Bangkok to Krabi (final post)

Bangkok to Krabi (final post)
Bangkok, Thailand

Bangkok, Thailand


This was it. The last stretch of the trip before we headed back home. The last 10 days in Bangkok and the Southern Islands of Thailand. We got up and packed our bags before heading to the airport around 10:30 am. We went through security and had an hour and a half layover, got on the plane at 1:00 pm and did what we could to relax and contain our excitement for this next segment.

We arrived in Bangkok at around 6:00 pm local time, the flight only taking roughly two or three hours. We went to baggage claim and stepped outside of the airport. A huge wave of humidity hit us, and we all had a look of discomfort on our faces from it. We got taxis and headed to our new temporary home away from home: Tavee Guest House.

Along the way, we noticed the drastic difference from India and Nepal. This was something more familiar, something more modern. Skyscrapers lined the smoothly paved asphalt roads and streetlights helped direct traffic. Billboards showed advertisements for new models of cars and certain signs were dedicated to the memory of the late king.

Once we arrived to the guest house, we were assigned rooms and then headed off to have dinner. We found a restaurant that had live music and pretty good food such as the infamous pad thai. Wandering around afterwards we took in all the new sights and smells and sounds that vibrated deep down to our core. It was breath-taking. We went back to the guest house after a few hours of exploring and eating.

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Making friends with the python.

The next morning, Bradford, May, Estelle, and I went to go check out the snake farm. It was an interesting experience with getting to know about the native snakes in Thailand and even having the chance to take a picture with one of the boa constrictors that they had. We had all planned on going to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, which is an art museum that is in the main city area. It was quite impressive, seeing the mixed forms of media and artworks that were presented in the galleries and exhibitions on the 9 or 10 levels of the BACC. Some of us went back early while Fiji and Bradford stayed behind to check out the surrounding area. Judith and I wandered around the streets, seeing the sights and visiting a local temple and noticing the differences in Thai architecture compared to Indian and Nepali architecture. How the roofs ended in a more pointed, spike-like tip than a more classical animal head or design similar to it. We headed back after a while and met up with the others to have dinner. We went back to the place that had restaurants with live music and found one that we liked, and ate and hung out for a few hours before heading back to the guest house and going to sleep.

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Beautiful rock formations over the river.

Our next journey would take us on a train to the Southern Islands, filled with gorgeous beaches and tropical landscapes.

We woke up the next morning excited to see the islands. We moved all of our stuff into the storage room of the guest house and most of us headed out to the mall area to get lunch. Shortly after leaving, a thunderstorm rained down upon us, soaking us. Luckily we stayed dry in the taxi as best we could and enjoyed the modern facilities of the mall in Bangkok. Around 5:00 pm, we were all back at the guest house, ready to leave. We headed to the train station and got on the platform. Bradford had told us that these trains would be much nicer than the ones we rode in India. They would provide us with bedding and pillows as well as an amazing view from the large window facing the outside world. We were not disappointed.

Roughly twelve hours later, we would be in the Southern Islands. The anticipation was keeping us awake, but we did manage to get a few hours of sleep.

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Paying foursquare soccer at the beach.

At 7:00 am, we arrived at Surat Thani Station and got off the train, heavy bags in hand. We were here, finally in the Southern Islands. A place where we could relax and swim and enjoy these last few days of the trip in peace. We took taxis to our guest house. Once we got settled, we headed to the beach to get a longboat to take us to Phra Nang Beach. We spent the next 6 hours there, hanging out on the sand, swimming in the ocean, playing four square, and exploring the caves nearby. Sadly, there were some jellyfish in the water, and most if not all of us got stung, so that was short-lived. Nonetheless, we enjoyed ourselves. We took another longboat back to the mainland and watched the sun set as we rode the waves and witnessed an approaching storm in the distance.

We got back and enjoyed the variety of food that was served at the numerous food stands close to the docks before heading back to the guest house and sleeping. Tomorrow we would be meeting our local director in Thailand/Southern Islands, a man by the name of Sun. Little did we know about the adventures that would follow after meeting this man.

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On the open sea.

After eating breakfast and packing our bags, we met up with Sun at around 9:30 or 10 in the morning. He has been doing this job for the past 17 years and has a lot of experience with foreigners coming to these islands, to his home.

Sun took us to his farm where we dropped off our bags, and then we headed off to go kayaking and see caves. We were broken up into pairs and paddled our way across the water, seeing the natural wonder of what water can do to rock with time and patience.

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Kit  in the kitchen making curry.

We had lunch and then went back to the farm. We all felt exhausted from kayaking, so we slept until dinner was ready. As we have learned to expect, we had a massive feast of delicious food and ate until we hated ourselves. Once we were stuffed, we went to bed satisfied with how our first day went.

The next day, we went with Sun to explore the islands nearby. We spent the day on the boat, going to swimming holes and witnessing the beauty of the ocean and the sun beating down on our skin. It was amazing to behold and quite a calming experience.

We headed back to one of the main islands and got assigned to bungalows, which was probably the fanciest place we have stayed in so far on this trip. For dinner, we were invited to eat with one of Sun’s friends at their house and we ate a bunch of delicious food.

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Posing after a Muay Thai lesson.

Mattia and Margaret went fishing with Sun after we finished dinner and spent the night on the boat.

The next day was our free day. We spent it on the beach and relaxing in our comfy bungalows, enjoying this time to ourselves and with each other.

We have definitely grown as a family of sorts during these last three months, and I am grateful to have met all of them. Our final group meeting was tonight, and we all said something that we respect about one another and any final words that we would say to everyone before going home in a few days.

The next day, Sun took us on one final adventure: we went snorkeling at two different islands and saw fish and coral reefs, seeing the wonderful world below the waves.

He welcomed us to this magical place, a place that is filled to the brim with adventure and exploration. Natural caves that hold the secrets of ancient cave paintings from 3,000 years ago, snorkeling spots at different islands across the ocean where you can witness schools of fish swimming alongside you, sandy beaches that beckon an invitation to relax and listen to the crash of the waves against the shore as you lay in a hammock perched between two trees.

