Madhya Pradesh, which roughly translates as ‘Heart Land’, is both superlative and peculiarly untouched. In the state’s eastern wilderness, peacocks wander wild through teak forests and tigers prowl through several of the country’s best wildlife sanctuaries. To the north, the 10th-century temples of Khajuraho, covered in ecstatic erotic sculpture, are reminders of India’s ancient artistic heritage and rich history of sexual diversity, so different from its conservative present moment. In the centre are grand mosques and holy rivers, millennia-old Buddhist monuments and Paleolithic cave paintings – so much of the subcontinent’s unimaginably long history compressed into a single, vastly under-appreciated region. (more…)
In several of the dialects spoken among the Naga tribes, who live in remote hilltop villages along India’s northeastern border with Myanmar, there is no single word for ‘hello.’ Instead, people greet each other by asking, ‘Have you eaten?’
By the time I learned this, I’d already spent three weeks traveling around the Indian state of Nagaland, bumping along muddy tracks waterlogged from near-nightly thunderstorms, dipping into banks of fog, and rounding blind corners over deep valleys bursting with bamboo and bananas and giant ferns. I’d tasted winged beans in a tar-black paste of fermented mud crab and sesame seed, snakehead eels electric with the numbing zap of Sichuan peppercorns, and a thick curry of pig intestines cooked in blood over the open fire that is the center of every Naga kitchen and home.
Yes, I had most definitely eaten.
I first tasted Naga food about three years earlier when a friend’s sister-in-law invited me over for a dinner of home-cooked dishes from her native state. She prepared smoked beef, pungent with a fermented soy paste called axone, smoked pork with fermented bamboo shoots, and fresh pork in anishi, a black gravy made from pounded and smoked yam leaves, all served with heaping mounds of rice. These were bold, confrontational flavors and textures I’d never associated with India.
January 2015 – Colours (in-flight magazine for Garuda Indonesia)
I first fell in love with Mumbai mere moments after arriving here. Stepping off the sleeper train that had brought me from Rajasthan in the north to Mumbai Central, one of the city’s major railheads, I hopped a black and yellow taxi headed toward the historic center, called Fort, where I was to meet a friend who’d moved to India a few months earlier. The taxi cut east past a blur of terra cotta-roofed houses and new concrete highrises toward an elevated highway that wound south over what I would soon come to know as Mohammed Ali Road, the deafening thoroughfare at the heart of the city’s old Muslim quarter.
I had already spent the last few hours watching Haftay hopscotch up the gravel path toward whatever it was that lay on the other side of the ridge. My guide, Mulualem Gebremedhin, and I had spent most of the day — the first of three we would spend hiking together in eastern Tigray on Ethiopia’s northern border — lagging several steps behind Haftay, a local villager accompanying us on the first leg of our trip.
Haftay sang tunelessly as he lunged on long, sinewy legs and struck brisk, almost yogic poses — mostly, I think, for my benefit. He skipped up the path in the same flimsy plastic shoes that practically everyone wears in that part of Ethiopia (opaque, brightly colored jellies), and every so often cracked a joke at me in Tigrayan. I nodded dumbly; Haftay and Mr. Gebremedhin, who goes by the name Mulat, laughed.
“I love this guy, he’s crazy,” Mulat said. (more…)