Crossing the Street in India

Escape to India for Spicy Street Food, Stretching Mind-Body-Soul, McDonald's without the Beef, & the Rock-Star Slum Girls Taking on the World

India postage stamp
Armchair Adventure inside
envelope flap
Cow wandering street
From a guest house nestled along a shady boulevard, my afternoon nap is blissfully interrupted by a spicy scent wafting through my open window. Ahh… chana masala. The fragrant allure of the food stall across the street beckons. Despite my 14-hour jet lag and field work schedule exhaustion, I happily obey the command
back of envelope
From a guest house nestled along a shady boulevard, my afternoon nap is blissfully interrupted by a spicy scent wafting through my open window. Ahh… chana masala. The fragrant allure of the food stall across the street beckons. Despite my 14-hour jet lag and field work schedule exhaustion, I happily obey the command. For great Indian food— anything.

Heading out onto the sidewalk, my blissful trance is interrupted by my cultural nemesis. Indian traffic. A hot mess of moving machinery. A horn-blaring blur of cars, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, auto rickshaws— and an occasional ox-cart— where rules are less influenced by law than by popular consensus. Where stray dogs sunbathe on the center median and sacred cows saunter through the daily crush, either oblivious to potential danger or simply confident their presence will be noted and respected.
Indian traffic
With stoplights and crosswalks scarce, Indian pedestrians transcendentally jaywalk across even six lanes without hesitation. Perhaps thousands of years of yoga and meditation has hardwired enlightenment into India’s DNA. Or perhaps organized chaos is simply the only way 1.2 billion people get through a day. But no matter how many times I travel to India— and no matter how many cultural hurdles I manage to cross— simply trying to cross a street on my own rattles me to my core. Sure I can do a mean downward dog, but with American traffic-law culture hardwired in my DNA, achieving this level of enlightenment still eludes me.

The secret is to tune out the mental noise. Go with the flow. And above all— DON’T compare anything to the rules of American traffic norms. (It’s that last part that I struggle with the most.)

Another waft of spicy aroma reignites my focus. I steady my nerve and take several deep breaths. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Still your mind, Dina, I coach myself as I calmly place a foot down in the street. Focus. Breathe. Focus. Breathe.

From my peripheral vision an enormous dump truck is lurching directly toward me. Remain calm, BE the truck. Trust that the truck knows exactly where you are.

Aakk! I leap backwards onto the sidewalk. The truck rolls past, belching a poof of diesel exhaust in my face. I sputter out a cough. Images of broken bones and medical bills dance in front of my eyes. I wonder whether my will is up to date.

Shake it off, Dina. I slowly calm my breathing and gently coach myself to leave my cultural baggage behind. You’re in India now, Dina. Relax.

Just then, a tiny, elderly woman in a sparkly sari jumps off the curb and heads directly into a line of oncoming auto-rickshaws. Without breaking stride— or even glancing up— she glides across like on an invisible zip line. I study her technique. She knows she’s got this.

If she can do it, I can do it. I do a quick stretch and mental reset. Deep breath. Focus. BE the tiny lady.
Family on motor cycle
Attempt two. One foot back into the street. Two feet. Just keep moving forward. Commit. Trust.

A family of five piled on a motorcycle like a DIY minivan suddenly sails past me— their toddler perched on the handlebars— smugly defying the laws of physics and every good parenting book ever written.

Oh god. Vertigo creeps in. My mind is flooded with seat belt laws, government–approved car seats, and calls from child-protective services. Again, I leap backward onto to the sidewalk. The cultural whiplash is brutal.
Drop Hesitations.
Again, I mentally regroup, determined to bridge this cultural chasm. I channel Indian spiritual guru Osha’s mantra: “Drop hesitations.” Deep breath. Drop hesitations. Walk straight, Dina.

Attempt three. I step back into the street— walking, dropping hesitations, walking, dropping hesitations. I got this.

Halfway across I freeze. Nope. Not happening. I don’t got this. Did you know that in the U.S., jaywalkers bear the blame for causing accidents, and drivers can actually sue them for harm caused to their car!?!

Vehicles honk and swerve around my mid-street paralysis. I ponder wonder what, if anything, about American driving culture would actually intimidate Indian drivers? Data on teenage texting (34%- yikes)? Trying to steer out of an icy skid during a Midwest blizzard? The frantic squirrel that can’t make a decision?
Suddenly, a cow angles into the street and heads my way. Tires screech, brakes lock, and traffic comes to a halt. Taking refuge behind my 1500-pound new best friend, Bessy safely escorts me to the other side of the street. I’m with her.

Finally reaching the other side, I hop off onto the curb outside the food stall. I give Bessy a pat of thanks on the head and order a plate of steaming chana masala. She offers a grateful nod to my vegetarian selection and saunters off down the sidewalk. At least my karma is solid.

