Solo Date #68- Downtown Srinagar

Solo date at Kathi Junction, downtown.
Downtown Srinagar

The 4g may not work, till the Jio fibre isn’t installed in every house in Kashmir. But don’t think, that stops the grapevine and the rapid flow of information. Last night I received a call from the ex assistant. ‘ You went to shoot the Sunday market?’ he asked. ‘You read it on my blog, na?’ I answered. ‘No! I received a photograph of you!’ he replied to my disbelief. He sent me a photo, that had been taken from a distance and from behind a few people. So, I can be seen in the corner of the frame. I had removed my mask for a bit, as I was getting a runny nose and someone actually shot me, sent it to someone else and then it reached my Mother hen, who is not even in Kashmir. ‘Aap ko kitni bar bola he, nazar rakhte he yahaan log. Dekh kar chalo!’ He seemed damn annoyed.

Anyway, as you must have figured one doesn’t pay heed to other people’s advice. So, I walked to downtown. First, I went to Pir Dastagir Sahib, chatted with the locals there. Then, I bounced to Naqahband Sahib. The degree of friendliness, rapidly reduced as I walked towards Nawhatta. Before I entered the Dargah, a man approached me and started pestering me about my camera. ‘I’m warning you, the boys don’t like all this!’ he tried to scare me. ‘Well, the boys over here don’t do anything to anyone and they will not do anything to me! I know!’ I matched his rudeness word by word.

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Solo Date #67- Mehrauli

One has fallen in love, with where the Stones Speak. On Saturdays I don’t work before 9 p.m and since one has to catch an early morning flight tomorrow, it was nice to spend the day lazying around in Mehrauli.

In the afternoon, I caught the poetry walk organised by Ramit and Prerakh, a semi bathak of sorts discussing the various Urdu poets, in the park. Nicely done, though, one would have wanted to hear a few more anecdotes about the poet’s lives. I guess, when you’re moving from one place to the other, it’s distracting. Plus, one isn’t a fan of the herd, one likes things to move at snails pace. Nevertheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon, the facilitators friendly and easy going.

But, miye ki daud masjid tak and one is a creature of habit. So, off I headed to the Dargah, where I sat for probably fifteen minutes as the qawali came to an end and got invited to the Qawal’s son’s wedding. Which I regretfully, had to decline due to the travel plans. I love this part of my job, getting undeserved access into other people’s lives. While walking back, I just stopped for a quick bite, picked up a kathi roll, sat on the steps of Bhool Bhulaiya, which has become my favourite spot in the city after my flyover and eat. Just when I was thinking, this would be a nice spot, for a date- Qutub minar on one side, a monkey climbing the board infront of me, sensing this, a stray dog came and sat next to me.

We had a few moments of what I think dates should be like, with plenty of non verbal communication -looking into each other’s eyes and eating. His stomach full, he went off to sleep near my foot, as I listened to Ahista, ahista and watched the shabe roz ka tamasha, mere aage, the hustle bustle of a street in Delhi. After what seemed like time moving in fast forward, I got up and started to walk towards my car. Tomorrow, it’s going to be a different place but one will remain, bheed me tanha.

Solo Date #65- Brew Bakes

Brewbakes, Srinagar

A franchisee of the pan India, coffee shop- Brew Bakes, can now be found on the Boulevard in Srinagar. As it was just a stone throw away from my hotel, I spent a lot of time here, alone and even with friends. From pizzas to pastas, kathi rolls and burgers, their menu is an interesting mix of fusion food.

Though I sat indoors, as I was hot and sweaty having spent most days, just walking around, getting tanned ( family- hai waise hi kali si, sunscreen bhi nahin lagandi), the outdoor seating is perfect for catching up in the evenings. They open early, around nine, so it’s an idle spot for breakfast meetings. With a view of the Dal, can anything be better?

Solo Date 64- Wok The Walk

Sometimes I don’t realize that this blog, is not my private diary but a platform, that is followed by my friends. The minute I posted last night, I started getting messages and calls from concerned friends. This year has been especially good at sieving the good from the unimportant.

