Indian food blogger

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!

“It’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland.”
Michele Bachmann

SwissMade GrandTour PAB 2 1000Here’s part II of the Travelogue of our Swiss Made Grand Tour. A 7 day road trip that led us 1000 miles through four language regions, over five Alpine passes, to eleven UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as two biospheres and along 22 lakes. A tour that promised to provide a concentrated insight into Switzerland, with exquisite scenic views and cultural jewels.Hosted by Switzerland Tourism, and organised by NDTV Good Times, it lived up to the promise and delivered much more! An experience of a lifetime, the first part here!

NDTV PromoAs we move from road to TV, the Swiss Made Grand Tour is now on air {beginning 21st October 2015 on NDTV Good Times}

SwissMade GrandTour PAB #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesAs we moved from Vaud towards Interlaken, the beginning of German influenced regions of Switzerland, the landscape changed, and with it our comfort levels. We were HAPPY!!SwissMade GrandTour PAB #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesThe architecture, the countryside, and the energy, all becoming less reserved and more robust, much like the energy in the team. Our comfort levels changed as dramatically. From virtual strangers to back slapping buddies, here onwards the road trip was just a bag of laughs. The camaraderie shone, madness ruled, the laughter never ceased.

The bunch of us who went to Switzerland #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimes The good part was that the three of us, food, travel and auto blogger, were always on time. 7am would see 3 bright, fresh faces at the breakfast table, no matter what! Talk about Swiss precision and clockwork etc. We were often running late as a team however, yet picking up from the last post, we made Gstaad in good time. There we were treated to the quintessential fondue pot, in the best way possible! Imagine sitting on a hill slope, in idyllic surroundings, panoramic views of the Alps, crisp fresh country air, cow bells echoing in the background, stirring a pot of the yummiest fondue ever?

SwissMade GrandTour PAB #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesGstaad is famous in India for the rolling greens in the backdrop of the Alps where a great deal of Bollywood is shot. Thing Gstaad, think Yash Chopra. Fresh Alpine air, lush pastures and herbs ensure that the cheese you find here is the best possible. A visit to the Gstaad Cheese grotto, a virtual monument to cheese, endorsed that.SwissMade GrandTour PAB #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesWith over 3000 wheels of the best cheese, some very rare, are stored in -8C conditions. Descended a very steep bunch of stairs into an old converted water reservoir, it was a ‘Cheese, I love you‘ moment!SwissMade GrandTour PAB 2 #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesRows upon rows of neatly catalogued cheese wheels, beautifully piped music, library like shelves, this was cheese heaven. The only reason we eventually ascended was because -8C does eventually get to you if you aren’t warmly clad. We weren’t! It was 35C outdoors, and we hit the road to Interlaken where we planned to have dinner.

Mereingen, SwitzerlandDrove into Interlaken at 11pm to a city that was clearly in holiday mood and wide awake. Quick pizzas later we headed for very quaint Meriengen, our stop for the night. Crawling into bed at well past 2am, groggy eyed, I was up and out at 6am because of the steeple I could see from my window, the bell that chimed every 15 minutes. SwissMade GrandTour PAB Meiringen It was the quaintest towns ‘I’ve ever seen, one where I probably shot the most in the least possible time. Walked down the main street….SwissMade GrandTour PAB MeiringenThe city was waking up, very gently, not a soul in sight. Before long we were at the breakfast room. Such a warm woody country feel to it, such a vast display of rustic Swiss collectibles beautifully showcased, lace trimmings, natural light … just so pretty.

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Reichenbach FallsCars packed, we headed to first to the world famous Reichenbach Falls, famous for the apparent death of fictional hero Sherlock Holmes. A steep ride up in the funicular and we were greeted by the legendary falls, and breath taking views of the countryside below. Meringues at Meiringen #SwissMade #GrandTour #NDTVGoodTimesThen much to my delight, a visit to the Frontal Bakery in the town of Meiringen, famous for being the inventor of the ‘meringue’. I’ve baked a few meringues in my life. Even though I am not a huge fan of this sweet bake, the ones we had here were the best I’ve ever had, especially the one above!SwissMade GrandTour PAB Meringues at MeiringenI was a convert. Also because of the delightful way in which it was served! Wow!! Art on a plate! Sadly, it was time to leave. Yes. Again. We had more ground to cover, loads to see.

