Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Improve your user experience with Adblock

I can talk a lot but let me just let the images do the talking. 
Check out these two images to know how awesome Adblock is:

[ Chrome with Adblock ]

[ Safari without Adblock ]

Why would these websites make me go through option #2?
Some news websites )now do not show me the page till I unblock Adblock. Given the quality of the experience, why would I bother? I can access the same content through other sources - simply google the same headline and you will get other options. So it is really their loss if they put these hurdles between me and what I want!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mangalore Style Sambhar Recipe

Some of my friends love my mom's sambhar and have been after me for the recipe. Since we both had nothing to do this hot afternoon in Ullal, I got mom to dictate the recipe. I mailed it to my friends, and then thought why not share it with the rest of the world. So here it is... with practice and fine tuning one day you might be able to make it close to how good it tastes when my mom makes it.


5-6 red chillies (for colour)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon jeera
1 table spoon chana dal
3/4th tablespoon urad dal
1/4th teaspoon fenugreek
Roast separately on hot tawa and make powder. This is your [sambhar powder]. 

Take one teaspoon coconut oil. Add one stalk of curry leaves, one medium size onion cut into slivers, grated coconut little more than onion. Roast for a little over a minute. Add [sambhar powder] to this. Then wet grind with 1/4th cup water. This is your {sambhar masala}.

The Sambhar

Boil 1 cup tur dal, one medium onion, and one inch of ginger in 2 cups of water till it is a consistent paste. 
Add 2 drumsticks, 1 brinjal, 1 medium piece of white pumpkin, 1 tomato. Mix.
Add the sambhar powder. Add tamarind paste (as big as a lemon) and same quantity of jaggery and 1/4th teaspoon turmeric.
Add {sambhar masala}. Add 2 cups of water. You can add more if you want to make it. Bring to boil.
Add salt to taste, coriander leaves to garnish. 

For tempering/tadka

Take 2 tablespoons coconut oil. Add one teaspoon mustard seeds, when they crackle add 1-2 red chillies. Add 1/3rd teaspoon hing and some curry leaves.

Mix tadka with sambhar and it is ready to serve!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

12 July 2011 – Srinagar

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

We didn't waste too much time in Kargil. It was going to be a long ride to Srinagar through the deadly Zoji la pass today! Quickly after leaving Kargil we came across this odd board on the side of the road.

(not a care for our lives)

Passerbys told us that the hill behind the one you see to the right was Pakistan and they had bunkers up there with guns pointing at the road we were driving on! So the next obvious thing to do would be to park my bike next to the board and take pictures of it.

Within half an hour we had reached the army camp at Drass, where we stopped at the war memorial for breakfast. Maggi and sandwiches were had quickly, there was some official practice for some ceremony and we left before that started.
(Lakshya - to get out of here safely)

That's Tiger Hill in Drass. This is the second coldest permanent inhabited spot in the world after Siberia, with temperatures dropping to −45 °C in winter. We stopped at the war memorial for breakfast at the army canteen. Didn't bother with any of the exhibits! Kashmir is every bit as beautiful as it is made out to be.

("Gar firdaus, ruhe zamin ast, hamin asto, hamin asto, hamin asto" This was taken about a kilometer ahead of Draupadi Kund.)

It didn't take us long to climb up to Zoji La. This place is the equivalent of Rohtang on the Manali side. The roads are equally bad but we did not see the worst of it as it wasn't raining.  

(Approaching Zoji La)

Just before we reached the top, we encountered this couple carrying some goods over to Sonmarg.

(Couple at Zoji La)

At Zoji La the road was closed because of some blasting work and we lost two hours. There were 3-4 other bike groups stuck with us. An army van filed with gun carrying Jawans in the front. From the spot we were stuck at we could spot Baltal and it's many helipads below in the valley.

