It saddens me that I cannot remember all the different variations of food I had or what many were called. Which means I will most likely keep adding to this list as I go through photo's and talk to my friends back in Hyderabad. Unfortunately this list will never be complete as there were so many and now that I look back, there were many even I cannot explain outside of my full happy belly. What I can recall though of some of the most amazing goodness, I've made a list below:
*** Repeated Favorites
For a good portion of two decades I've been a huge fan of Indian food. Now after visiting Hyderabad a second time, I can officially say its not Indian food that I fancy, its South Indian food that has hit a soft spot in my beating heart. The flavors, varieties, textures, and spice... it's like an explosion with each bite. Indian food from anywhere else will never be the same for me. Forever now tasting bland and mild, but South Indian food is what I will sought after. The spicier the better.
After a month of riding passenger on the back of a bike in Hyderabad, various drivers/bikes/styles of rider, I couldn't help but feel relaxed, calm, and somewhat excited. No helmet, improper riding gear, open toe shoes... and the list goes on. Opposite to everything I was ever taught about riding. This only added another item to the list of things I did in India that is completely not expected from a personality like mine. I over think, over plan, calculate all risks, and avoid things that absolutely scare me. Then this happened yesterday, just one week after returning from my trip!
2016 Honda Rebel 250cc. Isn't she a beauty? My endorsement class is next week. Perfect time for the weather to turn nice.
As much of a tough start that I had, arriving with a heavy weight of emotions that I left back at home, I couldn't be more happy I went on this trip. After my mini-breakdown when I had to put my beloved Mocha to sleep over the phone, I was broken this trip. I felt bad my Hyderabad team had to witness the torment going on in me, feeling like they were unable to help, and had to stand by and watch as I struggled to keep my head up. In reality, they healed me. Allowing me to laugh, lightening the mood, and just being available when I needed to cry (or close to). I couldn't be more thankful for all of them. They are an amazing group of people and I am again sad to be leaving them behind. This will not be my last visit to Hyderabad, let alone India. There is still so much of this beautiful country I have yet to explore. The food, colors, smells, and most of all the people I have come to call, not just a friend, but family. Driving away in the cab and heading to the airport. Looking back to them all standing on the side of the road, watching. I couldn't help but shed even more tears. This time of happiness and memories of laughter, not sorrow and pain.
I will be back, my friends, and we will continue where we left off. Until then, we always have video calls from the opposite side of the world and chat. This is not goodbye. This is until we meet again.
With all of that said, I would like to say thank you to each individually... or a side note:
LEAVE // 03.16.2018 | 21:20 PM PST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.17.2018 | 21:40 AM IST | PORTLAND, OR
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES
LAYOVER // DUBAI, EAU | 8 HOUR 50 MINUTE // LOS ANGELES, CA | 5 HOUR
(HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS IN DUBAI, 4 HOURS)
[Side note: pay attention to your visa expiration date. By doing so, it will save you a great amount of anguish and torment, rather than spending over 6 hours in the India immigration office, dreading the potential immediate deportation or 5-year jail sentence. Nothing else needs to be said than, thank you to some amazing friends who helped resolve the issue. I can never repay you for your kindness, care, and attention. I am so blessed to have met you both and can call you a friend]
There was a reoccurring theme over the course of the next few days. How often my two travel companions fell asleep. You would think with them being so "young" they wouldn't be so tired all the time. That was not the case. It was almost a race to see who was going to clonk out first. I, of course, did not hesitate to capture this in photos. It amused and fascinated me on how quick they were out, how they could sleep sitting up, and how fast they woke back up and were alert. It was like a marathon of power naps. I was jealous. They looked so peaceful and rested.
LEAVE // 03.10.2018 | 09:25 AM IST| HYDERABAD, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.10.2018 | 10:45 AM IST | COIMBATORE, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // INDIGO AIRLINES
ACCOMMODATIONS // HOTEL NAVEEN
Unlike the last couple weekends, two of my coworkers were coming with this weekend to explore Coimbatore and Ooty along with me. They met me at my hotel Saturday morning for a quick cab ride to the airport and we were on our way. The first stop in, what will be, one of the most memorable weekends in recent years.... Coimbatore! Arriving, no hotel booked, we booked an auto from the airport and headed into town. Having me to stay around the corner out of sight (so my appearance didn't triple the price of a room) as they went from hotel to hotel looking for the best price, they finally settled on two rooms at Hotel Naveen. It was centrally located, easy walking distance to the train station, and perfect for a one night stay. Quickly dropping off our backpacks, we headed out.
