goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Faces of India

Take a look at the people of India……their faces, their pride…their lives.

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Street food vendor in Agra market

 

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Volunteer in Delhi Sikh Temple kitchen preparing food for 1100 people a day

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School girls leaving Ghandi shrine in Delhi

 

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Snake charmer in Amber Fort in Jaipur

 

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Little girl who started following us in Jaipur

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Craftsman in Agra inserting semi-precious stones into marble

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School boys, courtesy of Nancy Leung

 

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Sikhs at Temple in Delhi

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Doorman, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Jaipur woman, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Receiving the blessing, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Guard at Unknown Soldier, India Gate, Delhi

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kids on a team, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Shop by the road, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Street food vendor, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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On a motorcycle, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Climbing up, courtesy of Nancy Leung (I think this is the winner of the being ready at the right time prize!!)

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Wedding guests, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Groom, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Little girl, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Sweeper, Amber Palace

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Roadside hangout, courtesy of Nancy Leung

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Philosophical discussion, Sikh Temple, Delhi

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Mother and son at wedding

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Nancy Leung and her husband Richard on an elephant at Amber Fort, Jaiput

With special thanks to Nancy Leung who was on the SmarTours trip with her husband Michael. Her superior camera and eye captured many of the shots here and as noted in other places in my blog.  After spending hours editing, she graciously shared them with all of us, to use as we would like.


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Amber Fort Wins Best Fort Prize

Ft Ti firing demoWhen I was quite young we stopped at Fort Ticonderoga in New York State on one of our family vacations. A colonial era fort, Ticonderoga stayed in my memory as one of my favorite places so much that I had my family stop there about five years ago.  Somehow, it had shrunk and my kids were not impressed.

Well, travelfans, do I have a fort for you!!! Imagine, if you will, the Amber Fort of Jaipur, high on a ridge overlooking the valley. Built in 1592 by Raja Man Singh, this palace has it all: amazing architectural details and wonderful stairways and corridors that beckon you on and on.DSCF6339

But first, let me set the tone.You should stop first by the lake and visit with the snake charmer. For a small fee you, too, can blow on the nasally sounding flute and keep a close eye on the cobra. snake Then climb aboard one of the wonderfully decorated elephants

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

and ride in leisure up up up the climbing roadway to the Sun Gate.

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

Try to ignore the vendor running alongside enticing you with an ever declining price for the elephant bedspread he is hawking. Tell him it is made poorly and you have no interest, tossing it back to him continuously as the elephant takes you higher and higher. Remember to ignore the vendor to take in the view of the gardensDSCF6359and the fortress wall climbing the opposite hillside.DSCF6351 When you enter the courtyard and he is losing hope, pay the man 10% of his originally stated price and tuck the blanket away, to be used later to sew custom made bags for people who want one that has an essence of this trip.

INdian elephant blanket And then look around the courtyard.

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source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

And start exploring.  So much to see. The stairs beckoning you upwards DSCF6378to the plaza.

DSCF6383The mosaicsDSCF6389 all over the place, in the wallsDSCF6380, in the ceilings….everywhere.

Remind yourself that this all was built in 1592, well over 400 years ago. Enjoy the colorsDSCF6407

and the carvings. Everywhere, more detailing.

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Every ceiling different. And the passageways….follow this one…then that one.

DSCF6402Ask someone who works there how to get back to the courtyard where Arvind asked everyone to meet in 20 minutes before moving to another section of the fort.

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Meet up with the group in time and maintain your good standing. And then go again. See another section…it is a huge place.

DSCF6385Peek out of windows to view other places inside the fortDSCF6398 and the surrounding countryside.DSCF6399DSCF6418

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And then down another passageway

DSCF6414through another gate

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

source: Nancy Leung SmarTours

and still more to see with huge cooking pots.

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and then out beyond the outer gate past more vendors and then a jeep ride back to the bus.

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Amber Fort……put it on your list of places to visit, but only if you like to explore.  You DO like to explore, don’t you!!

 


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Leadership Issues

He is running the treasury down, supporting a pet project, spending way too much money on that instead of running the government and taking care of the programs that will help the people.

Sound familiar?

Well, I think this proves it is a perennial issue with leaders because specifically, I am talking about the Emperor Akbar (1556-1605).   As for the Emperor, there was no room for discussion in that kind of government; what he decided was done, regardless of cost.  At least we have a voice, no matter how much it may seem to be muzzled at times.

