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Indian chai…ahhh!

OK, quickie post to extol the virtues of one of the best things in life…Indian chai. OK, so Malaysian teh tarik is actually just as good, and often more frothy.  But the spices (even cardamom if you ask and pay a little more), elevate the humble chai to a Masterchef-like sensory experience. At least IMHO..heh.

In India, I’d been there a good 4 days without having had any chai at a street stall. Chai is ok in a restaurant setting…but there aint nothing compares to the chai made by a chai wallah who does nothing else, all day every day, except – make chai. Ya-huh!

And so it was, on our first stop in Rajasthan, that I made my way to a dingy street chaiwallah in Jaipur…and had a very tasty chai indeed. First they boil up the water, milk, tea and sugar in a big pot:

 Jaipur chai

After boiling vigorously (so even the most hygiene conscious person can ease the hell up), the tea is poured from a great height:

Indian chai Indian chai at teastall

From there, the scorching hot tea-in-a-glass is handed to you and you do your best to sip without scalding your lips…and enjoy!!

chai stall India

Ahh….so sustaining, so energising. A long walk up and down the main road was had, with frequent stops in various shops to smell the spices, see the saris, and chat with Indian people. What a great afternoon :)

Do you like Indian chai? Or teh tarik? What’s your hot beverage of choice?

First stop in India: Delhi

Delhi is the quintessential mix of “old and new” (yes, travel cliche #1, yawn…)

While most people who haven’t been to India often think about poverty and slums (or maybe call centres), in fact there are spacious wide boulevardes that greet you from the airport. The airport itself sets the tone with soaring glass and chrome architecture, and gleaming metallic art installations on the walls.

 

As we drove from the airport into town, we first saw middle-class peeps walking their well-groomed dogs, others doing their morning calisthenics, still others waiting for the bus to work, with nary a whiff of poverty for some 20 minutes or more.

Dahl stall Delhi India

Only after some time does this impression of orderliness and wealth give way to the dusty streets with little markets and chai stalls, the hordes going about their daily business, lean-to shanty houses, people sleeping on footpaths, temples, masjids, auto and cycle-rickshaws, the smell of smog and wood-fire mingled, the ubiquitous cows and even more numerous street dogs. I remember my first trip here, having been been to Mumbai previously, wondering “where’s all the character?”

I kept looking slyly at my husband to see when he would get his first shock  – but it was a long time coming, much to my disappointment.  I’d made him watch doco’s about slums, the railways, even Bollywood movies to get him acclimatised, but secretly thought he’d find it confronting his first time around.  After a few days he declared that, in terms of smell and grubbiness, he thought Thailand was worse!

In truth, it was ME who in the first few days wondered what the heck I thought I was doing back here, when we could’ve been sunning ourselves on a beach in south east Asia (see pics of dusty hot littered roads near our hotel, below). But more on that later.

 

Every other time I’ve stayed in Delhi, it was in Main Bazaar – the Khao San Road of Delhi – in the appropriately named district of Pahar Ganj, right near New Delhi railway station.  As you can see, the road is fairly narrow, and utterly congested with tourists, shops/market stalls, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, and the odd cow and dog. With the constant honking of traffic over here, it’s NOT a peaceful place to bed down for the night.

 Pahar Ganj, Delhi

But being older, wiser and a little less noise-tolerant, I decided to book us into the other main accommodation area in Pahar Ganj, Arakashan Road. It’s just a little more upmarket, although still dusty and noisy by day, and festooned in neon by night.

This is the road from Delhi Station to Arakashan Road; note temples, autos, cows and dogs:

 Delhi cow

Arakashan Road alive at night – admittedly the road is not much wider than Main Bazaar, but it is mostly hotels and restaurants, and more local Indian foot traffic.

