More holiday snaps from India

January 4, 2015 • 12:00 pm

While sorting and downloading photos, I thought I’d put some spare ones here.

First, noms. A nice thali in Raja’s Cafe, Khajuraho (mutton stew, dal, mixed vegetables, fresh vegetables, rice, and a big plate of tandoori roti (I’m a bread man, although I’ll do with rice). A sweet (fried bananas) and strong South Indian coffee with milk came after:


. . . all washed down with a nice Kingfisher beer, which has the advantage of not only being good, but coming in large bottles.

Kingfisher beer

And a real kingfisher photographed at a nearby lake (the white-throated kingfisherHalcyon smyrnensis, related to but different from the bird on the bottle, the common kingfisher Alcedo atthis):


A blurry mystery bird for readers to identify:

Mystery bird

And another mystery bird:

Mystery bird #2

Mystery plant! What is it?

Plant X

Parrots on a Jain temple, Khajuraho. They were everywhere, often in huge, squawking flocks:


The Jains, like most religionists, apparently believe in dualistic free will. This is from a “what Jains believe” sign outside the temple:

Jain sign

Temple outside Khajuraho (the weather, overcast and drizzly, held for all three days of our visit):


Temple sculpture: Vishnu and Lakshmi, husband and wife in amorous play:

Vishnut and Laksmi

One of Khajuraho’s many explicitly erotic sculptures; the guides made sure to point all of them out to the tourists.  Our guide was careful to point out that the woman was not upside down, as her necklace would have fallen down over her face. This, he said, was a view from the top, but must have had distorted perspective:

Erotic sculpture

As Matthew noted the other day, India is cricket crazy. In the smallest and poorest villages the boys will often get up a game, as in the photo below. I would have thought that, with a billion people, India could field world-class soccer teams, but I was told that soccer requires more endurance than many poorly-nourished Indians can muster. I was also told that many cricket players are overweight and out of shape; I make no claims for the veracity of that statement.

Cricket 2

A few people snaps. First, a happy little girl:


Taking people pictures indoors is hard; I don’t use a flash, and the low light means the photos are blurry. However, I liked the effect it had on the photo of this lovely woman:


And the Pair Who Don’t Love Each Other. We ate lunch next to this couple who were having coffee, and they barely exchanged a word for over an hour. The guy played with his cellphone while the woman stared into space::




83 thoughts on “More holiday snaps from India

  1. Def a magpie. Common as grass over here too.
    Mr Coyne, a question I hope you don’t find too cheeky. With all the delicious foods you get to enjoy, do you ever worry about putting on a few pounds? Or are the big and delicious meals finely balanced against lighter days of eating? ( I too am a bread person, but must curtail my enjoyment of it to now and then)

    1. That beer made me wonder – what is the traditional alcoholic drink of India?
      It seems that every ancient culture has their own alcoholic beverage, such as wine in the Mediterranean region, and beer in ancient Britain, Scandinavia and Mesopotamia.
      I assume the climate isn’t suitable for wine grapes, so is beer the traditional native drink of India or was it an import introduced during the British colonial period?

      1. The oldest form of alcoholic beverage mentioned in the history and literature of India is a mead made from rice and honey. it’s mentioned several times in the Vedas but I don’t know what it’s called.

        India was big into wine around 400 BCE when they imported several new strains of grape from Persia.

        Even today India produces large amounts of grapes, mostly for raisins and other grape based food products. There’s almost no wine industry though.

        1. I had an Indian chenin blanc last night, and it wasn’t bad. With the hill stations and other high-elevation plots, I suspect they could have a decent wine industry here. But the people don’t drink much wine. As far as I can see, they’re more into beer and, for celebrations, hard liquor. Poorer villagers drink various fermented beverages like palm toddy.

          1. Soma is something entirely different. The word “soma” may be used for body, water, “life essence” etc. in metaphorical form. The word simply means “pressed out”, so it would be context-dependent, applied to anything that is “pressed out” – sap, sugarcane juice etc. However, it probably refers to ephedra juice (or some substitute, cannabis weed perhaps) when used in Vedic rituals, because it gave the drinkers “visions of the divine” or put them in trances.