Went to grab a meal to clear my head. On the Boulevard, there’s Wok The Walk. A quaint little place with an open kitchen and decent chinese food. The food is alright, the view and the service good. It seemed like the kind of place, which is frequented by students. Check it out.

Solo Date # 64-Hunger Club

On an afternoon in March, when I had a couple of hours between two appointments, I went to Hunger Club. The previous night, I had eaten at my favourite haunt in Kashmir-a small dhaba called Paakezah and opposite that is this newly opened, swanky restaurant in Rajbagh.

Post lunch it was fairly deserted- too late for the locals to eat and no tourists in town. The chicken was delicious, but it was the company that was quite interesting. No, I didn’t go with someone, it was while I was there, by myself, enjoying my meal, that I met the owner. I was just going about my routine, eating, chatting with the waiter, in this case making a few suggestion about the place, when the owner overheard the conversation and asked if he could join me. Anywhere else in India, I will look a man up and down, think ‘what the hell does this one want?’ and utter something quite obnoxious to make the man split. In Kashmir, I’m someone else, quite chatty, unlike my usual porcupinal ways.

The conversation of course remained about Kashmir, we were joined by a friend of the person who sat opposite me. Before I knew it a couple of hours had passed and though I was asked very subtly, if I was a Khalistan sympathiser (which is the the rudest thing I have ever been asked. I didn’t want to stay in Hemkunt Colony and I definitely would never move to Punjab…so I don’t need a Khalistan, thank you very much) it was a fairly engaging, well spent afternoon.

Solo Date #63- -Daawat, Srinagar

After one of my evening strolls, I dropped in for dinner at the Welcome Hotel. The meal was decent, of course for Mughlai food, Shamyana is a better option. But it was a nice change from the usual, the ambience better, the place quieter and the staff was extremely courteous.

Solo Date #46- Prem’s Restaurant Pune

I take a quick detour towards the Osho Ashram, which took my breath away (I managed to step in to take a leak…perks of being a bibliophile). After a lovely meeting with the Ma at the bookstore and promising myself and her that I will return, I head to a cafe for breakfast and some reading.

Solo Date #43- Udaipur

Natraj Restaurant, Udaipur.

If you land up in Udaipur, don’t leave without visiting the Natraj Restaurant. The Rajasthani/ Gujrati Thali is delectable and of course I love playing dress up…I never miss a chance to pose for the local photographers.

Solo Date #35-Paonta Sahib

Paonta Sahib, which is at a distance of over 200 kms away from Delhi is a town in Sirmour district of Himachal Pradesh. The Gurudwara in this town, has historic significance for Sikhs, as the Dasam Granth was written by their tenth guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, here.

The Dasam Granth, is a controversial text, as many historians claim that only part of it has been compiled by the Guru and the rest by the 52 poets who were part of the durbar at Anandpur Sahib.

During my stay, I visited the Gurudwara and headed to the Riversong Restaurant for dinner.

Solo Date # 26-Cafe Nomad

Cafe Nomad, Chandigarh

Cafe Nomad, Chandigarh

On the way back from the ‘Virasat-e Khalsa’, I stopped over at Cafe Nomad. Unlike, the Backpacker’s Cafe which was too crowded and the food was undercooked, this restaurant was perfect for someone who likes to avoid the crowd.

The Saaj and the Baklava with icecream were to die for. I lazed around for an hour and half, savouring the food and procrastinating my drive back to Delhi. 

Solo Date # 25-Rock Garden

Nek Chand's Rock Garden

Rock Garden Chandigarh

Backpacker’s Cafe, Chandigarh

For a pre holi date I stop over at Chandigarh to reminisce one of my favourite dates-which was sneaking away from our friends in the middle of a wedding and coming to check out Nek Chand’s creation. The place is packed as it’s a Sunday. I wander around, trigger happy and slightly nostalgic.

To cheer myself up I head to Backpackers Cafe in Sector 9. I avoid malls like they are the plague, so I skip the one at Elante. I expect it to be less ‘happening’ and more chilled out. There are couples everywhere. The food is prompt to arrive but is half cooked and then there’s a crazy chaos, as some big shot is about to arrive and all his cronies are too disturbing for hang around with. I get my food packed and split.

