Coin and note

Currently in India, there is both a coin and a banknote worth ten Indian rupees. The banknote exists in two different designs, old and new, both legal tender at the moment.

In Gujarat, we found that no one objected to using both the coin and the banknote. In Bangalore, in the south of India, we hardly ever see the 10 rupee coin.

Drivers of autorickshaws in Bangalore refuse to accept the 10 Rupee coins, but shops will take them.

We were told that the autorickshaw drivers will not take the 10 coins because they are too heavy! Yet, they happily accept 1, 2, and 5 rupee coins.

Curious, isn’t it?

Buzzing around Baroda

The best way to get around Baroda (now ‘Vadodara’) is by three wheeler autorickshaw (‘auto’). There are plenty of these nifty little vehicles for hire and although their drivers hardly ever use the meters, the fares are remarkably reasonable.

Unlike Bangalore, where the auto drivers are often argumentative and dodgy about fares, the drivers in Baroda are usually straightforward and friendly.

We have made a couple of long journeys in Baroda. As the auto drivers were uncertain about what to charge, they used their antiquated meters. These must have last been calibrated many years ago. According to such a meter, a journey of about 6 kilometres should cost 4 rupees and 20 paise. This is ridiculous because the shortest auto journey in Baroda costs 20 rupees today. The auto driver looks at his ancient meter and then, without looking at a conversion table, decides on a fee. We made the 4 rupee and 20 paise journey twice. Once, we were charged 100 rupees, and the other time 120. Both amounts are reasonable, and far less than you would pay in a Bangalore auto or a Bombay taxi.

I favour autos over cars for getting around cities in India. The former are far more manoeuvrable than the latter. This is vital in a city like Bangalore, where traffic is poorly managed. In Baroda, however, traffic flows brilliantly compared with Bombay or Bangalore.

Unless you have huge amounts of baggage, hop into auto in Baroda.

A globe trotting chef in Gujarat

So-called Italian food is popular in India. Indians are fond of pasta and pizza and are happy to eat almost anything that claims to fall into these categories. Often what is served as “Italian food” would be almost unrecognizable to Italians.

However, things are changing. Increasing numbers of Indians now visit Europe and many Europeans and Americans familiar with authentic Italian food visit India. They are more discerning than about the quality of Italian food served in India than Indians who have not been abroad.

Despite this, very few Italian restaurants in India are serving what I would consider Italian food like Mamma would make. Chianti Restaurant in Koramangala (south Bangalore) does makes the grade.

Tonight, I ate at Fiorella in the Alkapuri district of Vadodara in Gujarat. This Italian restaurant serves brilliant food. It is Italian food which makes no compromises to satisfy traditional Indians’ palates.

We met Ravichandra, Fiorella’s chef. He speaks Italian fluently, which is not surprising as he lived and worked in various cities in Italy for 14 years. He has lived abroad, mostly in Europe, for a total of 22 years.

He became a member of the Federation of Italian Chefs. He worked as a consultant advising the owners of Italian restaurants all over the UK. Spending 3 months in each restaurant, he helped their owners improve their establishments.

Following his return to India in 2008, Ravichandra, who was born in Kerala, worked in various hotels and restaurants before 2012, when the owner of the Express Residency Hotel in Vadodara asked him to set up Fiorella. The plan was to establish Fiorella as a totally authentic Italian eatery, whose food was not at all adapted to Indian tastes. This, Ravichandra has achieved most successfully. An Italian eating here would not be disappointed.

Tea makers and politicians

Street tea making stalls are found all over India. They are great places for quenching your thirst and avoiding low blood sugar situations.

I am writing this during a visit to the Gujarati city of Vadodara, where we spoke to two tea makers this morning. One of them was a charming lady, who told us that she manned her stall from 630 am until 730 pm daily. She heats her tea on a gas ring. The gas cylinder contains enough gas for 15 days.

India’s present Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, worked briefly as a tea maker (‘chai wallah’) during his childhood. There is a chai wallah in Bangalore, whose shop is in Johnson Market. Not only does he serve excellent tea, but also he works as a local politician. He has his own party, whose symbol is a pocket calculator. He stands as a candidate in elections, but has never yet won any of them. He told us that if one chai wallah could become Prime Minister, there is no reason why another could not do the same.

Gopal , who has a tea stall near the entrance to one of the former pols* of Varodara, works from 10 am to 6 pm. His stall was very busy when we visited it this morning. It faces a peepal tree with numerous Hindu offerings around the base of its trunk. One of the daily offerings to the gods is the first cup of tea that Gopal makes each morning.

Like most other chai wallahs we have visited in Gujarat, Gopal adds fresh herbs and spices to his tea. Today, he had large sprigs of mint leaves and bunches of lemon grass and ginger. He pounds the latter in a pestle and mortar. He told us that pounding the ginger releases more flavour than grating it, which is what many chai wallahs do.

