This year we spent the Valentine Day at Suraj Kund Crafts Mela, an annual fair of delightful handlooms, handicrafts, folk performances and good food.
The fair is held at Surajkund (Faridabad) in February for two weeks and was first held in 1981. It is the largest craft fair in the world.
Each year the decor is based on a theme highlighting a particular craft. This year it is Jharkhand state. It is a celebration of India’s unique diversity of traditions and culture.
The multi-cuisine Food Courts provides ethnic cuisines from all over the India. Folk artists performances are also a big hit with crowds.
I probably chose a wrong day, Valentine’s Day to visit as the mela was full of students who had bunked classes to find their soulmate in the dusty lanes of the mela. Haryana Chief Minister has announced today, that henceforth it will be a bi-annual event. Hope he also increase the ticket price to keep the “hoodlums” out.
We all would have consumed Gur (jaggery) in one form or the other, either just like that or in some sort of sweet.
Gur is an unrefined natural product of sugarcane. It is a brown raw mass of sucrose and gets its colour, brown due to the presence of other elements than sucrose, namely wood ash and bagasse. The later is used in preparation of paper. Gur is a more healthier option than sugar, which is a refined form of sucrose.
It is mostly for human consumption, apart from making alcoholic drinks and Ayruveda medicines. It is quite popular in South East Asia, Latin America, North Africa ad Caribben Islands. India accounts for more than 60% of world’s jaggery production but Brazil is the major exporter. Apart from India, it is produced in Brazil, Thailand, Australia, Germany and Mexico.
Khusinagar in Uttar Pradesh has the largest number of Gur making units and in most places in India it is still made in the traditional way.
I wonder how many of us know how it is made from the Sugarcane juice. In the attached video (shot on Jhajjar Rohtak highway) you can see that first sugarcane juice is extracted which flows in a series of pits. It is here that all impurities are removed by mixing chemicals and boiling it.
Once it is thickened it is then left to set. Once done small lumps are removed, dried and stored.
The quality of the Gur is judged by its colour, brown means higher in impurities and golden means cleaner and better quality.
It was a cold Sunday morning when we drove to Dighal Wetlands via Basai from Gurgaon, a distance of 62 kms. At 6 am in the morning there was hardly any traffic on the road but plenty of fog in fields adjoining the Jhajjar Rohtak highway. It took us about an hour and a half to reach.
After a quick cup of “chai” at a local chaiwallah in Dighal, where we also met our local Bird Guide, Rakesh Ahlawat, we started our journey to watch birds. Rakesh Ahlawat is a local boy, so who better to show us around.
Dighal is a village in District Jhajjar surrounded by a number of natural water bodies making it a favourite destination for a large species of migratory birds. For once it was nice to see locals actually taking interest in the conservation of wildlife.
The wetlands here do not have big trees except for tall grass or small bushes on which these birds rest. It is definitely one of the less traveled birding destination but it is more beautiful than Sultanpur and probably has more birds in season. We spent about 4-5 hours and left very happy.
Last Saturday, I joined a silent walk in the Bio Diversity Park, Gurgaon.
For the uninitiated it is a walk in wilderness to experience the magic of nature and enjoy a few moments of calm and quiet. There is no agenda nor any talk, just the company of nature.
These walks stared in countries like South Korea and Japan where people walked in forests with the aim of discovering and experiencing the healing powers of nature.
It is quite a new phenomenon in India but there is a bit of difference here.
Unlike South Korea and Japan, here they tend to be more of a family affair since these walks are held over the weekends. Another difference is that Indians find it difficult to walk quietly, but it is still an excellent way of discovering the powers of the forests to heal and connect with likeminded people.
It has been scientifically proven that when we spend time in nature, our brain behaves differently. It affects how we feel and think, directly impacting our immunity.
Such an activity is very good for people who like to spend time together in a natural settings to release stress, experience beauty and improve their mood.
The ideal place for such walks would be where there isn’t traffic and where you can walk slowly, like a forest trail or on the beach. During the walk if you pass on another person you should greet them simply by nodding or smiling and spend time with your companion without uttering a word. On the way since your full attention is on walking you find some very interesting plants, trees and objects.
