Amber Fort in Jaipur, India

10 Things I will Never Take for Granted Again After Spending a Year in Indian

After almost a year and a half in India I’ve gotten to know the country quite well. There are so many things I love about India, like the beautiful Himalayan Mountains, delicious food and fascinating culture. However, there are a number of things that I have really missed from home. These 10 things I will never take for granted again.

Toilets

India has more cell phones than toilets. There are very few public toilets, which means that public urination (by men) is common. One day, out of pure curiosity, I decided to count the number of men I saw taking a pee on the way to work. In 8 kilometers I counted 14 guys relieving themselves on the side of the road. If you are lucky enough to find a public toilet it will probably be an Indian style squat toilet. Western style toilets are even harder to find.

Hand towels in wash room

If you are able to locate a public restroom be prepared for it to be dirty, even disgusting! They don’t have the same sanitary standards that the west does. I have only found one hand dryer or filled paper towel dispenser in a public bathroom my entire time in India, and that place was operated by foreigners.

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Yoga Love

My Manifesto: India has Changed Me in the Most Wonderful Ways

I had no idea when I left America to manage a large software project in India that a year and half later I would be a different person. India changes people. Its effect on me has been profound in almost every way possible. If you are my friend or family member from back home, prepare yourself. When I return home in the next month or so you will see that I’m not even close to the same person I was, and I’m glad. They call it Incredible India for a reason and here are the many ways that its changed me.

Material Possessions

When I came to India it was because I was offered the highest paying job of my career. I was excited to finally achieve a long time goal of mine; to break the $100k a year salary mark. A year and half later the money is insignificant to me. When the price of your morning cappuccino is more than some people will make in a day, or even a week, it puts things into perspective. I’ve seen naked hungry children wandering the slums in India and its left a lasting impression on me. When I think about all the frivolous things I bought and the money I squandered, it sickens me. It’s all perishable. I can’t take any of it with me when I die. All I want to do now is eat, sleep, breath and be. That’s right….BE. Why are we as a society so obsessed with what others are doing, with deadlines, pressures and achievement? What is really important is THIS particular moment. This day could be your last. It might be the last time you see someone you love. Enjoy it. Count your blessings. Just BE.

Batu Cave in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The Amazing Beauty, Food, and Culture of Malaysia

I spent eight amazing days in Malaysia. I was impressed with many things, including the general sophistication of the cities and the kindness of the people. However, it is the geographical beauty, the delicious food, and the fascinating culture that sticks out most in my mind.

The geographical beauty

By far, the lush landscape and stunning hills of Cameron Highlands was my favorite. Cameron Highlands is about 200 kilometers northeast of Kuala Lumpur, and definitely worth a visit. It’s easy to catch a bus from KL airport and it only takes about 5 hours. Highlights of my visit in that area included a day touring a tea plantation, dining at The Ye Olde Smokehouse, and trekking through the ancient Mossy Forest. The waterfront area of Penang also took my breath away. Make sure you take a ferry over to George Town. It takes about 20 minutes and the view is spectacular.

 

Malaysian food

Eating Malaysian Food is an adventure in itself. A lot of the seafood is sold whole, with the eyeballs still on! It was a little shocking to me. Most of the time I really had no idea what I was eating and because of the language barrier I couldn’t understand what they were telling me about the menu. Apparently that isn’t an unusual event because they would then hand me a picture menu and I would just point at something and hope it was good. The “point and eat” approach worked in my favor every time except once when I was served a dish with every piece of what I assume was chicken, was nothing but gristle. Yuck!

Muslims in Malaysia

I’m Ashamed of Something I Did Today: Confessions from an American Visiting Malaysia

I watched the large Muslim family walk slowly away from me today without an incident. For a moment I felt envious of their extended family gathering. Sometimes traveling alone can feel a bit lonely. They were most likely on holiday, enjoying the Chinese New Year in Malaysia. As they walked away I instantly felt relief, followed by utter shame. I had just lied to them.

It has been odd watching the political events surrounding the Presidential election in America from distant global destinations. For the last few months I have been a passive bi-stander of the unraveling of my beloved nation. I must admit, I’ve wept over it all on more than one occasion.

Asians fascination with westerners

People in Asia are fascinated by westerners and are always asking me where I’m from. “America,” I’ve always said with a sense of patriotism and pride. A year and a half ago when I first came to India it would have led to conversations about Walt Disney theme parks, hamburgers or pop stars. Now the conversation has changed. Every time, and I mean EVERY TIME, I tell someone I am from America now they ask me about Donald Trump. Frankly, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I’m on vacation. I don’t wish to spend my precious time discussing American politics with foreigners that can’t possibly relate to my strong feelings about it anyway.

