Trip Reflection

After returning home, it was interesting to be back in my own house for the first time in a month, since I was used to staying in places drastically different than what I’m used to. It was nice to be able to relax, play with my dogs, and drink the tap water again. Even though I didn’t get to relax immediately because I first had to deal with cleaning off everything I took with me due to a possible bed-bug situation… once I finally did get to go lay in my own bed and look over pictures from the trip, it was nice to think and reflect on everything I learned during my trip.

One of the best parts of my trip was all of the people that I met along the way. My fellow participants and our two trip leaders were both amazing, but the kids from the school SECMOL in the Himalayas from the first part of our trip were definitely the highlight of my trip. Being able to meet kids my own age in a culture that was so different from mine and being able to compare similarities and differences in our lives was such a great thing to experience.

That relates to the other best part of my trip, which was being able to gain a more well rounded idea of Indian geography and culture, and therefore being able to see through all of the stereotypes that people often mention about the country. It was great to be able to visit a country such as India that definitely is much much different than America, especially since it is nearly completely un-westernized in many parts, and to gain a realistic view of what the country is actually like. Especially, since the National Geographic trip was set up to give students a view of India more through the eyes of someone who lives there rather than just a tourist, which is how I likely would have seen the country if I went by myself or with another program. Furthermore, it was great to be able to experience religions that I do not often see or learn about in America, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam. It was amazing to be able to visit these religions’ places of worship and learn more about their customs and values was extremely unique. I think it is very important for people to understand others’ religions, even if they do not believe the same thing as them, so that people can better understand one another and how each other think.

Overall, I had an amazing time on my India expedition and I am so glad that I took part in it and grateful that I was given the opportunity to do so. I would greatly recommend to everyone to go out and explore somewhere new, especially somewhere with a vastly different culture than in the United States. It will help you grow as a person, teach you lots of new things, and you will also make many new friends along the way.

Since this is my last post I just wanted to say thank you for reading this semester, and I will leave you with some of my favorite pictures from my trip!!

Travelling Home

Finally, after this whole trip, it was time for our actual last day together. We started off with breakfast at our hotel the Mantra, then left to go downtown to shop for a little more. Instead of going right down town though, our bus driver dropped us off at the wrong place so we got a little bit lost and had to walk around until we found our way. Since it was the end of the trip, I had almost no money left. Despite this, I managed to use my bartering skills to buy a pair of earrings and some strange candies with everything I had left. Then, after shopping for a bit, we stopped for lunch. It was so nice, because our trip leaders got birthday cake for me and another participant Chloe, since it was both of our birthdays on this day.

Me and Chloe taking a picture for our birthdays

Once we were done lunch, we went back to the hotel. I napped for a bit and then finished packing, then we all left for the airport around 5:30. We should have left earlier though, because our bus got stuck in a huge traffic jam. The drive that was supposed to take 30 minutes ended up taking us 2 hours. Then, once we arrived at the airport, the security was so strict that two girls from our group almost weren’t allowed into the airport because they weren’t on the airport’s list for our group. After that, it took forever to check our bags, and one girl even had to pay $100 extra to check another bag because one of hers was too large. Once we were ready to go after that, one of our trip leaders got into a fight with the man at the currency exchange desk which took up even more time.

Passing the time on a longer than expected bus ride

Once we were finally ready for security, we got into the long line and waited. The time that we began to go through was at 10:30- the same time as our flight started boarding! We were done by 10:45, and our leader gave us all 500 rupees and told us to split the money and get food super quick, then race back to the plane. We all went to McDonald’s, and let me tell you- McDonald’s in an airport in India is maybe one of the worst places in the world. Despite this, we all ate our food quick because we were starving by that point.

