Sunday, January 30, 2011

All goes to Hell when one member of the "Holy Trinity" is missing!

This isn't a blog entry about religion..........believe it or not, it is about food; more specifically it is about one member of the "holy trinity" of ingredients used in the preparation of Indian dishes....the onion.
Onions have grown scarce in the country....the price of a kilogram of onions has risen almost 70% to 65 rupees per KG.....on par with a liter of petrol and a bottle of beer. This is the first time in India's vast history that all three items used by everyday citizens have reached the same price level.

An onion vendor in the vegetable market in Pune, India

I came to know of this issue a week ago while sightseeing in Pune and I witnessed a peaceful protest by a group of concerned citizens........

Protesting in the streets of Pune, India

The outrage over the price of onions in India is have repercussions almost beyond belief; it is causing political problems for the government......people are finger pointing internally at who is to blame for the increase in prices and it is even causing additional problems with Pakistan......yes, could it be possible that further instability between these two countries over if there weren't enough problems between them already!

The price of onions, petrol and a bottle of beer reach 65 Rs.....first time in India's history
So I started doing research on the lowly onion.......and it's ripe (no pun intended) history!

My history with onions goes back to my childhood while watching my mother and grandmother prepare food for our family in New Orleans, Louisiana;

the onion is a staple in the preparation of many creole and Cajun dishes.....along with two other ingredients.....the bell pepper and celery. The combination of these three ingredients form the "holy trinity" of the food I grew up eating.

An onion and garlic vendor Pune Vegetable Market
Ginger, onion and garlic form the "trinity" of ingredients found in almost every Indian dish that is prepared across this country of 1 billion is also common for the onion to be eaten raw in the form of a salad here in India........the onion is everywhere.

Onions being prepared for dishes served at Kesar Da Dhaba - Amritsar India
INFLAT-onION.......the huge concern in the country currently is how the price of onions is driving inflation in the country......the government of India regulates inflation very carefully and it was already considered to be high at around 8%.........the rise in the onion prices has caused ripple effects on other vegetables as well.....which some speculate is driving the inflation rate to almost 20%......

The onion crisis in India is causing all vegetable prices to increase - Pune, India
It's no wonder that these price hikes are causing citizens to protest in the streets......and is leaving a bad taste in the mouths of everyone (I just couldn't resist writing that).

The Indian government.....more specifically the Minister in charge of Agriculture is in a bit of an "pickle" an effort to reduce the prices and bring them down, he reached out to Pakistan for some immediate help.......importing onions from the north seemed like a good option, until the onions didn't make it.

Pakistan is claiming that the shipment  was stopped at the border and was not allowed in.....while on the Indian side of the border, those in power are claiming that the act was deliberate by Pakistan......meanwhile, the dilemma of the onions remained unsolved...........government officials on both sides started shooting their mouths off causing tensions in Islamabad and Delhi and additional pressures needed to be utilized.

Vegetable market - Pune, India
I read somewhere that the shipment of onions from Pakistan was finally released when Pakistan was threatened by India to withhold the export of the precious Indian tomato! Sounds kind of juvenile to a playground fight where one kid threatens to take home his ball if he doesn't get his way and it spoils playtime for the other kids! "No tomato for you"

The prized India tomato currently being used as a bargaining chip with Pakistan - Pune, India
Prices still haven't come down to their pre-inflationary price as of yet.......despite the shipment......what to do?

So what caused this...............some fungus that hit India's onion growing state of Maharashtra.............the part of India where I am currently visiting. While it was evident that the extended monsoon season was having a negative impact on the onion crop......some one was asleep at the didn't yield the crops they thought they would have..........the scarcity of onions became evident........and farmers started raising prices and the government could do nothing to stop it...............except raid the wholesale onion traders heard me right.........there is a war being waged on the wholesale onion traders by the government of India.........raids are being conducted as the government suspects that onion traders are doing this they are sending out troops and Income Tax officials to determine if this is true.

Troops on a raid ny the Indian Government against Onion Wholesalers - courtesy of google web images
I can't make this stuff up...............can you imagine if the US Government was to conduct raids on farmers and onion traders just because the price of any of the food items we grow in the US went skyrocketing ..........things like this would never happen in the US..............India is simply incredible!


My research also helped me discover some other fun facts about onions that I will share with you that I simply could not weave into the above story......

Both Alexander the Great and General Ulysses S. Grant (U.S.Civil War) refused to move their troops until supplies of onions made it their soldiers. Grant's request was so strong he received them the next day!

