Food Review: The Kabila, Aurobindo Place, New Delhi

 

Syed Zafar Mehdi

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, goes the cliché. And when talk veers to north Indian cuisines, one is bound to fall in love with the exotic aroma of the spicy, mouth-watering delicacies that toss your calorie apprehensions to winds.

The mere mention of rich north Indian food stirs butterflies in me. This week, destination was the famed eatery in South Delhi, The Kabila restaurant at Aurobindo Place. Though it certainly isn’t my favourite places to savour food, many recommend it and lots of locals flock here too. Old Delhi and new Delhi

Nestled in a beautiful setting, Kabila is a fun experience for guests. The food is authentic enough that anyone not snobbish about Indian food will enjoy it. Ambience is alluring that flushes out positive vibes, and sets mood for a perfect dining. Pipe music in the background adds to the cool quotient of the eatery.

I am escorted to the seat in middle, facing the delightfully decorated ceramic objects. I fasten my seat belts. Menu is intimidating. Choices galore. In a jiffy, my table is choc-o-bloc with decadent delicacies. Chicken Tikka, the traditionally baked skewers with small pieces of chicken in tandoor after marinating in spices and yogurt, is delectable. It’s followed by Murg Malai kebab; a yummy chicken preparation flavoured with spices and rounded off with malai. A munch of delicious Tawa Biryani, biryani prepared on tawa (cast-iron griddle) is hard to resist. Bhoona Gosht, succulent mutton pieces grilled in hot tandoor is another item that leaves one licking fingers.

For bread, you have Paneer kulcha and naan, cooked on an iron griddle. Naan is soft and fluffy, made from plain flour with a little bit of yeast. Then come the desserts. A sumptuous meal is never complete without gajar ka halwa, the perennial favourite traditional dessert made of carrot pudding. Gulab jamun, milk balls made in sweet syrup and kulfi, flavoured frozen dessert made from milk almost complete the feast on sweet note.

The bottom line: At Kabila, food stands up to the hype, an ideal sit-down option for high-quality food. I would say this is a basic restaurant of well above average quality. They aren’t doing anything wondrous here, just offering the basics better than most.

 

Aurobindo Place, Hauz Khas, New Delhi

Contact: 011-26568494

Average cost of eating there: Rs 800 for two people

The rugged beauty

By Syed Zafar Mehdi

The picturesque snow-clad peaks kissing the clear azure sky; the icy cold waters surging down the glacial heights into the brackish lakes; the rhythmic chant of the monks in beautiful, ancient monasteries; the rugged terrains, expansive meadows, rich wildlife, glorious cultural heritage. There is something special about Ladakh – The Roof of the World. A journey through Ladakh’s rocky landscape is enough to take your breath away.

Bordered by two of the world’s largest mountain ranges and surrounded by alpine desert, Leh’s dry barren landscape full of historic Buddhist monasteries makes it an incredible sight to behold. A silent, blissful place, its intimacy belies the rugged 6,500 mt peaks enveloping the former kingdom. Travelers can trek through the hilly terrain of Ladakh, enjoy a game of polo or watch an archery contest where local residents compete in a contest that has remained unchanged for years. White water rafting, wildlife tours and mountaineering are hit here.ladakh2

Three regions

Ladakh comprises of three main regions, all distinct in their own way.  Perched at 3500 mts, Leh & Upper Indus Valley is the historical and cultural heartland of Ladakh, home to numerous Buddhist monasteries, quaint villages, fairs, festivals and bazaars. Other is the Zanskar Valley, a relatively isolated valley to the south of Indus Valley. Among Ladakh’s remotest regions, Zanskar is ringed by mountains and only accessible by high passes. The twin peaks of Nun-Kun, its monasteries and its extremely rugged, awe-aspiring landscape are its main attractions. Then comes Kargil & Suru Valley, falling just behind the famous Zoji La Pass. Kargil is a small town with cobbled streets surrounded by apricot grooves.

