India: Senses Required

Audrey Rattay is a student at Thiel College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Audrey is currently studying abroad in Hyderabad, India on an ISA Fall 1 program.

Shannon (another ISA India student) and myself on our elephant ride

Living in a bustling country, such as India, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all the colors, sounds, and completely different lifestyle compared to that of the United States. As the weeks pass, I have learned to be more aware of what is not only happening around me but also what is happening to me. With new experiences and encounters occurring every day, it is important for me to take the time to become aware of my senses. I am going to explain my top four moments thus far that automatically forced me to shut my eyes and appreciate.

1. Riding an elephant: During the middle of September I spent a week lounging in the forest, in the beach state of Goa. Imagine clear, warm Arabian water, with a back drop of palm trees, marigolds spreading across the sand, and monkey’s swinging from the branches. This mini-vacation was much needed seeing that I was already half way through the semester. Amidst the tropical beautiful town of Ponda, I visited the Tropical Spice Plantation where I was introduced to over twenty different types of spices such as vanilla, black pepper, ginger root, Indian parsley, and many more. Following a great meal and tour of the plantation, one of my life dreams finally came true. For the first time in my life I rode an elephant and better yet, it was in India! Before climbing aboard, I touched her trunk and gazed into her beautiful eyes. Elephants are gentle giants and this moment proved it. As the ride begun, I shut my eyes, smelled the fresh forest air and felt her hips moving with each large step. The bells on my anklet were chiming and I was filled with a sense of joy and happiness. Following the ride, I was sitting on the steps, staring and petting around her eyes, thanking her for such an amazing experience. Little did I know, the best was yet to come. She began to lean in towards me as though she was a cat trying to get as close as humanly possible to me. Needless to say, elephants are my new favorite animal.

One of the most amazing moments in my life – bonding with a gentle giant

2. Doing yoga: The origin of yoga lies in India and the tradition has been passed through many years in different forms. Part of the reason I came to India was to experience this first hand, learn from the best, and find myself spiritually and physically. I am currently taking Yoga Jyoti, a class in which I practice and study the basics of yoga based on Patanjali. I have grown very accustomed to incorporating yoga into my everyday life. With that being said, closing your eyes during yoga is a must. No matter where you are, on the roof, on the beach, in an airport – being aware of your breathing, stretching, and spiritual aspects is what understanding yoga is all about. One memorable moment in particular was when I was on the roof of Tagore International House at sunset. I have been trying to master tree pose because recently my balance has been off. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and found the center point of my concentration. I pulled my leg up, resting it at the highest point on the opposite inner thigh, raised my hands, and successfully balanced. When you close your eyes, you are focused on that single moment and what you wish to accomplish.

Serenity and accomplishment during the sunset.

3. Dancing at Ganesha Chaturthi: September 19, 2012 was the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi, a Hindu Festival celebrating the re-birth of Lord Ganesh.  The following ten days are filled with great food, dancing, drums, powder, and handmade Ganesh idols. Following a great dinner of rice and curry, a few of us traveled to the South end of campus to Gopanpalli to watch the festivities. We ended up becoming a part of the festivites when locals pulled us in the middle of the crowd and forced us to dance. With our Ganesh headbands, pink powdered faces, and Indian spectators, we danced the night away! Once again, shutting my eyes I heard the drums pounding, felt the warm powder dashing across my face and this time I actually tasted something. At this point, I opened my eyes to see a man putting a 10 Rupee bill in to my mouth. One point about Ganesh that is celebrated is good fortune and dancing with Rupee’s in our mouths was a little personal celebration towards this idol.

The moment when hot pink powder dashed across my face at Ganesha Chaturthi

4. Trying new dishes: Unlike the average American, I had never tried Indian food until I arrived here. With that being said, trying new dishes is an everyday occurrence. There are so many flavors, spices, textures, and scents that all work together to form a delightful dining experience. A few prominent examples are mouth-watering Laddu’s (a sweet ball made of ghee, sugar, and Channa nut), Kulfi (traditional Indian ice cream), and Curry (this is pretty self-explanatory). Known for its Biryani (a rice dish), my most memorable food moment was in my great city of Hyderabad. As a vegetarian, I opted for the Veg Biryani which led me to a moment that changed my life. The mixture of rice, ghee, mace, nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, coriander, ginger, onions, and garlic struck my tongue resulting in a huge smile across my face. The flavors swirled around my mouth as individual spices took the stage for their solo performance. I believe that trying new foods is the main portal to understanding culture. Especially in India, the main courses and sweets speak so much on how they use all that grows around them to the fullest.

Hyderabad’s Veg Biryani with a side of Garlic Butter Naan

I encourage you to step outside of the box, close your eyes and enjoy each and every moment of life. Become aware of your senses and the feelings that are carried along with it!

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