Everything’s possible

Holy cities are usually Vegetarian, and Non-alcholic.

No eggs, whisky, beer, nor  meat.

The latter was the hardest for me to deal with. I really need my daily protein. Traveling mate Kinki really needed her eggs, and Jochen, his beer. So pretty much, we all had some form of withdrawal syndrome.

Many times, you get hit with a sharp response that dashes your hopes, stains your plans like a knife through butter “Sorry, its NOT possible Sir”.

“How do I make it possible?”

“If you want possible, ok I can try. But that will be maybe…” Then he takes out his calculator and dials in a couple of digits.

Everything’s possible in India,of course, it just depends how much you want to pay for it.  You may never fully understand how things work, or don’t work. Your confirmed train ticket could be bumped off, and you wouldn’t know why. You could be third in the queue before the counter opens, but all tickets have impossibly been sold out!

There’s always black-market stuff going on with currency trading, transportation, and…..food!

So here we were, on a rooftop restaurant, eating illegal omelets and fried eggs and drinking beer hush hush after  through underground black-market means. You know what I mean. I’m not boasting. In fact, I should be ashamed to be illegally getting doped on a cheese omelete in the holy city of pushkar. I’m just saying, it’s do-able!

After the next sip of beer, we slide our glasses back under the table. Underground style.

In India, you can find other “special” goods,

“Special Lassi”, “Special pizzas”, “Special Masala Dosa”.

Wanna know what goes in em?

Pushkar, our final stop in Rajasthan was known for its peaceful chill out vibe. A good place to seek yourself and shut off from the worries of the world. The city was a quadrangle, with a main lake in the middle, and smaller Ghats surrounding it. Throngs of pilgrims came to bathe and seek blessings and offer sacrifices. It gets busy early in the morning, so, get your ass up for sunrise!

It was also Shivarattri, a celebration of Shiva. We had gathered at a local temple to partake the processions. In a section of the temple nestled in the hills, there was a narrow staircase leading down. It was claustrophobically small, and below lay a small cave where you’d present your broken coconuts and leave your flowers, and light the incense. It was my first Hindu precession I partook in India,

Ommmmm. All zen-ed out.

It was a good bye to the crew I was with for the past 2 weeks, Mr Camel,Jochen. Miss fried egg-Kinki, and our wonderful Chapatti lover, Loes. Emotionally had to psyche myself back to solo-solo travels with no company and solely being responsible of finding my feet again. Was a great travel with you guys 😉

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Shivarathri, having to climb through to the underground altar to place flowers and coconuts.IMG_0040 IMG_0098 IMG_0136

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Take care guyss!!

Ancient Ruins – Hampi

 

 

 

 

Giant Boulder formed peaks.

Ancient kingdoms displaying a glimpse of its former glory.

Lush Padi fields greet me.

Beautiful rivers and lakes for a dip.

A bamboo hut to live in!

Peace and quiet, it was the perfect way to end my month long stint in India 🙂

 

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THE WILD GOOSE CHASE FOR BIRIYANI..and a 66 hour journey.

30 days ago, I had a ‘moment’ when I had the most amazing incredible mutton Biriyani in my LIFE.

One could argue that I had lowered expectations because I was frikking starving, and maybe anything I ate would have been awesome. Nonetheless, the spiced up, flavourful AND crowd pleasing ginormous portion had me swore  to have many many more Biriyanis in India. One/day if possible.

I think, Biriyani is so special because of the quality of the rice use- the freakishly long-grained premium Basthami rice which is super fagrant. In addition, its salty and sweet mouthfeel is a combination of masala spices, and whole spices like cinnamon, bay leaves, and cardamon. Its accompaniments blend really well too – a saucer of a curd-ish sauce. The portion is almost TWICE of a regular chicken rice back home. Rice is tended to be placed in an overflowing bowl, and the restaurant staff will pour out some on the main plate. That’s the way Biriyani flows. Portions of chicken, mutton, or veg are abundant and flavourful. The whole combination makes it kickass!

Then came 30 days of HOPELESS DISAPPOINTMENT.

Nowhere else in the other states made anything close to a decent one. 30 days of eating bad biriyani consecutively is a long long one.

