Array ( [0] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69315 [title] => Find The Perfect Weekend Hangout At Fantom Bar & Brewery [description] =>

With a no-cooking weekend ahead of us, we entered Fantom Bar & Brewery at South Point Mall, Gurgaon. Walking past booths, high chairs, and decor that seamlessly shifts from casual to formal, my friend and I picked a table smack in the middle of the action with the game playing behind us and the bar right in the front. The dark decor surrounded a bar with a smoking room in front and a large wall-sized screen to the right.

The menu at Fantom leaves you spoilt for choice. It dabbles in several cuisines, and apart from being a brewery with in-house beers on tap, several cocktails and drinks, the food menu goes on for pages. If you are the sort of person who prefers wings and pizzas with your beer, they have you covered. If it is an Indian meal you crave after a few rounds of drinks, they have a host of kebabs, tikkas, and vegetable curries. The menu offers Continental and Asian cuisines too, and to our surprise, they serve both authentic dim-sums and our street-favourite momos—the best of both worlds. 

The four beers on tap start with a German Wheat beer, which is balanced and is not bitter. The Blonde Ale is a slightly heavier choice, while the Dark Lager has natural herbs and tastes caramelised and malty. My pick was the Citra Pale Ale (which they only introduced this October). It was slightly bitter and somewhat crisp, and the lightest in colour.

I like colourful buns, and I cannot lieWhen it came to food, we picked all things Indian, except for when we cheated with a pizza. No regrets though. Our American Fiesta came loaded with vegetarian toppings and was over in a few minutes. Light, cheesy and tangy, it hit all the right notes. As the server bought out pints of Dark Lager and Citra Pale Ale for us, the sliders were placed on our table, the first being colourful buns served with chutney and chilli. We dug in. My vegetarian Vada Pao slider took me all the way back to my college in Maharashtra. The melt-in-your-mouth patty was nothing like it is usually made in North India, and to say that I was impressed would be an understatement. The Butter Chicken Slider was another story. Strictly North Indian, my friend called it, and I quote, “one of the best Butter Chicken dishes I have ever had”. The trend continued with his non-veg platter, though the Fish Tikka emerged his clear favourite. For me, the Malai Broccoli (something I had never tried before)  and the classic Dahi Kababs made the cut.

The dal makhani-and-naan combination here spells comfort foodFor mains, I had ordered the Dal Makhani, which came highly recommended. Out came a basket of Indian breads—we had got an assortment—and a bowl of Dal. It seemed like too much food for one person but this was the case with most dishes here. Their portions are hearty, and to be enjoyed in a group. The Dal was creamy and rich in flavour. My friend’s order was just the opposite. He had taken up a challenge. See, their Lal Maas is popular for its spice and is impossible to finish by yourself. The fiery bowl had nothing on my Dal and while I leisurely enjoyed my meal, he dug in to find it exactly how it was promised—hot, hot, and hot. Don’t worry though, because even between the long gulps of beer and smoke coming out of his ears, he loved the meat. He claims he would have been able to finish the whole plate had we not eaten so much before. For spice lovers, this Laal Maas is a definite try. In the end, we had no room for dessert. We watched the game, chatted and enjoyed great beer. Is there a better way to spend a Saturday, anyway?

Price: @INR 1800++ for two including alcohol  

Where: Upper Ground Floor, DLF South Point Mall, Golf Course Road, Gurgaon, +91 8800644877

Contact: +91 8800910063

[article_slug] => find-the-perfect-weekend-hangout-at-fantom-bar-brewery-in-gurugram [sub_category] => 2 [none] => none [featured_image] => Fantom-brewery-featured.jpg [excerpt] => At South Point Mall, Gurgaon, the Fantom Bar & Brewery packages good food, drinks and ambience with supreme ease [category] => explore ) [1] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69314 [title] => Bundelkhand: Forgotten legacy [description] =>

On one hand, owing to its theme, it can be compared with the Sun Temple of Konark (Odisha). On the other hand, owing to its sculptures, it begets comparison with the temples of Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh). Both not only draw travellers from around the globe but are also part of UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But look at Mahoba of Uttar Pradesh, said my guide, hardly anybody has heard about this place. We were standing in front of Mahoba’s ninth century Sun Temple. Dilapidated though it was, the granite temple still bore traces of its glorious past.

