Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem find Love.
Nearly five years ago, before mortgages and babies and all that comes with them, like Elizabeth Gilbert and her big screen counterpart Julia Roberts, I had an Eat Pray Love experience of my very own.
Except mine was with my husband. We decided to ditch our day jobs and take a six-month honeymoon through India, where both of our families are from. We were newlyweds, and this trip was an intense crash course in couplehood after more than two years of long distance (me in New York, him in California). And along the way, we did plenty of eating, praying, and loving.
Eat Our mission? We planned to eat our way through India, from Kashmir (mmmm … mirchi koftas) to Kerala (mmmm … fried coconut-coated pomfret) and everywhere in between. And considering that we’re both carrying an extra 15 pounds since then, I’d say we succeeded. I’ll admit, we did our fare share of stops at Pizza Hut and Subway. (They really should import the chicken tikka sub here already.) But for us, food was a way of reconnecting with a culture that was foreign, yet wholly ours. There were tastes that were familiar, and there were tastes we’d never experienced before in our lives. We discovered a nation teeming with culture and vitality — and that was reflected in the food. We learned how to make fish in whole mustard seeds in Kolkata, alu de paranthas in Punjab, and Tibetan momos in McCloud Ganj. And when we visited family across the country, it was a big part of celebrating our newfound togetherness with loved ones we forgot we had.
Pray Neither of us claimed to be particularly religious (in fact, we come from different religious backgrounds), but we found ourselves in plenty of gompas, temples, mosques, and churches. In Dharamsala, the home of the Dalai Lama, we spent hours chatting with a Nike-rocking, iPod-toting Tibetan monk, who seemed like he’d be just as comfortable on a basketball court down in the East Village as he was in his heavy, burgundy robes. We also visited the Golden Temple in Amritsar, where thousands were massacred by the Indian government in 1984. And at the Baba Buddha temple, I ate a whole onion — a symbol of fertility — on behalf of a family member who’d been struggling to get pregnant. (She’s since had a little girl, and has another on the way.) But our most transformative experience was a pilgrimage we made to get to the Vaisho Devi shrine in Katra. The 28-mile hike left our legs and our spirits pulverized — and completely ready to soak it all in.
Love When Navdeep and I decided to on this trip, we were newlyweds. And we thought we knew everything about each other, but we learned so much along the way. For one thing, he’s a hardcore backpacker who likes to do things out of the box — he’d camped out in a Mongolian park overnight and eaten snake in China, where he taught English for two years. I, on the other hand, preferred pre-packaged luxury travel. My last trip to Rajasthan — the Indian desert — consisted of posh overnights in palaces that had been converted into hotels. Both have their advantages, but it sure was, uh, interesting trying to combine our respective travel philosophies into one trip. Think long, bumpy bus rides through endless stretches of Punjabi countryside, and languid days floating on Dal Lake in Kashmir in a rustic-but-well-equipped shikara.
It was an adventure for both of us. We slept on houseboats, in treehouses, in tents, and on a hut on the beach in Goa. Eventually, we upgraded to fancy-pants air-conditioned sleeper compartments on our un-ending train journeys, but we certainly had our fair share of adventure. And here’s the thing, we were in it together, no matter what we were doing. 24/7, for six months on end. We got to know each other in ways we never would otherwise. We learned the art of compromise, had endless and beautiful conversations, and made memories that will last us a lifetime.
There were moments that were scary — just deciding to go, giving up our jobs and the world we knew was scary enough. But in the end, it was profound and transformative for us, both individually and as a couple. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world. And I know it won’t be our last big trip. We can’t wait for the day we can take little baby Kavi on such an adventure, this time as a family.
For more about our adventure, check out Ishq in a Backpack.
Have you had your own Eat Pray Love experience? Where would you go if you could take off today?