Southern Thai Food Festival , Benjarong, Till 1st October

Benjarong is one of the few restaurants that I love, and keep going back to and never get tired of. Infact, I found the food there to be closest in terms of taste to what I had in Bangkok. And so, whenever they have a festival, I make it a point to head over and give the menu a trial.. There are friends who I have introduced to the place who also fell in love with the food and service~ 

This time around I was headed there for their Southern Thai Food Festival. The minute I saw the menu cover, my mood kinda fell, cos it seemed to reflect more of seafood.. But then when I began flipping through the pages, smile creeped back onto my face. There were veg options in every category.. Yayy!!

Here is a photo journey of the dishes I got to taste… Psst, there is an egg dish there, since I love egg, chose the stuffed omelette 😀

The evening opened with a delicious lychee based drink… 

 The Starters and Mains

 Spinach deep fried and coated with sticky sweet chilli sauce… 

 Lotus stem stir fry with fresh pepper corns..

 Stuffed Omelette – this one had mushrooms and few other vegetables.. I quite loved it.. 

The traditional Raw Mango salad 

Thai rice.. This was not part of the menu but the chef whipped up a portion for me to try..

 Pad See ew- Pad thai noodles sautéed with broccoli and bean sprouts in brown sauce..

 Tofu stir frie in fresh pepper – this was the highlight for me amidst all the dishes. Loved how the tofu was melting in the mouth and the peppercorns added just the right hit of spice… Apparently it is quite a popular dish in Thailand, one of the few dry dishes. 

I tried not one or two but three of them… 
First up was Sakoo Piak Maprow – Little pearls of sago served with tender coconut milk and  pieces of cantaloupes.

Khanom Kluay – which I loved- which is steamed banana cupcake in banana leaf it has been cooked in served with vanilla ice cream.

Kluay Buat Chee – Elaki[tiny variety] banana cooked in palm sugar syrup and topped with sweetened coconut cream  – Did not enjoy this too much.. it was sweet plus I dont like this particular kind of banana…

This festival is on only till the 1st Oct. So if you have been curious about this restaurant or haven’t been in ages, then time to book a table and make a visit!! 

Benjarong,146 TTK Road, Chennai. 
For reservations for the Festival call 044 24322640.

Disclaimer: The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember these were just my views!! Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit 🙂

Celebrating World Tourism Day at Madras Pavillion, ITC Grand Chola- 27th Sep

You have to taste a culture to understand it ~ Deborah Cater.” When you bring together two of my favourite elements, it is bound to be filled with excitement.  What two aspects am I talking about – Travel & food.. 

ITC Grand Chola is celebrating World Tourism day with a host of activities such as Art walk, talks and of course through food as well. The bottomline being Responsible Luxury meets Sustainable Tourism right here! 

At Madras Pavilion, as part of the buffet you will find a few new Live stations that will tingle your taste buds leaving you happy and confused and ecstatic as well..  I got a sneak preview of the same…  Here is what you can expect – 

Thakkali Rasam Ramen – Yes, you read it right. It was delicious flavour packed rasam served on top of Semiya with nori strips, blanched cherry tomatoes, spring onion, fried garlic.. What a twist right?! The flavours blended well and the spice in the rasam had the perfect kick..  

    Idli Arrabbiata – Talk about going berserk in the name of fusion right? But know what, this fusion worked well. Idli was soaked right with the sauce and it had shaved parmesan on top and rocket leaves as well. For someone who isnt a big fan of idli, I was in love.. On the side we have the milagai podi blended with some cheese powder.. 

 Raw Mango Som Tam with chickpea sundal in vietnamese rice wrap – My head took some time to wrap itself around this dish. Cos what I saw was a vietnamese veg wrap, but then there was mustard seeds on the plate.. With a bit of apprehension I popped one in my mouth and wowwie, I was in love. It was fabulous. inspired by the sundal at Marina beach, there was sundal inside this, and it substituted the peanut that you find normally in Thai/Vietnamese food.. 

 Nacho Parota – Served in a beautiful cast iron pan, it arrived in style and looked at me as if to say “Cmon, give me a shot wont you?”… I picked up a crisp parota and lopped it with potato masala, onions/tomato salsa, dipping into the sauce at the bottom and that is how the party started in my mouth. The pan was wiped clean in minutes, and I saw others had done the same thing.

