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Banaras 2016“Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together!”
Mark Twain

You might have heard a buzz online as a bunch of us decided to visit Banaras, or Varanasi as now called, for a food trip. It was Ruchira’s brainchild, a dream she had held for long. We were a strange mix of folk, different age groups, varied backgrounds yet with a common link – the spirit of adventure and love for food. We were game for anything, and under the well oiled machinery of Ruchira’s efficiency, we managed more of Banaras than we could ever dream of. Of course none of this would have been possible had Sangeeta not chalked out a day by day, or rather hourly plan for us.

Ghats, Banaras 2016

Banaras 2016

Ghats, Banaras 2016She couldn’t join us but was our virtual guide. And therein runs the common thread between our Banaras trip and ‘Rivaayat’, both of which had Sangeeta involved! Virtually in Banaras with us, yet here hands on at 361°, The Oberoi Gurgaon for a tasting menu curated by Chef Ravitej Nath and her.Banaras @ 361°, The Oberoi, GurgaonFirst our iconic trip to Banaras, memorable, action packed and absolute fun all the way {warning long post}. I was going to do a smallish post, but a load of folk on FB asked me for a more informative one, so here goes. In any case,  Banaras can never be a small post. I can see myself going there again soon. The city grows on you!Banaras 2016I saw a lot of the city when I was young. As a kid and teenager, virtually ever summer was spent in Banaras. I saw it very differently this time around. Clearly a lot had changed. My sensibilities too! Our food trail in the city was action packed with the chaos, culture, colour and magic. Banaras @ 361°, The Oberoi, Gurgaon is at the end of this post, a very calming ‘fine dining’ experience. Do feel free to jump directly to that if you like, though I hope the post will get you feeling like you’ve stopped by the holy city before the meal!

Banaras 2016That it was a first trip together for the four of us could have meant some hiccups, BUT, surprise surprise, we hit it off from word go. The minute the train pulled out of the station at Delhi, we {Preeti, Nivriti, Ruchira and me} lay out our table with all the yummies we had carried, and talked non stop until we reached Banaras. Not Ruchira though, who stole 40 winks while we had a midnight feast under her very nose, giggling and whispering incessantly; she DIDN’T stir. Yet she still denies she ever got sleep.

Ghats, Banaras 2016

Ghats, Banaras 2016That Banaras was going to be fun was certain. That it turned out to be a million times that was the icing on the cake. We talked non stop, ate non stop, covered every place on the itinerary that Sangeeta charted out for us. Then discovered more that perhaps was waiting to be discovered, shared an auto across the city until the locals recognised ‘those four mad women‘, two of whom were perched on either side of the auto driver. Then we ate some more! Oh yes, and we bought some beautiful saris too. Can’t go to Banaras and not buy saris.

Ghats, Banaras 2016The first thing we did was to dump our bags at a very sweet home stay, Granny’s Inn, and head out to the ghats within an hour of reaching Banaras. It was important to get a feel of the city, to breathe in. Off to eat kachoris, sabzi and jalebi, Banaras 2016That done, cameras in tow, we hit the food trail. Boy was it a good beginning to the day, what with fermented batter expertly meeting hot oil! A few minutes later, dunked into sugar syrup, that meant fresh jalebis! Sweet start to an exciting day!Jalebis being made, Banaras 2016We were going to make it a habit of dessert first, but who cared!! Next on the menu was kachoris, or lentil stuffed puris. Hot out of oil kachoris served with the most deliciously spiced sabzi, it was good to be in Banaras. Street food is best there, probably what the city is famous for as we were to discover bite by bite.

Kachori with Sabzi, Banaras 2016The kachoris with the sabzi on the side is the best ever street food you can dig into. Deep fried kachoris with spicy delicious vegetables to dip into, words can’t describe the pleasure. We soon discovered kachoris in every form, on every street, around every corner, quintessential Banaras. That’s what Banaras is known for! Also for something else which is creamy and delicious!Pahalwaan Lassi Wala, Banaras 2016

