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Posts Tagged ‘cooking lessons’

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15th August

The yoghurt smothered banana left my spoon and arched a smooth trajectory towards my mother, where it landed on her top. We glared at each other surprised as well as furious. The argument, as all good arguments are, was a petty one.

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I gathered my things (P.D.Q. I can tell you) and stalked across the terrace and down the steps to the small garden below where I paced, breathing deeply. After a good ten minutes I returned to our breakfast table over looking Udaipur’s picturesque Lake Pichola. We muttered apologies to one another and we both giggled – the day was underway.

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Jamil was taking us on ‘The City Tour’. I would never normally do the city tour but it was probably a good way to take in all the necessary Udaipuri sights without exhausting Mum (now bespattered) too much. As it turns out it was a waste of time and money (in my opinion, for the opinion of the other members of the tour you will have to ask her).

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Our first stop was the spice market, which rankled a little as I knew where this was having spent most of my last visit to Udaipur there and would have preferred to visit under our own steam. We were taken to the edge of the veg. market and given time to wonder around and the opportunity to buy spices from Jamil’s friend. I declined this offer knowing that the really good spices were much deeper inside the warren of market streets.

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We made our way to the market where beautiful vegetables in a rainbow of colours are laid out on burlap sacks and the noisy bartering and weighing on old-fashioned hand held scales takes place. We were soon centre of attention and the market women wanted to have their photo taken.

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This is common place in India, wherever you go people of all ages implore “please madam, one photo” and then stand stiffly to attention for the photograph. I snapped a couple of the women who then insisted that mum went to join them for the pictures.

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The fat, jolly lady pulled up a plastic crate for mum to sit on and patted it. Quick as a flash, however, the adjacent veg. seller and owner of the bright orange crate pulled it back, “NO” mum could not sit on her crate. The first lady then rattled off some rapid Hindi and the crate was pulled back for mum.

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This continued for about a minute until our lady triumphed and secured the crate and indicated that mum take her seat for the photo. Almost in slow motion, as mum started to sit down the crate-owner pulled it out from under her. Mum was suddenly up-turtled, legs in the air! The entire market was in hysterics and once I realised that there was no saving mum from her fate I started rattling off photos to capture the comedy.

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After such auspicious beginnings the tour continued. We saw some mausoleums, king ones. They were alright, bit over grown and covered in pigeons and their effluent – fun when you have to remove ones shoes out of respect! Then we drove to see the statue of a famous horse, a warrior horse whose name was Chutak. He was loyal to his Kingly master and bravely defended him and then died in battle.

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Most importantly, lunch was an incredible thali.

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After which we went to the Princess gardens where we were supposed to admire the fountains. Instead we found ourselves inside the onsite Science Museum, in the loosest sense of the term, you understand. The officious man in charge pounced on us when we entered the room – his next victims had arrived. He was delighted when he found out that I was a teacher too. Being a teacher is usually the easiest lie to tell about ones employment and education status in India, being as it is an honourable profession. He led us around his museum which contained such strange exhibits as a pile of labelled local rocks, fun-fair mirrors, a magic (how did we do it?) tap and a large free standing pulley.

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“Madam, Madam. Come” he ordered us from one display to another. “Look Madam!” “oh! yes” we politely nodded. “Here, Madam. Here!” “Touch the Peacock” he bodily moved me and then mum towards a plaster peacock. We both touched the peacock. We managed, but only just, to keep straight faces when he showed us riding a bike, Benny Hill style, standing up against a vertical mirror. I was then made, yes MADE to do the same. This continued around the mercifully small ‘museum’.

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If either mum or I tried to skip an exhibit or didn’t pay enough attention to the wonders of an exhibit, we were admonished and physically returned to the exhibit to appreciate the marvels within. The last item was a camera obscura and Mum was told to “SIT” and “look” which she obediently did. We managed to escape at last and made it out into the pouring rain where we stood next to the giggling school girls under shelter. Suddenly he was back, he looked at mum and said “I had to say goodbye to my English girlfriend” I let out an ill-disguised guffaw. Mum gave me a steely look, “let’s go now before he tries to make me his wife.”