Solo Date #23- Lalit Khajuraho

Panna, at the Lalit Khajuraho

Panna at the Lalit Temple View Hotel, Khajuraho

One of the reviews stated that the Lalit Temple view Hotel, ‘exudes a certain arrogance’, which was what piqued my curiosity. I dropped in after my visit to the Archeological Museum, which adjoins the hotel. After visiting the temples, the museum doesn’t remain a novelty. Plus, the renovations, the noise and a person who follows me around to ensure I don’t take any photographs, makes me want to flee. So, I do- to bask in the sun at Panna.

When I think Lalit, imagery of the the one in Srinagar comes to mind. Of course, the grandeour of it isn’t replicated in Khajuraho. But it does have its own charm. The salad isn’t unappetising, yet it’s not as fresh as delish as one would have wanted. The service is good, the ambience great and the place bustles with foreign tourists.

 

Solo Date #22-Raja Cafe

Raja Cafe, Madhya Pradesh

Raja Cafe, Khajuraho

Bang opposite the Western Group of Temples, close to Bamboori Treats lies this unassuming restaurant. The signage is tiny and the exterior is unimpressive. But the place bursts with energy, as travellers from all over the World enjoy a delectable meal and bask in the sun.

The owner- the grandson of one of the Swedish cofounders, who bought the cafe from the Maharaja keeps a watchful eye on the staff and politely smiles at the guests. 
Through the trip, it becomes one of my favourite hangouts in Khajuraho. I’m not the only one who returns repeatedly, the noisy women traveller’s group who was there in the afternoon is also there in the evening. So are some solo trippers, enjoying  cold beers and breezers. A must visit on your next trip to the land of the erotic. 
 

Solo date #19-Valentine’s  Day

Valentine’s day date in Delhi

Though one is footloose and fancy free, V day is a good day to give one’s self some loving. I head to Surajkund for the famous Mela. Though, the whole world and it’s mummy (it seems) is there, I wander around by myself, window shopping and trigger happy.

A couple of hours- a bottle of wine, gulab jamun and some chick flicks later, I am all set to call it a night. I re-read the messages from the day and wonder what and why the hell was I fretting so much about love a few years ago. ‘The power in a relationship lies with the one who cares, less! As long as you don’t care,you’ll be fine!’, I remind myself. Oh, I’m not a cynic, I am a realist!

Solo Date #18-SPS Museum

Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar

There are a number of activities  one can enjoy in Srinagar- go for a shikara ride, paragliding, take a bus ride on the hop on-hop off, visit the floating post office but the winter, especially the chilian kalan-forty days of the cold, put a damper on everything. Since most of the locals leave for the summer capital of Jammu and there are hardly any tourists around, everything kind of comes to a halt. But the museum is open-sort of.

Though the new wing is yet to be inaugurated and the old building is closed to the public, one is pleasantly surprised. A few years ago I had sent an article to GK (which was never printed),  about how mismanaged the museum was, with broken cases and bukharis being used close to national treasures. 

The staff remains primarily the same so it still not like a nice, quiet, well organised place but it’s a great initiative, a must see for the different kinds of galleries. On the ground floor are the Archeology gallery, Numismatics Gallery  and the museum shop. On the first floor are the Culture and Society, Jewellery, Arms and Armory and Decorative Arts Galleries. On the second floor which is at the moment non functional,  are the Textile and Painting galleries. 

Solo Date #16- Tuji at Makai Point

tuji at makai point

Makai Point Srinagar

The Makai Point  is a favoured haunt of the locals as the delectable, local, mutton barbecued dish-tuji is served by a number of vendors at this spot.  I wouldn’t suggest going there late in the evening by yourself, since it has a notorious reputation. 

Though tuji isn’t my favourite local dish, I would rather have harisa downtown or the trami at Grand, or even a mirchi korma at Ahdoos, at 4.30 in evening one seekh, with a lavasa (bread) and radish and curd chutney, is enough to fill up my tummy. Plus, I can catch up with my buddy. 