In Jhansi for Uttar Pradesh Tourism’s city-centric festival, I decided to use the opportunity to explore Bundelkhand, a lesser known former kingdom in the heart of India. Once upon a time, it included parts of both Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Jhansi Fort is one of the most popular attractions to visit when in the cityOriginally known as Mahotsav-nagar, owing to the grand celebration that Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela dynasty, organised here, Mahoba is 140km from Jhansi by road. Chandravarman shifted his capital to Mahoba sometime in the 9th century when he decided to convert his former capital, Khajuraho, into a temple city.  Today, little remains of the Chandela capital save for a few lakes and the ruined temples. The Sun Temple was located on the bank of Rahila Sagar. The Vijay Sagar Lake is known to shelter migratory birds in winter. A chance meeting with a balladeer in the local market may acquaint you with the tales of Alha and Udal, the warrior siblings, who is believed to have fought for the Chandelas in their war against Prithviraj Chauhan. At one end of the town is Gorakhgiri, the abode of Jain ascetic Gorakhnath. While in Mahoba, do not forget to sample the locally grown betel leaf ('paan').

Chitrakoot (about 125km from Mahoba) is a pilgrim town shared by Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, with the Mandakini River drawing the border between the two states. With a night halt at Chritrakoot, it is a comfortable drive of 70km to Kalinjar. A steep flight of stairs will take you to the hill top fort. Apparently, the fort was so securely built by the Chandela rulers that it could not be breached outright. Witness to many battles and occupants, the fort contains temples, palaces and other structures, many still decorated with fine sculptures. The 12th century Nilkantha Mahadev temple is big attraction.

Betwa River quietly flows byIf you have some time in hand, pay a visit to Deogarh, about 140km from Jhansi. Ruled by several dynasties, it is better known for its sculptures dating back to the Gupta Period. One of the major attractions here is the finely sculpted 5th century Dashavatara Temple. There are also an old fort, rock-cut caves and some Jain temples here. The Betwa River bank is also picturesque.

Said to be the gateway to Bundelkhand, Jhansi is known for Queen Lakshmibai and her valiant fight against the British. The fort, from where she made that historic jump on horseback with her son tied on her back looms above the town. Little remains of the 17th century fort except its main structure and a couple of temples (dedicated to Ganesha and Shiva). Karak Bijli and Bhawani Shankar, two cannons used by the queen are also kept here. Besides the fort, you may also pay visits to the Government Museum and the Rani Mahal in town. In the evening, a light and sound show is organised at the Fort.

From Jhansi, you may continue in several directions, including travelling to Khajuraho, Gwalior or Orchha.

Getting there: The two airports for Jhansi are Gwalior (98 km by road) and Khajuraho (178 km). Jhansi is well connected by rail with several important cities of India, including Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, etc.  Jhansi, on National Highway No. 25 and 26, is linked by a good network of roads.

[article_slug] => exploring-the-offbeat-yet-culturally-rich-bundelkhand [sub_category] => 6 [none] => none [featured_image] => Jhansi_as_seen_from_Jhansi_Fort.jpg [excerpt] => Get ready to see some fine architecture and listen to balladeers’ tales while you travel through Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh [category] => explore ) [2] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69313 [title] => Why You Should Attend The Republic Day Parade This Year [description] =>

India will enter its 70th year of the republic in an atmosphere marked by celebrations far and wide. A symbol of the nation's adoption of a constitution after gaining independence from the British rule, the day is close to the hearts of all Indians. Bound by the Himalayas to the north and tapering off into the Indian Ocean in the south, India's kaleidoscopic variety and rich cultural heritage are on display at this momentous event. Each year celebrations occur at a grand scale in the national capital with eye-catching performances by the Army, Navy, and the Air Force at the Republic Day Parade. Here's what to expect:

A little peak into the past

Soldiers of Indian Army in front of India Gate during Republic Day parade rehearsals

The parade has been a long lasting tradition and is one of the most anticipated events of the year. Each year it delivers something new and spectacular and this year it will be no different. This occasion not just puts on display the military might of our country, but also its unrivalled diversity and culture. It marks a culmination of our pasts and offers a tiny glimpse into our future. 

