Delhi Revisited

May 13th, 2006

Since Marte decided to go back to Norway early, our plans and direction of travel have changed a lot.  From Orissa, we went strait to Delhi instead of stopping off at Bodhgaya, the holiest Buddhist pilgrimmage site in the world- it’s the place where Buddha gained enlightenment.  But that’s probably okay, considering the fact that we would have melted in the 45+ degrees celsius (105+ Fahrenheit) temperatures there!

mando bhubaneshwar delhi trainOn the train…

Finally in Delhi after a 30+ hour train, we said goodbye to Marte after some shopping and a few cold beers in Cannaught Place.  We can still see her happy face when she was trying on that candy-lipstick-red-leather vest in one of Cannaught Place’s congested bazaars just hours before we dropped her off at the airport!  Two instead of three now, we went back to our hotel in a neighborhood of Tibetan exiles and refugees north of Old Delhi.  By pure chance we stumbled upon this neighborhood, and with the Tibetan scene aflare, it created a nice introduction to the next cultural region of India we have yet to see in the Himalayan north.

Over the next few days, we had time to see the sights we missed in Delhi in February and to plan a trip to the Himalayas and their foothills to the north of Delhi.  On our first day, we ran around India’s capital all day in the heat completing the last of Romy’s tasks for her field work, so it wasn’t until day 2 that we got to look around some more.  On that morning, we took an ‘auto rickshaw’ to ‘Raj Ghat’, which roughly translates to ‘King’s Bank’ (as in a river bank), which is a large park near the Yamuna River in Delhi where Gandhi was cremated after his assassination in 1948.  Today, there is an unobtrusive and rather plain monument to ‘the father of India’, where a large rectangular, black marble slab in the middle of a sprawling courtyard in the middle of the park marks the spot where Gandhi was cremated.  A few foreign tourists and many large groups of Indians walked barefoot through the monument’s green courtyard to share a moment of silence in the presence of the spirit of modern India’s greatest saint.  Overall, Raj Ghat is a nice place for quite contemplation of non-violence and Gandhi’s ideals.  However, look south from right in front of Gandhi’s funeral pyre site, and a much greater monument pierces a sky: a giant, ash-gray smoke stack from some industrial incenerator or a power-plant.  This modern monument is tell-tale of India’s path since Independence- a story of industrialization, growth of the market economy and globalization, environmental pollution and over-population.  I wonder how Gandhi would react to this image and how he would feel about his India now…

Mando Gandhi Ghat

romy raj ghat

Although Raj Ghat is a peaceful spot relative to the rest of Delhi, the day was scorching hot and the blazing sun forced us to retreat into the shade of the National Gandhi Memorial Museum across the street.  Over the next two hours, we thouroughly inspected the exhibits on Indian spinning wheels (for spinning raw cotton and wool into yarn and thread) and Gandhi’s life in photos.  The spinning wheels were on display, of course because the control over the textile industry in India was central to Gandhi’s philosophy of independence from England.  If in every Indian household, Gandhi reasoned, everyone spun their own thread and yarn, they would never be forced to depend on foreign, machine-made cloth (a very anti-globalization idea).  He began a boycott of British textiles in India and encouraged Indians to buy only Indian cloth or to make their own.  This was the beginning of the loosening of the grip of Britain’s 150 year rule in India. 

 

Gandhiji

 

The end of the photo gallery had the greatest impression on us, as it has on display the blood-stained robes Gandhi wore when he was shot by a Hindu fundamentalist as well as one of the bullets that killed him.  Also on display was the glass case in which the largest of the urns holding his ashes was kept when transported on the train from Delhi to a point a few hundred miles away on the Ganges River where his remains were finally spread on the waters of this holiest of holy rivers.  What’s more, the urns that were used to house his ashes were also on display.  We never imagined we’d see something so closely connected to Gandhi’s death– it was a very powerful, striking and emotional sight.

Tired and starving, we took an auto-rickshaw to the heart of Old Delhi- the oldest living part of Delhi characterized by its narrow, winding labyrinthine streets clogged with bustling bizarres with vendors selling anything imaginable, from spices and clothing to plumbing fixtures and paint.  We went to a restaurant to recuperate before doing some more site seeing.

