Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Khamang Kaakdi (Cucumber salad)



Summers in Pune are really scorching hot and what's better than a cucumber salad to cool your senses and perk up your taste buds at the same time! Today, I am going to share with you a simple recipe of Khamang Kaakdi that barely requires 5 minutes to assemble. You don't want to spend too much time in the heat of the kitchen, right? Also, this is another dish from the culinary repertoire of my childhood memories...

Khamang Kaakdi is typically a Maharashtrian koshimbir recipe almost always served on auspicious occasions. I had eaten it as a kid many times in some or the other Marathi household or in a pangat in some function. It used to be served in small portions on the left side of the plate along with salt, lemon and chatni.  I had to keep asking the caterers/servers for more and more till my satiety was reached :)

Khamang is a Marathi word which cannot be translated into English. It is somewhat like Umami when all the flavours of food, especially a tadka, overpower your senses :) I am sure every Indian language would have such words which are difficult to translate or explain to anyone else unless of course, they experience it! 

Kaakdi stands for cucumber and koshimbir means a salad. Pangat as I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, refers to a seating arrangement in rows where the caterers serve food to the guests as per the traditions.

Ingredients:

2 Cucumbers, peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp of pomegranate pearls (optional - I like pomegranate in my salads)
4 tsp of peanut powder 
1 tbsp of chopped coriander leaves
1/2 tsp of lemon juice
1 tsp sugar/sugar powder
Salt to taste

For tadka:
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp mustard seeds
2 green chillies, finely chopped
A pinch of hing
7/8 curry leaves

Method:

Check the cucumbers for any bitter taste before you use them. Mix all the ingredients together except salt and allow it to marinate for 5 minutes so that the sugar melts. Prepare the tadka and add it to the salad. Now finally, add salt and mix well.

Khamang kaakdi is ready!


Sunday, May 10, 2020

Methamba (Instant Sweet & Spicy Raw Mango Preserve)

The sweet and tangy - Methamba


Summer is at its peak and I have got lots of kairis (raw mangoes) hanging down the tree in our backyard. These are the totapairi variety of kairis, really good for making pickles and preserves.  Last week, I made some panha using these kairis and kept aside one big one to make methamba. Although nowadays, we get kairis all throughout the year ( I seriously wonder how!), I try and consume them only seasonally. I am slowly and surely becoming a firm believer in eating seasonally!

My husband loves methamba made from these kairis. I too just love the contrast of sweet, spicy and tangy flavours in this dish along with the richness of its colour. I first saw this methamba being prepared by MiL and got this easy recipe from her.  It is a quick recipe with a few ingredients which can be made in no time.

Ingredients:

Kairi - 1 big raw mango chopped into big pieces (try and go for the totapairi variety if you can)
Oil - 1 tbsp
Methi seeds - 1/2 tsp
Chilli powder - 1 tsp
Turmeric - 1/4 tsp
Jaggery - 1/2 cup
Mustard seeds - 1/2 tsp
Hing - a pinch
Salt- to taste

Tip: Do not peel the kairi and do cut it into big pieces. 


Method:

Start by tempering the oil with mustard seeds, methi seeds and hing. Once the mustard splutters, add the mango pieces and turmeric, and cover the vessel with a lid. Allow the mango pieces to get soft and cooked for a few minutes.
To this, add the chilli powder, jaggery pieces and salt, and again cook it covered for 2-3 minutes till the jaggery melts. Check the taste and adjust the sweetness and spiciness to your liking.

Methamba stays good in the fridge for more than a week, provided you do not lick it all at once :)



Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Banana Sheera (Sooji ka halwa)

Sheera

Banana sheera or simply sheera is a much loved Indian dessert found in various avatars across our land. Different states and regions imparts a unique subtlety to this dish which gives us umpteen recipe options to try out from.

I have grown up eating this dessert known as sheera, in Maharashtra. Some flavour it with bananas, some with just nuts and saffron and sometimes its flavour is just out of this world when it is served as Satynarayanacha prasad. The Satyanarayan pooja prasad, which is basically this sheera, requires a strict proportion to be followed for it to be qualified as a prasad. :)
Years later, when I moved to Bengaluru, I tried this dessert known in that part of the land as Rava Kesari. I never made Rava Kesari at home but always relished it in the numerous breakfast joints of Bengaluru. A bright orange coloured rawa pudding glistening in ghee and served along with the savoury upma (the combo is known as Khara Bhaat) became my son's favourite dish too!

Sheera or rawa kesari or call it sooji ka halwa - whatever be the name of the preparation - the basic ingredients remain the same: Rawa/Sooji, Sugar, Ghee, Milk, Cardamom and lots of Love :) Getting the ratios of these ingredients right is the key to the success of this dish.

