28 October 2006

Kausani: Kingdom of spiders and friendly people

Given my current study workload I should be writing to you about branding of Indian iced tea in Germany (the topic of the paper I am sleeping with for the last 4 days). But, since I mentioned branding, I have to live to my brand promise i.e. updating my friend on my experiences in India. Therefore this post is about Kausani in Uttaranchal region, which I visited almost a month ago.
Kausani was the final destination of our five day trip to Uttaranchal. Referred to as Switzerland of India the place is the closest spot where one can enjoy views over the Himalayan mountains both right before the sunset and right after the sunrise. But our small international team has another reason to visit Kausani too. The reason is half a day trekking from Kausani to Baijinath. The whole trip is about 10 km descent. It is not mentioned in the Lonely Planet guide which gives us the good feeling of being alone all the way.
5 am in the morning and our alarm clock wakes us up to catch the first rays of the sun to enjoy the Himalayan views. We go to the hotel terrace along with the whole Kausani village and, for an hour, enjoy the sunrise taking pictures and drinking tea. However the biggest “job of the day” is still ahead. We pack and start descending to Baijinath. We only know the final destination and have no map. The only piece of knowledge we have is that there is a trail parallel to the road. Luckily we pass several villages and ask for the way along. After about half an hour we reach the first village and the wonders start. People leave their houses, everybody says namaste folding their palms the Indian way, little kids give us flowers, women give us fruits. Never in my life had I seen so friendly people. We continue our trip and rich the river valley where we encounter shepherds’ kids. The fun starts. They keep asking us to take pictures posing in front of us in the most professional way. After the picture is taken everyone rushes to see it on the camera screen. This is the biggest entertainment for them. In general, if you travel in India you will often come across poor Indian kinds which will be greeting you and asking to take a picture. Make sure to show it to them afterwards. Also make sure you hold your camera firm not because they might steal it but because you will be attacked by at least 5-10 of them all at once. I personally prefer to have candies or small change in my pocket I can give if the case comes. But be aware. Once you give to one you have to give to everyone else too.
Five hours are over. We arrive at Baijinath where people are no less friendly then in the mountains. Quick lunch, visit to the 10th century temple (official purpose of the trek), polite refuse to spend the night in the house of the generous local patron of students and we head back to Nainital to take the night bus to Delhi.
I invite you to mentally make the trek my seeing the pictures I took along the way.

24 October 2006

Sudden discoveries

Have you ever found yourself in a location you like so much but never planed to visit nor were aware of its existence just a couple of hours ago. Well. Let me introduce Raniketh to you. We visited it during our early October trip to the Uttaranchal region in the North of India. One hour by plan to Delhi, seven hours by train to Kadhodam, one night at the foothills, breakfast at 6 am and we are ready to board the jeep to hit the road for our final destination Kausani (which I will cover in my next post). We stand at the road side, jeeps come, drivers shout the destination, jeeps get full and they depart. No schedules, no receipts. That’s the way to travel in the mountains. After five minutes of waiting we learn that Kausani is not reachable directly thus we either have to change at either Alamora or Raniketh. Friendly appearance of the driver and smaller charge make it easy to decide and we embark on 3 hour journey. I found myself crammed in the back with 5 people occupying 4 seats. The jeep ascends bendy roads moving at 20 km an hour, driver continuously switches his attention between the brakes and the signal while I regret I was born or, at least, had breakfast that morning. Three hours of torture and we get off at Raniketh just to get the next jeep. However the day is young so we decide to explore the main street, get some water and depart in ten minutes. What one thought to be a short introduction turns out to be half a day stay enjoying mountain views, meeting people, playing with children, taking photos and just wandering around.
Ranikteh is a place where the density of population gets back to the standards we are used to. People are not spoiled by tourists and no one pays attention to the three wandering backpackers. As banks are closed we approach local jeweler to change some rupees into smaller notes. The result of this exercise is that we have the a new friend we spent one hour sipping tea and contemplating over the similarities of world religions with. The rest you will find in the photos by visiting this link

21 October 2006

Shubh Deepavali (Happy Diwali)!

Diwali preparations

Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – is here at last. Considered to be the most important yearly festival Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama after killing the Demon the festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Although the temperatures are around +35C these days it feels like Christmas. Sound of burning firecrackers adds to the general traffic noise, entire city is lit up, people buy sweets and greet each other. Our dorm prepares to celebrate too. Managers of tomorrow do not mind smudging with some hands-on work. The decoration has started this night with a few dorm artists making the frame for Ganesha rangoli (sand base picture to be covered with color powder). Rangoli is made for goddess Lakhsmi (the goddess of prosperity) to come to the house. In addition our dorm mates promise a lot of light and decorations all around the dorm (you see your obedient servant making hangers for oil lamps as contribution).Diwali is predominantly family celebration but those who stay on campus try to recreate it here. Tomorrow I will buy some sweets as someone might drop and I need to be prepared.

