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Local secrets

What is the national dish of Columbia?

What is Rassolnik?

This traditional Russian soup is known to have existed as far back as the 15th century, when it was called ‘kalya’. Today, famous with the name Rassolnik, the authentic Russian dish is prepared mainly with veal and lamb kidneys (or pork and beef kidneys), pearl barley, sorrel leaves and some pickled cucumbers! Yes, you heard it right. A ‘pickle soup’ it is!


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No matter how bizarre it may sound, but this bribing Slavic blend is definitely a bowl of happiness.  Rassolnik or rassoljnik, as it is known, varies from family to family and region to region. Some include barley and potatoes and is so thick, a spoon can stand up in it. Others make it with prime cuts of meat instead of offal.

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Despite of all the variations, the belief behind the recipe stays common, i.e. it is the one of the easiest and surest way of curing hangovers!  This is due to the fact that this savory soup helps the body to hold water and counteract the dehydration produced by over-imbibing, which causes hangovers.

Which is the most expensive cheese in the World?

Originated from Serbia, Pule cheese is made exclusively from the milk of Balkan donkeys. A characteristic feature of Serbian cuisine, Pule is not only extremely rare but also the most expensive cheese in the world. This exotic delicacy would cost you a whopping $576 for a pound!


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It takes 25 liters of donkey milk to produce just one kilogram of this white & crumbly smoked cheese. These donkeys are given the very best grass to eat and live as free rein as they can, living in the wilds of Serbia, they are farmed, milked and that results in this Serbian food-treasure!

A woman milks a donkey at a farm in Zasavica Resort, west of Belgrade

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Hand Me Some Useful Street Photography Tips

Take these tips from ace street photographer Arindam Mukherjee, and shoot!

If you stand at a broad way crossing from morning to evening you will find how the emotional landscape changes. Every city has its own character at different times of the day. So shoot both during day and night.

A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore
A woman working at Grover Vineyard in Bangalore

While travelling, carry light equipment. High speed lenses are important for low light situations. Set your camera according to the light of the day before you start walking—you don’t want to miss great moments.

Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.
Indian people celebrating Holi at Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours. Every year at the begining of spring this festival takes place throughout India.The biggest celebration takes place in Banke Bihari temple Vrindavan.


Walk slowly, rather wander, it allows you to observe.

Strap all your stuff with your backpack so you don’t lose anything.

Experience new things, meet new people. Try to trigger a conversation with the locals that will give you knowledge, it adds context in your picture. I listen to them; try to understand their point of view which helps me bring layers in my picture stories.

A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well.  Arindam Mukherjee
A Bhutanese man in western outfit surfs his mobile at Ura valley, Bumthang. Effect of globalisation is now getting strong hold in rural Bhutan as well. Arindam Mukherjee

Monochromatic pictures focus on the emotive part of photography. I feel comfortable with black and white as too much of colour surrounding the main subject may distract the viewer.

It is very important that a photographer should know what he/she wants to make their viewer “FEEL”. Monochrome and colour photography need different ways of looking at the same subject. Practice seeing things in black and white when you shoot.

A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.
A sadhu (Indian Holy Man) changes his clothes at a ghat in Varanasi.

A tip I always share is to be safe when it comes to copyrights and illegal photography. Do not shoot private places without prior permission. You can shoot anything and everything in public place without hurting anybody’s sentiment. Don’t forget to look for “Photography Prohibited” boards around you. And do not under estimate common people’s knowledge.

A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.
A kashmiri lady prays at Jama Mosque in Srinagar.

Go with the flow and enjoy clicking pictures rather than making it an assignment.



Based in Kolkata, this renowned freelance photojournalist started his career as an advertising photographer where he worked with advertising agencies, fashion designers, graphic designers and NGOs. But he always loved street photography and photojournalism. Apart from hosting several exhibitions, he has written and photographed a book called ‘The Wave that Shook the World’, produced by Hope Foundation.

All pix in this post courtesy Arindam Mukherjee.

Input: Travel Secrets Intern Aarohi Roy

What’s the most scenic train trip in Canada?

We speak from personal experience here: Take VIA Rail’s Jasper-Prince Rupert train (formerly known as the ‘Skeena’).



The journey was among the most beautiful and memorable we ever took. From the gorgeous views all through to the comfortable seating, it was the stuff a traveller’s fondest dreams are made of.


This train connects with the Toronto-Vancouver train (the Canadian) at Jasper. The route takes you northwestward, first across the Interior Plateau to Prince George, and then along the Skeena River to the pacific coast and Prince Rupert. You get to see the most picturesque bits of northwestern British Columbia, with historical reminders of the lives led by ancient aboriginal people.


From the final 3000 kms into Prince Rupert, the train follows the mystic Skeena River, famed for the thick mist that often shrouds it- “Skeena” means “river of mists”. The train winds its way along the forested canyons of the river, with the water below gushing over rapids before widening to a peaceful flow, mirroring the surrounding environment.

