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The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011.

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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 11:27 am    Post subject: The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011. Reply with quote

The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011.

This trip report can be found at the following URL:

Fish-Eye? Has Sumantra invested time and money in purchasing a
fish-eye lens? No, not quite. The `Fish-Eye' refers to the
Goddess with her eyes in the shape of fishes, or the Goddess
Meenakshi. Yes, this would be a trip to the city of the famous
Meenakshi-Amman Temple...Madurai!
This would be my second trip to Madurai.
I would be making this trip after nearly a decade: I had last
been there in 2002, when I had flown on the Indian Airlines
flight from Mumbai to Madurai, with a stop at Chennai.
And vice versa.

I find myself writing the majority of this report after a very
satisfying meal at a not-so-famous Tamil food joint in South
Delhi (for the ambiance, or the relative lack of it, that is, not
anything else!). After a very satisfying meal of Adai-Avial-Dosa
(as the menu proclaimed: Adai Dosa(i), accompanied with Avial)
washed down with a cup of steaming delicious filter coffee, my
mood is expected to be quite good. The Adai Dosa is something
close to the lesser-known North Indian delicacy called the
`chilla', which is a pancake with `beasan' (gram dal/pulses
powder) added to the batter, though an Adai Dosa is much thicker,
and has many other goodies in the basic batter.
Avial of course, as most non-Tamilians/non-Malayalis also know,
is a delicious concoction of seasonal vegetables cooked in
coconut milk and with great grated coconut added in generous

Memories of my 2002 Madurai trip came fleeting by...
It was an extremely memorable trip, as I had the opportunity to
visit the Sanctum Sanctorum of the Meenakshi-Amman temple.
Now, I am not a very religious person, but just the feeling of
being in that place was overwhelming. We had been based at the
Thiagarajar College of Engineering, and made a few trips here and
there, in the environs of Tamil Nadu's second largest city.
This included a trip to a premium sweet shop, Aarathy.
The Mysore Pak there was...simply too sinful, and just heavenly.
A senior colleague had lit up within the college premises, and a
watchman had shouted after him, forcing the chimney operation in
one of the fields adjoining the imposing college campus. Smoking,
and non-vegetarian food - are banned in the college campus. Yes,
more about the latter, soon!

What were my aviation-related memories of Madurai?
I had come in on an Indian Airlines flight IC 671 from Mumbai to
Madurai, via Chennai. This was a same-plane flight: we did not
have to change aircraft at Chennai. This was circa February 2002.
I was travelling with a senior colleague (who shares my love for
things edible). Some acquaintances from Delhi joined us at
Chennai. They had gone through a 24 degree Celcius temperature
gradient when they had come in to Chennai (It was 7 degrees
Celcius at Delhi, and 31, in Chennai). We were inside an
Indian Airlines A320 with the double-bogey landing gear. (I do not
remember the registration of the aircraft.) I remember a very
filling breakfast meal on the Mumbai - Chennai segment. We had
taken this flight in the morning. My colleague and I were seated
side-by-side, and on being asked (read, spoilt) for choices of
the meal, my colleague asked, out of curiosity, as to what the
spread was on offer, on the flight. The cheerful stewardess told
us the details, had a look at our faces, and told us with a
twinkle in her eye, ``Sirs, you can try both''
We looked at each other, and shared a hearty laugh!
We enjoyed the food immensely.
This was a decade back, but I have faint memories of a
chicken-based dish in the non-vegetarian box, and an incredible
tasty butter pav-bhaji in the vegetarian offering.
Needless to say, I was looking forward to the food on the
Chennai-Madurai leg as well, and did justice to a
vada-idli-sambhar offering on the meagre 45 minute flight.
I also remember noticing a runway just in the middle of nowhere,
as the plane made a turn, and lined up with the runway, and
landed there. What - there was a tiny terminal building there as
well, with a small arrival hall, and a small departure hall.
What do I remember of the return trip?
It was another Indian Airlines A320 with the double-bogey landing
gear. I also remember a very strict security check - we were
checked thrice. There was a manual check after the X-ray baggage
check. Just before boarding the plane, there was another manual
check on the tarmac.

