Roadtripping India Style

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I had three obsessions as a teenager: 1. Jon Bon Jovi (judge me I know) 2. Cross Country Skiing 3. The Himalayas.   With regards to the latter, I read every possible book I could get my hands on about original expeditions to the world’s most lofty peaks, I did physiology papers on altitude sickness and when it came my turn to dream a class trip – I thought that an Everest base camp expedition was perfectly reasonable (in the end we opted for the White Mountains in New Hampshire).

When I found out that we were moving to hot and hectic Delhi I reasoned that a weekend trip to the Himalayas (only 330 km away) would be no different than a trip up to cottage country – heck we could escape the city for fresh mountain air any time we wanted.  I could drive to the snow to go cross-country skiing of course, while listening to some JBJ. All of my past obsessions would be happily realized on these weekly roadtrips.  But then I arrived in India. I lived in India.  I realized that, well, this is India (T.I.I), and that everything I knew, or thought I knew no longer applied.

Right hand drive, standard driving is challenging.  Right hand drive, standard driving with two toddlers in the back seat is even more challenging. Right hand drive, standard driving with two toddlers on crazy mountain roads, some covered with snow and ice,  is well…crazy. But really, it sounded like the dream Christmas vacation. We’ll have snow! We’ll have fresh air! Maybe we can go skiing! We’ll build snowmen and drink hot chocolate.  We won’t have to deal with airport delays or airport lines.  I convinced my husband who wanted a beach vacation in Thailand. Off we went. And this is what I learned.

I have to go peeEEE – Hello! Your amazing, incredible toddler has been toilet trained for a week.  Shutting her up in a car seat for 10 hours is torture, especially when you need to consider that their ain’t no roadside pit stops. Amazing how adaptable an almost 2 year old can be when faced with adversity. Squat toilets. Check. No toilets. Check.  Except when she gets sassy and realizes that saying “I need to go pee” whether or not it is infact true, is the quickest ticket out of her car seat. Don’t think I didn’t catch on after 7 hours.

The GPS is wrong. Always. The quickest way out of New Delhi is not via Old Delhi. I don’t care if it is the shortest distance.  Dodging rickshaws and donkeys, goats and barbers slows you to a crawl no matter the day or time.

Classic Old Delhi

When we left Chandigarh for Manali at 9AM, the GPS showed us getting there at 2PM.  We’ll get in by 3 I exclaimed with glee, thinking that my hour of extra time was more than sufficient.  At 3PM we were a little over half way.  At 6:30 we had 5 km left.  We arrived at 730 and no we didn’t make a wrong turn.  Of course on our return when the GPS said the same thing I told myself that it would be much faster “going downhill” and not hitting Manali traffic at “tourist rush hour”.  Whaddya know. It still took almost 10 hours.

The Roadside Dhabas serve two flavours spicy and too spicy. Indian food is delicious and if it weren’t for the copious amounts of weight I’d gain, I’d eat it all the time! Our kids are troopers and can handle quite a bit of spice. We stopped at “Raja’s” for lunch. The place was hopping and a waiter hurried about serving up steaming plates of dhal and naan dripping with ghee.  He had one look at the kids and offered helpfully “Dal Makini and something like a Paneer Korma” – “perfect for the kids. Not spicy”.  I was about to offer helpfully that our kids could handle a little spice, and thought better of it.  The plates arrived and we were hungry. I dove in. Rob dove in. The kids had their spoons inches from their mouths before they started writhing in too much spiciness. According to their refined palates event the naan was too spicy. Luckily Lays Sour Cream and Onion chips are easy to find, filling, and provide 30 full minutes of driving entertainment value.

You can never be quite sure whether you are on a 2, 3 or 4 lane highway – or even what way traffic is supposed to go.   When I hear of a national highway, I think of multilanes traveling at 100km an hour plus.  Moving a diverse population across an even more diverse country takes tremendous patience, drive and creativity. Spread across what would be a two way highway in Canada would be an Orange-Walla selling from a roadside stand, a man driving a donkey kart, a tuk tuk, a tractor, a Mercedes and a few Maurtis and Mahindras. Perhaps if all traffic was going in the same direction it wouldn’t be too bad.  But – this is India! You’ve got to get to where you want to go, even if it means pulling a “u-ee” or going in the opposite direction.  It’s slow, but there is no denying it works!

