Hello all, just a quick update of where I am and what I'm up to. I'm writing from Kalimpong, India, a medium-sized city and our springboard to begin our rural homestays for tomorrow -- we'll be staying with farming families for about 6 days, and they won't speak any English so we're in for a challenge. We've spent the last few days seeing a few sights and driving through Sikkim--staying in smallish towns, enjoying the lush greenery and avoiding the frequent rains of the monsoon season that appears to have begun a bit early this year.
Outside of Gangtok, us girls had the chance to spend the night at an anigompa or nunnery. We had quite the adventure, including a gang of yappy dogs, a 3:45 a.m. awakening for a 4:00 puja in which we determinedly held our eyes open while a dozen nuns chanted in Tibetan for 2 hours, a broken bench (that I had slept on the night before), which we nailed back together by using our nalgene bottles as hammers, and a bunch of really sweet, amazing nuns who guided us through it all.
I'd like to get out of the glare of this computer screen and back onto the streets, so I'll just share with you all the 'yak-yak' I wrote about the Indian sweet that has taken all of us (myself most definately included) by storm:
Known to the fans in our midst as 'brown balls', to exasperated group leaders as 'indian crack', and to our taste buds as the doughnuts of the himalaya, gulab jamun have become a fetish, addiction, and dare I say preoccupation of 90% of our group.
Picture a sweet ball of doughnut dough -- now deep-fry it, then soak it in sugar syrup until it is saturated and dripping, and keep it in a heated tray in your street shop until the consumer comes to eagerly devour them as the sugar drips from her hands and down her chins. Sometimes they melt in our mouths with warmth, other times we discover a hard, doughnutty interior, sometimes the sugar syrup drips all over the place, other times they develop a delicious crust from sitting in the tray too long -- any way they come they please the taste buds and warm the heart.
We have all developed eyes for the small sweet shops that stock our favorite spherical delicacies -- when we come into a new town in our jeeps we scout out the best places and frown in disappointment if no-one makes the beautiful delicacy that is gulab jamun. Other indian sweets -- julabi, bright orange pretzel-shaped deep fried corn syrup; sweet white patties in custard; fudge-like sugar cake -- they please some among us, but nothing can bring a delighted smile from the whole group like a bag of gulab jamun on a humid Sikkim afternoon.
Love you, and I'll be home to see you all before you know it!