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Being Indian

In these two months of traveling across the Middle East and Eastern Europe we have been extremely lucky to have had amazing experiences! A common thing we have noticed is that most of the people love Indians! And there is no reason why they should not, isn’t it? We are a peace loving and friendly nation, aren’t we? 🙂 A lot of people wish us while we are walking on the street, they like to talk to us, ask interesting questions (see here for a detailed list of questions) and even offer to help us.

Of course, we like to talk about India and tell our hosts or their friends more about our life in India and try to clear any doubts or misconceptions they may have about our nation. We were extremely fortunate to have had opportunities to talk about India to a wider audience in a foreign land! 🙂

It all started in Turkey, in a place called Batman(No, it’s not a nickname ;)). We were taking a leisurely walk on the street after dinner with our host, Şefik, when he suddenly asked us if we were interested in giving a talk on India in a live radio program that night!! We were sure he was kidding! Realizing this he asked us again 🙂 And we replied in unison ‘Yes!! Most definitely!!’ The next ten minutes saw us rush to a radio station! It was the most popular one in that region – Batman Super 90.0 FM.

We met the owner of the radio channel, Mr. Hasan Oluk, who was earlier a movie artist and is now successfully running the radio channel since almost 15 years! He was very happy to receive guests from India, one of his favourite countries.

After a cup of Turkish chai we were ushered into the room where the program would be conducted. There was a radio jockey, our friend Şefik who would translate from English to Kurdish(the native language in Eastern Turkey) and us!

And for the next one hour we were live! Talking about India, answering their queries, be it about our Ganges river, political situation, Taj Mahal, Indira Gandhi, Bollywood movies, etc., We tried our best to answer their questions :). We even played a Hindi song for the audience at the end! Guess which one? It was ‘Ye jo des hai tera’ from A.R. Rehman’s  Swades 🙂

We were thrilled, to say the least! :)
We were thrilled, to say the least! 🙂

It was an unforgettable experience for us 🙂 Being local celebrities in Eastern Turkey for a night 😉

Şefik teaches theology in a public school in Batman. He invited us to his school the next day where we met the other teachers, the head officer in-charge of the school. Most importantly, the kids! Yeah, we went to Şefik’s class and spent some time with the kids. We even took their attendance. We spoke to them about India for a short while. These are some of the naughtiest kids we have met so far!

The naughty kids of Batman :)
The naughty kids of Batman 🙂

After almost a month and a half while we were searching for hosts in and around Krakow, Poland we were extremely lucky to get a positive response from a wonderful family – Jessica and Grzeg Kucia and their adorable daughters invited us to their home in Wieliczka, a village famous for its salt mines.

Jess, Grzeg and their adorable girls :)
Jess, Grzeg and their adorable girls 🙂

And Jessica suggested that we go to their daughter, Pola’s class to give a talk on India! We were excited, to say the least.

The public school in Wieliczka village where we were invited
The public school in Wieliczka village where we were invited

We thoroughly enjoyed talking to the kids (8-9 year olds). We even prepared a short presentation about India with lot of pictures which the kids liked a lot 🙂 These kids were expecting us and had come prepared with questions! Some really interesting ones are –

‘Which is the largest fruit in India?’

We were really amused and answered watermelon. It was pumpkin in Poland 😉

‘Do you recycle things in India?’

Very mature question! We think they were learning about recycling. As much as we would like to, it is not happening much in India.

‘Do you have sushi in India?’

Yeah, we do get it in some Japanese restaurants but it doesn’t belong to us 🙂

The curious  and inquisitive kids with their equally enthusiastic teacher :)
The curious and inquisitive kids with their equally enthusiastic teacher 🙂

And guess what? We even showed them a video of the song, “Bum bum bole’ from Aamir Khan’s ‘Taare Zameen Par’ 🙂 and made them dance to it!! It was such fun!!

