Dec 11, 2017

Everything I've Learned about Life: It Goes On


Despite unabated violence here in Nepal-  political freedom prevailed, my garden's growing, cows are mooing, my smartphone got fixed, California's aflame, and elephants don't play polo anymore! Yes, life truly does go on.



Nepal's first post-war parliamentary and provincial elections concluded last Thursday. The two-phase election lays the groundwork for Nepal's transition to a democracy- after the end of a civil war in 2006 and the abolition of the country's 239-year-old Hindu monarchy two years later. According to results released by the Election Commission, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist–Leninist (CPN-UML) has won 59 seats while its alliance partner CPN Maoist- Centre gained 22 seats out of the total 165 seats under the first-past-the-post election system. The new government will likely reinstate Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli (pictured above) as prime minister. The ruling Nepali Congress (which was the largest party in the last election) managed to win only 12 seats according to preliminarytallies. The two winning parties are also considering merging to form the largest communist party in Nepal. Voter turnout is estimated at a "satisfactory" 67 percent among the 15 million eligible voters.



On Monday the winning parties' victory marches and rallies blocked streets and roadways across the nation. Unfortunately there are reports of over 5,000 ballots deemed invalid due to ineffective voter's education. (I'm guessing that means the ballots were improperly filled out.) The final result of the election may not be known until mid-December according to officials. Nepal has suffered a succession of governments over the last 10 years that have been mostly short-lived due to political infighting.



Gardening update: Marigolds are blooming! I planted a large packet of marigold seeds from Kashmir in my garden this Winter. Everything from solid pom pom's to single, double, and triple blooms.  As you can see in the above pics every seed has produced a different flower. The seeds weren't labeled as any particular breed so I'd guess their open pollinated and field collected. Marigolds generally repel soil pests like nematodes and not many insects will eat them so I like to plant them every other season as sort of a natural cleanse for the garden.


Roses in December? How weird is that? These local roses in my garden are almost more like camellias in form. Their color is just as eye-searingly beautiful in person.


This is mallow. When I was last in Kashmir I was served a tasty stir-fry of mallow leaves. I had no idea the mallow plant is completely edible. Mallow is a common weed seen by freeways in my native California. An online search revealed that several Middle Eastern cultures eat mallow served stewed or stir-fried. Where have I been? Anyway, my in-laws sent some seeds from Kashmir and I planted them - recipe soon!


In the ongoing drama of our local vacant lot: This lovely lady and her extremely vocal estranged child have been spending the better part of their days in our neighborhood vacant lot. I went out to see what all the ruckus was. I brought some leftover rice as a peace offering. With those pointed horns atop half a ton of possibly peeved bovine it's best to be careful.


I'm guessing the problem is that Madame Pointy Horns is not allowing Junior here to nurse any longer. The reason Mdm. Pointy Horns no longer wishes to feed Junior is that's she's due to have another calf in a few weeks. Junior is voicing his protestation to this situation LOUDLY. I brought another bowl of rice, cut up fruit, vegetable trimmings, and stale biscuits for him. He now shows up at our front gate at 8 AM every morning demanding his treats and a neck scratch LOUDLY.


In other news: Chitwan, Nepal will be celebrating it's 14th annual Elephant Festival on  December 26th through 30th. The five-day event features an elephant walk, elephant calf football, elephant beauty contest, elephant picnic, and elephant painting. Elephant polo will not be played at the festival this year as it has been deemed to be animal cruelty. Elephant polo originated in 1982, the bizarre idea of two British entrepreneurs, Jim Edwards and James Manclark. Edwards had established Tiger Tops, a tourism venture which offered elephant safaris in 1961, and which has since become a family-run ecotourism lodge in Royal Chitwan National Park. It was a rather slow sport which seemed to truly annoy the elephants. About three years ago they had to switch from using soccer balls to regular hockey balls. The elephants figured out if they popped the soccer balls by stepping on them the game would stop. And if more soccer balls were provided the elephants popped them also. The long and flexible bamboo mallets would often break too. I agree with the elephants: GAME OVER!

Mr Gardner I presume...