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Ballenberg There was more history to come by way of Ballenberg, the Swiss open-air museum. What an absolutely fascinating idea and place to put together, literally a stroll through the past. Just amazing! So much culture, history, tradition and such great grub.  SwissMade GrandTour PAB BallenbergOut of Ballenberg towards Grindlewald and it was my turn to grab the wheel. Yes time to drive and I loved it. Ballenberg, SwitzerlandWith views like the one above, saturated greens sweeping the countryside, wooden fences, bales of hay, wooden chalets. Took me the initial ten minutes to rewire the brain, the uber patient Neha by my side and soon it was bye bye camera, hello car! The next few days were quite the best as I drove in the mountains {first for me again}, through tunnels where 16 wheelers thundered by at high speeds like in video games, to sudden glimpses of shimmering blue waters.SwissMade GrandTour PAB GrindlewaldWe stopped by at a sunset in Grindlewald and it was STUNNING. The valley below with rolling greens, clouds playing hide and seek with the mountain tops, tourists stopping by to take infinite selfies, then one call from the rest, we zipped towards the very stunning Swiss Alp Resort Romantik Hotel Schweizerhof.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Grindlewald It was like stepping into ‘Heidi’s’ world. What an ah-mazing hotel! Early morning views of the sun kissing the Alps, of typical Swiss wooden chalets, of Neha sipping her first cuppa coffee in the balcony at 5.30am, of Sid racing up and down the stairs, then brewing me a cup of coffee.SwissMade GrandTour PAB GrindlewaldThe next morning, I was met by the very sweet Bettina from the local Swiss tourism board, my driving companion, to explore Interlaken at leisure, maybe shop a little {there was no time for the latter}.

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lake ThunWe spent ages languishing by Lake Thun watching elderly retired gentlemen soaking up the sun, playing with remote controlled sailboats and ducks lazing around like there was no tomorrow!

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lunch by Lake ThunLunch was overlooking the beautiful Lake of Thun. You have to love the Swiss for the great ambiance that goes to make food an unforgettable experience. Azure blue skies, shimmering water, gorgeous summer flowers, the odd seagull swooping down, the toot of the boat, sailboats being tethered…perfect atmosphere for a lazy afternoon meal. Tall delectable desserts later, with pictures to share, siesta might have been a good idea, but no rest for the wicked as Mandy gave us ‘the look’.

SwissMade GrandTour PABHerded back into cars amidst some very lame protest, we headed to yet another beautiful city, Lucerne, via the Swiss capital Bern. Yet not without stopping to enjoy the golden sunset that enveloped the countryside. It was a moment not to be missed, captured on film by the super efficient crew, and me on my cell.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Enroute to LucerneSwissMade GrandTour PAB Lunch Drive to LucerneIt was that part of the day when gold swept the countryside, cow bells echoes gently through every valley, the sky kissed the countryside and all was well with the world. The drive from there on was the best ever. Narrow country roads, high speeds, stunning countryside, lofty views from atop, we literally nosedived into Lucerne.

SwissMade GrandTour PAB LucerneLucerne, my favourite city, is a very popular tourist destination in Switzerland. If I had just one city to visit, it would probably be this one.We stayed in the heart of the city, and were fortunate to see it in every light. It’s a city that charms.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lucerne

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lucerne Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Every building has so much character, rows upon rows of heritage buildings, the wood bridge, clock towers, the castle that inspired Disney, ducks, flowers, dogs, cobbled streets, cafes, trams, sailboats, and bikes. You name it, they have it.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Mount PilatusSo much to do, so little time. Early morning we hopped onto cable cars to scale Mount Pilatus, Lucerne’s very own mountain. The very sweet and lively Colette introduced us to Pilatus – maker of weather, dragon’s lair, home to giants and grave of rulers. It’s one of the most legendary places in Central Switzerland and one of the most beautiful. On a clear day the mountain offers a panoramic view of 73 Alpine peaks. You must hand it to the Swiss to make every mountain so easily accessible and yet keep the country environmentally friendly!SwissMade GrandTour PAB Mount PilatusWe raced down at dizzy speeds on the Fräkmüntegg, Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan run, and then the rode with the new cableway “Dragon Ride” to Pilatus Kulm. There tried our luck with the Alphorn {miserable fail for Rachit & moi, full marks for Neha who suitably impressed, surprising pass for Sid}. Grabbed a 5 minute lunch, then hopped on to the historical Pilatus Bahn, the cogwheel train that was engineered way back in 1889!