Dharamsala Animal rescue Mobile Clinic

Dharamsala Animal Rescue: How an American Woman Found Her Passion in a Village in India

India changes people. If you don’t believe me, just ask Deb Jarrett. She was an American, turning 40 and needing a change her life. She loved to travel, so she volunteered with a charitable organization called Cross Cultural Solutions and signed up for a few weeks in India.  Fast forward nearly a decade later and she is running her own nonprofit, rescuing animals from the harsh streets of India and an important part of the Dharamsala community. Dharamsala is probably best known for being the town of residence of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

I met Deb while on a trek in the Himalaya Mountains on our way up to Triund. It was hard to miss her big radiant smile and 3-legged dog named Jack. After only a 5-minute conversation we became friends. Her commitment and passion for helping others, whether they be 2-legged or 4-legged beings, inspires me to be a better person.

 

The beginning of Dharamsala Animal rescue

When she first came to India for a few weeks as a volunteer working with women and children, she was astonished at the mistreatment of animals, in particular, dogs. There was a poor little sickly one in the corner of the temple where she was working and no one seemed to care about it. Deb, being a woman of action, contacted a vet for assistance, and well the rest is history.

A cottage at Dudhsagar Plantation

Dudhsagar Plantation: A Botanical Utopia Hidden in the Jungle of Goa

I had an extraordinary time visiting a real Indian farm in Southeastern Goa. Dudhsagar Plantation is a guesthouse spread on about 50 beautiful acres. They have 5 cottages scattered amongst the agricultural paradise and employ around 14 people. The farm is owned by Doris and Ajit Malkarnekar who started it over 30 years ago. Doris is from Germany and still lives there. Ajit is Goan. Their son, Ashok, was my host. His wife actually lives in Indonesia. I found it fascinating that both couples are international and live apart most of the time. I guess when running a large plantation, you do what you have to in order to keep the place running smoothly. In fact, I’ve met many people in India that live apart from their spouses in order to meet obligations of extended family and work. It’s not terribly uncommon.

Accommodations

Beside the 5 cottages, the grounds also have a fair sized swimming pool and open air common dining room. It has a thatched roof and is situated just outside the main house. The food was delicious and featured many of their farm grown fruits, vegetables and spices.

The tour

Ashok gave me the grand tour and I was captivated by every amazing detail. Their main crop is coconuts and they harvest 3 to 4 times per year. They cook with their own homemade bio gas, which is basically methane made from liquefied cow dung. Cow dung is a popular fuel in India. Traditionally, many homes dry cow dung discs and cook with them year around. Sometimes it takes a little getting used to because the smell of burning cow dung mixes with the aroma of the food and is a little pungent for western senses, but food cooked on biogas does not have this odour.

The view at Olaulim Backyards

I found Paradise in the Backyards of Panjim, Goa, India

Everyone is always talking about Goa like it’s some sort of exotic dream vacation destination, so I had to find out for myself why it’s so popular. I’ve only spent three days here and I never want to leave! Goa is heavenly, and my accommodations are sheer paradise!

What and Where

I’m staying at a charming home stay called Olaulim Backyards, situated on 3 lovely acres located about half an hour outside of Panjim. Panjim is the capital of the state of Goa. Home Stays are popular in India and one of my favorite types of places. They are typically a cheaper alternative to a hotel and provide a “no frills” style of accommodations. However, Olaulim (the name of the village) Backyards is an extraordinary exception.

My Cottage

I arrived after dark, weary from a day of travel. Pirkko Fernandes, co-owner and hostess, met me with a smile at the car and introduced herself. She is originally from Finland but has lived in India for over 20 years. Her hospitality and graciousness were evident from the very beginning. I felt like I had just arrived home. She showed me to my cottage and I was immediately impressed with every beautiful detail. The bed was soft and actually had sheets (unusual for India unless staying in a 4 or 5-star hotel).  The bamboo accents and soft golden lighting instantly helped me relax. The bathroom was an open air style with a 6-foot solid mud wall around it, thatched roof and a concrete floor. It makes you feel like you are part of nature yet still have all the comforts of home.  I really had no idea though what a charming and beautiful place it was until the next morning.

 

I awoke to the sounds of birds singing cheerfully outside of my cottage. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a peacock calling in the distance and wind chimes making soft music in the cool morning breeze. I made myself a cup of coffee and then headed out to the pool area to meditate, do some yoga and watch the sunrise over the bay. It was the perfect start to an incredibly relaxing day.