I fixed my phone with a little help from a friend! My Samsung Galaxy Zoom smartphone developed some glitch that would not allow me to use the camera about 3 weeks ago. We took it to the local Samsung dealer whom said he needed to send the phone to Delhi to be fixed. Two weeks later the phone wasn't fixed nor did the dealer send it to Delhi. I bravely took matters into my own hands and tried to Google how to fix the blasted thing. Eventually I ventured onto the maelstrom of YouTube and found some videos by a Mr Ricardo Gardener on how to fix various gizmos from phones to laptops. (No this is not THE famous Jamaican footballer Ricardo Gardner.) Not only did I fix my phone using a video on his YouTube Channel but I sorted the neighbor kid's HP laptop that wouldn't start. Woohoo! If you're in need of some DIY repair work on home electronics I highly recommend Mr Gardener's YouTube channel.



California's on fire again. Not surprising after many years of drought and subdivisions being built in forested and overgrown areas that are no longer grazed nor control burned. For some reason my friends in California all wish to email me photos of my former home. Here's the latest photo of what's left of my former northern California house. The front lawn still looks fairly decent. Apparently the houses just across the street were untouched. Fortunately the Gujarati family I sold it too escaped unharmed. Over 2,000 residences were destroyed on this fire in October, 2017. Un-freaking-believable!

Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life. 
-Omar Khayyam

Ciao for now,
Bibi

Dec 3, 2017

All is fair in love & democracy



Nepalis began voting in a two-phase election for a new federal parliament and provincial assembly last week with the army on high alert. These are first parliamentary polls in Nepal since 1999. Most Nepalis are hopeful this will complete their nation's long journey from a monarchy to an independent federal republic. Unfortunately violence blamed on a rogue Maoist group brought back memories of the ruinous instability Nepal was hoping to leave behind after a bloody civil war a decade ago.

Every time I see these guards holding a rifle like that I cringe.
I guess they train them to do that but I was taught proper gun safety is to point that rifle straight up or down.
The tiny Himalayan nation of Nepal is currently conducting federal parliamentary and provincial assembly elections for the first time after the promulgation of it's new constitution. The first phase of elections were held in 32 of 77 districts on Sunday, November 26th and comprised the mountainous and hilly districts. The second phase of elections will be held on Thursday, December 7th in the remaining 45 districts. Voters are set to fill more than 800 seats in Nepal’s parliament and state assemblies.

Nepal-China border crossing

Both election days were declared national holidays.
The Nepal-China and Nepal-India borders are sealed for 72 hours prior to each polling date. Even the sale of alcohol was banned for 72 hours prior to the election in some districts. Active campaigning is also banned for three days before polls open. Over 300,000 security personnel have been deployed at polling stations.

Old and young doing their civic duty.
This election is very important because whomever wins at the national level will shape the newly formed state institutions. This new balance of power will elect the upper house of the national parliament and the new president of the republic. That's why the stakes are high - not only for Nepalis but those who want to have control over developments in Nepal. The election is also being construed as a face-off between India and China at the ballot box.

Election posters everywhere!
The primary contest in this election is between the Nepali Congress party (NC) led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and a new alliance of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) led by K. P. Sharma Oli with Maoists led by “Prachanda” Pushpa Kamal Dahal.  K.P. Sharma Oli and "Prachanda" Pushpa Kamal Dahal are former prime ministers as well as communist party leaders. The NC party is said to be preferred by India. The recently formed left alliance of UML and Prachanda led Maoists is said to be linked with China. Both India and China are looking to benefit from Nepal’s potential as a source of hydropower.

An IED made from a pressure cooker.
Unfortunately the elections have been marred by sporadic violence that continues unabated. Days before the elections started a Maoist splinter group began the attacks. A leader in the rogue Maoist group has gone on record stating, “We want this election to be dismissed.” A report compiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) details 107 cases of IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) detonated across the country since November 15th. Surprisingly this has only resulted in 38 injuries and one death so far. The Nepalese Army has reported defusing over 30 IEDS also.

An IED made from a pipe socket- if you didn't look closely you might think it's a soda or beer can.
Reuters and the New York Times have reported land mines and Maoist militants opening fire on politicians- I have not seen, heard, nor read any evidence of this. There was a blast in our downtown shopping area that was not reported on by the media and another IED was defused nearby. Most of the IEDs have been targeted at candidates' homes, offices, and vehicles- well away from heavily touristed areas. I have read reports of ballot boxes being destroyed by fire or other means too.


