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Travelling India Part III: Kerala & Rishikesh

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After the school semester ended in India, one of my good friends and I decided to take two weeks and explore parts of India that we were unable to get to during the semester. I knew I wanted to go someplace new and also revisit old pleasurable places. With this in mind our traveling took us south to Kerala and north to Rishikesh.

While hanging out with friends in Bangalore I met the owner of a tour company in India called Travspire (http://travspire.com/). It was a great meeting, Arjun was/is awesome and he was more than happy to help me with the planning of my trip. (Pssst, he was also the organizer of our tour of old Bangalore – really cool guy!)

Moving forward, working with Travspire, our itinerary unfolded before us. We were going to spend 5 days and 4 nights in Kerala before heading to the mountains of India. Travspire coordinated a private driver to meet us at the airport in Cochin and be with us for our entire stay. They also coordinated an all day tour of Fort Kochi, the hotel stay there, and our backwaters bungalow in Alleppey, plus a kayaking experience on the backwaters. Our driver was from that area so he was amazingly helpful in helping us find a respectable Ayurveda Spa to get massages at.

During our stay in Cochin, we stayed within Fort Kochi at one of the few hotels in the Dutch quarter called the Tower House (http://the-tower-house.neemranahotels.com/). This place was great, you could definitely see Dutch influences in the design of the hotel and the hotel was situated close to the water. We arrived in Cochin late afternoon. Our driver promptly took us to our hotel and we just wandered around the fort for the night. The next morning we woke up early enough to take a walk along the waters edge. All across the beach there were these Chinese fishing nets where fishermen were looking for that day’s catch.

At the Tower House, our breakfast was included in the room price; we ate a more western style breakfast that day, before meeting with our tour guide. The tour was very good. He started close to the hotel and then took us along to one of the oldest churches in the fort, to a renowned spice shop (where Rachel and I bought a ton of spices), to the last royal family’s house in the fort, and finally to a couple of antique shops. The whole tour was great and we had an enjoyable first half of the day.

In the afternoon we drove to Alleppey, which most people equate with the backwaters in Kerala. There are backwaters really all over the place, but Alleppey is the most well known stop for them, due to the fact there are many there. During our stay here, we stayed in the Katis Home (http://www.kaitshome.com/index.html), which is a homestay along the backwaters. This place was amazing. The family who runs it was so very nice and thoughtful. We had the majority of our meals here and all of them were delicious (the masala chai was also really really good). Here we had our own little cottage/bungalow and there was a gazebo right on the water. It was peaceful and relaxing, which was exactly what we were looking for after our semester.

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How close were we to the backwaters?…this close. Pic taken from gazebo at Katis House.

The kayaking experience on the backwaters was also very neat. We were up at the crack of dawn, around 5:30AM. The kayaking took place in the early morning sun, which made it even more fun, because it was quiet and before people began to start their day. The tour group was maybe 8 of us, and they had a boat that followed us the entire time in case we wanted a break. We kayaked for about 2.5 hours in 20-25 min intervals. It was breathtaking. Our kayaking tour also included a traditional Kerala Indian breakfast, which was phenomenal.

The Ayurveda Spa we went to was also really nice. The prices were decent and the place was very clean. The masseurs were really good at their job and the whole experience was interesting to saw the least. A traditional massage involves a lot of oil, and depending on the add-ons you can add hot stones or other things to the regular massage. I think this was the first time I was pretty much naked in front of someone for a massage, but when in Rome right? It was all very professional and I was super relaxed after the whole experience and I decided another massage was in my future.

During our last day at the homestay, we took a kayak that the homestay had and kayaked a little up the backwaters right outside our front door. We also walked to the nearest village and pretty much just looked around, bought some ice cream, and just enjoyed the fact that we were there.

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One of the many beautiful dwellings to/from town by the Katis House. It was a very good walk.

I had such a good time there and I know my friend did as well. For anyone going to Kerala, Cochin and Alleppey are must dos on the list. I’ll probably revisit these places on my next trip there and of course, go farther afield.

We flew into Rishikesh the next day, not knowing that a large earthquake had hit Nepal and triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest. Yeah you remember that day last year? Well we were on our way to Delhi airport for our connection and were apparently in the air when it happened. Crazy right? We arrived in Rishikesh around 9pm that night.

