Snakes are charming!

Pic Credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/justinbaeder/

Pic CreditJustin Baeder

Last night we spotted a snake outside our front door. I rushed out with my camera phone but it was too dark to get a good pic and I stood by as it slithered slowly past and into the storm water drain.
I love snakes and having grown up in New Zealand where there are no dangerous animals consequently I don’t have any fear of them. When I see them I just want to pick them up.
The Boss however is completely different. One mention of the “S” word and she is terrified and she didn’t sleep all night convinced that it was going to climb the wall into our bedroom and sink it’s fangs into her while she slept.
She is not alone in her fear. Most people here in India are so scared that it almost borders on the irrational and will go to the extent of concreting their gardens and removing all leaves to prevent any snake habitat.
A couple of years ago I heard screams from the garden and rushed outside to find the maid cowering in fear and screaming “sarp, sarp” ( snake in the local language). Looking in the direction she was pointing I saw a 2m long snake disappearing around the corner and rushed after it. Ignoring the screams from my family I tried to get closer but hearing my approach, the snake took off at an amazing speed down the path and promptly climbed a 2.5 m high wall and disappeared into the park behind our house. The maid was convinced it was a cobra and took a while to stop trembling. However it was in fact a harmless rat snake, non- venomous and having the reputation of being the fastest snake in India, hence the speed at which it set off down the path.
On another occasion I was in Tamil Nadu and discovered a snake charmer by the side of the road. Upon seeing my interest he whipped the top off his basket and out popped two very bad tempered cobras. Fascinated, I, along with a rapidly gathering crowd, moved closer, however as the cobras expressed their displeasure by lunging towards us soon found myself all alone as all the other onlookers scattered. The thought that I might be in danger didn’t once cross my mind, instead I looked around to see where everyone had gone. In retrospect I realise that I may have been a bit stupid but I was just caught up in seeing these beautiful creatures up close. I also suspect the snake charmer had probably defanged his snakes anyway.
I once stayed in a small hotel in Mangalore, and when hearing a commotion outside, went out and found all the kitchen staff outside on the lawn shouting “snake snake”. I went into the kitchen to have a look and sure enough under a cabinet found the object of terror. A baby snake all of 40cms in length. I managed to free it into the garden after about 15 mins and with a complete lack of assistance from the quivering staff.
Maybe if I had grown up here and had the fear of snakes instilled in me from a young age things would be different. Maybe one day I will get bitten and I will be just as afraid.
But in the meantime, I don’t see what the fuss is about, and there don’t seem to be that many around. I have seen about 5 in the wild in the almost 10 years (cumulatively) I have spent in India. Perhaps I am stupid, but any opportunity I can get, I will jump at the chance get a closer look.
Just don’t tell the Boss!

 

One of the (many) reasons to marry a South Indian – Mangalore Fish Curry!

Walking into the kitchen this morning my nostrils were hit by a tantalizing smell, one that also aroused Tommy from his slumber.
The Boss had decided to make one of my favourite dishes, Mangalore Fish Curry.
One of the, of course, countless bonuses of being married to such an angelic creature as The Boss, is that she is a magician in the kitchen. Something my ever present friend Tommy thanks me for on a daily basis.
So here is a visual journey through the creation of a delicious lunch:

Freshly grated coconut

Freshly grated coconut

The Boss' box of magic tricks

The Boss‘ box of magic tricks

Ingredients ready for dry roasting

Ingredients ready for dry roasting

Dry Tamarind

Dry Tamarind

Roasted ingredients in the Mixer

Roasted ingredients in the Mixer

Coconut added
Finished masala

Finished masala

The most important ingredient - Fish

The most important ingredient – Fish

The finished Curry

The finished Curry

Chutney Ingredients

Chutney Ingredients

Coconut Chutney

Coconut Chutney

Mangalore Fish Curry, Red and Green Spinach, Coconut Chutney, Brown Rice

Mangalore Fish Curry, Red and Green Spinach, Coconut Chutney, Brown Rice

Have to go now. Tommy and I have a meal to finish!

