How to breath easy in Ladakh

Leh is stunning in its beauty and is everything they say it is. One thing that most are not prepared for when they visit is AMS. Acute Mountain Sickness is the mildest form of Altitude Sickness and needs to be taken seriously. All the hotels and travel advisors ask you to take the it easy on the first day. Please do heed this advice because they really do know best. Your body needs plenty of rest and simple, nourishing food to help it acclimatise. The symptoms of AMS that you might experience on the first day include any/ all of these – headache, tiredness, feeling out of breath, dizziness, nausea, trouble sleeping. Do not ignore any of these symptoms or try to push your body beyond its capacity. Severe AMS leads to HAPE / HACE [ High altitude pulmonary edema/ cerebral edema] and you do not want this to happen at any time.

AMS can be helped by keeping your activity slow, getting rest, keeping yourself well covered and protected from the cold and  eating a carbohydrate rich diet. Try to sleep in an upright position till you get acclimatised to the altitude. Sherpas in Nepal and the locals in Ladakh suggest garlic soup and for good reason. Garlic is extremely helpful in combating symptoms of mountain sickness. Keep Diamox tablets handy but please do not self medicate without consulting a doctor. Camphor, which is easily available at most hotel receptions and shops helps a great deal in helping you breath better. Try to avoid any form of alcohol and make sure to keep yourself hydrated. Drinking hot water, soups, ginger tea helps. Do not go overboard on the liquids too and make sure you maintain an electrolyte balance.  Get your haemoglobin levels checked and looked into before you visit a place that has extremely high altitudes because being anaemic will only make it worse for you. Do not ignore headaches or a feeling of heaviness. Disprin/ Aspirin helps a great deal as they act as blood thinners too. Keep all basic medication with you but check that your anti nausea medication does not cause breathlessness. Combiflam and other Nsaids are helpful for headaches. A juice of pomegranate and beets had since a month/ fortnight before your trip can help a great deal. You can also start consuming a couple of raw garlic pods every morning before you are to begin your trip.

Other things you can do include a cardio routine to get yourself in shape. Coca is a popular homeopathic remedy but again, do not self medicate and only take it under medical guidance. Also, understand that you might test positive for cocaine after ingesting this. Be careful. Oxygen cylinders are available at most chemist shops and quite a few hotels at high altitudes. Make use of them if you feel the need. High altitudes are likely to give you digestive issues too so make sure to carry your anti spasmodics/ anti gas medication.

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Other things that you need to watch out for in Leh are the cold, dry winds and the sun. Make sure to use plenty of moisturiser, cold creams and whatever else you can lay your hands on. Your skin and hair are likely to bear the brunt of the weather. Keeping hair tied and well conditioned helps. On that note, make sure to not take a bath with extremely hot water when you’re trying to acclimatise. Get your hair dry as soon as possible. Basic common sense but the risk is very big when you’re in a place like Ladakh. Keep your head covered because the sun is relentless and can contribute to headaches along with the biting wind. Sunglasses and a high spa sunblock are your best friends. Use them often and liberally. Keep your lips moisturised too because it does not take long for mildly dry lips to go to cracked and bleeding in a dry and cold place. Try to carry a nasal saline spray and keep your nasal membranes hydrated or the dry winds are likely to give you nose bleeds.

Now that all the bases are taken care of, enjoy the gorgeous landscapes of Ladakh!2X4A2079

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How to plan your Italian holiday

Italy is one of the most beautiful countries to bask in as you enjoy your summer. We took a ten day trip and while it was not really cheap by any means, we also did not break the bank. Europe turns out to be more expensive for us Indians mainly on account of the vast difference in our currency value and the flights which tend to be super expensive. You need to use your own judgement on what you are happy spending a little more on and where you would rather save a penny. We went with the trusted airbnb hosts and chose places that had better connectivity because we wanted to make sure we were not left lugging heavy suitcases and walking long distances at night. We also spent quite a bit of time researching flights and ended up working our way up to the capital even though we could just as easily have begun from Rome. I shall refer to how it made more sense for us as we go on.  We found eating out and drinking to be quite at par what we would pay in Bandra for a meal, sometimes even cheaper. Same for the money we paid using public transport and what it would cost us to uber to any part of Bombay. I have tried to write down our itinerary to the best of my memory and hopefully it shall help you plan yours.

