Set up in the year 1786, Chinchechi Talim is the oldest and the most famous Akhara of Pune. Over the last 200 plus years, the pehalwan from the akhara traveled across the entire country and won competitions everywhere. Even today the akhara is quite well known in North India and the pehalwani from here often go there and compete.

There are two teachers at the Talim (an Akhara is called so in Pune, more details later in the post), Balasaheb Kolte and Bandhu Shedge, and has 35 students right now. The youngest boy is just eight right now, while the oldest man is about thirty. They all live together and have an almost identical schedule everyday. The elder pehalwans also travel often to participate in competitions across India, while the younger ones go to school and college during the day time.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Posing in a group at the Chinchechi Talim

Why is an Akhara called Talim in Maharashtra?

You might have noticed that an akhara is known as a Talim in Pune (and all of Maharashtra). In the pre-partition days of India, the akharas of Maharashtra were closely linked to the ones in Punjab (now in Pakistan). The term used there was talim (a place of learning) and the same was adopted in Maharashtra also.

So now an Akhara is known as Talim across Maharashtra, especially the two wrestling hubs of Kolhapur and Pune.

So how did I end up at the Talim?

One evening after I finished interviewing a young man who made Radium stickers, his other friends also came over and a discussion started in Pune and what it means to them all. Someone mentioned kushti and we started talking about it. I shared about my experience of a visit to an akhara in Mathura. Anyway, I got quite intrigued about the akharas in Pune and one of them suggested Chinchechi Talim as has a friend who once went there. He knew the address and immediately wrote it down for me and my plan was made for the next morning.

I knew akharas start functioning early in the morning so I also started at six in an auto. My auto guy knew exactly where it was and I didn't even have to show him the address. I was going to this rather famous akhara and I had no clue if it was working on a Sunday and if they would at all entertain me at their premises. Unlike the akharas in North India, this was a closed akhara and there was just one small black gate which looked more like a back gate. I could hear some noises from inside so I was confident that the place was at least functional.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
The Black Door - the only entrance to the Talim

I knocked and a young man in track suit opened and asked if I was alone. I nodded and he asked me to come inside. He asked me to sit anywhere I felt comfortable. I just kept my bag there and waited for him to ask me questions. When he didn't ask me anything, I went upto him and introduced myself. This made everyone ruse stop their stretching exercises and look at me. I somehow figured there was no one in charge so decided to talk to them all directly. Apologizing first for my inability to speak Marathi, I told them who I was and why I was here. In the end of asked if anyone had a problem if I took pictures to which every one shook their heads and asked me to take as many pictures as I wanted.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
There is a small shower and men get crammed up and shower together
Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Relaxing after some stretching


Over the next few hours I took only a few pictures but had long conversations with many wrestlers. They took me around their living area, bathing area (I interviewed one of them while he happily splashed himself with water), their kitchen, TV area, and answered all my questions, including a few taboo subjects, like sex.

Schedule of a Pehalwan at the Talim

A pehalwan has a very busy day and most of it is spent exercising, resting and eating. Though most follow the schedule below, many also go to schools and colleges during the day time.
  • The day starts at 4am for the wrestlers when they get up and freshen up
  • Go for running to Parvati hill and then play some sports, like Football
  • Come back to the Talim and do exercise
  • This is followed by relaxing and stretching, and a break about 30 minutes when they take shower together
  • Then finally it's time for food - thandai and sheera
  • Then cooking starts and they eat lunch at about 10.30am
  • Then its sleep time between 11am to 3pm
  • At 4pm they start practice again, and also wrestle
  • At 6.30pm the practice ends and they have thandai at 7pm
  • Dinner is cooked at 8pm and they eat at 8.30pm
  • Then they usually sit together and watch tv or study or just talk
  • 10pm is sleep time for most pehalwans

Where does the money come from?

Like an akhara, a Talim is open to all and there is no fee. However, there are expenses for each student - food, living costs, logistics and so on. Some of these are paid for by the trust and some by the Hanuman temple adjoining the Talim. Many students are also from good families and their parents also send them ghee, dry fruits and other things which are added to the overall pool of food items. Any prize money won by the wrestler, however, remains with him only and is not given to the Talim.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
The dinner getting ready - everyone participates in this

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
The Pehalwans relaxing - some sleeping, others watching tv
Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Having run in the morning, this Pehalwan took another short nap before breakfast

Sex, Lies and Girlfriends

When I asked some questions about abstinence in the beginning, everyone told me that it was compulsory to not even look at girls, leaving alone touching one. I was skeptical with the answers and decided to probe this again after they became comfortable with me to open up more. And once one young man started talking, everyone started opening up as well.

