Delhi – Round 1

6.9.16
After spending four days out of the heat, arriving in Delhi was a rough awakening. We were immediately greeted by the heat even though we arrived after 9 PM. Adding to the heat of the city, the air conditioner in our hotel room barely worked and we spent the two days in Delhi being very warm. We spent just two days in the capital, breaking up our journey between the northeast and northwest parts of the country. We will be back in Delhi for the last four or five days of the trip, so we spent the majority of this time on academic sessions.
The first day in Delhi was our first climate war game. The war games act as the capstone for each course on this program, so we do a total of two while we are here. The first war game is a mock negotiation session where teams represent different sectors of the Indian economy, including water, energy, healthcare, industry, and agriculture. The goal of the war game is to make a deal among the sectors for resources from the Indian central government for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The war game lasted all day and the teams did eventually come to an agreement. Since I am not a student on this year’s trip, I got to act as a “super-moderator” and really only had to listen and help keep time. 

That night, Udit (our graduate TA) invited Tavish, Lindsey (another student who has been on the dialogue before), and me to his aunt’s home for dinner. We were all really excited to visit an Indian home for a home cooked meal for the first time. Udit’s parents had come into the city to see him and his mom and aunt had been cooking for two days for the dinner. On our way to their home, we saw five or six camels crossing the road (not an everyday sight, even in India!) and we were all so excited. 

When we got to the aunt’s home, the whole family came out to welcome us and their hospitality was so incredible. We went inside and immediately were served some snacks, which included samosas, cookies, chips, and two delicious sweets (ladhu and gujia – one was a little sugar ball and the other was a cinnamon and sugar filled pastry that looked like an empanada). I was stuffed just from those snacks, and dinner hadn’t even arrived yet! Udit’s family were all so welcoming and shared with us about their lives and even taught us some Hindi (my vocabulary is growing slowly but surely)! Dinner arrived and we feasted on rice, beans, soya in curry sauce, pickled mango, spicy okra, and even more mango. They taught us how to eat mangos by just biting off the top and slurping the mango juice and pulp out – very fun!

On our way back to the hotel, we got another surprise in the road – an elephant walking alongside the cars!! I was too excited that I did not get my phone out in time to take a picture, but I will never forget that moment.

Our last day in Delhi consisted of the second day of the war game, where each team made presentations to a panel of Indian experts that included Dr. Ganguly’s aunt and uncle, Udit’s parents, Udit’s aunt and cousin (who is also named Tavish!), and a group of Udit’s friends who own a successful startup. After the presentations, the panel and a few of us went out to lunch/dinner for some delicious Indo-Chinese food. We ended the day with a trip to the airport to pick up Dr. Iacono, the director of the University Scholars Program at Northeastern, who is joining us for the last leg of our trip in Rajasthan. 

The Abode of the Clouds

6.6.16

Our time in Shillong was an incredible break from the heat in Kolkata and Mumbai. Shillong is the capital of the state of Meghalya, which means “abode of the clouds.” Meghalya is in north east India and borders Bangladesh, which we saw multiple times (so cool!). After our drive climbing 1500 meters above sea level, we reached our hotel, which was an actual castle. The temperature was noticeably cooler (about 70 degrees F) than anywhere else we have been in India, which was such a welcome break. 

Our first day in Shillong was a relaxing day – we had an academic session in the hotel and gave everyone a chance to catch up on sleep. That first day was when I got to explore a bit of the town with our travel provider and go in search of a fax machine to send my ballot back to Santa Cruz for the primary election (finally found one – read about it here)! We went out around lunchtime and it was really cool to see people out and about. The primary schools were letting out for the day and all the little children in their uniforms were getting picked up by their parents and traveling home via motorcycle, taxi, and car. It was also interesting to see how the traditional clothing (especially for the women) was different than other parts of India that we have been to. Many of the women were wearing much simpler saris, mostly with a checkered pattern, instead of the usual intricate and colorful patterns from the big cities. 

The following day we got to explore the area surrounding Shillong. We got into our small cars and began the multiple hour car journey to Cherrapunji and the surrounding sites. The road wound through the mountains, resulting in some pretty awful car sickness. I managed to make it with the help of some Indian Dramamine and we arrived at the Living Root Bridge. The bridge is completely made up of the roots from tree trunks and it travels over a small creek and waterfall. We walked down a tall hill to get there, stopping along the way to purchase fresh pineapple slices from some of the locals who had set up shop on the route. The pineapple was so sweet and delicious and only 10 rupees a pack, so we all bought many, many packets to help quench our thirst. Since we have descended a bit from Shillong, the temperature had risen again and way much warmer than any of us had anticipated. 

