Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Dubai, United Arab Emirates – April, 2012
The last leg of my trip was to Dubai but first I had two more days in New Delhi, one of which was not a Monday when all the museums are closed!!!  The flight from Paro to New Delhi took longer this time as we made a fuel stop so didn’t arrive to Shanti Home ( until 3:30 p.m.  I immediately took the metro to the Craft Museum which I have always wanted to visit but only had about an hour to see the wonderful old rugs, wood and bronze statues, jewelry, saris, wall hangings, etc. etc.  I will have to return another time…

Around the museum grounds are many old, well preserved thatched and wooden houses, craft shops and some West Bengalese musicians dancing and singing some traditional songs so all was not lost!!!  Took the metro to the City Center mall and had my last Indian dinner at Punjabi by Nature ( which was reputed to have excellent food.  I was not disappointed!!!  My chickpea dish, palek paneer, lentils and crisp tandoori roti were excellent.  Later, I had some time to enjoy my hotel which was absolutely charming – it felt like being in someone’s home.

Breakfast on the roof top was superb. Along with scrambled eggs and fruit were crisp Indian potato cakes with chutney.  The nearby metro took me to Connaught Place where I did a bit of shopping at the CCIC government store.  I bargained hard for a nomadic rug which they assured me would be delivered to my hotel later in the afternoon and so I trusted them….

Stopped at a FAB INDIA shop to look at their beautiful cotton blouses made in India and found a couple I liked; then took the metro to Hauz Klas village for another delicious rasa masala, a crisp semolina pancake filled with spicy potatoes, at Naivedyam before returning to the hotel where my rug was waiting for me at the front desk!!!  Packed my bags, took a taxi to the airport and caught the evening flight to Dubai.  Dinner on board was surprisingly delicious, i.e. vegetable curry, chapatti, lentils, rice and cake.  Arrived at 10 p.m. and the taxi easily found my hotel which was a very good choice ( being in the old part of town near the Dubai creek.

The rooms of the guesthouse surrounded a lovely courtyard where breakfast is served in the morning.  There were so many wonderful choices to savor, i.e. scrambled eggs, crisp potato pancakes, sautéed mushrooms, fresh fruits, pita bread, hummus, olives, dates, etc. as I relaxed outside and planned my day.  I walked down to the Dubai Creek and to the heritage village where I visited Sheikh Saeed Al-Maktoum’s house constructed in 1896 and restored in 1986.  It is one of the oldest residences in the city and a fine example of Islamic architecture.  I wandered along the creek and stopped by the diving village which had a great display of how pearl diving was done in the 1900’s which helped Dubai prosper.  Using the walkway under the freeway I made my way to the Gold Souk with it’s incredible array of elaborate jewelry and finally to the spice market – a wonder to be sure.

Many months ago I had reserved a table for tea in the Skyview Bar on the 27th floor at Burq al Arab ( so I took the metro and then a taxi to arrive on time.  The world’s most luxurious hotel, the burq soars to a height of 321 meters and was designed to resemble a bellowing sail.  It is impressive inside and out!!!

I was seated by the window much to my delight and spent about two hours enjoying my 7 course afternoon tea!!!  First came champagne with berries and cream followed by a small plate of beautifully arranged chicken with a tiny dollop of mashed potatoes.  Tea came next along with a selection of tea sandwiches, i.e. smoked salmon, roasted eggplant/mozzarella/tomato, etc. followed by a 4 – tier “ship” which looked exactly like the hotel filled with delights.  Top tier had clotted cream, whipped cream and jams, second tier was filled with plain and raisin scones, third tier contained crème brulee custards, Scottish shortbread fingers and ginger cakes and the bottom tier held a selection of chocolate filled cakes – everything was so fresh and delicious.  The grand finale was selection of house made truffles and more tea.  There was also lunch buffet or al la carte lunch option but the afternoon tea sounded the best to me and I was very happy with my choice.

I had also made a reservation to visit the Burq Khalifa, the tallest standing structure in the world but arrived a bit early so I watched the dancing fountains, where the waters dance to music, outside the nearby Dubai Mall.  I also wandered around the mall, one of many in Dubai, filled with every store imaginable selling everything you could ever want.  There were restaurants of every kind from every country serving anything you could possible imagine – a bit much actually.  Initially I had thought Dubai was one gigantic mall but staying in the old quarter completely changed my opinion.

