Please note: This narrative is the fifth in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. The rest are available on the blog. Staring at the Symmetrical Taj Mahal, Soaking in Sun, and Scuttering Away from Petha Sellers After the Lucknow food tour, we drove on to Agra (Uttar Pradesh). My …
Also note: If I was a bit calmer — and perhaps had an ice cooler sticking to my head — I would have photographed it all. But for now, we would have to do with this photo-less food tour of Lucknow. I have added some photos downloaded from Google though.
The featured image is of a plate of tiki, taken at my parent’s home but purchased from a street food shop in the town. It is a quintessential UP photo, showing the tiki (though without chutneys) along with the Hindi Punjab Kesari, the everyman’s newspaper of my state.
My Home State Uttar Pradesh (UP) Has Moved On, But I Have Not
We were going to pass Lucknow on our way to Himachal (from Sikkim). So for that afternoon, we had planned a Lucknow food trail: not any guide, but we ourselves were taking us on an impromptu food tour through Lucknow. Neither had I been to the capital before nor did my partner S, and skipping the city’s quintessential delicacies to make it quickly to Himachal sounded like a lame excuse.
Please note: This narrative is the third in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. Read the First Episode: Leaving Sikkim for Himachal – Serendipity or Choice? and the Second: The 500-km Drive Through Bihar: Corn Harvests, Marriage Certificate at Hotels, and Truck Slogans, too. Can We Ever Feel Safe in Uttar Pradesh? …
Please note: This narrative is the second in the series of travel essays on my Sikkim to Himachal highway journey. Read the beginning of the journey here and the onwards drive to Uttar Pradesh here.
Driving Through Bihar: a Test of Our Unrelenting Spirit
Driving through the field-fringed Bihar highway — of which so much was under construction that we were mostly taking diversions — I sat with the car window open, feeling the wind on my face. Eighty’s English Rock played on the car stereo, and the promise of open hours on the road seemed as fertile as the green-yellow country extending to the horizon.
When I went to Vietnam in 2016, I found myself in a green paddy-filled country. Under the shadows of their bamboo hats, locals flitted between places unhindered by the large bamboo baskets they carried. Birds sang from their cages hung on balconies. Streets were lined with stalls selling soup, grilled meat skewers, rice paper rolls, and fruits.
The Story of The Lost Shoe and a Failed Attempt at Buying a New Hiking Pair in Karsog Mandi
Anyone who knows my love for hiking would understand how important shoes are for me. In a tragic incident in 2020, I lost one of my Merrell shoes. I had purchased hiking boots in Chile in 2017 and since then my shoes were my loving companion on every trip and sometimes within cities too. (This Chile travel tips will prepare you well for your trip.)
When we returned from Chikmagalur after our one-month 2020 birthday trip (articles coming up soon), I started cleaning our rooftop shed. My partner promised he would bring up all the stuff from the car. I told him please bring the bags a couple at a time. But he loaded all the stuff onto him and finished unloading the car in one trip. I think he did go back to the car to see if he had left anything behind and came back satisfied.
A couple of days later when he was putting the shoes into the washing machine, he shouted he couldn’t find one of my Merrell shoes. We looked around. Under the bed, in other bags, and in every corner. My heart sank. Oh, it sank! I still skip a few beats when I realize I will never find my shoes again (the linked shoes are similar to mine but just purchasing a new twin pair won’t do it). They kept my feet warm even on ravines and wouldn’t let me slip if I tied them tight. In dry and wet we walked together.
Our car in Bangalore was a rental one. We had taken a Zap subscription from Zoom Cars. So we paid a monthly rental and put out the car on the Zoom platform when we didn’t need it. Travelers who book short-term rental cars would get ours and we would receive part of the rent earned. The vehicle came out to be almost free. (an article on Zoom car subscription coming up soon.)
As we had just returned from Chikmagalur, we had put the car on Zoom. Someone had taken it the next day itself. It returned and went on another booking. That day the car was with us and was parked near our building.
Leaving the food burning on the stove, we ran down. We searched the entire car but couldn’t find the shoe. My shoe! I even looked around in the garbage spread on an empty plot near our house thinking the people who had booked the car might have thrown it away. But my shoe was nowhere.
