After eleven trains, three flights, ten cities, and six weeks of traveling, we have finally made it back to Agartala and are relieved to no longer be living out of a backpack! We are excited to have returned “home” and to begin teaching at brand new schools. Considering Ellen and I start at the Saint Andre School on February 1st, stay tuned for blog entries in the near future regarding our teaching experience in the village!
On account of the length of the trip, I am going to divide up the blog entries and begin with the first leg of our journey, the state of Uttar Pradesh. The four of us began our backpacking adventure in the city of Varanasi, India. Two days before arriving, a bomb blast occurred at a well-known ghat on the Ganges River killing one individual and injuring many others. Our booked hotel was extremely close to where this incident took place and because of its close proximity to the incident, we decided to stay on the campus of Nav Sadhana, a college located just outside of Varanasi. One of the Holy Cross Brothers working at Holy Cross School has family in that area and we were very appreciative that he helped us organize these accommodations. The four of us were put up in great rooms, provided with delicious meals, and were thrilled that this quick change of plans worked out so perfectly. On the first day in Varanasi, we became accustomed to the city and toured four-well known temples and also visited the very large campus of Benares Hindu University. Our second day in Varanasi was highly anticipated because we planned to tour the Ganges River by boat at sunrise. This river is the “Mecca” for those who practice the Hindu religion and the Ganges is thought of as holy water. We witnessed many individuals cleaning and bathing in the river water, deceased bodies undergoing cremation on the ghats, and many Hindu rituals taking place. Varanasi was a rather overwhelming city with shocking sights, but I felt privileged to be able to observe characteristics of India that could never similarly resemble anything in the "Western World".
Our next stop was the tourist trap city of Agra. The pollution, trash, beggars, and hagglers are all intense aspects of Agra and if we could go back in time, we would have planned a day trip to the city instead of staying overnight. Agra is extremely lucky that it hosts one of the world's greatest wonders because other than that one beauty, the city is rather unpleasant and frustrating. I may also be a bit biased because other aspects of the city that did not positively effect my opinion were 1.) Being sick with a stomach bug and 2.) Experiencing a sleepless night due to a loud and never-ending Muslim festival occurring directly outside our window. Nevertheless, watching the sunrise at the Taj Mahal the next morning soon replaced our negative mood with an unforgettable adrenaline-rush. The feeling of witnessing the Taj Mahal for the first time is similar to that of seeing the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum, but, in my opinion, ten times as amazing and stunning. We stayed in the Taj Complex for almost four hours absorbing the scenery, examining the beautiful marble carvings, and taking too many sunrise pictures. I was upset to say goodbye to the fascinating Taj Mahal, but thrilled to say hello to a new city.
Our last stop in the state of Uttar Pradesh was the nation's capital, Delhi. Once again, we were extremely fortunate regarding our accommodations. In this city, every aspect from our arrival to our departure was taken care of by a publishing company that supplies Holy Cross School with textbooks. The publishers were incredibly gracious to have provided us with rooms, food, laundry services, and a driver to tour the city. We had heard some stories from travelers along the way that Delhi was a chaotic and overwhelming city. Consequently, we were all extremely appreciative of our accommodations in this location. The city itself had its nice parts and its bad parts, but overall it was wonderful to be exposed to semi-Western culture for the first time along the trip. We even may have indulged in some rejuvenating McDonald's and Domino's Pizza! Besides spending marvelous hours acquainting ourselves with familiar American foods, we did, in fact, do quite a bit of sightseeing. Visiting Jama Masjid, the largest mosque in India, was a very beautiful and unique experience for Aja, Ellen, and I. Upon walking into the mosque, all foreign women are given baggy clothing so that all areas of a woman's body are entirely covered. I have attached a picture of our attire and the mosque to this blog entry! Among some of the other sites that we explored throughout our few days in Delhi included, the Red Fort, the India Gate, an astrological park, Connaught Place, Humayun's Tomb, and the Lotus Temple. We had a enjoyable time touring the city, but were excited to continue on to the next part of our journey!
Next up, the desert state of Rajasthan!