Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Trip to Sailana

Since long, our family had longed for a weekend trip to some nearby place. However because of my mom's health, and scarcity of leaves from my work, we were prevented from doing so for quite some time. Recently I planned to visit my parents on "Rakhi". By this time mom also had regained her full strength and confidence (after her surgery). And we had all the reasons, time and opportunity to take our much wanted trip. Mom herself had planned it all out much before we (me and my wife) reached Ujjain. Dad had booked the taxi, a comfortable 8 seater Toyota Qualis, meaning we 5 had all the luxurious space to stretch our legs and take a nap if we wanted, while on the run.

How to Reach Sailana and where to stay:

Sailana is a small village in the district of Ratlam. It is 25 km from Ratlam city, and just 50 km from Rajasthan border. Closest (within Rajasthan) to Sailana is the district Banswada. Ratlam is a big railway station and connected to Mumbai by "Avantika Express" which runs daily. Also Ratlam is only 115 km by road from Ujjain district which is a very important holy city of Central India, one of the four places where "Kumbh" takes place every 12 years, and my home town :-). Ujjain is a "junction" speaking in terms of railways and is well connected to Delhi by "Nizamuddin Express" on daily basis. Two important trains here which could connect you to Indore-Ratlam-Ujjain belt (called "Malwa" region) on daily basis are:
  1. Avantika Express: Indore - Ujjain - Ratlam - Mumbai Central.
  2. Nizamuddin Express: Indore - Ujjain - Hazrat Nizamuddin (New Delhi)
If you plan to start your journey from Indore or Ujjain, then hiring a taxi would be the best option. If you are taking a train, I would recommend you to halt in Indore (if you want to shop) or Ujjain (if you want to worship and cleanse your soul) and take a taxi from there till Ratlam. The lesser spirited souls can halt in Ratlam itself, and save time on traveling to Sailana. Indore also has a domestic airport (if you want to shell out more bucks) and is well connected with Delhi / Mumbai / Pune / Bengaluru / Chennai / Nagpur.

Best time to visit Sailana:

Monsoons, morning hours only. Sailana is a small village and as such the places we visited had little or no lighting.

How we reached Sailana:

As I said, we hired a Toyota Qualis from Ujjain till Sailana and back. The road is fairly decent compared to standards of MP (roads in MP are the worst in India). The entire trip cost us 273 km. The best time to reach Sailana is around 11:00 AM, as around that time all shops / village is / are buzzing with activity. This also gives one ample time to explore all places, and still make it in time for a hearty lunch.

Starting from Ujjain we stopped at village Ingoria (10 km from Ujjain) for breakfast, the trademark breakfast "Poha and Jalebi" of MP.

On our way we crossed the city of Barnagar. The road from Ujjain till Barnagar is awesome, and the traffic is also minimal.

However from Barnagar till Ratlam, and within Ratlam city the roads are pretty bad. But once you cross Ratlam city, the road is again neat till Sailana. We also crossed two rivers "Gambhir" and "Chambal" on our way.

Coming back to Sailana, what to do, where to go:

Sailana was formerly a princely state, and I guess, it was a part of Rajasthan. Post independence it was merged in MP. A Fort belonging to the then royal family still stands tall in heart of Sailana, and the area is known as "Palace Chauraha", or "Rajwada".  A descendant of the royal family still occupies part of the fort, so we were told, by the officials present at the fort. The main tourist attraction of Sailana, is the Cactus Garden, housed inside this fort. It boasts a myriad collection of various types of cacti, some of them small, bush like. But most of them, large, huge and gigantic. It gives us a feeling, as if we have entered the neolithic era. The place is very serene and quiet, and the silence is only disturbed occasionally by squeals of peacocks, who thrive at the place. The place is also yet unaffected by commercialization, as the entry ticket is only Rs 5 per person. The cost to carry a single camera inside is just Rs 10 per instrument. The fort houses some empty cages, hinting that some animals were also kept here for display. But this was later discontinued for lack of animals / funds / rights to cage animals. I strongly recommend this place for flora enthusiasts.

Next we went to "Kedareshwar" temple of Lord Shiva. This is again famous in Sailana, and actually there are two of them, both 4 km both from the fort (but in opposite directions). We visited the one, which had a better connecting road! The temple is situated in a man made cave (carved out from a cliff of igneous rocks). The cliff along with many others surrounds a small valley. From the top of the cliff, a small stream of monsoon rain water forms a waterfall and joins a small pond of water in the valley. From here a river originates and flows down into the plains of Rajasthan. The whole setting is very beautiful, and quiet. Especially during the monsoons, all this is blessed with lush greenery, and is literally a treat for the eyes. After offering our prayers to Lord Shiva, all of us, including my parents climbed down the cliff into the valley (do not panic, there are stairs). We simply sat by the pond, frolicked in water and had lots of fun. Had we brought along a spare set of clothes, we could have had a nice swim / bath. This place also, I must comment, is free from commercialization and priests haggling devotees for money and donation.

