It was no surprise that I was practically the only Indian on the aircraft headed for the central European city of Budapest. Even though the city is a popular destination for most other Europeans, offering a rich mix of history, culture and gourmet delights, it’s yet to attract Indians in the kind of numbers who flock to Barcelona, Paris and other western European cities.
There’s much to admire in Budapest, from the broad sweep of the Danube river, to the grandeur of the Parliament building, St Stephen’s Basilica, and the Chain Bridge, which has featured in many Bollywood films.
However, a bigger surprise than the unexpected beauty of Budapest was to be found along its western border. Rightfully called ‘The Hungarian Sea’, Lake Balaton is the largest lake in central Europe (and also the party capital of the nation!). On its banks lies the town of Balatonfüred. This area was ideal for fishing and breathtaking strolls, but it also contained a delightful secret – a promenade dedicated to Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore.
For better and verse
I had to see this to believe it, and very soon found myself in front of a bust of Tagore, labelling him ‘the love of Hungary’. How this memorial got here is an interesting tale. I discovered that Tagore was visiting Hungary in 1926 to attend a poetry festival, when he fell ill. The poet was brought to the town to be
treated at its cardiac hospital. After he recovered, he planted a tree as a mark of gratitude.
Tagore’s writings, in fact, have been popular in Hungary ever since he won the Nobel Prize in 1913, and resulted in many Hungarian poets treading the long journey to Shantiniketan. Most of his books have also been translated into Hungarian! A chief example of this fact is chronicled in the book Fire of Bengal, written by Rózsa Hajnóczy, the wife of a Hungarian scholar invited by Tagore to teach at the department of Islamic Studies in Shantiniketan from 1929 to 1932.
According to Dr Imre Lazar, director and cultural counsellor at the Hungarian Information and Cultural Center, "Tagore was a superstar in Hungary. He did not feel that he was among strangers but kinsmen who understood him deeply. This feeling was mutual."
A poet’s tour
Over time, the area where the Tagore bust is located (presented to Hungary by the Indian government) has become a tourist attraction. The area also has plaques marking visits by other dignitaries and trees planted by others. The hospital has preserved the rooms that Tagore lived in, and used as a study; it is here that the original bust of Tagore, sculpted by Indian sculptor Ramkinker Baij, stands.
In the words of Tagore to Hungarian artist Elizabeth Brunner, "I have seen almost all the countries of the world but I saw nowhere such a beautiful harmony of the sky and the water than that I had the privilege to enjoy on the shore of Balatonfüred, filling my soul with rapture."
Feeling Hungry in Hungary?
It’s a country that sounds awfully like the English word for being famished, so how can you NOT think about food in Hungary? While the country is known for its goulash (a meat and vegetable stew), it has a lot to offer adventurous eaters. However, even though there are 15 Indian restaurants in Budapest be warned that you won’t find many vegetarian choices.
Some Hungarian specialties are:
Hot Wine: Also called Mulled Wine, this is very popular with local residents during the harsh winters. It’s essentially red wine heated with spices and raisins, sold at roadside kiosks. Port and claret can also be used to make mulled wine.
Transylvanian Chimney Cake: A specialty of Transylvania, once a part of Hungary and now in Romania, the chimney cake is a cylindrical hollow cake that can be flavoured as per one’s fancy.
Fish Soup: The bright red soup is made with fresh water fish and is cooked in a black kettle hung on a tripod over an open fire. The soul of this dish is the big chunks of fresh fish in a savoury broth, generously laced with paprika.
Langos: This deep fried flatbread can be eaten on the go. Lángos derives its name from the flames of a brick oven in which it is traditionally baked.
Rakott Krumpli: This potato and egg casserole graced with sour cream and paprika is quite popular in Hungary and is often eaten with salad.
From HT Brunch, June 23
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