India Phase 2B: The Upadhyaya Homecoming

We woke up the next morning and walked through the alleys of Azamgarh to make it back to the family’s house. We ate great pakora and drank hot chai before setting out on our adventure to the village.

The historic walk to Haathia ran through the streets of the city before hitting the bridge. This car bridge was new– when my father grew up in the village there was only a rickety walking bridge that often got washed out by the high waters.

Once we entered the village, everything was quieter and greener. The paved car bridge quickly turned into a dirt path which zigzagged in what seemed like a nonsensical pattern. We followed our cousins’ lead through the village towards the family home.

The family house has been in the family for over 60 years. It is the birthplace of not only my dad, but most of his relatives. Chinki (who is around 30yo) was the last one to be born in the Haathia house. As you can see in the photos below, the house oozes history.

After walking through the house, we walked over to our family’s patch of Guava trees. Although the tree patch wasn’t far, we paraded at a slow pace through the village. The fruit was hardly ripe, but both Dad and Lars tried the Guava. They found it too tough and bitter– but that didn’t stop our cousins who ate nearly the whole fruit, down to the stem.

We eventually made our way back to the family house, took a few last photos, and headed back to Azamgarh.

India Phase 2A: The Upadhyaya Homecoming

Many people do not know that my father, Alok, was born and raised in a small village in the Uttar Pradesh region of India. His village, Haathia, is across the Tamsa River, on the outskirts of Azamgarh city.

From Agra, we travelled to Varanasi– one step closer to my family’s hometown. [Varanasi sits on the Ganges River and is known in India as the Holy city.]

As I began to feel better I started to further appreciate the smells, tastes, and feels of Northern India. The air quality in the rural areas was not better, but it was easier for me to handle. Dust and dirt levels were higher, while car exhaust and burning plastic fumes were lower.

Dad’s Hindi was truly put to the test when he was coordinating our travels to his home town. After many phone calls back and forth, he concluded that his two cousins were driving to Varanasi to pick us up at 7am. We questioned why they were leaving Azamgarh (which was about 4 hours away) so early, but Dad told us not to worry. After waking up early enough to get ready and pack up our bags, my dad told us that he had misunderstood. The cousins were planning on leaving Azamgarh at 7am. This meant they wouldn’t get to Varanasi until 11 (at the earliest).

Alok’s cousins, Praveen, (also known as Hinay), and Keso, (also known as Bara Bhai, Big Brother), arrived shortly after noon. We loaded up the two cars and started our adventure towards Azamgarh. The drive was crazy. Some roads were no wider than the car’s axle, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it were not for the sharp turns and oncoming cars, cows, and bicycles. We stopped for a (much needed) break with steaming roadside chai and pakori.

We arrived at the family’s house and were greeted by Parinda with burning incense and ghee. My father was reunited with his aunt, (who is like a second mother to him), after nearly 30 years.

We all huddled closely to the table, with the rest of the family standing around our chairs, and listened to Amma tell stories.

The youngest generation of women stayed in the kitchen in order to prepare us a delicious snack of Ghughri. Amma asked Alok if he liked the Ghughri. He responded yes and told Ama that he liked the potatoes– probably because he couldn’t remember the Hindi word for green pees. She then proceeded to pick out the potatoes from the extra cup and give them to Dad. The women insisted on washing our feet, which is a tremendous sign of respect in Indian culture.

The rest of the time with family was a blur of posing for photos and communicating through a thick language barrier. Everywhere I turned, there was a flashing camera– documenting this historical reunion and first-time meeting of family members from across the globe.

We went up to the roof during sunset and watched flickering kites backdropped by a killer sunset. Once the sun set we went to the local temple with my dad’s cousin, Urchena, and her daughter Priti.

After the temple we spent some time at the other Azamgarh house. Cousin Chinki did beautiful henna for Kayla, mom, and I. We returned to the first house and were served a delicious dinner prepared by the women. We were served along Amma, however the rest of the family just gathered and watched as we ate. They refused to eat while we were eating– they made sure our well being was prioritized.

