Thursday, December 24, 2015

Saying Goodbye: A Reflection

On November 30th, just about a month ago, I cried like a baby. It was an ugly cry too (is there pretty crying?), one that I was supposed to save for behind closed doors when I didn't have copious amounts of makeup on from a dance program, but it happened. I held it together so well, but then I was suddenly in some sappy, emotional movie. I pressed "up" on an elevator control pad and started waving to people that I realized I wasn't sure I'd ever see again, even if I wanted to. I had said so many goodbyes that evening and I knew they were coming, but I was utterly unprepared. I wasn't alone. All of my friends were sad to leave India, sad to leave a place that truly became home for a while. However, my cry was also happy, even joyous, because of how lucky I am to have had the experience I did, to have the family and friends I do, and to just simply be alive.

Learning, discovering, and exploring at Manipal University and in India at large was, cumulatively, four of the best months of my life. At our closing ceremony, a night to reflect upon our experiences at Manipal, I was asked to make a speech as foreigner, or someone who had never really been exposed to Indian culture. Although what I said was meant to be spoken (and was), the words below, like this blog throughout the last 5 months, reflect my thoughts and feelings:

"If you would have told me two years ago that I was going to spend 4 months in India, I would have seriously doubted you. I am the first person in my entire family to come here, and so my parents were, understandably, quite uneasy with my selection. I think they would have reacted less if I had chosen a more common destination among U.S. students, but perhaps their hesitation was also due to the usually negative and unfair rhetoric of India that the media commonly shows…however, these views are very one-sided and it is imperative that fellow citizens of my country understand this because India matters

Coming here was one of the best decisions I have made in my lifetime. I think the one of the most significant things I have cherished about this experience is how much learning I have done. For example, as you can see, I’ve been opened to the world of traditional South Indian culture through experiencing Bhartnatyam (I was still in my dance outfit), which has shown me the influence of dance in culture, and given me the courage to do something I feared before…I have learned about occupations that I never even realized existed; I remember when we were in Kollam (travel week) our tour guides informed us that the economy of the village we were in was sustained because of coir making from dried coconut shells. I had no idea that was what my doormat was made out of, and seeing this made me understand that almost everything in the world today has human effort behind it…I had never given a thought to such a job, and the encounter has made me appreciate humanity even more.

Here, I have been exposed to more religion than ever before. One of the most peaceful and reflective places I’ve been was the Kere Basadi in Varanga. I have actually been to more temples than churches in my lifetime and the high level of toleration between faiths in India is truly refreshing. Many nations could really learn from this habit of benevolence…I have had many immersive experiences in public health; I remember visiting the Udupi District Surveillance Office a few weeks back for one of our field visits and realizing the importance of conducting rigorous surveillance in order to keep the community as healthy and educated as possible…I’ve experienced cricket first hand in the field near the Geopolitics Department, and had fun participating in India’s favorite pastime with such good people…I’ve learned the art of not getting ripped off by a rickshaw driver, the nuances of pronouncing words in Hindi, and I will sorely miss butter chicken and nan…I could honestly take hours to tell you the things I will carry home in my head and heart, though I believe the most significant is the people I’ve met. What made my experience here so unique, so personal, and so real are the people who showed us the things I just mentioned, and so many more. It was the people who entered our lives that made India so easy for me to love and feel comfortable in.

The people who have made this difference in our experience here know whom they are, and almost all of them are sitting in this audience. I am so grateful to my professors for deepening my interest in public health and contemporary global issues, and especially to my research professor for not only ensuring my success in malaria research, but also inviting me over for tea. We feel lucky to have had an amazing dance teacher, and enthusiastic painting instructor, for going even beyond showing the importance of experiencing art in order to understand culture, but also warmly welcoming us into their homes and lives.

I know we all absolutely cherish the deep connection our batch has made with the students in the Geopolitics Department because, besides always keeping their doors figuratively and literally open to our questions, challenges, and would-have-been many boring nights, they have, most importantly, been loyal and trustworthy friends who share many similar dreams, fears, and aspirations as us. One of my favorite memories with them was going over to a friend’s house and celebrating Diwali. We lit diyas, wore sarees, and appreciated each other’s company. Who would have thought, from 10,000 kilometers away, we could meet such amazing people?! I would have never thought we would make these connections, but we did, and I am so happy for it.