Where to dine:

On our way back to Ujjain, we stopped at Ratlam, at a restaurant called "Palash". The place is pretty clean and has clean wash rooms. The food was also nice, and I was pleasantly surprised to find continental food on the menu. Though the place is pure vegetarian, they do have a bar, which is housed in a different section of the premises. On way back, we again took a halt at village Ingoria for "Chai".

The conclusion:

I never imagined, there could be such an interesting place so near to Ujjain, ideal for a day's outing. I strongly recommend this place to all people visiting the "Malwa" region of MP. I would say, visit this place, when you have just a day to spare and want to spend it peacefully, and experience what India was like some 100 years ago. Cheers.
Hey, this text is added to this post, after the post was published. I came to know later that Sailana also has a bird sanctuary. Funny, this was missed from the wikipedia article on Sailana.

--------- The Story in Images -----------------------

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Wiki Rocks !!

Did you ever imagine, Wiki could start a cookbook. And here is one of their first, our very own Chapati. Read on....

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

After effects...

I had a great weekend. The fun on the run was simply awesome. But driving around the whole day, and partying late has its after effects. I got a bad headache that turned a little feverish. Since a trip to my home town and thereon to Sailana was on the cards, I did not risk my health, and decided to take a cozy break from office. I stayed put at my home.

And God is so great. It drizzled while I enjoyed TV and tea, and the weather cooled down a lot. I hurriedly grabbed my ancient digital camera, and quickly shot a few snaps to share with my wife, who was away, packed in an office cubicle with air conditioner, far way from the delights of a rainy weather. Though I too enjoyed it from within my balcony, shielded from the minuscule droplets of rain, but it was far better than being in office, packed in a cubicle, tattering away on the keyboard.

This was a welcome break from my monotonous office routine. I did not sleep though. I blogged, ate, drank masala tea spiced with ginger, and just relaxed while it drizzled outside. And all this while a cool breeze swept through my apartment, adding to the overall experience.

I recommend a day off to all, when you simply do NOTHING.

My First Award !!

I usually go to Kalyan's Blog every once in a while. He always comes up with so many posts from different subjects. However this last time I saw this link on his blog, that led me to Sudeshna's Blog, which was all about recipes from Bengal and otherwise. The blog was simply "delicious". And blog surfing has its own rewards too. I received this Award just for visiting her page. Yippee !!

Thanks Sudeshna, but I will defer passing this on, till there are a substantial number of visitors to my blog. This one is due on me.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Lazy Sunday.

Off late, I had inculcated a habit of reaching office early, around 8:30 AM. And for that I was regularly getting up at 6:00 AM. This sure did take a toll on me. Hardly past 10:30 PM, could I manage to keep my eyes open. So this Sunday, I decided to take a good long sleep (I call it a shutdown, in windows terms !)  before I could start with my weekend activities.

I had three tasks at my hand. And I was feeling very very lethargic to attempt any one of them:
  1. Buy a rain cover for my car.
  2. Clean the cupboards in kitchen.
  3. Buy some groceries for the coming week.
I had to get the third one done before my maid came, since there was nothing at home to cook. I thought  this was a great pretext to shrug off some work. I decided to not do anything till 12 noon. And then to go out for lunch. On my way back from there, I could also buy the groceries, and the rain cover. So I could wind up all things in one drive, and also spend the hot humid afternoon time in air conditioned restaurant / car / shopping mall.

The trick sure did work for me. We had a nice time lunching out, and driving around the town. The weather was not as bad as I expected. So we also decided to drive till Greater Noida. Also I conveniently forgot about the kitchen cupboards, and the rain cover. After all, there's always the next week!! Though, as I have to be a bit responsible, I managed some time between my two trips to Greater Noida, to stock the groceries for the coming week.

Throughout the day, we went on an eating binge. And as such I found it appropriate to write about it, since we actually found some really good food on the offering. I recommend a visit to these places while you are in Noida. It is a great way to spend time, and an affordable one at that.

