Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel
Worshipers at the ghats of Varanasi, India. They flock to the shores of the Holy Ganges River each morning at dawn to bathe in and drink from its waters.

Click on title to view photo in large format. For two whole days I walked along the banks of the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Trash littered the shores and sewage flowed into it from outfall pipes. At the cremation ghats, priests picked hip and chest bones and casually tossed them into the river. Yet every morning at dawn, worshipers flocked to the ghats of Varanasi to bathe in the muddy brown waters of the Ganges. Many immersed entirely, dunking one, two, three times. Some even scooped up vases full of the water and drank it down. Read More

My love for Indian food is second only to my love for Thai food, so when I was invited to visit Delhi, India, sampling traditional north Indian dishes was at the top of my must-do list. As luck would have it, I didn’t have far to go. The Gupta family, who own Prakash Kutir B&B, my home away from home in Delhi, have roots that go back more than 120 years in South Delhi. Not only do they celebrate all the festivals in traditional Delhiite manner, they still prepare traditional north Indian dishes that can’t be found in restaurants.

The indoctrination began during my first breakfast with one of Savita’s specialties, Kulia chat. I dug into the juicy red tomato slices, sweet banana slices, and baby chickpeas as she explained that the recipe had been handed down through generations of Guptas, but that few people make it any more. Apparently, tiny chickpeas are out of fashion these days. With my mouth full, all I could do is shake my head in astonishment. They have no idea what they are missing.

This traditional South Delhi dish of Kulia Chat with tomatoes baby chickpeas and sliced bananas is rarely prepared these days, but the tradition is being kept alive at Prakash Kutir Homestay

This traditional South Delhi dish of Kulia Chat with tomatoes, baby chickpeas, and sliced bananas is rarely prepared these days, but the tradition is being kept alive at Prakash Kutir Homestay

Another day Savita prepared a lunch of paratha (fried flatbread), slow cooked ladyfingers (okra), saag paneer (cottage cheese chunks in a spinach puree), sweet dal dessert with curd sauce and chat spices, and a fresh garden salad. The Indian philosophy that “Guest is God” was in full force at Prakash Kutir. Every time I turned around, someone was putting food in front of me. I ate everything in sight, telling myself it would have been rude to refuse. The truth was that it was all too delicious to resist, especially the sweets that appeared with regularity. Read More

 

Besan Ladoo is a popular sweet in northern India. It made from chickpea flour, sugar and ghee. The flour is browned in the ghee. When cooled, it is mixed with sugar and rolled into small balls. The men who make the balls by hand in this shop in Old Delhi are so adept that each ball is almost exactly the same weight. The sweet is most in demand during festivals, religious holidays, and special family events. However, Besan Ladoo is available at confectioners year-round in India.

Dawn boat ride in Varanasi, India, takes me past Chet Singh Ghat and the historic Chet Singh Fort

Click on title to view photo in large format. Along the Ganges River in Varanasi, India, more than 90 stairways (ghats) lead down to the river. Walking the entire length of the ghats is highly recommended, but the extraordinary architecture along the river bank is best appreciated from a boat. Chet Singh Ghat is a perfect example. On foot, I looked up at Chet Singh Fort, towering high above me at the top of the stairs. It’s rich red sandstone facade glowed in the late afternoon sun. But I didn’t appreciate its immensity, or notice the filigreed Mughal domes that crowned its rectangular base, until I climbed into a boat a few days later. From the water, Chet Singh Fort was magnificent. I had to know more. Read More

Bathing in the Ganges River in Varanasi, India

Click on title to view photo in large format. It’s a common sight to see people bathing in the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. Some who do so are undoubtedly poor people who may not have access to running water. However, most who bathe in the Ganga, as it known in India, are followers of Hinduism. To Hindus, bathing in the Ganges River facilitates the remission of sins and leads to Moksha, or liberation from the cycle of Read More

I emerged from the warren of Old Delhi backstreets, bloated and exhausted. Bloated because my guide had insisted I sample all the best street food in Old Delhi. Exhausted because every few seconds, motorbikes roaring through the crowds willy-nilly had sent me scrambling for safety. Five hours after we’d first set foot in the crazy maze, I was more than ready to head back to the comfort and serenity of my bed and breakfast.

Men make paratha in an open oven on the streets of Old Delhi, India

Men make paratha in an open oven on the streets of Old Delhi, India

The sun hovered above the horizon, prolonging the hazy half-light of late afternoon. Workers poured out of offices and onto the main street. But no one was headed home just yet. It was just two days before Diwali, one of the most important Hindu holidays of the year, and there was shopping to do. Within minutes, a sea of pedestrians choked the sidewalks. I forced my way against the tidal wave, desperately trying to keep my guide in sight.

“Sagar,” I yelled. “I have to get out of this crowd. My bad hip can’t take all the jostling and pushing.”

He turned around and pointed to the opposite side of the street, which was remarkably clear of traffic. “No problem, we can take a rickshaw.” Read More