And then there is Smriti. I think without her, our experience would have been entirely different. Smriti has gone above and beyond her title of “resident director”. She has put countless hours of overtime into making our journey here rich with food, culture, and experiences. She was open to any questions, even when the only appropriate reply was “Tum pagal ho” (You are crazy). Her willingness to help shape a safe and friendly environment for us is what enabled us to truly step out of our comfort zone, expand our capacity to learn and grow, and, ultimately, immerse ourselves into India. And I think that was the point of coming here.

My perspective of India, not to mention the world, has changed for the good. I wonder how I will view the United States with this new set of eyes. I am incredibly grateful and lucky for the opportunity to have lived here for the last four months. I now realize that India is a special country because of its unique history, customs, and people. I cannot wait to enlighten my family and friends about India, and relive all my experiences through showing pictures, telling stories, and sharing what I’ve learned. I’ve already started a list of things I want to do when I can hopefully come back. I can also confidently say that although I still look, and sometimes act, like a foreigner, I surely do not feel it anymore, and I know this is entirely due to the open arms of the people we have met. To them, and to my fellow American friends, I thank you!"


My thoughts from a month ago, put into the speech I wrote above, sum up most of the feelings I have towards my experience. However, this post is not complete without some photos! I also highly encourage you to watch the amazing video put together by Sarah-Anne that beautifully depicts our travel week throughout South India...see "Travel Week" in 'Useful Links'. Below are pictures of the people I--we--grew to love and who, I am pretty confident, grew to love us.

Although this picture is not from the closing ceremony, it is too awesome not to explain...this was right before the first of our two dance performances in Bhartnatyam

On the very left is our amazing guru, or teacher, Manasi...the girls in red took their whole day out to help dress us and prepare us for our performance at the home of Manasi's parents

It was such a privilege to perform at this party. We love you Manasi!

Group selfie at Malpe Beach on our last weekend in Manipal, and yes, that is ice cream in our hands (also not from the closing ceremony, but hey)

Smriti and Varun's dog, Disco, loving St. Mary's Island

St. Mary's Island, Karnataka, India.


With Manasi's daughter, Surabi, before the closing ceremony...I hope to post the video of our performance really soon (once it is released), so you can check back here for it, and I will also post it on Facebook

When Shreya and Namita take your phone, the selfies get wild

With Dr. Aarthy, a wonderful role model and mentor who I sincerely hope I cross paths with again...she was the most awesome guide for the malaria research I did

Sarah, Tanzeela, Manasi and I post performance at the closing ceremony!

With Gideon, an absolutely amazing singer, jazz fan (can you imagine how excited I was when I found this out?!), and friend

With Hamsini, one of the warmest, most kind people I have ever met...a true privilege to call her a friend

I think you all know how much Smriti means to me (and if not, read above, or any other blog post for that matter)

To the people that gave my experience so much more meaning, thank you!


Although it is personally sad that this may be my last blog post here, I am certain it will not be my last blog post indefinitely. I have genuinely loved writing the accounts of the experiences I had, and also discovered I like to write more than I thought (Crossing my fingers for another adventure soon). I learned so much during my time in India, and will talk to anyone who will listen. I have discovered more about the world and myself, and highly suggest that if presented the opportunity to live abroad, you take it.

Encountering kindness and learning are two things that I have been lucky enough to freely experience throughout my life, whether it is with my family and friends in my hometown of Crystal Lake, my roommates in Washington D.C., and now, the people I've met in India. My sincere hope is that I can pay it forward and give it back throughout my life.


To the people who have read my blog: I thank you so much. Your support and interest helped motivate me to improve my writing, photography, and blogging skills. Most importantly, I hope you had a good time reading it.

Please feel free to ask questions, post comments, and give me feedback. It is always welcome.

This is "Live, from India".