Let us get back to the current trip!
I had woken up at at 3am (and ended up waking up TW -
`The Wife' as well), to have a gap of about an
hour to get ready, before the taxi come in at 4am.
The current trip would come after me spending less than 24 hours
at home in Delhi. Yes, less than 24 hours after I had landed up
completely dishevelled, from my Moscow trip.
For obvious reasons, TW was not exactly looking forward to my
leaving home, yet again, for quite a few days. I had come in
looking absolutely haggard. I had the general appearance of a
warthog which had wallowed about in the mud to its heart's
content, and was now confronted by a big cat.

The itinerary for this leg of our trip was as follows:

Set out 03 Jul (Sun) for Chennai from New Delhi
AI 439: Air India (A321) [Seat: 11F; PNR: Z1X1Z]
IGIA T3, New Delhi - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
New Delhi (DEL) - Chennai (MAA)
[06:10 am - 08:30 am]

The IGI Airport Delhi Terminal 3 invariably has its set of
pleasant surprises for those who patronise it. Here is a
beautiful arrangement of flowers, just between the security
check, and the shops.

There was an interesting vehicle to the right,
the Renault Fluence.

On going up the slight ramp to the air-side departures section,
the very imposing `Surya Namaskar' sculpture greets visitors.
This was my first sighting of the same. Here is a somewhat
poor-quality picture of the sculpture, at that unearthly hour.

It was just daybreak outside: the light blue exterior added a new
dimension to the excitement of seeing this beautiful sculpture

The `not-so-funny' plane, VT-PPJ was to be our ride for the day.
Captain Karman Kishore was in command.
Boarding started just around 05:35am, for a 06:10am flight.
It was interesting to see the PTV in the old Indian Airlines
colours (dark steel grey blue), peeping out from behind the new
Air India ochre-and-vermillion seat covers.

The breakfast turned out to be fantastic in both quality and
quantity. Getting up at an unearthly hour has a terrible
disadvantage of fooling the digestive system in to believing that
it sees the light of day - both literally, as well as
figuratively. Both my colleague and I were quite hungry, and
looking forward to a hearty breakfast. The reader may recognise
the name `Mr. Frederick Foresight' as the name I refer to this
colleague with.
We were not disappointed.
It started off with two small bottles of water, and lemon juice.
The croissant was very soft and fresh. It just melted into the
mouth, with the butter chiplet and strawberry jam for company.
Mr. Foresight requested for another croissant. The request was met
with a smile, and `catered to' quite promptly. The main box had
potato wedges that were not too oily, a nice fluffy cheese
omlette (the amount of cheese was quite generous: bonus points
for that), and a vegetable chop. There was a strong coffee being
served, which my colleague identified as Nescafe Classic, or
Gold. There was also a very tasty mango yogurt to wrap it all.

What else do I remember of the flight? Not much. I had dozed off.
Mr. Frederick Foresight woke me up as the plane came in to land
over the sea. Captain Karman Kishore made a very smooth landing
on the main runway. As we were deplaning, I regretted packing my
camera, as an ACF A310 (Aryan Cargo Freighters, or something like
that) - an ex-Air India A310, landed on the main runway. This was
one of its last flights, as I had heard of the plane being
grounded in Mumbai as the company went under in the next few
days. We were bused to the Kamraj domestic terminal.
We asked about our baggage - the Air India official beside the
baggage belts could not verify whether our luggage had come out,
and was tagged onto Madurai (we had done a through check-in at
Delhi, for Madurai), but there was nothing untoward about the
entire process for the complete trip. We had some time on our
hands, and went about seeking power ports to work on our laptops.
While the renovations to the domestic terminal go on, the current
domestic departures area continues to be interesting, albeit
quite crowded.