It is worth booking “Touring Class” where the dome car provides a perfect perch from which you can view the breathtaking scenery. This is available June to mid September. Economy class travelers get an excellent view from their own seats, too.

The Jasper-Prince Rupert trains depart three times a week year around from Jasper. The journey time is approximate 20 hrs. The schedule allows for daylight viewing of the spectacular scenery, and a chance to view wildlife in their natural surroundings.

With inputs from


I’m longing to watch whales: on land. Where to go?

Travel Secrets writer Vikalp Dubey has only one recommendation; book your tickets to South Africa for this one.

Every year, end of September, southern right whales wash ashore, and the sleepy little town of Hermanus celebrates this with a festival.


“Southern right” is a variety of stocky, black-bodied baleen whales with no dorsal fins.


The whales are always the star performers at the Festival, but key roles are also played by musicians, crafters, sports celebrities and thousands of people celebrating Spring.

Cool fact: In 2005 Zakes Mda wrote the novel The Whale Caller in which the Whale Crier of Hermanus is the main character, a man who gets enthralled by a Southern right whale he names Sharisha. (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

What’s on offer for Vegetarians in Vancouver, Canada?

When it comes to food, Vancouver has always had a healthy west-coast vibe to it. Now on the cutting edge of the latest trend – part-time vegetarianism – the bustling seaport in British Columbia is dishing out a sumptuous vegetarian spread larger than ever.  

Vancouver has long been a great city for a tofu fix, but now the chefs are branching out into sophisticated vegetarian dining fit to lure even the hard-core carnivores.

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At The Acron, Chef Rob Clarke’s award winning menu features beautiful vegetarian, raw as well as vegan plates. No tofu turkey or fake sausages here, but you’ll never miss meat while dishes like crispy beer-battered halloumi on a zucchine rosti with pureed peas, cauliflower mac and cheese, delicate raw beet, and macadamia nut cheese ravioli are around.

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Exile Bistro‘s plates are always filled with the west-coast’s seasonal wild bounty – wild mushrooms on barley bread toast with cashew cheese and dandelion salad is just one of them that gives you a fair idea of what’s served here.

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Burdock & Co.‘s, Chef Andrea Carlson keeps it simple but high on flavour with small plates of local vegetables – braised and charred leeks with hazelnut Romesco sause or whole roasted Walla Walla onion with pine mushroom and cheese fonduta. We are already drooling here!

For more plant forward food far from crunch granola of yore, you can try these two too –

The Parker for late-night cocktails and noshes and

Heirloom or Graze for good old vegetarian comfort food.

Restaurants play their part well, but the hotels are soon catching up with the Vegetarian fever in town –

At The Four Seasons, Chef Ned Bell loves his vegetables and makes a d=generous display of it with his “Farm-to-table”menu brimming with “nutrient dense and plant based” delicacies.

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The Sushi bar at The Fairmont Pacific Rim serves up pressed and salted watermelon nigiri to mimic rare tuna for vegan diners.

Whether it is for health, environment or local “root-to-shoot” eating, Semi -Vegetarianism is on the path to soon becoming Vancouver’s new signature cooking style. 

For more on Vegetarian Vancouver, check out these restaurants.

10 Great Reasons to Visit Thailand in 2015

If your still planning a summer getaway, Thailand could be the easiest way out. A calender brimming with festive cheer and all-year long beach availability should be enough to get your bags packed. But we’ll give you more:

Family, shopping, adventure, food or Honeymoon – Thailand’s got a memorable trip planned for all.

  1. Gorgeous Beaches

    With countless little islands in the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, this is a beach paradise! The perfect beach weather keeps Thailand  a popular party destination all year long. Patong Beach, Phuket is the largest and the most popular  with white sands, warm waters, scores of restaurants, and happening night-life. Haad Rin Beach hosts the “Full Moon Party” once every month. Be sure to attend this all night party if you’re here on the right day. For a quiet time, Koh Mun Nork is the place to be. This desert island has just one resort and is a 45 minute ferry ride away from the mainland.

  2. Shopping

    With swanky malls to lively night markets, the best place to shop in Thailand is in its capital city. While the Siam Square is home to some of the biggest malls and chic boutiques, the Chatuchak weekend market houses over 15000 retailers selling everything from latest fashion in clothing to vintage home décor items, books and Thai handicrafts. For some bulk shopping visit Pratunam for a variety of apparels at wholesale rates.

  3. Adventure

    Jet skiing in Pattaya, Wind surfing in Koh Samui, Kitesurfing and wakeboarding in Jomtien. Go deep sea diving and snorkeling on the shores of Koh Larn. Apart from the colourful corals, be on the lookout for sharks as well. Don’t be surprised if you come across a shipwreck or two! At Railey Beach the main attraction is rock climbing on the limestone karsts.

