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The Ninth Edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh tool participants on a 10-day adventure to some of the world’s highest motorable roads. “IT IS A MISTAKE TO…

The Ninth Edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh tool participants on a 10-day adventure to some of the world’s highest motorable roads.

“IT IS A MISTAKE TO BELIEVE that the crucial moments of a life when its habitual direction changes forever must be loud and shrill dramatics, washed away by fierce internal surges. This is a kitschy fairy tale started by boozing journalists, flashbulb-seeking film-makers and authors whose minds look like tabloids. In truth, the dramatics of a life-determining experience are often unbelievably soft. It has so little akin to the bang, the flash, of a volcanic eruption that, at the moment it is made, the experience is often not even noticed. When it deploys its revolutionary effect and plunges a life into a brand-new light giving it a brand-new melody, it does that silently and in this wonderful silence resides its special nobility.”

As I sit down to pen my journal from the ninth edition of the Mahindra Adventure Monastery Escape in Ladakh, a couple of weeks after returning to urban life , I’m reminded of Pascal Mercier’s wise words above from his gripping 2004 novel Night Train to Lisbon. And on the pretext of not belonging to the sensational cadre, the voyage to the enchanting valleys of the Himalayas now comes across as a subtly, yet deeply, life-changing experience; matter-of-factly, it didn’t accompany a figurative bang or a flash.
But before getting to that, let me first draw a picture of the adventure that the Monastery Escape was. The 10-day motorsport-standard event gives both Mahindra and non-Mahindra owners the chance to experience the terrains en route some of the world’s highest motorable roads. Flagged off from Delhi, the convoy of 26 expedition-ready vehicles reached Leh via Manali, Jispa and Tso Moriri, at the half-way mark in the drive. I was a part of the contingent that joined the convoy for the second part of the trip, which was slated to then travel higher up the Jammu & Kashmir mountains — we were already around 10,000 ft above sea level, FYI.

The eclectic mix of participants on the journey had folks from all walks of life sign up for this exciting expedition. From newly-married couples and gentlemen who became friends after meeting for the first time on the trip to petrolhead neurosurgeons and female drivers who expertly steered these brawny 4x4s through the journey, you couldn’t have asked for a wider variety of people. We were introduced to the convoy, at our accommodation — Hotel Shangri La in Leh — where we were garlanded with traditional white khadasks (like stoles), before heading out past the Potala Palace to the Thiksay monastery next morning.
At a distance of 19km to the east of Leh, the largest gompa in Central Ladakh offers stunning views — sit down for a brunch here and you can thank us later for the recommendation. Another great option for your mid-day meal could be the delectable thin crust pizzas baked in wood-fired ovens at the nearby eatery Cafe Cloud. Warning: The area doesn’t serve any non-vegetarian food on no moon days (Amavasya); so foodies please plan your visit accordingly.
My assumption that I’d already clicked the best possible photographs for my Instagram feed was dispelled the minute I stepped out from the hotel later that evening. The sight of the gorgeous dusky skies made it easier to walk uphill to the old town local bazaar which, at first sight, looks like any other ‘Mall Road’ from North India’s touristy hill stations. It’s when you tread deeper into its maze-like lanes that you actually discover the soul of the desert city. Locals help you find the best places for momos and thukpas — quite literally run out of domestic kitchens — and the tiny bakeries owned by Kashmiris from further up north, who introduce you to fascinating new bread varieties that people of the neighbourhood consume during the course of the day.
Fetch a few of these to accompany the piping hot tea from one of the popular tea shops back in the main market, and the dropping temperatures, prompted by Easterly winds, would feel like an old ally. Talking of bakeries, there are a few more well-established ones on the other end of the market. Amusingly, some might pride in branding themselves as German bakeries, but their bread rolls are actually not bad.

