We got ready by 8 am to go for a road trip to Narmada Dam. Breakfast was simple, yet good – poha and biscuits and hot tea. We then all loaded up in the bus. Today’s day turned out to be much better than expected. I was thinking it will just be driving from one location to another, but since we were going through rural India, there was so much more to see and learn than going through the bustle of Mumbai.

Initially we were just catching a nap or writing in journals, but eventually we all were alert, especially since our main highway was a one lane road, barely wide enough for one bus. The sights grew more interesting (as I have seen so many times in the north); there were all sorts of vehicles on the road, more famously the bullock cart loaded with sugarcane going to the sugar factory.

Bipin was very good in stopping periodically to explain and show things. He was a much better guide here than I was. I am not much of a rural Indian. I am very much a city girl. So we stopped near a sugar cane farm. The nice thing about India vs. USA, is that you can stop anywhere and take samples and talk to people much more easily. I requested to take some sugar cane samples, as our American group had never eaten raw sugar cane. So there I was peeling the sugar cane with my teeth and giving samples to everyone! It was fun to see how much everyone was enjoying it. (Of course my teeth hurt terribly later on!!)

We took a bathroom break just before reaching the dam. Luckily Bipin has a string of doctor friends in the region so we stopped at one’s office, otherwise it would have been a very hard trip. Bipin stocked up on some chhaaj; it was available in packets. It is such a traditional thing and I was happy to see that all the group members liked it, which is good because it really helps with the heat.

We reached the dam in good time. It was a beautiful area (and there were restrooms too!!). There was a small information room about the dam. The dam was huge! Narmada is one of the major and holy rivers of India. We walked around and then drove to another point of view. There was no one around, and it was really peaceful area. There were some beautiful flowers there, although the green was a different shade of green than what I am used to seeing in the north India.

Our lunch was just snacks today – all sorts of junk food. There was no place to eat together as a group, so we made it with biscuits, granola bars, peanuts and fruits in the bus. It was alright. Yet again, I was impressed with the group!!

Our next destination was Kabirwaad. This place had the biggest banyan tree of the world (larger than even Lahaina, Hawaii, USA). This was still quite a drive so yet, there we were again enjoying in the bus, singing songs, trying to solve unsolvable puzzles.

On the way we stopped to see “gur” making process. I had never seen it before either! Looking from an American point of view, it does not exactly follow the FDA practices! So the sugar cane juice is heated to a concentrated amount and then treated with some vegetable enzymes to clarify it a bit. The resulting syrup is heated more and more until it forms a yellow thick paste. We had some that hot gooey paste – oh !! It was so yum! We all “drank” some samples, which literally was drinking sugar! But who cares! I managed to bring some sample home in a bottle, which I enjoyed for a long long time.

After another hour or so of driving we reached the banks of Narmada. I had not realized where Kabirwaad was. We took a boat ride to the other side. So Kabirwaad is on an island in Narmada. This is the place where Kabir, the poet, came and planted the first banyan shoot, which has now grown into this giant canopy of tree where you cannot tell where the tree started. The boat ride brought us almost to the bank of the river but not to the edge. And this was even more surprising!! We had to wade through shallow water to reach the bank. (of course Bipin knew and he did not tell us about this little detail about a boat ride and wading through the water!). Part of the wading was on metal support but then it ended and then it was just water. The water was clean and fresh looking, so there were no worries of any type. Very interesting walk/wade for all of us!

We trekked a bit inside the island to reach the tree. It was like walking on the beach for a while, and there was also a camel on the way, which made the walk a little more exotic. The tree itself is an amazing sight to see. Words cannot tell how beautiful and peaceful the place is. We walked around taking pictures and enjoying the greenery. And yes, of course there were monkeys! There was also a small lodge where one could stay for a few days for self exploration. We trekked back to the boat, through the beach, through the water and back to the boat.

The drive back to Surat was a little uncomfortable for me, as my jeans was all still wet from wading through the water. On reaching Surat, Bipin had another surprise for us, we ate dinner at Pizza Hut. I had eaten at an Indian Pizza Hut before, so I knew it was going to be great.  What the group was really surprised about was that all the pizzas were vegetarian. We had a really good time at dinner. It is almost the end of the trip and yet we are all still talking!

When we got back the petticoats and blouses were home! So of course it was a dress up party for the girls. I helped with the tying of the sarees with all the girls. A little later, we had our reflection session; yet again a good reflection and discussion to end the day. We were not in any rush to get up the next morning as all we were doing was driving back to Mumbai to catch our flight.