Narkel Naru from Bengal with Recipe

Today I bring you an unusual dessert that in fact, comes from Bengal. They are Narkel Naru made with coconut, milk, sugar, and cardamom. Narkel Naru is a sweet from the Indian region of Bengal. The Narkel Naru cannot be missed during a religious ritual to worship one or more deities as well as to celebrate a spiritual event.

The ceremonies can take place both at home and in the temples, and there are also annual festivals such as the Durga Puja and the Lakshmi Puja. Coconut ladoo is also specially made during Diwali festival in India or during festival season or marriages.

Nariyal Ladoo is not only made for different festivities, but it is a sweet that is prepared at any time of the year. This dessert inevitably reminds me of my childhood. To make these sweets, it used to take several days since, on the one hand, there was so much to cut the coconut and then grate it that make the streets smell like coconut.

Apart from that, it has an ingredient called khoya or mawa that is cooked from the whole milk and that has a very slow preparation. Nowadays, in any supermarket you can find both grated coconut and mawa, so the preparation time has been reduced to more than half.

Narkel Naru Coconut Ladoo

We now show the process of preparation.


125 g grated coconut
200 g sugar
300 ml whole milk
100 ml condensed milk
10 cardamom seeds

Let's see the recipe.

In a pan at medium heat, mix the coconut with the sugar and stir to avoid sticking to the pan. When they acquire a golden color, we raise the temperature a little and add the milk slowly. Keep stirring.

We raise the temperature and add the condensed milk. We throw the ground cardamom seeds and stir. With a teaspoon, we set aside a little and try the mixture to see if we like the taste.

We lower the temperature and stir until the mixture is more compact. At least, it's 15 minutes that we have to stand in front of the pan.

There will come a time when you will see how, when removing the mixture, the pan remains clean. In short, part of the mixture will stick to the spatula with which we are stirring. At that time, if we want, we can put off the heat.

Keep in mind that the more we cook it, the harder the narkel naru will be. In addition, this dough hardens a little when cooled.

We remove the pan and wait for it to cool a bit. When the mixture is still hot we start making the balls. This is important because, as I said, the dough hardens when it cools. So if we wait too long, we can not make the balls anyway. So we take a little dough with our fingers and make the balls rolling the dough between the palms of our hands.

Once they are finished, we can put them and leave them both inside and outside the fridge. And we have our delicious coconut ladoo.

Secrets of Indian Kulfi in Varanasi

Three and a half days in Varanasi have given so much, that I find it difficult to select what is worth telling and what not, not to bore, on the blog. I've already talked about the gali, the chaos, the traffic, the police, the ghats, and the death. I have to talk about the food. And the best way to cool down here is with a kulfi.

I had the opportunity to try a kulfi on my first trip to Varanasi, but they did not tell me or I did not keep the name on that occasion. Kulfi is a frozen dessert based on milk that is seasoned with saffron, cardamom and pistachios. They sell them in ice cream stands and it's an ideal snack when you want something creamy and cold.

In Varanasi the samosa stands emerge from every corner like mushrooms. There are too many to count. They not only sell samosas, but also kachori, bread vada, jalebi, etc. They are the typical fried street food. We could not leave without venturing to try some of these delicacies, so we looked for a place where they were frying the samosas and there we waited for them to serve us some warm with the accompanying chutney. They were not bad, but they were not amazing either. In Calcutta I have tasted better.

However, there is one thing that is better in Varanasi than in Calcutta is the lassi. Served in bhar (clay cups) like tea, flavored with spices and pistachio, the Varanasi lassi has the perfect consistency and sweetness. I taste one in a gali after observing the beginning of a representation of the Ramlila. In a very dirty lake hidden in the middle of the city, we found a Lassi store that had those precious things.

The owner was a young man dressed in white like all Varanasi men (maybe to contrast with the colorful women). He beat more yogurt with sugar in a metal vase. We ordered a lassi for each one and we sat in the back of the store. Men came and went. All equally lovers of the lassi. We even returned the next day, before leaving Varanasi.

This city is famous for dairy products, such as light yogurt, but also sweets. I thought that if the milk of the city was so famous, then the Indian ice cream, the kulfi, made basically of thickened milk, flavored and frozen, should be very good. The three and a half days I spent in Varanasi, I searched desperately for each post, for each store, a sign that said "kulfi".

It was already in English or in Hindi, since in Uttar Pradesh they do not speak Bengali. But nothing. It was an impossible mission till I saw a red cart with images of Krishna and a bell in charge announcing the arrival of the kulfiwala. The base is milk that is boiled for a long time to lose water, or what comes to be the same, evaporated milk.

The ice cream based cream is presented with flavors of saffron, pistachio, roses or cardamom is dense and, despite the heat, never melts. This preparation is introduced in the molds to freeze them. Unlike traditional ice creams, they do not beat to introduce air and avoid crystallization. So the result is a much denser and more consistent ice cream.

Kulfi is a frozen dairy dessert originally from India, although it is also popular in places like Pakistan, Nepal, Burma and the Middle East. It began as a dessert that was served on special occasions such as weddings and other banquets. But now its consumption is widespread and it is common in the streets to see stalls of its vendors called kulfiwala.

The Matka Kulfi is the ice cream offered by the street vendors, known as Kulfi Wallahs. They keep the ice cream on ice with salt in clay pots known as matkas, which isolate them from the heat outside. They are served on a stick or on a leaf, and sprinkled with chopped pistachios, ground cardamom, saffron. The children wait enthusiastically for the kulfiwala or ice cream vendor that appears every afternoon in the popular neighborhoods.

It is a very rich ice cream, with a very fresh and appetizing mango flavor with a touch of cardamom. There are more than 50 eclectic flavors to choose from, including tamarind, mango, pomegranate and paan.

The other great culinary sensation of Varanasi was a pizzeria in Assi Ghat, a place that does not have anything special if it were not for this restaurant and its apple pie. The food is delicious, the pizza is cheap (120-150 rupees for a good pizza made in a stone oven, while in Calcutta a decent pizza costs at least 300 rupees). But the best, undoubtedly, is the apple pie with vanilla ice cream, a creamy ice cream, Italian style, which combines perfectly with the crunchy and moist heat of the cake and apple.

Of the cuisine of this city, the best known dish is the Banarasi Aloo Dum, a mixture of potatoes with spices and sauces, to eat with roti. Do not you want to try it? However, the best food experience in Varanasi was not this pizzeria on the Ghat, looking at the Ganges. It could have been nice, but why am I going to fool you. It is not, it is not at all. Varanasi does not have anything nice other than the ghats.

Seeing the city from a boat at sunrise is a different. It is an interesting experience, because of the motley and bizarre nature of the city's skyline. But from the city, to observe the brown river, the dirty earth, the gray sky, the old boats, and the nothingness on the other side of the river, there is nothing nice about it.

The best culinary experience was in our own hostel. We bought food from a restaurant outside (with the best palak paneer I've ever tasted), a few beers. After ordering some dishes from the hostel owner's wife, we settled upstairs, where there was a little terrace with a plastic table.

There, observing the stars in the sky, drinking cold beer, and listening to the background music that continuously repeated the "om" for at least half an hour, a different Varanasi was experienced. Every little detail made us intoxicated, from the color of the walls to when the light went out. We stayed in complete darkness, accompanied only by the "om" and a sky that cannot be seen in Calcutta. The stars seemed to move and dance for us.

On my return to Calcutta, my friends have asked me if I liked Varanasi. I was very clear that no, I did not like anything. I still have it clear. But now, after stopping to think to write on the blog, I realize that although I did not like it, it has given me a lot of intense moments that I will not forget. Perhaps that is the magic of Varanasi, beyond the cow dung, the plague of garbage, the jungle of the streets or the business of death.

Love at Candle Light in Hoi An in Vietnam

When, planning our trip to Vietnam, we discovered that the dates of our trip would coincide with the Hoi An Lantern Festival at full moon. We were looking forward to getting there to enjoy it in person!

After having a delicious and hearty breakfast buffet at our hotel, we hang out in the room. It's crazy how we manage to deal without not doing much! In the afternoon however, we leave to explore the old town of Hoi An.

UNESCO is striving to preserve more than 800 historic buildings in this city including the famous large communal houses that the Chinese built and used for social, commercial and cultural purposes during their settlement in Hoi An. We walk through the old town without visiting the Chinese buildings.

From our hotel, we go through narrow alleys to get there. We see old wells, adding charm to this city. How nice to walk in town without a car honking or motorcycles! And for good reason, there is indeed little traffic and travel is mainly through the trishaw, the famous tricycles also called rickshaw.

We really appreciate this relaxed atmosphere without much traffic but a lot of shops. In Hoi An, it's the madness of the made-to-measure. It is estimated that between 300 and 500 tailors become masters in the art of copying.

Just show what you want on a magazine page and they do it as soon as possible. I choose the material and take the opportunity to make a new pair of shoes. After negotiating the half-price pair, the saleswoman takes the measurements of my feet by drawing outlines on a sheet as a child would draw her hand.

I do not know much about shoe design. So I wonder if that's really the way things should be done. She still uses a sewing meter. Once the odds are taken, we can continue our ride. My flip flops should be ready for tonight.

We pass in front of a pretty Japanese bridge built formerly at this location in order to establish a way of communication with the Chinese. In Hoi An, women wear ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese outfit. It is a long tunic and silk trousers, fluid and lightweight. They are so elegant in this outfit! I almost hesitate to buy one.

Later in the afternoon, a woman docks us, proposing to come to her workshop and see the fabrics. If I want, she can make me an ao dai. We follow her, just to see what her studio looks like. To get there, we go through a market where sellers insist on selling us their products.

And then a little further, we see traders asleep in their shop. What a contrast from one street to another! In the workshop, a woman presents me a catalog from which I can choose the style of Ao dai that I wish to have. She shows me her different fabrics and tells me that she can make me for tomorrow.

I hesitate a little. I do not like to buy in haste. In addition, I notice that the fabrics have some defects so I decline the proposal and we leave this workshop. We walk a little by the river before going to pick up my flip flops at the shop.

Well I am pleasantly surprised to see that they are pretty and visibly well made. Back at the hotel, we take advantage of this late afternoon to rest, sometimes at the pool, sometimes in the room.

For dinner, we eat at our hotel because the food is good and cheap. We taste one of the specialties of the region, the Cao Lau, rice noodles, flat, accompanied by croutons, soy, herbs and normally pork, but we ask the chicken. We then return to the old town to discover an atmosphere as relaxed as day but much more illuminated.

We strolled in the night market where we can find lanterns of silk and paper, another specialty of the city. At the edge of the Thu Bon river, and next to the ancient Japanese Bridge, which looks especially beautiful in the dark, and in the light of the full moon, the staff who manages the boat rides offer a night ride.

