Tag Archives: travel

India Currents' Publisher, Vandana Kumar with her mother in India (Image by Vandana Kumar)

Coming Back From India? Follow These Santa Clara County Guidelines

Indian Americans have been traveling to and from India in this time of crisis to spend time with ailing parents and family members. Our Publisher, Vandana Kumar, left San Jose to visit her aging mother in Jamshedpur 3 weeks ago, whom she had not seen in 2 years. Unknowingly, she ended up experiencing peak COVID chaos in India which culminated in a lockdown. Perhaps a bittersweet reminder of why she made the trip in the first place – to spend quality alone time with her mother.

“Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible,” She comments with poignancy in her article about traveling to India in April 2021.

Luckily, Santa Clara County has information and resources to support community members impacted by the crisis. The County offers the following guidance to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, protect the entire community’s health, and provide support and resources to those who have traveled recently.

Although the US government is restricting travel from India as of May 4, 2021, this guidance applies to those who have recently arrived from India and any travelers who are exempt from the travel restriction.

Recommendations for Travelers Arriving from India:

All unvaccinated travelers should immediately quarantine for 10 days:

The County strongly urges unvaccinated travelers returning from India to immediately quarantine for 10 days after arriving in Santa Clara County, as recommended by the California Department of Public Health. Travelers should self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms throughout the quarantine period. Visit www.sccstayhome.org to learn more.

The quarantining traveler(s) should remain separate from people they did not travel with, meaning that the arriving traveler(s) should stay in a separate room within a home or stay in a hotel.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in India should quarantine for 10 days:

The recommendation to quarantine applies despite vaccination, given the extremely high rates of COVID-19 and incomplete information about vaccines currently deployed in India.

Vaccinated travelers who were vaccinated in the US do not need to quarantine:

For travelers who have been fully vaccinated with one of the three vaccines with Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA (Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson), the recommendation to quarantine does not apply.

All travelers should get a COVID-19 Test 3-5 Days After Arrival in the US:

All arriving travelers should test on day 3, 4, or 5 after arriving in the US, even if vaccinated.

The County offers many options for free testing, including drive-through testing. Visit www.sccfreetest.org to learn more and find a location. Testing does not require insurance.

If a Traveler test positive, they should isolate:

If an arriving traveler tests positive for COVID-19, they should isolate to protect others from getting infected. This means that the person who tested positive should stay home, separate themselves from others in the home (i.e., in a separate room), not allow visitors, not use public transportation, and not prepare or serve food for others.

The County offers resources, including motel placements and assistance with food, for those who cannot afford to isolate themselves without help. Visit www.sccstayhome.org  or call (408) 808-7770.


Srishti Prabha is the Managing Editor at India Currents and has worked in low-income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.


 

Amanda Sodhi traveling (Images from her Instagram @amandasodhi)

12 Months. 12 Cities. 1 Suitcase: An Indian American Travels to India to Find Her Home

Amanda Sodhi is a DC native and was previously an LA-based screenwriter, songwriter, filmmaker, and writer. This year she has launched a program titled Twelve Steps to Home to travel across twelve cities in India. Amanda Sodhi has taken an unconventional path, following her passion and encouraging women to do the same. She has built on her versatile talents and uses them to questions the ways in which women are bogged down by society. In this interview, she expands on her new project and what it means to be a woman on the road less traveled.

IC: You have a background in writing and music, what urged you to fuse them together and create your project Twelve Steps to Home, and what does it mean to you?

AS: I was born and brought up in Washington, DC. I’ve lived and worked in Los Angeles, too. I moved to Mumbai when I was 25. At 29, I moved to Kolkata, shuttling between there and Delhi. However, I kept outgrowing each city after a point, and it really felt quite isolating. I felt like I belonged both everywhere and nowhere. I couldn’t identify any one place as “home,” as a place to return to. 

Often, people define home as where their family is. Since I am estranged from my family, the definition of “home” is especially blurry for me. 

The lease of my Kolkata flat was anyhow expiring in December. So, I sold all my furniture, downsized to one suitcase, and began a brand new journey of uprooting myself consciously month-after-month – 12 months, 1 month per city. I will be documenting this journey in the form of a book. And, I intend to release my next song with a music video that draws from footage from all 12 places. 

I have no idea what the outcome is going to be at the end of this path, if I will discover what “home” and “belonging” means or not. But, at the moment, I feel like I’m living my best life, indulging in all these new experiences and meeting so many new people.

IC: As an Indian, there are often challenges that urge us to take a ‘safe’ path in our career due to family or societal pressure. What brought you to find success in your passion and how do you cope in that environment?

AS: It was difficult. My family was neither able to accept that I wanted to pursue a creative career, nor were they were able to wrap their head around the fact I was going to move to India. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I felt it was high time I lived my life fully, without any guilt. Therapy also helped. Sometimes it takes years of something building up slowly to make a person finally snap, not care about what society thinks and muster the courage to live life on their own terms. 

IC: As a woman traveling in India, how is your artistic process impacted through challenges or obstacles you may face that other genders don’t? What has changed in your journey?

AS: It is challenging – often, people try to discourage women from traveling solo by instilling fear in them. Sometimes people feel resentful that you’re traveling freely when they have succumbed to societal pressure and are conforming to certain expectations of how life should be structured by XYZ age. Some people show sympathy that, “Oh, you don’t have a boyfriend or husband to travel with?” as if that’s even a prerequisite! A few people, however, feel inspired to also travel. It’s a mixed bag.

I remember when I was in Port Blair, one of the hotels I stayed at created random rules just for me because I was the only solo female traveler at their property. It was suffocating. Also, in many cities, I have faced eve-teasing. It can be really upsetting. But, I don’t let it discourage me. Why should a few assholes ruin my plans? My life has been enriched through all the travel experiences I’ve been blessed to have – I’ve learned so much about different places, different people, different cultures, different viewpoints, different lifestyle choices. So many stories to tell!

Regarding my artistic process, there are a lot of men with very fragile egos one comes into contact with; some of them do try to jeopardize your project(s). This is why I like to work alone as much as possible. And, this is why I don’t rely on artistic projects to pay my bills. I freelance as a social media consultant, content writer, and VO artist. This decision has enabled me to create art on my own terms.

IC: In the same manner, how has the pandemic impacted your journey?

AS: The travel guidelines for each state in India keep changing, so I have to pick places accordingly. And, I have to be mentally prepared that flights may get canceled last minute. Because not as many tourists are flocking to each city, I get to experience the best of the local vibe. With this crisis occurring in India right now, it seems I’ll stay put in Kashmir for another month. I will proceed with caution and be sure to monitor the situations carefully. 

IC: What do you want to say to women, who also want to strongly pursue their dreams but are afraid to for different reasons? 

AS: We are all going to die sooner or later…Marne se pehle, please thodda jee lo.

The fact we are all mortal should be the biggest motivation to pursue one’s dreams unapologetically. Better to try and fail in the process rather than be resentful or blame others for stopping you. Yes, everything comes with consequences. But, in the end, I firmly believe the only person stopping you is you. 

IC: As a woman who has taken an unconventional path in life, is there a lot of emphasis on mental health? In India, where there is a strong barrier for women, and where mental health is a taboo, how do you cope with facing such challenges? 

