Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Farewell Dinner in Kashmir

I decided I would do a farewell dinner for the people who made my stay at the hotel and in Kashmir a delight.
I have invited 12 people for a delicious dinner tonight.

It is now 4:45 and it is almost ready. The table is set, and all I need is a rest, a shower, and the guests arrive at 7:30.
What fun...Janna the cook and I started out in the cleaned hotel kitchen. Then one by one the young men who wait tables, clean the hotel, and help in the kitchen came in asking if they could help. Mind you they have about 12 words of English between them.

Janna the chef has about the same amount, but we have always gotten along in the kitchen because of our shared love of cooking and good food. Yummmm, and taste this on the spoon is a language to itself.

So it is show time and they follow my instructions perfectly.
I had Ajaz blistering green peppers on the fire, someone cleaned a dozen red onions , mountains of garlic, and Janna chopped them fine as only he can do. Janna chopped 2 kgs. of tomatos in record time, some for the lamb, some for the blistered green pepper and tomatoe salad, and finally the Italian tomato soup.
Musifir who is the computer techi, and foodie, came in and began peeling the roasted aubergines and into the blender with lemon juice, olive oil, and once again heaps of garlic for the Babaganou. No pita bread so it will be chipatis tonight.
Ibrahim, the day manager, wanders in to see what all the laughter is about and ends up sitting disecting the cooled roasted peppers.
Someone at the sink is cleaning and sorting the dhania (cilantro)another peeling carrots, grating cucumber, mashing the pots of cooked carrots and pot of cooked cauliflower and garlic by hand cause there is no masher. I then jump in and add the fresh garlic, olive oil, dhania, cumin, and mix it by hand which gives it the soul and love my Balinese cooking teacher told me years ago.
Janna cut up the lamb and removed much of the excess fat. I had the butcher down the road de-bone it on his tree stump using hand gestures to explain what I wanted.
Slow cooking is the answer to it's tenderness.

So it is....
Italian tomato soup
Cold cooked salads...cauliflower, carrot, green pepper and tomato, all done with heaps of garlic, dhania, cumin, and olive oil just like I learned in cooking class in Fez Morocco.
A yogurt salad similar to the Greek Tizitki, but Iranian, with pan roasted hazelnuts, almonds and raisens.
Lamb done with prunes Moroccan style with heaps of garlic, onion, and pitted prunes.
There will be more of those roasted nuts tossed on top at the end.
Besmati rice
Bananas Foster...New York style...bananas cooked in butter and brown sugar till it gets really brandy we are Muslims here...poured slowly over vanilla ice cream.

Did I ever have fun finding all of these ingredients...some came from Cape Town.
Ajaz always drove me all over town to find all of the ingredients I needed throughout my Kashmir stay.

Farewell Joanna.....until next year!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flyfishing for Trout in the Himalayas

I just experienced my first Fly Fishing Trip for Trout in the Himalayas

We hit the road at 5am for our very long bumpy 4 hour drive to Daksum, the most beautiful valley in the region. We pass fields upon fields of freshly planted rice which are now emerald green. We turn off the major 2 lane road, where you find the saffron growing in November, to a 1 lane road from hell. Through small villages with pots holes the size you'd lose a VW Beetle in we charge in our SUV's.

We climb into the mts. and finally reach our destination at about 7,500 feet.
The green green valley is surrounded by the snow capped Himalayas. The Daksum river races past with small rapids that might be run in a small rubber raft.

A family fishing trip in Kashmir calls for lovely carpets to be spread on the ground under the shading Chinar trees. A gas 2 burner, fry pans for cooking the fish, and extra food brought just in case there weren't great baskets of fish caught that day.

Some went up the river 1km. and worked their way down, others went far down the river and kept going. I learned that 5-6 casts and you move on cause the water has been "disturbed" If you catch a fish it is disturbed too, so you move on and don't try for the others lurking between the rocks.

I was loaned a great graphite rod and reel for the day. Even with that I still didn't look like Brad Pitt in "A River Runs Through It"....but I was told by the old man who was assigned to me that I was casting well. He tied my flies, drug me up and down ALL of the river, hopping over small streams, shallow areas, with him holding my hand most of the time for balance.

At lunch time we had some of the fish that had been caught thus far. I was fortunate to be given extra fish cause I was the visitor, and they knew I loved fresh fish straight from the stream into the pan.

My shoulder is just a bit sore. I only toppled over once trying to balance on the large and small boulders along the river bed. Didn't tear, sprain or scrape any part of me so I was pleased. Only sank once at the rivers edge up to my ankle in slimmy mud. A bit sunburned, but all in all an injury free day, and my Tevas are washable.

