Saturday, May 19, 2012

:) The Land of Smiles :)

Now that I have lived in India for almost ten months now I know that one could never understand a place by simply being a tourist there. In Thailand I was in fact only a tourist for eight days. My time there was very nice, but I did not learn a thing about culture. I was very close with the Thai exchange student in my city last year. I asked her a lot of questions and it is only because I spoke with her that I know a thing about Thailand.
My friend Anna and I went to Thailand to go to the Rotary International Conference in Bangkok. However we only went to one hour of the convention. We were never even registered for the convention: / The first two days of our journey we were in Pattaya. Pattaya is nothing but a bunch of foreigners who came for the notorious Thai sex industry. There are prostitutes literally EVERYWHERE! After India I consider myself a passionate feminist, and it sickens me to see women forced to do horrible things for their livelihood. The city disgusts me and I hated being there. Pattaya is supposedly famous for its beaches, but I found that they were sub-par because they were ruined by tourists.
Bangkok- We finally saw a glimpse into a more Thai Thailand. The hotel we stayed in was overly luxurious and it was in the very commercial part of town. To be honest this is exactly the kind of travelling I do not want to do. We went on vacation to Thailand not really to discover it. Fortunately Anna and I were given a lot of freedom so we travelled through the city to visit local flower markets and Buddhist temples. The Temple of the Reclining Buddha was stunning. All of the temples we visited were artistic masterpieces.   
People- There is a reason that Thailand is called the “Land 1,000 Smiles”.  People are very warm and enthusiastic to help you with anything. I found people very innocent and sweet, but they are incredibly shy people. I spoke with some other exchange students at the conference to ask them questions about their experiences and they said that what I said was true, but Thai people do not communicate at all. Of course I was not there for enough time to make any judgement call on this.
Food- Thailand is famous for its exotic cuisine; however all of it has meat. Thailand is a nightmare for vegetarians. There is even meat in desserts sometimes. Once I bit into a pink little rice cake very similar to a cupcake and there was a chunk of chicken in the middle. Who puts chicken in cupcakes?! Because Anna and I are vegetarians the only Thai dish we could eat was Pad Thai. We ate it every day for lunch and dinner. We also bought a lot of Thai snacks like seaweed and strange Asian processed foods. The best thing about Thai food is the crazy exotic fruits. Mangosteen, litchi, dragon fruit!  We never had a real food issue because we were travelling with a group of Indians. Where there are Indian people there is always Indian vegetarian food. Every night there was an option for an Indian restaurant.
I had a very short trip to the Land of Smiles, and I cannot say that I learned so much but it was an experience. One day I will go back to Thailand to meet my friend Isis so that she can show me the true Thailand. Bangkok is cool, but it is the opposite of my travelling style. The only reason I would ever go back to Bangkok is to see the temple of the Reclining Buddha again, and I would absolutely never go back to Pattaya. I’m thinking that when I come back to India with my parents I will do a tour of all of Asia. I have to go to Burma and Nepal. My best friend Camille went to Burma and she says it is her favourite country to travel in. I would like to see Indonesia and maybe even the Philippines. I have become increasingly curious about Arabic speaking countries, but I would like to finish Asia before I start something else.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Journey to the East

Camille’s French family came to India to visit her and they invited me to travel with them to East India. It was an amazing experience to travel with them. They are wonderful people and through them I learned more about France and India. I am very thankful for what they did for me.  We went to Varanasi which is THE holy city of India located on the Holy Ganga River and Kolkata the city of the British Empire.
I will never be able to understand how I felt in Varanasi. Varanasi will haunt me forever. Never again do I hope to find such ignorance and desperation in the human soul. Varanasi is a place the world would like to believe moved on 700 years ago. We can put men on the moon, and if we wanted to we could program a robot to pick our nose. In times like this how does a place where millions of people believe drinking the water of the most polluted river in the world contaminated with decaying babies will erase every bad thing you did in your life still exist? Seeing the desperation of a human being’s life force them to believe in a clearly twisted belief system is appauling.
                Unknowingly Camille’s father photographed a pile of holy wood. He apologized and erased the picture. However the locals did not accept this. They said, “This no sorry! We take your father and we beat your father, then you say sorry and everything ok. This is not sorry!” Then they aggressively pulled us off the platform and after a lot of bad mouthing we lost them. I was not afraid for my safety, but I was afraid that such uneducated vile people exist . Their animalistic behaviour sickened me.
                The images of the flesh being burning off the bones of human bodies permently stains my memory. I expected this. But more challenging  than seeing this was the benevolence shown towards life and death. More than 300 bodies are burned daily, but not one single tear is allowed to be shed. If a family cannot afford enough wood to burn their loved one, none will be given to them. They will simply half-burn the body. There is no compassion or a final sense of peace. The burning ghatts looked like bloody midevil battle fields.
                All of my opinions towards Varanasi  are knowingly jaded. Maybe Varanasi is too culturally rich for a westerner to ever understand, or maybe it is like this because people are uneducated and desperate. I do not pretend to be an expert, I only know how I feel . I won’t remember that Varanasi is the most ancient city of India or that Buddhism started there. All I will remember is the stinging fear I felt for humanity. As I am writing this I realize my emotions will appear misplaced to most of you. I also cannot understand why I am so scared by my experience.  Also I am not very good at capturing my emotions with words, but I started this blog to share my journey with you, and this is the best I can do.