All of that you can see for yourself in the islands, in the culture of the people, in the very land that you walk upon. This is what we experienced during these last few days in the Southern Islands: a new perspective on what life was for these people, living on their boats, eating a feast of their food, swimming in their oceans, experiencing their side of the world.

We went to spend the night at a guest house of sorts, and we got the chance to help cook food with the family that lived there. It was nice to have that again and a really connected opportunity for us all.

We woke up the following morning and took a walk with the father of the house, seeing the local flora and how they got rubber from the rubber trees.

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Sunset on Railey beach

We then headed off back to our hostel, stopping there and dropping off our bags. We spent the day at the beach and then got our bags again before taking vans to the train station. Two or three hours later, we arrived. We had dinner at the food stands nearby and got on the train, sleeping again while we headed back to Bangkok.

Our last day of the trip. We got back to Bangkok at around 9:00 am, took taxis to Tavee Guest House, and explored what we hadn’t seen in Thailand. In this case, the Royal Palace. We took a boat across the river and walked to the entrance. There was a collection of buildings that depicted the story of the gods and goddesses of Thailand on the walls, seeing the Thai architecture in the temples and important buildings that were in the large area of the Royal Palace.

We headed back and had a final team dinner a few hours later. It was a nice way to wrap up the trip and see everyone enjoy themselves before we all left for home.

This trip was something that we made into a journey, one with many paths and crossroads leading to different varieties and versions of the future. Possibilities have been cataloged and will make certain truths become revealed.

In this moment, we became invincible and infinite, stretched on into all of time and space, lasting for eternity.

This is our time, this is our moment. We made it. We finally made it. Saab kuch melega.

Kit

 

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Nepali Village Homestay

Nepali Village Homestay
Nagarkot, Nepal

Nagarkot, Nepal


28 April to 5 May:

Kathmandu to Baluwapati Village:

The team woke up early Friday morning and piled into jeeps together. Before leaving Kathmandu, we stopped at Pashupatinath, a Hindu temple by a holy river in Nepal where a lot of Hindus take their deceased relatives to be cremated alongside the river.

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The team at Boudhanath.

While we were there, we had the chance to see a family in the process of performing this ceremony. The family began by rubbing red color on the face of their loved one and began a series of blessings before moving the body onto the cremation site where they then burned the body.

It seemed a little strange for us to be able to see such an intimate ceremony, but maybe that’s just how we perceive it. It’s different compared to our culture in the West to have it be so public.

We also saw the largest stupa in Nepal at Boudhanath before we drove about 3 hours outside the city, up the mountains off roading with a beautiful view of the valleys.

We met at the village school and were greeted by the principal and a few teachers. Everyone got their home stay families and left for the night.

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Kit and Bradford enjoy dinner with their host family.

For many people I think this was one of the more difficult home stays because it was in such a rural area and lots of people were dealing with colds. However, I think this was one of the most fulfilling home stays because for me I really had the chance to learn about Nepali culture, the family dynamic, and how everyone in the community treats each other as extended family – it’s such a strong community feel in the villages. For example, our home stay sister described how everyone in the community helps each other on their farms so that when someone is sick or unable to tend their crops, they know someone from the community will be happy to help.

Dhal bat. All of our team members experienced the traditional cuisine of Nepal – a combination of rice and lentils with a type of curry. This is the main dish – the only dish – they eat on a daily basis and some in our group enjoyed it more than others. Nepalese people claim it gives them more power and energy.

In my particular home stay it was predominantly women who woke up at 5am every day and performed pretty labor intensive tasks like milking the cows, sorting the wheat crop to make flour for roti – the traditional flat bread – and cook for their family.

We did our best to help wash dishes when we could or refill the water buckets around the house, but their culture is so hospitable they would generally refuse to let us help. They also took care of all their farm animals and still managed to make us chai every day when we woke up and when we came back from volunteering at the school.

Since this village experienced massive structural damage from the big earthquake two years ago they had many projects needing attention. These projects included demolition of an old building and painting the interior of a new building. This building was for classrooms and they requested a few murals for the walls.

After many coats of white we started brainstorming ideas for educational murals. For one mural we decided to incorporate both the local geography and the solar system with mountains and planets.

For the other mural we decided to paint a playful, nature scene complete with tigers, elephants and lots of beautiful butterflies.

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May teaches a class of Nepalese girls in village.

The team worked really hard to successfully complete both murals during the last few days after priming and painting was complete.

Between demolition, English exchange classes and painting, our team battled each other in an intense egg war that lasted the entire home stay. No one was safe from egg attacks. It helped keep morale up when daily dhal bat became too much for our stomachs to handle.

We also had spectacular views – some even catching a glimpse of Mt. Everest on a clear day – and though the walk to my home stay from the school clocked in at 45 minutes, it was accompanied by students, goats and an expansive view of all the villages below.

After a day of rest and exploration in Kathmandu, we’re all ready for Thailand.

Olivia

Rafting and Trekking

Rafting and Trekking
Pokhara, Nepal

Pokhara, Nepal


Rafting:

Pokahra Nepal:

I remember it like it was a week ago. We had just got off a drudging bus ride from Kathmandu to the Trisuri River. After a little over 3 hours on a bus which failed in finding a smooth part of the road for longer than a minute, the group was itching to get outside and enjoy the day.

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The guys ready to go with their trusty new speedos.

Charlie, Mattia, and I had just purchased fresh Speedos, a traditional Nepali style, and we could not wait to test the aerodynamics of the slim cut swimsuits on the rushing rapids of the River.

With the sun high in the sky, not a cloud around I felt the sun’s rays piercing my pale upper thighs. I thought to myself, “wow if it was any hotter someone could get sun exhaustion, its a real thing.”

Our guide led us down to where we would be departing on our adventure, and I noticed the pure, unscathed water of the rapids. It was the color of Chai tea, so clean you could probably drink straight out if it with #NoFilter. (Don’t actually try it or you will get sick and die). The polluted brown River demonstrates just how devastating the after effects of the Earthquakes here were. Hours away from any major city reconstruction of homes, roads, and businesses have altered the geography of even the most remote areas in Nepal. Although its not nearly the dust bowl that is Kathmandu, its still evident that life all over Nepal has been affected.

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Geared up and ready to take on the Trisuli River.

