Monday, April 13, 2009


I am a tad disappointed not because I didn’t get to see the man himself but because I was expecting something more tranquil. After all, this is where the Dalai Lama resides. By the way, it’s quite impossible to see the Dalai Lama unless he gives a public talk or you’re a famous someone who made an appointment 4 months ago. There is no doubt that the Himalaya is beautiful but I can’t help but to think Dharamsala is a bit strange.

View from the plane of snow capped Himalaya mountains.

On my flight from Delhi to Dharamsala, I saw an elderly monk in saffron colored robes, stroking the thighs of a pregnant woman, which could very well be his wife but it was strange to me because I didn’t think Buddhist monks were allowed to get married. Then, sitting next to me was another Buddhist monk, this one is young, handsome and well built and holding hands with a Caucasian woman old enough to be his mother.

Anand, Auntie Sheila (his mom) and I stayed in McLeod Ganj, the alleged "backpacker's paradise". Apparently, this town was pretty dead until Dalai Lama and his entourage of Tibetan Buddhists claimed asylum here in 1960.

Tibetan monks.

McLeod Ganj town.

The Hotel
Pema Thang Guest House, site:, ph: 221871
Price: Rs1500/night for 3 persons

Anand and I really wanted to stay at Chonor House Guest House, especially knowing that this is where Richard Gere would stay whenever he’s in town. Unfortunately, we didn’t reserve in advance, hence, we ended up at Pema Thang Guest House, a humble hotel ran by some friendly Tibetans.

Bedroom at Pema Tang Guest House

View from Pema Thang restaurant - Buddhist script flags.

The Food
There is a wide variety of backpacker restaurants in McLeod Ganj. According to a travel magazine review, the food here is “as good as the ones back home” (home being Israel, Seattle etc). Unfortunately, I wouldn’t know because I had traveler’s diarrhea on day 2. So instead of some yummy international foods, this is what I frequently ate and drank on my trip.

Curd and rice.

Electrolyte drink is great for dehydration.

And here're some local delights...

Tibetan Tea - no sugar, just salt and a bit of yak butter and milk.

I can't recall if this Tibetan noodle soup is call Thentuk, Thukpa or something else. The freshly made noodles were al dante and the broth was savory-sweet by vegetables and a few thinly sliced lamb.

Tsuglagkhang Complex
This complex consists of a temple, a monastry and some shops. The Kalachakra Temple is not the most impressive but has an absolutely stunning view. The Lonely Planet wrote that on most evenings, you could catch monks “sealing points of argument with great flourish, a foot stamp and theatrical clap of the hands”, debating topics of Buddhist metaphysics, around the Namgyal Gompa monastry. We came to this complex several times and asked at least 9 monks about the debate but no one seem to know what we were talking about. We gave up after the third try.

Tsuglagkhang temple.

No trees were harmed while building this complex.

The conventional and traditional way of lighting candles or oil lamps.

Kalachakra mandala (Wheel of Time)

Buddhist Mantra

Having a cuppa chai and lassi at the Namgyal Cafe.

The Treks
One of the nicest treks we took was on Mall Road, which would lead you to Dal Lake, the home of Tibetan Children’s village. I never made it there, but Anand said it's not much of a village and the lake looked sad.

View from our treks around McLeod Ganj.

More views from our treks around McLeod Ganj.

I was taking pictures of an eagle that was flying above these guys and they started shouting "(give us) 50 rupees!" at me.

Norbulingka Institute
I think this institute made it worthwhile to visit Dharamsala. It’s about 6km from Dharamsala and was established to preserve traditional Tibetan art forms.

Thangka painting.

A finished thangka painting.

Making Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche statue.

Doll of a debating Buddhist monk at the Losel Doll Museum

More pictures of Dharamsala

Saturday, April 11, 2009

5km Run

Yes, I used to also wonder how could one possibly run at all in Bangalore with too much auto-rickshaw fumes in the air and massive human traffic everywhere. Then some company (I’m sure there are others but I just know of this one because I got drag into it) called Nike, organized a run club at one of the big parks in the city called Cubbon Park. Normally, traffic is allowed to pass through the park but for the safety and wellbeing of the runners, the roads are closed from 6am to 8am on Saturdays.

