Mar 21, 2013

Heading home -- but the adventure's not ending

I truly can't believe it, but I'm scheduled to board a plane not too long from now that will carry me home to San Francisco. My seven weeks of leave have flown by in a flash!

I know I've been quite absent for the past 10 days, but there's more to come. While I haven't been posting, I have been writing -- in and around hanging out with family and dear friends, eating delicious Delhi and Bombay dishes and just plain relaxing after traveling to something like a dozen cities in just under five weeks. Over the next month or so, I'll post here and there to recount some of the fun, the frustrations and, yes, the food. Stay tuned!

For now: Thank you to all who have joined in this adventure with me, via the blog, via video chat and, of course, in person! It's been an incredible journey, as I knew it would be, and I'm so thankful to have finally had the chance to make it happen.

And as a parting picture, please enjoy this snap of me from earlier today, taken by my lovely husband. Mango season is here! Just one more nice surprise along the way on this trip. Incredible India after all.

Mangoes are a sticky, delicious business.

Mar 9, 2013

This guy

I've been taking a little break these past few days to hang out in Bangalore with the hubs, who arrived on Thursday. We're chilling with the Devs and just generally being normal vacationers for a bit. In Vivek's case, that means sleeping.

(But look, Kate Rose -- he's finally reading the book you lent him!)
I'll be back to normal posting soon.


Mar 6, 2013

A constant cacophony

One of the things Vivek prizes about life in the States, as compared with India, is the relative quiet. He especially enjoys the porch of my parents' house in Pennsylvania, where you can sit and hear the crickets chirp or the corn stalks rustling at night -- but hardly anything else.

I've certainly noticed the contrast, too, on returning home from trips here: The 101 from SFO can seem eerily quiet after the constant shouting and honking of streets in Bombay, Bangalore and Delhi.

Often on my trips, I've had a big break from the noise each day -- inside an office, high on the floor of an apartment building or simply being out far away from a major city. On this trip, however, the noise has been a constant companion -- more of a closer approximation to what it would have been like for Vivek growing up, I imagine.

Sound has a fair bit of routine where I am in Calcutta, not too far from Park Street (apparently no one calls it by its new name, Mother Teresa Sarani). The day starts early, with the sun. India shares one time zone across its thousands of miles of horizontal space on the planet, which means that the sun begins to rise somewhere around 5 a.m. in Calcutta but doesn’t begin to waken anyone in Bombay until 7 a.m.

Birds, having no boundary but the sun for their sleep, begin chirping, cawing and tweeting in a fury at 5:30 a.m. Around the same time, heavy metal parking gates begin to open and close, creaking on their hinges as if the weight of the country’s constant change is bearing down on them, day in and day out. As gates open, engines rev. Car locks beep closed or unclosed, and as the narrow alleyway outside begins to fill with traffic, the air begins to fill with car horns.

Before too long comes the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of floors -- tiled, marble, earthen, cement -- being swept. The sweeps mingle with the conversations of students heading to class and deliverymen explaining their appointments to guardsmen.

At lunch, the talking, car horns and car engines become a cacophony, as Calcutta’s streets, unchanged and unwidened in many neighborhoods, try to funnel many more cars than they used to. Beeps to warn, beeps to yell, beeps to accuse, ring out.

After lunch, a hush settles in. Morning cooking and cleaning are over, cars are back at rest, and everyone’s tired from the heat and a too-big lunch. But the peace lasts only a while, as school and work begin to empty out at 4 p.m., filling the streets again with chatter, diesel engines idling and, yes, honk, honk-honk, honk!

As the din ebbs and flows outside, it picks up in the kitchen: chopping, frying, the swift hissing of a pressure cooker’s whistle. Birds make a last forage, landing on balconies, rooftops, trees. TVs snap on as home-goers check in on the news or a soap opera; either way, dramatic, swelling music and hurried, excited Hindi fill the air.

As I post this, we're somewhere between dinner preparations and what Kate and I deemed "beer o'clock." In fact, my chai -- the drink before the pre-dinner drink -- just landed on the desk with a tiny, soft thud, after it was carried here on softly padding feet by a kind soul. (As a pure generalization, Indians walk much more softly than Americans.)

As the evening approaches, a cap might snap off a chilled bottle, or ice might chip into a well-formed glass, as the before-dinner routine begins. Perhaps friends have gathered at a club or bar to pass the hours. As laughter and stories fill the air, the wait for dinner drags on.

Unbelievably, 9 p.m. has arrived. Table settings, which had been silently waiting, come to life as plates are flipped over and serving spoons begin to clink against bowls. Even the stove comes back to life as rotis are flip-flopped on the pan.

