Monday, April 30, 2012

Chillin', Swillin', Grillin' !! - or Beer in Bangers!!

The OWC organizes monthly restaurant trips and cooking demos to the best food stops in Bangers and altho' the food always sounds delicious, quite frankly the cooking side is usually out of my league - cord en bleu a chef I am not!! But grilling, now that sounded feasible and beer, that sounded good and as one of my best, but also busiest buddies in Bangers was also going, it seemed like a good opportunity to catch up.

The Biere Club has been open for nearly a year and brews it's own beer on site. Beer brewing, not a traditional Indian pastime, requires a lot of the raw materials to be imported. The barley and hops from Germany and the big brewing casks from Hungary.

We were presented with samples of English lager, English dark ale, Wheat ale, Stout, Lemon Grass ale and Belgian ale which apparently was 'malty, fruiter and had a sweeter finish with a hint of coriander and jaggary' - not sure I could taste the complexities and subtleties.

Anyway I did learn a few things - pure trivia but interesting. Apparently many many moons ago in England to brew beer one had to pay a tax called a 'scot'. Many brewers used to avoid this and therefore went 'scot-free' - hence the origin of the phrase. The origin of the word 'berserk' is also beer related. The vikings apparently used to drink huge quantities of beer to brace themselves for battle and got so over excited they would rip their amour and shirts off and go into battle "berserk", which literally translates to bare chest. No idea why a wine aficionado becomes a wine-snob and a beer aficionado becomes a beer-advocate!

To the cooking! This was really impressive. The chef produced the simplest but tastiest food in a matter of minutes. The desert: one banana, a snickers bar, a square of silver foil, a dollop of ice-cream, a sprinkling of some baileys-like liquor, maybe one minute prep and five minutes on the grill and its a master-chef winner! The main - the chicken was also simple and delicious, the alternative some sort of soy concocted burger patty - tasted good but my boys haven't yet evolved to the state of the meatless burger. However, I did see there has been a recent confirmed case of mad cow in California so maybe I should keep the recipe!

Mr Webber rep was in attendance and we all got free Webber hats - complete with B-b-q insignia :

(Title of blog - attributed to the OWC cooking club)

A day of errands..and I'm still smiling!!

I have achieved the impossible!! - I have almost successfully completed all eight, yes, eight errands here in Bangalore today. Normally I only aim for two or three. But it's Monday and if I get them all done today the week is off to an excellent start!

Firstly, wearing my OWC hat, I need a check signed by two trustees and then to deliver it to the accountants. As our year end was 31 March and we need audited accounts to present at our AGM in a couple of weeks my OWC treasurer hat has been getting a lot of wear!! However, I have successfully (I think) batted the queries/questions/requests for further information from the auditors back on target and I now have draft accounts to review (later!) Anyway the two trustees homes live in opposite directions, our house in the middle, so we depart with all the rest of Bangers' morning traffic. Altho' Simon regularly leaves for work, early if not bright, the rest of Bangalore does not and is still in transit when the second shift of traffic (errand runners, shoppers etc.etc.) are taking to the roads. Luckily, as always, there is plenty to see out of the window. As my geography of all but my immediate neighborhood and usual routes is pretty shaky I am now vaguely trying to follow a map to get my bearings calibrated onto a larger scale. However, Shankar gets a bit defensive as he seems to think I am doubting his capabilities to take the most efficient route. An hour and a half later - mission achieved, first and most important errands completed with no drama!!

Next stop - picture framers. My Dad gave Adam his old army beret which he wore for his couple of years military service.  To get this framed has been on my to do list for far too long but not any longer. My communication skills have increased without any Hindi, Tamil or Kannada and errands where I previously would have enlisted Shubha for support I can now do solo. So they are now, as I write, (hopefully) building a box frame with off-white backing, army green mount and a selected frame to house said beret. We bought a large wall hanging in Rajasthan in the traditional sort of patchwork style, which is pretty big. As we can never wash it - so many different fabrics rather precariously attached to each other. I know others who have tried and failed. I thought we should get it framed. Framing seems to be six times the cost of the wall hanging. But there again - its not as if we will ever be in the position to buy another one. Another check mark on the list.

