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Count Your Blessings

I realize I have been very blessed not only to have had this experience in India but also in my own life. I often get caught up in not having the same privileges as other folks in the states, or I find myself complaining about very minute things. The following conditions that I will be sharing in this article are not meant to offend anyone or degrade any parts of India.  I realized that some Indian people have to deal with a lot more on a daily basis than myself. Disclaimer: all people in India are not subjected to all of these conditions, some people are doing very well.

Clean water. We have clean water in the states. In the states, I can drink the tap water, rinse my toothbrush with the water from the faucet, and ask for a cold glass of water with ice. Here in India and other developing countries people do not have clean water. Due to the water being contaminated people become ill, especially young children.

Child Beggars. I have seven nieces and nephews in total, and I spoil them rotten. They have all the latest gadgets, toys, love, a roof over their head, and three meals a day. Here in India, I have seen very young children begging for food and water from seven in the morning to nine o’clock at night. They have to worry about the next time they will be able to eat. My family has been blessed to give the children in our family options when eating every meal.

Education. I am currently in college. That is a blessing in a lot of countries, but I have found in India some young women do not complete middle school or high school because they have to help provide for their families.

Power. In the states, there has to be a lot of electronics plugged in, or it’s storming outside for a power outage to occur. Here in India, one could be sitting down at a restaurant, or in your workplace, or your hotel with nothing plugged in, and decent weather and everything could shut down. Folks have to deal with that on a daily basis.

Bathrooms. My home in the states has a toilet, a shower, and a sink. Of course, in the United States, we all expect to have a bathroom in our home with running water. While doing research on the Swachh Bharat Mission, I learned that a lot of people in rural and urban areas do not have a facility to bathe or use the toilet. Folks have to go to a field or area dedicated to open defecation. Women and children are often sexually abused or harmed when they are trying to relieve themselves in these fields. I have taken for granted that I can relieve myself at any time at night without stepping outside of my home.

Sidewalks. I know sidewalks for us in the states are usually always there, but in India, sidewalks are often cracked, non-existent or uneven. The sidewalks are dug up when it rains to stop the flooding, but no one places the cement covers back over the drains. And when there is no sidewalk one must walk in the streets, and the streets can be kind of intimidating.

Sanitation. We generate a lot of waste in the United States, but we usually don’t see it. In India however, people just throw garbage any and everywhere. Countries that are developing rapidly like India have to deal with a lot of waste from construction and demolition to trash from homes.

As a Black woman in America, I often feel stripped of certain privileges and rights. However, while being in India, I learned I have a lot to be grateful for because some people have way more obstacles than me and still manage to create opportunities for themselves. Always, remember to count your blessings.

Kerala: 3 Cities, 1 Weekend

I found the travel guides for Kerala I read in preparation for my trip to be extremely pretentious. “God’s own country” they said, but after being there I totally get it. Never in my life have I seen such beauty. I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but like with most of my India vacations, I was trying to fit a lot of things in a small amount of time. This was also one of the first trips I planned by myself, and I was really happy with how things turned out. With my trusty travel buddy by my side, we ran through Kerala in a weekend!

Never in my life had I taken such a variety of transportation method – a bus from Bangalore to Munnar, a car from Munnar to Alleppey, a rickshaw from Alleppey to Kochi, and an plane from Kochi back to Bangalore. That, paired with all the activities we had in our jam-packed days (which for brevity’s sake I’ll overview and let the pictures do the talking) left me very exhausted, but very content.

Munnar

We got off the bus around 9am and made our way to our homestay, a little cottage amidst marvelous mountains. Later that day we took a tuk-tuk tour that involved elephants, spices, tea, waterfalls, lakes, and the views of a lifetime.

Alleppey

The drive from Munnar to Alleppey was spectacular. Once we got to this little coastal town, we went straight to the beach and had an amazing lunch of Keralan fish curry and paratha. Later in the day we walked along Sacred beach, about twenty minutes out of the city, and did a little shopping at the market. The next day was spent relaxing in a canoe, as we drifted through the backwaters and got to see the river villages.

