India – Exploring Udaipur

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From Ahmedabad to Udaipur — 12:30:00 PM Start for Udaipur, 2:15:00 stopped for lunch -a thali with excellent paneer w red sauce, pickle, sabzi, dal, rice roti 50R.

Major roadwork underway as part of a ‘Dream Project for the Golden Quadrilateral’
signs triumphantly declare. Often these are just 10-20 km sections of toll road, a brief track of 4 lane, divided highway seemingly at random. But the larger plan is to connect the traditional Delhi-Agra-Jaipur triangle and Udaipur with a network of modern highways. Bypassing towns and villages isn’t considered though, so long stretches run thru villages where one side of buildings has been completely razed. Some places, one side has been finished, or nearly so, and both lanes of one side support two-way traffic which then jumps to the other side after several kilometers. Looks like the entire project is under construction at the same time. Often where the roadbed has been widened, the track is now lightly asphalted or even dirt. Massive concrete bridges span rivers and wadis and provide choke points. On the open sections we speed along at 80 km then down to 20-30 when both directions share. It’s interesting to dream about how this could change this area -transit times will be cut in half or better, so transport costs should drop, and it’ll be possible to expand day markets much farther. That’s if these faster roads don’t become deathtraps -with speeds doubling, even though the highways are divided, there will still be those who go the wrong way, and the herds of cows, buffalo and sheep will still be encountered. [In theory they won’t be allowed on some of these roads, but that will be difficult to enforce] Cross into Rajasthan -and the roadside stands proclaim ‘chilled beer’! Well after dark, we arrive about 7:30 in Udaipur. Udaipur is the jewel of MEWAR -a kingdom ruled by the Sisodia dynasty for 1200 Years. We stay at another ‘Heritage’ hotel Jagat Niwa, but not an original building. In the twisty streets of old city, a small façade opens to a large interior court with 3 stories of lovely rooms — tall ceilings, divans in alcoves.We have a leisurely breakfast on the cool veranda overlooking Lake Pichola and the Floating Palace. We’re back in tourist country now -more
westerners, lots more smokers. Our new driver, Riyaz shows up, but the rest of our tour crew are late

Walked over to the city palace for a tour, then took a boat out to the Jag Mandir, a complex of palaces and mosques.

12/2 /09 Early morning, drove up to catch light on fort walls, Then drove to Udaipur -just under 2 hrs -people carrying water, forage; bullocks turning well pump and waterwheel. We’ve finally graduated beyond simple tourists -today we drove over 5 km on the wrong side of a divided highway, keeping a moderate pace in the rightmost lane [the actual passing lane for the proper traffic]. No one seemed bothered. Tried to avoid city palace which we had already visited, but driver kept insisting
-finally ended up there, but did not go in -visited Vishnu temple nearby -singing and dance service ending just then. Several photogenic holy men strategically placed. Did some shopping and bought some miniature paintings from several local artists

Driver told us not to buy from shops outside [we suspect because they don’t give commission ] then he took us to 2 ‘better places’ – one was the overpriced cottage industries, the other equally uninteresting; visited cenotaphs of majarajahs. Then back to shops for more paintings.

This was the height of marriage season and we saw at least 12 marriages underway – groom on white horse followed by women of his family brightly dressed. A push cart looking like a popcorn stand holds drums & audio for band to link to and blast away

On way out saw a sign pointing, reading ‘child’; couldn’t figure it out til we returned, and then we the other side it said ‘beer child’

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India – Darshan in Nathdwara

Nathdwara Krishna Temple

In the 17th century outside Nathdwara, a chariot carrying an image of Krishna became stuck in the mud 26km north of Eklingji. The idol was being carried from Krishna’s birthplace Mathura to Udaipur to hide it Aurangzeb’s destruction.  Its
bearers interpreted the event as a divine sign and established a new temple where it had stopped. [In Venice there’s a parallel story, illustrated by a painting in the Academia, about a religious procession being stopped by unknown forces, then released, and a miracle declared]

 From our base at Khumbalgarh Fort, we drove about 65 km to Nathdwara the site of a temple dedicated to Krishna. Nath is another name of Krishna, a favorite avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu, hence NATHDWARA means “Gateway to God” It’s the 2nd richest temple in India after Tirupati (in Andhra Pradesh). Nathdwara is a small town, and its narrow streets are filled with stalls and shops selling, beads, perfumes and small Krishna statues. In the centre of town the Shri Nathji temple awaits pilgrims. Each day, the image is awakened, dressed, washed, fed then later put to bed. The most elaborate session, aarti, takes place between 5pm and 6pm. .