Our trip started with booking our flight. We took a flight to Rome via Amsterdam. This was via Jet, which is now unfortunately, not an option. At the Rome airport, we got ourselves some water, coffee and snacks. We also made use of the lavatory. Much more comfortable than the plane as always. I’m sure there are plenty of others to choose from still. From Rome, we had a shorter flight on a much smaller plane to Naples. We took the flight  because it worked out to cost us as much as train travel would have. We also chose to begin our trip from the South instead of Rome because it was going to be cheaper for us when we worked out the transport costs. We also ended up saving an entire day of travel.

Once we reached Naples, we got our first taste of Neapolitan pizza and proceeded to get tickets for our bus to Sant Agnello.

I am prone to getting migraines and TMJ pain on long haul flights so if you suffer from anything like this, make sure to keep your NSAIDs and muscle relaxants with you. Ditto for neck pillow. Stay hydrated because long haul flights can be very dehydrating.  We already had the bus tickets but we needed print outs and we got those at a place right opposite the bus stop. You can save yourself the hassle and take printouts before you are due to travel. We took the Autolinee curreri viaggi shuttle bus service. While the end destination was Sorrento, we had to get down at the Sant Agnello stop. It took us around 20 Euros per head. We had made prior reservations through  airbnb for our stay. Our host Anna had been extremely helpful with giving us detailed instructions on where to get off the bus and had sent us the map and her address with landmarks. We spent the next two and half days exploring the local area as well as Sorrento. If you need more details on the town and map, once you get to Sorrento, they have a tourist centre with extremely helpful staff. We got our local sim with their help. We chose to get the TIM and it served us well. While the network works fine almost everywhere, it never hurts to save maps offline while you travel. We took the local train service to get to Sorrento and back each day. Again, our host helped us with maps and instructions. The train we took was the Circumvesuviana. Always check the passes for trains. If you intend to stay for a longer time or take multiple trips, as you shall see when I tell you of our travels further on, it tends to work out cheaper and is much more convenient. Even when you are taking the longer train rides from one city to the other, always check if booking ahead will get you a better price. And again, always try to book through the government sites instead of private ticketing sites. They might charge you more than the government controlled railways sites.

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Locals making these beautiful designs out of fresh flowers as we made our way to the bus station on our way to positano from sant agnello.

The third day we had to leave for Positano. We took the bus from the local bus station to reach our next airbnb. We had researched enough to get a place right opposite the bus station.  Whilst in Positano, we again took the local buses to get to and from the Amalfi coast. Keep in mind that the steep stairs of Positano can get to be a bit too much if you’re not used to walking. We had a really good laugh with quite a big bunch of tourists, all of whom, like us,  had decided to walk up the stairs. On the third day we had to leave for Florence. This turned out to be our longest, most tiresome journey. We had plans of taking a cab to Sorrento but our host absolutely refused to let us pay for an expensive cab ride. In fact, he helped us get on a SITA bus to Sorrento. From Sorrento, we took the Circumvesuviana to Naples. From Naples to Florence we took the fast train, Trainitalia was the name of the one we took.

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The view at the bus stand as we waited for our local bus in Positano.

We reached our Airbnb pretty soon, because as in all the other places, we had made sure to take places as close to the train station or bus stops as possible.  In Florence, you don’t really need any transport apart from your feet. After three days in Florence, we had to move on to Cinque Terre. We took the fast train to La spezia. From La spezia we took the local train to Vernazza.