Tears simmered in my eyes. I trudged up the three floors to our rooftop and erupted on my partner. It was his fault I had lost my shoe. Why couldn’t he lose something of his own due to his mistakes? I screamed. That evening was an ugly one. Even our car cleaner had seen the one shoe inside but hadn’t informed us. What a bright mind!
Swearing never to trust my partner with my stuff, I succumbed to sleep. My partner never tried to retrieve the lost shoe from the Zoom car guys and I don’t think I will be able to forgive him for his carelessness.
I lost my Merrell about a year ago but I haven’t forgotten them. Maybe I still hope I will find the shoes someday. I don’t know how. I left the other shoe on the rooftop when we left Bangalore to start our road trip through India. I didn’t know what else to do.
I thought writing about losing the shoe will help me accept the reality. But I find the acceptance hard. The comfort I get when I know my feet are safe in a sturdy shoe and I can walk on ice and rocks and not fall on slippery slopes is missing.
Well, I’m alone now. Since the day I lost my shoe I’ve been using my partner’s Adidas shoes. They aren’t the sturdiest or the thickest waterproof shoes but I’ve managed with them well.
After wearing the Adidas shoes for 11 months straight — out of which three months I have been hiking and running in them on Himachal terrains — now their cloth is tearing apart. They let water inside and my feet get cold.
But I didn’t buy a new pair of shoes before starting my trip to Himachal as I wanted to settle my mind on a trail running shoe. Trail runners are shoes that can be worn to run on tough mountain trails. If you can run on hills, you can run on roads and pathways. So I decided to buy a trail runner for both running and hiking.
Before I could understand the finer details of trail runners, I had to leave big cities. We were already in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and soon entered Himachal Pradesh. The lockdowns were also in place.
I decided to work around with the Adidas one.
After the big hikes of Shikari Devi and Kamru Nag in Mandi, my blue shoes almost gave up. They are more torn than ever. When it rained in the dense deodar jungles of Shikari hills, my feet got completely soaked. Wet feet aren’t fun.
My partner also slipped on mossy wet rocks towards the end of our Shikari Devi hike. I was never satisfied with his choice of hiking shoes. He was using a more casual shoe with some traction.
After Shikari we were still at Hotel Mamleshwar in Chindi. The manager there told us we could find good shoes in Karsog, the village having the biggest market in Mandi district after the Mandi town.
We had just returned from the Shikari trek the previous night. Now with the windows of our Queen room at Mamleshwar wide open, we got a good view of the mountains and the orchards beyond. The backside of the room opened into the deodar trees and the apple gardens nearby and beyond them lay the deeper cedar and pine woods.
After having tea on our bed laying in cozy duvets, we discussed where to go and what to do. Some ideas around going to Chowki village and hiking to Kamru Nag were thrown around. While dilly-dallying the decision we ordered breakfast and went down to eat it in the sun on the lawn. Poori bhaji and parathas were on the menu. Some more tea followed. We extended our stay at Mamleshwar by one day because we wanted to be slow that day.
After spending a couple of hours eating, resting, talking at home, doing laundry with hand, and all, we got ready and drove towards Karsog. Oh but not before the caretaker at Mamleshwar hotel fixed the wiring of our dysfunctional geyser.
Today would be the shoe shopping day we echoed. The view of Karsog Valley from the Shimla Tattapani Mandi road is beautiful. You see green hills and velvety paddy fields rolling into the horizon. But as we entered the Karsog market our dreams drowned in the brook we had seen from the top.
The dusty Karsog bazaar seemed full of the automobile, cement, welding, and other rough shops. The roads around Karsog were dug up. Many JCBs and other road rollers were busy doing road work here and there. Trucks were parked randomly.
We thought to get coffee at a shop that displayed it sold the hot beverage. One needs to pee too. The owner said they hadn’t ordered coffee yet as the weather was still hot. Who drinks coffee in the summers? Have something cold.
To escape the madness, we said we will have tea. That was all right by her. I asked for the toilet and only when did she make sure I had to pee and didn’t need to do number two she said I could unlock the door below and go. Water is scarce, she confided.
