We're absolutely crazy about Stella and at home we made sure she had the best of everything. An amazing vet, super high quality food, plenty of time at the local dog park, a fabulous (and overpriced) boarding facility where we could watch her via webcam, and trips to the beach/forest/anywhere-we-could-take-her. She really is our princess -- and yeah, we're those people.
I have had a series of heart palpitating experiences with her, including an absolute tick infestation after picking her up from a (highly recommended) boarding facility, run-ins with bad mannered children (and adults) who think hitting, kicking, or tugging on fur are acceptable ways to interact with a new canine "friend", several failed attempts to introduce a new food (yes, I was titrating), paw pad issues, and a total lack of nearby, fenced-in, dog-friendly green space.
It's been a frustrating sequence of trial and error but that being said, we have carved out the closest semblance to normalcy here and have found some great resources. With the increasing number of dog owners coming to Pune and knowing the stress that comes with relocating a dog, I thought it'd be helpful to make a short list of the primary ones we use. There are a bunch of different places in town, and some of them are really good; these are just the ones we tend to use over and over. I recommend looking around once you've got the basics covered, because I'm always finding something new here to recommend!
If you are interested in seeing how we did the actual relocation for Stella, please look at my older posts here, here, and here! We used Furry Flyers to help us with the documentation needed for importation.
I have found that the best recommendations I get are from fellow expats, so if you are looking for something, speak up, ask around!! Chances are that someone knows someone who knows or knows someone else ;-)
Marc and I celebrated our anniversary last weekend by taking a trip out to the country for some fresh air and relaxation. We chose Hilton Shillim Estate Retreat and Spa, located about 2 hours from the city (if you take the direct route), on high recommendation from friends who'd stayed there previously
We drove up early on Saturday morning around 7 and hit almost no traffic via the old Mumbai-Pune Expressway. We decided to take the scenic route by driving north to Lonavala since we'd both never been there. Cute area, lots of shops and holiday homes. The route took us through the Sahyadri Mountain peaks, and back down on the west side of Pawna Lake. It took us about three hours to reach the resort.
The drive was incredibly beautiful, and the scenery was so green, drastically different from 3 months ago when the mountains looked instead like desolate, burnt brown shards sticking up from the earth. Everything was vibrant and alive, there were countless tiny waterfalls and streams, and flowers blooming everywhere. It was India as I had never seen it!
Coming down from Lonavala meant that we would come directly through the mountains. We hit high peaks, hairpin turns, and at the very top we experienced fog so dense we couldn't see more than 4 meters in front of us! It felt like we were driving through a dream.
Once we got out of the mountains and in the valley, we passed through a few little villages and lots of farms. The smell of cut grass, manure, and dirt coupled with the cool temperatures reminded me of New Jersey in the late spring.
The last 8kms was completely off-road, and I'm really happy (once again) that we have a beast-mobile (see here) that can tackle any pothole. At times it was so bad that I was certain we had taken a wrong turn, but when I called the hotel they assured me it was normal. So if you happened to be on that road, don't worry, just keep going :-)
Arriving at Hilton Shillim was like taking a step into a completely different world. The place is absolutely amazing, the surroundings are lush, and the service was the best we've ever had. I won't bore you with a full review and I think the pictures speak for themselves, but if you're interested you can see what I wrote on TripAdvisor.
On the way back we took a more direct route into Pune, which was about half an hour less than the drive up there. There's even a more direct way, according to Google Maps, but we didn't take that.
We passed a lot of farms, more villages, and lots of animals! I think the drive up and back ended up being almost as much fun as our stay at Shillim! We saw farmers planting rice, water buffalo taking a dip in a pond, and of course more streams and waterfalls than we could count. We kept the windows rolled down the entire time so we could really soak up all of the fresh air and smells of the country.
Marc has taken a bunch of other pictures and he said he wants to upload them on his blog, so stay tuned if you want to see more. They're probably a lot better than the ones I took on my iPhone!
Note to self: buy a new camera the next time we're home.
Often after traveling, we arrive home to the lingering scent of fresh bread, a welcoming sign that our maid, I'll call her E, has prepared a meal for us. This is usually simple: some lentils (dal) and a vegetable curry along with a nice fat stack of chapatis she's left in the oven. There's really nothing like coming home to a hot meal.
E's chapatis are delicious. Thin, unleavened, whole wheat round breads which are smeared with just the right amount of ghee (clarified butter). Kind of like a tortilla, but made of wheat. Perfect for sopping up flavorful gravies and making little sandwiches from the curries!
I was curious to know how these are made so one day last week, E agreed to show me the ropes. She started in the morning by combining atta (whole wheat flour) and a small amount of salt in a bowl. She added water bit by bit just until she had made a dough that stuck together, then she coated her hands in water, pressed it together in a ball, and transferred it to a plastic container to sit for a few hours.
When the dough was ready, E got out the tawa (it's really the crepe pan we got at home in NJ last year) and put it on a medium flame. She put some flour on a plate to use for dusting the counter, and brought out the ghee I got from ABC Farms to smear on the finished chapatis.
One she got started, the process was finished within 15 minutes and boy did she make it look easy! She scooped a little dough out and formed a small ball between her hands, then rolled it out on the counter with a rolling pin, sprinkling flour as needed to keep it from sticking. After placing it on the tawa, she'd watch as small bubbles appeared on the top surface, kind of like a pancake, and then flip it over. 10-15 seconds later, the chapati would puff up and then she'd remove it from the pan to a plate where it was smeared with ghee. She repeated this with dizzying speed and accuracy, rolling the chapatis out in perfect circles of consistent thickness, over and over until she had about 20 of them on the plate.
While she was cooking I asked her about meals at her home. She shared with me that she wakes up at 4 am every day to make a pile of about 50 chapatis to accompany her family's meals throughout the day! 50! Her family eats them with every meal, similar to how we use dinner rolls or bread with our meals in the US.
There are other preparations of chapati that I would like to try making, one of which is puran poli, a lovely sweet dessert-like chapati filled with a spiced jaggery and dal mixture. I especially like to enjoy mine with a steaming cup of tea or masala chai. It is popular to eat in our state during holy times, like the 10-day festival of Ganesh Chaturthi, which just so happens to be occurring as I write this. Perhaps now is the perfect time!