Monday, October 24

delhicious

The past three days I spent having the time of my life in Delhi with... MY DAD! Thankfully, even though my plans had changed, my dad was still able to come over and share in the Indian experience with me. Though I was sad he couldn't make it down south to see the orphanage, I'm thankful we got to spend some time together in Delhi.

After a semi-miserable overnight train ride (let's just say the employees were terribly offensive and bothersome the entire six hours), I arrived in Delhi at 5:30 a.m. I took the surprisingly clean and efficient metro and met up with Dad at our hotel. Though we were both tired, we didn't want to give up a precious day to napping, so we started out into the city. We saw the Red Fort...

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...several markets and ultimately ended up at a cute cafe with two Kingfishers.

Growing more and more exhausted, we headed back to the hotel to relax.
The next day we ventured to the Lotus Temple, a pretty grand site, to say the least...
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...did more shopping in Saket and ended our day with a huge Indian feast at our hotel's restaurant, Zune.

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Cool door handle...


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Appetizer...


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Garlic naan to die for


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Dal, duh


Though the trip was a short one, it was really fun to spend some time with my dad, who I rarely get one on one time with. It was nice to be able to share our love for India and traveling together (I definitely know where I get my traveling skills from now).

Today (but in real time two days ago), I head back to the orphanage to pack up and say my goodbyes. Though I'm not looking forward the sob fest that it will be (MOSTLY I WILL MISS SANTHOSH SO MUCH), I'm eager to get to Madrid and ultimately home to my family and friends (...oh yeah, and the dreaded job search...EEK!)

Thursday, October 20

rishikesh

As I write this (well, as I WAS writing it a couple days ago, I'm behind on my posts), I'm sitting in Rishikesh... MAYBE my MOST FAVORITE Indian city... perfectly content.

Though unfortunately, I can't say that the whole day was this peaceful. My day started at 5:30 a.m. when I quickly woke up to meet the "winger" on the corner of my new street in Dehradun at 6 a.m. Not having any idea what a winger was, soon I found out when a rickety, falling apart bus pulled up and I hopped in. Down the mountain we went until we came to my next point where I would trade vehicles to a vikram. Again, wasn't sure what this would entail and was surprised to find out that they were basically rickshaws that people think are buses. Teeny tiny three-wheelers with anywhere from five to 12 people shoved in them. Needless to say, not the most comfortable ride. Finally, I arrived at the "bus station" and proceeded on to Haridwar.

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Once I arrived in Haridwar, I got in a rickshaw and headed into town. I walked around, saw the Ganges and unfortunately was not too impressed. I'm glad I saw the city, but I knew that Rishikesh was calling my name and decided to head there a little earlier than planned.

I got in another vikran, sat on top of a lady for an hour and headed to Rishikesh. As soon as I arrived, I felt calm and at ease. There's something about the city: the vibe, the mountains, the Ganges, the people, the pulse... there's no way you CAN'T feel the energy. I looked around and ultimately ended up eating (duh) at Flavors Restaurant, recommended by TripAdvisor. After several helpings of roti and vegetables, I headed into the shopping area. I stumbled upon an ayurvedic pharmacy, where I instantly became best friends with the doctor at the counter. I told him all of my "ailments," not sleeping, back pain, my wish to have silky and shiny skin (super necessary) and he pointed me to all the vitamins, lotions and oils that I'll ever need, and for such a reasonable price! The lotion he picked out for my face was made with saffron and when I told him that was my last name, he gave me a huge smile. Later, after various conversations and product analysis, the man looked at me and said, "You are very lucky...AND your last name is Safran. You will be lucky!" Now I have no idea what he was referring to, but when some super cool Indian ayurvedic doctor tells me I'm lucky, I'm going to have to believe him. So I floated off into the city, smiling to myself, to continue hunting for a place to stay.

RISHI

Now let me rewind a bit. This trip to Rishikesh was the LEAST prepared I've ever been for a trip, especially since I went alone, but I have to say it was one of the best. So that just goes to show that sometimes planning is unnecessary and it's better to go with the flow (something I've learned during my time here).

My new doctor friend had given me a recommendation for a hotel called Surya Palace, where he said I should be able to stay for 400 rupees, aka less than $10. Of course I was wary about this... not that I was looking for a five star resort but my criteria was to be safe and clean. I asked around town and eventually, a nice man pointed up a hill, and then called over his very cute friend, who happened to be on a motorcycle.

