Posts tagged ‘India’

Out of the frying pan. Shashi’s Cooking Classes, Udaipur, India

Meet Shashi. At around 40 years old (give or take a few) she’s had a hell of a life already, yet just a few minutes of conversation will tell you that she’s only getting started.

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Born in rural Rajasthan, Shashi grew up like most girls in her area, training for marriage. Under her mother’s watchful eye, she started cooking at 13 so she was well-prepared when, in her early twenties, she married a man she had never spoken to, a man whose photo she hadn’t even seen. It was an arranged marriage like most Hindu unions. Had they met before the day it wouldn’t have been much good to them – he spoke only Hindu while Shashi didn’t have a word. She gave him two children before he died when she was only 31 years of age.

Shashi’s husband left her with two small sons and the status of widow. As a Brahman (the highest of the castes) she is not allowed to remarry. Ever. For a year she was forbidden from leaving her home at all, a rule that can’t make it any easier to support two children. She struggled to make ends meet and eventually started taking on houseguests in her Udaipur home.

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Three years ago, Shashi was coaxed into opening a cooking class for tourists by a guest who appreciated her value as a chef. She didn’t speak a word of English and, during her first session with an Australian couple, her hands shook so badly that she broke enough crockery to consume the day’s earnings. One day, after class, one of her students told her he was from Lonely Planet and he was going to cover her in his guidebook. “I didn’t know what ‘Lonely Planet’ meant,” she says “but now I do. It means very, very busy.”

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Today Shashi’s English is fantastic, her hand steady, her wit razor-sharp and her cookery class was easily the best part of our trip so far. In what was supposed to be a four hour class, she spent five and a half hours moulding us into her own little army of cooks. We learned how to beat spices properly (because you should never buy in a store what you can make fresh at home). We learned how to knead, roll and cook dough for chapati, naan and paratha (similar but never to be confused). We learned how to make a mean masala sauce and how to turn said masala sauce into half a dozen very different curries. Shashi even taught us how to make our own paneer and local cheeses from scratch, using only milk, lemon juice and yoghurt.

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More than that though, she entertained us and answered every question we had about her culture, her marriage and her food. In a word, she was the perfect hostess.

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At 700 rupiah for four to five hours, we couldn’t recommend Shashi’s class highly enough, for enthusiastic cooks and reluctant novices alike (we span the scale). For only €10 you get four hours with a master chef, teacher, storyteller, comedian and one of the warmest women we’ve ever had the peasure to meet – not to mention a slap up meal. Try to book at least 12 hours ahead though, she’s a popular lady.

There are more pictures from our cooking class in Udaipur in the gallery

December 23, 2012 at 6:19 pm 2 comments

Daytrippin’ around Jaipur, India

The beauty of Jaipur was that, as well as having so much to do within those lovely pink city walls, there are a handful of easy half-day trips offering visitors a chance to escape the rickshaw horns for a few hours and see a little of the desert. Listed in order of preference, these are the most interesting side trips we took. All can be easily bunched into a single day with the help of a rickshaw driver. If you’re visiting the Amber Fort, you should pass the lake palace on your way. It’s pretty and worth a photo break although maybe not a trip in its own right.

Galta (The Monkey Temple)

Mixed reviews about this one. Gary perferred the Amber Fort but I thought Galta was magical – and since I am the writer and he just a lowly photographer, Galta wins.

Hidden in a valley away from the horns and sales pitches of Jaipur, Galta (known to you and I as The Monkey Temple) is a complex of water tanks and temples with the timeless air of a lost city. As you wind your way down the mountain, past goats, cows, dogs and countless swatches of colourful fabric pilfered by birds and stashed in arid shrubs, the complex reveals itself slowly.

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First come the old stone water tanks – a cloudy emerald green, where a handful of children splash while their mothers struggle against soapy limbs in a bid to wash behind their ears. Laugher and chatter fills the air, mingling with chants and gongs from the first temple, a tiny roomcut into the mountain. Following the stone path along however those musical sounds are pierced by hystierical shrieks and cries.

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Set around a moderate-sized square with a lone tree in the center, the main complex of Galta is made up of ornate golden-yellow buildings. Several stories high with balconies and carvings, it looks look like a modest palace complex. A summer retreat perhaps, or the set of a new Tomb Raider film. That is, of course, until you see the inhabitants. Monkeys hang from every balcony and sprawl across the grass, idley picking at each other’s hair. They strut across the main square and swing through the temples. Their chatter comes in ebbs and flows, quiet and civilised until a fight breaks out and they all speed towards the mountains.

Gary reckons the Monkey Temple is “alright” but for me, it was electric.

The Amber Fort

Just 8km outside of Jaipur, the early 18th century Amber Fort has its own Great Wall tracing an ambitious path across the peaks of every hill in sight. At its base fishermen stand on mounds with nylon lines sunk deep into a peaceful lake while tauts and drivers volley for attention on the banks. Inside the walls however, it’s a beautiful peaceful spot for a visit – full of quiet passageways leading to lovely rooms framed with carved windows, open courtyards and beautiful views over the barren countryside beyond.

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What’s most impressive about the fort is its size, more palatial than defensive with enough space for all the wives and concubines any maharaja could hope to satisfy. There’s a lovely temple just before the entrance to the fortress that will allow you to visit if you take off your shoes and leave your camera outside. Once upon a time they used to slaughter a goat here every day. They’re not doing it anymore but it’s still worth a look-see.

