Peppercorn Particulars

We’ve learned a lot about peppercorns during our travels. We went to see peppercorn plantations in Kampot and Kerala. We visited the International Peppercorn Exchange in Kochi. We attended the International Spice Conference in Goa. We’ve blogged about peppercorns regularly, including this dispatch.

We know that we’re not the only ones interested in learning more about delicious peppercorns. After all, who isn’t interested in improving the taste of our food if we can do it with the right peppercorns and a simple twist of the pepper grinder?

Recently we learned that the Kampot Peppercorns further cemented its status among the best peppercorns in the world when it won the coveted Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in the EU. For reference, PGI distinguishes French Champage, Italian Parma Ham, French Gruyere Cheese. Read more about it here, in the Vancouver Sun.

Ida’s Post: Parasailing and Running

Today is my dad’s birthday. We woke up and had croissants for breakfast and oatmeal with cardamom and golden raisins. At 9 o’clock we went to the beach to go parasailing. When we arrived, we had to wait half an hour for the big boat to arrive. We got into a little boat that took us out to the big boat. The waves were huge and we crashed through them. It was crazy!

When we got out to the big boat we got on it and me and my dad went first. We climbed the stairs onto what looked like a helicopter landing pad. We were strapped into harnesses and clipped onto the parachutes’ lines. And then we took off. Taking off was the funnest part. It was like a plane – we started kind of slow and then we just shot up. We circled a couple of times and then were pulled down. In total it was probably about ten minutes. And then it was Mor and Saga’s turn.

We didn’t bring a camera because we were in water. So we don’t have any pictures.

[This is not my dad’s picture, but you get the idea]

Last week in Jaipur there was a six km race that Mor ran. It was associated with the half marathon. While  Mor ran we handed out water. Lots of people wanted to take our picture. We were in the local newspaper. I have no idea what it means, but here is our picture.

And here is Mor at the finish line.

And here are some more shots that my dad took.

Me and my sister handing out water.

The race was really well put together. There was a ton of entertainment including a marching band.

And moustaches.

The Lows

Getting off a train in Delhi’s Nizamuddin rail station is like stepping into a pressure cooker. The crush of passengers leaving the station. Beggars asking for alms. Hawkers clamouring for attention. Taxi drivers and touts, thousands of them, intent on taking travellers to their destinations. And it’s hot.

We have sunny and optimistic dispositions. There’s a lot of room on a trip like ours for something to go wrong and we have a tendency not to dwell on the low points for too long. But that doesn’t mean our journey hasn’t had its challenges.

This morning at breakfast we talked about the most difficult moments of our trip. It’s good to discuss these things. We learn from them. We also learn a lot about each other. The challenges make the good aspects of our trip seem even more positive.


I called a friend yesterday and one of the first things he asked was: “have you had any health issues on your trip?” This is often one of the first things people think about.

Our medical dispatch documents Saga’s case of Shigella (diarrhoea with blood and mucous), acute dehydration and time in the local hospital. While sick she was tethered to the toilet; she literally didn’t leave it for more than five minutes at a time over a 48-hour period. And Louise and I were mostly tethered to her, keeping her company.

The combination of sleeplessness and anxiety is likely the reason why I came down with shingles a week later. Here is shingles: pain across the left side of my face along my facial nerve. The nerve would fire and throb into my neck. My face swelled up and my head felt like it was in a vice. Open sores broke out on my face, ear and forehead. The acute phase of this lasted a week. It was incredibly intense.

We’ve also had the more regular travelers’ illnesses. A weird itchy arm rash sent us to the pharmacy to get antihistamines. Variants of Delhi Belhi have struck from time to time.

When sick, once we’ve figured out what’s wrong, we come up with plans a, b and c to recover. If a plan isn’t working, we escalate to the next. Uncertainty amplifies the distress but we’ve had the great good fortune to have medical consultations with our favourite pediatrician (my father). He diagnosed Shigella and Shingles from 12 time zones away and has guided our treatments. After that, it’s mostly a waiting game.


The girls thought it was scary when the Kampot River jumped its banks. The water levels were higher than the girls are tall. They were worried about the animals. They didn’t know if the flood would last forever.


