You know you’ve been in India when…

In no particular order this is a list of some of the things I’ve gotten most used to about living in India- this list could be significantly longer but these are some that stuck out the most.

  1. Paying 40 rupees instead of 30 for a rickshaw ride is completely unacceptable– the equivalent of about 75 cents vs 60 cents
  2. You don’t even bother to look to see if there is a seatbelt when getting into a car
  3. You know the bus is never full, people can be packed in like sardines but there is always room for one more
  4. You intentionally dehydrate yourself when traveling, be it by bus, car, train or even rickshaw- it’s just not worth having to go to the bathroom
  5. You realize you don’t know where the forks or knives are kept in the house you have been living in for months.
  6. Even when you have silverware, you still use your finger to help your food along
  7. You covet small change, and are always looking for an opportunity to get more
  8. You expect everything to start at a minimum of 15 minutes late
  9. An uninterrupted or fully paved sidewalk warrants extreme praise
  10. You start converting US prices into Rupees- an are rather horrified at how expensive everything is
  11. You eat humus like chapatti and baghi (flat bread and vegetables that is a Maharashtra staple)
  12. Dall and chippati or rice is now your ‘comfort food’
  13. You no longer notice the cows that are all over the place
  14. You are known by name at the ice cream or street food venders you frequent and they know what you like to order
  15. You expect shops to be closed on Mondays, from about 1-3 for lunch and are not to surprised if you get to a shop and find out its closed for a holiday
  16. Wearing jeans and a modest t-shirt feels scandalous
  17. You recognize hit Bollywood songs
  18. Once the weather is in the 50s, its cold
  19. You look right first when crossing the road
  20. You get excited about outlets that are on the ground rather than midway up the wall

10 Pictures

The alliance has a photo contest that I chose some pictures to submit. You could submit up to 10 photos, in three different categories- the student experience, people and society and landscapes/streescapes.  A lot of these have already appeared on the blog but I thought I would put them up all together. They aren’t necessarily my top 10 personal favorite pictures, but I do think they capture my time in India quite well. It was really hard to choose the final 10, I have a bunch of others I really like as well that I might try and put up another time.

The Student Experience: Meditating with Prayer Flags near Dharamshala - Update! This picture won the Alliance Photo Context for the Student Experience Category 🙂

The Student Experience: Dancing at the Ganapati festival in Pune

The Student Experience: Hiking in the western ghats

People and Society: A Sikh policeman in Punjab

People and Society: Village children

People and Society: Getting ready for a street-play in Pune

Landscape and Streetscapes: Sugarcane Cart in the Rural Area of Phaltan

Landscape and Streetscapes: Cows on the beach in Goa

Landscape and Streetscape: A view of Pune from Parvati Hill

Landscape and Streetscapes: The Beach of Mumbai - I did get sand for our sand collection

Thanksgiving and Weekend Shopping

It’s kind of hard to believe but this was my third to last weekend in Pune. I’ve been keeping pretty buys with my internship, but have gotten to do some fun things as well.

The pie making girls with possibly the most beautiful apple pie of the night- delicious!

Belive it or not we did celebrate Thanksgiving here in India. I spent the afternoon baking some delicious pies with some of the other girls on my program. We had an interesting variety of shapes and sizes of pans, and a gas oven with only two racks. However, we still managed to make a total of 14 pies, although most of them were smaller then what one would consider a normal pie size. We made pumpkin pie from scratch, using pre-pressure cooked pumpkin, blending it with lots of spices and other goodies before putting it into our homemade pie crusts.

Making popcorn for a movie night- they have 'instant' popcorn packets... for the pressure cooker!

Because we didn’t have enough pans we made three large free-form apple tarts, which ended up tasting really good. Thanksgiving dinner consisted of Turkey (a bit dry but turkey none the less), mashed potatoes, mac and cheese, cheesy garlic toast, some very strange looking stuffing, green beans with hazelnuts, potato balls, pie, vanilla ice cream and chocolate pudding. I wouldn’t say it was the most traditional but it tasted pretty delicious. I do think that the pie was the highlight.

The Japanese Garden

This weekend I decided I should get around to seeing some of the sites I haven’t gotten to in the city.I brought out the map that they gave us at the beginning of the program and started to actually piece together how the city worked. We started out at a Japanese Garden that is close to my house.

