Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Year Later

As it stands I have been home from India for a full 14 months. My last few weeks in Coimbatore were filled with friends, my family and many last experiences in the wonderful country that I had learned to call home. Saying goodbye was hard- especially to my host father Prabakaran and my host mother Maheshwari- I had become very close with the two and loved and respected both of them immensely.
On my last day in India, I spent the morning going nuts over packing and when I had finally finished, met my friends in the courtyard downstairs to say my goodbyes. They had all just come from school and were still in uniform, which made me realize that he previous day had really been my last with the friends that hadn't been able to come. I spent a few precious moments with my friends before it was time to head up and get my three bags to put in the car and go to the airport in preparation for a long journey home.
At the airport after figuring out my baggage and checking in I had a few minutes with my host parents and Piriyanga, Praveen, and Theekshana who had come to see me off. We took photos and talked about memories, wondering when we would see each other again. And then it was time to leave, and I went through security with tears welling in my eyes. Walking out onto the airstrip I breathed deeply and looked up to the roof where my friends were waving from, trying and failing to hold back the tears.
As the plane took off I burst into tears, everyone on the whole plane looking over with concern. I knew that I would miss India incredibly. I would miss the smells, the sights, the food, the people, my friends and my host parents especially! I wondered when the next time I would see them again would be, and knew that it probably would be a long time, making my tears flow continuously.
I cried the entire way to Mumbai and then gained control of myself for the long legs of my journey....after twelve hours I arrived in Portland, Oregon. Everything was immediately weird and familiar, and I headed to the bathroom to change into my sari (a surprise for my parents waiting in Medford!). Once dressed I boarded the plane and flew home- arriving in Medford in the late evening. I smiled and laughed while descending from the plane, jogging to the terminal where I burst through the doors to find not only my family, but my friends as well! They had all come to receive me- I had been sent off by family and received by family :)
Now more than a year has gone by, and there's not a day that passes that I don't think about my wonderful experiences, and miss my host family and their genuine kindness. My life has changed greatly since my arrival home, and my future is speeding towards me. I very much hope that India and her people will be a piece of that future! Thank you to everyone who made this experience possible!!!!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rishikesh and Haridwar Mini Trip

After an all night drive in a giant tour bus on bumpy roads, our small group (only a few from our bigger group decided to go on this short trip) arrived in Rishikesh- a beautiful city situated in the middle of green mountains. Rishikesh is a very holy city, as the holiest of all rivers runs directly down the middle- the beautiful Ganges. We arrived around 5:00 a.m., and after a short tea stop we got on our way, stopping at a steep cobblestone drive. This was also the spot where I first laid eyes on the Ganges, an amazing and GIANT turquoise green river rushing down from the mountains.
Our tour in Rishikesh included two ashrams, a jewelry shop, bridge and breakfast at the end. The two ashrams that we visited were really cool. Ever since reading the book "Eat, Pray, Love" by Elizabeth Gilbert I have been wanting to visit one. We witnessed a puja at the first and were given the prasadam (food offered to the Gods) and got a few minutes to walk around through the halls. All around us as we walked were people sitting in silent meditation, and throughout the visit we were to keep as quiet as possible. The jewelry shop was a stop along the way where we got to see malas- a religious necklace worn while chanting that contains 108 beads. The bridge was at the opposite end of the city- a famous and holy bridge that we got to walk across and back :) We rode to the bridge by jeep- the same type as we rode in while going to the Amber Fort.
After finishing our tour of Rishikesh, we all boarded our bus and drove the short distance to Haridwar, another holy city where WE GOT TO BATHE IN THE GANGES!!!!! I have to say, bathing in the Ganges was one thing I had dreamed about before coming, and when I got down on my knees and let the incredibly fast moving, and freezing cold green water run over me I felt incredible. The water was completely clean and pure. It was an amazing experience, and I'll never forget the hundreds of people that were all around me during this- some were sitting quietly, some performing ceremonies for their young children, women bathing in their beautiful sarees and of course the part at the end when all of the women had to pay five ruppees to change into dry clothes behind a hole filled tarp underneath the bridge. We had been expecting bathrooms to be available...but oh well. It was an interesting experience!
