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Mezze is widely served in the Greek and Middle eastern world. An assortment of little dishes and tasters which accompany a nice ouzo or a glass of wine. So when you read mezze moments you will have tasty snippets of life as I live it, India for four years and now Brisbane Australia, all served up with some Greek fervour and passion.

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Monday, 27 June 2011

Season of plenty

All these months the heat and the dust have taken their toll on the country, dust covers everything, the grass is looking yellow and there is a general wilting affecting lettuces, humans and flowers.
Yet in all of this it seems that June is also the month of plentiful fruits and everywhere you go you encounter barrows piled high with delicious fruits ready to bring some sweet relief to parched palates. So where on the one hand we have the the heat's strength searing through everything, by the same token and a different strength we see its power to ripen and proliferate.

Mangoes, lychees, peaches and cherries from Kashmir, green young almonds which are delicious to crunch and apricots.Enjoy.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

The Shimla- Kalka Railway

This is my last blog about our trip to Shimla and it is about the railway. We left Shimla on the Shimla-Kalka train and it could not have been a sweeter descent through the cedar forests.The railway was completed in 1903 so it is over 100 years old and still going strong.
It resembles a toy train and is on a narrow gauge. It has 103 tunnels on its route,102 actually as no 46 was done away with. It toooooot toooots before it departs and it twists and turns through the mountains stopping at white washed stations with mediterranean blue trims and delightful names like Summer Hill and Barog the latter being the name of one of the engineers who tragically gave his life to the railway. The vistas are wonderfully soothing, going from dense cedar forest to spruce and pine and then as we approached the plain more Indian oak and big euphorbia, with terracing on various hillsides and little communities dotted about.The air changes from the cool fresh mountain air to the hotter drier air of the plains but the gradual descent allows for a more comfortable adjustment.

The journey from Shimla to Kalka was very affordable and took 4 1/2 hrs. On the day we travelled the train driver was retiring after 31 years of service so we had drums and dancing and he wore garlands of 10 Rupee notes which became more and more as we approached our destination.  It felt like a celebration all the way home.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Viceregal Lodge at Shimla

You can't visit Shimla without seeing the Viceregal Lodge so I am devoting a whole post to it. It must have been such an ambitious project for its time and it was executed succesfully in every respect.
This is India in the 1880's - not much mechanization and before the hugely important completion of the Kalka Shimla railway. That will be my next post.  Difficult terrain and harsh weather but Henry Irwin, the architect entrusted with building this, used local grey sandstone and teak wood and created a magnificent building in what is called a Scottish Baronial Style that is stunning to this day.
What makes it particulalry noteworthy is that this was the first place that had electricity in Shimla, hot and cold running water and even a system for collecting and storing rain water since perhaps surprisingly water is in short supply in these hill top towns. There were extensive terraced grounds, a huge ballroom, an indoor tennis court and elaborate kitchens. You walk in to this building and you cannot help but be awed by its construction and grandeur.
Its historical significance cannot be underestimated. This was the site of the Shimla Conference of 1945. More importantly in 1947 representatives of Congress, the Muslim League and the British sat around a small circular table in one of the rooms and decided the inevitable and irreversible partition of the sub-continent.
Since 1964 however it has been the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies and has flourished under the auspices of the government and many renowned researchers and fellows. The old ballroom is now a valuable library. Times move on, buildings stand firm, but all that goes on inside them is constantly evolving.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Wildflower Hall and the forest in Shimla

If you are looking for a special place to stay in Shimla go to Wildflower Hall. it is quite exceptionally beautiful.Others appreciated its unique location when it was built as a residence circa 1876.

A picture of the original house and one of the subsequent hotel.
The original house was burnt down and the second residence built was where Lord Kitchener stayed. He developed the extensive gardens but this house was demolished and a three story hotel was built which suffered a similar fate as the first and it was destroyed by fire in 1993. The present building was constructed in 1995 and is the perfect luxurious getaway from the summer heat of the city.The rooms are wonderfully comfortable, the staff is one of the best trained and most obliging I have met and the hotel is run by a charming couple who are very willing to share all of Shimla's charms with you.
The present day hotel
 The wildflowers in the garden
 The view from our room
 The wonderful jacuzzi and the view from its vanishing edge
 The beautiful indoor heated pool
 Some happy customers
 An even happier one. He stole the oranges from our room and then sat on the edge of the verandah and ate them greedily
Un unknown species
 A hedge blue seen on one of our walks
 The cedar forests are the most extensive in the Far East
 A giant Malabar Squirrel
Enjoying the views, the fauna and flora and the mountain air.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Shimla Town

This place so reminded me of my childhood when my father used to send us to a wooden cabin in the Troodos range of Cyprus for some of the summer months. We would while away the hours picking pine cones, going for walks in the woods, riding tame horses and putting on our finest for a walk and an ice-cream in the main square.
That is what Shimla town is like. A big plateau perched on pointy hillsides with stunning views in either direction with a grand central pedestrianized walk called the Mall full of eateries and tourist shops, hotels and restaurants. Christ Church is perched on the highest plateau together with statues of Indira and the Mahatma.
Indian tourists in their finery stroll with their children, they sit on benches and eat their chaat, they slurp at their ice-creams they gaze at others, so many others around them. Children take pony rides and eat candy floss and here is a joviality that is hugely missing from the daily Delhi density.
There is a mixture of old and new. The established hotels, the Cecil and Clarkes in the centre of town,  the old bakeries, the men carrying everything from gas cylinders, to sacks, to furniture strapped onto their backs. The Levis and Hilfiger stores and the modern sneakers and trainers hanging ready to go from shop fronts. My favourite of the town was the sweet shop with such enticing colours you just had to walk in and beg to be sweetened.
Clarkes Hotel in the Mall

 The shops in the Mall
This bakery was established in 1876 in the Raj Heyday.
A picture of the main square in fading light
 The sunset from the plateau
The enticing sweet counter