In Peace… Harmandir Saheb and some other Gurudwaras

I was within and without ,simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”-Scott Fitzerland,The Great Gatsby.

Amritsar has been a city close to my heart, awakening in me my inner most sensibilities and gifting me with a peace which often makes me cry and teaches me to let go.This trip to Amritsar was within a year of my last trip here.Unable to grapple with the close loss of my two pets, I went there last year in search of answers, in search of releasing me from bonds of love towards them, to free them from earthly connections and set them free across the rainbow bridge.Sitting beside the Amrit Sarovar for hours on end in the wee hours of the night and early hours of dawn there were tears which I didn’t want to control.I got my answers about the inevitability of death, about the possibility of coming out strong from loss,about making their loss a part of my being. Just before making the final exit from Harmandir Sahib I had said to myself that I must visit Amritsar every year.

This year for many reasons had been life changing.There were many decisions I took which might help me chart a different course,people I met professionally whom I will draw inspiration for the rest of my life and who later became friends to show me new ways of living meaningfully,people whom I became friends with,who showed me the joys and liberation of crossing boundaries and the importance of knowing oneself.It was few days of nerve racking tension when I was awaiting a news of well being of a friend that took toll on me.During one of my early morning train rides to college those days I was tensed to the extent I did not want to sit through the two hours of travel.Had a hymn of Wahe Guru in my phone and listening to it for 45 minutes gave me a calmness and a strength of mind.Within minutes the hymn got over I got the news that all was well.I knew I had to go back to Harmandir Saheb soon enough. So my second trip to Amritsar was to happen within a year of my first.

Late night flights and nearly after three hours of flying and four hours of transit, I reached Amritsar feeling tired and sleepy.After checking in at the hotel and freshening up with a cup of Earl Grey, hearing the distant hymns of the kirtan from the Golden temple my fatigue vanished and I went straight to the Golden Temple.I had submissions to make,clear my mind and above all offer myself and my service to the Power above who made it possible to keep my promise of revisiting the hallowed place within a year.

As I stepped into Harmandir Sahib there was an instant feeling of serenity,a feeling of belonging and a sense of a Power drawing me irresistibly towards Him.The sense of peace was overwhelming inspite of thousands of devotees as I began walking around the marble pathway or parikrama .The Golden Temple is truly an architectural masterpiece invoking spontaneously a sense of awe and harmony which had its origin only in the Divine. As I descended the steps from the main clock tower the enormity of the temple,the azure waters of the Amrit Sarovar,the stream of devotees,the organized volunteers at work to keep things moving touched my inner nerves.

The history of Harmandir Sahib is enriching, syncretic and above all endearing to the faithful.The Amrit Sarovar which is more ancient than the temple is filled with water drawn from the river Ravi. Guru Amardas discovered the site while he was on a tour of this area.The oral tradition associates this place with the story of Rajni and her husband who was a leper.Wandering in search of food, Rajni left her husband by the pool.The husband saw crows diving into the water and turning white on emerging from it.He thought the pool had magical qualities, he took a dip in the pool and was healed. Bhai Jaitha began digging of the pool in 1574 to be completed in 1589 during Guru Arjan Dev.

Guru Ramdas purchased the land around the tank from the inhabitants of Tung village. The village grew into a town and came to be known as Chak Ramdas. The foundation stone of Harmandir Saheb was laid by a Sufi saint, Mian Mir of Lahore, a friend of Guru Arjan Dev. The entrance to Harmandir Saheb is through an imposing gateway known as Darshan Deorhi. Guru Arjan Dev conceived the shrine to embody the fundamental ethos of the Sikh religion- modesty, humility and God being accessible for all. The Harmandir Sahib has four entrances symbolic of the emphasis laid on equality in Sikhism and it’s rejection of caste hierarchy. The reconstruction of Harmandir Sahib was completed in the later half of 18th century,after it was blown up by Afghan plunderer Ahmad Shah Durani in 1762.The rich marble inlay work was done under the patronage of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

Replete with domes, balconied windows, chatris, the structure is a harmonious blend of Mughal and Rajput architecture. In a departure from building mosques and templed at a higher plinth, Guru Arjan Dev built the temple at a depression, that required the faithful to walk down steps to enter the parikrama. The floral designs of the inlay incorpoated birds and animals in rich pietra dura style. The wall, the cornicex, the roof columns are covered with gold leaf. Omega watches adorn passages and the entrance. Maharaja Ranji Singh gave a Rs 5 lakh grant in 1803 and an inscription at the entrance testifies his contribution. Marbles were inlaid with floral arabesques in precious stones like lapis lazuli and mother of pearl. Muslim artisans contributed with jaratkari work. The interiors in red, blue and ochre used fresco, gach and tukri methods.

One divine nature of the Temple is that inspite of thousands at the premises, one never feels the rush. The first thing I always do on reaching Amritsar is take a shower and reach out to the Temple, which is 100 m from my hotel. Washing the feet and my sins before entering, the first glimpse from the stairs, the parikrama and the wait at the Darshan Deorhi before entering the holy sanctum, the hymns of the Kirtan, I waited for the line to move on. One of the most disciplined self managed temple line I have ever been a part of. After paying respects to the Guru Granth Sahib I went up the stairs to the first floor. It is actually a gallery overlooking the sanctum and the sarovar. I sat for an hour beside a balcony there and all I could feel were my wet cheeks. I did not want to cry but there were tears all over. Did not want to stop them too, with it may be flowed my negative thoughts.This time I was in Amritsar to reaffirm my belief, to offer my humble gratitude. As I was restless and praying for a loved one one morning, Harmandir Saheb had wrapped me in peace. Within minutes of that divine connection I got the news all was well. At that first floor balcony my mind was lost for some time, could feel my senses in the closest sensations ever. My confusions were cleared, my decision was strengthened and my love reaffirmed. I felt someone was at it. Above the gallery on the first floor is an old manuscript of Guru Granth Sahib. The terrace has the most ethereal views of the entire temple premises. The sky reaches out to you.

Just opposite to the Darshan Deorhi, the Akal Takht stands in faith.Literally meaning the Almighty’s throne,it is the site of temporal authority.It is said that Guru Hargobind laid the foundation stone of the Akal Takht in 1606.It was constructed by Baba Budha – the first head priest and Bhai Gurdas who inscribed the first copy of Guru Granth Sahib. During Operation Blue Star, a lot of damage occured to the 18th century art work.The present white marble structure was rebuily in consonance with the Sikh concept of Kar Seva. The Guru Granth Sahib every night is brought in procession in a ceremony in the Palki Saheb to rest at Akal Takht. Each morning before daybreak the Guru Granth Sahib is again brought back to Harmandir Sahib in a flower adorned golden palanquin.Nagaras announce the beginning of the ceremony. The head priest carries the Holy Book covered with brocade sheets on his head and places it on the palki. I was lucky enough to watch both . While at the temple, the two Nishan Sahibs linked by the shield and crossed swords evoke the temporal and spiritual aspects of the religion, the militaristic phase of Sikhism from 1606.

