I had some clue of what to expect going to a third world country such as India. I have been exposed to the culture, here in the states, for most of my life working with the hospitality industry. Needless to say, I was still in shock and in awe. One cannot really prepare themselves the way I thought I did by just absorbing information from people who have lived there. I saw a Hindu funeral, explored the vegetable markets, rode the streets on the back of a motorcycle, visited Temples, shopped, relaxed on front porch swings all day, visited a beautiful farm in the country, ate great, authentic Indian Food as well as food I don’t wish to eat again, saw poverty as I never seen before and met people who I consider as my new extended family that I will keep in touch with always.
I was so ready to get there by the time I had flown over19 hours and gone through umpteen time zones. I didn’t realize that I still had a 6 hour car ride to go from Mumbai. We arrived to the Hill Society in Navasari, at the home of Harshad and Roshni Patel, at about 6:00 am on December 17th. For the record, I flew out of Dallas on December 15th. It took a few days to adjust to the extreme jet lag but it took even longer to adjust to my new surroundings. The Hill society is quiet, peaceful and all of the homes are open to all of the families that live there. It is actually pretty amazing when you see the family bond between everyone. I felt at home with them immediately. We ventured into Navasari, which is a fairly large city. A city filled with pollution, dust, slum areas, motor bikes, rickshaws and people everywhere. Did I mention there are no traffic lights, stop signs or driving laws? There are also restaurants, parks, schools and a wide variety of food vendors lining up and down the roads. The food on the side of the road is supposed to be the best and it was. I was fortunate enough to stay with friends who told me what was okay to eat and where it was ok to eat from.
Although I did get sick at the end of the trip, it was well worth it. On our way to Dheli and Agra, I was able to visit Hindu Temples and Muslim Mosques in numerous cities such as, Ambaji, Ajmer and Boroda (which is where I saw the first traffic stop light of the whole trip). We visited the Swaminarayan Akshradam in Dheli. This Temple should have made the Wonders of the World list with the Taj Majal. It was fascinating. After a very long journey via van of six people, we reached the Taj Majal in Agra. It was as breathtaking as I imagined even on the rainy, foggy day that we arrived. A ride on a camel cart up to the entrance made it sink in that I was definitely across the world. Speaking of animals, they are everywhere: Cows, bulls, goats, hogs, wild dogs and even an elephant crossing the road. One village was filled with monkeys mingling with all of the people and of course trying to take everyone’s hats, glasses or loose articles. That was definitely a different feeling than waving at them in a cage at the zoo, but they were very friendly.
I spent most of my time in Navasari, Bardoli, Saroli and the surrounding
Surat area. The wedding in Bardoli was fascinating and much longer than what we are used to in the states (3 full days of events).
I was so lucky to be a part of the whole thing. There are many significant ceremonies in a traditional Indian wedding event and you can see how important the merging of the two families is. Almost everyone in the immediate family has a role in the wedding. As I reflect on my trip I realize that it was one of the greatest experiences I could have had and I feel fortunate that I can strike a few things off of my “bucket list” from this trip. Despite the dysentery, crowds, dirt, the low level of infrastructure and the stress of adjusting to the different way of life, India is one of the most interesting places I have ever been and the Indian people are the most humble, hospitable, giving people that I have ever been around. I learned a lot about my spirituality, my faith and myself on this trip. I came back to the states with a broader view on the world, a more thankful attitude, a different view of my life and an extended family as wonderful as my own.