Pahalwaan Lassi, Banaras 2016Kachori and jalebis later, we descended on the famed Pahelwaan Lassi Centre at Guru Ravidas Gate. It serves the best lassi Banaras has to offer, both sweet and savoury. Creamy, rich, bursting with flavour and just too addictive. Boy,we were hooked on lassi for the rest of the trip. Another great lassi joint was Dugdh Sagar near where we stayed. When we had a free moment, we slurped lassi like there was no tomorrow! You will not find lassi like this anywhere else. BHU Banaras 2016You’d think we’d have called it  a day, but wait, we weren’t quite done! Quick stops happened that morning. Banaras Hindu University. We barely stopped by the outside of the temple, then headed straight for some jhalmuri. Yum Yum Yum. The man tossing it together has been doing this for as long as he can remember, 1960’s onward, under the very same tree.Jhalmuri, BHU Banaras 2016

Jhalmuri, BHU Banaras 2016With deft fingers, he pinched this masala and that, onions, sprouts, green chilies and a squeeze of lime. Finger licking good as we licked our grubby fingers and leapt back into the auto. The good thing about auto drivers in the city – they are honest, always game to talk, and have a deep knowledge about the culture of the city. Some weave spells of 10ft tall ghosts and white witches that shriek into the night etc, but that’s up to you to believe it or not!Sunrise over the Ganga, BanarasWhen in Banaras the early morning arti at Assi Ghat is a MUST see, MUST! They say the colours of Banarsi sarees are inspired by the sunrise. You have to see it to believe it. A trip to Banaras just to see the sunrise over the Ganges is worth a trip.Sunrise over the Ganga, Banaras

sunrise 5

Sunrise over the Ganga, BanarasThe sky changes colours every few seconds, and we just couldn’t get enough of it. You must get to the ghats before sunrise, an uphill task for our sleep deprived exhausted group, but we got there once! If you can get there every single day, nothing like it. It’s an experience of a lifetime, and in many ways time with nature. Ghats of Banaras

Ghats of BanarasAssi Ghat is possibly the best of the 87 ghats the river front has, most used for bathing and pujas, a dhobi ghat, and a couple of cremation ghats. We didn’t have time enough to explore all 87 of course! Banaras is a city built along the ghats, so it’s fascinating to just hang out there. Practically every narrow lane of the old city leads to a ghat one way or another, and each ghat is abuzz with activity.

Mallaiyo in Banaras 2016Banaras in winter means a dive into a seasonal sweet foaming delicacy called Malaiyyo. It’s a must try, a traditional winter dessert of Banaras, something like the Daulat ki Chaat of Old Delhi, though richer and more flavourful. You can find it only in the winter months though, and we were lucky to spot quite a few vendors.Malayyio in Banaras 2016 We went to Gopal Mandir waali gali and started walking through the streets. 7.30 in the morning is a beautiful peaceful time to be there, the mallaiyo walas, chai walas and kachori walas all ready and setting up for brisk business. The grinding stone for saffron, the earthenware pots, huge woks, wooden spoons, brass servers all lent local flavour to our food trail.Malayyio in Banaras 2016 We tried several Mallaiyo walas, also met the old man who runs one of the of best there. Yet the very best came from this man sitting high up at a window in the street, almost a hole in the wall as Sangeeta suggested. Thick, rich, saffron high, sweet enough and absolutely delicious. As we slurped through our many servings, locals frequently stopped by buying potfuls of this delicacy from him. He served the most memorable mallaiyo ever! It was like an upside down meal. Banaras 2016 With dessert done, we tripped along giddily and dived into more kachoris and jalebis, chai too, and this was pretty much the norm in Banaras. Walking through the street was a great experience. I stayed trigger happy throughout. The odd sadhu, flower sellers, food stalls, chai waalas, locals, colourful doors. Little vegetable sellers would randomly pop out of tiny holes in the wall, the colours and old world charm amazing!Streets of BanarasThen we ate some more. It was a foodtrail after all! How can we do Banaras and not devour chaat, so we caught a 30 minute nap at the home stay and then descended hungrily on the Kashi Chaat Bhandaar. Banarasi cusine is often synonymous with chaat, the very best, and the most different. Kashi Chaat Bhandar, Banaras 2016The first thing was Tamatar ki chaat – spicy, flavourful, addictive, colourful and truly yum! Thereafter we didn’t stop. Palak ke patte ki chaat, papdi chaat, pani puri, dahi bada, everything. The guys there were so happy, they made sure we tried every single thing on the menu, desserts included. Was the best chaat in a long long time, especially the famed Tamatar ki chaat! We couldn’t stop talking about it.

