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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Journeys Through The English Countryside

The Norwich Cathedral
The fascinating journey through the English countryside continued as the vagaries of weather added to the experience. One day it was windy and cold and the next day incessant rain and on yet another day you’re surprised to see the thin flakes of snow slowly cascading earthwards. The best part is that most of the times the weather predictions are fairly accurate. After a visit to the sleepy town of Ely our next destination was was Norwich.
The corridors of the Norwich Cathedral
A short walk from our place of stay the Cambridge railway station was the best way to reach these destinations and the group tickets, a sensible decision to cut on the fares. The British rail system works very efficiently and even if one has to take the interconnecting trains, it is just a breeze.
The Norwich Castle
The trains depart from the station at the precise time. The view outside was very fascinating with miles if carpeted meadows, an occasional sighting of the cows and sheep grazing, milk processing plants, some windmills and countless small brooks. The train interchange at  Ely gave us an opportunity to pick up some chocolate doughnuts and a strawberry pie from the adjacent Tescos. The journey continued through small towns like  Brandon, Thetford and Attleborough before arriving at Norwich. It was raining so we picked up some hot coffee and stepped out of the station.The station was fairly big with many trains connecting several destinations.

A short walk from the station brought us to the picture postcard setting of the 900-year-old Norwich cathedral. The entry to the magnificent structure is free. The etched glass panes portray the stories from the Bible. The domes, pillars and arches are beautifully sculpted.

Not far from here is another iconic landmark the Norwich Castle cum art gallery.The tall imposing structure is visible from most parts of the city. The City Hall, New Market and the by lanes are strewn with cosy pubs, cafes and curio shops. The city is also well known for knitting wool and gastronomic delights ranging from tea, coffee, Indian and Chinese cuisine. The city was decked up like a bride for the Christmas and the New Year! We took the evening train after spending a day in the beautiful town.
Bury St Edmunds Cathedral

After a day's break, we set our eyes on a yet another awesome destination called Bury St Edmonds that is another 45-minute train ride from the Cambridge. The historical town is located in Suffolk and is an important cultural and pilgrimage centre. Besides the cathedral, a fortress there is a war memorial to honour the veterans of the Second World War associated with the Normandy landings and a lovely Abbey Garden.
Entrance to Abbeys Garden

Near the gardens stands the Britan's first internally illuminated street sign, the Pillar of Salt, built in 1935.Among noteworthy buildings are the Bury St Edmunds Cathedral and  St. Mary's church. There are museums of witchcraft and art galleries for the tourists who would love to explore things which are different! The town has also unusual offerings of breweries and beet sugar factory too!This town also prides in being associated with the famous writer, Charles Dickens where one can find mention in his book ' The Pickwick Papers'. A rewarding trip it was, in many ways.
Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge

The next days were spent in exploring the Cambridge town which has so much to offer and the meadows like the Granchester, Fitzwilliam Museum, a treasure trove for art lovers and the bylanes and quaint markets that surround the town. The everlasting memories of the places we visited are now firmly etched

PS This post is a continuation of the earlier post 'The English Countryside'

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The English Countryside



The itch to travel got stronger as the Christmas and the New Year approached. A trip to explore the beauty of the English countryside was planned and set rolling. Landing at the Heathrow on the Christmas Eve meant facing a long immigration queue with only a few officials around as the country was in a festive mood! Notwithstanding , the efficiency of the personnel ensured that within an hour of landing we were out of the airport. The entire train system was non operational and as I had known this before hand, I had booked by the National Express bus service for a three hour drive to the
Cambridge. The bus left at the precise time and soon we were floating past the countryside in the cosy comfort when the temperature outside was 3 deg C. The festive spirit was all evident minus the boisterous celebration I am used to witness in the capital.

The accommodation was just perfect as after a bout of a very early morning indulgence in eating, we slept off! Next day the city celebrated the Christmas as every market , eating joint and the transport system observed a holiday. The cold weather was not a dampener to explore the city of a sprawling university, assimilating the grandeur of the likes of King's , Queen's, Trinity, Pembroke , St Johns, Judge Business School and many more that have produced the largest number of Nobel laureates to date. The serene flowing Cam river and swaying Fem trees with sighting of ducks and an occasional cow in the meadows adds to the beauty of the city. This is one place where umpteen lessons can be drawn on how to preserve the old heritage without a clutter and the cobbled streets with virtually no traffic of any vehicles.



