Shopping Destination : Firozabad, UP, India

A couple of years back, I saw these Turkish lamps at the India International Trade Fair and was fascinated by their colorful mosaic almost stain-glass beauty. I was in two minds to buy them as they were on the expensive side, and finally let go of them.

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Years later I chanced upon a similar lamp at a small wholesale shop on NH2 at Firozabad. This Uttar Pradesh town is know for glass bangles and is now crafting intricate glass lamps that dazzle in homes in countries like Kuwait, Spain, Dubai, Australia, France, and the US.

 

I was surprised to know that almost 70 percent of the country’s small-scale glass production is concentrated in this district of Uttar Pradesh. This town is know for the unique skill that involves recycling rejected and damaged glass articles and making beautiful glass bangles. Today, the glass-industry of Firozabad has evolved so greatly that it’s difficult to keep track of the number different things that are produced here.

Although the shops don’t serve as a retail market for its glassware like lamps per se, Firozabad nevertheless makes for a great shopping destination because one can pick up exquisite items at a fraction of the cost that they will be sold at once they hit the store shelves in the cities.

The owner of the shop, where we got our lamps said that, they have so many different kinds of artifacts that it is not possible to display everything. Understandably so, in their shops one would therefore find only sample pieces – one of each kind.

I picked up a bunch of things. Of course the lamps, this one has already found its place. I also got some glass bottles meant for perfume, but I will use it to serve olive oil on the table, I also got these colorful jars for something I haven’t decided yet.

Firozabad mozaic turkish lamp

Pro-tip: Check everything. Each glass, each bottle, each lamp or whatever it is you are buying. Everything is handmade and will have little defects, although at the price you are getting them for you may let go of most of them.

Check out my store LuckyDuck to see lots more.

Shopping Destination : Dilli Haat, New Delhi, India

IF you had just two days to spend in Delhi and just a couple of hours to shop – Traditional, Indian, Artistic, Authentic and mostly Handmade, visit Dilli Haat. One stop shop for souvenir shopping from India.

 

Breezy summer evenings and sunny winter days were made for strolling around the beautiful things India has to offer. A joint collaboration between the New Delhi Municipal Corporation and the Delhi Tourism and Transportation Department, the basic idea of setting up this crafts bazaar was to promote the Indian handicrafts industry and Indian cuisine. There are now two Dilli Haat in Delhi.  the original one at INA, Aurbindo Marg  and the relatively new one at Pitam Pura near the TV tower.

Stamp Dilli-Haat-Gate

 

SHOPPING

Most handicraft bazaars are filled with Kashmiri and Gujrati handicrafts, but in between those Dilli haat offers a taste of Assama & Naga hand-loom, Bihar Silk, Odissa lamps, silver jewelery, ceramic pottery, Punjabi phulkari and I can go on and on.

Originally, you could see the artists in action on their current project, it was intended to promote artisans and give them an outlet to sell their handcrafted things. Now, I mostly see traders and some people are almost permanent there.

DH - block printing

My tip – Shop for the unusual & Bargain Bargain Bargain !!

Almost everyone loves to get a great bargain. The thrill of getting a great deal on a purchase is addictive. Here is how i do it. First, Think how much you would pay for something you like before asking the price. That’s your maximum. Now ask the price, quote 60% of it and see the reaction.  Most of the time you will get your best price, especially if you go on the last day of the festival which is generally 15 or 30th of the month. As the artisans don’t want to pay the cartage to take things back.
And then sometime, I just pay more than they ask – to appreciate the artist, support the art or motivate them to come again.

EATING
There is a selection of food from many about 20 different states. In fact, there was a time I visited Dilli Haat for eating and not shopping. Yes, there was a time when I wasn’t interested in shopping!! The food is not as good as it used to be.The most popular eats are momos, fruit beer and the state specific thallis. The prices have increase from college day but INR 500 still gets you a couple things. My current favorite stalls are Maharashra & Sikkim.