Thankfully Kolkata was a much more cheerful experience. Kolkata is the Cultural Capital of India and it is also supposed to be the dirtiest and poorest city. I do not think that I witnessed everything in Kolkata because I experienced almost none of its negative qualities. I loved everything I saw in Kolkata. I love Bengalis. Their attitude towards life is somehow drastically more whimisical and fun-loving than any other region of India. I met a woman on the street who was digging through the trash to find food. It breaks my heart to watch people do this. I watched her as she stumbled upon a rotten bag of potatoes. She cut away all the bad parts and by the time she was done there was the equivelant of three potatoes left. She saw me watching her and she gave me the most wonderfully warm smile. I was stunned because in all of my past experiences if I make eye contact with a poorer person they run to me and beg for money while tugging on my clothes. I also smiled and I inquired about what she was planning to make for dinner. With another delightful smile she said that she was making pav bhaji for her children. I asked her how many children she had and she proudly announced that she had six beautiful children. She has to feed six mouths with three potatoes.....I asked her if I could help her or if she needed something more, but she did not consider my offer for even half a second before refusing. This woman warmed my heart, which after Varanasi I needed very badly. This was not an isolated incident. I saw many people with the same behaviour. Of course there were many people that still came to beg, but even then they were much less aggressive even though they appeared equally desperate. Bengalis have a reputation for being very sweet, but very lazy. I do not find any Indians particularly efficient, but I do feel that Bengalis are lazier than other regions in India. Service in restaurants is often slow. If I ask for a glass I am sure to get it 30-40 minutes later after I do not need it anymore, but Bengalis cannot even do this. If I ask for a glass in Kolkata they will just say no. They simply don’t want to. If I protested I am sure that I could have gotten a glass, but it was funnier to go without. As long as they have their fish and rice for the day they have no other concerns. The rest of the day they are perfectly content to sit and gossip (Bengalis are also famous for this). I have thought many times about why Bengalis have such a different attitude towards life. Is it because their lives are not as difficult, and therefore they can afford this behaviour? It can’t be this because the people of Kolkata are more desperate than any other place. Is it because I only saw good examples of Bengali people? It is probably partially this. Is it because of religion? No, they are still Hindu and there is very little difference between all the sects. After consulting with many other Indians I have come to the conclusion that the reason Bengalis have a different attitude is because they are educated. They are not educated in the sense that they know math and science, they are educated in philosophy and art. Education makes the biggest difference in someone’s life. I have seen many good examples of this in India.

Now I have been to every corner of India. I experienced  a taste of every part of India. However, India’s culture is too rich to discover in only one year. I am sure that I am not done exploring it. Tomorrow I leave for Rajhastan again with my family for a wedding and then after that my travelling in India is over. On the fourth I take a short journey to Thailand for the International Rotary Confrence. Then before I know it I am back in the good ole US of A! I am not sad to go back. I want to go back very much, but that does not make leaving any less painful. Life happens on exchange and off of exchange, but it is time to close my Indian chapter and start a new one. I am excited to apply all of the good things I learned here to my American life. Life has to move on. Being an exchange student forces you to embrace the fact that the only constant in life is change

Monday, April 23, 2012


I apologize for not updating my blog in so long! I have not forgotten about you, but I am very busy with my travels. I promise to update it for real very soon. Thank you for your patience and continuing to follow me. Dhanevad

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

North Tour


Immediately after our 11 hour train ride we put our luggage in our tents and went for a camel ride in the Rhajastani desert. We just barely made it there in time for the sunset, but it’s lucky that we did because watching the sun set on the sand dunes while riding brightly adorned camels with 13 of my best friends was the perfect way to kick off the trip. We reached the top of the dunes and then were shown a traditional Rajasthani folk dance by some locals (for money of course) and then we messed around until it got too dark to stay. Mostly we creatively rolled down the dunes and buried each other in the sand. It’s a shame that we did not have our cameras with us at this time because we found some very hilarious ways to roll down the dunes. When we got back to the “hotel “there was a girl performing Rajasthani dance for us. Since coming to India I have realized that I cannot dance at all. It is kind of like a joke for the rest of the world that Americans cannot dance. Until coming here and living around South Americans and Europeans I had zero idea how far behind I and most Americans were. I have made it my goal to be a good representation for my country and to return as one of the few Americans that are able to dance. So now I never miss an opportunity to learn new dance moves. I asked the Rajasthani girl to teach me dance but it failed miserably. My body is incapable of moving to the same rhythm at the same time as everyone else in this world. I have done enough garbha  in my time here that I can do it fairly well, but my friends laugh at me because even though I do the dance correctly I appear like I am dancing to my own song because I am not moving at the same time as everyone else.  I guess it’s the story of my life. I am incapable of doing anything in the same way as others. Why would dancing be any different. It’s not like this discourages me in any way from trying, because dancing is just too much fun to not do, but we can’t all be good at everything so it’s okay.