There were only a few western tourists at this site. I had a guide for special darshan, which eliminates some of the queuing [500R inc guide, about $10]. He took me through a cluttered courtyard to a back entrance where I sat on some stairs, alone, in what looked to be a a warehouse as 2 men unloaded pumpkins from burlap sacks, some covered with mold, already in stored in a corner. After a short wait, my guide re-appears, from the inside and ushers me into a courtyard where a small crowd builds. The opposing doors open and everyone rushes ahead to get in line for next phase. Now we’re sitting in front of elaborate silver bas-relief doors. Again, the crowd builds. When doors open this time we run across yet another courtyard, where men & women gather in separate sections, divided by a large fence. The guide has me sit off to the side, at the back of the room, and then disappears for ½ hr (Remember – this is the express line!). When he returns he takes me to sit behind an elephant statue on the women’s side. When the next doors open and the women pass through, we become the head of the men’s line. The dividing barrier gate swings out and almost crushes my foot as the men surge forward into a small, narrow theatre, with terraces so everyone can see the sanctum at the end of the hall. A richly dressed statue of Krishna, served by 2 priests appears amid incense, candelabras, and other offerings as crowd chants. The darshan lasts much longer than our experience at Tirupati . Then we exit to halls where donations are collected; we get holy water, tikkal, Prasad, and charmed necklaces.


Maharana Pratap

Haldighati [turmeric valley] is a deep cut in red sandstone, just outside the town, with narrow 1 lane road about ¼ mile long; obviously long a strategic choke point for military operations.

Museum commemorates Maharana Pratap’s victory over Akbars’ General Man Singh at Haldigharti . When he attacked, Man Singh’s elephant wielded a sword which cut off one of Maharana Pratap’s horse’s legs, but the horse carried him another 20 km to get reinforcements and eventually win the battle. Small groups of tourists are ushered thru series of rooms – first with 3D map of the campaign; next with weapons and figures of various leaders, then a short movie recapping what we learned in first 2 rooms; then a dark passage, lit to reveal various dioramas – Maharana Pratap fighting tiger, Maharana Pratap’s consoling his dying horse, Maharana Pratap’s and army as guerrillas in forest camp.

Outside, several displays showed village life today with life sized dioramas showing water wheels, markets, etc that we had been seeing in real life on our trip. Indian tourists, probably urban, were fascinated by these displays.

A good lunch is served on site with several dals, gobi, chappatis, and rice, for a few rupees.

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India – Visiting Orissa Hill Tribes

Orissa is the home of over 62 ‘tribes’. Defined in the Indian Constitution as ‘scheduled castes’,  they have historically been outside the political arena, although some of the tribes are mentioned in ancient texts like the Mahabharata. A quick tour on the narrow mountain roads shows why. Their religion and culture were outside the traditional Hindu society, but they melded the Hindu Pantheon into their lives to produce a special masala similar to the absorption of Christianity by Mexican and South American tribal societies. [Masala is a versatile Indian word, specifically referring to a mixture of spices in cooking, but easily adapted as a metaphor.] We spent our first week in the Orissa hills using Jeypore – Koraput as our base for daily exploration.

This is mountainous country, with hidden valleys that offer prosperous conditions for farming. Weekly markets form a major communications function, as merchants bring manufactured goods from the lowlands to trade with tribal peoples who bring local produce, livestock and crafts from their hillside villages. The Bonda are known one of the best examples of this exchange, but even here only a few tourists, mostly Europeans, were present at the market. We went for days without seeing other tourists in the other areas.