This is how I prepare it at home :)

Ingredients:
Roasted Regular Rawa: 1 cup (Do not use the chiroti rawa or the very fine kind of rawa)
Sugar: 3/4 cup
Bananas: Two, peeled and chopped roughly (optional). (The riper the bananas, the better they taste)
Ghee: 3/4 cup (in its usual semi-solid state)
Ghee-Fried or Roasted Nuts: Cashews, Raisins and sometimes a spoon or two of Almond powder (optional)
Warm Milk- 2 cups if one wants to make a soft sheera or 1.5 cups otherwise
Cardamom powder: 1 tsp
Saffron - a few stands soaked in 2 tbsp of warm milk (optional)

Method:
Melt the ghee in a kadhai and add the rawa to it. Fry it for a couple of minutes till the ghee coats all the grains. To this, add the sugar and mix it well. Allow the sugar to melt in the kadhai with good stirring in between. Now add the chopped bananas to the kadhai. Mash it with the back of the spoon and blend it well in the rawa-sugar-ghee mixture.

Once the aroma of this preparation wafts through your kitchen - this will take around 4 to 5 minutes with stirring on a medium flame- add the fried or roasted nuts to it. Then add the warm milk, stir it well and cover the kadhai with a lid. If you are adding saffron, then add it along with milk in this step. Mix it well again after a couple of minutes and allow the rawa to get cooked and fluffy. This will take another 3 to 4 minutes.

Just before switching off the flame, add the cardamom powder; mix it well and keep the kadhai covered for a couple of minutes to allow the aromas to seep in.

Voila, sheera is ready to be served! It is best eaten hot :)



Monday, April 13, 2020

Kairichi chatni (Raw mango chutney)


The season of India's favourite fruit has arrived, and one can spot abundant blossoms swaying merrily on mango trees these days. Tiny, raw mangoes hanging around in bunches waiting to ripen into succulent mangoes is a happy sight in my backyard as well. Amidst the gloomy lockdown, these blossoms re-instil the earnest hope in my heart that this too shall pass :)


Under the Mango Tree...

There is a proverbial saying "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade".  Now that raw mangoes are galore in the markets - what are you waiting for? Lay your hands on those raw mangoes and make chutney - its delicious, tangy and healthy too!

Rich in vitamin A and C, calcium, iron, magnesium, etc. etc. it is the fruit to be savoured till the rain gods arrive. So here is a simple, quick-fix chutney recipe for your palate which is slightly sour (of course), slightly sweet and just yumm..umm..mm..



Ingredients (for 2 to 3 servings):
Raw mango: 1 medium size
Coconut (fresh or dessicated), grated or cut into small pieces: 5 tbsp
Coriander leaves, chopped: 3 to 4 tbsp
Green chillies: 2,  roughly chopped
Jeera powder: 1 tbsp
Sugar: 1 tsp
Salt: to taste
Little water: to help grind

Method: 
Just put the above ingredients in a chutney jar with very little water (around 2 tbsp) and grind it into a fine paste. Feel free to adjust the flavours as per your liking by adding more or less sugar or chillies or coconut :)

The fresh tanginess of the preparation is sure to perk up any meal ...bon appetit.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Idli-Dosa Podi-aka Karappu



Steaming idlis dipped in sambar served with a spoonful of ghee- tastes heavenly, right? Masala dosas served with an assortment of coconut, tomato and coriander chutneys takes the entire culinary experience to a different level, doesn't it? Well, the options of serving idli-dosas with are endless but have you tried these dishes with the podi yet? Idli-dosas tastes so good with this podi that inspite of making sambars, chutneys etc, this spicy  podi needs to make its appearance on my table every time I whip up either idlis or dosas.

Well, I am talking about the red, slightly coarse, spicy podi (dry chutney) known as milagai podi, gunpowder, simply idli-dosa podi or Karappu as we call it in our house. Karappu stands for Khara = spicy and Uppu = Salt (tikhat-meeth or namak-mirch as we say in Marathi and Hindi respectively). If you are still wondering about the combustible gun powder I mentioned above then let me clarify that it is named so for the fiery punch it packs in a small spoonful of serving.

My house always has a stock of this home-made karappu which usually lasts me for more than a month. It comes in handy for those lazy times when I am not in a mood to cook something elaborate as a sambar or even something simple like a coconut chutney to go along with idli/dosas. At such times, this Karappu is the one which comes to my rescue. Be it the early 7 am breakfast I whip up for my school-going kid or my no-leak tiffin of idli-karappu to be packed and taken on an early morning outing; it is a time-saving delicious spice mix to be had as an accompaniment.

It is to be had with a dash of sesame oil, mixed well into a thick slurry to be eaten as a chutney. Do not try to skimp on this sesame oil served on the podi - firstly, because you will end up ruining the taste  of the podi as to how it is to be eaten and secondly, you will miss on the goodness of this healthy oil.

I fell in love with the Sakthi brand of idli-dosa podi when we were in Bengaluru so much so that I had stopped making karappu at home. However, now that I am in Pune, I have resorted to the home-made version which tastes as good as the store-bought one. Not convinced? Try my recipe out to the 'T' and let me know...

