The Secrets of CTM – Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

CTM – Chicken Tikka Masala

The Kebab shops – dispersed in abundance across the UK- are home to the indulgent 3am McDonald’s cravings or the quick bites in between a pub hop. Of course, here you will find the traditional fish n’ chips, sprinkled with salt and drenched in vinegar; but for a long time, there has been talk of a dish more popular than any traditional English food. Hint: Pakistani-born British MP Mohammed Sarwar tabled an Early Day Motion in Britain’s parliament to grant the city of Glasgow “Protected Designation of Origin” for this dish -a claim dismissed as “preposterous”. This is an item you can eat with rice, or for the more culturally attuned, with a serving of chunky potato chips. No one really knows where it comes from, although theories of its origins orbit the gastronomic, journalistic and scholarly communities. By now it must be obvious…It must be… the one and only, Chicken Tikka Masala.

Murg Makhani or Butter Chicken

Murg Makhani or Butter Chicken

It is said that Babar, the first Mughal Emperor to conquer India, disliked bones in his meat. Chefs, ready to please the throne bearer, carefully removed the bones, cooked the small chunks of meat in tandoors and offered to him what we today refer to as tikkas. Next, 1948 proved to be a crucial ingredient, as Lala Kundan Lal Gujral opened one of India’s most popular restaurants ever, Moti Mahal, in Old Delhi. Along with a local partner, Gujral invented a tandoori spice mix – ground coriander seeds, black pepper and mild red pepper- and introduced Murg Makhani (Butter Chicken). The recipe was simple, leftover chicken tikkas tossed into a rich buttery tomato curry, and Voila! It was the start of a new era. Political events hosted by the Nehru family, Jawal Lal Nehru being the first Prime Minister of India, served Butter Chicken from Moti Mahal. In fact legend has it that when former Soviet premier Nikita Kruschev was asked what he liked most about India, he replied, “Taj Mahal and Moti Mahal”. When the Shah of Iran came for a state visit to India, he was specifically informed not to leave without a meal at Moti Mahal. This is the place to experience North Indian delicacies, the foundation of the soon-to-be CTM.

Butter Chicken

Butter Chicken

Chicken Tikka Masala

Chicken Tikka Masala

Now, here is where it gets a little messy. History, understandably committed to mutinies and war clashes, overlooked the migration of Indian cuisine to Great Britain at the time of imperial rule. Nonetheless, if you have tried Moti Mahal’s Murg Makhani, flavours and aroma of the CTM suddenly begin to flaunt its roots. The Ali family, owners of Glasgow based restaurant, Shish Mahal, claim that in 1970 a special request led to its remarkable creation. A customer supposedly asked for some sauce to accompany the dry pieces of chicken. A can of cream of tomato soup later, and who could have possibly fathomed – Organizers of National Curry Week declared that if all the portions of CTM sold in a year in the UK were to be stacked, they would constitute a tikka tower 2770 times the height of the Greenwich Millennium Dome.

For our clients, we highly recommend a day of delicacies in the 15th century city of Shahjahanabad (today known as Old Delhi) with an expert guide or accompanied by our concierge. Why not cycle around the empty streets in the early morning, exploring the narrow lanes that lead to hidden mosques and churches? Why not take a ride on a cycle rickshaw after a visit to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India (see blog: Inside the Rickshaw Ride)? Why not stop over for a roadside tea break in an ancient Haveli, and try crispy saffron orange desserts prepared freshly in a massive pan of sizzling oil?

…But for your main course, there is really only one choice…It is after all, the birthplace of an international crave…The original one and only, Butter Chicken at Moti Mahal.

Maha Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela, the Largest Religious Gathering in the World
Dates: 25 January – 25 February, 2013

Maha Kumbh Mela

Maha Kumbh Mela

According to astrologers, when the planet Jupiter enters Aquarius and the Sun enters Aries, the holy event of the Kumbh Mela begins. This happens only every 12 years in Pushkar, Rajasthan. It is believed that during this period, the passage from Earth to other higher planets is open and the soul can easily attain the celestial world. By bathing in the holy river, the past sins are washed off and devotees believe their soul can attain Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death). Despite extreme temperatures, people take holy baths in the holy river at a predetermined time for purity, wealth and fertility, and freedom.

Banks of the Ganga during Kumbh Mela

Banks of the Ganga during Kumbh Mela

This unique event attracts saints and sadhus (Hindu holy men) from across India. The most prominent are the Naga Sadhus who do not wear any clothes and smear ashes on their bodies. There are also the Urdhwavahurs who believe in putting their bodies in severe austerities; the Parivajakas, who have taken a vow of silence; the Shirshasins who stand 24 hours a day and meditate for long hours standing on their heads; and the Kalpvasis who spend the entire month along the banks of the Ganga during Kumbh Mela to meditate, perform rituals and bathe thrice a day.

Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Snan in Holy Water

The venue becomes the hub of religious and cultural discussions. With the entire atmosphere ringing with chiming bells, saturated with incense and flower fragrances, consumed by Vedic hymns, mantras and the beating of drums on horses, camels and elephants. Particularly, witness the grand processions of Naga (naked) sadhus from different regions traveling in silver and gold chariots.

Main Dates of Bathing:

Paush Purnima – 27/01/2013 RathSaptamiSnan – 17/02/2013
EkadashiSnan – 6/02/2013 Bhishma EkadasiSnan – 18/02/2013
MauniAmavasyaSnan – 10/02/2013 Maghi Purnima Snan – 25/02/2013
Basant PanchamiSnan – 15/02/2013

For more information, please email:

The Global Sari Craze

Early this month, supermodel Naomi Campbell rented out the pristine Mehrangarh Fort in the blue city of Jodhpur as the venue to celebrate long term boyfriend Vladimir Doronin’s 50th birthday. In flew 12 charters transporting the who’s who of the rich & famous – - including celebrities Demi Moore, Kate Moss, Duchess of York Sarah Ferguson, Diana Ross (to name only a few) – - to the magnificent Umaid Bhawan Palace. All 42 rooms of the Taj property were booked out by the 200 A-list guests.

An image in Mail Today showcases Campbell wearing a white sari with light embroidery and a sunset red border. The traditional sari has three separate items: a petticoat, a blouse and the long piece of adorned cloth wrapped around the waist and flowing eloquently from the shoulders, revealing an open midriff. Depending on how the sari is draped around the body, a single piece of cloth can create a modest, conservative look (as for politicians such as Indira Gandhi & Sonia Gandhi) or it can transform into one of the most aesthetic items of clothing, mysteriously accenting all the right curves (see images below).

Indira Gandhi

Indira Gandhi

Elizabeth Hurley & Naomi Campbell

Elizabeth Hurley & Naomi Campbell in Sari


A Range of Ways to Drape the Sari

Different ways to Drape a Sari

While versions of the sari have often inspired international fashion trends through its drapes and textures, a quick Google search revealed Hollywood celebrities on the red carpet or in photo shoots wearing traditional designs in the way people here would wear them. What looked exceptional and bold on Victoria Beckham on the front cover of Vogue magazine or Elizabeth Hurley on the red carpet is what ladies all over India wear on a daily basis (no matter what socio-economic strata). Women in Rajasthan wear short blouses and drape cloths of bright pink or yellow to juxtapose the arid land around them. The pallu of the sari (the end section that falls from the shoulder) is fitting for the conservative culture as it is used to cover the hair and face in public, whereas the open midriff is perfect for the summer heat. South Indian women however, have their own unique style, material and embroidery appropriate for their culture and lifestyle; and the same follows for each of the 28 states in India.

Fashion Trends Inspired by the Sari

Fashion Trends Inspired by the Sari

Helen Mirren

Helen Mirren in Sari


Victoria Beckham in Vogue

Victoria Beckham in Indian Sari

The wonderful thing about a sari is that no matter where you wear it, whether to your child’s school function or to a black tie event, it’s a statement piece. The drapes loosely hugging the silhouette of a body convey grace, strength, and sophistication. In addition, it’s also an extremely slimming outfit, comfortable to wear (if you know where to put the safety pins!) and ideal for all seasons. A short trip to a sari shop will reveal an array of materials and designs, representative of the diverse craftsmanship and styles worn by women in and around India for all occasions. For Luxe India clients, with a simple phone call, our concierge would be happy to recommend shopping places based on your preferences, and no matter what city of India you may find yourself in, they would be happy to escort you.

In a world of free and limitless information, where exploring different cultures and traditions is a click of a button away, and where fashion is no longer about imitating your favourite celebrity but a means of self-expression and self-exploration; it is no wonder people all over the world are discovering the sari.

Anna Kournikova

Anna Kournikova

It certainly helps that the sari lends itself to be customized to one’s own comfort, style and character; and that no matter what body type one may have it is a befitting garment. The challenge however, it is to carry it off. To wear this unique article of clothing and not be worn by it (as tennis player & model Anna Kournikova does beautifully in a sky blue sari!)…And most of all, to make it your very own…

Inside the Rickshaw Ride

The 17 languages listed on the Indian currency prove that amongst the 28 states, Hindi and English are the only prevailing languages. Almost all else varies depending on a state’s culture and religion. Even the traditional Sari is draped differently among women in the north vis-à-vis central or south India. The variety of street food, handicrafts and textiles to cultural practices and politics are symbolic of India’s great diversity. Our client’s however, often detect the exception to the rule: the most local of local transportation’s  i.e. the rickshaw.