Our next stop was Mawlynnong Village, which is supposedly the cleanest village in Asia. Before walking around a bit, we got to explore a bamboo tree house that gave us a view of Bangladesh from the top! All of the Shillong area is very clean as they do not allow anyone to throw garbage on the side of the road, which is quite different from pretty much everywhere else in India. I would be really interested to know if there is significant education on environmental awareness in this area as compared to other areas since they are so conscious about keeping their streets clean.

View of the treehouse in Mawlynnong Village


After the village, we stopped for lunch at an unlimited thali place in Cherrapunji. Cherrapunji is the world’s rainiest place, getting on average 472 inches per year. Thali is a common way of eating in India where you get a big plate with 3-9 little bowls filled with different dishes such as curry, paneer (cheese), dal (lentils), rice, and naan. The dishes usually vary, but they are always delicious (and a great way to try many kinds of food!). While we were eating our thali lunches, it began to pour outside, but by the time we were done eating, the sky was completely clear. 

We headed to our last stop of the day – the Seven Sisters’ Falls. Since the monsoon had not arrived yet, the falls were not that rushing, but you could still see them. We rested on the side of the road near the falls, drank some tea, and purchased cinnamon bark from some local kids. Back in the cars we went, I took another Dramamine, promptly fell asleep, and missed the rest of the ride back to the hotel. 


The next morning we finished our academic session from earlier in the week and then had a free afternoon to explore. We wanted to go to Shillong Peak, the highest point in Shillong, to see the view of the town, but unfortunately, the Air Force base we would have to go through was closed and we could not get all the way to the peak. We still had a great view from the surrounding hills and we spent a lot of time trying the local food (plums, radishes) and taking pictures of the farmland and hillsides. Our next stop was Elephant Falls, where there were unfortunately no elephants. We saw three waterfalls though, which were very full and then got caught in a downpour on the way back to our car. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at Dylan’s Cafe, a tribute cafe to Bob Dylan (the first tribute cafe in northeast India). The cafe was very modern and had records and music posters covering the walls and ceiling, and was very Dylan themed. Even the soda refrigerator had the lyrics to Hey Mr. Tambourine Man printed on it – very cool! I bought a shirt from the cafe that had the logo on the back and says “I Heart Shillong” on the front – very touristy. 

View of Shillong


I wore the shirt on our final morning in Shillong (of course) when we went to an indigenous culture museum. The museum was really cool and showcased the different traditions of the many indigenous peoples in northeast India. While there, Tavish and I paid 50 rupees each to be dressed in local traditional clothing for a picture – definite ill worth it! I was really surprised by how complex each outfit was and how many pieces were involved in each outfit – I can’t imagine wearing that much clothing and jewelry on a regular basis!

We finished our drive to the airport, hopped on the plane, and made our way to Delhi, where we will spend the next two days before venturing over to Rajasthan (the desert state in NW India). 

In Search of a Fax Machine – Election Day!

6.2.16

As many of you know, the California primary is June 7th, and my dad, the Santa Cruz County Supervisor, is up for re-election! I had reregistered to vote in CA so I could vote for him, but my ballot did not get sent in time and arrived in Boston after I had already left for India. I was incredible disappointed at the thought of not being able to vote at all in a primary this year, until I learned that CA accepts vote-by-fax ballots! I received by ballot by email, filled it out, and signed my fax oath (to relinquish my right to a secret ballot). I was ecstatic at the thought of being able to vote all the way from India! That is, until I learned how rare fax machine here seem to be. I tried in Kolkata, but the fax machine at our hotel was broken. I tried to find one in Durgapur, but after driving through the city for a while, we could not find one. We are now in Shillong and I have yet to find someone who has a working fax. I will keep you updated as I search through northern India for the machine that will allow me to participate in democracy. 

UPDATE (6.3.16): I found a fax machine! After trying at over ten different places in three Indian cities, I finally found a working international fax machine in Shillong! The man who ran the fax first dialed the number wrong and it almost didn’t go through, but I convinced him to retry (and promised I would pay no matter what) and the connection went through! The entire thing cost 230 rupees or about $3.40, which was totally worth it to be able to cast my vote!

The booth in northeast India where I finally found my international fax machine!


In other news, we have reached Shillong after an eventful two days in Durgapur, a small steel town outside of Kolkata where Dr. Ganguly grew up. After driving from Kolkata for about 6-7 hours, we arrived in Durgapur and visited Dr. Ganguly’s primary/secondary school as well as a dam and one of his friend’s homes (to see how people here live), all before reaching out hotel around 10/11 PM. We woke up early (a common occurrence) to drive a few hours to the Maithon Dam in Asansol where we got into speed boats and played at a very strange playground on an island for about an hour. We did make it to a hydropower plant and took a tour before beginning the drive back to Kolkata, which took about 8 hours (very different than the three hours we were told). We repacked our belongings and tried to get a few hours of sleep before our flight to Guwahati the next morning. 