With all of my love,

Kara Suvada


Wednesday, December 16, 2015


As our last destination before leaving India, Tanzeela, Emilie, and I visited Delhi (New Delhi). As I mentioned in the last blog post, we stayed at an awesome hostel called STOPS because it was in a good location, had very friendly staff, and was very clean. Delhi consistently ranks in the top five most populous cities in the world, as it is home to roughly 25 million people. Throughout history, there have been "seven cities of Delhi", including Qila Rai Pithora, Mehrauli, Siri, Tughlakabad, Firozabad, Shergarh, and Shahjahanabad (see "Seven Cities of Delhi" in 'Useful Links' for more information). This city is rich with political, cultural, and architectural history, and is the capital of India. Traffic is crazy, the food is to die for, and the sites are unbeatable. In the two-and-a-half days we had in this awesome city, we saw A TON. As with Jaipur, the best format for the post will be to show pictures and then describe what we saw. I hope you enjoy.

Chhatarpur Temple in Delhi is the second largest Hindu temple complex in India...this specific complex is associated most strongly with the Katyayini, a warrior goddess who is one of nine forms of Parvati.

Built in 1974, this temple complex includes architectural styles of both the north and south...for instance, a goparum is present, which is very reminiscent of South Indian temple design, even if this temple exists in North India...we took the Metro to see this place, and it was extremely clean, safe, and efficient to travel on!

Qutub Minar is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to the largest brick minaret in the world...this tower was commissioned by the first Delhi Sultanate, Qutub-ud-Din Aibak in 1200 CE

The style of the Qutub Minar is characterized by red sandstone and Arabic carvings of the Qur'an

The Qutub Minar site contained many ruins from empires of the past...this particular photo was of a graveyard of sorts where many important leaders are buried

The Lotus Temple is an amazing structure that was funded and built by people of the Baha'i Faith, and showed me once again the vastness and diversity of religion in India

Selfie with Emilie and Tanzy at the Lotus pictures were allowed inside as the sanctuary's integrity was to be maintained with an aura of relaxation and reflection

With about 6 million followers (with almost one-third living in India), the Baha'i Faith recognizes the validity of all religions, and thus, lets anyone of any religion worship in their spaces...founded for the goal of a united humankind, this religion promotes peace, tolerance, and equality

Similar to the architectural style of the Taj Mahal, Humayun's Tomb was commissioned by Emperor Humayun's son, Akbar

Outside the complex...Humayun's tomb is another Islamic garden, and was built in the mid-1500s

Humayun's Tomb, New Delhi, India

With Tanzeela and Emilie outside of Dilli Haat, a famous, open-air market where we did a lot of shopping!

Chandni Chowk is one of Delhi's oldest, most-well known wholesale markets where one can shop for sarees, shoes, jewelries, scarves, you name it. This is not my picture because I did not want to seem conspicuous and stop to take a picture in the middle of the street, but you get the idea! It was not overwhelmingly crowded during the day, but took much concentration to get to dinner through the side streets at fact, if you can spot the "Karim's" sign in this picture, that is where we ate dinner one of the nights we were there (and it had the best nan ever by the way)

The Jama Masjid was commissioned by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, and is one of the largest mosques in India

The beautiful entrance to the Jama Masjid

In the courtyard!

The Red Fort of Delhi

A Delhi sunset at one of the city's most-famous sites

The Indian flag flying over the Red Fort...on 15th August of each year (India's Independence Day), the Prime Minister (currently Narendra Modi) hoists the flag over the fort and gives a speech

Also called Lal Qila, this structure is a must-visit for anyone traveling to Delhi

Although inconvenient in terms of getting there and the amount of security we had to go through, it was totally worth it...Akshardham was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life, and it was enhanced by the elegant lighting throughout the whole complex...use seeing Akshardham at night as an excuse to visit India (I did not take this picture as cameras were not allowed, but I think it is necessary to show)

An aerial view of Swaminarayan Akshardham...completed in 2005, this Hindu temple complex is the largest of its kind in the entire world

India Gate is a memorial to the approximately 82,000 Indian soldiers who died in World World I

Hours before our flight out of India after our incredible four month stay...Changezi's Chicken was a superb last meal and the guy who baked our nan for us told us to come back to Changezi's when we were in Delhi next...we were all on board for that plan!


I love you, India!


I hope you enjoyed reading "Delhi" and I hope I conveyed how much of an amazing time I had in this city through my pictures and writing.

As always, please post your comments or questions if you have any.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you will read my last post, "Saying Goodbye", which I am going to post within the next few days.




