Category Archives: India

India: The People and Handicrafts of Kutch

Laundry day.

While the natural beauty of the Kutch region in the state of Gujarat is absolutely astounding, most of the visitors that do come (there are not many), come for the village handicrafts that abound in this area. Different tribal villages specialize in different types of embroidery, terracotta pottery, lacquerware, and other crafts.

A Jat woman embroiders a traditional neckpiece for women.

We knew we wanted to visit a lot of villages, not only to see the handicrafts but to hopefully meet some of the people. When planning our trip I saw in various travel books and websites that the man to see to arrange a village tour was Mr. Pramod Jethi. He can be found in the city of Bhuj (the city where you have to fly or take the train into to reach the Kutch region), at the Aina Mahal Museum, where he is curator and has a small tourism desk there. Mr. Jethi (literally) wrote the book on Kutch and knows everything about its 875 villages and multiple tribes. So, when we arrived in Bhuj the first thing we did was go see Mr. Jethi. After discussing with us what we were interested in seeing and mapping out a 3 day itinerary, he called one of his autorickshaw drivers/guides names Bharat, who came to pick us up there in a matter of minutes. Permission is needed from the police to visit certain villages, but Bharat arranged all of that for us. He was also a wonderful translator and very encouraging of our photography.

Village mosque.

The next three days were a whirlwind of villages, beautiful handicrafts, and generous people who invited us into their homes. And what homes these were! Although small (only one room), it is easy to tell how important artistry is to the people as soon as you see the beautiful painting and mudwork inside and outside of the huts. We were truly amazed at the beautiful mirrorwork  in many homes. Lunch everyday was had in someone’s home–some accepted payment and some did not.

Ceiling of a circular hut in the village of Ludiya.

Mud and mirrorwork in someone's home in Ludiya.

Outside of someone's home in Ludiya.

Just because they live in a desert village doesn't mean they don't have a television! And of course, the television has to be decorated.

But things are still a little old school...

Someone's home in Dhordo.

Storage in a home in Dhordo.

Lunch time!

Rabari women use a mixture of cow dung and mud to make a clay for coating their homes with.

Ingredients...

Hard at work refinishing the floors.

Dishes in a Jat home.

Jat women in their home.

Kitchens are outside; these women wash dishes.

The outside of a home in Khodai.

Detailed mudwork inside a Rabari home.

Not all the homes were so beautifully painted. The region suffered a devastating earthquake in 2010 and many homes were damaged.

Traditional Jat women wear red dresses.

Of course, the children were always fascinated with us and wanted to have their picture taken! In the Rabari village of Khodai there was a wedding going on and we became the unofficial photographers of the groom’s side!

The groom is in the middle.

I don't have to tell you how awesome this guy is.

This guy is equally as awesome, in a different way. Wedding attire? Sure!

We interacted with several different tribes: Dhanetah Jat, Gharacia Jat, Harijan, and Rabari. Mostly, the men work in the desert grazing cows and sheep while the women take care of the home. They each have their own specific type of embroidery that they wear. Some are nomadic or semi-nomadic and they ended up in Kutch from places like Jaisalmer, Iran, and maybe even Afghanistan.

Check out his ear holes.

A Rabari woman demonstrates the tools attached to her solid gold necklace: a toothpick, earpick, and nail file

A Rabari mother and daughter outside their home.

A Rabari woman demonstrates her traditional ear piercings.

This man is part of a nomadic Rabari tribe.

The nomadic Rabaris travel with everything on their camels' backs.

This mother and daughter belong to the Harijat tribe.

Harijat woman in Bhirendiara.

Aside from the various types of embroidery, we also got to observe and learn about some pottery making with very unique painting on it, handmade copper bells (the Kutchis use them for their camels and buffalo so they can find them), the dying art of lacquerwork, and rogan–Nirona village is home to the last family that creates handmade rogan.

This woman paints a terracotta plate by rotating it on a stand to get an even, circular pattern.

Handmade pottery from Khavda village.

Broken pottery.

Beadwork.

Embroidery.

Detail of a Jat embroidered dress.

Lacquering is an intricate process. The crafter operates the lathe with his feet, spinning the item he wants to lacquer in this case a spatula) back and forth, first cutting grooves into the wood.

Next, he takes a colored wax stub and holds it against the rotating object. The heat created melts the waxy substance onto the object, coloring it.

