Diggin Cafe, Connaught Place

Diggin, Connaught Place.
Selfies
Delhi at Night

I’m told I should get my act together and start doing things, that make me ‘feel like myself’. So, one has yet again, started going through the motions-solo dates, driving needlessly while blasting music to literally, deafen myself and of course smoking bidis, occasionally! For five minutes, they teleport me to a sand dune in Pushkar. Works but that can’t be a solution.

The newly opened Diggin cafe, in Connaught Place, is a pleasant beanery to spend an evening alone. Next to the Museum of illusions in A block, this is the third outlet of the Diggin chain. The ambience is just as pleasant and the food is as palatable. Though, there’s no outdoor seating available but the bar will make up for that I guess, as none of the other outlets serve alcohol.

For an evening out by yourself, it’s safe and friendly. Anyone who likes to hang out by themselves, in this city will tell you how people always raise their eyebrows, seeing a person enjoy their own company- that’s a given. When you’re alone, you’re given the worst seating and ‘is anyone joining you?’ is asked, in a rather condescending tone, sometimes. Not at Diggin. The staff was very friendly and the service, fabulous. So, drop in- alone, with a lover, with your family, whatever pleases you.

Solo Date- N Block Market

Full Circle, Greater Kailash
Breads And More

Since one is adamant to not take the medication, that is being repeatedly recommended by the professionals, one has to come up with other ways to try to keep oneself (relatively) sane. The verdict it turns out, is that one’s a bit loony ( someday when one is in a better space, one will share more). Well, if you’ve ever read any of my posts, I bet you already knew that!

Par, janemans humme dava ki nahi, dua ki zaroorat he aur kitabo ki. Since it was raining one couldn’t go to the Dargah today, so the next best alternative was a bookstore. Gurudwaras are just too crowded for one’s anxious heart. I wish the paijis sang kirtan like Harshdeep Kaur or Jagjit Singh, I would sit near the Sarovar and listen to it but they don’t. There’s no crescendo, most of it just makes me sleepy.

As it poured, one found solace in a familiar space- The Full Circle Bookstore, in N block market. Books have a way of finding us at the right time and the first few I chanced upon were – Healing is the new high and Failosophy. Though, one is having a hard time concentrating, so one invariably only reads poetry these days but they seem like interesting reads. Let’s see if they help.

Calmed my tumultuous mind with a cup of coffee at Breads and More, with the books and the rain keeping me company. Gobbled up a lemon tart, that reminded me so much of my mum. Whenever she would get angry with me, she would recount what a good kid I was and how painful I’d become as an adult. She told me, apparently that when I was younger I was low maintenance and quite a content child. I would never ask for anything, when we went out to shop, other than lemon tarts. I have no recollection of it but lemon tarts will forever remind me of Ma.

When it stopped, I parked myself on a bench in the garden for a bit. The luscious greenery would have normally pleased me to bits but ……….It will get better, I’ll make it better, somehow.

Museum of Illusions

‘Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.’ This famous quote by Albert Einstein can be found on the walls of the newest museum in town- The Museum Of Illusions. Situated in the heart of Delhi- Connaught Place, right above the iconic Wenger’s.

The concept is highly unusual-to teach you more about your brain. About how we perceive things, and how easy it is to miss the tiniest details. From Visual Illusions, that play with your retinal sensitivity, to size illusions, to Kaleidoscopes, to 3 D images, to Upside down rooms, the tricks will leave you bewildered. The 50 illusions that are part of the exhibit have been studied by some notable physicists and psychologists like Ehrenstein and Jastrow. Hence, they would be of great interest to anybody with an inclination towards science or the arts. For six hundred and ninety rupees, you get an hour of brain twisters and fabulous imagery.

Since, one navigates the city, primarily by oneself, as soon as I entered the space, for a fraction of a second I regretted going alone. But the staff was so attentive, that they immediately figured out I would need some assistance, as selfies don’t work with the tricks. So, all my pictures were taken by the crew: mostly by Neeraj who accompanied and took pictures of me, while giving me a guided tour. Since, the cases are spiking, the museum is very strict about COVID protocols and the only time people are allowed to remove their masks is when pictures are being taken. So take your kids, a date or just yourself without hesitation.

The museum in Delhi, is the first of its kind in India. The backgrounds used here, have local references- from a picture of Gandhi to a backdrop of CP. Initially, it opened up in Zagreb, Croatia in the year 2015 and now there are around thirty such museums around the world in – Athens, New York , Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Paris, Riyadh etc. I hear, Bangalore and Bombay, too, will be getting their very own Museums of Illusions.

