caffeine withdrawal in a Jain temple
Monday, December 30 2019
location: room 19, Ghanerao Castle, Ghanerao, Rajasthan, India
We had another fabulous breakfast this morning, this time featuring little white bread buns into which one was supposed to place a little globe of deep-fried deliciousness with the idea of squishing the whole thing flat before eating it. These ran out before the late-risers made it to breakfast, partly because people like me had three of them. The coffee was, as it had been yesterday, a warm brown liquid of questionable provenance that didn't particularly invite seconds.
Before leaving Ghanerao Castle and continuing to our next destination, we had an audience with the Queen of Ghanerao, another vestigial Indian monarch forced to turn her ancestral palace into a hotel. It turned out that queen was an outspoken critic of Monsanto, agricultural imperialism, and the other evils that result when monopolistic global corporations try to insinuate themselves into the lives of small farmers in places where sustainable farming techniques have been practiced for millennia. The queen was particularly incensed by Monsanto's attempts to get Indian farmers to plant their white corn, whose seeds could not be saved for future planting, instead of the yellow sweet corn they'd traditionally used. I'm not sure what advantage the Monsanto corn could've possibly had given that it tastes different, looks different, and it costs money to get seeds every year, but the queen didn't go into the details. Fortunately, at least with regard to corn, Monsanto was eventually defeated. The queen also talked about how multinational agribusiness interests have managed convince Indians to use soy bean oil instead of their traditional mustard seed oil in all their cooking (which, as we'd been discovering, requires copious amounts of oil). The advantage of soy oil is that it is dirt cheap. The disadvantage is that it cannot be reused many times when deep-frying, and it's also nutritionally suspect. The queen is an advocate of the same seed-saving and heirloom strain preservation as our friends in the Hudson Valley Seed Company (former HV Seed Library). Ghanerao Castle has its own seed bank, and Gretchen remembers the HVSC guys meeting an important Indian seed freedom advocate at some point in the recent past, who was likely the Queen of Ghanerao.
In addition to being an advocate of seed freedom, the queen was a bit of a cultural conservative (or, more precisely, she thought it inappropriate that Indians should adopt Western ways when they had perfectly good Indian ways already suited to their environment. She specifically mentioned women abandoning saris for western clothes, at least in the cities, which for her made no sense. The sari is perfect for protection from the sun and the provision of modesty while also providing for the cooling flow of air. The queen also thought it unfortunate that so many people now eat Indian food with forks instead of their hands, as was the tradition. She claimed the metal of the forks made the food taste different.
On the walk out of Ghanerao to the place where the streets were wide and straight enough for our bus, I became excited as we arrived at a place where I knew a group of three tiny puppies lived. The place was a platform atop a wall near a house, and the several times we'd walked past it yesterday, the little guys would come bounding out of an improvised shelter past the scraps of roti some human and placed there for them to eat. This morning, though, one of the puppies was lying in the street out in front dead. It was partially in a plastic bag, though it wasn't clear how it had died. Only yesterday that puppy had been full of life. It's easy to see how Hindu views of reincarnation might be helpful for dealing with such visions, particularly given how frequent they must be in a country crammed with unspayed dogs, unneutered cattle, and lots of speeding motor vehicles.
Our first destination was the Ranakpur Jain Temple, about a half hour away. It was a much bigger temple than the one we'd visited yesterday, though stylistically it was similar. It had been built in the post-and-lintel technique, featured a dome, and nearly every surface had been carved to depict various figures. There were also a number of gray langur monkeys on the grounds of the temple. Due its size, however, the Ranakpur temple had a large parking area and anyone hoping to get inside had to first buy a ticket. There were also electronic devices available for visitors to provide explanations (in the language of one's choosing) of the things being seen. Our local guide J handled all the details of buying the tickets and getting the electronic devices, and then we were free to enter the temple. As always when entering sites of religious significance in Asia, everyone had to remove their shoes. I was wearing flip flops without socks, and the marble was cold on my bare feet.
Inside, the temple was a forest of carved marble pillars, 1444 of them, all arranged in a pattern that is symmetrical on both the X and Y axes. The regularity was so impressive that I was drawn to the imperfections, such as flawed blank pillars that had nevertheless been carved, the figures having to be excavated deeper into the marble due to a missing chunk. I also noticed one pillar that was clearly leaning a couple degrees out of plumb.