Here's all the election activity by our house- a taxi cab festooned with party flags blaring campaign slogans from loudspeakers. A political rally was broken up by police at the end of our street for blocking the road. Election rallies and the huge crowds they draw blocking main roads has been a problem during this election. It takes hours just to drive across town due to the impeded traffic. It has gotten got so bad the NHRC declared that political rallies that block roads are a violation of human rights. I didn't know that - I thought they were just a public nuisance!


This was by far the most unique election publicity campaign to date. A camel with cart and driver was hired by supporters of Independent candidate Raj Bahadur Chaudhary in Kapilvastu Constituency-1 (B) (in southern Nepal). The story was reported in the Kathmandu Post. The camel is named Sher Mohammed and his handler is Mr Abdul Mangal of Ajmer, India. It took four months for Mr Mangal and Sher Mohammed to walk all the way from their home state of Rajasthan to Nepal. The candidate and his helpers rode about in the cart handing out flyers to curious onlookers. It seems the children were most excited to see a real camel as they'd only seen pictures of one in books before. Sher Mohammed looks fairly nonplussed (as camels usually do).

The next phase of the election is due to take place this Thursday, December 7th. Our district will go to the polls in this phase. Unfortunately incidents of blasts targeting candidates has continued. I've not heard of any attacks in our district and we are told the Nepalese Army has increased its presence in order to curb anti-poll activities. It has been unusually quiet in our neighborhood. We're not making any trips into town unless absolutely necessary until after the final phase of the election on Thursday. 

Calmly currying on,
Bibi




Nov 27, 2017

Perfume Review: Twilly D'Hermès

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On our recent trip to Delhi I had a chance to try the new fragrance: Twilly D'Hermès. I'm not a big Hermès fan but the simplistic notes listed for this new fragrance intrigued me- ginger, tuberose, and sandalwood. And who could resist this campaign spiel:

"The scent of the Hermès girls, Twilly d'Hermès is a daring fragrance woven with striking ginger and sensual tuberose—floral, spicy, and oriental. Ginger, tuberose, and sandalwood are given a new twist. Combined differently, they become searing spice, a disconcerting attraction, a revelation of the carnal." 

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Grace Kelly: "It's Air-maysss, dahlings!"
Hermès is IMMENSELY popular in Asia nowadays. A Twilly is the iconic brand's long thin ribbon-like silk scarf. They are worn mostly by young fashionistas/os in all sorts of ways: as neck scarves, headbands, wristbands, belts, or purse accessories tied in a bow on the handle. Your bog-standard 32" x 2" Twilly costs about $160. I have seen many South Delhi Brats ferrying their Kellys, Lindys, and Birkins about with a Twilly festooning the handle. Apparently youngsters find the Twilly less matronly than the 35" x 35" traditional Carré scarf. 

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Start'em young, Hermès!
The ad certainly seems to target young girls. The campaign straddles the line between not too hip and not too twee. The bottle with it's derby hat lid and jaunty silk necktie certainly suggests something stylish yet fun. Looks like the perfect fragrance for a young girl's first "grown up" perfume. My initial thoughts were something along the lines of: "Ooo! A bubblegummy tuberose paired with bright, lemony ginger? The American Bazooka brand bubblegum's original flavor is a mild ginger with vanilla.That actually sounds like an interesting twist on the floral-fruity genre. 
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Christine Nagel
(Hey Goody! She's got your glasses!)

"It is with young women in mind, by observing their lives, that I created Twilly d’Hermès. Free, bold, and irreverent, they swim against the tide, impose their own rhythm, invent a brand new tempo."
- Christine Nagel

Christine Nagel is the new house perfume at Hermès replacing Jean-Claude Ellena. Mr Ellena has developed Hermès' perfumery style as minimalistic, transparent, and focussed on a key accord. He usually achieved this by using copious amounts of the popular synthetic Iso E Super. Christine Nagel's style is apparent is her creations such as Armani's Si, Versace WomanNarciso Rodriguez For Her, Karl Lagerfeld for Her, and Miss Dior Cherie.


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Upon two sprays applied to the inner wrist: A very earthy, peppery, ginger followed by a shrill, sweet orange blossom note that lingers for about 10 minutes then disappears. There's a green, herbaceous note that's almost licorice-y? After about twenty minutes all that's left is a bit of creamy sandalwood and a slightly vanillic musk. So I guessed the orange blossom was supposed to be the hint of tuberose washed clean of any trace of indoles. (Apparently indoles are equated with 'old lady' perfumes in the younger set.) What was that earthy, peppery, herbaceous, licorice note that bunged up the lemony ginger?

