Monday, April 4, 2016

India – Calcutta to Delhi – February, 2016
My second G Adventure trip started in Calcutta so I took a taxi from Delhi to the airport only to find that the flight had been delayed two hours!!!  Air India gave us a coupon for a complimentary lunch at a very nice restaurant so while waiting for my flight I enjoyed dal, paneer, chicken curry and Indian bread.  Took a prepaid taxi to “Central” where I was staying but the driver, and later myself(!!!), had a very hard time finding it.  Luckily J who runs the “hotel” was always available by phone so I eventually arrived.

Nice large room on the 7th floor, quiet with AC and hot water.  Even though it was almost 10 p.m. I was a bit hungry and wanted to stretch my legs so J suggested I walk around the corner to the Forum as it was safe to walk alone at night.  Found the Forum and had a nice Bengali meal, i.e. coconut chickpea dal, luchi (puffed bread) and little potatoes with spicy sauce at Oh! Calcutta.

In the morning I took a walk and had breakfast at Piccadilly Circus bakery nearby, i.e. delicious coffee and a brownie.  Took a taxi to the Marble Palace but it was closed for a private tour until later so I walked to the Howrah suspension bridge which is 705 m long and was built during WWII.  Also visited the colorful Mlik Ghat flower market nearby.  Walked back to the Marble Palace but it was still closed so I gave up on seeing it and instead visited the Kaliglat Temple, an ancient Kali temple, rebuilt in 1809 and Calcutta’s holiest spot for Hindus and possibly the source of its name.  It is a lovely temple with floral and peacock motif tiles that look more Victorian than Indian.  During festivals goats are sacrificed there…After much searching I found Bhojohari Manna mentioned in Lonely Planet as the top Bengal restaurant in Calcutta.  I certainly couldn’t miss that!  There was a long line but I finally got seated in this very cute restaurant with delicious food.  Had chickpea dal, this time it had fresh coconut slivers in it, Luchi and a stuffed potato dish served with a spicy mint sauce – realllyy tasty.  Walked around a bit but the city is so confusing I couldn’t find my way so just took the metro back to Central, calling J along the way to get directions!!!

Next day was Valentine’s Day so was lucky to get a reservation at Peshawri in the ITC Sonor.  I had a reservation for the night before but arrived too late so thanks to J was able to reserve for the following night.  Enjoyed a prix fixe dinner similar to Bukhara in Delhi, i.e. stuffed potatoes, tandoori chicken thighs (very tender and delicious), rolled lamb, garlic naan, chicken with tikka masala and peppers, dal and Indian ice cream.  The food was really so much better than in Delhi.

Walked around the gardens of the Victoria Monument in the morning which were lovely and very well kept.   They cover an area of 64 acres and everything seemed to be in bloom.  Visited St. John’s church built in 1787.  Quite British looking inside and out ringed by columns and housing rattan chairs inside.  Walked along the Ganges to Millenium Park which was rather uneventful.  Lunch at Zaranji near the Indian Museum was delicious, i.e. kofta navar (dumplings with a really nice sauce), dal and tandoori roti plus some candied mango chutney which went well with everything.  Wanted to visit the Ashutosh Museum of Indian Art but couldn’t find it so just gave up.  Took a taxi to Hotel Lytton where our G Adventure would start with a meeting at 6 p.m. 

Am delighted to have Dushyant again as my guide and it was fun to see him again!  Walked to the new market and had a kati roll, Bengal’s trademark fast food.  It’s a paratha roti filled with sliced onions, chili and a stuffing, i.e. mine was cheese and potato.

In the morning had delicious coffee and chocolate brownie at Flury’s, a very cute little coffee shop nearby.  Walked over to the Oberoi where many years ago my ex husband and I had dined!!!

We visited Mother Teresa’s Motherhouse where she lived most of her life and saw the little room where she slept from 1953 – 1997.  She won the Nobel prize for peace in the 1970’s and dedicated her life to helping the poor, especially the lepers.

