Monday, March 31, 2008

Only in India

One of our good friend's who lives in New Delhi sends us supplies from India every now and then. I get such a kick out of the packaging. Someone in his office actually sews a linen fabric around the package. For all my readers who live in India, is this commonly done? Can you imagine if anyone would take that kind of time here in the US?

We peal off multiple layers before we unveil our supplies.

another layer...

another some rudimentary clear thin wrapping inside before we unearth our Indian "gems"

Again, yes, I'm easily amused by all things Indian. And I am constantly teased about it too. =)

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Sacred Cow

Just outside the Taj Mahal

One day while browzing through a pile of chappals for just the right pair in the very colorful Bapu Baazar in Jaipur, I felt someone bump into me, which is not completely a surprise as those markets are quite crowded and lively. But I turned to look anyway because the bump lingered and then began to slide past my back. I nearly fell back when I saw this huge black bull with pointed horns and a large cow bell around his neck sliding past me. He leisurely walked on the sidewalk of the baazar as he probably thought the road would be too perilous with all the tuk-tuks and motorbikes whizzing by. He had a determined looked about him as if he owned that block.

A little while later, I was checking out some bangles and the same thing happened again. She was a smaller gray cow with big soft eyes. We exchanged glances as if literally bumping into each other at the bazaar was the most normal of daily occurances and then we went on our separate ways. Ok, I was getting used to this. She walked with purpose towards her destination as if she was late for an appointment; perhaps she was on her way to the popular chai stand around the corner. :)

In Samode Village, Rajasthan

I am struck by how cows are treated with respect and many roam the streets at liberty throughout India. In some cases, the village takes a collective ownership and responsibility for the cow's welfare. Some believe it is good luck to feed a cow a little snack, and I must say that I was tempted at times...

PBS wrote an interesting article discussing the cow population in Delhi. The 13 million+ residents share the streets with an estimated 40,000 cows. The government has hired "urban cowboys" to safely transport these cows to the suburbs as an alternative to putting reflectors or license plates on their tails. :)

On the road to Bharatpur, Rajasthan

In Hinduism, the cow is considered the human race's surrogate mother as after we are weaned from our own mother's milk, we are sustained by cows' milk for the remainder of our lives. This beautiful symbolic belief is one reason why milk is used in religious ceremonies.

Cows are considered sacred by many Hindus, and animal life in general is respected in India. In fact, cow slaughter is illegal in all of India except two provinces: West Bengal and Kerala. A large proportion of the population is vegetarian for humanitarian, religious and economic reasons. Perhaps this is why it is so easy to find so many delicious vegetarian options in India. America has some ways to go in this respect but seems to be heading in the right direction.

Hmmm, all this talk inspires me to make a nice Indian vegetarian meal tonight...

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

Masala Chai

Sunday Masala Chai for my very own Maharaja

*I finally perfected the recipe after a couple months of trial and error. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fresh ginger, black pepper, fennel powder, soy, honey and black tea of course. It is really all about timing though...allowing each spice it's time to bloom.

*Oh...and I have a little sustenance for him too: An almond spelt cookie from Hawthorne Valley Farm, our weekly treat from the Green Market at Union Square.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Palaces of Deeg

*Secluded in a sleepy little town far off the tourist trail, the Palaces of Deeg offered the solace that we'd been craving. . .we pretty much had the entire palace to ourselves!

*A couple hours away from Bharatpur on small and sometimes bumpy roads, this special place is not easy to find, and our driver made several wrong turns. But I enjoyed getting lost as I was able to soak in the countryside and charming villages along the way.

*There was something so mystical about this area - a spirit that touched on all your senses, and then some.

*The sunlight radiated on the 250+ year old Mughal architectural wonder, gently touching each structure, tree and blade of grass like magic...I wonder if this is what heaven is like.

*There was something special about the sunlight here; this warm hazy glow that fell on everything. It was as if a cinematographer had used a ProMist filter to create that special pearlescent halo - what a dreamy look.

*Along with the cool crisp breeze, it provided us with a haven away from the chaos just outside.

*We had visited the famous Bird Sanctuary in Bharatpur earlier in the day (home to some 300+ species of migratory birds!) , but due to the drought the past few years, the birds have been giving the sanctuary a miss. Sad. We actually saw more birds at these palaces including these very vocal parakeets.

*At least 500 ancient fountains (some sources claim as high as 2000) connected with underground pipelines dotted the palace lot. They were originally built to provide air conditioning for the tenants. The mists would cool the area during the sweltering summer days.

*I've been learning how the majority of palace architecture in India takes temperature into consideration. The Jag Niwas palace (The Taj Lake Palace) is a good example, as it was built in conjunction with Lake Pichola so that the water currents that flow around the structure cool the palace.

*Apparently, it is quite rare when the fountains are turned on, but I was able to find this picture online that captured the moment. They'll fill these incredibly old tanks and turn them on usually during Brij Mahotsava, (a festival of colour, song, music and dance in Bharatpur in honour of Lord Krishna), which takes place around March, which is a few days before Holi. Sometimes they'll put bags of colored powder within the pipes so the fountains will spray out different colored water. Hmmm, I guess this is the perfect excuse for needing to make another visit here. :)

*Local children who had been playing with their cute puppies in the gardens pose for the camera.

*Steps leading down to the water that surrounded the palaces show their age. I wonder all the stories these steps could tell...

Pathways here, there, everywhere.

*I wandered through the empty ruins in awe - no entrance or gateway was roped off so I explored this labyrinth-like playground as much as my hearts content...each pathway led to some other pathway, rooftop, temple or secret room.

*My footsteps echoed in rthymn with the parakeet calls as I walked through some of the enclosed hallways. It was almost eerie how not too many people were around - but at the same time, I completely loved the seclusion of it all.

*After my curiousity had been satisfied, I went to find my husband, who was basking in the warm sunrays in the beautifully landscaped gardens.

The fountains...
The sunlight...
The crisp clean air...
The peace...
The magnificant gardens...

...a special place I will cherish in my memory forever.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Sindhi Comfort Food

* Tuesday Night at the Melwani Residence
* Rain gently coming down
* A tasty Sindhi Besan Curry from Camellia Panjabi’s “50 Great Curries of India” will hit the spot.

*Veggie delight

* Sour, fragrant, and sweet with a slight spicy-hot bite
* The rich and full flavor of gram flour marinated with the fragrant earthy kick of fresh curry leaves really makes this dish
* Thin consistency, like dal or soup, just add a little bit of basmati rice and yum...

* My husband is Sindhi and has fond memories of eating this comfort home-cooked dish for Sunday brunch with his family. When it comes to Indian food, he is ALL Indian (but that is just about the only time... =)

* After our feast, we cuddle up together on the couch with a healthy portion of Mithai (Indian sweets)...along with our newly discovered interest - the Travel Channel.