So off I go, on the Boulevard road, towards the Nishat/Harwan side. I can’t find my favourite tuji walla-J. One quick phone call and he appears in five minutes. ‘Chal ghar chal, chai pee!’. I decline the offer, promising to drop in next time. Since, he’s not working, I ask him to sit in the car and have a tuji. All the other vendors are very amused as we enjoy the meal and chat about the haalat.

In one corner a man washes utensils. J points towards him and tells me that once upon a time, people were terrified of this particular person as he was a militant. He was caught -imprisoned but by the time he was released he had lost a bit of his mind. ‘Itna accha aadmi he, kissi ko kuch nahin bolta he, ‘ he tells me, feeling bad for M.

I hang around for a while and then bid him farewell. ‘Mummy ko salaam bolna aur kehna agli dafa milne aongee.’ He sulks a little, ‘marzi he!’, but I know his mum will fuss over me, like she usually does and it’s an inconvenient hour to drop in. ‘Next time’, I promise him as I speed away.

 

Solo Date #14- Gulshan Books 

Gulshan Books and Cafe Nehru Park

Gulshan Books, Srinagar

After a day spent in Gulmarg, I’m feverish and all I want to do is spend a day in bed with a book. So I head to the best place in Srinagar to find one.

Gulshan Books is a quaint bookstore on Residency Road. It’s the place to find practically, any book that has been written about the Valley. I was heartbroken when it got damaged during the floods but it’s revamped version is even better.

Though, now there’s a cafe on the Boulevard too, I prefer the familarity of this one. Plus, with my ADD( it’s an assumption), I find it difficult to concentrate on a book, in public spaces. I buy a copy of Rahul Pandita’s, ‘Our moon has blood clots’.On the 19th of January, the Kashmiri Pandit community marked their 27th year in exile, from the Valley and Pandita’s book narrates the pain ofthat displacement.I  head back to my apartment for an afternoon of reading. 

Solo Date #13-Books and Bricks

10 things to do in Srinagar

Books and Bricks, Srinagar

After a morning spent making pictures in different parts of Srinagar, I head to a quiet cafe in the afternoon. I’m on a mission! I need to figure out if Srinagar, is still safe for female travellers.

Though, there are a number of places to hang around-Cafe Arabica at  the Broadway, Chinar-the coffee shop at the Lalit and the coffee shop at the Taj, I want to sit somewhere, which is bursting at the seams. So, Books and Bricks it is!

Nestled in Gogji Bagh, the cafe looks like someone’s personal library, what with all the books stacked up. With only around eight to ten tables, this American diner has a perfectly cozy feel to it. I warm myself up with a coffee and some waffles.

 Though, there isn’t a single couple around, the place is swarming with young girls, chatting over burgers and coffee. I’m glad no one is bothered by my existence.The service is prompt, the food delicious and the conversations, I accidentally eve’s drop on ( the tables are too close to each other) are  highly entertaining. 

Solo Dates in Kashmir

Before I post anything from my trip…the Valley clad in snow, the conflict or the cold..I want to dedicate the next few solo dates to Kashmir. 

Yesterday, as I walked around taking pictures of the snow, I bumped into one of the journalists working for Star. He wanted a bite about the cold…I urged more tourists to visit. As I tuned into take my staple diet of Fb, last evening, a Kashmiri writer’s post, gave an account of the harassment she faced while strolling through Srinagar. A decade of wandering around the city in the worst circumstances, plus being here at the same time at the same spot, with the security forces around, I am baffled by it! I am sure there are a few rotten apples every where, it’s unfortunate when someone encounters them.

There are a number of things I dislike about Srinagar . Personally, I like cities which are melting pots of various cultures, with a diversity of religious practices,  clothing and thought. Though, I would love to live in Kashmir, I would hate to bring up my kids, here. Plus, I don’t know how to fit in, which is a prerequisite to surviving,  two- three tier cities and small towns in India. But the good outweighs the bad. As a woman, I very rarely feel unsafe here…around the security forces, yes, (a number of times, I have faced their brunt) around a local kashmiri man, nope. Barring, a few instances last year, in a very  specific area, where the boys were heckling, I’ve never been harassed. 