Every South-Indian household has its own recipe of this podi. Some add garlic, some add peanuts; there are umpteen versions of this flavourful spice mix and here is mine, as usual - the no garlic-sattvik version as is common of my household recipes:

Ingredients:

1 cup udid dal
0.5 cup chana dal
0.5 cup til
Curry leaves - 2 sprigs (optional)
Tamarind - 1/2 an inch flat piece (optional)
10-12 Red chillies or Chilli powder - as per the spice levels required. (Kashmiri chilli powder gives a nice deep red colour to the podi)
2 tsp Oil - to shallow fry
Salt-to taste

Shallow fry these ingredients, except tamarind, in a little bit of oil separately on a low-medium flame. Allow it to cool and grind it into a almost fine powder. If you are using chilli powder, add it towards the end to the ground podi and mix it well.  Some like this podi a bit coarse but the little fellow in my house prefers it fine :)

Hope you make this soon and enjoy it lots!





Monday, March 9, 2020

Huli Palye - A classic dal recipe from my kitchen.

Huli Palye (with Spinach and little Methi leaves)

This is another classic Madhwa Bramhin recipe from my grandma's kitchen. Simple in its preparation, it is rich in nutrients and taste. Being a sattvik recipe, its a no-onion, no-garlic recipe.

You cannot compare it with the quite popular "Dal Palak"recipe. The tempering of red chillies, curry leaves, methi seeds along with a dash of tamarind imparts a unique tempting flavour to this dal. This along with rice and a dollop of ghee or til oil is almost a complete meal in itself. Paired with a papad and a fried curd chilli, it can do wonders to your tastebuds.

Without much ado, here is the recipe:

2.5 cups chopped greens like spinach, amaranthus or methi. I used 2 cups of spinach and a 0.5 cups of methi
Toor dal - 1 cup
Thick Tamarind pulp - 1 tbsp or more as per taste
Turmeric powder - 1 tsp
Chilli powder - 1 tsp (optional)
Jaggery powder - 1 tsp (optional)
Water - to adjust the consistency
Salt- to taste

For Tempering:
Oil - 1.5-2 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1.5 tsp
Hing - a pinch
Methi seeds - 1 tsp (You can skip this or lessen this quantity if you are using methi leaves in this recipe)
Red chillies - 4-5 broken and the seeds midly shaken off
Curry leaves - a sprig


Method:

We will start with the tempering so that its flavours are absorbed in the dal when we boil it along with the tempering. Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a kadhai and temper it with the above ingredients.
Once the tadka is ready, add the chopped greens and fry it well. Cover the kadhai with a lid for a couple of minutes. The greens will ooze water.  Uncover and fry it for a while till the leaves lose almost all its water and are stir-fried well. To this add haldi powder and the mashed dal. Mix it well.

Now to this dal, add the tamarind pulp, jaggery (optional - not added in the original recipe), chilli powder (again optional if you like it hot), little water to adjust the consistency and finally the salt. Allow it to come to a boil and simmer it well for 5 minutes.

Hulipalye is ready to be eaten with rice, papad and a fried curd chilli for an authentic experience!



Saturday, February 29, 2020

Fort 4: Weekend Trek to Raigad...Truly a Fort fit for a King!



The Magnificent Raigad 


Name: Raigad (Formerly Rairi)
Height: 4400 feet/1356 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Easy trek through the Maha Darwaza climbing 1737 steps
Equipment required:  None but wear appropriate trekking shoes for this trek
Base Village(s): Pachad and Raigadwadi 
Distance from Pune: 132 kms from Pune, via Tamhini Ghat Road. Bad roads (till the ghats) lengthens the travel time to about 4+ hours 
Time to trek uphill: 1-2 hours approximately. A Ropeway (trolley) is also available to get to the top of the fort. https://www.raigadropeway.com/ticket.html
Where to stay: Staying overnight is possible in self-pitched tents or in one of the rooms or dormitories available there. 
Booking site: https://www.raigadropeway.com/accommodation.html
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water if possible as limited options are available.  Pithala bhaakri, vada pav, misal pav is usually available at the Sarja Hotel near the ropeway. Sometimes the villagers can also arrange for fresh meals as requested. Meals (Rice plate) need to be ordered in advance at the Sarja restaurant if staying overnight on the fort
Best time to visit: November-February and monsoons
Guide services on the trek - Not required as the trekking path (steps) is quite straightforward and evident.



Takmak Tok on the left and the fort ramparts/steps on the right

History of Raigad:

This fort was captured by Shivaji Maharaj from the Mores, ...surprised? Yes it was not built but rather captured and renovated by Shivaji to make it his capital. As per the records, the fort was earlier known as Rairi and was built by Chandrarao More in 1030 AD. The Mores were the cadet dynasty descending from the earlier Maurya dynasty.  Shivaji seized this fort from the Mores in 1656, renovated it and later in 1674, he was coronated as the Chhatrapati on this very fort.

This fort changed many hands after the Marathas. In between, it was captured by Aurangzeb and renamed as Islamgad to be captured again by the Marathas. Later, in the early 19th century, 1818 to be precise, the fort was destroyed by the British and brought under their territory. Thereafter this fort was closed to the public for close to a century. There ended the saga of this illustrious fort as it was in its hey days, but today, thanks to the efforts of the Maharashtra Government and ASI, the fort has been well maintained and has acquired an iconic status of having been the capital of the Maratha Empire.

