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Archive for India

Kerala Boats – Travel Through The Intracoastal Waterways By Boat

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar titled "Kerala Waterway Workers" (c)2017

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar titled “Kerala Waterway Workers” (c)2017

Kerala boats are unique to the Malabar Coast and dot the intracoastal waterways that lie parallel to the Andaman sea. These boats are a significant part of the local economy as they bring important commercially grown produce such as rice, coconuts, bananas and spices to the coast for distribution. These boats are capable of carrying the equivalent of 3 trucks.

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar titled "Kerala Waterway Workers" (c)2017

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar titled “Kerala Waterway Workers” (c)2017

These Kerala boats are called vallams in the Malayalam language, native to Kerala. Vallams are canoes made from local wood called ‘Anjali’ or jack-wood and deeply oiled with a black resin from the kernel of cashews, a locally grown produce. The black silhouette of the canoe on the water is a signature of the waterways. Racing canoes are much longer and can hold up to a hundred oarsmen. These often have more prominent prows with carvings and paint. But it is the common Kerala boat that I loved seeing on the still waters being pulled along by poles and paddles.

 

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar, Kerala Boat

Oil painting by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar, Kerala Boat.

These two oil paintings on canvas of Kerala Boats measure 36″ x 18″. The solitary boat moored alongside the river is typical of the boats used to move people and cargo. The oil painting with the two workers transporting wooden planks was captured after sunset on the waterway to Alleppey. We were traveling north on a Government Ferry from Quilon (Kollam) after spending considerable time on Lighthouse Beach in Trivandrum.

Kettuvallam (Converted rice barge for Kerala Tourism); Kerala Boat, Houseboat; Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar photography; copyright 2002

Kettuvallam – Converted rice barge moored alongside a rice paddy on the waterway to Alleppey, Kerala India. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

 

Kettuvallams are the large houseboats covered in intricate bamboo and palm leaves. Everything is tied together with coir or rope made from coconut fibers. From what I recall, there is not a single nail or screw holding these canoe planks together…just the coir. These larger Kerala boats are in the 60-70′ length with a 15′ beam. The houseboats are converted barges and designed for the tourist industry. The pace is slow and leisurely, which is ideal for anyone birdwatching, photographing the local riverscape or wishing to just take in the journey and relax all day long and night.

Kerala Waterways are hot, humid and immensely beautiful under the blazing Indian sun. It is easy to spot kingfishers, sea eagles, water snakes and water rats. Fish jump and birds skim the surface seeking insects.

Along the shore people wash dishes, shower or bathe. Bamboo outhouses line the river. The waters are brackish. Salt water from the sea doesn’t penetrate the intracoastal waters due to a natural and artificially supported breakwater. The lakes, lagoons and rivers are fed by mountain streams inland.

At night, just after sunset, women in a stunning array of jewel tones sarees walk single file along the river. The rich color against the palm frond backdrop is perfectly reflected in the silvery water is simply beautiful to behold.

Kerala boats; women in sarees along the Kerala waterways India. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar

Kerala boats; women in sarees along the Kerala waterways India. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

Converted rice barge for Kerala Tourism. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

Kerala boat: Converted rice barge for Kerala Tourism. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

Scenic Kerala Waterways at sun down. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

Scenic Kerala Waterways at sun down. Photography by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (c)2002.

Hindu Fire Ceremony As Still Life Painting

Hindu Fire Ceremony, oil painter Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar, Art, India

Hindu Fire Ceremony by Anne Marie Peterson-Kolatkar (signed with her Hindu name “Amrita”)

A Hindu Fire Ceremony is something to behold. The natural ingredients are dried cow patties, mango sticks, ghee (clarified butter), dried grasses and string made from coir, marigolds, rice, copper bowls and basic clay bricks present a lovely collection of textures and harmonious colors.

This oil painting is on cotton canvas and measures 20″x24″.

Personal Story About This Hindu Fire Ceremony

Half way through my husband Anand’s Munja’s Hindu fire ceremony, the fire that was built using dried cow-patties, a few twigs and fueled heavily by ghee started smoking to high heavens. The recreation hall doors were all open, and the wind was changing directions causing the priests to lean left then right in a weak attempt to avoid the smoke as they chanted their lines. I ran around the room closing windows and doors trying to channel the smoke between the gents, but each time the wind outwitted me.