Rhajastani dancer
                                           Jaislemar is sometimes referred to as "The Golden City".
Jodhpur is famous for being home to the “Blue City”. However only the old city is still painted blue. In ancient times blue house was code for the residence of a High-Brahmin priest. In times of war the enemy would avoid attacking the blue houses, because even in times of war no one would attack a holy man. Later the locals found that the indigo in the paint acted as an insect repellant and then everyone began to paint their house blue. We were only here for one day so apart from this we also saw a beautiful fort and then we did some shopping.

                  Sorry, but I don't have a better picture of the blue city on my computer at the moment.


It was a long drive from Jodhpur to Jaipur so we arrived late at night. We checked into the hotel and then walked around the markets for a while. The next day we went sight-seeing all day. I will not write about all of it because it is a little boring so I will just put pictures.

                                                           Byron charming snakes.

Astrology Tower


It would be an embarrassment to leave India without seeing the Taj Mahal! I hate feeling like a tourist in India, but for this I made an exception. I thought that I would be disappointed by the Taj Mahal because it is such an over-used icon. I thought it would be just like looking at a picture, but it wasn’t at all. I was impressed by how beautiful it was. In pictures the Taj Mahal looks pure white and flat, but it is actually a beautiful crème color and there is not an inch of marble without intricate carvings from the Koran or flowers.  It was strategically built on the bend of a river so in the morning there is a mystical abyss surrounding the palace. It makes it even more beautiful that the palace was a monument to how much the king loved his wife. The lesser known story is that this king actually had three wives. The palace was built for his wife that he had 14 children with, and in commemoration of his other two wives he built two gates at the entrance of the Taj Mahal. That is a serious burn to his other wives. The king also planned to build an identical black Taj Mahal, but when his son heard about this he took his father prisoner. He did not want his father to spend so much of his future money. The king spent his last eight years held captive in the Agra Fort in one room that overlooked the Taj Mahal. It deserves its place as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. If you come to India (which I hope you all do) this is not something to pass up.

  Characteristic detail work of the Taj Mahal.

Awesome reflection pool picture by Anna Kramer.
Camille and I

New Delhi-
The capital of India. We visited all of the famous monuments: the Lotus Temple, Swaminara, the Red Fort, Qutab Minar and India Gate. Most importantly we were reunited with a fellow exchange student. Her name is Maude from Canada. She is alone in her district so she traveled with us for our South Tour. Because of knee problems she was not able to join us on our North Tour. Our group is very close and it is horrible to be missing a member from our group on such an important tour, especially because our time together is so short. It was so great to see her again! I do not understand how she is so successful in her city. I thought that I had big problems in Surat with men acting inappropriately towards me, but Delhi is immensely worse. While walking down the street a girl in our group was causally grabbed even though she was in the company of two male exchange students! Everywhere I go I am stared at, but in Surat 70% of the stares are genuine curiosity. In Delhi 90% of the stares are threatening. I felt shameful to be a woman in this city. I felt objectified and extremely uncomfortable. I bitterly hate this city and I will never return to New Delhi.

                                                    Awesome paratha restaurant,but it was very small!


Minali is a village located about three hours up the Himalayan Mountains in the state of Himachal Pradesh. We spent four days here and I am completely enchanted by this village and its people. Many Tibetan and Nepalese refugees flee from their countries to Minali and therefore there is a very strong Buddhist influence. Minali does not feel like India at all. It felt like I was exploring a whole new country and it was exhilarating.

Day 1-

It took us 16.5 hours to drive to Minali. We left New Delhi at 6:30 at night and arrived in Minali at 1:00pm the next day. Our lunch was not included in our hotel package and since we were all very hungry from the long journey we ventured outside to find some good local food. Because of past issues with negative blog posts about India I have tried to keep my mouth shut about how badly dogs are treated in India, so I never told you how strongly it hurts me to live in a society where dogs are treated worse than trash, but with two and a half months left no one will send me back now. There are almost as many stray dogs as homeless people and they are equally unhealthy. I have seen countless bloated decaying canines mangled and thrown into trash piles. I have seen crows picking the eyes out of 2 month old puppies and dogs with strange skin diseases causing the skin to separate from flesh. It makes me cry that every time I come into contact with a dog they cower in fear and start shaking. No dog should be afraid of humans. Dogs have a very special place in my heart as I am an animal rights activist and very adamant vegetarian. I am sickened by the way a dog’s life is in India. This alone made my adjustment to India at the beginning “not easy”. I was very bitter for a long time against India for its non-chalet attitude towards animal cruelty. It is still a very weak point for me. When I think about the dogs in India it makes me very angry but I understand to the smallest degree why things are this way. India is still a third world county and there are millions of people whom still struggle to simply survive. I understand that logically people’s livelihood should be above that of a dog’s. This absolutely does not at all justify the abuse of dogs, but I understand why dog abuse is at the bottom of Indian people’s priorities. I know this is negative and will offend any Indian who will read it, but it is not wrong to point out the flaws in something. This is how change happens. My country also has many flaws, and I will be the first one to point them out to you. Despite U.S.A’s flaws I am very proud to be an U.S. American and I could never live in another country. I want to very clearly say that I do NOT hate India. Anyways… that you have that background information, the dogs in Minali were 100% different. All of them were still strays, but they were treated like town pets. It really warmed my heart to see dogs with life in their eyes. I did not realize until I saw these dogs again how much anger I have because of the treatment of dogs. Being around these dogs made me unspeakably happy. They were playful and healthy and so much fun! We played fetch with snowballs, I wrestled with puppies and one dog even climbed to the top of a mountain with us. After seeing these dogs it made it a bit difficult to return to Surat and it also brought back memories of my puppies which is tough.