This trip is largely about time. In Toronto, once work, school, extra-curricular activities, chores, and everything else were accounted for, we were time poor. We didn’t spend enough of it together. We reclaimed our time when we bought a one-way ticket to Cambodia and set out on this adventure.

But once we were time rich, we needed to figure out what to do with it all. It was shocking, in a way, to wake up and realize that we had no office to go to, no school to attend, no play dates. The whole day stretched before us like a blank slate, waiting for us to fill it in new and different and exciting ways. Our daily routine eventually settled into doing three things: we read/learn, we play and we explore (in addition to taking care of the admin of life). Before we got into that routine, however, boredom would sometimes set in. We made it clear that each of us is responsible for our own contentedness. We’re truly happy when we are engrossed in an activity; a book, a game, a sport. Each of us needs to find something that engrosses us. Confronting and embracing boredom in this way has been an important learning experience for us.


We miss aspects of living in Toronto. Our family. Friends and neighbours. Sigurd, our dog. Holidays like Halloween, Valentine’s Day. Playing the piano and violin. Baking. Running. Sidewalks.


Back at home, we’re careful about a lot of safety issues. Take driving; we buy cars based on safety records, wear our seatbelts, change our tires with the seasons. Here, we mostly ride in rickshaws. Often there are no seatbelts in cars. So far we’ve been fine, although we are aware that, an accident here would impose challenges of a higher order than in Toronto, all things being equal. We try not to think about it too much.

When we stepped into the pressure cooker of Delhi’s rail station two days ago, we had come from Agra and had a flight to catch to Goa. Our train was late and we needed a taxi to take us to the airport. I asked an official where the pre-paid taxi stand is and he made a vague, unhelpful gesture to his right. A swarm of taxi drivers insisted the prepaid desk was closed. We didn’t believe them but couldn’t find the prepaid desk. Exasperated, we agreed on a price with a taxi driver, got into the cab and set out for the airport.

We careened out of the airport, speeding, barely missing pedestrians and other cars. The driver began speaking incoherently. The driving was erratic. More close calls with pedestrians. Faster driving. The driver started taking his eyes off the road to talk to us. The girls cowered in the backseat, terrified. Our driver was drunk.

At a red light in the middle of Delhi’s streets, I took the key out of the ignition. Louise and I got the girls onto the sidewalk, unloaded the car. Incredibly, Delhi traffic waited patiently and respectfully while this unfolded. A woman in the back of a Toyota graciously asked if she could take us somewhere. Into her car we piled, grateful. None of us has ever been so relieved to arrive at an airport.

We arrived on time in Goa and are staying near the beach in the north. Gorgeous Goa is the right place to decompress from our Agra trip and this is where we wrap up the India leg of our journey. On Sunday we fly from Mumbai to Cape Town to continue our adventure in South Africa and Botswana.


We’re coffee drinkers and imagine that most of you are too. Our predisposition to coffee has made us more attuned to the milk market, as the only thing better than a coffee is a coffee served with milk.


Upon arriving in India, one is struck by the omnipresence of milk stands. Close to our place in Delhi were booths with the moniker Delhi Milk Scheme. In Jaipur, stands like the one below abound. This one reads, approximately, Jaipur Dairy stall 179. Ghee, milk, curd, lassi. We visit one of these stands every day (located 20 paces from our flat) to buy 1/2 litre bags of delicious 6% fat milk.


In Hindi, “milk” is “doodh”; “worker” is “walla”. The doodh walla is the person who delivers milk, door to door, every morning and afternoon. He travels by bike, motorbike and rickshaw.



The sheer amount of milk and its extensive distribution network came about thanks to the doodh walla,  Dr. Verghese Kurien. Kurien is known as the father of the Indian White Revolution or the architect of Operation Flood.