After gearing up in life jackets and helmets, the group looked ready to compete in rowing in the Olympics. We had photos taken by our friendly photographer and took off down the rapids.

As we proceeded down the rapids it became clear our antics were just beginning. “Paddle forward left” the guide would say as the right side paddled backwards. It turns out Synchronized paddling wasn’t the strong suit of our group who was more than half represented by kids with ADD.

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Hitting the rapids!

Eventually our guide grew weary of our games. He combated our rebellion by leading us right into the grittiest rapids. With me and Charlie in the front assuring synchronized paddling is not possible, we hit a huge rapid and our raft went soaring into the air. Time ceased as I noticed everyone abandon their paddles and retreat to the center of the raft. You would assume there was another earthquake if you saw the mortified expressions on our faces as the raft tipped up on its side. One by one our group plummeted into the frigid rapids, for the 4th time of the day.

After leisurely floating down the river for about ten minutes everyone retreated to the raft. By the end of the day, everyone was ready to revert back to the cramped bus and get to Pokhara for our next adventure in the Himalayas. Bruised up, damp, and cold we limped back to the bus and instantaneously were out. Like a light. Sun exhaustion, its a real thing. After the long day it was refreshing to just relax and reflect how good it felt to be away from the city and out in nature. There’s something calming about getting out of the constant chaos of traveling and just have time to have fun.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in Nepal is to stop taking life so seriously. Back home we put so much pressure on ourselves to grow up, and in an effort to do so we lose touch with the ability to just let go and have fun.

Being immersed in the vastness of something bigger, I am starting to see that what you do with your life is rather meaningless if you don’t enjoy the journey. When you learn to let go of trying to determine your purpose here, a space opens up.

Rather than finding yourself, I believe we all have the opportunity to create ourselves. There is a sense of lightness when you grasp this concept and realize that you don’t have to live this predetermined life paved out for you by what society wants. Look at life in a small village, the optimism of a nature guide, or the joy of a kid playing with dirt and a spoon in a lost alley of Kathmandu. You will see that happiness is not derived from your achievements, but the ability to laugh at the game. To find humor and understanding in tragedy is one of the most powerful tools gained from traveling.

Himalayan Trek:

With nothing but an overly packed bag on my back, which would soon have the same annoyance of a summer night in the woods without bug spray, the group arrived at a small town in the foot hills of the Himalayas. The town was dense with tourist

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Heading through the village in the sky.

backpackers, local porters, and small shop owners alike. Dusty and worn, the town had the appeal of a wrecked section of Kathmandu, rather than the foothills of the biggest mountain ranges in the world. Here we met our trekking guides, Gokul and Norbu. Gokul was this short, potbellied Nepali porter/guide who Bradford briefly described to me before meeting him. Norbu had been born and raised here, and was an older, more soft spoken man – he had more of this hardened dad appeal.

We departed the town in the early afternoon, and I quickly became a human sweat shop. The first day was supposed to be a mild hike on a road running parallel along the RIVER. After a few hours we stopped for lunch in this small village consisting of nothing but a few restraints and guest houses. Cheap pasta, fake cheese, and chicken never tasted so good, especially after the two hour wait we endured at our stop. After lunch everyone began to find their own pace. With the scarcity of alone time on this trip, solitude becomes a true luxury. After climbing over 3,000 feet that day we arrived at our first guest house. We had a small glimpse of the immenseness of the Himalayas as 24,000 foot mountains towered above us. Mountains twice as large as any we have in the States. I resulted for the countless time on this trip that this was the place for me and I was to stay here forever.

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Trekking at high elevation.

The feeling of contentment I had the previous night was quickly fleeting when 7:00 am rolled around and our human alarm clocks protruded into our room. For the next hour and a half Bradford and Margaret would attempt to get us up for our 7:30 departure. Morning events that would become routine over the proceeding days.

The rest of the trek would challenge the group in a variety of ways. A few colds, Fiji drudging with the knees of an 80 year old cement laborer, and rapidly dwindling budget money. Life has a humbling way of showing you you’re not as invincible as you think you are.

After 5 days, and over 10,000 feet of climbing we reached the Annapurna Base Camp. We summitted the peak of our trek at around 5:30 a.m. Surrounded by Machapuchare, Annapurna 1, and Annapurna South, some of the worlds tallest mountains. I felt a sense of liberation and insignificance.

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Clouds move in at the top.

By the time we summited, the group was ready to escape the frigid temperatures of the peak and return to Pokhara. On our descent we had the chance to “refresh” at the hot springs in a small village called Jinhu. Relaxation turned out to be short lived as a few of us attracted the company of leaches in the springs.

Fatigued after 8 days of trekking we finally reached the bottom the following day after a full day of hiking in the blistering sun. The feeling of accomplishment overcame our fatigued legs, and famished bodies.

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Sunrise over Annapurna I

Spending time in the mountains, I rediscovered my passion for the vastness of the mountains. My time in the Himalayas reminded me of how minuscule our place is in the world. Growing up we attain this idea that the world revolves around us, but in the grand scheme of things what we do with our lives is completely insignificant. Contrarily to the nihilistic standpoint, I feel a sense of freedom. A whole new world of possibility opens up when you stop attaching to the idea that your life is of grand importance. The true beauty of life is in the unknowing, and the lightness of being only possible when you learn to let go.

Written by River Chandler

A poem by Kit:

Top of the World:

As the early morning light peaks through the overwhelming sky,
the starlight fading and flickering with each passing second,
we witness the crescent moon rise above the Fishtail peak
and the pink orange light of the sunrise start to touch the tip of the surrounding mountains
and see the cold winds blowing over the tops,
the cold snow slipping and crunching beneath our feet,
we are filled with a sense of immense wonder and accomplishment towards our achievement of reaching this new height in both our lives as well as in our journey.
Sitting amongst friends and strangers in the dining hall,
the warmth seeping through the cup of milk coffee to my cold fingers,
the constant change of weather that can go from clear to foggy in an instant,
and seeing the building streaks of sunlight rising higher and brighter until a final break of the sun blinds us in shining brilliance and makes everything reborn in that moment of a new dawn,
a new day.
We made it to the top of the world.