They continue to inhabit their traditional dwelling places in remote areas of the deep forests and hilly interiors. Steeped in the mystery that surrounds their ancient ways, the Orissan tribal peoples continue to be a source of deep interest not only for anthropologists and sociologists but also for numerous tourists. The tribal economy is based on activities around the jungles. Hunting and fishing continue to be the main source of livelihood though some of the larger tribes such as Santals, Mundas, and Gonds have become agriculturists. The Juang, Bhuyan, Bondo, Saura, and Dhruba tribes follow the shifting cultivation practice. The Koya tribals are cattle breeders while the Mahali and Lohara are simple artisans involved in basket weaving and tool making. The Santal, Munda and other tribes have now also become involved in the mining and industrial
belt of Orissa. Though their economy is shaky, the Orissan tribal peoples enjoy a rich and varied cultural heritage, the most powerfully in their music and dance, which are as colorful as they are rhythmical. The cycle of life offers numerous reasons to celebrate and is done so with vigor and grace – either in the privacy of family home or as a community activity.

The Paraja tribe is primarily located in the Kalahandi and Koraput regions of Orissa. The language is ‘Parji’. They worship numerous gods and goddesses who live in the hills and forests.

The “Soura” tribe is one of the most ancient and they are known for being marathon walkers, expert hunters and climbers.

The “Bondos” are fiercely independents and aggressive, and continue to practice the barter system of exchanging produce from their fields for their daily needs.

The Kutias are the primitive section of the Kondh tribal community.  Dongria Kondhs, also a primitive section of the Kondh community are expert horticulturists and maintain a quite distinct cultural heritage.
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India – Tips for Travel

After more than 2500 years, much of the indigenous culture of India remains same in temples and much of daily life outside the cities. You see it with the casual religiosity of the guides, ganesha on dashboards of rickshaws, drivers stopping in early morning to leave marigolds at a small shrine.

The age of statues and shrines are often hard to estimate; they may be centuries old, or installed last year. Personal the reactions are similar – people halt their 21st century lives and enter the religious stream that has coursed for millennia. Nowhere else on earth do you find this profound snse of an ancient heritage, and spiritual confidence, combined with daily patterns of life. It’s as if Socrates still wandered thru Athens asking awkward questions.

Exploring India in small groups gives us the flexibility larger groups are denied. Some differences are obvious – large buses can’t go to as many places, especially the narrow roads of the hill countries. With small groups we can quickly change the itinerary and changes to fit the group, or to take advantage of opportunities for photo ops and other interactions with local people.

A valid visa is required for India and can be obrained from Indian embassy or consulate in your home country. Easier is to also get your Indian visa online. With valid visa you can visit Darjeeling & Kalimpong; but for SIKKIM a SPECIAL INNER LINE PERMIT is required but is easily available at no extra cost.

On arrival, pick up your luggage and head for the green ‘nothing to declare’ exit.  One advantage of arranging at least the initial transfer is that someone will meet you as you come out, and they’ll take you to our hotel. This is a welcome treat after the long flight to India



o The weather will likely be warm wherever you go, except for the hill stations in fall and winter. The monsoons will determine how much rain you should expect. A skirt or long pants are suggested, as shorts are still not a common sight.. Take swimsuits for the hotel pools or ocean. Bring a small towel.
If trekking, low, hiking or walking shoes are sufficient, no need for heavy boots.

o A small, flat rubber stopper is helpful for washing clothes in the hotel sinks.


Daily Activity

o As a rule,  drink bottled water; it’s cheap and easily available. Other drinks include soft drinks, beer, juices and lassi (a yogurt drink). Be careful on the latter two items if you’d can’t confirm their provenance.

o Hotels: Air conditioning is usually available where it’s needed and along the coast.  Hair dryers are usually present. Be sure to carry adapters for electrical items like battery chargers.  Modern equipment rarely needs transformers.

o A typical day will start with breakfast at the hotel between 7 and 8. We leave the hotel between 8 and 10, depending on the itinerary. There’ll be a break for lunch, usually at a local restaurant around noon; in more isolated areas this will be a dhaba or local truck stop with mud floors and oven, and usually very tasty, food and freshly baked breads. We’ll be back or arrive at the hotel between 3 and 6 on most days, and supper will be around 7-7:30.

Traffic in India is a unique experience. It can be nerve wracking, but it seems to work – our driver’s motto: “good horn, good brakes, good luck”. We generally used chauffeured cars or vans for distance travel, and local transport like taxis and auto rickshaws in cities. The new metro in Delhi is excellent and expanding rapidly.

