REVIEW-THE NEW POLO GT TSI

2009 was when the 1st Volkswagen Polo came to our shores. Its 10 years now since then, but the loyalty and love the VW Polo shares amongst buyers and enthusiasts remains unchanged. That’s why it’s no surprise that the VW Polo has the distinction of being ranked no 1. for three years in a row according to the J.D. Power 2018 India Initial Study.Snapseed_2Down the years I have been fortunate to drive various models of the Polo during reviews. Every single time I have come back impressed. Last week I spent a few days with the 2019 Volkswagen POLO GT TSI the top variant in the Polo lineup.IMG_2649The 2019 model comes with quite a few exterior changes while retaining the timeless quality and appeal its known for. The new Polo comes in a brand new colour “Sunset Red” which gives the car a striking and sporty appearance. One gets new sporty side skirts, new smoked oil lamps, restyled tail lamps with LED elements, GTI inspired honeycomb front grille and bumpers, 16 inch alloys, rear bumpers with a faux diffuser-like black plastic.IMG_2647Step inside and you get a sporty looking flat-bottomed steering wheel that has controls on both sides of the wheel for audio, phone and multi-information display. The centre console has a silver finish on the exterior edges. The dual-tone interiors are very premium in finish. Chrome is prevalent even in the outlining around the air vents. The door mounted armrests have a fabric finish, seats are very comfortable and offer excellent under thigh support. Shoulder and headroom on offer is very good too. The legroom in the back seats is ideal for someone of average height. The Polo is a comfortable car for 4 passengers for long trips. The 5th person may find it a little discomforting courtesy the high tunnel height in the rear.IMG_2648The Polo I reviewed was the GT TSI that comes with a 1.2 litre engine that puts out 105PS horsepower and 175Nm of Torque. The transmission doing duty on this model is the legendary 7-speed DSG.

Start the engine, give it a rev, immediately you can sense the power under the hood. Put it into gear, step on the pedal and you get to experience the insane power the GT TSI offers. There’s zero lag going through the gears and before you know it, the car zooms away. The basic architecture of the engine is the same from the previous model, with a variable geometry turbocharger which force feeds air into the combustion chamber. The cabin is well insulated from engine sound, even while accelerating courtesy good NVH levels. The gear ratio is spread out specifically to help with the fuel efficiency figures the Polo returns.Snapseed 7Driving the Polo is something I have always come to enjoy. I enjoy driving hatchbacks that are complete in every sense of the word. In traffic the Polo is very easy to manoeuvre, overtaking is a breeze. Finding parking is effortless courtesy the size of the Polo. Safety in the Polo as with all Volkswagen cars is of the highest standards. ABS and front-dual airbags are standard across its range. An industry first in its segment.Snapseed 6Driving out of town on the weekend in the Polo was when I got to experience the full refinement and power of this 1.2 litre petrol engine. This is a car that remains planted even at high speeds.

The Polo handles all types of roads with ease, something that is a trademark of all VW cars. The suspension is soft enough to assure a comfortable ride quality over long distances. Braking is sharp, which is extremely confidence assuring when pushing the car hard into corners.Snapseed 4The Polo GT TSI is the ultimate hot hatchback for the enthusiasts.  The price for the Volkswagen Polo GT TSI is Rs 9.76 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai.Snapseed_1

SKODA KODIAQ SCOUT-FIRST DRIVE

In a departure from tradition Skoda India organised the media drive for the Kodiaq Scout from Nagpur to Pench National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

The Kodiaq is a premium SUV that has been around for the last few years. Just recently Skoda launched the Kodiaq Scout which is an updated version of the Kodiaq. The Kodiaq’s off roading abilities see an improvement with the Scout.

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The front of the Kodiaq Scout gets an all-black grille and largish silver scuff plate on the bumper.  Walk around to the side of the SUV and you see black plastic cladding, new dual-tone 18-inch alloy wheels. The Scout badge is prominently displayed on each of the front fenders, the OVRMS get a silver finish. The rear bumpers get a new silver diffuser. The Skoda symbol has been replaced with the brand name spelt in chrome lettering.

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The cabin of the Scout sees a change in the upholstery from the Kodiaq. The interiors are all- black, one gets dark polished wood trims on the dashboard and door pads. The dashboard also gets the Scout badge featured on it. The seat materials are a blend of Alcantara and leather with white contrast stitching. The Scout badge is stitched on the back of each seat.The seats and cabin are very premium, plush looking and very comfortable. Under thigh and legroom is good in all rows of the Kodiaq Scout.

