Friday, January 15, 2010

Dreaming in India

Twenty-six hours of flying finally got us back home safely. Adjusting will take us a while because of the jet-lag, the hunger at arbitrary times and the differences in the lifestyle.
India was undeniably a humbling experience. From the children who had nothing to wear but a smile to the compassion of wonderful family, we have so much to be grateful for.

We were able to witness the transcendent beauty of India. We were able to experience Nrupaal's and Anu's magnifcent wedding, the comfort of Ahmedabad, the natural wonders of Udaipurs' lakes and mountains, the lavishness of Jaipur, the trains and buses across the town, the overwhelming crowds at Shrinathji, the spirituality of the temples, and the benevolence of family and how they always kept their doors and arms open for us.
We're going to miss the ambiance of morning chai, the unyielding sounds of traffic, the big family events and even the stomach aches from eating too much bhel and paneer.
We're going to miss the attachment and generosity of family, the skies painted with kites, the ethereal moments of sitting on the swing outside and waking up thinking we were still dreaming.
Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed India as much as we did.
Joe and Sophia

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Goodbye, India!

Our last morning in Ahmedabad was intentionally slow. We savored every moment of drinking masala chai and reading the newspaper. We delayed over-stuffing our luggage and making the last phone calls to say goodbye. We helped Sonya do some last minute shopping at the mall across the street instead of triple-checking our flight information.

We walked around the neighborhood to take pictures and stumbled upon a crowded kite stand. The second they saw our cameras, they asked us to capture their photo. As happy as we were taking everyone's picture and seeing their smiles, it makes leaving India so much more difficult. Just clicking their pictures sent them giggling and running to grab their friends.
As we were leaving, we spontaneously bought some kites, as a token of gratitude for the dozens of pictures. The instant we reached Fia and Fua's house, we ran up to the terrace to start flying them. Unfortunately, our only success was ripping our kites. We still had so much fun with our attempts.
After a wonderful meal (the last supper) of pav bhaji, we went out for coffee with Rachana, Munjal and Jamnejay. Biraj and Anaya dropped by after and said their goodbyes. Saying goodbye was so hard because of how hospitable everyone was. They all took such good care of us.

It will be so hard to leave India tonight. We would much rather fly kites for Uttarayan than sit on a plane to London. This trip to India was truly unforgettable and life-altering.

Joe and Sophia

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mirch Masala and Gandhinagar

Yesterday we moved from Biraj's home back to Fua's and Fia's place. Prior to the move, we joined Sophia's Mama and Mami (uncle and aunt), Rachana, Jamnejay, Biraj and Anaya for lunch. We dined at Sophia's old favorite, Mirch Masala (Indian Hard Rock Cafe). After another delicious meal, it was extremely hard to say goodbye to such welcoming hosts and hostesses.

Today we drove 30km north to capital of Gujarat, Gandhinagar, to visit the Akshardham temple. As one of the largest temple complexes in Gujarat, it combines devotions, art, and exhibitions under one place of worship. Unfortunately, no electronics were allowed inside; I could only get a shot of the front gate.

After returning, we made our final visit to Sophia's father's old home. We then stopped by Rushal's (Sophia's uncle on her dad's side) and Hetal's flat for tea and snacks. It was wonderful seeing them again.

Fua and Fia took us out to dinner at Haute Peppers. They serve an array of fusion dishes, combining Indian curries and spices with traditional Chinese, Italian and Mexican styles. Needless to say, it was another delightful and filling meal.

As we get closer to our departure date, the thought of goodbyes becomes harder and harder.


Monday, January 11, 2010

Bird-Watching and Kite-Flying

Waking up at 5:00 a.m. after three hours of sleep was completely irrelevant when we reached the lake. Eleven of us took an hour drive to Nal Sarovar, a wetland famous during this season because of the migratory birds. A rowboat carried us across a lake as the sun rose. We saw Australian sea gulls, flamingos, and pelicans dive into the water, and when we reached the islands, we saw kingfishers, cranes and storks in the swamps.

On the islands, we walked through thick marshes and arid land, where the shepherds roam. Although the shores were crammed with people, the water seemed so silent.

All of us went to a country club (the same place we golfed) for brunch. There's nothing like masala chai and chutney sandwiches after such a tranquil morning. By the time we came back to Biraj and Nirav's home, we were exhausted.

Instead of napping, Nirav's cousins (also his neighbors) invited Joe and I to fly kites with them on the terrace across the street. While standing on the rooftop and gazing over Ahmedabad, we learned how to competitively fly kites. This Thursday is Uttarayan, the kite-flying festival, and even though it's only Sunday, the volume of kites nearly made a rainbow across the sky.

Although we started the day very early, bird-watching and kite-flying made up for the lack of sleep.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Golf, Vavs and a Late Night

In the morning, Nirav invited us to his country club to try a few irons on the driving range. Joe was able to get the hang of things with his swing, but Sophia and Sonya ... uh, just wanted to hit the ball. Fifty balls later, we set up a competition to test our accuracy. Although it brought out our competitive sides, the game was a peaceful way to start the day.

Biraj and Nirav took us to the Step Wells (Vavs) in the afternoon. Six stories deep into the belly of the earth, we made our way down the dark staircases to the well. The wells represented a sanctuary from the heat, people suffering from the drought, an oasis for travelers, refuge during invasions and even a final stop for an unfortunate number of lives.
At night, Biraj and Nirav drove us to a remote farm property, owned by Nirav's cousin. It was a small, outdoor party with tasty appetizers, Hindi music for dancing and a fire pit to keep everyone warm. Joe joined the men for a game of soccer and French cricket, while Sophia sat near the fire, chatting with the family. We didn't even realize it was 1 a.m. by the time we headed back.

We didn't tuck into our beds until 2 a.m., knowing we'd have to wake up in just three hours to be on the road.

Joe and Sophia

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jhaveri Park

Our slow morning turned into a busy day. After a Jain breakfast, we went to two stores, Seasons and Cottons, for some more shopping. Shopping here is a totally different experience. Instead of spending a majority of the time looking for your size, in India employees search for what styles you may like in your size and with the best deals. You may have three employees rummaging through the aisles searching for every Medium in the department.

Later that afternoon, we decided to walk beyond Biraj and Nirav's complex, jokingly called Jhaveri Park because most of their family resides on the same lot. On our walk, we were greeted by curious children, herds of cattle, yelping stray puppies, kite-flyers and giggling women who wanted their picture taken. One woman stopped us in the street and made us follow her back. At first we assumed we were in trouble for taking pictures of her property, and she made us nervous when she asked us where we were from. All she wanted was to pose in front of her kite stand as we took pictures.

In the evening, family came over for a wonderful Punjabi meal. While eating paneer and aloo, we exchanged our favorite riddles for more than an hour. Following dinner, Nirav introduced us to a laidback yet competitive game, Bocce Ball. It's essentially a fusion of bowling and shuffle board. Back and forth we laughed at the other team's attempt, but Munjal's team ended up winning the match.

Hope you all are doing well!
Joe and Sophia

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sports and Shocolatery

We are staying at my cousin Biraj's house now. I remember visiting this house before she married Nirav and everything seemed towering because I was only eight years old.

Nirav's family lives in the same complex; separate houses but with a large, connecting basement. I love how close the people are here, having frequent family dinners and keeping the door open for anyone to stop by for tea. Whenever we walk into the house, we see Nirav's father talking to his brothers, or his sister coloring with her daughter, Vaama, who is four years old.
We picked up Anaya from school and took her to the Sports Club for her swim while we watched children prepare for a swimming competition and practice cricket on the field.

Biraj and Rachana delighted us with dinner at Shocolatery, famous for its cafe and dessert selection. Joe and I both tasted the spiciest pasta we've ever encountered. After the Italian-Indian pasta fusion, all of us cooled our stomachs with some cheesecake.

It's hard to imagine in a week Joe and I will be back in Texas, especially after such a fulfilling three weeks.



Thursday, January 7, 2010

Pizza Party!

In the morning, we stuffed ourselves with French toast and masala eggs. We went to Fia and Fua's home to spend some time with the newlyweds before they head back to the States. Saying goodbye to Nrupaal and Anu reminded us how hard it will be to say goodbye to everyone next week.

When we got back to Ragi Masi and Nikunj Masa's house, the kitchen was in a frenzy.
Masa and Masi are renowned for their pizza, and they planned a family gathering for the evening. Seven rolls of dough, a couple of hours of chopping vegetables, and more than a hundred slices of pizza later, we were ready to dig in.
Fourteen members of my mom's side came over for the feast of pineapple and jalapeno, aloo and capsicum, and garlic pizzas. Devangi treated us to her homemade chocolate cupcakes for dessert.

Having family together relieved the stress we were feeling from an earlier phone call with Emirates. We thought our travel nightmares were over, only to find out that our flight home was canceled. Because of miscommunication, Emirates assumed we wouldn't take their airline back. We had a very stressful 12 hours as we waited to hear back from the airline. Luckily (with the help of my cousin, Biraj), we had our seats reconfirmed and we will return home on the expected flight (!!!).
The picture above includes Sonya and I with all our first cousins. I really love being with my family again.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

More Family, More Food

Every morning, we hear wild dogs barking, men beating drums, women reciting prayers, scooter engines revving, vendors selling fresh produce and children laughing. We really are staying in an entirely different world.
We lounged for most of the morning while Nikunj Masa prepared one of his signature dishes, eggplant Parmesan. It was the first non-Indian meal we've had since our flight. Our mouths have become so accustomed to the masala flavor, so the food tasted so foreign. Who would have thought we'd enjoy delicious, homemade Italian food in Ahmedabad, Gujarat?
Later, we went out for some browsing (OK, more shopping) before dinner. It was the last day of the National Handloom and Handicraft Exhibition, so selections were slim and haggling was successful.
After revisiting the law garden, we went to Sankalp, an Indian restaurant well-known for its dosa. We sampled Mysore, golden-crisp masala, plain and nilgiri (mint) dosas. Joe and Sonya tried some coconut water and malai (cream) for dessert. While everyone else went to bed, Devangi taught us an Indian rendition of Hearts, and we played cards late into the night.
We really wish those back in the States could experience all of this with us.

Joe and Sophia