  4. Buddhist Temples 

    There are a number of Temples in Thailand and each one as beautiful as the other. These temples make for some very serene and spiritual locations as well as architectural gems! The most sacred temple of Thailand is located in the Grand Palace which houses the Emerald Buddha. Some of the other popular ones are the temple of the Reclining Buddha, Temple of Dawn, Temple of the Buddha’s Footprint, and Wat Mahathat.

  5. Food

    From the fine dining restaurants in Bangkok to local produce in the remote villages and sea food of the coastal regions, prepare to be amazed by Thai flavours. Dine at the award winning Baan Khanitha & Gallery in Bangkok for a memorable experience and authentic cuisine. In Chiang Mai, Ban Rim Num is a restaurant with a view! Enjoy the view of the scenery as you enjoy your meal. Some of the signature dishes of Thai cuisine are Phat Thai (Thai style fried noodles) and Tom Yam Kung (Spicy shrimp soup). The street food in the busy market streets of Bangkok is as yummy as it is visually appealing. Ratchawat Market, Sriyan Market and Chinatown serve some of the best street food too. Be sure to try out Catfish Salad and Shrimp tom yum noodles at these joints.

  6. Vibrant Culture

    Thailand is a colourful country and the rich culture is reflected in their art forms and festivals. One of the most famous indigenous sports is the brutal Thai boxing called “Muay Thai” and watching at least one fight is a must on the “to-do in Thailand” list. The traditional Thai dance and music performances can be enjoyed while strolling through the walking street market in Chiang Mai. The Thai New Year starts on 13th of April. It is called “Songkran” and celebrated with a water fight as a mark of cleansing, similar to the Indian festival Holi.

  7. History

    The kingdom of Thailand has a rich history of different rulers who have left behind some exquisite heritage sites. The Grand Palace and the ancient temples of Buddha are only a few among them. Ayutthaya used to be the capital city of ancient Thailand and is a favourite among History buffs and art lovers. Some other historical sites like the Khmer temples and ruins of other ancient cities give interesting insights into Thailand’s past and the cultural impact on its people.

  8. Dense forests

    With a large part of Thailand covered in lush green rainforests, how can we not think of Trekking? Places like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai offer a lot of options for jungle treks — be it a day trip or a multi-day trek. Excursions to Khao Yai National Park and Khao Sok National Park will help you spot wild elephants and explore limestone karsts, caves, rivers and jungles and make for a great overnight camping site. Needless to say, the jungles house a variety of wild flowers as well. Get that camera ready!

  9. The Friendly Elephants

    Thailand is home to a large number of elephants. Spot these friendly animals in the jungles or go elephant back riding through wooded areas, crossing rivers, past rice paddies and pineapple plantations to get a glimpse of rural life. The elephant Conservation Centre near Chiang Mai invites volunteers to help these magnificent animals against abuse. Do more than just being a tourist and volunteer at this centre .

  10. The Road less travelled

    Looking for some off-beat options? Head straight to North-Eastern Thailand – Isaan! The least frequented region hardly ever sees any tourists but will give you a perfect insight into the life of rural Thailand. With a lot of festivals taking place here and the ancient Khmer ruins and temples, travelling all the way to Isaan is totally worth it! Isolated from the tourist traffic, life in Isaan has barely changed and is very different from that in cities. It is a beautiful place to lose yourself in natural beauty!

Inputs from TS intern Shruti Mahajan

Ever driven 1.5 Km away from Udaipur?

Boban Paul did. And discovered untouched Jhadol.

Udaipur: the ‘City of Lakes’. Apt label. But then, a label has its limitations. Tourists in Udaipur city get limited to the banks of the beautiful lakes and the large corridors of the lake palaces. Very few loosen the reins of the Adventure Horse, venturing into territories beyond the city. On a recent trip, my work took me to a block called Jhadol, about 1.5 hours from Udaipur city by car. udaipur Green shrubs, palm trees and flat open fields stretched for miles. Jet-black strips of tarred road alternated with potholed dusty brown patches. Then we began our ascent up a winding tarred path, and gaped at what we saw in front of us. There were multiple ranges of green mountains, standing naked to the open black and blue sky. They were arranged one behind the other and it seemed as though in front of us was a sea of green, with waves building up one behind the other. As we drove further up, a meandering stream of water ran by our side, playing hide and seek through the trees on the roadside. The sound of the water rumbling over pebbles was clear and beautiful. The fusion of the cool air around the stream and the precipitation from trees on the roadside cooled the air to the point of making it chilly, especially in the shade of the trees. The rain was like icing on cake – it cleared out the dusty haze. This short ride was like a massage for my senses – my body was lightened by the cool, feather touch of the air and my soul was soaked in the mesmerising sights and sounds.

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