Hindu Sadhu At any shrine or major tourist stop there will be sadhus or other holymen. Most of these are people who have entered the 4th stage of Hindu life and have renounced worldly possessions. Usually, you’re approached and the itinerant offers a blessing – he wraps a colored thread around your wrist, says the blessing and dabs some kumkum paste on your forehead. While always denying there is any expectation of money, a small baksheesh of 10-20R is usual. Hindu Sadhu


o ATM are common and you can easily get Indian rupees with a debit or cash advance card. Changing money at the airport ATM is fine; we’ve found the rate there to be reasonable

o Credit Cards are commonly accepted for large items, such as carpets and jewelry, but be careful that a reasonable rate of exchange is listed, and be prepared  to bargain.

o Now that ATM are so common, we no longer carry Travelers Checks, but you may wish to have them for security. They can be more of a hassle to cash, but in some cases (again, carpet sellers) they are preferred since it becomes a cash transaction.

o Cash – US one dollar bills are easily accepted and often preferred because of inflation. Bazaars, markets, street vendors readily accept dollars, and dollars can be handy for a quick tip if you’re on your own, for taxi fare, etc.

I try to start each day with a pocketful of carefully hoarded 10 and 20R notes. During the day, I try never to pay the exact amount for anything, always trying to break a 100 [$2] or 500 rupee bill. Yet by day’s end, most of it’s gone – given to Sadhus, random guides, altar attendants or for puja.


Elephants miniature painting on silk


Indian food is wonderfully varied, and tasty. It ranges across the spectrum of hotness and spiciness. The south is mostly vegetarian with a lot of seafood. The north, especially Rajasthan and Punjab are more meat oriented, due to the Moghul influences. In hotel restaurants, hotness is usually toned down for westerners, but you can still find authentic dishes. In urban restaurants the food can be spicier, but you can let the waiter know. If you like hot food, it’s a pleasure, for the many different varieties of heat and spice that can be created.



Planning your trip to India

I designed a 6 week itinerary that gave us time to explore, but also to relax. We hired a car and driver/guide for the tribal areas of Orissa, since there is little public transportation there. This gave us the freedom to visit local weekly markets and small isolated villages. We selected Puri as our base, since it is right on the coast, but Bubaneshwar is another reasonable starting point, with easy air connections from Delhi or Chennai. Email let me design precisely the itinerary we wanted, with a local agent based in Agra to make most of our hotel reservations, and thus we had the added security of a local contact for the unexpected.

Our costs ran about $250 per day for the 2 of us, including 5 domestic flights. A large portion of the cost was for a private car and English speaking driver, petrol [the Indian version of gasoline], & tourist travel permits.

You can spend less and travel rougher using all local transportation.  Local transportation is good between major cities, but can be infrequent off the main tourist routes, so you’ll spend much of your time waiting for buses and trains. Good quality hotels run from $30-100 / night, and it’s often difficult to spend $25 on dinner for 2. At roadside dhabas [truckstops] a filling lunch, with unlimited freshly made breads costs about $1. Entry fees for major landmarks are reasonable, and many temples are free. We hired local guides on the spot for $5-20 depending on the length of the tour.



o Check your health insurance plan so you will know what will be covered in case of need. Carry phone numbers and other information with you.

o Make a copy of your passport and keep it separate from your traveling papers. It’s also handy to have copies of your credit cards, airline tickets, etc.

o Theft isn’t a major problem; just be careful as you would in any major city. Pickpockets and purse-snatchers are the biggest problem, especially in the markets or on public transportation. Just be alert


The Glass Palace Amitav Ghosh Like his previous book, In an Antique Land, The Glass Palace is about Indians living in other countries. It starts with the British invasion of Burma in the 1880’s and follows a young Indian boy, Rajkumar…

The Calcutta Chromosome – Science Fiction with a Bite… When a patient has syphilis, cure them by infecting them with malaria. This amazing piece of medical trivia drives the plot of one of Ghosh’s
first books.