P.S. the photo is another photo of a professional one that we had taken after our dip!

Days in Delhi

Back in Delhi we were once again in the same hotel as before. The location was good for us- there was a street right next door full of all kinds of shopping, and there were restaurants ( a McDonalds too!) nearby. We spent the days in Delhi at the Indian International Trade Fair- an event that happens every year when countries from all over the world, and all the states of India build huge indoor booths to showcase products from their country or state. Both days that we went, our mode of transportation was the Delhi metro....let me just say I've NEVER in my life been so squished! We arrived at the station both days, purchased our tickets, went through a security check and then walked up a flight of stairs to the tracks. We got into partners (so as no one got left behind alone) and when the metro came, we grasped tightly and had to push our way through a solid mass of people trying to get off of the train and trying not to fall out! Luckily both times, my partner and I made it onto the car, and we rode for about five minutes like sardines in a can. Every inch of my body except for a small piece of my head and face was pressed tightly against the body part of another person. We were a completely stable block and didn't even budge a centimeter when the train stopped at stations- we all held each other up! That was an experience I'll never forget...I couldn't help but think about someone being claustrophobic...that would be so bad!
The trade fair was held at a huge ground area near the metro station, so when we got off the platform it was only a short walk down a dirt path before we arrived at a security check and then the entrance gate. There were buildings spread about us and inbetween there were paths and grass areas to sit. The paths were filled with ice cream and coffee carts, and the grass areas were overflowing with people sitting down to rest. It was a really cool experience to get to come to this, and I got some real insight into what the other states of India are like- not only did each state's building have information and photos, but there were even some that had their state's classical dance going on out front! The shopping was really good- mostly everything was decently priced and good quality, so my group (a group of twenty women who all LOVE shopping) spent most of our time browsing the stalls.
In the evenings we went out for dinner to a Punjabi (state in the north of India) restaurant that had everything cooking in an open area downstairs and the tables to sit upstairs. It was at this restaurant when I got to see naan (my favorite North Indian thick and soft bread like food) made in a tandoori oven! It was so cool! The man making it would first flatten the dough, then place it on a towl and stick it onto the side of a circular barrel that was embedded in the counter- a tandoori oven!It was also at this restaurant where I discovered the first Indian sweet that I love- gulab jamun- a round sweet that to me tastes kind of like a donut...SO good!
P.S. The image above is of the group I went with at the IITF.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Day 3: Agra!!!

We continued on the next morning- a five hour drive to Agra where the entire bus (mostly) tried to get a few more minutes of sleep!
Our first stop was a famous fort located just outside the city called Fatehpur Sikri, which was built in 1570 by the emperor Akbar and was the capital city of his empire for fifteen years until it was abandoned for unknown reasons. Fatehpur Sikri was HUGE! We spent about an hour and a half touring around the massive courtyards and pillared hallways where I got to see many different types of architecture. There was even one hall that was the emperor's "courtroom" that had a giant pillar in the center with three very different styles of designs carved onto it. The cool thing though about Fatehpur Sikri is the fact that the entire place is made up completely of red stone! It was very cool looking, and the contrast between the grass and the walls was pretty fantastic.
