Saturday, January 12, 2019

The Surprises of Kutna Hora

It was a cold winter morning when I was in Prague recently. I was excited to visit a place about which I had read before leaving for the Czech Republic. Just at an hour's train ride from Prague is a place called Kutna Hora nestled in the heart of Bohemia. Kutna Hora is a small sleepy town with a population of just about 20000 people. This little silver mining town has many attractions including two UNESCO heritage sites that are a huge draw for hundreds of visitors across the world. The Czech Republic has so much to offer the tourists that many places will pale in comparison.
The Church of the Assumption of OurLady and Saint John the Baptist

The interior of the Church of the Assumption of Our Lady
I was staying in the heart of the city so access to the central station Hlvani Nadrazi was convenient, from where I boarded an early morning train. Surprisingly, the train was crowded but it was a comfortable ride as the train passed through picturesque villages and streams to reach the Kutna Hora station in time. There is a small toy train which connects to the city centre at Kutna Hora passing through the Kostnice Sedelec. A short walk from Kostnice Sedlec brought me to the first UNESCO site, The Church of the Assumption of Our Lady and Saint John the Baptist. It is one of the oldest Gothic Baroque church in the country built around 1300. The most impressive works of the church include amazing vaults, paintings, the front wall, and its antechamber decorated with statues. The church had a tumultuous history due to treasures possessed due to its proximity to silver mines and several wars. The spiral staircase without a central pillar leads to a gallery of paintings. The precious relics of the saints are placed in glass coffins, embalmed in wax.

The Sedlec Ossuary
A short walk away from the monument is the Sedlec Ossuary or The Bone Church. This is a marvellous place which is unique in many ways. The entire structure is built on a cemetery where more than 60000 corpses were buried. A semi-blind monk arranged the bones and skulls from them to form furnishings and decorations.
The Bone Chandelier

The chandelier in the centre is made using every bone of the human body and is truly spectacular. The strange eerieness and a feeling of awe are seldom experienced as one moves from one relic to other. The garlands of skulls and different bones of the human body could perhaps never have been depicted in a more artistic manner.
The artistic creation with human bones. Notice the heap of bones in the backdrop
The mounds of bones and skulls make the sensations go numb momentarily. Hundreds of visitors throng this place every year for the macabre experience.
Saint Barbara's Church

Next, we took a bus to the city centre and walked up to the Saint Barbara's Church on a short climb atop a hillock. The silhouette of the facade is visible from a distance and the gothic spires are truly inspiring. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site. The construction of this edifice commenced in 1388 and completed in the early twentieth century.
The facade of Saint Barbara's Church
The pace of construction was a reflection of the fluctuating fortune of the silver mines in the vicinity and finally what emerged was a huge church with eight radial chapels, trapezoidal interiors, a beautiful organ supported by double arched flying buttresses. The glass windows, pulpits and altars are noteworthy too.
There are several other places of interests like a silver museum, Italian Court, Plague Column to name a few well worth a visit. The wines and vineyards of Kutna Hora, coffee parlours and bakeries deserve to be relished.

It was a day when we had so much to bite and little time to digest. A place highly recommended visiting if one is around Prague.

PS: The pictures were taken by self during the trip.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Smart India

Many years ago, it was an era of B&W television that had started making waves on the Indian soil. The TV programming was limited to a few hours every evening with the focus mainly on informative programs, the social campaigns, agriculture-based (Krishi  Darshan), sports and entertainment. The time slowly moved to usher the colour TV era coinciding with the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982. The rainbow colours appeared on the small screen. It was a quantum leap and since then India never looked back. The   LED/ Smart TVs appeared on the scene as the time progressed.  Thanks to the revolution in the communication technologies these are internet ready to connect to any program being played anywhere in the world. 
In every walk of life, the lives of the common man have changed in the last three decades more than any time in the world ever since evolution.
It is impossible to discuss all the facets but a few areas have a huge promise in a country like ours. The need to focus on at least the three areas as listed below, by adopting the latest smart technologies is imperative. This will accelerate the pace of rubbing shoulders with the developed world. 

a) Education
b) Medical Facilities
c) Sanitation and Waste Management
 I remember the time at school when students were exposed only to books prescribed in the school and a bit of extra reading of storybooks and fiction. Even in college most of the teaching was classroom based. I am presently associated with teaching in NGOs where the teaching is done in ‘smart classes’. The entire curriculum is in the form of interactive videos followed with the quiz tests. This has revolutionized the concept of learning. It is easy to connect with any learning portal, interact with other schools located in remote parts of the globe. If the model could be replicated in many of the schools located in remote areas the learning skills can be imparted to even those who do not have means to spend a huge amount of money to come to bigger cities. Even the best universities can be accessed through distant learning by organizations like the Coursera, Khan Academy, eDX and many more that offer world-class training.

