Dabeli and Vada Pav, the Western Indian Street Food from Chachaji at Secunderabad

Prenderghast Road in Secunderabad, better known as Sindhi Colony, is a popular destination for street food, especially for good quality vegetarian snacks. From pizzas to special dosas, kulfis to chaat, the road has people flocking to try them out in the evenings. One street food cart that does brisk business is Chachaji, which is widely known for the two snacks it sells - Dabelis and Vada Pav from Western India.

The owners relocated to Hyderabad from Gujarat more than a decade ago, and the cart has been operational since 2004. The husband Kantilal Kanabar is a Gujarati, and his wife Megha a Maharashtrian, this has helped them to offer the two most popular snacks from these two states. The shop was named Chachaji and the owners are known in the neighbourhood as Chachaji and Chachiji since then. The recipes are kept as authentic as possible and use fresh as well as good quality ingredients. In fact, all the chutneys are prepared at home every day and brought to the shop. 

Dabeli is a snack from the Kutch region of Gujarat. The literal meaning of the word is “pressed” in Gujarati, and the hot and sweet snack has a vegetarian filling with masalas, chutneys, and sev inside a pav. The taste comes mainly from the composition of the masala and chutney which are usually proprietary recipes of well-known dabeli joints.  The filling at Chachaji has potatoes, dry fruit pastes, and fresh fruits like pomegranates and apples. There are two varieties of chutneys. The first is made from garlic and dry red chillies, whereas the other has tamarind and dates in it. The peanuts used here in the masala are the larger-sized ones brought from Bharuch in Gujarat, as that variety is tastier.

Vada Pav, on the other hand, is a Maharashtrian delicacy very popular in Mumbai, as a snack that can be consumed on the go. The snack came up as a quick meal for the mill workers of central Bombay in the seventies. A deep-fried batata vada or potato dumpling is served inside a pav or bun and served with chutneys and sautéed green chillies. 

At Chachaji, the Vada Pav is a little spicier than what you get in Mumbai, keeping the Hyderabadi palate in mind.  The vada has ginger, garlic, and red chillies apart from mashed potato, which is fried after coating with besan. A sweet and spicy chutney is layered inside the pav before adding the vada. A special chutney having curd, moong dal, and chillies is served with it, apart from the usual tamarind one. 

Chachaji opens his shop in the late afternoon and operates till night. The timings vary a bit depending on the season. The shop has such a good reputation that people travel distances to try out the food there. Both the vada pav and the dabeli are priced at Rs 50 each. He even offers to customize the spiciness depending on the customer's palate. 

About a couple of years back, they also started offering Pav Bhaji and Misal Pav, two other famous dishes of Mumbai and Maharashtra. Both are priced at Rs 100.

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Mangaldhara Tourism Property, Barrackpore: A Lovely Staycation off Kolkata

 As we visit Kolkata frequently from our base in Hyderabad and stay out there for longish stints, we often have the urge to explore for a couple of days outside the city. This January, we were looking at a short staycation somewhere close to the city, and our friends suggested Mangaldhara Tourism Property at Barrackpore, a resort run by West Bengal Tourism.

Mangaldhara is located about 25 km from Kolkata, very near Gandhi Ghat in Barrackpore. I had never been to Barrackpore before but passed the railway station innumerable times en route to my uncle’s place at Kalyani during my childhood. The property is bang on the bank of the Hooghly River. Our web investigation reported that the resort has two varieties of rooms – river-facing and those not facing the river. There are also a couple of houseboats each having four river-facing rooms. Our friends had explicitly told us to book river-facing rooms on the first floor, and through the website https://wbtdcl.wbtourismgov.in/ booking was a breeze. We planned for a two-night stay in end-January.

