Yesterday evening we arrived in Agra. We drove all the way so we got to see a lot of small villages and women in vibrant Rajasthani colors. But today…today was the day I had been waiting for since I found out the India study abroad trip was even a thing. We were going to see the crown jewel of India, the Taj Mahal. We went at 5:30 in the morning for sunrise and we all dressed Indian for this very special occasion. I wore a bright yellow outfit 🙂 The Taj was right down the road from our hotel, so the anticipation was brewing. As we approached the main gate, I was so pumped. As soon as we stepped in the archway, I saw it in the distance. And oh my God was it an amazing sight. I could not believe I was actually at the Taj Mahal!!! It was magnificent, in every sense of the word. This was sooo worth waiting for, a great grand finale for the entire trip. Seeing the Taj with my own eyes was everything I imagined and so much more. Being so early in the morning, it was very foggy and hazy so it was very mysterious in it’s unique way. It’s hard to fully describe what I was feeling or just how beautiful it was without actually being there in person. We got amazing pictures the whole way up as we got closer and closer. It just got more spectacular the closer we got. We put our little booties on before walking onto the Taj to protect it’s beauty. I just stood and looked up and couldn’t even see the top. This is what I was waiting for. And it wouldn’t be complete unless I actually touched the Taj with my own hands. As we toured through, we couldn’t take any pictures. But that’s ok, because it’s something so calming and eery at the same time you simply have to experience it yourself. We saw the tombs and all the beautiful detail, and a chill came over me at just how powerful this place was. Everything about the Taj Mahal was incredible and as the sun started to peek out it only got more beautiful. Later that evening some of us went to see the Agra Fort across the river from the Taj. It was beautiful and very regal with all the details and inlay stones all throughout the walls. And of course, we got to take in the Taj one more time before we left 🙂 This was nothing less than unbelievable and a great way to end the trip of a lifetime. Tomorrow we would be leaving and back on our way to the states. This entire trip changed my life and opened my eyes to a whole different world in so many ways. I can only skim the surface on talking about what I saw to other people, but it’s my experience. And nobody can take that away from me and the things I saw for myself. I learned so much about myself and other people too. Choosing to study abroad on this trip was the best decision I ever made. My advice to you is take everything you can all the time. Every chance, opportunity, risk, adventure, because you will walk out a different person. Farewell India, you will always have a place in my heart ❤
We are now in Jaipur India, better known as the “pink city.” Well, better known to us as the city where we get to ride elephants at! How awesome is that! We were all eager to ride the elephants and it was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip. Erin and I bought matching elephant skirts at one of the markets so of course we had to be festive for this event! We had been looking forward to this part of the trip since I met these girls. Before we even got to the elephants we saw a real life snake charmer! Heck no!!!!! It was scary but so cool at the same time to be right in front of one. I just hoped they stayed in their little baskets 😉 We rode the elephants up to Amer Fort which was simply beautiful. This was probably my favorite of all the forts we saw (and we saw a ton!) We got on the elephants at a little platform and sat in a little metal “seat” kind of thing. We were so high up and the ride moved very slow! Some of the elephants were even painted, and had bells around their necks. We could hear the jingling below as we rocked back and forth during our ride. Arion and I had an absolute ball with our selfie sticks on the ride! The view was beautiful as the fort was up on a hill and the defense part almost looked like the Great Wall of China or something. Once we got to the fort, we got off the elephant after he stopped for a bathroom break (leave it to our elephant of course!), and started the tour. There were so many rooms and upstairs that we got to see and lookout from and it was just picture-worthy everywhere we turned. Our tour guide was awesome which made the whole experience that much better for us and so much more memorable. India has such a rich culture and long history that it is hard to capture it all in the time we were there. But what we did see was truly spectacular.
