Sundeep Bhutoria

Welcome to my blog. Do share your views and thoughts with me. Request visitors to keep their comments brief and to the point. I shall respond to you to the extent possible.
Thank you.
ess bee

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Bintan Islands

On a ferry from Singapore to Bintan Islands
Today afternoon I arrived here in Bintan Islands (957 sq kms area) in the Riau archipelago of Indonesia which is just a hour-long ferry ride from Singapore across the Singapore Strait. A motorized catamaran takes even less. 
Bintan is the largest of the 3200 islands in Riau and Indonesia is promoting Bintan as the next popular international destination after Bali islands. Bintan has beaches and beach-front; International hotels and resorts; the most prominent of these beaches is the Bintan Resorts spread over 300 hectares of tropical environment. The capital city Tanjung Pinang is an autonomous area within the island.
Bintan's history is traced to the early 3rd century. The island flourished as a trading post on the route between China and India. It came under the control of the Chinese, British and the Dutch. It was declared a part of the Dutch East Indies through the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. In the 12th century, the Bintan Island in the Strait of Malacca was known as the "Pirate Island" since the Malay pirates used to loot trading ships sailing in these waters
A great thing about landing in Bintan is that Indian passport holder gets Visa on arrival without any hassles. In fact, if you are travelling Emerald Class in the ferry (read business class)  it is so convenient that all the formalities at the emigration centre is taken care of and you get your passport stamped and back while having a drink at the lounge. From there you can proceed to the ferry directly.
In fact, one, with this class, you get a golf car service from the ferry gate to the arrival lounge.
After arriving in Bintan I checked in at a tropical retreat called the Banyan Tree Bintan (picture)
with its collection of Balinese-inspired villas nestled in the lush foliage of tropical rain forests above a secluded bay in the northwestern tip of the island overlooking the South China Sea. The tropical scenery of Tanjong Said Bay greets visitors upon arrival.
I had lunch at one of the restaurants of the Banyan Tree Bintan called The Cove. It turned out to be a contemporary Mediterranean style outlet, which opens for lunch and dinner, offering a wide variety of pizzas, pastas and specialty drinks. Initially, my booking was at the Lotus Restaurant in Bintan just next door property owned by the same group. I, however, was mesmerized by the panoramic view from The Cove and decided to have lunch there only. 

At The Cove
Frankly, I was expecting a very different menu at The Cove as it was Mediterranean restaurant. But there were pastas to choose from which was good for veggie like me.
After a sumptuous late lunch at The Cove I hired a private boat and set out for a river ride amid mangrove forests. After about an hour's ride on the Sebung River I was back in nature's lap; soaking in the amazing beauty of the mangroves. This was very green and very different from my last major outings i.e., the forests of Ranthambore in Rajasthan and before that the Himalayan foothill forests of Bhutan. Indeed, Mother nature presents itself to us in such different yet amazing ways.
The Sebung river waterways are about only 5 feet deep in many stretches. I decided to take a little risk and go inside the river lanes into the heart of the mangrove forests. Mangroves have four kinds of roots, ribbon roots, knee roots, stilt roots and the pencil roots that are visible during the low tide. Mangrove forests are also home to very poisonous species of snakes that sleep on the trees during day time but are up and on after dusk. The shadows were lengthening and I returned to the main river.
While in the mangrove my boatman barked and alert and I saw a big snake coiled in its sleep on a tree. In the main river, the water was about 12 to 15 feet deep but navigation was difficult due to the artery-like narrow lanes. 
I had my anxious moments when the boatman crossed the trees' branches overhead on which the snakes – I like to believe - were perched asleep (picture). 
Naturally, the fear of what would happen if the snake fell on the boat crossed my mind a million times in those few seconds we passed under. 
Sensing my discomfiture, the boatman assured me that there was still time before the snake woke up. The mangrove is home to seven or eight species of snakes which are very common. 
This includes pythons and yellow banded snakes.
In the mangroves I spotted five snakes one of which was a cobra. I also a two feet monitor lizard (picture) that seemed camouflaged against the tree. I am told there are ones up to four feet or more from head to tail.
I also saw fruits on the trees all around and my boatman told me that these were highly poisonous and a single bite of the fruit could kill a person (picture).
The river ride down Sebung at night is yet another life time experience with the highlight of the tour being the sighting of the thousands and thousands of fireflies (lightning bugs) and their sporadic movements and luminescence that make the mangroves seem like thousands of Christmas trees with twinkling lights. 
I was little shaken by the the snake on the tree above and can only try and visualize the beauty of the groves at night. May be someday I'd have the heart to sail down Sebung at night.
The mangrove trip was really very enchanting and magical.
ess bee