We had reached Kolkata a couple of days back. The hectic days of a relative’s marriage made us pine for some solitude, and as a result, we were really looking forward to the short staycation. I had fond memories of local train travel three decades ago, and really wanted to do the Ballygunge – Sealdah – Barrackpore stretch by local train. However, the luggage with us made us unsure of whether we would be able to embark and disbark in the short time that a local train stops at a station. A lack of confidence overtook us, and we decided to make the journey by Uber Maharaj. The journey costing around Rs 900 took us through Maniktala, Shyambazar, and Dunlop in North Kolkata, followed by Belghoria and Sodepur. Within one and a half hours we were at the gate of Mangaldhara Tourism Property.

The property is adjacent to Gandhi Ghat. There is a park called Jawahar Kunj just next to it. Winter being picnic season in Bengal, the park was full of revelers with music blaring at high decibels. We checked in at the reception of the property and were promptly taken to our room on the second floor. The buildings are right on the Hooghly, with a narrow pathway in between. 

A metal bridge connects to a small jetty where the two houseboats are located. There is a small space in front of the bar and restaurant, where there are seats for enjoying the view of the river over a cup of tea. On the other side of the river, one could see the high-rises of Rishra

Our room on the first floor was spacious. The window overlooked the river, and as we found out in the evening, it provided a magnificent view of the sunset on the river. One must take care to book a river-facing room, it makes a lot of difference. One would have wished that the room window was bigger, maybe across the wall, it would have elevated the experience even more.

The restaurant on the ground floor serves breakfast, lunch, evening snacks, and dinner. Breakfast is included in the package, and is decent. You have a choice of Luchi-Chholar dal that I loved and repeated on the second day. They also serve your choice of eggs and a sweet. The restaurant is understaffed, but the staff present do work hard. In fact, overall we were satisfied with the service received in the property, it is much better than the apathetic attitude we get in the Harithas of Andhra Pradesh.  During lunch and dinner, you can order river fresh fish, we had a decent Pabda Maccher Jhol one afternoon, apart from the usual Bengali Thali which was again pretty good.

A full lunch and a sound sleep later, we were ready to venture out. The famed Annapurna Temple is only about a mile away and we decided to go there by foot. Just outside the resort, there is an auto and toto stand, from where you can get vehicles on contract to any part of Barrackpore. A shared service is also available to the railway station via the temple. Annapurna Temple was built as a smaller replica of Dakshineshwar Temple by the daughter of Rani Rashmoni. It is said that Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa was himself present on the day of its inauguration in 1875.

The temple was quite crowded in the evening. After praying to the deity in the main temple, we also visited the six Aatchalas in the background. Behind the temple is the temple ghat from where we had a serene view of the sun setting on the Hooghly.

The next morning, we spent some time exploring the property, after which we travelled to the Dhobighat Ferry Station and took the ferry across Hooghly to the town of Serampore. Serampore was ruled by Denmark till 1845, after which it was sold to the British. The town still has a few old Danish-style buildings. We visited Danish Tavern close to the ghat. The property has been turned into a boutique hotel and is run by The Park Hotel. After a short tour of non-private parts of the property, we had lunch at the restaurant on the ground floor. While Chicken Snitzel was par for the course, I really liked the Bhetki in Lemon Butter Sauce. There is a Flurys branch right next to the hotel, and we bought some pastries on our way back.

We were also planning to visit Dada Boudir Hotel, a restaurant that has acquired a lot of fame in the last decade for its biryani. From a humble beginning, the place is now thronged by food lovers, with a permanent queue of people waiting in front of the restaurant. However, we changed the plan as my friend Sujit, whose home at Ichhapur we were planning to visit next told us that he would arrange to get the biryani delivered in his place. The biryani is very nice, but the spice combo is quite different from the Kolkata Biryani we are familiar with. One can call it an innovative take on the same. The quality of the meat is just outstanding.

In the evening, we enjoyed the sunset at Mangaldhara before going across to Masjid More area to visit a relative. The next day was the time to check out, with my dear friend Sujit picking us up for a visit to his family home that we had been planning for many years.