Unfortunately we could not bring our phones into Isha Yoga Center, where we spent a good portion of our day, just to capture its grandness and beauty. But then, maybe it was a good thing as I'm sure if we did we wouldn't have embraced all that the center had to offer. Isha is a large complex made up of various structures dedicated to inner transformation and wellbeing, which include the Teerthakunds and Dhyanalinga, among many others. I found these two particular structures of most interest. Teerthakunds was a large pool where men wearing nothing but a cloth wrapped around their waste walked down 30 some steps to the sacred water to take a holy dip, so they could be clean before entering the main energy space [Dhyanalinga]. It was mesmerizing to watch. On the same note and unable to resist the temptation, one of my friends took the dip while we sat on the ground, watched, and waited. After which, we made our way to Dhyanalinga. Now this one caught my attention more. A large dome, no lights, and silence is strictly maintained in and around the temple. A meditative space that does not ascribe to any particular faith or belief system. All are welcome. Entering you first gaze upon the 13-ft high granite lingam positioned in the center of the room, but then your eyes will quickly wander and you look up and around the large 76-ft diameter and 33-ft high dome. Along the interior wall are inlets every few feet with people in each in meditation pose. With even more people sitting along the floor all facing the center. We chose a spot off to the side, sat with our legs crossed, hands on our knees, eyes closed, in silence. It was peaceful, quiet, cool, and strangely very relaxing. I could have stayed in there for hours, but they dinged the bell only after 15 minutes.
Collecting our shoes, phones, and anything else we had to leave behind before entering, we made our way to the Adiyogi Shiva Statue. Was a short 10 minute walk from the Isha Yoga Center. Its amazing how many photos can be taken within this time. Only going a few feet before the guys would start taking a photo shoot of each other. I started to wonder what they would do with all of them, but I was at least thankful they weren't taking another power nap. Reaching the statue, spending a couple hours laughing, sitting, taking numerous photos with the statue, each other, the scenery, it was sadly time to head out.
Our last stop of the day was Subramaniyaswami Temple, Marudamalai. We quickly climbed the steps, barefoot, to stand in line before they closed in order to pay respect to the Hindu god Murugan. The guys explaining what Murugan offered (me thinking this might be the same god at the Batu Caves I visited last year in Malaysia). I watched as they went through the motions, I stood aside, and they marked their foreheads, ears, nose, throat, and chin with the white ash. Then like you do at any temple, we sat down after exiting. (read my first trip to India to understand why you sit after exiting a temple). This temple had a view overlooking the lights of the city. It was really pretty and reminded me of a scene in the Shahrukh Khan movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi.
Photo Credits: Kat, Girish, and Santhosh
Video Credit: Girish
TRANSPORTATION // TRAIN | NILAGIRI EXPRESS
LEAVE // 03.11.2018 | 05:15 AM IST| COIMBATORE, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.11.2018 | 06:25 AM IST | METUPALAIYAM, INDIA
Next morning started early with waking up at 4am, making sure everything was crammed back into my backpack, then heading to the train station. With little time to spare, once purchasing the tickets we raced to platform 4 and quickly boarded a general class car. Each of us finding a spot to sit, the train departed. With it only being an hour ride, I decided to take advantage of the short journey, crossed my arms, slouched back, and fell to sleep.
TRANSPORTATION // TRAIN | TOY TRAIN
LEAVE // 03.11.2018 | 07:10 AM IST| METUPALAIYAM, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.11.2018 | 12:00 PM IST | UDAGAMANDALAM (OOTY), INDIA
Tightly packed into two bench seats, each seating 5 persons, the Toy Train was inbound for Ooty. Stopping at multiple stations along the way, being reminded of Chaiyya Chaiyya (song from Dil Se, which was filmed on this train) the entire journey, and again watching as the guys randomly took turns falling asleep. Making for great photos and laughs, but still not quite sure how they can sleep like that. I tried and wasn't successful. Not to mention, the continuous photo shoot they took of each other at each station stop. So many photos...
The toy train was very entertaining. Besides the many stops and scenery, it was also fascinating to listen to people sing and interact. Out of the entire 4.5 hour journey, I think one of the most memorable moments was walking out on the railroad bridge with no safety below, broken boards, and no hesitation. Standing there in awe that I went out on it at all, I turned and asked the guys to join me. One immediately refused but the other blindly trusting me enough to go for it. As fearful as I was inside, I walked back and helped guide him out where we stood long enough for a photo. What was I thinking?!?! This did not pass my safety checklist! So glad nobody got hurt, and so worth it.