While punting on the Cam river, a number of colleges on one side and seven bridges linking the Backs( meadows by the river flanked by colleges on the other end) is like a dream come true. The bridges like the Mathematical bridge, the Bridge of Sighs enamour the tourists with their architectural beauty and vintage. The Corpus Christi clock was installed by Stephen Dawkins.


Cambridge is a perfect place with a number of theatres, and pubs which are always full. This is a city of cyclists and the cycling tracks are perhaps the best way to go around.

There are several places that can be discovered in the vicinity . It was a treat to take a 20 minute train ride to the sleepy town of Ely, best known for the remarkable Roman Catholic cathedral. As we set out of the station we were caught in the snow with strong winds. It was like reliving the stories read in the childhood about the snow blizzards! How lucky to experience one! The opeluence of the cathedral was beyond imagination.It took us more than an hour to explore the place and learn about how it went through the turbulent times of various wars. The history of Christ is beautifully depicted on the high glass panels and intricate carvings in the cathedral .
As we emerged out of the cathedral We saw the most unusual sight of a number of ducks crossing the road while the traffic stood still till they crossed over. Coming from a city where the vehicles are waiting to mow down the poor pedestrians , this was a very pleasant surprise.
The river side has a lovely place called the Peacocks Tea Room, which has one of the finest assortment of tea, coffee, scones and cakes! There could be no better way to end the day by relishing these rare treats.

PS : will continue the journey in the next post.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Facades


Saying what your mind does not agree with
  Is what we often do to take a path less arduous
Doing what we would not like
  Is what we often are enmeshed with
In the world of facades, the reality is lost
 Only half-truths and lies are dished shamelessly most
Be childlike and innocent is taught most
  Least practised and pursued as we grow more
Sit back to  listen to beats of your heart
  A silent rhythm unchanged despite tearing apart
Hear the songs of nature, birds chirp, revel n bask
  Do any of these ever change to don any mask??

PS- Image Kind courtesy Google

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Elixir



Manisha, sits in a cafe where an old man serves her a cup of coffee while another man sits at a corner table. She had a long day at the office and despite the success in the corporate world, there is a corner of her heart that is void. The repeated bouts of headaches and uneasiness leave her drained of the energy. She goes home and pops in some pills and after a while falls asleep. A dream takes over and changes her life forever!

This is just a very brief story of very few characters in this brilliant book written by a blogger Sinjini Sengupta. This is her maiden attempt at storytelling and speaks volumes of the insight she has into the way of life of a highflyer in the society. The portrayal of characters gives a feel of the world around the ones who have touched the pinnacles of success. The husband Amit, who has a very successful career too, has little time for his wife! There is no dearth of such characters that one can come across in today's world where the size of a bungalow, or a car, and the branded pieces strewn around the house are a measure of success! While the pursuit of material success may be held in high esteem but the emptiness of lives of those who fill these spaces is rarely understood.

Sinjini has a unique style of writing with the choicest diction and a perfect understanding of human emotions. The setting of clouds and frequent rain paused with bouts of severe headaches that the main protagonist suffers, do appear frequently but never slacken the pace. Each character comes to life as the words smoothly flow from the pen of Sinjini.

A compulsive reading, and little wonder that this book has been made into a short film which has already won several awards at The Cannes Film Festival, Boston Caledioscope Film Festival, Kolkata Short Film Festival, just to name a few. Sinjini was a keynote speaker at the recently concluded Valley of the Words 2017, and BNLF at Dehradun in November 2017.

PS: I had the privilege to meet Sinjini at VOW/ BNLF at Dehradun and get a signed copy of her book

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Unbeatable Sarson ka Saag and Makki Di Roti


'A healthy mind resides in a healthy body' the old adage goes.  To remain healthy one is must take a balanced diet full of proteins, fibre, minerals, carbohydrates and fat. These days, the prevalence of iron deficiency in young women has been a cause for concern as an estimated 45% of the women in the childbearing age are anaemic.It reduces the capacity to work and in worst cases also results in infant mortality if not treated.
In India, we are blessed with foods that do not cost much and are very delicious and rich in iron content. Makki ki roti and Sarson ka saag with chutney and aloo gobhi with a little variation can be quickly prepared and is rich in iron and fibre and tastes very good. A recipe of the same is given below 
 Required
For Sarson ka Saag

1. 250 gm Sarson leaves
2.250 gm Palak leave
3. 200 gm Methi leaves
4. 100 gm onions 
5. 2 green chillies
6. 200 gm red tomatoes
7. Two teaspoon Makki atta
8. Three  tablespoon Ghee
9. Salt 3/4 teaspoon
10 Haldi/ Jeera 1/2 teaspoon each
11. Dhania powder 2 teaspoon
12. Three tablespoon tomato purée 

