Cookbook Club: Flatbreads & Flavors

Not pancakes! Rye-sourdough crumpets with homemade bitter orange marmalade and soft salted butter!

It’s been far too long since we’ve offered a Cookbook Club post here at FQF. And since I’m trying to select a “cookbook of the week” from my (extensive) collection to avoid the ever-present malady of dinner fatigue, now seems like a good time to dust off some classics. May I present Flatbreads & Flavors, by the inimitable team of Duguid & Alford? (They’ve split now – but they did produce some stellar cookbooks together. I’d also highly recommend Seductions of Rice and Hot Sour Salty Sweet.)

Naan dough resting after being rolled out into rounds.

I adore their cookbooks because they’re not simply recipes but travelogues, too. As with many of you, I read cookbooks like novels, and in this extended no-travel period we find ourselves stuck in, these books are a transcendent escape. Duguid & Alford visited some very off-the-beaten-track locales – long before selfie sticks, Instagram, and exploitative overtourism were issues – and they have the stories and adventures and recipes to prove it. Their passion was never high-end restaurants catering to well-heeled tourists, but the tiny, unremarkable street stand tucked away in a nondescript alleyway serving the best Afghan snowshoe naan or Sichuan pepper bread in the world. Their palpable love for both food and the people who make it, day in and day out, as they’ve done for centuries, shines through in all their books.

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Cooking Class: Udaipur, India

It’s been two months since we returned and N and I are missing our travels more than we expected. We thought we might revisit a few of our most memorable experiences here.

We went on lots of market tours during our travels and took a couple of incredible cooking classes, too. Udaipur, in the western Indian state of Rajasthan, was one of our favorite cities in India. It’s friendly and accessible, easy to walk and to navigate and filled with compelling sights and smells. While we were here, we went to an in-home cooking class led by a quiet, lovely Indian woman named Gita. She didn’t speak much English, but this was definitely one of those times when not many words were needed; the idea of food as a universal language is such an accurate cliché.

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Traditional masala boxes contain cooking spices. Women are often given these as a wedding gift to bring to their new husband’s home.

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Combining fresh tomatoes, coriander and garlic for tomato chutney.

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Toasting whole spices brings out their aromatic oils.

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Making aloo gobi masala, cauliflower and potatoes with peas.

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This will be the filling for our samosas.

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Rolling fresh dough for samosas.

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The dough, speckled with cumin seeds, is cut into quarters.

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Years of practice make this look easy.

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Filling the samosas

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…and into the fryer they go.

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You don’t need fancy kitchen gear to produce amazing food.

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Many homes in rural India still don’t have refrigerators or freezers, so you buy what you need and cook fresh food every day.

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Indian cuisine includes an array of incredible breads.

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Poori puffs up when it’s cooked over an open flame.

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The best part of any cooking class is sitting down together to eat delicious food!

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Our kind, generous host, Gita – a truly incredible cook.

We miss you, India!

32,831 miles later

About eight months ago, we decided to put our regular lives on hold for a brief period and venture out to see the world again. We were heartsick and weary and in desperate need of a break from pretty much everything except each other. So we gave away our chickens, threw a few clothes in a backpack and locked up our house. And thus it happened that on a chilly January day, we left Colorado for Japan.

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Colorado

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Japan

In Japan, we visited monkeys in hot tubs and worked on farms. We ate ramen and tempura and so many other delicious things. We walked Tokyo and Kyoto and fell deeply, completely in love with a country so strange and different and welcoming and lovely that we cannot wait to return.

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New Zealand

From Japan, we flew to New Zealand. We rented a ragged campervan and drove the length and breadth of the country. We stumbled on an old sheep station and did some stunning walks and learned how macadamia nuts grow. And we discovered that we are perfectly content to live in a campervan…and we plan to do that again soon, too.