By the way, this was the first plate of many! And if for any strange reason there is any left over (not likely), Mangalore Fish Curry and fried eggs is a breakfast made in heaven!

Road Trip Day 2 – Sai Vishram Resort, Byndoor.

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We stayed for two days at the Sai Vishram Resort, a lovely 24 acre property right on the sea-shore with a beautiful golden sand beach.

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The resort is a vegetarian resort, vegetarian communities being quite common in India.

The story behind the resort as it was told to me is quite an interesting one. Apparently a Bangalore business man became a devotee of Satya Sai Baba and made changes in his life including becoming a vegetarian. Realizing that it was often difficult to find good vegetarian places to stay he had an idea to open a small vegetarian hotel for people like himself to stay at. On a subsequent visit to Puttaparthi to see Satya Sai Baba, he was told by his Guru that whatever dream he had in his mind he should do it on a larger scale and he will be very successful. And so the Sai Vishram Resort was established.

It is a beautiful property which in addition to the beach has large areas of trees and tropical gardens. On both days the resort was visited by a troop of Langurs,who kept us entertained as they leapt from tree to tree.

Langur

Langur

There are also a number of wells on the property and in this particular one the old skin shed by a snake could be seen trapped in the stone.

Well lined with Laterite Blocks

Well lined with Laterite Blocks

Discarded snake skin

Discarded snake-skin

In this area Laterite blocks, seen here ready for use, are commonly used for building as it is easily mined and provides good insulation against the heat when used in house construction. The same stone was used in the construction of Angkor Wat some  3000 kms away!

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Being sensitive to the culture of the resort we had warned our niece before arriving that she wasn’t to talk about chicken and fish etc. The first evening while in conversation with the resort manager, you can imagine our discomfort when the soup arrived and a little voice piped up and asked the manager if there were prawns in it!

The food in the resort is excellent! On the first morning we had one of my favourite things for breakfast, Neer Dosa and Chutney. More common in the coastal regions particularly around Mangalore, Neer Dosa is a rice pancake made by soaking rice overnight and then blending the next morning in a food mixer with coconut milk and a little salt. It is delicious with anything but particularly nice in the morning with fresh coconut chutney.

Neer Dosa and Coconut Chutney

Neer Dosa and Coconut Chutney

I liked it so much that I supersized my next portion (got to keep the tapeworm happy!).

Neer Dosa

Neer Dosa

The Boss had a different type of Dosa called Rawa Dosa which is made in a similar way but with semolina. ( I had to snatch it off her mid-mouthful to get a photo!)

Rawa Dosa

Rawa Dosa

We spent the morning on the beach, swimming, kayaking, and jet skiing but by midday it was too hot even for me and we had to retreat to the A/C for the rest of the afternoon. In fact at this time of the year, even by 9am the heat is intense and unless you are by the sea or in a forest, can be pretty hard to cope with. By 5pm the heat is once again more tolerable and we returned to the beach and flew kites in the fresh sea breeze.

Kite Flying

Kite Flying

A couple of eagles were puzzled about the intruders on their airspace and hovered around for a while wondering whether or not to attack.

Eagle vs Kite

Eagle vs Kite

A wonderfully relaxing day and as I was to discover a few days later after visiting the overcrowded and shall we say less than pristine beaches around Calangute in North Goa, the beach here is really an unspoilt paradise.

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Road Trip Day 1 – Bangalore to Byndoor 472kms

(After 4 days of struggling with poor internet connection I have finally got a decent connection and can catch up on my posts!)

Made it through the first day. After an 11hr 472km journey we arrived at our destination, the Sai Vishram Resort in Byndoor. Tired but happy to get the first major leg out of the way.