After lunch, incredibly, our day’s pace accelerated!  We walked through the hyperactive bizarres of Old Delhi to the Jama Masjid, the old city’s largest and most extravagant mosque.  It is also the heart of Old Delhi’s busy Muslim sector.  The building is as large and as striking as the Taj Mahal upon first glance, complete with towering minarets framing large, ballooning upside-down-radish-shaped domes.  But instead of having the Taj’s immaculate white gleam, it has the beautiful radiance and contrast of deep red sandstone framing inlaid white marble–the two most popular building materials of the monument-minded Mughal rulers of pre-British India.  The mosque is raised up, a hill in and of itself, towering above the rest of the old city offering beautiful views of the urban rat maze.

Satisfied with our visit to the Jama Masjid, we decided to explore another random alleyway in the city which, again was just a busy bizarre, but this time in a very muslim neighborhood.  The sights and sounds were dizzying as crowds of people, mopeds, cycle-rickshaws and pushcarts streamed and pushed forecefully through the narrow, winding streets.  We were spellbound by the extravagant colors blazing out of saree shops, the smells coming from hole-in-the-wall cafes selling chai, chapatis (indian tortillas) and much more, the giant goat-like lambs (some himalayan variety surely) sprawled out in the middle of the human stream.  The scene was closer to some post-apocalyptic scene or the 13th century than what we considered the modern, civilized present 21st century.  So absorbed by our surroundings, Romy and I did not notice the group of boys that started following us through the bizarre until one of them grabbed one of her hind haunches right in the cramped open!  She gave a discontented growl, and I in retaliation, grabbed HIS butt and told him sarcastically he was “a very big man” for his assault on Romy.    Our shock and disgust at that cheauvanist Delhi youth prompted us to find our way out of the bizarre as quickly as possible… also the advancing dark was excellent motivation to go back to the saftey of our hotel.  However, just within sight of the main street outside of the old neighborhood, we came upon a business whose gaudy Las Vegas like exterior with a hundred brightly flashing light bulbs hooked our attention immediately, and we decided to go inside to inspect.  What we saw next was the nicest surprise of the entire day: a restaurant in the style of old Persian or Arabic hookha and tea houses.  The place had an extravagant decor of many low wooden tables surrounded by colorful silk pillows for seats.  The walls were covered in mosaics of hundreds of pieces of cut mirror and tiles of all colors.  Each table was set with silver plates and utensils, silk napkins and a large hookha in the middle of the table.  Even the waitors were dressed in silk balloon pants, vests and fez hats!

Thrilled with our find and effective step into another century and region altogether than either the Old Delhi neighborhood or the modern cosmopolitan Indian capital outside, we sat down and ordered strawberry tobacco to smoke in our hookha and a few meat dishes, which proved to be the best grilled chicken and mutton that either of us have ever tasted!

Dinner at this extraordinary restaurant was last thing we did on that epic day in Delhi.  But even the next day- the day we planned to leave to Derha Dun and adventures in the foothills of the Himalaya- we got sucked into running around Delhi again, and only after we ran innumerable errands and then finally saw some traditional Indian folk dances in the evening did we finally depart the city.  Revisiting Delhi in a way characterized perfectly how quickly plans can change and how you can get swept up in a thousand-and-one things travelling in this crazy country.  It just reinforces the fact for me that you cannot count on anything turning out the way you imagined it would in India… and that no matter what it is that you end up doing, it is amazing!!

More Beer Tasting

April 25th, 2006

So we’ve been behind a little with our beer tasting… or at least with our posting of the long-awaited results of our taste trials. No matter, here we present the verdicts on several beers that we tasted a few months ago. It was an adventure, maybe not in exotic tastes, but perhaps of our own personal tolerance of new beer tastes… or lack thereof. To the beers!