From Fatehpur Sikri we continued on into the main city of Agra, but before going to the main attraction of the city, the Taj Mahal, we visited the Agra fort which was also built by emperor Akbar as a replica of the Red Fort that we visited in Delhi. It didn't exactly look the same to me...but the color was the same! The emperor moved to Agra for a few years, but liked the climate better in Delhi and so eventually moved back after he had constructed and left his mark on the area :)
And then came the moment I had been waiting for- we drove into the parking lot outside the Taj Mahal (we couldn't see anything yet) and unloaded onto a small van that drove us up the hill (past camels! The first I'd ever seen!) to the entrance gate. After going through security we walked through the gateway into a giant open grassy space surrounded by big red buildings. Following the path we came to the archway of one of the buildings, and looking through over the many heads in front of me, I SAW MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF THE TAJ MAHAL!!!!!! We went through the tunnel and emerged with the enitire view laid out in front of us- I was completely in awe (as were many others standing at my sides!)! The structure is just SO giant and out of this world amazing! I don't think that I could do the experience of being there justice by writing about it- it was just like being in a dream.
We spent our time there roaming around the gardens, taking photos, and soaking up every moment (or at least I was!) from the experience of being there. Our group had several professional photos taken of each one of us, and then a group shot front and center to the monument. We also toured through the inside of the main dome, where the emperor and his beloved Mumtaz Mahal (whom he built the Taj for) are honored with tombs (their actual tombs are beneath the replicas that are on display).
Leaving the Taj Mahal felt strange...because it was like being in a dream, as soon as we walked back out through the tunnel it was almost as if what lay behind us had disappeared. On the way back to the bus, our group was bombarded with small boys trying to sell us everything from postcards to books to key chains to pens! I bought a book and some postcards (after doing some heavy bargaining) and was eyeing the key chains that a little boy was holding in front of me when he said "20 rs each! 20 rs. each!" looking around at me and then quickly to the women next to me- when he saw her he says "5 rs! 5 rs!" then looks back at me, realizing what he just said, and slaps himself on the forehead. I laughed at him and said "O.K. 5 rs.!" and handed him the money. Even though he had just lost out on what could have been a big pay day, the little boy chased after our van as we pulled away, laughing and waving good bye!
P.S. The photo above is a photo that I took of the professional's not exactly great quality, but you can see the awesomeness! :)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Dusty Cities (Jaipur: Day 2 of Delhi trip)

Driving through small and dusty cities in the morning and we were on our way to Jaipur- the city of palaces. Before entering the city though, we stopped at a beautiful fort on the top of a hill, it's walls expanding along the many hillsides around it. This was the Amber Fort- a fort built as the capital of Rajastan until the capital was shifted 11km away to the nearby city of Jaipur. The Amber Fort was absolutely amazing. The architecture blended styles of both Muslim and Hindu architecture and has a certain stereotypical "Indian feel" as it is an olden day palace on the top of a hill overlooking the sparsely vegetated mountains around it. The fort itself is camouflaged into the hills with it's yellow colored walls! The best part though about the Amber Fort was the way we got up the hill in order to tour the inside- we arrived in bus parking and unloaded, only to reload in smaller groups into the backs of about four black jeeps. I almost felt as though I was in the military sitting along the side wall of the car in the truck bed with six other people, looking out the open space at the back at all that we passed by going up the mountain. We saw wild boars in the streets (like dogs everywhere else the boars were in huge numbers wandering around!) and even TWO elephants! They were both simply walking together down the middle of the cobblestone road!
At the entrance to the fort there were lots of people selling souvenirs, but there was something that was WAY cool there also! A snake charmer! There were two men sitting on a blanket at the side of the steep road, one playing a small drum and the other playing a weirdly shaped flute with a basket in front of him where a snake's head stuck out and swayed slowly from side to side.
Inside we got a tour of the main parts of the palace and then rushed out and back into the jeeps to drive quickly back down the mountain to our bus to get going to our next destination on the tour- The city of Jaipur. Our first stop in Jaipur was to take photos of the Water Palace, a beautiful white palace that sits in the middle of a lake! You are unfortunately not allowed to go inside, so we took pictures from afar before continuing on to lunch and then to a handicrafts center where we got to see some material being printed in the famous Jaipur style- with wooden stamps and special dye.