(The zig zag routes descending Zoji La)

Baltal is a huge camping ground which is used as an alternate starting point for the Amarnath yatra. It looks like a mess of tarpaulin sheets from up here.
(Baltal camping ground)

(Man waiting with us for the road to clear up)

After the blasting was done, the army convoys got first preference to cross over. And then bikes on either side and only then the cars. Somehow I landed up in front of the group and there was a group of 10-12 bullets following me. Kunal later told me that the scene was brilliant, bikes in a line, all equally spaced. No pics :(

The next town was Sonamarg, very beautiful again. We had a late lunch at a dhaba and quickly left to be in Srinagar before it shut down for the night. I would count the ride from here to the outskirts of Srinagar as one of the saddest I've ever done. There were two army men stationed every 100 meters throughout the route. This is the same route that is taken by the Amarnath yatris and the air was very tense. It is unfathomable that we could make other Indian citizens live their lives in such conditions.

At the outskirts of Srinagar there was an option to bypass the highway and go along a less frequented highway with little villages along the way. Being different from the yatra route, this was what Kashmir was actually like. I felt better again. We reached Srinagar at around 7.
(Dal lake and it's houseboats)

Srinagar at night seemed like just another city but with a huge lake plonked in the middle. There were a lot of touts offering services. We saw a shabby houseboat where the owner tried amazing selling strategies including parading his wife and kids and playing the emotional card. But being Mumbaikars, we walked out comfortably and settled for hotel Hayat near Dalgate. The place was clean and not too expensive in the end, though he did not reduce the amount even by a rupee. Dinner was at Hotel Shamiyana - which was good though a little too pricey! I picked up dry fruits from a shop, later my dad informed me that I had picked them at 1/4th the price he would have paid in Mumbai!

After dinner, I went down to chat with the owner and his friend Tikku, who ran a taxi in the city. His stories were absolutely crazy and only half-believable. He gave me a two hour talk about the city and what we should be doing and what to avoid in the road ahead. It is strange how we don't really feel tired at the end of these days in spite of the long hours spent on the bike.

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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Location scouting in the Himalayas

I was just watching some Rajesh Khanna-Hema Malini song on television. The song was set in either Himachal or (what is now) Uttarakhand. It had a mountain stream and snow-clad mountains in the background. I always wonder where they had shot these movies in the 60s and 70s and how much they would have changed now.

Some places like Sonamarg or Gulmarg are easy to spot because of the mountains around but some movies seem to be shot at random villages on the way to Shimla, Manali, etc. It would be awesome if I manage to find the equivalent of a location scouter of the 70s and talk to him about his favourite places, maybe even document the talk and make a book of it :D

Friday, June 8, 2012

11 July 2011 – Kargil

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

Another lazy start to the day. We had one last hearty breakfast at Leh and were off by 11:30. The road going from Leh to Srinagar is called National Highway 1 – and the highway lives up to the expectation. It was one long, even, stretch of tarmac across undulating desert hills. 

(Leaving Leh town)

Just after leaving Leh we came across Pathar Sahib Gurudwara – it's an unmissable white structure with blue and yellow highlights. It has a rock with the imprint of a sitting man. As legend goes, the rock was thrown on Guru Nanak and turned to wax on impact (thus the imprint). Magnetic hill was a farce.

(Pathar Sahib Gurudwara)

(Long empty roads meandering through little hillocks)

(Just after Magnetic hill)

The roads continued to be brilliant and at many places we were running parallel to the Indus and other rivers. The landscape was as dry as it can get and the occasional farm adjoining river-bank settlements were welcome respites from the different shades of brown. The landscape changed dramatically (yet again) as we were approaching Lamayuru.

(Landscape at the start of Lamayuru)

Lamayuru has a monastery complex, a short climb from the main road. We stopped at a little hotel cum home on the road. It was run by a Ladakhi woman and her husband. The food was good and wholesome – chapati, rice, rajma curry, some saag that had potatoes and salad.