Next Shankar drops me in Commercial street and heads off to deliver the checks we got signed earlier. I am off to find the tailor Shubha and I used a few blogs earlier. Not as easily said as done as I seem to have a notoriously bad sense of direction or maybe I just can't concentrate when I'm chatting. But this time I find the right cross street, then the right little shopping centre and then the right little tailor stop. I have a problem in India with the ratio of my arm hole measurements - (big) to the rest of me - (not so big), or maybe I'm just not used to be constrained in the shoulder/arm area. Anyway when I buy clothes that enable me to freely move my arms and not feel like I'm in a straight jacket they hang like a sack over the rest of me - so I need a tailor with a sewing machine. Once again no measurements taken and a perfect result which only takes an hour. When I ask how much, he said he'll tell me when I pick up - sounds a tad suspicious - but no surprises. It seems to cost less than when I was here last time and I get offered a cup of chai. Here I do really well -  I manage to spend an hour in Commercials without spending any money - obviously I was not with the bad influence or she with the good shopping karma (depends whether you look at it from mine or Simon's angle!!) from across the street!!!!!

We are on a roll although one of the scheduled drops for one of the afore signed checks is shut - no biggie it's not the urgent one and we can courier tomorrow for less than $1.

Quick stop at a grocery shop and then last port of call.  I need some glass to put on top of a new Indian sort of cupboard thing we picked up. The top has some art work on so we want to protect it. I measured and remeasured so hopefully his will work out. Anyway we stop at the little glass shop and as we are off the mainstream I have Shankar park up and come with me incase this is beyond me. It seems to go well - I look at sample polished edges and thicknesses of glass and make some decisions. We pay up front but don't get a receipt as the owner feels confident he will remember our (I think he means my) face. Well time will tell!!

So, back home, feeling somewhat impressed with myself but in need of cuppa. Thanks Sweetie!!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Camel Crazy!!

Papou and Laloo were our two sturdy steeds as we ventured into the desert.....
The Rajasthani desert is not the miles and miles of undulating golden sand dunes you might imagine but endless parched scrub, beautiful though in its vastness. That people here manage to eek out a living is quite amazing.
These pics are not out of focus but there was a sandstorm building up. We, well our camels and their owners, climbed to the top of one of the monstrous sand dunes and then we waited for the sunset.
Sunset however was not forthcoming but thunder, lightening and winds were!
So after a brief photo shoot we wound our way back to base camp.
The camel owners seemed fairly unconcerned but being aboard camel, the highest point in  range, the lightening getting closer, the sand swirling and the rain drops plopping, there was a definite element of excitement.
However we safely made it back to base camp, to our luxury tent, complete with bathroom, fan and real beds! We did not get the best nights sleep, on top of the ongoing desert storm there was loud, loud music most of the night. Apparently someone in a nearby village had died and the music was to help him on his way to heaven or wherever. Either his final destination was a long way off or he needed a lot of energy to propel him forth! Exuberant, noisy, wild India!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Udaipur -The City of Lakes - Rajasthan Part 5 (and last!!)

View from our bed -not bad!!
This must be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, which makes it a tourist destination and, as this is India, a back packer paradise! We stayed in the Jawaina Haveli where we overlooked the lake, had a huge room - ample for the four of us, our own balcony and were well looked after by the two brother manager/owners. Sport seems to be the universal language, and now the IPL season is underway (and as our visit was before the Rajasthani Royals had whopped our own Bangalore RBC), the boys could talk and watch cricket quite happily in the hotel lounge. Again this was an old family home converted into a hotel, the business kept in the family. This seems to be a winning formula! Staying here for three nights was perfect, long enough to get our bearings and find our favorite breakfast haunt (Cafe Namaste), the best, seriously the best, mango crumble (Cafe Eidleweis), and a great place for dinner - the roof top restaurant in our Haveli. As the Haveli was so central we could walk everywhere.

The ropeway was a quick five minute ride for amazing views of the city.