It's not at all uncommon for a man here to have a girl-friend and even get intimate with her. Many believed that it was only in the past that men did that, and now most men do have sexual relations with women and it was more like an open secret within the community. Many refrained from kushti right after sex as they would not have either the mood or the energy for it. Also, they also always took bath after making out with a woman or masturbation before getting into an akhara, which is considered sacred space.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Yogesh sharing tales

Asprations of Pehalwans

Most wrestlers aspire to fight at national level and win some prize money which will support them later in life. Most wrestlers generally fight till their mid-twenties and then retire to live another life. Many get married at that age and start a family. Some get into other businesses, some take up a job, some go back to their villages to take up farming again and live a more conventional life. Many continue staying at the akhara and teach the young boys.

Kushti vs Greeko-Roman

As against the Greek-Roman style of wrestling, where only upper body contact is allowed, kushti is free style and entire body contact is allowed. Being a more intimate form of wrestling, kushti is also more challenging and often requires a mix of body and skill to win. Kushti is also not always based on body weight, and there are free weight competitions where anyone can fight against anyone else. These are also the most popular amongst the fans.

Bromance and Intimacy

Living with each other almost through the day, the men share an intimacy unlike what's seen in the world outside the walls of an akhara. They sleep on mattresses together and share blankets, and there are no inhibitions to hold on to one another. Almost everyone at the akhara wears a langot (which barely covers your genitals) and this also brings a certain kind of intimacy between the men.

Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Watching an mms together!
Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Helping each other out in the shower

How to reach Chinchechi Talim?

Here is the address to the Chinchechi Talim. The best way to go there is to take an auto or a two-wheeler and go there. Parking your car can be a challenge on a busy day.

Chinchechi Talim
Chinchechi Chowk
Shukrawar Peth
Pune - 411 030


Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
The idol of hanuman is the most sacred element at the akhara
Indian man male langot akhara pehalwan chinchechi talim pune
Aniket posing for me during an interview
Hanuman temple chinchechi talim chowk pune
Hanuman Temple in front of the Talim
When it comes to Street Food in Lucknow, Chowk is perhaps the first name that comes to mind. Many newer places have come up in the last few decades, especially around the Hazratgunj area which serve good food, yet the charm of Chowk remains completely unmatched.

So what exactly is Chowk? It's an old market area located in the busy and bustling old Lucknow. The chowk area starts from Gol Darwaza on one side and ends at the Akhbari Darwaza on the other. It's a short stretch of a about 500m, yet it encompasses much of Lucknow's history. It's well-known for many things which are essentially considered quintessential Nawabi, including it's much renowned cuisine of Awadhi food.


tunday kebab street food lucknow chowk
Tunday Kebab in the making

Nawabs were great patrons of arts and culture, and food automatically became an essential part of it. They built on the already elaborate Awadhi cuisine and brought it to the forefront of Indian cuisine. What’s really interesting is that it’s actually this area of Lucknow where many of these food innovations took place. Even today when you step a foot in Chowk, the flavour of old world can quickly suck you back in time. I am a very moody foodie, and often my food experiences are governed by the environment and the context. Maybe for this reason alone, I loved food at Chowk in Lucknow in every possible way!

It's difficult, and possibly unfair, to classify the food served at Chowk into groups, but I am doing it here based completely on my experiences. I am a vegetarian myself, so all the non-vegeterian recommendations come from my friends who relish the food (and yes, they are all from Lucknow or meat lovers). I am a huge fan of sweets and since Lucknow is perhaps one of the best places to enjoy the North Indian mithai (sweets), the post focuses a lot on the sweets in Chowk. 

Chowk food for non-vegetarians

Chowk is often known as jannat for all non-vegetarians, and the food here has often been referred to as the best non-vegetarians food on the country. Much of this comes form one single shop which has become an icon much beyond the city. I am talking about the famous ‘Tunday Kebab’ shop in Chowk. 


The iconic Tunday Kebabs getting ready. Picture credit: Prashant Sareen

Now Tunday Kebab have a very interesting story. Long long ago there was a Nawab (of Kakori) who loved kebabs but was too old to chew on them. So he called for a competition to make a kebab so soft that anyone without teeth could also eat it. The competition was won by one man called Haji Murad Ali who had only one hand. Just as a man without legs is called Langda in Hindi, a man without hands is called Tunda and that’s how the place got its name. With time these became the most popular kebabs, not just for the old and teeth-less, but almost everyone who took a bite out of them. Arguably they make the best and the most famous kebabs in the entire country. I am a vegetarian and can’t vouch for its taste, but I am told that one bite can take you immediately to jannat (heaven).

