About Puneet Sidhu
Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu, travel enthusiast and the author of Adrift: A junket junkie in Europe is the youngest of four siblings born into an aristocratic family of Punjab. Dogged in her resistance to conform, and with parental pressure easing sufficiently over the years, she had plenty of freedom of choice. And she chose travel.
She was born in Shimla, and spent her formative years at their home, Windsor Terrace, in Kasumpti while schooling at Convent of Jesus & Mary, Chelsea. The irrepressible wanderlust in her found her changing vocations midstream and she joined Singapore International Airlines to give wing to her passion. She has travelled extensively in Asia, North America, Australia, Europe, South Africa and SE Asia; simultaneously exploring the charms within India.
When she is not travelling, she is writing about it. Over the past decade or so, she has created an impressive writing repertoire for herself: as a columnist with Hindustan Times, as a book reviewer for The Tribune and as a contributor to travel magazines in India and overseas. Her work-in-progress, the documenting of colonial heritage along the Old Hindustan-Tibet Road, is an outcome of her long-standing romance with the Himalayas.
Latest Posts by Puneet Sidhu
A rapidly increasing number of home-owners are welcoming visitors from across Asia–and abroad–into their homes and their lifestyle; for brief as well extended home-stays. Encouraged by the government, people are putting to good use their extra bedrooms by letting them out to discerning travellers willing to imbibe a culturally different way of life. A complete departure from the facility-rich albeit impersonal environs of a hotel, home-stays are indeed answering the home-away-from-home call.
The Mirage, Andretta
Typical home-stays require visitors to check into another’s house and life for the length of their stay, in exchange for respect for their timings, and pocket-friendly tariffs that may or may not include meals. Most of which are home-cooked and usually eaten with the host-family, who will be happy to accommodate dietary restraints if they have prior knowledge. A large number of travellers are happily lapping up this concept as it allows them a chance to experience local flavours through warm and hospitable families.
Home-stay properties dotting the length and breadth of the country include centuries’ old heritage homes, cottages in alpine solitude, colonial-era planters’ bungalows, restored royal mansions, modest yet clean village houses, well-appointed floors in modern homes; the list is endless. However, it is not so much the property that makes your stay worthwhile; in the end, it is the host family that extends the quality of experience.
Gunher a sleepy little hamlet just outside of Bir, Himachal Pradesh’s premier para-gliding destination, is set to witness an art exhibition of a singular nature. The culmination of a three-week residency comprising contemporary artists from India and abroad, Shop Art is the brainchild of Frank Schlichtmann. Owner of the local 4TABLES Cafe and Gallery, Frank has rented un-utilised village shops and invited a number of conceptual artists to occupy them as their studios during the residency.
These shops are currently doubling as the art spaces for an artist who makes installation art from scrap material, one who sculpts furniture from paper pulp, a low-cost, One Rupee Movie Theatre which will screen films made by the locals after a 21-day zombie/animation/sci-fi filmmaking workshop, and a make-shift radio station where a compilation of Gunher’s myths and legends, music, personal stories of the locals, will be broadcast live.
The final exhibition is expected to showcase the diverse work of the artists, feature live traditional and jazz concerts, movies about arts and artists, artists’ and handicraft stalls, performances, local dances, cuisine etc. If you find yourself in the neighbourhood don’t miss this event that promises to turn an entire village into what can only be called an arts mela for locals and visitors alike. And also to cheer on the efforts of community-minded individuals.
It all started in Egypt, I’m told, where acrobatics, balancing acts, rope walking and spectacles of human skill and daring were recorded as far back as 2500 BC. Though the circus (Latin for ‘circle’) as we know it today harks back to the amphitheatres of ancient Rome, devoted largely to chariot races, gladiator combat, animal slaughter, mock battles and similar blood sports. Of which the Circus Maximus was said to be the most spectacular.
Equestrian tricks became part of circus repertoire in the late 18th century courtesy one Philip Astley, who is also credited with inventing the performing ring. It was also during this period that this form of theatrical entertainment spread across Europe, including Russia under Empress Catherine. Come 19th century, America would take on the mantle of world leader in circus innovations; Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, the top act.
Recently, the Great Bombay Circus, one of India’s oldest circus troupes set up its ‘big top’ in Chandigarh. After going past it a zillion times over a month, I finally gave in to the child in me and showed up at the ticket counter. Accompanied by three youthful friends over sixty. That evening would count as one of the most nostalgic in recent times.
Bright lights, kitschy posters, cheery visitors and Bollywood music greeted us on arrival. It was heartening to see a swelling crowd and the seats were half full when we got there. I had forgotten though how grimy and dusty it can be, yet, the glittering attire of the performers outranked everything. As the evening progressed, it became evident that not much had changed in the tricks, acts or performances!
Other than the near absence of animals due to the growing clamour by activists to ban forcible instruction, and perhaps the inclusion of fire-eaters from Nigeria, the acrobats, jugglers, balancing acts, endurance skills, motor-biking, hula hooping were all there in their modern-day blingy avatars.
