Thursday, September 4, 2014

India Rediscovered.

Going to India is not a vacation, it is an experience. An experience that moves you emotionally, intellectually, spiritually and sometimes even gastrically.

Taking our trip to India this year was beyond what I could have wished for. It was a trip that allowed us to visit India as a family, it allowed us to visit India with friends and most importantly, it allowed my children to discover India and  make their own observations.

A typical trip back home is about hanging out with the grandparents and eating an assortment of yummies that are a delight to both the tongue and the tummy. This time though, we decided to do it a little differently.  We decided to travel. The destinations were Mussoorie, in the foothills of Himalayas and to Mt. Abu, a hill station bordering the desert state of Rajasthan and the land of Gandhi, Gujarat.  

More on these places in another post, first my undocked thoughts on rediscovering India. 

After twenty two hours we land in India and find our way through the lines and edge towards the exit, the conversation goes;

Kids: "Eww, what's that smell?"
Me: "It's India." 
Kids: "You mean, India smells?" 
Me: "Yup." 

We then spot the grandparents and we hug, and hug some more and after a debate on why it is still okay for us to push our bags through a storm of people, we find our way to the SUV and drive home. 

Fast forward 5 weeks, we are back in US, we land in US and as we exit, the conversation goes;

Me: "What do you smell?"
Older kid: "Nothing."
Younger kid: "I am tired, can we just go home." 
Me: "Exactly." 
Older kid: "What do you mean?" 
Me: "Remember, when we were exiting the airport at India, you noticed the smell, and I told you it is India." 
Older kid: "Ya, so?" 
Me: "So, the point is, It is impossible to go to India and not notice it. India moves you in ways no other country in the world can move you."
Older kid: stays silent. 
Younger kid: "Can we just go home? I don't see daddy, where is he?"
Me: "Hold on, he is outside those big doors." 

India moves you. It is hard to visit India and come back indifferent. You are either going to hate it or love it. There is no middle emotion here.  If you have never been to India, the "smell" of India is like the fusion of smog, fresh jasmine flowers being sold on the sidewalk, tea being brewed on the road stalls, cows crossing the intersections and in monsoons the secret ingredient in this vibrant potpourri is the smell of the first rain on the soil that has been heat baked for 3000+ years. 

We drive through the freeways which as my kids observe are very nice and almost like US they tell me.   
The "just like US" freeways :) 
We arrive home, get pampered and days start rolling away.  One evening, we were watching the news channel and came the second thought. I realized that while the Indian media covers everything USA,  we in US, hear about India only when a major event is happening. Until recently Apu from Simpsons or Ravi from Jessie were the only thing India, the western kid knew.  Good or bad, that's debatable. The lack of knowledge of the world around can be the source of knowledge of all things US and hence the country stands tall and proud. The lack of knowledge of the world around can also be responsible for the changing face of the global economies.  

India maybe old, but it is global.  A country where every state is a country in itself has 18+ nationally recognized languages and yet boasts of the largest English speaking educated population.  So fear not, when you visit India, unlike France or Japan, every one there from the cab driver to the corporate executive will be able to communicate with you. 

Our travels included being driven through the mountains and packed megapolis cities. We refrain from driving in India. Why? Well simply because we don't have the skill set needed. Skill set, yes! It takes stellar driving skills to meander through a myriad of transportation entwined with cows and human beings crossing the road.  For a bystander, it is total chaos. Fight this chaos, and you will be swept away. Flow with the chaos and you will reach your destination.  India teaches one to be patient.  The patience in India has been a boon and a bane. Boon for it has allowed the country to thrive despite a century of slavery. Bane because it has taken the country decades to come of of its slavery mindset. 

The CDC warns you to not eat street food. But then that's where the flavors are
This is corn being roasted on open fire coals in drizzling rain.
The romance of this experience cannot be expressed in words.
India is a foodie heaven. Indian food is often considered synonymous to hot and spicy. I disagree!  Yes, we like it hot, but so do folks in Mexico or Schezwan. What makes Indian food unique is the amalgamation of different cultures and flavors. From the paleo diet of the Indus valley civilization to the chilli and potatoes introduced in India by the Portuguese, India accepted it all. The Mughals introduced India to the concept of "cooking is an art." Food in India today is a passionate love affair that has been simmering amongst the exotic spices for centuries now.  Interestingly it offers something for every diet. Vegetarians, vegans, gluten resistant diet, only meat diet, no dairy diet or just plain paleo; you name it and the cuisine has something for everyone readily available everyday in the street food stalls. No need to find expensive restaurants and request customization. As long as you have the guts to try it, the food is there and it is awesome.  

As we wrap up the first phase of the experience and get ready for the second. the third realization comes through, it is still not safe to travel alone in India.  It is sad, but true.  After hubby came back to US, I did venture out on a short vacation with my friends... mommy and kid thing.  Every one who heard had the skeptical look on their face. While the look first confused me, in retrospect I now know why? It doesn't happen very often in India that 5 moms decide to take their kids on vacation by themselves.  But we did and did well. The key is to use some common sense rules and stay away from trouble and stick with your guts.  

The most interesting and funniest thing happened as we toured the sites of Mt. Abu with friends.. the mommy and kid thing. 

Tired and with kids desperate to use the restroom (or washrooms) we enter Cafe Coffee Day ( Indian equivalent of Starbucks) only to find the sign "Out of order" on the restroom door.  We frown and settle the kids, give their orders and as I was paying the bill, I start a conversation with the cashier. 

Me: "Why is the washroom closed?"
Cashier: "No Mam, you can use it." 
Me: "But there is a sign.."
Cashier: "Mam, that sign is there so that customers like you can use it." 
Me: (thinking in mind .. and wondering and then it hits me.) They have the sign there so everyone passing by does not use it. 
It was brilliant. India thinks out of the box. 

India is a country of opposites. It is beautiful, muddy, magnanimous, heartless all in one breath. 
Traveling to this incredible stunning country is a far-fetched dream for the western world. 
Blessed am I for I was born there. 

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