Taj Mahal & India’s Children (part 2)

Hello family!

So before I continue yesterday’s email, I just wanted to tell you that we’re right off the coast of Sri Lanka at the moment! The seas are nearly like glass and we’re getting near the Doldrums! πŸ˜€ I’m so excited for Asia but also sad because India marked a huge landmark for us. (1) My trip is over half-way over and (2) ever mile we go is a mile closer to home. It breaks my heart to think about it that way and I try not to think about it other than to remind myself to try to love every moment πŸ™‚ Whew! I can’t believe India is over: I have been looking forward to it for so long and really haven’t let myself think past India in my mind. So Singapore, here we come!

Like I said before, India’s people were very different. They were so so kind and those who were not starving smiled a lot. One of my favorite parts was their nodding. I think I mentioned it before but when they nod “yes” their heads go back from side to side very much like a bobble head. It’s very smooth and Tory and I practiced our entire trip together trying to get it down. It’s just so cool looking! πŸ™‚ Oh, and one more thing, Cochi was full of the auto rickshaws where northern India was FULL of man-powered rickshaws. Thin thin men pulling rickshaws of people around or huge loads that towered over them. It was hard to see these men working themselves to death for survival: survival of their families. So very different from Southern India. I didn’t get a picture of the most poor and packed areas or the starving men and children because it did NOT feel right, however this is one of the areas of New Delhi that hopefully give you an idea.

Anyways, after seeing the poor areas of town we made our way to Ghandi’s Memorial! This was where Ghandi was cremated and the grounds were well cared for and simple, but beautiful. You could smell the plumerias around the entire grounds which was such a stark difference to the smells we had “experienced” in India so far. My favorite part of going to this memorial and to the other temples were the people there. There were so many people on pilgramages and I tried to imagine where they were traveling from. Some of them were so poor, or dressed completely differently from the North Indians we were seeing and it was just so cool to see these groups of people paying their respects to Ghandi or to their gods. There was so much devotion. I love people watching in other countries! They each have their own lives, stories, and knowledge and I always want to hear their individual histories. We then went to the Lotus Temple. We were able to take pictures of the outside which truly looks like the Lotus flower (which smells heavenly) but not able to take pictures of the inside. Look online and see if they have pictures of the inside because it truly is simply beautiful. It’s been interesting to see that the outside of the temples are so intricate but the insides relatively plain and simple. We were able to enter in and have a few minutes to reflect. It was beautiful and definitely a place of worship. The devotion of the worshipers were there and I could truly feel peace and yet I kept waiting for the spirit that I so quickly recognize in our temples to be there. It was an incredible experience and I learned a lot as I sat their about the spirit. Oh, and for all these temples and memorials, we were asked to remove our shoes before entering as a sign of reverence.

We then hopped an Indian train for a 4+ hour ride to Agra. The train station smelled of urine so strongly that we were all trying desperately not to show that we were gagging.

I’m sitting on an Indian train and definitely having a once in a lifetime experience. Thankfully we’re in an a/c car as it helps the crazy amount of smells that surround us. I love it! πŸ™‚ The seats are old and slightly corroded. The windows yellow with age and dirt. The car is dimly lit and out “a/c” consists of ancient fans secured to the ceiling. I am in seat 59, next to the window. The trash and smells here at the station are overwhelming and quite the wonderful experience: and to be honest, more of what I imagined India being rather than Kochi which is the most modern city in India…As we sit in our train car, we’re passing India “shantytowns” and people scowering the train tracks…

I have been watching the most incredible sunset. It was flaming red and as it passed behind various temples in the foreground, the temples turned red. I got a picture a picture of a temple to the right and the blood red on the left… I’m eating my dinner-difficult when every mile we cross is lined with shacks and some of the poorest people on earth residing in them…The trains we pass have only bars in their windows, no glass: I guess ours is the higher class… 2 soldiers with rifles walk through the train in their tan uniforms. Everything is just so different πŸ™‚ The train stations we pass are not lit and it is pitch black outside except for an occasional lit lamp in the shanties-so unlike America.