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Our train to Florence

Once in Vernazza, we had a short walk to our Airbnb. To get around in Cinque Terre, we got a pass made which would allow us any number of trips between the five towns. This is so convenient that I cannot stress on it enough. Saves you the hassle of having to spend any time booking tickets and is cheaper than getting fresh tickets each time. After a most fabulous two days, we left for our final destination – Rome. We took the local from Vernazza to La spezia and took the fast train to Rome.

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Walking out of the train station In Cinque Terre
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The Cinque Terre Pass which helps you get around

 

In Rome our airbnb was again very close to the station and with clear directions from our host, finding it was no problem. We got around in Rome using the local train  and while crowded, it was pretty easy to do. There are also plenty of hop on hop off buses as well as local buses that you can take. After two days, we took a bus to the airport. Again, we had plans of taking a cab and even booked it, but the cabbie went incommunicado at the very last minute. Not so very different from India, you see ;). This is what you need to be prepared for during travel. Last minute hiccups which cannot be predicted and have to handled with a pinch of salt. Our flight to Bombay was via Paris and through one of the most mismanaged airports we have been in . Since this was the only time I have been at the Charles De Gaulle airport, fingers crossed it was just a bad day/ time. We did manage to get a ten minute break to pick up some chocolates for family and make a quick visit to the washroom but that’s about it. Whatever else we saw was from a never ending crazy queue. We were lucky enough to get to our flight on time but we saw quite a few other people miss getting on theirs because of sheer mismanagement. Again. just a small reminder that it is best to have your international travel insured because you never really know what might go wrong. While travel is always fun, sometimes you have to be prepared for sudden changes in plan that you have no control over, and make sure to not let it put a damper on your holiday.

Hope this helps you plan that much awaited trip to Italy!

 

P.S : Please feel free to ask me if there is any way at all we can help you plan your trip better. Also, there are a lot of videos from our trip that are uploaded on my instagram page : shwetaa358 . Please have a look.

Idli Dosa Batter

Ever since I can remember, our family has been very big on South Indian breakfasts. Idlis, dosas and uthappams were an everyday thing and amongst the basics that I was taught to make. I hear a lot of people struggle with getting the batter right and I think once you get the proportions right, or start understanding how it works, it is fairly easy to do. Making this batter requires just a simple understanding of its nature, quite like with baking bread or cakes. Just knowing how the process works and what gives it it’s texture is all you need.

While my Mom has her own recipe for the batter, I now use a recipe that I’ve learnt from a lot of amazing women who have put it up on their blogs, namely – happyandharried, hebbarskitchen, vegrecipesofindia and kannammacooks. I shall try my best to help you with the process but please go and have a look at their blogs to get a better understanding.

While a lot depends on the temperature in which the fermentation happens, this is a basic ratio for the batter-

  • Idli rice – 1 cup
  • Urad dal – 1/2 cup
  • Fenugreek seeds – 1/2 tsp
  • Poha – 1/4 th cup ( This can also be substituted with cooked rice, although I have never tried doing it)
  • Salt –  to taste ( Please keep in mind that salt works to retard the fermentation, so salt it mildly if it is winter and well if it is summer. You can always add more salt as needed once the fermentation is complete)
  • Water – as needed ( Again, be careful of not over thinning the batter)

 

Wash the rice, dal and fenugreek well and soak all the separately, overnight. The next morning soak the poha for 5 minutes. Grind everything separately again. The dal in particular needs to ground very well and for long.

Alternatively, you can soak the rice and poha together and the dal and fenugreek together before grinding them up.

In both the cases, take care to not add too much water to the mix.

Add salt, as required, and mix well with your clean hands. Leave to rise overnight either on the kitchen counter or in a warm (but switched off) oven, if you live in a cold climate.

Make sure you leave at least half of the container empty so the batter can ferment and rise overnight without spillage.

Ideally the idlis are made the first day, dosas follow and uthappams at the end. Take care not to mix the batter too much as you scoop up the froth at the top to make idlis.

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I make the dosas on a cast iron tawa that that has been seasoned painstakingly and is something I am extremely proud of. The batter will of course need to be thinned to spreading consistency and salted to taste.

