Z is for Zari thread

And as we wind down to the last day of the challenge, it is fitting to focus once more on the beauty of the vibrant nation that is India.

Today, the focus is on manufactured beauty, more particularly, zari – the gold and silver threads that highlight the richness of Indian fabrics. Some information about the production of zari thread can be found here.

You’ll find examples of zari thread most often in brocades worn by men and women on special occasions. But it is also used as a highlight to lift a garment from ordinary to  something more significant. It’s amazing what a little bit of bling can do for an outfit and for the wearer’s outlook.

Perhaps this is the essence of India. Whatever is going on, no matter how mundane the task, there is always a glimmer somewhere: a piece of gold, a hidden gem or a single thread of silver that catches the light and lifts the spirit.  This is what makes India such a wonderful country.




Metal wrapped cotton –
Golden threads that draw the eye
Zari enhances.




Y is for Yummy

Thanks to the brains trust for coming up with this one. It fits perfectly with our experiences of eating in India.

The flavours we experienced there seemed far more vibrant than similar dishes in restaurants at home. That could have been an artefact of the anticipation of eating Indian food in India or it might have been because the spices were fresher and thus more fulsome in their aromas.

Even on a mass-production scale, as at the Sikh Temple (see post S), the fragrances were enough to make our mouths water.

Flavours are important here. There is little that is bland unless that is done deliberately to highlight the particular characteristics of an accompanying dish.  Yet the variety of tastes does not overwhelm.

I can’t say I’m much of a food photographer, so images are sadly lacking for this post, except for the box of spices that we were gifted by the chef at the Oberoi in Agra. It contains the ingredients for Garam Masala, and the fragrance when the box is opened sends the senses into transports of delight.  I handed it over to the customs people on our return to Australia, fully expecting never to see it again, (that’s why I had taken the photo ahead of time), but the contents were inspected and the box was returned to me. I’m so looking forward to the opportunity to try out the spices. It will be hit and miss for me unless I can find a clear recipe, but the experimentation will be fun.




India’s flavours –
Delicate, sharp or fulsome
Delight the palate.

X is for oXen

Uh huh … a little more poetic licence, but I don’t think the rules say that the topic must actually begin with the letter of the day.

So oxen, or more correctly the variety of bovine beasts that we met along the way … In urban areas, we saw a lot of cattle including some smaller, scrawny animals that seemed to be learning, the hard way, about survival of the fittest.

We saw massive brahman-type bulls lazing near the highway. You’ll note in one of the pictures below, the bull has lost a horn and the egret (? – ornithology is not my strong suit) is cleaning the wound.

There were water buffalo too, with their curved horns and agressive reputations, that we saw in the area around Fatephur Sikri. They’re used for work in the fields or for drawing carts. Apparently water buffalo aren’t seen in the same light as cows and thus can be eaten.

The cow is recognised as sacred by Hindu culture and is protected from slaughter. There are concerns about the growing number of stray beasts making their way into cities – both for hygiene reasons and for traffic safety.



Bovines not equal:
some must work, others may rest.
Lifetime diff’rences.





W is for Wind Palace

The Wind Palace, or Hawa Mahal, is in Jaipur. It’s called the wind palace because of its 953 small windows which allow the wind to pass through.

The Mahal is attached to the women’s wing of the City Palace and was built so that the women could look down on the goings on in the street below without being seen themselves.


Curious women
Could watch the world going by –
Envy eyes both ways.

V is for Vendors

Vendors in that part of India we were visiting, set up wherever it appeared to be opportune. This could be in makeshift roadside stalls, stalls on carts ready to be moved at a moment’s notice or in more permanent structures.

They sell everything from trishaw rides, to oranges, jewellery or souvenirs, and we happily availed ourselves of their offerings in several places.

Mostly theirs is a benign presence. They might hawk their wares, but leave it to the customer to decide whether they want to buy or not. This is different in places that are obvious tourist traps.

The only occasion where I felt uncomfortably harrasssed was at Fatephur Sikri where the young vendors seemed to hunt in packs and, despite my signalling my disinterest, they persisted.  It was my own fault, I guess. In other countries such as Thailand and France, I had learned enough of the language to say thank you and to tell them to move on. I hadn’t done that here, believing that our guide would be the intermediary. Unlike all the others, the guide we had on this day was impervious to my signals. Lesson learned.  It’s back to making sure that I can speak up for myself, independent of others.


<Photos to follow when I have shore-based internet! :( >

No spinning a yarn,
With money thin on the ground,
Pestering might work.


U is for Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh is the northern Indian state in which Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, is located. But we won’t revisit that in today’s blog.