The best ways to appreciate the city seemed to be either gaining height or by boat. In the early mornings the ghats are busy with folks enjoying their ablutions. Here, even cleaning your teeth or washing your laundry can be a party!
I had many close up pics of people shaving and kids splashing, but they seemed a little obtrusive and intimate to post.
We could admire the palace both in the morning and by night. The Rajasthani dancing and musical show typified the colors, smiles and music that had been an integral part of our trip.

The boys (guess who was left back to pack and prepare for checkout?) went on an early morning horse ride through the out lying villages and into the countryside. This is when we find out Wills has apparently had a few horse riding lessons at school and seems to know what he's about on four legs!
During the mid-day heat the city slowed down  - siesta time, where ever, however!

As in our whole experience in India, its the little snippets we see of people's lives that put together build up a picture of incredible India, the holy man stopping for a fag!
 The school kids playing football:
These smiling kids, packed into a rick on the way home from school, ( they look too happy to be on their way)

The shoe repairer at work:

Or who could fail to love this old gummy, isn't he wonderful?

Returning home from Rajasthan - do I want to revisit Jodhpur and Udaipur? YES, Are there other places in Rajasthan I want to see? YES, YES, YES....this is why the 'to do' list gets longer instead of shorter...what to do?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

So cool!! - Zip Lining the Mehrangarh Fort - Rajasthan Part 4

This was almost too cool to be true!
The fort itself is pretty incredible - for a start it is huge, some of the walls are 36 metres tall and 21 metres thick, perched 400 feet above the city and in the glorious warm stone from the area.
The audio tour was impressive - enough tales of death and gore to keep the boys entertained!
But the highlight had to be the zip lines!! Six of them cris-crossing around the fort. It was exhilarating but not scary! Younger age limit was 10 but they let Wills do one - luckily or he would have been severely unhappy! All set up and ready for action! There was a mini training session and a trial run on a much smaller zip line. One of the guys running the show was a young english guy taking a gap year - you can guess what Adam is thinking!!
 Here goes Wills! This whole zip line idea is brilliant - brings a whole new dimension into viewing the fort without loosing, but magnifying the experience.
Have to have a pic of Simon in action too!
And incase you think I wimped out - No Way!!

We even lucked out as we were leaving the fort as to mark Lord Rama's birthday there was a typical Indian procession, complete with music, camels, color, crowds and celebration:
We even saw the current Maharaja of Jodphur taking tea to watch the festivities - but I thought it would be a little intrusive to take his pic!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The twenty-niners or sex, drugs and..... - Rajasthan Part 3!

So in India we have seen the amazing, the wonderful, the wild, the crazy....but on our Bishnoi village tour we came upon a way of life which verged on the unbelievable!

The Bishnoi live their lives following the 29 rules laid down by their leader. Bish meaning twenty and noi meaning nine.  They seem a gentle, non-violent sort of tribe, striving to exemplify a sustainable way of life  in the dry, near desert conditions in Rajasthan. They are highly protective of their environment and live in small compounds to ensure the nature around them is preserved. In fact, they will guard the environment quite literally with their lives. In the 1730's apparently 363 Bishnoi lost their lives while hugging some trees destined to be felled. They drop their firewood on the floor three times before tossing it on the fire to ensure no spiders meet a blazing end.  They will never kill a tree for firewood, only using wood from already dead trees. They apparently will even breast feed orphan deer, such is their love for flora and fauna. They, I imagine, were the first true environmentalists - their history dates back to 1450. That all sounds reasonable, if perhaps a little extreme. They also are purely vegetarian and don't take alcohol.

As Rajasthan is so dry they can only farm for two rainy months of the year when they grow green lentils, millet and sesame. The remaining ten months while the women tend the cattle and sell some milk, the guys apparently get high. This is where it gets a little hokey.

They indulge in an opium tea drinking ceremony 4 or 5 times a day - which apparently is taken for energy, and dedicated to Shiva. Opium is banned in India except for medicinal purposes but the Bishnoi have a special dispensation for religious purposes.