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Uthappams are made when the batter has soured a little and you can see the beautiful little holes form all over the pancake. We love our onion podi and onion capsicum podi version and this is our ideal Sunday breakfast.

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Hope this inspires you to give making your own batter a try. Let me know how it goes for you and I shall try my best to help you with any questions you might have! Happy Breakfasting!

The valley of snow!

Sikkim is, if I have not stressed it enough already, one of our favourite places to disappear when we need a break. The people, the land and the food, are all such welcome salves when you want to get away from the jaded city life. This is precisely what we were looking for on our trip to North Sikkim. Our destination after Lachen was Lachung.

The Yarlam resort is the best the village has to offer and we were booked for three days here. Just like the Apple Orchard resort, this one too might seem a little expensive, but considering the harsh weather and terrain, we were glad of the comfort they provided. We were greeted with tea and shown our abode. The room was all we could have asked for plus had a marvellous view of the mountains on both sides.

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The view from one of the windows of our room.

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Since it had taken us a while to reach here, just like in Lachen, we decided to make use of the massage chairs [ at an extra charge] and some music that evening. We were informed by the hotel staff that the snowfall had been very mild here and that they had heard of the snow blanketing Lachen. I think the snow gods were pleased with us during our trip. We retired for the night and while we were snuggled in our heated matresses, there was a heavy snow storm happening all around us.

The next morning we started off for Zero Point but could only reach Yumthang Valley. The army had once again asked tourist vehicles to not go further ahead as the temperatures had reached – 16  and there was a lot of snow piled high on the road. The valley was blanketed with a thick white sheet of virgin snow. For someone like me, who had never set eyes on snow before, this was exhilarating. We could see quite a number of other tourists just as excited and soon almost all the snow which was easily accessible had been trampled on or played with. We were extremely thankful for our gloves, snow jackets and boots. Well, boots for one of us at least, I had only packed my trekking shoes and they were soon soaked through. The rented boot shops all around came in handy and soon I was back in the snow.

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Untouched snow as far as our eyes could see!!

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On our way to Yumthang, our driver had made a short stop to give a ride to a friend of his who had a vegetable stall at the market. The one thing that always makes me marvel is the hardworking locals who never seem short of a smile or a helping hand. And this seems to be true of all hill folk. Always stylishly turned out and cheerful and always ready to go the extra mile if theres livelihood to be made. We saw a few enterprising souls here too. There were makeshift stalls and small shops selling maggi and hot drinks on the road approaching the stop.  There were also ladies selling alcohol but if you are not used to the altitude, it is best to stick to tea/ coffee or soup. We have seen people have shortness of breath and worse because of having a drink too many in the mountains.

I think it shall help you prepare better for a holiday in the mountains if you stick to what the locals ask you to do. Eat what they eat, sleep when they sleep and start the day when they do. There is a reason behind everything and at temperatures and altitudes that your body is not used to, it is best to heed people who are in the know. We tend to do just this no matter where we travel, and so, inspite of the sub zero temperatures, there was not a day we felt sick or did not feel comfortable. They made sure we ate right and kept us toasty warm all through our stay. The staff at Yarlam were the sweetest and right from making sure we drank only warm water to bringing hot puffed rotis to us every single time, they looked after us like we were home. Stick to the local vegetables and fruit not to mention the local cuisine. Tashi, Jeevan, Bhumika and Sangam were some of the most wonderful staff we’ve encountered. They came to call us out for a snow ball fight when it snowed the next night because by now they had seen how much I enjoyed it. Even though snow to them is a fairly normal event, they were as crazy as us and we had a fabulous time catching snow flakes on our tongues, making angels and having snowball fights.

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Just a couple of the many delicious, local dishes we tried.

Our time here passed quickly- taking village walks, buying essentials at the local store and taking pictures. We absolutely loved their heated beds and the heater which not only kept us warm, it also helped us dry out our socks and gloves. We found a locally made lip balm, which managed to do what all our branded ones could not in the harsh climes and we smiled with uncracked lips at the sheer relief. This was suggested by a lady who owned a store in the village. I had my doubts given that I had never seen the name before, but she insisted that this was just what we needed and we remain grateful.

