India (2017-2018)



Where To Go

My Quest For Zest...

Decoding The Menu

Getting Around


DESTINATIONS IN INDIA

Delhi

Varanasi (Sarnath)

Agra

Mathura

Kushinagar

Bodh Gaya

Bandhavgarh National Park

Bhopal

Aurangabad (Ajanta Caves and Ellora Caves)

Hampi

Gokarna

Palolem

Anjuna

Mumbai

Rishikesh

McLeod Ganj (Bhagsu, Dharamkot)

Manali

Amritsar



MY QUEST FOR ZEST...

From Nepal, I traveled into India, which was a whole other world. I was exploring new lands, culture, cuisine, spirituality, religion, beautiful, yet overwhelming at times, chaos haha.

In 2017 I traveled two months on the E-visa. I did a lot of sight-seeing. A lot. The famous Taj Mahal in Agra is worth a visit; it's so well known for the beauty and energy that you'll feel when you arrive. Mathura is a holy city, near Agra, and is the birth place of Lord Krishna. The energy was inviting and uplifting. There are beautiful temples with lots of singing.


The Ellora and Ajanta Caves are accessed through Aurangabad. It's a pain to arrive and the city is nothing special, but the caves are stunning. There is so much history here. The sacred sites hold so much space. There are also fun conspiracies to consider too like: how could these structures be built during this time in history? Where are the rocks that were removed? Was it aliens?...


Continuing my spiritual pilgrimage along the path of Buddha, I visited Bodh Gaya and Kushinagar. Bodh Gaya is said to be where Buddha obtained enlightenment under the bodhi tree, whose ancestor now stands in it's original place. Kushinagar is the said death place of Buddha. Although there were many tourists, most were not western, so be prepared for a lot of stares. There wasn't much else to do in this area but visit the holy sites.


Sarnath is also on the Buddhist pilgrimage. It is located just outside of Varanasi. This is where Buddha was said to give his first teachings. The energy, just like from all the holy sites, is something to absorb with all the senses. Varanasi, on the other hand, you should be aware of over exerting your senses. Everyone is bound to get sick here. Smells change every few steps, and some aren't so pleasing. There is a lot of trash littered around. The narrow roads are crammed with people, tourists, cows, and bodies being carried to the Ganges River. Deceased men are burned in the open along the edge of the river, this is a very sacred tradition. They same the 'eternal flame' (a certain ghat) has been in flame for over 2000 years. This is a step in reaching nirvana is a peaceful part of the culture. Women and children are not burn after death, but rather wrapped and placed into the water. On a morning sunrise boat tour on the Ganges I even witnessed a swaddled infant being laid to rest in the river. Just a few meters away you'll see locals swimming, doing their laundry, or even drinking the water of the river. It is not advised for tourists to enter the water, almost guaranteed to come out sick. I stayed far too long in the crazy city of Varanasi but witnessed two festival of lights, which was something special. Every night can be special by attending an Aarti ceremony on the river.


Bandhavgarh National Park is known to have the most dense population of tigers. I did several safari tours to try my luck at spotting one, and was disappointed to have missed a sighting. A couple groups on the same days that I went got lucky. But it's a big park and they are still wild, so it's not guaranteed. The other wildlife spottings like bird species and monkeys were still beautiful. It kept me always alert and on my toes trying to spot the majestic creature.


A magical yet confusing place to experience is Hampi. Where do all the rocks come from? The landscape is unreal. There are massive boulders scattered everywhere and stacked every which way. It's best if you can hike a view point for an expansive view. Find some time to do some yoga on the rocks too! You can do a lot of sight seeing here of beautiful historic temples and ruins. There are fun swimming spots to cool off in. I highly recommend renting a scooter and going for a drive. There are boats that will take you across the river for a small fee. Staying on the "hippy" side is where I recommend anyway! You'll find a nice crowd of people, good cafes, and great views.


The beaches of Goa (Gokarna, Palolem, Anjuna) are worth a visit for some party like never before and good vibes. The music is always playing and people are always down to hang out. There is a lot of yoga and tons of workshops to learn any new skill or art. Hang out in the sun all day and go to a famous psy-trance party at night. Peak season prices can get high and places super crowded. Off season is off for a reason, it gets way too hot!


It's amazing how huge India is, and the amount of time and effort it takes to get from place to place whether via tuk tuk, bus, train, or plane. I felt like I explored so much yet didn't even skim the surface of what India has to offer. As I moved from place to place absorbing each environments offerings, it's no doubt I was changing as a person too. The surface layer of my self was being chizled away and I was forced to look deeper. Everything felt new to me. Sensory overload. I saw, heard, tasted, smelled, felt a whole new world. A world that was simultaneously intense and beautiful.

