South India for Russian People
Moscow was fun (read: Pt 1) but St. Petersburg held more promise! After all, we had tickets for the FIFA World Cup 2018!
Again, here’s the short version first:
Day 05 (18 June)
SAPSAN Bullet train – 4.5 hours, 700+ kms
Nevskiy Prospekt – so pretty
Walk through St Isaac’s Square
St Isaac’s Cathedral – what a beauty!
The Bronze Horseman – Pushkin! Decemberist Revolution!! Thunder Stone!!!
Aleksandrovskiy Garden – Time for Funny Pictures
8pm River Cruise – Lovely city sights and chilly winds
Dinner at Rubai – Yumm, good vegetarian food at last!
Midnight River Cruise
Day 06 (19 June)
Match Day! Russia vs Egypt – the fun never stopped
Day 07 (20 June)
Peterhof (Summer Palace) – Fountains galore
Tsarskoye Selo – “When I grow up I want to be a Tsar”
Day 08 (21 June)
Hermitage (Winter Palace) Art Museum – student discount!
Saint Petersburg is a gorgeous city. The baroque, neoclassical and art deco architecture of the city, cobblestone walkways, the palaces, the canals, the rivers, the parks… it is much more beautiful than I’d imagined. And at night (you know… 2 hours), the lights come on and the shadows and highlights make the buildings dance. And for the idle admirer, there are enough ice-cream, juice and corn stands dotting all the popular tourist locations so you don’t get hungry while you gaze.
Nevskiy Prospekt is where the action is at – from lovely restaurants and cafes to business houses, grand hotels, theatres, art schools and retail establishments. This city was the first planned city in the world, built by Peter, The Great, and he certainly had an eye for detail.
His palaces are astounding. He had one for the Summer (Peterhof) and one for the Winter (Hermitage – State Art Museum). It is also obvious he loved fountains. I don’t know if he ever stood downwind of one, like I did, and found the need for an umbrella. We didn’t enter the actual palace at Peterhof because the lines were extremely long since FIFA sparked a tourism boom and everyone wanted a piece of Peter. We opted to walk around the gardens instead and observe ducks (real and fake ones), fountains, rows of identically shaped trees and people dressed up as Peter and Catherine (300 Roubles for a photo).
The gardens in the Palaces are lovely and look like a scene from a romance novel. It is easy to get dreamy-eyed. Peter build an amazing palace for his wife, Catherine, in Tsarskoe Selo. Here we found the famed Amber Room. The opulence in these palaces are self-explanatory and it certainly left me aspiring to be a Tsar one day. The art and architecture inspire your jaw to hang loose all through the 30-minute guided tour. I learnt that the Germans had burnt down this beautiful palace during WWII, and it was rebuilt over decades and opened finally in 2003. The photographs of the palace on fire were haunting.
Other city sights like St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Bronze Horseman were of historic significance. Unfortunately, we lucked out with going inside this colossal cathedral – but I now have one more reason to go back!
The Bronze Horseman is a statue that has rich history. It has Peter, The Great on a horse with a snake underfoot (under-hoof actually). This is where Decemberist Revolution happened! And the statue is named after Pushkin’s poem. It blew my mind to be standing right there… it was almost as if I could hear the thunderous uproar of a historic revolution.
Apart from Palaces and Cathedrals, the city is famous for its rivers and canals. Neva is the main river here, with Fontanka and Moyka being the smaller ones. Catching a cruise along these rivers is the best way to explore the city. It also prevents you from running (with wallet open) towards one of the first departmental stores in the world – Au Pont Rouge – screaming, “Take my money! Please, take it!” Next time, I’ll walk.
We took the 8:00 pm to 10:30 pm cruise. White Nights here are far brighter than in Moscow. It didn’t rain at first, so we managed to see a fair bit of the city despite the chilly winds, before we went below deck to take shelter from the rain. The weather in St. Petersburg is unpredictable to say the least. It is sunny, windy, rainy and cold all in one day. A portable cloakroom with a summer jacket, winter coat, rain coat, blanket and sweater along with a butler to carry it around is recommended. However, I only had a backpack with a winter coat, fleece jacket and an umbrella. Since we didn’t have blankets, the cruises provided each of us one.