You can spend hours contemplating truck art. After 30 hours of driving, I still hadn’t figured out what “use your dipper at night means”.  Luckily, this fabulous blog helped me  decipher all the clues I’d spent the ride contemplating (between praying to arrive home safe, and yelling at Rob to avoid a tuk-tuk, donkey or rickshaw).  According to: http://designmind.frogdesign.com/blog/horn-ok-please.html  using your horn isn’t enough, and you need to flash you “dipper” aka high beams before passing.  The blog goes onto explain: “First, you flash your dipper at the truck. When the truck turns on his left or right turn signal that means it’s safe to pass on that side.” That brings me to my next point.

Forget everything you learned at driving school (or in my case from my dad). T.I.I. As a diligent and polite Canuck driver, I use my turning signal even when no one is behind me. Sometime, I’ll even signal when I’m just at a bend in the road (don’t believe me?…ask my dad who watched me drive away one night only to call me 5 minutes later and ask what the hell I was doing signaling at a bend in the road”) and I’d never leave my driveway without signaling. As night fell in the Himalayas, and my driving stress level rose I peered anxiously into oncoming traffic. After spending enough time at 20KM an hour contemplating the truck art, and when the honking from the row of cars behind me was enough, I’d get the courage to make a pass. Carefully I’d put my signal on, and pull out into the half lane, conscious of the cliff and the icy rivers below, and wondering how much time I had before the kids had an ultimate melt-down.  It wasn’t until a day later, after realizing that the only time i saw someone use their turning signal was to indicate the coast was clear for passing, that I realized I’d been sending the wrong messages.

Next time, I think we’ll take the train.

Zucchini Chai Independence Day Cake

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Well hello blog! It has been forever….so long in fact I wondered whether I should keep this thing active.  We are enjoying a long weekend in celebration of India’s 68th year of independence.  Since it is kinda a birthday….and my kids kinda like birthday cake, and singing Happy Birthday, I set out to create a Canada-Meets-India Birthday Cake so I settled on a Zucchini Chai Cake.  And oh yah, since there is lots of zucchini in this cake, you can eat it for breakfast too. Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone.

Oh – and I do apologize about the food photography. Baking with a 19-month-old is a challenge in itself. Taking photos at the same time usually ends up in a fight for the camera..a fight that I tend to loose.

A photo posted by Nicole Lunstead (@cardamomma) on

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grated zucchini with peel, put in strainer and pressed to remove some moisture
  • 2 small eggs (note the eggs in India are small, so you may just need one large egg here)
  •  2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1-1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup plain yoghurt (dahi)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2-1/2 cups maida flour (or all purpose will do).
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • a sprinkle of freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg

A photo posted by Nicole Lunstead (@cardamomma) on

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites until they are frothy. Whisk together the oil, sugar, yoghurt and vanilla. Add the grated zucchini and mix to combine.

In a small bowl mix together the remaining dry ingredients.  Incorporate into the large bowl and mix until just combined.

Lightly grease, or line a 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper. You could also split this between two loaf pans, or use a deep round pan.  Pour the  cake batter into the prepared dish and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Put on a wire rack to cool.

Cream Cheese and Yoghurt Glaze

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 package cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups icing sugar
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • cinnamon for sprinkling on top.

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and cream cheese until smooth.  Add  the vanilla and mix until incorporated.  Slowly add two cups of icing sugar,once incorporated add the remaining icing sugar and mix to combine.  Add yoghurt 1 tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the desired mixing consistency.  Beat the glaze for a minute or two.  Spread over warm cake so it soaks in a touch and sprinkle with cinnamon.

A photo posted by Nicole Lunstead (@cardamomma) on

Delhi Delights – Dastkar Nature Bazaar

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It is hard to believe we’ve been living in Delhi for 6 months, and it is starting to feel like home. Delhi is unlike anywhere – anywhere. It is chaotic. It is crazy. It is vibrant. It is diverse. It is an assault on the senses and an encyclopedia in juxtapositions. I can’t claim to understand it any better today than I did when I arrived, or even when I visited 7 years ago. In 2.5 years when the time comes to say goodbye, I will still be scratching my heard and tripping over my words about what best to stay about Delhi. The normal has become abnormal, and the abnormal has become everyday. I don’t blink an eye when I see a family of 6 riding helmetless on their motorcycle, or, a cow munching grass and blocking traffic in front of DLF Emporio – one of the most luxurious malls in the country claiming brands such as Jimmy Choo, Burberry,Versace, and Gucci. But, today I realized something. Amongst the madness and the chaos, the cows and the tuks-tuks, the chai-wallas and men peeing on the streets, there are big bits of Delhi that I really truly love, and I haven’t been telling you about them. I hit up two of them today, (can we say post Valentine’s day -husband we’re going shopping bribery?!?) so I thought, time to start sharing. Let’s start with my first Delhi Delight –


