The best clothes ever.
A man pouring chai back and forth and back and forth between two cups.
Cows and pigs wandering the streets. Parrots, monkeys, and some very scrappy dogs.
Misty bright green fields of mustard supporting a haze of yellow blossoms.
Some remarkable roadside deep-frying: wok-type cooking vessel balanced on cinder blocks over an open flame.
A god active only at the moment of creation, otherwise in meditation.
More people squeezed onto/into tiny vehicles than you would have thought possible.
Men getting shaved on the street by barbers whose establishment consists of a chair on the sidewalk and a mirror propped against a wall.
People taking pictures of the Taj Mahal.
Men playing field hockey.
The Advanced Chickpea Research Insitute (cross my heart; I so wish I had gotten a picture of this, but the car was moving)
Things you will not get in India:
A relief from the incessant honking
A satisfactory explanation of Hinduism as a daily practice, which you will want after driving past dozens of little shrines.
The Taj Mahal. Big, famous, crowded destinations are not my scene. I tried hard simply to experience it but could not. Mainly I resented the many extra hours of car time it ended up requiring of us. People keep saying, "But now you have a picture of yourself at the Taj Mahal." Yes, and? I would rather have had an afternoon at the bazaar in old city of Jaipur, which we did not have time for.
Things I did not see in India but wish I had:
An ashram, or at least a yoga class
A meal in someone's home
I had no idea what to expect from the food on our trip. The first couple of days we subsisted on hotel breakfast cornflakes, Cliff Bars (offered by one of our extremely generous traveling companions when we were stuck for hours on end on congested roads or basically kidnapped by overzealous tour guides), and then whatever we could find at our hotel before collapsing into bed. Once the jet lag had worn off a little, we were taken by our tour guides to restaurants that were very clearly for tourists only. I can't say, however, that they gave me anything to complain about. I remember saag paneer, butter-garlic naan, chana masala, rice with cumin. The wedding itself involved day after day of very nice buffets, offering mostly Indian food from all regions, but no meat and no alcohol. They served the best dals I have ever eaten, but it was all so hectic and exhausting that all I remember is breaking into a smile when I tasted them.
Before the barat, the groom's procession to meet the bride on the final day of the wedding, we were offered Thums Up and wonderful nut brittles to sugar us up for the dancing we would have to do in the parade, which, I must say, was one of the most fun experiences of my adult life. The groom and his parents rode in on elephants, his sisters on horseback at his side, all of us milling about and doing our goofy best to clear his way by bhangra dancing as a marching band and a troup of Punjabi drummers tried to outplay each other. Every once in a while we stopped and danced in a circle while one of the older wedding guests held a handful of money aloft and waved it in circles over our heads before giving it to the band. It made me feel the way I did as a teenager at a high school football game--giddy, electric--or as if I had been plopped into the movie Underground.
By the time the reception rolled around, several hours later, all I could stomach was a plate of plain white rice. Completely worn out, I was longing for a glass of wine and something involving no cumin or ginger or turmeric at all. Although we generally eat a lot of Indian(-ish) food at home, I didn't know how long it would take us to get back to it. Requests were put in for brisket, pork shoulder, roast chicken, etc. I couldn't resist At Home with Madhur Jaffrey for more than a month, however. (MJ is one of my food idols, thanks mostly to her indispensable Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. I once approached her at the Beard Awards to bleat my devotion; with queenly bearing she acknowledged my gushing, and that was that.) We had ground turkey with Hyderbadi seasonings--except with lamb, not turkey, fatty, fantastic, and incredibly easy--and a version of her dry khichri modified to include millet and quinoa in addition to white rice and plain lentils instead of hulled and split moong dal.
The grains were a wee bit overcooked and the lentils just barely cooked enough, but this preparation was a good compromise for the members of my family who make faces when served millet and quinoa (and I am not talking about the two year old). Furthermore, the inclusion of lentils made it something I could eat a bit of for lunch the next day, unlike a pot of plain basmati (of which I make a meal only under circumstances of extreme duress and secrecy). Maybe everyone knew you could just throw these things together; for me it is a nice new trick.
Here's how I made it: Rinse 1/2 cup long-grain white rice (mine is usually basmati) and 1/2 cup lentils (I used lentilles de Puy since that's what I had, but plain green lentils or hulled and split moong dal should also work). Put in a bowl with 1/2 cup millet and 1/2 cup quinoa, cover generously with water, and soak for 2 hours. (I do not have the patience for rinsing quinoa, a step that has never seemed to make a difference to me.) Drain as well as possible.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium-high flame. When hot, add 1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, wait a few seconds, and add 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced. Stir often until the onions have taken on some color. Add the drained grains and lentils, stirring for a minute. Then add 2 3/4 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, cover tightly, turn the heat as low as possible, and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let pot sit, covered, 5-10 minutes before fluffing with a fork.
We've been home for a month. January was quite a letdown; after I had for many months looked forward to Bee's Christmas, holiday time with my family, and an amazing vacation for the couple that never even goes out to dinner, it was all over all at once. But we made it through, thanks in part to a run of lovely weather (I heard there was a dreadful lot of snow on that other coast, the one we'll be on next year, but then I stuck my fingers in my ears, LA LA LA). Bee and I only just said "bye till next year" to the last of the straggling Christmas ornaments, but we decided to leave some of the twinkle lights up. And so I am finally ready to acknowledge that 2011 is under way. Hip hip!