Photo Credits: Kat, Girish, and Santhosh
Video Credits: Girish
ACCOMMODATIONS // HOTEL VINAYAGA INN
Arriving in Ooty a little after noon, it was another adventure of finding a hotel that either allowed us to all share a room or needing to book two rooms, but at a low cost. Again taking an auto, who took us "around" to rooms for rent and hotels. Me staying out of sight, as much as possible, but when I was spotted the price suddenly doubled. Then finally an option of a queen bed and rollaway for all three to stay in a single room. I was okay with it, as long as they were. I wasn't the one who would be sharing a bed. Hahaha
We wasted no time settling in. Leaving the hotel I again slowed my roll and let the guys go to work at pricing out a cab. Keeping enough distance to not draw attention to who I was waiting for, but still staying within sight for quick wave over. First stop, Doddabetta Peak. Such an amazing view. After walking around the viewpoint, sitting on the rocks, and watching the guys take endless photos of each other, we were back in the auto visiting the wax museum and tea estate. Both interesting, but left a little to be desired. Our day ended with a stop at Ooty Lake. Arriving only an hour before the boat house closed, we quickly hurried to get tickets and into our fun filled pedal boat. I honestly didn't expect to laugh so much than I did then. Watching the guys fear we would tip over each time I stood up to trade one of them spots, the number of photos and videos that were taken, watching the sun go down, and quickly pedaling back in time to get our deposit back. All was well worth it. Walking along the pier, taking even more photos, and showing them how a jumping photo was done, many laughs and good conversation later.... Ooty Lake quickly became a favorite.
Waking up next morning. Feeling like I had just slept on the floor but turns out it was the rock hard rollaway bed I was on, we had an early start. Botanical Gardens was first on the list for the day. From the start, my sides already ached from laughter. It was like an endless marathon of photos, jokes, and jumping photos. There was definitely not a lack of entertainment. The botanical garden was very beautiful. Green, flowers, amazing root system at the base of the trees. We spent a good 2-hours walking around there. Even talked the guys into sliding down a railing after my failed attempt... or two... and hitting the ground. Some reason they still decided to try it out.
Pykara Falls was a little bit of distance, and even though the water levels were low it was worth a see. I'm a huge fan of nature. Listening to the guys call home and show their wives the view over video, without WiFi on my phone I decided to take this time to lay in the grass, close my eyes, and relax. It was nice. As soon as they both hung up I couldn't help but notice how perfectly sloped the hill was we were sitting and how great it would be for a slow motion video.
Next stop on the list was School Mund. A location where many dance sequences were filmed for Bollywood/Tollywood movies. Its a perfect location with just enough wind to catch the ends of a saree and create that dramatic affect without an elaborate wind machine. After arriving to the top we immediately attempted our own over dramatic gestures and letting the wind catch our [short] hair. Let the photo's begin! And finally, stopping at the forest on our way back to town and taking a hike down to the lake. Spending over an hour walking, sitting, jumping on a fallen tree. This was a great end to an amazing day.
Unfortunately the day ended a little earlier than I would have liked. I could see my young travel companions were tired and it was only 5pm and still daylight. After spending every evening during the work week in a hotel for the past few weeks, I wasn't going to spend our last night in Ooty doing the same. I went for a walk, which of course they would not let me go alone and one of them accompanied me against my wishes. Walking around, no particular destination in mind, we came up on Sacred Heart Cathedral. I could see it from a distance as we ventured around the town. Its architecture had a similarity to Notre Dame in Paris. It was pretty and extremely peaceful. A nice sit before heading back to the hotel.
Morning came early. Taking a cab back to Coimbatore and arriving with more than enough time to catch our flight to Chennai. I was bummed the weekend was over and soon, with only a few days left, my trip was coming to an end.
[Personal note: There is no harm in helping a neighbor hotel guest who repeatedly keeps slamming their door because they couldn't figure out how to lock it. Which I had no issue going into the hall and showing him how it worked. But a few hours later when you see the door knob wiggle then hear a knock on our door.... I tell my travel mates I was not going to answer as I knew what it meant. They still opened the door only to have the man that I helped and his friend enter our room uninvited. I don't think they realized I was not alone and they were coming for a "visit". Disgusted. Felt like I was in Goa all over again]
Photo Credits: Kat, Girish, and Santhosh
Video Credits: Girish
LEAVE // 03.13.2018 | 10:00 AM IST| COIMBATORE, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.13.2018 | 11:00 AM IST | CHENNAI, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // INDIGO AIRLINES
What do you do when you only have a 2-hour layover and you've never visited that city before? You leave the airport, find the nearest metro station, and go as far as you can before you need to come back in time for your next flight. With enough time to have lunch, of course.
LEAVE // 03.13.2018 | 13:55 PM IST| CHENNAI, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.13.2018 | 15:05 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // INDIGO AIRLINES
LEAVE // 03.03.2018 | 16:10 PM IST| HYDERABAD, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.03.2018 | 17:30 PM IST | GOA, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // AIR ASIA
ACCOMMODATIONS // CASA SEVERINA HOTEL
Where does one start?
Arrived in Goa and my pre-booked cab driver was waiting as expected. After he ran over a dog on the 1-hour journey to the hotel, the trip was off to a great start.
