"Poor Man's Taj Mahal"

"Poor Man's Taj Mahal"
Aurangabad, Maharastra, India

Friday, February 24, 2012


January, of course, always starts off with a New Year’s Party. This year, I had the guys at my place. There were six of us, and we had planned to start out the night by seeing the new Sherlock Holmes movie in theatres, then grab some dinner, and end up at my house to bring in the New Year and spend the night. When we got to the theatre however, the show we were planning on attending was sold out. We decided to buy tickets for the next show, and while waiting, go and eat something to eat. We all went to McDonald’s for our last meal of 2011, (it sounds really depressing when I say it like that, but it was actually really good). After we finished eating, we went back to the theatre to enjoy the movie. It was really good! But what made it even better was the German sitting next to me who got really excited whenever they spoke German, and how I was laughing at jokes that no one else got. After the movie we went to my house to spend the rest of the night. We were watching TV, and eating, but when midnight rolled around, we took action. We all stood on the balcony and made a toast with our sodas. As usual, the New Year didn’t make us feel very different, so we went back to watching TV until everyone was tired enough to go to sleep.
January also marked our “Aurangabad Picnic and RYLA at Solapur.” We stayed for two nights in Aurangabad in Rotarian families, and during the days we visited Ajanta and Ellora Caves, as well as Daulatabad Fort and Bibi Ka Maqbara aka “The Poor Man’s Taj Mahal,” spending lots of time with the exchange students living in Aurangabad. After Aurangabad, we traveled to Solapur for RYLA, or “Rotary Youth Leadership Awards.” It was a three day event, but sadly due to some booking issues with our train tickets, we could only participate for two. However, they were two great days of meeting lots of new people and making lots of new friends. I was even lucky enough to receive the award for the “Best Male RYLIAN,” and my team, the Purple Panthers, was, the “Best RYLIAN Team.” *You can read more about Aurangabad and RYLA in the blog post, “Aurangabad and RYLA at Solapur.”
                The rest of January was pretty uneventful. All the exchange students did everyday was chill together, or go to dance practice for the upcoming Rotary District Conference, that we would be performing in. Almost every day we would be at Rashmi’s (a Rotarian) house to practice our dances. The guys dance was to the song, “Mee Hai Koli,” meaning “I Am a Fisherman.” The girls dance was to “Apsara Ali.” *More information about the dances and District Conference will be in the February Monthly Report.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