Harmandir Saheb never ceases to amaze you. There is history and faith at every corner. There is celebration of syncretism, brotherhood, military spirit, selfless service, discipline at every bend. Harmandir Saheb today is an assertion of Sikh faith, it’s power and the indestructibility of the faith. Sikhism continues to offer an abiding sense of spiritual reassurance and an entrenched belief in the Gospel about God’s accessibility to all. The days I am at Amritsar I spend hours at the temple sometimes just sitting beside the sarovar, sometimes near the Darshan Deorhi soaking in the spiritual and mental liberation Harmandir Sahib offers to one and all.

This trip was a bit extended as I wanted to visit Tarn Taran and Dera Baba Nanak.Books are indeed the window to the world. For a non sikh by religious faith I did not know about Nanak Der Baba. Reading a book by Bishwanath Ghosh, Gazing at Neighbors, Nanak Der Baba became a must visit in my itenary.

Since Tarn Taran was a shorter drive from Amritsar and I wanted to be at Tarn Taran Sahib during sunset I drove across the highway in the afternoon and once I reached the Gurudwara I was enthralled. The huge Sarovar with its gleaming water, the mughal style architecture, the gold inlay work was worth the drive. Tarn Taran Sahib has s tranquility that is unique to it.

One of the largest of the Sikh holy tanks, it is an approximate rectangle in shape. The sarovar was originally fed by rain water that flowed in from the surrounding lands. The sarovar was completed in 1778 and Maharaja Ranjit Singh visited the shrine in 1802.In 1833, Maharaja Raghubir Singh of Jmd had a water channel dug, connecting the tank with the Lower Kasur Branch of the Upper Ban Doab Canal at Rasulpur watermills, The name Tarn Taran, since appropriated by the town itself, originally belonged to the sarovar, so called by Guru Arjan. Literally it means, “the boat that takes one across (the ocean of existence)”. (Tarana in Sanskrit is a raft or a boat). According to Sikh tradition, the water of the old pond was found to possess medicinal properties, especially efficacious for curing leprosy. The sarovar was known as Dukh Nivaran, the eradicator of affliction. Akal Bunga, a four storeyed building near the Nishan Sahib was constructed in 1841 by Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh. The only completed column of the four planned by Kanvar Nau Nihal Singh for the beautification of the sarovar at Tarn Taran, stands at the northeastern corner. The three storeyed tower was erected during Kanvar’s lifetime. The dome on top of it was added later.

I spent that evening sitting beside the sarovar at Tan Taran Sahib and time just flew. I no longer longed for appreciation, acceptance and away from worldly acquisitions I realized the biggest joy is perhaps in giving, giving your mind to your loved ones, sharing the worst times of your loved ones and just being alien to the entire gamut of the term expectations. Tan Taran Sahib remains a cornerstone in the journey of my becoming. I do not know the end of my journey or wish to know the path of it, prayed that my journey becomes a healer in itself.

Inspired by the book Gazing at Neighbors by Bishwanath Ghosh,a trip to Dera Baba Nanak was in the offing. Drove past the most beautiful fields which describes Punjab in all its grandeur into Gurudaspur district to reach Dera Baba Nanak and the Kartarpur corridor work which is in progress. 49km from Amritsar on the left bank of the Ravi river and within a few kilometers from the border with Pakistan, Dera Baba Nanak is one of the most important places of pilgrimage. Guru Nanak’s son rescued the urns bearing his fathers ashes from the river and reburied it next to a well where Guru Nanak had once preached in 1515.This place came to be known as Dera or mausoleum of Guru Nanak. Guru’s grandson, Baba Dharam Dad founded a settlement around the Dera and named it Dera Baba Nanak. The Chola Sahib established by a descendant of Guru Nanak was named after a robe or chola with Koranic verses and Arabic numerals imprinted on it which was gifted by a Muslim during Guru Nanak’s visit to Baghdad. A tussle ensued with the SGPC and the descendants of Guru Nanak and later the chola and the handerkerchief embroidered by Guru Nanak’s sister, Bebe Nanaki gifted on the occasion of his marriage are preserved in a newly built shrine managed by the descendants of Guru Nanak.

The best part of the trip was to the border area from where Kartarpur Sahib is visible and where stands alone in silence and agony the barbed wires on Radcliffe Line. Manned by BSF I went to the last steps. From a telescope placed there I could see the Kartarpur Sahib barely a distance from the border. The gurdwara was built to commemorate the site where Guru Nanak settled after his missionary work. He assembled a Sikh community there, and lived for 18 years until his death in 1539. The gurdwara is built where Guru Nanak is said to have died.The present building was built in 1925 at a cost of Rs.1,35,600, donated by Sardar Bhupindar Singh, the Maharaja of Patiala. It was repaired by the Pakistan Government in 1995, and fully restored in 2004.According to Lahore-based art historian Fakr Syed Aijazuddin, the shrine houses the last copies of the original Guru Granth Sahib.

As I saw the border in the setting sun and the work of the construction of the Kartarpur corridor which would connect the two countries for pilgrims to access the gurudwara without a visa, I was filled both with sadness and hope. Looked back from the car and within the dust I could see the barbed wires fading in oblivion. I was happy that may be Guru Nanak one who preached selfless humanitarianism would reconnect the nations cutting across those lines. I was sad seeing how the sun could easily cross borders and set on the Pakistan side while we as mute spectators of history were victims of carnages and hurried decisions which left gaping wounds.Two nations born out of one umbilical cord but divided, bruised and angered.

This trip to Amritsar was not a religious one in its essence.My abiding faith in the Power, my dependence on it to bail me out from moments of despair and anxiety were personal reasons which made go back to the city twice within a year..”Let Compassion be the cotton, Contentment be the threat, Continence the knot, Truth the twist… “. Harmandir Saheb to me expresses the omnipresence of the One Almighty, the Oneness beyond division and the equality of humanity. To me it is peace, a journey in the process of the search of the self .

The story of Rimpocha Tea and Cup e Bong – a partnership towards social responsibility.

Enterpreneurship with a goal of social good is often areas of research and theoretical dialogues. To see and hear about #Rimpochatea spearheaded by none other than the king of Darjeeling brew #RajahBanerjee , once of the iconic Makaibari Tea was a pleasure at #cupebong .Amit Halder you deserve accolades for brewing tea with a cause. Using exclusively flavours curated by Rimpocha Tea and venturing into showcasing and retailing the delicate flavours from your outlet, only one in the tea loving city of Kolkata, #Cupebong has endeavoured for yet another partnership with a cause.