After the Amer Fort, we visited a place called Chokhi Dhani for the evening and for dinner. It was like an Indian version of a fair. We got the traditional Rajasthan greeting when we arrived which is like a red dye on our forehead and then rice on top of that. Here we saw traditional Indian dancers and music performances. It was really casual but still a lot of fun. We even got to dance with these women who had fire pots on their heads! Our moves weren’t really what they were doing, but we tried! We also got our fortunes told by an astrologer and my highlight, RIDING A CAMEL! He was so tall and just getting on was a challenge! Erin and I rode together and we bounced even more than on the elephants earlier. It was the most amazing thing to say I rode an elephant and a camel in the same day here! I was in tears it was so fun just laughing and smiling so much. At Chokhi Dhani we had a traditional Rajasthan meal too. We took our shoes off before we entered and washed our hands from a little kettle of water. It was an endless buffet until you told them to stop. I was pretty skeptical at first when I saw the leaf bowls, but this was the most Indian food I ate the whole trip. I must say it was pretty tasty. After dinner the guys who were serving us wrapped turbins for us before we left and that was just hilarious. Never in my life did I ever expect to wear a turbin! Quite the look really 😉 Later that night Sharma and us girls surprised Kiran with a cake for her birthday and had a little celebration together. It was a great day that will bring back amazing memories for sure.
This is our last day in Hyderabad. We got up and toured Kidzee preschool today before heading off to do some shopping. This school was essentially the same as the kindergarten. We all had to take our shoes off before entering! Everything was miniature, but they really focused on the whole child from what I saw. After hanging out with the kids for a while, we headed off to shop for the famous Hyderabad pearls. Padmini, Kiran’s friend, helped us bargain so I got a beautiful multicolored pearl bracelet. We were so hungry at this point, we ordered Domino’s pizza and basically had it delivered to the van while everyone else shopped. It was a little taste of home for me 🙂 once leaving all these gorgeous diamond, rubies, sapphires, and pearls, we headed to Charminar bazaar. This was THE MOST crowded place I had ever been too. People would spot us and yell across the street for us to come to their shop or waves bangles in the air for us to buy. It was way too much for me. A great experience to say I have been there, but overly too crowded for me. The narrow streets were full of “hawkers” approaching us to buy things for certain prices. It is unlike shopping here in the states where the price is printed on paper, and that’s it! Here, you can haggle the price way down for almost anything. The colors here were spectacular of all the women walking around, Saree’s hanging in stores, and glittering bangles everywhere you turned. After we left Charminar, we headed to the airport for our flight to Jaipur, the pink city. We arrived in Jaipur to find Sharma standing there grinning ear to ear to get us. He was so great the entire trip, and we will miss him dearly when we leave.
Today we went to Jubilee Hills Public School in Hyderabad. This school is an outdoor school, so the doors open to the walkway outside. There are roughly 2,500 students enrolled, and it is K-12. We were all paired up with one mentor teacher and I have to admit I was kind of nervous. I was nervous about the language barrier with accents, and if my teacher would view me as a great teacher candidate. I worked with Ms. Mohan in 2nd and 5th grade social studies and English classes. This school was different than Ambience first in the setup. There were 40 kids per class! I was ha;f expecting it to be a zoo, but the students were all well mannered and knew what to say and when to say it. They all greeted me with “good morning Ashley ma’am” and some of them even exchanged their friendship bracelets and gifts with me for friendship day. The way Ms. Mohan ran her class was at a very quick pace. She wasted no time in getting the computer setup to start the lesson and everyone was expected to complete things quickly. We were working on a social studies lesson on natural and man-made things in the world. So we all went outside and identified rocks, leaves, motorcycles, and so on as natural or man-made. I really liked that activity as it let the students seek out their own choices in the world around them. Ms. Mohan never had to scold the class about being too loud or for getting out of hand like we do in the states, as bad as it may sound! Even when they wanted to enter the class they had to stand in the door with their arm extended and asked “excuse me ma’am may I please come in?” I took some time during their lunch to get in front of the class and ask them some questions to interact with them. Some of them include: what is your favorite part about school? What is your favorite funny movie? If you could be any animal, what would it be and why? Just fun kid-friendly questions. They absoltely loved it and everyone was blasting out of their seats wanting me to call on them. After that, they wanted to ask me things about my favorite movies, animals, what my house was like at home, what foods I like to eat in America, all kinds of fun stuff. They swarmed around the desk to talk to me and I think they really enjoy having people like us come in to learn about how they learn and they get to be exposed to someone from a different culture than them. We went back the next day to Jubilee Hills too.