Kochi

I decided to spend an extra day in Kerala, but Monet had to get back to work. So I took on Kochi solo-dolo. In the morning I took an amazing cooking class where I learned how to make many of the dishes I’ve been drooling over the past two months. Then I walked around the city, checked out the beach, and saw some pretty cool street art. Later that night I had dinner with a few friends I made back in Munnar, then got on the plane back to Bangalore!

If I could do it all again, which I would definitely like to, I would spend more time in the mountains. But if you’re ever in India, or just looking for your next vacation destination, I highly recommend you make the trip to Kerala!

Thank you India

It may sound cliche, but India has changed my life. I know how it sounds, but it’s true. See, in India something has been different.

I don’t think too much about things. The city is hectic. I’m often lost or confused about what is happening around me. There’s so much going on and there’s so many changes for me. I feel like I should be overwhelmed, but I’ve settled in so easily.

“Deep breath. Look around. Feel the city around you.”

Mural in Gokarna

Most people know that I’m a worrier. It’s my best skill. I can be anxious about the smallest of things or the largest things and for no reason at all. I worry about whether my clothes look alright or if my makeup will melt off my face. I worry about whether I’ll be late to something or if people are judging me for answering a question.

In India, it’s different. Do I look alright? I don’t know and I don’t care much, as long as I’ll stay cool throughout the day. Will my makeup stay on all day? Doesn’t matter, I don’t wear makeup. Will I be late? Probably, but so will everyone else because traffic is the worst in Bangalore. Does someone care what I have to say? Actually, they do. They want to know my thoughts.

My levels of anxiety are different in India. I’m not saying that India cured my anxiety, because trust me, I am still worrying about things, but it’s not as much.

India has no space for my anxiety.

Whatever it is here that has changed me, made me overthink less has made a huge difference. It sounds cliche, like all the same things everyone says when they return from abroad that the traveling “has changed them”,  but I can’t deny the reality of this.

I don’t think too much before saying yes. I agree to ride on motorbikes and to go out with friends in the middle of the week. I say yes to traveling to rural communities and taking initiative in the office. But I will admit that my anxiety creeps up on me when I’m in a restaurant or when I’m taking a cab across town, the mundane things.

I say that I never want to leave India, and if it wasn’t the wrong time, I wouldn’t go so soon. I’ll miss the people and the food, and I’ll miss the things I didn’t have an opportunity to see. India is a hectic city with so many people and chaos, and I’ll miss the green spaces that are tucked in the smallest corners of the city.

           

I never would have thought that 2 months in India would have been like this. I think it’d be impossible to travel anywhere and not be impacted in some way, but I had no idea that I would have so much room to grow in these two months.

I never thought I would meet such amazing people who would mean so much to me. I could never have imagined the places I’ve seen or how the work at SELCO would change my perspective on things. I thought that 2 months would feel so long, but now I feel like I’ve only been here for a few minutes. I never knew that friends could be made so quickly and that I would make the best kind of memories with them.

As my final week begins, I continue to reflect on my time in India, and I know that I’ll miss you. I’ll miss the people and the way people view the connectedness of people and other living things. I’ll miss drive to work every morning and the drive home every afternoon. I’ll miss waking up to the most annoying bird I’ve ever heard, but also the way it’s always a bearable temperature when I walk outside.

When I leave India, Ill take a piece make with me. I’ll take my motorbike memories and my food experiences and my friends all home with me. And in return, I’ll leave a piece of myself here as a reminder that I’ll be back one day.

And when I return, this time I might not ever leave.

So thank you India.

The 5 Senses of India

Around this time last year, I started seeing a therapist for my anxiety. My mental health struggles were something that made me, well anxious, in the months leading up to this trip. I couldn’t shake the fear of having a full-blown panic attack halfway around the world. As much as I disliked therapy, I did learn one handy tactic for when I start to feel overwhelmed and hysterical. My practitioner told me to take a few breaths, then run down the five senses – sight, smell, taste, sound, and feel – and mentally list everything I was experiencing in that moment. The exercise would force me to shift focus and, if only for a few minutes, center myself in the present.

