New in India

A blog of my semester in Pune, India studying public health, development and environmental studies.

Goodbye India

Today is my last day in Pune. It has been four months since I left the U.S and came to India. It is now over 100 degrees outside, I bob my head back and forth like an Indian, and I have given all of my kurtas back to the program center. We had a “re-entry orientation” yesterday morning with the program during which they gave us back a letter that we wrote to ourselves back in January.

Dear Emma,

Can you believe that it’s already time to go back to Shutesbury? You get to see Mom, Papi, and Jorden and then hopefully will be jetting back to Amsterdam for the summer. Or are you actually planning on staying in India and traveling?

I hope first of all that you learned to embrace the heat. Secondly, I hope that you were able to ease up on making comparisons to others all the time and that you got to know lots of wonderful people individually. It’s exciting to think that you have experienced so much more than I have now. You’ve learned, traveled, known people, smelled, seen, danced and worn clothes I can’t even imagine yet. You have taken bucket showers, seen the Taj Mahal and are hopefully awesome at yoga.

I’m not sure what else to write to you in this letter…seeing as I hopefully will blog and write in my journal throughout the four months. I guess the one final thing I want you to think about is: pause and reflect on how recent this moment feels – you in Durshet writing this letter while watching Barfi with the group. It’s amazing how fast the time goes. But you have lived in India. INDIA.

How incredible is that? I hope you had a great adventure.

I’m so excited for mine to begin.

-Emma

It’s hard for me to reflect on my time in India right now, and I don’t think I really will be able to until I am back home. Will I have reverse culture shock? Will I miss India? Will it be difficult to return to of my life in the U.S and in the Netherlands? Because I am so excited to come home, it’s hard for me to imagine “re-entry” being difficult. But I do already know that there are aspects of India that I will miss. Like the Bollywood dance numbers I can now sing along to (butchering the words of course), chai tea, the vibrancy of women’s saris, the small shops along the street selling crackers, mangos, ice-cream, the orange-haired men, the rickshaws, chapattis, exclaiming “ko baba!” to complain about the heat, meeting other foreigners in coffee shops, hanging out the side of commuter trains, talking to Buddhist monks, drinking King Fishers as terrible as they are, my Bollywood celebrity crushes, the path I walk on with all the middle age Indians, and most of all my host-mother Didi.

I have always appreciated my host mother and admired her for the work she has done, but it hasn’t been until the last few weeks that I have developed such a bond with her. Maybe it was the heat making us loopy, maybe it was realizing that we had so little time left together, maybe it was the hardship we overcame, but in these last days in India I realized that what I am going to miss the most about being here is spending time with this woman. Of course we come from different cultures and generations, and can’t share or agree on everything, but it’s those relationships that later you realize make such an impact on you. You can’t predict the insights or advice that person is going to give you, and it ends up being so valuable to you because the two of you are so different. When Robert died and I was upset, she told me that we do not control destiny. That’s never something I have believed, but in that moment that was what I needed to hear, and based on her past it was what she could offer me. I am so thankful for her hospitality over the last four months, and for all the conversations with her over morning chai on the porch, eating rice and dal with our hands during dinner, or watching Indian soap operas on the couch together. I will miss her dancing, the fashion shows she would put on for us when she brought home a new sari, her double door-bell ring, the way her face brightens when we are looking “so cuuuute!”, her scrambled eggs of course, how she always forgets to take her insulin shot, her Bollywood celebrity obsessions – it is evident that living with Didi has really defined my time in India.

I am so grateful that I got to spend this time in this incredible, overwhelming, complicated, frustrating, vibrant, and diverse country. There really are not enough adjectives in this world to describe India. Tonight I fly to from Mumbai to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Boston where I will see my family again. I remember the moment I first saw the shoreline of Mumbai – the slums, the smog, and the fear I felt about spending four months here. I know tonight that I will watch that same shoreline recede behind me but now I will feel like I am leaving something behind.

Thank you for reading these posts, and following my time in India over this past semester.

Goodbye India.

-Emma

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Jaipur

After a brief few days in Pune where I completed my last interviews at Vadu and tried to stay cool in the unbearable heat, Steph and I were back at the Pune airport again. It was Thursday April 25th, at 12:30 in the afternoon. I had just had a quick lunch of Dahi Bhalla Papri Chaat at Kadhai before the cab came and picked us up. We boarded our Spicejet flight at 3:30, along with the Indian masses that ride on that airline. It was a pretty typical Indian scene, families with many carry on bags, their thermoses of chai, and all talking louder than the poor flight attendant trying to do her safety presentation. I was pretty terrified by the turbulenece once again (remember Mom when I was the one calming you down on our flights). While Steph was conked out I tried to take deep breaths to keep myself from grabbing her arm in terror. I was relieved to touch ground. When we arrived at the airport in Jaipur we took a pre-paid taxi to our hotel. I was surprised at how calm the roads were, expecting to be ambushed right away by the chaos that I had heard Jaipur to be. The taxi brought us down this lovely residential road and stopped in front of a bright purple and blue building: the Hotel Pearl Palace. We entered the reception and checked in with the lovely manager, this very calm and shy but helpful man. We were shown our room and opened the door to a massive bed with a red and orange sequined bedspread and the towels arranged into a swan. The walls were covered in a mural depicting a typical Rajasthani village scene (Jaipur is in the state of Rajisthan for all of those back home).

After settling in for a bit we decided we would explore the area around the hotel until dinner time. Little did we know there was basically nothing to do in the immediate area, and the “Old City/Pink City” was definitely not in walking distance. Every rickshaw driver on the street noticed us walking around aimlessly, and every one slowed down to offer us a ride. Offer actually sounds to nice – they basically aim to bully you into getting into their rickshaw. “What madam, you don’t like Indians?” “Come madam, I can take you to so-so temple where there are 1000 elephants.” “You must be German madam.” After getting caught in an intersection with five rickshaws around us Steph and I turned back for the hotel, one rickshaw following us back the entire way home. Steph has some more difficulty saying no to vendors and rickshaw drivers. Any one who knows me would not be surprised to hear me put a driver in his place. “Goodbye sir.” I would say to them, waving them away with my cranky mask on my face. “Whyyyyy madam,” You get the picture.