At 7 p.m. I took two elevators to reach “At the Top”, the observation deck located on level 124 of Burq Khalifa.  The Burq stands over 828 meters high, has more than 160 stories and is the tallest building in the world.  The view is panoramic and especially spectacular at night when it is not quite dark.  You are not rushed to leave so can spend as much time as you like enjoying the experience.  Afterwards I watched one more dancing fountain performance and then returned to the old quarter for dinner.  I had some Singapore noodles at Bayt al Wakeel Restaurant, sitting outside on the terrace overlooking the creek and then walked back to my hotel.  That was quite a full day!!!

I had booked a day trip to Oman to see the fjords but the guide never appeared so I “regrouped” and went to Abu Dhabi instead.  We headed down the famous Sheikh Rashid road filled with all the incredible skyscrapers to the majestic white marble Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.  More than 3,000 workers and 38 renowned contracting companies took part in its construction.  Began in 1996, its maximum capacity is 41,000 people, its overall structure is 22,412 squares meters and it is still under construction.  Natural materials were chosen for much of its design and construction including marble, stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics and it is truly a masterpiece.  We drove by some incredible hotels, i.e. Emirates Palace and the Jumeirah Etihad Towers and stopped by the lovely corniche for a few pictures and then stopped by the very interesting heritage village museum which gave you a feel for how the Bedouins once must have lived.  On the way back, our driver let a few of us off at one of the malls nearby where I wandered around a bit before choosing an Egyptian lunch of flatbread filled with lamb.

In the afternoon I visited the Dubai Museum which was excellent.  It had life-size dioramas which presented the traditional way of life in the Emirates of Dubai, i.e. bustling souks filled with shops and craftsmen, scenes of marine life, i.e. pearl diving and a Bedouin tent filled with objects from the daily life of Bedouins.  Afterwards I wandered around the Al Bastakiya historic area with its old houses with great iron doors and narrow lanes down to the creek where the sailing boats were docked.  My hotel was in this area so I was able to get a good feel for the old Dubai which I really appreciated.

In the evening, I took the metro to the Wafi Mall in the heart of Dubai styled after ancient Egypt with its pillars and walls the color of light brown stone.  Raffles Dubai, a 5 star hotel designed in a pyramidal shape is also nearby as kind of a “landmark”.  I had a wonderful dinner at the Khan Murgan restaurant in the open roofed courtyard filled with colorful lanterns and Middle Eastern music.  The menu was Arabian with dishes from Egpyt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, etc. and I chose freshly grilled local fish, a Lebanese eggplant dish with pomegranates and Iranian and Egpytian flatbread.  Everything was delicious and the ambiance was delightful – a very nice “last night in Dubai” experience.

In the morning I walked along the Dubai Creek one last time before enjoying another delicious breakfast in the hotel courtyard.  Taxi to the airport and home….

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Salmon with Spinach-Arugula Pesto
8 oz. baby spinach
2 garlic cloves, peeled
½ tsp. grated lemon zest
large pinch dried crushed red pepper
2C (packed) arugula leaves
3 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
3 – 4 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. (packed) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1-1/2 lb. salmon filets or fish of choice
2 tsp. Mediterranean spices
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/3C toasted pine nuts (optional garnish)

For the pesto:  Combine garlic, lemon zest and crushed pepper in a food processor and blend until garlic is finely chopped.  Add the baby spinach, arugula, pine nuts and lemon juice; process until coarse puree forms.  With the machine running, gradually add oil in a thin stream and blend until almost smooth.  Mix in cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

Preheat the grill.  Rub salmon on both sides with spices and olive oil.  Grill until tender – do not overcook.  Pour any salmon juices into the pesto mixture.  Divide salmon among plates and spoon pesto on top.  Sprinkle with additional pine nuts, if desired.
MAKES:  6 servings

Sunday, July 1, 2012

April, 2012 Nepal, Bhutan
After a wonderful dinner my last night in New Delhi at Bukhara, I flew the next morning to Kathmandu, Nepal, arriving at 1:30p.m.  Tourist visas can be obtained at the airport but you need a photo which I had left in my checked in bag!!!  Fortunately, there was a little booth where you can have pictures taken.  Taxi to Ambassador Garden Home ( in the center of Thamel and a delightful hotel.  I was so hungry that I walked to the Third Eye Restaurant for a tandoori stuffed naan before meeting the guide from Earthbound Expeditions ( who walked with me to their office nearby.  I had booked a three day Kathmandu valley rim trek with them so we confirmed everything including my pickup in the morning.