(Lamayuru Monastery)

(Landscape after Lamayuru)

It was a day of easy riding so we took out time relaxing after that lunch before starting again. Within an hour we had climbed up to FotuLa, which is the highest point on the Srinagar-Leh highway. Effortless climb compared to our early climbs up passes. The frequency of settlements increased after this pass. Often, kids from these villages would run behind our bikes. If we stopped, the kids pestered us for chocolates. I gave away all the chocolates I was carrying to these kids.

(View from the top of Fotu La)

(Village kids from the area between Lamayuru and Mulbek)

At around 6:30, we reached Mulbek town, which has a statue of the Maitreya Buddha next to the road. The road then lost its pristine character here and the road was reduced to a dust field. By now a storm had started to form in the distance. Thankfully, it didn't rain - in fact it hadn't rained at all after the deluge at Rohtang.

(Cricket in the mountains)

I had lost contact with my friends in the stretch after Mulbek and by the time I rode into Kargil, I had no idea where they were. I rode through the length of the town, during which I realised how shabby the place is. I did eventually meet my friends, but the town really put me off. There was garbage everywhere.
We were asked to look for accommodation at the Dak Bungalow (which was basically the government guest house). It turned out to be on the top of a steep hill and was unsurprisingly full. There was a second wing of the Dak bungalow in the town below – that too was completely booked. In fact all the hotels we went to were full.

(Just after Mulbek)

While roaming around, I met a group of bikers. The guy I spoke to had come with a YHAI group based in Gujrat. They had biked all the way, most from Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar. There were around 10 bikers – most of them middle-aged Gujrati uncles with DSG riding gear. They had many support vehicles in tow for their wives. If they got tired, they too would hop in the car for a break. I could see that they were all drained from the experience – many of them had never ridden their bikes out of Gujrat. The heat of Rajasthan and the hellish roads at ZojiLa had taken its toll on them and to add insult to injury, their huge contingent couldn't find a hotel with enough rooms for all. We were probably the only two groups in Kargil left without accommodation.

(Kargil town)

In the end we ended up in the same hotel. They had booked two entire floors and we had one double room for the five of us. We had to pay 2500/- for the room –more than double of what we had paid for any accommodation in this trip. The main-in-charge was a short, thin guy in tight pants. He had the aura of a younger Dev Anand that had walked into Govinda's closet. He was very shady and I wouldn't be surprised if this hotel was a front for more sinister activities. We settled in our luxurious room and then went out for food. Kargil has limited options and after 10 your options are down to a handful. The place we went to was again very shabby and the only thing they had was rice and chicken fry. It was OK, not as good as what I have come to expect from Muslim joints. The owners spoke a very strange sounding language. Throughout our meal, we made guesses as to what it was and in the end agreed that it was Pashtun.

Kargil was a forgettable experience but the highlight of the day was the YHAI group. Got to admire their spirit. It's never too late to start exploring, not even if you are on the wrong side of 50.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

10 July 2011 – Leh

[Part of my write up for the Leh Bike Trip]

Up early as expected. Over the past few days my friends had been talking about returning through the Srinagar route. Our original plan was to return via the same route we had come but then we didn't quite know what to expect from the most difficult road in India. I had my reservations but you can't fight the majority view on such trips. The road through Srinagar (called National Highway 1) was much better than the Manali route, with excellent roads and only one difficult pass – ZojiLa. This was welcome news for my bike.

My bike was in the worst shape of her life and the first thing on the day's agenda was to find a good mechanic. For this I had to go out of town and towards the airport. The stretch before the airport is full of garages and logistic offices. Being a Sunday, many shops were closed but I found a mechanic at work on some bikes. I went in and started with my long list of problems. The guy told me that these were normal problems given the bike had done the Manali-Leh route and went on to tell me what he could do and what he could not. What he could do was essentially a change of oil and cleaning of the carburettor. The rest, he said, I should look at after getting back home. I went to another shop and picked up the oil – it was meant for cars but the shopkeeper and the garage guy said that it was better suited at high altitudes. I didn't see the point of arguing with experience.