Iraq, Afghanistan & the Taliban – a Review of Recent Books America’s longest wars are being fought in faraway countries that until recently were little known to
most Americans. Here are a number of recent books that help fill these gaps

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Travel – Mountains of the World

Recipe – Tandoori Chicken

Not many of us have a standalone enclosed clay oven nearby, so some thought is needed to produce an Americanized
version of the Indian classic tandoori chicken

Start with 6-8 chicken thighs


  • 1 cup yogurt
  • juice from 1 lime
  • 1 t – cayenne
  • 1 t – cumin
  • 1 t – turmeric
  • 1 T- paprika
  • 3 cloves – garlic, minced
  • 1 inch -ginger root, minced
  • 1/2 cup – parsley, minced


  • 4 T- fresh cilantro, chopped
  • Lime wedges

1. Combine marinade ingredients and mix in a blender or food mill or food processor.

2. Remove the marinade to large bowl, fold in the yogurt, then add to chicken pieces. Marinate for 1-2 hours

3. Place a double sheet of aluminum foil on the grill so chicken is not exposed to flames.

4. BBQ or grill for 45-60’ or until done (preferably in a covered BBQ), turning every 15 minutes, and basting with extra marinade. If using an oven – place chicken in oven proof pan, bake at 400 for 10′, then reduce heat to 350 and continue to bake for 45′ or until chicken is done.

5. Garnish with coriander leaves and lime wedges. Serves 3-6, depending on number of courses – eg, 6 in an Indian dinner with many courses; 3 with a simple side dish and salad
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Tandoori chicken Tandoori chicken cooking on grill Tandoori chicken


Tandoori chicken cooking

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Spices Markets of the World

Spices make excellent souvenirs for many trips – for yourself or your friends. They’re light, reasonably priced and literally import the exotic flavors of your trip. Of course, it helps if you know how to use them, but even if you don’t, you’ll find but even if you don’t, you probably know someone who does, and spices make a great gift.

There’re rarely any problems with customs. The main hassles are raw food items like unroasted coffee beans (ie, only buy roasted coffee beans) or many air dried meat products like prosciutto. Educate yourself before your trip;
learn what the common spices look like in various forms. During the trip, ask the waiter about the flavors in dishes you particularly enjoy. You may even be invited by the chef to explore the kitchen.

Spices can be found in many tourist souvenir shops, but avoid these prepackaged bits, often 5 or 6 spices on a foldout card . They tend to be both old and expensive. Instead, find a local market, where business is more frequent. In Istanbul, the Egyptian Market on the Golden Horn waterfront is the exemplar. Some bargaining is expected, with minimal changes of 10% or so are common. Do ask for prices before buying though. Some spices, like sumak or cardamon are several times more expensive than more common ones. Familiarize yourself with the metric equivalents if you’re used to ounces. 50- 100g should be enough for most purposes (about 2-4 oz).


Turkey – Recipes

    • My favorite spices from Turkey are its many peppers — everything from mild paprika, to hot red peppers. Usually powdered, they’re also found in paste form, and if well packaged, these travel and keep well.
    • Saffron is available in several forms.  It’s not as good as Iranian orMoroccan, but much cheaper, and for simple rice dishes, or soups, you just use a bit more.   Watch out for ‘Indian Saffron’ — it’s just turmeric.
    • And there are now many different forms of Turkish Viagra — from powdered ginger to walnut stuffed figs.

India – Recipes

India was the source of the original spice trade, making the fortunes of many successful voyagers.
Today anyone can bring back a Prince’s ransom in delectable spices.

  • Cardamom is the fruit of Elettaria cardamomum, a member of the ginger family, which grows in the moist, tropical regions of Southern Asia
  • Vanilla beans
  • Cocoa pods
  • Tamarind
  • Nutmeg & Mace are derived from the apricot-like fruit of the evergreen tree Myristica fragrans. When the fruit is ripe, it splits in half revealing a deep red, net-like membrane that covers a brittle shell. The membrane is mace, the shell nutmeg.
  • Turmeric is a rhizome of the tropical herb Curcuma longa. It’s used in powdered form.
  • Coriander
  • Ginger is a light-brown rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale
  • Cayenne is made from the dried red skins of chili peppers
  • Cinnamon is the dried bark of an evergreen tree of the laurel family, Cinnamomum
    is native to India and Sri Lanka.
  • Asafoetida is the sap from the roots and stem of a giant fennel-like plant which grows wild in Central Asia. The sap dries into a hard, smelly resin and is usually used ground


Cumin is the national condiment, found with salt & pepper on tables everywhere. Use either the seeds of this small
annual herb from the parsley family Cuminum cyminum, or the ground powder form. Popular in tagines.