Every month, the city celebrates the Hoi An Full Moon Lantern Festival, a favorite of the Buddhist tradition. All these candles and lights create a fairy atmosphere in the city. We cannot believe we are in Vietnam, far from the permanent noise of cities. Here I am on the boat ready to drop my lanterns!

That moment when I look back and see the river illuminated by the flame of paper lantern candles is poetic, and magical! Each of us entrusted our best dreams that were slowly disappearing before our eyes, swept away by the current, and losing ourselves to the drift among hundreds of floating candles, replete with many more dreams of hundreds of illusions and desires to fulfill.

After enjoying the surroundings for a few hours, we return to rest at our colonial villa, from where we will leave tomorrow to the neighboring city of Hue, the imperial capital. The river, completely dark, reflects the colors of the silk lamps, and the tiny points of light of the offerings, full of desires of happiness, luck and love, sail adrift at the mercy of the river current.

Homemade Candle ideas designs decorations

Orange Smoothie

Everything that helps keep your body in shape is welcome when you want to lose weight more easily. Natural shakes have become one of those healthy supports that can help you achieve your goal without suffering or undergoing strict diet. Orange smoothie in addition to helping us lose weight, stay in shape and energize allows to purify the body, reduce fluid retention and avoid constipation, while favoring the elimination of toxins.

What are the benefits of this energizing orange shake? These types of beverages are a supplement to the diet by acting in favor of metabolism and provide a feeling of fullness as they prevent excessive consumption of calories and fat accumulation. Orange in particular is one of the most useful fruits when you want to lose weight. Their low calorie content and high nutrient content make them great allies in losing weight. It brings natural energy to the body and activates its functions so that it starts to burn more calories from the first hours of the day.

Orange is a natural source of vitamin C, a nutrient that acts against free radicals to prevent cell damage. It also contains fiber, essential amino acids and minerals that drive the body clean to remove wastes that can cause disease. At the same time it is a great stimulant of digestion, perfect for combating constipation and other disorders such as gas and inflammation.

Another of the protagonists of this delicious natural drink is the pineapple. It has a digestive enzyme called bromelain, whose action in the body favors the expulsion of waste and the digestion of fats. It is composed largely of water and has an anti-inflammatory effect that makes it one of the best remedies to reduce excess fluids in the body. It supposes a significant contribution of fiber, essential to regulate the intestinal movement and to calm the frequent desire of eating of excessive form.

Precisely to enjoy such important goodness, then we want to share a delicious natural shake that serves to enhance the figure and energize the body. This energizing shake combines the incredible nutritional properties of orange. For its combination of ingredients, orange milkshake is a great choice to enjoy a healthy breakfast rich in nutrients.

Take it half an hour before the first meal of the day, or else make it your breakfast drink. Prepare it at least three times a week for good results. You can also enjoy it in those moments when you feel that you need an energy boost.

Arancini - A walk through the Sicilian Fast Food

Sicilian cuisine is rich and diverse and one of its most recurrent dishes, arancini, are orange croquettes of rice paste. The official name is Arancini di Riso or rice balls. It is debated whether the rice balls should be denominated in the feminine (arancini) because arancia, like orange, is a feminine term. But it turns orange in Sicilian, arànciu, is masculine.

Already in the Italian-Sicilian Giuseppe Biundi dictionary in 1857 defined the arancinu of the Sicilians as a sweet dish made of rice and an orange. But what then was sweet? There are many doubts. Currently, the arancini, sometimes called croquettes or dumplings, are a traditional Italian preparation that is lesser known than pizza or pasta.

The arancini is a typical dish of the city of Messina, where it probably originated, that were prepared on the island around the 10th century during the Ottoman empire. Also, in Catania it is normal to find arancini with eggplant, also called alla Catanese. The soft filling contrast with the crunchy exterior. I will never forget my first experience with Arancini. The experience was unique, I did not expect that within this crisp ball I would find a creamy rice dough and melted mozzarella.

Arancini image

Arancini owes its name from the orange color of its exterior appearance (like a stuffed potato pie). Because it has saffron that gives it that "orange" hue (in Italian oranges are referred to as arancini). Known as arancini, arancinu or arancia a traditional preparation of Italian cuisine, it is said that its origin is in Sicily. It is basically rice balls stuffed with meat, tomato sauce, peas, and mozzarella. They are coated and fried in olive oil, or, al Forno, although this is less common.

It is a dish that can be found anywhere. They are large balls of 8-10 cm, and inside they can have ragout of veal and peas or other ingredients made with tomato sauce or mozzarella. They are usually taken there as an appetizer and sold in pastry shops, bars and even on some beaches as they also serve for a light lunch or a dinner accompanied by a salad. For most tourists, this is street food because you never really ask for arancini in a restaurant.

But for the Sicilians, they are an emblem of their gastronomy, cooked with time and love for their mothers and grandmothers. Everybody knows someone there who makes the best arancini. The most read author of Italy, Camilleri, whose detective novels 'Montalbano' gave rise to a famous series of films, wrote a novel around this dish. In 'Gli arancini di Montalbano', the detective goes through many things to make sure that he can accept the invitation to dine arancinis on New Year's Eve at the home of the mother of one of his informants.

According to the traditional recipe, the pork is prepared the day before or it is cut into equal parts. They have to be cooked over very high heat for hours on end with onion, tomato, celery, parsley, and basil. The next day the rice is cooked, the one called Milanese, poured on a board, kneaded with eggs and left to cool. Meanwhile, the peas are cooked, the béchamel sauce is prepared, a piece of sausage or chorizo is minced and mixed with the minced meat in a bowl, all by hand.

The preparation of the rice balls is done, throwing in the palm of the hand, the amount of rice from a dessert spoon and then a ball is formed. Each ball must be left to roll in the flour, then it is passed in the egg white and in the breadcrumbs. Then fry in a pan with oil until you get rice balls of the color of old gold. The oil is absorbed in a napkin and to eat! They are also made pear-shaped.

It is common in many cuisines that take advantage of leftover rice, for example, risotto, for arancini, but it seems that it is usually made from Milanese rice.

The most popular arancini are round. But as we mentioned at the beginning, there are also pyramid-shaped or cone, some say it is to differentiate fillings and also argue that the shape is inspired by the Etna volcano, cut the top tip vapor inside out, which would simulate smoke, tomato sauce you could see represent the lava.

Trip to Venice during Winter Carnival and Christmas

I like the time before the Christmas holidays, the illuminations, the Christmas markets, the mulled wine, and the cupcakes. Visiting Venice, especially during the Winter Carnival period was something I've always wanted to do. My girlfriend knew it well, since it was she who gift me this trip at Christmas! In February on a certain Valentine's Day evening, my lover offered me a trip to Venice. It was one of my best gifts, and without a doubt one of my best trips.

Last year, I celebrated Christmas in Venice and I returned to the magic of Christmas, with the feeling that everything is possible. Winter in my opinion is the best season to discover an intimate and mysterious Venice. Driven by its tourists, it's calle is often deserted. The atmosphere becomes magical and Venice offers itself to us. Each bridge, each alley, each campo can be explored, touching each stone as it pleases.

This is, in my opinion, the best time to discover the soul of the city, which does not let itself be seen at first sight but is hidden in its folds. A thick mist often bathes the Serenissima with a mysterious atmosphere and makes it even more fascinating. At night, the light scattered by the lampposts is dimmed by the fog and Corto Maltese is expected to emerge at any moment.

Moreover, as usual, I am unable to edit photos and I end up with 60 photos in instagram that I love. Italy has not stopped seducing me lately!

Day 1 in Venice

Getting up at 4 am to go to the airport stings! The plane flies and we fly above the clouds around 8 am. After landing in the Marco Polo airport it is time to take the vaporetto to go to Venice. We booked in a super Airbnb a little out of the center, but in a quiet and atypical neighborhood. We have time to nibble a cookie and walk the streets to rave about the mysterious beauty of the city, and take photos.

Then, we head towards the Doge's Palace. We have no time to waste, as we have a reservation for the secret itinerary that takes us inside the Palace, in the recesses where prisoners were locked up. The tour of the secret itineraries takes us to see the jail and several rooms related to justice in Venice and its espionage service.

We walk in to learn everything about the escape of the famous Casanova, known worldwide for his amorous escapades rather than for his diplomatic work. The guide is a lively, exciting and theatrical woman. The guided tour of an hour and a quarter passes too quickly!

We finish our tour at the point where the visit to the Palace begins, which we do on our own. It is an authentic ode to luxury and opulence, with numerous works of art of incalculable value and a magnificently worked decoration. I was very struck by the ceilings and their rich paintings, it is a real joy to see this palace, and imagine the enormous wealth that Venice achieved by being the port of connection between East and West.

We arrived at the Bridge of Sighs, which is closed although it has windows overlooking the canal. We cross the Rio di Palazzo joining the Doge's Palace with the old prison of the Inquisition.

We eat pasta at a pizza restaurant and then we go to the Galleria Dell'accademia. It is a museum with classical paintings that, I admit, makes me yawn. I'm much more fond of more contemporary and less religious paintings. On leaving, we go to Chiesa di San Barnaba. I absolutely wanted to see this church in Venice. Why? Because it's the church that appears in the third installment of Indiana Jones movies!

Shop windows are beautiful. They are full of shimmering colors and a multitude of delicacies. We observe with pleasure and amusement the Venetians busy with the last preparations and Christmas shopping. Wrapped in their cloak, they have their hands full of packets and panettone or pandoro, the traditional desserts of the end of year festivities in Italy.

We fall back to childhood at the outdoor ice rink installed on the vast Campo San Polo. At dusk, we stroll through the alleys to enjoy the illuminations that enchant the city. I marvel constantly. The piazza San Marco is not outdone either. The vaults of the procuratie are lit by small lights which only reinforces the charm of the piazza. Next to the basilica, the piazzetta dei leoncini is adorned with a large illuminated Christmas tree.

At the turn of an alley, we fall unexpectedly on churches whose door is surmounted by a shooting star. These are the ones that house a preschool, a nursery. Italians are very attached to the tradition of nurseries. It is St. Francis of Assisi who created in 1223 the first living nativity scene in Greccio.

After these long walks, we find peace after eating in a restaurant near the apartment. Before we prepare for our New Year's Eve meal, we have a drink near the Rialto Market. We enjoy a spritz with cicchetti. We eat scallops and pasta with vegetables followed by a tiramisu and wine glasses downright exquisite. We finish soon enough, to go to one of the most beautiful musical experiences of my life of the Musica A Palazzo.