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The wonderful lady who helped us find the perfect lip salve 🙂

We proceeded to Gangtok from here and had an adventure or two along the way. An extremely huge boulder missed us and a car that was coming towards us from the opposite direction as we made our way on the hills. We stopped at the same small eatery that we had on our way going up and fed about 29 [ Yes, you can trust me to count] dogs outside it. Mountain dogs are the most gorgeous with their beautiful fur and limpid eyes. As we sat outside with the sun shining bright, so many beautiful furries at our feet, full tummies and chatted and laughed with the locals, I silently thanked whoever it was that had watched out and saved us from a sure death.

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Our favourite spot as we drove from Lachung to Gangtok

Winter Wonderland

“It does not snow in March anymore”, we looked across at Phuchung as he said this. The three of us had climbed a small hill next to our resort, Apple Orchard in Lachen and I had been wondering at whether I was about to witness the first snowfall of my life that day. We were exploring the sleepy village with its ever smiling locals and the Lachen ‘Ngodub Choling’ Monastery.

Can’t top this!
Japanese cherry blossom

 

Hey there!
Country roads..

The day had started off crisp and bright but seemed to be rapidly moving towards biting cold and grey. As we climbed back and sipped on our tea sitting outside under the apple trees, we looked through the many books on sikkim and the local flora and fauna that Kumar, the manager had thoughtfully brought out for us. We were also given many sympathies over our unsuccessful foray. Our early morning excursion to Gurudongmar lake had come to nought, the army had advised against tourist vehicles going ahead because of black ice on the roads. We tried to take as many pictures as we could of the surreal winter wonderland before we were turned away halfway from our destination.

Seeing our crestfallen faces, the staff had rushed to ply us with hot food and drink and make sure we were entertained. We  still had the packed breakfast given to us at dawn and were admonished when we offered to eat it instead. Being the sole guests at the resort did have its perks, while the weather was certainly not one of them, the almost familial warmth we felt at the hands of the staff, certainly was. We insisted they join us for tea so we could talk and find out a bit more about the locals. Over piles of fresh and warm home baked cookies, we were regaled by the lot about stories of adventure as the locals went into the protected areas, reserved only for the indigenous tribes to go and hunt for a magic herb which is extremely expensive and very sought after. Half plant and half insect, this herb is said to delay signs of aging and is an aphrodisiac. As we poured our second cups of chai, we looked up to find the first snowflakes descending. As the chef and Kumar looked out, they turned to us and smiled “ Aap ka luck acha hai” and it most certainly was.

Chai?

The first time you experience anything, even more a natural phenomenon as beautiful as a snowfall, is sure to make you break into a smile. We made plans with the kitchen staff to have our dinner in the dining area by the fireplace. Ten minutes into us reaching our room, there was a power cut. The town has very sparse lighting as it is and with a power cut, it was literally pitch dark as far as the eye could see. The only hotel to have a power back up in the area was ours and within half an hour we had the power back on, though limited. Luckily our room was warm enough from the heaters being on earlier. The temperature outside had dipped to sub zero and we were freezing even after our thermals and warm outerwear. The guys at the hotel let us know that the snow had made the stairs too slippery for people unaccustomed to walking in the snow and that they wouldn’t want us to risk coming down in the dark. What followed made us feel so welcome and well looked after that we thanked the guys a million times. Not only did they humour me with my requests of local food, they fed us a proper feast in our room. The rooms are quite a few flights of stairs away from the kitchen and when we thanked them, we were told it was the least they could do, they do not meet many outsiders and having us over was fun for them. The monastery that was clearly visible from our room otherwise, could only be made out because of the sound of the tibetan horn and chanting coming from it. We washed up as quickly as we could, taking care to not run out all the hot water, and tucked ourselves in with the two hot water bottles at our feet and the heaters facing the bed. When the power came on sometime during the night and both the heaters kicked in [only one had been working till then], we actually got warm enough to want to push the hot water bottles away.