The different menu at an Indian McDonalds

We then raced to the gate and had to go through security a second time, then ran down to our flight which we almost missed. Once I got on the plane, I went to my seat but there was a lady sitting in it. I asked her to move but she didn’t speak English and wouldn’t communicate with me. Eventually I called over someone from the plane to talk to her, and it turned out that she spoke English the whole time but was pretending she didn’t so she wouldn’t have to move! After that was over, I got comfortable and sat down to watch a movie. Too bad that the calibration was off on my tv screen, because this meant I wasn’t able to select English as my language to watch the movies in. I watched movies in Hindu, Portuguese, and German, but overall they were pretty interesting.

Eventually we made it home to America and even though the day of travel was the most stressful day ever, we were finally back safe. It was so sad to have to say goodbye to all of the friends I had met while on the trip, but we all each other’s contact info so we planned to stay in touch. Though it was sad to say goodbye, I was also exhausted and ready to go home. The whole drive home, I talked about the amazing experiences and the fantastic time I had on my expedition to India.

Last Day in New Delhi

I woke up happy, rested, and ready to take on my last full day in New Delhi. To start off our jam-packed day, we first ate breakfast, then got into our bus and left to go visit the largest mosque in India, called the “Jama Masjid”.

Part of our group inside of the mosque

In order to be in alignment with the cultural and religious norms, all of the girls in our group (which was everybody except one person) brought along a scarf to cover our hair. We were also given large cloth dresses to wear while inside the mosque to cover ourselves even more. While inside, I was able to climb a large tower in order to look out on all of the mosque and also the city of New Delhi. I was also asked by multiple groups of women to take pictures with them and their children, to which I always said yes- but then asked to take a picture of them as well in return.

A group of women who asked to take a picture with me

Once we finished at the mosque, we all went to the meeting point directly outside before being released to do whatever we wanted in the streets of New Delhi for a few hours. It was amazing to be able to explore the busy streets for real, instead of being led through certain areas or in a tour. I went to lots of different shops and bartered with shopkeepers for lower prices all day, while buying random items like clothes or magic lamp looking type things.

The busy streets of New Delhi

After a few hours of exploration, we all met back at the bus and then went to lunch together. The restaurant we went to was a fancy place with a craft shop connected to it, so I shopped while I waited for my roasted goat lunch to be made. I also managed to eat the spiciest sauce I’ve ever consumed in my whole life as an appetizer while at this restaurant, which burnt my mouth so bad that I needed to drink everyone’s lassis until it went away.

After this lunch we left and went to the most beautiful Hindu temple. It was red and yellow and absolutely gorgeous, with sculptures and engravings of different gods all throughout. After touring this temple, we left and went to a tiny Buddhist temple. These two temples were extremely different, but both very interesting nonetheless.

The outside of the Hindu temple, which we were not allowed to take cameras into

Once we were finished exploring these temples, we went back to the hotel to get cleaned up and relax before dinner. We all dressed super fancy, many of us wearing dresses or saris we bought while in India, and we went to a super fancy restaurant downtown in New Delhi. We all talked and reflected on the trip and how close of friends we had become. Then, after finishing dinner, we went back to the hotel and our trip leaders called us all to have a meeting. During this meeting, we all sat around in a circle and then went around, and everyone would have to say one thing they appreciate about each person or one memory they’ve made with them on the trip. It was such a touching meeting, and it really drove home how much fun the trip was and how close we all got with one another.

Our group all dressed up for dinner

After the meeting, we were all supposed to go to sleep to get ready for the final day of our trip when we would be traveling home. Instead, I stayed up for a few more hours with my friend Gwen and just talked about everything from the trip to our real lives at home. It was a really nice way to end our last night on the trip, and I went to bed finally around 4 AM.

Ziplining through Neemrana

I woke up nice and early in my bed in Neemrana, and went to eat a long, filling breakfast before the long day ahead of me. When I got back to my room, I was surprised to see the whole rest of our travel group in there waiting for me. It turned out that all other rooms were checked out except for mine, where everyone was waiting before we got to leave to go ziplining. It was lucky we all waited inside this room, though, because only a few minutes after I got back- a huge monsoon started! Almost all of us were safe and dry in the room, except for one girl named Greer who got completely soaked by the storm.