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There is a large array of equipment and features on offer in the Kodiaq Scout. The Scout comes with a 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple and Android connectivity, three-zone climate control, a reverse camera along with front and rear sensors and nine airbags. A new addition to the Scout is theTPMS (tyre pressure monitoring sensors). There’s a huge panoramic sunroof, large windows, manual sun blinds for the rear windows. The rear seats come with the Nap Package which gives you neck restraints integrated in the headrests along with blankets.

The Scout gets a 2.0 litre TDI engine which puts out 150HP mated to a 7 speed DSG transmission, all-wheel drive system. There’s a new off-road mode in the Kodiaq Scout where the SUV works in sync with the electronic assists which help the driver while off-roading. It also works as a hill descent control system which is very useful while descending steep hill slopes. All the driver must do is give the required steering input while the Scout slowly drives down such a slope. The Kodiaq Scout comes with the Rough Road Package that gives underbody protection to the oil sump, engine bay, gearbox and suspension.

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We started from Le Meriden in Nagpur towards Pench National Park in the morning. Large four lane highways, barely any traffic made driving the Kodiaq on these fantastic roads a breeze. Going up and down the gears is done smoothly enough without any lag. Braking is sharp, getting to 3-digit speeds is done fast enough. The Kodiaq Scout is the perfect highway companion to drive cross country.  The suspension setup is ideal for our Indian roads, it absorbs bumps and bad roads with ease. Visibility from the driver’s side is excellent courtesy the large windscreen and design of the SUV. We covered the distance to Pench National Park in under 3 hours.

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Pench National Park is in Seoni and Chhindwara districts of Madhya Pradesh in India and includes Pench Tiger reserve. It derives its name from the Pench River that flows through the park from north to south dividing the park into almost equal western and eastern halves, the well-forested areas of Seoni and Chhindwara districts respectively. The national park consists of dry deciduous forests and much fauna and flora including tigers, various types of deer and birds. The Pench National Park legend says was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book. As we drove through the reserve area lots of retreats are named after Jungle Book Characters. We even saw a poster of a local event named after Mowgli!

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Post a sumptuous lunch at Baghvan Taj Safari Lodge, we experienced a small stretch of off-road terrain on our way to a picturesque lake. This small lake is one of the watering holes where one can sight tigers and other wild animals early in the morning.

The Kodiaq Scout is a premium SUV that is versatile, fun to drive on long trips, the off-road feature is great when one wants to go off-roading. Prices for the Skoda Kodiaq Scout start at 33.99 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai

MARUTI SUZUKI S-PRESSO FIRST DRIVE

Quirky, conversation starter, different looking is not how usually one describes small cars. Maruti did that with the Ignis a few years back, Now again with the S-Presso.Snapseed(18)The S-Presso is the mini SUV that Maruti has just launched. Priced very competitively and built on Suzuki’s latest next – gen Heartect platform, the S-Presso promises to be a game changer. How was it? Let’s find out.

DESIGN AND STYLINGSnapseed(42).jpgThe S-Presso has the kind of design that starts a conversation. The first thing you notice is that the ground clearance is relatively high. The S-Presso comes with upright pillars and high set bonnet giving it a SUV like appearance. Viewed from the front the S-Presso comes with a prominent grille with angular headlights and LED daytime running lights. The chunky cladding on the bottom portion of the bumper, completes the SUV look.IMG_1713.jpgIMG_1712.jpgThe wheel arches are high and come with standard 14inch wheels. One gets the option of machined alloy wheels as part of the accessories package that Maruti is offering. Walk to the back of the S-Presso and you see simple looking tail lights and lots of cladding on the rear bumper that complete the look.

THE CABIN:

First thing one sees stepping into the S-Presso cabin is the instrument cluster bang in the middle. The speedometer sits on the top of the circular centre console. This is funky to look at and doesn’t take too much time getting used to. The speedometer comes with a large font that makes it easy to read.

