The series of my adventure in India begin.
I spent the first 7 weeks of my summer studying abroad with a program sponsored by the University of North Carolina. The program was something I was drawn to while studying Hinduism and Buddhism. My professor told us about the program and I applied, and er went. It was a teacher-lead experience, two teachers and 1 TA, were with us 11 students the entire 6 weeks of the program. We took both Hindi language and an Indian culture class while we were there. And holy shit did we study. 4 hours a day in class, plus daily readings of around 30-50 pages, plus Hindi homework, quizzes, dictations, exams, and essays. We'd catch up on our work and only fall behind. What was great was our teachers were there with us at the excursions, at dinner, at the parties, so they knew if we had time to work or not. Late papers were not a crime and we had our teachers at full disposal. I am so glad that I went to India with a group and with teachers as it would have been extremely hard to navigate on our own, aside from being highly stressful. I know a few nights my teachers barely slept trying to straighten out bus companies. The culture class also was perfectly tailored to the sites and sounds and experiences we were going to take part in, so we were able to fully appreciate the places that we went knowing the historical and religious perspectives of everything.
Packed with my water filtration system, linen pants galore, 2 dozen Clif Bars, malaria and Delhi Belly medication, and of course my camera, I was ready to get moving. I had an amazing deal with the group having a direct flight out of Chicago. I got to the airport and found my group huddled near a window playing cards and quickly got to greeting and getting to know all the others on the trip. I was lucky enough to be near one of the other students on the plane ride there, only a seat away from Caroline. but I ended up with a really nice Indian student, Harry, studying in America who was going home for the first time since arriving for his master's. I had ordered American Airline's vegan (Indian VGML) meal and confirmed not once, but twice. But of course, they messed up. They had my meal, which turned out to be the American VGML, but none of the sides of the tray were vegan. Had a huge container of YOGURT, cookies with egg and milk in it, BUTTER, and that orange cake that was made with a custardy cheese. I was so pissed. I hadn't thought they'd screw up that badly so I only brought a Nature Valley granola bar and an apple. The attendant was extremely rude, didn't care, and had to be told a few times that I had asked for another bean side dish. Harry didn't even get his meal at first, so that was another fiasco. Other than the food, I was happy with my flight and loved my in-flight personal tv. I watched 'Bride Wars' (waste of time) and a few other movies I cant seem to remember. I slept most of the 15 hour plane ride and was highly ready to see India.
My first impressions of India were at nighttime and scarred by the guard at the door with an fully automatic gun strapped and pointed at people passing through the door. But, when we got on the road we were brought into the chaos of Indian driving, road-side shops, men crowded on the street corners, dogs running in the streets feral, and even got to see an elephant. But after a long day we went to bed and slept. The first week we really didn't go off and venture on our own, we went to class and started learning the Hindi alphabet and simple conversions (Hi, my name is sarah, what is yours? Is your name Raj? I buy mangoes today...)
We did venture off to visit the market on the outskirts of the university that we were staying at. The market placed called Bulta house was at first a scary walk, but we ended up knowing our way around the market like no other. Although we were stared at and sometimes thrown rocks at by little boys, it was a great market full of people and shops. We all bought Indian cloths so that we could have clothes made. It was a necessity as even our linen pants and skirts were not enough in the heat. The market is also where we met our friends at the STD (phone booth stores). The man who owned it had tons of granddaughters and we became good friends with them. Well they loved us and we loved them and we giggled and tried to talk and would sit around taking photos and what not.
But most of the first week we spent only doing the activities that were required with our group. The first activity was going to the Nizamuddin Sufi Shrine. The shrine is part of a Muslim complex called a durgah. It had narrow streets filled with little shops in walls, beggars galore asking you for money, restaurants for all different socio-economic groups with the general Mughal food flare (in other words, meat, meat, meat...) When you get to the end of the narrow passage you are hounded by one of the shoe peddlars to take of you shoes before entering the complex. We caused a stir as we were such a large group. (this video shows the passage to the entrance Then you enter into the complex which is roaring with life. We got there just as nightly prayer was finishing, but we came specifically to see the Qawalli singers. Qawalli is a form of Muslim worship to a specific saint and to allah. The singers normally are all from the same family and come every night to sing. The music, the hymns, and the hand signals are all very important and all have their own message. We sat front row and got to see them preform. It was absolutely beautiful. I found a great video on youtube that shows the singers. Notice, same singers that are in my photo.
