Rajasthan

The people of Rajasthan belong to the various castes and tribes. The area around Jaipur, Alwar, Bharatpur and Dholpur in the southwest of the state, locals belong to the Minas, Meos and Banjaras, Gadia Lohars, communities and were mostly traveling tradesmen and artisans. The Bhils, famed archers of the legends and one of the oldest tribes of India inhabit the districts of Bhilwara, Chittaurgarh, Dungarpur, Banswarara, Udaipur, and Sirohi. The Grasias and nomadic Kathodis live in the Mewar region. The Sahariyas are found in the Kota district, and the Rabaris of the Marwar region are nomadic cattle breeders.

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A taste of Rajasthan-The Scent of Chilies

We had a white Christmas this year in Seattle. While the flakes were swirling down, we were in the kitchen up to our elbows in masa. A Mexican tradition, my friend Yolanda taught me how to make tamales when I lived in Southern California. We had some friends over and spent the day drinking margaritas, kneading masa (corn dough), making molé, and filling masa smeared ojas (corn husks) with spicy chicken, roasted poblano chilies and jack cheese. The recipe for fun and food is simple: Sip, spread, stuff, steam, and eat until you burst. The masa has a pinch of chili powder in it. The mole has a healthy handful added. While purchasing the tamale ingredients, I bought some New Mexico chili powder at the Mexican Market in Pike Place Market. "It's hot," the proprietress assured me. Good. I like it spicy. But I couldn't resist mixing spices from countries and continents by throwing in a bit of Indian chili powder I bought during one of my visits to Rajasthan. The smell of it brought back memories. I was on my way to see gharials at the Chambal River in Sawai Madhopur. The crocodile-like reptiles are endangered and I wanted to see them in the wild. To do that, I had to be on the road by 5am for the nearly two hour ride. Apparently gharials get up early. I was in an open air jeep and the late February air was chilly. Then it became very fragrant. And spicy smelling. Suddenly, I saw mounds and hills of red. I thought it was flowers. As we got closer I saw massive piles of drying red chili peppers. The sun was rising, the gharials were probably waking up, but I made the driver stop. Women in colorful saris and dazzling smiles were squatting in the midst of it all sorting the peppers. Men stood by tractors sipping warm chai. I walked around the mass of chilies, took pictures and big whiffs. I got back in the jeep. The chili pepper detour made us "late." There were a few long-snouted gharials in the river, but I think we missed the bulk of them. And while I won't forget seeing these incredible reptiles motionless on the riverbanks, neither will I forget sniffing the air, heavy with the scent of drying chilies. When I got back to Jaipur I bought a big bag of chili powder at the bazaar. It was freshly sealed by a boy holding the plastic bag over a candle flame. POSTED BY KATHY SCHULTZ

Rajasthan

Monkey Business

As an animal lover, I never tire of the wildlife and domesticated animals running around the streets and jungles of India. I still get excited whenever I see a monkey. I love watching them go about their daily business in the city or the forest. They are very busy. They groom themselves, take care of their young, beg or steal food on the street, and pester residents and tourists alike. There is even a monkey patrol in New Delhi to keep them in line. http://en.rian.ru/world/20071024/85320947.html There are two very common types of monkeys in Rajasthan: the red-faced, red-rumped Rhesus Macaque and the black-faced Hanuman Langur. Drivers and guides have often told me: "Red-faced mean monkey. Black-faced nice monkey." Red-faced monkeys tend to be more aggressive and I've seen more of them in the cities. Black-faced monkeys have very long, graceful limbs and tails. I've heard their warning call in a forest when a tiger approaches. They look like hairy little men when then sit on walls with their legs dangling over. In Jaipur I've seen disagreements among disparate species. While walking down the alleys of Johari Bazaar, I saw a monkey get in a spat with a dog, though I'm not sure over what. There was snarling on the dog's part and paw swatting on the monkey's part. Smart and conniving monkeys hang out at temples where there's sure to be food. Devotees offer sweets to the Gods which are in turned blessed. Pilgrims leave with the blessed sweets. Monkeys don't miss a trick and watch your hands as you leave temples. In Deeg, my friend Regina was robbed of her plate of offerings as she left the Durga Goddess temple. Amid shouts from locals, a red-faced monkey ran up, slapped her plate from beneath and made off with her coconut. He smugly sat on the fence munching it right in front of us. In Sawai Madhophur, a black-faced monkey wrestled me for the rose garland around my neck. It was given to me by a priest at a local temple. I would have easily handed it over but the garland string got caught in my hat and earring, resulting in a tug of war. The monkey won, greedily stuffing roses in his mouth as I watched, massaging my ear. So far my favorite bit of monkey business was watching a monkey milk a cow. On the way to Pushkar, a troop of monkeys on the roadside were busy with a group of cows. One was presumably picking fleas off a docile caramel-colored cow's flank. Another was fastidiously combing through the cow's tail hairs. But one industrious fellow was actually milking the cow. Really. Well, more than likely, he was picking fleas off the udders, but it sure looked like he was milking it. Even the stoic driver on the trip had a big smile on his usually staid face. I really hope they never round up all the monkeys that carry on their business in busy cities. It would be far less entertaining. POSTED BY KATHY SCHULTZ

Rajasthan

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