27 October 2010

Film Review: Aakrosh

THE BURNING TRAIL



In Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning (1988), two FBI agents with diametrically opposed ways of functioning arrive in a small town in the American South to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights activists. In Priyadarshan’s Aakrosh, two members of a CBI team with diametrically opposed ways of functioning arrive in a small town in north India to investigate the disappearance of three college students. It doesn’t end there: the narrative, characters, even scenes are happily plucked from Parker’s film and planted in Priyan’s.

All of this might be palatable if one could count it as a decent adaptation of a classic. But while Mississippi Burning managed to be both a taut policier and a passionate race relations drama, Aakrosh doesn’t quite swing it on either count.

Which is sad, because the prolific Priyan’s return to ‘issue-based’ Hindi cinema — for the first time since Virasat (1997) — has enough going for it. S Tirru’s cinematography is often impressive, with some superb action set-pieces that are clearly the director’s pride and joy (including a nice Mirch Masala tribute). The underrated Akshaye Khanna as a watchful, bespectacled CBI agent (who plays hard, but by the rules) is a perfect foil to Ajay Devgn as the hot-headed officer sent to assist him, while Paresh Rawal plays nasty cop with a carefully calibrated mix of nonchalance and menace. And they all get some decent lines.

But as one issue bleeds into another — ‘honour’ killings, police impunity, Dalit oppression, a trishul-wielding Hindu sena whose only raison d’etre is that Mississippi Burning had a Ku Klux Klan — it becomes hard to feel anything. And the more violence the evil thugs wreak on their supremely hapless victims, the greater the disconnect.

There is also the small matter of Bipasha Basu, (hapless) wife of (evil) Rawal, who is just stunningly wrong, whether glumly dusting her tasteful furniture in discreet handloom sari and just-blow-dried hair, or mouthing lines utterly beyond her ken (“Jamuniya, tohre nain kahe bheegat hain?”).

The honour killings, never much more than a peg for some solid masala, are sadly sidelined. But hey, we do get to watch the effortlessly intense Mr Devgn squeeze under a moving train, propel himself along an electricity wire with his belt and steer a whole jungle car chase atop a moving Innova. I’m a fan.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 43, Dated October 30, 2010

18 October 2010

Theatre Review: Nati Binodini



Nati Binodini is an ambitious play. It aims at being much more than a biography of the nineteenth-century Bengali prostitute who achieved almost mythical renown as a stage actress. It sets out to tell a story about modern Indian theatre, to expose the intimate yet exploitative relationship that actresses have had with the stage, and to probe the nature of acting itself.

As a line in the play has it, “Abhinaya swayam ko jaanne ki ek kriya hai, par aisa abhyas karna bahut kathin saadhna hai. [Acting is a way to understand oneself, but to practise that art is a very difficult exercise.]” But for Binodini, acting is a way to transcend her socially-scripted role as a low-born woman whose profession makes her irretrievably immoral in the eyes of society. Once on stage, she can be Juliet, Kanchan, Kapalkundala – or even Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

The script gestures several times towards the irony that the theatre allowed her to transform herself into a bhadramahila by the sheer ability to act like one, but would not let her escape her tainted status in real life. Rather than catapulting her into respectability, the stage remains tied down by the immorality associated with actresses like herself. The alternative is also not appealing for a woman who has experienced her kind of professional success. As her mentor Girish Ghosh (played with conviction by the sonorous-voiced Jayanto Das) puts it, “Baganbari – that’s what your life will be reduced to if you leave the theatre”. (Baganbari - lit. garden house - is a kind of suburban villa that many of Calcutta’s bhadralok built as a retreat from the city.)

Director Amal Allana seeks to play with time and identity by having five different actresses play Binodini at different ages, and having them appear on stage at the same time. It’s an interesting experiment to watch, but the performances seem to clash and detract from each other, rather than allowing one to be moved by the power of a singular persona. The performances are also, by and large, extremely overblown – Salima Raza as the old Binodini has a pronounced hobble and wailing voice (not to mention her incorrect pronunciation of Bengali words) that are cringeworthy. It’s clear that the idea was to interleave the play with fragments in the melodramatic declamatory style popular in Binodini’s time, but that style seems to have taken over the production, making it difficult to be drawn in or moved by the acting. Nissar Allana’s lighting and set design is fantastic, with a transparent stage lit from below, as is Devajit Bandopadhyay’s immaculately-researched musical score, but in the end you’re left with the sense of a tremendous spectacle, and little else.