As I walked on the main Chowk road (its actually just a slightly wide alley), I could just not locate the shop. In fact, I passed it by and asked the shop next to it about the address. He laughed and showed me the shop, and I must confess it was perhaps one of the most understated shop possible. There wasn’t a name board visible (I did see one later on) and place was just so simple and basic. The chef grinned broadly when I took his picture and invited me inside for some food also, and was rather disappointed when I told him that I ate no meat!

gol darwaza chowk area lucknow street photography
The narrow street of Chowk which leads to Tunday Kebabs

The most famous Tunday kebab is Galawati Kebab which basically comes from the term ‘gala’ or soft. The recipe uses papaya as a softening agent and also includes about 150 different ingredients in it’s preparation. It’s also a popular kebab with many Bollywood personalities who have been patrons of the food here for decades, including Dilip Kumar and Shahrukh Khan.

Another very famous must-have food to be had in Chowk is Nihari and Kulcha. It started off as the breakfast for the common man but has now caught on the imagination of everyone. The shop most famous for this is called Rahim ki Nihari and its located near the Akhbari Gate

The non-vegeterian food story of the Street food of Lucknow will be incomplete without a mention to it's Biriyani. The Biriyani from Huyderabad is famous across the country, but my friends from Lucknow tell me that it's the Lucknawi Biriyani which will take any Biriyani lover by surprise. Cooked with secret Nawabi flavors and spices, the Biriyani here has much more influence from Persia as compared to it's southern counterpart and it's unique in it's own way. Two of the best places to try out Lucknawi Biriyani are Idris ki Biriyani and Lalla Biriyani; I would let my non-vegeterian readers to help me pick the best of the two :)

Chowk food for Vegetarians 

When it comes to vegetarians also, the there are multiple food options, but to me they all fail when you look at the sweet shops of the Chowk area.

On my first visit I was exposed to Nimish which is essentially light, set cream, flavoured with saffron and rose water. In the traditional Persian recipe, horse milk is whipped with saffron and then kept overnight under the stars for that delicate flavour of dew. In India, however, we use cow milk. I took a small bite and was suddenly in the seventh sky! Food doesn't often surprise me and rarely surpasses my expectations, but Nimish did just that. Damn! I had to immediately eat more as I couldn't resist at all and only then could ask me about what it actually was.

 Some of the other names for Nimish are Makkhan Malai, Daulat ki Chaat or Lab-e-Mashook. 

nimish gol darwaza street food lucknow chowk
A Nimish seller on Gol Darwaza

On my second visit to the area, I was by myself and it was already evening. It had started to drizzle a little and I was still not done talking to the people, as always. However, I was hungry and needed to fill my stomach so went on the streets hunting for food. Chowk is extremely crowded area and on a normal day it’s actually difficult to walk on the main street, but rains made it easier that day to be on my foot. Now, chowk has food shops all around, and as you walk you are constantly pulled by these, especially if it’s evening.


gol darwaza chowk area lucknow street photography
At the Gol Darwaza

I recommend focusing solely on sweets and leaving the dinner to another evening. You won’t come to Chowk again and its very important to soak in all flavours of sweets here. Start with the royal halwas from the Ram Asrey sweetshop. It is one of the oldest shops and has been making sweets from 1805. The shop actually serves there different types of halwas and all of them should be tried out. The three types are - Kali Gajar halwa, Zuazi halwa and Habshi halwa. All of them very very unique in taste and must be all tried to pick your favourite. What was my favourite? Well, I will keep all prejudices out and let you experience them all to pick yours!

Kali Gajar halwa Zuazi halwa and Habshi halwa street food lucknow chowk
The three Halwas!

Once done with halwa, it was time for gulab jamuns. For those who do not know Gulab Jamuns, they are black balls made with milk and sugar, and then deep friend and dipped in sugar syrup. There is a nameless right opposite ‘Tunde’s Kebab’ which serves the best Gulab-jamuns that you can ever have! I was there when these were sizzling hot and almost burnt my tongue, but still ate four of them. I am not a food critic, but this delicacy was simply outstanding!

sweets shop street food lucknow chowk
Sweet shop - don't go by the appearances
gulabjamuns street food lucknow chowk
Gulab Jamun and Kali Gajar Halwa

If you still have some space left for actual dinner, walk towards the Gol Darwaza and have some Lucknow chaat. Now people across the country claim to serve chaat, but if you ever visit Lucknow you will know what great chaat is like! Even the chaatwallas of Delhi can’t match the taste of Lucknawi chaat. Thankfully not all of it is very spicy (except golgappe), so even I can easily enjoy it!

Golgappe - Image credit: Hindustan Times

One of the best and the most recommended place in Chowk for Lucknow chaat is Dixit Chaat House. The other very popular but much heavier North Indian meal is that of Chole Bhature, and for this try Shree.


Lucknow Paan

And finally, whether you eat vegetarian or non-vegetarian food, finish this also with sweet Banarasi paan like every good North Indian mea. There are numerous paan shops and you can virtually buy it from any one of them.

paan street food lucknow chowk
A typical street-side paan shop
gol darwaza chowk area lucknow street photography
A scene from the market area of Chowk

A word of caution

If you are looking for hygienic food, maybe you will be disappointed by Chowk. It’s like any other very busy and old Indian market, and that makes cooking food hygienically a little difficult. Most food is cooked right in front of you on the street-side, and focusing too much on the food practices can potentially kill your food experiences.