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From the day I landed in India, everything was different. Different living arrangements, different friends, a different job, different languages, a different Uber app…even the back of my hand looked different from the marks of different bugs who decided to get a taste of my different flesh. And with all the excitement these differences brought, there was also the shadow of anxiety as I was making all types of adjustments, consciously and subconsciously, to my new and different lifestyle.

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So there were many instances where, to keep my sanity, I took the time to inhale, exhale, and think, “I see this…I smell this…” Not only did I find some reprieve from the panic, going through this ritual, sometimes two or three times a day, really grounded me in this new country. It allowed me to notice parts of India that I probably wouldn’t have valued otherwise. As I approached the final weeks of my fellowship, I found myself trying to hold onto the sensations that marked my time in India.

I Saw…

Endless green spaces, foreign flowers, dogs napping in the street, women carrying rocks on their head, vehicles too close to my own, people languishing on the street, electrical wires hanging from trees, scenic beaches, inordinate amounts of street waste, blissful children, indescribable mountain views, spikey produce, sunlight glittering on the water

I Smelled…

Car exhaust, fried bananas, body must, roasting corn, jasmine, warm sea air, urine, crisp mountain air, raw herbs and spices, cigarette smoke, burning trash, incense, rose water, charred coconuts, fish rotting in the hot market, feces – human and animal, freshly brewed chai, my supervisor’s perfume, lemongrass oil

I Tasted…

Boiled rice, plantain chips, salty ocean mist, local Indian beer, the coating of my malaria pills, tulsi tea, warm paratha, juicy mangos, exotic masala, whole green chile, rosemary chocolate, infused liquors, candied fennel seeds, fleshy baby coconut, betel leaf paan, syrupy gulab jamun, spicy hot lentils, shortbread cookies, mineraly mountain water

I Heard…

Prayer bells, indistinct chatter in Hindi or Tamil or Kannada, my neighbors arguing, cats fighting in the night, religious chanting, calm nothing in the mountains, birds singing, canoes paddling through the river, women beating laundry, cars honking, chaat crunching in my mouth, rushing waterfalls, banging from construction

I Felt…

Warm monsoon rains, the hand of an overly-familiar coworker, my scarf around my neck, cold showers, unyielding humidity, drops in the sidewalk, misty mountain air, hot marble on temple floors, my work bag weighing on my shoulders, warm massage oil, every spring and lump in my hotel bed, condensation forming on a cold cup of juice

And I am thankful that in a few months, when I’m worrying about an exam or deadline, I can take a breath and remember the impression India left on me.

प्यार से,  Rai

Gokarna: My heart belongs to the sea

For three days, I went to Gokarna, a coast city in Karnataka, India. Gokarna means “cow ears”, and let me tell you that there are a lot of cows chilling in this town.

Gokarna is so peaceful with so many gorgeous beaches. The sand is dark and soft, and the Arabian Sea was a nice break from my internship. Many adventures came out of the trip including: motorcycle wrecks, chasing down buses, being lost, and getting caught in the rain many times.

Motorcycle Wreck

I’ll start with the most exciting part of the trip, which was the motorcycle wreck that I was a part of. It really isn’t as bad as it sounds. I was on the back of a motorcycle (which was extremely fun) when we happened upon a lot of mud/sludge that we had to work through to get back onto the road. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it and we skidded onto the side and landed in the mud. I’m still not sure what happened, but I managed to scape off a couple layers of skin on my leg about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide.

                  

This is of course was about an hour into our trip, so I spent the rest of the day with a wound that seemed fine. Once back in Bangalore 2 days later, I went to the hospital which resulted in a tetanus shot, antibiotics for 5 days, and a dressing that gets to be changed every couple days. I’ll spare you the gruesome photos, but below is one of my bandaged leg

Bus Mishaps

To get to Gokarna, it is a 9 hour bus ride from Bangalore. I booked my ticket and was on my way when suddenly someone from the bus is calling me, along with friends on the bus. Apparently our bus was no longer going to stop at my location. Luckily there was two of us (both American, unfortunately) at the wrong bus stop. We had to run and take a rickshaw to another stop. Once there, I watched as the bus drove past us, without stopping. Eventually, we got onto the metro, rode it for many many stops, and then hopped off. Surprisingly, I made it to Gokarna despite my bus driver trying everything he could to lose me.