Medical Facilities  
It is now possible with smart wearable devices to monitor the health using applications and devices like ‘ Fit Bit’ that can monitor the pulse rate, calories burnt, counting steps, distance travelled, sleep patterns etc. The easy availability of these at affordable rates can help in monitoring and improving the health. Many wearable devices are now available in the market that is capable of measuring the blood pressure, body temperature, oxygen levels, and ECG using a combination of apps with smart mobile phones. They manage the stress levels and also serve a warning if there are significant deviations from the normal. Portable and handy sensors are easily available that monitor the air quality, temperature, humidity and noise levels to enable taking timely corrective actions.
In India, the availability of basic medical facilities especially in smaller towns and villages are grossly inadequate. With the advances in smart technologies, the collection of data can help in the treatment of patients by connecting with bigger hospitals and specialists in cities.

Sanitation and Waste Management
Sanitation and Waste management are basic requirements of ecologically sustainable development in our country. The need to handle huge amounts of waste( biodegradable, plastics and other solids) has to be addressed on a war footing to save the environment. There are several dimensions of the problem but the likely solutions lie in finding ‘smart solutions’ with the help of technology that is in vogue. Some of these are using the Internet of Things(IoT), Waste collection and Segregation using  RFID( Radio Frequency initiated ) sensors, smart cameras and actuators which can be a key to handle this. Germany, Austria and South Korea are the leading nations that dispose of more than 52% of municipal waste.

On a personal level, the smart technologies have changed my life for better to an extent that, I feel having lived in a bullock cart age and space age in one life itself!

Earlier for any purchase of a refrigerator, a washing machine or a camera, I would rush to the market spend a couple of days to find the suitable product that matches my budget and breaking a deal. This changed forever when a company like Flipkart appeared on the horizon. In the last decade, every purchase of a capital good like a refrigerator, TV, a washing machine, camera and even the smartphone was initiated by choosing the product on the Flipkart website by comparing the features of the rival offerings. The entire activity of initiating the order to making payment was completed in less than an hour from the laptop. The product was always delivered before the scheduled delivery date and installed without any hassles. It has truly been a boon!

As I am a travel freak, who travels 3 to 4 times a year, the vast difference in the way travel scenario has changed would need a separate post, where booking of train/flight/ hotels can be done with the smart apps on the phone or laptop with ease.

The products like smart cameras, smart lights that make smart homes and many more here to stay and will not only improve the quality of life but also save time and be user-friendly. The future promises to be exciting like never before.

PS: This is my blog post for the Flipkart/Indiblogger sponsored 'Flipkart- Smart Products' contest ( #GetFitWithFlipkart and #SmartHomeRevolution )

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Little Gems of the Netherlands

