Signs Along the Way

Delhi Metro Map

Delhi Metro Map

Delhi barber shop

Delhi barber shop

This "heating elements" was an odd site in Old Delhi as temps were well into the 100s

This "heating elements" was an odd site in Old Delhi as temps were well into the 100s

Along the Ganga ghats in Varanasi

Along the Ganga ghats in Varanasi

I guess this was built decades ago and is no longer in use. Too bad hockey fans.

I guess this was built decades ago and is no longer in use. Too bad hockey fans.

Good advice from the Delhi Metro

Good advice from the Delhi Metro

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August 6, 2009 at 9:40 AM Leave a comment

Food

Fresh lime juice vender

Fresh lime juice vender

Samosas at LMB Restaurant in Jaipur

Samosas at LMB Restaurant in Jaipur

At long last a food post!  I can’t believe I am in my last few days in India and I have not commented specifically on the food.  The food is amazing and everywhere, from street venders selling fried snacks, artistically arranged fresh fruits and vegetables, and even some familiar fast food

McDonalds delivery in Pune

McDonalds delivery in Pune

McDonalds: Pune

McDonalds: Pune

restaurants.   McDonald’s has a growing market share here, no beef allowed. The chicken nuggets are the same but the rest of the menu has a clear Indian flavor. The veg burger is very tasty with masala spices.

Southern Indian thaal platter

Southern Indian thaal platter

Another southern thaal: Chennai

Another southern thaal: Chennai

In the southern parts of India, (I can only comment on the cities of Kochi and Chennai) rice, coconut, lentils, and chilies are a part of most meals.  In Chennai, we had a typical Tamil Nadu meal call a thaal platter. On stainless steel rectangular school-lunch type dish (sometimes served on a huge fresh banana leaf) were all of the tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, peppery, astringent combined to aid digestion in a variety of yummy combinations.  Mango and coconut chutneys as well as cooling yoghurt tempered the spicy sambhar rasam and potato lentil dishes.  Flat India wheat bread, naan, accompanies some of the meals in the south but poppadams, crisp fried rice wafers or appam, a steamed rice pancake is usually on the plate.  For dessert, I have had lots of tasty items.  Warm milky rice pudding with pistachios and raisins, pasayam, is one of my favorite items.

North Indian thaal in Jaipur at LMB Restaurant

North Indian thaal in Jaipur at LMB Restaurant

LMB owner watching over the restaurant from behind the counter

LMB owner watching over the restaurant from behind the counter

In Jaipur, in the state of Rajasthan (I arrived here August 1) I had a north Indian thaal platter. The restaurant LMB, Laxmi (after the Hindu goddess) Mishthan Bhandar, has been operated for over two hundred years and is famous for its delicious food and sweet treats.  The meal was started with one of the best soups I have ever tasted.  Papad mangori is a slightly peppery lentil broth with hints of nutmeg and cloves. This thaal platter had fried breads called, churma, made with wheat or gram flour and spices. A pineapple boondi raita (yoghurt dish) was a nice break from some of the spicier dishes. Okra, pea, rice, and lentil dishes were part of the many other delicious tidbits to sample.  For dessert there was mishri mawa.  I am not sure of all the ingredients but it was warm, sweet, creamy, and cinnamon flavored.

Tea on the 2nd class AC train

Tea on the 2nd class AC train

Dinner on train

Dinner on train

While I separated this post into the northern and southern foods, most of these foods are available throughout India’s metropolitan areas.  My palate is not sophisticated enough to discern the differences between south India thaal made in Delhi and that made in Kochi.  Suffice it to say that the food has been wonderful and diverse just like the country itself.

Lime juice vender: Chennai

Lime juice vender: Chennai

Tea stall: Varanasi

Tea stall: Varanasi

Chilis: Kolkata

Chili peppers: Kolkata

Naan oven: Varanasi

Naan oven: Varanasi

Painting using okra for stamps: School in Kochi

Painting using okra for stamps: School in Kochi

Tea at Mrs. and Mr. Dutta's home: Kolkata

Tea at Mrs. and Mr. Dutta's home: Kolkata

Mango vender: Chennai

Mango vender: Chennai

August 6, 2009 at 4:07 AM Leave a comment

Agra the Great

August 1, 2009

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

Fellow Fulbright-Hays teachers Carrie Block and Katie Clary at the Taj Mahal

Fellow Fulbright-Hays teachers Carrie Block and Katie Clary at the Taj Mahal

Agra the Great would be an appropriate way to describe all of the monumental structures that spill out of this one-time Mughal capital.  Agra is home to the Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb, and Agra Fort to name the main highlights.  It is fascinating to realize that all of these structures were built in the 16th and 17th centuries-the same time period as the Europeans were exploring the Americas and establishing permanent settlements.