Monday, April 29, 2013

At the Punjab Grill - Marina Bay Sands

Singapore: Saturday evening I went to the Marina Bay Sands which has become one of those “must-visit” destinations of Singapore for tourists in the last four or five years. The Marina Bay Sands is divided into two parts, the hotel area and the shopping convention area. These two are connected by a foot bridge. I think the most noticeable and interesting thing about Singapore is its cleanliness.
This country is an example for countries like India where cleanliness seems to be an impossible civic task, given the over population and filth in public places. On the other hand, Singapore is even cleaner than any part of Europe or Canada. In fact, I find this country the cleanest place that I have ever visited in all my years of travel to faraway lands.
People of Kolkata by now have heard of or know about the proposed `Atmosphere' project of Rahul Saraf in Eastern Metropolitan Bypass with sky garden and villas. This project is inspired by the Marian Bay Hotel's 340 m long SkyPark on the top floor with a capacity of 3,900 people and a 150minfinity swimming pool set on top of the world's largest public cantilevered platform, which overhangs the north tower by 67m.
I, however, went there neither to see the hotel nor shop but to dine at the Punjab Grill - the Indian restaurant of celebrity Chef, Jiggs Kalra, who is commonly referred to as the Czar of Indian Cuisine and the first Asian to be inducted in the International Gourmet Hall of Fame.
The food and service was far better than my expectations and the menu too had lot of variety. Somehow, the Indian overseas food joints are getting better and better by the day.
Many celebrity chefs around the world have given the North Indian cuisine a different hype with modern fusion food all kinds of presentation. For any Indian foodie, whether you go to the Marina Bay Hotel or Shopping Centre or not, I recommend you must visit this Punjab Grill Jiggs Kalra Restaurant if you can afford to.
ess bee

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Of different book and food

April 27, 2013: This weekend I’ll be Singapore. I landed here early Saturday morning amidst a rainy weather. Last week, Kolkata was very hectic. I went to The Taj Bengal on Wednesday evening thinking that the Sonargaon restaurant would be empty due to the Kolkata Knight Riders vs Mumbai Indians match at the Eden Gardens. Much to my chagrin the place was full.
I had gone there to dine with  few friends and met His Highness Raja Shreeman Vikram Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana. Sailana is a small town located in the Malwa plateau region of Madhya Pradesh 25 km from Ratlam and some 50 km from Rajasthan's Banswara district.
It was indeed nice of him to join me and my friends for dinner. There was a week-long festival at The Taj Bengal for authentic Sailana cuisine - a treasure trove of recipes laced with exotic spices, collected from royal kitchens all over India. The Kingdom of Sailana has been famous for its cactus gardens, hospitality, cuisine and wine, a culinary culture that goes back to over two-and-half centuries.
The authentic flavours of Sailana was brought to life by none other than Maharaja Vikram Singhji of Sailana himself at The Taj Bengal. History has it that the ancestors of Maharaja Vikram Singhji’s family, who used to live in Jodhpur, were in Delhi when the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, was watching his favourite past time - elephant fighting.
It so happened that one of Shah Jahan's favourite tuskers went berserk and attacked the crowd and started moving towards Shah Jahan. Vikram Singhji’s ancestor, Ratan Singh, who was just a lad at that time, jumped on the elephant and took control of it and saved the Emperor from the charging tusker. Shah Jahan was very pleased with the boy and granted him a Riyasat in the Malwa region. Soon after, the family shifted base from Jodhpur.
Connoisseurs of Indian cuisine would know that at the Mumbai Taj hotel"s old Tanjore restaurant used to serve Sailana dal. The recipe was from the Sailana family only.
Cooking Delights of the Maharajas: Exotic Dishes from the Princely House of Sailana by His Highness Raja Shreeman Digvijaya Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana, is one of the most popular cuisine books of India at home and overseas running into its 15th edition. This book was found in the personal library of Saddam Hussein. Maharaja Digvijaya Singhji was the son of His Highness Bharat Dharma Nidhi Raja Shreeman Sir Dilip Singhji Bahadur, Raja of Sailana.
 There are several stories about the ancestors of Vikram Singhji. One is that there was a Master Chef who used to cook puris out of which a live bird would fly out.
The story of how the Sailana cuisine started in again very interesting and goes like this. The forefathers of Vikram Singhji once went to the forest and lost their way. They could not eat anything as none of them could cook. The Maharaja and his guests starved. Maharaja Dilip Singhji there and then took a resolve that he would learn cooking and that was how the Sailana cuisine began.
Soon Maharaja Sir Dilip Singhji (KCIE) became an expert in culinary arts and collected recipes of bygone eras from the Nizam of Hyderabad, Kashmir and Begum of Bhopal; from which emanated the most exotic culinary recipes. He took great pains to translate ancient recipe books from Sanskrit, Urdu and Persian to ensure that these recipes were preserved for posterity.
The only regret of Maharaja Vikram Singhji was that he could not serve hara chana ka halwa because he couldn't get the fresh green chana, the basic ingredient in Kolkata at this time of the year.
ess bee