Though I respect the effects of Jainism (that is, respect for everything alive), the religion is just as kooky and absurd as any other. I was lulled into a trance by the constant use of the term "tirthankara," the title of the 24 spiritual teachers of Jainism (it doesn't have much interest in conventional creator gods). For me, the most interesting nugget of information regarding the Jain religion was its idea that our problems in life are caused by tiny particles that adhere to us. This is similar to the Scientology's idea of the "thetan," and it made me wonder L. Ron Hubbard was influenced by Jainism when he was designing his religion.
So far in this trip, we hadn't seen many other tourists of obviously European origin, but that was different at the Ranakpur Jain temple. There were a good many white people there, though, since most of them weren't speakiing, it was hard to know if they were Americans or Europeans.
It was a good thing that my time in the temple was entirely self-directed. Had I been forced to follow a guide around, I might well have gone off somewhere to sulk. As it was, at some point I found a nice platform near the exterior wall on the sunny side of the temple and just sat there for awhile, listening to the guide device without regard to places it was describing (which were mostly impossible to find anyway, as each was labeled with a single numbered sign on one side of a column, and consecutive numbers weren't always near one another). There was definitely something wrong with me, because I was feeling much sleepier and more lethargic than I would normally be at this time of day. I'd hoarded (but hadn't eaten any of) Gretchen's leftover olanzapine, so I began to suspect that the "coffee" we'd been drinking for the past two days at Ghanerao Castle had been devoid of caffeine. When we got back on the bus and I compared notes with the other caffeine addicts, I soon had confirming evidence for this theory. They all had pounding headaches and were feeling lethargic. Someone managed to scare up some ibuprofen, which I took, though now that I was aware that I was experiencing a caffeine withdrawal, I decided to ride it for as long as I could, since I knew that the next time I drank caffeine I would feel amazing.
After the temple visit, our bus drove through rugged countryside on a narrow dirt road that didn't always have enough room for two vehicles to pass each other. But our bus driver had a good sense of precisely where the bus was and wasn't, and was able to pass a bus similar to ours with only about an inch between us. Like ours, the other bus was full of gringos, and some of them gesticulated their amazement at the skills of both our drivers.
At some point in our drive through the rugged countryside, we came upon a series of intensively-cultivated fields just outside our lunch destination, a fancy country restaurant which sources all (or nearly all) of the food they serve from those nearby fields. We dined at a large outdoor table in the shade. Had we been in the sun, I probably wouldn't've had to go back to the bus to get my jacket. There was coffee available for extra rupees at this restaurant, but Gretchen and I had recently depleted our rupee supply by buying from an artist who'd sold small paintings of birds "on old paper" every morning near the opium den at Ghanerao Castle. I was also trying to put off the glorious feeling I knew I caffeine would give me for as long as possible. I did, however, help Gretchen's father drink a huge bottle of Kingfisher (which is not, I'd learned on this trip, strictly vegan, since bones are somehow used in making it, though I'm not the kind of vegan who cares about such things). The food for our lunch was Indo-Chinese and included delicious General Tso's cauliflower, and an amazing noodle dish. (Gretchen had been complaining about how long it had been since she'd last "twirled a noodle" on a fork, but now that twirling drought was over.)
Unfortunately for me, I was sitting in a bad part of the table, far away from Gretchen, between Connie (Kirstin's caricature of a hippie mother) and Westin, the tall seven-year-old and youngest member both of "the family" and our entire entourage. The problem with being next to a kid is that most of the food being passed to him stopped at his mother, who then spooned him some of it. Then she'd tend to pass it across the table. This placed me in something of a dead zone, meaning that by the time serving plates got to me, they were either empty or had nothing I wanted. I was feeling cranky from lack of caffeine, and at one point I asked the table "are there any of those red balls left?" (I didn't know it was called General Tso's cauliflower at that point.) When someone tried to offer me the serving bowl with just the dark brown glurp the cauliflower had been marinading in, I said (with slight hostility), "No, I don't want just the sauce!" None of this would've been a problem had the kitchen been bring food out fast enough, but there was a long period when nothing came out at all, and it seemed that perhaps the meal was actually over. That would've been a first in India: a meal ending before everyone at our table had had enough food. I suspect that the restaurant had arranged to make a certain amount of food for the number of people on our bus but had mistakenly done their calculation based on how much food that number of Indians would eat. I'd been noting how uniformly slender everyone in India tended to be (our Indian guides and that Hindu Priest in Kishangarh being rare exceptions), so they must not be stuffing their faces the way Gretchen and I (and others in our group) had been. In any case, more food did eventually come, and based on how much time it required, it was made again from scratch.