I wish I could give an unbiased, account of my travels. But we all suffer our prejudices; some of us are just honest enough to claim them. I don’t wear tags, therefore I don’t need to see the world through feminist eyes. 

So these solo dates are dedicated to my decade in Kashmir. A place I have no connect to but which feels like home. To all those who made an outsider, feel like an insider … thank you.

Solo Date #12-New Year’s Eve Date

A 100 solo dates

As we get ready to usher in 2017, I head out for a pre new year celebration. My plans for a solo date at The Piano Man have been altered. The Bengali Babu will be joining me, now. So before the craziness of the night begins, I go over to Inox to catch Dangal.

Solo Date#11-Sakley’s Mountain Cafe.

Sakley's Mountain Cafe

As another year comes to a close and one finds ones self wishing for a few ‘mask -free’, days. I head out for a quiet evening to Sakley’s in Greater Kailash-1. The staff is polite…the food fabulous and no disturbs me, as I sip on my Sangria. Well, other than my phone which buzzes every few minutes, with different people wanting to have various conversations. Next time, no phone on solo dates!

Found this treasure on the table- ‘ My solitude is not my own, for I see now how much it belongs to them-and that I have a responsibility for it in their regard, not just in my own.It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone they are not ‘they’ but my own self. There are no strangers.- Thomas Merton.

Solo Date #10- Nehru Planetarium

Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi

Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi

I’m sure I must have visited the Nehru Planetarium as a child, on the usual school trip but I don’t recollect it.  Have I found the second most romantic place in Delhi, after my flyover? Hell Yeah! It’s also the perfect place to take yourself out on a Sunday afternoon before you head out for the evening. That’s exactly what I did.

 

Caught the 3 p.m show at the planetarium, that was once the official residence of Jawaharlal Nehru. Forty minutes in a darkened auditorium, looking at projections of galaxies merging into one- one devouring the other, the planets and their moons-juxtaposed with the screeches of little children. If you don’t want the disturbance, visit on a weekday.

 

The place was packed… in fact the 250 seating capacity was full to the brim, for the four p.m show. The exhibition area, the bookstore and the souvenir shop are soon to be upgraded.

Address– Teen Murti House,

                   Teen Murti Marg

                    New Delhi

 Nearest Metro– Race course (Yellow Line)

Show Timings– English-11.30 a.m and 3 p.m

                                Hindi- 1.30 p.m and 4.00 p.m

 

Solo Date #9-Raj Ghat

Raj Ghat on Independence Day

Raj Ghat on Independence Day

It’s a long weekend and one is fortunately compelled to stay in Delhi. I spend Saturday with the mother and the Sunday being pampered by one of my favourite girl friends. It’s a post birthday celebration and I wake up feeling slightly hung over ( after only two pints of beer) on Independence day.

 

After catching glimpses of Karma on the tele, I head off to Raj Ghat, the place where the Father of the Nation- Mahatma Gandhi, was cremated. It’s a large expanse of land and I am surprised to see the number of visitors. Foreign tourists with their guides, little children with their kites and the couples hiding from prying eyes…all seem to be enjoying the sunny afternoon.

 

 I hand over my sandals to the men who are there to take care of them and tip toe my way to the black marble that marks the spot where Bappu was cremated in January 1948. The burning flame reminds me of his words, ‘ truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.’ The solemn moment is invaded by the perpetual insistence of the photographer, to get a picture taken. Right next to Gandhi’s memorial is the Epson picture mate, from which the print promptly appears.

 

Address- Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Ring Road. New Delhi-110006.

No Entry Fee

Timings-6a.m-6 p.m

Solo Date #6- National Rail Museum

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National Rail Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The heat is slowly getting to my head, reducing my capacity to be around other people. I long for a few hours alone, so I head to the National Rail Museum, assuming its going to be deserted. But that’s not the case. Even in the sweltering heat, there are numerous enthusiastic children, accompanied by their parents. The toy train is going to return in five minutes so I make my way to the indoor exhibit.

The photographs of an era gone by, to static models of trains, signaling equipments, to the beautiful antique furniture, make the exhibit interesting for someone who is not a ferroequinologist. “Stand here, we need a picture for your homework,” yells excitedly, a father at his six-year-old. One of the most well-kept museums in the city, the majority of the visitors here are below the age of twelve.