Woke early Sunday, knowing I only had a day to fully see the city and wanting to make the most of the time I had available. Then after debatinig if I should rent a motor bike or not, I decided to catch a cab and start my way to Aguada Fort. Bartering at the street and settling on a price of 400 for a single fare up to the fort and back, we set off. Now keep in mind, I mentioned "single" fare. As this is where events turn slightly sour. The driver pulled over 2/3 of the way to the fort and demanded another 400 + 800 to take me the rest of the way to the fort plus return as thats where he felt a single fare should end (Everything in Goa is priced at 2 people or more. My hotel was for occupancy of two, my cab from airport was for two, and so on. Nothing in Goa was for single, party of one). After a lot of loud "discussion" with the driver I had a choice. Either I paid 1200 to go less than 1/2 mile the remaining way and hopefully guarantee a return ride, only 400 and no return ride, or I was being forced out. I got out. Not realizing that I would have no cell service, no homes or businesses nearby, and no other cabs in the area picking up since by this point everyone either had a cab or ride up to the fort. Leaving me one, regretting I didn't rent a bike, two, now deciding to walk 2 miles back to town or .5 mile up a hill to the fort in hopes to catch a cab back down. The one thing I did not regret though was getting out of the cab. Since I was so close, I decided to go up to the fort and tempt my luck.
The walk up was long, tough, and with full sun in a very humid area, I quickly ran out of water by the time I reached the top. Walking through the fort, sitting for an hour in the shade, then deciding to try for a ride back down, I went back to the parking lot and go cab by cab, asking if they could at least take me to the bottom of the hill. Each, of course, waiting for their booked fares to return declined my request. I was left with no other option, I started to walk.
Buying a water before departing, I started to talk to myself as I walked down the hill. No, not to any voices! Only telling myself how stupid this was and I'll be lucky to make it back to town. You know, only the best type of mental encouragement that one should have in a situation like this. Doubt. The sun was in full at that moment. I had no communication with anyone. I was screwed.
I didn't make it too far before a group of bikes went by and one stopped in middle of the road, blocking traffic, and asked if I needed a ride. Okay, normally this would be "stranger danger" and I should have declined, but I jumped on. I was in fight/flight mode. If anything, I could jump and roll from a bike. At least I was no longer going to be cooked by the sun any longer. Riding along, the guy introduced himself and mentioned he and his friends were visiting on a college break from Bangalore. He definitely sensed my hesitation on answering questions, but was quite curious how I ended up in the business of walking back from Aguada Fort.
Stopping along the way, his friends caught up and each introduced themselves. They were indeed a group of young college students finishing their masters in law and visiting Goa on break. I agreed to go to lunch where they continued to discuss how I found myself walking. I couldn't have been more lucky to have them pick me up vs someone else. I was truly thankful.
Dropping me back at my hotel and parting ways, I wasn't going to let the day be ruined and was planning to head to the beach. Waking up a couple hours later, not realizing I had even dozed off, the day was gone. The only beach within walking wasn't the nicest, but at least I saw sand. Heading out again, this time in the evening for food, walking along the road from hotel to main street, a passing bike came by and I felt a sudden jolt to my side as I found myself being forced into the brick wall next to me. I was just kicked. The guy on the bike looked back, smiling, as his friend, who was driving, sped on. Goa, at this moment, was definitely now in my top amazing places to visit.
I spoke with the hotel that night, asking about a cab to the airport the next day. Unless I wanted to try my luck back at the main street (which went really well earlier) the only other option was to book through an online service. They gave me the same website as I booked for my arrival. Everything was confirmed, pre-paid, I was set to leave Goa as quickly as I could the next day.
The cab was due to pickup at 14:00, which would get me to the airport nearly 2 hours prior to my flight deparature. Plenty of time, if the cab showed up. 2pm passed and no cab. Calling the company, it turns out they outsourced my cab pickup to another company. Telling me I would have to call this other company, Talixo, and figure out the details. The number provided was not even an India number, instead Belgium or something. I called back and again, they could not help me. Kept calling, hung up on. Finally reaching out to a friend in Hyderabad for help. Talking me through it, himself calling the company and getting the run around, I finally calmed down enough (from extreme frustration and anger) to think it all through. I now only had 45 minutes to spare to go 1 1/2 hours to the airport before they would not let me board. I went to the front desk and begged for a ride, agreeing (after they listened to my conversation with the cab company), paying another 1100, one of their service guys pulled a car around. This was going to be close.
With the request of "drive fast", he got me to the airport in 55 minutes, later than they would typically allow for check-in, but I think the ticket agent could see it was not an option to decline me. I was getting on this flight! Now only having 1/2 hour to get through security and to the gate, and knowing AirAsia boards way early, departing early, fortunetly it was now slightly delayed. Instead of leaving at 4:55, I was now looking at 5:30. Enough time to sit, relax, headphones, and forget about this weekend all together. I was going back to Hyderabad.