SELLING
Not only is this a great place to shop, its a great place to sell. If you have a collection you would like to showcase, get a stall here, its relatively inexpensive & 15 days gives you a good opportunity to connect with shoppers. more info here.

What I love about Dilli Haat is that it is clean, festive, strollers friendly and inspirational. And like someone said – it’s a one-stop-shop for one of the best representations of what’s out there as far as handicrafts goes!  Plus it has a  play area for kids at the back. Its walking distance from the INA metro station and it fits everyone’s budget. What more can one ask for !!

Here is the official info on How to get there? and Other stuff.

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Riding on the clouds – Panchgani

My first visit to Panchgani (and Mahabaleshwar) was also my first real ride on my new Motorcycle, the Royal Enfield Thunderbird. This was back in 2004 and I still remember the planning I put in for that. Of course, I was new to Pune and didn’t know anything about any highway around the city and this was my first trip out of the city. My planning was almost flawless.

Considering that Panchgani is just about 100 kms from Pune, the planning was overkill, but its better to be prepared than Sorry, right ?

A ride to Panchgani has almost become a thereupatic session for me now. I go to Panchgani whenever I want to escape the maddening city crowds (Although, it doesn’t really help when, on a long weekend, Panchgani is swamped with tourists from across the state) and the monotony of office life.

A trip to Panchgani/Mahabaleshwar during the monsoons is a plus. Fabulous views and awesome weather (if you like the rains). The small town covered with monsoon clouds looks absolutely stunning.

The Route

To save all you readers the planning, here is the gist of it. Panchgani is about 105 kms from Pune. Take the NH4 (Pune – Satara – Bangalore) highway out of Pune. Cross the katraj and khambatki ghats and about 85 kms from Pune you’ll see a small blink-and-you’ll-miss-it signboard directing you to a right turn on the highway towards Panchgani.

From here on the nice and broad national highway gives way to a small and winding state road which passes through a small town called Wai, before climbing up the Panchgani ghats. The road is well maintained all the way and you’ll be hard pressed to find a pot hole even in the worst of the monsoon season.

As an aside, considering the amount of rain this part of the country gets, I wonder how our municipal council leaders even have the cheek of blaming the monsoons whenever they’re questioned about the bad quality of the roads in our cities.

Places to Stay

Panchgani has lots of options to suit every budget. My wife and I usually stay at the Eco-camp whenever we visit and if we’re there during the rainy season, than Hotel Mountview it is.

Camping has never been more fun or convenient – Eco-camp provides the bare essentials of modern living and the thrill of camping. Our visits to this place have always been delightful. It has a couple of spacious tents neatly setup on a cliff, over looking the most spectacular view of the valley. They have family tents which accomodate 8 people and small two person tents also. The tents also have electric points good enough for plugging in the mosquito repellant or mobile chargers. The loos are cubical type, clean and with hot water available.

The best part about the place is the Barbeque area/ bonfire (wood and stuff was provided), so it’s a good idea to bring some marinated stuff. The tariff is about Rs.150 per head. (02168-241164 meg_andre@hotmail.com, ask for Megan).

Don’t miss the sunset, when you’re there.

Another great place to stay is Hotel Mountview. Words from a friend of ours “Hotel Mountview  -Khambatta’s Garage – the most awesome’est place to be at, in Panchgani …. Parsi out of this world food, a view to die for and much much more…Anyone whose been there can vouch for this :)”. Again its not very expensive & a lot of fun. I can assure you of good food, which is included in the tariff (about Rs 800/day).

Panchgani is known for the many british style boarding schools and the excellent strawberries, not in the same order, of couse 🙂

Drive down a couple of kilometers from the town towards Mahabaleshwar and you can have a lovely Lunch at the Mapro farm. The cheese sandwiches, pizzas and strawberry creams are out of this world. Don’t forget to buy some fresh Jam and syrups for yourself.

