Wednesday, October 28, 2009

INDIA: Stray Cows and a Monkey in Transit

In the Philippines, we have lots of stray dogs. In India, they have stray cows. 

You will literally see cows scattered all over the road. Some are just sitting under the shade, cooling off from the searing heat. Others are at the garbage heap searching for lunch. Generally these bovine gods are slow and dormant, but occasionally they can get violent. A French backpacker I met got rammed by those mighty horns while crossing a narrow street. The cows freely roam anywhere and it made me wonder if anyone owned them.

Main intersection in Udaipur

Illegal Parking


Dung Cakes 
(a.k.a. Pastries)

Love me or leave me!

According to one Indian I asked, cows are on the streets because their owners have abandoned them. The cows are taken cared of as pets because of their divine stature in Indian society. However, when the cow stops producing milk, the owner ditches them to fend for themselves. Another Indian said that these allegedly stray cows do have owners. The cows spend the day grazing with their "friends" and then come home for supper. Come to think of, yeah, I never saw a cow walking around at night.

In other news in the animal kingdom, I thought I was dreaming when I saw a full-grown monkey riding behind a bicycle. Apparently, the campus dorm I was staying in was surrounded by small monkeys. To keep the primates away, the school officials "hired" an alpha male monkey to guard the dormitory. He's tied to a huge tree in the dorm lawn and has kept the hall monkey-free. I guess he's having a day off?


"My tail is itchy." -Monkey

Cool kids sit at the back of the bike

CAUTION: Monkey Crossing 

Graveyard Shift

INDIA: Monuments

Today, let me take you to two monuments in New Delhi. The first is called Qutb Minar, a minaret (tower) that showcases Indo-Islamic architecture. Around this tower is a small dainty park where families go for a picnic or an afternoon stroll. There are also some old Hindu temples and ruins which made up the whole complex.

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Columns and ruins

Around the tower


My guide told me that the tower gradually become thinner towards the top. The base is 14.3 meters wide while the top is 2.75 meters wide only. The tower is also divided into five levels and at each level the design changes. Notice how at one level the design is shaped like a cube while in another level the design is round. He said that, because of that design, if you look at the tower from above, it's actually shaped like a lotus flower, India's national flower.

See the shapes in each level?

Hand-carved designs 
on the gate wall

Qutb Minar

In the complex, I entered one temple and saw an old lady crouched on the floor. Seeing that I was a lone traveler, she offered to take my photo for me inside that temple. Once I gave her my camera, she suddenly became bossy and strict. She ordered me to pose in front of an undecorated wall. Then she forcefully made me sit on top of a tomb-like stone block. I thanked her for her kindness and asked for my camera back but she stepped back and insisted she takes another photo of me and the stone block, but now from another angle. I forced a smile to conceal my irritation; she was wasting my time. Finally she gave my camera back, stretched her hand to ask for a small fee. Now that was totally subtle! Don't you just love unrequested service?

Take one!

The other angle 
(Wow, it looks so different!)

The other monument is called the India Gate. It's one of my favorite spots in the madness of New Delhi. The monument is located in a huge park with wide gardens perfect for lounging around with friends or family. It's actually a war memorial and India's national monument. It was built for the Indian soldiers who fought for the British Army in WW 1. The name of the valiant heroes are inscribed on the walls of the gate.

Street scene before the monument

India Gate

Heroes' names inscribed on the wall

As the sun set, more and more people came. Families taking an evening stroll, lovers stealing a moment to hold hands before another day of work, and groups friends cracking foolish jokes on one another filled the park as night drew on. The gate was majestic and picturesque especially with the klieg lights beaming from below. It looked like a star had fallen from the heavens and landed in the middle of a park.



It looks like the Arc de Triomphe on Champs Elysee, doesn't it? I've never been there though. The India Gate is lit up every night so make sure to visit when you're in town. To enter is totally free. There are hundreds of vendors that sell ice cream, Indian snacks and flying toys all over the place. The best time to go is during sunset so you can see the monument transform. Bring someone with you!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

INDIA: Lunch Time

During lunch hour, my officemates and I would walk down to good ol' Verma's Kitchen. It's the closest and cheapest food joint around India Habitat Center. Three USD for a meal for five people. Not bad at all! Our other officemates warned us that if we don't want stomach problems, we better stay away from Verma's. I never got sick from eating there though! The usual lunch cast is Shraman, Anubhab, Shekhar, Shatish (not in photo) and myself.