Gokarna

The first day in Gokarna was reserved for the beaches.

              

 

Yana Caves 


On our second day in Gokarna, we rented motorcycles and traveled 2 hours to Yana Caves which are this beautiful place with these large rock structures that you can walk through. It is entirely natural, so basically it involved many, many rough rocks. When you first arrive at the base of the caves, you remove your shoes and then climb lots of stairs to the opening of the caves. It is so peaceful.

        

 

More Adventures… In which you can’t tell how extremely sunburnt I am

   
Beautiful graffiti on a random side street in Gokarna

       

Being Fat in India

I have never been made so aware of my weight in my entire life! However, I am thankful that I was taught to practice self-love and body acceptance at a very young age otherwise these comments and experiences may have brought me down. There are a few situations that stick out to me, that I thought were pretty hilarious.

1) I was not feeling well a few weeks ago, and I walked into a store asking for throat lozenges/cough drops, and a sells clerk immediately took me to the diet supplements section. I laughed because the young lady spoke English very well and understood what I was saying… To this day, I’m still not sure why we ended up in the diet section.

2) The first few days I got to India a kind man, his wife and daughter invited Raigon and me to travel with them to Mysore. The kind man had a round belly but felt the need to point out my weight. He told us that he had already rented a five seater car with a driver, then looked my way and said, “if you come we will need a seven seater because you are so big.” He did not acknowledge the fact that six people can not fit into a five seater, I laughed and went on about my day. I also politely declined their invitation.

3)I went to eat lunch with some friends, and they made a point to talk about how heavy I am while at the table. They also suggested that instead of ordering dessert like everyone at the table, I should order a cup of green tea because it’s healthy. I laughed and said, “I like my size, and it just so happens to be none of your business.” This comment shut them down, and we continued to enjoy our food and DESSERT!

4)Every time I am full or only take a few bites of food because my mouth nor my stomach can take Indian spices at times, people ask me if I am on a diet. This comment always makes me chuckle because I guess folks think just because you are fat you are supposed to eat everything all the time.

Anyways, these comments have been a very tiny part of my adventures in India. I am thankful to my mother who taught me to love myself – because these comments could have made me cry instead of laugh. I am more than just my weight I am funny, intelligent, beautiful, hard working and very kind. Oh and check out some pictures of me below!

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My elephant friend, Lakshmi!!

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Sitting on rocks in Auroville!

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My travel buddy and I at Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bangalore!

Do I Like Pondicherry More Than Bangalore?

To celebrate our first month in India, we all (sans KayLynn ☹) took a “cultural trip” to Pondicherry for the weekend!

Pondicherry is a former French colony on the Eastern coast of India. There’s tons to do, and I noticed more tourists than I have in Bangalore so I didn’t stick out as much which was nice. Praveen was our guide, so we had a super-packed weekend, but I easily could’ve spent another 3, 4, 5, forever days in the city. Here’s an overview of our visit, and some of the things that make me want to go back and/or live there.

Settling In

 

I’m perpetually cold-natured, so when we got off the frigid train, from a cool Bangalore, I welcomed the 100°F weather with open arms. The streets here are clean and peaceful — a forgotten reality in the bustle of the city. Our hotel was fabulous. It was a centuries-old building with charm and a courtyard and homemade jam.

History

 

So way back when the French were in charge of Pondicherry, they segregated the city by color and religion. Which is awful, but now you have this idyllic contrast between “white town” and “brown town” for some scenic walks. The street names are in French, though the government is starting to making changes to use Indian names. Colonial influences can be seen in the parks, churches, and pier, which used to be a fortress.

Elephants

 

I’m aware that elephants exist outside of Pondicherry, but Pondicherry is where I met my first elephant, so the two will always be synonymous in my mind. I tried to play the whole petting an elephant thing cool…but I didn’t. Can’t remember the last time I was that excited.