I should mention at this point that some of the hippier, more Californian people in our group had really taken the queen's rant against eating with forks to heart, and they were doing their best to eat everything with their hands. This was absurd, of course, since the food in question was Chinese, which means it should've been eaten with chopsticks. At one point I caught a glimpse of Kirstin's mother Connie attempting to eat the noodle dish with her hands and I had to look away.
When a fresh new serving bowl of the noodle dish appeared on the table in front of young Westin and me (and across the table from my sixteen-year-old nephew), all of us rejoiced. I spooned out a generous portion for Westin, and my nephew took a bunch as well (nobody eats like a teenage boy). It wasn't long before we'd killed that round, so we each took another. By the end there, Westin was feeling a little ill. But, being a seven year old boy, he still did the thing where, just before we headed to the buses, he ran down a steep trail to creek and then turned around to run all the way back. (I remember when I was Westin's age asking my father why he didn't just run everywhere like I did, and I remember him saying that he never felt like running anywhere; it wasn't many years later before I understood what he meant.)
After lunch, our bus drove us into the city of Udaipur, the biggest city we'd visited so far (it has a population of nearly a half million, similar to Boston). While from a distance, it looked like any city, though perhaps a bit more lived-in and run-down. But on the street level, it resembled many of the densely-populated places we'd already seen, complete with cows, dogs, occasional donkeys, and perhaps even the odd camel. Unlike in the United States, desperately-densely-populated places can appear even in nearly-rural settings, as Indians tend to live close to one another in the places where people are living, while the countryside is kept open, never being squandered for pointless open acreage around individual homes.
Again there were issues with how close our bus could get to the place where we'd be staying, but this time instead of walking from the bus, we divided into three-person groups and rode in a swarm of "tuk-tuks." Tuk-tuks are basically three-wheeled motorcycles wrapped in a shell. They have a front seat that can sit a passenger as well as a driver and a back seat wide enough for three. There's a cargo area behind that, and one often sees the locals riding back there as well, usually facing backwards with their legs hanging off the back. The tuk-tuk likely gets its name from the sound of the one-cylinder engine that propels it. It wasn't long into our tuk-tuk ride that Gretchen and I decided they were the best form of transportation ever. It wasn't that they were particularly comfortable (there doesn't seem to be any system for the absorption of shocks and the motor is loud and produces a lot of pollution). It's more that when one is zipping down a street in a tuk-tuk, one feels like they're really in that street. Unlike being in the bus, which is above it all and isolated from its noises and smells, in a tuk-tuk, you can reach out and grab a cow if you're so inclined. Since the tuk-tuk drivers are skilled at finding and exploiting any available way through traffic, there's a constant mania to the ride. Breathtaking speed can quickly end in split-second decelerations to a stop only inches from whatever got in the way.
Our tuk-tuk deposited us at the Karohi Haveli, a four-story hotel perched at the top of a hill with great views of the various lakes punctuating the city fabric of Udaipur. We had a great view from our room's own little opium den, which was a separate hangout area from the bed. Gretchen looked up what our room would cost if we were to rent it and found it would be $35 per night.
I was delighted to find the room came with a hot water pot and packets of Nescafé. It's amazing how good that looks when one has been starved of caffeine for two days. Right then and there I made myself a cup of coffee, and within minutes I had transformed, Gretchen said, into a completely different person. I'd been miserable on the bus, something everybody could see on my face. But now I was extroverted, energized, and ready to start the evening.
We couldn't get too comfortable because it was time for the next thing: cooking classes and dinner at J's house, which was some distance away across Udaipur. Again, the method of travel was tuk-tuk, and Gretchen and I were happy to climb aboard. Our nephew rode with us as the third passenger.
It wasn't long before we were bogged down in Udaipur traffic. Things were so congested that the driver got out and wandered around, talking with his fellow drivers (Gretchen took the opportunity to fake him out by climbing into the driver's seat and pretending to drive). As we sat there, a group of gray langur monkeys appeared in the trees overhead, and we walked over to see them. Gretchen was particularly delighted to see that there were some babies. But the truth of the matter is that there are always babies.
Eventually I went back to my seat in the tuk-tuk, where I caught a glimpse of a man riding a bicycle who was missing part of the lower half of his face. You see a lot of people riding around without helmets on, and I imagine when they crash the results aren't pretty, particularly when one cannot afford restorative plastic surgery. When traffic started moving in the oncoming lanes (but not ours) some guy on a motorcycle appeared and struck up a conversation with me in passable English. He quickly stated that he was a doctor and that I should visit Jaipur, his hometown. Then he asked for a selfie, so I posed with him as he snapped it on his smartphone.
Once we got moving, the ride was insane. The tuk-tuks seemed to think they had priority over the motorcycles, though the latter were more maneuverable (and had much more when power climbing hills). At some point nearby a motorcycle lightly collided with some other vehicle (either another motorcycle or a tuk-tuk) and there was a sharp clink sound and a couple of sparks. But it was no big deal, and the vehicles just kept on moving.
When we arrived at J's house, we were greeted with flower garlands and shown the way up to the roof, which was where the cooking class would be taking place. But it was more of a party than a cooking class. Someone had set up oil-drum burn barrels and filled them with burning pieces of wood, and the now-familiar bar ensemble of rum and beer had been prepared. Somehow the folks organizing our tour had managed to produce a couple dozen coffee mugs illustrated with a picture of all of posing in front of the Taj Mahal, an event that had happened only six days ago. These were the mugs that we used to drink our beer and rum.
We split into two groups, with one group on the higher part of the roof where the bar and a henna hand-painting artist were, while the other half was down on the lower roof watching the food get prepared. I wasn't in the lower part at first, but eventually our group went down there for the cooking lesson. One of the dishes involved onion paste, chickpea flour, turmeric, a surprising amount of ground-up chilies, and an even more surprising amount of oil (in this case, in an affront to the Queen of Ghanerao, soy oil). The coffee and beer had me feeling punchy and extroverted, and I kept making goofy little comments througout the lesson. Kirstin characterized this as me being a "peanut gallery."
After the lessons were over, it was time to eat, and we did this thali-style. Stainless-steel "teevee dinner" trays were provided, and we each got globs of the things that had been prepared placed in the various sections of our trays. The food was delicious, and, as always, I probably ate too much of it.
This was the first time we'd been in the house of an Indian who wasn't dirt poor, and it was interesting to see what it had and what it lacked. In the bathroom, no compromise had been made in terms of whether to have a western-style commode or an Asian-style hole in the floor (which I'd never seen before). They had both. I quickly discovered that pissing in the hole in the floor made a lot more sense than pissing in a commode. As for the other parts of the house (which I only got glimpses of), things seemed perhaps a big grimier and cluttered than what you'd see in America. But that might've been partly a function of weird color choices made for the wallpaint. (Perhaps a house done in the style of the 1970s would look this way to me too.)
The tuk-tuk ride back to the haveli was yet another delightful adventure. There was less congestion at that later hour, but we still managed to get hung up near a gorgeously-carved Hindu (or perhaps Jain) temple.
In the court of the Ghanerao Queen (with the safron hair covering), s viewed from the "opium den." Also visible are Bess (to her left) and Singhji (to her right). In the foreground is my sister-in-law. Click to enlarge.
Our room in the Ghanerao Castle.
A brown cow seen on the walk out of Ghanerao. Click to enlarge.
A white dog seen on the walk out of Ghanerao. Click to enlarge.
A dog on a cart.
Click to enlarge.
Our bed in Karohi Haveli.
Gretchen with the view from Karohi Haveli.
In a tuk-tuk traffic jam in Udaipur.
At the rooftop party at J's house tonight. On the left are mostly the members of Gretchen's family and on the right are our new friends Bess (whose back is to us) and Savanna.
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