Today we are driving from Jaipur to New Delhi, where we will catch our plane back to the U.S. Overall, the experiences on our trip to India have brought me closer to the people I shared them with. My appreciation goes to Jill, John, Mary, and especially Dr. B for a trip of wonderful memories. I’m also grateful to my family for allowing me to participate, and to R-MC for making this experience possible. The opportunity to study abroad and see a culture that is so different from my own firsthand is unparalleled. The length of travel was long enough so that I got to see a whole lot of India, but not long enough for me to miss home. The most important things I learned this month were through my experiences. As Mark Twain once said, “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” My eyes have been opened to another world, and I am grateful that I was in the right place at the right time to be given such a unique opportunity. I will carry memories of India with me for a very long time.
Sunday was the last day we had in its entirety to tour India. Despite the exhaustion that was building up on us, we were really enjoying ourselves. Our first stop was the Jantar Mantar Observatory, which was built by Jai Singh II between 1727 and 1734. The exact precision with which the instruments could calculate time was very impressive. Learning about these instruments and then seeing them firsthand was especially intriguing to me because of what I have learned in my astrophysics classes. After visiting the Jantar Mantar Observatory, we visited the Hawa Mahal, which literally means “wind palace”. The last event of the day was a stop at a textile shop that was very reasonably priced. I was even more inclined to buy because Raj called ahead of time and told the salesmen that they weren’t allowed to approach us unless we asked them a question. I bought a camel which symbolizes love. We learned that the peacock symbolizes beauty, and that the elephant symbolizes good luck. In the evening we went to dinner and had a great discussion about astronomy. We really enjoyed ourselves and each other’s company.
"Look, a mosque & a temple, side by side- it's like a Best Buy & a Circuit City right next to each other" -Dr. B
Multiple religions can coexist (and even acknowledge) each other in India- maybe the western world should start taking notes.
Saturday was one of the most amazing days of the trip. We got to ride elephants up to Hindu Palace. When we got to the top, we spent over an hour looking around at all of the intricate patterns. To avoid hagglers on the way down we rode a jeep, and then at the bottom of the mountain, got off and walked to a local private Hindu school. All of the children were so excited to see us. There were so many of them, and they swarmed around us to look at us and greet us. They were all so adorable! Dr. Bhattacharya got the chance to talk to some students in a classroom in Hindi. She asked them about their hobbies and favorite classes, and told them about ours. We met with the principal of the school, who arranged a cricket game for us. Before that though, we passed out candy to all of the children, and watched a kindergarten-aged class sing a song in English for us. They were so cute. It was similar to the hokey pokey where you act out what you are singing. After that, we watched a middle school-aged group of students rehearse a dance they were preparing for. The choreography was really neat. Finally, we made our way down to an open area where about forty of us played cricket. Before too long, the whole school was watching and cheering us on. The older students tried to teach us how to play, which was difficult because of the language barrier. Nonetheless, we had a marvelous time playing cricket with the students. This is one of those memories I will hold close for a long time. After visiting the school, we took a camel ride. The camel wasn’t as friendly as the elephant, and was stubborn about letting us down when our ride was over. It was a fun ride, but one where we had to hold on tight! After the camel ride, we took photos of a palace surrounded by water. This house on the water served as a summer home for a wealthy individual. For dinner we ate at a restaurant that offered entertainment dancing. They walked into the audience, took various audience members up to the front, and then danced with them. The dancers also performed dances with pots of fire on their heads. We saw fireworks as well, which were a part of a wedding ceremony going on at the hotel next door. After dinner, we crashed the wedding, which must have been very expensive. We watched the bride-to-be enter, with an elaborately designed carpet being carried over her head by the surrounding bridesmaids. There were so many bright lights and colors- the bride was wearing a red dress, while the groom wore a white gown-like outfit. Even though we really stuck out and it was obvious that we were there, no one asked us to leave. We even made it onto the bride’s wedding video. While at the wedding, John tasted a paan. It was really funny watching him politely hold the minty, leafy dessert in his mouth before Raj saw he didn’t like it and told him he could spit it out.