Steph and I had an extremely relaxing dinner at the Peacock Resteraunt on the roof of our hotel. We split two 650 ml King Fishers, naan, mushroom/pea curry and an Indian chaat curry (chickpeas, potatoes, and tomatoes with lemon dressing). For me we ordered a vanilla icecream to split, which I just consumed all of (for some reason here in India I always want to have icecream). We sat on the roof terrace enjoying the breeze, the ambiance, and the freedom of travel. Until the mosquitos came and then it was off to bed.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast back out on the roof. We had brown bread (cardboard basically) with scrambled eggs and mint tea. Steph ordered real filtered coffee, yes real as in it was not Nescafe. It smelled delicious. We rickshawed to the Pink City at 8:45 in the morning, not really thinking about the fact that nothing in India really opens until 10 or later. The old city is enclosed by these massive pink walls, hence the name of the Pink City…the streets were entirely empty, all fo the shop windows closed. Walking past all of the empty stalls I could not imagine what this place was like when everything opened. I wasn’t sure I wanted to face it, but the shopping in Jaipur is supposed to be fabulous. We found our way to what we thought was the entrance of the City Palace, and stopped to buy bottles of water as the sun was already pretty intense. Out of nowhere came this small man who was extremely eager to talk to us in English. We said that he wanted to speak with us so he could learn more about our country and culture. Maybe we could have some chai with him so we could talk? We had time to kill, so we shrugged our shoulders and agreed. We went around the corner and we slipped into a small shop where the locals were having their breakfast and chai. We talked about mediatation a lot and about learning to be present rather than always thinking about what you need to do or what you are going to do next (something I have problems with!) We also talked about Indian versus American consumerism. He did not seem to see how Indian culture is becoming increasingly consumerist with the growth of technology and the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Steph tried to challenge him on this. He was born and raised in a village outside of Jaipur and has only been in the city for the past five years for university. He had never really been exposed to foreigners until living in Jaipur, hence his fascination. However, he seems to have fallen right into the way of life here – he offered to bring us to the factory section of the city so we could see where the jewelery is made and so that we could buy straight from the producers themselves. Clearly he had a connection to a shop and was cleverly picking up tourists and making them feel like they were getting to see a real side of the jewellery industry. Depsite the fact that we were part of this sneaky plan, it was actually pretty neat. We went through the backstreets and sat in this man’s shop to see where he made earrings and dragon bracelets. The man was from Kolkata and half-clothed was bathing himself, doing all the hacking and gagging people do here in the morning to remove flem from the body. He had a very kind face though. As we sat on the floor of this shop our new friend kept talking to us about mediatation, religion and science. I wasn’t super invested in the conversation, and neither was Steph, both starting to grow weary of our new friend.

We then walked around the corner to his friend’s shop. We sat down in the small air-conditioned room across from this young man behind a counter full of rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. etc. I asked him what is name was, and he responded with “Chili Chocolate”. I had expected this man not to know any English at all, let alone to be a wise ass. I told him my name was “Kentucky Fried Chicken” and he responded by saying that he was a vegetarian…This was off to a very strange start in deed. He told us that three things in his shop are free, “Tea, Toilet and Time”. If we didn’t buy anything that was fine, we could still have our money and he would still have his jewelery. The following hour and a half was like a comedy sketch ,with the duo slowly pulling out every single piece of jewelry there was in the shop and creating a “Maybe Tray” and a “For Sure Tray”. We were not to rush through looking, and we did not need to decide, just put the jewelry in the appropriate trays. We were brought chai even though we said no, I could really not handle any more chai at this point. Chili Chocolate told us that he does not drink chai, only beer. He told us about his travels to various jewelry shows in the USA and Europe. He spoke Spanish fluently and knew about many places in Amsterdam. Finally, I bought a bracelet and a few gifts before we proceeded to leave and see other sights in Jaipur. As we were walking out another Indian man was escorting a couple from NYC that were staying at our hotel into the shop. See, clearly a scheme. I was of course a bit afraid I had been scammed, but the bracelet still looks bright and silver more than a week later so I think I am ok. The friend took us to a nearby Buddhist temple but at this point we were just done with him Steph and I just nodding along as we talked our ears off. He wanted to go to lunch with us (probably commissioned by certain restauraunts), but we decided to lose him by finally going to the City Palace.

We meandered over to the City Palace, buying tickets for the Indian student price wit our Alliance ID cards. We were both practically melting under the heat but still managed to enjoy the beautiful pink walls of the palace, the white gateways with intricate green and blue details and the peacock courtyard with amazing mural doorways. We wandered through the textile museum and evasdropped on tour guides telling tourists about the massive kings that wore these garments. Desperate to escape the heat we found a rickshaw over to the area around the famous Raj Mandir cinema where there a few resteraunts recommended by Lonley Planet. First we found the original Lassiwalla stand and had delicious plain lassis from ceramic mugs along with all the locals. We went across the street to a vegetarian resteraunt, both unable to stomach much but naan and idli, but thankful for the escape in the air conditioning. After cooling off for over an hour we went back out into the heat to catch a rickshaw home. We hopped into a bike rickshaw peddled by an incredibly old man who was working very hard to get us down the road. Once back at the hotel we napped and then sat at the Peacock resteruant journeling and drinking chai and fresh lime sodas.

In the evening we decided we wanted to go out to Choki Dhani, a Rajasthani village theme park where you can get dinner and watch traditional performances such as dancing and puppetering. We found a richshaw right in front of the hotel who initially wanted to take us from 350 rupees each way, and then agreed to take us for 350 round trip if we would go into a store on the way where he was commissioned. In the middle of our 20 km commute we stopped at a fabric factory where we ushered inside, offered chai and told that the fabric was imported to the U.S and Britain to companies such as DKNY and Dolce & Golbana. We were brought upstairs and plopped into “Indian chairs” while they threw all sorts of materials on the ground in front of us. I ended up buying some pillow cases and Steph bought a scarf. We came back out to the rickshaw driver with our purchases in hand, telling him we hoped he was paid extra because we bought things. This young man was also 20 years old, and is to be married in two years to a girl named Neha from Agra. He says he really likes her. We chatted a lot during the ride, mostly about how we were going to show up for his wedding and about Bollywood actresses.

Choki Dhani was absolutely hysteriacal. Have you ever been to a Medieval Times? Same idea, except for Rajasthani style. The layout of the place was a quaint village, lit with low lights and performances happening in various pavillions and small stages. Steph and I made our way immediately to the dining hall, where we were sat on the floor on pillows next to an entire Indian family. There were large plates made out of banana leaves on the table in front of us and ceramic mugs filled with butter milk (yuck). The small banana leaf bowls were filled with various dals, bhajis, etc. the waiters continuely making rounds to fill our plates. Steph and I didn’t know what we wer eating most of the time, but it was all incredibly delicious. They were serving us so much that we had to place our entire upper body over our plates to stop them from putting more on it. On of the young waiters was insistent that I drink the butter milk, but I did not. After dinner we were pulled into the pavilion to dance with young women twirling in traditional Rajasthni dresses. We watched a puppet show, a magician, purused the artisan section, watched another traditional dance where young children are dressed in tribal outfits and make expressions that look like they are having seizures…We had our hands hennaed, we explored fake caves and came across a massive T-Rex which we did not know was native to India. Steph paid to take me on my first ferris wheel ride ever. They wanted us to get in separate baskets so that the weight would be evenly distributed, but I was too scared to go alone (in retrospect though isn’t it more scary to think we were more at risk of tipping out…?) It was in truth a pretty janky ferris wheel, but the view of Jaipur at night from the top was incredible! I treated her afterwards to a cup of chai which we drank on the couch section along with all the lounging Indian dads (what amusment park in the U.S do you have an area where you can just straight lounge?). We finished the night with kulfis, an Indian popsicle that is undescribable. Most people think it tastes like frozen chai. Our rickshaw driver, and new friend, was waiting outside for us, watching a movie in the neighboring café with all the other rickshaw wallas. He brought us back to the Hotel Pearl Palace safe and sound by 11 pm.

The following morning after breakfast we met our rickshaw driver again and headed to the Amber Fort outside of the city. By 9 am it was already sweltering out and it was difficult to imagine how I was going to muster up the energy to move around this massive fort under the hot sun. After a steep 15 minute climb up the hill alongside the elephants we entered to fort and bought our student tickets. The inside of the fort was more of the same archtecture that I described earlier, with one beautiful mirrored wall which we took many photos in front of. A security guard came over to us and indicated that he wanted to take a photo of us in one of the mirrors. Steph let him take her camera, and we waited while he positioned the camera just right to get our reflections in the mirror. Afterwards he motioned for us to follow him and he gave us a tour of…the old latrines…Yes he showed us all the old bathrooms, smiling to us as he pointed to them and said in English, “toilet”. He motioned to Steph to peer into a well, and she jumped back at the sight of dozens of bats clinging to the walls. The tour ended there with him asking for tips for his latrine tour and us refusing.

