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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Raghurajpur PattaChitra: India’s Miniature Art Honed for over 2500 years

Incredible India always ends up surprising me with its hidden charms. 18 households in a tiny village by the southern banks of the river Bhargavi and surrounded by trees of coconut, mango and jack fruit is carrying on the legacy of an art form that originated around 5 B.C. This art form is what you must be knowing as ‘PattaChitra’, but what you might not know is the beautiful story behind this miniature art and its chitrakaars (painters). And that is precisely what I intend to bring out to the world through this article!

One of the ancient Patta Chitra creations of Raghurajpur, Odisha - These hold heritage value

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at abariki.akshaya32@gmail.com and +919937371147 or +919938668732

Raghurajpur, located on the banks of the dis-tributary of the mighty Mahanadi river and only about 15 kms from the spiritual hub of Puri, is like any of your traditional Indian villages. Narrow houses located on either side of narrow lanes, a temple on each lane, a sit out area in front of each house, total wooden interiors (beams, pillars, doors and the likes) and traditional decor is how Raghurajpur looks at first glance. But, once you step inside one of their homes, you will realize there is a deeper story that is an integral part of the lives of the people living in this village.

Exquisite miniature art of Goddess Durga created at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

As soon as you step inside, you will stop and stare with awe at the intricately designed paintings. These could be patta chitra (traditional Odisha cloth painting), tado patra (palm leaf painting), tusser silk paintings, toys made out of cow dung and/or papier mache, colorful masks, stone carvings and much more that decorate the walls of the home. Somewhere in between these paintings, you will see a picture of the chitrakaar of the house being awarded by the President of India, you might also notice a Padma Bhushan or a Padma Shree award gathering dust on the walls of their home. But, this is only the external view.

Beautiful Raghurajpur Pattachitra of Krishna and his gopikas in an elephant and horse form

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

The true surprise element comes when you see the men of the Chitrakaar family at close quarters. As a person who hails from the Brahmin caste of India, I thought it is only us and a few select kshatriyas who undergo the Upanayanam ceremony. But, I was proved wrong when I saw all the chitrakaar men of the of Raghurajpur family proudly flaunt their white sacred threads. Upon questioning them, I got to understand that they are not brahmins, but because they had to serve the lord at close quarters, they underwent the Upanayanam ceremony to gain rite of passage to work for the gods.

The original side view Patta Chitra of Raghurajpur that depict the avatars of  Lord Vishnu

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

These chitrakaars carry surnames such as ‘Mohapatra’, like the Brahmin Mohapatras of Odisha and Bariki and all they do is create with their hands. They work alongside priests in the temple and are exceptionally busy during the Rath Yatra or Car Festival and during that time of the year when the deities of Jagannath Puri become sick after a ritualistic bath.

Intricate paintings on every home wall at Raghurajpur village, Odisha

These Anasar Patti paintings that are created for the people to worship during the god’s sickness is what really took the Raghurajpur chitrakaars to a different level and plane.

Raghurajpur Pattachitra in different forms, colors and depicting different stories

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

This understanding blew my mind away as coming from a fairly orthodox family and living in a caste driven society like all of us Indians, this ancient process of following a Vedic initiation supersedes all castes. And this further piqued my interest in hearing the complete story from them.

Krishna and his Gopikas Patta Chitra created by the chitrakaars of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Apparently, many centuries ago, possibly in the Mauryan empire, under the reign of King Ashoka, a few skilled artisans were chosen to create paintings and handiwork to decorate the gods and places of worship. These artisans and their families were given a piece of land by the then king in today’s Raghurajpur to practice and hone their skills. All the different miniature forms that come from this tiny village of Odisha is legacy of the families of these artisans or chitrakaars.

Inside the home of a Raghurajpur Chitrakaar

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Some of them specialize in patta chitra, for some their art form of choice is masks and toys, others specialize in tado patra or the palm leaf painting. Irrespective of their strengths, the people of Raghurajpur have artisan blood flowing through their veins. They deeply believe in the fact that they were born into this world to create magic through their fingers and imagination.

