Musician in the streets of Jaipur

 
Struggling with feelings of doubt or low self-esteem?

I have just the place for you. 

After settling into a picturesque, bougainvillea-festooned Maharaja’s estate in this small town of Karauli, not far from Agra, India, our group of 10… Brits, Americans, Aussies and we Canucks… wandered out the front gates of the palace, clambered aboard flatbed carts attached by long wooden poles to large camel-toned… you guessed it… camels. 

Two carts, two camels, 5 pale-white tourists per flatbed and we were off. 

The mid-afternoon sun settled over us warmly as the camels began slowly trodding forward into the narrow streets of the town. 

Sitting immediately behind the behind of the camel, its rump muscles shifting smoothly up and down like pistons, I’m a bit surprised there isn’t a stronger animal scent to this 7 foot tall creature. The stinky part must be in the spit! 

The beasts of burden ambled forwards, regal with their red-flower adorned noses held high as if they were kings of a civilization. 

Like all the Indian towns and cities we’ve seen so far, the sides of the rugged roads are heavily jammed with small shops and stalls, groups of people gathered, children running and playing, dark-skinned, wrinkled elderly adults crouched on haunches in small circles beside stalls piled high with long carrots, red onions, fresh turmeric and cabbage, apples, bananas, oranges and limes, household items like light bulbs and metal bowls and PVC pipes. 

And cows. Sacred cows. Always cows. 

 

Motorcycle or Massage Tool?

 
Young men on Honda Hero or Mahindra motorcycles or bicycles with one, two, three, maybe 4 passengers, roar up the one-lane wide streets. As always, the activity and sound is overwhelming to our ‘western’ eyes and ears but the real distraction amid this maelstrom quickly becomes… us. 

Our camel-cart parade route is lined on both sides, plus front and rear with intrigued and smiling admirers. 

Excited kids beam smiles our way and call out “hello”, “hi”, “namaste“…  

Young mothers clad in bright red, orange, and green saris holding babies close to their faces smile shyly…. adult men grin and wave in an almost embarrassed way, but can’t hold back their friendliness at these white-skinned wonders passing through their streets, through the tight corners and dusty lane ways leading up the hillside to the massive castle above their village. 

Along the route, fence tops and roofs are lined with drying cow patties, pancake circles of cow dung that, once dry are used as fuel for cooking. Some patties are layered up in artistic cylindrical piles, almost resembling braids. 

Vegetable sellers look up from their rusty weigh scales and smile as they carry out their business. Throngs of children chase behind our rustic carts as we feel each bump of the road on our tender backsides. The camel-tenders occasionally hop down from their perch and run to the front of their animals, carefully guiding them around extra tight corners or narrow stretches of laneway. 

At the finish of our enthusiastic 15-minute trek through the town we arrive at the substantial wooden castle gate. Sliding our bumped-up asses off the carts, we’re surrounded more so by eager, excited kids, jumping up and down, calling to us, shaking our hands. 

Yes, if you’re feeling down or unloved, Karauli is the one stop refresher for your blues. 

………………..

Our journeys this week have carried us from Delhi to Agra and the Taj Mahal, then onwards to Karauli, then Jaipur, and now Bijaipur.  

It’s culture shock of a huge magnitude with the unending crowds of people, the traffic noise, the combination of Hindu religion and Muslim and Christian…. the overwhelming mass belief in the religious and nationalist traditions that govern every moment of every day of the residents. 

One of the most difficult things -for me- in visiting a country such as India is to shed the judgmental gene that constantly wants me to wonder why… how… people can live so poorly and yet believe so strongly in the bountiful grace of their Gods. 

To see countless towns and cities where groups of young men and old, sit squatting in circles, badly underutilized to my eyes, passing time. Agricultural methods seem rigidly tied to practices of 50 or 100 years ago so that more men, more women, can remain employed. 

To see a world where women are mostly relegated to subservience to their fathers and husbands. 

The western glasses I look through make me shake my head in amazement. I try to remain open-minded but it feels a strain. 