Beer #2: Sandpiper

Right away, I break away from the foreboding introduction with this pleasant Indian brew, which I would say up until now is unanimously our favorite Indian beer. Sandpiper follows the nice bird theme begun by Kingfisher, adding a sensation of “the natural” to this beer. And what sort of images do sandpipers- coastal wading birds that spend their days hunting bugs on the tidal flats of the sea- conjure up? Well for one, the beach, and by association palm trees. In short a serene natural scene whose beauty might just make you melt on the spot. Well, true to these images, Sandpiper beer was just as pleasant for us. A smooth, refreshing, slightly fruity beer with a long pleasant after taste, Sandpiper helped us cope with the hustle and bustle of Delhi’s screaming auto-rickshaw and clunky Ambassador taxi-choked streets, as well as the relentless Indian vendors we had to endure through the day. We agree with the Sandpiper’s claim that it is a “Premium beer”, and officially give this brew a very big thumbs up!! Also, we liked the label and thought that simple was better!! After all, you can’t tell a book by its cover!

choose your poisonNow begin a series of beers we tried one sweaty night in Balasore, feeling like some cold ones would be the key to surviving the heat. Well, we did survive the heat, but unfortunately, the beers had no hand in that, rather a cold shower did the trick. The beers… well… just read below…

Beer #3: Maharani Blue Label Super Strong Beer

In the above photo, you can see Marte chosing Maharani Blue Label as our first beer. It gives me shivers to even think about it!! This “Super Strong” beer is made for the purpose of not enjoying a beer, but almost soley for getting drunk (7.5% alcohol). According to some friends in Balasore, people usually drink if they’re really sad or if they are just totally immoral, and it seems Maharani is the path many of these desperate souls chose. It comes wrapped in clear plastic shrink wrap, giving it a sort of pseudo luxurious appeal.

I’ll let the following quotes from our taste test speak for the quality of this beer:

Marte: “It tastes shocking! It’s going down the toilet…”

Romy: “It smells like yeast.”

Armando: “A terrible beer”.

This particular bottle had a sweet, smoky taste that was, as Marte said, simply shocking. To add to the dramatic taste, it was dark-piss colored, which actually made us suspect that someone in the factory played a trick on the consumer in this one bottle. Our bad luck, I guess…

Beer #4: Royal Challenge

Take the Our luck didn’t improve when we boldly took the Royal Challenge. Our first mistake with this beer and the following is that we drank them warm. This, however, could not be avoided as the temperature of our room was so hot that the beers heated up at an exponential rate. In any case, no good or even decent beer, even if drinken warm, should not taste that bad.

Like Maharani, Royal Challenge was a super strong 7.5% alcohol beer, meant for the drunk, not the enjoyment of the drink. It was strong, sharp, and had the strange effect of drying out our tongues. The beer makes many claims on the label which, after tasting it, were outright laughable. For instance: “Taste the difference extra time makes”. In the case of Royal Challenge, they must mean staleness! Second: “Brewed longer… brewed better”. I think they left this batch out in the sun and it got filled with dead leaves, frogs and bugs… that would account for the beer’s sharpness. Lastly: “Extra time, extra smooth”. A flat-out lie as this beer is very malty and not very smooth, but rather sharp and strong. Romy stated interestingly about this beer: “A very difficult beer to drink… not exactly a thirst-killer”.

Beer #5: Hayward’s 5000

Haywards 5000By the time we got to this beer, we were not exactly jumping out of our seats. While very similar to the other two, but not as bad as the Maharani Blue Label, it was very thick, according to Marte, and in addition was sharp, very bubbly and kinda stomach warming. We didn’t take heart to this beer, as our beer tasting excitement had already been crushed! Hayward’s was simply no consolation, and so it faded into the oblivion of bad beers, just as Maharani and Royal Challenge.

Lassi, Anyone?

April 21st, 2006

In India, people are crazy about lassis- a cool, refreshingh drink made from curd and flavored with any sweet, fruity taste you can imagine. These tasty drinks are usually topped with chopped marachino cherries, chashews, and fresh shredded coconut.

The place to find a lassi is the lassi stand, which is anything from a solid, open-air brick building to a plywood or sheet metal sided make-shift establishment or simply a tent-like structure with a bamboo pole frame. The latter style comes wrapped like a grand present with bright, silky siding with beach scene print. Whichever the building, the lassi stand follows a general code of decor: the sign outside must be as bright, flashy and flourescent as possible to insipre a craving for the sweet drink- the flasiness is definitely the perfect visual equivalent of the lassi’s sweetness. The innerspace must be large enough to b e able to line colorful plastic chairs up against the walls so that all customers are facing eachother when enjoying their lassi (the must be sipped inside, sitting down, and never have one in a rush- it’s not possible to have one to go!). If there’s not enough space inside the establishment for chairs, then they will be lined up in two parallel rows facing eachother immediately in front of the stand, like a runway for incoming customers.

