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.


Every few Tuesdays I’m going to share some instagram photos with you guys, just in case you missed them!



“Adventure is just a perspective”

Two months ago I was crossing Europe’s largest continental glacier… a lot has changed since then. The only thing I am crossing is the North Beach Pool bridge, as I walk the length of the pool yelling for Makos to “kick! kick! kick!”


I’ve had trouble adjusting to my seemingly adventure-less RVA suburbia life. I’ll periodically scroll through my posts and watch the adventure level dwindle away as my most recent posts appear. As I was deciding whether or not to post about my coaching job, I was told that:  “adventure is just a perspective.”

I was then prompted to look up the definition of ‘adventure’ on dictionary.com

Ad·ven·ture [ad-ven-cher]


¹An exciting or very unusual experience

²Participation in exciting undertakings or enterprises

So, I began thinking of my swim coaching job as an adventure. Coaching a summer swim team is definitely an ‘exciting undertaking.’ As coaches, we invest time and energy into the team, and in return a passion grows within us. That passion makes things that might seem ordinary to some, very exciting. Whether it’s watching an angel shark blow their bubbles, or cheering on the neck-to-neck relays at 10:00pm every Tuesday night, it’s exciting.

Unusual. Most might ask: ‘what is unusual about being a swim coach?’ Well my response to that would be: when there are kids involved… it’s most likely unusual. Kids have an innate tendency to be brutally honest, inspiringly imaginative, and cheerfully silly. There are so many moments when I am left thinking: ‘How am I supposed to answer a question like that?’ Or: ‘How does their mind come up with that sort of thing?’ And not to mention: “What on Earth is that kid talking about?!” A fellow coach of mine, Elena, and I have an ongoing discussion about how excited kids get over the smallest things. We try to do the same– jumping up and down, and exclaiming our joy over minuscule things such as a new straw color at Starbucks… it just doesn’t work as well for us. Unfortunately people grow out of those traits I mentioned before, more often than not. But that’s a whole different topic– let’s save it for another day.

I know calling my everyday job ‘an adventure’ might be a stretch– especially compared to survival trips and foreign city exploring– but if there’s one thing I’ve recently realized*, it’s this:

Life itself is one large unknown, and it doesn’t get any more adventurous than that. 

So despite my current (and TEMPORARY) mountain-less, tent-less, non-risky, travel-free life… with the right attitude, it can still be exciting!

*Disclaimer: ‘Realized’ might be a tiny exaggeration… I still haven’t fully kicked the travel-blues. Tips?