I caught 1 very very small Rainbow Trout that sparkled in the sunshine. Too small to my mind so it was thrown back. When I returned to camp I saw that they kept such small fish. In the USA you would be shot for keeping such tiny fish. My first fishing teacher, my father, would have been horrified.

FYI as a young girl I held a record for years for catching the biggest trout in a small place in the Santa Cruz mts. that I went to with my father. I was the son he never had.

Since the years of trouble throughout the 90's and early 2000 years, tourism and the economy in general, has been depressed and created a lack of food. Fishing year round they have fished out the river. Some say the terrorists poisened the river and killed the fish?? Who know which rumors are true.

After all the guys finally gave up trying for that 7kg. trout we packed the vehicles at dusk and headed out on the long bumpy drive home.

So if you have ever had a fantasy to fish for trout in the Himalyas it can easily be fulfilled. Let me know and I will point you in the right direction.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Halwa Party in Kashmir

Halwa is pronounced Halva.
Today is a Holy Islamic Day called Urs Ajmer Sherif. This is a mosque in Ajmeer near Jaipur in Rajasthan. Today in Ajmeer it is probably 48 degrees C...about 118 degrees F. Pleased the celebration is here in the cool mountains of Kashmir today.

As I entered the large garden I saw a huge umbrella tent shading the work area.
The grass was covered in colourful mats.
A line of about 5 meters of open wood fires held three 25 gallon pots bubbling away with the Halwa mixture. There are approximately 30 women and 8 young men there to do all of the work. The older men are sitting around the garden in the shade merely as observers, waiting for the lunch to come.

Two people per pot are constantly stirring the mixture with large long handled spoons. One was quite liquid while the rest were thickening nicely. As it thickens it begins to lift from the sides of the pot. Several women and a few young men were helping with this very hot work over the open fires.
No menstrating women are allowed to take part in the proceedure.

These fellows handle the pots too. When the time is just right they lift and carry them to huge galvanized tubs where it is poured like golden lava. Here it cools enough to work with. There were women sitting smearing Halwa on a medium sized thick hard pancake called a Bagrkhan. I find them flavorless so a good base for something sweet. Others were dipping the cooling mixture into 1 cup-1 pint aluminum containers. Large pots, bowls and jugs were also being filled. A hot sticky job for sure.

The garden is permeated with the wonderful fragrance of cardamom, cinnamon, ghee (clarified butter), and saffron.
The saffron is used for colour as well as flavor. It is added to large pots of water to steep and change colour. Now it is added to the mixture.

Large glasses of cool lassi is served to everyone in the garden. This is a plain yogurt mixed into water with salt, cumin, and mint added. What a refreshing drink on a hot summers day.

The completion of this huge task will be about 12 noon, it has been going on since
6am. As large amounts are packaged the Halwa is delivered to the poor, the orphanges and the old age homes.
This event is held every year and funded by my friend Rasool. It is a family event, with his wife, daughters, with Masarat in the lead, sisters, nieces, and close friends all involved.

When the job is completed lunch is served. Today it is the traditional celebratory Kashmiri Waz Wan. There have been cooks in the back garden cooking away all morning as well. Into the house where large platters of rice topped with kebab, chicken, dumplings of lamb in yogurt, a couple of veggies, made just for me I am told, and a delicious slab of lamb ribs is served. These ribs are roasted to a crispy finish and then simmered in ghee. Talk about heart attack material. I must say it is my favorite of the meat dishes. I love pork crackling too.

Now it is time for a nap!

Now for the recipe...good luck cutting it down to a workable level!

Tools needed:

3 25 gallon pots which are filled 5 times
6 large long handled wooden spoons


90 kgs. of semolina
60 kgs. of ghee
180 kgs sugar
40 kgs. of dates, raisens, cashews, fried coconut

Lots of whole cardamom seeds, cinnamin, and 25 grams of Kashmiri saffron
White poppy seeds to sprinkle on the top of the finished Halwa

Cooking time:
1 hour per pot stirring constantly

Who's up for a Halwa party??????

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Visit to a Prophet

Yesterday I went to see an old man they call Baba. He lives in a small village called Sopoore very near the line of control on the Pakistani border with Kashmir.

Hundreds come to see him each day. He is about 77 years old, and frail. He takes no food, or water nor does he often speak.
People are healed, obstacles are lifted from their lives etc. All of this is done in prayer and in the mind, as he speaks to none of the people who come. He must work exclusively with telepathy, many highly enlightened people do.

Baba disappeared many years ago into the Himalayas. Twelve years passed before he re-appeared naked, which is how he usually appears unless it is too cold. The morning I saw him he was in a long wool flannel robe called a pheran.