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Cambodia

After New Zealand, we were off to southeast Asia. We started in Cambodia with Angkor Wat and we also saw interesting things being made, like incense and rice noodles and tofu. Oh, and it was hot. (At least we thought so until we got to India, where we learned what heat really is.)

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Vietnam

We traveled overland to Vietnam, where we jumped on trains, dodged motorbikes, devoured street food and struggled to learn more about a conflicted country with a conflicted history.

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Thailand

Then it was time for a brief rest in Thailand; we went to more markets and bicycled through rice paddies and learned how to make handmade paper. We didn’t ride any elephants but we loved our time on the Banana Pancake Trail.

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India

No matter what, we weren’t ready for the heat and noise and crush and total sensory assault that is India. We’ve never traveled anywhere that we loved and hated in equal measure – sometimes in the exact same moment – and this complicated country has for certain gotten under our skin. We’ll be back here, too, and much better prepared this time.

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Spain

We flew from India to England, with a brief jaunt to gorgeous Madrid. This is one hell of a city…we miss drinking canas and eating jamón y queso at 2AM with hundreds of other people in the city’s beautiful plazas.

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England

We finished with some restorative time in the Midlands’ lush, rolling hills, where the innumerable shades of intense green defy belief. Hours of walking with only cows and sheep for company and then perhaps a brief stop at the local pub for a pint of Tiger. It’s not the worst way to spend a day.

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Colorado

And that brings us to now. We’ve been home for about three weeks and we’re struggling to adjust. This is not the country we left; it has been immensely challenging to reconcile the joy and freedom and lovely people of our travels with the rage and divisiveness and fear currently smothering all of us like a dense fog. But we’re back on our bikes, we’re volunteering on a goat farm and we’ve planted our garden. And this fall, we’ll be out on the road again to search for our farm property in earnest. Thanks for joining us on our travels over these past months and please stay tuned, friends, as our journey has just begun. We’re off to find Quiet Farm.

Farewell, India

To wrap up our nearly five weeks in India, we offer you a few more of our favorite photos. There is no way we could sum up our time here in merely a handful of images; we’ll be processing our experiences in this country for a long time to come. Thank you, India: you were beautiful and difficult and amazing and maddening and always, always memorable.

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Elephants for riding at Jaipur, a practice we abhor. (Related post on animal tourism coming soon.)

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The bride’s palms and soles of the feet are traditionally painted with henna for a Hindu wedding ceremony.

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This gorgeous shade of blue appears all over Indian temples and palaces.

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What’s more manipulative than including photos of cute baby animals?

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Even the simplest street scenes here are filled with color.

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The Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Goa.

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Chamundeshwari Temple near Mysore.

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Only in India can you see an actual bull in an actual china shop.

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Monks at worship in a Buddhist temple in Madikeri. Buddhism is not at all common in India; only about 10 million people (less than 1% of the population) identify as Buddhist.

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A wedding celebration in Jaipur; the parade goes through the streets so everyone can join in.

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View from the top of Hanuman Temple in Hampi.

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Fishing in the Arabian Sea.

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City Palace, Udaipur.

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Kochi’s central square.

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The white-breasted kingfisher, very common in central India.

 

 

 

 

Some honesty

We’ve shared lots of striking images of India, and in this brief post we want to share a few more. Unfortunately, these are striking for all the wrong reasons.

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For everything that we read about India before our visit there – to dress conservatively, to travel in groups, to keep our passports and money close by, to watch our luggage at all times – we never read about this. We had no idea just how unbelievably filthy India actually would be.

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We talked a lot about whether we should share photos like this, and obviously we ultimately decided yes. If everything on the Internet is fake, then we want this site not to be. And when we remember India, some of the most vivid memories we have are of amazing experiences like visiting tea plantations and spice gardens and eating dinner in a Sikh temple with five hundred strangers, but they’re also of the nearly incomprehensible piles of rubbish (and human and animal waste) we stepped around and through and over just about every single place we went.