January 3-8
School Visit

First Rotary Meeting

Host Family

Ajanta Caves



Ellora Caves

Taj Mahal


Dinner and Goodbye

Sleeper Coach

Rotarian Hotel





The start of December continued our South India Tour. Being away from home for two weeks was really amazing and sad at the same time. The sights on the tours were spectacular, and the people as well, for the most part (no matter what you say, everyone can get a little crabby of being with the same people for a long time in close quarters). Overall, the tour was incredible, and we had a great leader which helped to make it even better. *You can read more about the South India Tour on the blog post “South India Tour,” coming soon.
After two long weeks of traveling countless miles – or kilometers, whatever you prefer – I was excited to get home and rest. So, that’s exactly what I did. For about three days after the tour I spent most of my time recovering. Then I got a package from home, which shoved me into the Christmas Spirit so fast, I was more energetic than I had been in a while. I like to call it “The Christmas Package.” Not original at all, but it sums it up the best way possible. Although I didn’t get what I really wanted for Christmas – it’s pretty hard to send a family… especially mine, in a cardboard box – I got pretty much everything else in it. Some of my favorite foods where the highlights along with numerous Christmas wishes from friends, but I was also very excited about the American gifts I would be able to give my Indian family. I think what I liked the most was a present for me wrapped in “Don’t Open until Christmas,” wrapping paper, which I had never used before because there was no reason. (Although it was hard, I did not open it until Christmas day). Also in the package were some holiday decorations: a stocking, Christmas lights, a snowman, and fake snow!   
The very best things included however, were the homemade Christmas cookies. Some of the best cookies I, and my family, have ever tasted. (Actually, I am getting really hungry just thinking about them now). It was so different for me to actually see the cookies last a week, because if they were in my house in Minnesota, they would have been gone in two days tops. Even though the cookies lasted longer than usual for me, I knew they wouldn’t last until Christmas, so I had to hide one of each kind to make sure I could have them on Christmas Day.
Although, I would have been fine sitting at home and eating cookies all day, there were other things to do in December as well. One day was devoted to an Agriculture Fair and Rotary presentation on agriculture. One word describes the previous; boring. Once again, I made the mistake of expecting more than was possible. In the morning we met to be driven to the auditorium where the Rotary presentation would be held. Then we sat through an over two hour lecture on Rotary and agriculture… in Marathi. The people around us in the auditorium were bored as well and many actually fell asleep, it was sad that even a person on stage kept yawning and dozing off. Luckily, we got to leave the presentation early for lunch! After lunch, we moved to the Agriculture Fair. We were told that it would be “an exhibition on Indian agriculture,” I was thinking an event that showed how things were, how methods changed through the years, and how things were now. Nope, it was only how things would be in the future. It was a place that showed off the newest technologies, and allowed people to buy them. Sorry, but not exciting for teenagers who don’t farm, and who don’t know the language. We were able to leave earlier than expected though, because even our guides thought the fair was too boring.  
                Later in the week, my family took me to another fair. Fortunately, this one was A LOT better. It reminded me a little of the Steele County Free Fair. There were different booths selling different clothes, collectables, or promoting their businesses, as well as numerous food booths. There was even a small Ferris wheel that you could ride. When I say small, I mean small. The carriages could barely fit two adults, and the maximum height was only about 30 feet. It was still fun however, because most of the people on the ride were terrified of it, and the workers walked like hamsters on a wheel as we went around. There was also a carriage ride available, a wooden cart similar to the ones used by people traveling west to the frontier of the US, drawn by water buffalo. We were riding for barely a minute, and now I feel horrible for the people who have/had to drive or ride on those for hours on end.  
On the 23rd, I had my first Christmas Party in India, with the exchange students. Sadly, not everyone was able to attend, but we had a good time with the people that were there. We met at Rafael’s house to enjoy each other’s company, exchange gifts, and of course, eat. We drew names to have somewhat of a “Secret Santa,” but it wasn’t really a secret when you handed the other person their gift. I also taught everyone how to play “Dirty Bingo,” which everyone seemed to enjoy.
As Christmas inched closer and closer, I got increasingly excited, and so did my family. I was not only looking forward to Christmas, as I usually do, but I was also looking forward to treating my family to a true Christmas. It was so much fun knowing so much about the holiday and helping my family learn about it. We didn’t go too deep into the religious aspects of Christmas, but I explained the general gift giving and receiving, stockings, and Santa. On Christmas Eve, I allowed both Mruga and I, the kids, to open one present. Mruga thoroughly enjoyed it, but my parents were sad they had to wait until the next morning to open their gifts. Needless to say, everyone in the Gokhale household was up early on Christmas morning to open gifts. I tried to have everyone open one gift at a time, but after the first round it was all out madness. There were lots of smiles and laughs, and I am happy to report that everyone enjoyed their gifts.
On Christmas Day, there was also a “Fun Fair” in my society where people could set up booths of food, games, crafts, etc. Mruga and I manned a Cold Coffee and Mango Milkshake Stand. We had matching outfits with hats that lit up. The booth was a family affair; my mom would make the coffee and milkshakes, my dad would bring it down when the booth ran out, and Mruga and I would sell. Even though I had never expected to spend my Christmas working, it was lots of fun, and I got to have a share of the profits. Overall, it is a Christmas that I will never forget.