Published in Time Out Delhi, Issue 14 Friday, October 01, 2010

Book Review: Multi-Stories

TAKE ME AWAY, AUNTIE
Kalpana Sahni will charm you with her cross-cultural anecdotes. Just don’t expect profundity, says TRISHA GUPTA


Multi-Stories
Kalpana Sahni
Routledge India
172 pp; Rs. 595


A COLLECTION OF pieces originally published either in the Op-Ed page of the Daily Times, Lahore, or in Herald magazine from Karachi, Multi-Stories is an odd little book. Its 60 chapters — if they can be so described — have little connection to each other. There are potted histories of everything from tulips to time-keeping, interspersed with Kalpana Sahni’s observations as she meanders through countries as varied as Thailand and Georgia.

One can be reading about the global political ramifications of Mercator’s map projections, only to turn the page and find a slightly kooky-sounding plea for more bureaucrat-poets in contemporary India (a la China’s Tang period).

A book like this can either feel wonderfully wide-ranging or unforgiveably scattered. Sahni’s introduction tries to preempt the second response by claiming that organising her material by subject would “reinforce the very compartmentalisation, which has been the bane of researchers and which has resulted in hermetically sealed cultural constructs”.

But cheering Sahni’s opposition to the idea of pure, closed-off cultures is unlikely to prevent readers from seeking order in her narratives. Being whizzed in and out of an (admittedly charming) anecdote of how Uzbek women name deeply desired Middle Eastern fabrics after characters from The Bold and the Beautiful, to land bang in the middle of a history of the turkey, or being transported from an account of an American architect who loved the chaos of Delhi to the Indian visa official who wanted Sahni to find his daughter a groom, this reviewer had the inescapable feeling of being taken on a tour by a well-travelled, chatty aunt who forgets where her stories begin — but happily carries on talking.

But, as might well be the case with the imaginary aunt, you’re mostly happy to let her wander on. After all, how often are you going to find someone informed enough to hold forth on the history of sugar and its etymology (Sanskrit sharkara to Latin succarum via Arabic sukkar) and yet playful enough to end her challenge to “culturally authentic” clothing by suggesting that a bright ABVP student conduct research on “The Origins of Khaki Shorts in Vedic Texts”?

Despite her deliberately anecdotal style, Sahni is at her most engaging not when she’s describing her interminable encounters with airport officials, drivers and tour guides, but when she’s taking us, light yet surefooted, through historical and theoretical terrain she knows well — the literature and culture of Russia and Central Asia, those regions’ links with South Asia and the idea of cultures as inherently mixed up, built upon borrowings from each other.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 42, Dated October 23, 2010

Hotel Review: Amber Vermont Estate, Mussoorie

Check Out

Sleepy Hollow

Nestle-up in the Himalayan mountains in the beautifully serene rooms of the Amber Vermont Estate.

Neither bustling Dehra Dun, where we arrive by train from Delhi, nor the winding drive up through Mussoorie town, chock-a-block with hotels, leads us to expect the startling peace of the Amber, Vermont Estate. Barely 10 minutes’ drive up from the Mall, we find ourselves walking down a pebbled outer courtyard, the only sound that of stones crunching underfoot.

The hotel’s sloping green roofs sit serenely atop three separate blocks of rooms, all with glorious views of the Happy Valley. The older block, with three deluxe rooms and a luxurious suite that opens out into the flower-filled back garden, also houses a poolroom, a TV room, a private dining room and a chic but comfortable lobby. This block, we are told, retains much of the original structure, with the wooden panelled walls and some of the lovelier old pieces of furniture restored to perfection, but the rooms (apart from the suite) are usually reserved for the owner’s special guests. We are given a first floor room in the new block, a contemporary stone-and-wood structure built on the site of the old servants’ quarters. Fortified by a luxurious hot shower and a hearty breakfast of aloo and paneer paranthas with pickle and dahi, we deliberate the prospect of a walk, but are defeated by the combination of approaching rain and an irresistibly cosy room: wooden floors, a warm bed and a glass-walled balcony through which you can see the mountains whenever they choose to reappear through the fog.