From the Amber Fort we drove to the Monkey Temple (it has another name I can’t remember but it’s famous for being chock full of monkeys). Steph was keen on going there, I on the other hand was not as thrilled to hang out with more monkeys. They are not shy and you often lose your water bottle around them. The climb up to the temple was endless, and we weren’t even sure where it was. I opted to dit down when we reached the top of a hill and told Steph to go without me. I realized after two minutes that I had not placed myself in a good situation. Two young men came over and started asking me questions, and when an entire group of them came walking up over the hill I leapt up immediately and began walking quickly down the other side in search of Steph. I had an entire gang of boys in tow, some attempting to ask me questions in English and others just snickering. It was the first time during the entire stay here in India that I felt very unsafe. There was no one else around except for me and all of these young men. I was tired and weak and paranoid with fear. Finally the temple came into view and I rushed through the entrance, past the baths and into Steph’s arms. The boys had veered off behind me to cool off in the baths – they probably never had any malicious intents, but I was so relieved to be back with Steph again. Dripping sweat we walked back up the hill under the blazing sun to the rickshaw, me snapping at any young man who said “excuse me madam…?” I was thrilled to see our rickshaw driver friend waiting for us at the bottom of the hill.

He dropped us off at the famous Raj Mandir cinema, a building shaped like an enormous cream puff. We purchased tickets for the only film showing, a horror movie about witches. To satisfy our hunger and kill time before the the film we had another lassi at Lassiwalla and went to a cute café called C’est Bon where we got our fix of Western food and Wifi. We each had an enormous sandwich with mushroom tiblets and all the possible vegetables we could add. At 3 pm we headed over to the cinema. The theater smelled like bat poop and we were crammed in the back rows with all of the locals eating their parathas with ketchup and answering their cell phones in the middle of the movie. There were no English subtitles on the film, and it was really hokey, with witches obtaining their power from their long braids…We left the movie early, after sitting through more than 2 hours of it.

Back at the Hotel Pearl Palace we hung out in the common room (we had already checked out) where we sipped in chais and took turns using the communal shower. A skinny man in a Hawaiian shirt entered the common and began whining to us in this oddly familiar yet unidentifiable accent. I realized that I had heard his whining once before in Darjeeling! He was the man who had bitched about Varanasi and Kolkata to us while we were enjoying a relaxing dinner at Sonam’s Kitchen! Now he was complaining to us about train travel in Rajasthan. Unable to listen to him for one more second, I asked him if he had anything positive to say about his experience in India. He did not respond to this questions and continued complaining, Steph and I both tuning him out. I struck up conversation with a Swiss German couple who were also headed to Udaipur that evening. We had a relaxing dinner of naan, Indian chaat salad, dal makhani, a King Fisher, ice cream and mint tea. Our rickshaw walla took us to the train station a bit before 10 pm. We promised we would come back to India in 2 years for his wedding. I asked him how much I should pay him for this brief ride (rickshaws in Jaipur do not have meters). He smiled at me and said “As you like madam”. So I gave him 50 rupees, which was about 5 times more than the ride cost.

Our train was of course delayed. First it was supposed to be 15 minutes and then that turned into an hour and one thousand mosquito bites on my legs as we waited in the grime that is an Indian train station. It smells like urine and feces and there are rats everywhere. Men who stand near us and just stare at us, prompting me to snap at them twisting up my cranky face. We boarded the train at 11:30 pm. Fortunately the 3 AC compartment had individual curtains. I slipped into my bed, pulled the curtain and drifted in and out of sleep.

 (Post about Udaipur is still not complete - sorry!)

-Emmaimage

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Taj Mahal

The next trip came just a few days after returning from travel week. We spent the week rushing off the Vadu to conduct interviews, and then on Saturday morning at the break of dawn we were back at the Pune airport, me, Madhavi, Steph and Hana, waiting to board our flight to Delhi. I had had some major loose motions the night before, and had somehow developed a very sore ribcage, either from sleeping or strangely or somehow from my digestive situation…I munched on a Lara bar and a masala chai on the plane, trying to calm my nerves throughout the turbulence (a fear which has just developed flying on Indian airlines…). We arrived in Delhi at 9:30 am, Madhvai and Hana rushing to Barista to fill their stomachs with muffins and mochas. The driver had greeted us at the arrivals, holding a sign with my name on it! His name was Madhan, and the two of us chatted about his children and his childhood back near Dharmashala. Amalia had flown into Delhi a day early to spend extra time with her friend Ellie who is studying abroad there. We swung by and picked Amalia up and then headed straight for the expressway towards Agra. Neha had warned us that there would be increased traffic in the city due to protests. A few days before a five year-old girl had been raped and tortured.

We arrived in Agra within 3 hours. Despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing in Agra and its actually pretty hideous, our driver found beauty and lots of things to point out to us. “Look at monkey.” “Look at donkey.” “Look at golf course”. We pulled into the Taj Resort – yes we stayed at a resort, yes it had a swimming pool – and wandered into the reception. We were instantly each brought our own glass of Coca Cola. I do not drink soda, but it tasted absolutely delicious to me in that moment. The receptionist said, “We think you like theses.” Yes as we are Americans, we must love Coca Cola. We were shown our rooms, threw our stuff in and then Madhavi, Steph and I headed to the hotel restaurant for lunch. Amalia and Hana were happier laying down instead. Steph and I were both experiencing stomach issues and decided to play it safe with tomato soup and naan bread. I had a lime soda, which I have to make a big plug for. They are the prefect drink for hot weather and an upset stomach. After a satisfying lunch we headed back to the room to relax and make some tea before Madhan picked us up at 4 to go to the Amber Fort.

That is when the battle with the teakettle began. I plugged that bad boy in and discovered that the outlet did not work. I moved it over to an outlet on the other side of the room and plugged it in there. Confused as to whether or not it was actually on, I reached towards its little black button to see if the red light would go on. Then I felt this pain through my arm and down my leg. “Shit! I think I was just electrocuted!” I yelped and ran across the room, as if the teakettle was going to come get me itself. For some reason, Steph then proceeded to try and tackle the tea kettle and was herself electrocuted two times. Tortured and defeated by the tea kettle we got ourselves ready to meet the driver.

We were greeted by the lovely smell of poop when we arrived at the Agra Fort. And about a million tourists, tour guides and vendors who were all in our faces of course. We did decide to hire a tour guide, rather than roaming around the giant fort on our own. I can’t remember his name, but he had this horrible haircut and spoke so quickly that I really could not tell what he was saying most of the time. He told us about the king and all his wives, how we had a giant Parcheesi game using women as pawns, and a female only bazaar that the king would watch over from his balcony. One day he disguised himself as a woman so he could go down to the bazaar to meet his wife. Our tour guide then told us he could take us into this secret glass room that was no longer open to the public for an extra 100 rupees. Ah what the heck right? So we paid him and it was well worth it. The room was pitch black, but when he lit two candles and held them over his head the glass pieces all over the wall and ceilings reflected the light everywhere. It was absolutely dazzling. After we stepped out of the darkness he showed us how if we looked out from the fort at the horizon we could see the Taj Mahal in the distance. If we stepped back away from the walls of the fort the Taj Mahal appeared even closer – an optical illusion.