LEAVE // 03.05.2018 | 17:35 PM IST| GOA, INDIA
ARRIVE // 03.05.2018 | 19:10 PM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // AIR ASIA
ACCOMMODATIONS // AVASA HOTEL
[Now, there are a few things I did not list above. As a single female visiting Goa, there was also the constant whistling, cat calls, following, and the list continues. This is not a town to visit alone, at least in my case. I will not count Goa out from future visits. There is a lot to see there, but next time I will ensure I am accompanied and will not go alone]
Before heading to Goa for a short weekend trip, there were Holi festivals taking part all over Hyderabad. So I decided to change my flight to leave Saturday instead of Friday, in hopes to attend one. Asking my favorite Hyderabadi's if any would like to partake in this 1/2 day adventure prior to heading to the office, fortunately two agreed. Can't say I have ever experienced anything like this before. Colors, rain dance, water dance, more colors, Bollywood music, and tons of people just having a general good time! And if I may add, no alcohol was involved. This was one of the most amazing experiences, and I was able to spend it with good friends, sharing many laughs.
[The color took to my hair really well, days and many hair washings later its still multi colored and holding strong. If I would have known I would be sporting blue, yellow, magenta, and pink hair afterwards, I would have planned for them to strategically put the colors in a little more evenly throughout. hahaha]
LEAVE // 02.13.2018 | 13:25 PM PST | PORTLAND, OREGON
ARRIVE // 02.15.2018 | 08:40 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES // VISA ON ARRIVAL
LAYOVER // SEATTLE, WA | 2 HOUR // DUBAI, EAU | 8 HOUR 50 MINUTE
(HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS IN DUBAI, 4 HOURS)
ACCOMMODATIONS // IBIS
It has been four weeks since my grandfather passed away unexpectedly. He was 88 years young. Full of life, laughter, and really bad jokes. Loved that man dearly, so this was trully heartbreaking news to receive. To add, it was sounding like I would miss his funeral as I was due to depart to return back to Hyderabad on Wednesday Feb 7th and his funeral was set for Thursday Feb 8th. While coming to terms that I would not have closure of his death, my father went in for a routine procedure that Monday and was immediately hospitalized and was in need of bypass surgery due to a full blockage. Not the easiest news to receive. I was a mess. In no way could I leave before my dads surgery. I needed to post-pone.
Now set to leave on Sunday Feb 11th. Which gave me a chance to attend my grandfathers funeral and be there for my dads scheduled surgery on Friday. What more could happen in just a week, right? One of my dogs decided to quit eating for two days. Took him to the vet on Tuesday, only to find out he had another tumor that needed to be removed. Surgery was now set for Friday, same day as my dads surgery. Maybe I shouldn't have asked my previous question above. At this point I decided to go on bereavement leave from work. Rotating nights at the hospital, with my sister, to keep my dad company as he didn't want to be alone. Working late nights, early mornings, leaving office early, and not staying focused. Being on the verge of tears all week and barely able to hold them back anytime someone asked how I or my family was doing, I needed to take some time off. I had to keep it together. My family needed me to stay strong, not only for them but for myself.
It was my turn to stay at the hospital the night before the big day. I made arrangements for my dog to be dropped off the next morning for his surgery, and I stayed with my dad while they did pre-operation procedures all night. No sleep, no food, and needles stuck all over his arms. Just an hour before he was due to be taken back his surgeon called in sick with the flu and it was now rescheduled for Monday. After much frustration, I post-poned my trip again. Now set to leave Tuesday Feb 13th. This time thinking to possibly cancel it all together. Something obviously didn't want me to go back to Hyderabad.
Monday came and surgery was a go, they took him back at 4pm. I wasn't prepared for what I saw when we finally got to see him again at 1:30am. His body laying there, unconscious, with tubes and IV's. The nurse not taking us into consideration as he adjusted and moved the large tubes around that were sticking out from his chest, and then my dads body started to tremble. Was he cold? In shock? Worse, was he in pain? All I know is I stood watching, helpless, as his whole body shook vigorously. For this to be the last memory I had of him before traveling for 28+ hours, I was devastated. Silently shedding tears. This was tough.
The journey back to India was long, too much time to be immersed with my own thoughts. Unable to shake the images I saw that morning. Not properly dealing with the events of the past couple weeks. Hiding behind work to stay distracted. Going back to India may have been a mistake. I've not recovered.
Finally landing in Hyderabad, 8:40am, Thursday February 15th. Wasting no time after arriving, checked into the hotel and headed into the office. I was extactic to see my Hyderabad friends again. They always have a way to lighten the mood. Many laughs.
After a couple days in the office, the first weekend had arrived. The weight of home had settled back in. In hopes to get a little peace of mind, I ventured out to Shri Puri Jagannath temple and Jublie Hills Peddamma temple. It was peaceful and helped ease some of the pain I was feeling at that moment. While attempting to be respectful to the Hindu methods (watching, observing, and mimicing what I see), I did get a chance to pull out my grandfathers photo and pay respect to him and made a wish for my dads recovery. [Next day my dad was released from the hospital to stay at my sisters house for the remainder of his recovery. Coincedence? Maybe. But I'll take it]
Just over a week has gone by. Weekends are definitely the hardest. Spending 90% of my free time outside of the office alone. Again with my own thoughts, I have lost my strength and will. Waiting every evening to receive the most recent update from my mom on my dads progress and only to receive word that my other dog has fallen ill. As much as I thought I needed to escape, I may have left too soon. My heart feels torn here. Wanting to be in India enjoying every moment, but another part is feeling regret and pain.
