The word "khana" in Indian Khana Made Easy means food. So come on, let's explore and cook some easy Indian food together including gluten-free and vegan dishes.


Showing posts with label The Wonders of India. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Wonders of India. Show all posts

May 28, 2020

Reflections on Our Travel to the Motherland - A Bat Cave, Mini Taj and more

Last November, my husband and I traveled to Aurangabad to see the Ajanta and Ellora Caves and ended up seeing more than we imagined. 

Our driver (booked through Rajjas Travels and Tours Ltd) is local to the area and made our trip to this city and surrounding towns memorable in more than one way. He drove us to all the sights and to the best places to eat. 

We ate this 4-foot Paper Masala Dosa with potato curry and chutneys for breakfast at a roadside dhaba on the way to the caves. It was wonderful and filling. 

There are many such dhabas (roadside canteens) on the way and we recommend that you definitely dine at one of them. 

We also enjoyed tropical fruits that were in season, such as these sitaphal or custard apples below. 

A basket of Hanuman custard apples
A basket full of delectable Hanuman phal (a variety of custard apples)

What the inside of a custard apple looks like
When you break open a ripened custard apple, eat the fleshy part and take out the black seeds.

Don't they look so mouth-watering? Our driver took us to his family's roadside stall where they were selling these fruits and we got a great deal. We also bought some fruit at the stalls outside of Daulatabad Fort. 

The Daulatabad Fort is about 9 miles northwest of Aurangabad in a town called Daulatabad. It was once known as the invincible fort because of its impressive defenses and strategic traps laid throughout the fort. 

Entrance gate to Daulatabad Fort
Look at the spikes on this gate!

Just look at him grinning, standing next to the massive entrance gate. Before gunpowder, intoxicated elephants were used as a battering ram to break open the gates. The presence of spikes ensured that the elephants died of the injury. 

Those poor elephants. Where was P.E.T.A.?

As we walked through the entrance gate, we saw canons like the one below lined up against one side of the fort wall. 

I wonder if that is the "curb" appeal for the adventure buffs like my husband. He couldn't wait to go inside and explore the fort.

Below is a picture of Chand Minar or the Tower of the Moon. Chand Minar was inspired by Qutub Minar in Delhi. A small mosque sits at the base of the tower. You can see the tower from every corner of the fort. 

Chand Minar in the distant

The tower was closed so we couldn't peek inside. :( We moved onwards into the fort. It was a long walk up the fort with twists and turns and many, many steps. You must wear good walking shoes or sneakers for this trek. 

Michael on top of the Daulatabad Fort

Michael climbed on top of the fort's wall to get a better look at the view. He didn't say anything but I knew he was thinking, "I'm on top of the world." 

The view of Chand Minar from the top of Daulatabad Fort
You can see Chand Minar from every corner and touch it as well! hehe

Hello, honey. How's the view from up there?

There is a narrow set of steps that lead visitors up to the tippy top of this fort. Of course, my husband had to check it out. I, on the other hand, wanted to live to see the next day, so I decided to let him go up and took a picture of his great feat from below. 

The best and only part my husband seems to remember from our trip to the fort is what happened after we came up the stairs in the picture below:

About midway in the fort, there is an entrance into the cave...the Bat Cave to be precise. This cave was meant to confuse enemies. I'm sure it did precisely confused the hell out of me. It seemed to go on forever and reeked of bat guano. We were crawling through the cave because if you dared to look up, there were thousands of BATSSSS!!! 

I was hanging onto my husband for dear life and hoping nothing touched me. After what felt like an hour but it was really 5 to 10 minutes (depending on how slowly you are walking/crawling through the cave), we climbed up the stairs and into the open air. 

FREEDOM!!! I had never been so happy to breathe in my life. By the way, I'm sorry there aren't any pictures from inside the Bat cave. I really didn't want to die. 

If this is how I felt, can you imagine how the enemies felt back then? There must have been mass confusion. Not to mention that there was a massive moat around this fort. One wrong step and down you go into the moat filled with monstrous creatures. 