At 10:30pm, the sun appeared to just about begin its descent. After some good vegetarian food in a Middle Eastern restaurant, we took the White Nights cruise at midnight to watch the bridges of the Neva river open around 1:30 am. We had a small private motorboat with LED lights inside, which made us feel like 007. There was a nice spot in front where I stretched out and settled in to catch the sights.
The night was piercingly cold. It was impossible to sit on a motor boat, going against the wind. But I did it. I couldn’t give it up despite my longing for the protection of the wind curtain in the 007 zone! I warmed-up, the best I could, in my cushioned-seat with a blanket.
When we reached the Neva, it wasn’t so cold anymore. The iconic musical bridges opened with classical music in the background. My spirit soared with delight! In fact, soon after this sight, as we made our way to the other bridges, I felt serenity sweep over me. Yes, I went to sleep for 15 minutes on the Neva river in St. Petersburg on a motorboat!
The FIFA experience was exhilarating. We met fans from all over the world, and some fantastic volunteers. It was well-organised. The match itself was exciting to go to with fans of the home team. I ate my way through the game to keep warm, much to the bewilderment of the Russian teenager sitting next to me. It was a glorious 3-1 win for Russia. Exiting the St. Petersburg stadium, the halls echoed with the loud and proud voices of Russians singing ‘Katyusha’.
St. Petersburg is kind to students, even failed ones like me who whimsically signed up for a course in Madras University and never pursued it. But a valid ID meant 50% discount at Peterhof and free entry to… HERMITAGE!!
With a grin plastered on my I-saved-700-roubles face, I cheerfully navigated through the heavy crowd. For any art lover, this museum is a must-see. While the paintings are captivating, what stole my heart was the tapestry work. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life! They each measured around 15ftx15ft and hung regally along the walls of the corridors and rooms (remember now, this is a palace converted into a museum. A room isn’t just a ‘room’). The art here stirs something inside you. Seeing the library of Tsar Nicholas I was especially intriguing since it had been preserved in its original form. It will take about 4 days to see the complete collection here. Sadly, I had only 2 hours.
We ended our trip with a visit to an Indian restaurant (I know, seriously!) on a rainy evening with dreams of eating some hot samosas! We didn’t. We ate aloo parathas, paneer pakoras and tikkis instead! It was a feast! And I found myself missing home.
I bade goodbye to this amazing city late that night to head back to Moscow and onward to India. A sweeping feeling of joy overwhelmed me. I was so glad I’d visited Russia, and I was sure I’d be back.
By Ketaki Chandrasekar
It’s an absolutely glorious and liberating feeling to go on vacation! I walked into the Airport in a dream like state and watched fellow travelers going about their way with a benevolent smile… until a fight broke out about queues and I was brought back to reality.
I was on my way to Russia! This amazing dream had finally come true. I’d journeyed my way before through Russian literature, and now I’d finally get to take my own photos!
With my excitement as my companion, I boarded the Aeroflot flight from Delhi to Moscow. After 6.5 hours with berry juice, a filling ‘Hindu Veg Meal’ and good inflight entertainment, this South Indian vegetarian landed in Moscow!
Here’s the short version:
Day 01 (14 June)
Ride the Metro
Walk along Moscow River – so tiring!
Moscow State University (МГУ) view point – gasp! So beautiful
Evropeyskiy Shopping Mall – One pair of good sneakers, please
Ice Cream – crazy and delicious
Saint Basil’s Cathedral – wow. Get my picture!
Kremlin Clock – Where can I get one?
GUM (ГУМ) – Show me the money!
Dessert – could I have some more?
Day 02 (15 June)
Bolshoi Theatre – Amazing!
Maly Theatre – Very nice
State Historical Museum – very nice
Ice Cream – very very nice
Moscow River Boat Ride – so relaxing
Day 03 (16 June)
Izmailovsky Market – Kaching! The bargain place!
Milk Shake with Ice Cream – burp.
Flea Market - lovely
Arbat Street – woohoo!
Pretzel, Chocolate Éclair and Berry Mocktail – happy heaven
Day 04 (17 June)
Tsaritsyno Palace – what’s with the fountains?
