Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

With all the hustle and bustle, it's nice to have a simple morning routine. We wake up early and spend almost an hour grazing over the Times of India with some masala chai and Gujarati biscuits. Even after the long train ride, we still chatted and joked early in the morning. My 5-year-old nephew, Jamnejay, has become an extension of Joe's arm. He calls Joe his best friend already.
We had a massive lunch of pav bhaji (bread and curry). It's hard to refuse seconds here. We went to a bookstore down the street. Anyone who knows me understands that I can spend an entire day just in one section.
We were still full from lunch, but we couldn't resist dinner. We went to Swati, a favorite restaurant of Rachana and Munjal. We ordered an array of Indian snacks, instead of ordering meals. My favorite was the paneer lifafa (rotee stuffed with paneer, mint chutney and red onions). Joe really enjoyed the sev puri (hollow cracker stuffed with spices, yogurt and vegetables). To combat our fiery mouths, we had fresh fruit ice cream.

We visited my Mama and Mami's place (uncle and aunt) and again, I couldn't help but cry when I saw my baa's old room (mom's mom). After being here for a week and a half, I don't understand how I waited 12 years to come back to Ahmedabad.

Exhausted, Joe and I had to fight our heavy eyelids to stay awake until the new year. While most of you were enjoying lunch, we watched Bollywood music videos and counted down to 2010.


Ram Ram Jaipur!

We're back from a mini vacation to Jaipur, which is northern state of Rajasthan. We took an overnight train and reached The Pink City at 4 a.m. Jaipur is called The Pink City because all buildings are required to be some shade of pink/peach. After a little more rest to recover from the shaky sleeper cars, we visited the Birla Mandir temple. However, Monday was a holy day and most sites were closed. So we did the next best thing: shop! We browsed through modest boutiques and crowded street markets to look at salwar kameez and souvenirs.We packed most of the sites on Tuesday. First, we went to the Albert Museum and weaved through rooms of international art. Some locals harassed us, so it was difficult to fully appreciate all the artifacts. After that, we went to the City Palace, full of royal textiles and courtyards.

Right next to the City Palace was Jantar Mantar, an observatory consisting of sun dials and other astronomical instruments. A tour guide walked us through the calculations and mechanics of the planets and the sun. It was out of this world! :P

Our taxi maneuvered through congested traffic to take us to the forts. The sun was setting as we approached the forts and shed a perfect orange on the Glass Palace, the Jal Mahal.

We had a long drive down to Chokhi Dhani, a youthful, cultural amusement park (imagine Medieval Times on steroids). There was always something eye-catching: men swallowing fire, elephant rides, Rajasthani dances, camels stampeding an inch away, people standing on nails, colorful gift shops, tightrope walkers, women dancing with clay pots on their heads.

On our last day in Jaipur, we went to the Hawa Mahal, the stunning Palace of Winds. It had steep staircases, low hand rails, 50-foot drops, but a beautiful facade. After climbing through narrow passages, the view overlooked the old city. Past the haze, we could point out most of the sites we visited before.

As we wrapped up our stay in Jaipur, we realized a major issue with our train tickets back home. We reserved seats from Delhi to Ahmedabad, even though we would board in the middle of the route. The travel agent was supposed to contact Delhi before the train left to confirm our attendance, but never did so. Therefore, the ticket master in Delhi assumed we were absent and sold our seats to another family.

When we boarded the train in Jaipur and found our seats already taken, we were left standing in the aisles as the train left the station. The ticket master could not throw us out because we had the tickets in our hands, but we were forced to produce makeshift beds and cut deals with other passengers to at least have a place to sit. The other passengers (except the ones who took our seats) were very helpful and cooperative. Without them, the night would have been a nightmare, even if Joe had to sleep next to the latrine and Sophia and Sonya had to share one upper berth.

Although we ran into some trouble, the Jaipur trip was undoubtedly an adventure.

Sorry for the long wait and happy new year!

Joe and Sophia

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Another Day of Relaxing

We slowed down our pace this morning, loafed in our beds and lingered over chai and the Times this morning. Mitheel (cousin), Surabhi and little Mishu (nephew) left this morning to return back to Bombay. Kaka and Kaki took us shopping this morning for some more traditional clothing.

After a small lunch, we packed our bags and headed to Rachana (cousin) and Munjal's flat, which is absolutely beautiful. We toured CEPT University, the Center for Environmental Planning and Technology, and meandered through the campus.

Rachana then took us to the law garden to shop some more. The law garden is a colorful street full of vendors trying to persuade you to buy handicrafts and bargain prices. Thankfully, Rachana haggled for us. Munjal and Rachana treated us to a terrific Gujarati dinner at Agashiye in the Green House hotel. We sat on the terrace, enjoyed authentic food, swapped humorous stories and played with their son, Jamnejay.

Tomorrow, we're taking a train to Jaipur (about 10 hours up north). We'll be there for three days. I'm not sure if we'll have Internet, so don't panic if we don't post. :)

Have a great day on your side of the world!



Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Today we woke up before sunrise to join a "Heritage Walk" around old Ahmedabad. It was a beautiful tour that took us through hidden passages, steep, narrow stair cases and busy marketplaces. At times, we shared the road with cars, rickshaws, crowds of people, elephants, cows and dogs, oh my! We stopped at numerous Hindu and Jain temples and ended at Jumma Masjid, or Friday mosque. In preparation of Uttarayan, the kite-flying festival, we watched people color strings and saw children happily reel their kites.
The area we toured was where Sophia's father's side grew up. Sophia's kaka (dad's brother) described many memories at specific points along the walk. He reminisced about the book stores, the old stock market and their living conditions.

After a long round of cards with Anushi, Sonya and Sophia, we joined Sophia's cousin and her family for a little Christmas celebration. We watched little Jamnejay and his classmates play games and sing around Santa. We'll be living with them in their gorgeous flat until our trip to Jaipur.
For Christmas dinner, all 14 of us went to Barbecue Nation. We enjoyed a massive meal of vegetarian kabobs and delicious naan and curries.

I hope you all had a Merry (white) Christmas back home. We missed the holiday spirit, the stockings, and the family cheer.


Thursday, December 24, 2009

Parks, Portraits and Places in Ahmedabad

There's something invigorating about waking up because of the constant car horns in the congested streets, sharing beds with mosquitoes, chatting about Indian politics over chai and being enveloped by unwavering family affection.

Today, Sonya, Joe and I ventured around Ahmedabad by bus. We saw 16 different places, but stopped at six. We toured Gandhi Ashram (his home), looked around a gorgeous a Jain temple (Hathisingh Jain Derasor), caught some glimpses of Gujarat University and Gujarat College, visited the old governor's house of Sardar Patel, and strolled through museums and children parks.
At the last stop, we trailed off from the site to mingle with some local vendors. We had a great opportunity to take portraits of them. At first they were camera shy, but after showing them the pictures, they gathered their friends and asked for more. Seeing their elation and thinking this could have been the first time their pictures were taken was a humbling experience.
It's mind staggering to interact with such impressionable moments and then go home to a plentiful meal and watch the India-Sri Lanka cricket match.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Relaxing in Ahmedabad

Yesterday the Shahs hosted lunch at The Grand Bhagwati hotel for the entire family. We rushed to pack up and check out of our hotel room after a much deserved rest. We enjoyed fantastic food and laughed at the lobby decorated with Christmas idols. After long discussions during the meal, I feel better acquainted with Sophia's extended family. Everyone truly does make me feel at home.

We then visited the home Sophia's father grew up in. There we helped Sophia's parents pack up their bags and said goodbye as they left for the airport.

Now we are staying in Fua and Fia's (Uncle and Aunt's) home until our trip to Jaipur. We spent today relaxing with some chai and reviewing pictures from the wedding and reception. In the afternoon we traveled downtown to a quaint cafe for coffee and snacks.

I keep forgetting that we're nearly a full 12 hours ahead of you all. It's weird to think we'll celebrate the new year a half-day early! Does this mean we're living in the future?

Have a nice day and goodnight all,



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nrupaal Weds Anu

After landing in Ahmedabad, we immediately showered and dressed up for Nrupaal and Anu's wedding. In our saris, bangles, kurtas and suits, we took 60 cars to Nadiad, Anu's hometown and location of the ceremony. Although we were exhausted, we managed to dance and watch fireworks in the street before the wedding began.
The wedding decor was absolutely breathtaking. The ceremony was rich and colorful, and my family was delighted to welcome Anu. The traditions, from breaking the coconut to stealing our brother's shoes, were joyous and magnificent.The reception was the following night. Again everyone was dressed in their best. We congratulated Nrupaal and Anu, honored Anu's parent's anniversary and celebrated my Fia's birthday all in one night.
I saw people I haven't seen in 12 years. I saw my Baa (grandma) and couldn't hold back my tears. I greeted all my aunties and uncles, my cousins and the new additions to the family, and we reminisced about my childhood. I might not have recognized India when I arrived because of the constant developments, but I really did feel at home.

I love you all,

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Nightmare Before Christmas

We learned first-hand why you should avoid traveling during the holiday season. Everything was going as planned until we reached snowy London Heathrow, forever known as Deathrow to us, and the airport overbooked its gates. Our plane sat 50 feet away from our connection to Dubai. We saw it take off without us.

We stood in line for more than an hour, only to be redirected and told that we could not catch the next plane to Dubai. Luckily, we found another route to make us just short of the wedding. It was a risky route from London to Hyderabad to Delhi to Ahmedabad ... all on different airlines within an hour from each other.
We nearly missed our flight to Delhi because British Airways lost our luggage. We still have no idea where our bags are.

But after all that chaos, seeing my family again made it seem like our lost bags, our missed flights, the long queues and the sleepless flights were totally worth it. We're so happy to be in Ahmedabad.

Internet is harder to find than we expected. Sorry we can't update as frequently.
We will post pictures of the wedding soon.

Joe and Sophia

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hello Again!

As you know, Joe and I will be traveling to India for the holiday. My cousin (dad's nephew) is getting married!
It's been 12 years since I visited my family in Ahmedabad, India. I'm thrilled Joe and I can be there just in time for this auspicious occasion.
We'll leave Friday, December 18th for India to immediately celebrate Nrupaal and Anu's wedding.

We hope you enjoy reading about our three-week journey. We love you and we will miss you!