Saura Tribal Art portrayed on glass bottles at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Through painstaking work, natural colors, vivid imagination and lots and lots of patience, they recreate the stories from our Hindu epics and other popular themes. The original artisans used to create a more side view kind of creative (the ones with the pointy nose and elongated faces) with a pretty standard set of colors. Today’s artisans follow a new radical approach with front view images and a rich riot of colors (seems like someone introduced Photoshop to them). Some of the artisan’s from today’s era still proudly show the original creations of their ancestors and when asked if they are for sale, they simply mention that these paintings are immortal and not for sale.

Raghurajpur artisan showing his father's famous Patta Chitra painting

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Irrespective of the era, their work is simply outstanding or should I say mind blowing. The more time I spent with the artisans of Raghurajpur, the more I got to see their best creations and the story behind it. Each one of them possesses an unique style, a keen eye and a nimble set of fingers that simply create possibly the best miniature art work that I have laid my eyes on.

An elephant face wall hanging made by an artisan of Raghurajpur

I had a Raghurajpur PattaChitra painting of Krishna and his Gopikas and a Tado Patra painting of the famous Saura tribal art (something on the lines of the famous Worli tribal art of Maharashtra) hanging on the walls of my house even before I went on this trip. But, I understood the true details around it only when I spent time with the chitrakaars of Raghurajpur.

A Raghurajpur chitrakaar who has received an award from the President

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at abariki.akshaya32@gmail.com and +919937371147 or +919938668732

In case you are wondering, the base for the PattaChitra is created using threads from an old saree that is then mixed with chalk, tamarind seeds and a gum like resin from the bark of a local tree. After the drying process comes the base of the PattaChitra that is ready to be painted upon.

Saura Tribal Art on bottles as seen at Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

Historically, artisans never used measuring devices and used to make all the drawings with a free hand. Such paintings test the skill of the chitrakaars, but these days, the painters use all measuring and alignment devices to draw the sketch out and then they add the color into their image.

Cow Dung Toys made at Raghurajpur, Odisha

The colors come from natural products, like rocks from a neighboring hill and kajal from the burnt thread of the lamp. White is prepared from conch shells, Yellow from Haritala, a kind of stone, blue from indigo, green from leaves and other natural products for various colors. The natural gum of a fruit called ‘kaitha’ is mixed with the colors along with water in coconut shells to ensure the colors stay fast.

Elderly Raghurajpu Chitrakaar showing me his papier mache creations

There is no chemical that goes into any of their paintings. The Tado Patra only uses a palm leaf, a sharp pencil like object and the kajal. There are no other colors used in it. The Tusser paintings do not have the base of the PattaChitra, but due to the softer silk cloth, the paintings look nicer.

Tado Patra depicting the gods of Puri Jagannath Temple

Even the brushes used to make the paintings are made using natural products like hair of animals such as buffalo, squirrel, rat, etc.

Amazing Patta Chitra miniature art of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Bijay Kumar Bariki and Akshaya Kumar Bariki at abariki.akshaya32@gmail.com and +919937371147 or +919938668732

The usual PattaChitra paintings lasts at least a 100 years, if not more. The chitrakaars say that Tado Patra or the palm leaf painting can last forever. The Tusser silk painting however is prone to damage by insects and hence has a relatively lower shelf life, but still worth about 40 to 50 years.

An elderly Raghurajpur artisan who is creating wooden toys

Everything from the picture of Thakur ji or Jagannath with Subhadra and Balabhadra to stories and avatars of Krishna, Ganesha, Vishnu and other Hindu deities, these different art forms portray this in a gorgeous way. After all, this was how the artisans honed their skills for many centuries.

A Raghurajpur Chitrakaar and his creations

These days, one will find many modern variations, but the classical stories still catches the eye of all. After all, it is through such rich paintings from India’s unique cultures that we can keep all our beautiful mythological stories alive and present in our living rooms.

Lovely paintings of Ganesha created in Tusser Silk by the Artisans of Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Today, there are close to 120 households in the village of Raghurajpur, but only 18 of them come from the lineage of the original Raghurajpur Chitrakaars. It is their family and their family alone that gets to paint at the Puri Jagannath temple. It is those families who create the best paintings as the learning has been passed down in their family either genetically or through the family school.

