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July 2013  
 
 
Special Reports


In this Issue
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 



In this issue we will focus on the culinary wonders of Mahabalipuram and Chennai in South India.

 
We would like to begin with a short note about hot food and spicy food. Contrary to popular belief, Indian cuisine is not meant to be hot. There are a great variety of herbs and spices used in Indian cooking. These may add flavor, aid digestion, have medicinal properties or just bring color to the food (usually it's a combination of a few qualities).

The types and flavors of herbs and spices vary as you travel from one place to another within India. Just as anywhere else, there are people that cook and eat really spicy food; however, almost all Indian restaurants will ask for your preference while taking your order. If they forget to ask you, please do let your waiter know.

This month, we focus on the Chennai/Mahabalipuram area. Chennai is a large city on India's Southeastern coast that used to be called Madras during the days of the British Raj. Although it is India's fourth-largest city and a busy commercial hub, Chennai itself does not hold much that is of interest to a foreign visitor.

The laid-back coastal town of Mahabalipuram just south of Chennai, is however another matter altogether.

Mahabalipuram is an enchanting ocean-front town in India’s southernmost state of Tamil Nadu. This city was once considered a flourishing center of Dravidian civilization. The Dravidian civilization is considered the oldest indigenous culture in India. The people from this region are believed by historians to be the direct descents of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization.

Jump - start your exploration of Mahabalipuram with breakfast at your hotel. This includes a diverse sampling of both Tamil and western cuisines. After breakfast you begin your day with a guided exploration of the ancient port of Mahabalipuram, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This scenic coastal town is world famous for its 8th century Shore Temple and other historical marvels.

  Temples in Mahabalipuram

Mahabalipuram was the second capital of the Pallava Kings of Kanchipuram, the first Tamil dynasty after the fall of the Gupta Empire that ruled most of India from 322 to 185 BC. The massive rock sculptures carved into softly sloping hills, monolithic temples, ancient man-made caverns with incredible sculptures and the world’s largest bas-relief in stone, all combine to make Mahabalipuram a living museum.

Vying with this splendor is a beach on the picturesque Bay of Bengal. Near these shores are amazing architectural wonders including the famous Pancha Rathas (Five Chariots) Temples, the Penance of Bhagirath (also known as Arjuna’s Penance), the Shore Temple, the massive bas-relief Descent of the Ganges and the eight Mandapams (Shallow halls carved out of sheer rock). All of these attractions are located within this small coastal community.

After your exploration of these splendid monuments, expand your culinary horizons by enjoying a traditional Tamil lunch.

While Indian cuisine is broadly classified into six tastes - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent, a Tamil meal will satisfy all these tastes.

For those wishing to experience lunch in a truly south Indian fashion, a banana leaf will form the platter for the feast. The food layout on the leaf is done in a fashion unchanged for centuries. The top half is reserved for numerous condiments and accompaniments to the main entree like pickle, salt, chutney and vegetables.

The vegetables are diverse and include anything from gourds to carrots and cabbages. The lower half of the leaf is for rice which is a dietary staple of this region. Rice may be plain white rice, ghee (clarified butter) Pongal, lemon rice or tamarind rice. Crispy Appalam or Papadam wafers also form a part of this delicious lunch served on a Banana leaf.

Use your time in the afternoon to explore your ocean-front resort and surroundings. The afternoon is a great time to walk 50 yards down the beach to mingle with the local fishing community and their colorful wooden boats.

You will see a variety of activities going on - many of the fishermen are returning from their work and they are going through the processes of pulling their boats up on the beach and organizing their nets and other gear. Fish are put into plastic bins weighed right on the beach.


 
Here you’ll see an on-the-spot market where buyers come in and price negotiations take place. You will also see the workings of the entire fisher-folk community with women repairing nets as well as boats coming ashore or heading out to sea at this time of day. Photo opportunities abound, including the famed 8th century Shore Temple which is only a stone’s throw away.

Once you have finished your beach stroll, head back into town for a delightful dinner sure to please even the most sophisticated of food connoisseurs.