Rishikesh is hill station at the base of some of the Himalayan mountain chain. This place from what I’ve been told is a very holy place and the Ganga River that flows in this part of the country is very clean and a place where many sunrise and sunset rituals are preformed. There are many yoga retreats and ashrams in and around Rishikesh and all number of stores and places to eat. The first time I came was in 2011 and coming back was very surprised at how much more there was. It is now touristier than I remember, but still a very cool place.

As I did before, I stayed at the Sattva Wellness and Retreat center (http://thesattva.com/). This place opened up in 2011, so the first time I was one of the first guests. Many amenities have been added since that time, but this place – I just really find peace here every time I’m there. There is a riverbed down the steps of the resort and you can hear the water running along it even up in the rooms of the restort, it makes more a very calming experience. Our entire stay in Rishikesh and at the Sattva center was one of lazy relaxation. We went into town, we hiked up the riverbed, we had massages again, and we just rested. It was a great way to end our stay in India.

Up Next: Cambridge, Prague, Las Vegas/Mohave Desert, & San Diego!

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Travelling India Part II: Mumbai & Bangalore

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…Yes it’s been nearly ten months since my last post. Last two semesters of an MBA are not for the faint of heart. Apologies, but in the next few days I’ll be doing a rapid-fire update of this blog with everything that has happened since May 2015. However, I must recap February and April 2015 as well so…without further ado…Mumbai!

The trip to Mumbai was great for two reasons. The first reason was that the trip was part of a Business Trek that the Case Western Reserve University Careers Services put together for those who were interested. This trek took us to some of the prominent businesses that were in Mumbai that fit a variety of interest with the students who came. The second reason that it was great was simply being able to visit another old and historical city in India.

During the business trek, we saw four distinct business and industries. Our first company visit was to Reliance Corporation, which is run and owned by the Ambani family. The corporation started within fabric manufacturing and branched out into gas and oil refinery that it is more known for. It was really interesting to get the history of the family and the reasons for expansion and how they went about it.

The next visit was with an advertising firm called Leo Burnett in their Mumbai office. This global advertising firm has its roots in the USA however, when it comes to marketing and advertising the different offices seem to have their focuses. In the Mumbai office, the team seemed to focus obviously more on the Indian advertisements, but they also made advertisements for other countries on different continents such as Africa. (I can’t remember the country that one of the advertisements is for; I believe it’s Kenya, but not sure) It was really cool to hear their stories and see the amount of data that they had collected from consumers and what all the analyses were showing them.

Third we were able to visit the Mumbai Stock Exchange and get a tour of the oldest exchange in India. It was awesome to see the history and we were even able to see the opening bell that was still used. The discussion that happened afterwards about the financial markets in India and the current economy were very stimulating and our host was extremely candid.

The last place we visited was the headquarters for TCS, which is TATA Consultancy Services. It was very interesting to hear the origins of yet another company within the TATA conglomerate and to see the home office for such a large organization. I have personally worked with a lot of consultants from TCS in the United States and the caliber of people they have specialized in various technology services is pretty good.

At the end of our trip we were able to meet with Case Western alumni who were from Mumbai or in the vicinity and networked with them for an evening. Most went on to start their own businesses back in India after their MBA programs, which is a huge trend in that country. The various businesses spanned across almost every industry and listening to their stories of starting from scratch and where they were now was awesome.

It was a whirlwind trip of 4 days, but we were able to see and do a lot there.

The next trip I went on happened about two months later in April of 2015. I went to Bangalore to visit a very good friend of mine. Let me tell you, I was in Bangalore in 2011 and even four short years later; the city had gone through a crazy amount of transformation. Of course the traffic was ridiculous, but with the city being the Silicon Valley of India, it seemed to me the expats that were now residing in the city almost tripled.

While in Bangalore we took a tour of the oldest part of the city and visited a very cool market place that distributed fruits, vegetables, spices, and flowers. This place was the center for such things and still is today. According to my friend and our tour guide many restaurants, wedding planners, and other business owners would come and haggle or bid on products. For the fruit and vegetable part of the market local farmers would pay for a space and sell their produce until it was out and then leave. At the flower market, they held open bids on flowers for many different occasions. It was all very fast paced, crowded, and extremely colorful.