Corn – too squishy
Ice Cream – keeps getting better
Kvass – never enough
Germany vs Mexico – boo hoo! Germany lost.
Now let’s get to the long version.
NO, I did not drink any vodka in Russia. We had fun, but not that kind of fun. So I did what any sensible person would do, I bought a bottle to take home! Beluga Transatlantic Racing Vodka (special pack with a glass included!) – it was a gift, but I’d partake surely.
Moscow is an exciting place to visit. The Red Square is a place you’d visit several times because it would somehow end up in your path considering it is centrally located and has so much going on. The Metro is fantastic and a great way to travel as you sit and stare at fellow commuters as they stare back at your brown-skinned face. Despite going during the rush of FIFA, I found very few tourists using the Metro. This is mostly because the signs in several stations are only in Russian. Mostly, Russian people keep to themselves, but if you utter a few words in Russian, they are very friendly and warm up quickly. Yes, in fact, even without saying a word, many young men warmed up rather quickly with cat calls of “hello, beautiful!”.
As a tourist, you have to walk a lot in Moscow (about 10-20kms daily), which is why I bought a new pair of sneakers within 1.5 hours of arriving there. We walked along the Moscow river, and took an exhausting yet invigorating uphill stroll through the woods to reach a view point just outside Moscow State University. The weather was fantastic – it was breezy, there’s was a little nip in the air and altogether it was a cool day. While I wrapped my coat a little closer around me, I saw a shirtless man on a bike riding downhill at top speed.
Here’s a little something I loved (like a true Indian) – the gold. Church steeples and domes are gold plated. These really glimmer in the sun. The bird’s eye view of Moscow from the University revealed a rather regal scene with a shimmer here and glimmer there, which made you realise that this casual scene is packed with rich history.
It is this same fascination that led me to gawk in wonderment at the Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin Clock. It was 8:30pm, and since it was White Nights in Russia, the sun was only just beginning to go down. The light shone off the gold hints and trimmings making this already gorgeous structure look even more grand. I wanted to take the clock home, but alas.
The Hop On Hop Off tour is the worst way to see Moscow. Avoid that at all costs. But do take the ride on the river boat. You can spend a few hours cruising through the water and seeing the sights on the left and right. This is especially good if you’ve walked 20kms the previous day and want to let your feet live to see another day.
Izmailoksky Market is the hub of souvenir shopping. Souvenirs are available everywhere, but it is cheapest here. There is no MRP in Russia, so even a bottle of water can cost 40 rubles or 140 rubles, depending on where you buy it. In Izmailovsky you can set your soul free and bargain! Russian people are very creative and artistic. A lot of things are handmade.
I was eager to catch some of the youth culture of Moscow and so my friend showed me around Arbat street. This neighbourhood was so lively and vibrant! There were street performances everywhere, artists selling their work in innumerable stalls, cafes, restaurants and so much more. The whole place had a buzz! We even discovered a graffiti wall which was dedicated to the late Russian musician Viktor Tsoi! Of course I took fan-girl photos here without ever listening to his tunes.
When we were making our way back to the Metro, a familiar tune from the movie Titanic cut through the air – the Irish music that Jack and Rose dance to. It was a bagpiper in Russia! After spending some time listening to him, we caught a violinist duo performing pop numbers and classical pieces back to back, and then a fantastic B-boying troupe who were very entertaining.
I’d visited Moscow just when FIFA World Cup 2018 had started. And so, I saw fans from all over the world. They were hanging off lamp posts after a win, they were engaged in loud banter in bars, they made snaking queues outside sights and other grand stuff like that. We even managed to catch a game at the FIFA Fan Center. Hence, while I did not enter many popular sights, I did get to catch a glimpse from outside and yell out a football cheer every now and then wherever I went. “ME-HI-COOO” “PERU! PERU! PERU!!” “RA-SI-YA!!! RA-SI-YA!!! RA-SI-YA!!!”
We did manage to go to Tsaritsyno Palace and watch the musical fountain! There are so many fountains in Russia, if you’re the type to spend hours watching water dance, you’d love it here! But since I don’t have that eye for detail, I restricted myself to just a few.
