Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hi Honey!

Honey is often refered to as "the only food that never spoils". There have been (unverified) claims of archeologists digging out 2000-5000 year-old jars of honey from sites in Egypt and Georgia. And today specialized honey's are counted among the most expensive foods in the world.

In 2014, a small consignment of Elvish honey from remote caves in Turkey sold in France for about USD 6,800/kg!

How does India fare in the world of honey exports?

According to APEDA, India exported 29,578.52 MT of natural honey to the world for Rs. 535.07 crore during the year of 2014-15. This comes to just ₹ 180/kg ($ 2.7)!

It is worth noting that we export almost no honey to Europe. In 2014, the European Union imported more than 315,000 tonnes of honey, most of which came from China. Despite all the barriers erected by EU, there does not seem to be much of a cost advantage here. Chinese honey costs just ₹ 20/kg more than Indian exports.

The amazing thing that emergers from these numbers is that the export value of Indian honey is far below the cost at which it retails within India!

Why do Indian exporters sell honey to the Arabs for ₹ 180/kg when they can get ₹ 600 to 900/kg in the domestic retail market? Or was I missing something here?

According to my friend H, the missing element here is Volumes. When it comes to getting agriculture commodities to the markets, one of the most important things to consider is scale of operations. Just as Indian honey is exported for a fraction of its domstic price, Basmati rice too earns our exporters pretty thin margins compared to the domestic market.


The Chemistry of Honey - http://www.compoundchem.com/2014/08/21/chemistryofhoney/

10 most expensive foods in the world - http://www.worldfoodist.com/2013/01/25/the-worlds-most-expensive-foods/

Oddity Central - most expensive honey in the world - http://www.odditycentral.com/foods/worlds-most-expensive-honey-costs-as-much-as-a-small-car.html
- Elvish honey from Turkey - $ 6,800 / kg

World's top-5 honey - http://www.justfoodnow.com/2010/12/22/honey-the-five-best-in-the-world/

BeezHoney India - http://www.beezhoney.com/

Yemeni  Hone - http://www.honey-foryourhealth.com/the-worlds-most-expensive-honey-and-why-you-should-run-to-buy-this---yemeni-honey.html
Yemeni Sidr Honey - quality page - http://www.yemensidrhoney.com/index.php/quality-safety

USA - honey.com - http://www.honey.com/
Wikipedia on Honey - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honey

- Certifications: HACCP (Hazard Analysis for Critical Control Points) - http://www.22000-tools.com/what-is-haccp.html
- ISO 22000 - for food safety - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ISO_22000

- (IT, 2010) - Contaminated Honey in India -- http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/unhealthy-bitter-truths-about-honey-in-india/1/112833.html
. Only Hitkari was found to be free of antibiotics

Trade Stats - Honey in Europe (2015) - https://www.cbi.eu/sites/default/files/trade-statistics-europe-honey-2015.pdf

- APEDA Honey exports - http://apeda.gov.in/apedawebsite/SubHead_Products/Natural_Honey.htm
exported 29,578.52 MT of natural honey to the world for the worth of Rs. 535.07 crore during the year of 2014-15.

- Myth-buster - no honey in ancient Egyptian tombs - http://bumblehive.com/honey-was-not-found-in-pharaohs-tombs/

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mewar at War

Why would 16,000 women throw themselves into a giant bonfire?

This is a question that has troubled me. History is replete with instances where kingdoms have gone to war, where cities have been beseiged, of armies saughtered and people enslaved. Carthage, Rome, Cuzco, Babylon, Jerusalem, Vijayanagara, Delhi...the list goes on an on.

However in the Rajputana kingdoms of Mewar and Marwar, the endgame has always been marked by huge fires lit in palaces where the women are said to have killed themselves en masse, while their menfolk went down on a final, suicidal charge into the waiting enemy flanks.