Today, this fort is no longer just a trekker's delight or a tourist spot, it has become a pilgrimage for Shiv-Bhakts who throng the fort in thousands on Shivaji Jayanti. Thanks to the ropeway, many visitors plan a day's visit to this  magnificent fort and pay their respects to Shivaji Maharaj.



Points of interest on the fort


Getting to Raigad fort from Pune:

1) Raigad is situated near Mahad in Raigad district of Maharashtra. It is about 132 kms from Pune via Tamhini Ghat. The road conditions, especially after crossing the ghat, are not that great and it takes about 4-4.5 hours to cover the distance.

Pune --> Paud Road/Mulshi Road in Pirangut --> Tamhini Ghat Road --> Pachad Road in Nizampur  --> Raigad fort


2) There is another longer route from Pune via Varandha ghat which is around 147 kms.

Pune --> NH48 --> Bhor/Kapurhol Road --> MH SH 70 in Bhor --> Mahad naka --> Varandha Ghat Road --> NH66 --> Raigad Road --> Raigad fort

There are no direct buses or trains to the fort from Pune. It is advisable to hire a cab or take your own vehicle to reach the fort.

Parking:

Parking is available in plenty at the base of the fort. One can park overnight as well for a nominal fee in the hotel/dhaba premises.


Food and Toilet Facilities

Obviously there are no toilets during the trek or even in the base village. Wondering when will the ASI start having such basic facilities near heritage sites...

Food options, mostly snacks, are available in plenty at the base of the fort. Villagers sell water bottles, buttermilk, lemon juice and other packaged snacks on the way to the fort and also on the fort. They even arrange for home-made rustic food on the fort like pithala-bhaakri, dahi and thecha if one request them beforehand.

There is also a small restaurant on the fort, just behind the ropeway, which goes by the name Sarja Uphar Gruh. It serves snacks and can even arrange for a rice place or a thali on the fort, if requested in advance.


Staying Overnight on the Fort

This fort is huge and offers a lot to see The distances between the various points of interest are also large making it quite a task to cover the fort in one day, especially after travelling from Pune or Mumbai. Hence it is advisable to stay put on the fort for a night. 

We stayed in one of the non-AC rooms of the Raigad Ropeway Lodges. The rooms, although very basic in nature, were spectacularly clean and well maintained. It provided us with good clean linens, beds, blankets and bathroom. Towels were not provided to us so be sure to carry them with you if you plan on staying here. 

The Trek/Ropeway

One has to climb around 1737 steps to reach the fort. It took us slightly more than an hour to reach the top. The steps are in great shape and regularly maintained by the authorities. The steps are not too steep as well and barricaded well with stone walls.

Soon we reached the Maha Darwaza, the one and only entrance to the fort and made our way inside the fort. This entrance is massive as the name suggests and still stands strong today without a single crack in its structure. This door used to be closed at sunset everyday only to be opened the next day at sunrise.



Maha Darwaza - the main entrance

The sturdy Maha Darwaza from inside


The other quicker route is to take the ropeway from the base of the fort and reach the top in just about 5-6 minutes. The ropeway drops you just off the Mena Darwaza. The ropeway costs around Rs 185 for a single ride and Rs 315 for a two-way ride for an adult.  Here is the link to the ropeway site:
https://www.raigadropeway.com/ticket.html


Exploring the Fort

This once impenetrable fort has numerous points of interest for an avid tourist. One can start exploring from the Mena darwaza near the ropeway and  begin with the Queens' palaces.  Shivaji Maharaj had 8 queens in his lifetime. His first wife and chief consort, Saibai Bhosale breathed her last on Rajgad and another queen, presumably Putalabai  stayed in Pachad at the base of the fort. So rightly there are remains of 6 quarters in the Rani Vasa (Queens' Palace) of which only the base remains with evidences of a private bathroom in each quarter.

The Queens and the other royal ladies used the Mena darwaza to access their quarters, while Shivaji and the other nobles used the Palkhi Darwaza on the other side to enter the premises. Just to the right of the Palkhi darwaza are some deep rooms which are believed to be granaries of the fort. Next to the granaries is Shivaji's royal bath with an impressive drainage system. Adjacent to it is a secret room where confidential meetings were supposed to be held. In the front are the remains of the watch towers which were built to keep an eye of any untoward movements near the fort. They were 7-storied in structure when they were built, out of which just 3 floors remain today.



Watch Towers


Ruins of another watch tower


In front of these towers is the deep Ganga Sagar Lake. It is said that water from the Ganges was brought on to the fort for the coronation ceremony of Shivaji Maharaj. After the ceremony, the remaining holy water was emptied into this lake and hence the name - Ganga Sagar. This lake never goes dry even in the harsh summers and was a reliable water source for the fort in the olden days.