It was a 2 hour drive so we left Srinigar at 7am. Fayaz and Raj, my friends who took me, have been visiting Baba for more than 20 years. Fayaz and his good friend Raj, who is visiting from New York City, attended the same English school in Srinigar. Their lives went in vastly different directions, until they met again at Baba's. One Kashmiri Muslim, one Kashmiri Hindu, both in search of understanding and peace in their lives.

Fayaz is in the "inner circle" I am told, which is why when we arrive he goes up and sits on the raised bed Baba sits, leans, and sleeps on while people come and go all day long. Raj and I join him.
As I entered the small room he allows visitors to gather in I felt an unbelievable rush of love. Was it him or was it the collective energy of all the visitors? Who can tell.
Soon after I joined them on the dias, sitting on his blankets, I was overwhelmed with emotion and tears came to my eyes. I looked up and my friend Raj was weeping as well.

The guys rub his stooped shoulders, his scarred feet with holes, comb his beard and trim his nails. He allows all of this without saying a word. He bends and rubs his balding white head against another man's knee like a kitten wanting to be stroked. It is all extremely tender attention. He then indicates he wants to rest so he puts his head on a pillow that was at my feet and they cover him with a blanket.
At one point Baba had glanced at me, and then again. The guys ask me later if Baba had looked at me and I said yes he did. I have a feeling this was something special.

I decided to go into a deep meditation and see what transpired. I saw an old man standing in my mind's eye, and he looked very like the old man sleeping at my feet.
That, or I have gone completely bonkers.
I decided to ask him to remove the anger in my heart and I soon felt extremely light.
I asked about the book my friend Tessa and I are writing with the help of Babaji.
He confirms that what we are doing is genuine and beneficial.
Then he says to me you don't need to eat as much food as you do to live. Didn't expect such frank comments. I sat a long time in meditation,it felt extremely peaceful.

People toss bags of dried fruit, sweets, bottles of water, letters, key rings, hair clips, you name it, and it appears on the bed. He picks them up and tosses them into the laps of Raj and Fayaz's and they re-distribute them to their owners. I am told these things will be taken home and shared with family members.
People stretch in and touch his feet, his robe and even the blankets I am sitting on. They take the energy they gather and touch their hearts, lips, or run the hand down their faces. Such a display of devotion is awesome to witness.

In an ajoining room Baba's daughter-in-law has put out bowls of cookies, biscuits, snack mix, cakes etc. and offers tea to anyone who sits. Raj translated my experience to her and she said she would answer any questions I had about Baba.
Her husband, Baba's son, is a doctor. He has taken blood samples to be tested and for all intents and purpose he should be dead with what the readings indicate.
He eats only a flat crisp bread, drinks salty tea, and has taken no water for the past 1 1/2 years.
I ask about the deeply scarred holes in his feet. She says no one knows how he got them, but at times they fester and fill with worms as the one on his back also does. I have heard the same thing she tells me of many highly enlightened people. He takes on the woes of the world and this is what happens to his body because of that.
We decide to enter the room again and Baba is sitting up now. More people have gathered in the room and we sit for awhile longer.
As we are leaving the house a woman is cooking food that I am told feeds the people who come. A lunch and then a dinner. All of this is free.
The wire fence around the house is tied with strings of hope and prayers.
As we leave the police who guard the compound allow us out and more are arriving.

So does he hang onto his body so there is something tangable for people to relate to? I am sure it is more powerful than a picture hanging on a wall.
I feel blessed to have witnessed this old man they call Baba. On the way home there is a promise to return before I leave Kashmir. What great pals!

P.S. Shortly after my return to South Africa in July Baba passed on quietly in a hospital in Srinigar. They say millions of people arrived for days to his humble home in Sapoor to pay their respects and feel the energy that remains.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Healthy Traveling in 3rd World Countries