Banaras 2016We were ready to burst, but then again, there’s nothing that a meetha paan can’t fix! Delicious meetha paans later, which are really addictive I have to say, we set off in search of recycled glass martabaans or jars. Sadly we didn’t find any, walked through a million narrow alleyways, were hungry again, then headed for the evening arti…Banaras 2016 … the pompous and ostentatious Dashashwamedh Ghat arti at sunset which is quite an experience in itself. Teeming with millions of devotees and tourists, it’s a very different experience from the mornings calming atmosphere. It’s a more social affair, with all the bells and whistles {read sea shells being blown and bells being rung} that an arti can promise. Dashashwamedh Ghat arti, Ghats, Banaras 2016The night air resonates with deep throated vedic chants that transport you to another world if you shut your eyes. Also, a boat ride at night on the Ganges is another experience altogether. It’s a new face of the river, a new look at Banaras, it’s rituals and it’s culture.

Dashashwamedh Ghat arti, Ghats, Banaras 2016Maybe it is just that the morning draws fewer people since 5.30am is not the most convenient time for one and all to reach the river. Yet, it was an experience in itself as we took a boat ride by a few of 87 ghats, including the Harish Chander Ghat, or the cremation ghat considered most auspicious for Hindus for the final journey.Ghats, Banaras 2016

Ghats, Banaras 2016It was an eerie and uncanny ride by that ghat. Even though the pyres burning into the night sky paint for a dramatic picture, the solemnity of the final journey is unnerving. We didn’t stay there for long.

Vishwanath ki gali, Banaras 2016We even bravely ventured to the Kashi Vishwanath temple, where the number of cops probably match the number of devotees given the high security profile of Banaras holiest site. No cameras allowed within, only prasad and money. Banaras had changed beyond belief! A thousand shops and shrines dot the narrow Vishwanath ki gali, a place that was so different from what I remember visiting so often as a kid.  Buy some supari from here, some beads, knick knacks. It was the best pan supari in our opinion.!

Aloo papad with garlic quark dipWhile on that topic, buy some Aloo Papad {potato papad} too. Great gift to carry back, and grab some lal mirch ka chaar/stuffed red chili pickle also if possible. My paternal grandmother used to make a mean red chili pickle, I still remember the taste from childhood, but sadly the recipe has been lost forever. These are things quintessential to the Banaras region that you might not find elsewhere. Preeti recommended the aloo ka papad, and she was spot on. One of the best ways to serve them is to pop the into the microwave for a couple of minutes, allow them to crispen up as they cool, then serve them with dips. Almost like crackers, these are addictive. They popped up at the Oberoi later, fried of course, and just as delicious!

Sarnath, Banaras 2016Surprisingly enough, we managed a sideways trip to Sarnath as well. The first thing we did there was eat of course. Tumbled out of the cab into the waiting cart of a chana jor garam wala, flattened crispy chickpeas tossed together with onions, tomatoes, green chilies, spice with a dash of lime. Best and largest chana jor garam ever, probably the most expensive thing we ate in Banaras! Then again, they say chickpeas have become really expensive, and making chana jor garam is a laborious task.Lal Khan ka Rauza, Rajghat, Banaras 2016Another quick trip we managed was one to Rajghat to see Ruchira’s mothers school. Also stopped by the bridge across Varuna river, and found a fascinating monument overlooking the river, one of the best preserved and well looked after mausoleums. Built in 1773, it houses 11 graves. Lal Khan Tomb is one of the many tombs & mausoleum built during Medieval Period in Varanasi city. Lal Khan ka Rauza, Rajghat, Banaras 2016The tomb was constructed in 1773 to commemorate the memory of Lal Khan- a Mughal Noble. It is one of the finest representations of grand Mughal architecture. The building is protected by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). This was quite a find!

Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe , Banaras 2016We spent more time eating in Banaras than we did anything else. Ticking off things from the list Sangeeta put together, we had fabulous wood fired thin crust pizzas late into the night by Assi Ghat. The Pizzeria Vaatika Cafe is also very famous for Apple Pie. Strange as it might sound, turns out that this was the best apple pie we had ever eaten, ever! The pastry was crisp, light as air, had great taste, the ingredients shone. We carried a pie back each as well because it was sacrilege not to carry some back for the folk at home.