Anand, patient as ever and acting respectful, was completely smoked out as the flames worked to steady themselves in the clocking breeze.

I turned to his Uncle Kumar and said, “I know Anand, as a scientist, must be hating every minute of this and he is probably staying put to make this part of the ceremony end fast. Can’t we do something about the smoke?”

Kumar-mama just laughed and said, “Don’t you know Annie, it is a holy fire making holy smoke that will purify Anand.” Right. All I understood was that my sweetheart had to inhale the ash and smoke from burning cow dung, which motivated me to make one more attempt to channel the draft. When I successfully directed the smoke between the Pandits and away from Anand, sure enough it was all over in another two minutes.

Hindu fire ceremonies are pleasant enough. Between the chanting of the priests to the gods and the simple offerings it is a reflective time. If you ever have a chance to sit through one take it!

 

 

 

India’s Rich Cuisine – Part II

in Food, Hotels, India      tags:

Breakfast in Jaipur highlighted the foods of India’s south – dosas, rice and lentil batter pancakes made on a dark griddle.  It was served on top of a green banana leaf, on a platter formed to resemble an artist’s palette with wells indented in which to put railway chutney, curry leaf, tomato and coconut chutney.  Inside was a scoop of hot spicy potato mash.  Delicate and delicious!

Other Southern Indian breakfast items included the small white idlis, made of steamed rice flour, and medhu vada, a dense doughnut made of lentil.  Also, sago vada- chick pea gram flour soaked for 24 hours, then ground fine, formed into balls and fried.

Lunch at the Maharajah in Jaipur treated us to the desert cuisine of Rajasthan.  Laal Mas, lamb curry and Kher Sangri, the skinny desert beans and berries, dried, then rehydrated and cooked with onions and spices, was a superb introduction to the region, and to dishes we had never heard of before.  We ordered a rice dish and mint (methi) parantha bread to accompany it.

At the Ranthambhore Taj Hotel, our stay was marred by unexpected monsoon like rains for 2 days.  I struck up a conversation with Nagendra Singh, the General Manager, and soon I was in his office for 2 hours of talking about our mutual love of Indian cooking.  I told him how delicious the food had been the first night, and soon he was calling in the chef and his assistants, bringing ingredients and equipment to show me, such as a wooden butter churn, dried desert berries and beans, gourds, carom seeds for digestion and for stopping bleeding after childbirth. That afternoon was my favorite memory of India.   I was furnished photocopies of each day’s menu, which I transcribe below:

Monday lunch:
Bhindi Jalfrezi – okra fried, tomato, onion, ginger, garlic

Bainghan Bhurta- eggplants baked in charcoal oven, stripped, crushed, with spices and onion

Paneer Achari – farmer’s cheese with pickle and mango sauce from pickling

Pittod Pullao – specific to that region, rice pilaf with gram flour-chickpea, oil, salt, chili powder, aniseeds, curry

Ghosht Saag Nala – Mutton/goat bones in a bright green sauce comprised of mustard greens

Makkhan Wada – refined wheat flour, sugar, ghee, cream dessert

Monday dinner
Paneer Mutter – green peas and cottage cheese

Cabbage Tamater – cumin seeds and grated cabbage strands, tomato shreds

Ghiya Kofta – white gourd, green coriander powder, crushed cottage cheese, crushed potato, balls in tomato gravy

Kadhi – thin chick pea flour gruel, yogurt, coriander powder, turmeric, mustard seeds, garlic, onions, asafetida, made into balls

Vegetable Biryani – light, fluffy rice with small bits of vegetables

Moong dal Halwa- intense, sweet, grainy dessert

Tuesday lunch
Bharwan Capsicum Stuffed with Cheese & Tomato, meltingly delicious and light

Paneer Palak – light farmer cheese in delicate green mustard/spinach sauce

Mutter Tamater Curry – peas, tomato

Chutneys & Tamarind sweet sauce

Pullao – with vegetables, beige, almonds

Keema Liver Masala – ground meat with small vegetables

Tuesday dinner
Murg Methi Malai – chicken with cream gravy, spiced with fenugreek, ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric, tomatoes and red chilies