Clumpy Lumpy Grass at the Japanese Garden

They claim that it is the largest Japanese garden outside of Japan, but who knows. It was actually quite nice, and peaceful, until a large school field trip brought about a hundred middle schoolers, many of whom wanted pictures of us. We did stay quite fascinated by the ‘clumpy lumpy grass’ that was quite prevalent, and seemed to be out a Dr. Seuss book.

I found these in the grocery store and laughed at the tag line

Next we visited the Raj Dinkar Kelkar Museum, which was an mansion in the old city that housed the vast collection of Indian artifacts collected by Dinkar Kelkar during late 20thcentury.

So many chilies! They were actually imported to India by the Portuguese

It was really cool to see some really great statues, pots and pans, tapestries, artwork and lots of other stuff from all around this vast and diverse country. We then walked around the old city for a while, as well as a pretty awesome vegetable market. Sunday after slowly getting some work done on one of the three final papers I have due Wednesday we went to Luxmi road, one of the major shopping streets in Pune. hadn’t planned on buying much, but ended up getting a Tiffin- a tin lunch box made of three compartments stacked on top of each other, and a Sari!

Fresh Ginger, it really is quite common here, I'll miss that in the US

I’m pretty excited about the Sari, I still need to get the top for it actually made, and the petticoat that goes underneath, but it’s beautiful. I’m not sure I’ll be able to wear it other than at our closing ceremony, but if not I can always hang it somewhere- and who knows if/when I’ll be back to India again.

My Sari- pictures of me wearing it to come... hopefully

Work Visit to Phaltan

For my work with the Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute I spent 3 nights at their headquarters in Phaltan, a rural town about 110km away from Pune. I was sent there to interview the staff, some of the entrepreneurs they have trained, farmers implementing their technologies and users of their energy technologies so I can compile a report on things ARTI could do better. It’s been an interesting (read somewhat frustrating) process figuring out what I’m supposed to do.

Making charcoal brickets from waste sugarcane material

I feel like my visit to Phaltan has been a turning point because I was able to collect data that will allow me to actually give some useful feedback to ARTI.  The entire internship experience has been really great at giving me a taste of how difficult it can be to get things done on the ground with an NGO in the developing world. The visit to Phaltan also depend my respect for the truly inspiring work ARTI is doing.


Me planing sugarcane seedlings

Myself and the interoperate who came with me got there by bus, the bus system is truly crazy but despite the seeming ciaos you still manage to get a bus that will take you to the place you need to go. We spent the first day getting an overview of all the technologies ARTI has created. These include improved cook stoves, increased air flow and chimneys creates more efficient burning, reducing fuel consumption and indoor smoke; low tec greenhouses, plastic sheets a little over a meter high that trap CO2 inside the plots to increase growth;

Different stoves and the Sari Cooker System

vermy (worm) composting and raised beds; improved techniques for planning sugarcane; bamboo treatments to make the poles last for 8-10 years without rotting rather then 2-3; bamboo technologies, drying racks, water tanks and decorative structures; bio-charcoal, making charcoal from agro-waste, turning it into brickets to burn in a stove; the SARI Cooker System, which won an international award, a stove a cooking system that will make food without needing attention; home biogas plants and some others. These technologies area really cool- very low tec. and generally easy to understand but make real improvements in the lives or rural people’s.

Me eating fresh sugarcane- delicious!

Saturday I got to visit an entrepreneur who has her own sugarcane nursery that has grown substantially and created a real source of income for her family. She now higher 12-15 people to help her with the work and demand for seedlings outpaces her ability to supply them. Using these seedlings and planning them using spacing ARTI and the entrepreneurs recommend farmers save 2 months of watering and fertilizing seeds, and their yield increases up to 20 tons of sugarcane per hector! As cool as it was talking to this women and some of the farmers I think my favorite part of the afternoon was getting to munch of sugarcane cut fresh from the field.

Organic banana's! They grow in layers according to how old the tree is- this is 4 generations old

Sunday morning I got to visit a really amazing organic farm. I still amazing by how many initiatives are going on with organic farming in India. As much as India is touted as an incredible success of the green revolution, and while it is true that become of modern agriculture and GM techniques, farmers are facing incredible difficulties with modern agriculture. High expenses of seeds and fertilizers push out smaller farmers who can’t afford the upfront investment, and in many cases the land has become severely degraded because of poor farming practices. At this farm they were experimented with vermy compost (worm composting), and vermy wash (a mix of fermented cow urine, water and organic matter) for fertilizer, creating their own organic pesticides from cow urine, the crushed leaves of trees and chilies, using intercropping to insure plants got the nutrients they needed.

