How Was India?

Picture By: Tony Rath

I’m still thinking about it. Grateful, happy, confused – so many feelings for this place. It was a wonderful opportunity to see how love, family and weddings are celebrated on the other side of the world (wedding post). I enjoyed visiting the South, watching the world float by on that little boat; people in Kerala live a life that is much slower and different than my own. It was nice. Very peaceful. City life is electric here, the sounds, tastes, colors, wealth, poverty, joy, sickness…everything always stirring and competing for your attention. It makes you feel compassion for the whole human experience, leaving your heart hurting in both good and bad ways. The truth is, India is as harsh as it is accepting and inviting- depending on who you meet and where you go. All you can do is go with the flow, relax and remain open. You’re bound to have an incredible adventure.

India was exciting loud and crowded. There were days when walking down the street was fun and days when it was overwhelming. The taxi and rickshaw drivers weaved in and out of head-on traffic, lots of near collisions and narrow escapes. Exciting and scary…but a no good story is ever shared from an experience lived within your comfort zone.

I witnessed beautiful, moments – children playing in the water while their Mother washed clothes in the river or the strangers who rushed to help the boy who fell off his motorcycle. Most people are extremely hospitable, kind, caring and welcoming. There were also sad and confusing moments – so many sick people begging for money or the little girl crying for food while we danced in our silk saris at the Baraat. It’s hard to process both extremes at the same time.

India made me cry and laugh and on more than one occasion, India made me sick. Over the course of our trip we experienced lovely things and difficult things – I’m thankful for being exposed to both.

I’m glad we got to be a part of this place for a few weeks, even if we were just outsiders looking in. There is something special here that I haven’t seen or felt anywhere else. I can’t quite explain it, nor do I claim to understand it.

We were lucky enough to have a talented photographer – Tony Rath (and his rad family) join us at the wedding. He did a wonderful job at capturing the life and spirit of India. He was kind enough to let me share some of his pictures with you. I added a few of my own pictures along with some fellow travelers of India to help depict the moments I wasn’t bold/brave enough to  capture on my own. Here are a few fantastic shots.

(*links are under each picture giving credit to the original photographer/ No link mean they are my own pictures)

^Most streets in the cities we visited looked like this one. It was fascinating watching people scurry around. Organized chaos.

Picture By: Tony Rath

^Tony has a gift for taking candids without being intrusive. He says, “I have rarely seen such raw joy, friendliness or genuine helpfulness. Bengalis would give you the shirt off their backs if you needed it…” well said Tony

Picture By: Adam Chon

^Paan was the wackiest thing we ate in India. It’s a digestive aid, that you eat after having big/spicy meals. Paan is a preparation combining betel leaf with areca nut and sometimes with tobacco. It is a tradition in South India and nearby regions to give two Betel leaves, areca nut and coconut to the guests (both male and female) at any auspicious occasion. It made my mouth go numb and tasted like sweet toothpaste. Very interesting. I heard there are lots of variations and “make your own” paan carts all over India.

We spent 5 days in Alleppey (Kerala’s Backwaters) where we rented a boat and learned how to cook Indian food! It was such a blast and one of my favorite parts of the trip! I’m working on a whole post on how to book a boat of your own, where to go and what to look for. The task seemed intimidating before we left for India, but it’s quite simple once you arrive…here is a post with tips and advice to book your own adventure.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_f34c-1024x683.jpg^Flowers, flowers everywhere! The wedding was dripping with long garlands of bright yellow and orange flowers. I think my favorites were the delicate little white ones the women wore in their hair.

Picture By: Tony Rath

^A taxi driver takes a nap in Kolkata. The metered-cabs are mostly the “Ambassador” brand manufactured by Hindustan Motors (now out of production). Modeled after the British Morris Oxford, the Ambassador was the first car to be made in India and was once a status symbol. They have a fun 50’s vibe and many look/drive like they’re just as old. My favorite taxi ride was one we took to New Market from a taxi with both side mirrors sheared off.

Picture By: Tony Rath

^You can’t escape the traffic in the city. But we didn’t mind… it’s all a part of the experience. Little kids hung out of bus windows to energetically wave at us. We’d smile and wave back which sent the whole bus into a frenzy of waving. People get really excited when they see foreigners.

Picture By: Tony Rath

^An example of the strong, beautiful women of India,  Tony and his son Daniel “followed a nomadic camel herding tribe for half a day in a remote area near the Little Rann of Kutch. The women cooked breakfast, cleaned camp, herded pack camels, spent two hot hours packing the camels, and led camels along trail men left hours earlier, moving the 25 sheep and 50 camels in the herd. They move 10-15 kilometers every day, to find browse for their animals, then do it all over again.”
And I thought cleaning the house was daunting…India was a well needed reality check.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_4fd1.jpg^Ganne Ka Ras fresh sugarcane juice is pressed on the streets. Sometimes it’s mixed with ginger and lime.

Picture By: Tony Rath

^A sneak peek of the Jalan/Grams wedding in Kolkata. It was a dream… so romantic with bright colors, music, flowers, laughing, dancing and FOOD! Our first time attending an Indian wedding – an extraordinary experience.

^A mellow moment sitting out on our 2nd deck, enjoying a warm breeze and the sound of rustling palms, cicadas and parrots.
^Cruising through the narrow canals of Alleppy’s backwater villages with my Danny and trusty guide. One of our more relaxing days.
^Our rice boat captain and King of the Sea King. We escaped the city and flew to Alleppey in Kerala for a lazy river cruise in the hot jungle and rice fields of the South. Ask for the Sea King at Finishing Point…they won’t steer you wrong. Fabulous crew and friends.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_5759-1-745x1024.jpg

^Chai from a clay cup — that astringent earthy taste, mixed with sweet-gingery-milky tea is the taste of India. I would have 3 or 4 cups a day! Potters spin small cups out of river clay. The cups are dried in the sun and delivered to chai stalls. We inevitably ingested a bit of melted clay with each sip. I’d like to think it enhanced the chai’s character and provided a daily dose of multi-mineral supplements, right? God made dirt…dirt don’t hurt. When you’re done, you smash the clay in the street and they dissolve back into the earth.
^We woke up at 2:30AM and drove to Agra with our new friend Bandarhi – sipping masala chai’s along the expressway and watching the peachy sunrise over a glowing Taj Mahal. What a magnificent sight it was. It felt like a dream.
^The clouds were having a flash dance party a few miles off in the distance. We slept so well that we missed the downpour on our little boat. We woke up to misty windows, a red sunrise and wet jungle. Just gorgeous!

^ A video clip of our time in India. More posts, tips and pics to come.

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