Each act is represented in 3 rooms of the palace and the spectators are immersed in the opera. Musicians and singers are next to us! The experience is simply amazing. The scenery, the staging, the singing, the orchestra, everything is done to make us live the story close by. After this, we go to the midnight mass at Saint Mark's Basilica.

The atmosphere inside the basilica is full of spirituality, love and harmony. Piazza San Marco at the end of Mass is unreal and magical. Everything is so beautiful and serene. We then take the traghetto to return to the other side where our apartment is located.

Venice Winter Carnival Christmas wallpaper images

Day 2 in Venice

We get up with a big blue sky. The sun shines brightly and makes the canals sparkle. In winter, Venice is not always covered with a veil of mist. She also experiences beautiful sunny days. The day starts very well with a breakfast in the sun on the terrace of a cafe next to the Arsenale.

I take the opportunity to take pictures while I discover the joys of Frittelle, a sweet donut stuffed with cream. It is traditional to eat during the carnival. It is true that Venetian pastries are to die for! In broad daylight I find that Venice is a kind of Disneyland for adults.

We take the vaporetto to the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a prestigious institution. Opposite is the Leonardo Da Vinci Museum. We discover the fascinating life of this genius of architecture, drawing, anatomy and engineering. We see reproductions of these inventions. The museum is very nice and we have a good time.

The cold is very intense, so we take the time to warm up in a bar and enjoy a cappuccino. For the rest, we go to the market and the Rialto Bridge. There is a crowd! People flock around the shops and on the deck to take pictures. It must be said that the view is superb and the weather perfect.

We eat in a tiny Osteria stuck in an alley where a few regulars come. We have spinach and ricotta lasagne and go! But where are we going to eat an ice cream? Where we can customize our ice cream with lots of toppings and flavors.

Then we head to the Campo Ghetto district where we stroll quietly, even taking a break in a beautiful park. Oh yes, and before that we tried to go to the Prada Foundation, but we did not succeed. Instead, we enter two other museums.

On the way back, we go through Ospedale to see lots of cats gathered in ruins! The opportunity is too good not to take some pictures of my favorite animals. To finish the day, we have dinner in a beautiful restaurant at the edge of the Grand Canal.

Venice Winter Carnival Christmas wallpaper images

Day 3 in Venice

In the morning we eat zaletti bought the day before in pasticceria from the neighborhood. We had not thought that the Airbnb would tell us to leave so early (10 am) and we would have our luggage along all day, as our flight was at 4:30. We get up early and find a luggage drop. As I hurt my hand, I have to find a pharmacy. In spite of this, we have time to land at the famous, oldest and most beautiful cafe in Venice. We are not disappointed.

As soon as we arrive, we feast on the richly decorated interior and at a table, costumed princesses take their royal brunch. There are all nationalities here! Besides, our waiter is adorable. We ask her which languages she understands, and she answers that she speaks of course Italian, French, English, and German. We take the Carnival special menu as well as coffees to die for.

Then we visit the Saint Mark's Basilica. We see splendid views of the square and Campanile, which we do not have time to enter. There are so many people. It is difficult to find the vaporetto for the island of Murano from Saint Mark's square! We jump on the boat that starts immediately! I felt for a minute like Indiana Jones.

The Murano island is beautiful. We tour the small shops of the center to find a beautiful glass rose and then we enter the glass museum. We pay the entry fee! The exposed glass works are sublime. We visit the Church of Santa Maria e San Donato which is beautiful outside and inside except that inside, we realize that there is a funeral. So we go quickly not to disturb the ceremony.

Our vaporetto for the return to Venice is already there, and we do not have time to go see the glassblowers. We do not take the risk of missing the flight. Ironically, when we arrive at Piazza San Marco, we take (much too much) time to buy Venetian masks and take the last pictures of costumes. We buy the ticket for the vaporetto to the airport to realize that it leaves only 35 minutes later.

We go to find the taxis next door. It's our only chance not to be late! We take it, and we arrive at the airport on time. There, we laugh at the situation that becomes grotesque. In the screen, we see the plane is 1 hour late! We might as well have had time to see the glassblowers and take the vaporetto. But what we remember from this beautiful trip is the magic of Venice at night.

Travel to Coorg in Summer

At 350 km from Bangalore, the mountainous region of Kodagu also called Coorg is located at an altitude of over 1300m in Karnataka. The beautiful city is comfortably set in the lush Western Ghats, the mountain range stretching along the western coast. It is a relatively unexplored land inhabited by Kodava and Tibetan refugees which is full of surprises.

Madikeri is the main city of this charming region. This place is so isolated that many South Indians have never visited it. Coorg is known as the Scotland of India.

Paputtu image

At night, we took the night bus at 12 in Bangalore towards Coorg. We disembarked at the bus station and we were caught by a bewildering crowd. People were walking in a perpetual movement among street vendors, while travelers crammed in the middle of the luggage.

The station is the paradise of pickpockets. In the crowd, a man grabbed my wrist to try to steal my watch (he had the eye as I see it to the right! I cleared quickly and he disappeared as if by magic in the incessant stream of people.

We finally managed to get on the right bus. It is a feat in view of the information exclusively in Kannada. The conductor then asks us for our ticket and looks at it carefully in the glow of the weakening neon hanging from the ceiling of the bus.

The bus starts off in a concert of horns and many zig-zag roads. We finally extricate ourselves from the crush of the bus station. Then begins the long uniform parade of the nocturnal landscape with unwanted re-lighting of the neon on the ceiling when it stops to let people up or down.

The road is extremely long. We have little room but we sleep as we can by tilting the seats. There are children who scream, old people who clear their tonsils, men who spit out the window and people who snore.

The more the time passes, the cooler becomes the air and the humid atmosphere goes. The last two hours of the journey are horrible as a rain falls heavily. The road is very bad which means that most luxury buses do not climb the mountains this season and mudflows devour the roadway.

After more than 6 hours drive, we arrived in a small station lit by a filthy neon. It is 6:25 in the morning. We are exhausted. There is an intense cold and moisture creeps everywhere. We call a number we were given. A guy answers us after a few rings that seem endless!

Finally, a car picks us up in the pouring rain and goes down winding slopes and drops us off at the entrance of a flat building that serves as a hotel.

After that, it is a surrealist scene! Loaded with our backpacks, we enter the lobby of the hotel that is not illuminated and a man lying on the floor jumps suddenly. He calls another man. He does not speak Hindi but explains that there is no electricity and that the break will be long.

In the light of the cell phone, he opens the register of the reception. Finally, I take out a flashlight from my bag. We have a long chat to know if they were to give us a room with air conditioning or without. It is hardly useful at 6am when it is cold and there is no electricity! We get a room without air conditioning and we quickly inquire modalities for the breakfast. It is available till 9:30 am so it leaves us a few hours to sleep a little!

We enter the room with a musty unbearable smell! In this climate, nothing dries. The sheets are soaked and the air is icy. The shutters do not close and with pants, socks and a sweater, we fall asleep for a few hours. We were finally awakened by noisy neighbors and the rain that crashes on the tiles.

We cannot take a shower as the current is still not back. The water heater gives only a trickle of cold water and there is no soap or towels. We leave in search of the breakfast and we are entitled to two fried eggs with toast and a hot black tea that warms our body!

At 10 am, we went aboard the car to discover the region. The rain has stopped but the sky is heavy with clouds. The white car paces the meanders of the mountain roads. The region is beautiful with wooded hills as far as the eye can see. There are coffee plantations, rice fields in the valley bottom and myriad flowers bloom with the drops of rain. There are birds and huge butterflies with unknown hues.

We stop first near a natural spring in the winding folds of the road. Then we go to the Dubare Forest Reserve which borders the Cauvery River. We stop again, and we embark on a barge to cross the river and go to an elephant breeding camp. On the sandy shores, the mahouts shower the elephants and feed them. We then go on a leisurely ride on elephants in a basket.

Then we leave our charming pachyderms and go back to the shore. We go for a walk in an area of the forest through which we reach by crossing the river by a bridge of monkeys. On the other side, there are bamboo jungles and curious little huts have even pushed to the top of the bamboo!

People are all armed with plant whips. We quickly realize that fiery little monkeys try to climb on the barge lost in the sight of lush greenery. The backpack is a mirador of choice for the primates. We keep good memories of these animals with disturbing behavior.

We finish our walk by admiring a painted wood sculpture. At lunchtime, we go back to the Madikeri village, the only real village in the Coorg region near the bus station. Here we enjoy a dish of paputtu and Koli curry. The rain falls down during the meal and fortunately stops when we leave.

In the afternoon we go to Bylakuppe. It is here that after the invasion of Tibet by China, thousands of Tibetan refugees settled, where the government of Karnataka gave them land. Since then, the village has grown around monasteries inhabited by monks in brown and yellow robes. The colorful and inscribed flags float above the houses.

We visited the breathtaking Namdroling Monastery near Kushalnagar. It contains the magnificent golden temple containing an 18m high Buddha completely covered in gold. Barefooted, we walked at random temples as the drums and the gongs sound. We see the clamor of the hundreds of young novices with their shaven heads, wrapped in their ocher and saffron robes.

It was an intense moment full of colors, and a vibrant atmosphere. The novices have finished classes, and a hundred men of all ages gets up and run to the exit of the temple like college students on a holiday. The place remains empty leaving the desks at ground level. There are odes of large papers covered with sacred scriptures packed in colored cloth cases.

After this bubble of Tibet, we go to the Abbi Falls. After a wet descent in a labyrinth of steps polluted by garbage here and there in the middle of the coffee plants, we arrive near the huge and bubbling waterfalls.

We then returned to Madikeri to go to the beautiful and peaceful tombs of Raja. On a plateau, covered with puddles and earth, kids play cricket. There are large mausoleums, and an old woman decrepit like the wet walls of places. The interior is wet and rather sinister. Our little bare feet quickly became blue in contact with marble covering the ground.

Then we walk to a garden in the city called Raja's seat, which offers a breathtaking panorama but the clouds were quick to surprise us. We go back up the muddy slopes to the umbrella shelter!

We returned cold and soaked in the hotel. We finally got a soap to shower but the shower did not work. We bathe in the old bathroom with buckets of hot water. Afterwards, we had a quick local meal and we went to bed dressed with the few dry things we had.

Travel to Run the Ottawa Half Marathon

Traveling to Canada to run was worthwhile. It is an affordable destination compared to other international options and the organization is impeccable. Ottawa is a small city, which can be practically walked (but preferably not a day before competing). It is a place with charm, orderly, clean and quiet.

The city is located on the side of the Ottawa River, which connects with another river through the Rideau Canal. This channel is one of the main tourist attractions of the city, because on the banks, in almost all its length, it has very beautiful parks and lanes to ride a bicycle.

