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This one is a quick round up of the highlights of Saptami yesterday and a few pointers on what’s planned for Maha-Ashtami today.

Saptami is officially the first day of the Durga Puja, and we made a really early start to pandal hopping – 12 midnight, to be precise – after bringing in a friend’s birthday. We (Ratoola, Soumik, Riya, Lopa, Ratul and Teddy) piled into 2 cars to conquer Powai and Vashi, both very celebrated pandals.

Powai was a revelation! A clay-washed gateway with pretty and colourful ‘Patkatha‘ (painted scrolls) welcomed us warmly, and we loved the Durga idol inside the large hut-like pandal too.

The large food stall was still buzzing at 1.30 am, and we just had to have the cold Mishti Doi in the terracotta pot to better tackle the sultry night 😉 A large bus screeched to a halt outside, and we realised, quite to our surprise, that forming large groups and booking buses to go visit pandals in Mumbai is now a done thing here as well!

Vashi being too far away, we decided to postpone it for another day and head back, but not before a quick stop-by at Tulip Star Puja on the way. Big layout, nice decorations, and very neat and clean, with the sound of waves from the sea right next to it adding a lovely dimension. The only thing disappointing here was the price of Mughlai parathas at the Hangla’s stall. It was a whopping Rs. 200!

At 3.30 am, we decided to call it a night, and headed home for a few hours of sleep, so we could arrive at the D N Nagar Puja for ‘Anjali’ next morning. We managed to barely roll out of bed and reach there, in time to join the legendary superstar Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Mrs. Jaya Bachchan, paying homage to the Goddess. It was quiet, peaceful, and very homely. And although the celebrities attracted quite a huge crowd, the crowd-management made sure everything was smooth. Soon, hunger pangs started getting to unbearable levels, so we decided on an early lunch, and headed straight to Bhojohori Manna for the special Saptami thali.

It was a feast fit for kings – a large dinner plate with Shukto, Moong Dal, Jumbo Prawn, Mutton Kasha, Bhetki Cauliflower, 2 kinds of rice, Tomato chutney, Gulabjamun and gallons of Thums Up. In the end we were so stuffed, there was no space for even a measly little Paan. Somehow we managed to flop back home.

Today’s plan? Bhog at D N Nagar Puja – made from the highest quality ingredients sourced from the kitchens of 5-star hotel Sahara Star, and, going by last year’s experience, a simple yet delicious meal that hits the spot nicely. Abhijeet’s Puja at Lokhandwala too has a good Bhog (which we will go back to tomorrow). And in the evening it will be either Pritam’s band at Tulip Star or a play at Lokhandwala, or some great live singing by Sonu Nigam at Vashi. Plenty of food at the stalls too! Choices, Choices! Well, after all it IS Ashtami, the most important day of the Puja. Incidentally, Ramakrishna Mission in Khar is the only place in Mumbai where a Kumari Puja (worshipping a young girl) is still done on this day.

Stay tuned for more food, pandal hopping and Puja tidbits… and a huge Indian cook-off that’s going down in history for sure!