Keep calm and carry on.
Indian kids at wedding
Adorable kids attending a family wedding
Shrine to Hindu god
One of the many colorful shrines to the Hindu god Ganesh
Tailor's street shop
Trendy tailor shop
Thali dinner
Traditional "Thali" dinner
Indian women at wedding
Wedding bling
Busy street
Morning rush hour
Small group of girls
Girls ROCK!
Candles in store
Hand-dipped candles for sale
Graffiti on wall
Slum wall art
Kids covered in dye
Celebrating is more fun in color!
Indian magazines
What's hot this month in India
Coke banner
Coca-Cola's global footprint
Street food vendor
Street food to die for
Drop Hesitations.
(who is Osho, you wonder?)
Osho and followers

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (1931–1990), better known as Osho, was a controversial guru, spiritual teacher, and hipster-ahead of-his-time. In 1974, after developing syncretic meditation practices... continue reading
Osho and followers
In 1974, after developing syncretic meditation practices from a variety of religious influences including Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Sufism, and Christianity, he opened a groovy ashram in Pune, India where spiritual seekers worldwide have come to practice living life to its full potential. Although Osho (the man) passed away nearly 30 years ago, his teachings live on in the digital, multi-media world. Through downloadable video lectures, meditations, podcasts, e-books, e-cards, and even games available on the Osho mobile app, smart-phone spiritualists can now get their enlightenment on faster than they can say “ommm.”
modern hipster
Hipster not-ahead-of-his-time
So, whether you’re trying to cross a street in India, or simply ready to rock a plaid shirt, knit cap, and beard, check out Osho’s short meditation on “Courage.”
Just allow life to take you wheresoever it leads you an don't be afraid. Fear is the only thing one should be afraid of, nothing else. Move! Be courageous and daring.
Chana Masala
Chana Masala recipe to (almost) die for
Chana Masala Recipe
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas
1 onion, chopped
1 tomatoes, chopped
1 green chili pepper, chopped
4 -5 garlic cloves, chopped
Cut onion, tomato and green chili. Grind it in food processor along with ginger and garlic and make paste.

Heat oil in a pan and fry bay leaves for 30 secs.

Add the paste and fry on medium heat until golden brown (The oil starts separating from the mixture).
Chana Masala Recipe
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas
1 onion, chopped
1 tomatoes, chopped
1 green chili pepper, chopped
4 -5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 inch gingerroot, chopped
2 -3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon red chili powder
1⁄2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala powder
3 tablespoons olive oil
coriander leaves, for garnishing
Cut onion, tomato and green chili. Grind it in food processor along with ginger and garlic and make paste.

Heat oil in a pan and fry bay leaves for 30 secs.

Add the paste and fry on medium heat until golden brown (The oil starts separating from the mixture).

Add red chili powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, garam masala and salt. Mix well. Fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add water enough to make thick gravy. Bring the gravy to boil.

Add can chick peas. Stir well and cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes.

Garnish with chopped green coriander leaves and serve hot.
"The greatNess of a NatioN aNd its moral progress caN be judged by the way its aNimals are treated."
-Mahatma GaNdhi
World map
Meditation and Yoga in India
"Meditation helps us master our mind rather than our mind mastering us."
-Wise Indian Saying
With a recorded history dating back 9,500 years, India is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth.

Today, India is the world’s largest democracy, a growing economic powerhouse, and poised to lead the 21st century in both education and information.

But with a population of 1.2 billion and rising, how do they make it work when one out of every six people on the planet is a neighbor? Could their ancient tools for enlightenment– meditation and yoga– be part of their secret to their success?... continue reading
For thousands of years, meditation and yoga training has helped Indians direct awareness inward until they reach a consciousness that experiences “oneness” with the totality of the universe. Far more than mere relaxation, this oneness is described as "being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself."
Meditation helps people live on a higher plane of themselves. Anyone who has ever survived a Mumbai rush hour will agree this is an essential survival skill.

According to scientific research, meditation increases activity in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain, which impacts “whole-brain thinking” and learning capacity. Effects include improved creativity, concentration, memory, and emotional stability, as well as reduced depression, mental clarity, and the ability to remain chill when the going gets tough.  Other physical health benefits include enhanced immunity, lowered blood pressure, greater mental acuity and stress reduction, increased blood circulation, and increased serotonin production which influences mood and behavior. In fact, meditation and yoga is so important to modern Indian culture that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hopes to incorporate the practices into more facets of Indian civic life– including schools, hospitals, and even police training centers.

While the healthy push for yoga has become increasingly popular in the US, our multi-tasking-fast-paced-drive-thru culture doesn’t always align with mental stillness. Americans value speed, efficiency, and accomplishing as much as possible. But if living on a higher plane is, in fact, a competitive advantage in the global arena, perhaps more Americans would be encouraged to embrace meditation and yoga. At a minimum, road-rage might become a thing of the past.