Fatehpur Sikri, the “City of Victory”, sits 35 kilometers from Agra on a low hill of the Vindhya mountain range. Before Akbar, the site of the future city had already been the site of an important battle won by Akbar’s grandfather.  In gratitude he named the area Shukri, which means “thanks”. In Akbar’s time the site was occupied by a small village of stonecutters and was the home of Shaikh Salim Chishti, a Muslim astrologer and Sufi Saint.DSCF6236

In 1568 Akbar visited the Shaikh to ask for the birth of an heir which was promised soon. Sure enough, Akbar’s wife gave birth to a boy on August 30, 1569. In gratitude, Akbar named the boy Salim after the astrologer, and, two years later decided to move the capital there.DSCF6220

As a strategic location protecting inland routes, Fatehpur Sikri was completed in 1573 but served as the seat of government for only ten years.

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The first planned cities of the Moghuls,  the throne room has an intricate carved red stone platform.  DSCF6227

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although only the palace and mosque sections of the expansive city remain, the architectural details throughout the complex are eye catching.

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The city has a series of rain water channels and large pools to capture any precipitation.DSCF6224DSCF6235 pool NancyHowever, it turned out there was not enough water available in the area to support the court and all the services it needed there. The Emperor was soon distracted by an invasion of Afghans to the north and the Mughal capital was moved to Delhi in 1586.

Excavations of the ancient city started in 1892 and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. Today the buildings and grounds that are preserved are a small portion of the extensive city that existed in 1585.  


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What’s Your Karma?

Over the eons that man has been on the earth, there always has been some craving for making sense of the wonderment that is the earth,  all it offers, and our own role on it.  There are so, so many interpretations of a Higher Power, by whatever name. My own sense of questioning came early but it probably developed more in the time I have been married to Graham, attending church with him.  In listening to the Christian interpretation of God, in participating in numerous book and study groups, I can see there is more in common than different. What fools we mortals be, fighting over the “right” way.religious-symbols_2

Visiting India brought me a closer view of several Eastern religions than ever before (and also learn not to react to the immediate gut reaction to the swastika.) Since Karma is a huge part of both Hindusim and Buddishm, I will try to give you a very very cursory explanation. I brought home books on Buddhism and Hinduism that were recommended by two of the guides and am learning a lot.  I’ll describe our visit to a Hindu Temple in another post and how I recognized some symbols in common with Christianity and Judaism.

Identified as one of the world’s oldest religions, Hinduism was developing in India about the same time as we estimate Abraham was knocking over the idols and developing the concept of monotheism that later developed into Judaism and off-shot Christianity and Islam.  So, it is similar in that it predates written records and the beliefs have only been codified thousands of years after development of an ethical system.

The main concept of Hindusim is that our beliefs determine our thoughts and attitudes about life, which in turn direct our actions. By our actions, we create our destiny.  

It is reasonable to enjoy life and all it offers. There is clear evidence in the development of the Kama Sutra that Hindus have no sexual hangups, but recognize that sex is part of life. Arvind shared that in the early adult years it is encouraged to build a good life, providing well for your family.

This phase changes once the children are married and then it is time to prepare for the spiritual part of life. All the actions done up to this point and through the remainder of this lifetime will determine how the soul will be reborn in the next lifetime.

Hinduism is not the only religion that believes in rebirth of the soul.  Although some religions do not adhere to this simple outlook, most faiths ask us to believe that we are more than mortal flesh and blood. If you are religious, you believe profoundly that your soul connects you to God.  You also have some concept that the struggle of the soul, whether it is cast down and troubled or joyous and raised in triumph, is the life of spirit. And it seems to me that in Christianity, there is hope that if your life here has been troubled, that there is a spiritual reward awaiting you.

I’ve always casually considered karma to simply be payback, what goes around comes around. A person who does bad things will eventually have bad things happen to them.  In Hinduism karma is a Sanskrit word that means “deeds”.  Your deeds in this lifetime may not have a result in this lifetime, but it may accrue and not be until the next lifetime that your karma plays out. You may, if you are truly bad, come back as a lower lifeform, and have little chance of ever evolving into a higher lifeform in future lives.4743690099_karma_xlarge

The purpose of life in Hinduism is to minimize bad karma in order to enjoy better fortune in this life and achieve a better rebirth in the next. The ultimate spiritual goal is to achieve release (moksha) from the cycle of samsara altogether. It may take hundreds or thousands of rebirths to get rid of all of one’s accumulated karma and achieve moksha. The person who has become liberated (attained moksha) creates no more new karma during the present lifetime and is not reborn after death.

There is no proof for karma and this cycle of rebirth. There is also no proof against it. Same can be said for any religious belief, even yours. We tend to go on faith, all of us. Be find….work on YOUR karma.


