FINALLY I finished the first two days of India. Sorry for the delay! I’m already a whole country behind on the blog and I need to catch up ASAP because it’s only a day and a half until Vietnam for five days, and two days after that it’s China for seven days and two days after that it’s Japan for 5 days. What a whirlwind of a travel schedule! Then we have a HUGE gap until Hawaii – 10 days. Hopefully, this works!
We made it to India! Wow do I love this place. My favorite aspect of this place is how the culture is so deeply rooted in everything. Because we are so much further from the West even with a very Western influence, the culture and religion is so alive and thriving. The colors and sights and sounds are beautiful and new (not the smells so much because since I’m sick I lost my sense of smell and apparently I couldn’t have lost it at a more perfect time) and it’s so different than anything I’ve experienced before. Africa certainly had its culture but it only “came out to play” at certain times, like in dance performances or through the crafts in the markets, etc. Here there are elaborate statues and pictures of gods, beautifully elaborate saris and outfits of all different colors and so much more. The food is not only delicious but also very colorful, to match everything around! When we arrived in India on Monday, we had to wait forever to clear customs, and finally cleared at around 10:45, more than 2 ½ hours after we expected. I had an FDP that was supposed to leave at 10:30 so we were a little late but there were some FDPs that were supposed to leave at 9 so many teachers were very upset by the delay. Our bus to take us to the FDP was a hilarious almost party bus with lights and funky patterns on the fabrics. Oh and the tour guide’s microphone had an echo to it, adding to the party bus-like appearance. It was really funny. We arrived at the Greenix Museum for my Cognitive Psychology FDP and realized it was much more of a cultural center than a museum, which was somewhat confusing since we were expecting something that would help us relate to our “color” project for our final paper. The actual presentation for our FDP turned out to be a 2 ½-hour, vey strange dance performance. It began with a beautiful dance with people carrying candles in their hands and decked out in very ornate costumes with over-the-top face make up. The next performance was a man in a very strange and elaborate costume displaying the different hand signals used in the dance and then the facial expressions, each signifying a different word or phrase, like love or fear. It was very cool to watch but also a little strange, then another guy came out in a large masked outfit and freaked Katy out by jumping towards her from the stage. After the dance performance, we took a short tour of the museum, which was really just a large display room of the costumes, facial expressions, and hand signs, but since all the descriptions were Hindi it was a little hard to understand.
So since our FDP was over, and the buses were just going to go back to the ship, Katy and I and a few other people checked out early to shop in the area of Fort Cochin. We found a very nice tuk tuk (auto rickshaw) driver who took us to some good places, like a spice store and fabric and clothes store. We were with a few boys who needed to go back to the ship early so then Katy and I went off to continue shopping. Of course, we hadn’t figured out the bargaining system yet, so we paid a little more than we should have on certain items. At the spice store, we found tea and spices for cooking, and a few other random things, like postcards and bangles. Then at the clothing/fabric store, we found pants, shirts, and I even ended up with a fairly elaborate duvet cover. My room next year is certainly going to be a mash-up of interesting things from my travels around the world! Then our driver took us to this restaurant on the water and we had a delicious lunch of chicken curry and rice while chatting with a group of SAS kids who had also been brought to the restaurant. We later figured out the system in which a driver earns something from bringing people to certain shops. In one driver’s case, he earned clothes from the places he took tourists. Then our driver took us to one more shop before taking us back to the ship. Katy and I dropped our purchases, quickly got ready and headed with a few other girls to go to the Welcome Reception planned through SAS. We ended up missing the first bus and had to wait for the next one and after finally leaving 30 minutes later, we ended up getting stuck in traffic and finally arrived at the venue an hour and a half late. Once we arrived, there were different kinds of Indian foods and drinks. There was a dance performance, which ended up being the same performance we had seen earlier that day, literally the same performers from the Greenix Museum. There were also clothes and things for sale but since I had spent a good part of the day shopping, I wasn’t looking for anything. There was also henna getting done but it was an extremely long line, of course, and once we finally got to the front of the line, the people doing it went to dinner. So we waited twenty minutes before they came back and right as one of the ladies arrived to do mine, it started raining. So my henna ended up getting all smeared so I decided to wipe it off asap rather than let it set in an ugly pattern. Then it was back to the ship for last minute packing and a few hours of sleep before my 3:00 a.m. wake-up call.