Gobhi Tamater tomatoes with other vegetables

Sarson ka Saag – spicy mustard/spinach greens with turnip, dill, radish, ginger, green chili

Paneer Tikka Lababdar – farmer’s cheese

Lemon Rice- yellow, light and fluffy

Seviyon di Kheer dessert

We were rolling our eyes with pleasure every time we took a bite.  As soon as Nagendra found out we adored the chef’s food, he organized an outdoor cooking demonstration, under the veranda eaves.  A stainless steel cart with clay tandoor on it was rolled out, and eggplants were impaled on a 4’ skewer and roasted.  After removing the skins, the eggplant was combined with spices and onions and garlic and presented as an appetizer.

There are, according to Nagendra, 5 key ingredients that a cook is able to get anywhere in India: meat (lamb/chicken), clarified butter (ghee), salt, whole red chili, water, garlic.  The chef whipped up a curry using these simple ingredients.

Lastly, he combined chick pea flour with yogurt and oil to form a dough.  He rolled it into tubes and cooked these in water until it foamed.  Then he made a curry with the cooking water and spices.  All were delicious.

While we were in India, we didn’t have one bad meal, only good, delicious, and ambrosially delicious meals!  I won’t recount all the meals we had, but the other really good ones happened at the Lake Palace Hotel.

Chicken Murgh ka Sole, and Mixed Vegetables. This was accompanied by mango pickle, green coriander chili hot sauce, and chutney.  We brought the chef out to compliment him.  He has promised to send the recipes by e-mail, which I will share if I manage to obtain them.

In Jodphur for our 2010 Thanksgiving feast, we enjoyed a blend of north and south India.  Cauliflower and potato stir fried with chili, coriander,coconut, mustard and curry leaves (south) and gosht baghar (north),well marinated lamb cooked slowly with yogurt, mustard seeds, fenugreek and red chilies. Scrumptious cheese paratha accompanied our meal.

Culinary regards,

Claudia and Gail

India’s Rich Cuisine – Part I

India’s Rich Cuisine: From Delhi and Punjab to Rajasthan

We are in culinary heaven.  We’ve not only tasted some of the best Indian food of our lives, but some of the best food we’ve ever had, period.

It started at Delhi’s Pindi restaurant, in Pandara Market.  The hottest, juiciest cardamom flecked onion kulcha, with rich tomato butter chicken and vegetable pullao, with mustard seed oily potatoes from northern province of Punjab, were our kickoff into ecstasy with this panoply of northern Indian dishes.

We were surprised to learn of the wide spectrum of Indian regional cuisines.  For example, in many American Indian restaurants, northern Indian cuisine is featured.  Yet, the famous Rogan Josh red lamb curry is actually from Kashmir and didn’t appear on any menu in the state of Rajasthan, where we were traveling.  Korma is from a different region, near Lucknow.  Tandoori ovens are not a staple of households in Rajasthan, but in northerly Punjab.  So we set out with a sense of excitement to enjoy and discover exactly what constitutes Rajasthan cuisine.

Rajasthani cuisine is the cuisine of a semi-desert state.  To avoid using scarce water, meats and vegetables are cooked in butter, buttermilk, yogurt, or clarified butter (ghee).  Fresh vegetables were once scarce, but now appear on every menu.  There is ample use of dal, dried lentils, then cooked in a sauce.  Breads are roasted in the local equivalent of a tandoor or griddle.  Chick pea flour (gram flour) is formed into balls, and set into the coals from water buffalo dung, and eaten by country people for breakfast or lunch.

Along the road we stopped for tandoori chicken and a thali.  The thali is a system of organizing a complete meal, using either a tray upon which are set little steel dishes full of foods, or a dish in which are sunk wells to contain the food.  Our first thali offered dishes of white rice, mint coriander yogurt sauce, fresh vegetables, cabbage curry, cooked vegetables, lentils, and rice pudding.  In the middle of the tray were stacked pappadum, crispy thin pepper flatbreads, and naan, tandoori bread.

Up next: Breakfast in Jaipur and Thanksgiving in Jodhpur.

Culinary regards,

Claudia and Gail

The Pink City of Jaipur: Visiting the Summer, Winter and Spring Palaces of the Maharajahs

Rajasthan is India’s largest state, and Jaipur is its capital.  It is called the Pink City because its buildings are constructed of pink stucco and forts of red sandstone.  The 9 block grid was laid out in 1727 on Hindu principles, with unusually broad avenues for its time.