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Dead Before I Was Born, He Shaped Events in My Life

When we think of people throughout history who have influenced human events the numbers narrow. When we place a moral judgement that that person had an overall GOOD influence, the list reduces even more.  It was with humble pleasure that we got to visit two sites affiliated with Mohandas Ghandi while in Delhi.

source: Wikipedia

source: Wikipedia

Ghandi was born in 1869 to educated parents (his father was a government minister, his mother influenced him with her Hindu religious practices that included self-discipline and non-violence).  At that time India had been part of the British Empire for over 100 years.  Ghandi went to London to study law.  He took a position in South Africa and bore the brunt of considerable discrimination both in the courts as well as general life. It was during this time he began to develop his practice of satyagraha (“truth and firmness”), or passive resistance, as a way of non-cooperation with authorities.

DSCF5954Ghandi returned to India in 1914 and supported Great Britain during World War I but soon after he began to build the movement for independence.  As part of the political independence he strongly advocated, he realized that economic independence was necessary and helped develop an inexpensive spinning machine that helped cottage industry turn cotton into thread, the first step to weaving fabric and making clothes.DSCF5952

At a Delhi model of the Calcutta ashram we saw the simple way Ghandi lived and worked. The docent there also showed us how the spinning machine works and Lisa discovered it was not an immediately achievable skill.DSCF5959

Through boycotts of British businesses, hunger strikes and other nonviolent methods, Ghandi went on to build the political movement to independence, which occurred in 1947. At that time, Great Britain decided to partition the Indian subcontinent into Muslim (Pakistan) and Hindu (India) areas.   Ghandi was against partition, believing that all the people of the land could learn to work together. He was advocating having the various political leaders that practiced the major religions alternate as Prime Minister and had urged that the first Prime Minister should be Muhammed Al Jinnah instead of Jawaharlal Nehru.  Ghandi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu in January 1948 who believed strongly in partition, Jinnah became Pakistan’s first Prime Minister and Nehru went on to lead India.ghandi

Although Ghandi never held public office, his influence on the modern development of India’s political and social system was profound.  Additionally he influenced others. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela followed the principles to break apartheid and here in the United States, Martin Luther King used Ghandi’s nonviolent methods to force the evolution of civil rights of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s.DSCF5921

Ghandi’s memorial site is both beautiful and simple. Crowded with school children on the say we visited, it was a moment of peace and calm and thoughtful contemplation in a very busy week.DSCF5927

 

 


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Object: Matrimony

Customs and rituals for young people meeting and deciding to get married vary considerably around the world, but the American or western model, even though it results is a lot of poor decision making and high divorce rates, are becoming more and more adapted elsewhere, even in traditional cultures like India where modern attitudes are wanting to opt for “love matches”.Arvenda

Arvind, our SmartTours guide, filled part of an hour on a long drive between cities explaining how traditional practices have been updating in India.  Although he spoke mainly from a Hindu perspective, it was apparent that many Muslims also follow a similar practice.

Traditionally, marriages are arranged. Like historic matches in western culture, most of the time the family or a family friend who knows both young people starts the conversation.  In India, however, astrology plays a huge part. People know their birthplace, of course, and birth time down to the second.  If the two people’s horoscopes are compatible, the discussion continues. If not, everyone agrees to move on.

If you have never really learned about astrology you might think it is merely the short 3 sentence section for your sign that shows up in the paper or in your internet feed. The warning or wisdom may amuse you or worry you but that is not what a true horoscope is. Your chart is prepared based on your birthplace and time and can provide guidance for financial matters, work, raising children, and relationships. This website gives more information about how astrology provides information about relationships.

A skeptic may scoff at the idea of using a tool like horoscopes to help select a spouse, but before we make fun of it, perhaps we should look at our own customs and then difficulties in marriage here and then compare to the Indian standard.  Here in the US we tend to equate sexual attraction and lust with love and are typically unable to develop friendships with the ability to communicate. So we get ourselves into a legal commitment that, for many, becomes increasingly aggravating as partners are unable to work through differences.  Divorce rates of first marriages are about 50% now, with second and third marriages also failing at higher rates. We don’t learn from our mistakes. Most of us chose our partner based on emotions instead of logic and then are surprised when emotions lead us to uncomfortable areas. In India the divorce rate is about 1%. Maybe there is something to an arranged marriage.

