Feasting at the Kesar Da Dhaba, Amritsar

Shaping Nan for the Tandoor

Shaping Nan for the Tandoor

I start to salivate just thinking about the “Kesar Da Dhaba” in Amritsar, Punjab. And it isn’t a 5 star restaurant. In fact it is a very humble, working man’s sort of eatery. Nonetheless, it attracts a broad spectrum of diners, from Bollywood stars to famous food writers. Very few serious eaters make it to Amritsar without enjoying a meal at the Kesar Da Dhaba. If you happen to be on one of my tours, we often end up in Amritsar at the end of my north India tours and a meal here is a huge highlight.

The state of Punjab is the bread basket of India, growing much of the country’s wheat. It is logical that their menus favor the eating of flat breads with their curries, as opposed to rice as in other areas. If you are familiar with Indian cuisine, the dishes that you associate with Indian food are most likely from the Punjab, like palak paneer or tandoori chicken. The popularity of eating in a restaurant is a relatively new phenomenon. This is partly due to the dietary requirements of the different communities and the importance of the nuclear family and eating at home.

The presence of the British in India contributed to the increase in a restaurant culture and India’s partition in 1947 was also a factor. Punjabi refugees flooded into Delhi and other cities and opened up restaurants. They immigrated across the globe as well and brought their delicious restaurants with them. There is, however, nothing like going right to the source!

 Dough for the Nan


Dough for the Nan

While eating with my small tour group, my enthusiasm earned me an invitation to visit the kitchen. I grabbed my camera and dashed across the street. The restaurant has two separate small dining rooms, one directly across the street from each other. Situated¬† somewhere inside the bazaar down a maze of intricate winding, narrow lanes. I always ask a cycle rickshaw driver to take us there because no matter how many times that I’ve been there, I could never easily find it!

The chefs inside the kitchen were proud and happy to oblige me a few photographs.

On the Way to the Kitchen

On the Way to the Kitchen

Cooking the Spinach

Cooking the Spinach

Chef Preparing the Thali Platters

Chef Preparing the Thali Platters

I had to restrain myself from not devouring the food when it finally arrived.

My Thali

My Thali Platter

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Take Away Counter

Directly from the street, facing into the kitchen, customers placed their take away orders.

We also enjoyed a creamy, sweet yoghurt based drink called a lassi but by the time they arrived, I had put away my camera and my attention was on this dining delight.

 Kesar Da Dhaba, Amritsar, established 1916


Kesar Da Dhaba, Amritsar, established 1916

We groaned with contentment as we climbed into our rickshaws, keenly aware that we had just had a rare culinary experience that would be cherished but nearly impossible to describe.

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The Mysterious Smile of a South Indian Vegetable Merchant

Vegetable Merchant

The Mysterious Smile

I shot this photograph during one of those times when everything came together. I was in the right place at the right time and was able to capture the moment unobtrusively; that is the key and so very difficult to achieve: unobtrusively. This man never knew that I even took his picture.

The result does please me. There is something kindly in his expression yet he appears on the verge of smiling, as if he sees something that most people don’t and it makes him smile to himself. His smile is almost in the Mona Lisa category. It’s mysterious. We can’t quite read it and it isn’t a full smile yet. Will it ever be? This unknown quality creates the mystery and thus is the core of its charm.

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Looking Outward

Looking Out

Looking Out

Sometimes we all need to take a break from the routine and monotony of our daily lives and look outward. It can have an immediate impact of clearing the cobwebs in our brains and allow new thoughts, ideas and visions to enter and take hold.

For me, just being in India has that ability and is at the core of why I return, year after year. If you’ve never been to India, it’s time to consider a visit! I’ll be offering a few tours for the coming season that just might change your life. Imagine that!

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Scent of an Indian Wholesale Fish Plant

Relaxing on the Flotation Lines

Relaxing on the Flotation Lines

While on an outing with a group of friends in South India, we had to pass through an outdoor wholesale fish plant/ market to catch a small boat that would take us to the opposite shore. As there was no fixed schedule, I started to explore the plant. The first thing that hits you is the smell. If you magnify the odor of fish at least 100 times and it could even be more than that, you have an approximation of the intensity of the smell. The world of smelly fish abounds in all its variations: there is the sweet scent of freshly caught fish, there is the stench of rotting fish at every stage of decay and there is the pungent aroma of shellfish drying in the sun. I wonder if you can still buy nose plugs because they would have been very useful. It is surprising, however, how quickly you can get used to anything, even an odor as unpleasant as rotting fish! Fortunately this took place outdoors and it was a beautiful day.

Woman Drying Shellfish

Woman Drying Shellfish

Watching the Scene

Watching the Scene

This market was more like a circus with multiple tents and assorted attractions, drawing your eye from one activity to the next.

Sorting the Catch

Sorting the Catch

A Whole Lot of Fish

A Whole Lot of Fish

Bringing the Catch to be Weighed

Bringing the Catch for Weighing

Women in sarees, carry heavy plastic crates of fish on their heads from the boats at the shore to the scales. They go back and forth all day. A few locals negotiate a purchase for their meal but mostly the business is on a larger scale.

While wandering around this unusual fish plant, I kept an eye out for my boat to come in. I hurry toward the water’s edge where all the passengers are now gathering. I board the small skiff, content with the few shots I managed to capture and relieved that I am leaving the aroma of a South Indian fish plant behind.