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A little internet research lead me to determine that this note was a new synthetic musk called Polvolide from the Japanese company Soda Aromatics. Polvolide is a potent macrocylic musk with a herbal-spicy, fennel-anisic side. According the the description on Soda Aromatics' website the musk's fragrance is also “luminous,” "like a flower suddenly blooming," and has a "powdery fragrance that Japanese people like." Musks are one of those strange molecules that seem to be perceived differently by everyone. Some people are completely anosmic to particular musks and some can only detect certain facets of them. Women’s sensitivity to musk is 1,000 times greater than men’s. Evidently my olfactory bulb picks up on the fennel-anisic side of Polvolide and interprets it's powderiness as vanillic. Your mileage may vary.

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Will the young ladies love Twilly D'Hermès? I don't know. Thankfully it's not another hyper-sweet sugar bomb or pink fruitichouli like most other recent fragrances marketed for girls. It definitely wasn't "a revelation of the carnal" as the ad implied. I'm not a huge fan of Hermès' minimalistic and abstract fragrances anyway, I prefer a little bombast for my dollar.  I would give it kudos for originality though and would definitely like try it on my skin again. If only the ginger were the "searing spice" and the tuberose a "disconcerting attraction" as advertised.

Anyone else try Twilly D'Hermès? What did you think?
I hope all of my American readers had a lovely Thanksgiving!

Toodle-pip!

Bibi


Nov 20, 2017

Perfume Review: Chanel's Gabrielle



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On my recent visit to Delhi I had the chance to try Chanel's hotly anticipated new fragrance launch of the year: Gabrielle.  It’s the first "pillar" (as in not a flanker) feminine scent Chanel has launched in 15 years and took 5 years to develop.  The fragrance is said to embody the house's founder Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel when she was a young girl: a rebel at heart, passionate and self-ruling, freeing herself to become the woman she wanted to be. The concept from Chanel's website:

"A solar fragrance created around four points of light from four white flowers: orange blossom, ylang-ylang, jasmine and Grasse tuberose.
Olivier Polge crafted the dream flower. The only flower that could embody the unrestrained femininity of Gabrielle Chanel herself."

Olivier Polge is Chanel's house perfumer following in the footsteps of his father Jacques Polge whom retired in 2015. The fragrance's alleged notes are listed as such by Chanel:

Top notes: mandarin, grapefruit, black currant
Heart: tuberose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, orange blossom
Base: sandalwood, musk


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Looking mighty fierce there, Ms Stewart.

Here's the ad for Gabrielle. Kristen Stewart plays her rebel spirit self in the campaign by fighting, punching, and dancing her way out of a gauzy cocoon to the sounds of Beyonce's Runnin'. Tres hip. Evidently the launch for Gabrielle took place in Paris at the trendy Palais de Tokyo and included a high-tech immersive "fragrance journey" into the world of Gabrielle. This included a holographic perfume bottle  that burst into a shower of virtual white flowers. The DJ was Pharrell Williams and the guest list was full of stylish A-Listers including Ms Stewart.  (I wasn't invited.)
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Upon liberal application of Gabrielle to my wrists at Delhi Duty-Free: A blast of bitter grapefruit followed immediately by orange blossom bathroom cleaner sitting on the same thickly sweet vanilla-woods-musk base as Coco Mademoiselle. That's it. Whew, that's a lot of grapefruit in that bathroom cleaner. Turned obnoxiously to citronella and sandalwood a few hours later in the Delhi heat. Honestly, it was like some sort of posh bug repellent. My skin usually amps up the sweet in most fragrances but the acerbic grapefruit and heavy musk base went absolutely rank in the Indian incalescence. Definitely not a warm weather fragrance. Just to make certain I tried another spritz of Gabrielle the next day at the Chanel boutique in Delhi- still went from insipid to insecticidal.

