After spending a couple of days in the small city of Tenali, we ventured so far into rural India that the village isn't listed on our trip journal map. It's the village of Ventapragada where Mr. Rao hails from originally. It wasn't too far of a drive and it was all through peaceful landscapes of rice patties and harvested haystacks. When we arrived at his sister's house there must have been 30 or more relatives there waiting to greet us. I had bought flowers to give to the ladies and everyone put them in their hair. Since Brad and I are newlyweds, he had to put them in my hair. (With some help from one of the women.) Before too long and seemingly out of no where picnic tables were set up and a huge feast began. This day they strayed from the vegetarian diet and prepared mutton and chicken as well. Again, they were kind enough to prepare separate dishes a little less spicy for us. After lunch we walked around the corner to his brother's house and then out to the family fields. The walk in the countryside was so nice after all the congestion and pollution we have encountered elsewhere. But the real afternoon treat was the ride in the bull cart. Brad and I jumped in with a gaggle of little Rao cousins and set off for a trip though the village. Quite possibly we are the only westerners to have travelled to this small village and then to see us parade through town on the back of an ox cart was a sight to see. The kids were having so much fun that one of them let the little chicks out of the hen house to show us and then the afternoon was spent trying to recollect them. (I of course was freaking out with the whole bird flu thing, but it has yet to reach India.) By evening the whole clan, now around 40 or so, had gathered at the brother's house, where Mr. Rao grew up, and the fun continued. Chairs and tables were rearranged and the cards came out. You can imagine Brad's delight in seeing cards being shuffled! They had two rummy-like games going, a low stakes game and high stakes game. I won't tell you if Brad won or lost but lets just say that Cousin Rababu was very kind to Brad. I found my own place at the Uno table! (Kind of like the kid's table at Thanksgiving!) And before too long we were eating again. This time they made a special shrimp dish for us. This whole day reminded me of being at the Bozick household for Christmas. Food, fun, games, and more Food!! My how these people can eat! I had hoped to lose my Christmas pounds but surely I have put on a few here. Our last day of festival was spent in Vijayawada at the house of neice and nephew-in-law. Before returning to Hyderabad we made a special trip to Kanaka Durga Temple. This temple is so important to the city of Vijayawada that it had gates corralling the devotees, rather like a line in Disneyworld. We had a private escort from a nephew's cousin. There at the altar Brad and I were blessed by the priests. One priest placed a large flowered garland with limes around Brad's neck and then Brad had to place it around mine. The priest spoke our names and said some prayers that I understand are for a long and happy marriage blessed with children. After the temple we went to an ashram where young boys prepare to be priests. There at the ashram we were blessed again (have I mentioned that we were blessed a lot!). We also were offered the sweetest milk ever from the most healthy looking cows I have ever seen. The cows had their own fans to keep them cool! Finally we took a trip into this small village that makes sandalwood dolls, the only kind in the world of this type. Mrs. Rao bought us a beautiful elephant as a souvenir. And here the Sankrati festival ends for us. But you see it was a wonderful couple of days to be sure. Being in these villages and small towns was truly amamzing. Everyone coming to India should be so lucky. I really could imagine myself as a Peace Corps Volunteer here. (Peace Corps was here in the past but hasn't been here for decades now.) There is so much to see and experience and normally it takes so long to soak it in and to be so warmly accepted. We were infinitely lucky and mightily blessed!