The lassis themselves are made on an island located somewhere inside the stand, but in plain view of the street or thouroughfare on which teh stand lays. The island is equipped with a counter for chopping cherries, chashews and grating coconut, a fridge for the curd and other drinks, and a blender, which is used to whip up the sweet, milkshake-like lassi. The production counter is usually surrounded by bottles of ‘cold drinks’, which in India refers to soda pop, or boxed jucies of various types. They are stacked into nice pyramids that give the atmosphere that geometric appleal as well as a thirst-exciting mosaic of different-colored drinks (from cola-bown and mango-orange to seven-up-green).

Thi final touch is made by hanging at least two dozen garlanded marigolds over the threshold of the entrance, adding extra aromatic fragrance to complement the colorful atmosphere.

When I first saw lassi stands in Balasore, I was actually frightened by their imposing look so vulnerably teetering on the edge of the soiled car, rickshaw, motorbike and cow laden street. How this could be appealing to the senses and calming to the spirit, I could not tell, and I made a quite resolution to never set foot in one!! However, when Romy and I took a chance one day to try a lassi, we were pleasantly surprised! Lassis, despite being a dairy drink, and very refreshing and they don’t leave you with the sticky-sweet mouth that eating ice cream or drinking a milk shake gives you. Shile we sat and waited for out lassis, we relaxed in our plastic chairs facing other waiting customers and listened to a melodic Hindi love song filled with deep drum beats and the shrill cries of an Indian woman singer.

Now as for the flavors, I am not an expert, as I’ve only had two lassis total in India. I onl know that they are always sweet, whether mango, papaya, or simply sugar tasting. Apart from flavors, other additives–and this is where it gets really interesting–can be put in your lassi drink. One such additive that Romy and I chose on that fateful April Indian evening was ‘bhang’. While the word resembles more the sound a gun makes, it actually refers to a thin dark green paste that is a derivative of marijuana! What’s more is that is is totally legal in India and is considered a healthful alternative to alcohol- Amen! Bhang lassis are even the official drink of the springtime festival of Holi!

As you can imagine, Romy and I were feeling a little bit unsure whether our order was morally, ethically, or for that matter legally acceptable or not. But, without more than a smile and an Indian-style sideways head wiggle, the lassi man whipped up and delivered us our greenish, earthy-sweet tasting Bhang lassi without a fuss or an attempt to conceal the transaction. We drank up freely and happily, and when we were fisished, we walked back home with clean consciences and without shackles on our ankles. Indian society provided us with this ‘healthy alternative to alcohol’ and we enjoyed it with the same blissful delight and belly-laughing goodness that are considered the ills of the hash and grass smokers. I guess this just goes to show that you can dress anything up with sugar and curd and the illegal can become legal, the ugly the beautiful, and the loathed the loved!

Puras Fotos – Nothing But Photos

April 7th, 2006

Just a few photos today from in and around Balasore.  Unas cuantas fotos para compartir de Balasore.

The first one is of the “dream team”- Marte and Romy’s interview crew in Dublagadi village.  One of the only days when we were all together.  (Top row: Marte (co-captain), Baonty (interpreter), Aryan (interpreter), Ashaad (jeep driver), Armando (assistant and logistical administrator); Bottom row: Debashish (expert interpreter & assistant), Sanu (interpreter), Suparna (interpreter), Romy (co-captain))

La primera es de nuestro equipo de investigaciones, el “dream team” en el pueblo de Dublagadi.  Fue el unico dia cuando todos estuvimos en el campo juntos. (Fila 1: Marte (co-captana), Baonty (traductor), Aryan (traductor), Ashaad (chofer), Armando (asistente y administrador de logistica); Fila 2: Debashish (traductor experto y asistente), Sanu (traductora), Suparna (traductora), Romy (co-captana)).

the dream team

The second one is of a local watermelon vendor in Balasore, with some local kids who wanted to pose in the photo.  Clowns!
La segunda es de un vendedor de sandias en Balasore, con otros chicos que querian salir en la foto.  Traviesos!