 

 

Amritsar, India to Kathmandu, Nepal

Amritsar, India to Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu, Nepal


April 4-6:

Amritsar:

Red brick roads paved the streets of this holy Sikh city. My first impression was that it was pretty touristy with mostly Sikh tourists (pilgrims). It seemed similar to other Indian cities to me, apart from the Golden Temple.

After checking in, we took a guided tour of the Golden Temple. It was interesting because it’s down below ground level and we walked downstairs to see it surrounded by water. The whole area was crowded, though the actual temple looked quite nice.

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The serene yet crowded Golden Temple

We also saw the canteen area which was dark enough, but we could see people sitting on the floor eating. It was crowded and noisy with the sound of clanking metal trays. It’s open 24-hours a day and completely free.

I headed back to the foreigner’s sleeping area to rest. It was four rooms that were just beds and cupboards and also beds in the outside area. There was a communal shower and a toilet area. It was pretty crowded without enough beds for everybody.

On the last night, we went to the border ceremony between India and Pakistan. It was interesting with their demonstrations of nationalism and the difference between the Indian border and Pakistani border – between landscape and gates as well as the uniforms of the soldiers themselves.

It kind of felt like a mixture of a soccer, game with everyone cheering and waving flags, with an element of militaristic performance, a show of strength and pride for each country.

It was a good way to end our time in India.

April 7-9:

Kathmandu, Nepal:

So we got to the airport. At first I was struck by the Nepali airport because it was a lot less fancy than Delhi airport.

And then all of Kathmandu, it’s like Delhi with the same sort of little shops but with a more relaxed feeling to it. This struck me most in the cab ride to our hostel.

Once we got to the hostel, we went up to the balcony and I really liked the surrounding view. The whole city has this cool vibe to it, the architecture is a good blend of new and old.

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At Swayambunath, aka the Monkey Temple

I liked the restaurants a lot more because there’s meat. A lot of the cafes in Freak Street were really good – burgers.

The Monkey temple was really cool. The Buddhist prayer walk with all the prayer flags was nice to see since Tibetan culture outside of Dharamshala can be so repressed. After this, I bought some cool artwork – oil paintings with striking mountains.

The next day we went to the Royal Palace Museum. We saw a lot of dead animal rugs – seems like Nepali culture is more centered around wildlife (i.e. killing it). I thought it was really interesting that everything was extravagant but the king’s bedroom was very modest. I was sad to see all the bullet holes from the assassination of the royal family. I can’t tell if it’s good or bad if they kept the bullet holes because I feel like it keeps people trapped in the past but it’s a pretty significant part of the country, so I don’t know.

April 9-15:

Homestay in outer Kathmandu:

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Estelle, May, and Kit dig in to help build school.

I really like the home stay. We have a really big family because everyone’s visiting for holidays.

Our host brother is really cool. He comes and talks to us – he doesn’t treat us like foreigners staying at his house, he treats us like we’re actually his friends.

We’re also working on building an enclosed classroom for a kindergarten with access to a backyard garden.

Building this is not something I’d do in the US – manual labor, especially considering how basic it was, like mixing cement by hand – but it was a good experience.

It’s really fun to play football with the kids, though. They’re better than we are.

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Fiji, mater artist, paints mural on school wall.

I love interacting with the students and sharing the English language.

After school on Thursday, we hiked up to the nearby monastery on the top of the hill. Even though we couldn’t go in because of damages from the earthquake, it had a stunning view. I really liked watching the people doing the reconstruction painting since it was so intricate.

Overall Kathmandu is a very relaxed city, but that’s not to say there’s not an exhaustive amount of things to do.

The people seem very content here even though it’s without many modern comforts of the west.

By Joel, Fiji and Kit

McLeod Ganj and Meditation Course

McLeod Ganj and Meditation Course
Dharamahala, India

Dharamahala, India


Dharamshala:

We were greeted by mountains, blue skies, and the kindest people in the world.

Dharamshala is home to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans. We were lucky enough to spend over 2 weeks among Tibetan refugees, learning their stories and putting passion into our hearts to support them and the fight for peace in Tibet.

After a day of celebrations and rest, we split off into two groups. One was headed for the Tushita meditation retreat, and another lived with Tibetan host families and explored both Buddhism and Tibetan culture.

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Beautiful temple grounds at Norbulingka.

Staying in Dharamsala for sixteen days was an incredible experience, where we got a personal look into the trials and tribulations of the Tibetan refugees. Our host families were all of Tibetan descent, and they helped us to be one step closer to understanding the struggle of the Tibetan freedom movement. Since the occupation of Tibet by China in 1959, Tibetans have been fighting with their lives for the independence of their country, and that struggle is closely intertwined with their culture in many ways.

For those of us opting out of the meditation course, we had the opportunity to tutor Tibetans in their English skills, and learn about their experiences and aspirations. One such student had arrived in India from Tibet at the age of only 5 years old, a harsh trip to make at such a young age, especially considering the journey entails hiking through snow-covered peaks, dangerous mountain passes, and vigilant border patrol agents. Despite these struggles, this student was just another young adult, hardly different from any of us, and enjoyed many of the same pastimes that we ourselves enjoy. The lightheartedness of the Tibetan youth contrasted with the dark past and histories they’ve so personally experienced is a testament to the emotional and communal strength of their rich culture.

The Students for a Free Tibet society was another activist community we had the opportunity to visit, and a worldwide one at that. They have chapters in universities and cities all around the world, even in many of the Youth International students’ home cities! They gave us an insightful look into the international efforts that are being made to help free Tibetans from Chinese occupation, and to make sure Tibetan activist voices are being heard around the globe. They told us about demonstrations they’d organized, concerts, protests, and marches. Though the motto of “Free Tibet” isn’t heard now as much as it might have been 10-20 years ago, it was awe-inspiring to hear the hard work they’ve put in to keep the Tibetans’ voices still sounding around the world.

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We practiced art at the Norbulingka Institute which teaches, on scholarship, Tibetan people in their traditional arts of Thangka paintings, brocade, metal and wood work. We were fortunate enough to take a class that taught us how to draw Buddha in the traditional way. We struggled through but perfected our portraits and took time to explore the grounds. We saw the most intricate and beautiful temple and were in awe of the architecture and layout of the grounds. We enjoyed tea and conversation in this beautiful place.

