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.

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^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.

India Countdown & Learning about Ayurveda: Recipe for Kitchari

Ayurveda Kitchari Recipe
1 day until we leave for India! I’m attempting to learn a few things before we go. I’ve been reading about Ayurvedic remedies and Doshas…pretty interesting stuff! Here is a traditional Ayurvedic recipe called Kitchari used in Panchakarma – a wholesome balanced food with an excellent source of protein. It’s easy to digest, cleansing and beneficial for all 3 Doshas. It’s all about eating foods that balance your body, meditation and caring for yourself. Thumbs up India!
I can’t wait to learn more. P.S. I highly recommend The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant D. Lad if you’re interested in learning more.

Here is the recipe for Kitchari from the book:

1/2 cup Basmati Rice
1 cup Mung Dal (split yellow)
5 cups Water
1 inch Ginger Root (grated)
1/4 tsp. Salt
2 tsp. Ghee
1/2 tsp. Coriander Powder
1/2 tsp. Cumin Powder
1/2 tsp. Whole Cumin Seeds
1/2 tsp. Mustard Seeds (omit for overactive pitta)
1/2 tsp. Turmeric Powder
1 pinch Asafoetida (Hing)
Handful Fresh Cilantro Leaves
1 and 1/2 cups Assorted Vegetables (optional)

Wash each rice and dal separately in at least 2 changes of water. Add the 5 cups of water to the rice and dal and cook covered until it becomes soft, about 20 minutes.

While that is cooking, prepare any vegetables that suit your constitution. Cut them into smallish pieces. Add the vegetables to the cooked rice and dal mixture and cook 10 minutes longer.

In a separate saucepan, sauté the seeds in the ghee until they pop. Then add the other spices. Stir together to release the flavors. Stir the sautéed spices into the cooked dal, rice, and vegetable mixture. Add the mineral salt and chopped fresh cilantro and serve.

Teas for each Constitution

Vata Tea — equal parts ground ginger, cumin and coriander
Pitta Tea — equal parts ground cumin, coriander and fennel
Kapha Tea — equal parts ground ginger, cinnamon, and a pinch of clove

If you want to learn more about Ayurveda, take a test to see which Dosha (mind-body type) you align with click here

*Ayurveda is not bound to religious beliefs
Today, Ayurveda is becoming increasingly popular, not only in India but in the whole world. Contrary to common belief ayurvedic principles are not bound to a certain faith or dietary regimes, but have been relevant for all people throughout the world since the very first texts. Some call Ayurveda the “the mother of healing”, as it’s influences can be found in all major world healing systems.

We are going to India! {2 Week Packing List}

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Oh lordy! I’m so excited! OK 90% thrilled and 10% nervous…Dan and I are going to INDIA! From what I’ve heard, it’s the land of sensory overload and contrast, loud and chaotic but quiet and peaceful, poor and wealthy, corrupt and honest — heartbreaking and beautiful in all that life has to offer. I’m excited to learn and see new things. I’m ready for you India!
The 3 week countdown begins! We bought our tickets a few weeks ago and the visas are pending! We’re planning on spending 2 weeks. The first week we arrive in Delhi, explore the city, drive or travel by train to Argra, see the Taj Mahal (of course) and then catch a plane to Kerala in the south. I’m crossing our fingers that we can snag a houseboat and explore the backwaters of Alleppey — see some remote villages, elephants and tea plantations in Munnar. Then we fly to Kolkata for John and Avantika’s wedding; a week long celebration! I was invited to take part in a Sangeet dance competition (so it’s bound to be hilarious/I can’t dance) and decorating the bridal suite! We are so excited to celebrate John and Avantika, spend time with the Grams and Jalan family and experience India for the first time!

I’ve been researching like crazy…what to bring and not to bring, how to reserve train tickets, what to expect etc.

Here is a list of items that I have found helpful. If you’ve been to India and have any recommendations, please feel free to add to the list! I also have a carry-on for international travel list if you’re interested. And a recipe for that tasty masala veggie wrap pictured above ^.

india list

1. Playing cards. It’s a looooong flight. D and I like to play cards to pass the time.

2. Colloidal Silver. A natural anti-viral. Spray it under your tongue to ward off viruses that might be lurking in the plane or while traveling in India. It’s also great for spraying cuts and scrapes. Always check with your doctor before using natural remedies. It’s not a cure-all; just something that might help.

3. Rx medications. Get your vaccinations and medication for traveling to India. Check the CDC website for up to date recommendations. Don’t forget Imodium and an Rx for ciprofloxacin ugggggghhh… apparently we are doomed for the Delhi Belly. Always remember – Boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it. Only drink bottled water and skip the ice and juices.

