Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Dream Month of Travel, Culture & Football

I remember back in 2009 when I was exploring the idea of moving to India full-time, I dreamed that my life in this country would be rich; a consistent concoction of new places, people and experiences.  To be honest, while the opportunity to contribute to football in my parent’s country of origin was my primary motivation to eventually make the move, it was the potential for growth and adventure which ultimately sealed the deal. But I’ve realized that there are different types of adventure. Anyone can pack a bag, buy a Eurorail pass and take a back-packing trip through Europe and it would certainly be adventurous, however the type of adventure I was looking for in India was a bit different, it involved building solid friendships, diving deeper into Indian culture, experiencing deep personal growth and impacting the sports industry along the way.

This past month is the perfect example of what I was dreaming of while in my Brooklyn, NY apartment back in 2009.  A month of travel, culture and football.

It started on 4 January in Dehradun, Uttarakhand where I had the opportunity to travel through this chaotic, yet surprisingly pleasant quasi hill station to better understand the football landscape. The day was special as I was given a personal tour of Dehradun by Durgesh Bhatia who currently works for ONGC and is part of a family that owns 8 sporting good stores all located the same street in a main city thorough-fare. We spent some time interacting with former Dehradun footballers as well as visiting a few of top schools in the town.  Although Dehradun is considered a cricket city, I could sense the passion for football around especially in the younger generation.  This was validated on my 7 hour train journey home where I sat next two a number of Dehradun youth who entertained and impressed me with their knowledge about everything from who scored the most goals in La Liga last year to Wayne Rooney’s wife’s name. 

ONGC Central Office
Dehradun's busy streets
Some of the boys who kept me entertained about their football stories on the 7 hour train ride back to Delhi
A few days later I took a road trip to Alwar, Rajasthan for a family trip to celebrate my future Father-in-Law’s 60th birthday.  We stayed in a pristine fort situated at a point where you can perfectly watch the everyday on-goings of the villagers below.  For 2 days, I watched a group of about 25 village boys play cricket all day, literally from morning to sun-down with even some sticking around to play a few more innings under the stars.  I could see the smiles on their faces and feel the happiness oozing off them from where I was sitting way up in my 5-star fort bedroom.  To me, this was just another reminder that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, play costs nothing and is one of the best ways to feel alive in life.

Rajasthani village kids playing cricket
A couple days later I was off to a village outside of Phagwara, Punjab to experience the Lohri festival in my dear friend and now FC Goa CEO Sukhvinder Singh’s ancestral home.  This was a big event as it was his twins’ first Lohri and he made sure that I didn’t miss this unique opportunity.  It lived up to my expectation, as I was able to experience the proper “village” life full of sleeping in a stranger’s home who happily offered a room, eating heavy, machan-packed, yet incredibly delicious Punjabi food and dancing around the fire all evening.  Beyond the cultural events, Sukkhi and I had some time to sneak away to the local football pitch to meet with some of the youth players about an Academy Sukkhi is looking to set up under his late Father’s name. 

Parathas and Saag with lots of ghee
Sukkhi speaking with local village footballers about his Academy plans
A few days after that, I was off to Kolkata, West Bengal for my colleague’s wedding.  Kolkata is mad and I have a love-hate relationship with the city. It’s mostly love and only turns into hate when I’m sitting in an old, beat up yellow Ambassador taxi that is somehow making driving through traffic at 10 km/hr seem dangerous. 

The wedding was unique, set in a Kolkata palace and the full portfolio of Bengali marriage protocols for my two friends to suffer through and us to experience and take pictures of. Outside of the incredible fish served on the day of the wedding, the highlight of the trip was going for runs every morning around this local lake full of lovers, stray dogs and youth footballers.  Although it smelled and I’ve seen 100x better lakes in the US, there is something charming about running through the streets and sights of Kolkata in the mornings.  The other highlight was eating Chelo Kababs at Peter Cats with Mohun Bagan strikeforce Cornell Glen and Katsumi Yusa who have both been having a stellar 2016 season thus far.

Peter Cats famous Chelo Kabab dish
Lunch with Mohun Bagan strikeforce Katsumi Yusa and Cornel Glen
My morning run around Rabindra Sarovar Lake 
After Kolkata, it was off to Goa for the 2nd part of my colleague’s wedding.  It was hosted at this beautiful venue called Bay 15 located right on the water in Dona Paula.  Outside of interacting with the Who’s Who of the Goan football fraternity and, again, eating incredible fish, the highlight of this trip was meeting up with Sukkhi and heading down to his local beach to play pick-up sunset football.  Honestly, there is little else that makes me happier in life than being on a beach and playing football – and that day was no different. 

The other and even bigger and better highlight of the Goa trip was that I finally, officially proposed to my now Fiance Avantika in full-on Bollywood romantic form.  Surprise on the beach at sunset.  

Finally, the last stop on my January travel list was Pune to watch the DSK Shivajians first home match of their inaugural season.  This was a special trip professionally, something which I elaborate on in the next post. That said, even personally my travel schedule in Pune allowed me to spend the day meditating at an Ashram that I've been wanting to visit for years - the perfect way to end a month of madness.  

Sorry if I’ve bored my few readers with this very exhaustive and overly personal post about my January travels.  It’s just that I do believe that we all can live the life that we dream of especially if we learn the art of understanding and expressing our dreams. For me this past month was just perfect; an addicting mixture of travel, culture and football wrapped within the warmth of close friends. 

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