As much as I love my day-to-day life, sometimes escaping is the only thing on my mind. Sometimes daydreams of far off beaches, exotic foods, and foreign horizons take center stage in my brain.
And when summer vacation is just lurking around the corner, that feeling has only become exacerbated. Sometimes it’s just me feeling antsy. Sometimes it gets a bit more severe. (Case in point: for the past few months, I’ve flirted with the idea of dyeing my hair blue and just heading to South America for a solid year or so when I’ve finished my time on the JET Programme.) And despite the fact that I’ve been grounded in Japan for almost three years now, some people might think that even that venture was an escape from “real life.”
But aside from traveling, the other form of escape I so often utilize is far more accessible on a day-to-day basis: books and movies. I’m a bibliophile and cinephile in equal parts. In my college days, one of my favorite classes was one on film theory, a love that I later parlayed into writing frequent reviews for the campus newspaper. And my love of books? Well, that’s been running rampant through my veins for the better part of two decades now.
What I really get a kick out of, though, is when those two loves bleed into each other. It’s why I loved seeing Pont de Bir-Hakeim , featured in Inception, in Paris. It’s why I loved visiting the Hobbiton set outside of Auckland in New Zealand. And most recently, it’s why I loved seeing the Chand Baori stepwell in India this past winter.
Sorry to lure you here under false pretenses, but this post is not nearly as romantic or sentimental as the title would make it seem. Fair warning: bodily distress of the “oh god, I am going to throw up” kind discussed in this post.
Sometimes I get a bit cocky when traveling. Despite having been to more than twenty countries and eating some pretty suspect food, I’ve only been drastically ill once. (And it wasn’t pretty, but at least I was back on my feet in a day or so.) My immune system is pretty robust. After a week in India and not a single instance of intestinal distress, I thought I’d escaped the dreaded “Delhi Belly” experience that nearly every traveler encounters. One by one, other members of the group had confessed to feeling under the weather, but I’d stayed energetic and upright. Aside from my stomach being unused to the immense amount of spices I was dumping into it, I wasn’t experiencing any major problems. Between the general catch-all stomach tablets that I was preventatively popping every morning and the UV water filter that I was using, I felt on top of the world. “My stomach is made of iron!” I thought to myself. “I am unstoppable. Come at me, India, I can take whatever you throw at me!”
Before I went to India, one of my friends remarked that he didn’t like the Subcontinent’s cuisine because, to paraphrase him, “it’s basically just a bunch of vegetables and lentils boiled down to texture-less mush.” I’d disagreed with him then, and after eating my way across Rajasthan for a week, that feeling intensified by about a thousand. I know that I only tasted the barest fraction of the delicious food the region had to offer, but what I did eat was some of the best food I’ve encountered anywhere in the world. And I ate as much of it as I could. About halfway through our trip, one of my friends had remarked, “I think we’ve all learned at this point that you’re willing to try anything. ‘Well haven’t had a bite of that one yet…’”
As I’m never one to skip an opportunity to making a ranked list, here are the eleven best foods I ate while in India, in no particular order. Don’t read this while you’re hungry.
1.) Navratan Korma – It’s not exactly a secret that India is home to some truly bangin’ curry, and I did my best to taste as many delicious varieties as I could. Of all of those, navratan korma was probably my favorite. In Hindi, it translates to “nine jewels,” which refers to the variety of vegetables, nuts, and fruits used in the dish. Mine had cashews, paneer, carrots, green beans, carrots, and potatoes in it, to name just a few ingredients. There was hardly any oil in it, unlike a lot of the other curries I’d eaten, and the cashews added a huge amount of creaminess. The thing that made navratan korma stick out to me was the inclusion of pineapple. It made for a surprising note of sweetness in what would have otherwise been a pretty mild (and even bland) curry.
I feel like I need to add a disclaimer to the beginning of this post. It was one of the most difficult I’ve ever written; I don’t often think it hard to find the right words when I’m writing, but this post was the exact opposite of that. I tried to be as respectful and inoffensive as possible in my descriptions and opinions, and I apologize if I offend any who read this.
You can’t come to India without expecting the country to have a severe and permeating impact on your life. I saw things in India that I’d never seen before and likely never will again. That being said, the way I felt in Varanasi has become the emotional center of my trip. Nothing could have prepared me for Varanasi, our last stop in India before heading off to Nepal.
Varanasi, which has also historically been known as Banaras, is a city with multiple claims to fame. For one, it’s the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. Other cities, like Rome and Athens, may be technically older, but Varanasi wins out on the terms that somebody has always called it home. It’s a title that you can’t really contest either; Varanasi’s streets positively ache and groan with age. Mark Twain had it right when he wrote, “Banaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend and looks twice as old as all of them put together.” Continue reading The Ghats of Varanasi→
As exciting as my days within Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra were, I was more than happy to escape the frenetic energy of the city for far quieter surroundings. Enter Orchha, a tiny town in Madhya Pradesh with a population of only ten thousand. Compared to the Golden Triangle, Orchha was a completely different world that seemed like it was still enshrined in the past and unspoiled by modernity. For the first time since entering the Subcontinent, my ears weren’t ringing from the constant beeping of horns and I could cross the street without fearing for my life. It was an entirely different world.
Some destinations are so hyped up, so seemingly magical and otherworldly, so commonly listed on bucket lists that they sometimes can lose their luster when you finally come face-to-face with them. So high are your expectations that the reality cannot possibly measure up with the image that you’ve built in your mind.
The Taj Mahal is not one of those places.
No, the Taj Mahal fulfilled every bit of my sky-high expectations and then some. I was expecting it to be easily one of the highlights of my week in India, and I wasn’t disappointed. Taj Mahal means “crown of palaces” in Arabic, and it’s a fitting name. It’s the crown architectural jewel of Agra, of Uttar Pradesh, of Rajasthan, maybe even of the entirety of India. You can’t argue with the fact that the shining white marble mausoleum, with its bulbous dome and the spindly towers that flank it, is one of the most impressive and iconic buildings in the entire world. Continue reading Taj-struck in Agra→
When I travel, I all too often find myself swept up in seeing as many of the classic, ancient sites in a city. I definitely try to balance that drive with as many everyday activities as I can, and going to a movie in India is definitely one of the most memorable experiences I’ve ever had. My knowledge of Bollywood before my trip to India was minimal, to say the least. I knew they sang, I knew they danced, I knew it was over-the-top…and that was about it.