अलविदा India

Making it back to the ship alive from this past week in India was only one of the great things about these past days. Once again, we traveled independently in India and I absolutely loved it. The days leading up to our porting in India we were told that this country would be much different than anything we’ve been to or seen before. I have learned not to expect anything when going into a country but rather let go and allow the culture and the country to show me what it can mean to me. With that being said, I could have listened to those people during pre-port; India was nothing like anything I’ve ever seen or experienced before. Similarly, in preparation for life in all other countries we learned a lot about the culture, the heritage, the traditions, and the country as a whole in our classes prior to docking and India was no different. I am especially thankful that I had this foundational knowledge heading off the ship into India.
My first day was taken up mostly by our Introduction to Anthropology field lab with my favorite professor, Dr. Cohen. I was expecting to have a great field lab with Cohen and she certainly didn’t disappoint. We began our day with an authentic Indian cuisine cooking class with a famous Indian Chef. Our chef/teacher was a cute lady in her early 70’s with a knack for Indian cooking; she certainly knew what she was doing. It was particularly interesting because the class was not in a restaurant kitchen but rather in her household kitchen. This was a surprise and honestly I was looking forward to see an Indian restaurant kitchen. Fortunately it turned out to be even better at her house because I got to experience the authentic everyday cooking of the Indian people. One of the greatest things that I have been opened up to on this trip is the reality of the local people in each country.  Seeing how the locals live their everyday lives has been one of the most moving and challenging experiences. Moving because it really opens my eyes to see what other people around the world are experiencing every single day. As cheesy as this may sound, it is challenging me because I see how blessed I am at home in all ways of life. It’s been really rewarding and I am so thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to see these things so young and still be able to change the way I live in order to be more honoring. Continuing on my Anthropology field lab, once we finished our cooking class we went to the Folklore Museum. This wasn’t just a regular museum it was an Indian’s personal collection of ancient artifacts. I believe it was an old house that was restored in order to showcase the families 6,000 plus artifacts. Dr. Cohen really enjoyed herself and was constantly dramatically commenting on how incredible the collection was. Honestly, she made the entire day such a blast. She has the best attitude for every situation, no matter good or bad. After the museum we walked to a hotel and had dinner. The dinner was pretty good but it didn’t do much for me. After tasting the chef’s food earlier in the day nothing could really compare. There was a welcome reception that locals put on for Semester at Sea. Even though our field labs seem they have to be strictly educationally driven, our professor made the welcome reception part of our field lab and I’m sure glad she did.
We were greeted with men opening coconuts and putting straws in them for our pleasure as well as Indian women passing out flowers and red dots for our foreheads. There were countless activities inside the pavilion such as henna artists, food caterers, Indian dancers, and local shop owners selling their merchandise. Of course I got henna on both of my hands, however, what might be surprising is that I danced. A group of us learned traditional Indian dances and laughed all night. We stayed at the reception for a couple hours and when they called us to leave there was a sad hum amongst us and we headed back to the bus to get back to the ship. The festivities didn’t stop there though; Colleen was determined to keep the spirits up and party going. It was someone’s birthday on the bus so Colleen got on the microphone of the bus and started singing “Happy Birthday.” It turns out that our bus must have been a party bus because the main lights went out and strobe lights came on with a disco ball and music began to blast. Most of us stood up and started dancing and goofing around. It was such a blast to let go and have fun with our professor. Overall, our first day was incredible, educational, and exhausting. Once we got back to the ship at around 22:30 or 23:00 we knew we needed to head to bed since we had an early flight to catch in the morning for New Delhi.
Our second day was far less eventful but every bit exhausting. We had to get up extremely early in order to take an hour and a half cab ride to the Kochi airport. We had a short connection in Chennai and finally got to Delhi in the evening. There were a few strange things about the airport: you could bring as much liquid on as you wanted, you couldn’t enter anywhere in the airport without your flight information and I.D., and the flights never left on time. Meaning, that if you wanted to drop someone off at the airport or even go talk to a ticket counter in the airport you were unable to do so. As for the time of departure for flights, none of our flights left on time, they all left about 35 minutes early which I thought was very strange since we know of at least three people that were not on the flight when it began to taxi. We had everything planned for us through a company that Erica booked for us so we didn’t have to worry about anything so that was incredibly convenient. Once we arrived in Delhi we had a driver pick us up from the airport and take us to our hotel. We quickly dropped our bags off and asked the driver to take us to a market so we could shop around for a little bit. One of my favorite things to do in every country is to go to the local markets and see how they differ from one another. I also love seeing how locals both shop and shop keep, it’s really interesting and always a good time to connect with the locals. We only stayed for a little while because we were all so exhausted from the long day of travels and we knew we had an early journey to the Taj Mahal and so much more in the morning.
