India has been a longtime travel dream for our good friends Kim and James, both PhD candidates at GWU, so imagine how excited the were that this summer, a bunch of magical stars aligned to allow them to go. With stops in New Delhi, Jaipur, Udaipur, Agra and Kolkata (formerly Calcutta), Kim says that "every city has felt like a different country to me. It's been challenging ... and beautiful ... a whole new world!"
Voilà (darn wish I had the Hindi word), Kim's answers to the PT Questionnaire:
What was the first thing that caught your eye?
The green of Kolkata -- the first place we stayed for a long time. I knew about the intense poverty and the slums (where I needed to be for my research on this trip) and Mother Teresa's house, but I hadn't expected the tropical feeling of monsoon greenery and the gorgeous old bookstores. (Calcutta was the capital of the Raj and is still the intellectual hub of West Bengal--maybe all of India!)
Most intriguing smells? Sounds?
India has been an assault on every sense! The air smells like it is always on fire, but patchouli and jasmine waft through too, especially if a mala (a floral wreath) is around your neck! There are a TON of cows everywhere--they are holy and it seems like they know that--and that does make for its own set of smells on the streets! It's monsoon season here, which has made for some interesting weather--sometimes perfect and breezy (which we did not expect!), but sometimes downpouring. That was our weather in Udaipur, where we were staying on a lake, and the sound of that monsoon rain was incredible.
Most vibrant colors?
Bright bright pinks in the flowers and saffron robes on the monks.
This has been the best food we've ever had! From the mellow potato in a stuffed paratha at breakfast to the fire of a curry at dinner that requires a gallon of sweet lassi to put out, we have been eating our hearts out! We are trying to eat the local specialities, too, so Mishti Doi in Kolkata, Thalis in Rajasthan (and a few trips to the Chaiwalla everywhere we go!)
Most striking contrasts?
Contrast is the operative word for our trip so far. India has contained the most vulgar and the most sacred spaces I've ever seen. The Taj Mahal brought both of us to tears in its majesty and just otherworldly wonder! Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet and the first non-Westerner to win the Nobel prize, called the Taj Mahal "a teardrop on the cheek of eternity," and I adore that. The hospitality people have shown us has been absolutely incredible. At the same time, we've seen an overwhelming number of begging children and desperate people ravaged by our global economy and the rapid expansion of India's mega cities, some of whom we've seen burning trash to get to the metal that could be within it.
In Udaipur, I spent the night in what used to be a real palace in the middle of Lake Pichola (the setting of Octopussy, which is playing in our New Delhi guest house as I type this!!). And in Kolkata, I spent the night in Dum Dum Contanment, a slum in the north of the city. Contrast has been everywhere.
Favorite creature you've encountered? (I suspect maybe the wonderful cow in photo!)
It's hard to choose a favorite creature! The sweet cow in that photo was so communicative with us ... (or maybe I'm losing it here ...?), but we have also met a few chipmunks, who scamper up and steal our snacks--they remind me of our devious kittens!
And now, sit back and enjoy more of India with Kim and James:
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