Monsoon Trekking

I am learning to cook a few Indian dishes rooted, I think, in Chandighar cuisine.  Last night it was “red lamb,” and a curried fiddleheads dish.  Both were quick and easy, involving mustard oil or ghee as a base and then varying amounts of fresh ginger, red onions, garlic, and fresh lime juice; also, tumeric, salt, red peppers, and cumin.  No evidence of black pepper here.  The result?  Delicious.

Breakfasts consist of pomegrante seeds and sliced mango accompanied by toast.

Following on these, this A.M., we began what turned out to be an  even 14 km trek on a small road, once rail tracks we were told, behind the house and through little collections of houses, some half-built, and apple orchards, farms, and an animal vet clinic.

On the return, the heavens burst and, umbrellas up, we got drenched.  Which turned out to be fun.

Lunch was ready after changing into dry clothes: All veg, as usual, with a killer rice-beans dish stealing the show.

Zia, the dog, and the monkey in the pine

Zia, the dog, eats locusts and in a tall, nearby pine a big monkey sits on a branch.

In other news, I was taught how to make a nice Indian cauliflower dish to be replicated stateside:

Trim cauliflower.  Boil for 10 minutes.  drain.

Heat mustard oil, enough to coat a pot, and then add a teaspoon of cumin, two chopped cloves of garlic, two small chopped red onions, and stir until the vegetables wilt.  Add a teaspoon of tumeric, salt to taste, and a half-teaspoon of ground red chili powder.  Add cauliflower.  Lower heat and cook for 20 minutes, stirring as needed.

Dinner is curried mutton.

Memories of Wildflower Hall

I say, Kitchener had a point about the position of the property: Clouds rolling into the gardens, pine forests encircling, the paths to Mashobra and Kufri, what?

Nowadays, inside Wildflower Hall, which, alas and alack, we left this A.M. to return to our rosy cottage down below, is a spectacular property within.  The Luytens room, homage to the urban architect whose audacity created modern Delhi, is precise.  Billiards, card rooms, a terrific, old bar where classic recordings of jazz play.  No harm done.

Then, tiring of having to behave, we opted for room service: A tandoori chicken dish and a southern paneer: Man, delicious.

Back at the ranch, Zia greeted us effusively.  Soon it was another comfort food veg lunch, this time with stunningly delicious squash-potato dumplings in a light curry sauce.

I say!

What Do Monkeys Want?

What do they want?  I don’t mean in general–food, warmth, love, security, companionship, decent but not too aggressive IRA growth, bananas, things we all want–but specifically, here on the plush grounds of Wildflower Hall.

Why, they have everything: Apples, a gazebo, tall trees.  Do they require greater shelter from the rain?  Unlocked garbage bins?  Hard to say, hard to tell, but I am on the case.

Back to gustatory pleasures.

This place is pretty tony.  They’ve taken the best of European, Japanese, Indian, and Muslim styles and refined each of them.  Hence, ice cold Beefeater gin Martini’s at $11 a pop with fresh hummus accented with coriander before a roaring fire.  Followed by baby lamb served  in a glassed inn patio in view of a raging monsoon: Doors fly open, candles extinguish, the sambal skirts the sauce.

Monkeys Redux

Outside of the apple orchards and city streets, literal herds of monkeys state territorial claims on pine trees, walls, and paths.  They are in no joking mood.

Storm, assistant GM here at Wildflower Hall, a lovely property hosting me for two nights (meals are extra), informed me of having been attacked by two big monkeys as she made her way to her cottage, hands full of laundry.

My companion advises me: “Don’t look them in the eye.”  That works.  For now.

Stomach grumblings in said companion and then seeing a four pound increase in my weight in just 10 days–the hotel has a scale in our bathroom (just ours?)–has led to a dramatic decision: Eat less.

Food, which, as noted, I am paying for, is very good here.  A wonderful grilled cheese sandwich for lunch did the trick.  Dinner was Thai chicken with dried chili peppers on the side.  Cold Kingfisher?  You bet.

This A.M. it was good, old southern cooking: Dosas, uttapham, idli.  Really delicious, first-rate, with a fine balance of textures, temperatures, spices.  Dese dosas are good!

Spies from Pakistan: The Rose Garden Report

Being on the border of Pakistan, about 250 miles from Lahore, and just south of Kashmir, you might think that news of Pakistani aid going to the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, also close by, might alarm me.

But here on Monsoon Monday, preceded by Monsoon Sunday and antedated perhaps by Monsoon Week Ahead, no evidence appears of danger, per se.  Mind, if Homeland Security showed up, they’d probably arrest this entire region.  For one thing, I know it’s hard to believe but it’s true, not a single person has said, “Have a nice day,” or, “Have a good one,” not even a smile, since I’ve been here.  Not in Delhi either!