Dastkar Nature Bazaar (shopping)
Show me some love: Dastkar brings together artisans and craftspeople from across India to showcase their amazing work and sell to the shopping-addicted. As Dastkar claims “the urban consumer is exposed to the incredible, range, variety and richness of the unique craft traditions and styles of handlooms and handcrafts from the many regions across the states of Indian…and seeks to establish a mutual respect and appreciation between craft consumer and craftsperson through this direct interaction” Translation – you get awesome, unique stuff, and your purchase directly (and positively) impacts craftspeople across India. The prices are very reasonable as well!

 

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Where in the world: The bazaar is located at Kisan Haat, Andheria Modh, near Chhathapur Metro Station, New Delhi. As it can be a bit of a trek across town, I recommend heading out on the weekend, when you have less traffic to battle, which leaves you more time to shop. For more information: http://www.dastkar.org/ or their facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/dastkarsociety

When: Do check out Dastkar’s webpage/facebook page as although there is a permanent stand of stalls, many of them come and go. There are several two week bazaars throughout the year including the Basant Bazaar, Winter Weaves, Nature Bazaar, Fun Fest etc., Each session features different types of crafts and themes…so you have no choice but to check out all of them.I have, and they have all been awesome.

Treasures: I have picked up everything from beautiful hand-painted Rajasthani puppets, to handmade soaps, to carpets, to jewellery, to laundry baskets, clothing, to toys, to plants, to kids arts and crafts sets, to spices. And I have been oh so in love with everything.

 

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Bring along or leave behind: This is a wonderful and very family friendly place to shop. The stalls are colourful, and there is a center stage, which Max loves to hop around on. The fun fest featured giant paper mache puppets hugging the kids, and there are always great snacks to be found at the food stalls. The crowds – at least around 11 when it usually opens are just fine, and it is even quite stroller friendly. And, did I mention, there is often great entertainment ranging from music to dancers, to puppet shows.

A little music while shopping

 

 

 

 

My life is the sum of my purse.

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A year ago I was 38 weeks pregnant, waiting for the arrival of little miss Freya,  writing about what was in my hospital bag and cursing Rob for disappearing in the hight of winter with a broken furnace and plummeting temperatures. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but life was calm, quiet and easy. That I actually had time to blog tells me how much life has changed for the chaotic. Enter Freya. Enter India.

Today, as I was rushing home from work my hand reached into my purse.  I  must have been looking for my Blackberry as it had probably been about 90 seconds since I checked it, and god knows what earth-shattering emails I might have gotten in the 90 seconds I wasn’t glued to the screen.  I pulled out a pile of random crap – and it hit me, fast forward 1000 years in the future and some archealogist/anthropologist might discover my purse and perfectly deduct every aspect of my life. Forget Facebook and the Internet….the odds and ends that are encapsulated in my purse are all anyone needs to place together the clues pointing to a frazzled and busy working mom who loves to travel (but am wondering if I will ever take a trip with the kids again given our current pukes per trip (PPT) average) and tries to fool the world into thinking that she doesn’t show up to work with smooshed bananas on her pants and mysterious goober on her shirt.

1. Diapers. Yep.  There’s two. A large and a medium – one for each kid, but both could probably work for either in a crunch.  Who knows how long they’ve been there – but one day, when I do need them, I will experience the pure joy knowing that I was too lazy to take them out of my purse.

2. A wipe….a used wipe. A wipe with mysterious brown guck that I really hope is chocolate (not that I would bribe my kids with chocolate…).  It could probably be reused if we really found ourselves in a desperate situation. There is a second less usable wipe that should probably make it’s way to the garbage right now.