Your good health maintained....Recently I have encountered people who have become very ill while traveling in India. I am astounded to hear that so many people haven't a clue about how to protect their good health while traveling. They came from New Zealand, United States, and Germany, places I thought were more clued up. They had never read anything about heat stroke, dehydration, and the various tummy bugs???
Why when you have limited time for your holiday would you be no negligent? Do you really want to spend 3-5 days in bed running to the toilet every hour? Or worse yet, 3 weeks in the hospital with kidney failure.
It can be avoided with a few precautions.
There are terrific products on the market that help you maintain good health while traveling. A week prior to departure start taking Pro Biotics and continue the duration of your trip. There is also a French product called Touristurim. You can find it on the internet and locate where they sell it. In CapeTown it is the Wellness Center in Cavenidsh Square.
It is for all sorts of parasitic invasions. Again start taking it 1 week prior to departure. I use it as an anti malarial as well.
Take ALL of your regular vitamins and suppliments to maintain a balance in your system. Carry Imodium, Pepto Bismal, Carbo Patuli, and a course of antibiotics if you take them.
Weather....Please read up on the weather before you plan a trip. Know that you don't do desert destinations in the summer months when it is upwards of 45-48 degrees in Morocco, Egypt, and much of India. That is way over 113 I believe, eggs fying on sidewalk temps. Stay out of the tropics as well which will boil you alive and or drench you in monsoon rains which bring typhoons.
Do your research, don't depend on travel agents to know anything about anything...remember they rarely travel themselves, and probably never to where you are headed. They are in the business of selling you a product and nothing else.

Stay Happy and Healthy as you Travel!!!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Living in Kashmir

I moved into my home away from home in a rainstorm. I was told it was unusual for this time of year, but isn't it everywhere??
I was put up on the 3rd floor which ment 3 flights of stairs several times a day. I wanted exercise and boy do I have it now.
For a picture of my the door and you walk into my sitting room furnished with the traditionally designed sofa, chair, and tables. A plasma TV hangs on the wall for the HBO movies each night. There are tall windows at one end that look down into the garden.
My bedroom is larger with 2 walls of tall windows for lots of light, and vistas of the snow capped Himalayas. I am enjoying sleeping with them opened to the night mountain air.
I have a large chair in one corner with a floor lamp for reading. I sit here in the mornings to do my breathwork, my meditations and that contemplative time.
All of the curtaining and bed throws are in the lovely crewel embroidery work famous in Kashmir.
It is still dark and I can vaguely hear something in the distance which is getting I dreaming, is someone singing?? Just to the left of the hotel is a Mosque and the Mosin there has a wonderful singing voice. I have never heard a call to prayer sung so beautifully. It is 4am and the first call which is followed by one at 6:30, 1pm, 4:30, 6:30 and lastly 8pm. After awhile you hardly notice it, except when the voice is harsh and preachy like a good old Southern Baptist hell fire and brimstone sermon.
Mustafir, one of the many family employees, has put on a famous recording of a Mosin from Mnachester, England for me to listen to as I type. He sounds like a choir boy singing.
Religion is an integrated part of daily life here. The guys here at the hotel take off their ties, lay down their prayer rug, pray for about 15 minutes, and back to work again. On fridays it is more prevalent with the Mosin calling at 1pm and the kitchen staff throwing off their uniforms, putting on their own clothing, and heading next door to the Mosque.
I pass 3 Mosques each day when I walk 1 km to the lake. And we thought Fish Hoek in the Cape had alot of churchs. It pales in comparison.
Each morning I look out the window to check the clouds for possible rain. If it looks clear I put on my Merrills and off I go down the road 1+ km to the lake. On my journey I pass men selling plastic pails door to door, the horse and cart carrying large metal cans of fresh milk, and at this time of year sheep, goats, and their herd dogs.
Unlike many places in the world now I see many women and men walking along the road. Not every family has a motor vehicle. Those that do might be with the husband at work, so the wife walks to her errands. There are loads of public buses, but most times men are hanging off the steps due to the numbers onboard. The lovely little 3 wheelers called Tuk Tuks in many countries are available as a taxi.
I arrive at the lake and sit for a short while to watch the canoes dredging up the vegitation growing on the lake. It is dried on the shore and used for fertilizer or food for the animals.
One day as I sat a herd of sheered sheep and shaggy goats were approaching. I decided to cross the road and stand in their path. They saw me, acknowledged me, and came right for me surrounding me completely. They were softly bleeting as I spoke to them. What a delightful experience that was.
A wonderful thing has happened in Kashmir, they have banned ALL plastic bags! You are given a fiber woven, strong re-usable bag for your purchases. Why doesn't the rest of the world catch on??

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Wedding in Kashmir India

It is late spring in the northern hemisphere and I am spending a couple of months in Kashmir. After 3 three week tours to southern India, northern India, and Nepal this year I decided I'd take a break, avoid the South African winter, Soccer World Cup, and relax here in the Vale of Kashmir for awhile.
I am staying in my friend Rasool's new boutique hotel in Srinigar. I am 1+ kms. from Dal Lake which I walk down to each morning.
With all of this time on my hands, many friends suggested I blog about my experiences here.

I arrived May 20th and immediately had some Salwar Kamez's made from the silk sari's I had bought in Bangalore in southern India in February. This is a pair of baggy pants that are pleated across the front top of the thigh. A knee length tunic with differing sleeve lengths comes over these. You then wear a 3 meter died to match scarf around the throat and down your back or softly over your head as the Kashmiri women do.