Lakes taking breath away

The major attraction is Pangong Tso Lake, located at an altitude of almost 4,500 meters, a five-hour drive from Leh, most of it through rough mountain route, traversing the third-highest pass in the world, the Changla pass. The Pangong is a delight to the eye. The golden colored range to the north, with its rolling spurs culminating in chiseled peaks, spreads before your eyes a panorama of spectacular dimensions. In winter, the lake freezes completely despite being salt water.

pangong-lakeThen comes Tsomoriri Lake, a beautiful mountain bounded expanse of water, located at 14,000 ft in Rupsho Valley. The nomads are focus of attention here, who graze herd of goats and yaks on lakeside. Tsokar Lake, around 76 kms from Tsomoriri is also a breathtaking lake. A trip to these two lakes can be organized in two or three days by jeep or two to three weeks by trek.

The sights to behold

The village Alchi situated on the bank of Indus River is home to one of the oldest monasteries in Ladakh known for its 11th century wall paintings, depicting both artistic and spiritual details of Buddhist and Hindu kings of that period in Kashmir. Down the Indus, on the route to Balistan, at an altitude of 2600 mts, lies a small community called the Drokpa, tracing their roots to Aryans. They are Buddhist but also worship nature gods and spirits. Numbering a few thousands, they have preserved their racial purity through centuries, but only two of the five Drokpa villages are open to tourists. The Nubra valley, referred as the orchard of Ladakh, because of being richer in vegetation, offers unparalleled trekking opportunities for adventure travelers.

Spectacular side trips

Among the most spectacular side trips from Leh is a journey along the Zanskar River. You’ll see hanging glaciers, green villages, Buddhist monasteries, and towering Himalayan peaks. The Nubra Valley, on Khardung La, the world’s highest motorable road, is another unforgettable trip. The sights of Himalayan icicles, wild yaks, horses, and hairy double humped camels, you’ll be rewarded with water, mountains, and desert all in the one area.

Monastries, the cynosure of eyesLadakh New 323

Among the largest, oldest and most famous monasteries in region is Hemis Monastery, around 45 km from Leh. Here Hemis festival is celebrated every June. Shanti Stupa, located on the hilltop, boasts of state of the art work, which pulls in lot of tourists to the place. Stok Gonpa and Palace, 14 kms from Leh, is the residence of present day royal family. The three days trek from Stok to Spituk and the 8 days trek of Markha Valley starts here. The palace has an exquisite collection of royal dresses, and king’s crown that is open for visitors. Lamayuru monastery, remarkably built on a rock, on the Leh-Srinagar highway is a major attraction too. Besides these, Thiskey Gonpa, the most beautiful of all the monasteries in Ladakh is the place for witnessing amazing sunsets.

Adventure trails

Ladakh provides great opportunities for adventure sports such as river rafting, trekking, mountaineering and mountain biking. Adventure tourism has contributed in a big way to Ladakh’s economy. For trekkers, Ladakh offers numerous trails to choose from such as the ones from Likir to Temisgam, and Markha Valley from Spituk. The joy of walking through tough tracks, deep gorges and rivers can be a rewarding experience for all levels of enthusiasts. The trekking season is roughly between May and October.

ladakh-adventure-tours

Mountain biking is also a hit here. The most popular route for biking is the Manali-Leh. Biking tours generally involve a 12 to 13-day bike rides. After a few days of fairly easy biking along the Manali-Leh route, the difficult ride begins with the climb to Baralcha (4,880m) as the altitude increases. The toughest part of the ride is the climb to Lachung La (5,065m). Mountain climbing trips can be booked to peaks such as Stok (20,177 feet), Goleb (19,356 feet), Kangyatse (20,997 feet) and Matho West (19,520) in the Zanskar Mountains. For river rafting, the best stretch is between Spituk and Saspol on the Indus, as well as the Shayok River in the Nubra Valley, and Zanskar River in Zanskar. The Nubra Valley offers camel safaris as well.

