Punjabi Samosas – To Fry or Not to Fry?

Samosas are available in most places in the world as little triangle pastries filled with a variety of vegetarian and non vegetarian fillings.  They can be eaten as a snack with a cup of tea or served as a starter with any meal.   Gujarati samosas are usually smaller and crispier.  However, they are a bit complicated to make.  If you are interested, my recipe for Gujarati samosas is here.

This recipe for punjabi samosas is much easier and quicker to make but as with most cooking – preparation is the key to making these.

Ingredients for 30 samosas

6 medium potatoes
6 medium carrots
1 ½ cup of frozen peas
I finely chopped onion (medium size)
A teaspoon of blended ginger
2 or 3 finely chopped green chillies (can be reduced or missed out if you do not like hot food)
Small bunch of finely chopped coriander
1 tsp salt
2 tsps sugar or sugar substitute
1 tbp lemon
1 tsp of garam masala (optional)
1 litre sunflower oil if you wish to try the samosas

For the pastry

2 ½ cups of plain flour
¼ cup of butter
½ tsp of carom seeds (optional)
½ tsp of rosemary
½ cup warm water
½ cup plain flour to help roll out the pastry


1. Add butter, carom seeds and rosemary to the plain flour and mix. Add some warm water a little at a time to the flour to make the pastry dough. The dough should be of a similar consistency to play doh. Cover this dough and leave in a warm place.

2. Dice the potatoes and carrots into small cubes. Wash the vegetables and transfer them to a microwave dish with the frozen peas. Add in the ginger, salt and sugar. Let this mixture cook for 10 minutes, stir and cook again for 10 minutes. The vegetables should now be cooked. Add in the lemon juice and stir.
3. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add in the garam masala , finely chopped onions, green chillies and coriander and mix well. Allow this mixture to cool. By adding the garam masala and uncooked onions, chillies and coriander at this stage will give the samosas a nice flavour.

To prepare the somasas

4. Knead the dough and divide the pastry dough into 30 small balls ( about the size of half a golf ball). Take one ball and using some dry flour roll out a circle of about 4-5 inches in diameter.

5. One circle will make two samosas. Cut the circle into two, place the samosa mixture on one quarter of the semicircle and pull the second quarter to cover the samosa mixture. Join the edges by pressing them with a fork. Finish making all the samosas and save them on a lightly floured surface.




6. You can now choose the healthy option for cooking your samosas by rubbing/spraying some sunflower oil on the samosas and baking them for 20 minutes at 180 degrees (350 degrees F) or you be naughty and deep fry them until golden brown. I baked half and fried the rest. Both tasted equally nice.

The samosas shown at the top of the recipe were fried and the ones shown below were cooked in the oven:

7. Serve them hot or cold with any dip.

Cheese and Oregano Parathas


I meet a lot of people who love eating Indian food but don’t feel confident about making it at home.  Most of them including my children used to end up buying curry, rice and naan bread from a take away.    That’s when I decided to start sharing my recipes with step by step instruction through my food blog.    It always makes my day when  I receive an email from anyone  letting me  have their views  about any of  the recipes they have tried out.   Do leave your comments on this page if you do try out any of the recipes published on this page as it really means a lot to all the food writers.

In August, I had shared a recipe for Spicy Parathas with tomatoes, onion, garlic, ginger  and coriander.  As usual,  I love experimenting with herbs and spices when making any the Indian breads as it just makes the taste a  bit more exciting.  I  made these parathas by adding cheese and oregano and the results were amazing.   Once you have make the dough, most parathas can be rolled out in a similar way.

Ingredients for 8 -10 parathas:

2 cups of plain chappati flour (or strong wheat flour)
1 tsp salt
2 heaped spoonfuls of soft butter
pinch of turmeric
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 tbsp dried oregano
I cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup sunflower oil for layering the poratha and frying them


1. Sieve the flour into a mixing bowl.

2. Add the salt, turmeric, garlic, butter, 1 tablespoon oil and organo to the flour.

3. Gently pour warm water to the mixture to form a nice pliable dough.

4. Cover the dough for 30 minutes.

5. Divide the dough into small balls – slightly bigger than golf ball size.

6. Sprinkle some flour on a worktop and roll out one poratha in a circle.

7. Sprinkle cheese on the rolled out paratha and fold the poratha in half covering the cheese.

8. And again in quarter.

9. Sprinkle some flour into this triangle and roll it out again.  Don’t worry about the shape as long as it’s the same thickness everywhere.

10. Fry this poratha gently in a frying pan using a minimum amount of oil.  I just brush the paratha lightly with oil. Making the poratha this way, makes it crispy and fluffy when lightly fried.

11. Sprinkle some more cheese on the parathas and serve with any curry or pickle.

Carrot Chutney (Microwave Version)


A couple of weeks ago I had a Wensleydale cheese and carrot chutney sandwich  which I really enjoyed. I looked at a few stores to see if this chutney was available to buy but alas no luck. My hubby suggested the following recipe and we rustled it up with just everyday ingredients I had in my cupboard. The chutney turned out fine.