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Kolkata, Paris bonding

With Stephane Amalir and Fabrice Etienne at the MoU signing
April 24, 2013: The cultural bonds between Kolkata and Paris got a boost yesterday evening when I, as the Managing Trustee of Prabha Khaitan Foundation (PKF), signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with The Alliance Francaise du Bengale (AFdB) at a function in Taj Bengal.
Stephane Amalir, Director of Alliance Francaise du Bengale and Fabrice Etienne, the Consul General of Consulate de France were present. 
The MoU is for collaborating on events and to work together for various broad cultural exchange programs between India and France and specific events, involving Kolkata and Paris, to develop and exchange ideas in art, films, theatre, literature and other areas.
There is a popular feeling that Kolkata, the mecca of Indian culture, and Paris, are very much alike when it comes to things cultural.
PKF has been organizing various social and literary events and activities for years and had recently worked closely with The Alliance Francaises immensely successful Bon Jour India festival. This tie up would further consolidate PKF's relationship with AFdB and we hope to achieve new milestones in organizing cultural events and functions in the days to come.
A select group of invitees, representative of cultural organizations such as The Director of ICCR, Rajashree Behera, The Director of the American Centre, Jeffrey K Reneau, Director of British Council, Sujata Sen, and diplomats from the Consulate de France in Kolkata, were present on the occasion.
With Rajashree Behera and Gita Basu of ICCR
The basic idea is to develop projects with France in various fields of performing arts and literature so that artistes and performers from both the countries can benefit and express their creativity. I have plan to forge similar tie-ups between PKF and cultural institutions of other countries as well.
I have often found myself in situations when I got invites from different consulates for great events that clashed over timings and has put me in a real dilemma – being close to all of them – it becomes very difficult to exercise a choice of being in one of the events. 
With Usha Uthup
So to ensure this is taken care of I had been thinking of working out a calendar of events and activities in Kolkata in consultation with the Consulates so that no events clash.
The MoU signing was preceded by cocktails. We were lucky to have the gracious company of singer Usha Uthup who was at the function and sang two songs - C'est si bon (It is good) and Autumn Leaves.
ess bee

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Bengal team meet

Meeting of The Bengal team and Kolkata Police
April 23, 2013: This evening The Bengal team members met after a long time at the Taj Bengal. The last time the team had met to nominate Nabaneeta Dev Sen as the new President following the demise of Sunil Gangopadhya who passed away in harness.
It was a good meeting today as many pending issues were taken up and discussed, including the plan to institute the Late Sunil Gangopadhya Memorial Award that was decided in our last Remembrance Day meeting.
With Debashish Roy (IPS) and Surajit Kar Purkayastha, CP (Kolkata)
The new Commissioner of Police, Surajit Kar Purkayastha (IPS), along with Additional CP (III), Debashish Roy (IPS) also joined the meeting. 
There was a brain storming session to start a new project, apart from Pronam, in association with the Kolkata Police.
Lets see how it moves forward.
The Bengal team meet was preceded by a spread of an assortment of Bengali street food and sweetmeats for the team members.
With Debashish Royand Surajit Kar Purkayastha
The earlier plan of holding a cocktail dinner had to be called off since it was a dry day.
ess bee