The average American consumes about 21lbs of onions in a year..........Libya has the highest per capita consumption with 66.8 lbs of onions per person per year!

Cultivating the onion for consumption dates back to 3500 B.C.........they were also found in the pyramids in Egypt where they were worshiped!

Onions represent the third largest fresh vegetable industry in the United States. This translates to approximately 370 semi-truck loads of onions used in the United States each day.

National Onion Association

Multiply that times 3 and that is over 1100 semi-truck loads of onions per day for Libya
World onion production is estimated at approximately 105 billion pounds each year. The average annual onion consumption calculates to approximately 13.67 pounds of onions per person across the world.

The National Onion Association estimates fewer than 1,000 growers produce onion from approximately 142,000 acres, producing approximately 6 billion pounds of onions which accounts for 7% of world onion production.

Let's do hope that the onion crisis in India ends........the country has enough problems on their hands. Half of India's population lives on the equivalent of just over $1.00 US dollar per day..........and with prices quadrupling on such an important staple in the common mans diet, it is a recipe for disaster.

It is amazing that a vegetable like the onion could cause so many problems for a country and it's people......but it has........and the people are crying for help!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Milestone Reached

To all of you who have ever read my blog, tonight (India time)I hit the 10,000 reader mark....since April of 2009...........

Here are some statistics for you to gaze at.......

India Adventure
Site Summary


Total 10,000
Average Per Day 32
Average Visit Length 2:47
Last Hour 1
Today 38
This Week 226


Total 22,600
Average Per Day 59
Average Per Visit 1.8
Last Hour 1
Today 72
This Week 413

I have been waiting for this moment since I hit my 7,000th reader..........wondering when it would happen...and today/tonight I hit that 10,000 milestone!

Thank you to all of you, from around the world, that have read my blog...............

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Pune's Underworld: Pataleshwar Cave and Temple

Located in the heart of the city of Pune, India is a little known gem of ancient history; Pataleshwar Cave and Temple.

Small Sign at the Entrance to the Park that houses the Caves

The cave dates back to the 8th century, but surprisingly not much is known about the cave, and as a result, very little has been written about it.

Inside the Pataleshwar Caves

What I did learn is that it's name is derived from two words: Patal meaning "underworld" and Eshwar meaning "god". I believe this to be a name given to it during more modern times..........One can only wonder what the original name of the cave was to be known as.

It was impossible to conduct any meaningful research on the cave, unlike many of the heritage sites I have visited in India...........

An example of an unfinished carving inside the cave

Perhaps it remains a mystery to scholars and archaeologists due to the fact that the cave and it's carvings remain incomplete..........sculpting on the rock walls was started but never finished..........leaving behind the mystery of what was meant to be there.......

Example of an unfinished carving on the wall of the cave

What I have learned about Buddhist cave construction is that work began at the ceiling and flowed downward. Work was carried out to remove large sections of stone to create the cave like structures and pillars of roughly chiseled stone were left for the artisans to carve and smooth to perfection.......

The carved Columns inside the cave and an unfinished carving in the distance

I have been on several construction sites as part of my work here in India.......since much of the work is done in concrete I am no stranger to the sound of a worker with a chisel busy at work.

Carved Columns and unfinished work on the wall of the cave in the distance

I have seen the hands of many workers carefully curving their fingers around a cold steel chisel........watching them raise their weighted hammers above their heads and, with expert aim, strike it solidly to remove unwanted material .......the sound is very distinct.........

Carving on the floor near the Nandi statue inside the cave. Note the two elephants..this is my favorite!

Pataleshwar today stands in almost complete silence........much like it must have been when the last chisel struck stone sometime in the late 8th century A.D.  A visitor to the caves today, captivated and calmed by the serenity of the silence, may not give thought to what the site sounded like at the time it was being constructed.

Up close view of one of the unfinished wall carvings

The sound would have been deafening.......hundreds of workers with hammer and chisel, all striking at the raw black stone; some in sync and some at differing times.........hard work.....chips of rocks flying everywhere, rock dust in the air and in their lungs. I would imagine that the work carried on in shifts...perhaps 24 hours per day...hurrying to make it ready in raw form for the more skilled stone artisan's to do the final work......shaping the square columns and beginning to create the stone carvings on the walls if the cave.

The beautiful interiors of the cave with sunlight filtering in

Then nothing..........silence.....the work stopped........the Buddhist's left their mark in the area, but did not complete the work.