We got attention everywhere we went. In today's headline, Jill relates our experiences to a child's fascination with a fish in a fishtank.
The next day we rode a train from Delhi to Agra. The first thing on our agenda was a visit to the world-famous Taj Mahal, which was built by a man to express his love for his wife. Taj Mahal literally means “crown palace”, and words cannot described its magnificence. The bright sun reflected off of the marble stone, which gave it a glowing appearance. The intricacy of the delicate stonework could be matched by none other. We took many pictures all afternoon, and enjoyed the beautiful views afar, as well as the surrounding gardens. The weather was beautiful, and the temperature was about seventy degrees, quite a change from the freezing temperatures we were experiencing at home in the United States at this time of year. After the Taj Mahal, we toured the Agra Fort, which was gorgeous as well. The number of hagglers outside of these major tourist attractions is insane. We’ve found it best to avoid eye contact with them even if they are talking directly to you, so they see that you are not interested. No matter where we went, there were either a swarm of hagglers, beggars, or schoolchildren happy to just see us. Per the hagglers and beggars, it almost seems as though some of the Indian people believe that Americans have an infinite amount of money. After our visit to the Agra Fort, we went to the Stones of Taj Mahal Shop, which was similar to the carpet shop. They gave us delicious teas to drink while we listened to them tell us the many reasons why we should invest in their products. The marble was pretty, and I would have bought more if I wasn’t a student in college. I did appreciate though the number of hours that went into each individual item that was sold. The amount of talent one would have to have to make what we saw is almost unreal. It’s also unreal that someone was patient enough to dedicate the number of hours it took to make such delicate pieces of art.
Agra was a beautiful city. It is much smaller than Delhi, but has a lot to offer as the home of the Taj Mahal- it certainly earns its reputation as one of the seven great wonders of the world. The food was delicious everywhere we went.We departed Agra after only a day, but drove to Jaipur which was just as exciting. The drive was long, but we saw many of exciting things along the way. We made a stop on the side of the road so that we could see a woman making cow patties, which were made of cow manure. These patties are burned for fuel purposes, and are part of the reason why cows are considered so holy. When we got out of the van to look at the woman at work, three other vehicles stopped to watch us. They were probably amazed that we were so intrigued by a culture that is so unlike our own. Also along the way, we visited a Muslim Mosque. Fatehpur Sikri was inside the mosque, along with the grave of Salin Chisti. We also saw the Buland Darwaza, which literally means “huge door”. I was a little concerned that a man followed us around the mosque, but I later learned that Raj hired him to keep a watch over us among all of the hagglers. Once we reached Jaipur, we checked into the Trident Hotel in Jaipur, and went to bed early because we were tired. I did notice that there were plenty of mosquitoes, but thanks to DEET and long sleeves, I didn’t get any bites.
Today's quote from John was his response to a haggler trying to sell him a ladies dress. John was trying to be funny, but we're not sure the haggler understood.
Our second day in India was even busier than our first. We had our first Indian metro experience, which was very similar to the metro in Washington D.C. The metro cars in Delhi were slightly wider than in D.C., and there were also seats reserved for women, similar to those reserved for the disabled and elderly. On the way to the metro station, we saw lots of monkeys for the first time. The squirrels here are also about half of the size of those in the U.S., and have a black stripe down their backs. Our first stop on the metro was a road which allowed us to get close enough to see the Republic Day Practice Parade. Both in the metro station and on the streets where the Practice Republic Day Parade was being held, military officials carried huge AK-47 guns on their backs. In the U.S., weapons are concealed, so I was a little uncomfortable at first. Eventually, I realized though that these weapons used the intimidation factor to keep everyone in control. Realizing that armed military officials were everywhere, made me realize that they could respond immediately if something were to go wrong.
At another metro stop was the University of New Delhi. Raj stopped two girls and asked them to talk to us about their experiences as students in India. They were graduate students, both studying philosophy. It came as a surprise to me that the students, from South Delhi, travel nearly two hours one way each day to get to school. People in the United States complain about a 45 minute commute! Even though we were from different cultures, the Indian students seemed similar to us in that education is important to them. We then walked to another smaller college affiliated with the University of Delhi. We sat in on a differential equations class, which only had four students in it because there was a test the day before. The beautiful thing about math is that it is universal, so I actually understood what the professor wrote on the board.