The infotainment system is placed in the circular centre console. The top end models of all Maruti cars comes with their latest Smart Play Studio system. The UI is very nice looking and responsive, very smartphone inspired in the way it looks and works. The menu is well laid out and it comes with Android Auto and Apple Car Play. Below that are the knobs/buttons for the AC and heater.IMG_1711The overall cabin quality is very impressive for the category the S-Presso falls in. The material quality, fit and finish are very good. The dashboard is nice looking, there are body-coloured embellishments around the centre console and air-conditioning vents. The headroom and legroom are super, seats are comfortable, offer good lumbar and under thigh support. The high seat positioning helps with the overall visibility outside when seated in the front cabin.The legroom in the back row is very good. There’s ample knee and headroom for tall occupants on offer. Its’s ideally suited for 2 passengers behind.

There are 2 cupholders, one bottle holder at the rear bottle holder on each of the front doors and a shelf above the glove box as part of the storage package. The boot space available is 240 litres. Folding the rear seat backrest will offer you more space if required.

The safety package in the S-Presso includes ABS, a driver side airbag, speed warning system, seat belt reminder and rear parking sensors. A passenger side airbag is available as a Rs 5000 option on the STD, LXI and VXI trims and is part of the package on top-spec VXI+ versions.

DRIVING THE S-PRESSO

The S-Presso comes with a three-cylinder, 1.0-litre petrol engine which puts out 68hp and 90Nm figure. Switch on the car and the 1st thing you notice is how quiet this BSVI K10 engine is  while idling and driving. The performance is smooth, power delivery is good and getting to higher speeds is done in a refined fashion. It’s extremely easy and hassle free to drive in heavy traffic which will appeal to customers of the S-Presso.Snapseed(3).jpg The 1st day I drove the manual S-Presso from Jodhpur to Khimsar over 100 kms. It doesn’t take too much effort going through the gears, the clutch is well weighted and light to use. On the highway getting to three digit speeds was done with relative ease. The braking is sharp and smooth enough which we got to experience a few times on this drive.

Next morning, I drove the 5-speed AMT Auto. This is an area in which you see the maximum evolution from the days of the Celerio to now. The gear box is smooth, the shifts are well timed. The typical lag one experiences in an AMT is barely felt here. The moment you shift the AMT to manual mode, the gearshifts are far quicker,  making driving the S-Presso a fun experience.Snapseed(43).jpgSnapseed(45).jpgSteering feedback is good, its light and easy to twirl around. The ride quality overall is good and over the 200 kms we drove the S-Presso none of the passengers in the car experienced any discomfort. The S-Presso while essentially an urban commuter also makes for an able long-distance companion on road trips. The mileage the S-Presso offers is fantastic. On our drive the car returned an average of 20-22 kms per litre.

BUYING THE S-PRESSO

The S-Presso is an interesting looking car that offers good driving experience in terms of efficiency, mileage and comfort. It comes with the assured badge of a Maruti in terms of service efficiency and resale value.4863E1D2-F31A-414E-AEAD-4CBC58CA2A4D.jpgPrices for the S-Presso start from Rs 3.69 Lakhs for the Standard Manual Variant and Rs 4.68 lakhs for the VXi AGS (automatic) Variant. The top end variant of the S-Presso VXi Plus AGS is yours to buy for Rs. 4.91 Lakhs. All prices are ex-showroom Delhi.

#MONSOON TRAILS – VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN

This is the 4th time in the last one year, that I got an opportunity to spend time with one of my all-time favourite SUV’s the Volkswagen Tiguan. This is a car that is universally loved by whoever drives it…Snapseed(1).jpgAs part of our ongoing series #MonsoonTrails, we reviewed the Tiguan this time around. Over the course of 5 days we put it through different kinds of road conditions and terrain. How did it fare? Let’s find out…But before we do that, lets reacquaint ourselves with what the Tiguan is all about.

The hallmark of VW cars is how simple and clean the design always is. The Tiguan follows the same design language. Starting with the front you have the 3-slat chrome grille on which sits the VW badge. Accompanying that are the LED headlights and LED DRL’s which complete the look.Snapseed(3).jpgSnapseed(2).jpgWalk to the side and you see the silver finish 18-inch alloy wheels which offer a ground clearance of about 200mm. The shoulder line that runs from the front right to the rear reflect  the elegant design of the Tiguan along with LED tail lamps in the rear.IMG_5954.jpgThe Tiguan comes with a 2.0 litre TDI turbocharged diesel engine with a peak power output of 143 hp and 340 Nm of torque. This is based on Volkswagen’s MQB modular platform, making it lighter than other SUVs in that price range.