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Art class at Norbulingka.

Bella and Maria took a class on traditional Macrame Jewelry. We learned how to wrap stones and sat with a kind Muslim man who shared stories from the Quran with us along with Islamic philosophy.

Our walk around the Dalai Lama’s temple was peaceful, we counted hundreds of prayer wheels and marveled at the beauty of thousands of prayer flags blowing in the wind. The Tibetan museum was a heart wrenching visit as we saw the destruction that China had brought to Tibet. They not only committed genocide against the Tibetan people, but also destroyed temples, brainwashed young Chinese and Tibetans, and tore away their culture and language from them. Protesters in Tibet have turned to Self-Immolation, setting themselves on fire in public places, to try to reach the world community about what China is doing to Tibet. They see this as the only way the world could understand what is happening to the Tibetan people;138 people have self-immolated in Tibet since 2009. We read their stories and tried to comprehend the pain wreaked upon them.

We went to the Tibetan Library and listened to a high monk, translated to English, speak on emptiness and compassion. We explored the library and marveled at the beautiful murals depicting the path to enlightenment. This was followed by a trip to the Tibetan Delek Hospital, where we waited for hours to get a thorn out of Charlie’s foot, then more volunteering and conversation with the Tibetans.

There was a sizeable amount of physical activity during our stay in Dharamshala as well, not even mentioning the grueling uphill treks just to get to the main square. One day, Bela, Maria, Charlie, and May all went on a 4 hour hike to a waterfall up in the further

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Swimming at a mountain pool.

reaches of the Himalayas, and all got a chance to go swimming, despite the frigid temperatures. That same day, those students were treated to lunch by a Buddhist monk in a monastery not far from our temporary home base. It was an amazing experience, learning how the Buddhist monks live and learn inside the mysterious Tibetan monasteries, mixed in with the familiar experience of delicious momos (a Tibetan delicacy) for lunch. Another day, Mattia, River, Charlie, and his English student Ngawang all went on a hike to the “Bhagsu falls” where once again, despite the ice cold temperatures, and the scrutinizing eyes of onlookers, they all took a dip in the clear Himalayan water.

On the day before the meditation course group returned, we relaxed and enjoyed what the city had to offer. We enjoyed our volunteering, and became close friends with our English students.

Tushita Meditation Course Experience:

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Entire meditation course group at end of retreat.

With a promise of learning about the basis for a religion that has been part of this ancient land since 2,500 years ago, we headed up the mountain to Tushita to begin our 10-day meditation retreat.

Upon arrival, we were asked to respect the silence and checked into the facilities, getting assigned to our rooms and our karma yoga jobs as well as introducing ourselves to the other participants. The karma yoga jobs are jobs that are designed to benefit others, and they are simple jobs that are done all over the grounds. From sweeping the stairs of the Meditation Hall to washing dishes after the end of each meal, all of these things kept harmony among us and helped to keep everything in order.

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Estelle shares conversation and lunch after the course/

We were allowed to head back down to the town during our free time until 4:30 pm, when we had to be in the Meditation Hall so we could learn about the details of the program and the rules we were to follow during the next 10 days.

After that, we headed to the Dining Hall to have dinner. We got to know each other more during the last few moments of being able to speak, enjoying each other’s company and slowly learning and getting accustomed to the schedule of the program.

After dinner, we all went back to the Meditation Hall to have our first session of meditation with one of our teachers, Renato. We learned the basics for meditation with having the correct posture and focusing on the breathing as well as understanding what meditation is used for: to develop the mind. We all returned to our rooms, now under the rule of maintaining silence for the next 10 days.

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A great view!

The following 5 days were structured with a 6 am wake-up call, a morning session of mindfulness meditation where we learned how to be both aware and calm in the present moment, breakfast at 7:30 am, a morning lesson with varying topics each day at 9 am, stretching at 11 am, followed by lunch, an hour of getting into 14 discussion groups that would gather at certain locations across the grounds where we reviewed and engaged in discussing the questions that were given to us at the end of the morning lesson, a quick break for tea/chai, a second lesson at 3:30 pm, and then a first session of analytical meditation where we used certain topics as our focus and exploring them through meditation, then dinner at 6 pm, and a second session of analytical meditation before heading to bed.

Some of the topics that were discussed during the lessons, just to name a few, were things like learning about karma, the concept of rebirth, death and what happens to us when we die, the difference between attachment and true love, and understanding the nature of the mind.

During the last two days of the program, we had multiple sessions of meditation where we reviewed the topics we had discussed and learned about in the past 5 days and reflecting on how they affect our lives and developing a greater understanding of them. On the 9th day of the program, after we had dinner, we met in the Meditation Hall to have a light offering ceremony. We were each given a candle, and asked that during our meditation that we think of someone that has suffered or is currently suffering, and to dedicate a wish to help them. That wish would be held in the flame of the candle, and we all took our candles once we had them lit and walked around the stupa, a monument of infinite wisdom, and placed the candle on the stupa. If we chose to do so, we could say a silent prayer to the people we had dedicated the wish to and any others that we held in our thoughts to wish them happiness and wisdom in their lives, hoping that they would be shown compassion and benefit from
our offering.

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Having a final lunch outside main meditation fall.

On the final day of the program, we were allowed to talk during breakfast. After spending the last 10 days in silence, all of the repressed words and feelings sprang out like a waterfall, overflowing and progressively getting louder and louder. We were given the rundown of the process for checking out of the program, and then we took a group picture before having our lunch picnic. We learned even more about each other, gaining even more insight into people’s characters and their stories before having to leave this beautiful place. We had become somewhat of a family, taking care of each other and helping out whenever the moment arose.

One of the main components of Buddhism is developing a sense of compassion towards others, and we all created a basis for having that sense of wanting to benefit others during these last 10 days. I’m sure that we can continue this vision of making everyone a better person through a demonstration of compassion and love towards all sentient beings.

