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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.

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Buy This Whiskey, Own A Land In Scotland!

Planning to get a land in Scotland? Why not buy a bottle of whiskey instead! Yes, you read it right. Scotland’s one of the finest single-malt whiskeys, Laphroaig, offers a lease on a square foot of land with the purchase of each bottle. When you buy one, you lawfully become a ‘Friend of Laphroaig’. And, as a ‘Friend’ you will be given a numbered plot (one square foot) of the distillery land, represented by your own little flag!

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Currently owned by Beam Suntory (American subsidiary of Japan’s Suntory Holdings), Laphroaig was founded in Scotland in 1815 by Donald and Alexander Johnson. It is the only Islay Scotch whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales.

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Talking about the rates, a ten year old Laphroaig can cost you around US$50 (approx. ₹3344), an eighteen year old bottle can cost you around double of that (around ₹ 6688) and the 25 year old one will lighten your wallet by approximately US$ 400. (approx. ₹26755). So, once you get your hands on any of these three, just register the bar code placed on the bottle to the Laphroaig website. And that’s it! You will, then, be a proud owner of a piece of land in Islay, Scotland.

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Ever heard of an eatable Margarita?

No, this isn’t your traditional glass of tequila and fruit juice cocktail that you sip casually on a usual Friday evening. Doug Laming’s Margarita is definitely much more interesting than that! As suggested by the name, this cocktail was introduced by Molecular Mixologist, Doug Laming at his experimental lab i.e. Rabbit Hole Bar & Dining, Sydney.

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Laming uses ‘Cointreau Caviar Spherification’ to create spheres of Tequila, Cointreau and syrup, which results in little ‘pearls’ of alcohol that burst in the mouth!  While the glass is only there for decoration, to actually consume this margarita, one has to lift up the salt rimmed lime and eat the pink finger lime and the two types of the caviar pearls. One contains a Souza Gold tequila and sugar syrup and the other contains Cointreau. Basically, you eat these and lick the salted lime. It’s a margarita unlike any other kind that you may have had.

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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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My Travel Secret – Aditya Verma

Take me on a Harry Potter Tour. I’m a fan!

How do I Take Great Wildlife Photos?

Noted photographer Archna Singh gave Travel Secrets writer Nirav Shah a quick tutorial in wildlife photography.

 

 

Be extremely patient. I have had to wait for 4-5 hours while a leopard slept on the tree just to catch different expressions on its face.

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Maintain distance. This is important to catch the animal in their natural behaviour, to respect them and their privacy and most importantly, for your own safety.

Early morning and late evenings before dusk are the best times to shoot. Most of the animals are out at this time, when the heat is low. The light is also softer.

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Never use your camera flash. It scares the animal away and is disrespectful.

Always keep the camera ready, even a 1-minute break can make you lose a wonderful shot. The animals always catch you off guard!

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Do not just take pretty pictures: try and bring out the emotions that the animals express

A tip for tourists: Guides/drivers at national parks in India will often park their cars in one place and claim that the animal will come here (based on sightings or pug marks). Do not listen to them, but make them take rounds since more often than not, this is a tactic to only save fuel, and you will never end up spotting any animal.

About Archna Singh

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Trained at: NIFT, and under acclaimed photographer Akhil Bakshi

In love with: Africa! She’s also a regular at Ranthambhore and Ladakh.

Showcases her work at: http://www.orahwildlife.com.

Her Kit (in 2012, when we published the story):