November 27 - December 10


                November may have started off as a ”blah," but October ended with a "bang!" The exchange students all got together for almost a full day long Halloween Party on October 31st! We decided to meet at Carlos’ (from Mexico) house at 2:00PM to begin with the festivities. Although we decided on 2:00, I think the last people to arrive came around 4:00. I don’t know if the Indian idea of time is slowly taking us over, or if other countries just aren’t as prompt as the US; probably a combination of both. Anyways, the day/ night consisted of lots of fun, games, and stories. With even more stories to tell about what happened at the party afterwards. We were having so much fun, that of course, we lost track of time and of course, then had to spend the night. Not only did we spend the night because we wanted to, but it can also be dangerous to travel around India at night, especially when your skin is white. Not to mention the rickshaw drivers triple the amount of your tariff after about 10:00. Needless to say, being teenagers, we didn’t really get to sleep until 5:00 AM on November 1st. We woke up about 8:00AM to clear out of the house to make sure we didn’t overstay our welcome, as well as to get something to eat and go home to shower after a long, hot night.
                The first weekend in November my host family went on a three-day trip to Ganpatipule, a small town on the beach. We woke up early Friday morning to start on our six hour journey to the sea. My Father, Mother, little Sister, and I were all riding in the family’s mini-van. Due to a previous occurrence when we went to Mumbai together, I was practically forced into taking the front seat, ‘shotgun.’ That way I was able to curb some of my car sickness by see what was in front of me, and also had the window right there if anything decided to present itself. The first part of the trip was nice, straight highway, just like in the US, but as soon as we exited, it turned into a curvy, zigzag nightmare. Luckily, my parents are good drivers, so there wasn’t any more ‘jerking’ than needed, so there weren’t any problems. When we finally got to Ganpatipule, I discovered that we had booked the nicest rooms available – no not rooms, two suites – a bungalow all to ourselves. The way the suites were set up was that ‘mine’ was on the bottom floor, and ‘my family’s’ was on the top floor. Each one had a bedroom with a TV and AC, a mini fridge, a ‘make-up’ area, a bathroom with shower, and a sitting room. Being on the bottom floor, my sitting room was where we had meals, and on the top it was a balcony to look out at the ocean.
                The first day (Friday afternoon), we went to the beach to play and swim. Mruga and I enjoyed the ocean while our parents enjoyed the beach. It was difficult for me not to go out very far in the ocean as I had in other places, but my family said that it wasn’t safe there and also Mruga didn’t want to go out very far so I would have been alone. We did the typical beach fun; body surfing, shell hunting, building sand castles, etc. After the beach, we went back to our hotel rooms to ‘freshen up’ before dinner. For dinner we went into town, and after a failed attempt at the usual restaurant my family visits when they go, we had pav baji at a small shack. It was actually really good, partially because I hadn’t eaten much all day, and after a couple hours of swimming, you work up quite an appetite. After dinner, we went to the temple on the beach. At the entrance of the temple, there is a golden rat statue, and it is believed that if you tell the rat your wishes, they will come true. My wish has yet to come completely true, but it has a long time period, so I am still waiting. After the temple we went back to the hotel, and fell asleep pretty fast due to a long day of traveling, swimming, and walking.
                Saturday morning I woke up to find I was sick with the runs possibly due to accidently swallowing salt water. Luckily, we didn’t really have to do anything, so I had a relaxing morning and afternoon of mainly sleeping. Late in the afternoon we went again to the beach, and even though I wasn’t feeling the greatest, I couldn’t give up time in the ocean. Then in the evening, we went to the temple again, but this time walked around the temple performing “darshan.” Let’s just say that the walk wasn’t the best idea for someone in my position of being sick, because afterwards, when we were sitting in the hot and strong scented restaurant I turned as white as the shirt I was wearing. At any rate, I was not hungry, so my dad took me back to the hotel while my mom and sister finished eating. I went to sleep as soon as we got there, knowing it would be for the best, and also knowing we had to leave early the next morning. On Sunday we woke up, got ready, and checked out. While my family had breakfast in the restaurant, I sat outside eating simple bread and jam. I was dreading traveling again, because the initial trip wasn’t the greatest, and now I had to deal with diarrhea as well. Luckily there were no ‘accidents’ and we got home safely were I was again able to sleep until I got better.