We went western for lunch and ate at McDonalds. Because the cow is considered holy, there were no beef burgers. I had a chicken sandwich and iced tea, which gave me energy to continue our journey. McDonald’s was bustling with business, and as we witnessed, popular among the people of the town of Delhi. After lunch, we rode a cycle rickshaw to the metro station, and then took the metro to Old Delhi. Old Delhi was the place that took me out of my comfort zone the most. The streets and sidewalks were crowded, and there was trash everywhere. We had to dodge downed power lines and potholes on the sidewalks, as well as various vehicles when trying to cross the street. As we boarded cycle rickshaws to continue our journey, a little girl came up to me asking for money, and I just couldn’t turn her down. I reached in my purse to give her some rupees, but Raj frantically ran over and said that I wasn’t allowed to give her anything because it was dangerous for me. Our rickshaw took off, but she desperately followed us for at least 500 feet. I couldn’t bear to look back, and was really shaken up by the experience.I am still glad we walked through Old Delhi though, mostly because I got to see lifestyles of people that I couldn’t have before imagined. I later learned that begging for some Indians is an art of performance, and that those people who need help the most are not the ones asking for it. It was still an emotional experience, but knowing this allowed me to come to terms with the situation better.
Our travels then led us to a Muslim Mosque, which is the largest in India. We had to leave our shoes at the entrance again, which seems to be a theme among temples and mosques. The interior of the mosque was huge, and there were flocks of pigeons being chased by small children. The mosque was elevated, allowing us to look over the busy city. Next, we visited a Sikh Temple, where we were asked to take off our shoes and our socks. We also had to cover our heads with orange head scarves. The temple was intricately designed, and even had a huge lake with holy water that people bathed in. The sights of both the Muslim Mosque and the Sikh Temple were unlike anything I have ever seen. The last place we visited was the Cottage from North India, which sold hand woven oriental rugs. The salesmen were persistent just like the hagglers on the streets were, but I still managed to say no. The carpets were really pretty, but as a student paying for college, $200 USD for a foot rug was a little out of my price range. Dinner for the evening was at the hotel. We ate a combination of Indian and American foods, and had a class discussion afterwards about how to improve India. We discussed cultural differences, as well as the pros and cons of modernizing India. We realized that change cannot just happen overnight, and that any change that does occur has to abide by cultural guidelines (hence why McDonald’s did not serve beef).
Our journey began the second we stepped off the plane at the Delhi Airport after fourteen hours of flying. Our bodyguard, Sam, was waiting there to pick us up, and led us to the van we would be riding around in during our stay. Soon we met Raj, our knowledgeable tour guide, as well as our Sikh bus driver and his assistant. As soon as we walked out of the airport, there was a distinct smell to the outside air. It is difficult to describe in words, but it is as distinct as the smell of the wind blowing off the ocean in the summer. We loaded into the van and headed to our hotel, watching out the windows the entire time. The streets seemed so peaceful, and we were one of the only vehicles on the road. Cows were the only living things awake, grazing alongside the sidewalks. We had no idea that the streets would soon be filled with the hustle and bustle of the city life, even busier than what we were used to at home.
Our hotel was located in New Delhi, and was called The LaLit. Security at the gate of the hotel was heavier than I expected. There were six security guards, who stopped our van and inspected it for a good two minutes. Once they allowed us to enter, we had to put our suitcases onto a security belt, and then walk through a metal detector. Normally I am annoyed by excessive security, but experiencing such tight security in India made me feel safer and more relaxed. One of the first major cultural differences I experienced was the inspection of men as opposed to women. John got searched thoroughly, while the women just had to open their purses and allow the guard to peek in. It is true that major terrorist attacks are generally carried out by men, but in the United States, the women would get searched just as intensely as the men.After getting through security, we walked into the lobby of a hotel which was probably the nicest I have ever stayed in. The ceilings seemed sky-high, and there were brightly colored paintings on the walls. There were modern pieces of art centered in abstract lighting, and a stone sculpture with a waterfall running down it so that the sparkling water gave the room a grand feeling. We checked in, and went to our rooms to shower and sleep for a few hours so that we could begin our journey well-rested.
