Eating my way through Jordan – A Day in Amman

Up until last month my travels through the Middle East had been restricted to the airports of some of the bigger cities there – Dubai, Doha, and Abu Dhabi – when flying back and forth between the US and Delhi during my 3 years of grad school. But earlier this month I got an opportunity to visit Jordan and it became my window to the Arabic world.

For neighbours it has Syria, Iraq, and Israel, countries associated with war and disturbance. The region that was once the Cradle of Civilization might as well be called the cradle of instability today. Murmurs within the family doubting the wisdom of my choice for travel were only natural with even the son voicing concern (wow, he’s all grown up!).

And here I am, after spending a week in the gorgeous desert country of Jordan to tell you that it is as safe as traveling to those places for which there are no advisories. The people there are friendly, most speak English, there is lots of fresh vegetarian food to chose from (yes, I do prefer to eat mostly vegetarian), and the US Dollar is as legit as the Jordanian Dinar. Mental conversion is also quick and easy for us Indians; 1JD=₹100!

We took off on an early morning AirArabia* flight and arrived at the Queen Alia International Airport (Amman) via Sharjah absolutely sleep deprived. There was no time to waste. A quick shower fixed us up for the moment and we reported promptly for lunch. We were spoiled for choice at the lavish buffet lunch at the Crown Plaza Amman. The centerpiece of the spread was a pilaf – lamb shoulder with rice. But before that I piled my plate with all the mezze fixings – got to eat your salads first! There was an entire counter devoted to pickles – imagine my delight. Pickled olives, chillies, cucumbers, gerkins, and even eggplant stuffed with chillies! The black olives on offer here were surely the best on the trip. Continue reading “Eating my way through Jordan – A Day in Amman”

Driving through Southwestern United States

Our bellies filled with a comfort-meal of dal-chaval and our hearts with some trepidation, we set off from Manisha’s house in our rented, practically brand-new, Toyota Avalon on the afternoon of June 16 on a two-week road trip through the Southwest US. With two camping trips behind us, a cooler in the boot, even if tiny by American standards, was now considered indispensable. I mapped our destination for the day – Grand Junction, CO – on GoogleMaps and we breezed along on I-70 (US Highway 6), getting honked at just once when we hesitated to make a left turn to allow the person behind us to pass. Old habits die hard.

It was an easy 4-hour drive with the Colorado River flowing gently alongside. We could see the railway track on the other bank, a travel mode we had considered briefly. In these barely 260 miles the landscape was changing dramatically already. We were leaving The Rockies behind and the tilted red rocks by the highway were preparing us for the grand mesas and buttes we were about to encounter all across the state of Utah.

To Arches National Park (12)By tea-time we were at the hotel in Grand Junction and met up with my parents, sister, and her family who had driven down from CT after a brief halt to visit family in Ann Arbor, MI. Rounds of tea followed though it was too early to whip out the kettle Manisha had insisted I carry. She was right; the hotel-room coffee/tea-makers do not get the water hot enough for a decent cup. We picked a Mexican place for our first dinner with the family and caught a glorious sunset afterwards.

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Toasting a Half Century

Road Tripping!
Road Tripping!

I’ve been away a while. Well, we were planning this vacation-of-a-lifetime, a six-week holiday in another part of the world! How many people can manage that today! The preceding month was crazy at work; the blog had to take the backseat again. Vijay was at his desk till an hour before we were to leave for the airport. We didn’t even get the time to dig out winter woollies from the big trunk in the storeroom. I was going to arrive in the US with no fashionable warm clothes. The taxi arrived and V was still to shower and eat. Eventually, we did manage to zip-up the cases and leave for the airport in time. As long as we had money and passports, we didn’t need to worry.

The following six weeks turned out to be a vacation to remember. Friends and family shared generously their time and their homes and we got another peek at the amazing country that is the USA. How much of it I will be able to recount here I don’t know – it took me over a month and five posts to cover our 10 days in Ladakh last year! But I love to go back and re-read all the travel posts here. It is surprising how much we forget as time passes. The brain stores but foggy memories and none of the detail. I do want to remember this trip. I turned 50 last month and this vacation turned out to be quite the celebration! It wasn’t planned with that in mind though.

raising a toast

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Five Mountain Passes

Day 10, September 8, 2014
Thikse to Jispa, 800km

It was still dark when I walked over to the dining tent at the camp and grabbed a cup of tea.  Two camp-helps were busy preparing sandwiches for our breakfast-to-go.  The sun rose and lit up the camp and its surroundings – what an idyllic setting to watch the light and shadow patterns the clouds cast on the mountains as you sit by the gently flowing stream.  But, we had a lot of road ahead of us today, and four mountain passes to cross. Soon everyone was up and about.

By 6:30 am everyone was at the parking.  We had the usual morning briefing by Abhey and then we were off.   The water crossing was worse with all the back and forth of our SUVs and it was the turn of the Ertiga to get stuck.  We followed.  For all our early start the water-crossing cost us a good half hour. Some of us needed to refuel; them SUVs are such diesel-guzzlers!  Our petrol car was giving us unbelievable mileage even in the hills (13-14 km/lt of petrol)!  The rains had played spoil sport and we had missed out on some of the highs on this trip.  We were going to see how the roads were and if all seemed well, add a short detour to Tso Kar. Tso Kar, while no competition to the exquisite Pangong Tso, is an alpine salt lake with its own charm.  It is home to a variety of birds as well as Kiangs, the Himalayan wild ass. Continue reading “Five Mountain Passes”