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Whimsical Pottery Turtles

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Most of what the potters made in their village near New Delhi, India was practical or religious (about 85% according to my guide). However, the remaining items were whimsical, fun, decorative, or impractical items. These turtles caught my eye as cute little additions for a shelf.

Bonus photography tip: Notice how the turtles are not centered in the frame? Picture a grid with four lines-two horizontal and two vertical. It is often ideal to place the most important part of an image at the intersection of two of those lines-or slightly off center.

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A Pottery Assembly Line

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I recently posted about a pottery village I visited on the outskirts of Delhi, India. In this village, most of the pottery for the city and elsewhere was made. We got to see a number of potters working. They go so fast! At one stop (pictured above), one worker started with the lump of clay and got the base made and then passed it on to the next potter who did the upper half work on it. It was a fast assembly line. They worked in a very small, dark room, surrounded by clay and lit only by the light coming in the doors.

We also got to try our hand at the potter’s wheel and it was a good thing we had help! Clay went flying, pots got misshapen and none of them turned out high quality. It was fun though.

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Qutab Minar in Delhi

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These are the stone screens (or arches) at Qutab Minar in Delhi, India. They were built by Qutbuddin Aibak, the first sultan in the Mamluk or Slave Dynasty, who reigned from 1206-1210. It’s called the Slave Dynasty because the sultans, including Aibak, were slaves prior to becoming sultans. Aibak only ruled for 4 years. He ended up dying during a polo match when his horse fell and the saddle impaled him! He also built the Quwwat-ul-Islam mosque at the Qutab Minar and started the Minar itself.

These are giant (16 m high) stone arches that are intricately carved in patterns. Aibak (and the other Mamluk Dynasty sultans) was a Muslim and wanted these decorated in an Islamic style. However, the craftsmen working on them were Hindus and had no experience with carving more Islamic designs. These arches were more flowing, with lots of curves, vines, and elements of nature. Iltumish, a later sultan, brought in carvers from Iran when he expanded the arches, so that the designs would be Islamic (meaning more geometric) rather than Hindu in nature. Later, Alauddin planned to build even more arches, but never finished them.

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A Pottery Village in Delhi

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In February 2015, I arranged a tour of a pottery village for members of a group I belonged to in Delhi, India. On the outskirts of the city, people made most of the pottery for the city. Older workers passed down their skills to the younger generations.

Here is an excerpt from my journal of the the tour:

“So five of us headed off to western Delhi to explore the largest pottery village in Asia. There are 750 families living in the village if I remember my numbers correctly and all of them make pottery. 15% are decorative or “fun” pottery items and 85% are more traditional or practical items. At Diwali, each family makes thousands of diyas—the small, shallow clay candle holders.

All the pottery I have seen sold around Delhi comes from this village it turns out. They sell it wholesale to vendors who then sell it in markets and on street corners to anyone needing pots. We were allowed to buy directly from the families we saw working and I bought a few teeny tiny vases, just big enough for one bud. They were adorable….

…The tour included stops at a number of potters’ homes. One made the tiny vases I bought. Another was a larger family who made tons of pots, some of which they painted black. Most of the pots are not painted or glazed, but a few families do paint them. One stop was a potters’ cooperative where a group came together to work. Each family in the village has their own kiln and only runs it when it is full. This makes turn around time a bit slower. Our guide mentioned that if families shared kilns and all worked to fill the same kiln, they’d have faster production times…”

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Garden of the Five Senses: Delhi, India

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In New Delhi, India there is a slightly off the beaten path place called the Garden of the Five Senses. Much more popular with the locals than tourists, it is a fascinating garden with multiple levels, winding paths, statues and a whole range of flowers. There is also a lovely cafe.  Along with having fun exploring with the kids, I enjoyed taking shots of all the flowers that bloom (especially in the spring).

Fun Fact Friday: Old Delhi

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Fun Fact Friday! Old Delhi, India was originally called Shahjahanabad and was built by Shah Jahan in the middle of the 1600s. It served as the capital of the Mughal Empire and is home to Lal Qila (Red Fort), Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque) and lots and lots of shops and even more people! Not to mention so many auto rickshaws, cars, motorcycles and carts that the volume of noise on the street is deafening. What shocks visitors the most I found are the sheer number of wires criss-crossing everywhere. Monkeys use them as highways and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to where the wires go or how they are attached.

Making Indian Flat Bread-Chapati

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One of the glorious things of living in New Delhi, India was having domestic staff. We had a lovely woman who cleaned, did child care and would cook when we craved Indian food. A few months before departing it dawned on me that I better learn some of these dishes if I wanted to be able to eat it once home! So I asked her to teach me chapati making–aka Indian flatbread aka Indian wheat tortillas. With only atta (wheat flour), water and a hint of oil and salt, it seemed easy enough. Well…she was laughing so much she texted my driver to come in and watch. He kept laughing too and showed me up by making expert chapati himself. Even my 2 year old daughter rolled them out better than me.  See, it turns out I am horrible at rolling out circles of dough.

Fast forward to last week. Big family reunion at the beach and each family unit makes a meal. We decide on Indian food for ours and prepare a massive menu. My job was to make chapati. For 19 people. While they taste best fresh off the stove, I knew given my making speed I’d have to make them early and people just eat them cold. We’d bought atta ahead of time and brought it. Atta is Indian what flour. It’s not directly the same as Western wheat flour as I gather the milling process is different. The store of course only had a massive bag. I’ll be using atta for the next ten thousand years.

My chapati weren’t the prettiest (still not any better at rolling circles) and they didn’t puff right on the flame, but they were yummy! Not bad for the first time making them completely independently.

Chapati steps:

  1. Mix dough–flour, bit of oil, bit of salt, just enough water to make a dough. Kneed and kneed.
  2. Roll dough into little balls. Then flatten each ball and roll into a very flat circle. Make it really thin.
  3. Heat up stove. This works best on a gas stove with open flame, though you can do it without the final step if you don’t have gas.
  4. Stick circle on pan and let cook on each side until you start to see little golden spots and it starts to puff a bit. Flip.
  5. Move pan off flame and stick the chapati directly onto the burner. If you did it right, it puffs up! Ideally, it puffs into one big ball, but we never managed this. It would puff in parts.  Watch out for fire! You don’t keep it on very long-just long enough to get a few crispy parts. Flip it.
  6. Repeat. While the chapati was cooking on the pan, I’d roll out the next one.
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Safdarjung’s Tomb in Delhi

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Safdarjung’s Tomb in Delhi, India was started in 1753 as a tribute to a man known as Safdarjung, who was a governor and then a Prime Minister to Muhammad Shah, a Mughal ruler.  It is built in the same style as Humayun’s Tomb (and therefore, the Taj Mahal) and you might see many similarities. Like most Mughal-era tombs, you have the charbagh style of garden. The tomb sits in the middle with one garden in each of four quadrants.  Also similar to other Mughal tombs, there is a water feature at the front that can provide nice reflections. This is the last monumental tomb garden of the Mughals.

In terms of visiting, it is a quieter tourist destination than many nearby stops and is perfect for a picnic or some quiet reflection. It is in the middle of the city near the much more popular Lodi Gardens. Flowers are gorgeous in the spring.