We also toured some of the old ruins, such as a piece of what use to be the Bangalore Fort that surrounded the city at the time of the British conquests. We also toured one of the old residences of wartime general that stood up to the British Empire and held them off for many decades. It was great to spend some of the time there learning more about the history of the great city.

Next Post – Kerala & Rishikesh!

 

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Traveling India Part I : Agra, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, and the Great Saam Desert

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“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

This post and the ones following are a long time in coming, but finally I’ve been given a moment of respite to get started on them. Though my third adventure in India is weeks over, I’m left – as always – with great memories of my travels.

This year my traveling bug was definitely more than satisfied. In February for my 30th birthday, I did what I love to do – travel and see new sights! This time I did it in the company of some awesome friends. Our week long adventure started with a very long train ride and then private bus to Agra to see the majestic and beautiful Taj Mahal. Now, I’ve seen this great moment before in 2011, but seeing it again in the morning light was a breathtaking experience.

Our bunk beds were very cosy! :-)

Our bunk beds were very cosy! 🙂

Early Morning shot of the amazing Taj Mahal.

Early Morning shot of the amazing Taj Mahal.

After the Taj Mahal visit, the next visit was to the Agra Fort, which was very close by. The fort has a very interesting history; one thing that stood out to me was that the fort actually housed the king who had the Taj Mahal built for his third wife. As the story goes the king had built the Taj for her and then his son threw him in jail after he bankrupted India to build the building. The king’s only request was that his prison have a window that let him see the Taj to be close to his love.

Entrance to the fort.

Entrance to the fort.

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First Inner court yard in the fort we passed by.

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Another portion of the fort.

I wasn't in the king's jail cell, but I'm figuring this is what it was sort of like. The Taj in the distance.

I wasn’t in the king’s jail cell, but I’m figuring this is what it was sort of like. The Taj in the distance.

The next city on our journey was Jodphur. Jodphur is the second largest metropolitan city in the state of Rajasthan. It is also often referred to as “the blue city” because many of the houses have blue roofs. Jodphur was a gorgeous city with a royal family and palace and an amazing fort as well. Food is also a big component of every state in India, so of course we had to have a traditional Rajasthani mean – it was as delicious as it looks here.

Jodphur Palace

Jodphur Palace – the royal family still live in one of the wings. The other part of the palace was made into a Taj Hotel.

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Another view of the palace – this is the part that is the Taj Hotel.

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Outside shot of the Jodphur Fort.

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Blue City – aptly named. Shot taken from the fort.

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Look at all the yummy food! It was delicious…well except for the buttermilk – I’m not a fan of that.

The next leg of our journey was to the reputed “Golden City” which is called Jaisalmer. This city use to the hub of commerce for India, because it was were the Silk Road passed through. Once the silk trade was done, many of the merchants moved out of this city and set up shop in Mumbai. This city too has a fort, but the most fascinating thing about this fort is that it is still lived in! It was very cool to see a fort being used the way it should be – to house as many families and business as possible!

Outside view of the fort.

Outside view of the fort.

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Shots of the inside of the fort. Lots of narrow and winding paths. Very interesting place.

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Pics of some locals, looking at the tourist. 🙂

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There is a sandstorm coming up in the background of this picture, but still a great shot of the “Golden City” city of Jaisalmer.

Finally we wrapped up our whirlwind of a trip going into the Great Saam desert for some camel riding and to ‘glamp’ in the sands. The tents that we stayed in were permanent and were very nicely set up. The camel riding was fun and memorable.

Permanent tents we slept in.

Permanent tents we slept in.

My camel and my driver.

My camel and my driver.

Selfie time! Also you can see some of my pals in the background.

Selfie time! Also you can see some of my pals in the background.

The people who led us to and from the camping site into the desert.

The people who led us to and from the camping site into the desert.

This camel wanted a break.

This camel wanted a break.

All in all not bad for a 4 day trip.

Next post will be about Mumbai!

