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.

2X4A2213

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

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.

img_20180603_103452
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.

mvimg_20180603_122606
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.

mvimg_20180605_105617
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.

mvimg_20180608_160852
Walking out of the train station In Cinque Terre
Maker:L,Date:2017-9-13,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y
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.

2X4A0462

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.

2X4A0159

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.

2X4A0547

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!

A tasting session at Chef Atul Kochhar’s NRI

Some gush over actors and sportsmen, some over singers and writers, yours truly, gives Chefs as celebrated as Atul Kochhar the same platform. Hence, when an opportunity to be at a tasting at his newly opened casual dining space presents itself, you make sure you attend. The restaurant itself, has chosen quite the location given the audience it caters to. The interior itself is minimalistic and yet warm. The light wood furniture and warm golden glow from the bare bulbs sees to it. The tables have small pails of cutlery and are casually set on paper menu mats in keeping with the vibe. The table near the entrance is graced by the presence of books written by the man of the hour and that was as close we got to meeting him. The papads, biscuits and indian candy kept on the table are maybe just a tad bit cliched given the number of restaurants employing the same concept.

 

IMG_4893.JPG

IMG_4897

 

The concept is derived, quite simply, from the longings of the heart when you are away from the land you grew up in. Again, quite befitting the return of the prodigal. The menu is derived from the food cooked by the indians living far from home, the immigrants and labourers who tried to replicate food that sated their indian souls while sitting in foreign lands. Funny how much you identify with your nationality once you are out of the nation.

 

The service, as is expected was quite impeccable. We were looked after by Rohan Nair who guided us through the menu and made the entire experience so much more enjoyable by regaling us with stories that come with the curries. Take that, all the other restaurants. Does it get any more Indian? Serving stories with meals! Quite the concept! Chef Jerry, in whose able hands Chef Kochhar has left the restaurant, was a delight to meet and convinced us to have a taste of the Daalim shakarkandi chaat, but more on that later.

 

The meal started for us with the drinks we chose, the place has a vast selection of alcoholic drinks and wines but we stuck with the mocktails. The Konkan Medley with Kokam and passion fruit, and the Eastern Elixir with Galangal and kumquat oranges were both refreshing and just the right amount of sweet and tart for our tastes. Both of us are not fond of artificial colours and flavours and these were right up our alley.

 

The Phaldari chaat with the smoked yoghurt dip won our hearts. We love grilled anything and the grilled fruits with the smattering of masalas and the killer dip was perfect. The dip deserves another line on its own, get a taste and you will know what I’m talking about. If you could just liquefy the very essence of a kebab, this is it. So good that we asked the good man to leave it with us so we could scrape off the last bite with every thing we ate. The Pind da Hummus was good. I love almost all hummus and this one was perfect. Could not have gone wrong with me. Flavored with anaardaana and smooth like a dream. The falafel’s served with it were quite a revelation for us. My marathi mulga has never been a big fan of the things, finds them too dry and bland almost everywhere we go. Here? You should have seen the look on his face to have found falafel’s he loved. Made with dal and not dry at all! The guy isn’t star struck with stars of any kind but sports, so you can be sure that the delight was real! The shakarkandi chaat that we had earlier thought of giving a miss was pressed upon us by the friendly chef and we couldn’t say no. A chaat loving health freak’s dream is what this was. The creaminess of the yogurt foam set off wonderfully by the fried dal and the hot, sweet and sour chutneys create an Indianised salad for when you want your chaat and no calories too.

IMG_4855.JPG

IMG_4856.JPG

IMG_4900.JPG

 

I love eating curries with breads and buns and the bunny chow deserved a taste just for that. They tell you a story about how the particular dish came into existence as they serve you your meal and this I shall leave you to experience. The chow was a Rajma based curry and tasted like comfort in the bread bowl. The Malaysian Korma with Roti chennai or as it is now called, Roti Canai, won favor with us as we love coconut curries. The spices and the mild coconut curry are beautiful served with the flaky parotta.

IMG_4901.JPG

IMG_4902.JPG

The much talked about Mithaiwala concept is wonderful and fills you with childlike glee as a cart laden with the most beautiful desserts is rolled out to you. We decided to let the head win over our heart here and settled for two of the beauties. The others we shall be back for. The Brownie with baileys cream was indulgent and yet light. Difficult to fault this one. The Raspberry Verrine was loved by moi for the berries. The Gondhoraj tart and the Maricaubu Orange await our return.

IMG_4864.JPG

IMG_4860.JPG

IMG_4863.JPG

IMG_4862.JPG

IMG_4894.JPG

The only grouse from us would be, for a casual dining space, the impeccably mannered and extremely warm staff seem a little restrained. Introducing an atmosphere of bonhomie and relaxed wear would perhaps add to the charm. For us the restaurant delivered just what it promised, a simple and comforting taste of home. Seeing how close the place is to us and how much we loved it, a repeat visit or two is definitely on the cards for us.