Sunday 6 March 2016

SAN-CHA Gourmet Tea 

March 2016 - New Delhi

"Life is like a cup of tea, It's  All in how you Make It". The recent post on SAN-CHA facebook reads thus. To this I would add " The Taste of Tea that one drinks, depends on how one buy It". We buy tea (leaves that I am referring here) in various ways ! pick the packed variety from the local store or sometimes through online shopping. Every one has his / her favorite packed tea which has been consumed in our homes for years and mostly we tend to stick to a particular brand.   

If you fall in this category (which I assume most of us are), then you only need to change this habit and make tea buying an enjoyable activity in itself. I bet you would never regret having made this decision. But, to indulge in this 'tea' activity you need to visit SAN-CHA, the tea boutique in Delhi, DLF Gurgaon or Mumbai. 

San-cha retails the most amazing array of tea from its outlets at Shantushti on Race Course Road or from their main outlet at Daryaganj - both in Delhi, DLF Gurgaon and now lately from their store at Kala Ghoda in Mumbai.

The main outlet at Daryaganj is my go to place when I need to pick my stock of tea and how I look forward to the trip to the bustling Daryaganj at the periphery of the chaotic Delhi 6. Stepping into this boutique through its glass door immediately transfers one to a peaceful and orderly abode while outside chaos prevails with buses, cars, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws and a sea of heads jostling for the limited road space. The cacophony gives way to serenity. My eyes smile at the sight of colorful embroidered tea pouches and containers holding the precious goodies neatly displayed on the racks. Two cane sofas with adequate tables arranged by one of the walls have old posters, photographs on tea, its origin and a large India Tea Board poster mapping out the tea producing regions in the country and the characteristics of the tea plucked in each region. The colonial furniture and colors provides just the right ambiance to embark on a tea journey and sense the aroma of tea grown in the lofty Himalayan Darjeeling or Kangra to the more inland Niligiris and Munnar.  

Unlike a store or a mall you do not call out the brand name here. The ever smiling and courteous young hostesses Dibuan would enquire your tea preference and how you like to have it. She picks up some of the best tea basis your preference and gets it instantly brewed (there is a tea brewing counter by the entrance manned by the brewer) and then presents the tea and the pouch or the container of the same tea for you to first feel the tea, smell the aroma and then savor the freshly brewed cuppa before you decide on your purchase.

I am always spoiled for choice here! The tea comes in exotic and unheard of flavors, textures and aroma. The range is vast and one may be tempted to take all . Be it Black or orthodox, Green or White Tea, Oolong or Masala Chai or the the SAN-CHA specials. You can also choose your pick in the regular loose or in tea Bags. Flavors runs through Jasmine, Lavender, Rose, Assam Single Malt, Moroccan Mint, Jasmine, Lemon Grass, Lemon, Cinnamon, Ginger, Vanilla and Cardamom. All delicately blended by the Mater Tea Blender Sanjeev Kapoor from the finest teas grown in India and abroad.


SAN CHA outlet at Daryaganj is famously known as 'Aap Ki Pasand', started its journey in 1981 and Mr Kapoor spreads a tea platter that can be to the liking of any discerning tea aficionado. Having worked in tea industry for more than four decades, he certainly knows his tea! You do not often come across such exotic tea each distinct for its notes - grassy or woody, flowery or muscatel. 

SAN-CHA's 28 Carat tea , a blend of Assam leaves makes a good daily tea cuppa. They also sell finely crafted tea infusers, metal container that can functions as tea bag, strainers and cups.



Aap Ki Pasand 
15 Netaji Subhas Marg, Opp- Golcha Cinema, Daryaganj, New Delhi
Open from 10 am to 7 pm except Sundays

Store No 20, Santushti Shopping Comple
Opp - 7 Race Course Road, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi
Open 10 am to 6:30 pm except Sundays


Store No 2A, 11A Machinery House, Kala Ghoda, Fort, Mumbai
Opp - Trishna Restaurant
Open 12 pm to 10 pm except Mondays


209A DLF Cross Point Market
DLF City Phase 4, Gurgaon
Open 11 am to 8 pm except Tuesdays