On the playground island we even found the ability to shrink people! Photo cred to Elisa.


Our flight to Guwahati, the capital of Assam, was short and uneventful. We loaded into small cars and began the ascent to Shillong, which is a hill stop on the way to the Himalayas. Everything on the drive was so green and as we got higher, the temperature began to drop until it reached about 70 degrees F, a very welcome temperature after weeks of 100+ degree heat. We stopped a few times for admire the view and drink tea on the side of the road before reaching our hotel, a heritage castle that we have all to ourselves. I can’t wait to explore more of Shillong in the next few days and enjoy this pleasant break from the heat!

Kati Rolls, Sundarbans, and Sweets – Kolkata

5.30.16

After departing Mandarmoni Beach and driving many hours on the bus, we finally reached the City of Joy – Kolkata! After checking in to our very fancy hotel (a very pleasant surprise after the strangeness in Mandarmoni), we ventured out into the busy streets for lunch. One of the discoveries we made last year were the deliciousness of kati rolls made on the street all over the city. Kati rolls are basically fried dough with an egg on them, filled with potatoes, vegetables, onions, and hot sauce. They are fantastic. We stopped at the first kati roll place we found on the trip and the roll definitely lived up to my expectations. We then had an academic session with a dance session, similar to the musical experience we had had in Mumbai, but with live dancers this time. It was very interesting and we ended with a group dance session where we all attempted to mimic the motions made by the dancers, though we were not quite as good as them just yet.

The next day we had another academic session where we discussed the East Kolkata Wetland (which takes wastewater and garbage and turns it into fish farms and clean water – one of the only natural wetlands to function in this way), the Sundarbans (a natural island chain in the Bay of Bengal full of mangroves and wild Bengal tigers), and sewage treatment plants. After the session, we visited one of the sewage treatment plants in Kolkata and then went to three cultural sites. First we visited the Motherhouse, where Mother Teresa’s tomb is. We then drove to a beautiful Jain temple that we also visited last year. The temple is covered in hundreds, if not thousands, of little mosaics and mirrors creating a beautiful effect when you look at it closely. Jainism is such a fascinating religion and many followers are very careful not to kill any living beings as will sweep as they walk so as not to step on anything, wear a mask so as to not breathe in any microbes, and will not each anything that grows beneath the ground so as to not each any living organisms that might be in the dirt. Jains only account for about 2% of the Indian population, but the temple in Kolkata (and others I have heard about in India) is very well kept up. 

On the steps of the Jain Temple in Kolkata


We also visited a famous Hindu temple on the banks of the Hoogly River, which is a tributary of the Ganges. Our bus couldn’t make it the entire way so we walked through the very crowded streets outside the temple until we reached the temple compound. The outside of the temple was the only area we could take pictures, but it was all very beautiful, yet simple, architecture. We waited in a very long line to enter and then got to walk around the temples and shrines inside. After leaving the temple and pushing our way through the crowded streets (and with a group of 30 non-Indian students that is very difficult!), we drove across Kolkata to a famous sweet shop (where I ate almost everything in the shop including my favorite sweet that was mostly just fried ghee or butter) and another great Kati roll place. 

At Dakshineswar Kali Temple (Hindu Temple) on the banks of the Ganges River in Kolkata


The next morning we woke up very early as we were off to the Sundarbans! The Sundarbans are a chain of islands in the Bay of Bengal that are home to mangrove forests as well as wild Royal Bengal Tigers. With climate change and rising sea levels, these islands are in danger of becoming submerged and this wild habitat could very soon be gone. Since we knew it would be a long day there, we left around 7 AM for the five hour bus ride through the rural part of Kolkata to reach the coast. About 2-3 hours into the trip we reached a stop and saw an overturned bus on its side. It had been full of sand and many people were working to bail the bus out so it could be flipped right side up again. We had to just sit and wait because the road was not wide enough for us to go around the bus or to even turn around. Our only option was to sit and wait. This day, our professor and graduate TA had both decided to stay back, so it was just Tavish and I (the two undergraduate TAs) and our travel provider in charge of the students who had joined us. Luckily, our bus had a TV and we watched my favorite Indian movie Lagaan while sitting in the air-conditioned bus. It finally became clear that the overturned bus would not be moved anytime soon, so we turned to other measures. We rented a non-air conditioned bus (with open windows though!) on the other side of the obstacle and then transferred to that one where we sped through the rest of the road and finally made it to our boat. We ended up only losing about an hour of time because our new bus was much lighter and able to move much quicker than our big bus, so we were able to make up a lot of time. 