The all black interiors are rich and premium in feel and finish. The centre console comes with a host of features, colour touch screen, Apple car play and Android auto. The seats in the front offer good support and the cushioning is high quality. The Tiguan comes with a huge and panoramic sunroof which when fully opened offers a great view. The legroom and shoulder room in the rear is terrific. The headroom is good courtesy the design of the roof. The rear seats have a reclining feature with a 60:40 split.  There is 615 litres of boot space on offer in the Tiguan.IMG_5952.jpgIMG_5953.jpgThe 7 speed DSG transmission in the Tiguan is extremely refined in terms of upshifts and downshifts. Paddle shifters usually come into play mainly, when driving on the highway. The four driving modes available are Snow, Normal, Off road and Individual. The mode I started with in the city was Eco. In this mode the engine is tuned to deliver optimum efficiency in terms of overall engine performance. Once on the highway I switched between Normal and Sports depending on the traffic conditions there.Snapseed(6).jpgThere are 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, Hill Descent and Auto hold available as part of the safety package. The Tiguan comes with a feature called the “active hood” which raises itself automatically by 3 inches, in the case of a collision with a pedestrian. This is to ensure the pedestrian doesn’t hit the hard parts of the vehicle in such an accident, minimising the level of injury.

The whole of last month Maharashtra has seen the kind of monsoons that haven’t been experienced in a long time. The roads are in pathetic shape, highways have huge craters in place of paved roads… All this can make driving on such roads a pathetic experience.Snapseed(5).jpgBut did this matter to the Tiguan? Not at all. It handled every kind of road thrown at it with the utmost ease. I was travelling with 3 other passengers in the car, not once did anyone complain about any discomfort. The handling of the Tiguan in and out of corners is very sharp, steering feedback is good. Overall visibility from the front cabin is impressive. The fuel efficiency numbers the Tiguan returned during this review were very good.Snapseed.jpgThe Tiguan is a SUV that offers comfort, safety, has excellent suspension, very good fuel efficiency and is fun to drive.

The Tiguan is available for 28 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai for the Comfortline(base) variant and 31 Lakhs ex-showroom Mumbai for the Highline variant.

 

Style & Luxury – The TIGUAN way…

2017 marked the re-entry of the Volkswagen India group into the SUV market with the launch of the Tiguan. A SUV that has the trademark design lines of Volkswagen. Elegant and sophisticated are the words that came to mind when I first saw the Tiguan.

COLLAGE 6.jpgCOLLAGE 8.jpgThe hallmark of VW cars is how simple and clean the design always is. Starting with the front you have the 3-slat chrome grille on which sits the VW badge. Accompanying that are the LED headlights and LED DRL’s which complete the look.

Walk to the side and one notices the silver finish 18-inch alloy wheels with a high ground clearance of about 200mm. The shoulder line that runs from the front right to the rear reflects the elegant design of the Tiguan along with LED tail lamps in the rear.

COLLAGE 5.jpgCOLLAGE 2.jpgVW is targeting the upmarket, premium and sophisticated customer for the Tiguan who pays more attention to the finer details of a car… This is not a SUV for someone who likes to be loud and aggressive in their car choices.

Step into the cabin and the all black interiors welcome you. They are rich and premium in feel and finish. The centre console comes with a host of features, colour touch screen, Apple car play and Android auto.

The seats in the front offer good support and the cushioning is high quality, something that makes long road trips very comfortable. The materials used reflect the luxury that VW is going for in the Tiguan. Now let’s come to the huge and panoramic sunroof which is probably the most opulent in this category. Its huge and when fully opened gives you a great view on clear cloudless nights.

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The legroom and shoulder room in the rear is fantastic. The headroom is good courtesy the design of the roof. The rear seats have a reclining feature with a 60:40 split. Something the passengers over long trips came to appreciate. In a SUV such as the Tiguan, can impressive boot space be far behind?. Not at all. There’s lots of room there and the foot gesture opening feature adds a unique touch to the regular standard. Makes it fun to open the boot without using one’s hands!

The Tiguan comes with a 2.0 litre TDI turbocharged diesel engine with a peak power output of 143 hp and 340 Nm of torque. Based on Volkswagen’s legendary MQB modular platform, the Tiguan is lighter than most SUVs in its price bracket. The result of this was very evident when I drove it in the city and highways. It moved about very effortlessly and smoothly. The 7 speed DSG transmission the Tiguan comes with is amongst the best in the business. The upshifts and downshifts are quick, efficient and smooth. The Tiguan comes with paddle shifters which makes driving a fun exercise on empty highways.

HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

I spent the first 3 days with the Tiguan in the city. Driving it in all sorts of traffic conditions was an easy and effortless exercise. Like most people living in Mumbai, I don’t like the experience of driving in the city most times because of  bad traffic. Somehow, I forgot that feeling when I drove the Tiguan.

Over the weekend, I had planned a trip to Sula Vineyards, one of India’s oldest and most well-known vineyards in Nashik, Maharashtra.

Sula Vineyards was established in 1999 by Rajeev Samant the first winery in Nashik. This has now paved the way for the emergence of Nashik to become India’s Wine Capital, with almost 35 other wineries setting up base there. Sula is one of the most Eco-friendly companies in India, with a significant amount of its resources committed to sustainable wine-making practices and ensuring fair livelihoods for Sula’s community of farmers across Maharashtra and Karnataka. Many Sula’s workers come from disadvantaged communities and have seen a significant change in their standard of living through their employment with the company.

COLLAGE 3.jpgCOLLAGE 4.jpgOn Saturday at the crack of dawn we set off for Sula. The moment we got onto the Eastern Express Highway towards Thane, the Tiguan came into its own. It also helps that the Mumbai – Nashik Expressway is very good and generally devoid of heavy traffic early in the morning.

The acceleration was very brisk and refined. I got to three-digit speeds very easily without any stress. The Tiguan is extremely planted at these speeds. The experience in the cabin was quiet, courtesy the well contained NVH levels.

The Tiguan comes with four driving modes – Snow, Normal, Off road and Individual. These modes alter the engine and gearbox response to handle different road conditions and terrain accordingly.

When you talk of Volkswagen, safety can’t be far behind. Their cars are known for being one of the safest in the world. The Tiguan is no different. It scores extremely high in that department. Starting with an active hood that automatically raises by 3 inches in the case of an accident with a pedestrian. This helps prevent the pedestrian from hitting the hard parts of the vehicle, minimising the level of injury. For people within the car the SUV comes with 6 airbags, ABS, ESC, Hill Descent Control and Auto Hold. Auto hold helps hold the car indefinitely until the driver presses the accelerator.  The Tiguan also warns the driver every time a pedestrian/car/motorcycle is too close for comfort by beeping loudly.

Driving on the highways, on small village roads, in the city wherever I went with the Tiguan, I came back impressed. This is a SUV that you want to drive all the time. Efficient, smooth and refined is the Tiguan.  I spent a whole week with the car. It still didn’t feel enough!

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Priced a 27.98 for the Comfortline and 31.38 for the Highline, the Tiguan is for the customer who wants luxury combined with the practicality that a VW car comes with.

Would I buy this? Definitely!

“Midst of the Mist” – Absorbing Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

IMG_20180815_165227.jpgThe massive Doi Suthep temple complex in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Located high above in the hills, this temple is extremely auspicious to the locals and tourists alike. Though a decently long drive (around 45 min) from the city, it allows for beautiful vistas and if one is lucky, amazing misty conditions making for a very romantic drive .. (we were the lucky ones that day)

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OutVentures took a Fortuner 2.8 right unto the summit of the national park and braved few very narrow dirt roads to complete a 3 hour circuit leading back to the temple. A funicular takes one up to the temple from the base point where foreigners pay for the entry and Thais don’t.. but both have to shell out around THB 20 for the lift to the top.

Outside the temple there are many curio shops and also few for those curiously inclined … fried insects as snacks !!

Try the raw mango with garlic salt and have a hillside coffee while at it, before driving back to the city.

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The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” although this is actually the name of the mountain where it’s located. It is a sacred site to many Thai people. The temple is 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the city of Chiang Mai. From the temple, impressive views of downtown Chiang Mai can be seen.

The original founding of the temple remains a legend and there are a few varied versions. The temple is said to have been founded in 1383 when the first stupa was built. Over time, the temple has expanded, and been made to look more extravagant with many more holy shrines added. A road to the temple was first built in 1935.

White elephant legend

According to legend, a monk named Sumanathera from the Sukhothai Kingdom had a dream. In this vision he was told to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic. Sumanathera ventured to Pang Cha and found a bone. Many claim it was Gautama Buddha‘s shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers: it glowed, it was able to vanish, it could move and replicate itself. Sumanathera took the relic to King Dhammaraja, who ruled Sukhothai. The eager Dhammaraja made offerings and hosted a ceremony when Sumanathera arrived. However, the relic displayed no abnormal characteristics, and the king, doubtful of the relic’s authenticity, told Sumanathera to keep it.

