By Chanel Watson
I have had 5 adventurous days in a country that triggers all 5 of your senses. Imagine the smell of spices and tastes of curry; colorful saris and marble art are the cultural attractions that catch your eye. Rub the genie lamps with the tips of your fingers while listening to the traditional Indian music through their string and percussion instruments. Welcome to India.
My trip started by going on a field program with my International Marketing class. We visited the Namami Wellness Resort in Kochi which is considered a getaway for people trying to find peace and serenity. We were welcomed with flowers and coconut milk, and then taken through a beautiful garden that leads to a shrine.
In Hinduism, they worship Dhanwanthari, an avatar of Vishnu, to pray for health for themselves and others. When we took off our shoes to watch the people give worship, we listened to a form of Indian classical music called Sopana Sangeetham that is sung during the worship ceremony. After the ceremony, we went to learn about one of America’s biggest exercise crazes – yoga.
Originating in India, it was interesting to see how yoga is seen as a lifestyle and choice of not only changing the health of your body and mind, but also balancing your emotions and life choices. We had a personal yoga instruction and PowerPoint presentation about yoga’s place within the culture.
When I got back to the ship, it was time to take a 4-hour nap to prepare for our flight to New Delhi. I always find it hilarious when I enter the airports and pass through officials to check my passport. There is always an eye roll in the beginning because they assume I am from somewhere in Africa; until I show them my American passport. Next is the game of figuring out my name.
“Chanel,” is how I respond.
The official kindly hands me back my passport and says “I like it.” I had just gotten comfortable until he tried to hit on me and wanted me to stay and talk with him as I waited for my 6 AM flight. I kindly declined, but I guess it’s true that they like black girls.
After the flight, we took a cab to our hotel that introduced me to India’s traffic. After we already payed $20 for our 30-minute ride (which is truly expensive and not worth it), our driver tried to get us to pay an extra 300 rupees (which is almost $5) for a “parking cost.” Kind of funny how we have to pay a parking cost when he’s just dropping us off. I also knew it was a scam because my 4 friends in the other taxi heard nothing about it from their driver. It did not take long to shut his scam down. He must’ve been irritated from his failed plan and high traffic because when he saw another taxi cutting him off on the road, he hopped out of the car and cussed the driver out for 2 minutes before he got back in to drive us to the hotel. If the traffic and fast cars weren’t enough to scare us, that situation definitely did.
We finally got to our hotel, which seemed like the slums of India. It was in an “unsafe neighborhood” as one local told us. Northern India is stricken with poverty. There are malnourished cows, dogs, and pigs roaming around the streets, along with monkeys hopping from rooftop to rooftop. Children who aren’t in school are asking people for money for food, when in reality they are in gangs and send the money they make back to their gang leader. Prices in India are so high that it’s understandable why many cannot afford to live day-to-day.
Our hotel seemed fine until the nighttime when my friends in the other room told me that someone opened their door. This mysterious hand has yet to be identified. Although we booked our tours from this hotel, we urgently checked out and moved to the 5-star Royal Plaza Hotel. For the first 4 hours we had the personal driver, we made him drive us back and forth between both hotels to switch rooms. Once that was settled it was off to our tour of New Delhi. We got to see city highlights including the India Gate, Humayuns Tomb and the Red Fort. However, the best highlight was during our tour through Agra.
We left from our hotel at 4 in the morning to take a 4-hour trip to one of the wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. When you enter the building, you can feel how cool the air is from the marble. The Taj Mahal’s romantic history added to impeccable hand-craftsmanship of the building especially for a building that was built over 500 years ago.
I call these moments “textbook moments” because these are places that I had read about all the time in class when I was younger. When you actually get to look at it up close and say you’ve touched it and went inside and learned the history from a local’s perspective, there is a cherished memory and appreciation you have for the art. The same can be said for the experience with Semester at Sea; no one will ever understand fully how much these trips have impacted you, not even yourself for a while.
I left India with respect for the country and its pride for its culture. From the clothing, to the food, to the architecture, India is a country that captivates all of your senses.