Every room at the Vermont gets its own balcony, which is priceless. But the high point of the five-acre property is undeniably the Deck: an open area adjoining the lobby where guests are welcome to dine, read or just gaze into the distance, watching the mist slowly wrap itself around the mountains, or listening to the langurs chatter in the trees. There is a dining table for four, a space for low seating, as well as two reclining chairs.

A post-breakfast siesta is followed by lunch on the Deck, after which we are driven down to Mussoorie town (the hotel provides a very welcome shuttle service to and from Library Chowk). We walk first along the picturesque Camel’s Back Road, and then along the length of the Mall, stopping to look at the wrought iron bus stops, the tired ponies lined up for potential tourists to ride. It is off-season, though, and no hordes of cantering children appear. Business is slow in general, whether for ponies or cable cars, or the many photographers offering to capture couples at ‘Bunty-Babli Point’ — which turns out to be outside the Continental Hotel, where Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee are shown conning a hotel owner in the 2005 film.

We return to the hotel, where off-season manages to seem like a quiet state of readiness rather than despair or desperation. Yes, the spa is still being built, the regular chauffeur is unavailable and the continental chef has decided to take a holiday, but things seem entirely under control. The brisk and cheerful general manager doubles up to drive guests to town and the waiters volunteer desi alternatives to the western-style snacks we ask for (wonderfully crisp paneer pakoras). The service is slightly slow, but always courteous and mostly thoughtful — though someone needs to take care of the little things, like remembering to provide a strainer on the tea tray, and a tea cosy to ensure that the tea doesn’t get cold by the time it’s found its way up to the guests. The food itself is good: carefully prepared, non-greasy and spiced mildly enough to cater to the most sensitive palate. I recommend the tandoori platter, as well as the Kashmiri rogan josh with home-style tawa rotis. (Oh, and the gulab jamuns.) There isn’t any alcohol available, though the manager suggested he would arrange to have some bought in town if we wanted.

When it isn’t pouring, you can drive up to atmospheric Cloud’s End, among the oldest estates in the area, which seems less like a functioning hotel and more like a museum to Mussoorie past, with its tiger skins and sepia-toned pictures of the Mall and Kulri Bazaar. You could also spend a day in nearby Landour, visiting the old St Paul’s Church, the cemetery or, if you’re lucky, Ruskin Bond’s house. But if you end up at the Vermont in the middle of the monsoon, as we did, there are going to be long stretches of rain during which you can do not much except eat, drink, read, sleep — or watch TV. I watched more TV in two-and-a-half days than I have in a whole year. I also read half a biography of Samuel Pepys, feeling a strange link to foggy London as I sat in my cloud-sheathed balcony, watching the rain come down in sheets. And yet, life seemed to move much faster in 17th-century London than it did at the Vermont. How often does a contemporary holiday offer you such stillness?

The Information
* Location Hathi Paon Road, Mussoorie
* Accommodation 12 deluxe double rooms and one deluxe suite
* Tariff Rs 6,500 (rooms), Rs 13,000 (suite). Includes breakfast and dinner. Valid till last weekend of September. High-season tariff: Rs 8,500 (rooms), Rs 15,000 (suite)
* Contact 0135-2630202; www.theamber.in

Summer Feast: Manali

High Table
'Tourist Food' takes on many wonderful avatars in Old Manali.


(Click on the link above to see this piece with Sanjoy Ghosh's delicious pictures)

What cuisine did they have here? In Manali? Oh, nothing!” Mr Sud waves his right hand dismissively. “They were uncivilised, jaahil people. And anyway it was too cold for anything to grow here. Isn’t that so?” He looks for confirmation at his headwaiter, who nods gravely. Neither Mr Sud or his headwaiter—both of Mayur Restaurant on Old Mission Road—are from Kullu, the mountainous district of which Manali is part. The two men from Kangra confer briefly over whether there’s such a thing as local Manali food. A long description of something called phamra follows, in which an elderly British woman sitting at the next table actively joins. It’s a breakfast dish, apparently, involving a small-grained local dal called baat, a red millet called sil, and a leafy vegetable called sukhi saag, which grows in sub-zero temperatures, all simmered together for several hours. Just when we’re beginning to get our hopes up, though, he brings the topic unceremoniously to a close. “But nowadays you won’t find it anywhere. Not in town, anyway. The locals think that’s peasant food.” The old restaurant owner quakes with silent laughter. “They all eat tourist food now.”