We met up at around ten a.m. for breakfast, which was a combination of traditional Indian food and Western breakfast food. Wanting the full Indian experience, I ate mostly Indian food, which was pretty tasty. After breakfast, we exchanged currency at a fair rate: 47 rupees to the dollar. Our first adventure for the day was at a temple called Shri Lakshmi Narain. Getting there in itself was an adventure for us Americans because of the driving situation. People honked every two seconds, which led us to believe that honking takes on a different meaning in India. There were lines painted on the roads defining lanes, but no one followed them. The road was shared among bicyclists, auto rickshaws, cycle rickshaws, tour buses, cars, and the occasional cow that wanted to cross the street. The quote in the headline comes from Mary referring to the roads here in India. There was a traffic policeman at every intersection, and everyone driving seemed calm even though it appeared chaotic to me. On some of the motorcycles there were three people and a baby, large packages, and nearly no one wearing a helmet. In the United States this would be extremely dangerous and illegal, but in India no one drives fast because it simply isn’t possible- the volume of traffic is just too dense for speeds above 45 mph. We arrived at the temple (without wrecking) and were immediately told to take our shoes off. We put our cameras in lockers, since cameras were not allowed, and preceded up the steps of the temple. The sun shone off of the pretty white marble, making those of us without sunglasses squint. At the top of the steps, there were multiple altars, each worshipping a different god or goddess. The most commonly worshipped god was one who was supposed to bring wealth and prosperity. We also later learned that the three ways to achieve salvation were to eliminate greed, anger, and lust. This seemed contradictory, as Mary pointed out- achieving salvation required the elimination of greed, yet the most commonly worshipped god is one who brings wealth. This contradiction does not happen in just one religion though. All religions have contradictions which require the follower to determine for themselves the meanings of sacred texts and teachings.
After leaving the temple, we had our first encounter with hagglers. If someone speaks to me, I was taught as a child to give the person my full attention, especially if the person is older, out of respect. I quickly learned though that giving the haggler any of my attention gave him the green light to pursue me hard-core with what we would consider high-pressure sales tactics. With the help of Raj and Dr. B, I was able to pull away from the haggler despite the fact that he was persistent. We boarded the van, and headed to the second temple of the day, the Akshardham Temple. We lined up in front of the magnificent-looking temple so that Raj could take a class photo, and were shocked that schoolchildren were taking pictures of us also. They came up to us and wanted to know where we were from. A group of schoolgirls took turns shaking our hands, telling us their names, and asking what ours were. They were all very friendly, and made us feel a bit like rock stars. They wanted to know about our culture, and we were curious to learn about theirs. They seemed more open-minded than many of the world leaders today, which got me thinking that if the world were only children, people would understand each other better and there would be less fighting. We spent the majority of the afternoon at the temple, and ate lunch for less than a dollar. The temple was gorgeous, and the greenery landscape and good weather made us feel like we were in paradise.
That evening, we went to an Indian dancing show. I later learned that the styles of the different dances could identify with the regions of India from which dances originated. The costumes of the dancers had vibrant colors, and the lighting of the auditorium added to the uniqueness of each individual dance. When the dances were over, we went to a western-oriented restaurant for dinner. The decorations were western (there was a photo of Marilyn Monroe on the wall) but the food was Indian. After the appetizers I was satisfied, but made room so that I could try some of the other authentic Indian dishes. Even though we felt safe, Sam kept a close watch on us, accompanying us to the bathroom, and glancing over to our table once in a while, I suppose to make sure we were all still there. Sam, along with Raj, did a great job making sure that we all felt safe. Our bus driver, who is Sikh, also made me feel safe. Dr. Bhattacharya told us that Sikh men are known for being courageous, strong, and big.
Reflecting back on our first impressions of India, it makes sense that we have gotten so much attention in the form of stares and waves. It is not every day that the Indian people see Americans our age walking their streets. It would not seem unusual to us to see Indian people in America simply because we are used to seeing cultural diversity. The Indian people are very friendly and welcoming, which we all appreciated. The opportunity to experience a culture so different from our own is unparalleled to the sleep we were lacking.