The boat ride was hot, but calm. As we floated through the Sundarbans, which is also the mouth of the Ganges River, we ate a great home cooked meal of rice, lentils (dal), chicken, fish, and prawns. We drank coconuts and laughed as we searched for the tigers that we never saw, but who most definitely saw us. We took a brief stop at a watch tower to observe the mangroves and got to see some monkeys and crocodiles that are native to this area. We then got back on the boat, floated along for another hour or so, and then boarded our AC bus (it had finally got through the cleared overturned bus) and drove back to the city, where we all promptly fell asleep after a long day in the sun. 

Pretending we are on the Titanic

Fishing village as seen from our boat

Wild crocodile in the Sundarbans

Wild monkey and baby in the Sundarbans

Mangrove forest in the Sundarbans as seen from one of the watch towers

And We’re Off to West Bengal!

5.28.16

After spending about 8 days in Mumbai, which is on the west, central Indian coast, we traveled across the country by plane to the state of West Bengal and its capital of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta). Kolkata was one of my favorite stops on the trip last year and I was very excited to be back. After our flight to Kolkata, we loaded up the bus to first go to IIT-Kharagpur, which is the first Indian Institute of Technology and the alma matar of Dr. Ganguly.

The drive took about five hours, so we stopped a few times along the way for food and restrooms. For the first one, we stopped at a small rest stop along the highway, and it immediately began to rain. It was nice at first to see some rain (first rain of the trip), but it quickly began to rain very hard. There were only about 5-10 of us who had gotten off the bus and we had to run through giant puddles just to get to the bathroom. Before we could get back on the bus, the winds picked up and we heard the sound of glass shattering in the kitchen. People were yelling and outside the restaurant (which did not have any walls, just a tin roof) we could see tree branches and leaves blowing wildly in the rain. Roof tiles were blowing off and something broke part of the tin roof. It was so scary to not know how long this was going to go on and if the roof over our heads would hold out much longer. Luckily, the winds died down and we were able to safely get back on the bus. Dr. Ganguly told us that this is what the monsoons are like (this was a pre-monsoon storm) and they can last for months – really crazy!


After drying off a bit in the bus, we took another stop along the way to drink some tea on the side of the road in rural India. We got to walk around a bit and see how much different rural areas are from the cities. Plus the tea was delicious (and only 6 rupees apiece – our entire group drank tea for less than two US dollars!). 

We made it to IIT Kharagpur, where we were staying in a guest house (like a dorm). Our first full day there was filled with a few lectures on monsoons, climate modeling, and the intersection of social science, climate science, and architecture, as well as a tour of the campus. The campus was a detention camp during the early 20th century and there is a memorial for the freedom fighters detained there on the campus as well. After the tour, we went to a small tea farm and then drove deeper into rural India to visit a river. At the riverbank we met a nice Indian family with 9-month old twin babies, who immediately placed the babies in our arms. I love babies, so I loved this interaction with a local family!

After Kharagpur, we took a short trip to the coast for a beach day at Mandarmoni Beach. Just before we got there, there was some commotion over the size of our bus and whether or not it would be able to maneuver through the narrow roads and shrimp farms to get to the hotel. We stopped for a short break so our guide could figure out what to do. While stopped we drank some coconuts and had our picture taken by some local man, who then tried to sell us the picture for 20 rupees. Tavish enjoyed the whole experience so much that he bought the picture of the two of us from the man, who printed it out for us right before we got back on the bus. After some precarious twists and turns, we made it to the hotel and we immediately struck by the design of it all.

We were staying at what looked to be a rundown amusement park. The rooms were shaped in a number of ways including conch shells, crab holes, and sail boats. We were staying in the conch shells, which were surrounded by a moat that was completely dry, exposing a horse and chariot fountain that had no water coming out of it. There were broken down kids rides, a dirty water park, a creepy joker in a cage, and some very odd statues. Nothing really felt like it was in its place and it felt very empty and abandoned. We later found out that there is a major problem with hotels in this area as none of them, including our own, have a license to operate, causing many problems for the local economy as well as for the environment. Since they are not sanctioned by the government, the hotels are very difficult to get to and thus, are failing due to lack of visitors. There was not power supplied to the hotels by the government, so everything was run on generators, which meant we had no power from 5-6 AM and 5-6 PM every day. We were right on the beach and the water was warm, but I think we were all pleased when we loaded the bus back up the next day to leave and finally reach the city we had been looking forward to – Kolkata. 


Photo credit goes to Tavish

A Culinary Tour through India

Sorry these posts have been so delayed – we haven’t had strong enough internet to upload anything for the past week or so!

The past week or so has been filled to the brim with academic and cultural activities. I knew that we liked to fill the day with different activities, but I forgot just how exhausting it can be to get back to our hotel room at 8 or 9 PM and immediately pass out, only to repeat the exhaustion the next day. That being said, I am so grateful to Professor Ganguly for wanting to fill each day because we really get the absolute best experience in India that we can.