I’ve only ever run at the gym, at most 2km and usually in the evenings when I’m fully awake and stressed from work or life. Hence, running 5km non-stop at 7am that morning during my extended vacation felt very strange. The whole run took about 34 minutes (I know, I know, it’s lame and no where near world record but hey, at least I didn’t quit) and at the end of the run I have a sore left knee, a throbbing right foot and enough endorphins to keep me happy for the month.

Nike Run Club India

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Sindhi Cooking

Last weekend, “A”’s mom, Bina Auntie taught (or directed and translated for her cook to teach) me a few yummy Sindhi dishes. Occasionally, “A”’s grandma would advice as well. I’d like to tell you more about the Sindhi people and how they originated from Sindh province, which is now in Pakistan and the migration of Hindu Sindhs to India but you could read all about it here.

Masala - used in most if not every one of the dishes.

ELICHI CHAWAL (Cardamom Rice)

1 cup basmati rice
¼ cup half mung dahl
9 cardamom
2 tbsp oil
1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 ½ cup of water

* Soak rice and dahl for an hour
* Fry cardamom in oil in a deep pot until fragrant
* Add rice and dahl to pot and fry at high heat and until most moisture is gone
* Add salt
* Add water and bring to a boil
* Lower heat, cover pot with lid and cook for about 20 minutes or till rice is soft. If you’d like rice to be al dente, leave pot slightly uncovered.
* Serve with the other Sindhi dishes. Yummm.

METHI MACCHI (Fenugreek Fish)

5 seer fish fillet (I haven’t tried but I think you could also use Mackeral)
2 handful of methi (fenugreek leaves only), rinsed 4 times and chopped
3 med. onions, chopped
4 med tomato, chopped
1 tbsp blend of ginger, garlic and green chili paste (equal amount of ginger and garlic and one green chili)
Juice of ½ lime
¾ cup of water
6 tsp oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp haldi (tumeric)
¾ tsp dhania powder (cilantro)
½ tsp jeera powder (cumin)

Methi (or fenugreek leaves)

* Fry onion in oil
* Add ginger garlic chili paste and fry until brown
* Add tomatoes and fry until soft
* Add masala into and continue frying
* Add methi, fry
* Squeeze ½ lime into dish and continue cooking
* Add a little water and bring to boil
* Add fish fillets
* Add salt to taste and gently stir. Try not to turn fish. Fish fillets should submerge in gravy.
* Cook for 8-10 minutes and serve with Cardomom Rice.

PEAS ALOO (Peas and Potatoes)

3 clove garlic, chopped
4 small tomatoes, chopped
2 small potatoes, cubed
3 handfuls of peas (can be frozen)
½ green chili, chopped (optional)
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp jeera powder (cumin)
½ tsp dhania powder (cilantro)
¼ tsp haldi (tumeric)
¼ tsp chili powder

* Fry garlic until fragrant
* Add tomatoes (and chopped green chili, if you like) and cook for 15 minutes or until stewy in medium heat.
* Add salt to taste. Remove pan from stove and let cool.
* On a separate pot, boil chopped potatoes in salted water.
* Blend stewed tomato until smooth
* Pour blended tomatoes into pan again, add some water and bring to boil
* Add all the masala (garam masala, jeera, etc..) and cook for 5 minutes. Gravy should not be too thick.
* Add peas and boiled potatoes into tomatoes. Cook for a bit and dish is ready to be served. Oh, oh and add some chopped coriander as garnish.