So, to use some method to help determine compatibility makes some sense. It also helps that traditionally, there is an attitude of a life-long marriage in India. The young people know they don’t know each other and know that they had better make it work for the long haul.  They start slowly and when you notice a young woman wearing red bangles, often with a young man standing a little apart, you can assume they are in their first 3 weeks of marriage.Wedding Chura and Bangles (10)

That is not to say all is good. Although protected by law, culturally in a marriage women seem to have a lower status than men. They leave their childhood home and generally move in with the husband’s family.  They are lucky if they have a private room for sleeping. I will discuss “privacy” in another blog, but right now suffice it to say that is there a huge difference in what privacy means in Indian culture compared to the US.  When family attitudes are good and healthy, it means also that everyone in the large household helps the new couple adjust to each other and work through issues, as they have learned to in their own marriages.

New traditions have begun to pop up. Arvend entertained us by reading Want Ads that are published weekly throughout India. Besides the important birth information, the ads usually indicate the desire for education level, modern vs traditional attitudes,  location for living and social standing.matrimonial ads

While we were in India there were several auspicious days for weddings, so we got to observe some of the wedding parades and one wedding was held in the hotel our first night in Delhi.  Red and gold seem to be the classic colors, although other colors are also used.

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source: Nancy Leung from our SmartTours group

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source: Nancy Leung from our SmartTours group

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source: Nancy Leung from our SmartTours group

INdianwedding horseWe saw a number of grooms riding on white horses, also decked out in red and gold. Tubas and drums are used in the parade, there are usually fireworks, and the celebration can go on for days, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. Large wedding centers are quite busy on auspicious days and floats are rented for other celebrations not held in posh hotels or party places.

Wedding parade band float seen from the bus in Agra

Wedding parade band float seen from the bus in Agra

Even in the back streets of Agra, when Lisa and I were wandering with our private guides, we noticed some tubas ready for the busy auspicious day. wedding tubas


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World Class Wonder

He was so deeply in love with his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, that when she died in 1631 giving birth to her 19th child at age 41, Shah Jahan was devastated. His heart broke and later one of his sons felt his reasoning was also questionable as he had spent down the kingdom’s treasury to build this exquisite mausoleum to honor her.DSCF6038

DSCF6123DSCF6028It took over 22 years and 20,000 workers to erect the structure. The Taj Mahal is made with the hardest marble found in the world, finer than Italy’s Carrara marble used by Michelangelo in his carvings. Makrana marble, quarried about 300 kilometers west of Agra in the Indian state of Rajastan, is so hard and nonporous that today it is marketed for table tops, knowing that no spilled foods will stain it. In the Taj Mahal the white stone gleams in the sun.  More than 1000 elephants were needed to transport the marble to the construction site. Red sandstone is also included in the site. This was brought from the area in Rajastan near Fatehpur Sikri (more on that site in another blog). DSCF6019a

The marble is so hard that chiseling it is difficult, but much of the surface is inlaid with precious and semi-precious stones also from Rajastan.  DSCF6055Many were stolen by the British during their administrative rule of India, and even today people try to remove pieces. There is a security screening upon entering the grounds and many items, such as nail files, are not permitted. DSCF6084

Postcard-Shot-of-the-Tomb-of-ITimad-Ud-Daulah-aka-Baby-Taj-Agra-2012-05-16Modeled on the Moghul architecture of the “Baby Taj”, the tomb of Mirza Ghias Beg located across the city of Agra, the Taj Mahal has complete symmetry not only in the mauseleum building but on the grounds with the surrounding structures. As a burial site, it also has a mosque and the site is closed on Fridays for the Muslim Sabbath prayers. DSCF6080 The corresponding matching building has no current function.DSCF6066

The only item inside the Taj Mahal that is out of symmetry is the grave of Shah Jahan. Deposed by his son after he learned his father planned to build another matching structure in black marble across the  River from the Taj, the Shah was placed in “house arrest” in the Red Fort down the river from the Taj. There, he could gaze longingly on his love’s tomb until his death a few years later. DSCF6073

Some of the design took careful engineering. For example, the 99 names of Allah inlayed in Arabic script around the entrance, grows in size as it rises so it appears to be the same size to the human eye.

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DSCF6058DSCF6069As you approach the upper level of the Taj shoes must be removed. Our guide, was able to obtain shoe covers, another option, for us, in deference to the rising temperatures (probably about 90 degrees at 10am) and the fact that most Americans are not used to walking barefoot.DSCF6081

There is concern about the future of the Taj Mahal. Built next to the river on a piered foundation, low water levels (caused by reduced monsoons as well as increased water usage by area industry) are weakening the structure. In addition, because of the factories, Agra has some of the worse air pollution in India and although the marble is hard, chemical effects on the stone are beginning to be seen.DSCF6049

This UNESCO World Heritage site is considered to be one of the seven modern wonders of the world. I heard many in our tour group say this was the highlight of the tour for them. For Lisa and me, it was a wonderful beginning of a day that only got better.DSCF6039

 


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Golden Triangle for a Golden Birthday

Awake way too early today as I am shaking off the 12.5 hours difference of the past week in India with my daughter Lisa. Her Golden Birthday trip choice was India and she found an amazing tour package that cost less than the retail price of airfare alone.  (I wrote about how to find travel deals in my CustomTripPlanning blog several years ago after a glorious four day trip to Paris for $499.) The price of the tour was $1299 and additional costs to us included obtaining our visas, recommended inoculations and medicines,  tips for our guides and drivers, and personal spending money.