Other colors are added, usually in stripes.

Finally, designs are added using various techniques.

These women sell handmade dolls and stuffed toys.

The ancient art of rogan painting is created with boiled castor oil that has turned into a gooey paste. Colored powder is mixed into the oil and an iron rod is used to paint half of the design onto fabric.

After one half of the painting is finished, the artist folds the fabric in half and a mirror impression is transferred to the other side.

A finished rogan painting. How insane is that detail?

Iron bells with copper coating are also made by hand in Kutch.

The crafters don't use any welding to create the bell, it's all done by connecting notches and hammering down the top to attach to the cylinder.

They make them in all sizes.

The bells are used by Kutchis on their cattle so they can find them when they stray from the flock.

During our three days of village exploration we spent one night in Bhuj and one night at the Shaam-E-Sarhad Village Resort in Hodka, a lovely village with a tribal owned and operated hotel. The hotel used traditional mud huts and “eco-tents” that they updated with modern amenities and are actually quite luxurious. Plus, you get a nice group dinner buffet and traditional live music around a bonfire after the meal.

The eco-tents of Shaam-E-Sarhad in Hodka.

Inside our eco-tent.

Even though the bathroom was technically outside it was super nice!

The lobby/dining area.

Our visit to Kutch was our favorite week in India. While we saw many beautiful places throughout the country, Kutch is an environment like no other. The combination of natural magnificence, fascinating culture, and friendly people came together to create a truly magical experience. And, we were certainly lucky to get such an excellent driver/guide who definitely enhanced our experience.

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Filed under Accommodations, Culture, Food, India, People, Villages

India: The Nature of Kutch Inspires

For our last week in India at the end of January we decided to venture to the Kutch region of Gujarat. Not highly touristed, most visitors to India don’t make it to this desert area known for its exceptional textiles and handicrafts. (Although they do have an aggressive ad campaign with Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan touting “the silvery sands of Kutch.”)

We were excited about visiting small villages and seeing beautiful handicrafts, but we had no idea that the area had so much natural beauty. We arranged an autorickshaw driver to take us to some of the villages surrounding Bhuj, the largest city in Kutch (which means it was still pretty small). Our driver, Bharat, turned out to be excellent, taking us to villages and areas we surely would not have seen without him. As we drove away from Bhuj and into the desert outback, we soon realized we would be driving through one of the most beautiful areas in India.

Castor oil plants are abundant in Kutch and treasured by the population.

Bharat soon taught us about castor oil, whose fields we kept driving by. Castor oil is produced by drying out the flowers (the spiky green things) and then crushing them to release the seeds. The seeds are then crushed to reveal a waxy, oily substance–castor oil–which as you probably know can be used for myriad medical treatments, lotions, and other remedies.

Dried castor oil flowers.

Bharat shows us the castor oil seeds.

After some more driving we came upon a watering hole, surrounded by camels and water buffalo. It really was beautiful and made me want to go to Africa even more!

We also drove through some gorgeous marshland filled with exotic birds.

On our second day Bharat took us to this gorge he knew about. Honestly, I don’t even know where we were, but suddenly he had us climbing down into a canyon!

I certainly had no idea something like this exists in India! Did you?

We also some interesting birds nest and had an adventure getting our autorickshaw through some water.

But the grand finale was seeing the “White Desert”–those silvery sands that Amitabh touted. Kutch is home to the Great Rann, reputed to be the largest salt desert in the world. It takes up a large portion of the Thar desert and goes straight across the border to Pakistan. Bharat told us the only way to traverse the white desert is via camel and after seeing it–and walking on it–I believe him. Some of the salt is dry and hard but the further in you go the more marshy it becomes and soon you find yourself sinking into the desert.

Doesn't this salt chunk look like the shape of India?!?

Check back soon for posts about the villages and handicrafts of Kutch!

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India: Last Visits to Mumbai Favorites

After traveling for three weeks, we finally made it back to Mumbai for a couple days before setting off again. It was our last chance to visit old haunts, see our friends, and to show our visiting friend Judy a few of our favorite sites, shops, and of course, foods.