Tusser silk miniature art magic from Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Nearly all the other households are involved in creative work that may or may not include paintings, but if you spend time with most of them, you will know that they are good businessmen as they have the gift of the gab. May be, such people might be able to change the future of this village in a postive way. But, if you wish to meet the real chitrakaar who is quiet and patiently works on his paintings, you have to visit one of these 18 households.

Raghurajpur artisan showing all the Patta Chitra paintings from his trunk box

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

Pattachitra and other art forms from Raghurajpur has largely remained untouched by the rest of the country as that part of the country never saw any invasions. They somehow managed to evolve in their own isolated pocket and that is what makes them truly special and one of India’s best miniature art creators and possibly the best of Incredible India’s hidden ‘unique culture’ gems.

For those interested in Buying these Paintings

Tusser Silk Paintings of Krishna and his gopikas at Raghurajpur, Odisha

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Kalu Charan Bariki at babulalb4@gmail.com and +919437506882 or +919938505532

The government designated this village as a heritage and crafts village in 2000, but unfortunately, these artisans are still struggling for a sustained living. Most of their work is bought by middle men and rich heritage shops from across the country for extremely low prices and sold to us customers for a  hefty premium.

Raghurajpur Chitrakaars decorate even their homes with their paintings

Some foreign tourists do pay the village a visit from time to time, but the artisans say that Indians are their biggest customers, but they don’t visit them in their village. Rather, they buy their products from Puri, Konark, Bhubaneshwar or other cities.

A moment from the Bhagvad Gita portrayed on the walls of a Raghurajpur home in Odisha

Even people who have received awards from the President of India are struggling to make a basic living. To see such a rich culture of India in near poverty is an absolute shame. And my heart goes out to them. I want to help them and that is where I need your support.

A Raghurajpur artisan showing me his various paintings

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

If you or anyone in your network wishes to buy their products either for individual use or for bulk-selling, please reach out to the artisans directly. I have mentioned their name and phone number under each of the key pictures.

The stories of Lord Ganesha depicted through the Patta Chitra miniature art of Raghurajpur

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

You could place special orders, like a Patta Chitra Sambalpuri Saree, a special painting for your new home, a painting for your hotel or office or anything that appeals to you. You can get a much richer idea when you speak directly to the artisans of Raghurajpur and I know that you will get the best price as you will be procuring a quality product directly from the creators.

Raghurajpur hand paintings go on to a custom silk saree

Chitrakaar or Artist Details: Purnechandu Mohapatra at +919238960744

A lot of these paintings require painstaking work and hence take time, sometimes many months too. So, it would be best to place your order in advance lest you get caught in last minute hurries.

The small village of Raghurajpur, Odisha

Note:
Please do keep in mind that I am doing this act of social service through this article and I have no association with any of these Chitrakaars or any associations and I stand to gain nothing from any of this. I am simply aiming to use the reach of my blog to let the world know about this heritage village and its creative inhabitants who are carrying the legacy of more than 2000 years. I just wish better days for them!

The board says a lot, but Raghurajpur is small village with very skilled people

Thank you for all your support and goodwill!

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Monday, May 30, 2016

An International Traveler’s Best Friend

Airline Check-ins! Hotel Bookings! Checking out the latest currency conversion value! Finding that amazing restaurant! Navigating the streets of an unknown city! Staying in touch with family and friends! Working on the move! Being active on social media! As a world traveler, I do all this and much more. But, all of this requires connectivity and that is the crux of this article – ‘What is the best form of connectivity while we are traveling?’.

International roaming is generally so expensive that I almost never use it. I love free wi-fi, but always yearn for better speeds and permanent connectivity. Local sims are a good option, but the buying, activation process, local idiosyncrasies, and the high costs at many times are a deterrent. Over many years of my travels, I always sought for that communication product that would allow me to stay connected irrespective of country or device. The search ended when I came across Transatel DataSIM earlier this year, a radical innovation that solves all my connectivity problems through their international data SIM.

Transatel DataSIM - connectivity for all my devices during my travels

Transatel is this simple mobile operator that offers the option of an international prepaid data sim and/or a portable hotspot across 46 countries. I have been using both their data sim and their hotspot for a while now during my international travels and have to say that I am thoroughly impressed with their services, their coverage and the overall value they provide to me as an international traveler.