Back at the accommodation, all participants were greeted by a delightful cultural show before they retired to their rooms. Local performers showcased various dance and music forms of the region. The jabro, usually performed on festive occasions, had the men and women groove to the tunes of a flute and a regional percussion instrument called damman. The centuries-old DrugpaRches dance had everyone tapping their feet alongside the dancers.
Having acclimatised for two nights, we were raring to lay our hands on the SUVs on offer the next morning. Our friends from Mahindra Adventure had handed out AWD Scorpios to each set of participants while there was a Getaway pick-up truck, the all-alluring Thar and a brave KUV100 for the media. As climbed into the Getaway, some fellow (automobile) journalists were certain that the best part of the drive was already behind them. Little did they know what lay ahead.

As the convoy bunched up to head towards Khardung La Pass (K-Top), the highest motorable road in the world, we came face-to-face with some treacherous terrains. As if the climb all the way up to 18,380 ft wasn’t tricky enough, the journey down proved to be even more challenging. I could almost hear my butt say thanks when the car’s tyres finally hit tarmac over the sand dunes of Nubra Valley, after hours of struggle on broken (sometimes nonexistent) roads. The day’s efforts paid off with some more striking views awaiting us as we retired at our serene campsite, with the Diskit Monsatery watching over us.
The convoy was supposed to take the same route back to Leh, but we were fortunate enough to get necessary permissions from the authorities to drive around the other side of the mountain past the Shyok Valley, which is otherwise a protected wildlife area. The lunch halt on the rocky banks of the Shyok River has to be the highlight of my trip. In the company of only nature, the meal, though without anything fancy on the menu, could easily have been among the best ones of my entire life.
The testing drive, in the KUV, thereafter culminated in truly breathtaking views at the top of the snow-capped Warila Pass, located at a staggering 17,427 ft. While we were running out of oxygen due to the altitude, there was no shortage of inspiration among the service and medical teams of the convoy to iron out the creases in testing times.
The final stretch of my journey rolled in the Thar,with a kickass off roader behind the wheel. In addition, we also encountered road repair and construction activities being carried out by the Border Road Organisation, famously known as BRO, whose prominently quirky signboards kept us entertained en route to Leh.
At the end of this phenomenal adventure, which also happened to be my first visit to the state, I’d been on two of the world’s highest drivable roads, driven through snow, gravel and off-roaded to the best of an SUV’s capabilities. The 2017 Monastery Escape was an escapade that stayed true to its rugged nature and induced the most amounts of adrenaline in my body in the longest time.
While on the flight back to Mumbai the next morning, a retired Wing Commander, who was also a member of the convoy, occupied the seat next to mine. We discussed the challenges in taking off at high altitude and even the daunting beauty of the mountains. As the aircraft looked over the exquisite Himalayas through the clouds, in a dreamlike state, moments before dozing off, I heard the peaks echoing the contents of a cheeky BRO signboard – ‘Dear I like you, but not your speed.
And while the adrenaline levels have certainly gone down a fortnight after the trip, what has subconsciously stayed with me is the slow-paced spirit of the mountains that has enlightened me to step back and breathe; look at my inner demons in the eye and make peace with them, with a ‘wonderful silence.’



Devoted to Goddess Durga, the festival of Navratri symbolises the triumph of good over evil. Each of the nine days is dedicated to a specific form of goddess Durga and…

Devoted to Goddess Durga, the festival of Navratri symbolises the triumph of good over evil.

Each of the nine days is dedicated to a specific form of goddess Durga and begins with the performance of aarti. Devotees believe all their prayers will be answered especially during this auspicious festival. On the first three days of the festival, devotees pay reverence in different ways. On the first day, Durga is worshipped in the form of Shakti. This day also witnesses the growing of seeds and farmers closely watching them sprout. Goddess Parvati is worshipped on the second day to signify triumph of good over evil. The third day of Navratri is for Goddess Kali, who represents a mature woman. The fourth and fifth days are dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi when she is worshipped for wealth, prosperity and peace. The sixth day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati, the Goddess of learning. I saw many households collect books and place them in front of Goddess Saraswati, and pray for good education and success. On the eight and the ninth day, kanya puja is performed when nine young girls representing nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshipped. Many of my friends in Ahmedabad sast during Navratri as it is believed that the body’s immunity is at an all time low during this time. The main highlight of this festival is the folk dance of Gujarat called garba. A dance form that originated in Gujarat, it is mainly performed during the nine day festival of Navratri in Ahmedabad. Garba comes from the Sanskrit word garbh (womb). Many traditional garbas are performed around a lamp or a picture or statue of the Goddess Shakti. Modern garba is heavily influenced by DandiyaRaas, a dance traditionally