I’ve already written about our favorite sites and shops, but I’ve been remiss in sharing some of my favorite Bombay food joints. I’ve already mentioned the amazing pani puris available everywhere and our favorite South Indian restaurants, but here are few other favorites that we took Judy to:

1) The Haji Ali Juice Stand, which stands right outside the Haji Ali Margue, sells amazing fresh juices, as well as the amazing Pakistani delicacy falooda. Falooda sounds and looks kind of gross, but trust me, it’s good. It’s made of rose syrup, vermicielli noodles, basil seeds, tapioca pearls, jelly, and anything else they can think of to throw in there!

The faloodas are super popular, as you can see by the number of orders this guy is fulfilling!

Our falooda. That sounds like a pet...

Judy has mango juice and I have strawberry-kiwi-mango.

Manor had fresh grape juice.

Fruit hanging in the Bombay night.

2) One of our favorite desserts in India became rabdi, a caramelized pudding. Before we left for our travels I heard about Kailash’s in Colaba in Mumbai, which was supposed to have the best rabri, so we finally made it over there with Judy. It was so good we got seconds!

3) We had dinner with some of our Bombay friends at Sheesha, a lovely rooftop restaurant in Khar West with great food and fun hookahs for dessert!

4) Juhu Natural has some of the best ice-cream in India! They specialize in unique and seasonal flavors like anjeera (fig), toasted almond, coconut, sitaphal (custard apple), jackfruit, and many more. Yum!

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India: Udaipur

The Rajasthani city of Udaipur is called the Venice of the East, supposedly due to its lakes. While I’ve never been to Venice, I am pretty sure Udaipur is nothing like it.

Udaipur is beautiful in an Indian way; meaning it has lots of old buildings with elaborate arches, but the streets are still dirty, there are still many poor people around, and those lakes? Their shores are full of women doing laundry, which is of course typical in India and beautiful in its own way.

But Udaipur does have some beautiful structures, notably Palace Hotel, which floats in the middle of the lake and is where the James Bond movie Octopussy was filmed, as anyone or any sign will tell you.

And of course, there is the City Palace, where members of the royal family still reside. While non-guests of the Palace Hotel aren’t allowed on the island, the City Palace is open to visitors. It’s worth getting a tour guide as the building is quite large and full of exquisite details, including finery imported from all over the world.

You can also take a lovely boat ride (more like a ferry than a gondola) around the lake and to Jagmandir, or the pleasure palace as it’s known. It’s actually not a palace, but more like a fancy island playground, complete with expensive drinks and spa (which a worker insisted on giving us a tour of). When we visited they were setting up for an event that looked fabulous and we had fun imagining what Judy’s upcoming wedding would be like if it was held there.

Udaipur hosts some gorgeous sunsets and most of the hotels advertise their rooftop restaurants with beautiful views of the lake. Of course we had to go the one called “The Highest Rooftop in Udaipur” and resisted the one across the street that claimed, “Better than the Highest Rooftop.” It was nice to have almost every meal with a view, though!

The food in Udaipur is very good, thanks to a healthy inflow of tourists. We loved our dinner at The Whistling Teal, which is actually the only non-rooftop place we ate at! But it does have a lovely garden setting and excellent food and service.

Dhungar Maas, a smoky curry. Kathi rolls in the background!

Elaichi Shrikhand, cardamom-flavored hung yogurt.

We wanted to love our meal at Millets of Mewar, a health and eco-concious cafe, but while the food was mostly tasty, the service was abysmal. Aside from interminable waits for the food, when it finally came most of it was wrong. We did go to one local place, a bit outside the main part of the city, called Natraj Lodge. The name of the game here is thalis, namely Gujerati ones. Thalis are platters with multiple bowls that keep getting refilled with curries, vegetables, dal, yogurt, rice, plus pakoras (fried bread balls), rotis, and a sweet, cardamom mini flatbread. You soon realize that you probably don’t even need the refills! Oh, and did I mention this all costs a little more than $1?

Serving up the curries until you tell them to stop!

Judy's first thali!

Fresh gulab jamun is one of India's finest treats. They can be found streetside in giant pans like this, or in most restaurants.

But the food highlight was taking a cooking class on our last morning. There are dozens of options to choose from, but we ended up with Sushma’s. It was just the three of us and Sushma, the instructor. She had a great menu planned and took the time to go over the classic Indian spice box and even taught us how to make chai! We made a sweet and sour pumpkin similar to what we had at Gunpowder in Delhi, a yummy curry with fresh paneer (fresh paneer is amazing, a super easy to make! I can’t wait to try to make it at home), fantastic yellow dal (lentils), and of course rotis. I was curious about how to make parathas, both stuffed and plain, so Sushma showed us that as well. I never would have guessed how you fold and roll the plain paratha dough to make it flaky. And, all the recipes were printed out and ready for us to take home.