4. Echinacea for natural immune support. I also recommend taking probiotics, such as acidophilus for a month before your trip. You’ll need your belly to be in tip-top shape. As with any natural remedies, please consult with your doctor.

5. Sunscreen. Wear it!

6. Pacsafe 55L Backpack and Bag Protector. AMAZING! Someone has finally invented a lock for your backpack! This will come in handy when traveling on the train or bus or locking your pack in a hotel while you’re out exploring. I still don’t recommend leaving your valuables alone (and ALWAYS take your passport and money with you), but this is the second best option. Here is an article on scams and theft problems and how to avoid them.

7. A good book. I highly recommend this one, about a wonderful woman I met in Egypt. An inspiring story about loving others and her work in the Mokattam slum that will give you an unabashed look at inequality and extreme poverty. It exists in India and everywhere else in the world to differing degrees. Remain open. Remain aware. Treat everyone with respect and compassion.

8. A journal. I like to jot down moments, words or locations that I’d like to remember.

9. Water color kit. I like to paint pictures in ^ my travel journal.

10. Hat. Sun Protection.

11. Beanie. Mostly for the airplane and layovers. It can get chilly. I like to find a corner of the airport, pull my beanie over my head and catch some Zzzzzz. Sleep with your arms around your carry-on.

12. Multi tool knife. Don’t pack this one in your carry-on! Leave it in your checked bag. Comes in handy while traveling…cutting food, ropes, getting out splinters, protection etc.

13. Travel Pillow. Great for the airplane and your lower-end hotels that don’t provide pillows.

14. Camera. I use the Canon Rebel T3. I take it everywhere! Super durable and easy to use (bring your charger too).

15. 32GB class 10 or more SD card for taking lots of pictures!

16. GoPro for capturing water pictures and videos (bring your charger too).

17. Jacket with hood. Semi-waterproof for staying dry and toasty at night.

18. Digital waterproof travel watch with multiple alarms for catching trains and waking early etc. This one has multiple time zones so you’ll know what time it is back at home. Pretty cheap too!

19. Rx glasses and sunglasses. Because I’m blind without them.

20 Rohto eyedrops. These are so soothing.

21. Anti-bacterial gel. Keep clean and healthy.

22. Nasal Spray. Great for the airplane or when visiting dryer desert areas of India, like Rajasthan.

23. Lavender spray…or any kind of yummy smelling spray. Fellow travelers have recommended bringing a tiny bottle of something nice for your room.

24. A good ole’ fallback for snacks. Kind bars are great, natural, tasty and easy on the belly.

25. Headlight or flashlight for navigating at night.

26. Batteries for backing up electronics

27. A scarf! My favorite…so useful! Use it as a blanket, a head cover, a towel or tie strap etc.

28. Loose fitting long sleeve light colored blouses. India is a very modest country. Cover up but stay cool. Mosquito’s are attracted to dark and black colors, so stay lighter.

29. Fun costume jewelry (for the wedding).

30. Long pants or jeans. Keep em comfy…not too skinny. Modesty first.

31. Dresses. Keep the shoulders and knees covered or wear them with leggings in the city.

32. Swimsuit for your hotel or when visiting a beach. Be aware of your surroundings and cultural cues…some beaches are meant for walks or family picnics. You don’t want to be the only person in a swimsuit on a beach with fully clothed people. I would opt for a one-piece over a 2-piece.

33. A shawl for those slightly breezy evenings or up in the mountains. A cover-up for a short sleeve top.

34. Lip balm!

35. Small hair brush, ponytail bands and hair pins

36. PASSPORT! <— keep it with you at all times.

37. Small bottle of essential oil…peppermint, lavender or clove etc. Great for putting under your nose or on your temples — helps you relax on a long train ride.

38. Bug repellent in addition to Malaria pills. Some mosquitos carry bacteria, malaria and dengue fever. Wear long sleeves and light colors to avoid bites.

39. Pen or pencil for writing, filling-out immigration papers, names, numbers, notes etc.

40. Shorts* I don’t recommend wearing these in cities, heavily populated or religious areas, but they can be worn in more westernized towns like Goa, your hotel room or by the pool. Be aware that you may get unwanted attention.

41. Sleeping case. Perfect for those cheap hotels with questionable/no blankets or on a sleeper train to discourage peeping-Tom passengers.