Ingredients for 3 small bottles

  • 1200 grams of carrots (got reduced to 100 grams after peeling and cleaning)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp chilly powder
  • 2 fresh green chillies
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 5 tbs lemon juice


1.  Wash and grate the carrots.

2.   Add the salt and chilly powder to the carrots and stir the mixture.  Cover the dish and cook in the microwave at 750 watts for 12 minutes, stirring the mixture every 4 minutes.

3.  Once the carrots soften, add the sugar and cover the dish and cook in the microwave for 4 minutes.   The sugar will melt and the mixture will become runny but very hot.


4.  Stir the mixture, cover the dish and cook it for 4 minutes at a time.  Stir the mixture every 4 minutes.  Cook 10 minutes.  Add the lemon juice and chopped green chillies.

5.  Allow the mixture to cool.  Do not worry if the mixture feels a bit runny.  The sugar will cool down and the mixture will thicken.

6.  When cool transfer to sterilised bottles and keep the chutney in the fridge where it should be fine for a couple of weeks.





Christmas Indian Style

Bringing in the catch in Cochin

Bringing in the catch in Cochin

We resolved months before December that Christmas was going to be different. Instead of driving 200 miles up the A1 from London to Yorkshire on a dark, wet Christmas morning, we’d be being chauffeured on a warm, bright sunny day up through the tea plantations to Munnar in Southern India. We hoped to leave all the Christmas trappings behind in London. Did we succeed? Well partly . . .

Christmas Eve was spent in the Brunton Boatyard Hotel overlooking Cochin’s harbour. It was wonderful to have a bath and watch the boats out of the window at the same time.

The bath at the Brunton Boatyard

The bath at the Brunton Boatyard

A sunset cruise seemed the ideal way to finish the day but we didn’t anticipate the extra guest, Santa Claus, who boarded the boat with us. Although the day had been warm and sunny, it was an overcast evening and the sunset was somewhat disappointing.

Whilst changing for dinner, there was a knock on the door. I expected the housekeeper wanting to turn down the bed with a ‘pillow chocolate’, but no, it was a group of stanta hatted, hotel staff singing carols and delivering invitations to their Christmas Eve gala dinner which they’d been setting up in the garden grounds all day.

Hotel staff singing Xmas carols

Hotel staff singing Xmas carols

We declined politely as having read marvellous reviews of the Malabar House Hotel, reputed to be one of the best boutique hotels in India and its ‘classy, movie star cool’ restaurant, the Malabar Junction, I’d booked a table well in advance from England. I envisaged a small, luxurious, intimate restaurant and was therefore rather shocked to be led into a large, open-air courtyard set up with enough tables and chairs for 100 people. We were led through the gathering diners to a small table at the front beside the stage where three musicians were playing traditional Indian music.

At least this group played traditional Indian music

As we waited for everyone to arrive, we looked at the menu on our table to discover a six course set dinner (veg or non veg) which included roast turkey in mushroom sauce with rosemary roast potatoes and ‘our special Xmas pudding with vanilla sauce’. As we settled down with a reasonably priced bottle of Grovers Estate wine (made in India in conjunction with the French), Santa Claus arrived and introduced the Anglo-Indian choir of Fort Cochin who sang traditional carols throughout the evening. Once I’d got over the shock, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal.

Following an early Christmas Day breakfast of dosa and sambal we left at 9am for the four-hour drive to Munnar. Although it was only 80 miles, the roads were narrow, steep, winding and rutted but the scenery was amazing.

Tea Plantations

For Christmas Lunch we squeezed into a small café recommended by our trusty guide book and chose potato curry (Rs 6) and beef fry (Rs 25). We sat surrounded by locals and soon realised that everyone was eating with their fingers. Fortunately we’d ordered a couple of chapattis which we used in the absence of cutlery, to scoop up the curry as we hadn’t managed to perfect the technique of rolling the rice into balls with fingers. With a couple of fresh lime sodas, our lunch came to less than a pound.

The traditional Christmas afternoon walk was through Eravikulam National Park with its spectacular views of the Western Ghats. We were also fortunate enough to see, albeit at a distance, a couple of Nilgiri tahr a rare, but almost tame type of mountain goat.

A walk in the park

A walk in the park

Our hotel for the evening was the Government run Tea County Hotel and although not as luxurious as the other hotels on our trip, it was perfectly comfortable and didn’t appear to recognise Christmas. We sat on our terrace to watch the sun go down over the hills in front of us and opened the duty free champagne we’d been carrying around with us since leaving London. As it got dark, all the shrubs and trees lining the long driveway were lit with small fairy lights, their only concession to Christmas and a truly spectacular sight.

A buffet dinner of various curries, followed by the lighting of a bonfire which toasted us in the cool, hill-top air was a marvellous end to a very different Christmas.