ALOO TIKKI (Potato cutlet)

6-8 med potatoes boil whole with skin
Handful of dhania (coriander)
2 slices of toasted bread make into breadcrumbs (about 1 cup)
1 tsp dhania powder (coriander)
1 tsp jeera powder (cumin)
½ tsp chili powder
¾ tsp salt

* Mash and mix potatoes with all the masalas (dhania, jeera, chili powders) until smooth
* Add and mix in bread crumbs
* Taste, add salt if needed
* Oil hands; take enough potato mixture to make a golf ball. Flatten slightly and set aside.
* Fry potato cutlet into very hot oil (if you like, you can test oil temperature with a tiny ball of potato mixture. If potato becomes bubbly in oil, you’re all set. Fry away!)
* Serve aloo tikki with green chutney. Recipe of green chutney TBA.

Thank you for sharing and thank you for your very warm and generous hospitality, Bina Auntie, Viyay Uncle and Dadi!

Monday, April 6, 2009


I was planning to go to Dharamshala last week but people flaked. I can’t help but think "A" felt sorry for me and gave in to my whine to go on a “short” road trip to Munnar, a mountainous area with tea estate in the state of Kerala. It turned out Munnar is no where close to “short”.

Thinking the whole drive will take about 8 hours, we started off from Bangalore at 1pm. The first 3.5 hours of the drive wasn’t bad since the highway was fairly flat and properly tarred. We stopped at a small town call Salem for some tasteless, stale sandwiches and I called the hotel in Munnar only to find out that it would take another 7 hours to reach. Not paying too much attention to that statement, we drove on but took a wrong turn, went too far ahead to turn back and ended up at a town call Madurai.

What’s driving on an Indian highway like? Imagine you’re going 120km/hr (speed limit according to the road signs is 50km/hr) and vehicles of all sizes (i.e. motorcycles, enormous lorries and bullock carts) haphazardly coming from the opposite direction, when there is a divider that clearly separates traffic for each directions. Now imagine this scenario post-sunset with no street lights. Hence, to pamper ourselves, we decided to spend a night at Madurai at a super sweet hotel call Taj Garden Retreat.

Taj Garden Retreat (or now known as Gateway Hotel) is peacefully located on a 64 acre hilltop on beautifully landscaped grounds with white colonial bungalows converted to hotel rooms. Facilities include swimming pool with a stunning view of town, tennis court, and a tour around the estate. The standard rooms were taken, so we splurged a little and went with the executive room priced at about Rs9000/night.

Apparently, there are about 80 or so tame peacocks running lose in this estate.

Sri Meenakshi Temple – open 7am-7pm but close for visitors from 12noon-4pm. Since we got here at 2:30pm, we were not allowed into the temple but the exterior of the temple was equally gorgeous.

Just like any functioning Indian temple, you will have to cover your shoulders and knees. If you find yourself in shorts, you can buy a dhoti for Rs100 in the temple complex.

Negotiating with temple guards to enter.

The drive from Madurai to Munnar supposedly takes about 5 hours, but we didn’t get to Munnar till about 9 hours later because it would be too easy if we did. When we reached the foothills of Munnar, we were told the road is closed during the day for the whole month because the roads needed tarring.


It was worth the wait. Munar is like a never ending rolling mountain with beautifully manicured tea plantation. We stayed at Tall Tree Resort, which was a bit difficult to find in the dark but offers a pretty good deal with its cottage rooms that includes all meals and activities.

Tall Tree resort

One of the two very hard treks we did brought us all the way up the mountain top. At some point of the trek, I thought I was going to slip on a pebble and die. The last time I worked so hard on a trek was the 7-hour hike on the French Alps in Grenoble with Monsieur Granger (Helena’s father-in-law). After about climbing about 2 hours, we reached here.

It was sad to leave Munnar after only staying for only 2 days but "A" thought we should head out early since it will take us about 2 days to drive back but of course we both know he was super thrilled about go-karting in Coimbatore’s Kari Motor Speedway race track. In uneventful Coimbatore, we spent a night at the nicest hotel in town call The Residency at Rs6000/night. The following morning, we were somehow given the wrong directions and got lost and never made it to the race track. I could tell "A" was upset but he got over it quickly because we were heading back to Bangalore in time to catch the Mouse on Mars concert, which turned out to be awesome and I don’t even like electronic music.