Diwali – festival of light and dressing up

Location: Right now, Jodhpur, but this post is about Udaipur

Hotel: Discovery Hotel

You need to understand that everything you are about to read is not only true, but happened in a single day on Diwali, Sunday October 30 2016.

My time in Udaipur had been fun – hmmm should I write this in the past tense or pretend and write in the present tense?

Speaking of which, the past, the present and the future walked into a bar.  Things got a little tense.

So…my time in Udaipur had been fun.  Five days in one place is a good amount of time to get to know it and some people a bit.

This is Kailash and his son outside their shop.


I can’t quite remember how we met – though I am sure it was something like ‘come into my shop, buy something for your wife’ – but we had become good ‘friends’ over a few days.  We would sit and talk and drink chai with no pressure to buy – am I repeating myself from the last post? No matter.  Keep that thought in mind, it leads to something awesome, but I will tell the day as it more or less happened.

Lots of places have Cooking Class signs and after trying to do one that didn’t happen, I found another.  I can’t speak for you, but when we cook Indian food, while it is good, the regular lament is why can’t we make it as good as (whatever) restaurant? This is something up with which I need no longer put.

Three hours, cooking 10 dishes, for R1,000 ($20) was a good deal from Vijay Singh.  The plan was to meet at his spice shop at 1000hrs on Sunday and he would take me to his home where his wife would whip me into culinary shape. Ominously, he urged me to come hungry.

That night Francois and 12 friends from the hostel where he was staying came to my hotel for dinner at the rooftop restaurant.  I told him about the class and he instantly said yes.  My kind of guy!

Three of us on a motor bike headed to Vijay’s house stopping along the way for extra supplies (Francois was a surprise addition) and a box of sweets as a gift for the family.


Chappati pan – I want one!

Tina was delightful.  She and Vijay have two daughters and along with brothers, parents etc there are 13 people living in the house. We get started and the door is closed ostensibly to keep the other kids out (hold this thought too), her kids are in the room with us kind of helping, in a kid way.


Tina spoke just enough English to know how to joke and take a joke that the 3 hours were so much fun and laughter they whipped by.  She told us the ‘secret’ of Indian cooking and I am going to share it with you.  It isn’t hard: 7 spices.

The seven essential spices - plus some

Note the spice tin with the 7 spices?  Every kitchen has this.  Starting from the middle, then clockwise from top left: cumin seeds, salt, garam masala, turmeric, coriander powder, chilli powder, anise seeds.  Then outside the spice tin: ginger paste, garlic paste, onion paste, dessicated coconut, kasturi methi, something else 🙁 , lemon salt and in the big container, chick pea flour.


Bindi masala

Basically almost all Indian food is a combination of the 7 essentials, easy huh?  The ’10 dishes’ was a bit of an oversell, one of them being chai, but since I am a convert I don’t really mind.  There was also veg pakora, bindi (okra) masala, palak paneer (spinach and cheese), khichdi (veg rice),  stuffed paratha, plain paratha, chappati, malai kofta and rice pudding.


Malai kofta with chapatis and plain paratha

Wasn’t it a good thing we came hungry?  Because by the end I could hardly move I was so full.  Lots of notes were taken and hopefully I can recreate this at home.

Remember that thought I told you to hold, no not the one about the shop, the one about Tina cooking and how playful she was?  Vijay came back to pick us up, the 3 hours had stretched to 3 1/2 or so.  As soon as he walked in the door Tina was a changed woman.  The spark had gone, she hardly said another word to us. Vijay took over and showed us rice pudding.

Francois and I both commented on it (to each other) and think the real reason the door was closed was so she could be herself without prying family eyes.  It was remarkable.


Francois getting even more full

It’s now about 2PM and the final stages of the India wide Diwali cleaning frenzy are in full swing.  We are both so stuffed we head back to our hotels to sleep it off.

Another Dream Heaven Hotel balcony sunset and I head out into the street for Diwali excitement and to be honest, it is a bit underwhelming.  There is only a few fireworks, not a lot of people around.  Kailash explains that people are at home doing puja and it will be big later.  I take his word for it.


I drop around to the hole in the wall that is the bhang shop and spend R50 on a ball the size of a macadamia nut.  It is mixed with lemon juice and flavouring and due to the peer pressure of others wanting the single cup, I throw it down.  Another thought for you to hold as you meet the bhang wallah with his product.


This is 100% legal in India

Remember the thought I first asked you to hold (all these thoughts could get confusing, no matter), I wander back to Kailash’s shop and he explains they are waiting for a holy man to do puja and invites me to join them if I would like.  Are you kidding?  This is a rare opportunity and a real honour (as far as I am concerned) and we convene at the back of his shop when holy man arrives.

Some mansplaining: like I said, I regarded this as a privilege and an honour to attend.  It is a rare treat for a tourist I am sure.  So when you read my humorous/cynical observations, please keep them in a context of respect for the ceremony. Please.

I was invited to sit on the floor with Kailash and his wife, but I don’t do floor sitting well and sitting on a bench was fine.  Unfortunately it meant I was a little out of the inner circle, but given my assumption that this wasn’t going to be very long, no big deal. Hah!  India!