Once it stopped raining, we all left my room and made our way to the “Flying Foxes HQ”, where we all received our ziplining harnesses. After everyone got a harness or two, it was time to hike. We hiked all the way to the top of a mountain so that we would be able to zipline down it. Once we got to the top, however, it started to monsoon again but this time with thunder and lightning. Our instructors mostly ignored the weather and continued to give us a short presentation on the correct form in order to zipline safely. After the presentation, we waited for there to be 15 minutes without any lightning. Once we were in the clear, we began!

I’ve gone ziplining many times before, but it always still scares me a little bit. This time though, I decided I was going to be brave and just go for it. And I did! It was amazing to jump off and zip through the foggy sky and overlook the city of Neemrana. We got to go down multiple lines, and we went the whole way back down the mountain to where we began. It was a little bit scary because of how recently there was lightning and the fact that we were on metal wires on top of a mountain… But nevermind that, everyone was safe in the end.

Our hands after ziplining, which were stained from the gloves

Once we finished we were all soaked so everybody went back to my room and showered, and we also laid our clothes out to dry in the now very hot sun. After some relaxing time, we packed everything back up and some hotel workers took our bags down to the bus. We eventually made our way down to the bus so we could begin our four-ish hour bus ride back to New Delhi.

On this bus ride, I worked more on my On-Assignment project. It was mainly just me writing out bullet points explaining the difference in eco-friendliness that I observed between the large cities such as New Delhi and the rural mountainous regions such as Ladakh. Once we got back to Delhi we ate dinner, and then finished presenting these projects. I gave mine on this night, and it was well received by everyone. I was very glad to have this project done with, because it was looming over me so strongly for the last few days of the trip.

After all of the presentations were finished, I got a shower and went right off to bed- I needed to make sure I got sleep before our last full day in India.

Transition Day to Neemrana

The next day on our trip was a lot less eventful. I started it off by showering and eating breakfast, mango and eggs, before getting all of my things together so we could leave. We ended up staying later than expected because one of our trip leaders was meeting with a friend who lived in the area, and then when we were finally ready to leave we were stopped again by the owner of the hotel. She stopped all of us to talk to us and say that we were the best group they’ve ever had at the hotel, which was so nice! She even gave us all small presents, which were tiny handmade elephants. It was adorable!

Once we finally got on the bus, I slept for a while. I also began to write up a summary of my final project for the trip. I decided that I was going to report on the differences between the environment of mountain/rural life and city life in India, and how the population density affects how clean and environmentally friendly the area is.

In the middle of the bus ride, we stopped at a shady truck stop because we all had to go to the bathroom. It turned out that the only bathroom was one squat toilet with no toilet paper, but we all went with it. A few minutes after we got back onto the bus, we realized we were all hungry so we stopped at yet another truck stop and bought super random snack food to hold us over before we got to where we were staying for the night.

An example of a squat toilet from in the Himalayas

Once we finally arrived at the Neemrana Fort Palace, we all ate lunch, which was a delicious buffet, and then went back to our rooms to drop off our things. I then fell asleep for about 5 hours because I was so exhausted, and woke up completely disoriented. When I woke up I decided to explore the fort before dinner time, and it was a great choice. It was a beautiful fort that overlooked a city far away, and even had a pool and amphitheater within it. After I explored, I went back to the rooms and helped my friend Greer choose her favorite photos and edits to show to the group.

Once we were done we went to eat dinner, which was a buffet similar to lunch, and then went to a meeting with our group. At this meeting people began to present their final projects, but all of the people who presented were those with a photography focus for their on-assignment project. A few people showed us their amazing photos, but eventually we were all too hot and tired to continue so we decided to go to sleep.

