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Sunday, February 20, 2011

General Impressions

I'll have a number of different posts on my India trip. I thought I would start out with an overview.

I loved it.

I felt very comfortable in India. It met my expectations exactly. It seemed like I had been there before. I really do think I lived there in another life. I know, everyone says that, reincarnation is a good excuse for these sort-of feelings!

We spent a week touring and shopping. It was awesome to be in a place where the cultural references were all familiar! Our hotel in Bangalore was right next to Garuda mall, for example.

I am always surprised when I travel by the similarities between places. I know it shouldn't surprise me that it is all one earth and the divisions are so arbitrary. When I see the grass and the trees it just gives me that sense of the unity of the planet.

I ate better than I can ever remember. I adore Indian food, and I even enjoyed things I didn't expect to like. I stuffed myself every day! I bought some cookbooks at Gangaram's bookstore and I'm looking forward to trying to recreate some of those awesome meals.

We had lunch with my cousin's in-laws who live in Bangalore and they let us use their driver for the rest of the trip, which was wonderful. He was a lot of fun and took good care of us. I attempted some Hindi with him, though his primary languages are Telegu and Kanada. I'm pretty sure I told him that the trunk of the car was a very old man, rather than very big.

None of my Hindi worked out very well. It takes me a while to formulate a sentence, and I was trying to force myself to do it faster in order to talk. I would realize about five minutes later how I had messed the sentence up! No one seemed to understand me. Partly because most of the people I interacted with aren't Hindi speakers, but I think also because it was too weird and unexpected for Hindi to be coming from me. I was really encouraged that I understood almost all the Hindi I heard, so that made me feel pretty good.

I was delighted to discover that very, very few women wore western clothes. I thought at least in the city there would be lots of jeans and such, but that was not the case. I really think American women could take a lesson from Indian women's wardrobes! Everywhere you look there are amazing colors and patterns. I would say half salwar kameez and half saris. For anyone who doesn't think saris are practical everyday wear, women there wear them as part of uniforms, old women washing floors were wearing beautiful saris. I got a picture of a woman officer in the army wearing a khaki sari. It just shows there is never an excuse not to look gorgeous!

The second week we spent at a small town called Sringeri, where there is an ashram dedicated to the shankaracharya of the south. We went to darshans and pujas there and asked for blessings from the guru, etc. I'll have more detailed posts about that later.

Everywhere we went outside the city, I felt like an exhibit at a zoo. People stared at me and wanted to take pictures of me or have their picture taken with me. I was surprised by how noticeable it is when people are staring at you! I was glad that people were happy to see me wearing Indian clothes and embracing Indian culture. A couple of high school girls in Sringeri were asking me what I thought of Indian culture and they were just thrilled when I said I liked it! They were very impressed with my sari wrapping skills too.

I felt very inspired while there and got a lot of good writing done. I also came home feeling emotionally lighter and steadier.

I have almost 200 pictures, so I'll link to my flickr album rather than post them all here! (At the beginning are some pictures from my parents' house in Concord that were on my dad's camera, so that's what it looked like at home while we were gone)



  1. Your pictures are absolutely beautiful! And your green sari is stunning :o)

    Makes me miss India. I'm glad you had a wonderful trip.

  2. Welcome back,good to know that you liked India and felt comfortable,foreigners experience culture shock(as they call it) especially 1st time in India, Bangalore is one of my fav cities(though too much traffic) did you see the city as well? and the pictures are beautiful,they show India as it is, colorful and beautiful.

    p.s., a lot of teenagers and young girls wear western clothes especially in bigger cities, most of the college going girls wear western clothes.

  3. The Jhumka, Sari, Gajra in your hair... You look like a typical traditional south indian

    Yup, the old school indian women do not let saris come in between their daily chores. Though their saris are made from very soft cotton which allow them to be fully flexible. Here's an example of a marathi women from coastal maharashtra:

    The new fashionable designer saris might look great but you cannot move freely in them.