We were really touched when they presented us some handicraft as a token of their love in the end:)

Handicrafts made by kids representing traditional Polish costumes :)
Handicrafts made by kids representing traditional Polish costumes 🙂
It was great fun! :)
It was great fun! 🙂
They even asked us about our blog! :)
They even asked us about our blog! 🙂

A couple of weeks later we were in Ljubljana, Slovenia where we met a very friendly host, Darja, who was a teacher in a public school. This time we suggested if we could go to her school to talk to the kids. She was very excited at this proposal and quickly made arrangements! 🙂 Luckily the kids were studying about Asia in their geography class and were surprised by our unexpected visit.

Our impromptu visit was a sweet surprise for the students :)
Our impromptu visit was a sweet surprise for the students 🙂

We told them many interesting facts about India. They were astonished especially about the number of  languages spoken in India!

We were delighted to have even the headmaster of the school sit in the class to listen to us 😉 He was a very nice and highly educated person, holding a PhD in computer science!

Another important part of our travel has been FOOD!! We are so proud of our Indian cuisine and have filled almost all kitchens in most of the countries with our aromatic curries and dishes 🙂 But let’s reserve FOOD for another separate blog post 😉

As you can see it’s been great so far! We are so happy we are doing this – traveling around the world, to great places, meeting great people, learning so much and spreading something so unique to us – Indianness! 🙂

Questions people ask us

It’s been almost two months since we left home. We have met loads of interesting people. Some of them have asked us interesting questions about India and about our travel. Here are some of the most common questions we encountered.

  • Why are you traveling?Because we love traveling! We want to see and experience the world. We met an Indian guy in Budapest for business who even asked us – What do you mean by backpacking? Have you gone mad to quit your jobs and travel around the world, wasting time and money? He even suggested us to go back home.

    Into the wild @ Vitosha mountains, Bulgaria
    Into the wild @ Vitosha mountains, Bulgaria
  • Do you know how to dance?Yes, all Indians are expected to dance! It’s mandatory according to some. So, the next time we are off on a trip like this (oh! How we wish this one doesn’t end!), we are definitely going to learn some typical Bollywood moves 😉 Not that we did not try some this time 😉
Dancing to Hookah Bar in Shiraz, Iran ;)
Dancing to Hookah Bar in Shiraz, Iran 😉

 

  • Why is cow regarded as a holy animal in India? If you don’t eat cow, then what do you eat!?
    Well, how about some veggies?

    Yummy Indian veg food which doesn't remind you of absence of meat :)
    Yummy Indian veg food which doesn’t remind you of absence of meat 🙂
  • Is it true that woman always proposes first to the man before wedding?
    What! Now, where did you get that from? Women in India will definitely be amused 😉
  • How do arranged marriages exist even in 21st century? Please explain the process 🙂
    Haha! Yeah, they are still common and we have adapted to the system. But of course, the trend is changing these days. The process? Well, the family shortlists few guys/girls who meet each other a couple of times and make their decision! Yes, it’s simple and it works 🙂
  • Why is river Ganges considered holy?
    While we are not completely sure, we think the scriptures have made it holy. Sadly, it’s one of the most polluted rivers in India! 🙁
  • Is it true that the emperor who built Taj Mahal, also ordered to chop off the hands of the architect? That’s so cruel!
    Well, we are not sure. If true, we do agree it was cruel.
  • How can you be a vegetarian all your life? Where do you get energy from?
    Try it! 😉 It’s not so tough. Especially when you live in a country where almost ~50% of the population is vegetarian and more than half of the menu in most of the restaurants is veg! Still don’t believe it? Invite us to your home and we’ll blow your minds away by making yummy veg food 😉
  • How many languages are there in India?
    Total – 1652!! Not kidding at all! Check Wikipedia if you want. Official and regional – 24! Yeah, it’s crazy, we know!
  • What’s your national language?
    Nope, sorry, we don’t have a national language! Hindi is  one of the many official languages and is widely spoken.
  • Is it all true what they show in Balika Vadhu?
    What!  How do you know about Balika vadhu, of all things! Guess what? Balika vadhu is a popular soap opera in Bulgaria! We were shocked to know that it has a big fan following there. We even watched an episode of it along with our friendly hosts and answered their doubts 🙂
  • Is it safe for people to travel to India?Especially female travelers, after what they show in the media about rapes, etc?
    Hmm, it’s a matter of shame even for us, to come across such incidents! 🙁  But if you take necessary precautions, we think we are a safe country to travel to.What do you think of the questions? Have you been asked any interesting questions about India during your travels? 😉

[100 Strangers Project] Stranger #10 – The most generous stranger we met in Iran

We got into the elevator with a hope that the rain might stop soon. We wanted to visit some of the mosques in Shiraz but it was raining.

We were living on the 13th floor. He got into the elevator on the 7th floor and we exchanged smiles. We wished him ‘Salaam’. The three of us got out in the ground floor. We got out of the apartment block wondering how to go out in that bad weather. He came to us asking in Farsi if we needed any help. We hesitated a bit and showed him the names of the mosques that we had written down in Farsi. He smiled and asked us to get into his car and drove us all the way to the Nasr ol Molk mosque. We were so touched by his gesture but wait there was a lot more in store for us.

On the way we tried telling him our names and that we are from Hindistan(India) and that we are very grateful to him. After a while, he called someone on his phone, spoke in Farsi for a while and handed it to us. To our surprise there was an Indian on the other end! She was his colleague’s wife, Heera, who had moved to Iran after her wedding and had settled there. It felt great speaking to her!

We reached the mosque. To our disappointment, the main entrance was closed! But this man didn’t give up! He knocked the small wooden door and spoke to someone and let us in! It was a very beautiful mosque with colored glass all over the windows!

 

The colorful Nasr ok Molk mosque in Shiraz, Iran
The colorful Nasr ok Molk mosque in Shiraz, Iran

After spending sometime there he took us to another mosque – Shah Cherag which was one of the most dazzling mosques we have seen till now. We exchanged our numbers and bid him goodbye with gratitude in our heart.

Do you think we didn’t see him again? No, we did 🙂

In the afternoon he made his niece, Aana, who could speak English, call us and invite us for lunch! We went to his house, met his big family, had a very delicious meal.

Our impromptu hosts :)
Our impromptu hosts 🙂
shahrom food
The delicious meal we were invited to!

And then they decided to take us for a picnic with them! All of us went to Namak Daryache (Salt lake) in the outskirts of Shiraz. It was very cold. We had piping hot Iranian chai and some snacks.

Iran-Turkey-DSLR 050
Daryache Namak (Salt lake) in the outskirts of Shiraz.
A fun-filled evening :)
A fun-filled evening 🙂

It was actually the 13th day after Nowruz. It’s called Sizdah Bedar. Families all over Iran go out into the woods and have a great time. They also have a ritual of gathering around the fire and making a wish, singing traditional folk songs and dancing.

 

Picnic with the friendly strangers
Picnic with the friendly strangers

We had to leave to Ahvaz the same night and our bus was to leave at 8 PM. This man offered to drop us off to the bus station! We were totally bowled over by his hospitality! He picked us up from our host’s place, dropped us at the bus station, waited till the bus left!!

Meet Shahrom from Shiraz, one of the most friendly and hospitable persons we met in Iran! We hardly spoke to each other due to the language barrier but we are sure he knows what we feel about him and that there is a strong friendship built between us 🙂

Shahrom and his wife :)
Shahrom and his wife 🙂

PS: He even called us the next day to know if we are safe 🙂

Photo of the week #7 Auschwitz

auschwitz

This photo is something everyone of us have to remember. We should remember it so that it never ever happens again!

Auschwitz – Birkenau is the most depressing place we have ever visited.  It is the biggest network of Nazi concentration and extermination camps near Krakow, Poland where millions of people, mainly Jews, were murdered during the Holocaust in the Second World War. Most of us know about Holocaust from our books and through watching documentaries, but no matter how much you learn about it, nothing prepares you for what you’ll feel when you’re there. We were simply moved to tears.

