Weeks 8 & 9: Ujjain and Mandu

I’m starting to feel Hindi’s larger presence in my life, thanks for speaking opportunities with my host family, and school outings. Because of these occasions, I’ve also been spending less time blogging- sorry for the belated post!
Our first school outing was to Ujjain, a city about an hour away. Ujjain is our Hindi teacher’s hometown, and is more famously known as the “City of Temples.” We started by walking barefoot through the city, past sellers of holy flower garlands and around sleeping dogs. Our first stop was Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga, one of Lord Shiva’s 12 most sacred temples in India. We walked through brass lamp-lit hallways, passing a small man-made lake and beautiful murals of the gods. After about a mile, we joined the packed crowd of worshippers in the underground sanctum.

After spotting monkeys at the Kel Bhairav temple, where worshippers offer alcohol to the gods, we drove over the holy Shipra River to the Kalaideh Mahal. The ancient Holkar palace is on a strip of land in the middle of the river. Even though I asked in Hindi, I was met with a strong “nahee” (no) when I asked if we could dip our feet in, to join the many kids and adults who came for religious cleanse or just to have fun in the water.

The most important vocabulary I learned at Kalaideh Mahal was bhutta (corn) and langur (monkey). We had worked hard to order roasted corn in Hindi, and now a group of monkeys was eyeing that same corn with intense interest. As a langur moved closer, our Hindi teacher had to resort to English to yell “throw it, throw it!” as the monkey made his move toward our precious bhutta.

The next weekend, I caught air on our bumpy bus ride to Mandu. Farther out of the city, Mandu was green and beautiful. Our first mahal (palace) of the day was Rani Roopmati’s pavilion, built as Queen Roopmati’s getaway. From its high elevation, the queen was able to see the king’s palace, as well as the Narmada River. Although we had a lot to pack in (and my Hindi teacher/tour guide loved to repeat chalo!- let’s go), we made sure to take our time. Indore is a densely packed city and it was nice to see so much greenery from Queen Roopmati’s perch. Our Hindi teacher made each location even more vivid by describing the history, down to the original paint colors, in Hindi. Rani Roopmati was originally red!

Practicing yoga at Baz Bahadur Mahal

At the Jami Masjid (mosque), everything became covered in a thick blanket of fog. The beautiful details on the building surrounding the masjid’s courtyard made me appreciate the history of the mosque, and also made me eager to visit a mosque that is in service. Since the Jami Masjid is about 500 years old, it is no longer used for prayer.

Usually, I wouldn’t expect shopping to be a meaningful part of a trip. However, after buying one of Mandu’s famous scarves, the dukandar (shopkeeper) next door attempted to sell me the same scarf for much cheaper. Although I’d already purchased my scarf for the day, the dukandar let me bargain down a bracelet (that I’d sadly made clear I really wanted to buy). In return, I promised that agli bar (next time) I’d purchase my scarves from him. Stephanie had passed on the first scarf shop, but was regretting the decision. I brought her back into the store, explaining to the dukandar- “Meri dost ko scarf chahiye”- my friend wants a scarf. The dukandar was so happy that he gave me a copy of his Mandu travel guide to take home. Making connections here in English has been meaningful, but now that I’m able to speak a little more Hindi, I am starting to see for myself how important it is to speak to someone in their own language.


There has been a lot of excitement about a group of Americans attempting to speak in Hindi. At first, my blond hair usually makes people automatically revert to English. After a few minutes, even if they can’t understand my attempt, everyone is enthusiastic that I’m putting effort into the language.

NDTV’s Behtar India (a campaign that focuses on India’s health, sanitation and environment) was so enthusiastic that they filmed our classic group introduction. My line is always “Humko Bharat ko pyar karte hain,” or we love India. Afterwards, we participated in what we thought was tree planting, but ended up being more of a photo shoot. Officials from the campaign packed us into a school bus filled with uniformed school kids and took us to three different sites with pre-dug holes, where I learned more about self-advocacy than saplings. We were asked to wait for the cameras to start, and then given confusing looks when we actually began planting. After explaining I actually wanted to plant the tree, the cameramen thought it over, and we found common ground by taking videos of our mud-covered hands. Megan made it onto national TV, on the link here: 🙂

While most of our trips and special events revolve around Hindi, it is more noticeable in my everyday life as well. Besides speaking only in Hindi with my host mother, I’ve started becoming less shy about speaking Hindi with people I’ve never met before.

Snail mail is one of my favorite reminders of home, although it is difficult to receive because my host home address doesn’t exist for the post office. While trying to acquire a package from my parents (Lara bars!!!), I decided to use the self-advocacy skills I’d learned from tree planting, and call the courier myself.

Although the courier said he spoke “thodi thodi” (a tiny bit) of English, it became clear right away he didn’t understand my English, or American-accented Hindi. In the first 10 minutes of the phone call, I was able to establish he was the courier from Blue Dart. After repeating it multiple times, I pronounced it as “Bloo Dahht Cuhrrriyehr,” and instantly received a haan- yes!

Next, while trying to ask where he was, I accidentally asked where he was from. While I didn’t get closer to finding information about my parcel, I did find out a little bit about the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Although I eventually passed the phone to my school coordinator, I was proud that I had at least confirmed I was talking to the right person on the phone. The language barrier prevented us from communicating perfectly, but we both worked hard to express ourselves and successfully obtain the Lara bars. The courier now sends me fun pictures of the gods on Whatsapp.

As I move into my third month here, I’m overcoming hesitation about speaking Hindi. Learning a new language is inseparable from learning how to speak up for myself in any language. I’m getting better at both!

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