There is an air of festivity, pomp and gaiety during Navratri when the city of Ahmedabad comes alive in a myriad hues. I am not from the city and am visiting friendsduing the festival. So I am all the more delighted to see the streets drenched in colour, and shops full of colourful costumes and ornaments. People are busy shopping for the nine nights of Navratriperformed by men. This is a highenergy dance that is seen at most venues in Ahmedabad. Many lawns and clubs in the city host DandiyaRaas which sees people from all walks of life dance away through the night. It was amazing to see both men and women dance away, decked in colourful costumes. Women wear ghaghracholis — a three-piece dress decorated with beads, shells, mirrors, stars, and embroidery work and paired with a choli. The choli is teamed with a ghagra — a flared, skirt-like bottom and dupatta, which is usually worn in a traditional Gujarati manner. The men were wearing a short round kurta, pyjamas above the knees and pagadis made of bandhinidupatta. The women adorned themselves with jhumkas (earrings), necklaces, bindi, kamarbandh, payal and mojiris. It was a colourful sight to behold.



The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepawali, brings cheer and warmth to Indian households as it symbolizes the victory of light (goodness) over darkness (evil). But as I was to…

The festival of lights, Diwali or Deepawali, brings cheer and warmth to Indian households as it symbolizes the victory of light (goodness) over darkness (evil).

But as I was to discover, nowhere is the “Festival of Lights” celebration as opulent as in the Pink City of India, Jaipur. Maybe because Jaipur is largely a trader’s city, and the auspicious occasion is used to honour the icon of prosperity and wealth, Goddess Lakshmi. I noticed all the Rajasthani royal lavishness coming to life during the Diwali days, with the city going berserk over sweets, lighting and festive cheer. Since times immemorial, Jaipur has followed a tradition of observing a fiveday Diwali celebration. It starts with Dhanteras on day one, Roop Chaudas on day two, Lakshmi Puja on day three, Govardhan Puja on day four and Bhai Duj on day five. I could see the aura of celebrations in every corner of the city during these days, be it the majestic Amer fort, or the busy streets of Johari Bazaar. Marigold garland vendors lined up on the pavements to sell their vibrant wares that were decked up in households in the traditional style for the festive days. The delicious aroma of sweets such as Mawa Kachori’, TilLaddoo and Piste ki Launj made one want to indulge in the rich culinary life. The quintessential markets of Nehru Bazar and Bapu Bazar bustled with vivid buntings and flashy lightings, a must-have for home décor. No Rajasthani celebration is complete without a religious and spiritual immersion, and the Diwali Maha-Arati is sure to take you on a spiritual ride. Sri Ramchandra Mandir in Chandpole Bazaar is one of the historically important temples built by the wife of ruler Sawai Ram Singh II. Dedicated to Lord Ram, it is a great place to witness the Diwali Maha Aarti. The fact that it is one of the few temples depicting “Ram Darbaar” or the “Court of Lord Ram” on its wall paintings, makes it special. But Diwali here is not just for the ardent worshippers, it holds something for everyone. In fact, the festive atmosphere takes on a grander aura with the Deepotsav festival being organized by the Rajasthan Tourism Department Corporation over the past few years. The ‘JalmahalkiPaal’ comes alive with traditional Rajasthani decoration as Diwali props, hangings, lights and rangolis woo one and all. A number of Rajasthani performances elevates the festive mood as dancers and singers rejoice to the tunes of the Kalbeliya dance, chakri dance, chari dance and other traditional dances. Jaipuri songs add a touch of melody. Amazing fireworks displays are the typicalculmination of this extravaganza, making the young and old alike truly invoke the festive mood. I have seen Diwali in many Indian cities. But what makes the festival in Jaipur stand out is the large-scale lightings and decorations. Many localities organize a contest and the best lit and best decorated residential area is even presented an award. Jaipuris put their heart and soul into decking up their homes and establishments, and this has built a tradition of “decor-watching”. Nights are a fun outing, as families flock to the best-lit monuments to enjoy the majestic illuminations. The JalMahal appears resplendent, with its shimmers reflecting off the waters of the Man Sagar Lake. The HawaMahal glows with the light of a thousand candles, a surreal sight indeed. We took a drive up to the lit-up Nahargarh fort – it offered fabulous panoramic views of the city, glittering like gold. Other must-visit landmarks to soak in the lively splendour are New Gate, Bari Chopar, Chaura Rasta, City Palace, World Trade Park, Akshardham temple and GovindDevJi temple. Shopping is an integral part of Diwali in Jaipur, which is known for its bustling markets full of life. Johari Bazaar is amongst the most popular jewellery markets, and people let loose their shopaholic side on the occasion of DhanTeras, an auspicious day for investing in gold. With the wedding season just around the corner, Diwali is a great time to indulge in one’s shopping cravings.



Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month,Khushboo Gautam, Cabin Crew, holds forth on Jaipur. Connection to the city:…

Our ongoing series in which we look at various Indian cities through the eyes of SpiceJet staffers. This month,Khushboo Gautam, Cabin Crew, holds forth on Jaipur.

Connection to the city: I have stayed in many Indian cities but my best memories are associated with the Pink City – my family hails from here and I have spend considerable time in Jaipur.

Best thing about Jaipur: The city is very rich in culture and heritage. It is one of the few cities of India which is a feast to the eyes with its wellpreserved glimpses of history. Jaipur was among the first planned cities in the country. The world’s largest free literary festival takes place here. Jawahar Circle is claimed to be the biggest circular park in India. Great metro connectivity, amazing food, shopping and tourist attractions are other wonderful things about my city.

Favourite eating place: My personal favourite eating place is Bar Palladio Jaipur located within the beautiful NarainNiwas Palace Hotel. Out here, I love the dish for which Jaipur is famous — DaalBaatiChurma.

SPICEJET - Places to TravelBest places to hang out: There is an open air restaurant called Padao in Nahargarh. When the weather is perfect, you can get an amazing view of Jaipur city from here, especially during the night time. Local attractions: The best tourist attractions in Jaipur that I can reel off right away are HawaMahal, City Palace, Nahargarh Fort, Sisodia Rani Garden, JalMahal, Amber Fort, Jaigarh Fort and Nahargarh Sanctuary. Each is unique in its own way and has made a mark on the world tourism map.

Recommended places nearby: Among the interesting places nearby is the Neemrana Fort-Palace, a 15th century wonder on the Delhi-Jaipur highway. India’s largest inland salt lake, the Sambhar Salt Lake, is located only 96 km from Jaipur. At a similar distance is Abhaneri village, famous for its Chand Baoristepwell and Harshat Mata temple.

SPICEJET - Places to TravelThe people of Jaipur: There’s still a lot of bonding between neighbours — you can catch up with them over evening tea. Children help out during weddings, festivals and family functions. Overall, people here are helpful and down-toearth. Jaipur when compared to other cities: I come from a defence background, and hence have visited and stayed in a lot of places like Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Pune and Kota. But Jaipur is the gem of India

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Fish Curry with mixed spices including gamboge. IT’S WHAT KOKUM is to Konkani cuisine, aamchur to north India and tamarind to the rest; and yet, the role of gambooge or…

Fish Curry with mixed spices including gamboge.