The spearheaders of the campaign -Amit Halder and Rajah Banerjee


The story of Rajah Banerjee, the king of tea gardens is an inspiration in itself. Born with a silver spoon and a heritage of tea making Rajah Banerjee infused social responsibility in the archaic colonial system of exploitation in the tea gardens. Starting with building toilets for women labourers within the garden to keep them safe and hygenic to inaugarating the entire concept of tea tourism by opening his bungalows for the tourists to engaging and training community members to run the show Rajah Banerjee did it all. Rajah is not his original name, he was named so by the people of the area.
The image if the king on a horse back along the undulating green slopes is always fresh in the minds of those who have stayed at Makaibari homestay.
To take up challenges and to be reborn within one life is not a fairytale story. One devastating fire at Makaibari razed to the ground the heritage bungalow. Rajah Banerjee heard the calling, decided to exit his known domain and venture into new pastures with a cause. Rimpocha Tea was born with the tagline of partnership not ownership. An inclusive management style, with the aim of empowering women towards self sufficiency and a sustainable reality and above all growing tea in accordance with the principles of biodynamics is Rajah Banerjee’s philosophy of tea growing.
Recycling tea waste, retention of top soil, broker free fair trading Rimpocha began establishing and partening farming communities.

Rajah Banerjee – the tea plantet par excellence

@Amit Halder and Cup e Bong has partnered with Rimpocha. A sip down the Second Flush Musk, a mid day brew at Cup e Bong was bliss. The delicate flavour of the cup that was brewed for three minutes kept lingering for hours.
Available in smartly packaged little cartons the First Spring Flush, Sen-Cha, orange peel infusef Araby Attar, lemon grass infused green tea blend Usha Kiran, the cup for your cold Fortify with ginger and cinnamon, the Sundowner will give you a kick no less than a peg of a fine Scotch.
Take your picks among these and many other like Sanjivani -with unoxidized low in caffeine brew to the most delicate Silver Tips for the connoisseur from Cup e Bong.


My favourite remains the Second Flush Musk.
Going beyond tea towards organic cultivation and hand processing of various varieties of rice Rimpocha will be soon making its forray into handmilled raw rice with minimum processing.Your favourite pork or chicken rice bowl at Cup e Bong will soon use the organic hand milled rice.
Sticky red rice or brown rice permeated with the flavours of your favourite chiili pork at Cup e Bong will soon be a reality.
It was a pleasure as well as a life lesson meeting and hearing the icon of Darjeeling Tea Swaraj Banerjee aka Rajah Banerjee.
Hope to be part of many more tea tasting sessions by Amit Halder at Cup e Bong soon.
Came back happy with my pick of Second Flush Musk for a friend who enjoys the evening cup.

An Ode To a Late Night Temptation-The World of Chocolates

Chocolates are like the closest of friends -be it during a mid morning laziness, a necessary dose of adrenaline at work or a late night bout of sadness,chocolates give me a succor and a love 24×7 round the year.On this International Chocolate Day, I thought of looking back to the evolution of modern day gooey chocolate and its varied use from a very modest beginning of a simple cacao bean. Chocolates have become synonymous with so many emotions of life-love,friendship,making up after a tiff, in a sense chocolates build relationships.They create and seldom destroy.

Made from the astringent ,bitter seeds of a tropical tree,chocolates has an unique consistency-hard and dry at room temperature ,melting and creamy in the warmth of the mouth.Sculpted into almost any shape, with a flavor which is versatile and unique, chocolate which we know and love existed only fora tiny fraction of chocolate’s full history.The story of chocolate begins in the New World,with the cacao tree, which evolved in the river valleys of equatorial South America.The first people to cultivate the trees were the Olmecs of the southern coast of Mexico.Introduced in Maya in 600 BC, it was traded to the Aztecs in the cool and arid north.The Aztecs roasted and ground cacao seeds and made them into a drink served in religious ceremonies.The first Europeans who saw the cacao beans were the crew of Columbus’s brought some beans back to Spain.One of the first detailed accounts of the original chocolate comes from the History of the New World (1564) by the Milanese Girolamo Benzoni who travelled to Central America.He wrote that the region had made two unique contributions to the world-Indian fowls and cavacate or the cacao bean.

Etymologically the word chocolate has a complicated lineage.The Aztec word for cocoa water was cacahuatl but the early Spanish coined chocolate for themselves.The Europeans added their own flavorings like sugar, cinnamon, cloves,anise,almonds,vanilla,orange water.According to English Jesuit Thomas Gae, the cocoa beans were dried and ground with spices,heated to melt the cocoa butter and form a paste.Then they scrapped the paste onto a large leaf, allowed it to solidify and then peeled it off as a large tablet. The first European factories for making the spiced chocolate paste were built in Spain around 1580 and within 70 years chocolate found its way into Italy, France and England.By the late 17th century chocolate houses were thriving in London as a kind of specialty coffeehouse.

Henry Stubbe in his treatise on chocolate, The Indian Nectar(1662) wrote about chocolate lozenges in Spain. Cookbooks of the 18th century include a handful of recipes that needed chocolate like marzipan and biscuits,ices and mousses. French Encyclopedie wrote about half cocoa, half-sugar cake flavored with some vanilla and cinnamon -eaten with a cup of water.Even in the middle of the 19th century Gunter’s Modern confectioner devoted only 4 pages out of 220 to chocolate recipes.

For a couple of centuries ,Europe knew chocolate almost exclusively as a beverage.Chocolate was ‘the’ drink of the European aristocracies – no upper-class home was complete without chocolate making and drinking. But things started to change in 1828 when Coenraad van Houten from Amsterdam changed the game. He invented the ‘cocoa press’, which could separate the fat from a cacao bean, leaving behind a fine powder.This powder was much more tasty to enjoy as a drink, and people started adding milk to it instead of water, making it more like the hot chocolate we’d drink today. This method also meant chocolate could be mass-produced, which made it cheaper and so the wider public could buy and enjoy it. Some called this the democratization of chocolate.

In 1847 British chocolatier J.S. Fry and Sons had the novel idea of recombining the fat and liquor, and adding sugar. He set this in moulds and chocolate bar was born.The next big episode in the chocolate saga came when Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter put powdered milk in the mix, creating the world’s first milk chocolate bar. In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in lieu of wages. While most of us probably wouldn’t settle for a chocolate paycheck these days, statistics show that the humble cacao bean is still a powerful economic force.
By 1917 Alice Bradley’s Candy Cook Book devoted an entire chapter to assorted chocolates pointing to the fact that the South american bean had come of age asa major ingredient in confectionery. In 1876 a Swiss confectioner Daniel Peter used the new dried milk powder to make the first solid milk chocolate.In 1878,Rudolph Lindt invented the Conche, a machine which ground cacao beans,sugar and milk powder slowly for hours to develop a fine consistency.Till date Switzerland’s per capita consumption of chocolate is about double that of United States.

Some Facts-

The inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, Ruth Wakefield, reportedly sold the recipe to Nestlé for $1 only.

White chocolate isn’t actually chocolate, because it doesn’t contain cocoa solids. Sorry.

The largest chocolate bar in the world weighed in at 5792.5 kg. Thornton’s made it for their 100th birthday.

The largest chocolate bar in the world weighed in at 5792.5 kg. Thornton’s made it for their 100th birthday.

The phrase ‘death by chocolate’ could have applied to Winston Churchill- during World War 2, the Nazis plotted to assassinate him using an exploding bar of chocolate.