Mangaldhara Tourism Property is by no means a high-end place. There is no swimming pool, no spa, and no blah blah. But for the people who want to spend a quiet weekend living by the river, this is an ideal location to explore. 

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North East India - A Mishmash of Everything Fun


Most of the North Eastern region of India remains unsoiled by human invasion keeping the beauty intact. For an avant-garde experience book the North East Tour Packages and travel hassle-free to enjoy the bucolic charms of the landscapes. It is made up of stately hills and bewitching cultures simply waiting to be explored. Located in the core of Assam is the Kaziranga National Park which is home to the one-horned rhino and big cats like panthers, tigers and many species of birds. Cherrapunji and Mawsynram are situated at a distance of eighty kilometres apart, are renowned for being the dampest of places on earth and have beautiful trekking routes as well. Shillong also known as the Scotland of the East is an ideal place for a calming and detoxing vacation. Kohima in Nagaland is an enchantress with its beautiful lakes and World War II cemetery. Manipur is lovingly called the Switzerland of India with floating islands, exotic wildlife and tranquil landscapes. Nathula Pass located at a height of 14,450 feet was once a part of the Silk Route and is a perfect getaway from the maddening crowds with the Chinese border in near sight.


Avail of the Gangtok Tour Packages as you visit the capital state of Sikkim. Gangtok is located at the height of 1650 metres above sea level with an amazing view of Mt Kanchenjunga which is the world’s third highest mountain. It acts as a base camp for adventure junkies who are a group of campers and trekkers of the Himalayan mountain ranges. In March up to May blooming rhododendrons give the landscape a facelift with colourful flowers everywhere. Nathu La Pass is one of the highest motorable passes in the world. Located on the Indo-Tibetan border at 14450 feet and is known for its mesmerising beauty and beautiful environment. Tsomgo Lake is a high-altitude lake located on the Gangtok -Nathu La highway and is also popularly known as Changu Lake. The lake lies between the steep snow-covered mountains and a green rug of alpine woods. Belonging to the Kagyu sect of Buddhists is the Rumtek Monastery which lies on a hilltop twenty-three kilometres from Gangtok with a temple and a monastery for the monks.


Kaziranga National Park Assam

 The mysteries of the North East Tour Packages unfold as you reach Kaziranga National Park in Assam. This Indian national park resides on the banks of the Brahmaputra river and is famous for its one-horned rhinoceros Ganges river dolphins and tigers. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has dense forests, swampy lagoons and grass meadows for elephant grazing. Rich vegetation covers most parts of the national park which includes marshlands and tropical broadleaf forests. The park is a popular location for migratory birds which fly down from the north. The visitors can easily spot black nested storks,white-fronted geese and the ferruginous duck. Safaris are managed both during the day and night; even elephant rides are famous among tourists, wildlife photographers and enthusiasts. The park is divided into four zones -Kaziranga or Central range, Bagori or western range, Agratoli and Burapahar range. The western zone is regarded as good for elephant safari and rhino sightings and the eastern zone is considered ideal for water birds.


Cherrapunjee Meghalaya

The next destination of the Gangtok Tour Package glides you toward the living root bridges of Cherrapunjee. Besides being famous as the wettest place it is also known for these miraculous bridges which are an amalgamation of the human mind and the magic of nature. The bridges are sprawled across the city and are built on the roots of the trees. Jingkieng Nongrait is a Double Decker Living root bridge which is three kilometres long and has a height of 2400 feet as the Umshiang river flows underneath the bridge. The experience is one of a kind where you get to witness and walk making the visit worthwhile. For avid road travellers taking a drive through misty valleys and waterfalls of the region is a must as you reach the popular Nohkalikai Waterfalls. Visitors who are facing a crunch for time can visit the town of Dawki which lies on the border of Bangladesh and can enjoy clear water boating during the winter season. In the East Khasi district lies Asia’s cleanest village award winning village of Mawlynnong which is often regarded as God’s own garden. It becomes more beautiful during the monsoon season with flowers blooming near the waterfalls.