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Our day started at 5am so we could miss any traffic leaving Bangalore and we made good progress early on. The first section was made up of dual carriageway toll roads and with no traffic we covered a lot of ground only stopping to pay tolls at the myriad toll booths along the way. The toll booths also provide an opportunity to pick up the morning paper in the language of your choice from the vendors standing by the booth as well as buy strings of jasmine flowers to adorn the god or goddess who normally takes pride of place on the dashboard of most cars in India. The lovely fragrance of the jasmine soon fills up the car providing a welcome relief from the bad breath and other foul early morning bodily emissions from my passengers.
We reached our scheduled breakfast stop well ahead of time, in fact 45 mins before they opened so we had to carry on. This was a disappointment as reliably clean and tasty food joints are often hard to come by in the rural areas so when you find one you tend to stick to it every journey. This philosophy was reinforced by the terrible food at the place we did end up stopping at. We abandoned our plates and breakfasted on banana cake (the breakfast of champions) in the car as we continued.
Our route took us through the infamous Shiradi Ghat, the road notorious for dissolving every monsoon at the slightest appearance of rain ( I think they build it out of aspirin). This is probably the most expensive road in the world as the Government spends millions of rupees every year in repairs, with much of the money instead finding it’s way into Swiss bank accounts .
It is a very picturesque route though, lined with jungle and during the monsoons has plenty of waterfalls beside the road and even elephants have been sighted on this road. We stopped a couple of times just to soak in the fresh air and the sounds of the birds and insects in the jungle.
Once we reached the outskirts of Mangalore traffic congestion built up considerably and remained that way for the remaining journey up the West Coast. We got our first glimpse of the sea about 30 kms from Byndoor and the road then wound its way along the coastline crossing many beautiful inlets and backwaters lined with Coconut palms.

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So far I had relied upon my new toy, the GPS but the resort was not showing on the map so once reaching Byndoor I had to go old school and ask humans for directions for the final 2 kms to the resort. In India it doesn’t matter where you are there will always be someone you can ask for directions, unlike in New Zealand where in some areas it could be an hour before you see another person, the only other option being sheep but their sense of direction is terrible!
One thing that always amazes me in India is that whenever I am in a village and whatever the local language, people will answer me in Hindi if they don’t speak English. I so obviously don’t look like an Indian from any angle but people just seem to automatically assume that I will speak Hindi like it’s a normal thing. I think perhaps that they think that anyone who is not from their area will speak the national language and to them, non-locals must encompass the rest of the world. Somehow though it does make me feel accepted. India over the years has become a second home to me and when I am included in the language I feel less of an outsider which than if they spoke to me in English.
The journey wasn’t too hair-raising and there weren’t too many moments when I felt I needed a change of underwear, however I doubt you could say the same for this guy:

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The reward at the end of a long days drive? A glass of fresh pineapple juice and a sunset stroll on the beach with my two new friends.

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Another epic road trip!

I am off today on another road trip, this time up the West Coast of India. I will first head West from Bangalore to Mangalore and then work my way up the coast via the hippy haven of Gokarna, followed by Goa, and then the mango district of Ratnagiri before reaching Mumbai in about a week’s time. I once did this trip in reverse about 17 years ago and remember it as a drive along some of the most stunning coastline I have ever seen. Miles of golden beaches and palms as far as they eye can see. I hope the rapid pace of growth in India has left these areas as unspoilt as I remember

The last few days have been filled with pre-trip preparations, getting the car serviced, and deciding what snacks to take ( probably the most important thing). Chocolate unfortunately not being a viable option with the 36 degree temperatures currently prevalent.

This time the Boss and I will be joined by the Junior Vice President, my 6-year-old niece, who has already packed her own snacks, loaded up the Ipad with cartoons, and packed enough clothing for 3 or 4 fashion shows!

My trusty steed for this adventure will be the ever reliable “Roxy”, faithful companion on many a cross-country odyssey and seen below after a 1000km, 16hr drive from Mumbai.

The magnificent Roxy

The magnificent Roxy

I am sure there will be plenty of interesting material for the blog like the photo I took below on a previous trip.

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It’s just a scratch!

My apologies for the quality of the above photo. It was taken on my cellphone while I stood in the middle of the highway as the truck roared past me at the insanely high-speed of 20 miles per hour!

My posting schedule may be erratic though as I will be in areas where there will be no internet signal and sometimes not even a cell phone signal. I may also be trying to recover from another hair-raising day on the road, with my feet up, recumbent in a hammock a glass of wine in my hand, and the laptop far from reach.