These days, most of us travelers hardly make normal phone calls. If we do, they are either through WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook, Viber or any other many other apps available in the market today. Basically, everything runs on data. I fall into this traveler category too. Whether you are a business or a leisure traveler, if you too are a data traveler, then you will be definitely interested in reading more about this product.

1) Always Stay Connected at Local Prices

The one simple reason I love my Transatel DataSIM is because it allows me to be always connected without any of the head aches of searching for connectivity. I don’t need to look for free wi-fi zones, buy a cup of expensive and bad coffee just to use their wi-fi, pay hefty international roaming charges or go about figuring out the world of the local sims. I am simply connected always through just one data SIM. And I end up paying only the local rates. It is like that dream value proposition to me as an international traveler. As I see it, it doesn’t get any better than this.

2) Coverage in 46 Countries

My Transatel DataSIM allows me to be connected in 46 countries. This includes India, USA, most of Europe, South East Asia, East Asia and some parts of the Middle East and Northern Africa. I am hoping that they expand into more countries so that I can permanently leave my connectivity worries behind. It makes perfect sense for an international traveler from India as the Transatel coverage regions include most of the international destinations popular with Indians – Singapore, Thailand, USA, France, UK, Germany, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Spain, Cambodia and Turkey.

3) One Connection for all your devices or even your entire Family

Transatel DataSIM HotSpot Device

We are currently living in the era of gadgets. Each one of us use at least 3 gadgets while traveling. I personally carry a phone, a kindle, a tablet and a laptop with me on my travels. Now, bring a family into the equation and that number soars up. Now, think about the ballooning costs if you have to get connectivity for all your family members or friends. That is where I love the Transatel data hotspot device. This device allows up to 10 devices to connect to it simultaneously and all this for the regular price of one data SIM.

4) Easy Recharge. Pay as you go!

This data SIM works like any prepaid card. All you have to do is load some credit into your account and you are good to go in all of the coverage zones. Rates do differ by country, but as everything is transparent and mentioned on the Transatel website, you exactly know how much you are spending. Depending on your recharge amount, you get a certain validity. All the recharge details, validity date, balance amount and more can be found in your online account at all times.

5) 18 Month SIM Validity

Transatel DataSim - best connectivity for my travels

This is not applicable to me as I travel very frequently, but those of you who make those annual holidays, your Transatel DataSIM doesn’t expire for a period of 18 months after last use. This means that you can use your SIM once during your annual international holiday and it remains active till your next annual holiday. All you have to do is recharge the next time you go on your family vacation. I think this is a very handy feature to have and brings additional value to this deal.

6) Worldwide Shipping

Transatel ships their DataSIM all over the world. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have coverage in your country. All you have to see is if they provide connectivity in the country that you are visiting.

7) English Customer Support

Even though the data SIM is a fairly easy to use plug and play kind of device, like with most technical products, people do require help from time to time. I certainly did need assistance to get it set up initially. The customer support team, which is available on phone and email helped me with all the process. This is a great support system to have and one that we appreciate in times of need.

An added bonus news for travellers is that Tranastel DataSIM is launching special data bundles for specific zones and countries today. They will have EuroPass, AsiaPass and specifically for France, Spain, Switzerland, UK and Taiwan. You would be able to convert your credit to data bundles and customize it based on your destination.

As you can see, the Transatel DataSIM is quite a revolutionary product. It’s super handy features, amazing benefits and total value for money makes it my best friend during my international travels. I was sold simply on its coverage and cost value. It’s other features are simply an icing on the cake for me. Do you think this can be your best form of connectivity while traveling?

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Top 10 Iconic Vegetarian Street Food Joints of Hyderabad

Hyderabadi Biriyani! That is the first thing that comes to mind when people think of food from Hyderabad. In addition there is Gongura Chicken, different kinds of mutton based on specialties from Rayalseema, kheema samosa, kheema naan and so many other meat-based foods that bring joy to meat lovers. But, this article is not about the non-vegetarian food of Hyderabad, but its vegetarian food, which is there in plenty. Last month, I braved 40 plus degrees along with my friend and we went on a tasting spree to explore the iconic vegetarian street food joints of Hyderabad. And boy did we have a blast!