The next day we went to a Hindu temple called Kalka-Ji. The temple is dedicated to Durga is one of the busiest temples in Delhi, with thousands coming each night. The temple which was built originally 3000 years ago...yes, 3 zeros, has built the community around it with generations after generation living in small one room homes near the entrance. Many of the owners of the home came out of their house the minute the bells began to ring. We didn't have our cameras at the location as it was to be so pact, but on our night it wasn't too bad when we got there. The sound of the bells was unbelievable, almost deafening, plus there were all kinds of small bells hanging above the temple so that people could put their hands up and walk to make them ring. We all left with offerings from the gods. I received a small banana and some sugar candy. Like Nizamuddin, the pathway to the temple was more shops and very poverish people. It was sad seeing the people bathing in puddles and getting dressed in their parking lot homes, but from our stand point as students, all we could do is be thankful.
The next week we packed up from Delhi for a short pilgrimage to the cities of Haridwar and Rishikesh. Both extremely famously cities for Hindu pilgrims and tourist alike. Both are cities that are in Northern India, about 6hrs Indian road-time north of New Delhi. They sit on the banks of the Ganges river and at the base of the Himalayan Mts. Haridwar is a Hindu pilgrimage site because of a famous battle between the Gods and demons that happened in the air above the area. At the precise place there was a drop of God nectar that was dropped into the water. Making this site holy and a place where pilgrims from all over the world come daily to be apart of the daily aarti services and to bathe in the Ganges. It is not only auspicious to be at this place, but to fully submerge under the water to cleanse your body. Though, the Ganges has a reputation for being some of the dirtiest waters in the world. I do not disagree. I would only put my calves in the water. But being vegan helped me out a bit in the purity counter ;) The water commonly sees flower offerings, flaming banana boat offerings, people's belongings, and strangely enough dead infants and children are not creamted but put in the water. We had an amazing time experiencing the evening aarti and again coming back to watch the sunrise. We also went to a beautiful temple ontop of the mountains looking down at the Ganges. Some memories I will not want to forget here were: being asked to get out of our rickshaw, by our driver, and walk up the hill, 3 of the students fulling submerging in the water, and of course staying at an ashram and having class in a temple.
We took a day trip up 40 mins into the Himalayans to get to the city of Rishikesh. The Ganges as noted also runs through this location, but it is not as auspicious. What is famous here is the fact that the Beatles lived and recoreded their White Album at one of the many ashrams in the city. The place is a collection of serene nature paths with ashrams and meditations sites sitting in the mountains and also a touristy center filled with people and busy temples. You could probably visit 20 temples in less than an hour if you tried to. To get to the main area of the city, you must cross the Ganges river on a massive foot-bridge. The bridge had a few collisions, fights, traffic jams, and animals crossing all in the span of the hour that we were there. I got bumped in the head with a huge A/C unit, but such is life in India. We were torn in going to the left to the nature paths or to the right to the commercial area. But we ended up to the right since we had such a short time to explore. I have to say Rishikesh was probably one of my favorite places along the entire tour. I had so much fun watching the people, the animals, the many sadhus, a monkey stealing a full kilo of lychees from a family, and dazing off into the beautiful sunset across the Ganges. I wish we had more time and the next visit to India I will be spending at least a few days here in one of the many ashrams.
After the small side trip, we came back to Delhi and had a few more days of classes before we headed onto the road for a week homestay and another week of traveling to Agra and Jaipur. Which are all to come.
Because this is a food blog. One of the few meals I took a photo of while in India was at a chain called Nathu's. They had 4-5 different restaurants around New Delhi and were famous for their sweets. Indian sweets are pretty much all milk, milk, milk. But there was one sweet I was able to eat. Anways, the meal that I ordered was Channa Batura. A version or another of channa masala with a fried puffy bread (fully deep fried) called batura and a side of pickled mangoes and red onions. Sadly we were not allowed to eat any fresh ingredients because of water contamination while cleaning and knives and what not. So many things were off-limits. We went back to this chain 2 times, the second time I got a masala dosa. But again, photos at meal times would have been hectic.
To finish off this post here are a few more photos from my journey.
To view all the photos I took from the time period in this post, please visit my flickr India collection: http://flickr.com/photos/shadowsarah