Akbar's hall for public audiences at Fatehpur Sikri: the "City of Victory"

Akbar's hall for public audiences at Fatehpur Sikri: the "City of Victory"

Akbar's seat above the public hall floor

Akbar's seat above the public hall floor

Close-up of craved plant at Fatehpur Sikri

Close-up of carved plant at Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar the Great (Akbar means great so in English he would be Great the Great-he ruled from 1556-1605)) constructed Fatehpur Sikri on the outskirts of Agra and it was the capital of the Mughal empire for 14 years. Like all of Akbar’s buildings, it is made of red sandstone with detailed relief carvings and inlays of plants, flowers, and geometric designs.  Like many royal cities, this site has one building designed specifically for public audiences.  The king’s throne is on top of a pillar in the middle of a room with walkways running from it to the four corners of the building.  Akbar’s subjects stood below the pedestal to ask for his intervention in various matters. The whole complex reminded me of Beijing’s Forbidden City with its many courtyards, pavilions, and spacious living quarters.

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Northwest Mosque at the Taj Mahal

Northwest Mosque at the Taj Mahal

Verses from the Koran inscribed on the Taj Mahal

Verses from the Koran inscribed on the Taj Mahal

I feel somewhat guilty not having a blog entry just for the Taj Mahal, but the whole city is just so impressive it is difficult to leave anything out.  We arrived at the Taj Mahal in the early morning so as to see it at sunrise.  It is truly an amazing mausoleum and is flanked by two red sandstone buildings; the Northwest mosque sits on one side and its mirror image on the other of the Taj Mahal.  This building was called the guesthouse by the British but it was never used for this purpose during Mughal reign.  It was built just to provide symmetry for the mosque. The Taj Mahal, built by Shah Jahan (r. 1627-58) is a really a stunning complex and I was honestly moved to tears when I first saw it through the entry gate.  I have taught my second grade Taj Mahal lesson so many times in the past two years and I was always unable to answer so many of the students’ questions,  I am excited to share my experiences during this coming school year.

Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb

Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb

Outside wall of the tomb inlaid with various stones

Outside wall of the tomb inlaid with various stones

Tomb wall

Tomb wall

After a few hours at the Taj Mahal, we went to Itmad-ud-Daula’s tomb.  I was a bit skeptical about our guide’s claims that this building is, in many ways, more captivating than the Taj.

Stone inlay, small yet elegant

Stone inlay, small yet elegant

Stone inlay close-up

Stone inlay close-up

The tomb built by Nurjahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir, in 1628 seems to have been Shah Jahan’s inspiration for the Taj.  Nurjahan built this tomb for her parents but there are also many other family tombs within the mausoleum.  The detailed inlay work in this structure is truly breathtaking and in this area it beats the Taj Mahal hands down.

Inlay craftsman

Inlay craftsman

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

After touring these stunning sites, we went to a marble factory where men from the same families as those 16th and 17th century skilled craftspeople created works of art using similar methods, tools, and materials.  Their work is now for sale in the forms of everything from tabletops to coasters.

We are off to Jaipur tonight and I am looking forward to another 2nd class AC train ride!

August 6, 2009 at 3:21 AM 3 comments

Snapshots of Varanasi

Six year old boy at Asha Deep school

Six year old boy at Asha Deep school

Connie Rao, principal of the Asha Deep Vidyashram.  This school serves poor children. Ms. Rao, an American, has developed wonderful connections with the students.

Connie Rao, principal of the Asha Deep Vidyashram. This school serves poor children. Ms. Rao, an American, has developed wonderful connections with the students.

Stupa at Sarnath.  Bhudda preached his first sermon here and this is a sacred spot for Bhuddhists.

Stupa at Sarnath. Bhudda preached his first sermon here and this is a sacred spot for Bhuddhists.

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Rice farming outside of the city

Rice farming outside of the city

July 31, 2009 at 10:22 AM Leave a comment

The Mother Ganga

July 27, 2009

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Washing the water buffalo

Washing the water buffalo

One of the ghats on the Ganga

One of the ghats on the Ganga

We arrived in Varanasi a.k.a Benares a.k.a Kashi (City of Light not the cereal) in the state of Uttar Pradesh via overnight train from Kolkata.  Our entry into this ancient city, a sacred place to Buddhists and Hindus, was via a dusty and crowed train station complete with a cow lounging inside the main foyer.  Varanasi is place where the confluences of the Varuna and Asi rivers meet the most sacred river to Hindus, the Ganges or Ganga as it is known in India.   Hindus believe that bathing, drinking, or performing daily rituals here is essential to their spiritual existence.  If one’s body can also be cremated using the scared flame (a ceremony that is preformed at two of the ghats) and then the ashes offered to the Ganga, then one will be released from all suffering.  Thus, Varanasi is a very holy site and full of pilgrims who come to perform rituals at one or more of the thousands of temples that fill the city and line the ghats.

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Morning aarti

Morning aarti

Luckily our hotel is situated on the banks of the river at the top of one of the 90 or so ghats (steps) that lead down to the Ganga.  Some of these ghats are “sponsored”, for lack of a better word, by various families, civic organizations, or groups that represent other states in India. For example Hindu pilgrims from Tamil Nadu will know to go the ghat that is for folks from southern India.  At this ghat there will be helpers who speak their language and can guide them to proper lodgings and assist them in performing various rituals. Some ghats were also built by former rulers of the area.  A Varanasi Maharaja, Chet Singh, built his ghat which is now also known as the site were he was defeated by the British in the mid-18th century.