Fresh paneer curry

Sushma demonstrating how to make sweet and sour pumpkin.

Trying my hand at roti rolling.

After letting the roti cook in a pan briefly, you then put it directly on a flame so it puffs up. But careful not to let it burn!

To make a plain paratha, first you cut a slit in the flattened dough and then roll it around into a cone.

Next, you pull out the cone into a sort of flower, before flattening it again with a rolling pin. This gives it the yummy, flaky layers after you bake it!

A delicious homemade lunch!

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India: Camel Safari

One of the most popular activities to do in Rajasthan in general and in Jaisalmer specifically is a camel safari. They can be as long as several weeks (although we only heard of one person doing that!) or as short as an afternoon and evening. Most people do an overnight, but after our overnight train ride and impending overnight bus ride, as well as the prospect of a rather chilly night, we opted to  just do the afternoon to evening outing.

Inside the fort of Jaisalmer there are dozens of travel companies offering camel safaris. We opted to go with a company called Ganesh that was recommended by Lonely Planet, which they publicize quite loudly on a large banner near the entrance of the fort. The owner was definitely a good salesman and the three of us were very excited for the journey as we set out in a Jeep through the Thar Desert.

This overturned rickshaw is an unfortunate example of some of the reckless driving so ubiquitous in India. But luckily, we weren't in it and it seemed no one was hurt!

We were supposed to stop at some villages, but after the first one we told them not to stop at any others because the “village” was extremely disappointing. As soon as we got out of the Jeep a bunch of young children immediately started asking us for money. There was nothing to be seen of the village; it was unfortunately just a few poor families who have grown used to tours coming here and have taught their children to beg in a very aggressive manner. When we politely declined to give them money the children began to grab and poke us and we basically had to run back to the car. I hated being made to feel like a snob, but I refuse to give money to beggar children because it simply continues the cycle of parents or others using children to get money. Of course I feel terrible for the children and the poor families, which is why I am glad that I was able to do some positive volunteer work while in Mumbai.

When we finally reached the place where our camels were waiting we climbed aboard and were led through a very lovely desert walk. There of course isn’t much to see in a desert besides sand, cacti, and other camels, but it was very peaceful and even somewhat meditative. My camel was somewhat enamored with the guy on the camel in front of me (we went with three other people) and kept nudging his head into the guy’s legs and waist.

After a couple hours we reached some sand dunes where we saw a gorgeous sunset and then had a simple but yummy dinner cooked over a bonfire. We were hoping to stay a while longer to lie under the stars before heading back, but for some reason the driver insisted on us leaving almost immediately after dinner.

We had fun having Manor act the part of being stranded in the desert.

We kept seeing weird tracks in the sand and then we found this creature, who was the one making them.

So we got a quick peek at the expansive, star-filled sky, but we all wished we had been able to stay a little while longer–although it was getting very cold! We were indeed happy to get back to our warm beds at Hotel Tokyo Palace in Jaisalmer.

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India: Jaisalmer

After driving for hours through the mostly barren Thar Desert of Rajasthan, the golden fortress walls of Jaisalmer are a stunningly romantic sight to see. Jaisalmer was founded in 1156  by Jaisal Singh, a Rajput king, and it is quite obvious why it is called “The Golden City.”

When we first walked toward the fort I was somewhat taken aback with the aggressiveness of some of the sellers lining the entrance, but I soon learned that in well-traveled Rajasthan almost everyone is trying to make a buck off of tourists. We soon became tired of everyone asking “What country?” and then as soon as we answered them trying to sell us something. Living in Mumbai and having traveled to less touristy places like Kolkata and Aurangabad we had somewhat avoided this side of India until now.

However, as long as you don’t let it get to you and sometimes make the effort to observe and have a real conversation with people it becomes manageable. Waking up early helps, as evidenced by Manor’s photos from his morning excursions.

Inside the fortress walls are of course many shops, but there are also lots of beautiful Jain temples and the architecture of most of the buildings is very beautiful and keeps to the ancient carved haveli (mansion) style that is popular here.