Me with some really tall African Corn

I got to try two fruits I had never heard of- Stone Applies, which had a very hard outer shell and a brown mushy, tangy middle I wasn’t too fond of, and Chiku which quite good sweet brown round fruits. We also got to see wild peacocks, and were given a peacock feather that they collect as we left- it’s supposed to be good luck to have one in your household, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it is!

One the the installed improved rural cook-stoves

That afternoon and Monday I got to interview a bunch of people from Phaltan and the surrounding rural areas who were implementing ARTI technologies. It was a great experience for me to get to visit these different homes. Seeing the rural women making breakfast on a traditional wood burning stove really showed me how important these simple developments are. Reducing the indoor smoke from stoves can literally save hundreds of millions of lives around the world. I was also amazed at the overwhelming favorable responses for ARTI technologies. While not all users were using the technologies quite correctly, they all were very pleased with the technologies.

One of the kids from the Sugarcane Nursery holding two freshly cut stalks

Overall I’d call the visit a success, and hopefully the report I write will make some helpful suggestions for how ARTI could improve.

Me with one of ARTI's home bio-gas plants

A truck loaded with sugarcane- I saw hundreds around Phaltan

Tropical Paradise- My Weekend in Goa

A view of the beach

The last weekend about half of our program took a trip to south Goa, a small state south east of Maharashtra on the coast on the Arabian Sea. I was the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in India so far.

One of the most interesting parts of the weekend was getting to and from Goa… by overnight sleeper bus. We took a rickshaw to the bus station, although it turns out you catch private busses from small stands in front of hotels nearby. We took a tiny, incredibly crowded bus for about 10 minutes to the actual bus.

I was surprised how much the palm trees slanted- and you could see the coconuts hanging off!

The sleeper bus was an experience. One the way there the bus consisted of closed compartments with single beds on one side, and double on the other, stacked two high, with a sliding closing door so you were basically in a box. The drive is about 10 hours, and roads in India are defiantly not nearly as smooth as what you might be used to in the States or Europe.  A couple people said they caught some air at one point in the night, but other than being rather cold because the window wouldn’t shut all the way I thought the ride was fine. The bus generally only makes one stop, for dinner about two hours in, so we did have some pretty out-in –the-open midnight bathroom breaks.

An Indian beach experience couldn't be complet without a cow walking along


We got to Goa about 8am on Saturday morning, and caught a bus to our hotel on south Goa. We were staying in these cool eco huts, made from bamboo that I thought were really cool. To get to the beach you had to go down a hill though some palm trees, clime around some rocks until suddenly this view of the incredible white sandy beach and clear blue water opened up. There were a lot of other small hotels, shops and restaurants along the beach, but it totally felt like tropical paradise.

The sunset, rock and boat from the beach at low tied


We spent the day lounging on beach chairs, swimming in the bath warm water, and enjoying some western style food and drinks. It was probably the most foreigners I have seen in one place anywhere in India, and bikinis were totally acceptable. It was really strange to see all of the exposed skin after not seeing shoulders for months. As one of the girls on the trip said, it was like everyone lost 20lbs when they took of their kurta’s- the loose Indian tops most of us wear all the time.

Silent dance party!

Saturday evening, after getting dinner right on the beach, we went out to a ‘silent dance party’ that we had see advertized. It was a rather strange experience- upon entering you were given a pair of headphones, though which you could choose from one of three music stations (each with different types of music playing) indicated by a colored light on the headphones.

A fire dancer? Random but cool, and slightly dangerous

You could then pick a station, adjust the volume, and dance. When wearing your headphones it wasn’t so odd- although not everyone was listening to the same thing all the time, people got totally into it. The really weird part was when you took your headphones off and people were rocking out to music you couldn’t hear. While a silent party not something I feel the need to do again, it was surprisingly quite a bit of fun. One of the strangest parts was the rather random acts they got to perform- including a guy dancing with an outfit that had fire on the ends of it and a trapeze artist.

My favorite picture from the weekend

Sunday we spent the morning and early afternoon on the beach. I also did some shopping at a market just off the beach. They had kind of odd collections of things from all over India and I did get some really delicious smelling loose leaf Mango and Ginger teas. That afternoon it was time to head back to Pune, we caught taxies to the sleeper bus and arrive back at about 6am on Monday morning. It seems almost silly to travel all that way for less than two days on the beach, but in my book it was totally worth it. If you ever want a place for a beach vacation, I would highly recommend south Goa!