AS: I’ve been in and out of therapy for nearly a decade. I’ve also reached out to shrinks and life coaches, as and when I’ve felt it was required. A few years ago, I was diagnosed with Mixed Anxiety Depressive Disorder. Instability, for prolonged periods, is usually a trigger point for me, which mainly stems from a lack of a sense of what “family” is. Sometimes being open about your own mental health journey – especially if you seem high-functioning – inspires others to also seek help. It is best to lead by example.

I conduct writing therapy workshops through my startup Pen Paper Dreams and try my best to counter the stigma surrounding mental health at a smaller level. For example, one of the books I had my reading group explore is Maybe You Should Talk To Someone. It helped bust a lot of myths. 

IC: You have traveled and lived in places that are on opposite ends of the world, adapting to cultures that may be completely alien to you. What is your support system in this process and how do you thrive in each city and culture to fully experience it?

AS: Indeed, every city is unique. But, at the same time, humans are also very similar, irrespective of their surface-level differences. When you are mentally prepared that you have to make the most of any place, any situation, it helps you adapt quickly. I’ve been lucky to make friends and acquaintances everywhere I go – they have all been an extremely important part of my support system. Humans are social creatures – we need interaction in healthy doses to thrive; that’s definitely one thing this pandemic has made crystal clear. 

IC: How important is it to have an identity as a person separate from being a daughter, mother, sister, etc and in Indian society, how do women tackle that?

AS: Before being a daughter or a mother or a sister or a spouse, you are first and foremost an individual. A person is much more than just the role they play within a family. One’s identity is a mix of different elements at a personal level, family level, and social level. Do not let one role define your entire being.

Check out Amanda Sodhi’s music here:


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 


 

Publisher Vandana Kumar and Managing Director Vijay Rajvaidya, traveling to India.

Experiencing Two Lockdowns: Traveling to India During a Pandemic

My mother lives in Jamshedpur, India. I live in San Jose, California. For the past many years, my siblings and I have made multiple trips to Jamshedpur every year to spend time with our mother.

And then 2020 hit and travel came to a screeching halt.

Just like a lot of you, I have navigated these uncertain times seeking clarity on what was appropriate, what was safe, what was responsible. When COVID cases seemed to have declined sufficiently, Vijay and I decided to travel to India once again. We read extensively about the new travel guidelines, spoke with friends and family in India about COVID norms. 

Then COVID cases started exploding in India. We were in a quandary – although we were now vaccinated, should we still make this trip or postpone it? When would be a good time for this? Realizing that no one could give us any definite answers – we decided to move ahead with our travels as planned.

Since I’ve arrived here I’ve been asked by dozens of friends about my travel experience, so I decided to document some useful tips for travelers to India:

Before the start of travel

(i) Passengers need to have a negative RT-PCR COVID test (not antigen test) report in order to board flights to India. The test must be done NO MORE THAN 72 hours before the start of travel. This is important. Make sure and schedule this ahead of time.

You may not have a reliable internet connection when you land, so make a hard copy of the report and have it handy. 

(ii) Fill out the Air Suvidha self-declaration form, mandatory for all international travelers to India. You will need to upload a soft copy in pdf format for yourself and the rest of your travel party. You need to submit only one form for the whole family. 

Make sure you print and carry a hard copy of this form and carry it with your passport, VISA/OCI.

During the flight:

I had booked a direct flight from San Francisco to Ranchi on United, so was able to check in the baggage all the way to my final destination.

Passengers and flight crew were masked for the entire flight. Crew reminded folks to wear the masks even while sleeping. Sanitizers were available for all. We felt safe.

Tips:

(i) Wear masks that are comfortable for the long haul

(ii) Fill out the disembarkation card before landing

Vijay Rajvaidya
Vijay checking out the snacks at the airport lounge

Arriving in India:

We were pleasantly surprised to see that everyone at Delhi airport was masked – airport staff, officers, passengers

Upon disembarking: we had to show proof of the COVID test at two separate desks, staffed by two different entities. We were not sure who they were, but our boarding passes were stamped by each.

At the immigration counter: We were asked for our stamped boarding passes, Disembarkation card, Passports, OCI cards, and the Air Suvidha form. 

By the time we were done with immigration and arrived at the baggage claim, the baggage had been removed off the carousels and lined up for passengers. I was rather shocked at the speed with which this had happened!

Customs: this channel is usually open, but this time there was a queue, so it took a few minutes to walk out and into the domestic transfer area at T3.

Transfer to domestic: Those who have traveled through T3 know this – this is the most ridiculous design for an international airport like Delhi! There is ONE elevator that takes ALL international passengers transferring to the domestic terminal on T3. The signage in this area is nonexistent, so you have to ask folks staffing the counters. 

There was much confusion about where to drop off our baggage, but eventually, we found the right queue. We were disappointed that we could not just drop off the luggage but had to line up for check-in by Vistara yet again along with all other passengers. We pointed out that we were already checked in, had our boarding passes, and just needed to drop off the luggage – but it was of no use. There was no convenient drop-off or handover organized by Vistara.

Vandana & her Mom
After a LONG journey, Vandana gets to hug her mom

Waiting at the airport: There are several lounges on the domestic terminal and we made our way to the Plaza Premium Lounge that has a partnership up with Vistara. Seats were blocked to create distancing inside the lounge. We rested there till it was time to board the next flight. We felt safe.

So after a 16-hour flight from San Francisco, a 6-hour wait at Delhi airport, a 2-hour flight to Ranchi, followed by a 2.5-hour drive to Jamshedpur – I was finally able to hug my mom – masked!!

UPDATE: It’s been a week since I got here and today the Jharkhand State government has announced a “Complete Lockdown.” As someone who experienced “Shelter in Place” in California last year, I know what that means. I just didn’t think that I’d experience this in two countries. 

The US says that one should not travel to India right now. But I’m already here. I’m considering what I should do now. Follow my Facebook profile for developments.


Vandana Kumar has been serving as the Publisher of India Currents since 2004.


 

OCI Re-Issuing Simplified By Modi Government

In a decision that is expected to significantly ease the process for re-issue of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards, the Modi Government has decided to simplify the process. This decision has been taken on the directions of the Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah. 

The OCI Card has proved to be very popular amongst foreigners of Indian Origin and spouses of foreign origin of Indian citizens or OCI cardholders, as it helps them in hassle-free entry and unlimited stay in India. So far about 377,200 OCI Cards have been issued by the Government of India. 

A foreigner of Indian origin or a foreign spouse of an Indian citizen or foreign spouse of an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cardholder, can be registered as an OCI cardholder. OCI card is a lifelong visa for entry into and stay in India with a number of other major benefits attached to it that are not available to other foreigners.  

Presently, the OCI card is required to be re-issued each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age, in view of biological changes in the face of the applicant.

It has now been decided by the Government of India to dispense with this requirement. A person who has got registration as OCI cardholder prior to attaining the age of 20 years will have to get the OCI card re-issued only once when a new passport is issued after his/her completing 20 years of age, so as to capture his/ her facial features on attaining adulthood. If a person has obtained registration as OCI cardholder after attaining the age of 20 years, there will be no requirement of re-issue of OCI card. 

