my impressions of the company with which I travelled – the Delhi based White Magic Adventure Travel.

I have trekked and hiked in the subcontinent before, and despite the continual joy and beauty of the scenery, I have usually had reservations about the outfitters, ranging from minor niggles to downright dangerous and unprofessional behaviour. There is one company here in Delhi that I would not touch with a barge pole.

No such reservations this time round.

The level of competence and professionalism I experienced at every stage of my dealings with White Magic inspired confidence, and (once my wretched shoulder gets better) will also inspire further trips with them.

I went to meet the owners of White Magic before I signed up for the trek and climb of the 6155m Mentok Kangri. Their office is in Delhi’s Gulmohar Enclave, and there was an air of calm competence that I found reassuring. Regular emails followed with kit lists, training advice, and individual queries were efficiently and speedily answered.

We all met up in Leh towards the end of July, and since Avilash Bisht (one of the owners of the company) was completing a successful climb on Mount Kun, the pre-departure logistics and the first half of the trip were handled by the charming, serious and uber-competent Tsewang Namgyal. When we met in Leh, Namgyal asked to see all of my equipment, examining everything in detail, including the quality of my glasses for summit day. He checked all my equipment, from my gaiters to boots, even asking how many pairs of socks I had and then checking them for suitablility – great thoroughness which I have never yet had with any other Indian outfitter.

On the trek we were 5 putative climbers + 1 super experienced climber + 2 trekkers who would not be attempting the climb, and we had a staff of 5 (and loads of horses and a darling noisy little donkey).P1040008

At the point when the trekkers would leave us, which was the only place with road access during the trek, Avilash and another young but experienced guide joined us, so for the summit attempt we had a crew of 7.  Since our numbers also depleted with 3 of our group deciding not to try for the summit after all, the ratio became very favourable towards we remaining 3 climbers.

The service and kindness of the staff cannot be too highly praised. Already very caring and always willing to help, they all became super heroes in my eyes.

I slipped on the way down from the summit, damaging my right arm (I thought I had sprained a muscle. Turned out I had an avulsion fracture) and from that moment onward, not only did Namgyal and Mohan virtually spirit me down to high camp then intermediate camp, the rest of the crew were amazing. My arm hurt too much even to tie my shoe laces, so with great kindness every day, some one would lace my boots for me, would pack my things, deflate my mattress, roll up my sleeping bag.  And all with a cheerful smile and a brushing off of my embarrassed thanks.

As soon as I fell, Namgyal tested my arm to see if it was broken (it was, but none of us knew for 4 days until I went for an X-ray in Delhi) as did Mohan later, and then Avilash, who put me on painkillers and into a sling.

So, on that score, full marks to White Magic. I had no qualms re their first aid knowledge. Even I didn’t know I had broken my arm, since it just looked bruised and wasn’t swollen. (Still isn’t)

Tents and equipment were all in good condition, and for the first time ever in over a decade of serious trekking, I could have dispensed with my own mattress.

Avilash told me they supply good thick mattresses, and they do.




My (superfluous) mattress being packed for the horses.


When Mohan thought he spotted a leak in my mattress, him & Namgyal calmly set about repairing it, without even telling me till it was finished.

Talk about service.

Food was essentially veg (as am I) so no complaints there. Very generous servings, lots of little extras like a constant supply of biscuits with tea, popcorn in the evening – so there was very little need for the energy bars I took along. I never left the mess tent feeling hungry or short changed. The cook, Ramesh, soldiered away day and night producing endless cups of soup and nutritious Indian meals, with a few stellar performances such as momos one night.




Even at 5000+metres, there was an attempt at style on this trek.




Most days, a hot cooked lunch, complete with crockery and cutlery (above) was carried up the slopes for us. Seriously good service.

On summit day, when I collapsed back into my tent at high camp, tired and with an aching right arm, I did not feel hungry (a rare thing for me) and this so worried the delightful first-timer in the crew, 17 year old Zakir Hussain, that he tried to spoon feed me, telling me in a surprisingly maternal way to open my mouth since I had to eat and that it was good for me.

Too, too sweet.

There was always a wide array of jams and honeys and spices and pickles and (always) hand sanitizer on the dining table. Black tea was always on offer, and served in one’s tent at wake up time – what a treat.