I have read that work ceased due to a geological issue that exists making the cave unstable.....a fault line that exists at the back of the spot they chose to construct this monument. However, it has stood the test of time....and surely the deities they began carving on the walls of the cave would not likely cause any considerable structural damage if they would have why did the leave this place of worship unfinished?

An unfinished wall carving

I have read about other unfinished caves in the Maharashtra area of India.......could it have been a political upheaval, religious conflict,war, famine, drought, that drove all of the monks from the area around the same time? Was the practice of Buddhism stopped due to a change of power and no longer tolerated in the area?

The ceremonial bell worshipers touch before entering the shrine of Lord Shiva

The Buddhist workers left behind the massive columns and three small rooms that are approximately 3-4 meters inner sanctum of sorts...........while the two outer rooms were perhaps originally intended for priests, the center room houses a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva.....a cobra stands guard over the gold lingam that gets anointed daily by devotees.

Inside the middle room of the inner sanctum that houses the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva

Just outside the center room, resting on the floor of the cave is a small Nandi, Lord Shiva's bull........hanging from the ceiling above above this Nandi is a ceremonial bell that all who visit the shivalingum touch before beginning their worship.

Nandi - Outside of the shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva

The two rooms on either side of the cave now house other deities that I did not recognize.

Inside the room to the left of the Lord Shiva shrine

The god that is housed in the room to the right of Lord Shivas shrine

Just to the left of the inner sanctum, placed in the center between some columns and only lighted by the sunlight that filters in from the open from of the cave, is another temple that pays honor to the deities of Sita, Rama, and Laxmana........small beautifully carved white marble statues that sit upon a black marble stand.....when the sunlight hits the white marble in this darkened area of the cave the deities take on a glowing effect.

Sita, Rama, Laxmana

In front of the cave area, centered in a courtyard of sorts,  is a round structure, which some have described as unusual or peculiar...........I am not sure of the reason for these adjectives........however, I will present a theory that I have not read while doing my research..........this too appears to be an area that may have started by the Buddhists as a STUPA.......... the round shape lends to this theory.......but like the cave was either later finished or added by the Hindu's who began worshiping Lord Shiva at the temple area.

The "peculiar building" ! Nandi Mandapa.

Today, under the umbrella like stone covering, supported by perfectly spaced stone columns sits another statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva's bull........clearly added at a later date, which lends to my theory that this was an area not originally designed as a Nandi Mandapa. This Nandi is annoited daily as well and worshiped throughout the day by the hundreds of devotees that come to the temple daily.

Up close view of the annointed Nandi in the Nandi Mandapa

There is one more Nandi.......oddly placed in a far corner all is about the same size as the Nandi inside the temple......but its placement in the courtyard seems to be random.....almost as if it was transported to the area and was never used or installed, yet, since it was delivered to the temple area for a purpose, it has never left the has just been placed in an "out of the way" area and serves no distinct purpose.

The 3rd Nandi on the site........all alone in the corner of the courtyard

Today the area is silent........the distinct "pinging" noise of the chisel has been replaced only by the sound of the bell ringing from the hand a faithful devotee of Lord Shiva.......

Whether a devotee of Lord Shiva or not, I highly recommend a visit to Pataleshwar Cave and Temple during a visit to Pune, but please, remember to remove your shoes before entering......enjoy!

Sign at the entrance to the cave reminding visitors to remove their shoes

Sunday, January 23, 2011

India's Republic Day Parade - a Practice Session

Army Regiment on Horseback

January 26th, 2011 will mark the 62nd anniversary of the signing of the Indian is known as REPUBLIC DAY.

Bugle Regiment practicing on Raisina Hill, New Delhi

Republic Day in India sparks a patriotic fervor in the hearts of all Indians, reminding them of their glorious history, their rich culture and proud heritage. It is a day they choose to remember and honor those they consider heroes of their past; freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and military heroes as well.

Army Regiment on Horseback with Raisina Hill in background

To mark the importance of this occasion, every year a grand parade is held in the capital city of New Delhi. Attending the event in Delhi is almost impossible, as you need to be invited by someone who is politically well connected.

Army Regiment on Camel back on Raisina Hill, New Delhi

Last Sunday, Preston and I took a drive and just happened to stumble upon some of the military units beginning to practice for the parade.

View from Raisina Hill down Rajpath with India Gate in the distance

It is a grand parade that begins at Raisina Hill near the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President's Palace), then along the Rajpath, past India Gate and on to the historic Red Fort.

Camel Regiment Passing the Gates of Rashtrapati (President's Palace)

Prior to its commencement, the Prime Minister will lay a floral wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, a memorial to unknown soldiers at the India Gate at one end of Rajpath, which is followed by two minutes silence in the memory of unknown soldiers.