After our lovely tour through the Agra Fort we headed back to the hotel and had dinner on the rooftop, along with a sitar and tublah band and lots of mosquitoes. Steph and I had egg biriyani and a really gross veg gratin with an unidentifiable white creamy sauce suffocating once healthy peas and carrots. After dinner Steph was electrocuted by the outlet two more times when she tried to plug her computer in, prompting us to call the reception to fix that bitch of an outlet and the toilet that would not flush. When all the repairs were made a lovely stench filled the room, and I was pretty sure we were going to suffocate to death before seeing the Taj in the morning. When I called the reception and they sent the electrician back he told me the smell was from what he had put in the toilet to make it flush. Lovely.

Anyway we didn’t suffocate that night.

The next morning we woke up and saw the Taj Mahal. And yes, it is just as breathtaking as everyone says it is. We woke up at 5:10 am and met the driver outside at 5:30. We bought tickets for 750 rupees and hired this elderly man who introduced himself as “Mr.Khan” as our tour guide. When we went through the entrance gate we got our first full frontal of the Taj Mahal. She glowed and sparkled in the early morning light. For the following hour Mr. Khan showed us around, constantly stopping, taking our cameras and having us pose in front of the monument – pretending to pinch the top with our fingers, by the reflecting pools, all sitting on the grass in front of it, on the iconic bench and on and on and on. He told us where all the various color marble was from – black from Belgium, green from China, blue from Afghanistan, red from Saudi Arabia. He told us about the exact symmetry of the Taj; that is looks exactly the same from all four sides. After roughly 1000 photos, we left the Taj behind and entered the street of horrors outside (the vendors). I had no patience for that scene at 8 in the morning, so Madhavi and I headed back to the hotel for breakfast. The others stayed out to buy little trinkets, joining us later.

Within the next hour we were back on the road to Delhi again, all of us conked out for the duration of the expressway (except for Mahan thank god). We dropped Amalia and Hana off at Ellie’s and then Steph, Madhavi and I went to a place called Chimmney’s Family Restaurant for lunch. We had a heavy Punjabi meal, with paneer, butter soaked naan and chai to gulp it down with. It was delicious, but when we went outside into the heat again, me and Steph were battling with our stomachs once again. We drove over to the Lotus Temple, a sight that Madhavi was particularly anxious to see. We could not have anticipated the line for the temple! You literally could not see the beginning or the end. Interestingly, I did not see any foreign tourists in the line, every single person was Indian. We all agreed immediately that there was no way we were going to stand in that line. Absolutely not.

We then drove to the Qutub Miner, what the driver called the “Taj Mahal of Delhi” – the must see. They are these beautiful ruins and an iconic tower with very intricate carvings. The three of us had a fun photo shoot, but not without fighting off many groups of Indian boys who were trying to take part. When we hopped back in the car we wanted to go see more sights, but unfortunately due to the protests in the heart of the city, it just did not seem feasible for us to squeeze in any more sights before our flight. We were likely to get caught in heavy traffic and Madhan did not want to get anywhere near the protests, for good reason. Disappointed that we had not seen much of Delhi and were going to spend most of our time in the city in its airport, we were dropped off 4 hours early for our flight. We opened the trunk of the car to find that Amalia had left her backpack in there. I threw it on my back and brought it through security with me… Once on the other side of security we spent the next few hours in the food court, Steph working on her paper and Madhavi and I journaling. Around seven we grabbed veggie delights from Pizza Hut. Yes, I did eat Pizza Hut. I was not extremely impressed, as I have heard it is the pizza to get in India. I though that Smoking Joe’s was a lot better (both sounds really gross I know). I also had a smoothie. Despite the fact that we were well on time at the airport and had been keeping an eye on the time, all of sudden the departures board said “Final Boarding” for our flight to Pune. I think there may have been a five minute window where actual boarding happened and then suddenly closed. Luckily we made it, along with every other person on the flight. No one seemed to have made it on the plane during actual boarding time.image

 

Jaldapara Nature Reserve

On Friday we had a relaxing morning, sleeping in until 7:45 am and enjoying a leisurely breakfast out in the garden. We had tea, cornflakes, bananas, omelet’s, toast and marmalade while eavesdropping on the French couple next to us. At 9 am Amalia met the other group to drive off to white river rafting and Eliza and I proceeded to talk to the hotel owner for the following hour. Eliza of course had him on the topic of Buddhism. He told her about the various strands of Buddhism and how we needed to understand what strand a monastery emphasized before going to visit in. The monastery we were planning to see that day focused on sexuality, while others in the town addressed management of emotion, or principles. He said that we must understand this background so that we can put our 3d glasses on when we enter the monastery and look at the elaborate paintings on the wall. The conversation turned very philosophical of course, Eliza eating it all up, and me nodding along. Finally he told us that he had take too much of our time and that it was time for us to go out and explore…but first we had to touch on this topic, and then it really was time to go, except not really because there was something else he forgot to tell us or wanted to show us. Finally, we did actually leave the hotel and we walked uphill to visit the paper factory. The uphill walk in the heat was overwhelming, while the paper factory itself was pretty underwhelming. We were there for all of about two minutes and then we headed back down to find the Thongsa Ghompa, i.e. the sexuality monastery. We had the place in sight but could not figure out which road would lead us there. We asked many people and they kept sending us on small paths that cut through people’s porches our backyards. We finally reached the place, and it did in fact feel like I put my 3d glasses on when I looked at the artwork on the walls. The paintings were extremely sexual, lots of breasts and smooching. The hotel owner had told us that these topics are important to get out in the open, but I still very shocked at how explicit the depictions were.

We made our way back to town through the Hat Bazaar, which is misleading, because there are no hats being sold there. We ran into Eliza’s friend that she had made on our jeep ride from Darjeeling to Kalimpong. He was in the town visiting his girlfriend, who was awkwardly hiding behind him. He said he was going back to Darjeeling and motioned for us to follow him…we were a bit confused and began to walk with him. We called out to him and said we were going to find a place for lunch, unsure whether he was really expecting us to follow him back to Darjeeling or not…

Eliza and I then proceeded to find a place that served momos for lunch. As my stomach was on the mend, I was determined to have some momos before I left Kalimpong. Everywhere we went they either didn’t serve them or only had mutton ones. Finally we found this small local hole in the wall place that served vegetable momos. We sat down in this dark under ground restaurant with all of the locals and in one minute were each brought a plate of steaming momos. For 25 rupees we each had 8 momos and then we split a plate of papri chaat. I was itching for a Thai iced coffee, so after our lunch we went back to the coffee shop we had been the other day and sat there for a bit before heading back to the hotel to get ready to be picked up by the jeep that was supposedly coming to get us.

We waited by the roadside for over a half an hour, Eliza calling the contact number she was given multiple times to confirm that yes in fact this jeep was going to go to Jaldapara and it knew to pick us up on the way down. Finally Eliza decided to go up to the hotel reception to see if they could help us out. Of course right after she left, the car came flying down the hill and came to an abrupt stop right in front of me. We threw our bags on the top and squished in with the other 10 people already squished in. I had a window seat, with a seat so high and a window so low it felt like I could just step out if I so desired. Eliza was pressed up against a plump woman and her equally plump sister. In the seat behind us were multiple spiky-haired boys and a chubby boy who was constantly being fed by his mother to keep him entertained throughout the ride. It was another beautiful ride. We climbed up through the hills past the Teesta River. I was not that afraid of the steep cliff sides (aren’t you glad to read this 2 weeks after the fact Mom?), There were lots of monkeys on the railings along the road, one of which was straight lounging on his side with one hand under his head and the other on his hip. It was a bit unclear if everyone in the car knew each other or if the process of sharing a jeep just sort of bonds people together. We stopped many times to pick up various packages and bags which we then dropped off with other people miles down the road. We took a chai break at a place along the road of course. Eliza and I had steaming cups of chai in cute porcelain cups that a woman was brewing outside.

We drove for another 45 minutes, and then the driver stopped in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. Upon further examination we saw a large billboard for the Jaldapara Tourist Lodge, were we were supposedly staying that night. However, the lodge itself was nowhere in sight. The driver was very concerned for our safety and told us that we needed to take a rickshaw the remaining 8k down this dirt road. A random local passing by on a bike told us that it was actually only a 2-minute walk down the road, saving us from unnecessarily spending rupees. The driver told us, “No dangerous Indians madam, but careful for animals”. He said this very genuinely with his hands twisted like claws.

In 2 minutes we were at the hotel. We checked in, booked our elephant ride for the next morning and flopped down on the massive bed in our room until dinner was served at 8 pm. The other group from our program arrived just after us and we enjoyed a nice dinner of chapatis, salad, paneer, potato and okra, and these big chex mix looking crackers together. The waiters tried to stuff gulab jaman (Indian sweet that tastes like maple syrup soaked pancakes-yuck) down our throats. Exhausted and knowing that we had to get up very early the next morning for our elephant rides, we all retired early to bed.

The alarm went off at 5:50 am and in ten minutes we were out the door to meet our driver. We drove on a dirt road through the park for 8 km, seeing a peacock along the way. We mounted the elephants at 7 am. There is a small pillow with guardrails around it that four people can sit on. You sit back to back and your feet hang out and graze against the elephant’s back. The driver then climbs up the trunk and comes to sit on the elephant’s neck. I wasn’t sure how I felt about riding an elephant, questioning the animal’s happiness and comfort. We walked through the jungle for an hour, over small steams, and under a thick canopy of trees. We entered into a large prairie where we found a one-horn rhino hanging out in the water. It looked like a giant rock to me.

Stomachs growling with hunger, we briefly said hello to the other group who was going on the second round of rides, and then we headed back to the hotel for a delicious breakfast of omelettes, toast and tea. We had to check out of the hotel at 11 am, but were still provided with a complimentary lunch at noon before we needed to catch a train back to New Jaldapalguri at 1 pm. We took advantage of the remaining time we had the room and all got back in our beds. After checking out we camped out at the reception, checking email on their computer and reading our books. We had lunch at 12:30 of rice, salad, dal and potato and then we headed out to the local train station. We hung out at the platform for about an hour, all the locals staring at us, and their children coming extremely close to just stand and stare at us. A little girl in a white princess dress stood about a foot away from Amalia chewing on her hair and just staring at her. Gross young men smirked at us, prompting Eliza to of course snap at them in the Hindi phrases she had practiced. The men then proceeded to actually help us board the train when it arrived – well “help” is a generous term because there is no order to boarding those commuter trains, you just fling yourself into them and hope there is a place for you to sit. Of course there were absolutely no seats and we stood with a massive crowd right by the bathroom. We were luckily able to get our bags up on the luggage racks, but I had all my valuables clutched against my person. Eliza eventually moved into the compartment while Amalia and I found spots on the ground. An old man with extremely kind eyes and decaying red teeth pulled out the two large boxes of crackers he was transporting for me and him to sit on while Amalia found a place in the dimage

oorframe watching the scenery fly by. The old man counted on his fingers how many stops I had left and would not let any of the young men talk to me. Meanwhile Amalia had to fight off young men who were jumping onto the train and trying to squish into the doorframe with her. When the old man finally got off the train he waited on the platform as we pulled away to wave goodbye to me. I squished in next to Amalia in the doorframe and we watched the tea plantations go by as the train made its way through the woods. It was an incredible Indian journey hanging out the side of a train.

It was still very nice to get off after four hours near the bathroom. We stepped out at Siliguri. A guy offered to take us to NJP for 100 rupees but then did not appear to actually have a taxi of his own. There were plenty of men in our face trying to take us to NJP for extremely high fares, prompting Eliza to snap more Hindi phrases their way. We finally made it to NJP for a reasonable price. We had dinner at a place along the road, each ordering a 50 rupee thale that was questionable. Once in the train station we had some vanilla ice cream, and after waiting in the heat and getting massacred by mosquitos we boarded the Darjeeling Mail at 7:30 pm, extremely grateful for our lovely first class AC beds. 

Excerpt from Directed Research Journal: Last Week at Vadu

We had a lovely week at Vadu. Pallavi, the field researcher, and Pooja my interpreter have become good friends of mine and I am sad to think that we have already finished gathering our information. On Monday I held my second focus group with 5 married adolescent women, all of them under the age of 22, but none of them planning to have children within the next 6 months (other than one girl who was currently pregnant). It remains shocking how little they know about sexual and reproductive health. None of them use any form of contraception, know what a gynecologist is or a sexually transmitted disease. No one speaks to them about abortion or family planning. It seems like I get the most information about nutrition and diet from them, which I was not expecting before conducting my interviews. A mother-in-law was still present at the focus group, but again there was nothing I could do about this. We could not tell the woman to leave her own home. After we finished the focus group the woman offered us milk. Everyone else said no thank you, but as the interviewer I felt rude turning it down. I chocked down a warm glass of buffalo milk, hating the taste but loving the idea that it was so fresh. Afterwards we went to two more women’s’ homes so Sarah could interview them. I have enjoyed observing her interviews because I feel like I get to learn twice as much as if I was conducting my work solo. At the end of the day Pallavi and another field worker named Joti took us to a temple and then to Joti’s home for the most amazing lemongrass chai. Sitting on the floor with these two women interacting with and through the young interpreters was the highlight of my day. While it is quite the commute out to Vadu and the heat is overwhelming, I really enjoy the time that I am there with these women.

Today I finished up my interviews by conducting a key informant interview with an Angunwadi teacher and one more in-depth interview with a married adolescent woman. Unfortunately we had very little time at Vadu today because we arrived late due to the Contemporary India presentations and we had to leave early because Vaishalli (the woman we commute with from KEM) had to get back for a meeting at 4 (meaning we had to be leaving Vadu by 3). Nonetheless Sarah was able to get in a good amount of interviews and I had a very eye-opening interaction with the Anganwadi teacher. I asked her what information she gave married adolescent women about contraception, abortion, sexually transmitted diseases: nothing. I don’t know why I am continually shocked to hear this. It was hard to really get an understanding of the substantive information that she gives them…she tells pregnant women not to lift too much and not to bend over. There is a lot more information that these women need to know! After that interview I briefly interviewed another adolescent married woman who was four months pregnant. There was no one else in the room so I was able to ask all questions about decision-making power. Despite the fact that we were alone I still felt she was cautious about her answers…

We were taken to Joti’s home again this afternoon where she made us a delicious lunch and the lemongrass chai again! They invited us to come back to Vadu on May 6th for a big festival. I am already really looking forward to it. I will miss these women very much.