Mushroom pepper momos- While I love mushrooms and momos, this one was a bit of let down. Did not excite me as much as the other dishes did.. It is served with a delicious tangy sauce that had soya sauce, coriander and chilli hit 

 Filter Kaapi Tiramisu -Served in a Kaapi vattai tumbler [ tradiitonal south indian cutlery for coffee], this was deliciious in every spoonful. Filter Kaapi flovour – good [this was in the place of Kahlua], cream- good, sponge cake/lady finger biscuits- good, what more can I say!! 😀 

Well, if you too wanna enjoy these dishes, head over to Madras Pavilion on 27th Sep [Wed] and celebrate World Tourism Day in style!! #WTD2017 #responsibleluxury #ITCHotels 

ITC Grand Chola 
#63, Mount Road, 
Guindy, Chennai
Ph- 044 2220 0000

Disclaimer: The reviews posted on this blog are based on my personal experience. Also remember these were just my views!! Remember, no two palates are the same. Bon Appétit 🙂

Drama in the sky, Pangong Tso, Leh

We were at Pangong Tso, and after that eventful morning [read about it in earlier post], I was up at my usual time of 5.30am.. Peeked out of the tent and saw it was not too dark outside. Picked up my camera and got out, walked down the road a few yards and stood mesmerized and boy oh boy was I in for a treat. The sky was on fire, well it looked like a volcano ready to erupt and go kapoowwww…. I looked around, none of the others were up. Wanted to wake up the photographer boy in the next tent but before that I had to do a quick visit to the pitstop. When i got back, I saw he was up and his gear was on the chair- tripod, jacket, scarf, shawl, camera & a pack of cigarettes.. lol. But then in a matter of minutes, sun had risen and the sky was blah, gone was the drama and jazz… Well, I sure was glad to have caught the sight…
Clicked a few more shots, told him I was going back to bed and caught an hour of sleep.. When I was out again, the sky was completely different.. It was bright, clouds had moved away, and well it was clear as can be… Here are a few 

For more beautiful skies, visit Skywatch Friday

Oktoberfest at 365 AS, Hyatt Regency

Bring on the party…. that seemed to be the theme of the 6th Oktoberfest at The Arena in 365 AS at Hyatt Regency..  The atmosphere was buzzing, food was aplenty and beer kept flowing…. From the minute the festival was opened by the German Consulate general, beer flowed free across the tables. 

I spotted guys dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits- Trachten shirts paired with suspenders and troubers [ even though traditionally guys wear leather shorts] .. I did miss seeing the girls in their traditional  Dirndl dress and staff carrying tonnes of beer mugs in their hands.. These guys carried pitchers and poured beer into glasses that were empty/half empty.. 🙂 But they did a good job of keeping our glasses full at all times… lolz. 

There was german music, some dancing, and amazing food as well. I felt the veg spread was lot more this year and loved the salads and breads, not to mention the various kinds of mustard sauces on each table. Well, am not gonna go on.. Go have fun and let the beer do the talking… 

It offers the chance for locals to experience what it is like in Germany and to just chill, unwind after a long day! 

This festival is on till 7th October … 

Shades of blue at Pangong Tso, Leh

We had been on the road for about 4-4.5 hours.. Had driven through snow fall in Chang la and rains, and now the dark looming clouds seem to come with us to Pangong Tso as well. All along the route, we had the beautiful mountains keeping us company, and apart from that nothing else. When suddenly up ahead we saw a small patch of turquoise/blue amidst the mountains, we got quite excited. That was our first sighting of the gorgeous Pangong Tso [Pangong Lake]… 