To update the data regarding new passports obtained by the OCI cardholder, he/she can upload a copy of the new passport containing his/her photo to the online OCI portal, each time a new passport is issued up to 20 years of age and once after completing 50 years of age. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder within 3 months of receipt of the new passport.  

However, in the case of those who have been registered as OCI cardholder as the spouse of foreign origin of a citizen of India or an OCI cardholder, the person concerned will be required to upload on the system, a copy of the new passport containing the photo of the passport holder and also the latest photo along with a declaration that their marriage is still subsisting each time a new passport is issued. These documents may be uploaded by the OCI cardholder spouse within three months of receipt of his/ her new passport.  

The details will be updated on the system and an auto acknowledgment through e-mail will be sent to the OCI cardholder informing that the updated details have been taken on record. There will be no restriction on the OCI cardholder to travel to/ from India during the period from the date of issue of new passport till the date of final acknowledgment of his/ her documents in the web-based system.  


Find the original document HERE.


 

In Mumbai or Japan, Mother Nature Can Calm A Restless Mind

Desi Roots, Global Wings – a monthly column focused on the Indian immigrant experience.

Learning to unwind in nature – A life-saving skill that can help us survive not just the pandemic, but the ups and downs of daily life.

In the early months of the pandemic, I consoled myself by saying that all the drastic changes demanded by the Covid-19 virus were short-term measures. The inconvenience was temporary; a test of resilience that was best borne with a smile. A year later, the once-surreal situation that has now become an unpleasant but accepted reality for the foreseeable future, makes me grimace. 

As an unabashed urbanite who thrives in crowded spaces and fast moving environments, I doubt whether I can endure being cooped up on an island for much longer. Singapore is Covid-free but reluctant to risk outside threats, particularly in the form of returning residents who have visited other countries. Therefore travel, my preferred form of rejuvenation, is not an option. I need to find other ways to survive. 

Mysteries of nature

Growing up in Mumbai, I assumed milk came in glass bottles or plastic bags, delivered to the doorstep each morning. I knew the names of common vegetables and fruits that were easily available at the store down the street but I had no idea whether they grew on creepers or shrubs or trees. Textbooks references to four seasons, particularly autumn and winter, seemed to be theoretical constructs, much like physics. The water cycle however, played out in front of my eyes each year in the form of a sultry summer that gave way to monsoon rains. 

My first introduction to changing seasons came in my first year on the east coast of the US. Arriving on a cold December day in Washington DC, I was aghast to see wide avenues lined with tall tree trunks that resembled giant skeletons. The barren branches shocked me as much as the unfamiliar cold. 

When warm spring days arrived with spots of color on tree branches and sprouting tulip bulbs in the ground, I felt a lifting of my spirits. Finally the homesickness that had plagued me all winter seemed to melt. The breathtaking view of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial in full bloom in early April is indelibly etched in my memory. I hoped to one day visit Japan, the country that had gifted these Yoshino cherry trees to the United States.

Dreams take time, so do flowers

In March 2018, almost three decades after that original wish to travel to Japan, my dream came true. My husband and I arrived in Tokyo in late March. We had made arrangements to walk part of the Nakasendo trail, a path that runs between Tokyo and Kyoto. 

Since the sakura usually blossoms in April, we wondered if we would catch the peak of the blossoming. But we were lucky. Tokyo looked like any densely populated city with it’s crowded trains and high rises, except for the majestic flowering trees lining its busy thoroughfares. 

Side-effects of Shinrin-yoku 

On the trail, we walked through picturesque villages and mature forests with well-marked paths. Each evening we checked into small ryokans, traditional Japanese inns. The hosts gave us cotton yukata robes to wear and served freshly-cooked food made using seasonal, local produce on exquisite crockery. To our delight, ryokans were able to accommodate special requests from vegetarian and vegan guests. After spending several hours each day absorbing the refreshing energy of the forests, we fell fast asleep on futons laid out on tatami-matted floors. 

Although I had often visited the California redwoods in summer and admired the glorious colors of Shenandoah Valley in the fall, this entire experience was unusually soothing. It was my first foray into nature for a prolonged period. 

The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku – forest bathing, involves soaking in the atmosphere of the forest by mindfully absorbing its sights, sounds, textures, smell and taste. Invented in 1982 in response to the increasingly stressful life that the Japanese were leading, as well as to protect its forests, the practice gained prominence after studies proved its health benefits that included stress and  blood pressure reduction and ability to promote better sleep. 

The act of immersing myself in nature forced me to slow down, be observant, and acknowledge the trees, the sky, and the gurgling river that kept us company for most of the trek. As a city slicker, it was an unfamiliar experience. Yet, it was exactly what I needed – an orientation to the therapeutic and restorative benefits of the natural world.

Escaping everyday life

In April 2021, I’m looking forward to receiving my Covid-19 vaccine shot and keeping my fingers crossed for the possibility of a vaccination passport to ferry me to foreign lands. But what can I do until then?

The accumulated stress of living and working from home demands a release. Last year we found creative ways to work from home. This year we need to find new ways to get outside

My kitchen window offers a verdant view of a nature reserve that is literally in my backyard. Sometimes after a rain, the dense foliage is slick and shiny. At other times, trees topple, branches collapse and it’s a glorious green mess. During a dry spell, the trees shed leaves, the grass dries up and everything looks forlorn, like an abandoned project, begging for mother nature’s grace.

In April, hot mornings are often followed by afternoon thunderstorms. I step out for a stroll after the rain dies down, enjoying the gentle drip-drop of rain falling from saturated leaves. A meandering walk through paths littered with fallen leaves and creeping vines, amidst thick shrubs and trees, slows down my heartbeat. The green canopy soothes my tired eyes. 

My solo nature walks are a mindful pause that invite mother nature to do what she does best, provide a nourishing environment for things to grow. These mini recharge breaks help clear my mind and allow budding ideas to take shape.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a time when I can travel to a faraway place to have a rejuvenating break. For now, I’m glad to have a quick serenity fix, right in my neighborhood.  


Ranjani Rao is a scientist by training, writer by avocation, originally from Mumbai, a former resident of USA, and now lives in Singapore with her family. She is presently working on a memoir. She is co-founder of Story Artisan Press and her books are available on Amazon. She loves connecting with readers at her website and at Medium | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram

Photo by Bewakoof.com Official on Unsplash

 

BET Island: An Untouched Gem

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

If you appreciate the vastness of the sea, boat rides, and heritage temples of India, then this place is for you. A place where you feel immersed in serenity one moment and the adventure in the next. 

Okha is a small coastal town in the Dwarka district of Gujarat. It is surrounded by the sea on three sides and has a sandy beach on the Arabian Sea coast. BET Dwarka Island situated 3 km across a small creek from Okha port and reached by ferry, which was a memorable experience for me.  For the about 20-minute journey, you only have to pay Rs 20 per person. If you want to hire a personal boat, you will have to shell out Rs 4000.

For me, amidst the clean blue sky, hovering seagulls, and the coos of birds, the soothing cool breeze was like a tranquilizer.

