Monday, April 27, 2009

Chai Break?

This is another case of stumbling on to the unexpected... While driving through Noida yesterday, Lesa and I came across two elephants standing at the edge of a busy intersection. There were no drivers (mahouts) attending these giant animals. No ropes attaching them to anything. No one was really even paying attention to them (except us). The elephants were just standing there in the morning sun - gently nudging each other, calmly swaying their trunks as busy traffic passed them by...
Come to find out that the elephant's "mahouts" had decided to take a chai break. The two drivers "parked" the animals on the street corner and walked to the neighborhood chaiwalla for some tea...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cleaning fruits and Vegetables

Several people have asked me about food and how you keep from getting sick. This is definitely an issue here - especially for fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of these are grown locally. The quality is usually pretty good - once you find the best local markets. "Cheap and Best," is the phrase that describes a good day of shopping here.
Because most produce is grown by local farmers, the fertilizer used to grow them is very inconsistent. The water they are rinsed in prior to sale is also contaminated in some way - either with chemical or biological waste. Fertilizer is part animal waste. Irrigation water often contains human waste.
We follow a few simple rules: Our neighbors have helped us find the best markets and we try to use consistent vendors. Our driver helps us get better prices.
The best way to prevent illness is to simply wash your vegetables when you bring them home. We soak them for about 10-20 minutes in a product called, "Steriliq." It is a mild solution of essentially bleach and water. As the bottle says, it was originally designed to sterilize baby bottles but it works great on produce as well. Steriliq kills most of the surface bacteria. Then we rinse the veggies with filtered (RO) water and let them air-dry on the counter before we place them in the refrigerator.This time of year the produce dries in a very short time! And as you can see, the vegetables are very fresh and nice. The whole process probably takes about 45 minutes.
Obviously we cook most of our vegetables, but we do sometimes eat raw cucumber, tomatoes, and many fruits. No major problems so far!

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I think I've been pretty good at managing all sorts of folks in the US, but my learning-curve has been steep for managing household staff in India. Although I'm still not 100% sure, I might have made our housekeeper angry one day... and this was the result:My underwear was drying out on the front balcony railing for all 800 of my apartment complex neighbors to see. I suppose revenge is sweet...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pushkar - city of Temples

Puskar is a quiet town to the west of Ajmer in Rajasthan. It leads a bit of a double life... It is a very holy place for Hindus. The sacred lake Pushkar is surrounded by many ghats - holy bathing places where ancient stone stairs meet the waters edge. The main beacon in Pushkar is the Brahma temple - the only one of its kind in India. Thousands of Hindus flock here each year for religious pilgrimage. As a result of this, many, many small temples have been built, in part for worship, and in part for revenue gotten from the many pilgrims who venture to this place.

The second, somewhat more out of place, aspect of Pushkar is its quiet, hippie personality. Many younger Euro-American travelers venture to Pushkar for its quiet, relaxed nature, good food and ganja. Its an odd combination - I think the earthy western travelers perhaps feel closer to India and Hinduism by coming here. Unfortunately, I think most of them are unaware of how the locals actually see them - mainly as a source of dollars and not in any spiritual way.

Chauhan actually asked me "These people are disgusting. Where are they from?" (His words, not mine). He was referring to the Rastafarian clothing, hair and drab, over-washed cotton clothing most of the young, hip travelers wear. I chalked it up to youth, adventure and rebellious independence. (feeling guilty since I looked much the same when I traveled throughout Asia twenty years ago).

It felt a little odd how the context had changed for me. The realization was sad that these painfully earthy, good-hearted young travelers we being viewed by typical Indians in a pretty uncomplimentary way.
I think our favorite sites in Pushkar were the short treks we took to the two other ancient temples in Pushkar. Both of these are situated on separarate small mountaintops overlooking the city. One is dedicated to Savitri & Gayatri (wives of Lord Brahma) and the other to Pap Mochini (above) - a rather obscure diety, but very old temple.
Despite the contrasts, the food is really good in Pushkar - pizza and banana lassies, great Mediterranean food (thanks in large part to the many young Israeli tourist who venture to Pushkar). The quiet, peaceful nature of the town and the good food are worth the trip. But you still have to ask yourself - which came second, the Rastafarians or the Falafel?

A good Hindu would tell you that Lake Pushkar was here first - created by a lotus flower dropped from the hand of Lord Brahma himself.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jantar Mantar - Jaipur

As a kid back in Philadelphia I used to love going to the Franklin Institute... an early "please touch" museum showcasing Benjamin Franklin's love of science. It was all about how fun science can really be. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur reminded me of that kind of wonder. In sanskrit Jantar Mantar (yanta mantr) means "instrument of calculation." Jai Singh, the city's namesake and designer started building this multi-instrument observatory in 1728.
At first glance it looks like a modern sculpture garden. Once you get close to these large calculation devices and with the help of a good guide their construction and accuracy will amaze you. You can see prototypes of each device and the still-accurate final instruments made of sandstone, marble and bronze. The Jai Prakash Yantra (above) was used in calculating celestial observations and tracking the signs of the zodiac. Jai created instruments for calculating the exact angle of the sun, positions of constellations (by calendar day and hour), and Calendar day. My favorite are his time pieces - two large sundials. The smaller of the two, which is about 15 feet tall, is accurate to 20 seconds...The large sun dial is 27 meters tall. It can calculate the time to 2 seconds - and it is nearly 300 years old!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Lassi Anyone?

One of my favorite adventures in Rajasthan was our search for the perfect lassi! A lassi is the original "smoothie." Yogurt (called dahi in Hindi, or curd in Indian English) blended with cream, water, and sometimes fruit. Fruit is a western addition, though. An authentic lassi is made either sweet or salty. They are best when served cold. In Jaipur, we found the original "LassiWala". This shop has been in operation since 1944 and serves its lassis very fresh, very cold and very inexpensive - only 12 Rupees! (about 25 cents).
Each lassi is served in a large clay cup - the original disposable cup. The lassi-walas make each lassi fresh to order. They have a delightful foamy cream top, are ice cold, smooth and sweet! These lassis were so good, that we went on a lassi binge for the rest of our trip - ordering them wherever we went. By far, the Jaipur LassiWala served the best lassis that we ever had.