Monday, April 22, 2013

Film fest on Disability Issues

With Jayshree Periwal, Kiran Mehra Kerpelmen, Margaret Alva  and Satish Kapoor
Jaipur, April 22, 2013: Today evening I'll fly back to Kolkata. In the morning I went to the Step By Step International School at Mahapura where Prabha Khaitan Foundation, in association with the United Nations Information Centre, hosted the screening of award winning films on `Disability Issues' presented by the We Care Film Fest and Brotherhood.
With Her Excellency Governor of Rajasthan, Margaret Alva
Her Excellency Smt Margaret Alva, Honble Governor of Rajasthan, was the Chief Guest of the event. This unique film festival - advocating the change of attitudes - has been an eye opener for so many people across the country, motivating them to stand up for a cause.
With Kiran Mehra Kerpelman and her daughter
On the occasion 21 short films were screened at the Step by Step International School. The Director of UNIC (India and Bhutan), Ms Kiran Mehra Kerpelman was present at the inaugural function. The festival has travelled to 98 venues across India drawing on an average 300 viewers per venue.
The Director of Step by Step International School, Ms Jayshree Periwal and the man behind the ‘We Care Film Fest’, Mr Satish Kapoor, were also present at the inaugural function. The Governor saw few of the films screened and appreciated the filmmakers' efforts. The special children from Umang and Disha performed a song and dance performance in the presence of students from other.
With Aruna Singh, Sanjana and Mita Kapur
Last evening's dinner at the ITC Rajputana was also well attended and I think by this visit of the Director of UNIC and other officials, new doors of activities and programmes have opened up for UNIC in Rajasthan.
I will not be able to attend the FICCI Flo event this evening where Deepti Naval is the Chief Guest.
ess bee

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pink city events

With Rameshwar Singh, Vidya S Upadhyay, Padmashri Arjun Prajapati and  Sunil Gupta
Jaipur, April 21, 2013: This time my Jaipur visit was very hectic indeed. Yesterday, Saturday April 20, I drove down to Sujangarh in Churu district had lunch and returned to Jaipur in the evening. 
I undertook 400 kms of journey by road in a single day.
Not just Saturday, even today, though a Sunday, I am very busy.
I met with the Rajasthan Forum members over lunch and then attended the meeting of the Forum
With artist Rameshwar Singh
After that, I inaugurated an art exhibition of paintings by Mr Rameshwar Singh at the Welcome Art Gallery, ITC Rajputana.
With Sartaj Narayan Mathur
Immediately after the exhibition there is the next Desert Souls talk show series event being organized by Rajasthan ForumThis time, veteran theatre personality, Sartaj Narayan Mathur is the guest.
Dr Archana Srivastava, herself a theatre person and the Head of the Dept of Dramatics, University of Rajasthan, would conducted the show. 
Shri Mathur is expected to share 60 wonderful and eventful years of his theatrical career during the talk show.
The earlier editions of Desert Souls have been very successful and has featured Urdu poet, Shri Ikram Rajasthani, theatre artist Nandlal Sharma, Kathak Guru Pt Giridhari Maharaj, artist Suresh Sharma and writer Nand Kishore Acharya. 
Desert Souls is joint initiative of Rajasthan Forum and the ITC Rajputana Hotel, supported by Shree Cement.
The Desert Souls series showcases talents from diverse fields who represent the true soul and rich heritage of the desert state of Rajasthan.
Later in the evening, I shall be hosting a dinner at the ITC Rajputana, Jaipur, to meet and greet Kiran Mehra Kerpelman, Director of United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) for India and Bhutan. She is in Jaipur on my invitation.
ess bee