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After this we told Jamil that yes it had been a wonderful tour but now we would like to go back to our hotel. My recommendation is that if you ever have the luck to visit beautiful Udaipur that you do not do the tour.

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The rest of our time was more purposefully spent. We took an art class. This I loved, not just because I really enjoy the intricate, delicate work of Indian Miniature Painting but because it was such a fun thing for mum and me to do together.

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Mum has fallen in love with Nandi. Nandi is the vehicle of the Hindu God Shiva and he is a bull and the reason why the cow is sacred in India. You will find a Nandi at every temple entrance and he is the subject of her painting.

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The teacher was intrigued by her choice saying that in all his years no student had ever requested a Nandi. I chose the national bird of India: the peacock.

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We took a cooking class. It was my second lesson with the same teacher so we took a more advanced class. We learned paneer butter masala, dal fry, pumpkin curry and veg. biryani. Our classmates, a married couple from Leeds were soon exchanging surreptitious glances and clearly thought that this mother/daughter duo were more than slightly unhinged. I am not sure exactly what we did but after eating they dived into their room and we could hear uncontrolled fits of giggles.

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We had impromptu Hindi lessons over cold beer at the bar by the bridge, we watched Ian Fleming’s ‘Octopussy’ play out against its real life backdrop – minus Roger Moore’s quizzically arched eyebrow of course.

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We looked after a 21 year old Scottish boy who was lonely, saw a traditional dance recital and weaved our way amongst the many bovine inhabitants – who just collapse wherever they deem fit. Looked through piles of pashminas and declined to buy any, we watched the women washing their clothes on the ghats from our beautiful room and had a romantic dinner in a posh restaurant with an amazing view of Udaipur city palace lit up like a fairy castle at night.

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We also had to eat part of said dinner in the drizzling rain but like the good Brits that we are we pretended not to notice. And on our last day at breakfast a very lovely gentleman leaned over and said “I have noticed you around and have to tell you, you are the best dressed ladies in Udaipur!”

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Quitting whilst we were ahead, we decided, we had better leave Udaipur. Our quarry was still Jaisalmer where we want to do the camel safari and sleep in the Great Thar desert under the stars.

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railay

Why does no-one tell you that you cannot swim in Thailand? Go to the Islands, they said. The beaches are beautiful, they said. Thailand is so cheap, they said. Well they omitted one prescient piece of information – you can’t swim in Thailand. I am here to right this wrong, I am telling the world (or the 55 of you that read my blog – but you know how word spreads), you CAN’T swim in Thailand.

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If you were being a pedant you might say that it was my fault, that I chose the wrong beaches, but I don’t hold truck with that. I went to the same beaches as everyone else, Baan Tai on Phangan, Sairee on Koh Tao etc. These beaches were perfect, if what you were looking for, in the searing 36° heat, was a very hot, shallow bath, accompanied by a sea cucumber or two. I (clearly) misguidedly thought that the sea was supposed to be a refreshing respite from Hadean heat. Also for main tourist beaches, I thought they better resembled marinas. Flotillas of longtail boats moored just off shore, pumping their delightful effluent into the water. Have I mentioned yet – you can’t swim in Thailand.

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Luckily, an inspired recommendation came in the form of Railay Beach. Surrounded by beautiful limestone cliffs that effectively isolate it from the mainland, Railay is accessible only by boat. One of the main attractions here is rock-climbing and I figured, even though I had no intention of participating, rock-climbers might prove to be a more interesting bunch than divers (who are interminably boring), gap-yahs and ardent bucket-drinkers (“I was so drunk last night, I lost a toe” (or some such nonsense, I don’t really think I was paying attention!)).