20 October 2006

The great conversion

India can be very unpredictable in itself. It is our second day in Mumbai and we head to the see the adjacent fish market and the Afghan church. I am still recovering from the accident which almost ended up as fight. Hangovered Indian was asking for Rs 1 for taking pictures in the vegetable market. We walk further and hit the dead end. All of the sudden somebody invites to visit an exhibition in tent nearby. By the sheer coincidence we learn about the great conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism. Exactly 50 years ago around 150 thousand untouchables (the lowest caste in Hindu) led by B. R. Ambedkar have turned to Buddhism in protest at discrimination by Hindus caste system. This act was done under the premise was Buddha was born as the untouchable. Today the movement counts around 15 million devotees all around India. If interested read more about the anniversary and the initiator.

Mumbai - Dhobi Ghats

Our hotel room is not yet ready so we hit the road to the bridge next to Mahalaxmi railway station to see the triumph of feminism before the heat of the day takes over the city. I am kidding of course but many women would be really pleased to see the action in this open air laundry in one of the Mumbai’s attractions - dhoni ghats. Hundreds and hundreds of men are washing along long cement canal divided into small booths. Dhobi-wallahs - traditional laundrymen, standing in soapy grey water, inexhaustibly bash clothes against cement walls. I assumer after such a s wash your clothes not only are clean but considerably thinner as well.

Mumbai - taxis

Auto rickshaws are not allowed to operate in the center of the city so the only suitable means of transportation remains taxi. Vast demands for comfort travel are satisfied by numerous Padminis shaped as the rally racers from the sixties and having the similar age. As many taxi drivers are not satisfied with black and yellow uniform they embellish their taxies in different frippery. After the brisk attempt of the driver to rip us off by offering a triple price we get to our hotel only paying twice the sum. Learning curve is here and my first question to the reception is how to find whether one overpays or not. Here is the deal for all those to plan to visit Mumbai shortly. You get into the taxi. You ask to turn the meter on. Once you reach the destination you ask driver for the fare explanation sheet (all of them carry one). When you find the sum corresponding to the meter readings and, voila, end up paying as an Indian.

13 October 2006

Aloo Jeera (Potato and Cumin)


I am back with a quick note of the passion of mine which is cooking. India has so much good food that it would be a shame not to share a few recipes with you. Here comes the first one – perfect cold or hot as a side or main dish. This is a real student’s meal! Especially practical for Lithuania where the potato season is in a full swing.

Aloo Jeera (Potato and Cumin)

200 gm: Potatoes
50 ml: Oil
10 gm: Cumin seeds
20 gm: Ginger
30 gm: Garlic
10 gm: Turmeric
20 gm: Red chilli powder
100 gm: Tomatoes
05 gm: Garam masala
20 gm: Coriander powder
10 gm: Coriander leaves (optional)
Salt to taste
Boil potatoes and dice them. Chop onions, garlic, ginger, coriander and the tomatoes.
2eat oil and sauté cumin seeds until they crackle. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until golden.
Stir in chopped ginger and add the potatoes. Sprinkle turmeric and chili powder and stir. Add tomatoes and simmer for about 5 minutes.
(recipe taken from www.surfindia.com)

If you are full of passion for cooking but short of spices please ask Kapil for the nearest Indian shop (for my Spanish friends in Madrid now) or, if in Vilnius, go to the little shop on Lvovo street right apposite the Holiday Inn.
Buen provecho/Skanaus!

07 October 2006

Wanna join the business?

Many of you visiting Asia came across one of the most popular vehicle – three wheeler also known as auto rickshaw. Here in Ahmedabad we have around 40.000 of them. They serve a great deal when you need to travel from point A to point B and can be quickly found on the street. Little bargain and you are seated in a half open carriage threatened and fascinated by the Formula 1 turns the driver makes in the crowded streets of the city. In fact at the gate of the school 24x7 we have around 5-6 of them on guard waiting to serve students and faculty. Friendly driver Mustafa has told me the economics of the business. The machine is owned by him. Produced by a monopolist company Bajaj and sold at a price of Rs 122.000 (2100 Eur) it is quite costly pleasure by Indian standards. You add tuning such as roof and paint as extra. Payback? Well. It is 2 to 2,5 years. Daily catch - Rs 300 (5 Eur) on average. If you interested in technical specifications you can find them here. Wanna join the business?