Saturday 1 August 2015

Kaza ~ The High Altitude Town by the River

My quest for the exotic India took my family to the high altitude town of Kaza in the Spiti valley of Himachal Pradesh. Part of the tribal circuit of the Himachal tourism, Kaza lies in the cold desert region at an altitude of 11,980 ft above the mean sea level. The remoteness of the destination, the unknown and the thrill of driving on some of the most dangerous high altitude roads of the world compensated for the sheer joy of living for few days in part of the country that is not visited by many, which is pristine in its natural beauty, where the simple chores of daily life has not been overshadowed by the glitz of city life, where air is so fresh that one needs to be careful about not exerting too much else one could be down with altitude sickness (a life threatening medical condition). The place where Buddhism flourish and where buddhist stupas and monasteries are precariously perched  on mountain tops and visiting those shrines is a journey in itself. That made me wonder at the amazing building skills of the people centuries ago.

Here are some glimpses of our experience. Hope you enjoy this and hopefully egg you to take a similar trip. Go see some part of India, off the beaten track. I bet you will yearn to go back there.

Kaza can be approached from Shimla or Manali by road. Take a taxi or the public bus, however, I preferred taxi for the ease of travel without being constrained by the strict timelines of public transport. We preferred to take the Shimla route through the Kinnaur valley onto the Spiti Valley in between we touched the mountain town of Sarahan, Sangla, Nako, Tabo and onward to Kaza. The approx 400 kms journey should be best covered over 2-3 days. We stopped by at Sarahan, stayed overnight and moved to Sangla another beautiful valley village and thereafter a night at Tabo village before our vehicle rolled into the Valley town of Kaza.

The road from Shimla to Kaza is smooth in parts but rugged, narrow, precariously holding up at the edge of deep valley gorges and most of the time impossible to drive. This journey is not for the faint heart!

     The single road connecting Shimla to Kaza beyond the Kinnaur valley is mostly narrow single lane
     and hanging by the edge of the deep gorge. Driving here is a nerve wrecking experience. Coupled
     with high altitude, this is one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

Mountain sides have been blasted to make way for the road, passing through this tiny tunnel with hair pin bends all along and furiously flowing nullahs demands extreme concentration on driving. Alas while driving you do not have the luxury to enjoy the beauty that lay one either side of the road.

    And when you finally reach there, the view is so spectacular, so serene.

    Kibber Village at 14000 feet above the mean sea level is a beautiful village some 15 kms uphill
    from Kaza. Isolated and perched on top of the valley surrounded by deep valley gorges, habitat to
    some 500 people who grow the tastiest peas and potato in their farms during the summer months.
    The place remain cut off from the world for 5 to 6 months.

    Kaza town sits by the Spiti river in a bowl shaped river valley separated from the snow covered
    mountain by the wide river bed, where peas is grown in painstakingly prepared farms..

Another view of Kaza Town 

   We stayed at Sakya Abode, the best place to stay here. Made some friends from the fellow
   travelers. Seen here with some of them discussing matters of the day while we were stuck in Kaza
   for 4 days due to landslide and avalanche.

    Kaza town view

    Kaza is home to the world's highest Maruti Service station.

   Short walks around the town brings you to picture perfect locations ~ face to face with milky white
   snow covered mountains, sky in hue of blue that one would have never sighted before and the
   freshness that rejuvenates the soul and soothes the city sore eyes.

    The view from the hotel Sakya Abode - stay there if you are in town. This is one of the friendliest
    places that I have stayed ever. When stuck beyond our planned stay due to avlanche, they
    generously fed us and made us felt welcomed. When we had nothing to do we assembled in the
    large dining hall and bonded with fellow travellers.

    German Bakery in the town served the yummiest bakery products and coffee. This was also one of
    our hang out place here. Waiting for the croissants to be served.

    Happy she is, with such goodies in sight.
    AT Sakya Abode, at one of the many bonding sessions.

    And when the time came to say good bye, we were given the ceremonial buddhist scarf wishing us
    safe journey back home.
    The journey from Kaza to Manali was another 400 odd kms back breaking journey through some of
     the most undrivable non existent roads (or should say traces of roads that had been). But the
     landscape was just the best that one can get ~ riverine valley flanked by lofty snow peaked
     mountain ranges, Crossed one of the highest mountain passes in India, the Kunzum La. Losar,
     Baltal, Chatru, Kunzum La were covered before approaching Rohtang Pass and further down to
    the Manali valley.
    Our return journey towards Manali offered this Maggi & Tea halt in the middle of nowhere run by     the Chacha and Chachi and goes by the name Chandra Dhaba. Their hot maggie and tea provides
    immediate respite to the weary soul after driving on the unmotorable road.