With tea, we figured out places to see in Karsog. Apart from the Mamleshwar and Kamaksha temple we would need more time to do any of the longer hikes from Karsog.
Beyond the shop lay the dusty and sunny Karsog market. So we chucked any ideas about going around and headed to the market to buy shoes.
Some scenes from the Karsog market.
The first few shops showed us some shoes that couldn’t be called hiking shoes. A few shops had good shoes for men but nothing for women. When I asked for shoes for myself, they brandished sandals, soft cloth shoes, and other ridiculous inventory in front of me. Nothing would serve the purpose. What patriarchy!
I gave up. Even my partner didn’t want to invest more time in trying shoes he was sure she wouldn’t like.
But I put my foot down. “As your hiking guide I say you need strong shoes. Or else if you fall again I ain’t going to pick you up.” I declared.
At one shop, he chose the Woodland hiking shoes between an Adidas option and Woodland. I wouldn’t be able to find trekking shoes for women in Karsog, shopkeepers said.
Monsoons had been pouring down on us since we had come to Mandi. Ditching our old rookie umbrella, we bought a new one. And at the same shop, I discussed the length and width of a Whisper pad with a middle-aged shopkeeper who was giving me the big packet of green pads when I wanted the small one. After discussing wing size and night strength, we moved on.
Some more pictures from around Karsog.
We must be already running into the evening and it was time for our dinner. The streets were crowded and locals stared at us as if we were jokers or aliens. Every head turned as we moved.
Many dhabas displayed Mandyali dham on top of their shops. The menu displayed roti, rice, a dry vegetable, dal, curd, etc. But by evening most of the food was over. We found one dhaba making tandoori roti. And when the guy said he had eggplants and rajma, my eyes went wide. He had me at brinjal. He lit up the tandoor and served us rice and vegetables and we sat and gulped the food at godspeed. I’m not sure how many chapatis we ate but at least 3-4 went down. The dhaba chefs kept bringing the curries.
After stuffing ourselves we left. A wine shop caught my attention. But as the owner was missing we drove on. It is not uncommon here in Himachal to see a shop owner leave his shop open to attend to his chores or to chill with his friends at their house. If a customer comes, the neighbor will call the owner. Then the owner will speak with the customer to see if his return to the shop would be worth the purchase. If not, the customer can decide to move on with his life. Simple!
Without getting meddled in the phone calls, we drove on towards Mamleshwar Chindi. Now we found another wine shop selling the local wine brand Hawk Eye (earlier Gold Eye). A bottle of pear, a bottle of plum, and a small bottle of cherry joined our company.
Nice music filled our car and the jungle silence felt needed. Once home, we turned our laundry around and went to sleep.
But soon I heard the sharp sound of an animal nibbling away at something sharp. With the help of a flashlight, I could see the eyes. The being sat on the deodar behind our window erect and gnawed at something. First I thought it must have been the flying fox bat. But after spending months in Himachal I know the nocturnal being could be nothing else but a flying squirrel.
Deciding to buy my shoe some other day and admiring my partner’s new Woodland shoes, we both drifted into a deep sleep. Goodnight squirrel.
Please note: This is not a guide to Karsog. I will soon publish pieces on the village and the gorgeous Karsog Valley.
Have you lost a shoe ever? Tell me some of your funny shopping stories.
Why Tattapani Village in Mandi District (Himachal Pradesh) is in Serious Need of Development
We first heard about Tattapani village when we arrived in Mandi District. After staying in Shimla villages for two months, we drove to Pangna village of Mandi, then to Chindi, hiked to Shikari Devi temple and Kamru Nag, explored around, and are now staying in a small highway village near Karsog.
Tatapani — literally meaning hot water — was once an important village for not just Mandi people but for all Himachal folks. Located 52 km from Shimla, 120 km from Mandi, and 45 km from Karsog, Tatta Paani was visited by devotees on every Makar Sakranti festival in hundreds of thousands of numbers (I can tell by old Tattapani images). The religious villagers used to bathe in the village’s natural hot water springs rich in Sulphur. (Natural hot springs remind me of Manikaran village in Parvati.)