The amphitheater overlooking the city

We all went back to our rooms to sleep, but when I tried to go to the bathroom something weird happened. I went to turn the light off, but when I hit the switch it gave me a huge electrical shock! I’ll be honest, it terrified me, so I didn’t touch any of the light switches for the rest of the time that we were in Neemrana. Despite the fact that this hurt, it was still kind of funny and added something interesting to a mostly uneventful day. Even though we didn’t do much this day, though, I knew it was just because it was a transition day for us to get to Neemrana, because we had a super jam-packed day planned for tomorrow!

Exploring Jaipur Part 2

Just a quick recap: on this day I am in the city of Jaipur with my group. In the morning we went to three different places: the Palace of the Winds, the Amber Fort, and the City Palace. Once we finished those, we all went to lunch together. Afterwards, we were released into the city to do whatever we wanted for the next few hours until we all had to meet up again for dinner.

I wanted more than anything to explore the city all by myself and see what I could get into, but our program had a rule about being in groups of no less than three at all times, so me and two other girls went around the city together. We walked pretty far, stopping in at all of the shops along the way. One of the girls with me wanted to buy a Sari, but was extremely bad at haggling (and always paid way too much) so I helped her along the way.

A street in Jaipur

I haggled for her at one shop, and another shop owner heard us and called us into his shop where he gave us lower prices, which I was able to get even lower. While in this shop, the owner’s brother sat and talked with us as we looked at patterns and discussed prices. Once we were done, he told us he owned a jewelry shop a few blocks away, so we walked with him through the city to get to his shop. We stayed there for a while and bought some of his pieces and talked to him. One girl mentioned that she wanted to get henna done, and he told us that his father owned a henna shop! So, he walked us through the streets yet again to his father’s shop.

While there, I talked to the father as another man did the henna for my friends because I didn’t want to get any done on myself. I asked him to tell me about his religion, which was my on-assignment task for the day. It turned out that he was Sikh, which was a religion that I did not know much of anything about, so it was really interesting to learn from him.

The information the father told me about the Sikh religion

After my friends finished their henna, we left the shop and started making our way back to the group’s meeting point, stopping at shops and getting religious stories along the way. Once we met with everyone, they all compared their hennas and the clothes they bought that day, and we then left for dinner. We went to dinner at a place called Anokhi, which was an overpriced cafe that sold a strange mix of western and slightly Indian food. This cafe also had an (also very overpriced) clothing shop attached to it, where we all went to shop after we had finished our food.

Everyone comparing their henna

We then went back to our hotel to relax for the night, but first I talked to my group leaders because of weird marks I had been finding on my skin. When I showed them, they both got very quiet and told me that it was possible that they were from bedbugs, but not to tell anyone else in the group- who would definitely also all have bedbugs if I did. I was concerned but figured there was nothing I could do about it, so I just swam with everyone else and went on my phone for the first time in a week. I swam until everyone decided to go to bed, and then slept soundly after such a fun, jam-packed day.

Exploring Jaipur Part 1

The next morning started with us eating fresh mango for breakfast and all sitting around to talk about the upcoming activities for the day. Then, the excitement began even before we had left the hotel: because I found my phone!!!!!! It turned out that it was actually just in the bottom of the laptop pouch of my backpack, not somewhere in the Himalayas. I was so shocked, but it was a great way to start my day.

Our first stop of our busy day in Jaipur was a place called Hawa Mahal. This translates to “Palace of the Winds”, and it is made out of beautiful pink sandstone. Jaipur is actually called “The Pink City”, and this is an example of why. We took pictures of this lovely structure, and then moved on to our next activity.

The Palace of the Winds

The Amber Fort was our next stop of the day. We trekked up the marble paths to the fort, and explored for a few minutes then waited for our tour guide to meet us. We were then given a looong, boring tour around the fort in the hot sun. Even though the tour was boring, though, it was still great to see the fort because it was absolutely beautiful. After our tour we got to look around a bit more on our own, and then we stopped at a small shop called Café Coffee Day within the fort where we rested our feet and enjoyed cold coffee drinks with each other. This café was like an oasis in the desert because of how hot and tired we all were from walking around the fort for the past few hours.