Pahar Ganj by night 

We stayed at Hotel Raj which was relatively clean, and fairly quiet, being back off the main road. But every morning this pigeon fancier who lived on the roof (we surmise) would make his cooing noises to atract the birds and he would feed them.  So for some half hour from around 7am, there would be this “craw!craw!” and we’d screw our earplugs in just a little bit tighter.  But by Pahar Ganj standards, this was no big deal :)

The hotel had a nice little restaurant attached, at which we ate breakfast a few times.  But we weren’t going to restrict ourselves to a hotel restaurant, and planned a little exploratory walk after a well-deserved nap – with no stopover on the way to India, it had been a LOOONG flight!

Anxious to try out the local nosh, we happened upon a great little Bengali restaurant around the corner – Gagan Restaurant. No, I’m pretty sure it’s not in the Lonely Planet, but it does the BEST thali plates, with refills of all but the meat curries. OK, it’s a bit grungy on the inside, as you can see below, but it’ s the food that counts, right? And queues of locals waiting to get a seat is always a good thing:

Gagan resturant, Delhi 

Gagan DelhiThali plates, for those who don’t know, are these tin plates with an assortment of different curries in them so you get a variety (a bit like the bento box concept in Japan). You will also get rice and sometimes pickle or raita, and roti or naan bread upon request. Sometimes you even get a dessert, like a gulab jamen.

Dom ordered the mutton curry thali plate and I had the chicken, along with the usual dahl, 2 veg curries, rice and pappadum – oh, and the rice was topped with teeny tiny french fries – aww! I tried Dom’s and…I shoulda had the mutton. Delish. We went back there 3 or 4 times after that, and the little boy who did the refills always had a big smile for us.

 Indian thali plate

We were about 10 minutes walk to New Delhi Railway Station, and a short walk further on to the Delhi Metro Rail, which is a great way to get around Delhi. We used this a lot to get to various parts of town; much quicker than a taxi or auto rickshaw.  To access the Metro station, you can either walk through New Delhi Railway Station (there’s an overpass with views over the railway lines like the one below), or take the bridge to the left of the main station and walk over.  The pic below right is the view from the bridge at sunset – see how the smog makes for a lovely diffused colour glow?

 

If you choose to stay in the ritzier Connaught Place area, where there are 4 and 5 star hotels, there is a Metro station there also to get you about town.  Mind you, the Inner Ring Road is getting torn up now and looks like a bomb hit it. It looked like they were replacing plumbing, as pipes were exposed. But India being India, the shops and businesses remained open; people just resign themselves to walking over the rubble (which also provided comfy beds for the street dogs). And even Connaught Place has pockets of grunge – check out the filthy auto below! I don’t think it’s been used in some time, heh.

 

In the next few posts I will share some of the sights, such as Chowry Bazaar in Old Delhi, the Red Fort, Jama Masjid etc (with beautiful rather than grungy pics), but I just wanted to give a bit of local flavour here and show what the daily streets are like.  There was a lot of beauty in architecture, scenery and fashion later in the trip, but Delhi is like the mean streets, with a grit that gets under your skin even as it gets up yer nose!

The Fashionate Traveller in India

Where do  I start with the awesomeness of India? The sub-continent is a kaleidoscope of sensory stimulation and wonder, exotic and infuriating, welcoming and alienating, rich in culture and heart.

Those who’ve read previously will know that I have already been 4 times in my twenties..but that was 22 years ago! How would it feel to return? How would my husband react? In the next few weeks I’ll be sharing my experiences  – and a gazillion photos – of my recent trip to Delhi, Agra and many cities in Rajasthan.

Of course, being style & fashion conscious, I had to buy some gorgeous salwar kameez to wear while I was there, and there’ll be a few pics  of those too. I love being inspired by the fashion of other cultures…and I adore the beadwork, metallic embroidery and general dreaminess of female Indian clothing.

The ladies of Rajasthan inspired me with their in-your-face sense of  colour as they clashed hues and pattern extravagantly, almost violently. Even the poorer rural women doing farming or labouring work displayed a joyous exuberance in their everyday dress.