After school, we came back to the hotel where I took a nap because I was super sick this day. I was miserable but I didn’t let it show 😉 later that night we got all dolled up for dinner and a tour of the Falaknuma Palace. We all wore traditional Indian Saree’s and looked smashing! The palace was nothing less than beautiful with all the intricate work inside and out and being situated at the top of a hill, a view to die for of the city. I felt like true royalty walking up the marble stairs in my jeweled sari for dinner. After we ate a monstrous meal (way too many items to count), we took a carriage ride down to the entrance. It was like a dream come true to be at this stunning palace, in a beautiful dress, and riding in a horse carriage with the glow of the city ahead. Truly a fantastic night to be remembered.
This is our first day in Hyderabad, where Kiran is from. We all liked this city the best because there wasn’t a lot of trash everywhere and there was actual structure to the city. More wealthy and affluent area. We visited a local kindergarten school today. We visited the tiny, colorfully painted classrooms and talked with the kids about what they were working on. The younger kids were slower to warm up to us but it still didn’t take long at all. They were all smiles and very sweet. We got to read a story to one class, so I read a short poem from their teacher’s book about some animals who did not listen to their elders advice. I think the kids enjoyed it as the room filled with claps, high fives, and toothless smiles all around. Their school was almost set up like a house the way the classrooms were laid out. They all learned in English but were working on some stuff in Telegu as well. All the kids wore uniforms and they were so adorable and happy to have visitors like us. After school, we took a short boat ride out to a huge Buddha stature and later went to Kiran’s moms house for dinner. It was such a sweet gesture and I didn’t eat much Indian food at all throughout the trip, but her cooking was the best! We saw an Indian classical dance performance which was amazing as she had her feet painted and all the fancy accessories on, and we even gave a performance of our own for Kiran’s birthday with two homemade songs for her. I think she as well as all of her friends really liked it. Hyderabad is such a nice city, and we were all glad to see some structure!
Today we flew from Amritsar to Delhi, and then from Delhi on south to Hyderabad. To our immense surprise and happiness, Erina and I finally found our luggage 5 days into the trip! It must have been the Golden Temple prayers that sealed the deal and reunited us with our stuff is what we kept saying with Kiran. Our suitcases arrived in Delhi THAT MORNING so it must have been fate that we had a connecting flight from Delhi rather than direct to Hyderabad. We were sooooooo thrilled! Kiran had been working and working to locate it and it finally came. We can never thank her enough 🙂 on to Hyderabad we went!
This was the earliest of all early mornings. We went to visit the Golden Temple at 3 a.m. for morning prayer. Now we were all thinking is it really going to be worth it? Wow. Wow is all I can say. It was simply breathtaking.The Golden Temple is the holiest and most sacred temple for the Sikhs as well as run by volunteers and it is truly beautiful. We had to cover completely to our ankles and wrap our heads to go in. We went this early for the morning ceremonies and to see the sacred book be carried up the procession and into the temple itself. As we came down the stairs to the temple, it sparkled and glistened in the darkness. The marble was polished and so beautiful everywhere. The procession of people going into the temple seemed like it would never end. Seeing everyone so deep in prayer and worship was incredibly moving to me. Our guide had Erin and myself sit on the stairs, put our hands out in a meditative pose and close our eyes. It was extremely calming and spiritually moving to be a part of the people there and to feel like we were in the same prayer as they were. We then got to tour the volunteer area where we drank tea on the floor, rinsed out tea bowls, and chopped vegetables with local volunteers. The whole area ran like a well oiled machine with all the hands on deck that came together for the same purpose. The Golden Temple and Amritsar will hold a special place in my heart ❤