India 2013 trip diary: Getting to know each other

By Tina Romenesko

Our DFW adventure officially began on Nov. 6, Wednesday, with everyone arriving throughout the day.

We met at Grace Home – situated in a trendy area of South Delhi – and a small group of us shared dinner and got to know each other.  After breakfast on Thursday, we gathered together and shared our experiences with DFW. Taryn Walker, trip leader, also asked that we share an attribute we bring the group, and something we would like to work on personally while traveling in Inda.

This is the first time in India for all of us. Christine, one of our group, has a gift for each of us.  Stones, in a small elegant fabric bag, with a saying she wanted to share with each of us.

All of us agree that this intention is a beautiful expression of this trip.  Our participation is in someways simple – like a pebble thrown into a pond – and our hope is to make a difference.  Not in big splashy ways, but subtly reaching out to raise our own consciousness, and also touch the hearts of the women we meet along the way that participate in DFW projects, and certainly beyond.  Each pouch contains a touchstone with a personal message for its taker: Joy, believe, encouragement, calm, hope, dream,, connect, stretch.  We are each pleased with our choice – such a thoughtful idea – and now her luggage is much lighter!  Thanks Christine.

Our first outing was lunch: A true feast of Indian food which included yogurt kebabs, chicken malai tikka (which is very tender and cooked in a clay oven), cucumber raita, black lentil dal, palak paneer, biryani (rice with spices) and, of course, naan.  Not being very acquainted with Indian cuisine, I take copious notes, spelling each dish so I can order it back in Milwaukee.  Already my palate is becoming more accustomed to the spiciness!  The never-ending lunch finally does end with either saffron ice cream with pistachios, or Susan’s favorite, gulab jamun – a deep fried ball of dough with a pistachio nut in the center, swimming in sticky syrup. We are all much too full AND well acquainted as we head toward Qutab Minar in the van.

Our entourage includes a driver who changes daily while we are in Delhi, Sunjata, our fearless guide who leads us through the streets as record pace and is a fountain of knowledge about Indian culture and history, and Ravi – assistant guidke and male presence in the group that holds us safe on our journey.

Martha Walke noted that navigating the cultural changes is challenging and the importance of a local guide:

“It’s difficult to know how to interact – how to help – when to help.  Ignoring women with hungry infants, and children with disfigurements, is heartbreaking.  Our policy is to give anonymously to the administrators of the projects we visit or defer to our guide, who understands the culture in a way we never will.  

After lunch, I bought three packages of incense from an armless man.  Sunjata told me that he wasn’t begging – just walking by with the incense and a sign that announced the fair price.  I put the money into a slot on the side of his box that held his wares.  It looked like the the boxes cigarette girls used at clubs in the ’40s.  A strap around his neck holding a horizontal box full of incense.  We smiled softly at each other – a small gesture.  That incense is the scent of good karma.  And again, thanks to our guide for negotiating me through the labyrinth of helping wisely.”

The Qutab Minar is a five-story minarette, which is part of a large Muslim complex in South Delhi.  The mosque is surrounded by pillars pilfered from destroyed Hindu temples when the Muslims took control of Delhi in the 12th century.  Each story is from a different era, with a slightly different style and carvings.  It is 72 meters high and was used as a victory tower and also the site of the call to prayer, five times daily.

We enjoy many photo opportunities and many of us experience our first invitation to pose for  photos with Indian families traveling to Delhi that would love to have a picture of their family, smiling with a foreigner.  At first this seems strange to me – but our guide in Rishikesh explained that this is a source of pride for the family – and a compliment to all.  I always try to ask the young people about their education (a tip from Taryn), and always make good eye contact with lots of smiles.

Taryn has arranged Ayurvedic treatments for all of us at a Kairali Spa – which is an extension of a treatment center in Kerala in the South of India.  Most of us opt for Abhianga – a full body anointment in oil, done on a hard wooden table that looks like it was part of a torture chamber (I mean treatment center) from the Mugul period.  Needless to say, after full anointment on the front, it is challenging to slither, slide, and roll onto the belly for full anointment of the back!

The next step is a body steam.  They lead you to a wooden box that looks like what magicians use to cut women in half.  You sit on a small (and thankfully adjustable) bench and your practitioner closes the doors and turns on the steam to help absorb the oil into the pores of the body.  All agree that the combination of the copious amounts of  warmed oil, the rigorous massage, and the unexpected strength of the lovely. smiling  women  from Kerala who have uprooted their families to work here in Delhi, it was a lovely experience.