In summer, people can navigate the 200 kilometers and in winter it freezes completely and becomes the largest ice rink in the world. The population in Ottawa is mostly Canadian, something that does not happen in other cities of Canada, where there is an interesting mix of foreigners.

The Ottawa half marathon was a beautiful experience. It was my return to the long distances after two years of only being running for a maximum of 10 kilometers. It also meant my return to the glorious carbohydrate load, which I started before I climbed in the plane.

A trip that starts with a nice breakfast, cannot but be nice. I stayed in a bed and breakfast of an immigrant couple from former Yugoslavia, who arrived in Canada and turned their home into a little hotel. Arriving at a family's home is very different from arriving at a hotel, even when paying for the service.

The couple received us at 11 o'clock at night, like someone who has not seen a family member for years, with hugs and help to carry the suitcase.

Day 2

We were awakened by the smell of freshly baked bread. The breakfast is made with love and served in the dining room, with dinnerware and smell that fill the air. What followed was to live intensely 48 hours surrounded by runners. The day began with a fun run, a 3-kilometer jog with some runners and the "rabbits" that would set the pace during the marathon.

The Ottawa Half Marathon is part of a weekend of competitions called the Ottawa Race Weekend, which offers 6 races with distances for any type of runner. It includes a marathon, a half marathon, and two races for children. This last one is very peculiar because the children do run the 42 kilometers.

They do it during the three months before the race, accumulating one kilometer for every half hour of physical activity they do. The parents of the participants have to register this in a booklet and make sure that their children reach kilometer 41 before the day of the race. Here they complete the distance of the marathon running the last 1.2 kilometers with a large closing at the finish line.

Hundreds of little ones crossed exactly the same marathon goal of the adult runners, formally inaugurating it. Then with plated faces they boasted a medal that hangs almost to their knees.

There are people running in the streets. The volunteers do a great job and it impressed me how the Canadian community turned to supporting the runners on the streets. The organizers invited Ottawa residents to help by turning on sprinkler irrigation systems aimed at the route or wetting runners with hoses.

The request was made a few hours before starting and the result was an army of people refreshing the runners with great enthusiasm. The truncheons were divine. It was very interesting to hear support in English and French, with music, drums, pots and spoons. The Canadians took to the streets, took armchairs to the sidewalks and supported from start to finish.

I ran the 21 kilometers with the Galloway method, which consists of intercalar walk and run. It is a perfect technique to delay the arrival of fatigue and reduce recovery time. It works, believe me. I arrived happily at the finish, without feeling exhausted and my recovery was very fast.

The closing was perfect with a beer, a concert at the finish line, a lemonade with maple syrup, and jumps in a fountain of cold water and a divine medal with a rotating leaf. Then, we get on a train to see Montreal and Quebec, but I'll tell you in another blog.

Sandesh: Bengali Sweet Recipe

sandesh sweet recipe

Sandesh is a traditional Bengali sweet, that is delicious, versatile and easy to prepare. It is a delicious sweet to be enjoyed as a dessert or to delight taste buds at any time of the day. Made from cottage cheese, which can sometimes be replaced with khoya, it can be filled with other sweet or savory ingredients. And the emblem of the Bengali sweets, in fact its roots are deeply Bengali, since the Bengalis led their sweets from fresh cheese and to carry this tradition in Bengal.

The fun and engaging Sandesh, which is driving the success in the world, you're in a happy mix of ingredients a sweet is fresh and light, delicate yet flavorful, easy to make and can be declined in many ways. In fact, there are those who cook it with cream cheese and other fresh cheeses with those, who uses the butter biscuits and shortbread who cereals, who stuffing with fruit or spices, who prepares cold and who put in the oven. The Sandesh is the triumph of imagination of the chef, even the novice.

But do not compromise on one aspect the quality of the ingredients. To get a Sandesh to scream it takes the right cheese. The classic ingredient of the recipe is the Anglo-Saxon cream cheese. This cheese is soft and creamy, delicate flavor and fresh, is made from a mixture of milk and cream to which are added lactic acid bacteria selected.

The Bengali version of Sandesh is made with ricotta cheese, a dairy product typical of India that is prepared from cream of milk. Buttery and enveloping, with an intense aroma of cream, ricotta is ideal for the preparation of delicious desserts. For those who love the lightness of the right ingredient is ricotta cheese, a fresh dairy product, obtained from whey possibly with the addition of milk or cream, which is characterized by a slightly sweet flavor and the cheese cake that makes it even fresher and light.


1 litre Milk
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp pistachios
1 tsp cardamom seeds
Few strands saffron
1 tbsp rose water

Recipe Method

Bring milk to a boil, add lemon juice. Keep stirring until the water completely separates. Switch off. Collect the curd and transfer it to a muslin cloth, tie and hang it till all the remaining water gets strained.

Wash it well and squeeze excess water. Add the sugar and knead gently.

Place the mixture on a very low flame and stir constantly to avoid lumps with a flat wooden spoon till it leaves the sides of the kadhai and is neither too dry not too moist. Add saffron strands and splash the rose water on it and mix well and remove the pan from the heat. Remove the pan from the flame at regular intervals so as not to overheat the sandesh.

When it is warm make a small ball and flatten it slightly with your palms. Make a small dent and garnish with cardamom and pistachios. Serve cold.

Pindi Chana: Chickpea Curry from India

Pindi Chana is a strong and spicy chickpea curry recipe from the city of Rawalpindi in the heart of Punjab in Pakistan. It was created prior to the partition of India and Pakistan, hence the name Pindi. This dish is very popular in northern India. It is prepared in a potpourri of dry spices, such as anardana powder, and amchoor or dried mango powder, which gives a strong and pleasantly bitter taste.

Chickpeas are a staple of the Middle East, Africa, and Indian cuisine. The two best-known varieties are desi chana and Kabuli Chana. You can also find 21 other varieties in different colors and different shapes. The wild version of chickpeas is found only in parts of southeastern Turkey and Syria. It is likely to be first cultivated there, about 10,500 years ago. Chickpeas are legumes have a high nutritional value, and were part of the agricultural culture that arose from the Neolithic.

The Desi Chana is small with dark seeds and rough skin. It is grown mainly in India, Bangladesh, and areas of Pakistan, Ethiopia, Mexico, and Iran. The Kabuli Chana is lighter colored. It has larger seeds and is cultivated mainly in southern Europe, North Africa, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, and Chile.

The Desi Chana is also known as Bengal gram or Kala chana or chole. The Kabuli chole or Safed Chana is believed to have come from Afghanistan. The Desi chole is probably the oldest, as it closely resembles the seeds found both in archeological sites and is the wild ancestor.

Desi chickpeas have a markedly higher fiber content than the Kabuli chola. The desi type is used to make Chana Dal or Chana Masala, which is a recipe for split chickpeas. It can be made with dried chickpeas. The chickpeas need to be soaked the day before, but for the sake of simplicity and to save time, canned chickpeas are often used. If you use dry chickpeas, you must soak them the night before and boil them before using them in the recipe that I propose to you next.

The Pindi Chana is a healthy meal when served with Kulcha or Naan and a green salad. It can be taken as the main course. I take it as an accompaniment to tandoori chicken or mutton kofta and accompanied by naan or rice.

Trip to Larung Gar, Tibet and Celestial Burials

It may happen that a place you did not plan to go to will change your life forever. It has happened to me in Larung Gar. I did not plan to go there. I had only seen a couple of photos that I searched a few days before. Taking advantage of the Chinese New Year, which in turn coincided with the Tibetan New Year of Losar, we plan to take a short trip to the Tibetan area of ​​Sichuan Province.

I thought it was great, just like every time I discover a place I have not heard of. This is something that happens to me a lot lately to see myself surrounded by people who know so much about so many things. I become aware of my great ignorance about almost everything. I only know that I do not know anything. And what little I know, I'm learning as I travel.

Anyway, I said that the idea made me very excited, although I did not know anything about the place where we were going. Only that it was in an autonomous prefecture of Tibetan culture, and who would not wish to visit Tibet? Larung Gar is in a valley at about 4000 meters. I enjoy the scenery, the peace of the temples and the smiles of the people, happy to have to stay there.

We got on the bus and about twelve hours later, at night, we arrived at a small village on a single street where we quickly searched for a place to sleep. Two children dressed in beautiful traditional Tibetan coats took us to their house, and with them scampering around we had a thukpa to warm up. At that time I was so tired that I did not have time to think too much. But when I look back now I am able to see that since that night that place was not for me one more.

Larung Gar, Tibet

Day 1

In the morning when we left the house it was very cold, below 10 degrees, and with our backpacks on our backs we started walking. It was a short walk. We left behind a path surrounded by stupas, and some loose houses. Before we knew it the village of Larung Gar appeared before us as in the photographs I had seen a couple of days before.

The first image of all those small houses was shocking. It was not until I began to notice the details when I was invaded by a feeling of strange happiness that did not leave me (with ups and downs) until the day of departure.

It's hard to explain, so I'll just say that I felt good in a very deep way, something that had not happened to me in a long time, and never with such intensity. I do not know if traveling constantly influences the capacity for surprise or emotion. But in any case it was wonderful to see that the problem was not so much my own as it was not having found the right place. And that had just begun.

Larung Gar is a very special town. Starting with the most superficial, I will say that aesthetically it is beautiful, like a toy. There are the red houses finished with colorful details. The plastic flowers giving the illusion of a false spring. We see hundreds of monks and nuns dressed in robes and coats in garnet and brown tones.

They scamper like little ants in the squares in front of the temples, hills, and through all the streets. As a final touch, strategically camouflaged speakers emit chants that seem to come from the air, further accentuating the feeling of unreality. I remember thinking that if the Buddhists had a heaven to go to after they died, it should be something very similar to that place.

I have not said yet that Larung Gar is, or so they say, the largest Buddhist university in the world. I asked (and later I looked for it) how many monks live there without getting a unanimous answer. Doing an average we could place the figure over 17,000, with 40% of women. Many, in any case. It is not important either.

We walked through the town a little lost, not knowing very well what we wanted or expected, or how many days we would stay in it. At first, Larung Gar was one more stop among all the towns we planned to visit within the Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture. As our visit coincided with the Tibetan New Year I joined the monks in a special celebration that took place in one of the rooms they use for their classes.

I envy those who have a direct and natural approach to the celestial world. I have always thought that those things were beyond my reach. I have had my attempts. For example, a year ago in India, I made a Vipassana retreat. It was a great experience, although it did not change my life. I did not achieve what others did, but it did have certain positive consequences for me.

The days of silence and meditation drew from the bottom of my subconscious. It opened my eyes to a reality that I did not know, although leaving me in doubt as to whether it would be in my abilities to be able to explore it.

In the afternoon we spent three hours in that room, with the men on one side and the women on the other. I was alone, surrounded by nuns who recited sutras without rest. After a while I began to feel a pleasant sensation of fullness, of being where I needed to be.