Watermelon man

Fieldwork

April 5th, 2006
Romy and Marte, two interpreters, one photographer, and the fishermen…  This is a picture of an interview that Romy and Marte were giving on the traditional landing site in the fishing village of Bahabalpur.   This is one of the first days of fieldwork and the interpreters are still getting used to the interviewing process, which attracts A LOT of attention!  The  curiosity of the people here is amazing.  Everyone’s interested in what we’re doing, but others, like an older lady that Marte spoke to, are just happy to have finally seen a white person in real life… Even though it’s wierd to attract so much attention, it’s nice to know that we can be almost like a moving tourist attraction for them- like a travelling circus, or a band of gypsies with treasures from afar!
marte romy interview
Romy and Sanu (interpreter in pink), Marte and Debashish (the interpreter in the black cap).  Our interpreters are just great!

Holi – 15 Marzo 2006

April 4th, 2006

Holi es la celebracion mas cerca al Carnaval latinoamericano. Entre familia y amigos, entre desconocidos por la calle, todos se atacan con polvo de colores. Como en el Carnaval, todos tienen que cuidar al salir a la calle que atras de la proxima esquina puedes ser atacado y bombarbeado con colores!

En nuestro hotel que practicamente es nuestra casa, el ‘Hotel Manager’ que practicamente es nuestro Papa nos prohibio salir este dia. Cerro el porton al hotel con candado para que nadie pueda entrar, y nos preparo cordero para almuerzo, “Non-veg,” nos dijo sonriente con su voz muy oscura, alta y firme. Aunque nos quizo proteger del Holi, no nos salvamos. Un amigo vino, con su primo para celebrar el Holi con nosotros. El resultado fue… pues tres cuys colorados! Esperamos que les guste nuestros recuerdos de este dia extraordinario!

Armando HoliMarte Holi Romy Holi teeth

Afternoon in Chandipur

March 21st, 2006

One of India’s most famous beaches is located just 15 kilometers from Balasore: Chandipur-on-Sea.  The amazing thing about the beach at Chandipur is that it is probably the widest beach in the world, which also has a lot to do with the fact that it is so flat.  In fact, it is so flat that when the tide is out, the crashing waves can be a few kilometers away!  You can walk forever in wet sand or in water deep enough to just cover your feet and never actually get to the water.  In other words, it’s a very safe beach 🙂  No currents will take us away here!  (But no place is safe… It just happens that a few kilometers south of here is India’s largest military missle testing range!)

Here is a picture of the three of us following the peaceful waves, but of course never getting there…

Chandipur-on-sea three

Veien til Kasafal – Feltområdet som ikke kunne nåes (til Marte)

March 21st, 2006

Kasafal oh Kasafal! Hvor mange ganger har vi spurt etter deg
Vi har vært på vei, og brukt mange steg,
Vi ser deg, men kan ikke komme frem
Kasafal oh Kasafal! Vis deg mindre ekstrem

Hva skjedde da Norad og India bygde vei?
Glemte de sitt løfte om å glemme deg ei?
Panchpara elven lager avtand mellom oss.
Men vi skal komme frem, om vi så må slåss

Marte lengter, og sier: ”Kasafal jeg vil til deg!”
Solen steiker, og Sprite kjøler oss ned
Jeg svelger brusen , og sier: ”frykt ikke min kjære venn,
på mandag har vi tolk, de vil hjelpe oss å finne frem”


                                                            – Romy

killing our thirst after looking for Kasafal

Morgan the Glassdiva

March 17th, 2006

Morgan the Glassdiva

After waiting for the train to Varanasi for two hours, we were exhausted. There were people everywhere, children, men and women, sitting, standing or laying. The train station was packed with people, and not just people, but people with all their stuff. Stuff like boxes, suitcases, belongings and merchandise. I was watching a little boy who was being passed around between his mother, brother, sister, father and what seemed to be his uncle, when all he really wanted to do was to suck on his mothers breast. He sounded like my friends little boy when he goes after Hannas boob; a little bit mentally challenged and terribly aggressive in he way he cries for breast milk.

