A Travellerspoint blog

January 2009

Two quick ways to know a place the way it is...

-17 °C

I think two of the easiest and best ways to know a place quickly are to take a quick walk in the local market and taste the street food from the street ( not from the upmarket restaurants claiming to provide authentic local cuisines). The vibrancy and the energy in a market have often helped me to understand the psyche of the people. On a more serious note it also helps to show the economic position of the area and financial capability vis-à-vis the buying power of the inhabitants of that particular place.

Nothing satisfies me more than taking a lonely walk down the roads of a busy market place. I have been to city markets with neatly packed and canned foods, I have been to small village markets with farmers selling the vegetables they themselves grow in their fields and I have also seen tribal markets trading on barter system selling cattle and bows and arrows. In a way it can be a shortest way to know a place and its people. Of course I have looked out of place and a misfit but once I can ignore all those looks and frowns, I can have things pretty much my way.

From ancient times a market had been a place where people meet and discuss. It was and still is an epicenter of exchanges – economic, social, political and of course cultural ideas. The veracity of the exchanges and the establishment of the facts however can be doubtful but then again on a larger frame that’s what becomes the true representation of a particular place. I remember sipping (excessively sweet) tea in a tea shop in a small village in Bihar and hearing a group of local people discussing about Calcutta. Those were the days when Calcutta was getting its Metro train. One of those men declared that it’s highly impossible for a train to run underneath the ground because not only people will die due to lack of air but also God can never tolerate that. Earth is to be used as a land to cultivate and not to invade. To me at that point of time that very man became the sole icon of people far away from the realities. Instead of silently laughing at him, I felt ashamed of myself. At that moment I realized the difference between haves and have-nots. I learnt my lesson outside my textbooks in a small village market in Bihar.

I am a sucker for street food. In Calcutta there is an area called Office Para, It literally means the Office Area. It stems from the fact that this area has the highest concentration of offices. To me the USP of the area is the numerous small food-stalls selling food catering to every palate and taste. So don’t be surprised when you find things ranging from Tibetan steamed momos to Chinese noodles to Bengali meals of rice and fish to mutton stew to South Indian dosas. Sounds yummmm… Isnt it ? Trust me. It is. The area offers not only a feast to fill your stomach but it’s a visual treat as well.
The area is so much representative of the diversity of the overall populace and its resilient tastes and preferences of food. Things are quite charming outside the city as well. I have thoroughly enjoyed the fried prawns in a small coastal town – fresh from the catch and fried with spices. Simple, without much décor or garnishing but straight from the heart and gift from Mother Nature.
I am sure an entire genre of historiography can be written from the street food culture and types of food preferred by people of a particular place.
So banana chips fried in coconut oil from Kerela can be quite a delicacy for Malayalis but it can earn you an enemy if you give that to a Bengali. May be someday with my bulging waistline (blame it on street food) I would love to write down all my experiences based on this yummy aspect of life. That is food will be my food for thought to write.

Till then I will continue taking my learning walks in the markets and tasting street food to observe people and to feel a place within my skin.

Posted by Reshmi 11:18 Archived in India Comments (0)

Confessions of a lonely woman traveller from India

The most common question I come across is: Being a woman why do you travel alone? Isn’t it risky? It’s India. It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.

It’s something that even I ask myself once I am back at home. I can’t afford to ask this question to myself when I am travelling. The reason being is that, it will make me too tensed and cautious. If I think about the challenges, then in a way it will act as my own hindrance. And no way am I going to allow that. I won’t stand in front of a bullet but I won’t limit my steps and my inner self just because I am a woman - known as the weaker sex. (Whoever said that needs to be put through the delivery pain during childbirth).

So far I have travelled only within India Each place has its own challenges and survival tactics. It’s not scary however it’s a different survival strategy altogether.
There are few ground rules I follow. I choose my clothes sensibly and my attitude carefully. And did I say that I modify accordingly as well?
Before going anywhere I do a quick homework about the religiosity of the local people and the sentiments. At times, I have consciously avoided wearing jeans, capris i.e. anything that shows even a glimpse of my skin. I also study extensively the road maps and alternative routes along with the history and cuisine of the place.

India is no Taliban land but there are places which are still proud of its conservative ethos. They value their traditions and in a way stay apprehensive and skeptic towards anything that is outside the known cultural pattern. This is also a kind of sexually repressed country so no cleavage shows to invite any lurking demon or ogling eyes.

All these hold true more due to the fact that I travel to off-beat destinations. These places are not haunted by tourist crowd so they remain submerged in their own sweet world.
And I try not to invite trouble by being a maverick. The entire idea is to get the place under my skin and feel in its own essence. This is in its own right requires me to be one among them rather than an alien despot.

I often have people trying to be nosey and extra friendly. This in a way irritates me and invades my privacy. I meet them and pretend not to understand the language. I also don’t travel till late at night nor do I wander lonely on unknown roads after dark. I particularly prefer to stay in a good hotel because I really don’t want any peeping Tom or anyone banging my door middle of the night.

Yes I do get those frowns and strange looks from people. The most awkward is when I walk in to a roadside food shack to eat my lunch and get invited with what-the-hell-is-this-woman-doing-here kind of a look. I immediately wear my nonchalant face with a mental blanket wrapped around me.

Being a tourist hopping through the well known cities or tourist spots with a copy of Lonely Planet in your hand is easy. But being a traveler with an insatiable quest for the unknown and unseen is tough and in its own way rewarding. Yes I have challenges. But then again what are my choices? Behind me I have the four walls and its known good security calling me and in front of me I have the entire meadow of unknown world welcoming me.
I choose the less chosen and less travelled one.

Posted by Reshmi 18:03 Archived in India Tagged women Comments (0)

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