The range of chocolates is wide and varied now-from the simple milk chocolate to various artisanal chocolates to handmade ones, one is spoiled for a choice.Magical,perfect,endearing, forever chocolates are for one and all.To me chocolate saves me from my late night hunger pangs after a day of dieting. My refrigerator is never short of a mildly flavoured orange dark chocolate.One piece and you know sleep is not far way.Chocolate stocks are always replenished in my house-it may be a luxurious Toblerone or a out of the budget Lindt Chocolate for extra grey days or even a humble bar of Amul Fruit and Nut or at least the colorful sugar coated childhood favourite Gems.Even at work when hours of looking at the screen with statistics of students and results one is dead tired there are instant saviors.Friend and colleague Anupama is always their with a bar of happiness and energy.

Let chocolates remain evergreen,let it take the place of sleeping pills and life coaches.Ring in happiness and shun out clouds from life.Have a chocolate with a smile.

Walking along Kolkata- Calcutta we love.

It was one of those Sundays when the customary late morning breakfast at a cafe or a visit to the Mall to pick up weekly provisions seemed boring.It was a very warm June morning, a laid back tea in the bed would be most comforting, my driver who generally has a Sunday off called me to inform that he was available in the morning and I might make some plans to go somewhere.My mind danced at the joy of doing something unplanned-routines,deadlines ,alarm clocks had made life so predictable.Even a coffee with a friend followed a known destination.I asked my driver Rabi to come at 9.30 am sharp.Asked around the house if anybody was eager to accompany me and everyone shuddered at the idea when the mercury was touching 38 degree centigrade and I could offer no concrete plans or destination. Rabi was enthusiastic at the plan for I gave him no destination and asked him to simply drive along Red Road ,past Akashbani straight to Babu Ghat.

In Col Mark Wood’s Map of 1784 ,Babughat marked the southern boundary of Dhee Calcutta and today Babughat is synonymous with death rituals of grieving families,bus stands,milling crowds,priests,chants,people seeking salvation.

I stood in front of an imposing Doric column and arched gate with a plaque containing the following text-“The Right Hon’ble Lord William Cavendish Bentinck, Governor General, with a view to encourage the direction of private munificence to works of public utility ,has been pleased to determine that this Ghaut ,constructed in the year 1830,at the expense of Baboo Rajchunder Doss ,shall hereinafter be called Baboo Rajchunder Doss’s Ghaut”. The Ghat was constructed in 1830 by Rani Rashmoni ,the zamindar of Jan Bazar in memory of her husband Late Babu Raj Chandra Das.

Babu ghat as it is known in the cityscape was swelling with grieving families trying to finish the rites as fast as possible,hymns of the ceremonies traveled through the crowds and filled the air with a sense of melancholy.I stopped short of taking pictures of the rituals.The steps of the ghat were muddy and slippery,garbage of rotten flowers,cooked rice,earthern pots were heaped on the stairs. Babughat has an everyday life where death is synonymous with livelihood of the numerous priests who go about their work with a stereotype rhythm devoid of any emotions.The dead here is just a name and a gotra ,a mound of ashes in an earthern pot in a hurry to be immersed in the holy waters. I remembered that February evening years back when I too came here with the ashes of my most loved person-my baba. Kolkata on that hot summer afternoon suddenly seemed sad and embroiled in the ever going cycle of creation and destruction.The ghat was mostly crowded with grieving male members of every family,I felt a bit out of place in the ambience of grief and loss,I walked towards the car and asked Rabi to drive towards the High Court.

The High Court premises were absolutely empty except a few uninterested policemen walking about.Standing in front of the impressive building built in Neo-gothic style in 1872,I was starstruck seeing the oldest of all the high courts in India.The centre tower of the building is nearly 180 ft high with the capitals of the pillars built in Caen stone and is beautifully sculptured Walter Granville built the present building of the High Court on Esplanade Row. It has red brick facing with stucco dressings, above an “elegant vaulted cloister of Barakur sandstone with capitals of Caen stone”. Philip Davies described it as “the only significant secular Gothic building in the city”. Jan Morris characterized the building as “tremendous,” and “the most daunting building in town” Heritage commentators agree that the High Court structure was influenced by George Gilbert Scott design for the Hamburg Rathaus (1854-56), itself based on the Cloth Hall in Ypres. When the Cloth Hall was destroyed in World War I, the Mayor of Ypres asked for the plans of Calcutta High Court to help reconstruct it. I walked about the premises and turned left and saw the various entrances for the litigants,the lawyers,the clerks. Neighbourhood boys were playing cricket in the empty roads ,the arched windows had silent stories of great legal luminaries like Sambho Nath Pandit,Dwaraka Nath Mitter, Ramesh Chandra Mitter,,Gurudas Banerjee,Ashutosh Mukherjee who practised in High Court in the colonial period and the famous legal battles which echoed through the hallowed pillars of the great edifice.

The very name Town Hall recreated history classes of the school days in my mind.Images of the swadeshi’s and revolutionaries congregating at the Town Hall cloud my mind.To my lack of knowledge about the cityscape I have never been to the Town Hall all these years of my life in Kolkata. A stone’s throw from the High Court stands the Town hall built in Doric architectural style, the origin of which can be traced back to a meeting held in Le Gallais Tavern in 1791.The Town hall is currently under renovation but the glimpses of the pillars with the canons on the gateway of this milky white edifice made my day worth.

The Town Hall was not built by East India Company funds .When European citizens decided to construct a town hall with the purpose of holding meetings and formal receptions necessary funds were raised through public lottery. Plan for the proposed hall was sanctioned in 1807 and Col J Garstin completed it in 1813, Initially the Hall offered the Europeans of Calcutta a permanent public space where they could meet and discuss matters of common concern. Later joint meetings by Europeans and Indians became common .The Calcutta School-Book Society held several of its meetings in the Hall. A farewell was accorded to Sir Hyde East, a founding father of the Hindu college, at the Town Hall on the eve of his departure for England in 1821.In the second half of the nineteenth century Raja Rammohun Roy, Radhakanta Dev, Dwarkanath Tagore, Ramanath Tagore, Motilal Seal, SK Lal Mohammed, Rajendralal Mitra, Aga Mirza Shirazi held meetings in the Hall . The Sadharan Brahma Samaj was formally launched in a Town Hall meeting of 15 May 1878. The Indian Association and the Indian National Congress made use of the Hall on different occasions. In the 1890’s Jagadish Chandra Bose demonstrated his early experiments in electric waves in the Town Hall. Rabindranath Tagore delivered his famous speech Kantha Rodh in the Hall in 1898. The Swadeshi movement was formally launched from a Town hall meeting of 7 August 1905.After the First World War, the Town Hall gradually lost its aura and eventually became what it had initially been, a place for ceremonial gatherings. After the introduction of the Dyarchy in 1919 the Town Hall was used as the Council Chamber of the Bengal Legislative Council.The Town Hall today houses a very valuable archive where several first person accounts are treasured.