Camel Regiment Silhouette - Raisina Hill, New Delhi

The different regiments of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force march past in all their finery and official decorations. The President of India, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, takes the salute.

Camel Regiment Passing in Front of the Secretariat Building - Raisina Hill, New Delhi

We felt very lucky to have witnessed the practice session and were able to take some photographs, as cameras are not allowed during the actual parade unless you are a member of the press and have been given special permission.

Up close View of Indian Soldiers on Camel back

Happy Republic Day India........just a little bit early......
Indian Army Tank near India Gate

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Rajasthali Resort and Spa - The Gatekeeper's!

Rajasthali Resort and Spa - Main Building

Last week I was on the site of a hotel we will be opening very soon just outside of the city of Jaipur........a beautiful resort at the foothills of the Aravali Mountain Range........the perfect backdrop for a peaceful place to visit, relax and unwind from the chaos.

The finishing touches are being put on the Resort as we speak..........

While walking around checking on the progress of the construction, I stumbled upon a group of workers.....well.........more than just workers..............these guys were artists in their own right.

The skills have been passed down from generation to generation..........the skill of making something beautiful being made of of mortar and stone...........and the details of the stone work that makes the architectural style of Rajasthan so distinctive.

Main Arrival Gate

Take a look at what I witnessed taking place at the main gate of the hotel...........

A Blank Canvas of Mortar

Above, the artist begins by creating his "Blank Canvas" of a layer of mortar approximately 1 inch thick.......after literally throwing the mixture onto the concrete wall, he smooths the surface with a wooden floating tool.

Stenciling Work

The simple stencil above is used to trace the design onto the mortar, following the first chalk line.....he continues to work along the top and he is followed by another member of the team that begins the process of carving out the waste material

Carving with the broken Hacksaw Blade and Paring Knife

Below, another artist and his assistant begin laying out a flower design just by sight.........chalk lines and no protractor or architectural scale.......the angles precisely laid out by hand and eye...the work of a skilled artisan for sure.
Laying out the Flower Design

On the far side of the wall, another member of this four person team has begun the process of creating the design of the framework.........

Chalk Lines and Laying out the Framework

Meanwhile, the artist who is creating the flower, begins with another crude stencil made from a scrap of cardboard.........he begins by outlining the design with his knife
Stenciling the Flower Design

He begins carving the outer leaf petals.........carefully angling the knife to create the three dimensional design.......
Carving the Flower with a Paring Knife

The flower design is truly coming into can see that the border carving above where he has been working in a crouched position still needs to be completed.
Border Stenciling and Flower Carving

Below, work begins on the carving of the framework............the curved portions have been detailed and the straight edges of the framework will follow
Carving the Framework

The next picture shows the finishing details being carved on the border design.........the efficiency of the team has been carefully orchestrated......the artist who was working on the flower design has not moved..he simply pauses his work on the flower and finishes the border for a slight change of pace.

The Four Artists at Work

After finishing the border, he returns to start doing the detailed work on the flower design.......he has introduces a new tool.......a small paintbrush that he uses to lightly brush the surface of the flower to remove any leftover debris from his carving activity.
Finishing the Bottom Edge of the Framework

Above note that the other members of the team beginning working on carving the straight edge of the hand holding a piece of scrap lumber while he slices his knife through the mortar..........he will repeat the same process on the other chalk line and then remove the center waste material.

Carving Detail of the Flower Design
The flower artist is now detailing each petal of the flower.......carefully shaping each with gentle curves and only following his stencil.....just years of knowing how to create with his hands and eyes.

The Final Product!

Finally, the finished product............anyone want to take a guest at how long the process took.........from the first photograph that I took to this final photo I snapped above?

Using simple and crude tools and methods.........paring knifes you could find in any kitchen that would normally be used to cut fruit...a broken hacksaw blade, simple stencils and a small brush.........four people working together in an orchestrated manner......crouched, in some cases, in the same position and space for the entire time.........each member methodically executing their individual tasks......?

One Hour.........yes just one hour.....and such beautiful work.......the team repeated this task and design on 6 such surfaces that day.....each looked the deviation from design that the eye could hour of precision artistry at work......

Eventually their design will be covered with that same light yellow color that had been used to paint the top section of the gate.....and at some time in the very near future, many guests will walk past their work......not knowing the about the skilled hands that created the work they are hurrying past........some may stop to admire......but most will make their way through the passage just knowing that they are arriving someplace special......