Mt Abu: In Search of the Eccentric, Esoteric and Enlighted

Peace and tranquility at Mt. Abu

Bearing the unique distinction of being the Rajasthan desert’s only hill station, Mt. Abu emerges from the sweltering desert as a cool oasis. With its picturesque lake, famed sunsets, and abundance of temples, it is a favoured tourist spots for people across India. For many, it is where they will spend one of the most awkward weeks of their lives. Nearly 90% of all Indian marriages are arranged ones. As a popular  honeymoon spot, Mt Abu is filled with shy girls with intricate mehndi and their new husbands studiously avoiding eye contact or taking posed and costumed pictures in front of Mt. Abu’s many vistas. Young men bent on drinking binges away from watchful parents, families and the religiously devout all brave the curving roads and overcrowded buses to enjoy Mt. Abu’s delights. With their white bangles covering their arms from elbow to shoulder, sharply filed teeth, and elaborately embroidered and mirrored clothes, the local Rajasthani women fill the place with colour and light. As popular as it is with locals, Mt. Abu has yet to make it on the foreign tourist  checklist. As a foreigner, you’ll soon find yourself the main attraction. It’s a brief flash into the life of the celebrity, with complete strangers vying for pictures, handing you babies and asking for your autograph.

Mt. Abu is famous for its many temples and religious sites. There’s Peace Gardens for mediation, ashrams for pray and contemplation, temples for pooja and religious schools for study. Elaborate temples and schools serving the Brahma Kumaris, Jainists, Hindus and more esoteric sects abound. From the ancient Dilwara to the modern Madhuran, the temples and schools are a part of daily life. People clamour for blessings, children play and incense fills the air. The Dattatreya temple is a tough climb in the heat of the day. While its more sensible and tempting to start early, the thick morning fog obliterates any view. Remember that the temples are still active places of worship and be respectful. The markets surrounding the temples give the unfortunate impression capitalism is the greatest god here. Many spend more time haggling over the intricate Rajasthani bangles than heeding the priests!

Nakki lake is nestled into between the hills.  Young couples paddle together on swan boats, as families and friends row past admiring the surrounding mountains and Maharaja Jaipur Palace. Ancient Rajasthani men with bushy mustaches and calloused feet push squealing and giggling grown-ups down hills in “Rajasthani Helicopters’- oversized prams to the uninitiated! There’s a famous market nearby which is filled with temptations. It feels remarkably like an English seaside town- down to the penny arcade, softie ice cream stands and questionable magicians! The shops themselves tell a completely different story. Aimed at the abundance of Indian tourists, they offer an impressive range of exquisite sarees, costume jewelery, bedspreads and fluorescent-bright pictures. Heading away from the Nakki lake market you will encounter the Main Market filled with street stalls and more expensive shops filled with exquisite Rajasthani designs. Follow the other paths to a  Tibetan market or the local market. All twisting alleyways, delectable sweetshops and tiny tea stands, the local market is well worth exploring and is considerably cheaper than the lakeside area. Get into holiday mode and enjoy an illicit beer by the lake, pose with the replica Eiffel Tower and pick up some stunningly beautiful or uniquely tacky gifts for friends.

Located 5km from the town centre, Gohmuk is a popular ashram and picnic spot. While taxi services will get you there in an overpriced flash, a leisurely walk will let you work off all the sweets and offer some stunning photo opportunities. Mt. Abu rises out of the Rajasthan desert offering views of the harsh landscape, lush forests, ancient rocky outcrops, villages, temples, and more. Bring plenty of water as it is a steep climb with little shade until you reach the top of the hill. From the top of the hill, descend the 750 steps through the forest to the ashram. Enjoy the cool forest air, the impressive views and know that what awaits you at the bottom is worth the walk if only for its eccentricity.  Overcome your inhibitions and enjoy a cool drink of sacred water or explore the temple. Look out for the langurs which inhabit the places as well as leopards, scorpions and sloth bears!  The walk to Gohmuk is just one of the many hikes in the area. There are a variety of tour companies that arrange everything from rock climbs to gentle walks, many in the Mt. Abu Wildlife Sanctuary which covers part of the mountain. Take the usual precautions and enjoy exploring the unique landscape.

The shopping down, the gods appeased and the photos snapped, the world and his newly acquainted wife gather on the mountain’s slopes to watch the sunset. Famous across India, Mt. Abu’s sunset attracts hundreds of people every evening. Arrive early for a good seat and enjoy the freshly grilled sweetcorn, sweetly spiced chai or some chili’d chickpeas as you wait.  Watch Henna tattoo artists create beautiful works of art or take a short ride on a bedazzled horse. Depending on the time of year, the sunset doesn’t always live up to expectations. For many, the Mt. Abu sunset holds such religious significance that simply being there is enough to fulfill a dream.