Last Sunday Chicken came calling. Though I am not particularly fond of Chicken, I joined a group of friends and landed at a newly opened, very talked about place in Gurgaon called Baba’s Chicken, on the Golf Course Road.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not a vegetarian but feel much more comfortable with animals bigger than a chicken, with mutton being an all time. Truth be told, I joined them because I was promised that mutton too was on the menu. One of our friends was able to swing a rather favourable deal with their parent outlet in Ludhiana and the meal was paid for (disclaimer).
We started with Baba’s famous tandoori chicken followed by fried fish with tartar dip (in a typical Punjabi style) and tandoori fish tikka with green chutney. The green chutney was a real piece of art and I have to admit it was the best I have tasted so far. The fried fish, was not what everybody serves in the town, Basa.
The tandoori fish was even better with just a small taste of masala. I didn’t find the chicken too “hot” but that could be due to my personal non-preference with it. The dip accompanying the fish was Punjabi style mayo.
In the main course we tried their signature dish Baba butter chicken, Rarha meat and Baba lemon kali mirch chicken. Both the butter chicken and lemon chicken were good with a very different yellow buttered gravy, likes of which I had not tried before with succulent pieces of chicken (not tandoori) as you would expect them to be.
The Rara meat was surprisingly low on spices which I found really excellent and made me think why they should not call themselves Baba’s mutton rather than chicken. But later I figured out that the their current name gives them better mileage in their home town, Ludhiana.
The star of the day however was Keema naan and it was something to die for. If you ever visit it, no you must visit it for the Keema nan. I promise you will not be disappointed.
Thank you Avneet and Preeti (Team Baba) for taking so good care of us.
Right from the morning, Saturday was a bit cloudy. The weatherman had predicted continuous rain though out the day, but somehow the weather Gods slipped and it did not rain in Gurgaon though it remained cloudy.
In the afternoon one of my friends invited me to join a Food Walk in Old Gurgaon. I was eager to go but was worried about water logging, if it rains? I was told by my friend, don’t worry, we will include a stop at the local Pakorewallah (some rain management).
So finally seven of us, with the youngest being 11 years set out on a Food Walk. As we entered Sadar Bazar, we realised that it was brimming with more people than it is on a weekend, due to Rakshabandhan plus a 3 day weekend with Independence Day. Further spice was added by an ISKCON yatra in the old city.
Our first stop was, D K Chaat Bhandar, right under the big Hanuman murti. We asked for Aloo tikkis, which they serve with a generous helping of Saunth, green chutney, and masala. Crushed papdi are sprinkled over the tikki and garnished with curd. I asked mine to be made extra crisp, with no dahi on my tikkis. The tikki wasn’t phenomenal but had a unique taste to it, may be because of crushed Papdi and the masala. This was followed by around of Golgappas, though I did not join the gang.
Next stop was Sardar Jalebi wallah. This shop has been in Gurgaon for the last 66 years, since 1950 to be exact. The shop is gloomy to say the least with only a few white wash coats since opening, but who is complaining. Sardarji continues to dig hot and piping Jalebis from his kadhai, for the ever hungry people who surround him.
After the sweet Jalebis, came the famous Samosas from Kishu di Hatti or KDH as Gurgaonwalas popularly refer to it. Being a weekend he had run out of chole so we had to do with meethi chutney and dahi over our Samosas.
The last stop was Mangle di kulfi. Though he now offers many flavours of ice creams too but I stuck to the good old Kesar Pista Kulfi. The ISKCON yatra had thrown the city traffic in a total mess, so we had to get out of the old city and miss Panditji’s Pao Bhaji.
As part of a social media Group, Let’s Walk Gurgaon, every Saturday, we go for morning walks to unexplored green areas in and around Gurgaon. There’s no pleasure that equals an early morning walk.
Today we went to Ghata village which is in Gurgaon tehsil and is one of 38 villages in Gurgaon Block.
