Leaving Kenya was hard with the friends and new family we had made, the beauty of the country, the sincerity and beauty of the people. Our departure was sweetened by getting to see our wedding officiant and his new home, and support the work he is doing to help orphans in India. We were going to beat Ian Forber-Pratt home, because he was finishing a trip all across the US. So, we would get to see his home and offices for a week before he got home.
We landed in Mumbai in the wee hours of the morning on Sunday, April 30, and had planned our layover so we could go to the Christian Science church service. We took a taxi to Neera Kapur’s house, our friend who took us out to lunch when we visited in December of 2010. She opened the door with a lovely grin, turned on the fans and let us sleep for a few hours before church. The church service was great and everyone was so welcoming. After lunch, we headed back to the airport where we flew to Udaipur.
Ian’s friend, Manisha, sent a driver to meet us and take us to a local market so we could pick up some essentials for the house. Manisha met us at the market and took us to Ian’s house where we met his roommate, Devashish. Manisha then decided to call Ian and tell him that we missed our flight so we stayed quiet in the background while she expressed her concern about not knowing what had happened to us! This was our introduction to the hilarity of Manisha. Devashish played along as well, and we all enjoyed a good laugh. Sorry, Ian!
The next few days were full of exploring Udaipur on Ian’s motorcycle, and we were impressed at all the new construction that has been going up over the last two years. It’s remarkable how much is different, and you can feel the change in the people’s attitudes: In 2010, there was a certain feeling of “same same”, and the economy seemed to be wholly based on tourism. Fast-forward two years, and there are businesses popping up, and the real estate market has boomed. One downside is that Easy Day, a version of Walmart, has moved in – complete with Walmart’s blue flower logo, Great Value brand, and characteristic blue lettering everywhere.
Everywhere we went people were actively helping each other, and trying to help themselves. We noticed at an information counter at one of the new malls, that while they didn’t know what stores were around them – we were looking for a SIM card and an Internet cafe – they happily turned their computer monitors around and let us use the keyboard. One manager even sat us down with his computer and 3G modem and walked away. Neither one of us thought that would have happened two years ago.
Call us crazy, but we didn’t expect such a drastic climate change going from being in Kenya on the equator, to northern India in April, but it was shockingly hot when we arrived. Thank goodness for the swamp cooler, an awesome invention which doesn’t dry the air like an air conditioner but cools it effectively when you, strangely enough, leave the windows open. After two months in rural Kenya with no cold drink products, we were also excited to be able to order milkshakes. However, we quickly discovered that in India, the average chocolate milkshake is milk put in a blender with chocolate powder and frothed a bit: literally shaken milk. We compensated by ordering scoops of ice cream and making our own shakes. Ian later took us to “Shakes Delight, an American Diner” – which had Western fare and specialized in real ice cream milkshakes. These were awesome.
Devashish and his friends Priya and Anjena took us out for a motorcycle ride to the Old City, a night hanging out on the steps on Lake Picchola across from City Palace. It was a beautiful night – we dangled our feet in the water and were splashing and laughing. Then we went for dinner at their friend’s restaurant and I had my first mango lassi in India. It was delicious, divine even.
Driving the motorcycle at night, through the old city, with people who drive pretty fast (well, they drive normally by Indian standards… I’m just a rookie!!), was crazy. I’m positive that my mirror would have collided with another guy’s coming in the other direction, except the mirrors somehow dodged themselves out of the way! But I did just fine, and was grateful that Priya slowed down as I followed her scooter through the busiest parts of the city. I stuck to riding in the daylight for most of our time there.
Another night, Devashish and Priya cooked us a delicious Indian meal, vegetable fried rice with paneer, and they taught us how to make homemade mango lassis. Then we watched a new Bollywood film in Hindi with Priya pausing the DVD to explain it to us. The movie was mostly slapstick humor so it wasn’t too hard to follow (no deep messages or anything!) and we enjoyed the time with our new friends.
We were expecting Ian to arrive around 9am on Saturday morning. MB got up at 7 because she wanted to surprise him with an authentic Kenyan breakfast, but when she opened the door, he was standing in the dining room! After not seeing each other for two years, we’re sure that our groggy morning hellos were not adequate representations of our excitement to see him!