Next was the City Palace of Jaipur. We got a tour of the inside and got to walk through several museums that had garments and jewelry worn by the King and Queen. What was really cool about going here though was that there were two flags flying high above us in a tower, a sygnal our guide told us that meant that the current "King" (he doesn't have any power but he is a descendant and WOULD be king) was actually there at the palace that day!
Our day in Jaipur finished out with an intense three solid hours of shopping. I went with a few women in our group and we walked the entire street back and forth, went to the next street and did that one also, and all left with at least (the least being me) three full shopping bags of new stuff! We then went back to our hotel (an EXTREMELY nice hotel!) and had a great dinner of Rajastani food before going to sleep for a few hours before having to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to report to our bus to go to Agra!
P.S. Above are photos of me in front of the Water Palace in Jaipur, and at the entrance to the Amber Fort.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Delhi: Day 1

O.K.! Yes I am still alive for all of you who have been worried about me! I simply haven't had access to the internet for the past ten days or so because I've been busy and gone on the trip of a lifetime! Since there is so much to write about, I'm just going to skip over getting to Delhi and start out the morning of my first day (there is still WAY A LOT to write about though!). If you didn't know, I went to Delhi with a group of women from Coimbatore. They are all business women and wanted to go to the
Indian International Trade Fair, which was happening in Delhi all week. So, while there they figured they'd do a tour of the main attractions in North India and I got to go with them!!!
Our first day we woke up early and the three of us staying in the room I was in all went out to find a tea stall on the street. It was cold outside in the morning, and we didn't know our way around so we walked aimlessly for a while before coming accross a small side of the road tea shop where we got tea for 5 rs. After tea we met up with the others and went for breakfast at a South Indian restaurant that we had seen on our walk. We ordered and ate quickly, then walked across the street to our tour bus that was parked out in front of the tour company (Panicker's) office.
Our first day of touring was focused all on sightseeing around Delhi. Our first visit was to Qutab Minar, which is a very tall tower (72.5 meters) surrounded by ruins of old temples. We had about forty minutes alotted to us by the tour guide to spend walking through the monument, and we spent that time taking photos and exploring in and around the beautiful red carved stones.
Our next stop was a shopping complex called "Best of India" where we looked around at all of the (expensive) hand made items for sale before heading off again to the Lotus Temple. The Lotus temple was absolutely beautiful! It is a temple that was built for all faiths, and was HUGE and made of white marble, cement and sand. It was surrounded by pools of water (like a lotus!) and the inside was a big hall that was completely silent. It is a rule to maintain silence while inside, so even though there were hundreds of people sitting on the many benches, it was completely quiet. We sat for a minute or so with our eyes closed, enjoying the peace before getting up to leave in order to head off to our next destination, Gateway of India.
Gateway of India is a giant arch, built as a memorial for all Indian soldiers in the armies that have been killed. It was a beautiful structure and was surrounded by colored flags, armed gaurds, and lots of people selling things like postcards, books, jewelry, even mehindi!
After having lunch at a "canteen" in Delhi, we went to a few memorials; one for Indira Gandhi, and one for Nehru (Indira's father). Both were pretty neat monuments. Indira Gandhi was assasinated (just like her son Rajiv Gandhi whose memorial I went to in Chennai) while going for a walk outside her home one day so her memorial is a museum in her home with a crystal raised pathway outside where she took her last steps before being shot down by one of her own security guards (there was a clear plate of glass where she fell).
After being rushed through the two memorials by our guide, who was very concerned of the time, we all got back onto the bus and headed off to the Red Fort. We got about an hour to walk around inside the Red Fort, admiring the beautiful Moghul architecture and the intricate carvings that were in the red and white stone. We also did a bit of shopping at the exit where there were many stalls set up selling everything from purses to jewelry to books.
