A Great Walk – Routeburn Track – Part II

Routeburn Track Start

“Do we want smooth peanut butter or chunky?”
“Ooh… What about chocolate peanut butter!”
We were at Queenstown’s supermarket shopping for groceries in preparation for our 3-day tramp on the Routeburn Track. I traipsed the aisles faced with the task of choosing from brands I didn’t recognize trying to pick out food that would be tasty, nutritious, not too heavy, within our budget and not require cooking – this was actually fun for me. My husband just rolled his eyes at my enthusiasm. (Future supermarket duties would be democratically divided into me keeping us well fed and him ensuring we never ran out of locally brewed craft beer.) Exhausted by the day’s track preparations – collecting tickets, confirming our shuttle to the start of the track, shopping for groceries and other miscellaneous things we hadn’t thought about before, and packing and repacking our backpacks – we slept through most of the bus journey to the Divide the next morning. The Routeburn Track is not a loop – most people start the track at Glenorchy, but “insider” tips from various forums had us starting at the other end. As we got closer to the start of the track, we couldn’t help getting excited – the world around us had changed to an emerald green – we were now in Fiordland National Park, where rainfall is measured in metres, and waterfalls drop from mountains in every direction you look.

Routeburn Track Day 1

The track started off uphill – we were soon surrounded by beech forest, and gaps in the foliage offered glimpses of lofty mountain peaks. We walked awkwardly at first – adjusting our backpack straps and the weight, tightening our shoelaces, finding a temporary protective solution for my camera against the light drizzle. (This is where the Indian habit of always having plastic bags at hand came into good use). The rain had picked up and since my backpack didn’t have a protective liner, I swaddled myself, pack and all, with my rainproof poncho. Amrut was laughing too hard to concentrate on the path, so I invited him to walk in front. Soon our footsteps fell into a steady rhythm. After all the planning and preparing, it was nice to just be here, surrounded by the gentle sounds of the forest with raindrops dripping down from the leaves, birds chirping around us and babbling brooks crossing our path. Suddenly, I felt very, very glad we had come.

Routeburn Track Forest Birds

We were soon at Lake Howden Hut, one of the many DoC huts along the track and our lunch spot for the day. I gingerly lowered my backpack to the ground and sank down gratefully into the grass. This was the point where we’d decided that if my injured shoulder became too painful, we’d turn back. But we both knew that neither of us was going to turn back now. As if to celebrate with us, the sun came out of hiding and lit up the landscape.

Routeburn Track Howden Hut

Lunch was a picnic (the best part about these hikes is that all lunches here are picnics) – steak and lamb pies from the bakery in Queenstown, and chocolate-and-peanut bars to keep up our energy levels (or so we told ourselves). After lunch, we plunged deeper into the forest, crossing bridges over streams and looking up as the wind pushed waterfalls upwards. We clambered over boulders to find ourselves at the base of Earland Falls, and I found myself craning my neck to look up, up, up to the top of the falls.

Routeburn Track Waterfalls

After a short break to admire this phenomenon of nature, we walked on and came across a sign that said “No Camping Allowed Here”. We were aware that camping is only permitted at designated spots, but hadn’t come across any admonishments until then. And then as we walked ahead, the reason for the sign became clear. For the forest had opened up before us and we were facing a sunlit meadow called the “Orchard” looking out to mountains in all directions. I could see why someone might want to stop here and pitch a tent. A few steps ahead lay gorgeous views of the Hollyford River snaking its way through the Hollyford Valley.

Routeburn Track Orchard

But the clouds were closing in and it had started to rain again. I put my camera inside my backpack, and we trudged with our heads down making our way quickly towards Lake Mackenzie Hut – our rest stop for the night. We were soon descending and suddenly I stopped and caught my breath. Before me, standing in a field of wildflowers was a beautiful lodge. I could see comfortable couches through the front facade, which was almost entirely made of glass. But, surely, this couldn’t be our “hut”? I knew it wasn’t – this was the lodge used for the guided trampers, who don’t carry their own bags, and are greeted with warm clothes and hot chocolate when they arrive followed by a three-course meal, and can sleep in a queen bed if they wish to. But it also costs $1400-2000 and you generally any lose bragging rights. But right then, cold and wet and hungry as I was, it was difficult to feel very superior.

