Friday, April 25, 2014

Kasauli - a land of amazing vistas and unavoidable peacocks

Kasauli is a quaint hill station in Solan district in Himachal Pradesh, known for its old world British charm. It is a town and a cantonment that was developed as a hill station by the British, for its salubrious climate and verdant stretches of hills. Kasauli's old world charm is preserved, thankfully, due to the "no new development" rule by the Indian Armed Forces. Which makes it possible to see old colonial bungalows, cobbled paths, and old style stores. Kasauli is about 35 to 40 kilometers from Kalka, the nearest railhead, and is off the Kalka - Shimla route. As for what one can do in Kasauli - go on long walks down the winding lanes and enjoy amazing vistas that open up as you turn corners. A very peaceful place, it can be enjoyed in solitude as well as in the company of near and dear ones.
Like most hill stations, Kasauli also has a few places of interest that you can visit, like – 
The Christ Church – It is a colonial style structure, built very close to the bus stand and entry check point to Kasauli. The church is functional with mass held on Sundays. It boasts of old style interiors and stained glass paintings and windows.
Manki Point – It is a good kilometer of hike to this point which has a small temple at its highest point. This area is under the command of the Armed Forces and hence bags and cameras are not allowed from the checkpoint. From the top, one can view Chandigarh and the river Sutlej snaking its way in the plains.
Gilbert Trail - A good walk in the lap of nature which should not be missed by bird watchers and nature lovers.
Sunset Point

Of course, do make a point to walk aimlessly to enjoy the old gabled houses and the market stalls that look at least a century old. We followed a local family who were walking down to their house and stopped a little away from the post office to just sit at a bend and enjoy the views.
The market square is a small stretch with benches on the sides. Mind the pestering monkeys if you are holding something to eat. Enjoy cupfuls of tea and pakoras from shops opposite the benches. In the evening, you are treated with something I bet you will not find anywhere else – old time speakers that belt out songs from the 50s and the 60s like ‘mere sapnon ki rani kab aayegi tu’, ‘yeh kaun chitrakar hai’, gunguna rahen hai bhawrein’, and many other such delectable melodies. It is pure pleasure to sit around the place; it is guaranteed to take you back a few decades. Money can’t buy such an experience, money can’t create such magic….. one can be sure of that.
Mind you, Kasauli is not a place filled with hotels or restaurants. The most famous and perhaps the only new age restaurant is called Ross Commons. Apart from that there are a few dhaabas some good ones. We visited one such small dhaaba in the market place. It had only about 4 tables and had a fixed number of dishes prepared. We ordered a shahi paneer and a yellow dal tadka along with rotis and rice. The rotis came to the table, hot, straight from the fire. The food all in all was simple and tasted homemade and was cheap to boot.  
The only down-side to Kasauli is the strutting peacocks of the two legged kind who drive in from the nearby plains! Just when you have lost yourself to the peaceful and verdant surroundings, the sound of cars vrooming and harsh braking will bring you down crashing to earth. And all you can do is soundlessly curse the testosterone high mundas who are busy preening for the attention of the dressed to the nines peahens!!!
I wish these people would take their loud music, loud screeching cars and loud everything to out of this awesome place.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Tomato Pickle

I am writing here after a long break. A lot has transpired in the duration since my last post. The biggest of all is my shift to Mumbai and taking up a job. As can be imagined, I am not left with much time to write, making me a visitor to my own space. But, after the initial settling down, I have decided to write intermittently at the very least. So here is today's instalment a tomato pickle. With the price of tomatoes relatively low right now, do give this tomato pickle a shot.

This is my mom's recipe and she normally prepares some when the price goes down. This tomato pickle recipe includes some garlic to the tomato pickle for added flavor, but it can be onitted if you do not like it.

Tomato, ripe - 1 kg
Garlic - 10 to 15
Ginger, chopped - 3 to 4 tsp
Red chilli pwd - 3 tsp
Turmeric pwd - 1/2 tsp
Fenugreek seeds - 1/2 tsp
Dry roasted Fenugreek pwd - 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida / Hing - 1/2 tsp
Vinegar - 4 tbsp
Oil - 4 tbsp
Salt as per taste
Choose ripe to very ripe tomatoes to make this pickle. Wash the tomatoes well and with a knife make cuts on the tomato penetrating only the skin. These cuts make it easy to peel the blanched tomatoes. Heat a vessel of water and when it comes to a boil add the tomatoes into it. Leave the tomatoes in the boiling water for a few minutes till you see the skin loosening. This means the tomatoes are ready to peeled. Scoop the tomatoes out. When it has cooled enough to handle it, peel them and add them into a blender jar. Pulse it a couple of times, just enough to crush a little and leave small pieces.
Heat oil in a pan, add ginger and garlic pieces and saute for 2 to 3 minutes then add fenugreek seeds and saute. Add the tomato - pulp and pieces both, the red chilli powder for medium heat, turmeric pwd and salt. Saute till the liquid is completely absorbed and the tomato pulp is thickened. Then add the dry roasted fenugreek powder, asafoetida / hing powder and vinegar. Mix it in well and saute till vinegar is completely absorbed. At this stage the whole thing should come together and form a ball. Our tomato pickle is ready!
My photos will follow in a bit....