Tourist food. It’s a term that one might think conveys nothing at all, but in fact it’s surprisingly descriptive. In India, at least, it conjures up a vision of pasta in white sauce (usually stodgy), chocolate banana pancakes (definitely stodgier) and mango lassi (often stodgiest) in an uninterrupted chain all the way from Kovalam to Pushkar.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m as fond of chocolate banana pancakes as the next Indian-tourist-adventurously-following-firang-backpacker-trail, and when I last passed through Manali on my way to Spiti in July 2006, I ate more than my fair share. Four years later, though, I’m back in town to find out if having a food-centric holiday in Manali is possible without entirely clogging one’s intestines with maida.

So, of course, the first thing I order is pancakes.

We’ve driven into Manali on a sunny April morning, ravenous after a 13-hour drive whose high points have not been culinary (though insanely sweet dhaba chai at 4am can assume an epic quality when you’ve finally found the right road to Ropar). An hour after Kullu, our nostrils are reluctantly letting go of the fragrant damp smell of pine forest when New Manali begins to sprawl around us, its uniformly squat ugliness relieved only by an explosion of signage: ‘Gujarati Thali, Marwari Thali.’ ‘Shere Punjab.’ ‘Kalinga Restaurant.’ ‘Madras Hotel.’ ‘Delhi Chaat Bhandaar.’ ‘Annapurna Bengali Restaurant.’ As the road curves up to Old Manali, the national diversity display of the honeymoon hill-station gives way to an exhibition of bohemian tourist fashion, interspersed with budget hotels in all shapes and sizes.


The sunny first floor balcony that serves as the outdoor café of Drifters’ Inn (10am-midnight; 98050-33127) looks out over the Old Manali bazaar. You can also look up, up and away for a glorious view of sky and snow-capped peaks. Once the food arrives, though, there’s no looking anywhere else. The chicken stroganoff (Rs 220) is a bit heavy, though the creamy sauce with bell peppers and mushrooms will please those with a taste for Raj-style comfort food.

Our other main course is even more directly Raj: a whole Manali trout served with boiled vegetables and plain white rice (Rs 280). British anglers introduced brown and rainbow trout into the Beas in the early 1900s. A cousin of salmon, trout thrives in icy cold mountain streams. An abundance of wild trout still draws anglers to Manali, but the government is keen to up commercial cultivation. In 2009, there were 81 trout farms in Himachal Pradesh, with production slated to cross 100 tonnes by the end of the year.

The trout is grilled to garlicky perfection, but it’s the buttermilk pancakes (Rs 90) that steal the show: two perfect golden discs generously smeared with butter and maple syrup. The 32-year-old Nishant Singh, who runs Drifters’, tells me he has only recently switched to thick American-style pancakes. As I gratefully put away my second pancake, satisfyingly solid and gloriously fluffy at the same time, I ask why. “Because my menu is for a cosmopolitan crowd,” says Nishant. “Not the typical hippie tourist.” It’s a revealing answer. A Mumbai-based brand manager with Vodafone who decided that what he really wanted was to run a hotel in the hills, Nishant is equal parts dreamer and businessman.

He’s also part of an ongoing process: as Old Manali becomes more popular with North Americans, Europeans and upper middle class Indians, it has less of the doped-out hippie haven about it. Israelis, while still the largest single nationality among Manali tourists, have reduced in absolute numbers and as a proportion of the tourist population. Correspondingly, Israeli food, ubiquitous until two or three years ago, is less so now. You can still find it easily enough, at older budget places like Dragon Restaurant (7.30am-midnight; 01902-252790), where among others, there’s an ‘Israeli breakfast’ of pita, hummus, chips and salad (Rs 80), shakshuka (a spicy fried egg sandwich, Rs 90) and herbed zatar bread listed as ‘jatar naan’. The decent hummus (Rs 80) comes with a plate of fluffy pita that’s a lot like naan (“naan-like pita, pita-like naan,” agrees the genial waiter).