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Reflections of a Frustrated Global Graduate Student

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“You’ve done it before and you can do it now. See the positive possibilities. Redirect the substantial energy of your frustration and turn it into positive, effective, unstoppable determination.” – Ralph Marston

*Wasn’t sure if I was going to post this, but I think it really shows the meaning of the word epiphany. This was a really hard semester.*

XLRI is one of the premier graduate institutions in India. It is most well known for its Human Resources program, but the XLRI Business School is also touted to be a best in class school. So when coming to a best in class institution, there are certain expectations that one automatically believes will come from attending this particular school.

You can expect:

Disciplined academic structure

Tough teachers

Even tougher classwork

Many late nights studying

Mental agony…

And this list could go on and on and differ for many people, but when I think of a best in class institution, the first thing that comes to mind is disciplined academic structure.

[Start Rant]

What I didn’t expect was sheer chaos.

As always at the beginning of the semester, the whole cohort was given a schedule of when are classes were, but even within that week there were changes.

And then the next week more changes.

And the week after that there was again another round of changes.

Fast forward to end of March – there was not one week that went by this semester that classes were not cancelled or rescheduled. The schedule given to us at the beginning of the semester wasn’t even close to the schedule that had to be followed.

The last few weeks were particularly crazy. Sometimes we had assignments due the next day, but we weren’t given the assignment until much later that night. It’s not a problem if the assignment is given in class, but an assignment that isn’t given until 11PM the night before and still due the next day? I haven’t ever experienced anything like it.

I asked my Indian classmates many times if this was normal in Indian university levels. Most said that their undergraduate levels weren’t like this, but some did mention that this was how it was done. I was and still am utterly flabbergasted.

I get that school is supposed to be challenging and stretch you and build you up…but in my mind without having a structured environment where you feel safe enough to do that in, it just poses problems.

[End Rant]

For the people who know me well, they know that this makes me a very unhappy human being. I love planning and I love order. I thrive in those environments. Coming into an academic situation where there was no order and stumbling through the semester just with sheer will power alone was excruciatingly painful at times.

Don’t get me wrong. I learned that I have the strength to get through it. I learned that even though ambiguity and uncertainty doesn’t sit well with me at all levels that I can push past it. I even learned I can think on my feet a bit better now and I fight more for my voice, than I have in the past.

And that was really what I had to remind myself of in the end. I didn’t come to get my MBA, or more importantly, voluntarily go abroad to get my Global MBA to just play it safe. I wanted to do this, because I wanted to grow. Honestly if I didn’t learn anything out of this whole semester, then attaining an MBA while traveling the world wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing. This whole experience forced me –literally – out of my shell and made me work. I can say I worked harder than I’ve ever had to, in order to get the grades that I did.

As I look back on the whole semester as it winds to a close; I’m thankful.

I’m thankful that I decided to take this risk.

I’m thankful that I made it thus far.

I’m just – really thankful.

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Colorful India: Holi Festival

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“Holi is a time to reach out with the colors of joy. It is the time to love and forgive. It is the time expresses the happiness of being loved and to be loved through colors.” – Anonymous

Today in the US, one of our favorite holidays will be celebrated – Saint Patrick’s Day. There will be plenty of people wearing green that are Irish and probably a lot more that aren’t, but regardless it’s a very fun holiday with a lot of merriment.

In India, eleven days ago, Holi was celebrated throughout the country. Let me tell you – it’s like Saint Patrick’s Day…but more. A LOT more!

Holi is a spring festival in India and is known as the festival of colors. This year Holi was celebrated on March 5 and 6th. On March 5, the Holi festival starts with a gathering around a bonfire, singing, and dancing. The next day is a free for all of color – and believe me, it’s some amazing fun! Most people in India I found celebrated with their family and friends that live closest to them in their communities wherever their home town is. At XLRI our GMBA family began the festivities around 10AM and by noon, no one could really tell who each other was – that’s how intense the color gets.

Here is the Before....

Here is the Before….

...and here is the after!

…and here is the after!