1. Canon camera – 1Ds Mark III (serial no. DS 126161/617957)

2. Canon camera – 1D MARK IV (serial no. DS 126221/1431300181)

3. Canon camera – G11 Power Shot (serial no. 0245200409)

4. Canon Zoom Lens – (EF 800MM 1:5.6) – Serial No. 14634

5. Canon Zoom Lens (100-400MM) – ET-83C (serial no. 462100)

6. Canon lens – (EF 200MM 1:2L) – Serial No. 11216

7. Canon Wide Angle Lens 16-35MM – EW-88 – Serial No. 1063057

8. Canon Lens (24-70MM) – EW-83F – Serial No. 1907442

9. Canon Fisheye lens -15mm – Serial No. 54259

10. Canon Extender 2xIII – Serial No. 8420002650

11. Canon Extender 2xII – Serial No. 132951

All images are with courtesy  Archana Singh

Input: Travel Secrets Correspondent Nirav Shah

Tell Me More About China’s Panda Park

China’s 600-acre Panda Base is located just about 20 km from the north suburb of Chengdu city. ‘Cute’ and ‘cuddly’ Pandas frolic here, in their lovingly simulated natural habitat. Our correspondents Rakhi Agarwal and Supriya Kantak take you there:

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Here, they swim, climb trees, munch on bamboo and roll in the dirt; just like they would in deep wilderness. Bamboo trees form a welcoming canopy overhead. Birds tweet in the bushes: your chance to spot some endangered species, and some well-loved ones. Think black-necked cranes, thrushes, cuckoos, Kingfisher. Stop by to share a snack with friendly peacocks and pheasants strutting freely about.

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Pandas are peace-loving, happy with their bamboo diet. But if provoked, their powerful jaw muscles and 150-kg weight can give you the shudders.

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Pandas get their name from the Chinese words ‘Pan and Da’ meaning ‘fat and big.’ In anticipation of a big bear hug, Supriya and Rakhi entered the protected area; a maze of winding paths with bamboo shoots forming an arch overhead. There are other trees, of course- mostly tall and big. Willows, Gingkos, Chinars, Yulans…the names aren’t all familiar, but the fresh air cools your face and warms your heart.

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The 60 acre Panda Base also houses a charming lake, teeming with cranes and Mallard ducks and well swans. But more than that it showcases nature’s genius at thinking up shapes and sizes and colour schemes! So while gazing at the Aquarians swimming together in happy harmony how can you miss the beautifully mismatched yellow, red and orange set against the blue water? Once you have had your fill of the lake’s beauty, enjoy a scoop of ice-cream. On your way out, you must stop at the souvenir shop; take a sneak, though you should know that the shops inside offer lower prices.

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This article first appeared in our July-August, 2012 edition.

Varkala: Kerala’s stunning coastal town. Have you discovered it yet?

With its clean, quiet beaches, Varkala is a secret that Kerala has hugged to itself. Our Correspondent Sarita Santoshini stumbled upon it.

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This coastal town is a five hour bus drive from Cochin and sits 75 easy kilometres from Kovalam, Kerala’s more celebrated beach beauty.

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The lagoons by the long stretches of beach in Varkala are draped in serenity. A century old ashram lets you heal your inner-self, and a temple island draws you towards its quiet beauty.

The town itself is slow and unspoiled; but plenty of adventure awaits you on its fringes. Take lessons in surfing or paragliding in ideal weather between October and May; wander around and stumble upon thriving fish communities that add soul to the place and you will come back with enough stories and pictures to keep you happy till you decide to head back again.

Following a receptionist’s advice,  our correspondent Sarita walked towards “a narrow lane” and to her surprise stumbled on a stunning sidewalk along the edges of a cliff, the North Cliff Beach. Restaurants, cafes and resorts line the road for almost a kilometre, with the vast Arabian Sea glimmering on the other side.

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Here, coconut groves hide another surprise: Black Beach; so named after the colour of its sand. Varkala beach is locally called Papanasam Beach, whose northern part lies below the cliff. At the southern end are the mineral water springs whose medicinal properties attract people from all over the world.
Another gem in the heart of Varkala is the Shiva- Parvathi temple. It is on the uninhabited Ponnumthuruthu Island, midst the lush forest and a chirpy bird life. Here you can reach by boat from Nenduganda Village.

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The historical Anjengo Fort dates back to the East India Company. There’s a lovely view from the lighthouse.

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Driving through this hamlet in the evening you’ll pass through vibrant houses of all sizes, men and women chatting away as they dry their catch of the day, group of church-goers saying their daily prayers and glimpses of beautiful stretches of the sea that the Latin Christian Makuva community lives beside. It’s good to see that the community has held its identity, in spite of tourism slowly commercialising everything.


