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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Monday, June 30, 2014

Remembering Ambika at the London Zoo

In front of Ambika Paul fountain at the London Zoo

30 June, 2014, London: I landed back in London on the night of 28 July around 10:30 GMT at Gatwick Airport. Instead of taking a car to the St James Court Hotel, I opted for the Gatwick Express railcar to Victoria.
It was a wise move and took just 20 minutes to reach Victoria. It had taken us nearly two hours by cab from the hotel to reach Gatwick airport on 24 July and we came close to missing our flight to Greece.
Yesterday I went to the ZSL London Zoo at Regent's Park to a party “Remembering Ambika”. I was invited by The Hon'ble Lord Swraj Paul and Lady Paul of Marylebone.
The party was at the Ambika Paul Children's Zoo in memory of their daughter Ambika who died of leukaemia in 1968 at the age of four. It was for the treatment of Ambika that brought Lord Paul to Britain in 1966. Lord Paul set up a charitable foundation Ambika Paul Foundation in 1968 her memory.
The Foundation promotes the well-being of children around the world through education, culture and health and seeks to encourage and inspire them to learn about the world they live in. The Foundation supports a number of children's charities in UK as well as the Zoological Society of London.
With Lord Swraj Paul
Whilst receiving treatment in England, London Zoo became Ambika's favourite destination and in 1994, when the Zoo was under threat of closure, Lord Paul gave 1 million pounds to the Zoological Society of London which used that donation for rebuilding the Children's Zoo in her name.
I have known Lord and Lady Paul for quite sometime and each time I meet them I am overwhelmed by their warmth and graciousness and amazed by their indomitable spirit and hospitality.
Wih Vijay Amritraj at the Wimbledon party
Lord Paul introduced me to artist Christie Brown who made beautiful ceramic models for an Ceramic Dolls Exhibition in memory of Ambika.
After the afternoon party at the London zoo, I went to the annual Wimbledon Summer Party at St James Court Hotel's courtyard with Indian tennis legend Vijay Amritraj. 
I also met Digvijay Singh, General Manager of St James Court.
In the evening I went to a kathi roll shop in the Mayfair area. During my recent New York visit I had been to kathi roll shops opened by a group of enterprising Bangladeshis. The same group had set shop here in London.
ess bee

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Goodbye Santorini

June 28, 2014: Today evening after some time I will take a flight back to London. In the afternoon, I went to a restaurant called Nammos which is on the Psarou Beach. We couldn't get a table at 1:30 pm and the hotel concierge informed us that we'd get one at 3 pm. Even after reaching there on time we had to wait till 4 pm as the people sitting in this restaurants-cum-beach area weren't ready to leave the tables.
This restaurant is a famous visiting spot for the world celebrities, especially from music and films. Thats why Psarou Beach is also called the “celebrity beach”.
During the entire trip to Santorini and Mykonos, I did not come across any Indian tourists. There were two Indian couples in Mykonos who have now settled in the US. The only Indian couple I met was in Santorini. The man works at the reception of hotel On The Rocks.
Bangladeshi selling jelly balls in Little Venice, Mykonos Islands
While walking through the village of Little Venice in Mykonos I saw a Bangladeshi selling jelly balls. I talked to him in Bengali and I got to know that he did not have his proper immigration papers and had come through an agency. He told me that there were around 50 of them who worked in and around Mykonos during the tourist season and would leave for Athens with the onset of slack season.
Good bye Santorini.
ess bee

In Mykonos Islands

Sun set on Mykonos Islands
June 27, 2014: On the fourth day I arrived at at Mykonos Islands in the afternoon and checked in at the Petasos Beach Resort & Spa Hotel. From Santorini I came by SeaJet which was delayed by an hour.
Mykonos Islands, which covers 85 sq km area, was a contrast to Santorini. This island, as per archeological findings, is said to have an antiquity dating back to 3000 BC.