Rickshaw Ride

                                    Rickshaw Ride

The auto rickshaw is the most convenient and consistent mode of local travel you are bound to sight, no matter what state of India you’re exploring. Painted a bright yellow and green in New Delhi, and pumped with eco-friendly CNG; they certainly add their fair share of color and commotion to the traffic. On narrower lanes, goods and services are both delivered by the cycle rickshaw; a shaded seating for two with enough foot space to steady oneself over the bumps, altogether attached to a bicycle.

A ride in the cycle rickshaw meandering through the narrow streets of Old Delhi is the most accurate ground level insight into India a guest can attain. Outside Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, a cue of cycle rickshaws motion for customers to take a ride. Upon selection, fasten your seatbelt. It’s a legitimate debate whether a BMX pro can pull off the tricks these men do so casually! This certainly entitles a quick tip: as the bumpy roads and jerky movements send a thrill down your spine, keep your feet planted on the metal rod connected to the cycle. It will free your hands from clutching onto the side bars and onto the camera. Observe how the rickshaw puller dodges the passerby’s or the cows on the streets. The rickshaw ride is perhaps the most fascinating and unique manner to discover the movement of a city at such close proximity without influencing it.

…And remember, we’re in this adventure with you. Our team of concierge is only a phone call away and always happy to accompany you… 

“Despite the many people who were inches away from those wheels, no toes were run over!” a client from Australia recently shared with delight. How the puller instinctually knows the right millisecond to press the breaks is a real mystery. A mystery that every client of ours travelling to Delhi gets the occasion to experience at Chandni Chowk, the busy main road in a 15th century city. On either side of constricted lanes that house not only shops in heritage buildings but the population of an entire city; our clients witness what they refer to as an “unforgettable experience”. This always leads to a series of questions that delve into life in India. How does this business work? Who can drive an auto rickshaw? Where do they get them? How much do they earn a day? What if it rains?

Inspired by the relentlessly fearless pullers out there, here is a quick inside on the Cycle Rickshaw business dedicated to all curious travelers, where ever you may be now…We hope to see you in India very soon…

The Rickshaw Enterprise

Setting the Context:
Although there are no precise statistics on this highly disorganized industry, here is what we do know. There are approximately 10 million cycle rickshaws in the whole of India. Of these, 65 to 70% are operational at any given point of time. 70% of rickshaw workers are migrants from the state of Bihar. Many of these workers have feared that the modernization of India’s transport, for example the launch of the Metro in 2010, would ruin the industry. However, a healthy growth of 10% have smoothened many creased foreheads and turned many frowns upside down. In fact, modern transportation has reinforced the use of rickshaws. By facilitating long distance travel between localities as does the Metro, rickshaws parked directly outside the station can now take passengers on the smaller distances to their exact destination. The ability to fit through small spaces combined with an extremely economical rate certainly adds to the sheer popularity and convenience.

On a Business Note:

The rickshaw wala generally does not own the rickshaws. A dealer owns approximately 50 rickshaws and rents them out to licensed drivers at Rs.15 to 50 including maintenance charge. The price depends on the city in question; Delhi is reasonably more expensive than a smaller city such as Chandigarh. For the owner, it is a volume game: the more rickshaws he owns, the greater his payback.

There are plenty of newly developed business strategies that offer loans to owners and pullers alike. Alternatively, there is also a separate initiative, carried forward by the youth, who aim to revolutionize the rickshaw: make it lighter, more spacious (but in turn, more expensive). Another surge of innovation has customized rickshaws as a mobile means of advertising.


The greatest challenge concerns the migrant laborers. Firstly, for those four months a year, when pullers migrate to different states for seasonal jobs, the workflow is disrupted from 100% capacity down to 70-80%. Second, coming from the lower middle class economic strata, many have no identity papers which lead to unlicensed rickshaw pullers (the victim of the traffic police). It is therefore essential to identify the licensed from the unlicensed driver; and only a local agent that works directly with selected pullers – - such as Luxe India- – can assist with that.

Cost of a Rickshaw

Rs. 6,500 –  Rs. 8,000

Avg. Rent of a Cycle Rickshaw

Rs. 25

Life of a Rickshaw

5 years

Profit per Rickshaw per day (for a new rickshaw)

Rs. 18

Payback Period per rickshaw (without interest)

362 days

Avg. Salary per rickshaw puller per day

Rs. 450 – Rs. 500


*The figures above represent rickshaw owners/pullers in metro cities