The Group Reunited:

One day after the whole group had gotten back from meditation course, we took a day-long hike up the “Triund” mountain path. It was a grueling experience, but good preparation for our hike in Nepal soon to come. We were joined on the hike by other travelers the group had met at Tushita, and were occasionally passed by some pack mules making deliveries to little cafes all the way up the trail. At the top of the climb, we were treated with stunning views of the nearby Himalayan white-caps, and all had either a traditional Indian or Tibetan meal atop the cliff. We all left the hike with a cut or two, but also a strong yearning for the Himalayan trek to come.

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After long walks and talks…

Our group was fortunate enough to listen to amazing speakers. First we listened to Lhasang Tsering, a refugee from Tibet who opposes the middle way proposed by the Dalai Lama. He thinks the fight for Tibet can never be won through “a peace agreement with mutual benefit for both parties” and believes that Tibetans, Mongolians and Manchurians should move into China and cut communication and power lines in order to wreak havoc along the coast, giving a chance for an uprising in Tibet. His passion was infectious. We asked many questions and were honored to talk with such an important political activist in the community.

The next day we listened to a doctor who practices traditional Tibetan medicine. From just a glance, she was able to read our energies and tell us whether we had too much earth, wind, air, fire or space within us. She diagnosed our general health through a pulse check along our wrist, or from a urine sample. It was amazing to think of how we could incorporate this knowledge into our everyday diets and lifestyles to live longer and healthier lives.

Our final speaker was the president of the Gu Chu Sum Movement of Tibet Former Political Prisoners Association. She is the daughter of two ex-political prisoners. She informed us on what activists are still doing in Tibet and abroad. She spoke of torture

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A speaker teaches about traditional medicine.

done by the Chinese to a young nun in Tibet who peacefully protested. She was beaten, torched by flame and then made to lay on a bed of ice, and bitten by dogs. The dogs stopped biting them after three days, but the torture by the Chinese continued for two weeks, a short amount of time because she was only 14 at the time. She spent two and a half years in prison. Another woman had electric prods inserted into her vagina as torture and lost her ability to have kids because of this. Our hearts broke as we heard of this pain and torture for simply exercising free speech, a right we take for granted.

We had amazing meals while in Dharamshala. Charlie and Bela took a cooking class on how to make Momos, a traditional Tibetan and Nepali dumpling. We enjoyed fresh bok choy, ice cream and oreo shakes, and as much mutton as possible. Our host families served us delicious breakfasts and dinners and we loved our conversations and quality time spent with them.

We also ran activities, on two days, for Tibetan children at the local kindergarten.

Our final day in Dharamshala was bittersweet. The promise of a 5 AM bus ride in the morning had many of us wondering why would we ever want to leave this beautiful and peaceful place, but we know many of us will return someday to continue the friendships we have made with the Tibetan and Indian people who live in this gorgeous mountain town.

Charlie, Kit, and Maria


Jaisalmer and the Camel Safari

Jaisalmer and the Camel Safari
Jaisalmer, India

Jaisalmer, India


March 12-17:

Holi March 13:

It began in the morning when we were woken up by songs about Holi and people shouting. We got up and there were already people throwing colors.

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Breakfast time after throwing colors.

We got our gear on, armed and ready, went out for breakfast and were already colored by the time we got to the restaurant. We weren’t allowed in to many places, but finally found one that let us sit outside.

We went back to the hotel roof and played amongst ourselves. We squirted water guns and threw the colored powder, smearing it on each other. We went out to the fort and it was crazy and crowded so we headed back to the guest house and partied outside with some locals where we danced in the street to even more color throwing.

It wrapped up around 3pm and everyone tried – to the best of their abilities – to wash everything off, but some of us were stained for days.

Jaisalmer, camel safari March 14-16:

After a month of traveling and experiencing the vast diversity offered in India, the group had the opportunity to unwind and reflect on our adventures in the Thar desert.

The desert has an unparalleled way of taking your mind off of the trivial hassles of daily life. The endless cycle of worries, planning and regret slowly eroding like mountains as we ventured deeper into the barren desert.

I began to sense a deeper presence in everyone, like the sense of freedom and wonder you only experience as a child. I felt like I learned more about our group in the few days we spent in the desert than the past month we spent together. From tackling each other on the sand dunes to overdoing inside jokes, it revealed the innocence of childhood fun before adolescence, when our primary sources of dopamine can be fixed only by recreational substances, social approval, and the adrenaline of intense experiences.

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On camel safari.

Perhaps only short lived, it was still refreshing to catch a glimpse of the happiness achievable when you escape from the gratuitous thinking we are each dealing with.

The safari guides struck the perfect balance between keeping us enthralled with uplifting quotes and songs and letting us each experience the tranquility of the desert. This allotted us the space to observe the stillness of the desert and the stillness and the freedom we are each capable of.

Humans have the capacity to learn and grow exponentially from spending time in nature. When we would take breaks (greatly appreciated by my groin) I often found myself playing with the sand in my hands. The tighter I grasped it the heavier it would fall, as opposed to the beauty I saw when I let the wind take it freely from my hands.

This small motion made me think about the philosophy of attachment. It made me realize the attachment we have to our technology, relationships and goals, to seek happiness when true happiness can be achieved by becoming at peace with the darkness and light in all of us.

By Judith and River


Udaipur and Jhadol

Udaipur and Jhadol
Udaipur, India

Udaipur, India


March 1:

We took our first overnight train and woke up in Udaipur. After a big breakfast of eggs, toast and chai, we went on a tour to the palace of the royal family of Udaipur. The fort was built around a hill so they were able to grow trees at higher levels of the palace. I was really impressed with the intricate glass designs of peacocks that overlooked the lake.

That afternoon we went for a walk to the lake. The big botanical park near our hostel was really peaceful. It was nice to have a bit of greenery in the middle of the city.

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Maria, Olivia, and May under arches, Udaipur lakeside.

We watched the sun go down over the lake and went out on a boat. The boat ride was peaceful and the sunset was beautiful.

We stopped in front of a restaurant overlooking the lake and went up to the roof for dinner. We had a big meal and there was some really good yogurt.

Afterwards, we all sat in a corner area on cushions and looked up at the stars and talked about how our week was going. Rekha-ji told some stories, she gave us a lesson about the Hindu religion and moksha. We got to know each other and Rekha-ji better.