Indeed, Bet Dwarka is a magical, beautiful, untouched, and enchanting island. This is a place on the western coast of India where I get the opportunity to see both the sunrise and sunset from the ocean. It is a lifetime memory. The long stretch of the Bet Dwarka beach is perfect for a long walk. The best part was that I did not find a lot of commercial activities here and it might be because Bet Dwarka beach was the first in Gujarat that the Government earmarked for eco-tourism development.

BET Dwarka Ports

Archaeological Importance 

The place derived its name from the ‘bhent’ or gift that Lord Krishna received at this place from his friend Sudama. The island is also called Shankhodhar as it is dotted with a huge number and variety of conch shells. Archaeological remains found under the sea suggest that there were settlements of the Harappan civilization from the Late Harappan Period or immediately after it, from the Indus Valley Civilization. It was an important shell-working center during the Harappan period. During the explorations in and around Bet Dwarka, a large number of antiquities of late Harappan period which include pottery, a seal, coins, etc, were found.

That is the reason Bet Dwarka has always stirred the curiosity of archaeologists. Probably because of the mythical claim that points that this place had been Lord Krishna’s original house in the yesteryears. 

Ferries going to and from Okha to Bet Dwarka Island.

The Beauty of Nature 

While getting to the jetty to board the boat, I saw people selling packets of bird feed. Not knowing why, I also bought some packets. And as soon as the boat left, seagulls flocked to the boat for the feed that’s in our hand. It’s was an incredible experience to see the gulls flying extremely low at such close range and even picking the feed from your palm. After getting down at the jetty, I walked for nearly 700 meters to reach the Lord Krishna temple. I saw hand-pulled trollies taking elderly persons to the temple. The main temple which closes at 12 noon, is believed to be built by Rukmini, wife of Lord Krishna. This is the place where Mirabai, the devotee of Krishna, disappeared at the feet of the Lord’s idol.

Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple in BET Dwarka Island.

Story of Sudhama and His Gift

The main temple here is Sri Keshavrai Ji Temple. Interestingly, here the idol holds the shankha (conch) in an oblique position. The temple is like a palace, built in pink limestone and filled with carvings. Small shrines are built for every queen of Krishna. Rukmani who is believed to have carved the idol here is not found, instead, Satyabhama, the second wife of Krishna, is very prominent here.

Devotees offer ‘rice’ here, which reminds one of the legendary tale that tells how Sudama, a friend of Krishna, had bought him ‘rice’ as a gift. 

When Sudama decided to seek Krishna’s help, to come out from his poverty, his wife packed him a handful of Poha to offer to the Lord. Sudama was hesitant about how to give his gift to Krishna. Krishna asked what gift his friend has brought for him. Sudama tried to hide it but Krishna took it and ate the Poha and offered it to his wife. Sudama returned without asking for help. But a surprise awaited him back home! Instead of his broken hut, there stood a palace and his wife and children were dressed in expensive clothes. That’s when he realized of Lord Krishna’s magical powers.

Other Shrines 

Apart from the main temple, there are various small shrines dedicated to Radha, Rukmani, Jambavati, Lakshmi-Narayan, Devki, Matsya form of Lord Vishnu, and many more. Hanuman Dandi temple of Bet Dwarka enshrines idols of Lord Hanuman and that of Makardhwaja – Hanuman’s son. According to myths, a drop of sweat from Hanuman Ji’s body was gulped by a fish who later delivered a son known by the name of Makardhwaja. Interestingly, the Bet Dwarka region has two Dargahs – Sidi Bawa Peer Dargah an Hajo Kirmil Dargah.  

Mobile phones and cameras are not allowed inside the temple, so better leave either in the hotel or you will have to keep them in the lockers specially made for this purpose.


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 


 

An Imperfect Street: The Delhi Airport Race

When I step off the plane which I have been on for the past sixteen hours, I am immediately hit with the biting cold that is Delhi winter. The smell of pollution and smog drifts into my nose. For most people, freezing and polluted air is the opposite of a comforting experience, but the air is refreshing and the smell is what I associate with my favorite place in the world. I drag my carry-on off the sky bridge, and my shoes are met with the familiarity of the faded orange carpet decorated with geometric patterns. After sleeping for the majority of the flight, my sister and I are energetically skipping with excitement to see our loved ones, oblivious to the fact that it is three in the morning, local time. We speed walk through the quiet airport, chatting about what we are looking forward to; I think about the way my grandma’s chicken curry tastes or the afternoons I spend chatting hours away with my other grandma. 

As I exit the sky bridge, I am reminded of what it feels like to be home. The feeling of warmth and comfort that consumes me is something that I only feel when I am in Delhi. Exiting the plane in San Francisco gives me a sense of relief of being literally home after a long vacation, but often feelings of sadness emerge knowing that my vacation is over. Walking into Indira Gandhi International Airport only brings excitement, comfort, and genuine happiness to my soul. 

Though the airport is quiet, as we approach immigration you can feel the bustling excitement of children anxious to see their cousins and grandparents, and college students itching to eat home-cooked meals again. I stand at the top of the escalator at immigration, staring at the four hands above the cubicles; the giant rose gold hands are representative of different poses that are done during the traditional Bharatanatyam dance. These hands feel like a warm hug. Those hands mean that I am just one door away from hugging some of my favorite people in the world. We make it through immigration, continuing to speed walk through the maze that is Duty-Free, a new series of strong scents from perfume and alcohol hitting us. Once we reach baggage claim, we anxiously await our numerous large suitcases which are filled with our clothes for our month-long trip as well as gifts for our family. With smiles on our faces, winter jackets on, and a full trolley of suitcases in hand, we head outside to the meeting area. 

Ayanna’s grandparents at the airport in Delhi.

My sister exits the doors first, and though I can’t see her face, I see those of my grandparents, uncle, and cousins, lighting up. My grandpa walks towards us, and my sister and I abandon our bags in the middle of the walkway so that he can wrap us both in a bear hug. My grandpa is always the first to hug us, but certainly not the last. We make our rounds, embracing whoever has braved the cold, early morning to welcome us, getting smiles from strangers who are also about to see their loved ones. 

After a quick tussle with my grandfather, who insists on dragging the heaviest suitcases, we make our way to the car. There is a broken sidewalk which we must overcome before we can get the luggage into the car. Every time a trolley full of bags goes over it, we hold our breath to see if a suitcase is going to fall and lie in the middle of the road until my dad can come to pick it up. Though it is the most stressful experience trying to get eight heavy suitcases across a busy street with a broken sidewalk, it makes us all laugh and despite the chaos, I would not trade that moment for the world. My sister and I pile into the car with our grandma and she pulls out our favorite biscuits which she knows we crave and miss. The whole way home to my paternal grandparents’ house, we crack jokes, catch up, and eat our snacks as the sun rises. Our annual trip to my favorite place in the world has commenced. 

I didn’t grow up in India, nor was I born there, but this annual pilgrimage has not only made it feel like my second home but my happy place as well. However, it has not always felt this way. This same airport routine takes place every year and the sensory experiences I can describe in my sleep have always existed, however, a few years ago I was too focused on the negative aspects of this experience to value the comforting ones. All my life, I have spoken and understood Hindi fluently and well.