Watch towers and Ganga Sagar Lake


Shivaji's residence, the Royal Palace covered a huge area in front of the watch towers. Sadly, today the palace is in ruins with the just the stony base intact. The wooden palace is long gone. Beyond the palace lies the public durbar or his courtroom. The durbar is massive with a Nagarkhana darwaza (the darwaza holding the grand musical instruments) on one end and a Sinhasan or a throne at the other. The accoustics of this durbar are particularly noteworthy as even the slightest sound could be heard from one corner of this durbar to the other. It is also said that when the King leaned towards the left and whisphered, only the people on his left could hear what he said, the people on the right side of the durbar could not hear the King and vice versa. Amazing isn't it!



All that remains of the Royal Palace is...

Nagarkhana Darwaza - the main entrance to the public durbar


The sinhasan today is a replica of the original one which is said to have weighed 1.28 tonnes in pure gold, precious gems and panch dhatu. Such was the magnificence of the throne that it was much talked after and even recorded in the annals of history by those present in the coronation. The coronation was a grand affair fit for the Chhatrapati and even grander was his throne.  Unfortunately, today, no one knows the whereabouts of this throne. After the escape of Rajaram from Raigad fort in 1689 to escape the Mughals, it is not exactly known what happened to this throne - whether it was taken and hidden away in safety by the Marathas or was it destroyed by those invading the fort. Today, just the replica remains...


The Sinhasan


Making your way through the Nagarkhana darwaza, you pass through the Holi cha Mal - the area where the fort used to celebrate Holi - and see another statue of the Chhatrapati seated in all his glory. In front of this statue lies the Market Place built on an elevated platform on either sides of a wide road. The height of this platform was such that it enabled the horse riders of yore to shop without alighting from their horses. The planned and well-built market place speaks volumes of the architectural layout of this fort.


The elevated market shops

The Market Place with shops on both sides of the road


Hiroji Indulkar was the chief architect of Raigad. Using stone and lead, he had built an invincible masterpiece that safeguarded the Swarajya on numerous occassions...of course until it was destroyed by the British using cannons from close quarters. Such was his faith and loyalty towards Shivaji that as reward for his years of hard work, he asked for neither weatlh nor fame but just for an inscription of his name on the one of the steps leading to Jagdishwar temple. The inscriptions still exists today and reminds us of the hard work and sacrifices of thousands of Marathas who contributed in building the Empire.


The inscription of Hiroji Induklar


Jagdishwar temple is another beauty and an active temple on the fort. It appears like a Masjid from a distance with minarets on four corners to lead the enemy into believing that it was a Muslim place of worship. The door of the temple is also quite low so that invaders who tried to enter the temple had to stoop low and could easily become a target for the Maratha soldiers inside. An excellent example of military camouflage, as it could ward off hostile invaders like the Mughals or Nizams who were intent on destroying Hindu places of worships.


Jagdishwar Temple

The Shivalingam inside the Jagdishwar Temple


The Samadhi (tomb)of the great King lies in front of the temple. The tomb was discovered in 1880, almost 60 years after the fort was abandoned and then renovated in 1895 to its present state. Next to it is the tomb of Waghya, his loyal dog who supposedly jumped into the King's pyre after his master. There is some controversy going on regarding the veracity of the existence of Waghya and today the canine's samadhi is being protected by the ASI.

Amidst all these architectural marvels, lies the natural marvel of Takmak Tok, a place of execution from where the guilty were thrown off the cliff to carry out a death sentence. This place experiences such high velocity winds that it is difficult to stand on the cliff lest alone peer down the steep valley. The point today is safeguarded with railings and is a popular tourist point. Legend has it that one of Shivaji's guards who was holding his umbrella (chhatri) could not withstand the velocity of the wind and was blown away from the cliff. However, as luck would have it, he clung on to the chhatri like a parachute and safely landed at a place below known as Nizampur - which has been duly renamed as 'Chhatri Nizampur' village since then.



Takmak tok


Another awe-inspiring story of the fort is how the Hirkani Buruz was built. I am sure many of you would be aware of how a young mother clambered down an unfortified steep cliff on Raigad to get back to her young one after the Maha Darwaza of the fort was closed for the day. A Marathi movie by her name - Hirkani was released recently in 2019 glorifying the brave mother. The Maharaj recognized her bravery and rewarded her by fortifying the cliff and building a bastion in her name - the Hirkani Buruz. This buruz is on the other side of the fort towards the west and offers a panoramic sunset view if visited in the evening.

There are many other points of interest on the fort like the Hatti Talav, Wagh Darwaza and much more.  I am sure there will be many more stories too to go along with them. Two full days of exploration is what would be needed if you decide to explore the fort end to end. Hence, it is recommended to hire the services of an experienced guide to save time. Guides are available just outside the ropeway and the price for visiting various points are already fixed. So there is no hassle of bargaining or fear of getting cheated. A whole day's tour with the guide today will cost you around Rs 1500.

So what are you waiting for? Plan a trip to this erstwhile capital of the Maratha Empire and relive its fascinating history through the numerous tales and legends that surround this fort.