Beach

 

While I’m not necessarily a “beach person,” the joy of being on the coast is undeniable. This beach also doubled as a fishing village, and had some aesthetic rocks. We were only here for a short time because it’s monsoon season, and the afternoon showers come like clockwork.

Auroville and Ashram 

 

We ate lunch at an ashram — a very unique experience. My hips weren’t made for eating on the floor. But the homemade bread…the stuff dreams are made of. Here, and the other areas surrounding the ashram, I saw lots of White people who looked like they were on a journey of self discovery. Nobody really paid attention to them, but I made sure to stare because the modern, White, hippie is a fascinating breed. The same crowd was hanging out at Auroville, a utopian community founded by a wise spiritual devotee, The Mother. We weren’t able to visit their infamous meditation center, but we did walk around the jungle grounds and learn about their philosophy.

Shopping

 

I don’t know why I’ve been so weird about buying souvenirs (probably because I have terrible money management skills) but I picked up some nice things in Pondy. The area is known for their leather goods and pottery, neither of which I purchased, but I’d like to go back and do so. Plus, people who are a part of the Auroville community make lots of fairly sourced, artisanal goods to sell.

With that being said, Pondicherry doesn’t have all the metropolitan excitement that I love about Bangalore. Or thought I loved…the universe could be pushing me into a small town lifestyle. Who knows. But I will definitely spend more time in enchanting “French India” before I die.

प्यार से,  Rai

Why Everyone Should Visit Indian Temples

I didn’t expect to do so much temple exploring during my time in India, but it seems like every adventure includes a stroll through some awe-inspiring, sacred spaces. Floor to ceiling, and even in corners, these temples are impeccably designed and made for marveling.

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The first temple we went to was in Bangalore, and it was a bit of an awkward experience for me as a Christian, because just as much as I wanted to admire the architecture and learn more about Hindu practices, I had no intentions of worshipping there. So I would tiptoe barefooted around the temple grounds, trying not to step on anything special or get in the way of anyone’s rituals, taking my touristy photos where appropriate.

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A few weeks ago, I toured the ISKCON temple, where the first Akshaya Patra kitchen was established, with some co-workers. From the outside, it’s a very unassuming stone building, but inside, the temple literally glittered in gold. I was taken aback — I’d never felt anything spiritual just from looking at some walls. Standing inside this intricately designed temple, with all sorts of precious objects around, reminded me of the many times temples are referenced in the Bible. Christians are instructed to treat our bodies as temples, and be the physical embodiment of worship. But in the U.S., we don’t really have temples in that regard — I attend church in an auditorium — so that metaphor kinda went over my head until I was able to encounter the beauty and magnificence of a temple first hand.

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More recently, we toured a temple, centuries old, just outside of Pondicherry. The space is massive, about 40 acres, and I couldn’t help but wonder what all that space would be needed for when most idols and altars don’t take up more than a room. But even outside of the main areas, reverent spaces had been set up all along the grounds for people to worship. Again, that was a special realization for me because it reminded me of how in my own faith, all the parts of our lives, even those that seem unimportant, are meant to be a reflection of God’s love.

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Experiencing another religion helped me to connect with my own, and I never would’ve been able to anticipate how powerful that was. Even if you’re not religious, being in a space that evokes a divine presence, and allowing yourself to appreciate it, is a remarkable feeling.

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If you’re ever granted the opportunity to visit a different place of faith, I highly suggest doing so. I was even invited to attend a Hindu ceremony at work, which was interesting to say the least. I found value in being able to compare/contrast the ritual to those of Christianity. So many faith based practices are founded on similar principles, respectfully engaging with other religions give you perspective and appreciation for how others choose to worship.

प्यार से,  Rai

Selco Week 3: Ujire Visit

For my third week at SELCO Foundation, I had the opportunity to go to Ujire for 3 days. Ujire is a rural community in India that is a 7 hour bus ride from Bangalore.

Ujire is green and hilly which is so different from Bangalore which is flat. It felt like being home for 3 days…if home was a rainforest.

While in Ujire, I had the opportunity visit 5 government schools nearby Ujire to test out the activities that my colleague and I made which helps teach sustainability to children. I had a chance to see my work put into action, and also interact with children from 1st to 8th grade.

