Saturday, April 24, 2010


Let's go and have 'puri halwa' at Chotiwala's this morning, said my wife. She told me that as children, Chotiwala was their favourite joint for puri halwa in Rishikesh. So off we went across the Ram jhula to the Eastern bank of the Ganges to find the Chotiwala restaurant.
A view of the Ram Jhula by night.
The restaurant was just about opening - workers were still cleaning the place, as it was rather early in the morning. On inquiry, they told us that the place was open. We sat down but were disappointed when we learnt that they had discontinued puri halwa as there was no demand for the product, as people had now become health conscious.

We ordered a chana bhatura and puri aloo for breakfast. While we were waiting for our food, Poonam who was facing the kitchen door, remarked that the kitchen of the restaurant is very clean. A server then brought out a platter with all possible kinds of food and positioned it in the hands of the chotiwala statue in the display (photograph below shows the platter).
In a short while our food was served and we started eating. Immediately thereafter I heard a gentle clap and there was sudden activity in the restaurant. Our waiter hurriedly came and placed a dish containing green chillies and cut onions, which is part of a chana bhatura dish, but had been missed by our server. I remarked to Poonam that this guy looks like the owner. It so happened that the gentleman who had walked in was Shailesh Agarwal, the owner of this Chotiwala restaurant. Poonam congratulated him on the clean kitchen; he was pleased, and asked if he could join us at our table. He then pulled a chair and sat down with us at our table. We got talking and he told us about how the restaurant was started by his father in 1958. It was fascinating to hear Shailesh's story about the concept of Chotiwala and its positioning as a brand name in Rishikesh. As per Shailesh........

In 1958, Rishikesh was one of the important transit points for people from all over who were on the 'char dhaam' yatra, which includes Badrinath. This pilgrimage would take months and people would miss their home cooked food. The elder Agarwal listened to the woes of many a traveller of how they missed home made food.. and thus the concept took shape in his brain. Why not provide people with food that is similar to home cooked food, with minimal spices and oil. Also, he concieved of four types of thali, viz. North Indian, Gujrati, South Indian and the Bengali thali, to cater for the people coming from different parts of the country. In those days when people undertook the char dhaam yatra, they were required to eat food cooked by Brahmins only. These Brahmin cooks were known as Maharaj in UP, and thus chotiwala was born. In those days only Maharaj's used to cook in Chotiwala. Of course, these days the cooks are not necessarily Brahmin, as times have changed.

Chotiwala and Rishikesh have become synonymous and thus the second generation of Agarwal cousins, Dinesh and Shailesh have been fighting over the brand, after having split the original large restaurant into two relatively smaller, though still good sized, side-by-side Chotiwala restaurants, after the passing away of the senior Agarwal in the mid-1990s. Shailesh told us that he continues with the thali even today. He planned to introduce oil-less food also shortly, based on customer demand. The thali at this Chotiwala restaurant costs Rs. 75.00 in the regular restaurant; and more in the airconditioned section, which opens later in the day. It was a treat to listen to Shailesh talk about the restaurant; its history and its future. He rightly said that this business was his passion and it showed in his words, and emotions. He told us that his restaurant serves thalis from Rs. 75 to 200 normally, but have catered for a Piramal group conference at Rs. 2000 a plate... this is more than what a buffet costs in a 5-star hotel.

We enjoyed our food but more than that, I enjoyed listening to someone who is passionate about what he does. I was so impressed by what and how he narrated his thoughts to us that I told Shailesh that I would be blogging about this, and that is the reason for this post - I had to live up to my word; Shailesh's passion had to be put down in words.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


What you meet in life is destiny,
How you meet it is self effort (karma).........Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

I received the following as a forward and would appeal to the followers of Gyan yoga. Is the meaning any different from the meaning of the two line quote above?

"What is this rule?(Author-Stephen covey)10% of life is made up of what happens to you. 90% of life is decided by how you react. What does this mean? We really have no control over 10% of what happens to us. We cannot stop the car from breaking down. The plane will be late arriving, which throws our whole schedule off. A driver may cut us off in traffic. We have no control over this 10%. The other 90% is different. You determine the other 90%. How? By your reaction. You cannot control a red light., but you can control your reaction.

Let's use an example.

You are eating breakfast with your family. Your daughter knocks over a cup of coffee onto your business shirt. You have no control over what just what happened. What happens when the next will be determined by how you react.

You curse. You harshly scold your daughter for knocking the cup over. She breaks down in tears. After scolding her, you turn to your spouse and criticize her for placing the cup too close to the edge of the table. A short verbal battle follows. You storm upstairs and change your shirt. Back downstairs, you find your daughter has been too busy crying to finish breakfast and get ready for school. She misses the bus.

Your spouse must leave immediately for work.

You rush to the car and drive your daughter to school. Because you are late, you drive 40 miles an hour in a 30 mph speed limit. After a 15-minute delay and throwing $60 traffic fine away, you arrive at school. Your daughter runs into the building without saying good-bye. After arriving at the office 20 minutes late, you find you forgot your briefcase. Your day has started terrible. As it continues, it seems to get worse and worse. You look forward to coming home.

When you arrive home, you find small wedge in your relationship with your spouse and daughter.
Why? Because of how you reacted in the morning. Why did you have a bad day?

A) Did the coffee cause it?

B) Did your daughter cause it?

C) Did the policeman cause it?

D) Did you cause it?

The answer is " D".

You had no control over what happened with the coffee. How you reacted in those 5 seconds is what caused your bad day. Here is what could have and should have happened. Coffee splashes over you. Your daughter is about to cry. You gently say, "It's ok honey, you just need, to be more careful next time". Grabbing a towel you rush upstairs. After grabbing a new shirt and your briefcase, you come back down in time to look through the window and see your child getting on the bus. She turns and waves.