A view from the home of Rembrandt in Leiden
The Netherlands is such a lush green country that as one steps out of the bigger city like Amsterdam, it appears that a green carpet has been rolled out everywhere. The countryside has fantastic sights of endless meadows with huge cows and sheep grazing, big horses trotting, and streams of clear water.  I travelled extensively during my recent trips to cities like Leiden, Delft and Rotterdam. In my previous posts, I had described my exploits in Gouda, The Hague and Utrecht. Frankly, every place I visited the number of surprises that awaited me was just unbelievable. The weather never played a spoilsport so I was able to move around freely and the sunny days made the journeys and travel very enjoyable.
On one weekend I decided to visit Leiden which is located almost 45 minutes away from Rotterdam by train. I was not aware of what to expect as the trip was planned hurriedly and I had no time to browse about the claim to fame of this small town. It turned out to be a treasure trove, as this university town, has so many notable achievements such as having produced 13 Nobel laureates, the birthplace of Rembrandt the great artist, and associated with ancestors of great American Presidents, Roosevelt, Bush and Obama to take pride in.
As I stepped out of the station the lush green lawns of the huge University campus and hundreds of bicycles parked at the station greeted me. A signboard regarding the discovery of Factor V gene responsible for blood coagulation by two researchers Rogier Bertina and Pieter Reitsma stopped me on my tracks. How many cities honour their scientists in such a unique way?
Picture postcard beauty of Leiden
A short walk from the station brought me to the picturesque Blauwspoorts harbour right in the centre of the city. The birthplace of Rembrandt and the windmill that was once owned by his grandmother stands there to this day. A pleasant walk along the canal took me to the Molen de Valk windmill which is now a museum. Pieterskerk or the Church of Saint Peter’s is associated with the Pilgrims that came down to settle in Leiden in 1609. Fearing losing their identity, they boarded Mayflower to head for the new land, the USA. Some of these were ancestors to Roosevelt, Bush and Obama. Around 21 houses around the church are still inhabited by the Pilgrims descendants.
A coffee and banana cake and apple pie at one of the oldest coffee shop, ‘t Suppiershuyshinge is strongly recommended for its cosy setup and lovely hosts.
Stadhius or the TownHall in Leiden
Stadhius is the lovely Town Hall building that has been rebuilt after a colossal fire that gutted the old building on 12 Feb 1929. There are several museums, a public library, Botanical Garden and Corpus( a human body six-story high which can be explored from inside) in this little town.
The beautiful canals and windmills in Delft
My next destination was Delft which is just a 20 minutes run by train from Rotterdam. Delft is known the world over for the blue pottery (ceramics), association with Johannes Vermeer and the Royal House. This small town too is renowned for its University, canals, markets and pubs. During the summer months, a number of boat cruises are available to explore the city. Some of the public toilets are decorated with the Blue and white pottery from the local ceramic factory. 
The Nieuwe Kerk in Delft
The Nieuwe Kerk ( church) has 365 stairs that offer a lovely view of the city and a distant view of Rotterdam. We were lucky to see a Farm Market around the Old Church area which was very colourful. We tasted a lot of variety of cheese and Stroopwafels. The Town Hall area is full of tourists where a number of curio shops, coffee shops, ceramic souvenirs and cheese vendors do brisk business. The best way to conclude a day trip is to frequent a local bar and enjoy ‘bitterballen’( beer with fried balls of meat or mushrooms and Gouda cheese)
The Centraal Station in Rotterdam

The journey to all these places had originated from Rotterdam which is a very modern and cosmopolitan city. The unique building of Rotterdam Centraal is straight from a Sci-Fic movie like Star Trek. 
Erasmus Bridge by night in Rotterdam
The city is famous for the Erasmus Bridge which stands out for its beauty at any time of the day or night. 
The colourful Markthal in Rotterdam
Besides this, Markthal( Market Hall with lovely paintings on the wall; is also a melting pot of global cuisines), the Cube Houses and their quaint architecture, Euromast ( TV Tower and restaurant), one of the oldest ship SS Rotterdam, museums and churches are well worth a visit. Lijnbaan is the Central market vista where every known brand has a shop and is full of glitter at night. A visit to this place will never make you believe that during the World War II this place was razed to dust by German Luftwaffe bombers.

The gems in the Netherlands are far too many. It is just that I ran out of time and the time flew really fast. I am sure that I will be able to explore more of this lovely little nation in time to come

PS: All pictures are mine taken during the trip

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Going Dutch

The Gouda Cheese
Going Dutch is not really about the 17th-century term coined by British regarding stinginess of the Dutch people when referring to constant disputes over trade routes and political boundaries with the Netherlands. I am using it in reference to the enormous beauty that envelopes the healthiest country in the world, The Netherlands! There are many startling facts that are documented about this tiny nation of which I was not aware of till recently, despite having travelled there more than once. Just to share a few, it has the oldest National Anthem in the world dating back to 16th Century, has the highest English proficiency, tallest men in the world (182.5cm), the lowest country (Schiphol International Airport in Amsterdam is 3m below sea level), first to legalize gay marriages in 2001 and the birthplace of first CD, DVD and Blu- Ray Player( Philips), the longest cycling tracks in excess of 35000km and number of cycles outnumbers the population of the country, to name a few.
The comfortable Dutch trains
The amazing beauty of the country can be best experienced by travelling like a local and visiting the smaller towns and villages instead of Amsterdam, which of course is a melting pot of cultures. So much has been said and written about this capital city of canals, art and architecture, the nightlife and the tulip gardens that I would avoid cliché, rather focus on the pretty sights I came across while exploring this country. The best part is that most places are less than one hour by train or drive from the major hubs like Amsterdam and Rotterdam. The public transport is not only cheap but also punctual and very comfortable. It gives an opportunity to come across the locals, see the pristine beauty of the countryside, the lush green meadows and often the famous iconic windmills!

