Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Jaipur Days 2-3 Part II

This post is a continuation of Day 3 in Jaipur.

After switching hotels, we headed straight back to the Old City once again. We were supposed to meet a man named Vineet Sharma at 3pm, who would take us on a guided walking tour of the Old City, with a focus on the local craftsmen, architecture, and street food. We had a few hours to kill though, so we got some lunch at LMB again, and wandered around some of the bazaars that had been closed the day before. This time at LMB, I was able to sneak a picture of the awesome doorman.

We lost track of the time after doing a bit of wandering on our own, and had to scramble over to Ajmeri Gate, one of the entrances to the Old City, to meet our tour guide. Ajmeri Gate is a somewhat hectic intersection, and I was familiar with it because we had walked past it the previous morning. When I had spoken to Vineet the night before to arrange a meeting point, he told us to stand at Ajmeri Gate and that he would find us. Sure enough, as soon as we reached the meeting point, a rather short, slightly round man wearing western clothing approached us with a smile and asked if my name was Michael. Easy!

As it turns out, Vineet actually works as a banker for his full-time job, with a focus on mortgage lending, and actually just does the tours on the side for fun. He explained that his current employer is awesome because they are flexible and allow him to continue doing the tours, which he has been doing since 2008, and also because they are a completely paperless company that does all of their business on tablet computers. I also learned that his father was a nuclear physicist who worked for the government, which required Vineet to move around a lot when he was younger.  

The tour took us off the main bazaars and into many of the back alleys of the Old City. First, Vineet took us to a street that was filled with various marble sculptors, who focus primarily on making religious statues for temples and people's homes. He explained that there were small players and big players. This is a picture of one of the small player's workshop:

The dude is so legit. He just hand chisels little Hindu statutes all day long. Vineet then took us to one of the bigger production facilities. The funny thing was, the production methods were exactly the same. It just happened that there were more guys working there. Much to my delight, they had a giant, practically life-size, statue of Sai Baba. I asked Vineet about Sai Baba, and learned that there has recently been a lot of controversy surrounding Sai Baba because one of India's highest Hindu leaders officially urged people to stop treating Sai Baba like a god because it is offensive to the true gods such as Shiva and Krishna. Whatever, how can you not want to pray to this guy:

I forget how, but at one point, Jainism also came up. Vineet informed us that "Jains are just like the Jews," in that they only make up about 2% of the population, are very closely knit, and dominate the jewelry and moneylending industries. Interesting.

Along the way, we also saw metal smiths, who worked in brass and copper and made everything from lanterns to lunch boxes, as well as lac bangle makers and dye cut jewelry designers. Vineet also told us about the historical architecture and construction methods. We learned that the walls of the buildings were constructed using a local stone, which was then covered with a limestone plaster. Interestingly, the plaster was mixed with molasses and lentils, which help provide cohesion, as well as various spices, which prevent mold growth. Here's a picture of the original entrance to an old haveli, along with an old Hindustan Ambassador, which is known as the definitive Indian car and dominated the roads for decades.

I was also informed that the Old City "struggles with solid waste management." What a diplomatic description! We also learned that all of the wandering cows are actually owned by people who can't afford to pay someone to take care of them. Instead, they train their cows to go on a daily walk along the same path every day, which is then brought back inside at the end of the day. It's technically illegal to do this, but it's apparently easy to bribe the city workers. At one point on the walk, I actually got head butted by a cow that either didn't like me or was just doing some neck exercises. It shocked me pretty hard and it wouldn't have been a big deal, except I almost was knocked into an oncoming motorbike, which fortunately slowed down. Folks, if you are reading this, don't worry!

The other cool part of the tour was eating various street food. Throughout the walk, I tried a super weird (but still quite tasty) milk dessert, that consisted of sweetened milk that had been boiled multiple times with cardamom, saffron and pistachio, and then cooled down with ice. I also tried some kulfi, or Indian ice cream, which tasted remarkably similar to the milk, only colder. I also tried a dessert made of ground lentils that once again had exactly the same flavor profile as the milk, but instead came in the form of a chalky bar.

But the absolute culinary highlight of the walking tour was a street food called kachori, which consists of a spiced lentil mixture, which is then wrapped in dough, deep fried, and then served in a bed of house made yogurt. Vineet took us to "the" best kachori joint in town, and told us that these guys churn out over 3,000 balls per day. I'll end this post with a series of photos from the kachori stand. We've spent the last two days doing a block printing workshop in a nearby village called Bagru, but that will have to wait until the next post!

Hand grinding the lentil filling. 

Men wait patiently for the next batch.

Ready to serve. 

Ready to eat!


No comments:

Post a Comment