March 2-8:

I enjoyed the ride through the countryside to the small village of Jhadol – the scenery, the time to write in my journal. I was a little disappointed that the drive didn’t last longer.

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Team at work painting a school for girls in Jhadol.

Jhadol was awesome. It was in a rural area of Rajasthan surrounded by lots of hills. It was pretty barren, really beautiful and kinda dusty.

We taught English to children all week at an all girls school. It was pretty daunting for a lot of us, but the students were understanding and very mature for their age groups. It brought a lot of us out of our comfort zones but it was a really good learning experience.

We taught the girls vocabulary for nature, animals and anatomy and also some crafts like friendship bracelets. We definitely learned from each other. It was good to exchange different ideas and interests.

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Jhadol homestay.

During this time we stayed with local village families. The home stays were really interesting because the language barrier was such a hard thing to get past, but I still had such a lovely time with my host family.

I had one host sister and one host brother who were both very sweet and accommodating and who always had a smile on their face. The way we communicated was pretty much through drawings and games, and I had a lot of fun with them. Even though it felt weird not being able to talk to them in English, they really tried to be helpful. I feel like the main difference is that they just live their lives; they live in the moment and we live in the future.

I also got to find out a little bit about what they do. They mostly did daily field work starting in the very early morning around 5am. I’d hear the mother get up, and they woke up with chai every morning. My host brother would reach under the mosquito net and announce “chai.”

We helped with the morning chores. We swept and made chapati – a type of bread cooked over an open flame in a rounded clay pan.

The final night there we had a dance party and it was intense. It was so high energy and also really nice to be able to interact with all the students in that sort of environment. Everybody was having fun and showed us their traditional dances. It was fun to be able to dance with the kids and to their music. Super sweaty and hot but totally worth it. Everybody slept well that night and it was a very good way to end the week.

March 8-10:

International Women’s Day back in Udaipur was different than what I expected, but it was interesting to see all the different traditional performances and dances.

It was pretty empowering seeing a room full of Indian women. I had this sense that there was this energy when you’re in a room full of women who are there for the same reason: to uplift and support each other.

The next day we had a good rest day, which was much needed after a high energy week. That night we went to a Haveli performance and it was amazing. Very different from our culture since they incorporate a lot of props and puppetry, the use of balancing acts, and traditional dances.

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Working on our own Batik art using wax resist.

Our final day in Udaipur we tried Batik art and it was wonderful. There were so many beautiful sculptures and designs at the family run workshop of a local Batik master.

It was really interesting trying to make it yourself after they showed us the different fabrics. You gain appreciation for their craft because it’s difficult and a lengthy process.

It’s inspiring to be around that sort of environment because everybody is so invested and so passionate about what they’re doing.

I wish I could’ve stayed longer, but we’re off to Jaisalmer for our camel safari.

Olivia and May


 

Jaipur

Jaipur
Udaipur, India

Udaipur, India


Feb 23:

In Jaipur! After being together for the start of the trip, we’ve made it to our first home stay and split off into pairs.

This is our chance to really get to know families and their way of life in this desert city.

Following a long afternoon bus ride, everyone had a late dinner with their new host families (something very common here) and got some much needed sleep.

 

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Block art.

Feb 24:

We went to the Amber Fort, visited a paper factory and block printing and pottery studio. It was really nice and really pretty to look at.

In my home stay, there are two sisters who are really intelligent and our mother was so nice and an excellent cook. We had dinner and talked with the youngest sister. The food was so good that I stuffed myself.

Feb 25:

We had a yoga class that was really different from every other class I’ve had but I liked it a lot.

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Team standing in front of world’s largest sundial/

After this we had breakfast then went to Jantar Mantar, an observatory built by Jaipur’s city founder, Jai Singh. There are instruments made out of stone that give information from the sunlight. So cool, even though I didn’t understand how every instrument was working.

That night we listened to a private concert with a sitar player who won 2 Grammy Awards.

Feb 26:

Today we went to an artist colony called Kalakar Basti.

I thought it was one of the more touching experiences because of the conditions, but still we had a great time. They were living in poor conditions but they seemed happy. They taught us some beading and stitching crafts and we all danced.

That night we drove up to the top of a mountain and saw Nahargarh Fort to watch the sunset on all of Jaipur.

Feb 27:

We took a walking tour through Old Jaipur and saw people making statues of Hindu gods, and many other different types of shops.

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Estelle gets dressed up with local beads.

In the afternoon we went to see Rangoon at the Raj Mandir theater. I was happy to see how the Bollywood movie was made but we didn’t really understand it. I was surprised that it was all in Hindi with no subtitles. I was really shocked by the color of the main actress. I had a conversation with my host sisters about it and they said the culture for women was to have fair skin, kind of like westerners want to be skinny. I thought the shooting and images were really good quality, I was really surprised. It looked like a Hollywood movie. We don’t have a lot of time to write these days, though, because we’re really busy.

Feb 28:

For me, our local guide Rekha is really impressive because she seems to have a lot of experiences. Rekha is an artist and teacher in Rajasthan. She talked about being open minded to the culture, to not close up to different things, that there is no absolute truth, and try to understand why things are how they are. How she accepted her role in society – for example to serve her husband – I realized how strong the women are here.

Today, she took us to the Art Center and also gave us a talk on women in India. I would’ve loved to see more of the museum because it seemed really interesting, but a lot of it wasn’t open yet. I loved how even in the corridors there were nice paintings. I liked how open air it was.

We left our family that evening and it was sad to go. Even though we have a really different culture we were really on the same page about a lot on things. I hope to see them again one day since they want to visit Paris!

I’m happy to have friends from India because they have such a different culture.

Estelle

Orientation and Arrival in India

Orientation and Arrival in India
New Delhi, India

New Delhi, India


Day 1:

Wednesday February 15, 2017. A date that we have all been repeating to friends, family, co-workers, significant others and so on.

We all meet in the airport tired but excited and also a little worried that we over packed or under packed. It is not only a blessing but a one in a billion chance that each and every one of us are present in this excursion of self realization.

At the airport we chatted and packed our bags before heading to Estes Park, Colorado for orientation.