Here it's the end of another weekend and in an attempt to not let all of this to continue to overcome me. I randomly picked a spot on a map and headed there today, which just happened to be a large park about an hour cab ride from my hotel. Walking around. 90+ degrees. Kindly declining photo ops with my fans. I found a nice shady spot in the grass where I laid on my back, peacefully, and for 3 hours wrote to this point. I can already feel a heavy weight lifted. Maybe thats all I needed? Fingers crossed.
*** The day after writing this, and after much deliberation, it was decided to put my beloved dog Mocha to sleep the following afternoon. After spending 13 of his 15 years with him, his health had deteriated enough that it was time. The hardest part was not the act of playing God, but being unable to say goodbye, holidning him one last time, and looking into his blind, toothless, crooked nose face. This was truly heartbreaking and the final piece that broke me. Many hours of tears, screams, and heartache. It was so hard to find the strength to move forward, especially being a world away. Drowning myself in work was not going to heal this wound. I needed to find peace in all of this. And I needed to find it quick
LEAVE // 01.02.2018 | 13:25 PM PST | PORTLAND, OREGON
ARRIVE // 01.04.2018 | 02:45 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES // VISA ON ARRIVAL
LAYOVER // SEATTLE, WA | 2 HOUR | DUBAI, EAU | 2 HOUR 50 MINUTE
(2 HOUR DELAY LEAVING SEATTLE, LEFT ONLY 50 MINUTE LAYOVER IN DUBAI)
ACCOMMODATIONS // LOCAL RESIDENCE
The adventure started before even landing in India. From a 2-hour late departure out of Seattle, leaving only 50 minutes to get through Dubai airport, and then my Apple watch turned up missing through security after I was greeted with a special screening in a private room. Besides all that, I wasn't going to let it ruin the start of what could be one of the best experiences I've encountered in my travels.
Hyderabad & Agra
Arrived, sleep deprived, no idea what day it was, and still upset I lost my Apple watch during my layover in Dubai. Hyderabad airport did not disappoint. What should have been a quick pass through to get my visa stamped took over an hour of standing in line and getting irritable over the constant impatience of others as they cut to the front. Finally getting through and greeted by my good friend Madhu (poor guy had been waiting for almost 4 hours for my arrival), I made it to India!
Regardless if I was visiting for work, pleasure, or how much I have traveled over the years, I found myself slightly culture shocked the first couple days. Maybe because I usually depend on Rehan to be there to guide me, the lack of sleep, trying to get my bearings on timezone, or possible that I was staying in an apartment with Madhu's sister and family and it threw off my psyche [the amount of hospitality I received is something I could never explain, or thank them enough for. It was too much and I am forever grateful]. Everything was very surreal.
After going into the office a few days, Saturday arrived and we were free to roam the city. Venturing out beyond the office, sightseeing, taking photos with my "fan club", and spending time with new friends. The city was way more chaotically beautiful and amazing than I had originally thought. Sightseeing with coworkers was like getting a private tour of Golkonda Fort, Charminar, Mecca Masjid, and Falaknuma palace. It made for a long day but worth fitting it all into a few hours. By evening, my sides started to ache from laughter while getting to know the guys from the office a little more. Not to mention the constant line of my fan club of school girls wanting to take photo's with me [I'm pretty sure I'm a famous face on Facebook/Instagram in India now. Red hair, fair skin, female roaming Hyderabad - like a Bigfoot sighting in the states].
Sunday was a little more laid back. Ramoji Film City is the largest studio complex in the world, filming many Bollywood/Tollywood favorites like Chennai Express, Diwali, Bahubali, Raees, and my first Bollywood movie 15-years ago... Devdas! Along with hundreds more that are also worth a mention, but for a much longer blog post. One theme in many that I did mention star the heart throb Shahrukh Kahn [heart skips beat] and maybe, just maybe, I stood in the same location as him.
Back to work on Monday. Getting used to the daily routine of staying in a local apartment. Waking up, greeted with freshly made coffee, breakfast (consisting of Dosa), music videos playing on the TV, and kids getting ready for school. Bathing/showering by use of a bucket was a little different, but had a charm to it. I'm used to standing in a shower at home, letting the hot water trickle down, not moving, wasting a ton. Here it was very precise. Use only as much water as needed and become resourceful as to not get your clothes wet as the entire floor is now soaked. Many questions were had the first couple times I attempted to shower; do I stand? squat? how does one wash their hair? why doesn't the soap make suds with the water? How do I keep my red hair (that bleeds when wet) from staining the floor? I eventually got the hang of it and started to appreciate the simplicity of all of it.