This evening our class, along with Dr. B. and her family, went to an Indian restaurant called the Malabar Indian Cuisine in Richmond. It was a great chance for us to sample a wide variety of Indian dishes so that we could decide what types of things we did and didn't like.
We got to try a lot yummy food, and to my surprise, there wasn't anything I didn't like! Indian food has a unique taste. The waiters did an excellent job of bringing out foods in a strategic order- just when you thought your tongue couldn't handle the spiciness, a nonspicy dish was brought out. I highly recommend Indian food- it is every bit as delicious as Mexican food (coming from me, that's saying a lot). To my family, since I know you'll be reading this: we're going out for Indian food when I get home!
Here are some of the things we tried (read at your own risk! Even writing about them makes me want to eat again):
Vegetable Samosas- triangle-shaped bread filled with potatoes and peas - I loved these
Aloo Bonda- spiced potatoes with mustard and curry leaves
Sada Dosa and Masala Dosa- crepes (made of rice) with curry leaves and potatoes
Uttapam- A breaded bottom covered in onions, peppers and veggies (this one looked like a pizza)
Chana Saag- Chick peas cooked with spinach
Butter Chicken- chicken with tomato cream sauce- delicious, and good for people who don't like really spicy food
Vegetable Biryani (I love that it's yummy and healthy)
Paratha- whole wheat bread with butter; (flat bread)
Aloo Paratha- bread stuffed with potatoes and peas *** yummy!!!
Payasam- Indian rice pudding
Kulfi- (Indian ice cream)- This was peanut butter flavored and was my favorite
Carrot Halva- diced carrots with sugar and milk- this was good
Gulab Jamum- fried ricotta cheese soaked in syrup- this was pretty good too- realllllly sweet!
All in all, we really enjoyed ourselves. The food was amazing, and the opportunity to relax in a non-academic setting (even though we were still learning) allowed all of us to get to know each other better. The food, which I was initially worried about, is now on the list of things I'm looking forward to.
There are less than 48 hours now until we leave and we are SO EXCITED!!!
I am excited to have this opportunity to tell you about my soon-to-be experiences in India! My name is Jen Green, and I am a junior here at Randolph-Macon. Home for me is Savage, Maryland, about half way in between the busyness of Washington D.C. and Baltimore.This travel course caught my attention because I know that opportunities to travel to unique places like India are rare.
Although we are not India-bound until January 18, we had our first class today, titled "Indian Mathematics". Dr. Bhattacharya who is a professor here at R-MC, as well as a native to India, will be leading our group. We began our discussion of Indian Math with an examination of the history as it developed, beginning in 3000 B.C. We quickly learned of the deep ties between religion and math. Astronomy, for example, was developed to help determine when sacrifices should be performed.
Many proofs for mathematical ideas that are believed to have originated in India are so complex that mathematicians today have a difficult time realizing how such ideas were discovered. The use of precise weights for measurement showed up in 3000 B.C., along with the Indus scale. Between 1500 B.C. and 800 B.C., arithmetical operations and vedic geometry were identified. By the time 200 B.C. rolled around, Indian mathematicians had already developed rules of mathematical operations, decimal place notation, quadratic equations and even had a symbol for zero! (which was then an abstract concept)
While the Indian Math we will be learning about before we leave has already proven to be extremely interesting, we are most excited about actually traveling to India. While we're there, we will be spending time in New Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal. We are thankful that we are still able to go on the trip despite the recent events in Mumbai. While we will miss our sociology companions, we are glad that most have found other exciting travel/internship opportunities.
So, who exactly will I be spending 19 hours on a plane and then exploring India with? Dr. Bhattacharya is bringing her family along with the four of us enrolled in the course. My travel companions are: Jill Dixon, a senior from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mary Jocelyn, a junior from Virginia Beach, VA, and John Stone, a junior from Richmond, VA. I hope to be able to include the thoughts and impressions of Jill, Mary, and John here along with my own, since visiting India is a first for all of us. Stay tuned!!!......