Another view of Chand Minar!

We had fun exploring this fort and learned more about its importance. Another gem in Aurangabad that is worth visiting is Bibi ka Maqbara:

Doesn't it remind you of the Taj Mahal? 

Although not as well known as the Taj Mahal, Bibi ka Maqbara ("Mini Taj") is important in its own right. It was commissioned in 1660 by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in memory of his first and chief wife, Dilras Banu Begum. 

As we walked along the path, it seemed like we were walking towards the Taj Mahal because of how it was constructed. The Taj Mahal is actually the "final resting place" or mausoleum of Aurangzeb's mother, Mumtaz Mahal. 

Michael and I enjoyed our 2.5 days stay in Aurangabad and explored as much as we could. We also indulged in the cuisine and seasonal fruits such as the many varieties of custard apples (regular, Hanuman phal, and chocolate), and pink guavas. We definitely recommend to all to visit Aurangabad and discover the historical gems in and around this city. 

Come back and visit our blog again as we will be sharing more stories from our trip to India last November, from Aurangabad we headed south to Hyderabad and Bangalore. 

January 2, 2012

The Wonders of India - Hyderabad

Charminar, oh what a beauty!

The last part of our India trip (November 2011) was spent in Hyderabad. It's my birthplace and favorite place to visit whenever we travel to the South. We usually spend time with family as well as do some local shopping. Many changes have occurred since our last visit...both good and bad. With the construction of the flyovers, it was easier to get around and cut travel time (specifically to and from the airport). However, during rush hour times, the traffic seems to have doubled and caused many delays.
The first couple days of the stay we spent getting acclimated with the city and bought groceries. Instead of staying in a hotel, we stayed at our grandmother's place. Near her building, there were a good number of groceries such as Spencer's and Reliance Fresh where we bought produce, snacks, and etc. There were also local shops or bodegas to get household items. It's important to remember that bargaining is essential here and not frowned upon.
When it comes to clothes shopping, there are lots of malls such as Lifestyle or City Center to get the latest fashions and accessories. If one is interested in fancy Indian clothes, we would recommend Neeru's by Banjara Hills. The staff is very courteous and helpful with whatever questions we had about the dresses. We bought a couple of party wear outfits (Anarkali style) and saris. Another trend in fashion now is antique finish costume jewelry and "blinge out" bangles and bracelets. There are a number of shops that sell good quality jewelry sets for a reasonable price. One of our favorite places to shop for bangles is Charminar Chudi Bazaar. Just look at the big smile on my face...

I'm Blingin' Out Baby!!
This picture was taken at Nazeer & Sons Bangles and's one of the biggest bangle shops in the market. I am styling my new purchase of  the gold and silver stoned kadhas (wide length bangles). Another market to purchase jewelry sets is Begum Bazaar. Please note that it is very crowded, so important to be mindful of your belongings.
Before I left for India, I made a list of all the fruits and goodies I wanted to try while I was there. On top of my list was Hyderabadi was really spicy but definitely worth it. The next few items were the savory snacks (made with rice flour/besan and fennel seeds).

We always get the most sought after savories from my grandmother's relatives. We inform them ahead of time of the quantity and pick them up on our visits. The last few days of the trip was spent relaxing and securing all our stuff into our luggage so there aren't any overages. It was definitely an exciting and busy trip filled with lots of new sights, eating, and family.