My heart also went out to the many street dogs and puppies of India, more than I ever remember seeing before. It is sad that so many exist and have to fend for themselves on the streets, but interacting with them reminded me that dogs are dogs wherever they are, and  enjoy mucking around with a friendly human. So there are a few street-dog stories and pics coming too.

That’s it for now, as I have MASSES of photos to edit and organise. Stay tuned for my Indian adventures throughout May (and the odd Singaporean one too).

Have you ever been to India? What was your experience?

New Year 2013 asos outfit

Well, I’ve certainly had  time off from the interwebz over Chrissy and New Year – but here are my photos from New Year’s Eve!

I went to a fave club Black Cherry, forgoing my usual fireworks watching. It was HOT, so I wore a sleeveless River Island black bodycon dress with an exotic tribal design in gold foil front and back, from asos. (It’s still available in some sizes, at only $42.50!)

To this I added a black cowhide peplum belt – admittedly, I yoinked the idea from asos Fashion Finder, but I can’t find the blogger who posted the look. I did a quickie DIY leopard print to the shaved part of my head – not entirely successful, the print being too big and too dark, but it was eye-catching! Jewellery was minimal, being some spooky gothic earrings from Japan (a skeleton hand and zipper), skull rings also from Tokyo, and some gold Indian bangles from my trip last April. Net stockings and black platform shoes from Berjaya Times Square in KL  completed the look.

But onto the pics:

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New site Alt Scene Asia

Hellooo lovelies! I know I’ve been off in the ethernet once again….but I have been making way for a new website that will better integrate some of my interests, provide a better service and be more informative, leaving this one for my personal blogging. I’ve had so many people ask me, “where’s good to go for alternative music & culture in Japan/Singapore/Malaysia/India/Cambodia?”etc and usually I cobble together a facebook reply with lists, and point them towards my blog and certain tags.

I had a lightbulb moment a few weeks ago (drinking beer and watching something like Nat Geo or or TLC on foxtel), that there ought to be a website that alternative type people can check out, to look up where’s cool to go in each city. Now, there certainly exist numerous websites that cover their own city or country and in great depth, along with other sites that do all of Asia but with only glancing references to the alternative scenes there (like Lonely Planet or certain parts of CNN).

There are also those wesbites dedicated to their music style, such as Punk or Dark Alternative, and they cover off artists, gigs and scenes all over the world – but only in their genre. But how to bring these into the one place? While necessarily sacrificing the detail and depth of a genre-specific website, I believe there is value in putting together on one site, posts that link people to the sorts of places they’d like to visit when travelling in Asia, of course providing links to those more detailed sites for those who want to read more.

Anyway, that’s the vision, and that’s where Alt Scene Asia comes in. I’d like to cover alternative music scenes such as punk, post-punk, goth, deathrock, rockabilly, psychobilly, maybe industrial and just weird shit, as well as fashion, food, art & culture. In some places, just finding a place that plays *rock* is a battle, where everywhere you go you hear mainstream pop, R&B, urban, and artists like Rihanna blaring at you from every shop or bar. I do not want to cover off that stuff, or mainstream asian genres like K-pop and J-pop. There are enough sites serving them already 😉

So, AltSceneAsia. I’m gathering together a team from various cities and countries to write, because local knowledge is key, and also hoping to have a lot of guest writers. So if you know about a certain city, or know people who do, please drop me a line.

So that’s the place where I’ll do more informational posts, not that there won’t still be some here, but this blog will more be my personal experiences while travelling (as it always has been), alternative events etc here in Sydney, and my fashion and style inspirations.

In other exciting news, I’m off to Japan again! I haven’t been there since last November, and really need an update to stay current. Plus, I just can’t wait to go back 😉 It also looks like I’ll have a quick mini-vacay to Myanmar with hubby the month after…so will hopefully get some local knowledge of the punk scene there, as well as just holidaying.

And now back to the website, to get it passable before promoting it. I’m no code monkey, and the tweaking is taking aaaaages!