The cooking techniques of this region are characterized by the use of rice, legumes and lentils. Chefs in Mahabalipuram maintain distinct flavors, which result from of a variety of spices like pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut, curry leaves and tamarind. Tamil dishes call for elaborate preparation techniques and the methods used by cooks and chefs in this region have remained unchanged since days of yore.

The vast coastline is rich in prawns, lobsters, pomfret, tuna and clams etc.; therefore, seafood dishes are common in restaurants throughout the coastal cities. Mahabalipuram is well known for its fresh seafood. Mahabalipuram dishes contain an array of tiger prawns and fresh lobster seasoned to perfection and served with a multitude of seasoned vegetables and rice.

The most famous items on the typical Tamil menu are Idli (rice cakes), Dosa (paper thin fermented crepes or pancakes of lentil and rice flour), Vada (a spicy, deep fried doughnut shaped snack made of lentils and eaten with coconut chutney) and Pongal (a mash of rice and lentils boiled together and seasoned with ghee and cashew nuts). These items are served with side dishes like Sambar (a tasty lentil preparation) and Coconut Chutney. In Tamil Nadu the Vada is traditionally a part of the breakfast menu, but due to its popularity it is available in most restaurants throughout the day.

Traditional dinners, or Thalis, are served on a banana leaf or on a steel plate lined with a banana leaf and consist of a sampling of vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. The staple diet consists of steamed rice, which is served with a variety of vegetable dishes like Sambar, Rasam (spicy pepper and tomato soup) and Kootu (thick vegetable gravy). Meals are accompanied by crisp Appalams (crispy deep fried lentil wafers) and the delicious Appalams go well with rice and Sambar.


The diversity of flavors, textures and spices are a pleasant treat for the taste buds.

The end of the meal brings on dessert, which in this part of India is normally

Payasam (a dessert made of rice or lentils and richly garnished with nuts) or Kesari (a pastry made of granular rice, cashew and saffron) or sweet Pongal.

The grand finale for any lunch or dinner is the Paan, which is a chew made of numerous spices and betel nut. Paan has the tendency to turn the mouth red. Those adventurous enough to try it should be wary of temporarily dyed teeth as an after effect.

To travel across India and not immerse yourself in its rich culinary diversity is to merely scratch the surface of what India’s cultural heritage offers. The cuisine in India varies with every passing mile. Each place has its regional delicacies and culinary claim to fame. The food might require getting used to, especially the more spicy preparations, but that’s part of the adventure called India.

 
    Chef of the Month
 

 

The modest demeanor of Vijay Kumar, the Executive Chef of Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay, Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram), belies the many successes and accolades that he and his team of chefs have garnered over the years.

Vijay trained under a number of world class chefs including Chef Mooroogen Coopen, Trainer and Member of the Mauritian Culinary Team, French Chef Azay, Chef Raman Naik and Chef Rajah Pillai.

Working with such big names in the hospitality industry has endowed Vijay with a comprehensive knowledge of Indian cuisine as well as Creole, herbal and other continental cuisines.

It was also under tutelage of these master-chefs that Vijay perfected such ancillary culinary skills such as plating, competition planning, confectionery and fusion food influences.

With Vijay at its lead, the Radisson Blu team was runner-up in the prestigious South Indian Culinary Challenge 2012 and was awarded 30 medals in a variety of categories.

Given below are a few of the recipes from his vast repertoire of dishes delicacies and desserts.

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Vetrilai Vazhanaaru Madicha Kola Mamusam:
(A Lamb delicacy.)