Routeburn Track Hollyford

We didn’t have to walk very far to reach Lake Mackenzie Hut, and this time it was the location that took my breath away. Just a few steps away, Lake Mackenzie beckoned and mists swirled around the mountains. All the hut windows looked over this spectacular view and we walked in after taking off our boots (track hut-etiquette is surprisingly similar to Indian home-etiquette). These DoC huts are kept in amazing shape by the hut wardens, who live here during tramping season – they check tickets, keep order and impart track information and wisdom. The facilities are the best I have ever seen for a remote hut – bunk beds that are generously spaced, hooks and lines for hanging up our wet clothes, spacious kitchen and dining room, and toilets that flush! We changed into dry clothes (the one place where the tribe pays no heed to fashion – the rule is: warm and dry – good; beyond that, nobody cares) and busied ourselves in the kitchen. Pots were bubbling merrily on the gas stoves – enticing aromas of soup and pasta wafted towards us. Even though we couldn’t have anything hot not having carried pots to reduce weight, we enjoyed every bite of our dinner that night – chicken and tuna sandwiches on thick slices of sourdough, soft cheese and crackers, and Nutella for dessert. Exhaustion had overtaken us by then, and by 8 pm we found ourselves wrapped in the cocoon of our warm sleeping bags. I had completed the first part of our journey without falling (though I stumbled a lot), quitting or generally disgracing myself. And although the tell-tale soreness in my back and shoulders indicated that I was going to be in for a lot of pain the next day, I smiled as I held my husband’s hand and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Mackenzie Hut

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Great Walk – Routeburn Track – Part I

Routeburn Track

When you think of a ‘honeymoon’ – spa hotels, romantic suites, beaches, cocktails by the pool – these are the things that usually come to mind. Seldom is this word associated with tents, hiking boots, sleeping bags and eating out of an enamel pot. But when you have decided that most of your honeymoon will be spent hiking or, as New Zealanders call it, “tramping” New Zealand’s epic trails, these are the things you think of. Our journey would begin with the Routeburn Track, one of New Zealand’s nine ‘Great Walks’. These are the country’s premier tramping tracks winding their way through spectacular landscapes that would make you believe you had somehow been transported to Middle Earth.

Queenstown Hill Walk

The Routeburn Track is 32 km one-way with most fit trampers completing it in 2-3 days. Now, I have never been blamed of being fit, but I love the outdoors with an intensity that is at odds with my general clumsy nature. Put a chair or a table or a rock even in the general vicinity of my path, and I will crash into it. But I was up for the challenge, or so I thought. Day 2 of our honeymoon saw us in Queenstown and as a sort-of rehearsal to the upcoming Routeburn Track, we were going to hike the 2-3 hour Queenstown Hill Track. I thought it was going to be easy – I’d been on several day-hikes before, I was in relatively decent shape, and how difficult could a hike that started on a residential street of Queenstown actually be? What I’d failed to take into account was the 500-m elevation in a relatively short hike, and was soon huffing and puffing like a steam engine. My husband (I still hadn’t got used to the word), Amrut, who’s known me for many years and understands what motivates me egged me on. “Come on. You can do it! Only a little bit more to the top. Imagine how good those chocolate croissants will taste looking down at that view.” (I don’t believe in hiking without a picnic.) We did make it to the top in record time (the right motivation helps) even after several breaks to appreciate the gorgeously unfolding vistas (no other reason) and no other croissants had ever tasted better, but a tiny nagging doubt had creeped in. Was I really ready for this? And this was before I had to make a visit to Queenstown emergency centre.