…………….  
 

Movie theatre in Jaipur

 

To attend a Bollywood movie in Jaipur, a city of about 6 million souls, our group, divided into men and women, entered the theatre through separate doorways, then immediately re-congregated on the inside. 

We slid into comfortable seats of the modern, gargantuan theatre complex, and munched popcorn through the 3 hour drama of the movie, DANGAL, a true story about a young woman’s quest to become an Olympic wrestler, told only in Hindi language but easily understood by non-speakers. 

When the young heroine of the flick wins a Commonwealth Games’ medal and the Indian national anthem plays, the entire theatre crowd of 600 or 700 stands for its playing in the middle of the movie. National pride. 

………………..

Stopping in a central city Hindu temple at prayer time in the early evening was both mesmerizing and almost frightening to the uninitiated. 

A mass of children and adult men and women stood on concrete floors, facing the altar in front, then raised their arms overhead and pushed to the front of the temple. Loud bells swung in the arms of priests, clanging at almost ear-shattering volume, over and over, then doors on the raised dais were flung open to expose religious icons and artifacts. An audible ‘oooooohhhh’ arose in the crowd. 

The congregation of souls began flowing into underground tunnels that circled behind and under the altar where magnetic forces are told to originate and emanate to energize their lives. The crowds circled under, around and back to the front of the altar where the bells still loudly clanged. 

Soon, priests begin dipping their hands into holy water and spraying it into the crowd where it is caught and rubbed over the worshipper’s head. 

The bells suddenly go silent and the people quietly leave the temple. 

Tomorrow, they will return both in the morning and the evening to re-enact this same religious ceremony. 

……………..

Finally today, Food. 

Indian spices. Indian curries. A Wonder of the World. 

A portion of this journey is dedicated to learning a bit about the cooking of various regions of central and southern India. 

A tidbit… 

In Jaipur we spent an evening in the middle-class home of a lovely young Indian woman Pooja, along with her gracious husband and son. Pooja is a petite woman in a sweater and jeans, red lipstick highlighting her pretty face. The interior of the house was clean and modern looking, not unlike a typical small western home. 

Welcomed into the front room, we were served small samples of potato (aloo) pakora and chai as Pooja explained to us about her knowledge of Indian cooking and the business of cooking for large Indian weddings. 

Next followed a short tour of her modest upstair’s kitchen, and then we were guided to the basement where a large cooking demonstration area sat. 

 

Pooja spins her cooking magic…

   
Pooja took us through her spice collection contained in a circular plastic container… 6 or 7 spices, coriander, chili, salt, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, cinnamon. Other spices such as fenugreek and cilantro and mango powder were nearby for more occasional use. 

This evening’s demo would include 4 dishes: Dal Pachrangi – lentil and ginger/garlic dal, Gatta Curry – boiled chickpea dough in a spicy yogurt-based sauce, Rice Pullow – basmati rice with cinnamon, cloves, and onion, and finally Zeera Aloo – cumin potatoes… all would be vegetarian. 

Almost like in a TV cooking show, Pooja showed us her methods of preparation. While gently stirring garlic-ginger paste into hot oil, lofting warm scent into the air, she threw in little tips for substitutions, and had us assisting in stirring sauces and rolling out chappattis to accompany the meal. 

Finally, all the dishes were hot, fragrant, and ready for us to sit and enjoy. 
After sampling each of the dishes, our lips stinging lightly from the heat of the foods, Pooja’s gentle husband served us each a small bowl of sweet semolina pudding, the perfect finish to an evening Indian meal. 

Interestingly, as the days of our Indian excursion add up… as much as I enjoy Indian cuisine… I find myself reminded that too much of ANY good thing grows tiresome. 

After 9 days of complex spiced curries and dals and aloos, I find myself dreaming of a respite of salad, or pasta, or plain meat and potatoes. Do I sound like a stereotypical North American tourist, or what? 

Next stops… Udaipur, Mumbai, and Goa where we expect the heat in the air will begin to resemble the heat in the foods.

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