***Quick Tips:
- Other sights in Hyderabad are Buddha Island, Tank Bund, Salar Jung Museum, Golcanda Fort, and Necklace Road. Also try to go see a movie in one of the Imax theaters.
- Good restaurants/eateries: Eatmor inside Ohri's, Karachi Bakery (in Banjara Hills)

December 24, 2011

~A Big Fat South Indian Wedding~

One of my favorite movies is My Big Fat Greek Wedding. The key takeaways for me from the movie were that weddings are about tradition, bringing lots of families together and food. I guess that's what we have in common with the Greeks.
In India, weddings can span anywhere from 3-5 days including all the rituals. The guest list typically ranges from 400 to 2000 people. The larger figures are more common in smaller communities, where weddings are the key occasions for the parents to invite everyone they know including the community to bless the happy couple.  Nowadays the wedding ceremonies have become like a Bollywood movie; glitzy and over the top. One of my friends who recently got married told me his wedding was done at a large scale and even included fireworks for all the main events. I didn't believe him until he showed the pictures. The Indian weddings I've attended in the States are in no comparison to those abroad. My cousin's wedding was spectacular with all the frills and more. One example is that she arrived to the mandap (ceremonial stage) in a palanquin carried by all her uncles. Now that's what I call an entrance...

The wedding was one of the most memorable events of my trip. It was filled with lots of laughs, relatives I haven't seen in years, rich and traditional South Indian food, glitzy clothing and jewelry, and best of all...I was a part of my cousin's important day. That's priceless!!

December 21, 2011

The Wonders of India - Delhi

Our trip wouldn't be complete without making a stop over in Delhi. I learned to speak Hindi here and still remember it to this day. There is so much to do and see, it's endless.  In the past trips, we explored the historical landmarks such as Red Fort, India Gate, Rashtrapati Bhavan, Qutub Minar, Lotus Temple, Gandhi Museum and etc. This time we decided to take it easy and just have some downtime (which included shopping and spending time with friends). Delhi is one of the best places to go shopping (especially for clothes and trinkets). One of our best modes of transportation were autos; which also meant bargaining with the drivers for better fare pricing. Until one of our family friends told us about the Metro (subway). We used it to get to some of our destinations within the city and guess what, I loved every minute of it. It was fast, frequent, affordable and clean. It reminded me of my metro experiences in London and Paris. Its design is sleek and comfortable. My only concern is that with the ever growing number of people traveling by this mode, it's maintained well. 
Oh and nothing completes a day of shopping with some delicious grub. If we were living in India, street vendors and local restaurants would be our main source. As travelers, we dined only at restaurants we've gone to in the past and/or read reviews online. There's also some Western fast food joints such as McDonald's, Subway, KFC for worry-warts! It's better to be safe than sorry. 

Left to Right: Chole Batura, Paneer Tikka, Bhel Puri, and Kesar Pista Kulfi in Matkas
You got to hand it to Haldiram's for presentation. Just look at the's so big. The paneer tikka as an appetizer was yum. Personally I found the bhel puri to be a bit spicy but I think it's because I'm a tourist now and not a local. Next time, I'll ask for more dahi (plain yogurt) and sweet tamarind sauce. Let's not forget the dessert which was served in little clay pots, also known as matkas. Aren't they so cute? I especially loved this place for its order retrieval. It was easy and way less wait time than in other restaurants. 
Our second favorite place to go is Nirula's. They have the best ice cream flavors and savory creations. 
One big scoop of Pineapple Pop ice cream in a waffle cone
That's the face of someone who just needed a cool treat and got one. By the way, Pineapple Pop was the flavor of the month and all those calories were totally worth it. 

Here's some good shopping advise from one traveler to another:  

Good Shopping Locations:
Lajpat Nagar Central Market – Fancy Indian dresses, casual clothes and accessories
Malhotra Fancy Cloth House
South Extension
Metro (for fancy, trendy and ethnic shoes)
Part II, Main Market, E-21
Tel: 011-2621306
Janpath – Souvenirs, woven embroidered saris, ethnic jewelry, and accessories
Jawahar Vyapar Bhavan
Tel: 011-23320439

Next up is a little taste of the we come Vijayawada and Hyderabad. 