Lemon Twist, Sec 63, Noida:

This is a new restaurant from "Bamboo Shoots" in Sector 18. It has a variety of Chinese offerings, and to top it they also have a "Terrace Grill" section which serves awesome Multani / Punjabi dishes. I had been here a couple of time before, but I had always ordered Chinese starters. For a change we peeped in their Indian menu, and ordered good ol' "Hara Bhara Kabab". To my surprise, it was not like any other "Hara Bhara Kabab" I had eaten anywhere else in India. It was all packed with Peas and Spinach paste, and stuffed with Cheese. To make things interesting, it is served with onion slices smeared in two mystery sauces, one red and the other white. And the combination simply tastes out of this world. One ought to try this when at Lemon Twist.

The "Hara Bhara Kabab":

After the lunch we hit the road, and took a "mast" long drive till Greater Noida and back, The weather had become superb, and it also started to rain. It simply added to the fun. The stretch is really very very wide, and you can keep the fifth gear, and cruise on speeds above 90-100 KMPH without any worries of traffic and congestion.

Fun on the run:

The long drive was simply not enough for us, and we also had ample time left, before the darkness set in. So we picked up two of our friends. They had been nagging us for quite some time, about us not taking them on a drive anywhere. So we had some tea, relaxed a while, and hit the road again. On our way back from Greater Noida, we moved onto the road which leads to Sector 15, and took a U turn to come back to Golf course. A number of "Challi" vendors have put up stalls there. "Challi" is corn, not traditionally roasted, but left to boil in a heap of hot sand, and served with spicy Punjabi curry smeared all over it, with a generous dash of lemon. My wife simply loves this, and our friends liked it too. It was already 7:30 PM by this time, so we decided to head for dinner. Sector 18, and TGIP are really crowded, and the rush is maddening for me. So we again headed for Sec 63. This place is yet un-noticed, and yet houses 3-4 top of the class restaurants. One of them we had already rounded up in the morning, and it was time to try the next!

Asia Kitchen, Sec 63, Noida:

This place has a class to it. The moment you enter it, the delicious smell of asian vegetables and spices fills your nostrils, igniting your tase buds. And like Lemon Kitchen, they too have an Indian menu. It was a treat on our friends, as one of them is flying to UK soon, and the other had her birthday some time back. We ordered a soup in both veg and chicken versions, which is called, Lemony Pepper soup. It is available in either "Serves 1" and "Serves 2" potions. But when we ordered the "Serves 2", we found that it can easily serve 3 - 4 people. Asia Kitchen has a unique way of serving the soup. They do not bring it to you in bowls. The bowls are kept for each person on the table. And the soup is brought to the table in a larger bowl with a unique looking serving spoon. So you can easily order a "Serves 2" potion and and split it yourselves among an many people as you like.

For starters we ordered, Golden baby corn, and Pan fried Fish. The Fish simply tasted ummmmmmm, slurrrrrpppp, yummmmm with the special Chilly Honey sweet sauce from the house. I recommend the Lemony Pepper soup and the different fish on the menu to anyone who visits this place.

The Golden Babycorn:

And the fish:

Bikanerwala, Sec 63, Noida:

This is another popular joint on the lines of Haldiram's (in Spice Mall), next to Lemon Twist, and a five minute walk from Asia Kitchen. It serves "Chat", "Namkeen", "Mawa Mithai", "Bengali Mithai", South Indian, Chinese, ice creams and what not. It is just 10 minutes drive from CSC's Noida Towers building. And I love to have a quick bite of "Aloo Tikia" after office. The "Aloo Tikia" is simply awesome. After both our meals today, we visited Bikanerwala, to indulge ourselves in a range of "Bengali Mithai" like Rasogulla, Rasbhari, Raskadam, Rasmadhuri and Rasmalai. By the time we were done, we were dripping sugar from our mouths. LOLS.

Phew, it was a long day, and so a long post. But the best day I ever had in terms of eating good food while I am staying in Noida.

I do recommend these places in Sec 63, Noida for three reasons other than excellent food:
  1. They are yet un-noticed. The rush is almost zero on Sunday nights.
  2. There is huge and free parking space. And it is not risky as well, since it is right in front of the restaurants.
  3. The staff is very polite, especially at Bikanerwala, which comes as a pleasant surprise as compared to Haldiram's.
Although, I would suggest to go there in a four wheeler, if visiting in the late hours, because the area is not yet fully developed. There are stretches on the road, when you will see no one. So better be safe than sorry. In day time, this is buzzing with activity, with people coming from all nearby offices to have a good meal.

I hope you enjoyed reading my post. If you ever do visit these places, and try something which you like, do let me know!!