 

Utensils:

1 Thick-bottomed Pan
1 Medium-sized Pot
1 Steam Basket
1 Mixing Bowl
1 Serving Dish


Ingredients:

Betel leaf - 1.5 oz. (40 gm.)
Lamb mince - 7 oz. (200 gm.)
Turmeric - 1.5 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Coriander seeds - 6 tbsp. (30 gm.)
Garlic - 6.5 cloves (20 gm.)
Ginger - 10 tsp. (20 gm.)
Chili whole - 30 gm.
Peppercorn - 3 tbsp. (20 gm.)
Cumin seeds - 1.7 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Curry leaf - 5 tsp. [ground] (10 gm.)
Plantain Pith - 2
  

Padampuri Murg

Preparation:

1. Heat thick-bottomed pan adding turmeric, coriander seed and chopped garlic and ginger.
2. Add the whole chili, peppercorn, cumin seeds, curry leaves and some oil for roasting.
3. Grind roasted ingredients and lamb mince together in a mixing bowl.
4. Make small balls out of the lamb mince mixture.
5. Wrap the lamb mince balls with betel leaf and tie with plantain pith strings.
6. Steam the balls and serve hot.

 
     
 
 
         

Lajwaab Paneer Tikka:
(Cheese Tikkas.)

 

SeaFood

Utensils:

1 Medium Pot
1 Mixing Bowl or more as necessary
1 Cheese or Muslin Cloth

Ingredients:

Paneer (cottage cheese) - 1 lb. (0.5 kg)
Amul cheese - 5.3 oz. (150 gm.)
Roasted gram flour - 1/2 cup (50 gm.)
Hung curd - 1 cup (250 gm.)
Fresh cream - 3.5 tbsp. (50 ml.)
Turmeric powder - 1.5 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Green cardamom powder - 2.5 tsp. (5 gm.)
Garam masala powder - 10 gm.
Cumin seeds - 2.4 tsp. (5 gm.)
Yellow chili powder - 3.3 tsp. (25 gm.)
Black or table salt - 1/2 tbsp. (10 gm.)
Chat masala - 5 gm.
Fenugreek powder - 1/2 tbsp. (5 gm.)
Salt - to taste
 


Preparation:

1. Prepare hung curd by tying fresh curdled curd tightly in a muslin or cheese cloth.
2. Hang the tied sack for draining - wait at least 4 hours to ensure full draining.
3. Take down bundle and press as if making cheese similar to cottage cheese.
4. Cut paneer into 1.5 x 1.5 in. cubes.
5. Place cubes in boiling salt water for 10 minutes.
6. Strain the cubes.
7. Mix Amul cheese with roasted gram flour.
8. Add hung curd into the mixture of cheese and flour.
9. Add cream, powdered masalas, chili powder, and salt to taste.
10. Mix all the ingredients well and mix in the boiled cottage cheese.
11. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours.
12. Skewer cubes and cook them in a tandoor (clay oven), suspension in a charcoal barbecue is the best alternative, at a temperature of 338 F (170 C) [Note: Standard grilling and even an oven can be used; however, these options will “poorly” simulate the taste created by the juice from the cubes dripping onto the hot coals
13. Serve hot with mint chutney and sliced laccha onion.


 
     
 
 
         
 Resort of the Month

 The Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay - Mamallapuram

The Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) is one of the finest luxury hotels in South India. The Radisson Blu is owned by the Rezidor Hotel Group that manages over 1,070 hotels in 90 countries around the world. The Radisson Blu hotel chain is one of the fastest growing luxury hotel brands in the world with 230 established properties and 51 new hotels being presently commissioned.


Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram (Mahabalipuram) – A premier mix of service efficiency and traditional hospitality



The Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram is a prime beach front luxury hotel in Mahabalipuram and is spread on across a massive 44 acres. The hotel features all modern amenities in line with the global positioning of the Radisson Blu philosophy of creating unique iconic properties with individual interiors invoking an inviting, exciting ambiance and offering a holistic hospitality experience.

The Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram is located in the heart of Mahabalipuram and is at a convenient distance of less than 2 kilometers from all major tourist attractions of the area such as the Shore Temple, Arjuna’s Penance, Krishna’s Butterball, the Rathas and the Mandapam Cave Temples. Furthermore the hotel is a good starting point to explore the nearby tourist destinations outside of the Mahabalipuram area as it is only 66 and 98 km away from Kanchipuram and Pondicherry respectively.