It is the largest salt water [not as salty as what we see in the ocean but more than in a lake] lake stretching to about 135-km, located in the Himalayas at the height of approximately 4350m.. This lake is spread across India & China with only about 40% in India while remaining is in Tibet [controlled by China]. That afternoon, the lake shimmered in various shades of blue- turquoise, light blue, pale green, dark blue and other hues as well. The mountains and the sky with its brown blue hues added to the image making it look like a painting.  As we drove closer, it looked magical. 
The car swerved off the main path into the pebble path all the way to the camp site. It was a bumpy ride, but who cares when the accompanying view /element is so breath taking. Pangong Tso is one of the largest brackish lakes in Asia.
Ah, finally we reached the campsite and well, lets just say if you land here without a plan, you will find accommodation [ there are a gazillion camp sites strewn within a few kms of the lake]. We were staying at Pangong Holiday camp, the tents were quite comfortable and we quickly freshened up and that is when the cold slowly started sinking in. Of all the places we visited, Pangong was by far the coldest.. The hills, snow, the water- well, you get the picture! Ordered some hot tea, drank it while enjoying the warmth of the mugs before adding layers and getting ready to head to the lake.
The lake was a short downhill walk from where we stayed, and the path was completely pebble based. The view that awaits you is something that needs to be experienced. The water was still in shades of blue and brrr cold… There were piles of stones stacked up along the water, others who had set up their tripods and shooting images/timelapse videos and then there were some just walking up and down enjoying the place and silence. Occasionally we would see a trail of trucks coming in from China. 
After about two hours here, we decided to head back. The walk is uphill and the winds are brutal, adding to the cold. The evening was spent chilling outside our tents, followed by hot dinner in the dining area and some fun later on. 
I dint sleep much and around 4.30 heard some shouting outside the tent. Woke up with a jolt, staying still trying to make sense of what was happening outside. Sounded like some people were being chased by some animal and they kept screaming “bachao bachao [help help] … The sound died in a while and I went back to sleep.. The next morning, during breakfast we came to know that some kids from nearby camp got scared seeing the dogs and ran helter skelter screaming. Wonder what they were doing out at that hour?! Stupid kids!! 
So anyways I woke up as always at 5.30 and stepped out to see what the lake looked like at sunrise and must say it was quite different.. Well, that is reserved for another post! 😀
But then will talk about how we stopped at the infamous spot where 3idiots climax scene was shot and how it is being marketed… After breakfast, we were back on the road headed to Leh. Enroute, we stopped at this spot just for some photographs and see what was happening as we spotted groups of people busy with cameras.. Looks like this is where couples come to take photoshoots. I even spotted the couple who flew with us from Delhi. There was a photographer, one other guy controlling a drone and these two all decked up in finery. 
We also saw couples riding around in the yellow vespa [ featured in the movie] with video/photo being taken of the same. Damn, the things people do~ Shaking our head, we walked to the edge of land, stood there awhile [till more couples came and took over], clicked some photographs before bidding adieu to Pangong.. 
For now, feast your eyes on what we saw and enjoyed.. 

Skywatch Friday… Where to stay in Leh- Lazakar Guest house, Leh

Where did you stay, how was the place, was it comfortable or did you have to rough it out… are some questions thrown at me from the time I have come back … So, here goes..
We stayed at this awesome place called Lzakar Guest house..  What makes it awesome? Read on to know… 
This was the first time I was doing a trip through a travel group and they had organised everything so well, we did not have to think/worry about anything! First up was the accomodation in Leh. We got off the airport, piled into an Innova and within minutes reached a lane that seemed to be flooded with listing various Guest house names. I wondered which one was ours.. No sooner did I think that, we turned into an alley which led to a gate. Up above I saw a board saying “Lzakar Guest House”. 
It looked a lot like a cozy cottage, there was a garden in the front and a small seating area with a room next to it [which I discovered was the kitchen]. There are rooms on the ground and 1st floor, the 2nd floor was just the terrace. Rooms were all spacious, with twin beds, two chairs, a TV, cupboard and a decent bathroom [ more than just clean]. The place came with hot water round the clock, wifi [that worked for most of the time] and enough blankets to keep you warm on cold nights. That apart, there were rooms that opened to the mountains [I managed to snag a room on this side when we came back from Nubra valley..heehaww.. such cheap thrills in life..This was our pitstop when we returned to Leh after a day tour to nearby places. ]

The place is located about 2-3 km from Main Bazaar and so is within walking distance from most shops and restaurants. The market is also strewn with travel agencies in case you are looking for some information or local tours.  

The two ladies who managed the kitchen were super friendly, sweet and always had a smile on their faces. The minute they would see one of us, they would come asking if we wanted anything… Both breakfast and dInner was served piping hot, and every dish was delicious. 
Breakfast was bread toast, omelette, or poha with tea
Dinner was roti, rice, a vegetable, a daal [which was out of the world] and egg curry/chicken [if there was a request]
What more do you need right? We had the run of the place, and it was full of surprises.. There was an apricot tree right next door and we did manage to snag quite a few fresh fruits. The vegetable garden had Cauliflower, cabbage, local saag, onions and tomato. There was also an apple tree, must say the apples were yummm .. 

Here are a few captures from the guest house… [taken during the 8days we were in Leh]

   Lzakar Guest house

Thiksey Monastery…

Still reeling from the beauty of Shey Palace, we got back on the road towards Thiksey Monastery which was a few kms down the road. After a while on the road, we turned left into the most beautiful road that went uphill. All along the way, we spotted stupas lined up with colorful flags on them.  And within minutes we had reached the parking lot of the Monastery. 