If you are a vegetarian, a street food lover and are planning to visit Hyderabad soon, this is something that might interest you. You could also do a food walk as most of these joints are in and around the main attractions of the city. This list aims to be cover the entire gamut of food through main courses, snacks or tiffin items, drinks and desserts. Hopefully, it will appeal to people with different palate needs. Bon Apetit!

1) Ram Ki Bandi

Ram Ki Bandi - one of the best late night food joints in India

Opening at 3 AM, Ram Ki Bandi’s two mobile food stalls is an absolute rage in Hyderabad and it regularly features in the top 10 late night traditional food joints in the country. They dish out everything from butter dosa, cheese dosa, pizza dosa, podi dosa, upma to fried idli. Personally, I loved their fried idli (an absolute sensation for the taste buds) and their podi butter dosa. Come late night, students, tourists and locals arrive in droves on their fancy motorcycles and expensive cars. By 5 AM, Ram Ki Bandi is doing such brisk business that you can simply stand and be amazed as you will anyways have to wait for your order. And by 7:30 AM, when the world gets ready to start its day, they run out of their supplies, close shop and go home.

Location: Next to Karachi Bakery, Nampally

Similar places: Govind Dosa Bandi near Mecca Masjid, Laxman ki Bandi, Pragati ki Bandi

2) Shahi Bakers and Sweets

Badam ki Jali - my favorite dessert from Hyderabad

It will take you a while to locate this place, but once you do, you will want to buy all their supplies. Run by a Muslim family from their home amidst a Persian garden like setup, Shahi Bakers and Sweets is not like your typical bakery. Rather, they are a home who only make a limited quantity of sweets every day unless they have received a prior order. Sitting in the verandah of their 85 year old home and tasting their Badam Ki Jali is like going on a momentary trip to heaven. Badam ki Jali is their specialty and my absolute favorite in the whole of Hyderabad. They make Ashrafi too and other sweets and desserts depending on occasion and prior orders. If you love desserts, you have to visit this place. This rare traditional dessert experience is a must-do in the whole of Hyderabad.

Location: Aziz Baugh, Noorkhan Bazaar

Similar places: None. They are in a league of their own.

3) Famous Ice Cream

The seasonal original fruit ice cream at Famous Ice Cream, Hyderabad

Nothing more than a small shack from the outside, Famous Ice Cream is famous all over Hyderabad for its seasonal fruit ice creams. Be it fig, watermelon, custard apple, Mango or others, every single flavor of theirs is delicious. And as I had visited them during a heat wave, I ended up enjoying all their flavors. My favorite was the fig ice cream.

Location:
Mozamjahi Market

Similar places: Bilal Ice Cream

4) Hameedi Confectioners


Jauzi Ka Halwa from Hameedi Confectioners, Nampally, Hyderabad

An iconic store that used to prepare desserts during the time of the Nizam, Hameedi confectioners on Mozamjahi market is the place to go for Jauzi Ka Halwa, Double Ka Meetha, Kubhani ka Meetha and Kaddu ka Kheer. Each one of their desserts is loaded with ghee, dry fruits and sugar, but as soon as you put a spoonful into your mouth, you are instantaneously transported to heaven. There own 2 shops on the same street, but the one located opposite to Famous Ice Cream is the old one.

Location: Mozamjahi Market

Similar places: None. Their creations are really something else.

5) Harsha Mess

If you feel like tasting an authentic Andhra Thali that can make you cry because of its high spice levels, you have to go to Harsha Mess, one of the best places in town for the Andhra Thali. Local Veggies, Pappu, Chutney, Podi, Ghee, Sambar, Rice, Papad, Rasam, Curd and more lip smacking dishes are served as part of their Thali. They also serve good vegetarian biriyani.

Note: This is not a pure vegetarian place.

Location: Opposite Maitrivanam, near Ameerpet

Similar places: Kakatiya Mess, Sri Kanya

6) Nimraf Irani Cafe

Charminar area of Hyderabad - Mecca for street food lovers

All Hyderabad foodies would have taken a picture of them holding a cup of Irani chai with the Charminar in the background. And to go with the Irani chai, you have fresh Osmania biscuits. This is one of the top food experiences of Hyderabad. Nimraf Irani Cafe, located right opposite Charminar is one of the best places to go for this iconic experience.