I went to schools in the following places:

  • Belthangady
  • Laila
  • Janardhana
  • Kannady
  • Odilnala

Day 1:

I played a game with a group of students. It was really interesting to go through the process of teaching activities to a group of students that don’t speak the same language. The process went sort of like:

I speak English –> coworker translates my English to English but in a way that the students can understand it –> our coworkers then translated from English to Kannada (the local language in the state of Karnataka).

A group of students who made jumping frogs to understand
potential and kinetic energy. 

I ate a midday meal with the teachers at the school, which was provided by the government for government schools in India, which is called the Midday Meal Program, which helps encourage students to attend school because a meal is guaranteed to them. This is especially important in government schools where attendance may be low, teachers may choose not to show up, and there is little funding for the schools.

The second half of the day, we played a game with students that helped explain water scarcity to the students. The point was to give them situation cards that would force them to run around the school yard to feel tired, which is a reality for those who have to carry clean water.

Day 2:

My second day in Ujire involved going to more schools and trying out more activities with students. Our focus was on sustainability with water and energy. In the picture below, we demonstrated how much available drinking water there is in the world. The student below was pouring salt into a large bowl of water to demonstrate all the water we can’t drink because it’s too salty.

After a long day, we finished the day off with an adventure to Chamadi Hills in Ujire. It felt just like Oregon with the beautiful green space in front of me. I did some slightly dangerous things like standing on the rock that overlooks a huge drop off, and walking down the middle of the curvy road, but it was so beautiful.

Day 3:


On the third day, we went to the school in Odilnala. It was an amazing group of students, and also a hilarious experience. Some of the students at this school know English, but still struggled to understand me because of my accent. I was often stared at and kids found me facisnating, which was extremely embarrassing. It is very strange being the only white person in a space.

At one point, a young girl came and asked me to follow her. So I did. She led me to a classroom on the other side of the school and had me say hello to the kids in the class. Then, I was led to another class, and then another, and then another. Each with different age kids. At one point, a younger boy sang a song to the group. At another point, I fell down the stairs of the school.

And finally, we finished our visit with a school photo. It was the older children and teachers gathered together for a group photo. It was after the fact that I learned that the photo would be featured in a local newspaper.

I love this photo because it is such an accurate photo for this group of kids. Not everyone is fully aware of what’s going on and Sanjhanna (left of me in yellow) and I are just smiling away as if that will solve everything. We also hadn’t forced the students to sit here, their principal did, but everything began to break down a few seconds later. 

My three days in Ujire were really memorable. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a rural community in India. I had heard stories, and I had been very hesitant about traveling 7 hours by bus to a place that could be so different. However, it was so lovely. The kids are so sweet and eager to learn that they were happy to be a part of our activities.
I also learned more about how rural India views white people. My coworker explained to me a little about how the children see me as something else, like doll, more “important”. To spend time with these children was such an amazing gesture from the community. I would love to visit again and have a chance to spend more time to talk with the kids.

I Am Having Fun.

I  constantly manage to stress myself out over nothing. Recently, I’ve been really worried that when I return to the U.S. in August, I’d look back on my India experience and realize I’d done it all wrong. This is such an amazing country and there’s so much to do, I wanna capitalize on the two months I have! And to not do the most in India, to me, would be a failure.

But as I’m sitting here in my bed catching up on blog posts, I’m realizing that I have been doing a lot, which is why I’ve gotten so behind on telling people about it! So more for my sake than anything, here’s a snapshot of some things I’ve been up to.

VV Puram

 

I imagine heaven looks a lot like this. Just a bunch of delicious, cheap, street food.

Commercial Street Market

 

Shopped and learned I’m terrible at bargaining.

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens

Bangalore has amazing green spaces to offset the crazy city streets. The gardens were beautiful, and we adopted a stray.

Nandi Hills and Lepakshi

Surreal. The views were worth waking up at 5am, and I enjoyed exploring the temple ruins.

I’ve gotta keep telling myself to continue to enjoy the here and now of my travels, while also planning exciting things to do along the way, because really and truly, India is super fun.

प्यार से,  Rai