We had action packed days in Moscow. We didn’t bother much with sleep or food. This might sound disastrous, but it really wasn’t. We had dubbas (boxes). Breakfast & dinner was usually home cooked in our rented apartment, and through the day we managed with snacks we’d brought along, ice cream, corn & café food etc. Ice creams especially are a must here! Avoid ‘Stolovayas’ for meals – these are canteen style self-service cafes which doesn’t quite suit our palate. You won’t fall sick eating here, but you’d find yourself yearning for an idly rather quickly.
Sleep was sparse because darkness was between midnight and 3am in Moscow. It was difficult to call it a day when there was still light outside and there’s so much to see. We always ended up taking an Uber home only around midnight.
On June 18th, we caught the super-fast SAPSAN train to St Petersburg. The adventure only got better! But I’ll save that story for PART II…
By Ketaki Chandrasekar
Red Rice Adai
Boiled Rice - 2.5 cups
Red Rice (Puttu Rice) – 0.75 cups
Flattened Rice (Poha/Aval) – 0.5 cup
Salt to taste (1 teaspoon)
Mix both rice varieties and soak overnight. Next day add aval and wash rice well. Grind into a batter in a blender and add salt. Batter should be ground coarsely. Set it aside to ferment for 4 hours. Batter is now ready.
Head an iron ‘tawa’ and grease with oil (sesame oil). Add a ladle full or 0.75 cup of batter, and flatten it. Make a few holes in the middle and add oil here and to the sides of the batter. Once cooked, flip and cook the other side.
When both sides are fully cooked, adai is ready to be consumed! Adai can be eaten plain or with curd, mologai podi (popular breakfast powder made of lentils and chilli) or pickle.
This adai can also be made tastier by adding other ingredients -
Add shredded coconut to the batter and make
Add finely chopped onion, coriander, green chillies and salt to the batter and make
Special Curd Rice
Cooked Rice - 1 bowl
Coriander – handful, finely chopped
Cucumber – 1, chopped
Curry Leaves – 8-10, chopped
Seasoning – mustard, white urad dal, red chilli
Salt to taste
Mix Rice with curd, add 1 tbsp milk if curd is too sour. The mix should be slightly loose. Add cucumber bits, coriander, curry leaves and salt.
For seasoning fry ½ tsp mustard, 1 tsp urad dal and 1 or 2 dried red chilli in 2 tsp oil. Turn off when it sputters and add to rice. Mix well.
Pav Bhaji (serves 4)
Boiled Potatoes – 4 medium, mashed
Onion – 2 medium, finely chopped
Green Capsicum – 1 small, finely chopped
Tomatoes – 2-3 medium, finely chopped
Ginger Garlic Paste – 0.5 tsp
Green Chillies – 2-3
Everest Pav Bhaji Masala – 2 tsp
Red Chilli powder (Kashmiri Mirchi) – 1 tsp
Turmeric – 0.25 tsp
Coriander, finely chopped
Seasoning – cumin 0.5 tsp
Heat oil in a pan and fry cumin. Then fry the chopped onions and ginger garlic paste. Add green chillies and then tomatoes. Add salt and cook well till tomato becomes deep red (6-7 mins). Then add capsicum and cook for 2-3 mins.
Add Pav Bhaji Masala, chili powder and turmeric. Cook for 2-3 mins. Add mashed potatoes, a little
water and cook for 10 mins.
Garnish with coriander
Pav Bun (bread)
Butter or Ghee
Cut the pav in half. Heat both sides in a pan with ghee or butter.
Serve the warm buns with bhaji and finely chopped raw onions. Squeeze a little lime on the onions before consuming. Eat bread together with bhaji and onions.
Lassi – a sweet drink
1.5 cups Curd, chilled, slightly sour
7-8 tsp Sugar
½ cup Water
½ tsp Cardamom powder
6-7 Almonds, chopped
6-7 Pistachio, chopped
1 tsp rose water (optional)
Take curd, cardamom, sugar and water in a blender and blend well for a short time (10 seconds)
Garnish with cardamom powder, saffron strands and chopped nuts. Refrigerate and serve chilled.
In order to drink immediately, blend with crushed ice and serve.