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Pilatus Bahn

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Mount Pilatus Back in the city in a short while, it was time for something quintessentially Swiss – Chocolate! So Swiss, so fine, smooth, sinful, addictive. They spoil you with delectable bites with every shot of espresso. We were about to be spoiled further.

Experience chocolate for the first time” read the sign on the door as we giddily swung into boutique Max Chocolatier located centrally on Lucerne’s Schweizerhofquai. What a treat to the senses. Relying on the phenomenal flair for nuances and aromas, the chocolatiers blend cocoa, temper chocolate and handcraft exquisite confectionery just above the boutique. Based exclusively on natural raw materials, we were treated to an assortment of freshly made chocolate, pralines, truffles and seasonal specialties – each a work of art, though gone in seconds! With pairings like mango we could have stayed here forever….SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lucerne…but the old city beckoned. Bathed in the gold of the setting sun, fascinating was the word. Turn a corner from the main street overlooking Lake Lucerne and there you are, in the middle of the most beautiful half timber buildings, painted fronts, that date back several hundred years, window art, wooden doors, cobbled streets, stone fountains.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Old City, LucerneSince the city straddles the Reuss River it has several bridges, the most prominent of them the wooden covered Chapel Bridge. Originally built in 1333, it was almost destroyed completely by a fire in 1993 by a discarded cigarette. Restored since, it still has a series on paintings within that depict Lucernes history. SwissMade GrandTour PAB Chapel Bridge, LucerneIt runs by the Wasserturm, a 13th century water tower, and together the two make the most famous landmark of this stunning city.

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Lucerne 3Also famous and iconic is the St. Leodegar {Hof Church} founded in the mid-8th century, part of the monastery which in turn founded Lucerne. A Gothic church preceded the existing German Renaissance building, but was largely destroyed by fire in 1633. Only the towers, St. Mary’s altar and a few religious objects remain in the existing 17th-century building. SwissMade GrandTour PAB Dinner LucerneWe literally dined under the stars. It was a delicious meal, peels of laughter, yet nostalgia in the air. The trip was coming to a close! Time flies and how when you’re having fun. It was time to head to Zurich. End of the trip. SwissMade GrandTour PAB Einsiedeln Abbey

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Einsiedeln The brilliant hosts still had more for us – a lunch stopover at the most stunning Einsiedeln to have lunch and see the Einsiedeln Abbey enroute.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Einsiedeln Abbey

The Benedictine monastery  houses the Black Madonna, and is an important pilgrimage point for over a 1000 years. We were privileged to get a tour by the very charming resident Father Philippe. The interiors were awe inspiring – baroque style architecture with gleaming white, gold and pastel frescos, marble altars, and organ music echoing through the abbey, and the history of the abbey fascinating. {I took a quick video of the interiors on my cel}

SwissMade GrandTour PAB Einsiedeln AbbeyThat Abbey houses an age old library. There too books, religious and historical, over a 1000 years old, the interiors in white and pastels, with Baroque inspiration here too.SwissMade GrandTour PAB Einsiedeln Abbey LibrarySo much to take in, and we hit the road for the final leg. Not without a jump into the lake for Sid though. It was then that we realised how much we were all going to miss these days. NDTV Good Times and Swiss Tourism were fabulous hosts who offered us the most awesome Swiss experience ever – best food, best roads, best architecture, best people and the best scenery! The cutest dogs too!SwissMade GrandTour PAB to ZurichGood things come in small packages, and we lived to experience just that! Well, we were also pretty awesome company!!

SwissMade GrandTour PAB to ZurichCome share our experience! Catch the show on NDTV Good Times beginning 21st October.
{There is a repeat at 5.30pm this evening, 25th October 2015}

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Food & Property Review | High Ultra Lounge, Bangalore … on top of the world!

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‘Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”
Dr. Seuss

