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7 Days in India (where we went, what we ate, what we did!)

Welcome to the last post in my series on our 10-day trip to Rome and India where I’m sharing a peek into our trip — where we went, what we learned, and how we saved money. For details on why we went to Rome and India, read this post. For more information on where we stayed in Rome, read this post. And for budget-friendly things to do in Rome, read this.

Our flight from Rome to India was quite eventful. We flew from Rome to London first… but our flight was delayed and we ended up having an incredibly tight layover. But British Airways was amazing! They met us at the gate as soon as we deplaned, gave us these Express Passes, and they personally ran with us to security to make sure that we made it through.

There were some hangups along the way, but the British Airways personnel made sure that we got through security as quickly as possible and then they made sure that they didn’t shut the boarding process down until we were on the plane.

Getting on the flight involved a whole lot of running and craziness, but we made it — and we are so thankful to the British Airways employees who were incredible to work with and who bent over backwards to take care of us!

Since Jesse and I have status on American Airlines (because it’s the only airline we usually fly), we were able to get amazing seats on this flight — well, as amazing as you can get for free (without paying for business class or first class!). The leg room was so nice on the 10-hour flight!

I wished we would have gotten to see London, but it was fun to at least fly over a little of it. We are hoping to visit London and Rome as a family in 2019.

Once again, the British Airways food was delicious — a word I would rarely use to describe airline food! 🙂

We made it to India! We flew into Hyderabad and I was instantly impressed with how much nicer everything was there compared to where we flew in on my last trip.

They had a McDonald’s at the airport!!

We made it to India… tired and without our bags (because of the flight delay and the really short layover, our bags didn’t make it on the flight). But we made it!

(They had made us check almost everything because of their bag restrictions — which was fine and we had all made sure to pack toiletries and an extra outfit in our carryon bags — but it was kind of a hassle when we got into India because there was only one flight per day on British Airways from London to India and so we’d have to wait a full day for our bags to show up. In addition, it was kind of complicated because of the language barriers to try to figure out how we were going to actually get our bags since we were going to be leaving our hotel before they could deliver them to the hotel and we wanted to pick them up from the airport instead. But that was not their typical protocol… but we finally got it all sorted out and were able to leave and head to our hotel.)

Hyderabad is a very Western-influenced city and has a lot of wealth. This was the view out one side of the hotel

And this was the view out the other side. I really loved Hyderabad and would go back there in a heartbeat!

After napping and getting some work done at the hotel, we all went out for dinner at Paradise — which is well known for its Biryani.

Buttered Naan… by far my very favorite Indian food!

I thought the Biryani was okay… I honestly much preferred the Chicken Fried Rice. Which I’m sure shows how Western I am! 😉

Since no one uses silverware in India and you only eat with your right hand, your hand gets quite messy. So they bring you these hotel bowls of water to wash your fingers at the end of the meal.

After dinner breath refreshers.

The next morning, we drove a ways to meet a number of the orphans and start doing eye exams. Covenant Children’s Homes has around 650 orphans that they care for in their homes and all of the kids had had eye screenings and then only the 125 kids who failed the eye screenings came for the exams.

Of the 125 who came, 103 needed glasses. Some of them needed them desperately and we’re not sure how they have been functioning at all without them!

This photo might not seem like anything special or out-of-the-ordinary to you, but it represents so much to me.

Since I didn’t have an official job and was just filling in where needed, I spent most of my time just sitting with the kids and getting to know them (and eating the food that they kept serving us! Indians are so hospitable!)

I used to feel incredibly awkward going into situations where there were language barriers and huge cultural differences. I didn’t know what to ask or say or how to act, so I’d gravitate toward the little kids or just stay on the sidelines — or just avoid situations like this altogether.

But the more I’ve put myself in these kinds of situations, the more confident I’ve become. On this trip, I realized anew just how life-giving it is for me and how I’m no longer nervous going into these situations.