This weekend Pooja will finish transcribing my interviews and on Monday I will begin my analysis. I have prepped for analysis of focus groups and interviews before, but am looking for guidance on how to proceed for analysis. I am looking forward to laying out all my transcripts and qualitative data to begin painting a picture of adolescent preparedness for childbearing!

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Kalimpong

The next morning we woke up and brought all of our stuff down to the restaurant so we could leave promptly after breakfast. I was disappointed to find that the Dutch/British family had already left. I had some curd and cornflakes for breakfast, and put back an entire pot of Darjeeling tea, wanting to get my full fill of it before leaving the town. We headed down to the jeep stand a bit before 8 and bought tickets for a shared jeep for 110 rupees each (just about 2 dollars). There were a total of 12 people in the van, four people in each row. Amalia and I were squished in the front next to the driver. Amalia had the gear shifter between her legs, making for a bit of an uncomfortable situation when the driver had to shift gears…Luckily he was a wonderful man and very respectful. He spoke English very well and told us about his family and his life in Darjeeling. We drove on a beautiful back road through his village, image

enjoying fabulous views of the mountains and the valley below. Amalia asked him about his wife and he told us that he had grown up with her and they had fallen in love when they were young adults. I told him I wished that I had had a story like his, and he said “Everyone has their own story”.

After an hour and a half we stopped for a bathroom and chai break at a small restaurant in a village. Amalia made friends with an extremely wrinkled old man sitting on the sidewalk wearing a small blue cap. We were able to understand him when he asked us in Hindi if we were sisters. The driver told me to sit down next to him, and we talked about his childhood, languages, and my life in the USA as he smoked a cigarette and drank a cup of chai. Eliza snapped a photo of Amalia and her new friend, prompting him to ask her if she would send him a  copy of the photo. A young man from the jeep attempted to write down the old man’s address for Amalia, but it was a bit difficult to actually define his address. Poor man will be waiting for that photo for a while I think. We all piled back into the car and continued our journey down hill on winding roads under the shade of towering greenery and past beautiful tea estates. The woman next to me feel asleep on my shoulder.

Around noon we arrived in Kalimpong. We checked into the Hotel Holumba Haven, a really cute and tranquil guest house tucked into the woods. There were small cottages and a main reception with cute gardens and chickens. We were brought lemon juice and tea and then we settled into our cottage. The room reminded me of the cottage at Glen Lake, with wood paneling and a small porch. After unpacking a bit, we walked the 1 km into town to grab at bite to eat. We found this fast food joint on the main road of town and I finally ordered some Indian food rather than my toast and eggs. I had papri chaat (yogurt and fried chip things) with a salad. After lunch we headed down to the taxi stand where we hired a car to take us to the sights in Kalimpong. This included the gardens on Deylo Hill, the Hanuman Temple (monkey god), and the Tharpa Choling Monestary. After the tour we walked back to town and stopped at a coffee shop where we had ice cream and coffee. We looked through a travel guide from the small bookcase in the shop and began to discuss not going to our following destination, the nature reserve in Jaldapara. From what we could gather from the guidebook it was going to be very difficult to get there and there would be a lot of additional travel expenses that we were not sure it was worth it. All still thinking about the possibility of not going, we walked back to the hotel, popping into a small shop to try some Kalimpong cheese which was pretty disappointing. When we arrived at the hotel Amalia went to the reception to inquire about rides to Jaldapara and found out about a jeep that would be passing by there tomorrow that could take us. She decided to go white water rafting with the other group, so she would squished in with them in their hired cars while Eliza and I would take the shared jeep to Jaldapara.

We lounged at the hotel until dinnertime, reading our books, journaling and enjoying the serenity of the cottage. At 6:30 pm we headed into town and ran into members for the other group. It was nice to see them again, and all of us went out to dinner together at a place called Gompus. I ordered wonton soup , and sat with Amalia, Eliza, Emily and Sarah, all swapping stories from our separate travels. After dinner they all piled into their hired cars to go back to their hotel, while Eliza and I walked back the 1 km in the pitch dark, using her cell phone as a camera. I reaimage

d Sense and Sensibility in bed, nostalgic for my bed at Glen Lake…

Last Day in Darjeeling

Feeling incredibly groggy after not sleeping at all, Eliza and I headed down from breakfast just after seven. Amalia met us there, and we discussed plans for the day. Eliza and I decided to check out some monestaries while Amalia chose to explore the areas we had seen in the past two days. Eliza and I headed down the main road, called Hill Cart Lane. We ended up walking 7 km. I am not sure how I did that, seeing as I was operating on no sleep at all. We checked out a few more monestaries, observing baby monks acting rambunctious with one another. I never imagined monks to be so restless, energetic and loud! Instead of walking 7 km back Eliza and I hopped into a shared jeep and were brought back to the town center for 20 rupees each. We went to a no-name place for lunch, with a menu selection entirely for the tourist palate. I was thrilled to find a peanut butter-banana honey sandwich, my ultimate comfort food. My stomach welcomed it, glad to digest bread once again. After a long lunch Eliza and I leisurely went from shop to shop checking out all the jewelry and trinkets. I bought a moonstone silver ring, agonizing over it for over half and hour. I had been looking for a ring to replace the one I had had on my left hand, and this seemed like the perfect place to find one! It compliments Grandma Anna’s torquoise ring very well. Eliza went shopping crazy, buying masks and swords and trinkets for her future house.

Then Eliza took me to the Tibetan Buddhist Monestary she had been to the other day. It was the most beautiful spot I went to in Darjeeling. It was perched up on a hill under the shade of toweing trees and thousands of prayer flags. Everywhere you looked there were prayer flags. It was so incredibly tranquil and a beautiful contrast between the bright colors of the flags and the deep green of the trees. After soaking in the beauty of the place we went back down the hill and drank chai at the center again before heading back to the hotel to pack up our things in preparation for the next day’s departure. In the late evening it began to “storm” (lightly rain actually). The power kept going on and off and you could hear local people outside scurrying about preparing for the rainfall. Eliza and I of course decided to leave the hotel to go to Kunga’s again for dinner. There we met Emily, Eliza’s roommate, who was traveling with the other group. I ordere Tibetan bread and scrambled eggs, still afraid to be more adventurous. The bread was delicious and reminded us of really thick pizza dough. The Australian couple was there again, chowing down on momos and wonton soup. We were back at the hotel by 8 pm, and desperate for sleep I was out instantly.

Next post is about our travels to Kalimpong!

-Emmaimage

 

Darjeeling Toy Train, Peace Pagodas and More Ghompas

While Amalia and I had been flipping through trashy magazines, Eliza had made a new friend. His name was Abel and he was this beautiful man from Kerala. While Amalia was busy throwing up (not sure when/how she got sick) and I was focusing on my own cramping stomach, Eliza chatted with Abel and her fellow compartment mates, passing the time as our train was delayed pulling into NJP. Pulling along two sick travel mates, Eliza and Abel found a taxi for us that would take us the four hour drive to Darjeeling. Popping tums and chewing gum to ease my stomach I tried to watch the scenery go by as much as I could while slipping into sleep every once and a while, We climbed and climbed, watching the valley grow further and further away and enjoying the changing landscape as the foothills of the Himalayas towered around us. I slipped my fingers out the window (a trick my mom taught me to deal with motion sickness) and felt the cooler breeze on my skin. Darjeeling was not what I expected. It did not expect to see buildings stacked up around each other like you see in any other place in India…I did not expect crowds or traffic congestion. But it is just like any other place in India, and it was even more lovely surrounded by towering forests and mountains. We arrived at our hotel, a place called Hotel Seven Seventeen. It was decorated with all sorts of colorful Tibetan decorations, and large posters of Tigers….Still not feeling so hot we sat in the resteraunt to order some lunch. There we met the most lovely family, a British and Dutch couple and there two children who are living in Thailand. I was thrilled to practice my Dutch with the husband, and the children, Annabelle and Ben were adorable. I spent a good amount of time chatting with the woman who had the most fantastic British accent. They were such a comforting presence to me – I felt really connected to them.

