India. Just a few weeks ago the word was a mystery to me and nine other SMUS students and staff. Now, hearing of India brings back memories of an amazing trip across the world. In truth, there are no words good enough to describe how wonderful my time in India was, but I’ll do my best with the ones I’ve got.
Simply put, India was paradise. On arrival, all ten of us were excited to have finally landed after 20-plus hours of travel. We met our guides, Andrea, Tania and Imrana from Free the Children, at the airport, then travelled another two hours to the Haveli Resort, our home for the next 10 days.
Our Indian experience officially began on Day 2. We started with a relaxing yoga session under the morning sun then packed our gear and headed for our build site. The service portion of our trip was dedicated to a school in the community Udawad. The school welcomed us with a ceremony in which all the school kids and staff were present. A community elder oversaw the ceremony, and watching him call on the thousands of Hindu gods to bless the build site and our time with the community was a great introduction to Hinduism and Indian culture. Throughout our time with the school, we managed to paint a mural wall, build a fruit garden from scratch, whitewash the school walls and start building a porch for one of the classrooms.
Ultimately, after ten days of fulfilling work we felt proud to see how much we got done on the site, though nothing could beat the feeling of joy we got meeting and playing with the school kids. Hanging out with the kids was so heartwarming and definitely a highlight of the trip; they were kind, open and accepting from the moment they saw us, making it a memorable experience. And to top it all off, on our last day with the school we each received a beautiful, handmade card as a token of gratitude from the school children. All in all, our time in Udawad was rewarding and memorable for all of us; we will never forget the children’s laughter and smiling faces.
Our trip didn’t end there, though. When we weren’t on the build site, our guides were giving us all that India had to offer. We visited forts, temples, historical monuments and world-renowned sites, and even learned how to dance Bollywood style! The forts were beautiful and the temples tranquil and serene, but of the places we visited, three stood out the most: the magnificent City Palace in Udaipur, the calming Ghandi Memorial in Delhi and, of course, the wonderful Taj Mahal in Agra. They’re definitely India’s must-see destinations.
On top of visiting such amazing monuments, we also got to experience a day in the life of a villager in Udawad. Her name was Rupy Bai, and she lived in a small mud hut with her husband, three children and a grandchild. Admittedly, I was quite heartbroken and frustrated to see Rupy Bai’s rudimentary living conditions, though it was uplifting to see her constantly smiling. The way she found joy in life amidst her daily struggles and tough tasks was inspiring to see.
We were also lucky enough to participate in Holi, the festival of colors, during our time in India. Holi is undoubtedly the craziest, most exciting festival I have ever seen; on the day, all social norms are thrown out the window as people cover each other with powdered paint! By the time we were done with each other, we literally all looked like walking rainbows. It was so much fun! In the end, the trip allowed us to immerse ourselves into so many aspects of Indian culture that I was practically Indian when I got home.
Over and above, our trip to India was amazing; the blend of service and tourism made it the perfect trip. But in all honesty, what made the trip truly memorable for me was the people. The greatest souvenir I have from India is the friendships I made there, with the kids, our guides and hosts, and most of all, the group I went with. The memories I share with them will remain with me for the rest of my life.
Special thanks to Mr. Cook for organizing the trip, and Mrs. Hyde-Lay and Mr. Primrose for leading us on an amazing journey. Shout out to the seven friends who made the trip a blast.
Check out the video Olivia Sorley put together on their trip.
Photos and video by Olivia Sorley