Kawarau Bridge

Amrut’s initial idea for our honeymoon was to cycle through New Zealand. Optimistic though I am about my outdoor prowess, even I knew this was way too ambitious to even consider. Having had to crush his dream, I’d planned a day of cycling on the Queenstown Cycle Trail stopping for a picnic and bungee jump on the historic Kawarau Bridge – no big deal. We were cycling on this beautiful trail by the river when suddenly a dog walking the trail jumped out at me. My dear, kind husband tells people that’s when I fell, to save me from embarrassment. What actually happened was that we were going downhill, I’d gathered too much speed and refused to hit the brakes. Why? Because I had this cartoon image of the front wheel getting jammed and the bicycle flipping over my head. Since this did not happen, I’d like to argue that I was right. What doesn’t help my argument is that I skid on the gravel and fell hard on my left shoulder with the bike on top of me. The adrenaline was still pumping and I laughed with my husband about how clumsy I was (He’d been murmuring to himself “Please don’t fall. Please don’t fall.”) until he came closer and checked my shoulder. To cut a long story short, I was soon at the emergency centre where a kind nurse dressed my shoulder, arm and fingers – now with much less skin and decorated with a blooming friction burn. (The shot and bill she gave me was just adding insult to the injury.) How was I going to strap on a bag with 3-days worth of food, water, clothing and other miscellaneous things much less carry it up-and-down a mountainous terrain? Things were looking bleak.

Queenstown Sunset

We spent the next couple of days strolling around Queenstown, sitting by the lake, drinking beer and eating some great food. People couldn’t help noticing my almost-mummified left arm, and I must say, it was a great conversation-starter. A 65-year old lady at a restaurant told me “At least, it wasn’t a Harley!” and showed me her surgery scars. (She still rides one.) What surprised me was how everyone we met – from random people at cafes to the wonderful people, who issued track tickets, at the DoC (Department of Conservation) – really wanted me to try and complete this hike. Most of them were locals and having walked a “Great Walk” they truly didn’t want us to miss out on the experience. Finally, the evening before we were supposed to start, Amrut hoisted the backpack onto my shoulders (he’d put most of the heavy stuff in his own bag) and looked at me. I knew he wanted me to try, but his expression said “No pressure.” I took a few tentative steps wincing against the pain, but it was not as bad as I’d imagined it to be. I looked at him, smiled and uttered his favourite words “Let’s do this!”

Honeymoon Hiking

To be continued…

Posted in Travel | Leave a comment

Sunday Brunch at Le Pain Quotidien, Mumbai

Eggs 1

There is something deliciously lazy about a Sunday morning. The day stretches out in front of you full of promise, yet there is no urgent need to do anything. You wake up without an alarm shrieking in your ear and even though you are awake, there is no need to get up just yet. You read the Sunday newspaper and no one frowns if you only concentrate on the comics and lifestyle section. Brunch was invented for a Sunday, when you can laze over a meal without feeling guilty and feel your whole body de-stress bit by bit. Or at least that’s how it is for me.

Biscotti Coffee Collage

This last Sunday, we woke up late and decided to head to Cafe Madras, because it was nearby and after a year in Paris, I had a strong urge to rekindle my love affair with a South Indian breakfast. But it was not to be as we eyed the large crowd waiting outside the cafe and drove around in circles looking for parking. If there is anything that can destroy the leisurely feeling of a Sunday morning, it is the daunting prospect of waiting for your brunch while worrying that your car might be towed away. So we turned around and headed towards town, which we knew would be blissfully uncrowded on a Sunday.

LPQ Collage

I had wanted to check out Le Pain Quotidien for a while now and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. As soon as as I saw the bougainvillea-framed entrance and walked in to the smell of freshly baked bread, I knew we’d made the right choice. The interior reflected the warmth and decor that LPQ displays worldwide and having eaten at their cafes several times in Toronto and Paris, I felt instantly at home. The warm wood finish, the inviting communal table, daily specials written on the blackboard – everything felt instantly familiar. However, unlike other chain establishments, nothing seemed forced or gimmicky. Even the servers were cheerful and nice in a way that made you feel they meant it, instead of reciting welcome spiels by rote.

