It was warm and humid when we flew out of Austin. Landing in Washington DC we departed the aircraft on the tarmac and boy was it cold. We were the only people wearing summer seasoned clothing. Our flight to Germany was amazing and so luxurious. There were reclining seats, hot hand towels, free liquor/wine/beer, meals, movies and fun Germans manning the flight. We landed in Germany around 7 or 8 a.m. and I thought I would freeze. There was snow covering the ground! The airports had beer gardens everywhere and everyone was already enjoying beers! There was beer and Jagermeister for sale in all the airport stores. It was so different from the United States. We boarded the plane, quickly ate our meals and slept the entire flight hoping to conquer the jet lag. We landed in India and I hit the bathroom. Oh boy. That was such an experience. Something I could only explain in person. And each bathroom experience continues to be different, every day here.
Our ride to our hotel was crazy. It was 2 or 3 am and there were still lots of street activity. People running around (no women), doing I’m not sure what and tons of cows hanging out by the street (cows are gods here and not eaten) and running free. We entered the hotel property and the hotel security searched, for bombs under the car, in the car and under the hood. The driver explained this was a new process since the Mumbai (India) Taj Mahal attack. Upon entering the hotel we entered through the security scanners. Even though the scanners beeped when I entered (proving I had metal on me) I was allowed through without further checking. Strange, right?
We were greeted at our hotel with a shell necklace and a shot of sweet lime juice. The mosquitoes, smelling new blood, also greeted us in swarms. After a lot of smacking and killing mosquitoes, we were offered some bug repellent. They whisked us off in a buggy (golf cart) to our room. Our room is very modern and contemporary with a western toilet plus toilet paper. Wide awake, we ordered a bottle of wine from room service and unpacked our luggage. By 5 a.m. we forced ourselves to go to sleep. We passed out instantly and slept until 4 p.m. The jet lag was tough with our bodies confused with days and nights. At 7:30 p.m. we attending a Beach BBQ. We had a table on the beach with the white table-cloth blowing in the wind, lit by the moon light with the sound of the crashing waves, like something you would see on TV. It was amazing and beautiful. One price included your many courses of meals and set wines and beers. The food was terrible and included prawns, baby lobsters, shrimp, lamb and many things that were presented differently. I moved my food around on my plate like a seven-year old, nervous of offending someone (the people of India love to make us happy). The experience was so beautiful, especially the almost full moon on the beach, that you didn’t really notice the unfit food, but the wine, beer and service were all very nice.
Sunday morning we met our hired driver. He is a friend of Scott’s colleague at the India PayPal office. We asked him to drive us to a grocery store for beer, wine, water and Cokes. He took us to an air-conditioned grocery store, but we weren’t allowed to do anything but request items. He would then go talk to the employees about it in the back. We were always told, stay here. He tried and tried to make me okay the “alcohol free” wine. Yeah, no. So this and the beer entitled us to a trip to the liquor store. The driver drove us to an area where he parked on the side of the highway. He pointed at me and said stay in the car. Scott was invited to go with him. Scott and I were both freaked out. Scott and the driver crossed the crazy highway, dodging traffic coming from every direction, and disappeared in an alley behind some questionable buildings. While I waited in the running air-conditioned van there were several interesting by passers, like a man with his cart attached to a cow carrying vegetables and fruits, several motorcycles with women riding side-saddle and loads of homeless people. Thankfully Scott and the driver returned. His story is so funny, I couldn’t do it justice. But let’s just say they returned with beer and two bottles of wine that had to be cleaned with bottled water before being put in the vehicle. FYI, those bottles of wine are not in any way, shape or form drinkable. But hey, the experience will never be forgotten.
Sunday afternoon was “brunch” at the resort on the beach, in the afternoon, instead of morning. It was a beautiful spread of Mediterranean food and champagne. We stayed for three hours overlooking the sunny beach with the cool winds, covered from the sun by flowy white spreads overhead. After about our third bottle, they asked what would we like for our last drink. Otherwise known as – you are cut off. Yes, all you can drink isn’t truly what they meant. Call it lost in translation or simply thirsty Americans.
Monday was the big celebration. It was the Prime Minister’s (woman president without a husband and children the driver pointed out to us) birthday! There was incredibly loud and blaring music on the streets, people having picnics on the side of the highways (yes with the cows and stray dogs) with babies crawling around in arm’s length of the fast-moving traffic. We learned quickly on the roads when driving there is no such thing as following in a line, right of way, signaling or any rules of crossing the lines in traffic (even in on-coming traffic) in India. This driving makes us so nervous. We have already been told in the U.S. that if we are injured not to go to an Indian hospital. We have to fly to Singapore. We have taken some videos with our cell phones to demonstrate the driving here. Oh .. and maybe I should mention they drive on the opposite side of the road.