If you are an American short on time and long on to-do lists, here are a few uber-easy (practically under a minute!) apps and activities to get you started.

Additional Read: India's new prime minister, Narendra Modi, aims to rebrand and promote yoga in India.
Meditation guide
Hindu Temple
Classic Hindu Architecture
Street vendor selling coconuts
Coconuts for sale
Kids on bike
Hearthrobs on wheels
Indian girls
Outdoor food market
Outdoor market
Men on bikes hauling wood
Special delivery
Men dancing
Wedding parade
Women walking
Sunday stroll
Beach in Mumbai
Mumbai beach
Playing cricket
Cricket tourney
Slum housing
Slum living
Kids begging
Begging children
(there are millions... and that's why GSD empowers Indian teens who can help)
Kids playing on truck
Slum playground
(video produced by great travel partner and fellow humanitarian, Kelly Kinnunen)
McDonald's sandwhich
Holy Cow: The Collision of Cuisine & Culture
Cow walking in street
From Big Macs to Whopper Juniors, generations of Americans have been weaned on hamburgers since their first Happy Meal. But for most of India, juicy, flame-broiled burgers top the taboo list. To the approximately 1 billion Indian Hindus, the cow is more than just a sacred animal– she’s practically family.... continue reading
Mcdonalds menu in india
I can see their point. From sirloin, sour cream and suede, to yogurt, glue and ghee, the generous cow provides so much to make people's lives comfortable, yet takes nothing but water, grass, and grain in return.

So Hindus give her the respect she deserves! Whether celebrated at festivals, or simply welcomed to stroll through the neighborhood streets without a care in the world, Hindus don’t worship the cow–they honor her like a mother. And honoring her instills the Hindu virtue of ahimsa– non-violence– against all life forms.
Historically, the ancient Hindu texts didn’t exactly forbid eating meat, but their regard for ahimsa led many to lean toward a vegetarian lifestyle, as well as food production methods respectful of other life forms. Vegetarianism continued to grow with the rise of Buddhism and Jainism in the sixth century BCE, and while Buddha himself wasn’t a vegetarian (his last meal allegedly contained pork), Buddhist teachings also emphasized ahimsa– another major boost for vegetarianism.
Sacred cow
Mahavira, a Jain spiritual leader who believed in complete reverence for all forms of life, catapulted vegetarianism toward even greater acceptance, and in more contemporary times, social activist Gandhi often compared the practice of vegetarianism and the observance of non-violence.

Today, across India’s religiously pluralistic culture, true vegetarians still only make up less than half the population. But when it comes to cows, most of India’s omnivores still abstain from eating beef.

Perhaps respect for our mothers is one thing everyone can agree on.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “One can measure the greatness of a nation and its moral progress by the way it treats its animals. Cow protection to me is not mere protection of the cow. It means protection of all that lives and is helpless and weak in the world. The cow means the entire subhuman world.”

In 2015, Americans consumed more than 24 billion pounds of beef and spent over $60 billion dollars on their pets, including purchases of live animals, food, supplies, vet services, Halloween costumes, and the always-endearing family portrait.

Something to chew on: considering the perspective of American cultural values, how do you think we rank against Gandhi’s statement in the treatment of animals?
Cat in lounge chairFamily photo with dogCat in lounge chair
Indian textile
"There is No eNd to the adveNtures that we caN have if oNly we seek them with our eyes opeN."
-Jawaharlal Nehru
"maN is made by his beliefs. as he believes, so he is."
-Bhagavad gita
Bowls of vegetables
Vegetarian paradise
Harbor with boats
Mumbai harbor
Men praying at a mosque
Mid-day prayers at the mosque
Large building
Colonial influence
Woman with small children
Off to school
Fun with friends
Textiles for sale
Textile Market
Kids covered in dye
Street celebration
Chef serving breakfast
Breakfast buffet
Employees at restaurant
KFC staff ready to take your order
Street sign
Motorbike management
Hindu temple
Hindu Temple
Hindu temple
Transportation in rural India
Listen to the GSD Podcast
10 minutes of enlightenment on "stretching" our minds
Indian textile
Dina with Guatemalan kids
Ready to explore the vibrant & ancient culture of the Mayans?

Next stop... Guatemala!
Photo credits
Osho: Sangeet Duchane [CC BY 3.0 (] -

Dogs in raincoats: By Kyle Van Horn (Flickr: Photo) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (] -

Krishna and Radha rug: Sumanjha1991 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Khobar of Mithla rug: Sumanjha1991 [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons

Indian spices: judepics [CC BY 2.0 (] -