Now, 2.5 million people live here.

We first entered the city at night, and predictably, the first place we were taken was shopping in the bazaar.  Raj, our driver, maintains this is the best shopping in India.  We enjoyed watching him buy cheap screened colorful twin bedspreads for his 3 children.  Each shop is set back from a well-kept arcade sheltering a raised sidewalk, and families sat on narrow padded benches buying saris (it’s wedding season here).  We were shown silk scarves and bought 2.

This morning, our guide Anapurna brought us up the thorny, sere hills to the Amber Fort, perched high on a mountain 11 km outside of Jaipur.

It was originally built by the Kachhwaha Rajputs, who were rewarded for their allegiance to Mughal court in defending them in skirmishes. Using booty from wars, they began construction in 1592.  It is a perfect defensible site, made stronger by Great Wall of China style defense works on surrounding hills.

After waiting in line 40 min. we got on board an elephant sidesaddle in a sort of padded metal cage and wound our way up the hill.  The elephants are painted with pink and green designs and lurch back and forth enough to make you feel you are going to fall off or crash into the next elephant.  Gail touched his bristly stubble and was surprised at the texture.  They eat sugar cane and love naan bread with butter for snacks!

Feeling highly relieved to get off, we visited the red sandstone Maharajah’s Hall of Public Audience, with white marble columns hidden in the middle.  The Summer, Winter and Spring Palaces surround a garden irrigated by rain water collected in cisterns.  Their capacity was sufficient for 10,000 people for 3 years.  The water was cleaned by a system of filters, screens and bowls made of clay under the palace.  The Hall of Victory’s mirrored surfaces are being restored.

In the Hall of Pleasure, a slanted board fed water to a channel that cooled the room. It was then channeled to water the plants in the sunken garden.  In the Summer Palace, reed curtains were wet down, and the wind passing through them cooled the terraces.

The technologies used 350 years ago have been abandoned.  But we marveled at the use of shiny white plaster to brighten dark corridors, the advanced sunken (Jacuzzi) marble bathing octagon high above Lake Maota, the clever working of marble to permit ladies to sit above the courtyard and see but not been seen…this place was, and is, an engineering triumph.  It is also beautiful, with its Persian influenced flower paintings on gates, and its intricate mosaics and mirrors.

After a delicious lunch of local desert specialties, we spent several hours…shopping, what else!

We were shown wood-block printing.  Designs were carved into teak and a long piece of cotton cloth was laid out on a table.  The worker chose the background color, dipped the wood block in that color and went down the row.  In the wood block there was a little symbol to let him know where to place the next design so it would line up correctly.

The vegetable dyes became set after 2 days of sun exposure, transforming from dark to brilliant.  Green color comes from mango leaves and spinach, black from iron oxide, blue from indigo, etc.

Although the Maharajahs no longer rule, they are rich and live in palaces in the city.  The complex contains a museum with royal costumes and polo outfits (the game was invented here).  Near the inner courtyard are the Peacock, Lotus, Green and Rose gates symbolizing the four seasons.  It’s overlooked by the towering yellow Chandral Mahal where the family lives.  Salmon-colored arcaded pavilions with glass chandeliers, silver thrones and giant water vessels, fine paintings all speak of lives of unimaginable excess.

The coolest site was the Observatory, built by Jai Singh in 1728.

It’s like a giant outdoor playground for astronomers.  The largest is the 27m (90 ft.) high sundial with a staircase to the top.  Its arm is set at 27 degrees n. latitude.  The shadow cast moves up to 12 ft. per hour.  There are 12 zodiac instruments and others calculate declination (angular distance of heavenly bodies from celestial equator), and altitude and azimuth of celestial bodies, determination of equinoxes and location of the Pole Star.

We photographed the one-room deep Palace of the Winds, a pink sandstone building of 5 ethereal stories, which allowed royal ladies to watch the city life below.

When the British were rulers here, the photos show a clean uncrowded city.  However, Jaipur suffers from the same squalor we have seen everywhere in India.  Efforts to restore the red historical facades won’t mean anything unless everyone pitches in to clean up the garbage in front of their own shops.

