On a busy, chaotic junction at Worli is where we found a moment of peace.
Ignore the building and stores and instead, look for a small gate leading into a compound at the centre of which is a grey stricture. This is the Nipponzan Myohoji, a Japanese monastery built in 1956.
Inside, the temple is one big wall. As you enter, the walls on both sides have clipping and notices (some dating back to when the temple was built). There are two wooden Japanese drums – these are beaten to the rhythm of devotees chanting Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō. The hall has 10 carved stone pillars. The four walls in the centre have vegetable paintings depicting scenes from Buddha’s life.
A six foot marble statue of Buddha lies in a smaller atrium inside the temple, along with other statues.
Aside: History – In the 13th century, a Japanese monk Maha Bodhisattva Nicherin, made a prophecy that humanity’s salvation lay in India. In 1931, a follower of Nicherin, Nichidatsu Fuji arrived in India to fulfill that prophecy and with the help of Gandhian Jugal Kishore Birla, built a small temple; it was later converted into a dharmshala and school and a new temple was built. Fuji also met and impressed Mahatma Gandhi, and participated in the freedom movement.
It all started with a conversation with my couchsurfing hosts in Warsaw. I asked them to suggest a place I could spend my morning exploring. I was expecting a park or garden but they looked at each other and answered in one voice: Copernicus.
The science museum/ centre is located on the banks of the Vistula River and is a favourite with locals and tourists alike. In fact, every schoolkid has spent hours, if not days, at the centre. “It’s the best way to pass your time, and you get to learn so much,” said Kasia. “You need three whole days to be able to explore the whole place.”
After spending three hours, I realised Kasia was right: it was impossible to truly explore Copernicus when against a half-day deadline. I tried.
Copernicus may be a science centre but the glass and steel building has exhibitions, a planetarium – showing 2D and 3D films, and weekend workshops. At then entrance is an interactive robot that will sing songs if you ask nicely.
It is a kingdom of interactive experiments, over 400, covering astronomy, physics, chemistry, music, robotics, history and psychology over 22.000 m². It is geared to kids, but you will spot adults having a lot of fun too.
The exhibits I visited were On the Move – focussing on motion; on The Roots of Civilization exhibit looks at the development of mankind and inventions though history; the Re: generation Zone is for older kids and explores psychology, sociology, economics and biotechnology; Lightzone for those who like crime mysteries; Humans and the Environment for in-depth knowledge about humankind (the mind and body) and their relationship with the environment.
Mirrors that don’t lie
In my three hours there I explored mirrors and their impact on light and movement, saw my name spelled in Egyptian hieroglyphics, saw a fire tornado, helped fill water and examine its effect on turbines, created 10-feet and higher soap walls using soapy water, became a DJ, conducted an orchestra, experienced an earthquake, and got my photo clicked in an astronaut suit!
My favourite exhibits were Electrobard – a robot poet, who writes and recites poems on request; the pschology section that tested my memory and observation skills – I was really bad at spotting clues at a crime scene but got full marks on the memory and song puzzles and a stairmaster that allowed me to create electricity.
There’s also an outdoor gallery, ampitheatre, labratories and a rooftop garden, which I didn’t get time to explore. Go here to view a fun video.
Go to Copernicus if you want to experience push-the-buttons-and-see-what-happens exhibits and learn how science can actually be fun. Bonus: every exhibit is in English and Polish.
How to get there: The centre is a five-minute walk from the Centrum Nauki Kopernik subway (metro) station; via bus it is bus no. 118, 127, 105 (Biblioteka Uniwersytecka bus stop) and bus no 185 (Metro Centrum Nauki Kopernik).
Vietnam is a food-lover’s dream. It offers variety, each region has its won specialty and some of its best food can be found on the street. My ten-day trip there left me with many happy food memories.
It is a rich, clear broth filled with meat – mostly pork but also beef, chicken and seafood – and noodles. To flavour, there are spring onions, herbs and spices.
My first taste of Pho was, surprisingly enough, at our last destination, Hoi An. At the Corner Homestay – a three storey bungalow, we had the option of choosing breakfast. I asked for pho (“with beef? Of course!”), while my travel companion Chandani preferred to create her own Banh Mi sandwich. There were fresh fruits because the Vietnamese clearly believe that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The pho was one of those comforting, homely dishes that are warm and fill you p with their homemade noodles and tender pieces of beef.
On our last night, we went to the tourist-popular Ben Thành market. There, I finished a bowl of seafood pho, filled with fresh shrimp and crab and packing a spicy punch.
A popular rice dish is Com Ga – a simple enough chicken rice dish. The rice is cooked in chicken stock and topped with fried then shredded chicken, mint and herbs. My favourite version was the one from Huong Vy Cafe (in Saigon’s District 1) – it came served in a hollowed coconut husk and had spring onions and carrots for extra crunch.
WHITE ROSE (Banh Bao Vac)
Local only to Hoi An (read more, here), it is a shrimp dumpling (locals call it a cake). The steamed dumplings are all white and have many folds (petals), hence the name. They contain shrimp ground with onion, pepper, salt and with a topping of crunchy garlic.
Street dining in Hoi An
In Hoi An, it is common to find street carts filled with vats of hot oil and decorated with hanging plantains. This is where they sell freshly toasted, sesame-encrusted banana pancakes. these are made by slitting a banana into two halves, covering it with pancake batter and deep frying it till golden. It’s a satisfying, if slightly sweet, breakfast on the go.
VIETNAMESE SPRING ROLL (Goi Cuon)
The country’s most famous dish, these spring rolls have translucent rice paper packed with fresh greens, meat, – minced pork, shrimp or crab, and vermicelli. It is served with a bowl of lettuce and mint and peanut sauce.
This Vietnamese staple is a crispy rice flour pancake or crepe with pork, shrimp or bean sprouts. I followed Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps to find this delicacy in Saigon. The restaurant, Ban Xeo 46A, is a simple, unassuming space filled with plastic stools, an open kitchen and lots of locals (it’s hidden in a small lane and difficult to find, look for the pink church and take the lane opposite it). It is a good place to get a feel of how the locals eat. The Ban Xeo I ordered had shrimp, onions, bean sprouts and mung beans. To eat, I followed the locals, breaking up the crepe, rolling it in lettuce leaves and dunking it in the sauce. It is a mouthful and has too many veggies, to my taste.
VIETNAMESE PIZZA (Bánh Tráng Nướng)
This street snack is typical to the hill station of Da Lat and is the most popualr dish in the city. It is a mix of a masala dosa and a roll. Rice paper is laid out on a grill, topped with chopped spring onions, dried shrimp, egg, cheese and fish sauce (till the egg is cooked). This is then rolled up and served with a fiery chilli sauce.
If you come from a beef-starved country like India (we eat buffalo, and these days, water buffalo), you learn to appreciet good beef on trips abroad. My beef sojourn started with a beef burger at the Burger King outside Ho Chi Minh, and I ate one beef dish everywhere else we went.
Beef and rice in Da Lat
Dried beef with rice vermicelli at Saigon’s night market
Many eating joints, even the street side ones, give you wet wipes along with your meal. These aren’t always free so always ask before using them.
Carry water everywhere. No place will serves free water so it is cheapest and best to buy it from street vendors or a Circle K general store.
Vegetarians should beware as most food contains fish sauce or dried shrimp which won’t be advertised. Check before eating.