As one may have guessed, the common staples of Indian food are the spices. Turmeric, masala, chili powder, coriander leaves, and mustard seeds are just a few of the many common ingredients. Before my trip, I had attempted a few Indian recipes for about three months buying the ingredients from an International Food Store in St. Louis, MO. Truth be told, my makeshift Indian dishes were no match to the authentic Indian recipes I tasted during my stay. For one thing, the dishes I made were far less spicy. During my first week in India, I could only manage so much of the curried food for three days in a row before getting indigestion. I mostly stuck with chipattis – a type of Indian flatbread that looks like a thin pancake There were also many street vendors that we were told to avoid until after one month of our stay, however, the vendors located in front of the college were supposedly safe. Some of the most popular dishes were doshas and chaat. Another surprising fact, was not all Indians ate spicy food as an everyday part of their diet. Whenever I had dinner at one of my friends house or with my host mother, the dishes were not nearly as spicy as the mess hall and restaurants I visited. One of my favorite dishes my host mother made was ragra patties, which had a tangy, sweet, and only slightly spicy taste to it. Other dishes I liked during my stay-included spinach curry, Indian style tomato salad, peanut salad with crunch noodles, paneer and green pea curry, and chicken curry. The picture above shows a photo of the ragra patties.
Swapna and Me during Diwali Festival
Unlike others, I felt some of my homesickness immediately when I first arrive in Mumbai before settling Pune City. During the college orientation, I found out I would be staying in a hostel with seven other girls from the program. I was somewhat disappointed because I had original signed up for home-stay. My disappointed did not last for long when I met the owner of the hostel. She was a very kind and did not hesitate to make us feel at home and treated us as if we were her daughters. After meeting her for the first time, I felt somewhat better and more at ease in my transition to a new country. She is a professional violin player and sometimes during her practice, I would make a visit to her apartment just to hear her play and occasionally have a chat about how her day was going. Every morning she made chai tea for me and the other girls, and on Sundays we would have brunch and dinner in her apartment.
Swapna is to the right. Her sister is on the left. They are twins, but there personalities are completely different.
Bogey often accompanied me on many of my adventures. On treks and hikes, I carried him in my backpack or purse. While walking done the street he would quickly catch the attention of the children living on the streets who would follow me to gain a closer look. I wished I would have taken more pictures with him, however, for most of the trip he served as a silent companion.
As part of an outdoor field visit with my environment perspective class, we took a trip to an organic farm located a few hours outside of Pune City. A nonprofit organization had created a way for small farmers to switch to organic farming and sell their produce to people living in the city. I learn that organic farming was a more sustainable way of producing crops by maintaining the soil nutrients, and it was better for the environment than commercial farming that used heavy pesticides. The farm also had some of the best tasting food I ever eaten, which was a relief from the heavy amount of spices in city.
Fergusson College is a prestigious and historical liberal arts institution located in the center of the city of Pune. All of my classes were held in the Creative Science building just another five minutes from the main program bungalow. This picture was taken in the middle of campus (quad), were most students tend to hang out in-between classes. There were two canteens were the students tend to buy most of their food for no more than a couple 1 or 2 dollars (us currency). The campus also had a botanical garden, and a few small gardens with concrete benches. On Sundays, the campus seemed to transform into a big study place for many of the students. They would sit on the steps in the front of the closed buildings, in the gardens, or in the quad with open chemistry and math books discussing assignments with a small group of friends. The campus provided such a peaceful and serene atmosphere during the weekends that sometimes when I had a very hectic and busy week, I would sit in one of the small open spaces in front of the mathematics building in peaceful solitude, not thinking about anything and observing the beauty of the campus.
The actual name of the park is Pu La Deshpande Park, considered the largest Japanese part in the world outside of Japan. When I first visited, I was taken a back by its beauty. Every brush and flower appeared very manicured and neat. Since the park was only a 10-minute walk from where I stayed just off Sinhagad Road, I would go there nearly every morning for a run. Sometimes I would practice yoga on the low tables within the resting area that contained a narrow picnic bench near a small waterfall. Visiting the park became another peaceful get away, from the busy life in the city.
It has been nearly a month since I first arrived in India with the anxious and nervous excitement of stepping into a completely new world.So much has happened since I lugged my suitcase from Delhi airport. The trip included me staying at an overnight hotel, a two hour trip to a small, quaint resort for a week of orientations, and another two hour trip on the bus before reaching Ferguson College in the heart of Pune city.
The month of September has ushered in a lot of activities so far, but the main celebration has been the Ganpati festival in honor of the God Ganesh who symbolizes wisdom and knowledge. I went with my host mother and the other hostel girls to celebrate the beginning of the festival yesterday with her parents and twin sister. We all set around the Ganesh god while one of the family members took part in adorning the god with flowers, leaves, and fragrance. Colored powders were laid out in front of it as well as the offering of fruits and sweets that were also given to us to eat. Prayers were sung in the ancient Sanskit language, and one individual held up a small golden plate with incents making circular motions in front of the Ganesh idol. I was also given a small flower and some more fragrance to offer to the god to welcome him into the home where he would stay for 10 days.