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IT’S WHAT KOKUM is to Konkani cuisine, aamchur to north India and tamarind to the rest; and yet, the role of gambooge or kodampulli, which is perhaps one of the oldest known spices of the culinary world, both as a herb and a spice, is much complicated than its peers. Part of its exception comes from its own properties – rich in hydroxycitric acid and garcinia, it can treat a slew of conditions that range from obesity to oedema. Much like its medicinal peers, triphila or even kokum (with which it is often confused because of the similar taste profile), gambooge cannot be consumed in its fruit avatar, which looks like a beautiful pumpkin but is far sour than any human palate can tolerate and needs to be manipulated by first sun drying and then smoking. This, says Chef SabyasachiGorai (FabricaBySaby), gives the spice not only its unique taste character and complication, but also that bitterness with an extra hint of tanginess, which makes it an amazing choice to balance out dishes. Concurs Chef SandeepSreedharan, who uses gambooge in a variety of ways but is rather fond of the cocktail he prepares as a palate cleanser for his special sit-down menus. “The beauty of this rather not-sopretty ingredient,” he says “is its complicated flavour profile. You have to really work more with this spice to understand how beautifully it can lend itself to the dish — be it fish or otherwise — along with the back of the palate smokiness.” An excellent example of how differently it can influence a dish taste, while balancing all its flavours is the Pandi Curry and the famous Kerala Red Fish Curry, even sambar and rasam. No surprise then that kodumpulli is one of the essentials in any Kerala home, especially, says Deccan cuisine specialist Chef Arun Kumar TR (Zeaside), “in Syrian Christian cooking, where it is used to make all kinds of fish and pork dishes, and even sweet coconut milk-based beverages too. The Hindu community of Kerala also is fond of this smoky spice, and pairs it with tomatoes or tamarind to maximize the taste.” Tamarind in fact, add experts, was once a substitute for thisspice, which is considered a close cousin of kokum and can be as versatile. In fact, according to old trade ledgers and Ayurvedic cooking practices, kodampulli was used across meals and sweet beverages served in the port stations to traders arriving and departing to their country. It was then, say historians, “considered to be the magical pill that could cure everything and work the body’s immunity system to take on the vagaries of the sea.” Of course, its popularity back then was not always for its healing properties, but also the smokiness that made every dish breathtaking. Folklore has it that dishes and beverages made of kodampulli were so appealing to the visiting traders that many merchants staying back decided to take it up as one of the main ingredients in their cooking, the Syrian Christian community being chief among them. Kodumpulli’s versatility, adds Chef Gorai, “especially when it was paired with tamarind, kokum, coconut milk or even fragrant herbs and later chillies too, was one of the main reasons that it was so widely used across coastal plains. And good kodampulli, like any other herb, was considered a prize possession.” After all, it could treat any form of intestinal infections and even help lose weight. The recent rediscovery and realization of its properties has also made it a darling of the medicine world, where it is now widely used. Even today, the making of a good kodampulli, adds Chef Kumar, “depends on how well you have smoked the berry fragments. Done well, one can actually bite into a sliver of the spice-herb without cringing and can taste the bitterness and the smokiness quite well.” Interestingly, smoking herbs was a technique used in Ayurveda and Rasayana (the art of cooking) developed on the lines of creating dishes that work to heal and rejuvenate the body. However, kodampulli was an exception since its addition, when and how, made a lot of difference. If you leave it longer for instance, says Chef Kumar, “or in a larger quantity than required, there is a good chance that the food can turn bitter, even unpalatable. And what’s interesting is that the dish is not really repairable, unlike tamarind, which is a malleable flavourant.” This could explain why most dishes that are cooked with gambooge follow a strict guideline and it is advised, says Chef Kumar, “to start by using the juice instead of the cured fruit directly to get a good understanding of how the flavours work.”

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Recipe and image courtesy Curry Tales/SandeepShreedharan


  • Surmai/Rawas 400 gm
  • Coconut oil 4 tbsp
  • Onion, chopped 2 tbsp
  • Ginger, chopped 2 tsp
  • Garlic, chopped 2 tsp
  • Green chillies, slit in half 4 nos
  • Tomatoes 2 nos
  • Red chilli powder 1 tsp
  • Turmeric powder 1 tsp
  • Kodumpulli 4 nos
  • Curry leaf 1 sprig
  • Salt To taste


  • Coconut, grated 1 cup
  • Whole cumin 1 tsp


  • Saute onion, ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Once the ingredients start sweating, add red chilli powder, turmeric powder, the coconut paste and tomatoes.
  • Cook for a minute or two, and then add two cups of water and add salt.
  • Once the ingredients are well incorporated, add the kodumpuli. and let it simmer for five minutes.
  • Add the fish pieces and slow cook for another five minutes.
  • Before turning off the heat, drizzle the coconut oil and a few curry leaves. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving it with rice.
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Dance performances happen in every religion, culture and in places all over India. These are great opportunities to make good pictures and to hone your skills. There are a variety…

Dance performances happen in every religion, culture and in places all over India.