This morning I woke up bright and early, after a short nap and quickly grabbed a few bites at the continental breakfast being served for the early-bird trips that left at 4 a.m. After assembling in the Union, our trip of 60 people set off in our buses for the airport. After figuring out tickets and baggage, and checking a bag of “too big” liquids, etc. We quickly checked through security, where gentlemen and ladies had separate security lines, and the last 5 of us students practically ran onto the flight as the last few passengers to board the plane. After a stopover in Chennai, our plane finally arrived in Delhi, 5 hours later. Sleep deprived and starving – breakfast had not been served on the flight as promised – our group attempted to assemble multiple times throughout the airport as we moved our way towards the tour buses. We were greeted, as we had been in Kochin, with tour buses labeled “TOURIST” right on the front window in giant white letters. As I found out later, all coach buses have this on the front, and it was not just an offensive thing penned on us unsuspecting American travelers. As our tour bus moved through the streets of Delhi, to the landmark of Qutab Minar, the vast difference of this bustling northern city, from the southern, coastal town we had just been in the day before. After experiencing what reminded me of Julia Roberts’ character’s experience in “Eat, Pray, Love” in the southern state of Kerala, in the city of Kochi, it was amazing how much Delhi reminded me of Slumdog Millionaire. I was actually surprised though by how much I was not surprised by in India. Whether it was from the horror stories I had heard through friends, or because of movies I had seen, I felt much more prepared for India than I thought. Or at least that’s how I felt for the first couple days.
Qutab Minar was the first Muslim mosque built in India during the Muslim rule. They tore down Hindu Temples and built up several structures with the rubble of the temples they had torn down. It was an interesting place to visit but with little explanation from our tour guide, and already being an hour behind schedule because of our plane being delayed, everyone was starving and couldn’t really focus on being there. Then one of my friends got pooped on by a bird and I had to help her clean up because the bird got her REAL good, so we headed back to the buses to find wipes. It was finally time for lunch, which was a delicious buffet of different Indian dishes and plenty of naan! Another SAS trip, visiting Delhi and Agra as well ate with us in the banquet hall and before we knew it, it was time to move on. Our next stop was Humayun’s Tomb. The structure resembled the Taj Mahal in many ways, which was actually very interesting because it was built by the great-grandmother of the man who built the Taj Mahal. She built it for her husband, which was opposite of the construction of the Taj, where the husband built it for the wife and it was also hundred of years earlier. Our next stop was Mahatma Ghandi’s tomb, an amazing sight to see. We walked up a ramp to stand on the wall surrounding the tomb and look down at the courtyard where it stood. Then we walked back down and took our shoes off to enter the sacred area. A Hindu burial tradition is to include earth, wind, fire and water at a sacred burial, so at the grave they have a shallow pool of water on top of the grave and an eternal flame burning, which has been burning since the 1970s. Like all the places we visited, it was interesting to see the different kinds of people visiting the tomb. People of all colors, shapes, sizes, and races were visiting the grave of a man who changed the world so significantly. If it weren’t for Ghandi, MLK Jr. might not have followed the nonviolent-noncooperation tactics that Ghandi used. It was very moving to be so close to such an important figure of history.
Ghandi’s tomb was our last stop before heading to our hotel to check in. We arrived at the Hotel Royal Plaza and I was absolutely astounded by the extravagance. The lobby of the hotel had a ceiling painting reminiscent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, from which elaborate chandeliers hung. We were greeted with bows and bindis were painted onto our foreheads. We were handed fresh juice and shepherded to check in to our rooms and freshen up before dinner. My roommate, Marie, and I set our stuff down in our cute little room and then found a few friends and we wandered around the hotel. The hotel was huge, over 20 floors, and had a big courtyard, or at least big for the crowded city we were in, with a pool, gazebo, bar and more. After our ridiculous buffet dinner of endless appetizers, entrees, and desserts, I headed back to shower, journal and pass out for a decent amount of sleep.