King Nu Naone of Lan Na heard of the relic and bade the monk to bring it to him. In 1368, with Dharmmaraja’s permission, Sumanathera took the relic to what is now Lamphun, in northern Thailand. Once there, the relic broke into two pieces. The smaller piece was enshrined at a temple in Suandok. The other piece was placed by the king on the back of a white elephant which was released into the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at that time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), stopped, trumpeted three times, then dropped dead. This was interpreted as an omen. King Nu Naone immediately ordered the construction of a temple at the site.

Source: Wikipedia

Florence’s “cucina povera” is deliciously rich

“Oh, my poor darlings,” cries the proprietor at Da Nerbone, a butchers’ stand in the heart of the San Lorenzo Market in Florence. “You’ve been waiting for such a very long time.”

Tara Isabella Burton

Blog by Tara Isabella Burton- Travel Writer

He shoots me a wink. Da Narbone is one of the most famous purveyors of Florence’s famed lampredotto: tender, broth-infused tripe made from the fourth stomach of a cow.

On this spring afternoon, the lines – an equal number of suitcase-toting tourists en route to the nearby train station and agitated locals – snake out the market door for this classic example of cucina povera(“kitchen of the poor”): traditional Florentine peasant cuisine now reimagined as the paragon of local Florentine fare.

Despite the hordes of tourists, Da Nerbone has never raised its prices; for around 5 euro, I get a crusty rose-shaped bun moistened with broth, several forkfuls of sizzling lampredotto, and a piquant chilli sauce. I eat it walking out of the marketplace, elbowing past so many other tourists, workers, stall-sellers of Florentine leather and Chinese toys.

My lips burn from the peperoncino – but boy, it’s worth it.

Above article reposted from TRVL.com 

OUT-Ventures Dope : 

What is Cucina Povera?

“Cucina Povera”, which essentially means “peasant food” (literally “poor cooking” or “poor kitchen”) are mostly always made using super simple recipes, containing a minimal of ingredients. Usually, the products and seasonal and locally grown. As you would probably guess, those ingredients must be the best quality. There’s nothing to hide the lack of flavor otherwise.

Cucina povera recipes are the antitheses of American “Italian” chain restaurant’s dishes. If you enjoy this type of  menu, that’s totally fine, just know that there is essentially nothing on it that is truly Italian.

dishes of food at Il Contadino cucina povera recipes

Traditional Italian food is not smothered in sauces, tons of cheese and/or “lots of herbs and spices”. Those are American concoctions. Authentic Italian dishes are mostly light, include lots of vegetables, very little cheese (even on pizza) and are very healthy/nutritious.

If you wish to know more on Cucina Povera recipes, please visit :
https://www.christinascucina.com

Visit to Kalpa

ANJANA BOSE-TRAVEL WRITER     – By Anjana Bose – Travel writer

The first time I travelled to Kalpa was in 2002 as a part of a project. It was not a leisure trip, but the experience was like no other.

The Kinnaur district was, at that time, reeling under the flash floods and landslides of 2000. We had started early from Shimla. After brief stoppages at Kufri and Narkanda, we reached Sarahan by early evening. The road till Sarahan was quite nice and we were accompanied by a clear sky, beautiful peaks and lovely company. We parked ourselves for the night there after visiting the Bhimkali temple. Though we were staying at the HPTDC hotel, our driver-cum-guide took us to a relative’s house nearby for dinner. We met a few locals here, heard some stories of bygone era and their dreams for the future. The hot home-cooked food was better than any hotel could have offered.

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The next day, we restarted our journey towards Kalpa – Rampur, Karcham, Kalpa. The road started deteriorating after Rampur. Soon, there were only pebbles for road. We saw the locals and army working together to fix the roads and to ensure that travelers like us were guided properly. For most part of the route hereafter, the Sutlej was at par with us. We could see and feel the immense power the river had within itself. The road became quite perilous as we moved towards Karcham. We experienced a couple of instances of rock-slides. At some places the river overflowed on the roads making it slippery, but the feeling the splash of the river was unearthly. The cliffs hung dangerously at many places but looking at the sun through these peaks were some of the best sights I have seen. We reached Karcham towards the end of the day and felt thankful. At the back of our minds though, we knew, that this is the same road we must travel on our way back.