                College had started up again by the second week in November and I was happy to have somewhat of a schedule again. Knowing that I would be gone for two weeks on a tour of South India, I attended every class I could for the two week period. But, spaced throughout those two weeks were lots of other events that I just couldn’t miss.
For instance, there was a birthday party for my Brazilian friend, Joao. We went to his house mid-morning and had a day full of fun. He lives in a newer society, so his ‘Club House’ is really nice and offers lots of things to do. When everyone arrived, he gave us a tour of everything ranging from the pool, to badminton courts, to the video gaming room, to the gym. To just waste some time before lunch, we all hung out in the ‘table-tennis/ foosball’ room. We held some mini tournaments with Ping-Pong and also played UNO, Phase 10, and regular cards. Then we were called to go back to the apartment for lunch, which was one of the best meals I have had in India. They served… carrots, potatoes, and BEEF in a way similar to Beef Stew, but without the broth. It was amazing, so wonderfully tasty, I wanted to eat more and more, but being a large group of foreigners not having beef for months, it was gone pretty fast. After the late lunch, we hung out for a while playing cards, watching videos on YouTube, etc. waiting for the food to digest, and the pool to open. Being guests, we had to pay for the use of the pool, but it only cost an American dollar for the day. The water was freezing, but it was still fun. We spent as much time as we could in the sun before it went down, then we went around the whole pool searching for warm spots. When we couldn’t handle the cold any longer, we went to the sauna, and put it as warm as it would go. We had eight people in a sauna about the size of a public restroom toilet stall; two words: crazy fun. After getting warmed up, and dressed in street clothes, Joao’s mom took us to a nearby mall so we could eat dinner in the food court. Then it was time to say goodbye, because the next day we had an early morning with Rotary.
In the middle of November, after being in India for four months, the exchange students had our Rotary Orientation day. The orientation was in a small auditorium at a local college and told us about what to expect throughout the year. Because the year was already one third of the way over by then, we already knew most of it, but it was nice to have an actual orientation. We also learned about the Four D’s of Rotary (No Drinking, No Driving, No Drugs, No Dating), and were given a chance to talk about what we would like to see differently in the tours Rotary officiates, and our dealings with Rotary in general. Although it would have been nice to have an orientation shortly after we arrived, it was nice to be able to say what we liked and what we didn’t like. After the meeting there was a complimentary lunch which was full of some typical Maharashtran foods that I now love.
Speaking of food, in November, the exchange students discovered a very “Americanized” restaurant on FC Road called, Aromas. The only problem with the place is that everything is really expensive. (Expensive compared to other Indian restaurants. A typical meal in an Indian restaurant costs about $2, but at Aromas, the meals cost about $5. I know, big whoop, but once you are used to spending so little money on food, you don’t want to spend double.) Luckily, Aromas had some publicity deals where every Wednesday was half price. So can you guess where the exchange students were every Wednesday in November? …Yup, Aromas. We had pizza, pastas, cheesy garlic bread, and for dessert, Apple Pie with ice cream. It was like Heaven in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I love Indian food, but it is so nice every once in a while to have some food like I would have in the US. Sadly, the deals are over now, but it was fun and tasty while it lasted through the month.
Thanksgiving also took place in November, but it was nothing like the usual holiday in the US. Actually Thanksgiving this year happened to be on my cousin, Ameya's, birthday. My family went to his house for a family birthday party with his favorite food, pav baji. It was like my normal Thanksgiving by going to visit family, and eating a lot there (practically forcing me to eat more), but it was also very different due to the food. Also, because my barber is very close to Ameya’s house, before I went to celebrate and eat, I had my hair cut: something I have never had before on Thanksgiving, and due to the result, don’t plan to have again on Thanksgiving. Overall, the holiday was still nice, but different. Then again, what part of this experience isn’t different?