Raw Peanuts – 250 grms
Besan/Gram Flour – 3 tbsp
Rice Flour – 2 tbsp
Garam Masala – 1 tsp
Dry Mango Powder – 1 tsp
Kashmiri Red Chilli Powder – 1 tsp
Salt to taste
Microwave peanuts for 2 mins, mix, and another 2 mins
Heat oil in vessel
In a bowl mix all the ingredients, add the peanuts and sprinkle little water. The mix should be dry and tight.
Drop the peanuts in the oil gently and fry for 2 mins
Add curry leaves while frying for extra flavor
Cool and enjoy a tasty snack!
Pongal or Thai Pongal is a Tamil harvest festival. It is one of the most important festivals in Tamil Nadu and is celebrated over four days. It usually falls between 14th and 16th January.
Pongal is also the name of the dish that is prepared with rice. The first harvest rice is cooked in a clay pot, which is decorated with colourful patterns called ‘kolam’. Sugar cane is also used as part of the decorations. The cooking is done in sunlight and offered to the Sun God, thanking him for giving enough energy for agriculture. There are two types of Pongal – sweet and savoury.
Where can you try Pongal?
The savoury Pongal or ‘Ven Pnogal’ is available all around the year in any South Indian Vegetarian restaurant. The sweet Pongal or ‘Chakkarai Pongal’ is usually available during the festival season.
Or you can try making your own with these recipes!
Day 01: Bhogi
‘Out with the old and in with the new’. People discard old clothes and belongings and celebrate new possessions. The custom is usually to build a bonfire at dawn to burn old things, and so on Bhogi day the air is thick with smoke early in the morning. This is more common in villages, although some sections of society follow this practice even in cities.
Day 02: Thai Pongal
The main day starts with the cooking of Pongal at sunrise. Milk is boiled in a pot and freshly harvested rice grains are added to it. When it boils and overflows, a chorus of ‘Pongal O Pongal!’ is shouted. In the Tamil language ‘Pongal’ means overflowing - signifying abundance and prosperity. Everyone prays for prosperity and new beginnings, while thanking God for a good harvest. After prayers, the pongal is served to everyone along with savouries and sweets including vadai, payasam, banana chips etc.
Houses are decorated with mango leaves at the entrance, food is served on banana leaves and colourful kolams can be seen at doorsteps.
Day 03: Maatu Pongal
Cattle are an integral part of agriculture and cows are revered as the godess Lakshmi, who symbolizes wealth. They are respected, loved and cared for. On this day, the cows and oxen are dressed up and decorated.
At dawn, women and girls feed birds with sweet pongal, cooked rice, banana and more, while praying for their brothers’ well-being. This tradition is called ‘kaka pidi, kanu pidi’.
Jallikattu, a game to tame the bull, is another tradition practiced in villages. In recent years, there has been some debate about this game.
Day 04: Kaanum Pongal
In Tamil ‘kaanum’ means ‘to visit or to see’. On the last day, friends and family visit one another and exchange gifts. Villagers visit their families and friends in cities and flock to beaches and theme parks. Sugar cane and its juice are commonly available on this day.
Thus Pongal is celebrated across Tamil Nadu. It is a tradition that has been carried on for centuries. Many resorts, hotels and restaurants cater to a special Pongal meals accompanied by activities and performances on these days.
Many parks and temples hold competitions for Kolam, which is drawn with coloured rice powder.
It is also the first shopping season in the year since all stores will be on sale!
Come and enjoy the festivities in Tamil Nadu! Happy Pongal to all!
Pongal O Pongal! | Image Source: Dishesfrommykitchen.com
Bhogi Pongal | Image Source: Pinterest
Maatu Pongal | Image Source: www.thepopularfestivals.com
Crowd at Marina Beach on Kaanum Pongal | Image Source: www.thehindu.com
Sweet Pongal/Sakkarai Pongal/Chakkarai Pongal | Image Source: Vidyalakshmi
Pongal/Ven Pongal | Image Source: www.currytrail.in
Popular South Indian Breakfast - Pongal Vadai | Image Source: lovielimes.com
Pongal Lunch on Banana Leaf | Image Source: rakskitchen.net
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