I had stationed myself at Rotterdam on the last trip and hopped over to towns like The Hague, Utrecht, Gouda, Leiden and Delft. Each of these towns has their own unique identity and beauty which cannot be compared with another.
A view of North Sea in The Hague

The Hague lies on the North Sea with a long stretch of Scheveningen beach and lovely resorts. Cold winds greet the visitors to this beautiful long stretch of sandy beach with many cafes, restaurants and even a bungee jump facility that has come up recently. 
Hotel Kurhaus in The Hague- 20 years ago and now

I had stayed at this place twenty years ago and the memories of the bygone time came back in a flash. The huge hotel Kurhaus by the seaside was much the same except a number of new constructions and real estate ventures that surrounded it! There are several attractions like the Madurodam or the Mini Holland, museums, old churches, The International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court that can be visited. The city also happens to be the seat of Government offices. The modern buildings that have come up in the recent years' gel in beautifully with the old world charm.
University of Utrecht
Utrecht is an ancient city with several structures and buildings dating back to middle ages. The city is dotted with both Roman Catholic and Protestant churches with a very rich history. 
The Dom Tower-Utrecht
The Dom Tower (the tallest Bell Tower in the Netherlands) and the grand building of the University of Utrecht stand proudly having weathered many a storm in the city centre. Strolling along the canals of this city is a pleasure as historical wharves lend character to them. There are a number of museums well worth a visit apart from the De Haar Castle. Lepelenburg park is a favourite with students who come here to enjoy the sunshine and musical and theatrical events often staged. There are train and musical instruments museums popular with children and old alike.
The Town Hall-Gouda
Gouda is a sleepy town straight from the fairytales with the astounding 15th-century building of a Town Hall, cute houses with a plethora of flowers adorning the gardens. 
The beautiful canals in Gouda with dolls transporting cheese
Winding canals, cheese makers that have attained acclaim world over, the advent of Stroopwafels makes this tiny town proud. It is a perfect destination for a lazy stroll to sit by a canal and admire the beauty of this town sipping coffee in a small coffee bar digging into a pastry and sandwich, frites and broodjes(sandwich),  or Stroopwafel that melts in the mouth leaving you asking for more!

The list of never-ending impressive destinations will continue in the next post

PS-  All pictures are mine and were taken during the trip

Friday, October 12, 2018

A Blind Date with Europe`

EU Rail Global Pass
It was cold weather in January when I had just returned from a trip to Kerala, the God’s Own Country. It had been a trip full of surprises like watching the Kathakali( A dance), Kalaripattu( Traditional Martial Arts) performances besides a brush with tea plantations, cruising in backwaters under idyllic cocoanut groves and much more. I was sipping the morning tea when my eye caught the sight of an advertisement from European Rail about a promotion which was open for a short time window. It sounded very lucrative with 3 additional days of travel included in the fare for a 21 day Global Pass, across the EU. There were no riders except that it was not possible to retrace the route once the journey commenced until one returned to the starting place. It was a true ‘blind date with Europe! My mind was racing as I booked the tickets for self and wife for the trip in the coming days. 

I did not know from where the journey would commence. Soon the dilemma ended, when another scheme of a discounted return ticket to Zurich came my way. Without losing any time the booking was done.
The lovely, punctual EU Rail
At least now, I had a foggy idea of the forthcoming trip. Endless hours of browsing over the internet to search the, EU Rail timetable, hotel sites, places of interest, the local train passes, and distances of places that we planned to visit finally fructified into a plan resembling a project about to be executed. In 21 days we intended to visit more than 10 cities starting from Zurich, onward to Lyon, Barcelona, Marseille, Genoa, and Padua, Venice, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin and back. The round trip of exploring the world’s major destinations in Europe fired my imagination like nothing before.

The booking for hotels, city bus/ train passes, local sight-seeing trips and detailed planning had to be done. This was to ensure long-distance train connections to avoid upsetting the travel plans. We left for Zurich on 02 June and after a brief stopover at Muscat reached there later in the evening. The first thing was to endorse the Global EU Rail Pass at the Swiss Rail terminal located at the Kloten International Airport in Zurich.

It was late in the evening amidst glitter on the streets when we reached the hotel close to the Zurich Central Train Station. There was no one at the hotel and the place was very quiet. We managed to extricate the room key from the main gate after using a code to enter the premises with the help of a girl who was passing by.
The Glacier Ice Cream at Rene Nardone-Lyon
Next morning we woke up and rushed to the train station to take the train to Lyon. Due to some repair works the trains were re-scheduled, so we left by an earlier train. The journey through Switzerland is a visual treat of green meadows, tiny villages and lakes. The scenic beauty changed rapidly as the train rumbled through the farmlands and vineyards of France. After two changes at Geneva and Gar de Chambery Challes Les Eaux, we arrived in Lyon Part Dieu in the afternoon. The whiff of freshly baked pastries at the Paul Boulangerie had a magnetic attraction difficult to resist. The next 2 days were spent in exploring the amazing beauty of the Traboules (Secret passages), ancient amphitheatre, parks and having a bite of the signature glacier ice cream of Rene Nardone.
A Flamenco Dancer- Barcelona
We then boarded the high-speed TGV train for Barcelona, an unforgettable experience. The train zipped through the natural paradise to reach in just a little over five hours. The city of Gaudi has so many attractions. The notable ones like Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, La Rambla, Barceloneta beach were packed in the itinerary. The colourful market of La Rambla, delectable fruit smoothies and the nightlife were irresistible. How could we leave Barcelona without witnessing a Flamenco dance and sipping ‘Sangria’?
Notre Dame de la Garde- Lyon
The next halt was the port city of Marseilles where the beauty of the Vieux Port( Old City Port), the cobbled streets of La Panier, the stiff climb to the Notre Dame de la Garde church topped by a 10m  gold draped idol of the Virgin and Child statue, take the breath away. The minibus that we took to climb the grand cathedral had most people in the ages 85 or more, an experience in itself to admire their grit!
Le Strade Nuove -Genoa
The time kept flying as we hopped into trains to head for the remaining destinations. The port of Genoa, the cathedral that has withstood the test of time despite a direct canon hit by British Navy during WW2, historic streets of Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, the brass fountain of Piazza de Ferrari, are some places not to be missed. The land of the advent of pesto sauce, macaroni and pizza has so much of variety of food that one is spoilt for choices.

The train journeys through the French and Italian Rivera is a feast for eyes where the train almost kisses the sun-drenched golden beaches as it moves along. The train station of Monte Carlo resembles a discotheque!
The Rialto Bridge-Venice
As soon as we reached Padua, I realized that I had left all my documents and tickets at the coffee shop when stepping out of the station. My heart missed a beat, as I rushed back to find my belongings untouched. My belief in God and goodness of people was strengthened further. A stay in Padua not only helped in seeing a new place but proximity to Venice gave us an opportunity to take short train rides to visit the grand canals, the Rialto bridge, the Bridge of Sighs, a ferry ride on the canal, admire the sculpture of Doges Palace, San Marco basilica among several things.
The Austrian Parliament Building-Vienna
 The train journey from Padua to Vienna was a long one, over five hours with the change of lines at Verona in Italy and Innsbruck in Austria. Vienna will be best remembered for witnessing a colourful LGBT parade through the heart of the city where perfect strangers came and hugged us. An impromptu military band performance at The Hofburg Palace was a delight for audio-visual senses. The architectural beauty of the Schonbrunn Palace, Opera house and St Stephen’s Cathedral left us wonderstruck. Some locals asked if we knew Shah Rukh Khan, the Bollywood movie star?
Szechenyi Thermal Bath- Budapest
The next halt was the massive Keleti station of Budapest.  A plainclothes policeman accosted me as soon as I stepped out to change the currency assuming that I was a drug peddler. After a lot of convincing, I was left off. It was a scary start but the friendliness of the people for the remaining stay more than made it up. The tram ride on the illuminated historic monuments on Route 4 along the Danube at night, an opera performance at the Erkel Theatre, a live band performance at Hero’s Square, exploring the Fisherman’s Bastion and a splash in the Szechenyi thermal baths were the highlights of Budapest.
The beautiful city of Prague along the River Vltava
 The journey through the Czech Republic in Prague was laced with a long chat with a Malaysian couple our co-passengers in the train and admiring the beauty of Bratislava and Brno en-route. The train station Hlavni Nadrazi in Prague resembles a huge museum for its architectural beauty of the main foyer. The Prague Castle, Old Town, Astronomical Clock and cobbled streets have a bewitching unparalleled beauty. The Bohemian musicians who were playing in the Old Town Main Square soon converted the place into a huge dance floor where many couples danced with abandon. The glass work of the country is very alluring!
The Berlin TV Tower by Night
The penultimate destination was Berlin! A visit to the Brandenburg Gate, The Parliament, Check Point Charlie, and the Berlin Wall brought back the memories of the World War2 about which I had seen in movies and read so much during growing up years. A splendid view of the city by night can be admired atop the Berlin TV Tower.