Monday, December 14, 2015

Agra (AKA The Taj Mahal)


After the wonderful days in Jaipur, Tanzeela and I took a sleeper train to Delhi to check-in to our hostel and meet up with Emilie. We booked STOPS Hostel, another budget stay ($5-10 USD per night per person) for travelers. The staff at the hostel were very friendly, breakfast was included, the beds were very clean, and it was in a great location!


The day we arrived in the city, we were very tired and wanted to save our energy for our huge trip to Agra the next day. Tanzy and I stayed in the vicinity of our hostel and found a delicious chicken place, Changezi, and stuffed ourselves there while waiting for Emilie.


The next day...

We visited Agra, home to one of the legendary wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Commissioned in the 1630s by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and built over a span of 22 years by over 20,000 people, this tomb was both a symbol of love and power. As the Emperor was new to his throne, he wanted to demonstrate his empire's wealth and power through building a monument of such extravagance and luxury. He also ordered its construction because he wanted to build a magnificent tomb for (one of) his wives, Mumtaz Mahal. Believe it or not, the tomb cost 400 million rupees for materials and labor...that would probably cost hundreds of millions of US dollars today!

Surrounding the Great Gate of the Taj Mahal is Arabic calligraphy, much of it taken from the Holy Book of Qur'an. Our very knowledgeable tour guide, Yash, told us that as you enter to view the towering tomb, your soul is supposed to be purified. The verse at the gate reads: "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." The Taj Mahal is an Islamic garden and is supposed to remind you of paradise, a place of peace and goodness. I would imagine that on a day with few crowds, it would feel very tranquil there. For more information see: "Islamic garden" in 'Useful Links'. Pictures below.

The Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

Made completely of white marble imported from 500 km away, the Taj Mahal is truly a modern wonder of the world.

We had to wear coverings on our shoes in order to preserve the marble as best as Islamic gardens, there is a central pool, which converges the four rivers of paradise, one each filled with milk, honey, water, and wine.

In front of the Taj Mahal! :)

As you can see, all the entrances are beautifully decorated with Arabic calligraphy of Qu'ran verses. As the Mughal Empire was Islamic, this only makes sense!

What would a trip to the Taj Mahal be without awkward family photo?

Thanks for the awesome photo of the three of us from our friend, Juan!


While in Agra, we also visited the famous Agra Fort, an extremely impressive complex comprised of intricate palaces, masjids, and quarters. Taking 8 years to build in the 16th Century, this impressive fort served as the place of residence for many Mughal rulers, such as Akbar. To demonstrate the superiority of the Emperor's rule, only his quarters were made of white marble imported from 500 km away, in contrast to the rest of the fort, made of red stone from local quarries. Unique elements of this fort included a fishing pond, elephant ring, a justice courtyard, and the world's smallest mosque. Pictures below.

Entrance to Agra Fort, Agra, India.

Justice courtyard...Yash, our tour guide, told us that some of the Mughal Emperors, such as Akbar, used elephants to make court decisions... when a guilty party could not be identified, he let the elephant decide who was guilty and who was innocent

Where Akbar and other Mughal emperors once sat and made decisions for their empire.

The quarters for the Emperor's Harem...

View of the Taj from Agra Fort

Apparently this is a jail cell? I thought it was a royal bedroom or something, but even the jail at this place was gorgeous!

The grass used to be a fishing pond for the Emperor to practice his angling skills

A hallowed out Hindu temple...though the Mughal Emperors were always Muslim, they practiced religious toleration and some of them had Hindu such, a Hindu temple was provided so she could freely practice her religion

This style of marble decoration was consistent here and at the Taj Mahal, as the architect was the same!

An outpost at the Agra Fort


The Taj Mahal lives up to its glory, magnificence, and beauty. Its stunning symmetry and perfection captures you from the minutes you look at it, and it was truly amazing to physically stand in a place with such an awe-inspiring presence.


Cheesy, but 100% necessary.

Thank you for reading!

I have two more blog posts to go: "Delhi" and "Saying Goodbye", which I hope to post within the next couple of days.



P.S.-The answer to the trivia question: "Which style of architecture is the Taj Mahal?" is, indeed, Islamic.