India was beautiful and eye opening. It was a place full of bright colors and spicy food, but also so much more.
My first day we walked straight off the ship into a swarm of Tuk-Tuk drivers. I had no plans the first day and neither did some of my friends so we just went with the flow when our drivers offered to take us to notable sites around Kochin (we had to get two Tuk-Tuks to fit us all. See the picture below if you have no idea what that is!). We went to a random meat market complete with severed goats heads, saw a random elephant whose quality of life I was unsure of, bought some saris, visited a Janist temple, a laundry place of questionable importance, a bookstore with an impressive travel writing section,and I bought a bunch of scarfs as souvenirs for people. Oh, and we visited a spice market! It sounds a little strange now that i'm writing it down, but it really was a great day. Our drivers were really nice and ours told us about their families and everyone was really welcoming in Kochin. It was one of my favorite days in India for sure.
Brittney & Katherine in their Tuk-tuk! (Taken from the one I was in!)
That night I went to a welcome ceremony with students from a local college that was put together by Semester at Sea. It was really packed and there were definitely more SAS students then Indian students. Still, we got to talk to some pretty cool people and learn a little about their lives. Me and my friend Caroline made some friends and bonded with them about bands we both liked. It was a fun night!
The next day I began my adventure to the Taj Mahal. We woke up early and had boxed breakfasts provided by the ship and then jumped on a flight to New Delhi (The name of the company was Indi-Go and the logo color matched the name. A+ for puns!) We went to a place called Qutb Minar- which was a tower with surrounding monuments that were reddish-brown and somewhat mysterious. We also went to one of the places Ghandi's ashes were spread. It was a beautiful green field with yellow flowers. There was a temple that was beautiful but forced tourists to wear these smelly robes in the name of modesty- apparently two tourists a couple years ago ruined it for everyone else and now all tourists are forcibly turned into walking "HEY, LOOK AT THE TOURIST!" signs. People took our picture like we were the thing they came to see- it was awkward.
We reached the Taj Mahal the next day and it was amazing, which made up for the robe thing completely. I wrote in my Semester at Sea application essay about how I wanted all the countries we visited to be more than the vague images I had in my head- I wanted to understand them better. I used the Taj Mahal as an example of an iconic site that I wanted to understand better, and so it only seemed fitting that i visit it. Even when you are looking at it, it still feels like someone is tricking you and you're actually just looking at a fancy backdrop.
The next day was the day of the Elephants. I'll just say this: Elephants are really cool! We also went to a dinner with dancing (the woman who was dancing balanced a bunch of pots on her head while walking on nails!). It was a good ending to the program.
There were a lot of things about India that were shocking to me. One of these things was that sexism is still very much a problem. In the airport, men had four or five lines for security while women were made to go through a separate line and go into stalls. Apparently this is a new thing that has been done due to the harassment of women in the past. It was also very rare to see women walking alone (Kochin was very different than New Delhi though). The last day I had a field lab where we talked to reporters for a very successful newspaper in India. The two women reporters sat in the back the whole time, and when we asked if we should get chairs for them to join the men in the front, the men responded "No, they're fine". Yet the women still insisted men and women were treated equally when one of the students in my class asked a question relating to the subject.
India was great though. Of course it isn't perfect and has its issues- all countries do. I felt like I really learned a lot about India that I couldn't have learned if I hadn't traveled there. It became more than a vague cloud of images and concepts (the Taj Mahal, bright colors, and spicy food) and became a real place with real problems, real people, and real beauty. I will just have to go back and learn even more!