Our itinerary for the next leg was as follows:

Set out 03 Jul (Sun) for Madurai from Chennai
AI 671: Air India (A319) [Seat: 04F; PNR: Z1X1Z]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - Madurai Airport, Madurai
Chennai (MAA) - Madurai (IXM)
[12:15 pm - 01:05 pm]

Our steed was to be VT-SCT, and Captain Padak Singh was in command.
For a 40-odd minute flight, the food was more than adequate.
Veg patties (heated), a slice of cake, and a bottle of water -
all inside a cardboard box,
The service was very prompt, and with a smile.
There was a little girl with her young parents in seats
04 A, B, C, who was in a pleasant mood. There was only
1 empty seat in Economy (Y).
We landed on runway 09-27 at Madurai - yet another airport in India
with a common runway direction! (Bengaluru's three airports -
Devanahalli, the HAL Airport, Jakkur and even the Yelahanka air
base; Mumbai's main runway; Delhi's secondary runway; Hyderabad's
Shamshabad and Begumpet - some names that come to mind
immediately). Here is a view of the tiny old terminal building:

I was looking forward to getting into the lovely new terminal
building. I guess the aero-bridges were not in use then, but I
did not mind a bus ride to the new building.
This was our first sight of the very impressive terminal
building, from the inside. This area is adjacent to the baggage

Here is another image of the same area.

The last baggage belt is to the left, with the arrival gate (the
bus gate, not the aero-bridges) falls to the right.
In the third image,

I have my back towards the arrival bus gate, with the last
baggage belt to the right.

At the baggage belts, we met an acquaintance from Chennai, and
surprisingly, one from Calcutta as well. I asked the second,
``Hey, we were on the same flight - why didn't we see each other?''
``Simple,'' replied the first, ``he came in the baggage hold.''
We headed towards the Thiagarajar College of Engineering again.
There was some interesting talk between these two people, which
Mr. Foresight and I quite enjoyed. The first gentleman was
talking about grades being enforced in West Bengal, and doing
away with marks. The second replied,
``These politicians - how will they implement this if they do not
believe in Marx?''

Mr. Frederick Foresight and I had spent most of our time at the
Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madurai. This institute is
relatively close to the Madurai airport, about a 10 minute drive,
if one went at breakneck speed along an empty set of roads. Under
normal circumstances, this drive should take around
half-an-hour, or so. The Thiagarajar College of Engineering was
founded by the late Thiru K. Thiagarajan Chettiar, an
industrialist and philanthropist. The sprawling campus has lots
of trees, a nice citadel, and a nice set of buildings, hostels
(with some wonderful food!), and a small but nice Guest House.
We had gone there for a workshop (`Work is Workshop'). The food
sessions were either in the new boys hostel, or came from the
same source, but was served in the Guest House. The menu had the
usual Tamilian food items - this was purely vegetarian place.
Now, wait...a Chettiar, and purely vegetarian?
As most people would recognise the name, the Chettinad/Chettinadu
cuisine is the unique style of cooking of the Chettiars, a very
successful clan of businessmen from the region around Karaikudi
(this is the most prominent city in the region). The Chettiars
have traditionally had business interests in South-East Asia, and
traditional Chettiar homes have some rather unique architectural
features, with intricate Burma teak carvings, among other things.
The term `Chettinad(u)' refers to the `Nad(u)', the abode of the
Chettiars, much like the term `Tamil Nad(u)' refers to the land
of the Tamils. The Chettinad cuisine evolved with its own unique
combination of spices, which gives such items a distinct flavour.
Coming back to the initial premise, yes, vegetarian food? The
Chettinad cuisine has lots of non-vegetarian items, with chicken,
turkey, fish and sea-food, mutton, and the like, on the menu.
We had a senior colleague with us, who was looking around for good
Chettinad cuisine. It so turned out that a relative of one of our
hosts, runs a middle-class joint in the main city, which serves
perhaps the best `authentic' Chettinad cuisine in the city.
`Amma's Kitchen', for those familiar with the region.
And my, what a spread it was.
We started with a fish-based curry done in the Chettinad style.
This small and thin fish was commonly found in the river Vaigai, and
the environs. The heavenly combination of spices made this tasty
and chewy fish curry with steaming idlis (served on a nice
banana/plantain leaf in the correct position) - a great starter.
What followed was a mind-boggling string of dishes and refills,
served with great panache, with the host narrating the history
and specialty in some of these dishes. There was a Chicken
curry, a Mutton Dosa, a Chicken-and-Egg Utthapa(m), and so much
more, my tired mind totally fogged out. We were goaded into
having item after item, with some refills consisting of some
types of gravy itself.
What else do I remember from the food point of view?
Yes, an excellent coffee.
On asking, we were told that this was a local brand, which was
quite popular. Yes, this was filter coffee, but without the
chicory (which I seem to love so much, but this was also quite
good). This was not Coorgi coffee, the beans came from elsewhere,
we were told, but where, our host did not know.
Whatever it was, it made an excellent brew!
Served with steaming milk and a generous portion of sugar, this
was extremely satisfying. Satisfying enough to miss it on my trip
back to Delhi, via Chennai!