HIGH Ultra Lounge, BangaloreJust last week I flew down south to Bangalore invited to review High Ultra Lounge, a Brigade hospitality property perched ‘above the world’  at 421 ft at the World Trade Centre. Keeping me good company was Pawan Soni of Indian Food Freak, a thorough gentleman and a man full of food tales! The visit to the property was literally one of being on ‘top of the world‘, fascinating and intriguing!
Bangalore City It was certainly wonderful to be back to the garden city, a city I spent several years of my childhood in, one I visited last in the 1990’s! Bangalore is beautiful. A feeling of nostalgia hit me when I landed at the swanky new airport, gulping in breaths of fresh, cool air. It was good to be back!
Bangalore City The launch of High Ultra Lounge made a visit possible when the hosts generously flew me down for an evening to review their property in the heart of Old Bangalore. What added to the magic was the prospect of meeting the fab bunch of Bangalore food bloggers. I’ve been fortunate to interact with them virtually over the years; a real interaction was full of promise!
Bangalore City From HIGH Ultra LoungeHigh Ultra holds loads of promise. Prime property soaring high above beautiful Bangalore,one of the highest in India {possibly after one in Mumbai}, the concept is dynamic, fun and energetic. If the aim is to get people to sit up and notice this happening place, it isn’t going to be difficult. We had the pleasure of getting a first-hand sneak preview and guided tour of 10,000ft of creativity, the brain child of Nirupa Shankar, Director, Brigade Hospitality, executed under the direction of Vineet Verma, the Executive Director.
HIGH Ultra Lounge Divided into 4 neat areas, well thought out, aesthetically planned, youthful, light, fun, energetic, ‘TIMELESS’ is the word they concur with. Timeless was the thought behind the planning and layout, and it’s been done beautifully. Each area has it’s own character, whether the High View,  High Mix, High Edge {my personal favourite} or the High Dine.
HIGH Ultra Lounge I love the attention to detail, the colour coding, the lighting that can change according to mood and occasion, the avante garde feel that flows through almost effortlessly. What strikes you is the way they’ve been able to seamlessly weave the feel through the entire space. Clever planning ensures that any one area or lounge can be completely secluded or cut off from another. Little things like sound proofing, camouflaged entrances, personalised spaces and relaxed touches are spot on.
HIGH Ultra Lounge Head for High Mix and Guru, the man in charge, charms you no end. Swiftly mixing innovative mocktails and cocktails, he pleases men and women alike. From Guru’s Love Potion to an outstanding Guava Worcestershire sauce concoction, he soon had the crowd eating drinking out of his hands.
High Edge, High Ultra Lounge, BangaloreFrom High Mix we went on to High Edge which was my favourite of the four spaces. With an almost Titanic like appeal, the edge juts out over the city. Done in warm yet searing bright orange upholstery, it is an exclusive lounge with a cover to seat 50 … yet an expandable capacity for many more. I loved the functional seating, the creative use of space the colours, the lighting, the ambiance which makes each area special.
HIGH Ultra Lounge 6Then came the highlight of the evening and we were led to the helipad. Voila! A Valentine Day special, a table for two set out under the stars. Going at Rs1 lakh for the evening, it’s as special as can get, the bright lights of the city 400ft+ below! Here’s the lot of us clicked by the very talented High photographer who shot in pitch dark {but for the candlelight and 1 lamp!}

Ultra High BangaloreIt was finally time for a sit down dinner at High Dine, open air, whimsical,   beautiful surroundings, heady music, wonderful cool nip in the air.  Pan Asian cuisine is  what flavours the menu here. The kitchen is headed by executive Chef Zhang Hao who was a pleasure to interact with, energetic, affable and with infectious energy!

HIGH Ultra LoungeWe were treated to an extensive menu of modern Pan Asian cuisine, delicious in every bite. My favourites included the sweet corn with coriander butter, sweet potato with teriyaki reduction and the grilled tofu with the Korean chili sauce {it was outstanding} as was the crab stick tempura.

HIGH Ultra Lounge

Fresh crabs, melt in the mouth texture and light as air, boy were they good! The fried snapper with thai sauce, and fried chicken with mint and thai basil added to the variety.
HIGH Ultra Lounge The camera was soon abandoned. We chomped our way into the mains. and were treated to a Thai green curry {finger licking good}, massaman lamb curry, fish in laksa sauce over steamed rice or soba noodles. There were generous, well seasoned sides of stir fried veggies, veggies with sambal oelek etc.
HIGH Ultra LoungeDessert was plenty of fresh fruit and a tender coconut ice cream {though I am still quite sure there was litchi in there somewhere}…the texture leaning more towards a sorbet though, yet delicious as can be. There was also Banoffee Pie which was well made and indulgent!

HIGH Ultra Lounge Thank you High Ultra Lounge for the fabulous pre-launch experience. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with the concept. Before long, this is going to be a must visit destination for anyone headed for Bangalore and Bangaloreans alike. Bravo!!

World Trade Center,
Brigade Gateway Campus,
26/1 Dr. Rajkumar Road,
Malleswaram West,
Bangalore – 560 055
+91 80 4567 4567

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