In order to "be with family" on Thanksgiving, I Skyped with both my mom' side of the family and my dad's side of the family. It was really nice to see everyone and catch up with what is happeing in the US. The only downside was that to be easier for them, I had to Skype in the middle of the night. At midnight, the day after Thanksgiving for me, I was skyping with my mom's family. I got about three hours of sleep, and then woke up at 5:00 in the morning to Skype with my dad's family. Although I had to be awake practically all night, - I'm used to it, being a teenager - it was totally worth it to see family on the holiday.

November ended with the last three days beginning the start of our South India Tour.


October 7th - 13th
                Good. Bad. Ugly. That's what this trip was for me... and I think the other exchange students too. Thankfully, the good outweighed the bad and ugly. A big part of the good, for me, was being with the other students, as well as seeing wonderful sights, and experiencing more of Indian culture. The bad included traveling for hours on end in an uncomfortable bus, not having any idea of where the bus was taking us, and in general, no organization. The ugly was a lot of the food, and expecting more than what I was given (I have learned to never expect anything fabulous by now, but still, there was some disappointment). Ugly also included some things that the other exchange students and I had to experience firsthand - like some interesting creatures throughout the trip.
                The trip started out on Friday morning, at a supposed to be 7:30, but being India, we finally set off at almost 9:00. The first disappointment hit when I saw the bus. We were told we would be taking a coach bus, so my immediate thought was to the nice, comfortable, spacy coach buses that we use in the US. I couldn't be more wrong. The bus only had 17 seats for passengers... of which we filled up 16. The room to relax and move around with a small group in a big bus was not at all in the equation of the trip anymore. Luckily, my mom had a plan for me to get a good seat on the bus; arrive first, and pick out the best seat. It was nice to have a single seat between the window and the aisle.
                So on the 7th we left Pune for Belgaum, where we would have our first night at Hotel Ramdev. Well, about 10 minutes into the trip, the leaders decided that it was time for breakfast. Having no notice that there would be breakfast that first morning, all of the students had already eaten, and just wanted to keep going after being over an hour behind schedule already. Never the less, the leaders and our driver enjoyed some tea in the restaurant while the students got accustomed to the bus. Our first stop after that was for a bathroom break where I was introduced to the "real" Indian toilets, and disgusting stalls. Then we got to know the bus even better, until lunch that is. Due to a unanimous vote in favor of non-veg, we stopped at a hotel with a restaurant and all ordered chicken in either a spicy or non-spicy sauce. Personally, I ordered the so-called non-spicy, but it still made my eyes water and mouth burn. Compared to the sauce, there was barely any meat, and when we asked for more meat, the waiter brought us salt, because in Marathi, “meat” means “salt.” Thankfully, my family had taught me this, so I was able to explain to the others what happened before a big scene took place. After lunch, we got on the bus yet again, but luckily, this time we arrived at our hotel.
The hotel was alright -it wasn’t spectacular by any means- but it was nice enough to stay one night. Due to a miss calculation in the number of rooms some of us had to sleep four to a room instead of just three. We (the exchange students) went for a small walk around the town looking for anyplace interesting, but didn’t find any. After having dinner at the hotel restaurant, we had a party in our hotel room with junk food we found at a supermarket down the street. Looking back on it, we actually went to bed at a decent time the first night and slept soundly after a long day of traveling.
The next morning we woke up early and left the hotel to start on our journey. Leave Belgaum for Sirsi (Beetle Nuts Plantation). En-route Magod and Kavidekeri. Hotel Panchwati.

9th - Leave Sirsi for Murudeshwar (Trasi Beach and Aneegudi Ganpati). En-route Vanvasi and Jog Falls. RNS Residency. -Banvasi (Ancient Capital of Karnataka)

10th - Free Day (Change)

11th - Kollur and Udupi (Temple of Lord Shri Krishna) Temples. Maple and Maravanthe Beach.

12th - Leave Murud. for Yellapur. En-route Gokarn (Temple of God Shiva) and Edgunji. Banana County Resort.

13th -Leave Yellapur for Pune.  Arrive at around 4 (8:30).

Thursday, November 3, 2011


For any viewers that do not have facebook, here are the links to my photo albums. Enjoy.

Indian Adventure:
 *Shows daily life in India from September to November.

Costal Karnataka Tour : Part 1:

Costal Karnataka Tour : Part 2: