goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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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