The flight is long. I first flew from Portland to the east coast as the tour originated from JFK. Air India provided service superior to the American carrier I last flew to Europe. Not only were there small niceties like a foot rest with roller bar, DSCF5794but extensive entertainment options available through the seat-back display which also included a power port for electronic gear.DSCF5795  They offered two meals heading east, and three meals flying west.

DSCF5797I flew directly home after arriving in New York and that was a bit tough. Next long trip like this will be broken up with at least one day in an interim location.  Getting old, I guess, but making adjustments like that will keep me enjoying travelling for a long time to come.

India is a large country, about one third the size of the United States.  This map superimposes the outline of India on North America so you can see the comparison.compare INdia and Us map

India’s Golden Triangle are the cities of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur.

golden-triangle-india-mapDelhi is the capital and has an estimated regional population of over 16,000,000. (New York, in comparison, has about half the population.)  While the ancient city of Delhi has been occupied for over a millennium, New Delhi was built in 1912 when the British moved the national government from Calcutta. DSCF5859

Agra is best known to most people as the location of the Taj Mahal.  I will write about that world heritage site in another blog as well as how we enhanced our experience by hiring a personal guide to get away from the tourist areas. DSCF6049

Jaipur is located in the State of Rajasthan which has many world heritage sites. It is known for its gems and textiles which, since I sew, got me pretty excited. I stuffed an empty duffel bag in my small almost empty suitcase to carry back my expected purchases and yes, used both suitcases for the trip home. Other people in our tour group had not planned and purchased new bags.

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I have a lot to share with you.  India is certainly the most culturally different location I have ever visited and I bombarded our guides with tons of questions to better understand what I was seeing.  Here are some of the topics I plan to share

  • Visiting a Sikh Temple and the kitchens which prepare 20,000 meals a day
  • Understanding the story behind the Taj Mahal and concerns about it
  • Visits to amazing high quality crafts factories for rugs, marble, textiles, and more
  • Shopping in the street markets and how to deal with the aggressive vendors
  • Exploring rooms and passageways in several other World Heritage sites
  • Getting off the beaten track and seeing how real people live
  • Visiting a Hindu Temple sunset service for Shiva
  • So much more…..and if you have questions, throw them at me.


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Blintzes!!!!

So many cultures have a dish that uses a thin pancake; the French have the crepe, I enjoyed palacinke in Croatia with my friend Carol, and my friend with Hungarian heritage often makes Palacsinta for me when I visit.

In Croatia,  Sam ready to dig in

In Croatia, Sam ready to dig in

My mom rarely made us blintzes and told us how difficult it was to make the crepes, but the trick is the pan. If you have a pan of a good weight that is seasoned well, the finished crepe will slide off easily when you lift the edges carefully.

So, this morning, to send my sister on her way back to the coast with love, I made blintzes, using farmer cheese from the local market for the filling, applesauce and a cinnamon syrup I made and Oregon made vanilla yogurt for a tangy topping to all that sweet yumminess.

From Joan Nathan’s The Jewish Holiday Kitchen

Prepare your filling: You can grate 1/4 pound of farmers cheese, 7mix with 1 egg yolk, 2 teaspoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. You can add in 1/4 cup of raisins or craisins if you like.

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Alternatively,  prepared cherry or blueberry filling make a great filling.

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For the crepes:

Beat 3 eggs with 1 cup of milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons of oil.  Stir in 3/4 cup of flour.

Heat a very small amount of butter in a 6-inch skillet. Use a ladle to put in enough of the batter to coat the pan, tilting the pan to help the batter cover the bottom, then pour any excess back into the bowl.6

It takes only a very short time for the bottom to brown. Use a silicon spatula or another flat wide spreader to lift the edges of the pancake from the pan. Flip the pan over a dish and the crepe will fall off.

Put two tablespoons of filling in the center of the brown side of the crepe.

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Fold the top part down, the bottom part up, and then fold in the two sides to make a neat rectangle.1

After all blintzes are prepared, put a small amount of butter in the pan and brown the blintzes, warming the filling.3

Top with sauce and/or sour cream or yogurt and enjoy!2