            On this first day we just meandered our way through the city and played with a lot of dogs. We also discovered a Himalayan delicacy called momos. Momos are a Buddhist food very similar to a dumpling. Momos gave us a break from eating Indian food every day and they are the perfect food to eat during the winter. Did I mention that there is still a good foot and a half of snow in Minali?  The cold there was another reminder of home which could in part explain why I was so comfortable there.

Day 2-

We made an organized trip through the city to visit all of the Buddhist temples and ate a lot more momos! It was a leisurely day, but the city is stunning! It is surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks at every side.

Day 3-

In the morning we wandered around the town and did some shopping. After, we searched for a place where we could eat momos for lunch. It was a Buddhist festival day so most of the restaurants were closed. After a while of walking we found a little lonely restaurant in the Old Minali. He said that he was about to close his restaurant, but that he would serve us chai. However we did not want chai, we wanted momos. He then suggested that there was another town two miles away that might be open to serve lunch. The only problem was that we had to hike through the mountains for two miles to get there. At the time it felt like a good idea. There was a good reason that all the trekking trips in Minali were canceled. The snow was very deep and was starting to turn into slush.  We were not walking up a designated path either. We were just walking up a random side of the mountain. None of us were wearing appropriate clothes or shoes to hike up the Himalayan Mountains. It was also not what I would call easy climbing. After about 3 miles with no town in sight we started to get skeptical about how close the town was. The snow was also starting to get above our waist. I stepped in some very deep snow and as I pulled my right foot out I twisted my ankle. Yup. I twisted my ankle 3 miles up the Himalayas. After this we decided it was probably a good time to turn back the way we came. I basically had to fall my way down the mountain while trying to keep steady on the arm of a fellow exchange student who was a certified life guard. Random fact for you: life guarding training does not prepare one to help victims of twisted ankles in the Himalayan Mountains. I felt like such an idiot for hurting my ankle 3 miles up in the Himalayas (not that it was on purpose). I got through it by thinking, “This will be a good story someday!”. So I hope you all enjoyed my idiocy and pain.  To make it better we went back to the restaurant where we had originally asked for momos, and somehow the restaurant was not closed and magically had momos and chai! FML. When we returned to our hotel that night we read in the Lonely Planet that in Minali one should never trust the directions of the locals because they are a very bad judge of distance. In the last five years (or something close to that) 18 foreigners have disappeared in the mountains and their bodies were never recovered. We were not in any real danger, but who knows! Maybe if I didn’t twist my ankle we would have gone a lot farther until it was too late to turn back and we were lost. That is a very big “What if” but it is scary to think about. So after my momo therapy we walked back into town and caught a rickshaw to a natural hot springs. After a day of wet feet and snowy mountains a hot springs sounded like a fantastic idea. However, between our cold-bitten feet and the steaming hot springs it was much too hot to swim in. I could only dunk my feet in for a maximum of 13 seconds, and that was with clenching my teeth. Only one of us was brave/stupid enough to even attempt to immerse themselves in the springs, and of course it was a fellow American. He looked at the camera and said “My name is Byron Long from Jack Ass and this is Hot Springs!”. He took one step into the pool and cringed, but then he slipped and except for his face he was completely covered by the water. He screamed in a very high octave and then scrambled as fast as he could back to the stairs to get out. My gosh, the video is priceless! Intelligent or not, I give him all of my respect. He claims that the water singed some hair off. There was definitely some hair missing, but I am not sure if scolding water can do that. I do think that the water was hot enough to easily poach an egg. I think I believe him. To try to normalize our body temperatures again we drank some chai at a local restaurant and waited for a bus. Since Minali attracts many tourists there was a western bakery there, and I had a chocolate donut! I never thought a donut could make me so happy. I do not even like donuts, but western food is really exciting to me now. I really like Indian food a lot, but since I eat it every day it is nice to change.  