India Phase 1: New Delhi and Agra

Preface: I’ve been blogging for a few years now, and one thing that I’ve learned is that the longer I wait after a trip to make a blog post, the less likely it becomes that I will ever actually do it. It’s been over 6 months since our amazing trip to India, and I’m finally sitting down to share some experiences and photos with you all.

Disclaimer: This will not entirely be a chronological account of our trip due to how much time has passed. However, I hope to still fully capture our India experience in order to give you all a taste of this vibrant country.

Phase One: New Delhi and Agra

We arrived in New Delhi in the evening. After a short snafu with an uber driver, the five of us (and some of our bags) piled into a car and headed for our hotel. The car ride was our first taste of India. We zoomed by and in between bikers, tuktuks, and pedestrians. Luckily, the sun set and it became dark shortly into our drive so we were shielded from the near-misses and close-calls of the Indian traffic system.

Our first day in India started off shaky as we made a wrong turn out of our hotel. We found ourselves walking along a street that wasn’t so inviting. A very friendly gentleman saw us, and rushed over to share some advice. After suggesting some places to visit and shop, he hailed over two tuktuk drivers, negotiated a price, and sent us on our way. Our drivers, Monoj and Naveed were awesome. They dropped us off at our first stop, waited until we were finished, and were ready to continue onto our next stop. They stayed with us all day, and even met us outside our hotel the next day.

We did a bit of shopping that first day– it didn’t take us long to realize we were going to be on constant watch to make sure mom didn’t get suckered into buying anything full price. The next few days are especially blurry. Mostly because I fell ill with a terrible stomach bug that stopped me in my tracks. It hit hard and it hit fast. We traveled by car from New Delhi to Agra– a four hour drive that felt like forever. When we arrived at the hotel, I crashed and didn’t wake up until morning, feeling the worst I had felt yet. I wasn’t going to be in India and skip out on seeing the Taj Mahal, so I rallied. The pollution that day was pretty severe, which is why everything looks hazy in the photos.

We even paid for a “professional” photographer to take some family photos around the Taj. The best part about him, was how he shoed people out of the frame.

After entering the Taj, looking around, and being funneled back outside by the crowds of people, I had just about reached my limits of being sick. The pollution had gotten even worse as the afternoon approached, and the smell alone was enough to cause me to want to hurl. I’m not exactly selling the Taj Mahal as a beautiful experience, so I should mention that it is indeed breathtaking. It truly is one of a kind, and is rich in history (that our tour guide, Shubaum, told us all about). I just happened to be extremely sick, so my memory of the day is a bit jaded.

 

Bourgeau Lake and Harvey’s Pass Hike

Our first stop after Calgary was Banff. Maybe it would have been logical to start out slow, but we decided to tackle a long hike as our first hike in Canada. After taking our time in the morning, we left our tent in Banff and headed to the trail head– just off of Trans-Canada Highway 1. Our plan was to make it to Bourgeau Lake, and continue onto Harvey’s Pass if we had the time and energy.

The hike started out mildly inclined and heavily wooded. This was a breeze, so we spent the first two hours chatting and laughing– catching up on our past year’s adventures. Eventually the trail got steeper and we got quieter. We hiked for about an hour without saying anything to each other– which is why hiking with these girls is so great. We have a great time whether we are gabbing about Margit’s new witch and Maria’s new boyfriend, or hiking in total silence. Eventually we passed the heavy tree line and the landscape opened up to great views.

Shortly after, we arrived at Bourgeau Lake. The lake was beautiful, but also positioned in a wind tunnel, making it pretty chilly. We had our lunch, saved a German from drinking from the glacial-melt lake, and carried on our way.

Our way up to Harvey’s pass was more taxing. The wind was strong at some points, and it was easy to lose track of the trail. It was obvious that this part of the trail hadn’t been hiked much (or at all) this season.

Even though we had been fighting heavy winds and cold rain for the last 40 minutes, the view from the top was amazing. The clouds cleared up just long enough for us to snap some pictures.

After debating whether or not we should continue the next 2km or so of steep terrain to summit the top of Mount Bourgeau, we decided to head back down because of the storm that was headed our way.

By the time we got to our car, my legs were like jello. I replaced my hiking books with Chacos and drove us back to camp, exhausted. Our first Canadian hike was a 7 hour success.