Park Tour and Monsoon Season

My next morning started in a rush. The group was instructed to meet for breakfast at 6:30, but when I woke up I saw the clock read 6:37. In fear of missing out on what would probably be our only food for a while, I got ready as fast as possible and raced down for breakfast. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who was late either, which made me feel much better.

Deer seen in the National Park

After our delicious palace breakfast, we made our way to a nearby National Park to take a tour. Everyone got into pairs and jumped onto a bicycle rickshaw to be driven around the park. My amazing rickshaw driver pointed out all of the animals he could see as we were riding around. The main animal we saw was lots and lots of different types of birds, but we also managed to see deer and even monkeys at some points. In the middle of the park we stopped at a small temple and got out of our rickshaws. Here I climbed a lookout tower and also went into the temple to be blessed. After this, we rode out of the park to go back to our hotel. It was an extremely beautiful experience, and made even better by our rickshaw driver who was able to give us detailed information about all of the animals.

Me and my rickshaw partner Jackie

After packing up at the palace, we were then back on the bus on our way to a village named Samode. On the way we stopped at a small location for lunch, which also had a store connected to it. While waiting for food, I ventured into this store to explore what they were selling. I found both pants and a dress that I wanted, and managed to haggle down the price about ⅓ of the way.

A bird seen in the National Park

Once back on the bus, after what felt like forever, we finally arrived in Samode. The first thing we all did was go into the dining room to wait as our trip leaders checked us in to the hotel/castle, but as soon as we got there a monsoon began! It was not new for monsoons to occur on the trip since it was the summer in India, but typically they happened while we were inside a hotel or bus, so it did not affect us. Since the rain was so strong, we could not get our bags. Instead, we all stayed inside and had group bonding time while playing a game called “The Name Game” and eating cookies and french fries that were provided for us as a small snack.

My rickshaw driver

Eventually the rain stopped, and we got our room assignments. I went exploring around the castle and taking pictures with one of my roommates Julianna until it was time for dinner. After dinner, all 14 of us went to one room to play Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever for even more group bonding time. Even our group leaders stopped by and played with us, which was super fun! After this was finished, I went to my friend JP’s room to hang out. We talked about everything ranging from gender and sexuality to Mexican government and geography. It was a very nice ending to another extremely eventful day.

Taj Mahal

The following day is one that I believe I can officially classify as my favorite day on the whole trip. We all wake up super early, 5:30 AM, because it is time to go visit the Taj Mahal! By waking up early, we wanted to miss both the large crowds and the insane heat, both of which we ended up experiencing anyway.

Once we arrived at the Taj, we were greeted by our tour guide for the day. He took us around the whole structure and explained the significance of each section of architectural genius. One interesting fact that I learned was that the Taj Mahal is completely symmetrical. Furthermore, there is a mosque on one side of the Taj Mahal. Since the structure is symmetrical, however, there is a congruent structure on the other side of the middle Taj building, but it is not used as a mosque, because it does not face Mecca. After this was explained to me, it truly sunk in how far away from home I was. India is so far from the United States that to face Mecca, you need to face West! Not East, such as in the USA! That was an amazing realization for me.

Now, the reason that this day was my favorite is not simply because of how beautiful the Taj Mahal is, even though the Taj definitely is one of the most beautiful examples of architecture I’ve ever seen. This day was instead my favorite part of the trip because, unbeknownst to us, it happened to be the last day of Ramadan, and our group was there during the Muslim call to prayer.

Around 9 AM, the call to prayer began from the mosque on the left side of the Taj Mahal. At this time, thousands of people started flooding to the mosque to pray, even more so because it was the final day of Ramadan. The sight of all of these people was absolutely amazing, I have never seen anything like it before in my life! I even had the opportunity to stand on top of the Taj Mahal to watch the huge crowds of people gather. Being granted the chance to see this whole occurrence of the call to prayer at the Taj Mahal from start to finish was definitely the main reason that this was my favorite part of the trip.

After we finished exploring the Taj for a few hours, we left to make our way back to the hotel. I had to fight my way through many children trying to sell me Taj Mahal merchandise, while also giving in to a few, but finally I made it back on the bus. Once we arrived at the hotel we ate breakfast and napped, then left once more for the city of Bharatpur.

In Bharatpur we stayed at a palace-hotel called the Laxmi Villas Palace. It was extremely beautiful, and it even had a pool! We all swam for a while, and then went on a walk around the village. The village was made of mostly dirt roads, where there were many fruits and vegetable stands and many people drove mopeds.

A fruit stand in the city of Bharatpur

Once the group was tired out from walking, we went back to our palace and ate a delicious and fancy dinner. It was dark after dinner and everyone else went to bed, but instead of going to sleep I met up with my friend Sophie from our group and did some exploring. We managed to find ourselves in the construction area of a new building that was currently being built, in the pool, and also on the roof of the palace. It was so much fun to explore and a great bonding time.

Me and Sophie on top of the roof of the palace

After exploring was over, however, I was so tired. I showered and immediately fell asleep. After an amazing day, it was great to lay down and get ready for whatever new adventures tomorrow would bring.