Peace and tranquility at Mt. Abu

Arrive at Abu Road Train station early and visit the market. With its wide selection of Rajasthani clothes, esoteric shops, and tropical fruits, it’s the ideal beginning or end to your Mt. Abu trip. With its pleasant climate, it’s easy to see why Mt. Abu is such a popular summer haven from India’s more drastic climes. It does get wet during Monsoon season and, while cooler than the rest of the area, is still hot during the day. Bearing in mind it is a desert and temperatures will drop drastically at night. During winter, temperatures may fall below freezing during the night. Rain or shine, enjoying a cup of Rajasthan’s famous masala chai is always the perfect way to shelter from the elements. With its surfeit of newlyweds and priests, Mt. Abu is a wonderfully eccentric place to experience a different way of tourism. Whether its nature, culture, shopping or sport you’re after, Mt. Abu is more fun than a runaway Rajesthani Helicopter ride!

The Nightie: India’s Go-To Outfit

Like it or not, what we wear defines us- what we do, how much we earn, what music we listen to, young, old, off to the shops or out for a night on the town. Even so called wardrobe staples come in a bemusing array and will inevitably be shunned by one group or other. There is something comforting about the discovery of an article of clothing that seems to defy this. One that is found in all levels of society, equally at place in a posh resort or sea-side shack, on the socialite or the knitting grandmother, the lawyer or the beggar, the conservative of one religion and the liberal of another. The Indian nightie is, in its own way, as much of the Indian culture as its more recognizable sari or kurtis.

It will come as little surprise to even the uninitiated that the sari is a time consuming- if nearly universally flattering- garment. Many younger people eschew it in favour of Western clothes or the considerably faster-to-wear salvas kamiz. The blouse, traditionally worn in lieu of a bra, is worn bandage tight and there are increasing reports of ‘sari cancer’- a cancer that occurs when cellular mistakes are made healing the daily abrasion of the cinched-tight petticoat. With practice, draping it becomes second nature- yet how a woman is able to confidently tie a sari in a train toilet remains one of life’s true mysteries. Even the washing, the drying, the ironing and the storing of six metres of fabric are equally an art.

Enter, then, the nightie. All soft cotton and comforting bagginess. No cinched waists, pinched arms, and stifling layers of fabric. Feminine flowers, stark and minimalist, gods and goddesses, traditional patterns and fresh-of-the-runway prints- whatever your style, there is a nightie for you. Despite the rising hemlines and backless cholis of Bollywood, the nightie has remained a modest garb- its acceptability even in the most conservative of communities adding to its appeal. For the breastfeeding mother, cunningly hidden zips enable breastfeeding to be both easy and discreet. Lounging during lazy weekends in front of the television or slaving over a hot stove are done in an effortless blend of comfort and style.

Adding to their ubiquity is their acceptability outside of the home. With a dupatta for modesty, they are happily worn to pop to the shop, or for when friends come for tea. Honestly, there’s very few among us who haven’t been tempted to pull a coat over our pajamas and dash out for milk- and the nightie is just the garment! Small children dart around in them, happily covering them with the muck that miraculously appears on children’s clothes the world over. Mothers don’t mind, the cotton washes easily and soon dries, even in the steamy damp of the monsoon.

With its little additions of feminine ruffles, puffed sleeves and bows it is, to the Western eye, very much a nanna nightie. For that reason alone, it’s wonderful. There is no pressure to dress up, hold in your stomach an extra inch to tighten the petticoat, squeeze your arms down sleeves- the nightie soothes and frees the wearer. She can relax, work,  study, or play in absolute comfort.


One of travel’s many joys is the opportunity to peer into the lives of everyday people, often far more interesting than the tourist attraction on the front of the guidebook. While it may not have the glamour or the exotic appeal of India’s more noticeable garbs, the nightie is an intrinsic part of the culture. It connects the grandmother at the doorstep, the girl buying sweets from a corner side vender, the newborn nursing. And as anyone who owns one will tell you, it quickly becomes a very vital part of the wardrobe indeed.

India’s Ashrams

Sri Aurobindo Ashram at Nanital

“So priketh hem nature in hir corages/Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.” Chaucer, of course, wasn’t speaking about India when he wrote his famous tales. But every year, millions heed the call and go forth across India in search of Gods and hopes. For many, bathing in the Ganges or receiving a blessing at a certain temple is a lifelong ambition.  However, even the most ascetic of pilgrims has basic needs and even the most devote need a place of peace to truly focus. As the world gets busier and the price goes up, the ashrams and dharamshalas of India come into their own.

Ashrams and dharamshalas offer accommodation, food, and spiritual guidance in exchange for donations and work. They are a place for prayer, mediation and reflection. And with miracles few and far between in the modern world, the silence and peace that pervades them even in the heart of Delhi is miraculous even to the non-believer. With enforced silence and mandatory mediation, staying in an ashram is the perfect way to find peace, of both the spiritual and secular varieties. Ashrams are usually connected with a certain saint or guru and are an excellent place to explore India’s rich religious history.  Whether sheltering from the hectic city, or embracing the natural surrounds, ashrams come in all shapes and sizes, hidden in temples or covering city blocks. The wide range of medicinal and edible plants on display will fascinate gardeners. From austere concrete walls to glittering mirror tiles, the spaces are designed to guide your mind. Helpful reminders, relics and pictures of saints, daily quotes and an abundance of holy saffron robes all echo the rich cultural significance of the place.