The days ahead were long. Going into the office, packed with training, then the evenings had their own full itineraries which helped to shed the day-to-day routine. From getting measurements taken for custom made sarees/blouses and shopping with Madhu's sister (never underestimate the bartering skills of a local). Wednesday evening was probably the most entertaining. Taking a fairy to/from the Buddha Statue of Hyderabad, their version of Statue of Liberty, while having locals start up conversation with me to practice their English. Then making it up to Birla Mandir Temple before they closed. Racing uphill, through a narrow street, passing by countless shops selling trinkets, bangles, and small souvenirs. Picking up the pace as we ascend the steps of the temple, barefoot, and leaving our cell phones with the "trusted" electronics check counter at the entrance. Attempting to look around as we were going up, the architecture was breathtaking. Intricately carved white marble, dedicated to Lord Venkateswara. With an 11-foot granite carved statue of the deity under a lotus canopy. I don't pretend I know the traditions, rituals, expectations one is supposed to follow when entering a temple. Instead, watching, following the same, and paying respect to a Hindu God that I admit I would have to research the history of, but follow the motions of those around. After exiting prepare to sit on the marble floor outside, to feel the downpour of energy on your head and hands as God is sending energy in form of a blessing (or, generally, Hindu temples are located in a place where earth's magnetic waves pass through and the idol is placed in the center with a copper plate underneath that absorbs the earth's magnetic waves and radiates to its surroundings. Aka. Positive energy).
Friday started as a normal day at the office and ended with taking an evening flight to New Delhi. The first step in the journey to see the Taj Mahal. Staying overnight, then catching an early AM train to Agra. Now, one may say to book your train tickets online except there's one major catch, you must have a local number in order to register for the site. Luckily I had one, but unfortunately even though I registered I was unable to book tickets due to the site crashing repeatedly. We took the chance and went to the train station that morning in hopes to find a train with availability. Risky since it was a festival weekend, but whats an adventure without a little added stress? Registration office is located upstairs to the left. Don't bother looking for signs, there are none. This is where you pay for a reservation for a train, any train, as long as you catch one within 3 hours. Then do not board the train, even though everyone else boarded, you must wait until you've been assigned a seat else you will be fined upon train departure from the station. Simple, right? Getting a seat in one of the sleeper cars, and me getting a lower bunk sleeper bed all to myself gave the ability to stretch my legs for the 3 1/2 hour journey. This was indeed the perfect way to go.
Arriving in Agra, with a car waiting to take us to the hotel, we decided to book our tickets to see the Taj Mahal for the same day. The anticipation of seeing that great beauty was killing me. I was finally going to check off another modern wonder of the world, with only three more to go. And of course, the mausoleum did not disappoint. Its magnificent beauty, where no picture does it justice, and it is breathtaking to see in person. Amazing! The remainder of the day was more of a waste. Trying to get our cab driver to take us back to the hotel, instead being driven from one location to the next attempting to get us to buy something. It's like the India version of a timeshare. Avoid if you possibly can! Sunday was no different. Attempting to visit as many sights as possible, but also trying to battle the cab driver from taking us on another shopping tour, where we still did not buy anything.
Approximately 30 miles outside of Agra is the city Mathura, believed to be birthplace of Krishna. We made multiple stops here on Sunday. One to walk through a labyrinth of streets, being closely watched, and that feeling if we took a wrong turn it may not end well for us, only for a quick walk through a small make-shift temple. Sitting on the floor in the back of the room, watching the "show". Next stop Kesava Deo Temple and the Shahi Eid Gah Mosque. And finally, before heading back to Agra was Shri Krishna-Balram Temple. One of the most eye pleasing temples we had seen all day. [Note: Remember to remove your shoes before entering these temples. It takes only a few seconds and its disrespectful not to. Why fight it?].
Driving back to Agra, and arguing with the cab driver to not stop at another detour, we arrive at Fatehpur Sikri. A large walled complex containing the Jama Masjid Mosque and Tomb of Salim Chishti. In order to enter the tomb, be prepared to lay a piece of cloth in the center and tie a string to the window and make three wishes... for a low cost of 1500 INR (and if you don't pay you will be hassled). That was all fascinating, but I couldn't shake an eerie feeling about this place. I know this was the location just a few months back where a couple was attacked for refusing to take a selfie with the locals, but just like any other Muslim landmark I'm always taken back at how rude they are. Its times like these that I have to put up my arms and prepare for the arm nudges, elbows, being shoved aside, and pinching of my arms as I pass. Frustrating to say the least. At least their architecture is beautiful, even though they are not.