Our last and final stop for the day before going back to the hotel for dinner and more shopping nearby was the Rajghat- Mahatma Gandhi's memorial. It was dark and cold when we arrived, but the presence of Gandhi's peaceful spirit was felt as we walked around the large square of black marble that was completely covered in flowers, and smelled the ever burning incense sticks. It was a jam packed day of sightseeing, with a perfect ending spot for the day where we could reflect and be thankful for how far India has come because of a wonderful man that stood for purity and freedom for everyone.
P.S. The photos above are of me at the Red Fort and then at the Lotus Temple in Delhi.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Cinderella in the Rain

Yesterday was Children's day! A holiday celebrating the birthday of India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his great love for children throughout his lifetime. It is said that he would do anything in his power for a child, and we therefore celebrated it as a holiday at both school and in the evening at the apartments. At school the day began with an assembly in the outdoor ampitheater. The entire school, all dressed in traditional clothing (not the uniforms!!!), made our way to the cement seats which overflowed with the crowd and spilled over onto the ground in front where the teachers had put down a few blankets. The sun was shining hot and bright as we sat, but we all had smiles on our faces the entire time as we watched the teachers all dance together for us!
The rest of the school day was regular; kids went to class and things proceeded like any other day. The last and final treat for all of us came near the end of the day when our class teachers brought in GIANT bags full of packets of pineapple flavored cookies that each of us got!
When I got home from school, my host mother wasn't yet there and so I made myself a lunch of an apple and heated some egg noodles that were in the refrigerator from the day before. When my host mother arrived home, the two of us set out to do a few errands to get ready for my Delhi trip (I'm leaving TOMORROW!!!!!)- we had to get a few photo copies that my host mother wanted of my medical insurance, pick up some dry cleaning, pick up the itinerary for my trip (yea...I still don't know any of that...), and also stop at the Police Commisioner's office so that we could register the fact that I am leaving the city for a week.
Our first stop was the Comissioner's office, and we arrived there in the middle of a HUGE downpour of rain. When we knocked on the door it was unlocked, but there was no one inside so we figured that we'd just wait there. We waited. And Waited. And waited. A few police from a different department told us that they were all probably caught up in the rain after having lunch, so we just waited there patiently under the eaves of the building, watching as the landscape boxes below us filled completely with the rainwater and the parking lot came to look a lot more like a lake. We ended up waiting for two hours- no one showed up. We left around 5:00 p.m. which was the time that the celebrations were supposed to start at the apartment, so we didn't have time to get anything else done. On the way out of the building we ran to my host mother's car accross the lot to avoid getting TOO wet. On the way my foot slipped out of my shoe and I realized that I had just had a Cinderella moment in the rain (except I was able to go back and retrieve my shoe!).
The program for Children's day at the apartment was really great! When my host mother and I arrived in the clubhouse it was jam packed and screaming with excited little kids that were all playing a quiz game. The way that the program was set up was actually kind of cool. At first, it was a few ladies from the apartment trying to organize some games, but then Airtell, a phone company, came in and said that they would organize all of the games and prizes if they would allow the company to set up posters and hand out flyers. So, my friends from the apartment and I all sat and watched as the little kids played game after game together and all had the time of their lives screaming and laughing with their friends. And then came the dancing...Oh my gosh! I just can't get over how good of a dancer EVERYONE here seems to be! I was flat out amazed when the music came on and even the smallest of the smallest of the kids was out on the floor doing dance moves that I couldn't do!
After dinner was served (we had ordered in dinner) to everyone we all had ice cream, cleaned up a bit and then walked back to our apartments grouped by which block we all live in- my group included Sanju Vadivu and Bapu (our neighbors), and Rhadika who is a woman who lives below us whom I do yoga with several times a week. Children's day was over, but the essence of fun still hung in the air as we all went into our separate apartments and retired into a nice sleep after a long day.
P.S. the photos above are of me at school with a few friends and then Sanju at the Children's day celebration playing a game where there was a time limit and you had to stick as many bindis as possible on your partner's face!