Thursday, 28 October 2010

What Happens If Your Vehicle Breaks Down in Rajasthan? Pushkar! Oh God...

Hello blog fans! We’re in Pushkar now, the last leg of our India tour. We’ve got a few days here, six or seven in total, I think. I’ve lost track and I don’t care! We arrived here at 3:30am, bleary-eyed and slightly confused. It’s never a great idea to arrive somewhere at night, but the night bus was the most attractive of two not very attractive ways of getting here from Bikaner! I’m pleased to tell you that the owner of our hotel came and met us in the middle of the night (maximum points to him) and made sure we got there safely. Needless to say we crashed out on the bed almost instantly! Thanks to the Hotel Everest, which is really good by the way.

Pushkar is a religious pilgrimage town for Hindus and a hippy/backpacker hotspot for Westerners, so it’s quite a mix here. It’s probably the most touristy place we’ve been, but in a good way! The town has quite strict rules including no eggs, no meat and couples are told not to be affectionate in public. This last one is a rule we’ve observed in India generally, along with dressing quite conservatively and covering up. It still amazes me to see some tourists having a serious snogging session in public (saw this in Jaisalmer). Ania and I have just been marveling at a girl wearing leggings and a strappy top in Pushkar. You could see everything! Unbelievable!

I’m pleased to tell you that we haven’t done a great deal here! It’s been nice to relax and we’ve even found a café that has quite a good library of films, all knock-offs of course! We’ve just watched The Men Who Stare At Goats with George Clooney, Jeff Bridges, Ewan ‘Have You Seen My Willy?’ McGregor and Kevin Spacey, which I really enjoyed!

Pushkar has also seen us achieve a small ambition for our Indian trip, which we talked about right from the start when we were planning it back home! Back in Udaipur we were constantly offered cooking classes and turned them down, thinking they were very expensive and maybe not exactly what we wanted. A few days ago we were kicking ourselves for missing the chance and wondering if we’d blown a good opportunity. Then in Bikaner (our last stop), we picked a hotel that offered free cooking classes, only to discover that you were simply allowed to observe the non-English speaking chef through a serving hatch. Not what we’d envisaged!

With that in mind I became determined to remedy the situation and after a quick spot of googling we found Fiona, who runs Our Pukka Place. Fi’s an Aussie who’s married to an Indian man, Praveen. They have a couple of hotels and also run various tours. Yesterday Fi came and met us at our hotel and took us shopping in one of the local markets for fruit and vegetables. We then drove back to her home in the countryside and cooked an enormous dinner from scratch! We made dhal (lentils), potatoes in coconut milk, sweet-and-sour aubergine (Indian style sweet-and-sour, not Chinese-takeaway gloop), an okra dish, tandoori cauliflower, a melon-and-mint salad dish, chai (tea) and a bucket load of chapattis! It cost us 500 rupees each, about 7 pounds. That included the cost of all the ingredients, some emailed recipe cards and of course we ate what we cooked (or attempted to, I nearly exploded!)! For any fellow travellers who happen to be reading, I highly recommend contacting Fiona and Praveen for cooking lessons. They were friendly and informative and great hosts! You can find their website here.

Here’s some photos and videos of us having fun cooking with Fiona and Praveen.

Ania chopping some okra:

Stirring up some delicious food (I was actually straining some fresh tamarind into a sweet-and-sour aubergine dish, so there!):

Praveen making chapattis (shhhh! Don't tell anyone from India, this is not men's work, apparently!):

Trying my hand at cooking chapattis. Praveen was kneading the dough and Ania was rolling it. We did several of these where the bread puffed-up beautifully on the naked flame, but didn't get those ones on video! Honest! Still fun though, we made loads:

That’s all for now, folks. We’ve got a train to Delhi booked in a few days’ time, then we’re off to Sydney! We’ll write again soon x

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