However, as an American, a local can pick my accent out of a crowd. My cousins, parents, grandparents, and babysitters would lightheartedly tease me about certain pronunciations, and I used to take that so seriously that I wouldn’t even try to speak the language. Even the immigration officer would see my Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card and American passport and ask me if it was my first time in India. People would think of me as spoiled or privileged and ungrateful because I am from America and still calling myself Indian. It was wrong on their part, but that is just how nuances in identity work. While these were small events, as an impressionable young child, I would start to question my belonging and negate the extreme happiness I felt in India with the small jokes about my dual identity. 

Ayanna with her younger sister at the Delhi airport.

I still have difficulties with my identity, but the difference is that now I have learned how to embrace both parts of my identity. Being Indian and spending so much time in Delhi has taught me that identity is not uniform and legal documents don’t define me.

Now, when people ask me about America and how “my country’s government is so crazy,” instead of getting annoyed or feeling mocked, I embrace it. I recognize that I have the privilege of living in an extremely different country and people are genuinely interested, so I happily answer them. In fact, sometimes I like to make it known that I’m from America; I will deliberately talk in English or wear a Bay Area sports jersey because I have learned to have pride. In fact, it has even made me friends even in India. I have struck up conversations with multiple tourists who have heard my accent or seen my jersey and we have connected on one part of my identity. 

Adding on, due to COVID-19, I have not been able to visit India in almost two years. The absence of these feelings of comfort and happiness has made me better appreciate and understand how much those experiences and that place mean to me. It’s unfortunate that the absence of a feeling, and not the presence of it made me grateful for Delhi, but nevertheless, I no longer take that sense of true happiness for granted. 

India is “my place” and not only because of the comfort it gives me but also because of the challenges it has thrown at me. Challenges that have taught me to be resilient, and have also helped me find myself and better understand my identity. I hold India near and dear to my heart because of the people and experiences it holds. No one can take that feeling away from me. A passport determines citizenship, but emotional attachment and love are what dictate identity. It is also what keeps pulling me back to my favorite place in the world – Delhi.


Ayanna Gandhi is an 11th grader at Castilleja School in Palo Alto, California. She has a deep interest in writing and reading but also enjoys politics, singing, and sports of all kinds. 


 

In the Land of Narmada: Visions From 50 Years Ago

Sri. Nettur P. Damodaran (1913-1978) was a prominent public figure from the state of Kerala, India, who had made contributions in various fields as a freedom fighter, political activist,  social worker, author, journalist, Member of Parliament, and a senior government official. The recently published book In the Land of Narmada, which is a translation of a travelogue written by him in Malayalam and first published fifty years ago, is a fascinating work due to many reasons. It shines a light on many facets of the state of Madhya Pradesh, which are unknown to the present generation.

Among such lesser-known aspects of daily life in the province are those related to the dreaded gangs of dacoits.  For all practical purposes, dacoits have been eliminated in central India, the current generation, including the youngster from those areas, are not aware of the sway they once held on the day-to-day life of the people. 

Apart from their social impact, the stories of these bands, which included the full spectrum, from the scum of the earth right up to almost noble souls, make fascinating reading. The personal experiences of the author had half a century back, as highlighted in the excerpts below,  will certainly ignite curiosity in the minds of the readers to learn more about them. 

Dacoits come in, right in the introduction to the book written by renowned novelist, travelogue writer, and winner of Jnanpith Award,  Sri. S. K. Pottekkatt wherein he describes an experience he had while traveling with the author: 

“….I still remember a small incident that happened during that trip. Somewhere on the way, a group of six or seven men stopped the bus in which we were travelling. We noticed few passengers getting up and making seats available for them when they boarded the bus. Those who entered the bus were seen speaking loudly and gesticulating among themselves. We understood that they were showering abuses in strong colloquial tongue. Suddenly, a young man with thick moustache got up from his seat, removed his footwear and started slapping a fairly old and hefty man on both sides of his cheeks and shoulder without respite.

While receiving the blows, the elderly man did not utter a word nor did he resist. He just unsuccessfully tried to evade and then quietly withdrew, mumbling. The conductor, the driver and the passengers remained silent throughout the episode as if they have not seen anything. Nettur and I were a bit perplexed.

Once the bus reached a deserted place, after travelling two or three miles, the thick moustached young man ordered the driver to stop. After the bus stopped, first the young man followed by others in the group, including the person who received the slaps, got down and went away. Once the bus started to move after they disembarked, the passengers heaved a deep sigh of relief. Then they broke their silence. It appears the ones who disembarked were the members of a dacoit gang!”

Sri. Nettur P. Damodaran continues his narration in the chapter on the dacoits – Please keep in mind the fact that this book was written fifty years back. Many of the schemes described and societal changes envisioned by the author have already happened, which in turn highlights his unique insight and foresight.

From ‘Land of Narmada’, originally published in the year 1972

……Along with a team comprising a clerk, a peon, and a driver, I left Delhi to go on a tour of Madhya Pradesh, one day. Traversing the dacoits-dominated districts of Morena, Gwalior, and Shivapuri, we reached Shivapuri. Though we had some apprehensions in our minds, none of the dacoits cared for us. What would they gain by robbing us?

It is the rich, those who don’t pay upon their demands and the informants who help to catch them, that they generally kidnap and harm. Perhaps they would have known that neither I nor my party falls in that category. Apart from that, our travel was in broad daylight and on the Agra–Bombay National Highway. There’s heavy traffic on that highway.

It appears the dacoits have great respect for such highways. They are also true nationalists, who abhor parochialism! If anyone travels fearlessly on provincial roads, they do not spare them. Those holding local sentiments and are parochial in mind should hence exercise extreme caution before venturing on such roads. Generally, they do not harm outsiders. They catch hold of only those who are living among them; whom they know very well.

Dacoits also have certain needs, don’t they? They approach the rich and seek money, when in need. If the approached one does not pay up, they simply withdraw after setting a date. On that chosen date, they reach there and take him as a hostage. Once the set ransom is paid, the person is brought back as well. However, if he does not pay up, the rich man will never return home.

Helping the poor and the suffering lot is one of their covenants. They donate liberally to the poor parents for meeting the expenses of their daughters’ weddings. Is it for nothing that the authorities are failing to eliminate the dacoits? “

The political philosophy of the dacoit gangs also is socialism. They have a popular base and public support—the egalitarian principles of the dacoits are generally applied to those ruthless anti-socials, who have amassed wealth by exploiting the poor. I used to wonder at times whether areas such as Morena, Shivapuri, Bhind, and Gwalior aren’t more suited than Kerala for communism to flourish.

The dacoits do not have any special affinity towards communism. They are believers in God. For them, committing dacoity and even murder is considered as acts of offering to God. Whether communism will take roots among them is a matter to be seen.

Vinobaji had conducted a padayatra over there. He also did succeed to some extent. But it is difficult for Vinobaji to succeed where government, police, law, rules, etc. are enmeshed in tangles. If such issues were not there, probably Vinobaji could have succeeded and the dacoits could have undergone a change of hearts and their lives would have found new streams to flow. Though they do not respect the law, they have certain laws of their own. They follow them. Before carrying out every dacoity, they bow before their Goddess.  The boundaries of operation for individual gangs are set. If anyone breaks these boundaries, they fight among themselves. As a result, many die. It is believed by the villagers that such dead bodies of dacoits killed in inter-gang fights are later picked up by the police and exhibited as the ones killed in police encounters falling prey to their guns to gain fame. To my knowledge, this belief is not only among the villagers but among others also. 

Many officials who had been in the captivity of the dacoits had described their experiences to me. Once the houses of the officials stationed in the district headquarters of Bhind district for the construction of an irrigation project fell prey to the dacoits. They did not harm anybody. After selecting and bundling things lying there that they felt would be of use, they dispersed peacefully. There is a danger only if they are resisted. In such a case, in addition to money, lives also may be lost. In Bhind itself, once a lady officer fell into their hands. But they did not do any harm. Being a lady and an outsider, she was let off. But her peon, a local, who got up from sleep and came there on hearing the noise had to bear a minor burn inflicted on his hand. Perhaps a punishment for not vigilantly guarding his lady boss. This was the only harm done by them.

In Shivapuri, we had parked our car in front of a shop for filling the tank. That shop was owned by a rich Sait. A month before, that very shop and the town had witnessed a scene. A few men came in a jeep, alighted in front of the shop, and asked the owner Sait to board the jeep. As if accompanying known people, Sait boarded the jeep. Only much later did the citizens of Shivapuri realize that the people who came in the jeep were dacoits and it was an abduction for money, after the Sait returned spending few days as their captive and guest and regaining his lost freedom by paying up the ransom. The shop and the Sait are still there. The Sait is quite sure that they will not approach him again for quite some time. The dacoits observe many such etiquettes. They approach an old target only after completing a full cycle of covering all the targets on the list. Such an understanding exists between the rich and the dacoits. Many people in the area also believe that there is a different set of understanding between the police and the dacoits. I have met many who believe that the issue of dacoits remains unresolved because both sides have reconciled on cooperative coexistence within certain limits. 

Chambal Valley (Image from Land of Narmada)

The Government has a good scheme to sink the dacoits. It is the Chambal ravines that aid the dacoits to hide and engage in guerrilla battles. 

On our way from Dholpur in Rajasthan to Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh, we reached Shivapuri after crossing this gorgeous and modest river that flows along the border between the two states. It is difficult to believe that dacoits are hiding within the folds of the flowing attire of this charming beauty of a river that is streaming through a long and broad path far beyond the line of sight.

If the shores on both the sides are visually examined, one can find truth in these stories. Because of the soil erosion due to the continuous flow of water, the terrain formed over a long distance is full of large pits, mounts, and caves. It will appear as if nature has built a fort for the dacoits to have a free run in the area. The Government’s plan is to flatten these areas for making them cultivable and to smoke out the dacoits like wild rats. The name of the scheme is Chambal Valley Reclamation Scheme. Long live the Chambal project!


Pradeep Nettur, the translator of the book, is the second son of the author. An Engineer by training and a Civil servant by profession, spanning 36 years, he pursued his literary passion by taking up the translation of this masterclass work of his father, which, though widely appreciated, was confined in the vernacular for about 50 years, for laying it before the world of an extended, enlightened and enlarged readership.


 

Dwarka: Lord Krishna’s Kingdom

The Cultured Traveler – A column exploring the many miles of what South Asia has to offer.

(Featured Image: Gomti Ghat by Suman Bajpai)

After a year of a forced break due to pandemic, at last, I have decided to travel and booked an early morning flight ticket (thinking, that at that rush would not be heavy, but I was wrong, the flight was packed) to travel up to Rajkot and then further to Dwarka

The present Dwarka is on the coast of the Arabian sea opposite the Gulf of Kutch. Known as the capital of Lord Krishna’s Kingdom, the Dwarkadhish temple has heritage importance as one of the major sites for Hindu pilgrimage. It is said that when Lord Krishna and Yadavas left Mathura and arrived at the coast of Saurashtra, they decided to build their capital in the coastal region; invoking Vishwakarma, the deity of construction, it is believed that the ‘city of Gold’ was built in one day. 

Sudhama Setu – Witness Sunrise and Sunset

Sudhama Setu from Wikimedia Commons.

After having lunch and some rest, I went to Sudama Setu over river Gomti.

Sudhama, the best friend of Lord Krishna, is said to have his presence in the land of Dwarka. The bridge that connects both sides of the Gomti River is called Sudhama Setu and watching the sunrise and sunset from this place can be truly delightful.

There I saw the sacred five wells built by the Pandavas, including the famous meditation spot of the five rishis. Camels, decorated in vibrant colours can be seen and camel riding on the banks of the Gomti River is one of the best things to do in Dwarka. The sight of the Ghats and boat riding is a great experience.

Dwarkadhish Temple – Stories Tell Its glory

Dwarkadish Templa (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Dwarka, the city, has been claimed by the sea six times. Though a few kilometers away, I could see the temple’s flag – Dhawajaji or the kirti pataka, which is changed five times a day. Soon the temple’s huge dome could also be seen. This is where Shree Dwarkadeesh reigned 5000 years ago and his presence is felt even today.

While moving towards Dwarkadhish temple, on both sides of the road you find a variety of shops that sell bags, juttis, items made by shells, sweets, Puja material, and Prasad. The air smells of salt and incense. Chants of Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevaay, Om Namah Shivaay, and the Hare Krishna Mahamantra emanate through the backdrop of bathers, shoppers and the colourful bazaar. In the evening, different shades of lights enhance the beauty of the temple, which mesmerize you as soon as you enter. 

Sri Dwarkadhish temple is a five-storied structure built on 60 columns, crowned by a soaring elaborately carved spire. There are two gates or dwar to the temple. The North Gate is called Moksha dwar – the way to salvation, from where devotees enter, and the South Gate is called Swarga dwar – the gate to heaven, from where you exit.

Legend has it that the temple was originally built by the grandson of Krishna, Vajranabha, over Lord Krishna’s residential place (hari-griha). Adi Shankaracharya, the venerable Hindu theologian and philosopher from the 8th century who unified the main beliefs of Hinduism, visited the shrine. After his visit, the temple became part of the sacred Char Dham pilgrimage that is essential for the attainment of Moksha for Hindus.

Built in Limestone, the temple complex has several shrines. The main deity is Lord Krishna, also known as Dwarkadhish or Ranchor ji. The basement has an ancient Shivalinga along with Ma Amba, Aniruddha, Pradyumn, Rukmani, Satyabhama, Jamvanti, and Laxmi are also worshipped.

The place below the temple is known as Chakra tirth. Shell-like stones, mostly white in colour, are available only at Dwarka, are sold here. This chakra is a sacred object, bestowing purity and salvation. Gopi Chandan, which is very dear to Lord Krishna, is also sold here.

The temple was packed with devotees, so in queue with my mask, I attended the enchanting aarti of Dwarkadhish.

Nageshwar Shiva Temple – A Tall Idol Attracts   

Nageshwar Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

The next morning, I went to Nageshwar Shiva Temple, which is one of the twelve jyotirlingas located at Nageshwar village in Gujarat. As soon as I had entered, a very big size idol of Lord Shiva surprised me, standing tall in the open sky. 

Nageshwar Temple is one of the oldest temples mentioned in the Shiva Purana. The swayambhu lingam enshrined in the underground chamber at Nageshwar Temple is known as Nageshwar Mahadev. It is believed that this Jyotirlinga protects from all poisons and one who prays here obtains freedom from all kinds of poison.

There is a legend behind this temple told to me by its priest there. There once lived a demon called Daruka, who was extremely cruel and tortured the people. One day he captured a Shiva devotee called Supriya along with many others. The prisoners were held in the underwater city that swarmed with sea-snakes. Supriya recited the Shiva mantra ‘Aum Namaha Shivayay’ to protect them. Daruka tried to kill Supriya, but Lord Shiva appeared in his full glory and killed the demon and went on to reside in the powerful Jyotirlinga.

The temple is a simple structure with typical Hindu architecture. Here the Shiva Lingam faces to the south and the Gomugam faces towards the east. The Shivalinga at Nageshwar is a Tri-Mukhi Rudraksha which is around 40 cm high and 30 cm in diameter. Goddess Parvati as Nageshwari along with the Shivalinga also can be seen. 

Rukmini Temple – Stands On Dry Land

Rukmani Temple (Image by Suman Bajpai)

Almost 2000 years old, Rukmini Temple is located in a deserted area. Its intricate carvings have made it a nationally protected monument. The temple of Rukmini Devi, the chief queen of Lord Krishna, is on the outskirts of Dwarka City. Interestingly, drinking water is offered as a donation to the temple. By donating money one can contribute to bringing drinking water to this area.

Why this temple is far away from the temple of Lord Krishna is associated with a legend.

Saga Durvasa was once invited by Krishna and his wife Rukmini for dinner. Krishna and Rukmini were pulling his chariot. On the way, Devi Rukmini felt thirsty, asked for water, and Lord Krishna provided it by hitting the ground with his toe. Without offering to Durvasa, Devi Rukmini drank the water. The sage felt insulted and he cursed her – she would live separately from her husband. That is the reason that in this temple Rukmini is being worshiped alone without lord Krishna. As a result of this, it is believed that that is the reason for the shortage of drinking water.

Rukmini’s temple stands on very dry land, completely isolated with not a single building or house beside it. The temple’s spellbinding architecture with minute carvings and paintings depicts various stories. Within the complex, there are other temples also dedicated to Amba Devi, the Kul Devi of Krishna.

As soon you get a chance to travel, this should be on your list as one of the first places to visit in India!


Suman Bajpai is a freelance writer, journalist, editor, translator, traveler, and storyteller based in Delhi. She has written more than 10 books on different subjects and translated around 130 books from English to Hindi. 

Far and Wide, Shared COVID Stories of Desi Americans

(Featured Image Source: Papaji Photography)

The year 2021 started with high hopes that COVID-19 will vanish as it came. Vaccines were found with competing forces by various multi-national companies. A few failed to take off, a few of them showed some promising hope and some are still on the drawing board stage of development. Ultimately, we are now gripped with new variants of the Virus trying to show its ugly head, shutting the people indoors. Our grandchildren used to sing, “Rain, rain go away….Come again another day.” With COVID, they have slightly modified it with their creative ingenuity and sing, “Pandemic go away…Never come another day.”

Here, I share two life stories of Desi Americans coming to terms with the reality of their lives. The names of the people associated with my story have been changed.

My family friend has fixed the wedding of his daughter, Seetha, a professional doctor in Boston. Earlier, the family wanted to conduct the wedding during 2020 and had made all the arrangements including fixing a marriage hall, catering, etc. and paid an advance to each of the suppliers of these services. But, alas, March 2020 and COVID-19 came as a blow to the wedding. They had to cancel all the arrangements planned. They waited with the hope that things would ease before long. Till the end of December 2020, there was no respite from the severity of the pandemic.

January 2021 brought some hope and travel restrictions eased between India and various countries including the US and European countries. So, my friend has now rescheduled the wedding date to February 28, 2021. But, the bride and groom were stuck in the US, with their flight to reach India only on 21st or 22nd February. A couple of days before boarding their flight to India, they had to get themselves tested for COVID and get a negative report. Again, on arrival, they had to clear the COVID test and they were quarantined for a period of two weeks. The wedding was a virtual one with just a few family members from both sides attending. Zoom link was provided to the friends and family members who viewed the event from the comfort of their homes. Unfortunately, the groom’s brother, who was stuck in Singapore, could not attend it.

Of course, adversity like this has come as a blessing in disguise for most of us. It became an excuse for not being able to attend such events. No gifts were also received from the friends and relatives who could not attend it. For the first time, what would have been two and half days, took just a few hours. Soon after the kanyadhan and the tying of the mangal sutra, the wedding ended and in less than an hour, the wedding hall was vacated. This is the long and short of a pandemic wedding that actually happened.

Another story is more disturbing…

My relative, Suppuni, aged 80 years old, was living in a single-bedroom flat in Mandaveli, Chennai. Suppuni’s daughter was married to a gentleman in the US and moved there. Luckily, his son Bebu had relocated to Chennai to take care of his parents. A few years back, Suppuni’s wife passed away and since then, Suppuni was staying in his single bedroom flat while his son stayed in another apartment with his family in the neighborhood. Suppuni used to spend his time between his own home and his son Bebu’s.

Last month, after staying with his son, Suppuni returned to his flat in Mandaveli. After he returned, he had a heart attack and collapsed while having his dinner. He called his son to come, who rushed, but it was too late and Suppuni had passed before any first aid could be given to him. Frantic efforts were made by Bebu to reach his sister in the US but they soon realized that her chances of coming before the cremation would be impossible. So, without waiting for her return to India, the last rites were performed by the son. 

Surely, these two stories are not unique. Yet, they are agonizing and painful for the families, whether it is the time for celebration or mourning. COVID misery does not seem to end soon. Oh God, please show mercy on this Mother Earth and listen to the prayers of our little grandchildren and make the COVID go away forever. 


Dr. S Santhanam is a writer, a blogger, and a retired General Manager of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. Born (1948) in Kumbakonam, the temple town of South India, he studied in the popular Town High School (Where Great Mathematician Shri Ramanujam also was born and did his schooling) and graduated in Mathematics from the Government College. 

6 Tips For a First Time Trip From India to San Jose

When traveling abroad, there are many important steps to ensuring that the trip goes perfectly. A trip between two countries so culturally diverse and far apart requires a lot of planning and research. If you are a cultural native of India, there will be many customs and attributes to American culture which will be surprising and take some getting used to. The below six simple steps will allow you to plan and enjoy a successful and beautiful trip to the United States. 

1: Visa Process – The dreaded United States Visa application is one of the most difficult and important processes when planning a trip to America. You will most likely need to acquire a business and/or personal visa (labeled B1/B2) which is valid for 10 years. Unlike most other countries, the visa application process for the states requires the attendance of an in-person interview. You will need to fill out an online application on the US government website to get started first, then pay the initial visa fees, and apply for an interview date. You will then need to attend your interview date with the correct and required documents. I would also suggest bringing some cash, but nothing else is allowed into the interview. Once this process is completed, payment must be made for the visa to be delivered, and it usually will arrive within a week after it has been approved. 