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This story was published in our Nov-Dec 2013 issue. To subscribe, visit magzter.com

What is “shoulder season” and why is it good for travel?

Shoulder Season falls between peak season and off season. So, you get many advantages. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. The crowds have thinned out but are not absent. Airfares and hotel tariffs tend to dip slightly, so you have more money for shopping! The local tourist industry is now free from the pressure of catering to throngs, and you can expect better service.

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According to Rick Steves, “Shoulder season varies by destination. Because fall and spring bring cooler temperatures in Mediterranean Europe, shoulder season in much of Italy, southern France, Spain, Croatia, and Greece can actually come with near peak-season crowds and prices. For example, except for beach resorts, Italy’s peak season is May, June, September, and October, rather than July and August. Paris is surprisingly quiet in July and August.”

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We at Travel Secrets try and stay away from even the best destinations during peak season, because the crowds can be simply too overwhelming. Last year in Florence and Venice, we found ourselves jostling and gasping for the most part. Taking photos ended up being a Click-and-Move affair in places, with the next person breathing down your neck.

A shoulder season trip to Switzerland, on the other hand, was pure relaxation. Under the mild September sun, it was blissful to walk down the quiet streets of Basel, taking in the crisp cool air and lazing by the Rhine. We could feel our lungs turn pink again:)

Basel by the Rhine River (1)Posted by Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

Pix: TS Photo Editor Nitin Gopal Srivastava

 

How Not to Eat in Florence, Italy

Posted By Travel Secrets Editor Shubhra Krishan

As someone who believes in stumbling upon great places, I decided to ditch the guide books/blogs/local advice, and plunged straight into Florence.

Big mistake.

Stepping out of the magnificent Santa Maria Novella Railway Station…

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I wended my way through the crowded streets of the city…

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asking for directions to  The Gallery Hotel Art

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Along the way, hunger pangs hit. Hard. And since I was in Italy, the fragrance of herbs and the aroma of baked bread was everywhere. Honestly, I could hardly wait to drop my bags at the hotel and get back on the streets for a bite.

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Strung along a pipe-thin lane, I spotted a string of eateries that promised big meals at incredible deals. Smiling restaurant staff stood outside their outlets, handing out colourful pamphlets that promised a free drink with pizza and seemingly endless menus.

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Photo: thepodanys.blogspot.com Used here for representational purposes only

 

I succumbed.

And regretted it minutes later. The pizza was cold and leathery, with about 3 olives that tasted as if they had been glued atop the bread a month ago. Sure, it cost me “just 4 euros” for pizza and coke, but I would rather have spent a few bucks more to get a better bite.

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I am sure the giant plastic chef standing outside the restaurant, holding that huge menu card, giggled a little when I walked in.

Moral of the story: do your research when you are going to Florence. Read helpful advice such as this. And this.

Bon Appetit!

 

The DUBLIN PARK(ING) DAY sounds like a cool green idea. Tell me more!

Once a year in the month of September, Dublin’s car parking spaces turn into public parks, games or art installations. Park(ing) Day is “intended to promote creativity, civic engagement, critical thinking, unscripted social interactions, generosity and play.”

Team TS happened to be there last September, and we couldn’t stop marvelling at some of the creative ideas on show at the parking lots.

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(Image source: weburbanist.com)

Get all the details on this fun concept here.

Where in Maharashtra is Kalote Lake? Is it worth a visit?

Mansi Ghuwalewalla can help you with this one:

“When we leapt off our rickshaw (10 Rs. per head from the Karjat naka) at the turn for Kalote on the Mumbai-Pune highway, our expectations were quite moderate. We just wanted to find a relatively less crowded lake among the many that dot the Western Ghats during monsoon. Only, there was more in store.

As we followed two headloading village women and a mildly inebriated old man on a short uphill walk, Kalote village slowly revealed itself to us – an almost-still settlement around a lake circled by lush hills and howling wind.