Thursday, January 30, 2020

My Memoirs of Masale Bhaat

When I was a kid, I used to eagerly wait for marriage invitations to my grandmother so that I too could attend the ceremonies with her - the major draw being the delicious food served on such occasions. At that age, I used to tag her everywhere that she went, be it some kitty party of hers (they used to call it bhishi..remember anyone?)  or any other social function.

Well, coming back to the main point, I used to love eating at these Maharashtrian weddings in the lates 80s and 90s when food was still served in a pangat* and not as a buffet. The feast used to be a truly authentic local Maharashtrian taat*. In our Indian culture, food is not just a means to satisfy one's hunger, it is a culinary science to nurture ones' body and a artistic feast for our senses as well. Take a look at the taat below to understand what I mean.

First to be served on the taat was a piece of lemon, salt, chutney, pickle and koshimbir (salad/raita) on the left side. This was followed by some fried items like papads, and batata bhajis.  Paatal bhaaji (gravy vegetable), sukhi bhaji (dry vegetable, usually boiled potato), usal, tomato saar or amti (dal) would be served on the right. A delicious combination of varan, bhaat and sajuk tup would be served in the centre to be eaten first. This was followed by other main courses like puris or polis (roti), masale bhaat , taak or mattha (buttermilk) served one after the other, ending of course with desserts like jilebi or shrikhand. This used to be the usual menu in those days and utterly lip-smacking it used to be!

*Pangat - A row of people sitting down for a meal
*Taat - Plate.

Credits: This Thali pic is from Hotel Shreyas in Pune for a visual representation of my description above




Masale bhaat is a must in all the Maharashtrian traditional wedding or festive feasts.  It is a fragrantly spiced rice complete with vegetables like ivy gourd, peas, or mixed vegetables and can be had as a one-pot dish as well. Served with raita, papad, or tomato saar, it truly stands out as a festive meal. 

I was sorely missing the authentic masale bhaat for quite some time now. All the recipes that I tried to google online were close but never the one that I was looking for. However, I turned lucky soon after I moved to Pune. A few weeks ago, I visited my college friend, Mugdha, for a lovely lunch at her place and was quite wowed by the masale bhaat she had prepared. Its perfect texture, fragrance and spices all transported me to my good old childhood memories :)

Here is the recipe for Tondliche Masale Bhaat (Bramhani recipe - No-onion, No-garlic version):


Tondli ghatlela Masale Bhaat

Recipe for 2-3 people:

Ambe Mohar rice (or any other short grained rice. I used Indrayani) - soaked for 30 minutes - 1 cup
Tondli (ivy gourd) - thinly sliced, 200 gms
Goda masala (similar to garam masala) - 1.5 tsps

For the phodni/tempering
Oil - 1.5 to 2 tbsp
Mustard seeds - 1 tsp
Curry leaves
Asafoetida/Hing - a pinch
Haldi - 1 tsp
Chilli powder - 1 tsp or more as per your taste
Ginger - grated or finely chopped - 1 inch

Jaggery - to taste (can skip as well)
Salt - to taste
Water - 2-2.5 cups
Grated coconut & Chopped Coriander leaves - for garnish
Ghee - for serving

Method:

Start with tempering the oil with mustard seeds, hing and curry leaves in a pressure cooker or a heavy-bottomed pan. Do not skimp on the oil here in this step as it can make or break the dish. To this tempering add the haldi, sliced ivy gourd, ginger, chilli powder and fry it for a couple of minutes. Next, add the soaked rice and mix it well in the oil. Make sure the oil coats the rice grains well.

To this add water, goda masala, jaggery, and salt to taste. Cover the vessel and allow the rice to cook well. If pressure cooking, then give around 4-5 whistles to make sure the ivy gourd is cooked well.

Garnish with coriander leaves, grated coconut and serve it with home-made ghee and lots of love. Enjoy the simple deliciousness!










Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Fort 3: A half-trek to Purandar

Name: Purandar
Height: 4472 feet / 1387 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Easy trek
Requirements:  Identity cards which are checked by the Army at the Gate
Base Village(s): Narayanpur 
Distance from Pune: 50 kms Southeast of Pune
Time to trek from the machi (lower fort): hour approximately
Where to stay: Staying overnight on the fort is not allowed but one can stay in Narayanpur or Saswad
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water. There is a army canteen near the parking lot on the machi which serves some snacks and drinks
Best time to visit: Rainy and winter season
Toilets: are available near the parking lot on the fort







As seen from Balekilla

Ruins

History:

This place is quite near Pune and so one fine Sunday, we decided to explore Purandar. I read a bit about its history so as not to be totally ignorant of the place we were visiting.

Purandar is an ancient fort and has a lot of history attributed to it. Heard of the Treaty of Purandar in the recent blockbuster - Tanaji, The Unsung Warrior? The treaty where Shivaji surrendered 23 forts including Purandar, to Mirza Raje Jaisingh in 1665 to avoid heavy losses to his men and empire. Yeah, this is the same fort at which the treaty was signed and this is the very fort as well where Chatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj and Sawai Madhavrao Peshwa were born.