The restrooms on the train were holes in the floor that opened to the tracks below. India restrooms have places to put your feet on either side of the hole, but then leave the rest to gravity. While the train is moving, it makes for a wonderful experience πŸ˜‰ We had our dinners packed that were the Indian attempt at American food (we think) which I ate simply because I had about died after one bite of our spicy Indian breakfasts–brought tears to my eyes it burned so badly πŸ˜› Anyways, everything just made it an INCREDIBLE experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. We arrived at the train station late at night. I was so grateful to have Indian guides to help as it was pitch black with only a few bulbs to light the station. We went to McDonald’s before arriving at the hotel at 12:00 at night (I guess I wasn’t the only one who had a hard time eating the spicy Indian food lol). We stayed at the Rasmussen for safety reasons we believe although it was such a stark contrast to the shacks we saw earlier. Stayed in nicest room I have ever experienced in my life and the most comfortable beds as well.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 to get to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. We waited in line for an hour or so and then walked through the outer courtyard surrounding the Taj. It’s made of red brick and intricately carved. I was in awe before even seeing the Taj. So it’s hard to describe but you have the outer courtyard made of red brick with a main mosque looking gateway that is the gateway to the Taj Mahal and the inner courtyard. As you stand outside of the red gateway, you can’t see the Taj, but there is a point about half-way through the gateway when the Taj suddenly materializes like magic. It’s SO hard to describe and if I could send anything along with this email, it would be the video I took of it materializing for my first time through the gate. It took my breath away. No wonder this has been a wonder ever since it was built: there is NOTHING to describe how absolutely gorgeous it is. You literally cannot look away. I don’t even know how many times I went back through that gate to experience that rush you feel when it materializes in front of you. The man who built it probably had no idea what that red arch would do to make the experience that much more incredible and the Taj that much more mystical.

Sorry this email is so long, there is just so much to tell you from the last week. It was a life-changing experience that I really want my family to participate in. I went to Agra Fort, the Baby Taj, and then back to the Taj Mahal for sunset. I had so many “I’m in India!” moments that evening while we watched the white marble change colors as the sun set. I was able to go inside and see the queen’s grave that was immaculately decorated. It was hard to go through the arch the last time as we left the grounds that evening. We hopped a train for a couple of hours and made our way to an older (but still WAY nice) hotel that looked like it came straight out of Las Vegas. The next morning we slept in and then made our way to the airport. We flew to Mumbai where we were able to see the shantytowns that literally went on as far as the eye could see, even from the airplane. What was even more impactful was to see the random incredible multi-million dollar skyscrapers that shot up in the midst of these shantytowns. The HUGE division between the wealthy and the poor was glaringly evident. I’ve never seen it but people on the plane were saying Mumbai is where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed.

Anyways, we then flew from Mumbai back to Kochi and rode the bus home. Again, I love our ship! We all truly feel exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally, when we get back from these trips and the ship is our wonderful home. In my opinion, it’s the reason why we can see the world. There is just too much emotionally to handle seeing the world like this without having a “resting place”. When you go to a single country or two countries on a trip or to reside there for a time you have culture shock that evaporates with time, however, when you’re going to 15 countries with no time in which to get used to your surroundings, it is more overwhelming than I ever thought it would be when I was at home planning this trip. That is why I’m so grateful for our ship that gives us time to rest, process our thoughts and feelings and prepare for the next country. The next leg of our journey is nearly back-to-back countries with only a day or two between ports, so it will be interesting to see how we all handle the fast pace. It will all be part of this wonderful experience!

Whew. I wrote so so much. Sorry, I just want you guys to be here experiencing this WITH me! I love you with my whole heart and can’t wait to show you the videos I took of these incredible places: I miss you guys like crazy!

Destiny

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