My happiness in gazing at the Town Hall had an abrupt end when I was walking back.The plaque of the Town Hall lay uncared for with wild bushes growing around.With a heavy heart when I turned to look at the building once again there was a sudden wind and the green cloth cover of the renovation work swayed and I got a glimpse of history.

Driving past GPO on an absolutely empty Sunday Road I asked Rabi to stop near Writers Buliding. Writers Building is more than a building or an architectural wonder,it is what Calcutta and later Kolkata has been over decades.Standing tall in the BBD Bagh area (Dalhousie Square) and covering the entire stretch of the water body, the Lal Dighi, a stately structure served as the secretariat building of the State Government of West Bengal. It houses stories of colonial rulers,the Communist government at its heyday,the withering away of the communist movement and later the government,the abandoning of the building as the seat of power by the new government.It is a story of grandeur as well as story of sadness.The road in front of the building was empty,there were a few police personnel and a lone RAF person guarding the lost pages of history.The red color stands bright and bold,several windows were broken or open.A picture of neglect was well written on the walls of Writers Building.

During the British rule, due to the increasing need for a building to carry out the various administrative works, the idea of constructing the first three storied building was conceived by Governor Warren Hastings. Clerks of the East India Company (EIC) began to reside in this building which was designed by Thomas Lyon, in 1777.What began as a resident for writers, deriving the name of Writers Building for itself, later became a major trading post for the British invaders. The Writers Building soon became the Secretariat of Bengal.The beautiful building with its Greeco-Roman architecture, contained a portico in the central bay and had several marvelous statues sculpted by William Fredric Woodington lining the terrace. In 1800, to accommodate the Fort William College and the Government Engineering College within its premises, a 128 ft long veranda was added.When the British Raj took over, a French Renaissance-styled makeover was given to the building, to make it more ornate and almost palatial in terms of its architecture.

I was walking on the opposite path of Writers Building as I looked up to click photos of the building with mansard roofs I was amazed to see several beautiful figurines adorning the terrace of the building.Noted English sculptor William Frederick Woodington had made them.Above the pediment in the central portico is the statute of Minerva.The Ashokan Pillar replaced the British Coat of Arms after independence in the middle of the pediment.Allegorical figures of Science,Agriculture,Commerce and Justice line the parapet.Embellished with floral carvings the cream colored statues stand in contrast to the deep red color of the building.The Writers Building stands in dignity and sadness,counting time it left behind and looking forward toa more respectable rehabilitation.

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Walking straight down the road ,the white facade of St Andrews Church cannot miss one’s eyes.Located on 2/2, Council House Street, at the North Eastern side of the Writers’ Building, St.Andrew’s Church was basically built to serve the Scottish Presbyterian community of Calcutta. It stands on the plot, which was once occupied by the Old Court House. The Anglo-Indian Presbytery was created by the Charter of 1813 along with the Anglo India Episcopate and The Rev. Dr. James Bryce arrived in Calcutta on 28th November 1814, as the Chaplain at the Bengal Ecclesiastical Establishment. St Andrew’s Church, also known as the Kirk, is the only Scottish church in Kolkata. The foundation stone of the Church was laid on the 30th day of November, 1815 by Marquis of Hastings, which was also attended by The Countess of Moira and the Countess of Loudon. Since the foundation stone was laid by the Governor General himself, the Church was also known as Lat Sahib ka Girja. Designed by Messrs Burns, Currie and Co, the construction of the Church was completed in 1818, and it was dedicated to St. Andrew. Like the St. John’s Church, St. Andrew’s church was also designed in the lines of St.Martin’s in the fields, London.

The building consists of a massive square structure based on a high plinth with a massive triangular pediment, supported on the tall Doric pillars forming a royal portico in the front and a high spire on the top of the building. In 1835, a clock was fitted to the tower.Though the first Bishop of Calcutta objected to the idea of the erection of the spire, Reverend Bryce, went ahead with his plans to construct a spire which will be higher than the steeple of the St John’s Church. He also mooted a plan to place on the top of it a cock. Standing on the wide stairs of the church facing B.B.D Bagh the skyline of our city appeared fresh and vibrant .The clock of the church sill functions and the weather cock still dances to the tune of nature. The church inside like any protestant church is not ornamental though it has massive Doric columns and marble flooring.The organ pipe looks beautiful in its wooden facade.Since it was a Sunday I was lucky enough to be part of the service too.

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It was nearly afternoon and the heat was taking its toll on me.But I thought the walk would not be complete without some fresh air of the river I started walking from Babughat towards Princep Ghat past the Gwalior Monument.The Gwalior Monument caught my eyes and I read the plaque describing the history and the architecture of the monument.In 1847, Lord Ellenborough built a Cenotaph to commemorate the memory of the fallen soldiers of the Gwalior War,1843.The British fought at two fronts at a time and attacked the Marathas simultaneously. General Sir Hugh Gough led the British army in the Battle of Maharajpore, while Lt. General Sir John Grey faced the Marathas in the Battle of Punniar. Both sides suffered several casualties, but finally the Maratha force was defeated and their guns and artillery were seized by the British.The octagonal cenotaph was designed in Indo-Saracenic style by Colonel H Goodwyn of Bengal Engineers, and the construction was executed by Jessop & Co. Crowned with a bronze dome,which was cast from the melted guns, seized from the Marathas the cenotaph was supported by pillars.From the entrance, a spiral marble staircase leads to the upper floor, which looks like a Mughal ‘Chhatri’.The Gwalior Monument was living history and with an awe for the British and respect for the Maharani of Gwalior I walked past towards the river front.

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The river front with the calm waters ,the occasional steamers,the trudging boats,heritage on one side and technology on the other,I thought Kolkata still remains caught between its past and present.The much talked about triphala lights,the pollution from the factories across the other side,high rises standing tall in the sites of erstwhile jute factories fused to create a city scape unique to Kolkata. The tired salesman cooling under the tree, traces of rituals of death ,people engaged in collecting the holy water to be sold ,the lone idol left beneath the trees,families lamenting the loss of their dear ones…image,varied images of Kolkata …….Calcutta endeared me to the city where I was not born but where I grew up and now growing old.

The air around the river made me hungry but by then I wanted to be back home.Decided to give Rabi a treat and as I yearned fora strong filter coffee. I stopped at Prema Vilas at Lake Market on way back home.Ordered a dosa for Rabi and I settled for the sunday special brunch Puttu Kadela. As I put my spoon across the steamed cylinder of rice and coconut and dipped it in the rich black peas coconut milk flavoured Kadela my thoughts about Kolkata reiterated itself. Kolkata…Calcutta lives peacefully,fusing people together across religions,dialects and class .Both Calcutta and Kolkata lives in perfect symmetry ,history and future not at crossroads but in a beautiful melange of memories and expectations.