            1. “The oldest form of alcoholic beverage mentioned in the history and literature of India is a mead made from rice and honey. it’s mentioned several times in the Vedas but I don’t know what it’s called.”

              Rithvik, I was replying to that.

              1. What the Indian Soma was exactly is debatable, but the Iranian Zoroastrian Haoma is certainly pressed ephedra juice, and the two are ritually very similar. Ephedra is rare to get in India, except in the far Himalayas, but common in Tajikistan, Afghanistan etc. The Vedic people used substitutes, though they mention that true Soma comes from far-off Himalayan mountains of Kashmir.

                This is why Soma is often confused with alcoholic drinks, some people back then also did so, as a substitute for the real thing. But that came much later than the oldest Vedas.
                There were many alcoholic drinks mentioned, Madhu is honey mead, Suraa is rice wine etc (its distillate, pure alcohol is called suraasar , as in Hindi today).
                Anyway, the old texts are vast, sometimes incomplete today, and have complex history. They are products of oral tradition, subject to revision over a course of ~3000 years of history, and dating them is more complex than finding and dating old scrolls or tablets. So for all we should care, we both are right (or wrong).

              2. rthvik,

                If you are interested, there is a very recent (2013) translation of the Rg Veda done by Brereton and Jamison. And they agree with you that soma’s identity is debatable. Aldous Huxley notwithstanding, it may or may not have been a drug or even hallucinogenic.

                But I think you’re wrong about the oral tradition leading to corruption. While here and there there are variations in the various recensions, modern scholarship starts with the assumption that the texts have been preserved with fidelity. There is confidence in the assumption because Vedic recitation has preserved Proto-Indo-European accents that no longer exist in Indian languages.

              3. > But I think you’re wrong about the oral tradition leading to corruption.
                This is a rather complex topic with lots of nuances, and no one can be right or wrong (blanket statement) unless specific examples are given.

                The assumption applies only to certain texts, and only in sound and intonation, not in matter and meaning, as you have yourself pointed out. The shakhas system ( ) preserves exact sounds, intonations etc. but not meaning. Each shakha group memorized and recited the important texts in different orders through generations, then reconstructed them from time to time, much the same way some computer algorithms do today. And only the most important, holy texts were subjected to this excellent system, as it required resources. Meaning is preserved by tradition and ancillary texts in each shakha (branch) , which is subject to revision and diversification. The Vedas have great academic value in linguistics for precisely that reason, but as far as interpretation, especially religious interpretation is concerned, it is a minefield out there. I lost my faith doing so.

                Also, please remember that the Vedas do not have a singular author, and various parts of it were compiled at different points of time (and place, perhaps), carry differing opinions, and attributed to different authors. They are well-preserved after they were compiled, but have different times and sources of authorship, long enough to be detected linguistically (several centuries, perhaps)

                The 10th Mandala for instance is said by some (mainstream academic Harvard scholars like Michael Witzel, through linguistic analysis) to be the oldest one, while tradition dictates that the 1st Mandala should be.

                I could give a longer explanation, but I would draw the line here.–

      2. There’s also a bunch of palm fruit based liquors, particularly in southern India. There is also ‘arrack’ which is made by fermenting coconut fruit, or sugarcane. It would be fair to assume these liquors have been around for hundreds or even a few thousand years.

    2. Lots of people have asked that (with some miscreants reproving me for my eating!), and my answer is that I don’t gain weight on my vacations. This is for two reasons: 1. I eat like this only when I’m on trips, and immediately resume a normal and far more abstemious diet when I’m home. 2. I walk a lot on vacations, and that helps burn off the calories. In fact, judging by clothes fit, appearance, etc., I weigh slightly less now than when I came to India.

  2. I get annoyed by that bit of Jain philosophy which appears all the time among the “spiritual”… “All human beings are miserable due to their own faults…”

    Talk about blaming the victims.

    1. Yeah, it bothers me too. I have heard it more refers to your mental state – instead of worrying about the future or the past, to instead enjoy the present or at least make the decision not to worry since the worry it often needless and just gives us needless suffering.

      However, I still don’t like the broader implication – one that is in all Buddhist philosophy (IIRC).

