Friday, April 25, 2008

Madras, Nalla Madras!

The Chennai Corporation has finally decided to beautify the city and build infrastructure before it gets out of hand.

They have done some amazing things already. Though everyone complains (and will continue to do so) non-stop, we are soon going to be thankful for all the flyovers being built. Especially when the traffic is intense. Flyovers ease traffic congestions, so be happy folks.

Another wonderful thing they are doing is removing all illegal billboards! I really didn't think I would ever see this in my lifetime. Chennai is looking cleaner and greener already. They work at nights and remove the boards and hoardings. And then people complained that the signs had brought extra lighting to the roads, so they installed lights (in the Gemini Circle alone, they have spent 13 crores on lighting!). And now it looks amazing. Clean.

They have also decided to BROADEN roads! Can you believe that where they have found they cannot deal with the traffic congestion any other way, they've decided to just move all walls bordering the road by 5 feet. I think that's amazing - and every single person has complied. The roads are already more navigable.

I'm so happy that I get to see and enjoy all these improvements. My congratulations - everyone really is trying. Madras, Nalla Madras (Madras, Nice Madras).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Go Chennai SuperKings!!!

The much-awaited IPL (Indian Premier League) 20-20 cricket tournament had its huge opening on April 18th. With about 60 matches spread over a 1 1/2 month period, there is no dearth of exciting cricket lined up.

The IPL is similar to the National Basketball League (NBA) in the US. Each team is owned on a franchise basis by businessmen/ celebrities. The players can be traded and bought in an auction, and they will play for their cities.

The 8 teams and their franchisees in the league are:

Chennai Super Kings - by India Cements
Delhi Daredevils - by GMR Holdings
Mumbai Indians - by Reliance
Bangalore Royal Challengers - by Vijay Mallya
Deccan Chargers - Hyderabad - by Deccan Chronicle
Rajasthan Royals - By Emerging Media Group
Kolkata Knight Riders - by Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla
Kings XI Punjab - by Preity Zinta and Ness Wadia

You can access the IPL tournament schedule here.

In a nail-biting match last night (as you can see in the picture above, the Mumbai Indians needed 8 runs in 2 balls!), Chennai Super Kings beat the Mumbai Indians in the last few balls of the match. It was nerve-racking to watch!! But we won! Go CSK!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Restaurant Review: Lotus

I've eaten at Lotus numerous times. So much, infact, that my usual dining companion and I have a special sauce there that they bring out only when we dine there!! I couldn't believe that I hadn't reviewed it here. I did mention it briefly, but not nearly enough.

Lotus, located at The Park Hotel, has the best Thai food in Chennai. And maybe in south India. A cozy restaurant with ample plush seating, the ambience invites you to linger over your food and have 3 hour lunches with a good friend.

Now to the exciting food. We always start with the Vietnamese spring rolls that are fresh and crunchy and served with a special dipping sauce that is incredible. The must order salads are the Mango Salad and the ever popular raw Papaya salad. They also have a Banana Blossoms salad that we tried recently which is very nice.

Then comes the Thai spicy fried rice, Pahd Thai, honey glazed crunchy vegetables, chicken satay and a vegetarian green curry. I must say here that every single one of those dishes is Excellent.

We usually end with the black sticky rice pudding, which is tremendous. I've been angling to get the recipe for a year now, and haven't managed to! One order might be enough for about 4 people - its really really rich.

If you love Thai food, head to Lotus for a delectable meal.

Lotus Thai
Park Hotel
601, Anna Salai

Phone - (044) 4214 4000 for reservations

Restaurant Review: Somethin' Fishy

Though everyone seems to love Somethin' Fishy, I was a little skeptical, being vegetarian. I understand they have great seafood, but did they have good veggie food? Well, I tried it out, and though they don't have a huge selection for a veggie, the food was quite good.

Located on the rooftop of a hotel on busy Mount Road, the only major drawback of the restaurant was that there was no air-conditioning. In Chennai, that's a huge deterrent, and with all the fans and a thatch roof, it was still very hot. The ambience is non-fussy with wrought iron furniture, fish nets, shells and plain wood tables. On a Saturday night, I was surprised that the restaurant was empty the entire time we were there!

The owner and chef, Kadir, and his wife, Nimmi, are so nice that they accommodate most requests. My friend had grilled fish skewers, and I had a "mixed vegetables in spicy sauce". The sauce, which was super, turned out to be an unusual avocado sauce. It was definitely something I'd order again.