I was craving it so bad. SO so bad, like a drug. It was the same sort of sick craving when I was desperate to surf that drove me  36 hours journey to the philippines to surf for a meagre 3 hours! It makes you do stupid things.

There was a second chance for me!!

I had a 41 hour journey from the North down South, with a 1 hour stop over at the Muslim state, HYDERABAD – the place in India MOST FAMOUSLY KNOWN FOR THIER BIRIYANI!

When we arrived, it was 10.30pm, the previous train was late by an hour.  I had a mere 20 minutes to grab a bite and hop on the next train. My soul came to LIFE when I spotted shops were still open at the time, and I spotted from miles away though squinting hard  ‘CHICKEN BIRIYANI’.’

* Imagining heaven opening, angels singing and harps playing *

” One Chicken Biriyani PLEASE! Take away!!”, I ordered, radiating with inner joy.

So I sat at the train station, stuffing my face with a torn portion of the paper plate as my spoon. I was so so happy, it tasted great!!

Announcement of the train rang, and I waited patiently for this train to leave and mine to arrive in 5 mins time. I was a happy boy.. mission accomplished. The train left, and then..couple of minutes later, station guards chased me with their staff, ‘Go go, station closed’.

wait. what do you mean station closed?? My train was coming!

“Train gone, he pointed at the train I was waiting for”.

Oh God! What?!? NOOOOOOOOOO!!!

I didn’t understand. The past 3 trains I waited for worked this way, a previous train had to leave first and the arriving train would come. I even asked people in the train if it went to Hampi and they said no. Confusion, disillusionment, and disbelief set in. Indian trains, I never understood how it worked.

The only thing I could do was find a place to sleep, and the only fitting place was..the floor of the holding room.

Honestly I was really pissed with myself. How could I have let this happen? By now I should have been a veteran traveler, this was simply a retarded rookie mistake. The same one that happened in the airport of Kuala Lumpar where I missed my flight. As I lay there, feeling really crappy, I took out my book by the Dalai Lama.

“In a situation where you are upset, would being angry with yourself, or others change the fact that it had happened? That only leads to more suffering and less happiness. Find your inner peace.”

Great timing, your holiness. At this moment, finding inner peace was not an option, it was a command. I went to bed, or rather the hard floor, tried to zen and dug deep for my inner peace.

With a positive mindset! I woke up refreshed and glad I had an entire day to stuff myself with awesome Biriyani!! Yipee! And that was what I did! I also managed to see the sights of the city, and I was treated rather well by the locals.

I managed to get the missed ticket refunded, great! Saw some interesting sights like colourful chicks…and had my favourite exotic fruits – fresh Figs and exceptionally sweet pomegranate!

It was a blessing in disguise, and a horrible scene turned around!

I’m not suggesting you do silly things like this when you travel..Rookie mistakes are bound to happen time and time.

My advice is to keep a positive attitude, have inner peace, and make the best of the situation, everything will be alright!

66 hours later………….I arrived safely at the lush padi fields and boulder strewn land of Hampi, where I live in a petite Bamboo hut, and my first shower in 3 days!

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Biriyani after 30 days. Stuffed down in a jiffy. So desperate used torn plate as the spoon. 5 minutes before I missed my train.

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Fresh Pomegranate, sooo good.

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Hyderabad, pronounced as

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Long Grained Basmathi rice!

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Where I spent the night.

The Holy Ganges River – The Burning Ghat

With alleys this narrow,I doubt the street cows would have a chance of squeezing through. We’ve been hearing about the famed ‘Blue Lassi’ shop , and a kind group of koreans offered to take us . The Lassi was mind-blowing! Velvety curd, mixed with chunks of banana and crunchy bits melted in your mouth. It had a crusty top, similar to the caramel crust of a creme brûlée tart. It generously overflowed with even more banana slices, fragrant grated coconut and other condiments. The clay bowl had a rustic yet earthy feel as it felt your lips. The clay bowl would be smashed after your had finished it, I was curious to know why they did not reuse them, but the whole experience of smashing the clay bowl was authentic. It was so good, I tried one from this and the adjacent shop, where I had a coffee lassi.

Standing in the narrow walkway, laughing and chatting, I argued it was my last and only chance to have the lassi, since I was leaving in a couple of hours. Not that I was a glutton.