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To be fair, some parts of India are cleaner than others. We covered nearly 3,000 kilometers in the country over a month, so we do feel as though we’ve visited enough places to form a reasonably educated opinion. Mumbai was lovely, and so was Mysore. But Agra (home of India’s most-visited tourist attraction!) was filthy, and Bundi was – quite frankly – disgusting. What you don’t see in most of the India photos elsewhere on the blog is how frequently N had to crop images or frame things differently to avoid photographing all of the trash.

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There are a lot of things about India that are difficult for Western travelers to comprehend; culture shock was a very real thing for us. More people in India have mobile phones than have access to clean drinking water or toilets; this is an especially dangerous problem for women and girls. The rails of India’s train system have to be replaced, on average, after two years rather than the expected thirty years because the human waste dumped on the tracks corrodes the rails entirely. And in many places, you can’t just throw your trash “away” because there is no “away.” There is no one to come collect it and nowhere to put it even if they did. And if there is a place to dispose of it, people still live there, too. So it most often stays on the streets, and the animals eat it, and the rats come, and it spirals from there.

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Please don’t misinterpret this – we loved our time in India, and we’re so glad we went. And we’re not in any way claiming that solving India’s immensely complex social and cultural issues will be easy, or quick. But travel blogs are full of carefully curated, spectacularly gorgeous photos – and most of the time, ours is, too. This post is designed to provide an honest counterpoint to all that beauty, and to remind ourselves that even in our First World countries, throwing something away isn’t really away, because it doesn’t disappear – it just disappears from our sight. And it’s not typically in a huge pile on the street with animals and people both fighting over it and living in it.

India by train

In an average day, about 23 million people ride on Indian Railways, the fourth-largest railway system in the world. This is about the same as the entire population of Australia!

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Victoria Railway Station, Mumbai.

We took a lot of trains during our four-plus weeks in India; it’s a big country. We rode on sleepers and day trains and subways and coal-fired trains from the 1800s. Like our experience on trains in Vietnam, we believe this is one of the best ways to see a place. From big cities to tiny villages to rural agriculture, we loved experiencing India this way.

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It’s common to see dozens of people sleeping in the train stations.

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A metro station in Delhi.

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Keep your wits about you; the crowds are intense.

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A six-berth sleeper carriage.

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The locomotive of Darjeeling’s “toy train.”

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A carriage of the toy train.

One of the primary tourist attractions in Darjeeling – in addition to tea plantations – is the “toy train,” a narrow-gauge railroad built by the British in the late 1800s that runs for about 78 kilometers through West Bengal. The train was revolutionary when it was first constructed, since it both traveled at altitude (Darjeeling is at about 7,000 feet) and navigated treacherously steep mountainsides.

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Emptying spent coal from the train’s furnace.

Nowadays it’s rather quaint (and slow), with piercingly loud horns and clouds of pollution from the coal, but it remains one of Darjeeling’s most popular tourist attractions.

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Despite its crowded cities, much of India is still almost entirely agricultural; this was often the view from the trains.

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It was always a little disconcerting for our group of Westerners to conspicuously walk into a lounge labeled as “upper class.”

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Chaiwallahs offer hot, sweet tea throughout the train carriages.

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I’m not sure what the plan is if the hammer isn’t there.

Just like everything else in India, the trains are hot, crowded and noisy, but they’re a quintessentially Indian experience. Can you travel India more efficiently? Of course. But the greatest gift the trains offer is time; they force travelers to slow down and experience a country at its own pace. We’re so glad we saw India by train.

Spice plantation

We spent a few days in Goa, a state in western India situated along the Arabian Sea. Up until 1961, Goa was a Portuguese colony; it’s a major tourist destination now and is famous for its beaches. It’s India’s wealthiest state, with a per-capita GDP nearly three times that of the rest of the country. While we’re not so much for beaches, Goa is also famous for its tropical flora and fauna, and we loved visiting one of its spice plantations.