Why grass is greener in Kashmir

Syed Zafar Mehdi

Cricket is a fascinating game in more ways than one. It turns faithful friends into hardened enemies and strange bedfellows into intimate partners. It tests your loyalty and fidelity. It spreads love and amplifies hatred. In the Indian subcontinent, cricket is a religion, a creed and an article of faith. Any preposterous remark, wittingly or unwittingly, against a cricketer amounts to blasphemy. Cricketers are worshipped like deities and there are temples exclusively dedicated to them. In India, when a Sachin Tendulkar is tottering at an ominous score of 99, failing to pick gaps and fiddling too much outside the off-stump, ardent fans switch off their television sets and turn to whichever god they can think of. In Pakistan, when the team wins, the sound of firecrackers is deafening in every street corner. When the team loses, houses are set ablaze and the season of mourning sets in. If the opponents are archrivals India, then players have to actually run for cover. In Bangladesh, the day their national team registers a win against any formidable side is declared a national holiday. When a Shakibul Hasan reaches a three-digit figure, the nation comes to a grinding halt. The madness is palpable, and yet it is unfathomable.

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A Kashmiri youth plays street cricket as Indian policemen stand guard during a strike in Srinagar
A Kashmiri youth plays street cricket as Indian policemen stand guard during a strike in Srinagar
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For most young Kashmiris, cricket is a political statement

In Kashmir, the fanaticism goes to another level and assumes a different dimension and meaning. There are no temples or synagogues for cricketers, but the enthusiasm is unadulterated and complete. Cricket is a unifying force that binds people together, irrespective of age, gender, class or creed. For most young Kashmiris, cricket is not just a game. It is a political statement. Their support for the Pakistani cricket team, especially when the team plays archrivals India, has become a part of popular folklore now. It has to be seen and understood in the context of their larger political aspirations and their detestation for anything to do with India.

Whenever Pakistan plays India, Kashmiris madly root for the men in green, not simply because they want Pakistan to win, but because they want men in blue to lose. Their support extends to any team that is pitted against India, be it Australia, West Indies or even Zimbabwe. The memories of the two one-day internationals played in Srinagar’s Sher e Kashmir Stadium in the past – against Clive Lloyd’s West Indies in 1983 and Allan Border’s Australia in 1986 – continues to haunt staunch Indian cricket lovers even today. The Indian team lost both games and faced hostile crowds in the stadium, who vociferously raised anti-India slogans and cheered for the opponents. In the match against the visiting Caribbean side in 1983, the incredible support for Clive Lloyd’s boys made him wonder if it was a home game or away game. No international matches have been staged there ever since, apparently to avoid more embarrassment.

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The support for Pakistan’s cricket team has always been an intriguing socio-cultural phenomenon in Kashmir, cutting across all sections of the society. It’s an elemental part of the overall training and upbringing of a child, just like the craving for ‘freedom’. When I was a small kid, I had a life-size poster of Waqar Yunus hanging in my room. Every morning, I would open my eyes and visualize him running in fast and crushing the stumps of Indian batsmen with that menacing reverse swing and those toe-crushing yorkers. I was also a huge fan of the elegant left-hander Saeed Anwar, and my small diary would be filled with pictures and statistics about him and other Pakistani players. And, every time there was a crackdown by Indian soldiers, I would pull off the poster from the wall and put it safely in the briefcase along with the diary. I still keep them with me.

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I had a life-size poster of Waqar Yunus hanging in my roomI had a life-size poster of Waqar Yunus hanging in my room
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Once, my elder cousin, who never played cricket himself but was a hardcore Pakistani cricket fan, was carrying newspaper cutouts of Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi when he was intercepted by soldiers while on his way back from school. They tore apart the pictures and tied him to a tree for two long hours, before letting him go with a dire warning. Next day, he got a whole collection of pictures, taken out from cricket magazines, and distributed among all of us. The rebel was born that day.

Those days, everyone in Kashmir would try to imitate Pakistani players. In our mohalla team, players earned some interesting sobriquets for themselves, owing to their fascination with various popular Pakistani players. In our team, we had ‘Akram’ bowling those deadly yorkers, ‘Anwar’ playing those delightful square drives, ‘Saqlain’ bowling the mysterious flippers, ‘Eijaz’ with the safest pair of hands, and ‘Afridi’ hitting every ball with sheer disdain. Many of us that time would fancy playing for Pakistan. We took our cricket seriously and some of us even played at higher levels, but at the U-19 level, I finally realized that it was self-defeating to carry on, since I would only end up wearing a blue jersey. That was a big deal.