The hotel has 144 rooms and chalets that have been tiered to 6 levels of luxury including the standard view, pool view and beach view chalets as well as the higher luxury studio suites, villas and business class abodes. All rooms come with standard amenities like air-conditioning, private balcony or patio, large format LCD / LED TVs, complimentary high-speed WIFI, cable and mini-bars etc.

Added to that, guests at the resort can indulge in luxuries like a private beach on the coast of the Bay of Bengal, a dedicated pitch-and-putt golf course, an Ayurvedic spa, award winning business and conference facilities as well as a host of meandering and infinity pools that includes India largest swimming pool measuring a massive 27,000 sq. feet.

For guests wanting to experience culinary delights from South India and around the world, the Radisson Blu Resort Temple Bay Mamallapuram offers three distinct dining choices. These include the Water’s Edge Café that is a pool-front restaurant specializing in South Indian and global cuisine. Another excellent dining option is The Wharf, which specializes in sea-food offerings from around the world. Lastly the resort’s bar, titled Maritime Tales, provides guests an excellent opportunity to enjoy refreshments while enjoying the resort’s scenic beauty and considerable facilities.
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 News Update
 
 From the Head Office in Delhi

  New Delhi nominated as Lonely Planet’s “Most Favored Food and Drink
  Destination in India” for 2013!

The Indian National capital of New Delhi has been named as the best destination for food and drinks in the country.

The nomination has been made by the Lonely Planet magazine, one of the most popular and widely quoted sources for travel and tourism information around the world. Lonely Planet is the global leader in guidebooks and its Thorn Tree online community has a membership of over 600,000 travelers around the world.

The nomination by Lonely Planet for New Delhi as the Indian Food and Drink capital for 2013 is expected to give a sizable boost to tourism in the city. The nomination is said to be an appreciation of the eclectic cuisine of New Delhi which brings in the best of all North Indian culinary traditions ranging from Punjabi, Mughlai, Marathi and Bihari amongst others. Furthermore, as one of the fastest growing cities in India and an important business center, New Delhi has a growing list of dining options with culinary influences and fusion offerings from around the world.

Commenting on the news, Manish Chatrath, Chairman of Delhi Tourism and Transportation Development Corporation (DTTDC) which is a Delhi government entity stated, "The best destination for food and drink award is an extremely prestigious award for Delhi and we are very happy about it”.

The state government in Delhi has reportedly instructed the Department of Tourism to assertively plan events and promotions capitalizing on the city’s new-found status as the nation’s culinary capital and build greater tourist traffic throughout the year.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “Delhi most favored tourist destination for food and drinks” published first in the Times of India.

 
 
 From the Agra Office

Uttar Pradesh Government approves new international airport for Agra

Agra being home to some of the most popular tourist attractions in India, including the matchless Taj Mahal, gets the greatest number of foreign tourists to the country. It has therefore surprised many visitors that the city does not have a dedicated international airport and is only serviced by a small airport that has shared facilities with the Indian Air Force.

In recent years, the Government of India has tried to make accessibility to Agra more convenient by the launching of new projects such as the Yamuna Expressway which is an access controlled six lane highway which links New Delhi’s airport conveniently to Agra thereby facilitating international travelers and tourists alike.

Agra International Airport – Providing new opportunities to access India’s treasures

However, The Uttar Pradesh Government has recently given its approval for the construction of a new international airport to service Agra. The proposal already has the approval of the Federal Government in New Delhi and a site for the new airport is soon to be identified.

The new Agra International Airport once completed is expected to service not just the people of Agra but also the residents of a number of cities in Uttar Pradesh who have to presently travel to New Delhi for international flights.

In other positive developments for tourism in Agra, the state cabinet, at its recent meeting chaired by Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, also approved a scheme to upgrade and broaden roads leading to the 17th century Taj Mahal, which is the most frequently visited monument in the state by international and domestic tourists.

All the roads leading to the monument of eternal love, would be upgraded and beautified to further improve accessibility and enrich the visitation experience of tourists, according to a statement of the UP State Government.

The state cabinet also approved a proposal to lease out a stretch of five acres of land for 99 years in Jagdishpur area of Amethi to Uttar Pradesh Tourism for the construction of the Indian Institute of Hotel Management (IIHM).