Saffron – various qualities of saffron are widely available, prices vary accordingly.

Mexico Recipes

Dried peppers of all sorts are cheaply available everywhere. There’s no problem in bringing them back to the US, even with their seeds. In Mexico, both fresh and dried peppers are abundant, and the names change when a pepper is dried — anchos are just the dried form of poblanos. Chipotles are the smoky, dried form of jalapenos.

In many markets you can find moles – mixtures of up to 20 or more spices. These are excellent bases for sauces, soup flavorings, or marinades and I always buy several kilos – they’ll keep for months in the refrigerator.

Huitlacoche  is a fungus that grows on corn ears, producing big, swollen, deformed kernels, black inside with a silvery gray skin. It’s easily compared to truffles, with a delicious, inky mushroomy flavor, but it’s rarely available commercially. Sometimes you can find it in restaurants as Huitlacoche para Quesadilla.

China – Recipes

        • Ginger
        • Anise

Specific Spices:

  • Saffron  Absurdly priced in the US, saffron is affordable in many countries.   You do need to know a little about the differences. True saffron is made from the are the stigma (female organ) of the autumn
    crocus, or Crocus sativus, but other ‘saffrons’ are made from different flowers, sometimes even leaves.  Mexican saffron is one of these, it’s very cheap, but gives a completely different flavor (though quite good).   Turkish saffron is very good, but you need to use a loose teaspoon of threads where a recipe calls for a few threads of Spanish saffron.   In Morocco, several grades of saffron are available, in both thread and powdered form.  All are good value and reasonably priced.  Iranian saffron is some of the best I’ve found, but priced accordingly. In Turkey, you’ll also find ‘Indian Saffron’, but this is really Turmeric, a different spice entirely
  • Sumak Mostly unknown in the US, this is a common spice in the Mideast.  Use it to flavor grilled chicken or fish, or just sprinkle lightly on a salad of tomatoes and sliced onions.PepperDozens of choices, so try tasting them and choosing what you like best.  In Turkey, commonly red pepper, with some browns.
  • Pepper pastes (moles) also widely available.   In Mexico, both fresh and dried peppers are abundant, and the names change when a pepper is dried — anchos are just the dried form of poblanos.  Chipotles are the dried form of jalapenos.
  • Paprika  Good paprikas are widely available, with tastes varying from sweet to moderately spicy.
  • Cumin–The national spice of Morocco — found on most tables withthe salt and pepper.  Used in many dishes here and in India, Mexico, and the Middle East.  Available in both powdered and seed form. Roast the seeds to get a wonderful flavor
  • Coriander  The powdered form (made from the dried seeds)  very different from the fresh leaves and stems (also known as cilantro). Used in cultures throughout the world.   Use the fresh form in
    dishes that call for parsley!
  • Turmeric— The ‘poor man’s saffron’, this spice is basic to many dishes in the Indian subcontinent, up through China. It provides a beautiful saffron color, and a distinctive taste. In the US it’s most
    commonly found as a coloring agent in chicken soup.
  • Cardamom Another expensive spice in the US.  You can find green or black forms, or seeds.
  • Discover recipes using these spices

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Apsara Naked Dancers

Apsara are beautiful, supernatural female beings.  Youthful and elegant, they’re superb in the art of dancing. They are often the wives of the Gandharvas, the court musicians of Indra.

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Apsaras dance in the palaces of the gods, entertaining and sometimes seducing gods and men. As caretakers of fallen heroes, they’re like the valkyries of Norse mythology. Apsara are ethereal beings who inhabit the skies. Often depicted taking flight, or at service of a god similar to angels

Maithuna or Mithuna is a Sanskrit term used in Tantra most often translated as sexual union in a ritual context.

Apsara Dancers in Angkor Wat, Cambodia



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