Seven somewhat offbeat things to do in and around Interlaken, Switzerland

If there is a Bollywood pilgrimage an Indian wishes to do, Interlaken would figure prominently on the list. And many Indian tourists seem to be doing just that. With snow capped mountains, jade green rivers and lush greenery, Interlaken and the region around have been  fertile playground for Indian movies – Bollywood started the trend and the regional movies have caught on soon enough.

With fountains sporting sculptures of marmuts, charming store fronts, church spires and petunias in different colors on its streets, Interlaken couldn’t get any prettier if it wished. In the odd scenario of you being overwhelmed by this cuteness, here are 7 other things you could do in Interlaken.

PS: I’d say, visit Jungfrau, but it’s probably already on your list anyway. :)

1) Visit Lauterbrunnen

The Trummelbach falls in Lauterbrunnen valley alone is responsible for draining the mighty glacier defiles of three mountains – Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. As a result, in summer, the glacier water melts and comes down with huge force in 10 cascades inside the mountain. It is rendered accessible by a tunnel lift and also illuminated for the sake of viewing the mighty force in which water drops down. Also the rolling meadows of the Lauterbrunnen valley is a sight to withhold.

lauter brunnen2
The Glacier river at Lauterbrunnen
Ariel view of the Lauterbrunnen valley
Ariel view of the Lauterbrunnen valley

Note: Lauterbrunnen is 20 minutes from Interlaken on the SwissRail system.

2) Take a river cruise on Thun / Brienze

The lake and castle cruise on the panoramic Thun River in west-central Switzerland spans the distance from Interlaken to the town of Thun in about four hours, providing glimpses of Swiss riverside life and its beautiful castles. Situated west of Interlaken, Lake Thun is picture postcard material. Crested with mountain peaks capped with eternal snows of Brenese Alps, its turquoise blue waters are fed by the glaciers and hence always cold. A cruise on Lake Thun takes one past picturesque fishing villages and castles steeped in history.

thunc ruise
Cruise on river Thun
thun cruise
Castles like this pass by as you cruise Thun

Note: You can use the Swiss rail pass on scheduled cruises. The day pass for the Lakes of Thun and Brienz cruises is available for a special price on Mondays for CHF 39 (INR 2500) for 2nd class tickets.

3) Explore the old town of Thun

If you take the sunset cruise on a summer day, the cruise boat arrives in Thun as the sun dips down leaving you with options to explore the town of Thun when there is still light. River Aare splits Thun into two and there are surfers in its unruly waters tethered to the wooden bridge across the river, practicing surfing in the waves. Set about walking the tiny alleyways of the city that has 45000 inhabitants and its old town, said to be formed in 12th century when Berchtold V of Zähringen built the Thun Castle.

the thun castle
Thun Castle
IMG_0922
Drehorgel, shown here, is an ancient musical instrument
A river surfer - thun
A river surfer – thun

4) Hike to the BachalpSee

Bachalpsee is at an elevation of 2,265 m can be reached from the First gondola station. Legend has it that Yash Chopra (who made around ten movies in the country, spurring an onset of Indian tourist arrivals in Switzerland) planned a Katrina – SRK number for his last movie Jab Tak Hai Jaan at the Bachalpsee. He passed away before the completion of the movie and the Bachalpsee shoot never did happen.

Views while hiking Bachalpsee
Views while hiking Bachalpsee
Views of Bachalpsee
Views of Bachalpsee
That's yours truly hiking Bachalpsee
That’s yours truly hiking Bachalpsee

Note: The hike can be done on your own. From Grindelwald station, take the gondola to First station and hike up to the lake.

5) Take an e-bike tour

If walking around Interlaken tires you out, do sign up for an e-bike tour. It covers a lot of ground and you can cycle on the gorgeous tree canopied streets and by the beautiful waterways of the town. You could stop at the town center, taste water from its fountain, take pictures wherever you feel like. It is of course, beneficial if you have a guide, who will explain you things and take you around.