Pleasures of Summer- Phalsa on the Rocks

It was during a walk in the busy Dalhousie area with a friend amidst the din and cacophony of tired people returning home I heard my friend inquiring about Phalsa with a fruit seller.The name Phalsa reminded me of the sing song tunes of Kaale Kaale phalse,sharbat wale phalse,thande meeteh phalse,raseele phalse …..the words reverberate fresh from memories of years ago when I used to visit my Pishi (paternal aunt) in Bihar during summer vacations . Seeing the Phalsa lovingly displayed in a hypermarket here in Kolkata after a few days I decided to pick it up for my friend who yearned for the taste of his favorite childhood fruit which was so much part of growing up. Associated with such food memories are not just the taste but also the nostalgia about places and people no longer around. Food evokes a very strong emotive sense as we often try to search for a long forgotten food or attempt to recreate the taste which still lingers on in our taste buds.I wanted to write an ode to Phalsa -a food icon of our childhood summer vacations and our loved ones who are no longer there to garnish the bowlful of Phalsa .

Phalsa an indigenous summer fruit -a blackish purple berry with the scientific name Grewia Asiatica resembles blueberries to an extent. It is cultivated mainly in the northern regions of the country between April to June .Indigenous to India ,they are also grown in Nepal ,Pakistan, SriLanka and Bangladesh.Introduced in Indonesia and Philippines in the early half of 20th century Phalsa now is very popular in Thailand,Cambodia and Vietnam.A thirst quencher , Phalsa is intrinsically linked to hot summer afternoons of our childhood days. Phalsa defined summer for many. Vendors calling out on cycles with wicker baskets where Phalsas were delicately wrapped in a wet jute cloth ,cousins rushing out to buy the cherished fruit ,a little sprinkling of black salt on them and you have the whole afternoon to turn it within your mouth ,close your eyes in happiness as the sweet tangy juice envelops the senses.The taste of the berry depends on its ripeness. Hand plucked and very delicate in texture it turns reddish from a freshly plucked green one to a ripe purplish one which is the most tasty.

The health benefits of Phalsa are multifarious.Astringent and a cooling agent they are excellent for heart and blood disorders ,fevers and diarrhea. With a low glycemic index they can well be a super food soon.A strong antioxidant with anti bacterial properties they prevent dehydration during summer months.The benefits of Phalsa are well documented in Ayurveda treatises which highlights its anti inflammatory property and antibiotic usages.

If you salivate at the sight of the purple berries do not wait, have the Phalsa straight out of the shopping bag.Just wash it well ,sprinkle some black salt ,give it a rub.If it is a Sunday afternoon rush to the balcony or the terrace with a book you always wanted to reread and the bowl of Phalsa and enjoy the time to yourself.You have varied options with the Phalsa depending on your mood and occasion. If it is a very humid afternoon try preparing a Phalsa sherbat to be had in the evening as a mock-tail or add gin to the pulp,some soda ,crushed mint leaves,top it with ice and say cheers to your loved ones.If you wish to cool yourself after dinner try making Phalsa Mousse or Phalsa Popsicle for the kids around.

The Making of the Phalsa Mocktail and the Cocktail

  • Wash the Phalsa well.
  • Soak them in water overnight in a glass bowl.The Phalsa should be submerged in the water.
  • Add the required sugar to the water.The water will turn into a mystical purple and the sugar melt in it.
  • Refrigerate this mixture.Take this out half an hour before you want to serve it.
  • Mash the Phalsa with your hand,the pulp should be separated from the small seeds.
  • Mix in more water and run through a sieve.

To serve-

  • Pour the phalsa extract to the mixer tumbler.
  • Top it up with some black salt,some roasted cumin powder and sprigs of mint leaves.
  • Give it a light shake .
  • Transfer into glasses.
  • Finish off with soda or water and crushed ice.

For those of us who want a heady summer evening add in Vodka or Gin to the mixer tumbler.

For the Phalsa Mousse combine the pulp of the berry with sugar and incorporate it into a light fluffy whipped cream and gelatin mix. Refrigerate for about six hours and serve as a desert on a hot summer evening.Experience temperatures going down ,frayed tempers being soothed and smiles around.

Available only for a few months in northern India and for a few weeks in Kolkata pick your bagful of happiness soon.Introduce Phalsa to your kids on a summer afternoon and see their eyes illuminate . The beautiful purplish pink colour of the Phalsa drink will undoubtedly weave magic in your life.

For all those who love the Phalsa beyond words,for those whose eyes glisten with joy when they mix the salt with the Phalsa here’s a toast to their long lost love.Cheers to life and food memories.

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Dimer Devil-A Story of Fusion and Adaptation

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The egg is one of kitchen’s marvels and one of nature’s too.Its simple shape houses an everyday miracle,an icon for enigmatic origins of animals,humans and of the entire cosmos.The Egyptian Book of the Dead,the Rig Veda ,Greek Orphic mysteries and creation myths across the world has been inspired by the eruption of life from within a lifeless blank shell.Neither familiarity nor fear should obscure the versatility of a egg.It can be used to generate a variety of structures from a light meringue to a dense rich custard.They give flavor,substance ,put shine and clarify food .On their own they are amenable to being boiled,fried,deep-fried,steamed,baked,roasted,pickled,stuffed and fermented.The most commonplace procedures involving eggs are some of the most astonishing kitchen magics.No other ingredient is as readily and drastically transformed as the egg.

Over the centuries there have been several answers to the conundrum-which came first-the chicken or the egg?The Church Fathers sided with the chicken,pointed out that according to Genesis ,God first created the creatures and not their reproductive apparatus.Samuel Butler awarded the egg priority when he said that a chicken is just an egg’s way of making another egg.However there is a consensus that eggs existed long before chickens did.

Dimer devil has been a favorite evening time snack for Bengalis over the years. Telebhaja shops in Calcutta centering around North and Central Calcutta during the colonial period boasted of Dimer Devil in their menu.A hard boiled egg halved or kept full delicately encased in a spicy potato crust,dipped in a egg batter and then in bread crumbs ,fried golden till perfect was the commonplace Dimer Devil.Some experimented with scooping the egg yolk out and mixing it with the potato mixture and then stuffing it again around the egg.Some added raisins,others added crushed roasted red chill and julienne of fried onion.Well heeled cabins and restaurants added boiled and spiced up minced mutton or chicken and mixed it with the potato for encasing the egg.

Years later Dimer Devil continues to be a favorite but in a way has lost out to the fish fry,fish batter fry and the chicken cutlets.To relish a dimer devil on a rainy evening or to pair it with a glass of your favorite drink in the fleeting Kolkata winters there are less options-either you order it from the select shops selling it or make a golden crusted batch yourself at home.

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The name is in itself sort of contradictory.Every time I make some Devils at home I wonder as to why such a delicious item have the name Devil attached to it. Once I started looking up the origins of it I realized that Dimer Devil has a rich history of fusion and adaptation behind its evolution.Dimer Devil owes its name to the popular Deviled Egg of the West where the process of stuffing the egg with a filling was strangely similar.The khansamas engaged in colonial households learnt the art of making deviled eggs from the memsahibs,they improvised and while churning out the item they were influenced by both the art of making the Mughal Nargisi Kofta. Thus was born the Dimer Devil a beautiful creation and a testament to the entire trajectory of fusion and adaptation in food history.

