“A Spice of Life in India”
By Marilyn Rodrigues
Namaste/Namaskar—'The spirit within me honours the spirit in you.’
My journey to incredible India indeed ignited my spirit and inspired me to embrace and celebrate all that this vast and colourful country had to offer.
An assault on the senses is the only way to describe a place as vibrant and as varied as the sought-after spices that flourish across its land—from my tiny ancestral state of Goa to the lush land of Kerala and up along the northern ‘Golden Triangle’—India is a showcase of energy, industry and life!
The adventure began in Betalbatim, Goa where grand Portuguese-inspired mansions in shades of turmeric orange, mustard yellow and red capsicum, peppered the rural landscape. Clove-brown water buffaloes could be found partially submerged within the swampy rice paddy fields accompanied by salt-white egrets. And, soft golden nutmeg-hued sand cushioned my path on the beach that stretched as far as the eye could see. Even the crabs had an impact with the many coriander-shaped designs that they created just beyond the sea’s reach.
Goa introduced me to a world where the car, motorcycle, bicycle and tuk-tuk scattered like tossed cumin seeds, horns incessantly beeping, crisscrossed the roadways. Further, I was overwhelmed by the extent of the Catholic churches in Old Goa. They were all stunning; glorious and gracious structures, some with garlic bulb-like domes which dotted the tree canopy.
After a few days in Goa—Panjim, Margao, Betalbatim, Benaulim—I flew to Cochi, Kerala at the strong recommendation of friends. This city is located on the south-west side of the country.
The cinnamon-shaded soil that coated the soles of my shoes in Goa continued in Kerala; an Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese and British-influenced state. From the Chinese fishing nets that extended over the Arabian Sea like star anise; to the tamarind-tinted backwaters of Alleppey; the iridescent green tea covered plantation hills of Munnar and the exotic conservation area of Periyar Sanctuary—Kerala is like the masala of it all! I thoroughly delighted in the beauty and topographical diversity of this part of India. The fifth oldest Jewish synagogue in the world is also surprisingly located in Kerala.
Flying from Cochi through Mumbai and onto Jaipur, in Rajasthan, took an entire day. Yet Jet Airways made things quite seamless and enjoyable. Chai following a curried chicken and rice lunch contributed to my satisfaction and taste buds!
The walled city of Jaipur was painted pomegranate pink in 1853 in honour of the royal visit of Prince Albert. The current Maharaja—Sawai Bhawani Singh—resides here in a massive City Palace where he receives guests (including tourists) regularly. On the steep, winding road to Jaigarh Fort, the arid, barren grounds up the hill are home to allspice-toned boars, bright cardamom-coloured wild green parrots, flamboyant peacocks with chanothi leaf-like feathers, mace-pigmented & crested Brahminy Mynas and dark vanilla-tinted monkeys. The largest cannon on wheels in the world, that can fire a range of 35 kilometers, rests here as well.
It was thrilling to next find myself on the back of an Indian elephant who was adorned with a saffron-shaded blanket. Amber Fort was the destination. The vantage point was spectacular and the experience outstanding as I rocked back and forth with each gigantic step; holding on tightly!
Before leaving Jaipur, I was treated to a passing view of the Palace of the Winds—Hawa Mahal; another gingery-splattered structural asset. I also had the chance to see some brilliant gemstones polished to perfection and could not resist in bringing one home—a crystal clear, certified blue topaz which hails from Rajasthan’s lovely capital of Jaipur.
And then, my driver navigated the car safely to Agra, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, after passing herds of not only holy cows on the highways but also clumsy-looking camels!
The most beautiful, most romantic building in the world is in Agra, a jewel in India’s crown of history and architecture—the breathtaking Taj Mahal. So unbelievable that this grandiose building was constructed as an elaborate tomb for love lost and yet millions gravitate to it to proclaim love for one another. Magic exudes from this sugary-coated castle of the departed.
Not too far away is the, just as remarkable, red sandstone Agra Fort which goes on and on like fields of red chili plants. The lace-like walls offer a strong yet visually delicate backdrop for selfies. And the camera doesn’t get a break as the grounds include a Fish Palace, where the emperor entertained himself by fishing; the Gem Mosque, which housed the Shah’s harem of women, the Royal Chambers; the Palace of Mirrors where the women of the court bathed; the Vine Garden and…the fort is endless and enchanting.
A ride in a rickshaw-type of vehicle pulled by a camel was memorable but so were the elephants, monkeys, loose dogs, cows and people I viewed along the roadway. The sensation was overwhelming.
My final destination was Delhi which introduced itself 2 hours in advance in the form of a thick, yellow, fenugreek seed-coloured haze. Pollution from nigella-hued brick factory smoke spewed non-stop beside the highway. This capital city offered me as a tourist a chance to shop in a maze of bazaars. Chandi Chowk was chaotic and treacherous, but bargains were to be had in a market that sold not only live chickens, car tires and shoes but also spices and carpets. A Maharaja spicy chicken burger at the Mcdonald’s allowed me to step away for a few minutes, from the pandemonium.
Delhi’s Red Fort was interesting; a visit to Jama Masjid—the largest mosque in India, valuable, and I was honoured to visit the site where a burning flame memorializes a world idol, Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, hands down, it was the lotus flower-shaped Baha’i Temple that provided me with pause, delight and a welcome reprieve from hectic Delhi.
It is said that over 50 spices are contained within a proper Indian curry. So, it is no wonder that this extraordinary country exudes a similar variety in landscapes, people, architecture, religion, wildlife and food! Salutations Mother India. Your spirit is enlightening and so very engaging. Namaste and thank you, until I return again.