Day 1 was an evening family dinner for about 200 people....a small affair to them.
As I arrived that evening the large garden was lit with multi coloured twinkie/fairie lights that led you up the path. They were in the trees, on the schrubs, and on the roof too. Two extremely large tents were erected in the garden for the festivities. One was for the women and one for the men. The famous Kashmiri crewel (wool hand embroidery) worked fabric was used as the walls with windows of lace. There were large chandaliers hanging down the middle of the tent with ceiling fans for the warmer days.
The woman's tent was approximately 20X50 meters in size. The men's tent was a bit smaller. The floor was covered in large local carpets overlapping each other so they could be sat upon. They included the small trees and schrubs that exisited in the garden.
At one end of the woman's tent sat a group of women with 2 huge samovars containing "Saffron Tea". This is made from fresh saffron, peeled chopped almonds, cinnamon, cardamom, green tea and sugar. This tea I am told is only consumed in Afghanastan and Kashmir. It was delicious accompanied by different cookie/biscuits.
Kashmir grows the most famous and costly saffron in the world which blooms in the crocus flower in October. The Persian saffron is respected as well, but the Kashmiri is the finest.
I was told by a member of the family that the women spent days in preparations for this regal feast. On one day a dozen or more gathered to clean all of the rice that was to be fed to the approximate 600 guests over the 3 days. Another day they gathered to shell and peel the almonds used in a variety of things including the delicious "Saffron Tea". Then 1 day for chopping all of the onions and garlic to be used. As my male friend told me, this is about the women and for the women of the family.
Each day a different beautiful outfit was worn by each woman attending. Such amazing designs, shades and combinations of colours in these Salwar Kamez's. All of the gold jewelry that was given to these women at their own weddings, and throughout their marriages is worn. Wow the amount of gold there was astounding.

The bride was a beautiful 24 year old woman entering a marriage arranged by her parents. Those who can afford it bring in the services of the matchmaker...a Eunich with a list of names of eligle young men and women from Kashmir. This is not to be scoffed at, he has every detail of every marriagable male and female for miles around.

She too had a different elaborate outfit on each day. Her position on the floor changed as did her dress. The first evening she was on the floor surrounded by the elder women. The second day she was placed accross the room on carpets with a lovely silk carpet as a backdrop. The final day she was on a dias, carpets in front, back and the area she was sitting on.
I doubt she could stand on her own with the amount of heavy jeweled fabric that draped from her body. Her makeup was impeccable and the jewelry glitterded from her head, ears, neck, and hennaed hands.

The second evening was much like the first, but far more people in attendance. Close friends were mixed in with the family tonight. Drumming and tambourines were played while many of the women sang traditional songs. A professional henna woman was brought in to henna the women and I had a lovely design put on my hands. Some had the designs going right up the arm. The bride is hennaed this night as well and her design goes right up to the shoulder and her feet are done as well.

If you read Salmon Rushdie's book "Shalimar the Clown" you will have learned about the Waz Wan cooks who have been famous in Kashmir from the times of the Mugul emperors.
There are families of these all male cooks with recipes passed down through the ages. Some are secret and only a few old men still know them.
Tented ceilings were set up behind the house for them to cook on open fires in huge kettle type pots and pans. Meat was chopped on tree stumps, a sight to behold.

We were served huge plates of rice and men wandered through the tents ladling heaped spoonfuls of delightful mysterious dishes. Most of the meat was a combination of lamb and spices poached into a dumpling of sorts. The spiced minced meat cooked on skewers over open fires was much like the "Kafta" of Egypt or Morocco. Chicken was served as well as a variety of veggie dishes.

Day 3 Is the "BIG"day. The women arrive in their most beautiful outfits with all of their jewelery. Top to toe a fashion statement. Bangles that stack from wrist to mid arm, heavy gold earings that cover the entire ear, often held in place with a chain over the top of the head, ending in jeweled slippers.

The men have changed from their denims which they have worn the past 2 days. They say they must work and help serve and so good clothing isn't worn. Today however they are in suits, or at the least slacks and a sports coat.
The little girls and boys reflect their parents with the boys in denims and the little girls in the frilliest dresses I have ever seen.

This lunch is the most extravagant yet. Musicians play traditional music in the background.
Some leave, some stay on for the the next set of festivities.
The only time the groom's family are present is the last evening when they come for dinner. The groom is fed and then he gathers his bride and off they go. The guests remain on until late into the night singing, dancing, knowing this was an incredable experience had by all.