Visited the Victoria memorial and went inside to see the paintings, etc.  It was designed to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 1901 diamond jubilee but the construction wasn’t completed until 1921, i.e. almost 20 years after her death.  In front there is a bronze statue of her on her throne.  Took a ferry ride down the Ganges to the Hawrah Bridge and then had lunch on Sudder Street at a little Bengal café, i.e. luchi, vegetable and potato dishes – all very nice.  Had some time to wander around a bit in the new market before catching the overnight train to Kalimpong.

Arrived at 6:30 a.m. at the train station and still needed to take
a 3 hour bus ride to get to Kalimpong.  Stopped for parantha stuffed with potatoes and coffee for breakfast.  Checked into our hotel and then visited the Cactus gardens and a nearby church.  Had vegetarian noodles for lunch at Gompu’s restaurant and then drove to the Durpin Gompa monastery consecrated by the Dalai Lama in 1976.  It is perched atop a hill and very beautiful inside.  Listened to the monks “praying”, i.e. reciting words, blowing horns and clinging cymbals.  Dinner at a little restaurant across from the hotel was vegetable curry, naan and roti bread.  Food was really good.

In the morning we headed to Sikkim, a state in East India in the Himalyan foot hills bordering Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan.  It requires a permit to enter but is easy to obtain.  While our guide got our permits we had potato stuffed paranthas and coffee for breakfast.  Drove to Gangtok, the capital, and visited Rumtek Gompa considered one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most venerable institutions and currently the home-in-exile of Buddhism’s Kagyu (black hat) sect.  Meant to replace the Tsurphu monastery in Tibet, the main monastery building was constructed between 1961 and 1966.  The giant throne within awaits the crowning of the (disputed) 17th karmapa, who currently resides in Dharamasala.  Shared a Nepalese thali with one of the traverlers, i.e. dal, rice, vegetables, cracker bread, curd and beans and then checked into our hotel.  Very cold up in the mountains.

As we are a bit far from town had dinner at our hotel (Maplewood), i.e. spicy vegetables, cumin potato dish and naan bread.   Indian breakfast at the hotel was delicious, i.e. fried eggs, dry rice dish, potato parantha and hot tea.  Very foggy day so couldn’t see much from the Ganesh Tok viewpoint.  Visited Hanuman Tok and the Enchey Gompa containing beautiful murals of tantric deities.  The monastery founder was apparently famous for his levitational skills and was a flying monk some have said!!!  Stopped at the Himalyan Zoological Park to see some unique animals, i.e. red pandas, snow leopards and clouded leopards in a forest like atmosphere.  Lots of hiking up and down hills to get to the animals which was lovely. 

Stopped for some Tibetan momas, i.e. stuffed dumplings and then on to the lingdum gompa, the most picturesque of Gangtok’s monasteries, flower gardens and the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology housed in a traditional Tibetan-style mansion with a wonderful collection of artifacts related to Vajrayana Buddhism and Tibetan culture, i.e. Tantric ritual objects, thopa (bowl made from a human skull), thangkas (Tibetan cloth paintings), etc.

Took a gondola over the city and into the center of town.  Had some free time to wander around before meeting for dinner at A Taste of Tibet for some Tibetan vegetarian noodles and masala papadam.

In the morning we drove to Darjeeling, stopping for vegetable noodles on the way.  Visited the Tibetan Refugee center which houses 600 aged, orphans, etc. and is also a clinic, gompa and craft workshop.  Had mutton, spinach paneer and naan at Glenary’s for dinner.

Sunrise at Tiger Hill and then breakfast at a little café.  Visited the Happy Valley Tea Estate which began in 1854.  The estate was not functioning this time of year but we had a tour nevertheless and tried some of their tea which is organic and quite nice.

Visited the Mahakal Temple situated on top of a hill, walking through beautiful prayer flags on the way up.  Afterwards we visited the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a gleaming white building and one of the more than 70 pagodas built around the world by the Japanese Buddhist organization.  In the pagoda were murals carved out of rock depicting scenes in Buddha’s life. 