Caciotta, Artisan cheese, Banaras 2016The other thing we carried back, all thanks to Ruchira’s eagle eye, was artisan cheese, caciotta. As we were driving out of Assi Ghat one morning, Ruchira literally flew out of the auto because she saw this.

Caciotta, Artisan cheese, Banaras 2016The rest was history. Before we knew it, we were in deep conversation with the Banarsi owner, he who spoke chaste Banarasi, then English, then cut over to free flowing Italian. He got the Italian cheesemaker, Emilio Marconi to drive in to meet us, after Ruchira insisted that we wanted to buy cheese even though the guys at the shop said it was sold out.

Caciotta by Emilio Marconi, Artisan cheese, Banaras 2016Call it perseverance, but cheese eventually showed up, and we happily grabbed some to carry home. The very sweet Emilio even made a fresh batch of ricotta for us, and with fresh baked bread from the same shop, our journey from Banaras to Delhi was naturally delicious!

Banaras 2016 We did have very amused co passengers who were thoroughly entertained by our nonsensical non stop banter, our hunger pangs, that we made for a very eclectic bunch. And thus our little journey wound up, chugging our way back into Delhi, sleepless in many ways! Happy, ticked off our list of things to do, shopped and lived it up. There was only one thing we missed, and that was a true Banaras ki thaali, or a local meal. Strangely enough, that was one thing we couldn’t find there, despite Ruchira googling for it endlessly.We needn’t have bothered, because here, back home, that is just what Rivaayat served up with Banaras @ 361°, The Oberoi, Gurgaon! A delightful, fuss free, home style menu of Banaras cuisine curated and presented with  passion by Chef Ravitej Nath along with Sangeeta. That Banarasi cuisine could offer such hidden gems was amazing. The food was simple and special, delicately flavoured, light on the tastebuds, and offered a lot of variety.

Banaras @ 361An array of cocktails and mocktails arrived first, my fave the Gullabo. Refreshing, lilting, summery almost like a local Ro, it teased the palette. The Panchamrit was a divine beginning, then delicious aloo and sabudana papads with an array of exciting chutneys. Wadiyon ki chutney and Tomato chutney were both addictive and different. Of course my favourite course was starters with chaat with Chivda matar, Banarsi tamatar ki chat, Chenna ka dahi vada and Aloo tikki. The Chenna ka dahi vada was amazing, as was the chivda and aloo tikki. The Tamatar ki chaat a little  low on tang and flavour as compared to what we had just experienced in Banaras.

Banaras @ 361°The fritters, Harey chane ka bhabra and Bajka both finger licking good, as were the dumplings, Masoor ki bhapouri and Fara. With chutneys, everything was elvated to delicious levels. Of course I was too full already, so I barely had a bite of the main course. I loved the homestyle Arhar dal, the Turai ki sabzi and Kaddu ki sabzi. All finger licking good. I also loved the aromas of mustard oil which stood out celebrating this simple cuisine. The Mutton kaliya was a little tough, yet I was happy with a simple vegetarian meal.

Murabba from Oberoi @ 361°The sweet Mallika chatted away with us happily through the meal. Already past being too full with such a sumptuous menu, it was time for dessert. Fresh back from Banaras, I did feel that the much awaited Malaiyyo was a tad disappointing as compared to what we had experienced there. It was far too light, quite foamy and not sweet enough. I believe it’s got something to do with the milk here as it’s difficult to get the fat content in milk locally that Malaiyyo demands. Maybe it’s best had in Banaras. The laddoos from Sankat Mochan Trust were rich and delicious, as was the peda. I heard lot about the khush khush ka halwa but didn’t get to taste that.

And that’s how we came full circle on Banaras, satisfied on all fronts of the food trail we set out to conquer!
Thank you Mallika @ The Oberoi for hosting us for this beautifully curated meal, and thank you Sangeeta for keeping the tradition going!