I head towards the toy train, pay Rs 20 for the ride and wait. Six minutes later the train arrives. I hop on board and wait. The compartments fill up as the Aunty behind me, tells her companion how unfair it is that as a married teacher, she isn’t allowed to take her child on a school trip. The train starts at last and we ride through the acres of land- the outdoor exhibit of locomotives and through the tunnel. Six minutes later, we get dropped off at the station. I quickly buy a souvenior- a key chain and a fridge magnet and go back to work.

 

Address- Shanti Path, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi-21. 

Nearest Metro Station- Race Course.

Entry-9.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m

Closed on Monday.

 

Solo Dating Throwback- Sulabh International Museum Of Toilets

Saadiya Kochar at the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

At the Sulabh International Museum of Toilets

My favourite place in the world, other than my favourite flyover has to be my washroom. My toilet seat is light green with yellow fish on it and the ceiling of the loo, has stars. My washroom and car say more about me, than my clothes or shoes ever will! People share toothbrushes (disgusting!) and I dread the idea of marrying someone and sharing my precious commode! The perfect place for a solo date was the Toilet museum, though I wish it was as large as Nek Chand’s Rock garden in Chandigarh. What fun that would have been! This one was just a wee bit too tiny.

Last year, The Time ranked Sulabh International Museum of Toilets as the third weirdest museum in the World. The one that topped this illustrious list was the Icelandic Phallological Museum, which houses penises belonging to, you guessed it, (not!) Iceland’s land and sea mammals and the one that barely grazed the list was- The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum (the name says it all).

This particular Toilet museum is dedicated to the history of toilets and has been founded by Dr Pathak who has worked tirelessly for the upliftment of untouchables in India. The toilets are from various periods- Ancient, Medieval and Modern and though it may seem weird to many, Toto has followed suit this year and has opened it’s own Toilet Museum in Japan.

Address- Sulabh Bhawan, Mahavir Enclave, Palam Dabri Marg.
                Uttam Nagar, New Delhi-45

Timings-10.00-5.00

Entry Fee-Free

Solo Dating Throwback-Doll Museum

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Shankar’s International Doll Museum

Haven’t been getting any “me” time these days, what with all the stuff that I’ve been procrastinating. However, here’s a throwback to a couple of solo dates I have totally enjoyed.

The Shankar’s International Doll Museum or just the Delhi Doll Museum as it’s popularly referred to, is a fabulous hangout for little girls who love dolls or men who love horror films, na, just kidding, almost anyone who wants to know about the cultures of the world- what with a collection of some 6500 odd dolls, from over 85 countries. The dolls from Europe, Thailand, U.S.A are beautiful but the Samurai dolls from Japan, the Flamenco dancers from Spain, the Kathakali dancers and Mozart are a must see.

Shankar K Pillai, the founder of the museum was not only a great plangonologist but a well reputed cartoonist. But many of the dolls are gifts from various dignitaries and Indian Prime Ministers. For some reason, I find most museums in India eerily secluded and after a few hours alone, I’m thinking Chucky is just going to jump out of one of the display cases! 

Where- Nehru House, 4 Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg. Nearest Metro Station Pragiti Maidan.

Timings 10am-6pm

Mondays closed

#4-Walk

Untitled-1It has been a hectic week and I have been dying to get away for some me time. Sundays are fun days! I drag myself out of bed for Solo date No 4. A walk with Delhi By Foot is just what the doctor ordered for recuperating. The lovely masala chai coupled with the chum chum and the sandesh brighten up the morning.Na, that’s not all that we were given to eat- Puris with aloo sabzi are on the menu but it’s too early for me. I’m the only nocturnal one who finds 8.30 a.m  on a Sunday morning a wee bit early but everyone else is chirpy and perky.

#3-Dance

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Solo Dating- Dance

Dancing is a fabulous form of active meditation and my idea of a perfect date constitutes at least a little of it. Suren Kumar an acclaimed Zumba instructor has just started classes at my local gym. He’s a fabulous dancer and a very energetic, yet patient instructor.