I had made a reservation to dine that evening at the Nepali restaurant Krishnarpan in Dwarika’s Hotel (  Years ago I stayed at Dwarika’s and it was enchanting but has become very expensive so I opted to just dine there this time.  I was met by Jyoti, one of the managers, who joined me for dinner.  Our twelve course experience was made so much richer with Jyoti explaining the history of Dwarika’s, the different courses and their origin and about Nepal – a magical evening to be sure!  She invited me back for a massage after my trek which I thoroughly enjoyed!!!

The guide came by in the morning and after a 30 minute drive we started our trek to Chiopani which took about 5 hours.  We had picked up some quiches and fruit so we stopped along the way for “lunch” and “apple” breaks.  The trek was uphill with a lot of steps but it felt good as we went along with so many lovely things to see.  The accommodations were very basic, just a little room with a cot and it was pretty cold so I was happy that I had borrowed a warm jacket from Earthbound.  I met some very interesting people in the “restaurant” where they served chow mein noodles, stuffed dumplings and crisp Tibetan bread.  Some of the trekkers had done Everest base camp, some the Annapurna trail, etc.  It rained during the night and in the early morning we were awakened to watch the sunrise.  It was gorgeous!!!  After breakfast we continued on to Nagarkot which took about 7 hours.  We stopped for a typical dal baht (rice/lentils/vegetables) lunch and rested our feet!!!  The accommodations were quite nice this time, i.e. a hot shower, bed with sheets and blankets and a buffet dinner.  It rained again during the night which made for a lovely day of walking through villages and fields to the bus stop where we had another dal baht lunch before returning to Kathmandu.  I stayed at the Ambassador Garden Home again and this time was given an enormous room.  After showering and organizing myself I had a delicious dinner upstairs at Third Eye Restaurant, i.e. cheese and nut stuffed potatoes in Kashmir sauce and garlic naan.  On my way back I picked up a fresh macaroon from the nearby bakery – heaven….

After a leisurely breakfast on the patio I took a taxi to Dwarika for my complimentary massage which lasted more than an hour and felt so good after all those hours of trekking.  I was driven to the airport nearby and flew back to New Delhi where I stayed again at the Red Maple B&B and later took a tuk tuk to Gunpowder Restaurant ( in the Hauz Klaz village.  It was rather hard to find and a long climb up some very narrow stairs but the food was good.  I sat at a table overlooking the lake and had vegetable korma with cashew nut gravy, pumpkin curry (which was a bit too sweet) and layered bread which went well with what I had chosen.

Early morning flight to Paro, Bhutan.  I flew with Druk Airlines and they served a delicious Indian breakfast of chickpeas, spinach/potato cake/chapatti bread and fruit.  We flew so close to the Himalyans that I could almost touch mount everest!!!  I was met by the driver and waited for a bit until the second traveler arrived.  We had some time to wander the open-air market and cute little Tibetan-like town of Paro before eating our first Bhutanese meal in a local restaurant in town.  The food was surprisingly delicious, i.e. fiddlehead ferns, pumpkin slices, red rice, chicken, lentils, fried bread and fresh watermelon for dessert.  We checked into our the Namsay Resort.  I was very lucky to be the “odd man out” and got a room of my own during the whole trip!!!  Took a nice walk around the countryside and passed through lovely hills, temples with prayer wheels which was most enjoyable.  Buffet dinner was fine.

In the morning we drove to the Chorten National Memorial in Thimphu.  It was erected in 1974 in memory of the 3rd king, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck and is designed in the Tibetan Style.  A large white stupa crowned with a golden spire, the Chorten is circumambulated only in a clockwise direction (reciting prayers and whirling the large red prayer wheels) as is the rule in any religion structure in Bhutan.  Visited the Trashi Chhoe Dzong and then into the town for lunch and a walk around.
Bhutan has a “high value, low volume” philosophy and charge a minimum of $250 per day (which includes, guide, food, hotel) to visitors.  There are no backpackers and no accommodations suitable for them.  For more information visit .

Our guide was very traditional and wore the Bhutanese gho, a heavy knee-length robe tied with a belt, folded in such a way to form a pocket in the front of the stomach, every day.  The women wear colorful blouses over which they fold and clasp a large rectangular cloth called a kira, thereby creating an ankle length dress.  Everyday gho and kira are patterned in simple checks and stripes in earth tones.

We walked up to the Buddha statue overlooking the Thimphu valley before returning to the hotel for dinner.  Dinner is generally a buffet in the hotel, sometimes good and sometimes bland.  We asked for the local chile/cheese condiment used to spice up the food which made a big difference.  I particularly liked the way they cooked their potatoes and the delicious fiddlehead ferns!!!

