Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Experiencing

We're still on an "Experience the Real India" kick, and once we arrived in the beautiful, ethereal, magical lakeside town of Udaipur, we decided to settle in and experience away! BG had his first in-depth Indian experience at the barber shop. It's been nearly two months since his last haircut, and he was beginning to resemble a fuzzy light bulb, so off he went. First we tried to find a shop that was pretty well-populated. Then we decided that he would pay no more than $5 for a cut, and with that in mind we marched into the shop ready to bargain hard.

The barber quoted less than $1 for a haircut. Sheepish (in hairstyle and in manner), BG sat in the chair and had a towel draped over his shoulders so the styling session could begin!

I was lucky to be present during this momentous occasion and sat at the back of the packed barber shop, observing. I had the camera ready for any shenanigans that might occur! There were many men in the barber shop. After a few minutes of observation I had an insight to the fabulous mustaches that many Indian men sport -- they all have professional shaves all the time. There are barber shops on every corner in every town we've been to. They're always full. In this particular shop, men were having face massages, shaves, and face masks -- Indian men have facials. One older gentleman sat to the side, a peel-off mask plastered to his skin. After a few minutes, one of the barbers (are they estheticians?)peeled it off for him, revealing apparently new, smooth, fresh skin. Men were having facial scrubs, having fancy creams applied, having their mustaches trimmed, having their hair dyed. I felt like I was looking through the window into a secret, Indian-masculine world that I'd never known existed.

We found out that a shave cost the equivalent of $0.50, so BG agreed to his first professional straight-blade shave. Then he agreed to a facial massage. And some cream. However, he did reject the peel-off facial mask, much to my dismay.

Hilariously, the barbershop owner offered to shave my face for free.

The next Indian experience was mine. I attended a cooking class! It was held at the home of the family that owns the hotel we stayed at in Udaipur, and was run by the owner's sister-in-law. (That's the first thing. The entire family lives under one roof!)There were three of us in class, and we sat on low stools in the family kitchen while our friendly and talented teacher, Kamu, taught us how to make an astounding array of dishes:

Palak Paneer (spinach and unfermented cheese)
Paneer Pakoda (fried cheese things)
Masala chai (Indian milk tea)
Chapati (bread)
Paneer parantha (bread stuffed with cheese... so we like cheese!)
Aubergine and tomato curry
Halwa (dessert)
Vegetable raita (yogurt sauce)
Vegetable biryani (rice)
(I think I may be missing something.)

The lesson was great; we learned to make sauces from scratch instead of from a jar. We learned that you CAN make bread dough with your hands and not with a Kitchen Aid. I also learned that you can turn out a great meal with nine courses in the span of a couple of hours with two gas burners, one wok, one pressure cooker, and one spoon -- no need for an industrial kitchen with professional All-Clad cookware and a Sub-Zero fridge.

These kinds of life lessons are really worth learning.

The city of Udaipur is one of those beautiful places that is normally seen on TV. The beautiful Lake Palace Hotel is set in the centre of the lake that the town edges on all sides; at sunset, it glows pink and as darkness falls it glows as though lit from within by candles. The Monsoon Palace rests delicately on top of a nearby hill. The city palace also glows softly as darkness falls. The view from Sunset Point was amazing, even though the romanticism was marred only slightly by the hip-hop music emanating from the "musical fountain".

One Udaipur must-do is watching "Octopussy" over dinner. This James Bond classic is a campy, ridiculous, cheesy Roger Moore-ism set in Udaipur, and is played every. single. night in Udaipur at almost every. single. rooftop. restaurant. in the city. We managed to catch it once, and amidst my eye rolls and groans, I had to admit that there was something special about seeing the Lake Palace on the screen, and then looking out past the TV and seeing it right there in front of me.

The most recent Indian experience that we're recovering from is a long-haul bus ride. We have had three long bus rides here -- two during the day, and one at night when we had what's called a "sleeper compartment" -- a flat bunk on the second "level" of the bus, one that we rolled around like a couple of bowling pins on an ice rink. Today's bus ride brought us up/down a whole new level, though. We had seats, but there were also people stuffed into the sleeper compartments above us and standing in the aisles (and sitting on stools they'd brought themselves.) Indian pop music played loudly, incessantly, the whole time.

Next: Sleeper train to Mumbai, T-90 minutes and counting. Wish us luck; updates will hopefully follow!

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