Savoury Granola - delicious,addictive,crisp & crunchy good!“Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”
Confucius

Savoury Granola … I’m not really sure why it took me so long to get going. Granola is something I’ve been making forever, actually until the folk at home get a little tired of it, then I stop. It happens on and off. Although I might bake a load of sweet stuff, in reality my heart and taste buds are ‘savoury’. Wholewheat Garlic Oat Soda BreadGiven half a chance, savoury is what I like to bake, like this Wholewheat Oat Soda Bread. This was the best!!

Savoury Granola - delicious,addictive,crisp & crunchy good!Savoury Granola 3 1000As you can see, say S A V O U R Y and my eyes light up. It’s strange but coffee, maybe bitter chocolate are the only 2 sweet things that entice me toward a dessert. I’m quite the happy savoury camper otherwise, anything not too spice laden works for me. So when Saffola Masala Oats launched their two new variants, Italian and Chinese, as panel members of Fit Foodie, we flew down to Mumbai for a blind tasting of the new variant. Turned out to be a very pleasant surprise!Savoury Granola - delicious,addictive,crisp & crunchy good!It’s an exciting new change from the other popular Indian inspired flavours in the market, and interestingly, they’ve managed to pull off a change in texture too. I would encourage you to try a bowl, or rather dive into a bowl or two. At the blind tasting, all you could hear in a matter of minutes was ‘scrape, scrape, scrape’ as we got to the end of the delicious bowls! Once you’re hooked onto the same, I am certain your next step could be this exciting and fun savoury granola. Savoury Granola - delicious,addictive,crisp & crunchy good!Savoury Granola 3 1000Granola is always simple and fun to make at home. Savoury granola turned out to be a winner; even simpler, and even more fun. Gorgeous colour too! The oats are already spiced and in handy little pouches. Snip off the tops, turn into a bowl, toss with a spoon, stir in the wet mix. Pop into the oven! Quite the hardest thing is waiting for the granola to cool down to get to the crunchy nibble! Gave me enough time to play around with the camera ….Savoury GranolaLater, I made a quick bhel puri like mix too. YUMM! Quite an ideal, healthy and delicious snack.Savoury Granola - delicious,addictive,crisp & crunchy good!

Savoury Granola
Print Recipe
Savoury granola is delicious, addictive, crisp & crunchy good! Good for breakfast, as a snack, over salads etc. This quick healthy bake is also great as a part of a trail mix, or an Indian bhel puri fusion mix. Toss it up with chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions, some fresh herbs, maybe throw in some sweet corn and enjoy!
Servings Prep Time
1 500g jar 5 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 500g jar 5 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Savoury Granola
Print Recipe
Savoury granola is delicious, addictive, crisp & crunchy good! Good for breakfast, as a snack, over salads etc. This quick healthy bake is also great as a part of a trail mix, or an Indian bhel puri fusion mix. Toss it up with chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions, some fresh herbs, maybe throw in some sweet corn and enjoy!
Servings Prep Time
1 500g jar 5 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 500g jar 5 minutes
Cook Time
30 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: 500g jar
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 180C.
  2. Place oats and seeds in a large bowl. Stir to mix.
  3. Place olive oil, egg white and Worcestershire sauce in a small bowl, and whisk lightly with a fork to mix.
  4. Pour wet mix into bowl of dry mix, and stir well to coat dry ingredients. Break any large clumps, leaving the smaller ones if you like.
  5. Turn onto a rimmed heavy baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes, stir well, then for another 15 minutes until golden and crisp.
  6. Cool completely, and then store in an airtight jar in a cool place.
Share this Recipe

Lakshman Sagar, Rajasthan 2‘Welcome to Lakshman Sagar greeted the well mannered, soft spoken and affable manager of the resort, Tejinder {aka Teji} as we alight from the car that drives us into the resort. Welcome to Lakshman Sagar where all you have to do is nothing. The words stayed in my head through our stay. They rang so true and make you want to celebrate all that they could possibly mean, and more!Lakshman Sagar, RajasthanNothing quite prepares you for the luxury and peace of Lakshman Sagar. Nothing at all. It caught me by surprise, a place I have been putting off visiting for over a year. Now I can’t wait to get back there again!! That’s just how good the resort is, the team that delivers their concept of “slow Living” like it should be. And the concept comes with oodles of down to earth luxury. Not rose tinted, not high heeled in any way. It’s down to earth good, and just the way I like love it. {Warning: Long post with loads of images}