Continue Reading…

Posted in Food, Restaurants | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Holiday Musings and Raspberry-Laced Chocolate Cake

Cake h

I open the window on my blog dashboard to type in my words and sometimes the words fail me. They seem tiny, insignificant in a world of revered proficiency and untold chaos. I’ve opened and closed this window several times in the past few days, and weeks, and months. Sometimes, the exhaustion takes over, sometimes there is no inspiration, but many a time it is a feeling that these words don’t matter. I’m not changing the world, or shaping a life. How does it matter? And I’m sure that there are others out there who have the same feeling. I’m not talking of just bloggers, I’m talking about people – the fear of being insignificant, it grips us all at one time or the other.

Raspberries Coll

This post was not supposed to turn out this way, but sometimes when you’re alone during the holidays, the cheer can seem a bit forced. It’s possible to feel lonely in a crowd. If you’re out there, that one solitary person hanging back from the party, the one with the bruised heart and broken smile, assailed with doubts or fear, looking for someone to be genuinely kind without a reason, I don’t know if my words will find their way to you, they probably won’t, but know that you matter. You matter because you are who you are, and you do what you do, and nobody else out there is quite like you.

Continue Reading…

Posted in Cakes, Dessert, Food | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

10 Delicious Things You Must Eat in Paris


If like me, you have a love and passion for food and have always dreamed of a place where the best ingredients are put in the hands of the best artisans to make some of the best things you’ve ever tasted, then Paris is that dream come true. And I’m not talking of just fancy restaurants with Michelin starred chefs. I’m talking of walking into a street market and being inspired by the fresh produce, of being tempted into entering a small boulangerie by the smell of bread straight out of the oven, of opening a carefully wrapped box to slowly savor the exquisite sweet treat inside. At every corner, at every turn, this city entices you with its culinary prowess. Here then is my list of 10 delicious things that you must not miss when you are in Paris.

1. Macarons

Macaron PH Coll

More than anything else, the macaron has come to symbolize the Paris pastry scene. Simple in concept – two biscuits sandwiched together with ganache, the creativity and imagination of the city’s pastry geniuses takes what is essentially a cookie to a whole new level. And the best place to try them is at Pierre Hermé. Very few places stand up to the intense hype that surround them, but this one lives up to every expectation. The classics like the salted butter caramel will always reign but don’t leave without trying their ever-changing inventive flavors (chocolate and foie gras anyone?). I love their signature Ispahan (rose, raspberry and litchi) and in summer, the macaron ice cream sandwiches are the perfect treat. Other great places for macarons are Carette (I might be biased since I currently work there but don’t take my word for it – their chocolate macarons were voted second best in Paris), Aoki (try the Japanese inspired flavors) and Ladurée (another favorite, but I think this place is resting on its laurels – the macarons are the only thing I like here).

2. Hot Chocolate

LEbouill Choc Coll

When there is a nip in the air, there is nothing better than a cup of hot chocolate to ward off the chill or the blues. The true Parisian hot chocolate is rich and intense and nothing like the weak instant-powder drinks served almost everywhere else. My favourite place (and this has been supported by everyone I’ve taken there) is a charming cafe near the Seine called L’Ebouillante. The hot chocolate comes in a big bowl – and it is literally that – hot chocolate. To this you add milk as per your preference, so you can make it as rich as you want. Other favorites are Jacques Genin (a gorgeous chocolate store) and Angelina (I take people there more for the overall experience than the hot chocolate itself).