42. Long skirt. Easy, breezy, modest.

43.  Comfortable bras and panties. Preferably cotton

44. Shoes for the cities

45. Small towel

46. Waterproof matches or lighter. Pack in your checked baggage

47. Wet Ones anti-bacterial wipes.

48. Mini speaker for playing tunes in your room or at a party (or to practice your sangeet dance)!

49. SD card adapter. I use this to transfer my pictures from my camera or GoPro to my iPad. Super cheap and useful!

50. Small folder for keeping important papers, copies of passports, itinerary, phone numbers and medical information in case of an emergency (and in case your electronics run out of juice/ are stollen/ break)

51. Calculator for those moments that you don’t want to use your phone –> calculating currency exchanges. Double check everything and learn how to haggle.

52. Naked eye shadow kit. Small/ compact and I use the darker shades as my eyeliner when traveling light.

53. Not completely necessary when backpacking, but a contour kit will be useful for a more polished look at the wedding.

54. Small concealer trio, great for tired eyes and blemish spots

55. Super yummy body cream. Smells wonderful without being overpowering. Woody Amber vanilla smell.

56. Rainbow sandals…because they go everywhere with me.

57. EARPLUGS will be your best friends!  The only way you’ll be able to sleep on those trains!

58. Earbuds for the plane and traveling between destinations.

59. An Indian adapter for all your electronics

60. An iPad or iPhone. Wifi is everywhere (although slow and spotty) it’ll be a life saver for booking hotels, train tickets, directions for your rickshaw driver etc.

61. Basic first aid kit, band aids, tape, scissors , alcohol swabs, iodine, gloves, medication, tweezers, extractors, tourniquet etc.

62. Dry bags. For your camera and important papers. Especially if you’ll be boating.

63. Money belt. Essential for keeping your money and passport safe. Wear it under your clothes and take out money as needed in a private area. Pickpockets are bold and many travelers have been frisked in crowds. Never leave your wallet in your pocket – it’s expected…

64. Kai body glow. Gardenia, jasmin, tropical flowers. Perfect for India.

65. Toilettries. Mini shampoo, conditioner, facial wipes, toothbrush and paste (use bottled water when brushing your teeth), feminine products (tampons are hard to find in India), small lotion, etc. any personal products you’ll be needing

66. Cords, cables and chargers for your electronics

67. Tissues (for your nose and…your bum). If carrying your own T.P. Roll is too big, then take a bunch of these tissue packets with you. T.P. is not available in most bathrooms so bring your own.

68. Day pack.  Canvas bag that is easy to roll up and stick inside your larger pack. Something smaller that you can use during the day while you leave your bigger pack locked up at the hotel.

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69. Mosquito net to keep the bugs away.

70.  Small travel umbrella for those rainy days.

+ here is a complete list for clothes that you’ll be needing in India (ladies). –>
For a 2 week trip I’m bringing 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of closed toed shoes or sneakers and socks, one pair of nice shoes/flats for the wedding, 1 jacket, 1 shawl, 5 tops, 2 dresses, 1 long skirt, 1 pair of shorts and 3 pants – jeans, harem pants and leggings. 7 days worth of panties and 2 bras. I’ll buy a few tops, kurtis and a saree for the wedding when we get there. Washing your clothes is cheap and fast (around 15 cents per item). Hire the local dhobi wallah, these guys take your clothes away and bring them back the next day freshly washed and ironed.

*Something I’ve learned…I always thought it would be rude or disrespectful for outsiders to wear traditional Indian clothing, but most Indian’s prefer/encourage visitors to wear their traditional clothing. Sounds fun to me! It’s not a big problem if you feel uncomfortable doing so, just adopt a modest fashion. Stay away from formfitting outfits and keep your shoulders and knees covered.

That’s about all I can think of for now…let me know if you come across other useful items and I’ll add them to the list!

Indian Masala Veggie Wrap

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For those of you who are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe’s in your area, then you are stoked… if you don’t, but still want to discover the super amazing veggie masala wrap, then here is a recipe that I put together so you can make your own at home!

10 small red potatoes (boiled and cooled)
1 carrot (shredded)
5 green beans
1 bell pepper (seeded)
1/2 onion (chopped)
1 cup sweet corn
1 serrano pepper (or Asian green pepper if you can find one. Scrape out seeds)
1 tsp. coconut sugar
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coriander
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cardamom
1/2 tsp. red chili powder

Put all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until ingredients are combined. Shape into round patties and fry each side in a frying pan coated with coconut or olive oil until golden and crispy. Serve with sauteed onions, avocados, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes and a spicy curry mustard. Wrap with iceberg and butter lettuce.
+ Coconut lime water on the side.