To my surprised, cute friend motioned for me to get on the back and continued to drive me up the hill to my hotel. Though I had pictured my first time on a motorcycle in Spain with a bottle of red wine in hand, I'd say India was not a bad alternative. It was a short trip up the hill but fun nonetheless (don't worry Dad, it was VERY slow becaues of all of the pedestrians) and I arrived at my hotel, safe and sound. And let me tell you! This place was no joke! SPOTLESSLY clean, hot water with a super friendly and helpful staff. Plus it was close to town, definitely a good find. I spent the rest of the day exploring the town and eventually watching the sunset over the Ganges, pretty picture perfect.

I woke up early the next morning to catch a yoga class (I've been in India for FOUR months and haven't done yoga once... problems). The class ended up just being just me and the instructor, but he was wonderful and taught me some breathing and mental exercises to calm my mind and help with my sleep problems. After class, I went to the Health Cafe and munched on some incredible whole wheat toast, tomatoes and potatoes and sipped on ginger-lime juice while looking out over the Ganges as the sun rose. Needless to say, it was a pretty amazing morning and an all around unforgettable trip to Rishikesh.

Tuesday, October 18

a change of scenery


After a fun adventure in Delhi, Barbara and I headed north to Dehradun. There, I would be finding out my next project for the week. We arrived and then traveled by car up some hills and eventually to a town called Purkal.  

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Magestic!


Here, we met Mr. Swamy, a 75 year old LEGEND of a man who runs a non proft school, The Purkal Youth Development Society and is most likely the most interesting person I've met ever in my life. The school is for all of the children in the local area... but it isn't just any school. One thing I've noticed, especially at the school I've been teaching at, is that imagination and creativity are not strongly incorporated into the curriculum in India, which breaks my heart because those were always the classes I enjoyed the most. But here, the children have PE class (RELAY RACES!) and music and art classes! There are posters on the wall and birthday charts. If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was at a top-notch school in the States. It was really exciting to listen to Mr. Swamy talk about the school, the programs they use and how he's been successful.

To make things even better, his wife, Mrs. Swamy, runs a non-profit called Stree Shakti, an all women society that helps poor women in the community make a life for themselves. Basically, Mrs. Swamy and a couple of others teach these women to sew the most beautiful quilts, bags, pillow cases etc. and then sell them around India at exhibitions. The society has been wildly successful and the women are now making as much and in some cases, more than their male counterparts. In addition, the society promotes having fun and community and the women get all sorts of great benefits like a daily meal, transportation to and from work, free pre-school for their little ones, eye, teeth and general check-ups... EVERYTHING! So my project here is to grammar and spell check (a guilty pleasure) the annual report of Stree Shakti and then help format and design the report placing photos with the text using Microsoft Publisher. Obviously, this has been way too much fun for me. I'm a huge advocate for helping people learn a skill in order to make a life for themselves (instead of just throwing money at people) and I'm learning so much about this organization that I'm now determined to get a company interested in buying from them from the United States. If you have any ideas, PLEASE email me. I know, first hand, that these beautiful crafts are not only flawlessly made but fair trade as well. I have a few ideas of my own but I'd love to hear yours!

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The women working hard!


My days here have been quite wonderful, spending my mornings and lunch with Mr. Swamy, discussing the world, traveling, education and of course, food...another perk is getting to hang out with his "doggie fellows" (HOW CUTE is it that he refers to his dogs as that?) and then the rest of my days are spent frantically working on the annual report with my new best friend, Manjeet. Evenings are spent drinking tea and watching the sun set over the foothills of the Himalayas, reading or chatting online (with my WAY better internet) to friends and family back in the States. No complaints here... I LOVE it!

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A bit of news, for those of you who haven't heard: my plans have changed, yet again, and this will be my last week in India... though I'm a serious planner and didn't necessarily expect this, India has shown me, first hand, that nothing is certain but everything is possible... so I'll be departing this wonderful country in a week, heading to Madrid to relive my junior year abroad experience for a short three days and then ultimately head back to the West Coast. It's a bittersweet feeling, knowing that my "life long dream" is coming to an end, but it's also fueling some new dreams and plans to come back to India in the near future and that is most definitely an exciting feeling.

Namaste!

a day in delhi

After Udaipur, we had a short 12 hour stay in Delhi. Barbara and I opted for a cheap hotel option ($20 a night, yeah!) since we knew we'd be out and about exploring for most of our time there. We landed in Delhi and Sanket, Barbara's Kingfisher pilot friend, picked us up and we were off to the hotel. We quickly dropped our stuff and headed to... duh, the Hard Rock Cafe. After a large plate of nachos (Sanket and I share the same love for Hard Rock Cafe nachos and also photographing food), we explored the insanely gigantic mall in Saket. I fell in love with all the ayurvedic oils and products and also discovered Fab India (which really is fab).

