Monday, 5 May 2014

... Crouch With Tigers, Hide With Dragons: Spice Up Your Life

The cloud cover this morning tricked me into thinking it might be a little cooler to explore some of the many temples and palaces spread along the river and surrounding countryside. Within half an hour I was starting on my second bottle of water and could feel the sweat trickling down my back. It wasn't even 10am.

The town's imposing 17th century fort, Chaturbhuj temple, is a beautiful temple which can be seen from almost all parts of Orchha. It is an architectural marvel of the Bundela kings, when you ignore the graffiti carved into the walls, and is worth a visit. The main highlight of this temple is the dome and the tall spires. It is built on a vast platform of stone and boasts sharp looking spikes on its front door to deter elephants. I'm guessing in those days a sign wouldn't suffice. This is part of a great palace complex. The paintings on the roofs of the kings room and the first queens room are great and in pretty stellar condition. The fantastic thing is you can explore many of the rooms, passages and stairwells, if heat exhaustion doesn't overwhelm you. Just watch out for the bats!

There are numerous cenotaphs that dot the landscape and they're a great location for birdwatching as the vultures nest under the cupolas and soar above you . The Chhatris of Orchha commemorate the Bundelkhand rulers after their death. The impeccably maintained complex on the banks of the Betwa river boasts of cenotaphs of varying dimensions. The greater the rule the more complex the memorial, many of which reminded me of some of the structures I saw at Angkor Wat. You can use your ticket from the fort to get in too.

Just when I thought I couldn't bear any more heat, I came up with the idea that taking an Indian cooking class would be a fantastic idea. And it was, except for the heat element. It didn't help that there was a power cut either and so the only way to keep cool was to fan myself with my note taking paper. Rajna teaches at least 3 groups per week from within her home. Her classes seem popular and you soon find out why. Today I learnt how to make 9 different items that might make up an Indian vegetarian meal. Of course now I need to hit the store and buy a plethora of herbs and spices: turmeric, green cardamom, coriander seeds, black pepper to name but a few. My usual purchase of baked beans isn't really going to get me that far. Oh and the last time I used a mortar and pestle I worked in the lab!

To start with you were taught how to make Masala chai. If I never ever make anything else other than this then the course was money well spent! You can even substitute for milk with soy, almond, coconut as there's actually not that much added compared to water and sweeten to taste. The spices are what make this drink. It was absolutely delicious and super quick to make.

Next came the curries: spinach & potato (15 min cooking time), Aubergine/Eggplant (15 min cooking time) and Okra (20 min cooking time). The heat from the gas stove was easy to ignore with the aromas that were circulating. I was starting to get hungry.

The Spinach rice used a pressure cooker (does anyone still use these things?) to cook it in 7-8 minutes. Cumin, mustard, turmeric, coriander, garam masala..... It sounded so exotic. I couldn't believe how easy the green mango chutney nor the boondi (chickpea) raita were to make, although setting fire to the raita would be kind of an awesome party trick. Watch out for your eyebrows!

No Indian meal would be complete without some Indian bread. I actually learnt how to make two different kinds of roti/chapati from the same dough mix. The regular kind you basically toast in a pan. Who knew?!? Then there's Puri, which are fried in very hot oil and puff up like puff pastry. Ohmahgerd..... Those things are addictive. They tasted a bit like doughnuts and I don't even like doughnuts! I sure liked these though. They go straight to your hips I reckon.

The whole class took about 90 minutes, Rajna was really patient and great at explaining. Then comes the best bit, you get to sit down and eat what you made for lunch. Win-win on all counts. Thank heavens I'm kind of living in a permanent sauna and sweating into non-existence.... seconds for me!

I'm now lying on a sofa in front of a very big fan in a food & heat coma. I wouldn't be moving for the rest of the day if I had my way, but I have to get a bus to Alipura. Needs must!

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