Claudia and Gail

The Problems With Indian Infrastructure

India has some of the worst infrastructure we’ve ever seen.  Below is a brief summary of key elements.

Transport – Rail
Rail – India Railways’ network stretches 40,000 miles, moves 7B pax per year and 830 million tons of cargo (6-7-10 IHT).  Yet it’s creaking and lightweight tracks, old cars, slow speeds and overburdened carriages mean each Indian locomotive can only haul 5,000 tons of cargo (vs. 20 for US, China or Russia). To subsidize passengers, India charges 4 times US and 2x China’s cost.  Japan is providing $5B low-cost loans to help India buy Japanese equipment for the western corridor between Mumbai and Delhi.  The World Bank is considering $2.4B loans for the eastern corridor, Punjab to Calcutta, which is projected to be completed by 2017.

Transport – Roads
Our on-site analysis:  India’s 2 million miles of roads are totally degraded, crowded, rutted, and slow.  Cattle stop in the middle of the road and driving is hazardous and largely uncontrolled by signals.  It’s “every man for himself”.  Diesel fumes, constant honking of horns mean a miserable experience getting from point A to point B.  India’s Golden Quadrilateral Project linking Delhi, Calcutta, Madras and Mumbai is the only relief.  But the $1.33 toll is more than most Indians earn in a day (12-6-10 IHT)  India has the world’s highest accident rate, which rose from 80,000 in 2005 to 118,000 last year (6-8-10 IHT)

Sanitation
5-21-10 IHT:  Only 60% of municipal waste is collected in India.  Just 30% of urban sewage is treated.  Only 269 of 5,161 of India’s towns and cities have modern sewage systems, while roughly 33% of the country’s 1.2 B people have no access to a toilet, according to B. Pathak, founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organization.  The rural areas are riddled with roadside trash in heaps or dumped in the countryside.

4-23-10 IHT:  “India is drowning in garbage.  The cities alone generate over 100 million tons of solid waste per year.  Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has said that if there were a Nobel Prize for filth, India would win it!”  According to citizen watch groups, waste-energy schemes are riddled with corruption thus it is important to instill civic consciousness for everyone to clean up their space.

Energy
India relies on coal for over 50% of electric generation.  It imports over 70% of its oil needs.  400 million Indians lack reliable electricity.  India was among the largest producers of greenhouse gases according to a 2007 government report.  India is constructing nuclear plants.  It enjoys 250-300 sunny days/year but coal costs 4 rupees/kwh vs. 17 ru for photovoltaics.

Health and Poverty
The Indian government spends 5% of its $1.2T GDP on health care, focusing on primary care like immunizations.  Its per capita expenditure is $34.  Less than 33% of China (7-6-10 IHT).  Private sector accounts for 80% of total spending.  India only has .7 hospital beds/1000 people vs. world average of 4/1000.  But it’s becoming an emerging medical tourism destination.

According to Harvard School of Public Health study of 54 low and middle income countries, only 15% of Indian women 15-49 are obese.  Obesity is primarily a problem of the rich (Times of India 11-27-10).  Average body mass index is only 21, comparable to other 3rd world nations such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cameroon.  The study found an association between BMI and wealth.

India’s poverty and hunger indexes remain dismal, with 42% of Indian children under 5 being underweight.  The 8 poorest of 28 states and 7 territories (421 million people) have more in poverty than 26 of the poorest nations in Africa. (8-10-10 IHT).

Cities and Environmental Degradation
As April 2010 study by McKinsey indicates between 2010 and 2030, 250 million Indians will migrate to the cities, a figure that exceeds the current total population of all but 3 countries (China, India and US).  India will have 68 cities with a population over 1 million vs. 35 cities in all Europe (5-21-10 IHT)  Delhi currently stands at 14 million, with 7.5 million cars and is polluted with grey smoke of wood fires and exhaust.  According to a recent government study of 127 cities, 80% had over 1 pollutant exceeding air quality standards.

Around 25% of India’s people live along the coast.  According to Asian Development Bank, 26% of India’s shoreline suffers from serious erosion (8-27-10 IHT).  Livelihoods of fishermen, farmers and houses are threatened by rising seas and agriculture is already in crisis.  Population growth and degradation are going to make India a very polluted place in the 21st century.

