In Mumbai, we joined a walking tour of the Bandra area, snapping photos of Catholic churches and hundreds of crucifixes smattered across the neighborhood. In Jaipur, our mornings were kickstarted by a cantankerous cocaphony of percussion instruments from the Hindi temple within our apartment complex. In Agra, the mournful, solumn crescendo of the Muslim call to prayer echoed across the rooftops of Agra five times a day. In Aurangabad’s Ellora temple caves, Buddhist Bodhisattvas resided peacefully alongside Hindi dancing Shivas and the twenty-four Jinas of the Jain Digambara sect. At an airport lounge, we struck up a conversation with two Sikhs from Punjabi who encouraged us to visit their Golden Temple. And that’s just a hint of India’s multiplicity.
That same fantastic jumble of harmonious diversity applies to the food, as well. Infused spices in slow-cooked saag, palak, curry, or dal explode on your tastebuds, deconstructing into a tangle of individual flavors: cumin, turmeric, a hint of saffron, cinnamon, perhaps a little mint. A dollop of curd yogurt or a crunch of cool cucumber douses the heat of a spicey masala dish. Crispy hollow puri filled with a few fingerfuls of spiced potatoes and chickpeas, hand-dipped in a coriander-flavored water, followed by another dunk in a sugar-laced ice bath. A dash of masala powder and the whole ensemble is popped straight between your lips. Boom! Delectable!
Our three week tour of India was a bit of an excursion through history, chronologically starting with the ancient caves of Ajanta and Ellora in Aurangabad, which date back more than 2,000 years. Then we visited the golden age of Mughal architecture in Agra during the 1600's: the Taj Mahal and Akbar's Tomb. At Janta Mantar in Jaipur, we saw the great astrological equipment built by Jai Singh II in the 1720's. In Mumbai, we surveyed the periods of Portuguese and British rule at sites along the coast in Bandara and then skipped ahead to the present day, learning about the ghetto economy and land rights in the Dharavi slums. We covered a lot of ground in three weeks and it was not always easy. But when the poor air quality, obscene noise, and overall absurdity of India became too much, all it took was a meal (or pani puri chaat!) to soothe our fizzled selves.