        1. The broader implication is that we are all responsible for our own happiness. This implies that if something bad happens to us, and we react in a healthy way, which is to feel and express negative feelings, then we are making ourselves miserable.

          I’m aware that isn’t the intent of the statement (as I described in the comment above), but I’m only aware that isn’t the intent of the statement because the intent has been explained to me so many times. So, then I have to wonder, are we missing something in translation (quite possible and then I wonder why whoever translated these words, chose to do so in this way) or is the broader intent really the part that I think is unfairly put upon the individual who suffers through no fault of his/her own and expresses those feelings of suffering.

          1. Diana,

            There’s a supposed quote of the Buddha’s floating around the Internet that I absolutely hate. It goes something like: “If you are dwelling on the past, that is called depression. If you are fearful of the future, that is called anxiety. Focus on the present and you will be fine.”

            I really doubt the Buddha said that, given that he didn’t know what depression and anxiety were. But the quote takes two very serious conditions and makes it seem like the sufferer’s fault.

            There’s definitely merit to the whole “fix your mind first” approach– that’s what therapy tries to accomplish in the modern world. But you can’t just assume there are no external problems at all.

  3. Second bird is Indian roller (Coracias benghalensis).

    Plant is either Giant white bird-of-paradise (Strelitzia nicolai) or traveller’s palm (Ravenala madagascariensis). If the plant was a clumping plant it’s the former. The latter are always singular and grow extremely big and beautiful- like a gigantic hand fan.

  4. Regarding the “love” thing. I’m not too sure that is a major point in a lot of the marriages over there.

    1. That’s racist. Extrapolating from one instance of a couple not in love to an entire culture is not okay. We wouldn’t do that for a random white couple here.

      “Arranged” marriages are usually by consent, and men and women “shop around” a bit before settling. Indian feminists are quick to point out that American “love” marriages are really no better than arranged marriages in terms of who you end up with– how many people marry outside of socioeconomic class or race in the US?

      1. It’s not “racist” because there is no implication that any of this has to do with race.

        And it’s funny that you first state “we wouldn’t do that here” (which is itself a generalisation) before then stating another generalisation about America.

        1. My term was perhaps rather strong, and I apologize for that. But don’t you think it’s a tad bit wrong to insinuate that Indian couples aren’t in love just because they went through a slightly different process to find their mate?

          Look at the statistics for interracial marriages and I don’t think I’m making a generalization. I would like more boundaries to be broken in both places for marriage, but to say that love isn’t a big thing for couples in India is a tad bit of a strong conclusion.

          1. I took the original comment as love wasn’t the major reason for getting married, whether that is a perceived ideal or not.

            As for interracial marriages, the acceptance of such has improved noticeably in my lifetime from something that was frowned on, to something that is hardly noticed – but this is from the dominant culture in my society….it takes generational change in a new culture to accept a change like that.

            I think, however, you have a good underlying point – we are all tribal. It’s in our nature. As the offspring of two different people who grew up in separate former British colonies, there has been some variation in my background that broke down national, racial and religious differences, simply because people were able to meet different people in the new worlds.

            1. Hey, the stats jive with my observations. Here is interracial information about Canada.

              Younger people were more likely to be in a mixed union; the highest proportion of couples in mixed unions was among persons aged 25 to 34 (7.7%), 35 to 44 (6.8%), 15 to 24 (6.1%), 45 to 54 (4.1%), and 55 and over (2.7%).

              The 2006 study had an interesting find, that people born in Canada were more likely to marry someone of another race as opposed to those who immigrated there;only 12% of first generation immigrant visible minorities were in a mixed union, this figure is higher for second generation immigrants (51%) and three or more generation immigrants (69%). There are a few examples of this:

              63% of Canadian-born Blacks (who were in couples) were in mixed unions, while the numbers for Blacks born in the Caribbean and Bermuda (17%), and Africa (13%) were much lower percentages.

              For Chinese people born in Canada, 54% (who were in couples) were with someone non-Chinese (it’s not noted if this figure refers to anyone who is not East Asian (race), or just not Chinese (nationality)), compared to only 3% of those born in China who immigrated to Canada.