It’s no more about cricket, it’s about pride and retribution

Whenever Pakistan plays, Kashmir shuts down. The streets wear deserted looks as everyone is glued to their television and radio sets, gasping for breath after every ball bowled and every shot played. When Pakistan is pitted against India, tensions run high. It’s an almost war-like situation, minus bullets and bombs. It’s no more just about cricket, it’s about pride and retribution. Defeating India becomes a rallying cry in the Indian-occupied territory. Such is the frenzy that even the pro-India ministers and legislators, watching the action in their plush government mansions, in their heart of hearts pray for Pakistan’s victory. Victory of men in green is celebrated with firecrackers, even as the Indian soldiers, peeping irately through the sand bunkers turn red with fury. In the past, they have even shot people for the frenzied celebrations over Pakistan’s victories, but they could not stop the celebrations as they could not stop the mourning of the dead.

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The streets wear deserted looks as everyone is glued to their radio setsThe streets wear deserted looks as everyone is glued to their radio sets
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Like my father, for most Pakistani cricket fans, 1986 was special. My father may not remember that I was born that year but he vividly remembers Javed Miandad’s scintillating last-ball six off Chetan Sharma in the Australasia Cup final at Sharjah. My uncle, a diehard Pakistani cricket fan, had refused to eat anything for two days after Pakistan slumped to 87 all out while chasing India’s paltry score of 125 in 1984 Rothmans Four-Nations Cup at Sharjah. My uncle also recalls that after a match at Eden Gardens Kolkata (then Calcutta) in 1987, Saleem Malik, who smashed 72 from 36 balls and saw his team through, had become an overnight hero for cricket fans in Kashmir. Any player who performed well against India acquired a cult status in Kashmir. That continues even today.

So, those who think the armed rebellion against Indian rule in Kashmir in the early 90s fuelled the Pakistani cricket following in Kashmir are sadly mistaken. People in Kashmir always rejoiced at India’s defeats and Pakistan’s triumphs. They can afford to forgive men in green for losing to minnows like Zimbabwe or Ireland, but they cannot forgive them for conceding the match to India.

My little cousin has all the records of Pakistani cricketers on his fingertips

Memories of a fierce encounter in the 1996 World Cup Quarterfinal at Bangalore are still fresh. The game witnessed many interesting on-field histrionics. When Amir Sohail locked horns with the tall and lanky Venky Prasad, we were glued to our television screens at home, shouting and screaming, waiting for the next cracking cover drive from Sohail. A pall of gloom descended in the room packed with a ‘bleeding green’ battalion of my cousins when Sohail perished. One cousin, the lone Indian supporter in the room, was almost lynched when he tried to scream with joy. After the match, which India won, one Pakistani fan reportedly shot himself after shooting his television.

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Indian police humiliate a youth in SrinagarIndian police humiliate a youth in Srinagar
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My little cousin, a self-confessed cricket buff, has all the records of Pakistani cricketers on his fingertips. He will throw a barrage of statistics at you to prove that Saeed Anwar was a better match-winner than Sachin Tendulkar, Aaqib Javed was more economical than Venky Prasad, Waqar Yunus’s slowest delivery was better than the fastest Javagal Srinath ever bowled, Mushtaq Ahmad’s googly was sharper than Anil Kumble’s, Eijaz Ahmad was quicker on field than Mohd Azharuddin; and Inzamum ul Haq’s son bowls faster than Ajit Agarkar or Joginder Sharma. He knows how long Saeed Anwar held the record for the highest individual score in an ODI (against India) and how long Aaqib Javed held the record for the highest wicket-taker in an ODI (against India). Both records are broken now, but memories are deeply etched in the mind.

These days, IPL is the buzzword in cricketing circles. While the fever has gripped India and many other countries, there is not even a murmur in Kashmir about who’s playing whom. And there is nothing shocking about it. There are no Pakistani cricketers playing, and for Kashmiris, cricket loses meaning when men in green are not in action. Banning them from the IPL is yet another reason for their fans in Kashmir to hate India.