I asked Gopal whether I could take photographs of him and his stall. He allowed me to do so. As we were leaving him, he told his customers proudly (in Gujarati):

“Our Prime Minister has to go to the UK and USA to have his picture taken. See, people from the UK have come all the way from London to Vadodara to photograph me.”

* A pol is an ancient form of gated community, built for protection, found in the historic centres of Varodara and (more prevalently) Ahmedabad.

Providing for pigeons

In London pigeons are regarded as a nuisance, as pests. A previous Lord Mayor of the city once described them as “flying rats”. Now, feeding them is frowned upon. Gone are the days when you could buy corn to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square.

During our long journey through Gujarat in western India, we saw many places dedicated to feeding pigeons. In Bhavnagar, for example, I saw a man scattering seeds, which were being avidly consumed by a large crowd of grey pigeons. The grain was strewn over a large area in which there were several large bowls of water to quench the birds’ thirst.

In Ahmedabad, we saw a fenced off area supplied with drinking bowls as already described. This special feeding area was well supplied with grain scattered on the ground. In that same city, we saw a huge pigeon ‘hostel’. This consisted of a matrix of niches or pigeon holes in which the creatures resided. Feeding facilities were adjacent to the niches. This giant pigeon coop was next to a mosque or dargah close to the Nehru Bridge over the River Sabarmati.

In Rajkot, we spotted a cylindrical concrete pigeon coop mounted on a tall concrete pillar. And, in Porbandar a large area close to the beach is used to feed pigeons and other birds at the end of an afternoon.

During our very recent visit to the metropolis of Hyderabad in Telengana State, we have driven past pigeon feeding areas. On one of the bridges crossing the river, one of these feeding places occupied the whole length of one side of the bridge.

When wandering around the many bookshops in the Koti district of Hyderabad, we found a square surrounded by buildings. The centre of the square is a fenced open space where thousands of pigeons collect to feed on the copious amounts of grain on the floor. This area is overlooked by a cylindrical pigeon coop, which is illustrated above. The area is maintained by The Pigeon Welfare Association of Telengana.

The Lalbagh Gardens in Bangalore have at least one fine large cylindrical pigeon coop. I do not know how many other places in India care for pigeons as I the places I have mentioned, but from what I have seen so far, I can say that India is not devoid of popular concern for avian wellbeing.

Memories of imperialism

In the former Portuguese colony of DAMAN,

daman

“…there is a public garden, the Pargola (sic) Gardens. It contains a semi-circular colonnade and a monument built like a pile of rocks. The monument has a carved stone plaque commemorating the Portuguese who died on the 2nd of February 1559, the day that their country finally captured Daman.  A plaque beneath this is to remember those Portuguese who died on the 22nd of July 1954 during their unsuccessful defence of Dadra and Nagar Haveli.

The late queen_800

It is a sign of Indian tolerance that a monument celebrating the deeds of invaders has been left intact. I have seen examples of this elsewhere in India. For example, Cubbon Park in Bangalore has two well-maintained British statues, one of Queen Victoria and the other of King Edward VII, and in Calcutta there is the Victoria Memorial. In contrast, when we visited the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum (formerly The Victoria and Albert Museum) in Bombay, we saw a macabre collection of mutilated statues of British ‘worthies’. These had been vandalised during Maharastrian nationalist riots.

bau daji

This is a short excerpt from a new book/Kindle by Adam Yamey:

PAPERBACK   BUY A COPY                                  

KINDLE           DOWNLOAD HERE

Books beneath a bridge

Another excerpt from

Travels in Gujarat, Daman, and Diu” by Adam Yamey

To be published very soon!

 

We were in Ahmedabad when…

… we passed the now disused Indian Picture House, a cinema, and reached the bridge that carries Gandhi Road over Tankshal.

 

AHM 1

 

The road beneath the bridge is lined with booksellers’ stalls piled high with textbooks.

AHM 2

There are also bookshops around the bridge in yards leading off Tankshal Road. Outside their premises, there are tables which are overflowing with books, new and used. These precarious piles of books reminded me of my favourite bookshop in Bangalore, Mr Shanbag’s Premier Bookshop, which closed some years ago. In that great establishment, only the foolhardy customer would risk creating an avalanche of books by attempting to extricate a book from the piles of volumes reaching from the floor to the high ceiling.

 

AHM 4

We visited Mahajan Book Depot, where we had been told books in English were available. Its amiable owner, a descendant of the shop’s founder told us that his was the oldest bookstore in Ahmedabad. His great-grandfather established it in 1891. His stock of books in English was not great, but I found one, a history book, which I purchased.

 

AHM 3