What to expect 

Soldiers of the Indian Border Security Force riding their camels down the Raj Path in preparation for the annual Republic Day Parade

The day will kick off with Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurating the National War Memorial near the India Gate to honour the sacrifices of the soldiers at our borders. The excitement this year is unparalleled to others since 2019 marks the 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Hence, the main event will see 17 tableaux from states and 6 from the ministries that have been shortlisted under the theme "Gandhi". Furthermore, common people and students are honoured with national awards, such as Maha Veer Chakra, Ashok Chakra, Param Veer Chakra and Veer Chakra to commemorate their bravery, exemplary work and performances.

Where to get tickets

Armored vehicles driving down the Raj Path in preparation for Republic Day Parade

Though, watching the installations on your TV screens while sipping a cup of chai might seem ideal, we implore you to watch it live from the stands. In a spell-binding experience, observe the carefully crafted mementoes from the state come together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to create harmony. The tickets for this highly popular parade are available till January 25. Just a fair caution, the process of procuring tickets can be tedious. Important things to remember while purchasing them is that only a certain number of tickets are allocated to each ticket counter per day and there are restrictions on the number of tickets an individual can buy. Most importantly, do not forget to carry a government ID on you otherwise, you will definitely miss out on tickets.

Surprisingly, the tickets are relatively cheap with unreserved seats costing a mere INR 20 or INR 100. But, I must warn you that if you do acquire an unreserved seat, you must make your way to the ground really early as these seats are distributed on a first-come basis. While the INR 100 tickets offer a better view than its cheaper alternative, one ID can only get you two tickets. The reserved seats, on the contrary, are a slight strain on your wallet priced at INR 500, but they guarantee the best seats in the venue with a clear view of the action. Carry multiple IDs if you want more than one reserved seat as one ID gets you only one ticket. On the day of the event, you will not be allowed to carry any accessible inside so leave your wallets and phones in your car. The only thing left to do now is to enjoy a glorious Republic Day.

Ticket Counter Locations and Timings 

There are several outlets from where you can purchase your tickets.

The counters are open daily from 10.00 AM to 12.30 PM and 2.00 PM to 4.30 PM. One counter in particular, the one at Sena Bhawan, will be open till 7.00 PM between the January 23 and January 25 though it is advised you don’t wait till then to get your tickets. It might be challenging to acquire tickets on the morning of January 23 due to the ongoing dress rehearsals.

Not in Delhi? Not a Problem!

If you aren't in Delhi, then attending the parade at India Gate can be problematic, but worry not. Each state has its own unique take on this historic day. In Kolkata, an extensive military parade displaying the nation's striking military might takes place along the Red Road in front of Fort William in Kolkata's Maidan. All the way in Chennai, a ceremonial parade takes place at the gorgeous Marina Beach with the rising sun setting up a stunning backdrop. At the financial capital of the country Mumbai, a special parade organised by the state police force takes place in Shivaji Park in Dadar. 

[article_slug] => a-guide-to-the-republic-day [sub_category] => 6 [none] => none [featured_image] => Soldiers-of-Indian-Army-marching-at-Rajpath-as-rehearsal-for-the-Republic-Day-Parade.jpg [excerpt] => Skip the television set and watch the parade IRL. It's worth it [category] => explore ) [3] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69312 [title] => Boat Rides, Delicious Rice Crackers & Lotus Fields: All At This Hidden Gem In Bangkok [description] =>

I’m sitting on the edge of a wooden seat, crouching as our boat floats underneath the leaf of a banana tree. The sound of the boat’s engine is louder than our voices, and my companions and I are inaudible to each other. “Where are we going next?” I shout politely to Phi James. He responds with, “It’s 11 am, ka” clearly misunderstanding my question. I try again, this time wildly waving my hands in an attempt to be more articulate. Luckily, before he tells me the month next, the speedboat comes to a halt.

We’re spending our Friday morning at the Mahasawat, a local hidden gem in Bangkok. A small community lives on the edge of the eponymous canal, an hour away from the city. Here are all the reasons to visit:

Go lotus-picking

The pier that opens out to the lotus fieldOur first stop at Mahasawat is a lotus farm called Uncle Jam’s lotus field. We switch our ride from the noisy speedboat to a local rowboat and then go into the lotus field. While one half of the field has been covered with a layer of lotus leaves and budding flowers, the other half has been intentionally left to rest.

Our folded lotus flowersAs we float over the curled green lotus leaves with an umbrella in hand to protect us from the sun, we pick up a few lotus buds and take pictures of the beautiful field. Lotuses are especially important in Thailand as a devotional flower. After the ride, the owner of the field Khun Tew Kha helped us to fold the petals of this lotus flower in the way it is offered to Buddha during prayer. 

Lotus is also such an underrated ingredient in food—and multi-functional too. Its stem can be stir-fried or used in a curry, it can be deep-fried, or even made into tea. Here too, you can buy lotus tea and cool off on the pier before going to the next station or pick out your own fresh lotus flowers at just 4 baht each. 

Make your own rice crispies 

The rice crispies batter is being dried in the sunAnd eat them too at the local shops here run by the Mahasawat Women’s Cooperative. Rice crispies or khao tang, which are a popular snack in Thailand, are made by the dozen here every day. I observe as a woman is cutting out a daily batch of crispies, which are deceptively easy to make. These heart-shaped bite-sized wonders are made from just rice, oil and water. The rice batter is then hand-pressed, cut into different shapes and sundried.

They are then deep-fried to give a delicious, crunchy tasteAfter that, they are deep-fried and served with toppings of either sesame seeds or dried pork shrimps and lathered with a little homemade soya sauce. These are crunchy, delicious and extremely snack-able. There are only courses of action here: resist the temptation of these goodies or resign to your fate and buy multiple packs of the crispies to take back home. I highly recommend the tom yum flavour.  

Try a fruit bigger than your fist

The sun-bright gac fruitThe gac ( baby jackfruit) is a local fruit grown on vines in South East Asia, especially Indonesia. This fruit is large, no less bright than the sun, and quite frankly, heavy enough to be a murder weapon, is grown in a farm at Mahasawat. I visited the gac fruit plantation at Ban Fakkhao, the thatched roof of which was twisted and twining with gac vines, to try some freshly squeezed juice mixed with coconut milk. The rich-in-beta-carotene fruit, albeit rather bland, is packed with benefits, which start from giving great skin to even help prevent cancer. 

Go on a rollercoaster on a farm 

A spread of fruits fresh from the farmIf you ever thought that sleepy rice fields were unexciting, think again—or like me, just go on an unassuming tractor ride in Mahasawat. Advertised as a tour around the fruit orchard, this is nothing less than a joyride on a pushcart tractor led by a racecar driver in disguise. You’ll rush past mango trees and banana leaves, turn around the bend and spot a scarecrow.

The infamous (and rather fun) pushcart tractor

At the end, when you’re presented with a platter of the fresh fruits—from mangoes with palm sugar, large pomelos and ripe bananas, you’ll sit contentedly and hum “what a wonderful world”. 

Getting there: There are several airlines from fly from various cities in India to Thailand, including Thai Airways, Jet Airways, Air India, IndiGo and SpiceJet. The journey is only 4.5 hours long and fares start as low as @INR 5,500, depending on the airline and season


[article_slug] => find-peace-lotus-fields-the-best-rice-crackers-at-the-mahasawat-canal-near-bangkok [sub_category] => 5 [none] => none [featured_image] => feature_Bhavika.jpg [excerpt] => We're letting you in on a local secret [category] => explore ) [4] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69311 [title] => Of Warm Bellies And Freezing Winter Evenings At Unplugged Courtyard [description] =>

North Indian winters are always welcome from the scorching heat of the summers. As winter approaches, woolens, warm blankets, room heaters and soups become part and parcel of our daily lives as the cold grips the city and we shiver in content. Now imagine a scenario where you are sitting on a terrace, wrapped in comfortable layers and drinking an insanely delicious shorba or hot soup to make you smile from ear to ear. That’s exactly the feeling I had as I put spoonful after spoonful in my mouth at Gurugram’s latest offering—Unplugged Courtyard.

