By Chris Devonshire-Ellis and Seema Rani Bhende
Nov. 13 – Following our two articles on the Ten Things in India that You Can’t Get in China and the Ten Things in China that You Can’t Get in India. We now look at the marvelous side of things:
Elephant Traffic Jams
You’re on your way to a meeting, harassed, late, and under pressure. Grabbing a taxi on a hot sweaty day, everything is fine as you cross the big city until… a massive snarl up. It doesn’t go anywhere, and you’re stuck. You have to postpone the meeting, knowing you’re hopelessly late. Getting out of the car to have a look at the cause, half a kilometer up the road you sense a commotion, and in the middle of it, a large bull elephant. He’s devouring the contents of a street side sweet shop, with the shop owner, invariably a Muslim, swearing incantations to Muhammad and the hapless elephant driver, the mahout beating his charge with a long stick of sugar cane. The elephant continues to munch his way through entire packs of coconut goodies and sweet syrupy fried doughnuts. Passersby drop in handfuls of rupees to reimburse the shop owner for the spectacle. You don’t get that on Jianguomenwai Avenue.
Named after Afonso de Albuquerque , this is an exquisite and expensive variety of mango considered the very best in a country with more than 350 different types. Grown mainly around Maharashtra and Southeast Pakistan, this is the veritable “King of the Mango,” made even more succulent by a season that only lasts for a few weeks each spring. Fragrant, delicious, and highly prized, the Alphonso Mango is a world apart from the grotty, unappetizing specimens served in Hainan and marketed across China. In one of my cookbooks, a recipe for chicken and mango curry exists, dating back to 1890 and the days of the Raj. However, it warns “Eating Alphonso Mangos in a curry is not the best way to consume these divine fruit. Far better to eat them naked, in the bath, with your lover.”
Just outside our office in Bandra, Mumbai is the main Linking Road, which is the equivalent of Shanghai’s Nanjing Xi Lu. Expensive boutiques line the street, fantastic restaurants vie for customers and Armani clad executives pound the pathway en route to a meeting, their iPhones permanently glued to the ear. Busy, bustling Mumbai is the country’s modern commercial core. Yet look out for the cow shit. Sacred cattle wander here just as they do everywhere else in India. A nuisance? Yes. Unhygienic? Probably? Accident prone? Definitely. Walking the city streets taking care not to get cow poop on my black polished Churches somehow is a great leveler – I too am ultimately one of the great unwashed and if I’m not careful I’ll get shit on me. Killing a cow in India is punishable by two years in prison. Moo on, my dear bovines, moo on.
Bollywood Dance Tunes
The Aqua Bar and Restaurant, one of the finest in Hong Kong, has a huge screen come down about 11pm on a Friday night just to show a selection of the latest Bollywood film dance moves. Its packed with jiving Indians and Hongkongers. Slumdog Millionaire’s Jai Ho was a massive international dance floor hit after the film won eight Oscars. Indian starlets, usually educated in traditional Indian dance moves, are sensuous in a way that just makes China’s pop stars look wooden and rake thin. Until China can get some techno beats into its classical opera, Indian bollywood music has the market sewn up. Here’s the Jai Ho YouTube clip (not viewable in China) to prove it.
China has tried hard, but oh dear…there’s a little matter of terroir. With maybe the exception of the late, lamented Lou Lan wines from Turpan, the currently available and expensive Deep Blue from Grace Vineyards and the occasional bottle of Tsingtao Chardonnay, China just isn’t up to the mark. India? I hear you query. Chris Patten, the former Governor of Hong Kong, used to serve Omar Kyhham sparkling wine at the Government House. From the foothills of Kashmir, Moet has invested and its now available pretty much everywhere in India, now known as Marquis de Pompadour and very good it is too. Add to that the Merlots, Cabernet Sauvignons and Shiraz that are made well enough by the likes of Tiger Hill, Grover and Sula, and India is streets ahead. My pick? The Sula Dindori Reserva. I once entered a bottle in a wine tasting of over twenty fine reds in Shanghai, competing with Australian, New Zealand, Chilean and other New World wines. It came third, and the raising of eyebrows extended all the way to the top of the Peace Hotel lightening conductor.
