I am on vacation in India but I have a bunch of passionate foodies hard at work in London, sampling the best that the city has to offer, so that you,my readers can continue to get the latest reviews,news and views from the world of food – after all someone’s got to continue doing all the hard work while I party ;). A few days ago my buddy Harish, who is also a passionate foodie went to Chakra to sample their menu and this is what he thought . Having just returned from a two week-long vacation in India, the flavors of my real home were ever present on my palette reminding me of the good times spent navigating the gastronomical haunts of both Delhi and Mumbai. Expectations were thus pretty high when Flavia, an Italian colleague of mine from work, and I made our way to the swanky Indian restaurant in Notting Hill called Chakra for dinner this last Wednesday. We arrived for our 8 pm seating and were promptly shown to our table, amidst an already buzzing restaurant which clearly indicated its popularity amongst the locals. The interiors were dim, the décor modern and the music modern; all adding to the distinct vibe of this favored Notting Hill establishment. A plate of spicy mini “papads” accompanied by a sweet mango chutney made their way to our table first. The appetizer was crispy, not too oily and very flavorful just perfect to set the stage for the meal to follow. An amuse bouche followed the “papad” plate. Rajma Galouti – mini red kidney bean kebab with yogurt chutney. This was particularly disappointing, as it was cold and lacking any flavor. Having seen previous reviews, I knew that the dish was dressed down. A part of the meal the management team can safely omit from the offer. Appetizers followed and Flavia and I decided to get a mixture of vegetarian and non-vegetarian starters. We decided to go down the more traditional selection path and got ourselves a portion each of the Malai Kebab Ke Dande, tender chicken breast pieces marinated in yogurt and fresh cream grilled to perfection in the clay oven, Tandoori Paneer, gorgeous chunks of cottage cheese marinated in yellow masala and cooked just right and finally the Chakra specialty, The Lahori Kebab. These succulent skewers of lamb seasoned just right, just melt in your mouth and leave you wanting more. Simply scrumptious. Chakra is fairly unique in its offerings of the main course. Strangely it offers up the vegetarian options in half portions (sides) with the similar option lacking from the non-vegetarian options. Needless to say there was plenty to be thankful for, for what we were about to be served was an absolute delight. Central to our order was a Blackened Cod Fish. Tender, well marinated and again cooked to perfection. By the beaming smile on Flavias face and the mutterance of approval in Italian I knew she was pleased. Frankly so was I. I can safely say that the tandoori Black Cod marinated with lime juice & a cracked pepper yoghurt marinade is reason enough to visit Chakra. The supporting cast to the Chakra Black Cod performed appropriately as well. The Butter Chicken (perfect blend of a delicate tomato based gravy and shredded chicken), The Kali (black) Dal (black lentils which were buttery yet not overwhelming) Zeera Aloo (sautéed tender baby potatoes with cumin seeds, ginger and chili) and Chakra Saag (paneer tossed with spinach, petit pois flavoured with ginger & nutmeg & fenugreek) accompanied by Tandoori Rotis (Indian bread) were just wonderful. At this point in the meal I am usually loosening my belt, being stuffed to the brim. But somehow the meal at Chakra did not end up having a similar effect. The concept of sides is simply brilliant and allowed the Flavia and myself to experience the full spectrum of offerings at Chakra. I say we have a wined with this concept. We had eaten like royalty. The Nawab of Hyderabad himself at this point would have been twirling his moustache and rubbing his belly experiencing nothing but utter satisfaction. But no Indian meal is complete without the essential “sweet dish” (dessert). Flavia chose the Gulab Jamun (3 Indian sweet dumplings in sugar syrup, accompanied by vanilla ice cream) and I the Mango Kulfi. The Jamun’s were sensational; Piping hot with just the right texture, sugar syrup seeping through and all. They brought back fond memories of my recent wonderful trip to Delhi. That is what good food is supposed to do; excite all the senses and throw up a flashback or two, of good times spent with those near and dear. This was the perfect end to a perfect meal. On our way out I asked Flavia what she thought of Chakra. She instantly replied “I must go to India and eat”. If this is the response that this Notting Hill establishment (Chakra) can generate from one who hails from one of the most gastronomically gifted countries of the world then I can safely say this. “If you haven’t been to Chakra yet, you must do so now”. Experience the true flavors of India, without leaving Notting Hill, London. **** In my book of great eats. *With thanks to Humayun Hussain and Chakra for the invite. No monetary compensation was offered for a positive review.
It was in the Dec of 2010 that my two closest girlfriends and I decided that we should travel together to some place cool, to mark the end of an era and celebrate my fresh start. I had resigned from my full-time job in vibrant Mumbai and was joining my husband in London, taking a dive into the unknown – a plunge of faith so to speak.
Camping at Eco Camps, Panchgani was the last thing the old me would have done, but am so glad my friend P chose the place and helped me get over a long time silly fear of doing anything remotely adventurous.The barbecue that night was thanks to S and her skills. We were very close and bonded even more that night. Waking up to see lush green mountains and see a beautiful valley wake up with us was something I shall never forget.The river Krishna flows near Panchgani and the Dhom lake near the village of Wai can be seen from the Eco Camp Site.
We walked into the village and found a quaint old shop and had some strawberries and cream, the street is dotted with street vendors selling strawberries by the dozen and fresh carrots. My mother in law went to Kimmin’s Boarding School and Panchgani and we walked to the road where the school is, the quaint old red and cream brick building was enough to take me back in time, on a nostalgia trip to my school in Mumbai, the beautiful stone grey building, the carefree school days, we grow up too quickly don’t we?
