cows

This post will be my tribute to the cows of Bangalore. We have many in our neighborhood which, pies aside, is sort of fun. The cow is of course, highly revered and respected in India. They should be—they offer sustenance (milk, ghee, paneer, butter…), hard labor, and their dung is used for amazingly creative and sustainable purposes. Sometimes I find this reverence a bit confusing as I see some pretty poor-off cows, often eating trash or lying in trash or just looking plain hungry. Every once in a while you can tell they had a good bath and sometimes a little decorative makeover, however, I’m not too sure they enjoy the bells on their horns or ropes through their noses. Nonetheless, it strikes me how they just fit in to every day life here—they meander through and block traffic, lie in front of shop entrances, pull vegetable carts, and live in harmony with the street dogs and other street-wildlife. I am quite proud to say I have not eaten any beef since I have been in India and honestly couldn’t imagine it. I did learn a handy fact from a local the other day as one approached us, with a decent set of horns, on the street. “Don’t try to touch the head, pet the body instead.” Allegedly, according to stranger on the street, touching their head confuses and frightens them. Maybe it’s best not to touch at all?

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Coorg <3

As soon as I read about Coorg (or Kodagu): how it is nicknamed “the Scotland of India” and has coffee plantations, I knew I had to go. We were running out of weekends to travel but I just needed to see some nature, breathe some fresh air and felt we both needed it for our souls. The harshness and pollution of the city can really get to you. When our amazing yoga instructor told us she was from there, I took it as a sign that it was meant to be.

We left at the ridiculous hour of 4:30am to beat traffic and make it in time for our big trek (still getting used to calling it “trekking” which is more commonly understood than hiking here). The drive to Coorg took us through Mysore and then near the Nagarhole National Reserve where we saw monkeys and elephants during the painfully slow cruise on the half-paved highway. I appreciated the signs cautioning to yield to animals and our driver warned us that “sometimes the elephants escape from the jungle” I secretly hoped we’d get to see that…We had a pleasant quick stop at a roadside coffee shop where I enjoyed my first sip of Coorg coffee. By 10:30am we reached the trail head that would lead us up the highest mountain in Coorg and second highest in Karnataka: Thadiyandamol. It never ceases to amaze me the power of being in nature and how it can rejuvenate my soul. But really. The clean air and trees, it was a wonderful hike. The ascent took us about 2.5 hours with a couple stops to enjoy our surroundings. The last quarter of the hike was vertical, hands and knees for my short legs—going up giant tree roots and then scrambling up rocks. The view at the summit was totally worth it all. It was also just so pleasant to walk outside for an extended period of time without the smog and horns. I could see why they call Coorg “the Scotland of India.”

We then met up with our driver at some old ruins where the local kings would hideaway when intruders came. A local “guide” made the brief tour more interesting and we appreciated his knowledge. The next stop was our homestay. Our driver had to drop us off for a jeep to take us up a bumpy, steep, mountain trail to Chingaara, where we stayed. The accommodations were simple but just right. Community meals, limitless fresh Coorg coffee, and livestock roaming around–it was very chill. My only qualm was the bugs—especially the GIANT spider that decided to accompany me in the shower. The homestay was nestled amidst coffee plants and giant trees. We couldn’t resist taking a quick dip in the nearby waterfall. I felt so centered from being in nature, I had to see how much longer I could hold tree pose. Interestingly, much, much longer on a fallen log than in the comfort of our apartment!

The next day we hiked around the grounds and checked out the other homestay on the property and appreciated more views of the valleys and hills surrounding us. The whole trip was short but sweet; a must-see for those who enjoy nature (and coffee).

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Street Food & more

The street food around Bangalore is infinite, from tiny white cups of chai, to roasted nuts, to fried dough soaked in sticky syrup. I’ve slowly become a little more trusting of certain vendors as long as they meet my criteria: the food must be hot, it must look clean, and it should have several customers. I still don’t frequent these places often at all, but am fascinated by the array of food choices. I like the coconuts but the rusty machetes to hack them open still weird me out a little. My favorite thus far, is probably samosas—you can’t go wrong with lentils+spices in a deep-fried pastry shell! Here are some snapshots of the food as well as a nearby park called Cubbon Park & local art show. I love how Bangalore has parks and many trees, but can’t get over how people throw trash around even in the parks! I know that sounds judgmental, but it’s just sad to see beautiful spaces meant for peace and solitude full of garbage. And the little children playing in it. :(. I hope the trend picks up that the prime minister is trying to encourage ”Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan” or Clean India Mission!

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Bangkok

What a city. I have to admit, I was overjoyed to be in a city where I felt much safer walking around by myself. Of course, I had my wits about me, but to see others like me, not totally covered up head-ankle, alone, walking around, was joyful and a relief. I really enjoy living in India, but after a while, I just want to go out in a tanktop and running shorts and not get stared down like I have two heads! Rant aside, objectively, it’s a fun and fascinating city with a lot to offer.

