Features TajMahal

Published on June 6, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour

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We’ve all had a Shimla experience

Former senior lecturer in food technology at Northumbria University, Ian Brown, reports on a trip to India

India is really not a place for those with a delicate gastro-intestinal system. The photo here showing Cheers North East at the Taj Mahal, innocent though it appears, has a tale attached.

In recent years, security at the Taj has tightened immensely. All visitors and their bags are subject to stringent security checks, electronically as well as by manual body searches. The following are identified as being unacceptable:

Food, drink, video cameras and any form of literature – in any language – including guidebooks.

Cheers magazine was highlighted in the electronic scan and removed from my wife Carol’s bag. We were ushered into an interview room and asked to explain this subversive religious literature.

It was far from easy trying to interpret what they clearly thought was a Gorgon-headed scandal-sheet –but I did my best. The head of security eventually appeared and following a heated discussion (it was 40º C) and after what seemed like a referendum among three million Hindu gods, Brentry was amazingly declared.

I can only put this down to the fact that Cheers was not considered to be of any literary merit whatsoever. Either that, or those Hindu gods were regular readers and approved of it by a clear majority.

I had only been in India for a couple of days when I was struck down by Delhi Belly and Shimla Shitz. Imodium kept us on the road and off the bog for a couple of more days but thankfully deep into the heart of Rajasthan our driver took us to visit a rural tribe of a Hindu sect, the Brahmans, where it was recommended that we participate in a local ceremony at the BWMC (Brahman Working Men’s Club) – CIU affiliated, of course.

I thought this related to my background in food technology as some locally-sourced raw materials were ground into a powder, mixed with water, then added to a small distillation apparatus which was subsequently heated. The resultant distillate was then offered – three times – on a small leaf, and we imbibed each time. This was accompanied throughout by a chant reminiscent of the anger expressed at opposing supporters from the Leazes End whenever Newcastle conceded a goal in the mid-1960s.

We then experienced the most powerful of mixed sensory perceptions – bitterness and wellbeing – which produced an amazing craving for sweetness eventually satisfied by small, coarse, uncut lumps of brown sugar. They were uncut diamonds of carbohydrate.

The offending micro-organisms – and their spores – failed to trouble my digestive system for the remainder of the trip.

But I’m sad to report that the beer situation in India is best described as dire. Kingfisher Lager has well and truly cornered the market. It wouldn’t be so bad if it was the beer that we all know in the wonderful curry houses we have in the North East, but sadly it is reminiscent of something from the Federation Brewery in the 1970 and 80s. Think Ace Lager.


About the Author

Alastair Gilmour



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