Nonetheless, we make ends meet, we get by.  Yesterday, just one example, we had a lovely lunch in one of the property’s rose gardens: Lamb, dal, paneer, roti, the whole nine yards.

There has been a bit of stomach trouble, but we are undeterred.  Anyway, it’s a matter of Russian roulette with the food and drink here.  You never know the source of the trouble: The mango shake?  The ice in the gin cocktail?  The salted, fried peas?  The pomegrante seeds?

The food is a metaphor, I reckon, for the Pakistani spy agency, isn’t it?  I mean, without the aid, the Taliban would still operate with vigor.  I don’t think it’s very nice of Pakistan to accept U.S. aid and also help our sworn enemies, that’s not what I’m saying.  But even without the mango shake, my stomach would still be cramping, if you catch my drift.

Monsoon Sunday

All night the rains came and they haven’t left: 6:35 A.M.

After a big dinner of lamb, boiled rice, dal, curried vegetables, followed by sweet goop, I read very briefly about Shah Jahan and was asleep by nine.

It’s as if we are in a cloud.  The tops of the apple trees are visible, but otherwise it’s a white palate.  Fitting given the task at hand of writing all morning.

Clothes on the railing of the upstairs verandah, left to dry, and wetter than ever now.

If the monkeys come in the storm, and I reckon they will, I wonder: Yellow raincoats, galoshes, tiny umbrellas?  Or will Hanuman protect them?

The Korean Crisis, Apple Orchards, and Colonial Consciousness

Yesterday, enlisting the guidance of the gardener, we trekked for nearly three hours through apple orchards and very tiny aggregations of houses, which they refer to here as villages.  I am not certain if the Brits planted the fruit trees.  The region produces most of India’s apples.  I had one.  It was good.

On the way down the mountain, we came across a small herd of cows and one sheep led by a shepherd woman.   A cow charged us, but we dodged it.  On the way up the mountain, we got drenched pleasantly in a downpour.

Lunches have now become 100% vegetarian and are unbelievably delicious repasts of northern Indian dishes: Cauliflower, dal, okra.  Dinner last night was “chilly chicken,” and it was.  Very.

Today I was enlisted to go to Simla or Shimla, the hub of the English hill stations and after 1947 a seat of Indian power.  In its center, stretching 5 km, is The Mall, built by the British, on which one sees a big church, city hall, and many Tudor-style houses.  Also, monkeys.  Lots of them.

Just past the town center is the Indira Gandhi Hospital and Medical College.  huge, red roofed, and surrounded by ambulances and death wagons.  Imagine the death wagon arriving at your door.  “Mrs. Singh, good news and bad news.  Good news, we’re here.  Bad news, you’re dying.’

In the center of the mall a group of South Korean evangelicals stood over sick volunteers and made wooshing sounds while caressing the air around them in a stated effort towards curing them.  Actually, not an effort, per se, but “an ability.”  Perhaps this would be good next week when North Korea unveils “nuclear deterrence.”

Many strolling, well-heeled Indians mingling with beautiful Tibetans in town.

A main, tony avenue (Mall) and below it a funky bazaar.

I bought kulcha, fried peas, a toy Indian taxi, and a bottle of local gin.

The Scowling Monkey

At the top of the pine forested hill behind the cottage are three dhaba, Wildflower Hall, Tibetans selling chakas, and a long, winding road to the Presidential palace.

“Betaya, kooch chai,” and I was on a verandah with Kashmir in the distance sipping hot, sweetened, spiced tea.

“Aagh, run,” and I was at a gallop after a mom or dad or uncle monkey appeared suddenly and courageously, I might add, near the gazebo inside the grounds of Wildflower Hall.  He was scowling angrily.  Very, very angrily.

Later, the same day, it was curried mutton, fried okra (called “Ladyfingers” here), and stewed chick peas.

Chicken Birjani and the Kashmiri Crisis: Rice or War?

I am starting to grow feathers.

Only 2o feet away, monkeys in the apple trees scuttle from branch to branch, leaping, while in the dining room, bowls of food keep appearing.  The chicken alluded to is on the menu twice a day.

Last night it was chicken Birjani and it was really delicious: Chunks of yoghurt marinated chicken cooked in rice with raisins.  The back story was chili while in the foreground it was salt, pepper, and cinnamon.    The dish is Persian in origin–Birjani from the Farsi word Birjan–and it’s essentially a rice pilaf with spices and meat.  The local cauliflower braised with anise; paneer; string beans; and, dal, well, it was all good as well.

Today’s lunch will be 100% veg, I’m told, and then perhaps Monkey Brains.

No, no monkey brains.

Sigh.

In other news, the Kashmiri crisis heats up over dam problems.  We’re a stone’s throw from Kashmir, and close to western Tibet and Afghanistan, but here in Haasistan, the only dangers are GI and psychological.