Greetings Everyone! My stay in India is now half way over, and today I embark on the second half of my adventure. During my first five days here, I have had a flood of amazing experiences, including a journey into a brand new destination on the subcontinent, the little village of Umbergaon.
Umbergaon is a small town located about 3 hours north of Mumbai. It is the home of one of my father’s childhood friends, who has been asking my dad for years to pay him a visit. After numerous failed attempts, the opportunity to visit finally arose on this trip, and within a day of landing in India, we piled up at 6 AM in my aunt’s car and on our way.
Upon hearing the news that we were going to the village, I will admit that I began to grow very anxious. As only my dad and I have come to India this time around, I knew that my dad would be immersed with his friends, and thus I would have no one to share this foreign experience with. Furthermore, I never thought much of the Indian countryside. Driving through there in the past, it always seemed dusty, rural, and boring. Above all who could forget the heat? With temperatures soaring into the nineties here in Mumbai, I was only fearful as to what the temperatures up in Gujarat would be.
It was the promise of the fabled Umebergaon cuisine which ignited whatever miniscule flame of excitement which was struggling to remain within me. My dad’s sister, a self-professed meat lover, rambled on and on about the skewers of muthiya, a ground mutton (goat) kabob fresh of the grill, and the bounty of fresh fish cooked with to perfection with the perfect blend of spices.
The trip at first, was awkward to say the least. Everybody only spoke Gujarati, the native tongue of my people. While I understand the language perfectly, I only speak a little, and I became increasingly hesitant to speak with anybody. A somber expression on my face continued to grow throughout the day, and I began to feel out-of-place and uncomfortable. The setting of the village with its dirt paths, freely roaming animals, and isolated location gave me absolutely nothing to relate to and nobody to relate with. I felt like a fish out of water, desperate to return to the sweet waters of the ocean. By the end of the day, I was feeling sick to my stomach. I had been holding my emotions in all day and by the time my dad said, “your mother is on the phone”, I completely lost it.
You can probably guess what happened after that, and I have to admit that my emotions ran a bit high that day. Waking up the next morning, I came to realize that I had set my expectations too high. Here I was, using Hindi movies out of everything as a template, thinking that I would waltz into a peacefully idyllic setting with rolling fields of green, singing maidens, and pristine beaches gently caressed by a smooth ocean breeze. Unfortunately, I was greeted with dirt, dust, stank, and heat so hot that my entire body was covered in a layer of sticky sweat. A real slap in the face.
Once I managed to clear my mind and set my inhibitions behind me, the beauty of this seaside hamlet revealed itself to me. We toured this magnificent vadi (orchard) complete with mangoes, papaya, coconut, tamarind trees, and can you believe it, purple bell peppers! We stayed on a working chickoo farm and took a basket of the fruits back home. As I walked through the local market in the morning I sampled the glorious bounty of fruit from this region. Juicy talgodas, gummy and sticky jackfruit, tart green mangoes, and wonderfully refreshing coconut water drunk from a coconut they cut right in front of me!
Of course who could forget the feasting? We sat on the beach and had this awesome chatpatta dal chaat with dried pulses, tomato, onion, green mango, and a generous dusting of chaat masala. At night my dad’s friend treated us to his famous mutton seekh kabobs, or muthiyas and incredibly juicy cilantro chutney-marinated chicken, wild and rich with the flavors of the fields. Then there was also the fabulous local fish which I particularly appreciated when it was cooked in a tangy curry, known locally here as kathi ras.
Upon arriving in India, I had told myself that in order to make this trip a success I would have to place my trust in my family and the locals because only they would be able to show me a good time. Yet in Umbergaon, I instantly failed to believe that my own family had my best interests at heart, and I sulked during those first few hours in the village. Gradually enough, I began to give in to the warm hospitality of the people of the village and my family. All I can say, is that following these amazing individuals was probably the best decision I made that weekend, and I am now incredibly grateful for this experience because they went all out to show me a good time, Umbergaon style.