CNN’s headlines last night indicated “India requires quantum leap in investment.” (12/3/10)

India most of all needs investment in water supply, sewage, roads, airports, and highways to take its rightful place in the world.  From the levels of disorganization we witnessed, we’re not sure this is going to go well.

Claudia and Gail

Indianomics

This is an image of the new Indian Rupee symbol which resembles the right side of the letter "R" with and equal sign across the top.

Indian Rupee Symbol

India is the world’s second largest country by population (1.2B vs. China’s 1.4B).  Its population is forecast to grow to 1.5 B by 2030 and to 1.7 B by 2050.  Its economy has been catching up to its potential, as the world’s 10th largest, at $1.2 T (International Herald Tribune (IHT), 1-28-10).

Demographics Drive Economics in India

Demographics will mean everything for India in the next 40 years.  Half of the population is younger than 25.  “This demographic dividend is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within 5 years” (8/28/10 IHT).  The International Labor Organization has stated India will account for the highest working age population in the next 10 years.  Of G-20 nations, 64% of the increase in population between 15-64 years will occur in India alone! (India Economic Times 11-27-10). In 2010 the working age population stands at 674 million but will rise to 793 million by 2022.  According to Centum, in 2020, the world will have a deficit of 47 million workers.  India will have a surplus of 56 million (11-27-10 Economic Times).

Females are Aborted

As far as demographics are concerned, India now averages 2.6 children per family, and is implementing incentives to delay childbirth.  The population is skewed toward males.  The British medical journal Lancet reported in 2006 that over the past 20 years, there have been 10 million missing female births in India ( 9-3-10 IHT).  Illegal prenatal sex determination tests allow Indians to choose boys, who earn more and are expected to provide for aging parents.  Girls cost extra to marry, for dowry, etc.  In some parts of India, like N. Punjab, only 800 girls are born for every 1,000 boys.

The World Economic Forum’s report on global sex discrimination ranks India 114th of 134 nations rated.  Indian women earn only 33% of men’s wages.  Only 54% are literate, vs. 75% for men. (4-28-10 IHT)  The government just announced an investment scheme for seeds, water, credit and subsidies to assist women in agriculture.  Farming employs 80% of all economically active women (Asian Age 11-29-10).

Employment

Agriculture used to employ most Indians.  Over 70% of the nation still lives in the countryside but the land’s fertility has been declining.  Around 8 million people left farming 1991-2001, when the last Indian census was conducted (1-29-10 IHT).  Agriculture represented 30% of GDP in 1990 (7-2-10 IHT) and now accounts for 17.5%  India has more agricultural land than China (182 million hectares – independent estimates place it at only 170 mh. vs China 135 million hectares.  China produced 112 million tons of wheat but India managed only 78.6 mt in 2008 (UN Food/Ag Organization – Economic Times 11-27-10).

India is setting up training institutes to train 240 million people by 2022.  Farming is still India’s first economic activity, employing 600,000.  The garment industry is second largest employer, but only 1% of GDP (10-28-10 IHT).  Construction is India’s third largest employer (33 million workers).  .  Industry has declined from 30% to 20%.  An increasing share of India’s economy since market-oriented reforms in 1991 has been the growth of services. Services (banking, insurance, communications, real estate) in 1990 stood at 44.7% and in 2009 reached 62.6% if GDP (7-2-10 IHT).

Trade

Trade in goods between India and the US grew from 1991 $5B to $38B in 2009.  The US is now India’s second largest source of direct foreign investment.  (9-24-10 IHT).  FDI cumulated since 1992 is $140B (1-24-10 IHT).  Indians talk about a “common mind set and shared commitment to democracy and capitalism.  A 2005 Pew Research Center survey found 71% had a favorable view of the US, the highest outside of the US itself.  81% of Indians considered Americans hard working and 86% admired Americans for being inventive.  These feelings are a result of thousands of business transactions at the grass roots level between individual citizens.

Inflation and Growth

India’s economy is growing at 8-9% per year.  Inflation is at 11%, more for foodstuffs.

