Golden Triangles

Stuffing the Triangle

Stuffing the Triangle

I’ve always loved samosas, those deep-fried pastry triangles stuffed with spicy potatoes. I have to ration my intake as they aren’t in the “light” category but when I smell that luscious, sizzling aroma of the dough and the potato mixture wafting up into my nostrils, I can barely contain myself. Over the years, I’ve also developed a deep attachment to the tamarind chutney/sauce that is often served with them. And my resistance melts. I give in to that yearning to savor their crispy exterior and the delightful contrast of the soft yet seasoned to perfection potato mixture contained  inside.

So when I bumped into the large corner stall, Shahi’s in downtown Jodhpur, Rajasthan, I stopped in my tracks. My heart started to race and my pulse quickened. I don’t give in to just any fried street snack. I can’t afford to. If I over eat (and that is my inclination) I blow up immediately and regret it for far too long. So I narrowed in on this corner and had a serious look around, trying to determine if this place was worth the indulgence.

Everywhere I looked people were eating and clearly enjoying themselves. Satisfaction rang out, unsung in the air, loudly and to my ears (and stomach) clearly.

But this was nothing more than a stall. There were no tables and just a few rickety benches to accommodate the customers. And they didn’t even serve the samosas on  plates. Squares of old torn off newspaper function as plates for the triangles. My signals were busy. The wheels in my brain were turning. My taste buds were salivating. Yes! I must have one of these samosas. I went up to the counter and ordered one. When I wasn’t given any chutney, I asked for it. The counter man looked at me, deeply insulted. “No chutney, madam. Not necessary.” Oh, I thought to myself. Well, I will just have to see if I agree. Off I went to find out. I was, as often is the case, the only foreigner there. And although a few people looked my way with curiosity, most were too busy enjoying their own tiffin to pay me much mind.

One bite was all I needed. This was a heaven-sent samosa. The flavors were so perfect yet so complex. They were spicy, tangy, peppery and sweet, all at the same time. And tossed in were cashew halves! When the samosa disappeared from my oily newspaper square, I almost wanted to cry. I sat a moment but not for very long before I was back at the counter ordering another, and they were a good size. After my palate danced with pleasure, I pulled out my camera. I wanted to record this. It sure is difficult to capture the deliciousness of a samosa in a photograph but here is my attempt.

Golden Triangles

Golden Triangles

Deep Frying

Deep Frying

Stuffing with Cashews

Stuffing with Cashews

And I agree, the samosas are utterly delicious without chutney!

 

Smiling Samosa Chef

Smiling Samosa Chefyumm

 

The Crowds Enjoy Samosas

 The Crowds Enjoy Samosas

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India’s Devout Glow in Orange

Book Buying

Book Buying

In India, the color orange and other warm tones like saffron and turmeric symbolize the quest for knowledge. Orange is associated with fire which has the power to burn away the darkness and thus brings light or knowledge.

All over India, Hindu’s holy men and ascetics wear orange and its variations. It is the color of purity. Though the purity of many of India’s holy men and ascetics may be dubious, their appearance certainly is arresting and each and everyone manages to have his own style.

Orange Glow

Orange Glow

Although he is dressed in orange, stylistically, for India at least, he is dressed in an ordinary manner. It is his face that attracts my interest.

In Meditation

In Meditation

This sadhu’s attire is lighter in color. Maybe his clothing was washed so often that it has faded into a pastel hue or maybe he prefers a paler palette. I doubt if he gives it a lot of consideration. A sadhu has given up all material concerns for a life of an ascetic. Typically, he lives off the benevolence of others who contribute to his pursuit of a spiritual existence by providing him with food and other necessities in exchange for his blessings. Their few possessions usually consist of a begging bowl and a blanket.

Mala Man

Mala Man

This sadhu has a collection of sacred prayer beads, known as malas, strung around his neck and wrist. They offer him protection and in a left-handed manner, make a fashion statement. With his spear-like walking stick and lime- yellow turban, he instantly grabbed my attention. I pointed to my camera. He nodded, smiled and stopped.

Faithful

Faithful

Devotee

Devotee

The mark on this woman’s forehead indicates that she is a follower of Vishnu. In this particular case, Lord Jagganath. She covers her head with a saffron-colored prayer shawl as part of her devotion.

India’s faithful display their devotion in many ways; each form catches our eye and for me, inspires awe. Awe for the passion and enthusiasm that one sees in every far-flung corner of this enormous land. In the West, we almost associate this kind of intense devotion with madness. To feel this joy and love and to show it so openly is a pleasure to witness and of course, a huge part of India’s great appeal.

 

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Sunset at the Beach in India

The Crowd Gathers

The Crowd Gathers

 

There is something mesmerizing, magical and mystical about watching the sun sink into the horizon at the ocean’s edge as the day turns into night. In India, it is no less alluring. Locals and visitors gather to watch this daily miracle. Some prepare for the event with prayers.

Puja at Sunet

Puja at Sunset

Young girls sit patiently in a line to witness the event.

Girls Watch in a Line

Girls Watch in a Line

The boys celebrate with exuberance.

Boys Jump for Joy

Boys Jump for Joy

Women Wade at the Shore

Women Wade at the Shore

Day Is Done

Day Is Done

No matter how one celebrates this spectacle, it leaves everyone in awe of the power of Mother Nature. We give thanks that we are here to witness this moment.

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The Sugar Cane Juice Vendor

Sugar Cane Vendor

Sugar Cane Juice Vendor

There’s nothing quite as refreshing as a glass of sugar cane juice after a serious round of shopping under South India’s unrelenting sun on market day. This man has a small stall off the main road. When I pulled out my camera, his smiled widened, always a relief. Though we shared no common language, there was an immediate rapport.

Sugar Cane Corner

Sugar Cane Corner

Even for an inexpensive glass of sugar cane juice, there is a lot of competition. As with any business in the world, it’s all about location. Just being one stall in from the corner is a detriment.

The Sugar Cane Machine

The Sugar Cane Machine

Even the primitive machine that produces the sweet juice is photogenic and green.

Mrs. Sugar Cane Vendor with her Husband

Mrs. Sugar Cane Vendor with her Husband

They have been nothing but obliging and congenially to me, allowing my intrusive lens into their lives. I enjoy a glass of their juice and leave them, refreshed and smiling too.

 

 

 

 

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Gujarat is Waiting!

Family from Kutch

Family from Kutch

If you’ve never been to Gujarat and some lesser visited villages in Rajasthan then you might just want to pack your bags and join me for my, India Heritage Tour, Oct. 14-2 November, 2015. We’ll be visiting Kutch, one of my favorite regions in Western India that still preserves many of the old ways that are gradually disappearing, including the ongoing creation of handicrafts and the textile arts, all very close to my heart. The people are friendly and welcoming and they still dress in their traditional garb. And oh the food, it is yummy! This is an unusual itinerary. We’ll also visit the Little Rann of Kutch and do a safari, enjoying the indigenous wildlife like the Khurs, the free roaming wild asses unique to the Rann and witness the abundant bird life. Every minute will be awe-inspiring. We’ll eat well, sleep in beautiful and atmospheric hotels and see a variety of landscapes all intended to please and delight. For more information email me: travelwithnina@gmail.com

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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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