Mykonos lives up to its reputation of being a “fun island”. I found Mykonos' cosmopolitan flavour somewhat loud and cut out for sport enthusiasts and party animals. People from all over the world come here for the famous beach and pool parties.
After checking into the hotel I went to “Little Venice” - the main floating market area. From there, around 11:30 pm, I went to Indian Palace - the only Indian restaurant in Mykonos for dinner. The food was fresh and great. While talking to the person who takes care of the restaurant, Manvindra Singh aka Manu Bhai, I got to know that he came to Greece in 2003 as a student to do his MBA in an American university. Later, he joined one of the most famous restaurants of Europe – Jaipur Palace - which is located in Marousi, one of the posh areas of Athens.
At the Mykonos Islands
I have heard about Jaipur Palace and Manu Bhai told me that it was owned by a Greek called George Tabaxis. George had gone to Jaipur and was so influenced by the style of Jaipur decor that he returned and opened a restaurant in Athens a la Jaipur decor. George was the person who got Manu’s immigration papers done in 2005. Manu has helped him in opening other Indian restaurants and now he is here in the beautiful location running the month-old Indian Palace.
The Jaipur Palace restaurant scaled down its work force from 150 to 40 persons after the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) recession. Manu proudly told me that among the famous Indians he served were Sunil Dutt, Sri Devi, Bonny Kapoor, Shatrughan Singha and others.
The Indian Palace location is not only beautiful but also located just next to Cavo Paradiso - one of the most famous night clubs in the world today. In fact, this night club starts its day after 1:30 am that is why we opted for a table in the Indian Palace restaurant at 11:30 pm.
At Cavo Paradiso night club
Cavo Paradiso was another experience when we entered at 11:30 pm there was hardly a soul around, but by the time I left at 2:45 am, there were a few people. In fact, the night club entrance fee is less if you enter at 1 am and more as the night goes by. This night club brings in international DJs to draw in the crowds.
ess bee

Friday, June 27, 2014

In Pyrgos

Sun set in Santorini
June 26: I started the third day on Santorini islands a little late. I went to a small traditional village called Pyrgos which is one of the highest points in the island and famous for its traditional architecture and the ruins of Kasteli Castle on a hilltop. 
This village was declared a protected settlement by the Greece government in 1995.
There is a very famous restaurant called Selene where we had lunch. Selene is famous among tourists who throng this place for special cooking classes on traditional and local cuisines. It shifted to Pyrgos from Fira in 2010.
In the evening I went to the Oia area of Santorini famed for its sunset views. 
In Santorini
I didn't get a hotel room in this area but after seeing the sun set from Oia, I personally feel that the Imerovigli sun set was much spectacular.
After hanging out in the lanes and bylanes of Oia, we had a pizza dinner at Nocturna Cafe.
ess bee

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Soaking in the Santorini spirit

At the balcony of Hotel Gold Suites
June 25, 2014: Today I checked in at hotel Gold Suites. This hotel has very classy suites with private jacuzzis in the balcony overlooking the deep blue sea. 
On a trip to visit the black, red and white sands and rocks beaches
In the afternoon, we took a steamer to see the various beaches of Santorini with its black, red and white sands and rocks.
Many visitors to the islands admit the wild beautiful beaches of Santorini are among the strangest. It is impossible to be out in the strong Santorini sun for long and you can feel your skin burn. However, you can see thousands of sunbathers, mostly European, lying on the sun lashed beaches getting tanned. Its a very different lifestyle.
There is an excellent network of pick up-and-drop boats for five Euros on these beaches. In contrast and rather surprisingly, I am told that there are only 39 taxis in the whole of Santorini.
I really felt it when I had to wait for two hours to get one to get back to the hotel.