Location: Opposite Charminar

Similar places: Shah Ghouse Cafe on Shah Ali Bandar Road, Cafe Iqbal in Gosha Mahal

7) Subhan Bakery

Subhan Bakery - Best in Hyderabad for the original Osmania biscuits

Everybody knows about the famous biscuits of Hyderabad. But, most of them know it as Karachi biscuits due to the excellent marketing and reach of Karachi Bakery. While, I personally love their fruit biscuits, I prefer a different place when it comes to Osmania biscuits. And that place is the iconic Subhan Bakery located in the Nampally area of Hyderabad. They serve fresh hot biscuits that are so tender that they absolutely melt in your mouth. The perfect combination of sugar, salt, cardamom and butter make it a super hit for all tea sessions. And as Subhan Bakery doesn’t have to maintain a huge showroom and lots of employees, their prices are a good 25 to 30% lower. Personally, I think their quality is superior as you get biscuits straight out of the oven.

Location:
Nampally

Similar places: Karachi Bakery

8) Cafe Iqbal

Bagara Rice with Mirchi ka Salan, Baghare Baingan and Khatti Dal as the main course and topping the palate with a cup of Dum ka chai is living like a vegetarian Nizam (if ever there exists one). If you wish to indulge in this gastronomical delight, head to Cafe Iqbal, who offers these and much more.

Location: Lad Bazaar near Charminar

Similar places: Shadab Hotel, Sohail Hotel

9) Munshi Naan

Munshi Naan - favorite bread of Hyderabad

The traditional square breads from the iconic Munshi Naan go best with meat, but these breads are so fresh and delicious that they will absolutely go with anything. Be it a cup of Irani chai, a vegetable curry or a meat curry, there can’t be any better company.  It was the Nizam’s munshi who made this bread famous and thus the name. A family run business, they produce the best naan. There are many others on the same street as them who produce similar type of breads, but if you wish for an authentic experience, head to the Munshi Naam store near Purani haveli.

Location: Near Purani Haveli, close to Charminar

Similar places: None. They hold iconic status.

10) Authentic Street Food Creations

Fresh sugarcane juice laced with ginger - best for summer food walks in Hyderabad

This last one is not necessarily a food joint, but they are the small mobile stalls on the streets of Hyderabad. They serve everything from Hyderabadi lassi, Buttermilk, Goli Soda, Pudina Sharbat, Ganne ka Joos to simple Nimbu Soda. If you are going on a Hyderabad food walk, you will definitely need to stay hydrated and keep replenishing your energy stores from time to time. And there is no better option than indulging in these local drinks that are like specifically created by and for the city of Hyderabad.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Ten Things to do in Delhi on your Next Vacation

India boasts of some of the most interesting cities to visit in the world. From the cosmopolitan city of Mumbai that is rightly called the ‘City of Dreams’ and the business hubs in Bangalore that are brimming with IT parks to the capital territory of the country that gives a glimpse of life in the north, one cannot deny the charm this country holds for anyone visiting here. It is, therefore, not surprising to see celebrities heading out here to add a touch of ethnicity to their weddings and vacations.

If you have never left the comfort of your hometown in all these years, it is definitely time for you to explore places in India that are popular enough to lure tourists from all over the world. There are numerous things one can do in a state like Delhi that abounds with rich history and heritage. Here are a few that would certainly tempt you to book Bangalore to Delhi flights in a jiffy:

India Gate

1) Wander the streets of the city: The thriving streets of Delhi that have much to offer is a sight to behold. The plethora of colors augmenting the streets in a way that is pleasing to the eyes make roaming the streets a must while you are in Delhi.

2) Binge on local delicacies: From crunchy gol gappas to the stuffed kulchas that are served on every major street, finding local delicacies to gorge on should totally be on your list of things to do as you roam around Delhi. You would rarely come across the scrumptious north Indian delicacies served here elsewhere, making it important for you to go food binging while in the capital.