Since it had been a couple hours since the Hard Rock feast, obviously it was time for us to eat again. Sanket took us to Fio, an Italian restaurant in the Garden of Five Senses. Holy cow, I must have died and gone to heaven. This BEAUTIFUL restaurant in the middle of a huge garden is pretty much what I dream about when I think about my own future restaurant. Beautiful landscaping, lots of lanterns and lights, and of course, great food, set the stage for a wonderful evening with wonderful company. We ordered wine, a hookah (!!), pizza, pasta and soup and then of course, how could I resist, tiramisu for dessert.

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I feel like I look at my dessert the same way a mother looks at her newborn child.


Sanket dropped us off and we returned to our room around 2 a.m. Unfortunately, sleep wasn't in our future just yet, since we came back to a bed full of bugs, which had somehow gotten in through our closed window. We promptly switched rooms, showered and started packing. Barbara thought it'd be a good idea to get a wake up call and taxi for the morning, but as she set out to try and get downstairs, we realized that we were locked in. After hysterically laughing and trying every which way to get ourselves out of this room, we resorted to climbing out the window. We told the staff and a couple guys came to try and unlock/"unstuck" the door. No dice. Too tired to care, we decided the window would just have to do as our exit.

After drifting in and our of sleep for about an hour, I woke up feeling damp...okay...soaked. Something was leaking... the culprit? The air conditioner. This got me hysterically laughing again and I just could not stop. It was probably because it was all too much but also because how can you even be upset? For $20, I'm surprised that's all we witnessed. 

Thursday, October 13

finishing our travels through rajasthan

The next morning, we headed to the Amber Fort to complete our visit in Jaipur. Though forts (especially ones up a hill in one hundred degree heat) don't usually interest me, this one was amazing...

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After an incredible experience in Jaipur, Tyla and Austin headed to a national park and Barbara and I continued on to Pushkar. First and foremost, our hotel, which I will DEFINITELY be returning to on my honeymoon, was something to brag about. We stayed in tents. But these were far from your average tents...

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Exhibit A

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Exhibit B

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Exhibit C

The "hotel," The Greenhouse Resort, started as a farm of greenhouses. Now, the hotel owns several greenhouses, on the resort premises and off as well, sourcing all veggies and fruits, wheat and even roses for their restaurant from their own gardens. Clearly I was really into this. Plus, since its about 20 minutes outside of Pushkar, it's so quiet and beautiful and surrounded by hills, a nice break from the busy Pushkar streets.

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Pushkar, though, was definitely one of my favorite cities so far (I feel like I keep saying that, I love them all)! It's relatively small, but there are tons of cool shops and markets and a beautiful lake in the middle of town, surrounded by ghats. At the lake, priests hang around, waiting to bless you and send flowers into the lake for you. Though I'm not so religious, the blessing was simple and touching, praying for the best for my family and friends and ultimately vowing to come back to the same spot with my husband and children.

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After finding the best sandals and purse in the world ($3 for the sandals, $24 for the bag) and overeating to the extreme, in Pushkar...

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Me in my natural habitat

...we headed west to Udaipur to meet up with Tyla and Austin again. Though I hadn't heard of Udaipur before, this city was beautiful. The European influence was very apparent, thanks to the several lakes that inhabit the city. Again, I found myself, asking, "am I REALLY still in India?"

In Udaipur, were able to reunite with Preet, a dentist who helped out with a TMF medical trip last year, doing check ups and pulling teeth at one of the other orphanages. Preet served as the best tour guide, taking us to his favorite dining spots on the lake where I indulged in an unhealthy amount of dal and even to his clinic and home to family for an incredible breakfast.

My internet is too slow to upload Udaipur photos and I'm already WAY behind on my posts! So I'll post some later!


This completed our trip and Tyla and Austin headed back to the States and Barbara and I continued on to Delhi and eventually Dehradun to see the place I will be working at for the next week!

Wednesday, October 12

janu of jaipur

The next morning, we woke up to meet our driver, Janu... little did we know we were in for a huge treat. Besides being impossibly charming and attractive, his perfect English, which he taught himself, and absurdly impressive knowledge of ALL of Rajasthan made him the perfect addition to our group for the day. He showed us his journals, two notebooks FILLED with tourists singing his praises as we traveled through Jaipur. He also informed us that he was pretty famous on Google, so being the professional googler that I am, I gave it a shot and it turns out, he is. Click here for my favorite article.

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Snake charmer!


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Another great thing about Janu was when we got ahead of ourselves asking, "so what's the significance of this?" or "where are we going next?" Janu replied in typical Indian style, "if I start telling you about all of these things you will be seeing later in the day, you will miss what you are seeing right now and I don't want you to be distracted."