Set out 08 Jul (Fri) for Chennai from Madurai
AI 672: Air India (A319) [Seat: 04A; PNR: Z1X1Z]
Madurai Airport, Madurai - Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai
Madurai (IXM) - Chennai (MAA)
[01:50 pm - 02:45 pm]

The flight was delayed, and there was the usual Air India SMS,
and phone call, to this effect. We arrived at the departure
lounge, and checked in our baggage all the way to Delhi.
Here is a view of the departure section of the impressive new
terminal building.

The entire building is well-lit using natural light. The walls
have interesting murals on them. The staircase in the middle is
to the upper level, to the air-side departures section.
On reaching upstairs and clearing the security, this is what one

The seating area is behind me. Behind me to the right, is a
staircase/escalator leading to the bus gates, downstairs. We
would take this, to our waiting aircraft.

The plane came in around 2pm. This was VT-SCK, with Captain
Karthikeyan in command. This was a very full flight, with the
economy (Y) section full - not a single empty seat in sight.
Here is a view of the PTV right in front of me.

It is interesting to see the old-style Indian Airlines seat covers on
this plane, with the old-style PTV in dark steel grey blue.

I had sighted MP Vaiko at the airport, due to board the same
flight. He had been taken to the departure lounge before all of
us, and boarded the plane at the end. He was on seat 03 D - it
was nice to see him travel in the economy section. I clicked a
picture of him in the waiting lounge, at a bus gate - waiting for
the flight, like everyone else.

Just as it was for the MAA-IXM leg, as soon as we achieved
cruising altitude, the service started. This was a cardboard box
with a bottle of water, a packet of mini-samosas, and a very
tasty slice of apple pie. While the samosas were quite ordinary,
the apple pie was very tasty, with the filling not too sweet -
just right. My companion Mr. Frederick Foresight also approved
of the same.

We landed landed on the main runway in Chennai, coming from over
the sea (this was my first flight into Chennai from the east, on
the left side of the plane!) Captain Karthikeyan made a smooth
landing on runway 25-07, from the east to the west. We got a
stand close to the terminal, but deplaned from the right door of
the plane, and got onto a bus, sitting right beside Vaiko. We got
into the terminal, and headed off to the Departures section,
where we cleared security, and went upstairs to the waiting area.
Here is an Indigo plane, which has an aerobridge:

This is the domestic (Kamraj) terminal, with the coloured
glass panel, and a second one separating the onlooker from a nice
view of the action on the tarmac. The well-seasoned traveller is
well aware of this design being followed in almost all old
large terminals in the country, the `Indian Airport Design

There was an interesting Indigo ad on the ground floor (at the
spot which had the earlier `IndiPo to Thiruvananthapuram' ad.
This said, `Quick a Ponga, Quick a Vanga', which I guess roughly
translates as a pun on the `Go' of `Indigo': `go quickly, and come
(back) quickly'.

Indigo ads are rather interesting! There was an interesting
SpiceJet ad, too:

This announced their new Chennai-Vishakhapatnam connection.
The only international movements were a Silk Air A320 which took
off, and an Air Asia B738 which had come in. An Air India Express
B738 stood in a corner of the international apron.
We were ready for the last leg of our Madurai trip.