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My friend and I exchanged a look that said, this is not a scene, it’s a place. We were here to celebrate our

birthday, which falls on the same day. The whole thing felt symbolic in the way that it was just another day in this place. This place was itself everyday of its life. It just stayed there being this way. Anyway, our little ‘getaway’ had begun well.

A private property sat on an island in the lake. A couple of understated resorts, followed by a small village and a ‘dabdaba’ up ahead. The rest was all open spaces.

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At the first resort, the lady (hands covered with flour) told us she had no rooms. Having had only ussal pav and chai at Karjat for breakfast, we were famished. At the next resort, Mrs. Khan sat on a swing, breaking coriander. She offered us a ‘package’ of Rs 1500 per head per day, with three meals. When we tried to bargain, she said, “the food is excellent” so matter of factly without as much as looking up from her dhaniya that I believed her. And good that I did. The food, simple and sumptuous, is just by the way in a place like this.

There’s a lot to do in Kalote – walk around, look around, walk around, laze around and look at the lake. You can’t go into it for a swim because that’s where the drinking water for the village comes from. ‘Dabdaba’ is the Marathi word for waterfall, and it’s your free, natural spa! The best part was walking barefoot to and into the waterfall and then becoming one of the rocks.

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Well, that’s what we did for a day and a half. So good.

Even the highway feels like a different place in the monsoon. Especially when you’re in a rickshaw back into town and you know the air is going to smell its familiar smoky texture soon.

For Driving directions:

Use google maps to search for <18°52’4″N   73°17’3″E >”

Take me to an Irish cafe that the locals love!

Just a few minutes out of Belfast airport, and you have a fiesta of Irish treats laid out for you. Rhubarb pie with homemade ice-cream, to begin with. At a pretty tucked-away place that overlooks the endless sea, and doubles as a local nursery. Called Harrisons, quite simply. Harrisons-Restaurant-201207280453 DSC00590 That pie. It alone is worth a trip to Northern Ireland. The rhubarb is nice and tart, and the pie crust is perfectly crisp. And the ice-cream, it tastes like the cow was milked a few minutes ago and the hens just laid their eggs and all of it was churned quickly together and frozen swiftly up to create this fresh, fantastic dream in cream. Sorry, it’s easy to get carried away when you’re reminiscing about a treat so delicious. DSC00591 Many days after I arrived back in India and Googled it, I was blown away by the story of Harrison’s! It is owned by a family that lives on 90 lush acres of land. The location is called Ards Peninsula, one of Northern Ireland’s most picturesque locations. (But then, I was there for nearly a week and did not see one spot that would not qualify as that! All of Ireland, Northern or not, is an ode to natural beauty.) And I am not the only one determined to go back for that ice cream. Apparently, 30 per cent of its customers drive more than an hour to come and eat at Harrisons. I suspect that statistic will quickly crawl upward soon. I have to admit I wolfed down the entire pie and ice-cream, and those calories were worth lunch and dinner both. And I was too hungry to take photos of the treat! Shubhra Krishan

I’m a hairdresser. Pl suggest a fun name for my shop!

Hair we go!  Inspiration from our Ireland album.DSC00690DSC00708DSC00705DSC00703

Something fun for Harry Potter fans visiting Edinburgh?

Of course! 

Let’s take you to The Elephant House Cafe in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland’s pulsating capital city!

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It looks like an unlikely spot for the blockbuster it secretly housed. But yes, J.K. Rowling sat here, scribbling furiously over cups of coffee and we are sure, Scottish scones.

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(Image: pottermore-news.com)

Do visit the loo here: the walls are filled with ‘letters’ scribbled to the author from women across the world!

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Image: niamhinlondon.tumblr.com

Besides inspiration, the Cafe also serves full breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the menu are pizzas, salads, pasta, Haggis, Neeps and Tatties (Scotland’s national dish), and something called Lucas of Musselburgh Ice Cream which we did not taste but are sure is a delicious secret in itself!

http://www.elephanthouse.biz/

21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN
Tel. 0131-220-5355
Fax. 0131-220-4272
contact@elephanthouse.biz

What your Travel Agent Never Tells You

Travel agents often say; “Sir. Your ticket is not refundable.” Really? We asked the director of Nobel Travels, Prit Pal Saini, to spill the beans and discovered these shocking travel secrets.