Wikipedia has a good overview of the history around Holi and how people celebrate it across India. Here is the link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holi

It was an amazing experience to be able to celebrate the festival with all of our cohort members. It was a blast! I’m still trying to get some color out of the beds of my nails, I had to throw away my clothes, and my Havenieda sandals are permanently stained – bit it was all worth it!

Read more Holi Quotes: http://festivals.iloveindia.com/holi/quotes.html#7OGuirWMOrDhkYkf.99

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Inspirational Influence: TATA, Jamshedpur, & India

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“I know that aiming at perfection has its drawbacks. It makes you go into details that you can avoid but that is the only way you can achieve excellence. So, in that case, being finicky is essential.” – J.R.D. Tata

There is usually that one person who sparks inspiration and ingenuity that spreads into a wildfire of innovation and revolutionizes an age.

For India, it ended up being one family.

India is known as the birthplace for yoga, for the colorful clothes, the interesting history, and of course for the Taj Mahal. However, for many that is all that they know India for. Those in business know that there is just one more thing synonymous with India – and that is the TATA Group.

The TATA Group is a conglomerate of a hundred companies in everything from motors, to the food industry, from jewelry, all the way to technological consultancy services. Obviously the group wasn’t started on its own. It was started by one man in the late nineteenth century, with the dream of only starting one company, and his name was Jamshedji Tata.

On XLRI’s campus, there is a museum and archives for the first company created by the descendants of Jamshedji Tata, TATA Steel. TATA Steel was the first industrial company that was created by an Indian in India in the early twentieth century. Though he wasn’t alive to see it built, Jamshedji set the plans in motion. It was amazing hear from our tour guide all the various ideas and the great lengths that this gentleman went through in order to pursue a dream. Not only was he instrumental in the creation of TATA Steel, but he was also integral in the creation of India’s first technical institute, and India’s first planned city, which of course was named in honor of him; Jamshedpur.

Jamshedpur, where XLRI is located, is TATA’s city. You can see TATA Steel from campus and it’s still producing quality steel that is used by the likes of Honda, Toyota, and Hyundai. TATA motors also has offices here and hopefully as part of our courses here we will be able to go to this factory as well. I haven’t seen much of Jamshedpur, but from what I can see, it is a beautiful city. It is the first planned city, as I mentioned before, and it is also the seventh (or eighth) cleanest city in India. Another unique fact about Jamshedpur is that the city is completely run by the TATA Group, not the Indian city government. TATA provides filtered water and electricity to the city. TATA owns some of the land that makes up Jamshedpur, but the rest it leases from the government. The current term of the lease is 99 years and the lease was just renewed in the last few years.

From the museum visit, I also learned that TATA group also pours much of their resources into environmental protection and education for the people of Jamshedpur and the rural villages that are around the city. They have many small programs such as health programs, and teaching programs in these rural parts, not only to foster a learning environment, but also making sure the people are healthy and well cared for and more opportunities than they could have imagined before.

It’s always nice to see a huge corporation giving back to the people and for me, I’m awed to see that the inspiration of one man over a century ago, inspired his family to create and nurture this same spirit within itself and to others over the years that have past.

Jamshedji Tata

Jamshedji Tata

One exhibit detailing the history of Jamshedji Tata and the start of the TATA Steel plant and other companies.

One exhibit detailing the history of Jamshedji Tata and the start of the TATA Steel plant and other companies.

This portion of the archive depicts the steel making process on the walls. However, it also showcases local Indian artists and their paintings. All of these paintings have been bought by the TATA Group.

This portion of the archive depicts the steel making process on the walls. However, it also showcases local Indian artists and their paintings. All of these paintings have been bought by the TATA Group.

Another amazing man from the TATA family. He dedicated his life to his passion for aviation  and the education of children in India. This is his last quoted statement, before he died.

Another amazing man from the TATA family. He dedicated his life to his passion for aviation and the education of children in India. This is his last quoted statement, before he died.

A painting that was created by a local Jamshedpur artists - who is illiterate - and found away to create a portrait of JRD using convex mirror reflections.

A painting that was created by a local Jamshedpur artists – who is illiterate – and found away to create a portrait of JRD using convex mirror reflections.

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Starting the Journey – first weeks in India: Part II

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This post is long overdue – apologies to those who follow; graduate school is not for the feint of heart.