              33% of South Asian Canadians who were born in Canada, were in a mixed union, compared to only 3% of those who were born in South Asia.
              One theory for this may include that those who immigrate as adults, may have already found a partner before immigrating to Canada.

              1. It looks like it’s coming into common usage. Is there a statue of limitations? (See what I did there?)

            2. “As for interracial marriages, the acceptance of such has improved noticeably in my lifetime from something that was frowned on, to something that is hardly noticed”

              In my lifetime it was illegal in 17 of the United States. That didn’t end until 1967. I had just graduated high school!

        2. marvol,

          Less than 10% of American marriages are interracial. Not sure how a statistic counts as a “generalization.”

          1. And with the risk of overkill, it’s also no “generalization” to say that members of dominant communities are never taken to be representatives of their communities at large. If I were to go to India, my actions would be treated as mine alone, but a low-caste person’s could be perceived as that of his/her entire community.

            Similarly, white Americans will be judged as individuals. So there go my two “generalizations.”

        1. I apologize to everyone involved. “Racist” is a strong term. But I do think it’s unfair to claim that love isn’t a big thing for Indian couples, it’s a tad bit stereotypical imo.

      1. Hi Jerry, i think you corrected it “the wrong way” – now the caption refers to the common kingfisher as being in the photo as well as on the beer, but as i understand (and by looks) your commenters mean they are two different species.

  5. Coincidentally I also had a large bottle of kingfisher last week with an Indian meal. I suspect Professor Coyne paid rather less than the £5.95 I forked out though!

    1. At a hotel in New Delhi (in 1991) I had a couple of beers that came in a Kingfisher bottle but had a distinct acetone smell that I wouldn’t expect from a large-scale commercial brew. Would I be right to suspect illicit refilling?

  6. In the erotic sculpture, the upside down figure with the necklace is surely a woman? The other central figure with whom she is coupled is the man, I think, and appears to have a beard. Admittedly with that many figures in the mix it might be difficult to keep track of who is doing what to whom and with what!

    1. That’s why it’s always good to lay out some ground rules like “If you go left, I go right” and such.

      Less bottlenecks.

    2. I had the impression from a couple other pix that some sculptures were possibly transgendered. That is, of a person with an an erect penis but also with large breasts. But the individuals are sufficiently intertwined that I could also be mistaken!

    3. Yeah, I screwed up. It’s definitely a woman. There are no transgendered figures I could see at Khajuraho save one lion-headed avatar that was supposed to be a male but had breasts. But there’s bestiality: more pictures of that later.

      1. In my experience all tour guides are full of bullshit. Any time they’re talking about something I know anything, about they get almost everything wrong, so I assume they’re getting it wrong when I don’t know the subject too.

  7. The mystery plant is probably Ravenala madagascariensis, but I can’t see enough of the plant to be 100% sure. The pattern of leaf bases is pretty characteristic though. Native to Madagascar, as its name indicates, but widely cultivated in tropical countries.

    Since we’re weak on plants around here, I’ll point out another. The kingfisher is sitting on Ipomoea fistulosa, a shrubby morning-glory that’s also widely cultivated in the tropics and naturalizes too.

    1. I’ve seen newly weds on their honeymoon in America look like the real life couple. I think there must be something general about this behavior.

    2. My wife’s youngest sister is staying with us for the winter. So far I think she’s looked up from her phone a total of maybe twice. Sadly, I notice that this behavior is endemic among all people under the age of 30 or so.

  8. Jerry,
    I am confused as to why you corrected your statement that the real kingfisher on the photo is not a White-throated Kingfisher (which it most definitely is). As noted by others, the two mistery birds are Magpie Robin and Indian Roller.

  9. That first statement of “what Jains Believe”:

    “Not only soul, but every object of the universe also, is subject to change by itself without any external influence.”

    Doesn’t that contradict Newton’s first law? I’m not happy about that.

    1. Can someone familiar with Jain scripture look up the half-life of the proton, please? It would be a handy thing to know.

    2. Captain here, I can explain what they mean by that.

      Some ancient Indian philosophers considering something to be sometimes the cause of itself, because object X at time t=1 came from object X at time t=2.

      I frankly have no patience for philosophy, so I don’t want to bother to much with this idea, but anyway, yep.

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