We were nearing the date of return and with heavy hearts took the train from Berlin to Zurich, the longest journey. It was a treat watching the German countryside as the train went past Frankfurt and Basel before reaching Zurich.

We had traversed on more than 40 major regional and intercity trains on carriers like SBB, DB, Renfe to name a few. It was time for curtains down for a dreamlike blind date with tons of enriching experience, treading the less travelled paths, exploring new cultures, experimenting new food and above all oneself.


PS-This my submission for the Lufthansa/Indiblogger sponsored #TheBlindDate ,#SayYesToTheWorld contest 
2. All pictures in the post were taken during the trip

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Mathura-A Foodie Delight

After a train ride of just over two hours from Delhi we reached Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. There are several trains and buses that take 2 to 3 hours to reach the place. Mathura is an important railway junction where several trains heading to all parts of the country pass through. In the morning hours, the station was not too crowded. A beeline of auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws accost the incoming travellers to take them to their destinations.  A rickshaw to Holi Gate in the heart of the city is the best place to start exploring the town. This post is not about a trip to visit the temples, museum and other attractions strewn all around Mathura but about the food and gastronomic delights that one can experience here.
 As the rickshaw winds through the narrow roads and gullies, the innumerable cows keep the company, constantly reminding of the love Lord Krishna had for them.

The sight of huge cauldrons of boiling milk, earthenware utensils full of fresh curd and different sweets prepared by small shopkeepers en-route is not unusual. After about twenty minutes of the ride, we reached the Holi Gate which is in the heart of the city. The traffic was gradually building up and constant tinkering of bells and honking added to the din in the street. An early morning vegetable market was in full bloom and the vendors were selling the fresh produce grown around the banks of the river Yamuna. Seldom will you see such freshness in cities where most of us live!

There are several small shops around Holi Gate that sell Namkeen ranging from Besan Sev, Chips, fried peanuts and several other mostly freshly prepared and their aroma attracts many buyers. A family favourite is a small Gujarati shop selling Tam Tam Dhokla, a much spicier cousin of the Dhokla most of us have known and enjoyed.

As we entered the Holi Gate a huge banner of one of the most prominent sweet shop, Brijwasi, greeted us. It is perhaps one of the biggest shops in the town with a constant flow of people. The range of sweets from Pedas, different varieties of barfi prepared from, dry fruits like Kaju, Badam, Chocolate, all kinds of Namkeen, Dhokla, Samosas, Milk flavoured with Badam, Kesar and Pista, Imarti and a mind-boggling range greeted us. The tempting sight had triggered the brain to send signals to olfactory senses and taste buds for the incoming onslaught that awaited. It is very difficult to pick and choose having been spoilt for choices. In a few random selections, it was very difficult to judge which one overtook another selection in terms of ratings, never below 'Excellent'!

Across the road, there are twin shops selling just Jalebi( prepared in Pure Ghee) and Kachori with Aloo Subzi. The length of the queue is an indication of their popularity. The golden brown crisp kachoris come out piping hot from the boiling hot oil in  'kadhai'(cauldron) and are served with a very tangy 'Aloo sabzi'. Do not forget to have a bite of Jalebi equally crisp till it melts in the mouth without a trace, except the salivating taste buds, asking for more.

We kept walking down the street towards Dwarkadessh temple and the number of varieties of sweet shops left us bewildered. Surprisingly there are virtually no medicine shops but many 'Churan' shops that offer a dazzling array of 'Churans'. The Anardana Churan & Hing Vatti are a recommended must buy!