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The omnipresent scent of the '00's Coco Mademoiselle
(actually it's still the best selling perfume worldwide)

I thought Gabrielle was going to be a white floral? The supposed "dream flower" reimagined in Gabrielle is barely discernible as even botanical. Just plop a bit of hedione and jasmolactone in there and call it a flower! Surely with all the premium materials Mr Polge has access to in Grasse he could have done better than this. This isn't youthful and radiant it's another banal fruity-floral thing. This is abstract to the point of being a cleaning product not a luxury fragrance. It could easily be a flanker of Jacques Polge's ubiquitous 2001 hit Coco Mademoiselle eau de parfum rather than any "pillar" fragrance. Perhaps they should've marketed this as Coco Mademoiselle Gold or Coco Mademoiselle Soleil?
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Hedione  (Methyl dihydrojasmonate)
Anyway, if you like Coco Mademoiselle and want to smell like one of the numerous dupes that followed it's success with a few random floral notes tossed in - you'll love Gabrielle. If you're a fan of Lancome's La Vie Est Belle (another Olivier Polge fragrance) you'll probably like Gabrielle as it has a similar vibe. I know I'm not the teens to 20-somethings demographic Chanel was aiming for with this perfume - but I do think youngsters can handle something that actually smells like a white floral.

So, I guess I'm not a Chanel kind of gal. 
My camera had to be shipped to Delhi for repairs so I shan't be doing any recipes for a bit. 
What's up with you? 
Have you tried Gabrielle or any other new fragrances of note?

Toodle-oo,

Bibi


Nov 13, 2017

A Big Fat Kashmiri Nishaani! (Part Two)

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

In October we went to Kashmir to attend my niece's engagement party or Nishaani. No celebration of any kind in Kashmir is complete without the legendary banquet called wazwan. Above you see an entire wazwan on a platter! In this post I'll show you amazing behind the scenes preparation of the traditional wazwan for my niece's Nishaani. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

This is our family vaste waza. (Vaste means master and waza means cook.) Every family in Kashmir has their own vaste waza. There are about 200 vaste wazas in the vale of Kashmir. In the traditional society of Kashmir all occupations are hereditary, and all wazas have fathers who were wazas as well. Wazas are essentially freelance caterers with their own set of copper cookware, a team of assistants, and a vast repertoire of dishes handed down father to son through the ages. Wazas play a key role in Kashmiri society. No celebration of any kind is complete without a wazwan! And a wazwan can't be made without a team of wazas. Your social standing in Kashmir is dependent on the grandeur of your wazwans. Weddings, engagements, completion of the Hajj, university graduation, funerals, - all are celebrated with the grand feast of the wazwan in our family!

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The wazwan is cooked completely outdoors. The large pots or degs are balanced atop two large logs between which a fire is lit. Most Kashmiri homes have an outdoor courtyard or plot of land at the back of the house to accommodate the cooking of a wazwan. Fruit wood is preferred for the fire. 

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Each deg or large copper pot contains a different dish. The vaste waza's assistants generally tend to each and every dish stirring and seasoning as they go. The degs are made of solid, hammered, copper which is plated with tin. They're quite heavy as the bottoms are one to two inches thick and the larger ones require two men to carry them. I count seven different dishes in seven degs being cooked at once here.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

This is a close-up of the deg being used for dumpukht style cooking. Cooking on the dum is a technique of slow cooking which requires a sealed pot cooked over embers. If you look closely you can see the damp rag between the saucer-like lid and the narrow mouth of the deg - this provides the seal that keeps the steam in. Embers and a brick are placed on top of the lid to enforce the seal and provide even heat. The narrow neck of the deg catches the steam allowing it to baste the food in the bottom of the pot. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Let's take a gander at the other side of the courtyard. You can see how big an operation this wazwan is. The vaste waza's team of assistants works with incredible efficiency. Not only are they cooking wazwan for fifty guests at our house- but they are cooking a wazwan-to-go to be sent to my niece's fiancé's house too! The yellow and white cloths in the far left are covering dishes that have already been cooked. The pink blanket is where the vaste waza sits overlooking the entire endeavor. The blue tub in the center has 51 fried chickens awaiting simmering in a spicy sauce before being sent to the fiancé's family home.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Here's my photography assistant, model, and prop handler whilst in Kashmir. He's holding a four foot long spoon made of Kashmiri willow that belongs to the vaste waza. Kashmiri willow is what the finest cricket bats are made of so that spoon is both lightweight and practically unbreakable. I don't think I could find a better helper that only works for toffees and kind words. ;)

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The dishes of the wazwan are very elaborate in keeping with royal Mughal tradition. Ingredients must be prepped and organized before starting the dishes. Going clockwise from the left we have: a deg full of melted ghee, a bucket of chopped cilantro/dhania, two containers with a beige colored paste of fried and pounded shallots, a deg of bright yellow yoghurt tempered with saffron, and at the bottom right (above Bibi's toes) there's a deg full of plain tempered yoghurt. Tempering the yoghurt thickens and condenses it a bit and prevents it from splitting in a dish. I've no idea what the red stuff in the center deg is but I'd bet it's onions fried with spices to be used as a base for one of the dishes.