I also went to see the Kamari beach area which is the most common beaches in Santorini. It is famous for its black sandy beach and is connected to Fira by a bus service also.
Not far from the village, lies the famous archaeological site of ancient Thira.
My hotel Gold Suites (picture) is located some 20-minute walk from Fira in an area called Imerovigli from whose balcony I witnessed one of the most beautiful and famed Santorini sunsets.
At Anoti restaurant
For dinner, we went to a traditional restaurant called Anoti or Anogi in Greek.
I think this restaurant, which is not on the beach, was the best vegetarian food joint during my entire trip to Greece. Thanks to Aditya's immaculate homework.
ess bee

In a dreamland called Santorini

24 June, 2014 Santorini (Greece): I landed at the stunning Santorini Islands (Greece) today evening from London's Gatwick airport. My first visit to the Santorini islands was through low cost airline EasyJet which I availed for the first time. The flight took off around 1:15 am and I'd rate this airlines a ten on ten for its service. I think it is a good airline if you don't mind travelling economy class.
I visited Greece some 17 or 18 years ago when I was at Athens and the scenic Corfu Islands. Santorini Islands, located 200 kilometres from the mainland on the southeast Aegian Sea, has, of late, become a holiday destination competing with southern France and Spain.
When I landed in Santorini it reminded me of Seychelles by the smaller-than-expected airport which had only one immigration counter. The girl at the counter had requested everyone to carry their passport in hand and to pass immigration by just showing it. I think since the flight was from London they presumed that only Europeans, who do not need a visa as per Schengen agreement, would would there.
Given my international travel experience, I told the lady that I have an Indian passport. Immediately a supervisor came and checked my Schengen visa and stamped it.
Spread over 73 sq km, Santorini was named after one Saint Irene in the 13th century. It is one of the few places in Europe to have a hot desert climate. It has two seasons, a warm and dry spell from April to October and a rainy and cold season from November to March. Santorini is all about breath taking scenery, natural beauty, sunsets, romance, history, fine dining wineries, local cuisines, boutique hotels, volcanoes and romance.
Once in the islands, one has to let go and allow the Santorini spirit to seep in. It is a soulful experience that can hardly be described in words.
In fact, Santorini hotels were so busy that I couldn't book a room for three nights in the same hotel and had to hop from one hotel to another. Today I checked into a hotel called On The Rocks and tomorrow I am booked for another one called Gold Suites.
The hotel On The Rocks is one-of-its-kind among the countless un-starred small boutique hotels along the sea front. The Room 14 that I checked into was a very quiet, cosy place with a sea view. The hotels dotting the seafront are demarcated by different colours on the ground and stairs, in various shades of Mediterranean greys and blues. The views of a dozen hotels and their occupants could be seen from ours hanging like a balcony above the Aegean.
After checking into the hotel I went to the centrally located Fira area which is the capital of Santorini. Fira offers stunning views and is some 600 zig-zagged steps up from the port. Other options to get up the hill include riding a donkey or a mule which has been a tradition for many years or one can now take the cable car.
Surprisingly, even at 1.30 am, ice-cream parlours, biggest shopping and popcorn stores, to the hundred seater restaurants were all open. My friend Aditya’s research on Santorini was perfect and on his advice we had for dinner at a restaurant called Rissosti and were very happy with the food. 
ess bee

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Rajasthani Foundation (TRF) in London

At The Rajasthani Foundation (TRF) in London
23 June, 2014, London: Yesterday (Sunday), I went to a picnic-cum-cricket match organized by The Rajasthani Foundation (TRF), London. TRF is an organization of Rajasthanis residing in London.
This organisation has technically nothing to do with the Rajasthan Foundation in India which is an autonomous body instituted by the Government of Rajasthan. TRF works independently and is a community forum for social, cultural and charitable activities.
Since its very inception Rajasthan Foundation expressed its wish to open a London chapter. Discussions were on with various people including L N Mittal, Lord Gulam Noon, Gokul Binani, Om Chohan and others. During my London visit, I also had a few meetings at that time on this issue of opening a London chapter for Rajasthanis.
Right from the beginning, much good and bad has happened to this organisation in fair measure. 
Currently, an entirely new team has taken over and I heard that they keep organising get-togethers to keep the spirit of the community alive and to promote Rajasthan art and culture. It was a good experience and the weather was excellent.
By the time I returned to my hotel after having a cup of tea at Shivani and Akshay Sethia’s residence, it was 4:30 pm.
In the evening, I went for dinner to Sofra Mayfair. Sofra is a chain of restaurants which includes Sofra Convent Garden and Sofra Oxford Street. The weather was perfect for a sit out and we did so. It is worth going there again for the Mediterranean food and service.
ess bee