Resolution for the Week from the Mother

Many go on pilgrimages to cure their ailments. To help these sufferers, many ashrams offer a variety of healing services, from prayer to yoga to traditional medicine. Skeptics may struggle with the more esoteric of treatments- from drinking cow urine to staring at the sun for long periods. However, many of the homeopathic treatments have been proven to treat as effectively and with fewer side effects than their chemical cousins. Connected to the Shantikunj Ashram in Haridwar, DVSS University is a fascinating place to explore alternative medicine. Many ashrams will also provide filling and healthy vegetarian meals and special teas. Even if you forgo the treatments, a week of yoga and fresh vegetables is bound to fill you with vim and vigor.

Neither ashrams nor dharamshalas are intended as a way to travel India cheaply. Most website state this quite empathetically. When making reservations, most will ask for a reason behind your visit. If they feel your reasons or your lifestyle is not compatible with the ashram’s principles, you may well be refused accommodation, even after you have booked. Many require guests to participate in prayer or study sessions, visit holy sites, attend lectures or complete work around the ashram. If you are planning a full day of sightseeing, it may be have to be abandoned to accommodate a mid-day lecture or 4 am prayer session. If you are truly seeking spiritual enlightenment, meditative peace, or are simply open to the experience, then it’s well worth forgoing the tour schedule and experiencing something new. If you are requested to attend a prayer or meditation session, remember to dress appropriately. Many foreign visitors will be assigned a ‘minder’ who will guide you through the ceremony and give you a tour of the ashram. While some are happy to simply act as a tour guide, others see it as their task to bring you into the fold. Remember that the ashram’s purpose is religious and be respectful to your hosts. As religious sites, most ashrams have strict rules regarding conduct; typically meat, alcohol and drugs are not allowed, western-style dress is discouraged or forbidden, and un-married couples will be expected to have separate rooms.  Only stay in ashrams or dharamshalas if you are happy to abide by the rules, or you may find yourself suddenly without accommodation.

These days, most ashrams have websites and it’s advisable to book ahead if you intend to stay. The quality of the accommodation varies and it is worth checking if you will need your own sheets and cutlery.

Jain Dharamshala – Near Mt. Abu

While most run on a donation basis, some will have a fixed price for rooms. Many ashrams will sponsor aid work in the community, as well as provide the opportunity for poor travelers to complete their pilgrimage. The bookshops, craft shops and pharmacies all help to fund the work of the ashram and are a good place to find a unique and ethical gift. Many ashrams will allow for you to visit or join for a meal even if you do not chose to stay. While you may not end up finding spiritual enlightenment or the cure for the common cold, you will undoubtedly gain an increased appreciation for the culture, a host of new friends and a calmer frame of mind.

The Wonders of Rishikesh

The Ubiquitous Monkey

Whether it’s spiritual enlightenment, the swinging sixties or serious stretching, Rishikesh has long-drawn tourists and pilgrims from all over the world. Rishikesh is an obvious stop on the tourist travel- India compressed into one town: markets, ashrams, Ghats, picturesque mountains and a frightening abundance of monkeys. Rishikesh’s reputation as a holy city brings thousands of people every year to wash away their sins in the sacred Ganges River, braving the icy rapids for eternally cleaned soul. Saffron-clad sadhus, their hair thick with ash, snake hazy swirls of smokes past new-age hippies and newly wed brides.  With regular buses between Rishikesh and Delhi, few miss out the opportunity to explore the region.Most people spend their time exploring the two stretches of market on either side of the Ganges that are bracketed between Rishikesh’s famous bridges. Prices for both souvenirs and food are considerably more than those in Delhi, but the stunning wilderness that surrounds you make it an enjoyable walk. Rishikesh is often known as the world’s yoga capital. Most guesthouses will happily arrange yoga classes for you. Many ashrams will offer free yoga classes to long-term guests.  If you are serious about training, either for personal or professional practice, be sure to research when classes will start and the reputation of the school. Indulge in an ayuvedic massage or enroll in one of Rishikesh’s many cooking schools. Rickshaw drivers prowl the stretches on both sides of the river, looking for tourist to fleece. Unless you are really pressed for time, or have mobility issues, the walk is half the fun. Join sadhus for tea at crumbling temples, find unique souvenirs in dusty shops, or enjoy a freshly roasted corn with the Himalayas in the distance.

Bathing in the Ganges

For most local visitors, the highlight of Rishikesh is the Ganges. Bathing in the freezing water is a personal choice. Most foreigner-focused hotels will discourage you with tales of floating corpses, riptides and pollution. Regardless of whether you decide to bathe, the carnival atmosphere of the Ghats at dawn shouldn’t be missed, regardless of whether you decide to bathe. If you do decide to bath, remember it is a holy river! Dress and behave appropriately and bring a towel and change of clothes! While ‘bathing’ traditional varies from pouring water on the head three times to full immersion, unpredictable tides and over- enthusiastic fellow behaviours can lead to a slightly wetter than intended visit. As always, keep a close eye on your belongings and on the rapids. If bathing is too sedate, numerous tour operators offer rafting trips down the river.  With plenty of level 4 rapids, you’ll be getting cleansed whether you wanted to or not!

