Saturday, 25 October 2014

Wild Grass and Villages in Kaziranga

This is a photo-essay that seeks to capture the beautiful sights around Kaziranga from a recent trip made in October 2014. The Kaziranga National Park opens on 1 November every year. So it was a trip minus the National Park; but not less delightful in any way.

We arrive at the charming Wild Grass Resort at Kaziranga after a 5-6 hour drive from Guwahati. Manju Barua, the proprietor of Wild Grass, considerably shaped tourism in Assam by introducing the concept of eco-tourism with this property in 1989. Manju Barua, along with his son Maan Barua, frontman Kamini Barua and an efficient staff, has been successfully maintaining standards at this resort for the past 25 years now.  

At Wild Grass, nature is neither groomed nor preened.  

One can just sit and stare away at Wild Grass. Even that is so relaxing!

Wild Grass: Where the hand-crafted antique-feel furniture and decor blend with the vibrant nature around.  

That little red house on the steps is where pickles are stored. 

The dining area at Wild Grass.

Loved this quaint desk at the dining section.

Palash Bora, 36 year old ornithologist employed with Wild Grass, took us on a bird-watching tour around the Wild Grass campus, the nearby Bocha village and the Hathikuli tea estate. He told us that Wild Grass has about 85 species of migratory and non-migratory birds. We spotted several varieties of exotic birds that day.  

The homely guest accommodation at Wild Grass.

The inviting room!

At a corner of the Wild Grass campus.

We then made our way to the nearby Bocha village to spot more birds.

A house at Bocha village where orchids were in bloom.

A pretty house at Bocha village.

Bamboo bridges in Assam's villages. At Bocha Gaon.

When we reached Hathikuli tea estate, early in the morning, we were greeted by the sight of men and women with baskets behind them, on their way to pluck tea leaves.  

Later in the morning, we rode an open jeep to the nearby villages.

A house at the Doinang Sildubi Borbil Mishing village.

Pretty Mishing mother-daughter duo in the village.

A woman holds her child and prepares the warp for the handloom.

A Mishing woman working on the handloom she prepared herself with bamboo sticks under a Saang Ghar (an elevated house).  

Pretty Mishing girls in the village.

Village boys. They asked us for ten rupees to buy chips from the store at the mouth of their village. Am sure their mothers would have given them a good spanking had they heard them :D

An egret (bogoli) perched on a cow. And I taught my two and half year old daughter to sing "bogoli boga phut di ja" - the song i grew up singing every time we spotted egrets in the fields.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

My short story 'The Hand, the Elephant and the Lotus' (published by Writers Asylum, 7 Oct 2014)

My latest short story (fiction) 'The Hand, the Elephant and the Lotus' has been published by Writers Asylum. 
Synopsis of the story: The story narrates how the 1996 Assembly Election in Assam affected a few lives. 

An excerpt: 
"For many years I heard Father and the other men and women in the family talk only about the Elephant and the Hand, criticizing the Hand when it was in power and speculating the chances of the Elephant coming to power in the next election; and then criticizing the Elephant when it finally came to power, at how it had fallen flat on its promises. But in 1996, before the Assembly election happened, there were talks about how disappointing both these parties were and that only a radical change could rescue Assam. Father now spoke about the Lotus as the messianic political party that could cleanse the Bangladeshi epidemic and save “us” from the “larger goal” of turning Assam into an Islamic state and merging it with Bangladesh. To this, people like Rehmankhura, father’s childhood friend who now lived close to our house in Guwahati, would not really know what to say. His family had moved over from Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, when the partition had happened. Even during those times, as it is now, the border between Assam and Bangladesh was porous. In fact, there was no Bangladesh, there was no Assam. It was one huge land where people of all religious faiths, castes and tribes lived. So at times like this when Father spoke about the need for a Hindutvaregime because soon “our” people “would be reduced to a minority position” by the “Moosolmaan”, unmindful of Rehman khura’s presence in the gathering, he would keep quiet. All these years of friendship and it seemed Father never registered the fact that Rehman khura was but a “Moosolmaan”."

Read the rest of it at

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Street Food in Old Delhi (Deccan Herald, 12 Oct 2014)


Savouring old Dilli

Juanita Kakoty, Oct 12, 2014, DHNS:
Chandni Chowk is a street food paradise that tantalises taste buds. (PHOTOS BY TANUSHREE BHOWMIK).
Walking down the crowded lanes of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi,  Juanita Kakoty samples the sumptuous fare that tickles tongues and pleases palates.