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Dartington - Tagore fest in England's Shantiniketan

In Dartington
21 June, 2014, London: Yesterday night I reached Dartington. 
I should rather call it England's Shantiniketan since this lush 1160-acre sprawl of forests and farms is dedicated to education, learning, art, life experiments and sustainable projects partly inspired by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and his Shantiniketan
I am in Dartington for a Tagore fest in Shakespeare's land. Thanks to the organizers I was given the most beautiful suite to stay in. The one in which, Her Majesty, The Queen of England, had stayed.
The three-day Dartington Tagore Festival is being held at the Dartington Estate in South Devon from June 20 - 22 at the Dartington Hall
With Scott Furssedonn Woods (British High Commissioner in Kolkata), Sir David Green (Chairman, Dartington Trust), Sanjoy Roy (Jaipur Literature Festival) and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his wife Subhalakshmi at the Dartington Estate
For three days, starting yesterday, Dartington will celebrate the works of Tagore through dance, music, art, yoga, debate, films and food. Chair of Dartington Trustees, Sir David Green, is a passionate advocate of the Tagore Festival and its key supporter.

At the entrance of Tagore Fest in Dartington
The grounds for my Dartington visit took shape when I met Sir Green in mid January 2014 in Jaipur. Sir Green was on research trip to India, particulary Bengal, to discuss the possibility of a Tagore inspired festival in India and UK.
This time, among others, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Dr Kalyan Kundu, Sangeeta Datta, Sukanta Chaudhuri, Tavlin Singh, Satish Kumar, Scott Furssedonn Woods (British High Commissioner in Kolkata) playwright Peter Oswald are participating.
Singer from Bengal, Swagatalakshmi Dasgupta was also scheduled to attend but could not due to some visa issues. The High Commissioner of Bangladesh in London, Mohamed Mirajul Quayes, attended the festival all three days with his family. 
The puchkas sold by the Indian stalls was a big hit.
With Lord Meghnad Desai at a phuchka stall

Another scrap of information that I want to share is that three paintings out of the ten Tagore paintings that Dartington Trust owns were put up for auction and some Bangladeshi industrialist bought it.
At the Dartington Estate I just attended a Round Table Meeting and yesterday had dinner with sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and his wife Subhalakshmi. Till date, Dartington has run four Tagore Fests in 1976, 2011, 2012, 2013. Dartington draws a million visitors from the corners of the world each year, many of them are art lovers, thinkers and community workers and activists. 
Dartington Hall was co-founded by Leonard Knight Elmhirst who was a personal friend and later, the secretary, of Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore who stayed in Bengal for three years. Leonard, an agronomist and philanthropist, first met Nobel Laureate Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore in 1913 while studying at Cornell University. He returned to Bengal in 1921 to work as Tagore's secretary and created a department of rural reconstruction at Surul village (now Sriniketan) near Shantiniketan.

At the rail station of Dartington- Totnes
Inspired by Tagore, Leonard and his wife Dorothy founded the Dartington Hall in 1931 as an experiment in education, spirituality and the arts. Tagore had also helped Leonard during his younger days when he was courting Dorothy Straight nee Dorothy Whitney Payne - a philanthropist and one of the wealthiest American women of early 20th Century - whom he married later. 
Dartington Tagore Festival once again confirmed the huge influence that Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore has had across the globe. I have travelled to almost all the continents and found Tagore's overwhelming influence across cultures and how the people of far away lands, belonging to different cultures, have held the Bard of Bengal in high esteem.

With Sir David Green, Satish Kumar and others after a performance on the inaugural day
I am going back to London today and will miss Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's performance.
ess bee