The White Revolution was a massive agricultural development program that began in the 1950s and transformed India from a milk deficient nation to the world’s largest milk producer, with about 17% of global output in 2010-2011. Over the course of 30 years, the White Revolution doubled the amount of milk available to every Indian. In so doing, it created an important secondary income source for 70 million rural households engaged in dairying. Today, about 80% of milk produced in India is handled in the unorganized sector. There are 133,000 village level dairy co-ops that collect 25 million litres of milk per day.  Even the micro finance people were in on it; a common loan product at Grameen Bank and many of its replicators across South Asia was a “milking cow (or buffalo) loan”. The loan, about USD 200, enables a micro finance borrower to buy a bovine, milk it, then repay the loan with the proceeds of the milk.


And all this talk of milk coincides with Ida’s teeth. She lost one of them this week. Here she is:


Department of Handicrafts

Who’s heard of paper made from cotton and silk? We hadn’t, but a friend mentioned that there are factories in a nearby town called Sanganer that are famous for handmade paper, block printing and ceramics. During our travels, we’ve really enjoyed our visits to factories (e.g., silk and tea factories). Sanganer is located 16 km south of Jaipur. We paid it a visit this week.


The handmade paper factory that we visited buys leftover fabric from a South Indian vest factory and sells mostly to the North American market. It  produces cards, gift wrap, small bags, holiday stars and other decorations. The factory employs 300 to 400 men and women who earn a daily salary of 300 Rupees (approximately CAD 6.00) for an eight-hour shift. People seemed genuinely happy to work there. Factory workers led us through the paper making-process.

Throw the cotton into a slurry and chop into pulp…


Add vegetable-based dyes…


Spread the pulp in sheets. Stack…


Squeeze water out of the paper…


Press once dry

And the final product is ready. 


The paper is beautiful. Colourful, sometimes with bits of flower.


We often receive these bags at stores in North America; few of us probably realize that someone has folded and assembled the bags by hand.



In Sanganer, the technique for block printing textiles with delicate patterns and vibrant colours developed in the 16th or 17th century. The printing blocks are hand cut and can be extremely elaborate (photo below is not mine).


There are currently more than 300 micro, small and medium sized printing enterprises in Sanganer, employing approximately 3,000 artisans. The town received a Protected Geographical Indication in 2010 to preserve the reputation and quality of its block printing work.

Ida and Saga tried their hands with the blocks.  


Meanwhile, one of the artisans completed a table cloth print (see below). Often the blocks are integrated: the first block has the floral design in light purple, almost a pink; the next block adds gold to the interior of the flowers; the final block adds a deeper purple to the flowers. It’s remarkable. Many of the block print artisans have been working for more than 30 years; they are able to place the blocks so accurately that the viewer feels like the beautiful images are the result of a single, multi-coloured massive block that fits the entire textile. 


The block printing site also creates ceramics. Here we got a sense of how some of the designs on the our mugs and vases are hand-painted. Similar to the block print artisans, the ceramics artists have been working their trade for decades. They can confidently sketch intricate patterns freehand. 

Our friend Sania, who joined us on the visit, put it well when she said “hats off to all such artists who give their lives to anonymous creativity”. 


Department of Facial Hair

Lip rug. Flavour saver. Soup strainer. Snot mop. Mouth brow. Call them what you like – we’ve seen a lot of moustaches in India. Below is a selection of some of our favourites. In the comment section, we invite you to vote for the one you like the best and leave a name for your preferred moustache.

Number 1
Number 2


Number 3


Number 4


Number 5


Number 6


Number 7


Number 8


Number 9


 Number 10

 Number 11

Number 12

India ranks in the 10 most moustache dense countries in the world and pogonologists (students of facial hair) have long found it to be a fertile land for research. The moustache, especially in the south, is seen as a sign of virility. Here in Jaipur, Ram Singh Chauman claims to have one of the world’s longest mustaches, measuring a staggering 12 1/2 feet (over 4 meters). He’s been growing it since the 1970s.

The World Beard and Moustache Championships judge moustaches in six categories: the Natural, Dali, English, Imperial, Hungarian and Freestyle moustache. For competition, each category is given a complete description. The English moustache is described thus: Slender. The hairs extend outward from the middle of the upper lip. The tips may be slightly raised. Hairs growing from beyond the corner of the mouth must be shaved. Styling aids permitted.