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On the above right is a photo of the vaste waza slivering almonds with a knife for garnish. Mind you, that is no super sharp ultralight weight santoku knife made of high-carbon stainless steel he's using. That's a very heavy hunk of iron that's been crudely hammered and sharpened into a blade. The photo is blurred because he really is chopping that rapidly. I tried slivering almonds with a knife like that and it takes some real skill. I decided I liked my fingers intact more than I needed slivered almonds. On the above right is a traditional Kashmiri mortar and pestle. The mortar is made of local granite and the pestle is made of Kashmiri walnut. The mortar and pestle is what was used to make the shallot paste in the photo above this one. No mixies, grinders, or other electrical appliances are used in preparation of the wazwan. Even the meats are minced by hand using two heavy knives and the top of a stump to chop upon.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Let's have a look in the waza's masala dhaba or spice box. I see whole fennel seeds, green cardamoms, shahi jeera/black cumin, cloves, coriander, cassia bark/dalchini, black cardamoms, ground fennel, and dry ginger. These are the traditional flavors of Kashmir. The Sheikh said that Kashmiris don't use black cardamoms - I argued "Oh yes they do!" I've seen the Sheikh's mom and sister-in-laws use black cardamom and now here it is! Besides you can clearly taste black cardamom's smoky accord in many Kashmiri dishes. I don't know what he's thinking sometimes. I saw boxes of ground black pepper in use too-AHA!

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet, Here's a typical dish served at nearly every wazwan: Rogan Josh. Rogan Josh is one of the most famous dishes of Kashmir and features mutton simmered in a rich red yoghurt based sauce flavored with black cardamom and Kashmiri mirch.
life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet, To the left is Zafran Kokur or chicken with saffron. It looks to be still in progress in this deg but will be quartered chickens served in a delicate saffron infused yoghurt based sauce. Chicken is usually served in the first few courses of a wazwan before the heavier mutton preparations.
life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet, To the right is another famed dish of Kashmir served at wazwan: Rista.  Rista is minced mutton meatball slightly bigger than a golfball. It's served in a fiery hot sauce made with the traditional spices of Kashmir.
life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,
Add caption

Those long yellow tube-like things are called seekh kebabs. Seekh kababs are minced and seasoned meat molded over an iron skewer and roasted over hot coals. The iron skewer is called a seekh, thus these are called seekh kebabs. I'm not sure which part of the sheep is used for the seekh kebabs but despite being minced they're always a tad gristly. As you can see every part of the sheep is used in a unique dish except for the head and trotters. The liver, kidneys, and tripe are not used in wazwan but are prepared in special dishes for family members in the days proceeding the big event.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Here's that tub of 51 halved and fried chickens up close. That's a lot of chicken! These are to be cooked in a spicy sauce a bit more then piled on a platter to be sent to the fiance's family tonight. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

The blue tub pictured here was used to strain the stock from the cooked mutton. That tub is about 4 feet across. The waza's helper looks like he's about to keel over. No wonder as the vaste waza and his team of assistants have be working around the clock for 3 days now preparing lunch and dinner for our extended family, a full wazwan for 50 guests at our house, and a full wazwan to send by car to my niece's fiance's family home. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

It's the big day of the Nishaani! Tonight's the night! The big shebang was going to start in about an hour when I took this photo. This poor waza's helper looks completely exhausted. A toke of sweet tobacco on the hubba-bubba doesn't seem to be doing much to perk him up.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

At sundown that evening two large copper platters were brought out. Each platter was about a meter/3 foot across and beautifully decorated with floral chasing and engraving. Upon these platters a full wazwan was carefully placed to send to my niece's fiance's family. One platter was stacked with the 51 chickens expertly prepared and the other platter had all the mutton dishes. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