Out of the blue, bells were ringing, chanting..men lifted a bamboo stretcher on their shoulders and shoved past us, our backs pressed against the walls.  of  The stretchers were covered with layered of silk cloth, green, orange, and silver. A convoy of people followed. They were the family of the deceased.

Welcome to Varanasi.

It was a strange feeling. In the midst our light heartedness, we just had a dead body brush past us. We were instantly reminded starkly of the respect needed to be given to this place, and the land. Varanasi’s burning ghat is India’s most auspicious place to be cremated. The body would be rinsed in the waters of the Ganges river, and then put to be cremated in an open wood fire. The ‘Burning Ghat’ was a huge open air crematorium for all to see. What it looked like from afar: multiple bonfires by the river with people chugging more wood each time and beautiful fabrics. It was a crazy scene to see this happening with no drama at all! It wasn’t for all though. Up to 200 bodies were cremated daily, it was ongoing 24/7.

Certain people may not be cremated at the burning ghat – young children, holy men, and people suffering from leprosy had to be released directly into the river. It was not uncommon to see an occasional body floating beside your boat! Can you imagine?! Thankfully, I didn’t have the honour to. Photos weren’t allowed, in respect of the families.

Come evening, a festival of sorts took place at the main Ghat. A Ghat is a somewhat invisible ‘zone’ of the river where there lies some form of temple or place of worship. Hundreds of boats with thousands of people in them came together at the main ghat to watch the celebration from the waters. Performed panoramically, it was a precession of chanting, blessings with flowers and water tossed, silver pieces containing fire were rhythmically moved. At the end, the men conducting the festival went to the waters, in what looked like a blessing from them. It was as if everything they touched turned into gold! A mad rush of people prodded, fought their way to touch everything used in the precession – open flames, flowers, water, metal. Pilgrims released little boats with flowers and candles on them, said a quiet prayer, and gave the waters a little push.

I can remember orange, gold, lights and smoke. I didn’t quite understand anything that was going on, but I could feel the reverence of the ganges, ghats and the holy men. Not always, would you need to understand all languages or theories. You can listen and understand the universal language – One of blessing, respect, and belief. One  has to agree, Varanasi- organic, spiritual, different.

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Coffee Lassi, and Coconut Banana Lassi, heaven!

lassi shop

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Coffee Made with a Mokka pot at a street stall, it was really good!

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Attending Yoga Class, and getting upended!

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Releasing lit candles in the water.

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A Sadhus, or ‘holy man’, ready  to pounce!
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A view of the Ghat’s from the river
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Authentic Indian Haircut & Massage

He started rubbing my head vigorously with his palm, the reciprocating motion caused such friction I was certain in no time all hair would erupt into a ball of flames.

Then there was the Brain Squeeze. Using all his force, I imagined my brains getting squeezed out through my neck and down through my ass. I’m guessing the idea was to create pressure to release tension afterwards, but all it felt was a sick vacuum into a dark hole.

Without warning he thrusts my body forward, inches away from the toolbox. For each knead, my nose inched skimmed the underside of the powder brush, it tickled. The box contained other barber tools – rusty scissors, shears, the repetitive motion of my face meeting these tools every few cycles was quite hilarious. He’d occasionally use such force that my face was pinned at the corner of the mirror and and partition. I wondered if he knew of that fact, but I BET he had intended it that way. I was praying the mirrors would not crack each time my bony cheeks pressed on it!

After being yanked left right centre, I was clawed by an eagle right through my back. Flesh was being ripped out, I wasn’t sure why I was the prey, and mr. barber, the predator?

Finally after every inch of my head, shoulder, back and fingertips rubbed, kneaded, compressed, and tore apart, I winced in pain as he dealt the finishing blows.

“You are very strong sir!”, I tried to hint that he was using an unnecessary amount of force on me.

This was the one and only time he grinned, since 45 mins before. “Hard is good, I don’t like soft”.

The killer move – Judo chops straight into my skull! ‘BHAM BHAM BHAM BHAM!’ It veberated right through my spine,  disorienting me. Both hands were used for exceptional force!

Whoa. Man. Dude this guy thinks I’m a frikkin buffalo or something. You have got to be kidding me! I laughed. A sick laughter of misery and stupidity, not one of joy and pleasure.

