Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Mediterranean pizza

A good after-school snack for kids with the goodness of hummus, vegetables and cheese! Not only pretty but yummy too. My son comes home from school and smells around saying -"something nice is baking in the oven!" I am a bit apprehensive if he would like this twist in the pizza with hummus and olives in it...and he loves it!

Here is the recipe from a happy mom:


  • Chickpeas (kabuli chana) - 1 cup. To be soaked overnight and cooked soft
  • A dash of lemon juice - as per your liking
  • Thick curd - 4-5 tbsp
  • Olive oil - 1 tbsp
  • Red chilli-garlic paste (the one used in bhel puri) - 2-3 tsp (as per your liking)
  • Jeera powder - 1/2 tsp
  • Salt - to taste


Add all the above ingredients in a mixer and grind it smooth. The hummus  should be smooth and of this consistency:


Ingredients for the pizza:

  • Hummus - to apply on the pita bread as the base sauce
  • Pita breads - 6 in number. I used the ready-made ones
  • Juliennes of red, yellow and green capsicum -  1-1.5 cup
  • Sliced onions- 1/3 cup
  • Black pitted olives, sliced
  • Grated mozzarella cheese (Amul, Milky Mist) - around 2 cups
  • Sesame seeds - to sprinkle on the pizza ( I did not use it)
  • Garlic bread seasoning OR oregano powder
  • Red chilli flakes

Assembling the pizza:
Spread the hummus on the pita breads in generous quantities. Top it with veggies, onions and olives. Add the grated cheese, again in generous quantities. Sprinkle the seasoning, chilli flakes and sesame seeds on the top. Bake it in the oven for around 15 minutes at 180 C till the cheese melts and starts changing colour a bit. Towards the end, broil/grill it for a couple of minutes.


South Africa - Part II (Garden route & Kruger)

Kruger National Park was on our bucket list of destinations for a long time now. We were waiting for our little one to grow up a bit so that he could truly understand and enjoy the wildlife sightings there. Kruger was the highlight of our South African trip but once there, one cannot afford to miss Cape Town and Garden Route. Cape Town was a beautiful beginning to a memorable vacation and from there, off we started on the 2nd leg of our journey through the panoramic Garden Route.

Garden route:

Nope..don't go by its name. This route is not associated with any gardens as such but it is a 300-km stretch along the south-western coast of South Africa, between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

Along the Garden route

Mossel Bay:

Our first destination on this route was Mossel Bay, some 400 kms from Cape Town. Driving was a breeze on the well-maintained roads and we reached our destination in under 6 hours. This is the very place where the first European, Bartolomeu Diaz landed his foot on the South African soil in 1488. There is a museum complex by his name which houses some interesting remnants of this past, including the life-size replica of the caravel which Diaz and his crew used for their voyage.

Mossel bay is also known for its prehistoric archaeological remains dated as far back as 164,000 years! There are caves here which have revealed evidence of it being the 'birthplace of human culture'. The Point of Human Origins is an archaeological tour offered at these caves from near the Pinnacle point beach and is quite well reviewed.   We were supposed to go on this guided tour but unfortunately heavy rains and the slippery path cancelled our tour. Nevertheless, we did lunch at the restaurant there (@ the Pinnacle Point Beach & Golf Resort) and had our share of some super delicious fig pizzas. Gain some, lose some..., right?

Pinnacle point beach, Mossel Bay

Mossel bay was great fun inspite of the rains because of its AWESOME views. The vast expanse of the Indian ocean with waves dashing along the cliffs made for an unforgettable view from the beautifully manicured lawns of the resort. We spent about 2-3 hours in the resort and headed to George (city) for our overnight halt.


We stayed for two nights at George which is an hour-long drive from Mossel Bay. Next day, early morning we started for Oudtshoorn to reach Cango caves, which are located in the Swatberg mountain ranges. After around 2 hours of circuitous driving, we reached the caves and were ready to be amazed.