At Karcham, we got to know that a dam was under construction which will control the power of the Sutlej and generate electricity, part of which would be used to light up this region. There were sure signs of progress. But, the continuous use of heavy machinery and transportation by loaded trucks made the road more dangerous resulting in frequent rockslides. We also came to know that monsoons render the route extremely dangerous for the same reason. But, they promised the Karcham-Recong Peo road was in a better condition. Well, it was better but nowhere close to our comfort levels. One of the main bridges was washed away making travel very difficult. Frankly, there was more than one occasion when we wanted to turn back. But, there was no option for that – the only place the vehicle could turn back was Reckong Peo. Also, the scenic beauty around us forced us to drive ahead, promising us many more visual treats. Finally, we reached Kalpa late evening. Once again, we put up at the HPTDC hotel. Even in the darkness we could make out that it was located near the summit with long stretches of wilderness around us.

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The next morning, we were awakened around 4am and what we witnessed was more beautiful than anything, anyone had told us of. Right from our windows we could see the majestic Kinnaur-Kailash range. The first rays of the sun slowly coloured the sky orange and then yellow. The snow-clad range reflected the sunlight with such force that it was difficult to look for too long. The beauty of it was beyond imagination. We were there for half a day, attending to project work. Every time we looked at the majestic range, we were awestruck. The colour kept changing, the snow appeared different and the clouds in the clear blue sky was mesmerizing. We were told that the Kailash peak and the mountain range changes colours 5-7 times in a day. We could not enjoy the peaks in their complete splendour as we had to leave for Sangla. But the memory of the short visit stayed with me and I promised myself I will be back.

Fast forward 2018. We planned to visit the hills and I immediately thought of Kalpa. The group included young and old alike, hence we decided to go for a longer visit. My earlier experience raised many doubts but reviews of those having visited in recent years coupled with the promise of a majestic and unforgettable experience helped us finalise our itinerary.

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This time round, we decided to take the HRTC bus service. The websites said 10hr journey, the people at the counter promised an 8hr journey; in reality, it took us nearly 12hrs to reach Kalpa from Shimla. The road condition throughout was good, extremely good. At many places, the rocks were bound to stop rockslides. We did find a few precariously hanging cliffs, but none hung as dangerously as the ones I had seen the last time. I was quite sad to see that advancement affected the natural beauty of the region. The Sutlej, which had been a constant companion in my previous trip looked like a distant dream. The river was now a little larger than a narrow stream lacking any kind of energy and strength. The good part being the growth of agricultural land along the banks of the river bringing in employment on prosperity to the locals. Prosperity though did not make them arrogant and they remain friendly and helpful. We had some mouth-watering aloo parathas, chana masala and various homemade preparations. We listened to their stories and heard interesting tales of how the region has managed to emerge a winner from the various calamities it faced. Important to mention that since my last visit, the Kinnaur region faced another devastating flood in 2005. The dam at Karcham was 100% functional. It not only provided electricity to the region, but also employment to the locals.

We reached Kalpa around 9pm. This time round we were booked into a small hotel that boasted of a better view of the range than the HPTDC hotels. Yes, there were 3 HPTDC properties now instead of the single one I had seen earlier.

Day 1 at Kalpa: We were greeted by a vibrant sunrise, early in the morning. The sight was as majestic as I remembered it. I sat at the balcony at 4am, wrapped in my quilt, looking at the sun breaking through. The day promised to be bright and sunny.

After breakfast, we walked down to the market. While I remembered a reasonably busy market place, this time round it appeared somewhat deserted at 11 in the morning. On enquiring, we were told that many work at Recong Peo and others at Karcham. That’s why not many people were around during the day. We walked down to the Monastery. Though small in size, it was very peaceful to be there. The Durga temple was our next stop. This temple is perched on a peak and surrounded by the snow clad mountain ranges. At the courtyard of the temple, I had this sense of being minute within this largeness of beauty. Here, we met a group of students who had come from Chandigarh. They were studying about the temple culture in the state of Himachal Pradesh. It is claimed that the state has 2000 temples listed, and the count keeps increasing. We also met a very noisy family from Mumbai whose main contention seemed to be that no one had prepared them for the chilly weather. The lady wanted to get clicked Yash Raj style, and was actually sporting a bright- coloured chiffon saree but was unable to take off the jacket for the photo shoot.
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Our next stop was Reckong Peo, which we reached using the local bus service. I highly recommend the use of local transport when in Kalpa. The roads are quite narrow and steep in some places. Those not used to traveling in similar road conditions will not be able to do justice to the drive. Peo, as its commonly referred to, was bustling with activity. We strolled around the market place before taking the bus back to Kalpa.