Tourism

After tourism fell markedly from the global economic crisis of 2008, arrivals have increased in 2010.  Although government indicates 5.11 million in 2009, we have learned that this number overstates those who actually tour India (roughly 4 million annually).  Many enter India only to fly to Nepal.  They’re counted again when they fly to Delhi to return home.  Forex earnings rose 8.3% to $12B in 2009.

Middle Class – Consumption

India’s growth is being driven by consumer durables like TVs and refrigerators, as well as annual long-term capital investment, forecast at $134B.  It has galloping automotive markets.  A $300M announcement by GM last week that they will develop 6 new models to be made in India and Toyota’s chairman announcing investment in electric vehicles are just two examples of the companies involved in growing India’s auto industry.

India’s middle class has grown to 258 million people in the past decade (12-6-05 IHT).  Consumption is rushing ahead.  The National Payment Corp of India is implementing a way of making payments by cell phone.  Only 300 million people have bank accounts here, but 600 million have a cell phone.  This is growing 15-20 million per month.  22 banks are expected to participate (Times of India 11-24-10.)

Corruption Poisons India

The Hindustan Times on Saturday, Nov. 20 ran a piece highlighting the findings of a study of India’s economy from 1948 to 2008.  It found that high net worth individuals illicitly took out of India’s economy $462 billion US.  Nearly half of this occurred since liberalization of the economy since 1991.  Ways in which this was done include under or over invoicing trade, and other corruption.

The author of the report, Global Financial Integrity, a U.S. think tank, put this into context.  The huge loss of capital, if it were retained, could have liquidated all of India’s external debt totally $231 billion and provided another half for poverty alleviation and economic development.  They estimate that the outflows have set back India’s development by 5% of GDP every year.  India currently has a per capita income of only $1,000, while if the capital had remained here, it would have been $6,000!, according to Arun Kumar, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Dev Kar, the author of the report, which was titled ‘The Drivers and Dynamics of Illicit Financial Flows from India: 1948-2008″ estimates that the size of the underground economy in India to be around $640 billion, or half of India’s GDP (2008).

The loss of capital grew 9% annually between 1948 and 1990.  Then after 1991, it almost doubled to 16.4%.

Although India’s economy is booming, most Indians aren’t benefiting.  Only the middle class is becoming trained and educated.  One billion Indians live in poverty.  Education is the major need, particularly for women.  Unless and until India begins to use the 50% of funds lost to corruption and non-payment of taxes, it will not adequately compete with its neighbor, China.

Claudia and Gail

Jodhpur – The City of Blue Walls and Great Forts

in Food, India      tags: , ,

The rutted way from Pushkar to Jodhpur leads past lime and chemical factories wafting yellow dust.  Jodhpur is Rajasthan’s second largest
city and one of the most prosperous.  The largest fort in Asia, the beautiful Mehrangarh “Majestic Fort” was begun in 1459 atop a sheer
sandstone abutment 400 feet high.  Massive 120 feet tall walls protect ornate palaces with panels carves in wood and stone, half-moon eyebrow
windows, stained glass and scroll work.  Panoramic views of the Brahmins’ pale blue houses, the downtown clock tower and Umaid Bhawan palace are spectacular from the heights.

We visited Jaswant Thada, the cenotaph (no body buried, only memorial structure) of the maharajah, built in 1899.  It’s a mix of Hindu, Buddhist, English and Mughal styles in shimmering white marble, overlooking the city.

We came down to street level to the chaotic market, with loud blaring of horns, a crush of people hawking spices, fruits, vegetables, cutlery, sundries and cloth, all surrounding the clock tower.  Unusual were the water chestnuts, whole, with dark covering, as well as betel leaves for chewing and spitting.  Public drinking fountains quench locals’ thirst in the 130 degree F summer heat.
For our Thanksgiving feast, we enjoyed a blend of north and south India.  Cauliflower and potato stir fried with chili, coriander,
coconut, mustard and curry leaves (south) and gosht baghar (north), well marinated lamb cooked slowly with yogurt, mustard seeds,
fenugreek and red chilies.  Scrumptious cheese paratha accompanied our meal.

We gave heartfelt thanks to have been born in the USA.