Words will not do justice to the evocative dripstone formations inside this underground wonder world. All the chambers are illuminated and beautifully highlight the natural decor formed here. Some of the stalactites and stalagmites are more than millions of years old and resemble the modern works of art. Aptly, they have been named so too. Madonna, Child formation, Cleopatra's needle which is 9m long formation, Leaning tower of Pisa and many such popular names have been attributed to those fantastic formations. We chose to do the standard tour over the adventurous one which requires one to crawl along the rocky terrain through claustrophobic holes! An hour-long trip inside leaves one dripstone-struck :)

Bushmen habitat @ Cango caves, Outdshoorn

The cango caves with its impressive stalagmites and stalactites

The next plan for the day was to visit an working Ostrich farm in Oudtshoorn and see these wonderful flightless birds. Riding on ostriches is now banned by the government there and I am quite glad about that. However, the ban left me wondering who would have anyways dared to ride on such huge, super fast birds! We took a guided tractor tour in the huge breeding farm and were amazed to know some interesting facts about them ... like did you know that their eggs are so huge and strong that do not break even if a fully grown human stands on them? Wait! however, if you dash them around, they will crack!

The big and strong ostriches

No, you can't break it!

The farm has a big curio shop selling candle stands made from ostrich eggs, ostrich-feather dusters, pens, leather bags made from their tough skins and so many more things. I purchased a beautiful ostrich egg candle stand which adorns a table in my living room today! The pics and such momentos make for some lovely memories over time.


Next day we hopped over (not literally :P) to Knysna (pronounced as Nice..naa) stopping briefly at one Redberry Farm for some fun. We did strawberry picking there although it was a bit early in the season for it. But still, we managed to collect a lot of sweet, juicy strawberries for us to munch on.

Knysna is well known for its 'Kynsna Heads' which are a pair of sandstone cliffs dramatically rising from the sea and guarding the entrance of the lagoon from the vast ocean. We drove along the headlands adjoining the Heads and then walked gingerly on the Leisure Isle beach, avoiding the zillions of baby crabs playing there in the waters.

The evening walk along the beach was a very lovely one, offering beautiful views of the Heads on one side and of picturesque, whitewashed villas on the other. Some experiences which seem simple and not so noteworthy, sometimes gives one the greatest joy. They cannot be easily described in words; only can one feel and live the experience. The fact that we ( I and my husband) were enjoying the walk without a care in the world, frolicking behind our son like  small children, clicking pictures all around us, and enjoying the magical moments of it all, made it a walk to remember for our life times.

Knysna heads

Plettenberg Bay:

Well, the Garden route journey definitely warrants a mention of Plettenberg bay and the lovely hiking trails, sanctuaries and adventure activities it offers. We did visit the Elephant Sanctuary and were delighted to get really up close with the elephants. We could touch them, feed them and walk along with them. The guides were friendly and we felt quite safe throughout our adventure. The group matriach, Sally, commanded a lot of respect from me. The way she managed her herd and led them by example in each and every task, calls for a leadership class from her ;)

With Sally at the sanctuary

Many tourists to South Africa skip Garden route and directly go for Kruger from Cape Town. But if you have the luxury of time, then please do not skip this scenic route. It offers a lot to satisfy one's travel lust. From beautiful views, adventure activities to wild forests and fauna, the route offers it all.

Fantastic Kruger:

From Garden route, we flew to Johannesburg and then proceeded to Kruger. Kruger is a different world of its own and one has to experience its wilderness in person to enjoy it truly. The sightings of animals, the thrill of tracking at the wee hours of sunrise & sunset, the feeling of wild animals lurking around close, all has to be experienced by oneself.

However, I would definitely like to add one funny incident we had with the wild elephants. We were in our safari jeep in the midst of a herd of elephants. Old elephants, adult elephants, adolescents, babies, they were all there. It was a big herd of around 15-20 elephants scattered all over, enjoying their meal of bushes and leaves. We were in a open-air jeep with 8 tourists including us, a guide and a tracker with their guns. We were strictly warned to not make noise or get up from our seats no matter what happened as this act of ours supposedly scares the animals and they might attack us.