While most Western tourists will head straight to the Rishikesh’s bridges, exploring the old market is not to be missed. Get lost and work up an appetite for all the tempting food stalls you’ll come across. Rishikesh is famous for its vegetarian fare and delicious range of lassis. Refreshingly, this is a purely local market; expect elaborately beaded saris and embroidered kurta pajami rather than your standard traveler get-up. Despite Rishikesh’s overt Hindu flavour, the old market reveals the town’s long-history of diversity. If you aren’t quite ready for six-metres of artfully draped fabric, there’s still plenty of locally produced pottery, colourful jewelry and saffron pilgrim garb to keep your wallet busy. Bargain hard and avoid the ‘fixed-price’ shops that are generally more expensive.

Rishikesh’s Market

Need to walk off all the food you’ve ‘needed’ to try? Neelkanth is a popular pilgrimage through beautiful countryside. It’s a well-signposted and paved trail of about 18km- but be aware of the Indian mantra of ‘Only 2kms more,’ whenever you ask for directions. The views over the valley are breathtaking. Most of the pilgrims are in high spirits- some added by somewhat less than sacred booze- and happily offer encouragements and blessing to the weary walker. The walk is uphill and mostly unsheltered, so its best to start as early as possible. Bring plenty of water and snacks, although small food stalls will happily ignore the ‘maximum rupee price’ printed on the crisp packets if you are desperate. Monkeys will attack for open food and visible water bottles so keep food sealed and refrain from eating while monkeys are present. While the views are definitely the main attraction for the secular wanderer, the temple itself is full of life, poojas, sadhus, families, monkeys, prayers, and the requisite sacred shopping mall. Enjoy some time here before continuing onto the sacred cave, another 6km along the track. Cutting though the mountains, this is the most beautiful part of the walk. Thick jungles, snowcapped mountains, twisting rivers, rice fields and meadows all grace the trail and its vistas. The cave temples with their ancient sadhu guardians are appropriately mysterious and the sweet chai offered to a tired hiker heartily welcomed. While walking, thankfully, remains the only means of reaching Vasishtha Guha, jeeps and taxis can take you to Neelkanth. The jeeps can be hired in their entirety, or you can wait until one is full. Full seems to mean three people to a seat so anyone with motion sickness is better off paying for the vehicle. The twisting journey down the mountain takes approximately one hour, not including waiting time.

The Sadhu’s Cave

Embrace the Rishikesh experience by staying in an ashram and taking the time to explore yourself. Rishikesh is so much more than two bridges, a Beatles album and cheap patchouli. Hire a guide and head to the hills. Who knows? You may even see the tigers and elephants that still roam its jungles!

Dhampur – Dinner is Served!

Dhampur’s city streets

If you’ve heard of Dhampur, India at all, you’re probably thinking either ‘sugar mill’ or ‘don’t go out at night.” Chances are, you haven’t heard of Dhampur. Six long hours from Delhi, Dhampur hosts a bustlingly market, a sugar mill, some schools, lots of fields of sugar cane, and little else. Unless you are a traveler with a love of discovering the ‘real India,’ there’s very little reason you’d come here. Except, of course, for the food…  Dhampur’s divinely sweet desserts and sweets couldn’t get any fresher with the sugar being grown and produced virtually on the confectioners’ doorsteps.  And then there’s the diverse salty wonders that are namkeen sold from great barrels, fresh samosas, potato cakes, spiced chickpeas, rose ice-creams, pakoras, …  Visit the Punjabi quarter for your fix of Punjab’s finest or try the market for exotic fruits and vegetables.And if you can’t go out at night, what do you do with yourself? Cook! The women of Dhampur seem to be born with an uncanny ability to cook. In times of hardship, they can somehow turn two potatoes and three tomatoes into a feast fit for a king.  In better times, the feasts take on epic proportions and you go home wondering if your food baby may well be quintuplets.

Some of Dhampur’s fresh delights…

Rashi Adhikari is a bright young lady already achieving her dream of becoming a great chef. She has already earned acclaim for her talents in the kitchen, where she blends tastes from all over India. A fan of cooking shows, Rashi draws inspiration from all over the world. Her family and friends couldn’t be more delighted with the time and effort she puts into practicing her craft- particularly when they called upon to try the latest creation.  Spicy or sweet, breakfast or dinner, veg or non-veg: whatever this talented young cook serves up is always delicious.

Rashi is delighted to be sharing her recipe for Mustard Potatoes with City Connect readers. Enjoy!