The charms of Old Delhi lie not just in the dilapidated havelis that speak of the glorious days they once saw, or in the unending rows of shops showcasing exquisitely embroidered dresses and jewellery, but also in the aroma and sights of food in every nook and corner. 

The kebabs and biryanis of this walled city have stolen the hearts of many since times immemorial; but what has also been captivating the food connoisseur for a long time now is the wider range of street food in this part of Delhi.

A walk with Tanushree Bhowmik, a food blogger who conducts food tours around Old Delhi, one Saturday morning was unique, because it did not include establishments and steered away from the much-documented Mughlai cuisine of the region. She suggested visits to the smaller vendors whom she claims to have discovered through “trial and error”. 

Taste test

We arrived at the Chandni Chowk metro station by noon, where right outside was 45-year-old Rajesh selling chole kulche at Rs 20 per plate. The kulcha (made of flour and steamed) along with the chole (green peas sun-dried and boiled) was absolutely non-oily. It was the garnishing as per the customer’s tolerance that spiced this dish up. One can catch him from noon till 4 to 4.15 pm. 

A few steps away from Rajesh’s cart sat Shripad Bhardwaj on a stone, making tea by the roadside. He sells tea at Rs 10 per cup and we sipped some nice adrak (ginger) chai here, which seemed perfect after the chole kulche. We then took one of the lanes that came out to Natraj, a much celebrated chaat spot.

There, at a little stand on the pavement between Natraj and the Central Bank of India, Sonu Sharma was selling rabri faluda at Rs 50 per glass and kulfi faluda at Rs 40 per glass. We tasted some refreshing rabri faluda (faluda is a cold beverage; rabri is the cream derived from boiling milk and sugar for long hours) here while gazing at the majestic Sheesh Ganj Gurudwara up ahead. 

Right down that lane was Bishan Swaroop’s chaat stall where Tanushree asked for kulle ki chaat, although it was not listed in the menu. “It is better here than in Chawri Bazaar,” she told me. We stood there as Swaroopji cut a boiled potato into two halves, scooped out the middle of the halves and stuffed it with boiled sun-dried green peas. 

He then garnished it with spices (he asked us “medium masala” or “strong masala” and we opted for medium) and a few drops of lemon. This nice tangy chaat is great for health freaks as well as for those not scared of spices. At Rs 30 per plate, it actually could make for a great healthy meal.

Time for something sweet again after the chaat and nothing could have been better than the fresh rabri Govind Gupta was selling a few steps away from Swaroopji’s stall. The rabri comes from his home in Atras village near Mathura (Uttar Pradesh) by noon. 

Tanushree then took me through the much-feted Paranthewali Gali and we went down the lane where, right at the T-point, Virendra Nankhataiwale was selling hot nan khatai, fluffy buttery cookies made of flour, sooji, besan and ghee. He sells them at Rs 300 per kg and is there with his cart from 2 pm to 7.30 pm. I packed a good portion for home.

From there we took a right and came to a corner where 30-year-old Ayush Cholewale was selling chole kulche. “This chole is different from the chole we first had near the Metro station. It is cooked spicy and the USP here is the homemade green chilly pickle, whose recipe he will not share at any cost,” informed Tanushree. The pickle actually made all the difference to the dish! I had as many as my tongue allowed! To taste it, you’ll have to be there between 12 pm and 5 pm, and each plate is priced at Rs 20. 

A sweet treat

As we walked through Kinari Bazaar to Maliwara, we caught up with 58-year-old Girija Shankar who was pushing his cart full of kiwi fruits through the narrow lane. We lapped up some awesome kiwi chaat at a meagre Rs 10 per plate. 

Coming to Nai Sarak, we stopped at Kalka Sweet House, opposite Kothi Haji Ali Jan, for chole bhature that makes for good breakfast in many parts of North India. This place opens at 8 am and closes at 6 pm. The chole here was spicy but not hot; and 72-year-old M P Pandey told me, “We use 21 spices in our chole, which includes rose petals!” 

At the end of our two-hour long walk, I realised that street food could be hygienic too. “They have maintained standards for the two years that I’ve known them,” Tanushree told me, as we sipped the refreshing and quintessential Delhi drink banta (lemon soda masala) for Rs 15 at Ved Prakash Lemonwale near Town Hall.

My short story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018

My short  story 'Where is Arsalan Miyan?' in Himal Southasian on 27 April 2018 Right in the middle of the sprawling Nakhasa Bazaa...