Anyway, when the train finally arrived and we found our cart, it was a nightmare to get on it. No queuing, only pushing, yelling and strange hand gesturing, which I had no idea the meaning of. Romy, Armando and I fought our way through all the people and got to our seats. It made me concerned right away to think that this was where we would spend the next sixteen hours. In the state of apathy we sat down and just watched the rest of the people struggling to get to their seats. I remember looking over at Romy, who seemed like she was filled with the same astonishment as I was. We were all dumbfounded and in a bit of a state, and it was probably really obvious because one of the other passengers kept looking at us, smiling and saying; “This is our India”. And that is when Morgan came.

It was like I was in a movie: Into our cart comes this woman. She is dressed in black, with a veil around her head, but you see her curly red hair going a bit crazy underneath. She leaned against my seat, put her leopard-skinned suitcase up on my armrest, looked at us over her big dark sunglasses and said; “ Isn’t this delightful”, in what I thought was a British accent. It was like going back to the fifties when the British were moving out of India in the post-colonial times. I felt like a traveller not really knowing what I had gotten myself into, young and naïve, and a little bit scared from it all. I asked her politely if she knew what her seat number was. She said she had no idea, and looked casually down at her ticket. It turned out that she was seated next to me, and as she realised this she looked over her glasses again, straight at me and said; “well, this is my lucky day”.

Morgan is a sixty-one year old clothing designer, not from Britain but from Australia, and one of the most delightful persons I have ever met. She has been going to India three or four times a year for the last fifteen years. She gets inspiration from India, and makes lovely garments out of Indian fabric. She takes from India, but she also gives to India. Every time she comes here, she brings a suitcase full of her friends’ old clothes, and takes it to the slum areas around Delhi. She also brought an Indian boy back to Australia with her, and made him a part of her clothing design business. Her designs are called Glassdiva. While I am always afraid of offending someone with my lack of knowledge or understanding of their culture, Morgan speaks to Indian people as she would to anyone of her own kind. She flirts and makes jokes at them, and I was especially amazed by this, and by how the Indian people loved talking to her.

Morgan has a fantastic laugh, like a young girl of fourteen. We spent the night on the train laughing at all the guys who were snoring, and it was great. Meeting Morgan on the train to Varanasi, in India, with people around us singing love songs in hindi, and sharing their homemade food with us, was a once in a life time experience for me. Thinking about it now, it makes me really happy!

The Glass Diva

India Beer-tasting: Keeping Our Side of the Deal

March 16th, 2006

Before our dear friend and blog administrator, Bjorge, graciously allowed us some space to have a travel blog linked to his website, beerfoot.org, we came up with the proposition that in exchange for some webspace, we would post some personal reviews of Indian beers during our travels through the subcontinent.

You see, part of the founding principle of Bjorge’s website ‘beerfoot.org’ was that during his travels through South America in 2003, he, while travelling BAREfoot through the continent, would post reviews of the various BEERs he encountered on his way. Are you seeing a connection now? Does ‘beerfoot’ make a lot more sense now? Good.

Well, despite Romy, Marte and my own ‘covered foot’ condition, we will still keep the tradition alive by tasting beers on our tavels.

So far, India has not proved to be either a beer-diverse nor a beer-plentiful society, despite the country’s mammoth size. However, despite this, we have been able to sniff out a few brews, and you can find their reviews right here:

Beer #1: Kingfisher

Kingfisher beer

This is the first beer that we tried while at the Embassy restaurant in the smack-dab front-and-center of Delhi: Cannaught Place. On the outside, the tall 1 liter bottle (the standard beer size of India) is graced with a picture of a colorful, graceful Indian kingfisher (a type of bird) in midflight. We all thought this was rather handsome. The beer claims to be “The King of Good Times”, and apparantly is “For sale only in Delhi”, which we found to be a right out lie later on when we found the beer in Varanasi.

Mando Kingfisher  Armando taking the first sip…
This “Premium Lager Beer” accoording to our own impressions is light, only slightly bitter, smooth, and mild.  It is “awarded internationally for its widely-acclaimed taste and quality”.  Well, I guess it also gets our award of approval too.  As “India’s Best-selling Lager”, Kingfiher was a refreshing start to our India beer endeavors.