These are great opportunities to make good pictures and to hone your skills. There are a variety of situational problems that you are bound to encounter. Yet, following a few simple practices can ensure that even your first attempt gets you some fantastic results.

1. KNOW THE DANCE FORM : Practised, repeated movements and expressions are a part of any dance performance. In a dance, fluid motion often ends in static, momentary poses. If you know when and how the action will occur, you will be better prepared to capture it. It always helps to have seen the dance form on television, at other live shows, or during the onstage dress rehearsals.
2. GET PERMISSIONS WELL IN ADVANCE: Dress rehearsals give you the chance to shoot without the constraints that accompany the actual performance. After the rehearsal, you can request the dancer to enact a posture or an expression. Backstage, the drama before the dress rehearsals is not just exciting, but offers an unlimited variety of pictures.
3. MASTER YOUR EQUIPMENT: Inside an auditorium, the dim lights will not allow you to see the camera controls. You need to preset your camera according to the expected conditions and know your gear well enough to change settings quickly, in the dark.
4. KNOW THE CAPABILITIES OF YOUR LENS: A standard zoom lens is great for capturing group performances. You will need focal lengths of 200mm for fulllength shots. You may require lenses up to 300mm for capturing facial expressions. Be prepared for problems associated with the kind of lenses that you have, from shallow depth-of-field to non-availability of large apertures, to camera shake caused by the weight of your lens. A light tripod or a monopod is always a great help.
5. THE VANTAGE POINT IS CRUCIAL: Choose your position well to avoid distractions like banners and stage lights entering your lens, which may happen despite the use of a lens hood. A low vantage point from the foot of the stage can help avoid these distractions and heighten the mood in your pictures. If you can get permission to shoot from the wings of the stage, it will give your pictures a perspective that none in the audience would have seen.

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6. COPING WITH LOW LIGHT: Flash photography is usually prohibited because it disturbs the artistes. In this situation, large aperture lenses are useful. Do not be afraid to boost the ISO to get the required shutter speed. Even images shot at ISO 3200 can give you good-looking, medium-sized prints.
7.  SHOOT IN RAW, USE SHUTTER PRIORITY: It is more important to time yourself and release the shutter at the perfect moment rather than bother about technicalities. In the Shutter Priority mode, you only need to control the shutter speed. Use Center Weighted or Spot Metering, if your camera allows you to. Leave settings like ISO and WB to Auto. Shoot in RAW to recover details while post-processing.
8. POETIC BLURS OR FROZEN ACTION?: Sharpness is vital in pictures in which you want to show the delicacy of an expression or a posture, or the energy of a dancer in mid-air. Shutter speeds of 1/250sec or faster can help freeze the action. On the other hand, you can use shutter speeds from 1–1/20sec for creative blurs that capture the sheer beauty of the dancer’s movement. Blurs work better if the performers are wearing colourful costumes and if the background is dark.
9. MOVEMENT, EXPRESSIONS AND FORM: Great dancers experience moments of truth. As a photographer, keep in mind the three cornerstones of dance – movement, expressions and form, while you concentrate on capturing these moments of sheer joy and abandon.
10. MORE THAN APPRECIATE, KNOW: Finally, the best photographs come from knowing and feeling the passion and obsession that drives the artistes to spend decades in perfecting their art. Almost any camera can do a good job if you use it well. Dance photography sharpens your sense of timing and the speed with which you react. More than this, it teaches you to appreciate the poetry of the human body.

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• Rapturous moments of expression lend themselves naturally to telling pictures.
• Coloured gelatines used on spotlights sometimes lend accents to postures and costumes.
• Go for the moments of truth. Statuesque poses are passé. Body language and expressions convey so much more.
• Lighting situations can continuously keep changing. Watch out for distracting shadows and wait for the dancers to turn towards the light.
• One may reach the soul of the dancer when your lens meets the dancer’s eye. Look for these opportunities.
• Look for moments when the ecstasy of the dancer is projected through their body posture and movement.
• Capture billowing costumes and drapes to show off the dancer’s energy and motion.
• Get your pictures to bring out the power of the dancer’s movement. Do not kill the tonal values with flash or WB settings.
• The rendition of mood depends on how you capture and convey the spirit of the performer.