Then my mind quickened and overflowed with questions about the people around me. I could not stop looking at those women, all the same in their clothes as a uniform and shaved heads, stripped of their individuality. I looked at them one by one and I wondered who they would have been before leaving everything to live there.

Why they held in their hands photographs of those who looked like their relatives? Why they spent every minute of their lives repeating sentences written on paper and what they expected to achieve with it? I have always been interested in the philosophy behind Buddhism, but I have never come to understand its ritual part.

Suddenly, observing all the occupants of the room sitting there, except (obviously) myself, I felt one more. I was aware that my clothes and features made me different and for that reason anyone would immediately notice my presence. But I felt invisible, united to them and to the world in a way that I had never experienced before (nor dreamed of experiencing).

This is a little embarrassing, but the flattest form I can think of to explain it is that I was certain that a mystery was beginning to unfold inside me. And I could not get rid of it anymore. From that moment, in my walks and daily conversations I saw the world with new eyes, through a translucent veil that separated me slightly from the reality in which I have always believed.

I could not put that aside no matter how hard I tried (thinking of another thing, looking for a way to distract me). Also at night there was celestial dreams full of symbolism. I was rushing to write in a notebook, because in each of them I saw revelations about my life and the sense of it in general.

I could establish a rough comparison with what I experienced in the Vipassana center a year ago. But this time without looking for it the images simply came to me.

Larung Gar, Tibet

Day 2

In the morning we go out to see the famous sky burials. I say famous because now I know they are, or at least that many people know them, but then it was not my case. I had not read, nor seen any image, nor heard of them until they told me right there.

The minutes before, while we waited in the booth where the bodies were brought, I was so nervous that I could not stop shaking. It was liberating, because for a while I forgot my inner journey, and all the ghosts. I could enjoy the simple excitement of something that I knew would impress me. It's not something that happens to me much lately. Sometimes, I've already said, I think traveling so much can reduce your capacity for wonder.

I will not describe in detail the Tibetan funeral ritual. When we arrived at the mountain where the burial was going to take place, I felt a slight disappointment. The place looked like a theater, and to top it all there was a bus of Chinese tourists, more than fifty on vacation due to the New Year. They photographed everything and fought to get the best position, near where the corpses were going to be dismembered.

We place ourselves a little behind. I was not so impressed by the ritual itself (although it is certainly the most shocking I have ever seen), but everything that surrounded it. Before us, two monks, helped by the relatives, stripped the corpses and in a matter of minutes turned them into pieces without recognizable shape.

And meanwhile, the public approached more and more. They almost get on top to take pictures and comment on the play, making what should be a solemn act a show with all the negative connotations that word can imply. I cannot judge them because I was there too.

After the initial stupor I concentrated on the funeral. The vultures pounced on the flesh and that became a frantic dance of wings, feathers and viscera. Even from the distance we were, with all those people in front, it was impossible not to see the details.

It was the final blow to my mental state of those days. That afternoon my head took care of moving the images away from me, but they returned in the night. I thought about their souls, if there is indeed something of us that we can consider as such, and if in that case they would be far away, waiting to reincarnate before starting again.

I had more celestial dreams, and Larung Gar seemed to me an even more intense place so much that it began to make me unbearable.

Larung Gar, Tibet

Day 3

Finally, we left. A part of me wanted to stay, but another pushed me to leave, out of pure survival instinct, or so I wanted to interpret it. Too many emotions in a few days. By then I knew that Larung Gar had been the trip of my life, not because of what I had seen, but because of what it made me feel.

I know I'll be back. Maybe when I'm ready for it, because I still have things to absorb. Although I am not able to understand what happened to me, the truth is that I felt it, and that alone made the trip to Larung Gar was worth it.

Larung Gar, Tibet

Guide to the Perfect Mutton Biryani in India

Traveling through the aromas of spices can transport us to many parts of the world. But among all of them my weakness makes that if I have to travel to a place, that is Hyderabad. I have never been there, and I doubt that I ever travel to such distant lands. But who knows? Meanwhile, I stay here enjoying what I can find in cookbooks, what my eyes discover on the internet or what a restaurant serves on my plate. Not long ago I discovered the Mutton Biryani.

It is a preparation in which despite being the mutton that supports the name of the recipe, it is the rice that transmits all the richness of this dish. The yogurt in which the meat is macerated softens its fibers, making the mutton juicy and enriched. The aroma of the spices in which the rice is cooked floods the environment. So much that it gets intoxicated in such a way that you do not want anything else but take the time to enjoy it. Fascinating!

Although nowadays it is considered as a typical dish of Indian cuisine, however, its origins are found in Persia. The recipe has evolved as it has traveled across the length and breadth of such an immense country. It thus adopts the different ingredients of each area. So that we can find not only mutton biryani but also with chicken, fish, prawns, vegetables. Even the processing technique can also vary. We can find meats that are not cooked separately, but they are cooked together with the rice.

Originally, the rice was steamed, in a sealed pot. But as we already imagined, the kitchen has evolved so much that even the elaboration techniques have done it when introducing new kitchen utensils. The biryani is a dish of Indian cuisine, made with a mixture of spices as well as basmati rice, meat or vegetables, nuts, and yogurt. There are many varieties of biryani and each type has its unique characteristics.

The origin of biryani is probably Persian because the name of the dish comes from beryān which means fried before cooking. It may have a connection with the Turkish Pilaf. The dish considered suitable for the upper classes, during the Mughal Empire was disseminated and made available to the humblest classes. At present, it is a dish closely linked to Muslim populations in India and is usually made with vegetables.

This dish is usually vegetarian. It is called Tehari, but it allows for chicken, turkey or lamb meat. The difference between the biryani and the pulao is that while in the pulao the ingredients are cooked together, in the biryani it is customary to cook the rice separately from the other foods. The dish is usually served with raita, korma, some curry or a dish of brinjal or aubergine. The recipe is original of Deepti Golani, a Hindu teacher based in Barcelona, a great cook and a better person, good people.

The dish can be adapted to western tastes with meat, even pork or veal although this is unthinkable in India. In turn there are many recipes of biryani that add other species such as cumin, bay leaf, cinnamon, chili or pepper. This recipe with spices, vegetables and nuts is called Shahjahani Biryani or Mughlai style.

A Perfect Day in Toronto in Canada

Canada is usually associated first and foremost with stunning scenery, endless expanses, the Rocky Mountains and sometimes dangerous wildlife. And of course, Canada offers all that but much more! Especially the Canadian metropolises are definitely worth a trip, or two or three. My personal favorite is Toronto.

My arrival in Toronto was not easy. After the many weeks overland in Western Canada and my wondrous train journey through the Rocky Mountains and over the prairies, I had barely time to get used to the idea of a renewed city break. Especially since the train journey is also so beautiful slow and gradual. To get to Toronto, I decided to fly from Winnipeg to Toronto.

Not least to save at least a little time on the Trans-Canada trip and the vast distances of the second largest country in the world. And then in Toronto, everything is just loud at first. Subway is not far away in the middle of the city. What is really difficult is the backpack I'm carrying. It's sure to be 10Kg. From this subway, I can hardly find out.

There are so many courses, so many options, and so many exits. Then finally arrived at the top, skyscrapers all around, did I accidentally land in New York? With the city map in one and the backpack in the other, I'm off. It seems endless. Yet Toronto has just found a charming way to open up to me and as always it took a little time. And friendliness. Because the same kindness that I have experienced so far in Canada, I have again experienced in the hotel.

Now. Yes. And despite its size, I have a strong memory of the personal effort and attention of all the staff at the hotel. It is incredible actually, that such a large hotel can be so friendly and personal. Our arrival at the hotel, near Toronto's famous Waterfront, is characterized by towering skyscrapers, behind which the famous CN Tower hides.

The hotel itself impresses with its location, facilities, and attention of all staff, who are very concerned about our well-being. The room in this hotel was again very nice, and it was a shame in the evening to "destroy" the nicely made bed to sleep. The view opened onto a square with water fountains and old and new houses. As I learned later, it was the old and the new town hall.

Then I sat in the lobby in one of the rocking chairs with a direct view of the waterfall and enjoyed my vacation. But only briefly, because at 08.30 began the city tour. I had hardly left the hotel, a stranger passerby greeted me and wished me a nice day.

And then I realized that everyone who met me on this sunny morning on my extended walk on the shores of Lake Ontario greeted me with a warmth. I am as if a long-lost cousin who suddenly surfaced. When I started to greet back, I once again found something completely banal. I cannot remember ever being in such a good mood on a journey.

I walk through the streets of Toronto. Above me is the deep blue Canadian sky. Around me is the bustling life of the city. There is traffic, honking taxis, construction site noise, voices, mobile phones ringing, and laughter. Around me, people talk to each other. There are work colleagues, friends, strangers, visitors, tourists. Around me are couples, groups, families and me. Toronto can always compete with New York in terms of cultural diversity.

I am a solo traveler visiting an exciting metropolis. I drink my first coffee at the cafe around the corner. I started in the square, where the old and the new town hall stand and on which I could look out of my room. In the new town hall, I visited the foyer with a large relief-like image of nails, which is supposed to represent Toronto.

My next destination is Casa Loma Castle, located in the northern part of Toronto. The 1914 completed castle with its 98 rooms was then the largest private residence in North America. Now I went on by bus. I learned a lot of interesting things about Toronto. It is the culturally third most important English-speaking city in the world after New York and London, and it lies on the shores of Lake Ontario.

In addition, Toronto is the largest and most American city with Canada's tallest skyscrapers. It is the economic center of Eastern Canada. Next, I took the elevator to the highest freestanding tower in the world (553 m). The CN Tower is the landmark of Toronto. First, we had to pass a few security checks. Through this door, I had to go and were checked from top to bottom.

Canada wallpaper images

Then I reached the 346 m high viewing platform at 22 km/h in 58 seconds. From here I have a very beautiful panoramic view of the city, the surrounding area and Lake Ontario up to the Niagara Falls. One floor down there was a glass floor where I could walk and look down. That was a strange feeling when I stood on it.

Then I went on with the city tour. At 11.00 o'clock it was already 27 degrees Celsius. I stopped in various places to take pictures, go shopping and visit the telephone booths. I took a shopping break at St. Lawrence Market, a market in a hall with many small stalls. The market not only offers the finest delicacies but also delicious lunches.

There is everything from juicy burgers, Asian delicacies, and sandwiches. Since it is already a bit late, we keep it light and get to the basement at a vegan restaurant. I stood on the road and was totally happy when I was able to take a close-up photograph of a fire truck and a Greyhound bus.

Behind the red iron building near the market, we can see 4 of the 5 largest bank towers. At 12.30 we arrived back at the hotel. Now I had the rest of the day for exploration available. First, I eat a street sausage. They are available at mobile stalls in many versions, even vegetarian. I bought a Chicken Hot Dog with various extra ingredients.

Then I could start refreshed with the exploration. Our hotel was very central. Around the corner was Downtown Yonge. The first thing I did was go through the Eaton Center, a small mall that extends in 2-3 floors over 4 blocks.

Then I watched the hustle and bustle of Yonge/Dundas-Square, similar to Piccadilly Circus in London. Then I decided to walk to Chinatown to look for a windscreen and sunscreen. We did not find one to buy anywhere. After a long search and repeated questions, I succeed to find such a Chinese sun and wind protection! I bought 2 right away.

Now I could happily walk back to the hotel where I arrived at 4.30pm. After a short break in the room, I went to the Underground City. The hotel has direct access to this city. I was so fascinated that I kept running, even though my feet hurt a lot after the previous 3-hour walk.

After some time, I turned back because I was afraid that I could get lost and not be able to find my way back to the hotel in this 10-kilometer network of paths that was so branched that I felt like a maze. When I rested in my room I allowed my feet to take a break, but not for long, because there was still a lot to explore. How can I sit in the room for a long time, when Toronto calls loudly to visit?

This time I went the other way on Yonge Street. On the way to Yonge Street, I pass the Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres. Many people have gathered in front of the building and across the street, wait eagerly for the fat limousines that keep coming up. For a long time, we do not think about it to determine that this is the Toronto International Film Festival. Suddenly the girls start screaming as a young man gets out of the car.

Its length has earned Yonge Street an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. This road starts right on the shore of Lake Ontario. Until then, I also went and saw the fascinating contrast between old and new on the way in Yonge Street. After arriving on Lake Ontario, I strolled the promenade along the lake to the Music Garden. On the way, there were various music and dance performances and stalls.

The last and most beautiful destination of the day is the Toronto Islands, which are only accessible by boat. Over the Harborfront, a waterfront trail runs along the water to the Toronto Ferry Docks. No sooner have we arrived there, the ferry drives us away in the nose. At this time, the ships commute only every half hour, which does not bother us.

Incidentally, the small boat tour offers a great all-around view on the upper deck. Toronto Islands is an offshore archipelago and a popular destination for the inhabitants. On the archipelago, there are numerous walks, picnic areas, restaurants and other recreational opportunities. We are drawn from the Center Island Dock across the Avenue of the Islands to the top of the marina.

In the evening sun, there is the most beautiful view of Toronto's skyline, which is very impressive. Before sunset, we head back to the mainland. Just one street further on is the Kensington market, one of the city's key entertainment districts. There are old shops, music bars, live music on the street, petticoat and esoteric shops, greengrocers, Indian shops, and restaurants from all over the world. I decide to eat on the way back in the restaurant. I was very excited about this restaurant, where there were many different stations where we could get our food. All stalls were decorated very nicely.

The selection was so big that I could hardly decide. First, there was a soup, then shrimp, chicken or beef to choose from. I chose shrimp and chicken. The vegetables and other ingredients were cooked before our eyes, with the chef performing some tricks, including a juggling with lemons, pepper, and salt. He also piled onion slices into pyramids and flambe them.

For dessert there was vanilla ice cream, tea and a small glass of sake were included in the price. It tasted very good. I wanted to explore Toronto by night, which unfortunately came to an abrupt end. When I wanted to go to the hotel after dinner, I realized that there was a strong thunderstorm with corresponding rain. I always had an umbrella with me, but not this evening.

So I waited at least half an hour, and when the rain was a little weaker, I held my jacket over my head and walked for 20 minutes to the hotel. The jacket was soaking wet and the pants were soaked to the knees with water. At 10.30pm I arrived in my room, where I left everything in the room hoping that it would be dry the next morning until departure.

And so I gradually succumb to the charm of Toronto.

A Trip to Cuba with the Mango, Rum and Lime Flavor

We left home, ​​stopping in Frankfurt until we reached Havana. Once there we took a taxi. The first rule before starting our adventure through Cuba was haggling at the initial prices they give us. Usually at the airport they have stipulated rates, but outside of it, do not be fooled.

Each trip is a world and is lived in a different way and this could not be less. That is why we decided to launch ourselves totally into the adventure to be able to live and feel that Cuban essence that attracts so much. What better way than to integrate ourselves completely in them, in their habits, their way of moving, in how they think, their way of seeing life. It is a whole world that challenged us to know.

Our first stay we had was in a private house of Cubans which we previously booked through the Internet before leaving. in Cuba there is a lot of rented rooms in homes. All of them are legal where they have a small sign on the entrance door accrediting the permission. I have never lived an experience as enriching as this. Our whole trip was to go from house to house sharing many moments with them. It is a unique and unrepeatable experience, which I recommend.

Once we got to the room and after all the accumulated fatigue of the trip, a nice Cuban boy that we met in the house offered to be a guide. He wanted to show us the atmosphere that was lived through the streets of Havana, and without hesitation we accepted. The Cubans are charming, friendly and always welcome tourists with open arms.

We could perceive it, and so we did not miss that opportunity and we went inside. He took us to a pub cum restaurant in Vedado where locals meet. In a matter of minutes we became friendly. They are very sociable and try to mix with tourists in a very comfortable and natural way.

After spending a fun night we retired to rest. We sympathized with the boy, who offered to guide us around the city. It was something that left us quite amazed because he did not look for anything in return. He simply shared his time with us and learn about our customs.

A Trip to Cuba with the Mango, Rum and Lime Flavor

Day 2

We spent our time touring Havana discovering the most emblematic and authentic places. We go around the Capitol, the Playret cinema, the old Bacardi building, the Gran Teatro de la Habana, a world full of history. Behind the Capitol is the Tobacco factory of Patargas.

Right next door is a beautiful exhibition of trains that are more than 100 years old. It is very attractive and interesting to visit. We continued to lose ourselves among the crowds that inhabited those colonial streets, amidst the smell of heat, tobacco and rum.

Another of the sites that I liked visiting were the beaches. We went to the eastern beaches, more specifically to the blue sea. We accessed them through the shared taxis that takes 30 minutes from Havana. They are white sandy beaches, long and full of palm trees on all sides, contrasting with its turquoise waters. On the white sand, I take off my shoes, the water is warm at the same temperature as the air. At the end of the beach, a black rock bar contrasts with the white sand. The sand flows like an hourglass.

The wild beaches have a special charm. We have to watch a lot where to stand since every now and then some coconut fall. One of the things that caught my attention is the custom that Cubans make their houses on the beach. It is always accompanied by their bottles of rum, both in the sand and in the water.

Their smiles and their way of living life, without worries and always with a positive attitude, is a whole lesson in life from which we should all learn. From time to time policemen pass by the beach, warning tourists not to leave our belongings out of sight. We had to take turns bathing, although sometimes we left them in the open without taking our eyes off. So we could all enjoy a bath in those warm waters of the Caribbean.

Havana is a colonial city combined with an impressive view from the Malecon to a modern area in Vedado. In the night our faithful guide offered us to take us out again to help discover other typical places there. We went to the Art Factory, a museum that becomes a discotheque with several dance halls, a terrace and a room with a screen. Here they show documentaries and sometimes a movie. The truth is that I was quite surprised and I was delighted with that night out.

One of the attractions that Cuba has is to be able to witness and feel its music and its salsa. After a day of wandering around and getting lost in those corners that Havana offered us, it was time to return to the hotel.

Day 3

In the morning, the lady of the house prepared a good breakfast of toast with tortilla and a piece of fruit. Mango is the quintessential fruit in Cuba. We had a good breakfast with that exquisite fruit. This is the second time on a trip that we are offered mangoes, the first was in Senegal.

Our next destination was long beach, two hours from Havana. Without thinking we went looking for a vintage car that caught our attention. The truth is that they were not too comfortable, but for two hours you could still endure. Well, the roads are pretty decent.

From time to time we would cross some chicken by the road but there was the charm. The truth is that we had a very pleasant trip. We did not stop talking to the driver who answered all our questions and curiosities that were emerging on the move and with those views that nature was giving us.

It is also the magic of travel, bringing together unknown worlds and feeling so close, sharing the essence of what makes us human with empathy and disarming sweetness. I will not forget the spontaneity and the naturalness of this meeting and I hope that our paths will cross again

We gathered strength and went for a walk around the area and just spent the day on the beach. Our intention was to stay two nights there but we did not like it at all so we decided to move forward and spend that day somewhere else. We take our backpacks and go on the way to Cienfuegos that was our next destination on the map.

Cienfuegos is the second most important city in Cuba. Its historic center was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. We dedicate the day to visit all its monuments and places of interest such as the Botanical Garden. We head to the Jose Marti Park in the center of the city, where is the Town Hall, the church and the Terry theater. The old city is the authentic architectural jewel of the nineteenth century.

We stayed for the night in that beautiful city. Tomorrow we head to one of the most charming cities in Cuba, to my taste, that was Trinidad. Back at the cottage, we taste the pleasures of modern comfort. Our cottage is a low pink old house which includes on one side the owner's house and three apartments for rent.

Each has a beautiful terrace, adorned with succulents, furnished with a large round glass table under a wooden canopy, two sun loungers. The house is furnished in contemporary style with an American kitchen, large metallic gray fridge, microwave, a built-in oven, and ceramic hob.

The Trek to Devprayag and a Night with the Tiger

At dawn, we go to the bus station where we found seats! Obviously, we were going to less populated areas of India. The road to Devprayag was majestic, advancing above gigantic voids. Above us were dizzy mountains. In any case, the gods were with us. Our friend had offered us a bead of protection that we had around our necks before we left.

With a locket with Shiva on our chest, what could happen to us? We had our comprehensive insurance! We arrived in the afternoon at Devprayag. The bus dropped us off on the road overlooking the village that was nestling on the mountainside on the edge of the Bhagirathi river and the Alaknanda river. Bhagairati which descends from Gomukh, seems more peaceful, more feminine and of blue-gray color, and Alaknanda look more fiery, more powerful, rolling its clear green waters towards Rishikesh and mixing with the sacred sangam to become the river Ganges.

The tourists really began to get rare. On the side of the road where the bus left us, there were many small huts nestling in the gray rock of the mountain. We looked for a hotel, but there was none. Only the mandirs could offer us a roof to sleep. A priest accepted to accommodate us in a dormitory planned for a few hundred pilgrims.

He even offered us tea. It was even colder, as the sun was setting. Despite being ungodly, he invited us to share his meal. Then back in our gigantic dormitory, we wound up quickly in our mountain duvets that we cursed a few days ago. We were ready to leave them in Delhi. Now considering the almost polar cold, we were really happy to have them here. We slept like babies!

Day 2

Before sunrise, our host came to wake us up with a very hot tea that was very comforting. We spent the day in the streets of the small village below the road. We inquired as to which of the two rivers would follow us? Indeed, the sources of the Ganges were not really defined. The climb along the Bhagirathi river was fast abandoned.

We could have gone towards the road to Gangotri but apparently the snow and landslides would prevent us from following this river. We soon realize that the inhabitants of the three valleys claim the origin of Ganges springs to attract the pilgrims to the declared source! So we set off along the Alakananda river, and we would then take the direction of Badrinath or Kerdanath.

We quickly saw the old pilgrim road, following the river, on the opposite bank to the road. We calculated that it would take us two days to reach Rudraprayag! We returned to spend the afternoon at the foot of the village, at the edge of the water, as close as possible to the place where the two rivers met. At the time, the place was not laid out, because in a cave near the river, a sadhu lived there.

We sat down with him and his two disciples. We smoked and we shared their lunch. We discussed everything and nothing. He had decided a few years back, once his children married to leave his work, get rid of everything, and devote his life to meditation. He wanted stop the cycle of his life, his reincarnations and reach nirvana!

He is a true sadhu, who gave us his blessing for our journey to the sources of the Ganges. He found us atypical, as wanting to trek there was not common and apparently it pleased him. We promised to come back to see him when we returned from the peaks of the Himalayas! With his protection but also rather zen or thanks to the waves of chilums that we had shared with him, we get back to our mandir somehow!

Our guest recognized immediately the mark spread on our forehead by the sadhu, guardian of the river! We dined with him and then fell asleep very quickly! We definitely felt more and more close to the gods.

The Trek to Devprayag and a Night with the Tiger

Day 3

The icy tip of our noses and our bodies numb with the excesses of the night before. We were hardly able to get out of our bed when a limpid sky began to appear slowly behind the steep mountains surrounding Devprayag. From our dormitory, we see our priest, guardian of the mandir, heating, probably water on his kerosene stove. He heard us wake up and came to offer us tea. We warmed up somehow our cold hands by holding the hot glass.

We left after a last offering. Loaded with our bags, we went down to the cave of our baba. We greeted him and we go to the path spotted the day before. The beginning of our pilgrimage seemed difficult. We were somewhat paralyzed by the cold and febrile nature of the excesses of recent days, but with the onset of the sun life began.

Walking on the mountainside, leaving the river below, on the other side, we could see the road with its jeeps and its buses. Even if the traffic was not really crowded, they had the annoying habit of honking and then to remind us that we were still in India. We were advancing, certainly in the heart of nature, but always very close to civilization, too close to our taste.

We crossed villages where as usual women reigned supreme. We were often offered tea and even cakes, but unlike Nepal, women were rather suspicious, more submissive, more reserved. In the evening we stopped near Srinagar. The path, after crossing the river again, was then one with the road.

We found a guest-house, a pretty little house run by a German who was not there for that matter! On the other hand, we had the pleasure of enjoying a bathroom equipped with a water heater! I have no more memories of this evening.

Day 4

We hit the road. The closest suspension bridge was a few kilometers away! Our acrobatic crossing took us all the time, and we were late. Surely, we could not reach Rudraprayag the same evening. Indeed, just before sunset after passing a last village and thinking that we could not reach the suspension bridge before the dark night to reach Rudraprayag, we had no option.

We trusted people that we cross and notes taken before our trip. So we decided to sleep under the stars. We had everything from dried noodles and energy bars as well as tea. We found a place in the middle of the forest where the slope was not too steep and especially not too far from the road. Sleeping in the jungle did not really reassure us.

A fire was made to heat water. The cold was winning us and we were hungry. On the way below many men were returning to their respective villages. Often, they stopped to look at us and to share a conversation around our fire. We arrived to eat and the fire needed to be fed often because we found very little dead wood.

We found only leaves and light branches not far from the camp. There was no question of going too far from the fire. The fire would die quickly for lack of supplies. The night began to encompass the valley and the lights of the small towns and villages on the other side of the river reminded us that civilization had not disappeared.

The fire was still valiant when a group of men (the last one by the way) passed by and stopped to warn us that it was not good to sleep like that in the forest. There were tigers, and leopards! We nodded but we felt that they surely exaggerated. They told us to come to the village, the last one we left behind in the late afternoon.

We were not reckless but stubborn. We decided to sleep outside, so we would sleep on the edge of the jungle. Disappointed and taking us for crazy, the small group left. The night was now really deep and truly silent. Only a few cries of birds were lost under the starry sky. Our stock of wood was running out like snow in the sun.

We could not hear the noise of the vehicles on the other side of the valley. It seemed as if life had stopped. No more people were on the way. We then put survival blankets on the floor and decided to sleep. The fire goes out. I was falling asleep when I began to hear a sort of roar, or rather a huge scream that echoed back to infinity on the mountainside.

Then we heard firecrackers, exploding everywhere. The echo did not help, and it quickly resembled the din of fireworks. The roar of the beast became more and more pronounced. This deep cry came closer. The more it went and the roars were at least a minute apart and obviously the beast was coming towards us.

I took out my ridiculous Swiss army knife and opened it and kept it in hand just in case. I smile now at the stupidity of the reaction. We did not even imagine what this feline could be and certainly fantasies of thwarted hunter made us imagine the worst. And if it was a tiger!

I scanned the surroundings and told myself that if the animal arrived, we could climb trees. But very quickly, I thought, a cat climbs trees much better than a man. Then we heard a roar nearby. A minute passed without the slightest sound, then the cat roared again but the sound was now from the right, then the next still to the right but already more distant.

We still heard scarecrows, at the village level that we had passed in the late afternoon, where we should have gone to sleep if we had listened to the villagers, there is still barely an hour back. The cries continued but were lesser to finally fade into the mountain so that we finally heard nothing. The fear had seized us.

We had never heard a roar and frankly still today or forever be imprinted on my memory. I laughed frankly when I evoked the desire to climb a tree, imagining the situation, perched in a tree with a blade surely evoking a toothpick for a tiger ready to devour me! The villagers had reasons, and we should have accepted their invitation. We fell asleep when we were certain that the silence would not be broken by the cry of the feline.

Sooji Halwa

Sooji Halwa is a very popular sweet dish all over India, usually made with wheat semolina and sugar syrup and is made on religious occasions, as offering to God. Carrots, mung beans or bottle gourds are also used instead of semolina. In Bengali cuisine, halwa is also known as mohanbhog, where milk is used instead of water. Sooji halva is gelatinous and almost semi-transparent, while the sesame and sunflower halva is dry and slightly crumbly and melts in your mouth.

The semolina based Halva is very popular in eastern India, Pakistan, Turkey and Persia to get to the eastern Mediterranean, passing through the cuisines of the Balkans. Each version is slightly different depending on the location and is a sweet simple recipe that is full of scents coming from the cinnamon and rose water that give a special flavour to this wonderful sweet.

The word halva also transliterated as halwa, halvah, Halava, helva, halawa comes from ancient Hebrew and Arabic and means sweet. In Israel, Balkans and the Middle East, the recipe is based on sesame paste, while with semolina in India, Pakistan and Persia and chickpeas in the Mediterranean areas. In the countries of Eastern Europe, like in Ukraine, in particular, it is very common to find the halva made from sunflower seeds, flavored with various flavors of coffee, vanilla, cocoa and in many cases is also mixed together.

Sooji Halwa recipe

The main ingredients of sesame halva are sesame seeds or tahini paste with sugar or honey. Other minor ingredients used in the preparation of sesame halva are the pistachio, paste of coconut, orange juice or lemon juice, vanilla or chocolate. This type is much more popular in the eastern Mediterranean, including Greece, where there are two different types of halva.

Regarding the Jewish religious traditions, as the halva does not contain meat or milk, it is almost always considered pure and can be safely be consumed after a meal of meat or dairy products, respecting Jewish dietary laws Kashrut. The halva is also one of the few dishes invented in Israel, which has managed to earn a place in the sun on the international culinary scene.

Travel to Central Asia and Kebab in Kyrgyzstan

I did not consider myself an ace of geography but I used to have a good idea of ​​countries and their capitals. While a map of Africa may leave me off-side, Asia does not. Asia was my forte. The continent where I live and travel for almost thirty years. But no, everything changed when we arrived in Kyrgyzstan.

When my partner proposed to me to travel through Central Asia and to visit all the Soviet nations, I nodded without hesitation. Then, over time, when I started to zoom in Google Maps I discovered (and the right word is to discover) a set of countries that I didn't even have the remote idea of. Kyrgyzstan was one of them.

Even Bishkek, its capital, did not sound great to me at all. Even its geography, drawn by free hand and in a capricious and Soviet way, did not sound like anything to me. Kyrgyzstan arrives like this without an idea.

We travel to the border of Kyrgyzstan. It took us seven hours by truck to make the two hundred kilometers separating Bishkek from Almaty, south of Kazakhstan. We travel in a big truck, with more than twenty wheels and ten meters long. A truck like those costs to climb, especially with backpacks and with the right time and space that can be found on a Central Asian shoulder.

The truck move slowly, with a shy driver who spoke no English. The driver saw hunger in our face and so he gave us half a salami, a bread and two water bottles when we said goodbye. He left us ten kilometers from the border. The crossing for trucks is one and that of individuals, another.

We walk and at twenty minutes we were explaining to the border officer our strange situation. He did not understand, and asked us for a visa and passport. He made a call to someone and finally he sealed us. We were in Kyrgyzstan and I, at least, had no idea about anything.

Tired, sweaty and with all the dust that we accumulate in the cabin of the truck we got on a marshrutka to travel the last kilometers. The marshrutka are private vehicles that are used as public transport, with an official route, of course. For thirty Som we made the last twenty kilometers to the center of Bishkek.

In the front seat sat a boy barely twenty years old, with short hair and is very neat. He looks half Russian, and half Kyrgyz. Even so, it is the result of the mixture, the invasions and the Soviet occupation in the land of the nomads of the center of Asia. I'm one hundred percent Kyrgyz, he clarifies, but my grandparents are Russians.

He asked us our age. We were born when the Soviet Union was still standing, before Kyrgyzstan became independent. He asked us curiously about Mongolia. He, like so many other Kyrgyz, ask with astonishment for Mongolia. They are children of those distant steppes where Genghis Khan once ruled. But Mongolia only remains in the words, and he ask us about Russia. His second great reference, both politically and economically.

He said he loves Kyrgyzstan but that it is dangerous and that Russia gives him more guarantee. After discovering that he is not the only one, most of the young people of northern Kyrgyzstan dream of Russia. As in Kazakhstan, many, even, do not speak their national language but only Russian and English.

He asked us where we are going and offered to guide us to our hostel. Not without first doing a small city-tour around the city. He showed us the same elements that are repeated in each of these former Soviet capitals. There are monument to the heroes of world war II, statue of the unknown soldier, and images representing freedom.

There is the infallible statue of Lenin with the right hand raised, the government house, a Soviet park, a bazaar and some great avenues. They are named after communists like Lenin, October, Marx or Engels. The order of the factors can be altered, but the elements are the same. After all, these cities were made by the Soviets and they are responsible for the planning. They create the parks, schools and hospitals that are still functioning today.

While we were crossing the center of the city, we saw the government house and a monument. The monument is in the exact place where the snipers fired during the revolution. We tried to look for the bullets but we did not see one. We kept walking.

In a moment we stop to rest. With the backpacks, it was not easy for us to follow the rhythm. The guide offered to go buy us something fresh to drink. We mistakenly accepted and he brought us two glasses of Kumus, the fermented mare's milk.

We said goodbye without knowing if we would see each other again. Our idea was to leave Bishkek as soon as possible. In a country that has an eighty percent of mountainous surface, the charm is in the nature and not in the cities. But we could not. The visas, the embassies, the bureaucracy and the comfort of the city made us spend more in the capital of Kyrgyzstan.

Finally, we left Bishkek. Comfort is never a good friend of the traveler. It invites to be quiet, to put together a routine, to stay inside. And in Bishkek, we were too comfortable. We already knew where to buy cheap fruit and where they sold the best kebab. We had to start in our best Kerouac style.

Looking at the map, east of Kyrgyzstan we see a large lake. Issyk-kul is the second largest mountain lake. It was enough to go a few kilometers away from the city so that the landscape begins to change. The gray department blocks gave rise to huge openings crowned by the background by high and snowy mountains. The horizon only broke every few kilometers. The black spots were improvised places of honey, smoked fish and the tastiest melons and watermelons that we ever tried.

It is assumed that Issyk-Kul, the lake that never freezes, was a key point in the ancient Silk Road, but nothing remains of those times. The northern route of the lake is terrain of resorts and hotels of several stars. Also from families who rent the free rooms of their houses for tourists to stay.

Cholpon Ata is a land of tourists mostly Kyrgyz, Russians and Kazakhs. Tourists who come with money and willing to give their best in their two weeks of vacation. The best thing about it is getting drunk, eating until you burst, buying badly printed shirts and renting little boats to tour the lake.

The most remarkable thing is it is not cold. With fifteen degrees and torrential rain they swim without problems. We take shelter in the camper and we watched them from the shore. We decided to go around the lake, and return by the southern route. Not without stopping at Karakol, the most important city in the area.

For them Karakol is to Issyk Kul, what Paris is to France. Nor were we going to contradict them, but we only mentioned in passing that the city of Karakol is not even on the lake, but a few miles further inland. Karakol reminded me of distant Siberia. Wooden houses, dirt streets and kids playing throwing stones or running to the chickens. The idea was to go around the city, get into the mountains, camp under the stars and spend somewhere surrounded by nature.

Day 2 - Karakol

The morning dawned just cloudy and we decided to go for a walk. At least, to the mountains that looked at the back of the town. Along the way, in addition to greeting all the neighbors we were stopped by two guys. Each one with his sickle and his work romper. They told us not to go up, as there was a lot of mud. They offered us their horse, and it was going to be the best way to go up. We tried to continue on our own, but we came back. When we returned we were asked for cigarettes.

We decided to go to see a few curious rock formations only fifteen kilometers from Karakol. The guy who works in the hostel insisted that we go by taxi, but we told him that we prefer to go by public transport. He said it is impossible, and that we will not be able to get there without a a taxi. We told him that we are going to try to go by public transport. With a long sigh we said goodbye.

At the marshrutka stop nobody could tell us which one is going. A lady lent herself to help us. She did not speak English. She asked us if we speak German. Making a mix between Russian, English and German we understood each other. She took us up with her to a marshrutka and after getting off with us a few blocks away, she told us which one is going.

With rain we walk by Jeti Oguz. The only good thing is that the gray sky further enhances the reddish color of the mountains. We did not get to lift our thumbs that a van already stopped to pick us up. There was a family who live in Cholpon Ata. They are on vacation so they have no problem taking us and practicing English. We stopped at a cafe.

We ordered skewers of meat, shami kebab, samsa, manti, cucumber salad, tea and bread. The family did not eat as it was Ramadan. We said goodbye, one more time. We have a few days left in Kyrgyzstan and we have to move forward. We decided to go south to the city of Osh, the second most important city in the country. The region that the Soviets divided by eyeview is a strange spiral between the recent nations of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Up to Osh are just over six hundred kilometers with several mountain passes over 3,000 meters above sea level. We decided to do it in two sections, without knowing very well where to sleep. The slogan is, always, to advance as much as we can. And now I settle into the chair, so what comes next was what I enjoyed most of these days traveling through Kyrgyzstan.

According to our way of traveling, we are condemned to make our trip entirely dependent on others. It depends on the car that stops and picks us up on the road, and the truck drivers. We depend on the good predisposition of the people who help us when we are lost and without maps. We depend on those who open the doors of their houses and of the hotels that, sometimes, receive us. Of course we are architects of our destiny, but let me assure you that most things do not depend on us.

The trip to Osh was not going to be the exception. The first car was a young man who works on importing Russian vodka. He took us to a roundabout. From there, a taxi driver took us for free to a toll booth. On the way he was stopped by a drunk woman. With our little Russian we understood that she told him that she had no money. He also picked her up. The woman said something else and the guy brought us down. We had serious doubts about how she was going to pay for the trip. We had a little fruit, bread and cheese under a tree. We hope the midday heat passes and we return to the shoulder. He braked a truck. They go to Talas, the city of which Manas is a native, the national hero who liberated Kyrgyzstan. We got off earlier.

We decided to spend the night in Suusamyr, a small town that is tucked about thirteen kilometers from the main route. It does not appear in travel guides and travelers do not stop there. That is all we want to hear. We wait for the last car. A lady, too, waited with us but few cars take the detour to Suusamyr.

He doubled one but only had room for one person. We said goodbye to the lady and she got on. After a while, a truck stopped. He stopped without us signing and walking slowly, leaving us in the center of Suusamyr. In the intersection of two dirt roads, there is a tiny mosque, a warehouse and a restaurant that only offers a single dish.

We have laghman, a noodles with vegetables and bits of lamb meat. From the restaurant the only movement we saw was that of the shepherds who brought and brought the cows from the mountains and the ladies who chatted in the street. Sometimes life seems very simple. Suspiciously, simple.

The boy from the store that sells clothes took us to the guest house. We recognized it very easily, as it has the only sign in English of a whole town of twenty houses and two streets.

A lady without much sympathy led us through. Without even saying hello she told us a number in English. We did not know what it was about, perhaps it was the price for sleeping there. That's why I do not like in tourist places. People are clouded and money eats up the most human signs. We told her it's a lot of money and leave.

With the night almost over we entered the second warehouse in the town and asked for a place to put the tent. While we have hundreds of kilometers of empty land, we always believe it is better to ask. The girl in the store told us to wait. She called her daughter, locked the place with a key and signaled us to follow her.

We crossed the street. She was wearing a headscarf, with a teeth covered in gold, worn dress and rain boots. She made us the universal gesture of sleeping by joining both hands under one ear and putting her head on her side and told us to follow her. The following scene could have been scene of a film.

We followed her down a totally dark corridor, open a gate and enter an empty and dirty room. Another hallway, a locked door, an empty kitchen, another locked door, a room with lots of pictures, another door with a key and a new hallway. We open a curtain and with some light we head to a room.

The room was spacious, with carpet floor and six beds. The sheets are with Mickey art. The walls have posters of Winnie the Pooh and in a trunk a pile of blocks that were waiting to be stacked. The lady told us to put several mattresses on the floor and to sleep there. We never knew if it was a kindergarten, an orphanage, if it was the municipality of the town or what. But we spent the night there.

Travel to Central Asia and Kebab in Kyrgyzstan

Day 3 - Fergana Valley

In the morning we did not see the lady. The store was closed and there was no baby playing on the street. The only thing we saw was a group of Kyrgyz gentlemen (it is easy to recognize them by their white felt hats) drunk chatting in a corner.

We walked the thirteen kilometers to the main route and started again. We did not pass five kilometers and we were already shaking heads to the sound of Salam Alaikum. The guy, a pot-bellied forty-year-old petite, was going to Jalal-Abad about 100 kilometers from Osh. He had no problems taking us.

We made almost five hundred kilometers together stopping for lunch, taking photos, looking for an emergency bath and taking the blessed fermented horse milk. When we were arriving in Jalal-Abad the good man offered to go fifty kilometers more to leave us in Uzgun. It is a city with a huge minaret that according to him we could not see. And after taking pictures and saying goodbye, we asked again about a place to put the tent.

We ask a girl in the park and they said no. She tells us that we better walk to the mountains at the end of town. We decided to ask in another store and this time, the owner invited us to sleep in an empty room behind the store. He apologized for not having too much furniture and invited us to a tea. He told us that in that city seventy percent of the population is Uzbek. We had no doubts that we were in the heart of the Fergana Valley.

We went for a walk around the city and the bazaar made us feel that we had crossed an almost invisible border. Nothing had to see this part of the map with the rest of the country. We returned to the store. The lady shared some ice cream and we spent a good time chatting on the sidewalk with her and with all the neighbors who had learned that in the town there were two tourists who were going to spend the night in the warehouse .

Already nearing 9 the lady began to close. She counted the collection in the box in front of us and asked us what time we wanted her to come and open the store the next morning. She said goodbye and left us alone, with all the merchandise all in an act of confidence.

There are things that I find hard to explain or understand. And this is one of those. For me it is inexplicable that someone picks us up on the road, invites us to house, and shares tea with us. I do not understand hospitality and I do not understand why I cannot understand it when it should be something obvious and natural. Here this is normal, and life seems simple again.

And although it seems illogical to us we like to travel like this. We do not like tourists things nor do we like the routes already laid out where everything is easy and where everyone speaks English and everything can be paid in dollars. We like the broth, get full, know the real life and the edges already prepared for tourism.

Kyrgyzstan was a great salad (maybe Russian salad) of nomads, communists, revolutionaries, reds and pro-Yankees. The valley of Fergana divided with a crayon has ethnic groups that still do not know which side of the border they live. We arrived without having much idea and we left with the same feeling.

The language barriers did not help, traveling along the margins, along the secondary routes either, maybe that's why things do not always go as planned. It is the risk of travel leaving the maps already established. But the good thing is that the places wait.