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 #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?

Happy V day-Mein Swag Se Sol

SB looks at the cake and flowers and has no reaction. ‘Bachke rehna re baba, bachke rehna re!!’, she tells herself. ‘Hi baby! I love you. Happy Valentine’s Day!’ she yells excitedly as she plants a kiss, on the only person, who she doesn’t look at with suspicion.

‘Dead, you’re dead inside!’ , SC tells her. ‘ You ‘re too dramatic…songs make you howl…forget the men…the songs that remind you of people make you cry. Please sleep for a decade. You can take over at 50.’ Their tussles begin in the morning and go on throughout the day. For the past few years, SB has won most of them.

She zips to Noida and races with a cutie on the DND. Sex on V day? No! Adrenaline rush ( orgasmic) from racing? Hell, yeah! It’s funny how we hide our true selves, under so many layers and yet the smallest things, betray us, to reveal who we are. The bookshelf- shows ours interests, the way we dance-how we are in bed, the way we drive- our attitude and of course our eyes, the damned eyes- exactly how we feel.

A day spent, splitting time between the studio and the father’s work, in the evening lots of presents are bought for the baby, to cheer her up. After kisses and cake cutting, one heads for some ‘me time’. If you think watching a movie alone is problematic, try watching one alone on V day. You’ll end up raising more eyebrows than you can imagine. From the guy at the ticket counter, to the guard who is supposed to hand out roses, everyone seems surprised. But we are swag se solo!

The movie is amazing, not just because it won the Oscar, for best film. The way the two families are portrayed, is rather interesting. The smell, the rain, lovely. Two contrasts, in the extrinsic world, the duality within. Hmm.

A drink and a few conversations later, V day is over. Until next year, SB shall keep love at bay. Unless of course she finds a Howard Roark or a Thomas Crown, who says, ‘ Here’s to the fear of being trapped!’

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 #62- Peerzoo Island Restaurant, Srinagar

A photographer’s life is full of adventure. But it’s physically trying and a lot of the times, risky. On this particular day it was cake walk, as it was the launch of Jammu Kashmir People’s Movement. It’s nice to bump into all the photographers, who one usually only meets under more strenuous circumstances. But hanging around fraternising isn’t my cup of tea!

So after the launch I took a stroll on the Bund and eat at the island restaurant. There’s seating on the deck but there were a group of boys busy taking pictures of themselves…I didn’t want to spoil their frame. So I sat inside, which was quite interesting. I ordered some noodles and watched couple after couple, walking in. Part of the room had demarcations between tables made with cane which were like small cubicles, that give the utmost privacy to young adults who don’t want the entire city to know, who they are hanging out with. It reminded me of my first solo, horrific trip to Srinagar. So some fellow (like I always say, if you don’t want trouble stray clear of the wealthy men in Kashmir) who had apparently visited the Osho Ashram, was taking me around town. After a trip to Shalimar, we went to some restaurant to eat. Of course it had this kind of privacy and of course the meal and conversation was meant to flatter me but they didn’t.

Surrounded by water, the landing for speed boats makes it accessible from various parts of the city. I should have been on one of them, rather than strolling through the busy Sunday market and then walking up towards the Jhelum.

Solo Date #60- pushkar

One is travelling for leisure, for a change. Three days without the camera, away from home ( In Mumbai too but over there it was a family emergency) is a first. Ofcourse it lies in the room with the many books that lie on my bed. I don’t sleep alone, you see.

As I wandered around aimlessly through the market place, picking up gifts, I heard the sound of the Nagara coming from the ghats. It pulled me towards itself as my body moved with the rhythm. A group of foreigners played the nagara with two Indian drummers. I was invited to join them. So there I sat with drum sticks after ages, playing away with the rest of them as the sun set infront of me. Jamming with Nathulal Solanki’s boys on the ghats of Pushkar, is a first. Starting the year with that priceless.

Motors

I arrived last evening and as soon as I did, it was like coming back to life. Met a few people, ate and crashed. Since the past two days had been quite hectic, I woke up exhausted. But since I am supposed to be leaving tomorrow for a trek, (no, not alone) I decided to stay in Srinagar and look around. But before that, the car seat which had been damaged by a person who was trying to help me, in Ramban with some battery issues, needed to be fixed. Driving around with no back support, on mountainous terrains is harder than you can imagine.

