Friday, May 25, 2012

Mountain Hut

No one visits here
in my dark mountain hut
where I live alone.
But for this sweet loneliness
it would be too bleak to bear.
- Saigyō Hōshi (西行 法師) 1118 – 23 March 23 1190. Japanese poet of the late Heian and early Kamakura period.

As the temperature rises to unbearable levels before the monsoon rains, I dream of my home in the Alps where I would rather be just now. Spending hours just gazing at the green fields and  forests and soaking in the wonderful mountain view and deeply inhaling the cool, crisp mountain air.
Image: Mountain home somewhere in the Alps in Europe, summer of 2009.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Thank You For The Music

"....And you come to me on a summer breeze
Keep me warm in your love
Then you softly leave
And it's me you need to show

How deep is your love?
How deep is your love?
I really meant to learn......."

-How Deep Is Your Love 
Bee Gees 
Written, recorded and released in September 1977. 

Robin (22 December 1949 – 20 May 2012), thank you for the music.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Not Tandoori Chicken

During my travels abroad I usually get taken to Nepali restaurants by my well meaning hosts which invariably means either momos which I hate; or having some tandoori fare which is not Nepali but north Indian or Pakistani. Invariably I get asked what is the difference?

Nepali food is always less spicy than north Indian food. We tend to let the taste of that particular food come out rather than overpower it with spices and condiments. For example we totally avoid using onions and garlic in our dals. Then, like the Chinese and Japanese we love bamboo shoots and eat a lot of them. I have never encountered bamboo shoots anywhere in India though I am sure they are part of the cuisine in areas bordering Burma.

Like the Japanese we love buckwheat or soba as the Japanese call it. There is a huge domestic demand for buckwheat from Mustang area. Again I haven't seen a liking for coarse grains in Indian cuisine unlike in Nepal.

Then we have special high mountain herbs like Jimbu
(botanical name Allium hypsistum) which is unique to and essential for the preparation of Nepali food.

I suppose finally it is also the preparation that makes it different. All small things making a big difference.

In this image taken recently I have tried to present a small selection of vegetarian Nepali food.

Chamsur (cress) and Palungo (spinach) ko saag
Moola (radish) ko aachar (slightly fermented radish pickle)
Aaloo (potato) ko achar (potato pickle. It is always freshly made)
Toosa (freshly harvested bamboo shoots)
Kauli (cauliflower) ko tarkari (cauliflower in dry curry style)
Meethi (fenugreek) ko kheer (sweet dish made from fenugreek)
Sikarni (reduced yoghurt with saffron and nuts)
Dal (yellow dal with no tomatoes, garlic or onions but with a special high mountain Nepali herb Jimbu )
Kalo  dal (Black Dal in Thakali style with multiple varieties of beans and again with Jimbu herb)
Aloo Tama (Fermented Bamboo shoots curry with potatoes and beans)

BottomWhite rice
Keshar rice

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


Nepal is not all hills and mountains. You also have beautiful places like Chitwan which for a large part of my childhood was my home. Back then it was all tropical jungles. Now it is rice fields. Both beautiful in their own way. 

Of course jungles and wild animals still survive but mainly inside Chitwan National Park. Perhaps one day the entire valley will be a tropical jungle once again.

Image: Chitwan at Ghatgain some 2-3 km from Chitwan National Park. August 2002.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Green Sheet. Almost!


This section of Jun Chiyabari's tea garden is about 1800 meters high. At this altitude and growing them ab initio without chemical fertilisers, plants have taken longer than the standard 7-8 years to become economically viable. While some older section, in the foreground, looks like a sheet of green the younger section, in the background, look patchy.

Image: Jun Chiyabari's Bokre division. May 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

When Tears Are In Your Eyes


When you're weary
Feeling small
When tears are in your eyes
I will dry them all

I'm on your side

When times get rough
And friends just can't be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

When you're down and out

When you're on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you

I'll take your part
When darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down

Sail on Silver Girl,

Sail on by
Your time has come to shine
All your dreams are on their way

See how they shine

If you need a friend
I'm sailing right behind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will ease your mind

- Bridge over Troubled Water from the album Bridge over Troubled Waters by Simon & Garfunkel. Recorded in 1969 and released on 26 January 1970.

