India

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.

 

India Phase 0: Getting There

We were relatively packed and prepared the night before departure day– considering it was closely following our crazy family’s Christmas festivities. Leading up to departure day, my dad and I carefully scheduled our morning routine in order to arrive at the airport at the optimal time. We calculated the time we needed to get ready, pack the car, pick up Lars, and get to Dulles Airport in time for our 8am flight. In order to decrease the amount of my morning “get ready minutes,” I drew on my eyebrows the night before– with the hopes that they would remain in tact. Kayla laid out her plane outfit which included both utility gauchos and a well stocked fanny pack.

Kayla's Plane Outfit

With a few final permitherin sprays, last minute packing and medication preparations, we turned off the lights for a quick few hours of shut eye before our early departure.

Our 3am alpine start began on a good note. My eyebrows were intact, we all had our passports, and we backed out of the driveway just 7 minutes later than intended (a difference that fell well within our timeline cushion.)

As we turned the corner into Lars’s neighborhood, the Battery Charge indicator light turned on.

*Side note: The last time this light came on in my mother’s van, the van broke down on the side of the highway and my dad and I had to perform a rainy night roadside rescue.

Lars loads his bags into the car and we make it to the end of the street before turning back to switch vans. We didn’t want to take the chance of breaking down on our way up to Washington DC. So we decided to take the “trusty red van” instead.

*Side note #2: The red van has 252,000 miles on it. Despite the occasional need to pop the hood and unplug some wires, and the constant illuminated check engine light, it’s deservingly been named the “trusty red van.” It’s zig-zagged the country, coated the coasts and it’s continued survival has defied all odds.

So imagine the 4 of us, scrambling to unload our suitcases from the blue van and repacking them into the red van, while Kayla is hacking into the bushes of Lars’s front yard. Why was she sick? We don’t know. And we didn’t really ask because our van-switch was more important at the time. We had been wondering which of us was going to get sick first on this India trip– Kayla won (or lost) and got sick before we even got to india.

The whole van-switch hubabaloo set us back another 16 minutes. Although Papa and I didn’t account for a van-switch in our timeline, we still arrived at the airport in plenty of time.

phase0

The rest of the 24 hour journey was a blur of surprisingly yummy airplane meals, comical first-time flight attendants navigating their first big trip, and sister-synchronized Supergirl episodes.

Plane Napping

The five of us arrived in Delhi with 4/6 of our bags, and 15 days of adventure ahead of us.

Stay tuned for Phases 1-4.