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “UP cabinet approves international airport for Agra” published first in the Business Standard.

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 From the Jaipur Office

6 hill forts of Rajasthan make it to the presitigous UNESCO World Heritage Sites list

The United Nations Educational Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) has included the Hill Forts of Rajasthan in its prestigious list of World Heritage Sites. The list consists of over 700 sites worldwide which are said to have monumental, natural or cultural value of universal significance for the global community.

Hill Forts of Rajasthan – honored among the best global heritage icons

The decision was made at the 37th Annual Session of UNESCO held during June in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. There were 34 new sites up for consideration to the World Heritage list and only 19 met the final requirements. All the nominated forts of Rajasthan will be considered as a single entry to the world Heritage Sites List and will be titled, “The Hill Forts of Rajasthan”. The nominated forts included Jaisalmer Fort, Chittorgarh Fort, Kumbhalgarh Fort, Ranthambore Fort, Gargon Fort and Amber Fort.

Reacting to the news, Bina Kak, state minister for Tourism said, "The nomination of six extensive and majestic hill forts together reflects the elaborate, fortified seats of power of Rajput princely states that flourished between the 8th and 18th centuries and their relative political independence."

She added, "Extensive fortifications up to 20km in circumference optimized various kinds of hilly terrain, specifically the river at Gagron Fort, the dense forests at Ranthambore, and the desert at Jaisalmer, and exhibit an important phase of development of an architectural typology based on the established 'traditional Indian principles".

Rakesh Srivastava, Principal Secretary, Tourism, represented Rajasthan at the World Heritage Sites Session in Cambodia along with Pankaj Dhirendra, a state archaeology official.

In 2010, Jantar Mantar from Rajsthan state was included in the World Heritage List as the first state protected monument in India.

Kak further elucidated on the ambitious plans of the Rajasthan state government to get further heritage sites listed in the UNESCO list. She added that "We are nominating step wells of Rajasthan at Abhaneri, Bandikui and Bundi for the next session and later, fresco paintings of Shekhawati region will also be proposed”.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “World Heritage Sites to announced by UNESCO ” published first in CNN.com and The Times of India.

 
 From the ETI Wildlife Desk

New Tiger cub spotted in the Ranthambore National Park

June has been a good month for tiger conservationists in India who celebrated the appearance of a new tiger cub at the Ranthambore National Park.


The tiger cub has been spotted in the area of the Sawai Madhopur district, taking the total number of cubs resident to the Ranthambore National Park to twenty-three.

In line with the practice of keeping track of any growth in the tiger population at the Ranthambore National Park, authorities were quick to track the cub along with its mother.

Explaining the facts behind this new and exciting discovery at the Ranthambore National Park, the Park’s Field Director, Rahul Kumar Bhatnagar said, "The cub of the tigress named T-17 was spotted with her in the Samili area of the park. It is nearly one month old".

Conservationists claim that the birth of each new cub is an important milestone in the effort of rehabilitating the population of tigers in the wild which have been decimated to near extinction over the past few centuries.

Besides the 23 cubs in the park, there are also 26 full grown adult tigers that live in the Ranthambore National Park.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “Tiger cub spotted in Ranthambore National Park” published first by Zeenews.

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 From the Kochi Office

Kochi holds 7th Annual Dosa Festival
 

As tourists from around the world, express a greater interest in South India, Kerala Tourism has gone to considerable lengths by way of events and promotions to attract a greater share of the global tourist traffic.

Kochi, Kerala’s primary business hub and major international gateway recently hosted its 7th Annual Dosa Festival, which has become a major event on the culinary tourism calendar of the state.
The Dosa - A proud icon of rich Indian culinary traditions

As any visitor to South India would know, the Dosa forms the sheet anchor of most major meals in South Indian states such as Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. They have also become extremely popular across all of India and globally due to the proliferation of the Indian diaspora around the world.