3.  Dinky cars. Like really? What 30-something doesn’t keep dinky cars in her purse? Next time a meeting gets boring, I’ll just whip them out and start flying them off the end of the table. Max would approve….well as long as Mommy gets the yellow one.

4. Tupperware with missing lids (so replaced by saran wrap) which once had protein powder in it. Some days, between sneaking chocolate and glasses of wine I try to be healthy.  Sometimes I even make it to the gym. Really! Like two weeks ago.  The missing lid tells you that my mornings are too chaotic to even being to try and make a match.

5. Business Cards. Self explanatory….I might forget who I am.

6. Three containers of lip gloss. I never wear lip gloss. I want to wear lip gloss. I have every intention of wearing lip gloss. Sometimes I put it on in the morning and think that I’ll reapply at some opportune moment before heading into a meeting during the day and throw it into my purse.  The lip gloss never leaves my purse, and a week later I have the same intention and so the years of lip gloss containers in my bathroom make their way into my purse, never to see the light of day until one morning, I have no more lip gloss in my bathroom, so I empty my purse of lip gloss and the vicious circle begins again.

7. Boarding Pass from our trip to Leh. I’d say it is a reminder of a wonderful trip, but these days I can’t remember the last trip that we went on that no one puked….the reality is it is just another piece of paper waiting to be filed or make its way to the garbage and a reminder of the dreams I still have of a puke free vacation.

8. Blackberry/IPhone. When I haven’t misplaced them – I am thrilled to find them in my purse. They double as child entertainment.

9. Random Rupees.  Living in India, I’ve had to adjust to using cash.  As such, I tend to stockpile rupees in every nook and cranny.  It comes in handy, especially when I realize I’ve been carrying my purse around all day, and my….

10. Wallet is no where to be found. Yep. I think this is the defining description of my scattered life right now. I carry my purse full of dinky cars and diapers, rupees and lipgloss, and I only noticed as I started to write this post that my wallet is nowhere to be found.

A photo posted by Nicole Lunstead (@cardamomma) on

Flying Solo

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The house is quiet, and I’m not quite sure what to do with myself (hence the blog post). After flying from Vancouver to Delhi via London I am in a jet-lagged fog. Should I be sleeping or staying awake? eating breakfast or dinner?  I compromised and ate dessert, gobbling up two pieces of pie and swearing that I’ll wake up early and jog tomorrow. 

Every time I’ve flown with the kids I’ve dreamed of what flying used to be like.  No juggling passports and bottles, babies and ipads going through security; having enough hands to grab a coffee and read a book; closing my eyes and catching a few hours of sleep and browsing the way too expensive duty free shops; the freedom of going to the washroom without juggling a baby and a backpack, not having the look  from my fellow passengers as they see us hobbling down the too narrow aisle bumping into knees and elbows, their eyes pleading “please don’t let that baby and toddler sit anywhere near me” and their disappointment when we do.  

A month ago if you’d asked me what I wanted more than anything I would have said a full night sleep and a day to myself.  Without the kids, the house is eerily quiet, my clothes stay too clean, and I am missing sweet snuggles. 

Rob is flying back later this week with both kids. I wonder if he realizes how lucky he is…

 

Max the Master Chef

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If I had all the time in the world, I’d spend a lot more of it writing and blogging and taking pictures.  Yes – about two years back, I had novel writing ambitions that got put on the back burner, where the flame is still slowly burning. I had a few minutes on my mat leave (between packing boxes and preparing for the big move to India)  that I though I might pick it up again, but didn’t want to put the pressure on myself to write when there was so much craziness going on. So I made a compromise. I decided to write a book for Max’s birthday present. It wasn’t quite done for his birthday, and he couldn’t care less about it, but I’m a wee bit proud, so thought I would share it here.

Since I can’t even draw stick figures I used Topaz Simplify (the most amazing program) to turn my photos into illustrations  and self published with Blurb– and also recruited the help of a very talented young lady in a class that my grandfather was volunteering with.

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Here is a link to the final book on Blurb

The PDF version:

I would love to hear your thoughts on it (minus the fact I failed in some of my proof reading🙂

Five things I learned while jogging in Delhi today

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Sometimes I need a goal to get my butt into gear.  Having had to take a very long break from running after Freya’s birth, now what better way to get back into it than with the Delhi Half Marathon – http://www.procamrunning.in/adhm/.