I returned home to the USA for the holidays and to work for several months. In the spring (2018) I found myself back in India, just in time to celebrate the Holi Festival and attend the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. I loved this town. It's located on the Ganges and is near the head of the river, making it safe to swim in! There are great cafes and it's definitely a place suited for tourists and backpackers.


After the festival, I made my way north to Bhagsu where I completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training. There are so many yoga schools, you can definitely find a fit for one you like. The Triund Trek is a short and not too difficult hike. It's well worth it to pitch a tent for a night at the site closest to the mountain.


I was fortunate to hear the Dalai Lama speak at his temple in McLeod Ganj, just a short walk away in a neighboring town. After my yoga training I headed to Manali where I learned the art of macrame and dream-catcher making. I did a bit of trekking and a lot of good eating!


Amritsar was one of my last sights. I arrived to experience the famous Golden Temple. It is said that miracles have occurred from bringing wishes and desires to the temple and bathing in the holy water. I found a miracle in all the people that they feed on a daily basis at the temple, for free. Everything is ran on donations. Around 50,000-100,000 people enter the temple in a day and eat there. I walked around a was given a tour of the kitchen. The pots curry is cooked in could be a 4-5 person hot tub. Meals are served out of buckets and the process is fast. I ate plenty here. The dining process is as follows: wait with others until the doors open to the dining hall; file in and have a seat on the floor; wait for your food to be spooned onto your plate; eat; wait for the bell and everyone leaves; take your plate to washing area. The whole process takes roughly 7-12 minutes before the next group files in and fills the room. It moves at this pace 24/7. I volunteered washing dishes where men and women are separated into separate lines. I also tried my hand in the chapati assembly line.

I'm not sure when, but I know I'll be returning to India. There is so much to experience and gain from this country. Not just from it's wisdom, good food and beauty, but from what it gives to the spirit. There are trying moments that show you yourself, the light the dark and everything in-between.

I hope these photos go beyond what meets the eye, I hope they convey emotions and feelings. India is a place that I feel can often be romanticized in one's head, but one should not overlook the shadows and heaviness that prevail. I hope that the images give even just a small window into the many layers of India.



DECODING THE MENU

Aloo: potato

Bhindi: okra

Chana Masala: chickpea Curry

Dal: lentil

Paratha: flat style of bread often with garlic, onion or veggies

Curd: yogurt

Pickle: sour/spicy pickled vegetables

Ghobi: cauliflower

Naan: round bread

Chapati: round bread

Tikka: seasoning

Masala: seasoning

Paneer: cheese

Saag: pureed spinach

Malai Kofta: flour and veggies rolled into a ball and fried

Matar: peas

Biryani: rice with seasoning and veggies

Khichdi: rice, dal and spices

Samosa: fried vegetables

Idli: steamed rice cake

Vada: savory donut

Dosa: rice pancake often with spices or inside filling



GETTING AROUND

Tuk Tuk: Auto rickshaw. Best for navigating the crazy traffic within a city and can get you where you need to go in a 'timely' manner. Bargain with the driver to get the best price.


Sleeper Bus: Sleeper buses are mainly available in the south of India and are my favorite mode of travel for long journeys. You get a full bed to yourself with a curtain and everything. Time estimations are for the most part accurate. There is a bathroom on board.


Train: It's bound that you travel by train during your journey. India is so huge and it's a "convenient" way to move from place to place. I took my fare share, each ride being its own unique adventure. You need to reserve your ticket prior to your journey to ensure that you get a seat. This can be done online or at the train station. There are different classes of trains; I recommend Sleeper or AC class. I mostly took sleeper carts, and although everyone is supposed to have a ticket and their own bed, I often found several people sitting on my space or crowding around. It can be overwhelming people trying to take your photo on the train or "casually" work you into their video call. The trains are crowded and the bathrooms unkept (but when nature calls you make do). It can get cold and you should bring a blanket. There are fans that semi-circulate the air, but I often found that I would have a sore throat after a long journey. The best bed is either the top or the middle. If you have the bottom bed, everyone will sit on it until it gets later into the evening and time to fold out the middle bunk. Make sure to always have an eye on your belongings. Take time to gaze out the window or stand by the door for a nice view! Be mindful that there are always train delays and you could get stuck on a train for a lot longer than intended. It's smart to pack snacks for the ride. Vendors will come through offering food as well. Keep an eye on your map (even though it's not always reliable to track your location) and when your stop is coming up.


Once after hours of delays, the train was arriving around 5am to my intended destination. I was unsure if it was the right platform or not. It was a quick stop and I was panicking trying to look around for a sign. Within a minute the train started to move onward. Someone called out that it was the right location and with all my big bags draping off my body, I leaped from the slowly moving train. I sunk straight to the pavement, pancaking on my face. A crowd of Indians gathered around me, just staring... I motioned for them to leave me be and I just sat in my pain and scratches until I could muster the strength to get back on my feet again. I find it quite a comical memory.

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