Cycling in Interlaken
Cycling in Interlaken
That's me cycling in Interlaken
That’s me cycling in Interlaken

Note: Try the Flying Wheels (www.flyingwheels.ch) service in Interlaken town that also houses a quaint little shop that sells local produce (cheese, herbs and even organic cosmetics).

6) Try tandem paragliding

Two decades ago, Interlaken used to be known as the backpacking destination. Americans that love outdoors used to come in hordes. And then, quite suddenly, it became popular with Japanese. Japanese that love soft outdoor activities started discovering Interlaken and the opportunities for adventure sports. Now, it is more a family tourism destination for Indians and shopping destination for Chinese. There is still a large number of tourists that try their hand at tandem paragliding, jet boat, base jumping, mountain biking and so on in Interlaken.

Tandem paragliding
Tandem paragliding

7) Visit a dairy farm

If you are an urban product, who has never seen a cow in its elements, this will interest you. Even if you are not one, you will have to see how the Swiss treat their cows. The barns are really well kept and neat. The cows are treated well so much so that they are even provided with huge plastic brushes in the barn to rub themselves against if they so wish. The cows are also let loose in the meadows for three months during summer for grazing.

Cows in a farm
Cows in a farm
Left over bread recycled, for the cows
Left over bread recycled, for the cows

Have you been to Interlaken? What is your opinion? Why not leave a comment and let me know?

PS: I was kindly hosted by the Jungfrau Railways on this trip. I would love to say ‘opinions expressed in this article are mine’ but there aren’t too many of them in this, are they? Rest assured, I am not obliged to say anything I didn’t want to. :)

Lessons in travel – After being (an almost) nomad for a year!

I hate to say it but this is going to sound familiar. I quit my job a year ago to travel. (There I said it.) Partly to satisfy my wanderlust and partly to gain travel experiences so I can write about it. I wanted to develop a mutually agreeable relationship with my travelling and writing. Looking back, I mostly have achieved what I set out to do. I have been travelling considerably well in the past year and have been published as often as I’d like to be. However, what I did not think about this whole plan is whether it is a sustainable model for my livelihood. Now I know it as clear as coconut water that it most certainly is not. I am still mostly burning through my finances hoping to figure out a viable plan for life sooner (hopefully not later) than I go broke. I pacify myself by saying that we were not born with a plan! And I am not exactly a nomad. I do live in a house, albeit spend much less time in it than I ever used to. Fortified by the travels in the past year, I feel I have suddenly become eligible to dish out some travel gyan. Go on, read and let me know if you agree or disagree with any of these.

You don’t need A LOT of money to travel

Who am I kidding? You do need money to travel. The stress here is on ‘A LOT.’ No, you do not need a lot of it. The secrets to save money are of course to couchsurf, stay in hostels, use public transportation and eat street food. Additionally, I also sift through my network to see if I can find anyone related to the place that I am visiting. Perhaps a friend or a friend’s friend could be of help. They have been of help for me. I have stayed with them and they have provided me with insider tips on where to go and what to do.

A bunch of teenagers in Inle Lake, Myanmar
A bunch of teenagers enjoying a boat ride in Inle Lake, Myanmar

The best experiences are had when you have fluid plans

I am increasingly ditching the guidebook wielding, well-planned route to travel. Partly because I am lazy but also because I discovered that such unplanned trips have the potential to surprise you. Recently I went on the Sandakphu trek only because I had the time in hand and decided to play it by the ear. Trekking in the wheezing rain amid a burst of bright rhododendron flowers, straddling between Nepal and India, that trek turned out to be among the memorable experiences I had this year.

En route Sandakphu trek
En route Sandakphu trek

Working while travelling is easier than you think (WiFi is also easy to come by)

I have turned in articles, written blog posts and met deadlines without a glitch while travelling. I have found WiFi at the oddest of places. For instance, in Loikaw, East Myanmar, the internet was so fast I could even catch up on my latest episodes of Better Call Saul and Broad City.