Had some free time so stopped at the Himalayan coffee shop for chocolate cashew cake and delicious coffee before wandering around town.  Met at 3 p.m. to go to the train station where we took the toy train which made its first journey along its two foot wide tracks in September 1881.  Stopped first in Ghum where we visited the railway museum and then in Kurseong and back to Darjeeling.  Unlike the Shimla train, this one ran within feet of local storefronts. 

Had dinner at Shangri-law restaurant, i.e. stuffed potatoes w/sauce, fish curry, dal and butter naan. 

Nice uphill walk to the Hindu temple we visited yesterday and took a leisurely walk around and back down to have coffee and walnut brownie for breakfast at the Himalayan Café.  Wandered around the city until 4 p.m. when we took taxis to the train station.  Unfortunately!!! There was a strike and people were sitting on the tracks so we had to wait in the train station for 13 hours (!!!) until the train finally arrived at 5:00 a.m..  A few of us played cards for several hours which helped the time go by.  I had picked up some cookies at Himalyan Café so had those for dinner.  Finally arrived at Mugal Sarai at 6:30 p.m. and then had to take a bus to Varanasi.  Most of us slept for several hours on the train and they did serve some nice vegetable curry, rice and dal for lunch.  Beautiful scenery along the way – a part of India I hadn’t seen before.  Had a nice dinner at our hotel in Varanasi, i.e. spinach dumplings, some cashew curry, cornmeal misti roti and regular naan.

Up early and headed down the Ganges on a boat to watch the sunrise.  Many people were already bathing and taking their holy dips.  Also saw some bodies on the stairs wrapped up and waiting to be cremated.  Lit some candles and sent them out with good wishes on lily pads into the Ganges….

I stayed in town while everyone else returned to the hotel and spent a couple hours immersing myself in Varanasi, i.e. watching people get their heads shaved, bathing in the Ganges, etc.  Tuk Tuk back to the hotel for vegetable jalfrezi and garlic naan and then went to a carpet “mansion” with our guide and a traveler looking to buy.  Interesting to see the beauty of the carpets but they were even too expensive for him.

Later in the evening we took a boat across the Ganges and Dushyant and one of our lady travelers took a “holy dip”.  Ferry back to the other side and a fun walk through the narrow streets and alleys ending at the blue lassi where we all had fruit lassis with fresh shredded fruit on top sitting on the terrace.  Mine was papaya and pineapple and delicious!  Took our boat out in front of the Dashshwamedh ghat decorated with  Hindu statues and watched the evening ceremony of lights, singing, etc.  Saw 13 piles of bodies burning as we floated down the river…

Stopped at a Nepalese home for a “cooking class” which was not really a cooking class.  The daughter made some momos (stuffed dumplings) and we all stuffed a couple to learn the technique.  The dad made some vegetable soup with noodles and we had those for dinner.  A really nice day…

Early morning train to Lucknow.  Checked into the hotel, had a quick lunch of dal and naan and took tuk tuks to the Residency, a large collection of gardens and ruins built in 1800 and served as the residence for the British resident guard who was a representative in the court of the Nawan.  In 1857 it witnessed the siege of lucknow, a prolonged battle lasting 147 days.  Dinner at a Moghul restaurant where we shared some mutton kebabs, dumplings, soft thin roti and some vegetable biryani which was quite nice.

In the morning after breakfast went to Bara Imambara, constructed in 1785, a year of a devastating famine, to provide employment for people in the region for almost a decade.   The entrance is accessed through two enormous gateways leading into a beautiful courtyard.  On one side is the beautiful Badshahi mosque and on the other is a large bowli (stepwell with running water).  The main imambara consists of a large vaulted center chamber containing the tomb of Asaf-ud-daula.  Walked up to the top of the central hall and into the three dimensional labyrinth, a network of narrow passageways that wind up to the upper floors.  Very impressive.

Had lunch at a little café with marginal Indian food which was rather disappointing as that was my last meal in India…Shared stuffed potatoes, butter chicken, misti roti and naan.  Caught the late afternoon train to Delhi and had a samosa for dinner.  Arrived about 10:30 p.m. and took a quick shower at the hotel before taking a taxi to the airport.  My flight left on time at 3:30 a.m.  What a great trip – can’t believe it’s already over…