After a small lunch Amalia went back to the room to rest and I decided to tell my stomach to suck it up and headed out with Eliza to explore. We made our way to the center square of Darjeeling, a collection of small shops selling Tibetan knick-knacks and tea and lots of little cafes. We took a step path down from there in search of the “Busty Ghompa” a Tibetan Buddhist Monestary. I was feeling so weak and could not imagine climbing back up that trail, but made the decision to just think about that later because I was in Darjeeling for heaven’s sake! We came across the Ghompa, a beautifully painted building surrounded by prayer flags. We slipped off our shoes and quietly entered the buildings, looking around in awe at all of the beautiful paintings on the walls and the gold Buddha statues at the alter. The painitings are so incredibly intricate and the colors are so vivid and rich. Once inside we met this lovely one toothed monk who was very enthusiastic about explaining the history of the monestary to us. He was a tiny old man who was pretty inaudible, but we listened intently and tried to pick up what we could from it. After our little tour he insisted on taking a photo of me in front of the grand doors. He held my large camera in his small hands and told me to move left, and then right, and then left again so I was perfectly centered between the massive doorknobs.

At the Ghompa we met two teenage boys, Prashant and Pravash who led us to the Tibetan Refugee Center. They were just on summer holiday and seemed to have all the time in the world. They were so carefree and obviously curious about us, but not in a way I have experienced with Indian men in my time here. They are both Nepali and were our first introduction to the general demeanor to people in Darjeeling. They were not in our face at all, instead they were far quieter and respectful. Feeling pretty sick I sat down at the Refugee Center rather than looking around. They both sat next to me, keeping me company, but not forcing me to speak too much. I asked them a few questions about their homes, schools and families and was thankful for the company while not feeling so great.

We then had to do the climb back up. The boys took us an alternative route, stopping in the home of an “aunty” to snack on some momo moms and a snack called “Aloo dum” (a potato soup mix thing). I was not feeling adventurous at al, so instead Eliza bought me a packet of crackers and told me I had to consume it to get my energy back,- they did the trick actually. I was able to make it back up the hill, and we treated the boys to 5 rupee chais when we made it back to the center at the top of the hill. While Eliza chatted with the boys I sat on a bench between two old Tibetan men, sipping my delicious chai and people watching with them in silence. After we said goodbye to the boys, Eliza decided to continue exploring and I decided to stop moving my feet and stay exactly on this bench where I was. I sat for a while longer between those two men, enjoying the cool temperature and the scenery. I then decided to explore the Oxford Book Center on my own, but my visit was cut short when suddenly my stomach decided that it was really time to go to the bathroom. I scurried back to hotel, and settled down for a nap.

When Eliza returned from her excursions we left Amalia at the hotel (she was not recovering as quickly as I was) and we headed to a place called Kungas for dinner. It was a cute Tibetan place with only a few tables but was incredibly packed with people, We found a spot and ordered Wonton soups. We struck up conversation with an Australian couple next to us that had been traveling through Indian for the past four months and I swear had been pretty much everywhere at this point. I do not understand how people afford to do this!! The soup was delicious, but my I underestimated what my stomach was able to handle and felt pretty sick after the meal. We headed back to the hotel where we slept like rocks under the watch of the massive tiger poster above our bed.

Tuesday morning we woke up and went down for our complimentary breakfast at 8:30 am. I ordered a pot of Darjeeling tea and could only stomach two pieces of toast and preserves. I spent most of the breakfast chatting with the Dutch/British family, deciding that I wanted them to adopt me until I see my own family again. Sad to leave them, we headed out to explore Darjeeling again. It felt wonderful to have my EMS hiking pants, a long-sleeve and a scarf on. My feet were actually cold in my tevas! (How hip do I sound by the way?). Amalia, Eliza and I walked over to the zoo and the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute. I wasn’t thrilled with either place, but it was nonetheless nice to walk around without feeling like I was going to pass out like the day before. Eliza was thrilled to see a red panda, which I must agree was pretty cute, and I learned a bit about the history if Everst expeditions. Afterwards we took a steep trail down to the tea estates, which are just as picturesque as you can imagine. Incredibly small and old women carried baskets of tea on their backs, supported by ropes that rested on their foreheads (does that description make sense…?). We were given a small private tour of the estate, and I learned a bit about tea production, which I realized I knew very little about. Did you know that green and black tea come from the same plant but are different teas due to way the buds are dried and fermented? Perhaps this obvious, but I found it an eye-opening fact. All the walking was a bit too much for Amalia and so she returned to the hotel to sleep it off. Eliza and I needed to grab a bite to eat before we boarded the infamous Darjeeling toy train. We found a placed that served continental food as well as Thai and Indian called Frank Ross. My testy stomach could still only handle toast, so I had that yet again with some delicious Darjeeling tea. At 1:20 we boarded the train, and to my horror I realized that we were going to be moving backwards the whole time. Fantastic, I constantly feel like I am going to barf and now I am going to sit in a toy train for an hour cruising down winding roads backwards. Actually the toy train moves ridiculously slow so it didn’t make me sick at all. I do recommend not sticking you head out the window to check out the front of the train because you will get a face full of soot. There was black soot all over my face, my pants, and my camera, and it was difficult to see anything out of the very small windows. Nonetheless Eliza and I really enjoyed our ride, chatting together and pleased with the idea that we were on a toy train. The train stopped at a station for 20 minutes so we could get out and explore. Eliza and I ducked into a small shop where we sat on a small bench with locals and had 5 rupee chais. Luckily on the return ride we faced forward.image

After our toy train expedition Eliza and I headed to the Chowk Bazaar to get some of the massive puffy bread we had been eyeing earlier. For 7 rupees we bought a large role and split it between the two of us. It reminded me a bit of challah and it felt great to soak up all the acidity in my stomach with yet more bread.  Munching on our bread we walked through the bazaar and came to a tea stand where we agonized for twenty minutes about which teat to buy (new tea apparently has a different taste than older tea, neither better than the other, it just depends on what you like…but how was I supposed to know!). We bought a few packs and headed back to the hotel for some warmer clothes – I know warmer clothes! What a treat!

Just before dusk Eliza and I headed out towards the Japanese Peace Pagoda, a lovely walk below the towering trees iconic of Darjeeling. On the way we stopped at a small store where Eliza immediately made friends with the shopkeeper by asking him about Buddhism and his personal experinces. She bought a beautiful prayer wheel (Buddhists spin this prayer wheel at the monestary. They are these monsterously huge cylindrical things with inscriptions that you are meant to spin counterclockwise). Many shops have small handheld prayer wheels that are gorgeous. She also bought a ring, and I made a rare purchase of a big turquoise pendant. After our satisfying and relaxing (which is never how I could describe shopping in India EVER) shopping experience, we walked to the Peace Pagoda, hearing the beating of drums as pooja (prayer time) began. As I was snapping photos outside, Eliza rushed inside, anxious to see what was going on. When I entered I found her squatting on the floor next to an eccentric looking white hippy couple all beating on individual drums. They were the only ones in there other than the monk leading the pooja. It was a pretty great image, and Eliza was out of there in a heartbeat, the experience not quite living up to what she had hoped.

