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If you don't like crowds, don't go to a major Hindu temple on a festival night of the full moon.

Per our driver's suggestion, we squeezed in Ambaji temple on the way back from Mount Abu. Many shops line the roads around Ambaji temple. The shops sell everything a pilgrim needs to make an offering, including cocumb (sp?), huge piles of the red powder used to mark the heads of religious pilgrims. Our driver bought incense and a coconut.

Ambaji's large temple attracts many Hindu pilgrims to its gold-topped turrets. This was a festival - Sunday night, the night of the full moon after the Navaratri festival. There were long lines of people waiting, winding around like the queues for an amusement park but much more tightly packed. We went through security (metal detectors and armed guards).  The guard took Alkesh's incense away; I'm not sure if it's contraband or if it would be offered later.  We left our phones and camera in the car (photography is prohibited there).

Imagine a crowd packed more tightly than a Metro train at rush hour, but with the chaos of a mosh pit and the zeal of a Pentecostal church. We were caught in the thick of it. The drums were beating and the Hindu pilgrims were in high religious fervor. We were buffeted forward and almost lifted off our feet in the waves of swaying people pushing forward and pressing behind and all around us. The crowd ebbed and flowed in time to the hypnotic rhythm of the drums. Every so often, the loudspeaker blared chants that were suddenly answered with loud shouts from all the people surrounding us.  Some people near the sides prostrated themselves; most were just standing and slowly moving forward in the crowd, getting as close as they could to see the place where the idol would sit, if there were an idol there. (It's a kind of decorated alcove; the lack of an idol there has religious significance.)  After maybe a half-hour, we somehow were pushed toward the side and out of the surge. We made it out to the cool night air and just breathed.

The beggar-children outside the Ambaji temple spotted us. Visnagar kids may follow us around, but the Ambaji kids were much more aggressive. They physically tapped and poked at us to get our attention. They followed us to our car and tapped on the windows all around us. Our driver actually slapped one child on the cheek when the boy would not let him get to his car.  The driver then somehow maneuvered it away.

We had dinner at a Gujarati dining hall. The waiters must not see Westerners often. They gathered around our table, refilling our dishes, constantly dishing out food so it was hard to actually eat.  The mutter paneer was done a different way than I make it; theirs had a thin rather than a thick creamy sauce, but I liked it.  I also liked the palak (sauteed spinach).

We would've appreciated Ambaji more if we had not gone on a festival day.

Indian food

Sep. 7th, 2009 10:52 pm
flora: Photo of a baby penguin chick (Default)
The host institution is bending over backwards to accomodate us. Among their wishes is to provide food that we will enjoy eating. Professor Hiren, our key guide, has taken us for lunch and dinner to various restaurants to try to see what foods we like. Apparently, they will arrange for the local Visnagar restaurants to deliver food to campus for us. The local Gujarati cuisine is completely vegetarian (as are about ~80% of the local people). Fortunately we love cheese, and most of the vegetable dishes are served hot so we can eat them without fear of getting sick.

Chandrika, our faculty coordinator's wife, cooked us a standard Gujarati dinner when we visited them. We ate it in the traditional manner, with our right hands, as we were all seated on the floor.
A Gujarati meal, with many dishes including gulab jamin
 


We've also eaten a couple times at Shukan, the main hotel-restaurant in town. It serves Paneer (Indian cheese), in just about any way we could imagine. Much of it's Punjabi (North Indian), with cheese cooked in different spicy sauces. Michael especially likes the dry paneer tikka: a toothpick hors d'oeurve-style cheese chunk, dipped in Tandoori yogurt/spice sauce, and topped with a grilled pepper or onion or tomato slice.

I'm remembering much of my culinary Indian terms. Aloo (spelled Alu) or Batate for potato; Ananas is Pineapple. The Gujarati dal (lentil soup) is more watery here. The Lassi is normally a sweetened custard sundae. They serve "buttermilk" (chaas) which is more like the plain/salted yogurt Lassi drink I'm used to, but frothy.

Michael is living on chai coffee. That's made with hot steamed milk, sweetened, with cardamom and other spices. I still prefer tea, but the coffee is good. There's also a certain novelty in being able to push a buzzer and summon a new cup of coffee brought to you upon demand.

For drinking water, we've been able to drink bottled water (seals broken in front of us). I've also been drinking tea made from tap water after it has been boiled in the electric teakettle. The water from the sink is not safe to drink or use, due to the prevalent bacteria that cause diaharrea and worse. We brush our teeth using bottled or boiled water. It is also not safe to eat vegetables or fruits that have been washed in the tap water; we try to only eat hot food. It's that way throughout India. An article in last week's national newsmagazine was trumpeting a new project for safe drinking water in Harayana, a relatively small state near Delhi. So it can be done.

Sanitation and tradition also dictate that eating occurs with the right hand only. We've torn our <i>naan</i> and <i>roti</i> breads with our right-hand to scoop up mouthfuls of food. Forks are usually provided, though not always. Spoons are served with Lassi and desserts. Silverware is acceptable, but eating with fingers is strongly preferred.

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