Fasten your seatbelts, my friends. This is gonna be a long one. Even without the animal photos (Taz accidentally absconded with the CD containing those). I do plan to post lots of exotic animal pics very soon. Meanwhile, let's start out with a list of highlights from the trip, shall we? For you gossip hounds who are only interested in the juicy details of the engagement, you can skip ahead and read about it here. But despite how wonderful it was, it really truly was not the only cool thing about the trip. Anyway, on with the list:
India Trip Higlights
1. Finally meeting Taz's extended family (I had already met his mom). This included two sets of aunts and uncles, his grandmom, two cousins, his brother, his sister-in-law, and his niece, as well as several "honorary" aunts and uncles who are technically family friends. The verdict? They are all sweet, loving, generous, fun, and slightly quirky. Just like my own family. Within five minutes of meeting all of them, I already felt comfortable enough to tease them. I hope that didn't cause any of them to take permanent offense, but seeing as they came up with nicknames for me (such as P's favorite "Brrrr") and started teasing me as well, I have a feeling that I'm "in."
2. The food. YUM!! I was worried I'd get sick, but I really didn't at all. One or two days out of the whole trip where I felt a little "delicate," but no actual illness. And thank goodness, because if I hadn't been able to eat all the wonderful food, I would have cried. There was homemade food, snack food, sweets, Indian Chinese food, fish curry, mutton biryani, aloo gobi, tandoori chicken, kebabs, dosa, channa masala, garam chapatti, pani poori, pao bhaji, masala chai, cutting chai, coconut water (nectar of the gods), sugar cane juice, idlis with sambar, and even paan. I think my Spice Tolerance Threshold (STT) was raised quite a bit while I was in India, because last week I ate at an Indian restaurant in NYC and I found the food a bit bland.
3. The weather. Can you say high 70's and sunny? Every. Single. Day.
4. Playing lots of Teen Pathi (aka Indian Poker) with Taz's family. His brother in particular was determined to get everyone addicted to gambling. All I can say is, thank goodness we were playing for rupees, despite P's best efforts to make me and Taz pay up in dollars.
5. Seeing the countryside and rural villages in Karnataka and Kerala. Having grown up in upstate NY seeing cornfields, dairy farms and apple orchards, it was pretty neat for me to see rice paddies, coconut groves, and banana plantations lining the road.
6. Chuckling at Taz's identity crisis when people kept asking him where he's from. Since he was traveling with me, and he doesn't look south Indian, people assumed he must be a foreigner. One guy even guessed Germany, and would only believe he was Indian when Taz actually started speaking in Hindi! But the best moment was when we were at the Mysore Zoo and some young guys asked us to pose in a picture with them, just as if we had been another exhibit of exotic animals.
7. Taking part in the puja at Taz's mom's house. It was really neat!
8. The clothes. Being able to wear a salwar kameez everyday without getting weird looks is awesome. They are soooo comfortable! The sari was a little more awkward for me to wear, but it was still really beautiful, and I guess practice makes perfect with such things. And Taz's family is so generous, I'd estimate I only actually bought maybe 50% of the mountain of clothes I came back with.
9. Watching Hindi movies without subtitles and only Taz's translation to help me. He prefers to listen to ten minutes of dialogue and then give me a two-sentence "gist" of what was said. But I actually did enjoy myself quite a bit, and I'm pretty sure I understood the movies. I especially liked Kalyug, which has an interesting theme and a great sound track.
10. Going to the mall in India. I know there are some who would say that a mall is not an authentic Indian experience, but it really is. It's where all of Bangalore goes on Sundays, that's for sure! It was kind of surreal, because the mall felt very familiar, except that everyone was walking around in Indian clothes, and the McDonald's was serving a Maharaja Mac.
11. The traffic. Taz kept trying to get me to drive in India, but I think that was just because he was exhausted from all the swerving around auto rickshaws, bouncing over surprise unmarked speed bumps, navigating between potholes, and trying to avoid the oncoming traffic that had decided to use our lane as a passing lane. At least all the excitement makes it hard to fall asleep at the wheel!
12. Seeing all the places where Taz grew up in Bombay. I got to see his school, his childhood apartment, the cricket pitch where he used to play, the pool he used to swim in, the movie theater he used to visit, and the market where his family buys vegetables.
OK, so there were lots of other great things about the trip, but I think now it's time to tell you all about how Taz and I got engaged.
Apparently, on New Year's Day, Taz told his mom and his brother that he was planning on proposing to me. That of course meant that by the time we arrived in Bombay with her on January 2nd, the whole family knew. Except for me. So anyway, we stayed up quite late on the evening of the 2nd, playing cards (see #4 above) at Taz's aunt and uncle's house. Around 2:30am we finally headed out, and as soon as we pulled out of the apartment complex, Taz says to me, "Wanna go for coffee?" Considering that over the past two nights combined we had slept less than five hours, at first I thought he was insane. But then I decided that half an hour wasn't going to make much of a difference at that point, so we might as well have a few quiet moments together. So we went to a fancy all-night cafe and got some tea. We started talking about the trip and Taz asked me what I thought of his family and my India experience in general. Then he asked me, as he often does, if I'll be with him forever. And as I always do, I said yes. But then he paused and said, "Are you sure? Because I'm really asking this time." I burst into tears, but I managed to pull myself together enough to say "Yes, I will marry you." Then we chatted a little while more before going to get some sleep.
The first thing Taz's mom said to me on January 3rd was "Welcome to the family!" in the most cheerful voice I've ever heard. First thing after breakfast, we went to Taz's grandmom's house, where there was a little thing to welcome me to the family. Everyone fed us bits of sugar and blessed us:
A blessing from Taz's grandmom
Then we went ring shopping, went to lunch at a family friend's house, I went to the hair salon with Taz's mom, and everyone did a whole bunch of other errands. In the evening, we came back and Taz's aunt helped me get into my new sari:
My first time in a sari!
Then we sat on the couch and we each fed one another a piece of sweet. Then Taz put the ring on my finger and a bit of red powder on my forehead:
After that, family members took turns feeding us each a piece of sweet and giving me really beautiful jewelry. Taz's brother, who had flown in with his wife from Bangalore just for a few hours to be there with us, couldn't let everyone take things too seriously. So he took an entire sweet for each of us (these sweets were about the size of a large piece of sushi) and took our picture with our cheeks bulging:
Just a couple of chipmunks...
Then, after lots of hugging and more pictures, we all headed off to dinner at a great Thai restaurant, where we were presented with a cake. Taz's cousin felt it important that I end up with cake on my face:
Don't worry, Taz got "caked" too.
India was amazing, Taz's family was amazing, and it was all just perfect.