But the moustache market is changing in India. An AC Nielsen survey conducted in eight major cities in 2009 revealed 83% of Chennai women said that they were more likely to kiss a clean shaven man. Approximately 72% Mumbai women felt the same way. There’s no indication of when a follow up survey will take place. While we wait for the next survey, we’ll tally your responses and report back.

Kites and Forts


Hey kid, go fly a kite!

At times, while we’re walking around Indian cities, we’re struck by the sheer number of kites that are abandoned in trees, stuck to telephone wires, ceded to rooftops. The carnage is everywhere.


Kite flying is an important sport here. Most Indian cities have kite festivals. In Jaipur it takes place the day before school starts (14 January). In Ahmedabad, the site of one of the greatest kite festivals in India, it falls on the day when winter begins to turn into summer (also 14 January). They say that, on the day of the festival, it’s impossible to see the sky for all the kites.

From our quick market research we learned that kite prices start at Rps 4 (about CAD 0.08) for the most basic model. They’re made from lightweight paper and bamboo spars.

Kite running (fighting) is done in many countries but is usually associated with Afghanistan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Fighter kites typically are small kites controlled with a single abrasive string called manja. Manja is string that is gummed and coated with powdered glass. Two fighters, their kites entangled in the sky, try to cut the string of each others’ kite by pulling their own manja. The winner’s kite keeps flying while the loser’s kite, string cut, will drift away in the wind. Children run after cut kites and try to capture them when they fall to the ground.


Rajasthan, literally “King’s Land”, is located in Western India and comprises most of the Thar desert. The  state contains most of what was Rajputana, which consisted of the 20 or so princely states that rose to prominence in the 6th century. Much later, the Mughals controlled Rajputana  when they had a firm grip on Northern India. Eventually the Marathas took control of the area and ruled it for most of the 18th century until they were replaced by the British in 1818.

After independence in 1947, it took several years for many of the desert kingdoms to join the Indian state.    From a security point of view, it was vital to the new Indian Union to ensure that the kingdoms were integrated into the new nation. To sweeten the deal, the princes were granted handsome remuneration in the form of privy purses and privileges. Today, while many of the former princes are still called Maharaja, the title has little power other than status symbol. Many of the Maharajas retain their palaces and have converted them into profitable hotels. Others have found their (profitable) place in politics. The mother of the current Maharaja of Jaipur is a member of parliament, for example.

We visited Amber (pronounced with a silent b) Palace and Jaigarh Fort on Sunday. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, much of the Palace’s current structure was built in the late 16th century. Jaigarh Fort was the main defensive structure and the Fort and Palace are interconnected by a series of encompassing fortifications.

Amber Palace is massive and rises out of the desert.

There is a beautiful garden in a lake in front of the Palace.

Hallways and stairwells and rooftop terraces and passageways abound. The girls led us through them for a long, long time and happily, we got completely lost.

We were looking for an over-the-top royal experience and so we had lunch at the restaurant 1135 AD.  We asked to see the crystal room, where VIPs are invited to dine. Bill Clinton visited last year. Prince Charles has been photographed here, alongside the massive silver hooka.

The girls seemed at home in such lavish surroundings.

Jaigarh Fort is home to the world’s largest cannon on wheels. It fires 50kg cannon balls and must be turned using a team of two elephants. It has only been fired once, as a test.

Up at these dizzying heights, this family of monkeys on the wall with birds in the backdrop reminded us of the kites flown down in the city.

Eye Candy (Part 2)

Five months into this trip, there is a number of photographs that we like but that haven’t made it into any blog posts. Here are some more.

Rickshaws loom large in India.


We like this one of Saga in the cyanotype print studio.


This is a night shot from the hotel I stayed at in Goa during the International Spice Conference. It was dark out but there was enough ambient light to get this (shutter speed ~15s, f 2.0).  We’re going to Goa at the end of February. 


We’re staying at an Airbnb arrangement in Jaipur and the bottom two floors of the house are used for a school. Last week all grades participated in a dance competition. This boy danced in the classical Rajasthani style. Very elegant.