Yes, it will be awkward. Yes, you won’t understand a lot of what is being asked or said. Yes, you’ll have to use your phone to talk through pictures. Yes, you’ll have to repeat yourself slowly multiple times. Yes, you’ll have to ask them to repeat themselves many times, too. Yes, you’ll need to use big hand motions & gestures to help communicate.

But it’s worth the awkwardness and the effort because it opens the door to learn so much from others and to have the opportunity to look into someone’s eyes and let them know that they are seen and heard and loved.

When you push past the awkward, you get to experience the awesome.

By the way, you don’t have to go to India to put this into practice. Look for someone who is hurting or lonely or in need of love and reach out to them. Invite them into your home, invite them out to coffee, or just stop and take time to look into their eyes and listen to them and let them know that they have value and worth.

I wholeheartedly believe that this is one of the most important ways we can change the world — by stepping outside our safe and comfortable lives and taking some risks in the name of love. It’s so worth it!

Jesse was in charge of doing all of the refractometer readings.

Drew and Jamie’s kids had never traveled internationally before and yet they jumped right in and helped out.

It was so fun to get to see them interact with the kids and teenagers.

This has been a longtime dream of Drew’s to get to come and serve in this way and it was incredible to see him in his element!

The guys wanted to get lots of selfies with me while we waited… and were also quite fascinated to find that I had a Facebook Page and Instagram page with so many followers (most of the people in India are quite tech-savvy!)

Jamie helped everyone who needed glasses pick out frames after they had had their exams.

Lunch!

Yes, I know I have my eyes closed. No that was not on purpose. 😉 But I thought it aptly represents how we all felt at the end of the day. TIRED. But so fulfilled and happy to have this opportunity!

After all the eye exams, we left to travel a few hours away to another town. We stopped for dinner — and I used my first squatty potty at the rest stop. (Can you believe I managed to go my entire first trip to India without using a squatty potty??)

And then we ate at Domino’s for dinner… our last time to see anything Western for a few days.

The pizza actually tasted weird (though it’s not like I’ve eaten a lot of Domino’s pizza, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to!), so I mostly just ate this instead…

We got into our hotel around midnight. The place reeked of smoke and mold, but we were so tired, so we were grateful for a bed to sleep in! And then we got up early the next morning and drove another hour to go to a village church.

The village was SO excited for us to be there — this is a very non-touristy area so it’s likely we are some of the few Westerners who have ever gone to this village!

They greeted us with flower petals and flower garlands.

Their church service was so incredible to be a part of.

They had chairs at the front for us to sit on while they all sat on the floor. As time went on, more and more people came and crowded in the building.

They were so enthusiastic in their singing and praying and — even though we couldn’t understand the language, it was a joy to be part of.

One of the things I noticed on this trip was how excited people were for me to take their pictures. I would usually ask if I could before snapping a picture and they were so happy to oblige!

After the church service (which was a few hours long and SO hot… we were dripping sweat the entire time; it’s such a good reminder how much comfort we live in with all of our climate-controlled homes and buildings!), we went over to eat lunch with the pastor and his family and some of the locals from the church.

They made this incredible spread of food for us.

I got to try Thumb’s Up for the first time (a sort of Coke-like Indian drink). I don’t drink soda, but it was actually pretty good!

After lunch, we asked if we could pray with them and then they all gathered around and prayed for us. When I realized they were going to pray for us, I asked one of the young girls if she could get some pictures with my phone because I had a feeling it was one of those moments I would want to have captured.

I was right. They all pray at once and it’s so powerful and moving.

I was sort of the unofficial photographer for the trip and I took at least a few thousand photos. Jamie got this one of me taking the above photo, which I loved!

We drove for a few more hours and finally made it to our next hotel quite late at night.

We were now in a very non-touristy area of India that has basically zero Western influence. We stayed in the best hotel in the city and it was by far the most primitive hotel I’ve ever stayed at. It was so good to think about the fact that this bathroom — which felt like “roughing it” for us, would have been extremely upscale and glamorous for almost everyone in this city.

For dinner, we went to the very “upscale” (for this area) grocery store and bought crackers and bananas and water — what I would be eating a lot of the next few days since we were almost out of the snacks we had brought with us on the trip!