A Sri Lankan tea plucker
A Sri Lankan tea plucker

You’re never going to have enough money. Like ever.

I didn’t have to tell you this but hey we all need a push, don’t we? It is a fine thought to want to have enough money in your account before taking a break to travel. Our salaries are never going to make us millionaires.  Ever. The ideal way to do it is to decide upon a realistic bank balance. To achieve that, you might have to give up on a few movie night outs / dinners / shopping and so on and so forth. You get the drift.

Monsoons in Coorg
Monsoons in Coorg

You make friends even if you are an introvert

Here is a confession. I am an introvert. You might know me as a jolly good fella but I bet I needed some ice breaker before I became your friend. During my travels, I have found conversations happening with amazing fluidity with strangers. When you travel everyone is a stranger and everyone is willing to strike a conversation with you. People are nice and more importantly, they don’t bite.

A shy child in Kalap, Uttrakhand
A shy child in Kalap, Uttrakhand
Two introvert Chitals in Kanha, MP
Two introvert Chitals in Kanha, MP. How do I know they are introverts? I guessed :D

Sometimes side trips can be great

Recently, after a two-week long trip to Arunachal, I along with my friend decided a little detour on our way back to visit the gibbon sanctuary in Jorhat, Assam. Watching those gentle creatures swing from branch to branch gracefully in the wild is the most adorable thing I have ever seen. Also, it helped that they had silver eyebrows.

Hoolock gibbon in Jorhat, Assam
Hoolock gibbon in Jorhat, Assam

Even the unlikely place has interesting parts

Recently, I was in Bihar tracing the Buddha trail and visiting the buddhist monuments peppered across what is the most underdeveloped state in India. If you manage to get beyond the notorious traffic, the blaring horns and the killer instinct of the drivers on its road, Bihar has some interesting archaeological sites to offer.

Choti Dargah, Maner Sharif, Bihar
Choti Dargah, Maner Sharif, Bihar

Every experience, good or bad, teaches you something

In Bagan, Myanmar, children are enterprising. They are poor and they need to make a quick buck to survive. “Where you come from,” a little boy asked me at a pagoda. He showed me his currency collection, from different parts of the world, and asked me if I had the Indian currency. He had a ten rupee note but he wanted one of a higher denomination. I obliged and gave him a hundred that I had. He whisked away happily. A little later, at a different pagoda, another little boy came up to me with the same request. I realized I was conned. But what other options do these children have? They are so crushingly poor that they have to employ devious ways to make money. Talk about starting young.

A child at Hunnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
A child at Hunnas Giriya, Sri Lanka

Every sunrise is worth waking up to

As dawn breaks, the day stirs to life. Forget the fact that the soft golden light of the day break gives you incredible pictures, it is also a unique part of the day to people watch. There is a certain mellow energy that thrums up to life as the day starts and it is worth experiencing.

A sadhu in Varanasi at sunrise
A sadhu in Varanasi at sunrise

Trust me, you will hate coming home

Of late, I have started to dread the thought of coming home. The stillness of my house doesn’t excite me anymore. The familiar smells and visions of my house is supposed to comfort me but it is increasingly not. I don’t know if it is a sign that I am going to pack my bags and hit the road permanently, but trust me constant travelling will make you not want to come home. Because, you know, home is only a feeling. As long as you feel home wherever you are!

Going home, Myanmar
Going home, Myanmar

Have you been travelling for a long time now? Have you experienced any of this? Leave a comment and let me know.

Notes from Sri Lanka

I don’t usually take travel decisions on an impulse. My travels are thought out and planned for months in advance. But when I was procrastinating at home for more than a month with major travel plans only happening in late July, I knew I had to go somewhere. As if Bangalore’s summer wasn’t bad enough, it was also excruciatingly bad elsewhere in India. And hence I looked South and there it was, begging to be explored – Sri Lanka, the tear drop island that I have only read so much about but never visited despite its proximity.