(My bike at the garage)

I spent a good hour at the garage and the mechanics checked and tweaked a lot of things on my bike. It enjoyed all that attention after the punishment it had received. The other customer at the garage got chatting with me. Mr Dhakate, originally from Nagpur, had been working in the accounts department at the local ITBP guest house for a few years now. I asked him for help with the places around Leh and he patiently listed all the things that shouldn't be missed. I noted it all down. Thanks to him I had a notebook filled with information of places between Leh and Kargil peppered with insider tips. He gave me his number in case we ran into any problem on the way, and then also gave me his wife's number as backup in case we had trouble reaching his number. My bike was ready by now – I thanked the mechanics and came back to the hotel.

The power goes off quite often in Leh and that compounded the problem we had with limited charging points. We decided to leave our devices connected to the charging points hoping that they would be charged when the power came back on. We then headed to the market for a hearty continental breakfast. Lots of bread – served with cups of butter, jam and honey, potatoes, various preparations of egg, and exotic sounding teas. The cafe had an attached bakery and we ordered some pies to round off the meal. 

(First of the four eateries we visited during the day)

After that heavy meal, we wandered into a bookstore. It had shelves full of foreign language literature –  Japanese, Spanish, Korean, Russian, etc. Most of the books in there were used and there were very few books in English. I picked up a few maps to see the route back to Srinagar. The young Sardar at the counter came over to help us.

Gurpreet Singh, born and brought up in Leh, had manned this family-run store from as long as he remembers. He was as clueless as us about the route. Turns out he hadn't travelled much, not even the places around Leh. As he put it, "Ghar ki murgi dal barabar". He spoke about life in Leh and how it is important to be happy in your own company. Very few people stay in Leh through the year as life gets incredibly difficult in the winters. According to Gurpreet, the road outside his store has over six feet of snow at the peak of winter and they can't even open the main door which gets blocked by snow. On learning that we were from Mumbai, he told us that he had been there once. The only thing he remembered from his visit was a day spent at some amusement park, he couldn't recollect the name. Esselworld, we chipped in. Why a Punjabi family would prefer the harsh, inhospitable mountains of Ladakh to the irrigated fertile plains is beyond me.

We walked around the market, looking at souvenirs but found them too expensive. Feeling hungry again, we went into another cafe that offered a wonderful view of Leh palace from our seats. The food was average but the baked good on display looked delicious – yes this too had a bakery. After this, me, Kunal and Sanjay went out to explore the places nearby. Amey was primarily interested in the food joints and stayed back.

(View of Leh palace from our Leh cafe)

(Backpackers in Leh market)

We took out bikes out of town and towards the palace. Indians have it good here, like everywhere else – we had free entry while the foreigners were charged 100 rupees. The palace was being restored by ASI and many places were off limits.

(Leh palace)

We could see Tsemo Gompa further up on the same hill and that is where we went next. I was having difficulty pronouncing the name of the place. The guide outside the gate kept repeating Tsemo but all I could repeat was Semo-Semo. He had a tough time explaining to me how to pronounce it correctly. There's a beautiful statue in the complex that should not be missed. 

(Our bikes parked at the entrance of Tsemo Gompa)

(Tsemo Gompa)

The entire town could be seen from up here. Little white rooftops dotting a desert background with the snow clad Zanskar further beyond. There's a little hill at the entrance of the gompa that is covered with Tibetan prayer flags. The climb was through a narrow ridge and I wasn't feeling too confident about reaching the other side. Kunal went first and I followed ,slowly, on all fours at some stretches. Got many awesome photos from here of the town, the palace, and the Stok Kangri range.

(Leh town and the Zanskar range in the background)

(The hill with prayer flags on top - MUST VISIT!)

Before sundown we were back in the market, in yet another rooftop cafe having pretty the same stuff and loving it! While returning to our hotel, we saw a rather interesting looking place next door. I went in to check it out and the place resembled Mocha before the hookah ban came into effect. The place was open-air and the Zanskar range, lit by a full moon night, could be seen from all the seats in the house.