View from Canon Point

Jain Temple

Jain temple

Jain temple

Jain temple

Jain temple interior dome

Jain temple interior monkey detail

Jain temple god hand detail

Jain temple god detail

Jain temple marble gods

Everything is not inside the fortress, however. Aside from our lovely hotel (The Hotel Tokyo Palace), there are several ancient havelis, or mansions. These havelis mostly belonged to very wealthy families and have now been preserved and turned into museums. We went to the Patwon Haveli, which was indeed very beautiful, plus it provides a good way to learn a lot about how families kept their homes.

Patwon Haveli

Patwon haveli painted wall

Patwon Haveli perfume bottles

Patwon Haveli turban room

Also outside the fort is a lake across the road, which makes for a lovely sunset spot. There is a small hill from which you can see the fortress and there were a bunch of boys flying kites in the fading light.

Every night at 7:30 the Desert Cultural Centre & Museum puts on a traditional puppet show so we decided to check it out one night. The founder of the museum is the one who introduces each piece, and he pointed out (as did several signs) that the museum is the effort of a single man (himself). We chuckled at his introductions for each piece, which were quite long in Hindi and the English always included the phrase, “This is a very interesting program.” The puppet shows were accompanied by live traditional music and the puppets’ “moves” were actually quite impressive, like a young boy throwing a ball and a man riding a horse in many different positions.

Although getting to Jaisalmer takes some effort, its uniqueness is rewarding and it’s golden beauty can’t be topped.

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India: The Magnificent Taj Mahal and other Agra Offerings

After our friend Judy’s successful arrival from New York via London to Delhi we hopped on a train to Agra. As Judy pointed out cows, rickshaws, garbage, and other Indian anomalies that Manor and I had grown used to we were reminded again how bizarre and fascinating India can be!

We didn’t get to Agra until the evening and we planned to go to the Taj Mahal at sunrise so we decided to take it easy and ate dinner at our guesthouse and attempted to go to sleep early. That plan was foiled when a rowdy group of Brits decided to drink three bottles of vodka and get into a huge fight. Ah, low-budget traveling.

We did still manage to wake up before sunrise and made the trek to the south gate of the Taj, the only one that opens at sunrise. We were determined to be one of the first people in so we could have the Taj somewhat to ourselves. Although there wasn’t much of a sunrise as it was overcast and it even drizzled briefly, our early rise paid off when we stood in front of the truly magical love letter that is the Taj Mahal.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I can confidently say that seeing pictures of the famous mausoleum in no way measures up to the real thing. The perfection and symmetry are beautiful and the magnitude of it is simply astonishing. This was Manor’s second time seeing it and he reported that he was no less impressed.

We took our time walking around all four sides and inside and although there were of course some people there with us, when we left there were hordes and hordes coming in. Waking up early definitely pays off! Plus, we got to see this awesome couple:

After some breakfast we returned to our guesthouse for a much-needed nap before heading off to the Agra Fort in the afternoon. As previously mentioned, I was unimpressed with the Red Fort in Delhi, so I wasn’t sure if the Agra Fort would excite me at all, but I was pleasantly surprised.

When we first entered it seemed like we could only see one small part of it, but a small staircase in the back of one of the pavilions opens out onto a huge area of many more pavilions and structures, as well as balconies with views of the Taj Mahal and some beautiful wall engravings. We easily spent several hours there and probably could have spent several more. But alas, evening was approaching and we still had one more sight to see: the Baby Taj.

We had seen the Mini Taj in Aurangabad and we had seen the Taj Mahal this morning, so of course we had to complete the trifecta and see the Baby Taj! And what a cute name! The Baby Taj, known as an inspiration of the Taj Mahal, is officially known as the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah and the man buried there, Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, is the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal, who is buried in the Taj Mahal. It is similar to the Taj Mahal in terms of symmetry and style, but the Baby Taj’s main building is covered with gorgeous floral inlay work. It’s much smaller than the Taj and we perused the grounds in about a half hour. If you have the time, I definitely recommend checking it out. Agra has so much more to offer than just the Taj Mahal!

As darkness fell we headed back to our hotel for some rest and dinner before getting on the overnight train to Jodhpur. We unfortunately didn’t spend any time in Jodhpur, but instead hopped on a bus directly to the desert fortress town of Jaisalmer.