Serving deviled eggs at picnics and cocktail parties are commonplace in post-World War II America, but these classic creamy concoctions did not originate in the United States. The roots of modern-day deviled eggs can be traced back to ancient Rome, where eggs were boiled, seasoned with spicy sauces and then typically served at the beginning of a meal—as a first course known as gustatio—for wealthy patricians. In Petronius’s satirical fiction “Satyricon” written around 61 A.D, the wealthy freedman Trimalchio invited guests to a banquet in which the menu included fig-peckers marinated in peppered egg yolk and stuffed into peahen eggs. According to Apicius , a collection of Roman recipes compiled between the fourth and fifth century A.D., boiled eggs were traditionally seasoned with oil, wine or broth and served with pepper. In the 13th century, stuffed eggs began to appear in Andalusia, in what is now Spain. An anonymous cookbook from this time period instructs the reader to pound boiled egg yolks with cilantro, onion juice, pepper and coriander and then beat them with Murri (a sauce made of fermented barley or fish), oil and salt. After stuffing the mixture into the egg whites, the two halves were then fastened together with a small stick and peppered.By the 15th century, stuffed eggs made their way across much of Europe. Medieval cookbooks contain recipes for boiled eggs that were often filled with raisins, cheese and herbs such as marjoram, parsley and mint and then fried in oil and either topped with a sauce of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and raisins or powdered with sugar and served hot. In the United States, stuffed eggs began making an appearance in cookbooks by the mid-19th century.The first known printed mention of ‘devil’ as a culinary term appeared in Great Britain in 1786, in reference to dishes including hot ingredients or those that were highly seasoned and broiled or fried. The OED claims, “the term was presumably adopted because of the connection between the devil and the excessive heat in Hell”. By 1800, deviling became a verb to describe the process of making food spicy. Deviled egg traveled across seas with the East India Company officers to India where the khansamas of the colonial households began to learn the art of stuffing eggs with a spicy mixture.

One afternoon when I was cutting my boiled eggs in halves for the Dimer Devil and had toiled hard to make the mutton mince filling perfect with some raisins and fried onions a fleeting thought came to my mind that I was doing something very similar to the Scotch Eggs which I had seen being made in a cookery show. A nagging question occupied my mind space about the origins of the Dimer Devil.Was it indebted to the Scotch Eggs or vice versa?

According to Oxford Dictionary a Scotch Egg is a hard boiled egg enclosed in sausage meat ,rolled in breadcrumbs and fried.The history of the origins of a Scotch Egg is shrouded in controversy but it is a general consensus that it did not originate in Scotland.The upscale London department store Fortnum & Mason claims to have created the savory snack as a potable snack in the mid 18th century catering to the well-to-do travelers passing through Piccadilly Square.Some argue that it began as a poor man’s lunch and was akin to the Cornish pastry consumed by Scottish farmers.There are views that the traditional Scotch egg has roots in the coastal town of Whitby in Yorkshire Believed to be invented by William J Scott & Sons the eggs were covered first in a thick, creamy fish paste (instead of the sausage meat), and then with breadcrumbs. Some evidence also points towards a North African recipe that was transported to England through France. The dish was enjoyed during the Elizabethan times, where it was infused with various spices and cloves for a more palatable taste.

Another powerful view argues that the Scotch Eggs originated from the Nargisi Kofta of Mughal India, which was a hard-boiled egg encased in minced meat, fried and served in a brown gravy. The Nargisi Kofta or “narcissus kofta” was named after the flower’s white-and-yellow petals . According to The Oxford Companion to Food the Kofta came to India from Persia with the Mughal emperors. The Nargisi Kofta later hitched a ride way back to England with the East India Company memsahibs and became known as Scotch Eggs in England in the 19th century. Scotch Eggs were to be platted alongside hot gravy, according to the printed recipes in the domestic bibles by Margaret Dods , Maria Rundell and Mrs Beeton. Annette Hope, in her book A Caledonian Feast, too suggests the dish may like kedgeree or mulligatawny soup be an export from the British Raj.

There are a number of countries who have dishes similar to the scotch egg. The Polish Jaskółcze Gniazda (swallow’s nest), the Dutch-Flemish Vogelnestje (bird’s nest), as well as the Indonesian Bakso Telur (meatball eggs) are few examples. Our very own Dimer Devil is also a close cousin to the Scotch Egg.

If on a leisurely afternoon during a weekend you are preparing for a party and wish to surprise friends with a dish carrying the heritage of the West and the flavor of Central Asia choose Dimer Devil….golden crumb fried eggs delicately encased with a mutton mince …. a lot of nostalgia and pages of history. A Vodka cocktail with Gandhoraj Lebu and crushed mint leaves or a mocktail with tamarind pulp ,Gondhoraj Lebu pata soaked overnight and sugar will work wonders with a plate of freshly fried Dimer Devil.

Never estimate the number you need to make…Dimer Devil will always fall short when served as a starter.

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In case you are tempted to try your hands in making Dimer Devil do give this a read

Things you need –

  • Hard boiled Eggs cut into Halves-4
  • Mutton Mince/Chicken Mince-500 gms
  • Potato Boiled -4
  • Onions sliced-2
  • Garlic chopped-8 cloves
  • Green Chilli chopped-6
  • Red Chilli Powder-1tsp.
  • Whole Garam Masala
  • Roasted and powdered Garam Masala-1 tsp.
  • Corriander leaves chopped-2 tsp
  • Raisins-Handful
  • Fried Onions-1
  • Egg for coating
  • Bread crumbs
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for frying

Assembling the Devil-

  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil.Put whole Garam Masala in the oil. When it is spluttering add the chopped garlic and fry till light brown and the oil soaks in the flavor of the garlic.Add the chopped onions and fry till translucent.Add the washed mutton or chicken mince.Mix well with the onion and garlic.Add the Red Chilli powder and continue sauteing till oil separates.This may take some time.Add the powdered Garam Masala, salt and coriander leaves.To this mix add the boiled and mashed potatoes .Add salt as needed.The potato and the mince should mix well and soak in the flavors.
  • Take off fire and add raisins and fried onions to the mix.Bring it to room temperature.
  • The boiled eggs should be seasoned with salt.The potato and mince mixture should be delicately used to coat the egg fully using the fingers and the palm of the hand.
  • Dip the eggs with the whisked egg and coat in breadcrumbs.
  • Keep in the refrigerator for sometime ,this will give a golden hue when fried.
  • Heat oil and fry the eggs in batches till golden in hue.
  • Serve with your favorite Dip .

