Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elephants and Peppers

Luckily, whatever bug I got was shortlived, because I was back to normal yesterday. Hurray for mango juice and rest!

We saw our first elephants yesterday, first in the form of an elephantjam on the highway:

Then we took rides on them. And smelled them. Like a lot of India, the succulent is mixed with the pungent, smell-wise, and elephant don’t exactly smell succulent.

The elephants are how tourists get to Fort Amber, outside Jaipur. Fort Amber is the palace of some 16th century king or other. It’s funny how a few measly centuries of American history can barely be fit into a year of school, but Indians have millennia of history to contend with.

Nonetheless, it was a great palace – lots of great nooks and crannies and hallways and fountains and rooms. It made me want to be a 10 year old boy of a minor wife so I could run around the hallways and spy on people.

We also saw monkeys today. Unlike most other primates at the fort, they were not trying to sell us junky tourist merchandise. They just screech until someone gives them food. What it lacks in dignity, it makes up for in effectivness, because, after all, they are monkeys.

Although I'm making jokes about being accosted by people selling us stuff, I do realize it is a small price to pay for our obvious abundance.  I'll try to post something on that aspect of India a bit later.

There's no way to make this transition unclunky, but we did some shopping today. I read that the US has 900K retail outlets, and that India has 15 million. They've specifically not allowed Walmarts and such in, because most of their retail is small mom and pop shops, like this one, where the guy sells only pickles:

It made me think of the old Saturday Night Live skit about the guy who only sells scotch-tape.  He doesn't even branch out into other kinds of tape.  I think this concept could possibly work in India, where small and specialized is the rule.

We contrasted that by going to a western-style mall, which was exactly like a western-style mall.  No pictures, unfortunately, but it was funny how once we stepped into the mall, half the people were wearing jeans.  We also saw a biker dude with a Northern Illinois Law School sweatshirt on (although it was just a shirt to him -- he had no idea where it was).


I think I'm going to be a terrible food reporter, because my meals are not terribly adventurous. First off, my breakfasts have consisted of rolls and fresh papaya and yogurt. There are a number of Indian dishes usually available, but my spice-tolerance is cumulative during the day, so I have to save it up for dinner.

And yesterday, we ate at the equivalent of a Starbucks for lunch and had sandwiches. Not terribly Indian (although note the chili banana chips). We usually do better, but my spinach corn cheese sandwich was quite good a day after being ill.

Finally, last night we went to an "Asian" restaurant, which we weren’t sure what they meant, but it turned out to be Chinese and a little Thai. Some dishes were familiar, like red and green curry, but others, like chili baby corn (below) and crackling spinach were new.

I think the crackling baby spinach was the hit of the night – they figured out a way to fry spinach into a crackly form and then put sugar on it. Why fried, sugary spinach is not yet available to Americans is a capitalist mystery.

The menu had little peppers next to each item to indicate how spicy each was, which we originally thought was very helpful, until we discovered they had no relation to how actually spicy the dish was. I suppose when one's spice tolerance is at 1000, whether a dish is a 5 or 100 is too little precision to care about.

For instance, my dish of broccoli, baby corn and mushrooms was fairly tasteless until it tried to kill me. It had a red pepper hidden in it and when I bit into it my mouth exploded. I couldn't feel my tongue. My lips could have lit a cigerette. I could have warmed an entire village for a month. It was hot, is what I am saying.

Mama Usha is careful not to let us eat anything that might get us sick. Although highly appreciated, it is sometimes painful, as the when the special lassis (a yogurt drink, often mixed with fruit, like mango) of Jaipur are forbidden because they are made with local water. Oh well.

Tomorrow we are off to the desert, where it is unlikely there will be internet access.  We will be in "tents" with bathrooms, so I don't think it will be that rough. After that we have a night in a hotel in the desert, and then it's Usha's place.  So, it might be a few days before I report again.


lara said...

cool spy photo at the palace.

glad you're feeling better!

Robert Sievers said...

What I want to know was it just pickled cucumbers, or did he branch out to other pickled foods.

Dan S said...

Actually, the spy photo I believe was your Dad's picture. Just assume all the good picture are either Martha's or Clark's.

I believe they were just pickles. You don't want to get away from your core competency and risk losing your focus.