Adventures in Aurangabad

What a week! We taught nutrition lessons galore! Our pre/post-natal nutrition lesson was a three-time success this week, and our holistic health nutrition class at the Indo American Middle/High School was a huge hit for the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders that we taught. In case you were wondering, the whole pepper and soap trick (where you have a bowl of water, sprinkle pepper on top, then put dish soap on your finger and touch the surface of the peppery water to see the soap repel the pepper) never gets old. We taught one grade level per day at the Indo American School and each day we broke our lesson down into four stations, through which the students rotated through for a total of one hour and a half long lesson.

Our stations were as follows: the five food groups (and why they are important), portion size (and how to get the right nutrients), hydration, and sanitation (washing hands and food preparation). I was in charge of the sanitation station and to emphasize the importance of using soap every time you wash your hands, we did the pepper and soap trick! I did it 4 times per lesson, and it never got old. The students were amazed by it every single time!


It's amazing how simple little activities and lessons like this have the potential to impact the students to the point of actually saving lives. Teaching just one kid how to wash their hands correctly can prevent disease for an entire family, classroom, and neighborhood. It was elementary level stuff, but it worked!

In total, we taught a total of 82 pregnant/nursing women and 124 high school students last week.

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 We committed the high schoolers to not eat junk food and focus on eating delicious fresh fruits and veggies for two whole weeks (until we go teach them the second lesson in our holistic health curriculum: physical exercise). They solemnly swore off cookies, ice cream, chocolate, chips, and soda for two weeks!
Even though most of the Indian population is vegetarian, most of the vegetables and fruits that people eat here are cooked into curries, stews, and desserts, thus losing most of the nutritional value. Among the younger population, junk food is their main source of energy instead of the healthy grains, fresh fruits, and raw vegetables that young people need to be eating. It has been very eye opening to see how many people here are overweight even though this is the country that struggles with malnutrition most in the world. The headmaster of the Indo American School specifically expressed this issue to us; his students eat too much junk food and don't know how to be healthy! So hopefully our four stations and our no-junk-food challenge will at least increase the students' awareness of their own eating habits and provide them enough basic knowledge to start changing those habits.

Here are some pictures from our pre/post-natal nutrition classes! 











Our incredible translator carries around her two year old son everywhere! He usually just sleeps while she translates for our pre/post-natal nutrition class. She is also our chef, cooking the most delicious food ever for us every single night. She's basically our awesome Indian mom! She also invited us to her cousin's wedding and it was AWESOME. 2,000 people in attendance. Wow.





We spent the majority of our working time on these classes, but we took off on Thursday night for our first traveling adventure of our time here in India. We decided to go on the roads less traveled and go to a smaller city called Aurangabad, in a different Indian state, to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Ellora and Ajanta Caves. Of course we wanted to be as economical as possible and save some extra $$$, so instead of flying, we decided to rent a car and driver to take us there, drive us around to all the sites, and then drive us back to Hyderabad after 2 days. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves in to (this is good and bad... keep reading).

Through one of our contacts we set up a driver for 3 days that promised to take us there late Thursday so we could stay in the hotel for a bit, and wake up early to see the caves. So, after we finished teaching our nutrition classes late Thursday afternoon, we headed off to Aurangabad. In good spirits we left our home on what we believed would be a pleasant 7 hour ride through the countryside. After about four hours, we noticed that the four lane highway turned into an unmarked one lane road one full of potholes. (You have never truly experienced potholes until you have made this drive. You have no idea. My entire head was still vibrating for what seemed like hours after we made it back onto paved roads because of the constant bumpy shaking of the entire vehicle for so long). Soon after, our driver was asking for direction way too often. To make sure we were not being led astray, I checked our location on google maps to find that in fact we were still 8 hours away. 8 MORE HOURS. We weren't even lost! In fact, we had actually followed the only road from Hyderabad to our destination. To our dismay, we realized that our friends were very wrong about the journey time, and we had no shot of making it to Aurangabad before daybreak on Friday. We continued into the Indian countryside late into the night, slightly irritated and looking forward to comfort of our hotel. I could write a lot more about the craziness of that night, but long story short; we survived. Jaret was anxious but pulled the night as a our resident guard dog in the front seat, while Kaile pulled a heroic sleeping feat, successfully staying in peaceful slumber across terrain that would was capable of waking up Sleeping Beauty without a true loves kiss, and ultimately saved herself a lot of stress.

Despite being the only car on the road that wasn't a massive 18-wheeler, we were never in any real danger (we did have to pull over and let our driver sleep for a few hours), but we are not convinced that the money we saved by driving was worth the time we suffered. We FINALLY made it to our hotel at 7:30 am on Friday morning. 14 and a half sleepless (Braxton and I were the GPS's so we couldn't sleep) hours in a car had left us in a hungry daze. We ate breakfast, crashed into the most glorious nap of all time, and somehow managed to hear our alarms at 11am to get up and start our touristy explorations!

While we were in the car yet again driving up to the Ellora caves at noon on Friday, we were all secretly wondering if any caves in the entire world could make up for the night we just had... but we very quickly found out that Ellora and Ajanta are the caves that most definitely could. They were unlike anything we have ever seen in our lives (and that is saying something with the amount that Braxton has traveled), and we were in complete awe for the next two days.

The Ellora caves were built from 6th to 10th century AD and are a collection of 34 religious places of worship for 3 different religions. There are 17 Hindu caves, 12 Buddhist caves, and 5 Jain caves. The caves were carved out of the mountains from the top down into huge halls full of massive statues of Hindu gods with the Ramayana carved into the walls, or large Buddhist monasteries with massive meditating Buddhas at every turn, and even temple-like places of worship that span across 2 kilometers of the beautiful Aurangabad foothills. Many of the caves were connected through passage ways or ornately carved doorways and all of them were full of the rich and mixed religious history of India. If I try to write any more about them, I will only do them a disservice. But here are some pictures to give you an idea:


























The Ajanta caves were, if you can believe me, even MORE amazing. We decided that both the Ellora caves and the Ajanta caves were equally as awe-inspiring, just for different reasons. But I personally have to declare that the more I think about our adventures in Aurangabad, the more the Ajanta caves win over my heart. Check it out.










The Ajanta caves are much older than the Ellora caves, some of them dating back to the 2nd century BC. They are a collection of completely Buddhist monasteries that were in use until the 8th century AD and are literally carved into the side of the mountain. Many of the Ellora caves were more like big temples/structures that were carved out of the mountain, so they sit in a niche of the mountain but stand alone as structures, whereas the Ajanta caves are all completely built inside the mountain with only a doorway exposed to the outside world. There were 3 things that made the Ajanta caves most spectacular, in my opinion.

1) The paintings: inside these monasteries, the walls were covered with the original paintings from centuries ago, and they were still brightly colored and more intact than any frescos or friezes I have ever seen or heard of (and that is after touring Angkor Wat twice and visiting every fresco-d and frieze-d wall in the Holy Land and Greece for a summer).



2) Of the 35 or so caves, there were 3 that were shaped exactly like a gothic era cathedral, but instead of a cross in the apse, there was a giant stuppa and/or statue of an enlightened Buddha. The craziest part is, these caves were built and in use long before Christianity even became a religion with churches and congregations. These cathedral like caves were from the before Christ era, and it really makes you think about the nature of true revelation from God (did God just tell them to worship in that same style of building during two different times and to two different peoples?) and the real spread of religious influence (did Christians just steal the building plans from Buddhist mountain monks?).




3) The Ajanta caves are built into a horseshoe shaped mountain, following a horseshoe shaped river. And the surrounding landscape felt like a fairytale. I mean seriously, have you ever seen anything like this?!










Monks must have been super tiny because these are the doors to their individual rooms...


Aurangabad also has a miniature version of the Taj Mahal, built by son of the king who built the Taj Mahal! We saw it as it was getting dark but managed to snag a couple awesome pictures:)





So yes, the 14 hours there and the 10 hours back (thankfully we drove back during the daytime so it was much faster) was well worth it. I would do it again. Minus the driving, I would definitely fly next time. At the end of a weekend adventure like that, I am always left with a boatload of incredibly cool pictures that I can never choose from when writing a blogpost, an overwhelming sense of amazement at the immense and mysterious history of our world, an excitement and thirst to see more, and a small feeling of sadness as I realize that this was really a once in a lifetime experience. Of course, I am not sad that I got to experience it, but I almost miss that exact feeling of wonder that I felt when I walked into each of those caves. It's a happy kind of sadness, because we DID see them and we will never forget it, but it definitely feeds the travel bug in us because there are so many more gasps of wonder that we need to have and so many more detailed depictions of the earth's mystical history that need to be seen! If you don't have the travel bug, I hope this blogpost is contagious enough for you to catch it!


And now Hyderabad actually feels like home. Going away for a few days always makes the place you come back to feel even more home-like. And back to an exciting week of development work :)




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