I booked my tickets, spoke with dear dear Gokul (whose photography you should check here) who is from Sri Lanka but lives in India and scribbled a rough plan for around three weeks. No other bookings were made, Gokul kindly helped me stay in his and his relatives’ house and I played it by the ear as I travelled.

I have heard people compare Sri Lanka with Kerala, India and as far as generalizations go, it is a good one. The landscape is so much like Kerala and the food much more so. You don’t eat anything that is not made with coconut, coconut oil and coconut milk. But hey, who’s complaining, right.

Here are a few things I did in Sri Lanka.

I watched the sunset at Galle Face, Colombo’s ocean front promenade.

Sunset at Galle Face, Colombo
Sunset at Galle Face, Colombo

I saw a gentle form of devotion at the Kandy Sacred Tooth temple. So much so that even the pushing and shoving didn’t feel annoying.

The sacred temple of Kandy
The sacred temple of Kandy
Devotees inside the Sacred Temple, Kandy
Devotees inside the Sacred Temple, Kandy

I saw hundreds of Buddhas in various postures – sitting, reclining and standing – carved centuries ago with their facial expressions so life like that it became impossible to peel myself away from these places.

The reclining buddha at Polonnaruwa
The reclining buddha at Polonnaruwa
Buddha at Polonnaruwa
Buddha at Polonnaruwa
Inside the Dambulla rock caves
Inside the Dambulla rock caves
The rock structure at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka
The rock structure at Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

I ate plates after plates of rice, roti, wada, curries, dhal curry, various vegetables in delicious forms, stir fried greens, sambal and often washed it down with Lion beer.

A Sri Lankan breakfast
A Sri Lankan breakfast
A Sri Lankan Rice and Curry meal
A Sri Lankan Rice and Curry meal

I went on short hikes with summits that offered magnificent views in the tea country of Sri Lanka’s central region.

View from Unnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
View from Unnas Giriya, Sri Lanka
A tea picker, Sri Lanka
A tea picker, Sri Lanka
View from Little Adams Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka
View from Little Adams Peak, Ella, Sri Lanka

I took a slow train across the tea country that offered sweeping views of tea plantations and passed through quaint little train stations with their impeccably dressed station masters.

On a slow train to Ella
On a slow train to Ella
The train ride to Ella
The train ride to Ella

I met interesting people, bought an anthology on Sri Lankan literature and wrote postcards at restaurant tables while waiting for my meals to arrive.

Notes from Sri Lanka
Notes from Sri Lanka

That’s not all: I got mistaken for Sinhalese all the time; I met Shyam Selvadurai’s dear friend; I ate a delicious fusion pizza with baby jackfruit for topping; I generally ambled around locations where conversations happened with amazing fluidity and friendships were made. Sri Lanka is lovely and it is only first of the many times I am going to be visiting the country.

Have you been to Sri Lanka? What did you think of it? Leave a comment and let me know.

 

 

For the love of chocolate – inside a Swiss chocolate factory

The last time I was taken to a chocolate factory, I ate myself sick and drew little more than disapproving glances from my mother. But I was also ten at that time and didn’t know Lotte from Lindt. The availability of unlimited chocolates was all that mattered and my ten year old tummy was taut from eating so much that I had to forget anymore chocolates for at least six months after that.

Packed chocolates being stacked
Packed chocolates being stacked

More than two decades later, as I stood before Mrs. Devitore – whose coffee brown eyes and broad smile strangely reminded me of my mother – in southern Switzerland’s Giubiasco, I knew this was going to be a different experience. I was at the production facility of Chocolat Stella for a guided tour. Stella has been innovating on chocolates since its inception in 1928 and is attributed to developing Switzerland’s first sugar free chocolate in 1960 and bringing out fair-trade, organic chocolates in 1991.