What was notable was that we had seen the Kinnaur-Kailash range and its neighbours change colours 4 times. Once back at the hotel, we parked ourselves at the balcony and did nothing much except look at the mountains and enjoy the beauty. This vigil was accompanied by regular supply of tea and timely snacks that the hotel provided. Kalpa is not famous for its nightlife or eating-out options. Once sundown, it tended to become somewhat monotonous. But having walked quite a bit, we were all tired and retired early.

Day 2 at Kalpa: This morning we were met with gloomy clouds which dampened our mood somewhat. We had plans of visiting the apple orchards and then walk down to Roghi village. At breakfast, the manager advised us against venturing too far, especially after 3pm. He also promised to put some extra quilts in our rooms as the temperature was likely to drop. We joked about the family from Mumbai we had met the previous day, as the temperature was significantly lower. We had to change our plans as the rain gods decided to meet us earlier than the expected 3 pm. We spent the day playing carrom and watching movies on YouTube. From a place with little electrification in 2002, to a place with strong data facility in 2018, yes, Kalpa has come a long way. Though it’s still a small sleepy town.

After the rain ceased towards the evening, we went out for a stroll, dressed in as many warm clothes that we could gather. We visited a nearby apple orchard which was deserted expect the sole guard at the entrance. Everyone was home because of the weather, he informed us. He treated us to jaggery tea which we were glad about. The cold started affecting us with sniffles having started among the youngest and oldest members of the group. We soon retired for the day, somewhat sad. We were leaving the next day but we had not been able to enjoy Kalpa as much as we desired.

Late evening we heard drumbeats. Locals had started gathering at the adjacent hotel. Though we wanted to, we were stopped as the drumbeats were because of a local religious ritual.

Day 3, away from Kalpa: Since we were boarding the 6am bus to Shimla from Peo, we left the hotel at 4.30 am. Enroute, we stopped for a quick visit to the Kalika temple at Peo. The temple was open even at that time of the day and peace prevailed. The remains of the festivities of the previous night was quite visible.

The sun continued to elude us as we bade farewell to Kalpa and Peo. As we left, we promised to meet again.

Can you stay silent for ten days?

Ten days of silence, bar optional evening question sessions with the teacher. “I didn’t speak at all,” Shona tells me. “Day two, I thought I’d have to leave, but it suddenly got easier.”

Meera Dattani

Meera Dattani – Travel Writer Reposted from her blog on trvl.com

I’ve just met Shona in a café in the former Thai capital and Unesco city of Ayutthaya, about fifty miles from Bangkok. We’re near Wat Mahatat, a temple complex most famous for the stone Buddha head in the roots of a bodhi tree. But this temple also has Thailand’s oldest higher education institute for monks, Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University, and the Vipassana Meditation Center.

Vipassana is, according to its teachings, about seeing things as they really are. And it requires serious meditation. No talking, writing, reading, physical contact of any kind. Not even any praying or yoga, and no food after midday. For ten days.

“I can’t quite explain it,” says Shona, “but I feel serene. Like I’m in control of my emotions.”

Ten days is difficult to contemplate. I visit the center and discover they run three-hour meditation classes in English. It’s a start. There’s no clock but the first 20 minutes, at least it feels like 20, are relaxing. After perhaps an hour, a mind-body struggle ensues, the brain determined to continue, the body desperate to walk, move, anything. But when three hours come to an end, I feel unexpectedly calm. But ten days? Hats off.

A Thai woman prays at a temple in Chinatown on the first day of the Chinese New Year. There are about 8million Chinese in Thailand, making up 12 percent of the total population – although up to 40 percent now have mixed Chinese ancestry. It is the second largest Chinese community after Indonesia’s outside China and many have roots going back five generations. – Getty Images (Paula Bronstein)

MONKEYING AROUND IN BALI

Image Courtesy : Pexels

So, there it was.. the Indian Independence week and true to our promises made to each other, our gang of pot-bellied, balding 40 yrs plus college mates set out again to a new destination, something we all have looked forward to every August.. every year, for the past 9 years. Some of us just don’t give up ! Continue reading “MONKEYING AROUND IN BALI”