Day 4-

Between the third night and the fourth morning everyone except me managed to get at least slightly sick. Many blamed the momos, which it could not be for two reasons. 1- Momos are too delicious to ever do anyone any harm. 2- I ate more momos than anyone else and I was completely fine. I was really surprised that I wasn’t sick because I fall sick very fast in India. Maybe now after being sick so many times my immune system is like a warrior. I have had food poisoning many times in India and now my body is able to recognize when food is not okay fast. My body does not waste time trying to digest my food it just rejects anything at all questionable. I do not enjoy this sensation, but it is much better than being off my feet for a couple of days. So for this day there were only 6 out of the 14 who were willing to go out and explore that day. Manjeet (our tour guide) took us to a friend’s ski resort. Even though there is a ski resort in my region of USA I have never actually tried skiing before. The Himalayas did not feel like a good place to start learning because I know skiing is difficult, and that in all likelihood I would not be able to move on my skis. Instead of skiing I saw a giant bouncy ball that I could be pushed down the mountain in. Why would I ski down the Himalayan Mountains when I could be pushed down them in a giant bouncy ball? When you put it like this skiing sounds boring. Many people can say that they have skied down the Himalayas, but I am one of the elite few who can say that they rolled down the Himalayas two times in a giant bouncy ball!  I also went paragliding. The view was beyond surreal. These two things did not take up much time so I had some extra time to build a snowman for my Brazilian friend who has never seen snow before. It did not have gloves or lot of time so the snowman was small, but since it is her first and only snow for a long time I tried my best to give her a good example. By the end of our ski trip everyone was sick except for me so that was pretty much the end of our adventure for this day. This was our last day in Minali so we had to get everything that night. Anna was okay enough to go with me to the city of Minali twenty minutes away to shop for all of the people who were sick. Minali had these incredibly colorful ethnic hand-knitted wool socks that a lot of us brought back for presents. Anna and I bought a lot of those to distribute among the exchange students. We also bought Tibetan Prayer flags and seven kgs. of fruit. We have a tradition of instead of stopping to eat, we just buy pounds and pounds of fruit to eat on the bus. This is one of the things I will miss dearly from India. In USA fruit is very expensive and there is not a fruitwala at every corner selling a kg. of deliciously fresh and exotic fruit for $0.75. Sometimes I just eat bag-fulls of fruit when I am hungry.    

Day 5-

We woke up at 5:00am to make an extra stop to Daramshala(the home of the Dali Lama and the Tibetan resistance against China). This was not in our itinerary but it would be a shame to be within six hours of it and not to visit it. It was a long winding drive through the mountains to get there, but I am glad to have seen it. I can’t say that I am impressed by the city, but it was interesting to see... The Dali Lama and the Pope are the two highest holy figures of the world, but Dharanmshala was a scene hang out for stoner hippies. I can’t deny that I am a bit of a hippy myself. I am in India for a year, I was a vegan and I go to extreme lengths to protect nature, but hippies have ruined Dharamshala. There was marijuana and hookas everywhere. There were more weirdo western hippie fusion restaurants than Tibetan or Indian restaurants. Everyone had dreadlocks and dressed like they were homeless. I have no idea where I was. It was not India at all. It was like someone set up an amusement park of what they thought India was. The Dali Lama’s temple was equally confusing. I do not have any exposure to Buddhism so of course the temple would appear strange to me, but it was too strange. I can’t tell you why because I also do not know. I have no idea what I saw in this city. I was very aware of the Tibetan Chinese conflict before I came. I did my best to avoid buying Chinese products and so on. I did not learn any more about the cause than before, and I am no more inspired. I think I just walked around the city in a daze. Maybe there was too much smoke in the air from the stoner foreigners. I don’t know. One thing I learned from the city is that I have a no respect for hippie culture. I will never again identify myself as a hippie. Hippies are just people whom complain about the government and “fight” for non-existent causes by getting stoned. They are completely blind to their actions and ruin every culture they are a part of including USA. I am still very confused by what I saw in Daramshala, but like I said it was very interesting to see.

Chandagar, Punjab-    

Driving from Daramshala to Punjab was another eight hour drive. Our tour guide brought us here to attend a wedding of one her friends. We were supposed to stay at a hotel that the bride’s family owned, but for some reason that did not work out. So after two nights of sleep on the bus, we had to sleep on the bus again, but at least they gave us strange-smelling comforters to sleep with. Somehow there was room for the boys to sleep in the hotel, so it was just the girls who had to sleep on the bus. It was a very short night though because we had to wake up at 7:00 for the wedding day breakfast. After our breakfast we were taken to an Osho ashram where we were to spend that night. For anyone who knows who this guy is I am sure you are laughing right now after my hippie comment earlier. Speaking of not respecting hippie culture Osho is the father of the modern hippie religion.  It was a very interesting place to spend a night. The basis of this “religion” is nothing is bad, and one should do what the heart wants because that is the wisdom of the true inner self and guide to the right path. On a basic level this works. I agree with this idea, BUT as the ideology continues it gets screwed up. The problem is not the ideal ology but the people who are attracted to this “religion”. Osho’s “wisdom” can be interpreted in twisted ways. Nothing weird happed except for at 4:00am we all woke up to a bunch of synchronized screaming coming from the meditation room. Actually for India this is not that strange. It was a cool place to stay. At the wedding we learned a ridiculous shoulder dance that Punjab is famous for, and Anna Camille and I performed an impromptu Bollywood dance number for the wedding crowd. Other than this the wedding was uneventful. The city of Chandigarh was planned by a famous French architect, and it is famous for being one of the few planned cities of India. It was strange to walk the streets of Chandnagar because it felt a lot like walking the streets of a western country. The streets were paved with clean sidewalks, beautiful GREEN parks, and chain stores. Between Manali, Daramshala and Chandnagar I felt like I was out of India.