Sharing a Story

This is a link to an article one of the students on my program had published in the local paper she is interning at. I though she did a great job of sharing her experiences in India – check it out at

Dancing at the Ganpati Festival Ashly talks about

Travel Week! Part 3- Delhi

On the train

From Dharamsala we headed to Delhi by overnight train. We were surprised to find that despite the fact that it took almost 4 hours to get to Dharamsala it took only just over 2.5 hours to get back down to Pathankot to catch our train. I actually quite enjoyed the train ride. We were in the third AC class, and each had a sleeper bunks. The beds were three high, with the middle one folding down to become a seat during the day. I slept surprisingly well though the night. Our train was about an hour and a half late, which I was told was not bad as they are pretty frequently delayed a lot longer than that. We spent the early afternoon touring around Delhi. We stopped by the college of a friend of mine from high school in CP- Connaught Place, and then took the metro to Old Delhi.

We walked along Chandni Chowk, an old market street that I found rather crowded with a lot of people hassling us as foreigners. We stopped by by a Jain temple, that hosed a bird hospital. It was rather odd walking around the bird hospital without shoes on (you took them off entering the complex) but there were some pretty interesting birds, along with some quite sick birds, that were being housed there.

We saw Jama Masjid which is apparently the largest mosque in India. As it was Friday we were actually there during the call to prayer, and it really reminded me of Cairo seeing hundreds of people bow down to pray.

The crowd exiting the mosque after prayers

The Mosque was huge, but we unfortunately didn’t get to go up the towers since we were carrying cameras and didn’t want to bother getting tickets to take them in. We did get more stares than usual, and people trying to sneak pictures of us which was rather annoying.

From there we went and walked around the Raj-Path, Parliament, Presidents residence and the giant India Gate. We were staying with an American family who are friends of my family’s from Cairo. I must say it was incredibly nice to in some ways step back into an American lifestyle for a couple of days. We had a delicious spaghetti dinner complete with Garlic Bread.

A temple near the metro in Delhi

I was surprised how exciting I found the normal hot shower and really soft beds (as opposed to my usual hot bucket bath and rather hard bed which I have totally gotten used to an haven’t minded). I felt kind like the Peace Corps volunteers we used to have over in Kazakhstan who were sooo thrilled about cheddar cheese, salsa and soft toilette paper- seeing Jiff Peanut butter, Hershey’s chocolate syrup and cranberry juice in the fridge was totally exciting.

Saturday Megan and Harry went to Agra to see the Taj and Red Fort, so I went to the Ghandi Museum, had lunch with my friend in Kahn Market and saw the National Museum.

A cool peace symbol at the Ghandi museum

I really need to read more about Ghandi, I know very little about him but he really was an incredible man. The museum is in the house that he spent his last 140 odd days before he was killed in the back garden. Although there was really too much to read it was a pretty cool museum. There was kind of an odd interactive section on the top floor- but there were guides that led you though and ended up doing most of the inter-active stuff for you which was rather odd. My friend and I had lunch in the upscale Kahn Market, really great Pizza and pasta. I ended the day at the National Museum, which had some cool exhibits along with a few odd Indian touches. There were several main exhibits that you had to walk though empty rooms to get to, and then several exhibits you walked though in succession, and then had to walk back though them all to get out. The third floor also didn’t really have lights turned on in the hallway, but there were some cool exhibits. They had a bunch of old coins and did a good job of explaining the different methods of coin making. There was a massive collection of miniature paintings, some stunningly beautiful crafts and decorations, an exhibit on the history of the maritime force/navy and a cool exhibit on textiles. I was surprised to see a Egyptian statue of a pharaoh from 2,000 bc chilling in the hallway, and some random French and Thai stuff.

Cool chariot outside the National Museum in Delhi

I feel like I am starting to get to know Delhi a little bit- and am still incredibly impressed with the efficiency and wide reach of the Metro. It’s a really great way to get around the City. I don’t know if I’d want to spend a whole lot of time there, but it wasn’t a bad place to visit, and there are still a couple of things I’d like to see there.

Well, that’s it for travel week- although it was a great trip it’s also nice to be back home in Pune. This week I have a couple of final papers and presentations to finish up, as well as starting my internship more full time! It will be busy but interesting. Time has really been flying- it’s hard to believe I’m half done with my time in India.

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