1)India is Warm – As a country closer to the equator, the temperatures are obviously warmer – ‘peak winters’ is no more than a chilly Autumn day. As living here has shown me, however, India is warm not only physically, but metaphorically. Without fail, everyone I have met here is genuinely interested in my experience and well-being whether it be my (host) family or the auto driver calling me to check whether I am on my way.
2)India is Colorful –Whether it be the decorated trucks with their musical horns or the tricolor flags waving in the breeze while their carried by vendors in the streets, I am always surrounded by color - through its many religions, cultures, and languages as well.
3)India is Chaotic – Entering my host community (city rather) was quite a daunting experience for me – there were so many people everywhere. But now, I am not sure I could live without the chaos. Here, I hope it’s clear that chaos is not a negative term. With the constant honking, crowded streets and buildings, I find a certain comfort in being amongst it all.
4)India is Rich – Despite the glaring wealth gap that is found in India, everyone and everything here is very rich. I have talked with people from many walks of life here, and everyone of them has had a meaningful contribution to my exchange. From speaking with the Amitasha girls who come from a poorer background to a retired Indian Ambassador, each has enriched my experience.
5)India is Developing – As a whole, India is technically considered to be developing. What this means to me as an exchange student, is the opportunity to see a country which has not only an ancient history and meaningful culture, but also is quickly incorporating outside cultures and the change here is very exciting. Though it is sometimes confusing to my eyes to see very modern buildings and old dirt roads coexist, it represents the exciting transformation of India and gives me the best opportunity to become a global citizen.
6)India is Incredible - How many of you have heard the expression ‘Incredible India’? Well, it’s true. I see or try something new almost every single day. In the literal sense, it is hard to believe that the same place that has a modern metro and road system also has donkeys and cows wandering about. Surprises are everywhere here, and the experience is unparalleled.
7)India is Home - The more time I spend away from my ‘home’ country, the more I feel at home in my ‘host’ country. For the above-mentioned reasons and more that cannot be expressed in words, I have fallen in love with India, with all its unique features, the people it houses and the experiences and opportunities it has given me.
Seven months ago to the day, I boarded an airplane whose three wheels leaving the ground of the United States represented my last physical connection to my home country for nearly a year. As all the landmark dates passed by me – 100 days in country, 200 days, and even the halfway point – I am coming to realize what India really means to me. With only three months left in this amazingly diverse country, I am sure India will continue to surprise me. But, with surprise comes extraordinary experiences I cannot wait to have.
Despite being frightened by Muskaan's comment that winter break didn't actually start until the 28th, I was relieved to find out that winter break here is longer than it is in New York - it starts on the 27th of December and goes until the 8th of January.
My winter break started off pretty typical with the sleeping in and not so typically with the sunbathing in the eternally-warm Indian sun. Pretty soon though, I learned my family would be going to Chandigarh! The original plan (many plans diverted from this along the way) was to visit family from 29 December until 2nd January who stay in Zirakpur right outside of Chandigarh. Somewhere between the making of that plan and actually leaving, an add-on trip was made to go to Shoghi - a hill station north of where I stay in Gurgaon. On the afternoon of 29th December, we quickly packed our bags and left for Chandigarh about 5 hours away. The prospective of having to wear my winter jacket was very exciting for me - believe it or not it's possible to miss having the coldness of Upstate New York. Second time was the charm in fitting our suitcases into the car and I soon settled into my napping position. The drive itself was nice, I mean the part I didn't sleep through. I was able to see the farms typical of Haryana and experience the crazy driving that has become an everyday thing for me now. We made it all the way to Chandigarh without any problems and had a some delicious fish followed by a tasty homemade meal. To me, the entire net of family members is very very confusing, it seems like I am meeting a new relative every 3 days. To be clear, this is also something that I really enjoy - I have a comparatively small set of relatives in the United States.
Even though I slept a lot in the car, I soon found my way to bed here after a chatting session with Vipul Mama (one of those many relatives I mentioned) and Muskaan. The next morning I woke up and tasted the famously amazing paranthas I had been hearing about the previous evening. I had the aaloo and pyaaz (potato and onion) one which tasted amazing. Full on delicious food, I took my nausea relief medication and prepared for our journey into the mountains. It did not take long before we drove onto the roads cut into the mountainside. I was awestruck by the way the mountains looked. I mean, of course we have mountains in New York, but there was just something about these ones that captured my attention. It was like I had been stuck into a place I had only seen in my world history textbook, with the mountainsides terraced and houses built to defy gravity. I pretty much stared out the window for the entire journey up the mountains. Only three minor things happened. First, a stray pellet or something hit the windshield of the car and caused a small dent (which later became a sizable crack). Second, we called to confirm our reservation only to find that we had only one night for certain booked at the resort. Despite this news, we continued our trek upwards. Like any car, ours soon required to be refueled. Similarly, I was feeling a bit thirsty - leading to mishap number three. I opened my water bottle like I usually would but I guess due to the lessening air pressure outside the bottle, it was like a volcano of water came spewing out the straw. Being in shock, I did not do the obvious solution and drink it straight away but rather let it spill out over my knee (at least it didn't get on the car much :) ). Many curves, maggi points, and colorful houses later, we reached a slice of paradise. We parked the car and I stepped out into the coldest temperature I will feel for my entire 10.5 months in India. It was no New York, but I was so happy finally experiencing it again. We had to walk from the parking lot to the restaurant area (which was very nice might I add) and then from there to our cabin. I went to the cabin first with my host mom and was amazed by the view off the deck and even more surprised to find the room heated inside - it was the first heated location I had encountered here. After touring it, we went back and ate at the restaurant and the food was very nice (I mean what else could I have expected?).