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Most airline tickets are refundable

Before getting your tickets issued from a travel agent, check the refund policy on the airline’s website. Most of these tickets are refundable and a travel agent can get the refund from the airlines without any approval or authority from you. However, travel agents usually don’t let you in on this secret.

Your ticket is refundable for a long time

As per IATA regulations, most of the tickets are valid for refund between one to three years. But your travel agent will always give the impression that the refund is valid for not more than three to six months.

Your agent knows how much you can pay

Nowadays most travellers search fare with online travel sites before they call their travel agents to get his offer. All this searching and surfing gives the target price to your travel agent. So, he will offer you a little lower then that price, and tell you that he is not making any money on this trip.

Agents cannot sell or book all airlines

They will try to book you on scheduled airlines rather than low cost carriers. This is because, most agents use CRS (Computerized Reservation System) of Amadeus, Galileo, Sabre etc who charge heavy transaction fee from the airlines. Low cost carriers can’t afford to pay this and they sell their tickets directly through their own website to avoid this fee.

Agents earn more from Hotel reservations, local transport and insurance.

While booking a vacation, we always fight with travel agents about the airline ticket price. However, the major part of your vacation expense includes hotels, cruises, transfers and Insurance. The agent also earns more commission from these.

Read the full story in Travel Secrets Magazine's January-February 2014 issue.
Digital copies available on Magzter

 

Q: I’d like to carry tea as a gift from India. What varieties do you recommend?

In India, we love gifts – receiving them, mostly! From sweets and dry fruits to Rajasthani dolls and show-pieces, there is quite a variety to choose from. But let’s go find something uniquely Indian for your hosts abroad.

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Photo: mittalteas.com

Tea is one such treasure. It defines our country, and we are one of its best producers. To know more about how to use tea as a gift, we took a sip out of Mr. Mittal’s tea pot. On entering Mittal Tea Store, the mixed aroma of different teas enchants your senses. Our expert talks all about teas and their potential as presents- but not before making each customer have a taste of it! When travelling abroad, the ideal gift choice would be Darjeeling and Assam tea- these are of superlative quality and the purest varieties available. While the former has a mellow but strong taste, the latter is more robust.

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Photo: http://www.fabfurnish.com

Although ‘First Flush’ Darjeeling is as good as it gets in teas, the most popular choice to take overseas is the tantalising Earl Grey. Two main categories of teas are- With Added Flavour and Without Added Flavour; it is suggested to bear the unflavoured teas as gifts, as they are more appealing and exotic to those residing outside India. All three teas mentioned above fall under this category. If you wish to gift flavoured teas, then the best options would be- Masala tea, Cardamom tea or Mango tea– as these are indigenous flavours, rarely found elsewhere; unlike chocolate tea or mint tea, which can be found almost everywhere.

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Photo: http://www.momondo.com

Another reason why the unflavoured teas are sought after is that they are a locally produced here and thus offer great value for money — for both foreigners and Indians purchasing and carrying teas abroad.

This advice is affirmed when the foreigners come in and they all wish to purchase Darjeeling tea, Assam tea or other ‘typical Indian’ teas.

Thus, simplicity is the way to go, keep it pure (tea) and keep your friends & family abroad happy!

Photo: indiatoday.intoday.in
Photo: indiatoday.intoday.in

You can look at over hundred varieties of teas and spices at Mittal Teas Store in Sundernagar Market. Starting from small packets worth Rs.50, the range goes up to Rs.2000 per box, which are ornately hand-crafted and suited to your travelling requirements – in paper mache, wooden boxes, fabric packing, etc.

So what’s your flavour going to be?

– Megha Uppal

Read more on Teas:

How to brew the perfect cup of Tea.

TEA BAGS VS LOOSE LEAF

Shop at Mittal Teas Online

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