In the morning we visited the Folk Heritage Museum, a restored three-story timber building furnished as it would have been a century ago with old wheat grinders, animal bells, etc.  Drove through the Punakha valley, stopping in Dochula Pass marked by a large array of prayer flags and an impressive collection of 108 chortens built in 2005.  The pass provides a truly picturesque view of the Himalayas.

We took a lovely walk to the Chimi Lhakhang Monastery dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley through agricultural fields of rice and prayer flags lining the road.  He was known as the “divine madman” for his unorthodox ways of teaching Buddhism and used the phallus as a symbol of creative power.  The Lhakhang has a golden yellow roof, rows of prayer wheels and statues of Kuenley and his dog Sachi.  The prayer hall inside contains interesting old thangkas, bells and other tantric paraphernalia. 

In the morning after breakfast we set off to visit the Khamsum Yueling Temple, north of Punakha.  We walked through fields for about an hour finally reaching the 30 foot tall temple perched on the hillside.  It has three stories of temples, one of which houses a lovely Buddha statue.  On to the Punakha Dzong constructed in 1657 and considered to be the country’s most beautiful dzong.  It is very impressive with its whitewashed walls and elaborately painted gold, red and black carved wood.  We walked across the long suspension bridge nearby which was fun.  Dinner at our hotel was pretty bleak….

A beautiful drive to the Gangte Goemba, a lovely Tibetan style monastery built on top of a hill.   On through the lovely Phabjikha valley filled with pine trees, streams and green valleys, stopping in the meadow for a delicious picnic lunch of fiddlehead ferns, roast potatoes, cheese momas, red rice, vegetables and watermelon before taking a nature walk to explore the area.  We stayed in some VERY basic accommodations with wood fired stoves and cold water but dinner in the tiny restaurant was one of the best yet, i.e. very flavorful lentil soup, vegetable curry, chickpea meatballs, roast potatoes and tea.
We enjoyed a delicious breakfast before heading back along the same route to Paro.  We had a little time to shop in town before checking in at the best hotel we have stayed in yet  Dinner was outstanding with an Asian flair, i.e. spicy pad thai noodles, curried chicken, naan bread and mango custard.  In the evening, our guide brought us to a typical “bar” where Bhutan gals dressed in their kiras danced and sang non traditional songs – rather disappointing actually….

Our last day turned out to be the best of all.  After a delicious hearty breakfast we drove to the starting trail up to Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Nest), a sacred Himalayan Buddhist temple complex. The monastery was built around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave, where custom holds that the Indian guru Padmasambahva meditated in the 8th century.  He flew to this place from Tibet on the back of Yeshe Tsogyal, whom he transformed into a flying tigress for the purpose and landed at the cliff, which he “anointed” as the place for building a monastery which they did in 1692.  It is located on a precipitious cliff built into the rock face about 3,000 feet above the Paro valley.  The trek takes about 3 hours and is very scenic passing blue pine trees, prayer flags, waterfalls, etc.

After visiting the monastery and enjoying the incredible view we made it down in about 1-1/2 hours where the bus was waiting to take us to a fabulous local restaurant for lunch.  Dishes were placed on the table instead of the boring buffet we were used to and everything was absolutely delicious, especially the fried eggplant slices, cauliflower, rice and cabbage dish and the chicken with potatoes and red onions – a very nice treat.

Visited the National Museum nearby which used to be housed in a lockout tower but due to an earthquake was relocated.  It had a wonderful exhibit of ancient masks used in traditional dances and ceremonies and beautiful thangkas from Tibet.  Back to the hotel to change into swim suits for our hot stone bath.  Drove to a farmhouse which had 6 trough-like cement tubs lined up in a hot room.  Stones were heated in a bonfire before being placed at the end of these wooden troughs which are filled with water that heats up.  It felt really good for about 20 minutes but was veryyy hot. 

Showered and then had our last dinner together.  The hotel is very luxurious and the food was even better than last night ending with tea cake with mango custard.  Afterwards outside on the patio a lively dance program of traditional masked dances took place using many of the same type of masks we had seen in the museum.  The costumes, music, instruments and dancing were excellent and a perfect ending to a wonderful week in Bhutan.

I took a long walk in the morning to enjoy the last smells, sights and sounds of Paro before flying back to New Delhi to continue my trip to Dubai….