I left you with a brief glimpse of my impressions coming to India again and now I will continue with my first trip during this visit.

XLRI has been a hospitable host thus far, and on the anniversary of our 1st week within its halls, the administration staff here paid for us to have a weekend trip – by bus – to the cities of Bhubaneswar and Kanarak, and Puri beach. The weekend itself was an awesome experience, the bus ride was crazy as ever. It took approximately 10 hours to get to Bhubaneswar and 10 hours to get back. Our bus driver was awesome – he played chicken with many a larger truck, smaller rickshaws, motor bikes, and some cows.

Playing chicken with that big truck...this was a reoccurring thing.

Playing chicken with that big truck…this was a reoccurring thing.

The city of Bhubaneswar was a bustling city, from my understanding it is a little bit larger than the city of Jamshedpur. Our accommodations were at a sister school of XLRI specializing in undergraduate education. While in the city we actually went to the local zoo. It was interesting to see the various habitats and how the animals were maintained compared to the strict American standards I and some other were used to. Though the animals were cared for well by Indian standards, it wasn’t up to par with what I was. Not necessarily a shock, but it is one of those small things in which you notice that can be better and eventually will get better as the infrastructure and laws in India become more advanced.

The next destination that we were taken to were some caves on our way to the Chilka Lake. At this point the day was scorching, it was around 28 degrees Centigrade that day, which was in the upper 70s in Fahrenheit. I didn’t get out to climb the caves in the hot sun, but I heard it was nice and there were plenty of monkeys begging for bananas and photo ops!

Chilka Lake was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen. It was probably more beautiful to me, because we arrived at sunset. The fisherman were all done for the day and being able to take pictures with the setting sun and the still water was calming and moving at the same time. Chilka Lake is the largest costal lagoon that flows to/from the Bay of Bengal in India. It is home to some threatened species of animals and plants and it sustains 150,000 fishers that live in approximately 132 villages up and down the shores.  Our group was taken out from the dock to a rock formation in the center of the lake. It was a great way to end the day.

On the dock - just arrived at the Lake.

On the dock – just arrived at the Lake.

Candid shot of some GMBAs on the rock formation.

Candid shot of some GMBAs on the rock formation.

Shot of one of the boats that took us out into the lagoon.

Shot of one of the boats that took us out into the lagoon.

Another shot of  sunset, still water, and fishing boat.

Another shot of sunset, still water, and fishing boat.

The next day, we were taken to tour one of the four Sun Temples that are in India, in the city of Konrak. We traveled to a different city to see this temple. The history was extremely interesting to hear and the architecture was amazing. The way that the temple itself was built was what fascinated me most of all. There was a main entrance to the temple in the old days and depending on the time of day – sunrise, midday sun – sunset, the rays of the sun were caught and reflected the main entrance to the temple, just like a sundial! It was super neat to see.

Story of the Sun Temple

Story of the Sun Temple

No one can actually go into the temple, because it's being repaired. Long ago there was a large magnet at the center of the temple that kept it all together - amazing right?

No one can actually go into the temple, because it’s being repaired. Long ago there was a large magnet at the center of the temple that kept it all together – amazing right?

The drawings etched into the stones were detailed and depicted many stories.

The drawings etched into the stones were detailed and depicted many stories.

Our final stop was either we could go to Puri Beach or go to see the Jagannath Temple in Puri. I opted to go see the temple. There are four famous Hindu temples in India and Jagannath is the one house in the East. The temple was erected in dedication to Vishnu (Jagannath) – Lord of the Universe. Unfortunately, foreigners weren’t allowed into the temple itself, but it was still amazing to see the outside. Now I want to travel to see the others!

Far shot of the temple.

Far shot of the temple.

Really wished I couldn't have gone inside, but still beautiful on the outside.

Really wished I couldn’t have gone inside, but still beautiful on the outside.

Seeing this temple and Chilka Lake were probably my two favorites out of this trip. My next big trip will be from February 20-28. I will be going to 4 different cities, one I’ve been to before, but three new one and I’m super excited about it.

My next post will be in a couple of days. Stay tuned to hear snippets of probably the most famous name synonymous with India…TATA.