Near the Dwarkadeesh temple, there are many tea vendors that prepare 'cardamom and ginger' tea which is served in an earthen glass called 'Kullar' a use and throw traditional glass. The aroma of wet earth and the flavour of the tea gets etched forever.

The bank of River Yamuna is adjacent to the temple and a trip by boat is highly recommended to admire the riverfront. The old bridge reminiscent of the British era provides a magnificent view,  silhouetting the sprawling green field on the bank of Yamuna. There are many temples around the ghats where the priests perform the rituals while commoners take a holy dip in the river.

On stepping out of the boat, we moved along the bank of the river next to the ghats. A wide array of shops ranging from trinket sellers, 'bhang'(an intoxicant drink), chaat( Golgappa, Dahi Vada, Aloo Tikki and many others abound. Also, there is a more than 100-year-old shop, 'Gusain Sweets" that prepares some amazing traditional 'Pedas' ' Malai Khurchan' among many savouries.

How the time flew we did not realize till we noticed the setting Sun. It is time to witness the Yamuna Arti at Vishram Ghat, a unique devotional experience amidst the huge rush of devotees, the sound of conch shells and ringing bells. Anyone still left with an appetite for dinner should head to 'Shankar Sweets' near Holi Gate, after circumambulating around the town. There is a big variety of food but the most popular is a 'Thali' comprising of Aloo Sabzi, Boondi Raita, Pumpkin vegetable, Pooris and pickles.

It will be an understatement that all the highlights of the best foods have been covered in the town.
After having made more than 50 trips in almost as many years I am still discovering new places and new things to eat in the town. If you have not yet tried, do make a trip to explore the bylanes of Mathura for some more hidden gems that I have missed.

PS: Images Kind Courtesy Google

Monday, August 13, 2018

Rejoicing Independence

The news broke out about the conduct of underground nuclear tests without any fanfare by the prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to a world that looked in disbelief. On the momentous day of 11 May 1998 three nuclear devices including a thermonuclear device were detonated underground at Pokharan near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. 

''I have a brief announcement to make,'' he said. ''Today, at 1545 hours, India conducted three underground nuclear tests in the Pokharan range. The tests conducted were with a fission device, a low-yield device, and a thermonuclear device.' were the words of Mr Vajpayee. 

''The measured yields are in line with expected values,'' he said. ''Measurements have confirmed that there was no release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. These were contained explosions like in the experiment conducted in May 1974. I warmly congratulate the scientists and engineers who have carried out the successful tests. Thank you very much indeed'', he concluded his brief address

The next morning the global dailies flashed the messages like the ones below:

1998: India explodes nuclear controversy is what BBC World said.

After the collapse of the Berlin Wall, this was perhaps the news that changed the game of nuclear non-proliferation for all time to come. The group of P5 nations that had set the tone for the rest of the world regarding the rules of nuclear non-proliferation got a rude shock. India which had been marginalized by these nations now stood shoulder to shoulder in its capability to not only deploy the nuclear weapons but also had the capability to launch these warheads on the surface, air and sea-launched missiles. 
Quickly, the prime minister assured that rest of the world on the following days in the parliament that India would adopt the policy of "No First Use" against the nations that had the similar capability.
Not only the myth of the Non-Proliferation Treaty( NPT) was broken but the voice of a poor and the marginalized nation was heard with a thunder. This was followed by a series of sanctions by the developed world to restrict the flow of dual-use technology into India. 

In the long run, India has stood its ground. Aghast at India's explosions Pakistan the neighbor retaliated by conducting similar explosions in just a fortnight after Indian experiments.
There have been repercussions in short-term due various sanctions but in the long run, has gained in terms of the tremendous boost to the morale of the populace. The armed forces now equate themselves with the best anywhere in the world both in terms of the quality of manpower and technological edge. 

In recent times India has managed to give its neighbor a bloody nose by striking inside its territory in a midnight surgical strike. They now think twice before carrying out major terrorist strikes in fear of the repercussions that may follow. It is a matter of pride that India has lived up to its image of being friendly as well as tough as warranted by the situation.The capability of developing indigenous 
technology and adopt the best practices elsewhere in the world will usher in a new era off prosperity and self reliance.

PS: This is my blog post for Zee Cinema/ Indiblogger sponsored campaign to promote the movie "Parmanu" that highlights India's accomplishment of Pokharn 2 atomic tests