Julia churning cocoa utter
Julia churning cocoa butter

There is perhaps something oxymoronic about the fact that Switzerland produces the world’s best chocolates without even being blessed with the basic ingredients – cocoa beans and sugar.  Though, pardoning the cliché, if you consider happiness among the ingredients, the Swiss have plenty of it. In fact, just recently the 2015 World Happiness Report by the UN ranked Switzerland as the happiest country in the world.

A visitor makes her own chocolate
A visitor makes her own chocolate

“We might not have all the ingredients but Swiss chocolate is known all over the world because we have learnt the secrets of making chocolate from our neighbours,” says Devitore. When she says neighbours, she means Spain, France, Austria and Italy where chocolate was introduced and gained prominence in the 16th century. Eventually, chocolate making arrived in Switzerland in 1819 when François-Louis Cailler started his Cailler chocolate company also considered the oldest Swiss chocolate brand still in existence (owned by Nestle now). Chocolate has evolved since then. The ancient chocolate was a drink – far unexciting from its varied forms known today.

By now, I am inside the chocolate making facility, dressed in diaphanous lab suit covering head to toe complete with a cap to adhere to the quality standards. My shoes, wrapped in shoe covers, scraping the green concrete floor, I trail Devitore as she walks me along the hulking machines in stainless steel. A sense of foreboding takes me over as I feel diminutive alongside these giant metallic monsters churning to produce the world’s favourite food product.

Chocolate bars ready for packaging
Chocolate bars ready for packaging

We witness the churning of cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder to make white chocolate. The giant churner, fed with the mixture, clamps shut with the 350 kg mix and revolves with a grunt. We take a peek, the yellow mass turns into soft butter consistency. Julia Berna, the baby faced intern, wears her blue gloves, ready to check the churned butter. Temperature is checked, 35­oC, and the mass is sent for further processing to smoothen the mixture.

A handful of chocolate
A handful of chocolate

I ask Julia if she likes chocolates. Does she ever get bored with having to working with it all day? It is like asking a teller if he ever gets bored of currency. “Of course,” she says with an expression that probably meant “are you nuts?” The Swiss like Julia are what make the country the biggest consumers of chocolates in the world with average per capital consumption of 9kg a year.

A display of chocolate bars
A display of chocolate bars

I am now asked to make my own chocolate. A vessel of liquid chocolate sits next to a tray onto which I pour the chocolate, its ladle dripping the dark brown liquid onto its sides. I further embellish my bar with quinoa and almonds. After the decoration is done, the chocolate goes into the freezer.

Among the other parts of the world including Central America, South America, Africa and Indonesia, Stella also works with cocoa producers in Kerala, India sourcing cocoa beans. Beans are harvested, dried in plantain leaves and pressed to extract butter before they are sent to the production facility in Switzerland.

Chocolate being made by visitors
Chocolate being made by visitors

We arrive at the packaging plant where I see men and women in lab coats and blue caps busy stacking freshly packed chocolate bars jumping out of the machine into cartons. Occasionally they pop a square or two into their mouths. Stacking chocolate bars in cartons can’t be exciting, surely. It must be the prospect of working with chocolate and often consume as and when desired that keeps them going, I imagine.

Stella’s specialty is custom made chocolates. “If you need any specific flavour combinations, we will be able to deliver that,” Devitore had said earlier. As I walked towards the exit, on a table, a spread of chocolate varieties greet me – custom made chocolates for clients with agave nectar, camel milk, blue potato chips, baobab.

A display of chocolates at Stella
A display of chocolate bars at Stella

I taste each one of them, not without recollection of my earlier chocolate factory visit. After all, who can get enough of chocolates? But as the trip ended, I leave a little tummy space for the chocolate I made and would take home with me – a large bar with a star (Stella) in the middle, sprinkled with quinoa and roasted almonds.

A version of this appeared in The New Indian Express and can be viewed here.