Anyways, he took us to the palace, through the pink city and finally to a textile factory, where we were able to see the hand embroidering, stamping and dying of fabrics that would ultimately be made into beautifl clothing, quilts and other home accessories. Needless to say, I went crazy for the custom made tunics and dresses and beautiful wall hangings.

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Hand stamping textiles...


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Janu!


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Obviously we had to go...


After several hours and a small fortune dropped, oops, Janu took us to eat and then for ayurveda massages, which were quite the bargain coming in at $25 for an hour and a half of pampering.

After our showers and a little primping, Janu picked us up again for a late dinner at his hotel, Hotel Moonlight Palace. It was impeccably clean and the rooftop was situated high over the city so that you could see for miles. The roof was decorated with lights and beautiful Rajasthani pottery... and the food was pretty awesome too.

Finally, we had to say goodbye to our new friend, Janu, as he departed for a business trip (what a catch!) to Barcelona.

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Kingfisher and good company!

Monday, October 10

some things are overrated...

...the Taj Mahal is not one of them. Yesterday, we left the hotel at 6 a.m. in order to catch the Taj as the sun rose. Like a little kid on Christmas morning, I woke up at 3:30 a.m., too excited to sleep. When we finally got to this beautiful building I've been dreaming about seeing for most of my life, I was actually in awe. I'm not usually one to spectate for hours, especially over a structure, but the Taj and its presence are just so spectacular, it's hard to stop looking at it. We took photos for a while, went up close and inside to see all the intricate carvings and details and then I just plopped myself on a bench and stared for a good 45 minutes. It was absolutely breathtaking. Since I'm already planning a trip back to India, next time, I think I'll bring a lunch and disguise a bottle of wine because I couldn't help but think it'd be the most perfect place for a picnic.

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So excited!!!

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Sunrise...

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An attempt at being artsy...


For the rest of the day, we vegged by the pool and then went to a fabulous spot for a delicious dinner of Kashir biryani (new favorite food), beer and an unbeatable roof top view of the Taj at sunset.

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That evening, we headed to Jaipur. After a long and tiring train ride, we got off and I heard my name. Who the HECK do I know in Jaipur, India? I'm wondering to myself. And then I see Kelly, from the Whole Foods trip who had stayed behind to travel a little more after the project was over. As it always does, it shrunk the world by a factor of a thousand and it was fantastic seeing a familiar face within the hustle and bustle of the Jaipur train station.

Thursday, October 6

the agra fort and a meal to die for

After a quick night in Delhi (and from what I saw of the city, I cannot wait to go back and explore), we met Tyla and Austin for breakfast and boarded a train for Agra.

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Upon arrival, we headed to our incredible hotel. From the outside, it looks like nothing special, just a sturdy, fort-like brick building. But inside awaits an oasis; a getaway from the chaotic streets of India and the touristy city that is Agra. The premises are filled with gardens and fountains leading you in to an architecturally amazing interior, filled with furniture I was lusting after to decorate my ficticious house with.

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Hanging couch? Can this be my bed?


Soon after, Tyla, Austin and I headed to the Agra Fort. I was really blown away with how interested I was in the history of the fort... but mostly, I couldn't get enough of the views of the Taj. My favorite part of the fort was peering through the "lookouts" located all over the fort in order to see the Taj from different angles.

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We finished our audio tour of the fort, we headed back to our hotel to celebrate Austin's birthday...

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...and prepare for one of the best culinary experiences of my life.

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Aprons instead of napkins!


In Delhi and Chennai, there's a famous restaurant called Bukara. For about $100 a person, you can enjoy some top-knotch wines and out of this world Indian food. My dad has raved about it and Mary Ellen, Caroline and Jasdeep told me it was so worth the trip. Obviously, this restaurant was quickly added to my Indian bucket list for "must eats." I've googled it, I've begged my dad to take me there when he comes (because clearly I cannot afford this on my own)... but despite my research, it just wasn't looking like Bukara was in my future.

But again, the Indian gods were on my side (I've been pretty blessed so far). At our beautiful paradise hotel, a sister restaurant (and also much cheaper version of Bukara), Peshawri, was waiting to greet my insatiable appetite.

We entered the beautiful space, sat and knew immediately what we wanted to order: dal makhani, naan and paneer. We were able to watch the chef prepare the naan and a surprise serving of parota...

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...and then, IT came. This meal was, like I said, one of the best culinary experiences in my 23 years of life and it actually brought me to tears. It was one of those meals where you savor every bite, all the while thinking, "how is it possible that something tastes THIS good?"

Our question was shortly answered as our waitor scooped a spoon into the dal to serve us and a bit of green came to the surface. The culprit of this mouth-watering, completely satisfying and decadent treat? Ghee. Aka... butter.

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Super dorky, but SUPER HAPPY!!!