India’s Scenic North, New Schoolmates and Iconic Sights
Story by Cecilia Moore ’22 // Photography by Shannon Harris
My feelings were anxious, curious and excited as I left my family at RDU International Airport and boarded the plane for a life-changing experience. India. From the outside looking in, you’d think of this country as crowded, hot and having lots of elephants. India has so many more things to offer, some of which I was fortunate enough to experience. For my capstone, seven of my classmates and I had the chance to travel through North India. Our 21-day trip had three phases: a challenge phase, a project phase and a rest and relaxation phase.
After our 15-hour flight, we landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi and the entire group was exhausted. That’s when we got the news that our bags were lost and we would not have them for two days. On our first bus ride from New Delhi to Nainital, my transformation began as I saw how different this country was from the U.S. The driving laws were completely different. People drive on the left side of the road, but that wasn’t the only difference. The driving lanes appeared as more of a suggestion than a regulation. I compared it to a game of chicken, as our fate was in the hands of our bus driver. There were also many people on motorcycles who had the courage (you could call it) to squeeze through two huge trucks in order to get past. In India, everything was always moving so fast, literally and figuratively. Parts of my life back home didn’t seem so rushed, but this unexpected trait of my new environment took me by surprise.
The challenge phase of our trip was a hike at the base of the Himalayas. And oh, it was a challenge, especially since I thought I was in shape. The “warm up” trek — that’s what Coach Jordan Babwah called it — was 12 kilometers [7 miles]. The thought of surviving this for the next three days was quite nerve-wracking. Our three days of trekking introduced me to a side of myself I never knew.
As we hiked, I was able to reflect on the two days prior that we spent in Nainital, a mountain city in the state of Uttarakhand. Although it was in the mountains, there were more people living there than I expected. I loved how the homes looked as though they were boxes stacked on top of each other, with a lake in the center of the city. It reminded me of a scene of the houses in one of my favorite childhood movies, Rio.
The project phase of the trip, the part I would call my favorite, entailed community service at an education center. We painted and cleaned classrooms and finished a toilet room. We also had the opportunity to interact with the kids. I think this was a highlight for all of us. The language barrier didn’t stop us from having fun. We played games and I learned how to play Carrom, an Indian board game. The kids taught us new words and we taught them some too, including Drake lyrics. I met a special little girl named Lucky, whom I will always remember. She was 7 years old, and each day I would braid her hair while she took selfies of us. I will never forget the look on the kids’ faces when they saw their new classrooms; it was the best moment ever. I love knowing that we contributed to making their school experience a little bit better.
The last phase of our trip was the rest and relaxation phase, AKA sightseeing. We went to many historic places like the Galtaji Temple, where we saw beautiful monkeys and the Red Fort, which is known for its massive red sandstone. But my favorite place, as cliché as it might sound, was definitely the Taj Mahal. It was as breathtaking as I had heard it would be. The moment you are walking along the gate and then turn the corner to see the most beautiful white marble mausoleum was amazing. It was easy to understand why it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
If I took one thing away from this trip it would be that it’s OK not to be comfortable all the time, because that is how you learn about the world around you, and that is how you learn about who you really are.