We walked back down to the main area in the dark, soaking up the serenity and the stillness that we had missed for the past 4 months. We could not hear honking, or spitting. We could breath fresh air, and all around us were the shadows of towering trees.

For dinner we made our way through the back streets behind the center and found ourselves at a place called Solam’s Kitchen, a small place that looked like you were in someone’s private one-room apartment. The owner sat at a desk two feet from our table, his dog Luna slept in a box behind my seat, and there were bookshelves filled with travel guides and random books travelers had left behind them. He immediately brought us ginger wine without our request. He had apparently made it himself and it was quite interesting. We sipped on those while holding our steaming mugs of tea to keep warm. For dinner we had vegetable soups and I wolfed down eggs and ridicuslously thick pieces of bread. Extremely satisfied with the food and the ambiance of the place we made our way back past all the closed shops (it was 8:30 pm) to our hotel to call it a night.

Unfortunately, the night went on for quite some time after that. Amalia had joined the other group of Alliance students who had arrived in Darjeeling that day for dinner. At 11 pm I woke up from my 2 hours of sleep and found that she had not come back. I woke Eliza up and we discussed the possible scenarios and what we should do. I tried calling Amalia’s phone but she would not pick up, neither would other members of the group. Finally, I decided to call Nikhil, our travel agent to ask him what we should do. He reassured me that he would make calls to find out where she was and would call me back with information. Ten minutes later he called me and said that she was at their hotel and would contact us in the morning. I was so relieved, but the scare had wound me up so much that I could not go back to sleep. Eliza and I had been planning on waking up at 3:45 am to see the sunrise from Tiger Hill which is supposed to be epic, but the thought of waking up at that time stressed me out even more. Also, we heard that the clouds and haze make it very difficult to actually even see the sunrise. We decided we would just sleep in instead.

Sleep did not happen for me. I laid in my bed from midnight until 6 am wide awake. Despite popping many a melatonin I could not sleep at all. I called my mother at 3 in the morning just to tell her I couldn’t sleep (this is a habit of mine, I need to tell her when I can’t sleep, often waking her up…).

 Slowly but surely I will continue posting about my travels. So much to catch up on! I just returned from an amazing last trip to Jaipur and Udaipur!

-Emma

At Taj Mahal! More about travel week and my research to come later. Leaving for my last adventures in India-to Jaipur and Udaipur!

At Taj Mahal! More about travel week and my research to come later. Leaving for my last adventures in India-to Jaipur and Udaipur!

First Day in Darjeeling

While Amalia and I had been flipping through trashy magazines, Eliza had made a new friend. His name was Abel and he was this beautiful man from Kerala. While Amalia was busy throwing up (not sure when/how she got sick) and I was focusing on my own cramping stomach, Eliza chatted with Abel and her fellow compartment mates, passing the time as our train was delayed pulling into NJP. Pulling along two sick travel mates, Eliza and Abel found a taxi for us that would take us the four hour drive to Darjeeling. Popping tums and chewing gum to ease my stomach I tried to watch the scenery go by as much as I could while slipping into sleep every once and a while, We climbed and climbed, watching the valley grow further and further away and enjoying the changing landscape as the foothills of the Himalayas towered around us. I slipped my fingers out the window (a trick my mom taught me to deal with motion sickness) and felt the cooler breeze on my skin. Darjeeling was not what I expected. It did not expect to see buildings stacked up around each other like you see in any other place in India…I did not expect crowds or traffic congestion. But it is just like any other place in India, and it was even more lovely surrounded by towering forests and mountains. We arrived at our hotel, a place called Hotel Seven Seventeen. It was decorated with all sorts of colorful Tibetan decorations, and large posters of Tigers….Still not feeling so hot we sat in the resteraunt to order some lunch. There we met the most lovely family, a British and Dutch couple and there two children who are living in Thailand. I was thrilled to practice my Dutch with the husband, and the children, Annabelle and Ben were adorable. I spent a good amount of time chatting with the woman who had the most fantastic British accent. They were such a comforting presence to me – I felt really connected to them.

After a small lunch Amalia went back to the room to rest and I decided to tell my stomach to suck it up and headed out with Eliza to explore. We made our way to the center square of Darjeeling, a collection of small shops selling Tibetan knick-knacks and tea and lots of little cafes. We took a step path down from there in search of the “Busty Ghompa” a Tibetan Buddhist Monestary. I was feeling so weak and could not imagine climbing back up that trail, but made the decision to just think about that later because I was in Darjeeling for heaven’s sake! We came across the Ghompa, a beautifully painted building surrounded by prayer flags. We slipped off our shoes and quietly entered the buildings, looking around in awe at all of the beautiful paintings on the walls and the gold Buddha statues at the alter. The painitings are so incredibly intricate and the colors are so vivid and rich. Once inside we met this lovely one toothed monk who was very enthusiastic about explaining the history of the monestary to us. He was a tiny old man who was pretty inaudible, but we listened intently and tried to pick up what we could from it. After our little tour he insisted on taking a photo of me in front of the grand doors. He held my large camera in his small hands and told me to move left, and then right, and then left again so I was perfectly centered between the massive doorknobs.

At the Ghompa we met two teenage boys, Prashant and Pravash who led us to the Tibetan Refugee Center. They were just on summer holiday and seemed to have all the time in the world. They were so carefree and obviously curious about us, but not in a way I have experienced with Indian men in my time here. They are both Nepali and were our first introduction to the general demeanor to people in Darjeeling. They were not in our face at all, instead they were far quieter and respectful. Feeling pretty sick I sat down at the Refugee Center rather than looking around. They both sat next to me, keeping me company, but not forcing me to speak too much. I asked them a few questions about their homes, schools and families and was thankful for the company while not feeling so great.

We then had to do the climb back up. The boys took us an alternative route, stopping in the home of an “aunty” to snack on some momo moms and a snack called “Aloo dum” (a potato soup mix thing). I was not feeling adventurous at al, so instead Eliza bought me a packet of crackers and told me I had to consume it to get my energy back,- they did the trick actually. I was able to make it back up the hill, and we treated the boys to 5 rupee chais when we made it back to the center at the top of the hill. While Eliza chatted with the boys I sat on a bench between two old Tibetan men, sipping my delicious chai and people watching with them in silence. After we said goodbye to the boys, Eliza decided to continue exploring and I decided to stop moving my feet and stay exactly on this bench where I was. I sat for a while longer between those two men, enjoying the cool temperature and the scenery. I then decided to explore the Oxford Book Center on my own, but my visit was cut short when suddenly my stomach decided that it was really time to go to the bathroom. I scurried back to hotel, and settled down for a nap.

When Eliza returned from her excursions we left Amalia at the hotel (she was not recovering as quickly as I was) and we headed to a place called Kungas for dinner. It was a cute Tibetan place with only a few tables but was incredibly packed with people, We found a spot and ordered Wonton soups. We struck up conversation with an Australian couple next to us that had been traveling through Indian for the past four months and I swear had been pretty much everywhere at this point. I do not understand how people afford to do this!! The soup was delicious, but my I underestimated what my stomach was able to handle and felt pretty sick after the meal. We headed back to the hotel where we slept like rocks under the watch of the massive tiger poster above our bed. 

Day two stories/photosimage

coming soon!