Mohinga and more – Myanmar’s streetfood

On the first day of my month-long trip across Myanmar, I walked across the insanely crowded road in front of my airbnb accommodation to a tiny restaurant that had all of three tables. The slender, fine-boned woman that owned / managed the restaurant did not speak any English. Nor did the rest of her family. Their laminated one-page menu had the names of the dishes in Burmese, transliterated into English. Trying to figure out what was what I quickly realized it was a lost cause altogether.

If I were to eat anything at all, I would have to go with the ‘chef’s choice.’ And I did. What arrived was Shan khauk swè – a simple hand-tossed noodle salad served with a side of pickled vegetables and a bowl of clear soup. The rice noodles were spiced with pickled sour mustard leaves (some of which I brought home from a local Burmese market) and mixed with peanuts, garlic, chilli and garnished with shredded chicken. I wash it down with a tall glass of avacado milk shake.

A noodle salad at Mt. Popa, Myanmar
A noodle salad at Mt. Popa, Myanmar

In Yangon’s streets, women squat in tiny stools in blue and red with their wares spread out in front of them – various types of noodles cooked and piled under a mosquito net to ward off the flies along with a range of spices and condiments in plastic containers. Not phenomenally different from Indian, Burmese cuisine offers simple yet delicious flavors, infused with local ingredients.

A woman selling food on the streets of Yangon
A woman selling food on the streets of Yangon

Mohinga is Myanmar’s favorite dish. Eating Mohinga for the first time can be intimidating at first, even uninspiring. The entire broth is muddy in color and the crackers smashed into it form the garnish that this dish could do without. The broth itself is very fishy. But Mohinga grows on you, like the theories about street food go elsewhere it is inexpensive and affordable. And Myanmar slurps it by bowls after bowls every morning paying little regard to the prevailing warm weather (Yangon’s humidity levels can sometimes put Chennai to shame). The sellers run out of Mohinga in a couple of hours into the morning hours of their business.

Mo Lembya, deep fried balls of fermented rice
Mo Lembya, deep fried balls made with fermented rice batter

Soon enough, I ate the famous Burmese green tea salad – Lahpet. Pickled green tea leaves are tossed with crunchy nuts, tomato, garlic and seasoned with dried shrimp in this dish. I fell hook, line and sinker for it. Before I left Myanmar, I bought a bottle and packed it with my luggage. Sure it leaked and ruined my tee-shirt but the bottle survived the flight, I am happy to announce.

Lahpet - the green tea salad
Lahpet – the green tea salad

The Burmese set meal is a delight to order, much more than it is to eat. The extent of English usage doesn’t extend beyond ‘okay’ even in cities like Yangon. So you are left with your devices to order food and hope that what landed on your table is what you ordered in the first place. On a sunny noon, I step into the popular Feel Myanmar restaurant to order my first Burmese set meal. As soon as I sat, a plate of Burmese salad – half-cooked whole vegetables including two types of egg plant, wing beans and spinach is plunked on my table. And then this!

The Burmese set meal is a delight to order
The Burmese set meal is a delight to order

Indian influence in Myanmar cuisine is difficult to ignore. Walk along the streets of Yangon and you can pick at least a few of these similarities – a hybrid puttu-idli snack, a samosa like snack, the usage of coconut and jaggery in sweets, and a kuzhipaniyaram (made with fermented rice batter) like snack called Mo Lembya. The Myanmar Muslim restaurants serve up delicious briyanis and the dosa sold by the street side vendors in Yangon is a delightfully crispy version, albeit a bit too oily, that has a filling of cooked vegetables, peas and egg.

The Green Tomato salad
The Green Tomato salad

If I had to define the flavor of Myanmar food, Shan khauk swè  would be it. Though this dish stands proof to the Thai influences in Myanmar cuisine. The kindly woman on the roadside would take a handful of rice noodle and mix it with crushed chilles and various spices. She would use tamarind sauce a souring agent to spike up the flavor. On request, pan fried chickpea tofu squares and hard boiled eggs, cut into bite-sized pieces, are tossed into the salad.

Eating out - streets of Yangon
Eating out – streets of Yangon

What was your favorite dish when you travelled in Myanmar? Leave a comment and let me know.

