The India trip has been a tradition at SAAS for over a decade. Students travel to destinations such as Delhi, Varanasi, Amritsar, and Dharamsala for two weeks over Spring Break. This year they did yoga in the foothills of the Himalayas, took a boat down the Ganges River at sunrise, and even ate dinner prepared by monks in a Buddhist monastery. Each destination provided a new and different experience whether it was the blistering heat of Varanasi or the overpowering of the senses by the exotic sights and smells of Old Delhi. To describe the trip as a whole would be impossible, and moreover, I am sure that even my best descriptions would not do the experience justice. So let me walk you through some of the most memorable parts in a somewhat anecdotal form:
The Monkey Temple:
One of the highlights of Varanasi was our visit to the famous Monkey Temple. The temple serves both as a monkey sanctuary and as a place of worship. Visitors are advised to leave all belongings outside, as incidents of monkeys stealing items like sunglasses or cameras from tourists are common. As soon as we walked in the doors, I could see monkeys everywhere. One even grabbed a necklace off an unsuspecting sophomore. We walked down a path lined with trees full of the chattering apes. I watched as a tiny monkey, no larger than eight pounds, climbed up a tree trunk and leaped into a large puddle of water below like a kid at a swimming pool. The other monkeys howled with excitement and joined the game. Soon there were monkeys, of all ages, jumping off trees and making a splash in the puddle.
Talking with a Tibetan Refugee:
Dharamsala is like the Little Italy of India, except it is really Little Tibet. Dharamsala is located near the Himalayan Mountains close to the borders of Nepal and Tibet. Due to its strategic location and henceforth the large influx of Tibetan refugees and exiles, Dharamsala has a pronounced flavor of Tibetan culture. On the SAAS India trip, we were lucky enough to talk with an amazing woman who had been held in a Chinese prison camp for nearly three decades. She was admitted when she was 27 years old, and left the camp 27 years later. Now she is probably in her seventies or eighties. She was imprisoned with 300 other women. She was one of only four of those women to survive the camp. She told us stories of how people would eat their shoe leather or steal slop while feeding the pigs to survive. Her story was incredible, but the most incredible part was that after all she was put through by the Chinese, she still believed that there was good in all people. In a rough translation from Tibetan to English, she said to us, “The Chinese government is not the Chinese people. I do not blame the Chinese people for something their government did.”
People get Sick:
If you go on the India trip you will find that after folks ask, “How was your trip?” the second most asked question is: “Did you get sick?” Why is this? Is it simply that humans innately want to hear the disgustingly disturbing? I don’t know, but if you go on the India trip, you are probably going to get sick. I, for one, managed to fend off any gastronomical issues but caught a cold in Dharamsala and was forced to the carry around my used tissues all day in a bag I had saved from the airplane. One member of our group vomited on a 600-year-old temple one fine day in Varanasi. Others suffered from a variety of ailments, but none very serious. Despite the sickness, I still believe that any member of the India trip will honestly tell you that they had a great time.
Yoga on the Rooftop:
Normally I am the type of person that literally has to be dragged into a sitting position by my mom and torn from my bed any hour early than 10 am. And I consider the fact that I can touch my toes a life achievement. So you can imagine that I was somewhat distressed to hear that we would be waking up at six in the morning to do yoga on the roof of our hotel in Varanasi. Against all odds that morning, I pulled myself out from underneath my mosquito netting and commanded myself up the stairs. The sun lay just above the horizon, taking on that watercolor orange-red that only a rising sun can do. And I realized for once, it was quiet. No honking rickshaws or shopkeepers calling out to one another. Not a single shout or laugh from our group of student travelers (which trip leaders, Alison Ray, Peter Clark, and Erin Atchison, can tell you was a rarity). As we stretched and pulled our limbs into different shapes on top of that roof, I watched the city wake up. The sun rose, dogs began barking, people began to fill the streets. And a morning that I had once dreaded became one that I would look back on as one of the most peaceful and rejuvenating moments of the trip.
Of course this list of memories could go on for about another six hundred or so pages but instead of me writing this out for you, why don’t you just take my advice and go on the SAAS India trip yourself? I promise you will have one of the most amazing fourteen days of your life. If not, one thing I can guarantee is that you will find a new appreciation for western plumbing. Contact Alison Ray, Peter Clark, Erin Atchison, me, or anyone who has gone on the India trip in the past for more information!