Tawang Monastery Arunachal Pradesh

Tawang monastery is the second biggest and oldest monastery in Asia which is located around two kilometres from the town of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh a perfect place for solace of the North East Tour Package. It is also known as the Tawang Ganden Namgyal Lhatse which is adorned with an eight-metre-high gilded statue of Lord Buddha and is located at a height of three thousand metres above sea level.  Monastery is believed to be four hundred years old and controls seventeen gompas. The monastery is also known for its 16th-century architecture and is home to nearly three hundred monks. The main attractions of the Tawang Monastery are the paintings and sketches of Bodhisattvas and a silk casket which is in reverence to Goddess Shri Devi. As it lies in the Himalayan ranges it encompasses a panoramic view of the Tawang -Chu valley. The library at the Tawang Monastery is well-stocked with priceless scriptures like Kangyur and Tengyur.


Loktak Lake Manipur

Next pit stop of the Gangtok Tour Package is Loktak Lake. The lake is known for its floating islands which are popularly known as Phumdis is situated fifty kilometres from Imphal. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes of North East India and also houses the floating National Park of Keibul Lamjao. Loktak Lake is located in the Bishnupur district of Manipur where the floating swamps are toured by a fisherman’s boat. The tranquil water, the maze of boat routes and the lush verdant surroundings topped with a glowing sunset are picturesque sites to behold. The lake and Sendra Island present a perfect marriage of freshwater lake whereas the island is made up of organic waste from the same lake.

Note: This is a guest post on the blog

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A Journey to Jordan: Amman, Petra and Wadi Rum

While I was very keen to travel to Egypt, Jordan was not specifically on my bucket list. But the fact that many friends have done these two together, and our travel organizer Travel with Neel had paired them were the reasons I decided to tag along. All that I knew about Jordan was Petra, a place that is among the New Wonders of the World.

Once the trip was finalized I started looking for more information, especially from trusted sources. This is where I heard about the Wadi Rum deserts, and quite a few of my friends were gaga about it. So, by the time I embarked on the trip, I was much more charged up about Jordan compared to earlier.

We traveled to Amman, the capital of Jordan by Royal Jordanian Airlines from Cairo. The Israel-Palestine war had resulted in tight security at the airports in the neighbourhood, and we faced multiple luggage checks and frisking at Cairo and Luxor airports. As we drove out of Amman airport in the evening, the country looked much cleaner and more developed than Egypt. We came to know that the Jordanian Dinar was one of the strongest currencies in the Middle East, and due to their booming exports of phosphates and other chemicals, it was a rich country.

We checked into Olive Hotel for the night, a decent place with very huge rooms. We would again spend a couple of days here towards the end of the trip. Compared to the places we stayed in Egypt, the food aspect here was a bit lacking. Another thing that we realized over the trip (which may be a wrong perception) is that the Jordanians are not as easygoing and friendly as the Egyptians, in fact, many are a bit grumpy. The attitude towards tourists is also not that welcoming.

The next morning was time to check out and move by bus towards the south of the country. Our first stop was Mount Nebo, mentioned in The Bible as a place from where Moses looked at the Promised Land. Most of the tourists were clicking pictures with the statue of a metal serpent that Moses invoked there. The church next to it is from the Byzantine period, adorned with some impeccable mosaic designs.

En route to our next destination Wadi Rum, we stopped at a store where among other artifacts Donkey Milk and Camel Milk Soaps were being sold. It seems these are good for the skin and even Queen Cleopatra of Egypt used to bathe in donkey milk. 

Soon, we entered the huge desert area and reached Wadi Rum in the evening, with an exquisite sandstone look replete with rock formations in the background. There are quite a few camps for tourists in the Wadi Rum desert, and we checked in one of the lovely rows of cottages at the Mazayen Camp. The huge tent where dinner is served seemed straight out of the desert films we had watched in our childhood, and the spread there was the best in our entire Jordan trip. Wadi Rum was the location where the film “Lawrence of Arabia” was shot.