After breakfast, Ian took us out for a drive in his new car, which is perfect for India, small, compact, nothing flashy and even can fit on the skinny roads of the old city, which Ian proved by taking us to his favorite restaurant in the old city, Millets of Mewar, and I had my second mango lassi in India. Then we drove away from the city and Ian showed us an awesome view of the hills and farmlands by taking a single-lane back road towards Badi Lake, also called Tiger Lake, where we went on scooters in 2010 and my scooter almost didn’t make it up the hill! We made dinner at home and just relaxed, heard stories and saw photos from Ian’s travels.
The next few days were a good mixture of relaxing, going on adventures, eating great food, and getting to know new friends. We hiked up to Neemach Mata, a Hindu temple on top of one of the hills surrounding Udaipur on the day of mine and MB’s two and a half-year wedding anniversary. I explored Ian’s neighborhood one day and was surprised to see the number of Western houses going up, with their own Indian flair and typical walls protecting and identifying the compound. We got to know Ekta, one of Ian’s colleagues who quit her advancing career in Mumbai so she could come home to Udaipur and help children. She has a loving and gracious heart – and is a natural with children.
On Thursday, the four of us went to Dungarpur, a village about two hours out in the country from Udaipur. It was the height of the dry season, and there was almost no green anywhere. We went to a house where Ian stayed while he worked for Feed the Children a few years ago, and hung out with all their kids and got to know them a little. We also drove out to a family’s home that FCI and the local government had been helping to get back on their feet. The land was parched, a dry tan-red of just sand and rubble. We stopped on the road, seemingly at random, walked across a bridge over a would-be river (during the rainy season), up a parched piece of ground, and past two young boys watching over a herd of goats whose expressions seemed to say, “Um, what exactly are we supposed to be eating here?”
We walked uphill to Harju’s house, a woman who has been taking care of her grandchildren. Her house was a mud house with a thatched roof similar to a video from Kenya we posted in March, except that it was a square, twice the size, and there was much less in it. Even though we couldn’t understand what was being said in Hindi and Mewari, it was cool to listen to Ian and Ekta gather information about recent events. More on this story, which has helped many to understand why Ian works so passionately for the children of India, can be found at http://fostercareindia.org/blog/harjus-story/
We headed back to the first house and ate lunch, and walked around their crop land asking questions and getting to hear their customs and how they had thought through how to arrange the rope and the irrigation. The brothers are fairly good businessmen, and accomplished farmers.
The next night we went out to dinner at Upre, a high-class, rooftop restaurant that was surprisingly inexpensive, and the views were amazing of the Old City and City Palace. We really enjoyed hearing Ekta’s stories of growing up in Udaipur, and what life is like as a young Indian woman.
The time in India was a perfect blend of having down time, adventure time, Ian time, and work time (for Ian, that is). We got to watch him in action in Dungarpur, and when he invited us to the office to be part of an official FCI brainstorming meeting! It was amazing to see an outline of where FCI is headed in the next few years. On a different day while Ian was on a conference call, we went shopping – again with me driving in the Old City… am I crazy?? Other times we just stayed at home, reading in front of the swamp cooler. MB, excited by our ability to have refreshing cold drinks, got into the daily habit of making either mango lassis or “Grenadian Punch”, the peanut butter & banana smoothie that we learned how to make in Grenada.
Over the weekend, the three of us went to Badi Lake. It is a lot more developed now than it was in 2010, with an actual road around it, and a new resort on the other side of the hills from the lake. The lake curves beautifully around the hill, so the resort has its own lake when there is enough water. We explored the resort and restaurant as a possible place for future visitors to stay or at least have a meal with a gorgeous country-side view. Our actual objective for the day was to find the place that a painter in the Old City said was the inspiration behind a painting we bought – but we never made it that far out of town. After the resort, we hung out at the lake, and took some pictures.
For our last day, we picked up Pamna’s girls, Sahine and Nosine, and rode the cable cars up Dudh Tali to a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque. These have the best views above the city, similar to Monsoon Palace where we went in 2010, but this one is closer to the city and facing the other direction. We stayed for sunset and rode the car back down. It was a beautiful, perfect night.
For our last meal in India, Devashish and Priya had asked us to make an American meal and show them how to do it. After much discussion on what exactly an American meal was, and one without beef, and one we could find all the ingredients for, we decided to make a sort-of Veggie Lasagna (with spiral noodles because Udaipur doesn’t have lasagna noodles yet), and MB made a chocolate cake with white frosting for dessert.
We headed out the next day, tummies full, friends made, and a fresh take on India. Can’t wait to come back!