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India: Devorah and Manor and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day in Delhi

I have no doubt that Delhi can be a wonderful city, but we unfortunately had the worst day of our travels there so it may be forever tainted for me.

It started early in the morning when Manor went to the train station. A few weeks ago we had bought overnight train tickets  from Agra to Jodhpur for us and our awesome friend Judy who was coming to visit. Because we happened to be staying right near the train station (at a great budget hotel actually, called Hotel Amax), Manor decided to just go there in the morning to check our tickets and that’s when he realized that we had bought the tickets for the wrong day! He wasn’t sure what to do without talking to me so he came back to the hotel and we discussed whether we should adjust our trip and spend less time in Jaisalmer and keep the tickets we already had, or if we should try to get all new tickets for the day before. The problem with that was that there was only two third class berths left when he was there and the rest were sleeper. We took sleeper class when we went to Goa and it was not pleasant; mainly because the windows are open and it actually gets quite cold, and also because they do not provide sheets and blankets. Sometimes you can rent them and sometimes not.

After much deliberation, we decided that if we didn’t get new tickets we would not have enough time in Jaisalmer. We had no idea if any tatkal tickets would even be left, but we headed to the train station to wait in line. When we got to an agent he informed us that there were indeed only two third class berths so Manor graciously decided to travel in sleeper class while Judy and I took the third class tickets.

Now we were finally ready to start our day and we hopped on the very nice Delhi Metro to head to Old Delhi and the Red Fort. The Red Fort is a large walled complex with various Mughla-era structures inside, as well as a lot of green space. Many people rave about it, but frankly I just don’t get it. Maybe I’ve seen too much ancient Muslim architecture (the mosques in Turkey and the Alhambra in Spain stand out as favorites for me), but I just wasn’t that impressed. The structures are all empty and there are not even that many of them. Yes, it is a lovely place to spend a couple hours, and we actually took a short nap on the lawn, but I’m not sure what all the hype is about. I felt this even more acutely when we saw the Agra Fort a couple days later, which I thought was fantastic.

Leaving the fort, we headed toward the Jama Masjid. We had to cross a busy intersection at one point and it was very crowded. I was wearing our camera inside the case across my shoulder so it rested on my hip. As we crossed the street a man bumped into me pretty hard, and it seemed like he had gone out of his way to do so. But, this being a country with over a billion people, people often walk into you, so I didn’t think much of it. As we got to the other side, we soon saw a food cart selling an interesting looking sweet dairy dish with pistachios. We decided to buy one and I (of course) wanted to take a photo of it. As I reached down to open the camera case, I discovered it was unzipped and the camera was gone. After several moments of shock and panic, and making sure it wasn’t somewhere else, I soon realized the man who had bumped into me had probably taken it. As we looked back up the street, there was a sea of people and I burst into tears.

Manor knew we had to go to the police station to report it if we had any hopes of getting an insurance claim (thankfully we have traveller’s insurance). As we tried to make our way there I realized that all the pictures we had taken over the last ten days were gone: Kolkata, the Sunderbans, and Darjeeling. We had gotten very lazy about downloading the pictures from the camera onto the computer because we had been moving around so much. As we walked through the streets of Delhi trying to find the police station I couldn’t stop crying. I was upset with myself because I knew something was off when the man deliberately bumped into me but I hadn’t reacted. I felt violated, as well as a supreme sadness over the loss of so many photographs. If we could only get the memory card back the thief could have the camera!

When we finally got to the police station they of course could do nothing but write us a report to give to our insurance company. However, one officer insisted that we look at the surveillance tapes from that intersection—amazingly they had a camera posted right there. I think he was very excited to actually make use of the technology, although it soon became apparent that they didn’t quite know how to operate it. We agreed and ended up sitting there for over an hour scouring the tapes until we finally saw ourselves. When we pointed the moment out to the officer he couldn’t figure out how to zoom in and asked Manor for help! It of course was fairly simple and he showed him how to do his job. We couldn’t see the actual bump-in, but I immediately recognized the man as he stood on the corner with another man and then turned back to cross the street and bump into me; thirty seconds later Manor and I came into the frame. After we pointed out the culprit we felt no better; in fact it just made us relive the whole thing again! We knew there was no way they would ever find that man, and he had probably already sold our camera anyway.