After our extremely full day at Elephanta and Dharavi, it was nice to have a day out of the heat the next day. We started the day with a full academic session with four professors from IIT Bombay lecturing on topics such as monsoons, development and energy, urban planning and compact cities, and solar energy. Even though it turned into a much longer academic session than we had anticipated, all of the topics were interesting and relevant to the course, and the professors are some of the best in their fields. 

After their talks, our original plan was to visit the Mithi River, which runs from Sanjay Gupta National Park through Mumbai before flowing into the Arabian Sea. The river has been neglected by the Indian government and thus, is now extremely polluted. We wanted to visit the source of the river in the national park and see it in its pristine condition before following it through the city to watch how polluted it becomes. Unfortunately, it seems that the Mithi River is not the most popular tourist destination and we had some trouble finding where to enter the park to see the river. Because it was late in the day and the traffic was very heavy, it would have taken us a couple more hours to drive around the park to find the river and we decided to scrap our plans for the afternoon.

On the way back from the park, we stopped at Powai Lake and had a very pleasant evening lakeside, eating corn and searching the waters for a sight of the famed alligators who live in the lake (no such luck though!). The corn that is grilled on the street is one of my favorite street foods, especially when chili salt is rubbed on it (instead of butter like we would do with corn on the cob). The best part? It only costs 10 rupees! (Exchange rate is 65 rupees to 1 US dollar)

Tavish and I enjoying the view at Powai Lake in Mumbai


At the end of our first week, we moved hotels to be more in the center of Powai, which means we are much closer to restaurants and shopping for when we have lunch/dinner breaks and/or some free time. We stayed in this area last year and I will always have a fond memory of it (and a scar on my face from the time I got very sick and accidentally crashed into a wall in the hotel – no sickness yet, fingers crossed we stay healthy!). 

We started off at our new hotel with an incredible cultural and food-filled day. One of Dr. Ganguly’s friends from school is a famous chef in India and put together a culinary experience for us. He also got four up-and-coming Hindustani musicians to come and play for us. They gave us a visual tour through India and described some of the traditional folk music from each region. They played songs from each region and showed us some of the common traditional instruments, and then let us try some of them! The traditional songs they played reminded me a lot of some of the traditional Jewish (especially Sephardic Jewish) songs and prayers that we sing at temple – all were very beautiful!

Our group of Northeastern students and the musicians who joined us


After the musical experience, we began the culinary experience. The chef had prepared a five-course dinner for us that we ate at certain points during his talk. He started the experience with early Indus Valley civilization and described what was going on in history then as well as what kinds of food people ate during that time. We then ate the first course which included grains and paneer (a common type of cheese, like cottage cheese, in India) and a delicious sauce. It was the best course we ate that night! We then traveled through Indian history from then to the present, eating four more courses along the way. The whole experience took about 4 hours, but it was definitely worth it. The food was amazing and the history lesson was very cool – I have never seen the combination of the two in quite the same way before. 

We finished off our time in Mumbai by spending more time discussing the Mithi River with the organization that works to protect and preserve the river. We found out that we would not be able to see the river in its pristine state, like we had tried a few days before, because there has not been much rain this year so far and the river is barely flowing. We were able to see it by Dharavi Slum, where it was very dirty and full of sludge. We were able to spend more time in Colaba, the older part of Mumbai, that day as well, which began with coconuts on the side of the road and ended with a delicious lunch at Leopold Cafe – a great week spent in Mumbai!

Fun on the Ferry – Elephanta Caves and Dharavi Slum

In catching up to where we are now in India, I wanted to write about a trip we took on Thursday to Elephanta Caves and the Dharavi Slum in southern Mumbai. Both of these places were repeats for me, but it was very interesting to get to go back and see both places in a new light now that I have had a year of reflection on my first time there last summer.

We are currently staying in central/northern Mumbai in an area called Powai, but both Elephanta and Dharavi are in the south, in the area of Colaba. Colaba is the older, more traditional looking part of Mumbai as opposed to Powai, which was considered outside the city (sort of the suburbs) until recently. The part of Powai we are in now is very well-off and all the buildings are new and very unlike the rest of the city that we have seen. Our hotel is about a 20 minute walk from IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Bombay, and there are many college age students milling about Powai.

Colaba is very different – I remember our first few drives around last year, I was struck by the architecture and how much it looked like how I imagined India would look. I still don’t really know where I formed that idea, but the buildings were simultaneously unlike anything I had seen before and yet, familiar in an unknown sense. Maybe it was the British influence from colonization in the 19th and 20th century and similar to buildings I had seen in Indian movies of those time periods (like my personal favorite, Lagaan). Colaba is home to the Gateway of India as well as the Leopold Cafe (!). Elephanta Island is off the coast of southern Colaba and reachable by ferry boat right from the Gateway of India.