Our group inside of the Amber Fort

For our last stop before lunch, we went to the Jaipur City Palace. Before even going in, we got to see a street performer who was a snake charmer outside, which was really interesting. Then, we went inside and got to explore. I walked around to different shops and talked to owners, and did my best at haggling. One shopkeeper let me have pants at 50% price if I would give him “a gift from America,” so I went through my bag and found a small bottle of Victoria’s Secret Perfume, which I gave to him and he said smelled “beautiful”. After I finished haggling, I went to explore more of the palace and complete my Cultural Geography on-assignment task for the day. We were told a few different options for tasks for the day, but I chose to complete the one I liked the best: to ask people a story about their religion.

The snake charmer outside of the City Palace

Since I am a ginger with pale skin, red hair, and blue eyes, I looked radically different than almost everyone around me. This led to many people wanting to take pictures of or with me, which I always allowed because I thought it was funny. Eventually though, I started asking people for money (mostly as a joke) when they’d ask to take pictures with me. On this day, a few 20-something year old guys asked to take a picture with me, so I covered my face and yelled for 100 rupees. I kept lowering the price as they kept trying to take pictures, and eventually we drew a crowd around us. When I realized they weren’t going to pay, I said “Fine! I’ll take pictures with you if you tell me a story about your religion!” which really confused them, but they complied. Since it turned out none of them were religious, they called upon another stranger to tell a story that one of the guys transcribed into my journal while the others took pictures with me, all while the crowd was still watching and taking even more photos. It was such a fun experience!

Me inside of the City Palace

After this whole event, I explored a little more and then left with my group to go to lunch at a strange restaurant downtown, which most of our group did not enjoy (but I thought was pretty good). After lunch there was even more to explore in the city…

Camel Rides and Rickshaw Drives

The next morning I woke up slightly later than normal, 7:30, and went to eat a nice breakfast with my group. We then left and met a bunch of men with camels outside of our fortress hotel to go for a ride. We all partnered up, and I sat on my camel with my friend JP. We went on a beautiful stroll around the village of Samode. It was an amazing experience, but yet we still all felt pretty guilty about riding the camels. Since we had gone to an elephant sanctuary just a few days prior, where we heard stories of animals being abused and made to give people rides, we all felt very strange about having these camels give us rides around the village even though we knew they were not being abused like the elephants were. Nevertheless, it was still a great experience that we were happy to take part in.

Me and JP on our camel

After we finished, we went back to our hotel and swam in the pool for a few hours. In the hot Indian weather the pool felt amazing, and we spent our time discussing our weddings and having handstand contests. We even ordered milkshakes from the hotel and drank them on the poolside, until we had to get our things together to check out at noon.

A man at our hotel

Once we left, we got onto our bus and made the hour long ride to the city of Jaipur, and checked into our quaint hotel called Jas Vilas. We had lots of time until our next activity, so I took a nice two hour long nap. I was on Malarone, the Malaria medicine, which is said to give users the side effect of extremely vivid dreams- and they’re right! I remember having intense dreams at different parts of the trip, but especially this day.

After nap time, I met with the three other cultural geography students about our on assignment projects, and then it was time to go to dinner. Our bus took us to a pretty fancy place where we had a delicious dinner and desert, and also got to experience some more bonding time as a group. After dinner was over, however, the real fun began. I’m not exactly positive about what happened, but I’m pretty sure that there was some sort of miscommunication about when the bus was supposed to come pick us up from the restaurant. To fix this problem, we instead all took rickshaws home! We had been begging our trip leaders to let us ride in them for the whole trip and they had always said no, but they finally gave in. It was absolutely amazing and completely terrifying. Indian city streets are extremely busy and hectic, so we kept thinking we were going to crash constantly. We didn’t, though, and we all got back to our hotel in one piece, full of adrenaline.

After we returned and all said good night, I went to the hotel’s computer room and talked to my family and friends for a few hours since my phone was still lost somewhere in the Himalayas. It was nice to calm down after our hectic night, even though I wished I could do it a million times over.

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.