Instead, the other memories of this region, for me, revolve around the street vendors (see tomorrow’s post), the brickworks that dotted the landscape, the tuk tuks that appeared in any town of reasonable size, and the saris.

There were colourful temples that decorated the highways, and wedding venues that appeared wherever a space was available.

Every image was a contrast with my daily life in Australia.

A smorgasbord for each of the senses was here: the feel of fine cloth and the blends of the carpets;  the tastes of the curries and the beer; the sounds of the Adhan, the motorcycles and the vendors; the colours that pleased and images that assaulted; and, the fragrances and odours that demarcated our movement from one part of town to another.

At one level, it makes me regret the blandness of my usual existence.

On another, it prompts me to rediscover what visitors might experience when they come to where I live: the feel of warm sand against bare feet; the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves; the flavours of food and wine that I take for granted; and the sights – eagles soaring, whales breaching, golden sand, red and yellow lifesaver flags, and the brilliant green of the hinterland.

The point of travel is to learn about other places. It also helps us to appreciate the freedom and familiarity of what we have at home.



Uttar Pradesh state
stretches to Himalayas:
taste, touch, hear, smell, see.

T is for Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal has figured regularly in this month’s posts – for the marble and the delicate art forms that adorn it.

The precinct itself was crowded on the day we were there, even though our guide said that it wasn’t as bad as usual.

The beauty of the building itself is unquestioned. What was missing was the sense of solemnity due to such a place. Perhaps this is an artefact of the sheer weight of numbers of visitors (me amongst them) who travel through the environment; the ubiquitous security presence; the jostling of bodies entering and leaving the mausoleum; the scars where some of the semi-precious stones have been souvenired; and selfie-sticks!

It wasn’t quite the haven of serenity I had anticipated. Would that stop me from going again? Or recommending tht others not bother? Definitely not.

The Taj Mahal is iconic, emblematic of a cultural India, a symbol of love lost. For a hopeless romantic such as I, that resonates in its silence far more than the pounding of the thousands of feet.

It’s a beautiful place. Photographs don’t do it justice. They fail to capture the beautiful detail or the way the colour of the marble shifts in the afternoon sun.

It’s a spectacular place and well and truly worth the effort to experience it personally.



Princely Taj Mahal –
That beacon of life-love lost,
A death-cold beauty.




S is for Sikh Temple

The Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, taught us much about the culture and commitment of people within the Sikh religion. During our visit we learned that Sikhism embodies many of the tenets to which others pay lip service such as equality between the sexes and egalitarianism amongst people. We learned that it is a sign of respect to touch the top step with your hand before entering a home and that the reason that there is no extant guru in human form, is because the 10th guru decreed that the enduring guru, his successor, would be the collected wisdom of himself and the previous nine gurus in human form.

At this temple, food is prepared for more than 20 thousand people every day. It is wholly achieved by volunteers as part of their commitment to their faith. The people preparing the food were generous in giving their permission for us to photograph their work. Food is prepared in huge containers with some of the work, like cooking the flatbread, done by automation.

Serving the large numbers of people is done by a simple but highly efficient system of bringing a large group into the dining area, providing food, allowing people time to eat and then moving them through to make way for the next group. Everyone is welcome and all are served.


Benevolent care.
The faithful feeding masses –
no payment required.

R is for Rajasthan Road Trip

Rajasthan is the province in which Jaipur is located.

The highlights for us in this part of India were Amber Fort, which we discussed way back at the beginning of the challenge under ‘A’, The City Palace in Jaipur, the Jantar Mantar Observatory and the carpet and gem artisans.

There was a lot on offer visually, historically and spiritually – especially when you add the pilgrims into the mix.

On another level, ‘karmic’ our driver suggested, one of our experiences was to stop along the highway and purchase watermelon to feed the monkeys. Our driver insisted that, since it was a Tuesday, it was particularly auspicious to indulge in this ritual.  Not being very familiar with monkeys and their behaviour, I was delighted by the way they sat patiently waiting to receive our offering, then looked up into our faces, almost to say thank you, before scampering off to enjoy their treat in peace.


Rajasthan road trip –
lots to discover and learn:
uplifting journey.

Q is for Qutab Minar

Qutab Minar or Qutb Minar was built in 1193 to celebrate the Muslim defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in India. Our guide suggested that it was built as a Divine offering of thanks.

The minaret stands nearly 73 metres high and, like many of the other monuments we have discussed during our perambulation around the Golden Triangle, it is made predominantly of red sandstone.

I don’t have my own photo of the minaret, but you can find more information and see an image of this structure here or here .

A tall, proud tower,
Minar reaches up to thank
Victorious God.