                                                  Almost all of us at the Punjabi Wedding


Just like that it is back to Surat. This was our last real time together with the exchange students. I have talked about this before, but I will never again have friends like this. We are all exceptional people and I have grown just as much from knowing them as being in India. The next time we see each other it will be at our Bon Voyage party in April. It is horribly sad to think about leaving everyone, but I know life has to move on. We are all invited to each other’s weddings in the future, but who knows where we will be in that time. I think some of us will end up doing some very crazy things with our lives.  I am strangely eager for life to move on. This year was the most important year of my life, but I am very excited to go back home and see how I have grown and continue my life.  I realize I am not going home for a while, but I am far past the middle of my exchange and now it really feels like the end.            

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

My Schedule.

Let me lay out my last three months here. This Saturday I leave for 15 days for my Rotary Tour through Northern India. I come back March 1st and either the first or second week of March we leave again for 6 days on a self-organized tour of Gujarat (my state). Then I learn everything I can in my college until April 6th. On April 7th I leave with my best friend Camille and her family to Kolkata for two weeks. We come back on April 23rd and within the next week all the exchange students gather together for the last time to say goodbye. Most exchange students leave mid to late May. I leave somewhere between May 20th and June 1st. On May 6th to May 14th I go to Bangkok Thailand for the International Rotary Conference (AKA I am going to roam Bangkok with all the other exchange students). Then I pack up and go back to USA. There is no more time for me to start new things. I have to finish everything I started. My feelings are extremely mixed right now. I think I have really embraced the cliché “Change is the only constant in life”. I have been going from house to house living in a suitcase travelling everywhere for one year. Sad is not the word I would use to describe about me leaving India. It’s not because I don’t like India but I really feel like it’s time for me to come home.  I did everything I should have with my time here and I will treasure my time here forever. I can never forget India but times change and my India chapter is done. There is nothing sad about this India experience being done. It was the most beautiful thing that I have done, but life has to move on.  My life does not end after India is done. When I go back I will have graduation, my old job and FAMILY! If there is one thing I learned here in Asia it is how to adjust to ANYTHING and to learn to be happy in any situation. Life happens on exchange and out of it. I will yet again face adversity when I go back, but I will adjust and make the best of it. This is what life is about! Life will never work out the way you want it to, but you have to learn to not fight against. Besides I know that I will come back to India someday :)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”-Charles Darwin

So I was actually writing to tell you all that you might not hear from me on my blog for a while. I will be pretty busy. I do not know when I can post again but it will definitely be before June 1st. hahahahaha. Check back in the middle of March!

Much love from India <3 Jai Shree Krishna.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Wedding Part II

Indian weddings are very difficult to describe because the procedures are drastically different depending on the caste and sub-caste of the couple. It is also depends on if one is partaking in the ceremonies of the bride or the groom. The wedding I went to was on the groom’s side. My Rotary president took two other exchange students and I along with him which is very kind. My president Ashish Uncle was the mama (brother of the groom’s mom) and therefore he had some special ceremonies in the wedding which I will explain later. This was fantastic because for 5 days Anna Camille and I stayed in the same house and did everything together all day J I really cannot imagine leaving them in 3 months.

Day 2- Mendhai and Dandya Ras

Mendhai is what most of you know as henna. For the wedding ceremonies the immediate female family members of both the bride and the groom need elaborate mendhai. On this day ten or eleven mendhai “professionals” come to the house of both the bride and groom for the morning until the afternoon to put on mendhai for the family members which included me!

                At night was the real celebration. Dandya Ras is a traditional Indian dance party. All of the family and friends gather outside the groom’s house and throw a “party”. There is a band playing traditional garbha songs and everyone plays. I love how Indians say that they play garba and not “dance” garbha, but it is fitting because they appear like they are playing.  Garbha is the same dance that is done at Navratri which I posted about back in October. There is also dandya (the dance where people hit sticks together) and BOLLYWOOD!!! I am in love with Bollywood music and Bollywood dancing. There is no match for the unique energy Bollywood music brings. I think that Bollywood music should be more popular throughout the world. It was the basic eating and dancing but it was very fun. I love learning how to dance like Indians do because they are crazy good dancers. The only deeper significance of this day is that this day is supposed to kick off the festive atmosphere.

Day 3- Lagan Git

Lagan means wedding and Git means song. On this night the family gathered together to perform wedding and family themed songs for the couple. The wedding couple also performs some songs. Most of the acts are very comical and it is just for fun. In a strange turn of events Camille, Anna, Devu and I also performed a dance. Indian people LOVE when foreigners do Indian things so the day before they asked us to perform something. Luckily we have learned a few dances together for a Rotary Conference. Our song had absolutely nothing to do with a wedding or family but just the fact that we tried means a lot to Indian people and they are happy with anything we do. We performed Chikini Chemmele which is about a girl going to a club to get money and alcohol, and we performed Chammak Chalo which is Akon purposing for some girl to be his sexy little dancer. They were both very sexy and a little like belly dancing, so we felt very strange to wildly swing our hips in front of a crowd of predominately 80 year old old-fashioned Indian people. It was a very strange experience to belly dance for a hundred elderly Indians but it is a good memory. People really enjoyed it and asked us to do it again so we must not have offended anyone too much. It was definitely one of the more awkward things that I’ve done, but it’s an experience and that’s what I came here for!

