April 19th, 2010

See. Hear. Taste. Touch. Smell. The moment you enter India it embraces all your senses and plays with them from one extreme to the other until you leave. This is a wonderfully unique place with so much beauty to offer, and the thing that always strikes me the most is the vibrant colour its people bring to their country. Our trip began with a brief stop in New Delhi where in addition to traditional fare we had a fantastic Italian meal at the Imperial Hotel. It was the last chance for our daughters to have pizza before heading to the Parmarth Niketan Ashram in Rishikesh. We took the train to Dehradun, about a 6 hour trip, sampling the Chapati and Chai they offered to travelers, and then Rishikesh is about a 45 minute drive from there. The food at the Ashram is simple, healthy and tasty, and the portions are very generous. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and there is never any concern for westerners who are worried about getting sick. It is prepared to Sattvic guidelines, which is food that’s considered pure and leads to clarity and equanimity of mind while also being beneficial to the body. They don’t use, and also ask you to refrain from consuming, onions and garlic since they fall into the Rajasic and Tamasic categories and are believed to increase ignorance and passion, and it's also not the kind of food you would offer to a Deity.

A typical plate of food from the ashram. Rice, Dahl, Rajmah (Beans), Subji (Cauliflower and Potatoes), Mung Bean Salad, Chapati (unleavened flatbread), and for dessert Jelabi (Sugar Donuts)

The Aarti ceremony at Parmarth is performed every night on the banks of Ganga.

The whole family meets with Swamiji before we leave Rishikesh. From Rishikesh, we traveled to Rajasthan to meet with Heifer International and their project partner Ibtada. Heifer’s goal is to work with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. By giving families a hand-up, not just a hand-out, they empower them to turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope. Their partner Ibtada (an Urdu word that means “the beginning”) is a voluntary non-governmental organization in the area, working to make a dent on rural poverty and the problems attached to it. Along with BLT Helps, our non-profit sister company, and Heifer Intl/Ibtada, we were there to witness the progress of the Passing of the Gift program, and the positive effects on the women in these small villages in Rajasthan.

At the village of Mordi we were given a snack of Jaggery. Jaggery is concentrated sugar cane juice used all over Asia in both sweet and savory dishes, or simply as candy. In the Indian state of Rajasthan it also has a religious significance and is offered to Deity’s during worship.

In Rajasthan we stayed at the Sariska Palace Hotel, and though the food was very good the most memorable meal was the one served to us at the village of Bhuriyalli. Saraswati provided a lovely lunch of dahl, okra, raita, chapati and fresh vegetables. It was a slightly delicate situation as we wanted to avoid consuming anything that may interrupt our visit but at the same time didn’t want to offend our generous host. Fresh cooked hot food is fine but we had to avoid eating any of the raw vegetables and dairy.

A woman from the village of  Bhuriyawali, Rajasthan, proudly holds some of the okra she grows in her kitchen garden. I've never cooked this vegetable but I was inspired to make Stir Fried Okra with Tomatoes, Onions, and Northern Spices from Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran & Stephanie Lyness.

Every village and town we traveled through has stalls set up selling locally grown fruits and vegetables. One of the local farmers sells his produce in the town of Pratapgarh.

On our last day in Rajasthan we met this farmer and his daughters from the village of Moreda.

Women from the village of Samara.

Women from the village of Samara collecting water from the well.

Some of the wonderful children we met in Rajasthan.

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