We toured temples dug into caves and such on the shoreline. While there, we discovered the full moon brings the big religious ceremonies for Indians. They travel far to come to the oceans to cleanse themselves (maybe of sins?) and bring holy gifts to their gods in the temples. I have never seen such an amazing number of people in packs on the seaside. There is a stairwell to waters that isn’t fresh that they also (I believe) bath themselves in before worshiping. I’m not sure I understand fully, but some were covered in colored paints or powdered inks, as well. I will have to investigate this further.
Tuesday we visited the markets. The streets are filled with tons of people. You had to protect your things from being pick-pocketed, warn off the beggars and be careful of your steps as the streets weren’t even and the traffic was still flowing from every direction. We found most everything is a bargain here. You chance with your purchases, as you don’t know the true sizes and such. In Austin we live in an Asian community, so seeing Indians isn’t anything unusual to us. I often would forget we were in India, but would remember with all eyes on me. The stares weren’t offensive, but of curiosity. The young ladies and children were all drawn to me. I’m not sure if it was my warm smile, blond and curly hair or my fair skin. I welcomed each HI with a hello and smile. Some would just stare, as if they wanted to touch my hair and look at my “American clothes.” Some would ask, “What country are you from?” They all loved knowing we were from The United States of America. Our driver followed us, keeping a careful watch on us as we maneuvered the crowded streets and sidewalks. He left us for lunch in a “good air-conditioned restaurant.” We climbed the mysterious stairs off the city street to an unknown. We were greeted by an Indian wearing a turbine at the top of the stairs, who held the door open. The entire restaurant stopped to welcome us to a table. Bystanders stared wondering who and where we were from. We were given silver trays, with a banana leaf lining the tray. Our food was brought to the table and served on our leaf. About eight men lined our table and stared to see our reaction to their meals offered. We gave them the expressions of satisfactions of their food. I wasn’t acknowledged at first, only Scott. At the end of the meal, a hot bowl of water was offered to us both, with a lemon slice. Everyone eats with their hands in India. This was for us to wash our fingers and hands. Later, While in a shared (men/women) washroom, I was approached by a 20-30 year old man, wanting to know what country I was from. It’s apparent, the future of India is about to bloom. There is so much growth and change for these people. I am excited for them. When it was time to leave, I spoke to the men about how much I enjoyed my meal. They accepted my compliments and asked that we would return. We were the hit of the day in that restaurant. Just wait, Scott could tell the story better.
Upon entering the shopping again there were several unwelcoming stares by hateful and angry men, directed at me. One man with a woman beside him pointed at me while narrowing his eyes at me and then pointed to himself. I looked him directly in the eyes, shook my head no and continued walking, displaying no fear, although I was shaken up. I read an American woman must take the strong stand and not be weak. I pushed the thoughts aside and carried on with my adventure.
Wednesday we visited a museum. It was definitely not the American standard of a museum, in respect to how the artifacts were displayed, etc., but none the less another fascinating experience. There were bus loads of children touring the museum. I literally stopped traffic. The children were all in love with how I looked and dressed different. Most every child said HI and some asked what country we were from. One boy after learning our country wished us a good journey. Education isn’t free, like in the USA. Our driver was proud to share his children were in school. It was a beautiful thing to see due to the children being educated, the children weren’t afraid of us, but merely curious – as are many of the young people of this country.
We ate at a strictly vegetarian restaurant called Annalakshmi for lunch, where our driver took us. It was a beautiful experience. Truly a happy, loving and whole energy filled the restaurant. No one stared, but they all served us well, educating us on dishes and making us feel comfortable. Again, we were served on silver and a banana leaf. People overall understand gluten-free diet. They are so willing to help me to eat healthy, while serving exceptions at all high standards. They stuffed us beyond belief, serving us four different rice, steamed, long, short and you name it. The spices were nice to experiment with, which literally lit you on fire — or as I like to call it, make you glow. The meal began with a lemon/onion soup and ended with another soup. It reminded me of a non-profit eatery in Austin, Casa de Luz, that I eat at by myself that is holistic and educational. At the end, we learned it was a nonprofit organization run by volunteers cooking, serving and cleaning that raise money to provide food, milk and daily vitamins to children in India. This is by far the poorest country I have witnessed. We were so impressed with the givings of this ministry. As we have mints and toothpicks at the end of meals in the Americas, they also have seeds or spices to put in your mouth to freshen. They are nice and aid in digestion.
The meal culture here is more about eating to live and not living to eat. They have educated us on the nutrients found in different foods and spices and how each benefits the body. It truly changes the way you think of food. Food is medicine.
Due to frequent power outages and software difficulties, I will be adding images to the blog at a later date.