Tavish and I at the Gateway to India before baording the ferry to Elephanta Island


Elephanta Island is a one hour boat ride away, and is home to a number of caves full of sculptures of Hindu gods, mainly dedicated to Lord Shiva. The carvings date back to sometime between the 5th and 8th centuries CE, which is mind-closing considering their detail and size. Both times it has been incredibly hot, especially after the 120 stair hike uphill to reach the caves. Even when one is totally drenched in sweat, an appreciation can be given to how magnificent the statues and carvings are. While the name may suggest an island full of elephants, unfortunately that is not the case. When the Portuguese first came upon the island in the 16th century, they discovered a large carving of an elephant, thus giving the island its name. 

The pièce de résistance of Elephanta Caves


Our ferry ride was pretty interesting this time! We got to the Gateway of India, where you board the boat to Elephanta, and four of us were able to get on the boat successfully. The water was very rough and the boats were rocking back and forth like crazy. The crew decided the water was too rough to have anyone else get on at that moment and we got a private boat ride as we moved to another dock to have everyone else get on. While this delayed our journey a bit, it was pretty fun to bounce around the harbor area on our own little boat. Once everyone else got on, we started off for Elephanta Islands, though we did have to take another break for a quick detention by the Mumbai Port Trust who had to check the papers of our boat to ensure they we operating legally (thankfully, they were!). 

Some of the boats lined up in the harbor waiting for passengers to board

The caves are a popular tourist destination for foreigners and Indians alike, and many Indians come from all over the country to visit Mumbai and the island. In many tourist locations, like Elephanta Caves and the Taj Mahal, a large group of Americans like us draws a lot of attention and we frequently get many requests for photos. While this was definitely an uncomfortable experience at first, it is also a really cool opportunity to talk with people and get to know where they are from and who they are (as well as get a picture for ourselves). 
On the way down from the caves, we got ample amount of time for souvenir shopping as well as monkey spotting. We boarded our ferry boat again and made our way back to land, with only a short break to get questioned (for the second time!) by the Mumbai Port Trust, but don’t worry – they let us go both times!

After Elephanta Caves and a delicious vegetarian thali lunch, we went to Dharavi Slum, which is one of the largest slums in the world with over a million people living in 3/4 of a square mile. A misconception about the slum is that is is just a large amount of very poor people with nothing to do, living in bad conditions, begging for money. This is completely wrong. Dharavi is one of the most thriving industries in India and perhaps the world. Every person in Dharvai is working, no one just sits about waiting for something to be given to them. Many residents are migrants from other parts of India who have come to Mumbai and Dharavi for a better life and a better job for themselves and their families. Children go to school in the slum and there is a thriving recycling business there. Much of the plastic recycling from Mumbai ends up in Dharavi, where is it sorted, melted down, and made into new plastic items. Additionally, there are many garment factories and other businesses, such as suitcase construction and leather. Every doorway you peek into has their piece of the assembly or production. No one person does everything, but the assembly line construction of an item is divided amongst multiple businesses in the slum – it is fascinating to watch.

One of the streets inside Dharavi – you can see some of the recycling business on the righthand side with the stack of metal tins


Another aspect of Dharvai is a potter’s village, where 500 families from Gujarat have come to make their living. Everything in Dharavi is recycled, so the leftover scraps from the garment factories is burned to heat the finished pottery. The families ship in red earth from Gujarat to make pots and other beautiful pottery – I wish I had unlimited suitcase space and could bring some of it back home!

Some of the pottery baking in the Dharvai potter’s village


Visiting Dharavi can be a challenging experience – even though everyone is working and does have a better life that perhaps they would have had if they did not move to Dharavi, the poverty is still great and the infrastructure in the slum leaves much to be desired. There is approximately one toilet for every 1500 people living in the slum and a lot of waste surrounding the slum. During monsoon season (June through September) Dharavi floods, leaving sitting water, sometimes sewage water, everywhere in the streets. This causes a domino effect, breeding disease, causing sickness, and leaving many people with no healthcare, either because they cannot afford it or because there is not enough space or doctors in public hospitals to deal with epidemics. I hope to focus on how to create resiliency and develop better critical infrastructure in places like Dharavi during my Masters program and seeing Dharavi again revitalized me to want to study this important issue. 

India – Take Two

It is time for a revival of this blog! I am back in India this summer on a Northeastern summer study abroad program as the teaching assistant on a research course on climate change science and policy. I participated in this program as a student last year and after traveling around India witnessing firsthand the impact of climate change on a vulnerable population, I realized my passion for the issue and immediately applied to graduate school in the field. I will begin a Master of Science program this September in Security and Resilience Studies, where I hope to focus on urban resiliency in developing countries in the face of natural hazards related to climate change. I am so excited about this path and I look forward to expanding my knowledge this summer in India before starting graduate school.