The taste of the light broth and lamb, peppery and yet flavourful pack just enough punch to make the trip from Delhi to Gurugram worth it. I visited when Udyog Vihar’s new restaurant was still getting a makeover with just the terrace functioning to its capacity. They have officially opened now and are said to have about 350 covers across the different sections Unplugged Courtyard is offering, including a pretty, sparkly area called 'Secret Garden'.

Have you checked out the new restaurant in Gurugram's Udyog Vihar?

Delhi’s ever-busy Connaught Place does have the first Unplugged Courtyard but don’t expect to be served the same menu at Gurugram. Shivering comfortably despite the heat from the heaters, the shorba with naan to nibble on hit the rumbling stomach at the sweet spot. Chef Akshay Bhardwaj moved from table to table, making sure everyone was taken care off and kept sending his dishes one after the other. Having gained experience in some of the world's most famous kitchens, including Noma, he was earlier at the helm of Whiskey Samba.

After the shorba came a delectable white meat dish called chicken Dalcha. The combination of meat and dal (lentils) isn’t new with various communities having their own versions but the one I had at Unplugged Courtyard, was a winner. Unlike a soupy, curry version, this one was marinated with lentils and was soft and succulent as my fork cut into a piece. The steam evaporated in front of my eyes. Next up, Chef Bhardwaj sent prawns with appams. The prawns were marinated in Andhra spices, slightly spicy but cooked to perfection, while the accompanying appams were like little pancakes, to mop up the residual flavours from the plate. I would definitely recommend both these starters, provided of course, you are a non vegetarian. 

Since Unplugged Courtyard serves a variety of dishes taken from different cuisines and all given a twist to give the eater a surprise, from India we travelled more east, towards gyozas and dimsums next. I personally love gyozas, especially the ones which have the accompanying crispness and these ones didn't disappoint. The prawn stuffing was seasoned well and a dip into the sauce, and quick bites thereafter ensured a quick journey to the stomach. The mushroom dimsums, on the other hand, were extremely moist and soft. One bite and I knew it was a winner for vegetarian customers. 

Gyoza is one of my favourite dumpling type and I loved the prawn ones at Unplugged Courtyard

By then the belly was full and the winter night played its pranks despite the warm heater next to the table. Even my sweater, thick otherwise, fell prey to the cold. The mains left me with a divided opinion. The seafood risotto had all the ingredients but just didn't live up to the standard of all the previous dishes I tasted. It was creamy with morsels of seafood and plenty of seasoning but just fell short of 'would you eat it again?', a sentence I always live by. However, the duck kulcha, was delicious. You could eat it just hot from the tandoor without any curry. "It is a dish on it's own," said chef after I polished off the steaming kulchas, revelling in the combination. 

I barely had space in my belly for dessert but after the chef coaxed, I attempted to take a bite. The churros were light and dipped in chocolate, making for all those Spanish memories from five years ago come to mind. The wind brought me back to reality, away from the tiny churro cart in Valencia, outside of Mercado Central. The banana french toast, on the other hand, didn't hit the sweet spot. Maybe because bananas aren't a favourite and I tend to avoid them in any form of sweet. 

Will you try the banana french toast?

But no matter the hits and misses, it can't be denied that a winter evening on Unplugged Courtyard's terrace makes for a wonderful time.  

Where: Udyog Vihar, Gurugram
Pocket pinch: Approx. Rs 2,000 for two (excluding taxes)
Contact: +91-11-30806399

[article_slug] => food-review-unplugged-courtyard-gurugram [sub_category] => 2 [none] => none [featured_image] => dalcha-chicken-unplugged_courtyard_gurugram_India.gif [excerpt] => A quick review of Gurugram's latest restaurant that offers delicious food with twists that leave one satiated [category] => explore ) [5] => stdClass Object ( [id] => 69310 [title] => Have You Been On A Trip Through Jharkhand’s Tribal Heartland? [description] =>

At first glance, it was a simple hut made of interwoven leaves, and I would have passed by without another look if it was not for Ankita Toppo who was taking me around the Tribal Culture Centre in Jamshedpur.