But newer establishments are making a statement by having sophisticated, highly selective menus rather than catch-all lists—and not including Israeli items. Other than Drifters’, there’s the Lazy Dog Lounge (10am-11pm; 254277), set up in 2008 by the spiky-haired Gopal, a chatty 30-something Delhi boy who abandoned a 15-year career as a television producer to do this. If it’s a cold evening, the cosy wood-panelled interior is the place to try their classic rosemary grilled chicken (Rs 170) or the more quixotic pineapple fried rice (Rs 170). But if the sun is out, get a table in the rocky outcrop of a garden out back and watch the Beas roar spectacularly past below you. The bibimkuksoo (Rs 130)—chilled noodles, thinly sliced vegetables and boiled egg, with a Korean hot sauce on the side—is served with ice cubes to keep the noodles cold and is fabulously refreshing on a warm afternoon.
The other hot-weather speciality here is the Vietnamese fresh spring roll (Rs 120)—a delicate rice flour parcel packed with chicken and slivers of carrot and cabbage, with a Thai sweet-chilli sauce. The veggie version (Rs 100) is almost as good.

The transformation of Manali’s culinary experience from generic ‘tourist food’ to a variety of specialised cuisines owes a great deal to the non-local who settles in Manali and decides to make a living selling his or her kind of food. Gopal’s Korean partner has much to do with the Southeast Asia-inflected menu at Lazy Dog.

That night, we follow the Korean food trail to Yun Café, a lovely old Himachali wooden house run as a restaurant by a local man and his Korean wife. There is traditional low seating all along the creaky wooden balcony, but it’s cold outside so we decide to move inside and warm ourselves, first with some splendidly potent soju (Rs 250 for 200ml) and then miyeokguk baekban (Rs 130), a flavourful soup full of dark green seaweed, which comes with white rice and four side dishes (the fried zucchini is superb). The tangy bibimbap (Rs 150) is a satisfying one-dish meal, as is the dongas (Rs 180), a fried pork cutlet in a sweetish sauce that’s a lot like the Japanese katsu-don. If it’s the trout trail you want to follow, try the maeuntang (Rs 250), a spicy Korean fish soup given a local twist with Manali trout.


The oldest and best-known of these establishments owned by non-locals is the Italian restaurant and pizzeria Il Forno (12.30pm-10.30pm; 9816922481). Located on a picturesque bit of hillside on the way up to the Hadimba Temple, Il Forno, too, runs out of an old wooden Himachali house. Paolo, a small man with wispy hair and a nervous energy that makes him seem a little like the White Rabbit, started it in 1995 with his wife Roberta, when the USP was (as it still is on the card) ‘Imported Ingredients Italian Chef’. Today, much of what they use is local, and the acting chef is a Nepali who’s trained with them for 15 years.

The saffron mushroom risotto (Rs 210, but you can’t order less than two plates) is fragrant and flavourful and creamy without being too dense. The chicken escalope with lime and brandy sauce (Rs 240) is succulent and perfectly marinated, though one finds oneself wishing it were veal. The wood fire-oven-baked pizzas are, without exception, superb, though my pick is the ham and mushroom pizza (Rs 230). Do not leave without dessert—the tiramisu (Rs 90) is moist and lovely, but for sheer decadence you can’t beat the fiametta (Rs 50): a large disc of biscuit, with a huge dollop of dense chocolate mousse atop it.

Of course, the authenticity of a restaurant’s food doesn’t always depend on the owners being born into the cuisine. Il Forno and its Nepali chef are paralleled by Pizza Olive and its Tibetan owners/cooks. An atmospheric little place in a garden set back from the road, Pizza Olive (9am-11pm; 9816191541) serves high quality pastas and pizzas. Then there’s People Café (10.30am-11pm; no phone), a family-run Russian establishment whose Russian items can be terrible—give the fish salad a wide berth. The food is otherwise unremarkable, but the ambience is cheerful and welcoming, with guests given crayons and invited to draw something for the wall collage.

My search for ‘local food’ has gone nowhere since my lunchtime conversation with Mr Sud at Mayur (8am-11pm; 252316). His restaurant’s perfectly executed aloo palda (Rs 70), potatoes in a light but somehow creamy yoghurt gravy, and the excellent sepu bada (Rs 80), dumplings made from a combination of soaked chane ki dal and mah ki dal and cooked in spinach with fennel and garam masala, are adapted from Mr Sud’s family recipes—which means that they are from further south in Himachal.

The sleepy and bureaucratic staff at the Kunzum Hotel (253197) say the Himachali food on their menu would need to be pre-ordered a day in advance. I say, fine. They look a little alarmed at my persistence, and now say it would need to be paid for in advance as well. I laugh, but don’t call them.