(Our enclosure in the lounge)

Called Elements, this place claimed to be a lounge and was a stone's throw away from our hotel room. I went back for my friends. We couldn't believe we hadn't discovered this place earlier. The night was chilly but we got a nice enclosure filled with red gaddas and pillows. We had a chess board and sketch pad on our table to keep us busy. The food and drinks were great. There was some brilliant music playing and I discovered many awesome songs that went on to become regulars in my playlist. There was a noisy Punjabi group in the next enclosure but we were in a world of our own. After we were done we stayed back till closing time. I am sure no one wanted our last night in Leh to end. I lay down with my feet up watching the bright little holes, the stray cloud, and a snow clad mountain range painted on my Leh sky.

(Imagine there's no countries, easy if you try)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mumbai International Airport, Departures Gate 2 at 5 PM

A man with an clumsily tied navy blue tie tries to walk out of the terminal building. His shirt is a light shade of yellow contrasting his grey pants. His balding forehead doesn't hide his age -- late 20s. The policeman at the gate stops him, as he has stopped every one else who tried to leave the terminal building. The man mutters something as he is held by the policeman's arms that spans his chest. I am not sure what happened between the two but the policeman lets him go. Maybe the policeman just forgot all about him when he got busy checking the flight ticket and passport of the next person in line.

The man looks around at the crowd. His Mongoloid-looking friend spots him and calls out to the man's wife. The woman holds a baby in her arms and has another spunky kid at her feet. She comes to the crowd barrier that separates the terminal building from the street outside. The barrier is as high as her neck and is placed in an awkward manner which doesn't let her husband come closer than two feet. The man notices that the barrier on the side of the terminal, the one that is placed on the pavement, is much shorter and allows easier access. He asks his wife to meet him there. He walks over and waits for them. I notice they have a taxi waiting when the driver honks. The friend acknowledges the honk with a raised hand, like a stop sign.

As soon as his wife reaches the barrier, the man hugs her and kisses her on her cheeks. I can see her back. She is dressed in a bright shiny salwar kameez. Her brooch and earrings are shinier, with white drops that look like pearls, but are just cheap plastic. The kids act disinterested as their father, standing on the other side of what is essentially a fence, tries to take them in an embrace. I see that his eyes are red now. He's continuously talking to his wife, who now looks down, unable to meet his eyes. He has tears in his eyes too but the smile doesn't leave his face. His friend is now standing some feet away, with a film camera in his hands. Long time since I saw one. He stands, waiting for the wife to look up and at the camera. The husband tries to get her to look up, and then tries again, and in the third or fourth attempt she wipes off her tears and looks to the camera. She even manages a slight smile and there's a flash.

The man then takes his younger kid in his arms and there's another flash. The kid looks at me. I look away and gulp -- that stops the little water molecules unifying into a tear. I take a look at the other people around me, circling the terminal, terminating back at the scene I was at. The man is now hugging his friend -- to the left, then on the right, then to the left again. Peculiar. He then shakes his friend's hand, saying what looks like a goodbye for the last time.

Then just as he is about to turn towards the terminal, he stops to hug his wife again, and plants a kiss on her cheek again! This time he turns and moves purposefully to the terminal. The policeman lets him in without rechecking his papers. He walks past the metal detector and is walking towards the glass door that enters the terminal but then suddenly looks back, as if he had forgotten something, he rushes back past the detector looking towards the barrier where his wife was. She has already moved into the waiting taxi. He raises his hand and shouts. I look towards the taxi. The doors are closing and I don't see them looking back. The man stares at the taxi as it pulls away, and then he turns and is quickly inside the glass door.

I look up at the flight information display board. It flickers as the status refreshes. The destination column of the board is full of Gulf destinations -- Kuwait, Riyadh, Dubai, Bahrain, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Muscat. Dream destinations for countless Indians with nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. Good luck man!

I managed to sneak a pic when they were not looking