Chittorgarh Fort (Western ramparts)
In the popular annals of Indian history, the defenders of one fort have used this as a standard procedure across centuries - Chittorgarh. This first time this happened was in 1303 CE when Sultan Allaudin Khilji beseiged the fort for six months before it capitulated. Over 16,000 woment went up in flames in the first recorded "Jauhar" in Mewar. The scene was repeated in 1535 CE, when Mohammad Shah of Gujarat took the fort, and then again in 1568 CE when the Mughals led by Akbar blew up Chittor's fortifications using gunpowder.

Chitrtorgarh Fort - Suraj Pol (Eastern Entrance)
The mass suicide is often portrayed as the outcome of a Rajput "Code of Honor", of "Death before Dishonor". Yet, whichever way you look at it, it seems rather bleak to be in a situation where you forego the option of living to fight another day. What is it that really made these mass suicides worthwhile?

One answer to this question comes from V.S. Naipaul's book, "Among the Believers". In a chilling description of a new type of warfare that arrived on Indian shores, he describes how in 710 CE the 14-year-old "General" Md. Bin Qasim ordered the execution of all fighting men, enslavement of all the women and children in Sindh.

Once this was set as a standard procedure in the medeiva; "all out war", it left the combatants with very limited choices. Either you die in your own home, among family and friends, or got raped and killed while being flogged on an ardruous trek across the Hindu Kush mountains, or to the streets of Arabia.

For the women and children in a city that had already under seige for many months, it may not have been a difficult choice. Was it the women of Chittor who set the precedent? Or is remembered because it happened on such a large scale, repeatedly, at the same site?

Somehow, this does not be a topic of interest to our historians. Its a pity that there is so little information on this either online, or at the actual site.

A layout map of Chittorgarh near the ASI ticket office

Unanswered Questions:

Q1: How is it that the Jain temples and towers survived the military assaults that had flattened almost all buildings in Chittorgarh? One of the oldest structures in Chittor is the Kirti Sthambh built in the 11the century, and it still looks as though it were completed yesterday!

Q2: What did the place look like when it was a flourishing city, with elephants, horses and bullock-carts carting up goods up and down the hill? Who designed the lovely ponds and water bodies inside the fort complex with striped marble slabs cladding on the side walls? Is there a book that brings the life and times of Chittorgarh back to life?

Friday, January 08, 2016

Mount Abu

Mount Abu is an amazing and a pathetic place in equal measure.

For a series of low, unimpressive hills that rise out of the plains of Rajasthan and Gujarat Mount Abu earns a rather disproportionate share of our awe. It is a place described in the Puranas as "Arbudaranya", it figures prominently in the creation myths of Rajputs and Gujjars. It is home the Dilwara Temples - perhaps one of the most intricately carved marble buildings in India. Escavations from historical sites across Abu span the past two millennia.

These days, Mount Abu is better known as the nearest "Hill Station" for all the residents of Rajasthan and Gujarat. This simply means that the hill attracts all kinds of riff-raff looking for a quick holiday destination where they can toss out all their garbage - especially liquor bottles and chips-packets.

Granite walls "scooped out"?

Despite the present state of affairs, the place is full of fascinating things that have hardly been written about. The rock formations all over Mount Abu is something to behold. Unlike the Deccan Plateau where you see large boulders balancing in improbable places, here you have rock faces that look as though they have been carved by a giant walking around with an icecream scoop!

Achalgarh, Mount Abu

Also amazing is the way animals have been honored in the temples here. At the Dilwara Temples, there is a whole gallery of magnificent elephants in polished marble. These aparently were built to honor the animals that lugged tonnes of marble up these hills.

Less celebrated but even more touching is the sight of three water buffalos carved out of black granite, standing guard on a water tank full of their brethren in flesh and blood. Who built these temples? If you ask the local guide, he will tell you some cock-and-bull story about a king who killed three demons who took the form of bufallos.

Three Buffalos
There is certainly a lot more to the ruins than meets the eye. Is anybody studying them seriously? How long will we continue to cover our ignorance with tales of Gods and Demons?


- Geology - http://www.mantleplumes.org/Malani.html

- http://www.mountaburajasthan.com/tourist-places-to-visit/gaumukh