Famous Kulchas of Delhi

3) Ride the metro: The metro at Delhi has had its share of fame and popularity since it was first launched. Hordes of people made it a point to travel in metros, saving them a lot of time as well. Those visiting Delhi for a holiday too, often, have a day set aside to travel in metros to get a true Delhi feel. One can hardly blame them considering the amazing construction on the metro lines that gives commuters a wonderful view of the city from the metro.

4) Check out historical monuments: Delhi has a number of historical monuments that are worth a visit anytime you visit the state. The beautiful Red Fort, striking Qutb Minar, and architectures that depict ancient India through its beauty and exquisiteness should definitely be visited at least once in your lifetime to get a glimpse of how truly beautiful India is.

Colors of Delhi

5) Witness the light and sound show at Old Fort: Visiting the Old Fort gives you another reason to look forward to with the light and sound show adding to the charm of the monument. Taking place at night between 7 to 8 pm in Hindi, and 8:30 to 9:30 pm in English to give tourists a glimpse into India’s history, you can easily get tickets to the show at affordable prices.

6) Shop at the famous Chandni Chowk: Vacationing anywhere in the world warrants a shopping spree to get memorabilia back home. Checking out the popular Chandni Chowk bazaar can let you come across a number of traditional and classy items that you could use to complement your usual style. Apart from clothes and accessories, there are quite a vast number of things that can be purchased here at prices that are both reasonable and totally worth it.

7) Take a look into the National Gallery of Modern Art: If you are a lover of art and creativity, visiting the National Gallery of Modern Art should definitely be on your agenda while you are holidaying in Delhi.

Hop On Hop Off Bus service of Delhi
8) Take a ride on-board the HOHO bus: The Hop on Hop off bus, or HOHO bus as it is widely called, was introduced as a means to give people a glimpse of Delhi in the most convenient way. You can take a tour of Delhi on-board the bus at your convenience and make the most of your time as you take in everything this place offers.

9) Relax at a book café: For those who prefer tranquillity, heading to a café that has a library in tow can be a great way to feed your mind along with your stomach. You can easily kill two birds with one stone with this perfect combination of books and treats.

10) Spend time at Lodhi gardens: You can spend a leisurely time in the Lodhi gardens by taking a stroll in the cool of the day to enjoy the pleasant weather while treating your eyes to the beauty of the surroundings.

So make the most of your time in Delhi by taking in everything the place offers.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Youth Incorporated Magazine Features me as ‘Blogger of the Month’

Today is a ‘Happy Happy Day’! I just received a copy of the May issue of Youth Incorporated Magazine and yours truly is featured as ‘Blogger of the Month’ on Page 10.

Blogger of the Month - Sankara Subramanian - Youth Incorporated Magazine

Youth Incorporated Magazine is India’s leading edutainment magazine that focuses on educational stories and careers for students in the country. This May issue is focused on Adventure Sports in India. This feature is doubly special for me as it connects with my thirst for adventure and the fact that I love to teach the world about my learnings from my various sojourns from across the world.

Youth Inc Magazine calls me as Blogger of the month

Do check out page 10 if you happen to pick up this magazine. And a big thank you hug to all of you for showing your faith in me!

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Monday, May 23, 2016

Sri Lanka e-Visa or ETA for Indians

There was a time when we Indians used to enjoy free visa on arrival when visiting Sri Lanka. These days, we need to get a visa in advance before we go on that Sri Lanka holiday. Thankfully, Sri Lanka offers an e-visa facility, one that they call Electronic Travel Authorization or ETA. We Indians need to get this ETA before we board our Sri Lanka bound flight out of India. Here’s the low-down on how to get this Sri Lanka e-visa or ETA. This is how I got my Sri Lanka ETA (e-visa) for my upcoming trip.

Sri Lanka ETA e-visa for Indians

1) Visit the ETA website of Sri Lanka Immigration and Emigration

2) Click on the Apply Button. It opens up a new page that contains an online form. You can also read about the different types of visa and fees here.

3) Choose the type of ETA (tourist, business or transit) that you wish to apply for.

4) Fill in your personal particulars, passport details, flight details and address in Sri Lanka.

5) Pay a fee of USD 20 (for a tourist visa) using your credit card after you review the completed form.