Image: A typically Japanese bridge at Yunoyama Onsen, Mie-ken. April 2012

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Fujisan tea

While moving at approximately 250 km per hour it is always difficult to get a good photograph of Fuji-san 富士山 (Mt Fuji) in the background and with tea gardens in the foreground. 
I have travelled many times between Tokyo and Nagoya, Kyoto and beyond on the world's busiest high speed train system, the Tokaido Shinkansen.  Each time I have tried to get a perfect shot at Fuji-san. Each time the train was faster than my shutter release!
In April 2012 I got a chance to go to Shizuoka to meet some tea folks. I was hoping for a good sunny day with blue skies. I dreamt of taking nice photographs of Fuji-san in the background and tea gardens in the foreground. Alas! It was not meant to be. As can be seen from the photograph it was a cold, damp and gloomy day.
Fortunately just before Shizuoka I got this shot. It is not a very good photograph but till next time it will have to do!
Image: Fuji san and tea gardens near Shizuoka. April 2012

Sunday, May 6, 2012

From Taiwan With Love

It is never easy to have been colonised or dominated by another country. However Taiwan and Japan seem to have this special love-love relationship, specially when it comes to tea. Many Japanese love to visit Taiwan and drink Taiwanese tea. Or even live with the farmers and learn how to make Taiwanese teas. 

Taiwanese on the other hand like to learn Japanese and take much interest in Japanese culture, both pop culture and the traditional. They listen and sing Japanese songs and follow the latest trends in fashion from Omotesando.

Both have modern outlook and don't have a hangover from the past. Very refreshing indeed. Just like the teas from Dong Ding or Shizuoka!

Image: Taiwanese tea bushes (四季春 / Si Ji Chun / Shikiharu and Kinsen) in Shizuoka, Japan 2012. Interestingly the tea farmer / master who owns these bushes uses Japanese tea machines and techniques to make Taiwanese style teas in Japan. Don't ask me how!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Open The Door

Open the door and come on in
I'm so glad to see you, my friend
You're like a rainbow coming around the bend
And when I see you happy, well, it sets my heart free
I'd like to be as good a friend to you as you are to me

-Open The Door (Lyrics by Judy Collins)

Image: Detailing on the door at Sensō-ji 金龍山浅草寺 in Asakusa, Tokyo (2012). 
Senso-ji is the oldest temple in Tokyo with the first temple having been established in the year 645.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lonely Cherry

So high in the mountains,
you must be lonely,
blossoming cherry:
no one to sing your glory.
I will praise you if I can


Image: Lonely blossoms along the Mitaki-gawa. 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Green Japan


The thing that never ceases to amaze me is how green Japan is. Coming from a country where deforestation and nude hills are the norm, it is really pleasing to the eye to see huge swathes of the country side, specially the hills, covered with forests. Hills covered by mixed forests is what I dream for Nepal too. Perhaps one day it will happen.

I believe that teas grown in such bio-diverse surroundings will definitely and intrinsically be much better than the ones grown in large mono-culture plantations that is common in South Asia. For me, this is the way to go forward. Indeed, in the long run, it is the only way.

Image: (Top) A farmer's tea plot surrounded by thick forest in Shizuoka.
(Middle and Bottom) Muramatsu san's tea plots at Mariko 鞠子 surrounded by thick forest and bamboo cover. From these plots he makes excellent teas without making much fuss unlike many of us in this part of the world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Come Saturday Morning


Come Saturday morning
I'm goin' away with my friend
We'll Saturday-spend
'Til the end of the day

This nostalgic song by Sandpipers evokes many happy memories. Driving around the mountains of Mie Prefecture in Japan reminded me of this song. Since then it has brought a flood of good memories.

Just I and my friend
We'll travel for miles
In our Saturday smiles
And then we'll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday's gone
-Sandpipers 1969

Image: Aqua blue Honda (top) that took us around Mie; and the beautiful scenery of the area around Yunoyama-onsen in Suzuka Kokutei Park