Wadi Rum was a place that touched our hearts with its magnificent views. In the morning, we took an open jeep ride into the desert passing by hordes of camels on the way and marveling at the beauty of the yellow sandy landscape. This was a major highlight of our short Jordan trip. 

From Wadi Rum, we proceeded to the Lost City of Petra, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World announced in 2007, after a campaign selected them from 200 monuments. The rock-cut architecture of the lost city in South Jordan has really put the country on the world map. Built in the third century BC, Petra was part of the trader route between Europe and Asia.

We had a buffet lunch at Al-Qantara Restaurant in Petra city. This was a completely Arabic lunch with a live Falafel counter, and ambience of the restaurant was totally ethnic. In the afternoon, we went for a walk visiting the different shops near the Petra gate. We saw one place where camel meat-based dishes were being sold, but we were already too full to try that out. Our dinner at the hotel that night served Zarb, the traditional rice and meat delicacy from Jordan, where the meat is cooked Bedouin style in pits.

In the evening, we had the opportunity to take part in Petra by Night, a night walk with a group of about two hundred people through the rock city illuminated by a thousand candles. Petra by Night allows a limited number of visitors only three days per week, and it is not to be missed while visiting Jordan. It seems a very long and arduous walk and we had to rest for a while quite a few times, but the experience is exotic with the limited lights bouncing off the rocks and structures around. The walk culminated at Al Khazneh, the treasury of the ancient city, where a musical performance was held for a limited time. This definitely was another major highlight of our Jordan tour. 

Petra during the daytime becomes a hub of activities. We used buggy coaches to travel to the treasury and then explored the other buildings on foot. The city is huge and in a couple of hours, you can only cover a part of it. The whole area had a festive look with people screaming in Arabic, many small shops, horse-drawn coaches, and camels ferrying tourists around. 

From Petra, it was quite a long drive to Amman and we checked back at the same hotel Olive House in the evening. Though the hotel in Jordan (Olive Hotel) had huge rooms, the dinner buffet was kind of average.

There are quite a few places in and around Amman that merit a visit. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Jerash is the first. The city is supposedly there from the Neolithic age but came to full glory during the Greco-Roman period. The Arch of Hadrian, Colonnaded Street, the Hippodrome, and the theatre are some of the highlights here.

Bethany Beyond the Jordan is important as a pilgrimage center for Christians. This place, bang on the Jordan-Israel border is known due to the baptism of Jesus Christ by St John the Baptist. The Jordan River is only a few feet wide, and beyond that, we could see the Israel flag fluttering across the border. A visit here has to be done under strict vigilance by the Jordan army. There is an Orthodox Church near the site that impressed me.

We then proceeded to the Dead Sea, a salt lake near Amman. The mud pack therapy from the mud here is well-known and most of our group members had a bath in the salt-laden waters.

We also travelled to Amman City Centre and visited the 2nd Century Roman Theatre. The theatre which could accommodate six thousand people, now has an attached museum that gives a complete idea of the culture, dresses, and food of Jordan. We also tried the local dessert Kunafa from Habibah Sweets, where people queue up to buy the sweets. I have had Kunafa on many occasions in India, but this was far better.

On the final day our group split. One group went to the seaside resort of Aqaba, while some of us were booked in the evening Saudia flight to Hyderabad via Riyadh. The journey back was a bit of a bother with an unremarkable and uncomfortable night at Riyadh Airport waiting for the connecting flight, where the infrastructure was not up to the mark, including Wi-fi not working and poorly designed chairs. Actually, Indian metro airports are far better than all the airports we visited during the trip.

In my view, Jordan may not be worthwhile as a standalone trip, but if you are visiting a country near by, do add this to the itinerary. Wadi Rum and Petra will not disappoint you.

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