The Politics of Indian Politics

Ashok Chakra - Emblem of India

One of the good things about being a blogger is that I can always pen down(keyboard down ?) my thoughts whenever I want to. I can write about a subject and give my opinion on it. Hell, I think even having an opinion is one of the greatest benefits of blogging.

Those who know me, know that I don’t really care much about Politics. Politics, for the most part, bores me. And when it doesn’t bore me, I find it too predictable.

But, the last few months have even made me take notice.

First the hulla over the Nuclear deal, then the Amarnath controversy in Srinagar, then the Amarnath controversy in Jammu, then back to Srinagar and then Back to Jammu. In between all this, Raj thakeray managed to bring badass Mumbai to its knees – More than any terrorist attack. Oh yeah, the Nuclear deal tried to rear it’s head once in between again but that didn’t provide a lot of masala, so no one bothered much

And how can I forget the Singur crisis. Mamata Bannerjee and her troupe and the excellent show they put up. I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple of dozen incidents around the country but this should be the gist of it.

I’ve written about the Nuclear Deal earlier and my status quo on the deal still stands. I understand how the deal is good for the country but I still don’t understand how  is it bad. I understand that the left and the BJP are concerned that India will not be able to test any more Nuclear weapons after the deal, and there was an internal US govt. memo that was leaked which also said this, but how many Nuclear weapons is the BJP govt. planning to test anyway.

The last time (before the deal) we tested a weapon, India was virtually ostracized from the international community. All aide was more or less cut and the US put sanctions on US. Isn’t that the exact same scenario which the left/bjp is fearing will happen now (after the deal) ? So, what has changed ? We couldn’t clearly conduct tests then and we can’t conduct them now ?

International politics is dirty business, I agree, but is internal politics any cleaner ? The Amarnath board controversy is probably the ugliest political game I’ve ever witnessed in the country. The ugliest ever, although I’m assuming given my young age ( !! ), I’m missing out some even juicier political games played in the past.

The controversy basically started over a piece of land which  was being used by the Hindus during the 2 month long Amarnath yatra. Every year since the last couple of decades thousands makeshift tents are put up for pilgrims who stay here on their way to the Amarnath caves. The government this year decided that since the Amarnath shrine board is pretty rich, they’ll transfer this forest land, which was not being used for any other purpose anyway, to the shrine board and ask them to make permanent structures for the pilgrims to stay and stuff.

Now, as soon as the government spoke about permanent structures, all hell broke lose. Seperatist parties and leaders started calling this as a crime against the muslims and the people of the valley and basically started protesting that the government is transferring Kashmiri land to the Hindus. There were protests all over the valley and over this controversy the Chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir had to resign. The government took back the order.

Now, the Hindus in Jammu (assisted by the BJP, of course) started protesting demanding for the government to revoke the order which revoked the land transfer. The protests this time went for another couple of weeks. Well, the government now spoke to leaders of both the sides and declared that they’ve come to a solution. The solution was to give the ownership of the land for about two months each year during the yatra to the Shrine board and the rest of the time, the land is with the forest department as usual. That stopped the protests to a bit, but have the so called seperatists and the other protesting people realised that this is exactly the arrangement that was there before this whole controversy started ?

Th seperatists (led by the PDP party) took this whole controversy to stage yet another Pakistan Chalo (Walk to Pakistan) drama, but atleast they’re honest about their intentions. The BJP, on the other hand, will never claim responsibility for what they started in Jammu. They’re happy supporting the hinduists from the sidelines and waiting for the next general elections, while they all kill themselves fighting over something they don’t even fully understand.

Do you guys really blame me for not being interested in Politics ? And I haven’t even started talking about Raj Thakeray and Mamata Bannerjee yet. Oh, the bihar floods and the attacks on Christians in Orissa.

Holiday Destination – Gulmarg

 

My favorite mountain resort in India is most definitely Gulmarg. Like Barney from HIMYM would say… Gulmarg’s beauty is LEGENDARY.