But the biggest hit of the evening was the Chocolate Mousse. Please order it if you remotely enjoy chocolate. Good Stuff!

Somethin' Fishy
Inn Chennai
578, Anna Salai
open for dinner only from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Phone # 9884110113 for details or reservations.

Vandalur Zoo

Chennai's zoo is located about an hour outside the city (past the airport and Tambaram). I've been wanting to go see it for many years, but hadn't heard very good things, so kept finding an excuse not to go.

Well, this past week I decided to go and take a whole lot of kids too. I was very pleasantly surprised. They've done a tremendous job. You can either hire a tram to drive around, or you could walk. They have lots and lots to see. And its very green. They also have little shaded areas where people can rest and re-energize.

Apart from the usual tigers, lions, hippos, monkeys, deer, giraffes, we saw some really unusual animals too:

The Cassowary Bird (native to Australia)

The White Siberian Tiger (I later learnt that its an albino form of a regular tiger, not a different species of tiger)


They even have a kangaroo! But he wouldn't come out from his little hideout, so we couldn't see him.

I heard the sad tale of the rhino that had just died a month earlier. When they did a post-mortem, they found soda cans, plastic bottles and packets of chips inside his stomach from all the food that was being fed to him by visitors. Although there are signs everywhere telling you not to feed the animals, the officials claim that no one listens.

They also organize a lion "safari" where you go in jeeps inside an almost-Jurassic Park-looking enclosure and see lions up close. Quite cool!

I recommend a visit to the zoo - its a really nice way to spend a 1/2 day.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Beat the Heat

Coconut Water Salesman:

Chennaiites sure know how to beat the heat. Its been 36 deg C/ 95 deg F!! Absolutely too too hot!! Some enterprising vendors have brought their wares to the street. What a cool way to beat the heat!

Fresh Sugarcane juice:

This woman was selling "slurpies" - crushed ice with different flavors!



Tiny, tender cucumbers, served with salt and/or chilli powder

There were also several vendors selling sunglasses, hats and bandanas. And, at lunch time, every single vendor had a long line of customers!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Times of India

Times of India, which has been a national newspaper for decades in the rest of India, has finally made its entry into Chennai. A great time to enter the city, in my opinion.

Chennai has always had two major newspapers - The Hindu and Indian Express. For some reason, Indian Express started losing steam and readership over the last few years. Last year, a new entrant to the newspaper business in Chennai, Deccan Chronicle. DC suddenly became very popular - its a "fun" newspaper that the next generation enjoys reading. Their most popular section was the Page 3 Society section - people were talking about that page all over the city. This was, I think, only because Chennai lacks a public society magazine or newspaper round-up.

The Hindu, has been overheard to have become "boring". The coverage is still fantastic on the political front, and for International news. But the writing has become less "catchy".

Good time for Times of India to make an entrance. When I bought the first issue yesterday I was quite excited. It's not everyday that you get to hold the first edition of a major newspaper in your city! Good Luck TOI and Welcome to Chennai...finally!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tangerine: Restaurant Review

Though this restaurant is right around the corner from us, we never managed to make it there for a while. This past weekend, we finally drove by and decided to stop for lunch. The decor is very stark and not a lot of fuss. The restaurant is known for its sizzlers, and sure enough, they had a menu that boasted about 15-20 kinds of sizzlers.

We ordered some bruschetta with garlic bread and crab bisque for our appetizers. The bruschetta was fabulous. Tomatoes were fresh and there was just a hint of basil and the garlic bread alone might get us to come back to this restaurant. My husband didn't enjoy his bisque at all.

For our entrees, I ordered a vegetarian Creole sizzler which wasn't pretty to look at but quite tasty. It didn't taste of anything Creole, but overall was still good.

At about Rs.100/ a head, I thought it was a good deal for a quick lunch. Not bad for a restaurant around the corner.

5, Murray's Gate Road,
Phone: (044) 42038800

Thursday, April 10, 2008

What I'm Reading

A dear friend recently gave me this book - a New York Times Bestseller - and swore it worked for her. Since we have toddlers the same age, I was happy to give it a try.

This fun book is filled with exercises, little scenarios and cartoons. It is definitely not a "How To" guide on raising children, but more a way to understanding your children better. What works for you might not work for me. Since each situation is so personal, one has to truly adapt the book to the relationship and not the other way around.