We did simple tasks like going grocery shopping, making each other food and learning each other’s names.

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The team on steps of cabin in Estes Park, CO.

The first team challenge, we a group of colorful young adults went grocery shopping for all the lunches and dinners for the next three days.

I like all of the people in my group and in my program. They are all friendly and cool and have a lot to talk about. It’s going to be fun getting to be with them for the next three months.

02/16/ 2017 – Day 2:

Due to the combination of jet lag and nerves I woke up every now and then throughout the night; it wasn’t fun. Margaret, one of our group leaders, did a morning yoga class that Kit, Estelle, and Maria participated in. We passed the time by learning how to make friendship bracelets by a girl named Maria; she’s from Minnesota.

Breakfast was made individually, and afterwards we had a meeting to review the itinerary of India, Nepal and Thailand! Slowly the reality of going to South and Southeast Asia set in and resulted in a lot of excitement and energy.

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A meeting in our Rocky Mountain cabin.

Brad, the director of Youth International, had the idea of going on a hike in the mountains, in Rocky Mountain National Park, which happened to be right next door. We had to dress in our warmer clothes since there was still some heavy snow in the mountains. (And Brad provided some extra winter jackets for everyone.)

The views were amazing with all the huge mountains and forests across the land and some areas dipping down to meet into lakes that have frozen and are covered in layers of snow.

We got back to the cabin and discussed health and safety abroad.

I think my favorite memory was when we finally finished what was on the schedule and our group played a hilariously intense game of spoons.

Tomorrow is our last day to prep for India. Some also started learning Hindi language from some of the books that were given to us.

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Olivia gets passed over the top of the web.

02/17/2017- Day 3:

Yoga started late today, probably because we all stayed up playing spoons. After breakfast we jumped into orientation starting with working on our team work skills and cooperation.

Then we moved on to culture shock and everyone feels somewhat comfortable enough to express their past experiences and emotions. Charlie was willing to go first and talked about his time in Greece. We also have Mattia who is originally from Italy, and Fiachra (aka: Fiji) who’s from Ireland. This is something that we can only verbally prepare for so much.

After lunch we discussed that Kit and Bela would start on creating a blog and that Maria, Olivia and Estelle would create an Instagram account.

Brad ended orientation with a lesson in spiritual mindfulness.

After dinner we had a team meeting, this time with no group leaders. It was interesting and helpful knowing that we have certain things we can count on between all of us.

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At Dream Lake on Rocky Mountain National Park hike.

I have a good feeling about this trip and the people I’m traveling with. If you put a group of young adults in a cabin for three days in the Rocky Mountains it can result in laughter, anger, tears and revelation. I forgot how rare it is to watch new friendships forms. I know we will learn a lot more about each other between the next three months.

02/18/2017- 02/19/2017 Day 4:

Today was our travel day; we are off to New Delhi, India!

Everyone is up and running cleaning the cabin and getting ready to leave for the airport. After yoga with Margaret, Maria and Olivia we cleaned out the fridge and swept the cabin for any fallen belongings.

We get to the airport at 10:00 am eager to get on our 12:30 pm flight to Newark. Then a two-hour layover in Newark where we got dinner. Not many people have ever taken a plane ride as long as thirteen hours, that’s how long it takes from Newark to New Delhi, India!

We filled that time with games, movies, TV shows and some sleep. We arrived in Delhi at 8:30 pm on 02/19/2017. We basically skipped over 24 hours when we arrived.

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The team ready to board the flight to India!

First things first, we had to learn how to use the metro system. We bought our plastic tokens and awkwardly divided into two groups, separating boys and girls. We did this because the security in India prefers a male officer to male and a female officer with her own room to females.

Once we arrived to our destination, we walked through the dark streets that had trash on the ground, tuk tuks and cars and motorcycles rushing past each other and honking like crazy. People constantly wanted your attention whether it was taking a ride from their tuk tuk, bus, buying something from their shops or just begging for money.

Tired and a little sweaty from walking with our heavy packs we finally arrived to Smyle Inn. We had a quick meeting to discuss the plans while we were here and the things we will see and do.

02/20/2017 – Tranquil chaos:

I watched the clouds looming overhead while the first stars peeked through the sky, the constant sounds of people and car horns adding more depth to everything that is already so densely packed. I find a quiet corner in the rooftop of the hotel we are staying in and think of what this city, among the numerous others we will explore, has to offer.

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The girls wait excitedly in line to see Taj Mahal.

Oftentimes, one has to experience something for them to properly understand it. You can feel the pulse of energy that comes from everywhere, how they build off each other with the combined, sights, sounds and smells, like a symphony being performed. The slowly fading light as the sun sets behind the smoggy horizon, the distant horn of a train, and the mixed smells of food and iron and smoke, all at once painting the grandeur that Delhi has to offer.

Even though I have been told to have no expectations, I expect most, if not all, of the cities we visit will send out the same rhythms, pulsing and feeding off of everything and turning it into a masterpiece with both flaws and perfections.

These stories with questions unanswered and methods untested will be the fascinating ones. The moments of discovery even better, even more surprising, more rewarding. This is what we look forward to during our time together and I know I speak for all of us when I say that we will make the most of it.

23 February 2017:

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Enjoying the wonders of the Taj Mahal.

After two days we’re starting to get our traveler’s legs and everyone’s itching to get back on the road. We say goodbye to our first city and hop on the train to Agra. Although many of us start off timid, hunkering down with headphones for our 3-hour ride, within an hour the friendly Indian passengers have lured us out of our comfort zones with fresh food their mothers had made and introducing us to the welcoming nature of the people.

We quickly learn that their strong sense of community breaks down all barriers and we end up singing, laughing, taking dozens of pictures and making, hopefully, lifelong friends. We hardly notice the train delays, so what could have been a grueling five-hour ride ends up being the highlight of many people’s trip so far.

We ride the wave of this high into the next morning by watching the sun rise at the Taj Mahal. We agreed that it’s one of the rare things on earth that truly is as spectacular in real life as you’d imagine.

After walking the grounds and getting to wander the interior of the mausoleum, we threw away our shoe covers and headed off for the next part of our adventure.

-Kit Wemett and Bela Guerrero