Cookout Indian Railways It begins with the ease of getting to the resort. A 15 minute drive to Gurgaon station got us to the Ajmer Shatabdi which came on the dot on time. I wish Indian Railways was cleaner and the food was leaps better, but well that’s another story. Off at Ajmer, into the waiting car, it was a smooth, pleasant and quick hour and a half drive to the resort. The highway is amazing, possibly the best stretch of highways in India that I have driven along.Lakshman Sagar Getting there was a breeze, and to welcome us was the most refreshing nimbu paani presented most beautifully in true Sewara style. That hospitality stayed through the visit, never wavering, never faltering, truly endearing.

Golden Hour, Cottage, Lakshman SagarAt the fringe of the Badlands of India, Lakshman Sagar was built in the late 19th century as a hunting lodge by the then Thakur of Raipur, Lakshman Singh Ji to host other noble families and British emissaries. As a continuation of the hospitality and traditions of the House of Raipur; Sewara has envisioned a getaway much like Thakur Lakshman Singh Ji, though with a conservationist view of the heritage and surroundings.Lakshman Sagar The first thing that catch your attention are two heritage buildings standing tall to welcome you. The Zanana (women) quarters and Mardana (men) quarters, designed historically for the ladies and men respectively, offer hints to Rajput culture and traditional customs like pardah or reflecting the grandeur of mehfils & baithak. Seeped in history, every corner of Lakshman Sagar depicts the nuances of hunting holidays during the days of the Raj. From the machans used for tiger spotting to the man-made lake to attract game, great care has been taken to restore the priceless heritage.Lakshman Sagar, RaipurThe re-conceptualization of Lakshman Sagar is manifested through the endless detailing in the architecture & design, the cuisine, and the well-thought of activities & non-activities tailored personally for the guests in a captivating natural topography, ideal for mindless relaxation. Things that impressed – bespoke services, local and sustainable processes, loads of thought in everything on site, a team effort, very knowledgeable staff. Also that the furniture, coasters, ash trays etc are all made in house.Lakshman Sagar, RaipurAs Teji walked us around the beautifully maintained 32 acre property, I could not help but marvel at the attention to detail . Keeping local traditions in mind, 12 mud cottages dot the property, each delightfully designed and each offering the privacy you would never expect. One step into our cottage and I knew instantly what makes Lakshman Sagar so special. That the interiors use only locally sourced products, be it the stone walls or the rock cut basin in the washrooms, the rock cut pool individual pool outside each room, to bottles for water, copper glasses for water, oil cans, native linen, bric a brac from Rajasthan, the list is endless.

Lakshman Sagar, RaipurThe 12 cottages have been meticulously planned and conceptualized with assistance from the vanguards of sustainable design – architects, Vasant & Revathi Kamat and designer  duo Sahil & Sarthak. Merging Rajasthani design with eco sensibility,the twelve 900 sq ft mud and stone cottages, supplement the Mardana and Zanana and invoke an experience both private and symbiotic with nature. Such a phenomenal job, one that you have to see to believe.

Sunset, Lakshman Sagar, RajasthanJust being there for 2 days was a life changing experience. Being in touch with nature, doing nothing that requires you to hurry, a complete bespoke experience. The high point of out first evening, the sun downer that is best seen for the rooftop of the Zanana. Where else can you get such a beautiful birds eye view of peacocks readying to fly back ‘home’ to a 300 year old banyan tree. It was fascinating to see them line up in their tens to literally go to a take off point, and fly the distance just before sun set. All this while enjoying the most delicious coffee, namakpaaraas and shakarpaaras that hit a nostalgic childhood note. The connect of the good old days is very alive.

Sunset, Lakshman Sagar Evening are lazily spent around a well lit bonfire just as it begins to get dark. The first night by the catchment was spent pretty much brushing up our star gazing skills with Teji sharing his infinite knowledge and we following one constellation to another. They do have a telescope up at the Zanana too, but it was unserviceable at the time. That didn’t matter as the night was clear and the stars shone bright! The other thing that shone bright was the food. Never ending goodness of local cuisine appeared at every course. Around the bonfire we enjoyed makki ke pappad, chicken and spinach pakoras with finger liking good chutneys, hari and imli ki chutney.