My final meal is at the magnificently laid-out Johnson’s Café (8am-11pm; 253764). Touted as Manali’s first trout speciality restaurant, it certainly has the largest range of trout dishes in town—from tandoori trout with kachumber and apple chutney (Rs 300) to wood oven-baked trout fillet with sage and butter sauce (Rs 350), not to mention Jimmy’s crispy fried trout with green apple salad and chutney (Rs 300). The eclectic menu displays a mix of culinary influences, but with a focus on fresh ingredients and an inventive use of local produce, like trout—and also Himachali apples. Try, for example, the rucola, apple and parmesan salad (Rs 160), with the rich, mellow flavour of the parmesan beautifully set off by the crisp tartness of the apple.

Just when we’re about to leave, we discover the Manali local trout curry thali (Rs 350)—a stellar meal of red rice called ukhara chawal, a lovely local green called madara palak, paneer ki sabzi and a large bowl of flavourful trout in a wonderfully full-bodied haldi-mirch-dhania gravy. As I mop up the last of the famed local lingri fern pickle with a superb fermented local flatbread called bhaturu, I think to myself, if this is tourist food, I’m glad to be a tourist.l

And there was more

Dylan’s Roasted and Toasted Started in 2006 by Rajan Nalwa with two friends (who went back to Israel the next year), this relaxed outdoorsy space serves a variety of well-made coffees (Turkish, Rs 40; French Press, Rs 60), melt-in-the-mouth chocolate chip cookies (Rs 20 each) and perfectly good snacks (cheese and olive toast, Rs 70). Dylan’s rapid cult following got them an invite to run the café at Israeli House in North Goa in 2007. There is now a branch in Arambol. It’s a true travellers’ café, with even the signature Bob Dylan mural attributed to the collective efforts of tourists down the years — when we went, there were two English girls adding their own touch. 8am-11pm; 9816054041

English Bakery and German Bakery Several different shops that attempt to distinguish their wares from each other along imagined national lines, but sell more or less the same cakes and pastries. Try the gloriously decadent bhagsu cake (Rs 30): a layer of pure, buttery chocolate set atop a biscuity base and chilled.
Shesh Besh This ageing hangout advertises itself as a “Fresh and Funky Restaurant”. The outdoor seating area is lit with low, hanging lamps by night and has a relaxed vibe that makes it popular with all kinds of visitors. The owners have a bit of a Mickey Mouse fixation: there’s a large Mickey Mouse illustration on a board propped up at the back, and every bill comes with a painstakingly drawn Mickey Mouse face with the words, “Keep Smiling, Stay Happy”. 9am till late; 9882337320

Open Hand CafÉ A newly-opened outlet of the sophisticated café chain that opened in Varanasi and also has two branches in Delhi (in Paharganj and at the American School). Run by a South African partnership, which decided that selling Indian-made home furnishings to tourists would be made easier if they had their own cafés-cum-display showrooms. They sell high quality coffee, cakes and sandwiches, with a few carefully chosen South African dishes like bobotie (spiced minced meat baked with egg topping, Rs 180) and sosatie (grilled marinated meat with apricots, Rs 220). 8.30am till late; 9871909777, www.openhandonline.com
NEW MANALI
New Manali is generally filled with eateries that cater to middle class Indian tourists who’re used to their own kind of food and might wish to avoid culinary adventures. Often the owner is local, someone who used to serve standard North Indian restaurant fare until he realised that there was a niche market for Gujarati food, or Bengali food, or whatever. The Himachali owner of Himalayan Dhaba (9am-11pm; 9418719313) reels off his eatery’s Bengali options (rui maachh thali, Rs 70) at top speed and with accurate pronunciation, then reveals he has had a Bengali chef for 10 years. Aashiana Family Restaurant (7.30am-11pm; 252232) serves a Gujarati thali (arhar dal, aloo tamatar, seasonal vegetable, rice and two tawa rotis for Rs 99). The addition of khichdi, karhi, papad and a gulab jamun makes it a special thali (Rs 150).
There are also such long-serving standards as Chopsticks, an extremely popular Tibetan-Chinese restaurant, known for its superb momos and large portions (The Mall; 11am-11pm, 252639) and Khyber (The Mall; 11am-11pm), which does a good job with North Indian non-vegetarian staples and serves Himachali fruit wines as well.

Published in Outlook Traveller magazine, May 2010.