This fort dates back to the 11th century of the Yadava Dynasty and is really quiet ancient. The fort has changed many hands after the Yadavas. It was taken over by the Persians, then some Sultanates and eventually towards the end of the 16th century, the fort was under the control of Malojirao Bhosale, a Maratha warrior under the Ahmadnagar Sultanate, who was none other than the grandfather of Shivaji Maharaj. Purandar is also one of the few forts which Shivaji gained control over in his early days of establishing the Maratha Empire.

Location:

Take the Pune-Bangalore Highway: Pune --> Kapurhol/Saswad-->Narayanpur --> 6.5 kms on tar road --> Fort entrance

Buses ply between Pune to Kapurhol and then one needs to catch another bus to Narayanpur

Tip: Go via Kapurhol-Bhor Road Only otherwise its easy to get lost.

Entry Requirements & Restrictions:


This fort is under the Indian Army and is being used for National Cadet Corps (NCC) for training purposes . It is open for tourists only between 9 am to 5 pm and overnight stay is strictly not allowed in the fort premises. IDs are a must to gain entry into the fort. Only after a thorough security checks and ID validations, were we allowed to step inside the gates.

The fort walls


Vajragad and the Parking lot on Purandar


We drove up all the way on a motorable tar road to the parking lot which is situated on the lower part of the fort (machi). Here one can park the vehicle and follow the trekking trail to the topmost point of the fort. I could not click pictures of the statue of Murarbaji Deshpande, and the Church near the entrance gate as we drove along the way.  Also the army has put up a lot many notices to not click pictures due to security reasons. However, I could take pictures on the route uphill!

Many places are out of reach for the tourists as well due to security reasons. The last I read is that Vajragad, which earlier could be accessed from Purandar, is now closed to the public.

The Trek:


The fort can be divided into two halves - the lower half  is the Machi and the upper half is the Balekilla. We visited the monuments of Shivaji Maharaj and Sambhaji Maharaj a little straight ahead of the parking lot on the machi and paid our respects to these stalwarts. The machi also houses a church and a statue of Murarbaji Deshpande, the Maratha warrior who gave up his life fighting against the Mughals on this fort. Purandareshwar temple is just behind the entry point of the trail uphill.

The Balekilla has the Kedareshwar temple at its highest point. It is an ancient Shiva temple with a Nandi sitting across it. The place is inundated with monkeys so be careful with your mobiles and footwear. They can disappear any second. The fort is in ruins and nothing much is left except the fort walls at places and bastions.


The Maha Darwaza

It is a very simple trek even for the beginners, especially if we start from the parking lot. Since the trek does not entail starting from the base, I call it a 'half-trek'. The trail starts right opposite the parking lot and takes less than an hour to reach the top. It is a straightforward path which takes us through the Mahadarwaza offering panaromic views of the twin fort, Vajragad, and the valley below.

The trek route with Vajragad in the background

Kedareshwar temple on the top


Kedareshwar temple



A water tank on the way to the Kedareshwar temple

Aptly said!

The fort is in ruins today; yet these ruins remind us of the glorious past it witnessed in its heydays. Even today, by being a training centre for the NCC, the fort is still in active service of our nation and definitely warrants a visit.


Nearby attractions: 

1) Prati Balaji Temple, a replica of the Tirumala Venkateshwara Temple, is located in Narayanpur and is believed to be constructed during the Yadava era.
2) Khandoba temple of Jejuri (25 kms from the Narayanpur).






Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Trek 3 - Naneghat: The Satvahana Toll Route of Ancient India

Name: Naneghat & Nanacha Angtha
Height: 2461 feet/750 metres above sea level
Trek Category: Easy-Medium trek
Equipment required:  None but wear appropriate trekking shoes for this trek
Base Village(s): Vaishakhare for the trek. The pass is also accessible from Ghatghar via a road
Distance from Pune: 120 kms from Pune
Distance from Kalyan to Vaishakhare: 60 kms
Time to trek uphill: 2-3 hours approximately
Where to stay: Staying overnight is possible in the cave near the pass
Where to eat: Carry your own food & water. Can request food (pithala-bhaakri, pohe etc.) from the dhaba on the plateau above the pass
Best time to visit: During monsoons and in winter months



Naneghat & Nanacha Angtha



What is Naneghat?

Naneghat (Nane = coins; Ghat = Mountain Pass) is a scenic mountain pass situated in the Western ghats, that connects the Konkan region to the Deccan plateau via Junnar. Here nanis were collected as toll in a carved stone vessel, somewhere around 200 BCE to 190 CE, to gain entry into the Satvahana kingdom - The first record of any ancient toll booth anywhere in the world!

The stone vessel still stands intact today at the mouth of the ghat overlooking a small hamlet on the plateau. There is a man-made cave as well on the other side of the pass with Bramhi inscriptions in there. Dotted with numerous other smaller caves and water tanks, the pass was not only a gateway to the other side but also offered refuge to the weary travellers who crossed over from Konkan to Pratishthan (ancient name for Junnar)

Nanacha Angtha (Angtha=Thumb) is the apt name of the pinnacle seen next to the ghat. As vertical and steep it looks from below, it is quite a manageable stretch uphill from Naneghat. It takes only about 10 minutes to climb to the top of the pinnacle from the pass.

