North India

Namaste! Here is a glimpse of Beautiful North India, through the lens of my camera:

Rotary International Youth Exchange 2011 – 2012, District 5110 – 3030

Jodhpur, also known as “The Blue City”… A few of the cities in Rajisthan have nick names based on the color of the buildings in their city.

The first photo is of the camel that I rode. We participated in a camel safari through the deserts of Rajisthan. We were also privileged to sleep in the desert for one night. The second photo, photography credit goes to my friend Carmen, is me enjoying the sand and sun of the beautiful desert!

This is a temple for Lord Krishna. It was intricately carved (amazing!) and overlooked “The Blue City.)

In Rishikesh, we were able to attend one night of the week long International Yoga Festival. People from all over the world come to participate in this festival. I actually met a boy from Eugene, the best part was that we share mutual friends. Small world!

One morning, we took a boat ride on the Holy River Ganges. Here is a photo of a fishing boat as the sun rises over the river.

Once again, the Holy River Ganges. One afternoon we actually got to go white water rafting down the river. It was AMAZING! We all got soaked and had a real blast! We also camped in tents on the bank of the river.

Here is “The Golden Temple” in Amritsar, Punjab. This is a temple for the Sikh religion and it is plated in gold. It is surrounded by holy water, which you can drink and bathe in.

This is the border of Pakistan and India. Every evening at 6 you can watch the changing of the guards, lowering of the flags, and opening of the gates on the border. It’s a really patriotic event to see.

This golden statue is Buddha. The picture on top is hundreds of prayer flags tied at the spot where Buddha reached enlightenment.

These two pictures are from the same VERY COLD morning. We woke up at four one morning and drove for an hour to this viewpoint, to see, as the sun came up, the third tallest peak in the world, Kanchenjunga. In all ten years that our tour guide has been coming to this spot, this was the first year that he actually was able to see that mountain! As well as seeing Kanchenjunga (top photo) we were privileged to also see Mount Everest, the worlds highest mountain (middle peak, bottom photo).

This photo was taken at a ski resort in Manali. It actually snowed on us!!!! It was like a touch of Oregon; we got to see evergreen trees, snow, and go skiing. And, of course, we had a snow ball fight. 🙂

This is the Lotus Temple in Delhi. This is one of many temples of the Baha’i faith.

The Gate of India in Delhi.

I don’t know where this is or what it is. Just thought it was a nice picture of myself. Just kidding! 😉 The world famous Taj Mahal in Agra.

Thought these to two photos went together. And yes, Monkey’s really do eat potato chips… and anything else they can get their hands on.

Apparently it gets cold at night during the winter time, and so the goats feel the need to wear sweaters and jackets.

A beautifully painted elephant.

Bharat Badiya Hai <3

I could tell you how many months I have left in the place you may call India, but I call My Home, but I’d rather tell you that I have been living in India 6.5 months (think of the cup half full, rather than half empty).

The last month of my exchange has not been too exciting, however, it included a switch up from my regular routine. On January 15 I loaded myself onto a bus to Nagpur, so that I could enjoy three weeks time here. I have been staying with another student here in Nagpur with a temporary host family. All nine of the students in District 3030 got together for these three weeks to prepare dances for our District Conference. Rotary hired two choreographers to teach us typical Bollywood dances. We practiced everyday, for one hour, for three weeks, and, let me say, it was not always the funnest thing to do. We got frustrated, some of us got injured, some simply lacked motivation, and others didn’t take it seriously. However, in the end, we learned our dances (four or five) and had a great time performing them.

In fact, at the actual performance, our presentation had the largest turn out, out of all the other presentations of the weekend. On top of that, one of my dances received an encore, and our last performance (a patriotic song) received a standing ovation. Then, when everything was over, my host mother came behind stage, her eyes filled with tears, and told me and the rest of the group how wonderfully we had done. With all the work we put into our dances, there was nothing more satisfying than knowing we had done a GREAT job! I can honestly say that this performance are one of my proudest accomplishments, and an event in my life which I will never forget.

As well as the student performances, there were many lectures and presentations by doctors, former Rotary International presidents and the Group Study Exchange Team. They had put together a Fashion/Personality Show. They had woman draped in all styles of traditional sarees doing the catwalk, as well as ladies competing for the crown. It was AMAZING to see all the different styles, colors, and different ways to drape a saree. I met MANY new people, as well as saw friends I hadn’t talked to or seen for months.

All in all, it was a very fun and enjoyable three weeks, and especially, conference!

Now, I’m greatly looking forward to the tour of North India, coming up in just under two weeks. I’m also looking forward to a WONDERFUL and MEMORABLE next couple of months before I return to my American home!