Day 4- Ganesh Sthapna and wedding ceremony!!!

The first ceremony of this day is in the morning. The mama (mom’s brother) on both sides wake up the bride and groom early in the morning to perform Pithi. Pithi means the family covers the bride or groom to be with turmeric. Turmeric is supposed to give the skin a beautiful glow for the wedding day. I am not sure it works but it makes the bride and groom look like oompa lompas and therefore it is great fun.

The next big ceremony is Ganesh Sthapna.  It is a Ganesh pooja (prayer) that invites Ganesh to the wedding because Ganesh is supposed to be a part of anything that is good or happy. Inside this pooja (prayer) there is another pooja called Grashanta. Grasanta is the pooja to bring peace to the house the newlyweds will stay in. Grashanta literally translates to house peace.

As part of the Grashata pooja the mama (mom’s brother) gives the bride and groom the clothes that they will wear for the wedding. In more traditional times the mama chose the clothes for the wedding but now the bride and groom choose their clothes and then give it to the mama to present to them on this day.

LAGAN!!!!!! (The wedding ceremony)

The wedding party meet the groom at his house put him in a horse and carriage and then dance their way to the wedding destination. This ceremony is specific to only the groom’s side. My friends and I got to participate in this and it was very fun. I have seen many of these processions that are very awkward looking because everyone is in front of the beautiful horse and carriage and there are speakers blaring music but no one is dancing. Usually there is that one person at the front who tries to energize the crowd but it doesn’t work, but the one I was at was very lively. Everyone was dancing and bursting fireworks. When the groom arrives at the ceremony he is carried out of his carriage by all of his friends and then there is some more dancing. I have heard that at many weddings there is a tradition where the bride’s family who is already at the wedding is not supposed to allow the groom’s family to enter the ceremony grounds. In the very traditional days the bride’s family made the groom’s family pay before they were allowed inside. However at this wedding it did not happen. The bride and groom enter the ceremony together but the groom has more special traditions. The mother of the bride symbolically tries to blow the groom’s nose and the groom’s family is not supposed to let her. This supposed to be the groom’s family telling the bride’s family that their son is not part of her family. I think most people are aware that after marriage the girl is no longer part of her family. She has no duty to her natural parents anymore. This is the main reason why there is still a horrible problem with baby girls being murdered by their family. This is very not common among the upper class but it is still normal in the economically depressed. This is why it is illegal to have a doctor tell an expecting mother the sex of her baby. In this ceremony it is a fun thing, but the original meaning is very negative. After this ceremony the bride and groom are ushered onto the stage to perform the ceremony by the priest.  A priest makes a special fire on stage and the couple walks around it seven times while the priest chants in Sanskrit. It is our equivalent to “Do you take your pride to have and to hold through better and worse…..” No one is aware what the translation from Sanskrit is. The groom put a Mangal Sutva on the bride which is a necklace to signify the bride’s marital status.  The groom then puts sindur powder in the bride’s hairline which is another symbol of marital status. Women are supposed to continue to put this sindur powder every day, but few do. The last ceremony is Hast Melap. Hast means hand and melap mens meeting. There is a cloth over the bride and groom’s hands and they hold hands for the first time. I am sure in modern times it is not the first time they touched, but by traditional standards the bride and groom were not supposed to touch before they were married. The cloth is put over the hands because long ago it was unacceptable to see a man and a woman holding hands. After this all the ceremonies are complete and the couple is married!

This is Devu my best Indian friend whom I would be lost without playing Dandya :) 
Our mendhai!
also Pithi
dancing in the street before the wedding
the mother of the bride blowing the groom's nose.

the wedding couple

the reception party workers. They were so beautiful!
I look like a giant in India :P
This is how the food for the wedding is prepared.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hindu Wedding Part I

Now is my chance! `I am getting the opportunity to take part in every day of a Hindu wedding!!!!! Yesterday began the official ceremonies. It was an informal meeting of all the family of both sides at the groom’s house. Together we all made little balls of vadi which after drying will be made into a sabji (vegetable dish) for us all to share. My friend explained to me that in very ancient times when people were very poor they  did this ceremony with the family because it was not in the budget to take people out to eat. Basically it was supposed to be a nice treat. Everyone from the bride’s side is also supposed to bring the groom something sweet like chocolates because it brings good fortune to the couple.  We ate a nice lunch and then the first ceremony was complete! This was not the most important day this simply kicked off the festivities. Now there is no ceremony for two days. Next there will be a dancing ceremony, a mendhai ceremony and a reception! And don’t worry I will add a lot of pictures! Jai Shree Krishna.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Decisions Decisions!