Set out 08 Jul (Fri) for New Delhi from Chennai
AI 539: Air India (A321) [Seat: 11A; PNR: Z1X1Z]
Kamraj (Domestic) Terminal, Chennai - IGIA T3, New Delhi
Chennai (MAA) - New Delhi (DEL)
[06:10 pm - 08:50 pm]

The wind direction had reversed by then.
Our plane was the `proletariat' plane, VT-PPL, with Captain
Pawan Kumar in command. Here is a view of one side of the new
terminal building coming up, at Chennai:

At the stroke of 7pm, dinner was served. Both Mr. Foresight and
I, ardent food-lovers, were looking forward to a grand Air India
dinner. The green salad had cucumber and tomato slices, with a
small slice of lemon, and salt and pepper to spice it up. The
main course had a Lachha Parantha/Malayali Barota/Parota, which
was not too oily, and a very nice accompaniment to the items in
the main course. The box had long-grained basmati in the middle.
Mr. Frederick Foresight is a connoisseur of good food.
He was quick to point out that although
the rice had a fine aroma, it was slightly
undercooked. He pointed out that there was the requisite amount
of moisture in the box, which needed just about 30 seconds more
of heating in the plane oven - that was perhaps what the chef had
ordered, but the cabin crew may have rushed it a bit.
The rice had a lightly fried slice of cashew placed neatly in the middle.
Mr. Frederick Foresight is an excellent cook himself, and just
amazes me with both his cooking, as well as analysis of dishes.
(The reader may also take into account that this part of the
report may have a slightly more-refined-than-usual feel to it. No
guesses as to what the reason could be - Mr. Frederick Foresight
also has an excellent command over The Queen's Language, and took
personal interest in the keying-in on this trip report. My keying
in the above lines had a meta-effect. Mr. Foresight's fine tastes
extend to the above language also - as I typed the above, he
pointed out that a recent socio-phonetic study of the Queen's
speeches over the past forty years had revealed a gradual
with-the-times changes over the period. Period.)
The curries on both sides of the rice were fantastic. The right
side had a very nice peas-spinach preparation in a cream-based
gravy. On the right side was an excellent chicken preparation.
The boneless chicken was neither too soft, nor too hard - just
right, and the gravy was very nice, too. Mr. Frederick Foresight
heartily agreed with my analysis. There was some curd/yogurt too,
to go with the meal. The dessert was a fine kheer/payasam - a
thick dessicated milk base with a hint of starch, over-generously
garnished with finely chopped dry fruits. The tea bag tea, and
common instant coffee does not satisfy the fine tastes of Mr.
Frederick Foresight, so he avoided both the stimulant beverages.
I took a coffee from the nice, friendly and very attentive cabin
crew, and rounded off a very satisfying meal.

Captain Pavan Kumar made a feather-touch landing as we came in
from the Dwarka side, on the new runway 11-29. We hardly felt it!
Mr. Frederick Foresight and I lined up near the front left exit,
and waited for Captain Kumar to come out, and let him know of our
appreciation for the incredibly smooth landing. He shook hands
with us, and we went out into the cool July night, and took a
Meru cab back home.

And that takes us to the end of this report.
If you thought that this report read smoothly,
I am glad you missed out on some of its high-frequency components.
If you thought that this report was quite stable,
I am glad you missed out on some poles lying to the right half of
the s-plane (pun intended!)
Cheers, Sumantra.

Links to my previous TRs, in reverse chronological order:

13. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 3: Monino!

12. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 2: The Central Museum
of the Armed Forces

11. To Russia, with Awe: Moscow, 2011, Part 1: The Overall Trip

10. The City of Lakes: Mother's Heart, Heart of the Motherland

9. Mostly Indoors, in Indore:

8. Inter-metro Shuttling on AI: DEL-BOM on AI810, BOM-DEL on AI888

7. On the cusp: DEL-BOM on IC863, BOM-DEL on AI660

6. DEL-BOM on IT308, BOM-DEL on IC166

5. DEL-MAA on IC439, MAA-DEL on IC802

4. DEL-PNQ on IC849, PNQ-DEL on IC850

3. DEL-MAA on IC429 (A321), MAA-DEL on IC7602 (CRJ7)


1. IGI T3, AI 314 DEL-HKG and AI 311 HKG-DEL
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Location: DEL

PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 5:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Your reports always leave me drooling. Very Happy
Save Maharashtra!
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 7:12 pm    Post subject: Re: The Fish-Eye Beckons! Madurai, on Air India. Jul 2011. Reply with quote

Another great TR, Sumantra!

sumantra wrote:
For a 40-odd minute flight, the food was more than adequate. Veg patties (heated), a slice of cake, and a bottle of water -
all inside a cardboard box.

Ah, but the expansive meal they used to serve from back in the day would have been adequate as well, no? Twisted Evil

I'm one of the few who hasn't taken kindly to the reductions in offerings on-board our domestic flights. Full meals ahoy.
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Posts: 172

PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 7:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice report, well written and descriptive. Sounds like AI got it right everywhre except for the delay.
Thanks for Sharing
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Posts: 9755
Location: Bangalore, India

PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 8:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmmm, what can I say, except that I now have a craving for good chettinadu food Sad. Hopefully there are some good places in BLR, or I'll have to make a trip to TN just for the food Smile.

Great report, thanks for posting. I presume ground handling/ check in etc. was fine at all the airports?
We miss you Nalini!
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PostPosted: Sat Feb 25, 2012 9:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, thanks for the kind words, Himmat, Varun, Abhishek and Nimish!
Himmat: food has, and will always be an obsession for me Smile
Varun: I just gave the comparison across a decade, as to how the
quantity of food has gone down (Idli-Vadai-Sambhar to
patties-cake). Unfortunately, one of the basic joys of travelling
is being taken out, gradually - but then, given the state of the
economy, and the airlines, I guess one just hopes for the best!
Indeed, full meals ahoy! Thankfully, Air India still manages to
dish out a decent fare on most occassions, as compared to the
competition. Kingfisher has perhaps had the biggest fall - a
December DEL-BOM trip by The Wife and Junior saw the former quite
aghast at the reduction in quantity, and quality as well. The
buy/bye-on-board/bored on the low-cost routes (which predominate)
of Jet (Lite/Konnect) and Kingfisher (Red) are quite bad, in
Abhishek: Somehow, however much AI is a bane of the taxpayer, I
find the service levels relatively good, and on occassions, quite
stellar - for an economy class experience. I have been informed
of delays on almost all occassions, both over SMS, and a
telephone call.
Nimish: you are lucky to be in Bengaluru, which has a very large
Tamilian population. I haven't explored the city enough to be
up-to-date with the Chettinadu offerings, but Delhi is a complete
wash-out, as far as middle-class restaurants go. Even Tamil Nadu
Bhavan was a huge disappointment. Both The Wife and I are big
fans of cusine from all corners of the South, but we miss the
Kerala coastal cusine, and Chettinadu cusine, in Delhi. Delhi has
a predominance of some good Udupi-style joints, which keeps our
senses in place.
The ground handling was quite satisfactory - I haven't had a bad
experience on most Indian carriers. In fact, in most cases, it
has been quite standard, with some exceptional cases being some
care shown by Air India, when Junior was an infant.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 27, 2012 8:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Super TR Sumantra. AI service has always been a cut above the rest according to me. I wonder how did they manage to land themselves into a mess that they currently are in. Politicians has a major hand in it I believe.

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PostPosted: Tue Feb 28, 2012 12:45 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Shivendra. I find the service on Air India quite good, on the average.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 1:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Another mouth watering trip report sumantra.

I guess if you put all your trip reports on a menu card I am sure the menu will be very Tantalizing .

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PostPosted: Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks, Srinivas! I guess my TRs are rapidly becoming FRs (food reports), given my passion for most things of the edible kind.
Cheers, Sumantra.
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