As always, Dhanyavad for reading my blog, and supporting me in every aspect of my exchange; you are appreciated more than you realise! 🙂

Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad!

Phir Milenge!

India Through Photos

Eating like a REAL Indian! The plates are made of Banana leaves, and we eat everything with our hands. Over the past 7 months, my fingers have become my taste buds.

Just a glimpse at the Indian traffic. This is nothing… (those black and yellow vehicles are auto-rickshaws).

This is the second day of the South India Tour (November 2011). This is the group of inbounds in Rotary District 3030, plus two students from a smaller district.

Only in India would one find a sign that says this.

This is a VERY LARGE rock, in South India. The rock is perfectly balanced in a way that, even the British, MANY years ago, using elephants to move it, could not budge it. It’s very fascinating to see.

Although it was in a wildlife sanctuary, I still had a chance to see lions in action! It was pretty neat!

An amazing sight… a wild elephant on the side of the road!

    

Tea, top, cardamom, left, and turmeric, right, are three of the most commonly used plants/spices in Indian food. Tea is purely for drinking, and let me tell you, Indians know how to make tea! Cardamom has a GREAT flavor, and turmeric simply turns the food yellow (and yes, they use it solely for that reason). Turmeric also is extremely good for the skin.

Kattakali is one of many traditional Indian dance forms. It requires a lot of eye, cheek, neck,  eyebrow, head, hand, and other body part movements. It is extremely beautiful to watch, and I’m sure just as hard to perform.

This is a house boat on the Backwaters of Kerala, in Allepy. We were given the chance to actually spend the night on the houseboats. It was a grand experience; very pleasant and relaxing!

This is the most southern tip of India. The Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean, and Bay of Bengal all come together at this point.

A beautiful sight on the beach of Kochin, a South Indian town. It was one of the many wonderful places we visited on the tour.

This shows you a glimpse of the crowded, smoggy, AWESOME beaches of the popular Goa! The water was certainly wonderful, despite all the people.

Welcome to the most expensive house in, either, all of India, or all the world. It cost crores to build, is twenty-four stories tall, and apparently is not a very pleasant place to live, according to the celebrity who owns it. It is a very neat building to look at though!

The Gateway to India in Mumbai. A very cool, very tourist place.

This was Christmas week. My host sister and I attempted to make Christmas cookies, Indian style… however, they were very bad.

This is typical fancy wear of India. It is known as a “heavy dress.”

The White Desert of Kutch, in Gujarat. The white is not sand, it is actually salt. This borders Pakistan.

My most precious Indian Christmas tree. My host family and I had a blast putting this together. ❤

This is a Buddhist temple in Nagpur. It is extremely beautiful… one of my favorite temples in all of India. However, photography is prohibited inside. 😦

Fish therapy 🙂 Basically, you stick your feet in a pool of hundreds of fish and they eat the dead skin. It tickles like no other, and the feeling is almost unbearable. However, afterwards, your feet feel VERY nice!

This is a favorite in India (it usually comes without the chocolate covering). It is Indian mouthfreshener, known as pan. The inside is a lot of different spices and edible things, wrapped in a leaf (not sure what kind) and then you the whole thing. It is very different, and most foreigners don’t care for the taste.  This is gourmet pan, covered in chocolate! YUMM!

This is one of my host moms. She is wearing a typical Maharashtran saree (typical of the state I live in), and I am wearing a Kurti (typical Indian dress).

This is my first ever very own saree. A saree is usually six yards. There are certain styles of saree in which they are nine yards. There are hundreds of different ways to drape a saree, this being the most common way. I wore it for my first ever Indian wedding.

This is an Indian art form called rangoli. It is basically colored sand arranged in different designs. IT IS NOT EASY!

    

This is the groom and bride of my first Indian wedding. This is just one of several DAYS in their wedding ceremony.

This is my very good friend and I in our costumes for a dance we had to perform. These costumes are typical of what you would see a boy and girl wearing during Holi, an Indian festival. Holi takes place in March and you basically throw colors at each other and have a REALLY good time!

These ladies are my fellow exchangers. The four of us performed a dance, typical of Maharashtra, at the Rotary District conference. Afterwards, we received an encore and a standing ovation, as well as moving people to tears. We were definitely a hit, and we had a FANTASTIC time putting on the show. 🙂

This is my second ever saree, gifted to me for Christmas from another of my host mums. I successfully draped this myself. For those of you who are not familiar with sarees, you don’t understand the feeling that one gets from saying, “I draped the saree myself! I’m sooooooooooooo proud!” Basically, a saree is six, or nine, yards of fabric that you have to wrap, tuck, pleat, pin, and drape. IT IS NOT EASY, and takes ten to twenty minutes to get right. I have bahut respect for the Indian ladies who wear sarees daily.

    

Some more sarees, so you can see the different shapes, sizes, and colors.

This is the group of Inbounds with the GSE (group study exhange) team during the annual District Conference. They are here for 45 days from Australia. We had a BLAST talking with them and sharing our experiences of India.

Life in India

Well, let me start this off with a big, huge SORRY! I’m sure that you have convinced yourself that I’ve fallen off the planet, or that you have the wrong URL for my blog. Well, both assumptions are wrong! I have definitely NOT fallen off this planet. My feet are firmly stuck to the roads of India (although they have been doing a lot of travelling). Also, you do have the right URL… I have just been horrible about informing you of my adventures here in IndiaLand! Well, wonder no longer! I’m going to fill you in about the last five months of my life! (Yes, it’s really been that long since you last saw me in the US.) Sit back, relax, and most of all, ENJOY! 🙂

As of Christmas day, I have lived in India for five months. I arrived in late July 2011 unsure of many things: How would my family be? Would I be able to adjust to vegetarian food? Would I survive the heat?  Well, five months later, I can safely say that I am having the time of my life. I’ve learned to eat, dress, and act like an Indian. I’m still learning to speak like an Indian… my Hindi is slowly coming together. Although, I must give props to my host mom for teaching me to read Hindi perfectly!

I’m staying in the small town of Amravati, where I’m realizing what a small town really is! Yes, the population is 800,000 and I can find more to do in Eugene, OR (population 150,000) than I can here. If you asked me what there is to do in my city, I would tell you this: “Hmmmmm…. I can take you to my college… I can show the Jalebi stand…. my host dad’s factory…. hmmmmmm.. let me sleep on it and I can come up with something else in the morning.” No, I am not exaggerating.

By the time my first month in India was up, I had already travelled to Indore, Pachmarhi, Chikhaldara, and Nagpur. Indore is a city a few hours north of Amravati in the state of Madhya Pradesh. I spent a week there… I got to meet my host mom’s side of the family, and meet my host sister for the first time. Pachmarhi and Chikhaldara are hill stations. I was in Pachmarhi (a jungle area) for a week. We had a family reunion there. It was a beautiful trip. We did trekking, bathing in waterfalls, sight seeing, game playing, and LOTS of eating. Chikhaldara is also a jungle area. I was there with my family and our good friends. This was a shorter trip that included boating, sight seeing, trekking, and LOTS of games and as usual, FOOD!

Also in the first month, I began attending classical Indian dance (Odissi), and classical Indian violin classes. Since I’ve attended the dance classes, I’m seeing what a real work out is! Every part of your body is used (eyes included!). However, Indian dance is not just about getting exercise, it’s about telling a story using your body. My violin classes are fun, since I didn’t bring my cello with me to India. However, I’ve officiailly decided that cello is the only instrument I will ever play with seriousness. I’ve also learned the art of mendhi (also know as henna), which turns out is much harder than it looks!

I attended college for two weeks before I realised that it was a waste of my time. Every day I would get up at 6 AM and be at college by 7, only to have my friends say, “Let’s bunk class today. I want samosas.” This became a regular routine, and so, out of my two weeks, I attended maybe 3 lectures. Rather than get fat off samosas, I decided to look into volunteering at a school for young children. One of the local Rotarians owns a playschool near to my house. In the mornings, for a couple hours, I attend her school and help with the children (ages 18 months to 5 years). They learn English from me, and I learn Hindi from them. It’s also given me the opportunity to be out in the community and meet many new people.

A big honking part of Indian culture is their festivals. It seems that every week there is a new holiday to celebrate. Some of the big festivals I’ve gotten to attend so far are Navratri, a nine day festival in which you dance… A LOT, Ganpati, a ten day festival celebrating Lord Ganesh, Kojagiri, a day celebrating the full moon (you get to drink hot, tasty milk), and Diwali, a festival marking the new year of the Hindi calendar with lots of lights and fireworks. Of course, I still have many, many festivals to come, of which I’m most looking forward to Holi (the color throwing festival)!

Right after the Diwali festivals (end of October), I began my travelling spree. I started by attending the RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) camp in Nagpur. It was a four day camp at a Military School. I attended the camp with six other exchange students. We made many Indian friends, and got to try out many different activities including horseback riding, archery, obstacle courses, swimming, and rangoli (a traditional Indian art). We also went for night treks, and got to enjoy star gazing. At the beginning of camp, all the students had been split up into groups of about 12. Throughout the camp, these groups met and practiced a dance that they would perform on the last night of camp. All of the exchange students were put into one group with four Indians, and we put together a routine to Jai Ho (the popular track from Slumdog Millionaire). For the last night, all the parents were invited and we had dinner, and performed our dances, and we had an awards ceremony. Everyones dance went well excpet for the exchange students… we forgot half of the dance and ended up just doing crazy stuff on the stage (we had a really great time though, and everyone seemed to enjoy it). At the awards ceremony, I ended up winning the award for most participating student. I was very proud of myself! 🙂

Directly after RYLA, I went to Mumbai for a week. November 4th was her birthday, so we went and celebrated! It was my first time in Mumbai. I got to see all the big shopping malls, the Gateway to India, the most expensive home in India, the slums, lots of foreigners (very unusual to see white people here), and Necklace Road. After Mumbai, I was in Amravati for two days before again heading off, this time for a tour of South India.

The tour, hosted by Rotary, lasted from mid November until mid December. There were eleven students (all on exchange) on the tour and we travelled all over south India. We started in Hyderabad, and went down the east coast. Then, at Chennai, we headed inland and explored Hassan, Ooty, Mysore, and similar areas. We spent a couple of days in Kanyakumari, and then headed up the west coast, ending with four days in Goa.(Just a note: I’m sure you’ve not heard of any of the places, but hey, that’s what maps are for!!!) On the tour, we explored museums and temples, explored tea factories, relaxed on beaches, saw some temples, rode elephants, went trekking, saw some temples, spent a night on a house boat, watched traditional Indian dance performances, explored a few more temples, shopped, oh, and did I mention that we saw a temple or two… or 33? Apart from being templed-out, we all had a FANTASTIC time! Words can’t even begin to express how wonderful it was!!! (Now I can’t wait for the North Tour!!!!!!!)

When I returned to Amravati, I immediately left again for Gujarat (a state northwest of Maharashtra), where I got to experience an Indian engagement. Let me tell you, if their engagements make an American wedding look like nothing… I can only imagine what an Indian wedding is like!!! The couple came out looking like royalty, and so did the venue! Both families came together for the first time. There was eating, dancing, mendhi, eating, dancing, the ring ceremony, champagne, dancing, eating, dancing, gifts, dancing, eating, prayers, performances, dancing, eating, and then sleeping (at 2 in the morning). After attending the engagement, I’ve sent my host family on a hunt to find me an Indian man (no worries, you’re invited)!

The following day, everyone set out for some sight seeing of Gujarat. We drove several hours north to Kutch (yes, there was dancing on the bus ride, in case you were wondering). Kutch borders Pakistan, and is famous for its White Desert. The White Desert, which is actual salt (like the salt flats in Nevada) is 60 km by 120 km, and it’s absolutely beautiful!!!!! Where we stood, the salt was only a few inches thick, but there are certain places where the salt builds to about seven feet thick!

After returning from Gujarat, the Holidays were here! I enjoyed my Christmas in Pune (a college town 12 hours west of Amravati). Christmas is not celebrated in India like it is in the US. So, in the small town of Amravati we had NOTHING! However, in the bigger city of Pune (where you actually get the chance to see foreigners apart from yourself), they had all kinds of decorations! I definitely enjoyed seeing the lights, christmas trees in malls, and the occasional Santa Clause on the corner! I also decorated the house that I stayed in. I put up a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, some snowflakes, and I even attempted making cookies! The only problem was, in India they don’t have ovens like in America (unless you use a toaster oven) and so making cookies in the microwave definitely doesn’t work too well… even if it says it has a grill setting!!!!

Then, after returning again to Amravati, it was time for New Years!!! Well, if you didn’t know, Indians definitely know how to celebrate the New Year!!!! I went to parties on the 30th, 31st, and the 1st! Each started at 8 or 9 in the evening, consisted of eating, dancing, eating, dancing, dancing, eating, chatting, and then everyone leaving at 2 AM. On the 31st, we actually were gifted with a beautiful rain (which never happens at this time of year). fortunately, the dancing was held outside, and we really got to enjoy the rain!!!

Now that the parties have stopped, I’m back to dance class, violin class, and my normal routine (I admit I miss all the travelling)! In a week, I head off to Nagpur (for 3 weeks) to attend the Rotary District Conference, where myself and the other exchange students will be given performances and meeting all the Rotarians in our district.

Well, this concludes my adventures of the first half of my exchange! I hope you enjoyed it, and are looking forward (as much as I am) to my second half of the year!

Here are just a few things that I’ve learned or discovered about India, Myself, and life in general, so far:

  • There is never enough time to spend with your family
  • It is possible to be cold when the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Making roti (Indian bread) is MUCH harder than it looks
  • Baking cookies in a microwave doesn’t work very well
  • There is always room to help out around the house
  • Oregon has the freshest/best tasting water in the world (straight from the tap)
  • There’s no place like home for the holidays
  • Indians like to stare and take pictures of white people
  • It’s impossible for me to be completely satisfied without my cello
  • Dancing is really, really, really fun
  • You should be content with the things that you have… never ask for more, because there is always someone who has less.
  • Bollywood films are much better than Hollywood films, only because they are all musicals
  • I LOVE INDIA! I LOVE ME! I LOVE LIFE!

Thank you so much to everyone! Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad, Dhanyavad!

The Beginning of My Journey

I am proud to say that I have successfully completed my first week in Amravati, India. It is a most beautiful city, and I am enjoying myself beyond belief. After a fifteen hour flight from Newark, New Jersey to Mumbai, India and an eleven hour layover, I arrived safely in Nagpur, India (just 2 hours east of Amravati). As my “exchanger friend” and I stepped off the plane and onto true Indian soil, I began to realise exactly what I had gotten myself into. A year full of adventure, culture, and truly beautiful people.

I have enrolled into two classes so far: Odissi dance, and Indian violin. Both are very difficult, and very traditional of India. I have also been given the opportunity to go to a preschool in the mornings and play with the children for three hours. The children speak very little English, so having me there, they are able to learn some English, and I some Hindi.

Here are some things that I have learned so far:

The food is fresher, spicier, and better.

The people are friendlier, more hospitable, and have beautiful hearts.

Cows really do roam the streets.

The driving is scarier, and the traffic is the worst.

The clothes are cheaper and more beautiful.

The trees are greener, and the flowers brighter.

There’s nothing more tasty than fresh coconut milk, straight from the coconut.

Using your left hand to wipe is not as bad as it sounds.

You can’t always tell the difference between an Indian speaking Hindi, and an Indian speaking English.

All in all, I think the most important thing that I have learned this past week:

Humans are humans. I am no different from Indians. Indians are no different from Americans, or Beligans, or Australians. Just because we have different cultures and ways of doing things does not mean that they are not people. In just a week, I have grown to love my Indian family as my own.

India is by far the most extraordinary place I have ever been to. In just one week it has brought great joy and adventure to my life. Once again, I would like to thank everyone who has made my exchange possible, and you, for joining me while I spend a year in the life of an Indian.

Until next time –

Namaste!

Preparation? It’s longer than four letters – I’m not sure what it means.

Welcome! I am so glad you’ve decided to join me on my adventures in India! I realize that you are not with me in person (sadly), so I’m going to need to fill you in on everything that happens along the way! Good thing there’s a nifty invention called the internet and some cool person decided to make wordpress.com! Otherwise I might actually have to hand write you a letter! *Gasp* Anyways, moving on. Let’s start at the beginning: it’s the very best place to start.

Well, I hate to break it to you… I’m still in the states! Not to worry, “It’s Your World – Travel” is taking care of everything. Right now, I’m projected to leave Thursday, July 21. YIKES! THREE WEEKS?!?!?! Is this really true? The time has gone by SO FAST!

Right now, everyone’s favorite question seems to be, “Are you ready to go?” My answer goes a little something like this, “It depends on how you look at it. Mentally, I’m ready to go this very second. Physically, I won’t be ready for ages!” (Then, I politely smile and walk away) It seems crazy, I know. How can I be SO ready, and yet, not ready at all?! Have a seat and I’ll be happy to explain! To be quite frank, I’m rather bored and annoyed with my day-to-day life here in America. I’m ready for an adventure, ready to see another part of the world, ready to eat some new food, READY TO LEAVE! Yet, I have absolutely no idea what clothes I’m going to take, how many suitcases I’m taking, how to speak the language (I’m slowly learning Hindi through Rosetta Stone), or how I’m going to handle not using toilet paper. I keep playing little scenarios in my mind, thinking of all the things that could possibly go wrong. Despite all my “unpreparedness,” it’s such a comfort knowing that I’m not the only person going through this! I’ve been talking to all my fellow India-bound exchange students, and from what I’m hearing, we’re all having the same exact feelings.

For now, rather than freak out about what I need to take (I’ll save that for the night before I leave), I’ll spend my last few days in America taking in as much as I can, enjoying the small things in life, and cuddling my kitties.

Until next time – Namaste!