For Makki Di Roti
1. 1 cup Makki Atta
2. 1/4cup wheat atta
3. Salt to taste


Aloo Gobhi Vegetable
1. Two Large potatoes
2. One medium-size cauliflower
3. Two tablespoons cooking Oil
4. 1/2 teaspoon Salt, Haldi, Red Chillies powder( each), zeera(little)
5. Little Garam Masala
6. Fine chopped green coriander to garnish

Green Chutney
1. 100 gm green coriander leaves
2. two green chillies
3. 1/2 lemon
4.  1/2 teaspoon salt, Jeera, Hing( a pinch)

The above ingredients can serve up to 4 people and it takes about one hour to prepare the meal
Preparation of  Saag

1. Wash all the leafy vegetables nicely in water after removing the stems.
2 Next, wash the tomatoes and boil all the leafy vegetables with one cup of water in the cooker for two whistles and set it to cool down
3. Chop the onions after peeling and chop the chillies.  Heat the ghee in the pan and add zeera till it sputters. Add the onions and chillies and toss them till they turn golden. Now, add the tomato purée and dhania, salt and little red chillies till it is cooked on a low flame
4. The steamed vegetables should now be ground in a thick paste in the blender after it has cooled down.
5.Add the vegetable paste in the pan containing the tomato gravy, and add two spoons of makki atta. Keep stirring to avoid creation of lumps. Cook over the low flame for about 15 minutes after covering with the lid. Keep stirring after every few minutes. Turn off the flame. The saag is ready!

Preparation of Aloo Gobhi

1. Peel the potatoes and chop them into small wedges.
2. Chop the cauliflower into small florets. Wash both the potatoes and cauliflower florets in water
thoroughly.
3. Next, heat the oil in a pan and add  hing and zeera till it splutters. Add, the washed vegetables and sprinkle salt and haldi and toss. Add two table spoon water, and cook over slow flame for about 15 minutes after covering with the lid.
4. Once the vegetable is cooked, sprinkle, dhania powder, red chillies and garam masala and mix it.
5. The vegetable is ready. Sprinkle, the finely chopped coriander leaves just before serving

Preparation of the chutney

1. Remove the stems of the coriander leaves and clean the chillies.
2. Wash them thoroughly.
3. Put the coriander leaves and green chillies in a blender and add, jeera, salt and hing. Add three tablespoon water and grind into a paste.
4. Pour the contents in a small cup and squeeze the lemon after removing the seeds. Mix the contents. The chutney is ready.

Preparation of  Makki ki Roti

1. Take the makki and wheat flour on a plate, add a pinch of salt.
2. Make a dough of this by gradually adding water and kneading slowly till the dough is ready
3. Roll the dough in a ball and make round chappatis with a rolling pin by dusting with flour
4. Now heat a pan/ tawa on a flame and toss the roti on the pan. After few minutes turn this over and cook this over a low flame directly with a pair of tongs.
5. Grease the hot roti with clarified butter.

Lo and behold, the delicious meal is ready. Pour the saag in a small katori and add clarified butter. Serve this with the chutney, aloo gobhi and freshly prepared aloo gobhi. The meal is very yummy and
full of iron. In winters this is a perfect meal for lunch.
( This is my blog post for the Indiblogger/ Livogen sponsored contest. http://www.livogen.in/iron-
chef)






Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Changing Face of Travel


As a small kid, I remember staying with our relatives when travelling out of the city was the first option unless the place where we went had no friends or relatives. Also, as travel would mostly be need-based so the money spent on the accommodation was minimal as the major expense would be towards the purchase of tickets and eating. I suppose this was the case with most of the middle-class Indians.
All this was set to change as people started travelling even for work and would get relocated to far off places from their native place due to emerging job market and lesser reluctance to travel. Nowadays apart from those who study in the boarding schools, most of the kids leave their home to pursue the college and higher education and invariably get settled in the new cities where they find jobs,.The increasing globalization also opened the new frontiers to travel abroad for both studies as well as jobs.
As a result of the increased mobility and more disposable incomes in the hands, the travel industry was set to change forever in India. I vividly recollect becoming a  lifelong member of the International Youth Hostels in my early years to explore the country and stay in small cubicles with bare essentials without shelling a bomb. Most of the bag packers around the world still use this option as it not only cuts down on the living expenses but provides a decent clean place, mostly in the heart of the city, well connected with the public transport, and also offer travel cards across the counter to explore the place. One could meet people from not only within the country from different states but also foreigners to learn more about their cultures. The evening at these hostels would be converted into outdoor picnics with campfires and impromptu dance and music sessions. I explored the campsites to live under the stars, pitch a tent, which I had learnt while in school, during the NCC camps. Most cities in the world have excellent camping sites and also caravans for those seeking more adventure.
The medium scale hotels affiliated to chains like OYO, Treebo in the country and Accor, Best Western, Ginger etc offer reasonable places of stay internationally. The backpackers still look for the Youth hostels, YMCA/YWCA which is generally overflowing with tourists during the peak season.
A newly emerging trend is the homestay option which companies like Airbnb have brought on the world stage with a bang! They not only provide beautiful options to stay with the option of cooking or even eating with the families with whom they stay. They offer unique experiences which not many of the best hotels can match like offering local experiences besides the cuisine. In what was experimented by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan of San Francisco in floating AirBnB in 2008, the concept has revolutionized the travel world and is set to stay. It has managed to break into the traditional hold of the hotels and their chains that had dominated the world. Some have gone to the extent of swapping their homes when travelling to the places of their choice, instead of locking their homes!

The travel sites like Booking .com, Hotels .com, and much more, offer the ease of booking the hotels from the comfort of home for any place in the world. Coupled with the net booking of air or rail tickets the face of the travel world has changed forever and made travelling a delight.

PS Image Kind Courtesy Google

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The True Freedom

When the freedom of India was being considered by the British, Sir Winston Churchill a two-time prime minister of UK and an exceptional leader and a visionary had said
' The power will go to the hands of rascals, rogues, freeloaders; all Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongue and silly heart. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles. Not a bottle of water or a loaf of bread will escape taxation, only the air will be free.'

I am sure most of us must have read or heard of this prophecy in our growing years and witnessed what was said is repeated often in the year's post freedom.

We have made huge progress despite many hurdles in the years gone by and we too could have improved the quality of lives had we also ensured that moral fabric of the people was retained.
Keeping ourselves confined to only the NCR region of Delhi a realistic review will reveal that there are silver linings in the dark clouds that loom from time to time.
The two fundamental rights- the clean air and water need no emphasis. A project steered under the stewardship of Suresh Prabhu the Union Railway Minister and Amitabh Kant the CEO of NITI Aayog is ensuring measures to improve the quality of air and water. A concerted drive to introduce CNG buses, the removal of commercial vehicles older than 15 years, restrictions on burning of agriculture residue, stricter enforcement on builders to reduce the pollution of air is some of these. More than 10 million trees have been planted to give a green cover so that the city can breathe easier. This year for the first time the Supreme Court had imposed a ban on firecrackers on Diwali to contain the pollution levels of particulate matter. The 'Odd and Even' formula has been introduced a couple of times to ensure that lesser vehicles ply on the road.
The Digital India initiative of the Prime Minister will go a long way in improving the lifestyle in NCR by taking some steps like:
1. Digilocker- Submission of the documents  to the government agencies like Aadhar card, Passport etc in electronic format rather than hard copies to the government bodies
2.Driving Licenses, registration of Births and Deaths, and digitisation of many other kinds of data
3.High-Speed Fibre network to improve the internet connectivity by the participation of private players too.
4.Modernization of post offices and converting these to multi-service kiosks
5.Wifi hotspots across the NCR for assorted usage of smartphones and devices. A stellar role has been played by operators like Vodafone who have created more than 120 free hotspots in places like the DLF Malls, Delhi Haat, Fortis Hospitals and other places ( https://www.vodafone.in/home-delhi. )
6. Appointment with doctors online to avoid long queues in OPDs of AIIMS and other government hospitals

Besides these initiatives, the booking of gas, settlement of utility bills have not only increased the cashless transactions but also improved the efficiency

The future trends that cannot be ignored are the use of wearable technologies with sensors that can synchronize with smartphones and fitness trackers to monitor health. These can help manage the health by monitoring parameters like heart rate, blood sugar levels etc and taking timely preventive actions. Also, the use of incinerators to handle the solid wastes will help in cleansing the city and improving the quality of air.

An optimist, I sincerely hope that collectively we the residents of the NCR will be able to make the city more liveable and to some extent prove Sir Winston Churchill wrong by making the NCR a world-class city in future