My Boat Takes Off

My Boat Takes Off

 

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Observing the Street Animals of India

Last Licks

Last Licks

The subjects that captivate me the most to photograph are people but animal behavior is so strikingly similar to our own that they often make us smile and nod our heads when we watch them. When animals cross my path in a tempting way, I enjoy photographing them too, but for me, they are more difficult to photograph. With them the moment is so fleeting and equipment so essential. I have limited equipment but occasionally I capture the moment.

In the photograph above a cow is licking the remains of some oil lamps in front of a Hindu temple while the “lion” watches in frustration.

Monkeys with Cow and Lingam

Monkeys with Cow and Lingam

Cows, monkeys and then dogs are probably the most easily sighted animals on the streets of India.The omnipresence of cows and monkeys enchant most foreign visitors because of the contrast of the mostly sanitized streets in the west and their requirements that animals be leashed. In this photograph, a mother Langur monkey closely watches her mischievous child while seated on top of one India’s most sacred symbols, the lingam. A holy cow passes by, indifferent to the presence of the monkeys. The sacrosanct nature of cows and monkeys in India partially contribute to the reason that they roam so freely.

Cows on the Street

Cows on the Street

In Delhi and Mumbai, cows are not permitted in central areas but outside of the big cities they still take precedence. The traffic moves around them. It is a serious legal offense to injure a cow in India as well.

 The Majestic Peacock


The Majestic Peacock

Although I love birds and occasionally go birdwatching, I don’t have the right lenses to capture them well. I was lucky, though, with this photograph. I was staying at a beautiful hotel on one of my tours and they had peacocks roaming around the property. These peacocks do not fear humans and don’t flee when you approach them. In fact, they often came right up to you, looking for food! The peacock is the national bird of India. These birds, in all their magnificence, remind me of a beautiful woman who expects admiration and adoration from everyone.

Monkeys in Motion

Monkeys in Motion

There are two kinds of monkeys that are frequently seen all over India: the Langurs, with black faces and very long tails (seen above) and the Rhesus Macaques that are heavier and more fierce and have red bottoms and faces. I haven’t found any good shots of them in my archives but will keep looking because I have quite a few tales of them bothering me. They are more aggressive than the Langurs.

One of the many charms that India holds for me is this intimate relationship between man and beast. They are part of the mythology and part of every day life. This helps us to have a better perspective on our relationship and place in this universe. Ultimately, it helps us to understand ourselves. There is so much to learn simply through observation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hindu Priest Blesses a New Car

Hindu Priest

Hindu Priest

When I bumped into this Hindu priest on the street in South India blessing a new car, I wasn’t very surprised¬† because I had already had that pleasure. See my old post, ” A Hindu Priest Blesses a Motorcycle.” ¬† Nonetheless, it isn’t a common sight. I grabbed my camera and started shooting. This priest took absolutely no notice of me whatsoever. I think that he may even have enjoyed it.

He strung flower garlands over the car, hung limes with chiles off its fender, chanted prayers while circling it with sticks of incense and sacred fire, all the while ringing a brass bell and he even cracked a coconut over the new car.

Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Car Owner with Priest, Hanging Limes & Chillies Off the Fender

Car Owner with Priest, Hanging Limes & Chillies Off the Fender

Priest Blessing Car with Incense

Priest Blessing Car with Incense

Priest with Fire and Bell

Priest with Sacred Fire and Bell

The entire ceremony took less than ten minutes. The priest’s services are clearly more popular than I had imagined because even before he completed blessing this new car, another young man on a new motorcycle appeared, waiting for his turn.

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Puri Beach Vendors

Balloon Vendor

Balloon Vendor

A dense line of tourists along Sea Beach on Marine Drive in Puri huddle together on this crowded beach but they are domestic tourists, mostly from the state of West Bengal. Very few Western tourists visit Puri and those that do, seldom frequent this beach. Puri has miles of white sand beach but for the most part there is a dangerous under-tow. This small stretch of beach is relatively safe and delights its guests but few venture very far from the shore. The women here hardly ever put on a bathing suit, preferring to enjoy the breeze and the pleasures of a day at the shore on land. If they go in the water at all, it is usually in their sari or salwar-kameez. Consequently, the beach is one huge market-place, attracting a huge array of vendors. Some of these vendors have permanent spots with elaborate set-ups and others are itinerant. There are many vendors selling the same item and the competition is fierce.

"Buy My Balloons"

“Buy My Balloons”

Some of the vendors are mere children, helping out their families and others are adults.

Snack Pushcart

Snack Pushcart

This pushcart even provides his customers with chairs.

He Sells Sea Shells...

He Sells Sea Shells…

This vendor sets up an intricate display every day. It was fun to watch people picking up the shells and listening to that marvelous sound that comes from deep inside the shell.

Pink Treat

Pink Treat

Cotton candy appeals to both the kids and grown-ups.

Swimmers with Cotton Candy Vendor

Swimmers with Cotton Candy Vendor

Inspecting Pearl Strands

Inspecting Pearl Strands

The vendor isn’t shown in the above photograph but the buyer contemplates a bunch of pearls. Pearls are a popular item in Puri. The vendors swear that they are authentic but they aren’t. One of their proofs is to burn the pearl. I read that you should rub the pearl on your tooth. I have bought Puri pearl jewelry and if the price is right, ie. cheap enough and I like it, I don’t care if it isn’t real.

As you can see, business on the beach is brisk and it clearly is a buyer’s market!

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