Mustard Potatoes

Mustard Potato

Ingredients: —–    

     Potato                                      -                        10 to 12 (Small)

      Mustard Oil                        -                        2tbsp

      Mustard Paste                        -                        2tsp

       Ginger paste                        -                        1tsp

       Garlic paste                        -                        2tsp

      Tomato puree                         -                        half cup

     Onion paste                         -                        2tbsp

      Asafoetida (heeng)            -                        1pinch

      Cumin                                    -                        1/2tsp           

      Salt                                    -                        To taste

      Turmeric Powder             -                        1tsp.

      Red chili Powder            -                        To taste

      Coriander Powder            -                        1tsp

      Coriander leaf                         -                        To garnish

       Water                                    -                        as required

      Garam masala                         -                        ½tsp


NOTES- Mustard paste is made from pureed mustard seeds, rather than the mustard available from supermarkets. Garam masala should be readily available at your local supermarket. If you cannot find it, prepare a mixture of cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and cloves to taste.



1) Wash and peel the small potatoes. Small potatoes can be left whole, larger potatoes should be cut into smaller pieces and par boiled.

2) Heat the mustard oil in pan on a medium heat.

3) Add Asafoetida and cumin to oil and let them pop.

4) Brown the potatoes in the oil until half-cooked.

5) Using a blender or mortar and pestle, blend ginger, garlic, onion, tomato and mustard, turmeric powder, coriander powder, red chili powder, garam masala and salt into a thick paste.

6) Add paste to the pan with the potato and fry on low heat until the paste become brown and potato is fully cooked.

7) Garnish with Finely chopped Coriander

Serve and enjoy the innovative flavours of Dhampur’s finest up and coming chef!

Holiday in Haridwar

Located 32 km from the more famous Rishikesh, Haridwar is often merely a side trip on many Western traveller’s agendas. Bustling with temples, markets and rich historical past, it is a town more than worthy of its own distinction.

For many, Haridwar’s primary attraction is its profoundly religious significance. Known as Mayapuri Kshetra, it was one of the seven cities one must visit to gain entrance to heaven and one of the four sites where devas and asuras fought over a pot of elixir as the cosmos churned the ocean. The pride of the city is the Ganges. Rushing down from the Himalayas, the Ganges is regarded as India’s holiest river. Every year, millions of devotees flock to the river to take part of the Kumbh Mela or walk hundreds of miles baring gaudy bamboo structures called kavadis to collect the holy water during Shravan.

Bathing in the water of the Ganges is believed to wash away any sin, no matter how grievous. Tragically, even this close to the source, the water is filled with debris. Dead bodies, human excrement and trash, not to mention bone-chilling cold and strong currents, all make bathing in the river extremely dangerous. Despite that, millions will come to Haridwar ever year to keep their soul, if not their skin, sparkling.

Haridwar is filled with temples, from the ancient to concrete. Whether you come for tourism or soul-cleansing, the temples are certainly impressive. The most famous of Haridwar’s temples are located a short rickshaw ride down the river in Har ki Pauri. Mansa Devi and its sister temple, Chandi Devi, sit perch on the mountain tops. Saffon-clad devotees will gladly suffer the scorching walk to the summit. But most happily pay the hefty ‘entertainment’ tax to take the gondoliers to the top. Be prepared to wait for hours on weekends and longer on holy days. Offering stunning views over the Himalayan foothills and Haridwar, the gondoliers are more than worth the wait.

While the temples are dotted with bright red bindis and hazy with incense and ghee, the temple complexes sparkle with bedazzled kumkum jars and are alight with blazing saffron cloth favoured by the religious. Enjoy the view with a less-than-sacred ice-cream or thali before descending. As with everywhere in Haridwar, the rupee is king. Expect to pay for every blessing and sadhus’ word of wisdom and keep a stash of small change handy.

Har ki Pauri is worth a day’s visit. Its crowded marketplace is nothing short of amazing: richly brocaded sarees for the bride, peda lassis and kadak chai for the teetotaller, samosas and falooda for the gastronome, rudraska and spatika beads for the religious and the horticulturalist. The crowds are just as engaging: dreadlocked sadhus squat by the roadside, honeymooning newlyweds awkwardly navigate the road (and their lives) together, children scream as they play in the Ganges, their mothers laugh dripping in wet sarees.

India is obsessed with the camera, and people will happily pose for pictures. Of course, you’re expected to return the favour- often with a small child thrown in for good measure! It seems impossible, but Har ki Pauri becomes even more vibrant at night. The light from the shops sends the sequins on bangles and sarees into hyperdrive, the venders work overtime on tempting sweets, and the crowd doubles in anticipation.

Har ki Pauri is the venue for one of India’s most famous aartis, a fire prayer. Thousands will gather every night to pray and float candle-lit flower ladened offerings down the Ganges. Times vary throughout the year, but arrive early for a good spot. Have small change handy for the priests and, if sitting on the riverbank, be prepared to get wet. It’s ethereally beautiful and, given the crushing pandemonium all round, mysteriously peaceful.