Claudia and Gail

India: Ranthambore Reserve for Tigers

We didn’t get to see any live tigers at Ranthambore Reserve, where around 30 of India’s remaining 1850 tigers roam.  Halfway through our Monday afternoon game drive, torrential rains drenched us, and all drives were canceled for 2 days.  The 1,200 km square area is dry forest, with lakes, streams, and huge banyan trees with roots dangling from branches above.  From our 6 person jeep, we were able to spot monkeys, deer and birds (300 species in the park), crocodile and mongoose.

After another celestially delicious lunch, we were writing down the names of all the dishes unknown to us, when the general manager of this Taj hotel, Nagendra Singh, came up to us and asked if we would like to meet the chef.  He also invited us to join the Odyssey tour group to hear his lecture and slide show on endangered big cats.  We learned more from this kind and articulate man than during our 4 hour safari.

There were once 8 tiger subspecies, of which only 5 remain.  The population has greatly fluctuated over the centuries.  Causes include loss of habitat, poaching for Chinese medicine, accidents and disease.

It’s illegal to hunt them.  A Nov 24 article in the Guardian pointed to a 97% decline in tigers in the wild over the past century.  There are only 3,200 left in the world.  The Bali tiger went extinct in 1940, Central Asian 1970’s, Java 1980’s, S. China 1990’s, and now only 450 remain in Russia, 500 in Malaysia, 400 in Sumatra and 300 in Indochina.

There was a big conference going on to save the tiger.  We fervently wish they had a better chance, for local people graze in the forests, cut down habitat and ignorant people poison them if their cows (their god) are eaten.

We’ll just have to see them in the zoo.

Claudia and Gail

The Road to Udaipur: Ranakpur Temple and the Taj Lake Palace

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The road to Udaipur was long and winding. We passed through dirty towns where mysterious, veiled women walked holding babies. Or they rode underpowered motorcycles with their upper arms decorated with stacks of plastic bracelets. We saw other women attired in colorful saris with complicated belts girdling their hips, made of real silver. In the villages, slight, thin ghosts of women were burdened with heavy silver ankle bracelets, like prison chains. White designs of chickens, flowers and peacocks adorned mud adobe dwellings. Gypsies, poorest Indians of all, literally squat in dark, low tents by the filthiest part of the roadside, with open cooking fires and bare-bottomed skinny children.

After 4 hours, the road began to turn upward, with trees planted French style along each side. We came into a dry jungle, beside streams, the road sinuously winding. We came to an astonishingly beautiful temple in the forest, and we met our guide for the rest of the trip, Mahendra Singh.

The Ranakpur temple was founded by Jain priests in 1439 and has to be the most beautiful we’ve ever beheld. Of 1,444 columns carved of marble, no two are alike. They contain musicians, gods and goddesses and geometric patterns. This temple was immaculately clean (unlike the rest of India). A flag flying indicates an active temple. This one had saffron robed monks grinding sandalwood paste for anointing pilgrims. The Jain sect is a Hindu sect which shuns all animal products, meat, fish, eggs, leather, and even onions and garlic, because to cultivate means to kill insects living underground. The intricately wrought sculptured domes and halls create a feeling of calm and peace.

In the uplands after the temple, we saw scenes out of the Bible – water irrigation mills driven by water buffalo, donkeys laden with bricks, women with veils, stopped over the fields sowing and cultivating, with date palms in the background. This is a 3rd world country, where 800,000,000 still live at subsistence level. We bought custard apples from women in saris, and drove by fields of mustard and wheat. At the 5,000 foot level, the air turned refreshing and cool.

We came down into the lake town of Udaipur as it was getting dark. The town is only 500,000 people, but drivers are aggressive and the air rank with diesel and dust. We boarded a launch in the setting sun and our hotel, the Taj Lake Palace, shimmered like a dream in the middle of the lake. We were greeted by a tall man with a red umbrella and red costume. Rose petals rained down on us from above. The palace was built in 1743 and is a hotel with black marble walkways, interior gardens, gorgeous roof terrace and intimate bars, and fine restaurants overlooking the lake and City Palace walls. Our view is of the Jacmandir Island with strobe lights and green and white fairy lights illuminated for a wedding party the night we arrived.

The room is cozy, but luxurious, with wood lattice ceiling with brass decoration, white marble floors, bathroom lined with midnight and royal blue and blue arabesque tiles, and crystalline sparkling marble sink and floors. Not even the boom of wedding fireworks could keep us awake in this dreamy place.

Claudia and Gail

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