It ended. Mr barber ended with a wide smile, for the second time. I sat there, trying to recollect what in the world I had put myself through. It was really hard one…..the hardest I’ve ever had in my life!…BUT….in some sick sadistic way, I LOVED it. I can’t admit it was any bit pleasurable, or it helped loosen muscles. All in all, it was a fantastic experience of getting tortured legitimately.

For the kicks…try it guys!

This was the real deal – my Authentic Indian haircut and massage.

(since no pictures were taken, I made some sketches for you to imagine)

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Incredibly high strung

Incredibly high strung.

You try to prepare yourself, calm your nerves as you know you will be bombarded first thing when you step out of the train station by pestering rickshaw drivers. So you try to bash through the crowd to filter the noise and mess until you find your space and can meet the less pushy drivers, and have a clearer mind to decide your steps. Our cycle rickshaw driver, was obviously stoned, he could not maintain his straight path on the road and slurred heavily as he spoke. The pink teeth, an indication he had a lot of Paan didn’t make a great first impression. My intuition brought up a bad vibe, but the price we could not resist. True enough, he brought us to a ‘boat club’ along the same river, but miles away, instead of the actual Sangam river we intended. These guys do this for a commission if we sit the boats. Nope, not getting tourist scammed this time, it was a pissy 7am that we screamed and argued, until we got rid of him. It was actually therapeutic venting, screaming, and then storming off.  Trust no-one, we walked to get some air, whilst figuring out where the hell we were. The dead weight of our backpacks added to our frustration. Countless more rickshaw hassle us, couldn’t they read the angst on our faces? The only saving grace was finally being able to find the Sangam, after a good couple of hours. Sangam is a point where 3 rivers meet in Allahabad, most famous being the Holy Ganges. It is a prominent pilgrimage location, hundreds of people come from all parts of India, it is so sacred people buy containers to take home the water to their families. You can get blessed with a Puja, or simply take a dip to cleanse your sins. We did! I felt that the whole pilgrimage journey the locals take to seek blessings for a better life was incredibly meaningful; in their living conditions, it gave each person hope for greater happiness and less suffering. There were no other tourists there, just Kaya, my newfound Japanese friend and myself. I felt all tensions wash away along with the currents in the murky yet chilly waters.

The inner peace was short-lived, the next rickshaw driver, with the help of local interpreters acknowledged he knew where to go. I wanted so badly to find this suburb with ‘good Indian coffee shops where espresso machines are not uncommon’. A good coffee place would sort me out, wouldn’t it. Great he alighted us, saying it was the place…Big mistake. we should have made sure first, cos we later found we were a good hour away from the actual place. Screw the rickshaws, not one more to add to our day’s misery. More  walking and trekking the dusty streets in the scorching mid-day sun. All signs were written in Hindi, you could not find English anywhere. Every local on the roads only spoke Hindi. The best they could come up with was a blank stare, and then mumble something else in their language. Or worse, completely ignore you.

We eventually found the coffee shop, it had a huge sign “Local Indian Coffee Shop”. It was an amazing place with it’s old-schoolness, classic charm….and the 50 year old man in a colonial uniform, and a funky hat serving us.Thank God for the coffee shop, my only saving grace.

India is beautiful, enriching, yet, it can also be frustrating, miserable and very VERY trying. Every single day, people are constantly trying to rip you off and scam you…it occasionally gets too much. Tomorrow WILL be a better day.

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Taj Mahal

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Beauty and splendour, the only thing holding me back from being there the entire day was my rumbling stomach!  If only the shops open earlier.. The Taj is a monument erected by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan after grieving for his late 3rd wife who passed away after the birth of their 14th child.  Even with the hordes of tourists, you can still find a quiet spot and appreciate its artistry with a gentle passing breeze. You too, can laugh at the people trying to ‘hold’ the dome of the building. It’s no wonder people from round the world come just to see this white marbled building, its simply amazing.

Beetle Boy

In the dry desert, there’s nothing else for food..your camel, your whiny fellow camel safari mate…… Unless you’d consider these  crawlies on the floor?

For National Pride, 250 Rupees ($4), & proof that I have a really strong stomach. 

Here we go!!