The food was great. I ate way more noodles and curry and yummy thai cuisine than I care to admit, but it was so worth it! The Thai people were so kind and helpful as I navigated the streets and public transportation. It was, by far, the most organized metro system I have ever seen—people actually lined up in rows for the train! Love it. I did just about all the touristy things one can do in Bangkok (with the exception of a few more seedy ventures). We took every mode of transportation possible (my favorite was the ferry) and saw the Grand Palace, the beautiful Buddhist Temples, Jim Thompson’s house and of course, lots of shopping—Chatuchak market was unreal. Visiting Bangkok got my feet wet for experiencing Thailand and I have to say, I want to go back and see more of the country!

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St Mary’s & Russell Market

Sometime before Christmas we decided to check out a market and basilica I had heard about. We took an auto to St Mary’s Basilica close to Russell Market. The basilica was beautiful—you could sense the spiritual power there as parishioners prayed to Mary and lit candles. Once we left the church, I saw some of the deepest signs of poverty yet since my stay in India. I have been hesitant to write much about a lot of this as I am still wrapping my head around it all. I see it almost daily.  India should not be defined by its poverty and unbelievable economic disparity between wealthy and poor, however, these pieces should also not be overlooked.  It is a conflicting experience and of course, horribly gut-wrenchingly-sad. There is the surfacy sadness and pain, and then there is the internal cognitive dissonance of how this could happen in the world, which I know is naïve to say, but to see it, literally someone dying on the street from disease, there is just so much conflict in my mind that occurs. It’s difficult to even type or make sense of the words. We are so very detached from such things back home, which can be an incredible privilege I think very few recognize or realize. The ability to ignore it and/or become so accustomed to it amazes me as well. There is so much that needs to be done, there is so much need. Again, I find it difficult to say all that I mean to and could quite honestly write pages on my observations, feelings, and thoughts surrounding the suffering I have seen here. After being confronted with this intensity, I felt in a daze as we tried to navigate the rest of the market area with stalls of Nativity scene figures and Christmas ornaments lining the jam-packed streets. We made it in to the Russell Market building to find more produce, intricately woven floral garlands and my first sighting of caged birds. It was a busy intersection mixed with traffic, people, vegetable stalls, trinket sellers, and livestock (of course plenty of smells and flies to go a long with it, too). We made our way back to the “calmer” Commercial Street and had to take solace in a Krispy Kreme (lack of choices to eat in that area!) to recoup. On our walk back home, we tried our first Lassi. Unfortunately, this resulted in fevers and subsequent antibiotics, however, others swear by this place! There is truly never a dull moment in India.

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Sri Lanka-Kandy to Colombo, farewell

The next day (our last day) after, an amazing breakfast made by our home-stay chef who was intermittently a tuk-tuk driver we explored the city of Kandy. We spent a couple hours soaking in the spirituality of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (aka Buddah’s tooth temple). There were gorgeous lotus creations made from fresh flowers outside of the temple to provide as offerings within the temple. A merchant saw me admiring them and gave me one made of jasmine flowers to bring inside—I was so touched! The tooth relic reminded me a bit of trying to see the Mona Lisa or something similar in that there are huge crowds for something really small—and only a handful know enough to truly appreciate it. I sprinkled my jasmine flowers around and moved along for others to enjoy. One of my favorite parts was in a newer temple within the system that housed etchings of Buddha’s story with incense burning and monkeys running along the columns (no pictures allowed). We had a couple more hours before our train ride back to Colombo (luckily they opened up the train again after landslide had temporarily covered up the tracks), so we decided to try out an ayurvedic massage that ended in a “steam bath”….let’s just say it was an experience that I do not need to try again, but definitely made for a good memory!

The train ride back to Colombo was incredible and a great way to see more of the country. I got to have one last dose of Ceylon Tea, too! Our trip ended with a meal at the Ministry of Crab, within the Old Dutch Hospital, it lived up to our expectations! We said farewell to Sri Lanka and I hope to be back some day. There was still so much to see and the people unforgettably kind.

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Sri Lanka-Kandy

The next day we decided (against our better judgment) to visit some tea estates (Glenloch & Mackwoods Labookellie) and waterfalls. We heard the roads were mostly okay and not closed, and the rain had cut back a bit. Along the way a road or two were closed because “granite rocks had fallen.” We also had to drive around some of the landslide that had fallen on to the road, yikes. The estate “tours” were okay, but really just an education on how tea is made and processed. I liked the tasting part the best—nothing like a hot cup of Ceylon tea on a rainy day in Sri Lanka! Interestingly, we learned that the best quality tea is exported and most of the Sri Lankans drink what is called “tea dust.” Seems a bit unfair. One of the silver linings to all of this rain was the magnitude of the waterfalls. Even our guide/driver was amazed and said it had not rained like this since 1948 and he had never seen the rivers/waterfalls so full. Just a tad anxiety provoking. He explained that the area with the tea estates, primarily Newara Eliya, were the most dangerous as this is where the most deforestation has occurred, leaving only small root systems (tea bushes) to hold the ground; “nature will always win” as he put it. That evening, we explored the city of Kandy and enjoyed some local cuisine. The tuk tuk back to the homestay was a bit hairy. Villa Shenandoah was perched on a hilltop just outside the main city area. A little three-wheeler (tuk tuk) paired  with twisty, steep, narrow roads is not ideal. I am constantly amazed by the skills of tuk tuk drivers!

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