Tavish and I are ready to take on India right before our departure from Boston last week.


This year we have 28 undergraduate students participating in the program and we all departed Boston on Sunday night, and after a very long 24 hours we arrived early Tuesday morning in Mumbai, India. Immediately, we were greeted with the heat and humidity of pre-monsoon India. The heat is probably the one part of India that I did not miss, but I feel much better prepared to handle it well this summer than I was last summer. Our travel provider, the amazing Chariot India, welcomed us after immigration and customs with beautiful flower garlands and off we went to the hotel. 

That same morning (even though it really felt like a new day with the time change!) we began acclimating to the heat and the chaos that is Mumbai. We visited a giant mall to pick up any supplies (my luggage arrived on time this year, so the mall visit was less necessary this time around!) we may have forgotten, and then spent dinner at an outdoor plaza near IIT Bombay. This plaza was one that we stayed near last year and I was a big fan of the dosa stand there. It was such a treat to eat a giant masala dosa for dinner that cost less than 1 USD! For dessert, I had an amazing mango milkshake that was basically just ripe liquid mango – yum!

After a good night’s sleep, we began our academic program on Wednesday morning. After a hearty breakfast, we were off to Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, one of the major Indian universities to hear from a few professors and visit a couple workshops. First we heard from the head of CTARA, or the Center for Technology Alternatives for Rural Areas. He lectured on “Knowledge, Society and Culture for India as a Developing People.” CTARA’s work is about providing easy to make technology alternatives that help a community better serve itself. One example that was described was an add-on to the cookstove, or chulha, used in rural homes to make them more efficient, less soot producing, and less wood consuming; all of which can make life better for the people who use the chulha. After the lecture, we visited both the CTARA workshop and a food science laboratory, both of which were very interesting, despite the high temperature. 

A modification sits outside the CTARA workshop at IIT Bombay


Being back in India this summer is crazy – I can’t believe it has been a year since I was here last, it really feels like just yesterday. As our professor sang to us over the microphone on our way back to the hotel, it brought back such great memories of last summer and the people I spent it with. I’m excited to explore India with new eyes this year and create many new memories with this new group of Northeastern students. 

Costa Rican Coffee Adventures!

I know this post is long overdue, but before catching up to India, I wanted to share a few pictures and stories from my alternative spring break trip to Costa Rica. In March, myself and 13 other Northeastern students traveled to San Marcos de Tarrazu, Costa Rica to serve in an elementary school and to learn more about the fair trade coffee process. As an avid coffee drinker, this was pretty much my dream trip. 
After a 24 hour journey (including a 7 hour layover in Mexico City), we arrived in San Marcos and immediately went to sleep. The next morning, we explored the small town we were staying in and we’re lucky enough to be in town for the first annual ExpoCafe, a giant fair celebrating the coffee that comes from Tarrazu. Tarrazu is one of the best coffee regions in the world and they supply a lot of coffee that is consumed in the States at places such as Peet’s and Whole Foods. 

At the Tarrazu ExpoCafe these masks reminded me a lot of the New Orleans Jazz Festival, which I love!


After walking around the coffee expo and getting our first taste of Costa Rican coffee, we headed over to Coopedota, a coffee cooperative. We got to pick coffee, learn about how it is dried, how it is roasted, and how to perform a quality control test. It is definitely a lot of work to prepare one good cup of coffee! 

Picking coffee cherries at Coopedota

Practicing quality control tests on the coffee grounds at Coopedota


We also visited a micro-mill coffee farm run by a man named Roger and his sons. Roger grows all the coffee in his backyard, which also happens to be a side of a mountain, and he and his sons perform the entire coffee picking and drying process themselves. While this was a much smaller operation that at Coopedota, in my opinion, the coffee was even better! Maybe it was the care that Roger seemed to take over each bean that made it so fantastic. Roger and his wife even invited us all into their home to drink his coffee and eat arepas (Costa Rican pancakes – I miss these every day) with them. Their generosity was so incredible. A bunch of us purchased coffee from Roger, but he did not have enough already roasted, so the next day we got to meet him at a local roaster and pick up our freshly roasted beans!

Roger’s micromill coffee sun drying in his backyard


In terms of service, we served for four days at a local elementary school in San Marcos. Every morning, we would wake up and eat breakfast at a local restaurant and then begin the mile long trek uphill to the school. The school board had decided they wanted us to paint their gym, which we gladly obliged to. We sanded all the bleachers down and began to cover the rusted blue paint with a fresh coat of orange. We also painted the soccer goals a bright white and attached new nets to both of them. Lastly, we painted new court lines on the ground. By the end of the week, the gym looked brand new and the looks of the children’s faces when they saw it was very rewarding. In addition to painting, we also got to play with the children in their English and PE classes. I really loved being able to practice my Spanish again since it had grown a bit rusty since being in Ecuador last year. 

