06.02.2017 - 11.02.2017
After almost a year and a half dreaming and talking about it, Unnati and I finally stepped on a plane to journey to India together. Joined by another of her friends, Hannah (who I would soon bond with over mutual razzing of our best brown friend), we made the 27 hour trek to Unnati's hometown Baroda (or Vadodara as it is officially named) to be greeted by her parents. Manoj and Rani have been the most wonderful Indian parents to us in our time here, organizing and planning everything we need, and making sure we do not spend a minute of our time hungry... Literally. Rani likes to wake us up by either providing chai tea (the sweet nectar we haven't gone a day without!), food (I'm pretty sure she's the best cook in this country), or asking one of her few but favourite English words.. "Hungry?". On the topic of food.. Our first night we went out for traditional Gujarati food with Unnati's friends..
We also spent some of our initial time in Baroda immersed in the pace of life in India.. Scooter and car rides down the craziest streets I've ever seen in my life, where there are absolutely no rules, the streets are packed with cars, rickshaws and bikes, honking is constant (and honestly confusing.. Are you angry? Turning? Getting out of our way? Asking us to get out of your way? All of the above? Who knows!), and dodging street cows, dogs, and sometimes donkeys is extremely common. This country is busy, fast-paced and often dirty.. And I love it!
We drove to Jalaram temple near Unnati's family's house..
Then to the market in Baroda for our first amazing street food experience, fried pockets of goodness called kachori..
So far Indian food is totally and completely blowing my mind. Personal favourites include samosas, deep fried sugar rings called jalebi, sweet dough balls soaked in syrup called galub jamun, stuffed crepes called chila, and basically any curry or chutney that Rani makes! This country is making up for some of my cuisine disappointments in countries earlier in the trip. It's also making me gain back all the weight that earlier illnesses depleted. No regrets!
Our next stop on the trip was the journey to Rani's family home in Agra. After a struggle of an overnight train for our first exposure to India Rail, we were picked up in Bharatpur to make a few stops on the way. We started out at Keoladeo bird sanctuary which was beautiful and big. And also cold (weird right, being cold in India?!). This made it hard for us to cover a huge amount of ground. Enough to see the wetlands and some beautiful birds before leaving..
After this we visited Rani's sister's family in Bharatpur and had our first real exposure to traditional Indian home life. After marriage, daughters move to their in-laws homes and sons will stay to live with their parents, making for potentially full and busy homes. As we were told by basically every family member we visited.. Guests are like gods, receiving royal treatment wherever they go, first offered water, then chai and snacks, usually by the daughter-in-law, as soon as they sit down. We had lunch with the family in Bharatpur before continuing on..
For the final stop of the day... Fatepur Sikri, a palace built by Akbar with buildings for his three wives (one Hindu, one Christian, and one Muslim), mosques, courtyards, gardens and more. It is a huge, beautiful place whose construction started in 1569 and took 20,000 workers 15 years to complete...
We had a great time exploring all the buildings..
Now, going to end this post off with the highlight of our first week... Taj Mahal. We started our Agra stay off with a bang, heading right for the city's wonder of the world. And despite the crowds and one tower under scaffolding, it did not disappoint...
We endured the heat of the day to explore all around India's greatest love story, into the mausoleum itself where the king's remains later joined those of his wife (who he built the Taj for), and the adjacent buildings.
We also got up close to see the intricate designs of the workers who devoted themselves to the construction, their hands later cut off so that the beauty would never be replicated.
Our India stay has continued to be busy.. Stay tuned for more updates filled with temples, palaces, family and food!