Arriving back to Hyderabad Monday evening after a long weekend and settling back into work mode. I have to be honest, I missed the honking, chaos, and people in Hyderabad vs the last couple days in Agra. Taj Mahal was amazing, but I could have done without most everything else. It was an early evening in Hyderabad and after a long day of travel, but all the same, made the most of the time still available... I made plans for Tuesday. There was still one specific thing I wanted to attempt, but had yet the opportunity. I wanted to ride on the back of a motorcycle through the heavy traffic. Tuesday, most of the team were still on holiday after the long festival weekend. So one of the guys from work that had not gone back to his village shifted his hours to take me around. How, you may ask? On his motorcycle, of course! With last minute shopping to do and a couple sights still to see, we set off into the hot scolding sun, me wearing a scarf in an attempt to cover the red hair, and the feel of the wind on my face as we swerved and narrowly squeezed between cars and other motorists. With, surprisingly, only one close call and testing that the brakes were in full working order, this was one of the best decisions I made. For me who would typically over calculate the safety measure of everything, it was exciting!
We ventured out to Shilparamam, an arts and crafts village where you can find stalls and stalls of handicrafts, pedal boats, and huts depicting rural and tribal lifestyle and various artisans. Spending a good 3-4 hours then back on the bike headed to a different colony in search of kurta's for our coworker who was back at the hotel ill, then riding the metro to nowhere, and the city bus back to where the bike was parked. Only to stop for Egg Biryani on the return and teaching me how to properly eat with my hands [I've got to say, it actually makes the food taste way better. No metallic flavoring of the silverware. But still weird, like I'm playing with my food]. Back to hotel. Definitely the perfect ending to a three work journey. Many good laughs, good company, new founded appreciation for all things India, and most of all many I would gladly call a close friend. I'm going to miss Hyderabad.
Wednesday was bitter sweet. Really sad to be saying goodbye to such a great group of people. Yes, I will get to work with them remotely, but in person for three weeks has been an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade in one moment for another. Laughs, hospitality, and forever gratefulness that I will take with me always.
The Return Home
LEAVE // 01.18.2018 | 04:10 AM IST | HYDERABAD, INDIA
ARRIVE // 01.18.18 | 13:41 PM PST | PORTLAND, OREGON
TRANSPORTATION // ALASKA AIRLINES | EMIRATES
LAYOVER // SEATTLE, WA | 2 HOUR | DUBAI, EAU | 2 HOUR 50 MINUTE
(1 HOUR DELAY LEAVING HYDERABAD, LEFT ONLY 30 MINUTE LAYOVER IN DUBAI)
Saying goodbye, heading to the airport at Midnight, 45 minute cab ride, and arriving with at least 3-hours prior to flight in anticipation for known delays at the airport. Only to arrive and breeze through all lines, security, and have enough time to take a 2-hour power nap before my flight would be ready to board. Waking up, looking up at the monitor, and seeing the dreaded word "DELAYED" flashing at me. Crap! I have a short connection in Dubai, and I have one stop I need to make before boarding my next flight. Recover my watch from lost and found! Yes, that is right. Dubai airport found my watch and was holding it for me. But now with a delayed flight out of Hyderabad I don't know if I will be able to reunite with my beloved Apple watch. Feeling a sudden rush of emotion I went for a walk. I had to make this work.
Boarding the flight over an hour late, plane leaving the gate before everyone was seated, and taking off as the last person buckled in, we were finally on our way to Dubai. Looking at the estimated time, I would only have 30 minutes from the time of landing before the gate closed for my next flight. I got this... until realizing I would be landing in Terminal 1, Gate C7, and needed to go to Terminal 3, B36. Thats almost the entire length of the airport. Luckily lost and found was between Terminal 1 and 3, but now only having 20 minutes by the time the plane parked at the gate and me not planning to queue up with others who were catching the same flight and bypassing security lines, this was going to be a huge risk. I went for it anyways. Grabbed my backpack, synched it tight, and as soon as the plane door opened, I ran! Got through security without a hitch and to lost and found with 14 minutes left to spare. Unfortunately they took 10 minutes to locate the watch, leaving me 4 minutes to run 36 gates. Starting to feel the panic, I ignored the pain from running in sandals, 20+lbs on my back, a purse, and my jacket draped at my side, and many hours since I had last eaten... I was still running. My side started to ache, but I could see the gate and they were slowly closing the door. I was too late, I knew it, but to my amazement they saw me and waved me in, wished me a good flight, then told me to relax and get a drink on the plane. Door closed behind me. I can't believe I made it! And on top of that, I've been reunited with my Apple watch. I've missed my dear friend.
Lets Talk Food
In most cases Celiac Disease is always something I keep in mind when I travel, but this was not the case for India. The flours used are not made of wheat and other ingredients that I'm banned from having aren't used in Indian dishes (barley, rye, oats, etc). Most dishes I was expecting to have were curry based and could be served with rice. Now what I was not expecting was how many options there would actually be. Unlike in the states, there was no limit to my selection. It seemed no matter where we went it was not an issue. From many types of Dosa, soft pillows of Idly, a wide variety of Biryani, and many, many more. Happiness was definitely in my belly.