If you are a foreigner and willing to try this very authentic food, you must just go ahead and do it. I saw so many foreigners enjoy the kebabs, that I was actually surprised. The one thing to be careful about would be water though - always carry your own safe water bottle (even I do that).

Tips

  • Evening is the best time to go for the foodie experience
  • Food is extremely affordable and I think you will be able to have it all within Rs 300
  • Make conversations with people and ask them to tell you stories, this part of Lucknow is seeped into culture and history and all stories are fun!
  • Its good to have your own cab when you come here (I came in an auto), as getting an auto could be a challenge after you are done with food. Alternatively, you can also call a Radio cab for both onward and return journey.

I feel that no matter how much I can add here, it can never be complete and comprehensive. Every time I visit Lucknow, I make it a point to explore Chowk area for food as well as other stories, and each visit helps me make a new discovery.

Do you also have any suggestions on Lucknow food, especially from Chowk area? Do share it in the comments below :)
Heritage Doors, Windows and Houses of Lavaux, Switzerland may not be mentioned in any guide books on Switzerland, but as soon as you enter Lavaux area, they strike you the most. Right after you get over the gorgeousness of the terraced vineyards which have intrigued the travelers for centuries, these heritage houses can overtake your senses.

In my case, even before we reached Lavaux, our new friend and host Neha had already told us quite a bit about these doors and windows. I am generally quite a sucker for old houses and doors, so was quite looking forward to explore them.

heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
The Perfect colors!
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A view on the streets...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Functional beauty!

Lavaux is famous across the world for its wine, but my visit made me realise that there is more to the area than wine. So while we explored the grapes, wines and food, I also explored the houses there. Picture perfect in every way, the houses have been maintained like this for the last few centuries.  

The colors of these houses truly come alive on a sunny day when the light is bright. With blue sky in the background, most houses use yellow, red and green to stand apart. Both pure hues as well as pastels are seen, and all of these compliment each other. There are very specific rules which one needs to follow if they want to color their houses, and it all first needs to be approved.

heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
More functional windows
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Close to our parking, I loved this view...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
My favorite yellow wall!

Most of these windows are 'real' windows, but some are not, at least not in the conventional way. These openings look like window but are actually areas for displaying the famous Lavaux wine. Most of the people living in these stunning houses are actually wine growers, so these 'windows' are a display area for their brand!

The layout of the houses in these villages is based completely on practicality. As it was desired that most land be used for growing wine, the villages were typically small and houses were compressed in narrow alleys. The bigger and richer houses were generally built outside the villages in the vineyard itself. Some of the villages worth a visit include Savuit, Aran, Grandvaux, Epesse etc. If you buy some wine there, you will realise that those are often branded after the village where the grapes are grown.


heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Most windows have flowers and flags...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
More minimal and functional
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Another set of functional windows

As always the best way to discover these gems is simply to walk through these villages. People here are quite used to tourists getting wide-eyed looking at their homes, and do not mind photography at all.

Here are some of the images from the few hours I spent wandering through some of these beautiful little towns of Lavaux. All of these have been taken from my iPhone (read more: mobile photography).

Enjoy and let me know your feedback :)

heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Window as a wine display!
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A house, a restaurant...super relaxing...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Just another gorgeous street
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A 'wine tasting' center
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Lovely grape vine around the door...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A relaxing afternoon in the village...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
In perfect harmony with each other

heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
More flowers, lace...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
That's Lake Geneva in the background
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A rustic wall and rustic windows...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
A quaint village corner
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Walk down to the vineyard
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Another very interesting display for wine
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
One of my favorite displays!
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Brilliant orange!
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
These houses have remained unchanged for centuries...
heritage Doors Windows Houses Lavaux Switzerland
Another lovely window with flowers!

To reach

By road: The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces are reachable by driving from the towns of Vevey and Montreux by a drive along the gorgeous Swiss Rivera.
By Train: The vineyard is also reachable by trains and the best train for travellers is RER / S1 which has a hourly departure.
By bus: The third option is to take a bus to Lavaux from Vevey or Montreux.

If you are in Switzerland, you can also take a Swiss Pass which is one pass which allows you travel through bus, train and waterways, and is the most affordable way to explore the country.

Do you also love doors and windows? If you do, I am sure you will love my story on Doors of Zanzibar, a tiny island off the mainland Tanzania.

Read more Doors of Zanzibar

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Note: I was in Switzerland on invitation of Switzerland Tourism and NDTV Good Times to explore the 'Swiss Made Grand Tour'The story shared here is based on personal experiences and all the views shared are completely my own.

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