Connection to the city: I am originally from Pune and have been brought up in the city. Best thing about Pune: Its pleasant climate, greenery all around and cool breezy…

Connection to the city: I am originally from Pune and have been brought up in the city. Best thing about Pune: Its pleasant climate, greenery all around and cool breezy evenings. Life here is peaceful. It is a small city so you don’t have to commute much for work. You get plenty of time to spend with your family or to visit close friends and relatives. Pune is a major educational centre. In addition, there are plenty of job opportunities here thanks to its many IT and BPO companies.
Favourite eating place: I am a big foodie. My favourite eating place is Cafe 1730 located in Serene Bay, Koregaon Park. I like the place for its amazing food, great service and live music. It is famous for Continental and Goan food. My favourite here is Mix Meat Lasagne. The dish is made with several layers of lasagne sheets and exciting sauces.
Best places to hang out: There is an active night scene here. The best places are Mi-a-Mi at JW Marriot in West Pune, as well as Swig and Mix@36, both in Koregaon Park.
Local attractions: I would recommend the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum, a three-storey structure housing rare artifacts; the 125-year-old palatial Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi was incarcerated by the British; the Rajiv Gandhi Zoological Park (popularly known as Pune Zoo), spread over 130 acres and home to 362 species of animals, of which 147 are endangered; and the Osho Garden, a beautiful 12-acre park created from former wasteland.

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Recommended places nearby: There are many well-known hill stations near Pune like Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani and Lonavala-Khandala.
Pune when compared to other cities: I have stayed in Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru but Pune is a much better place because of its bracing climate, especially during the monsoons. Pune is the cultural capital of Maharashtra. The tree cover here is extensive and I will have no hesitation in calling Pune the Green Capital of India. That alone makes it a lovely place to stay in.

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WHAT IS COMMON TO BHUT JOLOKIA, Byadagi, Bird Eye, Jwala, Guntur and Kanthari? All of them are varieties of red chilli – the spice you may love or hate but can never ignore. “Chillies are integral to Indian cooking and most of us Indians have developed stomachs of steel having grown up eating chillies. Used in almost every dish, it’s a major commercial cash crop in our nation and though the chilli arrived in India only in the 16th century, it has now become synonymous with our cuisines,” says Swadeep Popli, Owner, The Chatter House, New Delhi.
Red Chilli is mostly used in three forms: fresh red, dried red and powdered red. Kashmiri chillies are mild and therefore one of the most popularly used variants across the country. “Guntur chillies from Andhra Pradesh add heat due to their high spice quotient. Dhani or Bird Eye chillies from North India are commonly used for cooking, pickling and in the preparation of chutneys. Naga chillies are one of the hottest in the world. Mundu chillies from Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh enhance flavour. Jwala chillies from Gujarat are a very popular variant and are used extensively in home-style cooking. The unique and flavoursome Kanthari chillies from Kerala are pale when ripe and mature. Karnataka’s Byadagi dry chillies are long and thin, and are very similar to paprika,” says Chef Subrata Debnath, Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon. Sunil Agarwal, Director, Kraft Appliances, adds, “Punjabi and Rajasthani cuisines are well-known for their spicy food and using red chillies in abundance. Red chillies are dried or pickled in order to store them for a longer period of time. They are also used extensively for making sauces which are used to add spice to other dishes.”