Over the years we have seen how urbanisation is destroying the green cover around Gurgaon. Even earlier all these areas around Gurgaon were plagued by illegal mining, which was stopped after the Supreme Court order. But even today we find some aberrations in the Haryana Government’s claim that illegal mining has stopped. During the monsoons rain water accumulates in the mining pits giving it a shape of a lake, which attracts animals like the Nilgai (the blue bull) and lots of different kind of birds.
The weather today was awesome with gentle cool breeze blowing which made it another memorable walk for us.
Last Friday night I attended a Qawwali festival from the courtyard of Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya in Bio Diversity Park, Gurgaon. The event was orgainsed by Rumi’s Kitchen, iamgurgaon (NGO) and MCG. After the introductions of Qawwals by Rathhin Mathhur, Chief Bawarchi of Rumi’s kitchen it was a truly divine experience throughout the evening.
Khawja Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, a saint of the chisti order was born on 09 Oct 1236 in Badayun. His mother, Hazrat Bibi Zulaikha made sure that Khawjaji got the very best of education. Fortunately, she was with him till her very end. On her death bed she told Khawjaji that now she was leaving him in care of God.
Khawjaji was very close and fond of one of his disciples, Hazrat Amir Khusro and was ecstatic to hear him sing the praise of the lord.
Amir Khusroji wrote in a very simple style in the language of the ordinary people. He was the first to create a fusion of Persian, Arabic, Turkish and indian music in the late 13th century, and called it Qawwali. He trained singers in signing qawwalis and called them Qawal Bachche. There are 8 members in a qawwali party including a lead singer. The musical instruments comprise of harmoniums, percussion instruments such as tabla, dholak and banjo. There is also a chorus of 4-5 men who clap and repeat key verses.
Qawwali has been with us for over 700 years as a form of Sufi devotional music. It is extremely popular in south east Asia. Initially it was performed mainly at Sufi shrines or dargahs but since it received immense popularity the qawwals started performing in public performances too. Some took it international, the main among them being the late Pakistani singer Nusrat Fateh Aki Khan. Other famous Qawwals from are Pakistan’s Sabri brothers, Bahauddin Qutubddin and Aziz Mian.
While in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Turkey it is called Qawwali, in Central Asia it is called Sama and a session of qawwalis is called Mehfil-e-Sama. The word qawwali is formed of 2 words, Qaul, an “utterance (of the prophet)” and the singer.
Most of the words used in the composition of a Qawwali are from Urdu but languages such as Punjabi, Persian, dialects of Brijbhasha and Awadhi also occupy prominent place in their compositions. The main theme of a qawwali is love, devotion and longing (of the Almighty).
Qawwalis start with a hamd (praise Allah , followed by a naat (praise of Mohammed). Next comes a manqabt (praise of either Imam Ali or one of the Sufi saints) to be followed by a marsiya (lamentation over the death of Imam Husayn’s family in the battle of Karbala). Next is a ghazal (love song) followed by a kafi, a poem to be followed by a munajaat (a form of prayer, where the singer says his thanks to Allah).
Inspite of singers like Abida Parveen, qawwali has largely reamined a man’s business. Most of the qawwalis are 15-30minutes long but one qawwali by Aziz Mian was 115 minutes long, called Hashr Ke Roz Yeh Poochhunga. The King of qawwali Maestro Nusrat Fatek Ali Khan has two songs, over 60 minutes long to his credit.
Apart from the Qawwali singers mentioned above, some other famous names are Badar Ali Khan, Bahauddin Qutubuddin, Fatek Ali Khan, Habib Painter, Munshi Raziuddin and Sabri brothers.
Surajkund (literal meaning is ‘Lake of the Sun’) is an ancient 10th century reservoir south of Delhi in Faridabad.
Every year for the past 30 years Haryana government holds its annual “Surajkund International Craft Mela” here. Millions of visitors visit this place for shopping, watch cultural performances of Indian folk dancers and to sample foods from various parts of the country. This event showcases the richness and diversity of the handicrafts and handlooms of India.
In the current 30thSurajkund International Crafts Mela, the newest state of Telangana is the theme. A large number of renowned national and international folk artistes will perform during the 2 weeks of the festival.