Thanjavur aka, Tanjore Brihadeeswara Temple, on a sunny evening

The Brihadeeswara Temple in Thanjavur stands as the quintessential example of Chola temple architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple features the tallest temple tower in the world. It is also regarded as one of the great living chola temples along with the temples of Gangaikondacholisvaram and the Airavatesvara temple at Darasuram.

They say you should visit the Brihadeeswarar temple twice if you want to get good pictures – once in the morning and in the evening! And I went in the evening. And Thanjavur is blessed with sunny evenings most days of the year.

Up close...
Up close…

Up close with a dash of blue sky, the Gopuram is spectacular with its detailed sculpting…

Framed against the blue background...
Framed against the blue background…

Sometimes from some angles the gopurams look like they are juxtaposed…

One against the other
One against the other

The main gopuram stands tall and according to legends, its shadow never falls on the ground…

Standing tall...
Standing tall…

It is of course the ‘bird-flying-in-the-frame’ shot but these pigeons that reside in these gopurams are a staple sight in the temple premises…

Pigeons flutter around the gopuram
Pigeons flutter around the gopuram
A UNESCO world heritage site
A UNESCO world heritage site

Some of these Nandis on the wall have been chipped away but the remaining little Nandis promise to keep a watch…

The Nandis on the wall...
The Nandis on the wall…

Have you been to Thanjavur? Leave a comment and let me know.

Eating out in Ubud, Bali

With a wrinkle-creased face that expands and contracts whenever her bespectacled face lights up with laughter, she reminds me so much of my grandmother. Her eyes are light and almost diaphanous. She has a natural charm to cast at the visitor who saunters by gingerly to peer into the menu that is left outside on a pedestal of her modest restaurant. Naturally, it takes me exactly two minutes to fall for her disposition and in the days to come, I would frequent her Oka’s Warung almost every day. Most days for a meal and if for some reason I could not make it to a meal at her restaurant, I ensured I had one of her tiny array of desserts – especially her thin rice pancakes rolled with a filling of roasted coconut in palm jaggery. They never fail to prove that there is no better way to end a meal.

Balinese fare
Balinese fare

Oka appears to be a self-made woman much like many women in such establishments – eateries, massage centers, garment shops and shops selling trinkets and gifts – in the perpetually languid Ubud. She tells me that she quit her job at a restaurant 25 years ago to start off on her own and has been running the restaurant ever since.  Her English is rustic and my partner and I know only a smattering of Balinese and Bahasa – Indonesia. Mostly each conversation is an exercise at understanding what each other is trying to convey and not letting up until either one of us is convinced that the clear meaning is passed on.

An evening in Ubud
An evening in Ubud

Oka’s introverted husband handles the kitchen unaccompanied and he never once peeps out of his domicile even out of curiosity to see the faces of the foreigners who are chatting away with his wife despite the pressing language barrier. The restaurant has a seating capacity of 10 and I assumed Mr.Oka can manage it all by himself even if it’s a busy day.

A gorgeous sunset in Seminyak
A gorgeous sunset in Seminyak

Of all the 25 years she has been in business, Oka never thought of expansion plans for her restaurant. May be she wanted to keep it small and maintain exclusivity? When I ask her, she says she did not want anything big.

A Rama sculpture in Ubud
A Rama sculpture in Ubud
The sacred monkey forest in Ubud, Bali.
The sacred monkey forest in Ubud, Bali.

I wanted to ask her one more question, did she ever think about retiring? But I sort of knew the answer. The cobble stoned streets of Ubud never see unmanageable footfall nor does Oka have huge ambitious plans in life. With all its allure, Oka’s present life feels very much like retirement to me. I could trade it right now for my dusty, soulless urban existence. But my grandmother, on the other hand, would not have approved.

A yakshini inside the Ubud palace
                                                A yakshini inside the Ubud palace

Have you been to Ubud? Leave a comment and let me know.