After wrapping the platter with aluminum foil comes two layers of two different pulaos. A pulao is like what we call pilaf in which rice is cooked in a seasoned broth. The Kashmiri versions of pulao are usually laced with saffron, almonds, cashews, coconut, raisins, and other goodies. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Another layer of aluminum foil over the pulaos comes before seekh kebabs are laid crosswise upon the platter.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Then the rest of the mutton dishes of the wazwan are piled sequentially. This looks like a layer of red Rogan Josh with pale yellow shanks of mutton from Aabt Ghosht being stacked next.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

And layer after layer of mutton dishes are stacked high with all their various colors and shapes. The meatballs in the center are Rista. The disc-shaped objects are Shammi kebabs which are patties of seasoned meat cooked over coals. The vaste waza sprinkles generous amounts of chopped cilantro, slivered amounts, bits of dried coconut, cashews, and pistachios over the platter.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

The grand finale: four of the giant meatballs called gushtaba! Yes, those are huge (cantaloupe sized) steaming meatballs atop that mountain of meat! The gushtaba is the last course and crowning glory of the wazwan. Made from pounded white meat of the sheep, delicately seasoned, and served in a pale yellow sauce. The gushtaba has a very unique spongy texture that's very delicious. How to get a meatball of that size perfectly cooked and not fall apart is beyond me. A perfect gushtaba is the true test of a waza's cooking skills. Our waza makes the best gushtaba in Kashmir!

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Now the 'wazwan-to-go' gets wrapped in layers of golden cellophane for it's trip to the fiance's home by car. The vaste waza told me that's the equivalent two sheep contained in the dishes on that one platter. Male sheep are preferred for their leaner meat.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

A dome-shaped wicker sarposh is placed over the cellophane wrapped platter. Kashmir is a series of Himalayan valleys lined with willows. Wicker weaving is one of the famed handicrafts of Kashmir. The yellow covered bowl at the top of the sarposh is filled with more dried fruits and nuts. Dried fruits and nuts represent not only luxury but also wishes of prosperity and abundance for the new couple. The sarposhes used for a non-traveling wazwan are made of solid copper and highly decorated with chasing.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

Then the wazwan-to-go is wrapped in a large tablecloth for warmth and use by the recipients. 

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,


Taaa-Daaaaa!!!!! An opulently beaded and embroidered sheer golden cloth is the last touch on the traveling wazwan before it is carried off. Those hands you see gesturing to the left of the photo belong to the Sheikh. He's acknowledging the utter perfection of the wazwan-to-go. Or giving some more unsolicited advices. ::eye roll::

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

This beautiful copper object is a censer containing live coals. My niece told me the herb being burned in this censer is dried asparagus. I think it's a wild asparagus fern that's native to the Himalayas. The bits of dried asparagus make a crackling noise as they are thrown on the coals and have an acrid burnt vegetable smell. The smoke is said to thwart the evil eye, djinns, and any other ill will. The burning censer accompanies the chicken and the mutton platters of wazwan to the car.

life, love, kashmir, nishane, nishaani, nishani, engagement, wazwan, kashmiri, waza, vaste waza, feast, banquet,

A heavy chain of gold was sent with the platters of wazwan to the fiance's family on the night of the Nishaani as a token of betrothal.  About two hours later we received a call that the fiance's family was en route to our house. Everyone ran inside to get ready for the big reception, the big feast, and he bestowal of the engagement jewelry upon my niece. Guess what we ate? That's right! WAZWAN! If you want to see pics of the Nishaani at our home please check out this post.


The very next day we woke up to this. Riots, stone pelting, tear gas, curfews, and clashes with police on the streets of Kashmir. This was in protest to "braid chopping." Yes, you read that right. There have been over 100 incidences of women in Kashmir reporting their hair being chopped off by unknown assailants. Theories as to whom or what is attacking these women ranges from mass hysteria to state sponsored terrorism. Police are baffled and have no solid leads or suspects. Similar incidents of hair banditry were reported earlier this year elsewhere in India, including in the northern states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Revenge attacks all over Kashmir by vigilantes armed with knives, cricket bats and iron rods on suspected culprits were being reported. Panic and paranoia were all around. And so we left the next day.

Khuda hafiz,
Bibi
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