Just when you tell yourself it has no more surprises up its eat-street, Delhi directs your smugness towards yet another delish delight. This time, it was an unpretentious kiosk parked on a sidewalk near the Sundar Nagar Market, that simply called itself Kamal’s. At first attempt, we arrived at closing time (10.30 pm) and were shooed away; no amount of beseeching, cajoling or threats (hunger does have a way with reason) worked. Even as we sulked and skulked away, we knew we would return to partake another day. A buzzing full house (car-tops and tables on the pavement), and swiftly emptying vessels stood testimony to the popularity of its pure vegetarian grub.
The next time, we arrived early and found ourselves a vantage parking spot. No sooner, a youngster ran up to take our order, which also arrived after a palatable wait. A plateful of creamy paneer tikkas, specialty of the house, was wolfed down before we attacked a sumptuous tandoori platter. Never, and I repeat, never before have I relished tandoori cauliflower and mushroom tikkas as I greedily did that night, from the cramped insides of a car bursting with hungry people.
The main course was a mushroom-peas sabzi and ‘yellow’ dal accompanied by blistering hot tandoori rotis, alongside a symphony of Munching Moments! I noticed kadhi was a hot favourite, too, as were all manner of paneer preparations. But if you were to ask me, I’d say their tandoori platter is undoubtedly the piece de resistance. Fresh preparations, excellent flavouring and cooked to perfection. A must dining experience.
I was at the Kingdom of Dreams in Gurgaon earlier this month for an event that kept me otherwise occupied. Found the time, eventually, to take some photographs of India’s first live entertainment destination. Replete with sandstone elephants, betel-leaf shaped kiosks, giant mirrored plant motifs, and all manner of water bodies, it houses the Culture Gully – a contrived food-street under a sky dome suffused with twilight – and the hi-tech theatre, Nautanki Mahal.
It was in the latter, where I sat imbibing the classic colours, flavours, music, and theatrics of Zangoora, an imaginative reconstruction of a Bollywood song-and-dance routine, that it hit me. What I was viewing was not merely a Shiamak Davar choreographed performance enacted flawlessly by amazingly talented professional dancers. It was, indeed, the coming-of-age of Confident India. Shunning, refreshingly so, a penchant for choosing Western elements over things indigenous, it was a real delight being in the midst of a soiree that was so…so…well, Indian.
Nothing quite says “we are like this only” as does this Kingdom of Kitsch. A must-experience.
Managed a few hours with astonishing artworks at the India Art Fair while on on a visit to Delhi earlier this month. Let us walk the talk.
If wine, food and song is your idea of a fulfilling night-out, consider a visit to Oregano, the dinner-only Italian restaurant at the JW Marriot, Chandigarh. My last visit there found chef Antonello Cancedda in a mood to rustle up some off-menu treats.
The antipasto comprised of bruschetta topped variously with tomato, peppers and liver pate, and was served with the very versatile Riesling. The spinach ravioli in cheese sauce lightly drizzled with white truffle oil that followed was simply divine. As was the truly rustic olive oil and garlic rich spaghetti aglio e olio; in my mind the Italian equivalent of a searing hot roti smeared with desi ghee!
We abandoned a forgettable white wine for the ubiquitous Jacob Creek Shiraz Cabernet to pair with a round of balsamic risotto with chicken, which though delicious, was out-done by the vegetable-laden primavera risotto. Which, in turn, was completely out-ranked by the to-die-for tiramisu we were served as dessert with espresso coffee. Just as we began wrapping up the evening, along came a round of chilled limoncello, southern Italy’s traditional digestivo in the guise of a lemon flavoured liqueur.
Then, wait for it, a guitar-bearing gentleman, the chef himself. Here on, the evening took a distinctly musical turn as we joined his strumming and singing with our own tuneless versions of Chura Liya Hai and It’s Now Or Never. A delightful evening, no doubt. Just one niggling thought followed me home: whatever happened to Italian wines? I plan to find out when I return for the acid test of cucina Italiana, the carbonara.
With all the buzz about the Jaipur LitFest in the media, I couldn’t help recollecting my own attendance of it a couple of years ago. But I am mostly reminded of my subsequent visit to the Pink City. It was a leisure trip and I stayed at a delightful place called General’s Retreat.
A large sixties-look bungalow fronted by a large lawn, it is located on the Sardar Patel Marg, not too far from the railway station. Not that close either for it to be noisy or grimy. It is in fact in a lesser congested part of Jaipur and sits prettily and at a comfortable distance from all the main attractions of the city.
For those keen on quality ethnic wear and handicrafts, those attractions would include the outlets of Anokhi, Soma, Neerja International, and others of their ilk. After many hours of retail therapy, it was indeed very comforting to return to the well-appointed environs of the home-stay.
Replete with all the ingredients of a comfortable home-stay, it has the advantage of added privacy as the owners’ living quarters are at ground level, while guests are accommodated on the upper and mezzanine levels. Managed by the ever warm, welcoming and hospitable Ketaki Singh, one of the grand-daughters of the late General, who does however, assisted ably by her father Mr Bisht, run a tight ship.
Rightly described as a home away from home, the owners take their hosting duties very seriously and appreciate being met halfway by considerate guests. So the next time you find yourself in Jaipur, you may want to give this lovely home-stay a look-see.