I will not detail every single thing I did at the resort or we will be here all day, but I will share some highlights:
The same day we arrived, Muskaan, my host dad and I walked on the path right outside our cabin. The views were astounding, in some places it really felt like I was standing on top of the world. We took the opportunity to get some photos which I will share here:
Also at our resort was a ropes course type of set-up. Even though there was no one to help with the harnesses and such, we wasted no time in climbing up the cargo net and walking across Burma bridge (the one for big kids and not little ones because I later was told by the trained staff not to use that one - oops).
Following that, I had an intense game of badminton with my host dad - often hitting the birdie off into the woods somewhere. We concluded the day's physical activities and went to the cabin to rest before dinner. There, we got a paper advertising the schedule for the next day, New Year's Eve which we planned on doing but later changed plans. We were drawn down to the restaurant by the sound of live music and sat eating snacky things for a couple hours before actually ordering food. I very much enjoyed the bonfire which was set up as it was actually cold enough for it to feel nice. By the end of the night, Mus gained enough courage to sing live music! Even though I don't understand Hindi songs, I was very impressed. I was not so impressed however, with my choice in dinner as I ordered lasagna which was a mistake I must say. Anyways, my brain quickly grew tired and I had to leave to go to the cabin and sleep. The next morning, I took a bath (I actually did, Mus) and then we went down to the breakfast cafe. We had a delicious but maybe too stuffing breakfast. This is where plans changed like I said they would earlier. We received what we then perceived as bad news, that we could not stay at the resort another night and we would be going back to Chandigarh that same day. In a sulky mood, Muskaan sat on the swing silently. BUt the mood reversed once we went out to the ridge and sat in the - you guessed it - eternally-warm Indian sun. My host mom told me it was supposed to snow that day but I can't imagine it would stick anywhere with that blazing sun. Sooner than we thought, we had to stand up and leave seeing that mountainside perspective for the final time.
We made it back to Chandigarh soon enough. But, my breakfast definitely had times where I thought it would end up outside my body again. This is me trying to hold it together enough for a photo in front of an orange juice stand, which could be found all along the journey and is famous in Himachal Pradesh (I think):
We did so many things once we got back to Chandigarh, which is why I am glad our trip in Shoghi was cut short ( I mean not glad but not mad). We went to Elante - one of Asia's largest malls and had a great time at the arcade where there were actual rides and we won a decent amount of tickets. It was my first time actually in Chandigarh (we were actually staying in Zirakpur) and it definitely lives up to its title of being the city beautiful.
It was soon time to go into prepping mode as it was New Year's Eve. We set up chairs on the terrace upstairs and put wood in place for a bonfire. All the food was already prepared, we just brought the snacks upstairs. Though it was a small party, I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. We were all happy together and that is what really made the transition to the New Year very special.
The next day was all about showing me what lies within Chandigarh. In the morning we went to the local grocery store and I got my favorite thing - ice cream! We went to Decathalon (like Dick's Sporting Goods) and had a surprising amount of fun test riding their scooters and playing random games. Later, we visited Sukhna Lake - a large man-made lake which was quite impressive. We even stopped to do a rendition of the cup song on the rock wall by the lake. The bird migration path didn't really have many birds, but the lake itself had many birds which were fun to watch as they went fishing. Fishing in mind, we even saw a couple men attempting to fish and one actually made a successful catch.
After visiting the lake, we went out for lunch with everyone at a restaurant with very delicious food (it's always delicious in India). We attempted to visit the rock garden which is very famous but we ended up having to be satisfied walking around the food court area as a sneak peak because the line was incredibly long - a common trait for all the attractions I have visited. From what I did see, the place was quite incredible. After that, we drove by a haunted house on the way to the sector-17 market, one of Asia's largest open markets. We saw some cool stores and vendors - and many people selling fire baked sweet potato. Instead of opting for that, we again got my favorite - Ice Cream! (and Mus got fries which we all shared).
To end that very long day, we made our way back home in Zirakpur and had dinner. The next day, I had another amazing parantha which was the perfect way to end my stay. We packed up and headed out.