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spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are different from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish. Modern cooks definitely do not appreciate our plentiful and inexpensive supply of spices and herbs, many formerly so valuable that they were used as currency. (Want to incorporate more fresh herbs into your cooking? Join me on June 10 at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Learn more here!)

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A green cardamom plant, which will produce the familiar little seed pods.

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Black cardamom, which in Indian cuisine is used only for flavoring and isn’t eaten, unlike the green cardamom pods.

The majority of the most common culinary spices are grown in tropical areas, roughly twenty-five degrees north and south of the equator. This is the same area of the world where coffee and cacao are grown, too.

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Nutmeg on the tree.

Two of our most-loved baking spices, nutmeg and mace, both come from the same tree. Nutmeg is the seed and mace is the lacy covering of the seed. This is the only plant that produces two different commercially viable spices.

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Peri peri chile peppers. Very small and very potent.

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Arabica coffee beans.

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This plant looks rather unassuming, but it’s actually the world’s second most expensive spice, after saffron. That vine will eventually produce vanilla pods.

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Turmeric is the new trendy ingredient in everything from lattes to roasted cauliflower. Here, the root has just been harvested…

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…and here it’s for sale in the market.

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Unripe peppercorns.

Black, green and white peppercorns all come from the same plant – like tea, the variation lies in how they’re dried and processed. (Pink peppercorns come from an entirely different plant altogether.) These were once so valuable that a serf could buy his freedom with a pound of peppercorns.

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Spice traders at work.

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A gorgeous array of after-dinner refreshers, mostly based on fennel seed.

The next time you’re rummaging through your spice cabinet, remember that these seemingly innocuous plants changed the course of history! And while those of us in temperate zones can’t grow these spices without a greenhouse, you can easily grow lots of useful culinary herbs like basil, parsley, chives, mint and more in containers or a backyard garden.

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And if anyone can tell us what tropical spice plant this is, we’d be most grateful…it’s the only one we didn’t make a note of!

Scenes from India, vol. 1

A collection of some of our favorite photos from India; more to come.

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It’s very easy for Western tourists in India to blend in. Really, it’s tough to even find me in this photo.

One aspect of traveling in India that really surprised us was how many people wanted their photo taken with us. We were regularly asked to pose for photos with couples, families and children – sometimes babies would be shoved into our arms for pictures! In some of the more rural areas, we were apparently the first Westerners they had seen.

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Sorry about the scaffolding; they’re giving the marble a mud bath treatment to remove the evidence of intense pollution.

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Traditional Muslim architecture at an imambara in Lucknow.

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Stepwells, used in ye olde times and still today to hold water for people and agriculture.

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It’s possible that this tractor’s trailer is ever-so-slightly overloaded.

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Mumbai’s most expensive home, valued at $1 billion. It has 600 rooms, but it still has views of slums, like the one below.

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One of Mumbai’s many slums. 

While out on a day tour of Mumbai, we were offered the chance to visit one of its slum communities. Tours like this are challenging – many people will call them “poverty porn” – but poverty is an issue that confronts travelers everywhere in India. The Mumbai slum is truly one of the most remarkable places we’ve been; the people we saw were hard at work in a variety of industries, including textile manufacturing and recycling.

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A “factory” in the slum.

Many of our Western luxury goods, such as branded handbags and clothing, are manufactured in places just like the one in the photo above. On the left, a roll of white fabric waits to be dyed; the red dye is bleeding out of the shop floor into the open sewer that runs along the buildings. The Dharavi slum, the second-largest in Asia, is thought to have a goods turnover of more than one billion dollars annually. While the ethics of visiting a place like this are debatable, there is no debate about the thriving economy that exists here.

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Both Muslim and Hindu architecture feature prominently in India.

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A statue of Lord Ganesha.

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Every Sunday evening, the Mysore Palace is illuminated with millions of old-fashioned lightbulbs.

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The red sandstone mosque next to the Taj Mahal.