By this time it was late afternoon and we certainly didn’t want to do anymore sightseeing. We knew the only thing that would make us a feel a little better was getting a new camera so we could continue taking pictures of the rest of our trip. We called a friend who had lived in Delhi for many years and he recommended we go to Khan Market. We were hoping to find the same camera again because we still had many of the accessories for it (an extra battery, a second lens, the case), plus we really loved it! We were ecstatic when the one camera shop there actually had the Sony NEX-5, which is obviously not as popular as Canons or Nikons. The salesman gave us a pretty good price and didn’t make us buy the battery charger, USB wire, and case that comes with the package—only in India!

Just as we were starting to feel better and console each other about our lost pictures, we got a phone call from Judy, who was due to arrive in Delhi later that night. She was stuck in Heathrow and had missed her connecting flight. She was understandably distraught, as we were supposed to leave for Agra the next morning, but now she would not arrive until the morning. We knew there were dozens of trains going to Agra every day so we assured her it wouldn’t be a big deal for us to exchange our tickets for afternoon ones. She just had to deal with spending eight hours in Heathrow!

For us, it meant returning to the train station office where we had spent most of our morning to get new tickets to Agra. Thankfully, there were plenty available. We had planned to return to our hotel and shower and relax, but we had made dinner reservations and the time was rapidly approaching. I had been looking forward to trying this restaurant and seeing the neighborhood of Hauz Khas Village and I hoped that maybe we could have one enjoyable part of our day. So we left the office and got right back on the Metro!

Dinner at the fantastic Gunpowder was just what we needed. A friend and magazine article had both made suggestions of what to order so we followed suit and got the delicious pumpkin curry, egg upma, and the yummy, flaky parathas. We decided to treat ourselves to dessert and got a warmed apricot, pistachio, and cream dish. Yum!

Hauz Khas Village is quite adorable, it’s really just a few streets lined with restaurants, cafes, bars, and boutiques. We went into a wonderful bookstore called Yodakin, which was full of books by independent Indian publishers. Manor was not too happy about me purchasing heavy books, but I bought a few anyway.

I kept reliving the fateful bump-in for the next few days and every so often one of us would remember another great photograph we had lost (the pink Himalayas! The old woman sorting rice in Kurseong! The wooden plank boat in the Sunderbans!), but now (a few weeks later) the awfulness has mostly faded. This was the first time I’ve ever had anything stolen from me, and to have had it taken off my body makes it even more violating. Manor had his bike stolen last spring only a few days after he bought it, so unfortunately he was more familiar with the horrible feeling. Obviously, we have been much more aware of our belongings since then and I know I will be able to commiserate the next time a friend has something stolen—although I hope it doesn’t happen to anyone else!

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India: South Indian Cafes Review on India Tube

A friend alerted me to the awesome India Tube website and I liked it so much I pitched a story to them!

Our favorite restaurant while Manor and I lived in Mumbai was in the Matunga neighborhood, which is known for it’s amazing and authentic South Indian food. We were obsessed with dosas!! So I reviewed our two favorite places for India Tube and you can read all about it and see some delicious foodie pictures here.

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India: Darjeeling

After our lovely train ride, we finally found ourselves in Darjeeling and it honeslty felt like another country. Not only was it freezing, but the people look completely different (basically Nepalese or Tibetan) and the mountainous landscape was completely new for us.

We got a room at the simple but clean Andy’s Guesthouse and shelled out the extra rupees for a space heater for our room—well worth the money! The best part about Andy’s is the rooftop observatory where you can see the Himalayas (although they look very tiny from there) on a clear day, which we did the following morning! We had a fine dinner that night, many restaurants serve Tibetan food and I had a warming bowl of thukpa (wide noodles in soup). As we exited the restaurant around 8:30 pm we realized that the town was shutting down for the night—it was getting really cold and I guess everyone just hunkers down and goes to sleep after dark!