Nahargarh Fort

In the endless procession of forts and palaces that is India, Nahargarh Fort hardly stands out from the crowd. Perched on top of a mountain that rudely interrupts the sprawl of Jaipur’s residential area, it’s a short but challenging trek uphill to reach the gates. Once you get inside, there’s not a huge amount to write home about but it’s worth a visit for the sunset views and its rare sense of calm. A happy bonus is the bar at the top to reward your exertions. Worth a trip if you’re in town for a while but I wouldn’t go out of my way.

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There are more pictures from around Jaipur in the gallery

December 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm Leave a comment

Pretty in pink, Jaipur, India

If Delhi was a cold slap in the face, Jaipur was a warm hug from a pot-bellied uncle. Big-hearted, welcoming and strangely familiar, the so-called ‘Pink City’ is the capital city of Rajasthan, India’s desert state. And it’s a lot to take in.

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For me Jaipur means endless pink walls with imposing gates; honeycombed balconies stacked sky-high; horns blaring through a wall of smog; monkeys beating tin roofs; cows lazing on hot tarmac roads; and polished jewels behind dusty windows. It means rickshaws overflowing with waving schoolchildren, contageous smiles and hello-how-are-yous. Put simply, Japiur was everything I had imagined India to be.

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Famous for its silver, jewelery and fabrics, the heart of Jaipur beats in the Old Town, among the jam-packed shopfronts of the bazaars. This huge area is divided by trade – so if you need a new curry pot you go to the copper district or for a bit of bling before a big event, it’s off to the bangle street with you. Jaipur’s Old Town is an incredible place to wander and (besides from a few tourist-centric spots) makes for largely hassle-free people-watching.

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Of course there are enough major sights to set the mouth of any culture buff watering. First on the hit-list is the iconic Hawa Mahal Palace whose owner covered the face of his home in balconies, so the women in his life could watch processions in the street even if they weren’t permitted to part-take.

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Meanwhile, the City Palace makes for a beautiful and peaceful visit, especially for those new arrivals to India who may not yet be all palaced-out (don’t worry, it’ll come.)

Spawned by the same mind that gave us the city of Jaipur and the City Palace, is the 18th century Jantar Mantar. The best-preserved of five such observatories, this collection of elaborate constructions is still in use today and is considered by astronomers to be fairly accurate. There’s even a sundial that can tell the time of day to within 20 seconds. Considering the time of construction, that’s pretty damn cool, right?Jaipur-83

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While the key sights of Jaipur made for great anchors around which to tie our rambles, it was the journey that made our visit. A few days in, we made a pact – we would say yes to everything and everyone, at least initially. It was okay, we decided, to back out if it ended up being a scam, illegal or morally dubious.

Granted our new rule meant a lot of posing for photos, a few awkward sales pitches and one last groping, but we also got to drive a rickshaw, met some wonderful people and sat in the courtyard of a temple while a well-dressed Indian man dictated a two-page love letter to be written in Irish for his girlfriend in Cork.

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The verdict: Definitely visit Jaipur if you can. With a few worthwhile trips within easy rickshaw distance (post on these to follow), it merits at least two days but could easily fill three or four at a more enjoyable pace. If you do have the chance to visit we recommend the lovely Hotel Pearl Palace and its rooftop Peacock Restaurant – both of which are well priced with fantastic service and great taste.

There are more pictures from Jaipur in the gallery

December 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm Leave a comment

New trip. New Delhi, India

It took us two years to decide on our next big trip, although it should have taken two days. It was always going to be India – we have a taste for Asia now and a rule that means we need to travel the most challenging countries while we (and our bowels) are still young. So India it was. Our family and friends were as supportive as ever, offering up such gems as “But you’ll be sick all the time,” and “You know it smells really bad there?” If we had restricted our visit to New Delhi alone, we may have believed them.

New Delhi is okay. The Red Fort makes a great afternoon visit. In the chaos that is Delhi it’s a perfect escape – beautiful grounds, hassle-free wandering and incredible architecture. Gary took some photos that you might like. Let’s be honest, you’re all here for the pretty pictures anyway.

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Outside of the Red Fort there wasn’t much to hold us in Delhi. Connaught Place was quite barren and the bazaars of the Old Town were fun but turned a little scary after dusk. I’m sure there was a lot more to the city, indeed our journey to the bus station (we made a hasty retreat after only a day) landed us in a pretty neighbourhood full of manicured lawns and trees. We read about a promising Ghandi Museum and some ghats we wanted to visit but after a bad tuk-tuk ride left us on the wrong side of New Dehli Train Station – completely blind against a wall of smog, deaf from blaring horns and with heads swimming from the smell of pee – our brief romance with India’s capital city was well and truly over.

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In fairness, our travel senses were a little rusty and as culture shock goes, New Delhi is a big, cold slap in the face. It was a fitting start to a journey that is bound to be full of dramatic highs and lows, swooning over temples and gropings from strangers. After four days (more on this later) India has already proven herself to be one of those travel environments that holds a mirror up to you, acting as the most attentive lover when you’re smiling, but hissing, scratching and swearing when the mood turns sour. Our advice – don’t take New Delhi as indicative of the whole. If you’re flying in or out of the capital, by all means take a day but we wouldn’t go out or our way to see it and if you do, don’t stay anywhere near New Delhi Train Station.

There are more photos from New Delhi in the gallery

December 12, 2012 at 5:55 pm 1 comment


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Thanks for coming to visit us – stay tuned to watch us argue, punch, kick, pinch and scream our way around some of the most beautiful parts of the world.

Over the next year we will be fighting in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.

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