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The world’s largest open-air laundry in Mumbai. There is a good chance your fancy hotel’s sheets were washed here.

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The Pink Palace of Jaipur.

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Almost every cargo truck we saw was brightly painted and often festooned with streamers and other decorations.

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At a cultural dance performance in Rajasthani, this amazing woman danced while balancing these pots on her head.

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Kochi’s Chinese fishing nets.

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People leave offerings of fruit and other foods at temples, and now most temples have excessive populations of (sometimes aggressive) rhesus macaques and gray langurs.

Faces of India

India is an exceptionally diverse country. Its landmass is slightly more than one-third the size of the U.S. but contains four times the population, about 1.3 billion people. It is the birthplace of four of the world’s major religions. It has 22 official languages and about 1,600 “other” languages or dialects. It has four main castes and thousands of sub-castes. Amidst all that, it’s interesting to note that it has no official racial designations; after Independence, the government sought to do away with racial classifications. Therefore, everyone born in India is Indian, and here we share with you some of the people of this beautiful, diverse, complicated place.

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Pilgrimage to Varanasi

Varanasi is a city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, located on the banks of the sacred Ganges (or Ganga) River. It is considered the spiritual center of India and one of the world’s holiest places; millions of people make pilgrimages here every year.

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The view of the ceremony onshore.

Most of the pilgrims are Hindu; they come to worship, to bathe in the Ganges’ sacred waters, and to participate in funeral rites. Every morning and every evening, elaborate ceremonies take place along the river.

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This boy is selling offerings, or diya, for placing in the Ganges.

Dozens of slender boats sit just offshore, giving occupants an exceptional view of the ceremonies. The people in boats may just be tourists – like us – or they may have come on their own pilgrimage.

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Washing hands before making offerings.

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The boats are crowded, so it might be necessary to stand to view the ceremony.

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Dozens of boats, big and small, are rafted together just offshore.

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Our boat captain, sitting proud.

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The traditional diya, or offering: marigolds are placed in little dishes with a lit candle.

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The diya are then set adrift in the Ganges.

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A ceremonial cremation ghat; understandably, no closer photographs were permitted.

Varanasi, also called Benares, has close to one hundred ghats, or stepped entrances leading to the river. Many are for bathing or puja ceremonies, but some are dedicated exclusively to cremation; some ghats are even privately owned. Hindus believe that cremation frees a soul from the continuous cycle of death and rebirth; thus, cremating a body along the Ganges is very much in demand and only for the wealthy. The cremation ghats at Varanasi operate twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year.

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Sunrise on the Ganges.

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As always, Indian cities are quite an architectural free-for-all.

Varanasi is the oldest continuously inhabited city in India, and it’s sacred to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The city is a breathtaking mix of spiritual and secular, modern and ancient, calm and chaotic.

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Many of the widows’ quarters seen on the shore are now fancy guesthouses.

Sati (or suttee) is a now-obsolete Hindu funeral custom where widows would ceremonially commit suicide by throwing themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Though it was officially banned by the British in 1829, women are still not allowed to take part in the cremation ceremonies. (Our guide told us it was because “women are too emotional.”) In much of India, widows are still expected to renounce all pleasure in life; in addition to being a spiritual center, Varanasi is known – and not in a complimentary way – as “The City of Widows.”

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Monks performing a rite; wood for the cremation fires is seen on the left.

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This man is applying his face paint after bathing in the Ganges.

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Daily bathing in the river, and a closer look at one of the ghats.

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sadhu worshiping on one of the ghats.

Holy men, or sadhus, are a common sight in Varanasi. In Hinduism and Jainism, a sadhu is any person who has renounced the worldly life in favor of religious asceticism. Most sadhus survive on food and clothing donated by the public and may travel great distances on their own spiritual pilgrimages.

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It’s impossible not to be caught up in the spirituality of this place. Our visit to Varanasi, and our voyages on the Ganges both at sunset and sunrise, were one of our most memorable experiences during our trip to India.