The top of the pinnacle is so windy that it is difficult to stand there lest you tumble down in the valley below. Many visitors give it a miss but do trek up to there to complete the experience and get ready to be blown away (both literally and figuratively!).





Who built it?

As per the inscriptions in the cave, it is believed that Queen Naganika from the Satvahana Dynasty commissioned the excavation of the pass and the building of the cave after the death of her husband, King Satakarni. The inscriptions talk about the lives of the royal couple and their son who succeeded the throne.

The inscriptions also throw light on a lot of practises which highlight the history of the period like the sacrifices and various rituals performed by the kings of the period. The mention of Vedic Gods in sync with Hindu Gods like Vasudeva and Balram indicate the transition to the practice of Vaishnava Hinduism in the Satvahana dynasty. The numeric inscriptions in there are also the world's oldest known numeric symbols known to man.

The history of the pass


How to Reach Naneghat from Mumbai/Kalyan (Popular Trek Route)

Mumbai--> Kalyan-->Murbad--> Tokawade--> Vaishakhare (base village)-->Naneghat Trek Starting Point

After reaching Kalyan, one can take the ST buses plying towards Ahmednagar/Alephata/Junnar going via Malshej Ghat.The  Naneghat stop is around 5 kms from Tokawade village and is not an official stop. So you will have to request the conductor to stop the bus there on the road. The trekking path starts behind a board put up on the road there.

If you are coming by your own vehicle, then you can park the vehicle near this starting point of the trek. There is some parking space available on the other side of the road.

The Naneghat Trek Starting Point on the Road


How to Reach Naneghat from Pune 

1) Pune--> Alephata (by ST Bus) --> Catch another bus towards Kalyan via Malshej Ghat and get down at the Naneghat Trek Starting Point  

2) Pune--> Junnar-->Ghatgar-->Road to Naneghat. (ST buses ply between Pune <--> Junnar, Junnar<--> Ghatgar). This is not a trekking route but a proper paved road which takes one to the top of the plateau. 
There are benches along the edge of the plateau for the tourists to sit and soak in the stunning views. A small dhaba serves food and drinks on the plateau. An ideal getaway for a day's picnic from Pune.



The Trek

The trek starts off on a little muddy flat path straight through the forest right off the road. It seems really easy at first being a flat walk with trees on both sides but soon after some 45 minutes or so (depending on one's speed of course!) the path starts ascending rapidly. The almost flat mud path soon gives way to ancient steps which were hewn from the steep inclines of the mountain.

The stony steps are obviously in a disarray now and time has taken a toll on this path (a play on words intended), which was once extensively used by traders.

The Steps to the Pass


It took us 2 hours to reach the pass from the starting point. The trek is easy but is a continuous ascent. Find your own pace and enjoy the climb taking in the views of the Western ghats.  An intermittent cool breeze would blow on our face from time to time and would take away all our weariness. It was a delightful climb to the pass with the steps leading us through a thick forest abuzz with (hidden but audible) activity.

The Rough Path


There are a couple of water tanks along the steps as we reach near the top of the  pass. The genius of these tanks is that they are carved right under the mountain inclines which helps it to collect all the fresh rain water that trickle down in these tanks. These tanks made sure that the weary travellers of yore could quench their thirst on their way to the high mountain pass. Even today the water in these tanks are so refreshingly cool and clear.

The Water Tank

The steps to a water tank


The Cave

The cave was soon in sight.  Protected by railings, it looks like a grand modern-day balcony carved out from the mountain. The cave inside is quite large with Bramhi inscriptions on its walls. Naneghat comes under the Archaelogical Survey of India (ASI) and a caretaker from the nearby village (on the plateau) is appointed to clean and maintain the place. 

The Cave

The Bramhi Inscription



Naneghat

The small rocky mountain pass is soon in sight. It is a narrow stony path between two vertical rocky walls leads us from the cave to the stone vessel and out in the plateau. The pass is naturally very windy as it the sole passage for the air to rush out from the vast plateau above it. 

The Pass


The Stone Vessel (Dagdi Ranjan)
The Pinnacle from the other side of the Plateau


This trek is very popular during monsoons as the rains lend a totally different aura to the entire landscape here.  Rain water rushes down from the pass cascading onto the steps below like a small waterfall. Beyond the pass, the plateau is a carpet of green grass and flowers.  The mist and fog all around in the ghats lend it a divine look. 

Naneghat is also quite popular for its reverse waterfall. This reverse waterfall is a spectacle to watch with the Jivdhan fort in the background. During monsoons, such is the gust of the wind here in the mountains that the water is literally pushed back on the plateau defying gravity. 

Jivdhan Fort from the Plateau


Food & Toilet Options

Food & toilet facility is available on top of the plateau after completing the trek. The ASI caretaker's family runs a small dhaba which dishes out the local favourites like pithala bhaakri, pohe, bhajiyas, etc as per the tourist request.