Srinagar, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir is the nearest Airport and Gulmarg is about 2 hours from Srinagar.

It’s proximity to Srinagar makes it easily accessible and visitors flock from far and near to take in its splendor. The journey to Gulmarg is half the attraction of reaching there, in any season. In the summer the sight of the rolling hills sprinkled with wild flowers makes Gulmarg look like a Van Gogh painting and in the winter it’s like a clip from Dr Zhivago with snow covered fields and houses.

My love affaire started with Gulmarg started about 20 years ago when I went there to visit my dad, who was posted there, during my summer vacation. I have the fondest childhood memories of the place. Horse-riding, picnics next to the streams and non-stop games … something I’ll remember forever. I even tried learning golf and have a scar on the left eyebrow to prove it (the golf club flew from my friend’s hands … ;).

From what I’ve heard, Gulmarg does not have any permanent residents. All people living in Gulmarg are hotel employees and guests. Everyone else is required to leave the village by sunset, as per the curfew rule set in 1990.

I am probably among the lucky few to have visited Gulmarg twice in the same year 🙂 My most recent trips were in March & August this year.

Gulmarg is not merely a mountain resort of exceptional beauty- it also has the highest green golf course in the world, at an altitude of 2,650 metres ASL, and is the country’s premier ski resort in the winter. Jan to March is the tourist season for skiing and June to Sept for golfing/ getting away from the heat of the plains. 

If you go to Gulmarg and don’t go for the Gondola ride you really have missed something. And make sure you go up to the second phase of the ride. You’ll get to see ultimate views of the Srinagar valley. As everywhere in the mountains, the weather changes in minutes & sunny Florida can turn into gloomy London. So, you definitely need luck on your side.

Another must do while at Gulmarg – Lunch at the Hotel Highland Park. It is a heritage Hotel overlooking the Golf Course and is one of the oldest hotels in Gulmarg. We had a mini wazawan (a full wazawan is a 36-course wedding banquet ) on our last visit.

I can still smell the roganjosh (a rich red coloured gravy with a generous doze of Kashmiri chillies), Yakhni (a curd based, cream coloured preparation) & Gushtaba (meatballs moulded from pounded mutton like large-sized Rista but cooked in thick gravy of fresh curd base) and the vegetarian delights like Dam-Aaloo and Guhchi (local mushrooms). The flavors of Kashmiri food are unlike anything else you’ll taste elsewhere in India.

Indian Politicians and the Nuclear Deal – The left (and right) of it

The last few days have been pretty exciting for the Indian media. The govt. (or the lack of it) has been making a lot of news lately. The Left and the BJP has been holding press conferences right, left (pun intended) and center (against the central govt., of course) and providing enough fodder for the mainstream news channels, newspapers and Indian bloggers, like me.

I’ve been trying to follow the saga of the Nuclear deal since a long time and I still don’t understand why is the Left against it. Is it only because the deal is being signed with the US of A ? And why is the BJP against it ? Only because the deal is being signed by the ruling coalition government ?

What I do understand is that the deal would ensure that India is able to purchase fuel for its Nuclear reactors. Which would mean that that India can build more civilian reactors and atleast solve the perpetual power crisis in our cities to a certain degree. Would the Left please care to answer how is that a bad thing ? Do they have any other solution to the energy problem that India faces ?

Sagarika Ghose has written an excellent article on how relevant the Left is to a modern India and I tend to agree with her viewpoint. I cannot believe that such politicians can even be allowed to exist. I understand India is a democracy and the politicians have a right to be, well, politicians, but seriously, there should be some laws against the Left parties !

Would someone care to let me know in the comments how the nuclear deal is bad for India. I haven’t seen any coverage of the views of the media on the deal. All the various channels/newspapers have been doing is reporting stupid politicians talking in favor for or against the deal. Can we have some real views please ?