You arrive 5 minutes early and cheerfully greet the staff. Your boss comments on how good the day you are having. Notice the difference?

Two different scenarios. Both started the same. Both ended different.

Why? Because of how you REACTED. You really do not have any control over 10% of what happens. The other 90%
was determined by your reaction. Here are some ways to apply the 90/10 principle.

If someone says something negative about you, don't be a sponge. Let the attack roll off like water on glass. You don't have to let the negative comment affect you! React properly and it will not ruin your day.

A wrong reaction could result in losing a friend, being fired, getting stressed out etc.

Remember the 90/10 principle, and do not worry about it.

Now you know the 90-10 principle. Apply it and you will be amazed at the results. You will lose nothing if you try it".

Are we any wiser???

Sunday, April 18, 2010


We, my wife and I, were to drive back from Chandigarh to Delhi over the weekend ending 11 Apr 10, and we had some time to spare. A day before the return we decided to drive to Delhi, via Rishikesh. The last time I had visited Rishikesh was in 1992, and this place where the Ganga emerges from the hills had left a spellbinding impact on me. I always wanted to return but never had the chance to do so, due to other more important pre-occupations. This was a golden opportunity and I did not want to miss it. I am not the religious kind but do enjoy being alone in the lap of nature in the hills, or close to them.

Rishikesh in September 1992 was nature personified.. hills, water in the form of the Ganga, trees, flora, birds, fish, and the all present air of mysticism. Sadhus and Ashrams abounded but they were minus the commercial aspects of Haridwar. After this visit in 1992, I could always visualise, in my mind's eye, standing on the centre of the 'Ram jhoola' and watching the beautiful, svelte, rapid Ganga emanating from a narrow hilly gorge onto the plains and slowing and expanding to fill the land between the Ashrams on one bank (Eastern banks) and the Haridwar - Rishikesh - Joshimath road on the Western bank. It was magical to watch the sun rise from behind the hills from where the Ganga emerged.
(click on the photographs for a larger view)
Sun rise from behind the hills - with the Ram jhoola, the Marine Drive and Ganga in the foreground.

Rishikesh had given a huge solace to me on this trip in 1992, and thus, the memory of this trip had always stayed with me. It was on this trip that I had for the first time read the literal translation in English of the Bhagwad Gita shloks (verses) from cover to cover in the pocket size edition of the Gita in one sitting and felt its huge uplifting impact on me. We entered Rishikesh with this background in my mind, on 09th evening.

Poonam's uncle had been to Rishikesh a few days earlier and advised us to not miss the Ganga Aarti at the Parmarth Niketan ashram.

Ganga view from the Parmarth Niketan ashram

Parmarth Niketan ashram across the Ganga - view from our room's window

We managed to reach the ashram in time to attend the Aarti, but not in time for accommodation.

The Aarti, and the bhajans that followed, was a very sublime experience and we thoroughly enjoyed it. This finished at about 7 pm and we started hunting for a place to stay but could not find any place in the now greatly expanded and commercial ashrams, hotels and guest houses - all due to the 'Kumbh' mela, I believe. Finally we stayed at a guest house where the only thing that was worth mentioning was a comfortable bed for the night. We were to drive out the next morning and so we just tucked in after a hectic day.

The next morning we were strolling down the 'Marine drive' on the western banks of the Ganges. I did not want to miss this opportunity to have 'Ganga shnaan' in the

clear, cold water of the Ganga and thus stripped down to my trunks and waded in. The water felt nice and I had a good dip in the Ganga. I had to come out after some time as my feet had gone cold. It was very peaceful and blissful and we decided that we could stay for another night, only if we could find some decent place to stay with the balcony, or window, overlooking the Ganga. We found one guest house that had balconies and windows overlooking the Ganga, as we had wanted. On inquiry, we found place there. We immediately moved out of our earlier place into this guest house and booked ourselves for white water rafting down the Ganges from Shivpuri to Rishikesh,
Shivpuri - the launch point for our white water rafting experience.

a stretch of 18 kms with 7 rapids along the way. The total trip would be about 3 hours, which included driving to Shivpuri in the Tata Sumo and then rafting down. We wanted to start at 2 pm so that we could be in time for the Aarti.

All set - let's go, as soon as I get my helmet.

The white water rafting trip went exactly as per plan - it took me sometime to convince Poonam though, on doing this adventure trip. She was not convinced, stating that she was 50 years and this was when I clinched the deal with, "At this age you have nothing to lose". Credit must go to her - she agreed, BUT not before making me promise that if anything happens to her - "please tell my kids, my mother and my brother that she loved them, etc."

Are you sure this is going to be alright? - last minute clarifications!!

We negotiated rapids with exotic names like Roller Coaster (Grade-4), Golf Course (Grade-4), Double Trouble, Club House, Hilton, Initiation and Terminator. The rubberised raft had place for 10 + 2 and we were 9 + 2. Poonam was given the centre front seat to keep her fears at bay and the rest of us were plonked on the sides with paddles in hand. It was a wonderful experience and Poonam too said that she enjoyed it BUT only after it was all over. One 30 year old man wanted to be let off the raft after the second rapid as he was really scared. Somehow he managed to stick on and completed the trip. I enjoyed myself with the the rapids, paddling, going overboard, swimming in the Ganga and cliff jumping off an approx 6 metre high cliff.

Atop the 6 metre cliff - Ready for the jump.

Climbing out of the icy cold water, after the 20 ft high cliff jump

We made it in time for the evening Aarti and had a good night's rest before leaving the next morning for Delhi. All in all it was a sublime and, also, thrilling experience, and is recommended for those who want to have some adventure in the spiritual and physical planes. The trip to Rishikesh provided relaxation to us for both the soul and the body.