Oh and please do get some of these heart-shaped biscuits from this bakery – ROACH, I do have a picture of me posing with the sugar-coated biscuit but err it’s not going up here 😉
It was also the first time ever I was part of a barbecue, we walked into the village at night, found a lady who gave us some deliciously marinated cottage cheese and peppers and shallots and we have some kind neighbours in the tent next door who lent us some hot coals to get the barbie going.
It was a clear night and the brilliant stars seemed to sparkle just to make us girls smile …
Lying down on the grass on a thin sheet and watching the stars, feeling the pleasant chill on our face, it’s nothing like anything I had ever done.
Fast forward to life in London and with a desire to finally get the travel bit of my blog going I wanted to complete the drafts of so many posts but I am so glad I decided to start with writing about Eco Camps at Panchgani. Megan and Andre have been kind to send me answers to my many questions on email. I hope that all those who are looking some great weekend fun drive down to Panchgani the first weekend possible and stay in one of the tents; this is an experience not to be missed. Proximity to Mumbai and Pune are great pluses. Of course, anyone planning an India vacation in Dec- Feb must stay here and give paragliding a go, make your holiday memorable and experience nature’s beauty, nestled so close to the maddening hustle bustle of two big cities – Mumbai and Pune. It’s almost like, well, a secret escape, something so bohemian about the whole experience!
Megan and Andre, you are an inspiration for those taking a plunge, a leap of faith, raring to follow their dreams, so thank you for being such brave achievers .
MJ – That’s an acronym for my name,kinda long writing ”Manjiri” all the time;)
MJ: Why did you choose Panchgani?
Megan & Andre: Andre and I had decided in 1997 that we wanted to move from cold Canada to India to raise our kids (who were then 4 and 1).We actually wanted to live in Goa, as I first met Andre while on holiday in Goa.We dreamt of having houseboats on the river, but after researching a bit we found that it was hard to get permissions and there was too much barge traffic there. My parents told us to go to Panchgani as we already had a family house on land that my grandfather bought in 1922. So we said we’d give Panchgani a try.
MJ: What inspired you and your husband to start this venture?
Megan & Andre: We wanted to start our own venture, passion and a desire to follow our heart got us here.
MJ: Are there opportunities for adventure sports at Eco Camps?
Megan & Andre: Para gliders with their own equipment converge here from dozens of different countries to practise their flying from Dec to Feb every year. Other adventures to be had in the area is a trek down to the Krishna river, a short one up to the peaceful side of the otherwise crowded tableland, forest walks and visits to waterfalls in the rains. There is also a lovely sunset from the camp.( Oh Yes, I can so vouch for that!)
When practising an adventure sport they must get adequate training and stay safe.
MJ: Do share one of your favourite memories associated with Eco Camps
Megan & Andre: One favourite memory is having a different meal everyday of the week from a different part of the world. This was in the early days when the paragliding guests came in smaller numbers and we used to invite them into our home for dinner most nights and each one took turns cooking.
(How very amazing is that, imagine a room full of guests from different places on this planet together , eating good food, laughing, sharing their life with each other !)
MJ: Do your kids love what you do?
Megan & Andre: Our kids love what we do, and have learnt that turning what you love into an occupation is the way to go. Matthew, now 20 is in training to be a chef, and Arianne 17 wants to be a recreational therapist. Mikey who is 6, still wants to be a fire-fighter -Maybe because of the annual forest fire that comes up our slope every year. This is the one downside to living on the edge in Panchgani, when in the hot, dry summer, all the foliage is burnt by fires coming up from the villages below, burning all things including insects, birds, small animals and saplings in its wake. But we are now used to the annual burning. The fire does remain our biggest challenge but we do concentrate on all the other positive elements of life in this hill station.
MJ: What are the facilities associated with staying at Eco Camp?
Megan & Andre: we have 4 large tents with toilets, a few smaller ones and 2 bungalows, 24hr water, hot water, drinking water. Food is delivered or you could use the kitchens. We have no service, but a fantastic view, some old trees and amazing bird life all around us. It is a 10 min walk into town, but at the same time secluded and quiet.
MJ: How do you manage to keep the place so well maintained yet affordable?
Megan & Andre: The rates are affordable because we don’t have waiters running around and our focus is not on minting money. We get by ok and are quite satisfied with the number of people who come. We don’t have managers or cooks to worry about either. The staff who we do have is happy people who have worked here for years.
MJ: Any message for young entrepreneurs looking to start out on their own and follow their passion like you did?
Megan & Andre: Young people ought to follow their hearts to do what excites them, keeping the practical side of things in mind as well.
MJ: When is peak tourist season?
Megan & Andre: Peak season is from Dec to Feb and April – May Apart from those months, weekends are quickly booked, but weeks are free-ish.
MJ: Anything you wish you had done differently?
Megan: I wish I had paid better attention in my Marathi classes in school. i suffer from not being able to ably communicate my thoughts to the locals.
MJ: What DRIVES you to follow your dreams and passion and survive the inevitable challenges one faces whilst running their own venture?
Megan: My husband and kids, the beauty of our surroundings and the thrill of living at the mercy of the elements are the biggest incentives to continue living and working here. Ever since Andre could manage the running of the camp and got accustomed to local ways, I began teaching French part time at New Era next door. It keeps me in touch with what I studied for years to eventually do.
MJ: How does one book a stay at the eco camp?
Megan: To book a stay at Eco Camp call Megan at 9960436352, more info on our FB group “Eco-camp panchgani”
The photos below are from a magical time in my life, I so wish sometimes I could open some door and go back and relive those days.
Happy Weekend peeps and when you go to Eco Camps, please do share your experiences with me!
Thank you to my friend Payoshni for letting me use her lovely photographs for this post, All information in this blog relating to Panchgani is sourced from here and here – please click on the hyperlinks 🙂
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