2: Travel & Health Insurance – One major difference between healthcare in India and the United States is that the whole system is very procedural. Though the privatization of the whole system has made healthcare expensive in the US, it is necessary to have the correct documents and insurance in case of emergency. You cannot simply walk into a pharmacy and ask to be treated; you must have the correct paperwork, and without insurance; an emergency could leave you with a very deep hole in your pocket. 

3: Pick your Priorities – The United States is an exceptionally large country, and even state by state there is simply too much to see and do! However, it is important to pick your priorities. Figure out a certain number of things that are ‘must-dos’ for you and write them out into an itinerary of sorts. I would recommend not booking more than one ‘big’ thing in a day, and not to simply stay one night in each hotel before moving on. If you do this, you might see everything; but you will be too exhausted to genuinely enjoy it! 

4: Space out your Trip – Similarly to the aforementioned ‘picking your priorities’, spacing out your trip is equally as important. As travel writer Asana Thala at Australia2Write and Write My X said, “Ensure that your trip is well-spaced out and that you are not rushing between your ‘big’ priorities, and actually enjoying them.  It is better to do less, well.”

5: Be Aware of American Customs: American customs are vastly different from Indian customs, and the cultural norms are remarkably diverse.  Lifestyle Blogger from Britstudent and NextCoursework, Harriet Amy noted, “One major difference is the tipping culture. Waiters at restaurants, doormen at hotels; basically, everyone who ever does anything for you will expect to be tipped.” Another divergence is fashion, you will be shocked initially at some of the clothes that people wear; it will take some getting used to. 

6: Enjoy! – The last step is simple! Just enjoy. Take all your research and planning, all the prep work that you have done, and just enjoy. Take in all the sights and try not to stress about anything too much. 

As long as you make sure that you plan ahead and organize all visa, travel, and medical pieces before you leave, and have researched your travel plans and written out a draft itinerary; the basic structure is there. There will be a transition period for you to get used to American customs, and find your ‘feet’ in the USA, but hopefully, these six simple steps will be stepping-stones to you enjoying your trip to America!


Michael DeHoyos is a lifestyle and travel blogger and editor at the Thesis writing service and Write my case study. He often helps companies in their advertising action plans and sales strategies and enjoys contributing his talents to numerous sites and publications. He is also an author for Origin Writings.

Reena Kapoor’s Poetry Is a Nostalgia Trip Of Places Untraveled

What makes you a poet?

Reena Kapoor’s debut book of poetry, Arrivals & Departures: Journeys in Poems makes this question even more relevant. Consider poetry a result of meditation, of thoughts, ideas, and memories that collect in the mind through observation. Reena grew up crisscrossing India as her father was a doctor in the Indian army. Her educational path is, like her poetry, quite diverse. She earned an undergraduate degree in Engineering from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, a Master’s from Northwestern University, and works as a software product leader in Silicon Valley. Kapoor’s debut poetry collection is thematically divided into sections interspersed with photographs she took. These images seamlessly connect her poetic utterance with passionate understanding. Recently I caught up with Reena Kapoor, a Bay Area resident, over email to pick her brains about her beautiful bouquet of poems and pictures. 

IC: Arrivals & Departures is your debut poetry collection. What role did nostalgia play in putting this book together if any and how?

I am an immigrant and a traveler.  And grew up as such – my father was a doctor in the Indian army and I grew up living all over India. In fact, I attended about 8 schools through high school, and call myself a “musafir” which is the Hindi/Urdu word for a traveler. Nostalgia plays a big role in my written word both due to my life circumstances and I guess to some extent life stage. Something about middle age and you start to see your life as it has been and how it’s brought you where you are. So looking back becomes much more natural vs. being younger where a solitary focus on the future is more apt and natural. My poems also express a “nostalgia” of sorts for what I don’t actually remember, ironically e.g., “koel” talks about the songbird that reminds me of childhood but the home is my parents’ current home which I did not grow up in but it still feels like mine…

IC: My reading of your collection introduced me to multiple themes, and a speaker addressing different voices. Can you talk about the various themes there are in your work, and how they interact with each other? 

The themes in my work are multiple but they tie back to me, my life experiences and my take on life, and how to live a good one. A lot of what I say has to do with how I grew up, (what it was and I guess to some extent IS like) being a girl/ woman in India and then my own very personal attachments to people and interests and objects that hold enduring meaning for me.

IC: I quite like the interdisciplinary play of images and words, where sometimes the image is a poetic utterance itself. What was your process like in putting this unique book together? What do you want your audience to take away from it? 

This is perhaps the hardest question for me – one that I get a lot of but one that I am pretty much at a loss to answer i.e., the “how” of writing my poems. The pen moves and I follow. I am led by an inner voice that I can’t turn away. When it arrives, I am compelled by words that spill out. I may polish or refine those words later but the initial and main body of the work almost creates itself. I guess it’s probably a given that I can’t “teach” poetry because the “how” of it is so elusive to me. 

These poems have been “coming” to me for over a decade now and I finally found the quiet space to listen and put them down. But it was really my husband who pushed me to publish my work. I was plagued by the usual self-doubt that I guess many writers face – and I still do – as to who would be interested in my words or my ordinary life? The fact that even a few of my friends and loved ones have found some resonance in my poems has been one of my most precious gifts.

IC: You are not just a poet. With degrees from IIT, Northwestern, a keen interest in photography, theatre, and performance as well, did these other aspects of your creativity influence your writing, and if yes how did that come about? 

Becoming an engineer was a practical and financial choice. I liked Math and Physics. And I came from a middle-class family in India where my parents emphasized the importance of being financially independent — especially for women. In those days in India, you could choose to be a doctor, or an engineer or a loser. So I ended up in IIT. I was always active in theatre and continued this pursuit through college and my early working years in the US. Photography came to me later with the iPhone 3…and the iPhone has continued to be my camera of choice. And Poetry came about the same time that I started capturing photos. I guess some latent creative impulses were clamoring for expression all along but I could only hear them once I felt a little more “settled”, a little more free, and in some ways liberated from my own expectations of “success”. It’s been a wonderful path and I am still loving every minute of it. My very first play “Art of the Possible” was played online recently and I am actively writing more theatre and literary pieces that will hopefully be produced soon. 

IC: Every day before I sit to write, I like to read something that I love, irrespective of the genre. What inspires you to write? 

The human condition. Nothing more or less. Why are we this way and what moves us and why? Finding happiness and meaning in the smallest of things is all there really is — yet it is also the human condition to chase so much else for naught; so much prestige, empty adulation, status, endless wealth yet most of which often leaves the traveler feeling alone and empty. Yet the chase becomes a life. Why? Eternal questions and I am not sure I will ever have answers. But the pursuit of such questions moves me and such learning is what I seek.


Dr. Manisha Sharma is a poet, fiction writer, and yoga teacher passionate about social issues in India. Her work is longlisted for the 2021 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a finalist for the 2020 Cream City Review Fiction Contest, a semifinalist for the 2019 American Short(er) Fiction Contest. Her publications are in The Madison Review, The Common, Puerto Del Sol, The Bombay Review, and more. Currently, she is a lecturer in English and Yoga at two community colleges in Virginia and Ohio.