Luckily the race organizers heard that I am in pretty bad shape and moved it back a few weeks giving me more time to train – so it is now set for December 15th.

As today  is  Gandhi Jayanti –  Gandhi Ji’s birthday, and national holiday in India  (and as a side note the United Nations has also declared October 2nd, the international day for non-violence) we had the day off work. In honour of Gandhi Ji’s values,  this festival is celebrated through mostly quiet ceremonies unlike many of India’s bright and vibrant festivals.

Why not head out for my long run which I’ve been completely avoiding I though – no excuses. The temperature has started to cool to a balmy 30 degrees celsius (I am seriously jealous of sweater weather in Canada) . Except – running in Delhi is well….running in Delhi. I tried the treadmill thing. Oh I tried. I put the T.V on, I tried to read on my kindle while bouncing up and down and got motion sickness, I tried to rock out to Bon Jovi. I lasted about 15 minutes on the treadmill. There is simply no way I can train for the big day on the treadmill – so I figured I had to head outside.

So far, my runs have been in nearby Nehru Park on a 2.6km loop. It is close, and lovely, but…it is only 2.6km. I run on the wrong side of the trail, watch the yoga workouts, and people of all sorts getting into shape.  Today though, I needed something different. I glanced at the map, and though Buddha Jayanti park sounded good. Off I went.  And i learned a few things.

5. Expect the unexpected.

After only 6 weeks in Delhi, I am in constant amazement at the incredible diversity in this city. Every corner offers a new sight, the abnormal has become normal and the normal has become bizarre.  Families that at home wouldn’t fit in a mini-van, pile helmet-less on a  bajaj motorbike while SUVs and Audis zoom by.  Piles of garbage are next to the most beautiful of flowers. Sweet smells mingle with the not so sweet.   Just when you think traffic is going in one direction, you see a vehicle, or cow, going the opposite way. When you are on a lovely side walk, it ends.   Delhi is a feast for the eyes,  and a long run is sure to provide hours of endless entertainment – just watch where you are stepping…

4.  I’m terrified of monkeys.

I thought, that I thought, monkeys were cute little creatures. Apparently, I’m terrified of them, and not putting on a brave face terrified, but sweaty running girl hiding behind much calmer Delhiites assuring me “yah theek hai” as we traverse the sidewalk they’ve taken over.  That was episode 1. Episode 2 involved 2 monkeys chasing each other (at mock speeds) across traffic straight in my direction.  I stood glued and declared a way too loud  “oh shit” as I was sure I was done for.

3.  Bring Water, money, phone, DUH!

I’d planned on going for an hour. I’d not planned on getting lost. I hadn’t planned on my knee seizing up about 12km in (of what turned into a 19km run and having to walk much of it). All of this might have been a tad less stressful if I’d had the foresight to bring water, money, my phone. Duh!

2.  Sometimes it is ok to go back the way you’ve came.  

One of many complexes I have is never going back the way I’ve came.  With so many new sights and smells in every direction, why would I want to see something I’ve already seen ( and face the monkeys again?!).  So, when the run is starting to be an hour longer than I planned, most people with half an ounce of common sense would follow the path back to their destination. Nope, not me.  If I did that, I might miss something. So in this city of curving streets and crazy traffic circles, I thought I’d let my exquisite sense of direction guide me. It could have been worse – it could have been much worse. It was just bad enough for me to realize that sometimes, it is ok to go back the way you’ve come.

1. Delhi is not a running city, but amongst the chaos there are oases of calm.


Delhi is a surprisingly green city.  Many nooks and crannies have beautiful parks, some with even marked running tracks, children playing cricket, and all-types of people doing every-type of exercise imaginable.  These parks make great running destinations. Getting there though, as I learned today, is not always so easy.  When I finally found my destination,  I had about as much energy left to turn my head, and put it on my mental map to return to in the future.  As strange as it seems, if you are heading to a park to run, take a tuk tuk -even if it is just a few kms away – especially if you haven’t been there before .  This way, your time can be spent focusing on your workout, not fearing for your life as the side walk ends and you are jogging on the side of a 2 lane road, with 4 cars across and breathing in a wide range of noxious fumes which probably isn’t great for your health.

In honour of Delhi, but unfortunately not from today’s adventures – here are a few photos.


Exercising in Lodhi Garden

 

Old Delhi Craziness

Old Delhi Craziness