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The Saga of the Kulcha…..Treasures of Amritsar

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Amritsar is a city which is at one go mesmerizing.Be it the first sight of the Golden Temple,the serene waters of the Sarovar ,the soulful ardaas and kirtans Amritsar is not however a pilgrimage city only.Historically rich ,it is a city which carries the ravages of Partition yet it breathes life ,it unifies ,embraces and above all reiterates the intrinsic connection between food and religiosity.Amritsar is a foodies paradise with an array of specialities -be it the Karha Prasad of the Golden Temple ,the early morning tea and  the Kheer at Ramdas Langar,the crunchy roadside Kulchas served with tempting choley (chickpea curry),the simmering Maa ki Dals with Tandoori Rotis laced with desi ghee,the irresistible Aam papads and papads,the refreshing lassi and the kulfas and the little warm jalebis dipped in the sugar syrup.thumbnail (17)

My trip to Amritsar some months back will be one of my treasured memories.The feeling one experiences at the Golden temple either at the crack of dawn or at the last hours of night cannot be put in words.Spend hours sitting beside the Sarovar listening to the kirtans and the chants of Wahe Guru ki Fateh ,I felt a peace which no religious place has ever given me.The glistening temple,the faith of the people,the eagerness for self less service,the self imposed discipline ,the environment is in itself fulfilling.At that point I felt desire for nothing ,only an inner peace enveloped my being.

Amritsar is not just about the Golden Temple and its Langar. Being a foodie and eager to explore, the entire afternoons were spent savoring the unending delicacies.The restaurants and stalls in the walled city around the Golden Temple follows a strict vegetarian spread. The tandoori chicken ,the laccha paratha,the baingan bharta can be tried and replicated anywhere in the country ,what remains the specialty of Amritsar is its kulchas .It is said that the holy waters of Ravi contribute to the unique taste of the Kulchas of Amritsar. The popular saying “Jis Lahore nahin vekhiya au jamiya nahin. Jis Amritsar aa ke kulcha nahin khada une kuj khada hi nahin…” (If you haven’t seen Lahore it’s as good as not being born. If you’re visiting Amritsar and haven’t eaten the kulcha, you’ve eaten nothing at all.) is right after all.

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One meal no one has to plan for in this city is the Amritsari kulcha. This street food blurs social divides and is available around every corner of the city. The crunch of the kulchas ,the crispy outsides and the soft inside stuffed with aloo ,gobi or paneer turned out to be my favorite at Amritsar.As I went across the city savoring Kulchas in all its forms, the history of the Kulcha- its evolution,adaptation and how it made its home in Amritsar intrigued me. It is believed that about one lakh Kulchas are tossed out of city tandoors every day. . With the Amritsari kulcha, you’ll experience the fifth sense-sound. Once out of the  tandoor the kulcha  is smeared with a cube of butter and is crushed at the middle. If there’s a crackling sound it is baked to perfection. The crackle ensures it’s got the right texture. Crushing it snaps open the top layer allowing the heat to escape and letting the goodness of melted butter to trickle in…the first bite is close to heaven.

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The history of kulchas can be traced back to the Nizams of Deccan. It was in fact the official symbol of the Asaf Jahi dynasty and even appeared on the Hyderabad state flag till it became a part of the Indian subcontinent post-independence. This amazing crispy bread was chosen as the emblem while the rest of the princely states had the lions and/or elephants as the royal insignia.  Food, politics, identity… Mir Qamruddin of the  Mughal court went to meet his spiritual Guru- Sufi mystic Hazrat Nizamuddin Aurangabadi after he got appointed as the “Subedar-e-Dakhan”. Hazrat Nizamuddin invited him for a meal and offered the subedar kulchas .Mir Qamruddin ate seven kulchas. , Hazrat Nizamuddin in a prophecy said that one day he would be king and that his descendants would rule for seven generations. This prophecy came true. Soon after Mir Qamruddin came to Deccan, Nadir Shah invaded and sacked Delhi. The Nizams, who were simply governors, declared their de facto rule in the Deccan in the context of the waning power of the Mughals. And with that the kulcha, earned its place in the royal cuisine.

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Other historical findings assert that the region of undivided Punjab gave birth to the bharwaan (stuffed) kulcha. Invaders  from Central Asia  brought along their cooking traditions. The techniques which originated in Persia were of making the leavened bread and the tandoor were adapted by the province of Punjab.  Punjabis, who hitherto made unleavened wholegrain flatbread on an iron griddle, started using refined flour leavening the dough for fermentation and  filling it with a mixture of potatoes and baking it in the tandoor. Later influenced by French chefs engaged in royal household they adopted a puff pastry procedure- smearing the  the dough with butter and folding it  before letting it rest.-Flaky yet soft bharwan kulchas came to rule Amritsar for time indefinite.

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My choice for Kulchas

Amritsar abounds in shops selling Kulchas all through the day though Kulchas are more in demand for breakfast.The tradition of making rotis in community tandoors in villages of Punjab has trickled down to the city and a large number of families prefer having their daily breakfast of Kulcha -Chole in their favorite shop before going for their daily work.Every katra or mohalla of Amritsar particularly in the old walled city has Kulcha shops- overcrowded yet fragrant with the aroma of the fresh butter and the tangy choley.

Pehelwan Kulcha Shop– Very close to Ramgharia Gate and near Shahid Baba Deep Singhji Gurudwara ,the Pehelwan Kulcha Shop is nondescript by appearance.You can easily recognize it by the large crowd outside waiting for a seat at the shop.There is no separate dining area,you sit beside the tandoor and see the kulchas being stuffed,roasted and then that big dollop of butter sliding on to the flaky kulcha..Served on a tissue paper..golden brown crisp,the butter trickles down…the crackling sound of the kulcha and the choley …very delicately spiced with a spluttering of onion and green chilli is a must eat while at Amritsar.

Bhai Kulwant Singh Kulchian Wale- An early morning darshan at the Golden Temple has to be followed by a sumptuous breakfast at this kulcha shop.Located in Bazar Bikaneria in Katra Ahluwalia  very near to the temple you can just walk your way.The flaky kulchas are served with choley alonh with several pickles and you can wash them down with a glass of Lassi. The kulchas are available in various variants-aloo, gobi, paneer, pithi.If you are there in the morning you may have to wait for your turn but the service is very fast and the staff very friendly.

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Not to miss are piping hot kulchas at All India Famous Kulcha at Maqbool Road , Kulcha Land at Ranjit Avenue, Ashok Kulche Wale at Gobindgarh Fort Road and Amritsari Neutri Kulcha near DAV College,opposite Arya Samaj Mandir.

If you wish to compliment the Kulchas with a glass of refreshing Lassi which in itself is so filling do visit Gian Di Lassi near Regent Cinema.The creamy lassi cooled to perfection will fulfill your senses.And what is an afternoon without a siesta and the perfect trigger to it is a couple of crisp little jalebis fried perfect at Katra Ahluwalia near the Golden Temple at a shop called  Gurdas Ram Jalebi Wala.

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Amritsar is a city which is loved by its people.The mohallas,katras,the Hall Bazar,the numerous gates in the walled city,the Town Hall  are spectators to history .The Golden Temple steeped in devotion and selfless service enthralled me in a calmness and gave me a strength of mind that words can hardly describe.The foodscape of Amritsar cannot be experienced in a single visit-every corner has its delicacies ,its USP beinga dollop of love and warmth of the city and its people.

Amritsar…..a city of colors….a city of life and a city of culinary delights.

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