In the midst of the wild herd

So we were all seated in our seats surrounded by elephants and enjoying their joyful antics until it was time for us to make a move. Our jeep, was a sturdy Land Rover which could crush any small bush in our path and make way for us in that arid bushy area. When the tracker crushed a large bush under our Jeep, one of the adolescent elephants just 2 feet away from us, got irritated and trumpeted loudly, signalling us to leave. The tracker and the guide were calm but worry was writ large on our faces. Again, the elephant trumpeted so loudly that it made my little son jump up in his seat and clamber up on my lap. Later we were explained that adolescent elephants get easily irritated and trumpeting is the best way they can warn us. Most of the animals, except leopards and wild bulls, tend to warn their opponents before attacking. Glad that nature does have its way of warning the lesser (in terms of strength) animals.

It was funny the way my son panicked, jumped and got on my lap but it did teach us to respect nature and the might of these wild animals. When in jungle, obey the rules of the jungle or court trouble! The safaris and such kind of interactions with these animals taught us a lot in terms of their habitat, their behaviour, their getting adapted to the constant tourist incursions, and also made us realise the sad truth of poaching.

Kambaku safari lodge

The breakfast spread at Kambaku

Leopard staring at us after a good meal

Lion guarding his kill

These pictures tell much more than just words! :) Most pics were taken from a distance of less than 5 feet from our open-air jeep. So do plan out this thrilling South Africa and Kruger trip soon. It is a must-do trip in your lifetime..Adios!


  1. Stayed at Oobai Hotel, Golf & Spa at George to cover Mossel bay and Outdshoorn.
  2. Rented an Air BnB at Kynsna along the waterfront to cover Knysna and Plettenberg Bay
  3. Getting vegetarian food along the Garden Route was a bit difficult as compared to Cape Town. We tried Mexican, Thai, Italian and Portuguese food for vegetarian options in and around the place. Zomato app was a true life saver on these occasions. We did not find any Indian options as they were far and few and also closed on Sundays.
  4. Hot chocolate is one of the must-try drinks while in South Africa. The rich, chocolatey taste is sure raving about.
  5. At Kruger National Park, we stayed at Kambaku Safari Lodge in Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Timbavati is contiguous with the larger Kruger area and so the animals are not restricted in any one area but free to move from one part of the reserve to another. Sighting is purely on chance and on the skills of the tracker and guide. We were lucky to see all the Big 5 (Leopard, Lion, Giraffe, Rhino, Elephants) up & close in under 3 safaris. Kambaku conducts 2 safaris and a bush walk daily. Food, obviously is taken care of at the Safari Lodge and they do customise it for us as well :)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Lepakshi - the temple of legends and architectural marvels

Shikhara of the main temple

As the legend goes, Lepakshi - the Vijaynagar era temple, is the place where Jatayu, the vulture, fell  wounded while trying to save Sita from the clutches of the demon king, Ravana. 'Le-pakshi' in Telegu means: 'Rise - O - bird'. These were the words which Lord Rama uttered on seeing Jatayu injured in that condition.

This legend is surely fascinating and so is the temple architecture and its murals. The 16th century temple is situated in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, some 120 kms north of Bangalore. Dedicated to Lord Veerabhadra, Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Lakshmi, this temple is well-known for its hanging pillar and India's largest monolithic granite-sculpted Nandi.

Lepakshi is about an hour-long drive from North Bangalore on the lovely Bangalore-Hyderabad highway (NH44). Cruising at a speed of little more than 100 kmph, we reached Anantpur at about 10 in the morning. Taking cues from the signboards, we turned left off the highway onto Lepakshi Road and passed a few charming villages before being welcomed by  the granite monolithic Nandi some 200 metres from the main temple. We parked near the Nandi enclosure next to the APTDC Haritha hotel. As soon as we stepped out of our car, we were greeted by a couple of monkeys and a group of kids, who followed us demanding money. We soon enough realised what they really wanted and bought all of them ice cream from a vendor nearby. The happy faces waved at us as we proceeded on.