The above photograph shows battered suitcases sitting in a pile in a room at Auschwitz. The cases, most inscribed with each owner’s name, were taken from prisoners upon their arrival at the camps. All luggage was stolen from the prisoners of Auschwitz, along with everything else they owned. The suitcase in the center with the star of David probably belonged to a pharmacist (apotheke in German means pharmacy).

We think it’s important for people to see Auschwitz so that it never ever happens again. People should never be allowed to forget what the Nazis did, and we should never forget the 1,100,00 souls who had their lives taken away from them.

More on Auschwitz in an exclusive post very soon.

Photo of the week #6 Brasov

brasov

Situated in the heart of Romania, Brasov is a beautiful medieval town. It is fringed by the peaks of the Southern Carpathian Mountains and is resplendent with gothic, baroque and renaissance architecture. It is located in the Translyvania region of Romania. Some people even say, “Why bother coming to Romania if you’re not going to see Braşov?” 🙂

This picture is taken from the top of the Tampa mountain. It shows  the Council Square (Piata Sfatului) in the heart of the old medieval Brasov. Lined with beautiful red-roofed merchant houses, the square is one of the finest in the country. In the center of the square lies the Council House, built in 1420.

Brasov is the perfect base if you want to explore the Transylvania region of Romania. Not only that, it is also a beautiful, historical city with warm, welcoming locals and an amazing cafe culture.

Photo of the week #5 Vitosha mountains

vitosha final

No, this is not a random wallpaper we downloaded from the internet. Our host in Sofia (София, in Cyrillic alphabet), capital of Bulgaria was very kind to take us to the mountain ranges called Vitosha on the outskirts of the city.
We stopped in a village called Kladnitsa and hiked all the way to a restaurant/hotel called Selimitsa hut and had delicious breakfast. It was deep fried bread with eggs and flour with some piping hot herb tea from the mountains.
The Vitosha mountain has the oldest Nature Park on the Balkan peninsula. It offers breathtaking sceneries, crystal clear air, unique culture sites and attractive eco trails to explore.

Why is Couchsurfing amazing?

Guess what?

It’s been more than a month since we left home. And the amount of money we have spent on accommodation is zero! Yes, zero. And what we have experienced and learnt about the local people, culture, cuisine and traditions is immense!

Can you imagine a way in which we can live with locals in their homes? Sleep in their place, exchange our culture, experience their cuisine, give them a taste of our own cuisine and live with them like their friends?

Well, that’s exactly what Couchsurfing offers us!

The world is smaller than you think!
The world is smaller than you think!

It’s a great project and we are so indebted to it.

So, what is this couchsurfing(CS) all about??

The couch surfing concept involves members signing up on what is essentially a hospitality exchange site ( https://www.couchsurfing.org ) and by process of interview and elimination, finding free accommodation on a stranger’s couch or spare room while traveling.

Our first couch in Safura’s house in Tehran, Iran 🙂 These couches are extensible and can be turned into comfortable beds while sleeping! 🙂

Couchsurfing.com – the social website that makes connecting travelers with places to crash easier — now has more than three million members in 246 countries around the world!

It’s a boon for budget travelers like us! It also allows us to get an up close and personal look at different cultures, families, and households, seeing how they really live, far from the madding crowd of high tourist traffic and tours.

Want to know how it works? The website gives you a detailed picture of the whole concept. You can find it here – https://www.couchsurfing.org/n/how-it-works

We have met great people so far through Couchsurfing and we are sure we will continue doing so! We have made some friends for life and are sure of meeting them again, maybe in India, at our home or maybe somewhere else in the world. For we have come to realize that the whole world is one single family.