Because most of the water is very unsafe for Westerners (and you can get violently sick from just getting a drop or two in your mouth), we had to be extremely careful the entire trip what we ate and drank (especially since I really didn’t want to get Dehli Belly again like last trip!

Thus, we could only eat items that had really thick skin on them or were in packages. And we had to use bottled water for everything — including brushing our teeth. So it meant we ate a lot of things like crackers and bananas. I may have even eaten a package of wafer cookies for dinner one night because I was hungry and that was about all we had left.

While it felt a little inconvenient to have so little access to the foods I would usually eat, it was such a good reminder how blessed I am to have access to safe, clean drinking water and so many fresh foods and such a variety of wholesome foods. So many, many people in the world would love to have crackers and bananas to eat.

The next day, we went to a big conference center and did more exams for more of the orphans.

Lunch!

Then, we went to a local wholesale market to do some shopping.

The prices were insanely low… but we were told we were supposed to haggle with them since they were likely triple charging us because we were Westerners. In addition, I guess it’s sort of not polite to not haggle as it says that they don’t have great products… or something like that.

The next morning, we went back to the same location to do more eye exams… and these people had another ceremony to honor us for coming. We were so blown away by their kindness and warmth and hospitality.

This was one of my favorite meals. They put more sauce on the rice after this photo was taken… it was SO good!

This young lady was so well-spoken and had the best English of almost any of the kids and teens… so she helped interpret for us. We loved getting to know her and learn so much about Indian culture from her.

We went up on the roof to watch the sun set.

And then we went back to the same wholesale market to get more gifts to bring back to family at home.

Drew was a pretty amazing haggler and he didn’t need our Indian friends to even help him out at all!

We ended the evening by riding on an auto rickshaw back to the hotel!

The next morning, we woke up early and drove to the Indian ocean. It was so vibrant and colorful and alive on the beach.

I was sad I didn’t have my DSLR camera to capture the colors on the beach. It was truly stunning.

And then we checked out of our hotel for the 8-hour drive back to Hyderabad. We stopped at a Coffee Day on the way back. It was incredibly clean and modern.

And look at the beautiful latte they made for Jesse!

We spent a lot of time in this kind of traffic while in India. They are amazing drivers and it’s pretty incredible to witness!

We stayed at a really nice hotel in Hyderabad the last night. We were all so glad to have real showers with hot water and clean rooms and clean beds to sleep in. It’s amazing how much our perspective had changed in just a few days!

And we left for the airport the next morning around 4:15 a.m.

It was time to say goodbye to India.

We were so ready to get home to our kiddos… but also so glad we came on this trip!

One of the highlights of the trip home was seeing Michael Phelps (most decorated Olympic swimmer of all time!) at the London airport (can you spot him with the baseball cap on right next to the 32 in the above photo?).

This meal on the way home basically tasted like the best pasta dish I had ever eaten in my life! 🙂 Also, it was so nice to get to use a fork again! 😉

My first trip to India (in August) was really rough. It started with a man trying to force his way into the airplane bathroom and then one of the hotel staff actually forcing himself into my hotel room (and standing in front of the closed door for a few minutes so I couldn’t leave) and it ended with me getting violently sick with Delhi Belly.

I struggled with sensory overload with all of the newness and different tastes, sights, sounds, smells, and cultural differences and it was hard to know how to grapple with the overwhelming need.

I also found it hard to be one of only a few white women in a huge city. The gawking, the pointing, the incessant staring by men… it felt unnerving.

I came home wondering why I had gone. Yes, my courage muscles were stretched. Yes, my worst fear of getting Delhi Belly happened and I survived. But I felt confused as to the purpose of the trip… because I honestly just didn’t know what to think about India.

But if I hadn’t gone on that trip, I never would have gone back to India this past week. That trip was a catalyst for us to go on this second trip to India.

And there was so much redemption in this second trip. I was much more mentally prepared for the sensory overload, so it didn’t overwhelm me like the first time. I also was super careful about what I ate and drank.

Most importantly, I fell in love with India and the Indian people this time! I was so touched by their warm hospitality and the way they live and work in such community with one another. They are so involved in one another’s lives. They don’t have the same personal space bubbles I think we often have in the Western world and it’s really beautiful to observe.

I was also able to see past the “sensory overload” to see so much beauty, life, joy, and celebration in all the colors, sounds, smells, and tastes. It touched me and inspired me in a deep way.

It’s so good to be stretched a little (or a lot!) out of our cultural comfort zones and to get to experience a very different way of life.

There’s so much I learned and was inspired with from spending time with and getting to know those who live in India on this trip. I will never forget it!

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22 Comments

  • LEANNE says:

    “By the way, you don’t have to go to India to put this into practice. Look for someone who is hurting or lonely or in need of love and reach out to them. Invite them into your home, invite them out to coffee, or just stop and take time to look into their eyes and listen to them and let them know that they have value and worth.”– a powerful reminder that I plan on putting into practice this week… Thanks, Crystal!

  • Teresa says:

    Did you go with a certain missions team? I have been looking to do something like this. I was a optician 20 years ago before our 5 kids were born and would love to find a place to serve doing something I loved.
    The kids are older now, leaving me more time to serve and refind my passions.

  • Heidi F says:

    I’m sharing your experience w/ my 17-year—old daughter who is going there in January for 3 weeks and staying with an Indian friends who teaches at a Bible college. This is an exploratory trip to see if she’d like to take a gap year there before college. You gave some great real-life snapshots of your time there! Thank you! And the sensory over-load perspective is a great heads up. Thanks for sharing!

  • Coriander says:

    Your trip looks incredible. I especially want to say that I love the fact that the eye appointments also came with choices for eyeware, not just one standard pair of frames. I think it’s fantastic that suddenly these kids could see, but they could also choose a frame style/color.

  • Anne says:

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and pictures! My husband and I are in the process of adopting a little girl from India, so I’m very interested in anything I can learn about this fascinating country. :o) God bless you!

  • Iris says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Pictures are beautiful and your experiences interesting. You definitely did make memories for a lifetime.

  • Amanda says:

    Thank you for this post. All the pictures of food, people and places are a sheer wonder to behold. I wish I could see around the corners of the pictures and smell the smells (at least the good ones!), but your sharing this trip with us expands my world. God bless!

  • Lindsey says:

    As a longtime reader, it is so cool to see how much you have grown and changed in the last 10 years. I bet you never thought 10 years ago that your life would look like this! The pictures are great, especially the ones of the food. Thanks for sharing your trip with us.

    • I was just thinking of that today… and I’m happy that it comes through in my blog. I’m so grateful for how this blog has grown me up and matured me and helped me to step outside my comfort zone in ways I never dreamed! Also, thank you so much for being a longtime reader!

  • Awmeme says:

    I love that photo of you kneeling before the boys. The look in their eyes says it all, the look of awe they have for you and your effort. Made me tear up seeing it and I’m not an emtional person usually. Thank you for sharing.

  • kim says:

    Thank you! I love seeing real photos from somewhere most of us don’t get to visit! The world is so big. Did you guys ever consider bringing a water filter with you? I don’t know how easy or difficult that would be, but it has crossed my mind…

  • Swapna Krishnan says:

    Just wanted to say – I’m from India (Chennai) and was born and grew up there and moved to the US as an adult. It was so nice to see India from your perspective.

    India is messy and complicated but warm and wonderful at the same time and I loved that I felt that coming across in your writing.

    Thanks!

  • Tracey Landa says:

    Crystal, you inspire me. I feel like we are dealing with the same things and your journey gives me the strength to be present in my life. Thank you.

  • Teresa L Williams says:

    It’s wonderful that y’all are now in a position where you’re able to make such wonderful memories. Ignore haters; you’ve worked hard to get to this point. Isn’t one of the points of being frugal, to be able to spend on the things that are important to you, including making memories?
    Remember “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

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