An afternoon in Mansour Mall

It’s been long time that we went out in Baghdad. So, we decided today to go to Mansour Mall. It’s the social pearl of Baghdad. We arranged for our visit and went there at around 5:30 p.m. The mall generally remains busy, but today it was empty due to Ramadan.

We walked inside the mall at our ease and slowly reached the top floor that houses the food court besides children amusement facilities. It was empty then, with a few people sitting. This floor always remains very crowded. Most of the restaurants/ food joints refuse to serve before the iftar. We found an outlet that was serving. We had barbecued chicken breasts and cola there.

By the time we finished our snacks, the place was full with people and there was hardly any empty table. It was around 7:00 p.m. then. We walked down to the supermarket in the basement of the mall for purchasing some groceries. Then we went to the food court again for dinner. But that time it was overcrowded. We got a pizza packed and returned home to eat it in the comfort of our home while watching television.

Temi Tea Garden

We planned to visit Char Dham in Namchi. We left the hotel early after having our breakfast.

The road to Namchi from Gangtok is via Temi Bazar. The road cuts from the National Highway at Singhtam. The scenic beauty is excellent on the sides of the road.

A Sikkim tourism restaurant just above the river after crossing Singhtam

Temi is famous for its internationally renowned tea, which is sold under the name Temi tea. We stopped at the garden, which is about 60 kms from Gangtok.

One can savour the breathtaking view of temi tea garden from the road.

It’s one and the only tea estate in Sikkim, which produces top quality tea in the international market.

Temi tea garden is considered one of the best in India and in the world.

The garden is laid over a gradually sloping hill.

The tea produced in this garden is also partly marketed under the trade name “Temi Tea”.

There’s a restaurant selling hot momos and tea. Momo is a type of dumpling native to Nepal, and in some communities in Tibet, Bhutan.

 

We enjoyed the lovely tea with hot momos and fale. Fale (falay) is another Himalayan cuisine but not as popular as momo. Fale is TIbetan style puff pastry filled with minced goat/lamb meat.

Then we drove towards Namchi.

Banjhakri Waterfalls

Banjhakri waterfalls is a popular tourist spot near Gangtok in Sikkim.

We visited Gangtok for a couple of days with Jaya’s father. He wanted to see the institute of Babai and the place too. We reached Gangtok yesterday.

We decided today to visit Bankjhakri waterfalls with him due to its proximity to the city of Gangtok.

It’s around 4 km from Gangtok. The falls is set amidst dense greenery and the theme park itself is littered with ethnic sculptures and figurines of the Jhakri culture.

The waterfall roars down from a height of say 70 feet. Enough facilities have been provided for the tourists to go closer to the waterfall.

The word ‘Banjhakri’ means a forest shaman. A shaman is a person regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.

These shamanistic practices are depicted via the figurines in this theme park. Some of these depict rituals, some healing ceremonies and others the initiation process in the life of a shaman.

Sikkimese style bridges have been built over the water streams and that lead to small view points from where one can get great shots of the waterfall.

Baba couldn’t walk up the stairs to reach the waterfall area, so he sat near the stairs leading to the waterfall and was watching some local boys catching fish in the stream.

It even hosts some decent momo stalls.

Nothing beats a hot plate of momo, aloo dum and a steaming hot cup of tea on a afternoon here. The items were nicely cooked that we repeated the orders.  Then we returned to our hotel in Gangtok via Hanumantok, Ganeshtok and MG Road.

It’s a nice place and worth a visit. It should be on every Gangtok visitor’s itinerary.

Had dolma in office today

Today, our colleague Ms. Khalida brought dolmas for the Back Office. It was so nice of her to cook and bring the dolmas to the office in good quantity for all of us. The dolmas were very nicely cooked and tasted very good.

Dolma is originally a Turkish food that has many varieties generally stuffed with ground meat. Dolma word has derived from “dolmak”, which is a Turkish word that means “to be filled, be full”. The use of grape leaves to wrap food is believed to date back to the days of Alexander, the Great.

In Bangladesh and Indian state of West Bengal, pointed gourd (patol) is used for stuffing fish, meat, or vegetables and goes by the name of dolma or the local variant – dorma. A mixture of poppy seeds, grated coconut, raisins and/or shrimp is commonly used for stuffing. During the times of the Nawabs of Bengal, this dish came to the region with its Turkish name, with the only noticeable change being the vegetable used for stuffing.

Thanks to Ms. Khalida for cooking and bringing dolmas for us.

Dinner at Akhtar’s house

Yesterday, Akhtar called me on phone. He arrived Baghdad last Sunday. He invited me for dinner at his home. He also invited Mr. DV Singh, HOC, Indian Embassy, Baghdad.

I went to his home around 7.30 p.m. walking as he stays very nearby. He stays just opposite to our old house. Mr. Singh also reached his house as I reached there along with Himangshu Pant, PA to Ambassador and Tarun Tyagi.

Akhtar served us drinks. The embassy people preferred coke while Akhtar and I had whisky. It was followed by huge dinner arranged by Akhtar. He served fish fry, aloo dum, paneer curry and chicken curry along with rice and qubooz. After that he served us fruit ice cream. It was a nice, heavy dinner. All the items were well cooked.