But to home we did not directly go...instead we went and met up with my host mom's college friend from LA and her family - including Trisha who is 16 years old but a senior in high school (one step ahead of me yet one year younger - amazed). We talked for a while and discovered we have some common interests - pursuing medicine being one of them. Then, the 4 'kids' visited the 10 and under section of the playground and played fire and ice (freeze tag basically). On the way back, we were surrounded by a pack of dogs which was only concerning to Mus who could make do without street dogs. Of course, we made it back without problems, just in time to leave for the mall(s).
At the malls, we visited the luxury stores first and us Americans made the Indians try a pretzel from Auntie Anne's for the first time. There were mixed feelings about them but that won't stop me from loving them. Then we visited the more affordable mall and wandered around a bit before going to dinner where we had pizza and pasta and practiced handwriting with ketchup and mustard on a white porcelain canvas.
As planned, Trisha came and spent the night with Muskaan and I. We talked a lot - mostly about all the dissections we had completed in anatomy class. It was a very tiring day for the both of us. In fact, I was talking beside her and then came to realize she had already fallen asleep.
The next day, not as planned, Trisha had to leave to go to Mathura to visit family. We would meet again, though, before leaving for LA. It was a great experience to meet someone from the US and see how truly the US is a melting pot of cultures. We both are American, yet we have completely different backgrounds from different parts of the world.
Sad to say, but grateful to have experienced, I have come to the end of my winter vacation here in India. The time I spent in Gurgaon and away from Gurgaon was very fulfilling and if I've managed to convey just 1% of the happiness I experienced, I will consider this a success.
I am also a week late in saying this, but better late than never: Happy New Years everyone! I hope to make the next (and final) four months I have here in India as enriching as the past 6.5 have been. I am very thankful for everyone who has made my experience unforgettable thus far and and looking forward to what's coming in 2018!
As a Christian and an American, I have celebrated Christmas every year for the past 17 years. I felt so accustomed to everything I thought that Christmas could be: the music playing at all the stores from the ending of Thanksgiving through the beginning of the New Year, the Christmas trees being strapped to car roofs and beautifully adorned with ornaments old and new, the smell of cookies baking, the hoping for a white Christmas, and of course spending time with those closest to me. This year being in India, everything was altogether different but yet the same. Let me explain. Though the music did not ring out from every speaker, I think my host family managed to play enough on Christmas day itself to make up for that. And, though the Christmas trees were not cut and drawn away from the Christmas tree farms (I mean, it's not really possible here in Gurgaon), an unimaginable amount of ornaments and decorations were acquired and placed over the artificial tree. To be frank, it was the most real artificial tree I had ever seen. I even received Christmas cards from the US, which added a little bit of American tradition to the celebration. We did not bake cookies, but we did bring out the grill and chef Paintal (my host dad) came and amazed everyone with an array of delicious foods. As for wishing for a White Christmas, I cannot say I didn't - but I do love the fact that it was warm enough to have an outdoor party. The best part of Christmas this year was without a doubt being surrounded by so many smiling faces. In the morning, my host family exchanged gifts - some of which I had crudely wrapped the previous evening. Everyone, myself included, was very happy with their gifts. Wrapping paper put away, we began preparing for the party -taking tables and chairs outside and lighting up the charcoal on the grill. Slowly but surely, people began to arrive. Family and friends from near and (comparatively) far came to our house. There was no 'kids table', but those of us 18 and under shared a great time playing every game I did not even realize existed (many games are the same but have different names in India). I think most of them were variations on 'tag' where I somehow became 'it' for what seemed to be forever. Afterwards, we had two delicious cakes - one was even an ice cream cake which I not only love but also have never had the opportunity to eat on Christmas. To me, it was amazing for me to see how people could come together for such an occasion without even holding the Christian belief behind the holiday. This proved something very important to me: Christmas, and I guess any other holiday, may not be all about the story behind it; it is about spending time with the people you love, sharing laughs and exchanging smiles. I can literally be more than seven thousand miles from home, surrounded by people I met within the past 3-4 months, and still feel more at home than ever. Shortly after eating the cakes, it was the dreaded time of saying goodbye. I warmed up my hands over the warm and toasty grill and then got back to work putting the chairs away. I mostly lazed away the rest of the day. The very unfortunate truth of the matter was that the next day was a Tuesday, a school day, and a UT (quiz) day for me - in economics.
Nonetheless, I can say that every time I glanced at the Santa hat capping the tree, lights aglow in our living room, I felt the Christmas magic working its way through the atmosphere. I felt no lack of Christmas spirits this year, in fact it will be a memory I cherish for years to come. Though I am late in writing this post:
Namaste! Mera naam Anna hai! Hi! my name is Anna. Please enjoy reading about my experience as a high school junior in India and ask any questions you may have!