Boats on the Ganga

Boats on the Ganga

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Krishna and another Hindu god along the Ganga

Krishna and another Hindu god along the Ganga

Being in the heart of Varanasi at the Asi Ghat, I am able to see many of these rituals just by strolling along the river. Our second morning in the city, the group took a very early morning boat ride on the river to watch the day unfold.  As we progressed north along the Ganga, people rang bells, lit small candles and submerged themselves in the cool water as they preformed their aarti (prayers).  The pictures really do most of the talking for this day.  After passing one of the cremation ghats, our guide explained a bit about the process.  In the temple at the top of the ghat, there is a sacred flame that has always been kept by the same family.  When a family brings their loved one’s body to the site it is wrapped in a shroud and carried on a bamboo litter.  The family purchases the wood from nearby venders, different woods fetch various prices with sandalwood being the most expensive, and the body and wood are arranged in a funeral pyre.  The closest male relative of the decreased lights the wood with the sacred flame after prayers are said.  Hindus believe that dying in Varanasi gives a person instant liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

We headed ashore and toured the narrow dim lanes already full of shopkeepers, souvenir hawkers, uniformed children rushing to school, and the ubiquitous cows.

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Family outing

Family outing

Drying sarees on the ghats

Drying sarees on the ghats

The Ganga is a sacred river but also a much polluted one.  As it descends from the Himalayas, industries and cities dump waste into the water and by the time it reaches the Bay of Bengal it was hundreds of times the accepted rate of bacteria in it.  Efforts are being made to clean the river but it is a complicated process since it is essential to numerous groups.  Out of all the places I have seen thus far, it seems that the Ganga presents some of the greatest challenges for my American mind.  While the river is the essence of spiritual purity for Hindus and I appreciate their devotion to this idea, the Ganges’s physical manifestation it is not even a place  in which I would consider dipping a toe.

July 31, 2009 at 9:49 AM Leave a comment

Special People

July 24, 2009

Genevieve and her brother outside of Kolkata.  Her parents were our guides for a local school visit.

Genevieve and her brother outside of Kolkata. Her parents were our guides for a local school visit.

Mr. Gagan: The group's tour director who has been with us since Delhi.  We would be lost without him.

Mr. Gagan: The group's tour director who has been with us since Delhi. We would be lost without him.

Since arriving in India, I have met great people.  This post will highlight some of those folks.  Like most of my India posts, by commenting on one aspect of the country or people it seems that I could be overlooking others as there is so much to absorb.  In no way can I highlight all of the warm, gracious, and welcoming people who have enriched my experience but hopefully this list will give you a sense of the country’s diversity.  I have posted pictures of some of the students I have met thus far as they have all be fun, motivated, and inquisitive.

Sandy Oommen from Kottayam, Kerala: Sandy and I have many connections with each other.  She is the mother-in-law of my Peace Corps friend Parag, a.k.a Coco, Patel and mother of his lovely wife, Mora.  Sandy also began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer and then became a teacher. She married Mora’s dad, Thomas, while he was visiting America from India and has since lived between India, the U.S. and Africa.   I contacted Sandy once I reached Kerala and she graciously agreed to come to Kochi and arranged for myself and Carrie (another RPVC who is part of the Fulbright group) to meet many educators in the Kochi area.  Sandy’s relation, Aminan Samuel, is a retired school administrator and she joined us on our drive to the Global Public School.  Sandy and Aminan answered our numerous questions and proved insights into India and education that have given me a clearer picture of this multi-layered and complex system. (Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of them to post but will hopefully get one from another source soon!)

Lakshami, Carrie, and I

Lakshami, Carrie, and I

Lakshami Ramachandran: Dean of the Global Public School outside of Kochi, Kerala.  In India, public schools are equivalent to U.S. private schools.  Lakshami’s vision for the Global’s students is that they become productive citizens of the world community and she has the staff and drive to support this ideal.  Her energy and intelligence were inspirational.

Mrs. and Mr. Dutta: Kolkata

Mrs. and Mr. Dutta: Kolkata

Kolkata: Mr. Singh: Shopkeeper, tailor, and great storyteller with family in Canada and U.S.  I had tea with him three days in a row.

Kolkata: Mr. Singh: Shopkeeper, tailor, and great storyteller with family in Canada and U.S. I had tea with him three days in a row.

Friends at a computer center for government schools in Chennai.

Friends at a computer center for government schools in Chennai.

Dr. Mullick, his wife, and Carrie

Kolkata: Dr. Mullick, his wife, and Carrie. The Mullicks invited our group to their apartment complex for an evening of sitar music and dinner with their neighbors.

July 26, 2009 at 4:01 AM Leave a comment

Videos on Teacher Tube

Map at a government school in Chennai

Map at a government school in Chennai

http://teachertube.com/viewProfile.php?user=Hundleyjane&ref=Hundleyjane

Check out the videos from time to time to get a better view of India!

July 26, 2009 at 3:36 AM Leave a comment

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