Mr Singh informed us that the new Ambassador is expected to join by the end of this month. He is coming from Indian embassy in Tehran, Iran.

They left after 10:00 p.m. I also then walked back to my house. I enjoyed the evening and the dinner. Thanks, Akhtar.

An evening at Savannah Bar

I am traveling back to Baghdad early in the morning after spending more than a month in India with my family. My flight from Delhi airport is at 4:20 a.m. to Baghdad via Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways. I reached Delhi today from Ranchi at around 6:00 p.m. by Air India flight.

My old school friend Aranjit messaged me to meet and so we contacted each other on reaching Delhi after checking in at Hotel Radission Blu Plaza. It’s just across the airport and very close by. It’s convenient to catch flight from this hotel as I could save the traveling time to airport from hotel.

I invited Aranjit to my hotel. He came to the hotel. We then went to Savannah Bar to have some drinks and chat. Savannah Bar is a nice bar with good quality stuff.

We decided in favor of Ballantine’s scotch whisky with some chicken tikkas and crispy fish chillies. Aranjit preferred his whisky with soda while I preferred it on the rocks. We had a cool three round of whisky and nice chats about our lives and politics. It was an excellent evening spent with an old school time friend. It was damn relaxing talking to him. He left for his home after 10:30 p.m.

Thanks to my friend Aranjit I had a wonderful evening.

Nalen Gurer ice cream

Well, I find it quite justified to dedicate this post on an innovative delicacy – ‘Nalen Gurer ice cream’, which we enjoyed today at Oh! Calcutta, Silver Arcade, EM Bypass, Kolkata – a Bengali cuisine restaurant. We went to this restaurant for Bengali cuisine. We started with Aam Pora Sharbat followed by Mochar Chop, Bhaape Ilish etc.

Towards the end of our lunch when the waiter asked for our choice of dessert, we found that they have ice cream made of ‘Nalen Gur’ on the menu. We could not but say ‘YES’ to it. I devoured the first spoon, mmm.. it was awesome! It’s not like the usual ice cream. It was light brownish in colour.

Nalen gur (or date molasses) is a specialty of Bengal – both West Bengal and Bangladesh – and is used extensively to prepare delicacies of winter. Nalen gur is a preparation from the sap of date trees that are collected and heated to obtain the final product that leaves one wonderstruck – the taste is heavenly. It is said that the heating is an art. The date palm sap is made into three types of gur: liquid, grainy and the solid chunks of patali. The sap is heated in huge woks over wood or coal stoves and it is only an expert who can gauge the different degrees of cooking to achieve the right textures.

It is really delicious and I am sure all sweet lovers would love it.

Tsomgo (Changu) Lake

Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake is perched within mountains at an altitude of 12,400 ft. Located in Sikkim at Gangtok – Nathula Highway only 40 km, from Gangtok, the Changu Lake is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Sikkim.

ROAD JOURNEY

The road to Nathu La passes the lake on north side. Nathu La is a mountain pass in the Himalayas. It connects the Indian state of Sikkim with China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. The pass, at 14,140 ft forms a part of an offshoot of the ancient Silk Road.

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The Chinese border crossing is only some 5 km east-northeast in a straight line, but some 18 km by road. A winding road through rugged mountain terrain and sharp cliffs takes you to Tsomgo.

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We stopped on our way at a village market for some coffee and snacks, and for toilet. Sikkim is the first state in India to have toilets in every village.

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Jaya & I visited our son Babai for three days. On Monday, March 17 we decided to visit Tsomgo Lake and hired a cab through hotel. We asked the hotel on Saturday to arrange for the trip and the inner line permit needed to visit there.

THE LAKE

Tsomgo Pokhri Sanrakshan Samiti, a community based organization formed for conservation of the Tsomgo Lake with support from WWF-India, and others sell picture postcards as entry ticket. The charge is nominal – Rs 10 only.

With a depth of around 48 ft and spreading over 1 km, the magnificent Changu Lake romances with its picturesque surrounding.

The water of the lake comes from the melting of the snow of its surrounding mountains, which is why this lake never dries up.

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This azure blue lake remains completely frozen during winter.

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In winter the placid lake remains frozen with the area around it covered in snow while in late spring the profusion of flowers in bloom adds a riot of colours around the lake. Changu Lake is also the place of origin of Lungtse Chu River. This lake is also home to Brahmini Ducks and a favourite stopover to other species of migratory birds.

FAITH & LEGEND

The lake is highly revered by the local Buddhists and Hindus as a sacred lake. Changu Lake is shrouded in myths and legends. It is said that in ancient times, the Lamas (Buddhist Saints) used to predict the future by observing the lake’s colour. If the water of the lake had a dark tinge, they predicted the future to be dark and gloomy, full of unrest. The faith-healers of Sikkim, popularly known as Jhakhris also visit this lake during Guru Purnima to offer prayers.

A small bridge just at the entrance of the lake will take you to a viewpoint cum cafeteria, from where you can view the complete lake and its surrounding mountains.