6) Upon successful payment, you receive an immediate ETA confirmation

7) And within 24 hours, you will receive an approved ETA number in your inbox.

I received my approval in like 7 minutes from the actual process completion. It was lightning fast in addition to being super simple.

Visa Type received: Double Entry Tourist Visa

Max Duration of Stay Allowed: 30 days

Validity of Visa: 6 months from date of applying

Visa Extendable?: Yes, once from within Sri Lanka.

Total Cost: USD 20

To enjoy your Sri Lanka holiday, all you need to show to the immigration officers is your passport, your ETA, your return flight ticket and enough money to substantiate your financial security.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Jordan Visa for Indians: Visa On Arrival, Collective Visa and Visa at Consulate

Jordan is a gem in the Middle East. Apart from being the cradle of three modern religions, it is home to stunning natural and man made wonders such as the Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, Petra and the Red Sea. In between, there are a ton of things to do and experience in this diverse country right from food and culture to religion and adventure.

We Indians need a Jordanian visa if we wish to visit this amazing country. Now, the interesting thing is that there are 3 different ways in which we Indian Passport holders can apply for a tourist visa to Jordan. I recently visited Jordan and hence the below is based on first hand information either through personal experience or through the immigration officers.

1) Tourists Visa from Jordan Embassy in India

Jordan Visa for Indians

This is the easiest and the safest option to get a tourist visa to Jordan. You can do this yourself by going to your nearest Jordan embassy in India or through an authorized travel agent. The process is as below

Documentation Required

1) Duly completed and signed application form

2) One passport size photograph with white background

3) Passport with at least 6 months validity

4) Photocopy of your passport front and back pages

5) Confirmed Return Flight Tickets

6) Hotel bookings for the duration of the trip

7) Tour Itinerary

8) Original bank statement for 6 months

Fees: INR 8,100

Validity of Visa: Stay of 14 days inside Jordan

Time taken to process the visa: 3 to 5 working days

2) Tourist Collective Visa

Jordan Tourist Collective Visa for Indians

You will get a tourist collective visa at the point of entry in Amman (either Amman or Aqaba airport) if you are going as part of a tour group of more than 5 people with a tour operator authorized by Jordan Tourism. Your tour operator will take care of the logistics and process. The detailed process is given below:
Documentation Required

1) Tour Itinerary provided by authorized tour operator along with hotel bookings

2) One passport size photograph with white background

3) Passport with at least 6 months validity

4) Confirmed Return Flight Tickets

Fees: The visa is free

Validity of Visa: Stay of 7 or 14 days inside Jordan depending on your tour itinerary

Time taken to process the visa: 5 minutes
 
3) Visa on Arrival

Most Indian citizens are confused about the visa on arrival option for Jordan. Their confusion is justified as the internet is filled with conflicting statements. I checked about this directly with the immigration officers at the Amman airport in Jordan and hence this is the accurate information as of today. Things might change in the future, but till then, you can safely follow this.

Indian passport holders are eligible for visa on arrival to Jordan provided they carry all the necessary documentation.

Documentation Required


1) Passport with at least 6 months validity

2) 1 Passport size photograph with white background along with completed visa on arrival form

5) Confirmed Return Flight Tickets

6) Hotel bookings for the duration of the entire trip

7) Tour Itinerary

8) Cash or Traveller Cheques worth at least USD 1000 per person. If you intend to stay for 14 days, you should show USD 2000 per person. In addition, it is safe to mention that you are carrying International debit and credit cards to substantiate your financial sufficiency.

Fees: JOD 40

Validity of Visa: Stay of 14 days inside Jordan

Time taken to process the visa: 5 to 10 minutes

If you are planning to avail the visa on arrival option while traveling to Jordan, be prepared to get grilled by the immigration officers at your point of exit in India. This is common practice and hence it is best to carry all the right documentation with you along with a printout that states that Indian Passport holders are eligible for visa on arrival while traveling to Jordan. While I was being grilled by the immigration officers at Bangalore, I playfully asked why all the grilling when Jordan offers a visa on arrival to Indians and I received the answer that this is protocol especially for countries that offer visa on arrival facility to Indians.

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