"With one Indian, it's contemplation... 
With two Indians, it's argumentation...

With three Indians, it's a revolution!"

Right off the pan



Spoils of war

After this particular lunch, the guys made me try sweet paan, an Indian breath freshener / after mint.  It's made from betel leaves, betel nut, areca nut and other dubious substances like rose-syrup, rose leaves and some colorful spices of different shapes and sizes. They ordered three pieces; the mysterious sidewalk vendor took some leaves submerged in a pail of water. He carefully cut the discolored parts of the foliage and used a small brush to spread the ingredients stored in the tin cups onto the green wrapper. He looked as though he was preparing poison or some voodoo ritual!

What can I do for you?

Pick your poison!

A closer look

Still alive!

I look excited but I was actually scared of getting wild diarrhea. As expected, the paan tasted like herbal mint candy. While chewing on it, the rose-syrup leaked from the leaf and I felt like I was eating a valentine's gift I'd give my mom or girlfriend. It was refreshing to the mouth but when the menthol worked its way up to my nose I just had to spit it out. The flavor and aroma lingered for the next half-hour so it still felt like it was inside my mouth. No more paan for me! Ever!

INDIA: Train Stations

When I was in India, the scenes from Slumdog Millionaire kept replaying in my head. Admittedly, Slumdog Millionaire subconsciously became my "guide" to present India. (The only other movie I've seen about India was Gandhi and that was set in the first half of the 20th century.) I understand why some Indians were upset that Slumdog Millionaire was such a celebrated movie when it portrayed a destitute and dangerous India to the whole world. It really gets to you; well, it did to me at least. More details in another entry.

On the flip side though, compared to what was shown in the movie, actual Indian train stations are worlds apart from what was shown on the silver screen. Remember the scene where Jamal looks for Latika and sees her gazing up from the platform? That scene was filled multi-colored saris and the atmosphere was pretty festive, I'd say. Remember the Bollywood-style dance sequence that was shot in a train station towards the end credits? Compare it to these photos of Old Delhi Railway Station.

Old Delhi Railway Station


Anubhab, my friend, 
making a phone call by a book kiosk

Chance passengers

Train delayed


Waiting it out

The line didn't move

Well, that's the reality. Amazingly, though, despite the apparent disorder, everyone still got on their trains and reached their destinations. Method in madness, the Indian way. The movie didn't prepare me for the train stations but, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to see how it really is. Wild.

Monday, October 26, 2009

INDIA: Karim's Hotel

A short tribute to my favorite restaurant in New Delhi. Karim's Hotel is located in downtown Delhi close to Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India.


They built several branches 
in the same location due to popular demand

For one, I liked the location of the place. It's not exactly the most accessible spot in town but I think the journey getting there adds to the restaurant's charm. From the closest Metro station, you'd still need  a short rickshaw trip or a 15-minute walk through thronged streets of the local market. To find the restaurant, you have to ask around for directions until the locals point you to a small dark alley-way.

Please Wait to be Seated

Bring it on!

Inside Karim's, the walls are sparsely decorated yet they bear the essentials. The interior doesn't look contrived or staged, unlike the tourist trap restaurants included in package tours; just plain, simple and honest. Well, there's no need for an elaborate display, I guess. The long history behind Karim's, for which the restaurant is famous for (and its food, of course) makes for a good story. In a nutshell, the techniques used in cooking their dishes were handed down from the family's ancestors who cooked for the Mughals. So, in a sense, you get to taste what the Mughals ate when you eat in Karim's.


I especially love the badam pasanda - a sumptuous combination of mutton and almond sauce. I like how this dish has fused the mutton taste with the almonds to come up with a flavor that will make you say, "Yeah, that hit the spot." Fulfilling. The badam pasanda blends perfectly with their plain naan which was soft yet chewy, a tad sweet and could be eaten by itself. I almost forgot; the shish kabab was a welcome appetizer. It whets your appetite for the main course with the richness of the herbs and spices used to marinade it.

Freshly tandoori-ed naan

The Real Mr. Kabab


For 3-7 USD, Karim's packs a lot of value for your money and is definitely worth a visit while you're in town. Popular with foreigners and locals alike, Karim's will not disappoint your taste buds. Just make sure to order the right dishes. If unsure, ask the waiter! After eating, you can head off to nearby Jama Masjid and the Muslim market for shopping and people-watching.