The poppies are grown just north of Udaipur and the poppy milk then boiled with sugar/jaggary to solidify. We actually got to handle it - that felt quite risqué as its the nearest I've been to hard drugs!
First the hard opium/sugar chunk is ground into powder, mixed with water and then filtered three times through a leather bag.
It is then offered to Shiva, by means of some religious chanting:
And then poured onto the open hand and drunk. The open hand is a symbol of hospitality. Apparently an opium fix was given to weary travelers. now revitalized for the rest of their trip!!
Historically the Bishnoi also had a village "stud". The stud system was apparently still in action up to to fifty years ago. The most handsome member of the village was 'obliged' to sleep with as many women as possible, as many times as possible for a decade.

Such a hard life........

I did ask whether there were not whole villages of opium addicts and apparently there are. We did pass an "opium rehab facility" on our travels. So not such a "happy" lifestyle as may initially appear. This blog is a little tongue in cheek as the problems of opium addiction in Western Rajasthan, especially in the villages, whether through lack of education, easy availability, relatively low cost, or an escape from harsh living conditions are considerable. Apparently women working in the fields, quarries or factories who have no daycare bring their babies to work and to keep them quiet may slip them a quick nip of poppy juice. Starting at that age, what chance...........

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jodphur....Rajasthan Part 2

I love Jodphur. I think of all the places we have visited in India to date it is my favorite. The fort towering above, the old blue city winding its way down the hillside, the hustle and bustle of the clock tower and surrounding markets, the peace of the Mandore gardens.....

We ended up staying five nights and we found plenty to do. As travellers/tourists go we are pretty slow!! We like to have time to unpack our suitcases and become familiar with the town, get our bearings and explore a bit off the beaten, have time to hang out, revisit places and find our 'favorites' As we were a little off season, it was starting to get hot, but that also meant there weren't many tourists and people had time to pour us chai and chat.
Even though we arrived at such an antisocial hour, the hotel was awake enough to guide us to our room, saving their traditional welcome until the morning! I have to give a huge thank-you to the Kothi Heritage. The hotel had originally been the family home for 4 or 5 generations, since the times of the Maharaja. The brothers converted it into a 17 room hotel and it's beautiful. It's a real nooks and crannies hotel with some wonderful pieces and artifacts (I could have brought a lot of them home with me!) The brothers could not have been more helpful. The great thing with small family run hotels is no-one wants to send you on an expensive tour when all you need to do is grab a rick and explore by yourselves.

I think my favorite part of Jodphur was the old blue city. Buildings painted blue for the cool - and it was cool in the shade, winding our way through the little alley ways. It seemed as the only place to go was up - that is how they built. Your family expands and you just build another room on top!

Although it was definitely warming up, we still found some cool in the shade of old ruins in the Mandore gardens. These temples were just there in the park for one and all.
Adam found himself an impromptu music lesson!

The hustle and bustle of the markets around the clock tower was where we spent our evenings. The colors - I know I keep going on about the pinks, reds, oranges but they were amazing. The markets were really for the locals so we could wander about without being hassled to buy. We'd then find one of the many roof top restaurants for dinner and watch the sun go down behind the fort. That sentence can be taken literally - we did find ONE of the roof top restaurants so good, so returned several times - tho' always to a different table, so not as to appear too unadventurous!!

We also had time to take in some of the less mainstream "to dos" in Jodphur. We found the  hole in the wall hotel which reportedly served the 'best' saffron lassi. This was the type of place I love - full of locals, so you know it'll taste good. But even so I was a little tentative after watching this yellow goo with a lump of something glutinous and white on top being slopped into a glass but seriously - man this was really good!

 We also ate the "best" Jodphur sweets, standing at a bar, fresh from the box - yummy!, discovered saffron, cinnamon and cardamon good. We had time in the one souvenir/artifact shop we went into (at least twice!) to meet the old grandfather, the shops now being run by the grandsons, who had worked in the shop for 76 years, yes - since he was 10! Now he was there to shoot the breeze, serve tea and give away miniature model gods. Sweetest old gentleman! But how wonderful to still have a role in the family business and not sent out to grass. And how things have changed, they now export and sell on e-bay.

We have seen some very unusual signage since we have been in India - but this one we spotted in Jodphur takes the prize so far....I'm not even sure I know what it means or do I?