I have seen a huge improvement just in the last 48 hours. Here's a typical scenario between my daughter and me:

K: I don't want the yogurt. It's spicy.
Me: It's not spicy. You mean its sweet.
K: No, its spicy.
Me: It can't be. Yogurt isn't spicy. Let me try it. See, its not spicy.
K: It is. It is.
Me: No its not and you are going to sit here till you finish it.
K: Nooooooo!!! (crying)

After reading this book, our lunch yesterday went like this:

K: I don't want the yogurt. It's spicy.
Me: Do you find it spicy?
K: Hmmm. Not really spicy. Sour.
Me: Wait - let me try it. Yes, it is quite sour. (Made a funny "sourpuss" face. She started to giggle. Continued making faces. More giggling)
K: Can I have it less sour?
Me: Sure (and added a teaspoon of sugar)
K: Thanks. Its yummy. (Still giggling)

There was a huge difference. Both in my attitude and hers. The last 2 days have been ones of pure self-discovery. I didn't imagine we could go for 48 hours without a tantrum, and we have.

I've only read the first two chapters - which teach how to approach a situation with empathy and how to identify what your child is feeling. I've learned so much already.

Thank you for the book. I'm sure my daughter would thank you too.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Travel File: Bandhavghar National Park

When they say that Madhya Pradesh is the heart of India, I didn't pay attention. I hardly knew anything about Madhya Pradesh before I visited Bandhavghar National Park. We flew to Delhi and then to Jabalpur and then drove 4 hours to the Park. We stayed in a lovely hotel, Mahua Kothi, which is a joint venture between the Taj Hotels and CC Africa. The hotel is lovely and located bang in the middle of acres of forest and grassland - typical tiger country. It was my first stay inside a forest and my first safari, so I was quite excited.

Madhya Pradesh has the largest number of national parks in the country and the largest concentration of tigers. Its a beautiful country!

We left early the next morning (5 am) and saw a lovely sunrise, while keeping our eyes peeled for tigers. We saw lots and lots of langurs, deer and many varieties of birds and plant life. We never did see the tigers that first day! This sign just about summed up our experience!

Everyday, we'd head off for 4 hours in the morning, having lavish picnics on the road. Return for lunch and then head out for a 4 hour drive in the evening, returning by sunset. The forest, at night, is an amazing place to be. The tables are definitely turned. A tiger has unparalleled night vision and we can't see 2 feet in front of us! It gave us chills just to walk from dinner back to our rooms.

The food, made from fresh local ingredients, was simply superb. Simple and elegant. They also offered splendid massages right in the verandah of our rooms. Each room was like a little upscale hut, with its lovely local craft and woodwork. The highlight of the day would be when you return from the drive and a bath had been drawn filled with sweet smelling petals. It was exactly what you needed after a long, bumpy drive inside the forest.

The Massage:

The Bath:

The forest is a serene place and for once, I saw no trash anywhere, and everyone was always quiet, being careful not to disturb the animals in their natural environment. One day we heard that there was a tigress who comes down to the stream to drink water between 5.15 and 5.30 every evening. We brushed away the story as another way to keep our hopes up. Especially since we hadn't seen a tiger for 1.5 days, we were starting to feel a little disappointed. So we took the chance and showed up at 5 to wait for the punctual tigress. And she did come - at exactly 5.20! And she walked right through the waiting safari jeeps. No one made a single noise - the feeling was almost spiritual to see a tiger in the wild, in its own habitat. It walked right through the waiting jeeps and clicking cameras and standing, hardly-breathing people! It barely gave us an acknowledgement. It seriously couldn't care who we were or what we were doing there. It headed straight for the tall grass and the water on the other side and lay down in the tall grass and she was gone as fast as she had appeared.

Our Beautiful Tigress:

We saw several other tigers while we were but the first one was the most memorable. We also saw lots of beautiful birds - vultures, hawks, eagles, owls, rollers, kingfishers. And lots of lovely foliage - most notably the bright green Sal trees and the lovely Mahua trees with their yellow intoxicating fruit.

Mahua Flowers

Elephant and Mahoot


The Langurs

The Kingfisher

Red Headed Vulture

Brown Fish Owl

I highly recommend Bandhavgarh and Madhya Pradesh to everyone who is remotely interested in nature. We are now addicted!