December 20, 2011

The Wonders of India - Agra

There is nothing greater than undying love and devotion. One of India's most treasured monuments is Taj Mahal which was built by emperor Shah Jahan for his beloved empress Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz's final request for Shah Jahan was that he never remarry and prove his endless love for her by building a beautiful mausoleum. Shah Jahan also had plans of building a mausoleum for himself behind the Taj Mahal so that he may look upon his Mumtaz whenever he pleased. However, he passed away before it was completed and only the foundation remained. He was later buried next to his empress inside Taj Mahal. The story was so beautiful that I couldn't help but cry while our guide was telling it
The best time to visit the Taj Mahal is during the winter months and go early. One time, we made the mistake of going in the summer and turned out to be the hottest day of the year. Let's just say I lost a weight on that trip and it wasn't intentional. This time, we got to the monument early in the morning (around 7ish) and enjoyed the view without the crowds and hassle. If you are planning to hire a guide, make sure they know more than what's written in the guide books. We walked around the grounds a while just taking in the ambiance and also explored the other structures around the Taj; such as the mosque on the left and Mihman Khana on the right. The Mihman Khana was used as a guesthouse during the death anniversaries of Mumtaz Mahal and then as a banquet hall by Indian princes and high ranking British officials during the 18th and 19th centuries.
It was difficult to leave the Taj Mahal but we had one more monument to see in Agra called Fatehpur Sikri. It was the former imperial capital of Mughal emperor Akbar. Just like the Taj Mahal, the city was constructed with influences of Indian, Persian and Islam traditions. The album below is from our tour through Fatehpur Sikri.

If we had more time, we would have stopped by Agra Fort too but we had to get packing and drive to Delhi that day. However, it was a great day filled with lots of picturesque memories of India's national treasures. 

December 18, 2011

The Wonders of India - Jaipur & Ranthambore

We left the evening of the seventh and arrived in Jaipur on the morning of the ninth. After a long flight all we wanted to do was to sleep off the jet lag. However, it was tough to sleep with all the excitement in the air. Did you know that Jaipur is also known as the Pink City of Rajasthan? In 1876, the city was painted pink to welcome Prince Albert and Queen Elizabeth II and since then the nickname remained. The city is full of rich culture, food and magnificent architecture (such as palaces, forts, and lush gardens).

It's easy to work up an appetite after all the sightseeing and exploration of a new city. We asked around and received some suggestions for quality restaurants that serve tasty Rajasthani cuisine without pinching the pockets too much. The cuisine is rich and simple. During the few days we spent in the city, we enjoyed freshly made breads such as naan and parathas with rich vegetable curries.

Aloo Paratha with dahi

Paneer Bhurji with Garlic Naan

The best part of Jaipur for me was Choki Dhani. It is a re-creation of an authentic Rajasthani village filled with entertainment for the whole family, crafts & trinkets shops, and an unique dining experience.

Words are not enough to describe the food we ate that night. Inside this large clay built hall, there were men dressed in Rajasthani garb serving everyone various types of appetizers, breads, curries, and sweets.

The enthusiasm was building up as we headed to the next stop which was the Ranthambore National Park & Tiger Reserve. We stayed in town for two days while we explored the park and all its treasures. Our accommodations were at this hotel called Vatika Resort; it was a short distance from the reserve. It has eight cottages with comfortable beds, bathrooms and flat screen TVs. There was no need to worry about the quality of the food because all meals were prepared fresh each day of our stay. Also, we made all our bookings through a trusted travel agent who we used in the past. They booked two safaris (evening and morning), increasing the odds of us spotting the tigers.

Our evening safari was the best one out of the two and to top it all off, we actually saw one of the biggest male Bengal tigers on the reserve. How lucky were we!!!

We left Ranthambore with great delight and headed for our next adventure in the Agra and Delhi!

***Quick Tips: 
- There are eight zones or trails around the park where the safari guides are allowed to take passengers. Before planning your trip, we recommend calling the park or your booking agent ahead of time to secure a seat and to inquire about the best zones where more wildlife was sighted so you can try to avoid disappointment. Also if you are going on multiple safaris, make sure that the zones aren't repeated if one of them had no action. 
- Depending on when you plan to go to Rajasthan, here are other cities to explore: Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaiselmer, and Bikaner. Also look into going to the Pushkar Camel Fair.