Both India and China are well known for their delectable and savory cuisine, albeit Indian food is not nearly as adventurous in terms of meat preparations as Chinese food is; it would be rare to find chicken feet or pig tongue served in a haveli or road-side dhaba. While both cuisines are considered mouth-watering by many, Indian food is full of an array of colorful spices such as yellow tumeric, dark brown garam masala, orange paprika, red chili powder, black rye seeds, light brown crushed coriander and dried green mint – the list is simply endless. Most Chinese cuisine has a base of ginger, garlic and scallions and the use of a soy or oyster sauce for flavoring. Sichuan food is well-known for its peppery, thirst-quenching spice, but the flavor is brought mainly through peppercorn spice. Indian cuisine simmers for hours in an array of spices creating deep, thick red gravies and every Indian housewife or cook has a stainless steel container known as a daba that holds several spices in small round bowls. A picture of a daba can be seen here.
Adventurous Transportation Options
While many marvel at the modernized infrastructure of China and the vast availability of green-fueled buses, subways and clean taxis with air conditioning, the more adventurous traveler will enjoy the array of options for transport in India. While cars are widely used and more cities are introducing metro-rail systems, on any given village street in India one can find the following:
• Rikshaw – a mode of human-powered transport where a runner draws a two-wheeled cart which seats one or two persons; it is not metered and requires up front negotiation on trip cost.
• Auto rickshaws – similar to the traditional rikshaw, but is motorized with a meter; be careful to cover your mouth and eyes with a handkerchief to avoid the dust.
• Bicycles and Scooters – still one of the most common forms of transport; its amazing to see an entire family of five riding on one bike – a common sight – India has yet to pass baby seat requirement laws.
• Bull rickshaws – on the countryside it is very common to see farmers using bulls, mules or large cows to transport crops. You will often see a thin farmer on the top of a large stack of sugar cane or some other crop using a whip to encourage the slow animal to move faster.
• Packed buses – it is with amusement that many tourists marvel at how Indians often hang off the sides of buses and sometimes cling to other passengers to ride. Using the city buses of India takes boldness and courage and it is advisable that young women avoid them in order to not be subjected to unwanted groping and touching from other male passengers. Pictures can be seen here with another great image here.
Value of 1 Rupee
The purchasing power of one kuai in China has greatly dimished as the country moved on economically. India, however, with a more fluctuating currency against the dollar and a lower purchasing power parity still has many good uses for one rupee which currently the equivalent of about 2 U.S. cents. For one rupee a person could more or less buy the following:*
• Roadside hand-crushed lemonade to quench the thirst of a hot day
• Paan – the traditional palate cleanser and breath freshener of India; the chewing Betel leaf (Piper betle) is taken with areca nut.
• A shoe-shine or buff, likely by a young slum dweller at a train station
• Make a one minute local phone call
• Store your shoes at a temple or religious site
• Idli (traditional South Indian rice patty) or small samosa (deep fried dumplings with potatoes and peas)
*These prices are reflective of rural/village areas
7 Star Luxury
Both China and India have beautiful tourist attractions and historical sites. India, however, has become famous for its multitude of seven star hotels. These seven star hotels may actually have five star status but they go above and beyond in terms of service, quality and architectural beauty. Frequent international travelers always discuss how opulent and lavish luxury hotels are in India. These hotels typically have high staff to guest ratios to ensure service is impeccable and amenities may include personal butlers, yoga instructors, tour guides to name a few. Exquisite cuisine is always found at these hotels with the most high-end of interior design. Even if you cannot afford the US$500/night plus costs of these hotel rooms, it is advisable to at least eat a meal or use the bathrooms there just to get a taste for the luxury offered. Some of our favorite Indian hotels include:
• Uday Vilas, Udaipur (the third best hotel in the world according to recent reports)
The traditional British system of good manners, respect for hierarchy and formality around titles very much lingers in modern India. Likewise, the notion of chivalry and being a gentleman are pervasive in the society. Given the ever present force of Bollywood, love stories and romance, a woman in India can rely on a man to hold the door open for her, help her out of her car, or carry her things when her hands are full. Likewise, she will be referred to as “Madam” in most situations when someone is helping her in a store, restaurant or salon. In China, you can barely get someone to give you a helping hand if you fall or trip. The individual contributor mentality of China and culture acceptance of people spitting and cleaning their nose at any time or place, dims the light on romance. While the Chinese culture should be applauded for supporting equality among men and women, more Chinese men should no there is no harm in helping a woman with her coat or into her chair. In a Chinese hotel or five-star restaurant, you do receive some degree of attentiveness from staff, but usually unless you belt out fuwuyuan (waiter) you will likely sit with a grumbling stomach. India places a high standard on customer service, flirtation and fortunately, chivalry is not dead.