At 10 p.m., curtains are pulled shut, dragging their rings along the way. Fans are turned into high, whirring gear and lights are switched off with satisfying clicks. There is still noise outside -- the occasional car rumbling past, a faraway horn, a yell of a vendor with his last wares of the day -- for it is still India after all. But there is mostly quiet, for there are only seven hours left before the dawn.

Mar 5, 2013

Food: Kathi roll

At long last: Calcutta's finest snack.


Food: Fries and wine

Like being at home.


The journey to and around Madurai

Hello from Calcutta, where I've been resting a bit after an adventurous week with Kate across southern India. What a chaotic, exciting (and sometimes relaxing) trip it was!

On the road again -- our bus at the Kerala-Tamil Nada border crossing.
For something new, I've taken the last piece of our adventure -- Munnar into Madurai -- and turned it into a narrated flipbook of sorts. To read more about Bus Journey No. 2, more southern Indian food and, yes, Meenakshi temple, check out the photos and captions here:
https://plus.google.com/photos/116025665513023685677/albums/5851464684593644801

Mar 4, 2013

Food: A round-up (No. 2)


I've been losing track of what food I've posted and what I haven't, so I'm finally going to post this round-up from my time in the north.

I'll start with gazak, the sweet we ate all over the north:


Gazak, a sweet made with white sesame seeds -- said to keep one warm in winter.
On Wednesday, our first day in Chandigarh, we had a delicious lunch in the sun room:

Daal, roti and delicious chicken. (Pardon the green light -- it's from the sunroof overhead.) 
We finished the meal with Bengali sweets, including this chum chum. Yum! (Finally had one, Vivek.)
Tea that afternoon included snacks, of course:

Masala mix in front with a plate of biscuits, including sweet pistacio ones, behind. 
That night, we had chaat for dinner! And what the chaat counter it was:

Chaat, including panipuri, very light chana, aloo (potato) tikki and tiny potatoes in green chutney.
A close-up of the panipuri.
A close-up of the dahi vada.
On Thursday in Chandigarh, Vinita-didi made a Kashmiri tea preparation that included slivered almonds:

Kashmiri tea warming on the stove.
 On Thursday, we had a special meal for a festival celebrating the arrival of mustard flowers in the fields:

Yellow rice, sweet rice and pickle with yogurt on the side.
 As we've traveled around the north, we've been munching on delicious dried fruits and nuts.

'Dried fruits,' typically with sweet cashews, almonds, walnuts and golden raisins.

In the course of sightseeing yesterday, we ended up eating dosa at Sahastradhara:
Masala dosa with coconut chutney and sambar. I ate mine with fork and spoon, just like Pops.
Finally, my dessert following the dosa -- this time at Town Table in Dehradun:

Green tea (a bit of change) and a brownie with ice cream.
Look for another post on any missing southern foods soon.

Mar 3, 2013

More Munnar Photos

Find them here.
Tea fields on the hills of Munnar -- kind of reminded me of wine country.
We took the bus yesterday to Madurai and will be heading out to see Meenakshi temple today -- a long-held dream of mine. It's quite the change of pace from Kerala, so I'll have lots to post about soon!

Mar 1, 2013

Just like home

In the cities of India, it's generally hard for me to imagine that anything here could be -- well, like anything but India. But I'm writing to you this morning from outside Munnar, on a road that reminds me very much of Pennsylvania, with its farmlands, and California, with its climate.

We're staying at The Shade, a homestay where I visited for just a night on my first trip to Munnar. It was happenstance that I ended up here -- quite lucky! My host in Kochi had arranged the trip, and the homestay he usually sends visitors to was full. The Shade had only been open for about a year at that point, so I was early guest. (And they remember me! They're so sweet.)

View from The Shade around sunset last night.
My initial visit was great, but Santhosh, the owner, has made renovations since -- expanding rooms, redoing bathrooms, adding wifi. It's pretty incredible! The house is partway down into a valley, with huge mountains left, right and center. The balcony behind my room looks down onto Santhosh's "garden" -- two and a half acres of cardamom and coffee plants, as well as cashew, jackfruit and mango trees, curry plants and so many varieties of flowers and it's a virtual kaleidoscope.

From our tour of the garden this morning -- cardamom and curry leaves. The cardamom has been a small crop for two years, so Santhosh is currently working on replacing his 800 plants -- what an undertaking!
The house is about 8 miles from the main town of Munnar. It's right on a road, but not the main one -- so you'll here a truck rumbling by every now and then, but it's mostly crickets chirping, cows mooing and birds calling for sound effects.

My photos don't do this place justice, but I'll try to post more later. For now we're off to see tea plantations and eat some yummy veg thali for lunch.