I don’t speak Hindi and it seems a lot of negotiating between the holy man and the family was taking place.  I would have thought that the protocol was laid down and quite fixed given the ceremony is very old. But I just made all that up and will never know for sure.

Aside: on the bus to Jodhpur I met a young American bloke named Jack who has been here a couple of months and can speak conversational Hindi…I was most impressed.  He has given me the key to learning how to read Hindi.  Of course I won’t know what it means.

Back to Puja. Please join me for a few minutes of what took place and be thankful I thought to rotate my camera so quickly or your neck would be worse than mine.

Hindu gods must be particularly hard to please, as this ceremony went on for a bum numbing length of time, about an hour.  There were numerous rituals involving water, rice, statues, coconuts and other things.  A lot of time would be spent constructing a balanced pile of items, a bit of water would be dribbled over it and it would be deconstructed.  I do hope one of the millions of gods was pleased.

The bhang had snuck up on me so I was torn between how amazing the ceremony was and how long it kept going.  I was deeply aware of how spiritually deep and significantly important it all was.  It was good bhang.


And then Kailash’s mobile phone rang in his pocket.  Since he was sitting cross legged on the floor it wasn’t easy to get at and the fact that he, his wife and his son were all trying might have made it more difficult.  The holy man didn’t miss a beat.

Then a customer came into the shop that son had to deal with.  Other interactions kept happening,  photos were OK, distractions didn’t matter, people got up and sat down. I realised that while the ceremony was important for business, it wasn’t all that intense at all.  While not convinced that appealing to any god helps, I do hope it brings Kailash and his family good fortune in their business.  It was an amazing experience and an opportunity that only came out of my “meet the locals” mission during the trip.

By now the streets of Udaipur, in fact the whole of India, is going off in both the “having a good time” sense and the fireworks. In various dispatches I have mentioned the incredible crackers that are known, quite justifiably, as bombs.

Please allow me to introduce you to Rusty Bomb.  As you will see, they are a little cube of death, wound with string and glue.  They cost R5 each and millions (not kidding) are set off over a few days.

I am not exaggerating when I say that they would blow your hand off, I am not sure the video really conveys how powerful they are.  Maybe my reaction gives a hint.

Notice the guy trying to grab it from me? The young guys are really wound up, they are setting them off one after another and you truly need to have your wits about you walking around.  More than once I warned a passerby who wasn’t aware of how close they were to one about to explode.  Fortunately the bombs give off a bright flare for a few seconds before they go off, I like to imagine this is a warning, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that isn’t the intention at all.

It was some time around when the video was taken that I was truly scared for a moment.  It is not unusual for a guy to be lighting a bomb and someone will toss another right behind him – hilarious!  I was videoing one being lit and found myself standing with 2 or 3 going off around me – maybe I was the target of a joke – and I shat myself, really!, quickly withdrawing to safety from then on.

By now I was truly getting my R50 worth of altitude adjustment.  In retrospect the macadamia nut sized ball might have been substituted with a marble sized ball.


While I have focussed on the fireworks, there is a more gentle side to Diwali and there are undeclared bomb free zones. It is the Festival of Light, one of the biggest festivals and the closest equivalent would be Christmas.  In windows and on doorsteps all over are ghee candles twinkling in the night.  People are dressed up and parading, handing out sweets and wishing each other Happy Diwali.


Not withstanding the imagined safe zones, the streets were feeling a little dangerous and I was also aware I wasn’t seeing the full effect of the rockets so I retreated to the O’Zen restaurant tower for a meal and the view.  I might have been having trouble walking steadily too.

And what a view!  I was looking over Udaipur as a non stop volley of crackers and rockets erupted and seemingly kept going.  Another couple was on the tower with me and at one point the guy commanded MORE! to the world and the world responded.  Bigger rockets, more of them, everywhere.

Imagine every fireworks display you have ever seen, add them together, multiply it by 1,000 and you get the idea.  Remember that this isn’t Udaipur City Council (if there is such a thing) putting on a display.  We are talking about crowd sourced amazingness from people who have visited the fireworks market.  I tried to video the night and it was so pathetic I am not even going to show you.

Instead, because putting on your Diwali finest is part of the featival, here is a fashion sampler from Sunday night and Monday.

These guys told me they are with the chamber of commerce.

These guys told me they are with the chamber of commerce.







The cows are dressed up as well

The cows are dressed up as well

I hope you get a bit of an idea of Diwali.  I have now ticked off 2 of the 3 major Indian festivals (Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi), maybe next year Navratri. 😛


This was a single day in my travelling life.  No wonder as I pass the half way mark it feels like I have been here for months.

Enjoy a few more photos from Udaipur before we move on to Jodhpur. Today I am going back to the local baoli, 10 minutes walk from the hotel.









Not a great photos, but these girls playing a card game in the middle of the crazy market (above) was captivating.

Not a great photo, but these girls playing a card game in the middle of the crazy market (above) was captivating.


I needed a notebook for the cooking class, spoiled for choice in this shop

I needed a notebook for the cooking class, spoiled for choice in this shop




4 Replies to “Diwali – festival of light and dressing up”

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