Connect the dots

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jain Says...

Practice non-violence to all living creatures. Strict or ultra vegetarians, Jains go so far as to abstain from eating potatoes, onions and garlic to avoid hurting killing tiny life forms; also, eating root vegetables involves uprooting and killing the entire plant. They certainly didn't abstain from making temples that are intricate and elaborately carved from floor to ceiling, inside and out. The one we visited in the quiet village of Ranakpur, had 1,444 columns, each one different from the other. 

Nestled between the hills

Kama Sutra temple

Paisley ceiling
No two alike
Masked to prevent inhalation (and killing) of microbes

Temple rules

But in Bikaner, instead of carvings, we were able to see a magnificent Jain temple painted throughout. Underneath, they used 40,000 kg of ghee (clarified butter) for the foundation! Apparently on hot summer days it still seeps through the marble floors.

Bear hug from a Jain priest
On the floor with a Manhattan family of 6, also on a year long trip around the world

Beginning evening puja with a blow from a conch shell

Marc participating in puja

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chaat and Chew 2

A bit like Ethiopian fasting foods...
Can't decide what you want to eat? Here's the sampler platter of all sampler platters, pupu platters of all pupu platters. India has the solution for both the indecisive and the bottomless stomach - the thali. Literally meaning plate in Hindi, you get little stainless steel bowls on a large plate usually filled with the region's specialities. Typically you'll get some lentils, a seasonal vegetable, paneer (cheese), chapatis, papads, rice yogurt, a sweet and is either "pure vegetarian" aka meatless and eggless or non-vegetarian with meat items thrown it. So far, it's my favorite thing to order on the menu, giving me a taste of several things without having to order multiple dishes. If there was a competition between "veg" and "non-veg", the "veg" is definitely in the lead.

In Udaipur, the best pure vegetarian (not to be confused with vegan since lots of butter, cheese and yogurt is part of the mix) thali can be found at Natraj. Every ayurvedic massage therapist, auto rickshaw and taxi driver knows where it is. When you get there, don't go to the pricier a la carte second floor. You'll see, fewer people will be sitting there. The action takes place on the first floor where Rs120 gets you an "unlimited" meal. You'll take your seat in front of a typical thali set up. The show begins when the waiters start to make their rounds with all the different dishes that will fill your bowls. Our menu consisted of lassi, buttermilk soup, aloo, dal, makhani paneer, chana, okra, salad, some mashed and fried vegetables, papad, butter chapati, rice, and jalebi. Everything prepared fresh. That lassi was a savior because most of the food was spicy! After you're loaded up, you can say yes or no to refills as the waiters make their rounds in the dining room. Think dim sum or Brazilian churrascaria. Despite a three alarm fire raging in my mouth, I double (maybe even triple) dosed on the paneer, chana and okra. Alex settled for rice, chapati, a pair of chickpeas, three servings of tomato and cucumber salad and equally that many servings of sticky, sweet jalebi. In pure veg style, you wash it down with some water (or soda). There's no beer service here.

Needless to say, you're not walking away hungry at this place. One of the best thalis so far and more to come. So, bring on the smorgasboard, I'm ready to sample. 

A(no)khi? Yes!

As soon as I mentioned the desire to go to the Anokhi Hand Printing Museum, our driver quickly drove us to a block printing showroom and demonstration where it was "cheaper and the same thing." He also added that the museum had paid the guide books to list them so that it wasn't altogether an honest review. I had my heart set on checking out the actual museum, the haveli where it was located and seeing some quality work. Instead, we did see some block printing, but none of the textiles they showed us in their store appeared to be the work that was being done downstairs. And when I requested to go to Anokhi's retail store in Jaipur, I was again warned how expensive the pieces would be! However, he finally obliged to take us there. It makes perfect sense they write this warning to tourists on their website:
 "As we don’t pay commission (payouts) to drivers or travel guides you may find it difficult to convice your rickshaw driver, taxi driver or travel guide to take you to the Anokhi shop. You may find them advising you on ‘better’ shopping options instead, possibly places where they would get paid a sum of money by the shopkeeper in return for taking you shopping."
I'm just glad I stood my ground and insisted because I proudly declare myself their newest fan. I immediately was overwhelmed with the selection and quality of the products they sell. The cottons are buttery soft and the patterns are irresistible. As for price, if you're making US dollars, it's reasonable but certainly not cheap. You can find similar looking items in many of the bazaars, but I'm not sure you'll get the same quality.
Dream in hand printed, cottony sleep

Go Indian or go Western
Softest. Pajamas. Ever.
I just don't want to get out of bed...
Pint sized Anokhi
Out with shirts with holes, in with stripes
My new block printed sarong and indigo kurta

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Other Yellow House

Between Jaipur and Ajmer lies a small village with a big fort and palace. Completely unknown to us (not listed in the Lonely Planet or even on its map) but suggested by Filip from ORIGO to check out and apparently a favorite of our driver, Yadov, we drove through Roopangarh's gates, into its periwinkle town and took a palatial room at the fort. Much more authentically a maharaja's palace than Laxmi Vilas, it's directly joined to the fort and was built in 1648 by Roop Singh of Kishangarh. It is peaceful, has enormous rooms, serves great meals and has a hospitable staff that introduced Alex to India's favorite sport of cricket and accompanied us on a walk around Roopangarh. The charming little village is home to handmade sparkly bangles, silver jewelry, gold ribbons for fancy saris, and marble carvings. This should be a definite stop on every Rajasthan itinerary.

Try to break through these walls
Welcome to my palace
Our other yellow house

Best room in the house

Bigger than a big NY apartment

Alex's rocking bed
Dining room

A little tennis anyone?
Cocktails and games on the patio
The "Queen's Suite" 

Purple view from the fort

Sacred cow

Cut and shave

Water and yogurt pots

Ending the night with jalebi and milky sweets (for you Flips: think pastillias de leche)