We started out with 2 loo tents, but ended up with just one, which wasn’t such a big deal overall despite my misgivings. The logistics of loo tents at altitude, especially when it is difficult to build suitable pits are difficult, and except for one camp site where it was very marshy, the crew managed to make the best out of a difficult job.

Summiting is always a special moment, and when I finally stumbled up onto the rocky summit of Mentok Kangri, it was to the cheers and applause of Namgyal, Mohan, Lapsong, Zakir Hussein (who may be the youngest person to have summited ??) and dear Gangu.  Avilash was behind me with one of our team. Kuntal Joisher, a terrifyingly fit young man, had even managed to change into an Everest themed T shirt, bless him, and so my summit time was a happy mix of tears and prayers and hanging up prayer flags and photos and the ceremonial offering of one of my energy bars.

The Leh office, headed by Tashi Angchuk, was just as efficient, collecting me from my non-team hotel in Leh, then going back to collect my GPS that I had forgotten.  The rental of snow boots and crampons, and airport drop off were all handled seamlessly by Tashi.

I could not have wished for a nicer group of people with whom to share such an emotional (& literal) high.

P1040041Lapsong, Zakir & Gangu hanging out.  As one does at altitude.


Namygal and Mohan (above) getting ready to set up the fixed lines.

Avilash (below) in a rare quiet moment, at Tso Moriri.  Usually he was in the thick of things :


Would I recommend White Magic Adventure Travel ?
100% yes.

Will I travel with them again?
Yes, just as soon as my arm heals.

The company has a great website, and though it is Delhi based, our initial team of 8 comprised 3 of us from Delhi, 4 from Bombay and 1 from the UK.

Here’s the link to their website :


Personally 100% recommended.

I paid my own way (obviously) and didn’t tell the White Magic people that I blogged until the trip was over.

Aravali Bio-Diversity Park, Gurgaon

I first discovered this impressive park last year, when I went to listen to the divine Sonam Kalra in concert.

These last few weeks have seen me re-acquainting myself with the park in a very different avatar.  I am training for a high altitude trek in Ladakh next month, and since one of my fellow trekkers lives bang next door to the park, it has become our Sunday morning training ground.  Sunil and I meet at the park at 5.30 am and walk for several hours, all rucksacked and hiking-booted-up.  I can tell you in the never-ending pre-monsoon heat and humidity, we are both seriously overdressed…

The park is huge, and since there has mercifully been no attempt to prettify it, what you have is kilometres of original vegetation – thorn trees and low scrubby bushes, with good paths winding through them.  It has a wild feeling to it, and certainly makes for more interesting walking, rather than –  say –  somewhere like Nehru Park in south Delhi (where we also train, by the way).  The land was apparently heavily mined, and you can still see the results of quarrying, but as nature takes over, that raw ugliness will soon disappear.

In the early mornings, the park feels safe. There are a couple of guards, and there are always gardeners doing their stuff-  mainly watering the kikar trees – and there are enough people out walking, running, cycling, bird-watching – it’s all quite energetic, despite the searing temperatures.

Over the course of our walks we have seen nilgai, a jungle cat, a “dhaan” or rat snake, a mongoose, birds galore – last Sunday was bee-eater convention day, clearly.  We were told there was a litter of jackal pups last Sunday, too, but we couldn’t spot them.

There are stray dogs, but they don’t seem overly aggressive.  There are often herds of cows grazing.  All quite rural, considering the back drop is the tower blocks of Gurgaon.

A good parking area, otherwise no facilities at all.  No loos, no benches, nothing.  The open-air auditorium is there of course, very close to the entrance.

For those of you who live in Gurgaon –  go use a great facility on your doorstep.

Dawn breaking over the park.


The open-air auditorium as it usually looks…


…and during the wonderful concert I mentioned earlier.  Magical.



“Soup for trees” always makes me smile









It may not be our ultimate goal, Mentok Kangri (all 6250 metres of it –  help!!) but let me tell you that on a baking hot morning, this slope is a killer.

And here is Sunil acing it.

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DLF Phase 3, Sector 24, Gurgaon, HR 122002