Ambur Briyani

I don’t know the deal about Ram Navami, in general. I don’t get a lot of the religious hype in India, Hindu or otherwise. I won’t say I’m not religious, but some people take it to a whole other level. It was strange how the trip to Ambur worked out. I’d love to be that spontaneous about eating and travelling more often. Sure, I get things done and have fun doing them, but there’s always that desire to have accomplished more.

Right, back to how the Ambur trip happened. And Ram Navami.

I live in an area of Bangalore that has a bunch of temples. I haven’t been too observant about what Gods these temples have been built in reverance of, but the fact is, that there are at least a half dozen in the dozen odd lanes that comprise the locality that I live in. On the night of Ram Navami, folks in the area decided to organize a procession for one of the Goddesses who has a temple right behind where I live. I saw a bunch of lights around the area, when I head home from work on Friday evening and I assumed it was a wedding or just some happy Hindu thing. Turns out, happiness is different things to different people.

About half past midnight, early Sunday morning, people set out from the temple to around it, past my house and possibly around my house, back to the temple. And proceeded to do so a good (bad) number of times over the course of the night. Loud dhol. Lots of clapping and hooting and dancing. Some South-Indian music. And a power cut, because they decided to snap an electricity cable to make way for the statue of the Goddess that they had loaded into a truck, with some gaudy lights and garlands and other ‘finery’. I think we had the power cut at about 2 am. And the music and noise died at about 3 am. Only to resume at about 5 am, which, when I peered out of my window, was the courtesy some drunk and stoned individuals. This went on till about 8 am. No power. No water. No sleep. No nothing.

I pulled on a pair of jeans, gave @purisubzi a call and announced we were going to Ambur. He said it was hot (I write this post terribly late, we went to Ambur some time mid April) and that the drive wouldn’t exactly be a pleasant one. I argued that it’d be better than sitting at home with no water or electricity. He said we should go to Rasta Cafe on Mysore Road instead. I didn’t give a shit. We also had an argument in the car, on our way back and the drive back home was fairly sulky and silent. That apart, I’m entirely convinced I should head out randomly more often.

I had tanked up on fuel the previous day and all we really needed to do was grab some water for the road and we were on our way.

There’s a stretch of road, here in Bangalore – a flyover that goes over the Silk Board Junction (that could make a travel post in itself, y’know… Or like @AcidMess once suggested, a full length movie) and that goes on for a few kilometres enroute to Hosur – brilliant stretch of road. I’m sure it’s pretty run-off-the-mill stuff for the average Bangalore commuter who uses the route, but this was my first time into that part of the city and beyond, and I was pretty pleased.

Following that, the road gets really terrible, just before the state border. It’s pretty amazing how the road is atrocious in Karnataka and gets miraculously fixed the minute you cross over into Tamil Nadu.

That also probably explains why one needs to shell out close to five hundred rupees on a 300km trip.

There are a bunch of places in Bangalore that end with -halli. And I’ve come to learn that ‘halli’ in Kannada means village. Much like ‘gaon’ in Mahrashtra. I may be wrong, but Tamil Nadu has a tonne of places that end with -palli, leading me to believe that that’s what ‘palli’ means too.

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I do, very distinctly, remember crossing larger villages – Shoolagiri and Krishnagiri, because @purisubzi had interesting stories about a lady who sells idlis behind a temple in Shoolagiri and spending a few years growing up in Krishnagiri. ‘Giri’, in Tamil, possibly means hill. Much like ‘tekdi’ in Marathi or ‘dungar’ in Gujarati. The road was, indeed, flanked by ginormous rocky hills.

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It seemed like a fairly long drive, more so because it was my first drive ever (in India) on a National Highway and between states. By the time we got to Vaniyambadi, I was fairly hungry. Ambur is known for a particular A-star Briyani shop that sells great briyani (I must spell it as b-r-i-y-a-n-i and not biriyani or biryani because that’s how it was spelt EVERYWHERE). We did see an A-star as soon as we got to Ambur. Turns out, about three seconds later, we saw a NEW written slanting across the A, to the left, in really tiny font. But it looked like a great place, anyway (and by great, I guess I mean part-shady, part-safe and almost radiating good-briyani-vibes).

The restaurant was built in what used to be a house. We were led to the AC Section and Family Room which was, in essence, a bedroom with 4 tables and chairs to go with, curtains drawn to keep the sunlight out and an air conditioner on, in spasmic blasts. Attached, was a washroom, where we could freshen up if we really felt like it. The washroom was what had once been a kitchen and the sole sink and tap in it didn’t need a geyser. Maybe @purisubzi had been right about the heat, after all.

Mammal over bird. Always. I asked for a mutton briyani. @purisubzi asked for chicken. Rs 120/- per plate, for each. The chicken biryani came with short-grained rice, while the mutton had basmati. Quite simply put, some very very very good mutton briyani. And the chicken briyani – mediocre. The man explained that typically, they use the short grained rice (a variety grown in Tamil Nadu and called Samba), but a lot of customers seem to want basmati in their briyani, so they alternate with regular Samba.

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We walked out of the place to realize I’d forgotten the keys to the car INSIDE the car. Not the first time I have done so. But I’ve usually always had friends or colleagues around me who ably managed to open the door using a stick or some such and help retrieve the key. This time around, things got a little complicated and then random men who offered to help seemed more keen on helping damage my car, than help open it. The door *was* opened after some thirty minutes. I was a little upset because of some damage caused but I preferred not saying anything because, oh well.

Like I stated earlier, the drive back involved an argument surrounding the fact that I find it hard to trust other people with my car. I don’t think my fears are unjustified, but we’ll leave that for bitching on Twitter, may be.

I did, however, insist we stop by to eat some nungu. It is the fruit of the toddy palm. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, it is called galeli and I remember growing up absolutely loving it. I also have distinct memories of being really messy while I ate it and my mother yelling at me for fear that I’d stain my clothes with the water that oozed out of the pulpy, white fruit when one bit into it.

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I loved the trip. I don’t know what @purisubzi thought about it. But I’m pretty stoked about getting down to writing about a little food walk I embarked on with a thug whose swag (and general happy state-of-being) is (are) almost infectious. That, and a post about a trip I hope to do next weekend. Yay to cars and good food and friends who’re willing to give you company on long drives.

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