In Buddhist traditions, spinning the prayer wheel is as meritorious as chanting mantras.

YAK RIDE

You can trek along the lakeside in deep snow during winter or even take Yak rides along the coast of the lake. The yak is a long-haired bovid found throughout the Himalayan region of south Central Asia, the Tibetan Plateau and as far north as Mongolia and Russia. Most yaks are domesticated. The yak may have diverged from cattle at any point between one and five million years ago, and there is some suggestion that it may be more closely related to bison than to the other members of its designated genus. Yaks are heavily built animals with a bulky frame, sturdy legs, and rounded cloven hooves. They have small ears and a wide forehead, with smooth horns that are generally dark in colour. Domesticated yaks have been kept for thousands of years, primarily for their milk, fibre and meat, and as beasts of burden.

We preferred Yak ride. It’s our first experience and we enjoyed the ride although initially the sight of the mighty Yaks with their huge horns was a bit scary.

VILLAGE MARKET

There is a small rustic market before entering the Changu Lake which sells yak cheese, trinkets and local curios to the tourists. You would also get snow boots and gumboots on hire from here. Yak cheese is sold in small pieces tied together by a string like a garland. These pieces are chewed like chewing gums. I borrowed one piece for taste. The flavour and smell are like medium cheddar cheese. I chewed it in my mouth until my jaws started complaining. It’s a good and healthy substitute for chewing gums.

There are few eateries too selling Momos and tea in this area. We had some hot soupy noodles at one of the eateries before leaving Tsomgo for Gangtok.

Surprisingly, there was a wall painting of Che Guevara in one of the walls in the market indicating great popularity of the  Argentine Marxist revolutionary and guerrilla leader.

PROTECTED AREA PERMIT

Tsomgo lake-Baba Mandir falls in the protected area and hence a protected area permit is required. Tsomgo – Baba Mandir permits are issued by Police Check Post for Domestic Tourist. For foreign tourist, permit is issued by Tourism & Civil Aviation Department and Police check post.

More photos are on Flickr.

Dark black after double black

It’s the last day of our two-day seminar in Erbil. In the evening, I was relaxing at the Arbelia Bar in the hotel. I was sipping my second round of Black Label scotch double on the rocks accompanied with some pistachio nuts and potato wafers.

CAM00261Then I received a call from my colleague Ouss asking me to go with him for some walk and food. He was waiting at the hotel lobby. I finished my drinks and joined him. Oday & Bilal also joined us there. We went to Dream City on the Airport Street.

We went in Barista Coffee shop. It’s a cool night. It’s around 10:30 pm.  I opted for hot dark black chocolate drink.

The café is quite nice with some sitting arrangements outside also. Interior is also quite good. We chatted over our drink there.

After an hour we left the café for burgers at Dal’s Burger. Ouss is a great fan of Dal’s Burger. It was past midnight when we reached there. We were the last customers of the day.

CAM00264After having chicken burgers, we returned to hotel. We walked almost half the distance in the chilly night and then took a cab as Oday was feeling too tired to walk anymore. We reached our hotel at 1:30 am.

The Citadel of Erbil

We reached Erbil today for a two-day seminar from Baghdad. In the evening, I went towards the Citadel along with two of my colleagues – Ouss and Oday. The parks and the roads have been beautifully illuminated.

Erbil Citadel or Qala’t Erbil, which is situated dramatically on top of an artificial, 32-meters high earthen mound, and visually dominating the expansive modern city of Erbil, is believed to have been in continuous existence for 7000 years or even more. Thus, it may be regarded as the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in the world. The earliest evidence for occupation of the citadel mound dates to the 5th millennium BC, and possibly earlier.

The present name of “Erbil” is derived from the Assyrian word “Arba-Illu” meaning “Four Gods”. The Assyrian city of Erbil was thus a sanctuary for four worshipped gods.  These included Ishtar, the great goddess of love and war, and Assur, the national god of Assyria. The other two gods are not yet known.

In 331 BC, the Achaemenid king Darius lll was defeated by Alexander the Great in Erbil.

Although there are many fortified and military citadels in the world today, there are only a few surviving citadel towns anywhere.   Erbil Citadel is unmatched in the region not only because of its nearly 7000 year history but also because it is a town inhabited by people and not a military structure. The Citadel is today one of the most dramatic and visually exciting cultural sites not only in the Middle East but also in the world.

We walked around as there were a lot of decorations and lighting because of New Year celebrations. There’s a huge clock tower in front of the citadel.

We enjoyed hot baked, stewed broad beans in chilly winter night. The temperature at that time was around 3 degrees Celsius.

In such chilly night, next best thing is to sip hot tea. We went to a tea joint by the road. It’s crowded. Also a few people were playing ‘Backgammon’. We had to sit outside on the pavement. There’s no table. There were some plastic chairs and a few stools to keep the tea cups & plates on.

20140108_212015We had two cups of tea there. The tea was excellent. There was street kebab vendor. He was also selling stewed broad beans.

CAM00255Some people were eating the beans stew with Iraqi bread – sumoon.

After that we walked back to our hotel – Erbil International Hotel.

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