After finishing the gym, we got to show it off to some fo the students!

The finished gym


Saying goodbye to the community was bittersweet, but it also meant we were heading for the coast and Manuel Antonio National Park for a short beach day before heading home. The park was also a sloth sanctuary and we got to see a few lazy sloths in their natural habitat – what strange looking creatures! The beach was beautiful and the water was some of the warmest water I have ever been in. Hiking around the cliffs was a hot and sweaty experience filled with monkeys, iguanas, and beautiful views.

An iguana sunbathes on a rock at Manuel Antonio National Park

The view of the beach at Manuel Antonio – pura vida!


After a week in Costa Rica, it was time to head back to cold Boston and back to class. Even though the trip was just a week, it felt so refreshing to be back in Latin America and back to speaking Spanish. I am now very sure that I want to return to Latin America sometime in the near future for an extended amount of time, maybe for work or research. Pura vida!

Catch-up and Back to Traveling: Costa Rica!

As it turns out I am very bad at keeping up with my travels. I wish I was better about writing about where I am and what I’m up to, but maybe this will be the year I turn over a new leaf! As I write this, I am sitting in the Mexico City airport en route to Costa Rica for an Alternative Spring Break with Northeastern University. We’re been traveling since 5:45 AM this morning and it is 7:30 PM now and we still have a whole other flight before we get to Costa Rica in the wee hours of the morning tomorrow. Our will be learning about fair trade coffee in one of the world’s best places to grow coffee – San Marcos de Tarrazu – and doing service work at a local school. I’m not sure what exactly it will all entail, but I am excited to get out of Boston and the cold for a bit and explore Costa Rica!

For those of you who are wondering just exactly where in the world I have been since I last wrote, here is a quick summary. I started 2015 in Quito, Ecuador (and documented that time here!) where I was working at the US Embassy as part of Northeastern’s co-op program. I had an amazing time there and have definitely decided diplomacy is where I want to be, so I’ll be taking the Foreign Service Officer Test last this year (fingers crossed!). After Ecuador, I was off to India on a Northeastern Dialogue of Civilization program, basically a faculty-led study abroad trip on a specific topic. We focused on climate change science and policy and the way climate change impacts vulnerable populations, like in India. We traveled all over the country (16 cities in 5 weeks!) and I fell in love with India and its beautiful cultures. A few of the highlights were:

 

At the Taj Mahal in Agra, India!

 
 

My award-winning photo of women in a potter’s village in the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai, India

 

Elephant riding in Munnar, Kerala, India

 

Jungle safari in Ramtambhore National Park in Rajastan, India. This is a wild tiger cub!

 
After India, I went to Madrid and Barcelona, Spain and met my good friend Kate there. We had a great time drinking sangria, eating paella, tasting the churros con chocolate, sitting on the beach, and taking in the beautiful cities. It was a great break from India and being “in school.” 

 

Kate and I at the Palacio Cristal in Parque del Buen Retiro in Madrid, Spain

 
Two weeks was not enough of a break before I was off to Istanbul, Turkey on another Dialogue program, this time focusing on urban space politics and the intersection of gender, sexuality, and Islam in public spaces. The history on the topic and its relevance to current events was so fascinating. Plus, Istanbul is an absolutely breaktakingly beautiful city! I will definitely be back one day soon. We were able to visit the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazzar, and even took a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait. For anyone who is looking for a fun place to travel to, I would highly recommend Istanbul.

 

Overlooking the Golden Horn and Bosphorous Strait in Istanbul, Turkey

 
We spent two weeks in Istanbul and then traveled to Berlin, Germany as part of the same course (there has been a huge diaspora of Turkish Muslims to Germany in the past 50 years). A big change after having spent most of the year in the developing world, Berlin was a really cool city! I was able to visit two concentration camps, which meant a lot of me given my Jewish identity, even though being at both sites was very difficult. 

Overall, my year abroad last year was incredible and I starting longing to travel again within a week of being back in the States. While my trips this year will not be quite as back to back nor as long as the ones last year, I am still SO pumped to be back overseas. I’ll spend this week in Costa Rica, finish up my semester at Northeastern in Boston, and then travel back to India as an assistant on the course I took there last year. We’ve been planning this trip to India for months and months now and I can’t wait to finally start that trip. After 6 weeks in India (hitting up about 13 cities this time), I’ll be traveling through Europe for a month. My plans are not set yet, but I know I’ll be in Prague, Czech Republic; Lyon, France; and Geneva, Switzerland. If any of you reading want to come and meet me somewhere in Europe, I would love that (and you can even pick the country!). 

I will definitely try to be better at updating this blog this year, and thank you all for reading!