Hardiwar has its share of hotels ranging from the luxurious to the hovel. For the true Haridwar experience, however, stay in one of the many ashrams. Worthy of their own article (coming soon!), these ashrams are a haven of peace, tranquillity and requisite 4am mediation! The ashrams offer their own range of activities and events, from mediation to yoga to education. Involvement isn’t always optional but is always an experience!

Gondoliers, Ganges and Ghats not enough for you? Haridwar is surrounded by beautiful scenery, filled with markets and lined with enough Ghats that there’s no excuse not to take a dip in the Ganges. At night, look out for wild elephants using the green corridor on the outskirts of Haridwar. Dev Sanskirti University is renowned for its study of alternative medicines and many stay for weeks to undergo a rich variety of traditional and revolutionary treatments. Elephants, sadhus and chai, oh my!

Images courtesy of the author

Nanital – Summer’s Winter Wonderland

Even with today’s high-tech fabrics, isotonic sports drinks, and ready supply of ice, India is hot. This year regularly saw record-breaking temperatures close schools and bring towns to a sweaty standstill. Is it any surprise then that India’s cool hill stations have long since been a favourite weekend getaway? Lake Nanital is Delhi’s closest hill station. Surrounded by the towns of Nanital, Talital and Manital, the hill station eclectically merges its local village roots with the colonist charms. Nestled amongst the Kumaron Hills, Lake Nanital remains popular with locals, but the once-steady stream of foreigner visitors has dwindled. When Delhi’s crowded streets get too much, hop on a train, and chill out, both mentally and physically. After all, when in Rome…


Lake Nanital is surrounded by a pretty promenade, which is popular with tourists and hawkers. With your back turned to the market, it’s easy to pretend the place hasn’t changed since its turn of the century heyday- women still drift by in silk saris and hand knitted sweaters, lazy boats drift on the water, and the opposite river bank is mercifully undeveloped. Of course, the market can’t be ignored and is a wonderful place to pick up souvenirs. In particular, look for the Kashmiri embroidery and handmade knitwear, most of which are reasonably priced and exquisitely made. The hand knitted wooly slippers sold on the roadside make lovely presents for friends back in freezing England! Leaving the market, the ramshackle town is picture perfect with brightly coloured buildings that seem to defy gravity, chai stalls, shops selling the gnarly roots and leaves that comprise the local medicines, glittering jewelry shops and more.  If you plan to stay local, the temples, colonial church and high altitude zoo are a popular tourists attraction. This is a city aimed at the leisure-seeker:  shops won’t open until mid-morning and city comes to life at dusk, as the markets lights up and the large square at the far side of the lake is taken over by sportsmen of every game. Enjoy a spiced chai or a colonially inspired G&T as you cheer your chosen team.

Sports at sundown

Once your wallet is exhausted, its time to bring the rest of you up to speed.  A sedate paddle around the lake is a perennial favourite. Ancient swan boats and brightly painted rowboats are available for hire. Further away from the lake are a series of caves named after various animals. The place is quite the tourist hotspot, with long-queues and tourist buses. The gondola ride to the top of Snow View is always popular, both for its views and for its novelty.  Rock-climbing courses are available for the adventurous. If you prefer a more tranquil approach to nature, stay at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram about 5km out of town. Meals are provided and short trails snake the hills surrounding the ashram. This is the perfect place to refresh after life on the road: daily mediation, healthy food and fresh, cool air. For those interested in longer walks or horse riding, tour operators and hotels will happily provide a guide to one of the many surrounding mountains, lakes or streams.  Nania Peak is the area’s highest mountain and is a pleasant walk dotted with wild flowers and ferns. While the summit is not impressive, the views as you ascend are breathtakingly beautiful. On clear days, the Himalayas are visible in the distance. Both the ashram and peak can be reached by walking or by taxi.

Parade in Nanital

The famous Corbett National Park is located close to Nanital. With regular tiger and elephant sightings, this park is immensely popular and the entrance fee correspondingly extortionate. Travelers concerned about ethical/responsible travel will need to take into account the criticism Corbett has faced in recent years. Many environmentalist fear Corbett’s unabashedly capitalist approach has put an unnecessary strain on the environment and the parks inhabitant. Daily queues of jeeps chasing after tigers have had a direct and negative impact on the tiger’s breeding habits. Others argue that the income and taxes generated from the entrance fee has ensured Corbett’s future. The decision is yours. Minimize your impact on the environment by following the ‘leave only footprints, take only photographs’ adage and asking your driver to restrain from ‘tiger chasing.’

In winter, Nanital’s peaks are snow-capped and temperatures drop below freezing. Even in summer, it rarely reaches above 22°C and can be uncomfortably cold in the evenings. Bring plenty of warm clothes or take advantage of the market. If you are planning to enjoy Nanital’s natural surroundings, walking shoes and layered clothing are highly recommended. But with the rest of the country sweltering in the high 40’s°, suddenly those cozy slippers, cup of tea and a nice selection of biscuits all sound rather tempting.

Nania Peak