Some of the Best Bangalore Hotels — From Personal Experience
As my partner and I left our rooftop terrace in Bangalore to start our indefinite road trip, we started searching for budget hotels in Bangalore. Our car was still not delivered (more on the chaos in a separate piece), and we had to stick around the city a bit longer.
The most challenging thing about finding a good guest house in Bangalore is that in big cities hotels are expensive, even if poorly maintained. I have run into a lot of guesthouse owners who overestimate their property’s worth and charge exorbitantly. They calculate their property’s per day rent in terms of how much the building values but not on the services they provide and the current state of the hotel or homestay.
I stayed at a homestay in Bangalore where we almost went crazy fixing the place and handling the hosts. You can read more about this Bangalore Airbnb experience in my family-run guesthouses of India guide. At times, some of the stays at Bangalore were so dirty we checked out from the place the same day.
And I understand the hosts’ apprehensions about Indian guests. A lot of us are notorious for making the place dirty, breaking others’ stuff, being rude and noisy, and not caring at all. But if we look beyond, the Bangalore hotel industry is run by staff most of whom aren’t trained in the hospitality industry. Well, that’s a problem in all of India I guess.
In a big city like Bangalore, I have realized it makes more sense to stay at a known or reputed hotel. Smaller and cheaper hotels in Bangalore offer poor services (maybe because their costs are high but can’t be recovered in budget pricing? or they just don’t know any better). And star-rated hotels in Bengaluru have to function well because they cater to a wide audience. Homestays in Bangalore are a gamble.
In the above two guides, you will read me discussing more on such Indian hospitality problems. Today I want to write about these three guesthouses-cum-best-hotels in Bangalore I loved staying at. I booked them on different occasions and here sharing my honest reviews.
Please note: This is not a sponsored post by any of these accommodations in Bangalore. They don’t even know I’m writing about them.
Spread symmetrically around parks and temples, Basavanagudi in Bangalore was a surprise to me. I was taken to this old locality of Bangalore by a dear friend Julia.
Julia is a French woman who married an Indian man mostly for her love for Kolkata (sorry Sudipto) — she met her husband there. As destiny had it, Julia happened to move into the flat below our rooftop abode in HSR Bangalore. From my terrace shed, we stalked the blood-red moons together. Christmas was celebrated at her home and Diwali was at mine.
In December 2020, when the lockdowns had been lifted and the cases were receding, Julia took me to Basavanagudi. I hadn’t explored the locality. If Julia hadn’t suggested, I may have never visited the ancient lanes, intriguing parks, and the historic temples in Basavanagudi.
Hiking to Shikari Devi Temple Mandi Without a Guide At the Onset of Monsoons Deciding To Do The Shikari Devi Trek Since we arrived in Mandi (our trip began at Pangna going through Chindi) we kept hearing about the Shikari Devi temple. Locals religiously believe in Shikari Devi and used to walk to her …
So Much You Don’t Know About Pangna Village (Mandi, Himachal Pradesh)
Pangna village blew my mind. Before visiting this Mandi village in Himachal, I knew the rough history of Pangna.
I had read that the Suket dynasty had Pangna as its capital for a few hundred years. The Suket kingdom was of the Sen kings who were originally from Bengal. First, they moved from Bengal to Punjab. But when one of their rajahs was killed there, they fled to the hills. Here they made their first palace at Kunu Dar (near Karsog) in 778 AD. Then they shifted to Pangna and made the village their fort. Until 1240, the Sen’s ruled the Pangna area.
Somewhere there was a fleeting mention of the Suket King’s daughter who had committed suicide because the king trusted a Brahman’s words over her. And in her memory, the tall Kathkuni temple, more popularly known as the fort, was constructed.
I have spoken a lot about my writing and exploration days in Mashobra Shimla. You can read the linked guide to get a closer look at my life in the village. But even though Mashobra is becoming the next Maldives (Vir Sanghvi says) travelers don’t know so much about this picturesque town of Himachal Pradesh. I didn’t know about these stunning temples in Shivpur, a small village near Mashobra.