Once again, this too was situated atop the hill and involved a bit of walking, climbing and marching through flights of stairs. This beautiful Buddhist monastery is the largest monastery in central Ladakh and was set up by the Gelukpa monks.

Within the Thiksey monastery we found Lakhang Nyerma, a temple dedicated to Goddess Dorje Chenmo  Apart from Lakhang Nyerma there are a few other shrines inside the monastery complex. Basically, this Monastery consists of two main buildings with steep stairs leading up to the Buddha.

It is a massive twelve storey monastery complex with a number of stupas, statues, thankas and wall paintings. There is also a large pillar engraved with the Buddha’s teachings. There is also a museum many sacred items besides a royal sword among other precious objects are on display. 

While making my way up, I kept stopping to click pictures, admire the writings on the wall and also say hi hello to fellow travellers. Met a lady who was here from Orissa, another duo from Europe and the first question they ask is “So how many days were you sick after landing here?”. I would reply”none, i was alright” they would gape and share their story, of how many days they were violently ill before moving on… 
 Also met the lady I had met earlier at Shey Palace [she was part of a large group of women who had travelled from Mumbai, about 3 of them were very unwell and back in the guest house, while 6-8 of them were out exploring town.. all of them were 60+.. I was quite amazed and impressed with them]

As per tradition of Buddhist monastic orders, the successive Lamas are believed to be reincarnations of the original Lama.. The successive reincarnations of the Skyabje Khampo Ringpoche act as Head Lama of this monastery. The main prayer hall has a 15 meter high seated Maitreya Buddha statue spanning across two stories of the building… The prayers are held early in the morning. The one amazing thing about the Buddha statue here is that he is unusually portrayed as seated in the lotus position rather than his usual representations as standing or in a sitting posture on a high throne..

When inside one of the shrines, we spotted many silver and stainless steel bowls filled with water. Alongside was a box where people had put donation in form of money [ across currencies could be spotted here] and then there were boxes of tropicana juice, parle g biscuits or just individual cookies and chocolates. We assumed these were all offerings to the God by devotees. But i was curious about the bowls of water and so when i spotted a monk walk into the place, I decided to ask him. Oh and he put his feet on the torn piece of clothe and waked using them as a base. [conversation took place in hindi]

Me: Hello, can we have a minute of your time?
He: Are you from India?
Me: Yes, am from Chennai.
He: Then say you are an Indian [Bharatiya] . How can I help you.You all know hindi right?
Me: Yes
He: Ok, ask
Me: What is the significance of these bowls of water?
He: Well, Buddha believes all people are equal, no disparity based on money or status and so people are welcome to give whatever they can as offering.  if he began differentiating between people, we would stop believing in him. 
The silver and stainless bowls are bought by our monks whenever they travel. Water is an offering by the devotees. In case they cant afford anything, they can choose to fill the bowls. Normally these bowls would be in count of 7. 
Me: Ah nice. 
Another question, why are you walking on cloth and not on the floor?
He: So that I dont step on anything on the ground, the cloth would swish it away.Knowingly wont hurt anything.
Me: Thank you! 

Once again, we were mesmerised by the burst of colours across the monastery. Yellow, red, blue, green, you name it, they were all there – on the walls, pillars, and everywhere else as well. 

After a good few hours wandering this monastery, we were finally ready to head back down. The steps seemed easy and all we heard was silence around us. There were hoards of people making their way up to the monastery.. Some were taking a break near the first flight of steps in the shade [of the prayer bell]. There was a store near the entrance with some souvenirs, books etc… priced higher than what you find in the local market! 