    Interiors of Chandra Dhaba. Bowl of hot maggie and tea is served

    We went hiking to the Key monastery about 15 kms from Kaza and was served one of the best tea        by this monk who runs a free canteen serving butter herb tea. This must be one of the most
     refreshing tea that I have been served ever.

    Kunzum La, a mountain pass at 15000 ft enrout Manali from Kaza.
    Heading towards Kunzum Pass

    The Key Monastery at 13668 feet above is approx 7 kms from Kaza, built over a 1000 years ago, it
    is a major Buddhism teaching centre where young lamas are initiated into Buddhist teachings

    While we were stuck at Kaza, the chopper came to airlift us. But could not take us all back.

    We were hopeful to get evacuated, which was not to be.

    So, we enjoyed the valley and nature in its pristine form till the pass was motorable.
    This mountain peak will mesmerize you with its lofty heights, and play of clouds and lights and

    Kaza town street after a round of heavy snowfall.

    And the valley covered in snow, had never seen one before.
    Snow covered Kaza Town.

    The Post box at 14000 feet above
    The Cafeteria interiors
    Spiti river, the Spiti valley and the meandering road to Key and Kibber village. Notice the patch of
    green, these are potato and peas fields.
    View from the Key Monastery

    I sometimes wonder why did the monks build such majestic monasteries over the lofty mountain

     Happy to be Here!


Stay @ Sakya Abode, above the town. They offer comfortable rooms and ample dining area. You can relax and sun bathe in the lawn below or on the terrace and soak in the fantastic view of the town and valley around you. They have two more properties nearby ~ Snow Lion and Kunphen Sakya. (94182 08987)

Eat: We preferred to eat at Sakya Abode. However, there are several restaurants serving North Indian, Chinese and continental dishes which are sumptuous. German Bakery in the bazar is great for bakery products and coffee. There is a tiny restaurant near the bazar where one gets yummy Rajma ~Chawal filling.

To Do: The destination itself is the main attraction. The town is simple surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges, fertile valley. Hike around, visit the nearby Key and Dhankar monstery, hike upto Key, Kibber and Langza villages to see way of life. You can take assistance of Ecosphere, a sustainable tourism outfit based in Kaza. Wander around, come face to face with wild Yaks or go fossil hunting. On the go fill your car tank at the highest petrol pump in the world.

Weather:  Kaza is among the coldest places in India with temperature dipping to - 37 degrees in winter and a pleasant 13 degrees in summer months. Best months to visit is from June to Sep. Carry heavy woolens, head coverings and hand gloves, warm socks would help you withstand the biting cold at night. Summer says could be warm, yet weather change is unpredictable. The road to Kaza from Shimla or Manali opens only in late May / early June depending on the clearance of the Kunzum Pass.

Travel: Travel preferably by car (self driven / take car on rent from Shimla). We availed the services of Bandbox Travels (0177 - 2803268) from Shimla and they were good. This being high altitude area, chance of being unsettled by altitude sickness needing immediate medical facility is critical. The Town hospital is well equipped to handle any such eventuality, however one needs to take few precautions. Cover distance from Shimla to Kaza in at least 2 days, halting either at Sarahan or Sangla. These are great destinations by their own merit. Drink Disprin water frequently during the journey. Do not rush to the destination. Slow progression to high altitude will make your journey smooth. Thumb rule is to ascend not more than 2000 feet in a single day while travelling in high altitude zone. Good driver with 4 wheel drive who knows the roads will come handy.
If you are starting journey from Manali, you can avail day taxis as well. Road and transport connectivity is better from Manali. The journey from Manali to Kaza would take about 12 hours.

Buy: Kaza is not a shopping destination. The local bazar has few handicraft shops and you could pickup tribal crafts of Himachal including Thangkas at good price. However, I was lured to take a look at the ancient fossils that are being collected from the area around the Langza village and sold in some of the shops here. These are the real ones and being sold for few hundred rupees, The dilemma is should one buy these rare fossils or not.