India is the largest producer of red chillies in the world besides being the largest exporter and consumer of the same. “Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of chillies in India with more than five of the 18 to 20 chilli types in India as identified by The Spices Board of India. Our country boasts of multiple regional cuisines and the food taste varies literally from one state to the other. So, depending on the state cuisine, the chillies are used accordingly,” says Chef Ravi Saxena, Corporate Chef, Dhaba By Claridges, which operates restaurants in Bengaluru, Gurgaon and Hyderabad.
Apart from being used as a tempering, there are several dishes that use red chillies as the main ingredient like Rajasthani Lal Maas, Awadhi Mirchi Korma and Goan Pork Vindaloo. Satyajit Kotwal, GM, The Resort Hotel, Mumbai, explains, “Chillies are used widely for pickling purpose. Whole/chopped red as well as green chillies are used along with other spices to make them into delicious pickles. Also, dishes are made using whole chillies – it could be Mirch ka Salan or Mirch ka Pakoda.”
India cooks with chillies that have always been known as ingredients that add spice to Indian food. “In ready-to-eat salads, chaats or chutneys, fresh red chillies give a great aroma and taste. However if my recipe calls for cooking chillies then I prefer using powdered option when I need velvety texture in my curries and crushed dry chillies when using for tempering or making a dry preparation,” says Chef Akshay Nayyar, Co-owner, Kopper Kadai, Bengaluru.

SpiceJet hot meal
Most of them are fiery in nature but chillies score high on their health benefits. This is primarily due to a chemical called capsaicin. This chemical is well-known for its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and heart-healthy benefits. “Also, chillies are rich in antioxidant carotenes and flavonoids – they have about twice the amount of vitamin C found in most citrus fruits. The heating nature of chillies is associated with their ability to stoke the digestive fire so chilli powder is often added to buttermilk and consumed to boost appetite and strengthen digestion. They are great for speeding up the metabolism and thus, would be really helpful to those trying to lose weight,” says Shivangi Chatterji, an Ayurvedic Expert at
If you have a headache due to cold, mix a little chilli paste with sandalwood paste to make a fast-acting, pain relieving poultice. Diabetics can benefit from this spice by mixing a few drops of chilli oil with isabgol (psyllium husk) and consuming it twice a day. This also helps those with bacterial infections such as UTIs. Navin Kacherla, owner of The Charcoal Kitchen, Mumbai, avers, “A good quantity of red chillies added to food can be a good source of Vitamin C. However, an excess of it can cause acidity and heart burn. Indian food without red chilli often misses the essence of flavours required.” Tanu Arora, Head of Department, Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics, Aakash Healthcare, adds, “Red chillies have rich contents like Vitamin C and Provitamin A. It also helps in clearing the congestion of stuffed noses and congested lungs.”
Chillies are the heart and soul of different cuisines across India – they are cultivated in different parts of the country, and are one of the most important ingredients in Indian recipes. “Fresh green or red chillies are used in salads and pickles and are also ground to a paste, for various marinades. Dried and roasted red chillies are commonly used for tempering curries while the ground red chili powder is used to enhance flavours of curries,” says Chef Saurabh Udinia, Chef de Cuisine – Modern Indian, Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd.
Chillies are known as the queen of spices and have a lot more to offer apart from just adding spices. Executive Chef Anil Dahiya, The Bristol Hotel, Gurgaon, advises, “Each palate has a distinct level of tolerance for spice; use your judgment to increase or reduce the quantity of chilli pepper in your food as suited to you and your family. Children don’t have a well-developed spice palate; like all other foods, it helps to introduce spices in small amounts from a young age to build their liking for flavours.”
Excessive usage of red chillies can not only make a dish unfit but can also become bitter and excessively spicy if overused. Chef Paul Kinny, Shizusan Shophouse & Bar, Mumbai, advises, “While making red chilli paste, add vinegar instead of water as this will increase the shelf life and add a tangy taste to the paste. While tempering the chilli be careful not to burn it as it could ruin the entire dish.”
Vikas Kumar, Executive chef, Flurys, Park Street, Kolkata, adds, “One of the most important things to understand about red chilli is the fact that it can vary a lot in its hotness/ spiciness and must be used with extreme care and restraint. There really is no way to balance a dish that has turned to be too spicy due to the use of the chilli and there is also no way to add extra chilli once a dish is ready, since it requires a certain cooking technique.”
Chef Milan Gupta, Cafe Haqq Se, Mumbai, has the final word when he says, “Never add too much chilli in the beginning in the recipe as the oil released from it will take some time before it permeates evenly through the dish.”


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