The camel guys gave me a nick name after..’Beetle Boy’. This is all they would know of Singaporeans..strange insect eating slit eyed people. Sorry fellow countrymen for producing this unconventional stereotype :/

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The BLUE City – Jodhpur

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nestled in the magical part of India, Rajasthan, the next city is the BLUE city of Jodhpur.

Legend has it – Blue fends off flesh eating mozzies, and keeps the desert city cool.

The later seemed quite true. Yesterday, we were on the brink of collapsing from heat exhaustion whilst touring the famous Jodhpur Fort, the only comfort we found was in the confides of the washroom, the ONLY place we found fans.

Today, on a mission to get one good shot of the blue city, we set off by foot and wandered aimlessly in the maze of blue ancient buildings. Hours, later, we made it back unscathed, it was nice shady, breezy throughout even in the supposedly 37 degC desert heat!

We had a really good guesthouse which made our stay much more enjoyable. I practiced yoga for the first time on our rooftop overlooking the sunset behind the fort, (which was really good!), lest the part I had to reach for my toes. Besides that, Jodhpur is  a unpretentious town, where you don’t see many other tourists, which means…THANK GOODNESS, reasonable prices, and less chances of getting ripped off of getting hassled by locals.

Next up! – The Holy city of Pushkar!

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Food & Travel – Palak Paneer

Honest Food

If you have a good food philosophy, I believe your restaurant will go a long way. 

The touristy cities of Jaisalmer & Goa,had not been a gastronomical delight. For over 2 weeks, there was no decent Biriyani or Curry. My chocolate banana pancake even tasted like metal?! If you ever find restaurants that say that has a menu 30 pages long with everything from Indian curries to pizzas, chances are you would be very disappointed.

The crew arrived late in Jodhpur, starving. To make matters worse, the food the 5 of us ordered arrived……a torturous hour later! WHYY SO LONG!!

Just as we  were about to throw a bitch-fit, we were silenced as the food slid into our mouths.

My chicken Biriyani had huge chunks of chicken. They were massive and I hadn’t had this much meat ever before! I’m sucker for large portions of meat, hate it when people give anorexic portions of protein.

The curries were the REAL DEAL. Complex in flavour, they were creamy, salty, spicy, very very hearty.

God you can’t imagine the elation we felt, it almost brought me to tears! I tenderly licked off the sweetness of cinnamon chunks, sniffed at cardamon and clove bits.  It was so so good. I knew this was the guy I had to ask to teach me how to cook curries.

Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese Curry) was my favourite Indian dish. The first time I had it in a Pakistani restaurant I was blown away. This was THE dish I’d been yearning to learn! Tek, the young and charismatic Nepalese chef was happy to show me the ropes!

But first, he had to get the ingredients. Wait for it………cos this is the amazing part.

EVERY TIME you order a dish, they’d run out to their regular stalls to get fresh poultry, or fresh produce! Food takes a lot longer, but they do not believe in keeping food in the freezer cos it isn’t as fresh and its consistency changes. A lot more trouble they have to go through, but willingly, for the love of a good principle. 

Their boss owns a milk farm, and distributes milk all over Jodhpur. They make fresh Paneer (cheese) every morning, and it makes such a difference in the dish. It came out really soft and delightful, better than any I’ve ever tasted. Tek started as a kitchen hand when he was 15, and learnt through observing. I really enjoyed his confidence, and his willingness to share. Later this evening, he even brought me to the best place to buy spices!

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Ingredients

– Paneer x 1 block

– Spinach x 100 g

– Mixed spice, salt and pepper x to taste

– Ginger, Onion, Garlic,

– Tomatoes x 2

– Oil x 50 ml

– Water x 150 ml

Steps

1. Dice tomatoes, chop garlic, onion, and ginger. Sautee in hot oil.

2. Add in the mixed spices and seasonings.

3. Boil the spinach, blend.

4. Combine the spinach in the mixture, add cream.

5. Add in chunks of paneer, mash a few pieces up.

6. Reduce. Serve topped with more cream and grated paneer with rice or chapatti.

 

If you decide to come to Jodhpur, try out their guesthouse. Very reasonable prices, pleasant staff, and free yoga! Thanks for the great hospitality guys!

‘BABA HAVELI GUEST HOUSE, Near Clock Tower, Solanki Dairy, Umaid Chowk, Jodhpur, India”

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