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I found a lovely wooden hut on stilts in the hills behind East Beach and even though I had about ten days until I left Thailand, I couldn’t be bothered to move again. I strung up my trusty hammock once more and ensconced myself. My first day in Railay I met a German/French couple and another German boy. “Did I want to go with them to the Lagoon?” Arriving at the foot of the climb, I was horrified. “There is no way I can do that. I don’t really see myself as a rock-climby sort of person. What if I break a nail?” They, however, ignored my heartfelt entreaties and soon enough I was actually climbing up the scary, steep hill thing. (That’s it in the picture below, and only the beginning bit!)

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At the top and feeling suitably proud we posed for photographs, categorical proof of my triumph. Now the conspiracy theorists amongst you will love this, for subsequently they all lost their cameras – any evidence of my story gone forever, my first thought was ‘Quai d’Orsay’ (perhaps I have been reading too many bad spy novels; I have definitely been reading too many bad spy novels). I suppose I could have gone up there again with my own camera, but the silty, red mud was a bitch to wash out, so I didn’t. Go up there again I mean. I did wash the mud out.

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The next day they promised to teach me rock-climbing proper. Marian was an instructor and they were hiring the gear anyway and I just had to hire shoes. ‘Hire’ and ‘shoes’ are two words that never should be said together, like bowling, its just gross and against shoe-nature. Rock-climbing shoes are supposed to pinch your toes so they almost curl under and for some reason mine also had hard rubber back bits that dug into my heels. I can’t think of anything more distracting when you are half way up a sheer rock face than feet in agony, but mine is not to reason why…..

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Apart from the shoes, and I am sure the girls out there have already considered this, is of course the harness. Did I really ever want my bottom viewed from that angle, strung up in a harness? Well no I didn’t, but I figured that it is smaller now than it has been in a long time and I was never going to see these people again anyway…In the actuality I managed to get about 3 meters off the ground. Then Marian told me that I had chosen the hard bit to climb up. As I was still up the rock and had yet to get down, I didn’t like to mention that she was the teacher and should have told me to climb up the not-hard bit. “Let go” was my instruction on descent, which I did. I, of course, spun around, through no fault of my own, but physics’. Then I was told never to turn my back to the rock – that is the kind of information I could have done with before I had spun round and turned my back on the rock.

Rock-climbing – Tick.

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In my desire to swim I made my way to Phra Nang Beach, where the only teeny-tiny bit of Thai culture in all Railay can be found. A beautiful cave cum shrine to an Indian Princess, shipwrecked here. Hundreds of lingam offerings, garlanded in flowers, in the hope of increased potency, prosperity and good-fortune are left here by the fishermen.

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I was able to find a deserted stretch of beach where I managed to sunbathe for all of an hour – and swim, in deep water, beautiful, blue, cool-ish, water. Beautiful, blue, jellyfish infested water. After being stung twice on the leg, three times on my arm and finally and most painfully across my neck, I marched out of the water and returned to the relative safety of my hammock.

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And so it was. Poor Thailand, the first mistake Thailand made was that it categorically wasn’t India, and to be honest I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock or forgave her. There were many wonderful aspects to my trip, i.e. two amazing friendships made. Also many firsts: like my first bikini, that I bought in Koh Tao and have proudly worn just once. I walked the length of Sairee Beach (Koh Tao) until I found a secluded spot, next to a girl much fatter than I, and surreptitiously took off my dress and quickly lay down. The world did not stop spinning, no-one threw up and I was not arrested for putting the human form into disrepute. Who knows, after that auspicious start I may even try wearing it again!

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So what an adventure Thailand proved to be. I spent way too much money, knocked cockroaches out of my bed all by myself, learnt the art of Thai cooking,

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nearly learnt how to do fire spinning, stopped a flood in my hut, screamed at coconut beetles and slept sardined like refugees on a night-boat.

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And one more thing, I cannot leave Thailand without mentioning the Spectacled Langurs. These adorable and shy creatures could sometimes be seen swinging through the trees without me even having to leave my hammock.

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Langurs – Tick.

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Sadly though, you can’t swim in Thailand.

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