“Did you know this simple hut could be a cause of heartbreak for many?” said a smiling Toppo.

As I took a second look at the hut, she explained it was part of a pre-marital condition followed by the Birhor tribe. A young man who wishes to marry has to build this hut and invite the prospective bride’s family. The girl’s family will pour a bucket of water over the hut. If the water seeps inside, the marriage is called off. He who cannot build a secure hut cannot be trusted to take care of a family being the reason.

A Santhali woman sitting outside her traditional homeAccording to the 2011 Census, there are 32 tribes in Jharkhand. According to scholars, tribes in India are often displaced owing to various reasons. The displacement results in the loss of cultural heritage. The Tribal Culture Centre has been established to capture the rich and varied culture of the indigenous tribes of the region. It also runs vocational training programmes for tribal youth besides organising cultural and sports events.

As we took a look around the two-roomed Heritage Hall, strains of mellifluous tribal songs and rhythmic beating of drums reached us. Several tribal groups, who had arrived from nearby villages, were practising their final dance steps. In a couple of hours they would be taking part in the Carnival Parade which would go round the city as part of the Jamshedpur Winterfest 2018.

Dhokra metal craftSince it is impossible to showcase all the 32 tribes, the Centre focused on a few of the representative tribes. Through dioramas, handloom and handicraft, pottery and display boards explaining the origin of the names, the language and script, etc., we learned about tribes such as the Santhal, Ho, Oraon, Munda, Sauria Paharia, Savar, and the Birhor.

In the small lawn just outside the Heritage Hall were busts of famous personalities such as Baba Tilkha Majhi who was the first Santal leader to take up arms against the British way back in the 18th century, Birsa Munda – a patriot and martyr who compelled the British government to promulgate the Chota Nagpur Tenancy Act in 1908, Pandit Raghunath Murmu – philosopher and writer and inventor of Ol Chiki script for writing Santhali, and Pandit Guru Kol Lako Bodra – a much acclaimed leader of the Ho tribe who, among other things, invented the Warang Shiti script to give his tribe a distinct linguistic identity.  

Artwork on Santhal tribeThe exquisite tribal handicraft, especially the dokra (dhokra) metal craft, and the tribal paintings at the Centre were lovely to look at. Unfortunately, there was no souvenir counter here.

Thankfully, a kind soul directed me to Biponi, a shop managed by Kalamandir Sakshsam SHG Federation, a privately run welfare organisation. The shop serves as a marketing outlet for the tribal craftspeople. There was a wide range of products on display, such as dokra figurines, folk paintings, utility items made of sabai grass, chhau masks, textiles, cane and bamboo furniture, etc.

If you are interested in meeting the artisans, you may visit Amadubi, a small village about 65km from Jamshedpur. Promoted by Kalamandir and managed by Gramin Paryatan Vikas Samity, it has been developed into an artists’ village with accommodation for outstation visitors. Set in the middle of scenic countryside, Amadubi offers a pleasant break from the daily routine. Go for walks in the village or among the surrounding Sal forests. Enjoy tribal food. Watch the craftspeople at work. Join the tribal dancers. There is also a small museum offering an insight into the tribal history and culture.

Getting there: Jamshedpur is a convenient base to explore many of the tribal villages of Jharkhand. Jamshedpur is connected by road and rail with the rest of India. Ranchi’s Birsa Munda Airport (150km away by road) is the nearest airport. Amadubi is 65km by road from Jamshedpur.

[article_slug] => explore-jharkhands-tribal-heartland [sub_category] => 6 [none] => none [featured_image] => shutterstock_1154145793.jpg [excerpt] => Jharkhand, home to over 30 indigenous tribes of India, is slowly unveiling its rich legacy through tribal cultural centres to art villages [category] => explore ) ) 1