Lakshman Sagar Just as we thought we couldn’t eat more, it was time for dinner. At Lakshman Sagar, the chefs take great pride in doing salads too, with everything locally sourced and beautifully plated.The vegetables are all sourced from their organic farm around the corner. Chutneys and achaars are a quintessential part of local Rajasthani cuisine, and there are more combinations than you can imagine. We had a different selection at every meal.  Sunrise, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurCrisp fresh linen and possibly the biggest bed I have ever seen, ensured a sound restful sleep, only to be woken up by the calls of peacocks the next morning.

Sunrise & Peacocks, Lakshman SagarNot sure whether it is more fascination to see peacocks at sundown or at dusk and sunrise, yet we had all times of day leisurely covered. Just as first light hit the horizon, the peacocks flew back one by one from the tree to the hillside across the catchment, each calling the next. It was like the march of peacocks, and then they settled over this side for the day.

Lakshman Sagar

Peacock feathers, Lakshman SagarAnd if there are so many peacocks, can feathers be far behind? The daughter collected hundreds of feathers from across the property much to her glee. Nothing to do suited her just fine! She had a go at the potters wheel, also at fishing though she didn’t catch a single fish! We were told that you either need a ton of patience OR luck to catch one.

Lakshman SagarBefore fathers and fishing, there was breakfast. It was delightful to put it mildly. I love the luxury of bespoke vacations. Eat when you like and what you like; also if need be, where you like! Everything is delivered with ease, efficiency and huge smiles. No one’s in a hurry, the pace is leisurely, which also means that you end up eating a lot. The good thing about slow living is that you walk a lot too, to burn it off.Breakfast at Lakshman SagarBreakfast day 1 was something like this – Fresh orange juice, maize dalia, googri {overnight soaked and cooked wheat kernels and horsegram}, sapota/cheeku jam, gum berry jam, fresh fruit, gur/jaggery, boora, honey, achaar, masala omelet, fire roasted tomato. Nothing refined or processed. Pertinently, every member of staff knows every ingredient, every dish, the origins as well as the recipe. That was quite intriguing!

Potters Wheel, Lakshman SagarPost the potters wheel and idling away angling, we languished by our pool back in the room for a bit.

Angling, Lakshman SagarIt was difficult to put the camera down. I wish I had a lens for wildlife photography. My kit lens wasn’t the best for this, but we caught a few antelopes / neelgai by the waterhole, tried to catch the turtles in the catchment pool, and a few ducks too.

Neelgai, Lakshman Sagar

Birds, Lakshman sagarWhat the camera couldn’t capture, the mind certainly did. Birds we saw included the lapwing, spotted owl, kingfisher, egret, dove, green pigeon, comorant, wagtail, parrot, tern, swallow, heron, sunbird, babbler, robin, bulbul, wagtail, waterhen, starling, bee eater, koel and ducks of every kind. You can go bird watching and spot up to 150 different species. Dyal Singh, Teji’s deputy, is like a bird encyclopedia!

Lunch, Lakshman SagarAmazingly it was time to eat again! Lunch was simple yet lavish – moongori sabzi, spring onion, methi aloo, a feta beet salad {the basil flavoured feta was locally made & divine}, sesame/til chutney, garlic chutney, mixed veg pickle,  pomegranate raita, masoor dal, jowar roti, coriander pulao. Everything was freshly prepared and bursting with flavour.  Ended with a chefs special sweet, ghewar, again a quintessential part of local cuisine.Definitely no entry. Door, Raipur villageIt’s always fun to drop by the local marketplace/business district to get a feel of any city, to discover it’s essence. Dyal Singh, was sweet enough to drive us there, stopping first at the local spice market. Since chilies were the only spice in season and being voraciously traded, that’s all the eye could see. Local spice market, RaipurWhat a splendid sight, made even better by a flock of sheep that came along. More entertainment. I’d never have thought that sheep eat chilies. They do, by the mouthfuls!! Sheep tales, Spice Market, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurAnd they appeared to enjoy the mouthfuls they grabbed, until they were herded away.