Our amazing hosts in Iran - Safura (our first host in Tehran), Ali Salamat & Ali Salimian(Isfahan) and Elyar (Shiraz)
Our amazing hosts in Iran – Safura (our first host in Tehran), Ali Salamat & Ali Salimian(Isfahan) and Elyar (Shiraz)

 

Our hosts in Turkey :) Fatin & Reme(Van), Sirin(Batman), Hasan(Mardin)
Our hosts in Turkey 🙂 Fatin & Reme(Van), Sirin(Batman), Hasan(Mardin)

 

Hamdi - Our best friend in Istanbul :)
Hamdi – Our best friend in Istanbul 🙂

 

Our hosts in Eastern Europe(so far) - Kostadin and his grandma(Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Slavi, Maria, Petya and Yanev(Sofia, Bulgaria), Nina & Mihai(Brasov, Romania), Betty and Andras(Budapest, Hungary)
Our hosts in Eastern Europe so far (from L to R) – Kostadin and his grandma(Plovdiv, Bulgaria), Slavi, Maria, Petya and Yanev(Sofia, Bulgaria), Betty and Andras(Budapest, Hungary) and Nina & Mihai(Brasov, Romania)

Not only did we stay with the locals but we also met their friends and family and had lots of great conversations and fun! For instance, luckily for us it was the New Year (Nowruz) time in Iran and people were free and in a good spirit 🙂 We went on picnics (Sizdahbedar) in Iran with some families and had really great times.

We had a great time with our host - Mohsen Parsa and his big family in Ahvaz, Iran.
We had a great time with our host – Mohsen Parsa and his big family in Ahvaz, Iran.

We also went to events organised by the local couchsurfers.  For instance, the day we arrived in Isfahan, our host Ali took us to a hike and breakfast event in Mount Sofeh where we got to meet lot of CSers. We later met them for a coffee and even went on a bike ride with one of them.

We went to a CS hike and breakfast meet up the Mount Sofeh in Isfahan, Iran
We went to a CS hike and breakfast meet up the Mount Sofeh in Isfahan, Iran

We also met an interesting person by name Pedram in Tehran through CS. He is very passionate about history and heritage of Iran and took us on a walking tour to some very interesting places. We had a great time with him and would recommend him to everybody who visits Tehran!

Walking tour with Pedram in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. By the way that's the dressing style of the Qajar dynasty ;)
Walking tour with Pedram in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, Iran. By the way, that’s the dressing style of the Qajar dynasty 😉

Sometimes the host maybe having several guests at the same time. It’s again a nice opportunity to meet other travelers from far and wide and exchange travel stories with each other! The same happened in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in our host Kostadin’s home. We met this very friendly Taiwanese-Japanese couple and a cyclist Evan from Serbia!

We met so many travelers in our host's places - Azar, Mohsen and Ali (Shiraz), Herman, Povalina and Peter (Uchisar, Kapadokya), Shiling, Susumu and Evan(Plovdiv)
We met so many travelers in our host’s places – Azar, Mohsen and Ali (Shiraz), Herman, Povalina and Peter (Uchisar, Kapadokya), Shiling, Susumu and Evan(Plovdiv)

We have had a first hand experience of the local cuisine at all places. Many a times our hosts have cooked delicious meals for us. We in turn have cooked Indian food for many of our hosts 🙂 Palak dal, lemon rice, baingan ka bartha, mushroom masala, wheat flour dosa and tomato chutney are pretty famous outside of India now you see 😉

Our hosts have thoroughly enjoyed the Indian cuisine :)
Our hosts have thoroughly enjoyed the Indian cuisine 🙂

We also had some very interesting experiences with some hosts!

Our host, Sefik, took us to his school where he teaches religious ethics to children. We had a fun time with the kids :)
Our host, Sefik, took us to his school where he teaches religious ethics to children. We had a fun time with the kids 🙂
Sefik also took us to the most famous radio station in Batman where we were live for an hour talking about India!
Sefik also took us to the most famous radio station in Batman where we were live for an hour talking about India!

Who knows? Without those insider tips on what to see and what not to do, and that really money-saving advice on sights and activities, we would have gotten lost in the horde of tourists.

And the feeling of coming back to a home, and not a hotel/hostel after a weary day of traveling is something money can’t buy!

Have you ever tried Couchsurfing while traveling?  What do you think of the idea? If you haven’t tried we sincerely recommend you to go for it!