Continue Reading…

Posted in Food, Paris, Travel | Tagged | 10 Comments

The Magic of Nuit Blanche


There are certain nights that will always live with you, when everything comes together in a magical kaleidoscope of events that are unplanned and therefore much more special in their happening. For me, Paris Nuit Blanche 2012 was one such night. Nuit Blanche literally translate to the white night – an annual celebration of art and culture on the first Saturday of October when galleries, museums, town halls, even building terraces are open to the public all night. I’d penciled in the date in my calendar a month ahead, but it did not have an auspicious beginning. The weather forecast showed that it would be raining all night, and a friend who had promised to accompany me canceled at the last minute. (He claims sickness, I say hangover.) I left the warmth of my house reluctantly only to have to return 10 minutes later because I’d forgotten my metro pass. As I said, not an auspicious start.


The first thing that lifted my spirits was the fountain near my apartment where the street meets the bustling avenue de l’Opéra. Called Fontaine du Théâtre Français, I have hurried by it everyday on my way to school or work barely giving it a glance. But that night, you had to notice it as it shimmered and danced under the lights, playfully announcing that even it knew that this was going to be a special night.

Comedie Fr

I crossed over to the Comédie-Française and into the courtyard that tourists so often miss in their rush to get to the Louvre. Sure enough, the courtyard was almost empty, the contemporary columns standing silently in wait for the next theater rush.

Cafe Louvre

I walked out to a scene that seemed straight out of Midnight in Paris – the rain drizzling down softening the warm lights spilling out of the cafes, reflected in the soaked sidewalks, as couples walked by lost in the universe under their shared umbrellas. I have had images of a romantic Paris fed to me all my life through movies, books, pictures but here was the cliché coming to life in front of my eyes. This was a lovers’ Paris meant for sweet nothings and first kisses and practiced seductions.

Continue Reading…

Posted in Favorites, Paris, Travel | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Food Lovers’ Paris: 1st Arrondisement

Marche St Honore Coll Brush

If you are new to Paris, it’s good to remember that the city is neatly divided into 20 arrondisements (administrative districts), which are indicated by the last 2 digits of a postal code and also on the street signs, which makes it a little bit easier to get a general sense of direction and know where you are. When my cousin visited me in Paris this summer, I bought a map of the city by arrondisement (which you should do if you’re visiting) and painstakingly marked all the good places to eat since I would be at work during the day. It was a great idea; only, she took one look at it and said “Umm, I can’t read maps.” It all worked out in the end. (I gave her directions she understood like “Take the left at Zara, and then go straight until you hit H&M…”) But since I get asked for recommendations to eat in Paris, I thought that this would help others out there. So here it is, Paris for foodies broken down by arrondisement. Bon Appetit!

Food Lovers’ Paris – 1st Arrondisment Map

Open in Google Maps

The * indicates the degree of my affinity to a place, some are favorites and others are great options if you are in the neighborhood. Note that these are purely subjective and based on my likes and dislikes.
Most of the places on this list are moderately priced unless otherwise noted.

Continue Reading…

Posted in Food, Paris, Restaurants, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Frankfurters near the Louvre: Le Stube

At Le Stube, Paris

Admittedly, no one comes to Paris to eat frankfurters. But if you find yourself outside the Louvre (which you probably will if you’re visiting Paris) and depleted of all energy, or strolling the gardens at the Palais Royal and in need of a snack, stop by Le Stube on Rue de Richelieu. You’ll be greeted with a kind smile and a visual feast of hearty cakes and tarts. The previous owners of Le Stübli gave up the business to “travel, learn and find new inspiration” and the result is this charming cafe where they intend to promote what they call ‘snack’issime’.

At Le Stube, Paris

Their French-German heritage is reflected in the menu headed by “The Sausage”. My favorite is the Frankfurter in a crisp baguette (you can also have it in a regular bun, but in France why would you?) with simmered onions and their mustard specialty. I’m not a great fan of mustard, but I love this one; it’s sharp without being pungent and has a sweet undertone.

At Le Stube, Paris Continue Reading…

Posted in Food, Paris, Restaurants | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment