How’s that for a slice of fried gold?

Cardamom

I admit I’m not much on Indian sweets. The occasional gulab jamun is about all I can stand.

But this bit of heaven in Jodhpur — which I’ve never seen anywhere else in the country (maybe not looking enough) — was fantastic. A combination of soft and crunchy with a hint of cardamom. Some of them come covered in icing or butter or cheese-like substance.

The old market bylanes are filled with these cakewallahs.

See below for a better understanding of how it’s made. I don’t really know a whole lot else, as my Hindi failed that morning. All I could really gather was “elaichi” — Hindi for cardamom — before the guy simply broke me off a piece to try.

I wish I had bought so much more.

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Perfect imperfect art

Traditions

Women paint the ground outside Mehrangarh Quila in Jodhpur.

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Rising right out of the rock face

Towering Mehrangarh

Mehrangarh, the picturesque fort of Jodhpur, towers above the city. It’s a museum and heritage site today, fascinating for its alcoves and exhibits of royal life, weaponry, artifacts and art.

The fort itself rises out of the old Blue City and is an imposing feature of the skyline whenever the crowded markets and teeming bazaars provide a view.

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Details, details….

Fantastic texture and color from Mehrangarh fort in Jodhpur, India’s “Blue City” in Rajasthan. The fort is spectacularly preserved as a museum and towers over the sprawling, grungy city. Inside are alcoves and hallways and galleries of marble and wood and ornament.

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One big trunk on the streets of Delhi

Pachyderm lane?

Meet a Delhi elephant. There are a few dozen of the beasts captive in Delhi, taken care of by their very loving mahouts (traditional, often tribal, elephant driver) as well as some wildlife NGOs. Their life isn’t great, but this is a facet of Indian culture that isn’t likely to wither under the animal-loving glare of the West.

Here, they are used for weddings, festivals and other ceremonies, though outside the city in parts of the country they are still beasts of burden. Sounds weird to say it, but these elephants are domesticated.

I’m sometimes a little leery of posting photos of the colorful juxtaposition of India’s traditions alongside her modern ambitions. What I don’t want is for this mediocre shot — from an abnormally uncrowded Aurobino Marg, a major Delhi traffic artery — to give the impression that India is simply a backward, funny land.

But this is also reality in a major Indian city, a glorious if also quirky reality. There aren’t many places in the world to find the urban elephant.

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Hay perrito!

Hola puppy

Not exactly a street dog. Ecuadorians like their mascotas and I’ve seen more than a few dogs in these parts that are far better and healthier than much of the rest of the developing world.

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Graduation day

Rite of passage: Finishing elementary school

Arutam’s school caters to a handful of village children, staffed both by Domingo Vargas, one of the older Shuar brothers, as well as volunteers. At the end of the semester, the school celebrated a graduation of sorts before a holiday. Parents and children attended, and Domingo read aloud the accomplishments of each child.

Edgar, above, who will next year attend the government school, was cause for particular celebration. Education levels are abysmal in parts of rural Ecuador, like much of the rest of the developing world. His graduation and chance at higher education is a big deal. Such an accomplishment has replaced old Shuar rights of passage, and it is a happy occasion worthy of donning traditional clothing.

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Leopard skins and dancing shoes

Shuar dance party

Well, maybe a lack of dancing shoes.

Every Wednesday en la selva is family dinner night. The community cooks a traditional meal of fish, palm hearts and yucca. And then we dance the night away to Shuar music.

Admittedly, there’s only a couple songs on repeat, and the steps — particularly for women who really only do a modified bunny hop — get old quick.

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Shuar warriors

Warrior pose

During the three weeks I volunteered in the Ecuadorian Amazon, or “en la selva,” I lived in a Shuar community caught between traditional practices and modernization. Meet our volunteer director, Enrique Vargas, a 23-year-old who is studied in traditional ways, drips machismo and wants, in male Shuar fashion, multiple wives.

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Bark worse than his bite

Stone pooch

The guards of the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

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