The next day we explored Darjeeling, which is a very cute town. I’ve heard it can get quite touristy in summer, but because we were there in the off season things were pretty quiet. We made our way up to Observatory Hill, which is a hill (duh) near the center of town with a few Buddhist shrines and stupas on top and a sacred cave below it. The entire hill was covered in colorful Tibetan prayer flags and the shrines were also very vibrant. After some more wandering we ended up getting some tea at the Sunset Lounge inside Nathmull’s, a tea shop. We decided to be fancy and ordered a cup of white tea (the most expensive kind of tea) and their deluxe black tea. The white tea came in a champagne glass and the black tea was in what looked like a brandy glass! The tea was good, although we’re not connoisseurs or anything…

After warming up we decided to walk down to the Happy Valley Tea Estate. It was a much longer walk than we anticipated, although we should have realized from the name Happy VALLEY that we would have to walk all the way down! When we finally arrived a man quickly approached us and asked if we wanted a tour. He explained that because it was winter there was no work going on in the factory but he could show us around and explain what happens, so we agreed. First he took us to the fields, which were a bit bare due to the season, but there were still some leaves growing and a few women weeding and pruning in preparation for the spring season. Inside the factory we saw the drying tables, as well as various machines for drying and separating. We learned that all teas (green, black, white) come from the same leaf, it just depends on how long it is dried for (green the least amount of time, black the most). We also learned that the women who work there have certain quotas depending on their age: young, unmarried women are expected to pick more kilos per day than young married women, who must pick more than older women. All the women get paid per kilo and they live on the estate’s property during the season.

After our tour we mentioned that we might want to buy some tea. The man explained that all of Happy Valley’s tea is sold to Harrod’s in London (in fact there was a large Harrod’s sign at the entrance), but if we wanted to taste it and maybe buy some we could go to his friend’s house. His friend’s father is apparently some head honcho of Happy Valley and gets to have some tea. And then his son…sells it in some sort of black market scheme? We weren’t sure what to expect, but we agreed and ended up in a small home with an elaborately decorated sitting room. We were shown three different varieties of black tea, all of different quality. Then he made us a pot of the supposedly best one, but again, it just tasted like a fine cup of tea to us! We did learn that you are only supposed to let the tea steep in boiling water for about 5 seconds though. In the end, we decided not to buy from him because it was just too weird! We paid for the cups we drank and headed back up to town. We walked back up a slightly different way and while the uphill was a bit exhausting, we did get to walk through several local neighborhoods and see kids playing badminton, apparently very popular there. When we got back to town we headed back to Nathmull’s and bought some tea to bring home from there.

That night we went to dinner at Glenary’s, a sort of New England lodge-type restaurant with a nice fireplace and white tablecloths. We had eaten breakfast at their cafe downstairs that morning and had read good things about the restaurant. We got very excited when we saw some real comfort food on the menu: macaroni and cheese and fried chicken!! We hadn’t seen this type food on offer in a very long time, and the cold weather made us long for something rib-sticking. We didn’t expect much, but we were pleasantly surprised! The mac and cheese was certainly passable and Manor claims the fried chicken is the best he’s ever had!

With full bellies we went to sleep very early because the next morning we got up around 4 am to see sunrise on Tiger Hill. One of the most popular activities in Darjeeling, it’s the prime spot to see the magical Himalayas. We made our way via flashlight to the clock tower in town where jeeps are waiting to make the half-hour drive to Tiger Hill. Once there, you are offered the option of standing outside to await sunrise or you can pay a little more and go inside the observatory. Due to the fact that it was freezing cold, we opted for the indoors and sat down to wait for the Himalayas to show themselves. Luckily, although the actual sun was covered by clouds, the Himalaya side was completely clear. As the sun rose, they turned a gorgeous pink and were truly majestic. It will come as no surprise that of all the pictures we lost when our camera was stolen in Delhi a few days later, I was the most sad about losing these. But I do have a pretty good imprint of it in my mind, and I feel very happy that we got to see something so special.

After getting back to town we ate some breakfast and then took a much needed nap! Later, we walked to the zoo, where they supposedly have baby leopards, only to find out it was closed on Thursdays. Oh well! We needed to get back to the airport area for our flight the next morning, so we took a shared van down the mountain to Siliguri, which I can confidently say is one of the worst cities in India. The hotels are all on the pricer side and the one we stayed at was pretty depressing. It’s amazing what a new coat of paint could do… We did manage to find a location of our beloved Bhojohori Manna for dinner, but the food was definitely not as good there as it was in Kolkata.

Many people were surprised to hear we were going to Darjeeling in the winter, but if you can stand the cold and have some layers to pile on then I highly recommend it. Many people who go to Darjeeling in spring or summer complain of it being too touristy, but in in the off season it was quite charming.

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