The Nandi is ornately carved from a single block of granite, with a height of 4.5 m and a length of 8.23 metres, making it the largest monolithic Nandi in India.It is bedecked with bells, earrings, chains and other jewellery and it faces the shiva linga inside the temple premises, some 200 metres away. Another monolithic Nandi, probably the second largest in India (need to verify the fact here), faces the Virupaksha temple from the bazaar lane of Hampi. Interestingly, both these monolithic bulls are the architectural marvels from the bygone Vijaynagar era.

We walked over to the temple which is atop a small hillock known as Kurma sailam (tortoise-shaped hill). The sanctum sanctorum houses the main shrine of Veerabhadra (a fearsome form of Shiva), Bhadrakali, Vishnu and Laxmi. The murals on the ceilings are still visible and are partly intact in places with all their colors and forms. Their mere glimpse depicting the everyday way of life then, clothing, social events, musicians, processions, etc. transport us to that glorious, royal past. I desisted from clicking pictures inside the garba griha to do my bit to preserve the remainder of the murals. The murals are fading away and are in urgent need of restoration. Right outside the main temple hall lies the Ranga mantapa or the 100-pillared dance hall with its exquisitely carved pillars.

Another interesting aspect of this temple is its hanging pillar which hangs from the ceiling without touching the ground! No, no it not defective.  The Archaeological Survey of India had demonstrated that the pillar was not defectively built but was specially constructed this way to highlight the sheer brilliance of the architects of their time. One can easily pass a sheet of cloth or paper from underneath the pillar and verify the truth.

Hanging pillar

To the left of the main shrine, lies the Kalyana mantapa which as per records, was never completed. However, the exquisite carvings adorning the pillars of the mantapa leaves one, still, spellbound. Below the elevated Kalyana mantapa is a big, right footprint considered to be Devi Sita's footprint. The footprint is always wet with some water seeping in through the rocks. No one knows the source of this water supply nearby. Interesting, right?

Sita's footprint

The brilliance of the architecture manifests itself in every nook and corner of this temple. There is a huge Ganesha carved out on the other side of the mantapa.  A shivalinga canopied by a hooded, 7-headed naga is another marvel carved on the other side.


West side of the temple premises

Legends abound this temple as does the beauty of its carvings. The temple was built by brothers Virupanna and Veeranna during the rule of king Achyutraya of the Vijaynagar empire. It is said that Virupanna, who was a royal treasurer, misappropriated the funds from the royal treasury for the construction of the temple without the approval of the king. The infuriated king, as a punishment, ordered Virupanna to be blinded for his act. When Virupanna heard of the punishment, he himself carried it out by dashing his eyes against the walls of the temple. Even to this day, the two (supposedly) gory blood marks on the temple walls stand a mute testimony to this legend. After this incident, the temple construction came to a standstill and the Kalyana mantapa (wedding hall) and other structures remained unfinished.

Unfinished kalyana mantapa

The beautiful carvings in the Kalyana mantapa

One requires about 2-3 hours to explore the temple and enjoy the carvings. We did not see any guides around in the vicinity in the temple. However, as per other blogs and travel sites, guides are supposedly available to help us get around.

There is just one APTDC restaurant in the vicinity, Haritha, which did not have any variety in their menu.  So we decided to head back towards Bangalore without trying it out. We pulled over at Nandi Upachara restaurant near Nandi hills  for lunch and were not disappointed with their fare. We even chanced upon Shri. Ravi Shankar Prasad at the restaurant and managed to click a selfie with him. For the uninitiated, he is the Union Minister for Law and IT presently. :)

Lepakshi is a half-day trip from Bangalore and an enjoyable one! Not to be missed by the residents of Bangalore for sure.

  1. Route: Bangalore North -> Bellary Road ->NH44, towards Hyderabad for about 100 kms.
  2. There are a couple of tolls on this road. Take a left diversion as per the signboard in Anantapur district of Hyderabad and drive around 16kms on Lepakshi road to reach the temple.
  3. Carry sun protection like hats, sunglasses and skin creams as it gets really hot there, especially during summers.
  4. There are no restaurants except APTDC's Haritha in the vicinity. So it is advisable to pack food for your trip there.