India… Where to start? There is nothing that I could put on this blog that would remotely describe what a remarkable country and culture it is, but alas, I will try. Our translator for part of our trip asked us to describe our visit to India in one word. We couldn’t, but if we had to settle on something, it would be mind-blowing, or eye-opening, or astonishing… See, we couldn’t pick just one.
If you haven’t been following along on my Instagram, Roark and I visited the Golden Triangle area of India, composed of the cities Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, for two weeks in the middle of their summer monsoon season. Our college study abroad mate, Adit, who is from New Delhi, had been bugging us to come visit him for years; but the timing was never right for a trip that grand. This May, he messaged me over Facebook, inviting me to his wedding in July (“Wait, this July?!?” was my response). It just so happened that the timing was perfect with both Roark and I freelancing for work, so we didn’t hesitate to make the trip happen, even on such short notice.
We started our trip out in Delhi, the capital of India and the most bizarre city I’ve ever been to visit. Adit lives in a lovely area in northern New Delhi, and we were situated in nice hotel near his house since there would be many ceremonies for the wedding taking place there. (I will be dedicating a whole blog post on Thursday to the wedding, so don’t worry, you will get to hear all about it!)
Delhi is a crazy place. The best way to describe it is almost like a post-apocalyptic society, since there’s a mismatch of technology and wealth, with extreme poverty and disorder. We arrived in the country at 1:30 am, so our first taste of the city was riding in the car to Adit’s house in the dark. Stray dogs were scattered all over the road and everything looked pretty desolate. I remember pulling up to Adit’s house and thinking, “Wait, this is where he lives?!”
In the light of day, I could see that Adit lived in a really nice part of town, but the thing about India is everything looks harsh to an unadjusted Westerner’s eye. It’s hard to describe the streets to someone who has never been there, but they are a wreck. Just about every square foot is residence to some piece of litter, not to mention the larger piles that pigs, dogs, cows, and men sort through. If there were sidewalks, you wouldn’t want to walk on them as parts are missing and drop down to the ‘sewer’ below. Speaking of sewers, all over the city they are digging to place pipes in the ground; yet, it seems like none of the projects ever actually get finished. There are lone trenches and piles of unused construction materials everywhere. The city is in a constant state of development; yet in most parts, it looks like it’s crumbling in on itself, and in some places it actually is.
India is an engineer’s nightmare. Infrastructure is a disaster, with power lines hung half-hazard across the city. Even in Adit’s house, which super nice, they have converters to turn on in order to run their air-conditioning units. The power goes out frequently, and that’s just a way of life.
An normal sight on New Delhi roads is a modern car sitting next to horse drawn carriages. They even have oxen pulled carts. Name any mode of transportation, past or present, and they have it on their roads, from rickshaws to the latest sports and luxury cars. I don’t understand the luxury cars. Delhi driving is erratic; basically you don’t have to worry about any traffic behind you, lanes don’t exist, and the more you use your horn, the better. It’s amazing more cars aren’t completely dented up, but maybe it’s just because you can’t see the dings as most of them are covered in layers of dirt and soot.
Speaking of soot, New Delhi is tied in first place with Beijing for having the most polluted air in the world. The World Health Organization says the main cause is from car exhaust and dirt kicked up on the over-crowded roads. The city is working on a solution, having already moved most of the factories out of town and working to expanding their busy metro. But that wasn’t enough to keep me from getting a throat infection, hacking cough, and 103F fever within the third day there. Sadly, because I got so ill, we only had one true day of sight seeing while in Delhi. The rest of the time there I was happily involved in wedding festivities or cursing the satellite TV from my sick bed since I couldn’t get a signal during ‘peak hours’ of traffic when the smog was at its highest (yes, the smog was that bad!).
The one day we actually left the hotel room, our first stop was the famed Lotus Temple, a Bahá’í nondenominational temple created for all those who wish to worship. Once inside, you see that each petal of the ‘lotus’ is a vent for letting the hot air rise out from the temple, leaving the interior a few glorious degrees cooler. We happened to visit during a service, which included some men reciting chants. With the combination of their hypnotic voices and serene setting, this visit became a moment of meditation in the middle of a hectic city. Next we visited an Iskcon Temple, a Hindu temple, on the recommendation of Adit’s sister. There was a very lively service going on when we arrived with group singing, and we were welcomed right in. The altars were heavily decorated in Hindu tradition with figures of their gods and guru. Religion is such an important part of Indian life, regardless of what god or gods are worshiped, so it was an enlightening experience to visit these spiritual centers first hand and to feel so welcomed by their people.
Truly, India boasts the most amazing people in the world, who all go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable and welcomed in their country. We’ve never been offered so much food, tea, and coffee in our life (some of which we couldn’t eat and all of which we couldn’t drink, unfortunately). Many of our meals were eaten at Adit’s home. (And before this blog post becomes the longest one in the world, I’ll share a bit more about their food culture in another post next week.) 10 minutes wouldn’t go by without some asking, “Have you eaten?” or “Are you hungry?” It was the most amazing hospitality, and we felt so cared for by his family.
One of the Indian dishes I was happy to see on my plate was Saag. While my recipe today is a bit different than what they made, the idea is the same- a great mix of cooked greens and spices. Because we couldn’t eat anything that wasn’t cooked for food safety reasons, I was missing my greens. Saag was nice relief to a girl that normally has a salad with every meal!
This Saag uses a whole lot of kale and spinach, making it high in iron and overflowing with antioxidants. The dish in minimally spiced, but feel free to kick it up a notch for some true Northern Indian taste by adding more crushed red pepper.
I hope you enjoy and check back on Thursday for another favorite Indian recipe. Plus, I’ll be writing all about the wedding; something you don’t want to miss!
2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion, chopped
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced
1 inch piece of Ginger, grated
1 16-ounce Bag of Kale
1/2 Cup of Water
1 Russet Potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 pieces
2 Heads of Broccoli, separate florets from stems and cut both into 1/2 pieces
1 8-ounce Bag of Spinach
Heat the Olive Oil in your largest pot or pan. Toss in the Onion, cooking it until it’s soft. Next add in the Garlic, cooking it just until it starts to brown.
Stir in the Ginger, Kale, Water, and Potato, wilting the Kale and bringing the mixture to a simmer. Once simmering, add in the Broccoli Stems (since they need more cooking time) and let the mixture continuing simmering for 20 minutes.
Next, toss in the Broccoli Heads and the bag of Spinach. Simmer on low heat for an additional 15 minutes.
Finally, add in the Salt, Pepper, and Red Pepper to taste, and mash the mixture with a potato masher. Serve warm with Naan Bread or Rice. Makes 8 servings.