So off I went to the service centre at Nowgam. They couldn’t fix the seat but they got it into a position where atleast I get back support. To recline it they taught me a jugaad method. So much for highly automated cars, they come with their own set of issues which local mechanics are too afraid to fix and the service centres in smaller cities, don’t always stock their spare parts. But considering how well behaved my car always is, I should’nt bitch about it.

Talking about cars, after the service station I went to check out the Motor Cafe in Srinagar. Situated in Raj Bagh, it’s a very hip joint, perfect for off-roading groups, biker groups or travellers in general. The theme based decor is fascinating with pistons, crankshafts etc adorning the walls and with an engine that stands near the entrance, greeting everybody. Everyone by now must have figured out, one of my favourite places to sleep, is in my car. I took the table, where they have actual car seats to sit on. Oh, I shit you not, I was so tempted to recline the seat and sleep.

Though, it was supposed to be a solo date, I was joined by a friend as soon as I ordered my chicken and iced tea. Which was great because ‘Khappu’ ( a nickname my friends have given me) has a sweet tooth and she could share a chocolate crepe, as well.

Solo Date #59- Hyderabad

A visit to Hyderabad, is incomplete without visiting the old city. The famous Charminar a monument and mosque, stands tall in Laad Bazaar. There are various accounts of why, the Minar was built, some mention that when Cholera was eradicated, the spot where the Minar stands is where Qutb Shah prayed for the end of plague. According to folklore it was built on the spot where he glanced at his future wife- Bhagmati.

Whatever the reasons for the construction, the security personnel came under scrutiny in 2016 , when they tried to stop a single female traveller from entering the terrace. Apparently, they said it was for her own safety as a woman had committed suicide from there in the past. With my camera bag and all, I usually don’t have to prove that I’m a tourist, unless one is in Kashmir, that’s where I’m going around pointing at my Dad’s Sikh name on my Id, to prove it! But in Hyderabad, I face no issues.

I make my way to the Makkah Masjid, which is one of the largest in India; break some bread at Nigeen Naan, which makes me nostalgic about cold winter mornings in Kashmir and then head to Bawarchi for the famous Hyderabadi biryani. Nothing about the city, makes me uneasy.

Solo Date #58- Kushinagar

Kushinagar

One wishes one was in Kushinagar, on the occasion of Budh Purnima. The Parinirvana temple, which I visited this April is a Buddhist stupa and is said to be the death place of Gautam Budh.

Solo Date #56-Tirupati

Though Tirupati left a bad taste in my mouth due to the intolerance, the food at Fortune was fab.

Solo Date #55-Chennai

Solo Date #53-Rameswaram

Solo Date #51- Kochi

After Kashmir, if there is any other place where I can see myself settling down, it is in Kochi (if I miss Kashmir, there are lots of Kashmiris to chat with especially around the Fort area). Quaint, with the right mix of traditional and modern, I absolutely fall in love with the vibe and the people.

Solo Date #50- Backwaters

I am too damn claustrophobic and paranoid to stay in a houseboat. Spend the night in a cheap motel and take a shikara ride the next day. I’m short on time, so I don’t do the whole nine yards. A bite and a few photographs at Tasty land later, I make my way to the next destination. Alleppey, goes on the ‘to do with a lover’ list. Though, I have yet to find one whose company, I enjoy more than my own.

Solo Date #49-Kanyakumari

After a month of meandering through the countryside, I feel relieved at reaching Kanyakumari. After a day of lazing around, I start to look around. A walk along the seashore, a meal and a refreshing juice later, I make my way to the Gandhi memorial.

Solo Date #48-Om beach

Over a hundred kilometres away from the hustle bustle of Goa, in the state of Karnataka lies the temple town of Gokarna. I spend the day, wandering around the Om beach.

Solo Date #47 -Goa

Drenched after a shoot, I head towards a charming little coffee shop-Black Vanilla, to dry up and indulge in a cup of magic beans, that I rarely drink and a piece of sin that I rarely say no to. A few hours later, I make my way to a place with bittersweet memories. Since, I spent my birthday driving from Ahmedabad to Goa, a meal at Fisherman’s Wharf is my celebratory dinner. The last birthday I spent in Goa, was a freaking disaster, so to erase the memory of that I’m going an extra mile to make this visit, extra special.

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 #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 Dates in Manali- Date # 25. 

After driving the entire day yesterday, I spent the day lazing around. Wandered around the mall road, trying to get a feel of a place, I am unfamiliar with. 

Grabbed brunch before work at the Tanishq Haveli, a noisy food court where the food was delicious. Bought some fruit barfi and rose tea, to gift from the Nature’s basket and ended the evening with a fish curry at the B Cafe.