Sheep tales, Spice Market, Lakshman Sagar, RaipurWe took a quick trip down to the local village in Raipur. It had the quintessential closeness of a small town feel as we walked through the narrow single lane market, much like a high street. The colours, the sights, the sounds, local language all fascinate.Raipur village The shops were an eclectic mix of odds and ends. Who would expect a cold pressed sesame oil being milled freshly, a gun maker, a show maker and such shops rubbing shoulders along the street. Not much to shop here rather to my disappointment, actually nothing at all! Yet the walk through was quite an experience, a market held within two old city gates.Raipur villageAlso within the gates was the privately owned Raipur Fort, one of the few such heritage sites that has royalty in residence. It’s a beautiful property but clearly in need of restoration as the unoccupied parts have fallen to ruins.Raipur Fort, Raipur, RajasthanBuilt in true traditional Rajasthani architecture, you can see remnants of royal days gone by, replete with jharokas, a sheesh mahal, domes, arches, stained glass and a beautiful stone courtyard. I believe they are looking to restore this portion to offer it as a heritage hotel in the region.

Raipur Fort, Raipur, RajasthanAlso at the property was the sweet black royal filly Raj Rani who was quite pleased to have company. She was the sweetest little horse ever, nibbling away at my wrists and nuzzling my hands. Cacophony added to the otherwise peaceful surroundings with two geese cackling away quite loudly, clearly alarmed by our sudden appearance! I jumped off Dyal Singhs jeep to shoot a gypsy camp enroute too.Gypsy camp enroute to Lakshman SagarWe were soon on our away back to Lakshman Sagar to be greeted by a fragrant refreshing saffron basil cooler, AND fresh fish that had just been caught {much to the daughters horror who swore never to angle again!}. The fish was part of dinner served that night, but that wasn’t all.Lakshman Sagar That evening saw more of what this beautiful resort offers. A qawwali by local musicians resonated through the night, touching our souls and offering the best of Rajasthani soul music. Rustic, deep throated and vibrant music echoed across the  resort, as we headed for a live cooking class led by Teji and his master chef! It’s a great way to get close to local cuisine and see first hand what Indian cooking offers. There were guests from the UK as well, and they were clearly enjoyed the mogri beans, and rabdi pasta being stirred up. These dishes would soon be served up for dinner!Lakshman SagarWhile the remaining of dinner was being cooked in the kitchen, we sat around the well lit beautiful bonfire, enjoying starters. On the menu was a bbq chicken and tandoori cauliflower {gobhi} served with delicious chutneys again. Also rice papad. Dinner a short while later included haldi matar sabzi, dal, mogri, fish curry, rabdi pasta, and a pulao.  Dessert was an earthy rustic atta jaggery halwa which was delicious to say the least!

Field breakfast, Lakshman SagarBeen a busy time since we got here to do nothing. This nothing got better and better. The next morning was to offer yet another highlight of our stay, a field breakfast.

Fresh buttermilk, Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar Nothing prepares you for a peep into the local culture and lifestyle, and it was well managed by the team. It’s worth the 2 km walk across the rugged rocky terrain which lies just outside the property. What a pleasant morning it was!

Field Breakfast, Lakshman SagarThe neatly laid tables and machans that greet you, the residents of the rural farm making fresh flatbread and buttermilk, tamatar ki chutney that’s just come off the fire, all make for quite a memorable experience.Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar 3For me, also fascinating are home fires, traditional cooking methods, rural lifestyle that is hard to experience first hand and the ambiance of a local farm. To experience their lifestyle at such close quarters was another high-point of our visit. Sheep, goats, cows, puppies, birds, a 60ft well, fields of wheat and barley …Field Breakfast, Lakshman Sagar Makai and aata flatbeads/roti, fresh homemade sweet butter, freshly churned buttermilk, choorma, masala chai and orange juice made for the most delicious breakfast at the farm. A relaxed walk back, an early lunch {yes food again}, and it was time to leave. We were warmly bid adieu by Teji, Dyal Singh and the team with a traditional serving of gur and dahi for a safe journey.Lakshman SagarWith so much goodness packed into a rather productive weekend dong practically nothing, I know I’ll be back sooner or later. This is one glimpse of India that must be experienced at least once in a lifetime with Sewara. Down to earth, rustic yet luxurious goodness that was amazing!

Lakshman Sagar

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