As the old story goes, Ganesh was the son of Parvati and Shiva. While Parvati was taking a bath one day she had instructed her son to guard the door and not let anyone in. Shiva came and insisted that Ganesh let him through, but he refused remaining loyal to his mother’s orders. In a fit of rage that his son would not let him through, Shiva chopped his head off. Parvati was so angered by what happened to her son that she threatened to destroy the world, but being very determined to revive her son, a search was conducted and an elephant head was found put in place of Ganesh’s head.
Later that afternoon I rode a riksaw through the city to meet an Ankita and her family to continue the celebration of the first day of Ganpati. All throughout the streets there were drum lines and huge Ganesh idols being pulled through traffic. There were makeshift stages with a theme in each one that exposed a social or political problem the country continued to face. Some of the stages played music and Ankita had informed me that the music and lights would continue until 10pm sometimes even until 2am. Apparently after midnight some people venture out when there is less traffic to go to visit each stage and temple where Ganesh is held.
At her house I was introduced to a new sweet called modak, which is like a dumpling filled with coconut and wheat flour and steamed. It was really sweet and very different from any I had ever tasted since being in India. It kind of reminded me of momos except sweet without the veggies or meats that is often used. Interestingly enough I had to eat this sweet with something spicy, because many of the families believe that when you have something really sweet it has to be balance out with something spicy. It was also the same concept when I was given water. The cup was filled half way with cold water and the rest of the way with warm water. The reasoning for this concept was that the body should remain in balance or else the person could become sick.
I had a great time shopping with some of the friends I made from the program. First thing on our to do list was to shop for kurtis, the Indian style long shirt for women. Since we were all foreigners, we had to adhere to conservative dress code to avoid stares and to blend in with the rest of India. But honestly, most of the younger population wore western style clothes unless they were from conservative families, so I didn’t see the point. We stood out like sore thumbs no matter what we wore. Yet, it was fun dressing in a completely different style from what we were used in the U.S. These girls became some of my good friends abroad. We shared stories, cried, laugh, joke, and just hung out occasionally whenever one of us needed to pick up a few essential items. Most of kurtis came in a standard size of large or medium, and we had to have them tailored in order to fit. In the picture we are sitting in front of a bunch of Salwar Kameezes as Lauren and I were waiting for the tailor to finish adjusting the kurtis we bought. Starting with the far left was Brianna, Faith, Lauren, me, Gretchen, and Katie. Back at home I would not have had my clothes tailored, because it would have been somewhat expensive. In some ways, these next few months in India would spoil me. I would occasionally have my clothes tailored, dry clean, a cleaning maid for the hostel, and a person who picked up trash at our doorstep.
Laxmi Road is a large open market place located within walking distance of the main college campus. It is ideally a place where one can bargain to reduce prices on various items. However, these days many of the shops had fixed rate items, meaning that the prices were set and there could be no more negotiating beyond that. People could bargain with the street vendors, but it was difficult to do so in many of the small open shops. During my first few visits, I was a little overwhelmed by the clustered stores and vendors. It was also extremely crowded during the weekends. Many people were there shopping, passing by, catching rickshaws, and bargaining sometimes very persistently with street vendors. After getting use to the setting, I eventually began wondering to Laxmi Road occasionally on my own. Still, it was always better to go shopping with an Indian friend to be assured that you were getting a good deal. I liked being in the crowd and browsing through many of the shops with colorful saris, kurtis, and gold jewelry. Oh, and not to mention browsing through the many colorful glass and metal bangles so popular among many of the Indian women. I wanted to buy a few, but reluctantly pass them up. Lauren, one of my suite mates, is in the picture browsing through some of the bangles.
It was a cool September morning, and I decided I wanted to be a little daring. I never heard of waterfall repelling and thought it sound interesting. With a group of alliance and other Indian students, we rode a bus a few hours to the outskirts of the city and trek a short distance to a very hilly area that look down on a nearby village. While crossing one of the waterfalls, I slipped and nearly took one of the guides with me. For a moment, I thought I would tumble all the way done to the bottom, but I was able to regain my grip after a little more effort. Once we reach the waterfall, everyone separated in groups of two. I was one of the last people to go up the stiff path to get to the top of the waterfall. I was completely out of breath and exhausted on the way up. My heart started pounding and I was trying my best not to lose my nerve and regain strength. Going across the edge was a little scary, but it was not until I approached the middle of the waterfall that things became a little more challenging. The water started to pound my helmet with force and I lost grip for a second before I was able regain my position. By the time I reached the bottom, I was happy to make it back to solid ground. It was a very exhilarating experience.