I now have to choose my return date. I am so conflicted about this. I think I will come back for my graduation on June 1st but that is so soon! Now my schedule is very busy. I am going on my North Tour from February 11th until Mach 1st and then two days later I leave for another week for a tour of Gujarat (my state). For two weeks of April I am going on a trip with my best friend and her family to Kolkata. Then for one week in May I am visiting Thailand for a Rotary convention and then a week and a half later I am thinking about leaving! That really only leaves March for me to do things in Surat with my college! I feel like I haven’t learned half of the things that I needed to! I don’t have yoga, dance, I haven’t gotten my future read and I am HORRIBLE with the language. I still feel like there is so much left here for me, but I think no matter how much time I have here I will always feel this way. I will never feel that I am finished here. The important thing for me to remember is that I did not come here to learn about yoga, mendhai or astrology. I came here to learn about myself. I made a million mistakes here. My year was far from perfect. I don’t have perfect relations with all of my families. I cannot communicate on a basic level with Hindi or Gujarati, and I still know very little about Indian religions. But when I think back to the first couple of months when it was too difficult for me to cross the street and I cried almost every day  because I was being harassed by men on the street I can see how far I have come and how much I have changed. If I had to go home tomorrow I will still say that I had a successful exchange. I would not change any mistake I made because those mistakes made me who I am. I am so proud of the woman I have become here. I will forget about mendhai and dance within a year but India will have everlasting effects on my character. My exchange doesn’t really end when I leave India. I will always be an exchange student. I will draw observations from this year for the rest of my life. Readjustment to American culture is a vital part of the exchange too, and it’s difficult. I am as nervous to return as I was to come here. It’s like I can never go home again. My home is the same, but I am very different. After everything I did this year I know that I can handle anything life throws at me. I am ready for the challenge! But it’s not time for this yet! I still have 4 months left! It’s time to live it up! I am still designing things in my college and I still have all of India to travel! This is no time for tears! I’ve got a life to live! Jai Shree Krishna

Sunday, January 8, 2012


The government of Gujarat sponsored all 15 exchange students to go the Rann of Kutch Desert Festival last week.  It was a great way to kick off the New  Year! Unfortunately I was recovering from a wicked virus, but as long as I am with other exchange students everything is perfect! The government of Gujarat only allows for people to come to this specific part of the desert once a year. The culture of this place is rich and beautiful. It is still very primitive but since the earthquake in 2000 it is slowly developing.  By far the most captivating thing I saw was the “White” Desert. It is located very close to the boarder of Pakistan and India (very unfriendly neighbors). It was the most peculiar sight to be driving down a stretch of hot sandy desert and then drive into what appeared to be Antarctica. Under this desert lies what once were the shores of the Arabian Sea. Because of this a centimeter layer of pure salt rises to the top and forms a crust that despite the heat can easily be mistaken for ice. At night when the sun is softly setting and the white glow of the moon takes its place the desert looks like heaven.  A soft peaceful white abyss is the only thing for kilometers around you. The sky and earth are completely obscured. It looks as if one followed the light from the sun he would stumble upon the Pearly Gates of Heaven.  Or maybe it is purgatory….. In the morning it is the opposite. When the fiery deep orange sun clashes against the faux icy surface it looks like hell. I could have only imagined such a landscape in a painting by Salvador Dali.  In Man in the Landscape Paul Shepard wrote:

“The desert is the environment of revelation, genetically and physiologically alien, sensorily austere, esthetically abstract, historically inimical…..To the desert go prophets and  hermits;  through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”

The power of this desert is undeniable. I regret not having the opportunity to spend more time in it. I would have relished a whole day in that desert to walk and journal my thoughts. I am luckier than most to at least have a glimpse. However we did other fun things. We visited a few small villages where they displayed their traditional crafts. We visited a modern Indian palace. We went to the Arabian Sea where we rode on camels and horses then drank coconuts. Both nights we were at this festival there were special performances done by locals. I never mentioned it in my blog but for the district conference on Christmas the IYE students gave a big performance for all the Rotarians. In this performance were two dances; one traditional and one Bollywood. Even though we were not scheduled or asked to we gave a performance of both of these dances to the other tourists in Kutch. Indian people really appreciate when foreigners embrace their culture, and the dance is so fun! We are making a music video of our Bollywood dance.  We spontaneously perform this dance in strange places for example the desert and the Taj Mahal and at the end of our journey we will compress the best clips into one video.  I think this video will be epic! I promise to show you all as soon as it is finished ^^  In a few days is a kite festival known as Uttarayan.  The origin of the festival is based in astrology. On January 14th and 15th the sun starts to move north which marks the start of Indian “winter”. It is celebrated by everyone coming outside to eat, fly kites and have kite “wars”. A kite war is when one person tries to cut another person’s kite down with their kite string. This does not seem plausible with American kites but in India the string is actually made from stretched glass……that’s pretty hardcore! I cut my hands just trying to fly the kite! I will tell you more about the festival after I have celebrated. Until  then. Namaste.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pictures are worth 1,000 words...

Coconuts in Goa with Georg!

                       My best friend and I on the beaches of Goa.

                                                      We had an accident.....but everyone is good!
                                                                     house boats!
Elephant ride in Kerala!!!!!!

                                                             Welcome to the Jungle!

Messing around in a tea farm!

We helped the fisherman in Munnar

I SAW A LION!!!!!!!

Photo bombed by a camel.

Dancing with a tribe of native africans who were brought by the British and are now Gujaratis.

So much fun!

My new mom and dad ^^

DIWALI and fireorks!

Diwali Fireworks

Nicest cow I've ever met =D In India cows behave like our dogs. I wanted to take him home! 

Rajastani food

Traditional dance attire for our district confrence presentation.

My Indian Christmas!

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