The beautiful Apple Orchard, our home away from home.

As we looked out, we truly understood how too much of a good thing can be bad.

Mornings like these..

 We had decided to try for Gurudongmar again but we found out the place had experienced abnormally heavy snowfall during the night. It looked like our rendezvous with the lake was not to be and we were told we would be lucky if we were not snowed in and stuck in Lachen for the rest of our trip. We made the most of what snow we found along the way to the lake and back. The one thing travel teaches you is to make hay while the sun shines, or run around like demented monkeys while it snows. We bid the sleepy town of Lachen goodbye with promises of returning and left for our resort in Lachung.

 

Hakka Noodles

Growing up in Calcutta, the one thing you develop a hankering for once you move away, is the indo chinese food that is found at almost every street corner. The Hakka technique of cooking is called so because the vast majority of Chinese settlers in Calcutta were from the Hakka region.

There are Chili, schezwan, sweet and sour, american chopsuey and all variations of Chinese food that I’m sure would raise a few eyebrows in the motherland. This is a variation of the typical roadside vegetarian “chowmein” as it is called. Since it is always cooked up right in front of you, it is very easily customised.

You might find it hard to believe but one of my favourite stall guys even serves up his chowmein with chopped cucumber, carrot, beet, onion and a liberal sousing of somewhat orangey looking ketchup. However weird it sounds, it all seems to work amazingly well together. Hope you enjoy cooking and eating these as much as we did.

 

Vegetarian Hakka Chowmein (serves 4)

Ingredients :

Noodles 1 packet -200/250 gms

Ginger garlic finely chopped – 1 tablespoon or little more

Mixed veg cut into thin  strips – cabbage, capsicum, carrot, beans, mushrooms, spring onion

Soya sauce

Vinegar

Black pepper + salt

Chinese spice mix [ I used Keya but you can pick any you like]

Method:

Add salt and oil to boiling water, cook noodles a minute less than instructed on the box. Drain and rinse under cold water. This helps the noodles to stop cooking and not become a soggy mess. Add oil and toss the noodles so they don’t stick together.

Heat oil in a large wok and add chopped ginger garlic, after a couple of minutess add in chopped spring onion followed by carrot, mushroom and beans. This is done in this order to make sure each vegetable gets the cooking time it needs. Fry on high heat for couple of mins and add in cabbage and capsicum. Sauté for another couple of minutes. Add soya sauce, some Chinese spice mix and salt and pepper. Add in cooked noodles and vinegar. Mix well on high flame and serve garnished with the green spring onion.

I used organic apple cider vinegar instead of the regular synthetic one. You can use the white vinegar if it’s more easily accessible or you are better adapted to that taste.

Please let me know how you liked this!

 

Bon Apetit!

 

Kairi Pudina / Aam Panha

As the summer descends upon us, we find ourselves reaching for things that can soothe our parched souls not to mention our tastebuds. This recipe is perfect for both. Quick- so you don’t end up spending hours slaving over the hot stove and tart and sweet enough to make you glad kachi kairi season is here, looking at the bright side, always ;).

 

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I am an extremely firm believer in organic and local produce, as you might have known if you’ve been following me on instagram. This recipe, as do almost all of my others uses all organic and local produce.

 

Kairi Pudina

Serves 5/6

Ingredients

4 raw mangoes

1 big bunch of mint leaves

Himalayan Pink salt

Black salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly ground roasted cumin

Jaggery/ Brown sugar/ Stevia to taste

 

Method :

Wash the mangoes and mint thoroughly. Boil the mangoes, skin and all and cool.

Pick the leaves off the mint and keep aside to drain.

Scoop out the mango pulp [ scrape it off the skin and the seed as well] and give it a churn along with the mint leaves in the mixer. Add the rest of the spices to taste. Keep in the fridge for a few hours to chill. Serve mixed with chilled water and ice.