What an adventure traveling can be. We had to wake up super early in order to catch a train from New Delhi to Agra. The train took about two hours so we were in Agra at about 08:00. A man with a smiling face and a piece of paper that said “Ms. Paige McCarthy” greeted us and drove us to the location that we met our tour guide for the day. Our tour guide for the day, Fidro, was absolutely amazing; he honestly made my trip. He was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about what he was doing that it made it so much more enjoyable for us. Fidro took us all around Agra to sites including the Taj Majal, markets, Agra Fort, and the Baby Taj. Each event offered me a new experience and the day was absolutely incredible. The Taj Mahal is beyond imaginable. I thought that people may have overhyped it but that was not the case, it was absolutely breathtaking. Fidro had such a depth of knowledge and passion for the monument that I was able to get so much more out of the experience than I ever thought I could. It is beyond words for me to describe but easy enough to say that I absolutely fell in love with the Taj Mahal. We then were able to take a camel cart to the bottom where we met our driver. Our tour guide seemed well acquainted with a vast amount of people in Agra and seemed highly respected. He took us to his market that sold an assortment of Indian goods, turns out he was more than just a tour guide. It was really great to meet some of his family and see a little bit more of his life after we learned so much about him from spending a good portion of the day with him already. We then headed to Agra Fort where our tour guide continued to amaze us. I was blown away at how knowledgeable Fidro was with every single square inch of all the monuments that we visited. Agra Fort is really gorgeous and just a rocks throw away from the Taj Mahal. Surprisingly we weren’t burnt out on sight seeing so we headed to the Baby Taj. We explored the property for just a little while when we sat down in the middle of one of the side exits where we talked to Fidro for about an hour. Just that one-hour of talking to him allowed me to learn and understand the Indian culture, law, traditions, heritage much better, hearing stories from him made distant Indian concepts more of a reality. Unfortunately the day had to come to an end and we headed to the train station to leave for Jaipur. After just under a four-hour train ride we arrived in Jaipur where another smiling Indian man greeted us to take us to our hotel. Once we arrived at the hotel we were all beat and ready to get a goodnights sleep in preparation for another busy day.
We began our day in Jaipur at around 08:30 when we headed to Amber Fort. We got to ride up from the base of the fort to the top where the palace is on colorfully decorated elephants. We then headed inside the palace where we were able to explore the property. The architecture was absolutely breathtaking and much appreciated. After we explored the palace for the better part of the morning we ventured out to see the rest of the city. We would periodically stop at different palaces and monuments for pictures as a good bit of them were not open to tourists. In the later afternoon we went to an observatory, which showcased ancient tools such as an assortment of sundials, zodiac signs, and others. Once we left the observatory the rest of the group wanted to go to another palace and museum but Paige and I decided to do something different. There was a market close to where we were so the two of us just made ourselves at home and began to socialize with the locals of the market. We ended up getting some henna on our feet and laughing with the locals, it was such a blast. We met up with the rest of our group and headed to another market just a little ways away. By the time we exhausted the markets it was time to head back to the train station and make our way back to Delhi. Our driver took us to the train station and put us on a five-hour train back to Delhi where we met our new driver with a smile and headed to our final hotel of the trip. We had a great nights sleep in and rested up for our final full day.
We explored both Old Delhi and New Delhi, rode a rickshaw, and visited some more monuments. The most outstanding monument that we visited was the cremation sight for Mahatma Gandhi. It was in the middle of the chaotic city but the site was calm and relaxing. It was filled with greenery and a monument in his remembrance. It was a site that I wasn’t expecting much from but one that I really enjoyed. Some other sites we visited were the Red Fort and the Indian Gate. We also drove around where the Indian president resides and works from which was immaculate and really interesting to see. We then made our way to the airport where we would fly back to Kochi from Delhi. With our previous departure knowledge of flights leaving early we decided it would be a good idea to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It was about a five-hour flight so we didn’t get back until around 22:00 and we still had an hour and a half taxi ride back to the ship. Needless to say we rushed to our beds once we arrived back “home.”
Our final day didn’t go as we planned but it turned out to be better. We had originally planned to go out in Kerala to shop and hang out with the locals again. However, that’s not how the day went at all. We made plans at breakfast with some of our friends to go on a boat cruise instead. A group of ten of us crammed into two tuktuk’s for about half an hour when we made it to the boat cruise destination. We spent about two hours on the boat as we talked and laughed and laughed some more. After hoping back in the tuktuk our driver took us to a local restaurant where we met up with some other Semester at Sea students. We spent a couple of hours at the restaurant just hanging around when we realized that we needed to get back to the ship. When we got back to the ship I couldn’t find my landing card anywhere. A landing card is a piece of paper that is a required document to have in order to go through immigration and leave the port. There are military personnel that check your shipboard I.D., landing card, and passport in front of the ship in order for you to get on. Somehow I escaped these military officials and slid my way onto the ship but I still needed my landing card in order to go through immigration on the ship and be able to head to the next port. Thankfully I’ve made friends with Linda and Sheryl, the ladies at the purser’s desk who are also in charge of immigration. They allowed me to go through face-to-face immigration with the Indian people without my landing card in hopes that someone would find it. Another thing to be thankful for, someone found my landing card outside on the ground in front of the ship and turned it in. Once it was found Sheryl called my room from the purser’s desk and informed me of the good news. It was a good day for sure.
Overall India was insane: insanely chaotic, insanely busy, insanely beautiful, and insanely challenging. The streets were constantly crowded with beggars, vendors, tourists, cars, and tuktuks. Countless times we would have people of all ages come up banging on our car windows trying to sell some knickknack or asking for money. There seemed to be no traffic laws or police anywhere so people weave in and out from each other, drive in the lanes of oncoming traffic, beep their horn, and come close to vehicular deaths on a daily basis. Our days were jam-packed everyday and it seemed that we never stopped moving. Everywhere we visited was absolutely beautiful. Whether it was a Wonder of the World like the Taj Mahal or a piece of tapestry in a market. Everything was beautiful in its perfections and imperfections. I was challenged in more ways than I ever could have imagined from my time in India. I saw things that I never would have seen anywhere else in the world. I saw some things that I never thought I could stand seeing but I’m actually really thankful that I did. They made me understand India, its culture, heritage, traditions, and struggles in the purest way imaginable. It was tough but super rewarding. I got more out of my time in India than I thought I could this entire trip. Needless to say, it’s been an extremely eventful couple of days in India but some extremely unforgettable days as well. I’ve successfully made it through another destination and I’m excited to see what else is to come.

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