Friday 5 September 2014

Afsanah @ Auroville: A Zen Experience

Long walks at sunrise on sandy beaches, fishermen returning from the sea with their boat loads of fresh catch, sun languidly breaking out from the depth of the sea, family bonding, catching sea fish, collecting sea shells, catching sun rays with both hands, making sand castles and in the evenings and late nights sit by the sea and listen to the music created by the splashing sea waves trying to catch up with the shore yet failing to hold on to it every time. Like lovers, it does not want to let her go. Living in a Zen cottage, hiring scooter for the day to pick up wood fired fresh pizza from the Italian pizzeria, living in an utopian town, breakfast by the promenade, staying in a large French mansion, home cooked delicacies served by the ladies for breakfast, tasting creole cuisine, walk on the cobbled stone tree lined streets, buying bag loads of french perfumes and oils from Laboratoires Senteurs, Life of Pi moment, getting blessed by the elephant. Well, my family and I had one such holiday this summer in Pondicherry and Auroville.

Auroville, the utopian city created by Sri Aurobindo and his band of followers on the small stretch of barren land on the east coast of Tamil Nadu has certainly attained a certain fame for its green environment, simple yet elegant dwellings, maximum use of local and natural materials in construction of these houses. The creative pursuits of its global inhabitants lends extra sheen to its fame. This abode of serenity where ''time takes a break'' and the adjoining French town of Pondicherry are too enticing to be given a miss. This summer we gave time a break, will you.

Afsanah Guest House, one of the finest housing enclave in Auroville has been conceptualized by Afsanah Bader, a graceful Iranian lady and created by the German architect Poppo Pingel. This was my oasis at Auroville during our sojourn this summer. The guest house complex spread over few acres is covered with tall old trees, manicured green lawns, concrete pathways meet water bodies at every nook, plants and shrubs of diverse variety creates a zen atmosphere. The cottages built in the Japanese architectural idiom with shoji screens, low bed and foldable room partitions are functional and yet comfortable. 

The Guest House plaque at the enclave entrance and the driveway sets the tone of experience that a resident is going to live during the stay at this tranquil abode. cottages are well spread to provide privacy and own space to anybody who cares to take refuge here. Soul and body feels like a free bird, free to swing, flow with the cascading waterways chirp around or just lie still and do nothing like the baby tortoise. Simply hibernate! There are plenty of nooks in the enclave to do what one wish to: sit under the tall tree by the rugged Ganesha idol and read your favorite book or else walk to the zen rock enclosure and meditate and be with the Nature. And when the hunger pangs came calling, head to the nearby restaurants which has global food to offer. You may want to walk out or else call for a scooty which is available from the Auroville taxi service.  

Auroville is functional and grounded. This signboard of Naturellement, garden cafe is known for its fruit preserves and small bites. Martina Ljunqquist, a Swedish founder started this as a social enterprise in 1991 and today it has created a niche market for its fruit preserves. Open from 9 am to 5 pm from Monday through Saturday, the cafe can be reached on (0413) 262 2034 / 262 3267. 

The stone pathway leading to one of the cottages at Afsanah Guest House. The complex abounds in similar habitat zones. 
Another path leading through the green lawns to the cottage.

Large stones and boulders of all shapes abound here, so do flowers of different hues.

Footloose at Afsanah.

The place dons magical cloak when the night descends here. At night it is the crickets, birds and insects that rule over. Humans take shelter in the confines of cozy cottages vacating the vast land for the nightly creatures to lord over the place. The guest house advisory requests the residents to keep cottage doors close at all times and not to venture out at night without torch or lamp. Scary !

The garden leading to the Naturellement Garden Cafe

View from the cottage verandah. These ladies keep the place well manicured at all times

Japanese Cottage interior. The free flowing layout, shoji screen creates partition between the sleep area and the common area. The four walls are also made of shoji screen. High ceiling, functional and low furniture and tasteful lighting provides functional comfort. Luxurious - no.   


     Cozy cottage sit and the day bed laid out here is just perfect for those moments stolen from time.

    The dining hall is simple and clean and ideal for starting the day with a hearty breakfast prepared
    from organic products.

              The place blends beautifully the elements of nature - earth, water, air, fire and sky. 
Coordinates: Afsanah Guest House,  Kottakarai area of auroville. Located at approx 1.5 kms from the Matrimandir. Cottages and rooms with air condition and ensuite bathroom. Baskar, the genial caretaker is your go to man here. He will keep appearing from nowhere like a genie when you need him. Contact Baskar or  Afsaneh at or call them on 0413-2622048 / 2622108 / 9345400700 / 9943644435.