  4. Great to hear you enjoyed the visit!

  5. i am glad that u enjoyed ur india trip.regarding staring,when u r a foreigner in india u should get used to it,especially from rural people.dont mind them.

    regarding hindi,i wanna tell that hindi is spoken by only 40% of is not the national is just one of the 22 official languages n the most spoken language.there r some 7 hindi speaking states,n rest of the states have their own languages.i hope u avoid speaking hindi in south india.we have our own languages n we know english(the global language).we r not the slaves of hindi people to speak their language.almost all the educated people in india can speak english.we dont need some foreign language(hindi for us).we have our languages n english.u may be met with hostlity if u speak in hindi in some parts of tamil nadu n andhra.hindi is spoken only in north india n places where they fact linguistic differences have been some of the biggest issues in india recently.that doesn't mean that u should not use hindi with a hindi speaker.that's perfectly fine.i am not offending anyone.i am just saying the fact.only english can keep this huge country united.if the sayig "unity in diversity" is to be true it can be achieved by english only.happy journey

  6. Krish Mohan, Yes I know that I wasn't going to find many Hindi speakers in south India, but Hindi is the language I've been learning, so I took whatever opportunity I could to practice it.

    I did meet some Hindi speakers touring south India, I could recognize it as they spoke it, but they still didn't seem to understand me speaking it!

    In Sringeri the vast majority of people spoke no English at all and no Hindi. Someday I'll have to learn Kanada and Tamil and Telegu, etc. I'm not that great at languages, though, I'm still struggling a lot with just Hindi.

    I was not expecting everyone there to speak Hindi, but I still had a better chance of finding people who understood Hindi there than I do here!

  7. Thanks so much for posting this. I find your journey so very encouraging and inspiring, and appreciate that you're sharing it with people! I can't wait for the next installment of your thoughts on the trip!

  8. You look so pretty in your saris with the jewels and make-up and all. You wear it quite well, good pleats and all. Your mom looks so cute in a sari, too.

    I think individual women should be able to decide for themselves what they want to wear. I do think a lot of upper middle class girls in major Indian cities wear jeans on a regular basis. It is a very complex issue intertwined with larger issues: classism (jeans=mod, educated), sexism (Indian men can wear pants-shirt but in some social classes 'proper' girls can't wear jeans or wear them in all settings or they look too "advanced"), Westernization, even age-ism (i.e. youthful girls can wear jeans, but in some social classes it would be bad/improper for an older auntie, or even just a married woman). All of these issues playing out on Indian women's bodies.

    Your photos are gorgeous. You must have a great camera with the clarity and color in your photos. I love the pyramid style temples. I hope you can tell us what all of the structures were.

    You're so lucky you were able to do this trip, and with your parents as well. It's my dream to one travel in South India, especially in Karnataka and Kerala. For now I will just have to live vicariously through your photos, LOL!

  9. I have been practicing a lot with putting on a sari! My mom doesn't know how, so I dressed her too, as you can see in one of the pictures. I do wish that clothing choices weren't so tied up in politics and larger statements and all sorts of things like that. I agree, it would be best if we could all choose what we like to wear, what makes us feel good!

    I am afraid I am not going to be able to tell you what all the structures are! I can name some, though, so I should attach captions to the pictures.

  10. You did all that draping? Your sari skills are crazy-good! Well done!

  11. Thanks, :D I love saris, so I wear them a lot and I've been working to get them so good that Indian ladies won't try to re-wrap me when I get where I'm going! That didn't happen at all in India, so I guess I'll take that as a good sign that I've got it down pat.

  12. @Aamba
    nice to see you enjoyed your trip. You should also visit a few more cool places like Varanasi, the oldest surviving city and Bodh Gaya, where the buddha attained enlightenment. These areas are so different from the south.
    @krish mohan
    MASSIVE FACE-PALM dude. Really?? that stuff on this blog.!!! you should cool down bro.and I see you are like me...south guy up in the north. then why so agitated???

  13. Where I really want to go most is Ayodhya, but I didn't get to pick the itinerary for this trip!

  14. good to know you had a goodtime. varanasi on the banks of river ganga (ganges) clearly will be the top rated pilgrim destination. Yes there are others that are equally important. Ayodhya and Dwaraka and manymore.Hope you went to Madurai in TamilNadu. Tirupati in Andhra is a very busy pilgrim centre as well.

    Languagewise,my mother tongue is telugu, but we are fine with Hindi,like most non hindi speakers.