Can read more on Wikipedia- Thiksay Monastery

Leh- Settling in and wandering through Shey Palace

The few people I spoke to [who had been to Leh] told me to take it easy the 1st day, and pop a pill [Diamox] to help with any acclimatisation issues . Since Leh is at 11000 ft above sea level, our body takes a bit of time to settle in. The whole high altitude and less oxygen levels could prove hard for some- dizziness, vomiting, nausea, difficulty breathing etc are some of the symptoms. Not to forget the dip in temperature!! And so I was prepared, armed with meds and clear thoughts in the head. 
The flight landed in Leh around 11 am and we reached the Lzakar Guest house within 10 mins and are shown our rooms. It is a quaint guest house that has about 8 rooms across ground & 1st floor.The rooms are big, spacious and beautiful.. the ones in the front side have a view of the hills while others have a view of buildings around. All rooms had two beds, a TV and a clean bathroom with hot hot hot water through the day.. We checked in, and decided to just chill that day. Some slept, while I watched TV for a while before snoozing off for an hour or so. Woke up, got downstairs and went out towards the market for a short walk. 
The main Leh market is just under 1.5kms from the guest house and since it was daytime, I went for a stroll. All the while my brain is sending me signals saying “go slow”, “take it easy”, “you wouldn’t wanna fall ill on the 1st day and ruin the holiday”. So I paid heed to it and go back to the room within a hour for more chilling. In the evening we all caught up for tea, followed by dinner. The temperatures had dipped further, to around 8degrees and we could feel the chill in the air.  We were all wearing a few layers, inners and sweaters/jackets, socks, gloves etc… 
The next day was when the holiday began officially, with the agenda being to explore Leh – Shey Palace, Thiksey Monastery  and Shanti Stupa … We were up early, and ready to leave by 8am having gobbled down a few slices of hot toast and omelette, and couple of cups of tea. Bundled up, packed our backpacks, water bottles, snacks and we were off. 
After being on the road for about half hour or so, we reached the parking zone for Shey Palace. As with all buildings in Leh, this too was situated atop a hill. It was almost like the forts we find across our country, how they are all situated beyond reach and you need to put in effort to get there. 
Across the palace was a water body with lush green grass and it was quite a sight from the top. We got off, carrying just out back.. The path is long and winding before you see a flight of steps up to the main building. You really have to crane your neck to get a full view of the palace. There are numerous prayer wheels along the trail which suggest the existence of a monastery within the  royal palace.

The village ‘Shey’ was the old capital of the upper Ladakh. The Shey Monastery [Gompa] and the Shey Palace complex are mostly in ruins now, was built first in 1655, near Shey village, by the king of Ladakh, Deldan Namgyal [or Lhachen Palgyigon as he was called]. Infact this palace was used as a summer retreat by the kings of Ladakh. However, back in 1834 the royal families abandoned the Shey Palace and Leh Palace due to invasion of Ladakh by Dorga forces of General Zorawar Singh and moved to Stok Palace [ located at about 13Km from Shey Palace]. Today, Shey Palace is a historical monument and is maintained and managed by the Archeological Survey of India.

The Palace is famous for two things- it has the largest Namgyal Chorten (victory stupa) in Ladakh, the top of which is made of pure gold. Secondly, the monastery is renowned for its giant copper with gilded gold statue of a seated Shakyamuni Buddha [said to be the second largest such statue in Ladakh]. 

 As we walked down the winding path, my hands reached out the prayer wheels, spinning them one by one while my mind was wondering what it would have been like to live in a place like this….

I got Leh’d, the journey begins…

Every year, around June- Sep, there would be messages doing the rounds on the internet, across social media.. it would be like ants whispering to each other. I would read people talking about how they are off to Leh or just got back from Leh or how awesome it was, the various photographs from the locations, the movie 3 idiots and so much more. And every year, religiously I would look at them all, read the various experiences and sigh wondering when and if I would ever get a chance to get Leh’d. 
This year, around June I dont know what got into me, i started digging around to see if there were groups doing Leh trips, around Aug-Sep, somewhere around my bday! And I came upon quite a few of them, wrote to them, got details, tried making sense of the itinerary and finally zeroed in on one that suited my needs- it was a small group, dates were Aug 27 – Sep 4 and it did not cost an arm, leg or a kidney!! 
Who was the winner that got me as a traveller? This company called Justwravel, based in Noida.. They were doing trips to Leh in batches and thus began my mail exchange with a person from the company. I asked non stop nonsense questions to which he patiently answered.. Payments were made, plans were being made [in my head] and well excitement mounted. 
And probably for the 2nd time this year, I told more than just 2 people where I was headed [even though there was the tiny voice in my head screaming at me every time I shared the update with someone… I have a history where plans just fall apart last minute and go kaput]
Meanwhile, a grand uncle along with 2 friends [all of them 65+] and an uncle [late 40s] were off to Leh but they were headed for a serious Trek expedition of about 75kms. They had been training for a while and all that jazz. Now when gramma heard of this she was sure I was going off on something similar and was gonna not come back and was quite paranoid. I had to then show her youtube videos of Leh and the places around that I would be chilling in to calm her down… 🙂 
This time, I decided not to go berserk shopping, but instead did the smartest thing I have done ever in life. Borrowed stuff from friends- bag, jacket, wooden thermals and cap. Ta da… And with that I was all set to go off..
Phew!! Am so kicked I made a start on the blog series.. More to come.. stay tuned..