The Dosa is essentially a fermented crepe made out of black lentils, pulses or rice batter. The dish is served with more sidelines and ingredients than there are stars in the sky. It is a healthy snack as it contains no sugar or saturated fats and can be prepared to be a rich source of protein as well depending on the contents of its filling. Dosas are available across India ranging from street food all the way to upscale eateries thanks to its many manifestations.

The 7th Annual Dosa Festival is being held from June 22 to July 7 at its established venue at the Canopy in Abad Plaza in the heart of Kochi. The festival celebrates the many flavors of and manifestations of the Dosa that have developed across India to cater to the diverse culinary tastes of the country’s population.

Offerings at the festival include not just the regular south Indian Dosa varieties such as the Ragi, Rava, Set, Masala and Thattu but also the more dynamic and contemporary variations such as Vella, Moong Daal as well as the ever popular Uththapam and Davangere Benne Dosa.

To cater to the culinary tastes of the large tourist population at the festival there were many fusion varieties of Dosas available that cement the Dosa’s reputation as true global foodie unifier. These included some imaginative renditions such as Cheese and Pepper Dosa, Paneer Capsicum, Chinese Spring Roll and Schezuan Dosas.

However the most popular Dosas in demand with foreign visitors at the festival are reportedly traditional Keralan recipes such as Kuttanadan Chemeen (Prawn Masala filled), Vindaloo and Peralan Dosas (Beef filled) and the Kadamutta Oothapam (Quail Egg filled). All of these Dosas are developed from the ancient cooking techniques indigenous to Kerala from the time of the Chettinad period.

*Elements of the above excerpted with gratitude from “Dosa Chronicles” published first in The Hindu.

 
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 Festival Alerts

 Pushkar Camel Fair 2013
 

The small town of Pushkar in Rajasthan is a two and a half hour drive (130 km) from the state capital Jaipur. Pushkar is the venue for the world renowned Pushkar Camel Fair and the town is located on the banks of an eponymous holy lake.

Pushkar Camel Festival - A unique window into the Rajasthani cultural landscape

The actual dates of the Pushkar Camel Festival vary every year as the dates coincide with the lunar calendar and the festival always ends on the night of a full moon. This year the festival dates are scheduled to be in the beginning of November.

As the time of the festival approaches, the sleepy little town comes alive as elaborate preparations begin for the Pushkar Fair. These activities result in the many unique events, spectacles and sights that one can experience during the fair. These include a number of ethnic cultural events such as colorful and vibrant Rajasthani dance performances as well as traditional sporting events to coincide with the fair. During the fair villagers bring over 100,000 heads of cattle (about half of which are camels) to trade and sell.

Apart from its commercial aspects, the festivities are also buoyed by a plethora of activities such as horse shows, camel races, camel and cow beauty contests, acrobatics, camel safaris and much much more.

The Pushkar Fair is organized and celebrated at the venue of Pushkar and its precincts to commemorate the site’s sanctity and fabulous spiritual riches. Apart from being a city of 400 temples, Pushkar prides itself on being the site of the only Brahma temple dedicated solely to the worship of the Hindu God of Creation.

Local Rajasthani legend has it that when time began, Lord Brahma (the creator of the universe) dropped a Lotus (Pushkara) on this spot. From the Lotus sprang the lake that gave life to the town of Pushkar. There are over fifty ghats around the lake, built by various Rajput rulers over the centuries. Hindu pilgrims visit the many temples located in Pushkar all year round making it one of Rajasthan’s most spiritually enriching sites.

The Pushkar Fair is considered to be one of the most unique fairs in the world. The fair attracts the interests of visitors from all across India as well as from around the world. People coming to Pushkar get a great insight into the religious beliefs, cultural mores and lifestyles of traditional Rajasthan which has remained unchanged for millennia.

As global interest in the Pushkar Camel Fair has increased incrementally over the years, Easy Tours of India has gone through great lengths to ensure that our guests get to see the very best of the Pushkar Camel Festival in comfort, convenience and luxury.

Easy Tours of India secures the best air conditioned luxury tents and cottages at Pushkar’s premier year around resort, The Pushkar Bagh, and these are made available to our guests along with guided tours and various activities.

 

Easy Tours of India
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